Sam stared at the purple horse expectantly, but no information was forthcoming. Miss Purple Alicorn Horse just stood there, staring into the middle distance, slightly stunned. Eventually he got fed up with waiting.
“What? What do you mean, ‘oh my’?”
“Ok. Don’t panic,” Purple Alicorn told herself, panicking. “No need to jump to conclusions. There's a perfectly rational reason for this. Maybe he’s… from another country! Yeah, that must be it! A country that just... doesn't know about Equestria. Or ponies in general. A totally… isolated… country… Oh dear."
Equestria? What is that, some sort of horse rider magazine?
But he knew better. She was naming a country: her country. And she was trying to fit him into her worldview. But he needed to be sure. Since Purple Alicorn Horse – Pony? – seemed to be lost in her own little world, Sam turned to the rest of the gathering. Swallowing nervously, he murmured his question to them.
“I’m guessing that you… um, ponies, was it?” He gestured vaguely at their group. Pink Hyper Pony nodded enthusiastically. Yellow Pegasus Pony sitting next to him nodded more sedately. Orange Country Pony was watching Purple Alicorn with a look of concern, and Blue Pegasus just seemed lost. “I’m guessing you ponies are pretty common in these parts.”
“You… could say that,” the Country Orange affirmed in an appropriate Southern drawl.
“You could also say that ponies make up the majority of Equestria,” Hyper Pink began to ramble, “because we’re the ones that founded the nation. Also we live here, and have a bunch of cities, and a government, and an economy, and-”
“Okay!” Sam cut her off. The icy pit in his stomach grew colder. “I get it. You’re the indigenous people… Which means that I am a long… long way from home.”
“W- what makes you say that?” Shy Yellow asked timidly. Sam swallowed thickly.
“I think that we would have noticed by now if there was an entire country of colorful ponies anywhere on my planet. Unless, of course there is somehow a planet-wide conspiracy to cover up your existence. But, you know… Occam’s Razor and all that,” Sam trailed off, eyes unfocused.
Rainbow Blue rattled her head in confusion. “Uh, who’s this Occam and what does their razor have to do with anything?”
“You’re from another planet?” Hyper Pink gasped.
“So it would seem,” Sam answered absentmindedly. The pink one immediately began gushing excitedly to her friends but he paid no mind, still reeling from this latest revelation. He was on an alien planet. That was the only logical explanation. There was no way that anyone, friend or foe, would go to such lengths to make him, of all people, the center of a prank or act of this magnitude. By itself, the amount of resources required to construct such an intricate fantasy would put this kind of project out of reach of all but the most wealthy, and he could think of nothing that anyone could possibly gain from this.
No, the simplest explanation was, in this case, the best. He had been abducted, then dropped off on this planet, wherever it was. Sam began to tremble as the implications set in, his brain going slightly numb. Part of him wanted to believe it was excitement at the prospect of first encounter, and part of him did, but deep in his gut he was terrified.
How many lightyears away was Earth? Who had abducted him? Had they done anything else to his home while they were there? He squashed that line of thinking before it could go any further. Morbid speculation would get him nowhere. He needed facts.
Alright, step one. Assess your situation. I am alive, I am awake, and I am lucid. The last few months definitely happened. Now I am sitting in a spa with a handful of intelligent creatures that shouldn’t exist… No! Stop! No opinions! Start over!
Okay, so I’m alive, awake, lucid, I have definite memory of waking up here and surviving for the past couple of months at least. I ate a hallucinogenic fruit, or something, and now I’m in a spa room with alien creatures... Whose speech I can understand… Huh.
He looked at Alicorn Purple, who seemed to be muttering about spacetime and extraterrestrial life. Yup, that’s definitely English, albeit really jargonized English.
“How is it that we are able to understand one another?” He asked off-hand.
That shocked Alicorn Purple right out of her musings. She turned to stare at him. Then her horn lit up.
