• Published 4th Jan 2016
  • 3,212 Views, 144 Comments

The View from Rock Bottom - Fickle Wood



Meet Jack Taylor, a brother, son, and self-defined psychic. Jack is about to begin a long ordeal in humility and perseverance, one he may not very well survive without some friends, which is something that’ll be hard as a mare named Berry Punch.

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Wayward Plans 1.1

I watched the snow fall from my parked car, while I built up the nerve to lie. It wasn't like I had trouble lying, I did it on a weekly basis, but this week I'd already done it once. The date had slipped my mind this year, which I think was a sign that everything had finally become normal. That was until the lawyer called a few days ago, with the good news that the life insurance company was finally going to honor my parents’ life insurance policies.

I suppose I should've been happy. The money would be enough that I could quit my jobs, then return to drawing and painting things for a living. The money meant something more though, it meant I had to finally accept my parents were dead. That my sister would only know our parents through photos, videos, and me.

I shouldn't be doing this. I pulled out my phone, scrolled through the contacts to Katherine's number, then called it.

“Jack?” Katherine said, and sounded tired.

“Hey, Kat. Did I wake you up?” I checked the time on my phone, and knew for certain it wasn't her bedtime yet.

“Nah, school was just draining today. You coming home soon?” A hopeful tone was in her voice.

I’m an awful brother. “No. Sorry, Kat. I have to take extra work when I can get it, at least until the lawyer comes through.” Half true at least.

“But this is the second time this week. Can't you skip it tonight and watch a movie with me instead?” The question sounded more like a plea than an honest question.

“Kat…” Maybe I should…

“But…” I knew what she wanted to say, but I also knew she wouldn't bring it up. “Alright, please stay safe.”

“I will. Goodnight, Kat.” No. I need it tonight of all nights.

“Goodnight, Jack.”

I slipped the phone into my pocket and left my car. The chill of November a constant reminder of where I was and what happened eight years ago today, the day that filled me with regret that I'd never be absolved from.

(0) (0)

I awoke on my side to a terrible headache and a horrible stench. I continued to lay on my side and kept my eyes closed, as I didn’t want to worsen my headache with light. What happened last night? Kat. Remember talking to Kat about… Oh… That explains the headache.

“Here I thought I knew my limit,” I said, but the voice I heard was very feminine, if not a little hoarse from dehydration and muffled for some reason. At that moment, I noticed that things were off with what I felt throughout my body. My hands and feet felt like they weren’t there, with new sensations in their place and elsewhere. I slowly opened my eyes to avoid the sting of light, which wasn’t a problem with how dim the light was, and wasn't prepared for what was before me.

The first thing I noticed was my hair, I distinctly remembered it had been brown and trimmed, but the locks of hair in my vision were mulberry and thick. Did someone dye my hair? In the middle of my vision looked to be a muzzle that was the color of mauve. I ran my tongue over my new flatter teeth and found my mouth much larger, which removed the possibility I had a mask on. I rolled off my side to my stomach, then pushed myself up with my arms so that I was on my rear. I looked down at my arms and was further confused by what I saw.

What were previously arms and legs now appeared to just be legs, and all four were mauve like the muzzle on my face. I moved my new left foreleg and found it flexible to the point I wondered if I was double jointed, but the hoof on it was what stole all my attention. The hoof had a soft pad, which I could mentally pull in and push out in a completely alien feeling way, with a hard thin nail wall, that partially surrounded the pad in the shape of a horseshoe. I moved my right forehoof up to meet with my left, pushed both pads into each other, then pulled the pads to find some sort of suction gripped them together.

I shifted my head and inspected my rear to find a tattoo on my side, a grape bunch and a strawberry, the most normal thing so far really. Further back I discovered I had a small tail with long mulberry hairs, but I didn’t feel it, and it was limp. The back hooves that were stuck out from under me were my next stop, which also had the strange alien pads, though they weren't nearly as interesting as my forehooves had been, and I doubted I'd be using the pads on them often. My self-exploration continued to my underside to find my nipples were above my pelvis and had gained a little fat, which led to the discovery of a lack of something and addition of something new. Well… that's… interesting... and my nipples are now... yeah. Kinda normal… if not used to everything being on someone else... further apart... and looking entirely different. Not like my ability never let me experience the feeling of both things... though those were human... not whatever these are from. The stupification must've lasted for at least a minute before I regained my senses and pushed all of the irrelevant information out of my mind. At least I’m not a giant insect or something else equally horrifying, just a horse-like mammalian creature.

Now some would call me strange in how I'd reacted to things so far. To awake as an alien creature and the opposite gender would be to most quite a shocking thing. The thing was that I was the definition of strange, at least as far as I knew. It wasn’t like I hadn’t experienced being something other than human before, but unlike those times, this didn’t seem to be in something’s memories. This isn’t any creature’s memory, since I’m in control, instead of just along for the ride. Maybe I was adopted and actually an alien coming into shapeshifting powers? Hope not, the eye thing took years to get under control. Whatever, need to figure out if I’m in danger.

I attempted to get my mind off of my body and evaluated the room I was in. The bed was just a metal bed frame against the wall and lacked any bedding. A little bile was on the edge of the bed, with more bile pooled and partially dried around a drain in the middle of the room. The room was obviously a cell with no window and a barred door, but the stone architecture and dim lighting reminded me more of a dungeon than anything a police station would use. A metal sink was across from my bed, with what appeared to be a metal toilet next to it, but the bowl was in the floor. A lone lit torch in a sconce shone light into my cell through the bar door, casting lines of shadows along the floor and on the back wall.

The dungeon was eerily quiet, but maybe it was because I expected the stereotypical dungeon sound of moisture dripping. The subject of my body came back to my mind, but this time about my head, specifically my ears. I brought my new forehooves up to my head and noted that my ears weren’t on the sides of my head. I slowly moved my hooves upwards and found a pair of floppy, animal-like ears. The ears were limp and unresponsive, regardless of how I manipulated them with my forehooves. The only thing I did know about the ears was that I could hear through them, even if sounds seemed to be muffled due to their collapsed state.

Not a lab, good. The medieval architecture with indoor plumbing should rule out time-travel. Nowhere in town or the state has a place like this though, at least not publicly. Dream? I looked at my left forehoof and then the wall to my left. Pain is a good way to tell, but pretty sure this isn’t a dream already. I wound up my left foreleg and hit the wall to my left with the side of my forehoof as hard as I could. My strike caused several unexpected events to occur on top of the pain that proved this wasn’t a dream.

The first event was that the impact dented the wall and sent cracks outward along it. The second event was a blue glow almost instantly filled the cracks and dent. The third event was when what looked like electricity shot out of the wall into me and pain surged through my new body, but I was strangely paralyzed in place, instead of losing bodily control. The final event happened when the cracks and dent repaired themselves back to perfect condition right in front of my paralyzed eyes. All these things combined sent my mind into a flurry of thoughts, which was good since thinking was all I could do beyond stare disbelievingly at the wall and smell singed hair.

Super strength? Security system? Unorthodox reaction to electricity? Self-repairing walls? I wasn’t sure what to make of all the new information, other than I might actually be a shape-shifting alien, with super strength, that could extract memories from things. I found it better to focus on the craziest thing, instead of focusing on the fact that I actually was a prisoner. That was until I felt myself tilt to one side as the paralysis began to wear off, though unfortunately not all at once, as I found myself unable to actually stop. The impact with the floor was fairly painless, but my frame of reference might've been off due to my recent electrocution. It was the wet bile that I found under the dried layer that really made the fall bad since the stench was horrible and the liquid soaked into my new coat.

I wasn’t sure why, but as I laid on the floor, I felt the need to laugh and laugh I did. It was a hysterical laugh, one I had little control over. My laughter started to die down though once an important thought popped into my head. It was a thought that I had to focus on, one that I decided I couldn’t let go, no matter how far down this rabbit hole I went.

Katherine.

No matter what, I had to focus on Katherine. That was what I did for the past eight years, and that was what I'd do here. She was all that mattered here and nothing else. The fact I was a female quadruped with super strength didn’t matter. I inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled it, the smell of the bile barely phased me. I struggled back to my hooves due to the slickness of the floor, but a little bile wasn’t going to put me down. Once my hooves were all planted on the ground, I took a glance outside my cell and met eyes with another horse-like creature like myself.

I'd lived for years with what I simply called my ability, though what it actually was I didn’t know. The closest thing it could be considered was a psychic ability, but that idea was taken completely from fiction due to lack of proof that others like me existed. At times I even thought I might just be crazy and imagined it entirely, like the few doctors I'd seen about it had said and dismissed any claims to the contrary, sometimes with added legal threats or trying to institutionalize me for clearly, to them, a sociopathic stalking behavior, but I refused to dismiss, or was able to even forget, the things I knew after using it.

It was the sudden surprise of someone being there combined with my already fragile state that allowed my ability to activate upon looking into this other horse’s eyes. As the world faded away, I was reminded of why I called my ability a curse at one time.

(0) (0)

Damn it! I slipped! I thought, the fact that I let my ability just activate like that infuriated me, even if it was understandable. There was also the other fact that I was female outside of this memory, which made me feel slightly more vulnerable than usual, but I tried not to think about what could happen to me and focused on the memory instead.

My vision was filled with what looked to be a medieval village at night and a dark gray muzzle, though the muzzle was flatter than my current one outside of the memory. The night was a surreal sight with how strong the moonlight was and how it bathed everything in sight, but it could've just been that this being had excellent sight in the dark. The sound of hooves clopped below as this horse walked and a loud indistinguishable voice could be heard nearby.

