• Published 3rd Oct 2012
  • 32,846 Views, 450 Comments

Pericynthion - Skystrider



While trying to escape, Nightmare Moon pulls something into Equestria that doesn't belong.

  • ...
23
 450
 32,846

Found

Fluttershy sang a wordless, happy tune as she left her cottage. She barely touched the ground as she flitted about, tending to her avian friends.

“Good morning, Mr. Bluejay!” the pegasus sang cheerfully. “Oh, hello Mrs. Robin, how’s the wing? Oh my! Be careful little Sparrow... I just got that leg mended.” Fluttershy dropped a hoofload of birdseed containers as she dashed down to catch the errant youngling before it landed on a still-healing limb. Balancing the baby bird between her wings, she returned him to his temporary birdhouse, giving him a quick nuzzle on the way.

The dawn sunlight brought unseasonable warmth to the early winter’s morning. Usually, the pegasi scheduled the first real snows for right after Nightmare Night, and Fluttershy was amazed to see such a rich glow light up the last of the autumn leaves around her home. It was invigorating, and brought a spring to her step as she finished her chores and tucked the bird feed back into the cottage. Bidding her pet bunny Angel goodbye, the yellow pegasus set off towards Ponyville with a bright smile gracing her features.

I wonder what Pinkie has baked this morning, she thought, as the imagined texture of warm banana bread made her mouth water. Wait, didn’t she say something about trying to make an apple str-

Fluttershy’s thoughts were scattered as a surge of adrenaline hit everywhere at once. She froze, wings locked tightly against her sides as her mind started to catch up to what her body had noticed on its own.

There... in the corner of her left eye. She had seen that Something Wasn’t Right, and her well-developed sense of self preservation had kicked in.

The pegasus stood stock still, moving only her eyes to bring the Thing into focus. Had something new come out of the Everfree? Fluttershy cherished the privacy her home provided, as well as the plentiful space for her charges, but the advantages came with one major drawback: the cottage’s proximity to the dark and scary forest. To date, nothing had emerged that she hadn’t been able to handle, but there could always be a first time...

Initially, the pegasus didn’t know what she was seeing. A mottled form, nearly invisible against the browns and greens of the deadfall next to the stream’s far bank lay stretched towards the water. It wasn’t moving... was it a predator lying in wait, ready to snatch the next poor animal who went for a drink?

Fluttershy’s pulse quickened as she slowly turned her head to bring the creature in view of her other eye. Inch by inch, it came into focus and... she still couldn’t place it. One thing became clear, though: it wasn’t lying it wait. A red gash stood out on one of its limbs, bright with oozing blood. It had collapsed!

Fear for herself drained from the pegasus, replaced by fear for this poor beast. Had it come to her cottage in search of help? It wouldn’t be the first creature from the Everfree to do so. What if it had cried out last night while she was sleeping, or this morning when she was singing in the shower, and she hadn’t heard it?!

Before she knew it, Fluttershy had cleared the small bridge’s railing and was gliding towards the prone form on the far bank. Alighting next to the strange being, the pegasus looked it up and down, but still could not recognize it as any of the Everfree creatures. Its head seemed to be turned towards the damp riverbank, so, steadying her nerves and preparing for the beast to startle and buck as she touched it, Fluttershy reached down to roll the creature over.

The strangely-patterned skin crackled and shifted in her hooves, pulling away from the animal and causing the pony to shriek as she leapt into the air. Hovering above the motionless creature, Fluttershy’s eyes searched it frantically for any sign of damage she may have caused. Oddly, there was no blood and no cry of pain after she had seemingly torn away part of its body. Drifting lower, she gingerly touched its back. The sensation didn’t match any kind of skin, coat or fur she knew, instead...

Are these... clothes?

Suddenly, everything fell into place as she looked more closely at the body below. The mottled colors weren’t the natural camouflage of a predator. Instead, they were part of an outfit, ingeniously designed from some strange material to help the animal blend into the forest.

No, not an animal, she thought. But not a pony either. Then what...?

Fluttershy shook her head. These concerns could wait for another time; for now, the... being was hurt, and needed her help. The fact it wasn’t moving spoke volumes about its health, and the pegasus was confident that time wasn’t on her side.

Now that she knew the green-and-brown material was fabric, she used it freely to gain leverage and roll the awkwardly weighted body over. As its face came into view, Fluttershy couldn’t help but gasp. It was different, no question about that, but unlike the often bizarre creatures found deep within the Everfree, this one’s face was instantly relatable. Though it lacked the muzzle and ears of a pony, everything else fell into a recognizable pattern. A quick check to see if the creature was breathing confirmed that the nose and mouth worked in a similar manner to her own and a few probing touches of its chest revealed a heartbeat more or less in the right place.

A gasp escaped her as she saw, and more importantly smelled the gash on one of its lower limbs.

Mr. Manticore, what have you DONE?!

The pegasus looked up at her cottage, thinking of Zecora’s poultice within.

When was it stung? Fluttershy wondered desperately. There may not be much time left...

The creature needed that wound cleaned, treated, and dressed, and she couldn’t do that on the stream’s dirty bank. She bent both forelegs under the being’s shoulders and, with a frantic flap of her wings, tried to lift its bulk up and over the water. It was a futile effort; after a few seconds of strained pulling, Fluttershy collapsed back on top of the form, having barely raised just its upper body off the ground.

Suddenly, a prismatic blur flashed across the slowly brightening sky above. With a swell of gratitude for her good fortune, Fluttershy called to her friend.

“Rainbow! I need your help!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.

Seconds passed, and the yellow pony’s bubble of hope slowly evaporated as she realized that Dash hadn’t heard her. Silently cursing her soft voice, she turned back to the gravely ill creature below.

OK, Fluttershy, the pegasus thought to herself, reaching deep down and mustering what resolve she could, this creature... no, pony... no, being... needs help, and you’re the ONLY one who can do it. Now you’re going to GET UP and take it OVER this stream, do you understand?!

With a strained grunt, she tried again, throwing everything she could into her wings. Inch by inch, the body stretched out and unfurled below her like a long string bean. Though she was breathing hard, the pegasus managed to get just high enough to pull it off the ground. Her wings and back ached, but Fluttershy gritted her teeth against both the pain and insistent desire to collapse to the ground. If she did that now, her patient would probably be hurt.

Leaning forward, the pony shifted her center of gravity, using the limp weight below to help sling herself through the air like a giant pendulum. It made lifting the body a little harder, but provided the pegasus with just enough forward momentum to start the short journey to her doorstep. Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief as she cleared the far side of the stream, but quickly found that she didn’t have the strength to follow the incline to her door. Forced to let the creature’s lower limbs drag a bit as she moved forward, she hoped it wouldn’t hurt him too badly.

It was all the pegasus could do to not drop her injured payload as she collapsed into a breathless heap at her doorstep. The patient was still breathing, thank goodness, but now came the hard task of dragging him the rest of the way into the house.

Her bed was out of the question, both because it was on the second floor, and because she realized that the being was simply too tall for it. Looking down at the prone form, Fluttershy considered the possibilities and arrived at the conclusion that the couch in her living room was the best option. It was low enough to lever the body into position and was only a short distance away through the front door. Calling to her charges through ragged breaths, she quickly organized a group to help her take her new patient the rest of the way.

Tugging the free end of the bandage with her mouth, Fluttershy tightened the makeshift dressing and looked down at her work with satisfaction. It was a temporary fix at best - the gash left by the manticore’s stinger would need to be stitched closed, after all - but it seemed as if Zecora’s poultice was having the desired effect. The creature’s ragged breathing was smoothing out, and a small amount of color was returning to its face and hands.

So much clothing, she noted. I’ve never seen anypony wear an outfit like this. Maybe Rarity could tell me more about it?

Turning to face Angel, who was surrounded by the many animals who had turned up to gawk at the new arrival, the pegasus considered her next course of action. The patient needed stitches, and that was simply beyond Fluttershy’s expertise. But the question was, who to call? Dr. Stable had issued a standing order for Ponyville General to turn her away the next time she brought any patient who didn’t walk on four hooves. The town veterinarian wasn’t an option either. She had created a “no Everfree creatures” policy after Fluttershy took a baby hydra in for a checkup.

There was only one option left, and thankfully the pony in question owed her a favor.

“Angel,” she said, fixing her companion with a serious expression, “run to the clinic and get Nurse Redheart. I need a house call.”

The white rabbit saluted, surprisingly cooperative for once, and scampered out the door. Turning to the rest of the assembly, Fluttershy looked at each of them in turn.

“Well, what are you waiting for? I need fresh water, washcloths, and more bandages! We need to get this poor thing cleaned up!”

Seeing their shocked expressions at her blunt orders, Fluttershy instantly blushed, regretting her words.

“Umm...” she squeaked, dropping down and closing her eyes, “if you don’t mind, that is...”

“Fluttershy, I swear, I can’t keep doing this! Do you know how many ponies we have stacked up at the clinic right now? A whole bunch of young pegasi decided to try a trick they saw Rainbow doing this morning, and now we’ve got...” The nurse trailed off as she entered the cottage and saw the bandaged form lying on the couch, half-covered by one of the pegasus’ many quilts. “What... what is that?” She asked in a shaky voice as her eyes widened.

“I don’t know, Nurse Redheart, but he needs your help,” Fluttershy implored, turning from the being’s side. “I’ve been able to take care of most of his cuts and scrapes, but this one on his leg needs stitches - it was slashed by a manticore’s stinger.”

Trotting up to the couch, Redheart glanced at the wound Fluttershy revealed as she pulled up one corner of the blanket. Seeing the poultice, she complimented the pegasus.

“You did well cleaning and treating the wound, and you’re right, he does need stitches. Wait a second,” the nurse blinked, brain catching up to what had been said, "I don’t even recognize this creature. How do you know it’s a ‘he?’”

The yellow pegasus blushed, her coat turning nearly crimson as she responded. “Um... well, I had to remove his clothes to find and treat the rest of his injuries,” she started, indicating the weathered garment hanging over the back of the couch, “and you see...”

The rest went unheard as Fluttershy descended into inaudible mumbling.

Redheart didn’t bother asking the pegasus to repeat herself; it was pretty clear what happened. The nurse was slightly surprised that it embarrassed Fluttershy, considering how much she worked with animals, but maybe that was the issue. Animals didn’t wear clothing. This... thing... was something different.

They could deal with that later - for now, a patient needed help. Digging into her medical bag, she withdrew the necessary supplies.

“Think you can help me with the stitching? It’s normally a two-pony job. Mind you, there will be some blood as we work...”

She expected the notoriously shy and meek pegasus to balk at the mention of blood, but surprisingly, Fluttershy stood firm and nodded resolutely.