“Whoa! Hey!” Sam nearly jumped out of his skin. “What is that? What are you doing?”
“I’m going to do a scan of your magical signature, see if there’s any spellwork at play.”
“No! What? No! ...What? What do you mean by that?”
“Calm down, it’s just a scan.”
“No, hey! Stop! Whatever you’re doing, just stop,” Sam commanded, putting a hand out as he scrambled to his feet, as if to ward off whatever voodoo was happening in front of him.
“Ugh… stop… moving…!” Purple demanded.
“No, you stop glowing!” He shouted, running for cover behind one of the large, vortex shaped pillars funneling down from the ceiling in the back of the room. As soon as he broke her line of sight, she let out a frustrated growl.
“Fluttershy? A little help?” Purple pleaded, trying and failing to keep the frustration out of her voice.
“Oh! Um, are you sure?” Responded the voice of Shy Yellow, obviously looking for an out. “I mean, it seemed like you had it handled…”
After a few moments of silence, during which Sam could only assume Purple stared at Fluttershy in exasperation, the pegasus gave a capitulating sigh.
A moment later, Sam could just make out gently falling hoofsteps coming in his direction. He prepared to bolt the moment anything came into view. But she stopped just beyond the edge of his pillar and cleared her throat timidly.
“Um… Mister, um, Biggs…? You don’t have to hide. Twilight’s not going to hurt you.”
It took Sam a moment to realize she was talking to him. But by the time he worked it out, Fluttershy had already mistaken his silence for hesitation.
“She really won’t, honest… Um… Oh! I know! Twilight, why don't you cast the scanning spell on me? Then he can see that it’s harmless. Does that sound good to you, Biggs?”
This time, Sam actually hesitated, considering her proposal. He spouted the first thought that came to mind, trying to stall for time.
“My name's Sam. I don't know where you got the idea that it was Biggs.”
“Oh! Oh… Well, it- it's nice to meet you, Sam. I'm sorry we didn't ask sooner. We kind of… just… kept using the name we gave you when you were…”
By her embarrassed tone, it wasn't hard to connect the dots.
“Ha! Well, I can't say I'm angry. To me, Biggs just so happens to be quite a flattering nickname.”
“O- okay… I'm… I'm glad you like it.” He heard her shuffling a hoof on the carpet nervously. “So… would you… maybe be willing to come out if we demonstrate the spell?”
He had to give her one thing, Fluttershy’s adorably meek and submissive mannerisms made it difficult to resist her charm. Sam chewed on the inside of his cheek, trying to think of a reason he shouldn't believe her.
Unfortunately, his mouth started a question before his brain could catch up, “H- hhhow can I, uh… How can I be sure she'll use the same... spell… on me? For all I know, you could be the ones who abducted me!” His confidence picked up steam as the question formulated. After all, he had every right to be suspicious!
But the building righteous anger plummeted after an indignant squawk from the rainbow-haired pegasus.
“Hey! Nopony here would ever do anything like that! Apologize!” She seethed in shaming earnestness.
“Come on, Rainbow Dash,” the country girl soothed, “it ain’t his fault he’s in a scary situation.”
“But this is Twilight he’s talking about! You know she would never stoop to such an underhoofed-”
“We know that, dear,” interrupted the elegant voice of the white unicorn, whom he believed Fluttershy called Rarity. In all the commotion, Sam hadn’t noticed her return. “But Biggs doesn’t know her like we do. His fears, to him, are very necessary, unfounded as they may be.”
Sam had half a mind to respond with indignation of his own, but before he could, Twilight responded with a sigh. “You’re right, Rarity… Except for the part about his name, actually. He told us it’s Sam.”
“Oh! My apologies, Sam.” She sounded sincere enough.
“Forget about it,” he said dismissively. Now he had a pretty good idea of when she had returned. “Do you have my clothes?”
“I do,” she chirped, and the strange tinkling noise filled the room again.
