• Published 27th Mar 2024
  • 420 Views, 39 Comments

Parks and Wilderness - stphven



A routine monster hunt goes wrong, stranding a lone guardsmare in the desert.

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Chapter 31 - Resolution

"Uhhh..."

I am Glacier. Regular, boring guardsmare, from nowhere special.

So I don't exactly know how to respond when an immortal alicorn princess / manifestation of the very concept of magic offers to answer my every question.

While I stand here gaping like an idiot, said manifestation just smiles patiently.

"Don't worry, my little pony," Twilight says with a hint of laughter. "This isn't a test or anything."

She leans in conspiratorially.

"Between you and me, I can't stand leaving unresolved loose ends at the end of an adventure. It's like finishing a good book but the author never explained that one detail that's been nagging at me, you know? So unsatisfying! Plus, I want to make sure you're fully informed about everything before we move on to my question. So if there's anything you're still unclear on or curious about, please, ask away!"

"A-alright. Thanks, Twilight"

I relax a little. Feel the calming cold seeping into my coat. Okay, so I'm not expected to ask about, like, the big, philosophical questions. Life, the universe, and everything. Twilight's just genuinely offering to satisfy my own curiosity. She really is Best Princess.

I take a moment, trying decide where to start. I had so many questions throughout the last few days! But now that I'm being put on the spot they're frustratingly hard to remember.

My eyes wander as I get my thoughts in order. Across the mountainous skyline. Many of the peaks are familiar. We can't be more than a day's climb from my village. To think, a pony can just be plucked from the desert and transported to the far side of Equestria, just like that! Alicorns sure are something else.

That line of thought finally leads me to my first question:


The Sand Witch and the Dust Devils

"...When I was a young filly," Twilight begins, eyes closed. "My grandmother kept a beautiful flower garden. And all sorts of colourful butterflies would come to visit. The two of us would spend hours watching them flitter all through the yard. But sometimes a butterfly would accidentally make its way inside her house. When this happened, my grandmother would gently but firmly shoo it towards an open door or window. Or scoop it up in a jar and release it outside. Not because she didn't like them. But because she wanted to protect them. There were cats living in her house, you see."

Her eyes open again, settling gently on me. I give a slow nod.

"So... the Sand Witch has been using the Dust Devils to scoop ponies up and take them to safety? Away from the sand wyrm?"

"Among other things, yes. I believe so. I admit, I'm speculating here. But I did manage to do a bit of late night research yesterday. I suspect the "Sand Witch" chased away Hoofrest's miners all those years ago because they'd accidentally opened a passage to the Badlands. Dangerous creatures started to take an interest, and she believed it wasn't safe for ponies to be there any more."

"I see." A pause. "But then, why did She bring me into the Badlands?"

"She wanted to help Anon, too," Twilight says with a smile. "From your report, I gather she already tried using her Dust Devils on him, hoping to send him to safety. Unfortunately his "magic resistance" rendered him immune. She next tried leading him to Equestria herself, lighting a path through the mine to guide him. But then the sand wyrm happened to find him, and Anon fled back to the Badlands. Given the state of his injuries, it's surprising he managed to survive on his own; she might have been helping him during that time, too, guiding him to food or water. Finally, she decided to bring in some help. Somepony who knows all about monsters and surviving in the wild."

She looks at me proudly as she says that last part. I blush.

"H-huh. Well, that... explains a few things." I think back over the last few days. Little coincidences which had been bothering me start to fall into place. Though I am feeling a bit frustrated at how... indirect this all was. "Um. Couldn't She have just... told us about all this? Face to face?"

Twilight giggles into her hoof. It's weird seeing an almighty alicorn look so cute.

"I think she might be a bit shy," muses Twilight. "Or perhaps she prefers to help others indirectly? Arranging for them to be in the right place at the right time. I had a teacher like that."

"Okay. So... do you know who She really is? Is She actually an alicorn? And if so, why isn't she a princess, too?"

