• Published 12th Jan 2012
  • 2,767 Views, 35 Comments

Silent Knight - Brony 2-Ma-Ro



Interdimensional Travelers, Equicidal Robots, Whistling. Your typical Wednsday in Ponyville

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Chapter 2: Chirp

Chapter 2: Chirp

by: Brony 2-Ma-Ro

The library was completely silent, save for the crunch of the apple.

Twilight Sparkle stood, dumbstruck, staring at the... thing behind the books.

Her immediate thought was of her brother...

“SPIKE! SPIKE, WHERE ARE YOU?”

The creature, who up until this moment hadn’t seemed to notice her, gave out a startled, shrill whistling noise, toppling backwards into the pile of books. The resulting avalanche completely hid it from view.

Behind Twilight, the door to the kitchen swung open. She spun around, ready for anything, and there, walking through the doorway...

...was Spike. Apple in one hand, book under his arm, and a tray of sandwiches held precariously between both.

“Jeez, Twilight, I’m right here! You didn’t have to shout like that.” He stopped, looking around in confusion. “Huh, I wonder where he got to?”

There was a muffled whistle from beneath the books. Spike laughed. “Chirp, is that you? What are you doing under there?”

The lavender librarian was frozen in place. Pupils reduced to pinpricks, one of her eyes twitched. The moment Spike put down the tray, she snapped to her senses. Dashing forward, she grabbed spike by the scruff of his neck.

“What... WHOAH! TWILIGHT, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

“I’m getting you out of here. I don’t know what that thing is, but...”

Something clicked in her head. Up to that point, her internal clockwork had been somewhat joggled by the shock of... well, whatever it was. She skidded to a stop, just inches from the door, and set the dragon on the ground.

“Spike... Did you just call that thing... Chirp?”

There was a shifting of books, and a disheveled head worked its way out of the pile. Instinctively, she moved between it and Spike, shielding him with her body. Spike however had other ideas. Rolling his eyes, he slipped around Twilight’s guard, making his way back to the tray of food.

“Yes, I did. It happens to be his name.” He gestured to each of them respectively. “Twilight, Chirp. Chirp, this is my sister, Twilight Sparkle.”

The thing worked its way out of the pile. Standing up to its full height, Twilight was startled to realize it was at least a full head taller than her; coming up, at a guess, to about two heads shorter than Princess Celestia. The thing gave Spike an odd look, whistling quizzically. Spike gave a snort, then doubled over from laughter.

“Hehehe! No, she’s not my actual sister. She hatched my egg for an exam, so she’s sort of my adoptive mother too.” Another whistle. Spike laughed even harder.

“HA! No, I'm pretty sure she did not have to sit on it!”

Amongst all this commotion, her inner voice was screaming at her to run, that it was dangerous. But somewhere deep inside Twilight, past the fear and shock, her analytical mind went into overdrive.

Definitely male. Bipedal. Skeletal and facial structure immediately suggested simian heritage. He was clothed in some sort of black, lackluster material, with some sort of high-collared jacket of the same color, with a simple trim of dark blue. Looking at his hands, she was startled to see that each of the upper... "Legs?"... ended in a claw like structure similar to Spike's. Four slimmer "fingers," and a single, stubbier "thumb." They were gloved with some sort of material that she didn’t recognize. His legs might possibly have ended in hooves, but they were too elongated; again, somewhat like Spike’s. He wore boots, made of the same material as his gloves, if somewhat stiffer.

The face was most striking.

Again, most certainly simian. The skin was barren of almost any fur, save for a little under the chin. The top of the head, however, was covered in a jet black mop of mane, which, while might have been groomed at some point, was messy after having been covered in books. The nose, a small, triangular ordeal, was long and thin, with the mouth situated directly beneath it.

The eyes were what struck her the most. The irises were a deep, brilliant blue, and almost seemed to shift and shimmer, depending where the light was facing. Not nearly as expressive as those of her friends', given their comparatively diminutive size, but still noticeable against an otherwise plain backdrop.

She shuddered as it glanced at her. Cold, sharp fear clutched at the pit of her stomach, yet something in her chest kept persuading her to relax. It took her a moment to realize she was shivering.

Looking at Spike, the thing... er, "Chirp"... gave a series of short, concise whistling noises, accompanied by a few gestures with his... claws?

After watching it gesticulate for a moment, Spike gave Twilight a reproachful look, handing the creature a sandwich.

“He says you scared him.”

Twilight choked. “I scared him? What the hay is he doing in the library and... Wait. How do you know what he said?”

The creature took a large bite out of the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then started digging through the pile of books.

Spike gave Twilight a smug look, patting his stomach. “I happen to be completely fluent in ‘Hungry.’”

Twilight couldn’t find an answer for that one. “Does it… er, can he talk?”

Spike clambered up on the center table, minding the horse head statue at the center. He shook his head. “Not that I’ve heard.” He looked at Chirp, who shook his head, touching his throat; a clear indication that he couldn’t speak.

Sitting down, Spike took out the book he’d been carrying under his arm, taking a large bite out of his apple.

“His name is Chirp. He’s new in town. He likes walks on the beach, reading, and sketching, and his astrological sign is Aries.”

Chirp gave him a questioning look. Spike shrugged. “Hey, if you want ladies, you gotta have a sensitive side.”

Looking at Twilight, Chirp rolled his eyes, sticking a thumb at Spike. Twilight didn’t know whether to laugh or not. It took her a moment to reconfigure her thoughts into an orderly fashion.

“But... what is he?”

Spike spoke around his turquoise sandwich. “Dunno. Hey, Chirp. What are you anyway?”

It took all of Twilight’s self-control not to scream “ARE YOU CRAZY? ISN’T THAT THE FIRST THING YOU SHOULD HAVE THOUGHT? HOW COULD YOU NOT THINK TO ASK THAT?” at the top of her lungs.

Chirp, meanwhile, whistled a few quick notes, before returning to his studying. Spike spoke to Twilight.

“He said something like... Due-Nam.” Chirp gave a negative whistle.

“Noo-Ram?” Whistle.

“Hoo-Lam?” Another whistle.

“Human?”

This time, it was Twilight who spoke up. Chirp, giving her a surprised look, whistled an affirmative note. This turned into a shriller whistle of shock as he toppled backwards for the second time, as Twilight’s horn glowed, sending several of the books he’d been perched on past her head faster than any normal pony should have been able to read them. Chirp staggered upright, giving Spike a questioning look.

The young dragon just shrugged. “She does that sometimes. You learn to get used to it.”

Twilight had finally found what she'd been looking for. The word “Human” had triggered something in her memory when she’d been looking through her resource books.

Ah, here it was: The Illustrated Guide to Equestrian Cryptozoology.

