• Published 1st Jun 2013
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Legend - Radiant Dawn

He was an average man in nearly every sense of the term, but his entire life is flipped upside-down when a push for a paycheck turns into something unexpected...something much more.

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Chapter 14: Unreal

Chapter 14: Unreal

The Ponyville Express was currently chugging away as it ran the track from Ponyville to Canterlot, giving me and the six Elements of Harmony three hours to settle ourselves a bit as we approached the capital. Luckily for me, the train cars were built for comfort and were larger than necessary, so I didn’t need to constantly duck to keep from hitting my head on things.

That wasn’t what was really on my mind at the moment though; instead, I was worried about the multiple pieces of parchment that Twilight had brought with her, and the not-so-subtle glances she kept aiming at me from time to time as she leafed through them. She had told me this morning before we left that she had something important to discuss with me, but hadn’t said anything more once we boarded the train.

For the time being though, I ignored it and chatted with Dash, as I usually did. I got along just fine with all the other Elements, but I always seemed to get on better with Dash and Applejack. Since Applejack was busy having a friendly debate with Rarity and Pinkie Pie was whispering and giggling with Fluttershy, that left Dash and I to ourselves.

“So, how are you feeling after last night?” Dash asked casually, laying on her back across the bench seat with her head in my lap.

I shrugged as I gave a small smile. “Much better now that Vinyl’s talking to me again.” I then frowned a bit and said, “But I’m still unsure what I’m going to say to her about her rather obvious feelings for me.”

Dash was silent for a few moments before looking up to my eyes. “Why not just give it a try? Maybe you’ll like it more than you thought you could.”

I kept silent for a moment as I processed what she said, then shook my head. “I don’t want to just jump into something like that if I’m not serious about it. It wouldn’t be fair to Vinyl, and I don’t want to screw things up between us again.” I brought one of my hands down to the pony in my lap and ran my fingers through her mane as I talked. “It would be like the Wonderbolts calling you to train with them, but then just benching you during shows and never actually letting you fly.”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Jamie, you’re an awesome guy, but I really think you’re overthinking all this. I mean, I’m pretty sure on your planet that people don’t just fall in love at first sight or anything. That only happens in those lame romance novels that Rare reads.”

“I heard that!” Rarity shouted angrily. “Excuse me for being the only pony here that seems to have any notion of romance.” She scoffed as she eyed the position Dash and I were in, then turned away.

Dash stared at Rarity for a moment before continuing. “Anyway, like I was saying, nopony just up and decides they want to spend their entire life with somepony after just meeting them. It takes time; shoot, even I know that.”

I nodded. “And I understand that, but even I know that there’s a certain measure of physical attraction that starts that interest in person. The first things we notice about someone are physical: the way they talk, walk, and even dress. All those things are what catch our attention first, and oftentimes if we aren’t attracted by that, we don’t give further attention.” I shrugged as I continued running my fingers through the rainbow mane. “Like I said before, I don’t find ponies ugly, but neither do I see them as particularly attractive. No offense, but save for your colors, you all actually look a lot alike to me.” Dash looked up at me in confusion, and I chuckled. “If all of you had the same hairstyle and were all colored the same, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without you talking. I identify who you are by your voices and smells, as well as your unique colors.” I separated a lock of Dash’s mane between my index and middle finger, and held it in front of her face. “Especially you. You’re kinda hard to mistake for someone else.”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah. I remember you talking for about a week about how awesome you thought my hair was.”

I held up my hand in a helpless gesture. “What? No one on Earth has hair like yours unless it’s dyed. It’s unique, and I think that’s awesome. In fact, I haven’t seen another pony with hair like yours either.”

Dash chuckled weakly before readjusting herself to be more comfortable. “I got made fun of a lot for it when I was younger, though. Young colts and fillies will find any reason to make fun of you in flight school, and my mane made it easy for them.”

I gave her a wry smile and nodded understandingly. “I can level with that. I was a chubby kid when I was in elementary school, so I got made fun of too. It might be part of the reason I turned out the way I did, honestly.”

Dash smirked and pressed one of her hooves into my stomach, causing me to reflexively flex the muscle there. “You’re not chubby anymore though. I might even go so far as to say I’d pick you first for a game of hoofball.”

I smirked right back and nodded. “Well I’m sure my inner child is thanking you right now.”

