by Radiant Dawn

First published

He was an average man in nearly every sense of the term, but his entire life is flipped upside-down when a push for a paycheck turns into something unexpected...something much more.

He was an average man in nearly every sense of the term, but his entire life is flipped upside-down when a push for a paycheck turns into something unexpected...something much more. Marooned on an alien world with no known way home, how will he survive a potentially-hostile environment? Afraid, ignorant, and alone, he will be forced to adapt and survive, or seek out help.

Rated T for strong language, use of alcohol, violence, and suggestive situations.

A/N: Yes, there is romance in this story. No, I'm not referring to one-sided romances. Instead, most of the story is going to show the developing relationships between Jamie and those close to him, and you'll join him as he slowly and painstakingly overcomes a lifetime of human culture and morals.

Featured 09/18/2014! Holy horseapples, batmare!

Featured 06/13/2016! Thanks guys and gals!

Chapter 1: Chained

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Chapter 1: Chained

It truly is amazing how much you can adapt when you’re forced to. Some people would even eat their own kind if it meant survival, and I suppose if things ever got that bad, I might do the same...

If there were any of my own kind around.

I was a minority in a world I didn’t understand, though I didn’t even know if being known as the only one of your kind could even be counted as being a minority. The fact of the matter is, I’m an alien from another place, and that alone has gotten me quite a bit of attention, some good, some bad.

Many months ago, I was a part of an experimental project to rip holes in space-time to create “portals” to other realms. It would have been nice had I been a researcher on the project or something similar, but no...I was just a paid slab of meat, ripe for use.

The truth was, I hadn’t even known what the experiment was about. I just found it as an easy way to get quick cash for a mother’s day present, but the confidentiality of it all meant I had no clue what I was getting into...and frankly, neither did the “experts”. They weren’t going to tell me that of course, because what person in their right mind would subject themselves to what I did if there was a breach of safety in the matter? I sure as hell wouldn’t have...but then, I didn’t know.

It was supposed to be a simple procedure. The portal-thingy was supposed to make sure I could pass through to this other world, and the (now useless) dimensional fabrication beacon (DFB) was supposed to ensure I could get back. The small piece of metal and plastic (that I still kept for some reason) was supposed to ensure the portal remained open long enough for me to take observations of my arrival point, and then leave. The problem was, observations of the place had only been made in a visual way...

It didn’t account for what you couldn’t see.

Magic...it was the basis of the entire world I now knew as Equis. It ran lights, cooled and cooked food, kept houses warm and cold, and even helped with the passing of days. This magic also ensured one other thing...the safety of the people that lived on the world.

I remember that first day when the planet itself fought back against an invader...against me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had later learned that the sentient magic of the planet had locked down the web of energies around it, keeping me from leaving and ensuring that nothing would ever come upon it the way I had.

This of course meant that I was likely stuck here for awhile.

Yes...it was something humans were not familiar with. An entire planet was sentient to a degree, actively adapting and evolving to protect those who lived upon it. I had been deemed an invader of unknown origin and of unknown intentions...and so, as any smart protector would, it isolated me from reinforcements and left me alone and helpless in a possibly-hostile world. Had I not been so fearful, I would have been impressed.

Instead, I was terrified and angry.

I mean, I wasn’t a scientist, or a soldier, or anything that would be useful in this situation. I was just a regular guy that played football recreationally and was trained in survival on Earth...which with the flora and fauna being so different here, my survival training did me little to no good. Luckily for me, the piece of survival training that was useful, was the rule to take stock of your surroundings. Find shelter, hide, and observe and learn as much as you can...I found a few things about this place strange.

First of all were the inhabitants themselves.

They were small equines, the average being just a bit over four feet tall. Unlike horses from Earth, they were very flamboyant in their coloring, coming in literally every color imaginable, and the manes and tails were just as varied. Stranger still was the fact that not all of the ones I saw could be considered “normal”...even by fantasy’s means. While most of them were perfectly fine trotting around (as an equine should), some had wings and could fly, while a few others had horns that allowed them to do all sorts of amazing things. It was the stuff of myths and legends on Earth, but here, it was apparently pretty normal.

Another thing I found strange was the speech. They spoke English...or at least whatever the counterpart language was called here. The written word was quite different, looking somewhat akin to runes and strange symbols, but I understood the spoken word perfectly. Obviously, I was quite surprised to find a colorful little horse talking (and took about a week on my own to come to terms with it), but was also excited that at the very least, if I could find a sympathetic and understanding ear, I might be able to get help.

The other things I found out were much later, on the day I’d come to call “falling into shit”.

It was nearly two weeks after my arrival.

I was wet, cold, hungry, and tired...so it can be assumed I wasn’t in my right state of mind. Most of the food these tiny horses ate, I couldn’t...mostly because it was things like flowers and the like. Over the time I’d been there, I’d stayed close to the edge of a forest I’d found, surviving off of whatever small animals I could trap here and there, as I was too wary to attempt to try any of the vegetation. Eventually though, the hunger graduated to full-blown starvation, and I began to not care what I ate, so long as it took away the hunger.

That was how I met Applejack’s hooves.

I had found a large orchard that grew what appeared to be apple trees, but as mentioned before, I was unsure whether they were edible or not. The equines ate them of course, but so much of this world was different that I simply couldn’t chance it...not early on, however. As starvation hit me, I didn’t care anymore, and snuck in the orchard in the middle of the night to gather what I could.

Being the careful one that I was, I tasted one of the fruits first, only to find that it was the juiciest, sweetest apple I’d ever tasted...and my stomach confirmed that yes, it was edible. In that regard, I’d also made a mistake and gorged myself on the fruit. With the hunger pangs gone, I had fallen asleep in the orchard...

Morning had come, as it always did, and I was awakened by a southern-style drawling voice, as well as a heavy hoof to my face by one orange pony. I remember thinking how strange it was that even with the pain, fear, and surprise that was dealt to me, I couldn’t help but wonder how strange it was that all these equines had strange pictures on their rumps. I’d never been close enough to see them after all, so my run-in with the farmer had been my first experience in that manner. I’d only had a few seconds to wonder this though, as a swift kick knocked me out cold.

”What tha hay is it, Twi?”

“Hmm...I’m not sure. There’s nothing in any of my books about something like this, so I’m sorry, but I have no idea. I think I should contact the princesses about this.”

“What about tha rest of tha girls? Ya thinkin’ Ah should go get ‘em?”

“No...the less ponies know about this, the better. I don’t want to risk anything until the princesses tell me it’s not dangerous.”

‘Ponies,’ I thought. So that was what they called themselves.

My face hurt like it had been stomped on, and I felt and tasted the blood on my face, as well as the fact that both my hands and ankles had been bound tightly. Unfortunately for me, as I woke, I also groaned loudly...so I couldn’t very well just pretend I was asleep. So as I opened my eyes, I did the next best thing...

I played dumb.

I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it before, but I remember some “specialist” saying that sometimes feigning ignorance was best, especially in the situation I happened to be in. I tried to act as much as possible in the ways that an animal would, though I realized later that perhaps my wearing of clothes dampened that effect. Still, I knew that if they thought I didn’t understand them, they might reveal something useful.

One of them was a pony with a horn. She (I assumed it was a she by the tone of the voice) was a soft lavender color with an indigo mane and tail, with a single pink stripe in it. The pony had bright amethyst eyes, and though she was wary, she also seemed very confident of herself...confident she could deal with me if needed, and I was confident she could as well. After all, I’d seen some pretty amazing things be done with the power these horned ponies wielded, and I had no defense against it, really. I was weakened from nearly a week of bad exposure and starvation, and more than that, I was starting to lose the will to live.

She stepped close to me and eyed me curiously as I sat up, bringing my bound hands to rest in my lap. “Can you understand me?”

True to my act, I simply tilted my head and stared at her in what I hoped was confusion.

The two ponies sighed as the lavender one shook her head as she looked to her orange companion. “Well, I’m going to go and write a letter. It shouldn’t take too long to get a response, but for the time being, just try and keep anypony from seeing it...it’ll be less to explain.”

“Ah gotcha, Twi.” the orange pony looked me over, and I had to fight back a laugh when I noticed a cowboy hat on top of her head. She then turned back to her companion as she added, “Jus’ hurry up...y’all know how AB can be, an’ if she sees it, Ah’m pretty sure all of tha town’ll know b’fore tha princesses even get here.”

The lavender one nodded as she looked warily at me. “Alright then...hold down the fort. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

The orange pony then looked at me and said, “Well, Ah guess it’s just you an’ me.” She then turned around briefly and I heard running water, and then I watched as she turned to face me again with a damp rag in her mouth from the washbasin I hadn’t seen behind her. She moved to sit in front of me before taking the rag in her hooves and saying, “Alright then, let’s get you cleaned up. Ain’t no good fer tha princesses ta see ya all mussed up. Let’s get this blood off ya.”

I found it somewhat surreal to be spoken to as if I were some clueless animal, but I had to remind myself that her current behavior was what I was shooting for. Whether I needed to escape or by some slim chance they weren’t going to hurt me, I needed to gather every bit of information possible. Rational thinkers, whether they be ponies or humans, tended to feel more comfortable around an unknown variable if it was restrained and it couldn’t understand them.

So, I allowed her to clean my face up.

As she did so, I couldn’t help but notice certain things from her being so close. First of all, even being a farmer, she didn’t smell like a horse. True that I’d never owned a horse of my own, but horses generally smelled really musky by comparison to a human. This pony on the other hand, seemed to smell only faintly of sweat and dirt, which I chalked up to her occupation. It hadn’t been very difficult to figure out what she did for a living after all, what with the many farm tools around us, and the fact that she had found me on what I assumed was her farm. Still, her cleanliness put me a bit at ease, as generally good grooming went hand-in-hand with a higher-thinking society, that and the fact that the two ponies had been smart enough to tie me up.

The second thing I noticed was the fact that she was very gentle as she tended to me. She took care not to hurt me as she wiped the cloth across my skin, which meant that at the very least, she held no malicious intent against me...merely caution.

All of this worked to calm me as the pony continued to tend to me as we waited for the arrival of these “princesses”.

A good deal of time had passed since the farmer pony had finished tending to me, but instead of leaving me alone in the barn (or at least I assumed that’s where I was), she stayed with me. I couldn’t speak to her of course, but it was somehow comforting having someone close by after such a long time in isolation. She was ignoring me for the most part of course, having brought some sort of papers with her as she looked over them, mumbling to herself.

An indeterminate amount of time passed further, and the next thing I knew, the large barn doors opened to reveal the lavender pony from before, who quickly shut the doors before her horn began to glow with a bright violet aura.

Moments later, a bright flash blinded me, followed by a crackling of energy and a rise in the temperature...and this in turn was followed by a pressure of some sort. I don’t know how I knew, but at that moment I could tell someone else was in the room with us now. The air had become thicker somehow in a way I can’t quite explain, and it felt like the air itself was actively pressing against me.

I kept my eyes closed, and for a long few moments, everything was silent.

Suddenly, a different voice spoke up, demanding, “Leave us.”

The voice was powerful and commanding, leaving no room for anything but obedience, yet at the same time it was gentle. A soft shuffling was heard from beside me and across from me, and then I heard the sound of the doors opening and shutting again. I heard the soft clopping of hooves against the dirt floor until it stopped in front of me, and I gently opened my eyes.

At first I thought I was looking at the sun, because the sheer glare caused me to wince slightly as I cautioned to look, but after a few moments of squinting, the glare died down and I could see what I was looking at. It was another pony, though this one was significantly larger than any of the others. The mane and tail was also vastly different, as it was a sparkling rainbow of cyan, turquoise, aqua, and magenta, and both seemed to float in the air. The pony had both wings and a horn, which was the first of its kind that I’d seen. The coat was a brilliant white, and the eyes were also a soft magenta.

The pony towered over me, being about two feet taller than the other ponies I had seen, and looked even larger because of the fact I was currently sitting. It didn’t help matters that the pony wore a small frown as it looked at me with scrutiny, and I had to fight to keep from squirming under its gaze.

Finally, the pony stopped inspecting me and gently sat down, asking, “Can you understand me? I ask that if you can, you don’t play coy by pretending otherwise...it would be better if you cooperated.”

I assumed that this had to be the princess I had heard about, and with her having at least two-hundred pounds on me and magic, I thought it better to do as she asked.

I nodded slowly, responding, “Yes...I can.”

The pony smiled softly and exhaled. “Well, that’s a relief. Things will be much easier now, so long as you are feeling cooperative.” She then donned a rather disturbingly emotionless expression as she asked, “Now, who are you and why are you here?”

I gulped nervously before answering, “My name is Jamison Smith. I uh...I was sent here as part of an experiment to reach other worlds...and now I’m stuck here.”

She nodded before asking, “And what are your intentions? Why were you sent here?”

I shrugged. “I was just told to come here, observe for a few minutes, and then leave. I don’t know what the ones who sent me here were planning.”

“Very well,” she replied stoically, “and why can you not return?”

“I would show you, but my hands are tied...if you could untie them...” I suggested.

The princess pony shook her head. “I am not sure you can be trusted yet.”

I rolled my eyes and sighed. “Fine...what I’m trying to show you is in the inside pocket of my jacket, on the left side.”

The pony’s horn glowed with a golden aura, and the aura opened my jacket and pulled the DFB out of my pocket. She held it aloft in her aura before asking, “And what is this?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure how it works, all I know is that I was supposed to press the little red button on it and it was supposed to get me home.”

The princess nodded a few times before putting the device down in my lap. “It appears Equis does not want you to leave.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “Who’s Equis?”

“The planet we are standing upon.” she replied simply.

My eyes widened a bit as I asked, “A planet can decide things?”

The pony nodded. “Of course. She watches over us...we are all her children. If she does not wish you to leave, you will not.”

I felt a bit defeated at this and sighed. “Any idea why Equis wants me to stay here?”

The pony shrugged gently. “If it were me, it would be to learn from a new species and keep it from possibly bringing an army back. As for why Equis did so, I cannot say for sure, though I am nearly positive it is a preventative measure to ensure the safety of us all.”

I nodded. “Makes sense...so what now?”

Again, the princess shrugged. “If you are asking if I can get you home, I do not know...I am sorry. In regards to what will change now, much will...though for the better, I think.” The pony princess smiled as she said, “First off, we must get you shelter. Though a stranger you may be, I cannot sit idly by while one is exposed to the elements in an alien land. Secondly, we must find a way for you to contribute to the society as a whole. I am sure dear Applejack would wish you to pay her back in some way for the apples you ate, but it would also work in your favor to show the community that you are worthy of their trust and respect.”

I nodded. “That seems to be appropriate. What did you have in mind as far as those?”

“Well,” she began, her eyes turning toward the roof as she thought, “Twilight Sparkle is my personal protégé, and is also one of the most studious ponies I have ever known. I believe if I requested it of her and assured her you are safe to be around, she would be more than happy to have you...provided you would not mind her asking questions in an attempt to learn more about you and your kind.” The princess then frowned. “Although, that and the other ponies may be difficult in itself. I have noticed that you have rather large canines, which I assume dictates you are a carnivore, correct?”

I subconsciously ran my tongue along the meat-tearing teeth, and shook my head. “Omnivore...I can eat plants and meat. And just so you know, I’m rather unusual by my own kind’s standards...normally their canines aren’t this large. I won’t lie to you, I have to ingest some form of animal protein to be healthy, but the majority of my diet can be vegetables.”

The princess seemed to relax a bit, and for the first time, I noticed as a genuine smile graced her features. “Ah, well we can work with that. You see, Twilight Sparkle lives with a young dragon by the name of Spike. His diet is much as you describe yours, although he can ingest gemstones as well.”

I found it strange that not only did dragons exist but apparently they could eat gems too...for the moment however, I let the questions drop.

“Now,” the princess began, her smile vanishing and a very serious expression taking hold, “we must talk about the terms of your stay here, however long that may be. Let it be said that I do not necessarily dislike you, simply that I do not know anything about you, and so must be wary on my subjects’ accounts.”

I nodded. “I understand.”

“Good,” the princess replied, “then you understand why I must warn you that should you have intent to harm any of my subjects, there is not a place you can hide and no distance you can run that will keep me from finding you and exacting retribution.” She then stood tall, and the sun itself seemed to brighten through the rafters of the building. “I am Celestia, princess of the sun and the day, ruler of Equestria for the past three millennia. My subjects are my life, and to harm them is to harm me.”

The nervousness again set in as I replied, “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

She smiled and replied, “For your sake, I hope not.” She then used the strange aura she controlled to undo the ropes tying me up, and I rubbed my wrists as the bindings loosened. “Now, I will send Twilight Sparkle to fetch you after night falls. There is no curfew in effect, but generally speaking the streets in this town are rather empty after the sun sets. I will set up an assembly in a week’s time to formally introduce you to the town so that you can be seen in public, but until then I must ask that you do not leave Twilight Sparkle’s home except in the cover of night, and only with her escort. Is that understood?”

I didn’t much like being treated as if I were plotting to overthrow the entire nation or something, but I also understood the princess’ reasoning. So instead of showing my frustration, I simply nodded. “I understand, princess.”

Satisfied, the pony stood back and nodded. “Good. I ask you simply be patient...I have promised Applejack, the farmpony that found you, a bit of coin for her trouble, so she will keep you company until nightfall. Get to know her well...she is a very influential and well-known pony in this town, and she would be a boon to you as an ally or friend. Sunset is in four hours, and Twilight Sparkle will arrive then to bring you to her home.” The princess then shifted a bit uncomfortably. “Please be patient with her...she is rather excitable with situations such as this.”

I nodded and allowed myself a smile, though dizziness threatened to drop me onto my backside again as I stood...likely from the hoof I took to the face. Once I had gotten my bearings by leaning against a wall nearby, I responded, “Thank you...really. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this.”

The princess turned to leave, but looked back over her shoulder and said, “Do not make me regret it, Jamison Smith. I hope that if and when we do meet again, it is under better circumstances. Be well, and may the sun shine warm upon you.”

The princess left the barn, and from just outside, I could hear muffled talking. A few minutes later, another flash of light accompanied crackling energy, and the strange pressure receded. I didn’t have anything else to do and I didn’t want to rock the boat so early in my stay here, so I waited patiently until I was addressed. A few minutes passed until the orange pony reentered the barn, closing the door behind her.

The pony walked over to me cautiously, and I noted that she just came up to my stomach when standing, and so in order to keep her from having to crane her neck up painfully, I kneeled so we could look eye-to eye.

“So, what are ya?” the mare asked after a few moments of silence.

I grinned and replied, “A human.”

The mare rolled her eyes and said, “Y’all are gonna have ta be a little more clear ‘n that.”

I shrugged. “I’m basically a nearly-hairless ape that walks upright.”

She nodded a few times before stepping forward and extending a hoof. “Name’s Applejack.”

“Jamison Smith.” I replied as I reached out and enclosed her hoof in my hand, which was somewhat difficult seeing as how it was roughly the size of a closed fist. Still, I managed.

We released the hand/hoof-shake thing, and she smiled at me. “Well, it’s nice ta meet ya finally. Why didn’t ya talk when Twi and I found ya?”

I shrugged. “Nervous, mostly. I mean, I stole your food and you kicked me in the face.” She started to protest, but I held up a hand and shook my head weakly. “It’s okay, really. I gotta say that if I woke up one day to see a you rummaging through my fridge, I’d probably freak out too. I might not kick you in the face, but I wouldn’t be above restraining you in some way.” I realized what I’d said all too late, but thankfully this “Applejack” didn’t take it as a threat.

Instead she smiled and chuckled a bit. “Yeah, Ah guess Ah can’t really get mad atcha fer takin’ a few apples anyway. Looks like yer starvin’.”

I looked down at myself and realized just how pale and skinny I looked. For the first time in nearly a decade, I could see my hip bones, ribs, and collarbone. I had put on a bit of weight as I hit puberty and got a bit chunky with the desk job I got as a teenager, and tasty human food didn’t help matters. So it was quite a shock to see myself thinner than I had been in a long time, though by starvation instead of diet and exercise.

Perhaps I could have a new beginning of sorts.

I looked back up at Applejack and nodded solemnly. “Yeah...it’s been weeks since I’ve had a real meal. I’ve been too scared until recently to try any of the plants, and I certainly wasn’t going to just waltz up to a pony and ask.”

The mare quirked an eyebrow and asked, “And why not?”

“Because I was scared.” I replied softly.

This just confused her even more. “Scared? Of a pony?” I nodded, and she frowned. “But...yer taller than most of ‘em, and it’s not like we’re gonna eat ya or nothin’.”

I stood again and said, “Do me a favor and stand up like me if you can.”

The mare looked at me in confusion, but shrugged. “Ah’ll try.” The pony moved towards one of the beams near what looked like a horse stall, though I had a feeling that’s not what it was. Anyhow, she brought her front hooves off of the ground and walked them up the wooden beam that separated the different pens until she was standing almost vertical. I assumed that because of the different body structures, it would be uncomfortable to go any further than she was, so I let it go. She looked back at me and asked, “Is this good?”

I walked over and nodded before looking her right in the eyes. Standing as she now was, she was nearly as tall as I was, shorter by only a few inches. I grinned and replied, “I figured as much. I’m only taller than you because I walk on only two feet instead of four.”

Applejack dropped to the floor again and said, “Still, yer a big...umm...” She shifted awkwardly. “Ah’m sorry, but are y’all a stallion or a mare?”

It took me a few seconds to realize what she was asking, and when I did, I was honestly a little upset. I mean, I might not be Masculine McManly of Mustachia, but I figured that I was masculine enough to be able to tell...as if the voice wasn’t enough of a clue.

I then had to remind myself that I didn’t look like a pony, so it was likely that what Applejack would be looking for as far as masculine features, I probably didn’t have...or they were in the wrong place. For example, I assumed that male ponies would be larger and more muscular than the females, but because of the malnourishment I’d suffered, I was little more than skin and bones...so that would not be the best way to classify me as male or female. Also, as much as it made me uneasy to think about, these equines were mostly naked. It would be rather simple to subtly check the “equipment” in case one was unsure, but I wore clothes.

Still...my voice.

“Can you really not tell?” I asked in mild offense.

She shook her head nervously. “Sorry.”

I sighed and lowered my eyes as I said, “I’m a male...the voice should have made that clear enough, unless you have females around here that have a voice like mine, I guess.”

Applejack’s cheeks colored slightly as she looked away. “Sorry...Ah didn’t think about that. Ah jus’ figured maybe that was different about yer kind too.”

I supposed I couldn’t fault her for that, so I nodded. “Okay, I guess that makes sense. Anyway yes, I’m a guy.”

She let out a sigh of relief and smiled, “Well that’s a relief. Y’all smell like a stallion, so Ah’m glad ya are one, or else it’d be mighty confusin’.”

I then lifted my arm and sniffed myself, and grimaced. “Um, you wouldn’t happen to have some soap and maybe a basin or something that I could use to bathe, would you? I haven’t used soap in a long time.”

“Sure thing, sugarcube.” she replied warmly before pointing to the corner of the barn. “Basin’s over there, and Ah’ll get ya some soap ‘n shampoo. We should probably wash those clothes too, so take ‘em off and Ah’ll get’m cleaned for ya.”

I chuckled nervously and said, “Um, you can come and get them after I’m already washing. My kind doesn’t like to be seen without clothes on.”

She raised an eyebrow and tipped her hat back as she asked, “Why the hay not?”

I thought for a few moments on this, as “just because” wasn’t really a satisfactory answer. After a few moments, I perked up and said, “Okay, let me ask you a question first. Is there anything here that would be counted lewd for a stranger to do in public to you? Like staring at a certain part of your body or doing something...you know what I’m saying?”

Applejack through for a moment before nodding. “Ah think so. If Ah caught a pony starin’ at mah rump or if a pony touched it without me askin’m to, Ah’d feel mighty embarrassed...and Ah’d probably buck ‘em ta next Tuesday.”

I nodded. “Okay, it’s the same kinda thing with someone seeing me naked. So, how about this: I’ll bathe myself first, and then I’ll wash my clothes. If you can find me something big enough to cover myself, we can sit and talk while my clothes dry.”

Applejack nodded before trotting away, so I set about dragging the large basin over to a water spigot on the wall, and started filling it. Normally even being seen in a towel around someone else would make me uncomfortable, but social contact after so long was far more valuable to me than being in my normal clothes. I’d never been the kind of person to be solitary, and at this point, I was willing to forego some privacy to have someone to talk to. Besides, ponies were pretty much naked all the time anyway, and we were different species too. I seriously doubt that a pony would see something like me naked and find it attractive, because it certainly hadn’t happened to me with all the naked mares walking around.

Okay...too much nakedness for me to handle.

Regardless, the point still stood. There could be no attraction between us because of the fact that to them, I’m an alien, and to me, they’re just little horses...and I certainly never had a thing for any animals in my life. Because of that, there shouldn’t be any problem with a pony seeing me without clothes on...but civilized engineering was far stronger than that. No matter how I rationalized it, there was always going to be a part of my mind that would scream, “Keep your fucking clothes on, man!”

A moment after I thought this, Applejack reentered the barn with a bucket in her mouth. She trotted over and set it at my feet before looking up at me with a smile. “There ya go. Got some soap and shampoo in there, a scrub brush, and a big ‘ol towel fer after yer done. Take yer time...I’ll be back in an hour.”

I nodded with a smile. “Should be more than enough time...and thanks for doing this.”

She shook her head. “No problem, sugarcube.”

The nickname she’d given me had an odd ring to it, but I passed it off as she trotted away, leaving me to wash. I looked at the now-filled basin and sighed happily, glad to be able to be clean after so long.

Bathing had felt better than I ever thought possible. The itchiness I’d felt the past month and the grubby feeling I’d had was washed away. The soap and shampoo had a strong, masculine scent to it as well, so I felt nice knowing my clothes and I would be smelling crisp and fresh for awhile.

I was hanging up my clothes on nails outside one of the stalls when a knock on the door sounded.

“Y’all finished in there?” I heard Applejack call.

I finished hanging up my socks before answering, “Yep, all finished. Come on in.”

The barn door creaked open before it shut again quickly, with her on the inside. I pulled the towel tightly around my midsection as she trotted over, but didn’t bother covering my top. It’s not like there was anything to do so with anyway, and I reminded myself that to her, it wasn’t like I was exposing myself.

Applejack stopped in front of me and stared at my bare chest before whistling. “Y’all weren’t kiddin’ when ya said you were hairless.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Yeah. I’m pretty bald even by human standards, at least for my age. Usually guys my age have some chest hair.” I then looked over the thin hair of my arms and legs and chuckled. Even as far as humans went, I was pretty sparsely-furred. I supposed that to a pony, I looked like someone shaved a monkey and taught it to walk upright and talk.

After standing there awkwardly for a moment, she grinned and replied, “Well for what it’s worth, y’all look just fine. If y’all were covered in hair, you’d just look like a snub-faced diamond dog.”

I raised my eyebrow and asked, “A what now?”

“Diamond dog.” Applejack replied. “They’re big dog things that stand on two feet, and they love jewels.”

I nodded. “Ah...okay, I can picture that. Yeah, I wouldn’t want to be looking like one of them.”

She nodded as well. “Yeah. Anyway, Twi’ll be by in about an hour and a half, so fer now, Ah guess we can jus’ relax. Ah got tha rest of tha day off.”

“Cool,” I replied before pointing to the washbasin, “but can you give me some help? I need to tip the water out of this, but it’s too heavy to do it by myself.”

Applejack chuckled as she trotted over to it before turning her backside to face it. “Not too strong, are ya?” She then unleashed a kick with both of her rear hooves, and the heavy washbin easily tipped over, drenching the ground with the soapy, dirty water.

I stared in awe for a moment before saying, “Wow...I feel pretty flimsy now.”

