• Published 12th Oct 2011
  • 27,192 Views, 913 Comments

The End - shalrath



A friendly stranger delivers some unsettling knowledge about Life, the Universe, and Everything.

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Chapter 9

* * *

Daylight crept over the fruit laden orchards of Sweet Apple Acres, rousing one young filly from her slumber. She descended the stairs gingerly, muttering a variety of recently learned expletives with each painful step. The rest of the family had already left before sunrise, tending to the ripened fields in preparation for harvest. She tip-hoofed into the kitchen, hurling her uncooperative body into the nearest chair and slumping forward across the table, savoring what few minutes of peaceful tranquility she had to herself.

Her reprieve did not last long.

"Mornin' sis. Sleep well?" Applejack asked cheerily, as she rounded the corner.

"Ughhh... Sorta."

"You okay, Applebloom?” she peered at her younger sister’s fresh bruises and uniformly scraped knees. “Land’s sake girl! You look like you’ve been dragged up one field and down the other. What in tarnation happened?!”

Applebloom shook her head slowly. “Ah’d rather not talk about it.”

A stern glare from Applejack suggested otherwise.

“I guess we’re not Cutie Mark Crusader Stunt Doubles after all,” she sighed.

“Ughh... Sugarcube, I’ve always had the sneaking suspicion that you were born with more spunk than sense. Days like today, Ah’ve gotta wonder why I spent so long wonderin,” she shook her head.

“I’m sorry sis,” she looked up worriedly. “Ya ain’t gonna be sore with Dash are ya?”

“Oh, I’ve got some words for that filly, believe you me.” She leaned across the table, eye-level with Applebloom. “But ah can’t rightfully say it’s all her fault, seeing how you three roped her into yer lil’ shenanigans.”

Applebloom sighed. “Ah know, sis.”

“Hey now, what’s done is done. Ya fall down five times, and ya get up six. Now you best get those scrapes washed up and get some grub in that belly. Big Macintosh has been out tendin’ them fields since well before sun up, so it’s time for you to get out and lend a hoof. We’ve got a busy week comin’ up, ya know.”

“For the big Apple Family get together?”

“More than just that. Pinkie’s got some ideas she’d like to throw in the mix. Seein’ on how she’s planning a party to welcome the big fella here, I figured we’d roll em all into one.”

“You mean he’s coming here!” Applebloom exclaimed in surprise.

“...Ya best clean out them ears, too. Yes he’s coming here, and it’s just right that we should try an’ make him feel welcome.”

“Gosh,” she breathed. “It might be like somethin ‘outta one of them books I borrowed from Twilight. Like, ‘The Day Equestria Stood Still’, or ‘Forbidden World’ or that other one, ‘Close Encounters of the Unnatural Kind’. Gee, that’d be exciting. Is he gonna be staying for a while then?”

“Reckon so. Not sure for how long... Wait up now, how long have you had those books?”

“Um, a while now... Prolly ought to give em back soon,” she mumbled.

“Mmm hmm,” She shot Applebloom a stern gaze.

“Ah promise, sis... Next chance I get.”

“You do that. I’m headin’ out for a bit.”

“What fer?”

“Oh, eh... You know that party comin’ up?”

Applebloom nodded.

“Got a few invitations to hand out. You know, the whole Respond You, Silver Play sorta thing.”

“Riiight...”

“Mmm, yep! Now be a good filly and get yerself washed up. Gonna be a busy week!” She said as she pushed open the door, and trotted outside.

Applebloom watched through the window as her sister steadily increased her pace, until the casual trot picked up into a gallop, and finally became an excited sprint as she raced over the lip of the hill.

She crossed her hooves over the old and polished planks of the kitchen table, and rested her throbbing head atop her forelegs.

“Invitations my flank... Wonder what pony she’s all hot to trot for.”

A disturbing thought crossed her mind - one inspired by the garishly romantic cover art of John Canter and the Planet of Mares. She shook her head violently, with what feeble energy she had.

“Naaaaahh...”

* * *

“This really is a beautiful place, don’t you think?” Trent spread his fingers and gestured towards the dew laden meadows.

The two sat by the enormous hollow tree trunk, basking in the glow of the rising sun.

“Well, yeah. You’ve said that a few times already. This place does have a certain charm to it, but I’d imagine you’ve seen more interesting places before.”