Dash nudged me playfully with her head before turning her eyes to Twilight, who was furiously looking over her work. “What do you think Twi’s up to?”

I shrugged, going back to combing her mane with my fingers. “I’m not sure. She told me before we left that she had something she had to talk to me about, but honestly, I think she’s just trying to distract herself and keep from freaking out. This whole coronation is a big step for her, and I don’t think she’s sure how she’s supposed to feel about it yet.” I then smiled fondly and said, “But she’ll be alright. She has me and the rest of you to keep her from losing her cool, and the princesses will make sure everything’s taken care of.” While I still had some things to resolve with Princesses Celestia and Luna, I knew they would look out for Twilight.

“What happened?” Dash asked quietly, looking up at me with mild concern written on her face.

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at her. “What do you mean? I’m fine.”

“Whenever you’re upset about something, your nostrils flare and your left eye twitches a little bit.” she explained placidly. “Both of those happened as soon as you mentioned the princesses, so I know something happened when you were in Canterlot.”

I sighed and looked away, a little ashamed. “I’d rather not talk about it right now, please. After the coronation I’ll explain everything, but right now just isn’t the time. We have more important things to worry about.”

Dash reached her hoof up to bring my face back to look at her, and she stared at me for a second before releasing me and nodding. “Fine. So long as you promise me they didn’t hurt you or anything.”

I shook my head with a small smile. “Not really. Like I said, I’ll explain everything later. Nothing really bad happened, I promise.”

Dash again bore her eyes into me before shrugging and closing her eyes again. “Alright then.”

Twilight then stood and levitated her work away before turning to us and saying, “I’ve something a little important I need to ask you about, Rarity and Pinkie. Could you follow me, please?” With little more than a curious expression, the two ponies followed Twilight out of the cabin and into the hallway, off to talk about whatever was going on.

“So…” Applejack started nervously, looking at Dash and I with a confused expression.

I looked to meet her gaze and raised an eyebrow. “What’s up, AJ?”

Applejack seemed to hesitate for a moment before whispering something to Fluttershy, who blushed and shrugged. Applejack then looked back to me and asked, “Are y’all t’gether now or somethin’? ‘cause yer bein’ awful touchy lately, and Ah’m just curious is all.”

I looked down at Dash and raised an eyebrow, and she just shrugged back at me. With a sigh I looked back to Applejack and shook my head. “No AJ, we’re not. Why, am I doing something I shouldn’t be doing with a friend?”

Applejack seemed to consider my question for a minute before answering, “Well, not really. Ah’m jus’ wonderin’ b’cause Ah ain’t seen RD this close with somepony since Fli-”

“Don’t mention her, AJ...please.” Dash interrupted with a groan. “That was a long time ago, and it was a mistake.”

“Then why…?” Applejack asked, urging one of us to answer her question.

Truthfully, I didn’t have an answer, so I deferred to Dash for an explanation.

Dash took a deep breath before saying, “I don’t have family close by like you do, AJ. I mean sure, I got you girls, but when I get home, I’m alone.” She seemed to compose herself a little more with an uncomfortable grimace on her face. “I don’t have a pony waiting to ask me about how work was today, or tell me ‘it’s alright’ when things go bad; it’s just me. Ever since I moved to Ponyville, that’s how it’s always been.”

“So why not move back ta Cloudsdale? That’s where yer fam’ly is, right?” Applejack asked in confusion.

Dash nodded slowly. “Yeah, that’s where my family is. I don’t want to leave Ponyville though; it’s my home now, and you girls are all here.”

“T-that still doesn’t really explain why you’re so tactile with Jamie, Rainbow Dash. E-especially lately.” Fluttershy commented, finally speaking up.

Dash thought for a few moments about her answer before shrugging. “I guess maybe it’s because we’re so much alike, and I feel like I need to keep him safe.” She then looked back to me and said, “I want to make sure you’re not so lonely, and it’s nice to have somepony to hug that isn’t going to call me lame or a whorse.” At my look of confusion and mild shock, she added, “I’ve got a pretty colorful past, Jamie. It’s part of the reason I left Cloudsdale.”

I know it’s a little unfair, but I’d always seen the ponies of Equestria as more innocent than I was; Dash’s shadowed comment about her past made me rethink my initial assumptions though, and forced me to see a much deeper personality that I didn’t know existed. I suppose we all have things in our past we aren’t proud of, and some of us have no choice but to start anew. I’d had friends who’d had to do that before, for one reason or another, so I was familiar with just how that could affect a person.

