• Published 20th Dec 2012
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Cultural Artifacts - Dan_s Comments

A little piece of Earth arrives in Equestria, a human and it's home. The citizens of Ponyville and Princess Luna struggle with this newcomer, as it struggles with them.

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2) Settling in Adjustments

Dan's Comments

Cultural Artifacts - Settling in Adjustments

DISCLAIMER: My Little Pony is the property of Hasbro, Inc.

'Dear Princess Celestia,' Twilight scratched that out, and began, 'Dear Princess Celestia and Princess Luna,' she put on a new page.

'Today I,' she struggled to admit it, even to herself, 'failed. And only because of the goodwill of my friends, and the understanding of a creature we have never seen before, did this failure not become a disaster.'

She sighed again, and considered the words she would put on paper. 'I assumed I knew what was best, for everyone. But what I saw, what this creature showed me, shows that I had less understanding of it and what shaped it, than a mouse understands magic. If its homeworld is anything like as terrifying and violent as the images it showed, even in the abstract'.

She scratched out violent and replaced it with 'dangerous'.

'Then pressing it, before it fully understands that Equestria is nothing like that, was a mistake that I and'.

She considered the other interloper.

'Pinkie Pie have made, and that every other pony to encounter the creature have worked hard to avoid. Normally, I would strive to correct my mistake. I think I should adopt a more passive tack, and allow others to educate it about the wonders of the joyous and peaceful world it has suddenly been thrust into.'
'Your chagrined and humbled student, Twilight Sparkle.'

She made the corrections, and noted Spike had been silently staring at her the entire time.

"Are you all right?" he asked carefully.

"No, Spike," she admitted, "I think, everything changed, and I wasn't prepared for it. I need to do better. I wasn't a very good representative for Equestria, or Princess Celestia today. That hurts. What hurts worse is the one who shouldn't know how badly I did, was the one to make it clear. The monster, who's been here a day, knew I was failing Celestia, probably without even knowing who Celestia was."

"Twilight, that doesn't make sense," Spike said quietly.

"It means I have to do better," Twilight said, "But doing better, means doing nothing. Which while it's right, doesn't make any sense to me either."

Spike nodded and sent the letter, while Twilight trudged up the stairs to her bed. He waited until she was out of sight to ruefully shake his head.

"Sergeant," one of the Night Guard saluted as Mile Stone entered the small observation post overlooking the side of the house, "We think it may be trying to escape the cordon. It entered the bathroom, with dark clothing and a cap to cover its head. But first it mixed up a batch of something to blacken its face."

The sergeant stifled a sigh. "It did this, in front of the largest single window pane in the entire house?" he asked politely, "Did it adjust the blinds so you could see what it was doing before or after it started?"

"Um, before," the soldier said, mystified.

"Thank you, soldier. Tell Captain Armor to get four good trackers, two teams of two. Tell him that the monster is probably going to slip into Ponyville, so the populace doesn't know it's there, but that it wanted us to know."

"Sir, how can you know that?" the remaining soldier asked in awe as the other rushed off to relay the message.

"Because when you prepare to be sneaky, in the full view of the ponies you might have to sneak past," the sergeant explained, "It's because you want them to know you're being sneaky."

The monster slipped out the front door with its two-wheeled vehicle.

The full moon must give it more than enough light to see by, Heaven Spectre thought, How did it spot me? she wondered as it waved to her and its other tail, Zephyr Winks. Then it proceeded straight towards Ponyville.

Or did it just assume, and is messing with us? she considered. Despite her endurance training, she had a bit of a time keeping up. Wonder if the feather brains are considering getting that thing as an advantage.

Very quickly, it became clear. It was headed towards the town library. Is it after Miss Sparkle? the ranger thought, then it spotted the librarian gazing out at the stars and the monster darted down an alley to avoid detection by the librarian. Zephyr stayed overhead as the ground member of the second team picked up the monster up. Heaven Spectre watched the librarian muse for some minutes, while she watched on the off chance that the creature might double back. Then she headed back toward the house.

Princess Luna and Shining Armor were debriefing the team in the command center as she arrived. "It didn't come back to the library," she reported.

"Because it returned to its home," her Highness said, "Are you certain?" she asked Zephyr.

"It seemed kind of angry that the library was occupied."

"Or who occupied it," Shining Armor admitted, "I think it and my sister have rubbed each other the wrong way."

"Your Highness, I suspect this was a scouting mission," Feather Soft, the other pegasus tracker said, "It has a watch, and I think it was timing the travel from its home to the library. Or, from the library to any of our command posts."

"Explain," Luna said.

"I think it was trying to figure out how much time it would have to get to the library, and do something there, before we would be alerted and could respond."

"We tracked it the entire time," Armor pointed out.

"Because it wanted us to. It may be able to slip through the cordon and move where it wishes. I suspect it wanted to get to the library. But once it saw that was also Miss Sparkle's home, that plan was scrapped," Zephyr said.

"It also indicates it doesn't know any of us can teleport," Heaven Spectre pointed out, "Or it does and wants us to know what its next goal is."

"Uncertainty and paralysis lay down the road of guess and counter-guess about its motives," Luna said, "It is intelligent enough to know to telegraph its actions to us, and cunning enough to change those plans with circumstances. If Miss Sparkle hadn't been present, it may well have entered the library proper. We will not speculate on a plan to lure it to the empty library. Let it plan its next move. Speculation on why it would seek a library full of unreadable books would be welcomed."

The only member of the scout/tracker team who hadn't spoken was Twilight Strider. "I think it was after information. It has a huge stash of books. And it's clever. It may be looking for a mate to a book it already has, and it wanted to look through the library to find it."

"What kind of book?" Luna asked.

The tracker shrugged. "Anything that would have information similar to one it has."

"It's trying to learn our language through some kind of touchstone?" Armor asked.

"It's what I'd do. Every speaking thing on Equestria knows our language," Strider said, "We'd have to guess how it learns a new language. But with all those books, that's what it would rely on. It already figured out our math through our books and its, seems like if something works, you keep at it."

"Reasonable," Luna said, "I begin to wonder about keeping it isolated, and keeping it here. At Canterlot, it might have a richer feeding ground."

"How many arrogant princes and princesses are you willing to let it shoot for barging into its home?" Zephyr asked a bit too loud, so it was heard.

"Point taken. Although a few might be a welcome change," Luna said very seriously, then chuckled, "No, the noise would disturb the good citizens. And it might break Derpy's heart, if it started shooting the postmares." They had a chuckle about that.

Ah hate this, Ah hate this, Ah hate this, Applejack thought as she approached the door. The spotters had said it rose early, so before breakfast was the best time to approach it. Ah don't care if Princess Luna ordered this, and paid for its wages, and promised to rebuild whatever it damaged around the farm, Ah hate this. She had earlier admitted to herself that part of what she hated was begging help from anypony else, let alone a monster.

Ah think Granny Smith is gettin' worse. 'It'll be right neighborly to bring him a fine breakfast', Ah swear she thinks this is a stallion Ah'm courtin', she thought, and knocked on the door, a good deal harder than she'd meant to.

"Oh that's great, break down its door," she thought as she looked close to see if she'd damaged it.

The door opened suddenly, then the monster took a side step so she wasn't staring directly at it. Then she looked up, and up. And took a step back. You'd thought watching it for two days I'd realize how big it is, she thought as she looked at its face.

"What the hay?!" she gasped. About a quarter of its face was covered with soap suds, and where the soap suds weren't it had removed the fur it had been growing. She fell back on her haunches as she stared.

It took a menacing, hands-upraised pose. Claws extended. All fangs displayed. Applejack felt her fear rise. And it said something very softly. Applejack nearly bolted. It stared at her a moment, then closed the door. Applejack tried to unfreeze herself.

Ah bucked timberwolves, and gone up against dragons, she thought, Why's this varmint got me spooked? Before she could answer, the door opened again. The critter took off her hat, she was just about ready to swat its hand away, when it put an ice pack on her head, put her hat back on, and closed the door. Applejack gritted her teeth as she almost felt the ice turning to steam in the pack.

"Oh, um hi Applejack," Fluttershy said as she landed beside her, "I was watching, and you were having such fun, I didn't want to interfere. But I think you need to actually talk to him."

Applejack stared at her. "Ah know that."

"Don't worry, I think he's cute too." Before Applejack could respond, Fluttershy quietly knocked on the door.

Fluttershy couldn't help herself. She let out a little squee at seeing him up close. The monster's look of alarm nearly matched what Applejack's must have looked like. Its eyebrows practically disappeared into its scalp as it looked at the grinning pegasus.

"Oh, sorry, you're just so adorable," Fluttershy apologized, "This is my friend Applejack." She hugged her. "And there's this big storm coming." She made thunder sounds, and waved her hooves like rain coming down. "And she's got a farm and could really use another pony - person to help get her farm all fixed and ready for the storm." Fluttershy grabbed the basket Applejack had brought. "They make all kinds of apple products, so she'll feed you breakfast and lunch, as well as pay you." Fluttershy held up a few bits, then nosed his hands. "With those I'm sure you could help her." Fluttershy rose up to move eye to eye with the monster and grinned broadly. "She's not usually this embarrassed, but I think she thinks you're cute, like I do. She's kind of embarrassed your first date is her begging for help."

"This ain't a DATE!" Applejack shouted, "And what are you, Pinkie Pie in a Fluttershy suit?"

