• 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 15: Rekindle

Chapter 15: Rekindle

Applejack and I spent nearly an hour and a half alone sitting outside the rear of the train, just talking and getting to know the specifics of each other’s lives. True that I knew her pretty well by now, but it was always nice to hear the little stories that built the pony that ran Sweet Apple Acres. In my opinion, I think it did me a world of good to just sit and talk with a friend. It allowed me to realize that even though this mindfuck my magic seems to produce helped me get to where I was, it had still taken my own personality to form the bond that Applejack and the others shared with me. While it was true that I was closer with Twilight, Applejack, and (hopefully) Rainbow Dash than the other three, I still considered them all to be friends. I silently decided that even if these relationships were formed under less-than-ideal pretenses, I still wanted them, and still treasured the ponies that had come to care about me.

While in my introspective mood, I came to notice just how much I had changed as a person since coming to Equestria. Perhaps it was because of a lack of so much that I had known on Earth, but I found that I came to value people over things. True that I had never really had trouble becoming a friend to someone when I put my mind to it, but I rarely (if ever) actively sought out other people, instead choosing to isolate myself within the safety of my home with my computer. Now, I could honestly say that I didn’t miss that life. So much had changed, and much of it had been difficult to come to terms with, but the one thing that I could honestly say I could not give up was the friendships I had formed. Granted I had fought it in the beginning, but once I took my head out of my ass I realized just how much these ponies meant to me.

Twilight, for example, was my rock. In the turbulent sea of my recent life, she was my life raft. When I was feeling depressed or angry about something, she had been there, even if I didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t count the number of times that a simple sentence or smile from her had been enough to change the outlook of my day, simply because I knew that while she might not completely understand me, she tried, and was more than willing to help me whenever I asked.

Applejack was as close to a sister as I could hope to have in Equestria. She was kind and loyal to her friends and family, and far more intelligent than she gave herself credit for. Having lost both of her parents at a young age, she was able to relate to my own loss in some way, which made it more comfortable for me to open up to her. Her desire for honesty in all forms drove her to push the truth in my face, even if I sometimes didn’t want to hear it. And, while it might earn her my temporary ire, she never backed down when she decided I needed to hear words of advice. I owed her my sanity.

Octavia and Vinyl were a match made in heaven ‒ one loud and passionate, the other gentle and soothing. Truthfully, I didn’t know how they had become friends in the first place, but I know that both of them had done their part in earning both my affection and respect. They were successful businessponies, and yet down-to-earth enough that I wasn’t intimidated by them. They had been two of the first friends I made in Equestria, and had done their part in making sure I didn’t feel lonely. Vinyl would take me out drinking to shoot the breeze and just hang out, while Octavia took it upon herself to allow Equestria’s only human to vent sometimes. Both were important to me, and while I couldn’t share Vinyl’s specific feelings, I cared deeply for them both.

Then of course was Rainbow Dash, Equestria’s wonder of the skies and the most loyal person I had ever met. I’d never known anyone quite like her before, and it wasn’t simply because of her unique hair. Beyond the bravado and pride I had found an immense well of emotion, and someone who would die before abandoning a friend. Even with everything I had put her through ‒ from my childish behavior to my reluctance to get close to anyone ‒ she had persevered through it all, and had become one of the most important people in my life. Today, I found she might love me in a way that was obviously not platonic, and yet I didn’t find myself feeling particularly put-off or upset. I knew that no matter what, she would still be a friend to me, and that was more important than anything else I could think of. With time, we could both get through it together, and become closer because of it.

Whenever I thought of those important to me, there were three others that would come to mind, but they seemed to be floating just on the outside of my conscious thought. Shudder seemed like a good pony, but I couldn’t tell whether her behavior toward me had been simply because of the job or if it was genuine. Then, there were Celestia and Luna, neither of which I could figure out. Friends don’t order a guard to lock their friend away for months, after all. As far as I was concerned, that alone would be enough to permanently ruin a friendship, but I also couldn’t help thinking that something about that situation didn’t add up. While I didn’t know either of the two princesses all that well, they both seemed loving and intelligent, so I knew there had to be something else to their motives. I would have to ask them when I spoke to them after I arrived in Canterlot, because it was an answer that I needed.

In addition to the issue with the princesses, I had to decide what to tell the others. I had promised Dash that I would tell them all what was going on, but I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to do that anymore. Even though I wanted to get everything out in the open, a part of me didn’t want to permanently tarnish their image of their rulers. Beyond simply making the six ponies angry, I was unsure how it would affect the Elements of Harmony. I still didn’t know much about them, so for all I knew, it depended on the harmony of friendship and trust. That alone upset me, and the fact that there was still so much about this world I didn’t understand complicated matters.

As the train continued its journey to Canterlot, I spent much of my time in the restaurant car, as it was the only place I was not going to encounter Dash unless she wanted me to. I did it more for her benefit than mine, as I was unsure how she was feeling. What I did know was that she was going to need time to deal with what was going on between her and I. From what little I could deduce, it was clear she had a problem trusting males, and so for me to try and work things out immediately would have been detrimental to our relationship. Even though I couldn’t say loved her romantically, I did care for her quite a bit, and didn’t want to risk losing a friend simply because I was impatient. For her ‒ or any of my friends, for that matter ‒ I could be patient. She was worth it, and I was going to make sure she knew it.

Other than asking Applejack to pass on my message to Dash (about me waiting), I kept to myself. Ponies here and there would spend a little too long eyeing me, but at this point I wasn’t bothered by it. Truth be told, if I were on Earth and an odd-colored talking pony was suddenly seen walking down the strip, I’d probably stare too. It was simply something I was going to have to deal with, because of my unique form. No matter how long I lived on this planet, I was going to be seen as different simply because of how I looked.

Since we had only a little under an hour left until we arrived at Canterlot, I busied myself with nursing my third glass of whiskey and thought about what was to come for us all. I couldn’t claim to know how the public was going to react to me, as I knew that most of the ponies at the coronation were going to be from Canterlot, which meant that most of them wouldn’t know who and what I was. I hoped that my close proximity to Twilight and her friends would help assuage any fears or misgivings presented, but that was only a best-case scenario. I knew by experience that things rarely went according to plan for me, so I kept that in mind to prepare myself. Beyond that though, there was the fact that one of my friends was going to become royalty. I’d never personally known royalty before the princesses or Twilight, so I was unsure how that was going to affect us all. While I wasn’t particularly worried about any of the Element-bearers changing their stance toward me, I knew for a fact that some ponies weren’t going to be comfortable with my close relationship with Twilight. Putting aside the fact that I was an alien, I reminded myself that I was male, and simply because of my gender things could become complicated. If ponies were anything like humans when it came to gender roles, I knew that things could become pretty volatile if I were seen casually conversing with Twilight in public. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but I was always a “better safe than sorry” type of guy.

The thought of Twilight brought a smile to my face.