When this horse turned a corner, a strange tree-like structure came into sight, which glistened in the moonlight. The tree must've been a usual sight to him though, as his focus was squarely on someone that was throwing bottles at what appeared to be a magenta colored bubble. This particular someone happened to have the exact same mane and coat colors I had, which gave me a new crazy idea about my situation.

Here I thought a week could finally go by without Berry causing a disturbance. Lucky that Twilight is such a pacifist, not even Berry’s training could help her avoid the wrath of an angry alicorn, a someone that sounded male thought, then the memory faded away as he continued his advance toward the strange sight.

(0) (0)

My sight returned to me and things were exactly as I'd left them, except for the worried look on the stallion outside my cell. He had fern green eyes, a short black mane, and a dark gray coat. The clothing he wore was a navy blue police uniform, complete with a hat that his ears poked out of. The look on the face of the creature before me seemed almost human, but his facial expression was beyond what a human would be capable of and his eyes were huge. I didn’t know what to compare the overall sight of him to really, aside from an animated movie where the animators made everything so realistic, that if they hadn’t made something that didn’t exist, then you'd have questioned it being animated at all.

“Berry? Are you okay?” The stallion said, and concern was clear in his tone.

I knew I should've said something to him, but I was still processing the little I'd seen from his memory. The town that I'd seen, and was pretty sure I was in, looked practically medieval up until the weird tree-like structure. There had also been that magenta bubble, but I decided to not focus on that. The thing I focused on was the other horse he'd thought of as Berry, the one with the same colors as mine and was just addressed as. So this is either some kind of possession or I’ve swapped minds with this talking horse named Berry? First might mean I’m dead and the second might mean a drunkard is currently in control of my body. Suppose there are other possibilities that are less supernatural or crazy, but I need to get out of this cell first.

“Berry?” The concern had grown in his voice.

“Yes?” I said, not really sure what I was doing.

“Berry, are you angry with me?”

“Who are you?” Confusion was clear in my voice.

“So, you're mad at me.” He let out a sigh. “Look, I don't like dragging you here any more than you like being locked up. You can't, however, throw bottles at our princess, then call her home, and I quote, ‘A blight on Ponyville's landscape!’. You're lucky she isn't pressing charges. Suppose she just has given up on you like everypony else by this point,” he said, with a bit of sadness in his voice at the end.

Princess? Everypony? “I’m…” How to best approach this? “I’m very sorry for doing those things. When can I leave here?” Probably best to save the crazy talk for when I’m not locked up.

“Sorry?" He seemed slightly surprised by the word. “Well, seeing as Princess Twilight isn’t pressing charges and you didn’t resist arrest, I don’t see any reason to keep you here any longer. I'll go get a washcloth and soap so you can clean yourself off, then we can process you out.” He left my sight, but his hooves continued to sound out as he went further away.

Just what is going on? At that moment, a familiar yet somewhat alien feeling made itself known, the feeling of a full bladder. I looked over at the metal bowl in the floor and dreaded the fact I needed to use it soon. “Well, no time like the present.”

(0) (0)

“Ready?” the dark gray pony said, that hadn't told me his name yet, with a set of big keys on a big metal ring in his mouth.

How does he speak clearly with those in his mouth? I looked my forehooves over to make sure they were clean of the bile I'd cleaned up, though the fact I'd walk on them didn’t elude me. “I think so,” I said, with all the uncertainty of my situation.

“I could keep you in there longer if you want.” A smile lightened up his features.

“No thanks.” I tried to sound amused.

“I don't know, you cleaned up your mess for once. I think this stay might be doing some good for you.” His smile turned mischievous.

“Please no?” Don't have time for this.

“Please? Yep, this is doing you some good. I'll just leave you in there until tonight.” He turned to walk away.

I ran up to the cell door, uncertain if he was actually going to leave me here. “No! Wait!”

He turned back to me. “Relax, Berry. I'm just pulling your reins.” He unlocked the door by manipulating the keys with his mouth.

Eww. Is hygiene even a thing around here? Well for all I know their mouths could produce a very antibacterial saliva. I stepped back from the door so that he could push the door inward, then followed his lead past more cells just like mine, all of which contained bedding on their bed frames. Can’t blame them for removing it if Berry is a drunk. My tail hair dragged behind me due to my unresponsive tail, something I'd be sure to see trimmed short like the stallion had in front of me if this situation lasted longer than today, but it didn’t seem to impede movement.

We arrived at a set of stairs that looked to curve up, and I stopped at the base of the stairs, while the police officer continued up them. The reason I stopped was due to another revelation about my body, one that was more perplexing than shocking. How have I been walking?

Out of all the changes I'd experienced since I'd awoken, how I walked was the only thing I hadn't questioned. It was such a simple thing that I'd overlooked it completely and the reason had been that I hadn't experienced any trouble. I'd shifted from biped to quadruped, but the only difficulty that had appeared was my unresponsive tail when I took care of the call of nature and cleaned myself of bile. I looked down at my legs and tried to figure it out. So when I move my left foreleg forward like this I move my back right— I was interrupted from my thoughts when I lost my balance and fell flat on my stomach, with my legs completely outstretched in front and behind me. I unsteadily stood back up onto my hooves and was very unsure about it all. This is like someone talking to you about your tongue position, isn't it?

“You coming, Berry?” the police officer said, loudly, from somewhere up the stairs and out of sight.

“Yeah!” Okay, just have to not think about walking. Easier said than done now since it's all I can think about. I inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled it to clear my thoughts. What else can I think about? Convincing the police officer I'm not who he thinks I am without sounding crazy! I took an unsteady step up the staircase. Now how do I do that? My next step came much easier than the first as I got lost in my thoughts, the sound of each hoof that landed a background noise. It'd help if I could comprehend how this happened. This is like some Kafkaesque horror playing out, but I suppose it could be worse, it could be a Lovecraftian one instead.

“There you are, Berry. Get lost?”

So where do I start? Hello, I don’t quite seem to be who I’m supposed to be today? Hi, would you point me in the direction of someone with intimate knowledge of space and time?

“Berry?”

Now I’m sure you’ve heard your share of drinking stories, but I think mine just might trump them all? I’m an alien and would like to talk to your leader?

“Berry!”

“Huh?” I looked around and found myself in front of a glass door, that looked out on a sunny day.

“I still have to process you out. You do want your things, right?” I heard a slight sound of concern in his voice.

“Um… Yes?” Where did I go just now? Unlike the jail, the police station was very modern with dark gray carpeting, light beige walls, and fluorescent lighting. He led me back through a small waiting area and past another police officer at the front desk.

The pony at the desk looked male if the dark gray one’s similar flatter muzzle was any indication. His navy blue police uniform didn’t look as good on him compared to the dark gray stallion, due to the fact his coat was a royal blue. He didn’t have a mane on his head, but a copper colored and finely trimmed beard seemed to sprout out over the coat hairs on his face, though how that worked was beyond me. He gave me an intimidating look with his silver colored eyes, which made me shift my focus back to the dark gray coated stallion.

We arrived in a room with some shelves on the left wall that contained straw baskets and a wood counter in front of them, while the right side of the room had several tables and chairs I assumed were for visiting with prisoners. Across from the doorway we entered through, I saw the stone staircase I must've taken from the jail, which was framed in a round stone arch. Wonder what the story is behind the shift in architecture.

The dark gray stallion went behind the counter, pulled out one of the baskets with his mouth, then moved it to the counter. I joined him at the counter so that I could finally try to convince him I wasn’t who he thought I was. He opened up a drawer and took a paper out of it, then began to remove items from the basket.

The first thing he pulled out was a bottle of vodka. “One-half of a bottle of Stalliongrad Stud Vodka.”

Stalliongrad? What? “Now this is going to sound crazy, but I'm not Berry.” I placed my forehooves on the counter that he was using to sort out Berry's possessions. “I have no idea who you are or where I am.”

“One-third of a bottle of Brayico Burro Tequila.” He pointedly ignored me.

Brayico? “My name is Jack Taylor and I'm a human.” I pointed at myself with my left forehoof. “I don't know how I got here or why I'm in this body, but I need you to help me.”

He looked at me with a raised eyebrow, but shook his head and continued to process me out of custody. “One full bottle of Wild Pegasus Whiskey, thankfully.” The relief he expressed over the whiskey being full seemed less like concern for Berry’s health and more for his strangely.

“Could you stop doing that and talk to me like a human being! Well… technically pony being, but…” Not getting anywhere with this guy.

“Not in the mood for one of your games today, Berry. One bit purse with 36 bits.” He dropped a simple cloth bag on the desk, with a tighten drawstring keeping it closed.

“Game? This isn't a game! This is somehow my life!” I looked him straight in the eyes and focused on them intently, with the goal to get something that would knock him off balance.

(0) (0)

I felt a soul-crushing amount of emotion before anything else appeared. The grief and regret were familiar, but the sheer intensity of it was almost paralyzing. When the dark gray muzzle came into sight, with tears that distorted his vision slightly, I was surprised to find he was just staring at a wall of names that reminded me of a memorial. The wall was bathed in that surreal moonlight from before, and I could tell that he was sitting on his legs, with what felt like grass underneath. His vision seemed to be focused on one name in particular, and that name was Fair Procedure. This isn't going to be a memory I can use in good conscious… great. I thought, then focused on the memory.