The monster's apprehension with Fluttershy's behavior was now replaced with an expression of absolute neutrality, which Fluttershy nearly matched. The monster took Fluttershy's hoof bowed his head against it and vowed something. He chuckled and stood aside to let them in. Fluttershy followed. When Applejack didn't, the monster took her hat and the ice pack, and set her hat on a door knob inside.

Grumbling, Applejack walked in and retrieved her hat, then closed the door behind her. "Where's the light comin' from?"

Fluttershy flew up to the top of the bookshelves. "There's a couple of big boxes up here that glow." She moved to the windows opposite the shelves. "You can't see them from anywhere in the room. Except up there."

"We're lucky Twi didn't see these too," Applejack said of the filled bookshelves, "She would've gone more loco than she did."

The monster set a large box down, and opened it. Inside were all manner of tools. Some Applejack had never seen before.

"Yes," Fluttershy said and nodded enthusiastically, "That's exactly what we need."

The monster nodded back, and directed them to sit on the couches, while it got some tea for them from the kitchen.

Fluttershy sighed when it left again. "I am willing to share," she said, and hid her smile behind her mane.

"Just cause ya think he's cute and harmless, that don't mean Ah do," Applejack said, and sipped her tea, "Ah'm only doin' this for the Princess." She looked at the teacup. "How'd it get Equestrian teacups so fast? Ya don't suppose its look like ours? Never mind, that's just silly."

"Maybe, you should be doing it for your farm. He seems willing to help, and maybe there are things you need done that he can do better."

"There's nothin' on the farm I cain't do," Applejack countered sharply.

The loud clap brought them both around. The monster waved a finger at them, its expression stern.

"I apologize," Fluttershy said.

The monster cupped a hand by its ear.

"I apologize too," Applejack muttered.

"I didn't say you can't do something," Fluttershy said, "He might have a way to do it better."

"Fluttershy, it's mah family's farm. If I can't do it, then it means it might not get done," Applejack said in a reasonable tone. And glanced over at the hall the monster had disappeared down.

"Are you afraid to ask for help, or ashamed?" Fluttershy asked quietly. "The Princess needs to really push him, his intelligence, his strength, and his willingness to do work. She isn't picking on you. She's depending on you to give it a try."

Applejack sighed as she frowned. "What does she expect outta that? Barn raisin' with one finger? Plow the fields with a wave? Maybe the next monster that rears its head, we send our monster against that monster. 'Shy, we know nothin' about this critter. Look around. Other than the books, I don't know what half this stuff is. Look, three marbles. Or are they. A bunch a wires that look almost like a buildin', but are they?" She trotted over to the glass-fronted cabinet. "I doubt even Twi, or Celestia herself could tell ya what half of them doodads is."

"But if he's our friend, all these doodads will be working for us," Fluttershy said as she hovered behind her friend, "That's what Twilight was saying."

Applejack considered, and tried to put into words how uncomfortable the creature made her feel. "Fluttershy, you all are saying it's a pet bear, that don't make it less a bear. Bears got teeth and claws, no matter how many bows you got tied in her fur."

"Maybe, maybe it's not a bear. Maybe it's a lost dog. If Winona got lost, wouldn't you want nice ponies to take her in? Maybe you're worried that it might be something you care about, and the Princesses will take it away."

Applejack rolled her eyes at that, but looked over at all the trinkets and books and pieces. A whole life here. But what is it really?

The monster reappeared, and signaled them to follow.

"One thing, it changes clothes more'n Rarity," Applejack said and walked down the corridor. Then into a small room that smelled of soap, and had metal boxes in it large enough to hide a couple of ponies. Then down some stairs. The shed was big, and had two carts in it. The monster headed to the white, open-topped one.

"Hold on stranger!" Applejack insisted, "If you think I'm pullin' that monster, you got another think comin'." The cart, loaded with tools and other equipment was open like a wagon in back, but had a closed cab like a fancy, Canterlot, hansom cab.

Why'd they put a nose on this thing? Applejack wondered, Ta keep the rain off the pony pullin' it?

The monster waved them over, and to the cab.

"It's gonna pull us?" Applejack asked in astonishment, "Even Big Mac couldn't pull that monster too easy."

Fluttershy landed on and sank into the padded bench seat. She looked at the complicated buttons, levers and the wheel stuck in front of one of the seats. "Maybe it's magic, and doesn't need ponies."

"Maybe," Applejack climbed in and sat next to Fluttershy, leaving the seat behind the wheel unoccupied. The monster got in, grabbed a strap and pulled it in front of and across them, and clicked it to another. Then did the same to itself.

"I don't like this," Applejack said she looked at the strap across her chest, that doubled back across her hooves.

"Uh, it probably strapped us down, for the same reason it strapped down all the tools," Fluttershy said as she looked into the back of the wagon.

"What for?" Applejack asked, then the wall in front of them pulled up to the ceiling, and the machine let out a growl. "OH NEILLY!" Applejack held Fluttershy, who held right back as the horseless wagon drove across the ground and out onto the road.

"It's so we can't escape!" Fluttershy wailed in terror.

Applejack looked around. " 'Shy, you and Dashie can fly faster than we're goin'," she told the panicking pegasus.

"But we're in the air! Not strapped into a steel wagon with a monster at the reins!" she wailed.

The monster looked over at the two ponies. Applejack patted its arm. "She'll be okay," she said, and then was pushed against the straps. She looked at the sign post outside of town. "Uh, oh, that way," she said and pointed to the road the sign cleared marked 'to Sweet Apple Acres'.

"Oh no!" Fluttershy wailed as they took off down the road.

"So, what about this mister Applejack's got her eye on?" Granny asked as she set the dishes to dry.

"Not 'mister', granny, monster," Applebloom offered. "He is taller than Celestia, and has a house and all kinds of magic!"

"Well, if he's got a house near here, I guess Applejack can still help at the farm."

"Granny, he's not a pony. We don't know rightly what he is," Big Mac said.

"If he grows apples, he's our kinda folks," Granny said, as if that were final. "Applebloom, you git off to school. Miss Cheerilee is using our barn. So you make sure it's presentable."

"Wait, does Applejack know about that?" Big Mac asked.

"Nope," Granny said, "Useful to see if her beau is good with kids." Granny wandered to the sitting room.

"Big Mac, you remember how you think us Crusaders are always gittin' in trouble?"


"I think this is gonna put us all to shame," Applebloom said.

The wagon came through the open gate at the farm, and Applejack pointed where the first project was. A long string of 'volunteers' little shoots of trees that were too bitter to pull up with teeth, and gave a painful rash. Not an impossible problem, but a difficult one. The monster stopped the wagon, then stopped the rumbling noise it made, and released the strap that held Applejack and Fluttershy in place. Fluttershy showed no evidence of releasing Applejack though. Then he went around the other side and with Applejack's help, carefully lowered the pegasus to the ground.

"Okay, let's see what you make a' these," Applejack said and pointed at the collection.

The monster returned to the wagon, put on some heavy covers over its hands, and came back with the biggest set of tongs Applejack had ever seen.

"Those are as tall as you," she said. Then the monster drove them in the ground a few times, turning them as he went, until he'd cut a circle around a shoot, and pulled it out of the ground. "We didn't need to save'em for replantin', but that works." Applejack retrieved a large, sealable, metal container to put the plants in, and watched in amazement as at least three hours' careful digging and handling was finished in twenty minutes.

"Okay, maybe the Princess' idea wasn't so crazy after all," Applejack said, then looked around, "What the hay am I gonna use you for?" she asked.

Unfriendly eyes regarded the farm work. "Tell Rover Bill that we have it, and two who humiliated us. And it doesn't have the stick that blasts."

The armored Diamond Dog disappeared into the underbrush. The one left behind grinned.

"Rainbow!" Rarity said in alarm as she trotted into the observation post, "What are they doing? We didn't send Applejack away with it, so we could break into its house, did we?"

"Naw, they want to measure it. See if there are any places inside that we haven't seen yet. There's windows we can't see through, and some piece in the middle they think is enclosed. The Princess was real strict that no one goes in." Rainbow laughed. "Pinkie found out what happens to snoopers."

"Well, I am glad. Breaking a 'Pinkie Promise' is one thing, but using Applejack to trick a creature like that while we rifled its home. I think the creature might have help when it punished us."

"Aw, I think we could take it."

"Says the pony who found the Diamond Dog," she said teasingly. "Uh, Rainbow. Is that gallant Captain Armor around?"

"Gonna apologize to him for knocking him cold yesterday?" Rainbow teased.

"I also remember knocking a certain pegasus cold, yesterday," Rarity said darkly.

Rainbow rose up, out of range. "Lucky shot. I think he's down with her Highness, measuring."

"Thank you, Rainbow Dash." Rarity tossed her mane. "I still don't see why you all objected. I was merely going to offer him my card," Rarity said.

"Yeah, and Pinkie just wanted to throw it a welcome party," Rainbow replied, but stayed out of reach.

Cheerilee had led the entire class out to see 'the monster'. Applejack was staring in amazement at the collection of foals approaching. For its part, the monster had taken one look at them, and gone back to work. It was a stump that had resisted even Big MacIntosh's attempts to remove it. The monster currently had a drill that screamed like a scared filly, with a bit as long as a foreleg. But it cut through the hard wood with ease. What the monster was going to do with a stump full of holes, Applejack couldn't even guess.