“Rarity, stop!” Twilight shouted.
“What?” Rarity pouted.
“You might frighten him again!” Twilight whispered harshly and none too subtly.
But it seemed Rarity had realized her error, because there was a gasp followed by the abrupt end of the tinkling noise and the soft whump of a pile of cloth hitting the floor. “Oh! Oh dear. I’m terribly sorry, it completely slipped my mind… Um… Sam? Would you care for one of us to bring you your clothes?
Sam wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but he was sure it had to do with Twilight’s glowing horn earlier. Maybe Rarity could do something similar. He realized that, at the moment, there was really only one of these ponies that he even came close to trusting.
“Uh, yeah… Send, uh, Fluttershy over.”
The tinkling started up again, for a moment, then stopped. Then he heard Fluttershy’s soft hoofsteps approaching from around the corner. She peered around the column.
“Um, here you go.”
She turned her head and picked up a small, neatly folded pile of clothes off of her back. Relieved to finally have something halfway decent to wear, Sam took them from her with a grateful smile. She smiled back before heading around the pillar once more.
He pulled everything on with great relish, even if his pants legs were tattered up to the knee, his belt needed to be cinched up a few inches tighter, and his shirt billowed around him like a curtain in the wind. Luckily his socks and shoes had survived the journey mostly intact, but he’d definitely need replacements before long. Still, it loosened a knot of anxiety to know he was no longer naked in a room full of strangers. However, he realized there was still one thing missing.
“Where’re my glasses?”
“Your what?” Rarity called out.
“My glasses. I had them on when you found me, right?”
“No, I don’t think you did. Did he, Twilight?”
“Huh?” Twilight exclaimed, startled out of her musings. “Did he what?”
“Have glasses on when we found him.”
“Oh. No, not that I can remember. What did they look like?”
“Black metal rims with wide earpieces. Thick lenses, the right one was cracked.”
“No, I would have remembered something like that.”
“What about my bag? I still had that, right?” He pleaded, hoping that at least something survived the trip through the forest.
“No, I didn’t see them in there either.” For a moment, Sam had half a mind to call her out on snooping through his possessions, but suppressed the urge. After all, were their situations reversed, he probably would have looked through any bags she might have been carrying for some kind of identification.
“Well, crap. I’m going to be blind as a bat.”
The Pink One gasped. “Omygosh! Can you make high pitched screeching noises and then figure out the shape of your surroundings by the way the screechy sounds bounce off everything, like a bat does?”
Sam stared, stunned. In less time than it took to blink, the hyper pony appeared before him, rambling without pause for breath. He stood stock still, trying not to make any sudden movements. But he realized she wouldn’t leave until he answered her question, and neither could he run away; she could apparently run faster than the eye could track. That, or she could teleport. All he could do was humor her.
“Y… you mean echolocation?”
“That’s what I said.”
“Uh… no. I’m just near-sighted.”
“Oh! Well then, here!” She bubbled, presenting him with a pair of coke-bottle glasses that she had somehow been storing in her mane. “I keep spares in case Mr. Waddle misplaces his again.”
Sam scrutinized the glasses, eying them as if they were a cobra poised to strike.
“They’re not going to explode or anything,” Pink Pony teased.
Swallowing his apprehension, Sam slowly reached out and hooked a finger around the glasses. A second glance at the Pink One was met with a beaming smile. Sam gave her an unsure smirk back and slid the glasses into place. They were an awkward shape, clearly not designed for his head, but his vision cleared up considerably.
For the first time, he observed clearly her massive smile and how it reached her sparkling blue eyes. He could see the softness of her coat. This creature was absolutely, diabetes-inducingly cute. What if they were all this adorable? Was it some sort of naturally selected defense mechanism? How could he possibly remain stoic in the face of such dangerous charms?
Sam smiled back, clinging to the last shreds of his paranoia like they were his only life preserver in a sea of false promises.
