“I have to leave.” Diedrick announced plainly to the gathered gryphons.
It had been nearly two weeks since the ship captain made planetfall on Arcadia, and he was pleased that the local gryphons were quite welcoming despite their fierce warrior culture. They assured the captain that they had done all they could to assist, but that they simply lacked adequate knowledge of the cosmos to give him the information he needed. Diedrick had kept up his end of the bargain and passed on a few pieces of knowledge that had the potential to bring their military to the next step in the evolution of warfare, but it seemed that he would have to look elsewhere regardless. Unfortunately, his stay on Arcadia was longer than he assumed it would be, and he had to return to his ship to disable the scorched-earth protocol in place.
After finding that the gryphons were not going to be able to provide him with the intel he needed, Diedrick had requested an audience with the king and the important officers, which included the gryphons he had been staying with. Needless to say they had been a little disappointed that such an accomplished warrior had to be leaving so soon, but they knew there had to be a reason for it.
“Why the urgency?” Steelbeak asked, confused as to the sudden need for departure.
Diedrick could only point generally to the sky as he tried to explain. “My ship has standing orders to bombard the planet if I don’t return in three weeks, since the magical sheath that covers your world apparently blocks all transmissions getting through from either side.”
Typhoon, who Diedrick found far more intimidating in full armor, simply raised her brow at this. “Isn’t that a bit excessive?”
Diedrick shrugged. “Depends on the circumstances. If it was due to negligence on my part, that would be a stupid mistake, and I tend to keep from making those. However, if I were killed because of an extremely dangerous species on this planet, then the planetary bombardment would have prevented said baddies from causing more trouble.” Diedrick looked to the gryphons helplessly. “This wouldn’t be a problem if I was able to contact my ship, but I did the best with what I had to work with.”
The king nodded briefly before extending his clawed hand with a grin. “I apologize that we were unable to assist you captain, but I hope you find your way with the help of Equestria.”
Diedrick took the offered hand and shook it firmly before replying, “I’m not really looking forward to it, but a feeling awhile ago told me I was going to have to ask these ponies for help sooner or later.” He released the king’s hand and stepped back, sighing through his nose. “Here’s hoping they’re more amicable this time around.”
“I do wish we could see this ship of yours, captain.” Typhoon commented, likely speaking what all the others were thinking. “From how advanced this ‘little bird’ of yours is, I imagine your capital ship is far more of a wonder.”
Diedrick was already stepping away when the words had been spoken, and a thought caused him to stop in his tracks. Turning around, he thoughtfully answered, “Well, Orac probably wouldn’t like it much, but I don’t see a problem with that.”
“Orac?” Colonel Silverstreak queried in confusion. “I thought you said there were none others on your ship.”
Diedrick just smiled and nodded. “I did, but Orac isn’t alive in the strictest sense. He’s a general intelligence that was created to basically be the heart and mind of the ship, and he’s the one that keeps things running smoothly...as well as the one that would have burned this planet if I didn’t return within the next week.” He then waved a hand in dismissal at the thoughts they were likely thinking. “Don’t worry about it though. I’m allowed to bring guests on my own ship, and it’s been awhile since Orac had someone new to talk to.”
The colonel just clicked his tongue, not entirely convinced of what he was hearing. “Ah. Well, I for one would be very interested to see this spacecraft of yours.”
Diedrick nodded. “Well, I guess if you can trust me to bring you back here, I can trust you to behave yourself. Anyone else want in?”
Steelbeak stepped forward, nodding firmly. “I’ll go.”
At Typhoon’s subtle, yet noticeable worried expression, Diedrick walked over to the general and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, looking down at her with a smile on his face. “I’ll bring him home safe, ma’am. You have my word.”
With her face twisting into a gentle frown, she nodded with narrowed eyes. “You better.”
Diedrick just smiled before stepping back toward the door. “Well, whoever’s coming, come on then. The sooner I check in, the better.”
Once again Diedrick was at his dropship, fully armed, but preparing to reenter orbit instead of be harassed by a pony sun-god and her laughable excuse for guards. Also, this time he found his ship would be heavy two more bodies, and mythical creatures at that. He’d have to be sure that Orac didn’t scare them by threatening to rev up the dissection instruments (which, as far as Diedrick knew, the ship had never actually used).
“So,” Steelbeak began, following Diedrick’s instructions and strapping himself into the chair provided to him, “how long will it take us to reach your ship?”
Diedrick shrugged as he manually went through the pre-flight procedures. “Depends on the weather and the amount of wind we’ll be facing. Won’t be more than perhaps five minutes, I promise.”
The older colonel finished pulling tight the harness around his chest before asking, “How fast does this craft move?”
“Twenty-two thousand miles per hour. We’ll hit top speed in about a minute.” Diedrick answered idly, continuing his checklist.
The beaks of both gryphons dropped open in shock for a few moments of silence at the answer. Twenty-two thousand. Not even the fastest flier in the world, a pegasus in Equestria, could move anywhere near that fast.
“Th-that’s…” Steelbeak began, only to choke on his own words for a moment, “y-you’re going to kill us; there’s no way our bodies could survive that type of acceleration.”
Diedrick turned around in his chair and raised an eyebrow at the two gryphons, both of which looked more than a little afraid now. “Does your kind not have the ability to manipulate dark matter yet?”
“Dark what?” Colonel Silverstreak replied in confusion.
Diedrick merely grinned and turned back around. “Oh, this is going to be fun, then.” Finishing his system-check, he flipped a few switches on the control panel and waited as the ship hummed to life. Vents inside the cabin opened to allow what could only be life-giving air in for them to breathe, causing the hearts of the two passengers to beat a bit faster in anticipation. Both shut their eyes and braced themselves for the killing jolt that was certain to hit them.
Diedrick just smirked and flipped one last switch, which caused a ripple to move throughout the entire hull on the ship as it became transparent. “Come now, you two are supposed to be soldiers. Open your eyes; you’ve got to see this.”
Slowly and with great reluctance, the two gryphons opened their eyes...only to gasp in awe as they looked around at the world blurring by them.
“We…” Steelbeak muttered quietly, almost reverently, “we’re moving. I didn’t even feel us launch! And we can see everything!”
“Anti-gravity propulsion and dark-matter technology to counteract inertia and acceleration.” Diedrick explained, then pointed to the vents that had opened up all over the cabin. “You’ve been breathing in dark matter particles, and they worked to keep you tethered to this ship, not to the physical world outside of it. To put it simply, we negate the forces that would normally act on our bodies by moving the universe around the craft, instead of moving the craft through the physical world. I don’t fully understand the technology behind it, but that’s the gist of what’s happening.”
The three occupants watched as the world moved around them, and the sky slowly faded from bright blue to black as they left the atmosphere. For the first time in their lives, the two gryphons knew what their world looked like from space.
“It looks so small from up here.” Steelbeak commented softly, in a disbelieving manner.
Diedrick nodded as he turned his chair around to face his two guests, pointing out the hull at one of the billions of lights in the cosmos. “Every one of those tiny points of light is a star, and at least half of them have planets circling them, and half of those have life-sustaining planets. Up here, among the infinite vastness of space, you come to see just how huge the universe is.” He then pointed to the massive, black hull of his ship. “And that, dear sirs, is my ship, the Hyperion.”
Suddenly, the coms buzzed to life as a voice chimed, “Captain, you’ve returned.”
Diedrick just shook his head with a grin. “Well now, you sound so pleased to see me.”
“Anything to prevent the destruction of a planet with intelligent life, sir.” Orac droned. A brief silence followed, only for the AI to add, “I sense additional organisms on the landing craft, Captain.”
“Yes,” Diedrick answered, returning his attention to the command panel, “they are our guests from the planet -- gryphons, to be precise. You can meet them once we’ve docked.”
“Understood sir, beginning docking protocols. Standby and I will bring you in.” Orac replied, going quiet as the conversation ended.
Diedrick then turned around again and glanced to his guests. “Well, give it a few minutes and Orac will bring us into the docking bay, then we can take a short tour of the ship before we head back to the planet.”
Diedrick pulled his rifle off of the rack beside the pilot’s chair and began going through the mindless task of doing some routine maintenance on the weapon, since he didn’t have the parts on hand to do a full clean and polish. Nonetheless, it passed the time, and it seemed like only seconds before the dinging tone of the airlock indicator alerted him that the docking procedure had finished. The lights in the cabin brightened and Diedrick unbuckled himself and stood, causing the two gryphons to do the same.
Before they could approach the hatch that they had entered through less than ten minutes ago, Diedrick stopped them with a raised hand. “Wait a moment; we’re going to fill the ship with fresh air and dark energy to bind the dark matter and flush it from your system. Breathe deep and this will only take a few moments.”
Just after Diedrick said this, the vents on the ship opened once again, but this time a shimmering, hazy fog billowed out of it that seemed to move as if it were alive. Following Diedrick’s demonstration, the gryphons began taking cautious breaths of the hazy air, deepening their respiration once they found it smelled and tasted the same as normal air.
After a minute or so of breathing the shimmering air, a hissing of air accompanied the haze being drawn out, along with Diedrick approaching the hatch before looking back at his guests. “There are still small amounts of dark matter within your bodies that will be passed with some more time, but it’s safe enough to leave this dropship now. I’ll warn you, you’re going to feel a strange pulling sensation once you cross the threshold, but that’s normal.”
Steelbeak and Silverstreak glanced at each other nervously, but followed Diedrick down the long metallic hallway as the hatch opened and he exited the dropship. True to his warning, a strange tugging, both inside and out, accompanied their crossing of the ship’s threshold. While the sensation wasn’t painful, it was certainly uncomfortable.
Diedrick glanced back at his two companions, both of which were wearing grimaces, and one of whom was looking a little greener. He just chuckled and waved them over to follow. “It’s all right, everyone feels like that the first few times. It takes some getting used to, I’ll admit, but it beats the alternative.”
“And what would that be, Captain?” Steelbeak asked, doing the best he could to keep moving despite the queasy feeling in his stomach.
“Death.” Diedrick replied without pause. “Much as we have evolved over the years, my kind -- and yours, apparently -- isn’t indestructible, and we’re still susceptible to the physical forces of the cosmos. This technology, however, allows us to bypass a lot of the laws of physics to allow us to travel further, and faster, than ever before.” He stopped at the keypad at the end of the hall, typing in a sequence before the door slid away into the wall.
The next room was rather small, with only a small console in the corner and another door across from the entrance. The door closed behind them as the three stepped in and Diedrick explained, “This is the decontamination chamber. Close your eyes and mouth, spread your arms and legs, and just wait a few moments until you hear the bell.”
Wary of the instructions but following them anyway, Steelbeak and Colonel Silverstreak waited patiently for a moment before hearing the hissing of air fill the chamber. True to his word, the blasts of air only lasted a few moments before the trill of a bell sounded throughout the chamber, followed shortly thereafter by the opening of the previously closed door that led to the next area. With that, the two gryphon soldiers followed Diedrick into a long, rust-colored corridor with multiple doors along the walls.
Within only a few seconds of walking, both gryphons gasped as they entered the main navigation room of the ship.
“Welcome to the Hyperion navigational array, where Orac and I plot our course for current and future travels, as well as map the current cosmic space we find ourselves in.” Diedrick explained, motioning to the large clear globe upon and within which a three-dimensional map of the current star-system was rendered.
Along with that was a set of large monitors upon the wall that were keeping track of the local background radiation, dark matter and dark energy levels, and any other energies that were nearby. It was a marvel of Diedrick’s people’s ingenuity, and the gryphons were awestruck as they slowly padded around the room.
Diedrick simply watched his guests explore the room, smiling faintly at their wonder. “I take it you approve?”
The two awed gryphons just stood looking around, unable to come to grips with everything they were seeing. For them, it was truly a testament to just how technologically advanced Diedrick’s kind was.
“This is incredible.” the colonel breathed out with wide eyes. “Absolutely amazing; I never thought I would see technology of this scale in my lifetime.”
Diedrick just chuckled, catching the attention of the two gryphons in the room. “This is just the navigation room. There are still many other places in this ship that are as, if not more, amazing to see. Next, for example, we’re going to the armory.”
As Diedrick walked away, he couldn’t help but grin like a loon a the sound of his two guests hurrying to follow.
Princess Celestia was not having a good day, which was ironic since she was often heralded as the princess of the day.
Nonetheless, a long day with the noble houses to discuss the distribution of the national budget followed by a report advising her that Arcadia’s “guest” had entered orbit again had done well to put extra stress on her shoulders. In addition, she had received a message from her gryphon allies of only two words: “your turn”.
While Celestia would never admit to being afraid of anyone outright, the thought of once again being in the presence of the alien, someone that had no fear of her or her supposed might, coaxed forth anxious tingles across her whole body. She feared for her people and the world they called home, since this new visitor seemed to have no qualms with burning an entire planet if he was in danger. A part of her doubted that this Diedrick Thompson would truly exterminate an entire planet, but the threat alone was enough to stay her hand. Bringing death and destruction upon her ponies was too high a price for Celestia to flaunt her pride.
Besides, the reports that Steelbeak had sent her were worrying.
Diedrick Thompson had bested some of the gryphons’ strongest fighters, and it seemed he was not even close to struggling during said duels. The giant of a creature was far more agile than should be possible for one of his size, and he quite literally had the strength to break stone with his blows. In addition, the weapons he used were leaps and bounds more advanced than anything the world had ever seen, and if his little “demonstration” upon planetfall was anything to go by, he was a master in their use. His armor also was a curiosity, and Celestia had no doubt the shiny, black armor was far more durable than it seemed.
