Rise of the Elements: Journey to the Old World

by Radiant Dawn

Chapter 5: A New Threat

Chapter 5: A New Threat

Perspective Change -- 3rd person

A group of intelligence officers watched their quarry from camera footage in Underground Atlanta, and they were slowly learning more and more about their targets. While they didn’t know as much as they wanted to, any new information was a good thing, and this in particular was more useful than most would think.

“That, right there, is a textbook PTSD response.” pointed out one of the younger members, a soldier under the command of a certain general. The video was focused on a young woman who was shaking violently in the grasp of her friends, staring blankly at nothing, as they sat on or around a bench in one of the corridors of Underground Atlanta. “Whatever she’s been through, it was traumatic enough that she’s exhibiting symptoms I’m sure most of us are quite familiar with.” He tapped a few times on the mouse of the computer, rewinding the video to a scene in store. “And the tall, dark male has a CO’s voice if I’ve ever heard one. I know we want to try and keep from assuming things here, but based on what we’ve seen, my gut is telling me at least these two are military-trained, and have seen action; I would even go so far as to say they were deployed together.”

The older general rubbed his chin, idly noting he needed a good shave. He glanced at the younger soldier under his command, pondering what they had just seen: it was true, they didn’t want to assume things about whoever these people were, but besides the fact that his subordinate was trusted and had a good head on his shoulders, the general himself was quite familiar with what combat-tested veterans looked like, and these two fit the description perfectly.

The biologist on hand was not so convinced. “Look at these people, though: they’re just kids. The oldest there is probably the tall guy, and he’s maybe in his mid- to late twenties.”

“Or,” a previously silent voice spoke up, “perhaps that’s simply how they look.” At the disbelieving stare directed his way, the member scooted closer, revealing an aging woman with salt-and-pepper hair, but sharp eyes. “The general said it himself: we may be dealing with beings of extra-terrestrial origin, so we can’t focus on how they look. Behavior, however, is far more telling.” She pointed to a pale-faced woman with dark hair standing off to the side. “My bet is on that subject being the oldest. Look at the confidence in her movements, and the calm, calculating expression; she doesn’t immediately act, but instead keeps an eye on things from ‘the backseat’ if you will, observing everything at all times. She looks nonchalant and uninvolved, but her eyes are always watching, always learning. She acts with the calm ‘wait and see’ attitude you see in someone late in their life, who has seen everything life has to show, so she allows her wisdom to guide her to the correct answer. Every group of creatures, including humans, has a certain hierarchy they stick to, and generally speaking, older members are given respect for their power, or their wisdom.” She again pointed to the screen as the video played on, and while the group didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the woman, the members in the room all began to notice how each subject gravitated more to the woman than the tall man, even though the man seemed to be the guide.

“They feel comfortable around her, and they trust her to watch out for them. They don’t need to constantly acknowledge her, because her presence is wrapped around them like a safety blanket.” the general finally voiced, nodding to the screen they were crowded around. “She may not be the guide, but their respect and comfort with her presence tells me that she’s a VIP, and a cornerstone to their power structure.”

“What do we do then, sir?”

The general looked at his subordinate and sighed through his nose. “Nothing at the moment. We have to continue to observe and learn as much about them as possible. However, this,” he pointed at the monitor, “is good intel, and it tells us quite a bit about who we’re dealing with. At the very least, there are two in the group that appear to have military experience.” He folded his hands and rested his chin on them as his weathered eyes stared up at the screen. “What worries me is the tech they have on hand.”

The engineer on hand took that as his cue to explain, and he did so by tapping a few times on the keyboard until a list came up to show what they had found so far. “From what we’ve gathered at the moment, they have a way to completely neutralize any listening devices in the area, muffling their speech to be indistinguishable from noisy background chatter. What worries me is that the devices we have work just fine -- other civilians in the area can be heard with perfect clarity -- but some sort of tech they are carrying makes it impossible to hear them specifically.” He typed a few buttons on the keyboard again, this time showing a short clip from a magnetic line camera, which visually showed EM fields. What they saw was shocking: every single one of the subjects had an EM field surrounding their body. “What you’re seeing is what we think is making our tech useless against them: every one of the subjects has some sort of electromagnetic energy field surrounding them. What worries us is that there doesn’t seem to be any visible power source or battery, which means one of two things:” he counted off his fingers, “either their tech is so advanced that we simply can’t fathom how it would work this way, or, they are the power source.”

The female agent in the room crossed her arms as she narrowed her eyes skeptically. “What exactly are you suggesting?”

“Well,” the engineer began, licking his lips, “maybe we’re not dealing with advanced technology; maybe what we’re seeing is a natural ability that they possess. If that’s the case, it would explain why they are able to do all of this without bulky hardware.”

Catching on to what he was saying, the agent nodded with a dawning grin. “Which means, if you neutralize the subject, you neutralize the danger completely.”

Nodding in approval, the younger engineer gave a smile in return. “Exactly.” His smile then morphed into a frown as he stared at the screen again. “However, we don’t know the extent of what they’re capable of. Assuming my theory is correct, we still don’t know exactly how dangerous they are. Their abilities could be as simple as what we’ve seen so far, or…”

His halted words caused the whole room to suddenly feel uneasy.

“Or what?” the general prodded, raising an eyebrow.

Licking his lips again, the young engineer shook his head. “Or we could be dealing with something beyond our ability to understand or contain.” He nodded his head to another scientist in the room, this one a young female physics specialist.

The physics specialist stepped forward, brushing her brunette hair out of her eyes as she gestured generally to the air. “What you have to understand is that the EM spectrum makes up all forms of energy in the universe, from waves so weak that we can’t even detect them, all the way to gamma radiation -- the latter of which, as you all know, is quite dangerous. It includes radio and microwaves, all forms of light, and what we consider ‘dangerous’ radiation.” She shook her head with an uncomfortable sigh. “Depending on their degree of control over electromagnetic energy, they could do anything from simply what we see now, all the way to bathing entire cities in gamma rays. While I don’t want to believe it’s possible, they could even tear holes in the ozone layer, destroying our atmosphere if they want to. Through energy modulation, they could cause temperature fluctuations, storms, even earthquakes…” By this point, the young physics specialist was nearly shouting with anxiety, so she took a moment to calm herself before refocusing her attention on the general directly. “What I’m saying is that, depending upon the extent that they can manipulate energy -- if they can do so at all -- they could simply be a mild nuisance, or they could exterminate all life on Earth. The issue is, unless they ‘flex their muscles’ so to speak, we have no idea what their potential even is, but the possible dangers are far too great to risk that.”

The general nodded absently, scratching an itch on his cheek. “Right, so we cannot afford risking provocation.” He glanced to the biologist. “See if we can get a biological sample of some sort -- hair, skin, blood, or something similar. With an analysis in the lab, we’ll at least be able to answer some questions about them. Even just one would be nice, but if possible, try to get one from each subject. At the moment, that’s the only plan of action we’re putting in motion. You all are dismissed.”

With that final word, the members of the meeting all began to file out of the room, except for the young officer under the command of the general.

“So, what do you think, sir?”

Moving his gaze to the young soldier, the general sighed heavily. “I think that this is possibly far more volatile than Desert Storm ever was, and I was on the ground for that one. For all we know, just one of them is enough to take out an entire city, and we still don’t know their intentions.”

The soldier shifted uncomfortably for a moment. “...what if he was telling the truth, sir? What if they really are just vacationing, and have no intention of harming anyone?”

“We can’t take that risk, Captain.” the general answered, shaking his head. “I would love to believe their presence here is completely innocuous, but I can’t put the nation or possibly the world at risk, simply because we would like to assume the best-case scenario.” Pointing to one of the side monitors, which held still images of the subjects. “Eventually, we’re going to have to find a way to bring them in.”

The two of them felt equal levels of discomfort at that fact.