“Mmm... Some were quite interesting, yes.”

“So what do you really find so amazing about Equestria?”

“Oh,” Trent smiled as he turned to Twilight. “If I had to say one thing, it would probably be everything. But if you really must know, I find it to be very tranquil here. Rather peaceful. A certain unspoiled innocence,” he trailed off, deigning to add further pithy adjectives.

“Equestria has been at peace for just over a thousand years now. It’s hard to imagine anything different.”

“I can.”

“Oh... You mean, times where everything wasn’t peaceful?”

Trent nodded quietly.

Twilight remained silent for a few moments longer.

“War?” she asked.

Trent nodded again, more quickly this time.

“I’m sorry.”

“No, no. It’s quite all right. Conflict is a very... regrettable thing. Regrettable, but necessary at times.”

“Necessary? I can’t even imagine how or why that would ever be...” Twilight looked slightly appalled for a moment. “Is it something that you would... enjoy?”

Trent sighed. “You’re quite good at asking questions that require several different answers.”

“Well, what do you mean then?”

“There is a little saying that we have. ‘The billet does not become the blade without suffering the furnace and the anvil.’”

“I can kind of see what you’re getting at, but that doesn’t say why it’s necessary.”

“There is much to be said on the subject. But, even for all that is dark and terrible in the universe, loathsome as it may be, only serves to contrast against that which is good. Without strife, we would not know peace. Without struggle, we would not know strength. Without loss, we would not know happiness. And without sacrifice, we would not cherish that which we already have.”

“Oh...”

“I know,” Trent smiled slightly. “Sounds a bit melodramatic, doesn’t it?”

“Well, not really. Maybe just a little,” Twilight spoke, shuffling slightly closer to the otherworldly visitor.

“It’s okay. I’d think so too if I haven’t seen it for myself.”

Twilight brushed a hoof against Trent’s hand.

“Is that why you like it here?”

“It’s enough to make me shed tears of joy. Had I any left to spare.”

“Okay, now you’re being melodramatic,” she poked at him.

“Oh, of course,” he smiled. “I try not to take myself too seriously, and that goes for you too...” His voice trailed off again. “But, since you asked, I feel it’s only right that I tell you. With all sincerity. I have faced terrors that I would wish upon no other, and I would not change it for the world. And yet, I have known moments of glory and victory that will give me nightmares until the day I die.”

“That sounds...”

“A bit too melodramatic?”

“I was going to say absolutely terrible.”

“Mmm. I may have to agree with you there.”

“Do you still think about it a lot?”

“I try not to dwell on the past. The future tends to be where all the surprises are stored.”

“Hmmm.” She leaned back further against the tree, staring up into the clear blue sky. “What do you think the future is like?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sure I’ll find out.”

* * *

A firm insistent tapping roused Laurie from bed.

“Urghh... Already?” he mumbled.

The knocking continued.

“Jeez, hold your haunches... I’m coming,” he grumbled as he rolled out from under the rumpled mass of blankets.

He landed unsteadily on two hooves; balanced precariously between landing firmly on the floor, or tipping back into the warm inviting bed. A living analogue of a peculiar thought experiment whereby Laurie could be said to be both awake and asleep in two superimposed states, awaiting the gentle push from a decaying atom to firmly thrust the brown and white pony into one potential reality. Unfortunately for Laurie, physics is a cold and uncaring beast, with just the slightest bit of sadistic revelry.

Gravity planted his four hooves firmly on the floor.

Murphy’s Law strategically placed several sheaves of paper from his spilled satchel underneath those hooves. His legs flew out from under him, as he smacked his chin into the bedside table, and tumbled the rest of the way to the floor. A large candle, normally stable by its’ thick squat shape, found itself tumbling as well, connecting painfully with the side of Laurie’s head.

Gravity plays no favorites.

From within the cottage could be heard a slight commotion, followed by a whimpering cry of agony that gradually rose into a deafening crescendo of barking profanity addressed ‘to whom it may concern’.

From outside the cottage, Applejack only managed to hear the portion of this muffled rant that seemed to imply a very determined threat to ‘shove all the kumquats in Neigh Haven’ up somepony’s posterior.

Some short time later, following a peaceful interlude that bore a distinct absence of shouting from the inside and knocking on the outside, the door opened.

