• Published 13th Oct 2014
  • 3,621 Views, 119 Comments

Trans-Cosmic - Radiant Dawn

When two universes collide in a not-so-hypothetical scenario, what will happen to the people within them? Will mankind perish, or will new friends and allies emerge amongst the chaos?

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Chapter 10

Considering what I knew about how Celestia worked through emotions and loss, the overnight wasn’t that bad -- call me arrogant, but I’d like to think it was my presence there that helped. As opposed to having a nightmare every time she closed her eyes, Celestia only woke me up three times due to them, so the night was not too exhausting. Still, even if I hadn’t gotten any sleep, I would still have been glad to lend my assistance to a friend in need. It would only be my second time being in that specific situation -- and the first was with Jenna -- but I’d like to think I did pretty well. Morning showed itself after the third time waking up, so after soothing Celestia to sleep again, I figured it was as good a time as any to get up for the day. After shimmying my way out of the bed so as not to wake the pony that still slept, I quickly threw on some day clothes and strapped on my pistol before leaving the room.

The other four occupants were all still sound asleep in front of the smoldering coals of the hearth, so I snapped my fingers as I passed them to call Bailey, and stepped with her outside. As always in a snowy winter, morning was a wonder to behold, with beautiful white everywhere that could be seen. It had stopped actively snowing sometime during the night, so a clear blue sky greeted me as I walked Bailey and did a short scout of the surrounding area. Much to my relief, I didn’t find anything of interest other than some low-ground broken twigs and disturbed snow near the path leading to the river, which meant that while we were not alone, the rotting corpses of a dragon and a pack of manticores worked quite well as a deterrent. It made my early-morning scouting relatively worry-free, which was a good start to the day.

Bailey and I made our way back to the cabin just as the sun cleared the mountaintops, which meant it was likely just before 7:00am, and that was as good a time as any to get the day started. With that in mind, I decided to make a light breakfast of toast and eggs to get everyone energized for the day, knowing that I’d have to get started on growing us some food in the greenhouse. The fact of the matter was I had kept the cabin prepared for me and maybe one or two other people to survive; three was going to be pushing it, so I’d have to make sure we had enough food to survive for however long.

A pair of arms embraced me across my stomach from behind as I was cooking, but before I could greet who I thought was Jenna, two large white wings became visible out of my peripheral vision. While it hadn’t been who I was expecting -- and, I was going to have to ask her at some point how she was so quiet with hooves -- I reached to my shoulder and smoothed my hand over the cheek of the pony whose head was there. I felt Celestia smile against my hand at my action before I removed it and went back to cooking.

“G’morning, Tia.” I greeted with a grin, happy that she still seemed to be able to smile, despite the events of the previous day. She didn’t respond verbally, only nosing into my neck in the way that Bailey sometimes would when she was feeling particularly affectionate. Luckily, it was easy to mentally separate the two, as Celestia’s nose wasn’t wet, and she was far larger than a Rottweiler (I didn’t need random disturbing dreams involving my dog later on, thank you). Since she didn’t seem keen on releasing me at the moment, I just focused on making sure the eggs didn’t burn as I scrambled them absent-mindedly.

It took a few minutes, but she finally whispered out, “Thank you, Alex. Your presence overnight helped more than you know.”

“You needed support, and I have no problem doing that for a friend. You’re welcome to it anytime.” I replied, smiling again as she gave me a gentle squeeze.

The eggs finished cooking, so I removed them from the heat and turned around, freeing myself from Celestia’s grasp. I was unsurprised to see her wearing only her underwear again -- I was used to it by now, honestly -- so I didn’t hesitate as I brushed aside her arm and inspected the wound on her side again. I was surprised to see it was completely scarred over, and found myself wondering just what other physical differences ponies had with humans.

“Well,” I mumbled, frowning slightly, “it looks like you’re completely healed from the outside. You should be safe to start stretching and such to ensure you don’t lose any further muscle mass or range of movement.” Much as I hated to admit it, aloud or to myself, “It looks like you’ll be back on the road soon enough, if you continue to improve.”

Celestia’s lips set into a thin line, and she just nodded shallowly before announcing, “I’ll wake the others for breakfast. Thank you, Alex.” There was some sort of hidden emotion roiling in her tone that I couldn’t readily identify, but something told me she wanted to say far more than she actually did. Regardless, I couldn’t think about that at the moment, so I just went back to preparing breakfast.

A few minutes later, just as I set the last plate on the table, the other three entered the kitchen in various states of awareness and took the seats at the table. As we ate, I went over a brief version of what we would all be doing today, which would consist of setting up a more regular scouting pattern in the surrounding area, checking the traps and setting new ones, and beginning to plant some of the more hardy seeds so we could begin growing some vegetables. Then, we’d have to sharpen the axes and begin chopping new wood for the fire, since even though we had a good supply of usable firewood, it would take at least six months for newly-cut pine to be seasoned. It would mean a full day of work for all of us, which would actually work to our advantage to keep us focused on something other than only the bad things that had recently happened.

When we all finished eating, I started delegating out jobs to keep the cabin in good working order and clean, which left me to walk with Jenna and Bailey to check the traps that had been set up the previous day. Jenna was, frankly, a little traumatized from finding a dead body, but I knew from experience that being with me would be the best thing for her, even if it was just to walk around in the snow. With our jobs for the midday underway, we all focused on our tasks in an attempt to keep from thinking about the unknowns.

As the day had meandered on and I finished my scouting, I had moved onto my next job: woodcutting. I wasn’t a lumberjack, and I tended to focus more on body definition than brute strength, but a sharp axe and practiced swings made short work of fallen trees and logs scattered around the area. Jenna took the job of gathering the chopped wood in the wheelbarrow and taking it back to the cabin, and I had given Vinyl and Octavia a quick rundown on what to plant in the greenhouse, as well as the seeds themselves. With everyone having something to do (even Celestia, who after cleaning the cabin, was going to start exercising to work back up to peak physical condition), the day passed very quickly and was productive enough to be considered a successful endeavor.

