‘I spent the rest of the week recovering and resting. My wounds were healed but I wasn’t quite prepared to face the world outside of the hospital. My emotions and nerves were frayed, and the ever-devolving situation just reinforced my distaste for Equestria, and the ponies that populate it. After three months here, several continue to treat me like a complete animal, Rarity foremost of them. Apparently they don’t care about saving them from the changelings, just concerned that the human amongst them shows up packing a piece of equipment they had never seen before, and were unlikely to again. Yes, I get it. It’s a potentially dangerous weapon. I made a decision in the heat of the moment though, and I would do it again.
Either way, this chapter of my life is coming to a close. Celestia has summoned me, and I’ll not keep royalty waiting. Either I’m being sent to the “moon” (not that I believe that‘s where they send their criminals- more likely a very long banishment), or I’m being sent home. Either way, I finally see the light at the end of the rainbow-coloured tunnel. I have a few regrets- the emotional state I’ve put Fluttershy in, and Pinkie has become a pretty good friend. But regardless, this place isn’t my home, and every day it just seems like I cause more issues.
I’ll be doing my best to get away from Ponyville as early as possible. Hopefully, without too many ponies following along. Even one is too much but…’
Another chilly morning spread across Equestria. Fresh snow had fallen in the night, covering the ground and leaving a crisp white blanket covering everything. Nathan sat outside of Fluttershy's cottage, drinking a cup of whatever passed for coffee in Ponyville. It tasted like burnt toast, but it warmed his body and his soul. In the distance he could hear the townsfolk of Ponyville starting to set up their holiday displays. Lights, ornaments, and tinsel streamers were being strung up all over town. Even under the current atmosphere of nervousness, the ponies maintained their daily routines.
Having gone over the letter Twilight had received several times in his head, he sat in silence, contemplating his future. The few animals not hibernating scampered around on the ground, picking up the odd scrap of food. Nathan smiled at the irony. These small animals, bereft of humanoid speech and communication would forever be more accepted by the ponies just because of a few strands of magic. Well, that and chances are most of them didn’t have the knowledge, ability, and willingness to kill a pony if it came down to it. There was that too.
Looking at his new clothes he ran his fingers over the design. Knowing that she didn't have much choice in the matter, Rarity had begrudgingly designed a new outfit for the human, one more suited for the winter weather. Again, it was not the style he would ever choose to wear, with jewels and sequins along the lapels, the fabric being stiff and formal, and the design was more suited to a ball or party. However, all things considered, it was doing the job admirably, and Nathan couldn’t remember having worn warmer clothing.
That being said, sometime between before the attack, and when Nathan woke up in the hospital, the pale unicorn's opinion of him had unbelievably taken yet another turn for the worse, if that was possible. Where before she would make distasteful contents about his constitution, palate, and attitude, now she was almost silent around him. She actively avoided him and feared his very presence. He shook his head. There were just some things he didn't understand in this world. What he did, however understand crystal clear, was that he was in trouble. Reflecting on his journal and notes, he had firmly decided that the princesses were in fact deities of sorts, and now one of those deities was "requesting" his presence.
Fluttershy wandered out the door of the cottage, bundled up in her winter gear- man, ponies look funny in clothes- and sat down beside him. The wooden bench he was seated on creaked slightly as the diminutive pegasus took her perch, and Nathan smiled at the ease and comfort at which she joined him. He had gone to see her at the first opportunity, and she had graciously made him the hot cup of joe currently steaming in his hand. They sat there, the silence broken only by the occasional sip of "coffee". Fluttershy was the first to speak up.
"H-how are you feeling today?" She looked up at her human companion. Nathan smiled down at the meek pegasus. In the three months he had resided in Ponyville, Fluttershy was the only one who tended to actually ask about his feelings and emotions. Pinkie would from time to time, but only if her Pinkie Sense prodded her in to it. Fluttershy, well, Fluttershy was a different pony altogether. Not a day passed that she inquired into not only the physical, but mental and emotional health of the human. If anyone was keeping him sane, it was her.
"I'm fine Fluttershy. Those medical ponies fixed me up, right as rain. Gave me a clean bill of health. I have a couple new scars, and the burns on my hands are still a little painful, but I'll live. It could have been a lot worse- a couple inches lower and I would have lost my sight in the one eye. Pinkie Pie even found the ‘Cannon‘." Fluttershy gazed over to the side of her cottage where the locked case of the Pie Cannon leaned against it. She shuddered. The possible destructive powers of the gun frightened her immensely. She frowned.
"Th-that's not what I mean at all and you know it! I mean, how do you feel? Your emotions. Are you scared? Happy? Sad? Especially after this morning with Twilight!"
Nathan looked out into the forest, absorbed in thought. He considered what she had asked. She was correct, of course. He did know what she meant, and tried to dodge the question. It didn't work. Emotions were a difficult concept for him. Most days he could fake a smile, laugh at a few good natured jokes, and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment when he managed to achieve some goal, or complete some task. True happiness? Sadness? Joy? Love? Those emotions came rarely if ever.
"I don't know, Fluttershy. I honestly don't have much in the way of emotions. Joy and sadness are equally distant to me, most any other emotion is a total write-off. No. The only emotion I tend to feel is the emotion I'm feeling right now. The feeling I've felt since my first week in Equestria. The feeling I felt this morning. The feeling that permeates my every thought."
"That being?" Fluttershy bit her lip, and leaned away from the human slightly. While she cared for Nathan, she had long ago learned where such lines of questioning terminated. She knew, as well as he did, what emotion ruled his life. The knowledge didn’t make her hurt any less.
"Anger. Rage. Frustration. I'm angry Twilight lied to me, and used me for a guinea pig. I’m angry she doesn’t seem to know what she’s doing, but she’s just as happy to play at it like she does. I'm angry that half of your friends think I'm trouble waiting to happen. I'm angry that your best friend treats me like shit. I'm angry that all these months I have been eagerly waiting to go home, and now because of little Miss Sparkle, chances are I'll be spending the rest of my life on the God damn moon!" His fists clenched around the coffee cup in his hand, threatening to split open the scars that crossed them. His vision was directed towards a tree in the distance, but he knew Fluttershy felt every word like a whip across her flank.
