• 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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3) Disasters in the Offing

Dan's Comments

Cultural Artifacts - Disasters in the Offing

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

Day 5

"Captain," Sergeant Mile Stone said, his helmet in his hoof, and was holding his salute. "I believe I've made a bad situation worse."

Armor was instantly awake. "You released Discord and she's fallen in love with Celestia." He focused on the building he was waking up in, and the early hour.

"That might be more controllable," Mile Stone said miserably

"Didn't you just leave the monster's house?" Armor asked as he put the timeline together in his head.

"I lagged behind, and encountered Miss Pie, as we moved past the first observation posts."

"What happened?" Armor said calmly.

"Ooo a flashback!" Pinkie said happily, "You're going to tell somepony about this later?"

Sergeant Mile Stone decided he was going to stay on message. "Miss Pinkie Pie, the reason that her Highness punished you, was that our new guest needs to feel secure." He pointed to the house in the distance, now dark since their host had given his guests some morning tea, a bit of toast, and verified the storm was over, before letting them out and returning to bed. "On that first night, he set up those traps -"

"They were so fun!" She bounced eagerly. "And so hard to win! I got my back legs caught in a lasso. Do you how hard it was to get my forelegs caught in another?" She sniffled. "Then, when I didn't even see the third one, he didn't give me another turn before he set me up outside. Is that fair?" she asked, her eyes watering.

"Miss Pie, he was hoping to catch the Diamond Dogs, before they hurt him," the sergeant said reasonably.

"But, weren't your soldiers already here?" she asked curiously.

"He didn't know that," the sergeant said, "He also didn't know he could rely on us."

He saw comprehension dawn. "So, I shouldn't have tried to throw a party while he didn't know," she said carefully.

"Exactly. Once he feels more secure, both with himself and with the ponies around him, he might feel more amenable. Although a party within his home would undoubtedly be forbidden for the foreseeable future."

"So we need to prove he can trust us to protect him?" She saluted. "Got it! Roger dodger over and out!"

"Yes, but -" the sergeant realized he was addressing the open air. Then the pink blur returned.

"Are you gonna end this with a wipe or a dissolve?" she asked then looked around. "Ooo, now that's new!" she added as she disappeared again.

"That doesn't tell me anything, sergeant," Captain Armor said as they entered the main observation post.

"According to the notes she left Peaceful Solitude, she used Applejack's 'Baked Bads' recipe to prepare, well, you'd better look." He pointed a hoof at the tripod-mounted binoculars. The other observers were as rattled as the sergeant by what they were seeing.

"Sweet Celestia's mercy," Armor said as he swung the optics around. Scattered all over the grounds outside the house were platters of something like cookies. Only a couple per plate, but the plates were on every possible line of advance where a flat space existed. There was a clear cover or clear wrapping over each. Attached to each one was a sign clearly stating 'Free Cookies for Diamond Dogs' and it was signed with a smiling Pinkie Pie face.

"That, that, that," Armor stammered as he waved a hoof at it.

"- looks like a minefield, sir?" Sergeant Mile Stone said, "I do believe it is. And is intended to be."

Armor stared in horror, then said, "You've got sappers out dealing with them? Then we'll need to test them."

"Princess Buttercup was out with 'an' team from the capitol soon after Princess Luna and her group had their dawn pick-me-up and almost immediately after the placement. Her Highness Buttercup sampled one, turned each color of the rainbow, individually and distinctly, and vented a considerable amount of steam out of her ears. Twenty minutes later, Nurse Redheart informed her Highness Luna that Princess Buttercup was going to live. Upon hearing this, Princess Buttercup's lamentations were vocal, interestingly foul, and covered all manner of physiological and, ah, recreational proclivities of the maker of the cookies. Some of which were physically impossible prior to the arrival of our friend out there."

"Sir! There's one INSIDE the house!" an observer called as the lights marked the inhabitant's movements within.

They stared in horror as their 'guest' approached the plate sitting in the breakfast nook. He took one look at the sign and gave the plate a wide-berth.

"She built a monster-proof minefield," Mile Stone said in admiration.

"Just leave them?" Armor asked, "Except that one."

"Just leave them," Mile Stone agreed, "I'll call on him in a bit and get approval to send a sapper in to remove just that one."

Armor looked at Mile Stone. "Sometimes I wonder who is the alien around here. The Element Bearers, or our friend out there."

Luna stood quietly. The morning had gone well, despite the earlier 'cookie mines' panic. And it was about to get infinitely better. All right, her heart is in the right place and I will forgive her, Luna thought of Pinkie Pie's carefully placed and marked defense system, Especially since she's given me back control of the situation. She directed a bored stare at the royal white unicorn stallion before her. Because stomping him into the ground would be politically unwise.

"Your Highness, I must protest this action in the strongest possible terms."

Calling this officious officer a jackass is a slur again jackasses, Luna thought of the nobles' chief spy who'd been thrust upon her.

"Your protest has been noted and logged," Luna said, "In the two days you and your troops have been here, you have abandoned your posts, on the word of a civilian."

"Your own troops also abandoned their posts," the officer said.

"My own troops will be reeducated on the proper chain of command," Luna said, "It would clearly be wasted on the officer who led them into error, Major Grass Lights." Luna forced herself not to grin as the idiot shied as if she'd struck him. "Then another officer leading a contingent managed to poison herself on a clearly labeled set of defensive emplacements. I am therefore sending you back to the capital. For your own safety. Any further troops will either be vetted by me or my designee, or I will personally feed them to the monster to ensure his carefully husbanded supplies of animal protein do not fall below safe levels. Good day to you Major."

Don't let my hoof hit you on the way out, she thought.

"Captain Armor, assemble a detail to ensure the major and his troops don't injure themselves on the way to the train station. Then see to it that they all are tucked in safely aboard the train when it leaves. That is a direct, royal order."

"Understood your Highness," Armor said, saluted and glanced to the detail he'd already picked out. Some of whom were on punishment detail for the debacle of the party. "After you, Major."

"Don't grin too much, Armor. Celestia still rules this land," the Major said.

"That is correct, sir, but we both have our orders," Armor replied. He followed the major and his despondent 'help' back through Ponyville and out of Luna's mane and tail.

The Carousel Boutique rang with the cry of, "But Rarity, why?!" Pinkie Pie hugged Rarity's legs as the mare drew up the guest list and the design for the invitations.

Applejack distracted herself by looking at the manikins in Rarity's shop. She kept silent on her opinion of the fashions displayed there. She was staring at the bipedal manikin that Rarity had called her in to advise on.

"Well, darling, I'd never want to burden you with having a hand in creating such a dreadfully boring party," Rarity said, "Hmm, how does one say 'Royal Command Performance', without saying it."

"Put both crowns on there, Celestia's and Luna's, and circle'em," Applejack offered.

"Can't I do anything?" Pinkie wailed.

"Certainly, you can accept your punishment like a good mare and wish us well on a proper, extremely boring welcome party."

"WAHHH!" Pinkie offered.

Rarity looked at Applejack, who nodded, and took pity on their friend. "Besides, aren't you going to be too busy organizing the 'After-cleanup' party today?" Rarity asked.

"Ooo! I forgot." Even the departing speed lines were pink. "Thanks Rarity!" Pink again. "If I can be any help?"

"No, darling. Princess's orders."

Pink speed lines. Door closed.

Door opened. Rainbow-colored speed lines.

"Pinkie Pie! Oh, Rainbow Dash, problems?" Rarity asked.

"Why aren't I invited to this shindig? Aren't I good enough for your fancy-shmancy party?" Rainbow accused.

Rarity smiled. "You weren't invited, because the Wonderbolts didn't want to be invited and courtesy demands one of us should be their guide around town. Oh dear, and I so thought you'd like the job. I'm sure Derpy or Fluttershy -"

"Nope, sorry, just needed it explained," Rainbow said as she raced off. "Wahooo!"

"I think I know who the Princess was talkin' about last night."

"She was talking about all of us, Applejack. We had no idea what the Elements would do against Nightmare Moon, yet we used them. We knew what the Elements did to Discord, and if he was aware all that time, we imprisoned him again in unmoving stone. It's why she tasked us to watch him. Because we have a taint of that too."

"I never killed nopony."

"Then what happened to Nightmare Moon, if she and Luna are separate beings?" Rarity asked, "It's something we need to be aware of, not dwell on."

"So do I have to attend this fancy shindig?" Applejack asked.