She hadn’t thought anything of it since... She looked up at Chirp, who was simply standing there, and giving her an odd look.

Nevermind.

She set the book on the reading table, flipping through the pages quickly enough to generate a light breeze....C, D, E, F, G...H! She finally found the page which opened the chapter.

The illustration was... ah, interesting.

It appeared to be a grown, male human with eight limbs; Four arms, four legs. He was set in a circle, offset by an upright rectangle. The arms were outstretched, with one pair of legs set together, the other spread.

There was some sort of structure between the legs... Oh.

She blushed furiously.

Beneath the drawing was a strange scrawl of writing. She didn’t recognize the language, but beneath it was another set of text, which she recognized as the translation.

“The Vetruvian Man.”

"Man?" Could that be a contraction for "human?"

The description explained that the drawing had been found amongst a collection of strange artwork, during an archaeological dig in the mountains. Though the author of the work remained a mystery, it stated that he or she was likely to have been an authority on human mythology.

She read on through the chapter. Though the eight-limbed figure had confused her, it soon became clear that this had merely been an artistic illustration of movement.

According to the book, Humans only had four limbs, were of the simian genus, and operated as bipeds.

She looked up. The creature certainly fit the description. She skimmed through the illustrations, reaching the author’s note at the end of the chapter.

“... In conclusion, it is most likely that these mythological beings are just this; a myth. However, there is a great deal of debate upon this standing, and many arguments stand against this theory, more than one having yet to be completely dis-proven.

One legend states that humans once roamed the land, possibly colonizing the entire planet. Another mentions a cataclysm of sorts, erasing humans from the earth, and removing any evidence of their existence.

Yet another states that they ‘left’ this world to find another. The exact means are, of course, obscured. Overall, the evidence of humans is limited at best, and their existence is most likely fictitious.

For more information on Human Theory, please consult ‘Starswirl’s Pre-Classical Catalogue of Mischief and Mayhem.’...”

She set the book back down on the table.

So... as far as the book was concerned, humans were little more than a myth.

According to it, they didn't exist.

As far as here five senses were concerned, they did.

Looking back at Chirp, she wondered how he could have survived for so long, or if...

She started when she realized she had been referring to him as “Chirp.”

Should she really trust him? If he was human...

Well, given her studies, she’d heard plenty of old mare’s tales.

“Humans were monsters. They destroyed what they touched, took what they wanted, and defiled what they wished. Their only weakness was themselves. They destroyed each other, just as quickly as anything they viewed as different.

They destroyed themselves. This, and only this, is the reason they are not here today.”

Simple stories, meant to scare young foals. But this was ancient folklore, spoken as word of mouth long before Luna had been banished. Now, a thousand years later, they were little more than a whispered legend.

Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply. A human. A real, live human. In her library. conversing with her little brother. Every instinct told Twilight that this was wrong.

Humans do not exist! Even if they do, then who knows what destruction they might wreak. This thing is dangerous. Get rid of it. Now!

Then another though occurred. A small, insignificant thought. But the more she contemplated, the more certain she became.

Perhaps... maybe.

If I am to get any answers, I will have to play along with this. As dangerous as a game this may be... I’ll just have to risk it.

Twilight suddenly felt a clinging weight on her left hind leg. Looking down, she saw Spike clutching her hoof, his eyes wide an pleading, the pupils expanded to impossible proportions. “Pleeeease, Twilight? Can we keep him? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?

She rolled her eyes. Feeling something similar on her right hind leg, she turned her head, and yelped when she saw Chirp mirroring Spike, eyes pleading, a strange, cute pout on his face.

How is it possible for something bigger than me to even try to look as adorable as Spike?

She shuddered. “Fine. Now get off, both of you!”

Spike leaped up in the air with a triumphant cheer. Chirp, mute as ever, though smiling, reached down to give the dragon a bro-hoof. Or was it a bro-claw, since neither of them actually had hooves?

The moment they had let go, however, Twilight whirled around, her horn glowing. Chirp was immediately surrounded by a lavender aura of magic, pinning his limbs to his side.

“Twilight! What the hay?” Spike shouted.

“I said he can stay, Spike. But only for tonight! Tomorrow, I’m getting help with this!”

Before Spike could protest anything, Twilight elevated herself so that she was eye level with the immobile Chirp.“Now listen, Chirp, if that is your name. Spike likes you, and though I don't always respect his judgement, I do respect his instinct. However, you entered this library without my permission, and until I know otherwise, and know exactly what you are, I will treat you as a potential threat to him, my friends, and me.”

She drew herself so that they were nose-to-nose. Her voice had become menacingly calm.

“Am I perfectly clear?”

Chirp's eyes flitted back and forth. Impatiently, she released the magic holding his head. He immediately nodded furiously in agreement.

“Good. Now, I’m going to cast a simple spell on you. It will keep you from leaving the library without my willing consent. I don’t like having to do this, but the alternative involves a ball and chain. And not everypony here will be very open to having something dangerous wandering around.”

She gave him a very firm stare. “And if you’re even thinking of trying something to get my permission to leave, I should tell you right now that holding Spike hostage won’t work. And if you even think of trying... Well, I have a library full of spellbooks. I’m certain one or two will be of interest.”

Chirp hadn’t stopped nodding throughout, but at these words, his head had become a blur of affirmation. He finally had to stop, eyes rolling dizzily in their sockets.

Content with his answer, Twilight cast the Area of Restraint spell; an inverted, invisible forcefield, designated for a specific individual. However, she covertly added a fail-safe. If, for whatever reason, Chirp managed to escape the library, or if she or anypony else within range uttered a single key phrase three times in sequence, the air around him would instantly become hot enough to boil an egg.

Probably not enough to kill him, she guessed, but enough to temporarily disable him.

She set him down. As she lowered herself as well, she was instantly overcome with fatigue. She staggered, almost falling. She felt something warm move itself to support her. Distantly, she realized it was Chirp.

Too tired to argue, all she could manage was: “Spike, it’s time for bed. For all of us. Chirp, I’m afraid the guest bed is a bit small, but feel free to make do with whatever you can. Just keep clear of the windows.”

Then, after a long moment of thought, she gave a rueful smile.“And if it isn’t too late: Welcome to Ponyville.”

Staggering up the stairs, she looked up at Chirp. He wasn’t smiling, but he wasn’t hostile either. As they reached her and Spike’s room, he stopped, waiting at the door.

Spike came hobbling in not far behind, rubbing his eyes. “Goodnight Chirp. If you need anything, just give a whistle.” He snickered at his own joke.

Twilight, already in bed, was keeping a wary eye on Chirp. back-lit as he was by the light of the hall, she could only make out the human's silhouette He seemed respectful enough not to actually enter their room without her permission, and he even gave a silent chuckle at Spike’s joke. He looked at the librarian, his unseen gaze sending shivers down her spine. After a moment, he turned, making his way back down the stairs.

