“Goldenrod, it's time to wake up,” a gentle voice whispered in his ear.
Warren groaned and rolled over. Jeez, Goldenrod whoever you are, why do you have to sleep in the same room as me? Can't a guy get some sleep? A gentle nuzzling kept him from drifting back into sleep. Wait. Goldenrod is me, isn't he? Crap.
He opened his eyes. Standing over him was a yellow and pink mass. Reaching over to the bedside table, he carefully used the crux of his fetlock to grab his glasses. Carefully, he manipulated the glasses until they were safely mounted on his face. The yellow and pink mass resolved into Fluttershy. In her mouth she clutched a small cloth parcel.
Rubbing at his cheek with a hoof, he looked up at Fluttershy. “What's up?” he mumbled as he yawned rather loudly.
“You're going to be late for school if we don't get a going.” she spoke around the parcel. “We talked about this last night, don't forget.”
Rising to his hooves, Warren stretched. “Is there enough time for me to grab a bite to eat?”
Fluttershy looked at him unhappily for a moment. “I'm sorry, Goldenrod.” she again spoke around the parcel. “I know you're a growing colt but you need to be on time if you're going to make the best impression on everypony else. At least you'll get to see your friends today.”
He wanted to argue and find a way to go back to bed, unfortunately for him, Fluttershy was giving him a pleading look that almost cried out that he'd just shot her puppy. After trying to stare her down, he finally gave in. He wondered if this wasn't the Cutie Mark Crusaders had described as 'The Stare', at least he'd be able to ask them later, if he remembered.
- - -
Scootaloo sat at her desk, bored out of her mind. Miss Cheerilee had yet to enter the classroom, even though class had technically been on the go for more than fifteen minutes, it bothered her that there was nothing to do in the classroom without Cheerilee's lessons or assigned work.
She wanted desperately to turn around in her seat and talk to Sweetie Belle, but if their teacher caught them talking again, she just knew that they'd both be given a detention. It wouldn't be the first time she'd suffered through a lecture about the disrespect shown by presenting her back to the teacher. She didn't want it cutting into time that could be better spent finding her cutie mark.
Five more minutes passed before Cheerilee arrived. She looked absolutely frazzled. The sight of their beloved teacher so out of sorts was almost enough to distract them from the colt that followed behind her. Scootaloo wasn't sure, but she could swear that it was the same colt she kicked in the head and later made friends with just the other day.
She glanced over at Apple Bloom, seated over between Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara, and received a knowing nod, so she'd definitely recognized him too. It couldn't hurt to give him a once over. While still covered in bandages, he was nowhere near as bandaged as when they visited him in the hospital; the majority of the bandages covered his flank, with a small amount around the base of his horn. She was glad to see his eyes weren't as red, either.
However, she didn't expect him to be wearing glasses. It left Scootaloo wondering if he'd even recognize her, Sweetie Belle, or Apple Bloom. It took all the self-restraint she could muster to not just shout out “Hey there, remember me?”
“Good morning, everypony. Sorry for the delay.” Cheerilee smiled at the class. “We have a last-minute addition to our class.”
There was an interested murmur among the students; among the loudest were Scootaloo, Apple Bloom, and Sweetie Belle. Cheerilee cleared her throat before continuing. “Joining us today is Goldenrod. He's had a bit of a rough time as of late, so he'll be with us for a while.” She glanced at Goldenrod. “Is there anything you'd like to say to the class before we get started?”
- - -
“Is there anything you'd like to say to the class before we get started?” Cheerilee gave Warren an encouraging nod. Everypony in the room had their eyes on him. Being the center of attention, however brief it might be, always made him feel small. Only now, I really am small. How's that for you?
They're only kids, right? It's not like you can't handle yourself. He took a step forward and put on his best poker-face. “Hi, everyone, I'm Goldenrod. I hope we can all get along.” Wow, is that all you've got? That's so damn cliché.
Despite his painfully bland self-introduction, three fillies in the room gave him a roaring applause. An orange Pegasus pony with a purple mane, a white unicorn with a lighter purple mane, and a pale yellow earth pony with a rose mane, it was definitely the Cutie Mark Crusaders. He may not have seen their faces, but he'd seen their colors, and had been told they'd be there. I may have suffered brain damage, but damned if I can't put two and two together and still get four.
“Well then, how about we get you seated.” Cheerilee said while scanning the room. “Ah yes, I think I'll have you in seat right behind Twist. You can ask her anything if you're unsure of something.”
Motioning with her hoof, she pointed to a bespectacled filly waving at him vigorously. It was the first time – and probably not the last, he realized – that he'd seen a literal redhead. Her brilliant red mane, curly like nobody’s business, was in stark contrast to her amberish gray coat. If not for her gigantic horn-rimmed glasses, he might have even called her adorable.