Fluttershy cowered in fear. Again, having allowed his anger to dictate his actions, he instantly regretted expressing himself to the Pegasus who had shown him nothing but kindness. Why she stuck by him after all this time still escaped him. He felt a connection with the yellow pegasus, but nothing that would force her to respect and care for him so deeply. Nathan almost felt like he was using the pony for his own selfish emotional needs.
"I'm sorry Fluttershy. You've shown me such kindness, and I continue to upset you. Rarity isn't altogether wrong you know. I'm not good for you or any other pony. I am a risk. You don’t know what I’m planning. You don’t know what I could do if given the right mind set. If it turns out Celestia wants to seal me away for the rest of my natural days, what do I have to lose? Are you willing to take that risk?” Nathan took another steadying drink from his cup and closed his eyes.
"I-I know that you're rough around the edges sometimes, but your heart is in the right place. I know it. Why else would you be here?" She was grasping at straws, looking for any reason to justify the human being there that didn’t involve the pain and suffering of ponies. Nathan looked over at Fluttershy and smirked.
"Other than being the butt-end of a giant cosmic joke?"
"I’m… I'm sorry?"
"Never mind Fluttershy. That was a joke." Nathan rolled his head back and laughed at the naïve pony. The most innocent pony in the land of innocent ponies, and she was the one that decided to try and formulate a relationship with the human. Fluttershy crossed her eyes and started to stare at the tip of her nose.
"O-oh! A joke! I see." She didn't get it at all. Nathan realized how confused she was and started laughing again.
"Oh Fluttershy." Nathan laid his free hand on the pony's shoulder, eliciting a stifled squeak of pleasure, and a blush crossed Fluttershy's face. "I have no idea why I'm here other than, apparently, to cause trouble for your friends and take you on dates. Even your princess hates me! Reminds me of some of the girls I dated in high-school." Nathan reminisced back to one night when he had innocently brought a bouquet of flowers to a girl’s house with the intention of taking her to a nice dinner. Apparently her father had other ideas, and decided that Nathan’s car, and pants, needed a few new holes in the hood via a .22 and a potted plant. “Just need some daisies.”
"What?! Why would you smile about that?" Fluttershy was so totally and absolutely confused. Humans were weird. At least this one was.
"Hey, everyday I live in Equestria I look for things that remind me of home so I don't end up going insane. I'll take what I can get, even if it’s the memory of nearly losing the ability to reproduce.” He winked and went back into the cottage for a refill of coffee. Yeah, the coffee was bad, but it was growing on him. Besides, his host had taken the time and care to brew it, and it would be rude to turn down another mug. Returning outside, he could see Fluttershy puzzling out the appropriate response. She looked over at him.
"Well, I guess I'm happy for you then, in some small way?" Her smile was back, though less sure than before.
"Thanks Fluttershy. Actually, speaking about home, I wanted to talk to you about this trip to Canterlot. I, uh, I don't think you should go." Fluttershy panicked.
"What?! The letter specifically says all of us have to go." Nathan shook his head.
"Twilight told me that was likely sent with those instructions to make me feel more comfortable traveling to Canterlot. A follow-up letter confirmed it- the only ones who absolutely have to go are myself and Twilight. Why do you think we tried to get away this morning without you? Without any of you?"
"I want to come though! I want to see you there!" Nathan allowed a dark look to wash over his face as he looked the Pegasus in the eyes. She was going to understand this one way or another.
"Fluttershy, think about it. You're not a fighter. None of you really are. Sure, Twilight can cast some pretty potent magic, and Applejack can out-buck Muhammad Ali…”
"Never mind. It’s not important. Point is, it's going to be dangerous. Even I don't know much about combat. I've gotten by on my size and ingenuity so far. You spent a majority of the invasion hiding under a porch and crying. Fluttershy, this isn't a game. I know you've told me before that usually Equestria's enemies tend to make mischief. This is different. Ponies are going to get hurt. One pony has already died. If anything more was to happen to you or one of the other ponies because of me…
"Even besides that, once I meet Celestia there can only be two outcomes: either she sends me home, or locks me away. I'm a threat, just like the changelings. I won't be returning to Ponyville once we leave. This is it. I‘m not coming back with you. I can‘t. Even if I wanted to, and I honestly don‘t, Celestia wouldn‘t allow it. I don‘t think even Twilight would allow it, and she seems to have the most pull around here." Fluttershy was crying, long tears dropping to the ground and melting the snow around her.
"You don't think I know that?! That's why I need to come! If I don't... I have no one but myself to blame if I had the chance to spend even another week with you. For better or for worse, I'm coming. Spike has already agreed to watch the animals again for me. As soon as I heard you were leaving today I flew over there. I need to do this.”
Nathan paced the yard of the cottage, absorbed in thought. He wanted to say no to her. He wanted to turn to her, slap her across the face and scream at her until she only felt loathing and disgust for the human, like her friend and those around him. If that would have deterred Fluttershy, he would have done it at a moments notice. Somewhere though, deep down in his soul, he realized that would just strengthen her resolve. Against his better judgement, he relented. He closed his eyes and sighed. Chewing his cheek, and begging forgiveness from whatever deity or spirit that might be listening, he looked over at the yellow Pegasus and nodded.
"Ok Fluttershy. You can come with Twilight and I. But you have to promise you'll listen to me when things get ugly."
"You mean if?"
"No Fluttershy. When. Don't be fooled for a minute that we won't have any trouble reaching Canterlot. Every day will be long and slow, and we may end up fighting for our lives more than once. I don‘t know what the path holds for us, but it won‘t be cupcakes and sunflower."
"O-oh." Fluttershy had fully grasped the implications of her decision. Up until then, she was still holding out hope that the trip was going to be quiet and peaceful. She took a deep breath, and stuck her nose in the air. "Well I'm still coming." She trotted back in to her cottage, and returned with a pair of stylish saddlebags adorning her flanks.
"Nice bags girl. They come in D's?" Nathan snickered at his crude reference. He laughed harder when it was clear Fluttershy had no idea what he was talking about.