Though she was young, I couldn’t think of a better person to be put in a position of power. I knew that I could trust her not to take advantage of the powers vested in her, and I was fairly certain that she was strong enough of mind and heart not to let the stress of her new title change who she was. She was kind and thoughtful, and had vast potential when it came to leading others. Just from what I’d seen and heard already, it was clear that while she didn’t openly think herself to be a leader, she was more than ready to take charge of any situation if it was required. She was a quick learner and had the ability to weigh multiple outcomes to a situation, choosing the best solution quicker than I could ever hope to. Twilight was a born leader, and I knew with every atom of my being that she would make an amazing ruler for her people.

It was at that moment that an odd thought came to mind.

On Earth, sometimes young children could be named a king or queen, depending on the country. I had a sudden flash of self-loathing when I realized I didn’t actually know how old Twilight or the others were. It’s not that such information would really change how I saw any of them, but I had simply never thought to ask. While I knew I couldn’t really compare Equestrian ponies to their non-magical counterparts of Earth, I knew that terrestrial equines could walk only an hour or so after birth, and quickly became independent within a year or two. Along with the fact that I didn’t actually know the lifespan of Equestrian ponies, this meant that I knew even less about ponies than I thought.

What was considered old for a pony; what was considered young? These were questions that I began asking myself, as it could become important at some point. Did it mean that I, at only twenty-four, was the oldest of our little group? Could Vinyl, a well-established musician, be under fifteen? I suppose I couldn’t really compare ponies to humans in terms of age, because so much was different, but it would be frowned upon on Earth for someone my age to have a young teenager pining after them.

I knew that there was only one way I was going to get an answer, and as I looked around the dining car, I decided it was probably best to just find Twilight and ask these questions directly. I decided to do just that, as I was positive it was going to bother me until I knew, so I stood and nodded to the bartender before heading back toward the cabins to look for Twilight.

It didn’t take me long to find Twilight, since I nearly tripped over her as I opened the door out of the dining car.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you okay Jamie?” Twilight asked worriedly, Fluttershy and Rarity in tow.

I nodded with a smile, rubbing my forearm, which had contacted the door frame as I caught myself. “Yeah, I’m cool. I’m actually glad you girls are here, because I have a few random questions for you all.”

Twilight arched her eyebrow at me. “How random? And why do you have AJ’s hat?”

I reached up again and touched the brim of the stetson, smiling to myself. “She gave it to me, saying it was lucky and that she wanted me to have it. Anyway, the questions are nothing personal. It’s just regarding things related to ponies that I don’t know, and realize I never thought to ask.”

Twilight smiled at me and nodded. “Oh, alright. Let’s get a table and an early lunch, and you can ask us whatever you want.”

I followed the three ponies as we sat in a small booth (small for me, anyway) and motioned to a server to take our orders. After giving him our meal choices, we all got comfortable.

“Alright Jamie,” Twilight began, nudging me with her shoulder as she sat next to me, “what questions did you have for us?”

I reached up and scratched my beard before answering, “Well it’s regarding a few things, actually. First of all, how long do ponies live?”

Twilight looked to her two companions before shrugging to me. “It depends on the pony, really. Generally speaking, the more magic a pony has within them, the longer they live. The average earth pony tends to have the least magic, and they live anywhere from fifty to one hundred years.”

Fluttershy softly picked up the answer from there. “Pegasi have a little more magic in them than earth ponies do; we have to, since we use it to fly and move clouds. Pegasi tend to live about eighty years, depending on where they live, with pegasi in pegasus cities like Cloudsdale living longer.”

“Why is that, Fluttershy?” Rarity asked in interest.

Fluttershy ducked her head a bit and shrugged gently. “Um, n-nopony really knows. Pegasus and unicorn researchers think it might have something to do with their regular use of magic, since they use it almost all the time to walk on clouds. The researchers think that with more magic flowing through them, their body cells degenerate slower.”

I then turned my eyes to Twilight, who was smiling. “Because of the amount of magic they use every day, and have within them, unicorns live the longest, spanning anywhere from one hundred fifty to three hundred years.”

“Wow.” I breathed in astonishment. After a moment of taking the information in, I asked, “What about alicorns?”

Twilight sighed, letting her ears droop. Her body language already told me that she didn’t know, but I let her answer anyway. “Nopony really knows for sure. The only alicorns we’ve known about before me were Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Cadence. Cadence was born a unicorn like me, and ascended to become an alicorn when she was revealed to have a connection with the Crystal Heart. Celestia and Luna though...they’re thousands of years old already, and show no sign of physical age.” Twilight then swallowed and narrowed her eyes a bit as she added, “I remember when I was little, I told Princess Celestia that I wanted us to be together forever.” She blushed a bit. “It seems a little silly now, but I remember her saying that nothing is forever. I’m still not sure what she meant by that, but maybe if I ask her, she’ll give me an answer now.”

“Well she should.” Rarity stated, a little indignation clear in her voice. “After all, it concerns you too, now.”

Twilight bit her lip, and I could see already in her facial expression that she was thinking about what it would be like to live that long.

“To be honest,” Twilight started in a somber tone, “I’m not sure I want to know anymore.”

Fluttershy nodded in understanding, but Rarity asked, “Why not, darling? Surely-” Rarity cut herself off, her eyes widening slightly in realization.

Twilight sighed and lowered her head, her nose almost touching the table in front of us. “If you were going to outlive all of your friends, would you want to know?” I wrapped my arm around Twilight’s shoulders, and she leaned into me as she continued. “I know that unicorns live longer than most, but I don’t want to outlive all of you. Maybe at some point I’ll ask them, but right now, it’s not something I want to think about. I don’t want to imagine life without my friends.”

“Your future’s still yours, you know.” Fluttershy softly commented, reaching across the table to take her friend’s hoof in her own. “No matter what the truth is, it doesn't’ have to be a scary thing. My mother always told me that I should prepare for the future, but live in the present; the best things in life happen today.”

Yet again, I was surprised by Fluttershy. As her name suggested, she was very shy and soft-spoken, but was more than willing to stand up when her friends needed her. She displayed a strength and wisdom I hoped I could have, and her words seemed to instantly raise Twilight’s mood.

Twilight smiled at her friend, and brought her hoof over the yellow one to gently squeeze it before releasing. “Thank you, Fluttershy. That really helped me.”

Movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned to see the unicorn server waiting patiently, levitating a large tray above his back. He smiled sheepishly and said, “Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt anything.” With my nod, he went about setting the plates of hay and oats on the table, along with a garden salad for me. After placing our drinks, he offered a curt nod before turning and leaving, letting us enjoy our meal.

The four of us ate silently for a bit, just letting the relevant information sink in. For me, it was quite a bit of information, and to find that unicorns could live up to three hundred years was a little surprising. For Twilight, it was a comfort for her to know that things didn’t have to be bad, even if she was destined to live such a long life. It allowed our minds and emotions to settle a bit until I felt comfortable breaking the silence.

“So, I actually have one more question.” I asked after swallowing a particularly tasty slice of tomato.

Twilight looked up at me and put down the small bundle of hay. “What is it, Jamie?”

I quirked my lips to one side for a moment before asking, “How old are all of you? I never actually asked.”