I stare awkwardly at the Twilight, wondering if it's rude to ask an alicorn about alicorns. She just smiles again, enigmatically, and shakes her head.

"I know the answers to some of those questions. And I think I can guess others. But it’s not my place to divulge her secrets. Friends respect each other’s privacy. And this isn’t the first time she’s shown friendship to Equestria. Suffice to say, she's a powerful mare who, for her own reasons, has chosen to live apart from society.”

I nod, accepting the end to that line of questioning.

A little more quietly, Twilight adds:

"I... hope that one day she reconsiders. It sounds lonely, living out there."

A chill gust of wind wails down from the snowy peaks, matching the melancholy in the Princess's voice. It takes a few seconds for the noise to die down, giving me time to think of my next question.


Humans and The List

"You know, I only heard about this "List" of yours for the first time yesterday."

"Wait, really?"

"Yep," Twilight looks a little bashful. "Lieutenant Cookie had to explain it all to me. I found it quite fascinating."

Huh. The possibility had never occurred to me. I scratch my head, thinking through the implications.

"So, er, I guess those rumours about the Princesses adding creatures to The List were wrong after all?"

"Well, perhaps not. Celestia, Luna, and I have asked the Guard to keep an eye out for certain creatures of interest from time to time. Not necessarily because they're dangerous, mind you. Given that some of Celestia's requests were made centuries ago, it's entirely possible that the context has simply been forgotten."

"You mean The List is... just a big misunderstanding?" I ask incredulously.

Twilight shrugs.

"Could be. Or at least parts of it. Don't feel too bad; it happens more often than you'd think. A thousand years of bureaucracy, and all that. If I ever get a free afternoon, perhaps I'll see about updating it. I did note several misconceptions about some of the creatures in the list."

"Like humans?" I ask, half jokingly.

A slight frown clouds Twilight's face.

"Yeah. It's a shame there's so much misinformation still circulating. I can't really blame the Guard for it; Celestia was a wise ruler, and wonderful pony, but she did tend to keep information close to her chest. A habit she’d formed during Equestria's less… harmonious periods. As for humans, well..."

Twilight snorts, producing a visible puff of condensation. A wry grin sneaks onto her lips.

"I can certainly see why she'd want any humans in Equestria be rounded up. It's not that they're directly dangerous, but they tend to lead to... complications."


Complications

"You've dealt with humans before, haven't you?"

It's not really a question.

"What makes you say that?" Twilight responds. Her expression remains perfectly pleasant and perfectly neutral. Giving absolutely nothing away.

I take a moment to put my thoughts into words. Digging idly into the snow with a boot. Eventually I settle on:

"The way you talk about them, I guess. You sound like you've experienced these "complications" first-hoof."

Twilight simply nods.

"A reasonable enough deduction. Yes, I've worked with humans before."

"What's their deal?" I blurt out. Not the most elegantly phrased question, though perhaps the most important so far. "Where do they come from? And how did Anon wind up in the Badlands?"

"Like I said, it's complicated," Twilight frowns. She begins pacing back and forth along the snowy ledge. Like a professor in a lecture hall. "Without getting too technical, or giving away too many state secrets: Humans come from a place far from Equestria. There's no easy way for them to get here, so magic is typically involved when they do. Normally, we'd welcome open contact with an intelligent species like them. But in this case, there are... some reasons we can't, and some reasons we shouldn't. The details aren't particularly relevant. I hope that one day we'll be able to sort things out, but for now it's in everycreature's best interest that we keep going our separate ways."

Twilight pauses. Looks around, perhaps noticing the lack of lectern. She frowns, then flashes her horn. A sun-emblazoned thermos appears, wrapped in her magic. Twilight takes a quick sip. Pauses again. Looks at me awkwardly.

"Er, sorry. I forgot teacups. Would you, erm, like a drink?"