The bottom line was that this creature was an oddity, and Celestia did not know how to handle him. She was so used to those around her following her orders without question or at least offering her the respect earned by the steward of the sun, but this Diedrick Thompson did neither. He was not impressed by her magic or title of office nor the magic she could call upon, and was more than ready to defy her.
Still, she could not help but admit that he was intriguing.
“Perhaps we can both get something out of this arrangement.” Celestia mused aloud to herself.
When it came right down to it, Celestia was a simple pony; she cared not for jewels nor the finest Neighponese silk (though both were often offered to her), nor anything else similarly vanity-driven. Instead, as a goddess-like being that was used to supplication from nearly everyone she knew, she valued the few personal relationships she could find where she was treated as an equal instead of a celestial being. Luna had always treated her as such, and even Twilight had begun to call her by name and not cower in reverence every time they met, but other than Steelbeak, the remainder of the world showed her reverence not for what she did, but simply for what she was -- much to her chagrin, some even worshiped her.
This Diedrick may just be the change she needed in life, but she would need to mend the impression he had gotten of her.
Celestia stood from her writing desk, arching her back and stretching while letting out a mighty yawn and extending her wings far enough that they quivered in slight overextension. After a few moments she relaxed, reaching behind and undoing the clasp before letting her dress drop off of her now-nude body. She then headed toward her washroom and began drawing a steaming hot bath.
As the water filled the tub, Celestia thought hard about how she was going to fix the damage she had caused. There was no doubt that there was quite a bit to learn from her soon-to-be guest, but the question was how she would gain his trust enough for him to not mind supplying some of his knowledge and skills for Equestria. The opportunities for technological advancement were endless when compared to Diedrick Thompson’s superior technology, so Celestia only hoped that she could convince him that her original reaction was nothing personal, and that she believed it was in the best interests of her people.
‘Was it though?’
The traitorous thought came unbidden to her mind, and she felt the need to physically shake her head in an effort to rid herself of it. Guilt would do her no good in this situation, other than to remind her of how much of a hypocrite she could be, apparently. Celestia Solis was many things, but perfect, she was not.
For the past two weeks, she had gone through the first contact with Diedrick Thompson in her head over and over in an attempt to pinpoint the instance where she had mentally deemed it necessary to detain someone asking for help. For the good of her people she had to be wary of course, but she couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way she could have gone about things. Undoubtedly, the answer was yes, but unfortunately Celestia was not able to change the past. Instead, she would have to be sure that their next meeting was more cordial and hope that she could atone for how she had behaved.
Hot water touching her hand brought Celestia out of her thoughts, so she turned the faucet knob all the way until the water shut off. With her bath prepared, she swung her legs over the edge of the tub and let herself sink into the steaming water. As with most things built for either her or her sister, Celestia’s personal bath was absurdly large to allow for her tall stature and wings, but this was one of the few ridiculously opulent things that she took great pleasure in.
Celestia let herself sink down until the hot water cradled all but her head, keeping her nose just above the surface of the water. For a few moments she simply enjoyed the warmth permeating her entire body before dipping her head beneath the surface and levitating a few different soap bottles over to begin washing herself.
‘Soon, I’ll need to fix the problems I’ve caused,’ Celestia thought to herself as she rubbed her fur through the soapy water, ‘but for now, I have to be sure that things are prepared for his arrival.’ With that thought in mind, she went about methodically cleaning herself to prepare for Diedrick Thompson’s arrival in Equestria.
As a scout probe circled the starship destroyer Hyperion, sending video of the outer hull to the three inside, Diedrick was explaining to his two guests just what his ship was capable of in terms of firepower. Both gryphons were horrified to learn that the ship used blasts of molten energy that could level an entire city block with one shot, and the ship had sixty-two of them. The two gryphons had assumed and even hoped that Diedrick was bluffing when he warned of what his ship was capable of, but now it seemed it was entirely possible this ship was a world-destroyer.
A newfound respect and wariness of Diedrick had grown within the two of them, which only added to their curiosity.
“Well,” Diedrick finally announced after the probe began to return to its small dock on the ship, “I think it’s about time we get going. There’s not much more to see in regards to the ship, and you all have seen the kinds of armor and arms I have available, so we can shove off now. Orac,” he announced, turning his attention to the small camera in the center of the ceiling, “we’re leaving now. Send a probe to the location I gave you in about three days. I’ll keep you updated via that.”
“Understood Captain.” Orac replied, just as the door leading back toward the space dock opened. “The ship has been prepared for flight, and all systems are green. Engines are warm and waiting for you.”
Diedrick nodded before motioning to the door and glancing to his two guests. “Shall we?”
The three made their way to the drop ship once again, only for Steelbeak to suddenly ask, “Why all the wolves?”
Diedrick tilted his head back to glance at the gryphon commander out of the corner of his eye. “Hm? What wolves?”
“The emblems everywhere.” Steelbeak clarified, waving his hand in a general manner to the air. “All along the hull of the ship were stylized wolf emblems.”
“Ah,” Diedrick realized with a smile, “yes, I suppose I should explain that.” He cracked his neck to the side as they continued walking, and began to explain. “In my people’s culture, the wolf is a revered holy animal. In many of the ancient civilizations they were known as fierce, yet wise spiritual protectors. Wolves are predators at the basest form, and were seen as both devils and symbols of a warrior by many old, native cultures. Today, to my people, the meaning is somewhat more pronounced because of how we have evolved. We found a…” Diedrick thought of how to word his next explanation without revealing too much, “kinship with them. There is much to learn from the wolf, as they are one of the few animals that have remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, and yet they still remain.” He then smiled and continued on with much more vigor. “Wolves are animals that are willing to follow, but only if the leader is strong enough to lead. Challenges from younger wolves may happen if they see that the alpha is becoming too old to protect the pack any longer, and so life continues on and the pack remains strong.”
Diedrick chuckled as he reminisced about his race’s ancient past. “I remember long ago my kind employed elderly men, too old to fight, to lead our country. While I can understand that experience is important when it comes to leading properly, these men were bitter, and often took more than they gave to the people. Well,” he chuckled once again, “after the Great Sundering, that changed very quickly. We became closer to a warrior-race than our kind used to be, so those that were too weak or too afraid to fight were cast aside to make room for those that can and would.” He then glanced back at the curious expressions of Steelbeak and Colonel Silverstreak, and just smirked. “Oh we’re not the savages we sound like, but to keep our race strong and surviving, we don’t allow weakness. The weak are encouraged and supported so that they too grow to be strong, and in the end, it gives us all strength.”
As Diedrick turned back around and began to lead them to the long corridor that led to the docking bay, he allowed silence to follow him save for the sound of his boots against the metal floor, and the sound of padded feet.
Finally, after what seemed like an abnormally long time, Steelbeak commented, “I’ll need to keep you away from my daughter, Captain.”
Frowning, but still keeping his eyes pointed ahead of him, Diedrick asked, “And why’s that, Commander?”
“Because gryphons, like your kind, place great importance on battle prowess. Generally speaking, the stronger and more skilled one is, the more he or she is desired by the general public...for multiple reasons.” Steelbeak explained with a wry grin. “I respect you Captain, but I do not think I am ready for my daughter to begin pining for an alien in my presence.”
Diedrick’s eyes widened in surprise, whipping his head around and waving his hands madly. “No no no, I swear I didn’t mean to-”
Steelbeak held his hand up, shaking his head. “I wasn’t placing blame on you Captain, merely stating that I’m not ready for my young daughter to become infatuated with an alien that can fly through space.” He then sighed in slight defeat, urging Diedrick on as he continued talking. “Not that you had to really try. Gilda has always been a gryphon through-and-through, and took an interest in you from the first moment she met you. I cannot accurately pinpoint the sort of curiosity she has at the moment, but if she’s anything like her mother, she will start attempting to find reasons to be around you. I suppose it’s a lucky break that you’ll be going to Equestria.”
While most people would have probably been offended by the gryphon commander’s statement, Diedrick took it in stride for a few reasons: first and foremost, he was reasonably sure Gilda was only a teenager, which even though not necessarily illegal (he hadn’t been educated on the laws of gryphons), it just felt wrong. Secondly and more importantly, Diedrick was not in enough of a comfortable position to even think about anything pertaining to romance or a mate. And lastly, though he would never admit it aloud, he was afraid of what Steelbeak would do to him if he courted his daughter and broke her heart.
The final reason was unlikely because of the first two, but still a valid point all the same.
“I understand Commander,” Diedrick replied as he continued to lead them toward his dropship, “and you don’t need to worry. Not that your daughter isn’t a nice girl and all, but...well, suffice to say we wouldn’t be compatible.”
Steelbeak nodded as the hatch in front of them slid open and they once more entered the dropship. “Thank you for understanding, Captain. Now, let’s ready you for your delve into Equestrian society.”
While listening intently, Diedrick went about preparing the ship for departure by securing the hatch to be airtight and again flooding the air in the cabin with the invisible dark matter molecules. “Are ponies really all that different?”
“Well,” Steelbeak began, taking his seat and beginning to strap himself in, “how do you feel about nuzzles?”
Diedrick stopped in the middle of tightening the straps of his harness, swiveling the captain’s chair around to stare at the two gryphons. “...what?”
Rainbow Dash tried her best to keep from sighing in frustration as she watched her better half frantically try and put together an outfit that would leave an impression on Equestria’s newest visitor, even though she had assured her wife that everything would be fine no matter what she wore. Stars knew Rainbow loved Rarity, but neither of them were perfect, and Rarity’s moments of mania often put a strain on her patience.
Rainbow Dash stood in her full Wonderbolts officer’s uniform, which consisted of a navy blue jacket and pants over a white shirt and black tie, along with shined black hoof-shoes. A pair of wide aviation glasses sat high on her muzzle, and the many badges and marks of service were pinned on the breast of her jacket. She presented the very picture of a Wonderbolts officer, and one day would earn the golden wings that marked her as a senior officer. Rainbow Dash was skilled in ways most ponies could only dream of, mixing abundant natural talent with years of training by none other than her idols-turned-comrades, Captain Spitfire and First Lieutenant Soarin.
Rainbow Dash was used to ponies listening to what she said and doing as she asked, but it seemed some ponies were immune to the “drill-sergeant voice” she used when ordering around the rookies.
Namely, her wife.
“Rainbow dear, have you seen my- oh, thank you darling.”
Rainbow Dash simply waited impatiently for the unicorn to approach as she held a white handbag in the air. “Are you ready now Rares? This isn’t a party; you can’t just stroll in ‘fashionably late’ like you do everywhere else. That’s probably not gonna win you any cool points with this alien dude.”
Rarity rolled her eyes, approaching the slightly shorter pegasus mare and accepting the handbag gratefully. “Dear, not everything needs to be so stiffly regimented. I assure you that we will arrive with time to spare, but even if we didn’t, it would not be the end of the world.”
“Says the drama queen.” Rainbow Dash returned with a playful smirk.
Rarity playfully slapped the chest of her wife before levitating over a brush and giving one last touch-up to her mane.
Rainbow Dash needled Rarity as she always did, but both knew that the former couldn’t help but appreciate how much the latter put into her appearance. Even so, the two of them also knew that Rainbow Dash was not a patient pony. Still, the athlete had to admit that Rarity looked really nice in the white dress that was slitted up the left leg to a borderline scandalous height. The obvious lack of pantylines helped too.
After Rarity finished with her final adjustments, she grasped Rainbow Dash’s hand and gently pulled her along as she headed to the front door of the home they shared whenever the Wonderbolt was in town. “Well, I believe we are ready. Scootaloo is bringing Primus, correct?”
Rainbow Dash nodded, pulling up to walk with the longer-legged unicorn. “Yeah, they’ll be there before we are. ‘Course we would’a been there before everypony if a certain mare hadn’t taken an hour and a half to get ready.”
Rarity snorted in faux annoyance. “Not all of us can be attractive simply by rolling out of bed, dear. Some of us must put time and effort into our appearance; it is the only way to be sure ponies look at us for the right reasons.”
“If you want everypony to look at you, just go without clothes.” Rainbow Dash quipped with a suddenly husky voice. “I guarantee you’ll be the only thing they can think about for days to come. I still couldn’t get that body out of my mind for weeks after-”
“We swore we’d never talk about that night!” Rarity hissed in complete embarrassment, her cheeks beginning to flush with a crimson glow at the memory of the rather passionate night they shared together under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol. Regardless of their current status, Rarity still felt shame because of just how little self-control she’d had that night. As a “proper lady”, she prided herself on poise and elegance, so a night of hot drunken sex tended to shatter that image to anyone who might know about it.
That was all the more reason for Rainbow Dash to periodically remind her wife that even with all the elegance she portrayed, she was still just a pony with the same needs and desires as any other.
“I don’t know why you hate talking about it.” Rainbow Dash chimed as they began their slow trek to the open field outside of Ponyville. “I mean, it was pretty much a dream come true for me. Here I am, rough-and-tumble tomcolt Rainbow Dash, hiding a serious crush from one of the girliest mares I’ve ever met. I didn’t think I had a chance, so when that night happened…” Rainbow Dash’s voice lowered a bit as she shrugged as if she didn’t care, but Rarity could see the echoes of an old fear the Wonderbolt once had, just below the surface, “I thought that even if you didn’t speak to me for weeks after that night -- even if you hated me -- for a few hours that evening and the couple minutes before you woke up the next morning, I could say that I had a taste of what it would be like to have Rarity be in love with me.”
Rariy’s blush had faded away as her wife -- her dear love -- had begun speaking so seriously, and she found herself yet again regretting ever thinking that Rainbow Dash was shallow, or that she was oblivious to her own feelings. Rarity had discovered rather quickly that the tough athlete was only a fraction of who Rainbow Dash was as a pony, and within her sprang forth a deep well of emotion that only those closest to her ever knew about.