The three ponies finished their bite of food or sip of drink before looking to me, Fluttershy answering first. “I turned seventeen a month ago.”

“Twenty-two.” Rarity said with a smile.

Twilight nodded to me and said, “Nineteen. I think Pinkie Pie is a year younger than Fluttershy, and Applejack is eighteen. I’m not sure about Rainbow Dash.”

“O-oh,” Fluttershy spoke up (an odd phrase to use for her), “Rainbow Dash is turning nineteen at the end of this month.”

I was subtly relieved at the fact that of the six Element-bearers, the one that might be attracted to me was within an acceptable age range. Of course, it’s not that it really mattered since I wasn’t dating ponies, but it would have felt weird to have a young teenager crushing on me, especially with how close we were.

“How long do humans live?” Twilight asked curiously. While she knew my age, I hadn’t directly told her the lifespan of humans.

I shrugged, again scratching my beard. “It depends on a number of factors, but generally the limit is a hundred, with fifty-five to seventy being the norm.”

“Are there different types of humans?” Twilight asked curiously, her subtle excitement not so subtle.

I shrugged. “Different colors maybe, but generally we’re all the same. We all have the same basic body style, the same senses, and the same physical limitations. Well, generally anyway. Some of the races are stronger or taller than others, but it’s generally the same across the board.”

“That sounds rather droll, darling.” Rarity commented, daintily sipping her glass of red wine.

I shrugged again, taking another bite of my salad. “It’s worked pretty well for us so far. Any advantages different races of humans have are largely cultural, not biological. The Inuit, for example ‒ which is a race of humans who live in the northern hemisphere, near the pole ‒ don’t survive there because they’ve evolved to, but rather because they have cultural lessons that they pass on to the next generations, teaching them how to survive in such a cold and often desolate environment. They’re good at it because they learn to be, not because they’re born that way.”

The three mares all nodded slowly, understanding slowly washing over them.

The four of us went back to eating silently, now that questions had been answered and emotions settled. The silence allowed me to think again on things, this time on my future and that of my friends. If what Twilight said was accurate, she would likely outlive all of us. I knew for a fact that most of them would outlive me, since I was the oldest out of all of them, and I tended to do stupid things. Besides that though, I thought of our future as friends, and the possibilities were near-endless. Visions flashed through my head of many things:

Twilight Sparkle having a school named after her, smiling confidently as she watched students enter it for the first time.

Rarity as a mare of advancing years, still classically beautiful and still masterfully creating some of the most unique and amazing dresses the world had ever seen.

Fluttershy, happily trotting through a forest with a young red-coated pegasus filly, nuzzling the little pony as they did so.

Rainbow Dash realizing her dream as a Wonderbolt, standing proud on a cloud overlooking the next generation of great fliers.

Applejack, aged but still strong, sitting with her older brother on their front porch, and looking with pride out over the vast fields of Sweet Apple Acres.

Pinkie Pie, smiling widely as she sat with her friends at a table, celebrating years of friendship with her closest and most treasured friends.

Lastly, I saw Vinyl on stage doing her thing, while her best friend Octavia smiled supportively at her from the crowd, screaming her name.

I didn’t know whether any of these visions would come true, but they were possibilities; they might happen or they might not. When I thought about it seriously, I couldn’t readily discount anything anymore, as I was in a world inhabited by creatures of legend that used magic regularly. The impossible had become possible for me, so thinking that something couldn’t happen was a rather narrow-minded and ignorant viewpoint.

As I further sank into my own mind, the idea of infinite possibilities began to take my thoughts and run with it, bringing all sorts of things to mind. The most prominent things to come to mind were that of a romantic partner, or lack thereof. I remembered that mere moments after I had heard Dash’s private talk with Applejack, I found myself silently grumbling, “Why can’t she be human?” It was an odd thought to be sure, but the truth was that had she been a human, I would have readily returned her feelings, or Vinyl’s for that matter. More than simply being lonely, I liked them both. I enjoyed their company, cared for them as great friends, and had been through quite a bit with them both. Such a history, however short, was a great foundation for a strong romantic relationship, but I just couldn’t. No matter what, there was always that mental block within me that just wouldn’t let me take a step into that unknown, regardless of how much better it would probably make things. The worst part was, I knew it would probably make things better, for me and someone else. Even so, I just couldn’t help what I felt...or rather, didn’t.

“Why are you resisting so much?”

The thought came to mind unbidden, and I felt it was not my own. There was no voice, rather the thought was simply...there. I was unsure of just what magic’s limitations were, so I looked up at both Rarity and Twilight to see if they seemed to be hiding something. As I glanced at them, neither seemed particularly suspicious, and both offered me gentle smiles as they continued their meals. I knew both of them well enough to know that both became very nervous when lying, so it was clear to me that neither had used magic on me or something to put that thought there. So, the real question was, where had it come from?

“Are you alright, Jamie?” Fluttershy’s voice floated over to me.

I looked at her and gave a reassuring smile, nodding. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Fluttershy eyed me with suspicion for a moment before slowly turning her eyes back to her food. I suspected she could tell something big was on my mind, but also knew she wasn’t going to press me to spill the beans.

I’d have to watch that pegasus. She was too sharp for her own good.

The door to the far end of the dining car opened and closed, revealing Applejack as she trotted over to us. She had a rather weary expression on her face, and it was more than clear to me why.

“How is she?” I asked nervously.

Applejack sighed, running a hoof through her unfettered mane. “RD’s copin’. She’s nappin’ right now.”

I sighed and shook my head, taking a long draw of my drink. “I just wish it hadn’t turned out this way. Although, I guess it wouldn’t be quite so complicated if-” I cut myself off, looking to Applejack with worry.

She motioned to me to continue with a hoof, squeezing into the booth beside me. “Go ahead, they already know.”

I nodded. “It would just be a lot less complicated if one of my friends hadn’t fallen for me, or think she did.”

“It’s rather clear to all of us just how she feels about you, darling.” Rarity countered.

“And there’s no spell that exists that can make one pony fall in love with another.” Twilight explained, just before adding, “Love potions don’t count, and the effects would have worn off in less than a day.”

“She’s felt this way for weeks.” Fluttershy said softly, causing all of us to look at her. Her nervous nature flared up a little, and she hid behind her mane as she continued. “R-Rainbow Dash trusts me with things l-like this. I’ve known her the longest, and she knows I would be her friend no m-matter what.” She cleared her throat and straightened her posture, and her voice strengthened a bit. “Whenever Rainbow Dash needs to talk to somepony about her feelings, she comes to me...and she’s been feeling very strongly about Jamie for a long time, only recently admitting to herself that she likes him as more than just a friend.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion, running my gaze over the four gathered around me. “So what are you trying to say?”

Twilight nudged me with her shoulder, getting my attention. “Magic can help to strengthen emotions that already exist, but it can’t create romantic love from nothing. For example: no matter how close you and I became, I just could never see you as a possible partner. It has nothing to do with you either, because I honestly don’t care that you’re a human ‒ you’re just not my type.” She shuffled a bit to extend her wing around my back before saying, “If Rainbow Dash feels like she could see you as a special somepony, it’s because the basis for those feelings were already there, whether she knew it or not.”

