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Fluttershy gave a small squeak as Luna’s magic lifted her of the ground. The little pegasus was swiftly swept through the door and out the cell. The dungeon corridor was lit only by the occasional torch on the wall. Luna had long since raised the moon, the light from which now cast slender beams of cool silver light onto the floor through small openings high on the outer wall. It took her eyes only a fraction of a second to adjust to the dark, and she soon spotted the guard commander. Luna’s temper flared slightly when she saw he was standing next to Twilight Sparkle along with another three of the elements of harmony.
Luna quickly turned and shut the door behind her, no longer able to risk the creature getting out of his cell. She looked expectantly at the commander before setting Fluttershy down in front of him implicatively. “Forgive me if I am mistaken, Commander. But I could have sworn you were ordered to allow no one into this building. Was I unclear in my direction?”
“Your instructions were beyond question, your majesty. The Elements are here by my request.” He responded, as he stood to his full height, steeling himself in preparation for the princess’ wrath.
“I do hope you have a good justification for disobeying your one order.”
“I went to fetch the Element of Kindness when it became obvious her majesties were unable to reason with the creature. I have read the dossiers on the Elements of Harmony, and I thought Miss Fluttershy’s experience with wild animals would enable her to possibly advise us on a more pertinent course of action. The other girls refused to allow Fluttershy to come alone, and without time to argue I brought the lot of them. I take full responsibility, your highness.”
Fluttershy stepped forward and faced the taller blue alicorn. “Your Highness, it’s not his-”
Aegis quickly turned and shot Fluttershy a hard stare, with a clear ‘stop talking’ overtone.
Fluttershy ducked into her own mane. Uncomfortable with the fact the Commander was taking the entire blame for her. It was true he came to her for advice, but what he neglected to tell the princess, was that it was she who had insisted on needing to be there to actually help. With the other girls backing her up, the Commander had little choice other than to allow them to come along.
She had no choice but to wait for the morning. Before long the girls had climbed the stairs to their rooms, near the lounge that they had made their unofficial headquarters.
Fluttershy’s room was located directly next to Rarity, and across the hall from Rainbow Dash. She noticed Pinkie Pie’s door was already shut. No light came from the small crack under the door. “It is pretty late. She must have already gone to bed,” she thought, the prospect appealing to Fluttershy, whose own eyelids were beginning to feel heavy. She closed the door behind her and curled up on the lush four poster bed. It was a bit extravagant decorum for Fluttershy’s taste, but very soft and warm. She closed her eyelids, the afterimage of two frightened blue eyes staring back at her the last thing she thought of before drifting off to sleep.
“No! It has to be PERFECT.” Pinkie Pie threw out another batch of batter. It was creamy and smooth and butter yellow, but she had used just a touch too much flour, throwing off her master recipe. It had to be followed to the letter, no deviation was allowed from the correct path. This was arguably one of the most crucial confectionary comestibles her culinary capabilities had ever crafted.
Her eyelids were drooping; she had been running on sugar and willpower for almost two days. She couldn’t quit now, she was so close!
The palace kitchens were very impressive. Everything was new and shiny. Well…everything WAS new and shiny, before Pinkie settled in. Now most of the kitchen’s surfaces were covered in flour or batter.
She didn’t have time to worry about that now. She set a clean bowl on the countertop and began to measure out appropriate amounts of flour, baking soda, and sugar. She struggled to suppress a yawn, as she reached down and picked up a kitchen knife, the handle firmly in her teeth. She scraped the blunt edge of the blade across the top of the measuring cup, shaving off a bit of flour and ensuring it was indeed one perfect cup. She dumped the contents of the cup into a bowl and repeated the meticulous process for the appropriate amounts of sugar, baking soda, milk, and salt. She even bothered to get out a ruler and scale for the butter.
Her eyelids began to droop as she reached for an egg. She picked up the delicate oval in her teeth and gently cracked it into the bowl, careful not to include any bits of shell.
Her eyes fell shut for a moment. “No!” She quickly jerked herself awake. “Can’t sleep yet.” She suppressed another yawn and picked up the eggbeater and slid the sliver ends of the device into the mixture. She flicked the switch… nothing. She toggled it back and forth a few more times, but the device remained silent. She stifled yet another deep yawn. She lazily followed the cord from the device to the wall. The plug had come out of the outlet. She picked up the rubber cord in her teeth and pushed it back into the socket. The device sprung to life, the two submerged beaters began to twirl, making the entire device jump around wildly. The rouge machine was sending little globs of batter everywhere, splattering the already filthy kitchen.
Jerked out of her sleepy daze, Pinkie Pie quickly turned and yanked the cord from the wall. The machine fell quiet with a small sputter. She chuckled slightly, as she wiped a blob of batter off her face. She made her way over to the bowl and pulled the whisks from the bowl. Disappointed she would have to, yet again, start ov- “WAIT!”
She examined the mixture up close once more. The batter clung to the whisks ever so lightly. It was fluffy and smooth and not a single lump could be seen. It was…
“Perfect,” Pinkie Pie completed her thoughts in a whisper of reverence.
This was it. This was what she needed! She continued to admire the mixture. Without wasting another moment she pranced over and grabbed a cupcake pan, placing a small paper cup in each of the metal pockets. She poured a predetermined amount into each of the depressions and placed them in the preheated oven.
Her weariness erased, she diligently watched the cupcakes through the tiny reinforced glass on the oven door, occasionally stealing a look at the countdown timer. She watched to clock slowly tick away the seconds. One by one they flitted by. Before long they would be ready, each tick bringing her closer. \
She walked over to a window in the far wall. Out into the night she looked. The top of the onyx black building could be seen, only visible because of the small square of stars it blocked from the horizon. “Soon.”
Luna unfurled her long azure wings, stretching every feather. She arched her back like a cat. Not a particularly refined move, but the only ponies around were Aegis and her sister. She doubted they would mind.
“I still don’t like it,” the Commander began. “I think it’s too dangerous, to let loose.”
“Who said we’re setting him loose? Either Luna or I will always be there to keep an eye on him. Besides you’re being far too suspicious. I do not believe he wishes to harm anypony.” Celestia assured.
“I have six guards in the infirmary that would disagree.” He retorted.
“Yes, and he put them there believing that doing so would save the entirety of civilization. He was trying to keep us safe, and he was willing to die to do it.” She countered.
“It just doesn’t feel right.” He protested.
“If he wanted blood he would have taken it.” Luna chimed in. “He’s had plenty of opportunities. The nurse, Twilight Sparkle, countless guards, he could have easily killed all of them, yet he chose not to. These are not the actions of one who wishes for violence.”
“It could be a trick.” He said stubbornly. Luna let out a laugh that had no indications of actual humor.
“If he actually staged the crash, allowed ten of his kind to die, spent six days in a coma, spared the lives of our subjects, and feigned a suicide attempt, ALL just to set us up for a trap, then I say let him. He deserves it.”
With Luna’s point well made, Aegis sat in silence, unable to think up any more arguments.
“I understand your concern, Commander,” Celestia began, “You are correct in believing this is a dangerous creature, of that I have no doubt, he clearly has a talent for violence. But these are not reasons to keep him confined. He is not an animal, and continuing to keep him imprisoned based solely on the fact that he has the potential to harm somepony is cruel and barbaric. Everypony has the freedom to choose. So far he has chosen to protect us at his own expense. I have no reason to suspect that would change. There’s no reason we can’t be civil.”
Aegis sat in silence, an irritable frown upon his face. He tried to think of a time in which he actually won an argument against the two alicorns. None came to mind.
“Besides,” Luna spoke up with a grin, “he wouldn’t dare attempt any hostility with you here to protect us.” She moved in to nuzzle the Commander affectionately. Aegis quickly stiff-armed the night princess, who adopted a wounded countenance and trotted away before shuffling her wings and curling up on a large red dais.
Celestia chuckled lightly at her baby sisters antics.
Luna could tell Aegis was suppressing a smile. She knew he would never let one show out of turn. He was too well disciplined. Luna almost regretted appointing him as commander of the Royal Guard. The position seemed to drain a good portion of the frivolity he use to display. Unfortunately, he was very good at what he did, which made him a front runner for the position.
Alas, they all had their prices to pay. Such responsibility tended to turn a pony hard, that stoic nature that seemed prevalent among those accountable for the lives of others. She was grateful that his coldness had not yet turned to resentment or apathy, as it almost always did with ponies that have seen too much.
Celestia shuffled her wings and repositioned herself on the cushion. “You should get some rest, Commander.”
“I’m fine,” he argued. “I have to get back to the barracks. The large number of guards protecting the dungeon has left a significant dent in our city patrols. I need to reorganize the night watch, and set a new schedule for rounds.” He rubbed his temple with a hoof as he continued to recite a list of tasks that needed his attention.
“All of this can be delegated. You have competent officers, Commander. I suggest you make use of them lest they feel neglected. You need to sleep, overexerting yourself helps nopony, and we’ll certainly need you at your best tomorrow.”