She offers me the bottle. A pleasant aroma wafts out, tempting me. B-b-but drinking directly from the same thermos as the Princess!? That's waaay too familiar! I stutter out a polite "no". Twilight quickly resumes her lecture, as we both pretend we're not mutually embarrassed.

"Ahem. Where was I? Right, so, we almost never have humans in Equestria. When a human does turn up, it's usually by accident. We do our best to help them get home. But that's where things can get tricky."

She waves her thermos for emphasis.

"Humans have a... very different relationship with magic than we ponies do. "Unpredictable", some call it. The kind of unpredictable that can pluck a random human from his home, and deposit him at an arbitrary point in the Badlands, for example."

"Wait, that can happen?!"

I mean, I'd heard stories of magic gone wild and conjuring creatures from distant realms. Everypony has. But who really believes that stuff?

"In exception circumstances," Twilight nods. "Once again, I'm skipping a lot of detail, and making a few assumptions. We won't know for sure what happened until we can communicate more fluently with Anon. But yes, a lot of the time this sort of stuff is just the result of pseudo-random magical happenstance."

"Huh," I blink. "You know... no offence Twilight, but I'm glad I never got into advanced magical studies. This all sounds like a massive headache."

"Oh trust me, I know," the Princess grimaces. "You would not believe how much of my job is just dealing with random magical nonsense!"

She kicks the snow in exasperation.

"There's always some dabbling magician or reckless archaeologist ready to carelessly release apocalyptic quantities of magic. All that power's got to go somewhere. And sadly, historic Equestria had a habit of banishing its problems to other realms. We've metaphorically left the door open. So when we find a human in Equestria, it's good odds that it was errant Equestrian magic that summoned them. Another reason for us to help them."

Twilight stops her pacing, turning to face me fully.

"This is brings me more or less to the topic I wanted to discuss with you. Depending on the nature of Anon's arrival, getting him home could be challenging."


Anon

I shift my weight. My hooves are getting chilly from standing in one place. Don't get me wrong, I love it up here. Everything's so crisp and beautiful. But normally I'm properly shod and dressed when mountaineering.

Twilight doesn't seem to mind the cold, despite wearing even less than me. Whether due to her alpine background, her earth pony magic, or some sort of personal heating spell, the Princess looks physically at ease. Her expression, however, is clouded.

"I'm still hopeful that we can return Anon to his home relatively quickly," she begins. "I've got a few options to try right away. But again, until we know more, I can't make any guarantees. It's possible that Anon will be with us for quite some time."

I nod. A tiny part of me is happy to hear Anon might not be leaving just yet, but I shush that part. Anon deserves better.

"To keep him busy in the interim," Twilight resumes pacing, "I'm thinking of giving him a job. Better than leaving him to fret idly while he waits. He can make friends, and learn more about Equestria. Given that he'll be sharing languages and culture, he'll essentially be acting as a de facto ambassador anyway. So I might as well just give him the official title."

"That's... very generous and thoughtful of you, Your Highness. I mean, Twilight." I rub the back of my neck awkwardly. "I, er. I admit I hadn't really thought that far ahead. But I think it's a good idea, if Anon's happy with it."

Twilight nods.

"I'm glad to hear it. We can discuss it with him later. But, assuming he agrees, as a visiting diplomat on Equestrian soil he'll be entitled to several benefits. Quarters in the palace, a modest stipend, and a military escort."

I hadn't thought of that either, but it's a good point. A convenient excuse for Her Highness to give Anon room and board. It'll publicly mark him as officially recognised, and under the Crown's protection. The last one, though...

"A military escort? If I may, that seems... a bit excessive?"

That gets an amused look from the Princess.

"Oh? You don't think he'd like having a guard around? Maybe a very specific guard, whom he already likes?"

Wait. Is she-

"Anon will need somepony to look after him," Twilight continues. "To guide him as he learns about Equestria. To keep the peace between him and those with misconceptions about humans. To be his friend, should the worst come to worst and he cannot return home."

