“That’s not supposed to be there.” Princess Twilight Sparkle mumbled to herself as she gazed through the lens of her telescope. She once again looked over the several books of star charts that were levitating around her before turning her attention back to the telescope. “Definitely not supposed to be there.”
The young alicorn was confused; actually, frustrated would likely be a more accurate word. While she knew it was not specifically her job to plot the stars in the sky, she did so to help her fellow princesses. Luna was far more busy than she after all, so Twilight had decided to pick up some of the more abstract duties, so that things would run more smoothly. After all, Celestia had once told her, “No deed done out of the goodness of one’s heart can ever be called insignificant, no matter how small it seems.” Twilight had took her mentor’s wise words to heart, and as she was still being assimilated into the royal family, she often found herself with more than enough time to work from behind the scenes by organizing important records, validating said records, and more recently, handling minor affairs of state that shouldn’t have made it to court in the first place. This all in turn offered all three alicorns of Equestria more free time to themselves, which meant they could all have time to simply be ponies instead of princesses.
Unimportant though it may have sounded, Twilight couldn’t argue with results.
Currently, Twilight found herself more than a little peeved that there seemed to be a bright spot in the sky that was only getting brighter as the minutes passed. It meant that either a previously uncharted of star was being destroyed in a supernova, or there was a comet that hadn’t had its elliptical path mapped yet. That wasn’t the unfortunate part of course, since Twilight would normally jump at the chance to discover something new; no, the problem was that Luna was too busy to speak with at the moment, which left Twilight with no one knowledgeable enough to speak with this discovery about. After all, if she couldn’t speak to the princess of the night about the night sky, who could she speak to? Spike was busy and Celestia was currently investigating a strange incident just outside Gryphonia, which meant Twilight was on her own.
A knock at her door startled Twilight, causing her fur to stand on end in surprise. After taking a moment to smooth down the parts of her coat that showed she answered, “Come in, please.” Her room was entered by a tall orange-coated guard with a blue mane and tail. She offered him a warm smile. “Hello Flash Sentry. Do you bring news?”
The guard removed his golden helmet and nodded with his lips pulled into a neutral line. “I have, your highness. Princess Celestia is making contact with us from just outside Gryphonia, and requests your presence in the viewing room immediately.”
The princess raised her eyebrow but nodded, smoothing out her pants and jacket as she stood. “Very well. Lead the way, Flash Sentry.”
Twilight had always prided herself on being able to deal with whatever pressure was put on her, even if she sometimes was accused of “bringing the crazy”, as Rainbow Dash put it. Still, she knew that no matter what, she could find a resolution to nearly any problem presented to her.
Twilight’s problem-solving abilities weren’t what had her nervous at the moment, however; rather, it was the fact that her mentor Princess Celestia had required her immediate presence in the viewing room, which meant that whatever was going to be spoken couldn’t wait until Princess Celestia returned to Canterlot, nor would a letter arrive fast enough, even by magic (the latter of which only took two minutes, even from such a distance).
As Twilight entered the viewing room with Flash Sentry, she watched anxiously as he nodded to her before closing the door behind her, leaving Twilight alone within the room before a large viewing screen. Celestia stood in an open field in all her beauty and regality, waiting patiently for her apprentice to approach.
“Twilight,” the solar princess greeted with a smile, “it is so good to see you. However, this contact is not for pleasure.”
Twilight nodded determinedly. “How can I help, Celestia?”
Princess Celestia smiled at her student and nodded, gesturing behind her to a strange metallic device embedded in the field she and her guards were blocking off from the public. “As you know, a few days ago our allies in Gryphonia advised us that something of unknown origin impacted the border between our two lands, and to be sure that neither of us were the perpetrator of the event, I left to investigate.” The elder princess then sighed a little tiredly. “However, therein lies the problem. From what I can tell by preliminary magic scans and visual observations, this device seemed to come from the sky.”
Twilight raised an eyebrow. “The sky? Can you be a little more specific than that?”
Princess Celestia nodded before explaining in a hushed tone, “Twilight, I believe we’ve come upon technology that is not of this world. While the materials it seems to be made of are clearly able to be found on our world, this design and the fact that it has burns consistent with atmospheric reentry point toward the very real possibility that it is something not of Arcadian origin.”