"Okay kids, stay back! We're workin' here." Applejack flipped up the face shield the monster had insisted she and Fluttershy wear if they stayed close to the work, while it wore a set of goggles and ear coverings. The clear shield flopped right back down, muffling her voice. Most of the fillies and colts started laughing at her predicament.

"I don't see what's so special," came a too familiar voice, "It's just like a trained bear."

"It is not, Diamond!" Dinky Doo shouted, "He's nice, and he can do things not even Twilight can do!"

"Oh really?" the filly commented. "Like kill? It killed a Diamond Dog, who hadn't even hurt it. Something like that should be driven back into the Everfree Forest, where it belongs."

"Ya gonna drag its house back there too?" Applejack asked.

The filly snorted with contempt.

I hate ta admit it, Applejack thought, But that doesn't sound too bad an idea, if we could move its home and land there. But then somepony would say it was too close, and want it moved past Appaloosa, then it would be the griffin's problem, and I don't like the idea of them gettin' half the stuff we saw in that house, or what he'd do ta them ta keep it.

The monster returned, trailing a set of wires to the stump. All the blue ones it was winding together, and all the green ones in a separate braid. It reached into the cab of the wagon, and there was a loud clunk from the front.

"What're you doin'?" she asked, and immediately regretted not remembering the language problem.

It made a hissing noise and waved its fingers in the air.

"It almost looked like fireworks," Applejack said and looked to Fluttershy, who raised the mask. Only hers stayed in place.

"It put a powder in the deepest holes, so maybe it is fireworks," Fluttershy said.

"What are fireworks gonna do to a stump? Lift it outta th' ground? Blow it up, with all these foals here?" she asked, but the amazement at what lay under the metal sheet that covered the nose of the wagon drew her attention. "It's a machine?" she asked as the foals gathered round the new device.

"It smells awful," Diamond Tiara commented.

"It does that," Applejack agreed, "Like hot metal and oil."

The monster had attached the blue wires to a box with two knobs on it. He shouted something, pointed to his eyes, and pointed almost exactly opposite of the stump.

"He doesn't want us to see his trick," Silver Spoons said.

"I think he doesn't want us . . . " Applejack said and looked towards the stump, then tugged on the monster's sleeve. "You got any bright ideas to deal with them?"

He could tell the orange pony didn't like what she was seeing. Great, more orcs, he thought as he looked at the stump, then looked at the bundle of wires still in his hand, and that the bulk of their formation would take them straight at the stump. Better them than me, he thought and gestured for the little ones to get behind the truck, and turn away. The three adults corralled the panicking little ones and got them out of sight. The pegasus had taken refuge in the bed of the pickup.

I hope they aren't watching, he thought as he shielded his eyes and touched the other collection of wires to the ground terminal of the battery.

"Can he control the sun?" Cheerilee asked as the brilliant illumination threw every shadow into sharp relief. The light reflecting off the Diamond Dogs was painful to look at. Some of the fillies and colts whimpered at the brilliant light, but it only lasted a moment. But unlike any fireworks, there was no accompanying noise. Instead, Cheerilee and Applejack heard the thunder of hooves as a dozen of Celestia's soldiers charged across the orchard towards the Diamond Dogs.

Applejack looked under the wagon and saw most of the Diamond Dogs were on the ground, and the few who were upright were wandering as if blind.

"I don't rightly know what that was," Applejack said as the soldiers corralled at least fifteen Diamond Dogs. Most were just realizing they were blinded. "What did you do?" Applejack shouted at the monster, who seemed almost as confused as she was.

He pointed at the sun. Applejack sat down heavily. "He did use the sun against'em," Applejack told Cheerilee, and the kids. Applejack shuddered at the idea of using the sun as a weapon. Then she saw the stump. Some smoke rose from it, but otherwise it looked intact. "Even if it didn't work, please don't do that again," she said carefully, keeping the visor up with her hoof.

He looked at her with confusion, but nodded. The soldiers were escorting the Diamond Dogs away.

A few seconds ago, they were gonna hurt th' younguns, Applejack thought, Then poof, they're the ones needin' help. She looked at the monster, who had gone around and was helping Cheerilee and Fluttershy calm the scared ones. It's like a faucet, on, off, hot, cold, nasty, nice, and it's like nothin' changed. She looked at the whimpering Diamond Dogs, blinded, she hoped temporarily, but the monster had simply seen a target. So how safe are we, and what happens if it turns on us?

"It's got to be pretty stupid, if it can't even speak Equestrian," Snails said.

"You're stupid if you can't figure out how to ask him a question!" Dinky Doo shouted back.

"Well, how would you ask why it wears all those clothes?" Featherweight asked.

The unicorn thought a moment. "Okay." She motioned for him to bend down, and when he did touched the work shirt. "One." And the white shirt underneath. "Two. Why?" she asked.

Its face screwed up with confusion for a moment.

"See, it can't even figure that out," Snips said.

"He knows the answer, but he's gotta figure out how to tell us," Dinky replied.

"It's gonna draw a picture?" Applebloom said, as he held up a pencil and looked around, waving for the others.

"I got one," Diamond Tiara said, and gave him a whole package of colored pencils.

He motioned Diamond forward.

"Uh, you speak monster better than I can," Diamond said and moved back into the crowd. This seemed to amuse the monster. Cheerilee moved up instead.

He took off his shirt, and the smaller white shirt underneath.

"He doesn't have any fur!" Scootaloo said from behind it, and laughed.

"It's cold?" Sweetie Belle said, then looked around, "In this weather, it's cold?"

"Why's it only got hair on its head and under its forelegs?" Twist asked.

He pinched the skin on his arm and held it before Miss Cheerilee.

"I don't understand," the teacher admitted. He smiled and held up one finger.

He rubbed his hands together very fast, and put them on Dinky's cheeks.

"That's warm," she said happily.

Then it put some of Diamond's pencils between its hands and rolled them very fast. Then it touched Dinky's cheeks with his hands.

"That isn't warm at all."

He pointed to the hair under his arms, and held up the pencils.

"It's to prevent its skin from chafing," Cheerilee said, "We have fur all over and it does the same thing. It only has fur exactly where it needs it."

He returned the pencils to Diamond, and motioned her forward. She came, reluctantly. He rubbed his face on the white shirt, and held it out for her to do the same. She did. Again, reluctantly.

"It's soft," Diamond said. Then she did the same with the offered work shirt. "And that's pretty rough."

He made a rolling motion with his hands, and started dressing.

"It wears the outer one to protect its skin, and the inner one to keep the outer one from chafing!" Diamond said, she looked at it, "It's smarter than I thought."

"That answer your question?" Dinky asked Featherweight.


Dozens of other questions were shouted. Some students calling one after another.

"Where's it from? Does it eat ponies? What did it do to the Diamond Dogs? How did it get here? How long is it gonna stay?" came in and even Cheerilee felt overwhelmed.

"Ooo. What does this do?" came a question from the other side of the wagon.


The monster hadn't thundered any actual words as it had shot to its feet, at least not in Equestrian. But that tone, the angry gaze, the gesture, and that delivery were instantly recognizable across any barrier of language, or species. Every colt and filly instantly and guiltily flattened on the ground.

Pinkie, wide-eyed and hair dead-flat, replaced the device in the strange cart, and left post haste.

Big Mac let out a breath as he trotted up. "Yep, he's a serious one."

Miss Cheerilee and the kids stared at him wild-eyed as he checked the device, then put it in the cab of the wagon and locked it up.

It said something that sounded like an apology, and it sat down.

"Um, what was that?" Dinky asked, and pointed at the device.

He shrugged and pointed at the lunch that Big Mac had brought.

"Can we see it first?" Dinky asked, and looked to Miss Cheerilee for support.

"If you wouldn't mind," the teacher said and nodded towards the device.

He shrugged and unlocked the cab, set the case before the foals and opened it. Applejack walked over to look at it. "Mean-lookin' thing." Heavy box with handles, and a weird knife blade-looking piece stuck to it.

He flipped down Applejack's face shield, and replaced his own goggles, before walking over to the stump. He motioned the others to stay back, allowing only Fluttershy and Applejack close. The pegasus having replaced her face shield before venturing out. The machine let out a noise like a swarm of bees, and he applied it to the stump. He easily cut into the stump with the machine.

"No wonder," Applejack breathed, then shouted back, "That thing is dangerous."

"No more dangerous than the plow," Big Mac said to the kids, "If you know how ta work it. That's why it has the goggles or that face mask to protect its eyes."

"But the stump's still there!" Applebloom complained. Said stump had resisted the best efforts of the 'Cutie Mark Crusaders Stump Remover's' plans. Now it had won again.

The machine fell silent, and he locked it back in its case in the cab of the wagon.

"Can you imagine Pinkie with one a those?" Applejack asked Big Mac as she set the visor aside.

"I kin imagine Pinkie with a couple of those," Applebloom said, "I kin imagine Pinkie trying to juggle a couple a those, while they're runnin'." Everyone shuddered at that.

He pulled several long, thick metal rods from the wagon and carried them out to the stump, and waved for the others to follow. Big Mac grinned and pulled a set of ropes from the pack he carried.

"Maybe you need to get another horse collar," Big Mac suggested as the monster set the rods into some holes it had dug in the stump earlier.

It looped the ropes around the one set of rods, and fitted them to Big Mac's harness. Then another from a second set of rods to Applejack, and a third to the class's set of rods. It made a rotating movement with its arms.

"We're gonna unscrew a stump?" Applejack asked, and looked at Fluttershy. "Yeah, let's see how smart it is." She muttered, "Nopony payin' attention ta how crazy it is."

