• Published 6th Jan 2013
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Wanderings of a Non-Brony - BronyWriter



TD's journey around the lands outside of Equestria

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Crystals

It's cold. I am cold. Very, very cold.

Of course, that might have something to do with the fact that there's a snowstorm like nothing I've ever seen blowing all around my head right now. I've gotten pretty used to all of that by this point, though, having walked through it for the past three days and all.

Or at least, I think it's been three days... It's hard to tell by this point. All this ice blots out the sunlight, so I've just been digging shelters whenever it picks up. I knew I should have packed a watch.

Tightening my grip on Reginald, I resume the trek. If the map and information I got are correct, then I should be able to find the shield pretty soon, even through the snow. Seriously, it's a gigantic pink force field, how can anyone miss it?

As it turns out, it's a pretty hard and easy thing to do at the same time, because ten seconds or so of trudging through knee-deep snow later, the white in front of me becomes a glowy reddish-pink, but when I turned more than an eighth of a circle in any direction, it faded back into white. I probably would have never seen it if I had trudged in an even slightly different direction. It's a bit of a scary thought.

I flex my left hand a bit to get a ghost of feeling in it. When I can finally sense the padding inside the glove, I slowly extend three fingers, reaching out to touch the shield.

To my delight, they all pass through with pretty much no resistance, and I find them bathed in the warmth of whatever it is that heats the city. Based on what I've heard about this place, it's most likely the crystal heart – there wasn't a mention of anything nearly as magical as it in any of my references, and, as I confirm when I'm fully inside the bubble, it's not the sun either. In any case, whatever it is that warms this place up doesn't matter, as long as it keeps being warm and cozy. It's certainly a step up from the snow.

Heck, it's a big step up from a lot of places I was in lately.

I turn my eyes down from the overcast sky outside the shield, and instantly close them. The sheer spectacle of an entire city made out of crystal, with the consequent reflections and glints, hurts my eyes at first, and I have to blink and squint until they get used to the gleam of the place, which actually takes a little while.

The civilized part of the place isn't a long ways from the edge of the force field; I shouldn't have to walk for more than a quarter mile before I'm in the city proper. Either whatever is powering the shield doesn't have the strength to make it larger than “large enough”, or it's just plain old convenience.

After one last blink, I start thinking about more practical problems, namely getting inside the urban zone. I'd rather meet whoever I have to inside the city itself than outside.

Now that they're not numb from the cold any longer and had a minute to rest during my bout of thinking, my legs start to feel sore and heavy. The walk stretches on and on, and I start to think again. Now that I'm here, what is my plan? I guess I'll do what I've always done: try to find whoever leads this land. If they can't help, then I'll move on. Keep things simple.

Let me tell you, the sheer scope of the buildings makes this the most impressive city I've been to so far. Far more impressive than anything that the griffins pulled off for sure.

Of course, an entire city made of crystal is pretty hard to one-up.

Ah here we are, the locals and I are beginning to make contact now. They're staring at me, like I knew that they would. At least they're not afraid of the sasquatch I look like now – thanks to limited opportunities for proper shaving and haircuts, my hair grew to shoulder length and I'm sporting a rather bushy beard. I've become rather adept at trimming with my knife, though, so I shouldn't look completely terrible, though it's kinda hard to judge without a mirror to check.

Let's see... There should be a castle of some sort in the middle of the city. If there is one, then that is probably where the big figures of this realm live. They're my best shot at, if not getting the trip home, at least being pointed in the right direction.

It's just a few minutes until I hear a loud 'HALT!!' behind me as I walk down what looks like a semi-empty residential area. I expected as much. I sigh and turn around to face the two crystal ponies that have their spears pointed at my midsection.

"Yes, what is it?" I inquire.

"Who are you?” the one on the left, a stallion, asks. “What are you doing here?"

"First off, someone who's been out on that snow for a long time now. Secondly, I'm here to meet your emperor or empress or whoever your leaders are."