Twilight was silent for a few moments as she grasped what her mentor was trying to say. “So...aliens.”
Princess Celestia nodded with a sigh. “And I realize how downright foolish the notion sounds, but I have no other plausible explanation. Have you noticed any strange happenings in the sky lately?”
Twilight gasped and nodded vigorously. “Yes, I have! Just an hour or so ago I was studying a new phenomenon in the sky; it appears to be a bright light that is getting progressively brighter, but as far as I can tell it is not a comet. Do you think these two events might be connected?”
The elder princess’ eyes widened as she slowly nodded. “I think that very well might be the case, Twilight. I would like you to do your best to track this anomaly in the sky and try and figure out what it is and if it is actually approaching our planet. I need to know with as much forewarning as possible if we need to rally the military in preparation for an attack.”
Twilight’s jaw unhinged a bit as the implications hit her. “We’ve never made contact with another world before ‒ heck, the only ponies that can even go into space are you and Luna. Do you really think this might be an invasion attempt?”
Princess Celestia glanced back at the strange device before shrugging helplessly. “I am not sure, but life has taught me it is far better to be wary than blind to danger. I will have my communicator by my side should anything come up, so do not hesitate to contact me if you discover something new.”
Twilight nodded before closing the connection with the other princess, now very anxious about what might be coming in the near future.
As her student’s face disappeared from the communicator, Princess Celestia looked back over the assortment of gryphon and pony guards assembled. She nodded to the gryphon officer present before turning to her own guards.
“Listen up, ponies: we have come in contact with possible offworld technology.” she advised, much to the surprise of the guards gathered. “I want a perimeter set up in a one hundred yard radius; no one gets in or out without mine or Commander Steelbeak’s permission, is that clear?” All the guards nodded with shouts of affirmation before turning to execute her orders.
As the guards all went about their business, Commander Steelbeak made his way to the princess, who was now standing only a dozen or so feet away from the strange device.
“Any clue what it is?” he asked, scratching the feathers under his chin as he narrowed his eyes at the metallic thing.
Princess Celestia shrugged. “I have no idea, honestly. However, as I said, I believe it may very well be alien in origin.” She then turned her eyes to the grizzled gryphon commander. “Twilight has advised me of a strange anomaly in the sky, and if my hunch is correct, something or someone is approaching the planet at high speed.” Once again she looked to the metallic machine embedded in the ground in front of them. “I worry for my ponies, just as you worry for your own people; while I want to be wary, I do not wish to cause undue panic among the masses. However, if I’m right, we need to be prepared.”
Before either could say anything more on the matter, strange grinding and humming noises came from the machine, causing them both to back away in caution of what might happen. They both watched as a small red light began to flash on the top of an antenna, followed by a beeping noise.
Suddenly, rapid flashes of blinding light incapacitated all within the area, followed by what could only be described as a massive explosion that knocked all within a hundred feet to the ground.
As Princess Celestia gathered her bearings, she attempted to stand while reaching blindly for the nearby commander’s clawed hand. Once she found it, she stood and pulled him with her, until they were both off the ground so that they could survey the area. Princess Celestia’s vision began to clear, and the ringing in her ears died down to a manageable level. After a moment of searching however, she found the strange device to be gone, instead seeing only a patch of scorched earth where it had once been.
She gasped, whipping her head around in shock as she attempted to locate their target. “W-where is it?!” A tap on her shoulder got her attention, and she turned to see Commander Steelbeak looking and pointing to the sky. Sure enough, when she turned her eyes heavenward, she could just make out a retreating ball of fire in the sky, just before it cleared the atmosphere and retreated into space.
“What the hell was that thing?” Commander Steelbeak growled, digging a finger in his ear in an attempt to clear the remaining ringing.
Princess Celestia shook her head wearily. “I still don’t know, but I think I was right about something coming to the planet.” She turned to her compatriot and stated, “Return to your king and have him rally the troops. I will do the same once I return, but for now, you need to prepare your people for a possible invasion attempt by an unknown force. Ask the king to contact me tomorrow at noon, and we will figure out our next course of action.”