“A spark of love is very different from a spark of friendship, dear.” Rarity explained, her tone soft and comforting. “No matter how strong the magic, one cannot fall in love with another they can not see in that specific light.”

I raised an eyebrow, causing Applejack to say, “It’s like if her heart ain’t got tha right-shaped place fer you ta fit in, it ain’t never gonna happen.”

I nodded with realization, stroking my beard (it’s comforting, sue me). “That makes sense.”

“So you see,” Twilight began, her tone a little annoyed, probably from me understanding Applejack better than her, “your magic never made Rainbow Dash care about you the way she does, it simply helped her to see what was already there.”

Again I raised my eyebrow skeptically. “So what, she was destined to love me? Besides that sounding like a load of shit, it’s probably the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Well I think it’s romantic.” Rarity swooned, placing her forearm on her forehead and slumping against the seat. “Two star-crossed lovers, separated by both culture and species, destined for a life of love! From the single spark of their first meeting, an inferno of passion blazes forth and-”

“Rarity this is real life, not one of your romance novels.” I deadpanned, staring at the unicorn with an unamused face.

Rarity crossed her hooves and pouted, sticking her bottom lip out pitifully. “Well I thought it would have been quite romantic, thank you.”

“I understand that, but I’m not feeling any ‘inferno of passion’,” I explained, just before sighing and lowering my eyes to the table, “and that’s the problem. I can’t return her feelings, Rarity. Every time I reach through my mind and envision a human woman just like Rainbow Dash, my heart starts racing; whenever I think about Rainbow Dash as she is though, there’s nothing there.” I shrugged helplessly, a little ashamed, to be honest. “I’m not grossed out or anything anymore, I just don’t feel anything.”

“Ponies are gross to you?” Rarity asked with a hint of offense.

I shrugged. “Used to be, and only in the intimate sense. You have to remember that where I’m from, ponies are just beasts of burden. They aren’t intelligent, and look quite a bit different than you all do. I feel bad saying it, but you all still resemble them, which is why things have been so difficult for me. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve wanted to scratch one of you between the ears, or press my face against yours while I pet you and whisper soothing things into your ear.”

Through Rarity’s white fur, I could very clearly see as her cheeks began to redden, and she fanned herself with a hoof. “Oh my, that sounds like quite the romantic evening to me.”

I raised an eyebrow at the comment. “Even with the scratching between the ears?”

“Especially with that.” Applejack answered, grinning a bit. “Gotta remember, ponies can’t reach there very well, so for someone we trust to do it for us…” She sighed and got a dreamy look in her eyes. “It’s a pony thing, really. Suffice ta say it feels real good, but Ah can’t say it’s somethin’ restricted ta just special someponies.”

“So you wouldn’t mind if I just…” I voiced, just before reaching my hand behind Applejack and gently scratching her head, just between her ears.

I felt as Applejack’s powerful shoulder muscles instantly relaxed at my touch, and she actually slumped a little against me with a soft whinny of happiness. I laughed aloud at her response, but continued my action.

“So this isn’t weird at all?” I asked curiously. “Because I have to say, I’ve been having to restrain myself from doing this pretty much every moment I’m around you recently. I don’t think any of you have any idea just how cute you can be sometimes.”

Twilight shook her head. “There’s nothing strange about it. It’s a pony cultural thing, and I actually think it evolved from a time when our ancestors manually groomed each other. It’s common between trusted friends, family members, and special someponies. While it isn’t considered a particularly intimate action, it still isn’t generally done in public, and never with ponies who haven’t expressed a strong friendship with you.” She then cleared her throat and said, “For example: if you were to strike up a conversation with one of the ponies in here and then try to do that, it would end badly.” Twilight then placed a hoof to her chin and mused, “Although, now that I think about it, males generally don’t participate in that specific behavior.”

“The grooming thing?” I voiced in confusion.

Twilight shook her head. “Physical contact in general. Other than with their offspring or special someponies, male ponies tend to keep to themselves.”

I chuckled aloud, nodding at the thought. “Yeah. I can’t say male humans are all that touchy either. In fact, being too touchy around guy friends can get you hazed or even alienated. It’s just not something that’s done, and I’m not entirely sure why.” I shrugged my shoulders, feeling as Applejack pushed against my hand that had stopped its work. I resumed the gentle run of fingers through mane, and looked back to Twilight. “Some parts of our society are a little homophobic, especially the male population. That might be part of it.”

Twilight quirked an eyebrow at my words, looking completely confused. “Homophobic? What does that even mean?”

I furrowed my brow with my own confusion. “You don’t know what homophobia is?” The mares (minus Applejack) all shook their heads. “Well, it refers to a permeating feeling of strong discomfort toward homosexuals and their lifestyle, which can range anywhere from mere aversion to outright hostility.”

Twilight’s eyes widened in understanding, and she frowned a little bit. “Why would anypony hate another simply because of who they love? That’s just...wrong!”

“I must agree.” Rarity cut in, almost angrily. “One cannot control who their heart yearns for, and sometimes that may be the same gender. It is not within anypony’s rights to decide who another can and cannot love.”

I nodded in agreement. “I feel the same way. The problem is that we have several organized religions on Earth that portray homosexuality as something evil, and some feel that if people disagree or won’t listen, the need to be made to listen.” I sighed woefully, feeling a bit upset at my world’s history. “It took many years for homosexuals to even have the right to marry in many countries, but even now, it’s probably still difficult for them. Even with all the time that’s passed on Earth by now, human nature doesn’t change, and the religious lessons ‒ whether they be right or wrong ‒ can span thousands of years.”

“Humans are weird.” Twilight commented dryly.

I nodded, feeling Applejack lay her head against my shoulder as she began to softly snore. “We’re definitely one of a kind.”

Fluttershy watched in silence as Applejack slept against me, and offered a small smile. From what all Applejack’s friends had told me, she had a habit of working herself too hard, even when she had two other capable members of the Apple family to help her on the farm. Her pride in her work was one of the things her friends loved about her, but her workaholic mentality worried them at times. So rarely did I actually see her rest that it was a sort of privilege to see her relaxed enough to sleep next to me. By Fluttershy’s expression, it was clear she believed Applejack needed it, so I kept still and let the farm mare rest as we continued the journey to Canterlot.

As the four of us finished off our meals, Twilight’s wing never left my back, and Applejack’s warmth never left my side. Even with the shocking realization of what the magic within me had done, they had proven that they were more than willing to work through it with me, and would not abandon me. I hadn’t had much time to truly come to terms with just what my subconscious mind manipulation had been doing for all the time I’d been in Equis, but knowing that my friends would still stick by my side did wonders to kill my worry.

After so long being solitary in my life, I couldn’t honestly say how I had lived so long without the comfort of close friends, and the love they shared with me.