Fluttershy gingerly stepped to Dash and nuzzled her before saying, “We’re your friends Rainbow Dash, and we won’t think any less of you for your past. Not ever.” It was clear to me by her expression that Fluttershy knew more than I did, but I wasn’t going to pry. If Dash had things in her past she was trying to forget, talking about it probably wasn’t going to help.

Dash nodded with a smile to her oldest friend (at least from what I understood). “Thanks ‘shy.” Dash then looked to me and explained, “Mostly though, I think it’s because after you blew up on whatsherface when she said she was going to rope you, most ponies don’t want to offend you on purpose. It makes it easier to be close to somepony if I don’t have to worry about ponies thinking we’re together or something. For the most part, they think I’m just being friendly to the weird alien dude, and that’s fine with me. They don’t know you, and if that’s all they think, they don’t need to.” I noticed a rather curiously interesting expression on Fluttershy’s face as Dash voiced her opinion, but it vanished as soon as it had come. Clearly there was something going on that I didn’t know about, but if it was about Dash’s past, it wasn’t my place to pry. She and I were close, but we weren’t close enough for me to stick my nose in her personal business.

“Ah’m just sayin' that it's a big change from the way Dash normally is, and the way you used to be, Jamie." Applejack explained.

I nodded. "Well maybe it was time for a change anyway. I just got sick of keeping people at arm's length when it's unneeded, and I'm pretty sure I can trust all of you." That particular statement would make more sense to them when I explained my time in Canterlot after the coronation.

Applejack seemed to consider my explanation for a moment before smiling and nodding. "Well Ah'm glad ya seemed ta take yer head outta yer ass, Jamie. We were startin' ta think ya jus' didn't like us."

I immediately shook my head, raising my free hand in the air. "Absolutely not. Besides thinking that you all are awesome people, I'm grateful for the fact that you all took me in and fed me when I was homeless and starving. I can't say the same thing would have happened even on my own planet." I then shrugged. "Which is kinda sad, but that's one of the differences between our peoples that I'm happy with."

"W-well," Fluttershy began, in a tentative tone, "if it helps at all, we're glad you're here then. I was so afraid when we first came across you, because we were worried you would die." As she spoke, tears sprang to her eyes. "I can't imagine what it would be like to see somepony in need and just...ignore them."

"We're very different people, Fluttershy." I answered sagely, stroking my beard (and admittedly trying to look cool doing it). "True there are many things we share, but we are also very different in many ways. Thankfully for all of you, not too many of those situations have come up yet, save for the whole thing my kind has against nudity. Other than that though, I notice for the most part that our societies have a lot of things in common." I pointed down at Dash, adding, "This isn't one of those things though, at least in my culture. Compared to ponies, humans like their personal space. In fact, the wrong person even brushing up against another human could start a fight, and unlike here, fights can easily lead to serious injury or death."

Dash already knew this, but Applejack seemed shocked at the barbarism of my kind. Fluttershy, however, seemed oddly calm as she simply nodded with a neutral expression.

"Predators tend to be much more aggressive and territorial." Fluttershy explained softly. "It seems that even higher-thinkers can't escape the power of instincts."

I shook my head ruefully, knowing just how dangerous those instincts could be. "No, we most certainly can not."

Just after speaking, I heard the door to the cabin reopen as Twilight, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity reentered it. After straightening all her notes and clearing her throat, Twilight announced, “Girls, we need to talk.”

Fluttershy turned her eyes from me to Twilight with a worried expression on her face. “W-what is it, Twilight? I hope it’s nothing too serious.”

Twilight shook her head as we all looked to her. “It’s not too serious, at least I don’t think so. However, it does affect all of us in a way.” Twilight’s eyes then migrated to me. “And you too, Jamie.”

I furrowed my eyebrows and pointed a finger at my chest. “Me? Why, what’s going on?”

Twilight hoisted herself upon the seat across from me before tapping her hoof on the papers in her lap. “These are the results of the studies I’ve been doing on the samples you’ve given me, and I’m fairly sure that I can finally speak with everypony present about what’s going on.” Before any of us could speak, she added, “It actually explains quite a few questions that I’ve had, and might give you peace of mind.”

I felt Dash shift her wings a bit as she worriedly asked, “It’s nothing bad, is it?”