Rarity stepped closer to the Wonderbolt officer, leaning over to place a soft kiss on her temple as she explained, “Darling, regardless of what happened after that night, I could never hate you. You were -- and always will be -- one of the most important ponies in my entire life, and no amount of awkward moments or crude jokes could ever drive me away. You are one of Equestria’s most loved citizens, and the only pony that could ever convince me to quite literally roll in the hay.”
“Except for Primus.” Rainbow Dash added with a warm grin.
Rarity returned the smile as they continued their trek, looping her arm with that of Rainbow Dash’s. For a few moments they walked in silence before Rarity’s wandering mind compelled her to ask, “Did you ever think that you would have a foal of your own one day?”
Rainbow Dash shrugged lightly. “The thing that always killed it for me was the whole pregnancy thing, and the fact that I thought I wouldn’t be able to be a Wonderbolt and a mom at the same time. Spitfire did it though, so I guess that gave me the push to try it out.” She then chuckled, bumping her shoulder lightly into Rarity’s. “Guess I’m lucky that I didn’t have to carry him for ten months; I really lucked out on that one, because I wouldn’t have been able to eat that much and still be able to fly.”
“Ugh,” Rarity groaned, placing a palm to her face at the memory, “don’t remind me. I gained nearly forty pounds with Primus; he was such a large, healthy foal, but I can’t help but remember the back pain and losing the ability to see my hooves.”
“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash agreed in sympathy, tightening her hold on her partner’s arm, “but you were still every bit as beautiful as the day I met you.”
Even after five years together, Rarity couldn’t believe that Rainbow Dash was still able to make her blush, and yet she was proven wrong time and time again.
Rarity lovingly shoved the smiling athlete, before pulling her back and holding them close together. “If I may steal one of your quotes, ‘you’re going to need a bath with all that sap’.”
Rainbow Dash simply smiled one of those cocky, yet loving smiles Rarity’s way as they looked into each other’s eyes. “You love it.”
“I love you, darling.” Rarity replied, leaning in once again with a kiss ready, only to target lips instead.
Rainbow Dash returned the kiss in full, smiling warmer than a summer’s day. “I love you too, Rares.”
The two looked ahead as they approached the road that led to the clearing they would be meeting in, and couldn’t help but feel strangely anxious.
“Feels like the old days, hm?” Rainbow Dash quipped with a grin, keeping her gaze looking ahead.
Rarity nodded softly, also feeling the strange sense of nostalgia. “It does indeed. ‘Once more unto the breach,’ darling. Hopefully things will go better than Twilight’s battle with that horrid Tirek character.”
Rainbow Dash shrugged with a small smirk. “I dunno, I’m actually kinda excited to meet this guy. He’s gotta have some pretty big stones to basically tell Princess Celestia to buck off. Granted it was a pretty stupid thing to do, but anyone that’s willing to stand toe-to-toe against an alicorn has to be worth meeting at least once.”
“Just as long as you don’t attempt to fight him to ‘avenge Princess Celestia’s honor’ or some similarly silly thing.” Rarity warned gently, a worried frown overtaking her. “I’ve seen you in the hospital enough for a lifetime dear, and I won’t have you putting yourself there again without good reason.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and assured, “I promise I’m not going to fight the big, bad alien. Happy?”
Rarity said nothing as they continued the remainder of their journey, but gave a gentle squeeze to the arm in her grasp to let the other know that she was grateful for the gesture.
“...and I’m not entirely sure when they’ll- oh wait, there they are.” Twilight Sparkle stated, turning toward the last two to arrive on site. She smiled to the fashionista and Wonderbolt, nodding to them both with a friendly air exuding from her very posture. “Hi girls, we were worried you wouldn’t make it in time.”
Before Rainbow Dash could open her mouth to fire off a blame toward the unicorn at her side, she received an elbow to the ribs. After glaring at her wife she simply responded, “Yeah, we’re here. So, when’s this guy supposed to be getting here?"
“Any minute now.” Twilight Sparkle answered, scanning the sky for any indication that their guest was arriving.
While not filled with guards this time around, the alien’s landing point was still under the watchful eyes of seven national heroes and two additional alicorn princesses. Along with two younger ponies a few hundred feet away, the ponies gathered hoped to project a far more relaxed and welcome atmosphere than the distinctly hostile one the visitor had come upon the last time he met with a leader of Equestria.
No sooner had all gathered given their mutual greetings that a shine from the sky alerted them to the approach of something. Sure enough, as the object drew closer, Princess Celestia could see the familiar shiny hull of Captain Diedrick’s ship that, if the information provided to her was accurate, would be heavy two gryphons on arrival.
The craft swung low over the mountains near Canterlot before slowing as it flew ever nearer to its predestined landing grid, all ponies present subtly tensing for its arrival. Finally, after the two swiveling thrusters on its sides bled away the rest of its speed, small leg-like protrusions extended from its bottom as it came to a rest on the grassy field.
For a few minutes all was quiet, but then a hiss of air accompanied a hatch on the side opening and a metallic ladder rolling out from the bottom of the hatch. The ladder solidified and the hatch fully slid away, revealing a giant of a figure to all those present, who used the ladder to descend to the ground.
As before, Celestia noted that Captain Diedrick was fully-armored in his black and gray gear, with the familiar weapon strapped to his back and the smaller weapon at his hip. He was every bit as intimidating as the first time they met, but she held her ground calmly as she waited for him to fully disembark. Following the Captain were two gryphons, who slowly followed Diedrick’s lead and also used the ladder, much to the confusion of all present. Celestia was concerned to see the two gryphons stumble upon getting their feet on solid ground, and she just barely restrained herself from rushing over and fussing.
“Ugh,” Steelbeak grunted out as he steadied himself, “I would never get used to that.”
Diedrick’s helmet split apart and receded as he walked over to the gryphons and offered a helping hand to each to assure they wouldn’t fall. “Give it a few dozen times and you wouldn’t even feel it anymore.”
“Twice is enough for me, Captain.” Colonel Silverstreak replied, grimacing as he collected himself and stood tall once again. He glanced around the field at all the ponies gathered before settling on the indigo alicorn off to the side. “Princess Luna? I did not expect you to be here.”
“I am here to support my sister and my subjects, Colonel.” the night princess answered in a tone that Diedrick thought was borderline-threatening. She then turned her eyes to Diedrick himself, and the Captain felt as though someone had suddenly wrapped icy claws around his stomach. “So,” she began, her tone as cold as the blue eyes staring at him, “you are the visitor that would stare into the sun without flinching. Rather brave, I must say; brave, but foolish.”
Girding himself and keeping a firm stance, Diedrick locked his gaze with that of the night princess a few dozen paces away. “I’ll not be intimidated by anyone, regardless of what they’re capable of, and I’ll not respect someone who has done nothing to earn it from me. Perhaps here Princess Celestia is revered as a goddess, but to me she’s simply a bully.”
“Perhaps,” Princess Luna halfway-agreed, shooting a glare to her older sister, “and we have spoken about that behavior.” She then turned her eyes back to Diedrick, stone-faced and unreadable. “However, holding grudges will do no good for anyone, so let us please move on from past misdeeds and attempt to forge a better future for all involved. Is that agreeable?”
Diedrick shot one look toward the solar princess -- whom, to his odd discomfort, was slumped slightly in shame -- before looking back to Princess Luna and nodding. “Yes, I think we can put this all behind us.”
“Wonderful.” Princess Luna replied, stepping forward in a slow, methodical manner before stopping just a few feet in front of Diedrick with her hand extended, smiling gently. “I am Princess Luna, and on behalf of the royal family and its subjects, I wish to properly welcome you to Equestria.”
While the smiling pony in front of him was nearly a foot shorter, Diedrick couldn’t help but feel wary around her for some reason. Regardless, he extended his own hand and took her smaller digits within his own, being careful not to crush them. “Thank you, Princess Luna.”
She nodded before gesturing to the others milling about. “I would like to introduce you to a few important members of society, if you would not mind.”
Diedrick raised his eyebrow at the sudden topic change, but said nothing other than, “Okay…”
Princess Luna held out her arm, and two others approached from behind her as she announced, “I would like to introduce you to Princess Twilight Sparkle and her personal guard, Spike of the Jadefire.”
Diedrick quickly shook hands with the smaller alicorn princess, pleased by her sunny demeanor. “How do you do, Princess.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain.” Twilight Sparkle returned, happy that the visitor seemed far more relaxed than she had originally thought he would be.
Diedrick nodded silently to the princess before turning to the scaled creature that accompanied her, and couldn’t help but stare blankly for a few moments. After gathering himself, he directly stated, “I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and say you’re a dragon.”
Spike smiled with a fanged grin and nodded. “Pretty good assumption there, Captain. Yes, I’m a dragon.”
Diedrick couldn’t help but notice that, “You’re somewhat...smaller than I thought a dragon would be.” Spike responded with nothing but a grin, as if he knew something that wasn’t readily apparent. For some unknown reason, that smile unnerved Diedrick, somewhat.
“Next,” Princess Luna announced, moving along in the introductions, “I would like to introduce Lieutenant Rainbow Dash of the Wonderbolts performance squadron.”
The named pony lazily flew forward, landing a short distance away before walking the last few feet with her hand extended, which Diedrick readily took into his own hand. Her relaxed smile did wonders to relieve some of the tension in his shoulders, and he felt himself relax just a hair as he greeted her. “The pleasure is mine, Lieutenant.”
“I think we can both be pleasured here, Captain.” Rainbow Dash returned with a cocky smirk, making Diedrick unsure whether she was simply being playful or making a bold pass at him. Either way she didn’t seem particularly bothered by it, so he just shook her hand firmly before releasing it.
Another pony stepped forward next to the Wonderbolt, this one a unicorn of pure white, save for the violet hair she had. “And this,” Princess Luna began with a smile, “is Lady Rarity: resident clothing designer, lesser nobility, and wife to Rainbow Dash.”
While Diedrick found it a little odd for two females to be married, he didn’t think it important to question it. Instead, he extended his hand forward and took the white-furred hand in his own and shook it gently, smiling at the clothing designer. “It is a pleasure, Lady Rarity.”
“The pleasure is all mine, darling.” Rarity replied in the slightly flirty tone she used with nearly everyone. Rainbow Dash had found it a little off-putting at first, but realized that she meant nothing by it, and it was simply part of who Rarity was as a pony.
Luna then gestured the the abnormally tall earth pony mare that had approached from behind Rarity. “This is Miss Applejack of Equestria’s Apple clan, a respectable and widely-known family of ponies that stretches across all of Equestria. Her immediate family owns Sweet Apple Acres, a farm that grows a large percentage of the produce the ponies of Ponyville, Canterlot, and other cities eat every day.”
“Howdy.” Applejack greeted in a friendly manner as she firmly shook Diedrick’s large hand.
Diedrick returned the gesture, but couldn’t help the query that escaped from his mind. “You said Sweet Apple Acres, right -- as in the juicy, heart-shaped fruit that grows on trees?” He received a nod in response, which only caused a spark of excitement to come to life within him. “I’ll have to try some of your produce at some point; in my world, apples are extinct.”
Applejack gasped in surprise. “N-no apples? None at all?” Diedrick merely shook his head, which only fueled the sympathy Applejack felt for the alien captain. “Well don’t you worry none sugarcube, ‘cause we got plenty to go ‘round here, so you’ll get yer fair share.”
Diedrick nodded as he looked back in Princess Luna’s direction, only to be surprised by the sight of two bright cyan eyes not an inch in front of his face. Even after years of military training and reflexes that had saved his life time and time again, all that Diedrick was able to do was shout in surprise and fall back onto his bottom as he struggled to keep his heart within his ribcage. Unfortunately for all present, Diedrick’s racing heart meant something entirely different for him, and he knew that without a doubt, his people’s secret was about to be revealed to all gathered around him.
“And that,” Princess Luna began to explain, “is Pinkie Pie. She is…” her words trailed off as she watched the space Captain writhe in his position as if in pain, and annoyance soon became concern as she watched him continue to contort in agony. “Captain Diedrick, are you unwell?”
“No,” he growled out, rolling over onto all fours as he forced his head up to look at the night princess, “I’m fine, but I’m sorry for what you’re about to see. I-aaaaaaAAAAAGRH!” he suddenly let out a sustained shout that began to lower in pitch the longer it was held, and everyone could only watch in horror as the sounds of bones popping and the squish of flesh moving accompanied grunts of pain.
While for all present it seemed to take hours, in reality, only a few seconds had passed.
Diedrick blinked his suddenly-sharp eyes a few times, trying to clear the tears out of them as he rolled his shoulders and stood, even taller than he had been before. The armor he wore had shifted to accommodate his new form, as it was designed to do, allowing him to move just as comfortably as he had before; it even had places for the new black claws at the ends of his fingers, and the boots had split open naturally to give way to two padded, canine feet, though they were still covered in the meshed armor. Gray-furred ears now sat atop his head, and a long muzzle of sharp, meat-tearing teeth had replaced those he had but a few moments ago.
“It all makes sense now!” Steelbeak suddenly exclaimed, causing the attention of the less-wary to be directed to him. He simply shrugged his shoulders and explained, “The Captain had emblems of wolves on his ship, and he had stated his kind held a kinship with them.” He then gestured to the creature before them. “The emblems and even his mannerisms: they make so much more sense now.”
“I’m a lycanthrope.” the deep, growl of a voice Diedrick now possessed explained to all present, drawing attention back to him. “All of my people are.”
Twilight Sparkle swallowed thickly as she kept her wide-eyed stare on the transformed Captain before them all. “Y-you’re a m-monster?”