I brought my thoughts to dwell within, and analyzed myself and the recent thought that had come to mind; when had I become so emotionally adept? Before coming to Equis (and for awhile after), I was socially and emotionally retarded. I always felt a little awkward speaking to people in person, regardless of whether I knew them or not. I suppose my recent adaptation to social interaction had to do with the fact that I spoke to ponies every day, and even lived with one. I didn’t have a choice but to be around them nearly every second of every day, so I had developed very quickly as far as social etiquette was concerned. Besides that fact, I realized that a few things about my thought processes were different as well. For example: when humans spoke about love in a general sense, more often than not, the first thing most people thought of was romantic love. However, just in the short time I’d been in Equestria, I had come to readily identify and be able to speak about the many different types of love that filled this world. Familial, friendly, and even romantic love were things I could speak about without feeling awkward, which in itself was odd for me.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was simply adaptation to a new environment, or magic’s effect on me.

“Bit for your thoughts, Jamie?” Rarity chimed, smiling warmly at me.

I just shook my head. “Nothing really going on in my head at the moment. Just a little introspection is all.”

“Anything in particular, darling?” Rarity prodded gently.

I shrugged my free shoulder, the one that wasn’t occupied by Applejack. “Just how much I’ve changed in under a year. I thought I knew who I was, and now all the sudden I look at myself ‒ the way I talk, act, and even think ‒ not quite recognizing the person I’ve become. It’s not a bad thing really, just odd.”

I felt the wing on my back press a little tighter against me as Twilight’s hoof found my hand, and I turned to see the alicorn gazing back at me with a bright smile. “We know who you are, Jamie; you’re our friend, and no matter what happens, we’ll always be here to guide you through whatever insanity ensues.”

I was about to make a snarky remark on her latter comment about insanity, but realized that Ponyville was a bit of a disaster magnet. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that things would never be boring there.

“Next stop, Canterlot! Prepare for arrival!” announced a loud voice over speakers placed throughout the train.

Fluttershy rose from her seat and slid out of the booth, shifting her wings a bit. “I should probably go and help Pinkie get Rainbow Dash ready.”

I knew that there was going to be more to Fluttershy’s interaction with Dash than just “getting her ready”, but I simply nodded with the rest of the group as the timid pegasus left the dining car. We all needed someone to confide in, and Fluttershy was Dash’s. I was fine with that too, as I wasn’t too good with talking about my own feelings most of the time, so I knew I would be useless talking to Dash about hers...least of all when they regarded me in particular.

For a long few moments, there was silence between us all. The world move on around us, but without anything important to say, the four of us were frozen in a bubble of quiet. It was strange, and I had the odd feeling that one of them wanted to say something, but felt a little too awkward to voice it aloud. A tension had settled in the air, but I was unsure I was the one who was to break it.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Rarity spoke up. “Well if nopony else is going to say it, I will.” She then looked directly at me and sighed with a sorrowful expression on her face. “You must speak with Rainbow Dash sooner rather than later. I fear you don’t realize just how fragile she truly is, and she needs to know that things between you will not change.”

“I’d be lying though.” I replied dryly. “Even if I can’t make myself care about her the same way she does me, that doesn’t change the fact that me knowing about how she feels changes our relationship. In the back of my mind, I’m always going to have to live with the fact that every moment around her, I’m hurting her without even meaning to.” I shook my head, letting out an angry snort. “This could ruin our friendship forever, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do or say to fix this.”

Rarity seemed to consider her thoughts for a moment before asking, “How much does she mean to you?”

I raised my eyebrow. “Well, you’re all my friends, so you’re all-”

“I wasn’t asking about the rest of us,” Rarity interrupted with a stern scowl, “I was asking about Rainbow Dash specifically; how much does she mean to you?”

“She’s not someone you deserve if you can’t say it aloud.”

The words within my mind came again, but my voice dropped to a low growl as I answered, “She’s as much a part of my life as the air I breathe or the food I eat. Without her in my life, I don’t know if I could ever be happy again.” I blinked dumbly as the words tumbled out of my mouth. Had I really said that aloud? Where had that come from?

Movement from my side caught my attention, and I found myself looking at the sleepy yet skeptical eyes of Applejack. “Are ya sure ya don’t like her tha same way she does you? ‘cause that sounds an awful lot like somethin’ somepony would say about their special somepony.”

“I have to agree, darling.” Rarity added with a soft smile.

“Me too.” Twilight jumped in, her hoof again finding my hand.

I sighed and lowered my head, but flipped my hand around to grasp Twilight’s hoof as I did so. “I didn’t mean for it to sound so deep like that. I meant it, but didn’t mean for it to sound like I was pining after her, because I’m not.” I brought my gaze upon Rarity sitting across from me and let a breath out through my nose. “I want a family someday, just like any sane person would. The problem is, when I envision a family, a pony isn’t a part of that.” I closed my eyes and breathed slowly to keep from growling in frustration. “I don’t know what’s happening to me anymore. Ever since a few days ago, I’ve been thinking and saying things I would never have thought or said before, and I’m not convinced it’s only because I’ve had to adapt to this new world. Who I am has fundamentally changed, and I’m not even sure who I am anymore.” I motioned nonspecifically with the hand behind Applejack. “What I said about Dash just a second ago...I don’t even feel like it was me saying it. It just came out. I meant it, but it’s just not something I would say normally, and the fact that something like that is happening scares me.”

From the corner of my eye, I could see Twilight’s face screw up in thought for a moment before she closed her eyes and her horn began to glow. A second later, her notes appeared floating before her with a familiar flash of teleportation, and she began searching through them. After a few more moments, she stopped on one page and pushed it over to me with worried eyes.

As I began to read the words, Twilight supplemented with, “Remember when I said that I only knew ‘in part’ how your magic was manifesting? Well that’s because I came across something strange that I couldn’t explain until now.”

I ran my eyes over the translated pages, seeing terms such as “internal aura seepage” and “complex modular magical nature”. “Um, what exactly am I looking at?”

Twilight pointed her hoof to the bottom right corner of the page, where a bold note had been circled twice. “The magic that you give off wasn’t accounting for all the magic you were burning, and I noticed that the remainder was being directed internally. I didn’t know why at first, but it’s quite clear to me now, and if you think about it, it’ll be clear to you too.”

“I’m...” I began, pausing as I collected my thoughts, “I’m using magic on myself?”

“Yes.” Twilight answered, her tone soft but her expression one of wonder. “It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before, and even what I know about chaos magic didn’t allow me to predict this.” She then smiled sheepishly. “Although that makes sense, since chaos magic by nature is unpredictable.” Twilight’s smile dropped as she locked eyes with me, positive in her “diagnosis”. “Your magic has been affecting your own mind for some reason. I think it’s tied to an innate survival instinct within you that is actively working to further adapt not only your behavior, but thoughts to better fit life on Equis.”

I swallowed the lump that had formed within my throat, feeling much like I had just been told I had cancer. After a few seconds of tense silence, I croaked out, “Am I even going to recognize myself in a month? What am I becoming?”

Twilight shook her head, looking helpless. “I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, Jamie. All I can promise you is that we’ll be here with you through it all.”

“And so will I, big guy.” added a familiar scratchy voice from my other side.

