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Location: Fluttershy's Cottage. Ponyville, CPE (Center Province of Equestria)
Time: Eight-Thirty, Friday October Second. Year Unknown.
I awoke before any of the others. It was a habit for me to wake up early, and with little sleep under my belt. Plus the nagging paranoia of something suffocating me while I rest kept me from considering to let those I did not know the upper hand. Or hoof, I suppose.
Silently, I had rolled out of Fluttershy's bed. It was a pleasant experience, even if my feet had to have hung off the edge. Acquiring my satchel from under the bed, I departed and drifted down the stairwell with the grace, speed, and subtlety of a trained Assassin.
Oh wait. I was a trained Assassin. D'oh.
Reaching the base, I carefully maneuvered over the scattered bodies in the parlor as I made my way to Fluttershy's kitchen. It was difficult to have tried to walk over so many sentients with impeccable hearing, but I had eventual success. Passing by the bookshelf I had sifted through briefly last night, I furrowed my brows at it while I continued on. The writings were a mixture of understandable Galactic Basic (a.k.a. English, or in this particular realm 'Equestrian'), and some form of hieroglyphics that didn't resemble any form that I had been familiar with.
It annoyed me as I snagged an apple to chew on. The random and new swap threw me off heavily, and most likely prevented some useful knowledge from being past on now rather than later. On the plus side, the Ponies Lyra and Twilight both stated that it was an old form of writing that was almost never used for modern things like signs.
As for data being able to be collected, not much was done on that front. From the very-quick flip-through of some book I didn't bother to look at the title for, I had noted a few things. The most important was that the kingdom I was in was called 'Equestria', which was probably obvious beforehand if I had bothered to look further into it.
"On the bright side, if you stay here long enough you can learn a new language!" Ed cut in rather late and with an honest attempt at being cheerful. He was trying to be lighthearted, and I had to commend him. I had been kind of a dick by making him stay up to not only maintain my systems for yet another sleepless night for him, but for him to be constantly active in trying to discern the disturbance he felt when trying to grasp around the Universe.
'I doubt as much. We'll probably be leaving within the hour to Warp somewhere that has connections established.'
"Hmm? I'm sorry, did you ask for something?"
'Yeah, I did. Look; I'm not the only one who needs a vacation, Ed. So, once you Warp us off to one of our secured Universes, I think letting you go into Sleep-Mode will do you some good.'
I had been met with silence. Then, Ed spoke. "Eh heh... right. Um, how do I say this lightly and without you freaking out?" My eyebrows shot up at this with confusion and concern as I took another bite of my fruit. "Well, I should just come right out and say it..."
"We're stuck here."
Eyes bulging, I nearly choked on my food as my tried to swallow and comprehend at the same time. Doing at least the former, I responded in a frantic tone. 'What?! How?! I thought the Reserves were all filled and ready to go for us to get outta here!'
"Usually, yes. But as it turns out, that disturbance I detected last night? It's a Lock."
A pained yet silent sigh left me as I sat on one of the cushions strewn about the parlor. And with that sigh came not anger, nor irritation... but fear. Because of all the travels I have ever encountered, there had been only one besides myself who could have been able to place any sort of Lock onto a Universe.
'Do you think...?'
"No. This Lock was placed a long time ago. How long, I am not entirely sure about this."
'Why do you think he would've placed a Lock on this Universe so many years before?'
"I do not know that either. Perhaps it's just one of his many Venus fly-traps he had set for you, or maybe this Universe once held a purpose and he simply chose not to remove it. Like I said; I do not know."
I nodded in an apprehensive acceptance of that. Ed had to of been right; Locks were a tactic used against him ages ago. There was little doubt that there were many scattered throughout the Universes that hadn't been triggered. After all, I knew for a fact I had many that were Locked to others.
'So. How long do you think it'll take you to metaphorically pick the Lock?'
"Depends. Scans are coming up with different data every time. Could take a week, could take a decade. You ready for it? One, two, three... I'm not sure!"
My brows quirked up in thought as I deposited the apple core and acquired another one. 'You don't have to pretend to be cheery, you know.'
"Oh, thank you. I am far from being in the mood to be cheery."
There was a brief silence between us, before I began speaking in a resolute and slow tone. 'Universal Editor. Engage Sleep-Mode for A.I, duration five hours. T-minus ten seconds 'till deployment.'
"Carrying Out Command..."
"Storm, what're you doing?"
'Making sure you take a break, whether you want to or not.'
"I think this is a... bad idea... need to... trace..."
'Night, old friend. Enjoy your break.'