As the sun started its descent, I was back at the cabin, helping Jenna stack all the firewood I’d split. While I had done a lot on my own, we’d need to do the same every day for at least a week before I’d be happy with the amount to tide us over for another year. I also checked over Vinyl and Octavia’s planting work, pleased that the two had planted the entire greenhouse with plenty of turnips, potatoes, kale, parsnips, and onions. Along with whatever meat I was able to trap or hunt, it would ensure we could still stay relatively well-nourished despite civilization falling.

I’ll admit, the latter point was something I hadn’t completely come to terms with yet. Though I had “mourned” the losses, it was more out of a fear of the losses themselves, rather than an actual complete acceptance of them. In the back of my mind, I had a tiny, infinitesimal spark of hope that this was all a terrible dream, and I would wake up in my bed at home, and I could get up and play some video games before I went to work for the day. At the same time, though, a growing part of me hoped that Celestia, Vinyl and Octavia were the reality, catastrophe be damned. Besides the sheer wondrous fact that I was rooming with aliens, they held special places in my heart...especially Celestia. Still, I was torn: if someone were to ask me, at that moment, if I would choose my new life over the old, I honestly wouldn’t be able to answer...and that disturbed me. Through my life, I valued knowing exactly where I was on my journey and where I wanted to be, but now, I just didn’t know.

“The wood isn’t going to stack itself, Alex.” Jenna snarked as she continued organizing the firewood, which I should have been doing as well.

I grunted my acknowledgement before returning to stacking. In a way, the menial job was nice, as I could just let my mind go blank so that I didn’t have to think of anything. As a person whose mind is nearly always coming up with plans, theories, and random thoughts, it was nice to just...not think, once in awhile. It wouldn’t last long -- it never did, unfortunately -- but, for the twenty or so minutes until we finished for the day, I relished being able to just do something instead of analyzing every little thing.

A sudden loud crack in the distance, which I immediately recognized as a gunshot, violently brought me to full awareness, and I only glanced at Jenna for a second before rushing over and ushering her back into the cabin. After locking and barring the door, I sprinted to the bedroom and dove to the floor, reaching under the bed and pulling out the hidden Mossberg shotgun mounted by velcro straps under the frame. I then scurried over to the nightstand and yanked away the false bottom, causing two cans of shells to drop out. Quickly checking over the shotgun to assure the components were clean, I loaded six shells and brought the rest of the can with me to the living room. Celestia and Octavia arrived in the main room a moment later with Bailey, both ponies aware enough to realize something was wrong, and kept silent -- Bailey was well-trained enough that a simple gesture from me kept her quiet. I hurriedly handed my pistol to Jenna and took point on the door, using the small window in the door to keep an eye on things outside. Luckily, the front door faced the only path to the cabin, so it would be rather simple to see any threats approaching before they got close enough to do anything to us. The sound of a strange electric whirring drew my attention to Celestia, who was readying the strange pistol-like weapon the deceased Barricade had brought with her. I had questions, but I kept silent for the moment, as noise could give us away. That was, of course, until I realized something worrying…

Frantically looking around us and listening, I worriedly hissed out, “Where’s Vinyl?”

“She was going to see if she could gather some smaller pieces of fallen wood.” Octavia answered quietly, her face morphing into horrified realization.

I looked over those gathered around me, and let out a long sigh through my nose. I reached over and plucked my pistol from Jenna’s hands, replacing it with the shotgun and standing before grabbing my white parka and white ski mask. I didn’t give the others time to question before I rushed toward the back door...only to be stopped by the powerful grip of Celestia.

She spun me around by my wrist and brought me to face her. She scanned my face for a moment before reaching up and removing the ring from her horn, pushing it over my right ring finger. Before I could ask what she was doing, she simply explained, “Karyll’a will protect you. Good luck, Alex.”
While I had handled Karyll’a a few times before, the simple act of Celestia willingly lending a literal piece of her own soul to protect me was quite the powerful gesture. I caught her eyes, but was unable to force myself to say anything. Instead, I simply nodded to her with a ghost of a smile, spontaneously reaching up to briefly cup her cheek before rushing toward the back door and outside, snapping my fingers loudly for Bailey to follow. While visibly I was calm and collected, internally, I was struggling to keep from pissing myself in fear.

“Please be okay, please be okay, please be okay…”

While I kept my ears open as I tramped through the snow with Bailey, I was quietly trying to get Karyll’a to change forms to other objects, in case I might need to use her. Before this point, I had done so a few times by reflex, so I knew I could do it, but thus far, I wasn’t able to cause any change by force of will. I only hoped that I wouldn’t have to use Karyll’a at all, because I had no clue what I was doing. While I tried to convince myself that maybe Vinyl had just found something interesting out in the snow, I had a hard time imagining she wouldn’t rush back to the cabin if she heard a loud, unfamiliar noise in the forest.

It had begun snowing again as the day came to a close, which would work in my favor, since it would offer me some decent cover without affecting my hearing or visibility too much, just in case Vinyl wasn’t alone. An icy feeling began to build in my gut as Bailey and I continued our search, and I silently prayed to whoever was listening that I wouldn’t find another dead body today, let alone that of a friend.

“Please be okay, please be okay…”

I continued my mantra to myself, barely even whispering by this point, listening for anything out of the ordinary. The sound of branches snapping a few times in the distance had caught my attention since I began my search, and I hoped that by using them for orientation, I was heading in the right direction. I was no tracker, however, so when it came right down to it, I was still traipsing aimlessly in the snowy woods, looking for someone with fur as white as the snow around me.

Just as I started to lose hope, I saw a flattened patch of snow where something large had been laying -- at least the size of a human -- with clear boot-prints next to it. Because it had snowed the day before and none of us at the cabin had come out this far, I knew these were not any of our footprints. This in turn meant that at the very least, I was following the tracks of somebody, and the flattened area of snow could only be where someone or something had been laying. The sound of voices could now be heard, and while I had to motion for Bailey to stay silent, at least now I knew there was someone else out here besides me. Unfortunately, I could no longer keep my heart in check now that the situation was real and I knew someone else was out here, so I had to truly focus to keep from tripping over my own feet and revealing my position. As I got closer, I could start to make out individual words, and I didn’t recognize either of the two voices.

“...you think we...and try to find the others?”

