• Published 24th Jun 2013
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Return of the Dawn - pchn00



A substitute teacher with what she's always been told is a mental condition begins to suspect that's not the entire truth when a familiar sun shaped cutie mark appears on her hips.

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Chapter 4: Unexpected Guests

Chapter 4: Unexpected Guests

What started as the best weekend of my life has taken a pretty rapid downward spiral. After the amazing dinner with Jake and his acceptance of my problems I have to go and have the worst psychotic episode of my life. Between lunatics harassing me in the street and stupidly ignoring my medication it’s a wonder I haven’t fallen completely apart. Of course the conversation with Celestia wasn’t real. It might have been my imagination but even the suns on my hips looked fainter when I took my early shower.

My good mood at that was fading as rapidly as the imagined tattoos as I recall last night’s phone call from the hospital. They’d called to tell me Jake was being admitted for overnight observation because of some heart problems but NO, it was too late to visit. I’d had to wait until this morning before I could see him. Every red light seemed to take hours as the drive just stretched on and on. The hospital was only twenty five minutes or so from home but it felt as if I’ve been driving all day.

I hate coming this far into the city. Every homeless person I see drives a little needle deeper into my heart. Especially the kids. I openly wept once when I saw a couple of little girls, neither could have been older than ten dumpster diving. Almost on cue I spotted a young woman rummaging about a dumpster while a boy… He must have been thirteen at the most sat on the ground beside her, his leg in a cast and a pair of crutches in his lap.

My sadness only grew as she emerged with a soiled pastry box from the Krispy Kreme. About to sigh and turn away I caught sight of the woman’s head. Her hair was what first caught my eye. Minty green with a white stripe running through it. That wasn’t incredibly unusual; if she’d only recently lost her home having hair dye wasn’t out of the question. No what really grabbed me were her ears. The very obviously inhuman ears perched atop her head. Large, pointed, minty fur covered ears. They were close enough to the street I could see them twitch and turn toward the occasional sound.

Clenching my eyes shut tightly I accelerated through the light once it turned green a bit quicker than necessary. Violently shaking my head I try to put the pair out of my head as the hospital comes into view. Finding a space in the visitors’ lot I lock the door on my comically tiny smart car. I take more than a little ridicule at my car’s appearance but hey, it only costs me sixty bucks a month tops for gas. With prices the way they are nowadays I know some of my co-workers who spend upwards of two or three hundred dollars a month. It also helps I take the bus most everywhere.

There’s a bit of commotion out front as I approach. A couple news vans and the like. I’m starting to get a sinking feeling I know what they’re here for. A police officer stops me as I try to enter. “What’s the purpose of your visit miss?”

I blink. “Uh… I got a call last night. My… My boyfriend was admitted for heart trouble. They said I couldn’t see him because of the late hour. What in the world is going on?”

He looks like he’s having an inner debate with himself. “They’ve got some weird disease or something in there. There’re a few infected. They’re in a quarantined area. You can go in just watch yourself. If you’re a reporter you’re facing some hefty fraud fines.”

Eyes wide I rapidly shake my head. “Substitute teacher. Definitely not a reporter!” I hurry through the doors casting a quick glance at the near frenzied media. I need another few deep breaths to calm down. I head to the desk where a bored looking receptionist sits examining her nails.

“Er… I’m here to visit my boyfriend. He was admitted for heart problems?”

She doesn’t even look up. “Name?”

“M-mine or his?”

Now she does look at me. A look of extreme annoyance and impatience on her face. “Whaddo you think?”

I frown faintly. “His name is Jake Matsen.”

Her eyes widen at that. “Are you Erin Rockwell?”

Now I’m feeling nervous again. “Y-yes?”

“Wait here.” She stands and rushes back into the hospital proper, leaving me alone to fuss with the strap of my purse. Something must be really wrong with Jake if the staff was told to wait for me specifically. I’m just about to go back through the doors myself when the receptionist comes back, a stern looking woman in a doctor’s coat in tow.

“Miss Rockwell? I’m Doctor Adams. I’ve been treating Jake and Rebecca.”

I blink. “Who’s Rebecca?”

“Oh! Sorry. His friend Becky? They came in together showing the same symptoms. Only he had the increased heart rate. Doing an in-depth tissue exam revealed something troubling.”

She starts walking back into the hospital at a brisk pace, forcing me to hustle to catch up. “Troubling?”

The Doctor frowns faintly. “It’s frankly unprecedented. Something of a new medical mystery. We took several samples of Mr. Matsen and Miss Franken’s blood and tissues. How familiar are you with biology?”

I shrug. “As long as you don’t go into ridiculously complicated concepts I should be able to keep up. I’m a teacher.”

She smiles. “Ah! Good. I wanted to go into teaching. Parents insisted on medicine. Anyway, the basic DNA structure is the same from human to human right?” I nod and she continues. “Jake and Becky’s DNA is… Not.”

“Is not? Is not what? The same as a humans?”

She nods. “No. They’re mutating at what is frankly an alarming rate.” She leads me into an elevator hitting a button near the top. “More and more their DNA is looking less human. In fact it’s changing from hour to hour.”