“I don’t even know what to say, Fair. The last time we spoke I was furious with you. I'd thought we had something special, but for you, our relationship was just a part of your career plan. My father just had to have someone continue his legacy and if his only son wasn’t going to, he'd settle with a handpicked daughter-in-law instead,” he said, toward the wall as he barely managed to keep himself together.

His emotions shifted to an intense anger and he sprung up on all fours. “Why did you feel like you had to tell me?! I had been happy the entire year we dated! I'd even proposed to you! Did you finally find some equinity in your soul?! That the fact you were going to marry me based on a lie was too much for you? What did you think would happen? You knew how much I hated my father!” He seemed to calm down with the outburst and sat back on the ground, this time on his rear.

The grief and regret washed over him again. “Sometimes I wish you'd just left me in the dark, then I wouldn’t have transferred to Ponyville and been happy when I died with you. Now the only pony I care about is slowly killing herself and nothing I do or say seems to matter. Tonight though, we could've had a disaster and it was because of her. What hope do I have when not even a princess can help her?” The memory faded away, but the emotions were sure to stay with me afterward.

(0) (0)

My sight was my own again, or I supposed actually Berry’s. The coat hairs on my cheeks were wet it seemed from my emotional trip and the officer pony seemed somewhere between confused and concerned. I took my hooves off the counter and averted my eyes, somewhat ashamed for using my ability.

“Berry? What's going on? You haven’t started using drugs have you?” he said, the sound of fear in his voice.

Damn it, the last thing I need is someone thinking I’m a drug addict on top of an alcoholic. “Honestly? No clue if Berry is a drug addict, but nothing feels off. Well, except for the fact we're ponies and talking, but I think that might be the new normal,” I said, though the emotions that carried over from the memory prevented me from saying it without sounding dishonest.

“Berry, is this a part of some new game of yours? I want to say it's poorly thought out, like when tried to fake amnesia, but the whole creepy silent breakdown thing you just did and then denying it is strange.”

“The reason things seem strange is because they are. I’m telling you that I may very well be an alien and want to prove it. What can I do or say that'll make you believe me?”

“How about some honesty? What was that breakdown in your cell about earlier?”

“My sanity breaking? I don’t know really.”

“So you didn’t set off your cell’s security, so I'd come check on you, then fake the whole breakdown, so I'd feel sorry for you? Something that Berry has done several times in the past?”

“No…” I don’t like where this is going.

“Okay, what was that breakdown about just now?”

Well, I’ve already committed to telling him I’m an alien, no sense in holding anything else back. “I’m psychic and I was reliving one of your memories.”

He rolled his eyes. “So, your idea to just keep piling things on until it all makes sense?”

Time to prove it. “You were full of grief and regret, sitting in front of a wall with names on it. The name you were focused on was Fair Process and—”

“You shut your mouth right now!” he said, with anger, an anger that I was intimately familiar with.

“I…” Fuck, this is like that therapist all over again. I didn’t even know that time I was describing the guy’s mistress instead of his wife.

His anger seemed to simmer down, but it didn’t leave him. “This is a new low, Berry. Using our past relationship like this. What? Did you decide today you just wanted to hurt me? Well, that isn’t going to work. I’m not as easy a target as Princess Twilight,” he said, in a leveled but clearly angry tone.

So, Berry was the alcoholic he mentioned in the memory… great. No sense in trying for another memory, can’t be sure of what Berry would know with a relationship this close. “Sorry?”

He inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled it, the anger seemed to leave him with the process. “You better be, though I seriously doubt it.” He began to process me out again. “One key ring with assorted keys.” I looked at the keys and noted they were about the same size as the jails.

Guess it makes sense if they use them with their mouths, but eww. Hopefully one of those keys is a house key; the only thing that could make this situation worse is if I have to deal with being homeless.

“And one pair of tan saddlebags,” he passed the paper he had been reading from to me along with a pen. “Please sign your name to agree that these are all of your possessions and are in the same condition as they were taken from you.”

I grabbed the pen with my left forehoof and noticed I could hold it almost like I normally would. At least these pads are somewhat useful. Doubtful I can shoot a bow and arrow anytime soon, not that I ever wanted or needed that skill. I went to write my name down but was stopped by the police officer.

“Sign with your mouth, Berry. You know your hoofwriting is atrocious.”

Seriously? They write with their mouths when their hooves are just as useful? “Between writing with my mouth or writing with the closest thing I have to a hand now, I'm going to write with the one that's somewhat familiar.” I attempted to write again, but he stopped me again.

“At least use your right forehoof, you know you aren't left-hoofed.”

“I’m left-handed and I’ll have you know I took calligraphy in art school!” I wrote my name down before he could protest, then passed the pen and paper back to him.

“Berry, you never went to art school and if this isn't legible I’ll…” He stared at the paper with wide eyes.

“See? I told you so.” Score one for me finally.

“Well… it's surprising how well you wrote this name, but ‘Jack Taylor’ isn't your name. This isn't even how you spell ‘Tailor’.” He passed the pen and paper back to me. “Write your name down, Berry.”

“No.” I began to pack Berry's things up in the saddlebag but pointedly ignored the alcohol.

He let out a groan. “Berry…”

After I put the keys and bag of what I could only assume was money away, I hooked my head under the straps between the saddlebags, then slid them down onto my back. “I think our business has concluded here.” I walked back toward that door he'd stopped me at.

“But there is protocol and procedure! You didn't even take your alcohol!” I heard him shout behind me as I passed the blue stallion.

“I'll dispose of that alcohol for you, Process!” I heard the royal blue stallion shout back toward the dark gray stallion apparently named Process, and sounded quite amused with the situation overall.

“You aren't helping, Knocks!” I heard Process shout back at the royal blue stallion that seemed to be named Knocks.

What's with these names? I pushed the door open and left before I had to deal with Process more.

(0) (0)

No sense in going very far yet in this strange place. I spotted a typical wooden bench and approached it. I climbed up and turned around on the bench like I'd normally sit, but after I took a glance at my new equipment I decided to sit sideways with my legs folded under me and tail offering some degree of modesty, though the very human-like design of the bench left me puzzled. I wanted to say I'd handled this situation very well with all things considered. I could've tried to convince Process earlier than I did, but if I had, then I might not have left that cell as soon as I did. There was also the fact that I had been coming to terms with all this, I was still coming to terms with it really.

None of this made any sense. Yesterday I was a male human, and today I was a female pony. Time and pain were too consistent for everything so far to be a dream, and I was fairly certain of my mental health to rule out this being a delusion. What does that leave me with though? “Hell, for all I know the Twilight Zone actually exists and I’m in it,” I said, to myself.

I decided to clear my mind and took in everything around me. The buildings reminded me of a medieval village with their thatched roofing, but the hearts scattered here and there in the architecture, along with the pristine cleanliness quickly broke that illusion. Several ponies in all sorts of coat and mane color combinations seemed to go on with their day normally along the dirt roads, but at the same time, it felt like they gave a wide berth to me. When my gaze drifted to the sky, I spotted a new sight that made me question my sanity further.

Up in the sky were ponies with wings. What? Some were just flying along somehow with barely any flapping, but a few were at work it seemed. The flying ponies at work were physically moving clouds in the sky, and one moved what looked like a storm cloud over some shrubbery, then jumped up and down on the cloud to make it rain, which changed the cloud from dark gray to white. What?! I felt my left eye twitch under the stress of my concept of reality being broken.

“Whatcha doing, Berry?” a high-pitch female said, out of sight to my left.

I averted my gaze away from the sight that tested my sanity and toward the source of the new voice instead, which I regretted instantly. My sight was filled by a pair of pale violet eyes, which activated my ability instantly due to the sheer surprise of them being there.

(0) (0)

A beautiful blue sky and a sun that didn’t seem to hurt to look at filled my vision, well, someone’s vision that had a small rounded white muzzle, which seemed to indicate this was a female pony. I stopped focusing on the muzzle when I realized this body had the sensation of two extra limbs. It had been some time since I'd used my ability on an animal with what I felt, but I knew instantly what I was feeling were wings, though the strangeness of six limbs didn’t leave me. Bah! It's how large these new eyes are, isn't it? Well… nothing I can do about it now. Might as well enjoy the experience, I thought.

It was the realization of the wings that I noticed that whoever I was was flying. They seemed to be flying upside down for some reason, something that seemed like it'd be unhealthy to do often and was lost in thoughts that this memory didn’t seem to contain. Must be a daydreamer.

“Well, if it isn’t Rainbow Trash,” what sounded like a young boy said, but it didn’t seem directed at whoever I was.

Whoever I was, rolled over to fly upright, which I noticed was effortless for them compared to flying upside down, and a curly canary colored mane fell slightly into their vision. They focused on a group of three small and young looking winged ponies that stood on a cloud somehow. One had a dark brown coat with a light gray mane, while another had a harvest gold coat with a brown mane, both of which were bland looking compared to the third of the group. The third had a messy mane with almost every color of the rainbow aside from indigo, a pale cyan coat, and rose eyes that had tears in them.

No tattoos on any of them. Must be a rite they go through later on in life. I thought, and continued trying to make sense of this world I was lost in.

Oh! New friends! a young female sounding someone thought, who'd probably get on my nerves eventually with how high-pitched her voice was. Her feeling of happiness was intense as she flew silently toward the group.

“Leave me alone. I didn’t do anything to you guys,” the multi-colored mane filly said, that I guessed was female due to their rounded muzzle and voice, and looked to be about the same age as my host, at least based on the muzzle in view.

“My dad said her dad was a famous musician until he killed himself with drugs,” the one with the light gray mane said, and sounded like a boy.

