• Published 9th Mar 2012
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Maximum Ride: Cause Saving Just One World is Too Easy - Jspang



A Maximum Ride x mlp crossover cause why the buck not?

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Chapter 5 *Rewritten*

We all walked out of Twilight's house in time to see a pair of chariots descend from the sky. They were each large enough to carry about six people, pulled by nearly identical teams of four pegasi, and made of solid freaking gold. Or it could be literally anything else, because we all know where assumptions have gotten me in the past with this place. Again, I was just trying to take everything in stride, because I honestly couldn't rule out the possibility that this was all some kind of fever dream.

Anyway, the chariots landed and the pegasi pulling them snapped to attention. Judging by their posture, similar looks, and ornate, golden armor, I guessed they were some kind of police force or soldiers, and I tensed. So much for keeping a low profile. To my surprise, none of them so much as looked in our direction. Instead, one of the ponies addressed Twilight. "Greetings, Ms. Sparkle. We may depart as soon as you and your... guests are ready." He had a gruff, authoritative voice that proclaimed he was used to giving orders that were immediately followed. I didn't like him.

"Thank you, Sergeant Lightening," Twilight responded graciously, apparently familiar with the pony. "But I think the flock prefers to fly under their own power. I imagine it's a point of pride for them."

"Not so much pride as a general wariness of anything that isn't a set of wings on our back. Try not to make assumptions about us," I cut in, perhaps a bit too viciously, if her immediate, shameful expression was anything to go by.

The sound of someone clearing their throat got my attention, and I turned to see that Rainbow Dash was finished attempting to get one of the soldiers to visibly emote. Gazzy and Iggy had picked up where she left off. "So," she began in her scratchy, tomboyish voice, "Are we doing this, or what? I'm ready to go. First one to Canterlot Castle. Let's go."

I let a self-confident grin cross my face to match Rainbow's. This pony had no idea what she was getting into. "Sure. I'm gonna guess Canterlot Castle is the one on the mountain over there." I indicated the distant mountain, doing some mental arithmetic, I figured it would take about five minutes to get there at my top speed, which is just over 200 miles per hour. Yeah. Remember those other talents I mentioned?

We took places next to each other and crouched, waiting for Pinkie to count us off. We didn't ask her to. She just kinda showed up in front of us with one of those little handkerchief things that people use in drag racing movies.

As we waited, I took the last couple seconds to eye the pegasus next to me, and saw that she was doing the same. I had nothing to worry about. The fastest I had seen other pegasi moving was a sprint, and Rainbow was only slightly more athletically built than the ones I had seen. I don't know if you know this, but Usain Bolt can't top 200 miles per hour. Even with her B.S. magic flight, there was just no way her wings had the kind of thrust that mine could. See? I can science... sometimes.

Pinkie's countdown snapped me out of my pseudo-scientific musings. It almost threw me off because it consisted of her counting backwards from one hundred at lightening speed. As she reached one, I sprang into a dead run in order to build up speed, confident in my head start, right up until my brain actually registered what Rainbow had just done.

Without building any momentum at all, the pegasus had shot into the air at what must have been upwards of forty miles per hour. She immediately gained a huge lead as I hurled myself into the air, wings working desperately to wind back the ground I had lost. I guess that was just whatever the hell governs this place laughing at me for trying to predict it again. I started pouring on the speed and the trees below me became a greenish blur. Rainbow looked back to see my rapidly closing the distance between us, and her cocky grin told me that she lived for this. I couldn't blame her. Flying kicks ass. Flying at breakneck speeds without my life on the line, for once? Freaking. Awesome.

As I drew up beside her, the mare shouted over the wind, "Not bad, but I know that ain't all you got!" With that, she shot forward with another completely impossible burst of speed. After she had gained another comfortable lead, she turned and started to fly backwards, placing her forehooves behind her head like she was lying on a couch, rather than rocketing through the air at interstate speeds. I'd make a comment about how flying backwards is something that defies everything about the anatomy of our wings, but there really isn't a point anymore.

At this point, I was fed up. I wasn't gonna settle for that "jockeying for the lead" crap you see in racing movies. It was time to show this candy-colored pony what I could really do. I felt my heart pounding and my skin heating up like it does whenever I decide to really open up, and then I was ahead of Rainbow Dash. I couldn't resist the urge to check out her face as I went by, and I was not disappointed.