Walking down the aisle between the columns of desks, he paused and looked at Scootaloo. She looked back at him, expectantly. Clearly she wasn't sure that I'd recognize her. Maybe I should reassure her. He grinned at her, and then winked, a smile spread across her face, and then she winked back. He continued on to his seat, and readied himself for his first day of school in almost ten years.
- - -
Class had stopped for lunch, and Warren couldn't have been happier. He had no problem with Cheerilee's lessons; in fact, he thought she was a very good teacher. All of the material in the morning lesson, basic mathematics, and English—though it was described as Equestrian here in the classroom—were things he was very familiar with. He was happy because it meant he could eat lunch.
He watched as everypony else funnelled out of the classroom, in a hurry. Everypony preferred to eat outside, it seemed. That worked just fine for him. From under his desk, he retrieved the cloth parcel that contained the lunch packed for him by Fluttershy. Just as he was cantering out the classroom door, however, Cheerilee pulled him aside.
“I won't be keeping you too long, Goldenrod. I just wanted to ask how you're doing.” She radiated nothing but friendly concern. “Fluttershy told me about your circumstances this morning, and I understand that you've been having a rough time remembering things.”
“I'm fine, thank you, Miss Cheerilee.” After setting down his lunch, he laughed. “It's just Equestrian culture, history and geography that I can't recall.”
“Well, dear,” she smiled at him warmly. “That's kind of what you're here to learn. Don't worry yourself over the things you don't know. You'll pick it up eventually, run along now. I have to mark the quizzes from this morning.”
Warren snatched up his lunch-parcel and cantered out the door, turning to wave as he crossed the threshold of the door. In no time at all, he'd cleared the entrance hall and was standing outside the schoolhouse. The Cutie Mark Crusaders were right there waiting for him, their own lunches spread out on a small table in the schoolyard.
“C'mon Goldenrod, come an' sit with us!” Apple Bloom waved him over. As he made his way over, they cleared some space for him. “We wanted to come visit ya yesterday, but when we stopped by, Nurse Redheart said you'd already been picked up by your new foster mom!”
“Is it true that you really don't remember anything?” Sweetie Belle jumped right in, not letting Warren get a word in edgewise.
After that point, it was an endless barrage of questions. 'What were you doing in the forest?' 'Did you see any monsters?' Everything expected of overexcited children to ask was asked. He couldn't even articulate an answer for one question without another two flying at him. Meanwhile, his lunch sat neglected on the table in front of him, begging to be discovered.
- - -
Finally, he'd had enough. He didn't swear, slam a hoof down on the table, or even ask for them to stop badgering him. He just looked down at his parcel of lunch, and awkwardly unwrapped it. Not moving his eyes from their downward position, he ate the sandwich that lay before him. As he finished bite after bite of the flower-filled sandwich, the other fillies at the table turned their attentions to their own lunches, all of them sitting quietly eating together.
“You know, you three sure know how to keep a guy from getting a word in edgewise.” He laughed. “Here I am, trying to answer one question, and then three more questions are thrown at me before I can get a word out. I'm not saying your enthusiasm is a bad thing, but when you don't pace yourselves, you'll miss out on things.”
The three fillies looked away, embarrassed. He waited to see if any of them would speak up, but upon realizing they actually wanted to hear what he had to say, he continued. “I'll answer what I can though. Firstly, I think one of you asked who my foster mom is. Remember how you all mentioned Miss Fluttershy to me when you talked my ears off? Imagine my surprise when 'the nicest pony in all of Equestria' herself shows up to take me home with her.”
This revelation elicited excited laughter from the fillies. A mixture of 'no way' and 'that is so cool' could probably have been heard clean across the fields. It was all he could do to not laugh at their amusement. The sound of their laughter warmed his heart.
Clearing his throat to get the group's attention, he moved onto the next question fresh in his memory. “No, I really don't remember anything; not how I got there, or why I was there to begin with. I don't know anything about this world or its culture.” He paused for a moment and decided to throw in a lie to really sell it. “Even my own identity is somewhat muddled.”
The three looked at him in confusion. They exchanged quiet glances. “What do you mean by muddled?” It was Scootaloo asking this. “Yeah, what's that supposed to mean?” Apple Bloom said and quickly followed up with their own spin on the question.
Warren leaned back and rubbed the back of his head with a hoof idly. He wanted to word this in a way that might make sense to them. “Imagine you have all these memories in your head, okay? Now imagine yourself in some place unfamiliar to you. Heck, imagine yourself on another planet.” He exhaled and inhaled, stalling to compose his thoughts. As he glanced around, he caught them staring at him, captivated by what he had to say. “Look at your memories in comparison to this strange, maybe fantastical, place. They'll all seem kind of unreal when everything around you screams to you that it is real. That's kind of what it's like for me, right now. I have memories, but they don't fit with where I am or what I am.”