My heart is hammering in my chest. This is impossible. It can’t be real. What Celestia told me, what Markus was alluding to… He’s crazy and my talk with Celestia was just an effect of skipping my medication! “I-into what?”

“Frankly we have no idea. There’s nothing like it in any database according to the lab. In fact they’re not even matching one another. They’re very similar, certainly more similar to one another than they are to say you or I. But there are differences between them as well.”

One end of the hall is walled up by what look like plastic walls. People in bulky hazmat suits are coming and going. “You can go in and see them but you have to suit up. We don’t know what’s causing the mutation but it could be contagious.”

I know what’s causing it. I know EXACTLY what’s causing it. But how do I explain it without sounding like a lunatic? “O-okay. I’ll uh, wear one then.”

It’s a bit of a hassle getting the thing on. A man has to fasten the hood… Helmet thing around my head and connect it to the air tank on my hip. Doctor Adams is getting similarly dressed as we step into the quarantined area of the hospital. It’s rapidly clear that more than just Jake and this Becky girl are residents. I see several others in various rooms hooked up to a dizzying array of machinery. The last room has Jake, and who I assume is Becky. They’re talking to one another, smiling nervously and looking like they’re doing their best not to let the situation get to them.

Both have clear signs of the Equestrian changes. Jake more than she at least with his fiery orange and yellow hair. The once close cropped cut now hangs in a shaggy mess about his face and neck. Becky’s pale pink hair is loose around her shoulders. Both have large pointed ears atop their heads. I find myself transfixed as those inhuman ears swivel toward the sound of their owners’ door opening before the pair actually turns to regard us.

Jake sees me and looks embarrassed, hunkering down in his bed and making a token effort to cover his ears. Becky just watches curiously. “Hey Erin…”

I force a smile. “Hey Jake. Sorry I couldn’t come last night. Visiting hours y’know?” I pull a stool over to his bedside as Doctor Adams moves to Becky, drawing more blood.

He smiles back. “S’ok. You’re here now right?”

I nod. “Yup! I got this fancy space suit and everything.”

Jake laughs a little now. It’s small, but I can tell it’s a genuine laugh. “Well you wear it well.”

The Doctor comes to take his blood now and I scoot back a bit. Becky catches my eye and offers a small wave. “Hey. I’m Becky. I’m the receptionist at Jake’s Doctor’s. His normal Doctor that is.”

I smile back. “Erin. I’m his…” I glance at him and he looks back, I notice his ears are half-lowered. “His girlfriend.” And then his ears perk right back up. That’s a pretty handy tell all things considered.

“Nice to meet you. He’s been talking about you a ton.”

I grin teasingly. “Nothing bad I hope?”

She shrugs. “Just that you eat like one of your students but somehow never gain an ounce. I’d like to know THAT secret.”

‘Probably the immortal pony Princess that I’m starting to think is real and sharing my head with me.’ I think. I just smile in response. “Good metabolism I guess.”

Doctor Adams checks the machine hooked to Jake’s chest. “Heart’s still working double time. One of our other patients presenting your uh, symptoms has an increased heart rate as well. I’m going to compare your samples and see how similar your mutations are.”

Jake rubs the back of his neck. “Sure. I mean of course. If you think it’ll help.”

She turns to me. “We’ve got a new battery of tests to run in about a half hour. I’ll come let you know when it’s time to go Miss Rockwell. Jake, Becky.” She nods to them both before leaving us alone.

I shift a bit as she leaves looking back to Jake. My eyes keep drifting to his ears and he again covers them with a pillow. “Hey it’s alright. You don’t gotta do that.”

He frowns. “Erin I have… I have PONY ears. I mean that’s what they are. We have the cutie marks and hair from the characters in the show. Now our ears and…” He peers toward the door. “…and my back has been itching for an hour.”

I stand in concern. “Did you tell the Doctor?”

He shakes his head. “No. And please don’t tell her. I’m poked, prodded, and jabbed enough. If they find out there’s something growing out of my back...”

I lay a hand on his knee. “Relax. I won’t tell her. Can I see?”

With some reluctance he leans forward allowing me to see his back. There are small but unmistakable growths pushing out of his shoulder blades. I can even see the beginnings of some downy fluff that are going to be his feathers. “Yeah… You’re growing wings.”

He blows out a heavy gust of air and flops back into his bed, wincing a little at the sudden pressure on his back. “Fan-fucking-tastic!” I wince at the cursing and he notices looking apologetic. “Sorry I just… I’m turning into a pegasus. A pegasus MARE. Doctor Adams said there’s tons of estrogen in my system now.”

I’ve never seen him like this. He looks so flustered, confused… Scared. For a moment I consider telling him everything I’ve learned. But then he’d want to know WHERE I learned it from. And if he knew my medication could repress my own changes would he want it for himself? Celestia said it was a poison. What would it do if I let him take the pills?

“We’ll figure something out Jake.”

He grips my hand tightly. “I don’t want to be here Erin. I don’t want to be poked and prodded and turned into some kind of science experiment.”

My eyes widen. “Jake I… What am I supposed to do? There are police all over the place. And you’re in the big… Bubble dome thing.”