“There’s just too much that needs doing.”
“Must I really order you to rest?”
“Yes.” He countered stubbornly.
“Very well. Guard Commander, Aegis. By royal decree, you are hereby commanded by the Princess of Equestria, to go to sleep.” Celestia proclaimed with her natural air of authority.
Luna chimed, “Yeah, go to sleep. Also, take a vacation sometime, meet a nice mare, settle down, and have a foal before you get too old.” Luna swirled a hoof in the air as she dictated the Commander his future. “I mean let’s face it you’re not a colt anymore.” She smiled and lolled about on her dais.
After a moment of stoic impassivity on the Commander’s part, he eventually cracked a smile and even chuckled a bit. They shared a collective laugh, letting out a good deal of the tension the day had brought.
The Commander eventually stood, “It appears I have quite a bit of work ahead of me then. I’m going to have to go practice my small talk. I’m terrible at flirting.” He swung a foreleg across his chest and bowed, preparing to make his leave. Celestia nodded her head in return, acknowledging his gesture, before he turned and slipped out the door.
Luna let her eyes slide closed as she rested, enjoying the softness of the plush red cushion. She opened the one eye that was not obscured by a lock of blue hair. The white marble floor was polished to a mirror shine, and Luna stared into the reflection of the fireplace. Celestia’s taste in furnishing always struck Luna as a bit… flashy, but what was one to expect from the goddess of the sun?
Celestia too seemed lost in her own thoughts, caught in a comfortable stare. Luna begrudgingly picked herself up off of the large cushion and made her way over to Celestia, who snapped out of her trance once Luna began to move. Luna brought the tip of her muzzle to her sister’s, “Goodnight, Tia.”
“Going to sleep?” Celestia asked, sounding somewhat surprised.
“Yes. Hence the ‘goodnight’.” Luna answered with a smirk, “Why?”
Celestia shrugged her wings. “Ordinarily this time of night you’re up and about, and bothering me about sleeping the night away.”
“Hmmm, I could think of many words to describe recent events. Ordinary, is not one of them.” Celestia smiled, acknowledging Luna’s point.
Luna continued, “But otherwise you’d be correct. Unfortunately a rather alarming scroll popped into my chamber and ruined my sleep, something about an emergency with our special guest. It made it very difficult to get back to bed. So if you’ll excuse me…” She made her way to the door.
“Goodnight, Celestia. Wake me in a few hours. In the mean time, I may suggest you take some of your own advice and get some rest yourself.”
“Goodnight Luna.” With one final laugh Luna disappeared out the door, into the dark of the hallway.
“He’s not going for it.” “Yes, I can see that.” Aegis said, somewhat irritated. “What should we do?” “Nothing we can do. Unless you wanna go in and hold him down while we jam food down his throat.”
The guard shrank back, hoping sincerely the Commander was joking.
Aegis continued to stare through the tiny hole. It had been sitting there for almost an hour. It was leaning forward elbows on its knees, resting its forehead on the palms of its hands. Aegis himself had gone in about forty five minutes ago. He brought in a small dish of hay. He moved in, stopping the middle of the cell. The entire time the alien eyed him from his sitting place on the cot. It was not a threatened or hostile gaze, which surprised Aegis. He simply looked tired, tired and defeated. Aegis set the plate down and looked at the creature. It looked back. Aegis knew this look. It was the look of a broken soul. Aegis found it dangerously similar to the look of malaise a wild tiger would get after being caged and set on display in the Zoo. A good portion of the area around his eye was dark purple. The eye itself was shut, but the swelling seemed to have gone down, and even the spit skin stopped bleeding. There were still several long rents along his arms where shattered glass had sliced his hide.
The human looked down at the plate. He let out a short puff of air from his nostrils and looked back up at Aegis with the ghost of a smile.
Aegis was unsure of how to act. As far as he knew he hadn’t done anything funny. Perhaps he had offended it somehow. He merely nodded at the creature. It nodded back, seemingly amused. He lifted his right arm and touched the tip of his hand to his lips and lowered it, palm out, before folding it and resting back on his knee.
Unsure what to make of the gesture the Commander finally turned and left, leaving the plate of food for the creature.
Since then it hadn’t made any sort of move for the food. Nor had he moved from that spot. The princesses would be here soon. He resigned himself to wait and left the tiny window on the cell to attend to his other duties.
Rarity woke early, as she always did. She stretched under the covers of her luxurious four poster bed. It took her a second to recall she was in Canterlot and not her boutique, and immediately the memories of the past few days came rushing back into her mind. For a moment she merely enjoyed the warmth of the covers. Her body yearned to stay in bed and nap, but she had to prepare herself for the day ahead. She sat up and opened her eyes. The world was still dark. She pushed up the frilly eye mask she wore at night and sunlight assaulted her retinas. She squinted until her eyes adjusted.
She removed herself of the sheets and made her way to the attached bathroom. She began to take curlers out of her hair, leaving the wavy purple styled mane that she put so much love and attention into. She simply had to look her best, after all, today was the day Celestia promised to introduce them to the human. And she simply couldn’t have him thinking they were all disheveled slobs now could she? Of course not! First impressions were always the most crucial. She supposed she would have to at least try and get Rainbow Dash to brush her mane, not that she ever succeeded before in convincing the stubborn mare of the benefits of proper grooming. At least Applejack made the bare minimum step of brushing her mane and setting it in a pony-tail, even if her mane was always covered in that Stetson, which was only in style about half of the year.
Rarity had tried once to get a comb through Pinkie Pie’s hair. It disappeared into the tight bubblegum curls and was never seen again. Since then she had made no other attempts to tame pink pony’s mane.
She dipped the mascara brush into the tube and ran it along the length of her long delicate eyelashes. She fluttered her eyelids a few time experimentally before declaring her artwork satisfactory. She moved onto her favorite blue eye shadow. Careful not to get carried away, she stood back and admired herself in the mirror. “Perfect.” It was difficult not be impressed with herself. She had such a stylish mane, and such a sleek white coat. She was confident she would be turning stallion’s heads wherever she went.
The fashionista added a few extra frills to her hair, including one of her personal favorites; a diamond hair clip in the shape of her cutie mark.
Once Rarity was satisfied with her appearance, she stepped out into the hallway. Unsurprisingly she was the first one awake, but she noticed Pinkie Pie’s door was strangely ajar. She wandered over. “Pinkie? Darling, are you awake?” She received no response. She pushed her way into the room. It was almost an exact copy of her own room. Some furniture was slightly rearranged, but it was all the same furnishings. It was tidy and well kept… Too well kept, especially for Pinkie Pie. The bed was neatly made and looked as if it hadn’t been slept in for days. Pinkie Pie’s bags were neatly stacked in the corner. Rarity wandered around the room, feeling very much like a private investigator.
She looked on the bed and saw a small square of paper. Rarity’s horn glows a soft blue as she lifted the paper before her eyes. It was a short note, unmistakably Pinkie’s hoofwriting.
I’ll see you guys down there.
It wasn’t like Pinkie Pie to wake up early for anything. She was usually asleep until mid-afternoon, recovering from last night’s party. Rarity decided not to make a large deal of it. Pinkie Pie was hardly predictable. She would sometimes disappear for days and then pop out of a bowl of sponges announcing she had “won” the game of hide and seek. Rarity smiled as she recalled some of the pink mare’s exploits. She was a sweet girl, if not a bit…odd. Her heart was always in the right place.
Rarity left the room, and found Applejack standing in the hallway. As per usual, her long blonde hair was in its traditional ponytail. Rarity noticed the farm pony had her long strands of hair held together with bright red ribbon, tied off in a small bow, rather than the little red scrunchy she usually wore.
It was a slight change, but one that Rarity beamed at, it showed she was at least trying.
“Mornin’” AJ proclaimed happily, through a mouthful of something.
“Hello, Darling.” Rarity replied. Wandering over, and noticing a cart laden with breakfast stuffs she had missed the first time.
“Famished.” Rarity trotted up to the cart to examine the spread. It was rather impressive, the cart was piled with fresh fruits and warm pastries, freshly baked bread, and there was a tall pitcher of orange juice. The Princesses certainly knew how to treat their guests.
Rarity levitated a small strawberry to her mouth and nibbled on the red fruit. Fluttershy’s door began to open. Fluttershy poked her head out and inspected the hallway carefully before noticing AJ and Rarity and happily trotting over.
“Hello, dear.” Rarity greeted. Before Fluttershy had a chance to respond. Twilight spilled out of her room, her hair was in a fluster. She clearly had gotten up in a hurry, “What time is it?!” she demanded of the group. “Am I late? I forgot to bring an alarm!” “Whoa, there ponygirl.” Applejack said, smiling. “Yer right on time. I figure the Princess must intend tah toss us right on inta’ the thick a’ things cuz she had some chow left here for us. Eat up while ya gotta chance.”
