I remember the light, bright and blinding light, as it split into many colors, swirling like a wild storm around me. I felt… warm, both inside and out, and there was a tug, as if it were gently guiding me along, herding me. And I, not knowing any better, went with it.
Soon, the light faded, leaving me to the nature of gravity, causing me to plummet. It wasn’t a far fall, but I landed in a still puddle with an audible splash, soaking parts of my jeans and my hoodie, much to my displeasure. My eyes cleared, the brightness leaving me with little to properly focus on, until the room came into view, spawned from the darkness.
I should say, though, that the room I had been expecting was not the one that I got. To this day, I can’t quite remember how I managed to end up in that throne room, but yet, here I was, disoriented and confused.
Said throne room was dilapidated, crumbling from age, and all but faded with time. The torn banners and carpet, the collapsed thrones, the holes in the roof lending to the puddles around; it all pointed to me that I simply didn’t belong. It was like looking through a window at a museum exhibit, only I had broken in at the dead of night.
A chill passed through my body, but I shook it off, chalking it up to my now wet clothes. Despite the puddles around, there was no storm, at least not overhead. I could still hear lightning, see flashes, but was ultimately thankful for the patch of clear sky. The moon was in full glow, letting me see, with some difficulty, my surroundings.
At least, until I put my glasses back on; seeing became much easier after that.
Pulling myself to my feet, I splashed a few puddles while I moved to the windows. Cracked and nearly shattered though they were, I could still see through them for the most part. I frowned at the forest outside the throne room. Some sort of jungle surrounded the perimeter as far as I could see, given the storm that loomed over the trees. Visibility was poor, thanks to the constant rain that poured over the trees. It made for a somewhat eerie sight, to see the clouds stop so suddenly, as if held back by some force.
It was with some difficulty that I quit my gawking through the window, determined to find more suitable shelter for the night should that storm turn more towards the castle.
I don’t know for how long I wandered through that dumb castle. The movement of the moon made it hard to remember which hallway I had gone down first, long shadows casting down previous options while light pointed towards others. I swallowed deeply, pushing down the rising fear and despair, my exhaustion slowly edging in the later the hour became.
With a sigh, I finally made it back to the parlor just outside the throne room, though it too lacked a good, solid roof. Puddles dotted the floor, reflecting the moonlight. I almost gave into my childlike instinct to jump in them.
But I was older and more mature than that.
As I crept along, shoes making small waves through the water, I couldn’t help feel like I was being watched. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end, sending a shiver down my spine. I looked around me, trying to find the source of the feeling. For all I knew, I had been alone in that castle since the moment I arrived.
It was when I caught a pair of golden eyes peering through the darkness did I freeze. A chill fell over me. From here I could barely make out the long slits they had for pupils, wide though they were to see through the night. I dared myself not to move a muscle, as if me standing in broad moonlight would hide me if I simply didn’t move. My breath hitched in my throat, and I struggled not to cough.
It didn’t help, as I soon found out. The eyes narrowed at me, lowering and coming closer. I didn’t have the chance to even so much as think about what was coming. I ran.
Legs quickly beating a path, I fled through the halls, trying my best to remember where I had gone, where it might be safe. Unfortunately, my sense of direction has never been great, and as such, I wound up in a round, empty room, a slight dais across from me flanked by windows. As I fought to calm my breath, I barely registered that it used to be some form of bedroom, if the ruined bed was any indication. Still, I had to find a hiding spot. This was a dead end.
Scurrying as fast as I could, I hid behind a nearly collapsed pillar, in the shadows away from the doorway, struggling to make myself as small as possible. Balling up, I swallowed my breath, keeping quiet and still.
It wasn’t long before I heard the telltale signs of movement, a clopping along the stairs, before they stopped at the threshold. Holding my breath I slowly, carefully, tilted my head around the pillar to look. I caught sight of the creature the eyes belonged to, and my fear fell to confusion. From the corner of my eye, outside the tunnel of vision my glasses provided, I thought I saw it to be almost… equine, clad in nearly full-plate purple armor, with some sort of eye symbol hanging around his front. I wasn’t exactly rational at this point, so I didn’t know what to believe.