Captain Diedrick was looking over the different images the probe had brought back a week after its departure, sipping coffee as he did so. He had been up for nearly twenty-four hours straight once the probe returned, as he was simply aghast at what it had found.
The most important thing the probe had found was that the strange radiation surrounding the planet was completely benign, in the sense that it wouldn’t damage living tissue. Furthermore, the air on the planet was nearly an exact match for that of Earth’s, only with a far less degree of pollution ‒ negligible, in fact. There were familiar forms of wildlife and plantlife present, as well as liquid water. The soil was also completely compatible with terran flora, which meant that in many ways, this world seemed to be a much younger (and much cleaner) Earth. At that point in his investigation, he had been sorely tempted to make planetfall.
That was, of course, until the latest pictures were analyzed.
“Humanoid” was the first word to come to mind, then “xenomorph” after he looked over the photos a little more closely. All the creatures had fur or even feathers upon their bodies, yet from what he could tell from body structure and posture, they all seemed to be built to walk on two legs instead of four. Furthermore, he could see hands and even human-like mammary structure on the females. From there however, he could see a very large difference between facial structure and other things.
Many of those present in the speed photos had hooves on the legs, an equine facial structure, complete with mane-like hair and even a tail. Some had wings, some had horns, and one had both.
Others were feathered along all of their bodies, save for the legs, which seemed almost feline in form. This was complete with a beak for a mouth, eagle-like eyes, and a very lion-esque tail.
Lastly, and most importantly, Diedrick noticed that all present in the pictures were wearing complex clothing ‒ a rather obvious sign of higher-thinking societies.
Something seemed to prick at Captain Diedrick’s mind; a sort of sense of familiarity with the beings present in the probe’s photos.
“Hey Orac,” he began, stacking the photos before placing them into the folder beside him, “does anything about the beings in these picture seem...I don’t know, familiar to you?”
“I was thinking that very thought sir, at which point I began scouring our database for anything similar.” the computer replied proudly. “After a few minutes, I found something rather interesting that I believe you should take a look at.”
Captain Diedrick nodded before turning his chair to face the large bridge monitor. “Very well, show me what you’ve found.”
The screen flashed as images appeared, and the computer began explaining. “While it is not exact because of the humanoid form of the creatures we’ve seen, I believe this is the most accurate we’re going to find.”
The captain looked over the images and names present before looking to the title. “Creatures of Mythology; Orac, these are legendary creatures of Earth that have never actually existed.”
“Indeed captain,” the computer replied dryly, “and yet on this planet we already see what appears to be unicorns, pegasi, gryphons, and a winged unicorn. We’ve already seen that this system seems to operate on very different rules than what we’re used to, so such mythical creatures being the sapient lifeforms isn’t that much of a stretch.”
“And clearly, they’re also intelligent.” he replied gravely. “I’m not sure how much help they’ll be, but we don’t have any other choice.” He stretched and loosened the collar of his uniform before standing. “Well, let’s head to the armory. Only an idiot would go alone to a planet with nothing to protect himself with.”
“So why are you going to the armory then?” Orac replied snarkily.
The captain grumbled to himself as he stomped down the corridor.
Celestia was pacing nervously; she never paced.
The nervousness had overcome her though, as her student Twilight Sparkle had advised her that not only had the strange anomaly in space stopped, but that something was now approaching the planet again, seemingly from the unknown object in orbit around Arcadia. Furthermore, its course had been plotted, and she was now waiting a short way in the mountains bordering Equestria and Gryphonia for it to land.
Celestia was powerful; she knew that. However, she was no fool, and knew that overconfidence could easily get her injured or even killed. The fact of the matter was she and her guards were going to be dealing with an unknown, and she had no idea if it was hostile or not or even how powerful it was. She had every right to be nervous because of that, if not for herself then for her ponies.
Celestia’s anxiety reached its peak as the fireball in the sky began to slow as flames seemed to shoot out from the bottom of it, and its shape became clearer as its speed decreased. She saw a strange arrow-shaped craft that was made of shiny metal, with much darker coloring underneath. It looked to be heavily armored, whatever it was, so instead of ordering an attack, she waited patiently for it to land. She was bright enough to know that it was clear something was controlling its descent at least, so she knew that its vulnerability was inside; blasts to the outside would do little to nothing, and would only provoke retaliation. With a raised hand, she silently ordered all the guards and her allies to stay their weapons and magic as they all waited for the craft to come to a stop.