Applejack chuckled as she patted her own flank with one of her front hooves. “Earth ponies are tha powerhouses of ponies, with earth ponies like me an’ mah brother bein’ even stronger than most. Ya give me a pegasus or unicorn mah same size, an’ Ah’ll probably be twice as strong as them.”

“Well you’re obviously stronger than me.” I commented dryly. I then looked to my lithe form and sighed. “Although I’m hardly at 100% right now. Just standing for longer than a few minutes makes me start to feel sore and tired.”

“First things first, we gotta get y’all healthy again, so what do ya eat?” she asked excitedly.

I shrugged. “Pretty much the same things that you eat. The only things I can’t eat from what I’ve seen are hay, grass, and flowers.”

“Well you seem ta like my apples.” Applejack observed with a grin.

I chuckled nervously. “Y-yeah, sorry about that. Speaking of, I’d like to make that up to you somehow.”

She chuckled good-naturely. “Aw sugarcube, ya don’ need ta be doin’ that. Y’all were starvin and-”

I shook my head, interrupting her. “No, I want to pay you back somehow. It wasn’t your responsibility to make sure some alien had food to eat, so you shouldn’t have to put up with having apples eaten that you could have used to feed your family or sold. I want to pay you back, so please let me.”

She squinted hard at me for a few moments before sighing. “Alright fine, Ah’ll figure somethin’ out. What are ya good at?”

I thought for a few moments. What was I good at? Just from having seen her a few times in the past month, I knew she didn’t need help in the fields, and she was much stronger than I was anyway, so I had to think of something that I could do that I had an advantage with. Well, I had fingers and was far more dexterous than an earth pony because of it.

I hummed to myself before answering, “Well I’m pretty good at repairs. Before I came here, I was a week away from graduating college as an engineer, so I’m pretty good with anything mechanical.”

Applejack thought again for a minute before catching eyes with me and smiling. “Well that works great then.” She motioned to the building we were in and said, “This barn is gettin’ pretty old...much longer an’ it’s liable ta jus’ come down on its own. So next week what we’re gonna do is knock it down. We always end up jus’ buckin’ it ‘til it comes down, but Ah can’t help thinkin’ there’s gotta be a better way ta do it. Maybe y’all can think of a way ta do it so we can salvage the wood and such.”

I nodded. “It’s not exactly repair work, but I’m sure I can figure something out. If you’ve got blueprints or any basic layouts for how the barn is built, bring them to me as soon as you can, and I’ll come up with a plan from there.”

She nodded with a wide smile. “Ah’m sure Ah got’m packed away somewhere. Ah’ll stop by tomorrow when Ah find ‘em. And ahead of time, thank ya kindly fer helpin’ out.”

I nodded again, glancing at my clothes and noticing that they were no longer dripping. “Anything I can do to help, Applejack.”

She looked me over before smiling. “Ah like ya already.”

I slumped a bit and let loose a relaxed sigh. “Good. Your princess told me I should try to make good with you.”

“And ya have so far. Yer polite, and willin’ ta work fer what ya got. That’s tha makin’ of a good friend in mah book.” Applejack replied with a warm expression. She then looked out of the window high up in the barn and added, “Anyway, it’s gettin’ ta be time fer supper. Ah gotta head off mah sis, an’ after Ah’ve put her ta bed, Ah’ll bring ya somethin’ ta eat. Sound good?”

I smiled and nodded. “Sounds awesome...and thanks, again.”

She smiled a toothy smile and trotted towards the barn door. “No problem, Jamison. Now you just wait here an’ Ah’ll be back as soon as Ah can. Maybe we can play cards while we wait for Twi.”

The mention of a card game caused me to smirk and I nodded. “Sounds like a plan, Applejack.”

”How tha hay do ya keep beatin’ me?” Applejack growled in frustration.

I chuckled lightly. “I’ve had a lot of practice, and your game ‘Luna’s Moon’ is just Blackjack with a different name.”

She snorted and gathered up the cards. “Ah’m just glad we ain’t bettin’ nothin, or Ah’d end up homeless.”

I chuckled at her frustration, and the fact that she’d vastly underestimated my skills with such a familiar card game. Even as she grumbled lightly to herself though, she was smiling gently, clearly pleased to have found I wasn’t aggressive or something crazy like that. I was happy to have been allowed to live, but the kind pony that kept me company was nice too.

The food Applejack had brought me had been filling and tasty, and had included a slice of homemade pie, roasted potatoes, and amazing little things called apple dumplings. It was truly incredible the culinary skill these ponies had, and it was clear I’d vastly underestimated their acceptance of something like me. I was curious about it, so I had to ask.

“How are you so friendly towards something like me?” I asked bluntly.

She slid the cards back in their pack before turning and saying, “What do you mean?”

I shrugged. “I mean, you don’t really know anything about me other than I’m not from around here. I could be dangerous, or an evil genius or something.”

Applejack chuckled and shook her head. “Ah’ve wrangled a few bad eggs in mah time. You ain’t one of ‘em.” I started up a rebuttal, but before I could speak, she held up a hoof to silence me. “However, iffin’ Ah’m wrong, then Ah guess it’s mah job ta deal with ya.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You’ll ‘deal’ with me?”

She chuckled again and nodded. “Ah don’t mean ta make ya feel small or nothin’, but Ah could take ya...easily.”

“Well yeah, now.” I defended. “I’m starved skin and bones, I haven’t had a full night’s sleep in almost a month, and you already have a head start on me with that hoof to the face...twice.”

Applejack’s ears fell and she bowed her head a bit at that. “Yeah...sorry ‘bout that. Ah wasn’t sure what ta think of some weird thing stealin’ mah apples. How’s yer face, by the way?”

I worked my jaw a bit and shrugged. “Nothing’s broken thankfully, but I have a feeling I’m going to feel even worse tomorrow. It’s alright though. You made me probably the best food I’ve ever had before, so you made up for it.”

Her face brightened again as she cocked her head cutely. “I really do like ya, Jamison. Yer alright.”

“Coming from the pony that found me and kicked me in the face, that’s awesome.” I said with a shit-eating grin. I then turned my head and reached to feel my pants, which were thankfully only slightly moist now...dry enough to put back on. “Alright, well do you mind giving me some privacy so that I can get my clothes back on?”

Applejack nodded with a grin as she began to gather the dishes before trotting out of the barn.

I sighed and began to pull my clothes on as I thought about the day as a whole, and how much more my life had changed in less than twenty-four hours. I had just started to get used to surviving in this new world, and now all of the sudden I’d been outed by my own stupidity and conversing casually with talking ponies.

Life’s crazy like that.

“Hey Applejack, are you in here? I’m here to bring home...oh.” called a voice from behind me, and I cringed as I heard it.

I pulled my pants up quickly about my waist as I felt the blood rush to my cheeks, and turned around to see the lavender unicorn from earlier, who I assumed was Twilight Sparkle.

“So that’s what you look like without your clothes on.” she commented, clearly not embarrassed in the least.

I cleared my throat nervously before grabbing my socks, shirt, and shoes and turning around. I opted to keep the rest off, seeing as how it was rather warm and they weren’t dry yet, mostly the shoes. Still, I was covered enough to be decent as a human, but practically giving this pony a full view of my behind and my goods was enough to make me feel exceedingly awkward.

I turned my eyes to Twilight Sparkle’s after a few seconds before saying, “Umm...I know a pony won’t understand, but you seeing me without my clothes on has made me feel extremely awkward. Can we like...not talk about this? Ever?”

Her ears and smiled drooped as she levitated out a quill and parchment. “But I wanted to take initial observations! Nothing like you has ever been seen in Equestria before!”

I shook my head resolutely. “No...no deal. Not you nor any other pony is going to be seeing me in the nude again. I’ll draw you out a diagram and label it with everything I can remember, but yeah...I’m not letting you study me that way. Clothes stay on.”

She huffed and closed her eyes as the parchment and quill levitated back to the bag she had. “Fine.” She then brought her eyes to mine again before trotting over to me and extending her hoof. “I’m Twilight Sparkle, and I’ll be providing you with living space.”

I tossed my clothes over my shoulder and kneeled, taking her hoof in my hand and shaking it. “Jamison Smith.”

She nodded as we separated before asking, “So where’s Applejack? She was supposed to meet me here.”

I nodded towards the doors. “She left a few minutes before you got here. She should be back soon.”

Twilight sat back onto her haunches and stared at me for a moment before asking, “So I notice you have fur on your head and face, and light fur on your arms, legs, and lower torso, but is there anywhere else you have it?”

I chuckled. “Yeah, but it’s in one of the places that I’m not showing you.”

She nodded before levitating out the quill and parchment, beginning to write. “Uh huh...and I’ve noticed that you have predatory characteristics.” She stopped writing and looked up at me. “Do you hunt for sustenance?”

I shook my head. “Nah. I’ve already explained to your princess that I can supplement my diet with vegetables, mostly. She told me that you keep a dragon that has much the same diet.”

She nodded before going back to writing. “Good, we can accommodate that.” She then lifted her head and moved closer to me, sniffing slightly before moving away. “And I assume you’re a male of your species, correct?”

I theatrically peeked down my pants before nodding. “I am.”

She automatically nodded as she continued taking notes, and I couldn’t help but mentally chuckle at just how right the princess had been about this pony. I had a feeling that she was going to be studying me as much as possible, and it was likely that it was going to cause us to butt heads at some point.

I wasn’t looking forward to that last bit.

“Aaaand...how are your six senses?” she asked as she again looked into my eyes.

I raised an eyebrow. “Six? Apparently humans are different, because we only have five.”

She squinted at me skeptically. “And what are your five senses?”

I held up my hand and began to count them off. “Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch.”

“Oh, I see.” she muttered before scribbling on her parchment. “You don’t have a sense for magic.”

I shrugged. “My world doesn’t have magic, so I assume I would be lacking that sense. What would that even feel like anyway?”

“A bit like a...pressure.” Twilight explained before shaking her head. “It’s rather difficult to explain to somepony who hasn’t felt it before.”

I gasped and blurted, “I’ve felt that! When the princess was here, I felt that!”

“Really?” she asked curiously, to which I nodded. She began writing again as she muttered, “Interesting.” She wrote for a few more moments before looking up at me again. “It appears that you do have a sense for magic, but you’ve just never felt it before. If my theory is correct, you aren’t able to feel my magic right now, are you?”

I shook my head. “No...I’m kinda wondering about that myself, actually.”

She gained a slightly manic grin as she squealed like a little girl. “Oh, this is so exciting!”

“Hold up now, what’s exciting? I have no clue what’s going on.” I stated in confusion.

Twilight Sparkle gathered herself and said, “Okay, it appears that even though your world doesn’t have magic, somehow, you still have the potential for it. The only problem is I wouldn’t be able to tell if this is something you were born with, or if it was something that changed from your body’s exposure to magic. You see, a pony’s magic sense, which is scientifically known as magistratum, is bestowed upon us by our Starswirl gland. The Starswirl gland secretes magical hormones that allows ponies to sense magic, and channel it in a multitude of ways. All ponies can handle objects in much the same way you can with hands. Earth ponies have a strong connection with the earth and plants, allowing them to grow crops and work the land in such a way that no other sort of pony could replicate...this is in addition to enhanced strength and stamina. Pegasus ponies use their magic for flight, as well as controlling the weather.”

I raised an eyebrow and queried, “Flying ponies can control the weather?”

She nodded. “Yes. Lastly are unicorn ponies, like me. We can channel magic directly through our horns, using them for something so simple as levitating a quill, like so,” she demonstrated by waving the feathery writing quill around, “or much more powerful spells, such as teleportation or even elemental spells. Unicorn ponies are generally the physically weakest of the three races, as we tend to rely on our magic more than our muscles.”

I nodded. “Cool...but what does that have to do with this Starswirl gland thing?”

She giggled cutely and pointed to me. “I’m not sure how, but it seems that one of your organs is acting as a Starswirl gland.” She she caught her tongue in her teeth as she continued to write, adding, “I’d like to study this in particular, if you don’t mind.”

I shrugged. “As long as it doesn’t hurt me and I’m clothed, I’m cool with it.”

The door opened from behind Twilight to reveal Applejack walking back in, with a wide smile. “Well, Ah see y’all are gettin’ on pretty good.”

“Oh, Applejack! I need to speak with you before we leave.” Twilight Sparkle exclaimed happily. She then turned to me and asked, “Do you mind waiting here for just a few minutes?”

I waved my hand with a shake of my head. “Take your time, ladies.”

A few minutes actually turned into nearly twenty, and while I made it a point not to eavesdrop, I could hear what sounded like Applejack either defending herself or me, which could only mean that Twilight Sparkle had said something accusatory. I was worried for two reasons, the first being why it was taking the two ponies so long. I mean, I seemed to have got on well with the both of them, so what could be the problem? Secondly, and more importantly, were the apparent accusations. Was this Twilight Sparkle throwing me under the bus? Had she found out something about me that could get me thrown in prison or something? Was she going to call the cops? Did they even have cops in this place?

“Okay, chill out dude. Calm down...it’s o-kay.” I mumble to myself, trying to keep from hyperventilating in fear.

“What’s okay?” asked a voice from behind me.

I jumped a bit in surprise and tripped over my own feet, falling with a loud *THUMP* to the ground. I groaned as I pushed myself up to a sitting position, grumbling at how I was now covered in dust and dirt.

As I turned around, I saw Applejack and Twilight Sparkle standing there, staring at me curiously for a moment before Applejack asked, “Ya alright there?”

I nodded. “Yeah, I’m good.” I then shook my head with a sigh. “Actually no, I’m not. Are you two going to send me to prison or something? Because if you are, please just tell me now...I don’t want to have any delusions on the matter.”

Twilight Sparkle cocked her head as she curiously asked, “Prison? What’s that?”

My nervousness left me as I raised my eyebrow at the question. “What’s a prison? You know, a place where you put bad people...criminals.”

Her eyes widened as she shook her head. “The Canterot Dungeons? By the sun, no! Why on Equis would we ever send you to the dungeons?”

I shrugged. “You two were taking a long time talking, and I started to get a little worried...alright, I started to get really worried.” I sighed and explained, “I’m probably the only one of my kind here, and you all know little to nothing about me or my race. The princess has already told me that she doesn’t even know if she could get me back home, so for assumption’s sake, I might be stuck here. I have no idea about your cultural norms, social interactions, or anything else for that matter...and I can’t even read your written word.” I then dropped my eyes to the ground as I mumbled, “I’m scared...”

I heard as the two ponies moved closer to me, and then felt and saw as Twilight Sparkle laid a hoof gently on my leg. I looked up at her as she said, “You don’t have to be scared, Jamison...we’re not going to hurt you. The princess cares about me and the safety of her ponies, so if she really thought you were a threat, she wouldn’t have left you here with us. So please, trust us to look out for you and keep you safe.”

I took a few deep breaths before nodding. “Okay...and thank you.”

Twilight Sparkle nodded. “You’re welcome. Now, I’ve already explained the situation to Spike, the dragon that Princess Celestia told you about, but he’s already asleep, so you don’t have to worry about meeting him until tomorrow. I’ve cleared out a guest bedroom for you and furnished it accordingly, so I’m ready to go whenever you are.”

I smiled at her before turning to Applejack and kneeling before her. “Thanks a lot for the help, Applejack. I appreciate the meal and keeping me company. You’re awesome.”

I noticed as a faint pink lit up her cheeks, and she looked away bashfully. “Aww, t’weren’t nothin’, sugarcube...but you’re welcome.” She then turned to me and smiled. “You take care of yerself Jamison. Get some rest...Ah’ll be by midmornin’ ta drop off the stuff ya need.” Applejack turned to Twilight and explained, “He’s gonna help me figure out a better way ta bring down this old barn.”

Twilight Sparkle smiled at me. “Oh, well that’s very kind of you, Jamison. Well I guess we should get going then...you’re going to need the rest.” She then turned to Applejack and crossed her neck with the earth pony, in what I assumed was the equivalent of a hug. “Goodnight Applejack, and thanks for looking out for him.”

Applejack pulled away a few moments later with a wide smile. “No problem, Twi. Anyway, y’all should get goin’. It’s gettin’ late, and Ah know yer tired by now. So go get some rest, and Ah’ll see y’all tomorrow.”

I nodded to her as Twilight Sparkle and I walked away, heading towards what would be my new home for the time being.

The walk to Twilight Sparkle’s home was mercifully uneventful, and the two of us traded small talk the whole way there. She was a rather interesting person...or rather, pony. She was very intelligent and curious about anything she wasn’t familiar with. She reminded me a bit of myself when I was in middle school, before...

Well, before things changed.

As we trotted through the quiet town, I noticed a large tree looming in the distance, and the closer we got, I began to see that the tree was, in fact, also a home. The tree was also still alive, which I found amazing, and was larger than all of the other homes around it.

Twilight Sparkle smiled slightly as we approached, and announced, “Well, here we are. The Golden Oaks Library, which also happens to be my home...and yours now, for as long as you stay.” She trotted up to the door as her horn began to glow, and a soft click issued forth from the door before it opened, and she motioned inside with a hoof. “Come on in.”

I was much taller than she was, so I had to duck a bit to make my way through the front door, but once I was inside, I noticed just how large the home was. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases covered the entire bottom floor, and I had to fight from laughing at the sheer stupid amount of books there were.

Twilight Sparkle closed the door behind us and trotted ahead of me. “Follow me and I’ll lead you to your room.”

I nodded and followed her through a side hallway between two bookcases, taking in the beautiful craftsmanship of the home. Wood was used for every furnishing that I could see, and it was all stained perfectly with a soft reddish-pink color, which I assumed was the natural color of the wood of the tree.

I continued following my guide until we came to a slightly taller door, and she opened it to reveal a quaint room with a single window, a writing desk, a bookshelf, a wardrobe, and a bed. She motioned to the room and said, “Well, this is it. The bed is a lot larger than a normal pony’s bed, so I had hoped it would better accommodate your size. The W.C. is back the way we came, and is the only other door in the hallway. Is there anything else I can get for you?”

I shook my head with a smile as I looked to her. “No, this is plenty. Thank you very much, Twilight Sparkle...I really do appreciate this.”

She shook her head with a smile. “Please, just call me Twilight, Jamison.”

I nodded. “Twilight then...and you can call me Jamie if you want.”

She nodded. “Alright then, Jamie. Well anyway, we need to get up early tomorrow, so I’m heading to bed.” She yawned as she trotted towards the door. “Sleep well, and I’ll see you in the morning.” The door closed behind her, and I let out a sigh of relief as she left.

The day as a whole had been stressful, but at the same time relieving. I was glad that I now had shelter and food, as well as a place to wash myself, but getting kicked in the face hadn’t helped, and neither had accidentally exposing myself to a curious pony. All in all though, it had been a good day, and I was glad things had turned out the way it had. I mean, had this world been like Earth, it was likely I’d have been forcibly detained, drugged, interrogated, and then dissected. It went without saying I was very happy this world was different because of that, but at the same time I missed home.

Just because the princess didn’t know if she could get me home didn’t mean that it wasn’t possible...right?

I forced the negative thought from my mind as I laid down on the fluffy bed, which was just large enough to be considered a double-size. I relished the feeling of a real bed after so long, and soon, I felt my eyes close as if of their own accord, and I fell asleep.

Chapter 2: A Life for Sale

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Chapter 2: A Life for Sale

I woke with a start in the morning, nearly falling out of my bed in the process.

It had been a few weeks since I had first been found by Twilight and Applejack, and I still had to occasionally remind myself that the bed I woke up in was not my own, that the house was not mine, and that this was not my world. Luckily for me, today was not one of those days...those were bad days.

As the time had passed, I became a bit closed-off towards ponies. Princess Celestia knew about me now, and had advised me in a letter some time ago that she would spend all her free time and resources to find me a way to return home, so I was resistant to form any sort of bond with any of the ponies. Not because they weren’t nice, because they were. No...it was because when the time came to leave, I didn’t want to have to feel the pain that came with saying goodbye to a friend, possibly forever.

That of course wasn’t the only reason I had chosen to isolate myself.

The second week of my stay with Twilight, I learned about the culture as a whole...and that was when things became strange. A great many things that were commonplace for an American like me had a very different structure in this world. First of all, Equis was matriarchal, and this specific bit of culture spanned the entire world, across nearly all the races. Among ponies, gryphons, fey ponies, changelings, and even dragons, females were (generally) larger in size, more powerful, more numerous, and held much higher places of status in society. It was nothing like slavery of course, but males were generally seen as the “lesser” sex.

Now I don’t consider myself a sexist, but that piece of information bothered me.

This created problems for a few reasons, the most prominent of which (by my unfortunate observation) was mating season. Unlike humans, there was a certain season for each race (usually around late winter or early spring) where all females would enter a “heat”...just like most animals of Earth. The problem with this was because instead of the season making males act crazy, it was the females that were to be approached with caution, if at all. Thankfully for me, something about the estrous cycle of unicorns messed with their ability to use magic, so I was able to barricade myself in Twilight’s basement as the insanity ensued outside. Also thankfully, Twilight had warned me ahead of time that should she see me, she would probably attempt to rape me during the week that her estrous cycle took hold if she saw me. So, being the cool mare that she was, she took me to the market to stock up on water and food so that I wouldn’t starve.

God help those poor males who get caught outside during that time...I could still hear the screams in my nightmares.

It went without saying that my integration into Ponyville society could have gone better than it did. The ponies were welcoming enough of my difference of figure, but there were just so many things different about the way we thought, acted, and spoke...one of which had to do with the whole matriarchal thing. This caused a fair bit of friction with some of the mares around town because I didn’t “act like a stallion”. See, on Equis, mares acted like human guys acted. Dirty jokes, lewd comments, and even wolf whistles...yeah, mares did that. It was confusing to say the least, especially with some of the mares being very feminine. This wouldn’t have caused a problem on the whole though, seeing as how I was basically patiently waiting for news from Princess Celestia saying that she had discovered how to get me home...if not for that day.

It was one of the few days when I actually went around town on my own. One of Twilight’s friends, named Rarity, had been kind enough (and oddly excited) to make several sets of clothes for me, including one set of workout clothes, at my request. So it was, I was attempting to keep my newfound figure in shape by taking a morning jog. I did so in the morning simply because I would be less likely to encounter anypony (God, that feels weird to say). The reason I did so was because of certain things about a stallion’s anatomy that mares found attractive, namely a wide chest, a strong jawline, and a powerful, toned flank. Being a human with a rather masculine facial structure, this caused quite a few lewd comments to come my way, especially when I started to regain my weight as muscle instead of fat. Because of the size difference, my chest was very broad (even compared to Big Macintosh, Applejack’s brother), so I often had to put up with quite a few wolf-whistles...and I often found myself thinking, “Jesus, is this what women feel like?”

Anyway, my jog started out as it normally did, me running through the cool morning air of early May (yes, they have the same names for months. Strange how that worked out). It was one of the few times of day when I was completely alone, and I relished the ability to simply relax and forget about my stay on Equis (temporary though it is).

After a lap around the town, I sat down on a park bench in the middle of town, watching the early morning sunrise on the horizon. A younger earth pony mare, probably still in high school (or whatever they called it) decided to sit down next to me and attempt to have some small talk with me. She was cute in an “aww, so cute” sort of way, but I found myself starting to become uncomfortable with how close she was scooting over to me, so I got up to walk away...

Only for her to comment on how she was going to “rope” me.

Now to a human, that comment meant nothing, and had Twilight not educated me on the culture and history of her world, I might have just jogged away and not thought twice about it. Unfortunately though, I did know what it meant, and it pissed me off.

A mare commenting that she was going to “rope” a stallion (or man, in my case) referred to ancient Equestria, when Princess Celestia and Princess Luna’s parents ruled. Back then, males were in such high demand by females that often times an “unmarked” stallion would be lassoed, tied up like a calf, and dragged away to be used by the mares of a herd. The stallion was then branded with the herd’s mark, making him the property of the herd, likely for the rest of his life. Fortunately for me, modern Equestria deemed that practice one of the most severe crimes in Equestrian law, though herds were still the norm. Nowadays, a mare saying she was going to “rope” a stallion meant that she would not give up until she convinced (or bullied) him to join her herd (the term was never used by solitary mares).

I could have reacted better.

A few hours after the incident, I was publicly apologizing to the young mare for threatening to tear off her lips and sew her mouth shut if she spoke to me like that again, while she was made to promise not to approach me in such a way ever again. During the whole thing I couldn’t help but wonder how many stallions simply took it without saying anything...and I found myself a little sad because of it.

The ponies of Ponyville looked at me with quite the different look after that day. I was considered to be volatile, potentially dangerous, and scary. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy the cease of the come-ons, but I didn’t enjoy the fear and distrust that now shone in ponies’ eyes.

But it’s not like I was going to be living here or anything, so I simply filed it away under the “hate myself later” section and moved on with my life.

As I stretched out my arms, legs, and back, I yawned loudly. Twilight was one of the few ponies that knew how I really felt about everything and knew why I acted the way I had. Though I found it strange to be able to have a pony relate to me, I also found it nice that somepony was on my side. Spike too had taken a liking to me, especially when I told him that dragons were legendary creatures in my world, and the young dragon and I would often hang out together when there was nothing else to do.

Spending time with Spike was what I actually planned to do that morning after I showered and such, had the sound of galloping hooves not caught my attention.

“Jamie!” Twilight shouted before forcing open the door in excitement.

Because of her never having to knock before entering rooms in her own house, she had already caught me nude a few times already, but thankfully this time I was in shorts.

I looked to Twilight in confusion of her excitement and asked, “Where’s the fire?”

She used her magic to levitate an open scroll in front of me as she read it aloud.

“Dear Jamison Smith,

I have news regarding my research, and I wish to speak to you directly. I will be making an unplanned visit to Ponyville tonight, as I understand that you have been waiting very patiently for this news, for which I thank you. I will arrive after the sun sets, using Twilight as a beacon for fast travel.

With love,

Princess Celestia Solari”

Twilight lowered the scroll and smiled widely at me. “Oh this is wonderful news! You’re finally going home!” I couldn’t help but smile as she bounced around in excitement on my behalf, but suddenly she stopped and stood stock still, a frown etching her features. “You’re...finally going home.”

I raised my eyebrow in worry. “Yeah?”

Her lips began to quiver a bit as her eyes brimmed with tears. “Y-you’re going home...”

I closed my eyes and sighed as I knew what was going to happen, and a moment later, she dashed out of the room and up the stairs, presumably to her room. I shook my head as it happened, realizing that a situation like this was exactly why I had tried to distance myself from the ponies. Thankfully for me this crazy ride was apparently almost over, which was all well and good because I now had to think of how to explain to my family why I’d been gone for the past three months. So, I did what I always did nowadays when I needed to think...

I went for a jog.

I took a quick jaunt around town, keeping to the less-used backroads and kept close to Sweet Apple Acres. This area was mostly safe, because the ponies around there knew me and liked me. These ponies included the other five Elements of Harmony, a local DJ named Vinyl Scratch, and Vinyl’s cellist roommate, Octavia. All of these ponies knew what I was, where I came from, and why I acted the way I did...and all liked me for the same reason: I acted like “one of the girls”.

Which was why when Applejack approached me on my circuit, I smiled in a friendly manner.

“G’mornin, sugarcube!” she greeted happily.

I grinned and nodded back to her as I continued jogging. “Good morning, Applejack. How’s the orchard doing?”

She smiled as she trotted, easily keeping pace with me. “Jus’ fine. Zap apple season’s comin’ around this year, an’ ya ain’t lived ‘til y’all have tried some zap apple jam.”

In honesty I was pretty interested in just how these “zap apples” tasted, but home took priority. I stopped my exercise and took a few breaths before saying, “It pains me to say I’m not going to get to try any.”

She looked up at me with confusion. “Why not?”

I shrugged. “Princess Celestia sent a letter this morning saying she has news about getting me home, so I’m thinking that today might be my last day here.”

She frowned as her brow furrowed. “Hmm...are ya sure she found you a way ta get back home?”

