When the Man Comes Around

by GentlemanJ

Chapter 5

Chapter 5

The streets were more hectic than ever as they walked towards the center of Ponyville. People were dashing around like busy little bees, rushing to finish festival preparations in time. And yet, Rarity seemed to have no problem clearing a path through the crowds as they headed towards their destination. Perhaps it was because any man who caught sight of her gave the lovely lady a smile and made way. Then again, perhaps it was the rather imposing figure following after her that inspired the wide berth. Who knows.

Arriving at the center of the town square, the traveler was surprised to find himself looking at a tree. And not just any tree, but a gigantic monolith of a tree that dwarfed many of the buildings around it. From what he could tell, it was still alive and healthy, yet the windows, balconies and doorways that dotted its surface clearly indicated that it was in fact hollow.

“This is a library?” he asked, eyeing it askance.

“Indeed,” Rarity replied. “A repository of Equestria’s knowledge and learning for the past thousand years, preserved for the understanding of future generations to come, or so Twilight tells me.” Approaching the door, Rarity gave it a few quick knocks and called out, “Twilight? Darling, are you in?”

The door sprang open and a little boy in a purple windbreaker, probably no more than twelve, practically jumped out to greet them.

“Hiya, Rarity!” he grinned happily, “How you been?”

“Oh, hello Spike, “she said, giving him a fond pat on his spiky green-haired head. “Is Twilight home?”

“Naw, she stepped out take care of some more party stuff. She should be back in a minute or so. Do you want to come in and wait?” The eagerness of his expression was almost palpable.

“I really can’t Spike,” Rarity said apologetically. “I have some business that I simply must attend to. But could you do me a favor?”

“Of course; what do you need?”

“Well, this gentleman here,” she said, gesturing to the traveler, “needs to see Twilight on some business. Can you make sure that they meet?”

“You can count on me,” Spike replied, throwing a smart salute.

“I knew I could,” Rarity replied with an indulgent smile and a pinch to his cheek. “Now, I must be on my way, but I’ll see you at the party.” Turning around, she took the basket from the traveler and looked up at him.

“And I trust I'll see you there too?” she asked, sapphire eyes twinkling as she did. The traveler paused, then gave an almost imperceptibly small nod of the head.

“I’ll see what I can do.” Though it wasn’t much, Rarity gave him a satisfied smile.

“Excellent. Well then, a fine day to you both. Au revoir.”

The pretty young lady glided off and was soon swallowed up by the crowd.

Turning to enter the library, the traveler was surprised to find Spike eyeing him suspiciously. Well, not exactly suspiciously, more like with a keen sense of distrust and/or niggling feeling that he was up to no good.

“So… you know Rarity, eh?” the boy asked the traveler, eyes narrowing.

“She helped fix my clothes,” he replied, unsure of the implications of the question.

“And?” Spike continued, eyes growing narrower still.

“She… showed me here, where I met you.”

“Is that all?” Spike asked again, his eyes so narrow that the traveler began wondering if the boy could even see him anymore.

“Unless I’m mistaken... yes?”

Spike eyed him for a moment longer. Then suddenly, his whole face brightened and he gave the traveler a big smile.

“Okay then, come on in.”

Spike waved him into the tree and it was simply amazing. Every spare wall and surface had been converted into shelf space where thousands upon thousands of books lay stacked in dizzying tiers up the entire height of the tree. Twilight hadn’t been joking when she’d called it a repository of all knowledge in Equestria.

“Sorry for the third degree earlier,” Spike called as he headed through another door leading to what seemed like the kitchen. A few moments later, he re-emerged, bearing a tray of small cookies and a pot of fresh coffee. Setting them down on the center table, he took a seat and poured two cups before sliding one to the opposite side where the traveler had taken a seat as well.

“I guess I shouldn’t have come down so hard on you since you’re new and all,” he continued, taking a sip. “But the thing is…” The little boy paused, looking around to make sure the empty room was still empty, then leaned in and lowered his voice into a conspiratorial hush, “… I sort of have a crush on Rarity.”

“I... see,” the traveler replied, unsure of how to respond. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“But you gotta promise not to tell anyone, okay?” Spike said, eyes wide with intent.

“Promise,” the traveler assured him as he took a sip coffee; it was quite delicious.

Satisfied with the answer, Spike reached for a cookie and popped it into his mouth. As he did so, the traveler caught a glimpse of a pair of rather long fangs. His eyes widened in astonishment.

“You’re a Salamander, aren’t you?”

He wasn’t sure how he could have missed it. The fangs, the spiky green hair that almost resembled scales in their shape, the reptilian shape of his eyes, and the sturdy nails on his hands that could very well be taken for claws, were all characteristic traits of people from the Salamander tribe.

Spike’s eyes widened in surprise as well.

“Yeah, that’s right!” he said excitedly. “Wow, you’re the first person besides Twilight that guessed that: how’d you know?”

“Oh,” the traveler said, and hesitated. “I met some in my… earlier travels.”

“Really?” Spikes eyes shone with excitement. “Where?”

“Not sure,” he said evasively. “Somewhere south, near the desert, probably.” He paused to take another sip of coffee, then redirected the topic. “Didn’t know Salamanders came so far north.”

“I wouldn’t know about that,” Spike shrugged. “I mean, I’m the only one around, as far as I can tell, and I’m actually not from around here: I came from Canterlot with Twilight.”

“From Canterlot? How?” the traveler asked in surprise. It was a good question since Canterlot was even farther north of the deserts than Ponyville.