The castle loomed in the distance, getting closer every second as I grinned like a loon. Maybe it was the adrenaline talking, but I was loving it the thrill of it all. It wasn't just the speed, but the intense competition that left me having the time of my life. I was almost there. The castle couldn't have been more than thirty seconds away and I was streaking towards it faster than I had ever gone before, and then I heard it.

BOOM!

I immediately dropped out of the air to avoid what sounded like several cannons being fired at once. Frantically looking around to find my attacker, I caught sight of, I kid you not, an enormous, rainbow-colored shock wave. A small dot, glowing with the same light, was rapidly closing the distance between it and me. With a start, I realized that this was another crazy aspect of the pony world and that Rainbow Dash was coming. Fast.

I gritted my teeth. Race now. Question reality later. Accelerating as fast as I could, I strained to reach a small, open area in what looked like the castle's courtyard. I couldn't have been more than forty feet away when Rainbow blew by me and slammed into the cobblestones in the time it took me to blink. I flared my wings and turned away, realizing that if I hit the ground at that speed, then the castle's janitors were gonna have a lot of work to do. My opponent, however, seemed to have employed some sort of tuck-and-roll maneuver and was now doing victory laps around the courtyard to drain off her excess speed, somehow avoiding the few ponies that were there. Oh yeah. We were kinda supposed to be keeping a low profile.

Putting that rather disturbing thought to rest for now, I contemplated Rainbow's trick as I came in for a landing. She didn't seem any more than a little winded, implying that she did that kind of thing all the time. I almost literally growled at that. The pegasus had been toying with me, just to see what I could do. I hate losing almost as much as I hate being manipulated. Granted, losing on a normal day usually involves me and the rest of the flock dying horribly, but the principle is still there.

Rainbow Dash met my glowering expression with that same, infuriatingly confident smirk, and when I approached her, she started gloating. "Not bad, for a hairless monkey. Maybe if you were a bit more aerodynamic, you could actually make me break a sweat."

Urge to kill... rising. My hands clenched. "Was that a poorly veiled fat joke? Because let me tell you something, if you didn't have that magic crap helping you, those fairy wings of yours wouldn't even get you off the ground!"

"Hey, I work hard to be this awesome! It's not my fault that wherever you come from doesn't have magic!"

Our argument continued to escalate, and it might have even come to blows, were it not for the interference of another one of those pegasus soldier ponies. His first few attempts at clearing his throat went completely unnoticed by both of us, but a stomp of his hoof that sounded like it cracked the pavement sure got our attention. "Miss Rainbow Dash and our esteemed guest, if you would please refrain from such unsavory displays, it would be much appreciated by both the princess and the Royal Guard." Well apparently this guy was an avid Shakespeare reader or something. Nerd. "Also, the public seems to be getting increasingly ill-at-ease by your behavior."

I cast a quick glance around the courtyard we had landed in. Sure enough, all of the ponies present were staring slack-jawed at us, or more specifically, me. If I had to guess, I'd say they were a bit more shocked by the creature from another dimension than the fact that people were arguing, but whatever.

"If you would, please follow me inside before your presence incites something of a panic," the Royal Guard continued, before turning towards the entrance to the castle. I'm pretty sure I saw some camera flashes out of the corner of my eye, which led me to wonder if the ponies even had cameras. I also wondered if it would be a good or bad thing to appear in the newspapers, if the ponies had cameras, or newspapers. Man, adjusting to inter-dimensional travel is hard.

Rainbow Dash and I followed the pony as he weaved his way through ornately decorated hallways, and we were quickly hidden from the public eye. My eyes darted from side to side, taking in everything as I memorized every turn and all possible escape routes. It isn't that I didn't trust the strange ponies that I had met not three hours ago (which I didn't, by the way), but that was one of the first things Jeb had taught us, and it had saved all of our lives on several occasions.

Our little walk ended at a small, nondescript wooden door set off to the side. The thing looked pretty out of place among all the breathtaking architecture and decor, but I supposed that that was the point. The guard took up a position by it and swung it open for us, revealing a room that looked like it should have been a doctor's office's waiting room. I glanced at the pegasus with a question on my lips, but he beat me to it. "You two may wait here for your companions. They should be along shortly, and the princess will be finishing her Day Court soon. Then, she has invited you all to join her for dinner."