With a stretch, I quickly blazed through the rest of my breakfast. The juices helped quench my thirst, and I had noted as well that my throat was feeling immensely better compared to my condition the previous night. As I thought about my reacquired ability to speak, other thoughts began to bubble to the surface. 'Hmm... should I really drop my ruse of body-language? If I do dispense of it, I'd be bombarded with questions upon questions. And there is no way I'm having that happen without a tour dammit.'
Movement caused my eyes to flicker across the room. The Pony named Applejack was rising slowly, her back facing me as she grunted and contorted her body. Satisfying pops sounded off from her, and I had to admit her flexibility was rather impressive. Considering the vague soreness in my own neck, I quickly popped it.
She froze upon hearing the sound, and very slowly turned around. When her eyes rested on me, I gave a small wave in response. Applejack returned it with one of her own, before glancing around herself. The others were still fast-asleep, though I doubted that would be true for much longer. I stood, threw away my second piece of garbage, and then sat back down in my spot with the same hieroglyphic book I had been wielding before.
Surprisingly, she did not try and converse with me. I didn't mind, really. It had given me time to try and decipher how to read the language. Ended up with me having no progress, but it at least made me familiar with several symbols. As I had done this, the others steadily awoke and became active. Rarity supposedly dominated the bathroom on the upper floor, which aggravating Applejack and Rainbow Dash as they both wanted the next turn. Pinkie Pie was outside, playing with the animals while Fluttershy did her 'morning rounds'.
This had left Lyra and Twilight Sparkle in the parlor where I had stayed. At first, they hadn't bothered me either. But, as the clock on the wall fell past nine-thirty, questions began to be thrown at me. Both had stood in front of me, side-by-side with levitated quills and parchment.
"So... Mr. Earthling," Twilight began to start off. I rose an eyebrow at her, internally still laughing that such a stupid name like 'Earthlings' got slapped onto the Human race in this world. It was even funnier when they put 'Mr.' before it, like it was goddamn title or something. "How is your throat feeling?"
I gave a thumbs-up, the same movement I did last night. There was movement as they both wrote something down, before addressing me with smiles. "From your calculations you did last night, do you believe you'll be able to speak to us verbally now?"
'Oh... shit. That's right. I said I'd be able to speak Equestrian by eight-thirty, and it's nine-thirty five. Hmm... I really should've thought about making such a promise like I did.'
There was a pause before I shook my head. Both of their eyebrows knitted together as they looked at one another, before turning back to me. "Were you off by an amount?" I nodded at this. I wasn't just going to let a temporary alibi pass me. Lyra tilted her head and gave me another query. "Do you even have an idea when you'll be able to speak Equestrian?"
A simple shrug was all I offered.
Now they looked just a wee-bit miffed. "Do Earthlings even have a language?" Twilight asked, staring daggers at me. I grunted; now I had been placed into a bit of a bind. The similarities betwixt this Universe and my original Earth were extremely close, and one of the legible texts stated that there were other Pony colonies strewn about the world. Which meant, I had to be quite careful in picking a language that would fool them.
Then again, I could've simply made up a language. They probably wouldn't have noticed the difference, unless they specifically kept a scrutinizing look-out for recurring words signifying nouns like 'I'. Sighing reluctantly, I gave a nod. Both of their eyes lit up in response. "Can we hear it?"
My eyes had furrowed in consideration. How I responded would most likely set several things in stone, and as such several endings could play out. Frankly deciding that I didn't give a fraction of a shit about how the Ponies' thought of me, and whether I was a liar or not, I nodded. And began speaking.
"Ciao. Questa è una risposta casuale dal momento che sono troppo testardo per accettare semplicemente il linguaggio del corpo," I said with a completely-straight face. Their happy looks only proved that they didn't have the slightest idea that I basically voiced a complaint at them for not being satisfied with body language. 'You chose good, Storm. You chose good.'
Suddenly, confusion (one that was actually faked on both of the mare's parts) became known on their faces as they pointed a suspicious hoof at me. "Wait a second... You can speak your own language, but not Equestrian? Why is that?" And in one fell swoop, they got me.
Just kidding. I'm not stupid enough to have fallen for that shit unarmed.
I shook my head and pointed to myself as I spoke. "Non esattamente. Italiano è una lingua facile." After my comment about Italian being easier for me to speak, I redirected my point to them and continued. "La tua versione di inglese è molto difficile da eseguire."
Two blank looks met me as I suppressed a victorious grin. Both of them shook themselves out of their reveries, and spoke to me in a half-irritated/half-surprised tone. "We have no idea what you've just said, Earthling."
My response was an uninterested shrug. Before their interrogation could continue, the others filed into the parlor to inform that they were going to take me on a tour. 'I wonder who gave them that idea', I had wondered mischievously to myself as we gathered ourselves and departed.