“Um, thanks, uh…”
“Pinkie Pie! And you're very welcome.”
She bounced – actually bounced – back to her friends. Sam let out a breath he didn't know he had been holding in.
“Alright,” Twilight declared, snapping him out of his trance, “I have an idea. Sam, please don’t freak out. I'm not casting anything at you.”
The purple glow lit up the other side of the pillar and he heard the ambient tinkling once more, along with a sound reminiscent of chalk on a chalkboard, or drawing in wet sand with a stick. Curiosity overpowered his fear of horrible, unnatural death by a slim margin, and he cautiously peered around the edge of the pillar.
Although he could see them all clearly for the first time, Sam was transfixed not by their cuteness, but by the anomaly in front of the one he understood to be called Twilight. She stood in a wide stance, concentrating on the air, flicking her head and eyes in deft movements that perfectly corresponded to what was happening before her. To Sam’s eternal fascination, the air in front of Twilight was – for lack of a better word – being written on, lines of incandescent, neon magenta creating a circle. Inside the circle, runic letters and arcane geometries formulated, creating a complex pattern the likes of which Sam had only ever seen in fantasy illustrations. Twilight finished the mid-air inscription with a small flourish, smiling in satisfaction.
“There. That should ease your worries, right?”
Sam ogled, unbelieving. However, Twilight read this as confusion.
“Oh, you use a different runic alphabet don’t you? Well, most of the geometries should be the same, hopefully. That is, if you use the same equations as me. And arcane constants…”
When Sam’s expression remained unchanging she slapped her forehead with a hoof.
“Oh for pony’s sake! Look, all you need to know is that this glyph will cast the same spell on whomever it targets. Fair enough?”
Sam gulped. As much as he wanted to disbelieve his senses, he couldn’t. He nodded weakly.
“Good. Fluttershy, if you would be so kind as to step a little to the left…?”
“Oh. Ok,” Fluttershy murmured, drawing Sam’s attention.
If Pinkie Pie had come close to giving him heart palpitations, Fluttershy nearly gave him a coronary. He wanted nothing more to sit down and stroke her silky pink mane for hours. So when he realized what was about to happen, naturally, his first instinct was to run out and snatch her out of harm’s way.
But he only got as far as an outstretched hand. The spell was too quick. He could only watch in mute horror as a beam of magenta energy struck her dead on. He tensed up, preparing to sprint to her rescue.
But the cries never came. The magenta light washed over Fluttershy with nary a peep, her calm expression never wavering. As the beam of light faded, she opened her eyes and gave him a small, comforting smile.
“See? There's nothing to be afraid of. Twilight only wants to help. We all do. We would never intentionally hurt you. Won't you please come out?”
Sam’s eyes darted between the ponies’ sympathetic smiles. As much as he wanted to blame them for his predicament, he was finding it impossible. They had such an unshakable aura of innocence that he couldn’t imagine them plotting anything more dastardly than a raid on the nearest bakery, but only after having paid for the sweets.
With an apprehensive but resigned sigh, he inched out from behind the pillar until he was fully exposed. He alternated between clenching and stretching his fingers for a few seconds.
“Will you promise to stop if, for some reason, something goes wrong? Just on the off chance.”
Twilight nodded gravely. “I Pinkie promise.”
Sam blinked at the strange parallel. How could that be a thing if ponies didn’t even have fingers? He shook the errant though loose, and stepped forward. Taking Fluttershy’s place, he sat cross-legged on the floor, nervously popping the joints in his fingers. Fluttershy sat beside him and put a comforting hoof on his arm, and he felt the tension in his shoulders loosen just a bit. He looked Twilight dead in the eye, intent on letting her know his discomfort.
“I’m placing a lot of trust in you right now.”
“Thank you. I suppose submitting oneself to foreign magic might be terrifying for some. But, like I said, you don’t need to worry. It will be over quickly, and you should barely feel a thing.”