Shaking my head at the ridiculousness of the situation, I strode into the room, with Rainbow close behind. The door shut once we were both inside. Seeing nothing else to do, I flopped onto a chair and turned it towards the window, gazing out at the sun. It was dipping closer and closer to the horizon, painting the sky with the reds, yellows, and oranges of... something with a lot of red, yellow, and orange in it. Look, I never claimed to be a poet, okay?!

It couldn't have been more than two minutes before Rainbow Dash drew up behind me and interrupted my "reflections" by way of several pokes in the ribs. Let me tell you something. Being poked with a hoof is pretty much like being punched. These ponies put some freaking muscle behind it, so I can't be blamed for jumping about a foot in the air.

"Maaaaaax, I'm booooored!" the pegasus whined. "We've been sitting here for hours!"

I neglected to comment on her clear misconception of time and instead decided to use a time-honored technique I rely on when one of the flock starts the "I'm bored" routine. I pretended I hadn't heard her.

"Hmph," came the disgruntled mare's response. I grinned inwardly, knowing that I was getting to her, however petty it might have been. It was probably safe to say that I was a little bit sore about losing our race. "Fine. Be that way." She stomped over to the other side of the room and crashed down onto another chair with much more force than you would expect, considering every one of the ponies was about as big as a St. Bernard.

Making use of the blissful, if fleeting few moments of silence, I turned my gaze back to the sunset. I rarely take time to stop and smell the roses, as the cliche goes, but I had nothing better to do, and I had to admit, it was pretty freakin' awesome.

However, my moment of peace was not to last. Predictably, Rainbow sighed and stood up from her chair again. I heard footsteps (hoofsteps?) approaching me before falling short just behind me. I set my sarcasm phasers to kill and turned around.

"You're insanely fast, you know," she said sincerely. "There aren't many ponies that can keep up with me, let alone almost win against me, even when I'm holding back a bit."

I faltered due to her sincere tone. "I... You don't understand. Where I come from, it is literally impossible to fly like you do. You don't obey the same laws of physics that we do on Earth. The way I flew isn't supposed to be possible either, but I'm used to doing the unthinkable. I guess I'm just not used to being shown up."

She chuckled at that. "Take it from someone who's had to learn that lesson more than once. Sometimes it's a good thing to find out that you're not the best pony behind the princesses," the mare said with a good-natured grin.

Her sudden shift in behavior forced a smile out of me as well. "So why are you playing nice now? I kinda got the impression that you were-"

"An arrogant, self-obsessed jock with nothing to do but put others down in order to make herself feel some sort of validation?" she finished for me. "I can be. I've been told as much before. You can probably tell that I don't tend to think things through very often. My mouth gets me into a lot of trouble sometimes. I had a feeling that I was pretty close to royally pissing you off, and from what you told us, you aren't exactly somepony whose bad side I want to be on."

I decided to be touched at Rainbow's one-eighty in attitude rather than burst out laughing at the word, "somepony." "Don't feel too bad," I said. "I have to deal with severe self-obsession on what feels like a daily basis."

She nods. "Yeah... Wait, hey!" She eyed me with mock malevolence before cracking a grin again. "You're not wrong. I have to rely on my friends to keep me in line a lot of the time."

That got me. I can't count how many times the flock's had to band together to get through tough times. It was obvious that they cared for each other at least as much as we do. I told her as much.

"I'd die for them," came the immediate reply. Clearly, I had much more in common with Rainbow Dash than I had originally assumend.

We spent the next few minutes idly chatting, passing the time until the rest of our motley crew arrived. It helped take my mind off of some of the apprehension I felt about meeting this "Celestia."

Next thing I knew, the door opened to reveal the same Royal Guard from before. "Greetings once again, Rainbow Dash and..."

"Max," I supplied.

"Rainbow Dash and Max. If you would both be so kind as to follow me, I will show you to your friends. the princess should be concluding the Day Court soon, so she has asked that you all join her for dinner in order to discuss your... interesting situation."

"Lead the way, Macbeth." Rather than getting an annoyed glare or death threat for my sarcasm, I simply received a confused look from the guardspony. That might take some getting used to. Pop culture references are usually my strong suit, but even the classics had let me down in this crazy place.

I barely heard him mutter, "My name isn't Macbeth," as we left the waiting room.