“Well, that’s good then. Will you boil some water while I undo the bandage and prepare the wound?”

Fluttershy marveled at the speed and efficiency of Redheart’s work. Using a needle and thread was usually a task best left to a unicorn, but the nurse was able to quickly yet carefully sew the wound closed in just under an hour using only her mouth and hooves. The pegasus had helped by holding the wound in position and wiping away any blood as it seeped from between the stitches.

As she finished re-dressing the creature’s leg, Fluttershy noticed her friend staring intently at the patient.

“What’s wrong, Nurse Redheart?” she asked, wondering at the white pony’s strange expression. Ice blue eyes flicked up underneath the pink mane; one that was very much like her own, now that she looked closely.

“Fluttershy... have you seen the manticore that did this?

The pegasus made a face, lightly stomping a butter-yellow hoof as she replied. “Absolutely not! If he knows what’s good for him, Mr. Manticore will stay away until he’s ready to apologize!”

“I’m no expert on animals, but have you ever seen something escape after being stung?”

Puzzled, Fluttershy lowered her head to think. “Well, no...” she replied slowly. “It’s hard enough to escape one normally, and after being stung, it would be even harder for...” she trailed off and shook her head violently. These weren’t thoughts the caretaker enjoyed having. Sure, she knew that many of her charges were carnivores - that was the way of nature. But she didn’t like dwelling on the fact.

Redheart was getting at something, and Fluttershy didn’t want to see what it was... something deep inside told her it was Very Bad and better left alone.

Unfortunately, the nurse was a pragmatist, and a very insistent one at that. Reaching forward, she lifted up pegasus’ chin with a hoof.

“Fluttershy, think about this. If that... thing... lying on your couch got away from a manticore after being stung, then it means he left it in no shape to chase after him. I think you might be caring for the wrong monster.”

The pegasus froze, her mind forcibly brought to the notion she had been trying to avoid. Could this strange being have actually hurt Mr. Manticore? No, that was silly - it was big, but not *that* big.

Laughing nervously, she put on a lopsided smile to try and cover her unease. “Oh come on... just look at him: all soft and pink.” Fluttershy illustrated her point by lifting up the corner of the blanket covering the creature’s chest. Wedging a hoof underneath one of his forelimbs, the pegasus held it out for her companion to examine. “And these! They may look like a dragon’s talons, but see? No claws.” She shook the appendage. “How could something like this fight off a manticore?”

Fluttershy could see that the earth pony wasn’t convinced. Redheart opened her mouth to reply, but closed it again, and instead turned to her medical bag to carefully and methodically pack away her supplies. An awkward silence stretched just long enough for the pegasus to start digging a hoof into the wooden floor before the nurse finally responded.

“Do you at least have any inkling as to what he might be? We can’t keep calling him ‘beast’ or ‘creature.’” Redheart’s voice was muffled by the large black bag as she peered inside of it, checking that she hadn’t forgotten anything.

“Umm... I really don’t know. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I sent Angel for you, but nothing comes to mind.” Fluttershy looked up from beneath her bangs, grateful to have something else to talk about. “I thought I’d seen just about every creature from the Everfree Forest, but he’s completely new. I’ve never seen a creature without some kind of fur or scales before.”

Snapping her bag shut, Nurse Redheart looked up with a short laugh. “Well, he’s pink, but we certainly can’t call him ‘Pinkie.’ One of those is more than enough.”

The pegasus grinned at that, briefly imagining the creature with the pink curls of her energetic friend. “Well, he’s not really pink either... actually, I don’t know what to call that color.” She stared at the strange mix of white-pink-peach skin - the parts that weren’t covered in bandages anyway.

“Maybe you should ask Twilight? If anypony knows what he is and what to do with him, it’d be her. And if Twilight doesn’t know, she’ll know who to ask.”

Fluttershy’s face brightened measurably. “Oh, that’s a wonderful idea... thanks Nurse Redheart!” Suddenly, the pegasus sobered as she thought about it. “But,” she asked the earth pony hesitantly, “do you think you could get her for me? I don’t want to leave him here alone... you know, in case he wakes up. Think of how you’d feel if you woke up hurt and alone in a strange place...” Her voice trailed off as she imagined that very thing.

Redheart chuckled softly as she nodded her head. “Of course Fluttershy... just, be careful OK?”

The yellow pegasus nodded emphatically as the nurse turned to leave. “Oh, wait!” she called out, waving a hoof at the retreating form. Turning from the doorway, the earth pony raised her eyebrows expectantly.

“Could you... um... not tell anypony else about this? I don’t want everypony in town to show up wanting to see the ‘mystery creature.’” Fluttershy peered over an imaginary windowsill, pantomiming the over-eager curiosity of the average Ponyville denizen.

The nurse laughed knowingly. “No problem. I’ll go straight to Twilight and make sure she doesn’t tell anyone else.”

With that she left, and Fluttershy turned back to her new charge.

Try as she might, the pegasus just couldn’t shake the sense of unease planted by Nurse Redheart. Looking again at his soft hide and clawless talons to reassure herself, Fluttershy exhaled nervously.

“You’re going to be a nice creature... right, Mr. Stranger?”

Nine months. It had been nine tedious, lonely, frustrating, bloody months of sitting on her hands. Sarah Martin had reached her breaking point.

The lieutenant stood fuming in front of Colonel Graff’s door on the IF cruiser Argyris. Angry as she was, Martin still couldn’t quite muster up the courage to knock.

*Minister* Graff, she reminded herself, he was kicked out of the IF, remember?

Strangely enough, a guilty verdict had done precious little to hamper the former commander of Battle School. In fact, he came out of the ordeal stronger than ever. When the powers-that-be first made him Minister of Colonization, it looked like the ultimate slap in the face. Graff was known for his hatred of bureaucracy; what better way to humiliate him than by making him a minor official in the vast government machine? Then humanity realized that the only way to reach the stars in the near future was on the back of the existing military fleet - it would be decades before comparable civilian ships could be constructed. Overnight, Minister Graff became the notional civilian head of the IF, and now he commanded the very flag officers who had court-martialed him.

Hell, the wily bastard probably planned the whole thing.

None of that changed her current situation, however. She’d been sequestered on the Argyris ever since it had responded to her distress call. Thankfully, Martin’s meticulous record keeping after The Incident had kept her out of the brig. When it was clear that the lieutenant was in no way responsible for Admiral Wiggin’s disappearance, the investigators had left her alone with clear instructions that she was confined to the ship and under a complete gag order until the situation was resolved.

Then Graff had shown up with a small fleet of research vessels and they had been scouring the area since.

Sarah resisted the urge to pound on Graff’s door. Being unable to call home was bad enough, but now the eggheads had decided to confiscate her tug and everything on board, including her possessions. Now the entire ship was disassembled and lying in pieces in the Argyris’ hold.

“Are you going to knock, or are you just going to stand there and vaguely motion at my door?” A voice called from the other side of the hatch.

A few years ago, Martin would have balked. Brash as she was, Graff had always been an intimidating persona.

Now, she had nothing to lose. She kicked the door, hard enough to make it shudder in its frame. A moment passed and then it slid open, keyed from the inside.

Graff didn’t even look up from the console on his desk. “I hear the IF is short on resources, what with the massive colonization effort going on. I’m sure they’d be happy to deduct repair costs from your pay, but I don’t think even a lieutenant’s salary could cover a pressure door.” His gravelly voice sounded more haggard and weary than ever.

“Not like I can spend it, sir.” Sarah uttered the last word like an epithet.

The middle-aged man ignored her, and continued his work. When it became clear she wasn’t leaving, he sighed heavily. “What do you want, Martin?”

“Your scientists are looking in the wrong place.”

Graff rolled his eyes. “If this is about your ship and your personal belongings...”

“I don’t care about my stuff, sir, I want this resolved so I can go home.”

I also want to know what happened to him, she added silently.

Graff tilted his head upwards slightly. “Then by all means, tell me what my teams of physicists, astronomers, and engineers have missed.”

To anyone else it might have sounded like sarcasm, but Sarah understood the man well enough to know he was genuinely asking. Graff never turned down a source of help, unlikely though it might be.

“Your teams took apart my ship because they found nothing in space, right?”

Graff nodded.

“They didn’t search far enough.”

The older man narrowed his eyes. “The teams systematically scanned every last bit of space within fifty cubic kilometers of the point where Ender disappeared. How far do you suggest they look?”

Sarah extended her hands to illustrate what she was about to say. “The point he disappeared... relative to what?” She held out a fist, and pointed to a spot nearly a foot away. “Yes, we know the absolute point where the lifeboat vanished, but our coordinate system is mapped relative to the sun. Everything in space moves. What if the... phenomenon, or whatever took him, doesn’t orbit the sun directly?”

A glimmer appeared in Graff’s eyes. He was not only following her logic, but it was giving him hope. “You think that the phenomenon holds position relative to the Earth?”

“Or the moon. We were in its orbital path when he disappeared. Remember when we had to reposition the fleet and interrupt our search as it passed through the space where he vanished?”

The minister looked down at his desk with a calculating expression. After a moment’s thought, he nodded. “That’s sound reasoning. I’ll pass it on to the teams.”

He sat back, fixing Sarah with a subdued but genuine look of gratitude. It was the kindest expression she had ever seen on him. “Thank you, lieutenant. Is there anything else?”

Martin almost walked away at that point, but she steeled herself and raised the other question she came to ask. “Why am I still here? I understand a gag order, but what could I possibly say that doesn’t have the world reeling already? Ender Wiggin is missing.”

A cloud passed over Graff’s face. He almost looked sad as he held her gaze. Blinking once, he said softly, “Ender Wiggin left as scheduled on the first colony ship. He was to be the governor of humanity’s first off-world settlement, remember?”

White-hot fury bubbled within Martin’s chest, momentarily causing her to see red. If it didn’t mean months held alone in the ship’s brig, she would have struck the older man then and there.

“You... miserable... bastard!” she hissed through clenched teeth.

It was the perfect lie... a lie couched in a bit of truth. Ender Wiggin really was supposed to have left on humanity’s first colony ship. That was the entire reason for his fateful voyage back to Earth. With the IF in strict control of the vessel’s anisble, its one faster-than-light communication link with Earth, it would be easy to hide the fact that he wasn’t really on board. Given that most of the colonists would be in cold sleep throughout the two-year voyage, it was probable that only a handful of crew (trusted high-ranking officers to be sure) knew the truth.

What was worse, two years of relative velocity for the ship meant over sixty years would pass on Earth before the colonists arrived. By the time anyone could get word back that Ender was missing, no one on Earth would really care anymore. At best, it would be an interesting historical scandal.

Striding forward, Martin slammed two fists down on the minister’s desk, not caring about the dull pain in her knuckles and forearms. “Does his family even know?!”