Clearly relieved Twilight made her way over and began to eat with the others. “What about Dash and Pinkie Pie?” Fluttershy asked in that annoying tiny print. “Pinkie Pie wasn’t in her room when I went to check.” Rarity announced, earning a few confused looks from the collective group. “There was just this note on the bed saying she’d ‘meet us down there’.” Rarity explained.
“I don’t remember Pinkie Pie coming with us when we went to the dungeon. Do you guys?” They all shook their head. “Did anyone see her since then?” Again they all shook their heads. “How did she know we were going to go back down today? And why does she need to meet us down there? Why not go down with us?” Nopony had an answer.
“Ah think were forgetn’ who we’re talkin’ about here. It IS Pinkie Pie after all.” They couldn’t help but agree. “I reckon somepony oughta go wake up Dash though. I swear that pony’d sleep the entire day away if ya let her.” AJ mused disapprovingly.
A wisp of smoke blew up the hallway and wafted over to the group before condensing and materializing into a scroll with a sharp pop. Twilight stepped forward and magically caught and opened the scroll. She read aloud. “I hope you’ve all had a chance to grab something to eat. I apologize, but I did not believe we had time for a formal breakfast. I would like to get started as soon as possible. Meet me in the lounge whenever your ready, I would like to go over a few things with you. Signed Princess Celestia.” She set the note on the tray. “I guess we better get going then. AJ, will you grab Dash?” She stuffed a cinnamon croissant roll in her mouth before straightening her mane with a quick spell.
After a few seconds, AJ dragged a still sleeping Rainbow Dash out of her room by the tail. The sleeping pegasus occasionally flapped a wing in response to some unconscious reflex. Maybe she was dreaming. AJ poked her a few times, she shifted and groaned but then fell immediately back to sleep.
Twilight never did take to the idea of being late for anything. Horn glowing she made her way over to Dash. Twilight lowered her head and touched the tip of her horn to Rainbow’s flank. A spark arced off and delivered a small jolt into the cerulean pegasus. Rainbow shot up with a yelp, wide awake, but very confused. She glared around, breathing heavily.
“What the hay?!” Was all she had time to say before Twilight began to shove her down the hallway.
“C’mon,” She said while pushing the colorful pegasus across the marbled floor,
“We can’t get behind schedule, the Princess is counting on us.”
“What for, where are we going?!” The pegasus began to flap her wings, rising above Twilight’s pushing hooves.
“We’re meeting the Princess before we see the alien. So hurry up she’s already waiting for us!”
“Really?!” She exclaimed, suddenly very excited, “We get to go see it? Let’s go!” With that she shot down the hallway and down the stairs, leaving the group in a cloud of dust.
Twilight tapped a hoof for a moment, waiting. Rainbow Dash slowly flapped back up the stairs, and hovered awkwardly at the end of the hallway. She rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Where are we meeting her again?”
Twilight shook her head, and the group proceeded down the stairs on their way to the lounge.
“Have I missed anything exciting?” Luna queried of one of the Royal Guards standing watch outside the cell.
“No Ma’am. He hasn’t said a word since you left.”
“Did somepony try talking to him?”
“The Guard Commander, went inside early this morning, but as far as far as I am aware no words were exchanged.”
“I see.” Luna was already making plans to question the stallion upon their next meeting. Speaking of which. “Where is the Commander now?” She asked the young lieutenant.
“He left to attend other pressing duties. He assured me he would be returning shortly.”
“Consider him returned.” Aegis trotted up to the group, slightly out of breath.
“Wonderful, you’re just in time.” Luna perked up at the guard commander.
“Celestia will be bringing the Elements of Harmony down shortly. In the mean time I feel it would be polite to… warn him of the meeting.”
“Very well, Your Majesty.”
Luna regarded him with suspicious amusement for a moment. “No arguments?”
“Would it do any good?” he asked, wearily.
She smiled, “Probably not.”
“Then I shall save my breath. I clearly cannot dissuade you two. I am left with no choice other than to trust you know what you are doing… or are capable of diffusing the situation, should I be proven wrong.”
“You won’t. Your trust is well placed Commander, I assure you.” There was a slight pause. Luna waited for the Commander to respond, but if he had some witty remark or cynical anecdote ready, he didn’t share it. “So what is this I hear about you going inside?”
Aegis stiffened, “Yes. I went in to offer him something to eat.”
“What?!” Luna said suddenly alarmed, “Did he ask for food?! What did you give him?!” The Commander backpedaled a few steps, surprised and confused by the outburst. “It was just a bit of hay, but he didn’t even touch it. That’s all,” he assured.
Luna relaxed. Not that she thought he would actually feed the creature… well another creature. Apparently nopony had told the Commander about its presumed dietary habits.
“I don’t think he eats hay, Commander.” Luna corrected.
“Well then what does he eat?”
“Meat.” She said bluntly.
“We don’t have any meat. What are we going to feed this thing?” He let the question hang in the air a moment. Luna tapped her chin with a hoof in thought.
“Do you have any reservists you aren’t using? You know, maybe some ponies you don’t really ‘need’?”
The color in his face drained. His jaw hung slightly open.
“Oh come now, I was just joking!”
“That’s not funny.”
“Yes it was." She put her nose in the air, flippantly, "You clearly can not comprehend such advanced humor. And don’t worry we’ll think of something. I don’t believe it’s strictly carnivorous. The I.V. drips kept him alive while he was unconscious. We know what his body needs to survive. Unfortunately now that he’s awake…” Luna shrugged her wings. “We’ll think of something.” She assured him. “We always do.” Luna trotted up to the door once again. She peered through the tiny window slide. He was sitting on the cot, staring at the wall. His expression could not be deciphered. He just sat there, apparently lost in an absentminded stare.
Luna backed away from the door and closed the slide as quietly as she could. “Regardless I need to go in and have a few words. So if you would,” she gestured toward the door.
He nodded and began the complex process of unsealing the door. Luna waited patiently for the gap to become large enough to accommodate her. She slid inside, shutting the door behind her.
Shane looked up at the blue alicorn. He rested his head on his hands in a fashion that obscured most of his mouth. He didn’t get up, or bow, or greet the Princess in any form. His eyes were the only things that recognized her presence. His left eye was barely open, the skin surrounding it was purple, along with a long U shaped mark on his forehead.
“Good morning.” She offered sunnily. He didn’t respond. He blinked and continued to stare, as if the greeting were merely a formality that need not be addressed.
“Did you sleep?” She asked, growing uncomfortable with his silence.
He closed his eyes for a short second before shaking his head. At least it was an answer.
Luna mused on his sudden brooding, relatively calm, demeanor, she wondered at it. It was a radical change from yesterday, although she had no difficulty understanding why. His was a sad story. But there was something else to it. Seeing the fight sucked out of an admittedly fierce creature. It was like a pegasus robbed of their wings. Although this was no pegasus, and she certainly wasn’t planning on returning his wings… not yet, at least.
“How are you feeling?” she prodded with her questions, attempting to draw the human out.
He lifted his head and balled his fingers before resting his chin on a fist. “Like I got kicked in the head by a horse,” he deadpanned.
Luna smiled weakly. “Do you need anything?”
“Nothing you could give me,” he said, with a sense of finality. He surprised Luna when he flashed her a ghost of a smile and added, “but thanks anyway.”
Luna smiled back, taking it as a sign of progress.
“So what brings you to my cozy little… room? Did you come all the way down here to make small talk? Or did you just miss me?”
Luna was pleased to see he had not lost his sense of humor, unusual though it may be.
“I came with a warning, actually.” Luna sat on her haunches, noticing that she now had his full attention. “Celestia and I are not the only ones who have an interest in you. There are several others who saw to your recovery.”
He listened without comment, but she could see the uneasiness behind his eyes.
“They would very much like to meet you.” The look on his face told Luna that he was not fond of the idea.
“What’s the catch?”
“I would assume normal introductions would not require a warning, which leads me to believe that this isn’t a normal introduction. So I would ask again… what’s the catch.”
“They’re completely harmless, I assure you. But they are… young, and all things the term implies. And very curious about you. I came here only to go over a few things prior, and yes, warn you that they might be a bit… overwhelming.”
He rubbed his temples with the palms of his hands. “Bring it on,” he droned.
“There are six of them, all girls. I’ll let them introduce themselves, if they so wish.”
“Great… teenage girls… that’ll help make the headache go away.” He said, sarcasm practically dripping from his teeth.
Luna fought the urge to giggle, she liked Twilight and her friends, but they did tend to give her a headache when they all started talking at once.
“Be nice,” she chided. “They're hardly teenagers anymore I would imagine. Regardless, they’ve done a lot for you. And intentionally or not you have put them though a lot as well.”
“Don’t pull that, ‘you owe us’ bullshit. No one asked you to save me.” He said irritably.
“Well we did. And that’s another thing. Try to tone down the swearing.”
He actually cracked a smile and laughed at that.