The walk had been silent. It was actually quite surprising, as opposed to their lively forms that they had the previous night. Perhaps it involved the time, most likely none of them were morning Ponies. We steadily went down the path and down the hillside as we went towards Ponyville. Luckily, I was skilled enough in Mind Manipulation to only need to plant the seed. Once I implanted the idea of giving me a tour, it took over for itself without being parasitic.
Suddenly, the group halted on the outskirts of Ponyville. Glancing back at me, Twilight addressed the town with a wave of her hoof. "This, is Ponyville. One of the fastest-growing towns in the Center Province of Equestria." Her attention went towards the distant mountain-city. "That way over there is Canterlot. The capital." She turned back to me. "Any questions yet?"
Shaking my head, she had allowed her hoof to settle back on the ground as she had led the group in. "Quick word of warning," Lyra muttered next to me. "The ponies around here are skittish about new things, so remember that girls." My eyes had arched in surprise at that as my gaze passed over the convoy literally surrounding me. 'They hadn't seemed to have such an issue with me.' my brain quipped.
Sure enough, whenever a denizen of the village spotted me, off they went. Whether it was running away in terror, lifting off with ridiculous speed, or barring their windows and doors; any who had saw me besides my entourage at that point did not want to have anything to do with me.
I wasn't that ugly, was I?
My eyes roamed the buildings I had passed. Like my observation stated back during the descent from the Everfree, all buildings either had thatched or shingled roofs. Not like there were too many other options, but regardless. The actual structures themselves composed of all manner of supplies; stone, wood, brick... The kind of materials you'd expect a medieval civilization would build their homes and businesses.
Actually, scratch that. There had also been one made out of gingerbread, of course. It had been the first place we took pause in our walk. The most ironic thing was that I didn't even have to put anything into the charm to come here first. Looks like Fate wanted me to get my curiosity out of the way.
The bubbly form that was known as Pinkie Pie took point of the group and began bouncing around in a way that had indeed shattered the logic behind physics and gravity. I had been tempted to Defy the Laws as well and join her, but withheld the urge to as she spoke. "This is Sugarcube Corner! Best bakery in Ponyville, that's for sure! I live her with Mr. and Mrs. Cake." I gave a respectful nod as my mind wandered. 'Damn. I was actually kinda hoping a witch would've lived here. Fate, why can't you humor me with a complete Hansel and Gretel joke?!'
She began prattling on about something (or possibly several somethings) at a rate so mind-boggling and unimportant that I tuned it out while still pretending like I cared. Taking notice of my surroundings, the others at that time felt the same way and copied me. Eventually, she did stop talking, and that had snapped all of us out of our stupor.
After an awkward silence, Twilight nodded in agreement and soon we set off once again. However, unlike last time Pinkie had chosen to speak consistently through the movement. An action that very quickly grated my nerves at the time, and made me dig into the Reverses specifically to shut her up.
At first, I don't believe the others had noticed my little action. They had been just walking, shoulders slightly sagged in irritation. Soon, they slowly began to glance over at Pinkie, one by one. She was calmly walking now. No more skipping, no more annoying tangents; it became a lot more peaceful after I physically sent a small dosage of the Editor's energy into her cortex and shut down her more exuberant side. Unfortunately, this had placed worry into the others, but they shrugged it off. Said something about 'Pinkie being Pinkie', or something of the sort.
Soon, we had stopped once again. This stop left us in front of some tall structure. There were at least two floors to this one, and from the mannequins in the windows my guess had led me to believe that it was a clothing store. When Rarity had positioned herself, it simply confirmed my suspicion.
"This here darling is the Carousel Boutique. Where every garment is chic, unique, and magnifique," she had stated with a light giggle. "If you'd let me, I'd love to help design some ensemble for you, dear." I glanced down curiously at my own attire I had on at the time. A simple brown tunic, some wear-resistant pants, and of course the combat sneaker/boot hybrids I used nearly all the time. 'Suppose it wouldn't hurt to let her make me some new things. I have wardrobes, but perhaps she'll surprise me.'
I gave an accepted nod, which caused Rarity to show me a genuine smile. And once more, we departed. Some minutes later, and I had begun to notice at that point that we were heading in the direction of the apple orchard. I would've asked why we hadn't gone to any of the others' homes, if Lyra hadn't turned her attention over to Pinkie.
"Hey, Pinkie Pie? Are you okay?"
She nodded calmly in response. "Yup!"
Blinking nervously, the Unicorn-mare gave a slow nod in return and focused on walking once more. I looked down at the Earth Pony with a hint of pity; who was I to truly strip someone of who they were, just so they wouldn't be an inconvenience to others? Even for me, I had to admit it was a cruel and thoughtless move. Discreetly, I struck the focal point of the psyche barrier, and allowed the real her to become dominant.