Perspective Change -- Celestia

Even through repeated exercises we all participated in so that we would “look the part” of a human, I still found myself slipping sometimes, though only within my own mind. Even now, seemingly focused on my herd and friends as we perused the many goods available in the different stores, I had to correct myself to keep from correcting the movement of the sun. Soon after our arrival, I had found that I could feel this sun the same as I did my own, and this led to a very important self-control issue: after so many years raising and lowering the sun in Equestria, it had become so routine that it was embedded in who I was as a pony -- most times, I didn’t even have to think about it, since I was so familiar with every nuance regarding my destined charge.

The reason all this was an issue was because of the differences between Terra’s sun and Earth’s, and we simply did not know what would happen if I attempted to control this one at the same time I did the other. I still raised and lowered the sun every day for Terra, even from a different dimension, since my connection to it was forged with over a thousand years of experience. However, when I looked into the sky on Earth, I nearly found myself reaching with my magic out to it as well. The differences were many, but most important were the top two: this sun was a massive, energetic ball of gas that gave off energy in the form of light and radiation through nuclear fusion (a skill ponies mastered ages ago through magical alchemy), while mine was a magical construct that, while more efficient, was not inherently dangerous; this planet’s sun dwarfed the planet itself, and was nearly 100 million miles away from it, while mine was tiny by comparison, and only a thousand miles away. Because of these reasons, we had come up with a few different possible results of my meddling with this sun: 1) nothing would happen. The sun was too large and too far away, and if I attempted to move it, I would only tire myself out. 2) I could die. The magical feedback from attempting to move such a massive celestial body could kill me by the stress alone, or 3) I could be successful and end up throwing the entire solar system into disarray, killing all life on the planet and eventually destroying the solar system as a whole. For obvious reasons, the risks were too great to allow any mistakes on my part.

Through a cooperative effort with Luna and Twilight, we had placed a charm on both Luna and I that would not allow us to affect the celestial bodies in this realm, even accidentally, but the possibility of the charm failing was still a minor worry for me.

Still, distractions from my concerns were plentiful, which made the whole burden far easier to bear. Among them, for example, was observing just how much fun my herdmates and friends were enjoying shopping and exploring the new world. I am ashamed to say that shopping for clothing felt rather pointless to me when we had an experienced, gifted seamstress at our beck and call, so I found myself becoming bored. Frost had promised there would be things in this trip for all of us to enjoy, but it had quickly become clear that shopping was not one of them, for me.

Considering what Frost had explained to me about human societal norms, I’m sure there was a mildly sexist joke in there, somewhere.

Regardless of my apathy toward shopping, I still took great joy in the happiness and excitement it brought to the others. Rarity, of course, was practically floating along from store to store, but even Twilight and Luna were interested in the wonders of this world.

Fortunately, I did have something to keep me occupied while I followed the others around: reconnaissance. Simply put, it was my job to keep tabs on those that were observing us, ensuring I was just as aware of them as they were of us. They were fairly easy to keep track of once we knew what to look for, and that was in no small part thanks to Rainbow Dash and Frost himself; we had come up with a simple way to tell the common person from these “field agents,” and it was rather inelegant when it came down to it: due to the listening and video equipment they had on hand, they would have a stronger energy field than the common human, and all of them would also be armed with a small firearm. So far, I had mentally “tagged” twelve just following our group, and I imagined it was the same for Darkflight and the others. I had to admit, I was impressed with their patrol routes and coordination, both of which ensured we didn’t visibly see the same person following us around at any point.

“Any change?”

I repressed a startled jump at Frost’s unexpected voice, but still narrowed my eyes at him before pretending to look over the lingerie selection of a certain store that specializes in “personal” clothing. “Not that I can tell, no. I’ve noticed no worrying movements or an increase in opposition, so it seems that for the time being at least, we’re perfectly safe.” I glanced to him out of the corner of my eye. “Besides, it doesn’t take a genius to know they would never perform a ‘snatch-and-grab’ in a public area, with this many witnesses around. Too many questions would be asked, and the potential for collateral damage is too great.”

At his nod, I continued mindlessly sifting through the rather revealing underwear, mentally making a note to have Rarity create a few of these for...experimentation. Frost simply stood by my side, trying his best to look like he wasn’t imagining me wearing any of the risque clothing; it was cute.

“You know, you don’t have to be the lookout, on this.” he suggested, nudging me with his elbow. “This is supposed to be a fun time for all of us, and you should be enjoying yourself, too.”

I nodded absently, never taking my eyes off of the- ooh, they came in literally every shade of pink! Refocusing myself, I answered, “Yes, I understand that, but this is not my cup of tea. I’m fine with that, as I’m sure we’ll have plenty to do that will tickle my fancy. For now, however, since I’m rather uninterested in this specific activity, I might as well be the one that keeps an eye on things. More than anything else, the safety of my friends and family is paramount to my happiness.”

“Well what would you like to do?”

I finally turned to look at him, shrugging. “As the sole princess for a thousand years, I haven’t had much time for personal outings, so I admit I don’t really know. Yesterday was fun, however; maybe we could do more things outdoors -- nature walks, hiking, and the like. I’ve never been one to enjoy being cooped-up. I like being outdoors, with the grass under my feet and the fresh air in my lungs. I am quite partial to beaches, however.”

Frost gave me a smirk. “Could it have anything to do with beaches providing ‘fun in the sun’?”

The half-innuendo had me smirking back, but I shrugged. “It is more that I enjoy nature. There is no denying that technology is interesting and magical in its own way, but I am a simple woman with simple interests, when it comes down to it. My ideal day would be at a beach with my friends and family all around; that is all I need.”

Frost gave a firm nod with his smile. “Well, there will be plenty of nice beaches to see when we head to Florida and California. I’ll do some research to find some better beaches, but we’ll start with those and go from there; I know there’s some places in the world with water so clear, you can see straight to the bottom on a sunny day.”

It was a sad fact that, as a pony without waterproof wings, beaches weren’t really something I had spent much time around; sure, the warmth and smell of the sea air was nice, but the water itself was not something I could readily enjoy. It was a sad fact that though many pegasus lines still existed that had waterproof wing oils that their bodies naturally produced, Luna and I did not share that with the rest of our ponies. Sure, there were spells to remedy that particular issue, but the inherent magical nature of wings themselves tended to make it difficult for spells to “stick” to them for any length of time.

“I suppose I must be sure to enjoy beaches while we are here, then.” I commented off-handedly, turning to Frost and pulling him with me toward the entrance of the store to await the others when they finished. “As it is, we haven’t even been here a week yet, so I’m not bothered by it. I know we will get to do the things I enjoy, with time.”

We exited the store and sat down at a bench in the middle of the corridor, facing the store itself. I used the time to enjoy some rare solo time with Frost, as it wasn’t often that we were alone. While ponies had evolved as a species to be in herds, mild competition between herdmates still existed, and it was harder for someone like me, who had time-consuming obligations outside of my life as a part of Frost’s herd. For that reason, I had made peace with the fact that I was not going to have much time to be alone with him, which was why I relished it when it happened, even if it was only for a few minutes at a time -- such is the life of a pony with a large herd. However, the good thing about such a large herd was the strong familial structure within it, which meant support for all of us during life’s trials. We were still fairly young for a herd -- even the oldest members had been together for only a little over a year -- and I was under no delusions that all of us would be together permanently. As much as I disliked the idea, and though Frost himself avoided even talking about it, I knew that herds were a learning experience for all, and sometimes, breaking off from the herd was the best choice for an individual. Even now, there were a few I could think of that seemed less likely to be permanent members, but I would keep my silence until or unless Frost wanted to discuss it; no good ever came of pressing him to confront the loss of loved ones.

“Do you want to get married?”

‘Did he just…?’

The question was so unexpected and sudden that I could only stare straight ahead for a moment before slowly turning my head to look at Frost. He was smiling calmly, as if the question was the most normal thing in the world to say. For my part, I could only stumble over my words like a silly filly. “...um, what?”