I shrugged again. “I mean what else could it be?”

“Jus’ don’t get yerself worked up b’fore ya know what’s goin’ on, Jamie...’sall I’m sayin’.” she warned.

I chuckled and shook my head. “I’m sure it’ll be fine. Besides, I don’t belong here. You know that, Princess Celestia knows that, and I definitely know that. The sooner I get out of Ponyville’s collective mane, the better. On Earth, I’m a regular guy. Here, I’m a freak of nature and ponies don’t like me. I mean, how would you feel if when you did anything you were always wondering if there was some second meaning behind it?”

She blushed a bit at what I was suggesting. After helping her take her barn down safely and efficiently, I had patted her on her back in what I thought was an innocent gesture. She had immediately grabbed my shirt in her teeth and dragged me aside privately, explaining that in doing so, I had basically done a very forward intimate gesture on her...in public...in front of her grandmother.

It goes without saying I cursed myself out...repeatedly.

“We all make mistakes, sugarcube.” Applejack said, breaking me away from the memory.

I chuckled and shook my head again. “A mistake would be if I called you Jack instead of Applejack. No...I basically told you I wanted to mount you in public with a simple touch. That is not a mistake, that’s a catastrophe. I mean did you see the scowl she had on her face?” I shuddered a bit. “The only way she could have been scarier is if she’d suddenly sprouted spider legs and chased me.”

She didn’t laugh like I’d hoped. Instead, she simply sighed and looked up at me and met my blue eyes with hers of green. “What if tha news she has is that she can’t get ya home?”

I grit my teeth and shook my head. “Don’t say something like that...you’re gonna jinx it or something.”

“But what if it is?” she pressed.

I growled and clenched my fists. “I don’t know...I...” I took a few deep breaths to calm myself before turning my eyes back to hers. “I can’t, Applejack. I just...I can’t. I have no family here, and I am the only one of my kind. I am completely alone.”

Her expression darkened a bit as she said, “Yer not alone Jamie, and if ya really feel that way, it’s because ya want to. Ya got ponies here that care about ya.”

I sighed and sent a withering glare her way. “Friends are nice and all, but I want to be able to fall in love someday too. Maybe get married, have a kid or two...you know, normal stuff. I can’t do any of that with a pony, so no matter how much a pony might like me, it just can’t happen.” I sat down on a large rock by the path and hung my head as I rubbed my eyes. “You wouldn’t understand, Applejack.”

She sat down upon her haunches beside me and took off her hat, revealing her flowing mane of golden hair. She then looked up at me and said, “Ah might not know what ya feel like, but Ah know that if Ah was stranded in some weird place where there weren’t any ponies, Ah’d make due with what Ah got. Tha point is, as much as ya don’t wanna think about it, there is a chance yer stuck here. If ya are, what are ya gonna do then? Ya can’t just keep hopin’ fer a miracle or somethin’ if Celestia herself says she can’t do it.” She shook her head with a frown. “Ah ain’t tryin’ ta upset ya Jamie, but ya need ta realize tha fact that even if y’all are stuck here, there’s worse places y’all could be, and worse people y’all could be around.”

I chuckled darkly as the very thought filled my head. “Getting home is the only thing I have to hold onto, Applejack. It’s nothing against ponies or any of you in particular...I just don’t belong here. It’s too different in too many ways, and if I can’t get home, I’ll probably end up jumping into Ghastly Gorge.”

“That ain’t funny, Jamie.” she commented.

I shook my head with a snort of annoyance. “It wasn’t a joke.”

I heard a very un-ponylike growl come from Applejack as she stood up and trotted around in front of me. She then placed her front hooves on my knees and pulled herself up, looking me directly in the eyes, her face inches in front of mine. “There’s lotsa ponies out there that deserve ta live when they ain’t, ponies that got taken away from tha world b’fore their time. Ah ain’t gonna sit by while ya threaten ta end somethin’ as precious as life. Ah’ll tie ya up and keep ya in mah barn again if that’s what it takes, and Ah’ll have RD beat some sense inta ya.”

I quirked an eyebrow skeptically and asked, “And how long would you plan on doing that?”

She kept her fierce gaze, but shrugged. “As long as it takes fer y’all ta stop actin’ and thinkin’ like a darn fool. Ah’d do it fer tha rest of mah life if Ah have to.”

I didn’t understand exactly why she cared so much, and I had no doubt that had any of the others heard my thoughts, I might have received similar responses from them. The fact still stood that these ponies didn’t know what it would be like to live in an alien world for the rest of your life, with no chance at any of the things the mind and heart needs to flourish. They simply couldn’t understand how it felt to know that you are a singularity in the world, and there is no one else to love or connect with. I prayed at that moment to every god there might possibly be that Applejack was wrong, and that the princess was sending me back home. It just wouldn’t be fair otherwise...

“Look Applejack, I don’t see why you’re so bent out of shape about this.” I stated calmly. “Whether I get sent home or fall into depression and commit suicide, nothing about your world would change. I’m not some important person in your world and nothing about it depends on me being here. The fact stands that should I cease to be here for one reason or another, your life and your world will continue as if I were never here. No one would miss me...in fact I’m pretty sure quite a few would be glad I’m gone.” I then stood, causing her to fall back off of me and onto all four hooves. “My family on the other hand miss me...I know they do. My world is different without me...even if it’s only for a few people. I have a place there where I belong, I don’t here. Should I never reappear there, all my loved ones would believe I’m dead...so I might as well be dead.”

Again she growled, and she raised her hoof as if to strike me. Her face twisted up as if she were about to explode, but finally she lowered her hoof and took a deep breath. She sniffled and trotted away...crying? Why was she crying?

Now I was utterly confused.

No matter...Princess Celestia would arrive in a few hours and then I could forget all about this.

I decided to stay away from the others, lest I receive the same scolding from them that I received from Applejack. It was easier said than done, but if I could just stick to the back roads, I should be able-



I turned towards the sound of the voice to find Rainbow Dash speeding through the air towards me. Even from the distance I was at, I could see a scowl on her face...and from what I could tell, she was flying away from where Sweet Apple Acres was.

Great...fucking great.

I didn’t even bother trying to outrun her, as I knew it would be stupid to even try and she’d just end up angry...well, angrier. Instead I stood my ground and waited for her to arrive, and a mere second or two later she did, flaring her wings and stopping right in front of my face. Rainbow Dash was probably the only pony who I was still afraid of, simply because her attitude radiated, “I’m going to kick your ass before you even know it.” I tried to look intimidating by standing my ground, but on the inside I was nearly pissing myself...and I’m pretty sure she knew it.

“What the hay is this about you killing yourself if you can’t go home?” she asked, equal parts rage and concern...an odd combination if ever there was one.

I sighed and just looked her directly in her eyes. “What the hell is the big deal? If I’m gone, all of you can just go back to your lives the way they were.”

Her hoof was brought up to her face in what I assumed was a pony’s version of a facepalm. She groans and shakes her head as she brings her hoof down. “No, you idiot, we don’t want you to go!”

I raised my eyebrow at this in skepticism...this wasn’t something I was ever told of.

“What now?” I asked in confusion.

She rolls her eyes and pokes me in the chest with her hoof, one of the rare times a pony’s touched me. “I know how you’ve been avoiding making friends and all that for whatever reason, but the truth is that even if you didn’t try to, you’ve done it anyway. Applejack finally has someone besides the other Elements she can talk to that doesn’t think she’s stupid or dull. Twilight loves hearing about your stories from your world, and she loves hearing all about you...you’re the most interesting thing in the world to her, both as a project and as you. And they’re not the only ones. Everypony’s life in Ponyville had changed because of you, and whether you believe it or not, most of it is for the better. Maybe if you’d actually get out once in awhile and talk to some of the ponies, you’d find out you’re liked a lot more than you might think.” She then removed her hoof from my chest and flew closer, her face only a few scant inches away. “And for your information, we’d miss you if you go. We don’t want you to leave, Jamie. You’re our friend, and we want you to stay.”


Despite my attempts to keep it from happening, it seemed that the ponies had befriended me against my will, if there is such a thing. Now I’d have to live with the fact that I would be missed when I went back to Earth...and that sucked.

‘But what if you can’t go back?’

The thought again rattled around in my mind, but I refused to give it attention. I still didn’t know how I’d react to not being able to return home. That just couldn’t be the case though...this Princess Celestia can move the sun and moon, so surely she can do something like get me back to my world. My confidence in the matter was starting to dip though, and I became aware that I was trying to convince myself...simply because I didn’t want to have to deal with the alternative.

I probably wouldn’t actually kill myself...I was just being dramatic. Still, being stuck in an alien land wasn’t something I wanted to experience, no matter how nice the locals were. After all, I did have family wondering where I was. My mother was likely organizing a full-scale manhunt by now, and my father probably wasn’t any better off. I needed to get home.

“Helooo, are you listening to me?” Rainbow Dash questioned, waving a hoof in my face.

I shook the cobwebs from my head and said, “Sorry. My mind was elsewhere.”

She sighed and closed her eyes, shaking her head. “Look, all I’m saying is that no matter what, you’re not going to be ‘all alone’. I never leave my friends hangin’, and neither do any of the others. Stop acting all dramatic like Rarity and realize that you have friends here, and we’ll help you out...even if it means saying goodbye to you if you leave.”

When I leave.” I corrected.

“If you leave.” she said, correcting my correction (I guess).

This mare, brash and forceful as always, was forcing me to put things in perspective. She was forcing me to realize the fact that getting home was a very big “if”. I didn’t like it...like really didn’t like it. I wouldn’t want to stay the rest of my life in a world where I couldn’t even read the written word. That alone made me feel very out of place, besides the fact that physical gestures that I would normally use every day with friends had different meanings in Equestria...most of them, anyway. I didn’t even want to think about the reversed gender roles...I just couldn’t deal with that at the moment.

“If you’re right, then you don’t have anything to worry about.” she continued gently. “But if I’m right, you need to deal with the chance that you might have to make this your new home. Twi says it’s always better to be prepared than to ‘wing it’, so you need to deal with this issue you have with us and this world.”

I growled and shook my head. “I don’t have a problem with any of you per se, it’s just that I’m an alien with no way to get home.” I looked up to meet her gaze again as I asked, “What would you do if you were in my situation?”

She shrugged. “Probably freak out.” I was about to say something about her being a kind of hypocrite, but then she continued. “But if I were stuck, I’d deal with it...it’s not like I’d have a choice. I could figure out how to live on some other planet if I had to. I mean, I’m no Twilight, but I’m sure I could do it.” She then looked directly at me. “And you can too, if it comes to that...you’ll have all of us to help you.”

I turned away from her and continued walking down the path. “Well I’m sorry if this hurts your feelings, but I really hope it doesn’t come to that. It’s not something I want to deal with.” I let the frustration and worry fade away a bit as I turned my head to look at her again, a decidedly calmer expression on my face. “Like I said, it’s not because of any of you...I just don’t belong here is all.”

“You belong a lot more than you think Jay,” she stated, conviction strengthening her words, “and I’m not the only pony that thinks so.” Just as I was about to make a crack at the fact I was a male in a society that was mostly female, she interrupted me with, “And no, not because you’re a stallion.”

“Man.” I corrected dryly.

She snorted in annoyance. “Whatever. The point is that you have a place here too that nopony else could fill. If you do end up leaving, there’ll be a big empty hole where you used to be. It doesn’t matter what you think about this world or ponies or anything else...the fact is that you’ll be missed here too.”

So, against all odds it appeared that I would be disappointing people...again.

I shook the negative thought from my mind and growled in frustration. “No matter what I do, someone’s going to get hurt. I’m just going to go back to Twilight’s house and prepare. Maybe the princess has a spell that’ll let all of you forget all about me.”

Without waiting for a response, I took off down the road towards the library. Rainbow Dash didn’t follow this time, and for some reason it hurt a bit that she didn’t.

The sun was finally setting, and as evening approached, I became more and more anxious. Spike was by my side the whole time, but seeing as how only three ponies out of eight knew what was doing that night, it made sense the rest of them weren’t there. The three that new were sad or pissed, so I just let it go...or tried to.

Why did I feel like an asshole?

I mean I shouldn’t, should I? I was going home. These ponies had taken me in, cared for me, got me healthy again, and kept me company. I was grateful, but I couldn’t really call them friends. In fact, I had took particular care not to get attached to them, because I knew my time in Equestria was temporary.

And yet...

Twilight was upstairs depressed, and likely had stayed there since I left the library earlier in the day. Applejack, one of the most tomboyish mares I’d come across, had been reduced to tears as well. Lastly, Rainbow Dash somehow made me feel like a royal prick...and I’m still not sure how.

My mental analysis was cut short as Twilight descended the stairs, composed but clearly still unhappy. Her reddened eyes were the only sign she’d been upset earlier, and she made her way to Spike and I with a determined gait.

“It’s time.” she spoke calmly, and lit up her horn with magic.

There was no pretense or waiting. Nearly as soon as she charged the beacon spell, a bright flash came about with a loud *POP*. I blinked my eyes a few times to clear the spots from my vision, and once I could see again, Princess Celestia was standing beside Twilight, in all her radiant glory. It was only the second time I’d met the alicorn princess, and I immediately noticed the change in the atmosphere. That “pressure” took hold of me immediately, and I found it as warm and inviting as it was powerful.

She opened her eyes and her magenta gaze fell upon me with the same soft smile that always seemed to be plastered to her face. A smile that spoke of love for all living things, and the joy she took in the happiness of her subjects.

“Jamison Smith...it has been some time.” she greeted.

I bowed my head respectfully, with my right hand over my heart. After a moment I rose and smiled back at her. “It has indeed, Princess Celestia. It’s an honor.”

She returned the smile and gestured to the nearby sofa as Spike and Twilight silently left the room. “Please have a seat.”

I did as she asked and sunk myself into the soft cushions as the princess sat on a conveniently-placed sitting pillow. She closed her eyes and took a long breath, seemingly relaxing after what could only be a stressful day as a ruler, before focusing her gaze on me.

“Well, Twilight has told me that you’ve been awaiting my arrival.” she stated.

I nodded. “Well it’s not everyday that a princess offers to help me with a problem, namely one so important as this.”

Her soft expression did not change, but her few moments of silence were unsettling.

When she spoke again, her gaze had taken a more serious turn, and it frightened me a bit. “Why do you want to return to your world so badly?”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. What was she playing at?

“Umm,” I began, trying to focus my thoughts on the matter, “you mean besides the fact that I don’t understand anything about this world?”

She nodded. “Yes, besides that.”

I shrugged. “My family and friends. On Earth, I have people that love and care for me...and are waiting for me to get back. I mean other than that, I could take Earth or leave it really. With all the corruption and politics in the world, my family is the only thing that really ‘makes it or breaks it’ for me.”

“So if you were forced to, you believe you could learn to live here...even with the differences.” she confirmed.

I thought about it for a moment before shrugging. “I guess. Why does it matter?”

Her expression darkened slightly as she nodded. “I see now why Equis wishes you to stay.”

My eyes widened in surprise. “Did you mean to say ‘wishes’ or did you mean ‘wished’, as in the past tense?”

She shook her head. “Wishes. I made no mistake in my words.”

If this damned planet chose to keep me from leaving again, I was going to explode.

I grit my teeth as I growled, “I believe you had better explain yourself...and Equis, while you’re at it.”

She nodded, taking my sudden hostility in stride. “I believe I should. First, to understand this, you must know something important about how our universes operate. I will be the first to tell you that yes, you have entered a different universe by coming here, but what makes them so different is how time flows.”

My hostility bled away a bit, giving rise to confusion. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say.”

She sighed, giving me a disturbingly sad look. “Time in your universe passes much more quickly compared to here, by a factor of four-thousand.”

“I’m not that good at math, princess.” I stated, my mind still trying to work the equations anyway.

“What I mean to say,” she began, her tone darkening just a sliver more, “is that in just the sixteen days before Applejack discovered you, nearly two-hundred of your world’s years passed.”

I took a few seconds to understand what she was saying...it just couldn’t be true. It didn’t make sense. Everything humans knew about space-time said that what she was explaining to me was impossible.

“No.” I answered resolutely. “No...I don’t believe that.”

She pursed her lips and nodded. “Very well. If you give me a few moments, I can come up with a convincing lie for you.”

I shook my head as I stood. “No...I don’t-” I took a few breaths as I felt panic starting to take over me. “N-no, that’s....no...no...NO...NO!” I stomped my foot in an effort to calm myself as I felt my mind clouding with hysteria, and I began thinking of what could be done. Suddenly an idea came to mind as I wildly pointed at the princess. “MAGIC! Yeah, you know magic and you’re all super-powerful and whatnot! You can like...send me back in time and then none of this will have ever happened!”

Her gaze was unflinching, but it seemed pitying somehow. “I am unsure what you have been told, but magic is not all-powerful, Jamison. Even a force such as magic has limits to its abilities, and what is possible to do.”

The crazed haze on my brain made it hard to think, and I was nearly hyperventilating as I asked, “So what are you saying?”

She stood in front of me and frowned. “I am going to put this as plainly as I can Jamison, so listen close: all those you once knew no longer exist, and the world you once recognized is now alien. I cannot send you home, and I cannot weave the radical spells you believe are possible.” She stepped closer to me, and stared with intent. “Put simply, you are here...possibly for quite some time. Equis has decided it would be best for you to begin a new life here, and so has made sure you stayed. I am sorry, but your past life is no more. This is your life now, Jamison. Welcome to your new home, citizen Smith.”

My hyperventilating increased tenfold at what she said. This couldn’t be happening...it just wasn’t possible.

I didn’t notice as my vision began to tunnel, and before I knew it, I hit the floor...out like a light, and alone.

Chapter 3: Making Good Pt. 1

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Chapter 3: Making Good Pt. 1

“...don’t need it anymore, he’s waking up now.”

“Are you sure? I mean I can still get it if-”

“No Spike. He’s been through enough as it is, and I want to make him comfortable, not angry.”

I grunted as I sat up and rubbed my head, and then blinked a few times to clear the fuzziness from my vision. “Ugh...what happened? Feels like I got hit by a truck.”

“What’s a truck?” I heard Twilight ask in confusion.

I sighed and shook my head as the memory of what happened came back to me. “Something I’m probably never going to see again.”

Twilight stood there awkwardly for a moment before saying, “Well umm...would you like some tea? It’s peppermint.”

I took a steadying breath before nodding. “Some tea would be great. Thank you, Twilight.”

As she left the room with Spike in tow, the situation hit me again, but this time there was no denial left in me. Princess Celestia had made it painfully clear that as it stands, there is nothing she could do. It sucked overall...my hope was broken, and I had to now find a way to come to terms with the fact I was stuck in Equestria. Beyond just surviving and waiting to leave, I now had to learn to live here. That meant that something as silly as “don’t touch a pony’s back” was no longer just something to avoid. For better or worse, it was something I was going to have to integrate into my life. Such things were a part of this world, and so they would have to become a part of me.

My family and friends are dead. The world I knew is gone. I have a new life to explore.

These three truths were going to become my whole world so that I didn’t lose sense of reality, and it would give me something to do until I could find a way to settle in. I knew myself well enough that it wasn’t a question of if I could learn to live in Equestria, but rather how long it would take for me to be comfortable doing so. Life would go on, no doubt, but it was going to take a lot of work on my part for it to do so. After all, my skillset from college and such was made for a world with modern technology. Now I guess the term “modern” wasn’t exactly fair in a world so far removed from Earth, since by a mere count of years, it was quite possible that Equestria had been a nation far longer than humans had even been on Earth. It was simply the fact that with magic and the ability to fly, ponies didn’t have as much use for cars, computers, or even firearms. I mean, what use was I in a world like this? Why the hell had Equis kept me here?

Unfortunately it wasn’t as if I could just sit down and ask the damn planet what the planet wanted me here for. It was just another one of the things about this place that reminded me of just how alien I was to it, and how different things were going to be.

“Jamie, you there? You’re spacin’ out.” I heard Spike say as he snapped his fingers in front of me.

My vision became conscious again and I nodded. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just thinking is all.”

A teacup and a saucer levitated over to me, and I gently grabbed it from the lavender aura it was held in. Twilight then approached and sat in front of me on the floor, sipping her tea before saying, “Well don’t think too hard. You can’t feel too well after taking a dive to the floor.”

I rubbed my forehead with a groan, the headache becoming more apparent with her words. “Thank you for reminding me, Twilight.”

She grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, but if you’ll let me, I might have a spell that could help.”

I nodded and then watched as she closed her eyes. Her horn began to glow softly before I felt a slight pressure on my head. The pain slowly ebbed away, and a moment later, so did the pressure.

I blinked a few times before smiling softly at Twilight. “Looks like that did the trick. How did you do that?”

She opened her eyes and smiled as well. “I figured that your headache was caused by swelling from the blunt force trauma you experienced when you hit the floor. I simply coaxed the blood vessels to constrict, lowering the blood flow to the bruised area and bringing the swelling down. Unfortunately it won’t last forever, so I would recommend some ice later on.”

I nodded slowly, offering her a small smile. “Thanks though. I do appreciate it.”

Both of us sipped our tea as Spike quietly made his leave. Finally, it appeared the silence became too much for Twilight as she offered, “I’m sorry, Jamie...”

My gaze was thrown to the floor as I sipped my tea again, and I answered, “I’d rather not think about it right now, if that’s alright with you. I need time to deal with this on my own.” I took yet another sip of the strangely-soothing tea, then brought my eyes to hers. “What I would appreciate however, is if I had something constructive to do. Usually when I need to think, I like to work in some way. Normally that would consist of helping people with computer problems, but since ponies don’t have computers...”

She nodded. “I understand, Applejack does the same thing.” Her eyes turned turned to the ceiling as she tapped her hoof on her chin. “Hmm...well I know that Applejack could always use help during this time of year. Harvest season is coming up, so she usually spends this time going through her orchards pruning the trees. It’s pretty tough for an earth pony to do though, so maybe you could help her out.”

I raised my eyebrow at this. “All this time and ponies haven’t invented pruning shears made for ponies?”

She shrugged. “They have little loops that go over the hooves so that we can use them, but the problem is that we’re not good at standing up on our hind legs, so usually Applejack has to climb the tree she’s pruning and sit in the branches. Besides being very uncomfortable for her rump, she’s fallen out quite a few times. She’s been lucky so far, but I don’t want her to get hurt unnecessarily if there’s somepony around to help. Well, someone.”

I shrugged as I took another sip of tea. “I’ll help her out then. I gotta apologize to her anyway.” I then cleared my throat as I locked eyes with Twilight. “By the way, I’m really sorry about how I acted. Rainbow Dash made me realize I was being very insensitive to how all of you felt.”

Her ears splayed back a bit as she remembered the previous day, and she nodded. “Yeah, you were.”

I sighed as I finished off the tea and set the cup down on its saucer beside me. “It’s just that I was so sure I was going home that I didn’t see the need to form any sort of connection with any of you. I figured that the less bonded we were, the easier it would be for all of us.” I then felt the shame weigh upon me for how I’d acted, and stated, “Twilight, I’m sorry. I know that you all took me in and cared for me, and I’m eternally grateful for that. I just didn’t want to get close to anyone just to have to leave them. It seems that even though I ignored the bonds that were forming, that didn’t mean they went away.”

“Well,” she began, her thinking expression again gracing her face, “maybe you can make it up to me by finally letting me study you. Clothes on of course, but you’ve yet to let me scan your body or even ask you about anything.”

I shrugged. “I guess that’s fair, so long as you cue me in on Equestrian society. I’ve already screwed up once by patting AJ on the back...I don’t want to do anything worse than that.”

She giggled lightly. “Worse than telling a mare you want to mount her in front of her grandmother? That would be a tough one to top, Jamie.”

I glared at Twilight as I sarcastically replied, “You’re the Element of Magic and a comedian. What will you do next?”

Her giggles stopped, but a warm smile remained. “Well, I’m going to help you settle in here, if you’ll let me. I mean, I like having you around, but I know sooner or later you’re going to want your own home.”

I nodded a few times. “Sounds like a good plan. Problem is, I don’t see much of a demand around here for someone who can’t use magic, doesn’t know how to farm, and can’t fly. With all that being the case, I don’t see much of a job opening for me around here. I mean I guess if I had the time and materials I could build my own house, but the problem lies with the fact that I can’t grow food to save my life, so I’d have to have money to buy some instead.”

Twilight frowned as she turned her gaze to the ceiling again in thought. After a few moments she said, “Well you’re a lot more dexterous than ponies are, you can climb better than us, and your senses of sight and smell are better as well. I’m sure there’s other strengths unique to humans as well, but for now let’s focus on those attributes, which happen to be the most obvious.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Wait, I can see and smell better than you?”

She giggled as she walked over to a window that faced northeast, pointing to it. “Look out this window. Can you see Canterlot in the distance?”

I shrugged and looked out the window. I’d never been to the capital city of Equestria, but it was the only city nearby that was built onto a high plateau. It took me a moment to peek through the haze of clouds, but I could see the bright golden towers peeking over the cloud cover. “Yeah, I can see it.”

As I looked back to Twilight, she smiled. “Well there you go. I can’t even see the mountain from here...no pony can. To us, it’s all just one big red-brown blur with some lighter coloring in the middle. In fact,” she trotted over to the front door and opened it, pointing towards Sweet Apple Acres in the distance, “I can see Appplejack’s farm from here, but I can’t read the sign over the main road...but I know you can.”

I nodded. “Yeah. It’s pretty big and hard to miss. I mean I can’t read the language, but I can make out all the shapes.”

“For ponies, we can’t see it until we’re only a few hundred hooves away.” she explained as she closed the door. “It’s why our signs are written so large, because of our vision. Now to us, it’s normal, but to you, it seems huge, right?”

I shrugged. “Can’t read the language, so to me it just seems like a bunch of funny shapes.”

She rolled her eyes and nodded. “Okay, and I get that, but if it were written in your language it would look huge, right?”

I nodded as I looked back to the sign in the distance. “Yeah. It would look like a sign in New York city...something that was meant to be seen for miles.”

I had told her little about my life personally, but much about my world, so she understood the reference. She nodded as she explained, “Normally, ponies learn where things are by just exploring or having somepony show them as an escort. We remember where everything is by memory. Oddly enough, not trusting our physical senses is something all ponies learn early in life, since what we perceive as reality can be distorted to seem like something it is not.”

Twilight had explained a little about magic in general, so I understood what she meant. Still, humans were evolved with strong physical senses, and we learned to trust them to observe our world. Learning to see beyond the obvious was going to be a rather large change to my personality, but if I was going to live in Equestria, it was a change that had to be made.

“Now,” she began thoughtfully, “as far as your sense of smell, that’s rather simple. Do you remember three days before the mating season came around for Ponyville?” I cringed a bit at the mention of the time, but nodded. She continued. “Well, I remember you remarking a few times as you walked around Ponyville that something smelled ‘off’. It took me some time to realize that you were smelling the female pheromones.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “So I could smell your heat before it even happened?”

She nodded again. “Exactly. Ponies can’t do that, Jamie. Now I know it doesn’t seem like a big deal, but you bringing that up made me remember what was coming in those next few days. Had you not unknowingly reminded me, I wouldn’t have even thought to get supplies for that week.”

I understood what she meant. The very last thing I’d want was to be raped multiple times by a pony, though during mating season, that number was likely to be more than one had I gotten caught outside. Beyond the normal psychological damage of rape, I’d probably want to cut my own dick off because I’d had sex with a pony.


“Beyond that,” she continued, “it’s a valued ability to be able to smell things like you do. You smelled the stove burning the wooden spoon that had fallen on it a week ago in the library. If you hadn’t, my house could have caught fire and all three of us could have been killed.”

She did have a point there. Still, I couldn’t see a job as the “Ponyville Smeller” panning out.

“I don’t see that turning into a job though, Twilight.” I countered.