The three teams pulled. The wood held, for a little while, and then they heard cracking.

"Ease up!" Applejack said between clenched teeth, as they did exactly that, unscrewing the stump. They completed a half circle before the top of the stump came away from the rest. The stump which had been Applejack's and Big Mac's bane for years was cut flush with the ground.

"It's all burnt in the middle," Scootaloo said of the center of the stump.

"Maybe that's where it put the sun?" Fluttershy offered.

Applejack stared at the chunk of charcoaled wood. She barely heard Big Mac and Cheerilee calling her to lunch.

Rainbow Dash saluted even before she'd finished landing before Luna in the command post. "We've got clouds all set, and ready for that storm, your Highness," she said, "The Ponyville Weather Team is ready to deliver it tomorrow night."

"Excellent," Luna said. "Spitfire, please accompany Rainbow Dash, and see to the preparations in Ponyville for the storm." She ignored the wide-eyed eagerness of the Element Bearer.

"Yes, Highness," Spitfire said, and took to the air. "Now, rookie, can you keep up?"

"I'm the best flier in Ponyville!" Rainbow countered,

"I'm the best in the Wonderbolts," Spitfire shot back as they headed off towards town, zigzagging around each other.

"Glory Bell, has your team completed their measurement?" Luna asked the engineering expert from Canterlot.

The royal white unicorn nodded. "There's two areas we haven't been able to see. But the fillies passed through one of them, and if reports are accurate, Applejack and Fluttershy passed through it this morning. We can talk to them about it later."

"What of the last area, it's as large as a decent apartment," Luna pointed to the area.

"It's got a window we can't see through, and it leads straight into the - his bedroom. We have no idea what it is. But if it went through this door, and returned with clothes, it may be some kind of storage. The actual space is similar to the bathroom here. It could just be another bathroom and a closet."

"Even Rarity wouldn't need that much space for just clothes," Luna commented, "Well done. I assume this door is the only access?"

"Unless it goes into the attic." Glory lowered her voice. "Highness, it would be a lot easier with scrying spells."

"Would we like strangers scrying our domicile?" Luna asked.

"I don't have anything to hide."

"There is a difference between hiding things, and trying to keep your neighbors safe from what you have stored. Miss Sparkle was quite, disrupted, by some moving images, like a living picture or a home cinema screen. And the weapons have not been accounted for either. Good enough reasons to keep things away from prying eyes, and ignorant hands."

"Maybe. Highness. I must protest your plan to go in tomorrow. If this storm is as powerful as you want, the creature might do things to you and the team, before help can arrive."

"So you do not wish to accompany me?" Luna asked carefully.

"Me, I mean, me?" the unicorn stammered.

"You are trained, and are 'soft and cute', perfect for the nonthreatening role." Luna smiled carefully. "You are also a keen mind, so are well-suited as a spy."

"'If I can't use scrying spells outside, what makes you think I can use them inside, Highness?"

"You will use your eyes, and your brains. Ask him questions. He seems to have a soft spot for the young and curious. You still qualify, do you not?"

"Yes, Highness," Glory said, "Although I can control myself."

"Admirable. I hope I can. There is so much I wish to learn. But I have a primary mission, and must accomplish that."

"Yes, Highness," Glory said, bowed and left.

"Captain Armor, how did this creature harness even a fraction of the power of the sun, and inflict it on those Diamond Dogs? Celestia has felt no contest to her suzerainty of that orb."

"Fireworks, your Highness. He used some kind of powder. He probably intended to burn up that stump with it. The Diamond Dogs, charged straight into it."

Luna glanced around. "Another worrying weapon. At least it didn't explode the stump and let them run into the splinters."

"I'm more worried about what kind of creature keeps that kind of material in its home. We have powders that will do the same. But most alchemists who brew them have workshops with solid, stone walls, and roofs of sheet tin, for a reason."

"And a distinct lack of manes and eyebrows," Luna agreed.

"Yes, Highness. I also think we may need to talk to this 'Rover Bill' of the Diamond Dogs. If he keeps sending soldiers after our guest, things could get more ugly."

"I have considered that. You and Sergeant Mile Stone will 'visit' him, tomorrow afternoon. And 'explain' our deep concerns," Luna said, "And plead that I will not have to become, personally involved."

"Yes, your Highness."

Applejack looked at the charred piece of wood that the monster had cut from the stump. Cheerilee had asked for it, to make a table out of it. Big Mac had agreed. Applejack kept pawing through the stump, and the charcoal at the center.

He burnt a hole in it, and then just cut it up, Applejack thought, Then what're all the metal bits there now about? His buzz saw thing didn't loose any teeth off the chain, and these're too big to have been mixed in the powder. So what happened?

The monster had wandered over and stared at her pawing. Then it took a piece of the charcoal and drew a math equation on the remains.

"That's fancier math than Ah know," she admitted. It pointed to the triangle over the equal's sign and made the same hissing noise and fireworks finger moves. "Still don't make no sense to me," she told it and walked away. "What kinda math let's ya do things like that?"

The lunch was typical Apple family fare, and the kids seemed fascinated by the idea that the monster had no trouble eating most of it.

"Look at its teeth, those sharp ones," Sweetie Belle said, "They're a little like a dog's or a cat's, do you suppose it, eats meat?"

"It eats cheese," Dinky Doo explained, "And it cooks. It cooked a sandwich of cheese, and it was good!"

"You ate what this thing cooked?" Diamond said, "You're braver than me." Dinky turned to face Diamond.

A hand and a hoof appeared between the two. Applejack pulled hers back quickly. "No fightin' durin' lunch," she said, "Besides it hasn't et nobody who could ask it not ta. Even if it couldn't understand the question."

"You'd better introduce it to Lulu Belle and the others," Applebloom warned, "If they get excited, they don't talk real good."

Applejack nodded at her little sister's wisdom. "Maybe we can get it ta install the gutter, finally."

"It can fly too?" Applebloom asked. Fluttershy 'eeped' as Applejack smiled at her.

"Hello Twilight," a very subdued Pinkie Pie said as she entered the library.

"Are you all right?" Twilight asked, and was immediately engulfed in Pinkie Pie.

"The monster hates me!" she wailed.

Twilight weathered the fountain of tears that instantly soaked her to the skin. "Pinkie Pie."

"He hates balloons."

"Pinkie Pie."

"And parties."

"Pinkie Pie."

"And fun."

"Pinkie Pie!"

"And cake."

"Pinkie Pie!"

"And party games."

"Pinkie Pie!"

"And, and, and you're right, ME!" Pinkie wailed and sobbed on Twilight's shoulder.

"I think he hates surprises," Twilight said as she patted her friend's shoulder, "Or he's getting all the surprises he can stand. Don't you think it's a little weird that somepony comes to a new place, meets all new people, gets dragged into a whole bunch of crazy situations, and they don't completely freak out?"

"You didn't," Pinkie pointed out, her tears instantly forgotten.

"That's what you think," Spike said as he wandered in, "In the middle of the welcome party, she . . . I'll go check the fiction section." Spike departed under Twilight's piercing gaze.

"I think he doesn't like all kinds of parties. Maybe he'd actually like something like the Grand Galloping Gala. You know, talking, soft music, and just being with a few friends." Twilight smiled hopefully at Pinkie Pie.

"I'd never throw a boring party like that for my friends!" Pinkie insisted.

"How 'bout your enemies?" Twilight grumbled.

"Thanks Twilight, I've got to plan the super-duper-duperest party Ponyville has ever seen!" Pinkie shouted as she disappeared through the door.

"I think I finally understand how Luna became Nightmare Moon," Twilight said, "Okay, warn the Princess, and warn the monster." She paused and considered the puddle she was standing in. "After I get dried off. If Discord shows up, I'm locking the three of them in that house." Twilight headed over to get a towel, then a parchment.

Big Mac retrieved Applejack's hat from atop the stick poking up out of the nose of the monster's wagon. He dropped it on Applejack's head as she lay panting, sprawled out on top of the monster. "Ya wore it down and pinned it," he teased, "Can't you say you won?"

He stepped back and stood near Granny Smith. After the kids had left, he'd watched Applejack playfully bullyrag the monster, who'd taken it in good humor. Until she'd knocked it down. Then it had taken her hat and put it on the highest part of its wagon.

"It's good to see Applejack playin' like a filly again," Granny Smith said, "She's been too serious lately."

Big Mac nodded. "I was a little worried, until he started ticklin' her." He looked at his hooves. "Them fingers is good at gettin' places." He laughed as his nearly exhausted sister clambered to her feet.

She nosed the monster, who said something that sounded exhausted even to Big Mac. Another nose and he just lay there silently.

"I think you won that one," Big Mac said, and enjoyed Applejack's reaction that Granny had watched the entire 'fight'.

"Granny," Applejack said as she trotted up, "That wasn't what it looked like!"

"Looked like two foals havin' fun, 's what it looked like. If it weren't no fun, why'd ya do it?" Granny asked. Big Mac took the hint of Granny's sidelong gaze and went to see if the monster still lived.

"I guess, I guess." Applejack hung her head. "I didn't like how it just did all that hard stuff, like it was nothin'," Applejack admitted, "Ah get my tail in a knot about Rainbow Dash's braggin', and Trixie's too. Ah just thought," she trailed off and looked at the monster still lying face down on the ground. "Ah thought it was doin' it too."