“Not worth...got one, and it...fetch a pretty good price...horned ones are always the favorites.”

“...awhile to get this one...bitch bites like...animal.”

The voices were moderately loud, so I knew their own voices would cover most of the sound I made. Following my ears, I approached a rocky outcropping near a frozen stream leading to the cliff, and stealthily peeked around one of the larger slabs of stone to get a look at what I was dealing with. I spotted two people, by the voices I assumed they were male, and they were dressed in heavy winter-wear. They had stopped in a small clearing between some trees, but it was what was on the ground that caught my attention: Vinyl, bound and gagged, with a sack over her head. I knew it was her by her “I’m a freq” hoodie she was wearing, and her struggling meant she was still alive, at the very least.

Now I just had to find a way to save her.

In my rush to find Vinyl, I had left the cabin quickly, only grabbing my pistol and Bailey. I had my boot knife, but the only other thing I had on my person was my phone, and I doubt it would be much good in a fight...but what if I could avoid a fight completely? As my mind raced, I began to formulate a plan that could get Vinyl away from her kidnappers, and hopefully without an outright fight. I had taken a few classes in self-defense, but a two-on-one fight was extremely risky, especially if they were armed (which I was still unsure about). I was confident I would be able to take at least one of them down, but that still left one more, and if he had a firearm, I would have virtually no cover for at least fifty feet once I got into the clearing.

“This would be so much easier if I didn’t care about murder.” I grumbled silently to myself. I couldn’t very well send Bailey in first, since they would easily see her black coat against the white snow, which only left me with the option of hoping I could drop two targets without killing them with my pistol, or trying to divert their attention and getting away with Vinyl before they could do anything about it. I took out my phone and turned it on -- I had shut it off, as until or unless cell service was restored, it was effectively useless -- waiting for it to go through its startup procedures. Once the lock screen appeared, I swiped it open and accessed the alarm option, and set an alarm for one minute from that moment, and turned the volume all the way up. With that done, I tossed my phone on a long, low arc into the snow, and shifted my way around my cover, with my nerves on edge.

Preempting Bailey’s barking, I held her muzzle and shushed her as the alarm went off, and like I planned, it easily caught the attention of the two people in the clearing. Unfortunately, only one of them decided to check it out, which left the other one with Vinyl. I couldn’t wait too long, however, or the other would return, so I ordered Bailey to stay as I crept as quietly as possible through the trees around the clearing. A few times the man’s head turned my way, and I had to lay flat against the snow to avoid being seen, but I was able to get within twenty feet of Vinyl and one of the kidnappers. Mentally psyching myself up, I waited until he was turned away from me before bursting through the trees and sprinting toward them.

The man turned around only a moment before I was upon him, but by that point it was too late: with my fist already cocked back, I lunged the last five feet to him and threw my best Sunday punch at his chin. My aim was (thankfully) true: the hit connected, his head snapped to the side, and he fell like a sack of bricks, unmoving. I watched him for a moment to be sure he was out before holstering my pistol and kneeling next to Vinyl, pulling the knife out of my boot. Hurriedly, I cut through the zip-ties on her wrists and ankles, at which point she reached up and tore the bag off her head.

Vinyl quickly pulled the line of tape off of her mouth, cursing under her breath from the fur that was likely ripped out as well. When she caught my eyes, I shushed her with a finger to my lips, only for her eyes to widen before a sharp, intense pain exploded from the back of my head. I vaguely felt the cold burn of snow on my closed eyes as I fell forward into it, accompanied by the muffled sound of a struggle somewhere nearby. This was followed by what I identified as Bailey’s barks and growls, then a sudden canine cry of pain, and the thump of a body landing some distance away from me. I tried my best to rouse myself, but it took me a few precious seconds to push myself up to my knees. What I saw when I finally looked over the area was not promising.

Bailey, poor girl, was unconscious, but had gotten a vicious bite on the man that hit me, if the shredded, bloodied arm of his coat was anything to go by. The man himself had Vinyl on her knees, a tight grip on her hair and two large welts on her cheek and forehead, where it was clear she had been struck. The weapon that had likely done me in, an old-fashioned billy-club, lay in the snow a short distance away from them. Still a bit out of it, I tried to rise to my feet, only for the very recognizable sound of a pistol cocking to make me freeze. I now noticed the silvery firearm in his right hand, pointed directly at me, and there was no way I was going to be able to brandish my own pistol before he fired a shot.

We stared at each other for a few moments before he announced, “Look, I’m sorry, but this,” he gave Vinyl a firm shake by the hair, causing her to grimace in pain, “is going to feed me and my family for the next three months. It’s nothing personal, but it’s coming with me.”

“She.” I croaked out, steadying myself and standing upright again. I pointed at Vinyl and explained, “She’s not some animal that you can hunt and sell, she’s a sapient creature that’s more similar to humans than you seem to believe. Would you kidnap and sell another human being?”

He didn’t even think about his answer: “If it was all that kept my little girl fed and warm, in a heartbeat.”

This was something I couldn’t reason away. This guy, at least, wasn’t some evil man that wanted to willingly cause pain and suffering to others, he was just a family man that was looking out for his loved ones the best way he knew how. True that me and the others weren’t exactly desperate yet -- I had ensured my cabin was prepared for survival, and I had quite a bit of knowledge, as well -- so I couldn’t say for sure I wouldn’t do something similar, if I had to. Still, in a situation like this, there wasn’t a right or wrong answer: it was simply between me and him. In simplest terms, Vinyl could be considered as “mine” since her kind had apparently become a commodity in the new world, and this man trying to take what was mine in order to survive. I felt for him -- I really did -- but I couldn’t let him leave with Vinyl.

“No matter the cost.” I mumbled to myself. I locked eyes with the man again -- likely not much older than thirty -- and shook my head. “I’m truly sorry, but I can’t let you take her. Your job is to protect you little girl,” I motioned to the pony in his grasp, which was looking back at me with wide, teary eyes, “but mine is to protect her.”

The man sighed and shook his head slightly. “Then I hope you can forgive me for this…”
The mind works in mysterious ways, when under pressure. I only had a moment to raise my arm to defend myself and start to jump out of the way before four shots rang out, and I could only vaguely feel a white-hot pain in my leg as I rolled and raised my own pistol. I took aim without thinking, and fired three shots at my target.