Even as Twilight stupidly remembered that she’d forgotten to lock up for the night, she heard the faint puff of air, as the candles were blown out, one by one, and the clatter of eating ware, as he moved the eating tray back into the kitchen. More shuffling down stairs, a *click* as the door was locked, and then, silence.

Twilight rolled over in bed. Somehow, she could just barely convince herself that she and Spike were the only ones in the library. As scary as he might seem, Chirp… Well, what else could she call him?

Chirp seemed to exude an aura of comfort, and peace. She felt that, if called for, she could get mad at him, but she didn’t think she could stay that way for long.

Drifting off to dreamland, she hoped that this feeling wasn’t a method some predator might use to put his prey at ease…

---

He woke with a start. Darkness. Silence. It took a moment for him to remember. He was in a land of ponies, inside a tree, sleeping on a pile of books. Good. Nothing out of the ordinary.

There it was again.

A faint, moaning whir...

He resisted the urge to find cover. Too late for that now. All there was to do was remain still.

He lay there, silent. A harsh, white light filled one of the windows. Then the next one.

Moving. Scanning. Searching. Looking.

He didn’t move. Through one of the windows, he saw the drone’s three, red eyes slip past as it shifted position. All you could see was its eyes. The rest was hidden from sight by its shroud.

The shroud bent light, deflecting and refracting. Because of this, the eyes remained unhidden, lest they be unable to see.

Window. Window. Window.

Door.

It waited there. One red eye was set at the crack, looking in.

And then it vanished, the noise slowly dying away.

With a sigh of relief, he relaxed. Suddenly stiff as a board, he stood, slipping slightly on the bed of books.

He was fortunate to have found this shelter. The drones had difficulty differentiating organic matter, and the living tree he was now inside did well to hide his signature. The fact it was well insulated also meant his thermal signature was far less obvious than it would be out in the open.

He also counted himself fortunate to have found friends in this land. Spike, of course, had immediately taken well with him.

It had been an odd encounter. The town had been almost completely empty, and the few that had been out that late were easy enough to avoid. He’d been surprised to come across the library; a hollowed out tree, just off the town square. Carefully opening the door, he’d received an even greater shock when it’d been answered by a sleepy, somewhat grumpy, but very real baby dragon. The one-sided conversation that had followed, though awkward, had been enough to assure them both they could trust one another. After a light snack and a few books, they’d become fast friends.

He worried about Twilight, though. He was completely unfamiliar with magic, but he had felt something. Something that told him that she had done more than simply restrain him. At a guess, most likely some form of insurance, something that would allow the purple mare to trust him enough not to kidnap Spike, or something. In any case, he certainly wasn’t going to ask. And not for the obvious reason.

He unconsciously touched his throat. How long, now? An age, at least.

Stretched and comfortable, he curled up on the pile of books. He had to resist the urge to read one.

Sleep now, read later.

Maybe he’d find more friends in the morning.

---

The sun shone down on the land, as if aware of the previous night’s show, and doing its best to make up for it. Not overly hot, but pleasantly warm.

She awoke with a moan. A fresh start. And it looked to be a day as beautiful as last night had been. Zecora got out of bed, stretching first her front, then her back legs, her black and white striped body shivering as several joints popped.

Despite its dangers, the Everfree Forest was a nice place to live. And with her potions acting to repel unwanted beasts, it was usually uneventful as well.

She yawned.“Come now, Zecora, come awake. The day is here, and yours to take.”

She swiftly mixed up one of her special brews. A favorite of hers, and a closely kept secret.

Her own special blend of coffee.

A quick swig, and she was fully awake. So were the memories of last night. She’d seen the strange star fall, landing perhaps a mile or two from her home. Despite her potions, all through the night, she had felt as if something was lurking outside. Regardless, she had still managed to find sleep.

Now fully awake she couldn’t help but wonder what these events could have meant. “For the information I desire, perhaps a library is required?”

Her mind set, she donned her ingredient satchel, and was on her way out the door.

“Zecora!”

Surprised, she looked up to see her friend, Rainbow Dash, come hurtling towards her. Just in time, the blue pegasus pulled out of her crash course, sliding through the door, and coming to a stuttering stop in front of the zebra herbalist.

Panting hard, she tried to get her words out as fast as possible, but was completely incomprehensible. “I… we… last night… now… burning… fast… water…”

Zecora gave a smile, hoping to reassure the spooked pony. “Speaking quickly helps no one. Perhaps a moment, ‘till you are done?”

She offered Rainbow a glass of water. Nodding, the blue pegasus accepted, downing it in on gulp, and slowing down her breathing to a manageable pace. Suspecting this might take a while, Zecora sat down.

Dash finally managed to catch her breath. “Sorry Zecora. Just had to get here fast.” A few more breaths. “You remember the show last night?”

“The show, yes, I think Luna’s best.”

“Awesome, right? Anyway, we saw something land here in the forest, so we came to investigate.”

“Speak you of an odd colored star? From my house, it did not land far.”

“You saw it too? Great. Anyway, we went to see, but Princess Celestia and her guards were already there, so we didn’t see much. Except for some really creepy lights, but we didn’t get a good look at those either. In any case, she asked us to leave, though I didn’t want to, but we left anyway, so I thought I’d come back today, and there’s still a mess over there, but everything’s gone, so I started looking around. And… and…” She gasped for breath after her run-on sentence. Zecora, patient as ever, waited until she was ready.

Finally, Dash spoke. “I think I found something. Don’t know what. Never seen anything like it before.”

Zecora raised an eyebrow. “Really? How strange. Perhaps a visit, I could arrange?”

Dash nodded. “That’s why I came. I’m not sure what it is, but it smells… weird. I figured since you spent so much time here, you might have an idea.”

Zecora nodded, getting up. “Of this thing, I may very well know… Gah!”

Rainbow dash was already pushing the zebra out the door, setting her wings into overdrive.

“Glad you think so, c’mon, let’s go!”

---

After perhaps fifteen minutes of walking (Or in Rainbow Dash’s case, complaining about having to walk), the two found the clearing in question. A row of lilac bushes lined the eastern edge, and several sleeper vines hung from a nearby oak tree. Zecora noticed Rainbow Dash flinch slightly as she walked past a small patch of blue flowers, obviously recalling the poison joke incident.

The blue pegasus pointed with her hoof. “It’s right over there, just past that little tree.”

As they rounded the tree in question, it became apparent to Zecora as to why Rainbow had been so concerned.