Becky speaks up for the first time since introducing herself. “They’ll do a shift change every few hours. For about fifteen minutes or so the guys babysitting the entrance will be really lax. We can get out then.”

We both look at her as she explains. She just shrugs. “I read up on quarantine procedure. I helped Doctor Stevens during that huge outbreak of red flu a couple years ago. I saw how this all goes down. I mean obviously we’re not contagious right? The others in the quarantine are all changing at exactly the same pace as we are. And I asked around. Get this. They all turned twenty five two days ago. All four of the others here. There’s a connection there.”

There was and I know what it is. “Alright. So what do you need me to do?”

They both look at me with mild surprise. “You’ll help us get out of here? Really?”

I nod. “Of course. This isn’t your fault. You don’t deserve to be treated like lab animals. We can lay low at my Uncle’s cabin up north. He left it to me when he y’know… Passed. The place is huge, and way out in the middle of nowhere. We’ll be fine until all the commotion dies down. You too Becky.”

The woman looks surprised, but touched. “Thank you Erin. That means a lot to me. I don’t suppose we can go by my apartment so I can get a few things?”

I shrug. “I mean I don’t mind. I guess we’ll see how the uh… Break out goes? Though my car is super tiny.”

Jake reaches into the pocket of the jeans hanging on the chair beside his bed and tosses me a set of keys. “We can take my truck. Pull it around to the entrance with the lease people around it.”

Becky nods looking excited. “Yeah! You can find the best way out for us. Oh! We need hats too. To hide the ears y’know? Jake has his cap but I don’t have anything.”

I chew my lip thinking. “When do you think we can do this?”

Becky shrugs. “They switch every four hours. The last rotation was an hour ago at seven a.m. So we have until eleven before they switch again.”

I nod. “And then again at three. Let me go get some stuff together. I’ll get some clothes and things from you guys’ places and come back here before then.”

Jake is frowning now. “Erin you could get into a lot of trouble doing this.”

Markus’ words come back to me. People are going to be in trouble and are going to depend on me. While I’m not willing to let some pony Princess take over my body, I can at least help Jake and his friend. “It’s fine. This’ll be fun! Like a movie!”

My nervous laugh doesn’t entirely conceal my fear. Before Jake can talk again Doctor Adams returns. “Miss Rockwell? It’s time to go. We need to run some tests I’m afraid. You can see Jake again in a few hours.”

I give Jake’s hand a squeeze as I stand to leave. “I’ll be back soon. It was nice meeting you Becky. Why don’t you give me your address and I’ll see about getting a couple of those things you wanted.”

Becky jots down the address of her apartment and I add her keys to Jake’s. It’ll be easy enough to stick her place in my GPS and find it. In fact I recognize the street so that’s good. I leave with the Doctor giving them both a brief wave. As we pass another pair of men in suits I overhear a snippet of their conversation.

“…police are rounding up more and more of them. Guess people with ears and stuff are popping up all over the country.”

I frown hearing that. All over the country? Just how many Equestrians have been running around as humans for the last two and a half decades? Doctor Adams helps me out of the hazmat suit and sets it aside “You should come back as much as you can while it’s still relatively calm here. IF we get too many patients and the military gets called in to keep order… You probably won’t be able to visit for a while.”

I nod my thanks for the advice. “I’ll be back this afternoon.” Trying to remain calm I make my way back to the parking lot. It takes a little hunting but I manage to find Jake’s truck easy enough. Antique is definitely the word to describe the old pick up but it starts fine enough. A quick stop at my own car to retrieve my GPS and I’m plugging in Becky’s address. She’ll probably want some clothes and toiletries.

It looks like her building is on the way back to mine and Jake’s, so that’s a bit of good luck. I get stopped at the light outside the Krispy Kreme again. That pair are still there in the alley. The woman with the pony ears and… Her son? He looks too old. Brother likely. Still he’s young. What’s going to happen to him when his sister is taken away?

Frowning I park at the end of the alley climbing out. The two regard me curiously with the woman stepping in front of the kid. “Need somethin’ lady?”

Suddenly I have a pang of regret. What am I doing? Just because one of them is turning into a pony I’m going to take them in? I must be out of my mind! I look at the boy though, and that IS what he is. A boy. He looks back curiously before the woman blocks my view. Her brows are raised and she looks like she’s losing her patience.

“O-oh uh… Sorry. I… Notice your uh…” I wave my finger around my own head where her ears are.

She looks upward. “Yeah I got weird ears. What about it?”

I swallow heavily and clear my throat. “I heard the police are rounding everyone up with ears like yours. I’m getting some friends of mine to my cabin up north. You and your friend are welcome to come with us.”

The boy’s eyes widen in surprise, but I see hope in them. The woman just folds her arms over her chest. “What out of the goodness of your heart?”

Helplessly I shrug a bit. “Er… Yes? I mean it’s not like you have anything I want. Oh! Th-that probably came out a bit on the rude side.”