Twilight almost shook her head, but settled for shrugging gently. “I can’t really say whether this is inherently positive or negative, but it does complicate things a bit.”

I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose in my fingers, feeling a headache surfacing. “Please stop with all this beating around the bush and just tell us, Twi. We’re already stressed enough as it is.”

Twilight glanced down at her papers once more before nodding. “Alright. Well, I’ve figured out a few things about your biology that you probably want to know, and I think I’ve also discovered how the magic within you is manifesting, at least in part.” I silently motioned for her to continue as we all waited, and she sighed before doing so. “I first had my suspicions when I realized that you had to be expelling the magic somehow, as magic buildup without some sort of outlet would have caused damage to your body. Since you didn’t show any signs of magical sickness, I knew you had to be getting rid of the excess somehow. That’s when I asked for the newest samples, and that’s when I started testing for more subtle magic.” Twilight looked up to me and said, “Your magic isn’t like a pony’s Jamie, and even though you have chaos magic within you, it’s not like Discord’s either. Even though Discord thrives on causing chaos and disorder, he still needs to actively cast his spells most of the time; you don’t.”

I raised my eyebrow skeptically. “So what, I’ve been just bleeding magic or something?”

Twilight caught her lower lip between her teeth as she considered her words for a bit, then answered, “In a sense. Like I said, your magic is subtle. In honesty, I would have never realized just how it was manifesting if I hadn’t first realized that you had to be burning off the excess magic somehow.”

I waited a few moments in silence before urging, “And?”

Twilight gestured to all present. “You’ve been passively affecting the minds of those around you.”

I felt a little stab in my gut at the explanation. If what Twilight said was true, it meant that everything I thought I knew about her and the others might have been a lie, or that I made them think and do things that they wouldn’t have normally thought and done. However, I also couldn’t refute her claim. After all, if there was one thing I knew I could trust Twilight on, it was magic. She knew what she was talking about, and also knew what such a statement implied. Thus, I knew she would have tested and retested before saying what she had.

“Mind control.” I nearly growled. “I’ve been controlling ponies and not even knowing it.”

Twilight shook her head before reaching across the gap and placing a hoof on my knee. “Mind manipulation, actually. Mind control would insinuate that not only are you conscious of what you’re doing, but that those under your influence have no free will of their own. This was proven to be false when Vinyl Scratch reacted towards you the way she did when she found out you were ready to leave her behind without saying anything. It’s not control per se, but rather a form of mental suggestion.” Again she gestured to the ponies present. “It’s how and why we became so close with you so quickly, and why we feel more comfortable around you than even some ponies. You were lonely and afraid, and your magic reacted by drawing us close to you.” Twilight pointed at Dash, who was still laying in my lap. “Rainbow Dash isn’t known for being publicly affectionate towards anypony, nor is she known for communal sleeping. Until you came around, she was very solitary in her day-to-day life.”

“Hey, wait a minute.” Dash interrupted as she pushed herself to a sitting position. “I like being around Jamie because he’s cool, and he’s not like any other stallion. He’s like one of us, and I like that about him.”

Twilight nodded with an unreadable expression. “What about Scootaloo? She’s like a younger sister to you.”

Dash seemed to recoil just a bit, and she rubbed the back of her head nervously. “W-well, uh…”

“I can prove what I’m saying, too.” Twilight stated, standing in front of Dash. “I’m about to cast a shield around you that negates the effect of all outside magic, effectively creating a magical deadzone.”

Dash looked a little more nervous than normal, but nodded as Twilight’s horn began to glow. A shimmering bubble of energy appeared around Dash, and immediately she seemed to tense a bit. I noticed a few things happening, and it appeared Twilight had as well as she let the shield drop.

“Your behavior changed immediately when I negated his aura’s effect on you.” Twilight explained, frowning a little. “You retracted your wings and scooted away from him, without even realizing you were doing it.”

Dash looked up at me with a heartbreaking expression on her face. “R-really?”

I sighed through my nose and nodded glumly. “Yeah. It’s like you suddenly had a personal space bubble, when usually, you don’t care about being around me.”

“I still don’t!” Dash exclaimed loudly, placing her hoof on my shoulder. “You’re one of my best friends, Jay. Magic can’t fake that…” her eyes then shot to Twilight with a bit of a manic twinkle, “can it?”