“Ahh, good morning,” Laurie managed through bleary eyes and a painful throbbing in his head. “Can I help you, Miss...”

“Name’s Applejack. Say, you’re that officer fella from the other night in the woods, right?”

“Ahh, yes Ma’am. I’m Lieu... er... Captain Lancaster. But you can just call me Laurie for short.”

“Gotcha. Say, I was wondering if by chance... Err. Is the big fella in there?”

“Who? Oh, right. Of course. He’s right over...” Laurie turned to gesture to the neatly made bed, bereft of its occupant. “I mean right back... he’ll be right back! Yes, I just remembered now. I believe he had some very important errand to run, and he will be right back... very soon!”

“Uhh... Sure about that, are ya?” She drawled as she peered through the doorway.

“Yes, absolutely! Oh, and that reminds me. I have an errand to run too! Um... Yes, let me just, uhh...”

Laurie tried to close the door as nonchalantly as possible, but it was stopped by one firm tan colored hoof.

“I’ll leave ya to that, then. But I’ve got a message for you and the big fella first.”

“Oh?”

“Seein’ how you’re both kinda new around these parts, a friend of mine got it in her head that we should throw a lil' welcoming party for the two of ya. A lil' somethin’ to make y’all feel right at home.”

“Ahh... Well that sounds very thoughtful. Is it taking place here? Tonight perhaps?”

“Next week actually. Just outta town, over at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“Okay. Ah... Thanks. Is it going to be a big party?”

“Reckon just about every pony in Ponyville will be there. Pinkie sure knows how to throw a party.”

“Ah, right. Well that sounds...”

Laurie froze for a moment. His eyes widened and his ears twitched nervously. Visions of a poofy pink mane and that perpetual psychotic smile squealed loudly in his head.

“...great,” he squeaked.

“Oh, and one more thing. Now don’t be tellin anypony I said this, but I think a certain friend of mine has her eye on you. I know she’s gonna be there, so don’t act all surprised if some pink haired pony can’t keep a hold of herself and tries to sweep ya off your hooves,” she said with a wink.

“Oh...” Laurie started.

“Especially since she’s the one that asked me to come and invite ya. Fair warning. Anyhow... See ya later, partner!”

The door closed, as Applejack trotted off towards the Ponyville Library.

“...GOD!” Laurie screamed.

* * *

“I see you have a telescope up there.” Trent pointed at the balcony of the library. “Do you like stargazing?”

“Oh, well, yes. I don’t do it all that often, but it’s fun sometimes.”

“Mm... Lots of stars to look at.”

“Yeah. I’ve managed to see most of them. There must be hundreds of stars out there,” she said proudly.

Trent’s brow furrowed, as he turned slowly to look at Twilight.

“Hundreds, you say?”

“Umm, yes. Maybe even thousands,” she stated, matter-of-factly. Princess Luna raises them every night, after Princess Celestia lowers the Sun.”

“They move the stars around?”

“Every day,” Twilight smiled.

“Hmmm... So what happened before that?”

“Before what?”

“Before the two Princesses took up a career in celestial mechanics.”

“Oh... I’m not really sure. I don’t think there was a time when they weren’t here.”

“I see.”

“Umm... Would you like me to show you some stars later?”

“I was thinking about asking you the same thing.”

“With my telescope?”

“Eh... Well, that’s one way of doing it,” he chuckled.

“Huh? What other way did you have in mind?”

“Well, there’s one for starters,” he pointed at the glowing disk, just above the red tinged horizon.

“Where?”

Trent slapped his forehead.

“Seriously? It’s hard to miss.”

“But, it’s daytime now. All the stars have gone down. Is there one that you can still see?”

“Ahh... what exactly do you call that?” he pointed again.

“The Sun.”

“Which is a star.”

“What? No...” she said uncertainly. “It’s way too big to be a star.”

“And exactly how big do you think a star is supposed to be?”

“Well, they’re almost the size of pinholes. Some of them are just barely the size of specks of dust, even when I’m using the telescope.”

“Ahh huh.” Trent turned to look off into the distance towards Canterlot.

“What are you looking at over there?”

“I don’t know, but it’s very rocky, shaped like a cone, and I can vaguely make out a tiny castle sitting near the top.”

“Uh... Do you mean that mountain?”