“Y’think? Thanks but no thanks lady. We’re not going up to some nuts cabin in the woods just to… To uh….” She trails off with a faint frown. Suddenly she’s staring hard at me. Slowly pacing around me and looking me up and down. She steps back and looks down at the boy. He looks anywhere from twelve to fourteen I’d guess. “A place to stay. And food. No charge? No… Nothing in return?”

I shrug. “Well I mean I’d hope everyone cleans up after themselves but I’m not looking for indentured workers like the big corporations got or anything.”

The boy hoists himself up using the wall against his back as a brace, settling on the crutches. “Well you can come or not Meg but if she’s got food and a bed I’m going.”

He doesn’t have any signs of becoming a pony, but I’m not about to separate him from his sister. She looks at him giving an exasperated sigh. “Fine. But if this turns weird we’re gone, got it?”

I raise my hands defensively. “You don’t HAVE to come. I Just… Saw you guys. Figured I was smuggling two people up north, what’s two more?”

She helps her brother up into the truck. “Well thanks. I guess. I dunno what it is… There’s something about you…”

I laugh a bit nervously and shrug. “I must have one of those trustworthy faces!”

She hms softly climbing in behind her brother. “Well I’m Meghan. Meg is fine. This is my brother Lucas. Thanks for this uh…”

“Erin. And really it’s no trouble. The cabin is enormous and it’s on this huge plot of land. Tons of space all over the place.” I start back to Becky’s building with my new passengers sitting awkwardly in the truck. It doesn’t take long for the aroma of a couple of homeless people to hit my nose and as casually as I can I roll down the windows.

This draws a short laugh from Meg. “We stink. It’s cool. If you’re putting us up for a couple of days I’m sure you wouldn’t mind us getting a shower. And washing these clothes.” She picks at her t-shirt.

I laugh a little. “Not sure what I can do for Lucas here but I have plenty of things you can borrow. Might be a loose fit but it’s better than nothing right?”

Meg nods slowly staring at me quietly for a few moments. “Right.”

Her brother just sits with his hands folded in his lap. I glance at him from the corner of my eye. He’s pale, dirty, and looks exhausted. His curly mop of black hair is greasy and unkempt. Poor kid probly hasn’t had a decent meal in a while. “So Lucas, how’d you break your leg?”

He looks to his sister for permission I assume. She nods and he speaks softly. “W-well me and Meg found this great spot on a roof to sleep. We had a few blankets and strung them up like a tent! It was pretty fun. But the uh… The building’s owner found out eventually. He kinda shoved me off the roof.”

My eyes go wide and I look at him disbelieving. Meg just shrugs. “There’re so many homeless that the cops ignore it when we get hurt. The only reason Lucas got treated at the hospital was I told them our folks were on the way.”

I nod. “Where ARE your parents? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“Dad went out for cigarettes about ten years ago. Mom kinda OD’d on I dunno, heroine or something and wound up y’know…” She shrugs. “Lucas got shoved in a home for orphans; I got kicked out on my butt. He wound up in a foster home where the dad had the whole ‘creepy uncle in the basement’ thing going on. So here we are.”

I just shake my head. “Jesus it’s like a Lifetime movie in real life.”

Meg chuckles at that while her brother just looks confused. My GPS pings to let me know we’ve reached the building. “Alright I’m just gonna run up and get some stuff from my friend’s apartment. Then we’ll hit my place, and then back to the hospital.”

I slide out of the truck. Meg says something to her brother before following me out and up into the building. “So what’s your deal for real lady? Don’t get me wrong. If you got a bed and some real food for Lucas for a couple days I’m grateful but people don’t just take in strangers.”

Shrugging a little I walk along the hall to Becky’s first floor apartment. The key slides in the lock and I step inside. “This whole pony thing. It’s going to get worse before it gets better I think. My boyfriend is one of the two I’m breaking out of the hospital. The police really are looking for anyone showing changes. I couldn’t just ignore you out there on the street. Your brother would wind up right back in the system if you get stuck in some medical lab.”

Meg chews her lower lip rubbing her arm in thought. “Yeah I guess that’s true. Well… Thanks. I dunno what it is, but there’s something about you. I just get a good vibe off you y’know?”

I chuckle weakly and offer her a half-hearted smile. I take a moment to look around Becky’s apartment. It’s pretty tidy. Though she has plenty of magazines covering the table. Nice TV hangs off the wall too. My Uncle’s cabin is nice. Huge and on a beautiful bit of land. But it’s pretty rustic. He never owned a television as far as I know. “Think you can get that down?”

She looks at it with a raised brow. “We’re jacking her TV?”

I shrug. “We might be up there for a while. It’s either Becky’s nice big one or my crappy tiny one.”

Meg moves to examine the wall mounts while I seek out Becky’s bedroom. She calls to me from down the hall while she works. “So like, d’you know anything about this? The changes I mean?”

It takes a long moment for me to realize she’s asking because of what I’ve already told her from the hospital and not because she suspects I know more than I want to share. Becky’s room is just as big a disaster area as my own is. It takes some hunting but I find a duffle bag that I start cramming clothes into. “Just that Jake and Becky’s DNA is changing. Becoming inhuman.”

“Well duh.”