Twilight held Dash’s gaze for a moment before turning her eyes away. “Magic can do almost anything, Rainbow ‒ it can even create false memories to make somepony remember things that never really happened. Forging a bond where there might never have been one is well within magic’s realm.”

So, there it was. With Twilight’s diligent research, I came to find out that these ponies that care about me might only do so because I was coaxing them to without even knowing it. Similar to any relationship formed on lies, I found myself unable to be sure if the bonds that had formed were real or not. Within only a minute or two, in my mind, I was back to being alone.

“I need some air.” I announced before standing and making my way out of the cabin and toward the rear of the train.

The caboose of the train was fairly quiet thankfully, which was good because my mind was abuzz with thoughts that were so loud I was developing a migraine. The rhythmic click-clack of the train cars over the rails calmed me a bit as I thought, and allowed me to more logically look at what my life had become.

For what felt like years now, I had lived in Equestria. I was stranded and isolated from my kind, and not even the most powerful beings of this planet knew how to get me home. And so, after having a few whiny fits here and there, I started to slowly make Equis my new home, forming relationships and even getting a job. With those relationships came a small sense of normality, and with that normality came a sense of home that I hadn’t felt for a long time, even on Earth. And then, just like that, Twilight had found that my sense of normality might be a lie, and my friendships might be a sham. It put a wide hole in my world view, and even though it hadn’t been a conscious choice on my part, I only had myself to blame.

Now, the question was rather simple: how do you form a real relationship when your own heart and magic work to idealize it all? The problem with this question was that it dealt with things that couldn’t be quantified or touched, and thus, I already had a problem coming up with an answer. Numbers and statistics were easy, after all; hearts were infinitely more complex.

For the first time in my life, I had come across a problem with no end to start at, and no morally-sound solution.

In frustration, I shook my head and opened the door behind me, heading back inside. After all, we had more important things to worry about at the moment. My own personal issues could wait until the new princess was crowned, but mental manipulation or not, Twilight needed me right now.

As I slowly made my way through the different cars, I offered only a polite wave to ponies I would pass. I wasn’t in the mood for talking, but that wasn’t any excuse for rudeness. All the same, I secretly hoped I wouldn’t run into anypony that knew me besides the other Elements. This issue that I had needed to be kept private for the moment, until I could figure out how to deal with it.

Luckily for me, I caught sight of Twilight and a few of the others heading up toward the restaurant car, which meant I could spend some time alone to collect my thoughts before they would return. Just to make sure though, I stepped up to the cabin and prepared to knock, only to see Applejack holding Dash in her hooves as the pegasus shook with sobs. It became clear that this was meant to be a private moment, so I stepped away and prepared to make my way back to the rear car.

“I thought I loved him, AJ!”

The loud, tear-laden proclamation froze me in my tracks, and I turned my eyes back to the cabin in horror. A few confused ponies passed me as I stood stock-still, but offered nothing more than a curious expression as they made their way through the car, heading toward whatever destination they had.

I couldn’t move, and was too afraid to speak. I wasn’t so stupid as to try and rationalize with myself about what she might be talking about, because I knew damn well who “he” was and knew the kind of tears she was currently crying on her friend weren’t of joy. Somewhere deep within myself, I had the desire to know more, so even though I knew I would hate myself later, I leaned against the wall and focused on the sounds of muffled sobs coming from within the cabin.

“It’s gonna be alright, sugarcube.” Applejack murmured to her friend, trying her best to comfort the crying mare beside her.

“Is it?” Dash replied, venom dripping from her words. “I just found out that the only male I’ve ever trusted was making me like him, and he didn’t even know it.”

“Exactly,” Applejack jumped in, “he didn’t. He wasn’t doin’ it on purpose, an’ he wasn’t doin’ it ta be mean. You ‘n Ah both know he’d never hurt ya on purpose.”

I could hear Dash sniffling inside the cabin, and a part of me wanted to rush in and give her a hug, shouting how sorry I was and that I hoped she could forgive me. I wanted to explain to her just how much she meant to me, and tell her that I never wanted to hurt her.

But a stronger (and more calm) part of me told me to stay my hand; now wasn’t the time.

“But how am I s’posed to look at him the same way?” Dash pleaded, her normally strong voice cracking with sorrow. “What am I s’posed to feel when I know that how I feel might not even be real?”