"Well, you are his friend, and you and the Cakes are providing all the food. So you should be there to accept the accolades."

Applejack rolled her eyes, but left Rarity to plan. Applejack stared at the manikin again. "Ah, Rarity, he don't bend like that."

Luna had assembled the observation team and the Element Bearers for a 'working brunch'. They sat in Sugarcube Corners and heard Wind Listener's theories. It ruined almost everyone's appetite.

"That is an excellent deduction," Princess Luna said. The soldier grinned at her Highness's approval.

"That low-down," Applejack started to grumble, then noted Luna's smile and healthy appetite, "You knew."

"I apologize," Luna said as she dabbed at some crumbs, "Princess Cadence warned me that I was too tense. That I would never carry off the necessary, impetuous attitude. So she placed a spell not on him, but on me, so I would feel safe, that I would smell what I remembered in my heart was safety and love." She smirked at Pinkie. "If you ever tasted my sister's blueberry muffins, you'd swear off cupcakes forever."

"Never, your Highness," Pinkie insisted respectfully.

Luna frowned. "Of course, the bakers and functionaries of Canterlot would never allow her to indulge her passion that way. A treat, lost a millennium past." Luna sighed happily. "But it spoke to me of my sister's care, to me, and those few she loved that way." She bowed her head. "I apologize. If I'd known it would have affected you as well, I wouldn't have risked it. But he did need us that night. To know that we could be at his mercy, and that we knew he would not hurt us."

"So, if you knew, and you wanted him to know you knew, but did you know that he didn't know you knew, or did you know he knew that you didn't know you knew he didn't know?" Pinkie asked.

Little swirlies replaced the eyes of the entire group, save Luna. "Yes, in the fullness of time."

"Okay," Pinkie replied, "Now I'm confused."

"Applejack, your feelings, and Fluttershy, your feelings, are completely your own. No ponyelse's. No magic elixir to wipe away your responsibility for feeling the way you do."

"Beg pardon, your Highness," Applejack said, "But I don't rightly know how I feel. He's friendly, useful, and determined, but after what happened, I don't know."

"And what exactly happened?" Luna said. Applejack chewed her lip and couldn't answer.

"Isn't anyone nervous that after the pony team left, he disappeared back into the house and hasn't come out?" Fluttershy asked. She smiled uneasily at the others.

Twilight and Luna began discussing, with Applejack and Fluttershy occasionally interjecting.

"Wait a minute," Rainbow insisted, "He arrives from wherever, with his house. Rescues two fillies, kills one Diamond Dog, wounds another, bluffs his way into the hospital, and then has a run in with Pinkie here, when he's expecting Diamond Dogs."

Pinkie giggled.

"Then the next day, he has to play foal-sitter all day, with occasional bursts of Twilight. Then the next day, he works for slavedriver all day, and fights off another package of Diamond Dogs. Takes the morning off to rest, runs his little 'peace-offering to Twilight' gambit, and then, has a very bad experience," Rainbow said the last in Pinkie's face. "Runs his machine half-way to the Everfree, then a third of the way to Canterlot, in the stormiest storm any weather team has ever constructed, and you eggheads are amazed he might want to just sleep in?" Rainbow Dash scoffed. "All that would be a stretch even for me. I'm surprised he isn't dead after all that."

"He might be sick," Derpy suggested. "We should check on him."

"No, Princess Luna would have fixed that. That was the whole point of sneaking in there," Rainbow said, "After all they said, just give him a day off, if he wants to take one. Ponyville didn't suffer any serious damage. The school's running. Just let the poor guy sleep."

"Ah thought you didn't like him," Applejack said.

"Just 'cause I think he's weird and creepy, that doesn't mean I expect him up and kickin' flank every single day. If the Princess says he needs to feel safe, give the guy a day off."

"I hate to agree," Glory said, "But while you did deal with the anxiety and any diseases, your Highness. You haven't mentioned just plain, old fatigue, sore muscles and general 'what is this insanity' nervous exhaustion."

"I could give him a massage," Fluttershy offered, "I did feel how his muscles worked."

"What's gotten into you, girl?" Applejack asked, "Around ponies you'd, well, you'd never."

"He's not a pony. He's lost and scared," Fluttershy said quietly.

"This isn't a lost bear cub, Fluttershy," Twilight pointed out.

"It is like a lost mother bear, knowing her cub can't be found. Sometime, you just have to be near her. Just to be there if she needs, anything."

"Plus you think he's cute," Rarity teased, "I will freely admit, I don't see it. But I do think that at least the offer should be made."

"We gonna break in there?" Applejack asked, "Hardly neighborly. He didn't exactly give us permission ta just traipse in there."

A key dropped on the table. And a nervous looking Big Mac looked around. "He left that," he said, "I think he wanted someone to be able ta get in and look after him, if he needed."

"Schedule a visit for Nurse Redheart tomorrow," Luna told a functionary, "Get what you need, Fluttershy. And the nurse should drop off the brochures on getting his shots today. Derpy, is that mailbox any different from our standard ones?"

"No difference, Highness. He's going to need an address, but I already contacted Canterlot for the paperwork," the postmare said.

"That'll take a year," Luna complained quietly.

"No, your Highness," Derpy said, "I did it under the Invasion Act provisions. And had Captain Armor declare this a military outpost. It should go through in a week." She looked around at the surprised ponies. "Hey! Maybe I'm not Celestia's student like you, Twilight, or a fancy pony like you, Rarity, but I know the mail!" Derpy looked at the ponies around her.

"Never thought otherwise, Derpy," Rainbow said, "So other than the delivery of the brochures today, we give the guy the day off. Right?"

"Agreed," Luna said, "Thank you all. Tomorrow, if he orders you out, leave, but it's medical. Don't get too involved." She walked out into the sunlight and was airborne a moment later.

Fluttershy stared at the others wide-eyed. "What did she mean?"

Applejack snorted. "She means you playin' monster-huggin' flyin' pack," she explained, "I told her all about it."

"You think that I?" the rest was merely a set of embarrassed squeaks. She shook herself. "That was Princess Luna's idea, and yours!" Fluttershy insisted, blushing furiously, "You said to carry him up there, and Princess said it was a good idea to help him understand we could keep him safe."

"You mean you weren't . . . ?" Applejack stammered.

"Weren't, what?" Rarity asked and raised an accusatory eyebrow, "Weren't taking advantage? Weren't seducing it, him, whatever?" Rarity waved her hooves. "Fluttershy would never do that."

The tongue-tied pegasus nodded.

"Where you had to wrestle with him? Who was taking advantage?" Rarity grinned at Applejack.

Twilight noted that Big Mac, Derpy, all the soldiers, and the key had departed, without anyone noticing their actual departure.

"I think the pot is calling the kettle black," Rarity said.

"I wasn't doin' anythin'!" Applejack insisted but was blushing.

"Aw Rarity," Rainbow Dash said and put a leg over Applejack's shoulders, "She was just showing the monster who's boss. That she was the tough one. Like what you'd do if you found out it made all its own clothes."

"I'd hardly resort to hoof-to-hoof combat," Rarity said and tossed her mane.

"Of course," Applejack said darkly, "Ah don't have pins ta stab a party with."

"I would never!" she insisted, but the others were all looking askance at her.

Major Grass Lights had been watching the approaching spires of Canterlot with growing satisfaction. Toss me out on my ear, he thought happily, We'll see about that.

His expectation turned to confusion as the train only slowed as it passed through Canterlot station, then accelerated again once it was clear. He pulled the emergency cord to signal the engineer to stop. Nothing happened.

He started trotting through the cars towards the engine to find out what had happened, when he spotted Bulwark, chief of Celestia's own security detail, coming towards him down the cars.

"Major," the stallion said quietly.

"Lieutenant," Grass Lights replied. "Why haven't we been permitted to detrain?"

"Because her Majesty decided that after all the trauma of your encounter with the monster, your entire force needed to recuperate. At Happy Meadows."

"That's an asylum for crazy ponies! There's nothing wrong with us!" the major insisted, "There's especially nothing wrong with me."

"Don't yell at me, Major. Captain Armor and I agree, you weren't' afflicted with alien mind-control, or pheromones, or any such nonsense. We think your decisions were made rationally and with your full cognisance."

"Thank you."

"Which makes you a pack of saboteurs and completely outside the protection of Equestrian law," Bulwark said sharply. "But her Majesty thinks otherwise. So enjoy your stay. You'll be up for review of your case in six months."