That makes them even more suspicious. They begin advancing towards me, slowly, with their spears still pointed at my stomach. Maybe it's just the crystal they're made of, but they look very sharp. "What is your business with Princess Cadence and Prince Shining Armor?" the other one, a mare, questions.

"If these are your royals, I wish to speak with them. It'll be quick."

"You will have no 'business' with them if you don't act clearly with us, stranger,” the first one to speak says as his eyes narrows. “And if you have no business with them, then you must leave at once."

I scoff. "Yeesh. Do you guys always receive visitors like this?"

They advance even more, not content.

"Hey, look, how about we put the spears down? I'm not looking for trouble here."

"If you do not answer at least one of the questions in the next two seconds, we will be forced to escort you out of the boundaries," the mare warns.

“Even if I did, you've probably never heard of me, so what's the point?”

The stallion is close enough to poke me with his spear by this point. “Enough of your word games, creature. Leave now and you won't have to nurse a shoeprint.”

Ah, so they want to play it rough. Well then, two can share the board. “Yeah, well-” I cut myself off by wrenching Reginald to the left with my right hand, knocking the guard's weapon away from my stomach and getting him off-balance. Before he can recover from it or the mare can respond, I quickly grip the staff with both hands and smack her on the helmet with it. It ends up sounding just like someone hitting a small gong.

Okay, so now she's dazed and the other one is readying to charge. Dang it! Out of desperation, I lock the mare in a choke with Reginald pressing against her throat, holding her in a way that leaves her on her hind legs, with her back to my stomach. She thrashes in my grip, her forelegs flailing like crazy, but I don't let go.

“Sergeant!” The other pony quickly skids to a halt, inches from shoving the spearhead into her chest. “Let her go, you filth!”

“Shut your mouth, shiny,” I growl at him over the wheezing of the pony below. “You made me do this.”

He glares, first at me, then at the pony I'm using as a meat shield. She's gurgling something, even though I'm not pressing that tightly, just enough to keep her from gaining any leverage.

“Now you don't do anything stupid, and she doesn't get hurt,” I say. “Got it?”

The stallion takes a pretty long time to answer, so long in fact that I start worrying if he could be charging up a spell or something the books didn't mention. Just as a precaution, I jostle his pal a little, and her gasp is enough to make him relent. “Okay, okay,” he pleads. “What do you want?”

“So you wanna talk now. Good. First off, drop that sharp stick of yours. You could end up hitting somepony with it.” I take a gander just a little lower than his head and I'm instantly glad I did it. “And don't even think of messing with that whistle. In fact, put it down with the spear.”

This time, he's quick to oblige, though he doesn't stop glaring daggers at me as he does as I say. “You're not getting away with this.”

“Shut up. 'This' wouldn't have happened if you just let me see your royals instead of being obsessed about kicking me out. I told you, I'm going to see your Princess one way or another, and you're not stopping me.”

“Good thing there is one right next to you, then.”

I resist the urge to turn to face the newcomer; I could end up releasing the guard I'm holding in the process. Her identity comes in the fraction of a second it takes for my brain to process the voice. “Hello, Celestia.”

“... TD?” Okay, that one I wasn't expecting. She sounds older, more mature, but I'd recognize the accent anywhere. “Is that really you?”

Slowly, me and the guard I'm holding sidestep and turn in a way that the free one never leaves my field of vision, and sure enough, I'm met with the figure of Apple Bloom, standing right there behind Celestia. She's not alone either; the other two Cutie Mark Crusaders are there with her, and the Mane Six as well, to top it all off. They look really surprised at seeing me, which I can relate to. I never imagined I'd see these ponies outside of Ponyville. Or maybe they're just shocked that I'm choking a pony. That could be it, too.

The Crusaders are grown up now, with cutie marks and everything. In fact, they look only a little younger than the Mane Six were when I first came to Ponyville. Speaking of those, they look exactly the same – it's like time hasn't even passed since I left; I wouldn't know better if not for the grown up Crusaders right here. Apple Bloom has a stetson of her own on her head, making her look even older than she already is.