The fires from under the craft changed from orange to blue as it continued to slow, until finally it was hovering only a few dozen yards off the ground in front of them. What looked like legs extended from underneath, which supported the craft as it came to a halt and landed.
For all present, weapons and magic were at the ready, but they all waited patiently for something ‒ anything ‒ to happen.
Finally, after a few tense moments of silence, a hiss of steam escaped from a crease on the craft, followed by the crease opening slowly with a deep hum of machinery. A ladder then seemingly erupted from the base of the portal, straightening as it led from the craft doorway to the ground. Lights within the interior gave way to a large figure as it moved into the doorway, and all the ponies and gryphons present watched with balanced curiosity and caution as it turned and began to descend to the ground via the ladder. Once again Princess Celestia was forced to order her guards to stay put, lest they provoke the being before them.
The first thing she noticed was that it wore what could only be armor, though it was a design she was not familiar with. Seeing as how it came from space, she could only fathom it was meant to protect it from the environment, seeing as how every inch of its body was covered in the gray and black armor. Also, it wore a helmet with a reflective visor that gave no hints as to what the creature looked like under the apparel it wore. A strange object stuck up above its head from its back, and by the position, Celestia could only conclude that it was a weapon of some sort.
It finally turned to face them all as it officially stepped upon Arcadia for the first time, and Celestia could tell it was studying them ‒ likely trying to conclude if they were a threat or not. After a few seconds of tense quiet, the figure relaxed its posture and reached to its head, pressing a finger upon the side of it.
The helmet split apart and began to retreat, revealing a head of black hair, olive skin, and small hazel-colored eyes. It was then that Celestia saw something she definitely recognized: the sharp eyes of a soldier; this creature, whatever it was, was a warrior of some kind.
Fortunately for all present, Princess Celestia was nothing if not diplomatic.
Offering a close-mouthed smile she greeted, “Welcome creature; welcome to Arcadia.”
“Quod homo ex solis.” it replied neutrally.
“I beg your pardon?” Princess Celestia asked with a raised eyebrow.
The creature repeated itself. “Quod homo ex solis; it’s the name of my species. Referring to me as ‘creature’ in your records seems a little crude, don’t you think?"
Princess Celestia’s eyes widened, pleasantly surprised that not only could the creature speak her language, but it also possessed some form of manners. “You are correct. Well then, I might as well introduce myself: I am Princess Celestia Solari, ruler of Equestria and steward of the sun.” She then gestured to the gryphon by her side. “This is Commander Steelbeak of Gryphonia, military envoy for his people to the north. Might I know your name?”
The being nodded, still keeping its expression neutral. “I am Captain Diedrick Thompson of the Sol planetary system.”
Princess Celestia narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Did you mean s-o-l-e ‘sole’ or S-o-l ‘Sol’?”
“The second one; Sol, like our star.” the captain replied with a raised eyebrow. “Why?”
Princess Celestia’s mouth dropped open in surprise; the fact that her astral charge and this being’s home star was named the same thing could not be mere coincidence ‒ she had lived far too long to believe in coincidence anymore.
Princess Celestia took a moment to gather herself before responding, “Because our star is named the same.”
Captain Diedrick stared at the princess for a moment before stating, “We speak the same language, and have named our star the same thing. We also have similar body structures; I think we have quite a bit to talk about.”
Princess Celestia nodded firmly. “Yes, it seems we do. Unfortunately I cannot allow undue panic to befall my citizens, so I must ask that you remain here for a few days until we can decide what to do with you.”
The captain raised his eyebrow at the princess. “Decide what to do with me? What does that even mean?”
Thousands of years of dealing with hostiles in wartime came back to Celestia as second nature, and she offered a confident smile. “Surely you don’t expect us to allow you to simply wander our lands freely. We must detain you of course, at least until we can determine whether you are a threat or not.”