Graff didn’t flinch. In fact, his steely gray eyes held her infuriated gaze without faltering. “Ender hasn’t communicated with most of his family since he left them. The one member...”

“And whose fault is that?!” Martin’s voice cracked, her body shaking slightly with the crash of white-hot anger that coursed through her. She didn’t care to hear his excuses or reasoning. She wanted him to say... something... anything to acknowledge his role as the puppet master who had controlled the lives of all the Battle Schoolers for his own purposes, especially Ender’s. Especially hers.

“Mine.”

To her amazement, he did.

Martin didn’t quite know what to do with herself as he rose and stepped back slightly from the desk. Gripping the back of his chair, Graff cast his eyes downward, a rare demonstration of humility.

“Have you wondered at all why I am here?” he asked.

Sarah didn’t reply. It did strike her as odd that the effective head of the IF had been personally running the search for Ender Wiggin for nearly a year. She knew the boy was important, but she didn’t think he was that important.

“Lieutenant Martin,” he began, taking a deep breath as if to steel himself. “I broke Ender Wiggin. I did it intentionally and methodically by isolating him at every available opportunity. I did it because it was the only way to develop him into the commander... into the weapon we needed him to be. He would never have achieved his potential otherwise. I know this with a certainty gained from decades of finding and grooming the best military minds humanity had to offer.”

The young woman didn’t know what to say or do. On the one hand, she wanted to strangle Graff. On the other, she wanted to soak in every word of honesty from a man famous for obfuscation.

“I do not apologize for my actions, nor do I regret them. I did what needed to be done, because without him, we would have lost the war. He had the unique combination of empathy, sheer intellect, and pragmatic ruthlessness we needed to outmatch the Formic hivemind. There was no other - seventy years of Battle School history proved that.”

He took a shuddering breath. Was this the first time he had voiced these thoughts? Sarah thought it possible.

“I’m not sorry for what I did, but I did hope to someday repair the damage I inflicted. In my office there is a stasis chamber. I originally wanted to use it to let me skip through time, to check on the progress of the colonies we’re founding today. But once I knew Ender was leaving on that first colony ship, I intended to use it to make sure I would be around when he arrived - to give him guidance when everyone else he knows will either be dead, or so old that he’ll only be a distant memory.” He paused, raising his eyes to meet her hostile gaze. “If we don’t find Ender, I’ll never have that chance... and he will always be broken.”

“I understand.” It was all Martin could say. Her mind worked frantically to process all that she had heard. The young woman couldn’t say for sure whether she agreed with Graff, or whether she could forgive him, but at the very least, she understood.

Sarah turned, and with halting steps, traced her way back to the cabin door. Unused adrenaline coursed through her, causing the lieutenant to move as if controlled by marionette strings. Fists clenched, she braced herself against the door and caught a breath before opening it.

“Martin?” the man called out.

“What?” she responded quietly, emotions spent.

“Your confinement is lifted. Join the science teams and help point them in the right direction. Do whatever it takes... find him.”

“Yes... sir.”

For the first time in her entire military career, she meant it.

It was several nerve-wracking hours for Fluttershy before Twilight arrived. She alternated between pacing around her living room, nervously glancing at her patient, to carefully checking on his injuries. It was a strange whiplash of emotion. When actively involved in caring for him, her fear receded. After all, how could such a helpless and injured form possibly do her harm? But when she took a step back, Fluttershy could see just how different he was. Redheart’s concerns surfaced in her mind time and again. How did he get away from the manticore?

A knock on the door prompted the pegasus to spring into the air with a soft ‘eep.’

“Fluttershy? It’s just me. Nurse Redheart said you needed help with a creature you found... can I come in?” Twilight’s voice drifted through the door.

Breathing a sigh of relief, the yellow pegasus quickly opened the door. “Twilight! Thank goodness you’re here. I’ve never seen anything like him before and I was starting to get so worried that he might be dangerous...”

The unicorn nosed her way past Fluttershy and began to remove her pack. “Oh, I’m sure it’s just something from the Far Everfree that hasn’t made it to Ponyville before. I’ve got lots of books on those creatures, and if it was able to fit through your door, then it shouldn’t be dangerous at all. Now where did you put-”

Twilight’s eyes widened as her voice halted in a small gasp. The saddle bags she had been levitating over her shoulders crashed to the ground as she spied the strange form on Fluttershy’s low green sofa. The clasp gave way as the bags hit the ground, letting a wide assortment of books, parchment, and quills spill across the floor. Angel pounced on an inkwell, grabbing its stopper before it could roll over and stain the living room rugs.

“F-Fluttershy... where did you find this creature?” The unicorn’s eyes didn’t move from the figure on the other side of the room.

“He was collapsed by the stream this morning. I saw him on my way to town.” Fluttershy drew next to her friend, looking at Twilight with concern. It was a rare moment when the lavender pony was caught speechless.

Suddenly, the unicorn’s features broken into a wide grin. She trotted over to the couch, practically dancing in the air as she moved. “I’ve never seen anything like it in any of my books! Do you know what this means?” Turning back to Fluttershy, she graced the pegasus with a look of pure joy. “I might get to actually do ORIGINAL research!” An insubstantial, purple energy enveloped the contents of Twilight’s saddle bags as she levitated some of the many books over to the coffee table. “First though,” she began, “I need to double-check that there really are no documented sightings of something like your creature here. The LAST thing I want to do is seem like some hack who thinks she’s found a new species just because she couldn’t identify it...” Twilight’s voice trailed off as she started to rifle through one of her thick tomes. Fluttershy could tell she was already starting to tune out the world around her.

With an exasperated sigh, the pegasus pushed off the ground and floated over to her lavender friend, putting a hoof down over the spine of Twilight’s book to garner her attention. “Twilight, it’s a HE, not an IT, and HE is injured,” she said in a hushed but forceful voice. “You’re going to wake him up if you keep talking this loudly. Besides, there’s more... this creature was wearing clothing.” Fluttershy indicated the dirty, well-worn garments draped over the back of the couch.

“Clothing?!” She managed to keep her voice down, but it was still a very loud whisper. In an instant, Twilight levitated the mottled cloth up and over the sleeping creature and spread it out over her books on the low table. Peering closely, she examined every square inch. Fluttershy couldn’t help but be drawn in by her curiosity, though she didn’t know exactly what her unicorn friend hoped to find. It was just a strangely patterned set of forest-colored clothing.

“This pattern is remarkable... completely random and yet it follows a theme,” she observed.

Fluttershy could comment on that much. “It’s like camouflage, except it’s made instead of natural. I could barely see him in the grass this morning.”

Something drew Twilight’s attention, prompting her to take the garment in her hooves instead of simply levitating it. “Fluttershy, did you see this? It’s like some kind of embroidery. You know something about fashion, right?”

The unicorn was right; there were small sections of raised material on the top half of the creature’s clothing. Fluttershy could barely see them because they were the same color as the rest of the material, but now that Twilight pointed them out, it was easy to see the difference.

“Um, I do know a few things, but only when it comes to sewing the clothing I actually like. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Suddenly, to the pegasus’ surprise, Twilight’s eyes widened even further. She didn’t think it was even possible. Something on the raised material had seized Twilight’s attention, and she held the garment in the streaming sunlight of a window to get a better look.

“Fluttershy,” she whispered, her voice hushed in awe, “this stitching here, and here, and here... it’s too regular, and some of the shapes repeat.” The unicorn pointed with the tip of a hoof. “I think... I think this is writing.”

From her position, Fluttershy couldn’t quite make out what Twilight was seeing, but she trusted her friend’s assessment. The unicorn spent most of her time studying, and she wasn’t often wrong.

She could swear the lavender pony was actually vibrating from excitement. “Do you know what this MEANS, Fluttershy?! I suspected it with the clothing, but this practically seals it. HE,” she waved a hoof at the sofa, “is not just a new creature, but a sapient! There’s another race in Equestria!”

Fluttershy cringed at the unicorn’s steadily rising volume, but she chose not to bring it up again. If the sleeping form on her couch had not woken up after all that, she doubted he’d be up anytime soon.

The books so recently opened and strewn across the coffee table were quickly closed and stacked as Twilight made room for her parchment and quills. “A check of the old books can wait... I have to take as many notes as I can while I have the opportunity!” Pulling the inkwell over - with a protesting Angel still attached - Twilight removed the stopper and dipped her quill. She addressed the pegasus while staring intently at her new research subject. “Tell me everything that’s happened so far.”

So Fluttershy began a rendition of all that had transpired since she found the creature this morning. She had to often interrupt her story as the unicorn queried her on various details, from how the creature was positioned, to how much he weighed. When she began to talk about treating the poor thing, Twilight asked for every detail imaginable about his inner workings, or at least as much as Fluttershy had been able to see or feel. The unicorn had to change parchment when it was all said and done.

By then it was late afternoon. The slanting rays and long shadows reminded the pegasus that she had been inside tending to the strange creature all day. Fluttershy still had many chores to do, not least of which was feeding her many outdoor friends. After making sure Twilight would be OK on her own, she set off to quickly make her usual rounds, apologizing at each stop for the long wait. Thankfully, her animal friends were very understanding, having seen her spend time taking care of gravely injured creatures in the past. Setting the feed buckets down, Fluttershy let out an exhausted sigh.

Ooh, my shoulder muscles are going to be sore in the morning. That creature was a lot heavier than he looked.

It had been tough keeping up with all of her friend’s questions, but at the very least, Twilight had put her mind at ease about the dangers of her patient. If he really was sapient, then he would probably try talking before doing anything more dangerous. Also, the unicorn pointed out, he had no wings. Flying out of reach would be all Fluttershy needed to stay safe.

The pegasus felt silly for not thinking of that before. She knew she could move quickly if she was sufficiently scared.

She returned just in time to see Twilight levitating the blanket back in place over the sleeping form. Gliding over to look at the very long and completely unrolled parchment on her coffee table, Fluttershy gasped as she saw what her unicorn friend had done. Before her was a complete drawing of creature from head to hind legs. The pegasus blushed a little at the level of detail. Twilight, for her part, seemed unfazed, looking at the drawing and the many notes beside it with immense pride.

“I see now why he wears clothing. What sort of creature doesn’t have any kind of natural protection against the cold? It seems strange if you ask me,” she said.

“Maybe he came from a very warm place?” Fluttershy ventured.

Twilight shook her head. “There’s not enough pigment in his skin. If he was from a very warm climate, his skin would be darker to protect him from the sun.”

“Oh?” This was news to the pegasus.

“Zecora taught me that,” Twilight replied. “She showed me the skin underneath her coat, and said it was common for many of the desert animals, especially ones that had lighter fur.”