Diedrick’s large, sharp eyes darted to the youngest princess as his ears flattened against his head. “We take offense to that term, Princess. On my world, you all would be food for us; would you like it if I called you all that?” Before the uproar could burst out upon the field, Diedrick held his hands up and quickly explained, “That’s not to say that I’m going to eat any of you -- because I’m not -- so please, treat me with the same respect you would one of your gryphon allies.”
All eyes once again turned to the two gryphons standing off to the side, and Steelbeak merely confirmed, “He’s right, you know. We are predators by nature as well, but that does not make us mindless monsters. I can attest to you all that his behavior has not changed from what I have come to know, and if he’s speaking, he’s clearly in control of his mental faculties.”
“Yes, I am.” Diedrick replied, glad that the gryphon that had taken him in for a time was standing up for him. “For example: the square root of three hundred seventy-four is 19.3390796058137. Is that good enough for you?”
Before anyone could even begin to work the numbers in their heads, Twilight Sparkle blurted out, “That’s right; by the stars, that’s amazing!” She then frowned and looked up at the clear blue sky, in which the sun was still shining brightly. “But wait, it’s daytime; aren’t lycanthropes only able to be out and about with the full moon?”
Diedrick smiled his own fanged smile and replied, “Long ago, my people had the same kind of legends. It was only after the legends became reality that we came to find the truth: that true lycanthropes that are in complete control of themselves can change at will, and at any time.” He then pointed a clawed hand to the pink pony that had startled him, causing her own ears to splay in shame. “Her startling greeting surprised me enough that it forced the change as a survival mechanism, as a scare like the one she just gave me would normally mean I was in trouble.”
“Oh…” Pinkie Pie muttered, turning her eyes down to the ground, “I-I’m sorry, mister. I didn’t mean to scare you -- I was just really excited to meet a new po- person.”
Diedrick looked to the sulking little pony and walked over to her, placing a large hand over the poofy mane she had and patting gently. “It’s fine, miss. Just please...don’t do that again. It isn’t your fault, but I tend to react negatively to being surprised like that.” He then cocked an eyebrow and squinted slightly in suspicion. “Though I must confess, I cannot fathom just how you were able to get so close without me hearing, seeing or smelling you.”
“To put it simply Captain,” Twilight Sparkle jumped in, “it’s simply one of those things Pinkie Pie is able to do that neither she nor anypony else can explain.”
At her explanation, he couldn’t help but catch one word that seemed off somehow. “‘Everypony’?”
Twilight Sparkle frowned for a moment before her eyes widened and she giggled slightly. “Oh yes, I suppose no one told you that ponies tend to change their pronouns around when speaking about other ponies specifically. It’s simply something that we’ve always done, and no pony’s quite sure when or why it started.”
‘Curious.’ Diedrick thought briefly before shrugging and offering a smile. “I suppose that’s understandable.”
“So, umm…” came a quiet, barely-noticeable voice from off to the side.
Princess Luna glanced around before looking behind her, noticing the final pony to be introduced was peeking out from underneath her dark wings. “Ah,” she began, gently ushering the pony out to where she could be seen, “I nearly forgot about you, dear Fluttershy.” She then turned her attention to Diedrick, who could only watch as the timid pony pulled Princess Luna’s large wing around her body in what he assumed was a comforting manner. “This, Captain, is Fluttershy. She is an animal expert known for her skill with any and all animals, and is also quite possibly the kindest pony you will ever meet.”
Diedrick’s sharpened senses picked up on several scents from Fluttershy that instantly put him at ease: the smell of damp wood, lush, green grass, and forest flowers. She smelled of clean, open air and...freedom. To put it simply, she smelled of the wild itself. Her scent calmed and called to him in a way he hadn’t felt before, and before he knew it, he was on all fours sniffing at the timid pony’s face and neck.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Fluttershy was giggling at the actions Diedrick was taking, even squeaking and squealing in joy in a way she would with any of the animals she provided care for. For a few awkward moments, all present could only watch in surprise as Fluttershy -- known for the second half of her name more than anything else -- was readily accepting the affection from the giant wolf-like being in front of her.
After a minute of this, Diedrick seemed to gather control of himself once again and stopped what he was doing, pulling back and clearing his throat nervously. “Umm...I-I apologize for that, Miss Fluttershy. I’m not sure what came over me.”
Fluttershy said nothing, and instead inched away from the protective warmth of Princess Luna’s wing toward Diedrick. She extended a hand very slowly, and Diedrick once again found he couldn’t help himself as he pressed the top of his muzzle into her palm, closing his eyes as the warmth from her hand flowed into him. Somehow, against all rationalizations or logic that normally ran through Diedrick’s mind, all he could think and feel was one thing:
This shy, smiling little pony was somehow speaking without words, telling him that he was safe with her, and he had nothing to worry about. The tension that he commonly held in his muscles -- ready to react at a moment’s notice -- began to uncoil. Somehow, deep within, he knew he could trust this pony.
“The gentle heart calms even the mightiest beast.” Princess Luna mumbled to herself as she watched her dear friend caress and nuzzle the massive lycanthrope.
Fluttershy spent a few moments petting and whispering quietly to Diedrick, appealing to his usually-subdued animal instincts, before slowly pulling away and nodding with a smile to Princess Luna. The princess knew that besides having an almost supernatural ability to understand and care for animals, Fluttershy was a phenomenal judge of character; that single, demure nod let Princess Luna know all she needed to about Diedrick.
As for the captain himself, he was currently still in a haze of blissful calm as the once-wary ponies now moved closer at the approval of their animal caretaker friend. It was only when they were within a few dozen paces that he snapped out of his trance, composing himself and standing straight upon two legs again.
Glancing to Fluttershy with an embarrassed cough into his fist, he did his best to sound calm and collected. “Um...while I cannot deny enjoying that, I would prefer you not to do it again; it was extremely embarrassing.”
A decent distance away, Celestia stood next to the two gryphons, in awe of what she was watching.
“This same creature defeated my guards like it was nothing, and then threatened to kill me to protect himself.” she muttered, mostly to herself. “And now, after only a few moments in the presence of the Element of Kindness, he basically became a giant puppy.”
“Are you convinced of his intentions now, Princess?” Steelbeak quipped, half smug, half playful chastising. “Perhaps you reacted rashly to that which you did not understand.”
And, as much as she wished they weren’t, Steelbeak’s words were true. Celestia could not deny that she had allowed fear -- fear for both her people’s and her own safety -- to cause her to jump to conclusions about the alien captain. The realization made the solar princess feel a bit nauseous, but she steeled herself as she set her jaw and began her short walk to the group gathered in the field.
Diedrick’s ears flicked as he heard the approach of another, and couldn’t help but tighten the muscles in his arms and legs as he noticed Princess Celestia approaching finally. Just as a quiet growl escaped his throat, a soft, yellow hand against the armor of his chest brought his attention back to Fluttershy, who was smiling gently as if to say, “It’s okay; you’re safe.” So, instead of snarling defensively, Diedrick simply waited for the solar princess to approach, subtly leaning into the small yellow pegasus in front of him.
“Hello again, Captain Diedrick.” Princess Celestia greeted amicably, a small smile upon her lips. As everyone waited quietly, Princess Celestia finally relented and sighed, her ears splaying in shame. “I...would like to apologize for how I behaved on the day we first met. I hope you can forgive me for my actions so we can move on from here as allies, temporary though it may be.”
Diedrick stared at the princess for a few moments before receiving a nudge from Fluttershy, prompting him to stand and address Princess Celestia. With a deep sigh, he answered, “I cannot say that I am not still wary of you, but your subject Fluttershy seems to think I should accept what you are saying, so I will.” Extending his large, clawed hand forward, he offered a faint ghost of a smile. “Let us start over: I am Diedrick Thompson, and it is a pleasure to meet you Princess Celestia.”
Silently thanking Fluttershy, Princess Celestia reached out her own hand and set it into Diedrick’s, which closed around hers with a deceptively gentle grip and shake. “It is a pleasure for me as well, Captain. I thank you for your trust in me.”
“With all due respect Princess,” Diedrick broke in, releasing the hand he held, “I place my trust in Fluttershy, not you.” He glanced to the animal caretaker beside him briefly before turning his attention back to the princess. “I’m...not exactly sure why, but I know she can be trusted, and she trusts you. Because of that, I assume we must have had a misunderstanding, so I’m willing to let bygones be bygones.”
Princess Celestia frowned briefly, but nodded regardless. “That is understandable, I suppose. I do hope with time that we can overcome this.”
“As do I Princess,” Diedrick muttered quietly, mostly to himself, “as do I.”
For a few moments everyone was silent and simply waited to see what would happen.
Eager to break the awkward silence, Twilight Sparkle stepped forward and announced, “Okay then! Let’s head back to Canterlot castle and we can talk there.” Before anyone could react, the horn on her head began to glow and the next thing they knew, the field disappeared.
The next moment, Diedrick found himself in a large clearing within what appeared to be a hedge-maze, complete with a decorative stone fountain and benches. Of course, with his size, everything seemed a bit...small. After a moment of glancing around, however, Diedrick realized something very startling.
“Did we just teleport?”
All present -- including two other ponies that he either hadn’t noticed before, or were already in the garden -- looked at him as if he were mad, only for Twilight Sparkle to seemingly realize the reason for his confusion.
“Ah, I suppose your kind doesn’t have access to teleportation yet.” the youngest princess mused aloud. She then grinned and explained, “Yes Captain, we teleported; more specifically, I teleported you and everyone else present to the mountain capital of Canterlot, which is the seat of power for all of Equestria.”
“B-but…” Diedrick began, his mind struggling to catch up with what had just happened, “teleportation? That’s supposed to be impossible!”
Again realizing where his train of thought was headed, Twilight Sparkle began to explain, “Magic allows unicorns and alicorns to bypass many of the natural laws of physics so long as the laws of magic and harmony allow it. Even though I’m sure by now you’re beginning to think that magic is a sort of ‘cheat’ for things, it has its own rules that we must follow.”
Diedrick could only blink in dumbfounded disbelief. His people had mastered space travel and began colonizing the galaxy through the marvels of hyperspace, but even with all the amazing things his technology was capable of, it was still forced to follow the laws of physics and the conservation of energy. To put it simply, teleportation was a mere fantasy seen in movies and read about in books, because it directly violated several proven laws of physics. It seemed, however, that through the power of magic and this “harmony” (whatever the latter was), the ponies of Arcadia had a natural ability that allowed them to do things Diedrick’s kind could never dream of being able to do through physics and technology alone.
And all that was besides the fact that they were apparently able to magically move a moon and sun.
“Captain, are you well?”
“Hm?” Diedrick hummed in response, glancing around the ponies staring at him.
“I asked if you are well, Captain.” Princess Luna repeated with concern clear on her face. “I imagine teleportation can be quite jarring for one not accustomed to it.”
Diedrick merely stared blankly at the night princess, his mind still unable to make sense of what had just happened. He and thirteen others had just traveled fifty miles in less than a second, and Diedrick hadn’t even felt it. Also, if what he had just been told was accurate, only one pony had supplied the power for such an action to take place.
“I, um…” Diedrick began, trying his best to get his thoughts in order, but ended up just waving the question away numbly, “I need a few minutes to come to grips with this, Princess.” The group dispersed at his words, save for Fluttershy, who offered him a comforting presence as Diedrick took a seat on one of the benches near the fountain. From there, the ponies and gryphons began speaking about what all this would mean for Arcadia.
Of the more mundane side of things, Celestial Guard Scootaloo found herself trying to explain to a five year-old foal just why he couldn’t run up and pet the “big doggie”.
At the same time, however, Celestia couldn’t help but try to understand just what she had overlooked that this young, timid pony saw. That’s not to say that she was in any way downplaying Fluttershy’s ability with animals -- and, when she overcame her shyness, anyone else -- but over three thousand years, learning how to watch and understand others was something she had to learn in order to keep Equestria growing strong. This, in turn, only meant one of two things: either she was slowly losing that ability, and soon she would no longer be able to decipher what someone was thinking merely by observing them (which was ludicrous, really), or this Captain Diedrick Thompson was so different that she simply couldn’t read him.
“You knew.” Celestia muttered as she felt a familiar presence brush up against her. “You knew that Fluttershy would keep him calm and gain his trust.”
Princess Luna nodded as she took the place next to her sister. “I had ‘a hunch’, as they say. Just as you have full faith in Twilight, I have complete faith in Fluttershy. I knew that she would calm his heart and allow him to accept that your actions were simply a misunderstanding. Had she not been there, I have no doubt things would not have gone anywhere near as well as they have.”
“He intrigues me.” Celestia continued, as if she hadn’t even heard what her sister had said. “In nearly three thousand years, he is the first one that would not bow, even if I asked it of him. To him, I am simply a bully -- and I suppose I was -- but not a princess or a solar alicorn.”
Princess Luna shook her head. “You are looking far too much into this, sister. He can only form assumptions based on what he has seen, as he is not a native Arcadian, and has apparently never heard of us before. To him, we are mythology brought to life, so I can only assume all of this is still quite jarring for him, regardless of the collected front he shows to us.” She then poked her sister in the shoulder with a slight glare. “Your initial behavior didn’t help matters of course, but now we have a chance to make things right...and perhaps make a new friend.”
Celestia could only shake her own head as she glanced over at their visitor. “He doesn’t trust me, and I can’t blame him. He is a lost soul looking for help, and I treated him as if he were a threat.”
Placing a gentle hand on her sister’s shoulder, Princess Luna began to explain, “Trust will come with time if you are honest and sincere, and you will have plenty of chances.” She then used a flicker of magic to gently pull Celestia’s chin to look at her, leveling a rather grim expression on her. “You and I both know that you will have all the time in the world to cultivate a positive relationship with Captain Diedrick.”