On the ground, about three pony-lengths long, one and a half wide, was what appeared to be a pile of charcoal. There was no sign of damage beyond the pile, save for some singed grass, and, from what Zecora could determine, there were no hoof prints nearby, though there was much evidence of some disturbance, as a lot of dirt had been scraped up and shifted around. Ash drifted lazily off of the blackened pile, caught in the morning breeze.

Rainbow Dash looked at the zebra. “Ok, I know it isn’t a big deal, but I just thought it was kinda weird, being so close to that place from last night. Any idea what it is?”

“I fear, Rainbow, I have not a clue...” Reaching forward, Zecora pulled something that had caught her eye out of the ashes. “... but, what does this look like to you?”

Dash took a good look at the object. It was a metal spike, thinner than a pencil, about the same length, and slightly flanged at one end. Her aerodynamically trained eye went over every detail

.

“Not sure," she said, " but it looks like a weapon. See these fins at this end? Those would keep it going straight through the air.” She examined the pointed end. “But it’s so small, I really don’t know what sort of damage it could do.”

Zecora gave the pony a surprised look. “Your knowledge of these things surprises me. Is this information which you study?”

Rainbow Dash bashfully rubbed her mane with a hoof. “Sorta, I mean, I don’t really like weapons in general, but I read something about it in the Wonderbolts Weekly. Soarin’ uses something like this to hit clay targets in mid-air. It helps him practice precision and hone his depth perception. Honestly, I think it just sounds fun to do.”

The zebra furrowed her brow. “Violence for fun? No, thank you. And it’s hardly an excuse to keep one’s aim true.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “Meh, whatever.” She turned back to the pile. "So, waddya think?”

Placing the object delicately in her bag, Zecora circled the mystery pile. “By coming to me, I think you did well. Tell me, what do you think of the smell?”

Rainbow leaned forward, inhaling deeply through her nostrils. She immediately pulled back, one hoof covering her muzzle.

“Yeb. Dat’s wad id sbelled like wed I cabe here earlier.”

She blew out of her nose several times to clear her sinuses. “I’m pretty sure its wood, but there’s something else that just reeks. Some kinda moss that stinks when it burns, maybe?”

Zecora's look was one of concern. “Your thought is indeed a lucky guess. But I fear that I do know this smell:

Burnt flesh.”

Dash took a moment to gag. “Okay, one, that’s gross, and two, that barely rhymed...”

She paused. “Wait, flesh? As in, real, living flesh?” She gagged again, quickly looking for a good secluded spot to hurl if necessary.

Ignoring Rainbow's distress, Zecora continued to examine the pile. She had come to a definitive conclusion. “This sight unsettles me, I do admit, though no other way can I see this fit."

"Die this way, no creature should. This can only be a wolf of wood.”

It took perhaps a second for Rainbow Dash to understand. “Timberwolf? You’re saying this is a Timberwolf?”

Zecora nodded. “The shape, the smell, it all adds up. But what could burn this creature up?”

Dash looked back at the pile. The two smells, burnt wood and flesh, did make sense, but that still left the mystery of why and how it had burnt. Looking around, she saw some disturbed earth, and suddenly noticed that, while there were no hoof prints, there were plenty of marks recognizable as belonging to several timberwolves.

They were both interrupted, however, by the sudden appearance of two lavender wisps of smoke, both of which coalesced before both pony and zebra. With a *pop*, two scrolls blinked into existence.

Rainbow Dash jumped. “That looked like Spike’s message system! I thought it only worked with Princess Celestia!”

Unrolling her message, Zecora spoke “Indeed, I as well thought this way. Rainbow Dash, what does yours say?”

It was immediately clear that they had both received the same message:

To Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and Zecora.

Something has come up at the library. Please, come as soon as you are able.

I have found something that may answer our questions as to the incidents of last night.

Zecora, you are a close and trusted friend, so I feel you should see this as well.

Please do not take long.

Twilight Sparkle.

Zecora and Rainbow looked at one another.

“This ‘incident’ mentioned by Miss Twilight. Could this be the star that fell last night?”

“You bet!” Rainbow Dash, though much more elated, remained deadly serious. "But if she’s this worried about it... well, I’m not scared, but I don’t think this is something to take lightly.”

She lifted off into the air, but immediately stopped, remembering the earth-bound zebra. “Do you want me to wait for you?”

Zecora shook her head. “To the library I’ll be, before midday. Go and tell them I’m on my way.”

Rainbow Dash made a poor attempt to conceal her relief at not having to walk. “Okay then. I’ll see you at the library, then. Later, Zecora!”

And with that, she was off. Zecora gave her own sigh of relief, chuckling to herself.

“An excellent flier, to keep the skies from raining. But I know no other pony who does more complaining.”

---

Twilight woke around her usual time; right around midmorning. She’d gotten up, brushed her mane, and went to give Spike a nudge.

He wasn’t in his basket.

The events from the previous night flooded back to her in an instant. Panic gripping her like a vice. How could I have been so stupid? I should have put more constraints on the spell. I swear, if he’s harmed a single scale on Spike’s head...

“Twilight! You up?”

Spike’s voice drifted from down stairs, snapping Twilight out of her pessimistic reverie, and filling her with relief. At the same time, she also wondered why Spike was up before her. That wasn’t like him at all.

“Twilight?”

“Yeah, I’m up. Be down in a sec.”

“Oh, Okay. Breakfast is on the table.”

The growl that sounded from her stomach told her that breakfast was not optional. As she made her way downstairs, she was pleasantly surprised to find that the mess of books from last night had been cleared away, replaced in an organized manner back on the shelves. She shook her head, smiling as she entered the kitchen. Spike was already seated at the table, fork in hand, reading the front page of the Equestrian Daily.

He looked up as she came in. He held up the paper for her to see. “Check it out! Luna’s Night Show is the talk of Equestria! No way can she be worried about people not liking her.”

Sitting down, Twilight accepted the paper from Spike. The front page held nothing but praise for the Princess’s work, as well as a color photograph of the finale, with the crest easily visible.

Twilight slapped a hoof to her head, remembering the camera. “Oh no! I forgot to take pictures! Oooh, now what am I gonna do for that new photo album...”

Spike interrupted. “Twilight, it’s okay. I got some in while you were chatting with the girls.”

He looked glumly at the page. “Though I wish I coulda stayed awake long enough to see that. Hey Chirp, how’re those eggs coming?”

Twilight looked over to the stove, starting slightly as she saw the human, shifting eggs around in the pan. He whistled in reply, hunched slightly for a stove that came just short of his hip, tossing the last of the eggs onto a plate. As he made his way to the table, Twilight had to stifle a laugh that rose unbidden to her throat, instead covering her mouth, trying to disguise it with a cough. The human had shed his overcoat, though he still wore dark, simple pants and shirt;

And a frilly pink apron.