He only continued to smile, bringing our locked hands to his lips to kiss the back of mine. “I suppose I should clarify: Celestia, will you marry me?”

I felt a deep flush rise through my chest to my face, and an all-encompassing warmth spread throughout my entire body. While I had expected the question at some point, the confidence and casual tone of the question itself told me he had been thinking about it for quite some time now. He had clearly waited until we were alone, as he had with Rainbow Dash and Twilight, because he wanted it to be a special question shared only between the two of us; I had told him that it was actually commonplace for marriage proposals to be made in front of the herd, but even though it was a bit odd from a pony’s perspective, I enjoyed the unique nature of human norms, sometimes. Somehow, it made it feel more special to have the request voiced just between two parties.


The pet name brought me out of my internal musings, and I found him waiting patiently with a smirk on his lips as he nudged me with a shoulder. “I kinda need an answer, love. If you want me to do something to make it special, then I will, but I want you to marry me.”

I will readily admit, the conviction he spoke with gave me a pleasurable shiver.

“N-no, I just…” I stuttered (stuttered!), shaking my head without taking my eyes off of his. I swallowed once and attempted to compose myself into some semblance of the person who had run an entire country for over a thousand years. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working, so I shored up what dignity I had to answer, instead. “Why now? Why not any of the others?”

With that damnedable grin that I had fallen in love with, he just shrugged his shoulders. “I’ve had it on my mind for months now. I’ve been studying ‘us’ from every angle I could, searching for any reason not to ask you. And…” he shrugged once more, this time cracking a toothy smile, “I couldn’t find one. I’ve come to the conclusion that I want you in my life for however long we’re going to live, so I figured, ‘Why not ask this beautiful, strong, amazing woman to be my wife?’”

Yes, I was definitely blushing. Darn him.

As much as I wanted to convince myself that I was too old for this -- I was over a thousand years old, I had seen the rise and fall of civilizations, and I had previously been bound to another long-lived being, long ago -- I couldn’t deny that I felt like a filly falling in love for the first time, nevermind the fact I was already in love with him. Unfortunately -- or fortunately, depending on one’s perspective -- there is no dignity in love, and it truly makes fools of us all; for the better, I would like to think.

I didn’t even try to stop the rush of tears to my eyes, nor the steadily growing smile on my face. My cheeks started to hurt by the sheer intensity of the smile I had, but I didn’t care. I could only nod like a lovestruck fool as I took his face in my hands and kissed him soundly, not caring how I looked to any bystanders. He, of course, returned my affection wholeheartedly, and I positively melted at the rush of happiness I felt at that moment. We traded loving kisses back and forth, playfully and lovingly, until we heard the steps of a small group approaching us.

“So, Frost finally asked you, did he?”

I looked away from his face to see Rainbow Dash and the rest of her group standing around us; it seemed at some point, they had caught up with us, and had either heard our exchange, or guessed based on my current state. As a response, I was currently beyond words, so I offered only a teary, smiling nod to the group, which brought smiles to the faces of all.

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and glared playfully at Frost. “Randomly asking her in a mall, with no ring, and no great declaration of love? Not exactly what Rarity would call ‘romantic’, is it?”

Thinking about how positively mortified our seamstress friend would be, I giggled with a nod of agreement. “Y-yes, but I don’t need all that.” As my laughter tapered off, I looked into Frost’s eyes again, smiling brightly as he returned my smile with one of his own. “All I need is him to ask me; I already have his love, as he has mine, and I experience romance nearly every day. Romance should never be rationed to certain days, actions, or events,” I turned back to the group, “it should be in the little things we do for each other every day, even if it’s as simple as sitting next to the one we love, letting them know, in no uncertain terms, that we’re there for them.” The group seemed to be taking my words to heart, and I was surprised to even see Vinyl nodding with understanding at what I meant. I had no doubt that life was not going to be perfect for us -- managing a large herd took work, and sacrifice. However, I knew that we already had the foundation of loving support between the members, and that would be more than enough to carry us through many trials; perhaps not all of them -- not for all of us -- but most.

I shook the negative thought away, and instead chose to bask in the here and now. The future was still an unknown, after all, and while I had my own experience predicting outcomes, I had also learned to enjoy life as it came. Unfortunately, due to the incidences that had happened in my long life, my mind tended to pick out the worst-case scenarios, so it would be in my sanity’s best interest to prepare for the future, but live in the present.

And so, with wide arms, I welcomed the members of my herd into a strong embrace, and for once, I dedicated myself wholly to the moment.

Perspective Change -- Vinyl

Hours had passed since the minor celebration of Frost’s proposal to Celestia, and since we planned to make a bigger evening of it the following day, we all moved on with exploring the many shops arrayed all around us.

Unfortunately, it appeared I wasn’t quite up to the task.

For the second time in only half an hour, I had to stop and rest as I became winded just from the brisk walk around the underground corridors. While I wasn’t an athlete like Rainbow Dash, or a soldier like Ditzy, I was in far better shape than the average pony, due to my active lifestyle. This made my state all the more annoying, since I knew I shouldn’t be getting tired so quickly just from walking. I wasn’t exactly eating what ponies would consider “nutritional” food though -- other than the nice dinner the night before, we had mostly ate bar food, drank alcohol, and munched on junk food -- but I noticed that none of the others seemed to be having issues like I was. Frost told us that some of us were probably going to have issues adjusting, so I told myself it had to be that, to keep from needlessly worrying over nothing.

The quickest one I knew of, however, was right by my side. “You all right, girl?”

I looked to Dash with a weak smile and nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay. I need some real food though, I think. Sweets and alcohol doesn’t make for good eats to keep ya going.”

Rainbow Dash didn’t look like she totally bought my story (frankly, I had my doubts, as well), but she nodded and spoke quickly to Darkflight before she and Night broke off to escort me to get something more substantial to eat from the food court. I tried not to let their concerned glances bother me by telling myself that it was because they cared about me, but that didn’t really help much. As much as I loved being in a herd with strong, assertive members, I didn’t like being babied, especially when I didn’t feel good. I’ve played a three-day festival with the Horn Flu, so I knew being a little tired from walking wasn’t the worst I had dealt with. Still, I couldn’t deny it felt nice to have Rainbow Dash’s warm hand offering gentle support on my upper back as she led me toward a place with nice-looking salads.

I believed Frost when he said that our changed digestive systems could process meat, but for now, I think I’ll stick with a garden salad. I pointed to my choice on the menu, and the girl standing at the register nodded with a grin before giving us our total. Rainbow Dash paid and took the offered paper cup to get a drink, while Night brought me over to sit down at one of the smaller tables. Even from the short trip into the food court, I could feel an uncommon general tiredness, but did my best to keep it to myself so that Night and Rainbow Dash wouldn’t worry about me like two mother hens (which was odd, considering Rainbow Dash was a year younger than me).

Dash arrived a minute later with the filled cup, offering it to me. “Here, I just got some water. I figure water would be safe, and you look like you could use the fluids.” I raised an eyebrow at her, even as I took a long drink of the crisp, cool water. She gestured to my face as she explained, “You look pale. Well...pale-er.” My curious expression was obviously a glare at that point, so Rainbow Dash held up her hands defending, “Hey, I’m just worried about you. We took every precaution for months, but there’s always the chance that some kinda germ could’a gotten you sick.”

“That’s not supposed to be possible, by what Twi said.” I answered, taking a small sip from my cup of water. “Something about non-magical diseases being unable to affect us, because our cells don’t react the same as a non-magical creature’s.” At her uncomprehending stare, I scoffed. “You didn’t listen to her at all, did you? She talked about this for days, Dash.”

“Hey, I listened!” she defended with an affronted look, just before she glanced away and muttered, “...well, to most of it. When Twilight gets going on her lectures, I kinda zone out. That must be part of what I missed.”

Sighing, feeling a bit better after sitting and having some water, I smirked at the woman across from me. “I’m sure Twi would be willing to give you another one; you know, just to make sure it sticks.”