The four of us looked to the end of the table to see Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash standing patiently, all with comforting smiles on their faces.

I swallowed again, my mouth having suddenly become quite dry, and opened my mouth to speak. After a few seconds of me imitating a fish ‒ opening and closing my lips repeatedly ‒ I found my voice. “Rainbow Dash, I’m so sor-”

A cyan hoof flew to my lips, silencing me. Dash had a soft smile gracing her lips as she leaned against the table, her eyes boring into mine. “We can talk about me later, Jamie. Right now, you need me, and I’d never abandon a friend.” She removed her hoof from my mouth slowly, the action almost turning into a caress as she did so. Her smile never wavered as she said, “Loyalty is my thing, and you’re one of my best friends. No matter what, you’re never getting rid of me.”

Once again, I was amazed by the depth of character that Dash was revealing to me. She was so much more complex than I could have imagined, which only added to how amazing she was. I felt like she was allowing me to be selfish by not talking about what was going on between us, but I was also shamefully relieved that she was choosing to support me when I needed it.

“Alright folks, welcome to Canterlot!” announced the conductor’s voice over the loudspeakers. “Don’t forget your luggage, and watch your step on the way out. Thanks for travelling with the Ponyville Express!”

At the conductor’s instructions, everyone started to stand and move to get their things, but Dash and I remained, neither willing to look away from the other. I tentatively lifted my hand toward her, hesitating for a moment before bringing it to her cheek and rubbing affectionately. She leaned into the touch for a moment before flying forward and embracing me, fluttering her wings until I brought my arms around her to support her weight. I can’t explain in words how nice it felt to know that she was willing to be near me, as those few hours of worry that I’d lost a great friend weighed upon me heavily.

After a minute or so of the hug, she released me and retreated a bit, jerking her head toward the open doors. “C’mon, we’ve got a coronation to get ready for.”

I smiled at her and nodded, tilting back the brim of my new hat. “Right behind you, Dash.”

We stepped off the train together and headed to where our friends were gathering, and I sighed heavily. This was going to be a long few days, but I knew we weren’t here for me. Twilight needed us, so for now I pushed away my lingering personal issues, and prepared myself to support a friend in need.

The eight of us (I had completely forgotten Spike was even with us) made our way from the train station toward the palace, and it became immediately clear just how much of a stir my presence was going to cause. After all, my time in the capital was limited only to the palace, so none of the ponies living in the city itself had seen me unless they worked in the castle.

Thankfully, being surrounded by five well-known ponies and an alicorn helped to ease things along for me, but therein lied another issue.

Ponies that we passed began bowing their heads as we walked toward the palace, and I could see Twilight becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. I mean technically, this was what was going to be happening soon anyway, but I knew that with the kind of pony she was, it was going to take a long time to get used to. It didn’t even matter that Twilight wasn’t wearing a crown or anything either, simply because she was an alicorn; the only three known alicorns before Twilight were all princesses, so all the ponies immediately connected “alicorn” with “royalty”. As we continued our trek though, I noticed Twilight becoming increasingly more agitated, as demonstrated by the horizontal jerky twitching of her tail. I decided that I would share the burden for her, and reached down to her mane and ran my fingers through it gently.

Twilight looked up at me with a grateful glow to her eyes, and I nodded supportively as the gazes became focused not on the new alicorn, but on the strange creature that was so casually touching her. I didn’t mind the attention, since it was for Twilight’s benefit. This whole thing was going to be stressful enough for her, so I was willing to do whatever I could to relieve or prevent some of the stress she had.

After only a few minutes of walking, we arrived at a massive marble staircase leading to Canterlot Castle itself. From what Twilight had told me, this area was known as the Grand Stair, and was the site of the Summer Sun Celebration when it was held in Canterlot. Twelve male guardsponies wearing golden armor and all having a white coat, lined the stairs, and a larger white unicorn in a red captain’s uniform stood at the top of the staircase, next to a pink alicorn with multicolored lavender, pink, and cream-colored hair.

“Shiny!” Twilight yelled excitedly before all but racing up the stairs.

“Twily!” the now-named unicorn replied, meeting Twilight halfway and embracing her tightly. After a moment of affection, the two released each other and he smiled at Twilight. “It’s good to see you again, sis. I hope the train ride wasn’t too long.”

Twilight shook her head with a smile and wave of the hoof. “It was no big deal. I had my friends to keep me company, so everything’s alright.” She then looked to the other alicorn and smiled gently, nuzzling her as she approached. “Hi Cadence. It’s so great to see you again.”

The named alicorn returned Twilight’s nuzzle before smiling in a way that could warm the coldest tundra. “It’s great to see you too, Twilight. Are you alright?”

Twilight looked back at all of us before smiling and turning her attention back to Princess Cadence. “I think I will be, Cadence. Everything’s going to be alright.”

Princess Cadence nodded before catching my eye, moving with who could only be Captain Shining Armor to approach me. When they both stood before me, I dropped to a knee so they wouldn’t have to crane their necks up just to look at me, and offered them a smile. “I’m Jamison Smith, but you both can call me Jamie. It’s a pleasure.”

Shining Armor’s eyes drilled into me, and just from his expression, I could tell he was appraising me to see if I was a threat. I let him do his job, seeing as how he was captain of the royal guard, and I didn’t have anything to hide. He stopped right in front of my face and took a good look at my teeth before backing away a respectful distance and offering his hoof in greeting. “I’m Captain Shining Armor of the royal guard, and I’m glad you could make it. The princesses have told me quite a bit about you, and I’m pleased the rumors coming from the ponies in Canterlot were false.”

I took his hoof and shook it, but raised my eyebrow in interest. “What kind of rumors?”

After we released each other, Shining Armor’s face split into an amused grin. “Some of the rumors claimed that you were ten feet tall, and had a ‘maw of fangs, able to swallow a pony in a single gulp’. I’ve also heard outlandish tales of you being able to lift a pony with one arm, and you even bested Lieutenant Shudder in single combat.”

I laughed aloud, unable to keep my amusement contained. After a moment of collecting myself to a few quiet chuckles, I sighed and shook my head with a grin. “As you can see, I’m only a little over six feet tall, and I clearly can’t swallow a whole pony at once. For the record though, I could lift a pony with one arm probably, if I tried, and I did beat Shudder in a fight. We were just sparring though.” Twilight gasped and looked at me in shock, and I just shook my head. “I’ll explain later; it’s a funny story, actually.” It wasn’t, but I didn’t want to explain what had gone on the last time I was in Canterlot. Twilight needed to be kept calm, not turned into a raving lunatic.

With how suspicious I expected Twilight’s older brother to be, I was actually a little thankful for my magic’s mind-manipulation at the moment.

Next, Princess Cadence stepped closer, and eyed me with curiousness. Her lavender eyes settled on my own, and for a few moments, we seemed to have a wordless conversation. I gathered the distinct impression that she was sizing me up in some way, so I tried my best to convey that I was adamant on making sure Twilight made it through this event. I’m not exactly sure how one would do that just with the eyes, but my point seemed to get across just fine, as she backed away a bit and also offered her hoof to me.