The mere thought of being detained without cause made the captain’s blood begin to boil. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”
Princess Celestia nodded. “This is true, but it may be only a matter of time before you begin harming my people; that is something I simply will not allow.”
Diedrick’s hands clenched unconsciously as he grit his teeth. “If I’m not wanted here, then I’ll just leave. I’ll find a different planet that’s a little more accommodating. I don’t have time to sit in some jail while you try to figure out if I’m dangerous or not.”
“You’re not going anywhere.” Princess Celestia stated firmly, motioning to her guards. “I will have you forcibly immobilized if I must.”
Diedrick’s patience was quickly wearing thin, and he had decided he didn’t very much like the white horse-thing. “As I said, I don’t have time for this. I’ll make this nice and clear so that there’s no chance you can misunderstand: I’m leaving. If you try to stop me, you’re going to get hurt.” Four pony guards approached him, and he simply warned, “Don’t do it; I’m warning you only once.”
Attempting to use numbers and a variety of different abilities, two earth ponies, a pegasus and a unicorn attempted to subdue Diedrick, rushing him all at once, with the pegasus approaching from behind to tackle him to the ground. In a flash of movement, both earth pony guards fell to the ground, and the pegasus was grabbed in the air and thrown like a toy. The unicorn guard then attempted to levitate the captain with magic, and as he was picked up off the ground with a flail of surprise, it seemed that the struggle was over. Then, with only a second of warning, Captain Diedrick pulled a strange device off of his hip and fiddled with it for just a moment before firing two blasts from it, hitting the unicorn guard in the chest. The blasts electrocuted the guard, causing him to lose focus and drop his target, at which point Diedrick rushed over and made a well-placed hit to the back of the guard’s head, rendering him unconscious.
Standing in the wake of four defeated royal guards, Diedrick looked back to the princess with anger burning in his eyes. “Now, I’m leaving. Yet again, if you try to stop me, you’re getting hurt.” Deciding not to take any chances, he slung the weapon from his back around to hold in his hands, ready to fire if necessary.
As he expected, the princess just had to try her hand too.
He found himself once again lifted into the air against his will, and he twisted in the air until he could see the princess glaring at him. Just before she could open her mouth to speak, he took aim and fired a blast of molten energy at her feet, the shot erupting with the sound of a thunderclap and leaving the ground smoking where she had stood just a moment ago.
With a growl he aimed right at the base of the princess’ horn. “Put me down. The next shot’s going in your forehead.”
Princess Celestia cautiously lowered him to the ground, but kept her glare burning on him. “You dare to threaten a princess of Equestria?”
Diedrick shook his head. “It’s not a threat, it’s a warning. I’m not a diplomat or a politician; I couldn’t care less who you are or what you do. I’m a soldier, and all I know is that when I came here to ask for help, you attempted to have me detained, and when I tried to leave because it’s clear I’m not welcome here, you tried to stop me.”
Princess Celestia didn’t take kindly to being defied, let alone by a visitor to her planet. However, she kept her anger in check as she suggested, “I could simply have you killed, you know. Clearly this is too much trouble, and you might bring an invasion force here.”
Diedrick smirked darkly. “And if you do that, I have a Class 2 Destroyer starship orbiting this planet, ready to burn it to a cinder. Your petty threats don’t scare me princess, so stop embarrassing yourself. Let me leave, and you’ll never hear from me again.”
Being silent this whole time, Commander Steelbeak decided to speak up. “What exactly did you want help with, stranger?”
Diedrick turned to the grizzled gryphon soldier and shrugged. “I’m stranded, and I’m trying to find out where I am so I can go home.” He then turned his eyes back to the pony princess. “So as you can see, there isn’t anyone else; I’m it. However, don’t let that make you overconfident. I’m more than capable of defending myself alone against a bunch of subpar soldiers like this.”
“Subpar?” Princess Celestia questioned, her anger slowly rising. “I’ll have you know these are my personal royal guards!”
Diedrick rolled his eyes. “Well then you should retrain them, because if they can’t win a four-on-one fight, they clearly aren’t good enough.” With a sigh as he reformed his helmet, turning away before stating, “For what it’s worth, I didn’t want any of this to happen; I didn’t want to cause any trouble at all. I just want to find out where I am so I can get home.”