“Drop the guard, TD,” Celestia asks, trying to be conciliatory.

What? “You wish, Princess,” I growl venomously at her. “These two gits are really intent on keeping me out of this place, and she is my only bargaining chip. I'm not throwing away the one chance I have to see whoever runs this place.”

Celestia steps forward. “With all the research you did, TD, I'm surprised you don't remember that the Crystal Empire is an Equestrian protectorate. You are talking to 'whoever runs this place'.” Her face softens a little. “Just drop the guard, and we can talk about this. I understand the guards can be a little overzealous,” she says, glancing at the guard, who starts squirming on his hooves, then back at me, “but you're not making things easier for yourself. Princess Cadance and her husband would not take kindly to a hostage situation.”

I give her a pointed look, which she takes impassively. “No fallout?” I ask simply.

“You'll be fine. I promise.”

“That's not what I asked.”

Celestia huffs. “TD, just give me a vote of confidence for once. You won't be harmed.”

I stare at her. Her poker face is good, but there is some genuine concern showing here. Well, I may not like her, but she's a saint compared to some others. “... you better not make me regret this.” I release my left hand's grip on Reginald and take a few quick steps back when my hostage collapses in a heap, sucking in air like it's something precious.

Her friend is quick to go help her, but I am more interested in those now in front of me. "Hello, everyone," I greet, keeping my voice even. "What can I say? I wish we could have met again in a less problematic situation, but..."

Instead of responding, they all just stare at me. It's starting to make me uncomfortable. Very slowly, Pinkie Pie steps closer to me. I have to expend a bit of self-control to avoid getting back into a fighting stance.

Force of habit, I'm afraid.

I almost react, badly, when she lunges forward. But instead of attacking, she does no more than tackle me into a giant hug, but she does it so hard, I'm knocked to the ground. “Ugh!.. yeah, nice to see you too, Pinkie Pie."

She looks up from where she's nuzzling my chest, and I'm surprised to see a few tears in her eyes. "You... you remember me!" she squeals in happiness and buries her nose in my clothes again.

"Hard to forget Ponyville's pyromaniac party pony," I joke, and am happy to discover that she can take it in stride now, with a giggle even. I scratch the poof of curled hair she calls a mane. "It's good to see you."

With that said, I push her off of me, gently, and stand back up. Twilight is the next to react; she looks rather irate by now. I smile sheepishly at her and kick the ground a bit.

"Six years," she growls. "You were gone for SIX YEARS!!!"

... oh. "S... six?" That's news to me. It sure explains why the Crusaders are so big. "Has it been that long already?"

"Yeah, it has," she seethes. "Six years since you just up and left! Six years since you left us, your friends, behind!!"

Applejack puts a hoof on Twilight's shoulder. "We talked about this, sugar cube," she mutters in Twilight's ear. “He's capable of makin' his own choices."

"No matter who gets hurt in the process..." the unicorn retorts.

"Oh come on, Twilight," I say, trying to play it off. "Were you really that hurt by me leaving? We weren't even that close!"

"It wasn't that you left, it's that you just up and left without a word to anypony! It's like you never trusted us!"

"I didn't trust that you wouldn't try to stop me," I respond curtly. “That’s all.”

"Well maybe because we had good reasons! Do you know how dangerous the outlands are?!"

I have to hold back a laugh at this. "Twilight, I've kind of been traveling them for a few years. I think I know how bad things are even better than you do."

I hear some very noisy hoofsteps from the side Celestia walked off to, and turn to see her approaching with the two guards right in tow. It’s not reassuring at all, even if they’re making a point in not being stealthy, and I have to fight with myself not to ready Reginald for a fight.
They stop just beyond my reach, having apparently noticed my internal conflict. “TD, these two distinct gentleponies have business to attend with you,” the princess announces. Then, she winks at me and mouths something that I can’t exactly understand.