I didn’t risk poking my head out further, deciding it best to stay hidden for the time being. Eventually though I grew impatient, leaning to take a second look, only to find said equine to be missing. I carefully leaned more around the pillar, but couldn’t catch so much of a glimpse of it.
I was thankful for the soft breeze in the room as I let out the breath I had been holding. It looked as though I had made it. However, as I was looking around the room, I happened to notice that there were no puddles in here, the roof having not caved in within this particular area. As I made a mental note that I should stay here for shelter, I glanced over the ceiling, around the room, until my eyes fell on just what was causing the breeze to begin with.
The equine had been flying behind me, quietly, on leathery bat wings, while I had my guard down.
Now, I’m not saying there wasn’t a shriek, but I maintain it was the most manly of shrieks. It was deep and baritone; the kind that could sing an opera.
Regardless, I fled, scrambling along the floor for purchase, hands clenching pools of decayed rug before I fell down the stairs. So twisted in my panic, I failed to let go of the carpet, causing it to wrap tightly around my body, making me bounce along every step, against the stone wall even.
Dizzy, knocked senseless, I fell to the base of the spiral staircase, world blurry and throat dry. And yet I was still scared. Fight or flight was in full effect, and I’m not a fighter.
Worming my way along, I managed maybe two feet before collapsing again. Hyperventilating at this point, whole being shaking, vision blurring more than usual, I dragged myself along until I hit something nearly solid, smashing into it. It didn’t quite feel like a wall though.
My breath caught in my throat, my gaze slowly tracing up along the four legs that stood before me, my bottom lip trembling as I met deep cyan eyes, staring back at me from underneath a hood. I jerked back, yet again stumbling, unable to hold balance under such utter terror as I fell. Landing roughly again, I barely caught the fact that the face under the hood tilted to the side.
A silver shod hoof was raised for some reason, before a glow fell over a horn I had missed from my initial observation. The hood fell back revealing a midnight blue unicorn of all things, my eyes lost in the flowing mane. It was a field of stars, glistening as though each follicle were apart of a greater, solid mass.
“And what manner of creature art thou?” her voice hit my ears, snapping me out of my stupor. I blankly stared while I processed what I’d heard.
“A-a horse, that can talk?” I wondered aloud; probably not the best decision in hindsight.
“A horse?!” her eyes narrowed, or at least I felt like they did. I was quite blind without glasses. “We will not be insulted thusly, creature!” Her voice boomed, and I began stammering out an apology. I couldn’t read her expression as she stomped a hoof. “Explain thyself, nave!”
I bit my lip, cowering. What was I supposed to say? Swallowing, I only managed a brief “Uh” before my voice gave out, cracking towards the end. Fear had me again, my heart pumping in my chest.
It must have been the way I was looking at her, mouth open, yet eyes squinting to make her visible, but when she lit up her horn again, I flinched. With a sigh from her, soon my glasses floated over to me, a soft blue glow around them in the night light. I stared at them dumbfounded for what must’ve been too long, because she cleared her throat at me, again making me jump.
I didn’t wait longer before I took the glasses back, my vision becoming clear. I could finally make her out, and yes, her mane really did flow like a sea of stars. Above all else, on top of her head, just behind her horn, sat an onyx crown or tiara.
I must’ve had my jaw hanging open as I stared at this unicorn, because I soon felt something close my mouth. I thought I saw a smirk on her lips, but reading expressions was difficult at this stage.
“What a strange creature...” I heard her mutter under her breath, likely not for my ears. Her horn took on that same soft light as before, and I felt a little on the warm side. A light passed over me, though stopping at my chest, where my necklace had been tucked away. Again, her eyes narrowed, bite coming back into her voice as she demanded, “Where did thee get this?” I felt my hoodie pulled down and my necklace tugged away, nearly breaking the chain that held my ring.
I swallowed, but before I could say anything about the heirloom, it began to glow. Soon the light became harsh, blinding, and I could barely make out that that her horn’s light increased as well. She was likely trying to overpower whatever was happening. But it didn’t work.
Next thing I knew I was overcome with a feeling of warmth, simultaneously mixing with a chill; the kind of thing that happens when you sit the wrong way and a limb falls asleep. I squeezed my eyes shut as I felt a change, body twisting in ways it really shouldn’t.
Briefly, I wondered if this was death, if I had done something to have her kill me, albeit softly.