“My dad wasn’t a drug addict! He died in an accident! My mom said so!” the multi-colored mane filly said, with fury in her still wet eyes.

What did mom say? Oh! I need to introduce myself! my host thought, then stopped right behind the two that were taunting the multi-color maned one and hovered in place. “Hi! I’m Surprise! What’s your names?” Surprise said, though in her enthusiasm it came out as a shout.

The two that were taunting the multi-color maned filly took flight, due to the ironic surprise that Surprise had caused them, and screamed in fright. The one with brown mane sounded like a girl in its scream, but once both of them turned around I noticed that they both had the flatter muzzles, which I concluded they were both male from. The two colts both had manes that partially covered their eyes, something that seemed to me wouldn’t be good for flying, but I could tell the brown maned one had green eyes, while the light gray maned had blue eyes. The multi-color maned one seemed to be confused with what had happened, but she seemed to be happier than before after witnessing the two bullies be frightened.

Serves them both right, I thought, glad these kids got some sort of payback for insensitivity, which was hopefully only a byproduct of their immaturity, though some people never changed.

Something in common already! Surprise thought, then swiftly flew up uncomfortably close to the colt that had sounded like a girl during his scream. “I can do that too!” she said, then promptly let out a squeal.

“Get away from me you freak!” the brown maned colt said, who then promptly pushed Surprise away. She took the energy from the shove and turned it into a backflip in the air while making sounds of enjoyment.

A stifled laughter could be heard from the light gray maned colt. “You have to admit, Hoops. You did just sound like a filly,” he said, then started to laugh.

The brown maned colt’s face went red with embarrassment, then looked at the other colt with anger, which even I had to admit looked cute. “Shut up, Dumbbell!” Hoops said.

I forgot about the personal space thing again and I made two friends mad at other… I have to fix this! “So whatcha three doing?” Surprise said.

“None of your business,” Dumbbell said.

“Is it a game? I’m really good at games,” Surprise said.

“I highly doubt that, freak,” Hoops said.

“What? Afraid I’ll beat you both?” Surprise said.

“No!” Dumbbell and Hoops said in unison, then looked at each and smiled.

Yes! Friendship saved! Now to form bonds of friendship that'll last forever! “Bet I can beat you both in a race. If I win you have to stop…” I don’t even know her name! “One sec!” Surprise said, then flew down to the multi-color maned filly.

The multi-color maned filly had dried her eyes and looked at Surprise with confusion. “Um… Hi?” she said.

“Quick! What’s your name?” Surprise said, in a hurried tone.

“Rainbow Dash,” Rainbow Dash said, with an even deeper look of confusion.

“Great!” Surprise said, and flew back up to the colts. “If I win you have to stop being mean to Rainbow Dash.”

“What do we get if we win?” Dumbbell said.

“Yeah!” Hoops said.

“Whatever you want,” Surprise said.

The two colts looked at each other with smug looks on their faces.

“Deal! Be at the flight course in five minutes,” Dumbbell said.

The two colts flew out of sight and Surprise shifted her attention back to Rainbow Dash. Surprise landed on the cloud, which felt damp and soft, then gave Rainbow Dash a wide smile.

“Why are you sticking up for me?” Rainbow Dash said.

“Because that's what friends do and I want to be friends,” Surprise said.

“Aren’t you afraid you’ll lose and have to do whatever they want?” Rainbow Dash said.

“I wasn’t kidding when I said I was good at games,” Surprise said, with a wink. The memory faded away right after the wink.

I was happy that the memory I'd just witnessed was a good one.

(0) (0)

My sight returned, and I saw an older Surprise somehow hovering upside down in front of me by barely flapping her wings. Thankfully, she had moved at least half a pony's length away from me so that her pale violet eyes weren't nearly as close as before, but she was still uncomfortably close. Her coat was white, and, like most ponies I saw, wasn't wearing anything, not even a pair of saddlebags, but it made sense for her to forgo saddlebags due to her apparent tendency to fly upside down, while her canary yellow mane and tail were both a curly mess.

“Hey, Berry! Thought I broke you for a moment there with that blank gaze and drool you had going on. Most ponies cry out in joy when I surprise them, come to think of it, you generally do too. Well, that's unless you’ve had one too many. How much have you had anyway?” Surprise said.

I brought a hoof up to my muzzle to wipe away the drool. Longest memory I’ve had from a person in a long time. Last time that happened, the person called an ambulance. At least I know the name of who I’m talking to for once today. What is she anyway? A pegasus?

“Berry?” Surprise said, and gave me a thought filled look.

I need to keep my thoughts on the here and now. “Hello. Are we friends?” I said, and made a smile.

“Of course we are, silly. I'm friends with everypony and I've known you since I came to Ponyville. Oh! Are you playing amnesiac again? That was fun last time until you got tired of me re-introducing you to everypony.”

Ponyville? First that Stalliongrad alcohol and now this? Is this a sign of something? Well… she seems nice enough and it sounds like she'd believe me… though if she believed Berry had amnesia, then I don't know what good this will do me. “Good. Now I want to tell you some things and I want you to pretend we've never met before. Okay?” Come on, humor me.

“Can I pretend to be a princess?” She gave me a hopeful smile.

Why… not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, or pony in this case. “Sure. Now then, my—”

“One second!” she said, then flipped over right side up and flew into a nearby alley. I noted a tattoo of three purple balloons during her aerial acrobatics.

Did she just ditch me mid-sentence? Just as I was about to decide if I'd lost my mind, she flew back out of the alley with a paper towel tube taped to her head. Why she had a paper towel tube on her head was something I decided not to question, general questions about this mare seemed best left unasked really.

She landed on the bench, then gave me a smile. “Proceed.”

“Hello, my name is Jack Taylor and I'm a human.” How many times am I going to say that? Hopefully no more after today.

She brought her left forehoof up to her chest. “Greetings, Jack Tailor the hueman. I am Princess Surprise, Princess of Party, ruler of the Party Kingdom, and protector of the party ponies. You are welcome to partake in the festivities of my kingdom, but please refrain from being a party pooper,” she said, in a proper tone.

Her voice is a lot less annoying like that. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Princess Sur—”

She dropped her hoof from her chest. “Oh no no no, I don't stand on ceremony or titles, that'd just get them all dirty. Please just call me Surprise; all my friends and party subjects do,” she said, with her normal tone of voice.

I jinxed it, didn't I? “Okay, Surprise it is. I've arrived in your kingdom beyond my control and seek to return home, but there are several problems that are preventing me from returning home. My first problem is I have no idea how I got here. The second problem is I’m no longer in my human body, but in this pony's body, that you know as Berry. My final problem is said Berry is a miscreant and frequent liar, so I'll have trouble finding anyone that'll help me,” I said.

“Wow, that's a sad story Be… I mean, Jack. I offer all that I can do to help, but sadly my talent doesn’t lie in magic.”

Magic? That's seriously a thing here? Would be nice if it is and she isn't just playing up the princess part. “Is there truly nothing you can do for me?” Man, I'm really getting into this.

“I can personally throw you a party. I'm an expert in the science of parties.” She seemed very serious about her expertise with parties.

Seriously? “Alas, I fear a party could in no way help my current predicament.”

“But parties can solve any problem! I should know, I’m the Princess of Party after all.”

Need to keep this on track. “You mentioned magic earlier. Do you know of any experts in magic? I'd prefer an expert in science though.” Please let all of this actually lead to a solution.

“Oh boy! Do I have a treat for you! My fellow princess Princess Twilight Sparkle is the Princess of Magic and good with science to boot! She can solve any problem, though… she sometimes causes them in the first place.”

Why does that name sound… damn it! That's the princess that Berry insulted! Maybe she isn't too mad to hear me out? “I'd be ever so grateful if you could escort me to Princess Twilight Sparkle, Surprise,” I said, and hoped that this Princess Twilight would actually be helpful.

She dropped her happy face and looked at me with a sad one. “I'm not so sure that's a good idea, Jack. Berry made Twilight really sad.”

“And that's exactly why I need her help! I don't want to be treated like Berry any longer than I have too! Would it help if I apologized on Berry's behalf?” I have a feeling a lot of apologies will be in order before any of these ponies will believe me… or at least stop thinking it's an act and start thinking I'm actually crazy instead.

“Wow! You really are different po… hueman, Jack. Berry never apologizes! She just blames everypony else instead.”

Good, the more stuff I do out of character, the more likely one of them will believe me. “So can we go see Princess Twilight Sparkle now?”

“Yeppo!” She took flight and resumed flying upside down with a walking pace flight away from me.

I removed myself from the bench and followed Surprise toward our destination. Watching her fly upside down with that paper towel tube brought a smile to my face due to the pure absurdity of it all. This pony is helping me in more than one way today it seems.

(0) (0)

Berry was right in one respect, this place is an eyesore. As I followed Surprise toward the castle, I tried to figure out why someone would build such a thing. The castle was shaped like a tree from the base, while the castle-like part looked like a treehouse, and was topped with an abstract representation of a star. Small crystals of various colors hung from the tree and a flag with an eight-pointed star waved in the wind. Out of everything, I did have to admit that it did look like it sprouted out of the ground. This is supposed to be a castle for royalty? Is it meant to be a show of wealth that they built an entire castle shaped like a tree out of crystals?

“Coming Jack?” Surprise said, who waited on the landing outside the doors to the castle and still wore the paper towel tube.