Spike gave her a look, and Twilight lowered her hoof, though still biting her lip. Chirp, apparently in high spirits, served her eggs, as well as a glass of orange juice. Tearing her thoughts away as to where Chirp could have gotten the apron, Twilight took a quick bite of the eggs. They were surprisingly good. She’d had eggs before, but neither she nor Spike were very adept at cooking them without leaving shells in, or even burning them. Her mood, and her hunger, were substantially improved by the breakfast, and felt obliged to thank Chirp for the meal. He smiled in reply, putting the food back in the pantry.

Bringing herself back to more pertinent matters besides breakfast, she looked back at the paper.After careful examination, she had confirmed that no word of the mystery star was to be found, nor any mention of something crashing in the Everfree forest.

She sighed. That only left her one option. Looking at Chirp, she cast a quick, harmless spell. One she had used the previous night.

Bingo!

Her private suspicion confirmed, she turned to Spike. “Spike, take a note, please.”

Acting on reflex, the young assistant already had the parchment and quill in hand before realizing he still had toast in his mouth.

“Mmmf! (gulp). C’mon, Twi, can’t I at least finish breakfast?”

“This will be short, I promise.”

Spike rolled his eyes. “Ok, fine.” He set the set the feathertip to the paper. “What do you want to tell Princess Celestia this time?”

Twilight shook her head. “Not Celestia. Just write down what I say.”

The dictation was quick. Simply a list of her friends in greeting, then the message itself. Spike gave her a look. “So, wait. What happened last night? And what do you think you’ve figured out?”

Twilight took the note from his grip, pushing his plate within his reach. “I’ll explain it all when they get here. Just give me a moment to check something.”

This “something” was the spell she had cast on Spike several years ago. When she had started raising Spike after the exam, she had first tried to find a way to keep him from setting everything on fire. Through her research, she was surprised to learn that dragon-fire was actually a highly magical substance, with “burning” just being a side-effect, as the magical energy dissipated into heat. After careful study, she learned how to get Spike to send notes to Celestia, allowing her to quickly update her mentor on her progress with her studies. The Princess had been kind enough to add a counterpart to the spell, allowing Spike to receive messages as well. With the exception of hiccups, Spike needed to be conscious of the effort to send messages, though thus far, he had only learned how to send them to Celestia.

The book actually holding the spell was somewhere in the Canterlot library. As it was, Twilight happened to have several personal journals on spells which she had practiced and refined over the years. It was a simple matter of finding the right one. She went up to her bedroom to search her personal collection.

Ten minutes later, a small mountain of books had been piled on the central table, and Twilight had located the necessary components for her spell.

The enchantment she intended to cast would do three things: Lock on to multiple recipients, duplicate the note the required number of times and, of course, send the copies to their respective targets.

Before she cast the spell, she returned to the kitchen. Spike was finishing the last of the dishes, but there was no sign of Chirp. She immediately suppressed the panicked feeling welling in the pit of her stomach. “Spike, where’s Chirp?”

Spike glanced over at Twilight. “Oh. Sorry. He’s just showing me this really cool trick he knows.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “Showing you wha... HOLY mother...!”

Chirp had appeared out of nowhere, not five paces from where she stood. He no longer wore his apron, but had once again donned his jacket, as well as a sinister looking hood, and a mask that covered the lower half of his face. He immediately pulled both back, flashing Twilight a sheepish smile.

Twilight was dumbstruck. “Wow. Sorry Chirp, it’s just, well, I didn’t know you knew magic.”

Chirp shrugged, shaking his head. Spike hopped down from the stool he’d been standing on. “Actually, Twi, it isn’t magic.”

“Huh?”

Spike smiled. “Chirp figured this out a long time ago. He calls it the Wallpaper technique.”

Chirp shook his head, giving two quick whistles.

Spike scratched his head. “Sorry. Wall...flower? Wallflower technique, that’s it. From what he’s told me, he basically becomes uninteresting enough that people just ignore him.”

Twilight snorted. “Yeah, right. Real life human, twice as tall as me, wearing sinister clothing. Totally uninteresting. Besides, it’d never work! ”

Spike gave her a sly grin. “Uh, Twilight? It kinda just did.”

Touché. Well, she’d already accepted the fact that Pinkie-sense could operate on a non-magical level. What was one more block of weirdness gonna do?

She looked at Chirp. For some reason, it felt unnerving to talk to him as if he were a sentient being. She shook the slanderous thought from her head. Until this problem was resolved, it was just something that she needed to become used to.

Resigning herself to the conundrum, she addressed the human. “So, Chirp. I need to figure something out. For right now, I need you to stay put here in the kitchen for a while. You can come out when I say, but until then... just please keep quiet?”

Chirp nodded, miming the action of zipping his mouth shut, then throwing away the key.

Twilight couldn’t help but feel she was being mocked.

She returned to the main room, her message and the spell book on the table. She shuddered, her stomach full of butterflies.

Okay, this is it.

She gave her notes one more scan to make sure she was doing everything right, then closed her eyes. A moment of concentration, a faint hum as her horn glowed, a slight drain in her stamina as the complex spell took its toll, then with a puff of ethereal wind, the note disintegrated, the smoke flowing into the air, and out the window.

“There we go,” she said. “It shouldn’t be long now.”

“What shouldn’t be long?”

Twilight jumped a full three feet into the air. Pinkie Pie was standing right next to her, her trademark grin plastered on her features. The moment Twilight’s heart-rate had lowered to tolerable levels, she gasped out. “Pinkie? What... how... huh?”

The pink mare cocked her head to one side, just as Twilight’s note appeared a few inches above her head. Twilight nearly went cross-eyed from cranial overload. Impossibly, Pinkie's smile seemed to widen. “I got a twitchy-twitch combo that meant you’d be sending me a note that would ask me to come as soon as possible. So, I came as soon as possible.”

Twilight groaned. Purple hoof impacted lavender forehead.

---

True to Twilight’s prediction, almost everypony had arrived within twenty minutes. After Pinkie, it was Applejack, who had been running errands in the market when she had gotten her letter. Then Rainbow Dash, who let her know that Zecora wasn’t far behind. Finally, Fluttershy and Rarity arrived together, having just returned from their weekly visit to the spa. Rarity was wearing her pink summer hat and an ornate saddlebag that, according to her, was in this season.

“I must say, Twilight, this is rather unexpected. Is something wrong?” Rarity’s eyes were full of concern.

“Ah'd say that Ah have to go with Rarity on this one. You usually aren’t... how should Ah put it... spontaneous?” The cowfilly gave the purple unicorn a once over. “That, and you look plum shaken outta your skin. What’s goin’ on, sugarcube?”