“Maybe his kind always wears clothing?” Fluttershy added helpfully.

The unicorn blinked. “That’s... that...” she paused, tilting her head to the side as she looked at her notes, “that actually makes some kind of sense. I dismissed the idea before because, really, who would wear clothing all the time? But now that you say it... yeah, maybe he does.”

The pegasus smiled softly. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Twilight, you always do.” She looked back into the orange light that now filled the front room of her cottage. “It’s getting late... would you like to stay for dinner? I just picked the nicest daisies from a field down the road.”

“Thanks for the offer, but no. I want to go back and spend the evening looking through the rest of my books, just to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Maybe his kind has been spotted before, but it has been so long that they’d be listed in the history section instead of natural biology.”

“Okay, Twilight, just be careful on the road going home. Oh, and will you keep this between you and me for now? I don’t want everypony coming around here to gawk; you know how I feel about crowds...”

The unicorn only smiled. “Sure, Fluttershy! I’ll be back in the morning, anyway. I’ve only scratched the surface on my research.” She turned towards the door. “Besides, I really want to be here when he wakes up!”

A purple glow enveloped the door as Twilight closed it behind her. Checking on her patient’s breathing, and his many dressings, Fluttershy couldn’t help but notice that little had changed since she finished treating him earlier.

“...if he wakes up.”

Celestia’s sun had barely crested the horizon when an insistent knocking woke a weary Fluttershy from her slumber. She rolled slowly out of bed, painfully stretching sore wing and shoulder muscles.

I knew that was coming, she thought.

Normally she was an early riser, but the pegasus had not received much sleep the night before on account of strained wings and persistent worry about the patient below.

The knocking started again.

Fluttershy never growled, but a raspy sound emanated from her throat the entire way down the stairs. Glancing quickly at her sofa, she was relieved to see that the creature was still there. Apparently, it had not moved the entire night.

“Just a moment!” she called as she moved towards her front door. In another second, she opened it to find a brightly smiling Twilight Sparkle on her doorstep.

“Oh, did I wake you? I’m sorry; I was just really looking forward to getting an early start today.

Fluttershy only blinked, gazing out at the unicorn from under long disheveled pink bangs.

Unhitching herself from a cart full of bulky scientific equipment, Twilight looked up with an embarrassed smile. “I brought some tea from home and I stopped by Sugarcube Corner on the way. How about I make us breakfast before we get started?”

It was a good peace offering. The pegasus missed a trip to the bakery on account of yesterday’s excitement.

While Twilight busied herself in the kitchen, Fluttershy checked on the patient’s bandages and changed the ones that had become soiled. All in all, she was amazed at how well the wound on his leg was closing. Nurse Redheart did good work. Thankfully, he showed no signs of infection and there wasn’t any fever.

Or, at least no fever that she could detect. Fluttershy realized she didn’t really know what would be normal for the creature.

Creature...

“Twilight?” she called.

“What is it?”

The pegasus trotted over and stuck her head through the door to her kitchen.

“We need a name for him... I can’t keep calling him ‘creature,’ or ‘being,’ or anything else. It just seems so impersonal.”

Fluttershy moved to the side as the unicorn emerged from the kitchen, levitating a tray laden with muffins, jelly, butter, cups and a steaming teapot. Setting it down on the small wooden dining table, Twilight motioned for her friend to join her.

“I was thinking about that too. I was hoping my other books might have some clue as to his origins, but my first instinct ended up being right - there’s no mention anywhere of anything like him.” She poured tea, first for Fluttershy, then for herself. “While I’m glad to have the chance to do real research into something unknown to pony kind, that still leaves me nothing to go on when it comes to selecting a name. He’s just too alien in comparison to every other living creature in Equestria. I thought that maybe I could go with something draconic, given how similar-”

“That’s it!” Fluttershy interrupted. “Alien... ‘Mr. Alien,’ I like it!” She smiled over the steaming tea mug, quite pleased with herself.

Twilight pulled a face. “Oh no! Nonono. When you say it like that, it sounds like one of those bad comic books Scootaloo keeps checking out. I meant alien as in foreign or different, not like a space-pony. Please, I’m trying to keep this scientific!”

But the pegasus had already seized upon the name. “Well, I like it. It has a nice ring to it... Mr. Alien.” She sounded it out a few times in a sing-song voice. Twilight let out an exasperated groan.

“Fiiiiiine. But as soon as he wakes up, I’m going to ask him what he calls himself, and THAT’S what is going in the history books. Not ‘Mr. Alien.’”

Fluttershy only smiled as she bit into a banana nut muffin. “I wonder what Mr. Alien eats? Do you think we should try to feed him?”

The unicorn shook her head. “It would be dangerous until we know he’s OK. His body might not be able to handle food just yet. Besides, until we know what he eats, we could accidentally poison him. Or maybe he has an allergy - we just don’t know.”

Fluttershy made a squeaking sound as she nodded, eyes wide with understanding.

“You’ve been giving him water, right?” Twilight asked.

“Just little sips... enough that I could get him to swallow by massaging his throat. It worked exactly like it does with most of my sick critters.”

“Good.” Twilight nodded. “Keep doing that. I’m sure he’ll be fine until he wakes up.

The pegasus finished one muffin and reached for another. “So what are you going to do today? I saw you brought a lot of equipment with you.”

Her friend chuckled nervously and rubbed the back of her mane with a foreleg. “Heh, yeah, I might have overdone it a bit, but I didn’t want to have to keep running back and forth from the library just to get test results.”

Fluttershy glanced at the patient nervously. “W-what kind of tests?”

“Oh, the usual.” The unicorn grinned as she thought of her plans. “Muscle and reflex response, brainwave measurement, heart rate monitoring, core and limb temperatures, and of course blood, ur-”

“Blood?!”

Twilight waved her hooves, trying to dispel her friend’s fears. “Relax Fluttershy, I’m not going to hurt him, just take enough - with a SMALL needle - to run some tests.”

“Oh, well, okay... I guess. Just be careful, alright?” The pegasus looked somewhat placated.

“Tell you what, if you help me bring in the equipment, I can get everything done while you’re doing your morning rounds. You don’t have to be here for any of the icky stuff.”

Fluttershy nodded, sipping her tea.

The animals were restless, nearly all of them curious about the new arrival. Though they couldn’t speak, it wasn’t hard to understand what they were asking as they acted out the pegasus’ efforts to carry Mr. Alien across the stream.

“No Mr. Badger, I don’t know what Mr. Alien is,” she explained for what seemed the twentieth or thirtieth time, “and no, I don’t know what he eats. He probably won’t be staying very long, so you don’t need to worry about him, okay?”

Exhausted, the pegasus finished re-lining the badger’s den and turned to head back to the cottage. After all the interruptions and the work left unfinished from yesterday, Fluttershy found that time had slipped by without her noticing. It was already close to lunchtime.

Pushing open the door, she expected to hear a myriad of beeps, squeaks, and whirrs from all of Twilight’s equipment, but to Fluttershy’s surprise, the glistening boxes were all packed up and stacked against the staircase. The unicorn herself was carefully ladling a small amount of water into Mr. Alien’s mouth, held open by her forelimbs. The magic glow around the spoon vanished as she set it down and proceeded to massage his throat to help him swallow.

“All done?” Fluttershy asked.

“Yep!” she said brightly. “I’ve done everything I can here. There are a few more tests I can run back at the library, but before that, I was wondering if we could look around the place you found him. Think we can go after lunch? I’m famished!”

“That makes two of us.” Fluttershy nodded. “Want to finish off these muffins?”

After a brief meal, the ponies checked on their charge one last time, then left the cottage. Since Twilight couldn’t fly, Fluttershy led her over the bridge and took the long way to where she had found Mr. Alien.

“So this is it?” the unicorn asked, observing the indentations in the soft earth where Fluttershy had struggled with the ungainly load. “How do you know he came from the Everfree Forest?”

“Well,” the yellow pony mused, a hoof to her chin, “I just assumed he did, since the forest is in this direction and I had never seen anything like him before. But if you want, I’m sure we can find his tracks.”

She was right. Though the soft earth was soon covered by grass as they moved up from the stream’s bank, the ponies were easily able to find Mr. Alien’s tracks. Stumbling and crawling, presumably from the effects of the venom, he had gouged deep furrows behind him. As they crested a small hill, Twilight let out a happy cry.

“Fluttershy, look! I think this might be something he left behind.”

Lying in the grass, almost the size of a pony, was a brilliant silver canister. Though parts of its case were covered by dead leaves or caked mud, the metal underneath still gleamed in the noon sunlight. It was easy to follow Twilight’s reasoning - the furrows led right to it.

Dashing over, the unicorn found a set of three straps extending from one side of the canister. Positioning herself along them, she began contorting her body. It took Fluttershy a moment to realize what her friend was doing; she was mimicking the body posture of Mr. Alien, or at least what they could see when he was lying down.

“Look at this! These straps must be how he carried it... one to go around his middle and two over his shoulders. It’s like a vertical set of saddlebags.”

If anything, Fluttershy noted, her friend was very clever.

Springing upright, Twilight's horn flared as she enveloped the canister in a veil of purple light. It slowly began to rise, but after a few moments, the unicorn dropped it, panting heavily.

“Wow... he must be really strong. This thing is much heavier than it looks!” she said through gasps of breath.

A thrill of fear ran through Fluttershy as she remembered Nurse Redheart’s warning about Mr. Alien getting away from the manticore. Had that been how he did it? Was he simply far stronger than he looked?

The pegasus drifted over and poked at the silver cylinder. To her surprise, it rolled easily. Curious, Fluttershy bent down, and with two forelimbs, lifted the canister upright.

She looked at Twilight. “Are you sure you were lifting it properly? It doesn’t feel very heavy to me.”

The unicorn blinked. Moving forward, she took it in her hooves, marveling at how easily it could be moved. Twilight let go and tried to lift it again with magic, but the canister plummeted straight to the ground.

“That’s... very, very strange. When I try lifting it with magic, it feels like it weighs a ton, but you and I can pick it up and move it around easily with our hooves.” She stared, dumbfounded.

Fluttershy again poked the silver canister with a hoof. “It sure is big, isn’t it? You could probably fit a pony inside if you wanted to.”

Circling around it, Twilight cast a critical eye. “Maybe not a fully-grown pony, but you could definitely fit a filly in there.”

Fluttershy gasped as something sprung to her mind.

“Oh, no! The girls! I told Rarity I would baby-sit today. What time is it?”

The unicorn laughed softly. “I’m sure it’ll be OK if you’re a little late. Where were you supposed to be, at the boutique?”

“No, no...” Fluttershy shook her head in horror, “they were supposed to be here... at noon.”