Luna found herself chuckling lightly as well. Her eyes fell down to the plate resting on the floor. A small pile of hay still stacked upon it.
“I suppose this is a stupid question, but you don’t eat grass do you?”
“No,” he said, still grinning slightly.
“What do you eat?” She asked already knowing the answer. He cocked an eyebrow at her.
“Besides that,” she added.
“I’ll bet he liiikes... cuuuupcaaaaakes!” A new voice announced in a bubbly sing song voice.
Luna spun around to find Pinkie Pie standing proudly next to a tray of pastries. Luna’s jaw worked back and forth as she tried to give voice to her bewilderment. She looked back and forth between the pink earth pony and the locked cell door for several seconds.
Pinkie Pie took full advantage of the silence to prance forward. “Hi! I’m Pinkie Pie! What’s your name? Pfft Silly, I ALREADY know your name. That’s not why I’m here. I’m here to give you’re your very own super special, ‘Welcome to Equestria, Glad You’re Not Dead’ cupcake!” She finally took a moment to suck in a deep breath.
Shane looked back and forth from Luna to Pinkie Pie, textbook confusion dominating his appearance. He said nothing, but carefully studied Pinkie Pie as she gingerly lifted a cupcake out from its metal tray.
The pink pony started toward the human, and Luna watched with equal parts fascination and bewilderment, to see how he would react. They probably should have started him off with a more… sane pony. Then again, maybe it was best to get it out of the way now. It may make the rest seem a bit less overwhelming. Pinkie Plopped herself down in front of where the human was sitting and proffered the sugary treat.
Shane leaned forward and inspected the pony. He very slowly reached a hand and carefully poked the young mare with a finger, as if to ensure she was actually real. She giggled slightly and lifted the cake up to him. He shifted his attention to the desert. Sure enough, ‘Welcome to Equestria, Glad You’re Not Dead’ was scribbled out in thin white frosting atop the cake.
“Go on,” Pinkie Pie encouraged, pushing it along the floor towards him, “try it.”
“Umm… No, thank you. I’m uh… not hungry,” he refused as politely as he could.
“Don’t be silly, You haven’t eaten since you woke up,” she countered cheerfully.
“How do you know that?”
“Just try it. You’ll liiiiiike iiiiit.”
“No thaaaank yooouuu. Take a hint, kiiiid.”
“I made it just for you.” Her cheerfulness was starting to fade.
“I don’t want it.” He was growing irritated as well.
“Eat it.” Pinkie ordered in a flat tone, no more smile.
Pinkie’s eyes narrowed and pushed her head forward threateningly. He did the same, gaze narrow and challenging.
“Eat the cupcake.” She ordered one last time.
Shane drew in a deep breath and began a long exaggerated, “Nnnoooooooooooo-PTHH AHCK PFFT,” Which was the sound he made when Pinkie Pie stuffed the pastry into his mouth, before beaming an exuberant smile.
“Pinkie Pie!” Luna shouted, horrified.
Shane stood still choking slightly and backed against the wall, apparently just as shocked at the move as Luna was. He coughed through the mouth of cake. He made a move to spit it out, but stopped. He chewed once, twice. He looked at Pinkie Pie who had smile wide enough to split her head in two. He studied Pinkie Pie again wide eyes slowly narrowing, now suddenly fascinated by the pony.
“Is this real sugar?” He said through a cheek full of cupcake.
“Well, duh! You can’t have cupcakes without sugar!” she stated obviously.
“Jesus,” he breathed to himself. He looked around the room without really seeing it, focusing most of his sensory attention on his taste buds. “I haven’t had real sugar since I was seventeen.” He looked as if he might break into tears.
“You don’t have sugar where you come from?” Pinkie asked, mortified.
“We have it, it’s just fuckin’ expensive.” He swallowed, neck muscles moving slightly as the remaining cake disappeared down his gullet. He ran his tongue over his teeth a few times, looking very satisfied.
“Yay!” Pinkie Began bouncing around, excitedly. “He likes it!” Shane sat back down on his cot and Pinkie hopped up next to him. To Luna’s surprise he did not protest the proximity, although he did not seem overly happy about it.
Pinkie looked around, distastefully “Blegh, You been stuck in here for like two days?! Boooorrrriiiing.” She continued talking, about nothing in particular, mostly about things she would do to liven up the cell, which she declared wholly unfit for a party, although she was quite fond of the padded floor and walls.
“Omigosh! How ruuude!” she declared out of nowhere. She hopped off the cot and over to her cupcake tray. She took the tray in her teeth and walked them over to the Princess. “Ah’ frrgot ta offr yooo un too, Pincess,” she made out from between the tray in her teeth.
Luna chuckled softly, she wasn’t really hungry but she though it would be good for the human to see her have one as well. “Thank you, my dear. They look lovely.” Pinkie trotted back to the cot. “Wan’ an’utha one?”
Shane looked cautiously back at Luna who smiled and gave him an encouraging nod. He deftly lifted a cake with two fingers. “Thank you?” he said, uncertainly. Pinkie Pie hopped up back to her seat on the other side of the cot, and selected a cupcake for herself, which disappeared down her throat faster than any civilized meal should. Followed shortly by a very unladylike burp. Pinkie quickly clasped a hoof over her mouth initially embarrassed, but she soon began to giggle from behind her pink appendage.
Shane reached up and scratched the top of Pinkie’s head. She didn’t seem to mind. In fact she seemed to push back against his hand. She truly harbored no fear of the creature. The sight filled Luna’s heart with a strange warmth. “Belt-fed little thing, isn’t she?” He posed the question toward Luna, as if Pinkie weren’t there at all.
“She is indeed.” Luna agreed, having a fairly good idea of what he meant by the strange term. Much to Pinkie’s apparent dissatisfaction, the human directed his attention back toward the cupcake in his right hand. He glanced at Luna, who was nibbling on her own cake. He bit off a large corner of the confection. A small smile spread across his face as he chewed.
“What’s funny?” Luna asked.
He shook his head and swallowed. “Nothing.” He twirled the cupcake around in his hands, before popping what was left into his mouth and chewing with a satisfied sigh. Luna couldn’t help but smile as well. It was a small victory in a sea of losses. Although the day was far from over, they had overcome their first challenge. Luna folded her legs beneath her and rested on the padded floor. She flared her wings out and stretched. She looked back up to find that Shane had stopped eating his cupcake to watch Luna. She suddenly felt very self conscious under his critical gaze. She folded her wings back against her side. Silence began to grow. The only real sound was Pinkie Pie, loudly devouring another cupcake.
“Do they work?”
“What?” Luna asked, already a fair idea of what he meant.
He nodded toward her back. “The wings, do they work?”
“Of course,” she answered slightly amused. “I take it you don’t have pegasus ponies where you’re from.”
He shook his head. “None with horns either.”
“You have earth ponies though, right?” Pinkie chimed in, through a mouthful of cake.
“If by ‘earth ponies’ you just mean normal ponies, then sure, but they aren’t anything like you. You don’t even look like them. Our ponies are just…well, animals. They don’t talk or think, beyond pure instinct. You don’t even look like them. You guys are more… evolved, I guess. You're thinner, your heads are more rounded, smaller snouts, larger eyes. None of ours have wings, or horns… definitely none with both.” “Interesting.” Luna contemplated his words.
“What are you, exactly.”
“What do you mean?”
“You and your sister are the only ones I’ve seen with both. Why?”
“It is the way we are. Celestia and I are called Alicorns, very few exist.”
“Alicorns,” he repeated rolling the word around in his mouth. “I guess ‘pegasus-unicorn’ was just too clunky for ordinary conversation then, huh?”
“For one who has never encountered either, you seem fairly familiar with the terms.” Luna recalled never having mentioned unicorns, which meant he had picked it up on his own, somewhere.
He took a deep breath, trying to find a way to successfully explain. “Unicorns and pegasuses-”
“Pegasi,” she corrected.
“Whatever, they don’t exist where I’m from, but the idea of them exists. If that makes sense. They were always just a fantastical bedtime story, they weren’t real.”
“Interesting,” Luna said absentmindedly, amused with the thought of being a bedtime story. “You had knowledge of us, prior to experience.”
“Not really knowledge, more like… conjecture. We didn’t really know of you, it just fictional amusement steeped in ancient mythology.”
“You have mythology about ponies?” Luna was curious about what manner of stories these humans were telling about her kind.
“Sort of. More like stories and ancient superstition. 'Pegasus' was the name of a winged horse that served the gods, brought lightning, and defeated the chimera, all sorts of fun stuff.”
“You have Chimeras as well then?”
“No it’s just anoth- wait… YOU have chimeras?”
“A few, last time I checked,” she said trying to recall the last time she had seen one.
“What kind of fuckin’ fantasy land is this?!” he demanded, irritated. He slumped back against the wall and crossed his arms, muttering something about ‘imaginary bullshit’.
“These creatures are also fictional in your world?” Luna questioned.