Twilight nodded. “I know this is strange, but I want to wait until Zecora gets here before I explain. All I can say is, this is big.”

Rainbow Dash gave her a smug look. “So what happened to keeping your promise to the Princess to ‘forget about it?’” She cackled. “I never thought you were a bad girl, Twi.”

Rarity gave the pegasus a glare. “Really now, Dash, I don’t think this is anytime for jokes. Twilight seems completely serious to me, and I for one wish to know what’s troubling her.”

Fluttershy spoke up. “So would I! If, uh, you want to, that is.”

Pinkie bounced several times. “Ooh ooh! Maybe she wants a party!” She received several glares all around, remaining completely oblivious to any of them.

Rainbow Dash began to make her way to the kitchen. “Well, so long as we’re waiting on ‘Racing Stripes,’ any chance of you having some chow around here.”

Twilight panicked. “No, Rainbow, wait...!”

Before Rainbow could open the door, Spike did, entering from the other side, carrying a tray of hay fries and sandwiches. He gave Twilight a wink. “You ladies up for some food?”

Rainbow Dash practically pounced on the laden tray. Spike sidled the rest of the way into the room, carefully closing the door after a brief pause. Despite her relief at Spike’s brilliant timing (and fully intending to award him with an emerald snack later), something seemed to itch at the corner of her eye. Nothing. It's just nerves. After all, this was hardly your traditional social gathering. The fact was, there simply weren’t any books written about revealing life-altering secrets to your friends.

Fluttershy came up to her, looking her over curiously. “Are you all right, Twilight? You seem very agitated. Is it something you ate?” She clapped a hoof to her mouth with worry. “Oh, you’re not sick, are you?”

Twilight held up her hoof. “No, Fluttershy, it’s nothing like that. I guess I’m just... well, what with everything that’s happened, I guess I’m just a little off, that’s all.”

Applejack gave her a suspicious look. “Now, whaddya mean by ‘everythin’? Sure, there was that strange stuff last night, but you look like you just seen the ghost of Hearthswarmin’ yet to come.”

She stalked closer to the lavender unicorn, eyes narrowed. “Ah trust you, Twilight. Believe me, Ah do. But Ah don’t stand to no secret keepers, ‘specially when they get braggin about them. Far as Ah'm concerned, just a lie that hasn't been told, yet.”

Twilight gulped. “Applejack, I promise, I will explain everything once... Oh, Zecora!”

The black and white herbalist had just walked through the door. Twilight trotted right over to greet her. “Thank you so much for coming on such short notice.”

The zebra gave a bookshelf at the other end of the room an odd look, then turned to Twilight, smiling brightly. “At your request, I come today. Any discomfort you have, I do wish to allay.”

Twilight smiled at the zebra’s clever couplets. “Thank you, but I promise you, none of my problems right now can be cured with a potion. Are you sure this isn’t too much trouble?”

Zecora smiled. “Last night’s mystery, I do wish to end. But tell me, Twilight...” Again, she looked back at the bookcase.

“...who is your new friend?”

Everypony present, saving Zecora, jumped with surprise, as the pile of books that Twilight had set on the table toppled over with a series of clattering thuds, seemingly of their own accord. Twilight immediately looked around for the cause, but saw only the confused looks on her friends’ faces... and a distinctly guilty one on Spike’s. Brow furrowed, she took another look at the area Zecora had indicated.

There was something off. Her eyes just didn’t seem to want to focus, as if... it hit her!

“Chirp!”

Silence.

Applejack looked at Twilight. “Pardon, sugarcube?”

Twilight ignored her friend. “Chirp, I know you’re there.”

After a moment, a very guilty sounding whistle sounded from the place she was trying to see. Looks of confusion played on her friends’ faces.

She glared back at the spot. This is NOT what I had in mind. I break the news slowly to my friends, they disbelieve me, I assure them I’m not lying, and then I introduce Chirp. How hard is that?

She sighed. “Well, I guess there’s no delaying it anymore. Come on.”

Without any pomp or circumstance, Chirp came sharply into focus. It felt as if Twilight’s eyes were forcibly uncrossing themselves. There was a collective gasp around the room. Aside from the wide, starring looks, each and every pony had their own reaction.

Rarity sat down. Hard.

Rainbow’s wings fell uselessly to her sides.

Pinkie’s jaw hit the floor. As did the rest of her.

Applejack’s hat slipped off her head, floating gently to the ground.

And Fluttershy seemed too surprised to even faint.

Only Twilight, Spike, and Zecora seemed unfazed. Chirp, on the other hand, had once again removed both hood and mask. The look he was giving Twilight was sorrowful, almost ashamed, as if the last thing he’d ever wanted to do was disappoint her.

I’ll just have to sort that out later, she thought.

“Chirp, these ponies are all friends of mine.” She introduced each one, usually getting little more than a nod in response; or in Fluttershy’s case, a small “Eep.”

When introducing Zecora, Twilight was surprised to see the zebra give Chirp a warm smile. He tentatively returned it.

“Everyone, this is Chirp. He’s a human.”

Applejack was first to regain her voice. “Wow! Ah mean... but they... it’s just... Ah didn’t.... Holy Horseapples!” She bent to pick up her hat, eyes never leaving Chirp for a moment.

“How in Celestia’s name...?” Began Rarity, before petering out. Even her, usually the most of the group, seemed to be at a loss for words.

Fluttershy remained silent. Nothing new there.

By now, Rainbow Dash was leaning as far forward as she could, nearly lifting herself off her hind legs, her voice barely above a whisper. The blue pegasus, eloquent as ever, summed up her internal struggle in three, simple words.

“What. The. Buck.”

Twilight suddenly heard Pinkie Pie take in a tremendous breath. She immediately clapped her hooves to her ears.

“Ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh so that's what a human is I heard of them but I didn't think they were real and now there's one standing here right now I mean this is amazing where did you come from is it far are you new here cuz if you're new here then you probably don't know any pony and that must be sad because you don't have any friends so you know what I think I think we should throw you a (Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaassssp).”

Twilight clamped a hoof over Pinkie’s mouth.

She gave them all an apologetic look. “I’m so sorry, everypony. Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are."

Applejack gave her a reproachful look. “Yeah, well, a little warnin’ would be nice, next time.”

Twilight glared at Spike. "I was. But someone obviously had a different plan."

Spike held his hands up in defense. "Look, I'm sorry. He just wanted to come out for a bit to see everyone."

"Well, that's fine n all, Spike." Applejack glanced back at Chirp, who was looking distinctly uncomfortable with everyone staring at him. “But... Well, Ah mean... Humans ‘r just legends. Ghost stories we tell to foals. And now we got one standin' right here in front of us. Sorry Twi, it just puts me a little off, that’s all.”

Twilight smiled. “I understand.”