But not without having planted a seed to keep her from saying anything to blow my cover, of course.
With a bit more spring in Pinkie's step, I turned my attention to my front. We had just stopped in front of a large side that hung over the path leading to the farm's barn and its endless waves of trees. The sign matched Applejack's greeting. "This 'ere is Sweet Apple Acres. We grow th' best apples in all of Equestria, guaranteed." She leaned in slightly with a bit of mirth. "Want a sample?"
Usually, eating something I had for breakfast later on in the same day again wasn't my style. But, she was being kind and generous. With a nod, her grin widened and she trotted off briefly. With the technical current 'host' gone, the others glanced back up at me. Twilight nudged me gently. "Any luck with speaking Equestrian yet?"
A sad shake of my head was the first half of my response. "Ancora niente. Mi dispiace," I apologized sincerely. Lying was something that I had to do plenty in my travels, but that didn't mean I enjoyed doing such. The girls around me looked shocked, but Twilight and Lyra just looked pissed off. Subdued, of course. But it was still there.
'I wonder if they're catching on...'
I flinched physically, which attracted their attention. I ignored them, and soon they in turn lost interest. 'Dammit, Ed! I told you to not just appear outta nowhere.'
"Eh heh, sorry."
I waved it off internally as I watched Applejack from a distance root through a barrel of what must've been apples. 'Save it; it's cool. How was your nap?'
"Brief, yet pleasant. I needed it."
'How long have you been up?'
"No more than a few minutes, at best. Where are we?"
'In town. I got them to give me a tour.'
"Uh huh... And you just so happen to leave out the part where you got them to give you a tour by planting a mental seed to convince them to do such, eh?"
I scratched my head sheepishly, and accepted the Red Delicious apple handed to me. 'Erm... maybe?' Sinking my teeth into the food, I had been quite surprised at the quality and freshness. Nodding in an approving manner, I continued to eat it as we were walking around the large estate.
"You know, I'm sure if you would've just asked them in English, they would've given you a tour regardless."
'Perhaps. But that's not how this game will play. Not saying that it's an actual "game", per say, but... If I talk, things will spiral.'
"So you're simply staving off the inevitable?"
We rounded the corner of the barn, and was greeted with the sight of the first male Pony I had ever saw. Applejack identified him as Big Macintosh, and from his size and capability to buck an apple tree and de-fruit it in a single go proved such-
Wait, wait, wait a second.
He had kicked the tree, and the fruit fell out?
'Eeyup. It's official.'
'Fate is actually fucking with me. The sneaky little-'
"Big Macintosh! Come on over here fer a second!" Applejack called to her brother. He turned, and at that moment two things had happened. One, was that he shouted something along the lines of "Look out behind you, it's a monster!" Two, was that while yelling this he had begun to charge towards me. My instincts reacted before my rational thinking could, and I bolted past the mares to meet him head on.
The closest simile of the collision would be two freight-trains deciding to do a head-butting competition. At least, that would've been what happened. Except in this scenario, for the interest of not wounding the mass hurdling towards me. What had occurred instead of a straight-on impact was me using the Reserves to Blink on top of him and use my momentum to send him to the ground.
The reaction shocked everyone (well, I suppose the term 'everypony' is more correct) as I restrained Macintosh against the ground. He attempted to rise and buck me off, in which I had responded with causing a small electrical current to rush through my fingers and literally shock him into submission. Muscles temporarily unusable, I calmly stood up as the others surrounded me.
My hands rose in the air as I stepped away from the incident. The shock had worn off on Applejack's brother by this point, and at that moment he was being reprimanded by his sister for 'attacking me without warning', and how 'he deserved having been run into the ground'.
Harsh coming from her, but true nonetheless.
Some minutes passed as I stood on the sidelines awkwardly. At the time, I didn't see what purpose I could serve with standing near the commotion. Which was precisely why I moved myself so that I stood at the gate, tossing a fallen apple in my left hand as I patiently waited.
It hadn't taken a great deal of time before they found me and regrouped. Applejack didn't appear to want to engage in eye-contact, which was understandable. "Ah'm mighty sorry about that. Mah brother overreacted a tad."
"Non si preoccupi. Ho sperimentato di peggio," I assured her gently.
At that moment, I glanced over to Rainbow Dash and motioned to her with a curious expression. Her eyes widened in surprise, before she quickly broke her eyesight. "My home is on the outskirts in the air over there," she gestured. My focus locked onto the cloud-structure, before dismissing it.
"Well," Twilight said with an exasperated sigh. "Let's continue your tour, okay?" With a swift nod from me, we continued on towards the next destination. But as we walked, I sighted a hidden grin tucked under both Twilight's and Lyra's features. My brows had furrowed.
'What are you two planning, I wonder...'