Once again, we trekked through the swanky (wow, I am never using that word again) corridors, trailing after the guard. There weren't quite as many ponies now, but there were enough wandering around that whispering followed in my wake. I idly wondered why this princess didn't seem to care about my being discovered by the public. I couldn't help but feel nervous about their reaction to the flock's presence. Maybe she was trying to avoid looking like she was keeping secrets. Wait. Isn't that a politician's job? I'm pretty sure that's universal.

While I was lost in my thoughts, the pegasus brought us to a halt in front of a large set of double doors. There were two guards on either side of them, and their horns glowed. The twin auras covered either door as well, and they swung inwards. Inside was a huge dining hall with a table long and wide enough for a giant to surf on. Seated around it were the ponies and the flock, with silverware and plates that looked like they were worth more than my mom's house set out for them. Total had managed to convince them to let him sit at the table too... somehow. There were two empty seats at the head of the table, but I wasn't stupid enough to assume that they were for Rainbow and I. Come to think of it, I did remember Rainbow mentioning plural princesses. Not for the first time, I considered what kind of logic this place used to have two princesses and an apparent lack of a king or queen.

As I took my place next to Fang, Iggy leered at me from across the table. "So who won?" he asked with a shit-eating grin, knowing full well the answer to his own question.

"I hope your wings get stuck in a wood chipper," I shot back, almost able to keep my own smile off my face as he and Gazzy cackled.

We continued ribbing each other while the ponies looked on in amusement. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie actually joined in at one point, even though they didn't get most of the jokes.

The chatter of the room was interrupted by a ferocious growl coming from Total's direction. When we all stared at him, he wilted. "Sorry. I'm really hungry..." It was silent for a second before we got it and burst out laughing as one. He had a point, though. None of us had eaten since that morning and our metabolisms sure weren't doing us any favors. Thankfully, the princesses chose that moment to make her entrance.

A Royal Guard entered through the double doors and cleared his throat loud enough to shut us up. "Announcing their Majesties, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna. All rise." We all rose.

Two huge ponies strode into the room with all the grace of Russian ballerinas, which I'm told is a lot. They were pretty much the size of your average horse, with one being slightly shorter than the other. Unlike the ponies I had seen so far, they had both wings and horns, along with weird, floating manes and tails. The shorter, dark blue one (Luna, I guessed, going by the moon on her butt) was clearly only just managing to restrain her shock at the flock's appearance, and she kept shooting looks at us when she thought we weren't looking. Celestia, however, simply regarded us with a serene, if guarded, countenance. I got the feeling that a poker game with her would be ill-advised.

We waited until they had sat down before taking our own seats again in a show of deference that was really rare for the flock. I wanted to play this one on the safe side. It's kind of an understatement to say that we were out of our element. It was only once everyone had settled that Celestia finally spoke in a calm, almost motherly tone. "I believe that it is time for dinner. I imagine that you all must be famished." Just the sound of her voice was enough to relieve some of the stress I had accumulated during this shitty day.

"I'll say, Princess!" Gazzy blurted out, "what's on the menu tonight?" I groaned inwardly and shot a death glare in his direction. I wasn't exactly going to be thrilled if we couldn't get help fighting the whitecoats because of the eight-year-old's mouth, or more likely, his stomach.

Incredibly fortunately for us, however, the princess answered his comment with an understanding grin and a tinkling little laugh. "A better question would perhaps be, 'what isn't?'"

Right on cue, a servants' entrance opened and cart after cart of covered dishes rolled in, being pushed by an assortment of ponies, and they just... kept... coming. My mouth started watering as I imagined the possibilities, but then I had a sobering thought. There really wasn't any reason for these alien ponies (yes, that's what we're going with, now) to have food that we can ingest, assuming that they even eat in the same way we do. I only had a split second to ponder this before the ponies began removing the covers and placing the dishes on the table.

I shouldn't have worried. The feast that was revealed to us instantly made us whimper with longing. Every fruit, vegetable, grain, and combination of the three you could possibly imagine, and many you couldn't, were laid out before us in a display that made me want to cry. I literally felt my eyes tearing up. For an instant, I lamented the lack of delicious meat, if only to imagine the masterpieces they could create if they were able to work such miracles with a vegetarian diet.