Yet, before I could register what was happening, I again hit the floor, head aching and body nearly numb. I had become quite acquainted with that castle’s floor throughout the night, but I can safely say, I never want to see it again.
As I opened my eyes to a strangely clear world, I squinted in habit to take in the unicorn’s expression. It looked like one of shock. Over what, though, I gave myself two guesses, without peeking, and both were wrong.
Unfamiliar with this form though I was, I still had a sense that something had changed far more than my imagination could conceive. I shifted in my spot, hearing fabric tearing. That’s when I got a look at myself, my eyes scanning over to let me take in as many details as I wanted.
I was now a horse, just like her, though smaller and… almost aquamarine in color with a pleasant purple mane and tail? I wasn’t aware horses could be such a color, but here I was, clothes torn to account for my new shape and mass.
A lump formed in my throat, that I fought to swallow down. With a growl that surprised even me, I shouted at her, “What did you do to me?! Why did you make me a horse?!”
Being yelled at seemed to snap her out of her gawking. Her eyes narrowed. “We have done nothing to thee of the sort!” Her growl moved to match my own, slowly surpassing it. “Thou will not speakest to us in such a foul way!” she practically yelled, though sounded much louder, booming through my skull as I quivered. Her eyes glowed a stark white, her iris and pupils vanishing while I curled in, cowering, “Be still and show respect!” I became of aware of a rushing wind, pumping down the hall past her, blasting me in the face. As the wind kicked up her cloak, her wings spread wide. Deep down, I could feel myself in awe at this winged unicorn, my existence feeling quite insignificant.
I bit back a retort, my fear squashing my anger quite thoroughly as she took a step closer to me. One hoof in front of the other, until she practically towered above me. I shook, absolutely terrified that she might do something else to me. That I wouldn’t just be a horse. I’d be a dead one this time for sure.
She seemed to notice my terror towards her, taking a moment, closing her eyes, and calming down. Her wings fluttered at her sides, again sliding back under her cloak with little effort. I had been slowly devolving into shock. Yet when her eyes returned to normal, I saw what I thought was sadness in them, but it quickly went away, changing to a placid expression. It did little to calm my nerves, however.
We stared at each other in silence for an eternity. Time seemed to move slowly, specks of dust in the air drifting languidly down. After my chest no longer felt like it was going to explode, I closed my eyes, swallowing my fear.
“What is thy name?”
Her words almost passed me by, quiet though they were. “F-Forrest… ma’am,” I added at the end trying to show some form of respect, to perhaps quell her anger, “But I prefer Benjamin, or Ben.”
“Very well, Benjamin,” her words were soft, cooing almost. I felt like a child again, being reassured by my grandmother that everything would be okay, that the storm wouldn’t hurt me. “We are not sure what has happened, but We can at least assure thee: thine form ist not one of a horse.” She spat the word out.
“Thou art a pony,” she emphasized, motioning with her head. Again she passed my glasses to me, though this time I couldn’t help but notice the crack in the lens, a sizable chunk missing. “And unless thine power is that of shapeshifitng, it would appear as though this form is not temporary,” she continued on, though I almost missed her words, nearly dropping my glasses from my unfamiliar hooves. “The magic We felt, t’was not that of a dark spell, but that of Harmony at work.” What was that supposed to mean?
I only managed a puzzled expression before I focused back on my glasses. With a little help, they sat at the edge of my new muzzle, far too small to be of any true help, yet unnecessary thanks to my new equine form. I also finally noticed that any trauma I had from falling down the stairs had vanished from my new form.
She took my silence well enough, “We know that this may be difficult, but--”
My tiny voice cut her off, “Is that the Royal ‘We’?”
She was taken aback, another glare forming before her face returned to a careful neutral. “Yes,” was her simple response.
And “oh,” was mine.
Again, silence fell. I heard a slight clinking of armor behind me, and though I tore my clothes further, my longer neck let me peer behind me. I’m ashamed to admit, I froze. Behind me was that cat-eyed equine that I had been running from. He gave no indication or acknowledgment, other than his eyes peering at me, staring through me with an expression of carefully sculpted stone.
“Night Wing will not harm thee, young Benjamin,” she said, making me look back to her, blinking almost owlishly. “Mine guard simply wishes to ensure thine cooperation.”