“I’m Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, though I would prefer if you simply called me Cadence.” she greeted happily as I took her hoof in my hand and shook it. “I’m glad that Twilight has a friend like you.” Twilight and Shining Armor sent confused looks my way, but I just shrugged and smiled at them. I released Cadence’s hoof, and she turned to Twilight. “Come with me, Twilight. We’ve got to get you prepared.” She then motioned to the other five ponies and dragon. “The rest of you are welcome to come.”

Without a word, Twilight followed Princess Cadence as she walked away, as did the other five Element-bearers, but Rainbow Dash glanced at me for a moment, seemingly debating whether she should leave me or not. I smiled at her and shooed her away with my hand, and she nodded before following the others inside.

Now alone, I looked to Shining Armor in confusion. “Am I not allowed to go because I’m a guy, or is there something else planned for me?”

He was still watching his sister and the others disappearing inside, not even turning to look at me. “Princesses Celestia and Luna have requested an audience with you.” Finally, he did turn to look at me, but with a very confused look in his eye. “They did, however, wish to stress that this is a request for some reason, and that you are in no way obligated to see them if you don’t want to. I’m not sure why, but that’s what they said.”

Given the option to decline, I took a few seconds to weigh my choices. On the one hand, I was still angry with them both, and wasn’t too keen on seeing them unless they were going to apologize and explain just what the hell was going on. On the other hand, it would be rude to decline, and I did have questions for them.

“I’ll meet with them.” I answered determinedly.

The captain nodded before trotting up the stairs, beckoning me to follow. “Follow me. They’ll meet with you in the private sunbloom garden. I’ll escort you there first, and then fetch the princesses.” As the two of us began our journey through the wide halls of the castle, Shining Armor whispered, “I’m not sure what’s going on between you and the princesses, but I hope it’s nothing too serious. I’ve never known either of them to look so anxious before, so I ask that you please work out whatever is happening.”

I furrowed my eyebrows at his statement. “You’re their captain; they won’t tell you anything?”

He shook his head, still facing ahead of us. “They both said that it was private, so it must be serious. Clearly not serious enough to tell their most trusted guard, though.” He snorted a bit at the latter statement, almost angrily.

I shrugged as we continued to walk. “It’s nothing pertaining to national security, I assure you. It’s between me and them, and it really is private.”

No more was said between us, and I followed silently as I was led deeper into the castle.

After a little over five minutes of walking, we arrived in a much smaller garden than the public Royal Gardens, which made sense since only a few ponies probably had access to this one. The flowers in the garden resembled tulips in shape, but grew in massive pillar-like clusters that were taller than me. Furthermore, the blooms themselves had a flickering color scheme that included yellow and orange, giving it the appearance of fire.

“I’ll fetch the princesses.” Shining Armor announced, but I was too focused on the flowers to turn to him. “Just wait here, and they’ll arrive in a few moments.” I nodded absently, and heard the soft hoofsteps of him leaving the garden and reentering the castle.

The garden itself was beautiful, with lush, green grass and several pillars of these “sunblooms”. It was all nestled in a small courtyard sequestered deep within the castle itself, and from the look of the flora growing there, it was clear it was very well taken care of. I could almost feel the love that went into the garden, and I decided to simply have a lie down in the grass while I waited for the princess to arrive.

I untied and kicked my shoes off, removing my socks next before laying down on the soft grass. The scent of the sunblossoms ‒ a mixture of honey, cinnamon, and another scent I couldn’t identify ‒ surrounded me, and did a good job at calming my nerves and allowing me to relax. The warm sunlight that shone on my skin and hair warmed me in both body and soul, and I found myself more relaxed than I’d ever been before.

I don’t know how long I lied there, but after a little while, I felt the familiar pressure that came from the magical aura of the princesses. I heard two sets of four hooves approaching, and muted words that I couldn’t discern. The hoofsteps stopped a few feet away from me, and I heard the soft sound of two bodies settling into the grass by my head.

Without opening my eyes, I greeted, “Hello princesses.”

“Hello Jamie.” Princess Celestia answered, returning my greeting.

“It is good to see you again, Jamie.” Luna answered next, her voice sounding more subdued than I remembered.

“Is it?” I replied in a nonchalant manner, but even hearing my own voice, I could hear the venom in my words.

After a few moments of silence, Luna stated, “We have much to talk about.”

“Yes we do.” I shot back quickly, opening my eyes and sitting up to face both princesses, who were laying down a short distance in front of me. “First of all, I want some answers. That seems reasonable, yes?” Both princesses nodded silently, so I forged on. “First of all, why the hell did you have Shudder lock me away in some time chamber for three months? Frankly, I don’t even believe there were any assassins, and that you two decided it would be fun to fuck with the weird human.” At any other time I’d be internally screaming at myself for cursing at the princesses, but I was a little too upset to care.

Princess Celestia locked her gaze with mine for a moment before lifting her wing and levitating out six brown folders, sending them to me. “Translated for your convenience.”

I raised an eyebrow but accepted the folders, then flipped open the first one and was shocked to see it filled with photos and documents. The photos showed a bright yellow unicorn with a two-toned green and yellow mane. The eyes were closed, and there were multiple bruises and cuts clear on the face. I glanced away from the photos to the documents, the first one bearing a large stamp that spelled “DECEASED” in large red letters. I closed the folder and set it down in an almost reverent manner, then opened the next one. This one was a unicorn as well, also labeled DECEASED. The next one, a pegasus, labeled DECEASED. Unicorn, DECEASED. Pegasus, DECEASED. Pegasus, IMPRISONED.

I looked up in shock from what I had just seen, and Luna motioned to me with her hoof. “Your assassins, whom you don’t believe exist.” She then nodded to me with a frown. “Their families beg to differ.”

I stared at the documents for a few moments before setting them aside, glaring at the alicorns. “If what you say is true, why should it matter? They tried to kill me, so whether by my hand or someone else’s, they got what they had coming to them.”

“Maybe,” Princess Celestia spoke in an even tone, “but the families were innocent. They were told from a pony they didn’t even know that not only was their son or daughter a criminal, but dead or imprisoned.”

“They are still our subjects, and we love them all.” Princess Luna added, with a sullen look on her face.

I grit my teeth and growled, “Oh, so this is my fault, hm? I guess if I had never come to this world, they might never have done what they did, and wouldn’t have had to die. While we’re at it, I should apologize to Shudder as well. After all, it was my fault she had to take them out in the first place, right?” Unable to stop my momentum, I stood and bared my teeth in a snarl. “What about me, huh? What happened to, ‘we want a confidant and friend’? Maybe your ponies love you because you bring them prosperity or whatnot, but I have to say, you suck at making friends!”

“You hide from love, but not anger? My, you’re a strange one.”