"Six months!" Grass Lights squeaked.

"That's the incubation time for rabies, it should be enough to show up any diseases that you were infected with. Be glad we aren't telling the monster where you'll be. They say he eats ponies. Slowly, while they are still alive. And you gave him plenty of reason to seek you out as an entree. Sleep well, Major," Bulwark slipped past him and moved deeper into the train.

He's telling the rest of my troops the 'good news'. Does that thing really eat ponies? Is he coming after me? Maybe I can let the others take the blame. It's not as if I actually gave orders. I just failed to countermand the pink one's demands.

Shining Armor looked at the clear, night sky. The stars were painfully bright, and he was certain they were singing.

"Quite a party," Peaceful Solitude said. Princess Luna had to nudge the smaller mare occasionally, or she'd walk in a circle. "Not like back home."

"So what are the 'congratulations for fixing all the storm damage' parties like back home?" He stopped and stared. "Your Highness. Are the stars supposed to be laughing at me?"

"That would not be my intention," her Highness said, "But with my sister controlling the night sky. Anything is possible."

"Just asking," he said as he started walking again. "I somehow think those were not 'authentic monster' recipes."

"Cider was good though," Peaceful Solitude said very carefully, as if the words were slippery, "I just cannot imagine that any other species would invent fruitcake."

"Why not?" Luna said, "The dragons invented it."

"Wasn't it a cruel practical joke?" Shining Armor asked.

"Like the griffons and 'fashion'?" Luna said, "Although, I think I did Miss Rarity an injustice by not telling her."

"No, no, no," Peaceful Solitude exclaimed, "Bad idea. Bad idea, your Highness. See when you tell her that, then she becomes a recluse, and next time we need all the Elements. The other have to drag her whole house with them."

"Very astutely considered," her Highness said.

"Thank you, your Highness, I think you're pretty astute too," Peaceful Solitude said then giggled.

"I suspect that my command staff is going to be hors d' Pinkie tomorrow, if it isn't tomorrow already," Luna said.

"That would be a horse of a different color," the lieutenant said and giggled.

Day 6

The day passed without incident, and while everyone else in the observation teams relaxed or recovered from the previous night's party, Luna felt a gnawing worry she had to control. She sought out another who specialized in more cerebral worries.

"Trouble, your Highness?" Twilight said as Luna entered the library.

The princess glanced around and saw that only Spike was in the library with them. "How do you control your curiosity?" she asked.

"I had orders from someone," Twilight said flatly, "I also made a rather serious misstep, which my assistant managed to set right."

"You think," Luna amended. "That Cadence's spell twisted as it did, makes me wonder whether my and Celestia's spells did what they were supposed to, or more, or less. I have looked into his dreams. They are confused, chaotic and filled with images neither I nor Celestia can understand. If a pony dreamt those dreams, she would be a candidate for a mental hospital. But with his people, are they normal?"

"Have you looked into the dreams of dragons and griffons?" Twilight asked.

"They dream much as ponies do. Same images, but not wholly different than normal life or the images from stories. These would have made Discord turn in his resignation. But are they images of his life and world, or abstractions? Dinky saw a mouse assisting a human wizard, but I doubt that was a true representation. Especially if the mouse was an actor."

"I have the art book that he gave me. I can only guess it's a more realistic set of images, but even then, many are particularly bizarre," Twilight offered and led her to a room in the library. "This is it. I'm relatively certain this is some kind of catalog to a major art museum. Something you'd buy to remind you of what you saw." Twilight let Luna page through the book in silence as she waited.

Luna noted Twilight's page of notes beside the book. "You think these glyphs are the artists' names?"

"Yes, the painting styles are similar and they are often the only characters the same in the text. They appear in the same place at least once, even if they are repeated in the text again. But they are still just a sign, not words to me," Twilight said. "He had that ready for me, well Spike, when we delivered the picture dictionaries and other books. Strange that he'd want that to be our view into his world."

"Picture dictionary," Luna mused, "That was on his desk, with the binding shorn off."

"He cut up a book?" Twilight screamed.

"Twi, they are his books," Spike said as he entered, "They were a present. He can eat them, if he wants."

"But, he destroyed a book!"

"He did not. He merely removed the binding," Luna said to soothe the agitated unicorn. "He did the same on one -" Luna fell silent as she felt the mare's eyes boring into her. "Perhaps he took them apart, so he could put them back together again," Luna said. She noted Spike urging her for more, but carefully. "If you had two picture dictionaries, with two languages. Wouldn't you put the pages of like and like together?"

Twilight calmed down. Spike relaxed and wiped the sweat from his brow. "I suppose that would be all right."

Luna decided not to mention how he'd scribbled in the margins.

The red bow poking above the bushes, and the small scooter concealed in the underbrush marked their presence to an expert better than names and signed affidavits.

"Y'all are gonna see," said Applebloom, "They're all in a tizzy 'cause he's not come out."

"But if we get to see what he's really doing, that'll get them all better," Sweetie Belle added.

"And we're sure to get our Cutie Marks!" Scootaloo concluded.

All three fillies took a breath.

"Cutie Mark Crusader Monster Watchers?" Lieutenant Peaceful Solitude quietly asked, effectively stunning the trio into silence.

The three fillies guiltily looked behind them at the officer, who was older than them, but younger than their sisters.

The lieutenant grinned. "It's so good you want to volunteer. It's so hard to get ponies through the training. They're always complaining it's long and boring."

"Training?" Applebloom asked.

"Of course. Why do you think we shipped those other soldiers out? They hadn't received the proper training. So they got hurt."

"But, we were there with the monster at school," Scootaloo said.

"And you weren't observing the monster. You were interacting with it. The soldiers who charged the Diamond Dogs were the observers," Peaceful Solitude said, "But if you want to be observers, then there's six months of training."

"Six months!" Sweetie Belle exclaimed.

"Well, there's kitchen duty in there. Mucking out latrines," Peaceful Solitude said with her hoof on her chin. "And lots of exercises. Learning to keep an entire barracks clean. I'm sure one of those activities will get you a Cutie Mark. There's one recruit who got a Cutie Mark from always peeling potatoes."

"Uh, excuse me ma'am, I think I hear my sister calling me," Sweetie Belle said, "Thanks anyway!" She ran away.

"Yeah! I think I hear my sister callin' me too!" Applebloom said and she scurried after her friend.

Scootaloo looked around, and then at the officer and smiled nervously. Applebloom was back. "She might be callin' her too!" Applebloom said as she dragged Scootaloo away. There was the sound of buzzing as the trio retreated at high speed.

"Cutie Mark Crusaders retreaters," Peaceful Solitude said, and sighed, "Was I ever that young?"

"You were younger." Nearly made her jump as Mile Stone 'happened' to walk by. "I'm afraid we've misplaced our commanding officer. Never a good thing to let commanding officers out of their sergeant's sight. They run out of resources and common sense so quickly."

"Captain Shining Armor is one of the most level-headed officers I've met," Peaceful Solitude said.

"Then the resources apply to him. Good officers tend to feel so bad when they tell their superiors they have their heads up their, you know the rest."

"Last I saw him, he was heading for the library. To check up on her Highness."

"Oh, dear." The sergeant broke into a canter.

Shining Armor walked backwards out of the library into the late afternoon sun and closed the door carefully to both shut out Twilight and her Highness discussing problems. And to avoid alerting them he'd left. He wanted lunch. He really wanted breakfast. That would have been easier to arrange than what bothered him.

"Trouble, sir?" Mile Stone asked.

The Captain started, but relaxed. He glanced around nervously. "Not here," the Captain said as he led the sergeant away from the library. "Sergeant, while I might be completely comfortable telling my sister her ideas are insane and she's being ridiculous. I have very serious reservations about telling her Highness the same thing. At the moment, the two of them are feeding each other's paranoid, and I can see no good result from that synergy."

"What is the kernel of their concern?" the sergeant asked.

"A reasonable concern that the creature hasn't stuck its head out for two days, and there has been absolutely minimal activity."

"And they are attempting to analyze a problem without precedent. Guess what a completely alien creature is doing," the sergeant said.

"And how it is their fault. Frankly, I'm not sure it is a problem. I agree with Rainbow Dash, if I got sucked into an alien world with all this heavy-duty weirdness, there'd come a time I'd want to crawl into bed and hide. I suspect Luna did something she really shouldn't have. Twilight knows what it is, and they are trying to pin all the problems on the incident. And how to make it right. All in the hopes of resuming progress on the socialization of our friend there."