Ender was brought to consciousness by a heavy rhythmic thumping on his chest. Was someone trying to perform CPR? No, that was supposed to hurt. This wasn’t painful, it was just jarring. His head and vision swam as he tried to open his eyes to see what was happening.

A large orange and purple form was rising and falling directly over him, emitting a high-pitched sound. To his right, two other blotches occupied his peripheral vision, one white and the other yellow. The soldier blinked, trying to clear his eyes, but everything remained unfocused and hazy.

He jerked one arm, trying to swat away the orange blob that kept landing on his chest and forcing air out of his lungs, but his hand didn’t move much more than a few inches. It did, however, get a reaction from the two shapes to his right. Now a cacophony of warbling voices filled his ears. It... sounded like language, but nothing that Ender could understand.

Suddenly, a severe sound came from far away, and the three shapes retreated instantly. In a few seconds, all Ender could see was yellow and pink. A soft voice crooned over him, but the sounds were meaningless. Freed from the constant assault, the boy’s body succumbed to fatigue and he drifted back into oblivion.

To her horror, Fluttershy entered her home to find Scootaloo jumping up and down on her patient, calling for her friends to join her.

“Come on, girls, we gotta protect Fluttershy from the nasty alien. Help me squish him!”

“Are ya SURE that’s an alien?” Applebloom asked. “I thought those were only in yer picture-books.”

“Girls...” Sweetie Belle’s voice carried a fearful tremor. “It just opened its eyes... oh no, it’s moving!” Her voice cracked as she started to backpedal.

The fear in the three fillies’ eyes reached new heights as soon as they heard their babysitter from across the room.

“GIRLS!” Fluttershy’s voice reached a timber that no one, including Twilight, had ever heard. “GET. AWAY. NOW!”

Looking back, the Cutie Mark Crusaders found the normally shy pegasus hovering in mid-air, her wings fully extended. She glared at them with a terrifying gaze as her voice seemed to reverberate in the air around them.

They didn’t need to be told twice. In a split-second, all three fillies had taken cover under Fluttershy’s dining room table, clutching each other in fear.

The pegasus was over her charge in a flash, checking his bandages to make sure that none of the wounds had re-opened. One on his chest was oozing slowly, but thankfully Scootaloo hadn’t disturbed the stitches in his leg.

She heard Twilight accost the three behind her.

“Scootaloo, what were you thinking?!”

“I-I-I-I thought some dangerous creature was sleeping in Fluttershy’s house,” the little pegasus stammered.

“You said it was an alien!” Sweetie Belle’s voice was strained to the point of squeaking.

“Well, it looked like one!”

“Ahhhh! Enough!” Fluttershy heard Twilight’s hoof smack her face as she sighed in exasperation. “Scootaloo, you should know better. Those comic books are FICTIONAL, and until further notice, you’re no longer allowed to check them out.”

“Awww, no fair!”

Applebloom chimed in. “Well if it ain’t an alien, what is it?”

“Mr. A... that is, this creature came to us from the Everfree Forest gravely injured, and Twilight and I have been nursing him back to health,” Fluttershy called over her shoulder.

The lavender unicorn picked up where she left off. “And what’s more, we think he might be... well, a sapient creature, so it’s really important that he get well and we learn more about him.”

Fluttershy fumbled with one of the chest bandages as she heard Sweetie ask, “What’s that mean?”

There was a rustling sound, and then Twilight answered, “It means we think he’s more than just a wild animal. See these? He was wearing them when Fluttershy found him. How many animals do you know wear clothing?”

Applebloom started to say something when Twilight interrupted, “-wear clothing on their own, without you dressing them up.”

“Oh.” The young earth pony almost sounded disappointed.

“Now girls, it’s very important that-”

The bandage just would not stay, even with Fluttershy using her mouth and both her hooves. Spitting out the end, she called to her friend. “Twilight? Could you help me with this one? I could really use your magic.”

“Oh? Sure, just a second.” Soft clops crew louder as she heard the unicorn approach. Before she knew it, the bandage was lifted out of her hooves and expertly rewound and tied. “There, that better?”

Fluttershy breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks. It looks like there wasn’t any lasting damage done, but girls, you really must-”

Her breath caught short as she turned around and realized all three Cutie Mark Crusaders were gone.

Following Fluttershy’s gaze, the unicorn sighed. “Oh dear.”

I pit of fear began to form deep within the pegasus. “They’re going to tell everypony, aren’t they?”

“Yup.”

“Applejack, hey Applejack!” The yellow filly galloped among the endless rows of apple trees at full tilt.

“Back so soon, short stuff?” her sister replied, settling down from the kick she was about to deliver to one of the trunks. Applejack didn’t much like being interrupted mid-buck, but she always made an effort to put up a smiling face for her little sister. “That sure was a short visit.”

Applebloom tried to stop, but she had too much forward momentum. Instead of skidding to a halt in front of the older orange pony, she tripped, bouncing a couple times before coming to rest between Applejack’s forelegs. Unfazed, she looked up at her sister with impossibly round eyes.

“Ya gotta see what Fluttershy’s got in her house! At first Scoots thought it was an alien, so she started jumping on it, but then Fluttershy came in and scared us silly! And then Twilight was sayin’ that it was real important and stuff, but then they had to fix it up, so Scoots suggested we clear out before we got in even more trouble...”

“Woah there, Applebloom. Slow it down, I can barely understand ya.” The farmer looked down at the young filly with a stern expression. “Are you sayin’ y’all was causing trouble for poor Fluttershy again? I thought I told you-”

“No!” Applebloom interjected. “Ah told ya this morning, we were supposed to go over there with Sweetie Belle. Fluttershy was gonna watch us today. But when we got there, we found this-”

“Yeah, yeah, I know, big scary space monster and all. Look, Applebloom, you know I like playing with you, but me an’ Mac have a lot of work to do today, and...”

“But Twilight was there and everything! Even she said it was important. Pretty please?”

Applejack always had a hard time resisting The Face. She didn’t know how her little sister did it, but Applejack knew that if she could ever copy it, Big Mac would never be able to say no to her about anything.

Besides, it was strange that Twilight had gotten involved in something “important” without telling her.

“Oh, alright... let’s get going.”

“Yay!” Applebloom went from the ground beneath her sister’s forelegs to riding on her back in the blink of an eye.

“Hey Mac!” Applejack called.

“Eyyup?” The deep voice carried through the trees, even though it its owner was nowhere to be seen.

“Can you take over for a bit? I’ll be back as soon as I figure out what’s goin’ on.”

“Eyyup.”

Rarity glared from behind a massive mound of fabric. Only the tops of her eyes and a single wave of violet hair was visible to her little sister below. “Sweetie, I thought we discussed this. I NEED this day to myself. I’ve fallen so behind on orders. I’ll never be ready for the new winter release in Canterlot if I don’t catch up soon.”

“But, Fluttershy and Twilight had this...”

“Yes, yes, I heard you the first time,” she replied, cutting off the filly. “And while I’m always glad to help out my friends, it sounds like they have everything under control. Fluttershy takes in animals all the time, dear. Now I hate to be rude, but I absolutely must get back to assembling these capes.”

Rarity’s eyes disappeared behind the stack as the sound of her magical levitation resumed. Scissors clacked as bits of cloth began to fly up and over the pile. One managed to land on Sweetie Belle’s nose, causing the little unicorn to huff in frustration. Blowing the errant piece off her muzzle, the filly sat down and stared at the pile of fabrics, trying to think of a way to get her sister to budge. Suddenly she had an idea, and a wicked grin stretched across Sweetie’s face.

“You know why Twilight said the creature was important? Why she thought it might be...” she tried to remember the word, “sapient?”

Rarity only gave a distracted “Hm?” from behind her work desk.

“It was wearing clothes.” The filly thought she might as well go all-out, and a little embellishment right now wouldn’t hurt anypony. “They were strange, alien clothes, never before seen in Equestria and so unique they convinced Twilight that he was more than just an animal.”

The sounds of levitation and scissor work stopped, and Sweetie Belle counted to two in her head.

“Clothing, you say?” The words drifted over the pile of fabric bolts.

The white filly grinned. Her older sister was so easy sometimes.

The grumpy expression disappeared from Rainbow Dash’s face as soon as Scootaloo finished her story. The orange pegasus normally wouldn’t have woken her idol up from an afternoon nap for anything, but space monsters seemed like a good reason to make an exception.

“An alien, you say?” Rainbow’s face poked through the bottom of a low-hovering cloud.

“Yeah, just like the ones in those comics you said were cool. Twilight said it that it wasn’t an alien, that it was some sort of sape... sapi... uh, important creature of some kind from far away, but I know what I saw.” The filly bounced excitedly. “You should have seen me Dash! I was on it instantly... wham! bam!” she cried as she acted out her fierce attacks on the monster, “it never knew what hit it!”

Dropping out of the cloud, Rainbow chuckled and ruffled the young pegasus’ mane. “You did the right thing, kid. Who knows what sort of trouble Fluttershy’s gotten herself into this time?” She paused, thoughtful for a moment. “Though if Twilight is there, I’m sure everything is okay, but why didn’t she tell me what was going on...?”

Scootaloo began to wilt at the older pegasus’ doubt, but she quickly recovered as Rainbow flashed a quick grin. “Well, come on... let’s go! Race you there?”

“You bet!” the filly replied, gunning her wings and taking off on her scooter as fast as she could go.

Rainbow gave her a few seconds’ head start before catching up and lazily circling Scootaloo. “You’re getting pretty good with that thing, kid!” she said, flying upside down with her forelegs behind her head.

The filly held no illusion that it was a real race, but having her idol there at all made it the highlight of her week. She looked back and gazed at the light blue pegasus, smiling brightly...

...and crashed headlong into another pony. Thrown from her scooter, the orange filly and her roadblock tumbled head over hooves together before coming to a rest right in front of the forested path to Fluttershy’s house.

“Sweetie Belle! Are you alright?” she heard Rarity’s voice call from somewhere behind her.

Scootaloo blinked as she tried to clear her vision. She had landed on another pony who was now struggling, trying to untangle its hooves. Suddenly, everything flashed white as she was bucked up and into the air.

“Watch where you’re going, Scoots! That really hurt!” scolded her unicorn friend.

“Oww,” she moaned. “You didn’t have to kick me... I was getting up!”

The white filly just huffed as she returned to her sister. Looking over at Rainbow Dash, Scootaloo saw her covering her mouth with a hoof, trying not to laugh. The young pegasus couldn’t help but snort with a little laughter in return.

“Ya’ll alright?” Applejack called, galloping up with Applebloom. “Ah saw them coming down the hill and tried to call out to you, but we were just too far away.”

