“Until the dawn they hold on! Only forty are left at the end! None alive! None survive! Shiroyaaamaaaaaa!!!” James stumbled drunkenly through an alley while trying to find the way back to his hotel. He had just left a pub called “Cask’n’Flagon” that recently closed up for the night.
The pub was conveniently located down the street from the concert he’d attended earlier in the evening, and provided the perfect spot for an after-party. The songs of his favorite band, Sabaton, still at the forefront of his mind, he bellowed random lyrics into the night as he made his way through the unfamiliar streets.
“Hey! You there!” A voice called out to him from his side.
“I’m innocent!” James’s hands shot up into the air, assuming he was being stopped by the cops for some reason.
“I’m not trying to arrest you…” the voice replied slightly annoyed.
“Word?” James lowered his hands and blearily looked around trying to locate the speaker. He eventually zeroed in on an obscured figure standing in the shadow between two buildings. “What up?”
“Come closer, I’d like to make you an offer…” The figure replied in a hushed tone while beckoning James with a gloved hand.
James stared at the shadow for a while trying to make sense of the situation, which was made more difficult because of the copious amounts of alcohol in his system. “Oh, I get it!” Something suddenly clicked in his head. “Show me what you got then!” James happily stumbled towards the shadows.
“My offer isn’t like what you are expecting…” the figure said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m offering you here.”
“Yeah, yeah, cut the crap,” James waved him off. “So what you got? Maybe some weed? LSD? Ecstasy?”
“I’m not selling you drugs,” the shadow sighed.
“Oh okay. Drugs are baaad, mkay?” James slurred, already turning away again with an awkward chuckle.
“Wait!” The shadow said exasperated. “I’m telling you, this is a chance you don’t want to miss out on. What if I told you there’s another world out there, a world where you could be powerful, where you could make a difference? What if I told you I could send you there?”
“So you’re not a cop, you’re not selling drugs…” James’ brain was working in overdrive. “You a military recruiter? Isn’t that how they get gullible people to join? See the world! Bring about change!” he mocked. “Sorry, not interested.”
James turned away from the shadow while waving at him, intent on finding his hotel and a warm bed to sleep. He could only hear an annoyed sigh behind him, which put a smile on his face.
“Fine, I tried it the nice way…” the shadow mumbled. “Guess I’ll just have to be a bit mean then.”
I slowly opened my eyes, blinking the sleep out of them. A rooster outside was greeting the morning, and he was most likely the one to wake me up. He had done so for the past few days, and today was no different. For a second, I longed for that blissful first day I spent at Fluttershy’s cottage, where I was too tired to be woken up by poultry terrorists.
After gathering my thoughts for a moment, I got out of the comfortable bed and started wrestling with my hoodie. Putting it on was becoming easier by the day, as I’ve been growing more accustomed to manipulating things with my hooves. I wracked my brain during the ordeal, trying to recall what I was dreaming about. For some reason I felt like it was important, but for the life of me, I just couldn’t remember what it was about. Such were dreams, I guess, since I usually wasn’t able to remember them anyway.
For some reason Sabaton was stuck in my head, though.
I finished the difficult task of getting dressed and made my way to the door. Even though I didn’t like getting up early one bit, yet I might as well get up to help Fluttershy out with her chores, since I was awake.
I opened the door of my room and came face to face with Fluttershy, who was just leaving her room as well. “Good morning!” I greeted her, the tiredness practically oozing out of me.
“Good morning, Beat,” Fluttershy replied happily, obviously used to getting up at this god-awful hour. “Will you be helping me out today as well? That so nice of you.”
“It’s the least I can do, since you’re letting me stay here after all,” I replied, as I’ve done for the past few days, yet she insisted on telling me every day how happy she was about my nice gesture.
“It’s still very nice of you,” Fluttershy smiled as she walked past me and down the stairs. “I can tell that you don’t like getting up at this early hour, so seeing you still do it just to help me means a lot.”
“I won’t argue against that,” I replied as I followed close behind her. “But the animals need feeding, so here I am.”
“Exactly,” Fluttershy nodded. “So let’s help our furry friends, and after that I’ll make us a hearty breakfast. How does that sound to you?”
“Sounds great,” I suppressed a yawn as I followed Fluttershy outside and into the shed where she kept all the different kinds of animal feed. It was a small miracle that the animals didn’t just break in there and eat everything, especially seeing how she didn’t even bother to lock it, but I suppose the animals just appreciated everything Fluttershy did for them and didn’t want to cause her trouble.
For the next half hour I helped Fluttershy distribute the copious amount of feed to all the different kinds of animals inhabiting the area in and around her hut. It was really kind of nice, since I liked animals anyway, and being this close and being able to interact with species that would normally run at the sight of humans was a pretty cool experience.