Rainbow Dash’s eyes widened comically, and she waved her hands frantically. “Hold up, no need to get crazy, now! I’m sorry, okay? What do you want?”

“I want you to stop worrying about me, Dash.” I suggested, taking another sip of water to hopefully bring some color back to me. “I’m a big girl, and I’ve survived for almost thirty years pretty much on my own; feeling a little under the weather isn’t exactly a new thing for me.”

Finally throwing her own shoe in, Night replied, “I’m not sure we can comply with that request, Vinyl. Asking us to not care for a loved one is asking for the impossible, and you should know that by now.”

Realizing that I was trying to fight a losing battle, I released a sigh and dipped my head. “Fine...just...don’t tell the others, please.” At their continued stares of concern, I briefly explained, “I’m getting tired from moving around, for some reason, like I’m not getting enough food in me. The only time I’ve felt this tired just from walking was when I went on a cider bender for three days without any food.”

Night pursed her lips as she returned with, “But you have been eating the same as us, and we are not ill. Granted, I am not exactly prone to the same as the rest of us, but none of the others seem to be exhibiting the same symptoms as you. I must regretfully suggest that you may have caught an illness here, since you’ve only noticed a change today.”

“Or, I caught something in Equestria and brought it here with me.” I weakly added, only half believing that chance.

Rainbow Dash shook her head with a frown. “We share the same bed, Vie; if you got sick with something an Equestrian could catch, we’d all be sick. You’re the only one.”

“Which means this may not be a conventional illness, but rather something related to the transition.” Night offered, voicing my hopes.

I nodded with a slightly relieved smile. “Yeah, I was thinking the same. Maybe one of the spells didn’t quite work right with me, or maybe the booster injections we got before we left are acting up. Whatever it is, it looks like I’m the only one affected, so far.”


The call of the girl from the restaurant (if you could call it that) caused Night to stand and make her way back to the counter to retrieve my salad. On her way back, I watched as two younger men strolling around watched the dark-skinned beauty with hungry eyes as she made her way back to our table, and I felt my teeth grinding. Who did they think they were? Night was ours, not theirs; they had no right!

“Umm, Vie, what’s got you all in a twist?” Rainbow Dash prodded me with her finger. As I turned my attention to her with a raised eyebrow, she explained, “You were...growling.”

I froze at the words, confused. “...I-I was?” Rainbow Dash nodded, and I looked back to Night, who had set the tray down and was putting the salad in front of me. “These two guys walking by were watching our girl here like she was a decadent three-course meal.” I gestured to the avatar, the mentioned woman and Rainbow Dash glancing back at the two guys who had continued walking toward the exit to the food court.

Rainbow Dash nodded toward me. “She was growling. And I don’t mean like,” she growled like a pony (or human) does, “but more like a mad wolf.”

Having not heard myself make this noise, I reflexively touched my throat with my fingers. “I did? But I didn’t cast a spell or nothin’.”

Offering a reassuring (and, dare I say, triumphant) smile to me, Night gave my shoulder a pat. “I’ve no interest in any of the locals dear, so you don’t need to be defensive.” She then retreated and sat down in her chair across from me again, her smile warping into a frown. “However, what concerns me more is not so much the why as the how. Without magic, a human or pony shouldn’t be able to make a sound like that.”

Experimentally, I growled purposefully, but noticed with both relief and annoyance that it sounded just like it should. I shook my head firmly and unwrapped the disposable fork before spearing the salad, taking a large bite. It was crispy and fresh-tasting, which was surprising since we weren’t anywhere near a farm, but I could also taste the difference in the cherry tomatoes, namely the fact they had a slightly mushy consistency, and tasted off, even though I can’t really explain how. I continued eating anyway, knowing that I couldn’t expect much from a food court, and also there was the fact that Frost had repeatedly told us that even the same fruits and vegetables would taste a little different compared to what we were used to.

“Think we should ask Twi about it? She’d know more about magic than anyone else.” Rainbow Dash suggested. At my nod of agreement, she smiled at me. “Yeah, it’s probably just some weird magic thing that’s disagreeing with you. You’re not actually in any pain though, are you?”

I stopped munching to give my full attention to what I was feeling. After a few moments, I went back to my salad and answered, “Nah, not really. I’m not even all that sore, just...tired. I feel like I haven’t slept right for a few days, but I know that’s not true.”

Rainbow Dash glanced from me to Night, having a wordless conversation with the older woman before looking back to me. “Do you want to ride me? You’re small enough, and I don’t mind.”

And, because of my dirty mind, I spit bits of lettuce, croutons, carrots, and tomato all over the table in front of me, almost choking as I laughed hard. Giving me further reason to laugh was the fact that it took a few seconds for Rainbow Dash to realize what she’d said, at which point she palmed her face and just shook her head with laughter. Even Night was giving refined giggles from behind her hand. Of course, what made it all the more entertaining was the fact that Rainbow Dash and I had never had “alone time” just between the two of us.

Unable to stop my mouth, I teased, “I mean, I’m down if you are. And I’ll have you know, I prefer the term ‘petite,’ thank you very much.” Even though I was teasing in good fun, I won’t lie and say I’d never had thoughts about my alicorn herdmate; there’s no getting away from the fact that she was hot. Of course, I had forgotten one very important thing about Rainbow Dash: she knew how to use her looks for evil, when she wanted to.

This was evidenced by the fact she shut me up completely with a smoldering gaze sent my way, a coy smile, and purring tones. “Well, I think we should make sure you save your energy, then; you’ll be needing it for tonight. The Dash doesn’t stop until she gets exactly,” she punctuated the statement by running her tongue over her lips, “what she wants.”

What’s the word for half-scared, half-excited? Terrorboner?

With a frustrating blush, I turned away from the two chuckling women and focused on my salad, noticing that with some rest and real food, I actually was feeling better. I was relieved at this, glad that I apparently just needed some real food, even though the back of my mind kept worrying that something was wrong with me beyond that. I shut the little voice down, instead finishing my greens off and taking a big gulp of water. Following that, I slowly stood, hopping from each foot and experimentally bending my knees a few times as I shifted my balance. With a smile, I let out a relieved sigh at no longer feeling like I was about to fall over from exhaustion.

“Feeling better, Vie?” Rainbow Dash asked, and though her voice sounded jovial, I knew her well enough to be able to tell she was still worried.

Luckily, I was able to give a more lively, more genuine smile this time as I nodded to her. “Yeah, I am. I guess I just needed some real food in me.”

Rainbow Dash nodded as she took my tray and trash to a nearby wastebin. “Cool, then we should catch up with the others.” With her brief look of concentration, I realized she was sensing the marker she had put on Dark earlier. Her features resolved into a relaxed smile as she pointed out of the food court. “They’re that way. C’mon, let’s regroup.”

Perspective Change -- Luna

Even though Frost advised us that the situation was well in hand, I could not help but look over my shoulder from time to time, expecting to see others following us. I will admit that the current activity was not particularly engaging for me, which may have had something to do with my inability to distract my anxiety, but I was a cautious mare by nature. I found it especially difficult not to worry about the unknown, which made me wonder if perhaps it would be better for my sanity to stay in a quiet room, with the doors locked and shades drawn, wrapped up in warm blankets with only candlelight to see by. Darkness felt safe, and familiar, while this bright, open area felt uncomfortably exposed.

Further adding to my stress was the message Night sent my way through our deep connection -- dear Vinyl had apparently contracted some sort of illness, and there was no discernable reason or cause. She was feeling much better after a meal and a brief reprieve, but we still did not know why she had suddenly become less than healthy. We had taken every precaution to ensure we would not become ill due to Earth’s natural microorganisms (as well as ensuring we would not spread a pandemic among the innocent people), which only made the incident all the more worrisome. I could only hope that-

And then, I noticed dear Fluttershy.