The second the sweet ambrosia (referring to the meal as mere food would be doing it a disservice) touched the table, the flock set upon it. We didn't bother with such trivial things such as chewing or napkins. We just started shoveling whatever we could reach into our mouths. Have you ever seen a pack of wolves tear apart their prey on Discovery or something? We made them look like a bunch of nobles having a dinner party in Victorian England. Needless to say, it wasn't pretty.

It's not that we were intentionally being disrespectful. When we get really hungry, we tend not to think about anything else. The godliness of the feast set in front of us simply erased all of our higher brain functions. It's a miracle that none of us choked on something.

I looked up from what used to be some kind of casserole (I think) to see who we had accidentally traumatized. Most of them seemed horrified by our less-than-stellar eating habits. Rarity's face in particular resembled the one you would make if Santa Claus showed up and had sex with your mother in front of you. Princess Celestia somehow managed to keep her mask of serenity in place, though I did think I caught a glimpse of the beginnings of a grimace at one point. Rainbow Dash, Pinkie Pie, and surprisingly, Princess Luna were barely holding back snorts of laughter.

I grinned apologetically at the princesses, trying in vain to salvage some of the situation. "Sorry. We uh... we get pretty destructive when we're hungry. We can't really help it. Each of us has an appetite the size of a whole household's."

Celestia simply smiled back before responding, "It's perfectly alright. I have seen much worse in my time."

"You've done much worse, Tia. Remember your last birthday? That poor cake didn't stand a chance!" Luna teased before guffawing at her fellow princess's blush, the first break in her poker face I had seen. That gave me a little more confidence. Leaders that weren't afraid of ribbing each other in front of their subjects were okay in my book.

Caught up in the moment, the ponies tore themselves away from our nonexistent table manners to begin laughing as well. Even Fang gave a little chuckle in between inhaling truckloads of food. The rest of the flock, however, was a little to busy stuffing its collective face to hear any of the exchange. Forgiveness and understanding aside, I decided to continue eating at a more sedate pace. I even chewed at least four times before swallowing.

The initial shock passed, our hosts began eating as well, though in a much more restrained fashion. Except for Rainbow and Pinkie. Those two, Iggy, and Gazzy had engaged in some sort of eating contest, though I was having trouble figuring out the rules or who was winning. I shuddered to think at how close they were becoming. For an instant, I had a vision of a world laid waste by a supersonic pegasus and a reality-bending madpony wielding bombs of Gazzy and Iggy's make. It was not an image that filled me with confidence, and I hoped against hope that this place didn't have any clockwork.

Eventually, we slowed our eating enough to hold civilized conversation. Well, as civilized as you could expect from us. I thought to myself as I heard Nudge loudly proclaim that she loved all the pretty ponies. At this point, I was just hoping that Angel didn't pull some mind-meld shit on the ruler of a nation. Sadly, it's a valid concern. There's a legitimate precedent to that. Ask the president.

Apparently, she "heard" my mind wandering and flashed me a grin that was, well... angelic, from across the table. If anything, that smile worried me more than anything else, because it was just on the cusp of being too innocent. I tried to focus on something else.

Oh relax, Max. They're having fun, and the ponies seem nice enough. Why shouldn't they enjoy themselves a bit? I held back a huff of frustration only by shoving a clump of baked potatoes into my mouth. Most of the time the Voice is sensible and hasn't really steered me wrong yet, but every now and then it says something downright retarded.

Well let's just count the ways that's stupid, shall we? I mentally ticked off my fingers. We're in a completely different world with backwards laws of physics that we know nothing about. Our only companions are magical, talking ponies who we have literally no reason to trust other than 'they're nice.' Finally, the whitecoats are out there right now probably bringing in more flyboys to enslave this world. So please, tell me why exactly we shouldn't be cutting right to the chase. Without giving the Voice a chance to respond, I opened my mouth to get the princesses up to speed.

Celestia beat me to it. "Well then, Ms. Maximum, was it?"

"Call me Max."

"Very well, Max. I must say, you have an air of authority about you, so I will defer to you. Twilight didn't include many details in her letter, and both I and my sister would like to hear your tale. We would also like to be properly introduced to your companions.

I bit back a sigh at her request. bringing up all those bad memories again wouldn't exactly be fun, but it was necessary if I wanted to get them on my side in a fight against a small army of flyboys, which I did. I ran through a quick introduction of the flock for what felt like the fiftieth time that day, then launched into another recap of our lives. The two princesses didn't gasp or sniffle in all the right places like the others did, but their eyes widened more and more as I continued.