I laugh. “Sorry I don’t know much more than that.” I find her bathroom and grab a small travel bag from under the sink loading up her toothbrush, toothpaste and other hygiene supplies. Adding that to the duffle I sling it over my shoulder and return to the living room. “Whaddya think about the TV?”

She shrugs. “I can get it down. Probly gonna need a hand though.”

Nodding to her I make a quick run out to the truck, tossing the duffle bag in the back behind the seats. Moving around to the back I drop the little door on the. Jake has one of those high leather and plastic covers that make the back of the truck almost like a regular car.

Back in the apartment Meg’s already at one corner of the TV. I move to the other and we heft it up. Moving quickly we get it into the back of the truck. I duck back in grabbing an arm load of micro-disc movies for the built in player. I even remember to snag the remote. Tossing my load into the bed I shut the door back up, climb into the driver’s seat and we’re off again.

“So your boyfriends place then what? Your place?”

I nod to Meg. “Jake and I are neighbors so it won’t be a long trip.” With a little thrill I realize I’m going to have to go into Jake’s bedroom. Probably rummage through his drawers too. “While I’m getting our stuff together we’ll get you two cleaned up. We have a few hours to kill before the big break out. It’s a five hour drive to the cabin. No offense but it’d probably be a nicer trip if you two were a little fresher.”

Meg shrugs. “None taken. You have no idea how great a hot shower and clean clothes sound about now.” Lucas nods emphatically.

“Well I’m sure Jake won’t mind if Lucas borrows a shirt and a pair of shorts for a little bit. Once we get settled up north I’ll see about getting you two some stuff of your own.”

Lucas leans toward his sister whispering in what he must assume is a tone I can’t hear. “She’s REALLY nice Meg.”

Her sister smiles to me over his head, ruffling his hair silently. I have to admit, it feels really nice helping these two like this. I’m starting to think I could have done more before now. Volunteered at a soup kitchen or donated some money from time to time.

We reach my building and everyone piles out. Meg helps steady Lucas on his crutches. “I’ll run upstairs and get some macaroni or something going on the stove for you guys. Sorry in advance, I don’t have a very ‘mature’ selection.”

Meg laughs sharply. “Lady if your food isn’t coming out of a dumpster it’s five stars to us.”

I chuckle. “Alright. I’m on the second floor. 6B. I’ll leave the door open for you two. Take your time.” She nods as the two start the slow process of getting Lucas inside and upstairs. I go on ahead taking the stairs and walk toward my apartment.

My pulse quickens as I realize my door is slightly ajar. Someone’s already in there?! Pressing myself close to the wall I slide toward the door cautiously. It’s definitely open; I can even hear voices inside.

“…pretty normal place for a Princess.”

“Well maybe she’s not like Markus! She might not KNOW she’s a Princess! If she did I bet she’d totally live in like, an AWESOME palace!”

Both are women. The first one sighs in exasperation. “Does Markus live in a big palace?”

There’s a pause. “W-well no. But he does run the club and lives in the awesome penthouse above it. That’s kinda like a palace right?”

They know Markus? Why the hell are they in my apartment? For a minute I consider calling the cops on my cell, but if they know Markus maybe he sent them here? How did he find out where I live? There are so many questions racing around in my head. Taking a deep breath I square my shoulders and peer around the corner into my apartment. I can’t see either of them. They must be down the hall in our around my room.

Quietly as I can I slip into my apartment, easing the closet by my front door open. Frantically my eyes dart around looking for something to defend myself with in case they turn out to be violent. The best I can come up with is my umbrella. Grabbing it around the top I hold it overhead in what I hope is a menacing manner. Creeping down the hall toward my room I can hear them moving around inside. My breath is coming quicker and quicker as I ready myself for the confrontation.

Lifting my foot I kick in my bedroom door bursting into the room. “Who the HELL are you and why are you in my apartment?!”

The two women whirl around in surprise to face me. The nearest is blonde, her hair mid-shoulder length. The grey furred ears standing atop her head perk upright in alarm and she shrieks. AS she shrieks large feathered wings that match the color of her ears flare from her back. “Oh god Princess Celestia’s going to kill me!”

Now I scream and jump back. The second woman just looks from her friend to me as we stare and scream at each other. She has a look of amusement on her face more than anything. Slowly I realize the winged woman isn’t attacking me, and she realizes I’m not attacking her. “She’s not Princess Celestia you idiot. Look at her. She’s all human.”

The other woman is obviously being affected by the pony changes too. Her own ears are stark white, peeking out from a shaggy electric blue shock of hair. Vivid pink eyes regard me coolly. “You’re not Erin are you? We’re looking for Erin.”

I take a step back tightening my grip on the umbrella. “Wh-why are you looking for me?”

They share a confused look. “Markus said if he didn’t come home last night to come here. We’re supposed to be meeting up with Luna’s sister, Celestia.”

“PRINCESS Luna and PRINCESS Celestia. Jeez Jules.”

The blue haired woman, Jules apparently rolls her eyes. “I’m not calling them Princesses, you derp.” She thumps the other woman on the back and she stumbles forward, wings flapping erratically as she tries to regain her balance unsuccessfully. She tumbles to the ground landing at my feet, looking up at me with one yellow eye… The other looking straight ahead.