Rarity glanced at her.. “Really, Twilight. I hardly think this is something one can understand. This is not some escapade by the Cutie Mark Crusaders! I was never cop to fairy tales, and having one blown right back in my face!” She placed a hoof dramatically to her forehead. “It’s hardly worth bearing!”

Chirp tried to ask Spike what Rarity was on about, but the young dragon was much more interested in the unicorn in question, his eyes not leaving her for a second. Chirp scratched his head, then shrugged. He looked at Rainbow Dash, who had made a few tentative steps towards him.

When she spoke, her voice was full of wonder. “So... this is a human? I heard some old stories, but I didn’t think I’d ever get to see one.” She looked at Twilight. “Where did you find it? How did it just appear like that? Can it talk?”

Chirp gave the pegasus an indignant look.

Much to her own surprise, Twilight found herself coming to his defense. “First, he’s not an ‘it,’ he’s a he. Second, no, he can’t talk.” She looked at him, thoughtfuly. “Though he seems to understand what we’re saying easily enough. Thirdly... Well, I haven’t actually figured out his whole ‘now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t’ gig.

And lastly, I found him in the library last night.” She looked over at her purple assistant. “Or rather, Spike did.”

Spike snapped out of his staring contest with Rarity’s luxurious, purple mane. He promptly perked up. “He was hungry, and wondered if he could come in for a bit. I guess we sorta hit it off from there.”

Chirp gave an affirmative whistle. Then, making sure Spike was paying attention, he began a complex series of cheeps and twitters, sounding like a forest full of birds in springtime.

It was all Spike could do to keep up.

“Uh, okay. He says ‘Hello, it is very nice to meet all of you. I hope that I might get to know you better, and I do hope I haven’t caused any crumpet for you.”

Chirp nodded in affirmation, and then started, giving the dragon a glare. Spike blushed. “Oops. Sorry. I mean, caused any trouble for you.”

So far, all of these events had transpired pretty much as Twilight had expected. What happened next, however, took everypony completely by surprise.

Fluttershy had remained completely motionless, and equally quiet throughout the proceedings; a peach and pink hued statue. Then, very carefully, she walked over to Chirp. She was so quiet, he didn’t even notice her until she was practically on top of him. He glanced down in surprise, as she nudged his arm with her muzzle.

Slowly, she extended her hoof. “Hi, Chirp. My name is Fluttershy.”

Chirp, taken aback, did nothing for a moment. Then, very slowly, he smiled, gently accepting her hoof. He gave a small, low whistle. Fluttershy nodded. “It’s very nice to meet you, too.”

In the silence that followed, you could’ve heard one of Fluttershy’s screams from twenty paces.

“Fluttersy darling, you... can understand him?” Rarity’s eyes were wide with shock.

Fluttershy smiled at her. “Oh, yes. It’s not that different from a cardinal’s call, with a slight hint of sparrow, and a distinct inflection of mockingbird as well.”

Chirp blushed, deeply.

After that, the tension finally lifted.

He may be scary in his own right, thought Twilight, but if Fluttershy can handle him, he can’t be that bad, can he? Sort of like an over-sized dog. She shuddered, remembering his odd antics.

...Or a very alternate version of Pinkie Pie.

Her train of thought was interrupted by Applejack tapping her shoulder. “Ah gotta say, you’ve really outdone yerself with this little humdinger. But what does any of this have to do with last night?”

Remembering the reason she’d called them all, Twilight cleared her throat. “Well, first...”

For the benefit of Zecora, Spike, and Fluttershy, Twilight quickly recapped the previous night’s events, starting with when Fluttershy had taken Spike home, recounting the strange lights, Princess Celestia’s cryptic warning, and ending with when she’d returned to the library.

“...and then I just found him here. I admit, he scared me at first, but Spike assured me that he was harmless. I’ve currently placed a spell on him to keep him in the library, unless I say otherwise.”

Spike was looking back at Twilight, eyes wide with wonder. “Whoa! And the princess really asked you to forget that?”

“The plot does thicken, that is most clear. But what has this to do with our friend, here?” Zecora gave Twilight an inquisitive glance.

Twilight took a deep breath, ready to make her case. “Last night, Spike, you said that Chirp told you he was ‘new in town,’ correct?”

“Yep. I also said he likes...”

“Not now, Spike."

She spoke to the rest of the group. “Anyway, last night, do you remember that I used that clairvoyance spell to keep an eye out for wildlife while we were in the forest?”

There were general nods of assent from around the room. Suddenly, Twilight looked at over at Rarity. “Rarity, could you do me a favor. I’d like you to look at his clothing. Tell me what you make of it.”

Confused by the odd request, the ivory mare nevertheless complied. A quick glance told her everything she needed to know.

“Well, I can hardly say I know the tailor, but this piece seems to be something designed for hard work. Durable, but light, with a little flare of style added as well. I’m afraid I don’t recognize the material, though the weave suggests something mechanical was employed in the process. At a guess, the gloves and boots are some kind of treated leather.” She winced. “Not the most, ah, tasteful form of clothing, but durable, I suppose.”

She looked over at Twilight. “The overall condition of the clothing is rather poor. No offense, ah…Chirp, was it?”

Chirp shrugged. Twilight couldn’t help but notice that, despite the strange proceedings, Chirp hadn’t questioned any of it. Does he know where I’m going with this?

The thought chilled her.

She was snapped back to reality by Rarity’s voice. “There seems to be much weathering all around, and, despite the misleading coloration, I’ve noticed a good deal of fire damage.” She indicated a few patches on his coat. “See how it frays there, and there? Heat stress, I’ll guarantee it.”

Twilight exhaled. “Then, there’s no doubt. When we were in the forest, just before the lights appeared, my spell picked up something. I didn’t think much of it till this morning, when I looked again during breakfast.

She turned, facing all present. “Chirp’s life sign is a perfect match for the one I saw in the forest.”

Rainbow Dash immediately shifted her stance to a more aggressive one. “So, there’s more than one human out there?”

Twilight shook her head. “Maybe, but that’s not what I meant. A perfect match means that it could only have been him near where that thing landed. And if what Rarity’s just told me now is true, then there’s no doubt in my mind.”

“That wasn’t a star that fell out of the sky." She turned back to Chirp, fierce conviction clear on her face.

"It was him!”

---

Canterlot

Celestia was on her balcony, set just adjacent to her room. It was around mid-morning, and her sun was nearing its zenith.

“A wonderful day, is it not, my dearest sister?”

She turned at the voice. Luna joined her, levitating a tray with a teapot and two cups. “A cup of tea would be most appropriate, I should think.”

Luna’s face was one of regal nobility, nose slightly upturned, eyes slightly closed.