By the time I finished, they both once again wore seemingly impassive expressions, but I could see the sympathy in Celestia's eyes. Luna, however, seemed a little more guarded and suspicious than her sister. I couldn't say I blamed her. If someone had told me yesterday that I'd be having dinner and divulging my life story to a bunch of talking ponies, I would have laughed, and then decked them in the face.

The white uni-pegasus (or whatever the term is) took a dainty little bite, and her sister used the opportunity to speak. "I do not intend to sound mistrustful, but how exactly can we be sure that everything you claim is true? My sister and I would prefer not to be betrayed, and you would most likely prefer not to experience the repercussions of such an action." She followed that last bit up with a pointed glare. Something was telling me that the pretty pony princesses weren't pushovers.

I gulped. "I have no way of definitively proving that what I'm telling you is the truth. I can only humbly ask for your assistance in repelling what I believe will be a mutual threat." It took a lot of willpower to swallow my pride and ask for help, especially so diplomatically, but the situation was kind of desperate.

Applejack chose that moment to butt in. "Now ah ain't no lie detector, but ah think ah can judge a pony's character pretty well. Ah don't think Max here is lyin'." She narrowed her eyes. "That's not sayin' she ain't used to it." I wasn't sure whether to feel grateful or insulted. Since she was absolutely right, I decided to go with the former.

"Thanks... I think."

"Don't mention it, sugarcube."

As I did a small double-take at her choice of words, Celestia entered the conversation again. "Well, I'm sure you don't wish to darken the evening by dwelling in your past. I suggest we put aside the issue of these whitecoats until tomorrow."

Everyone else eagerly voiced their approval, and I begrudgingly agreed.

"If you don't mind me asking," Luna began in a tone that indicated she wouldn't particularly care whether or not I minded. "You mentioned that aside from your flight, strength, and endurance, you all have several, additional talents. Would you care to elaborate?"

I had to contemplate this one for a couple seconds. My first reaction was to withhold any information that they could use against us in the future, but once again, I realized that we would need the ponies' complete trust if they were gonna help us. I opened my mouth to spill secrets that we haven't shared with anyone except my mom and Ella, but Iggy beat me to it.

"Hey Nudge, tell them about the Snickers bars," he snarked before guffawing. Who laughs at their own joke, anyway?

Nudge and Angel started giggling like loons. "Mien Gott! Ze Snickers bars!" Gazzy yelled in a perfect imitation of some asshole German scientist who tried to kill us once. His name was Turd Box or something. "I vill eat zem visout bahfing!" he proclaimed.

I cackled along with them and Fang cracked a genuine smile. The ponies were all staring at us like were a bunch of aliens crying from the laughter induced by an incomprehensible inside joke. I wiped a tear from my eye and attempted to explain. "We've been asked this question before, mostly by less-than-savory parties. We usually react with sarcasm, but Gazzy here is a legitimate mimic. He can replicate any voice he hears perfectly."

"That's impossible!" Rainbow Dash protested in her scratchy, distinctive voice. Everyone at the table looked towards her. The mare in question wore a shocked expression. I slapped a palm to my face as the mimic proudly cackled in triumph.

Rolling her eyes, Angel cut in. "I can read minds." There was a second of silence. "Yes, it is pretty cool, Rainbow. No, I try not to listen in to anything too personal, Fluttershy. On a related note, Applejack, you should be ashamed of yourself."

All heads turned to the farm mare as she slid down in her seat and turned a bright read. Feeling the intensity of all of our gazes, she broke. "Alright! Ah confess! Ah get tired of apples! Why don't y'all try and eat nothin' but apple-related food fer breakfast, lunch, and dinner for yer whole Celestia-durned lives! See if ya'll don't get sick of it!"

For the next minute or so, the only thing I could hear was uproarious laughter from everyone in the room. I couldn't breath and I barely even got the joke. Even Celestia was chuckling good-naturedly while her sister banged a hoof on the table, eyes tearing up with mirth.

When the noise died down, Fluttershy glanced to the seemingly empty seat beside her, the one that Fang had occupied previously. "Um... excuse me. W-where did Fang go?" And just like that, he was back, causing her to squeal and hide under her mane. Even the other ponies gave starts at his sudden appearance.