“We’ll provide you with living quarters.” Commander Steelbeak offered. “In return, we ask that you lend some of your skills for our soldiers to learn.”
Diedrick thought for a moment. The offer sounded good, and it was never said exactly how much he needed to provide to be considered an even trade. Besides, from what he could tell, at eight feet tall, he towered over all of them, and he was fairly confident he also outclass them in strength as well. The gryphons also hadn’t necessarily bought his ire either, which was a plus.
“And you’ll tell me what you know about where I am in the cosmos?” Diedrick questioned carefully.
The aged gryphon nodded, adjusting his crimson uniform. “Aye. We’ve been plotting the stars for several thousand years, so I am sure our charts will be useful to you in some small way.”
Diedrick nodded with a smile. “I appreciate that. Shall we be off?”
“Unfortunately,” the commander began, “our cities can only be accessed by air. From what I can tell, you do not appear to have wings.”
Diedrick raised an eyebrow before once again removing his helmet and pointing to his ship. “Um, this flies. So long as you have a suitable spit of flat land, I can land it.”
Celestia, however, was not pleased by the forming arrangement, and she jerked her head off to the side. “Commander, might I have a word?” Steelbeak looked to her in confusion before nodding and stepping a distance away from the visitor. Once they were far enough away to avoid eavesdropping, Celestia hissed, “What do you think you are doing? This is an obviously dangerous creature, and for all you know, it could simply be looking to gain your trust before-”
With a raised claw and a glare, Commander Steelbeak silenced the pony princess. “Allies though we may be, you must remember that your choices need not be ours. I have invited the captain to our lands in hopes that he may learn what he needs to while we learn about him and his kind, and in doing so, creating a powerful ally. You would do well to keep in mind that predators are not so easily cowed by displays of power, especially when they have power of their own to bring to the table.”
Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow as she quickly glanced to their visitor. “Predator?”
Commander Steelbeak grimaced with a bit of contempt. “Truly you cannot tell? Look at the forward-facing eyes, the sharp teeth, and the behavior toward threats.” As the princess turned her attention back to him, he sighed a little sadly. “Not to seem racist, but you ponies tend to fear and shun that which you are not familiar with; a perfect example would be the Bloodtalon Conflict, when slave gryphons fought to free themselves from pony oppression.”
Princess Celestia frowned shamefully. “Steelbeak, I-”
“Was in self-imposed exile, I know.” the gryphon commander finished for her. “Regardless, your absence caused the breeding of fear in your ponies, and with that fear, they fought to kill or enslave threats. I don’t blame you, but I ask that you remember that though you often fancy yourself separate from the mortals, you still feel many of the same things they do. Just today, you were prepared to imprison someone simply because they might be dangerous; where is the justice in that? Have you no honor? Have you no shame?” Realizing that the pony in front of him was just barely holding back tears from having been so thoroughly disciplined by someone she considered a friend, he sighed and shook his head as he turned away. “We will speak again when I have settled our guest in a little. Until then, perhaps you should think on your behavior and that of your subordinates.”
Choking down a whimper, Princess Celestia motioned to her guards and led them a short distance away before casting a portal spell to Canterlot, leaving the field before she could make more of a fool of herself.
As Commander Steelbeak made his way back to Captain Diedrick, he mentally berated himself for being so harsh with the princess, though he knew it was needed. Shaking his head, he smiled to the captain and said, “We are ready to depart. Unfortunately, the mists surrounding the mountains make it all but impossible to navigate by sight, so I will fly ahead of your craft and lead you to our capital, Cragbreach. I’ll need to ask you to be careful, as I’ll need to be close so that you can see me.”
Diedrick smirked and patted the armored hide of his craft. “This old bird has the ability to see infrared, which will let me see you through the fog. Also, I can use sonar pings to see the terrain, so I’ll be good so long as you don’t forget where you’re going.”
Commander Steelbeak didn’t understand what this “infrared” was, but if it allowed his guest to navigate the Spearpoint Mountains, that was good enough for him. With a nod and a smile, he turned to his squad. “Alright boys and girls, we’re headed home. I’ll lead our guest through the mountains, and you all escort him. Move out!” As the twelve gryphon soldiers formed lines to accompany the craft, the commander turned to Captain Diedrick. “We’re ready to leave when you are, just be careful not to burn my squad. At cruising speed, it should only take us a little over ten minutes to arrive.”