That told me so many things, my brain had to race to keep up. “You knew I was here?”
“Thine arrival was not one of subtlety,” she explained, “Surely you did not miss the lack of clouds in the Everfree sky?”
I mulled over that. Of course I didn’t miss that fact, but I didn’t know any better either. Still, I moved onto my next round of questions, “But what’s an ‘Everfree’? How did I get here? Where even am I? What is--”
I went quiet when she raised her hoof, and I didn’t miss the hurt look when I flinched back from it. “Calm thyself. Such matters little at this point. Thou art here. Now,” her eyes narrowed, “what will you do?”
I didn’t know. My breathing slowed, however. As I thought, I had begun to hyperventilate again. Vision returning, I looked away. My voice was that of a squeak, “Come quietly?”
I felt her hoof on my chin, turning my head so I would look her in the eyes, “Thou art not under arrest. However, young Benjamin, if it is thy desire, thou shall be our charge. We very well cannot just leave thee in our old castle.”
I briefly wondered if I had been hiding in her bedroom of all things, but thought better than to ever voice such a thought. “Well, um, your Majesty?” it came out as a question, as I had no idea how to refer to her at this point. I had never spoken to royalty before. “Where would you take me?”
“We would escort you to Canterlot, where we assure thee, you would be most safe,” she nodded slightly as though it were already decided.
“Canterlot,”I repeated, and she nodded to me, though didn’t ask when I tilted my head, “Is it far?”
“But one chariot ride away,” she put on her most reassuring smile.
“You know,” I started, holding on tightly to the side of the chariot, staring at the flooring, and struggling not to be sick, “I imagined something more… grounded.”
She smirked at me, but said nothing, idly adjusting her wings as if to shrug. It was hard to miss the motion despite not necessarily looking at her.
I grimaced, but bravely looked about, to the two guards pulling the chariot, and the five others escorting us, all winged bat ponies. Sure, it had been a surprise when she summoned the chariot from out of nowhere, but it had wheels, so imagine my shock when we took to the sky.
“For thine knowledge,” she says, breaking the silence, “Thine face is the most interesting of greens.”
My lips purse as I feel my ears fold atop my head. Even given my air sickness, I still glared at her. I was seconds from exploding, from saying something I’d regret. Instead, I settled on something simpler: a change of subject. “So,” I eloquently started, “what’s your name?”
“Apologies,” she didn’t say for what, “Mine name is Luna, mine title is Princess.”
I blinked, and without looking, recalled the moon tattoo on her flank. Her name seemed obvious… “Princess Luna?” she nodded, “Why didn’t you lead with that?”
“Thou did not ask.”
I groaned, rolling my eyes, but soon moved my eyes back to the floor, away from her slight grin. We were silent for several moments after that, when I began to wonder something. “Um, so,” I swallowed, wetting my suddenly dry throat, “since none of your guards spoke, which one of us talks funny?”
“What does thee mean?” Luna asked.
“Well, I’ve never heard a… pony talk before,” I said as she gave me a little sidelong glance, “So I’m not sure which one of us is speaking correctly.” She raised an eyebrow, while I made a small motion with my hoof, wishing it were a hand again. “The, um, ye old speak? ‘Thee’ and ‘thine’ and the like.”
She nods, mulling over the answer carefully, expression one completely on guard.
“You only do it when you’re uncomfortable, huh?” My words seemed to have no effect on Luna, though I thought I saw a guard’s ear twitch. I was too focused on her wings shifting to know for sure.
“We believe you are taking this transition quite well,” she changed the subject quickly, words carefully chosen now, “Certainly, to be pulled from where you hail, and changed thusly, must be quite a shock for you.”
“Oh don’t get me wrong...” I paused to swallow down the hint of fear rising from the mere mention of the change, “Inside? I’m freaking out. But I have more important things to worry about: like falling out of this chariot!” I emphasized this by gripping tighter over the edge.
Luna let a soft chuckle pass through her lips, “Your safety is assured.”
I chewed on my cheek, wanting to focus on other things. “Why isn’t the wind howling in our ears? How come we can just talk normally without the rain pelting our faces?”
“T’is but a simple spell,” she said tilting her head, “We are certain that thee could learn such a spell, given time.”