How hasn’t that paper towel tube fallen off? “Yeah, just taking in the sight.” I walked up the steps as she opened the door to the castle, and continued to look up at the castle. The main balcony makes sense for addressing subjects, but did they have to make it basically a really expensive tree house?

“Why, thank you, Surprise, for holding the door open for me. You are such a dear,” a refined sounding female said, in front of me.

“Huh? Rarity, wait!” Surprise said, with urgency.

I turned my sight away from the castle in time for my vision to be filled with the side of a white coated pony’s head, right before we bumped into each other. For the white pony, it was a simple matter of a fall onto her rear to the landing, but I had been ascending the stairs, so the fall for me was a lot more painful. I fell backward and bumped back down the stairs, then the fall ended when I landed on my back at the base of the stairs. “Ow… Why does pain follow surprise? Are they friends?” I said, and let out several groans.

“I don't think I know any ponies named Pain. I know a Gain, but no Pain.” I heard Surprise say.

I adjusted my head to get a look at my assailant. The pony at the top of the stairs got back on her hooves and seemed more concerned with her dress than to see who she ran into, but it gave me a chance to inspect her at least. She had a white coat and a purple mane in a bun hairstyle. Her mane had a light blue morning glory flower pin in it, but the pin only served to draw my attention to the horn on her forehead. The dress she wore covered whatever her tattoo was and seemed to be styled after the autumn leaves with very realistic looking overlapped leaves, that went from yellow to orange then red. Did I just bump into the princess we were looking for? Damn it!

“Dreadfully sorry for bumping into you—” Her blue eyes met mine, then narrowed. “Berry.” She said the name like I'd killed her cat, which for all I knew was a possibility, marched down the stairs, while continuing to glare at me, then stood in front of me on the last few steps. It took quite a bit of effort to prevent my ability from triggering, but the fear of what this scary unicorn might do if she thought I was ignoring her gave me the strength.

“Hi?” I flashed her a smile and hoped it'd break the tension in the air.

Anger seemed to radiate from her to the point that I feared it might be enough to create a hot zone. “Miss Punch, you have some nerve showing your face here the day after you slighted Twilight! Everypony in town knows that Twilight isn't comfortable with her princess-hood or castle! I needed to arrange an emergency spa visit just to make Twilight feel better today! So unless you have come here to apologize, I strongly advise you leave posthaste!” I got the sense of implied bodily harm from her tone.

Miss Punch? So that means my new body and former host’s full name is Berry Punch? I got back on my hooves and tried to get some semblance of power in this currently one-way argument. “Actually, an apology is part of the reason I’m here with Surprise.” I tried my best to stay calm with the mare. Getting mad at someone for telling me off about something I haven't done isn't going to get me anywhere with my current body situation.

“I…” She seemed shocked by my statement then turned her head back toward Surprise who'd just been looking on at our conversation from the landing. “Is this true, Surprise?”

It took her a moment to realize that Rarity had addressed her. “Yep!” she said, and broke her lost look with a smile.

Rarity gave me a quick look before she returned her attention to Surprise. “Surprise, swear to me that you'll stop her from getting near Twilight today unless she Surprise Swears to you that she is here to apologize to Twilight today and that she is not here to hurt Twilight's feelings today.”

“Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a muffin in my eye!” she said, while she went through some movements with her forehooves.

“Good.” She returned her attention to me. “And Berry?”

“Yes?” I was a little afraid of what she might say next.

“Put on some overwear before you leave the house next time! There is such a thing as public decency laws! Not that you ever pay attention to those!” she said, before she nudged by me. I'd expected her to hit me in the face with her tail, but I noticed as she passed it was cut short.

Overwear… What? I picked my saddlebags off the ground where they fell from my fall and reascended the stairs of the castle. Once I reached the landing and attempted to enter the castle, Surprise stopped my entry with an outstretched foreleg. “Huh? What gives Surprise?”

She lowered her foreleg. “I Surprise Sweared to Rarity, that I wouldn't let you near Twilight today unless you Surprise Swear me, that you'll apologize to Twilight today and aren't here to hurt her feelings today.” She actually seemed serious compared to all the time so far I had been around her. Well, that was if you ignored the paper towel tube taped to her head.

“Yeah, I promise to apologize for Berry today and promise I'm not here to hurt Princess Twilight's feelings today.” How old is this Princess Twilight? One mare made her upset just like that? Well, it's a given that Berry seems to have a knack for making ponies upset, but still. I attempted to enter the castle again, but she stopped me again.

She dropped her foreleg again. “No no no, you have to make a Surprise Swear. Berry never makes those and you aren't Berry. Right, Jack?”

Well, she called me by my name so I'll humor her and say I Surprise Swear. “I, Jack Taylor the human, hereby Surprise Swear to apologize for Berry today, and that I'm not here to hurt Twilight's feelings today.” I once again attempted to enter, but she blocked me yet again. “What?!” I was losing my patience with this mare. What does she want? A blood oath?!

“You have to say the words and do the movements, otherwise it doesn't count. Oh, wait! You're new here. Okay! Repeat after me! I hereby solemnly swear, to apologize to Twilight today, and I'm not here to hurt her feelings today.”

“I hereby solemnly swear, to apologize to Twilight today, and not be here to hurt her feelings today,” I said, and rolled my eyes at this whole thing.

“Cross my heart!” She moved her left foreleg over the right side of her chest.

“Cross my heart.” I repeated the motion and found that my heart was indeed in the opposite location of a human’s. Great. Not only have organs been replaced, but they all aren’t even in the same places. Next, I’m going to hear that I have unheard of ones.

“And hope to fly!” She outstretched her left foreleg toward me.

“And hope to fly.” I mirrored her.

“Stick a muffin in my eye!” She switched to her right forehoof and placed it over her closed right eye.

At least this isn't gruesome as the human one. I made sure to close my eye like she did. The last thing I need is an eye infection. “Stick a muffin in my eye.”

“I, Princess Surprise, hereby permit you entry into the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom castle.” she said, with that proper tone from earlier.

Are we seriously still playing that game? Is that seriously the name of the kingdom? “Thank you,” I said, as I finally entered the Friendship Rainbow Kingdom castle. Well, that settles it. This Princess Twilight Sparkle must be a child and personally named her kingdom.

(0) (0)

Even the inside is made of crystal. The floor looked like crystal tiles of a glacier blue, partially carpeted over by royal purple carpeting with a gold trim, that had a design of some sort going through it. The design on the carpet was either supposed to be a visualization of the wind, or an artistic representation of tree roots. Banners that were royal purple, with gold edges, had a similar design to the carpet and hung from the purple crystal walls. Electric light fixtures were situated high up on the wall and lit the place well alongside some small colorful crystals that glowed. There were even regular white candlesticks in sconces, but their pristine condition seemed to indicate they were for show or emergencies.

As we walked further into the castle, I realized something strange about it, which was saying something with everything else so far. Where are all the guards? When I thought of castles, I thought of guards guarding them in medieval times, which from the look of the town, was the era this place was in. Sure, there were those people that renovated castles to live in, but it wasn’t like they trained their own personal guard to man all the walls. Well, I suppose if they lived in a castle then they'd have enough money to hire security, but it wasn’t like those people would carry around swords and wear suits of armor. That was, unless the rich people, that hired the guards, were really eccentric.

“Hey, Surprise. Does Princess Twilight have a guard?”

Unlike on our way here when she flew upside down the entire way, Surprise had settled down with a walk and constantly shifted her ears to listen for something. “Nope.”

“Why doesn't she have one?” This pony just seems to pose question after question.

“Doesn't need one.”

“This land is so peaceful she doesn't need protection?”

“Heh, not really. We face a problem nearly every week and a threat to Equestria about the time a new season is either beginning or ending.”

If that's true then why wouldn't she have a guard? Maybe their idea of threats isn't really that threatening? What did she mean by we? “Could you give me an example of one of these threats?” What would these ponies find a threat? Can't be that bad if a guard isn't needed.

“Well…” she stopped her walk, seemingly deep in thought over these threats, while I continued forward and stopped by her side. “One time we had an infestation of parasprites.”

“What's a parasprite and how bad are they?” Some sort of insect? Know sprite is a pretty wide term.

“Bleh, only one of the most disgusting and troublesome creatures in Equestria. They eat everything in sight and make more of themselves once they've eaten enough.”

“Everything? Even ponies?” Don't say yes.

“What? No! They're herbivores just like us! Wow… now that I think about it… Twilight's spell could've gone a whole lot worse,” she said, with a visible shiver.

“Spell?” What was it she said about Princess Twilight? Causing problems with magic. right?

“Yeah, Twilight decided to cast a spell on them so that they'd stop eating all the food. The problem was that when they stopped eating the food they started eating everything that wasn't food. Took a whole week to fix all the buildings, since we didn't have many ponies inspired enough to sing. Personally, I blame the lack of baked goods.”

Singing? Baked good? “Faced any threats bigger than a swarm of insects?”

“Well, this one time Discord the Spirit of Chaos broke free, reversed our elements, and turned reality upside down. That wasn't nearly as bad as the parasprites though, since there was chocolate rain during it and plenty of baked goods afterward. Really, a disaster that has baked goods at the end isn't that much of a disaster.”

Is she for real? Well, that Discord sounds like big enough threat to warrant a guard. “What do you mean when you say ‘we’?” She's including herself in it, so maybe she and some others are along the lines of a guard for this princess, but called something else?

“Oh yeah! Because I'm a princess right now! I didn't mean the royal ‘We’ like Princess Luna uses sometimes, I meant my friends and myself.”