The alicorn's eyes fix me in place.

"So, Sergeant Glacier. Here is my question for you:"


Glacier

"We're back!" Fruit Punch chimes, holding the door open for Anon.

"Hey guys," I say, glancing up from my paperwork. The secretary desk in the foyer isn't all that comfortable, but we don't have a lot of other furniture yet.

"Hi, Glace," Anon waves as he enters. Noticing I don't have my helmet on, he goes straight for the kill, reaching over and ruffling my mane. I roll my eyes and smile. Our usual greeting.

"Welcome back," I say around Anon's torso. "How'd language class go? Learn anything interesting?"

I'd elected to stay behind this time. There's still so much work to be done setting up Anon's new quarters. The palace doesn't exactly have an excess of human-sized furnishings, and we can't just keep mooching off the minotaur embassy. I'm currently neck deep in requisition forms.

"It was great!" Punch chirps, helping Anon with his coat. "I learned five new human swear words!"

"Admirable. Though I was mainly asking Anon."

She sticks out her tongue, like the true professional she is. Really, just a terrible influence on our VIP. I don't know how I managed to convince the Princess to let me bring her along.

I stand up from my desk, and accompany Anon to his main office / living space. Clean white walls, thick carpets, large windows. All beautifully trimmed and decorated in the classic Canterlot style. There's lovely matching furniture, too, but again it's the wrong size. We've pushed it all to one side of the room for now; I'm still trying to get somepony over to take it away. All we have left are a few mismatched chairs, a coffee table, and the largest sofa we could find.

Anon takes a seat on the sofa, while I settle down opposite him. Speaking a little more carefully, I repeat:

"So Anon, did you learn anything new today?"

He nods, looking pleased with himself.

"Weird magic," he rumbles in his thick accent. "Twilight says many things weird magic. Too weird I don't know."

His Equestrian really is getting better. Most of the time I can guess what he means right away. Not sure what's this about "weird magic", though.

"Oh? Princess Twilight was there again?"

"Yeah," Fruit chips in as she brings over a tray of drinking glasses. "I think we understood maybe five percent of what she was saying? She kinda took over the lesson. I think she was trying to teach us magical basics, but, uh, I may be a lost cause."

"Lost cause both of us," Anon groans, pouring out three glasses of water.

"Oh, magic's not that hard," I lie, floating over a glass to demonstrate. "You'll be fine. Though on that note, you should probably go get changed. You've got your physical therapy with the new doctor soon, remember? Said he'd be trying that scar-reversing spell?"

Anon grumbles, an amusing mix of human and Equestrian, but gets up and heads towards his room. He's got an adjoining suite with a bed that's too small (I'm working on it) and a dresser full of new clothes. These were supplied by a friend of Princess Twilight's. She was suspiciously knowledgeable of human fashions. Even had a few existing human outfits hidden away at the back of her boutique. They ended up being too small and girly for Anon, but we eventually settled on a suitable wardrobe.

"Hey, Glace?"

Fruit Punch is still waiting by the table, idly playing with her glass. The purple pegasus has her Thinking Face on, which is rare. Wait, no; that sounds mean. I just meant, she's usually more of a go-with-the-flow, don't-worry-about-things-too-much type of pony. It's part of what makes her such a good partner for me.

"What's up?" I smile encouragingly.

"So, weird question," she sets her glass down and looks up at me. "Why does the Princess spend so much time and effort helping Anon?"

I raise an eyebrow. She waves me off before I can respond.

"D-don't get me wrong, it's great, and obviously She's a wonderful pony! But, like? There are other diplomats in the castle, with their own challenges. Some of them speak even worse Equestrian than Anon! So, is there something special about him? Or about humans, maybe?"

I sip from my drink, taking a moment to consider. It's nice that we're halfway up a mountain now; I don't need to crunch ice cubes constantly to stay cool.