I hadn’t consciously thought about any of it, and it was all over in less than three seconds.

I was on my knee in the snow, so I quickly took stock of the situation. I was alive, which was definitely a plus, but my left leg was bleeding from a sizable gash on my outer thigh. Karyll’a was in the shape of a large round shield, flashing back to a ring a moment later, which was likely what had protected me from the other three shots. Other than some numbness in my free hand, I seemed to be otherwise unharmed, which I was very thankful for. I had fired my pistol, however, so with a deep, steadying breath, I turned my gaze to the other end of the clearing.

Other than the injuries that she already had, Vinyl was unharmed, but the same could not be said for her kidnapper. He was on the ground, writhing and holding his throat as a wet, sickening gurgling noise came from his mouth. The snow around him -- once a clean and pure white -- was quickly becoming a deep crimson color as more and more warm blood splashed onto it from a horrific throat wound. I had just wanted to protect Vinyl, but even with that in mind, only one thought kept repeating in my mind: I HAD JUST KILLED A MAN.

Dear God...what had I done?

My thoughts were interrupted by what sounded like the hum from a power line, followed by the sound of electric sparking. I looked over to see Vinyl hunched over, her face contorted in deep focus, as her horn sparked erratically with a bright, blue power. I watched in detached fascination as the power seemed to grow in strength before flowing down over her horn like a slow-moving sap, at which point the sound changed from what one would expect of a power main, to something more akin to...music?

“...even her magic is sound-based.”

Octavia’s words came back to me as I continued watching -- and listening -- to what was happening. The tones became more regular, more organized, into something resembling a gentle, trance-like song, complete with multiple “instruments”, including percussion. I would later feel bad about almost completely forgetting about the man I had just shot in the throat, but for that moment, I could only observe in complete awe as the strange, visible energy began to move around Vinyl to the rhythm. She extended her hands in front of her and began to bob her head to the beat, eyes closed, as she orchestrated the most amazing thing I had ever seen to date.

Arcs of the energy, now tinged an aqua-green, began to jump from her “electrified” fingers to the man on the ground, who I suddenly realized was still there. I wanted to ask Vinyl just what was happening, but the words completely died in my throat as I saw the profuse bleeding slow down, and then completely stop. Morbid curiosity of what was happening completely held my attention, and as I watched, the wound began to stitch itself closed, a small, mud-colored lump of metal being picked out before it sealed completely. The man’s eyes were open now, and while he wasn’t moving to get up or making any noise, his eyes were completely focused on the pony that, against all logic, was healing him with what could only be magic. The horrid gargle/choke noise had stopped, evening out quickly into normal breathing, and the man even began to cough as, I assume, his trachea was completely healed. I prided myself on being able to find ways to do things that people jokingly referred to as “impossible”, but I had just observed the negation of actual impossibility: Vinyl has brought a man back from the brink of death, and made him whole once again, with only a strange energy called “magic”.

Abruptly, Vinyl’s power cut out, and she collapsed onto her knees bonelessly. Her breathing was labored and I could see a sheen of sweat over her face, so my own concern for her wellbeing overcame me, and I limped over to her and rested my hand over her shoulders. She tiredly leaned into me, and while her breathing had not slowed yet, it made me feel better to know her heartbeat was strong, if rapid, and she wasn’t wheezing or coughing blood. I knew very little about magic and the ways it could be applied, but I assumed it made sense that performing a medical miracle would take a lot out of someone.

While still fighting to get as much fresh air into her lungs as possible, Vinyl was able to briefly pause and rasp out, “I'll...I'll be okay. Help me up.”

The adrenaline was beginning to wear off, which was causing the faint burning in my leg to graduate to complete fuck-off levels of pain, but I was able to grit my teeth and stay silent as I slung Vinyl’s arm around my shoulders and pulled her to stand. I holstered my pistol and picked up the one discarded by the previously-dying man. I then turned to the him, who was still laying in the bloody snow, staring up at us as if he had just seen God. I had nothing to say -- what could I say? “Oh, we tried to kill each other for survival, and my friend just performed a miracle to save your life. Have a good day.” Vinyl was a little better off, however, and was better able to organize her thoughts into words.

She motioned for me to get closer, so I limped us over to the man, and she looked down at him with a cold mix of anger and pity. Instead of screaming, however, she simply said, “Go home to your family. Please, don’t ever come back.” Her ears flicked back as we both heard Bailey begin to stir, so Vinyl added, “You should probably get going. I don’t think that dog is going to forgive you so readily for hurting her master.”

The man stood shakily, stumbling a few times, before quickly rousing his partner and making tracks. I didn’t have it in me to do anything further, so I tromped over to Bailey to ensure she was okay before leaving, grabbing my phone on the way back. I knew by experience that the smell of fresh blood would soon attract predators to investigate, so I did my best to hobble the three of us back to the cabin as quickly as possible.

“Luna’s moon…Alex, your leg!”

I shook my head with gritted teeth. “We have to get back to the cabin, first.” I was running on pure adrenaline at the moment, and I knew that as it wore off, walking was going to become nearly impossible, so I had to get us to safety before that happened. I didn’t want to be caught outside, bleeding, during a snowstorm, and I wasn’t about to let something else come and kill Vinyl and I after everything I had just been through.

It was when we were only a few dozen paces away from home that the shock hit me full-force, and I felt my muscles freeze as what had happened fully hit me: I had struck a mortal wound on another human being. He hadn’t died because of Vinyl, but if her magic hadn’t been available at that moment, I would have had person’s death on my head. Even while I convinced myself that I was in the right -- I was trying to protect Vinyl, after all -- my stomach twisted in knots at the very thought that I had it within me to murder another human being, regardless of the reason. I never thought I was the kind of person that would be able to kill someone, but apparently…

My stomach decided to empty itself at that moment, and after spraying the ground with breakfast, the world turned white as I fell headfirst into the snow.