"Ah, a very officer way to handle such a problem," Mile Stone said, "Since sergeants are less interested in secondary and tertiary consequences, and if what you want it to break things loose, then there's a perfect `sergeant` solution."

"I'm all ears."

"There are two individuals that our friend specifically sought out and contacted. It would hardly be unreasonable for them to attempt to contact him on a matter of their interest. There is an activity he took part in twice, once at his inception and the other at other ponies'. It would be reasonable for our 'called upon' to repeat the activity."

Shining Armor nodded slowly. "Sergeant, please excuse me. I have to see a dragon about a picnic."

Spike considered the problem Shining Armor had given him. I need the invitation, he thought, and briefly considered Twilight and Princess Luna discussing/arguing on the main floor of the library. The immense mass of books floating in the area meant a massive reshelving effort later. They only need me when they want to include Celestia in their discussion, or she wants to reply. So I don't think they're going to be of any help. But I'd better get her Highness's permission before I actually send the invitation.

He belched out a letter, and it was snatched from the air by Twilight the instant it had formed. He grimaced that the two mares read these letters over each other's shoulders, but didn't read them aloud so he could participate in the discussion.

"Okay, Dinky said he knew numbers, and time, so that's not a problem. Besides, it's lunch. Show the date how?" He scribbled a Celestia sun symbol, then a Luna moon symbol, then smiled as he added another sun symbol. He put an arrow to the first sun symbol, and circled the second. "That's today, that's tomorrow."

"Spike!" Twilight called, and levitated a scroll to him. He sent it off to Princess Celestia.

"Picnic basket, and the time," he realized and quickly added the drawings. "Not the greatest, but they should get the idea across."

He belched out a letter, and it was snatched from the air by Princess Luna the instant it had formed. "How do I leave long enough to deliver it?" he asked, "I guess I can give it to the postmare." He grinned at the thought.

Luna took a deep breath. "Celestia, I do not like this," she said. Despite being in her specially prepared place of power back in Canterlot Castle. She felt uneasy.

" 'Celestia'," the coruler of Equestria said, "If you are being that formal, Luna, in this place, something must be up."

"Taking someone else into a pony's dreams is difficult. The more determined, magical, and forceful personalities are more 'unwieldy'."

"So I'm a big, fat dragon butt?" her sister asked with a smile.

"Essentially yes," Luna said, "Celestia, please take this seriously. I've been extremely careful to remain invisible and just observe, but even I've felt like a angry minotaur in a china shop. There are currents and eddies in these dreams. As you approach the source, it's as if a riptide is dragging you in. Trying to maintain your distance, physical and emotional, is extremely delicate and difficult. There are traps that do not exist within a pony's dreams. There is also the bizarre imagery and any rules I may have taught you about navigating pony dreams are worse than useless in his dreams."

"I have to know if he is a threat to my, our ponies. You have a scientist's curiosity. I also have my requirements."

"Until we can communicate, you aren't going to get a direct answer. I am also afraid that we may be creating a self-fulfilling prophesy. We press him to see if he's dangerous to strange, alien creatures, and he is going to react how he did when pressed by the Diamond Dogs. We press him with creatures who befriend and love him, and I suspect he will react with the tolerance he had when suddenly pressed into service as a foal-sitter."

"There is a fundamental difference, that he was unobserved the first time, and was pointedly under observation the second. Two aspects to his personality, or a mask he puts on and has carefully worn?" Celestia said. "I cannot afford to be wrong in my guesses about this."

Luna nodded. "Very well. But I am true to myself, that is all I can be. Beware, his dreams are not easy to manipulate. While we are there, he may manipulate them without knowing. Those changes will be real, and as impossible to ignore as solid rock. So we will meet on equal terms at least."

Luna focused on herself and her sister to the exclusion of all else. "I am Princess Luna, sovereign of dreams. I have looked within, and for all the terrors, there is nothing here that can harm me," she said as they made the transition into the realm she shared no dominion with her sister.

But this time, it sounds more like a plea than a statement to me, she thought.

Celestia cried out as she stepped into madness. The field of columns like a mad forest reached into the cloud-filled skies. Each shaft had pony faces pressing at the 'surface' of the columns. As she watched, the faces twisted in fury and terror, screaming in inarticulate rage and hair-raising agony. She shied back but could make out no words, feeling only the hostility from their tone. At the base of these pillars, ankle-deep water clung to her legs and hooves. It swarmed with the faces of Diamond Dogs and creatures of the Everfree. The faces appeared, seeming to bite and claw at her and, left dissolving back in the water.

"This, this?" Celestia asked as she shied and circled.

"It's worse," Luna said, "And has been getting steadily worse since I first looked in. Is it getting worse because I looked in, or because our magic affected him more, or didn't adjust his memories at all?" Luna gestured towards the surroundings. "Maybe you'd care to interpret this. It is beyond even my experience. But touch nothing. Contact with even the ground draws you into this reality."

Celestia took to the air, and tried to ignore the hands, legs, and other appendages that tried to drag her down to the water. She shook off the effects of her horror and the clinging feeling of the water as she advanced. "How do we get through there, if we cannot walk, and there's not enough space to fly? We are not physical, so teleportation would move our physical bodies."

"Trust me, but I still advise you to go back. This is only the outside. In every case, what lies beyond each barrier is worse. If it means to keep out rescuers, or because he wants it hidden, I do not know."

"You talk as if he could be at war within himself."

"I talk of one consumed by their irrational beliefs, because they cannot understand the facts," Luna said.

"I apologize that was thoughtless," Celestia said.

"This place is disturbing. More so for its familiarity than its alienness. Discord would play like this. Give ponies impossible choices and watch them tear themselves to pieces. Think on it that because of us, or our ponies, he does it to himself," Luna said. "Perhaps you should consider a darker truth. Are our 'little ponies' destructive of him?"

Before Celestia could answer, Luna moved them to the center. Even she gasped at what she saw. In the center, like a clearing in a forest, stood the stairway which the monster climbed. The structure had an insane geometry or perspective that looped back on itself in an eye-watering manner. Four staircases formed a square, yet somehow forming one surface that managed to climb to a zenith that met the nadir without breaking, yet remained only varying feet above the lake of faces.

Luna ignored the physical impossibility of the structure that her own eyes reported, and concentrated on the interaction of three figures occupying it. "The structure I can understand as impossible. What madness spawned this macabre dance?!" she desperately wanted to know.

The bloodied creature was crawling 'up' the stairs on all fours as fast as it could. Never pausing to look back at its pursuer.

Pinkie happily sprang from stair to stair and randomly shouted, "Do you like parties!?" Each call seemingly lashed the creature, lending a feverish air to the exhausted scrambling up the stairs to escape.

Celestia's student would randomly appear on the stairs in a manner more reasonable of Pinkie Pie's appearances. She would materialize or peek out from below, or 'open a stair', call out "Hi, I'm Twilight Sparkle!" Before she vanished to appear elsewhere.

When she appeared in front of the creature, he would shy away from her for a second, before climbing again, but those seconds added up, until Pinkie caught up to him. She would gleefully land her bounce on top of him and continue on. Battered and bleeding from the new wounds inflicted, he scrambled on. He fled endlessly, as Pinkie circled relentlessly.

"They are speaking Equestrian," Celestia commented, as if this mundane fact could dampen the insanity laid out before them.

"But he only knows the words as if they were familiar bird calls," Luna replied as the two stood in horror at the tableau.

"Repeated perfectly but without understanding," Celestia said and shook her head, "The calls of his tormenters. But they are not. They are not."

"I warned," Luna said. "Are the ponies even aware they were inflicting this? Will you tell them? I won't. All the characteristics you find so charming could be a lash for him. And if you are afraid of what he is when no one watches, he stands bloodied and at bay, and no wound afflicts his tormentors. A glimmering of good nature, or that he has tried to no avail and been punished for it. That is the danger of the monster's dreams and the monster himself. Entire worlds, internally consistent, woven out of whole cloth in moments. I will have to be here for apparent hours to discover the rules here. And once I do, I will be no closer to understanding him than I was before. Because the rules of this nightmare are real as the waking world's. But which are imaginings, and which are borrowed from his native reality are indistinguishable."

"But this is where he has hidden it all," Celestia said. She bowed her head and cried. "Do you also fear we would hate you if you showed us?" she breathed, then added fondly, "Fool, to turn trust and love into some thing darker."