Sam just swallowed thickly and nodded. At his cue, Twilight lowered her horn. It lit up in tandem with the floating glyph, glowing ever brighter with magenta light. He wanted desperately to just screw his eyes shut and wait for the pain to come crashing down. But, if he did that, it would take him completely by surprise. So he forced himself to watch, willing Twilight’s promise to stay true.
He couldn’t help but flinch as the glyph flared a second time. But the light washed over him much as it did Fluttershy. The only reason he could tell it was more than just a purple flashlight was a strange tingle at the base of his skull.
After a few seconds of this, the light died out, and the tingle with it. Sam let out a breath of relief.
“Well… Okay, I suppose that was a lot more anticlimactic than I had thought it would be. So what’s going on?”
But Twilight just stared at him in confusion.
“I just don’t get it.”
“What?” Sam demanded, growing anxious. “What’s wrong?”
Twilight shook her head. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. There’s no indication anything is interfering with your thaumic field other than a few trace remnants of the chaos magic.”
“My… thaumic field?”
“Yeah, your magic aura? I mean it does seem a bit too stagnant to be healthy. And there was a little blip of activity when I first began scanning, but that could easily be attributed to-”
“Wait wait wait… my magic aura? What the heck are you talking about?”
A sudden knock at the door startled everyone in the room. Then another pony – this one with a cyan coat and long pink mane held back by a white hair band – poked her head in the room.
“Please pardon the intrusion, Princess,” she spoke demurely, with an accent that sounded almost Northern European. Sam supposed he shouldn’t be surprised. After all, he was sitting with a pony that could have made a passable Texan. “It’s just, we heard raised voices. Is everything alright?”
“Oh! Um, yes… Sorry. Girls, let’s continue this discussion in the library. Sam, would you come with us, please?”
The panic descended once more. “You want me to go… outside? In an alien world?”
“I… uh… can I… have a minute?”
Twilight looked like she was about to protest until the country pony nudged her. The cowpony turned to speak directly to Sam.
“I reckon that’s a reasonable request. After all, I think we can all agree that we’d feel the same in your predicament. Right, Twilight?”
Twilight acquiesced with a reluctant groan. “Yeah, I guess you’re right, Applejack. Sorry, this is just really strange.” She turned back to Sam. “Just… will you promise not to run off again? You stirred up quite a commotion last time.”
Sam chewed his upper lip. What exactly had he gotten up to while he wasn’t in control of his faculties?
“Yeah, I… I don’t think you’re in danger of that happening. I have no intention of wandering alone in an alien world if I can help it. So yeah, I, uh… I pinky promise.”
Twilight smiled. “I’m sure she’ll hold you to that. Right, Pinkie?”
When she turned to look at the pony in question, the connection clicked in his mind. Of course it wasn’t named after a finger. Derp. It must be an inside ritual of theirs. However, it seemed the promise’s namesake was too busy to notice, jotting something down on a notepad with a pencil held in her teeth.
“Pinkie? What are you writing?”
“Huh? Oh! I’m writing myself a reminder to change the name on the ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ banner. And I guess I should change ‘Ponyville’ to ‘Equestria.’ Hmm, maybe I should buy a new banner.”
“Pinkie! Have you been listening at all?”
“Yeah, yeah, no running off, Pinkie Promise, yadda yadda. But I think the most important question has yet to be asked. So Sam,” she began, face stern, eyes gazing directly into his soul, “what kind of cake do you like?”
Sam found he could no more look away from those piercing baby blues than he could stop breathing. Eventually, he stammered out an answer.
“I- I, uh… I l- like… German chocolate?” He mentally kicked himself. How could she possibly know what that is? However, she broke into a wide grin.
“Alrighty then, Germane chocolate cake it is!” Pinkie hopped out of the room, humming merrily. Sam could only watch her go, unable to bring himself to correct her. A dainty cough drew everyone’s attention.