Diedrick nodded as he donned his helmet once again. “You lead, I’ll follow.”
The flight through the mountains was uneventful, much to Diedrick’s relief. To his surprise, he found the predators more hospitable than the herbivores. Perhaps not as impressive with their lack of access to the strange energy the horse-people were able to wield, but more willing to offer him fair treatment; that alone was worth forming an alliance. Besides, from what he could tell of the city, they seemed fairly technologically advanced, at least on par with twenty-first century humans.
The landing craft made its touchdown just outside a large building built into the side of a mountain, which by its form alone seemed to be the capitol. Diedrick filed the information away for later as he disembarked, waving in a friendly manner to his escort.
“Welcome to Cragsbreach, Captain Diedrick. We hope it is up to your standards.” Commander Steelbeak greeted happily.
Diedrick took a look around, recognizing the familiar smells of a modern city. Restaurants could be seen from the steps of the capitol, and he could even see lit signs around the city. With a smile and a nod he replied, “Yes, this seems quite sufficient. I appreciate the hospitality.”
“Now,” Commander Steelbeak began, gesturing to the capitol, “we will meet with the king first, and then we will set up your lodging. Seeing as how it was my choice to bring you into our land, it is customary for me to be the one to offer you a room. Thankfully for you, it just so happens that I have a few guest rooms available for you to use, and plenty of room.”
Diedrick nodded with a smile. “That sounds good, Commander Steelbeak. What can you tell me about the king?”
Commander Steelbeak thought for a moment before answering. “Well, king Razorclaw has ruled for ten years, taking the throne after his father passed away. Where Blackfeather the Great was a fierce warrior, his son has focused more on enriching the lives of the people by advancing technology and ruling with a firm, but fair claw. He has brought our people to a new era, one defined by betterment of our society instead of military conquest.” He sighed with a smile turning the corner of his beak up slightly. “Our warriors will always hold a place of honor and prestige in our society, but no longer are we known as ‘the savage gryphons’.”
Diedrick nodded in understanding. “Sounds a lot like the way my people evolved, actually. So, do you think I have anything to worry about?”
Commander Steelbeak shook his head. “I do not. It goes without saying that you will be required to disarm before entering, but with my personal word of reference, I think the king will actually take quite the shine to you.” With a toss of his head he said, “Come, let us be off.”
With one last glance at the impressive architecture, Diedrick followed the flock of gryphon soldiers inside, preparing to meet royalty for the second time today. Just quietly enough so that only he could hear it he muttered, “Hopefully he doesn’t throw me in jail like the other one tried to.”
As night fell across Equestria, Princess Celestia found herself rather introspective.
“When did I become so distrusting?” she asked herself, shame radiating off her in waves as she sat wrapped in blankets, watching the moon rise in the distance. “When did I start thinking forsaking one’s freedom was the right thing to do?” After all, Discord had been reformed, so why did this new creature threaten her so much?
“Because I know what Discord is capable of.” she answered aloud to an empty room. “Chaotic though he may be, I at least know to expect randomness and the unexpected. With this Captain Diedrick Thompson, I know nothing.”
That was it, wasn’t it?
“I’m afraid of the unknown.” she thought with a groan. “By the stars, Steelbeak was right. I’m a monster.”
Princess Celestia had always been her own worst enemy, as well as her harshest critic. In this instance, she saw all the things she fought to abolish from Equestria within herself, and she hated it; she hated herself.
“Equestria is supposed to be a land of peace and love.” she mused silently. With a dry chuckle she remarked, “And yet the ruler herself denies both to a visitor from another world. How fitting that I should be the one to break my own rules.”
As she finally lay down on her overly-plush bed, she frowned and closed her eyes. Sleep would not come easy tonight, but tomorrow would be a day when she reevaluated what she had become, and what she wished to be. With a final flash of self-loathing, Princess Celestia allowed her consciousness to melt away as Luna guided her and others to the realm of dreams.
With hope, hers would bring perspective.