“Ya decide if he’s worth it ‘r not, RD.” Applejack replied softly. “Ya gotta decide if ya really like him enough ta look past this. Don’ think about it right now though, b’cause Ah think we all got some things ta think about.” There was a moment of silence before she continued. “Y’all aren’t tha only one that’s confused, sugarcube. Jus’ get some rest, and we’ll talk about it later.” There was some shuffling within the cabin for a moment before the door opened, and I watched quietly as Applejack slid the door shut. Without looking up at me, she whispered, “How much did ya hear?”

I stared blankly at Applejack for a moment before replying, “Since she shouted that she thought she loved me.”

She sighed before jerking her head forward. “We gotta go find Twi. She said that wasn’t all she needed ta say, but RD needs ta rest on her own fer a spell. C’mon.” Applejack then began trotting away, and I followed silently as I pondered the possible ramifications of what I’d unconsciously done.

The restaurant car was quite a bit more lavish than the rest of the train, though I suppose it was meant to be comfortable and a place to talk to friends. All the same, it didn’t do much to settle my nerves, as I couldn’t help but think about what else Twilight had to say to me. She had said there were several things she had come up with, so I was more than a little anxious, to say the least.

“Jamie,” Applejack said, trotting beside me as we made our way over to the other Element-bearers, “we’re gonna get through this together. No matter what, yer still mah friend, and Ah don’t abandon mah friends.” I didn’t respond vocally, but offered her a short nod as we approached the table that the rest of our friends were sitting at.

Pinkie looked oddly somber compared to her normal mood, but still offered me a warm smile as Applejack and I approached. Twilight lit her horn and pulled out a chair next to her, which I took gratefully, and Rarity also sent a smile my way.

After I had situated myself, Twilight began with, “I know this is probably a lot to take in right now, but I wasn’t finished yet, and I know how much not knowing the situation bothers you.” She took a deep breath and locked her gaze on me. “I just figured we should get the biggest issue out of the way first. These other things are simply for you; they don’t directly affect the rest of us.”

I nodded a few times before asking, “Can I get a drink? Sorry, but I can’t help but feel that a glass of something strong would help.”

Applejack nodded to me before making an odd series of movements to the pony at the bar, to which the barpony nodded and went about mixing a drink together. A moment later, the pony approached and slid the drink to me, and Applejack dropped a few bits on the table for him. I took the iced drink and sipped it without thinking about it, enjoying the familiar burn of honey and whiskey.

“Better?” Twilight asked with a small smile.

I offered my own grin, though it seemed rather unconvincing, even to me. “Better.”

Twilight nodded before stretching out her neck and taking another few breaths to calm herself. “Alright, so we’ve got the big thing out of the way. Now there are just a few minor things I want to make you aware of, so you aren’t surprised by anything and so that you fully understand your situation.” I silently motioned for her to continue as I took another sip of my drink. “Well, first I’d like to talk about your recent physical changes, which includes your teeth.”

I nodded, now honestly interested. “Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that.”

Twilight’s smile widened just a bit as she explained, “Well, from what I can tell, it seems that your magic has fundamentally changed you to be able to more easily survive on Equis. From what I’ve been able to put together, you’ve innately been worried about being in danger because you’re physically weaker than us and can’t cast spells, so your own magic chose to bring out your more predatory characteristics in an effort to allow you to intimidate those that would do you harm, or defend yourself against those that aren’t deterred.”

I raised my eyebrow at this. “And sharp teeth are supposed to help with that? Other than making ‘meat day’ with Spike easier, having larger canines and sharper premolars doesn’t seem to be helping that much.”

Twilight shook her head. “But it does. You have to remember that ponies are innately a prey species, and we subconsciously react in many ways that reflects that. Baring your teeth to a pony that gives you trouble would deter most would-be assailants, and in a pinch, your bite could save your life. You have to remember that your teeth aren’t the only thing that changed, though.”

“My bones.” I added helpfully.

Twilight nodded. “Yes. The condition that you were born with caused you to have weak bones, but simply correcting that condition wouldn’t have been enough for you to be as hardy as a pony. So, your magic changed your biological makeup to make your bones even stronger than a normal human’s, so that you could hold your own against a pony if one were to assault you.” She then sighed with a small smile. “Luckily for all of us, Ponyville is a very peaceful town compared to somewhere like Canterlot or Fillydelphia, but you do feel more safe knowing that your bones aren’t in danger of shattering, don’t you?”