"Nothing Fluttershy. Nothing." As he proceeded to empty another belly-full of laughter, they caught notice of a lavender pony approaching on the road. Her attitude was anything but jovial.
"Well I'm glad you're in a good mood! I for one am not looking forward to traveling to Canterlot with the train out and that incident earlier today!" Twilight stomped up, disgust registering all over her face. "Not only that, but I have to spend it with you! Can we get going already? Dash says it’s going to be a sunny for the next few days, but the same can’t be said for next week!” Nathan snickered some more, and cast her a sideways glance over his drink.
"Love you too Twili." Nathan laid the sarcasm as thick as possible, letting every syllable hang in the air thick with distaste.
Twilight screamed at him.
"That's not my name and you have no right to use it!! We've been over this!" Twilight barely restrained herself from bucking the human in the face. The outburst gave Nathan pause to reflect on earlier events.
It was the crack of dawn, and Nathan was awake. Packing whatever necessities he could, he organized them in a makeshift backpack he had thrown together the night before. Looking around his damaged workshop one last time, he reflected on the three months he had spent there. It had seemed so important to him at the time to have electricity, and running water and equipment. Now, destroyed in a single afternoon with callous disregard, he wondered why he had even bothered in the first place. The only useable thing left was in the case on his back, and the weight of responsibility was just as heavy.
He lightly crept up the stairs, careful to avoid any creaking floorboards. Gazing up to the loft, he didn’t detect any sign of life and was satisfied that Twilight and Spike were still fast asleep. He reached out to open the door to the library.
"Hold it!" He froze in his tracks, as he heard a squeaky voice call out from upstairs. Sheepishly, he turned back and looked up.
"Oh uh, hey Spike! Didn't see you there" The juvenile dragon held a stern look. Apparently his earlier appraisal of the loft was hasty.
"Don't you 'hey Spike' me! Where do you think you're going!"
"Canterlot. Remember? ‘Royal Summons’ and all that?"
"What I mean, is where do you think you're going without Twilight?" Nathan sighed. He had a feeling he would be having this conversation several times today.
"It's just so dangerous Spike I didn't want to drag her along with me. She's got that teleporting spell right? She can just meet me there."
"Oh yeah right. When can I tell her to meet you? Five days? Six? Eight?" Spike had a twinkle of knowing in his eye.
"Um... well I... I don't know how long it will take."
"Oh right. Well which way are you going in case Twilight has to meet you along the way?"
"Oh the route? Um..." Spike grimaced.
"So let me get this right. You're going to aimlessly wander the country for days, unsure which way to go, fighting off random changelings and other monsters, and show up in Canterlot just whenever?" Nathan had a stupid grin on his face. The plan had sounded so much better when he ran it through his head the night before.
"Uh... yeah. Good plan right?"
Spike looked down at the ill prepared human and shook his head. Sometimes the mares would get into trouble for not thinking things through. But this? This was a level of irrational thinking that not even Pinkie Pie could touch. His face was dead-pan.
"Are you stupid?"
"I very well might be, yes. I just don't need all the baggage. It would be nice for Fluttershy and Pinkie to come along, but I can't ask that of them. Besides, Rarity and Applejack hate me, and Twilight sees me as a rat to run through mazes. Rainbow... I legitimately have no idea on Dash. Up until a week ago we were hanging out with Pinkie all the time. Now, I've barely seen her for the last week. Long story short: the Elements and myself need to go our separate ways."
"Have you talked to them about why they feel the way they do?"
"Maybe you should? It couldn't hurt. There has to be reasons for everything. Now, you‘re going to run out into the middle of nowhere, possibly get yourself killed, or eaten, and even though you‘re mad at Rarity and the others for being jerks, you‘re just as happy to let them stay nice and safe in Ponyville? Your plan is stupid. Your thought process is stupid. You’re stupid."
“Ok, maybe I am stupid. I don’t know. I don’t know Spike. Look, nothing makes sense to me here. If you told me four months ago that I would be having a conversation about trust and bonds with a baby dragon calling me an idiot, I’d have laughed at you and then slapped you for being so stupid. Now? I guess I need the slap. It doesn‘t change the fact that I need to do this myself though. Just this one thing, before anybody can stop me.”
“Jesus whatever. Anypony.”
“I would still talk to the girls though. The mares can be much more reasonable once you get to know them. I should know. I’ve seen them go through all sorts of misadventures.”
"Perhaps Spike. If I get the chance, I will. I don’t think I will though, and a small part of me doesn’t want the chance. For now though, I need to go. Now, please don't wake up Twilight?" Spike nodded, and coughed.
"I won't wake her up." The dragon was sincere in his tone, but Nathan raised an eyebrow. Slowly he nodded at the dragon, accepting his word.
Nathan turned back to the door, opened it, and walked... right into Twilight Sparkle. He went slack jawed and sputtered a bit, then spun back to where Spike was laughing, glaring up at the diminutive dragon.
"Wh-wh-what?!" Spike forced out between breaths. "I can’t wake her up if she’s not sleeping!" Nathan shook his head and couldn't help but chuckle himself. The dragon had played him well. Turning his attention back to the pony in front of him he could see her frowning.
"Morning Twilight. How much of that did you hear?" Twilight bit her lip and glanced to the ground.
"All of it." Nathan allowed his smile to pass, and looked down at the unicorn. She looked sad and embarrassed. He allowed himself a moment of smugness playing across his face, however it passed as soon as it had come, and he felt a pang of remorse. "Have we really been that terrible to you?"
"No. You've done exactly what I would expect you to do in your situation. The research bit was a rude shock, but I understand why you might act that way. I do want to ask why though. Why are you all so... uncomfortable around me?"
"Any comments I make about the others is second-hoof knowledge, so please understand if my answers are incomplete." Twilight slowly spoke, turning in place in an attempt to gesticulate her thoughts. "I've never had many friends. Ever. It wasn't until coming to Ponyville I met the mares. Before that it was only my brother." This was the first time Nathan had heard of Twilight's family.
"Brother?" Twilight nodded.
"Yes. Shining Armour Sparkle, Knight Captain of the Canterlot Guard."