“Ohh, no. It’s way too small to be a mountain.” He held up his fingers, framing the distant rocky protrusion from the base to its peak.

“Arghh... Now I know you’re just being sarcastic. Why is it that everything you say has to be some kind of half-flank riddle... oh...” Twilight paused for a moment, as a very unsettling idea found its way into her mind; the enormity of it crushing many well formed pillars of unequivocal truths and card houses of knowledge.

“Oh?”

“Um... You mean that... I mean, if that whole mountain can appear so tiny from here, then the stars...”

“Your Sun is a star. And all stars are as big as your Sun.”

“Really?”

“Actually, no. Most stars are much bigger than that. They can be several hundred times more massive, with several million times more volume.

“Ohh... My...”

“And perhaps a fair number of those pinpricks of light you mentioned are actually cosmic juggernauts. Can you imagine how far away they must be to appear so tiny?”

Twilight was at a complete loss for words. Her head throbbed, and she cradled it with both forelegs, as she gently rocked back and forth.

“I’m sorry. Was that from the translation spell?”

“No.” she squeaked out, eyes still shocked wide as she tried to glimpse upwards at the brilliant blinding light from Equestria’s star.

“Understanding?”

She nodded weakly.

“There’s more.”

“More?” she cried with a tinge of panic.

“Ohh, much more.”

She simply stared, wide eyed.

“How big do you think the Sun is?”

“I... I don’t really know. I mean, it doesn’t really look that big. If I hold my hoof up to it, it’s practically covered.”

Trent nodded. He leaned forward to draw a large rough circle in the ground, roughly the size of a small wagon wheel.

“This probably isn’t completely accurate, but it should be pretty close. Let say that this circle is the Sun.”

“Okay.”

“And this dot,” he pressed his fingertip into the loose soil, “Is us.”

“Wait, what?”

“Like a marble next to a beach ball. Although thankfully, we’re a lot further away than that,” he gestured at the ground.

She stared at the diagram, puzzled.

“Hold on. What is that dot supposed to be, exactly?”

“A planet.”

“Which one?”

“The one we’re standing on.”

“Waaaiiit... Wait a second. I’ve seen planets before through my telescope. But they’ve always looked so tiny, just like the stars.”

“Well they are tiny, compared to a star. And much closer than any star, aside from that one,” he pointed lazily.

Twilight breathed slowly, deep in concentration.

“I wonder who moves the planets.”

“There’s your answer,” Trent grinned, as he pointed back to the Sun.

Twilight Sparkle looked even more confused than before. Unfortunately, this particular expression only made her more adorable.

“What do you mean?”

Trent picked up a small stone, and let it slip from his fingers. It accelerated towards the ground at a swift pace, landing with a quiet thud.

“Gravity pulls us down, right?”

“Well, every schoolpony knows that.”

“But gravity is proportional to mass... How big or heavy something is.”

“But what does that have to do with this?”

“Watch.”

Trent picked up the stone again, and hurled it in a low arc. It nearly vanished in the distance before it landed, bouncing up briefly above the tall blades of grass, and disappearing from sight.

“Umm...”

“Yes?”

“That looks like it could hurt somepony.”

“Ahhh... Well, I did say that we got along just fine without fangs or claws. Imagine if that was a long stick with a sharp point on the end, and you’ll know how we kept ourselves fed.”

She grimaced.

“Claws and fangs might make a creature fearsome, yes. But the real predators are those that can wait and plan to fight on their own terms. Ahh. So many tasty fearsome creatures out there,” he patted his belly in the manner which another animal might flex it’s claws. “Anyways, back to what I was saying...”

He drew another circle in the dirt, with a short line sticking out from the top.

“Let’s say this is me. And that rock I threw can be represented by this line.”

He drew a small arc from the top of the line until it intersected with the circle.

“Now if I threw it twice as far, that line would be even longer. If I threw it really hard, it might end up going all the way around and landing on the other side.”

“Around? Wait, what do you mean by the other side?”

Trent sighed patiently.

“Just how big is Equestria?”

“Well, it’s pretty enormous actually! Even a really fast pegasus like Rainbow Dash would take weeks to go from one end to the other.”

“What’s at the end?”

“The great oceans, of course.”

“And beyond that?”

“Umm... More ocean?”

“Has anyone ever tried to go beyond that?”