"Hey, hey. Ssh." He soothed the pegasus with a few calming pats on the head. "It's just my talent. I can kind of fade into the background if I hold still."

I gaped. The dude says five, snarky words on a good day, but put a cute little pony in front of him and he becomes Prince freaking Charming. I tried not to feel jealous about it. It was probably good for him to open up to someone, at least.

Next, Nudge spoke up. "I can kind of get impressions of people through the things they interact with. For example," she stuck a finger in her mashed potatoes and scrunched up her face. It was a pretty ridiculous image. "The pony who made these is a grey pony without wings or a horn. He has a brown mane. Kinda bland color scheme, if you ask me. Anyway, he got yelled at for leaving in too much of the skin, but I think they're fine. They may need a little more salt, but that's just my preference. Anyway, I think that-"

"Hey, Nudge," I said, glowering. "I think they get it."

She wilted, then turned to Pinkie and continued their incredibly animated discussion.

Having gone around the entire table, all the ponies looked at me expectantly. "So what is your special talent, Max?" Celestia asked softly.

Twilight, who had seemed lost in thought until now, perked up at that. "You have an overwhelming presence. You carry yourself like somepony who has access to considerable power. What can you do?"

"I bet she has laser vision!" The flock started chuckling at Pinkie's outburst.

"What's so funny about that?!" I demanded.

Total decided to own up... sort of. "She might as well have a death ray in her eyes when you piss her off. Her glares could make a bodybuilder three times her size beg for mercy." I glared at him. "See?!" he managed between barking (get it?) laughs. "Absolutely terrifying."

"Actually, no. I can just fly fast. As Rainbow showed me, that doesn't really mean much here."

"Of course it does!" the pegasus yelled, indignant. Her voice contained a strange mix of anger and pity. "I have worked my entire life to fly like I do, and I'm still working every day. It's my special talent, too. Not all of us have the luxury of freaky genetics to help us along. Give me some bucking credit." Her face suddenly softened. "Give yourself some credit," she whispered, emphatically poking me in the side.

Taken aback by both her initial tone and its sudden change, I didn't know what to say. To be honest, I felt pretty humbled that she would care about the self-esteem of some alien she just met. These horses were putting a lot of trust in us. I resolved then and there that I wouldn't break that trust. "Th-thanks," I finally choked out.

"Don't mention it."

Celestia smiled benevolently at that. "Now that that business has concluded, I would like to ask-"

"Come on, Tia, let's be fair," Luna interjected. "They're bound to be just as curious as we are, if not more so. How about we take turns with the questions?" Her sister nodded, apparently satisfied with Luna's plan, and inclined her head towards me, indicating that I should speak.

Honestly, I had so many questions that I didn't know where to start. Luckily, I never had to make a decision. While I hemmed and hawed trying to come up with the most pressing issue, Iggy cut in. "Yeah, I got a question. How in the hell are we speaking the same language right now?"

And just like that, I heard two voices coming out of Celestia's mouth. One was the same, English tone she had been speaking in before, and the other was a lilting language that I didn't recognize. It was almost like those weird pictures of vases that make faces on the sides. The dual tone felt like it was melting my brain, and I clasped my hands to my head, trying to block out the unfamiliar dialect and focus solely on her coherent English voice. Slowly, my brain was able to process her words again.

"...is bound to cause some undue discomfort when you first notice it, and for that I am sorry. Equus, our planet, has a potent benevolent magic that permeates its very core. This power provides many advantages to its inhabitants. One of these manifests as a sort of translator. Obviously, ponies and other species building societies on opposite sides of the world would not communicate in exactly the same manner, but Equus allows either party to hear their native language from the other's mouth. Does that make sense?"

I put my face in my hands. "So you're basically telling me that this place is some sort of Ego the Living Planet type deal that can make everything nice with sunshine and rainbows." Why can't our lives have a semblance of normality? I'm really getting sick of all this craziness.

At my words, the ponies all shared knowing grins. "you have a point, darling," Rarity said. "But princess Celestia usually deals with the sunshine, while we handle the rainbows." They all giggled like schoolgirls at that, and I knew that my next question would be what the crap they meant by that.

After everyone quieted once again, Luna opened her mouth to speak, presumably to ask another question. I say presumably because the Gasman chose that moment to demonstrate exactly why he has such an... interesting name. The ponies reeled, all displaying expressions of varying degrees of disgust and shock. I rounded on the flatulent eight-year-old with murder in my eyes at least until the smell reached me and tears replaced it. Pinkie Pie's head was flat on the table, apparently choking, and I wasn't surprised. She was right next to the epicenter of noxious death.