The Cutie Mark Crusaders remained silent longer than he believed possible. It was almost as though he'd just overloaded their young little minds, a surprisingly vivid image appeared in his head of him having to explain to Miss Cheerilee why there were three catatonic fillies outside. He lost track of time as the scenario played out inside his head.
It wasn't until the bell on top of the schoolhouse rang signalling the end of their lunch period that the fillies seemed to realize where they were. They looked at him, still dazed, smiling gently back at them he cocked his head in the direction of the school house. “Sorry, that was pretty intense, wasn't it? Come on, let's all get to class.” Warren laughed.
A sort of distraught look flashed across Scootaloo's face as they were walking back into the schoolhouse. She paused and turned to him. “Wow... I'm so sorry.” She looked like she was trying not to cry. “I didn't mean to break your brain, honest!”
Smiling, he tousled her mane with a hoof. “Nah, you had nothing to do with it. You have my word.” He soothed. “I was kind of already messed up like that when I woke up in some ruins in the Everfree Forest. Don't worry your pretty little head over it.”
Scootaloo gulped and nodded. “Yeah.” He wasn't completely sure, but he thought she might have been blushing. “Do you really think I'm pretty?”
Instead of responding, he just grinned at her, and motioned a hoof across his mouth, hoping that the zipped lips pantomime transcended universes. Judging by her reaction it had exactly the effect he'd intended; Scootaloo galloped on ahead. He was definitely sure she was blushing this time. It might be mean to tease her, but I can't help it. She really is kind of cute.
Sweetie Belle stopped beside him. She had the most peculiar of looks on her face, as if she was trying to figure out a very bizarre puzzle. After a moment of quizzical staring, she opened her mouth. “Are you from another planet?”
- - -
For Warren, the second half of the day was much more interesting than the first half. First, Miss Cheerilee returned the morning's quizzes. Unsurprisingly to Warren both of the quizzes from this morning yielded perfect scores. Elementary level mathematics and Equestrian were hardly a challenge for him.
It was the history lesson that held his rapt attention. Cheerilee told the tale of a magical being set on reigning over Equestria with chaos and disorder. It was a tale of a rise to power, and of crushing defeat at the hands of the Princesses Celestia and Luna. This part interested him, as it was stated that this had happened thousands of years ago, yet Twilight Sparkle answered to a Princess Celestia.
“A long time ago, when the Princesses and Equestria itself were still young, times were most chaotic. Much like the weather of the Everfree Forest, the world was very much in control of itself. While the Pegasus ponies had by this point learned how to alter the weather, plants and animals – everything really – were all quite self-reliant.
“This all changed, however, with the establishment of Equestria as a nation, and the Royal Pony Sisters stepping up to guide the nation towards more peaceful times. Weather became easier to control, animals became docile and chose to cohabit with pony-kind, and even the land was more forgiving. For many decades, the ponies of Equestria, who had known only strife and meager living, lived a peaceful, harmonious life like none they'd ever known.
“There was however, one being that did not like this change to the world. A creature called a Draconequus, rarer even than the Alicorns themselves, rose up against the Royal Sisters and their harmony. With powerful magics, the likes of which had seldom been seen, the Draconequus unleashed chaos upon the countryside. The natural laws of the world were rewritten, and the land itself began to change in the most bizarre and unlikely ways. The discord created by the Draconequus lead to him crowning himself Discord, the Spirit of Disharmony and Chaos.
“The reality-bending magics of Discord proved too powerful for even the Princesses, and thus were they dethroned and cast into exile, chased from their castle at the heart of what is now the Everfree Forest. For many decades the Royal Pony Sisters wandered Equestria and the lands beyond, studying the magics of the world, desperate to find something that could counteract Discord without resorting to the sort of dark magic that would corrupt their very being. Finally, they found their answer in the most unlikely of places.
“In a small village at the base of a mountain, well within Discord's area of control, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna discovered a most amazing sight. The village lay untouched by the chaos that had spread across the lands. The ponies of the village lived in absolute harmony, as they had for many years, as long as the existence of Equestria itself. The friendship of the ponies in this village was stronger than any they'd seen since Discord rose to power.
“More curious was that this Harmony had bled into six stones, as well as the ground around the village and acted as a shield against the chaos. It radiated powerful magic rivalling that of Discord’s magic. After much bargaining, including the promise of establishing their seat of power in the village upon their victory, Princesses Celestia and Luna convinced the villagers to part with these stones, the Elements of their Harmony.