“Well, no. I mean, why would they? Not even a pegasus can fly that far, and I know that some have even tried. What does this have to do with that circle anyways?”

“I’ll get back to that in a moment. Has anyone tried sailing across the ocean in a ship?”

“Well, yes. But they’ve never seen anything. It’s just ocean all the way, as far as they can go.”

“Maybe they need a bigger boat.”

“Huh? why? It’s not like there’s anything out there. It’s all ocean, and it can be kind of dangerous too. Besides, there are a lot more problems to worry about here, than trying to explore something that has no practical value to anypony.”

“I’ve heard that argument before.”

“Ah... So you know what I’m talking about?”

“Ohhh, yes. I’m very familiar with that, as a matter of fact,” he glared at Twilight.

“Is something wrong?” she looked suddenly concerned.

“No. Just tragically disappointing.”

She looked confused again for a moment, before Trent’s words sunk in. The realization hit her like a kick to her belly, as her head gently sunk, and her eyes began to moisten.

“I’m sorry.”

“Now there, don’t take it personally. Do you remember what I said earlier? About science?”

“Umm... To challenge one’s existing assumptions, and to let curiosity reign over complacency?”

“Very good. And don’t forget to have fun while you’re doing it.”

She remained silent for a moment, as she considered her question.

“What would happen if they sailed all the way into one of the oceans?”

“They would come out the other side.”

“Huh?”

“Look,” he pointed back to the circle, tracing a line around the entire circumference.

“But, it doesn’t look round like that!”

“If you were the size of a flea on the surface of a watermelon, you might think the same thing. In fact, you could walk all the way around and never realize that you ended up where you started, but it would still look flat the whole time.”

She pondered this for a moment, before her eyes shot wide. She looked down at the ground, then back to Trent, and then turned in a circle, taking in the whole landscape of Ponyville; from the mountainous horizon back to the rolling plains, and distant thickets of forest. A vast rolling landscape under a bright blue sky, reduced to a single dot stretched over a tiny portion of an enormous sphere.

“I... Oh, my...”

“Now look back here. You asked how the planets moved, right?”

“Yes.”

“So let’s say I throw this rock so fast that it flies all the way around the world, and hits me in the back of the head.”

“Um... Ouch?”

“Yes, you’re right. It wouldn’t be pretty. We call those kinetic kill projectiles for good reason. Anyways now, if there was no gravity, I could throw that rock at any speed, and it would just keep flying off in a straight line. But because the planet has gravity, it will always be falling. The trick is to make it go fast enough that while it’s falling, it always misses.”

“So it flies in a big circle around the planet?”

“Ohh, no. It’s still flying in a straight line. But that line is curved into a circle by the gravitational pull.”

“Whaat?”

“Mm, I’ll explain that later. It gets a little complicated. But you know that gravity is responsible for pulling fast objects into a perpetual circle, or an ellipse. We call that an orbit.”

“I guess. It’s kind of hard to understand without seeing it.”

“The moon orbits Equestria.”

Twilight’s jaw dropped.

“And the Sun... It has gravity too. A lot more than the planet we’re standing on. Therefore we’re orbiting the Sun right now as well.”

Her jaw dropped further.

“Just look at it. Can you feel it pulling us closer? The speed at which we orbit is the only thing saving us from being pulled straight in. Could you imagine that? Hurtling towards that nuclear furnace without any hope of holding ourselves back. It would just grow larger and larger as we sped down the throat of its gravity well. Hot enough to turn our bones into ash before we got anywhere near it. Even now, it pulls us relentlessly, as we skirt just safely along the edge of it’s voracious grip.”

She stared up into the sky with a new found terrified reverence. Almost as if she could feel the pull from that hot blinding disc.

“The moon orbits us... We orbit the Sun... Does the Sun orbit anything?”

“That is a very good question, and yes, it does.”

Trent stooped down to draw several spiral arms radiating out from the middle of the big circle, each one traced with several fingers pressed together. A large oval shaped depression was pressed into the center.

“That looks kind of like a whirlpool.”

“Yes it does. A very apt comparison.”

He reached down again, tracing a tiny circle midway down the length of one spiral arm.

“What’s that little circle?”

“Well, you remember how you asked if the Sun orbits around something larger?”

“Yes. Is that circle our Sun?”