I wasn’t exactly known for fainting, but neither was this a new occurrence. Contrary to normal unconsciousness (sleeping, for example), fainting offers no frame of reference upon awakening, which leads to quite a bit of disorientation. Assuming you’re out for longer than a minute or two, and you have caring people nearby, you tend wake up somewhere else, with no idea how much time had passed in the meantime, and, in some cases, with a few new bruises from headbutting the ground. Luckily for me, powdery snow was good at cushioning falls, so the only pain I felt was from the wounds I had already sustained before I lost consciousness.

I opened my eyes to find myself looking at the roof of the cabin, and though it took a moment for my fuzzy vision to correct, the sound of a fire crackling merrily from somewhere nearby calmed me. I concluded that I was in the living room, but the absence of my shirt and pants confused me further. Ignoring the pounding in my head, I reached down and felt at the faint burning on my thigh, only to find a rather sizable bandage in place. Even with my addled mind, I realized pretty quickly that Jenna didn’t know how to stitch and bandage a deep laceration, which meant one of the pony-ladies had done so. The thought brought a warmth to my cheeks, which only deepened when I realized I was wearing different underwear than I was before.

Moving slowly so as to not to puke from the wave of dizziness that nearly overcame me, I pivoted on the couch and sat up, looking around the cabin. There was no one around, which worried me, but the very fact that there was nothing seemingly missing, no signs of a struggle, and a well-tended fire burning away gave me some peace of mind. I saw Bailey moving to stand slowly from off to the right, my concern spiking when I saw her limping over to me with a bandage over her head. I was worried, but the fact that she was walking and coherent meant that, other than some bruises, she was okay. Bringing her close and giving her a loving kiss on the head, I ran my fingers down her side as I continued to try and locate some clue as to where everyone was.

My stationary investigation was cut short when the front door opened, and Jenna entered dressed in her full winter gear of a dark green parka and pants, along with heavy boots and the mask I had been wearing earlier. Upon seeing me, she seemingly could not get her gear off fast enough, and I believe the only thing that kept her from fully tackling me was the fact I was already injured. Regardless, I was subjected to a bone-creaking embrace from my best friend, followed up by a needlessly strong punch to the shoulder.

I reflexively jerked away and stared at her in shock and irritation. “What the fuck was that for?”

She grabbed my wrist and pulled my hand into view, pointing to the golden ring that still lay around my finger. “If it hadn’t been for this, you shoving a shotgun in my arms and telling me to stay here would have been the last time I ever saw you, dickhead.” She punched me again, in the same spot, and growled angrily. “Don’t you ever do that to me again!”

I groaned in pain at the forming bruise and glared at my faithful canine companion, who was doing nothing to stop this. ‘Traitor.’

I wanted to point out that I had saved Vinyl from slavery, torture, and/or death, but I instead only found myself mumbling an ashamed, “...I’m sorry.” Dipping my head, the words started tumbling out before I could stop them. “I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t do something, and taking any of you with me would have just increased the chance that something would happen to you. I care about the ponies, and I consider Vinyl a friend -- I couldn’t just leave her out there.” Having fully realized how Jenna had felt, I was thoroughly ashamed of what I’d done to her, but I still met her eyes and added, “I would have done the same for you too, Jen.”

Jenna held her fierce gaze for a few moments longer before her features softened, and she loosed a frustrated sigh. “That’s not the point Alex. I know how much friends and family mean to you, but that doesn’t mean I condone you going on a suicide mission. If it hadn’t been for this,” again, she pointed to the gold band on my finger, “you would be dead, and I would wonder for the rest of my life if there was something more I could have done to stop my best friend from getting himself killed.”

She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. “I don’t think like you, Alex.” Her voice was low, and somber. “I can’t justify sacrificing myself for the good of everyone else -- I’m not strong enough for that. I’m afraid to die, and I’m afraid to lose you. You are all I have left.” She looked off to the side, and I followed her gaze to my pistol, which lay on the table in front of us. “If you go, I go, because I don’t have anything else keeping me together in this world. Next time you go on a ‘do-or-die’ mission, I’m coming with you.”

I frowned hard at the latter sentence. “Jenna, you can’t just-”

“I wasn’t asking.” she growled, glaring and challenging me to deny her.

I couldn’t say I was actually afraid of Jenna, but I knew how headstrong she was. If she said she was going to do something, there wasn’t a force on Earth that was going to stop her...and that included me. Much as I didn’t want to put Jenna in harm’s way, there wasn’t any way she was going to let me walk away on my own again, and we both knew it.

After a few moments, I let out a long, defeated sigh and nodded. “Fine, you win, but you’re learning how to handle a gun, then. The more trained individuals we have, the better.”

Jenna studied my face for a moment before nodding. “Good. So, how are you doing otherwise? Vinyl told us what happened.”

The name struck a chord within me, and I completely ignored my injury as I jolted off the sofa in concern. “Shit, is she okay? Did she-”

“Alex, chill.” Jenna ordered, pushing on my shoulders until I was seated again. After observing for a moment, likely to make sure I wasn’t going to try and stand again, Jenna soothed my concern with a gentle smile. “She’s okay, Alex. A little banged up, but better off than you are. Celestia checked her out and says she has a mild concussion, but she’s otherwise okay. We just need to keep an eye on her for any neurological symptoms, but Vinyl seems fine so far. Take a breath, Alex. Deep one; there you go.” I followed her request and took a few deep breaths to calm myself, and she spoke to me the way I had spoken to her a few times. “Everything’s okay, Alex. Everyone’s safe, and the area is secure. You can relax.”

I took a few more deep breaths, and my heart’s frantic beating began to slow to a more manageable level. The room seemed to brighten as my vision normalized again -- apparently, it had tunneled again during my mini-freak -- and I felt my nerves calm from Jenna’s words. It was okay, Vinyl was okay, and I was okay.

With a clearer head, I glanced around the room again. “Where is everyone?”

Jenna pointed to the door and explained, “They’re following Vinyl as she sets up detection wards around the area. Apparently, from what I understand, they work like an alarm system, so Vinyl will be able to tell us if something larger than a rabbit is approaching from the ground.” Forestalling my spiking worry again, Jenna shushed me with a hand to my lips. “They’re all armed, Celestia is fully armored, and I taught Octavia how to use the shotgun. They asked me to check back with you to be sure you were okay, so here I am. They’ll be back in a few minutes.”