She growled and shooed me away with a hoof. “Just...go help Applejack with the pruning. I’ll have come up with something by tonight when you get back.”

I sighed before standing up off the floor and making my way over to the door. I paused before opening it and turned to Twilight, saying, “I want you to know that I really appreciate what you’re doing for me, Twilight...you didn’t have to do anything for me. You and Applejack could have just left me in the forest that day you found me.”

She looked up at me and smiled gently. “Not to say that I wouldn’t have taken you in anyway, but Applejack was the one that wanted to bring you inside and wash you up. She might not be the Element of Kindness, but that pony is one of the nicest ponies you could hope to meet.”

I nodded as I opened the door. “I’ll have to apologize and thank her then. Alright then, I’ll be back later, I guess.” I turned my head back to Twilight as I added, “And thank you, Twilight.”

She waved her hoof at me dismissively as she trotted away, so I walked outside and closed the door behind me, heading to Sweet Apple Acres.

It took me only a few minutes to reach the farm, and only a few minutes more to compose myself for an apology. Now that I’d taken a bit of time to look at myself objectively, I realized that I’d been pretty cold and insensitive towards the ponies that cared for me. Even though I’d tried my best to prevent it from happening, bonds had formed, and I’d acted rather unfairly towards those ponies. Luckily for me I only had to deal with three of them right now, but I knew for a fact that Rarity, Fluttershy, Pinkie Pie, Octavia, and Vinyl Scratch were not going to be happy about the fact that I was ready to leave without saying so much as a goodbye to them.

To put it simply, I was a prick.

Luckily for me, ponies tended to be more forgiving of social faux pas. A perfect example (and thankfully the only one I had) was when I’d touched Applejack’s back. Had she been a human woman and I’d done something similar ‒ such as grabbing her ass ‒ I could be looking at a permanently-ruined relationship, or even jail time. Applejack on the other hand had simply explained what I had done and let it go. I suppose my ignorance of the situation had a lot to do with her understanding of it, but I also knew that a human woman wouldn’t have cared either way.

What I hoped all that meant was that I’d be able to apologize to all of those that I’d unknowingly hurt, and get over it...although with the way that Applejack and Rainbow Dash had reacted, I wasn’t entirely optimistic.

“Are ya comin’ or goin’?” questioned a strong male voice from behind me.

I turned around to see Big Macintosh, Applejack’s older brother, standing behind me with a piece of grass in his teeth. Truthfully I was unsure if the “Big” was actually part of his name, but I wasn’t going to be the one to say his name incorrectly. He seemed like a pretty calm guy, but he was an awful lot of pony to piss off, with hooves the size of my head.

I shifted a bit uneasily on my feet as I replied, “I’m actually here to see Applejack. Do you know if she’s here?”

He jerked his head towards the farm. “Ah reckon she’d be in tha east fields, where tha gala apples are...’least she was when Ah left.”

I nodded with a friendly smile. “Thanks Big Macintosh, I’ll just-”

“Hold it, colt.” he interrupted, his voice having taken a rather dangerous tone to it. When I turned to him again, his face had turned into a subtle scowl. “Ah heard y’all made mah sister cry.”


I cringed as he said it and mentally attempted to make my peace with life and death. “Y-yeah...”

He didn’t move, which oddly didn’t settle my nerves. “Why?”

I sighed and slumped a bit in defeat. “Because I’m an insensitive idiot with a penchant for making girls cry, apparently.”

He stared hard at me for a few minutes before doing the pony-equivalent of a shrug, which meant he tilted his head to the side for a second before regaining his normal posture. “Sounds about right ta me. Guess ya better go apologize.”

As I made my way through the gate, I noticed he was walking beside me. I looked over to him in confusion. “Wait, really? Just like that?”

He chuckled softly before nodding. “Mah pa always said tha sign of a good colt is one that can admit he’s wrong, and what he done wrong.” He then flashed a smirk at me. “So’s long as ya ain’t just mean-spirited, that’s good enough fer me.” As we continued our walk, he deviated to the farm house ahead of us while pointing to the left. “She’ll be over yonder. Good luck.”

I nodded to the large red stallion as I walked over to where Applejack was. Just from where I was, I could hear her cursing in a mixture of words I was familiar with, and some I wasn’t. It was true that ponies had their own curses, such as the word “ponyfeathers”, but the first time I heard Rainbow Dash drop the f-bomb when she crashed during an exceedingly windy day, I couldn’t stop laughing. Compared to humans, ponies were a lot more open with words, lewd comments, and even public displays of affection. Let it be said that some of the more “rough” ponies, like Applejack, cursed like sailors.

“Ah can’t get tha...Celestia-damned...thing...” she was cursing out loud in grunts, still oblivious to my approach.

I stepped under one of the trees and noticed a certain blonde tail sticking out of it. As tempting as it was to yank on the pretty tail to scare her, I resisted for a few reasons. First of all, I had learned over time that even though these ponies were sapient like humans, their prey instincts still held fast. This meant that they felt safer in numbers, would rather run than fight (unless challenged by another pony), and tended to be quite a bit more jumpy than the average human. Also, Twilight had been kind enough to advise me when I pulled on her tail (thankfully in private) that although I was simply trying to get her attention, such a gesture could be considered a very strong suggestive gesture of a sexual nature, or a challenge to fight, depending on who was involved.

So instead...

“APPLEJACK!” I shouted loudly from just below.

She shouted out in surprise and fell backwards, but thankfully for me another thing about ponies defied physics...


They were a lot lighter than humans were, even with similar mass and more physical strength.

I chuckled as I held her in my arms, her side against my chest. “Well hey there, partner.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “Well thanks fer catchin’ me Jamie, even if it was yer fault Ah fell.”

I gently set her down onto her hooves and brushed my shirt off with a grin. “Anything I can do to keep you on your toes...er, hooves. Whatever, you know what I mean.”

She chuckled and nodded. “Yeah, Ah know what ya mean.” She picked her hat up off the ground and patted it against her side to dust it, then set it back atop her head. “So what are ya doin’ ‘round here?”

My smile fell and I took a knee so that I could look eye-to-eye with her. “First off, I want to apologize.”

“Jamie, ya don’t need to.” she replied as her expression darkened a bit.

I shook my head. “No...no, I do. The fact of the matter is that I acted like a breedcolt (a horrendously derogatory term that implies the colt that is the target of the insult is good for little more than making more ponies).”

“Woah.” she responded, waving her hoof at me while shaking her head. “It ain’t that bad.”

I sighed and said, “Making two of the toughest mares in Ponyville cry is a pretty big deal, Applejack.”

She shook her head. “Ah might be a farmpony, but Ah think ponies ‘round here got tha wrong idea. Ah’m still a normal pony, and Ah still got emotions. Mah feelin’s can get hurt just like everypony else.”

I nodded. “Exactly, and that’s why I’m apologizing. I don’t care that you think I didn’t do anything wrong. The point is, I feel I was wrong.”

She stood her ground for a moment before deflating a bit in defeat. “Fine, then Ah forgive ya. Happy now?”

I smirked. “A little. Anyway, the other reason I came by is because Twilight told me you could use some help pruning the trees. I need something to do to keep from feeling useless, and Twilight said that you tend to have trouble doing it.”

“Ah can prune these branches just fine.” she defended sternly, a rather harsh scowl on her face.

I shook my head with my hands held up. “I didn’t say you couldn’t, I just figured that maybe it’d be easier to have someone help you that doesn’t have to climb the tree to do it. Besides, I’m rather handy.” I demonstrated by wiggling my fingers in front of her face. When she didn’t seem convinced, I added, “Please. I feel like an invalid, sitting around with nothing to contribute. Now that it’s a sure thing I’m going to be here for the foreseeable future, I want to make sure I’m not just ‘the funny-looking bum’.”

She squinted at me for a few moments before sighing and tossing the shears to me, and I found a disturbing part of my brain thinking how skilled she was with her mouth.

I’m going to need therapy...

I caught the shears and adjusted the loops so they were as tight as they could be, hugging the handles so that they would be out of the way. I looked up to Applejack and asked, “Alright then, where do I start?”

She pointed ahead of me and answered, “Just get all tha gala apples today. We’ll do the rest during tha next couple’a days, iffin’ yer still set on helpin’.”

I nodded. “I am.”

She offered a grateful smile before pointing up at the tree we were currently under. “Should be pretty easy for ya ta spot tha dead branches...they’ll be tha ones with dyin’ leaves on ‘em. Just clip ‘em off at tha base.”

I raised my eyebrow as I asked, “I don’t think these shears are going to be enough if I come across a big branch.”

She shook her head. “Ah already checked tha trees. All tha bigger branches are healthy, so y’all should be able ta handle it jus’ fine. Ah’ll be tendin’ to tha cows if ya need me.”

As she trotted away I shrugged and got to work, glad to have something constructive to do.

I finished the job just as the sun began to descend the sky from its midway point, and I was a hot mess. I was sweaty, dirty, scratched up in a few places, and exhausted. Still, I was also happy that I had done something helpful around here, as the more I had time to think about things, I realized I needed to pay back these ponies for their help and hospitality.

One of the (steadily increasing) number of things I had come to like about Equestria was the fact that its night and day was very punctual and regimented. During the summer, for example, the sun rose every morning at 5:00 a.m. and set at 8:00 p.m. It meant that most times, I could estimate the time of day simply by judging the position of the sun itself. Another strange yet nice thing was the fact that I could look directly at the sun without it hurting, and without worrying about damage to my eyes. To be able to actually look at the great star that gave a world heat and light was an indescribably surreal thing. After all, as a human, I was taught at a young age that while the sun gave us heat and light, it could also burn and/or blind us. Not so with the Equestrian sun. Instead, the only thing one had to worry about was getting too hot if one stayed out in the sun too long. There was no such thing as sunburns, and just like people at night would look up fondly at the moon, ponies would look up at the sun in silent thanks to their princess of the day.

I looked up at the sky and figured it was somewhere around two in the afternoon, so I used the cart that Applejack left nearby and set about gathering up all the branches that I had clipped. True that she hadn’t directly asked me to, but I was smart enough not to leave a job only halfway done.

“Heads up!” shouted a familiar raspy voice from above.

I had learned pretty quickly what that warning meant, so I quickly dove to the side just in time to dodge a rainbow-streaked bullet as it skimmed the ground and hit the fence a few dozen yards away.

I jumped up and dusted myself off before jogging over to the impact point. “Rainbow Dash, are you alright?”

A few grunts later and the mentioned pegasus climbed up and over the hill she had rolled down. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good.”

Her mane was sticking a few different directions, being more messy than it usually was. There was a large amount of dirt, grass, and leaves stuck in her mane, tail, and coat. To put it simply, she looked like she was attacked by Equis itself.

I raised my eyebrow as I stopped next to the broken fence, noticing she was limping a bit and wincing as one wing held limply at her side. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” she answered before wincing again and shaking her head. “Actually no, I’m not fine.” She slowly limped over past the fence before sitting down on her haunches.

I looked her over again and noticed that she was bleeding from several abrasions along her cheek, shoulder, and flank. I kneeled to look at her better and commented, “Seems like the ground won that fight.”

She glared at me. “Ha ha, you’re hilarious.” She then motioned to her hanging wing. “Would you mind helping me out?”

I nodded. “Sure. What do you need me to do?”

She jerked her head towards her wing. “I need you to grab the base of my wing, right where it connects to my back. It’s dislocated, and I need you to put it back in place.”

I made my way to her side and asked, “Is this a regular injury for you?”

She chuckled lightly and shook her head. “I wouldn’t say regular, but it has happened before. Usually Twi would help me out, but since you’re here I don’t have to bother her.” I grasped the part she asked me to, and she hissed a bit in pain as she grit her teeth. After a moment she said, “Alright, now when I tell you I’m ready, I need you to-”

“I’ve set a dislocated joint before. I know what to do.” I explained. I then picked up a piece of the broken fence and handed it to her, which she took in her mouth and bit down on. She took a couple deep breaths before nodding, and in one quick movement, I yanked the wingbase away from her back, resulting in a loud and rather disturbing pop. I looked to Rainbow Dash to see tears coming from her eyes as she whimpered in pain. After a few moments however, the wing retracted to fold against her body, so I let it go and moved around to her front.

She spit out the chunk of wood and sighed. “Sonuva whorse, that sucked.”

I sat in silence for a few moments as she caught her breath, but eventually the quiet got to me as I blurted out, “So, I’m going to be sticking around here, I guess.”

She was still taking deep breaths through her nose, but nodded without looking at me. “Yeah...I heard.”

I was again silent for a few seconds before asking, “So are we not going to talk about how big of a dick I was?”

She snorted and turned completely away from me. “Only if you’re ready to-”

“Rainbow Dash, I’m sorry.” I interrupted.

She looked at me for a moment and blinked rapidly a few times. “Um, okay. That was easy.”

I shrugged. “Apologies come easy for someone that realizes they’ve been a big fucking asshole.”

“I take it the word ‘ass’ isn’t referring to a donkey, right?” she asked.

I nodded. “Correct.”

She nodded as well. “Yeah, you kinda have been.”

“I just thought I was leaving, so I didn’t see the reason to make friends with any of you just to ditch this place.” I explained.

She frowned slightly as she asked, “Why, are we not good enough to be your friends or something? Is it because we’re ponies and you just see us as animals?”

I shook my head. “It’s neither, actually. I’m just a coward is all.”

Her frown thankfully disappeared as she tilted her head in confusion. “Why are you a coward?”

I sighed as I felt my shoulders droop from shame. “Because I would rather not make any friends at all than to have to say goodbye to them. It’s a pain I’ve been through more than a few times, and one I wasn’t keen to relive.”

Rainbow Dash stared at me for a few moments before sighing as her head lowered towards the ground. “Well, I guess I can’t really be mad at you for that. We’re all afraid of things.” She then looked back up at me with a pained expression. “The others don’t know, but I told Vinyl and Octavia. I guess it’s really up to you to tell the other three about all of this, but you need to go to Vinyl’s house first. And just to warn you ahead of time, she’s not gonna be anywhere near as nice as I am.”

I winced, then nodded. “Yeah...I suppose not. Luckily Tavi’s there, so she’ll buffer the blows a bit.”

She chuckled and shook her head. “Don’t bet on it. That mare might be prim and proper on the outside, but get her mad and she’s liable to hang you from a tree with her cello strings.”

“Eeeugh...” I groaned as I turned away. “Well thanks for the pep talk, Rainbow Dash. I hope you come to my funeral. Do a rainboom over it or something.”

She shoulder-checked me as I stood, causing me to stumble a bit. I had to remind myself that such a gesture was actually a friendly action between buddies with ponies (though generally not stallions), so I returned the gesture as I stood again, causing her to stumble to the side as well.

She chuckled lightly and said, “Finally getting the hang of things, hm?”

I shrugged as I dusted off my pants again. “A bit. Some things still don’t make sense to me though. Like that thing some of the mares do where they swat at your butt with their tail.”

Her happy expression changed to surprise as she asked, “Somepony hit your flank with her tail?”

I nodded as I answered, “Yeah. I was in town the week after Twilight took me in; she was showing me around Ponyville. Anyway, the first time it happened I passed it off as an accident. It happened like five more times though, each time by a different pony. From what I can tell, ponies don’t wag their tails like dogs do, so I figured it had to be on purpose.”

She blushed a bit for some reason, which made me nervous.

Rainbow Dash nodded after a few seconds of silence. “Oh yeah, that was on purpose alright.”

Her expression started to make my mind run in directions I didn’t want it to go. I sighed and asked, “I’m going to regret asking, but what does that mean?”

The blush on her cheeks darkened slightly as she answered, “It’s a subtle way of one pony telling another pony she’s interested in them. Only mares do it, and by ‘interested’, I don’t mean in a friend sort of way.”

I raised my eyebrows. “So I had ponies dropping nonverbal pickup lines all day?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”

“What the hell is wrong with the ponies around here?” I asked in exasperation. “I mean I’m not even a native of this place, and I’m about as ‘out there’ as you can get. I don’t act like a normal male from around here, I can’t do magic or fly, and I can’t even read. What the fuck is so interesting about me?”

Apparently my voice had been a little more forceful than I’d meant, because Rainbow Dash was looking up at me guiltily, as if she’d done something wrong.

I sighed and closed my eyes. “I’m sorry...it’s just that I’m not sure how to deal with this.” I opened my eyes and looked into her rose-colored eyes as I asked, “So what’s so interesting about me?”

Her guilt washed away as she explained, “Well first of all, ponies aren’t really all that exclusive when it comes to race. There’s ponies who are with griffons, a few with the desert horses of Saddle Arabia, and I’ve even heard of a pony that married a diamond dog before.” She lifted one of her hooves and gestured to me. “The way you look isn’t really a problem...trust me. In fact, it’s probably because you’re the only one of your kind that so many of the mares around here like you. You know, the whole ‘exotic rarity’ thing...I think that’s what it’s called anyway.”

I groaned as I facepalmed. “I swear, I feel like the way a human girl must feel. Seems everywhere I go I’m getting leered at now. I really need to get Twilight to lay out all the body language things so that I don’t miss anything important.”

“That would probably be a good idea.” she replied.

Suddenly a realization hit me, and I felt very awkward all of the sudden. “Ah shit...”

“What?” Rainbow Dash asked worriedly.

I looked down at her and said, “One of those ponies that did the ‘tail-brush’ thingy was Vinyl.”

“Oh...” she said awkwardly.

I nodded. “Yeah, and now I’m about to go and explain to a mare that may or may not like me in a way I don’t like her that I was about to leave her and this world behind without even telling her.” I chuckled darkly. “You know, I was joking earlier about the funeral thing, but I think she actually might kill me now.” I shrugged as I turned and grabbed the two arms of the cart, pulling it with me towards the barn. “Well, might as well get it over with.” As I began making my way towards the barn, I looked back at Rainbow Dash and frowned. “We need to get you cleaned up though. Follow me.”

“Jay, I’m fine. It’s just a few scratches.” she replied nonchalantly.

I shook my head. “Scratches can easily become infected if they’ve got contaminates in them, like dirt. So unless you want to get sick and have bald patches because of scars, let me help you out.”

She looked a little unsure, but finally relented. “Alright fine.”

As Rainbow Dash came up along my side, I couldn’t resist reaching out a hand and patting her head as if she were a dog. “Good girl.”

Instead of batting my hand away like I expected her to, she just rolled her eyes at me as we continued making our way towards the barn in the distance.

It was only a five or so minute walk to the barn, but when Rainbow Dash and I arrived, Applejack was waiting for us there, apparently seeing us approaching.

When she saw her friend’s appearance though, she gasped in surprise. “RD, what happened to ya?”

Rainbow Dash smiled sheepishly. “Heh, umm...I may have crashed into your fence.”

Applejack raised her eyebrow. “Again?”

“Again...” she replied with her head hung low.

The farmpony shook her head before looking to me. “Well thanks a lot for yer help, Jamie. Ah can take ‘em from here.”

I nodded. “Sounds good. Can you get a damp washcloth though? I’m gonna get Rainbow Dash cleaned up.”

Applejack nodded before trotting out of the barn, leaving me and the other pony alone together.

“You don’t have to call me by my full name every time, you know.” Rainbow Dash commented.

I shrugged. “I haven’t thought of an embarrassing nickname yet.”

For the first time since I’d known her, she giggled. Not a chuckle or a boisterous laugh, but a light, girly giggle. It was cute.

“You can just call me Rainbow, or Dash. I guess you could call me RD too, but that’s more of AJ’s thing.” she replied with a grin.

I looked to the newly-nicknamed Dash and smiled. “Dash it is then.” I finished pulling the cart inside the barn and brought it aside so it was out of the way of the doors, then turned around and took a seat on a stool that was beside one of the walls. I crossed my arms behind my head and leaned back, resting my head. “So Dash, when did you meet Applejack? I mean I know when you all became the Elements of Harmony, but I don’t really know all that much about you all before that.”

I heard as she trotted over to me and answered, “Oh, well I’ve known AJ for a long time, almost as long as I’ve known Fluttershy. I was only twelve when I first started living on my own in Ponyville, and I met AJ by crashing into her...and her apple cart.”

“Great first meeting.” I mused.

“Yeah.” she answered with a snort of a laugh. “Anyway, Applejack tied my wings down with a knot only she could undo, and then she told me she wouldn’t undo the rope until I helped pay her back for her broken cart. So for the next week, I spent time working the farm with her, staying in her guestroom. I was pretty mad at first because I couldn’t fly, but AJ actually turned out to be pretty cool. After that week, I wanted to be closer so that I could visit her more often, so I moved my house closer to Sweet Apple Acres. We spent almost every day hanging out after I would see ‘Shy in the mornings, so we became good friends. She’s probably one of the only ponies who’s as tough as I am.”

“Tough enough ta kick yer flank for breakin’ mah fence...again.” Applejack chimed in from behind me.

Applejack trotted up from behind and allowed me to pull the washcloth off of her back, while Rainbow Dash nervously rubbed the back of her head with a hoof. “Heh, sorry AJ.”

The farmpony stared intently at her friend for a few moments before shaking her head with a smile. “Ah guess Ah can forgive ya if ya help me fix that section. B’sides, Ah’m just happy ya ain’t hurt too bad.”

Dash winced a bit as I began gently wiping the scrape on her cheek, but offered her friend a smile. “Nah, you know me. It’d take more than the ground to put me out of commission.”

I opted not to mention the dislocated wing to Applejack, and just continued wiping down the different abrasions along Rainbow Dash’s left side. It was when I reached her behind that I stopped. “Um...”

Dash looked to me in confusion. “What’s wrong?”

I met her eyes and said, “Well, the last one is on your flank, and I feel a little uncomfortable just rubbing your ass without asking.”

Both mares were used to my way of speech, since such words were common for them as well. Rainbow Dash nodded to me as she said, “That’s good that you asked. Normally, it’s a big no-no to touch another pony’s flank, but since you’re cleaning off scrapes, it’s all good. Go ahead.”

I shrugged. “Alright then. This one’s deeper than the rest, so bear with me here.”

As I wiped the wound, she suddenly jumped away with a cry of pain. “Ow! What the hay, something’s poking me!”

“Turn around and stay still.” I ordered, and she obeyed without question. I looked close (yes, it felt weird staring at her butt, even if it was a pony’s flank) and noticed a small bit of wood sticking out of the cut. “You’ve got a chunk of the fence stuck in there. Hold still for just a second.” I reached out with my thumb and index finger and grasped the piece before yanking it free. Again she jumped away, but looked to me with concern instead of surprise as I held the wooden shard in my fingers, bloodied at one side. “There we go. Now let me finish cleaning it and you’ll be all set.”

“You know, stallions don’t usually do stuff like this.” Dash commented.

I shrugged as I finished wiping clean the last scrape. “I guess it’s okay then, because I’m not a stallion. Besides, red clashes with your coat too much. My OCD would drive me nuts if I let it stay that way.”

When she turned back to look at me, I could see Dash was blushing a little bit. “Well, thanks for the help, Jay. I guess I’ll see you later then, providing you’re still alive.” She wasted no time in zooming away, leaving a cloud of dust in her wake.

“Why wouldn’t ya be alive?” Applejack asked curiously as she watched the retreating pegasus.

I shrugged. “Because Vinyl’s probably going to kill me. And if she doesn’t, Octavia will. Either way, I’m dead, so it was nice knowing you.”

She chuckled as I stood. “Well when yer done bein’ dead, come back here. Ah got somethin’ Ah wanna show ya.”

I nodded as I made my way to the barn doors. “Wish me luck then, AJ.” ‘I’m gonna need it.’

Chapter 4: Making Good Pt. 2

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Chapter 4: Making Good Pt. 2

There were still some parts of Ponyville I wasn’t familiar with, but I had been well-acquainted with the Lunar District of Ponyville. Named for Luna, the night princess, this area of Ponyville specialized in the nightlife, featuring clubs, bars, and even a stripclub or two (I always veered away from the latter, simply because I could only imagine what went on in such a place since ponies were naked most of the time anyway). After Twilight and her friends, Vinyl Scratch and her roommate Octavia had been some of the first ponies I’d become acquainted with in this world, and interestingly enough, they shared a home in the center of the Lunar District.

Being a DJ, Vinyl had taken me on quite a few outings to the local bars, as I admittedly went on a bit of an alcoholic phase for about a week. Nonetheless Vinyl proved to be quite entertaining, even in my drunken stupor, more so because she reminded me so much of a friend I had long ago back in high school. Her and I bonded pretty quickly, as she had a great sense of humor and her sarcasm and wit kept my mind on its brainy toes.

By contrast, Octavia was far different. She was a high-class cellist for the Royal Canterlot Symphony, and was well-acquainted with the nobles of the kingdom. Her accent actually made her a bit more intimidating than Vinyl, even though she was quieter and more reserved. I suppose it was because I’d always been a little intimidated by those in power, and even though I didn’t know if she was an important pony, she seemed like it. To my delight however, I quickly found that she could be every bit as rambunctious and wild as Vinyl, simply using her speech style and proper looks to get “in” with the nobility she often worked with. She was manipulative as hell, and for some reason I liked that about her.

I’d first met the two ponies at Pinkie Pie’s “Welcome to Ponyville” party for me, where she invited practically the whole town to mingle. Vinyl was doing her thing at the DJ booth, while Octavia was chatting up Big Mac. The music being played had been to my liking, as it was nearly identical to an older form of electronic music from Earth called “dubstep”. Just like on Earth, it was all the rage for the younger generation, and truth be told, I had always been pretty interested in it. I had a few drinks, and by the end of the night I found myself at Vinyl’s place, slumped on her couch as the three of us talked and laughed the night away.

Looking back, I could easily understand how a pony would think we were friends...I had just been an idiot.

The good thing was that I felt fine now. I figured that I was finally coming to terms with this whole world, now that I didn’t really have a say in the matter of whether I was staying or not. It was liberating in a way to know that I didn’t have to stress about it anymore...and I instead chose to focus on the positive.

As I approached the large white mansion with a certain double eighth-note cutie mark on the front gate, I felt all the positive start to drain away.

There were a few uniformed guards patrolling the premises, but they simply opened the gate for me as I walked. After all, they all knew Vinyl was chummy with me, and it was unlikely another human was going to show up in Equestria so that they had to differentiate between us. Besides, Vinyl’s order of letting the “tall bald dude” in whenever he was around was pretty self-explanatory.

As I stepped up the white stone stairs, I again marveled at the appearance of the home. It was rather out of place with most of Ponyville, where most homes were either living structures (hollowed-out trees) or had thatched roofs. Vinyl’s home, however, was very modern (at least by my standards) and featured greek-style columns with a stone overhang, a shingled roof, and many other things that set it apart from the rest. Because of all this, it was also intimidating, and I suddenly found myself feeling nervous.

“Okay Jamie, just calm down.” I spoke aloud to myself, attempting to calm down. “This is Vinyl. She’s cool, and she wouldn’t hurt you...not badly, anyway. Just go in there, say you’re sorry, and be ready for the shitstorm. You can do this, man...you can-”



I ended up falling backward on my ass, not having realized that while I was talking to myself, the door had opened to reveal a certain cellist pony. Apparently I had been louder than I thought, or else it was just that whole thing with ponies being able to hear better than I imagined.

I dusted myself off and stood, looking to Octavia’s amethyst eyes, which were showing a mixture of surprise and anger...both of which I could figure out the reasons for. “Um, hey Octavia.”

She looked me over for a few moments before saying, “You should come inside.”

Her statement was more of an order than a request from the tone of her voice, so I followed her inside the home without any response, and she gently kicked the door closed behind us. I then followed her to the large living area of the home, which sported a large glass coffee table that was also an aquarium, among other interesting pieces. She then motioned for me to sit on a rather comfortable-looking loveseat, so I did as she said before watching her trot away.