"He," Granny said, "Mighta been trying to impress a pretty mare. Or a new friend. Fear does silly things. Hides as somethin' else, and makes us try an' buck all the apples alone. Makes us try and impress ponies who already like us. Makes us fight against what we should be fightin' alongside. He scares ya. Good, he scares me too. But he's tried ta be neighborly, while everypony takes advantage. He can't talk, but maybe somepony needs to stand beside him and teach him the word 'no', afore somepony pushes just a bit too hard." She looked over at the stump. "That stood up to all you and Big Mac could do. Your ma and pa before that. I half-expected Applebloom and her friends to blow up all of Ponyville trying ta git it. Now it's Miss Cheerilee's new table." Granny looked at Applejack. "Zap apples don't grow themselves, and there's a powerful lot we just have ta accept about 'how'. 'Why' sometimes don't matter."

"Thanks Granny," Applejack hugged the old mare.

"Now git. If you're gonna take him shoppin', and get back for when Miss Cheerilee should be done with that barn, you'll have to hoof it fast. But come back, we need the roof fixed," Granny said, "If you kin toss him around like a rag, he won't put a hoof through the roof. Like yer brother did."

Applejack winced at memory of Big Mac stepping through the roof of the old barn, and his less than happy landing. "Yes'um."

Fluttershy smiled at Applejack walking back to the monster Big Mac was helping sit up. Then she jumped and squeaked as Princess Luna appeared beside her. "Element of Kindness, we need your teaching."

"Uh, okay, we aren't going to be yelling, like last time?" Fluttershy asked.

"You may scold us if we do," Luna assured her.

Fluttershy's whimper hung in the orchard after they had vanished.

It gits better the second time, Applejack thought as the wagon slowed on the approach to Ponyville, No wonder it kin do all that, ya need four hooves just ta drive this thing. They stopped the wagon outside the market. The monster opened the door for her, and collected the large basket from the back. He held out the collection of bits, and looked uncertain.

"Trust me," she told him and smiled.

He looked around. Applejack did the same. Many of the ponies stood frozen, staring at the newcomer. He appeared to ignore their fear.

"It hurts, don't it?" Applejack said and leaned against him, "Being away from friends, family? Ya cain't even talk about it."

He smiled, understanding her expression of sympathy. Then it put on the smile she was more used to seeing: tolerant and amused.

Cain't fool me no more, Applejack thought as she headed through the market.

It stopped at the cabbages. "Four bits!" Applejack said, "That's outrageous! They was three bits last week."

"Well, if you don't like it, go somewhere else."

Applejack stared at the clerk. "No counter?"

"Not for that," the pony said, not looking at the tall figure standing beside Applejack, "Besides, they say it eats ponies."

Applejack then leaned close. "Then that's a better reason to sell those cabbages," she whispered, "Maybe we kin git it ta stop." Bits and produce exchanged hooves.

"They think you - you cain't understand. Right now, that's probably a good thing."

Green beans were next. "So this is the newcomer. Always willing to see a new pony in Ponyville."

Applejack smiled worriedly.

"Ah, has it seen a doctor about it's ah, gland condition?" the seller whispered, "I mean it's so, tall."

"It's a mite skinny too," Applejack said, and noted a few more beans than paid for went into the bag the owner hooved over to the monster.

At the end of the chain of stalls, a scream rang out. Applejack was on the monster's heels as it charged towards the scream.

"Oh for Celestia's sake!" Applejack said of whom they found unconscious at the beet counter. "Sweetie Drops, ya better take her home." Applejack considered Lyra's 'weird obsession' for a moment. "When she wakes up, take her ta the Princess." Applejack looked at the monster. "You're not a human, are ya?"

The monster shrugged.

"Ask a silly question, Applejack," she shook her head and told herself.

In her quarters, 'Woona' crouched low and stared fearfully at Fluttershy.

"I think I may faint," Glory said as she entered with another 'soft and cute' pony. "Fluttershy, your Highness, this is Wind Listener, she's your third trainee."

"Uh, why did you pick her?" 'Woona' asked quietly, "If you don't want to say, that's all right too."

"Good," Fluttershy said, "Too much, and they get nervous."

"She meets the criterion," Glory said, as the new mare crouched beside her Highness's 'cute and cuddly' form. "And she's the chief instructor for all the guards' hand-to-hand combat instructors."

"Eep!" 'Woona' squeaked, and managed to bounce away from Wind Listener and under her bed, without getting out of her crouch.

"I'm not that bad," Fluttershy muttered.

The large basket was full, and the stash of bits was seriously diminished as they stopped before the house, and the monster carried the food inside. Applejack tried to unlock the control for the strap that held her, but a hoof was a poor tool for the job. As far as she leaned, she couldn't get her nose, or even her tongue next to the button without choking herself. She fumed a bit, until the creature returned, carrying a tiny box.

"Kin ya let me outta here?" she asked. He shook his head and slid the box into a slot in the wagon she hadn't noticed before. Suddenly, the inside of the cab filled with song. "Wagon with a music box, what'll they think of next?" She wasn't a big fan of the slow Canterlot stuff, or the noisy mess someponies liked. But this was different from either.

Singer sounds a little like pa: sad, worn, but not broke, not by a long shot, she thought as she let the music carry her away. She didn't need to understand the words, the sound and the tone told her more than the words would have. She sniffled a little as she listened. She was almost sorry to see him come back.

"Leave it on, please," she said, putting a hoof against his hand. He nodded and handed her a little box that the other box might fit in. It had lots of tiny words on it, and a picture of another monster like the one beside her. The weathered face, dark hair and all black clothes made her think of her pa again. She wasn't ashamed to keep crying.

"I know bows look adorable," Rarity said politely as she circled her 'trainees', "But the point is to be adorably dishabille, rather than disheveled opulence." She fearfully combed out her Highness' mane. "I'm sure you appreciate Fluttershy's natural cuteness. That's what you should strive for. Too much artifice and a wrong cloudburst will completely spoil the effect. You have to be heart-wrenching even if you are completely drenched."

"Thank you," 'Woona' said, as she nodded to Glory and Listener.

"Now Applebloom's bow makes her adorable, but on an older mare, it would just be immature." Rarity moved the adornment. " However, having that bow down at the middle of your mane, Glory Bell, and that makes you the ingenue. Too busy with her studies to follow fashion. And thus so in need of the kindness of others, when everything falls apart."

Glory glared at her fellow infiltrators who were snickering at her.

"Oh, I wish you'd let me take you to the spa. We could make this perfection. No stallion could resist you."

"We're trolling for monsters," Glory pointed out, "We have no idea if this stuff will have any effect, or he even finds ponies attractive."

"How couldn't he?" Rarity exclaimed in shock, "For the right pony."

"That's disgusting," Listener said. "This is all intel. We get in, we get info, and we get out. Her Highness has her mission, and we have ours."

Rarity frowned sympathetically. "You must live a very sad life, to never want to get out and impress," Rarity said woefully, then added, "And my ranking is three levels above yours. And while I am accused of being 'too dance-like', I am not impressed by appeals to ruffianism."

"She was willing to charge Nightmare Moon, to save her friend. We'll have no 'marshmallow' comments," a full-grown Luna said politely.

"Yes, Highness."

"Of course, your Highness. I was perhaps a bit strident," Rarity said and considered the soldier, "Perhaps a more tomboyish look. Not all the way to Rainbow Dash, but along the lines of an Applejack." Rarity paused and removed her glasses. "Oh dear, I'm advising a member of Canterlot society to willingly dress like Applejack. What is the world coming to?"

"We can accidently drop your card in his house," Glory said.

"Would you?!" Rarity said excitedly, "I really do appreciate it. His unEquestrian geometries must speak to bold lines and forceful presentation. You have no idea what a thrilling challenge that would be."

The three other mares exchanged worried glances.

Rarity noticed their discomfort. "Well, other designers would get their chance, later. But they would all be trying to catch up to ground Rarity had already trod, and masterfully so," Rarity said. "Oh, have you considered a cape to disguise your wings, your Highness, or a darling chapeau to disguise your horn?"

"I really think rassling with him was a bad idea now. Almost as bad as this idea," Applejack said as she looked up at the figure dangling in Fluttershy's grip, "If he's that big, and that light, he must break awful easy."

"He would've said," Big Mac said as they watched the team carefully nailing the gutter into place.

They'd used all of Miss Cheerilee's class to run the twenty-odd rachet straps to lift the rather delicate and unwieldy piece of metal to the edge of the barn. Then Fluttershy carried the monster aloft, while he fitted the gutter into the brackets, undid the kinks that the last three attempts to lift it had put in it, and nailed it in place. The yellow pegasus didn't seem to be straining at all. Some of the kids had remained behind to watch the operation.

Soon the job was done, and he began releasing the straps for the Cutie Mark Crusaders to pull down, and coil up. Fluttershy didn't seem to be coming down.

"Aren't they done?" Sweetie Belle asked as she looked up at the pegasus, "All the straps are back in the wagon."

"Uh, why didn't you ask Twilight and Rainbow Dash to do this?" Scootaloo asked, "Rainbow Dash could've done it easy!"

"Remember that birdhouse?" Big Mac said and escorted the fillies away from Applejack. "I think they're, inspecting," Big Mac said nervously, and avoided looking at his sister, whose orange color was heading towards burnt umber.

Before Applejack exploded, the pair headed down. Fluttershy looked like she was cuddling a pillow, not holding him aloft. She set him down and let go with an embarrassed squeak. Only the monster's confused expression cooled off Applejack.