While the young woman was not an athlete or soldier, the life of Ponyville’s resident wildlife caretaker was an active one, which made the flush upon her face and her heaving chest all the more noticeable to those who knew her. Based on what Night had reported to me, Fluttershy seemed to be exhibiting the same symptoms Vinyl had before the latter required a reprieve and a meal. Assuming this was the same ailment my herdmate had apparently contracted, this meant that either she and Vinyl shared something similar between the two of them that made them susceptible to this malady, or, far more worrying, it was contagious.

With a subtle, magical tap to Frost’s back, I drew his attention to me. I signaled him by casually tucking a lock of hair behind my ear, which was a sort of visual code we had worked out earlier for nonverbal communication.

“What’s up, Lu?” I heard his voice ask within my mind.

Glancing to Fluttershy again, I advised, “I worry that Vinyl and Fluttershy are ill.” At his questioning glance, I quickly (and obviously quietly) explained what had happened with Vinyl earlier, as well as what I was observing from our friend.

After assuring him that Vinyl appeared to be better after some rest and food, Frost moved aside with me as the others explored the most recent store. “What do you think it is? Does this sound like any Equestrian illness that you’re familiar with?”

Thinking for a moment, I shook my head. “Nothing comes to mind. From what I heard via Night, it was a general feeling of exhaustion along with a sickly pallor. Vinyl did not present with coughing, sneezing, or a fever, so I cannot think of what this may be.”

Glancing to our pegasus friend, who was visibly struggling to keep up her previous level of excitement, Frost sighed through his nose. “I think we should get ‘Shy something to eat too, then. If she’s suffering from the same ailment, she’s going to need food and rest.” He went silent suddenly, and I noticed the disguised wolf’s head turn toward Frost briefly, before he gave a nearly imperceptible nod. Moonfang leaned in close to his mate’s ear, whispering to her before leading the young woman away, with Twilight trailing worriedly behind them -- the latter had clearly noticed how her friend was feeling, and wanted to support her.

“I believe we should try and ‘keep this quiet,’ as you are wont to say.” I added, also motioning to my sister. “However, we should advise Tia of the situation. She is well-versed in healing magicks, and could offer her assistance, should it be needed.” I then bit my lip as a thought came to me, suddenly. “Do you believe we should quarantine the two?”

Immediately, Frost shook his head. “No need. Vinyl was sharing a bed with all of us, and Fluttershy and Moonfang sleep together; if this was something contagious, all of us would be sick. This is something unique to the two of them, though I’m not sure how.” Turning his gaze to me again, he began thinking aloud. “They’re both around the same age and live in the same town, but they’re not related, they’re different species, they live very different lives, and they don’t even have the same favorite foods. Neither of them were in the war, both of them are healthy individuals, and they weren’t the only ones here that ate meat as humans.” Frost reached up and scratched his chin, which was becoming scruffy from the lack of a shave for two days (a distinctly human issue, for him). “No, whatever this is, it’s not dangerous to the rest of us, but I also have no idea what it could be. I hate to say it, but depending on what happens in the near future, we might have to cut this trip short. While human medical technology is far more advanced than Equestria’s, I also don’t know how it would affect a magical being; I made sure to change us in such a way that we are able to nearly perfectly pass for humans, but inside, we’re still who we are.” Shaking his head with a grunt, Frost muttered, “There’s just too many variables.”

“Hey,” I prodded, using my hand to turn his face to look at me, “we will defeat this, Frost. No matter what happens, we will ensure that our friends are hale and hearty once more, whatever that takes.”

Closing his eyes and taking a breath, Frost settled himself before looking at me again, this time with a smile. “...you’re right. Sorry, I just worry about the girls, especially when I don’t know how to help them.”

With a reassuring smile, I nudged him in the ribs. “I believe you once told me that ‘every effect has a cause, and every action, a reason.’ Though we may not know the cause or reason, it does not mean they do not exist. We will discover the cause of this aliment, and remedy it however we must.” As his arm wrapped around me, I settled myself into his grasp and relaxed in his embrace. “I care for them as well, Frost; do not think for a moment that I am complacent in the discomfort of our friends.”

“I don’t, Lu,” he answered immediately, clearly assuming he had offended me. A warmth spread through me as I was reminded, once again, just how much he cared about us. “I just hate not being able to take away this suffering, minor though it may be right now. If I had my choice, none of you would hurt or cry ever again.”

Understanding the sentiment completely, I raised my hand up along his back and allowed my fingers to play across the area just below his neck. “But that is not life, Frost. Life can be wonderful, full of joy and love, but it is also fraught with pain and suffering. We must endure the suffering to truly appreciate the good things that come. This too shall pass, my love.”

I felt a shaking from his chest as he silently laughed. “I don’t know what I did to deserve you, but I’m thankful. I needed to hear that, Luna. Thanks.”

“We must all be aware of our faults, Frost.” I commented quietly, well aware of just how true the words were. “One of yours is that you seem to think everything is your responsibility to handle, and that we are helpless without you.” I could practically feel the equal amounts of indignation and shame from him as he stiffened, but I rubbed my cheek against his as I continued. “We are not fragile flowers, Frost. While we are grateful you are in our lives, we are quite able to live life on our own. Not every problem that may arise is your problem to solve, and not every burden must be shouldered by you alone; a burden shared is a burden halved -- or, in our case, fragmented quite a bit more. You have the trust and love of many, Frost, and we are all willing to support you, just as you do for us. Please, do not hesitate to lean on us so that we may give back the same support you provide to us. We trust you to do your part in ensuring this herd and your friends are loved and given the support all living creatures need, so trust us to do the same.”

Sufficiently cowed, Frost released a sigh and sagged a bit. “I-I know, and I’m sorry. It’s just, this is the only thing I’m really, truly good at.” Leading us to one of the benches in the corridor, he seated himself next to me and looked over to me with an intensity that was honestly a bit upsetting. “I’m not a genius, I’m not a career soldier, and I’m not an inventor. I can’t come up with new, more efficient ways to do things, I can’t give rousing speeches to rally thousands, and I’m not good-looking enough to be a model -- honestly, Lu, this is all I’m truly good at. While most other people shudder or crack under pressure, that’s where I truly shine. When the world is falling apart, and hope is all but lost, I’m the one that’s metaphorically grabbing the war banner, and leading a charge -- alone if I have to -- against whatever is beating us down. I thrive in strife and difficult trials, and because that’s the only true calling I’ve found, I…” he sighed again and looked away, “I do everything on my own not because I don’t trust you, but because this is what I was made for. Even before the Element got its hold on me, being the underlying foundation of emotional strength for my friends and family is what I excelled at. Unfortunately, it’s an ability that’s only useful in bad situations.” He pursed his lips as if he had just sucked on a lemon, and shook his head. “No one needs that kind of thing when things are going good, because they’re happy and healthy.”

It was...upsetting to see my stallion so morose. I cannot speak for the rest, but I had always depended upon his strength and confidence, as a mare that had little for myself. Even years after my return to normal society, I still doubted myself and felt awkward at times. In Frost, I found someone I could lean on, someone who I could confide in and rely on, so it caused me a fair measure of discomfort to see him doubting himself...like I did.

But, as usual, just as I began to worry, he perked up and turned to smile at me. “Well, I suppose I must have some other things to offer that I don’t notice, because I have the love of some fantastic people. Most people are lucky to find one person to care about them, and here I am with many.” Nudging his shoulder against mine, he added, “I just wish I could do more for all of you, even if it’s silly to expect perfection.”

The change in demeanor was so sudden that if I were not previously acquainted with it, I would worry about his mental health, but I knew this was simply how he worked through things. So, I offered him a smile in return, and gave him a slow nod. “It is a bit silly, yes, but we love you for it. I only hope you will believe me when I say that we are quite pleased with you, and there is naught more we could ask for.” I paused at that. “Well, perhaps a foal or two for some would not be out of the question, but for the moment, I believe we are all quite happy.”