"Wait. Shining Armour, the one from that wedding you told me about, that's your brother? That Shining Armour?" Twilight looked sheepish.
"Eh-heh yeah. I don't like to brag. So anyways, he was my only real friend growing up. Well, him and my foal-sitter, Cadance." She stuck a hoof in the air and silenced any further questions from the human. "Yes that one. I know I know. Shut-up and let me speak. End if story- he's my big brother, and I love him, even when he calls me that stupid name. 'Twili'. Ugh.
"I never really understood the need to rely on or trust anypony other than myself. Coming to Ponyville changed my mind. Just a bit. I know the value of friendship now. However, some things never change."
"Sorry, I'm confused. What does this have to do with me?" Nathan pulled the hat off of his head and gave his scalp a rub.
"I'm getting to that. You're so impatient! Anyways- both a few months before, and during, the wedding two separate incidents came up. One was rather silly looking back on it- I was having a stressful day, and the others didn't take me seriously until things had spiralled out of control. However, leading into the wedding, I knew, I knew, something was not right. Even Celestia doubted me. Once again, I was proven correct, even after my friends were such... such..."
"Assholes?" Nathan offered. Twilight blushed at the choice of words, but nodded.
“Yes! That. This is where you come in. I fully believe, deep down, that you are in no way, shape, or form planning to do anything to hurt us. Nothing on purpose. But there's something just not right about you. Not just the fact you're human, but something... deeper. I can't put my hoof on it, but there is something. That makes you a threat, and unfortunately, due to my previous experiences, I know that when it comes right down to it I only have myself to trust. If something doesn‘t seem right, I need to know why. Taking others, even Pinkie and Fluttershy at their word isn‘t enough." Nathan was a little insulted, but understood where she was coming from.
"So I decided to study you- find out about you, before you went near our princess and possibly jeopardized her life. At first I thought it was enough that I send you into the forest, and I would just keep an ear to the ground to see what came of it. You wander back to where you came from, no problem. After Fluttershy went out to look for you though, it was clear you needed to be supervised. Applejack and I took care of that."
"How could you know though, that I would live with you, or that Big Mac would offer me a job?" Nathan squinted his eyes. He had a feeling where this was going, but he needed to hear it for himself.
"Well I was going to offer the room to you, but you asked first and cleaned it up and paid me rent..." Nathan's jaw dropped. These innocent little ponies could be real shits when they tried.
"And honestly? Do you think that we would just sit back and wait for you to wake up? Of course we planned the job offer. Having Mac do it was the best way to make it seem legitimate." Nathan was a little sick to his stomach.
"So for the last three months, not only were you lying about the letter but..."
"Yes. I've been lying to you about your living arrangements. It's actually been eating Applejack up. She's the most honest of us, and I'm still surprised that she has gone along with it so long. I still need to talk to her about it."
"As do I." Nathan was furious. He felt his fists clenching, and had he exercised a little less restraint he would have decked the unicorn right there. As it was, his nails were digging into his flesh leaving deep scratches. Twilight displayed the sad look on her face again.
"I'm sorry, but... you won't get that chance. Rarity and Applejack made me promise to take you away as soon as you were up. They initially felt you were coercing Fluttershy into liking you by some unknown means. It's clear to us now you're not. I’ve done all sorts of magic detection spells and observational magic. We’re convinced that you don’t have any such abilities, but... it's not healthy for her to have such an attachment. Especially considering you won't be returning to Ponyville.
"Same goes for Pinkie Pie. She too seems to have taken a shine to you, and we can't risk further influence. I've seen the etching on that weapon of yours. Pinkie showed me the other day while you were getting checking out of the hospital. Do you really think it was the wisest decision, permanently etching a tool of war with the Element of laughter? Do you think anything through?" Nathan just stood there, feeling some of the pieces sliding together, but still frustrated at the lack of clarity.
"I don't like it, and I don't really like you Twilight. However, I will respect your wishes. To answer your question, yes I think most things through. More than you will ever know. For now, let’s just work together and get on with it. Shall we go then?"
"Thank you. I think." Twilight wrinkled her nose. She ran into the library and threw on her saddlebags. Nathan noted when she returned that her bags were relatively lightly packed, only enough supplies judging from the bulges on the sides for a day or two of travel.
"Ok, we're going to teleport there. With the two of us it will take a few jumps, and I will need to rest every few casts, but we should get there towards the early afternoon, Celestia willing. Enough time for me to show you around Canterlot, get a good night‘s rest and then see Celestia in the morning. Only one more day and you will get to go home." Nathan was suddenly very nervous.
"Or spend eternity as her prisoner. As for teleporting, are you sure about this? I mean, magic for me has been very touch and go. I don't know about this..."
"Oh it'll be fine. The medical spells seemed to work wonderfully, and my own repulsion spell affected you. I'm guessing that it's only offensive spells that affect you. Ready?" Nathan swallowed hard.
"As I'll ever be." Twilight smiled and focused her magical prowess into the lavender horn on her forehead. The ground around them began to glow, and Nathan felt the air around him thicken. With a flash, Twilight finished the spell and blinked out of Ponyville- along with Nathan's clothes and possessions. He yelped, finding himself naked and jumped into the same bush Pinkie Pie had been hiding in some months before.
A few moments later Twilight Sparkle re-appeared, Nathan's belongings lying all around her. She looked confused and panicked. She had wound up on a hill a few miles away, seeing only the human’s possessions, and worried that either she had sent him elsewhere, or worse. As it was, she was frantically searching the exterior of the library, hoping against hope that he was still there.
"Nathan? Nathan are you ok? Are you here?! Oh please answer me!”
Nathan called out from the bushes, his voice a low growl barely concealing his distaste of the lavender unicorn.
"Yeah in here. Toss me my clothes?" He had scratches all over his body from where the branches rubbed against him as he jumped in, and he was freezing in the winter air. Once again Twilight had proceeded without careful consideration at risk to the human’s life. Nathan was getting tired of it.
"Oh sure! I'm so sorry. I guess magic is out. We'll have to walk. I'm glad you're ok." Nathan finished dressing and hopped out of the bush, frustrated with the reckless pony.