"GAZZY!" I roared, slamming my hands on the table as I rose from my chair with every intention of strangling him.

He was crying too, though I couldn't tell if it was due to his own stench ro from laughter. He barely managed to say, "It's not my fault. You know my other 'talent' works on its own!"

He was right. When we were in the School, the whitecoats must have done something seriously screwed up to his digestive system, but he didn't have to be so damn amused by it. In light of this, I resolved to only kill him a little bit. Luckily for him, however, the rancid smell discouraged me from approaching him... ever.

Suddenly, Pinkie's head shot up, and I realized that she hadn't been choking, but rather cackling even harder than Gazzy was. "THAT. WAS. GLORIOUS!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. Figures. I just sat down and sighed as the two hellspawn exchanged a hoof/fistbump. All I wanted was for one thing to go right. Was that really too freakin' much to ask?

Celestia drew my attention back to her when she cleared her throat. I had to hand it to Gazzy. At the very least, he did manage to get the princess to drop her poker face for a moment. "If we could be a little more mature for a moment," She shot a pointed glare at Gazzy and Pinkie that silenced them instantly. "I would like to move on with the conversation.

Luna slapped her sister on the back. "Aw, lighten up, Celestia. You gotta admit it was kinda funny."

The solemn, poised princess cracked a small smile. "I suppose it was, though I could live without the smell."

Twilight's horn sprang to life at that, and a light breeze came from nowhere and gently pushed the mark of Gazzy's curse towards the entrance. We tried to ignore the muffled sound of gagging on the other side of the doors. "I told you that a breeze spell has its uses," Twilight said to Rainbow Dash, who petulantly stuck out her tongue.

"Hey, where's Rarity?" Angel's question caused us to notice her now empty seat.

A quick search found her underneath the table in a dead faint.

----------

The Nightmare barely avoided accidentally dropping her mental barriers and allowing its host to hear its internal cry of anguish. Upon seeing these "guns" and their potential, it feared that the cause of Julia's hatred could be hit and potentially killed. It was much too soon for her to die, not when Julia had so much hatred left to feed on. The use of lethal force would have to wait until the Nightmare had warped her thoughts into a more widespread angle.

As the project director approached a recently arrived flyboy carrying a crate of submachine guns, the Nightmare whispered in her mind. We cannot afford to utilize such potent weapons so soon, my host. Should many ponies be seriously injured or killed, their peers will simply rally against you, and your reign will be over before it begins. I do not recommend giving these guns to your robots. Besides, you have more than enough to take Canterlot.

Julia Carpenter cocked her head in thought. Admittedly, the Nightmare's argument was lacking, but a slight nudge of its host's mind made her gloss over the holes in her logic. Yes, I suppose you're right, she thought back.

She addressed her robotic minion. "Store the guns in the storage tent, but do not distribute them. Bring a handgun to me in my tent later."

As the machine voiced its assent and went off to carry out its orders, another scientist approached Julia. He peered at her questioningly for a moment before speaking. "Why wouldn't we use guns, Ms. Carpenter? If you don't mind me saying, this seems like a slight flaw in your plan."

The head researcher's hand was a blur. An instant later, the dissenting scientist fell to the ground, a large bruise already forming on his cheek. "I very much do mind you saying. Do not attempt to question my authority again, or I might be tempted to show you just why the Nightmare is called such." She spat out the threatening words as she loomed over him. her hair began to thrash as if tossed about by an unseen maelstrom and her hands glowed a deep blue that seemed to drain the lights of the nearby portal and campfires.

Her point made, Julia ignored her blubbering subordinate and addressed the rest of the scientists who had gathered. "Please know that further insubordination by any one of you will not be treated with such leniency!" She no longer need a microphone's assistance to speak to the crowd, thanks to the Nightmare's magic. "Now prepare yourselves. We march for Canterlot at dawn!"

Author's Note:

I know it's a lot of filler in this one, but the story's still being set up. Things should start to pick up next chapter. Also, I'm sorry things are slowing down, guys. College applications, schoolwork, volunteer work, and work work are starting to take their tole. Just know that I'm working on this as often as I can afford without going completely insane.