“Upon returning to what had once been their capital, the sisters were distraught to find what had become of their home. Where once lay verdant fields and fertile orchards, only twisted forests and brackish swamps remained, a corrupt husk of what the land had once been. The creatures of the lands themselves became twisted shadows of what they'd once been. The loyal hounds of the village had become twisted and wooden.”
“Timber Wolves!” Apple Bloom shouted out, only to be given a disapproving glance by the fillies to either side.
“That's right, Apple Bloom. The bears too had become warped and grew to disproportionate sizes, rivalling even full grown dragons.”
“Ooh! Ooh!” Scootaloo bounced in her seat, hoof in the air. Cheerilee nodded at her. “The Ursa Minor and Major!”
“Yes, Scootaloo. The Ursa Major, Timber Wolves, Manticores, Hydras and Cockatrices, all born of his corruption from the land served as Discord's army. As soon as they had entered the forest, Discord had known they were there, and set upon him the monsters born of his magic. None could withstand the magic contained within the Elements of Harmony, which was amplified by the magicks of Celestia and Luna.
“Before long, they were on Discord's doorstep, eager to reclaim Equestria for all of pony kind. With their powers combined with that of the Elements of Harmony, the Royal Pony Sisters sealed away Discord in stone, rendering him powerless and unmoving. Upon his defeat, all of Equestria returned to the way it had once been, all but the forest. So contaminated with Discord's chaos, not even the Elements of Harmony could cure the forest.
“Victorious, the Royal Pony Sisters returned to the village where the Elements of Harmony had been born, Elements and Discord in tow. True to their agreement, the Princesses established their new seat of power, christening it Canterlot, in honor of the village. Thus returned harmony to all of Equestria”
“But Miss Cheerilee, how did the Elements of Harmony end up back in the Everfree forest, where our sisters,” Sweetie Belle said, motioning repeatedly at herself and Apple Bloom. “Found them again when fighting Nightmare Moon?”
“That's a good question, Sweetie Belle. When Princess Luna chose to give into her anger and envy, she became the tyrannical Nightmare Moon. Princess Celestia, having no other choice, was required to use the Elements of Harmony on her sister. Unfortunately, because they were bound to both sisters, she was unable to use their full power. With no other option, she banished Nightmare Moon to the most appropriate place, the moon. Upon doing this, however, she willingly broke the bond of friendship, rendering the Elements of Harmony useless to her. She returned the Elements to the castle in the Everfree Forest as a monument, not just to all she and her sister had gained, but also what they had lost.”
- - -
The history lesson was sobering, to say the least. The thought of a being powerful enough to warp the very fabric of reality, never mind one linked to the very ruins he awoke in, was nothing if not frightening. What would happen if such a thing were to happen on Earth? Would humanity be able to find a way to overcome it? No, probably not.
He spent the entire remainder of the school day absorbed in thought. These thoughts ranged from the quandary of how he got here to whether or not he'd ever see his friends and family again. He was so deep in thought that he hadn't even noticed the bell ring. If he hadn't been shaken back to reality by Scootaloo, he'd probably have stayed there the whole night.
“Huh? What's up?” Warren asked, staring at Scootaloo dazedly. “Something wrong?”
“Kinda,” she whispered. “You were sorta just... Not there.”
He could see Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle right behind Scootaloo, friendly smiles on their faces. “It's nothing, really. I was just really deep in thought.” He stretched, climbing off of his seat. “What are you three up to now that class is over?”
Her face brightened hearing his interest. “Oh! We're crusading for our cutie marks!” Scootaloo exclaimed, bouncing on the spot. “Today we're going rappelling! Wanna come?”
Warren brought a hoof up to his face and rubbed his chin. “I'd love to, I really would.” He sighed. “I wanted to ask Fluttershy to take me to the library though. What about tomorrow?”
“Hang-gliding!” the three fillies shouted in unison, grins plastered across their faces.
“Sounds fun. Count me in for tomorrow then.” Warren was unable to contain his amusement at their endless enthusiasm. “Oh look, here's Fluttershy now.”
- - -
My dearest pupil, Twilight Sparkle,
I apologize for not responding to your report on the incident in the Everfree forest sooner. The last twenty-four hours have been nothing if not hectic. Civil unrest in the east has escalated at such an alarming degree that the Equestrian guard has been dispatched to keep the peace. It was only recently that I had an opportunity to read your assessment.
I would be interested to find out more about this colt. If you could find the time to speak with him, and find out what else he knows or remembers, it might help to better put together the puzzle of the ruins. I will turn my attention towards researching whether or not magic has ever been used to create a living pony. Dependent on my findings, I may require more of your assistance.
Your loving teacher,
P.S. Luna was most happy to receive your regards, and asked me to inform you that she would be returning to Ponyville for this year's upcoming Nightmare Night.