"That is the dilemma," Luna admitted, "I know one who would be very concerned if this appeared in public. But if not showed, it rests here. As horrible as it sounds, perhaps we need to let him be afraid."

"Something needs be done," Celestia said firmly.

"Certainly, advance through the water and leap onto the stairs. At Pinkie's approach, bend our power and attempt to drive off the Pinkie simulacrum. If ignored, it will trample him again making the same insipid cry. And you will have trapped yourself in the illusion."

"There are rules here. His rules, and I may use them," Celestia said angrily. Then calmed herself. "And be ensnared by them," Celestia said. She bowed her head. "You asked if this was our doing, from the spells we cast. Did these become noticeably more worse after the spells?"

"Did the descent accelerate?" Luna asked. She considered deeply. "I believe it jumped, then returned to its level of decline."

"Then it seems I must deal with the fears of our guest, and my sister." Celestia ignored Luna's warning and leapt across the stairs. She plunged her horn into the heart of one simulacrum, then the other as it appeared and announced itself, destroying both utterly. She felt sickened by the deed.

" 'Tia! Get out of there, he's coming around!" Luna shouted a warning.

"I must take the risk," Celestia said and stood firm as their guest crawled up the stairs towards her. "They are only images," she reminded herself and Luna.

"They are real," Luna said as she hovered just out of reach.

"You are free," Celestia told him as it looked up at her. She lowered her head, but kept her horn pointed up and away from him. She kept her tone and expression as gentle as she could, "You are safe. All the monsters are only in your imaginings. All the enemies are reflections of your fears." She approached to heal the wounds that still bled.

He jumped back. His distrust and hostility manifest on its face. He tumbled down the stairs in his haste to retreat. On the landing where staircase met staircase, he scrambled back to a corner nearest the descending stair. Celestia took one step, then another. He looked at the descending stair with loathing and terror. But even as she advanced, he would not break down the waiting stair. "Can you not see your tormentors are gone?" Celestia asked as she paused slightly between steps. "But there is no reasoning with dread, is there? Do you believe salvation is just a trick, to make you pause for greater horrors to catch up?" she asked more for herself and Luna than for him.

"This face you refuse to show us in the waking world," Luna said, unseen and unheard by the monster, "The good little martyr, finest of your kind, while we tear you apart piece by piece. You refuse to bleed where we can see, do you enjoy this role? Or is this what you really think of us? Are you seeking to suffer or be punished, or are so removed from love and trust that you cannot see it when it is freely given? Or since it is 'freely' given, do you think this is all a trap?"

"What do you want from us?" Celestia asked in confusion, then she moved forward onto the landing, within arm's reach of him, inviting a strike. "What do you expect of us?" she asked as she crowded it to the edge of the landing.

Despite the less than a pony-height fall, it looked to the edge with a dread it never showed in the waking world. Luna regarded it from inside her anonymous shell. Celestia's pause only made his anxiety worse.

"What do you think we'll do?" she asked softly from a hoof-width from him.

The slap she was braced for, but not that he'd drive his palm down over her horn. She froze as the blood ran down her horn and dripped on her face. She stared in horror and confusion. "Is that what you want? Is this what you expect?" she asked in revulsion. "Or is all this what you fear?" she asked, then she steeled herself.

" 'Tia, your temper," Luna warned, "You wanted to learn what it would do if pressed. You just did. Your 'prank' came a cropper and you must deal with the consequences."

Celestia swallowed, and remembered her mission, not her revulsion that something would willingly mutilate itself. "If you must see what we will do when we have all power, and you none. THEN SO BE IT!"

His expression of acceptance and even expectation tore at her heart. The faces in the water below them mocked her, and urged her with gestures to end it, but slowly. Carefully, gently, she let her healing magic fill him. Erasing the wounds, restoring the lost blood, and changing his expression to confusion. The water became a clear sheet of featureless glass, the sun shone down on her and him. She pulled back, freeing his hand, the wound diminishing as he raised it, and disappearing as he pulled it free. He fell to his knees and looked around. He seemed surprised he was alive. He bowed his head in shame.

"Luna," Celestia said as she stepped back, "Go to him. It seems he is infinitely more dangerous than I thought. He is too much like me," she said with a smirk, "And needs to trust in my sister to guide him."

Luna appeared on the landing and knelt near as Celestia withdrew to the next higher landing. Luna extended her wings, and brought him close. "Please trust us. Let us help you. We cannot replace what you've lost." She told him. "But we are not your enemy. We are not your enemy." He leaned against her most fearsome form. She felt his body shake, and his arms went around her neck. But there was no attack, only the sob of one too broken to go on. "You don't have to be brave for us anymore, just be out friend," she soothed as she nuzzled him and held him with her wings, "Just be our friend. That's all we want. That's all we 'demand' if you must."

Day 7

"All she said was 'catharsis', and 'let me sleep'," Emerald Light, Luna's chamberlain said, as the green unicorn blocked Shining Armor's entry into the royal tent.

Something Twilight had mentioned in passing occurred to the Captain. "You are in contact with her Majesty?"

"Of course, we will send a status report before breakfast, in fifteen minutes."

"Please inform her Majesty that the monster is holding her Highness hostage, and is demanding a ransom of blueberry muffins, prepared by none other than Celestia. We are negotiating on the quantity. Numbers being one of the few things it fully understands."

"But, her Highness is within," the chamberlain explained.

"Is she awake, is she out walking around? Celestia has gone weeks without a full-night's sleep. It is obvious to me what has happened."

The chamberlain considered, then showed he too knew the secret. "I doubt very much the creature fully understands what it is doing. You are a military pony and have a trouble with nuance and diplomacy. Providing such a distraction for the creature, and an incentive for her Highness to slip free is no doubt what you actually meant, if you weren't a completely bloodthirsty militarist."

Shining Armor and Emerald Light shared a chuckle.

"Okay, send the message as you wish," Armor said, "Just remember before you embellish it too much, I'd like to keep my job as Captain of the Guard."

"Of course," Emerald Light said, "Just one question. Why should they be delivered to Her Highness Princess Luna, and not to the monster himself?"

"A few will go there. He'll be picnicking with friends, but the bulk will go where the exchange will take place."

"I understand and apologize for my lack of insight." The green stallion bowed slightly.

"Excellent." Shining Armor trotted away, knowing the mission was in good hooves.

Luna groaned. The late morning start had her off kilter. Untrue and thrice-cursed, the rumors that mine own sister's student Twilight Sparkle subsists on naught but caffeine. Fie that they prove unfounded. The swill the camp's mess hall declares coffee, aye it has the taste to shock even the dead to full and exuberant wakefulness. But only the fouler aftertaste to keep her there. I have pissed stronger beverages than the sacrilege they do name tea. Fie on all of them! she thought as she marched determinedly towards her goal, Curse my eyes for betraying their mistress by letting in such light that my brain is scourged by it. Yet if I close them down, my vision departs. Traitors, blasphemers! Know you not you break faith with your princess? They do not listen.

She entered the Carousel Boutique. The thunderous clamor to announce the arrival of royalty she understood, but could have lived without.

"Coming!" came a call like white fire across her ears and brain. Too white, too bright, came the unicorn she sought.

"Good proprietress. These garments I have need. To wit, a saddle of good leather."

"Oh course, one needs a change occasionally, and to feel pretty."

"All rest has been shorn from the sleep I have managed. Nightmares most harrowing have gildriged before the sleeping, royal eyes for seeming months on end. And a dragon has voided its bowels in the royal mouth," Luna said, and stared at the stunned mare until there was only one of her again. "Pretty is not a best potion, option!"

"Perhaps you need to lie down," the mare suggested.

"What we need is a bridle, well-fitted and sparingly apporinted, appointed! Lo, even my tongue, faithful servant all these centuries, even it betrays me."

"Yes," Rarity said carefully.

"Were it not for its long and faithful service. I would have it dragged out and nailed to a barn door."

"Your Highness might have need of it, later."

"There is no 'later', my good mare. Because I am willingly walking into a colossal prank by Seabiscia, Solestia, my exalted sister! That might just be the solution to all iteedale prosblems, things."

"Perhaps some coffee?" Rarity offered warily.

"Coffee has already betrayed the crown this day!" Luna shouted, "No further chance for treachery will be offered!"

"I assure you, your Highness. My coffee is quite loyal."

"Ah," Luna said wisely, "Then show me to this last bastion of royalismistics."