Her behavior just made me more nervous. I hadn’t necessarily known her all that long and neither was I an expert on pony behavior, but I knew that a pony acting differently compared to normal was not a good thing, generally. Usually Octavia was very kind, offering a smile to everyone and anyone, provided they were not rude or cruel. As I had entered the home though, she hadn’t so much as grinned at me, and her voice had taken a very tense tone. True that Octavia was generally more serious than Vinyl was, but she had never been this tense around me before. I supposed I deserved it, but that didn’t make me any less nervous about the whole thing.

“WHAT!?” shouted a familiar voice from upstairs, and I couldn’t help but cringe at the outburst. This was followed by a gallop of hooves across the upstairs room and the stairs, which led to a furious Vinyl tripping over herself as she approached me. Octavia was right beside her, and I can honestly say I’ve never been more afraid of ponies than at that moment.

I winced as I was lifted into the air against my will, and spun upside down until I was looking into a pair of fierce red eyes. “Um...”

“Don’t talk,” Vinyl growled, “you just shut up and listen.” I snapped my mouth shut and nodded, at which point she flipped me back over and set me down on the chair again. “Now I’m not the type of pony to just listen to what everypony else is saying, so I’ll ask you directly. Were you really planning on just leaving without telling us?” I nodded, and I saw the anger in her eyes dissipate a bit, only to be replaced with sadness. “Why?”

The answer that I had originally planned out in my head now became void, because I knew it would just piss her off more, so I opted for self-degradation in an attempt to keep from getting her any more angry. “Because I’m a coward and I didn’t want to have to say goodbye to all of you.”

“That’s not what Rainbow Dash told us.” Octavia countered. “The way she explained it, she made it sound as if you did not consider any of us to be friends.”

I sighed and dropped my head to my hands in annoyance. “I didn’t...or at least I didn’t think I did. I don’t know...”

“How can you not know something like that?” Vinyl asked angrily, and I distinctly avoided her gaze...those red eyes were scary when she was mad.

“Because I wasn’t planning on staying.” I replied quietly, just loud enough to be heard. “I was planning on going home and hopefully forgetting all about this place.”

Vinyl stepped away from me and her anger turned to confusion. “Why? What’s so bad about Equestria?”

I shook my head quickly as I realized where this was heading. “N-nothing! Nothing’s wrong, I promise! It’s just...” I sighed and gestured generally around us. “There’s so much here that’s just myth and legend in my world. On Earth pegasi, unicorns, and dragons don’t exist. In my world, magic isn’t real. In my world, ponies don’t talk...in fact, nothing besides my own kind can talk. It’s just so surreal for me that it’s difficult to process, and I was hoping that if I were to get home, I could just pass it off as a very long, very vivid hallucination.”

Vinyl just stared at me for a few moments before questioning, “So you just wanted to forget about us then?”

I nodded slowly. “That was the idea, yeah.”

Silence ensued as the white-furred DJ stared right back at me. Then, after seemingly an eternity, she turned away and muttered, “Get out.” I opened my mouth to reply, but she shook her head as she turned back to me, her eyes a little glassy. “Don’t, Jamie...just leave. And don’t come back.”

I wasn’t sure why, but her statement hurt more than I thought it should have.

“Vinyl?” Octavia questioned in a very surprised tone, and it became clear that she hadn’t expected her friend to react that way.

Vinyl shook her head as she pointed to the door. “You can go with him if you want to, Tavi...I’m not going to hold it against you. I just don’t want him around anymore.”

“Vinyl...” I began attempting to reason with the upset mare.

She swatted my extended hand away with her hoof, causing pain to shoot through my hand and arm as she glared at me. “I said leave. I’ll call security if I have to.”

I resigned myself to my “fate”, and stood to leave. To my surprise (and admittedly, relief), Octavia stood as well, and followed me as I walked away. Before we exited the room though, she turned back to her friend and said, “I’ll return later tonight, Vinyl.”

“Later, Tavi.” was the response, and with that, we left the home.

As soon as the door closed behind us, Octavia broke the silence between us. “I’m sorry, Jamie. I’m not entirely sure why she’s acting this way, but I’m likely as surprised as you are.”

I shrugged as we passed the guards, and then the gate. “I guess I deserve it. I did say that I didn’t see her as a friend, when it’s quite clear she sees me as one.”

Octavia shook her head. “That’s true, but I don’t understand her reasoning. I expected her to shout in anger or even possibly storm out of the room, but I never expected her to turn her back on you.”

I continued walking towards the main square of Ponyville as I replied, “I turned my back on all the ponies here that showed me kindness, denying them friendship. In honesty, I’m not sure why you’re still around. I appreciate it, I just don’t why.”

“Because I know why you did what you did. Beyond simply understanding, I have personal experience with it.” Octavia explained gently. “Besides that fact, I know that you wouldn’t have done something like that out of malicious intent. We all have issues Jamie, but you’re not a bad person.”

I snorted in frustration. “Good and evil is decided by the masses. So far, I’ve got one pony to hate me. I can only imagine how many more there’ll be by the end of the week, now that I’m staying here.”

“She doesn’t hate you, Jamie.” Octavia insisted.

I chuckled darkly and shook my head as we entered the central park, walking around the fountain. “She told me to leave and not come back. I’m not sure how much more straightforward she could have been with that, other than physically attacking me.”

She shook her head as we came to a stop on a bench next to a tree that was on a hill overlooking the park. “She doesn’t hate you, Jamie...trust me. She’s hurt. She cares for you...truth be told, we all do. What pains her the most is that you were going to leave without so much as a warning or a goodbye. That shows very little concern for another’s feelings no matter where you’re from.”

I nodded. “Yeah. I’ve been kind of a prick, haven’t I?”

Octavia nodded. “Indeed you have. That means you need to work hard to make amends to those you’ve hurt.”

“And you’re not going to let me get out of this, are you?” I questioned, though I already knew the answer.

She smirked and shook her head, her obsidian hair tousling softly. “Of course not. Give Vinyl a few days to cool down, but then you’re going to show up unannounced at the club she’s playing at on Saturday night. Have a few drinks and enjoy yourself, and apologize profusely when the time comes. She will approach you herself, so all you have to do is listen and be sorry.”

“Seems like you know her pretty well.” I commented.

Octavia shrugged with a grin. “My whole life, practically. We might as well be sisters.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Considering the kinds of things that I’ve heard around here, that’s a little creepy.”

She smirked. “Let me guess, everypony thinks we’re lovers, right?”

I nodded. “In simple terms, yes.”

She giggled lightly before turning her eyes back to me. “Simply because two young mares live together does not necessarily mean they are together. No matter how many times we have told the gossipers this, it never seems to abate...so we ignore it. As you will find, ponies will think what they wish, regardless of who tells them differently.”

I shrugged. “Well I’ll know and keep the truth.”

Octavia smiled at me happily. “So long as our friends know the truth, that’s all that matters.” She then clopped her two front hooves together before announcing, “So, here’s what you can expect. She’s going to get you some sort of small gift as an apology for how she’s behaving. Now-”

I waved my hand, interrupting her. “Wait wait wait, she’s going to apologize to me? How does that work?”

She smirked at me. “Matriarchal society, remember?”

I slapped my hand to my forehead with a groan. “Right, I keep forgetting that. I guess this is what being a woman is like.”

Octavia cocked her head curiously. “What do you mean?”

I shrugged. “Well, I’ve been through this type of situation quite a few times, though the roles were reversed. On Earth, it’s a common ‒ and often accurate ‒ stereotype that after an argument, the man always apologizes. It doesn’t matter who’s right or wrong...the man is supposed to apologize. If he doesn’t, he’s ‘in the doghouse’ for quite a long time, which often means getting the cold shoulder and no sex. A cruel and unusual punishment, if ever there was one. See on Earth, girls stick together and tend to paint a picture of the man being an asshole...the guy’s on his own. So trust me when I say this is new for me.”

She pursed her lips as she looked up at me. “Hmm...a rather curious society you have.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, and I think the same thing about yours. Although I guess since I’m officially stuck here, I guess it’s my society now too.”

“Indeed, so get used to being a male.” she answered playfully.

“I thought I was already.” I retorted.

Octavia giggled and nudged me with her shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Just be sure and apologize so that you can mend this non-friendship, and everything will be fine.” I winced a little at the term “non-friendship”, and she just rolled her eyes. “Alright Jamie, I get it. You feel like a jerk for how you acted, but how can you expect to be forgiven by others if you can’t forgive yourself? It’s in the past...forgive yourself for past stupidity, and move on from there.”

I snorted in annoyance. “You make it sound so easy.”

Her expression darkened a bit. “I’ve had a lot of practice. Take it from somepony who knows: you’re not doing yourself or anypony else any favors by hating yourself. It just leads to pain for everypony involved.”

I shrugged. “I’ll forgive myself when Vinyl forgives me.”

Octavia raised her eyebrow. “That’s going the exact opposite of what I just said.”

“Humans are backward in a lot of ways compared to ponies, Octavia.” I replied with a wry grin.

She giggled again. “You’re telling me. Normally a stallion wouldn’t be caught dead on his own, but here you are, strutting around Ponyville completely single.”

I shrugged. “I’m the only one of my kind here, Octavia. It’s not like I have any romantic interests nearby.” Suddenly a shock of sadness and anger shot through me, and I could almost feel the emotions bubbling within me. I must have looked pretty silly, because once I got myself under control, I noticed Octavia staring at me with concern. I waved her off with a simple, “I’m fine.”

We sat down on the bench, and she gently placed a hoof on my knee. “You don’t seem fine, Jamie. You seem like a man who has a heavy heart.”

I shook my head as I dropped my gaze to my lap. “What do you want me to say, Octavia? That it’s all okay? That I’m really ‘just fine’ with being stuck here? I hope you don’t take it personally, because I don’t have anything against ponies, Equestria, or even the planet...I just don’t belong here. There’s so much here that I’m still coming to terms with, and some parts that I would simply like to forget about or not deal with...but now I don’t have a choice. Whether I like it or not, this is my new home, and I have no choice in the matter.” I then looked up into her amethyst gaze and added, “So to be honest, I’m not fine...I’m the furthest thing from fine. I’m scared, I’m depressed, and I have no idea what I’m going to do now.”

And then something happened.

Octavia’s hooves came up and wrapped around my neck as he held herself against me in a hug. Now, I was a little touch-shy with ponies. Sure sometimes an overly-tactile pony would surprise me with a nuzzle or a hug, but overall I tried to avoid it. It just made me feel strange in some way I couldn’t quite explain. But when Octavia hugged me right then...it felt nice. It felt right. It was the first time since coming to Equestria where I didn’t care that it was a little horse that was touching me. All I could feel was soft warmth, a comforting embrace, and concern.

I brought my arms up and gently grasped her arms with my hands, but instead of wrenching them away from me, I held them tight as I rubbed my cheek against the soft fur. Without warning, tears began to fall from my eyes as I again mourned the losses that were thrust upon me ‒ my world, my friends and family, and my life of normality. I wept in fear, in anger, and in sorrow. I hadn’t the chance to let go of the barriers and truly grieve what had been taken from me, but Octavia’s touch had somehow allowed the dam to burst.

Nearly twenty minutes passed since my breakdown, which had lasted almost an hour, but Octavia was still as warm and concerned as ever. She wasn’t sick of me or feeling awkward for having to console a grown man. True that there was a part of me that was screaming at the slight loss in masculinity, but it still felt nice for some reason.

I liked Octavia...she was awesome.

The two of us were just sitting on the bench now, kind of taking in what had just happened. For me, it was the fact that I had related to Octavia like I would another human. It was unforced and natural...and it felt good to have that kind of connection again.

Octavia on the other hand hadn’t changed at all. On her face was the same warm smile, and the same caring eyes. She looked very inviting for a pony (not in a sexual way, mind you). She reminded me of the kind of friend you could tell anything to; the kind of friend that would call you out when you were acting like an idiot (and she had), but also be there for you when the world came crashing down.

This time, when she placed her hoof on my knee and asked if I was going to be alright, I didn’t shy away from the contact. As if a switch had been flipped in my head, the contact felt normal...and nice. I felt shitty when I realized the fact that for the first week of knowing her, I’d simply referred to her in my head as “the little gray horse”, but no more. Now she was simply Octavia...a friend.

Yes...that word sounded right now.

I reached my hand out and grasped her hoof, which was still on my knee, and squeezed it gently. “I just want to say thank you, Octavia...you really helped me out today.”

Her smile seemed to grow just a bit larger as she replied, “Anytime, Jamie...I mean it. Don’t be afraid to talk to me. I’m always here for you.”

As I released her hoof and she pulled it away, I added, “You know, I never really had a friend like you back on Earth...someone I could just talk to. Seems everyone always wanted something from me or wanted me to do something for them.”

Octavia shrugged gently, a gesture I found ponies could only do when their front hooves were free. “There are ponies like that here as well, mostly in the metropolitan areas like Canterlot or Manehattan.”

I raised my eyebrow at her statement. “But you’re from Manehattan.”

She grinned and nodded. “I am, and that’s why I aim to be different. Ponyville is far too nice a place to have that sort of outlook on life about other ponies, so I try to be more friendly and less needy. It tends to work out better in the long run.” She then looked up at the sky and frowned. “Hmm...it’s getting late, and Vinyl has a show tonight.” Octavia turned back to me and said, “Saturday night at the Pipeworks. Make sure you’re there...and wear something trendy.”

I smiled and nodded. “I’ll see if I can get Twilight’s friend Rarity to make me something in exchange for work.” As she got up to leave, I stopped her with a hand to her withers (a “neutral” area for ponies). “Octavia, I just wanted to say thank you again.”

She smiled gently and nodded. “I’m always here for you, Jamie. You’re not alone...always remember that.” She then turned curtly and trotted away, her styled mane bouncing softly as she did so.

I looked to the sky as she trotted away and noticed that the sun was nearly at the horizon to the west (which meant it was likely around 6:00p.m.), so I stood and flexed my aching right hand before turning north and heading towards the library.

The streets had been clearing out as I made my way back to Twilight’s home, so luckily I didn’t need to speak to any ponies on the way there, and when I entered the tree library (tree-brary?) I was pleased to smell what could only be Spike’s popular spinach, cucumber, and tomato salad. It was true that the lack of readily-available meat bothered me, but I wasn’t the one buying the groceries, so I didn’t complain. Besides, I hated to admit it, but the vegetables here tasted much fresher and better than any I’d had on Earth...so for the most part, the lack of meat every day could be ignored.

“Jamie! I’ve got it!” I heard Twilight exclaim as she galloped over to me excitedly from her desk.

I had to fight to keep from laughing at just how cute it looked when she was excited like that, which meant I also had to fight from petting and rubbing her fur like a cute puppy...that wouldn’t have gone over well.

Instead, I chuckled a bit as I said, “What is it? You seem awfully excited about something.”

She nodded rapidly as she skidded to a stop in front of me. “I am! I figured out what you can do!”

I raised my eyebrows in surprise and nodded. “Okay, shoot.”

She held up a picture of a white stallion with cyan eyes covered in golden armor, with a roman helmet and a blue star on the chest of the armor. “You can be an Equestrian guard!”

One of my eyebrows fell as I stared at Twilight skeptically. “Umm...you do know I’m not a pony, right? That means that I’m not as strong as one, as fast as one, and I can’t fly or do magic. Why would the guard want me?” I didn’t necessarily have a problem with being a soldier, but I just didn’t see it as a good idea.

Twilight wasn’t deterred as she continued smiling. “That might be true, but you have some things that ponies don’t. For example, you are capable of holding two weapons without the use of magic, you can see better than a pony, and you have the potential to be more agile. Also, you have ways of fighting that no pony ever could.”

I shook my head. “My kind might be good at war Twilight, but I’ve never personally fought in one. I mean look at me,” I gestured to myself, “I’m not a fat dude anymore, but I’m also not the picture of human strength either. I wouldn’t last five seconds in a fight with a pony...even a unicorn is stronger than I am. No offense.”

She waved my response off and said, “Ponies are much like the horses of your world...they are a prey species. We aren’t made to attack, but rather to defend. We can fight, but we aren’t necessarily good at it. With the way you get around on only two legs, you have the ability to be far greater a threat than a normal Earth pony ever could.”

“I’m not sure being a threat would be a good thing, Twilight.” I responded, absentmindedly licking my canines. “Your princess made it pretty clear that you all would be keeping an eye on me, and I’d rather not be something that is a threat to your way of life. I know your princess is nice and everything, but she’s also got to protect her people.”

Twilight rolled her eyes with a smile. “The princess trusts you as much as any of us, Jamie. I mean, if you’d really wanted to cause trouble, you could have done so many times. You live in a town where hardly anypony locks their doors, little fillies and colts run free, and where six of the most influential residents trust you. If you’d wanted to do something bad, you could have...but you didn’t. That’s what counts.” She then shrugged. “And if actually fighting isn’t really your thing, you can always be a part of the auxiliary guard. You show up one weekend a month after training camp, and only fight if they need you. I’m only recommending this because I think you’d be good at it, Jamie...I have other options, I just think this would be the best one for you.”

I thought about it for a few seconds before sighing and waving my hand away. “Let’s put that on the back-burner for now. What else ya got?”

Twilight sighed and looked over a scroll she rolled out in front of her before looking back up and saying, “Well, there’s a request for a masseur at the Sleeping Dragon Spa. Yet another thing I think you’d be good at, because your fingers are far more dexterous than hooves.”

I thought again about the job. I didn’t really see an issue with the job itself, as during my college years, I’d volunteered at a veterinary hospital that specialized in holistic care. The treatments generally were for pets that were older, focusing on improving the quality of life rather than prolonging it. This meant I gave a great number of massages to pets (mostly dogs) in order to relax them and alleviate whatever pain they might be in. I expected as far as the physical aspect, there wouldn’t be that much of a difference with ponies. The only difference was that ponies would be able to tell me what they did or didn’t like. I realized that might actually make the job easier.

I bobbed my head a few times before shrugging. “Hmm...maybe. What else did you come up with?”

She squinted at the paper and began reading. “Umm...public sewage worker, waste collection services, community undertaker...” Twilight sighed as she looked up at me. “I understand those aren’t the most attractive jobs, but somepony needs to do them, and after the first two, those were all I could think of that you could do.”

I just stared at Twilight for a moment as I processed them, then sighed and hung my head. “I guess I’ll be becoming a masseur then.”

“Great!” Twilight exclaimed, a little too happily to be honest. “You’re to meet with the twin proprietors of the spa, Aloe and Lotus Blossom, at 7:00a.m. on Saturday. You can expect them to ask you to demonstrate so they can know how you work, and then they’ll ask you some questions about yourself. Nothing too invasive, I promise.”

I looked up at Twilight and nodded. “Alright then. What should I wear? I’ve got a few outfits that your friend Rarity made for me, but I’m unsure what would be appropriate.”

“You should look professional without being too flashy, so I would recommend something you’d normally wear to a job interview.” Twilight explained.

I remembered a simple navy blue suit with a red tie that Rarity had made for me and smiled. “Cool...I’ve got just the thing.”

Twilight’s smile brightened. “Great! So, with that out of the way, how was the rest of your day?”

As memories of the day came flooding back to me, I slumped a bit. “It was okay for the most part. Applejack and Rainbow Dash forgave me, as did Octavia...but Vinyl told me to never come and see her again.”

Silence reigned for a few moments before Twilight said, “Jamie, I’m sorry. I know she was your friend.”

I chuckled darkly. “That’s just the thing, Twilight. I told her that I hadn’t thought of her as my friend...that I had planned to just leave and forget all about this place.”

She raised her eyebrow as she brought a hoof to her chin. “That still doesn’t sound like Vinyl to just turn you away like that. I mean, Pinkie knows her better than I do, but she doesn’t seem like the type to just turn away from somepony she cares about.”

Anger started to well up within me for some reason, and I had to fight it down before responding. “Well I didn’t seem like the kind of person to just look the other way when all you ponies were helping and caring for me, did I? But I was completely ready to do that. If life has taught me anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. I forgot that when I first came here...I never expected that I would not be able to return home. I forgot that a second time when I never expected Vinyl to react like she did. I knew she’d be pissed, but I thought she’d forgive me. Octavia thinks that in a few days I should try again, but I’m not sure.”

When I looked up, I saw Twilight staring at me. “Jamie, are you feeling okay?”

I shrugged. “About as well as I can be, why?”

Without another word, her horn began to glow for a moment and I felt a strange tingling sensation all over my body. Suddenly it stopped, and the glowing on Twilight’s horn increased. She frowned sadly at me as she closed her eyes. “I’m sorry for this, Jamie...”

I cocked my eyebrow. “Sorry for wha-”

Chapter 5: Live by Magic

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Chapter 5: Live by Magic

Waking up after being knocked out is a strange sensation. No matter whether you’ve had it happen before or not, it’s always disorienting. Usually the last thing you remember is standing, and then when you wake up you’re on the floor. If you get physically knocked out, this experience is more often than not accompanied by pain, which allows you to quickly piece together what had happened.

Since being knocked out magically usually causes no pain, the situation is quite a bit more confusing.

I came to on the ground, and the first thing I noticed was that I was again bound by my wrists and ankles. Without even opening my eyes, I could tell that my shirt and pants were missing, though my underwear had been left in place. It went without saying that I felt rather violated, but the familiar scents of the library calmed me...if only slightly.

“You lied to us.” I heard a familiar voice accuse me coldly.

I lifted my head up from the floor and opened my eyes towards the voice to see Twilight standing some ways away in a defensive stance, with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna standing nearby. I blinked my eyes a few times and muttered, “What?”

Twilight frowned and shook her head. “It makes sense now...that’s why you never let me scan your body. You didn’t want me to know the truth, did you?”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “What are you talking about? I didn’t lie to you.”

Princess Luna stared at me for a few moments before her eyes widened slightly. I didn’t necessarily have much experience in dealing with the night princess, having only met her once before, but that slight sign of surprise bothered me. “He doesn’t know.”

My confusion very quickly turned to frustration as I asked, “What don’t I know? I’ve had enough guessing games for a lifetime, thank you, so I’d appreciate it if one of you just told me what’s going on.”

“Well first,” Princess Celestia began in a calm, yet commanding tone, “we came across some rather interesting things when doing a preliminary scan of your body. It seems that you have most parts of your body replaced or reinforced with the rare metal titanium. We know that you couldn’t have gotten such a rare mineral here in Equestria, as there is only one known digsite that contains it, and it is under guard by an elite wing of the Equestrian Royal Guard.”

“So the question is,” Twilight continued, clearly eager to learn something about me, “where did you get it and why is it in and on your bones?”

I sighed and slumped a bit as I realized I’d have to reveal something about my personal past, which was not something I had planned on doing, at least not this soon. “Fine. I got it through a series of very painful and lengthy surgeries on Earth, and it was done to keep my bones from breaking. I have a condition that I’ll explain in a moment, but suffice to say I needed the reinforcement to keep from living my life in a hospital bed. It’s spread throughout my whole body along the least dense bones, along with a few plates on my skull.”

Princess Celestia raised her eyebrows slightly. “They placed liquid-hot metal into your body? How did you survive the procedure?”

Again my confusion returned. “What are you talking about? It was already cooled and solidified. Humans are hardly strong enough to be able to live through molten metal being put into their bodies...at least they were when I was living there.”

The three ponies looked at each other before Princess Celestia nodded to her student. “Show him.”

I watched as Twilight’s horn lit up, and I suddenly found what looked like a hologram screen appear to the side of me, where we could all see it. It was an x-ray scan that showed all my bones, but something seemed off...

“Where are all the pins and rods?” I questioned to the empty air, noticing that all the titanium reinforcements had seemingly disappeared.

Suddenly the image shifted and zoomed in on the right femur, where there should have been titanium rods and screws rounding it. Instead, there was nothing. The bones themselves were much more dense as well...far stronger than my bones should have been.

“The titanium didn’t actually go anywhere, Jamie...it’s still there.” Twilight explained. The visual changed once again to what looked like a graph that showed several lines that were labeled. Twilight was “writing” in english, so some of them I recognized, but Twilight explained anyway. “Your bones still contain calcium and hydroxyapatite, as well as large amounts of collagen. This is normal of course, for human or pony.”

I looked over the graph and noticed something strange though.

“I see Ti on there...is that titanium or is it something else?” I had to ask. It wouldn’t make sense, after all...so I had to know what was going on.

Twilight nodded as she pointed to the visual aid. “Yes, it is. Your body has assimilated titanium into its working processes, molding it in and around your bones. Titanium is a part of you now...your bone marrow has even started producing an alloy of bone and titanium instead of simple bone.”

I shook my head. “N-no, that’s impossible. The human body can’t just spontaneously begin producing titanium...it doesn’t make any sense.”

“As you once mentioned ever-so-eloquently, things that humans deem impossible happen every day in Equestria.” Princess Celestia commented slyly.

I shook my head again, more forcefully. “Yeah, but your world is different from mine. See when something weird happens here, I can just say it’s because this is a different world with different physics and different rules to reality. When stuff starts happening to me though, that’s where I draw the line.” I then snorted derisively. “Besides, how can you even prove any of that?”

Without warning, a chair was floated into the air and rushed at me. I reflexively brought my bound arms up to shield me, but was still worried. Even though Equestrian furniture was smaller than what would fit a normal human, it was much more solid...and heavy. The chair impacted with a loud crack, and I felt the shock run through my arms and shoulders along with a sharp stinging that now burned across my inner forearms, but nothing else.

I opened my eyes and looked to the three ponies, knowing that one of them had just thrown a chair at me. “What the fuck, man? That’s gonna bruise!”

Princess Luna smirked...I knew it was her. “Perhaps, but I just threw a wooden chair that weighs half as much as you. With the sheer velocity, it would have killed a normal human.”

My mouth dropped open at the implication. “So wait, you just chucked a chair at me for a demonstration? How did you know I wouldn’t die?”

Princess Celestia’s face showed that she clearly didn’t approve of Luna’s action, but she sighed and gestured to her sister. “We have lived far too long to simply leave something to chance. We conducted a pressure stress test while you were incapacitated and confirmed that such a test as the one Luna so readily administered upon you would not break any bones.” She then pointed a glare at her younger sister. “Although we are going to have a little talk later. Though under investigation he may be, that does not condone assault.”

I brought my bound arms up and shouted, “Um can we move along to why I’m being ‘investigated’ please? I thought you all trusted me enough not to tie me up again.”

“Well that goes back to the fact that you aren’t human.” Princess Celestia stated plainly, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. “If you were not honest about that, what else have you lied about?”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “Um, I’m pretty sure I am human. How do you figure I’m not?”

Twilight stepped forward and said, “Well you said that humans can’t use magic...that your world doesn’t even harness it at all.”

I nodded. “That’s right.”

Twilight nodded and sat down in front of me. “Well therein lies the problem then. You see, magic is not universal. For different spells, different types of magic are used, and some types of magic cannot be used by all ponies.” She cleared her throat as she prepared to go into her “lecture mode” and lit up her horn with an unknown spell. “You see, the first and most abundant type of magic is arcane magic, and it deals with manipulation of the physical world. Earth ponies use it passively for strength, stamina, and their ability to work the land for their benefit. Pegasi use it to fly, as I’m sure it’s been bothering you that their wings are so small in comparison with their body. It’s true, scientifically speaking, they shouldn’t be able to fly, but their passive use of arcane magic allows it. It also allows pegasi to walk on clouds and manipulate the weather. As you can guess, unicorns possess the greatest control over arcane magic, as we can shape it to nearly whatever we wish, be it creating temporary wings, creating light, or even teleportation.”

“The second type of magic is elemental magic.” Princess Luna explained. “Elemental magic deals with the four basic elements of the world which are fire, water, wind, and earth. Such magic is beyond most unicorns, as it deals with the power of the world itself, but those with enough willpower and magical fortitude can bend the elements to their will.”

Twilight continued with, “The third form of magic is harmonic magic, and its sole purpose is to bring harmony by combating chaos magic, the fourth type of magic. We know harmonic magic as the Elements of Harmony, and chaos magic is manifested as Discord, the God of Chaos and Disorder. These two forms of magic are always combating one another in equal forces, creating balance in Equestria.”