With a sigh I offer my hand to help her up. She takes it tentatively. “Th-thanks Princess.”

I snatch my hand back as soon as she’s on her feet. “It’s ERIN. Not Princess. Why did Markus tell you to come HERE?” That’s when I see both women have backpacks over their shoulders.

“Well it wasn’t Markus so much as Luna. She said if they didn’t come back from meeting with their sister’s safe WE should come here and see what happened. Then all that shit started going down on the news about the ‘mutation epidemic’ and how anyone with symptoms should be reported to the authorities. We were hoping to hook up with Markus here and find someplace to lay low.”

The blonde girl is walking around me slowly and squinting at me. “Are you REALLY Erin? Can I talk to Princess Celestia! Princess Luna is super nice and really cool! I bet Princess Celestia is nice too!”

I open my mouth to rebuke her when I hear Meg calling from the door. “Erin? Is everything ok? I thought I heard screaming.”

I scowl at the two home intruders. “You two stay in here and stay QUIET. I’ll be back to deal with you in a minute.”

As I step out and shut the door behind me I hear the blonde girl worriedly ask Jules if that means I’m going to kill them. The other calls her a ‘derp’ again before I’m out of ear shot. I force a smile as Erin steps into the apartment with Lucas in tow. “Yup! Everything’s fine! So! Let’s get you two next door and in that shower!”

They exchange a look. “I thought we were eating.”

I laugh nervously. “Ehe he. Jake has a much better stocked kitchen. Lucas can wash up first while you get some lunch going for everyone! Sound good?”

My smile is probably just a touch too big judging by the look of concern Meg is shooting me. “Yeah alright...”

I walk hastily next door unlocking Jake’s apartment for them. “Just try not to make too big a mess guys. I’ve gotta uh… Use the bathroom. Then I’ll be right over.”

Meg gives me another curious look before she and her brother move into Jake’s apartment. I rush back to my own bedroom to find Jules sitting on my bed looking bored, her blonde friend hiding around the other side eyeing me nervously. “Ok look. No more Princess Celestia talk. I’m Erin. Not Celestia. There’s no Celestia here. Got it?”

A long, meaningful look passes between them. “Alright, alright lady chill. Don’t freak out. You ARE Erin Rockwell though right?”

I nod. She unzips her back pack handing me a mini-disc. “Well this is from Luna then. She said to give it to you when we met and that you should watch it right away.”

I take the offered disc frowning faintly. The pair look at me expectantly and with a sigh I shove some stacks of books away from my TV, easing the disc into my rarely touched player. I move to sit on the corner of my bed and Blondie squeaks scooting away from me hastily. The player is soon humming away as the disc begins to play. Markus’ image appears on screen shuffling uncomfortably. “This is stupid. I feel stupid.”

He tilts his head as if listening to someone else. “Oh. Oh yeah ok. You go first then.” He closes his eyes and his head sort of sags forward. I find myself leaning forward almost against my will as his hair begins to writhe slowly as if he were underwater. The black color gives way to midnight blue, as twinkling motes of light appear in it. It doesn’t grow any longer but it looks like it’s waving as though he were underwater. When his eyes open they’re an unnatural teal color.

“Greetings to you Erin Rockwell.” His voice isn’t even close to his own. It’s a woman’s voice. Cool, calm, collected. “If you are watching this recorded message, I am afraid we have not had the chance to speak face to face.”

I look to the other women in the room but aside from mild interest in what’s being said neither seems overly surprised by what’s happening on screen. “As you may already know, I am Princess Luna. If you stopped taking your medication as Markus asked than my sister has likely already informed you of the circumstances surrounding the unnatural events occurring to your people across the world. IF you have NOT ceased taking that vile concoction you absolutely must do so now. It is a deadly toxin to a lesser being. Only the fact that you are my sister’s host is what allows you to ingest it and survive. Even so your magical build-up is approaching a critical level. If you continue taking the medication you will surely die.”

Markus smiles suddenly. “I do hope you have stopped taking the pills. If you have well than… Hello Tia! It’s been far too long! Not as long as my banishment but still, I miss you terribly. I truly hope we have already spoken in person! If not than may our reunion come very soon. And to you Erin I extend my gratitude for being my sister’s keeper. I can only hope the two of you become as close as Markus and I have.”

His smile fades. “If the typical reaction your people have toward the unknown holds true, the world may become a very dangerous place for every man and woman changing into an Equestrian. If something has happened to me, the stewardship of our people falls to the two of you. I have sent Julie and Eliza to you already. I sincerely hope you shelter them as best you can. It is my understanding you have a considerable amount of money at your disposal. If caring for them personally is too difficult I beg of you to give them anything you can to aid in their flight.”

This was obviously news to the girls, as they look genuinely surprised. I have no idea how Markus and Luna found out about the inheritance my uncle left me. Markus clears his throat. “Well… I suppose that is all I have to say for now. Markus himself wishes to tell you something.” Now he tilts his head. “No Markus, this is for you to do yourself.”