Celestia burst into the Royal Kitchens. "Out out!" she called, as the kitchen staff filed out. They had heard the rumors, and prepared what they hoped were the ingredients their sovereign needed. If they couldn't help, they could still serve to the best of their ability. Only one griffon remained, Gustav Le Grand.

"No one may interfere," Celestia said grimly.

The griffon pastry chef held up a clipboard, "I shall in no way interfere. But a treat lost this long millennium? My government, and my colleagues would pluck me naked if I were to let such a chance go. So, unless you call your guards, I am here."

"A copy of that -"

"Shall go in next months issue of The Pastries Extraordinarie," the chef assured her, "Friendships have been lost over far less." The normally ebullient griffon appeared downcast. "I have also heard rumors of the 'representative' who will arrive 'unannounced' at the welcome party."

"Who?" Celestia asked as she laid out the ingredients.

"Steel Feather."

The revelation was nearly enough to ruin her good mood at the joke she was playing in.

"You are disappointed? I am proud of my nation. To think that lifeless, sour husk will appear before your visitor, as the example of the entire griffon nation. That sour ball with feathers will ensure 'le monster' will never speak to another griffon as long as he lives," the chef complained.

"His cooking skills have appeared to be rudimentary, at best," Celestia said.

"Ah! I know you, and you know me. Even the mistakes that he makes will be different. Viva la difference. We can correct, and learn. I look to it eagerly."

Celestia nodded, and began to prepare. Her audience remained silent, but noted everything and every nuance.

"Feeling better?" Rarity asked of her Highness, and considered how large a crowbar would be needed to pry her royal hooves from the coffee mug.

"No, but the hideousness of my condition now displays itself in absolute clarity," Luna articulated precisely as she stared at the mug. "If circumstances permit you an opportunity to view our monster's nightmares. Avail yourself instead of the quickest transportation away from the offerer."

"Bad?" Rarity asked.

"No vitriol in existence will efface the images from my mind, yet I am sorely tempted to try them all." Luna let out a long, slow breath. "I thank you for your patience, and the coffee. I suspect I was babbling like a madmare."

"You did request a saddle, and a bridle," Rarity said as she sat at the table beside the princess.

"The order is genuine, but not complete. I also require a bit."

"A bit of what?" Rarity asked nervously.

"I am no longer addled, so please play no games with me. Saddle, bit and bridle."

"Your Highness, the saddle is no problem. The bridle, well, the avant garde wear them to show their contempt for classical styles. But the bit." She paused to consider. "Highness. It is only commonly used by certain ponies, for certain types of play. Adult, intimate play."

"Miss Rarity, I am not so unaware of the proclivities of ponies beneath my moon. I am aware of how Equestria views these 'garments'. I am also aware, that our monster recognizes us, as species he is familiar with. And that these tools are the means to ride creatures much like alicorns, or larger."

"Lying on a pony's back?" Rarity asked.

"For a pony, perhaps, but for an alicorn." She released the mug, and stepped away from the table. "Especially one full-grown." She took her fully mature, Celestia-like form.

Rarity to her credit didn't turn away or run screaming from what seemed almost exactly Nightmare Moon returned.

"We rarely use this form, for reasons you could innumerate quite well," Luna said.

"Yes, your Highness."

"But this is the form I wish to have the tools fitted to, as soon as possible."

"But isn't our monster supposed to be going on a picnic with Dinky, Derpy and Spike?" Rarity asked.

"How swiftly can you procure these, items?"

"Well, if you'll settle for a wooden bit, I have them in stock. You aren't so large around the barrel that I'd have to modify anything. As I said, the ponies who, play, want these on a fairly regular basis. If he is to, ride you," Rarity said very cautiously, "Then I should probably include the stirrups. I never thought they had a practical application, until I saw our monster. They're for his feet."

Luna nodded. "Take your measurements. A few days will be satisfactory."

"Your Highness," Rarity asked carefully, "What exactly are you trying to achieve with these items?"

Luna sighed and rested her chin on Rarity's head. "Celestia has cast herself as the villain, and I, and this form which terrifies most ponies, are to be the fluffy savior."

Rarity nodded, and glanced at the coffee, and the stairs. She weighed her chances.

"He looks better than he did yesterday," Derpy whispered to Spike as Dinky bounced eagerly and told their confused fourth all about what she'd learned in school and how grateful she was for the math help.

He nodded and pulled a number of cloth bags with straps up onto his shoulders. Spike already had the blanket out, and they'd left their lunches on it.

"Oh cookies!" Dinky said happily. Spike and the two adults stopped her.

"Remember the 'baked bads'?" Spike asked the unicorn, "That made everybody sick?"

"Yes," Dinky said.

"Well, Pinkie made these the same way. Except she added something to make it worse," Spike said.

"Why would she do that?" Dinky asked as they passed the inner defensive layer of 'mines'.

"Because she knew he wouldn't eat them, and anything that slipped past the guards would eat them, and get very sick before they could hurt our friend," Spike explained.

"So he won't have to shoot any more?" Dinky asked.

"Exactly," Derpy said, "So nopony has to get hurt."

"Okay!" Dinky accepted it.

Spike and Derpy relaxed. Their guest was already setting out several, large, multi-compartmented plates and was putting collections of different foodstuffs in the depressions of the plates.

"Oh, I almost forgot!" Spike announced, and pulled the muffins from the bag and began handing them out. The smell of cinnamon and blueberries filled the air.

"These are - them?" Derpy sounded almost religious.

"It would be an insult not to eat them," Spike said, heading off what he too often encountered with his best friend.

"Of course, but, her Majesty," Derpy breathed.

"They're delicious!" Dinky announced on demolishing one.

Spike gave her another, and ate one himself. Only then did their guest eat one, and smiled.

Luna looked up from her notes, to her chamberlain. The green unicorn had burst into her tent as if time were of the essence, but hadn't addressed her directly.

"Quickly, bring them in, bring them in!" he ordered to someone outside, "While the monster is distracted, we shall rescue her Highness's soul from torment!"

She was about to remonstrate her chamberlain that today was not a day for such games, when Peaceful Solitude cantered in, and she smelled them. For the entire tray piled high with those treats that the lieutenant carried, Luna would have put up with Discord himself, for a few moments.

"Get one under her nose, let her smell it," Emerald Light urged, "Careful she'll be disoriented and may bite."

"You hold that still or I'll bite off your leg at the shoulder," Luna told the smirking lieutenant. The lieutenant practically stood at attention as Luna bit. And chewed. Both Emerald Light and Peaceful Solitude watched with rapt attention. "Please leave the tray," she said, on confirming that a thousand years had dulled her memory of just how delicious these were. "Emerald Light, just what was that pantomime in aid of?" she asked as the lieutenant hurried out.

"Her Highness was despondent and listless. Captain Armor believed that the monster had captured part of her soul. I insisted that our guest would never had done such a thing maliciously, but agreed with his plan to distract it, and to give her Highness the impetus to escape whatever iron bands, or velvet clutches he held her in."

"Would you believe that there are nobles in Canterlot who think the two of you are far-too-serious, rigid mossbacks."

"With respect your Highness, that is impossible. Anyone who would believe that, I suspect is incapable of thinking," he said with a perfectly straight face, "It will send a message to her Majesty that the Captain's daring plan went swimmingly."

Luna glanced at the tray in front of her. "Light, I can share these. I really shouldn't just gobble them down myself."

"Highness, you should. Her Majesty delivered two barrels full. They are being disseminated to your troops, and many of the locals in Ponyville. Those who might actually eat one, rather than make a shrine out of it."

"So, none for Twilight?" Luna asked and raised an eyebrow.

"No, her brother wanted to give her a bag full, and only tell her the source after she'd eaten the first."

"Secure the breakables and prepare for an explosion," Luna suggested, and ate another muffin, savoring every bite, "And put Pinkie Pie on protected watch, she may do something drastic."

"She's already trying to develop a cupcake version, Highness," Light said as he withdrew.

Dinky was asleep under her mother's wing, and Derpy herself was drowsing on the blanket, enjoying a full stomach and Celestia's sun on her back.

The monster carefully removed several pages from the satchel it had brought with the food. He handed the pages to Spike.

The dragon's blood ran cold as he looked at what was printed, and what it represented. "This is only thirty pages," Spike whispered in awe, "But it's a beginning." On each sheet was a copy of a page of an Equestrian picture dictionary, and a corresponding copy from the monster's book.

