• Published 6th Apr 2013
  • 4,782 Views, 186 Comments

The Seventh - Arvaus

An impossible creature finds herself in a world which already knows everything about her. Slowly, she learns about the true nature of her own reality, her world's place in the cosmos, and herself.

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4 - Slow Steps

The explosion threw the research group into chaos. The primary spectrometer had been lost, and it would take time for the backup unit to be brought out of storage and set up. Then there would be endless rounds of tests to make sure it didn't explode again. It would be a long tedious process, slowing work down for everyone except the engineers.

As a result, Aaron suddenly found himself with a lot more free time. His supervisor had promised to get him something to do while they reset, but that would probably take at least a week, if not longer, to organise.

Once the on-site medical officer had confirmed that none of them had been injured, Aaron had walked straight home, managing to completely forget that he had a bike with him. He needed a lie down, but not because of the explosion.

The next day passed by in a blur. He went about his daily routine on autopilot, while his brain continually swung back and forth between acceptance and disbelief. He kept an eye on the news – and pony blogs – watching for any reports of unexplained sightings. There was a short article about the explosion at the university, but that was about it.

By the following afternoon, he started to feel stifled. There was so much on his mind that he couldn’t bear sitting around in his cramped college room waiting for something to happen, so he swung his backpack over his shoulder and set off, walking into the countryside.

The university was right on the edge of town, and after ten minutes he was walking through fields. He knew the area well, as he liked to go for walks there if he ever had a problem that needed mentally working over.

Eventually, he came to the edge of the farmland and climbed over the fence bounding the fields. He walked down a shallow incline to the stream at the bottom. The stream was a particularly secluded spot, with the fence on one side, and a small patch of woodland on the other. The only sounds were the water, the birds, and the occasional cow in the distance.

Sitting down by the water, he opened his bag and lifted out the item which had been weighing down so much on his thoughts. He set the tiara reverently on the grass in front of him and stared at it.

It was strange how real it looked. It was unmistakably Celestia’s tiara, with the solid golden frame, and the huge purple gemstone mounted in the centre. But at the same time it looked completely different. There were intricate patterns of lines and spirals radiating out from the gem, etched into the metal. The borders were studded with dozens of tiny diamonds, each unique and expertly cut, and the surfaces were completely smooth and polished to perfection.

This was not a cartoon object, a simple unadorned vector graphic. This was a magnificent artefact which any collector, brony or not, would likely pay a fortune to own. It would never fit a human’s head of course, but its decorative or material value would still be through the roof.

He had thought briefly about how easy it would be to sell such an object, if he were to find himself in permanent possession of it. Its value would certainly make it worth his while.

But he never truly considered that an option. The tiara represented something else, much more valuable than any amount of money. Somewhere out there was its owner; she was an impossible creature, and Aaron would give anything to meet her again.

He almost felt like he knew her as a friend, knowing so much about her life. It was a peculiar feeling. She was in a way a celebrity to him, but he had never thought of it in such real terms before. Now that she actually existed, he wasn’t sure how to approach her.

That problem was likely academic, though, as he had no idea how he would ever track her down. It had been over a day since he had first seen her, and she could easily be hundreds of miles away by now. There was always the possibility that she may return to the lab eventually, but she had apparently been keen to hide any traces of her presence, so he didn’t expect that to happen soon, if at all.

With no other possibilities available, he had kept the tiara with him at all times since then, carrying it around in his backpack, in the irrational hope that it may draw her back. He had no idea how that could happen, but it’s not like having it with him would make a difference if it didn’t.

He sat there for the better part of an hour, just thinking about everything, and eventually the evening drew in. Mentally exhausted, he collapsed back on the ground and looked up at the clouds, glowing orange in the sunset. He wondered if she was up there, somewhere amongst the clouds, looking down on the world, and maybe even on him.

~ ~ ~

Maybe quarter of an hour later, the sound of a twig snapping caught his attention. He sat upright and stared into the trees across from him. In the pale evening light it was hard to make anything out in the gloom of the woods, but he scanned the tree-line looking for the source of the sound. He quickly found it.

She was there. Celestia stood motionless between the trees, watching him. Her mane flowed in waves down her neck, casting a cool white glow on the trees around her.

They stared at each other in silence for what felt like hours. Aaron tried to figure out what she was thinking, but her expression was unreadable. She was a completely different pony from the one he had seen the previous morning. The initial shock must have worn off enough for her to regain her natural composure, and she held herself with practiced grace. He suspected that she was holding something back, though. He doubted that she could be that calm in her current situation.