“Yes, chimeras do not exist in my world.”
“Strange, you are aware of many of our native species, yet no pony records speak of your kind, in song nor legend.”
“If you’re seeking logical answers from this mess, then I think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment there, Princess.” He leaned up and looked over at the pink earth pony occupying the other side of his cot. Pinkie had remained quiet for the majority of the conversation. Her mouth was quite occupied devouring its way through the cupcakes which she seemed to have forgotten were for the human.
Pinkie realized she was being stared at. “What?” she asked through the cake in her mouth, “it’s good!”
Shane scooted a bit away from Pinkie Pie, onto the far edge of the cot.
Twilight stopped behind Celestia, followed closely by her five friends. There was a larger number of guards present this time. Twilight wondered inwardly if the increase in security had something do with their visit.
Celestia turned and addressed the collective group, minus Pinkie Pie of course, who was still nowhere in sight. “Alright girls remember what I told you, be polite, try to keep questions light, ask them one at a time,” she put extra stress on that bit, “absolutely no touching, stay behind me at all times, try to avoid making sudden moves, introduce yourselves, be clear, and remember he is not familiar with our cultural niceties and can be a bit… abrasive, so try not to take offense it may just be a misunderstanding. Are we all clear?” She looked over the group.
All the girls nodded enthusiastically, impatient to get inside ad see the alien awake. Fluttershy pranced forward eagerly. Her willingness to enter a small room with an alien who had a history of violence confused Twilight at first, but the more she thought about it the more sense it made. Fluttershy only seemed… well shy around other ponies. The mare had walked up to a rampaging Manticore without blinking.
Fluttershy held the handle of a white box emblazoned with a red cross firmly in her teeth. Her smile could be seen even through the handle in her mouth. Celestia held a wing out to block the young pegasus’ path.
“Remember, my dear, ONLY if you ask his permission first. I hate to say it but I’m not so sure you left him with the greatest of impressions upon your last meeting.”
Fluttershy nodded and said something that sounded something like an affirmative but whatever she actually said was lost in the handle between her teeth. Celestia moved to the door and motioned for the guards to take up their usual positions on either side. The guard commander approached Twilight. He stood at her side and watched the guards form their ranks on either side. Without turning to face her he said in an undertone, “You don’t have to go in if you don’t want to.”
Twilight shot him an unusual look. “I’ll be fine. You worry too much.”
He seemed far less than pleased with her response. His face darkened. “Twilight, that thing could have killed you.”
“But it didn’t. It even apologized… sort of. Everything that has happened so far has been a tragic misunderstanding. I have the power to fix it and I will.”
Aegis’ jaw clenched. He was clearly biting his tongue to prevent some glib remark from breaking free.
Muffled voices could be heard from the other side of the door, which drew everypony’s attention. It sounded vaguely like shouting, but the thick door made certainty impossible.
“Alright girls,” Celestia said, her voice a mixture of excitement and trepidation, “are you ready?”
With Fluttershy leading the pack with obvious enthusiasm, the girls all stacked up in front of the door and waited.
“I’m going to go in first. Luna should already have already… notified him of our visit today.” Celestia’s horn lit, bathing the room in a soft golden shadow, and the subtle clinking of tiny machines could be heard, working from their hiding places within the wall.
Twilight’s heart pumped inside her chest. She did her best to maintain the illusion of composure. She quickly stole a glance at the other girls. Fluttershy stood uncomfortably close behind Celestia, anxious to do what she did best. Applejack was doing a poor job of masking her discomfort with the whole situation. Rarity’s nose was in the air, busy as she was to look as dignified as possible. The studied inattention on Rainbow Dash’s part made Twilight feel slightly better. The mare was obviously putting on a brave face to reinforce her ‘tough-guy’ disposition, but the idea that somepony could be so aloof, considering the circumstances, helped relieve the tension. Plus the thought of studying the alien was far too enticing to pass up. It was a scientist’s dream. Twilight had no intention of letting such a didactic moment slip through her grasp. Besides, the Princess would be there this time. Nothing would go wrong.
The heavy door slowly swung inward. The crack between the wall and door grew ever wider in a painfully deliberate pace. Twilight took a deep breath the cool dungeon air. As soon her lungs could were filled she held it for a moment, before parting her lips and allowing the breath to rejoin the atmosphere. Her heart still hammered as the door continued to open, now wide enough to accommodate Celestia. The snow white sun princess held up a wing to keep Fluttershy from slipping in behind her. Celestia poked her head inside the opening. Her slender white frame soon followed, disappearing completely inside the room. Twilight adjusted her saddlebags as she repeated the words to herself while taking the first steps toward the cell.
“The Princess is here. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing will go wrong. Nothing. Will. Go. Wrong.”
“It does NOT!” The human argued vehemently.
“IT DOES!!!” Pinkie Pie shouted back, just as angrily.
The squabble between the two had been growing for several minutes. Originally Luna was content to see how the small debate would play out. At first it seemed to be nothing more than a fun topic of interest, but soon the dispute began to grow in intensity. Neither side was willing to yield ground the argument rapidly grew heated. At a point Luna was slightly shamed to admit she was afraid to insert herself between them lest the argument turn feral.
“Peppermints do NOT count as candy!” he reiterated.
“They TOTALLY do! Why shouldn’t they?”
The fact that neither party seemed able to provide sufficient evidence to back up their claims, soon led the debate to become simply a contest to see who could repeat their points louder. Luna feared they would soon be screaming at one another. For the moment she was merely glad neither had resorted to blows.
“Nobody goes, ‘hmm I have such a sweet tooth, I think I’ll grab a breath mint’, do you think breath mints are candy?” he challenged the bubblegum pony. Luna had to admit, she had never seen any ponies fight so avidly for something Luna considered so inane. She was unsure whether to be impressed at their passion or censorious of their inconsequentiality.
“Breath mints are obviously different!” she retorted.
“Obviously how?! A mint is a mint! How is it any different?”
“Of course breath mints don’t count as candy. I mean, DUH. Everypony knows that. But a peppermint does! They’re called CANDY canes, after all.” Shane immediately turned on Luna. “You have been too quiet. Who's right? Do peppermints count as candy or not?!”
Both Shane and Pinkie Pie stared intently at Luna, who felt extremely uncomfortable under their pressuring eyes. “I’d, actually, prefer not to take sides.” She affirmed.
Shane threw up an accusatory finger. “Coward! Quit riding the fence. Now is the time to declare yourself!” he demanded.
The metallic sound if tiny machines clicking out of place broke the awkward silence that was pressing against Luna like a suffocating blanket. All heads turned to the door, ears straining to hear the distinct sound of clinking levers and bolts.
“They’re here. It’s time.” Luna announced with finality. And not a moment too soon, she thought, grateful for the change of subject.
Shane turned back around to Pinkie Pie. He pointed a lone finger down at the young girl. “This isn’t over,” he notified. He sat back down on his end of the cot, this time much further from Pinkie Pie’s side, which she seemed to have commandeered for herself.
“Are you ready?”
“What happens if I’m not?” he asked, sounding apprehensive.
“They come in anyway,” Luna admitted.
“I’m noticing a trend here,” he said sardonically.
The door suddenly began to inch inward. The heavy door was slow. Its leisurely pace was not making the anticipation any easier to bare. The gap between the door and frame was slowly becoming larger. Luna anxiously awaited the arrival of her sister and pupil. She was eager to how the human reacted to normal ponies. Shane seemed to tolerate Celestia and herself well enough, but tolerate seemed to be the extent of his feelings for the two. He didn’t seem overly fond of anypony so far. Needless to say he hadn’t had an exceedingly positive experience when it came to her species. She hoped he would at least receive them well enough. Luna and her sister were hardly good representatives of pony society. Luna was also highly interested in seeing if he would be able to form social bonds beyond the instinctual.
Celestia’s nose poked inside as she took in the scene of the room. She looked first at the human. Her face became highly confused when she beheld Pinkie Pie sitting on the opposite side of the cot. Celestia shot a questioning glance at her sister that bordered on alarm.
Luna shrugged her wings. Celestia merely looked tired as she pushed her way inside. She did not go and sit by her sister, however. Celestia instead, stood in front of the door, in preparation for the coming guests. The act reminded Luna very much of a crossing guard escorting little school children across the street.
She glanced back at the human who was busy eyeing Celestia with a poorly concealed uncertainty. Celestia watched him as well. This time her stare was much less warm. Celestia was giving the human a warning look, the kind her normally kindhearted sister would rarely adopt. Luna secretly wondered if her sister was attempting to send a message with her countenance. Perhaps she wanted to drive home the point that no iniquitous behavior would be tolerated around the young mares.
The first of the five popped inside the room with a bubbliness that was normally reserved for Pinkie Pie alone. One of the few elements the human had encountered before, and admittedly, the only other one that Luna was concerned about; Fluttershy. He did not seem to enjoy his last encounter with Fluttershy. She was apprehensive to see what manner of response seeing her again would evoke.