“So, do you and your friends have combat training that you use to protect Princess Twilight?” If this mare is an elite soldier, any enemy she's ever faced would've seriously underestimated her.

“Protect Twilight?” She seemed to find amusement in my question, as she took a short moment to laugh. “Twilight is a princess, silly. Though that doesn't mean we aren't always there for her anyway; friends always stick together through thick and thin.”

“Okay, I'm missing something here, so remember that I'm not from here. Are you saying that a princess here is an actual protector of the land and deals with threats personally?” What kind of monarchy is this where a princess does that?

“Correctamundo! Princesses don't do that where you're from? Where are you from anyway, Jack?”

That's a good question I may actually have an answer to with things so far. “Surprise, is there a place called Stalliongrad here?” Maybe I misheard Process?

“Uh-huh, is that where you're from? Hammer and Sickle haven't talked about any body-snatching creatures from there when they talk about home.”

Hammer… and Sickle? No, must keep my questions relevant. “I didn’t choose to be Berry Punch let alone snatch her body. Brayico?”

“¡Sí! I get a lot of my party supplies from there. Donkeys sure know how to party, though Cranky is an exception. Is that where you’re from?”

“I’m fairly certain I’m from somewhere you have never heard of.”

“Oh! Is it unpronounceable in our language and just a glimpse of it would cause madness?”

“No… Why do you ask that?” Am I going to need worry about Lovecraftian horrors here?

“Because that's where Discord said he's from.”

“The same Discord that threatened Equestria?”

“He's reformed now.”

“You just forgave him for doing something like that?

“Of course we did, though not everypony trusts him yet. So, where are you from?”

Well, if they can accept someone that threatened them, then I’m in clear in terms of my safety. Now to describe where I’m from… “A planet called Terra that follows the rules of science and magic is fictional… probably.” Best to keep an open mind. “Now then, it could be I'm in a virtual reality, but VR isn't this advanced yet. Even if VR is secretly this advanced, what would the purpose of putting me in one that looks like it was designed for a child? There is also a major problem with that theory.” Never seen anything fake have memories, and my ability doesn't behave the same way when looking at recorded eyes of any kind.

“What’s virtual reality?”

“It's… like a dream you can experience and interact with, when awake, that's made by a machine.”

“So it's like a video game! I love that one where you chase a dragon up a mountain to save a prince! What makes the world seem like it was designed for a foal?”

They have video games? “Reason I think this place is designed for a child is all the fantasy elements and how cute everything is.

“Don't get what you've seen so far that could be considered a fantasy. What’s the major problem?”

Of course she wouldn’t think any of this is a fantasy, she's currently a part of the fantasy. “The major problem is something I’m not comfortable talking about with someone I barely know.”

“A secret that you’ll only tell a close friend? Neat! It’ll be like a reward for being a good friend on top of reward in of itself of being a good friend!” she said, hopped into the air, then used her wings to flutter back to the ground.

“A parallel reality is another possibility since you pegasi are able to fly beyond reason. Might even be that all of reality has changed and somehow I was partially skipped.”

“Beyond reason? We can fly because of magic, duh. So you think that reality might've started this morning and everything we remember doing is a lie?”

“Yes…” I need to keep an eye on her. She's way too perceptive when it comes to this. Seems I guessed what they call themselves correctly at least. “Anything seems possible at the moment.”

“Anything? Oh! How about you are dreaming?”

“Ruled that out as time is consistent and everything is too detailed.”

She looked up at the ceiling for a moment with a puzzled look. “Well, let's go with this being a parallel reality since it wouldn't be very nice to treat ponies like they're…” She moved a forehoof up to below her muzzle and seemed to get lost in thought.

“Is the word you're looking for ‘fictitious’? ”

“Nah, I'm pretty sure it's a real word.” The straight face she kept looked convincing, but I wasn’t sure I could believe her talking about all this crazy, then missing something as simple as that.

I inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled it. Need to get this back on track. “What were your thoughts on parallel universes?”

“Oh, if you're from a parallel universe, why do you have Berry's body?”

Good question. “Evil forces? Evil is an actual force here, right?”

“Yup yup! All sorts of baddies are evil, but what would one want you as Berry Punch?”

Well, I'm not useful in any way. Unless… “Berry has made a lot of beings mad, right?”

“Yeah…” A look of sadness appeared in her eyes and her smile turned into a frown.

“Seeing as I have no enemies I—”

“You don't have a nemesis? Not even a rival?” A strange look of surprise washed over her face.

I'll just ignore that. “Seeing as I don't have any enemies and Berry does then it seems more likely someone here sent her away and left me in her place.”

“Kinda like that movie Weird Wednesday! Well, aside from you being an alien and not being Berry's mother or daughter which would be really weird because then that'd mean Berry has been an alien all along. Unless—”

“Surprise!” I said, with maybe a little too much force.

“Yes?” She drew out the word for some reason.

“Pretend you're a princess again since I think that's the only way you'll be anywhere near serious with me.” This is what my life has come to?

“But I'm always serious!” She straightened her back and legs. “Serious is my middle name,” she said, in a slightly lower tone of voice with a look in her eyes.

What I wouldn't give for her to talk and act like that all the time. “You have a last name?”

“Huh?” She broke her serious pose and went back to a more relaxed one. “No, actually. Guess I can't do that like Rainbow Dash does when I don't have a last name. Ahem.” She raised her head upwards and placed her left forehoof on her chest. “You may address Us,” she said, in the proper tone again.

“My situation is worse than I previously thought, Surprise. If Berry Punch is in my body then she could very well be destroying my life as we speak!” The longer this takes the more likely I'll be broke, in prison, or even lost custody of Katherine! Fuck! Why haven’t I been more expedient? Am I suffering from shock? I inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled it to calm myself down. Panicking will do me no good, I don’t even know if that's the truth.

“Fear not, Jack the hueman. Berry Punch has not done anything in her life that she could not recover from, so I verily doubt she will do so to yours.”

“What's the worst thing she's ever done?” Knowing that should ease my fears.

She dropped her regal pose and brought her left forehoof up to below her muzzle.“Hmm. Well, the worst thing I can think of where she got into the most trouble was when she illegally imported some absinthe.”

“Okay, that would've been pretty bad years ago, wh—”

“Which led to her being charged with smuggling, possession of a controlled substance, facilitating the delinquency of a minor. and accessory to the assembly of an explosive device,” she said, with a somber demeanor.

How isn't Berry in prison?! “Surprise! I’m pretty sure three of those are federal crimes where I'm from and that last one might even be considered an act of terrorism!”

“They are?” She resumed smiling. “Well, I'm sure Berry wouldn't do those things again. She did have to spend a month in the Ponyville jail for those first three, which come to think about it, has been the longest she's been sober since she picked up her drinking habit.” She dropped her smile back to a frown. “The last was more my fault though, so she just got community service for it.”

A month? Only community service! “What do you mean by your fault?” I thought she was a little crazy, but building a bomb?

“Well, when she gave me the absinthe—”

“Wait! You were the minor? How old were you?”

“19. Anyway, the absinthe gave me the inspiration for the best party ever as everypony said it was the best one I'd ever thrown! The only problem was that I couldn't figure out how to top it and Berry wouldn't let me have anymore because it was a one-time thing. So I borrowed the absinthe without her permission—”

“You mean stole.”

“Yeah… stole the absinthe from her.” She took on very shameful demeanor. “Once I had more of the absinthe, I had the inspiration for an amazing town-wide party, that'd last an entire day.”

“So where does the explosive come into this?”

“Well, during the party I couldn't shake the idea that the town-wide party was my crowning achievement so—”

“Is that how you became a princess?” That was too easy not to.

“Huh?" She looked up at the paper towel tube still taped to her. "Oh! Jack, I'm not really a princess, I've just been pretending.”

“I know…” Huh, thought she'd find that funny.

“Now then, during the party, I was feeling really sad that it might very well be my best party forever, so I decided to try drinking the entire bottle. All sorts of new ideas came to my mind, but none of them seemed big enough until Rainbow flew by and told me my party was the bomb.”

“So you decided to just make a bomb instead of throwing another party?” Absinthe must really live up to the nickname ‘The Green Fairy’ in this world.

“No! I decided to make a Party Bomb!” Uttering the name seemed to strike fear in her.

“What's a Party Bomb?” If she decided to create a bomb to end her party with a bang, then I'm seriously questioning this kingdom's judicial system and my current safety.

“Well, I'm not sure really. Everything gets really fuzzy afterward. Twilight made sure to put it and the blueprints in a safe place. All I know is that it had enough force to destroy all of Ponyville and would’ve turned all of Equestria into one massive party!” She resumed her smile again. “Thankfully, Rarity knew her shades so well and was able to disarm it in time.”

“Let me guess, it was the red wire?” Think I've just about had my fill of this girl.

“Nope, all the wires were shades of white and the blueprint said they needed to cut the ghost white one.”

“Of course. Anyway, could we find Princess Twilight soon? Life possibly being ruined here.” I let out a sigh and was tired I hadn’t got anywhere.

“What do you think we've been doing this entire time?”

“Standing here talking about threats and how you've even been one?”

“Waiting.”

“Waiting on wha—” I heard a strange sound beyond a nearby pair of doors, then the muffled sound of others in a conversation could be heard.

“On Twilight to return to the library.” She opened one of the doors, then entered the library.

We actually stopped here for a reason? I followed her through the doorway and hoped that this Princess Twilight was reasonable.