"Yes. I would say magic is definitely out. Jesus. Are you trying to get me killed? I know you don’t like me that much, but I thought that you would at least have enough care to get me to Canterlot safely. Good job Twili." Twilight turned and bucked him in the side of the face. Nathan fell against the side of the library, dazed. Twilight was furious.
"Don't call me Twili!!"
Nathan stood there rubbing the side of his head. The two had split up, Twilight furious with the insolent human. Nathan had thought to go stop by both Fluttershy’s cottage and Sugar Cube Corner in order to wish his two friends the best, but now having been cornered and forced to allow Fluttershy to join them, he regretted his decision to visit. He would not be going to see Pinkie Pie. Twilight was right. The human was unhealthy for Fluttershy and Pinkie. Twilight had informed her friends what had taken place, and repacked for a longer journey.
"Ok, I'm sorry. I won't use that name again. I just think it's so darn cute when you get frustrated." She might have treated him like a research project, but Nathan was going to get the last laugh.
"Cute? Cute?! You... you!" Twilight was foaming at the lips.
"I'm what? Adorable? Funny? I actually think that describes you. Probably why your brother calls you Twi-"
"STOP IT." Fluttershy screamed at both of them. Twilight and Nathan shared a glance of nervousness and faced the yellow mare.
"Twilight, we're all traveling together, and you're going to have to get along, regardless of what or who he is." She walked up to Nathan and grabbed the collar of his jacket with her teeth to yank him down to her level. "And you! Don't think I don't see what you're doing! Purposely antagonizing Twilight is not the way to better understand my friends. I don't care if she didn't think through a spell or treated you like a rat, or whatever. Some of my best friends are rats! She means well and you need to accept it." She turned her back to the pair, and growled.
"Now apologize to each other." The human and unicorn looked at each other and back to Fluttershy. Both were downright petrified of the screaming ball of fury that was staring them down. Nathan tore his eyes from the yellow pegasus and turned to face Twilight. He nodded and sighed.
"Sorry Twilight. I was pushing your buttons and I know it. That was disrespectful of me." Twilight Sparkle nodded back and let her eyes fall to the snow covered ground.
"Yes, and I don't think we've given you a fair chance. I'm sorry too." Nathan bent down and whispered in Twilight's ear, nervously glancing over at Fluttershy to make sure she wasn’t listening in.
"Where did this Fluttershy come from? Is this my influence?"
"No, she gets like this sometimes. It's best just to go along with it." Nathan nodded, agreeing to the sage advice. Fluttershy turned around, the aggressive attitude gone. Sheepishly she spoke with her friends.
"O-oh good. Th-thank-you for making up. You were scaring the animals." Nathan sincerely doubted that, but didn’t respond.
"Sorry, Fluttershy, did you say you're coming too?" Twilight arched her brows, both nervous and confused. "Did Nathan ask you to come because you know..."
"No Twilight. He didn't. He told me to stay here actually. However, I'm not listening to him, or you. I'm coming and you can't stop me. You girls always think I’m such a pushover and that I’m afraid of everything including my own shadow. Well that’s not true. I can be brave when I need to be and I’m choosing to be brave now.”
"Fluttershy, it's going to be dangerous. Brave or not you‘re not exactly cut out for fighting." Twilight was panicking now. The human was one thing, but being responsible for Fluttershy too?
"I know. Nathan can protect me. I've seen him use that cannon of his. It scares the feathers off me, but at the same time I know that as long as it’s in his hands that we’re going to be safe. My bags are packed, and I'm going Twilight. Discussion over." Twilight balked at the other pony. Sitting on her hind legs, she folded her hooves in front of her and gave Fluttershy a cock-eyed look.
"When did you get so confident?"
"Oh do you n-not like it? I'm trying to be more like Nathan. He always seems so sure of himself. I-I can go back to regular old me, that is, if you like."
"Sounds like you just did." Twilight sighed and cast Nathan a sidelong glance. For his part, all Nathan could do is hold his hands out in front of him and offer a meek shrug. The sooner this madness is over the better, Twilight thought to herself. Twilight saw the writing on the wall just as Nathan had and reluctantly gave in. It was just going to be a long argument when they had already wasted so much time just trying to leave Ponyville.
"Alright. If you're so sure, let's get going. We have a long way to go."
"Don't forget us!" The trio heard Rarity call out as she, and the remaining Elements came walking up the path. Twilight did a double-take and frowned.
"Not you four as well?"
"Why of course darling. You know I can never turn down a trip to Canterlot. Besides, Spikey-Wikey spilled the beans on Fluttershy's plan, and well..." She glared at Nathan, still holding the shrug. "Somepony needs to watch out for Fluttershy. This brute is hardly an acceptable chaperone."
Twilight rubbed her eyes with her hooves, leaning back on her haunches. This is not the way she had envisioned the day going. She could see the letter now. ‘Dear Princess Celestia: my friends are all crazy, and I think I’m about to snap too.’
"Ok, I sort of understand that, but the rest of you?"
"Well did you really think I was going to let you all go on an adventure without me silly-billy?"
"Ah figured you'd need a hoof with all the changelings about, and seeing that this critter is mah employee, ah got mah investment to protect."
"With the towns closed off, the Wonderbolts will be restricted to Canterlot, and what better chance to talk to them then that?!" Twilight shook her head.
"So, in other words you guys made up the flimsiest excuses in Equestria just to come along? Even though you don't have to?"
Twilight laughed. Her friends might be the strangest ponies she knew, but they were right there when she needed them the most. She turned and saw Nathan had a slight smile creeping onto his face. Catching her looking, he forced it into a scowl and turned to walk away. He called over his shoulder, forcing as much frustration into his voice as possible.
"Well are we going then? Jesus, I was this close to being free of you damn ponies. Gah. Hurry up!" He hadn't meant a word of it, but he was still upset over their continuing demonization of him. At least now he would get a chance to speak to all of them, and really find out where they stood.
Twilight watched the human walk towards town, heading in the general direction of Canterlot, visible on the cliffs far off in the distance. For all of his faults, and for all of the mistrust between them, Twilight had to admit there was one thing both the ponies and the human had in common.