Finally, Princess Celestia stepped forward. “The fifth and most powerful form of magic is astral magic. It is the magic that my sister and I wield to bring about the passing of days, and it is also the only school of magic that cannot be used by a lone unicorn, no matter how powerful. Long ago, before my sister and I ascended to alicornhood, large groups of unicorns would work together to channel the spell needed to raise and set the moon and sun.”

My confusion reached new heights as I asked, “Wait, you two haven’t always been like you are now?”

Princess Celestia shook her head. “No. Many thousands of years ago, the unicorn high council deemed it necessary that two of our most gifted should be given more power than the others, so that those two could steward the sun and moon on their own, freeing up the others to research other magicks. By using ancient magic that has long since been forbidden because of the consequences, they poured vast amounts of magic into us. Our feeble unicorn bodies couldn’t handle the magic they were given, so we began to change into something new. We became the first alicorns.”

I frowned and narrowed my eyes. “Well thanks for that little lesson there, but what exactly were you trying to explain that pertains to me?”

“Your body is generating magic.” Twilight explained simply.

The words seemed to hit me in the chest like a sledgehammer, knocking my breath out of my lungs for a few moments. After I had come back to reality, I chuckled at the hilarity of it all. “I must be mishearing you, because it sounded like you just said I’m making magic.”

Twilight sighed and shook her head. “I did...and you are.”

I blinked once.

Then twice.

Then three times.

Rage overtook me as I slammed my bound hands down on the floor, shouting, “That doesn’t make any fucking sense! Humans don’t have magic! Earth doesn’t have magic!”

“Precisely,” Princess Celestia calmly stated, “and since humans do not have magic and neither does their world, then by definition, you are no longer human. Think of what’s happened to the titanium that kept your bones safe. No spell could have done that, and neither could the latent magic of the planet...your body’s own magic changed you at a base level.”

I felt my eye twitch as the puzzle began to come together, but this was accompanied by a lightheadedness and my vision tunneling.

‘Oh for fuck’s sake, don’t faint, don’t faint, don’t-’

I cracked my eyes open and licked my lips as the waking world came back to me, and I swore under my breath as I rose.

“Welcome back, Jamison Smith.” greeted Princess Celestia’s voice from my right.

I sighed and looked to the solar diarch. “Sorry for passing out like that. Apparently I faint when I get overwhelmed.”

Twilight nodded with a grin. “Yeah, Rarity does that too sometimes.”

I rolled my eyes at her. “Great, so I’m just like the girliest girl around here. Righteous.” I then looked back to the three ponies and asked, “So I have to ask, how exactly did you know what was happening to me?”

“Your behavior.” Twilight answered plainly. “I noticed your personality has been rather chaotic lately, changing from one emotion to the another very quickly, or sometimes not at all. The spell I cast on you before I was forced to incapacitate you scanned your living aura, and that’s when I found large amounts of chaos magic swirling around inside of you, along with copious amounts of elemental magic.”

I nodded as the new information was assimilated. “Okay. That’s kinda weird, but I guess I’ll just take things as they come at me. So what now? Are you going to throw me in the dungeons or something?”

Princess Luna gasped at this. “The dungeons? By the moon, no! Why would we do that?”

I shrugged. “I figured with you having tied me up, I’ve been deemed a danger to society, yadda, yadda, yadda. The bottom line I believe being that I can’t stay around here anymore, and since I guess chaos magic would be...well, chaotic, I figure you’re going to lock me up until you can figure out what to do with me.”

Princess Celestia smiled gently and shook her head. “No. You seem to be completely innocent of all of this, so while we will monitor you for safety reasons, the best place for you to be is actually right here, with Twilight. She can study the effects the magic is having upon you, and may be able to find a way to normalize it, so that your personality is less sporadic. The fact remains that for some reason, your body is generating two very powerful forms of magic, and we know not why or how this has happened. It would be in everypony’s best interests if you were to allow Twilight to study the effects in an attempt to plot the course of what may or may not happen because of this.”

A wisp of magic sliced through my bonds, and I rubbed my wrists as the ropes came loose. I stood slowly to keep from getting dizzy, and asked, “Okay, so what do I do for now?”

Princess Luna tilted her head slightly. “Go about life as normal. Twilight has told us that the two of you may have found some form of work for you to do around here to earn your own money, so I would recommend proceeding with that. In the meantime, we will send letters back and forth with Twilight in an attempt to keep you up-to-date with anything and everything that will be happening with you. One thing I would recommend doing is learning our written word...it would make things exponentially easier for you. Twilight informs me that it is much simpler than your written word.”

I shrugged. “Yeah...english is a pretty complex language, I suppose. I guess it couldn’t be any worse.”

The two princesses then stood next to each other before Princess Celestia announced, “We will be in touch, Jamison Smith. We do hope the next time we meet, it is under the banner of a celebration, not suspicion.”

Princess Luna nodded as well with a smile. “Indeed. Be well, Jamison Smith. We will meet again soon.”

And with a flash of light and a crackle of magic, the two princesses disappeared into thin air, presumably back to Canterlot.

I opened my eyes and looked to Twilight, who was staring at me intently. I realized that I was still only dressed in my underpants, so I shifted a little uneasily under her gaze. “Um, Twilight? Can I please have my clothes now?”

She merely kept staring at me for a moment before asking, “Can I study you like this?”

“No.” I replied immediately, shooting the idea down.

She stuck her bottom lip out in a pout and splayed her ears cutely, looking the same way a dog looks when it’s begging for food...irresistible. “Please?”

She asked me at least once a week about this, and since I was already de-clothed, I sighed in defeat. “Fine...just this once.” I then brought my hand to just above my hips. “But here,” my hand then moved to my mid-thigh, “to here is off-limits, front and back. That means no touching, capiche?”

She tilted her head in confusion. “Capiche?”

“It means, ‘do you understand?’” I explained.

She nodded. “Yes, I understand. No touching your private areas.”

I nodded. “Yeah, but I’m not going to make a habit of this, so go ahead and get it out of your system.”

Twilight sat back on her haunches and clapped her front hooves together excitedly. “Oh, this is going to be so much fun!”

By all that’s holy, what have I gotten myself into?

A little over two hours later Twilight and I were sipping some of that lovely peppermint tea as we talked about what was to come. She had taken blood samples, skin scrapings, and hair samples to keep tabs on the changes that may or may not be coming. Twilight assured me that nothing too crazy could be expected to happen ‒ like me turning into a pony or something ‒ but still advised me she wanted to keep an eye on things. Personality changes aside, she had no idea how magic would affect a human.

As we sat and sipped our tea, I had been gathering the courage to bring up a rather awkward conversation about the body language of ponies and such. Something told me I was going to find out more about ponies than I wanted to know right now, but I wanted to be informed, so I forced myself to soldier on.

“Hey Twilight?” I began, trying to sound as neutral as possible.

She took another sip of her tea and perked her ears. “Yes Jamie?”

I reached back and scratched my neck nervously. “Um, I need to know some things about ponies. More specifically, I need to know about common pony body language. Dash said you’d probably be the best to ask.”

She tilted her head in that cute way that almost always brought a smile to my face. “Um, okay. What exactly did you need to know in that regard?”

I shrugged. “Whatever you can tell me, really. I need to know what a male should expect in day-to-day events, as well as some more subtle cues that a human like me wouldn’t pick up on. Dash already told me what that tail-tap on the behind means, but I need to know more if I’m going to know what’s going on around me, because you ponies are a lot more subtle than humans are.”

Twilight blushed a bit when I mentioned the tail thing, but swallowed and nodded. “Okay, I’ll try and tell you what I can.” She thought for a moment before walking over to me. “I’m just going to show you, as they’re difficult to explain in words. I just want you to know that these are for demonstration only...they don’t mean anything intimate in this context.”

I nodded a little nervously. “Okay.”

She smiled. “Alright then. Now first of all is the common pony nuzzle.” She demonstrated by rubbing her cheek against my forearm in a way not unlike a cat would. Twilight then pulled away and said, “Depending on who does it and how long the contact is held, it can mean any number of things. The way I just demonstrated is common between good friends. Since you obviously are a little tall to reciprocate should it happen to you, I would recommend just rubbing the inside of your hand in the same way along the pony’s cheek.”

I reached out and placed my open palm against her cheek and rubbed it softly for a moment before pulling away. “Like that?”

She nodded. “Yes, and that’s just fine. Like I said, if you do it longer or more sensually, it can mean something else, but the way you reciprocated right there is perfectly normal and common among friends. The only thing you need to be careful of is the throat right below the jawline. That’s a very intimate gesture to touch there, and is only done between a parent and foal, or lovers.”

“Don’t touch the throat. Got it.” I replied with a smile, glad to be gaining new knowledge.

Twilight smiled and nodded. “Good. Now as you’ve noticed, ponies are very tactile. It’s very common for us to touch each other in one way or another, and by what you’ve told me about humans, that’s a little strange for you.”

I chuckled lightly. “Yeah, humans don’t really touch each other much compared to ponies.”

Twilight answered, “And that’s perfectly fine because some ponies are like that too, for one reason or another. So, even though it would be better for you to simply ‘go with it’, I know it’s going to take you time to adjust, so if for some reason a certain pony touching you bothers you, just politely let them know you don’t really like to be touched, and that should be all there is to it. Ponies are fine accommodating such a thing so long as you let them know ahead of time.” She then reached up and pressed her forehoof to her chin. “Now, there was something else...aha!” She turned her gaze back to me and pointed to her flank, where the cutie mark was. “As you already know, this is a cutie mark. It is the visual representation of our special talent in life, as well as our passion. Much like a human, the rump of a pony is off-limits to touch, unless by a doctor or a lover. The cutie mark especially is extremely intimate. It doesn’t have much more sensation than the rest, but the mental and emotional connection behind touching what is basically who we are is something only reserved for ponies we trust the most in life. Basically, if a pony were to ask you to touch her cutie mark, it would either mean she trusts you very much, or is a whorse.”

The derivative of “whore” that ponies used always made me giggle a bit.

“Next,” she began before turning to the side, “is the tail twitch. Now depending on how its done, it can mean two different things. If it happens like this,” she demonstrated by twitching her tail jerkily from side to side, “it means that a pony is agitated or nervous.” Twilight then blushed a bit before turning to face me again. “I’m not going to show you the other, but if it’s vertically twitching, it means the mare is aroused. You won’t see too much of that second one in public. Both actions are subconscious, meaning that ponies have no control over it.”

“What about when a pegasus’ wings pop out, kinda like they were spring-loaded?” I asked curiously, remembering a few times it had happened with Rainbow Dash.

Twilight giggled and blushed slightly. “If a pegasus feels threatened, it’s a fight-or-flight response that’s combined with the release of adrenaline, readying the pegasus to defend itself or flee from a dangerous situation. If not, it’s called ‘popping’, and it happens if the pegasus is excited in a sexual manner.”

I thought on her explanation and mentally played back exactly how many times I’d seen the few pegasi that lived in Ponyville doing that. I quickly realized that either they were startled very easily, or often had raunchy thoughts, although I supposed depending on the pony, either was possible. Fluttershy for example could quite literally be startled by her own shadow. Rainbow Dash on the other hand...

I sighed and nodded. “Anything else I should know?”

Twilight tapped her chin again with her hoof before saying, “Not that I can think of off the top of my head. From what you’ve told me about humans, most of the rest should be self-explanatory. I’ll be sure and tell you if I can think of anything else though.” She then brought her gaze back to me. “Although there is one more thing you should keep in mind.”

I raised my eyebrow and prepared for anything weird...at least as much as I could prepare for the unknown. “Yeah?”

“I’m sure you know by now just how our society works as far as gender roles.” she stated. I nodded, and she continued. “Well, with you working at the spa and being exposed to the public more, you need to prepare for a few things. First of all, since you don’t act like a stallion from Equestria, you can expect to be talked down to or even bullied a bit by some of the more dominant mares around here.”

I snorted derisively. “I’m not afraid of most ponies anymore. I mean Rainbow Dash still scares me a little, and so does Vinyl...and Octavia...”

Twilight giggled again and patted me on the shoulder gently. “I get it, Jamie. What I was going to say is that you don’t ever have to worry about any of the mares actually attacking you. It’s kind of an unspoken rule around here...you don’t hit stallions. Any mare that would do such a thing knows she’d have the entire town bearing down on her for it, so don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself in a firm, but respectful manner.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Why don’t you or your friends treat me like a stallion?”

Twilight smiled up at me as she replied, “Because you’re like one of the girls, really.”

“I’m...not quite sure how I feel about that answer.” I commented dryly, my inner masculinity becoming a little more soggy.

She sighed. “If you’re really going to try and integrate yourself fully into society, you’ll get used to it. All I can say is don’t try and change yourself to fit in. You’ll just end up miserable, and you’ll probably lose friends in the process. I’ll be the first to tell you that me and the other girls like you the way you are. So please, don’t change.”

A comforting warmth spread within me, and I couldn’t help but smile at her words. “Well I wasn’t planning on it, but thanks. That makes me feel better.”

Again Twilight patted my shoulder as she said, “Well I don’t know about the other girls, but another reason I don’t treat you like a stallion is because I can imagine what it’s like for you for things to feel so backward. I know it’s natural for you to feel it’s strange for females to be the more dominant gender, and I don’t hold it against you. Maybe one day you’ll come to fully accept it, or maybe not. What I do know is that I’m not going to judge you for the way you think when you can’t help it. I’ll be patient and understanding with you so long as you can promise the same to me.”

I nodded. “I think I can promise that.”

Twilight nodded and stood. “Good. Now, I’m going to go and pick up Spike from Rarity’s. There’s a fruit salad in the cold box that Spike made earlier. Unless you want to wait for me to get back, you can help yourself, as I’m sure you’re hungry. I’ll be back in about an hour or so with Spike.”

I nodded again. “Some fruit salad actually sounds awesome, especially if you have any of that whipped cream left over.”

She nodded. “We should. Help yourself. I’ll be back soon.”

As Twilight left, I licked my lips in anticipation of the tasty food I’d soon be consuming. One of the many things that was different about Equis was that hardly any of their food was prepackaged ‒ most of their food was fresh. Something so simple as whipped cream was amazingly good when compared to the stuff on Earth, as the whipped topping had quite literally been made that very morning. Sure, the portions that food was bought in were much smaller, but the market was also just down the street with fresh food every day.

I rummaged through the kitchen for a few minutes before leaving it with a bowl in hand, filled with watermelon, blueberries, raspberries, and a dollop of whipped cream. Normally such a sweet treat would be considered a dessert, but the fact that the food I ate was often very nutritious meant I could afford to eat a cold dinner like this without cheating myself out of nourishment.

As I took my first bite of the fruit, I winced in pain as something stabbed my tongue.

“The fuck was that?” I asked aloud to the air.

I reached in my mouth and moved my finger around trying to find the source, only to come across something long and hard where my canine should be. I ran my finger over it, finding it as smooth as a tooth, but far too long, even for me.

I set the bowl of fruit down at the dining table and rushed to the washroom that was on the ground floor, quickly flicking on the magical light and looking in the mirror as I pulled my top lip up. Sure enough, there was a tooth where a tooth should be, but it couldn’t be real. It was double the length it should have been, and it now sat over my bottom row of teeth when I closed my mouth. This didn’t make sense...it wasn’t like that the day before.

What the fuck was happening to me?

I filed this particular development away for now, opting to keep an eye on it myself. Twilight already had enough to worry about with me, so I didn’t need to make her think I was going to become a monster and eat her and her friends in their sleep. Besides, my body had started producing titanium as part of my bones now, something that should be impossible. I guess longer teeth isn’t so strange after that.

Whatever...eat now, think later.

After finishing my meal and saying a friendly goodnight to Twilight and Spike, I found myself in my bedroom, wondering what was going to happen now. I knew of the two big things that were coming up, which were my job interview Saturday morning and my attempt at an apology to Vinyl Saturday night, but nothing else was really set in stone. That meant I had three days to fill up with something to keep me busy and somewhat productive. I decided it would probably work in my best interests to visit Rarity and Fluttershy tomorrow to see what they were up to, and maybe Pinkie Pie, if I was in a calm enough mood to handle her. True that she could be fun to be around, but the pink pony could also get rather intense.

Now, for Thursday I guess I could spend the day with Rainbow Dash, exercising and messing around. Besides Vinyl, she was the pony I enjoyed spending time with the most, because she liked to play hoofball (the pony version of American football), had a good sense of humor, and was quick to forgive me if I did something stupid.

That still left Friday wide open though, and I didn’t like having idle time.

My thoughts were beginning to sag a bit as the stress of the day caught up with me, and in an uncommon occurrence, I found myself putting aside my Friday plans for tomorrow. I knew I wouldn’t be able to think clearly enough to come up with a good schedule with how exhausted I was, so I decided to think on it tomorrow, with a cup of coffee.

My attempts to sleep were interrupted however, as when I closed my eyes, a tapping at my window got my attention.

I groaned and stood off the bed, knowing that I was likely about to cuss at whoever was bothering me right now, which depending on who it was, could damage a budding friendship. I made my way over to the window and pushed it open with a quiet, “This better be important.” A certain cyan pegasus floated up to the window, and I quirked my eyebrow in surprise. “Dash? It’s late, what are you doing here?”

Without an invitation, she flew through the window and landed silently on the floor behind me, looking at me with concern. “I caught up with Twilight on her way to Rarity’s. She told me what happened.”

I sighed and closed the window before sitting down on the edge of my bed. “Yeah...it’s been pretty intense. I come to find out in just a day that I’m not even a human anymore, and that some weird magic is being made by my body.” I then looked up at her as she cantered over to me. “Can you keep quiet about something though?” She nodded, so I continued with, “That’s not the only thing that’s changed.”

She raised her eyebrow. “What, are you changing into a pony or something?”

I rolled my eyes. “No offense, but thank God, no.”

Her expression became a little more relaxed as she nodded. “Okay, what is it then?”

I took a steadying breath before lifting the corner of my top lip, showing off my lengthened canines. Almost immediately, I heard a gasp from Dash, as well as the sound of her hooves on the floor retreating. Even though I told myself that it was because I now looked the part of a predator, it did hurt a bit that she was afraid of me.

To my relief, she stepped back over to me, and placed her hooves on my knees as she pulled herself up so she could look me in the eye easily. As I was sitting down, she was actually a little taller than me, but it didn’t really bother me that much. The talk with Octavia seemed to have broken my barrier that was against ponies touching me, so I was comfortable with a few of them doing so. Dash was one of them, and the fact that she didn’t seem to mind doing so made me feel a little better.

Her face was mere inches away from mine as she asked, “W-what...?”

I shrugged, releasing my lip and looking back into her rose-colored eyes. “I’m not sure. They weren’t like this a few days ago, but nothing else seems to be changing at the moment.”

She giggled (a sound she rarely made) and said, “You’d make a great vampony for Nightmare Night.”

I shrugged as I ran my tongue over the one-and-a-half-inch meat-tearing teeth. “For humans, the correct term is ‘vampire’. All the same, I think that’d be a good idea. This Nightmare Night celebration sounds like a hoot, and I’d like to go.” I then looked back to her and asked, “Not that I’m ungrateful, but why are you here? I mean, I was just about to fall asleep when you tapped on the window.”

Dash let go of my knees and dropped back to the ground with a soft *CLOP*, looking at me with concern again. “I couldn’t sleep. I kept thinking that if something like this had happened to me, I would be feeling pretty freaked-out. I figured you probably felt the same and...I was worried about you.” She then glared at me. “Tell anypony I said that and I’ll give you a black eye.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “Don’t worry, Miss Dash. Your soft side is safe with me.”

She rolled her eyes before flapping her wings once and alighting on the bed beside me. “Anyway, I knew that if I was going through what you are, I wouldn’t want to be alone. I know you got Twilight, but she’s not the best when it comes to thinking with her heart instead of her head.”

I raised my eyebrow skeptically. “And you are? The way I remember it, you always complain when things get too ‘mushy’.”

She shook her head with a frown. “I’ve got a rep around here, and I aim to keep it. That doesn’t mean I don’t feel differently. Let’s just say that if I acted in public the way I normally would in private, a lot of the ponies around here would think I’m some namby-pamby blowhard.” She snorted angrily. “I’ve worked too hard to be the best for ponies to see me as weak or something. They wouldn’t take me seriously.” Dash then looked back to me, that concern once again showing in her expression. “What I mean to say is that I know you’re probably nervous, and maybe even a little scared about what happened today, and what’s still happening.”

I shrugged...there was no need to hide it. “You pretty much hit the nail on the head there, Dash. I am kinda scared, mostly because I have no idea what’s going to happen next, and from what we can tell, there’s no way to stop it. Right now it’s just my teeth and bones that’s changed, but what else? Will I even recognize myself in a year? I mean, where does it stop?” The fear and worry that I’d been avoiding since my meeting with the princesses washed over me, and I found myself trembling with worry. I was so afraid of losing who I was to whatever was happening.

I felt a hoof on my shoulder, and looked to my right to see Dash looking at me with a warm smile. “I’ll stay with you tonight if you want me to.”

I looked to her in shock and stuttered out, “W-what? Dash, I like you, but I’m not sleeping with a pony!”

She looked at me in confusion and a little hurt before her eyes widened. “What? No, no, no. I mean just me being here with you. I’m not asking you to rut me, Jamie. I mean Celestia’s shining ass, we haven’t even been on a date or anything.” I was about to retort the latter comment, but she waved it off. “I’m just saying that maybe you’d feel better if you weren’t alone tonight.”

I calmed down as the reality of what she meant sunk in. I hated to admit it, but the thought of having someone stay with me in case I woke up in the middle of the night freaking out sounded good. So, I nodded. “That actually sounds nice, Dash. I’d appreciate it.” I then looked around, as if I could see a certain lavender unicorn through the walls. “What about Twilight though? Will she be upset that you just stayed over without us asking?”

Dash chuckled heartily and shook her head. “Jamie, Twilight’s door is always open for friends. I can’t even tell you the number of times I’ve crashed here at night simply because I’m too sore from practicing or too drunk to fly home. She won’t mind, I promise.” With that she grabbed the extra pillow that I never used from the bed, and turned a few circles in place like a dog before sitting down and curling up. “I’ll be right here, Jamie.”

I looked down at her and frowned. True that I wasn’t “feeling it” about any ponies, but I didn’t want her to sleep on the floor either. I wouldn’t do that to a guest in my home, so I wasn’t going to do it to her.

I sighed and said, “Dash, you’re not sleeping on the floor. Get up here. There’s more than enough room for both of us.”

“But you just said...” she answered, trailing off.

I rolled my eyes. “I said I wasn’t going to have sex with you, but by your reaction, you weren’t planning to with me either. I’m not letting you sleep on the ground though.”

She raised her head off the pillow and looked up at me. “But I get a little...cuddly. And if you tell anypony that-”

“You’ll give me a black eye. I got it.” I finished. I then answered, “Well I don’t mind if you don’t.”

She smirked as she stood and tossed the pillow on the bed, following it shortly after. “What, you get huggy too?”

I shrugged. “I used to have stuffed animals when I was a little kid. I guess I never really grew out of it, which is why I usually sleep alone. Humans aren’t keen on sharing a bed unless they’re ‘together’, so me wrapping an arm around a bed partner would have sent the wrong message.”

As I laid down, she took a spot to the left of me, pressing her body up against me as she lay down on her stomach, legs tucked underneath. She then rested her chin on my chest and extended her wing to cover my stomach as she said, “I hope that answers your question.”

Just like with Octavia, the contact felt very nice, and already I felt my eyes beginning to droop. I absentmindedly spread my fingers out in Dash’s mane as I massaged her scalp, and she sighed contentedly as she squirmed a little before settling herself closer against me.

Just before my eyes closed, I smiled down at the cute sight, her actions reminding me of an affectionate dog I used to have. “Goodnight, Dash.”

She smiled as her own eyes closed. “G’night, Jamie. Don’t punch me in the face if you have a nightmare.”

I chuckled before closing my eyes and feeling myself slip away into what I hoped would be a restful sleep.

Chapter 6: Spellbound

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Chapter 6: Spellbound

I woke on a dark Wednesday morning to a loud crack of thunder overhead. Having grown up in the midwest of the United States, I was rather used to loud and powerful storms, and by Dash’s reluctance to even move at the sound, so was she. I found it strange that she was a little damp though, and she was now on my right side, when she’d fallen asleep on my left. I then looked at her cutie mark, then the storm outside, and it clicked.

‘Oh yeah, pegasi make the weather. She must have started the storm and then came back.’

So the reason for her dampness and change of position were accounted for, and she’d told me ahead of time she was a cuddler in her sleep, which explained why her wing and right leg (arm?) were wrapped around my waist, but one thing didn’t quite make sense to me...

Why had she come back?

A few things about this didn’t make sense, the first and foremost being that she had said she wanted to keep me company. I was grateful of course, but with me not even realizing she had left in the first place, she could have gone home this morning, or even done something else besides sleep. Secondly, I had heard from not only Rainbow Dash, but from a few other pegasi that nothing compared to sleeping on a cloud. I wasn’t privy to such an experience, so I couldn’t say for myself, but if I knew I could sleep someplace better than where I was, I would likely take it. Yet again, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy having an adorable rainbow-maned pony sleeping next to me, I just didn’t know why it was still happening.

Whatever...I’m probably thinking too much into this.

At the current time though, I took a few things into my working knowledgebase about ponies. Since this would be the first time I’d actually been in close contact with a pony for an extended amount of time, I noticed a few things that were different from what I initially thought of them.

First of all, ponies didn’t smell like horses did. True that I’d never owned any sort of equine back on earth, but I’d been around them from time to time, and horses as a whole smelled musky and...well, like a horse. It was difficult to explain a smell such as that, but I knew for a fact that Equestrian ponies did not share such a thing with the equines of Earth. Ponies bathed regularly ‒ usually every day or every other day ‒ and used soap or shampoo often, as well as brushing their teeth. Much like humans did, ponies had their own unique scent that seemed to oddly coincide with who they were as people (or ponies, as the case was). Applejack, for example, smelled of her beloved apples, along with a hint of sweat from the work she did. Twilight smelled of parchment and ink. Rainbow Dash smelled like the air right after a heavy spring thunderstorm. True that I didn’t often use my sense of smell to identify things in everyday life, but it could come in handy at some point.

The fur that covered their bodies was also much different from what I’d expected, and depending on the pony varied from coarse (akin to my facial hair) to as soft as velvet. Generally speaking, the more physically active ponies had a rougher coat, while ponies like Twilight or Octavia tended to be softer. Of course it was just an initial observation, now that I had actually felt comfortable enough to touch and be touched by a pony or two, but it was something to be able to base my visual observations off of. Sure it wasn’t necessarily an important thing to know, but it added a sense of familiarity to the world that I would need to be able to eventually live comfortably.

The hair of the mane and tail was similar to the hair a human had on the head, and usually differed in textures depending on how well it was taken care of, as well as whether it was frequently brushed or not. Octavia’s mane, for example, was very soft and well-groomed, while Rainbow Dash’s windswept mane was spiky, frizzy, and a little rough.

Lastly and most importantly, I’d come to notice that ponies often slept in close quarters, and it was not uncommon (nor frowned upon) for two or more ponies, male and/or female, to share a sleeping area. I supposed it went back to the herd mentality of their evolutionary ancestors, but in general, ponies didn’t seem to like to sleep alone. Twilight had explained to me that most ponies felt more comfortable in a group, whether going about their daily chores, relaxing, or sleeping. It was why even when sharing a home as roommates, there was usually only one bedroom between roomies. As Rainbow Dash was currently demonstrating as she nuzzled my chest in her sleep, friends could share a bed together and have such a thing be completely platonic in nature. Of course my lifetime of human culture learnings told me that it was strange to have a female in my bed, cuddling as Rainbow Dash was, and it not mean anything, but I also reminded myself that I wasn’t among humans anymore.