Giving a sheepish smile and a scratch behind his head, Frost nodded with a weak chuckle. “Yeah, Celestia mentioned something like that. She confirmed she was one of those ‘some’, but didn’t tell me about any of the others. I’ve thought about it for a long time, and…” he trailed off briefly, as slowly, a more gentle smile grew on his face, “I think we might have to start growing the family a bit when we get back. I’ll have two marriages to plan when we return, so I don’t see why we shouldn’t start ‘planning for the future’, if you catch my drift.” Smiling fondly, he leaned against me, and I felt a warmth grow in my chest from the look he gave me. “I’ve wanted to be a father for awhile, and I don’t really have a reason to put it off any longer. I’ll speak to the girls when we get back to Equestria, and we’ll start preparing for a few little ones.”

Though I was not one of the mares that felt it was time to have a foal, I had to admit, the thought of holding a foal in my arms, helping raise it within this large, loving herd, was a vision I could definitely support. I could easily envision a little colt or filly calling me “Auntie Woona” and snuggling up under my wings on cold days.

Oh yes, that would be quite nice.

“I think that may be a good idea.” I murmured, blushing a bit at the thought of having my own foal. While I think it would be wonderful, I knew it would not be a good idea for both Tia and I to be in such a vulnerable state at the same time. I could wait. Besides, having a “practice run” with another’s foal, as an aunt, would be a good experience to have.

Following that, we sat in silence for a few minutes, just enjoying the peaceful quiet between us.

“I’m going to need you and Celestia later on tonight, so make sure you have some coffee or something.” Frost suddenly advised, glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. Raising an eyebrow, I stared silently at him, eventually prompting him to explain, “As I said a long time ago, I know about all of you from a television program here on Earth, and there are a startling number of similarities between you all and those characters in the program. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the introduction of me and my family to Terra fundamentally changed what it could have been, and changed your personalities as well, but that doesn’t mean everything about our Terra is different from the show.”

I felt my head tilt to the side as confusion welled up within me. “I...I am not sure I understand. What do you hope to learn?”

Frost shrugged, his arm coming to rest around my shoulders as he stared off into empty space. “I’m not sure, but it couldn’t hurt to maybe get an idea of what we have to look forward to. Knowing about possible enemies in the future or events that could happen would be a valuable asset to us. I’m well aware that our home is not the same as what I remember watching before you brought me to Terra, but that’s why I want both you and Celly there, so that you can check your knowledge with what we watch, and we can separate the fiction from the plausible possibilities.”

Beginning to understand exactly what he wished to glean from a fictional television program, I gave a nod to him. “I think that would be wise, then. While not everything will be exactly as it is in our land, any forewarning to possible trials would be quite welcome.” Frowning slightly, I commented, “I must admit, this feels a bit like ‘cheating on the test’, as you would say.”

He shrugged at my words, looking unconcerned. “We’re not going to find anything concrete, but rather possibilities. I have no doubt that both my being in Terra and the war changed quite a bit, so my idea won’t so much give us a blueprint to the future as it will point out things we should keep an eye out for. That’s even if our world was identical to the one I knew of before meeting you.” Frowning briefly, he continued. “The program doesn’t show everything that happens, and nor does it go into what everyone is thinking, so there’s quite a bit that could have been happening that the people on Earth never see. However, going off of what I know about my Terra, enough is similar that it could be useful to get some more information.”

I nodded briefly before shaking my head. At his questioning glance, I smiled a bit and answered, “I am simply still coming to terms that you knew of us from a children’s television program created to appeal to little girls.”

He reached up with a hand and ran his fingers through my hair, and I will admit it was difficult to refrain from outright purring at the action. I was just barely able to focus on his voice as he commented, “Well, to be fair, it is quite nice to brush your manes and tails, and you are pretty little ponies.”

While a part of me felt indignant at the somewhat condescending way he said “pretty little ponies,” that emotion was vastly overruled by the bliss of the impromptu scalp massage I received. I could not stop myself from nuzzling his throat, though I will admit the gesture was more difficult without a pony’s muzzle. Still, my action received a warm chuckle, and his hand continued running through my hair, so I was happy regardless.

“You’re just an adorable pony princess, aren’t you?” he teased, though he never stopped his ministrations. “Who’s a pretty pony?”

I giggled at his antics, and decided to play along, looking up to him with soulful eyes. “I am!”

Nodding with a grin, Frost praised, “That’s right, you are.”

The old Luna, centuries younger, would have raged from the demeaning treatment, but the current me, with more life lived and more love received than ever before, knew it was just the playful actions of a stallion I adored. That aside, part of what drew me to Frost in the first place was his casual disregard of our stations; he treated me like any other mare, giving me respect and affection for who I was, instead of the crown I wore. I knew without a doubt he would ask for help and advice if and when he took up a more active position in Equestrian leadership, but I knew he did not see any of us as above him in terms of status or class.

An amused snort from my side caught my attention, and I followed Frost’s gaze to the store where my sister was still practically floating on air. It was nice to see that, even after over a millennium of experiences, something as simple as a declaration of love and devotion could still make her act like a giddy young filly. Currently, Celestia was walking with a joyful bounce in her step behind Twilight, and had a youthful vigor that suited a mare a fraction of our ages.

“It’s good to know I can still cause that kind of effect on you two.” Frost commented quietly. “There’s no doubt in my mind that I love the both of you immensely, but every now and then, I have a random shock to the system that reminds me that, compared to the two of you, I’m just some naive kid.” Turning to look at him, I caught him shaking his head slightly. “Every now and then, I’ll remember that the two of you have centuries and beyond of life and experience that I never had, and you’re experts in statecraft and diplomacy.” With a glance to me out of the corner of his eye, Frost assured, “You both still act like young, vibrant mares, and I love that about the two of you, but there’s no denying that I’m a baby compared to the two of you, and sometimes I find myself wondering what two alicorn princesses could see in a creature not even a tenth your age.”

“I believe it was you that said ‘age is not necessarily equal to maturity,’ and I myself am proof of that.” I replied firmly, hoping he would understand my meaning without having to explain it. Luckily for me, his eyes showed me that he did, and I simply continued on from there, trying my best to reassure him. “Know that most of the long-lived beings tend to reach a certain point in their life when age is no longer important to them. For most, like us, it is not until long after it should have happened, but those of us that are intelligent do come to realize one very important fact:” I took his hand in mine and looked directly into his eyes as I asserted, “due to our age, if we consider age alone as a reason for sequestering our hearts, we will forever be alone. It is a fact that there are so few of us that live so long, so eventually, it becomes impossible to only give our hearts to one within an ‘acceptable’ age range.”

Frost seemed to mull over the words for a bit before nodding shallowly. “I guess that makes sense. Must have been hard for the two of you, knowing that nearly everyone we care about will eventually…” he trailed off, unable to speak the final word, though I knew what he was going to say.

I nudged him gently, prodding, “They will pass on, Frost. As much as we dislike to dwell on the thought -- and nor should we -- it is a fact that agelessness is rare.” I ran my thumb over the back of his hand, doing my best to soothe him as I spoke. “I will not force the conversation on you, Frost -- you must come to terms with it in your own time -- but it must be accepted for the sake of sanity: most of those you love and care about will one day have to leave you. Time does not stop for all of us, Frost, and it is due to that fact that life is so precious.”

Though he didn’t respond, Frost gave a weak nod and leaned against me.

It was only a few minutes later that the rest of the group finally left the shop, so the two of us stood to greet the others. Rarity, of course, was practically floating with joy, while her mate was loaded down with more shopping bags. Celestia, however, caught my eyes, and after a silent Spellspeak conversation between us, we headed toward the food court again to rejoin Fluttershy, Twilight, and Moonfang. Like me, Celestia was deeply concerned for our friend and herdmate, but we would check the two over when we were all together. For now, it would be best to carry on as normal, and keep an eye for any changes to the two.