“Well then, I believe we’ll leave you to your thoughts,” Rarity offered, prompting the other mares to follow her out. “If you need anything, we’ll be just on the other side of this door.”
She gently shut the door behind them, granting Sam the privacy that had so recently been shattered. At first, Sam just gazed listlessly at the closed door, as though waiting for it to burst open into another ridiculous scenario. But it remained obstinately closed. The very atmosphere of the empty room seemed to mock him, silently laughing at his inner turmoil. He put his head in his hands, mind racing to process the life-changing events that had unfolded only minutes prior.
On the one hand, he was out of his gourd with excitement. Not only have I found -- or been found by -- an intelligent alien race, they speak English! He still couldn't quite wrap his mind around it. In a situation like this, something so fortuitous could hardly be coincidence. The implications were staggering. Had their civilizations encountered one another long ago? Were they even part of a common ancestry, like something out of Stargate? As appealing as that sounded, he realized that it was fairly unlikely. Whoever had abducted him from Earth could just as easily have experimented on him, somehow enabling him to understand these ponies.
The thought caused a spike of paranoia to pierce his excitement. On the other hand, what if I was right? What if these ponies were the ones who abducted me? Can I truly trust them? What if I can understand them because they really did alter my mind? Were the feelings of comfort and adoration simply a product of their manipulation? There was no way to know for certain. And yet, even the gnawing doubt in his gut wasn’t enough to sway his conviction of their innocence.
The two arguments warred circularly for prominence amongst Sam’s thoughts. Long seconds dragged out into minutes, his rear end slowly becoming numb from the lack of movement. Finally, discomfort won out over hesitancy and he got to his feet, restoring circulation in his legs. The simple act of stretching brought a familiar, old quote rushing to the forefront of his thoughts.
“It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Sam chuckled. “Well, Tolkien, old boy, I think my case may be a little extreme, but I guess Bilbo’s lesson still applies. I may be on an alien world, on an adventure not of my own choosing, but if I don’t take the reins, who knows where else I might end up? And if I allow that door – the absolute tiniest of my hurdles thus far – to trip me up, my adventure stops here. The only way home is forward.”
Despite his pep talk, Sam still viewed the door with apprehension. But then, another feeling bubbled up, pushing everything else to the side.
“There’s a world out there that’s possibly never been explored by humans.”
He began to shake with nervous energy, fueled by a giddy excitement he hadn’t felt since he was a child. Everything he’d seen so far… It was like his every childhood dream had come true. Gone were the days of adventures in front of a computer screen. Now, he was actually living one. In a few weeks, in the blink of an eye, his entire life had irrevocably changed.
“And damned if I’m not going to do some exploring!”
Sam nodded to himself, fear unceremoniously stuffed into a corner where it wouldn’t get much in the way of his excitement. He straightened the tattered remains of his shirt and pants as best he could. But looking down, the brushing against his neck reminded him of yet another thing that needed grooming. He searched the room and quickly came up with a pair of scissors and even what appeared to be an electric shaver. However, he wasn’t willing to risk it jamming and breaking on his jungle of a beard, so he left it alone.
In a few minutes, he had trimmed his beard down to a finger’s width and hacked away at his mop of a hairdo until a respectable “inch-and-a-half or so” remained. He examined himself in the mirror for the second time that hour.
“Well, I look halfway civilized now, at least,” he appraised. Looking closely at the shaver he had picked out, he realized it was barely any more sophisticated than an electric sheep-shearer. Gingerly, he set it down, as if it was preparing to leap at him and bite into his neck.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give for some disposables. Hell, I’d probably settle for a straight razor. Not that I even have the option to try using one right now. Ah well, at least I look less like a jungle-crazed lunatic.
After another few minutes of cleaning up the mess of hair he left behind, he was standing in before the door to the hallway. He reached for the doorknob with a trembling hand. It came to rest lightly on the cool brass.
It’s now… or never.
Sam took a deep breath and turned the handle.