"Mare thinks he's a bunny," Applejack said.

"Have you ever met Angel?" Applebloom asked.

Big Mac decided not to comment. The monster looked around, as if to ask 'what next'? Applejack looked to the threatening clouds, which had been getting worse all afternoon.

"I think Rainbow Dash went overboard on mixin' up a storm," Applejack said, then looked at the monster.

"Kin I hire him ta clean up mah room?" Applebloom asked, then looked at her siblings' expressions. "Or maybe not."

"Once we get those shingles in, I think we're done," Applejack said, "Except to introduce him to Lulu Belle and the others. And where is Winona? I ain't seen hide nor hair of her since this mornin'."

"Maybe she'sa scared of him," Applebloom offered. "He does smell kinda funny."

Applejack nodded. "Well, let's get that done, and get him paid, and see him home safe."

"Can we ride in the back of the wagon?" Scootaloo asked.

Applejack considered the ride, Scootaloo's normal scooter habits, and that they'd be riding with all the tools. "Maybe next time. Ya saw how he reacted to Pinkie playin' with his stuff."

"Aw." The Crusaders tried to cute Applejack into relenting. She looked at him, and he shook his head, pointing to the cab.

"Sorry, he's gotta place for folks up front. And it's not big enough for all three of you," Big Mac said, rescuing his sister from the onslaught. "Maybe after a while, or when the back's not full of tools."

"Like tomorrow?" they asked.

"Maybe," Big Mac said.

He pulled the truck in and hit the button on the remote that closed the garage door. If I don't get a hot soak tonight, I sure won't get anything done tomorrow. The only reason he didn't pour out of the cab was ride back had been enough to stiffen up his muscles. Note to self, quit showing off to creatures that are two- to four-hundred pounds of solid muscle. Got to get in better shape, he sighed and collected the keys and the cassette tape out of the player.

So the farm pony likes Johnny Cash, is that irony, cliche or coincidence? he thought, And pigs can't talk. I think I nearly killed the little ones by trying to talk to the pigs. Their laughter sounds almost human, like the other little ones' screams yesterday, but the speech, all I can get is the tone of voice, nothing intelligible.

In the bathroom he adjusted the blinds to obscure the constant observers' view and peeled off the dirty clothing while the bath ran as hot as he could stand. "Great, if they do this all the time, I'm gonna die by the end of the week. I don't think I'm going out tomorrow, even if their rulers show up."

Sergeant Mile Stone checked his watch as the last of the lights in the house went off. "He's turning in rather early."

"I doubt either one of us would be so different," Shining Armor said, "After working a day on a farm pony's ranch."

The sergeant looked up at the sky. "I do wish the weather team had shown less enthusiasm. I rather like this town. I'd like it to still be here day after tomorrow."

"From what they said, they needed all those clouds for the lightning and thunder. The rain shouldn't be too bad," Armor said.

"Says the captain with the defense shield," Mile Stone said, "Some of us only have our issue gear to keep us dry."

"You can go back to Canterlot, wonderful sunny weather there."

"And who would keep all you shiny, young officers out of trouble?" Mile Stone added, "Some shiny new Prince/Princess-lieutenant would march down there 'we're here to haul you before Celestia', drag the poor creature out of his home, and in front of her Highness. I think we can imagine how well that would go."

"But you'd have to follow the orders of that shiny, Prince/ess-Lieutenant," Armor pointed out.

"Not if the monster obviously drove the dear lad insane. Poor thing, put a cordon around it until their Highnesses can deal with it. Send the poor, deranged royal to the country to count pigeons, until he's all better."

Shining Armor stared at him. "I'm not letting you in the same room as Cadence, without an armed guard."

"I am an armed guard, sir." He came to attention and saluted. "She's also one of the few who'd actually listen to her soldiers. But that isn't what's bothering you."

"What is it, how did it get here, what does it want, why isn't it demanding to go back?"

"Hard to demand anything when you can't really ask. It wants to survive, like the rest of us. The first two, I have no idea, but they're the least important. For a soldier. We have to deal with what it can do, not what it is doing. It is also painfully aware that the full might of an alien nation is poised above its head, like a sword hung by a hair. It will behave itself."

"But how will it look at us for doing this?" Armor asked.

"For letting it decide who comes and goes from its home, for letting it go escorted where it needs to. You've been the one guarded, Captain, how did that feel?"

"I hated every second of it," Armor answered, "But I learned to live with it. I think that's why Luna was so eager to take the field. Get out where things are really happening, instead of where you sit on a padded cushion and let ponies bring reality to you."

"Hence you standing in the mud, staring out at a creature, wondering what is it going to do next."

"So that's what it's thinking?" Armor asked Mile Stone.

"That's what I hope it's thinking. If it isn't, how strange the Elements of Harmony are so close at hand."

"Their Highnesses think of everything," Armor said sardonically.

"He's late," Luna said. The scholars had drawn up an approximate activity schedule based on their limited observations. It had slept most of the day, and its late afternoon start had destroyed the accuracy of that schedule.

"It skipped breakfast and lunch," one of the technical officers reported as another station reported the shed doors were opening. "Trackers are ready, it looks like it's headed into Ponyville."

"Keep an eye on it. I think the storm will break soon, and we need to be ready," Luna said. "Have Armor and Mile Stone gone to 'talk' with Rover Bill?"

"They leave in two hours, Highness," Lieutenant Peaceful Solitude said, "Shouldn't be a long talk."

Spike was reshelving the books that Twilight had removed during the last night's study binge when the door to the library opened and closed. Spike trotted over to see who had arrived, and froze. "You, you, you're the monster everyone's been talking about?" he managed.

The creature stared at him as it straightened out from the crouch needed for coming through the door. It considered, then shrugged. Spike looked around.

"Are you here to steal our books?" he asked fearfully.

The creature advanced towards Spike, who put the main table between himself and the monster.

I wonder if I could get a letter off to Celestia, Spike thought as the creature opened its jacket, and reached inside. Please help, somebody! he thought.

Then it set a book on the table, and opened it so Spike could see the contents. It set a collection of bits beside the book, and gestured at the library.

"I don't think that's enough to buy the whole thing. At least not if Twilight's being reasonable."

It pointed at the shelves again, more insistently. Spike touched the open book. "You want one like this one," he said, but only saw confusion. "Okay, hang on a second." Spike trotted over to the reference section and collected a picture dictionary like what he was guessing the book the monster had was. The smile told him he'd guessed right.

The creature pointed to the bits, then a map of Ponyville hung from the wall.

"You don't want to check it out, you want to buy one," Spike realized, then a thought occurred to him.

Where's that bow? he thought as he searched the odds and ends Twilight kept.

"Ah ha," he said as he found it. He touched the book, and pushed the bits away, placing the bow on top of the picture dictionary. When the monster pointed defiantly at the bits, Spike growled, pointed to himself and pointed at the bow. "Take your present or take off," he said.

The monster held up his hands and relented. He scooped up his book and the bits, then paused and handed over two bits to Spike, before leaving. Spike grinned and raced over to the counter. "Let's see, Dear Twilight Sparkle," he said as he wrote.

The door of the library burst in as Twilight ran into the main room. "The monster was here! Did it take any books? Did it talk to you?" She didn't stop as she circled through the main room, looking from Spike to the books in panic. "How could I have been so foolish to leave at such a time?!"

"Twilight," Spike said as his friend looked at the shelves.

"What if it saw my library wasn't good enough?"

"Twilight." He glanced over at Owlicious who was watching Twilight run around checking things.

"Maybe it doesn't understand how the library is organized! Maybe it left despairing of getting any help from us!"

"TWILIGHT!" he tried for the Royal Canterlot voice, to no avail.

"A second chance and I completely failed! Luna will banish me back to Canterlot! Celestia will send me back to my parents!"

He pulled the scroll he'd prepared earlier, and made a belching sound. "Oh look, it's a letter, maybe from Princess Celestia."

"Oh no!" she shouted and pulled it out of his hand. "DearTwilightSparkle, sincethemonstercameinandwaslookingforapicturedictionary, I thought we could go find a couple of the best ones, and perhaps some books on teaching the deaf to read.

Then give them to the monster as a present.

It will show him that no one in all Equestria knows more about books than my friend Twilight Sparkle.

Your Number One Assistant, Spike."

She blinked away the tears and walked over to nuzzle the dragon. "Thanks Spike, I can always depend on you."

"Why are you so nervous about this?" Spike asked.

Twilight sighed. "I'm Celestia's student, and here's this huge opportunity to study friendship, magic, all kinds of things, and Princess Luna basically told me to go home and wait."

"Don't you think Princess Luna knows what she's doing?"

"Oh course she does. But lately, I've been the one who solves things for Princess Celestia. And the biggest thing to hit Ponyville since Discord, and I'm supposed to stay out of it?"

"Discord wasn't a good thing," Spike pointed out, "And you fought Discord, and Nightmare Moon. I don't think fighting is the best way here. And don't you think Princess Luna deserves a chance to prove herself to Celestia?"

"I hadn't thought of that," Twilight admitted, "I guess I was being pretty selfish. Saving the World is Twilight Sparkle's job!" She hung her head. "And we made fun of Dash being arrogant."