(0) (0)

What?! The library was a big round room with walls of bookshelves that went all the way up to a tall ceiling.Windows with tree designs in them shined various levels of light into the room, alongside a large crystal that seemed to be suspended in the air and shined a light of its own. The carpet went from wall to wall and had practical wooden tables with cushions around them, the cushions made me wonder how common chairs were in this society. All of those things combined didn’t compare to the books though, or more specifically what the books were doing.

I'd expected books when I entered the library, books were a given in a library still, even if back home they were phasing out paper books in favor of limited digital copies. The reason this library didn’t make sense was because the books were wrapped in a magenta glow and flying about. The source of it appeared to be the lavender colored winged unicorn with the same magenta glow on her horn beside what I thought was a dragon. The winged unicorn had a long dark blue mane with dark purple and rose highlights, but the dragon was something else entirely.

The dragon had a slender body with light purple scales, light lime green fin-like ears, dark green spikes running down its back, and a pair of folded leathery wings. Unlike the ponies, it stood on both legs and arms. The arms ended in clawed hands, which seemed like they'd be uncomfortable to walk on after a while, and the legs ended in clawed toes. It was a head taller than the pony next to it due to its longer and slender neck. If it stood bipedally on its legs, it'd have towered over any of the ponies I'd seen so far.

“Twilight, don't you have some more important things to do than looking up spells? Maybe some letters we got today?” the male sounding dragon said, accusingly.

“I am just looking over all the reform spells, Spike. There has to be one I overlooked in my past attempts with Berry,” the winged unicorn said, that seemed to be the Princess Twilight Sparkle that Surprise and I had been seeking.

“You can't solve Berry’s problems for her, Twilight. Last reform spell didn't even work when she realized all she had to do was close her eyes and drink blind instead,” the dragon that seemed to be named Spike said.

“Yeah, I thought the Eyes of Un-Obsession spell would work, but of course Berry found the loophole.”

“So why not just give up? Everypony else except for Surprise has given up hope for her.”

“Spike, if I give up on somepony, where will it end? I can not just stop trying when a friendship problem gets too hard. I just haven't found the solution for Berry yet.”

“Twilight! You told Rarity that you were over this!”

“I had to tell her something, Spike. If I had not, then she would have insisted on something like a slumber party, and I would rather not bother all my friends over being upset with one pony.”

“They won't see making you feel better to be a bother.” Sympathy was clear in his voice.

I wasn’t sure how to interrupt their conversation nicely, but Surprise seemed to be content with just walking toward them without saying anything. I decided to stop a pony's length behind them, but Surprise just walked until she stood next to them and inspected a book on a table, without their notice. Wonder if Princess Twilight is used to Surprise showing up and not announcing herself.

“I know, but they did enough for me by coming over today. Applejack has the shopping season to prepare for. Rarity needs to work on her winter line. Fluttershy is making sure all the animals are getting ready for hibernation. Rainbow is working on, as she calls it, her radical new Hearth's Warming song. And Surprise…” she stopped seemingly at a loss for words.

“Yes?” Surprise said, innocently, right next to them which made both Spike and Twilight take flight into the air with their wings. They'd turned somewhat sideways in their sudden flight and it allowed me to notice some other details. I noted that the scales on Spike’s lower jar were a very pale green, while Twilight had a tattoo that looked to be a pink six-pointed star over another white six-pointed star, with five small white ones surrounding it. I need to ask someone what all these tattoos mean at some point.

“Surprise!” Twilight and Spike said, in unison, shock clear in their voices.

“Twilight! Spike!” Surprise said, joyously.

Glad I'm not the only one she does that to. Someone really should put a bell on her. I decided to let their conversation play out until I decided on the least intrusive way to make myself known.

Twilight and Spike lowered themselves to the ground after they'd calmed down from Surprise’s introduction. “Surprise? Why is there a paper towel tube on your head?” Twilight said, quizzically.

“I'm a princess now, The Princess of Party to be exact,” Surprise said, like it was a fact, while I heard Spike stifle a laugh.

“And why are you a princess now?” Twilight said, as she continued to unravel the current actions of her friend Surprise.

“It sorta just happened today while I was out setting my ‘Make Twilight's Sad Frown Upside Down’ plan in motion. Well, I suppose it isn’t politically correct to wear a horn and pretend I’m an alicorn since Princess Hope isn’t one, but—”

“Surprise, what does all that have to do with your plan?” she asked, skeptically.

“Nothing at all.” she said, seemingly oblivious to Twilight's skepticism.

If I don't do anything I might be here all day. “Ahem.” I cleared my throat, as I tried to get their attention, with the limited success of Spike turning his head toward me, which allowed me to see his slitted green eyes. I noted that the very pale green scales from his lower jaw continued down his neck and chest before disappearing from sight when it kept going on toward his underside.

A look of shock was on Spike’s face which was then replaced with an angry look. “Twilight,” he said, angrily, as he kept his slitted eyes on me.

“One moment, Spike. So what was your plan, Surprise?” she said, still oblivious to me.

Surprise took a deep breath of air in a gasping way. “Well, at first it was just to find Berry and see if she'd apologize to you. I tried to ask Officer Knocks when she'd be out, but he got all grumpy with me and told me to leave. So I waited around the police station all morning until Berry was released and then surprised her. After a minute of acting like a zombie that wanted to eat my brain, she seemed a little strange, then she asked me to pretend that we'd never met. I asked her if I could pretend I was a princess and she said yes, so I improvised a quick horn. I know wearing a horn wasn’t right while pretending to be a princess, but I wanted to be able to cast spells. She told me her name was actually Jack Tailor, which was weird because in all the time I've lived in Ponyville, I've called her Berry Punch, along with everypony else, and I've never seen her sew anything. She also told me she was something called a hueman, and trapped here, then that led to talking about magic, which led to you,” she said, quickly and without pause.

She thinks I said I'm a tailor? Well, I suppose that's what my last name comes from, but no reason not to correct her. “Surprise, I did say my last name is Taylor, but it's just a last name and spelled with a 'Y' instead of an 'I'.” I said, and tried not to sound rude.

“Huh?” Twilight turned her attention toward me with her strong violet eyes. “Berry!”

“Jack Taylor.” I lowered my head and attempted to bow, but when I thought about how to move my legs it just resulted in a face plant. “Ow…”

“And you are already drunk.” Twilight sighed and turned her attention back to Surprise. “Surprise, what is going on here?”

“Duh, I brought Jack here to apologize for Berry so you could help her.”

“That is nice Surprise, but Berry is not going to apologize.” I heard no hint of doubt in her voice.

I pushed myself back to standing on all fours and managed to look only slightly less drunk, due to my unsteadiness caused by thoughts on leg movement. “Ahem.” I cleared my throat and successfully gained Twilight’s attention.“I apologize on behalf of Berry Punch, the former host of this body, for all past…” What'd be a good word here? Misdeeds? Crimes? Oh! “Transgressions,” I said, with a smile while Twilight looked at me in confusion.

“See? I told you so.” Surprise said, with a foreleg draped behind Twilight's head, while she smiled at me.

“She isn't apologizing for herself, Surprise.” Spike said, with some anger in his voice, and gained my attention once more.

“I can't apologize as Berry Punch since I’m not mentally Berry Punch,” I said, and knew how crazy I sounded.

“All it sounds like to me is you not owning up,” he said, then got up in my face trying to stare me down.

I felt myself on the edge of my ability about to activate, due to proximity alone to his eyes. It wasn’t like I feared he would kill me, but he seemed angry enough to hit me if I zoned out. “Well, I didn't come here to talk to a dragon.”

“Enough you two!” I heard Twilight shout and a magenta glow filled my vision. My entire body felt as if it was grabbed before I was pulled away from Spike.

“Not until she properly apologizes!” He pointed at me with a clawed finger, which I noticed was very sharp looking.

“My problem with Berry is between me and her, Spike.” she said, in a very chastising manner.

“Fine then! I can see when nopony wants my help!” he said, clearly not fine with things.

“Spike, don't be that way,” Twilight said, with a pleading tone.

“I’m out of here,” he said, then purposely nudged by me, elbowing me in the side as he left.

“Argh!” Twilight let out a frustrated sound. “Where are you going and when will you be back?”

“Wherever I like and whenever I feel like it,” he said, as he left through the open half of the double library door, then promptly slammed it shut behind him.

Well, looks like I just made a new friend! Let’s see how many more creature with sharp claws and teeth I can befriend! Why stop there though? Why not just go find this Discord guy! Actually… that might be a good idea if he warps reality. Okay, talk to the magical warrior princess pony first, and if that doesn’t work, we go find what may possibly be related to Lovecraftian horrors. “Yep, I need to revisit the question of my sanity.” I said, to myself.

“Got pretty close there to breaking your Surprise Swear, Jack. Didn't do it purposely though, so you're good.” I heard Surprise say right next to me. I'd just realized she'd moved when I hadn't noticed and was leaned on me with her hoof draped behind my head.

If she were an assassin I'd never see her coming.

“Surprise, would you please go and make sure Spike stays out of trouble, while I have a talk with Berry?”

“Okie doki loki!” she said, and quickly removed herself from me. I took a glance at her and found she was already hovering in front of library doors. She opened one door silently and went through it before she closed it again in the same manner.

Not even a breeze.

“You should put a bell on her,” I said, to Twilight, as an attempt to break the ice with some small talk.

“I tried once, the bell never rang. Think it might be chaos magic at work, but only Discord could tell me, and getting straight answers from him on chaos magic is impossible,” she said, very casually to me, while she seemed to forlornly look at the doors.

“So is Spike usually that…” What's a nice word? “Intense?”