Movement from my peripheral vision caught my attention, and like many times before, I recognized a familiar person nearby. He was familiar not because he was one of our group, but rather because it was one of the individuals Frost had pointed out to us as a “watcher”. Though I was reasonably sure nothing would happen to any of us, it was somewhat unnerving to know we were being observed by those with unknown intentions, and I could not stop the tension in my muscles.

Thankfully, it did not take us long to reach our destination, and Fluttershy was happily devouring a large serving of greens with what I could only assume was grilled chicken meat. To think that a former pony and animal caretaker was readily consuming the cooked flesh of another being; it was surreal, to be sure, but the fact spoke well of how our lives had changed in such a short time.

“Gosh, you’re eating again?” Lyra spoke aloud, aware of the voracious manner that the young woman was consuming the food. Clearly, a certain thought came to mind, and I will admit, it was one I considered briefly. “Shy, are you sure you aren’t...well…” Lyra did not finish the sentence, though it was not difficult for the oft-timid woman to deduce what she was implying.

With a face that was quickly becoming flushed, Fluttershy shook her head rapidly with wide eyes. “N-no, oh no, that wouldn’t be possible.” She glanced to her mate, smiling sheepishly to him. “I-I mean, not that I would be opposed to the idea, but we’re not exactly, um, compatible. Twilight believes there’s a spell that could be purposed for the ability of two different people like us to conceive, but for now, there’s no chance of that. I’m just...not feeling well, but some food has made me feel better.” She continued eating without waiting for a response, though it seemed, at least in part, so that she would not have to speak on the embarrassing topic.

Concern overrode Lyra’s normal desire to tease, since she immediately sat across from her friend and looked to her with worried eyes. “You’re not sick, are you? Should we be worried that-”

“She is not ill, dear Lyra.” I interrupted, mentally sighing at the destruction of the original plan to keep this ailment a secret from the rest. “Fluttershy seems to have come down with a similar ailment to Vinyl Scratch, exhibiting exhaustion, lack of stamina, and pale skin.”

“W-wait, Vinyl-”

“Yes,” I interrupted again, cutting Twilight off, “Vinyl seems to have come down with the same ‘illness,’ if it can be called that. However,” I held my hand up to forestall the others, “none of the rest of us have shown similar symptoms -- or any at all -- so this particular ailment appears not to be contagious, or all of you would be showing the same symptoms. As with Vinyl Scratch, sustenance appears to alleviate the symptoms.” I motioned to Fluttershy, who had regained much of her color and seemed to be feeling much more lively, as well.

Twilight briefly looked over her friend before casting her worried gaze my way. “We don’t know what it is though, do we?”

Frost gave a sigh through his nose. “No, we don’t. Depending on whether they get worse or not, we may have to head home early. I won’t risk their health and safety simply because I made plans. If we need to, we can come back here another time.”

Considering how much organization, planning, delegating, and work it took to allow for this trip, I did not particularly want to leave early either, but the health of my friends was of paramount importance. A vacation was nice, but friends were better.

“I-if it helps at all, I am feeling much better, now.” Fluttershy quietly expressed.

Frost turned to her, visually examining how she looked, nodding a few times. “Good, I’m glad you’re feeling better, but we’re not sure how long that’ll last. If you start feeling tired again, or short of breath, or anything out of the ordinary, let us know right away. I’m hoping this is just something temporary, but it’s better to play this safe, than be sorry.”

Sister frowned briefly before asking, “Is there any biological means to test for ailments?”

Frost nodded absently, staring down at the food court table. “Of course there is, but the equipment needed isn’t exactly something you can buy and operate at home. It takes a good supply of electricity, a sterile environment, specific tools and testing supplies that generally isn’t available to the public, and trained personnel. In other words,” he sighed heavily, glancing to Celestia, “we would have to take the girls to a hospital. I don’t think I have to tell you why that would potentially be a bad idea.”

Though the question had not been directed to me, I nodded to myself. It had become abundantly clear we were being watched, and so giving more information to our observers may be counterproductive, to say the least. There was no way to tell for sure if it was possible for human technology to detect that we were not biologically human, but a “better safe than sorry” approach was, once again, the less-dangerous stance to take.

“Wait,” Darkflight interjected, “what about JD? He might be able to help.”

All of us jumped slightly from the sudden appearance of the others, and while I tried not to, I could not help but let out a squeak of surprise. The dragon and his group had snuck up on all of us, and we had no idea they were even listening until he spoke.

After taking a moment to glare at his brother for the fright, Frost just shook his head, now staring at the table. “He’s an MRI tech, and while I have no doubt he would be helpful, we can’t necessarily trust the lab techs, nurses, and doctors we would have to see to get that far. We would need a signed referral from a doctor saying why we needed to get MRI’s done, and I don’t know if it’s worth the risk.”

“What’s an MRI?” Rainbow Dash asked, voicing the question that I, myself, had.

Frost raised his head, turning his attention to his fellow alicorn. “Since humans don’t have magic to image organs inside the body, they had to develop machines to do it. Using radio waves and a powerful magnetic field, it’s possible to take pictures of internal organs, much like some of the medical scanning spells we have back home.” He then shot a look to Darkflight. “Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s happening, so we also need bloodwork done, maybe even other things; point is, we would need a medical professional to look over Fluttershy and Vinyl, and I don’t personally know any.” Frost stopped and stared as his brother simply raised his hand with a sheepish smile. “Seriously, is there anyone you don’t know?”

Darkflight merely shrugged. “Hey, if my man-whoring ways can be useful for one thing, it’s connecting with all kinds of people.” Applejack, who had been silent, shot a glare to her mate, and he returned another sheepish grin. “No, I wasn’t actually into prostitution, but my life before meeting you was...promiscuous, to use a nicer term.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t end up a poster-boy for STD’s.” Frost quipped, earning a glare from his brother.

“Anyway,” Darkflight continued, shooting one more scathing look at his older sibling, “for better or worse, my life let me meet a lot of people, in a lot of different professions, and it could help us now. It’s only been a few years, and I don’t think Silver would have moved out of Atlanta. Last I heard, she had just finished nursing school and was doing her clinicals, so she’s probably a RN by now. She’s also really into things like aliens, ghosts, and everything involving mythology.”

His mention of the latter caused me to frown. “I am not sure how that would help us, Darkflight. Are we not supposed to be ‘incognito’?”

“And how do you know she would be quiet about all this?” Frost threw in, crossing his arms with a raised eyebrow. “One wrong person finding out about who and what we are could make life very difficult.”

Darkflight lost his mildly-chastised expression, his smile becoming downright devious. “You let me worry about that; trust me, she’s safe.”

Frost stared at his brother for a moment before sighing and nodding. “All right fine, so we have a plan in mind. Where does she live?”

“Near the Mall of Georgia. We can hop on the buses to get closer, then get a cab or something.” Darkflight suggested, bobbing his head from side to side.

Frost went silent for a few moments, staring down at the table again, arms still crossed, before looking up and nodding. “I say let’s go for it. If this is something progressive, we can’t put this off. I hate to cut our day out short, but the health of ‘Shy and Vinyl is more important. All right, let’s move. The sooner we get this done, the sooner we can get on with things.” My skin began to tingle at the feeling of an extremely powerful spell being charged, and Frost only offered me a wink before suggesting, “On second thought, we should stop by the bathrooms first before we go. It’s gonna be a long ride, and we need to ‘empty out,’ if you catch my drift.”

While the suggestion seemed innocent enough, the mental word “portal” rang through all our minds. Teleportation or a portal would be far quicker and more efficient, and we would not be tracked by the eyes that were watching us. With that in mind, all of us moved off toward the restrooms off to the side of the food court itself. With the design of the lavatories, a short hall led to the male and female sides, respectively, turning once around a corner. In a seemingly practiced maneuver, Darkflight stood guard behind us as Frost opened a small portal, which we immediately filed through.