They’d all been patient enough for me, and of course no change ever came successfully for someone resisting it the entire way. So instead of removing myself from uncomfortable situations, I vowed to myself that I was going to “power through” things as they came at me, and do my very best to live the Equestrian lifestyle. There were certain things of course that I was going to avoid for some time (possibly permanently) like courtship, but the easier things like familiar physical body language and contact I could learn to do pretty quickly. It went without saying that I would have to unlearn and re-learn certain things about cultures, but now that I was actually determined to do so, I knew I could pull through. I knew it would be difficult sometimes, maybe a little awkward, or possibly even scary, but yet again I had to remind myself that this was my home now, so I needed to make myself fit for it.

Sure it’s not my first choice on how to do things, but I hoped it would be the best.

Since it was clear that Rainbow Dash didn’t mind being close to me, I busied myself with running my hand through her mane as I relaxed and thought about things. She responded in kind by murmuring in her sleep and nuzzling my chest cutely, which oddly reminded me of a dog I used to have. Unfortunately for me, it was at that moment that the rest of my body decided to start waking up, and as comes with most mornings for guys who haven’t gotten laid recently...

As the late Beavis would say, “BOI-OI-OI-OING!”

It now became a priority to extract myself from Dash’s grip, but unfortunately she wasn’t too keen on letting go, as when I tried to pull away, she just tightened her hold on me. She had once told me that she didn’t like her hooves being touched, so I gently used my free hand to tickle the inner part (which was soft) in an attempt to get her to release me. She giggled in her sleep in what would in any other situation be an adorable manner, but she still didn’t let go of me, so that forced me to resort to desperate measures, so I stuck my index finger in my mouth for a moment before sticking it in her ear.

Juvenile? Yes...but it did the trick.

Dash’s eyes shot open as she flared her wings and jumped away from me. She then rubbed her ear with her hoof and glared at me. “Ah dude, why? That is so uncool!”

I decided at that moment to sit up and hunch over a bit in an attempt to hide my problem, and made up a believable lie on the spot. “Well I kinda gotta run to the restroom, and you wouldn’t let go of me. It was all I could think of at the time. I would have waited for you to wake up, but nature’s call can’t be ignored.”

She accepted this, thankfully, and nodded. “I guess I can be kinda hard to wake up. No harm, no foul and all that...just don’t do it again. You could have just called my name and I would have woken up.”

I smiled sheepishly, realizing that probably would have been easier. “Sorry...I panicked.”

As I stood, I grabbed hold of “myself” and tucked it under the waistband of my shorts so that it wouldn’t show. I then quickly made my way to the restroom and closed the door behind me, breathing a sigh of relief as the potential disaster was averted. I then grabbed the towel that Twilight had provided me and went about washing myself for the day.

Some time later, I was clean and dressed in a casual outfit that Rarity had made for me, consisting of a pair high top sneakers, blue denim jeans, a white undershirt, and a tee shirt with a graphic of the Elements of Harmony. I found it funny that it made me look like quite the 1990’s kid, when I was in fact born nearly two-hundred years after that time, but the style was very similar, at least from what I could remember of Earth’s history. In fact, most of the clothing Rarity had made me was a throwback to earlier times in Earth’s history, but I didn’t mind. She made me clothes, I did some odd jobs for her here and there, and we called it even. Can’t beat a deal like that.

As I made my way to the main room of the library, I saw Spike and Twilight helping a young pony I didn’t recognize check out a book, while Dash was eyeing the situation amusedly from the top of a bookcase, for some reason. The young pony’s eyes widened slightly when he saw me, but Twilight whispered something to him, and he calmed a bit. The unknown pony then nodded to Twilight before placing the book in his saddlebags and trotting out of the library.

Twilight then took a seat at the reading table, looking over a book I’d never seen before. My curiosity was piqued, so I made my way over to her and asked, “Whatcha reading there, Twilight?”

She furrowed her brow as she continued looking over the book. “It’s a new spell that Princess Celestia sent me. She said that it’s unfinished, but if anypony could finish it, I could.”

Rainbow Dash sighed. “Sounds boring. No offense Twi, but I think I’ll pass. I’ll see you guys later, alright?”

The two of us nodded to her as Twilight answered, “Alright Rainbow. You take care.” As Dash left, Twilight motioned for me to sit next to her, so I pulled up a stool and did so as she explained, “This spell is unlike anything I’ve seen before. I mean I’ve heard about spells like this, but I’ve just never seen one before.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion, as I didn’t know much about spells anyway. “What do you mean exactly?”

She pointed to the book, as if I could read it. “This is an incantation spell. It requires specific words to be recited out loud or in the mind in order for the spell to cast. Spells like this haven’t been around for centuries.” She sighed as she rubbed her temples. “See, normally if I came across a spell that was unfinished, I’d just cast it to see what was missing, but incantation spells are notoriously powerful. This one even more so, because it is Starswirl the Bearded’s secret unfinished spell.”

“And Starswirl the Bearded is...?” I asked.

Twilight sighed. “He was only the most powerful unicorn to ever live. So if he couldn’t finish it, I’m worried about just how powerful this spell could be.” She then levitated a parchment from next to the book. “This is a letter from the Princess that came with the book. It reads:

‘Dear Twilight Sparkle,

The spell contained on the last page of this book is Starswirl the Bearded’s secret unfinished masterpiece. He was never able to get it right, and thus abandoned it. I believe you are the only pony who can understand and rewrite it.

Princess Celestia’”

Twilight then looked over the book and read, “From one to another, another to one. A mark of one’s destiny singled out alone, fulfilled.” She then placed her hoof on her forehead and rubbed softly. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

I shrugged. “So just cast it and see what happens.”

Spike entered the room and nodded as well. “Yeah Twi, just give it a try. We’ll be here to help you if something goes wrong.”

“B-but what if something goes really wrong? What if I destroy Ponyville on accident or something?” Twilight began to question in a manic manner.

I rolled my eyes. “The princesses seem pretty smart Twilight, and Princess Celestia knows you really well. She had to know what you would do in an attempt to figure out the spell, which meant she knew you were going to give it a try. She wouldn’t put the entire town in danger just to sate her curiosity.” At least I didn’t think so. I was still trying to figure the princesses out, for the most part.

Twilight squinted at the book as her lips pursed. “I guess you’re right.” Her horn began glowing as she softly chanted the words to herself, and a moment later a soft noise ‒ akin to wind chimes or bells ‒ signified the spell had been cast. She opened her eyes and looked around. “Did anything happen?”

I also looked around the room, myself, Twilight, and Spike. I shrugged. “Nothing seems to be any different.”

Twilight frowned at the book as she closed it and sighed. “Well, I guess we’ll figure it out later. Just keep an eye out for any strange happenings, alright?” I nodded as she looked at the clock. “It’s about lunchtime now. Spike, will you help me make us something to eat?”

The young dragon nodded as she made his way over to the kitchen with his mentor. “Will do, Twilight!”

While they both went to fix a meal for the three of us, I busied myself by dropping to the floor and doing some fingertip pushups. After all, if I was going to a masseur for ponies, I was going to need some strong arms and fingers to be able to dig into those thick muscles of theirs. After living in Ponyville for a while now, I could tell that my body type had changed from flabby to lean, but I was going to need more muscle if I wanted to do my job correctly. After all, if I was going to be getting paid to do something, I wanted to make sure I did the job well.

A crack of thunder sounded from outside, and I looked out the nearby window as I stood to see that it was still raining heavily. I didn’t envy Rainbow Dash for having to keep the storm in check today. Sure, she could definitely handle it, but I knew for a fact it was going to take a lot out of her.

What surprised me was that I found myself hoping she’d be too tired to fly home as her workday ended, and that she’d have to sleep over at Twilight’s house again. As much as I hated to admit it (and I really did), I had slept better with Rainbow Dash than I had since I came to Equestria. This morning was the first morning I woke up feeling truly rested, and I had noticed that I was so comfortable I hadn’t moved even once in my sleep. That was besides the fact that it was nice to be able to hold someone close for once, knowing that they enjoyed the touch as much as I did. I suppose it’s one of the things that never quite fit me, as far as being a human. Between humans, only lovers would sleep together as Dash and I had. Among ponies though, it didn’t have to mean anything if we didn’t want it to...and more often than not, complete platonic friends could sleep as we had without any unwanted undertones to the situation.

“Jamie, lunchtime!” Twilight announced as she and Spike brought some food to the table. For the rainy day, they had chosen to make some hot vegetable soup with toast, and hay for Twilight. I found it strange at first that ponies ate hay, but I had to remind myself that they didn’t eat meat, and generally had the same diet as horses from Earth did.

As the three of us sat down and ate, conversation flowed comfortably. I found myself not minding when Twilight would ask about my personal life before Equestria, or my family. I still missed my family of course, and it was likely I would always miss them somewhat, but I forced myself to be more open. Twilight had hidden very little from me in regards to Equestria as a whole or her personal life ‒ not that I asked much about the latter, but very rarely did she choose not to discuss anything with me. With that being the case, I fought against my innate instincts as a human and chose to share more with her, if she asked. Ponies did not hide much from each other. Though it was true that places like Ponyville tended to be more close-knit than a city like Canterlot, ponies as a whole were comfortable being open about themselves with others. This meant that in order to fit in properly (or at least as much as a human could in a world of ponies and other magical creatures), I would need to follow their example in that respect.

Some time later, lunch was finished and the three of us were sitting on the sofa talking. It was the first time that I was actually speaking with Twilight and Spike for an extended length of time about humans and myself. I didn’t really mind it all that much, and found it much easier to talk than I thought I would. Unfortunately, Twilight decided to bring up something I’d hoped she wouldn’t...

“So, I saw that Dash decided to stay the night last night.” she commented offhandedly.

I nearly choked on the apple juice I was drinking, and composed myself as best as possible before answering. “Y-yeah, she did.”

Twilight put a hoof to her chin, looking towards the ceiling as she mused aloud, “Now I know she didn’t stay with me, because she snores, and I know she didn’t sleep on the couch, because the cushions were the way I left them yesterday.” I knew exactly what she was doing, and so did she. See, she knew for a fact that for a pony, what Dash had done was commonplace among friends, but she also knew that for a human, it wasn’t. She’d learned that about me as one of the first things I told her regarding humans as a whole, so she had apparently decided it would be fun to mess with me.

Honestly, it felt nice that she felt comfortable enough with me to mess around, but that didn’t make me any less nervous...although I suppose that was the point.

Spike, by his token, looked completely confused as to what was going on. He likely knew that Dash had stayed the night, but like a pony, he didn’t see anything wrong with it. “I don’t get it, Twi. Was Dash not allowed over or something?”

Twilight shook her head innocently. “Not at all, Spike. I was just wondering where she stayed is all. I mean I guess she could have slept in the storage room, but there’s just not much room for-”

“She slept with me!” I shouted out in an effort to end the lines of questioning, only to realize what I’d said when Twilight smirked. My eyes widened as I stammered, “N-no, I don’t mean she slept with me, I mean she slept in my bed, with me! Sleeping, not sleeping!” I slapped my palm onto my face as Twilight started laughing, and just shook my head. “You’re evil, Twilight.”

She giggled and bumped her shoulder against me. “Oh come on, Jamie. You left yourself wide open for that one.”

I chuckled as the humor hit me and nodded. “Yeah, I guess I did.” I removed my hand from my face and looked directly at Twilight. “For the record, nothing happened at all. She thought that I probably wouldn’t want to be alone last night, and I’m inclined to agree with her. I wanted someone there, but I guess it was just too awkward to ask directly. Luckily for me, Dash isn’t known for beating around the bush about things.”

Twilight nodded as she pushed herself off of the sofa. “Yes. She’s one of my best friends, but Rainbow Dash and subtlety are complete opposites.”

“Hey Twilight, isn’t it summer right now?” Spike asked as he stared off into the distance.

Twilight nodded with raised eyebrow. “Yes it is. Why?”

Spike pointed towards the window. “Because it’s snowing.”

She laughed as she replied, “That’s ridiculous Spike. It can’t be...snowing?” During her statement, she had looked towards the window to find that indeed, snow flurries were falling outside. Twilight rushed to the library window, eyes wide and ears flat in worry. “B-but, why would it be snowing? This doesn’t make any sense!” Quicker than I could imagine, Twilight shoved both Spike and I out the door before turning to us with a panicked expression on her face. “We need to find Rainbow Dash right away! Split up and search Ponyville for her. We’ll meet back at the town square in ten minutes...now let’s go!”

Spike and I didn’t question her orders as we split up and began searching the town for our friend in an attempt to find out what had gone wrong with the weather.

After nearly ten minutes, I was making my way back to the town square. I couldn’t find Rainbow Dash, instead only coming across a plethora of confused and frightened ponies. I had noticed during my time trying to find our friend that the clouds had arranged themselves in a checkerboard pattern in the sky, alternating between clouds and clear blue sky. I became confused when I first saw it, but had pushed the thought aside. My job wasn’t to ponder what was happening, it was simply to find Rainbow Dash and bring her to the town square. Unfortunately I didn’t find her, so I headed back to the square with the bad news...only to find Twilight already there, and she did not look happy.

She looked downright terrified.

I raised my eyebrow as I shook my head to dislodge some of the water that had rained on me. “What’s up, Twilight? Did you find Rainbow Dash?”

She shook her head. “No, I didn’t. However, I did find why the weather is so chaotic right now.”

“Why, Twilight?” Spike asked, clearly as confused as I was.

Twilight sighed as her head fell to a shameful slump. “Rarity is controlling the weather.”

I felt my eyes widen as I struggled to keep from bursting out laughing. “Rarity’s doing the weather? Why?”

Twilight looked up at me, and I saw the fear increase in her eyes. “That’s not the only thing, Jamie. She has Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark.”

Again, my eyebrow perched itself on my forehead. “Wait, she has Rainbow Dash’s cutie mark? What the hell is up with that?”

Twilight stood and sighed again. “I don’t know yet, but I need to see if the rest of my friends are okay. Rarity told me that I could find Rainbow Dash at her cottage near the Everfree Forest.”

I raised my index finger in the air as I said, “But isn’t that Fluttershy’s house?”

Twilight nodded. “It is. Something strange is going on here, and we need to find out what. C’mon, we need to find the rest of my friends.”

When Twilight, Spike, and myself arrived back at the library, it was with bad news for the town, and her friends as a whole. Their cutie marks had been swapped, changing not only what they looked like, but also who they were as ponies. Rainbow Dash had been at Fluttershy’s cottage, attempting to take care of the animals there (with no success), Fluttershy was at Sugarcube Corner trying to make everyone laugh and smile (also with no success), Pinkie Pie was at Sweet Apple Acres trying to run the farm (with great success...just kidding), and Applejack was at the Carousel Boutique, attempting to put together clothing.

What didn’t make sense to me was why their cutie marks changing would have bearing on how they acted.

The three of us sat in the library for a moment before Twilight’s head shot up. “Oh no...” she rushed over to a glass display case that held the Elements of Harmony, and looked over them. “That spell...it affected the Elements of Harmony. That’s what changed my friends!” She then stopped and sat down on her rump as her eyes began to water. “I did this...this is my fault.”

Spike stepped over to his mentor and placed a claw on her shoulder. “C’mon Twilight, maybe there’s a counterspell or something.”

Twilight’s horn lit up as the book that contained the spell was levitated over to her, and after scanning the book for a few moments, she placed it back on the reading table with a sigh. “There isn’t a counterspell.”

“Well...” Spike began, thinking feverishly for anything that might help. “Well what about that memory spell you used when you all were changed by Discord?”

She shook her head sadly. “It’s not their memories Spike, it’s their true selves that are the problem.”

I raised my hand and interrupted. “Hold on now. You said that cutie marks were just a physical representation of your special skill or talent in life.”

Twilight trotted over to me and shook her head sadly as her glassy eyes gazed at me. “Cutie marks are much more than that, Jamie. They’re magical in nature. In every sense, they represent who we are as ponies, and our passion in life. It seems that if the cutie mark is changed, so is the pony. I didn’t even know such a thing could happen, but it appears that cutie marks are much more important than they initially appear.” She then lowered her head as she trudged towards the stairs leading to her room. “And because I couldn’t figure out the spell and cast it without thinking, now I’ve changed who my friends are as ponies...ruining their lives.” Without another word, Twilight bounded up the stairs to her room, slamming the door shut.

Spike sat next to me on the sofa and sighed heavily. “Well what do we do now?”

I shook my head. “I don’t know, Spike...I just don’t know.” I then motioned up the stairs with an jerk of my head. “I know that Twilight needs you right now though. I’m going to go out and take a walk...see if I can come up with anything.”

Spike waved his hand at me as he hopped off of the furniture and headed upstairs. “Good luck, Jamie.”

I nodded as I pushed myself up and walked over to the door, intent to find some kind of fix for all this.

The situation around town wasn’t good.

I caught sight of Applejack boarding up the Carousel Boutique, likely from her lack of fashion flair. Fluttershy seemed to be packing things up, as if she were going to move. The largest problem, however, was the chaotic weather that basically turned everyone in town into assholes. Now, I understand that rainy weather can usually put a damper on one’s spirits, but the ponies around town were extra pissed off because of it. Ponies were cursing loudly at one another, and I even saw a fight break out between two mares.

Needless to say, Ponyville had seen better days.

What surprised me was that the princesses were nowhere to be seen during all of this. Now, I would think that a town that held the Elements of Harmony ‒ Equestria’s greatest treasure and weapon ‒ would be closely monitored by the two diarchs. This meant one of three things. Either I was wrong and they had more important things to worry about, they were here and I just hadn’t seen them yet, or they were trusting Twilight to solve this problem, as if it were another test.

Wait a minute...

Now I don’t consider myself all that smart or observant most times, but for some reason I was struck with an answer to all this. I felt something welling up inside of me at the same time, and suddenly everything made sense. That was it ‒ I wasn’t supposed to do anything to fix this. This was Twilight’s show; always had been, probably always will be. My job wasn’t to fix the problem with the Elements of Harmony...my job was to fix Twilight ‒ to remind her of just what she’d be willing to do to help her friends, and how much she cared for them.

“I knew you would figure it out, Jamie.” spoke a velvety voice in front of me.

Without even looking up, I knew who it was, so I simply greeted, “Hello, Princess Celestia.”

Her large form sat down on the bench beside me as ponies did, which was really more of laying down with her rear legs splayed off to the side. This put her face even with mine, and I couldn’t help but look at her with a smile. Maybe it was her pristine white coat, or maybe it was simply the gentle aura she always gave off, but Princess Celestia was the one pony I could truly say was beautiful. Not in a sexual way really, but more of a powerful, divine way. She radiated benevolence with her smile, and comforted with her presence alone. Perhaps it was the way Equestrian magic was slowly changing me, but her “pressure” didn’t seem to affect me as much. It was still there of course and I could feel it strongly, but it was no longer oppressive to me. It wasn’t scary, and it wasn’t threatening. Instead it was welcoming, much like the way a warm fire could comfort during the dead of winter, or a cool river could do the same during the hottest days of summer.

“Hello, my dear Jamie.” she answered warmly.

I raised my eyebrow with a smirk. “‘Dear’ Jamie? Moving a bit fast, aren’t we princess?”

She kept the smile upon her face as she gently nuzzled my face, and something about the gesture made me want to giggle like a little child. When she pulled away, I could see nothing but adoration on her face. “Regardless of what you may think, I love you as much as I love my dear ponies. Necessity does not breed want; you have no idea how difficult it was for me to do such a thing to you, but the protection of my land comes first, regardless of what my heart wishes.” She sighed as she added, “For the record, I do trust you. I did not, however, trust what was happening to you. Powerful magic has a way of changing the weak-minded, and with your kind never being exposed to magic before, I could not hope that who you are would remain as such. I am beyond relieved to see that the magic taking hold of you has not changed who you are as a person.”

I frowned. “So wait, you’re saying I’m weak-minded?”

She shrugged. “I am still unsure of that, as your life here is just beginning and as such, I am just coming to know who you are.”

I took the comment with neutrality, knowing she didn’t mean anything bad by it. Instead, I looked out over the town from the hill we sat upon, seeing the ponies going about their miserable day. “This is another test for Twilight, right?” When I looked to my left to the princess, she nodded, so I asked, “So won’t the ponies think it’s strange that you just happen to be here?”

She shook her head and reached out a hoof in front of us, and the air itself seemed to ripple a bit across a transparent sphere-shaped barrier around us. “It is called a ‘shine sphere’, and it refracts light around us, making us invisible to the naked eye so long as we remain within it. It is a useful spell Luna and I use when we must observe without being seen. Though some of my ponies think we spend all day up in the palace, removed from them, the truth is that many times we sit among them, watching while hidden in plain sight.” She sighed with a wistful smile. “We learned long ago that it is easier to guide our ponies if we know and understand them. It does no good for us to put such space between us. The nobles disagree of course, but they have a way of wishing themselves placed upon a different level than the ‘commoners’.” She shrugged as she leaned against me, and I braced myself against her so that she could sit comfortably. “I suppose it is pointless to wish for ponies to change beyond their own nature, but it is the hope of such a possibility that gives me faith in future generations.”

Her mention of the nature of ponies brought my mind to a famous line that I loved from history from Earth, and somehow I found it relevant. “You know, there was a man from my world named Robert McNamara, and he was what’s known as the Secretary of Defense from the Old Republic of the United States of America, which is where I’m from.”

The mention of my past life piqued the interest of the princess, as her ears perked and a small excited smile played upon her face. “And this man was important?”

I nodded. “Very much so. He held direct control over the Department of Defense, which handles the orders for all of my nation’s military, barring intervention from the president. I guess you could call the US president a king, though he was an elected official, was not royalty, and could only serve in that position of office up to a maximum of eight years.” I then cleared my throat with a sheepish close-mouthed grin. “Sorry, got a bit off topic there. Anyway, Mr. McNamara was in office during what is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which Russia ‒ another nation on Earth ‒ prepared to attack us with nuclear arms in retaliation to us placing a similar nuclear arms site near their border.”

She looked a little confused as she asked, “And nuclear arms are...?”

I frowned a bit at what I was about to explain, as it didn’t make humans look all that great. “Nuclear arms are any weapon that uses nuclear power to cause damage. The nuclear arms I’m currently speaking of were missiles, which are self-propelled munitions that can be fired upon a target from a great distance away.”

Princess Celestia nodded. “How powerful would such a weapon be?”

I shrugged. “It depends on which weapon you’re speaking of, as well as when it was built. At the time though, you could say it would be enough to level all of Ponyville to the ground, as well as set fire to both the Everfree Forest and the Whitetail Wood. Further damage would be caused by nuclear fallout, which would corrupt the ground and air with radiation that would slowly kill anyone in the area, and such contamination can last for many years if no one cleans up the radioactive particles. If left unchecked, the soil can be corrupted beyond repair, and nothing may ever grow in the area of fallout again.”

She gasped softly and brought a hoof to her mouth as her eyes glistened slightly in the cloudy light. “By all that is sacred...that is terrible.”

I nodded. “It is. What it leads back to though is what I was saying about McNamara. You see, we as humans recognize a term known as the ‘fog of war’ which refers to the uncertainty in situational awareness commonly experienced by those in the military. When asked what he thought about the fog of war though, McNamara stated:

What the ‘fog of war’ means is: war is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend all the variables. Our judgment, our understanding, are not adequate. And we kill people unnecessarily...I’m not so naive or simplistic to believe we can eliminate war. We’re not going to change human nature anytime soon. It isn’t that we aren’t rational. We are rational. But reason has limits.”

I sighed as I continued. “You see, ‘human nature’ is much more violent, dishonest, and cruel.” I gestured to the sky around us. “If all of this were happening on Earth, there would without a doubt be a group of people thinking of how they could harness such a thing to use it as a weapon. It’s a sad truth of my people, but one I’ve had to accept and learn to live with.” I then looked back to the princess and said, “But not all humans choose to be violent and destructive. I’d like to think I’m one of the non-assholes, but I also know I’m a work in progress.” I was silent for a moment, simply enjoying being able to teach a thousand-some-odd year alicorn something, but then a thought came to mind. “So what’s my place in all this? It’s clear to me now that you sent that book to Twilight knowing that something like this would happen, but you didn’t stop me when I was around her.”

Princess Celestia nodded as she placed a hoof across my legs gently. “You have a way of seeing things that most ponies don’t, though whether that is because of your humanity or simply who you are, I know not. However, being around for as long as I have, one learns to be able to easily predict the outcomes, as well as what pieces on the chessboard are necessary.” She then raised her hoof from across me and pressed it onto my chest. “You see, you are are the queen piece.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I’m a queen? Never thought I’d hear that one.”

She giggled softly as she brought her hoof to her mouth to stifle her laughter, but then nodded. “The queen has the greatest power. It has the ability to move an indefinite amount of spaces in any direction.” Again she pointed to me as she added, “That is why I refer to you as the queen. You are not bound by the Elements of Harmony, nor are you bound by the turmoil of the town. You see things ponies do not, and understand different options when ponies see none. You have an insight into a different life and way of living that most ponies cannot fathom, and so I knew you would know what is needed.”

I thought for a moment before replying, “I’d say Twilight needs a swift kick in the behind to stop her moping so she can help her friends. She’s smarter than she thinks, and I know she’ll think of something to solve this if she’ll just stop feeling sorry for herself.” I then gazed questioningly at her. “How did you figure I knew what’s going on?”

Princess Celestia simply smiled. “I’ve lived long enough to know the way different expressions look in different situations, as well as what they mean.” Her eyes seemed to sparkle a bit as she continued with, “Getting back on topic, Twilight always was too hard on herself, often letting her self-pity overcome her ability in a crisis. That is why she needs you, and I have faith in you, Jamie. You always wondered why Equis chose to keep you here, and I believe this is part of it.”

I felt a smile come to my face as I realized that if only briefly, I might have found a purpose in my life now. I turned my gaze back to the princess and nodded. “Thank you, your highness.”

She used her muzzle to nudge me with a smile as I stood, then gestured back towards the town. “Off you go, Jamie. Twilight needs you.”

With but a nod in response, I left the bubble of invisibility and jogged off towards Twilight’s library.

I entered the library to see Spike sitting on the couch, looking rather hopeless. This advised me that not only had Twilight not done anything yet, but that it was likely she hadn’t even let him in the room with her.

“Still moping?” I questioned, as if I didn’t already know.

Spike looked up and nodded sadly. “Yeah. She won’t even let me in the room with her.”

I headed towards the stairs as I used my hand to beckon him over. “Yeah, I figured as much. She’s going to sit up there feeling sorry for herself until something really bad happens though, so she needs you and I to get her to see what she needs to do.”

Spike followed me up the stairs and asked, “How are we supposed to do that?”

I stopped in front of Twilight’s bedroom door and grinned wide, showing my sharp canines for the first time with a devious grin. “With tough love, Spike.” With that, I raised my right foot up and kicked hard, right at the place where the latch would be.

The door splintered at my force, and swung open, revealing a very surprised unicorn with tear tracks on her cheeks, sitting on the bed. “J-Jamie?”

I strode into the room and pointed at her with a frown. “This needs to stop, Twilight. You sitting around feeling sorry for yourself isn’t helping to fix things.”

Seemingly letting go the fact that I just kicked her door open, Twilight looked towards the window again with a sad sigh. “But what if I mess things up again? What if I make things worse?”

I stepped over to her in two long strides and grabbed her shoulders, spinning her around to look at me. “How much do your friends mean to you?”

She sniffed and said, “T-they mean everything to me.”

I continued to press my advantage as I asked, “And if they were in trouble, what would you do to help them?”