"Lilac, rose, pegasus, unicorn," he said as he paged through them. Then looked up at the monster. He pointed to the pronunciation guide. "Li-la-c." He pointed to each separated syllable. "Li-la-c."

The monster's pronunciation was utterly unintelligible, but he pointed to a similar division of the title word, and duplicated Spike's performance.

"Sorry, I'm not even gonna try, but I get the message. That's how the word is broken down. That's how it's pronounced. If anyone on Equestria besides you could pronounce it." Spike thought a moment, and drew a picture of a pile of books, an arrow, and a sheet with two facing pages. "How?"

The creature spent several minutes puzzling out the diagram of how the pages were produced. Many of the items were simply fancy boxes with strange additions. But one caught Spike's eye, the one that produced the finished pages.

"You have ink for that?" Spike asked.

If that press needs ink, getting the right kind is going to be nearly impossible, he thought, remembering his own trials in getting the exact, right color of inks for Twilight's researches. Spike held up an ink bottle and pointed to the printing box.

"Don't take it hard big guy," Spike said of the monster's despondency, and scratched out a dragon figure with one ink bottle going away, and an arrow to the figure returning with a wagon load of the stuff. "I don't know of anyplace else to get them."

The figure smiled, but shook his head. He seemed to think the idea laughable.

"Can I at least try?" Spike asked. When the figure looked at him in confusion Spike muttered, "Why is it you can read a pony's expression and tone, but not mine?"

The monster circled the ink bottle the departing Spike-figure carried, and drew an ink bottle in the hand of the returning Spike.

"Oh, you want the original back undamaged," Spike realized and nodded vigorously.

He nodded, and returned to the house. He came out carrying two small boxes as if they were Equestria's own honor.

No, that's the future. If that's how to get the magic out of that collection of boxes, then you better believe I'm going to take care of it, Spike realized. He accepted the brightly colored, cardboard boxes reverently and wrapped them carefully, before putting them away.

"Say, how about another muffin?" Derpy said quietly.

"Why not," Spike replied. "I'm glad you can't understand words," Spike said to the happily chewing guest, "No telling how you'd react to these if you know."

Pinkie stood in the darkness and held her triumph over her head. "They said it couldn't be done! They scoffed when I said I'd do it, but BEHOLD!"

There was a crash like thunder.

"I have created the ruling cupcake. All others will bow to this, the Master Cupcake!" The mare's mad laughter signaled another peal like thunder and the brilliant light.

"Pinkie, can we start baking some of them?" Mrs. Cake asked.

"And can I quit rattling this piece of tin?" Mr. Cake asked, "It hurts my ears."

"Sure, I wrote the final recipe down and we should be ready to start our first batch." Pinkie let out an insane cackle. "Oops, sorry."

"Why are you laughing?" Twilight shouted at Shining Armor as Spike returned to the library.

"Because it was funny. You were enjoying it, right up to when I told you who made them." Armor said, "Then you completely panicked."

"Of course I panicked!" Twilight shot back, "Celestia made these, with her own hooves! We shouldn't be just casually -"

"Eating them?" Spike asked, "But that's what these muffins are for. That's why Celestia made them."

"But we shouldn't just gobble them down," Twilight moaned.

"After the first, she devoured four, before I could tell her," Armor whispered to Spike.

"Why do I think Princess Celestia would be delighted by that reaction?" Spike whispered back.

"I shall just have to apologize to Celestia. Spike, take a letter."

"No," Spike replied, "I have something more important to think about."

"Spike, I have insulted my tutor, Princess Celestia. What could be more important than that?"

"The big guy made thirty pages of an Equestrian to monster dictionary, and needs more ink to continue," Spike said, stunning both unicorns.

"Ink!" Twilight exclaimed, "Of course. He'll need special ink, only the very best. But will our ink be what he needs, and will it work?"

"I have a sample for duplication," Spike said, "You just need to run a duplication spell, and we can give him all the ink he needs."

"Twilie, there's a rock outside we can use as base material. It should give us all the mass we need," Armor suggested excitedly.

"Yes!" She dashed outside. Armor and Spike exchanged a worried glance and strolled after her. Twilight had cleared the area around a rock bigger than Spike. "Where's the ink?"

"Right here," Spike said and set the two packages on the ground. "But I think you should know -"

"Spike, I need absolute silence. This spell has to be perfect."

"But Twilight!" Spike warned,

"Not a word!" Twilight said as her horn glowed brilliantly.

Then darkness descended on all three of them with a thundering roar.

"Spike? Twilie?" Armor said.


"I'm okay," Spike replied.

"Spike, I'm guessing those ink boxes aren't very heavy," Armor said, "And we turned that entire rock into them."

"Yep, pretty light," the dragon replied. "How long are we going to be here, before someone digs us out?"

"I think my sergeant is going to get nervous when he can't find me," Armor assured the others, "In about five minutes."

"That I can live with," Spike said. "I was going to suggest we use a smaller rock next time. But we have a lifetime supply, so I don't think anyone has to worry about it."

Twilight moaned at that.

The delivery of a full wagon load of ink boxes stunned the monster. He opened several of the boxes to verify the contents. The bags inside, and the boxes inside those seemed to meet his approval. Although his amazement didn't cease.

"I don't think he understands that we can exactly duplicate what he has," Twilight said as he transferred the loose containers into other boxes, "But we might not understand what it is."

"Can you tell me how to draw a picture of that?" Spike asked as he returned the two originals.

Twilight stared at the wall of books with a feeling of determination. "Soon. Soon," she promised.

The Diamond Dog burrowed up from beneath the ground. He barely raised his head out of the hole, seeing whether he remained undetected.

"Ponies is stupid," he said as he slunk out of the hole. "Oh, cookies for Diamond Dogs. But a bribe will not stay our wrath." He sniffed at it, then grabbed the plate to take back to his boss. "Maybe he share with me. Maybe me tell him only two on plate," he said as he dropped back into the hole.

Several minutes later, the hole was filled up, and the quiet darkness reigned over all the area.

Day 8

"I'm doomed," he said as he looked through another book and returned it to the shelf. "Entire rooms full of books, and not one stinking book on proper fashions," he lamented. "Baseball I could understand. Soccer I could believe, but clothing?"

He picked up a book on the American Civil War. "I am not wearing a Zouave uniform. Hell, they don't know our customs. Maybe I should show up wearing only a hat. One with a great, big ostrich or peacock feather."

He snapped his fingers. "Birthday presents," he said and headed to that cabinet. He pulled the book out, and mockingly, it fell open to the page showing front and back, exactly the style he wanted. "I am not taking my niece's Sailor Moon Art book in for an alien pony to make a swallow-tail tuxedo." He looked down at the picture and the diagrams beside it and sighed.

Still holding his finger to mark the page, he walked through his house, looking at the collection of literature, science and engineering texts, books on history and philosophy, and the rest of his eclectic collection. He sighed. "Unless I have absolutely no other rational alternative. And the encyclopedias are out." He put a bookmark in the book and he began searching again.

"Coming!" Rarity called as the shop's door chimes rang. She stopped as she saw who had entered, and was automatically moving towards the 'monster-manikin' she had in the tallest part of the shop. She watched it move, how the clothing it wore moved with it.

I think I understand Applejack's and Fluttershy's fascination, Rarity thought as she made her approach, This is a predator, it moves like a predator and watches like one. But strangely gentle and skittish. Applejack could hardly ignore the challenge, like driving off the Timberwolves from cows. Poor mare probably didn't even realize what she was feeling. Rarity suppressed an elegant shudder as it turned to face her, and stared. Then it's expression softened.

Fluttershy saw only its meekness and care. By Celestia, it's twice as tall as I am. She looked up at is and smiled her winningest smile.

"How may I help you?"

He held out the invitation to the welcoming party, set a suitcase on the table and opened it. Rarity forced herself to remain calm.

They do have fashions, she thought as she looked at the suit, shirt, vest and tie he carefully laid out. It is elegantly austere, she thought, Different enough from the daily work clothes, but hardly as ostentatious as our formal wear. Of course, Rarity, they wear clothes all the time. So the formal wear is only a step up.

Then it opened the book, and the dashing figure wore clothing that made an odd confluence of pony flamboyance, and monster solemnity. The obvious admiration of the smaller figures around him, clearly his herd, marked this as a monster-stallion of power and gravity. The myriad bows and ribbons of the monster-mares showed a more pony-like festivity.