“No, but you’re close. That circle is much too big to be the Sun.”

“Well, what is it then?”

“All the stars you can possibly see from here.”

Everything hit Twilight at once, and she suddenly recoiled away from the picture in the dirt. She could not speak. She could not gasp for breath. She looked up, almost pleadingly at Trent, as if the joy of discovery had suddenly turned terrifying through the sheer oppressive enormity of all that she could suddenly comprehend.

“All that...” she breathed.

“I think your world just got a little bigger.”

“And we orbit around that?” she pointed to the thick oval in the center.

Trent nodded. “It’s a galaxy.”

“How... How many stars are in a galaxy?”

“Do you recall when you said ‘hundreds’?”

“Yes.”

“Hundreds of billions.”

She thought about it, and then thought some more. Then her legs began to shake, and she collapsed like a stack of potatoes. Trent dove quickly to break her fall, cradling her neck in his arms.

“It’s so much. I can’t... I just can’t believe it.”

“Well, you did say you wanted to learn everything. I feel compelled to oblige.”

“Is there more?”

“So much more.”

“But... How do you believe in it all?”

“I don’t.”

“What? After all that you just said... I mean, how do you expect me to believe it then?”

“What I tell you is not idle speculation. It is the product of theories supported by evidence, tested by experiment, and standing up to generations of questioning.”

“How is that different from believing?”

“Hmm... For the most part, they are very similar. Two sides of the same coin, as it were. However, there is a subtle, but key distinction. Belief withers under the spotlight of questioning, yet that very same scrutiny is the engine that makes ideas grow and flourish.”

“You say that, like questioning everything automatically makes your ideas right,” Twilight countered.

“That’s a good observation. I suppose what I’m trying to say is there’s an appropriate sense of humility at work. The hubris of absolute conviction builds itself into a grand and soaring tower, magnificent in splendor, and visible for miles. It boasts the truth, because it cannot afford to be wrong. But science does not build towers. It builds foundations. Those who admire the tower will do so because it is pretty. Those who admire the foundation will do so because it is permanent. It is the humble approach that imparts the truly humbling experience.”

“So that makes it safe from questioning?”

“Nope. Finding the truth is an impartial process that steps on many toes along the way.”

“Can science be wrong?”

“It wouldn’t be science if it proclaimed itself to always be correct.”

“But how do you know when it is right?”

“Think of it as carving a statue from a stone block. You simply carve away everything that doesn’t look like a pony. Sounds easy, right? At first, you may only have a vague idea of what it should look like, and you’ll probably waste a lot of blocks before you even get close. Then, after you get the rough shape worked out, you can go back and work on the details until it’s almost perfect. Science works the same way. You come up with an idea that explains how you think something works, and then you throw questions at it until you’re left with a theory that supports your observations, or a complete illogical mess that contradicts everything.”

“That sounds like it could take forever, if you’re just doing everything by trial and error.”

“Mmm, perhaps. Tell me, when you learned how to use magic, was it difficult? Did you make mistakes along the way?”

“Umm...” she blushed slightly. “Some. Well, more than I want to admit actually.”

“So if you could go back and change it all... Would you? If you had to start over from scratch, would you try to stop yourself from making those mistakes in the first place?”

“I...” she paused for a moment, thinking back. “Well, maybe.”

“All of those mistakes, failures, and frustrations. Just washed away. Where would that leave you? Would you ever have succeeded if you never tried?”

“I don’t really know.”

“Mmm... As long as you can admit to failure, you will never admit to defeat. Keep that in your mind at all times. It may take courage to face a challenge, but it takes perseverance to prevail.”

“Okaaay. What does that have to do with science again?”

“Because, sometimes the most audacious thing you can do in life is to question it. Believe what you are told, or believe in yourself. That is the crux between complacency and curiosity.”

“But what if I end up being wrong?”

“Then learn from it. Knowing when you’re wrong will inevitably help you find what is right.”

“Is that how you know?”

“This is how we’ve known. Long before we could see that up close with our own eyes.” he gestured towards the ground.

Twilight looked back to the large swirl in the dirt. A cosmic map of dizzying scale and terrifying distance that belied the humble tracing of its finger-drawn furrows.

“You’ve seen that?”

Trent nodded. “That, and more.”