I didn’t like the fact that they were outside without me, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Taking one last deep breath and letting it out slowly, I nodded to Jenna. “All right, cool. How long was I out?”

“A few hours.” Jenna replied, glancing back to me with a frown. “Figures it took getting shot for you to actually relax for once.”

I ignored the poke at me and instead asked the question that was going to be embarrassing no matter what: “Who took care of my leg?”

“Celestia.” Jenna answered with a sheepish grin. “I would have done it myself, but...I’m not so good around blood.” I let out a groan of shame, which Jenna took as a sign to embarrass me further. “Dude, she’s thousands of years old. You really think yours is the first dick she’s ever seen?”

I hid my face in my hands and let out another groan. “NOT! HELPING!”

“Maybe she liked it.” Jenna teased, clearly feeling the need to torture me for making her worry.

While I tried my hardest to ignore the thought of it, I couldn’t help but wonder that very thing: did Celestia like what she saw?

“For the record,” a recognizable, regal voice chimed in, “I was quite impressed. While not the largest, it was certainly not the smallest. It is quite adequate, in my opinion.”

I decided at that moment that the darkness of my cupped hands would be a nice place to live now, so that I wouldn’t ever have to look at anyone ever again. Yep, sounds like a plan. Here lies Alex: he was impressively adequate. I just slowly shook my head and tried to will everyone away so that I could die from embarrassment in peace.

“Alex?” Octavia’s voice floated in.

“Alex isn’t here right now. Leave a message.” I mumbled, unwilling to be a part of the conversation any further. My leg had slowly graduated from a faint burning to a debilitating tightness and fire, so I couldn’t escape by quickly walking away, and hobbling would just draw even more attention to me. I could only hope that it would all end soon. However, before I could decide how to get myself out of the situation, I felt someone sit on the other side of me before two arms encircled my body, and my head was pressed against something soft and warm. Even through clothing, I could easily identify a very nice rack that I was being squeezed into, and since I didn’t feel any feathers, that only left one culprit.

I opened my eyes and saw short, fine gray fur along the arms, which meant Octavia was the one who was trying to make me one with her fun pillows. The flush that blossomed in my face also caused my headache to worsen, but I felt that death-by-tatas was a nice way to go, all things considered. I was released from my warm, soft prison a moment later -- to equal parts gratitude and disappointment from me -- only for the feeling of warm, soft lips pressed against my right cheek to cause me to become lightheaded as all the blood began to rush to my head and one other place.

Thank you, Alex.” Octavia breathed into my ear, sniffling once before pulling back, revealing a radiant, teary smile to me. “I can never thank you enough for bringing Vinyl back in one piece.” She let out a soft chuckle and shook her head. “At this rate, I may have to start keeping track of the debts I owe you.” Her glance off to the side drew my attention, and I looked to see Vinyl leaning against the wall, trying to look nonchalant about the whole thing. Octavia cleared her throat off to the side and announced, “Let’s give these two a moment, ladies. Bailey, come!”

The sound of Bailey and the other three leaving the room was mere background noise at the moment, as my full attention was on Vinyl as she slowly pushed off from the wall and walked over to me. Her eyes darted everywhere but to me, until she finally settled on staring at the floor, wringing her hands nervously. She opened her mouth a few times, doing a rather spot on impression of a fish, before closing it and swallowing audibly.

“...h-how are you feeling?” she stammered out, wincing at her own words. As a person that grew up having to learn the hard way not to be socially awkward, it was easy to recognize the sight of someone that knew something had to be said, but wasn’t sure what.

Knowing all that, I simply reached out and grasped her hand, and gently intoned, “Relax Vinyl. Take a breath, and take a seat.”
I felt her tighten her grip on my hand briefly before she took a deep breath in through her nose, letting it out through her mouth. Steadying herself, she nodded and took a seat beside me. Perhaps I should have been a little concerned about the fact I was shirtless in front of a cute pony-lady, but I was more worried about her, at the moment. Though it was clear she had cleaned herself up, her face was still swollen worryingly on one side, and she even had a pinkening of the fur near the corner of her mouth, where blood must have been.
“So…you have your magic back?” I broke the silence with something neutral, that I had a feeling she wouldn’t mind talking about.

Vinyl’s ears pricked and she looked up at me with a small smile. “Yeah. Took a chunk out of me when I used it outside to save that man, but only because I hadn’t had enough time to build up my reserves. Another day or two and I’ll be strong enough to show you what I can really do.”

“You saved a life with magic, Vinyl.” I whispered intensely with a wide grin. “To a human, that was incredible, regardless of the fact it left you exhausted. Speaking of,” I nodded to her, “how do you feel?”

Confidence returning, Vinyl loosed a long, relieved sigh. “Really good, thanks to you. Sure it left me tired, and I’m not going to be able to do much in terms of spells for the next day at least, but…” Her ruby gaze locked on me, and even without the fire reflected in her eyes, it seemed warm, and intense. “Alex, ponies have learned and evolved over thousands of years to become what we are now, and the one thing nearly every pony knows from the time they’re born is that we are stronger together. Trust is not just what we’re taught as foals, it’s a part of our culture; it’s who we are, Alex.” She pointed a finger at me and continued. “But Twilight told us that trust doesn’t come naturally to humans. It was one of the first things she learned about your race, and it was the one thing that worried us the most. After all: if humans couldn’t trust and help us, how were any of us going to survive? But you…” she shook her head and smiled again, “Alex, you took Tavi and I in when you didn’t have to. You didn’t know who we were or what we were capable of, and you still welcomed us and took care of us. I can’t even put into words how much that means to us; I can’t tell you how much it means to me.”