Spike patted her head. "You made a mistake. Now we can make things right. Twilight, it's been here a couple of days. That house isn't leaving. Luna will start the work, and not let you, but expect you, and the others will finish." He triumphantly held up a parchment. "I have a scroll here, ready for Princess Celestia, explaining what happened. All it needs is the list of books the monster needs. I bet she can have the books delivered within the hour." He handed the scroll over to Twilight. She unrolled it.

"There's only seven lines here," Twilight gasped, "What about -"


"Kidding!" The mare smiled. "Let's pick seven, and I can come up with a list for follow ups."

"Right," Spike said.

"Spike, how did you meet Sergeant Mile Stone?" Twilight asked as they walked through the cordon, Twilight's saddle bags heavy with books.

"He was always around the palace. Gave me some tips on being a proper batmare. 'You must correctly guess what your officer needs, before she knows she needs it'," Spike mimicked the noncom's accent. "He's pretty reasonable."

"Yeah." She looked around worriedly. The monster was sitting there, in one of the large chairs facing the glass doors. Spike waved. The replying wave was a bit subdued.

"Remember, Twi, just hoof over the books. Then the map to the library. I attached a library card to it."

"He knows where the library is," Twilight whispered, "And we never bother with the library cards." She nervously smiled at the monster.

"Twilight, humor me. A non-pony, explaining to a pony."

"Hello," she said as he opened the door.

"Hi, we've got your books," Spike said happily and began unloading Twilight's saddle bags. The monster accepted the first two books, but held up one finger.

"I never agreed to that," Spike said, and put the bow on the next book he pulled out. He soon transferred all seven Twilight had picked, plus the two Celestia had added herself. The monster set them back inside, and returned carrying a book that would extend over the tops of most of the tables in the library.

Twilight froze at the sight of it, and memories of the images and music she'd seen. The monster opened the book to show them. Twilight found herself afraid of a book, for the first time in her life.

"Wow, pictures," Spike said, "Pictures of pictures. Um, this is a loan, right?" Spike asked as he tried to fit the huge book into Twilight's saddle bags, it was much too large.

"Thank you," Twilight managed, and got a smile and nod in return.

Spike heard the first rumble of the thunderstorm Rainbow and the weather team had spent days constructing. He glanced around the library, and at the list they'd prepared. "Twilight, is everything ready for the storm?"


"Twilight?" he called and headed down the stairs.

In one of the rooms off the main hall, Twilight stood before the book the monster had lent them. She appeared to be making funny faces at it. Owlicious stood on a perch watching her.


"Oh, hi Spike, is everything ready for the storm?"

"I think we should take one last look around. What were you doing?"

She looked at him and stepped away from the book. "There's this picture in the book. It's just a portrait of a monster, but . . . there's something about that smile. What was it thinking, smiling like that?"

Spike looked at the picture. "When it learns to write and read Equestrian, you can ask. I bet that printing down there explains all about it."

"Maybe, it might just be the painter's name. I found that set of characters all over this book. Including one of a naked monster and all kinds of other nearly scientific diagrams. I think this is a picture book about an art museum. A record of what's there."

"Well, it's a start."

The thunder sounded outside. "We'd better do a last check of the library," Spike and Twilight said together, and laughed.

Luna appeared in the observation post, and looked around. "Where is everypony?"

"Your Highness," the mail pegasus said as she entered the roofed over post. "Did you get your invitation to the party at the monster's house?"

"My WHAT?!"

He'd ridden the bike to the signpost and back several times. Trying to work the kinks out and getting some time outside to think, before the brewing storm made it impossible. That storm is going to dump a truckload of rain, he thought as he headed back to the house, and noted many of the observation posts were dark. Guess they know weather better than I do, he thought as he saw the first strokes of lightning flash from cloud to cloud. The thunder was near deafening. He ignored the garage and headed right to the front door. Great time for the power to quit working, he thought as he walked the bike up the darkened walkway, Well, when all that meat thaws, the buzzards are gonna get a healthy lunch pretty soon after.

He unlocked the door and pushed it open. The lights came on and dozens of ponies standing in his living room shouted.

He slammed the door, feverishly relocked it and raced away.

Pinkie managed to get the door open. "Hey! When we yell 'surprise' you aren't supposed to surprise us!" She looked around and wondered where he'd gotten to so fast.

"WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS?" sounded, followed by a huge thunder clap.

Pinkie turned. "Ah, surprise?" Pinkie offered to Princess Luna, who seemed about 90% of the way back to being Nightmare Moon. The team of three mares the princess had teleported in with glared at the crowd. Pinkie fell back on her haunches and tried to draw away from the furious princess.

Luna spoke calmly, several inches from Pinkie's face, letting the mare alone see the fury that boiled in her eyes. "Wind Listener, find Shining Armor and Sergeant Mile Stone, I wish to know what insanity has suddenly afflicted my troops. Derpy Hooves, contact Rainbow Dash, have them cancel this thrice-damned storm immediately. Glory Belle, assemble the observers and sterilize this place. Anything the observer teams did not see, have it removed. Anything that has been moved a hair's-breadth, have it replaced, every scrap of paper, every stick of furniture, every goblet, plate and trinket."

"Yes, your Highness!" the three mares shouted and set to their tasks.

"Pinkamena Diane Pie, you will return to Sugarcube Corners, by the most expeditious route. And you will remain there as the other Element Bearers assemble. You will not leave there without my express, personal approval, even if the sun and moon explode." Luna put her mouth near Pinkie's ear and whispered, "And if you think Nightmare Moon was a source of fear and terror, you have forgotten I stood with Celestia as we battled Discord, alone."

Pinkie had backed up to the wall, and now vanished.

Luna reined in her anger and turned to the assembled ponies. "Return to your homes, before the storm worsens, go," she said far more calmly than she felt.

Luna stepped out in the walkway and looked at the approaching wall of pouring rain and the lightning. She could extend her power, and see the trail he'd left, but she looked back into the house as the Ponyville ponies scrambled to leave, and the observation teams filed in to restore what had been disturbed. She allowed herself a single tear of helpless, infuriated frustration, before schooling herself to be the austere leader her troops needed.

All right 'Tia, I failed, but perhaps you can succeed, she thought, and sent the message off to her sister.

"You over did it Dashie?" Applejack finished toweling off as she asked the weather pegasus, who laughed nervously and ran a hoof through her drenched mane.

"Where's Twilight?" Rarity asked as she looked around Sugar Cube Corners. Pinkie was hiding in a corner, doing a credible Fluttershy imitation.

"I had to cast the spell to find him. And to track which way he went," Twilight said as she entered, she began removing her rain-gear. "He started towards Everfree."

"Oh no!" Rarity swooned.

"Fortunately, he saw the storm and turned around, and headed down the road to Canterlot," Twilight continued, "Unfortunately, that's where the storm is heading. He stopped, but what that means, I don't know."

"So, are you going out in this storm?" Fluttershy asked, and received a thunder clap as an answer. Fluttershy whimpered from under a table.

"No, Twilight Sparkle," Luna said as she entered, seemingly untouched by the rain pouring down outside. "I will find the lost one. You will decide on your friend's punishment."

"What did Pinkie do?"

"Stripped away the last skein of normality our visitor had, before a new web of bonds and friendships could be woven," Luna said tiredly, "You have wondered why I languished in Canterlot a year, before I ventured forth. Because I could not face the world that had become, and because I grieved for the world I had lost. Even as Nightmare Moon, I had friends and loyal servants who sought to return Luna to whom she had been. All are dust now, and even Celestia does not know their names or their deeds. Isolation was for his salvation, not his damnation. That has been violated, and without a dark deed, he is lost."

"What dark deed is that?" Twilight asked.

"Our original plan, was to make him think we three fillies were caught by the storm," Luna explained, her slow, careful delivery and the fatigue etched on her features worried the others. "So we could trust him with our lives, when we were apparently totally at his mercy. Now my sister and I must cause him to think that what happened, was just a nightmare caused by the storm. That the loss of his last refuge was a mirage, and not reality."

"Ah don't like lyin'," Applejack said.

"We need not your approval. Only your silence," Luna said sharply. Then she explained, "In the days ahead, when he stands on steady ground again, we will permit you to reveal the deception and your opposition, and the blame will fall on us. But he will be whole, sane and alive to condemn or forgive."

"I don't understand," Rarity said.

Luna smiled briefly, and seemed to warm with the tale. "The forgiveness you offered, so freely, so honestly, now is a balm to my soul, and I treasure every moment of it." Then the weariness returned. "But in the weeks following my return, even my sister's love was like vitriol, burning at my soul and my memories. I would have welcomed an ending, no matter what agonies, my pain was so great. Now, I can see that I survived, that I am loved. That is what we must do for him. He has been here but a few days, and can dismiss this all as a fever dream. It was a week before I fully accepted what had befallen me, and my descent into a different madness than Nightmare Moon began in earnest, and not even Celestia could arrest my collapse." She smiled happily. "Perhaps if Celestial Dill or Shamrock Dasher had been with me, I would not have despaired so deeply. You have forged bonds with him already. When he falls, you must bear him up. He may cry, he may rage, he may quietly turn his fury on himself. He may do all of them, or something else. Be afraid of him, but be afraid for him. Even I, remembered ponies, and had my sister. He will be alone in ways none of us can even conceive. You Twilight and you Applejack, have seen as I have, a taste of the darkness he may unleash. Some of it creates great beauty and cunning tools, some creates only death. It is a tension in his soul, and he believes, the soul of all his kind, that the 'monster' can be tamed to do good, to fight injustice, and to bring beauty into the world. Or it can ravage and destroy. In some few ponies, that same spirit exists. Some fell afoul of 'the alicorn sisters' in ancient days. Some stand in this room, even now."