The group had passed through the shield protecting Ponyville, and had so far walked in silence for the better part of an hour.
Testing his magical resistance, Nathan had chosen to attempt to walk through the bubble rather than wait for Twilight or the guards to alter it. As he predicted, he passed through with ease, standing on the far side and delighting in the unsettled looks the guard-ponies passed between themselves as they frantically worked on creating an exit for the rest of his party. Twilight had lightly scolded him again for being callous, but even she had to admit that seeing the usually emotionless guards freak out was totally worth it.
Now, the colourful buildings and inhabitants far behind them, any trace of good spirits had long been abandoned. To the south they could see the Everfree forest, a strange mixture of clouds and mist floating above it. Twilight was nervous. She had not seen anything of this sort before. Yes, the Everfree had always rebelled against typical pony order, but there was a limit.
Even now, she could see what she could only describe as a corruption altering the environment, creeping out into previously pony inhabited lands. Something was affecting the forest, and it scared her more than Nathan did.
The snow crunched beneath their hooves and boots, only ankle deep, but travel was still tedious, owing to the fact they were the first ponies to cross it in nearly a week. The only other tracks they saw were those of various birds and animals. They had purposely avoided following the train tracks for a myriad of reasons. Foremost was the fact that any traders would be traversing them, attracting unwanted changeling attention. The chosen route was going to add a day or two to the trip, but they all agreed it would likely be safer.
After a few more miles, the sun reached its zenith, and the surrounding air had warmed enough that the multicoloured party of seven decided to stop for lunch. Picking out a location on a hill overlooking a frozen pond, the mares laid out a spread of fruits, vegetables and sweets. Well, Pinkie Pie had laid out the sweets. Everypony else had brought more appropriate fare. The six ponies sat around a thick picnic blanket and dug in, chatting and laughing just as old friends should. Nathan had found a flat rock that the sun had cleared for him, and was perched there staring down at the pond.
"Hiya! Whatcha doing over here by your lonesome?" Pinkie Pie had bounded over, distracting Nathan from his thoughts. Turning to face the perpetually excited party pony, Nathan smiled.
"Hey Pinkie. I'm just thinking about stuff again. I'm sorry to say that as long as I've been stuck in Equestria, I still marvel at how foreign things here are every day."
"Oh yeah? Oh like that weird food that you made Fluttershy last month? What did you call it? Sue she?"
"That's sushi, Pinkie, and no not that kind of foreign. I guess to you ponies rolled up rice and seaweed with veggies inside might seem foreign. That's not the point though. I mean more... fundamental aspects of your world. The weather, the locations, the inhabitants the... magic. If I do go home and tell people about Equestria they're going to think I'm crazy." Pinkie had a devious smile on her face, and then suddenly looked suspicious, standing on her hind legs and folding her front ones.
"How to you know you're not already? Crazy magic talking ponies in a land of lollipops and rainbows? Sounds kooky to me." Nathan chuckled.
"Some days Pinkie, I fully suspect I have gone nuts. Like I'm really in some mental institution somewhere talking to a pile of rocks and a bag of flour. Maybe Fluttershy's really a plant or small tree or something." Pinkie Pie looked at Nathan uncomfortably until the human noticed the expression and became confused.
"What? What did I say? It was a joke Pinkie." Her jovial mask returned, sharing a small giggle with her friend.
"Oh right a joke. Of course it was silly billy! Who talks to a pile of rocks? That's ridiculous. So, what's on your mind specifically right now?" Nathan gazed down to the frozen pond.
"This is where I spent my childhood Pinkie." Pinkie looked shocked.
"W-what? Humans have never been to Equestria before as far as we know. You've said it yourself that you haven't been here. My Pinkie Sense would have told me about it! I know it!" Nathan shook his head at the exasperated pony.
"No Pinkie, not here specifically. I mean on frozen ponds like this one." Pinkie was calm again, but confused.
"What? I'm sorry?"
"Where I come from, we have this sport called hockey. Two teams strap on ice skates and use sticks to try and hit a small round object into a 'goal' area. I would spend hours as a child out on ponds just like this one, playing pick-up games with other kids. It was a totally care free existence in the winter. Wake up, go to school, play hockey, have mom yell at me for not dressing warm enough, go to bed. I was the most happy when snow covered the ground, and my stick was on the ice. Every day I spend in Equestria, Pinkie, I look for a bit of home. Even if all I can find is something small, then I can go to bed thinking 'today was a good day'."
"For such pleasant memories, you sure don't look like you're having a good day. You look like someone just spat on you."
"Well... this memory is a bitter-sweet one for me. It was a day, just like this, you know. The ice was so slippery. The sun had melted enough of the surface that stopping was impossible." He closed his eyes, suppressing the emotion. Pinkie could see the pain etched on his face. After a few moments he opened them again.
"Winter was never the same again. It carries too many memories. Too much pain. Just like being in Equestria, being around you, Fluttershy. This place. It's painful. It's too pure." The pair had not noticed, but the remainder of the group had been eavesdropping for some time. Fluttershy flew over to him, nuzzling against his leg.
"D-did you, did you want to talk about it? That is, if you didn't mind. Unless this is like your family?"
“His family? You’ve never talked about them before Nathan! What are they like?” Rarity showed a rare moment of curiosity in the human. Fluttershy smiled and interjected.
“Oh he doesn’t talk to them very often. It’s kind of like my parents and me. Live too far apart. Not much to talk about.” Nathan shrugged and nodded to Fluttershy.
"You‘re right, Fluttershy, it is like my family. It's not something I really care about. Not right now. It's almost cruel you know? I mean, I‘m still hazy on how I got to Equestria. I‘m still sticking to a bad night of drinking or a horrible prank. If I could only forget the things I want to. Now, we're going to spend the next few days together, everything reminding me of that day." Nathan sighed, and looked at his hands and the fresh scars that covered them. He forced a smile on his face, reached down and rubbed Fluttershy's back.
"Thanks for the concern though girls. I appreciate it. You go back and eat up now Fluttershy. You've hardly touched your lunch and you'll need your strength." She smiled sweetly and relaxed at the human's touch.