Rarity looked up from where she was dusting off her sister and fixing the filly’s mane. “Nothing bruised but our pride, Applejack.” She turned a glare on Scootaloo, who instantly stopped laughing and tried to look sheepish.

“So I’m guessing we’re all here for the same thing?” Applejack asked, turning to Rarity and Rainbow Dash in turn. The two older ponies nodded.

Rarity fixed her sister with a suspicious stare. “Are you sure this isn’t just another wild goose chase? I know how you girls like to have fun, but we all have things to do, you know.”

Some of us do, at any rate.” Applejack looked pointedly at Rainbow Dash.

“Hey! An afternoon nap is a critical part of weather control. I have to keep my strength up if I want to be in top form!”

Chuckling, the farmer turned back to the three Cutie Mark Crusaders. “Well, before we go all the way to Fluttershy’s, is there something you want to tell us? If this is just a game, I promise we won’t be mad, but if we get out there and it turns out it’s just you three playing, well...”

“It’s not a game - promise! We-” Scootaloo started to protest when she was interrupted by a bright purple flash of light.

Twilight Sparkle emerged, blinking momentarily before fixing her gaze on all three fillies. “THERE you are. I’m so glad I found you before...” she trailed off, looking at Applejack, Rainbow and Rarity in turn. The unicorn sighed in frustration. “Who ELSE did you girls tell about this?”

“Nopony, we promise!” Sweetie Belle squeaked. “Right girls?”

Scootaloo nodded her affirmation and saw Applebloom doing the same.

“Alright, then I need you three to do me a favor and Pinkie Pie Swear that you’ll tell no one else, OK?” Twilight held an expression that brokered no argument.

Scootaloo and her two friends went through the motions, repeating the words well-known to residents of Ponyville. After they finished, Twilight fixed them with a serious gaze.

“Good. Now just remember that you need to keep that promise, because a Pinkie Pie Promise las-”

Scootaloo blinked. The unicorn had started to mouth the word ‘lasts’ but inexplicably cut herself off. She watched as Twilight’s eyes narrowed, focusing on a bush behind Applejack. Suddenly, a lavender aura permeated the bush, pulling it apart to reveal a pony hiding within.

“Hi Twilight!” Pinkie said brightly. “How did you know I was here?”

Twilight sighed. “Let’s just say I had a feeling.”

“Ooh! Are you getting Pinkie Sense now too? Or would that be Twilight Sense? Twisense? I like-” The earth pony’s voice was muffled as Twilight closed the bush back over her.

Shaking her head, the unicorn turned back to the three fillies, picking up where she left off. “Because as you know, a Pinkie Pie Promise lasts-”

“FOREVER!” Pinkie erupted from the bush.

Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Rarity groaned.

“Well, I’d love to stay here all day chatting,” Applejack cut in, “but would you mind telling us what this is about, Twilight? What’s with all the secrecy?”

The unicorn looked at her friends and the fillies. “The secrecy is because Fluttershy didn’t want everypony coming by her cottage to gawk. You know how she is with crowds.”

The assembled group of mares all nodded to each other knowingly.

“As for the rest... it might be better if I just showed you.”

“Well, it’s no alien, but I can see why she thought it was,” Dash observed, inclining her head towards Scootaloo. “Sorry about that... I was the one that got her started on the whole comic book thing when I said I used to read them when I was young. Well, not READ them read them, but I loved the awesome pictures of brave pegasi dashing to the res-”

“So what is it Twilight?” Applejack interrupted. “Yer the smart pony around here.”

“That’s just it, Applejack: neither Fluttershy or I know. None of my books had anything on him, and she’s never seen anything like him bef-Pinkie! Don’t poke him! It took us a long time to get those bandages secured.” The unicorn cleared her throat, glaring at her friend. “As I was saying, she’s never seen anything like him before.”

“So it’s a ‘he,’ is it?” Applejack put one hoof on Pinkie’s shoulders in an effort to keep her in one place and out of trouble.

“Er, yes,” Fluttershy blushed, “and Mr. Alien has been very lucky so far. When I first found him, he had a nasty gash full of manticore venom.”

“Wait,” Rainbow said, a confused look on her face. “I thought you said that it wasn’t an alien...”

Twilight sighed, noticing that she had been doing a lot of that lately. “He’s NOT an alien, but Fluttershy liked the name, so she’s been using it.”

“I think it’s very fitting.” The yellow pegasus added brightly.

Applejack looked around. “Well, this is all very interesting, but I really don’t see where we’re needed. Unless... Fluttershy, do you need any help with the animals while you’re taking care of long-and-tall over there?”

“No - I’m good,” she said, carrying a stack of blankets to the sofa.

“I’ll tell you what: how about instead of you babysitting Applebloom, she’ll stay here and help you with chores today?”

“But-” the filly started to protest.

“It would certainly be a lot more helpful and productive than any kind of punishment for wasting our time and causing trouble, don’t you think, Fluttershy?” The farmer smiled knowingly at her little sister.

“Oh, certainly! In fact, if you could draw a bath for Angel, that would be most helpful. Thanks, Applebloom!”

“Fiiiiine,” the yellow filly huffed, plodding up the stairs.

Applejack chuckled as she watched her sister’s red bow disappear behind the railing. “Well, it’s been fun, but I’ve got work to do. Tell me if ya need anything, OK Fluttershy?”

As the group waved their goodbyes, Rarity and Sweetie Belle were examining the creature’s strange clothing. Spreading it out on Fluttershy’s dining room table with her magic, the white unicorn used her hooves to brush away some of the caked dirt and leaves.

“Well, I’ll give you one thing, Sweetie Belle; you’ve got the ‘alien’ part of the description right, even if that’s not what he is.” She examined the garment closely. “Whoever picked this pattern is colorblind, but this material is amazing. It’s so tightly stitched, I can’t see where one piece begins and the other ends - and look how it maintains its shape!” She stretched the fabric between her magic hold on one end and a hoof on the other, watching it snap back instantly. “It looks tough, too - these punctures stop almost instantly and don’t tear. Fluttershy, dear,” she looked up from the table towards her pegasus friend, “could I take these home with me?”

Twilight answered for her. “Rarity, they’re his clothes, and as best we can tell, they’re not a fashion statement - he actually needs them to stay warm.”

Rarity blinked. “Clothing that’s not fashion?” Twilight rolled her eyes, and magically lifted part of the creature’s blanket from across the room.

“No fur, hair, or any kind of natural coat. See?”

“Somepony that wears clothing all the time? Wow...” The pony, amazed, turned back to the garment.

With the sister unicorns busy at the table, the rest of the group congregated around the container resting next to the fireplace.

“Did you have much trouble bringing it in, Fluttershy?” asked Twilight.

The pegasus looked up from her perch above the sofa where she was fluffing pillows for her patient. “Oh no, it was far easier to carry than he was.”

The gleaming silver object stood in stark contrast to the soft wood and pastel tones of Fluttershy’s sitting room. Pinkie entertained herself by making faces in the reflective surface, causing Scootaloo to giggle.

“I’m guessing this belonged to our guest over there... do you know what it is?” asked the cyan pony, peering closely at her own reflection.

“I have no idea,” Twilight replied, “but it’s the strangest thing of all. I can pick it up easily with my hooves, but when I try to do it with magic, it feels like I’m trying to lift Applejack’s market cart when it’s fully loaded.” She demonstrated by shifting around the canister with her hooves, then straining to lift it with her horn.

“Weird,” Scootaloo commented. “Are you sure he’s not an alien? They always have freaky stuff like this.”

“He’s NOT an alien,” Twilight deadpanned, “and I’m not about to go around starting rumors until we know for sure where he-”

“Well, what did Princess Celestia say about him?” Pinkie jumped up in front of Twilight, suddenly not interested in the canister anymore. Seeing the unicorn’s look of shock she asked, “You did tell the princess about the new creature, didn’t you?”

“Um... I’ll be right back.” Twilight was not the most athletic pony, but at that moment, even Rainbow Dash would have been hard pressed to beat her out the door.

“Oh, hi Twilight, where have you been all day - oh, hey, are you alright?” Spike asked as his friend burst into the library, slamming the door behind her and collapsing in the middle of the floor, completely out of breath.

“I’m... fine... Spike...” she responded, hooves splayed every which-way as she lay flat on the floor. The unicorn’s heaving lungs interrupted each word. After she caught her breath enough to speak properly, she unhitched her saddlebags and rolled over, looking up at her assistant. “Spike... take a letter.”

It took the pair nearly two hours to transcribe all of Twilight’s notes and diagrams on Fluttershy’s strange guest. Together with her letter, the roll of parchment was easily the thickest Spike had ever tried to send.

“Think you’re up to it? We could always split it up into different pieces,” Twilight suggested.

“Nah, I got this.” Spike puffed up his chest proudly and rocked his head back and forth, cracking his neck in the process. He drew a deep breath and let loose with a huge plume of fire, easily enveloping the roll. “See? No problem. Now I’m going to see about dinner, all that writing made me hungry!”

As the baby dragon scampered off, Twilight breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, Princess Celestia would overlook the length of time it had taken to notify her of such a major development. Maybe if this became an important diplomatic occasion, the princess herself would come to visit! The young unicorn smiled at the prospect.

She stood, and started to assemble the vast quantities of parchment that had become spread out over the library floor. Just as she levitated the last roll onto the stack, an explosion of light and sound knocked her up and into the far wall of the library, making a Twilight-shaped indentation in the soft wood.

Held in place by a continuing magical force, Twilight opened her eyes to see Princess Luna floating in mid-air in the middle of the library, a maelstrom of books and loose papers swirling around her. The pressure started to dissipate, and the unicorn began to slide down the wall.

TWILIGHT SPARKLE... WHERE IS HE?”

The force of the Royal Canterlot Voice pushed the unicorn right back into the indentation.

In the near future, as she thought back to these events, Twilight Sparkle would come to understand exactly what happened. As she kept improving her teleportation magic, the unicorn noticed that each time she teleported, a gust of wind would always follow her and grow stronger as she jumped to farther and farther distances. Not knowing what to make of the phenomenon, Twilight had dismissed it as a minor side effect of the magic. Seeing the results of this teleportation, though, finally helped everything make sense. Whenever Princess Celestia had jumped long distances, such as during the Smarty-Pants incident a few weeks ago, Twilight noticed that she always teleported to a point high in the air. Finally, the young unicorn understood why... the farther the caster jumped, the more force came with them. Celestia teleported to spots high in the air to keep the blast from hurting other ponies. Apparently, Luna didn’t care, or had simply forgotten about that part of the spell.

At the moment, however, Twilight was pinned to a wall by the princess’ powerful voice, and sorting out the deep mysteries of teleportation was probably the farthest thing from her mind.

“Um... he’s... at Fluttershy’s cottage,” she stammered.