Eventually, we got done with our chores and headed back inside, straight for the kitchen. I headed straight for the chair which had become my official-un-official seat, intent to plant my ass on it and maybe sneak in a little nap while resting my head on the table. My plans were delayed when I spotted the small ball of white fur already taking a nap on my chair.
Angel Bunny had made himself comfortable and was snoozing away with nary a care in the world. I blinked a few times, registering the hindrance to my nap with slight annoyance. The little fluffball apparently didn’t like me staying at Fluttershy’s and occasionally tried to mess with me. My best guess for this situation being that this was supposed to be some kind of messed up power play by taking over my spot.
Not about to take attitude from a tiny bunny, of all things, I unceremoniously shoved him off the chair before hopping up on it myself. A thud could be heard, followed by angry bunny noises, which I didn’t even grace with my attention.
“Language, Angel!” Fluttershy reprimanded him without turning around, causing the bunny to slink away in defeat.
Intent on not losing this chance, I let my head fall on the table, got as comfortable as possible and closed my eyes for a bit. Even though we had been up and about, I still had this tingling feeling of sleep coursing through my body. Back on earth, a steaming hot cup of coffee usually got rid of it, but ever since coming to Equestria I was left to suffer.
I heard something being placed on the table with a wooden thump. “Huh?” I raised my head and blearily looked at Fluttershy.
“Breakfast is served,” Fluttershy replied while pointing at a bowl in front of me. It seemed to be some sort of greek salad. Although I wasn’t too sure, since I’m not an expert, but it had different veggies in it and what looked like some sort of cheese. “It really wouldn’t be a problem for you to sleep in a bit more, you know?”
“No, I want to do this,” I replied stubbornly as I pulled the bowl of salad closer, before getting some of the offered bread as well. “Not like I have anything else to do…”
“About that,” Fluttershy said as she began eating as well. “Rarity came by yesterday.”
“Really? I didn’t notice,” I replied, slightly surprised.
“I think you were upstairs taking a nap,” Fluttershy explained, causing me to nod my head in understanding.
“So what did she want?”
“Well, since it looks like you might be staying here for a while longer, she came here with a suggestion,” Fluttershy continued. “Apparently her little sister, Sweetie Belle, has been bugging her about who you are, and whether or not you’ll be going to school.”
“Going to school?” I paused my eating to raise an eyebrow in surprise. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind yet, even though my current body was at the perfect age to do so.
“Yes,” Fluttershy nodded. “Ponyville does have a small school building, and I’m sure it would be great for you to go. You’d be able to meet foals your age, and learn all the things you missed out on while you were… you know…”
“That does sound rather interesting…” I rubbed my chin with my hoof in thought. I wasn’t too keen on meeting foals around “my” age, but I had been trying to learn more about this world with varying success, and going to school was probably the most efficient and inconspicuous way to do so. “I think I would like that, yes,” I replied after a moment. “This doesn’t come with some big expenses on your part, though, right?” I added as an afterthought.
“Oh! No, no, don’t worry about that,” Fluttershy waved me off. “The Ponyville school is funded by the crown, so everypony can attend it for free.”
“Really? That’s amazing…” I was slightly baffled, thinking back on my college days and the big debt I was still paying off when I got transported. At least that was one problem I wouldn’t have here. “In that case, I’d love to go!”
“Really?” Fluttershy seemed to forget her shyness for a second as it was replaced with genuine happiness. “Oh I’m sure you’re going to have so much fun!”
“Totally,” I replied a little less enthusiastic, but Fluttershy didn’t seem to mind. “So like, how do we even do this? Do I just show up at some point? Or do we need to go and sign up somewhere?”
“I… umm…” Fluttershy faltered a bit. “I’m actually not too sure about that myself… But if you’d like, we can go and meet the teacher later today and ask her about it?”
“Sure, why not,” I nodded and started shoveling salad down the hatch again. “If anypony is going to know, it’s gonna be the school staff, I guess.”
“Oh yes, Ms. Cheerilee is a very nice mare, I’m sure she’ll gladly help us out with this,” Fluttershy had a bright smile on her face again. Apparently the village teacher was well known around here, which made sense, considering the village wasn’t too big by my standards.
“So, what do we do until then?” I casually asked while finishing up my breakfast.
“If you want, you can help me some more around the house, the animals seem to be taking a liking to you, so I’m sure they’d like to play with you or have you around in general,” Fluttershy finished up her own food, and started putting away our bowls.
Well, I knew at least one certain bunny who didn’t like me very much at all. “That sounds good to me, the otters that hang out by the creek are really fun to play with.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” Fluttershy smiled at me. “What do you say I make us some tea, and we enjoy it in the nice weather outside for now?”