“Nah, he just can get a little hotheaded and—” She shifted her attention to me and a look of realization hit her features as she remembered who she was with.

“Hello, I'm Jack Taylor,” I said, with an outstretched forehoof and hoped that I wasn’t overstepping my boundaries with a handshake, or actually hoofshake due to the lack of hands being involved. Really hope I'm not here long enough for things like hoofshake or everypony to become a part of my vocabulary.

She looked at me and my hoof before she rolled her eyes. “Berry, what are you trying to pull? I have far too many new friendship problems from Fillydelphia to deal with for me to play some game of yours.”

I placed my forehoof back on the ground. Guess they don't do that here. “I’m a creature from another world called a human. I woke up here in your land with Berry Punch's body. Seeing as everything that's going on seems impossible to me, I've concluded that magic is the cause. Well… it's the cause I want, as everything else I could think of would either be mental or technology that doesn't exist outside of science fiction. Basically, I’m starting with the craziest answer first,” I said, and tried not to sound crazy.

“Could you have at least come up with a better story, Berry?” she said, then let out another sigh.

Says the magical talking warrior princess pony. “Will you just hear me out? Please?” I wonder if please is actually a magic word here.

“Fine, but this better not take long.”

“Weren’t you just spending your free time looking for a reforming spell?” I said, and knew I shouldn’t have, but my curiosity got the better of me.

“I… How long were you and Surprise near us before Surprise made herself known?” She seemed caught off-guard, about what I couldn’t say.

“Well, we entered the library after Surprise had us wait outside the door until I heard a sound, then you and Spike could be heard.”

“You both just waited outside the library until Spike and I teleported in?”

Teleport? Well, guess that explains the sound I heard. “Kinda, but she didn’t tell me we were waiting. She just kinda stopped there during a question I asked her.” What in the world is going on here?

“Sounds like Surprise. How did you two sneak up on us? Were you in contact with her or did you run in right when she surprised us?”

“No, I wasn't in contact with her.” What was strange question. “We just walked right up behind you, well Surprise continued to walk until she was right next to you, then began reading a book that was open.”

“Impossible!” She pointed a forehoof at me. “Surprise might have done that, but there is no way you did it! Princess Celestia trained me to be alert at all times and I would have noticed your hoofsteps!” she said, and seemed very adamant about what she said.

“Well, I did. Guess you failed that lesson,” I said, and I noticed she seemed to react slightly to when I said 'failed'.

She placed her forehoof back on the ground. “Prove it. Walk right now without making a sound.”

“Fine, but I’m going to make a sound. You just weren’t paying attention earlier.” I focused on her while I walked around her. Both of our eyes widened at the sound my hooves made, which was absolutely nothing at all. They did make sound today, right? I didn’t just hear everypony else’s hoofsteps? Damn it! Now my thoughts are plagued by their words!

Twilight’s surprise quickly passed and she flew straight at me, which knocked me on my back and left us in a compromising position, something she seemed oblivious to as she gripped my right foreleg. I decided not to struggle with her as she inspected my right forehoof, which she did first with her own forehoof, then with her magic. The look on her face said she wasn’t getting the answers she wanted.

“How?!” Twilight said, and looked at me as if I knew the answer.

“Because…” Maybe I can end this madness. “Because I’m an alien from a parallel reality.”

Her right eye started to twitch, which reminded me of my recent concept of reality break with the pegasi. “Did Surprise and Rainbow Dash put you up do this? No, wait! This is Discord level pranking!” She looked around the room. “Come on out, Discord! The joke is over!” she said, to the room, with the only response a faint echo of what she shouted.

“Well, if this were a joke, then I’m sure whoever pulled it off is either glad they brought a camera or are kicking themselves for not bringing one.”

“What? Why?” she said, still oblivious to our position.

“Because, right now, you're straddling me.” I said, in a matter of fact tone.

She looked down and her face went red with embarrassment, which I wondered how it was visible through her coat, then removed herself from me by way of flight. As she landed a few feet from me, I pushed myself up from the floor to stand on all fours. “Sorry for getting carried away,” Twilight said, as she moved a forehoof in a circle and hung her head in shame.

“Apology accepted. Now then, I need your help. Who do we see about parallel realities and mind swapping?” I said, as I hoped that both said things existed.

She brought her head up and rolled her eyes. “Berry, you are not an alien, or as the proper term would be for a being from outside our reality, and not a being from another planet, an outsider. You were also never a changeling, possessed by evil, corrupted by chaos, or any other inane thing you have claimed since I have known you in the past two years. You are just an alcoholic that does not want to face reality.”

“These things exist, right?” I really hope I haven’t sounded like I read too much fiction all this time.

“Yes and no. Yes, it is possible to swap minds between creatures, but that kind of magical knowledge is heavily regulated. You can even copy one mind into another, replacing the original to a degree, but you already know of my experience with that. Yes, other realities exist, but after Discord’s arrival, Celestia and Luna started the E.P.A to prevent disasters such as that from ever happening again by strengthening the barrier between worlds. The E.P.A also monitors the barrier and could respond in the neigh impossible chance something does get through, though typically they just send Discord a ticket whenever he decides that showing another world is a neat party trick.”

“Wait, you said that Discord fellow can just open a portal? What good is your protection then?”

“It makes it neigh impossible for something outside our reality, like another being with Discord’s power, from entering our own and prevents anyone besides Discord from opening a portal on our side.”

Seriously? Neigh? I’m getting tired of these words puns. “Well, either this E.P.A isn’t doing their job or that Discord guy is responsible because here I am.”

“Berry, you don’t have the mind of an outsider inside your head. Just give it up already.”

Why did I think this would be simple? How do I… “What if I actually did? Isn't it your responsibility to protect your kingdom? I might very well be a threat and you haven't proven I'm not.”

“I could easily prove you are not, but I don't have the time today to get lost in your mindscape. Several complicated friendship problem letters arrived today from Fillydelphia and I have spent enough time focusing on you today.”

“Friendship problems? Seriously? How could friendship compare to me?” I said, with all the anger I felt over her prioritization of something so trivial. The moment I saw her eyes light up with fury, I knew I was in trouble.

“Me, me, me! That is all you ever think about, isn't it? Never Piña Colada! Well, you are not the only pony in Equestria that has had to suffer through loss! Applejack and her family have two more foals because of what happened. One of those foals doesn't have a blood relative to speak of, while the other wishes the only one she has cared about her!” Twilight said, angrily, with both of her wings fully extended, while staring me straight in the eyes.

I averted my eyes from her’s, as I didn’t want to chance zoning out in front of someone angry with me. She's scary when she's angry. Need to defuse this. I inhaled a deep breath and then exhaled it, which made the words I'd say next clear. “Okay, sorry. I'm just in a very confusing situation and place at the moment. Didn't mean to insult friendship or anything else.”

Twilight broke her anger with a slightly unnerving smile. “You know what? I think I have a book that will solve your current problem, Berry.” Her horn and she levitated a small book from one of the library's bottom shelves toward us.

“Jack Taylor is my name,” I said, very adamantly.

“Yeah, whatever,” she said, offhandedly, and made me wonder if these ponies had a word pun for offhandedly. The book finished its journey to us and I plucked it out of the air with my left forehoof. The book had a picture of a small colt and larger wooden wolfish creature, with a title that I had to read out loud, due to pure disbelief.

“You gave me a book called ‘ The Colt Who Cried Timberwolf ’…” I said, not really sure what to make of it.

“Yes, I'm sure you will find it very enlightening. Now please leave.” She pointed toward the library doors with a forehoof.

“Not until you help me!” I said, and stomped my right forehoof, as I held onto the book she gave me in my left.

“Enough!” she said, in very frustrated tone and began to make a ball of magenta light with her horn.

“Wait! What are you doing?” I said, not sure what was about to happen aside from it being magic. She stopped making the ball of magenta light from her horn grow larger and it shot it toward me.“Fu—” I was unable to finish my word before the world disappeared. My body felt like it was stretched then squashed for a moment before it was all over. A dark purple ceiling appeared, and I felt a sense of weightlessness for a moment, then gravity dropped me back first onto something soft

I rolled over, then sat up to find I was on an unmade bed with a strawberry theme to the bedding. It took a moment before my mind caught up with what had happened. I was just teleported away. It seemed she'd sent me to Berry’s house, which all things considered was probably the nicest thing a magical warrior princess could have done. I looked at the children's book, that I'd held onto, and tried to figure out what to do. Before I could begin however, I strangely felt an oppressive feeling of tiredness wash over me, that clouded my thoughts and zapped my energy.

“If I get—” I yawned. “out of this, I'm—” Another yawn escaped my muzzle and it was becoming difficult to keep my head up. “never drinking again,” I said, the fatigue heavy in my voice before I laid my head down to rest and lost grip of the book.

Author's Note:

Proofreaders/Pre-Readers:
Busstop
Topaz Moon

In my early stages of planning this story I found it dragged far too often and decided to cut out a lot of things I brainstormed up. The current plan is to keep it as simple and straightforward as possible. So don't worry, Jack won't get sidetracked, at least not by his own choice. That doesn't mean the world is simple and straightforward though. :raritywink:

Last Grammar and Style Update: 2016-10-12 (You may notice all chapters up to 1.8 being slightly different than this one; that is because I've polished this chapter up to my current writing level and style. I plan to do this for all chapters eventually, but all the on and off proofreading I've done, for both my own story and some others, in the past two weeks has finally drained my perfectionism and charged my need to be creative.)