Understanding where she was going with this, I nodded to her. “I just thought of what it would be like had I been in your situation. I would hope someone cared enough about me to help me when I needed it, so I figured I would do the same for you and Octavia. Even if you didn’t return the favor, I would still do it anyway, because that’s just the kind of person I am. I can’t just look away from someone that needs help, and hope that someone else will step up.” I nudged Vinyl with my elbow. “If I had done that, you and Octavia would still be frozen outside back in the city, and I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, knowing that.” I shrugged, gesturing generally to the cabin, “But it’s not like I don’t get anything out of it. I got three new friends and allies that will help me survive in the new world, and it doesn’t hurt that one of them has a lot of pull with Earth’s new additions. And, I’ve never known a pro DJ personally. I think it’s pretty damn cool that I know someone that can not only make music, but can use music to work miracles. It’s amazing.” I released her hand and brought mine up to clasp around the back of her neck. “You’re amazing.”

I was privy to seeing Vinyl’s face slowly bloom into a full blush as she only stared at me blankly. Then, her shoulders began to shake. A smile grew on her face as faint sniggers began to be forced from between her lips, and then she graduated to a bout of full-on laughter. The laughter became hysterical and I watched as tears began to fall down her cheeks, unsure of what to do. I could only watch in concern as her laughter continued, but it slowly began to change as a sniffle was thrown in, and she finally graduated to deep sobs as she cradled her face in her hands. I moved my arm to hold her around the shoulders, and after a moment, she leaned into me and cried her eyes out.

It took a bit, but eventually, her weeping tapered off into hiccuping sniffles, and finally silence as she just leaned against me. I honestly wasn’t sure what to do, so I just held onto her until she was finished, hoping that I hadn’t done or said something that had made her cry like that -- it might have seemed silly to me, but I knew there were some differences between human and pony culture, and this might be one of them. Still, she didn’t seem angry with me, so I could only pray that she wouldn’t hit me in my arm like Jenna had; it was starting to bruise.

To my endless relief, Vinyl simply sat up and wiped her face on the sleeves of her hoodie. She said nothing more to me, but offered me a sincere, heartfelt smile before bringing me in for a tight hug. After releasing me, she promptly stood and walked out of the room, leaving me alone for the moment.
My isolation ended seconds later as a small tray was set on my lap from behind, with some toast and jam, and a cup of steaming tea. I brought the small mug to my nose and inhaled, enjoying the scent of lemon and honey and the thoughtfulness of whoever brought it to me. My silent question was answered as Celestia rounded the sofa and began to remove the armor she had been wearing, placing it in the corner of the room with that of her fallen soldier. Even though she had been walking around the cabin in her underwear for days now, it somehow seemed inappropriate to watch her get undressed, so I turned my attention back to the toast and tea and began to eat and drink. Truth be told, I was hungry, and lemon tea was one of my favorites when I felt sick or otherwise under the weather. I had a feeling Jenna had either made me the tea, or recommended it to Celestia, so I silently thanked her as I methodically munched on toast and washed it down with hot tea.

A few minutes later, Celestia took the spot next to me, her wings extended over the back of the couch, as normal. Realizing something, I held up my hand as I glanced at her from the corner of my eye, silently questioning why I still had Karyll’a.

“She became very...clingy.” Celestia explained with a grin in her tone. “She felt you needed her more than I did, and so refused to let go. With a spellgun from my late friend, along with backup, I was more than capable of accompanying Vinyl as she placed wards around the area, so I allowed Karyll’a to stay with you.”

I nodded in understanding. “I hope I’m not being a bother. I know she means a lot to you, and I don’t mean to deprive you of your weapon, even if I didn’t choose to.”

Celestia smiled and shook her head, reaching over and touching her finger to the golden band. With a flash, it rematerialized on her horn, and she just continued smiling at me. “There are things I can do that Karyll’a cannot. Though not truly sapient, she does have some form of self, but cannot travel without being moved. Karyll’a wanted to ensure your safety, as you were in far more dire straits than I, so she chose to stay with you until I returned.” She reached up and again tapped the band, now on her horn. “I told you that Karyll’a was formed from a piece of my own soul, so you can understand that, had I been in her position, I would have chosen the same. Vinyl and Octavia needed support, however, so I did what I could to ensure everyone was as safe as possible until we reconvened in the cabin.”

It was still strange to think that a shapeshifting weapon was essentially an extension of Celestia’s consciousness, but all things considered, it was par for the course. Even though I tried my best to go with the flow when it came to Earth’s new occupants and what they were capable of, it still sometimes caught me off guard when I thought of just how alien they were. Simply looking at a pony’s face would be enough to confirm they were not of Earth, with their equine ears, large eyes, and protruding face. When had “alien” become the new norm, for me? At some point, I had stopped thinking of them as “the visitors”, and more as just people, as if they’d always been on Earth. Truthfully, I would now consider it odd if I didn’t see ponies.

Nuts, right?

“I almost killed a guy today, Tia.” I muttered, the words and thought coming to me before I could properly process it. Still, I knew I could talk to Celestia about this type of thing, and she would understand just how guilty I felt about it.

Celestia took the empty tray from me and placed it on the table, along with the empty mug. “Do not let the guilt overcome you, Alex -- it was a bad situation, and you did what you had to in order to assure Vinyl’s survival. I don’t expect that to help you feel better, but it’s the truth.” I felt as she scooted over and slung her arm around my shoulders, offering a bit of physical comfort along with her wise words. “The truth of the matter is that there are only two types of people who are able to do what you did in that situation, yet feel nothing: the unfeeling, and the experienced. Unfortunately -- or fortunately, depending on your perspective -- you are neither, so you will still feel guilty even though you made the right choice.” She then gave me a gentle shake and assured, “Make no mistake, Alex: you made the right choice. Even if the man had died, you acted with honor and in defense of a friend in need. You did not wish to hurt him, but desperate situations tend to create desperate people who are willing to steal and kill to survive. It is simply a reality of the world you now live in: there are those that would willingly kill you or any of us to take what we have, no matter what that may be. And so, the four of you must be prepared for that.”

The subtle reminder that Celestia would be leaving stung more than I thought it would.
I knew that it was highly unlikely, but I still had to ask, “There isn’t any chance I’d be able to convince you to stay, is there?”