“That sounds lovely,” I returned a warm smile before heading outside, to prepare the small table we sometimes drank our tea on, on nice mornings like this.
Fluttershy was leading me down the path that leads to the school, and apparently to Sweet Apple Acres if you continued along the way. The school wasn’t terribly far away from Fluttershy’s cottage, maybe an estimated ten to fifteen minutes of leisurely walking. After coming back into town, all you had to do was hang left and eventually you’d come upon the path.
I could already see it in the distance; a dainty building, probably barely big enough to hold a class or two at a time. It’s walls were painted mainly in red colors, with pink and white accents all over the place. A small bell tower decorated the roof, which most likely functioned to let the ponies know when school was starting and ending. I could barely see some playground equipment behind the building, indicating that recess was a thing in this world as well, for which I thanked the gods.
All in all, the school seemed to follow the general building trend of Ponyville, which was to say, any building that was remotely important was way over designed compared to anything else. Almost as if they were built in case they wanted to make merchandise for dumb tourists out of them.
Just as we were about to step on the small path that connected the school to the main path, the bell rang, indicating that school was over. Not soon after the door opened and a throng of small ponies filed out excitedly, probably eager to get home and have some lunch.
Fluttershy and I stepped to the side a bit, to let the excited fillies and colts past us, and I started to feel like some sort of exhibition. Without exception, every kid that passed us by was staring at me as if I was some sort of alien. They were no doubt checking me out, because I was new, and since I was coming to the school, they were sizing me up as probable friend material.
Looking a bit closer, most of these ponies were slightly smaller than me. Were they younger than me? So they’d probably be in an age group below me.
Eventually, all of the school-goers had left the building, leaving behind a purple earth-pony mare that stood in the doorway and called encouraging words after the children, as well as reminding them about their homework.
“That’s Miss Cheerilee,” Fluttershy pointed out helpfully.
“She seems very… caring,” I replied, being reminded that teachers usually knew a lot of things about their charges, which would raise the chance of her figuring me out.
“Oh yes, definitely,” Fluttershy smiled and waved towards Cheerilee, who had just noticed us. “She’s been Ponyville's teacher for years now, and she still enjoys it very much.”
“Good Morning Fluttershy,” Cheerilee followed along after the last few students and approached us with a motherly smile on her face. “What brings you here today? And who’s this handsome colt?”
“Good morning Miss Cheerilee,” Fluttershy eagerly replied. “He’s actually the reason I’m here. This is Steady Beat.”
“Hello, pleased to meet you,” I replied, taking the hint that I was supposed to greet her.
“The pleasure’s all mine,” Cheerilee extended a hoof, which I took and shook. “So what is it that you need from me?”
“Education,” I deadpanned, failing in containing the slightly sarcastic response from escaping.
“Yes, there are some rather unfortunate circumstances, so Beat here will have to stay in Ponyville for a while, and we thought it best that he’d come to school for the duration of his stay,” Fluttershy carried on as if nothing happened, even though Cheerilee was now curiously looking at me with slightly furrowed brows. “You know… so he can make some friends around his age… and things like that…”
“Well, I’d never deny education to a young colt who actively seeks it out,” Cheerilee’s expression reverted back to being friendly. “But would you mind if I ran you through some simple tests to see where you are currently standing in terms of your knowledge?”
“I wouldn’t mind,” elementary school tests, how hard could they be? “But I don’t really know how to write.”
Cheerilee’s expression changed to concern and she tilted her head a bit to the side. “Don’t know… how to write?”
She seemed incredulous that a pony my age would be incapable to do something as simple as writing. Truth be told, I was still a slow reader, even after mostly figuring out how the ponies alphabet worked. And even though I was getting better, writing still proved to be almost impossible for me. Through observations I had figured out that Pegasi used their wings to hold the feathers ponies used to write. Unicorns just used their magic, and earth ponies apparently used some outlandish thing called “mouth-writing”.
Since my magic was still a no-go, and I couldn’t expose, nor use, my wings, all that was left was mouth writing for me to try. The results were more than horrible and I seriously doubted that I’d ever get the tongue dexterity needed to pull it off.
“Uh, yes… about that,” Fluttershy cringed a bit. “Might I have a few words with you in private?”
“Yes, certainly,” Cheerilee led Fluttershy a few paces away from where I was sitting, although her eyes lingered on me for a bit longer than necessary.
Thus, a hushed conversation commenced, intent on not letting me listen in. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what they were talking about, especially after seeing Cheerilee gasp and putting a hoof over her mouth. At this point I began wondering if my web of lies was actually holding up well, even now, or if it was slowly degrading, like some sort of fucked up game of telephone.