The odd voice-that-wasn’t only incited me further, and I couldn’t stop myself. “From day one I’ve been tied up, kicked, and altogether fucked with by your ponies, especially you two.” Princess Luna flinched as if struck, but Princess Celestia showed no reaction, other than her posture subtly slumping a little. Now nearly frothing at the mouth with anger, I stepped forward until I was standing right in front of the two alicorns, and glared at them both. “So I want an answer as to just what your motives are, and what the hell your plans are for me.” After a moment of deep breathing and allowing the garden’s atmosphere to calm me, I lowered my voice and spoke again. “I’m sorry for shouting, but I want answers. I can’t figure out the two of you, and that makes for a very poor relationship by any standard. So please, work with me here.”

Both princesses were silent for a long few seconds before Princess Celestia stood and looked me in the eye. “What you must understand about us is that we must weigh our actions with the good of those they affect; before friendship, your wellbeing comes first.”

I raised my eyebrow skeptically (such a common reaction for me recently). “Explain.”

Princess Celestia nodded almost imperceptibly before sitting down. “We knew of your issues with ponies early on, so forcing you into close confines with one would allow you to quickly adapt to the thought of a pony being similar to humans in the sense of sapience. This would allow you to more easily live in this world, and make your stay here more comfortable overall; a little pain for a lot of healing, if you will.” I hated to admit it to myself, but that did make some sense. “Furthermore,” she continued, “every pony is taught basic self-defense as part of our educational curriculum. From age five to ten, they learn to defend themselves from any that might wish to hurt them. While our land is at peace, not every pony is peaceful. It would make no sense to have Equestria’s only human ‒ and such a large target ‒ be unable to defend himself.”

I frowned. “Besides the obvious size difference, why am I a large target?”

Princess Luna stood now, and she took her place beside her sister. “You already stand out in a crowd, but there are a sizable number of nobleponies who are what we refer to as ‘Purists’. These Purists believe that Equestria is a place only for ponies, and some groups of them are desperate enough to resort to violence and murder.”

“Isn’t that a little extreme? Why the hatred for non-ponies?” I asked, half in worry and half in genuine fascination.

Princess Celestia’s face became rather grim as she said, “Equestria was not always at peace, Jamie. Long ago, it was fragile and scattered, and many outside races took advantage of our weakness. Gryphons, dragons, diamond dogs, and even changelings roamed these lands, stealing our resources or outright killing ponies. It was during that turbulent time that these Purists were born, and they led crusades to drive out our enemies. We owe what Equestria is today to them, but I fear that even in peace, their fear and hatred of non-ponies persists. The stories they tell their kin fuel these fears, and they will do whatever is necessary to ensure Equestria is kept safe from outsiders, even if it means murder.”

“While I can understand those concerns,” I muttered, “clearly murder of visitors to your land can’t look good to the other races of this world. Why do you allow it?”

For the first time, the sun princess actually looked angry. “I don’t allow it, Jamie. I am sure that you, more than anypony, can understand just how difficult it is to kill a belief.” I nodded, as most of Earth’s history was filled with similar ideas that were more durable than the people that carried them. Princess Celestia then sighed as her anger bled away. “I have worked for centuries to completely stamp them out, but I will not outright execute my ponies, Jamie. I guide them through love not force, and though it is a better choice, it sometimes takes longer to become effective.”

“Humans would have just publicly executed them at this point.” I commented dryly, not even surprised by the widening of eyes in shock that I received. “Or imprisoned them for life, depending on their crimes. All I know is that we’ve bombed entire countries before just looking for one or two guys.”

“Did it work?” Princess Celestia asked, hope seeping in her question.

I chuckled darkly. “Yeah, after a few thousand innocents were killed in the crossfire.”

Princess Luna placed a hoof on her lips as she silently shook her head, and Princess Celestia replied, “That’s barbaric.”

I shrugged, my mood darkening a bit. “Humans can be. Clearly, ponies can be too though.”

Both princesses seemed to wince at this, but didn’t deny it. After composing themselves, they sat down to my sides and were silent for a long few moments.

Finally, after what felt like hours instead of seconds, Princess Celestia mumbled, “We ask for your forgiveness, Jamie. Regardless of what you may think, everything we do is for a reason, even the things which are unpleasant.” Her head then drooped a bit in what could only be shame. “That does not excuse what we put you though. I ask only that you try and remember that we are acting with millennia of experience behind our choices, and are doing so to bring about the best outcome in the big picture.”

“Keep in mind that every big picture is made up of a lot of smaller pictures.” I retorted, crossing my arms as I did so.

“It is not something we remember well, Jamie.” Princess Luna said in a pleading tone. “It has been so long since we have allowed a personal relationship with anypony outside of family that we have nearly forgotten how to connect with others on a more personal level. We have mastered ruling our ponies and being authority figures to them that rule with love and care, but our experience in personal relationships is outdated and fading.”

“Out of all the things you could forget, that had to be one of them?” I remarked with disbelief. “What about your memory library that you keep?”

Princess Celestia looked to her sister in surprise for a moment, then turned to me with a shake of her head. “In much the same way you cannot learn to love another by reading romance novels, we cannot learn to connect with others on a personal level from faded memories. The memories remain, but the teachings can fade with those that are more abstract.” She then cleared her throat nervously. “That is besides the fact that we have so little practical experience in that avenue anyway.”

I rolled my eyes. “Surely you two have memories of friends from when you were younger.”

Both princesses shook their heads as Princess Celestia answered, “Perhaps we did, but those memories faded before we developed the idea for our ‘secret library’.”

I stood silently for a few moments as I contemplated what I was going to do. They both made convincing arguments, and to be honest, I did believe them. However, I needed to be clear just what needed to change between us. I liked the princesses and understood what they stood for ‒ there was no getting around that ‒ but their personal social skills needed work. I would have to be clear and concise in my conditions, it seemed.

“I can only forgive you if you offer your word on a few things in advance.” I stated, my tone firm, but understanding. I stepped away and turned on my heel, facing them both. “First of all, no more doing things for my own good. If you see an issue I’m having and want to help, talk to me about it. I won’t deny your methods worked, but it really pissed me off. Second, don’t think you can order me around. I might technically be your subject, but if you want a friend, you have to treat me like one. That being said, I’m not going to go around breaking laws or anything, nor am I going to use my standing with you to get free shit or something.” I then sighed and rolled my shoulders. “Third, I want to hear from you more often than only when things are going wrong in our lives. I don’t care if it’s letters or the odd visit, but I’m not going to make an effort if you won’t.”

Princess Celestia looked to her sister for a moment before nodding to me. “We accept.”

“Then I forgive you.” I answered with a small smile. I then jerked my head toward the castle. “C’mon ladies, we need to get ready for Twilight’s coronation. I’m actually a little excited to wear that suit you made for me, Princess Luna.”

“No titles please, Jamie.” Princess Celestia replied as they both followed me toward the castle interior. “Coworkers and business colleagues use titles; friends do not. In private, I am simply Celestia, and she is Luna.”

I nodded with a grin. “Fine. Celestia, Luna, let’s go. Twilight’s not going to be happy if she’s standing out there before you are.”

Both princesses loosed a fit of giggles before passing me, leading me through the castle as friends instead of superiors...and it felt pretty nice.