During that first meeting with Princess Twilight, when she offered me the job of Anon's personal guard, she told me a lot of things in confidence. Perhaps not all of them were strictly state secrets. But if she hasn't spoken of them to Fruit Punch yet, I'm not sure it's my place to reveal them. Friends respect each other's privacy.

Still, Fruit deserves some answers. She's been with Anon almost as long as I have. And agreed to take on this assignment even though it's such a wild departure from her previous postings. (We'd both had reservations about leaving our old positions, but Twilight assured us neither choice would have to be permanent. We can change our minds if this new job doesn't work out, or even rotate between this and our regular assignments. She even jokingly suggested Anon might eventually join me in the PWG. Now there's a thought.)

All this to say, I ought to tell Fruit something. Just gotta do it without technically spilling any secrets.

"I think," I begin carefully. "That Twilight's planning for the future. The long term future. The kind an immortal ruler has to consider."

I glance towards Anon's room, making sure he's still out of earshot. Fruit leans forward, ears perked, eyes wide. She has a thing for gossip about Twilight Sparkle.

"I should say, all this is guesswork on my part. Twilight has never told me any of this directly. Still, now that I've spoken with a few times, I feel like I'm starting to see the bigger picture. Yes, she's friends with Anon, and wants to help him. But him being here, and us being friends with him - there's something more important than the three of us.

"You were right, this is about the humans. You've probably heard by now - or at least guessed - that they've been here before. Long ago. And if it can happen once, then it will probably keep happening. Given enough time, Twilight figures it's inevitable humans will work out how to travel to Equestria freely. Or vice-versa. So she'd really like to find out if we can co-exist before that happens.

"That's why she's investing so much in us. She's the Princess of Friendship, and we are her friends - but she's also responsible for the future of Equestria. The three of us, we're a research project. To find out if humans and ponies can live in harmony."

"Woah," Fruit gulps. "That seems like... suddenly a lot of pressure? You really think that's the case?"

She takes a sip of water, perhaps wishing it was something harder.

"Well, that's my theory, anyway," I shrug. "Or it could just be that Twilight ships Anon and me really hard."

The timing is perfect. Fruit snorts violently, spraying water everywhere.

While she's still flailing and coughing and squawking indignantly, Anon emerges from his chambers. Now clad in his more sporty attire he prefers to use during physical therapy.

I set my helmet on my head and smile up at him.

"Shall we go?"

Personally? I'm not worried about Twilight's big experiment. I already know what the result will be. I've known ever since that first night, when the big scary human bandaged and fed a little lost guardsmare.

Anon smiles down at me.

"Together."

Comments ( 7 )

I'm gonna miss this story. It was a beautiful ride! I will wait patiently for more of your works in the future! (Hopefully another AiE of sorts).
Thank you for taking the time to make this.
:)

Munck #2 · May 12th · · ·

Aww... It is always sad to see a good story end, but at least it did so on a good note.
I just hope it isn't the last we see of Glacier, Fruit and Anon, even if just the occasional oneshot when the writers muse takes you hold.
Thanks again for this super nice read.

If there is ever a sequel, I'm down. There really should be as these three are really just becoming friends. Having Anon fully fluent in Equish and trying to integrate into Equestria with the help of his military escort and friends has so much potential.

I've loved every moment of this and have read the greentext and ur Rewrite. 10/10 great fic.

Sooo...has anyone figured out the identity of the Sand Witch? Celestia, or maybe Luna?

11901975
I'm not sure but from the timeline and what ponies you can pick from I doubt it's any current alicorn we know of. Prob another story there since she doesn't match up with anything canon wise. Prob just a oc.

Pluie #7 · 1 week ago · · ·

Great story! I remember seeing the first few posts in /rgm/ way back when, but I lost track of it after that. Delighted to have stumbled across it here, and completed too! Thanks for taking the time to write this.

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