I nodded again. “Well of course. Back at home, I often had to walk down stairs with the utmost care, because one slip could put me in the hospital for months.”

Twilight extended her wing to cover my back as she nodded as well. “Exactly. Your magic reacted to your feelings of vulnerability to make you more durable, and thus more capable of defending yourself if the need arose. Of course, what I found most interesting was something that wasn’t readily observable until I took your blood.” With that, she passed me one of her note pages, which was thankfully written in english.

I looked over her findings, unable to understand much of it, but noticed multiple side notes written for convenience. Much of it seemed to be for Twilight’s sake, but one particular sidenote was in bold, underlined twice, and circled.

“Unknown antibodies present?” I voiced aloud, looking to Twilight as I did so. “I’ve had diseases that ponies can’t get, so wouldn’t it make sense that there are some antibodies that you won’t recognize?”

She nodded, put pointed a hoof at the paper again. “Yes, but the reason why I circled that wasn’t because of the unknowns, it was because of what I did recognize.” I thought it a little backwards to mark things the way she had, but it wasn’t my notes. Instead, I waited patiently as she leafed through her notes and handed me another, which was much more organized than the last. This one she pointed to as she read off the findings. “What you do have are antibodies to pony pox, feather flu, hoof and mouth, unicorpus, and lunar fever. This means that you came into contact with all of these diseases at some point, and you developed a very strong immune response to them even though your body has never come across them before. What’s more, at least from what I can tell, you never actually displayed any symptoms of said ailments, which means either somepony from the CDC injected you with a cocktail of different vaccines, or your magic protected you yet again.”

I furrowed my brow and waved my hand dismissively. “Wait wait wait, you have something called the Center for Disease Control here?”

Twilight cocked her head to the side in confusion. “Well, yes. How do you think most ponies stay so healthy?”

I shrugged and leaned back in my chair, a little placated with the fact that such a familiar entity existed in this world. “No, I know why it’s there, I just find it interesting that it’s called the same thing here that it is on Earth.”

Twilight nodded slowly before clicking her tongue. “I see. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that while unicorpus and feather flu are restricted to only certain types of ponies, the rest can infect any type of pony. Furthermore, pony pox and lunar fever in particular are highly contagious, with the latter often being fatal to a pony that wasn’t given the vaccine as a foal.”

I wasn’t by any means completely understanding when it came to medicine and biology, but even I understood a few things here and there.

I stared hard at Twilight for a few seconds before asking, “But we can’t form antibodies to things our species can’t catch, right?”

Twilight offered an affirmative nod. “Yes, which means that you are vulnerable to these diseases, but somehow you never caught them. The only possible explanation for any of this is that your magic has been actively and preemptively protecting you from the dangers posed to you, which is causing me to have to rethink everything I thought I knew about the way your magic came to be.”

I raised my eyebrow again in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Twilight began, chewing her lip as she glared down at the wooden table we all sat at, “I initially thought that Equis itself bestowed this magic upon you to keep you safe, but with how specific your magic seems to be reacting to stimuli, I think I might have been wrong.” Rarity silently motioned from across the table for Twilight to continue, and we all sat in rapt attention. “Maybe...maybe humans are inherently magical, but your magical nature is dormant because there is no outside catalyst on Earth to awaken your potential.” Twilight shrugged her shoulders weakly, bringing her eyes to mine. “It’s all just speculation, but it makes more sense to me than what I originally thought.”

Even with everything going on, I couldn’t help but chuckle merrily. “God, my world could use someone like you to see the abstract and think of things no one else does.”

Twilight blushed, her cheeks turning a soft maroon. “I’m just looking out for a friend, Jamie. Mental manipulation isn’t powerful enough to form a friendship, it just makes it easier for it to happen. You’ll always be my friend, and I want to make sure you’ll be healthy and safe.”

I smiled gently and moved my hand to hold Twilight’s hoof, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Thanks, Twilight. I always feel safer knowing that I have you by my side.”

“And I’ll always be there, no matter what.” Twilight replied, placing her other hoof onto my hand and gesturing with her head to the other four ponies gathered. “We all will.” The other Element-bearers all nodded their assent, and Twilight released me, still keeping her wing around my shoulders. “Friends are there when they’re needed, and you need us.”