“There’s more?” Twilight looked up weakly, her mind near the limits of fatigue.

“Mmm. You did say that you could show me the stars. Perhaps I can return the favor some day.”

Her jaw gaped, looking back and forth between Trent and the galactic map.

“But not right now. I imagine you could use a break first.”

She nodded weakly.

“Just remember. Question everything, but believe in yourself. Let that be your one true faith, and it will burn brighter than all of the stars combined. A candle in the darkness that will illuminate the very depths of the universe.”

A smile slowly blossomed over Twilight’s face. She stood before Trent, staring into his eyes with all sincerity.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

Trent smiled back at Twilight, as he sat down against the base of the tree, stretching his legs as he did. A wry grin crept over his face as he planted his boots in the dirt, straddling the curved arms of the spiral disc.

“This really is a beautiful place.”

“Why do you keep saying that?”

“Because I’ve been to a lot of places.”

They sat in silence for some time, contemplating the warm glow of the Sun.

It struck them both deeply. Twilight’s feeling of awe and respect against Trent’s perpetual feeling of child-like curiosity. Yet still they shared a particular feeling, that one could learn so much, and understand so little.

After some time, they could hear a knocking on the front door of the library.

“Twilight?” A call that came from Applejack.

“Hmmm?” She looked up suddenly.

The knocking continued, with barely measured restraint.

“Oh, that sounds like Applejack. Have you met her before?”

“I have, actually,” Trent replied.

“Let’s go see her!” Twilight bounded up, and trotted around to the front of the library. “Applejack, we’re over here!”

Trent followed, tiptoeing along a more circuitous route.

“Oh hey there, Twi. How’ve you been doin this morning?”

“Amazing! Just amazing! Ohh, I have so many things on my mind right now, it’s just... so much! Ohh!” She skipped in the air.

“Whoa there, Nelly, what’s got yer skirts all in a bunch?”

Twilight smiled maniacally. “The Sun! Just look at it!”

“Eh... I try not to.”

“Can you feel it pulling us in?” she exclaimed with amazement. “It’s the speed at which we orbit that keeps us from falling into a quick agonizing death by nuclear inferno!” She exclaimed with a cheerful smile.

“Aaaannnd... What in the hay is all that supposed to mean?” she cocked her eye at Twilight, backing away slowly.

“Oh... Well. I just mean that it’s really beautiful, the way it all works,” she said with a slight blush.

“Are you all right, Twi?”

She nodded happily. “Yes. I just feel amazing right now!”

“Well, I guess I’m happy that you’re happy. Say... Have you seen the big fella around?”

“Ohh, well...”

“Because I’ve... I mean, ah... Been kinda wanting to see him again.”

“Huh?”

Applejack stepped close to Twilight, her face wrought with nearly conspiratorial levels of shyness.

“Now don’t go tellin nopony about this. But you remember back to that night when we met the big fella? Somethin’ happened that ain’t nopony knows about ‘cept me, him, and the Princess herself.”

It was Twilight’s turn to back away slowly.

“I mean, it all happened so fast. But it seemed like he jumped in at just the nick of time and kept me from losin’ my head in one of those fiendish lil snapping berry patches. And you know what else? When he saw me, it was like he ain’t seen me in a while, and just swooped me up off my hooves and gave me a big ol’ hug like some long lost kinfolk that’d been waitin’ for years to come an see me.”

“Uhh...”

“And now I don’t trust nopony to keep a secret, other than you and myself, pretty much. But I gotta tell you anyhow. I don’t know how I’m gonna say it, or even why I should be getting myself all worked up over it in the first place. I mean, I don’t even know how to tell him, and I’m not even sure if he’ll be around long enough for us to learn how to talk to one another. But I just gotta tell him how I feel...”

“Uhhhh...”

“I mean, I’m mighty grateful and all. But there’s more that I gotta get off my chest. If I could, someday, I’d just like to give him a big ol’ hug, and just not stop. It’s not that I feel like I owe it to him as returning a favor or anything. I just want to let him know that... Well... I know it sounds a bit strange and all, but I wish I could just be with him, till the end of time itself.”

“Applejack?”

“Yes?”

“He can understand everything you just said.”

“What!” she cried out in alarm, her face flushed with a deep burning red.

“Long story...”