Each of the Bearers shuddered as Luna's eye fell on them.

"You have your orders." Luna faced Pinkie Pie. "When your punishment is assigned, my ban shall be lifted," Luna said and stepped out into the storm.

"Well," Rarity said, "I actually think I have the most appropriate punishment for our dear Pinkie Pie." She laughed at Pinkie's terrified expression.

Luna paused only long enough to hear the cry of torment torn from a distraught soul, before she took a form she rarely used. This form most resembled Celestia and she thought it her most beautiful, but too many would see only Nightmare Moon. She found the cave where he had fled from both the loss of his home, and from the weather that had seemed to have pursued him like a ravening beast. The white and pink alicorns who waited outside nodded to her. She nodded back, and they followed her inside. No fire. No light. Just a creature too much like herself to abandon. He didn't even react until she practically touched him.

He turned suddenly, but Luna was too quick, her horn touched his forehead. "Remember dreams," she said and caught him as he crumbled. She stepped aside for the others.

"Remember sanctuary."

"Remember new friends." Then Cadence smiled and touched her horn to Luna's.

"Break the storm up, now we need it," Rainbow complained as she and the weather team raced through the skies of Ponyville, and tried to corral the last clouds with any real reserves of lightning.

"Quit complaining rookie," Spitfire told her, "At least the Princess told you why we're performing this insanity. All I got were orders." The Wonderbolt captain raced after a cloud that had just zapped Derpy, and would give a few more, good shots.

The screams woke him from a sound sleep. Though he wasn't sure what had jolted him awake, he was glad of it. "First she bites me, then she invades with an army, that pink one is a menace. I hope the others keep her at a distance when I'm awake, or in small doses. What kind of maniac weathers a deadfall, then gleefully leaps into not one snare, but two? She'd probably clear a minefield by jumping on each one." He looked around and suppressed the shudder. "Okay, I know it's hard to tell dreams from reality in this place, but it was just a dream."

Another thunderclap, louder than before, and another cry. He walked through the house, stumbling into walls as he moved. The lightning flashes had destroyed his night vison and the rude awakening had disrupted his balance. He looked through the small door in the door at three fillies, and the soldier from the first day. The white one was comforting the smaller blue one, while the `tomboy-pony` was trying, and failing to look tough and unaffected. The soldier looked disheveled and a tad disgusted.

A flash of lightning revealed all the observation posts on that side were unroofed.

"Well, if you have to spy on me, it might as well be from inside," he told them through the door. "Just wait there a second." He headed to the garage and opened the door, while he laid out some carpet scraps he used to wipe his feet after working in the yard. The four ponies ran into the light, and he closed the garage door behind them. He stepped on the carpet, and mimed wiping their feet. The three fillies dutifully wiped their feet, and walked into the laundry room. The solider wiped his hooves, but sat down on the steps.

"Come on Sir Galahad, you can be noble by not giving me a sick pony to deal with." He jerked a thumb towards the entrance.

The pony gave what sounded like an apology as he walked in. The four ponies crowded in the small space all looked at him.

"You know, I think I realize what you remind me of. Those awful OVAs that Hasbro put out in 2006," he said as he pulled some large rags from the cabinets, "Somehow I don't think having somebody under military surveillance would fit in with constant tea parties." Their horns glowed and they were quickly drying each other off.

He sighed and headed off to get the guest room ready. The storm was getting worse. He pulled the mattresses off the beds, none of the beds were stressed to handle the weight of a pony, let alone several. Then he walked to the family room to shove a couple couches together to give the soldier somewhere to sleep.

"Okay, ladies in here," he pointed to the guest room with the mattresses on the floor. "You, sir, follow me." He led the officer into the family room. A particularly loud thunder blast shook the house. He looked back and the soldier was seated, eyes wide and trembling.

"It's just thunder. You'd think with the ability to move stuff, someone would have come up with a way to control the weather." Then it hit him. "You can, but some storms are just too big, aren't they. This thunder boomer comes out of the ocean, like a Pineapple Express, and dumps on you." He looked around the room. He shuddered, remembering the balloons and streamers and all the party paraphernalia that had filled it. "Okay, no more of their tea before sack time." There was another blast, and the thundering of hooves, and now four terrified mini-horses were staring at him.

"Okay, this is ridiculous. I'm going to bed." As he walked back to his room, the ponies followed, carrying by mouth or magic, or both, the bedding he'd laid out for them. The fillies kept staring, the soldier stood near the door way and tried desperately to be 'stiff-upper' lip.

"Look, several hundred megawatts of weapons-grade cute aren't getting you to sleep on my bed. You ponies are just too heavy."

The stares continued. "Okay, fine." He barely touched the mattress before it glowed and landed on the floor. "I swear, tomorrow I get rid of all the soap and shampoo I brought from Earth. It's got to have pony-nip in it or something." He lay down and had all the ponies crowd in around him. "I just hope it isn't the laundry detergent," he said as he pulled the covers over him and went to sleep.

Luna smirked as her charge slipped beyond the walls of sleep, and she began a deep and intense scan. Every pathogen, every allergen was compared and cataloged. She sighed with relief that there was nothing too serious that would threaten either her people, or him.

Wind Listener detached herself from the mare's nest of bodies, and nudged Mile Stone awake at his spot near the door. The sergeant silently followed her out of the room, and into the kitchen.

"Sergeant, what does that thing smell like to you?" she asked.

"If we're playing a riddle game," the sergeant replied, "I'm having a cuppa." He reared up, and carefully pushed and turned the knob on the stove. Then quietly dropped back down.

"Please answer the question," she repeated.

"Like the sea, after a storm, I guess. Is this relevant?" he asked.

"It smells to me like a field of blooming clover," she replied wistfully, then shook her head. "Sergeant, I've smelled the sea after a storm. It and a field of clover blossoms smell nothing alike."

"We are still in riddle territory," the sergeant said as he considered how to get some mugs.

"You grew up in a fishing village I'll bet."

"What of it?" he asked

She grinned. "That's what it smells like. It smells safe."

"Some trick?" he asked with alarm, "To get us off our guard?"

"Exact wrong direction. I don't think it realized it, until now. But I'm saying we use that. Get all the Canterlot bigwigs down here to meet it. Not the fluff and feathers, the real powers, the movers and the shakers."

"Still in riddle territory, I'm afraid." He opened the box that seemed to clean the dishes, and extracted two tea mugs.

"It's been mirror-imaging what we do. I use it all the time to teach students how to fight Griffons, and Diamond Dogs. I have to move and act as they do, so the students know how to react. So they know that a flat stare from a griffon means something completely different from the flat stare of a pony. Besides, half the game is using body language to say 'I'm in charge and you aren't'. That prevents the fight."

"It's been nice, because we've been nice. It's seemed clever, because it solves a problem in a way we wouldn't. Not that the problem is difficult, but we didn't see how it did it."

"Exactly. We get them here, to see it's safe, and it will start acting safe, because we expect it to be safe. Both of we and it will remember it can be dangerous, but it'll be more like a guard dog than a timberwolf. That's why it's isolated, let it feel safe," she said and grinned, "It uses tools, not magic. It's been trained to think in terms of 'what tool solves what job'. It can't use magic. It's a weakling and a lightweight. I could teach a foal how to beat it in a fight. It depends on devices for everything. So we're all amazed that this 'earth pony-like' creature can spin magic like an alicorn. That's because it has had to. Machines for everything, and with more machines comes more skills you have to learn."

"With more skills come more options. You can't go over a wall or around it, you go over. If you can't do that, you go under."

"Or through," Wind Listener said, "The first thing it did when threatened was kill. But Applejack did a lot more physical contact than the Diamond Dogs did, yet it tickled her, why?"

"Because it knew she was just playing, and that someone, either soldiers or her brother would intervene if it was hurt."

"And she'd stop," she said. "That's what the Princess has been doing." She saw a distinct lack of enthusiasm. "I'm not telling you anything you didn't already know."

"A few connections her Highness hasn't made. But overall, what we have trained for." He looked at the hot black, coiled rods of the stove. "Their Highnesses have considered it. Windigos, Draconequi are legends that everyone knows about. Dragons, griffons, and even pegasi and unicorns were the same." He poured them each a cup of tea and shut off the stove. "The plans and lessons-learned may have been hoof-deep in dust, but they were there."

Wind Listener nodded and opened one of the cold boxes. She shut it a moment later, very gently. She stared at him, and in a very controlled voice explained, "I think I can confirm it is a meat-eater."

"Is there somepony in there?" he asked.

She blinked. "Yes, Prince Blueblood."

Mile Stone bowed his head. "Terrible tragedy, will be sorely missed. If only we'd explained things in time." He raised his head. "But, mustn't let one, small cultural misstep get in the way of true interspecies friendship and cooperation."

"It's just, I'm pretty sure they are cuts of meat. Packaged and frozen." She steadied herself. "Kind of a shock when you were looking for milk for your tea."

He carefully placed the empty teacup beside the sink. "You want a mystery, figure out: how this is running? Where's the water coming from, and, where is the sewage going?" he asked.

Wind Listener looked horrified.

Author's Note:

I haven't responded to your many comments. I decided to first put out another chapter which incorporates more of what has been commented on. Better formating (I hope). A few cracks in the armor. And 20% LESS accent.

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