"Ok. I'll go eat. If you want to talk, I'll be here." Nathan nodded. The five mares continued their idle banter. Pinkie was still sitting on the rock beside Nathan. He was casting a questioning glance down at her, which she interpreted and responded to.
"No. I don't know. I only know relevant things, and apparently right now this isn't relevant. I do know that you plan to talk to Dash, AJ, and Rarity though. It's a good idea in theory... but I have to question why. Why now?" Nathan nodded to the pink pony, and pondered her question. In truth, while he had been idly debating talking with them on his own, the conversation with Spike that morning had sealed his resolve.
"Well, here's the way I see it. The three of them have always confused me with their attitudes towards me. Twilight I kind of get now- she sees me as an animal or monster to be studied. Maybe not exactly that, but close enough. You want to be friends with everyone. Fluttershy... eh, probably chalk that up to some form of traumatic bonding or Stockholm-like syndrome”
"Yeah. The actual condition is you spend so much time with a, well for you, 'foalnapper' that you start to have empathy for them. In this case it was just me carrying her through the forest, but still.
"At any rate, you three I get, mostly. The other three? I don't know why Rarity is so hostile, Applejack so abrasive, Dash so non-committal. At first, hoping I was only going to be here for a few days, I didn't care. Even as I was preparing to leave Ponyville this morning, I was going to sneak away without any of you following. Then Spike and I talked and... when we get to Canterlot, one of two things will happen. Either I'm going to be sent home, possibly forget all of this and it's not going to matter, or Celestia is going to lock me away for the rest of my life, as I sit in the dark and wonder just what was up with those ponies. That terrifies me. The not knowing." Pinkie Pie smiled and rolled around him in cartwheels.
"You silly billy! Celestia won't lock you away. She'll send you to the moon!" Pinkie was giggling, and Nathan couldn't help but share in the joke.
"Oh right! I forgot about that! Maybe that's where I really am now! The Luna-y Bin!" Pinkie laughed a bit more then suddenly stopped.
"I don't get it. When where you with Princess Luna, and what kind of bin does she have? How are you in it?" Nathan just kept laughing on.
"Oh God I love you ponies sometimes I really do."
"Of course Pinkie. Especially you." She squealed and bounded around some more.
"Yay! We're such good friends. Well I'm going to have more cake, ok? Don't stress out about things and dwell on the past. This is going to be no fun if you‘re a big grumpy face the whole time." Nathan nodded and smiled.
"Sure Pinkie, have fun. Thanks." She turned back to her friends and eyed up another piece of her favorite desert. No pony noticed, but if one of them had paid attention to her, they would have seen her blink away a tear.
The rest of the day passed relatively uneventfully. Rarity had stepped in some muddy snow and whined, but other than that it had been quiet. Seeing an abandoned cottage, deserted several days ago due to the restrictions put in place following the unsuccessful changeling invasion of Ponyville, they decided to stay there for the night. Nathan had persuaded a reluctant Twilight Sparkle into using her magic to pick the lock on the door, and having gained entrance quickly built a fire and began to warm the small building.
The human had gone down to a nearby stream, chipped a hole in it and caught a fish, which was currently roasting over the fire. Using a stick to slowly turn it, he allowed the scent of the crisping flesh drift into his nostrils, his stomach growling. Several of the mares expressed slight disgust at the smell, but graciously allowed Nathan to finish cooking it, recognizing the nutritional importance. Pinkie Pie had asked to try a piece, but Nathan politely denied her request, Twilight shooting him a look of absolute loathing.
The ponies had unrolled their sleeping-bags in a semi-circle around the warm fire, and most of them had snuggled in for the night. Applejack and Twilight were taking the first watch and had not bothered to get comfortable. Nathan was slumbering away in a corner already, quickly drifting off after eating his fill. A couple hours later they had come back to awaken Rainbow Dash and Nathan.
Pulling out the Pie Cannon, he inspected it for any damage, and chambered three rounds. Quietly snapping it shut, he pocketed a few extra shells and walked out the door, stepping to where Rainbow Dash was currently stretching her wings.
"Awww, I'm stuck with you? I was hoping I would have a nice sturdy earth pony or magical unicorn to back me up. What are you going to do with that thing? Poke a changeling into submission?" The cyan pegasus wore a mischievous grin. Nathan responded to the good natured ribbing, pointing the firearm at Dash's flank.
"Sorry what? I don't think I'm going to hear you over the racket this thing is about to make putting a lump in your ass." Rainbow laughed and flew up into the air.
"Hey no fair! We agreed you weren't going to use those dirty human words. They're too funny."
"What? Ass? Damn? Monkey-giblet spank master?" Dash was in hysterics.
"Yes those. You're so crude. What's wrong with you?" Nathan chuckled.
"A lot actually Dash. Something to do with being born with only two legs. Doctor told my parents I'd walk just fine, but I'd be stuck as a member of the human race." Dash, still giggling came down and landed near Nathan.
"So, how are you doing?"
"I could use more sleep, but I'm ok. The night seems pretty warm compared to earlier today."
"No not that- your conversation with Twilight earlier. She told me that wanted to talk. The two cut a wide path around the cottage their friends were sleeping in, keeping and eye out for anything out moving through the trees and bushes. Twilight and Applejack had reported nothing unusual, but Nathan suspected the glow of the fire in the window could be seen for many miles, and was likely to attract attention.
Regretting not having built a small scope for his gun, Nathan had to rely on his naked eyes and the moonlight to scan the surrounding hills for activity. At least the snow made spotting dark shapes easier. Off in the distance he could see what appeared to be some sort of feline hunting under the blanket of night. He noted, with some relief that it was too far out to be a serious threat. Pausing only to point out the cat to Dash, they continued on their patrol. Soon, Nathan had formulated his quandary.
"Actually yeah, I did, funny you should bring that up. I'm just a little confused. A lot confused really. About you and the way you act around me." Rainbow Dash looked a little confused herself. Usually the brash pegasus thought she was pretty clear on her stance. In fact, it usually got her in trouble because she didn't think things out. That the human was confused was something legitimately mystifying to her.