My smile got just a little wider as I said, “Thanks. God knows I’m going to need the support with everything that’s going down.” I lifted my drink with my as I stood, and felt Twilight’s wing retreat from my back as I stretched my shoulders and back. “Anyway, I think I’ll just wander around for a bit, but I think Dash needs you all right now. I have a feeling she isn’t going to want to speak with me, but she shouldn’t be alone either.” I shared a meaningful look with Applejack, but said nothing more.

Applejack hopped off of her chair and stepped over to me. “You don’t need ta be alone either, though.” She turned her head to look at her friends as she said, “Ya’ll go keep an eye on RD. Me ‘n Jamie are gonna mosey. Come find us if somethin’ comes up.” Applejack didn’t wait for an answer as she bit my sleeve and pulled me with her as we left the restaurant car.

We made our way toward the rear of the train again, stopping at the caboose and stepping outside for some air, watching the rolling hills passing us by as we made our way toward Canterlot. Though I couldn’t see the city yet, what with all the mountains in the way, I knew it’s where we were headed. This in turn caused a spike of worry to bloom within me as I realized that not only would I have to explain exactly what happened while I was in Canterlot, but also that I would have to confront the princesses about what had been done to me.

Honestly though, I was looking forward to the latter.

My thoughts were interrupted as something was plopped down on my head, and I looked to my left to see Applejack returning to leaning against the railing in front of us, now hatless. I reached up and touched the broad brim of her signature hat, and couldn’t help but smile as I felt the worn fabric between my fingers.

“One ‘a mah lucky hats.” she said, her tied blonde mane whipping about a little in the wind. “Ah got a bunch of ‘em, so you keep that one. Maybe it’ll do ya some good.”

“If you have a bunch of them,” I began, pressing the hat firmer against my head so it didn’t fly away, “then how can they all be lucky?”

Applejack chuckled and shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe b’cause they’re mine, and Ah’m a lucky pony.”

I rolled my eyes at Applejack, just causing her to laugh louder as we stood together against the railing, watching the beauty of nature pass us. After a few seconds, I joined in with some chuckles of my own until we were both laughing loud and hard like fools, neither of us particularly caring. It felt good after everything that had happened, and for a few moments, everything did feel like it would be alright.

“Everything’s gonna be fine, Jamie.” Applejack spoke as she looked out over the landscape, lightly bumping her shoulder into me. “Yer not alone in this, and no matter what, ya got me.”

I thought for a moment before grimacing. “What if that’s just my magic making you feel like that?”

“Then Ah’d be alright with that.” she responded without hesitation. Applejack turned her emerald eyes to mine and smiled gently. “It ain’t yer fault, and all that besides, y’all have have proven yerself ta be a good friend. Magic didn’t help me ‘n Mac bring down that barn, and magic didn’t help me get ‘bloom home when she got sick at school.” Before I could say a word, she continued with a more powerful memory she had of us. “Magic wasn’t there ta help me set up mah pa’s birthday celebration, and it didn’t hold me when Ah cried because no matter how many years pass, he ain’t never comin’ to it.” She pressed her hoof to her head and said, “Those memories are real, and Ah know that because you know that, and so does Mac ‘n Applebloom. No matter what anypony else tells ya, that’s what makes a good friendship. Ya gotta be willin’ ta go through bad stuff t’gether, and come out tha other side alive. A lotta times it ain’t pretty, but the friends that made it through with ya are better because they know who ya really are, and have seen ya at your worst.” She looked up at the morning sky and smiled fondly. “Tha girls ‘n Ah have been through a lot t’gether, and that’s why we’re so close.” Applejack then pressed her hoof into my side. “But you and me’ve been through rough patches t’gether too, and we were there for each other. So, magic or no magic, Ah ain’t leavin’ ya behind.”

I smiled as a warmth flooded me, and slung my arm around Applejack’s shoulders, pulling her closer to me. She didn’t resist, and rested her head under my chin as we stood together.

Maybe this magic inside me helped me get where I was, but I wasn’t going to give up my friends without a fight. What I had was what I held precious now, and it was worth preserving. Besides, I knew that with a determined pony like Applejack at my side, I could weather almost anything the world had to throw at me. Things with Dash had become very complicated rather quickly, but I wasn’t as worried anymore. I knew Applejack had my back, and I knew that no matter what, that would be plenty.

For just a few moments of serenity, I forgot about my plight and enjoyed the embrace of a friend as we headed to one of the most beautiful cities in the world.