Celestia was silent for a long while, causing me to turn my head to look at her. It was clear she was deep in thought, chewing on her lip with a thousand-yard stare. It took a few minutes, but she finally answered with a gentle, “You know, before I took the throne over a thousand years ago, I was just a soldier. True, I was never what ponies would consider ‘normal’, being an alicorn, but I lived simply to use hoof, steel, and magic to protect that which I held dear. What I valued was a very broad idea of ‘home’ that included Luna and the land we had settled for our ponies, and I was more than happy to step onto the field of battle time and time again to safeguard their futures.” She glanced at me briefly. “I have been alive for a long time, Alex -- a very long time. Even as a simple sphere of energy and magic that gave life to my planet, I do not recall my first memories. I have forgotten more than even the longest-lived beings of my world will ever know in their lives. But,” she hesitated, finally fully looking at me as she tightened her grip on me, “this is the very first time I can ever remember being called by my innate desire to protect my people, and yet not wanting to leave.” My eyes widened at her words, but she continued before I could formulate any sort of response. “Every other time when I made the decision to step out onto the field of battle, or to rescue those in need, both my heart and mind agreed on the course of action. In this instance, however,” she leaned in, pressing her soft, warm cheek against mine as she took a deep, steadying breath, “I know that I must go, and yet I do not want to.”

“But you still have to go…” I muttered in defeat, even though I had already known the answer well ahead of time.

“I still have to go.” Celestia agreed, the hand around my shoulders reaching up to stroke my hair for comfort -- hers or mine, though, I wasn’t sure. “But,” the single word caused my heart to leap into my throat, by the sheer conviction in the tone, “I now have a very compelling reason to return, one day.”

Even though I was well-versed in the art of dealing with serious, delicate situations, i was notably less so when handling matters of the heart -- specifically, when someone expressed interest in me. It had happened so rarely in my life that I simply didn't have enough experience to properly handle said event without sticking my foot in my mouth, and so, i would resort to silly, childish quips in an effort to lighten the mood. It was a coping mechanism, but more than that, I simply didn’t believe I could become someone’s reason for doing much of anything. Let it be said I didn’t have that high of an opinion of myself when it came to matters of the heart.

“Yeah,” I mumbled, “Vinyl and Octavia are pretty cool. I'm sure if you bring a cello with you, you could even get a show out of Octavia.”

Celestia was silent for a few moments before she spoke again, with an almost disbelieving tone. “Is it so hard to imagine that my reason might be you?”

I couldn’t help it as I glanced at Celestia, trying by my eyes alone to convey just how crazy that question was. “You can’t be serious -- of course it is. You are quite literally the sun incarnate, royalty, and a warrior of badassery, while I’m just...me. I have nothing to offer that you don’t already have or can get, so I have trouble believing there is anything in the wide world that I could give you that would be worthwhile.”

She let out a long, slow breath through her nostrils. “That sort of response,” she pointed at me, “right there, is exactly why I detest being a princess so much.” Celestia gestured to herself, her frown deepening as she explained, “I created this body because I wished to walk amongst those upon the world -- to live life with them -- but instead, I sometimes feel more alone than ever. Simply because of what I can do, I was revered and worshiped -- even feared, more often than not. I created a body not because I wanted to be praised and worshiped, but because I wanted friendship and love as a living creature of flesh and blood.” During her short rant, her voice had risen in volume, so she took a moment to calm herself before looking at me once again. “You have seen and experienced who I am on the inside, and I have done my best to let you experience that even without contact with Karyll’a. I had hoped you would have realized that I want to be treated as an equal, not a goddess. And for the record, you are something that I cannot get anywhere else. I have no desire for jewels and opulence -- I never have -- instead, I place immense value on those precious few that I can speak to as Celestia instead of ‘the princess’.” She reached out with her free hand and grasped one of my own, bringing it up and placing it on the center of her chest, where I imagine her heart would be. “From you, I can get all I need: care and support, companionship, a listening ear, and most important of all, understanding. That is all I desire, and you are more than capable of providing that. That is why you are important to me, and it is why I hope…” she took a moment to collect herself, though her last few words were spoken in a whisper, “I hope I can find my way back to you one day.”

While she hadn’t said anything overt, the way she had spoken seemed to go beyond mere friendship. “Celestia, are you saying what I think you’re saying?”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Alex.” Celestia answered with a smirk, still refusing to relinquish her hold on me. “But, something further between us is definitely a possibility. Time will tell, I suppose.”

Her admission that I was a possible “interest” for her just made me want her to stay even more, but I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to make her, no matter how hard I tried. And so, with a sigh of defeat, I nodded shallowly. “Then I guess you’d better stay alive, because I’m not going to accept a permanent goodbye from you.” Celestia’s only answer was to lay her head against mine again, giving my shoulder a comforting squeeze.

A younger me might have been frustrated and upset that I was being told to wait on a matter of the heart, but I knew why the two of us couldn’t explore anything beyond friendship at the moment. The fact of the matter was that the world was still in chaos, and Celestia would be leaving tomorrow, so deciding to commit to each other would be foolish. I didn’t like it, but I knew we both had important things to focus on, and we couldn’t afford to be distracted by romantic affection.

Nothing more needed to be said, so for the rest of the night, Celestia and I shared space on the sofa and silently watched the flickering flames of the hearth, simply enjoying the companionship we offered to each other for one last night.

Comments ( 16 )


+100 web-cookies for Young Frankenstein.

It's a great film...and a Mel Brooks one to boot

Almost a year. It still lives!

Always a good day when one of your stories updates. Nice to see more character development and Vinyl getting her magic back.

Can't wait to see what you update next. :twilightsmile:

What's this?! A rare update has appeared!

Very good story can't wait to see more all tho it seems life keeps ya busy an thus sorta making this story seem dead. But I figure it's just life being life so hope to see more soon!

I actually fried my computer, and as of 4/17, I broke all three bones in my ankle. So I promise: it's not a lack of desire to write, but rather the lack of the ability to do so.

8902114 One don't see how your ankle being broken stops ya from writing just prop it up after ya sit down in a nice chair also hope it heals soon. The fried PC now I understand that can freeze the progress of the story.

Well, with the ankle, I had to keep it elevated for the first two weeks, for 23 hours a day. I had major surgery done, so I was effectively bedridden, and even when I had a computer, it wasn't kept in my bedroom.

Maybe a Resurrection can be done

Any update on if this will continue? Saw some "fairly" recent replies from the author, hope it does, this was going good.

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