He stood up and was about to walk over to her, but she shook her head, telling him to stay away. Her horn began to glow a soft yellow, and a similar aura surrounded the tiara. It picked itself up off the grass and floated slowly over to Celestia. Setting it carefully on her head, she turned away, walking back into the woods.

Aaron stood for a moment, stunned, then jumped across the stream and ran into the woods after her. It was impossible to see anything amongst the trees, though, and there was no sign of the light from her mane. Sensing that it was a lost cause, he turned and went back to the stream to retrieve his bag.

~ ~ ~

Against all the odds, she had managed to find him. He had no idea how. But in doing so, she had given the two of them a small connection, a piece of common ground. Aaron hoped this might be enough to allow a third meeting.

He was starting to hope so out of more than just curiosity. Something seemed off about Celestia. She had been understandably shaken during their first meeting, and that could excuse her hostility. But the pony he saw looking at him from the trees was not panicked. Instead, she was almost acting too calm. She was hiding something.

Aaron felt an obligation to try and help her. He was probably the only person on the planet who even knew she was here, so she effectively had no-one else to turn to. He also worried that he may be in some way responsible for her being here in the first place. He could tell that it would take a lot of work to reach her, but it would be well worth the effort.

With no other plans, he returned to the stream the next afternoon. He took a book and a packed tea, and waited there until sunset, hoping that she may return as well.

By the time it became dark, he hadn’t seen any sign of her. The skies were clear, so she couldn’t be anywhere up there. He wondered if she was hiding somewhere in the woods, although there were plenty of other places nearby for her to be. In any case, he decided not to go in and look for her. She had seemed reluctant to have him approach the day before, so he figured it would be best to let her make the first move.

He did the same the next few days, waiting by the stream all afternoon. A few times he heard sounds in the trees again, but never caught a glimpse of her.

Four days after their last encounter, on Saturday morning, he did a thorough check of local news sites again. The complete lack of any signs of her had started to concern him, and he hoped nothing had happened to her. He found the idea of anything harming somepony as powerful as Celestia unlikely, but he wanted to be absolutely certain.

Not seeing anything, he set out for the stream again, planning to hold at least one more watch before giving up trying to force a meeting. The sky was completely overcast, so there was plenty of cover for Celestia to hide in, both on and off the ground.

Sitting down on the grass, he pulled his book out of his backpack and opened it on the bookmarked page. It was one of the many textbooks he had been meaning to get round to reading, but he had made remarkably little progress over the last few days. Looking up every time there was the slightest sound from nearby made it hard to concentrate for any period of time.

After reading for an hour or so, he decided to take a break. Closing the book, he got up and walked over to the stream. He was absent-mindedly kicking at the stones by the water when he heard a voice from behind him.

“You know me.”

Turning around, he saw Celestia lying on the grass, only ten metres from where he had been sitting. He hadn’t heard her arrive, but figured she must have flown down from above.

“I do,” he replied after a few moments.

She nodded contemplatively. “I would like to know how.”

Aaron took a step towards her, then paused. When she nodded in consent, he continued forward and sat down by his bag again, facing the princess. At least the doubt had disappeared. It was hard to say that Celestia didn’t exist now that she was sitting in front of him, holding a conversation with him.

“It’s... difficult to explain,” he began.

Celestia chuckled. “Take your time, please. I am not in a hurry.”

“I suppose not,” he said, shrugging. “I’m not sure where to begin. I suppose you haven’t heard of television?”

“I have not,” she replied, shaking her head. “I assume from your previous comments that it is some form of fiction, though.”

Aaron tried to think through past episodes to find a helpful reference. Then one scene from season two popped into his head. “Oh! You’ve seen film projectors, though?” Celestia nodded, so he went on. “Well, it’s sort of like that. It’s a way of telling stories, or showing news, or things like that.”

Celestia stayed quiet, letting him speak. He gradually explained the history and setting of the show to her, as well as giving a brief description of the brony fandom. She listened intently, absorbing every word.

As he spoke, Aaron found himself studying her appearance. He realised that he hadn’t had a chance to properly look at her since they first met.

Like the tiara, which she now wore along with the rest of her matching regalia, she had an air of overwhelming reality. He could make out every individual hair of her smooth white coat, every barb in the feathers on her wings. She was a living, breathing creature, with strong muscles moving under her skin as she shifted on the grass.