Fluttershy trotted inside carrying a bright white box with an emblazoned red cross on the front. The handle of the medical case was clutched firmly in her teeth, although her smile was evident despite the fact. Luna shifted her attention back to the human who had been too busy matching Celestia’s stare to pay any real mind to the newest arrival.
“How come Pinkie Pie got in first?” Dash demanded as she stuck her head in second.
She saw his gaze flick fleetingly to the little pegasus. He did a double-take of Fluttershy, this time his whole head swiveling.
He immediately went stiff. He diverted his eyes and stared at the opposite wall. “What the hell?! Why is she here?!” He threw up a finger in Fluttershy’s direction.
“Calm down she just wants to help.” Luna assured.
“You keep saying that. You guys have a pretty fucked idea of help.” He was still facing the other wall.
Fluttershy had stopped head in her tracks. The med kit still hung in her teeth, but her former bubbly demeanor had vanished. The young mare looked devastated. This was exactly what Luna feared. He must hate her for what she did.
Celestia stepped forward and spoke. “Shane, she’s only here to talk. She isn’t going to use the stare again. We don’t have to keep doing this. This ‘us versus you’ relationship must end. We’re all on the same team here. I admit, unfortunate mistakes have been made. But I can not change the past. And as difficult as it may be, you need to trust that we are trying our best to help you.”
“Forgive me, if I don’t share you optimistic outlook. But it seems like every time you have tried to help, I ended up bruised and in chains. You say we need trust and yet you bring your little… weapon with you. I’m not feelin’ the trust here, Princess. You want my trust? Earn it. Start by getting rid of the girl.”
Twilight made her way out from behind Celestia. The young mare haltingly worked her way out from behind Celestia and over to where the human sat. She stopped about halfway into the room. Celestia eyed her carefully. Luna wondered what the young girl was playing at.
“Shane?” Twilight said in a soft questioning voice.
He froze at the sound of her voice. He even dared to turn his head enough to peek at Twilight through the corner of his eye. Something about her must have grabbed his attention because he seemed to forget about Fluttershy entirely. He turned his entire head to see the purple pony. He opened his mouth slightly as if attempting to speak but he forced it shut an instant later. He seemed to catch a glimpse of Fluttershy in his peripheral, because his head snapped back to the opposing wall, looking very disturbed.
“We just wanted to meet you.” Twilight was speaking in as soothing as soothing a voice as she could, “We’re not going to hurt you,” she assured.
He let out a hot puff of air from his nose, as if the notion both amused and annoyed him. Twilight either didn’t notice or was ignoring it because she continued unfazed. “I know it might be difficult for you to believe, but I promise Fluttershy was just trying to help. She isn’t going to use the stare again. Just let her stay.” Twilight stopped to see if he had had an answer. His brow furrowed but he made no indication answering. “Please?” Twilight added.
This time he turned back to face Twilight. An unidentifiable emotion in his eyes. It could have been longing, or fear, or anger, maybe all three. Luna wasn’t sure.
“She faces the corner. She will not move. She will not talk.”
“Don’t you think that’s a bit-“
“That’s the deal. Take it or leave it,” he interrupted, “This is as far as I bend.”
He left very little room to maneuver. Luna was uncomfortable with his demands. Maybe it was fair; after all, Fluttershy hadn’t exactly been delicate when they last met. Twilight looked back at Celestia for answers. The princess, however, offered no council. Instead Celestia simply watched the human, her own face inscrutable.
Realizing the situation was hers to rectify, Twilight turned back around, and faced the human. “We aren’t going to make Fluttershy face the wall,” she said, resolutely, “I understand you might not trust her but she was only trying to help you. If you would just giver her a chance-“
“It’s okay, Twilight,” came a tiny voice from behind, “I don’t mind. I understand.” Fluttershy picked up the case in her mouth once more, and although some residual tears clung to the corers of her eyes, she seemed happy that she was at least not being kicked out of the room. She had her hoof in the door, so to speak, and maybe from there she would be able to slowly gain his faith. It was a small step, but it was progress. She made her way to the far corner of the room and sat down, consigned to wait.
Luna took an extreme interest in his reaction to Twilight. He definitely remembered her. She could think of no other reason for him to act that way. She hated to admit she felt a pang of jealousy at the fact that Twilight had been able to win some ground against the human so easily. He allowed Fluttershy to stay just because Twilight said please? It had taken Luna arguing and prodding just to get him to talk, much less win an argument. She made a mental note to keep track of the phenomenon.
Celestia stepped forward “Major, if I may make introductions. I believe you have already met Miss Fluttershy, and also apparently Pinkie Pie. The ones you haven’t met; Applejack,” Celestia nodded toward the orange earth pony, who tipped her hat slightly, “Rarity,” she motioned toward the white unicorn, “and Rainbow Dash.” Dash flared her wings and beamed proudly. “And this is Twilight Sparkle, whom I believe you have also… met.”
“That’s one way to put it,” Shane commented quietly. He stared at the purple unicorn awkwardly for a moment. “I uh… I’m… sorry, about that, by the way.” Twilight looked at him, appearing confused. “You know… the whole…” he fumbled with his words for a moment before just slashing a thumb across his throat and clicked his tongue, “thing.”
Twilight was about to respond, but suddenly Rainbow Dash blitzed over and landed in the center of the room.
“Great that’s settled. Now, I have some questions for you.” Rainbow Dash came on a bit strong, but it certainly changed the pace quickly. When Rainbow wanted something, she was famously impatient for anything that impeded her obtaining it. She wanted answers and by Celestia, she was going to get them. “First of all; who taught you to speak Equestrian?” Dash was shouting a bit more than she normally did.
Everypony suddenly became very interested in his pending answer.
Luna herself was very curious about this as well, and awaited his reply with enthusiasm.
He slowly turned his head, not even acknowledging Dash’s question. He took a fleeting glance at Fluttershy who, true to her word was sitting in the corner. He continued to watch her for a moment, as if to make certain the dangerous end would remain pointed in a safe direction.
“Um…helloooo? I’m talking to you.” Dash reminded impatiently. He returned his attention to the brash young mare in front of him. He inspected her for a moment looking confused, he cocked an eyebrow and looked to Luna. “I’m sorry, who is this again?” he said, sounding impatient and annoyed with the forthrightness of the rude cerulean pegasus.
“My name, is Rainbow Dash,” she declared hotly, clearly not happy with being ignored.
He looked incredulously at the mare, eyebrow still cocked. “Of course it is.” He looked up at Celestia. “Subtlety is not an art you guys practice is it?” Celestia smiled slightly, but gave no response.
“Hey!” Dash shouted.
“What?!” Shane finally acknowledged.
“I asked you a question! How can you speak Equestrian?!”
“I’m not. YOU’RE speaking English and I was going to ask you the same thing.” His reply was terse and slightly angry. It also answered no questions. Twilight spoke up. “So is that the name of your home? You are English?”
He let out a sarcastic laugh, as he tilted his head to check and make sure Fluttershy was still facing the corner. He turned back to Twilight. “No. English is just the language. ‘America’ is the name of my home country. The United States.”
“Which is it?” Applejack finally spoke up.
“It’s both,” he said eyeing the newest speaker, “It’s the United States of America.”
“United States,” twilight rolled the words around in her mouth for a bit, “so you are a nation made up of smaller nations?”
“Sort of. We have fifty states, capable of operating independently, but all subservient to one governing body, which is made up of different branches.”
“So it’s like an oligarchy?”
“Constitutional republic,” he corrected.
“You do not have a set leader?”
“We have a leader. Every four years we elect president to lead the country, when his four years are up, they step down and a new one is elected. It’s complicated.”
“Fascinating,” Twilight mused. “How many of you are there?”
“How many?” The question seemed to confuse him.
“Yeah, like how many humans are there?”
He shrugged, “I don’t know…like eight or nine billion or so, give or take a few hundred million.”
“Is it true you humans eat ponies?” Dash interjected loudly.
Twilight chided, “Dash, I’m sure he doesn’t actually-”
“Yes,” he answered with a grin.
The room went deathly silent. All eyes, with the exception of Fluttershy’s, locked on the human who was clearly enjoying the reaction. Even Pinkie Pie looked a bit horrified. Dash went pale, as the color seemed to drain from her face.
“…re… really?” she stammered, suddenly feeling very delicious.
He chuckled lightly. “No, I’m just messing with you. There are some humans that eat horses, but not many.” He was practically reveling in their horror.
He looked at Rainbow Dash, grin widening into an amused smile. The pegasus seemed to shrink under his eyes. “No.” He let the word wash over their ears. An audible sigh of relief could be heard. “Actually in most civilized circles eating horse meat is highly frowned upon. Humans and horses have had a codependent relationship for several hundred years. Humans have kept horses as helpers and companions for a long time. People got attached to them. The use of them as food is seen as taboo to say the least… so relax.”