Celestia stood quietly for a few moments, mulling the thought over in her mind. “He will hate us; you know that, right? He will seek someone to blame, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will immediately place blame on the ones who can move the sun and moon.”
“Then our jobs will be to cultivate a strong bond with him as soon as we can to ensure that when that time comes, forgiveness will follow the outbursts of anger and sorrow.” Princess Luna wisely advised, knowing full well how much the support of friends could help one overcome seemingly-endless sorrow. “If he shares as much with true wolves as I assume he does, Captain Diedrick will need a pack to support him in his darkest moments. Just as we share much in common with our less-evolved cousins, Diedrick likely carries many instincts and behaviors that are the same as common wolves.”
Celestia took a few steps before plopping rather haphazardly onto one of the benches, grunting and letting out a tired sigh as she did so and also not caring about the curious stares she was awarded by doing so. “Well,” she ground out, trying her best to sound relieved, “I think it’s safe to assume he will follow Kindness to Ponyville, but that doesn’t leave us much time to form any sort of bond with him before the truth comes out. I can’t simply leave Canterlot to randomly show up in Twilight’s kingdom unannounced; the nobles would practically riot in the streets.”
Princess Luna snorted in an attempt to cull the laughter that threatened to erupt within her. “I do not believe we are thinking of the same ponies, sister; it is far more likely the noble houses would instead employ ponies to riot for them. They would not wish to sully their hooves with such ‘barbaric’ means that are clearly beneath them.”
Celestia snorted out a weak laugh, but nodded regardless as she raised her head to look at the ponies speaking to the alien captain. Yet again, as she watched Fluttershy remain practically joined at the hip to the large canine-like creature, that strange feeling of intrigue came over her, and she once again found herself hoping -- truly, more than she should -- that she could gain the trust of Captain Diedrick Thompson...though she couldn’t rightly place her finger on why she desired such a thing. Nonetheless, the current moment wasn’t about her. Captain Diedrick was trusting his gryphon allies when they stated that Equestria would be his best chance to get the information he needed, so Celestia knew she had to do all she could to be worthy of the trust Steelbeak placed in her.
With her decision made, she stood once again and called, “Celestial Guard Scootaloo, I request your presence.”
The soldier in question snapped to attention, gently guiding the young pony in her care toward the two princesses as she made her way to her superior. Arriving in front of the rulers of Equestria, she snapped a sharp salute. “Ma’am.”
Celestia gestured to the small group of ponies and one alien. “I ask that you accompany the captain to Ponyville and assure that his stay is safe for all involved. I have no doubt that once the upper nobility in Canterlot gets wind of this, we can expect some sort of trouble to start brewing, and I would like to try and head it off before that happens.” She turned her eyes once again Captain Diedrick. “He will need our help, whether he realizes it or not, so we must be there to protect him from whatever plot may take place. I have no doubt that he could defend himself, but I would also like to prevent an international incident before it happens.” Celestia turned her eyes back to her guard, only for her gaze to jump to the smaller pony that held her hand. “And you, young Primus -- I have a very special job for you.” The young pony’s eyes widened at the words, and Celestia had to fight to keep a serious demeanor, cute though the colt was. “I need you to be sure that the ponies of Ponyville -- namely, the younger ones -- come to accept him as simply another creature of this planet instead of an outsider. He will need your help to fit in, so I need you to make sure ponies know he is not to be feared, and that he can be a good friend if they let him; can you do that for me?”
Snapping his own hand in a salute, the young pony narrowed his eyes to adopt the most serious expression he could. “Yes Princess Celestia!” He then dropped the hand to his side, tilting his head curiously at the princesses. “Does that mean I can play with him?”
Celestia chuckled softly. “After he has settled in and if he is all right with it, then yes. In fact, I believe that showing that you do not fear him could do wonders for his status within society.”
“Yay!” Primus cheered, his shaggy rainbow mane fluttering around with his wings as excitement welled up within him. Suddenly realizing that he was being stared at and was receiving the “that’s so cute” smiles his unicorn mother always gave him when he did or said something adorable, he again took on a more serious expression and nodded firmly. “I won’t let you down, Princess Celestia.”
“I know you won’t, Primus.” Celestia replied, reaching out and gently patting the colt on his head. She then glanced to her guard and urged, “I think now would be a good time for you and your godson to get to know the Captain, Scootaloo. Good luck, and may you have an easier time than I will.”
Scootaloo held her tongue from retorting that it was the princess’ own fault things had turned out the way they did, but couldn’t stop a nearly-silent sigh that escaped through her nose as she nodded and turned, beginning to make her way to the rest of the group.
During all of this, Diedrick was trying to answer the different questions posed to him as he was kept calm by Fluttershy’s mere presence. Most of them were rather mundane -- have you ever met other aliens, can you do magic, what do you eat -- but finally, Twilight Sparkle thought it prudent to ask the question that everyone was thinking, but no one had asked until that moment.
“Are you stuck this way?”
While he knew she didn’t mean it in an aggressive way, he couldn’t help but notice the subtle wince she displayed at her own words. Nonetheless, Diedrick was not offended, as he knew the question was coming sooner or later.
“No,” he replied in a straightforward manner, “I’m not. After the adrenaline fully leaves my system, I’ll change back.”
Next, the soft-spoken Fluttershy asked another question he knew all had been thinking: “Does it hurt?”
Diedrick nodded slowly, locking eyes with the small pegasus at his side. “Every time, and like nothing you could imagine. Over time, however -- and with no small amount of conditioning -- I trained myself to quickly shift my form and remain coherent and alert enough to continue fighting if I need to.” He then shook his head as he chuckled humorlessly, remembering the first few times the change overcame him. “To say that the life my kind has to live is an easy one would be a bold-faced lie, but we make due. We found that instead of being a weakness, our ability to shift into our other form was a great strength that assured we survived as our planet’s entire climate began to shift into an ice age; while many species across the planet died out, we survived and flourished in the new world.”
Twilight Sparkle raised her eyebrow at a term that caught her attention, and she was silently hoping it wasn’t what it sounded like. “What’s an ‘ice age’?”
For a brief moment Diedrick assumed the pony was joking, but he soon realized she wasn’t. With a long sigh he explained, “An ice age is when the global temperature drops by enough that thick sheets of ice cover much of the globe, and only a small portion of the world near the equator is warm enough for broad-leafed forests to grow. Our world has transitioned from ice age to interglacial period -- the warmer period between ice ages -- since it was created, and ice ages nearly always coincide with widespread extinctions of creatures unable to survive in the cold, namely many reptiles and amphibians.” Diedrick knew he was withholding some of the truth, but it wasn’t relevant, and it was one of the few things about his people’s past that still made him a little depressed.
A gentle hand on his own brought Diedrick out of his negative thoughts, and he turned to see Fluttershy looking to him with concern in her eyes. Once again he found himself having a brief, yet meaningful conversation with her, and it ended with another very simple, yet profound feeling: “If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen without judging.”
While a part of Diedrick wanted to understand this strange bond he felt with Fluttershy, as well as the way she seemed to be able to communicate with him in an almost entirely non-verbal manner, he found himself enjoying the comfort of someone that understood him all the same. In many ways, he enjoyed it simply because words complicated the understanding of one person to another -- words could be used to lie, but body language was subconscious for the most part. It appeared that in only a few minutes, this Fluttershy had come to know him almost as well as his own family had, and that thought both confused and calmed him; nonetheless, he knew that if nothing else, he could count on her to stand by his side without hesitation.
“Captain.” Princess Luna’s strangely-commanding voice chimed in, drawing the attention of Diedrick and the ponies that surrounded him. He glanced over to the night princess -- who seemed to almost flow from one place to another in her starry black dress instead of walking -- and nodded to her to continue as she stopped in front of them. “My sister and I will begin searching our royal archives for every scrap of information regarding our cosmos and the stars in it, but in the meantime, you will require somewhere safe to stay.” She then gestured generally to all gathered in front of her, and smiled. “I believe Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends will be able to find a place for you, and will help ease you into the town while we research.” She then held her open hand to the armored pony Diedrick had noticed before, along with a much younger pony that he assumed must be its younger brother or something. “This is Celestial Guard Scootaloo, and she will accompany you to Ponyville. And,” she cut Diedrick off before he could shoot back a barb of distrust at the action, “she isn’t there to ‘check up’ on you, as you are no doubt assuming; rather, she is there to be sure ponies from the surrounding areas do not purposeful antagonize you.”
Diedrick frowned skeptically, confused that it was believed he needed protecting from the natives. “That’s some trust you’re placing in me, Princess; are you sure that I’m the one who needs someone to look out for them?”
Princess Luna nodded with a smile, glancing once more to Fluttershy. “My friend here has told me all I need to know about your character, Captain Diedrick. I have no doubt that you are out of sorts -- and though you will not admit it, afraid -- but you have no ill will toward my people or anyone else. I trust you because I trust her,” she gestured to Fluttershy, who had the decency to look slightly embarrassed from the attention, “and I know Fluttershy does not associate with those who do not have goodness within them.” She then slowly reached out, Diedrick’s eyes following her hand all along, until finally resting her palm on the armored shoulder of the captain. “We can and will help each other, Captain; you have my word. And, I think if you get to know the ponies of Ponyville, you might find a few new friends to be made.”
While forming personal relationships on a world that he would be leaving from soon didn’t make much sense to Diedrick, he also recognized that it was always good to have allies in the cosmos, no matter how far away. After all, his coming to Arcadia was an accident, and though his people had become masters at space travel, anomalies did exist after all, which explained his arrival to a world so different from anything he was used to. What he did know for sure was that he would prefer to be with beings of such power and influence instead of against them.
That didn’t mean he would follow obediently like a dog, however; they would need to earn his respect.
Diedrick nodded as he stood, causing the princess’ hand to slide off his shoulder. “Very well, I will accompany them to this ‘Ponyville’. Is there anything you would have me do while I wait?”
Princess Luna shrugged helplessly. “Perhaps some rest and relaxation is in order, Captain. Something tells me it has been quite some time since you have simply ‘kicked your boots off’ as they say. Rest up, meet the populace, and sample the fare in town. We will assure you are well-provided for, and we will do all within our power to keep things calm for you.”
Diedrick sighed in annoyance. “Princess Luna, I appreciate it, but I cannot have nothing productive to do. Sure I’ll do my regular PT regimen, but that will only take an hour or two out of the day at most. I need things to keep my mind busy, and as a guest to your lands, I would have nothing to do. As I said: I appreciate it, but I need something productive to keep me going. More than anything else, a wolf detests having no purpose and no pack.”
Diedrick’s words confirmed what Princess Luna had already assumed of him: while he was truthfully only half-canine when it came to biology, he thought like a wolf, not like a...whatever his kind once was. Like nearly every canine on Arcadia (save for timberwolves, as they didn’t count), Diedrick valued having a pack to call his own, and a purpose in said pack. She realized, suddenly, where most of his anxiety and defensiveness must have come from: he was cut off from his home system and all he knew and recognized, which meant that he was isolated and likely very stressed. His reaction to Celestia’s actions became quite a bit more understandable, given his situation.
But, given his skills, an idea began to form in Princess Luna’s mind.
“How about a hunt?” she suggested with a grin, which only grew wider when she noticed the ears on Diedrick’s head perk up, alert and listening. She continued her explanation as she pointed toward the southwest, where Ponyville resided. “Bordering Ponyville is a wooded area known as the Everfree forest, and it is host to all sorts of undesirables that are a danger both to the native animal population, and the ponies living in the nearby towns. Recently, we have had increased activity within the forest by magical constructs known as timberwolves,” but before Diedrick could respond, she added, “and I do not mean them in the way you’re thinking. These creatures are not living in the way we can identify as true life, and they are quite literally made of wood.” Princess Luna sighed heavily as she thought of the recent lives that had been lost due to the timberwolves leaving the forest. “Our ponies are not equipped to handle this threat, and we have already lost one guard platoon in an attempt to deal with them.”
“So,” Diedrick began, feeling a comforting sense of purpose suffuse him once more, “you want me to go in this forest, find what’s causing these things to become so dangerous, and stop it; is that about right?”
“Correct, Captain.” Princess Luna answered, her smile taking on a much more somber tone as she remembered those lost to past endeavors to handle the threat safely. “The timberwolves are a native presence in the forest, but what has made them so bold as to leave the forest, we do not know. This source must be found and destroyed before any more are lost to its influence.”
Diedrick glanced to the dragon a short distance away, standing next to Princess Twilight Sparkle. “What about him? Something tells me a dragon could have handled things just fine.”
“Not without burning down the entire forest.” Spike replied, crossing his arms with a frown. “I know my limitations, and dragons aren’t exactly surgeons when we’re breathing fire. Even though it’s dangerous, the Everfree forest is an important environmental site that needs to be preserved. It goes without saying that torching over seven hundred acres of forest would be detrimental to the environment.”
Diedrick nodded slowly, understanding what he meant. “Okay, point taken. However, I can’t help but feel as if I’m being thrown a bone here...um, pardon the expression.”
Princess Luna merely smiled at his words. “I could be dishonest and tell you that was not the case, but that would be a lie...at least in part. It is true that I am bestowing this request upon you to provide you with constructive work that will suit your skills, but it is also something that requires attention immediately. I fear if we wait much longer, the entire countryside will be at risk.”
Diedrick glanced around at the ponies, including the smaller armored one a few feet in front of him. “Why not any of them -- or even the guard? What makes me ideal for this job?”