Stepping through the portal, I noticed we were now in a different locale, with smaller buildings and more space between them. Darkflight bumped into me as he arrived, offering a quick apology, and the portal closed behind us with a snap of displaced air. We had appeared in a wooded area a short way from the buildings and main road, ensuring the display of magic would not be seen. Frost was panting from the effort, but after a few breaths to steady himself, he led us out of the woods and up near an odd-smelling building where many of these “automobiles" were docked at an odd overhanging portion.

Seemingly noticing my confusion, Frost explained, “It’s a fuel station for cars, commonly known as a ‘gas station’ in the United States. The combustion engines of automobiles use a petroleum derivative called gasoline to fuel the combustion reaction, which in turn serves as fuel for the vehicle. Yes, I know it doesn’t really smell nice, but we’ll be past it soon.” He pointed to a concrete walkway next to the well-manicured lawn. “Walk on the sidewalk. How far away does your friend live?”

Darkflight glanced around the area. “Gimme a sec, I’m trying to remember exactly where everything is.” He spun around once, his head turning from side to side, before looking toward the direction where the concrete walkway led. “Okay, the mall is this way, so we’re gonna be walking for about fifteen minutes to get there. She lives off of South Bogan and Hanover.”

I could nearly pinpoint the exact moment Twilight had inspiration, as she nearly tore her satchel apart for the notebook and pencil she had inside, quickly jotting down notes. Leaning over her shoulder as we walked, I discovered the words “paved roads” written in capitals, next to a question mark and “materials”.

“It’s made of tar and crushed stone,” Frost explained, glancing back at the two of us. “The tar can be found naturally in nature, but more often than not, it’s a byproduct of petroleum refining. Mixing tar and certain crushed stone allows one to create a waterproof, durable, moldable mixture so that you can form it into the exact shape of the road you want to pave. When dry, it offers superior traction and a flat surface, so that you don’t have to worry about a wheel getting stuck in the mud, or the land moving while you’re on it.”

“Not very easy on hooves, though,” Darkflight chimed in, briefly glancing back at us before turning forward once again.

Frost nodded with a sheepish smile. “Uh, yeah, it’s not. Running on a paved road can cause a horse’s hooves to crack and splinter, so they have to wear iron or steel horseshoes. Even walking for long periods on paved roads can be damaging to hooves.”

Nodding my head, I summarized, “So equines here also wear hoof protection on harsh terrain.”

Scratching the back of his neck as he dropped back to walk beside us, Frost added, “Yeah, except horseshoes here are nailed into the hooves to secure them.”

I physically recoiled at the words, and the image they brought, unable to imagine how much that must hurt. While I was incapable of forming words, Rarity was quite able to stammer, “Th-that’s barbaric! Humans torture their horses simply for convenience?”

Waving his hands wildly, Frost assured, “No, no, no! The nails go through the part of the hoof that’s just keratin, so the horse doesn’t even feel it. Horse hooves aren’t built like Equestrian pony hooves: the hoof itself is nearly dead to sensation, with only certain parts, deep inside, that can feel pain. Most ponies don’t need hoof protection because you all weigh so much less than the horses I’m talking about; even an earth pony like Big Mac will weigh in at around only 300lbs, while Earth horses average between 850 and 2200lbs. I’ll make sure we visit a farm so you can see just how different they are to Equestrians.”

Releasing a breath I had not consciously been holding, I reluctantly offered, “We must remember that Equestrians and the equines of Earth are very different in a number of ways. I am sorry to have thought humans so cruel.”

“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Frost interjected smoothly, “humans -- just like any sapient creature -- have the potential for cruelty, greed, and evil. Thankfully, most humans are just trying to live the best life they can, and are generally kind.”

“That’s not how you made them sound from the stories you’ve told us,” Twilight commented, referring to the many accounts he had provided about Earth and its only sapient race.

Frost coughed nervously and turned around again, scratching the back of his neck. “Uh, yeah. My viewpoint is kinda biased, and wasn’t the best at the time. I had just come from a dead-end job where I had to talk to angry, hostile people all day long, where it was practically part of the job description to be cursed at every single day, for eight hours a day. No matter how strong the heart, or how experienced the person, it was soul-crushing. It’s hard to imagine there’s light in the world when all you’re exposed to is darkness.”

I found myself glancing to Darkflight for confirmation. He must have sensed my gaze, since he caught my eye from the corner of his vision. “To be fair, he’s completely right about the job. Knowing Drew as you do -- as a guy that says exactly what he thinks, regardless of who happens to be the target -- how do you think it affected him to have to take abuse, day-in and day-out, while being forced to be polite to everyone he spoke to?”

I was well-acquainted with the snide, weighted comments the more brave nobles were prone to give to both my sister and I, but I could not even imagine enduring direct, blatant disrespect, all the while smiling and being forced to act as if every smile and kind word I spoke was not killing me inside.

“I understand…” I mumbled, finding myself in complete awe of my stallion’s restraint.

We walked in relative silence for a few moments as Twilight and I continued to mull over the information we had been given, before Frost continued. “I know you’re probably wondering how a guy like me could take all that every week, for years, and not just...snap.” At my curious look thrown his way, he chuckled and shook his head. “Well, I learned pretty early on that you can’t think of them as people. They’re just a voice on the phone, just a job, and that’s as far as I let them affect me. There was no way to eliminate the psychological stress the job caused, but using the method I just mentioned allowed me to ‘deaden’ my mental and emotional nerves so that the stress was well-mitigated, and when I left work for the day, I left all that stress at work; I didn’t bring my work home with me, and I think that kept me sane.”

While the others continued asking questions -- namely Twilight, who was thoroughly interested in stories of Frost’s human life -- I found myself quietly pondering how these many trials our stallion overcame turned him into who he is today. Where most would have broken, he adapted and prospered. While I earnestly believed his method of dealing with stresses in life had not always been particularly healthy, I could admit I was happy he had become who he is. I silently promised myself to support him more as our days together continued, so that he would not be forced to stand alone against the tide of life’s trials.

We continued on to our destination, and I could not keep the gentle smile off of my face.

Perspective Change -- 3rd Person


One of the younger agents found himself cringing at the angry outburst of his superior, doing his best not to tremble in the wake of the angry gaze sent his way. “I-I mean they’re gone, s-sir. They went into the public restrooms, and never came out. W-we swept the area and found no clue of where they went, or how they gave us the slip.”

The supervisor swore loudly before pulling out his phone and typing a few numbers into it, bringing it to his ear. His face burned with embarrassment as he heard the greeting, “Womac speaking.”

He sighed heavily through his nose and closed his eyes. “We lost them, sir.”

The line was silent for a long few moments before a reply came. “...what do you mean you lost them?”

Gritting his teeth, the supervisor frustratingly brushed a hand through his slicked-back hair. “They went to the public restrooms on the west side of the area, and they never left. We were watching the restrooms the entire time, so after twenty minutes, we sent a few personnel in to investigate...only to find all of the targets have apparently disappeared. There are no other exits from the restrooms, and no sign of them somehow digging out in twenty minutes, so I’m at a loss to explain what just happened, sir. What are your orders?”

A similarly frustrated grunt was heard from the other line. “Keep a small squad on site in case they spontaneously reappear. The rest, send back to base for debriefing and reassignment.”

Nodding once, the supervisor answered, “Understood sir. I’ll be remaining on-site unless you have any objections.”

“That is acceptable. Immediately report any strange activity in the area or EM spikes detected.”

Raising an eyebrow, the supervisor was unable to mask his confusion. “EM spikes, sir?”

“Just follow your orders, Watkins.”

The supervisor grunted and hung up, turning to his men. “I need five volunteers to stay with me. The rest are returning to base for debriefing and reassignment.” Five hands quickly rose and stepped to his side as the rest filed out of the area toward the awaiting transports. He sneered at the last known location of the targets, and silently seethed, “You freaks better hope I never get my hands on you.”

With that, he began monotonously patrolling the mall once again, settling himself in for another long, boring day.