Oh, I am not gonna like this, am I?

After a polite cough, the stallion begins. “Sir, first off, we would like to apologize for the… rude welcome we of the Crystal Empire have given you,” he says a bit reluctantly. “It is our duty to be cautious, but such caution does not condone the actions we took towards an outsider of odd shape.”

“… fine, I guess,” I answer in kind. Now for the catch.

“Now, about the second issue,” the mare I held hostage speaks up. I feel a bit of pride in seeing that her voice isn’t very raspy at all; I really got that choke right. “Legally, you are charged with assault on an authority figure-“

Called it. “Oh no, I’m not having any of that,” I interrupt her, raising my trusty staff back up. I’m ready to attack or defend, whatever it takes. “I’m not gonna let myself get thrown into a cell if I’m alive to stop it.” ‘Not again,’ I promise to myself. ‘Never again.’

“Let her finish, sir,” the other guard asks curtly but politely. Okay, that’s unexpected. After a few seconds of staring them both down, without breaking stance, I spin my right hand in a ‘go on’ gesture.

“May I now?” the female soldier asks, her tone filled with annoyance and a little uncontrolled resentment. I don’t answer, which she takes as a ‘yes’. “As I said, there's the assault charge for us to deal with…” she falters for a fraction of a second, “… however, the circumstances of the incident allow for you to…”

Wow, she’s really choking on her words here.

“… plead self-defense,” she finishes hesitantly.

… what?

I have to clench my teeth together to prevent my jaw from dropping. I expected many outcomes, and this prospect definitely isn’t one of them. “And where are we going with this?” I question the two of them suspiciously.

To my lack of surprise, it’s a certain royal who talks this time. “It means that there must be an investigation about this misunderstanding,” Celestia explains. “Starting on a consultation,” she winks at me again, “with Princess Cadance and Prince Shining Armor.”

Oh. So, just for this, I get to enter the Empire, and get an audition to boot? Hah. I’d gladly take the deal with a big smile if I didn’t know better. I turn a scrutinizing look to her. “That sounds very convenient, but only for me. Maybe even a bit too convenient.”

Everypony, without exception, stands staring unabashed at me. “TD,” mutters Apple Bloom, “correct me if Ah'm wrong, but it sounds like yer accusin' Princess Celestia of foul play.”

Ah, I see, so they're surprised I'm not accepting the offer right away. “Well, Bloom, I have my reasons not to trust your Princess over here very much,” I state. “Like making messes and not being able to clean them for one, right, Celestia?”

Silence reigns over us for a second or two. “TD, just tell me one thing:” she says, “when have I ever intentionally hampered you or your efforts?”

“Intentionally?” I ask, confused. “Er... you never did.”

“And what makes you think I changed my mind about it?”

… point taken, Celestia. "Fine, we'll do this your way." Lowering Reginald, I step closer to the herd, but not without a quick stop to stare down the Princess and the guards one more time. “Just so you three remember, I'm going with you willingly. But if the plan is to throw me in a jail cell for even a damn second, I won't hesitate to use lethal force to escape,” I declare with a finger pointed in their direction. “Got it?”

"TD!" says a shocked Sweetie Belle.

"I have my reasons," I retort without looking back at her.

"And I shall respect them," says Celestia. "I will have a room – a guest room – prepared for your stay when we get to the Palace. Now come.”

She puts a wing on my shoulder as she walks past, as if to guide me. I shrug it off, but she puts it right back up. I sigh in exasperation and, playing her little game for now, begin to walk by her side, followed closely by the Crusaders and the Mane Six.

This is turning out to be interesting; I just hope it's in a good way.

Author's Note:

Okay, this may seem like a 'he's a tortured soul now' darker sequel, but I Pinkie Promise that my goal for you here is to make your sides hurt with laughter once more. This is a comedy I swear.

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