“You kept them? Like… as pets?” Twilight sounded disturbed.
“Our ponies aren’t like you. They’re just animals. Basic instincts, no real intelligence, just animals.”
“I see… What about you?”
“What about me?”
“Yeah, you know, What are you like.”
“What’s your favorite color?” Pinkie added boisterously.
“Green,” he said absentmindedly answering Pinkie, “What do you want to know?”
“Everything,” she encouraged.
“How about you narrow it down a tad.”
“Do ya’ll have any family?” Applejack finally spoke.
He turned and noticed the orange mare. He smiled when he saw her, but it quickly started to fade. “None to speak of.”
Luna wondered at his evasive answer but did not press him on the subject.
“What does ‘U S Marines’ mean?” Twilight asked, noticing the bloodstained blouse, and remembering the letters stitched onto the front.
“That’s what I am. I’m a Marine.”
“I thought you were a human.”
“A Marine is a type of human. Our government selects the best humans they can find, then trains them to become Marines. Then they charge us with the protection of the country.”
“You’re like guardians?”
“More like attack dogs,” He mumbled.
“Why do they call you Marines?”
“Because of our maritime heritage. But we have a bunch of names; leatherneck, jarhead, devil dog.”
“Those aren’t very nice names.”
“We aren’t a very nice bunch.”
“Yes, you’ve made that painfully clear.” Luna piped teasingly.
He grew a twisted grin, as if it were a compliment.
“What are the other humans like?” Twilight prodded.
“What do you mean?”
“You know... what are humans like? Explain them to me.”
“You want me to explain humanity? Do you know how long that would take?”
“Do you have somewhere better to be?” Dash queried amusedly.
After a brief moment, he actually started to laugh. It was a kind of depraved mocking laugh, as if the grim truth amused him. “I guess not,” he answered in between chuckles. “What are humans like?” he repeated to himself. He shrugged, and glanced over to make sure Fluttershy hadn’t moved. “Humans are… different. No two are ever the same. If you’re looking for a nice neat answer then, I’m sorry but there isn’t one. There is a lot of evil in humanity, but there is also a lot of good. I’ve seen people all ends of the spectrum. Humans are impossible to label, and without the benefit of years of cultural subtleties I’m afraid anything I tell you is just going to be white noise.”
It wasn’t the answer she was expecting, but in retrospect Twilight felt slightly silly for asking it. She doubted she would be able to explain all of ponydom in one sitting to a being with zero experience of it.
Twilight’s horn glowed softly and she produced a pad of paper from within her saddlebags. She needed to document everything and, whether he meant to or not, he had actually revealed a great deal about his species. They were capable of free will, they understood the concept of good and bad, and therefore possessed some moral center. She had to keep in mind that their ‘good and bad’ might not be the same as her ‘good and bad’; humans might have a different definition for morality than ponies.
Twilight suddenly noticed the deathly quiet in the room. She looked up from her notes and noticed Shane was eyeing her cautiously. She lowered the pad of paper, his eyes followed. She realized it wasn’t her he was staring at, but the floating quill and paper. It took her a moment to remember that his was not a magic using species, this must be the first time he has seen it up close.
The human stood up and walked, slowly over to Twilight. Twilight heard Celestia begin to move somewhere behind her. The human looked at the floating objects as one might a puzzle box that needed to be studied and deciphered, he stopped in front of the pad of the quill and paper. He leaned down and inspected them up close, but took care to not touch them.
“How are you doing that?” he asked Twilight, his eyes never leaving the quill.
“Magic.” Twilight stated simply.
He snorted. “No, seriously.” He waved a hand over and under the quill to make certain there were no strings holding it up.
“I am serious. It’s magic, just a simple manipulation spell.”
“There’s no such thing as magic,” he voiced absentmindedly. He scratched his chin, his fingernails dragging over the short stubble of whiskers. He reached out with his right hand, carefully bringing it closer to the floating quill. He extended his index finger and gingerly made contact with the quill. The aura of Twilight’s purple magic seemed to flicker and dim slightly. He retracted his finger and the aura brightened, becoming normal once again. He touched his finger back to the quill once again, this time leaving it there. The magic didn’t waver this time, but rather suddenly died out completely. The quill fell to the floor of the padded cell, leaving a small black ink dot where the nub fell.
The human nudged the now lifeless quill with the tip of his boot. It remained inanimate. He deftly reached down and plucked it from the floor. Everypony watching him carefully. He studied the quill up close, examining its every detail. Pinching the quill in two fingers he held it out, and released it. It once again fell to the floor.
Twilight lit her horn and channel her magic into the quill, once again wrapping it in the purple light, and lifting it up off the floor.
He watched carefully. “What is it?” he asked intrigued.
“It’s the physical manifestation of magical energies. I can direct them from myself into an object.”
“So it’s magnets?” he concluded.
“What? No. Magic is a complex discipline. It takes years of study and rigorous training. The scope of arcane energy is a precise avocation. Much more complicated than magnets.”
He nodded and straightened himself. “Magnets. Got it.” He went and sat back down next to Pinkie Pie.
“It’s not magnets!” Twilight declared, beginning to sound a bit offended.
Rainbow Dash began to chuckle, highly amused by Twilight’s frustration.
Luna stepped forward. “This actually reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to ask you.”
“Shoot,” he deadpanned, sounded less than trilled with all the questions.
“You seem to interfere with our spells. I don’t quite understand why. Sometimes they work perfectly fine, other times they have strange side effects, or don’t work at all. Would you have any idea what’s causing this?”
He shrugged. “My remote doesn’t work on my neighbor’s TV. Doesn’t mean there’s something wrong. My remote just wasn’t made to work on his TV. If I had to guess, I’d say your magic wasn’t made to work on me. But that’s just a guess. Magic doesn’t exist where I am from.”
Pinkie Pie was shuffling around on her side of the cot. She shifted herself around as if uncomfortable. A muffled clinking could barely be heard from inside a folded wool blanket. Pinkie Pie poked her nose into the folds of the cover. “Oooh, what are these?” She pulled out her head from under the blanket, several silver chains dangling from her mouth. They swung about a bit, jingling slightly, like a sad little wind chime. Shane immediately snatched them from her mouth. “Don’t touch those!” he snapped, shooting her a harsh glare.
Pinkie shrank back some, not sure what she had done wrong. “I’m sorry,” she said in a very small voice. “Did I do something bad?”
“No, my dear,” Celestia assured in a calming voice. Celestia turned her word to the human. “Shane, she didn’t know.”
“Know what?” Pinkie prodded, clearly confused.
Shane set the bundle of chains and tags on his lap and began undoing the buttons of his outer cammie blouse. He shrugged it off his shoulders, and tugged on the cuffs, wincing as the fabric brushed against his skin as he pulled his arms out of the sleeves.
Once he was free of the garment he picked up the silver tags off his lap and placed them on top of the blouse. He folded the fabric over on itself several times, and tied the two sleeves together, sealing the tags inside the bundle of fabric. He placed the bundle on the floor at his feet and scooted it under the cot and out of sight. He sat there brooding for a moment. Everypony seemed to be watching him, but he paid them little to no mind.
“You’re bleeding,” Celestia stated with concern.
At this, Fluttershy spun round looking deeply apprehensive.
He stirred from his gloomy trance, held out his arms and inspected himself. A few of the cuts along his forearms were slowly leaking blood. A few drops slowly worked their way across his hide, leaving a trail of crimson. “Yup,” he surmised, apparently not very surprised by the fact. He watched a bead of red, sluggishly blazing a trail down his skin, looking bored.
“You need to have those looked at,” Celestia pushed.
“I’m looking at them right now,” he said with a sly grin.
“By a doctor,” she added, annoyed.
“Why? You can’t fix it with magic?” challenged mockingly.
“We tried using magic to heal you. There were… side effects, and it almost killed you.”
“Wouldn’t that have been a shame,” he quipped sarcastically. He looked over at Fluttershy and frowned. “I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to be facing the corner,” he said coldly.
Fluttershy bent down and picked up the medical kit in her teeth and looked at him imploringly.
He glanced at the kit and then back up to Fluttershy. “No,” he said, shooting her down before she could actually ask.
Luna finally spoke up. “Shane she can help, why won’t you let her.”
“I don’t trust her,” he admitted, “she has evil eyes.”
“Just let her wrap your arms. It’ll only take a moment, then she can right back to staring at the corner.”
“No.” He folded his arms, and stuck up his nose, shutting her out.
Luna looked to Twilight. Twilight noticed Luna watching and gave her an inquisitive look. Luna nodded toward the human, then back to Twilight. Twilight seemed confused for a moment, but soon she got the message. Twilight gave the night princess one last uncertain glance. Luna nodded encouragingly.
Twilight stepped forward, Shane noticed her approaching and cocked an eyebrow at the purple filly. “Shane? You need to let Fluttershy help, she’s very gentle, I promise. If you don’t let somepony dress those cuts they’ll get infected. Please will you let Fluttershy help, pleeeaaasse?” Twilight was using her best puppy dog face.