Before she could say another word, Luna disappeared in another bright flash of light, drawing all the books and papers she had previously displaced into a whirling column in the center of the room. Stunned, Twilight could only slide down the wall slowly as Spike burst into the room and watched the column collapse onto the floor.

“Holy c’mole! What happened, Twilight?!”

Before the unicorn could gather her wits to respond, another sharp crack and burst of light snapped outside of the library. Twilight’s heart raced, fearing the dark princess’ return, but her anxiety was washed away as the door opened and the beatific face of her mentor came through. Princess Celestia glanced around the library, a look of surprise on her features.

“Where did she go?” The alicorn’s voice was soothing, but firm.

“Sh-She just appeared in here, and asked where ‘he’ was. I told her that he was at Fluttershy’s and... oh no!” Twilight’s eyes widened as she envisioned what would happen to the poor, shy pegasus if Princess Luna came bursting into her house. She nearly fainted just a few days ago on Nightmare Night when Twilight and the alicorn had come politely knocking at her door.

Celestia nodded. “Come with me then. There’s no time to lose.”

Twilight followed her mentor outside the library, not even pausing to give Spike any sort of direction. Celestia stopped just in front of the library, drawing surprised gasps and stares from the early evening passers-by. Motioning with her wing, she indicated for her student to stand immediately next to her.

As soon as she drew next to the princess, Twilight gasped as the world shifted in a flash. It was far different than the way she teleported - there was no sense of motion, no expansion and contraction of the world around her. Rather, in the blink of an eye, the pair was standing in front of Fluttershy’s cottage.

Twilight could tell instantly that something was wrong: the door was hanging ajar, and a quiet whimpering emanated from inside.

Dashing through the entrance, Twilight called out, “Fluttershy! Fluttershy, are you okay?!”

Somehow, the yellow pegasus had managed to wedge herself under the sofa, judging by the pink tail sticking out of the side. The creature, and the rest of the ponies who had been here when Twilight left, were nowhere to be seen. She couldn’t see her winged friend’s face, but the soft mewling left no doubt as to Fluttershy’s state of mind.

Princess Celestia strode confidently into the room, her horn emitting a soothing light. Twilight found herself feeling calmer and more relaxed as she drew nearer. Levitating the couch across the room, the alicorn focused the spell on Fluttershy and settled down next to the pegasus, extending a long white wing over her.

“Fluttershy, it’s going to be alright... please tell me what happened.”

Tears dried from the pegasus’ eyes as she turned her head to look at the Sun Princess. “I-I had just said goodbye to everypony, and I was checking to make sure that Mr. Alien - that’s the creature - was alright before I made dinner. Th-then the door opened and Nightma... I mean, Princess Luna burst in. She took one look at me, but then turned towards Mr. Alien. There was a bright flash of light, and I hid under the sofa. I-I-I’m sorry, I haven’t been able to move since.”

Celestia hushed her subject with a soft nuzzle. “It’s alright, you didn’t do anything wrong. Would you two kindly come with me for a short while?”

Twilight nodded. “Of course, your highness.” She followed her mentor and friend out the door, again taking up position next to the princess. Fluttershy swallowed nervously as Celestia told them to close their eyes.

It took a little additional concentration for Celestia to carry two additional ponies with her on a long teleport to Canterlot, but she managed to appear gracefully above the balcony to Luna’s tower, high enough to keep the shockwave from doing any sort of damage. Quickly, before either Element opened their eyes and startled from the sudden high altitude, she levitated both ponies down onto the balcony.

The smaller ponies blinked, amazed to be standing so far away. Celestia landed and strode past them, towards the spot where she sensed her sister’s power. She didn’t know what had come over Luna. One moment, the Night Princess was with her as they read Twilight’s latest letter together. The next, she had vanished, far enough away that Celestia could no longer sense her and had to trace the spell to see how far away she had gone.

Trotting into Luna’s bedroom, she blinked at the transformation it had undergone. What looked to be the palace’s entire medical staff swirled around Luna’s bed while Night Guards hefted up heavy metallic equipment from the stairwell that looked out of place amidst the subdued colors and decorations of the circular room. At the center of it all, Princess Luna hovered, directing the teams of ponies with aplomb. Celestia was amazed - over the course of the past year, Luna had barely interacted with the staff, and even then it was only on matters of necessity. Now she directed them with an efficiency even the Sun Princess envied.

Celestia took a step in from the balcony and cleared her throat.

All motion stopped. Bewildered by the sudden change, her sister turned to see what the matter was.

“Princess Luna... a moment?” she asked, keeping her voice neutral.

Her sister blinked with confusion, as if trying to understand why she was being called away. Then, as Celestia felt Twilight and Fluttershy draw up next to her, she saw a look or realization and shame cross Luna’s face. With her head held low, her sister walked out to the balcony.

As soon as Luna, Twilight, and Fluttershy were out of earshot of the castle staff, Celestia turned.

“Sister,” she began sternly, “please explain yourself. What is your reason for scaring these two so badly?

Luna turned to face the two smaller ponies. Perfect starlight showed through her ethereal mane in spite of the late evening sun.

“Miss Sparkle, Miss Fluttershy, please forgive me. I acted rashly and without regard to your well-being.” She paused, looking to her elder sister, then back to Twilight and her friend. “To fully explain my reasons would require a very long story, one I believe I should tell to my sister alone before anypony else. Suffice to say, we all owe a great deal to the being you rescued. Without him, the... incident... last year may have gone quite differently.”

Nopony assembled needed to ask what Luna meant by ‘the incident.’

“I honestly thought that he had died... either killed by my other self or by vicious scavengers in Equestria’s wild lands.” Both Twilight and Fluttershy were shocked at this. “But then I saw your letter, dear Twilight, and it sparked a hope in me that had been long extinguished. I could not delay and risk losing him a second time. Please forgive me.”

The princess humbly bowed her head to the speechless ponies.

“It - It’s nothing, princess,” Twilight stammered.

“We didn’t know, your highness. We just thought he was a strange creature from the Everfree,” added Fluttershy.

Luna smiled softly. “I cannot thank you enough for your kindness. I read your letter again in detail upon returning. Had you not acted as quickly as you did, Fluttershy, he may not have survived the manticore’s venom.”

“It’s what I would have done for any creature, princess.” Fluttershy blushed deeply and looked away from the royal alicorn’s praise.

Ever curious, Twilight couldn’t help but chime in and ask one of the many questions that bothered her. “If you knew him from before, princess, can you tell me what he is, or where he is from?”

Luna looked at Celestia briefly. After seeing her sister nod once, she turned back to the inquisitive unicorn.

“He is a human, and as far as his origin, all I know is that it is not Equestria - the planet, not just the continent,” she added, sensing Twilight’s follow-up question. “I do not know how he arrived here, only that my other self had a hoof in it. She pulled him from a place I still do not fully understand; perhaps she did not understand it either. I am continuously sifting through her memories and I confess there is still much I do not comprehend. One thousand years is a lot to process for one mind.”

She looked back toward her bedchamber, and the human ensconced within. “Again, I apologize, but I wish to return and see how the medical staff’s evaluation is proceeding. If you will excuse-”

Princess Celestia, who had looked away at the mention of Luna’s imprisonment, now turned back sharply and stopped her sibling. “Lu-Princess Luna, at the very least, I think you should return these ponies to their homes and put right the mess you made. Teleporting into a room from miles away creates quite a disturbance.”

Luna’s eyes unfocused, looking into the far distance. She blushed profusely and said, “I completely forgot. I’m very sorry, you two. But...” She looked towards her room, worry etched on her face.

The white alicorn set a gilded hoof on her shoulder. “I will watch over him while you are gone. Go, sister.”

Princess Luna nodded once and, extending her wings over both ponies, whisked them away in a bright flash of light.

Celestia exhaled, trying to process everything she had just heard. How was this... human instrumental in Nightmare’s downfall? Moreover, just how did Nightmare Moon reach beyond the strict barrier of her prison to bring him to their realm?

These were mysteries within mysteries, but the Sun Princess was confident it would all be explained to her in due time. All she could do for now was keep the promise she made to her sister and watch over the strange individual.

She was greeted by the palace’s head physician as she re-entered Luna’s chambers. Serpent Staff was an elderly gray unicorn with bright green eyes and a dark black moustache that contrasted sharply with his salt-and-pepper mane.

“Your highness,” he said, bowing in the short efficient manner of castle staff, “we’ve carried your sister’s instructions out to the letter, though I’m afraid my assistants and I can do very little for the patient. His vitals, as best as we can tell, are strong. There seems to be no trace of manticore venom left in him, though we are waiting on additional tests to confirm that. I’ve handed the notes left to us by her majesty over to the Royal Academy as instructed. Hopefully they’ll remember that their job is not just to study the new specimen, but also to help us treat him. For now, they’ve left a couple specialists in non-pony biology to assist the medical team.

Celestia suppressed a smile. Her sister was anything if not thorough. Looking around the room, she saw that the guards were still carting up medical equipment.

“Dr. Staff,” she asked, “of all this laboratory and testing equipment, how much do you actually need?”

The elderly pony cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Ah, just the pieces actually hooked up around the bed, your majesty.” There was clearly more he was not saying.

The sun princess smiled in earnest now. “Let me guess, my sister told the guards to bring everything up?”

Serpent Staff nodded slowly, not sure how to react in a situation like this, where one royal sister was questioning the actions of another.

“Please tell the Night Guard to return anything you don’t need. I will deal with any issues my sister has on the subject... besides, I don’t think she knows exactly how much we have down in the clinic, and I’m sure she wants to be able to actually use her room tonight.”

The doctor nodded graciously and turned to relay the orders. The princess stopped him short, adding a quick, “Oh, and please tell the Night Guard to seek help from the Day Guard as well - my orders.” The present members of Luna’s guard smiled gratefully as they started hefting the heavy equipment for the return trip downstairs.

That situation dealt with, Celestia moved to the side of her sister’s bed. The ‘human’ looked strange in it; the form all wrong for how a pony would normally sleep. Lying flat on one’s back seemed uncomfortable, but based on what she remembered of Twilight’s notes, the position made sense for this creature.

No, not a creature... a sapient, rational being... one to which she was apparently indebted.

The Princess of the Sun settled on her haunches, keeping vigil as she promised until her sister returned home.

Luna alighted on her balcony just as the sun began to set. Without giving it a second thought, or glance, she raised the moon behind her.

Let it be a little early tonight... I have more important things on which to focus.

The Day Princess wasn’t focused on her orb very much tonight either. It looked as if she hadn’t even left the room to command the sun to set. As Luna entered, Celestia glanced up, a querying look on her face. Depositing the clothing and strangely heavy canister which Fluttershy insisted belonged to ‘Mr. Alien’ by the balcony threshold, the Night Princess joined her sibling.