It didn’t take long for the two of them to return, and Cheerilee’s demeanor towards me had visibly changed. Gone were the confusion and slight apprehension, replaced by genuine care and worry. She almost felt like a more extreme version of Fluttershy now.
“Alright, Beat,” Cheerilee carefully started. “Fluttershy has informed me of your… situation. It wouldn’t be a problem for you to take the tests verbally, and if you’d like, I could offer you some additional lessons outside of class, to help you get up to speed. Would that be alright with you?”
“Sure,” I shrugged my shoulders. I still had a lot of things to learn about how this world functioned, as well as how to properly control my body with more finesse, so this would be a welcome addition. Especially since I wouldn’t have to tiptoe around Fluttershy to learn things that should be obvious by this world's standards.
“Great!” Cheerilee clapped her hooves together in satisfaction. “Then, let’s not delay this more than it needs to be. Tell you what, why don’t you two go out and eat lunch, and come by again in the afternoon? I’ll have the tests prepared by then, as well as some other papers needed to enroll in the school.”
“We wouldn’t want you to miss lunch because of this…” Fluttershy shot a worried look towards Cheerilee.
“Don’t you worry about it,” Cheerilee waved her off. “I’m going to eat something as well before coming back.”
“That’s good then,” Fluttershy gave a cute little nod before facing me. “Let’s go and grab something to eat then.”
“Sounds good to me, I’m actually getting pretty hungry,” I got up from my seated position in the grass. “Enjoy your meal, Miss Cheerilee.”
“You too, Beat, Fluttershy,” Cheerilee nodded and waved us off, as we started back on the path into town.
Math. Math was my rock. My steadfast anchor in a sea of turbulent waves and rain. I loved math, more than anything. Math loved me, and we cared deeply for each other.
I had to desperately cling on to the fact that math worked the same in this world as it did back on earth, since everything else was alien to me. Cheerilee’s relentless elementary grade questions drove that point home more than ever, as I struggled to answer even the most basic questions she asked me.
History? Not a clue. Physics? Turns out magic tends to fuck with it in ways I could’ve never predicted. Weather? I knew it was somehow controlled by pegasi, but it was weirder than I thought. Magic? I couldn’t even begin to fathom what the fuck was going on there.
But math was safe. I was addin up seven and twelve like a champ. Subtracted thirty-five from sixty-two with nary a thought. I was able to divide and multiply as if it was second nature. Math was true.
That’s what I’ve been telling to myself, while I sat alone at one of the desks, my head resting on it, defeated, while the adults discussed my test-results with each other. I already knew that I would probably bomb some of the subject in this evaluation test, since I lacked a lot of what was considered common sense in this world, but this exceeded my wildest imaginations.
Cheerilee grilled me on eight different subjects, and aside from math, I was barely able to answer any of the questions she asked. It was a mentally draining experience for anypony present. For me, because my ego deflated like a bouncy castle jumped on by a landwhale. For Cheerilee because she seemed to become sadder and sadder with each failed question, and Fluttershy because she had to witness the whole exchange.
“Steady Beat?” I heard Cheerilee’s voice carefully asking for my attention right in front of me. I hadn’t even noticed her approaching me.
“Yes?” I asked without lifting my head from the desk, or looking at her for that matter.
“Well… I think we both know that your test didn’t go too… well,” I could hear the cringe in her voice. “There is a lot you don’t know, and I just want you to know that this isn’t your fault. You just never had the opportunity to learn these things.”
“Yeah, I know,” I answered dejectedly.
“I would very much like to help you however I can, if you’d allow me to do so,” Cheerilee soldiered on. “So if you’d like, you could start sitting in on some of my classes starting tomorrow, and I’d also like to give you the supplementary lessons that I’ve mentioned before. Fluttershy also mentioned you being completely unable to control your magic,” I cringed at myself a little, “And she suggested that she could maybe introduce you to her friend Twilight, so that you could learn to do so there…”
I mulled her proposal over in my head for a bit, the awkward silence permeating the room while I did so. Back on earth I had barely escaped the studying hell that was college, and I’d thought that would be the end of it. But it seemed like I was plunged right back in, and not at college level, mind you, but at elementary school. It was so sad that I almost wanted to laugh, but try as I might, I didn’t see a way out of this. If I wanted to live and thrive in this new world I’d found myself in, I’d have to learn one way or the other.
“Alright,” I finally lifted my head off the desk and properly looked at Cheerilee, which had a worried look on her face. A glance in Fluttershy’s direction revealed a similar expression. I replaced my sullen look of defeat with one of determination. “I want to learn, so let’s do this.”