“You mean besides the fact that you dominated gryphon soldiers in combat?” the armored pony -- Scootaloo, Diedrick remembered -- suddenly added in sarcastically. She rolled her eyes at his question as she explained, “We know what we are, and we know what we’re not; ponies can defend themselves very well, but we aren’t hunters, Captain. We have evolved the means to be alert to dangers all around us, but whether it be because of our culture or our biology, we simply aren’t suited to ‘seek and destroy’ missions.” She then leaned forward a bit, poking a single armored finger into Diedrick’s chest. “You, on the other hand, are a predator through and through, and we all know it. While most ponies would be wary of a hunter in their midst, we all know that you are more than capable of reigning in those instincts and using them for productive purposes. This is one of those times when we need your specific skills to help, and we all know you are capable of things no pony could ever do.”
“I don’t have magic or wings.” Diedrick pointed out, confused as to how his abilities trumped spells and flight.
“But you have the speed and precision of a pegasus on the ground, more strength than the strongest of earth ponies, and enough power to smash straight through all but the strongest of magical defenses. Sure, I could dart around an enemy really fast, but your reaction time is faster than anything we’ve ever seen before, and we all know you haven’t shown us what you can really do.” Scootaloo explained with a smirk. “I know a bluff when I see one, and a good bluff always conceals a palmed ace in case the bluff is called. So, while I’m sure you wouldn’t actually have shot our princess in the head,” everyone winced at that statement, but didn’t interrupt, “I’m also pretty confident you wouldn’t have needed a weapon to subdue her physically had she not levitated you.”
Diedrick raised his eyebrow, feigning confusion. “I’m not sure where you’re getting these ideas, but you might be building my abilities up quite a bit more than needed.”
Scootaloo glanced to all the others before nudging the smaller pony that held her hand, passing him off to his mothers before she suggested, “Then show me your real skills, right now. Prove to me that I’m wrong and I’ll drop it.”
“Umm, Miss Scootaloo,” Steelbeak called from off to the side, nervously, “that may be a foolish idea. I’ve seen him trounce some of our most powerful fighters as easily as if he were swatting flies.”
Scootaloo just smirked as she began removing her helmet, shaking out the flattened mane of short, violet hair. “Then he’ll have no problem against little ol’ me, right?”
Diedrick stared at the petite guard for a moment before looking to the princesses, from which he only received nods in response. The fact that the three princesses gave the go ahead for a bout against someone literally half his size was worrying, but only because he didn’t want to hurt anyone he didn’t need to. Nonetheless, he stood and made his way to a large, open part of the gardens, where he hoped no one would be hurt when he tossed the small pony like a ragdoll.
Much to Diedrick’s surprise, the pony looked oddly calm as she took a her place a few dozen paces away from him, and he once again looked away from her and to the princesses for approval. Unfortunately for Diedrick this was a mistake, as he watched in slow motion as Princess Celestia’s eyes widened as she looked on, but his reaction was too slow to intercept the headbutt to his muzzle.
Pain erupted throughout his entire face, and Diedrick only found himself mentally chanting the word “Impossible” repeatedly as he gathered his bearings and readied himself for another attack, his ears flicking around madly as he attempted to locate his opponent. He realized only too late where she was when a strong blow to the back of his head sent him reeling, and he growled in frustration as his vision swam briefly.
“You’re gonna have to do better than that, ‘Captain’!” Scootaloo jeered with a laugh as she made another pass, landing a strong kick to his ribs and igniting anger within him.
With a deep growl, Diedrick focused his senses and pinpointed the next place she was coming from, and with a single hand, plucked the dashing pony out of the air above him and slammed her to the ground as he prepared tear her armor apart. Before he could even start, however, a strong impact to his face knocked him silly, forcing him to relinquish his grip on his opponent.
Again Scootaloo gloated, further inciting the anger within him. “Is that the best the big bad doggie’s got? I’m a Celestial Guard; anything less than everything you’ve got isn’t going to be enough!”
Diedrick just barely felt his hackles raise at the taunt, only for the diminishing rationale within him to come to a conclusion: this was what she wanted. He was becoming frustrated and angry, and he knew better than anyone just how easy an emotionally compromised opponent was to defeat. With a deep breath and an eye-blink moment of time, Diedrick settled himself and trained his senses on his opponent once again, but this time with a clear mind and purpose.
Scootaloo was far more powerful than she seemed, and her buzzing wings allowed her to dart around the field quicker than he could, but her short range attacks were her weakness if he knew where she was and where she was going to attack next. Furthermore, her smaller size meant that she was using her speed and agility to deliver such force behind her blows, which meant that in a deadlock where she was unable to gather momentum, her blows to anywhere but his face would be annoying at best.
With a simple yet effective plan in mind, Diedrick baited his opponent by facing the opposite direction and feigning an attempt to find her, even though he could quite clearly hear the wings buzzing madly a few feet behind him. He heard the noise intensify as she drew closer for another attack...only for him to strike out in carefully precise retaliation.
He spun away from Scootaloo as she rushed forward, a gust of wind following in her wake, only to catch her by her ankle and use her momentum to throw her to the ground once again. Instead of pouncing, however, Diedrick used his superior strength to slam her around like a ragdoll a few more times, a grunt of pain and gusts of lost breath accompanying each blow. After a final slam to the grassy ground, Diedrick flipped the smaller pony onto her stomach and laid his weight across the backs of both knees while simultaneously locking her arms behind her back and holding them still with an iron grip.
Looming over his downed opponent and breathing heavily, he bared his teeth and growled out, “And now, you die.” Silence across the field followed his declaration as he lowered his head and rested his canines on the exposed throat of his prey, his acute senses easily able to pick up on the fearful responses her body was having as she faced her own death.
Just as all three gathered princesses lit up their horns with spells to save the guard, Diedrick pulled away and firmly yanked the guard to her hooves, releasing his hold on her and backing away to give her space. “Or at least you would be dead in a real situation.” He brushed himself off, picking blades of grass out of the fur of his head and muzzle, before focusing his sharp gaze on the defeated pony once again. “Be confident in your abilities, but never underestimate your opponent; in fact, always assume they are more capable than you are, as you will be less likely to make foolish mistakes that could cost you your life. However,” he then extended his hand to Scootaloo, and the surprise she felt was clear in her expression as he smiled happily, “you fought well, as there were not many even in the gryphon kingdom that were able to land more than a single blow upon me. You’ve earned my respect in that sense, but I urge you to temper your ability with humility -- arrogance can easily get you killed.” Diedrick waited patiently as the pony merely stared at him, adding, “That being said, I would be pleased to have you by my side as a comrade.”
Scootaloo stared at the large, clawed hand offered to her for a few moments before reaching out and placing her smaller hand within it, nodding firmly with a grin. “It would be an honor, Captain. You can count on me. Um…” she then pointed to his nose, “question though: how is your face not broken? That blow to your muzzle should have shattered bone.”
Diedrick rubbed his throbbing snout, just barely holding back a painful grimace. “You won’t be shattering any bone with me, but I can feel the bruises forming nonetheless. You have quite a bit of power in you for one so small.”
Scootaloo shrugged, wobbling a bit in dizziness from the headache that was starting to take over her. “When you’re lacking in size like me, you learn to work even harder to overcome it. Anypony who thinks that I’m going to be an easy target just because of my size will be in for a rude awakening.”
Diedrick couldn’t help but smile at the small pony. He was a visitor to a strange land that he did not fully understand -- an alpha without a pack to lead. However, much as he tried to fight the feeling, he couldn’t help but think to himself that he had just found his beta: his second in command. He liked this “Scootaloo” for her fiery attitude, prowess in battle, and refusal to respect someone simply “because”; he was forced to earn her respect through battle, and that was the way he had been raised. It was the way of the strong -- the way of survivors; it was the way of the wolf.
“Celestial Guard Scootaloo is at a level above the ‘elite guard’ you defeated so soundly when we made our first contact.” Princess Luna explained, a look of pride planted firmly upon her face. “I have no doubt that she is the best-suited for your own personal guard.”
Diedrick was about to counter that he clearly didn’t need a guard, but then thought about things a little more deeply.
He was an alien visitor to a land that was naturally going to be wary of him, and while he was sure he could defend himself if need be, it wouldn’t reflect well on his kind to be seen as short-tempered and violent. Scootaloo would be there not so much to actually protect him, but rather to assure that any actions taken that could get him in trouble would be executed by her, as she had the authority to take action if she needed to. However, more importantly -- to Diedrick, at least -- was that he liked the fiery little pony, and hoped that he could get to know her better with time.
“I would be honored.” Diedrick finally answered, offering a toothy grin.
Princess Luna smiled widely. “Splendid. I know that the two of you will get along just fine.” She then moved to the side, revealing Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and their son between them. “Lieutenant Rainbow Dash, Lady Rarity and their son, Primus, will help to settle you into society. Being seen around them or any of the others present here will raise awareness about you in a positive way, so it would be prudent to get to know them all.”
Diedrick raised his hand to gain attention before asking, “Um, not to sound disrespectful or anything, but what makes these ponies so important?”
Princess Luna smiled brightly, gesturing to all the ponies to gather around her. Once everyone had taken their places, she explained, “In Equestria, the harmony we experience is in no small part due to five important attributes:” she began walking around the semicircle of mares, starting first with the tall earth pony on the end, “honesty,” she then moved to the Wonderbolt officer, “loyalty,” the white unicorn was next, “generosity,” Fluttershy, the kind pegasus, “kindness,” lastly, was the bouncy pink earth pony, “and laughter. Together these five elements unlock the sixth element: the element of magic.” She placed a hand on the shoulder of Princess Twilight Sparkle, smiling gently to the smaller princess. “It is this harmony that allows our kind to harness the primordial magic of the planet to use for our own purposes.” She stepped back, gesturing generally to the six ponies that had stepped forward. “Together, these six special ponies represent what we call the Elements of Harmony, and they are also our kind’s greatest weapon against the darkness of the world. Through their special bond with Harmony, they are able to wield a power greater than anything our world has ever seen, capable of preserving balance in the world against even the greatest evils. Their friendship and dedication to Harmony has saved Equestria and the world numerous times, and I have no doubt they will do so again in the future.”
“I must admit, I’m intrigued.” Diedrick voiced, looking over the ponies that were mentioned. “Exactly what did they save the world from?”
“Me, to start with.” Luna answered without hesitation, a faded pain very clear within her eyes and posture. “I was not of right mind, and wished to bathe Equestria in night eternal.”
Diedrick quickly put the pieces together, realizing that “night eternal” for Equestria would have meant one side of the planet would be a frozen wasteland, while the other became a permanent firefield. He was slowly coming to terms with the fact that two ponies were responsible for the passing of days, which meant that if one should wish to, say, destroy the entire planet on a whim, they were fully capable of doing so. It was frightening to imagine that one being possessed more power than an entire battleship, and quite literally held the responsibility of millions of lives in her hands.
The thought alone made Diedrick a bit dizzy, if he was honest.
“And yet here you are.” Diedrick answered after a few moments, motioning to the night-pony.
The princess nodded, gesturing to the six ponies who were her salvation. “With thanks to them, Captain. Without them, I would have succeeded in my mad quest to force eternal night upon this side of the planet, and in doing so, would have destroyed life as we know it.”
“Don’t forget about Discord.” Rainbow Dash chipped in, frowning at the thought. “Before Fluttershy helped reform him, he was a pain in the a-” she stopped, glancing to her son before continuing, “...behind. He has power over anything and everything chaotic in nature, which means he could all of the sudden decide to turn gravity into apple butter.”
“Gravity to…” Diedrick mouthed to himself before violently shaking his head. “That doesn’t even make sense!”
“Oh, but what fun is there in making sense?” a deep, echoing voice sounded from everywhere at once.
Celestia, surprisingly, only offered a smile as she looked up at the empty air. “Speak of Discord-”
“And he shall appear!” the voice finished, a soft pop of displaced air accompanying the arrival of a suit-dressed draconequus. Despite the odd look of his goat-like face and the mismatched limbs that Diedrick could see, even the Captain had to admit that the burgundy pinstripe suit was very classy. The newcomer looked to Diedrick, his different-sized red-on-yellow eyes blinking at him curiously for a moment. “Ah, so you’re the visitor that’s caused such a ruckus recently. I have to admit, I expected something a bit more…”
“Chaotic?” Fluttershy offered, moving forward to stand next to Discord.
Discord smiled, nodding down at the gentle pegasus. “Quite so, dear Fluttershy. However, threatening regicide on old Sunbutt there proves just how delightfully fun he can be! I must admit, I’m intrigued.”
“Uncle Dizzy!” Primus shouted as he ran to the draconequus, who readily scooped the pony up into his arms.
As Discord greeted the little colt, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but huff in annoyance. Despite the fact that she still didn’t completely trust the guy, Rainbow Dash had to admit that he was good with children. He was loopy, goofy, and liked pranks; what wasn’t to like for a young colt or filly? And Discord loved the attention, of course. The fact that it annoyed Rainbow Dash was just a bonus, to him.
Discord smoothly slung the colt up over his shoulders so that he was seated just behind his head, using his mismatched horns as leverage. After ensuring the colt was secure, he turned to Diedrick and held out his hand, which reminded Diedrick of a lion’s paw more than anything else. “Nonetheless, I foresee you being quite entertaining in the future, and I, for one, am quite happy to welcome you to Arcadia, Captain.”
Diedrick regarded Discord curiously for a few moments before reaching forward and shaking hands with him, finding the slightly off-kilter gaze a bit more intimidating than he would admit. There was simply something about Discord that told him he needed to be alert around him, and Diedrick didn’t like that feeling at all.
Still, a welcoming presence was better than nothing, he supposed.
“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” he greeted, giving Discord’s clawed hand a good shake before releasing it.
Discord waved the greeting away with a smirk. “I’m no soldier Captain, merely a spirit of chaos. Call me Discord, if you please.”