“How is he?” Luna asked, settling next to her sister.

“As well as our medical staff can make him. Everypony else is carrying out your instructions - very thorough, I might add.”

The Night Princess nodded at the complement. “Thank you.”

“For the record though, ‘everything’ from the clinic wouldn’t fit in this room. My guards are helping yours return what wasn’t needed.” Celestia grinned, playfully elbowing her younger sibling.

Luna blushed. “I’m sorry, I was... overly concerned. I didn’t want to take any chances.”

The white alicorn’s face turned serious, but her voice maintained a gentle lilt. “Are you ready to tell me what this is all about?”

Glancing around the room at the various medical attendants who were studiously trying to not look like they were eavesdropping, Luna replied, “Perhaps it would be best if we retired to my balcony to watch the moon rise.”

Celestia rose. “I think that’s a splendid idea.”

Once outside, the royal siblings circled away from the doors that led to Luna’s bedchamber. The balcony stretched all the way around the circular room, affording the princesses plenty of room to walk without the chance of being overheard by the ponies within.

Luna looked down as she reached within herself, painfully dredging up memories that were at once both her own, and not her own.

She began, “It all started before I returned to consciousness, so some of this story will be unclear, as I am still seeing it through Nightmare’s eyes...”

Celestia was shell-shocked.

“I thought the banishment rune was your doing. I felt your presence and your desire for me to try and distract Nightmare so you could change the spell.”

Luna held her sister’s gaze. “It was... but had Ender not shown me how I could thwart her power, I would have been helpless in her cage. She would have killed you... and forced me to watch.”

“And Twilight?”

“I wrestled with Nightmare the entire way... forcing her to stay insubstantial and keeping her from directly attacking the Elements. Don’t get me wrong, she would have eventually won had Twilight not united her friends and unlocked the Elements of Harmony, but I was able to help in my own small way. None of that would have been possible had Ender not stood fast and helped me fight her, both in the dream and when she first tried to draw me back into our prison.

Celestia sat wordless under her sister’s sparkling sky. Finally, she looked up with moist eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Luna looked away. “At first, I wasn’t sure if I believed it myself. Then, I thought for sure you wouldn’t believe me... after all, my sanity was the last thing on which I wanted to cast doubt.”

Celestia hung her head. “I would have believed you, Luna...”

“I know, or at least I did later, but by then I didn’t want to say it. If I did, it... it would have made it real to me, and then I would have had to accept the fact that he was dead. I hoped for months that he wasn’t.”

“All those months of flying through the night... you were looking for him, weren’t you?”

Luna nodded, and turned to look over the railing of her balcony at the moonlit Equestria beyond. “I was,” she paused, “and then I found the remnants of his craft.”

Her sister put two and two together. “The griffons.”

Luna nodded again.

“Sister, I am so, so sorry. If only I had known, I would have helped. I would have done anything... you know that, right?” The Regent of the Sun approached her sibling’s turned back and wrapped Luna in a gentle embrace.

“I know, Tia. It is my fault, not yours.”

“It’s not a matter of fault, Luna.”

The royal sisters sat for a moment in the night’s still air, comforting each other.

“At least all is well, Luna. Your friend is here, and he is alive. That is more than we could have hoped for, given the circumstances.” Celestia released her sister and stood. “Perhaps it is time we checked on Mr. Wiggin.”

Luna laughed suddenly, causing Celestia to turn and regard her with a puzzled expression.

“Nothing, sister.” The Night Princess smiled. “It’s just strange to hear someone else say his name.”

Shaking her head, Princess Celestia led her younger sister around the edge of the balcony and back through the doors to her bedchambers. The entire medical staff was assembled to greet the regents as they entered.

A lone pony Celestia didn’t recognize approached first, bowing low. “Excuse me, your highness?”

“Yes, Dr. …?

“Third Eye, highness.” The off-white unicorn had a strange cutie-mark, an eye inside of a triangle. “I’m not part of the regular palace clinic; Dr. Staff brought me in specifically for this case.”

“Oh? It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Eye. What is your specialty?”

“Before I answer, ma’am, I have a matter about the others... the entire medical team has done everything they can, and there’s been no change in the patient’s condition. Ah...” he trailed off.

“What’s wrong, doctor?” Celestia inquired.

“They’re waiting to be released, highness. Their orders were to do absolutely everything they could for the patient until he was fully healthy. Seeing as he’s still unconscious...”

“Oh!” Luna blurted out. “Ladies and gentleponies, my most sincere apologies - I did not mean for you to stay indefinitely. Please, go home and rest, you have done more than enough. Thank you, all!”

With a sigh of relief the assembled medical and science teams broke apart and headed for the stairwell. Celestia grinned at her sister.

Well, that’s one way to learn that lesson.

Third Eye continued. “To answer your question, your highness, I am a doctor of the mind. It is a relatively new field, and not many ponies study it or even grant it much of a serious thought. But I have devoted my life to the study of the inner self, to include many of your early works on the theories of dreams, Princess Luna,” he said, his eyes lighting up as he turned to the Night Princess. “I must say that it is a terrific honor to meet you, and to finally learn who it was that wrote all those books I studied through the years of medical school.”

Both princesses blushed, but for different reasons. Celestia cringed at the mention of the necessary censorship of Luna’s identity while she was Nightmare Moon. Luna herself, though, basked in the rare praise.

“But that is not why I am here now. Dr. Staff is very thorough. He and his team could find nothing wrong with the patient’s body. True, he has been through a great deal of trauma recently, but there is no reason why he should still be so deeply unconscious. That is why I was brought in.”

The doctor led them over to Ender’s bedside, indicating with a hoof a set of charts that lay strewn over the near side of Princess Luna’s bed. It was so massive that the large scrolls didn’t even come close to touching the unconscious human’s body.

“I tried probing his mind with magic, but aside from being... well, very different from that of a pony, I found that his body is somewhat resistant to the effects of the ether. Reaching him is like trying to push mud through very dense cheesecloth - a lot of effort produces very little results.”

Lifting up a chart, he pointed to a complicated set of graphs that neither princess understood. “What I can see, however, is that his mind has focused inwards, and I believe that it is locked in some kind of self-defeating cycle. Any attempt to heal is undone by the mind simply fighting itself. I’ve never seen anything like it. With your permission, I’d like to stay and...”

Luna held up a forehoof, silencing the excited unicorn. “Dr. Eye, thank you very much for your diagnosis, and while I appreciate your offer, this patient is my responsibility and what you describe is very much in my area of expertise.” She smiled brightly, rare confidence blossoming throughout and warming her core. “I will take it from here.”

Third Eye looked surprised, but he recovered and simply bowed. “Of course, your highness. I’ll take my charts, then. Please let me know if you need anything else.” Bowing again, he gathered his things and turned towards the door.

Then, pausing halfway to the stairwell, he turned. “Um, Princess Luna... your highness?” he asked nervously.

“Yes, doctor?”

“If it’s not too much trouble, and if you have the time, could you tell me of your findings? It could potentially advance my field by many years, as this is something I’ve never before seen.”

Luna graced the unicorn with another smile. “It would be my pleasure.”

“Thank you, your highness. Good night.”

The princess waited until she saw his tail disappear down the stairs. “Good night indeed.”

Celestia watched the proceedings with both amusement and pride. “It’s nice to see this side of you, Luna. You haven’t interacted this well with the staff since you arrived.”

“I now have both motivation and practice, sister.” The dark alicorn moved past a row of beeping machines to her bedside. “Will you be staying as I work? I don’t believe it will be very interesting... I’ll most likely be standing motionless with my eyes closed the entire time.”

The elder alicorn sensed that the question was more of a request for privacy than anything else. “I’ll leave you to it, Luna. Be safe... I’ll be in my tower if you need anything.” Celestia gently touched her horn to her sister’s before turning and heading out to the balcony. Sighting her tower across the castle, the Regent of the Sun leapt out into the moonlight and flew towards her own chambers.

After all this time, those long months of wondering, and even longer months of grieving, he was finally here. Luna barely recognized him, so different was he from the small figure she remembered in the dream, but she was grateful all the same. As an alicorn, even a young one, she had seen countless friends and acquaintances pass from this life into the next. This was the first time one had been returned to her, and she was going to make sure she didn’t squander the opportunity. At a minimum, Luna promised herself, she was going to heal him. It was the very least she could do, given what he had done for her.

Reaching out with her mind, Luna touched his, pushing through the veil of the ether. Third Eye was right: something about Ender was resistant to magic. Though she had to work a little harder, Luna was far more powerful than the unicorn doctor and eventually was able to push through. Even so, by the time she arrived, she could not maintain her form mentally. Looking down with her mind’s eye, all the princess could see of herself was a formless blue vapor.

Oh well, at least she was inside.

It was exactly as the doctor had said... Ender’s mind had locked down upon itself. To her senses, it appeared as if an immense vortex of memories - some real, some not - surged around the human’s psyche. His mind was supplying itself with an endless crash of nightmares, keeping it suppressed and allowing Ender no room to surface to consciousness. No wonder he was still asleep.

Though she had no idea why his mind was doing this, Luna didn’t care - stopping it should be a simple matter. She reached out with her consciousness and thrust directly into the vortex, trying to stop it.

The alicorn shuddered as she was violently thrown out of the human’s mind.

Alright, perhaps the doctor was right in his assessment. His mind is slightly more resistant to magic and the influences of the ether than I suspected.

Luna, however, would not be deterred. This problem would just require slightly more... direct... intervention.

Opening her eyes, the Night Princess moved forward and climbed onto her bed. Setting down into a comfortable position perpendicular to the human, she set her head near his own. She smiled, and with a satisfying ‘clunk,’ laid her horn directly across Ender’s forehead. Channeling her power directly through the bony spiral and into the human himself, Luna easily breached the barrier of his mind. Now her psyche stood in the landscape of his mind, fully materialized down to her resplendent mane and tail.

She looked up, focusing her power as she addressed the vortex.

“I am Luna, Princess of the Night and Goddess of Dreams. I will not be denied.”

A brilliant beam of light poured forth from her horn, both in Ender’s mind and in the real world. It enveloped him and caused the vortex to evaporate. In the absence of the tumult, Luna focused all her might on her simplest dream of rest and recuperation. As she saw a green sphere form around the small white light of Ender’s consciousness, she hoped he liked endless fields of grass and bright sunlight.

Satisfied with her work, Luna withdrew into her own mind. Before drifting off to sleep herself, she made sure her horn and its stream of power kept in contact with the human to ensure the vortex didn’t return. Tonight, she was taking no chances.

Overhead, the moon slid across the sky in its orbit, casting a peaceful pale light across Equestria.