All of a sudden his hair stops it’s writhing and his eyes take their normal dark blue hue. “…so. Uh… Dunno how to say this. I poked around in Corddis’ records. Found out you and me are related. Brother and sister. Twins I guess. I dunno all the details but I guess your uncle took you and left me? Maybe he didn’t know mom had two kids.” He sighs. “Anyway, sorry to drop all this shit on you. Especially like this. I wanted to talk more in person the other day but you seemed pretty freaked out. I dunno what happened to me that you hard to hear it like this, but please take care of Julies and Ellie. They’re important to me. No not like THAT. Like little sisters I guess. So uh… Yeah. I guess that’s it. See you soon I hope.”

The video ends and shuts off automatically. I feel like someone punched me in the stomach, bashed me over the head, and dumped me in the river. My brother? My TWIN brother? I really don’t see the resemblance but we must be what they call fraternal twins. I stand up slowly and switch the TV off.

Julie clears her throat uncomfortably. I take a good look at her now. She’s dressed in the same kind of punk style Markus seems to like. A black t-shirt with the sleeves torn off and the midriff exposed. Baggy black jeans turn down into slightly heeled, thick leather boots. She offers me a quirked smile. “Right so uh… I’m Jules. This is Ellie. You don’t gotta give us money or nothin’, we can look after ourselves. I guess we’ll get going since Markus isn’t here.”

I look over to Ellie still peeking at me fearfully with her mismatched eyes. Her own long-sleeved shirt is a bit too big for her arms, the sleeves slipping over her hands. A pair of tight jeans and some beat up sneakers finish her slacker look. I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Whatever else I’m doing I can’t just abandon these people. Hell I’m already taking four up the cabin. What’s two more?

“Right! Here’s the deal. I’m smuggling three pony-ish people to my Uncle’s cabin up north. It’s really secluded, huge, and a great place for laying low. I have no idea how bad this thing is gonna get but it’s the safest place I can think of. My boyfriend is one of the folks changing so…” I shrug. “You two are welcome to come, but there’s a condition.”

Ellie slowly peeks up from the corner of my bed, her ears perked forward and wings folded against her back. “Wh-what’s that?”

“No more Princess Celestia stuff. I don’t care what anyone else says. I don’t want Jake or anyone else knowing about… Her. That’s the deal. Free room and board, but you can’t breathe a word to anyone about any of this.”

Jules frowns. “But what about the uh…” She makes an explosive motion with her hands. “Your magic going kablooey?”

I scowl. “You let me worry about that. Do we have a deal?”

There’s no hesitation from either woman as they nod rapidly. “Good. I’m going to check on my friends next door. Do me a favor and pack some books up for me will you?” I dig out a duffle of my own. “Just stuff a bunch into he bag. It doesn’t matter what.”

Ellie grabs the bag grinning eagerly. “Right away ma’am!” Her friend just rolls her eyes as the bubbly girl races about. “Thanks for this. I know you don’t know us.”

I shrug. “Heck I’m already taking in three strangers. Two more isn’t that big a deal right? We’re all in this together. Just promise not to murder me in my sleep.”

She gives me a wry grin. “Long as you extend the same courtesy I don’t think we need to worry about it.”

I return her smile with one of my own. Slowly I move back to Jake’s place. Why am I trusting all these strangers so readily? Is it because of the pony thing? All the characters in the show were upbeat, friendly, and positive all the time. Am I reading too much into their unusual body parts? Does having a reincarnated Equestria soul impart some of that inherent goodness into the humans they were reborn as? I wish I could compare the people to characters I really know. Jake and Becky have kinda similar professions.

Sighing I poke my head in Jake’s kitchen. Meg’s there in front of the stove cooking some eggs and bacon. “Hey Erin. Everything ok over there?”

“Ehhh… Turns out we’re gonna have a couple unexpected guests. My erm, brother asked me to look after a couple of his friends. They have your condition.”

She laughs. “Condition. That’s a nice way to say transforming into a cartoon character.”

I shrug. “If it helps you don’t look like a cartoon. I mean I can pick out the individual hairs on the fur of your ears.”

Said ears splay flat. “That’s still kinda weird. The fur on my pony ears.” She chuckles ruefully. I can hear the water running down the hall. “C’mon Luke! Food!”

I’ve never seen someone move so fast on one leg, but man that kid can motor. He’s still dripping a bit from the shower, only his cast seems dry. The siblings sit down tucking into the meal with relish. I smile at the scene before finding Jake’s room.

Like Becky’s before I poke around until I find a bag big enough to hold plenty of personal effects. I grab a bunch of shirts, pants, and underwear managing not to blush too much. He has one of those handy little bathroom travel kits under his sink so I load it up and add that to the bag. Back in the kitchen a morose looking Meg is prodding the bacon on her plate.

“It just tastes… Bad.”

Her brother wastes no time in seizing it for himself. Meg looks up at me and I offer an apologetic smile. “I’m pretty sure ponies are herbivores. Why don’t you hop in the shower? I’ll take the first load down to the truck.”

She casts one last longing look at the bacon vanishing into her brothers’ mouth and heads to the bathroom. I help myself to another arm load of entertainment discs from Jake’s collection, tossing them and his bag in the truck bed.