Discord looked to the others, who merely nodded their assent, then turned to Discord with a nod. “Very well, Discord. So, what exactly are you capable of?”
“Chaos is capable of many things, my dear boy.” he replied with a mischievous grin. “For example: I could turn your fingers into snakes.”
An odd feeling caused Diedrick to shoot his eyes to his hand, where indeed, there were now five small snakes, writhing where his fingers should be. With a yelp of surprise, he shook his hand out, only to notice that his fingers were not, in fact, snakes. He was momentarily torn between asking if what happened was real or not, only to quickly decide he didn’t want to know.
Diedrick shot a glare at the strange amalgamation of different animals, though the target didn’t seem to notice or care. Instead, he merely answered, “Oh, don’t worry though, because I have a feeling things will be rather exciting just by your presence alone. Welcome to Equestria, Captain.”
Diedrick focused on calming his racing heart as Princess Luna announced, “I believe all is in order for the time being, so we shall all bid you adieu until we meet again.”
Twilight looked to the princesses of night and day, and nodded firmly with a smile. “I’ll take care of things in Ponyville, and will keep you updated.” She then turned to all of her friends, as well as Scootaloo and Diedrick, and motioned for them to approach. “Well, gather ‘round. It makes it a lot easier on me if we’re closer together.” Discord set the young colt down by his mothers before taking a few steps back to clear away from the radius of the spell.
Celestia stood next to her sister as she watched the group gather together, only for them to vanish a moment later in a flash of magenta light, accompanied by a sound akin to thunder. She continued to stare at the spot they had departed from for a few moments, letting her mind wander aimlessly.
“Well I, for one, like him!” Discord announced with a grin and clap of his hands. “I think Equestria just got quite a bit more interesting with his arrival.” With a snap of his fingers, a cracked monocle appeared over his left eye for a moment, before it became a monocle-butterfly and flapped away. “He adds a bit of chaotic class, and I think you ponies could learn to accept a few more oddballs to balance things out a bit.”
“One denizen of chaos is enough, I think.” Princess Luna snarked as she threw a smirk Discord’s way. “Still, I think befriending another being that Equestria once feared could do the Captain some good. I believe that there are some things you understand about that situation that we could not.”
Discord shrugged his shoulders, knowing that the princess had a point. Besides, if such a thing meant more time spent with his dear friend Fluttershy and the delightful Pinkie Pie, well that was something he was more than willing to focus on. “Very well, I will see if I can’t pick his mind just a bit. Who knows: perhaps we’ll become just best friends.” The last words were said with a smile that quickly became too large for Discord’s face, and his head simply...fell apart. A poof of smoke later found a tiny version of him standing upon Princess Luna’s shoulder, wearing a military helmet and uniform, saluting smartly. “At oh-eight hundred a week from now, we’ll see if we can’t break down those walls and storm the fort!”
Princess Luna nodded as Discord popped into existence in front of her once again, this time at his proper size. “Thank you Discord, your help will be invaluable.” She then glanced to her sister, who was still staring blankly out towards Ponyville. “And, though I believe she needs to work for his forgiveness, I would appreciate it if you put in a good word for my sister.”
Discord turned his own eyes to the sun princess briefly, only to look back to the night princess and nod firmly. “I’ll see what I can do. I make no promises, though.”
Princess Luna pivoted on her hooves, looking out toward Ponyville in the distance. “An attempt is all I ask, Discord. Though he does not know it yet, the good Captain will need our support very soon.”
Diedrick and the ponies he found himself with reappeared in an empty field beside a massive farm, the Captain stumbling briefly as disorientation overcame him. After steadying himself, Diedrick took in the sights and sounds around him, trying his best to push to the back of his mind that they had just committed a crime against physics yet again.
The first thing he noticed was the farm itself, and the large heart-shaped fruits that hung from the branches of the trees. He assumed that this had to be the apple farm the orange mare had spoken about, and despite the situation, Diedrick found himself salivating at the sight of the fruits. He knew that at some point he would have to convince the apple-farmer to allow him the pleasure of tasting some of her crop.
It was only after thinking that thought that Diedrick realized how easily that became an innuendo of a sexual nature.
Shaking the thought away, Diedrick glanced around at the ponies that would be giving him room and board for however long it took for him to leave this planet. They were all gathering themselves from the jump of some great distance, but the shy one, Fluttershy, once again made her way to his side and offered her oddly comforting presence to him.
“So,” Princess Twilight Sparkle announced, “I think I have an idea as to how this should all be done:” she pointed to Fluttershy, who was gently holding the thickly-muscled arm of Diedrick, “Fluttershy will give you a place to stay for a few days, and from there, one of the rest of us will provide a room, and so on and so forth. That way, you’ll get to experience plenty of what our home has to offer, and will be given plenty of unique perspectives on everything. Is that acceptable?”
Diedrick glanced around at the small ponies, and nodded slowly. “That seems agreeable.” He then lifted his arms and began tapping away with clawed fingers at a small machine on his arm, which projected floating holograms into the air for a few moments before he closed them with a final press of a key, causing a chirp to emit from it before he placed his arm at his side once again. He glanced around and advised, “My ship will be landing in this field in a few minutes, so assure any who ask that there is no danger involved.”
Rainbow Dash quirked an eyebrow at this. “You just ‘called’ your ship to us?”
Diedrick shrugged his shoulders. “No sense leaving it out in the open when I can instead have it kept somewhere safe nearby.” He then glanced around, a thought suddenly shooting into his mind. “Wait, am I going to cause a ruckus just by being here? I dwarf all of you in size, and it’ll be quite clear that I’m a predator. I don’t know about your species in particular, but I know that the equines I’m used to are herd-based prey animals. I just don’t want to cause a panic from the mere sight of me.”
Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Please: Fluttershy walks around town with a bear sometimes. Someone that can think and speak for himself isn’t going to worry ponies in Ponyville. Besides, if this place can handle having Discord visit, it can handle you.”
Discord hadn’t seemed all that bad of a guy to Diedrick, but he knew the potential trouble one like him could cause, if the words about his abilities were to be believed. So, Diedrick simply looked to Fluttershy, who gave him a reassuring nod and smile, which calmed him greatly.
“Well,” Applejack spoke up, “Ah don’t know about tha rest ‘a y’all, but Ah’m plum tuckered and could use a good sleep fer tha night.” She then extended her hand to Diedrick, which she shook firmly once he had taken it. “Pleasure ta meet ya, Captain. Come see me iffin ya wanna sate that apple cravin’ ya got, and Ah’ll see if Ah can rustle up some good grub fer ya. Night, girls.” With a final wave, the farmpony hopped the fence of the apple orchard and made her way home.
Rainbow Dash stepped forward next, scooping up her son in the process and extending a hand to the Captain. “Well, it’s been fun, but I have to be back in Cloudsdale in the morning, and this little guy needs his sleep.”
Diedrick took the offered hand and nodded firmly. “It’s been a pleasure, ma’am.” He watched as the white unicorn -- the pegasus’ wife, if he remembered -- offered a polite smile before following her wife and son home, wherever that was.
“I’ll walk Pinkie home.” Twilight offered, motioning to the seemingly endless fount of energy beside her, who was subtly bouncing in joy even as the day wound to an end. “Spike, you make sure Fluttershy and the Captain make it home okay.”
The dragon saluted shortly before turning to his two charges. “Well, let’s get going, shall we?”
Finding it odd that Princess Twilight Sparkle put so much faith in a dragon that was four feet shorter than him, Diedrick could only nod and place limited trust in this drake, hoping that his presence would dissuade any panicked responses from the populace by Diedrick’s current form. Much to his surprise, other than a cursory raised eyebrow or whispers about him by the ponies they encountered on the way, Diedrick noticed that being in the presence of Spike and Fluttershy did wonders to assuage the fears of the townsfolk. However, it was clear that while there would not be riots or mass panics tonight, the following morning would be quite interesting for Ponyville.
As they rounded a hilly area that looked very much like the rolling hills of his home planet, Diedrick took notice of a quaint cottage near a large forest, which for all intents and purposes looked as if it had grown out of the ground itself. Grass and bushes made up the home’s roof, and innumerable bird houses could be seen built into the structure. If there were any doubt of Fluttershy’s passion in life, one look at her home was all Diedrick needed to see to know that she was an animal-pony.
“All right, here we are.” Spike announced, stopping a short distance in front of the home. He extended his hand to Diedrick and shook his hand once again. “I better get home before Twilight starts worrying. Fluttershy will help you with anything you should need, so don’t be afraid to ask. We’ll meet at the castle to start getting to know one another, so be ready about midmorning.”
Diedrick nodded silently and watched the drake as he left, still in awe that this magical world was full of so many mythical creatures of legend. Like wolves, dragons held a prominent place in much of his ancestors’ histories, so it was still quite the treat to meet Spike of the Jadefire. A gentle tugging at his hand brought Diedrick’s attention to the pegasus that would be offering him a place to stay for the night, and he turned to see her smiling face urging him on. Wordlessly, he followed as she led him to the cottage and opened the door to the dimly-lit home.
The scent of many different creatures was easily decipherable amongst the smells of Fluttershy herself and the cleaners she used around her home, but just like the pony, the scents only calmed his mind and relaxed his body as a feeling of safety and security overtook him. The odd feeling of trying to understand the way he felt washed over him once again, but his instincts were stronger, and demanded he relax in the presence of this kind pegasus.
There was still a question that was nagging at him, however.
“You don’t speak much, do you?” he plainly questioned, unsure and unwilling to think of a more tactful way of expressing himself.
Flinching slightly, Fluttershy stopped and turned around with a slightly ashamed expression, complete with splayed ears and wringing her hands. “O-oh, um, I’m sorry if it bothered you. I didn’t mean to, um, make you upset, Mister Captain, sir.”
Even with years of military training and experience on the front line of a major war, Diedrick felt a nearly overwhelming wave of warmth come over him at the sight of the stuttering, demure, adorable pegasus. He just wanted to scoop her up in his arms and pet her. He resisted...for now.
Instead, he merely waved her words away with a gentle smile. “I take no offense, Miss Fluttershy, I was merely making an observation.”
Some of the tension that had built within Fluttershy diminished, and she shrugged softly. “W-well, I just think that words can be so much more complicated. Things like body language and pheromone communication are simple when compared to, well, written or spoken words, but much of it is also instinctual, so we don’t think about it when we do it. Words can lie and hurt based on intent, but nonverbal communication is always honest.” She shrugged once again, reaching with her hand and brushing a few locks of her long, pink mane behind an ear. “I just thought you might be more comfortable with something like that, considering how your first meeting with ponies went.”
Diedrick kept his sharp eyes on the pony, able to clearly see her even in the failing light of day, and just silently observed her for a moment. After several seconds of thought, he answered, “Don’t be afraid to speak simply because of that, Miss Fluttershy. I don’t know exactly why, but I trust you enough to know that you truly have my best interests at heart.”
Fluttershy nodded once again, now staring directly into Diedrick’s eyes. “I know you might not want to admit it, but you’re afraid right now. Of what, I don’t know, but I know more than anypony in Ponyville just what it’s like to feel afraid.” Her wings flared out and she wrapped them around her body as she explained, “A lot of things are really scary, even in Ponyville, like the Everfree Forest, and thunderstorms...and, um...other ponies…” Her words trailed off at the end as she looked away in shame.
Once again Diedrick was struck with a wave of warm feelings for the adorable little pony, and couldn’t stop himself from padding forward and laying a large, yet gentle hand on her shoulder, causing her to slowly look up at him, her bright aqua eyes shining.
After a long few moments of simply looking into her eyes, Diedrick muttered, “I am afraid, Fluttershy.” Removing his hand and taking a seat on the floor, he rolled his shoulders as he removed his weapons to allow for a more comfortable stature, then lay back to rest on his elbows. “I am ashamed to say I fear for myself more than anything else, but I also fear for my people. I kept watch on one of the many trading lanes between jumpgates, and without my presence, I fear that I have left innocents open to attack from those that would take advantage of my absence.” He shook his head with an angry grunt, unable to completely contain the emotions roiling inside of him. “Hundreds or even thousands will die because I am not there; many will go hungry because supplies could not be delivered. I know I am not choosing to leave my post, but I cannot help but place blame on myself for winding up here on your world.”
“Um, how did you get here?” Fluttershy questioned quietly, now curious as to just how exactly this strong creature had found itself on their planet.
Diedrick shrugged helplessly. “One moment I was pursuing a rogue freighter that was responsible for the destruction of a peaceful colony ship. The next, I found myself sucked into some sort of magnetic storm in space. When I exited the storm, I found myself near your world.” Moving his arms so that he could fully lay on his back to stare at the ceiling, Diedrick let out a long breath as he recounted his travels around the cosmos.
Fluttershy was stunned. Beyond having explored every nook and cranny of his own world, Diedrick’s kind had colonized a sizable chunk of the galaxy they were born in, and through these “jumpgates”, were able to instantaneously move from one side of the galaxy to another -- a distance that would normally take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to cross conventionally. Through their travels, Diedrick’s kind had come upon many other sapient races, -- some peaceful, others dangerously aggressive. It seemed that while this was the first time Diedrick had ever come across true magic -- and what he considered “mythical creatures” -- he was no stranger to meeting new races and cultures.
“We weren’t always like this, you know.” Diedrick stated after a long few minutes of complete silence. Gesturing to himself, he clarified, “I mean, my kind wasn’t always lycans, and we were much...smaller.”
Fluttershy nodded, and though her eyes could just barely make out Diedrick’s form in the darkness, Diedrick himself could see her quite clearly. “Well, umm...how did it happen?”