The human appeared impassive, but Luna could tell inside he was considering allowing the little pegasus near.
“Why not?” Twilight pushed, disappointed.
“I don’t like her,” he stated, as if she weren’t standing in the room.
“Will ya’ll quit bein’ so stubborn. The girl is tryin’ ta help you. If ya quit bein’ so darn suspicious, you’d see she’s just about the sweetest pony ya’ll could ever meet. Now just let her patch ya’ up or ya’ll are gonna keel over from loss-o blood,” Applejack scolded the human.
He stared at Applejack, apparently surprised by the sudden tongue lashing, but he said nothing.
“Everything will be fine,” Twilight promised. “Trust me.” Shane stared at Twilight for a moment, attempting to find any traces of deceit in the pony’s eyes. He flicked his eyes over to Fluttershy, who was still looking at him with imploring eyes. His brow furrowed and he took a deep breath, staring off into the distance.
Right as Twilight began to fear he was never going to relent. He held his arms out in front of him, saying nothing, but allowing Fluttershy access to them.
Fluttershy beamed, like a foal on their birthday. She pranced over happily.
Shane stiffened as she approached but did not protest. Instead he busied himself staring into the top corer of the room clenching his jaw.
Fluttershy popped the two latches on the tin case and flipped open the lid. She picked out several sterile pads and a brown bottle of peroxide, along with several rolls of ace wrap. When the human was standing her head might only reach his torso. Even if she were to stand on her hind legs he would still be a few hands taller, but now that he was sitting she had easy access to his extended arms. She began by inspecting each cut closely.
The human jumped slightly when one of her hooves came into contact with his arm, but he said nothing. Fluttershy tried to be more gentle, as she finished examining the lacerations. She went back and removed the lid from the bottle of peroxide. “Um… this, might sting a little,” she warned.
“Just do it,” he sighed, impatiently.
Fluttershy took the bottle in her teeth and slowly tilted her head, allowing the foul smelling brown fluid to spill out over the various wounds.
His jaw tightened but otherwise did not react to the bubbling peroxide on his arms.
Once every wound had been adequately doused, Fluttershy took the first of several sterile gauze pads and placed it over the first laceration. She compressed it down on the cut, causing him to stiffen and his breath to catch.
“I’m really sorry,” Fluttershy was quick to apologize.
“Just hurry up,” he said through clenched teeth.
Fluttershy quickly grabbed another pad of gauze and placed it over another cut, repeating the process until all the wounds on his arms were covered. She grabbed the first roll of bandages and began wrapping his arms, starting at the wrists and then unrolling the bandages around his arms. She reached his elbow before the first roll ran out. She quickly grabbed another and continued on his upper arms, making sure to leave enough room so that he would not tear open the bandages if he were to flex. She wrapped his other arm and stood back to inspect her handiwork.
“Um…Some of those should really be stitched, but that will do for now.”
He moved his arms, clearly not happy with the slightly restricted mobility, but the bandages held. He finished his inspection and nodded awkwardly at Fluttershy, apparently in thanks.
Celestia was wearing a contented smile. Things were improving. Every inch of ground was hard won, but won all the same. Progress with this human was slow, but steady. She doubted they would ever be able to break down his walls completely, but they had gained precious advancements today. It wouldn’t be easy. To gain his trust they were going to have to earn it, and after the events of the past two days, they had a lot to make up for. But Celestia was confident it could be done.
Shane let out a long jaw stretching yawn.
“Tired?” she questioned.
He nodded. “I forgot sugar comes with a crash.” He chuckled nostalgically.
Celestia looked puzzled. She looked to Luna for an answer.
Luna smiled sheepishly. “Apparently aliens like sugar,” she shrugged “who knew?”
“And who gave him sugar?” Celestia asked, curious.
Pinkie Pie raised her hoof. “Oooh Pinkie Pie did! Wait. That’s me. I did! I made some cupcakes as a welcome to Equestria present!” She bounced happily recounting the story.
“Well that was very sweet of you.” Celestia praised, causing Pinkie Pie to beam. Celestia shifted her attention to Shane. “So, baked goods and meat? You have a strange diet. What else do humans eat?”
He shrugged again. “Fruits, vegetables, grains, pizza, pasta, popsicles, you name it, and there’s a good chance there’s a human that eats it.”
“Well, I’m afraid our pantry is a bit lacking in the meat department. But if you’d like, we would be honored if you would join us for dinner this evening,” she finished diplomatically.
He held out his bandaged arms to either side. “Eh, why not? It isn’t like I had something better planned.”
“Wonderful. It will also give you a chance to get out of this cell. We’ll have you moved to another room up in the castle as soon as I can make the arrangements.”
“I’m not staying here?”
“Of course not. This is a jail cell. Why? Did you want to stay here?”
He shrugged yet again. “I’ve stayed in worse places than this. It’s dry, it’s warm, thick walls, natural choke point, flank security. It suits me just fine. Besides I figure I’m out of the way down here. And judging by the gross amounts of guards and secrecy, I take it my existence is still largely a secret. What happens when some random civvy sees me wandering the halls?”
“You’ve puzzled out the situation quite well,” she said amused.
“I didn’t make it this far in life on my good looks alone.”
Celestia chuckled. “Equestria is home to many a strange species. So long as you stay in the castle and out of the spotlight, I doubt there would be any serious problems. But you are correct, I’d like to keep you away from the general population for as long as possible, at least until I can address the issue publicly. But that does not mean have to remain cramped in a dungeon cell. This castle has been here a very long time. There are corridors and passages that have remained unused for years. We will have no trouble keeping you out of sight.”
He held up his hands to indicate his innocence in the scheme, “Alright. It’s your party. But if an angry mob kicks in the castle doors with torches and pitchforks, I’m blaming you,” he warned. He let out another expansive yawn.
“You are tired aren’t you?” Celestia noticed.
“I didn’t sleep,” he explained.
“Well then how about this; Luna and I have several things that require our attention. We’ll leave you to rest for a few hours, then come collect you when it’s time for dinner. Afterwards we can give you a tour of the castle,” she offered.
He grinned, “It’s a date,” he teased, earning a laugh from Luna and the girls.
Celestia chuckled as well. “Very well then. Come on girls, let the Major get some rest.”
The girls looked slightly disappointed, but did as they were told and began to file out of the cell.
Before Pinkie Pie exited she turned and waved goodbye, “Nighty night, don’t let the parasprites bite!” She stopped in her tracks right in front of the door, as if some great revelation had struck her. “Wait. It’s not nighttime! But I can’t say ‘day-ee day’ that wouldn’t make sense. How can you wish somepony a good night if it’s day? Well I suppose you could…” she continued to ramble to herself until Rainbow Dash poked her head back inside and grabbed the pony’s fluffy pink tail and began to doggedly drag the young mare out of the room. Pinkie Pie continued to ramble even as she was being towed away.
Eventually the only one that remained was Luna, who had stayed seated as the others left.
She shifted uncomfortably for a second. “I’m sorry to bring down the room,” she began somberly, “but I need to know what you want done with… their remains.” Luna nodded towards the cot.
The slight amounts of happiness drained from his face. He looked downward at the cot he was sitting on for a moment. He bent down and snaked a hand underneath and pulled out the bundle that protected the tags of the crew.
He held the bundle in his hands and stared at it for a moment. “Can I see them?” he asked in a voice hardly above a whisper.
“Are you sure?” Luna posed, knowing that would not be an easy thing to see.
“Very well. We can go tomorrow, if you wish.”
He nodded again.
Luna stood and prepared to exit the room. She regarded him for a moment. “Rest well, Major.” Luna made her way toward the door. She stopped about halfway and turned, “Try not to fall prey to the demons of the past. It is a lesson I have had to learn many times.”
He looked up from his bundle to Luna. She offered him a weak smile. He did his best to return it, one corner of his mouth lifted pitifully, then fell back down into the permanent mask he seemed to wear. Luna turned and stepped out of the cell, the door sealed shut behind her, leaving the human alone in the permanent quiet that ruled inside the tiny cell. The padding on the walls and floor muffled any vibration causing an unearthly silence.
He slowly untied the sleeves and unfolded the bundle. The cluster of silver chains rested safely in the center, piled together, he deftly worked to untangle the lengths of silver. He read each tag as it passed through his hands, each tag bore a name, each name bore significance. Memories, good and bad, happy and sad, many were a strange combination of the four.
He laid the tags back down on the blouse, and once again, began to fold it up, sealing in the tags in the protective multicam fabric. He tied the sleeves together, ensuring the bundle would not fall apart.
He held it in his hands for a moment. He closed his eyes, and pressed the bundle to his forehead.
“…I’m sorry,” he breathed. “I’ll see you again.”
He tucked the bundle under his cot and lay down upon the canvas. He rested his head upon the pillow, and closed his eyes, falling into fitful sleep.