“Well... Twi, promise you won’t tell him what I just said. Not yet at least. I mean... Oh horsefeathers, I’m sounding like some dumbstruck filly with her heart all a pitter patter.”

“Ehh... He’s right here.”

“Where?”

“Huh?” Twilight turned around suddenly. Trent was nowhere in sight.

“You said he was right here, just now?”

“Yes, he was just right behind me!”

Unfortunately for Twilight, this could not be further from the truth. There was a sudden rustling from behind the two ponies, as a large hulking mass hurled itself from behind the trunk of the tree, flinging towards them in one predatory leap; hissing through bared teeth and raising many fingers in a mimicry of razor sharp talons.

“Boogedy Boogedy Boo!” Trent shouted as his boots landed with a crunch behind Twilight and Applejack.

Unlike cats, ponies could not ascend trees in the face of danger. This did not stop them from trying. They tumbled back to the ground, holding each other tightly in anticipation of their final moments as living, breathing, metabolizing organisms.

Trent stood there, bent over with his hands on his knees, giggling madly. He broke into a deep braying laugh, snorting and gasping for breath.

“AAUUUUGHHH!” Twilight shouted. “Why would you do that!”

The ‘Emperor of a Thousand Suns’ collapsed to the ground, slapping his palm against the packed dirt as he cried through tears of laughter.

Applejack stared in shock, her heart still racing from the sudden adrenaline fueled endocrine explosion. There were a million things that she wanted to say, but only one sentence blurted out.

“You can talk!” she exclaimed.

Trent restrained his laughter for a moment, looking up from his doubled-over stance.

“Oh yes. For the last sixty thousand years, give or take.”

The giggling resumed with full force, much to the bewilderment of the two ponies.

“Ahhh...” Applejack breathed. “Did you catch what we were saying just now?” She asked nervously.

“Hmm. Well I heard something just after I made it all the way around. Stupid tree is a lot bigger than it looks.” he waved his hand at the enormous trunk.

Applejack’s eyes went wide.

“Umm... You didn’t hear what I was sayin about...”

“Oh, hey now. If you’ve got your eye on some dashing young colt out there, I’m not one to gossip. Your secret is quite safe with me, and I’ve got the security clearance to prove it!”

“The what?” they asked in unison.

Trent sighed mirthfully, letting the last fits of laughter escape his system.

“You must be Applejack. I’m glad to see you again.”

Applejack’s mouth moved, but nothing came out.

“It seems that your friend Twilight is quite the up and coming scientist, scholar, and a top notch chef to boot. What do you like to do in Ponyville?”

“I... Uhhh... I like to buck apples!”

Trent’s face screwed itself into a mix of surprise, shock, and gutter-level amusement.

“You what apples?”

“Umm, yep! All day long!”

“Uhhhh...”

Twilight came to the aid of her friend.

“Ah, what she means is...”

“Ya see, it’s like this!” Applejack shouted nervously. She leaned on her forelegs, and turned to deliver a solid kick to the trunk of the library.

A shower of apples did not descend.

A swarm of bees did.

“OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD, KEEP THEM AWAY!” Trent shouted, as he tore across the field, waving his arms and swatting at his neck.

* * *

A quick burst of magic from Twilight’s horn calmed the angry swarm, sending them back to the confines of the buzzing nest in an orderly manner.

She turned to look at Applejack, who watched Trent disappear over the horizon, still flailing his arms in panic.

“Umm...”

“That could’ve gone better,” Applejack sighed, hanging her head.

The door burst open, and Spike ran out to meet them.

“What was that! What in the name of Celestia’s tracts of land was THAT?”

Applejack raised one hoof sheepishly.

“Are you serious? You are serious... Agh! Do you know how long it took to put all those books on the shelf?” Spike demanded.

“I... Umm...”

“Oh, wait. Let me finish that for you. I’m leaving for Dragon Mountain, and someone else is cleaning that up!”

“Spike...”

“I love you too, Twilight. Have fun while I’m gone. Don’t forget to write, and by all means, please don’t destroy anything. Else.”

They watched as the baby dragon marched back inside the library, returning moments later with two swollen suitcases; their tiny wheels dragging a set of ruts through the polished gravel near the door. Nearly on que, a carriage arrived near the library, and was quickly boarded by one impatient young molting dragon.

Spike waved, and then he was gone.

* * *

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