Returning to my own apartment I find Ellie doing her best to lug the bulging bag of books toward the door. Her eyes look in danger of popping out of her head as she heaves on it. Jules just watches with a mildly interested expression. The winged woman gives a particularly huge heave on the bag straining for all she’s worth… When a sudden ‘schrip’ of tearing cloth is heard. Now Jules’ eyes are wide as she stares at Ellie’s backside.

“Wh-what is it?” The blonde girl starts turning circles trying to see, giving me a very clear view of the new tail flowing from her rump. It’s blonde color matching her hair.

“Ha! Awesome you look ridicu-“ Jules gives a strangled urk sound as a loud tear comes from her own pants now. Grimacing she reaches behind herself pulling out a tail that matches her electric hair. “Ugh.”

Ellie’s giggling up a storm suddenly, falling on her back than screeching and bolting upright when she crushes her own tail. I can’t hide a laugh at their antics. If nothing else, this is going to be an interesting few days. “Alright… Alright calm down for a second. You guys need to hide the ears, wings, and tails respectively. This is going to be hard enough without drawing all that attention.”

Both girls turn serious and to my relief immediately snap to do as I say. “Go ahead and help yourselves to my closet I guess. I have a few hats you can borrow til we get to the cabin. Some of my shirts are pretty huge so you should be able to hide those wings Ellie.”

As they march to my room I heft the bag of books with a grunt. Beginning the march down to the truck. Why am I so accepting of letting these strangers into my home? Letting them go through my things? And why are they so accepting of me? Is it because of their desperate situation, or something more? Is it Celestia’s influence on me and them?

I heave the bag of books into the truck bed. I should probably grab all the food I can too. I haven’t been up to the cabin in years. It’s likely not well stocked. I poke my head in Jake’s door and spy Lucas still at the table. I can hear the water running in the back still. “Hey can you get as much food as you can and fill up a garbage bag with it? I bet he has them under the sink.”

He brightens, seeming happy to help. “Sure thing!” With some effort he hobbles over. “Hey uh… Miss Erin?”

“Mmhm?”

“Is my…” He frowns. “Is my sister gonna be alright? I mean she’s got all these weird changes and I… I dunno what to do.”

I put on the best smile I can muster. “I think she’s gonna be alright. She might keep changing. She might look really different on the outside soon but just remember she’s still the same sister who loves you on the inside. Alright?”

He smiles back at me. “Alright. Thanks Miss Erin!”

I leave him to his chore and pop back in my own place. Ellie and Jules have disguised themselves passably well at least. I thrust garbage bags into each of their hands. “Empty my cupboards into these. We kinda have to break my boyfriend and his friend out of St. Joseph’s before we head to the cabin.”

Ellie eeps at that but Jules just grins. “Cool. Fight the power and all that.”

Grinning I head to my room starting to pack my own clothes. Filling my backpack I begin to wonder, just how important ARE clothes going to be for Jake and the others. If they go full pony they won’t exactly be built to wear them.

At least having all this craziness going on around me is taking my mind off of… Other things. My eyes drift to the pill bottle on my night stand. I scoop it up adding it to my travel bag. I grab some of my own toiletries before joining the other two in the kitchen. “We about all set?”

“Yes ma’am!” Ellie snaps a sharp salute drawing a groan from Jules. “C’mon you, let’s get these downstairs.”

I grin. “It’s the big black truck parked by the door! The bed is open, can’t miss it.”

They pair make their way downstairs bickering all the while. A concerned Luca is waiting for my by the door. “Uh, Meg is kinda freaked out in the bathroom.”

I think I know what the problem is too. Giving Lucas a reassuring smile I had to Jake’s bathroom knocking softly. “Meg? It’s Erin.”

The door peeks open a crack. I don’t have to look hard to see the large, wet tail hanging from her tailbone. “It just kinda sprouted…”

“It’s alright. We’ll hide it with some sweats or something. The other girls just grew theirs too.”

She’s wringing her new appendage in her hands. “Jeez this is really happening. I’m really turning into a pony aren’t I? I mean I tried to be cool about it for Lucas but… But what am I gonna do if I lose my hands?”

“Use your mouth?” Judging by the look on her face the joke is no appreciated. “Well hey the pony you’re becoming was a unicorn right? So you’ll get magic?”

“Magic? There’s no such… Wow I was just about to say that wasn’t I? I’m transforming into a cartoon pony and I was about to say there’s no such thing.” She turns to the mirror leaning in close now, specifically eyeing her forehead. “Hm.”

I give her shoulder a squeeze. “Come on. Let’s get you in some fresh clothes huh? I’m sure you can find something in my closet. You and Lucas get dressed than we’ll head downstairs.”

She smiles a little at that and pulls her old stuff back on. “And uh… Maybe leave those behind. If you don’t mind?”

Meg laughs. “Yeah not a bad idea. These things are probably ready to walk around on their own.”

I laugh with her as she leaves. My good cheer fades as I turn to face the mirror. “…is this good enough? I know it’s not… Not ideal but I’m trying to help them. I’ll do my best. Alright?”

Of course my reflection has nothing to say.