Despite his limited knowledge of anatomy telling him that she didn’t make sense, he found himself instinctively accepting every strange feature as if it were completely natural. Most prominent was the fact that, unlike every other mammal on the planet, she had six limbs. Her wings should have clashed with her forelegs, but everything fitted together perfectly, adapted to their presence. Aaron could even make out, through the skin and muscle at the base of her neck, the protruding ridge of a keel bone for anchoring the flight muscles. He had some zoologist friends who would kill to see an x-ray of her.

Her face also caught his attention. It seemed to lie somewhere between that of a character from the show and a real horse. While her eyes were by no means as large as they would be on the show, needing to actually be able to fit inside her head, they were still much wider than on a real horse, and much more human as well. Her muzzle looked natural, except that it was articulated so that she could speak.

He tried to find the right words to describe it all. It wasn’t like in films, when a real horse’s mouth might be animated with CGI and would always look... wrong. The only way he could think to describe it was that everything looked right. Through all the differences, Celestia’s character shone through. It was unmistakably her, sitting before him in the flesh.

All the anatomical peculiarity could be explained away by parallel – or maybe convergent – evolution in the two worlds. Even her horn was physically believable. What he had trouble getting his head around was her mane and tail. Long strands of hair hung from her crest and dock, flowing away from her as if caught underwater. They were all the colours of the rainbow, and emitted a faint aura of light. At some point that he found impossible to pin down, the hairs faded away into a formless haze, which ebbed away into the surrounding air like mist. It was like nothing he had ever seen.

Eventually, his explanation of the show reached something of a conclusion. They sat silently for a while as Celestia considered what she had been told. Once she had, she looked up again, looking back at him.

“Thank you for sharing this,” she said. “It has been most enlightening.”

“I’m glad to help,” he replied. “I hope this isn’t too stressful for you.”

“You needn't worry about me, I will cope,” Celestia said, beginning to stand up.

“Wait, before you go,” Aaron said before she could leave. “Now that I’ve answered your questions, would you mind if I asked you a few things?”

She paused, then settled down on the grass again. “Certainly. What do you wish to know?”

Aaron scratched his head awkwardly. He had been asking himself these questions all week, but now he had a chance to get answers, he was afraid to ask. He hoped he’d want to know the answers.

“On Tuesday, in the woods, how did you find me?” he asked.

“I didn’t,” she replied. “I found my tiara. It belongs in this world as much as I do. I was able to sense the small amount of magic it has in it, and followed that. I was concerned when I realised it had been moved, but it was... a relief when I saw it was you who had it.”

Aaron was surprised to realise that he had been right about the tiara. But her response led him to his next question.

“Why me?” he asked. She turned her head on its side and looked at him quizzically. “I mean, why can I remember you? Neither of my friends could remember ever seeing you, but...”

“Ah,” she said, almost sounding embarrassed. “That was... a momentary lapse of judgement.”

“Lapse?” He blinked in surprise. He had not even considered that she might say that. “I think I prefer it this way, to be honest.”

“Consider this, though,” she replied. “I never expected to see any of you again. I could tell that I wasn’t supposed to be in this world. I hoped I would be able to find some way home, but above all I wanted some peace. I took their memories of me to try and avoid attention. From what you had said, I knew that I would not have any peace here if word of my existence spread.”

Aaron nodded. It was still quite unsettling, but he could at least understand her concerns. “So why didn’t you, er, take my memory as well?”

“Because you knew me,” she said, shrugging. “You knew about my home, and my life. You are a connection back to Equestria, and I hoped that this may prove useful in time. But I still took a great risk in trusting you with the secret, especially as I had no reason to believe we would ever meet again.”

“Lucky that I found your tiara, then,” Aaron said.

“Yes, it gave me the opportunity to find out more about this world. That was as much as I could hope for. I admit, however, that I am still unsure if I made the right decision.” She stopped speaking and looked at him, deep in thought. Aaron could sense the finality in her voice.

“So what now?” he asked. “If I’ve served my purpose now, is it my turn?”

Celestia didn’t respond, simply staring at him.

“I see,” he said. “Well, for what it’s worth, it was an honour meeting you, Celestia.”

He closed his eyes and waited for it to happen, wondering what it would feel like, and how much he’d still remember of the last few days. A few moments passed, then he heard a rustling noise, and a breeze blew past him. When he opened his eyes, Celestia had gone. He definitely still remembered her, but she was no longer sitting in front of him. He looked up, and saw her climbing towards the distant clouds.

“That went... well,” he said to himself. Still, it was a start.