While she probably meant to be reassuring, I flinched at the thought. It had taken me a while to notice my own horn from my skull. It’s not something you can really focus on, like your nose or snout, just something out of your periphery. “Magic, huh?” my voice cracked, unsure if I should breech the subject, or if acknowledging it would cause the chariot to plummet. I certainly didn’t believe in it.
She merely tilted her head.
“Um, never mind,” I muttered, deciding to instead give a thread count to the checkered patterned in the seat cushions.
As we flew, my ripped clothing flapped lazily in a light breeze, despite our incredible speed. Magic was a gift, I’d decided. Though, having the wind in my hair made the whole thing feel like a dream. What if it was one? What if I woke up tomorrow, back to normal? Would I even bother going to class?
I’d been studying, going to college to make something out of myself, to make my grandparents proud, even though I hadn’t truly chosen a major. I wanted nothing more than to be truly self-sufficient, to be an adult and no longer be as sheltered as I was.
But that was all gone now. Here I was, a pastel pony riding next to a pretty princess, my clothes might as well not even exist. There would be nothing to show for my old life. Luna had taken my wallet and my pocket’s contents, my glasses included, though my heirloom was left around my neck. The chain was a little tight though, but not yet choking me. It was hard to move without feeling the chain strain.
Thoughts flooded my mind as I opened the can of worms though. I really wasn’t getting home, was I? What would be my new normal now? How can I--
The thought halted as I felt Luna touch me, making me flinch back with a yelp. I was panting, nearly having a panic attack, wetness forming under my eyes… I looked over to her face just as she covered up the startled reaction, leg retreating back to her side.
“Forgive us. Thy face looked as though you were ‘freaking out’, as it were.”
“Is fine,” I noncommittally murmured out.
She studied me for a quiet second, eyes squinting as if to read my mind. Slowly, she settled back in the chariot, gaze forward.
I was thankful that she had stopped scrutinizing me. I was fighting the urge to fidget under her gaze. I sighed softly, hoof rubbing over the cushion, oddly tactile through the keratin. I lifted my hoof up, giving it a look, turning it over to stare, examining it. I don’t know how long I was lost in thought.
The next thing I knew, the chariot began its decent, bringing me out of my stupor. Again I latched onto the side, closing my eyes through the landing. I felt like such a child. I’d flown on a plane a number of times, sure, but that giant metal missile is heavily pressurized and up high. You can barely feel the take off and landing. As it was, the chariot was quite low, without so much of a seat-belt for fake safety, and traveling at speeds far too fast for a proper landing.
Fortunately though, the chariot made a landing without so much of a bump. It had landed much like a helicopter would, or a VTOL aircraft, anyway, under the hands of a highly skilled individual. To say it was gentle would be an understatement and be a vast disservice to the guards that flew it.
In fact it had been over with so quickly, that it took a guard to peel me from the side, waking me up to the sight of the marbled landing zone.
Adrenaline began to wane in my system as I walked down the hall, still escorted, but with a slight increase in number. Luna was talking, though about what, I couldn’t be sure. It felt muted, so far away. It wasn’t until I was pulled back towards a door did I catch the tail end of the talk.
“And this shall be your quarters for the moment. We wish thee a pleasant night’s rest. Should your dreams turn frightful, we shall be quick to aid you.” And then she was off, taking about half of the guards with her. I wasn’t sure what to make of the last part, but I could tell she wasn’t nearly as comfortable with it as she let on.
With a small shrug, I moved to turn the knob on the door, thankful it wasn’t a simple round one. I had no idea how that would work out with hooves.
The door shut behind me as I leaned against it, letting out a long breath. My eyes were heavy, and I was emotionally drained by this point. I’m not sure how, but I ended up on the bed, no covers either. I laid on top of them all, and didn’t care. I was beyond exhausted.
Briefly I considered shedding my shredded clothes, but I couldn’t work up the energy to care.
I just laid there for the moment, though, staring out the crack between the curtains, the moonlight that hit my eyes proving to be mildly calming and not as irritating as sunlight would be at this point in my exhaustion. I thanked the stars and God above that I still had time to rest. Then my eyes closed in a slow series of blinks, each one lasting longer than the former, until finally, I fell into a dreamless slumber.