“As cliche as it sounds,” he began with a dry chuckle, “it was because of what we would consider a ‘mad scientist’.” He rolled his wrists, eliciting a few pops from the joints as he continued. “Basically, as the human race -- that’s what we used to be called -- continued to live and breed on the planet, a number of factors had slowly weakened us as a species until we began to die off, unable to survive on our planet any longer against a multitude of illnesses, both viral and genetic. Well, a small group of scientists had the insane idea to bond the DNA of humans with that of another, stronger animal, in order to overcome our own shortcomings. Our choices were rather limited by the fact that over 95% of all creatures that ever existed on our planet was extinct, but there were a few that had persevered alongside us, surviving where others did not. Sharks and a few smaller marine predators were among them, but the one that we shared most in common with was the wolf. We would have chosen an ape -- who shared common ancestors with us -- but all the great apes of the world had long ago gone extinct due to poaching, loss of habitat, and rapidly changing climate.”
“Did it work?” Fluttershy asked, very interested now. True that she didn’t understand science as well as Twilight, but she knew enough to be enthralled by the story she was being told.
Diedrick was very silent for the longest time, to the point where Fluttershy began to hear her own heartbeat in the utter quiet of her home, if she listened hard enough. Fluttershy was used to a noisy home -- a place where many animals congregated tended to be rather loud, after all -- so the sudden void of sound felt deafening.
“I suppose it did...but at a great cost.” Diedrick answered after a long wait, the sheer sorrow he felt for his people clearly audible in his tone. “I suppose in a way, it gave natural selection a leg-up against all we had done to preserve ourselves.” He shrugged. “We tested it years before the Great Sundering, and came to understand that the risks far outweighed the benefits of it...but apparently not everyone thought so. Doctor Christoph,” he shuddered ever so slightly, the slight motion just barely visible in the dark, “decided we needed to be ‘cleansed’, and released his creation on us all in the form of an airborne virus bound to the common cold infection.”
Fluttershy moved closer and placed her hand on the trembling knee of Diedrick, the action causing him to roll an eye toward the pony at his side as she asked, “A-and what happened?”
Diedrick held her gaze for a few moments before answering, “Billions died. The bodies of most were not accepting of the change, and the first time it happened for them, their bodies quite literally split apart. The next few years were spent in constant fear, each person wondering if when -- not if, but when -- the virus came to them, they would die horrifically. This period of time came to be known as the Great Sundering.”
“Oh my goodness…” Fluttershy whimpered, only able to imagine just how terrifying every second of life would be for someone having to go through that, unsure if they would survive another moment.
Diedrick nodded faintly, both unable because of his position against the floor, and unwilling to do much more at the moment. Again silence enveloped them both for an extended length of time as they both thought of the trials of Diedrick’s people. For Diedrick, this meant empathizing with the many that died so that he could live, while Fluttershy could only try the best she could to keep from crying because of all the sorrow she could hear in Diedrick’s voice.
“And then the ice age hit, and even more perished.” Diedrick continued, his tone increasingly sorrowful. “After so much time spent polluting the planet without care, entire civilizations disappeared under ice and freezing temperatures. Much of my people’s history was lost because of it, and in the end, only a few thousand of us remained across the entire planet. Those that remained were forced to pick up the broken pieces of our race, and we swore then and there that we would remember and learn from the past, so that it would never be repeated.” He then shrugged. “Unfortunately, evolution slowly began to branch our race into two distinct people: mine, the people of the sun, and the others, the people of the moon.” He rolled his wrist around as he explained, “My people held onto their mental faculties and kept the ideas of culture, music, science and such alive, but our ‘cousins’ became ravenous beasts that were completely at the mercy of their instincts.” Diedrick let out a long breath as he closed his eyes, remembering the stories from his youth. “Great battles were fought, and many more perished, but in the end, the others were eradicated, allowing us to flourish in the new world. We became the dominant species on the planet, and we have done the best we could to assure the sins of the past did not become the sins of the present.”
Suddenly, before Diedrick could continue, he contorted in pain as a deep growl left him, and after only a couple disturbing seconds of pops, crackles, and squishing noises, the relatively furless form of Diedrick lay in the same place the giant wolf had only a few moments before. Fluttershy, on her part, was more than a little concerned, but reminded herself that this was apparently normal for Diedrick, so she simply offered a comforting presence to him as his breathing leveled out and he closed his eyes.
“Quite a bit less painful than the forced change from earlier today, but it was certainly not comfortable.” Diedrick explained, answering Fluttershy’s likely-unspoken question. “I’ve dealt with it for thirty some-odd years now, so I’m used to it.”
Fluttershy had recoiled in surprise when the change back to his “normal” form had taken place, but scooted closer once it was clear Diedrick was all right again. With a slow motion, she laid a hand on his left shoulder, offering him a kind smile. “I’m so sorry that pain is such a regular thing for your kind.”
Diedrick turned his eyes to Fluttershy, now unable to see her as well in the failing light with his suddenly-dimmed vision. Offering a smile of his own and a gentle shake of his head, he explained, “That pain reminds my kind of what we had to fight through to survive, as well as the cost of our past misdeeds. It ensures we always remember our sins and do not repeat them; never again will we seek to control our own nature when the time has passed for us.” He shrugged, unable to do much else when he truly thought of where life ultimately headed. “Evolution and extinction are a part of nature, and when the time comes for our race to fade into the annals of time, we will accept it graciously and with pride, knowing that we cheated death as a species once already. We were the top of the food chain not once, but twice in two different ages of the Earth, and that is something to be proud of, I think. We created technology that our predecessors could only dream of, cultivated some of the greatest artists that ever lived, and brought about peace within our own by assuring that no matter what, we worked together. No more would we fight amongst each other when there were thousands of other galactic races that would like nothing better than for us to destroy ourselves. Through near-annihilation, we were brought together as a species, and we work every day to preserve that togetherness.”
Before either of them could continue the conversation, a trio of knocks at the door preceded it opening and closing, and the familiar scent -- faint though it was because of Diedrick’s dulled senses -- announced who the newcomer was before Diedrick even saw her.
“Celestial Guard Scootaloo, I had nearly forgotten about you.” Diedrick greeted.
The guard entered the room and nodded to the two, her trained eyesight able to pick them out in the faded light of the waning day. “Yeah, sorry about that. I had to meet with the mayor and work out some things before I made it here, just to be sure everything was ready for you and such. Everything should be good now, so long as you don’t start hunting ponies.”
“That depends on how good they taste.” Diedrick quipped playfully, only to hear a gasp from Fluttershy in the dark. He looked in her direction and explained, “That was a joke, Miss Fluttershy. I don’t hunt sapient creatures.”
The shy pegasus shrank behind her mane, embarrassed. “O-oh, sorry. I just...n-nevermind.”
“I must hunt and eat other living things to stay healthy, but I will not be doing so to any ponies. This Everfree forest seems to be a place most ponies avoid, so I will hunt there in order to keep my less-desirable proclivities out of sight and mind.” Diedrick explained blandly, knowing that any prey species -- no matter how evolved they might be -- felt uncomfortable at the thought of a carnivore hunting and killing to eat the flesh of a recently-living creature. He was no stranger being the subject of cautiousness, so he knew how to reassure others about it.
Thankfully for Diedrick, Fluttershy seemed oddly okay with it, once she overcame her fear of him eating ponies.
“Oh...well, um, that’s okay. I know that you can’t help what you are or what you have to eat, so just, um, t-try and keep from eating any of my animal friends.” Fluttershy requested softly.
Diedrick nodded. “If you point them out to me, I’ll be sure and refrain from doing that.”
“Well,” Scootaloo announced, reaching out a hand to Diedrick to help him up, “I think it’s time we all get some shuteye. From what Princess Twilight told me, your days here aren’t exactly going to be empty, so we should all make sure we’re well-rested.”
Fluttershy nodded in agreement. “Pinkie will want to throw you a party as a welcome to Ponyville, so I think Scootaloo’s right -- we should all get some sleep.” She then stood and fluffed her wings, turning and looking Diedrick up and down with a faint frown on her face. “Oh dear, I don’t think you’ll fit in my guest bed.”
Diedrick pulled himself up from the ground with Scootaloo’s help, and arched his back, eliciting a few pops before he righted himself and let out a long sigh. “That won’t be a problem, Miss Fluttershy. If you don’t mind, I’d actually like to sleep outside tonight.”
Fluttershy gasped at his words, her wings flaring slightly. “O-outside? Why?”
Diedrick shrugged. “To be honest, I enjoy open spaces as opposed to any sort of confinement, no matter how comfortable the space may be. There wasn’t really any choice when I spent time with the gryphons, but here, the grass is soft and the air is clean. There were no clouds in the sky either, so I can only assume it won’t rain overnight. I think a night under the stars would be nice, anyway.” He then gestured to the armored pony beside him. “Guard Scootaloo may appreciate a bed, though.”
“Nah, I’ll be okay.” the mentioned pony countered with a grin. “When I was just a filly, me and my friends used to sleep out underneath the open sky a lot.” She then shrugged, poking Diedrick in the shoulder with a finger. “Besides, I was assigned to watch over you, so I go where you go.”
Fluttershy looked to her two guests and bit her lip in worry. “O-oh, well um, a-are you sure? I don’t want to-”
“We’ll be fine, Miss Fluttershy. We appreciate the concern, however.” Diedrick assured, hoping his host would be calmed by his words, if only a little.
Still concerned, yet unwilling to argue the matter, Fluttershy nodded. “Well, okay. Just know that my door is open in case it gets too cold, o-or it rains or something. You both are welcome to enter whenever you feel like it.”
Diedrick nodded to the kind mare before turning on his heel and striding toward the door, Scootaloo following in tow.
A few moments after the door shut, Fluttershy let out a long sigh and shook her head, forcing herself to remember that Diedrick was plenty strong enough to defend himself, and a Celestial Guard would be providing backup should anything happen. Still, she was a born worrier, and found herself concerned over their wellbeing nonetheless.
Lifting her shirt a bit to get at the pouch that was belted around her waist, Fluttershy fished out a small yellow plastic device, flipping it open and pressing a few numbers on a keypad. After a few moments of bell-like tones, the line picked up with a chipper, “Hello?”
“Hello Twilight, it’s Fluttershy.” the pegasus answered softly, smiling just from the sound of her friend’s happy tone.
“Oh, hello Fluttershy! So, how did things go?” the pony on the other side of the line questioned curiously.
Though Twilight couldn’t see the action, Fluttershy shrugged to herself. “Well, he seems to be comfortable with me. I can tell he misses home, but I think he’ll be okay so long as nopony purposefully provokes him. If they do, that’s why Scootaloo is here.”
“Well, here’s hoping none of the purists find out about him, then.” Twilight replied, and the disdain could clearly be heard in her voice. “It was bad enough when I had to deal with them; I shudder to think of what they might bring out of the Captain.”
Fluttershy nodded to the empty room. “And he doesn’t have the ‘royal voice’ either. Oh dear, I don’t want to think of what he’d be capable of if somepony actually gets him angry.”
“My point exactly.” Twilight agreed. “And even with me, Spike had to calm me down, if you remember. If he wasn’t there to keep me from going into a full alicorn surge, there wouldn’t have been a Ponyville today. Captain Diedrick isn’t nearly as restrained as I am either, so we need to be sure we keep the purist group members away from him at all costs. If they find him and hurt him, it will irreparably damage Equestria’s relationship with him, but if he defends himself and hurts a pony, the law states we have to take him into custody, which would end with the same result: losing what little trust of his that we have. Either way, it’s a no-win scenario.”
“I understand, Twilight. I’ll ask my animal friends to be on the lookout for a few of the key members.” Fluttershy assured. “From there, we’ll just need to be alert to any newcomers in Ponyville.” A long silence followed her words, as she didn’t know what else to say; she didn’t like the thought of needing to be wary of other ponies for the sake of another.
“I don’t like this either, Fluttershy,” Twilight explained, seemingly reading her friend’s mind, “but we can’t risk this. You heard what Princess Luna told us yesterday: Diedrick is our priority above all else, right now. She sees something in him, and we can’t risk turning him against Equestria.”
“Well,” Fluttershy began, glancing out of her window towards the field she saw Diedrick heading towards, “we can start preparing for all that tomorrow. For now, I think we all need to get some rest to make sure the Captain is well looked-after.” Letting out a dainty yawn, she rubbed her eyes before continuing with, “And I have to be awake really early tomorrow to meet with Trixie.”
“Oh,” Twilight exclaimed with an implied grin, “so the first date went okay, then?”
Fluttershy blushed in embarrassment regardless, even though it was true. “Y-yes, and we’re meeting for breakfast tomorrow.”
A faint giggle could be heard from over the line before Twilight answered, “Well then, I’ll let you get to sleep so you can dream about your pretty unicorn fillyfriend. Goodnight, Fluttershy.”
Her blush increased tenfold, but Fluttershy was still able to offer a soft, “G-goodnight, Twilight.”
With a click, the line hung up, and Fluttershy closed the device and set it upon her bedside table, having made her way upstairs during the talk. Since she lived alone, Fluttershy whipped off her shirt and skirt shamelessly, throwing them both in the hamper in the corner before slipping herself underneath the sheets of her bed.
There was no doubt that big changes would be coming with Captain Diedrick in their land, but Fluttershy only hoped that she could show him that Princess Celestia’s behavior was a fluke, and that he could have friends in Equestria. Fluttershy could read him well enough to know that he felt very alone and isolated, so she hoped that the freely offered friendship would help bring him out of the shell he held around himself to protect him from the hurts. Fluttershy knew this about him because she did the same for many years, shutting herself in and away from others to avoid getting hurt.
Perhaps though, with time, she could show Diedrick that it was okay to open his heart.