At least until she couldn’t hold it anymore, and burst into a giggling fit.

Celestia smiled. “What’s so funny, Luna? Is there something in my teeth?” She grinned, trying to find the non-existent morsel with her tongue. This only served to incite more laughter.

Gently setting the tray down, Luna wiped tears of joy from her eyes. “I am sorry, Tia. I guess I'm a little... giddy, after last night. Have you seen the papers?”

Celestia nodded. “I have. I do believe you’ve outdone yourself.” She gave the blue alicorn a wicked grin. “I can’t wait to see what you do next year.”

Luna paled, but looked immediately relieved when she realized her sister was joking. She gave her a playful kick, smiling. “Oh, very funny. I won't be doing that again for awhile. At least not until I have some new material. And I do have you to thank for your help with the aurora.”

Celestia held up a hoof. “I might have provided it, but it was still your work. I’ll be honest, I did not expect you to create the Royal Crest! That must’ve taken some careful planning.”

Luna pawed the ground, shyly. After a pause, she raised her eyes to her sister's. "Sister... Tia, do you really think they'll be able to trust me now. I don't mean to sound fickle, but..."

She stopped, feeling Celestia's hoof on her shoulder. "Luna. Sister. There isn't anypony in Equestria who looked into the sky last night, and who was not filled with awe at the grace and beauty you hold within your heart. You hold yourself not with the arrogance of a monarch, but the heart of an artist."

The princess of the night blushed. "But is not art what we see? And what we see is nothing but our own perception. By that case, would not someone who perceives me as..." She faltered. "...what I was, also see my work as nothing more than a facade?"

For a moment, the pearl-white alicorn said nothing.

"Perhaps."

Luna lowered her head. She looked up in surprise, however, as a scroll came hurtling out of Celestia's room, summoned by the princess from her bookshelf. Smiling, Celestia levitated the scroll directly beneath Luna's nose. "Would you please read this for me?"

Puzzled, Luna unrolled it. She recognized it as one of Twilight's reports on the magic of Friendship. She looked up her sister, who nodded her permission. Returning her gaze back to the scroll, she began to read aloud.

"...This week my very talented friend Rarity learned, that if you try to please everypony, you oftentimes end up pleasing nopony..."

She looked back at her sister. "So, what is this supposed to mean? I might as well not try at all?"

To her surprise, Celestia actually laughed. "I suppose that's one way to look at it. But tell me, dearest sister, if you haven't pleased somepony out there, then they simply can't be pleased. So, why bother?"

At this, she turned to look at her fully. "Art is not what you see. It is what you show others. Tell me, sister. What did you show everypony last night?"

Luna thought for a while. Taking the pot, she poured tea into both of the cups, added sugar to hers, and cream to Celestia’s. "I guess... I suppose that I wished to show everyone that I am me."

Celestia smiled. "Then you did an excellent job."

A comfortable silence fell between the two. For a long while, they simply stood, admiring the day, sipping their tea. Luna stifled a yawn. "Aaaaaaahhh. I should probably retire soon. The moon will not direct itself.

Celestia raised an eyebrow. "Oh? Shall tuck you in with some milk?"

Luna took another sip of her tea. "Why yes, thank you."

Nearly spitting out her tea, Celestia gave her sister an irritated look. Luna simply smiled. “Oh, I almost forgot to warn you. The Steward of Trottingham is back. He still wants your approval on setting a food tax for the minority population. Honestly, he just becomes more and more- Oh! Celestia, look out!”

Celestia caught the scroll just before it vanished over the railing. She smiled, recognizing her faithful student’s seal. “Another report already? It’s not even noon.” She began unrolling it, and looked over at her sister. "Care to listen?”

Luna smiled, stifling another yawn. “Thank you, but no. I’m afraid I have other business to attend to. My pillow, for example.”

Chuckling, Celestia opened the scroll. “As you wish. Let’s see. ‘To Applejack, Fluttershy, Pinkie...’ Oops!” She quickly rolled it up, laughing. “It seems she sent me somepony else’s mail by accident... Oof!”

Luna was already trying to read (and possibly climb) over Celestia’s shoulder. “Really? Let me see!”

“Luna! Really, it’d be rude! I won’t have it.”

Despite the supposedly harsh words, there was a spark of humor behind them. Luna got off her sister, sitting on the ground, and looking at her with pleading eyes. “Oh, pleeeeeeease, Tia? It’s not very long. I mean, what harm could come of reading someone’s shopping list?”

“What harm indeed...?” Celestia, unable to take Luna’s trademark “puppy stare,” finally relented. “Very well, sister, if only for you.”

Again, she unrolled it.

Luna had been correct, it was short.

But it was enough.

Luna saw the look on her sister’s face. “Celestia? What’s wrong?”

Without a word, her face a blank mask of apathy, Celestia gave the scroll to Luna.

A long, slow silence passed.

Celestia sighed. “I suppose it was a bit much to expect Twilight to drop the matter then and there. I’m only sorry that she and her friends have been dragged into this mess. Do the scouts have anything new to report?”

Placing the note on the floor of the balcony, Luna shook her head. “Only those lights. They’ve been spotted in ever widening circles around the Ground-Zero. A few have even reached as far as Trottingham.”

“And... it?”

“Professor Surgeon says that by all means and methods, it’s dead.” She shuddered. “If it were ever alive to begin with. It’s in the vault right now, under twenty-four hour watch. That, and a few more pieces we found at the site.”

Celestia set her gaze upon Ponyville. Far away as it was, it appeared as little more than a patch upon the quilted landscape. She could just barely see the tree which housed the town’s library, where Twilight now resided.

What could she have found?

“And... Luna, tell me. Are you sure of this theory of yours?”

Luna nodded. “There were unidentified tracks leading from the site, and several guards saw something moving away from it. Unfortunately, what with the encounter with the lights, and with Twilight... well, I lost the trail. It was wandering around, and didn’t seem to have any particular direction in mind.”

A long pause.

“Could it have found its way to Ponyville?”

Luna looked up sharply. “Do you suppose... could that be what Twilight is referring to?”

“I cannot say.” Celestia set her cup down, lifting the tray off of the railing, and making her way back to the room. “All I know is that right now, we’re in over our heads.” She stopped, then turned to Luna. “You know, I never really thanked you, Luna.”

“For what?” her sister asked.

“When we first learned of its impending arrival, you offered to use the Night Show as a distraction. I know how long you’d been planning it, how much it meant to you, and how much you must have sacrificed, just so my...”

She smiled “...No. Just so our little ponies wouldn’t know.” She nuzzled her sister’s mane, affectionately.

“Thank you, Luna.”

Luna, surprised, accepted the gesture, smiling. “Don’t worry, Tia. We’ll get through this.

“I’m sure of it.”

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