"Ah, the stallion wears the solid clothing, and the mares have all the bows and color," she said, "But black, does it really have to be black?" She pointed a hoof at the brown and dark blue of the two sets of clothing he'd brought in.

He puzzled for a moment, and brought out a white handkerchief. Solid white.

Rarity cleared her throat, and considered. How do you tell someone that white is generally considered a royal color? And that even her Highness Princess Celestia breaks it up with adornments? she wondered. I can't, of course, and I would never offend a customer by implying otherwise.

He seemed ashamed that he had only a handful of bits to pay her. Rarity accepted what he'd offered. Just the costumes she'd seen on that one page would fuel her 'idea!'s for a month. And the book was thick, and apparently full of illustrations. More than adequate, she thought happily as she directed him over to the monster-manikin to get the measurements.

Pinkie watched the monster come out of the Carousel Boutique. She dashed out and was standing beside it the moment it started walking. Although bursting with questions, she kept silent. Just walking. Not moving ahead, not falling behind. She wrestled down her desire to ask all the things she wanted to know about this creature.

But Sergeant Mile Stone says we have to make it feel safe, she thought as she walked alongside, looking where it looked, keeping the same distance apart, and not doing anything that might scare it, or even draw its attention.

When she could barely stand it, she walked down an alleyway between two building, then turned and galloped away.

"Who are you? Why are you here? What's your favorite flavor of ice cream? Who's buried in Star-Swirl's tomb? Is eating meat as weird as it sounds? How many VanHooverians does it take to mail a letter? What's seven times six?" she shouted as she ran back towards Sugarcube Corner. "AUUGH!"

Peaceful Solitude looked after the retreating pink mare, and over to the other rear guard the monster had. "Do you have any idea what that was all about?"

The guard's stoic expression never wavered. "Ma'am, these ponies willingly live a stone's throw from the Everfree. I quit trying to figure them out the minute I learned that."

"The curse of being an officer. I suppose I could ask," Peaceful Solitude said.

"Yes ma'am. I'll alert the medics, and I'll have to ask you to hand over any sharp objects you're carrying," the soldier said.

"I swear Twilight, it's no wonder he was violent," Rarity said as she showed the book to Twilight in a private room in the library. "This poor herd is fighting these, well monsters it seems, all the time. Even the little ones have to fight. I would have thought with the weapons it has, his people would have cleared their whole planet of monsters."

"Rarity. 'Their whole planet', that's it!" Twilight exclaimed. "That's why it's here! That's what it's been doing! It was a scout. Probably one of hundreds or thousands, sent out by its government to find the home planet of these monsters and -" Twilight stopped and considered the implications of what she'd been thinking. That one being with its house had been considered adequate to destroy an entire planet's population. Or a large portion of it. And it was sitting just outside of Ponyville. Her eyes grew wide and her ears drooped.

"Twilight," Rarity said calmly, "Twilight! It stopped. As soon as it realized we weren't its enemy, it stopped. It isn't going to blow us all up, and slit our throats in the night. We aren't the monsters who have been attacking his home, he knows that now."

"Yes. I can just imagine what it would have been like if he didn't realize that," Twilight said worriedly and chuckled nervously.

"Twilight," Rarity chided as she hooved through the book. "None of these creatures look anywhere near the same. That stallion's herd are all similar, with those two looking nearly alike except for clothing color and mane style. As soon as he saw Dinky Hooves and Dinky Doo, he knew we were not the enemy."

"Yeah, scary possibility," Twilight laughed nervously.

Rarity flipped the page. "Scarier that this might actually happen to these poor dears." She shrugged. "Or this may be tied to a Daring Doo-type adventure story. A brave group of mares with their dashing stallion protecting their world from the monsters of the void."

"And I thought I read too many books," Twilight teased. Then she caught the glint in Rarity's eye. "You have an idea! Don't you?" She grinned as Rarity giggled.

Twilight looked at her Highness, her brother and the observer corps cadre. "It's really just a question of bits. I don't think we can expect Derpy to hire him as a foal-sitter every day, and I doubt the Apple family has enough work for a regular hired, ah hand. Eventually, he is going to run out of money, if he already hasn't, and there has to be some means to provide for his needs."

"If nightmares were saleable, we could bottle his and have the scariest stories imaginable." Luna rubbed a hoof on her forehead.

"I take it you want something that will keep him producing that Equestrian-Monster dictionary," Shining Armor said. Twilight nodded.

"We could formally arrest him," Mile Stone said. He looked around at the stunned gazes from the others. "We essentially have him under house arrest as it is. Wherever he goes, he's under guard. He will not be permitted to leave Ponyville unless one of the princesses orders it. He hasn't tried to press that barrier except the once, and her Highness went after him. Call it protective custody if you want. It's a political fiction with real roots to the conditions that exist. He will be provided the necessary sustenance from the crown."

"I can't imagine he'd be too happy with finding this out," Peaceful Solitude said, "Suddenly finding out you're a prisoner."

"He's a prisoner even if he has the run of Equestria, lass," Mile Stone said gently, "This isn't home. And while we aren't standing in the way of his return, this isn't home."

"It would give him the food he needs," Shining Armor agreed, "But what about spending money, and freedom to travel?"

"At the moment, he's an illiterate deaf-mute," Mile Stone said, "He strikes me as the type to want to bend his efforts to ameliorating that condition first. Even if it is part of a greater plan to escape. He has access to alien tools, but with a very limited set of resources and they mostly depend on that building for power. Those two vehicles cannot have tremendous range, and any pegasus can catch the monster-powered two-wheeler. There are odd-jobs he can do around Ponyville to allow him exercise and a degree of socialization. And to get him the spending money he needs."

"How do we explain?" Twilight said, "And what if he wants to go exploring?"

"Smart lad like that will ask the first time, and get approval from her Highness," Mile Stone said and bowed to Princess Luna, "After a while, once he understands the language she can extend the boundaries. He'll still need a guard. The last thing we need is him wandering into the Everfree, and choking some poor monster to death when it eats him. When he's literate enough to protest, he's literate to extend the boundaries."

"I don't like doing this to somepony," Twilight said, "He's done nothing wrong."

"Technically, Twilie, his house is here squatting on land he doesn't own. He's killed one person, and wounded another. His very person is here without documentation of any kind. And if you really wanted to be paranoid, why did he land outside the town where the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony all live?"

"It's not fair," Twilight said.

"That's true, but it is essentially what we're doing now," Shining Armor explained, "This way we can help him. If you feel really bad, bake him a cake with a file in it. Or buy him a harmonia." The glare from his little sister was worth it.

"You were extremely quiet, your Highness," Shining Armor said as they walked under the night sky. "If it isn't prying, is there something troubling you?"

"Beside that creature, beside the games my sister plays balancing its needs with our ponies', beside the fact that I have an extreme dislike of captivity and yet I am in charge of holding another being more isolated that even I was? Not a thing," Luna said. "Captain, while I look the same age as your sister, I am ancient. Time has erased the record of what Celestia and I had to do, and what we paid to defeat Discord, and others. All of you are innocent, in ways neither Celestia nor I can truly be. In there is a monster, who is oddly like us. Alien, alone, hooves stained with blood, yet striving to do what is right. Do I understand it, or have I deluded myself that I understand it because of the apparent similarities? If we are comparable, and it is a danger, that it has buried its deadliness deep, am I also a threat? Celestia faced a choice of her ponies, or my freedom. Possibly my life. She chose her ponies, and I languished a thousand years. Would it be more merciful to smother that creature in its sleep, so it may at least rejoin those of its kind who have gone before? Or keep it here until we tire of its tricks, or it lashes out and we banish it to afflict some future?"

"Highness, I'm not sure I understand. If it is a threat, then deal with it then. If it isn't, then the plans are for the next problem. Second guessing yourself and the universe doesn't help." He rolled his eyes. "Believe me, I know. Deal with it as it is, not as you hope or fear it will be. Plan for the worst, and enjoy being pleasantly surprised. If all else fails, go bullyrag it like Applejack did. It seems to have a childlike streak of fun in it. If it turns savage, then deal with it at that point."

"Captain, I understand your position, but from my experience, that is a terrible idea," Luna said, "But thank you for it anyway."

Author's Note:

No, Luna was not drunk, just terribly sleep-deprived and exhausted.

And Derpy does not have one in a little shrine in her house. She has a picture of one.

PonyMagiTech gets a chance to shine.

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