"Really? What's confusing? I'm the best flier in Equestria! I'm so fast that even the Wonderbolts couldn't keep up if they tried! Just wait until you see your first sonic rainboom! I’m freakin’ awesome." Nathan raised his eyebrow.
"Oh? You haven't been talking to me much lately though. We've had some fun times, you, me, Pinkie. I've enjoyed hanging out with you. Last few days though, you haven't said anything to me. In fact, I haven't seen you at all."
"Well, yeah... Whaddya expect? Last I saw you; you were waving that death stick of yours around and throwing changelings like I push clouds. Only ponies I’d expect to be able to do that would be the princesses. Don't forget that Rarity's my friend too. She's terrified of you. I mean, I think she's overreacting just a bit, but she's usually up to her horn in drama anyways. If even a bit of what she thinks is true, we should all probably be afraid of you." Dash looked deep in thought. Nathan caught the glint in her eye and smiled up at her.
"But when she was yelling at Twilight outside of the hospital and continuing to rant about me, you stood up for me. Not just to her, and Twilight, but to Applejack too." The expression on Rainbow's face dropped and she struggled to come up with an answer.
"W-well yea but... I mean... uh... hey! Who told you about that?" Nathan was chuckling now.
"Oh come on Dash, did you not think Pinkie or Fluttershy would tell me? They BOTH told me. You really don't think things out sometimes do you?" Dash was blushing and a small sheepish smile crept over her face.
"Heh... yeah well... ok fine you got me. Of course I stood up for you. You basically saved Ponyville, not that those three would ever admit it, but I recognize awesome when I see it. The most important thing to me is loyalty. Loyalty between friends no mater how old or new. Hay, most of the town don’t even care about you, but you still showed more loyalty that day then I've seen you receive in three months. Yeah, I'll admit it. You’re cool. But..."
"They're still my best friends, and even if I think they're all acting weird, well except for Pinkie but she's always weird, they probably have good reasons for it. I just don't see them. I've taken some time the last little while to just think. Try and put it together for myself. Whoa, I just sounded like such a total egghead. Twilight would be laughing."
"Figure anything out?"
"Hey, I said I SOUNDED like an egghead, not that I was one. I'm still at the same place I was a week ago. Rarity thinks this is the worst possible thing, like the time she forgot plates to a picnic, Twilight let her studies get in the way, as usual, Applejack is being stubborn, and you were basically an animal at first to Fluttershy then you saved her, so that’s not that surprising either. That and well...” Nathan shook his head and looked up to the hovering pegasus again, his confusion returning.
"That’s the thing, I don’t know. I thought it was just you being new and all, but even after I got used to you, I’ve been getting an odd feeling. Ever since that time you tried to “drown” me in the lake. It’s kind of like when one of your feathers isn’t aligned with the others, except you’re not a feather and I don’t know how you’re odd. It hasn’t gone away either, and I don’t know the hay’s up with you. Like I said – Not an egghead. Nathan started snickering a bit. “Hey! I feel stupid enough as it is jerk face. No need to rub it in. Anyways, I thought I’d leave it to one of the others. Twilight would read her books, or Fluttershy’d use her weird animal empa-thingy to pick up on it. But so far either nopony’s told me that something’s wrong, or they don’t notice it. She blushed and fidgeted slightly. “Usually I don’t take it too badly if there’s something I don’t understand. This bothers me though, because I’m pretty sure it’d bother otherponies too if they felt this. I think it has to do with the way magic is around you. Something’s… off.”
"Really? Is it that bad? I mean if the others don’t see it… could you be overreacting?” Dash shook her head.
“Nope. Only thing I overreact to are the Wonderbolts, and that’s because they’re awesome like that. I’ve actively been trying to ignore it for the better part of the last few weeks, see if it wouldn’t go away y’know? But it keeps bothering me, like somepony put ants in my saddle.”
"I think you’re cool. You’re funny, smart and just chill. However this 'bubble' of 'puny ponies, your world doesn't work on me!' that you carry around with you? I don't know what’s up with that and one way or another, I think the others have caught on to things I don’t see as well. Explains Rarity being a spaz more than usual lately, though that could just be Rarity in one of her moods. But Twilight doesn’t usually get this excited about studying something, at least not without an order from the Princess telling her to do it. So yeah, can’t blame em about being nervous about something they don’t know about. Though it’s not fair that they’ve got this caught up, while you haven’t even done anything yet." Nathan shuffled uncomfortably, thinking back to his time in Ponyville, but pushed it away, smiling.
"Well, thanks Dash, that makes me feel a lot better. I would never have guessed you cared that much. It makes a man want too..." He stopped talking as something below them on an opposing hill caught his eye. He crouched behind a bush. Rainbow Dash glanced down, confused.
"What are you doing? Aww don't be such a suck. Totally uncool. You don't have to cry. I d-ahh!" She squeaked as the human grabbed her tail and yanked her down with him.
"Shhh!" He whispered at her. "I’m not crying you dork. Shut-up and look over there." Rainbow followed his line of sight, and saw three foxes wandering through the snow. She rolled her eyes and sighed.
"Really? What, do they not have foxes where you come from?" Nathan rolled his eyes and huffed at the brash pony.
"Of course we have foxes Dash. However, when's the last time you saw a group of foxes walk in perfect formation and use their tails to purposely cover their tracks?"
"Wha...?" Dash looked again, and could see that her human counterpart's words were accurate. The trio of foxes was, in fact, doing their best to obscure signs of their passage, and were headed in the general direction of the cottage the other mares were occupying. Nathan un-slung his firearm, sighted down the barrel and flipped off the safety. He took a steadying breath and gently depressed the trigger.
The next morning, having eaten breakfast and repacked their belongings, the group of seven cleaned up the little cottage they had borrowed and set off towards Canterlot once more. While the mares finished the cleaning, Nathan had pulled out his journal and made a few more notes and entries. The individual complexities of the world and the ponies he had allied himself with were steadily overwhelming him, and having his thoughts and feelings documented so he could go back at any time and refresh his memory helped with coming to terms with the mares.
He also noted that one of the mares would have to come back later and pay for the rope they had borrowed for the night. It was probably going to break as soon as the three changelings they had tied up with it woke up and escaped.