“Well, I was hatched there,” Spike replied, not seeming to understand the question.

“Hatched?” the traveler asked. “As in from an egg?”

“Well, duh. That’s how all babies are made, aren’t they? The mommy lays an egg and… they hatch,” Spike said, sounding very much like he was trying to explain walking to an infant.

“Salamanders lay eggs. Huh,” the traveler intoned as he picked up his mug once again. You never could tell when you’d learn something new.

“Wait a minute,” Spike said, his face contorted from concentration as his brain worked give shape to a new question. “Does that mean that other people don’t lay eggs? If you don’t lay eggs, then where do your babies come from?”

The traveler nearly spewed coffee clear across the table.

“Er… that’s…” he stammered: he did not like the direction this conversation was going.

“Well?” Spike pressed, “How does it work?”

Fortunately, before the traveler was forced to answer, the front door opened and another young girl walked in. She had dark blue hair with a two streak of color through it, one pink and the other violet. They must have been natural because with her calm, bookish sort of air that spoke of intelligence and an abundance of sense, she didn’t seem like the type to dye her hair. Of course, the fact that she was wearing an argyle sweater vest and held a clipboard with a quill tucked behind one ear probably lent to that idea as well.

“Hey Twilight, how’d the planning go?” Spike asked with his previous question completely forgotten. The traveler sighed in relief and silently said a prayer of thanks for children’s short attention spans.

“Everything went perfectly, exactly as I scheduled it, “Twilight said with a proud smile. That's when she noticed the guest seated at the table. “Oh, and who do we have here?” She looked to the newcomer with head cocked and curiosity in her big, amethyst eyes.

“Him?” Spike said, pointing back at the traveler with his thumb, “Rarity brought him over: said he had to see you about something.”

“Really? Twilight intoned as she took a third seat at the table. “Well in that case, how can I help you?”

Reaching inside his jacket, the traveler pulled out a small, nondescript envelope.

“I’m supposed to give you this,” he said, setting the envelope on the table and sliding it over.

“Ooh, what is it?” Twilight asked as she picked it up for careful examination. Beyond the fact that it was rather good quality parchment, there was not much else about it that stood out. Even the spot of crimson wax that sealed it was nondescript and unmarked.

“Can’t really say,” the traveler shrugged. “It was just on my way.”

“Well, thank you very much for bringing it,” Twilight said as she opened the envelope. However, when she unfolded the letter, she simply frowned and stared at it in confusion.

“Huh, well this is odd… are you sure someone asked you to deliver this?” she asked before looking up at the traveler.

“Why, what’s wrong?” he asked. Twilight turned the letter to him so that he could see it as well: it was completely blank.

“Curious,” the traveler replied, gunmetal grey eyes darting across the page. “That’s the letter I was given. Why it’s blank though…” he trailed off with a shrug.

“This is so strange,” Twilight murmured, still looking at the paper. “I don’t see anything, but that wouldn’t make sense. There must be something I’m missing.” She picked up the sheet and flipped it over, eyeing it so closely that her nose was almost pressed against it. Still nothing.

“Maybe it’s invisible ink,” she thought aloud as she pulled a wand from her pocket and lightly tapped the parchment. A faint purple glow surrounded the paper as it floated up, but it quickly dissipated and let the sheet drift back to the table. “No? Maybe it’s a Single-Eye Spell,” she said, tapping the sheet again, but with similar results. “No? Is it a Confidentiality Charm? No? How about…”

As Twilight continued experimenting with the papery, the traveler quietly slid his chair back and picked up his bundle. Having completed this task, he was walking towards the door to excuse himself when Spike called out.

“Hey, aren’t you gonna stay for some snacks?” he asked while grabbing another cookie.

“Still have business,” the traveler replied. “Best if I went and got started.”

“Aw, you’re not leaving so soon, are you?” Twilight asked as she set down the paper. “The party's about to start, and it’d be a shame for you to miss it.”

“I really should get going,” the traveler insisted. “Like I said, I have–” he didn’t finish, because Twilight’s giggling abruptly cut him off.

“I’m sorry, I really shouldn’t be laughing,” she said, trying to stifle her chuckling behind her hand. “It’s just that you sounded exactly like me when I first got here.”

“Oh?” the traveler asked, eyebrow raised in question. “How's that?”

“Back when I first came to Ponyville, all I could think about was getting my job done. It wasn’t till after I got to know the people here that I realized sometimes, jobs can wait long enough for you to make some friends.”

“Won’t be here long,” the traveler said simply. “Doubt I have enough time to make friends ‘fore I head out.” Twilight simply giggled again.

“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” she said with a knowing smile. “People around here are awfully good about making friends in a hurry. Besides, I’m sure that whatever your job is, it can wait long enough for you to meet some new people. What do you say: join us at the party?” With Twilight looked up at him with such childishly innocent hope, the traveler really couldn't find the heart to refuse.

He sighed.

“I’ll drop off my things and come back in a bit.”

“Yay!” Twilight cheered, clapping her hands in delight. “Ooh, this is so exciting: I’m going to go quadruple check the plans to make sure everything’s perfect. Come on Spike, let’s make this the best party ever!” Twilight grabbed up the letter, grabbed Spike by the hand, and dashed out the door in an excitement fueled flash.

In light of Twilight’s incredibly abrupt exit, it was a moment before the traveler realized that he should probably get going. Taking one last sip of coffee, he stood up and headed for the door, shaking his head as he walked.

“People ‘round here sure are crazy.”