Twilight looked a little more confident, and she sat up a little straighter. “Anything. I’d do whatever I could to help them, just like they’d do for each other...and for me.” Spike and I watched as a smile overcame Twilight’s face, and some sort of strange energy gathered around her. Suddenly her eyes shot open with a slight glimmer and she jumped off of the bed. “I’ve got it! I know what to do!” Her horn lit up as she levitated an ornate chest from the corner, and we followed her downstairs as she opened the display case and placed the Elements of Harmony into the chest. “I may not be able to make them remember who they are, but I can remind them of how much they mean to each other! C’mon, we need to find one of them quick!”

I stopped at the stairs and shook my head with a smile. “No...you need to find them.”

Twilight halted at the door and turned around with a pleading look on her face. “B-but what if I need you? What if I need your help and you’re not there?”

I shook my head with a grin, showing Twilight my teeth for the first time as well. “You’ve got this, Twilight. I have faith in you.”

Her eyes widened and she stammered out, “W-what are-”

I pointed towards the door. “Help your friends first. I’ll explain it to you when you get back.”

With only a nod, Twilight and Spike left the library, off to save her most precious possessions in the world: her friends.

I walked over to the sofa and sat down, prepared to take a nap and wait for Twilight to return, but was interrupted by a tap on my shoulder. I looked to the right to see the air shimmer a bit, and a certain dark-colored alicorn to phase into visibility.

I nodded gently. “Princess Luna.”

She returned the gesture and spoke, “Jamison Smith. It appears my sister was correct in her assumption that you could succeed where dear Spike had failed.”

I rolled my eyes with a playful grin. “Can’t you just say you’re proud of me? C’mon, you’ll feel better.”

Princess Luna huffed and pouted. “Fine...I’m proud of you.” Looking over at me with a far more serious expression, she added, “Truly, you did well. I did not expect you to be able to get through to Twilight as quickly as you did, but I can honestly say I am pleased to have been mistaken.”

I chuckled and pointed at her. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re absolutely adorable with the pouty face? Like seriously, I’m having to restrain myself from scratching behind your ears like I would a cute puppy.”

She gasped indignantly. “Referring to a princess of Equestria as ‘adorable’? Perhaps you forget your place, Jamison Smith.”

I shrugged. “I never said I didn’t respect you, just that I think you’re adorable. Is that such a crime?”

Princess Luna relaxed again and sighed. “I suppose not.”

For a few moments we were both silent as we sat together before I broke the silence. “You know, it’s just you and me here right now. You don’t have to act all high-and-mighty if you don’t want to...I won’t tell anyone.”

She looked over at me and stared intently. “And what makes you believe this isn’t simply who I am?”

“Because Twilight told me that during Nightmare Night, she got to know a pony that was lonely and wanted to be known as a pony, not a princess. I think that’s who you are.” I explained, gesturing to her. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that the way you behave in public is an act. It’s a shroud you cover yourself in to appear respectful and regal.”

The princess held silent for a long few moments before saying, “Let us say you are right ‒ that who I am is not what I portray to the masses. What are you suggesting?”

I smiled and gestured to myself with a wave of my hand. “I’m just a simple human, princess. I didn’t grow up hearing about the tales of Nightmare Moon, and to be honest, I’m not really all that afraid of you unless you’re trying to scare me. You don’t have reason to put up a front for me, because I’ve no reason to judge. I’ve done a lot of bad things in my past, just as we all do. To expect perfection of anyone is to expect the impossible. So if it’s what you really want, let your hair down and relax. You don’t need to impress me. Just be yourself, like you were with Twilight.”

She looked away for a moment before muttering, “Twilight is special. She sees us as no one does.”

“Only because you keep who you are hidden.” I explained. She looked back to me and I smiled. “When you’re in front of the nobles during a meeting, or at any other royal function, be the princess. When you’re with friends and family, just be Luna.”

“Just...be Luna?” she questioned, as if she were truly unsure what I meant.

I decided to drive the point home with a bit of a gamble, in hopes I wouldn’t offend her. “Yeah, just be Luna. Don’t worry about acting foolish or anything, because sometimes the most interesting people are the ones who aren’t afraid to look like an idiot. Snort when you laugh, make stupid jokes, and just enjoy yourself.”

She thought for a few moments before smiling. “That sounds like a wonderful idea, but unfortunately I must return to Canterlot.” I was about to question what she meant, but she stalled my question with a raised hoof. “All will be made clear soon, but I would like you to accompany me.”

I clicked my tongue and clarified, “To Canterlot?” Princess Luna nodded. “Why?”

“Because first and foremost, my sister will wish to hear of your success.” she explained calmly. “And secondly, because we must prepare your new clothing for the ceremony, and only Canterlot silk will do.”

I tilted my head to the side and asked, “Ceremony? What ceremony? Is someone getting married or something?”

Princess Luna giggled and shook her head. “No...this is something far more important. You have done your part, and now it is time to put the situation into Twilight’s hooves to finish. Have faith and trust me, Jamison Smith. All will be well, I promise.” She then hopped up off of the sofa and beckoned me with a jerk of her head. “Come, we must depart.”

In a bit of a daze I stood and made my way to stand beside the slightly-smaller alicorn. I felt a faint pressure of her magic being cast, and I closed my eyes as a bright flash overtook us. What felt like no amount of time later, the air seemed to have changed, as did the sound quality. There were more echoes around us, which told me we were in an enclosed space of stone-like construction.

“We have arrived.” Princess Luna stated, and I opened my eyes to see the Equestrian thrones for the first time.

Almost immediately, I was greeted by multiple spearheads aimed at my face, while an armored stallion shuffled Princess Luna off to the side.

“Guards, lower your weapons!” a powerful, commanding voice boomed throughout the room. None of the guards seemed particularly affected by the voice, other than following the orders given, but I was practically shitting myself. Only a few moments later, Princess Celestia entered my vision with a frown. “Apologies for that, Jamie. The royal guard can be somewhat overzealous at times.” She then shot a glare towards her younger sister. “Although such a thing would not have happened if Luna had arrived in front of the gates instead of the throne room.”

The younger princess’ face flushed a bit as she kicked idly at the floor. “Hehe...oops.”

The elder princess sighed and rolled her eyes before turning to me with smile. “So, welcome to Canterlot. More specifically, welcome to Canterlot Castle, where my sister and I reside.” She then turned her gaze to the twenty or so guards that were surrounding me and ordered, “Leave us.”

One of the guards stepped forward. “But Princess Ce-”

Princess Celestia’s gaze hardened into a glare as she commanded, “Do not question me, Sureshot. I order you all to leave us. We are not to be disturbed.” No further argument came from the guards as they quickly vacated the throne room, closing all the doors behind them. Princess Celestia then looked to me and sighed. “As I said, a little overzealous. I praise their loyalty, but their questioning of my ability to defend myself can wear on my nerves at times. I must remind myself often that they are but ponies, and have not seen or experienced the things I have.” She trotted over to the two thrones and sat upon the larger one of gold before removing her crown and placing it at the end-table beside her. “Now, I wish to speak with you candidly, which is why I ordered the guards to leave. There will be no titles used, and we will speak on equal terms ‒ not as ruler to subject, but simply as two people. Is that understood?”

I felt it strange that with that being the case, her words sounded a lot like an order, but I nodded my assent. “Yes.”

The mask that the princess wore most of the time seemed to fall away, and for the first time, I saw the expressions of the pony underneath. She slumped in her chair, and I could see both exhaustion and worry clear as the day itself. When she looked up at me again, I saw absolute terror in her eyes, as well as tears caused by the stress upon her gathering at the corners of her eyes. “Do you think Twilight will be alright?”

I felt my brow furrow as I looked over the princess. “Are you alright? Forgive the expression, but you’re acting like a mother frightened for her child.”

“Because I am, on both counts.” she replied sadly.

Princess Luna made her way to her sister’s side and nuzzled her gently. “Sister, what troubles you?”

Princess Celestia looked to her sister and dipped her head low in what appeared to be shame. “Did we act too quickly? Could she be in true danger right now? What if she’s not ready? What if-”

Her rambling was cut short by a navy blue hoof upon her lips, and her younger sister nuzzled her lovingly. “Sister, you must have faith in Twilight once again. She is resourceful and intelligent, and I know she will succeed.”

I began to feel awkward, as if I was witnessing something I shouldn’t be, so I made my feelings known. “Um, I can leave if you two want some time alone.”

“No!” Princess Celestia shouted in response. She then seemed to shrink a bit as she said in a much softer voice, “I-I mean no, please don’t go.”

The pure and unadulterated need in her words made me stop from retreating anymore. It was unnerving to see one of the most powerful beings on the planet so vulnerable, but if she didn’t want me to leave, I wasn’t going to. Still, if I were being asked to be privy to such a situation, I had a right to know why.

“Why me?” I queried, taking care to do so in a gentle tone so as to not upset the stressed rulers.

“Because you’ll understand the fear of loss better than any mere pony.” she answered sadly.

Her words struck me as very true, though it was painful to realize it. I lost my family, my friends, my old life, and even my world. I knew loss very well, and against all odds had avoided insanity or psychosis. Sure, I was a little jacked up here and there (more in some ways than others), but I had come out the other end alive, and not broken. I still had issues to work out with myself, as well as metaphorical demons to slay, but I could finally say with honesty that I could see the light at the end of the tunnel...and beside me were my friends.

I nodded in agreement. “I suppose I would, and I guess it would be pointless to ask what loss you’ve experienced, with how long you’ve lived. So I am assuming you’re speaking of something fairly recent, correct?” When the sun princess nodded, I thought for only a moment before it came to me. “You mean Twilight.”

The solar diarch nodded. “I am. I worry for her always, but now more than ever. You see, the letter I sent to Twilight outlined the spell as Starswirl the Bearded’s unfinished masterpiece, which he abandoned. This, however, is only partly true.”

I raised my eyebrow at this, interested in finding out what was so worrying to the princess. “What part is true and which is not?”

“Starswirl the Bearded did indeed work on that spell.” Princess Luna answered for her sister. “In fact, I helped him with it.”

The elder sister nodded. “Unfortunately, he did not abandon it willingly...it killed him.”

The severity of the situation dawned on me as I said, “So the spell that Twilight’s working on...”

Princess Celestia nodded as she placed a hoof on her forehead. “My mind knows that Twilight is more than capable of doing this,” she then moved the hoof to her chest, “but my heart fears for her safety.”

I cleared my throat as curiosity began to overcome me, demanding a question to be asked. “Forgive me if this sounds rude, but why is Twilight so important? More specifically, why is she so important to you?”

This seemed to surprise her. “W-well, she’s the Element of-”

I shook my head. “No, I mean why is Twilight Sparkle, the unicorn, so important to Celestia, the alicorn?”

The two sisters looked to each other in silent contemplation before Princess Celestia turned back to me. “What I am about to speak of you is never to leave this room. This is a request from Celestia, a pony...not a princess. Therefore, it is not an order. I am simply asking you, from one person to another, to be silent about what I am prepared to tell you.”

The princess’ request caught me off guard, as well as reminded me of just how much wisdom she had about life. She knew that an order will only be followed as long as it pertains to someone’s personal beliefs or morals. She knew, that as a human, I did not necessarily hold any loyalty to her personally. I had not been born and raised in Equestria, had not heard about the history of its people and princesses, and had not learned to love the two alicorns unconditionally as two benevolent mothers. Sure, I respected her ‒ I would be a fool not to ‒ but truth be told I would still likely side with my own people before ponies. As shitty as it made me feel about myself, it was the truth. I didn’t know if something like that might change with time or not, but I knew for a fact that the princess knew it would be worthless to appeal to my loyalty right now.

Instead, she appealed to my heart.

She had purposefully and sincerely placed us on the same social level, asking instead of ordering, and doing so as just another person instead of royalty. There was no obligation, and because of that, I felt compelled to offer my word.

I nodded gently. “Of course. If you asked me to, I wouldn’t even speak a word of this to the Creator itself.”

Gently, she smiled. “Thank you. I suppose I promised you an explanation then. You see, Twilight Sparkle is not the pony you think she is...truth be told, she’s not the pony her other friends think she is either.” Questions began running through my head, but I kept silent while the princess continued. “It is not her fault, and frankly it isn’t something she even knows. Twilight Sparkle was not born a unicorn, Jamie. She was born instead with dominion over all forms of magic...as an alicorn.”

It took me a few seconds to assimilate this new information into my mind, but then something didn’t make sense. “Well where are her wings then?”

“I transformed her body into that of a unicorn, locking her true power away until she was ready.” Princess Celestia replied sadly. “Lavish though the royal life may seem, it is a prison in many ways. Twilight deserved to live her own life, free of the oppression of the noble houses and court advisors. She deserved to become her own pony in her own time, and to live that time unfettered with the responsibilities of ruling over an entire nation.” A soft smile found itself on her face as tears glistened in the corners of her eyes. “She deserved to make true friends who love her for who she is, not what she is.”

The moving explanation even made me feel a little choke up, but one question still remained for me. “Twilight told me that only an alicorn can give birth to another alicorn, but her parents are both unicorns. So I guess my only other question is, who are her real parents?”

At this, both princesses smiled gently as Princess Celestia answered, “Her father was a stallion I knew, long ago. His name was Flash Step, and he is hailed as the first unicorn to develop a practical teleportation spell. Before him, teleportation required massive amounts of magic, usually leaving it to be a skill only usable by alicorns. Flash Step decided to work on the existing spell, making it far more efficient at drawing power from the leylines, and created a version that could be magically throttled, allowing the distance to decide the magic use, instead of one large amount of magic used for any distance. Unfortunately for him, the gestation period for an alicorn lasts for nearly fifty years, and so he did not live to see the birth of his daughter.”

When she was silent for a few moments, I asked, “And the mother?”

Princess Celestia’s smile became much more loving as she replied, “You’re looking at her.”

Suddenly, Princess Luna glanced out one of the windows in the distance and smiled. “Sister, look towards Ponyville.”

Princess Celestia did as she was told, and smiled when we all noticed the cloud cover had abated, and we could hear the faintest cheers, even from so far away. She then stood and donned her regal mask and crown once again, nodding to the both of us. “I must depart. I will return in the evening. Until then, be well.” Her horn then lit up in a golden aura and she disappeared in a flash of light.

Without much else to do, I decided to simply await her return. My part in this grand spectacle had been played, so now the game was out of my hands.

The night princess glanced at me a few times before asking, “So, would you wish to play chess?”

I smiled and nodded. “Sounds good, princess.”

Chapter 7: The Royal Treatment

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Chapter 7: The Royal Treatment

“Can we please play something else?” I whined, mentally berating myself for whining, but being unable to help it.

Princess Luna smirked. “But I thought we were having fun!”

I shook my head and huffed. “Fun is not losing the past eight games in a row when we’ve only played nine games. Fun for you maybe, but boring and depressing for me. I used to think I was good at chess.” I thought for a moment before adding, “Although you do have a thousand or so years of life on me, so I don’t feel too bad about it.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “Are you calling me old?”

Having gotten a feel for the night princess’ personality, I figured I could afford to give a snarky remark. “That depends. Am I going to be punished if I say yes?”

Princess Luna huffed and turned away from me. “Yes, well...you’re stupid!” She then turned back towards me and stuck her tongue out in a very childlike fashion, and it was at that point that I knew she was messing with me.

I let out a loud laugh, and a moment later she joined me with light giggles of her own. A moment passed in mirth before I could catch my voice and say, “Now th-this is what I’m talking about, princess.”

She opened her eyes and took a few breaths before tilting her head to the side. “What do you mean?”

I motioned to her. “This. This is the real Luna, and it’s who you should be around those you consider friends.” I then realized something strange and asked, “Speaking of, why me? I mean I might not be the most observant guy ‒ and correct me if I’m wrong ‒ but you and your sister seem to have taken a rather strong interest in me. Why?”

Princess Luna gently levitated the chessboard and pieces away and set them back into their case. “You are not imagining things, Jamison Smith. It is for a few reasons actually, the most prominent of which is the fact that you are the only one of your kind. My sister and I trust Twilight in making you feel welcome, but there are simply some things about the way you feel that she will not understand.” She finished putting the chess set away before making her way to a sofa within the Lunar Tower (the place of our chess game) and sitting upon it, motioning for me to do the same. “My sister has been ambassador to nearly all of the creatures upon this world, and I have personal experience with just how it feels to be in a world you do not understand, nor feel completely comfortable with.”

I slowly walked over to the sofa and took a seat a respectful distance away from the princess ‒ so as to placate the tense night guard that was currently watching us ‒ and eyed her with a skeptical eye. “So you figured I’d be more comfortable around people that understood the way I felt, hm?”

“You do seem less tense. Do you feel that way?” Princess Luna inquired.

I thought for a moment before nodding. “I guess I do. I trust and respect my friends in Ponyville, but there're some things about me they just can’t get, if you understand what I’m trying to say.”

She nodded solemnly. “I do. When I returned to this world after my banishment, I beheld a place very different than the home I left. Culture and society as a whole had changed drastically. Even before my banishment, I was not adept at fitting in with my own people, and a millennium of exile only widened the gap I felt between myself and them.” She then bored her gaze directly into my own eyes, and I could see the intensity of emotion within her. “So to answer your question, yes...I understand perfectly. Tia does her best to help me feel more welcome, but I will forever be different from the rest. It is simply who I am. I am so grateful for her efforts, but like you do with your friends from Ponyville, I believe that there is so much about me she may never understand.”

I nodded before asking, “You said there was more than one reason you two have chosen to take a personal interest in me though. What are they?”

She shrugged lightly. “Tia and I enjoy having another around who might understand how we feel about some things.”

I raised my eyebrow suspiciously. “What ways would those be? I’m not an alicorn, I won’t live much longer in comparison to you two, and I’m definitely not royalty.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “Not in those ways, Jamison Smith. You see, Equestria was not always as peaceful as it has been. In the eras long passed, Tia and I personally battled to secure a place for ponies to call their own. We fought and killed for our people, destroying the centaur nations that would not peacefully coexist with us.”

I nodded. “It was for your people though, and you and your sister don’t seem the type to kill another just to do it. I’m sure you had good reasons for doing so.”

She nodded with a smile. “And that is exactly what I was referring to, Jamison Smith. Had I told any of the common ponies about such things, they would not see things as you do. They would see the faultless vision of their peaceful and benevolent princesses shattered forever, and that is not something we can allow, for the sake of peace.”

“So,” I began, licking my lips as I thought, “you two have basically distanced yourselves from your ponies so that they wouldn’t freak out.” She nodded gently, and I looked to the two bat-winged ponies standing guard. “What about your guards?”

Princess Luna looked to her two night guards and smiled. “Our personal guards are the only ones who know of what we have done in the past, and only because they must know nearly everything about us in order to adequately understand who it is they are charged with protecting. They are bestowed with all that knowledge at the end of their training program, and if upon learning who we truly are they do not wish to become our personal guards, their memories of our past are wiped, and they are enrolled in the Royal Guard. No pony is forced to be our personal guards, Jamie...they choose to. As you might imagine, such a career is not for everypony.” She then stood off of the sofa and walked to her two guards, both of which kept their eyes facing forward as they didn’t move a muscle. She gently caressed the cheek of the one on the left as she said, “They are sworn to secrecy, and are forbidden from speaking of what is said or done in private. They are our eyes and ears, reminding us of important matters we may have overlooked, and staying wary of any dangers that may approach us without our knowledge.” Princess Luna then smirked at me as she leaned close to the pony and pecked him on the lips, and by God, he didn’t even respond at all. The princess smiled as she pulled away and said, “Their training is the most difficult, and they are our most treasured allies because of their unwavering devotion to us. For their service, their entire immediate family is provided rent-free living quarters in Canterlot, as well as the protection of the Royal Guard itself. Upon their passing, each of our personal guard is given a personal burial in the Royal Cemetery, along with a substantial allowance to their families.”

I pursed my lips with a hum. “You really take care of your guards...and they seem to take their jobs very seriously. If you’d kissed me like that, I’d have been quite a bit more animated.” The thought of kissing a pony was weird, but I guess if I was forced to do so, a princess would be a good choice.

Princess Luna giggled and nodded. “I’m sure he’ll talk about it with the other members of the night guard.” The guard in question did not react whatsoever though, so she might as well have been talking next to a brick wall. She then walked back over to the sofa and took a seat, noticeably closer than before. “We care for our guards, but unfortunately the few that actually know us personally also are sworn to be a silent and stoic guard and nothing more, for our safety as much as theirs.” She then turned to me. “It is why Tia and I find you so interesting. You have the ability to understand who and what we are without judgement because of your life on Earth. Where most ponies would be mortified, you can see little to no fault in us.”

I shrugged. “On Earth, some people kill each other over little to nothing. Something as simple as jealousy over a pair of shoes can result in a murder.” I chuckled. “When I told Twilight about something like that, she didn’t even believe that humans could be that way.”

She nodded slowly. “Just as most ponies would not believe some of the atrocities Tia and I committed. The peace they enjoy depends on their ignorance of just how imperfect their rulers are. As rulers, we are benevolent, but as mere ponies, we are as flawed as the rest of them.” She placed her hoof on my chest and said, “Tia and I know you can understand this.”

I nodded with a sigh. “Yeah. Your ponies want to imagine perfection from you, but any sane person knows that’s impossible. No one is perfect...or if there is someone, I’ve yet to meet them.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “We are far from perfect Jamie, just like you. It is in fact our flaws that make us such good rulers, because we know the weaknesses and flaws our subjects share. We feel and experience them every day ‒ fear, jealousy, anger, depression...it is what connects us to them. You understand this better than our ponies could, as you have not been raised here. You can see us as simple ponies instead of goddesses.”

I barked a laugh at this. “The ponies see you as deities?”

She nodded. “I can understand the hilarity of it, but it stopped being amusing ages ago.”

I took a deep breath to calm myself and eyed the princess with confusion. “Okay then, so what’s the point of all this then? Are you and your sister looking for an advisor? Confidant?”

She shrugged. “We were hoping for that...and perhaps a friend.”

I felt my brow furrow as I thought for a few moments. “But...surely there has to be someone else that you trust more. Perhaps one of your own people, even.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “None that are as you are. While it is true that there are others who hold more of our trust than you, trust comes with time and understanding.” She lifted her arm and gently placed her covered hoof on my chest. “You have a good heart, Jamison Smith. You battle with your flaws every day, the same as Tia and I do, but you choose to be the better version of yourself most of the time. You leave some to be desired, but as you mentioned, no one is perfect. I have found through my life that it is the character and deeds of a pony that makes them who they are more than their words. So while your words speak often of your own shortcomings and inadequacies, I also see great potential and the will to be better if the chance is given. I see the possibility of greatness within you.”

I chuckled at the mere thought. “I’m not going to be some great hero or anything, Princess Luna. I think we both know that.”

“Greatness is not measured by quantity, but the quality of the positive light shined upon a pony.” she explained with a soft smile. She then motioned to a window that pointed towards Ponyville in the distance. “My sister and I have the love and adoration of nearly every pony in the realm, as well as most of the other beings upon this planet. However, I find myself wondering whether their love is for us, or simply the crowns we wear.” The night princess shook her head with a dry chuckle. “So many love the princesses of Equestria, but so few can say they love Luna and Celestia.” She looked into my eyes as she smiled once more. “That is why my sister and I find ourselves drawn to you. Even if we were to cultivate a young foal to become used to our presence, we will still be princesses to it. You however are unbound by the cultures of this world. While I am confident you will adapt to it in order to live comfortably here, it will be simply that: an adaptation. It will never be who you truly are as a man, because those learnings, cultures, morals, and societal norms were ingrained in you from a young age on your own world. Tia and I believe that you are possibly the only one that could completely cast aside the title of ‘princess of Equestria’, and see us only as ponies.”

I shrugged as I motioned to her generally. “Well it’s easy when you’re acting like this, but in public, you and your sister are so different. Your mere presence demands obedience, whether you realize it or not. Both of you just seem so perfect in public. It’s intimidating, to say the least.”

The smile didn’t leave her face as she replied, “But you were correct, Jamison Smith. That isn’t who I am, nor is it who I wish to be.” She sighed with a twinkle in her eye. “I wish to simply laugh with friends about everything and nothing. I wish to run and play in open fields, simply because they are there to play in. I wish to be able to speak with somepony and know that they are not catering their speech and mannerisms to suit how they believe I wish them to be.” Princess Luna’s hoof thumped the soft cushion between us as she growled, “So many believe we wish to be worshiped and obeyed without question...but what I want is for somepony to be unafraid to simply be themselves. That would be the greatest compliment to my sister and I, to know that even just one respects us enough to be honest with us not only in word, but in their thoughts and actions as well.”

I thought for a moment about her situation before realizing just how hard it must be for her. I had always believed the two princesses to be so different from normal ponies, and being free from the many different emotions and thoughts that plagued the average person or pony from day to day. In less than a day though, I learned that we were not so different after all. Underneath all the royal titles, the power and majesty, and the public behavior, they were just regular ponies. Which led to another question being blurted out…

“Why do you two seem to be so young in mind and spirit?” I questioned without thinking. After realizing that my brain-to-mouth filter had let another one slip though, I shook my head as I grit my teeth in embarrassment. “I-I’m sorry princess. I didn’t mean it to sound that way.”

The lunar princess smiled and giggled lightly behind her hoof before answering, “Fear not, Jamison Smith. It is that unabashed honesty of thought and speech that I desire, and I believe my sister does as well.” She seemed to contemplate something to herself before standing off of the sofa and motioning with her head for me to follow. “Come. I will show you why we seem so youthful to you.”

I stood and began to follow the princess through the winding corridors of the palace.

We had walked in complete silence before arriving at a completely unremarkable place within the hedge maze in the Royal Gardens.

Princess Luna stopped ahead of me and turned around, smiling before walking into the bush ahead of her. Instead of being stopped by the branches and leaves, she seemed to walk into nothing, and she disappeared for a moment before poking her head out with a smile. “Come, Jamison Smith. It is safe, I promise.”

I watched as her two guards stepped into the invisible place, and took a few breaths to calm myself before stepping through after them with my eyes closed.

I felt the air change slightly, and I heard echoes of sound that suggested that I was in a cave or stone building of some sort. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was indeed in some stonecrafted room, with a single wooden door in front of us.

Princess Luna stepped ahead of the two guards and I before placing her horn into a hole in the center of the door, and it split down the middle and opened wide. Each guard took a place on either side of the door and stood at attention, and I just watched as the princess walked through.

She stopped when she realized I didn’t follow, and motioned me with a hoof. “Come. This is the one place where the guards are forbidden to enter, no matter the reason. You will see why in a moment.”

I found it strange that I was being allowed where the guards were not, but thought not to question it as I followed the princess inside. As soon as I cleared the radius of the doors, they closed behind me, and after eyeing the door warily for a moment, I turned my gaze to the room itself.

It was unremarkable for the most part, having only a few bookshelves and a desk for writing, but one thing struck me as odd about the books themselves. Namely, the fact that not one of them had a title on the binding. Not that I could read it of course, but you know…

“What’s with all the blank books?” I asked curiously, unable to keep my questions within me any longer.

I was eyeing the books, but was able to follow behind the princess until I noticed her stopping in my peripheral vision. She turned around to look at me and jerked her head towards the closest bookcase, the one near the writing desk. “These books are lacking in written words, this is true. However, they are not blank. That I can promise you.” She turned back to the bookcase before using her levitation spell to bring a worn blue book, and she set it on the desk. “This one, for example, is one of my favorites.”

I moved closer as she opened it, and was surprised to see a moving picture within it, akin to a videoscreen, but on paper. It was from the perspective of a person looking over a vast field of tall pink flowers, the vision of the “movie” itself barely clearing the tops of the blooms.

Suddenly my vision began to swim a bit, and I found the world around me fading away.

When I could see again, I found myself in the field of azaleas that Tia and I were playing in. What had happened? I remembered I was running through the flowers and then…

“Come Luna! You shall never catch Us if you stop to smell the flowers every few moments!” shouted sister’s voice from behind me.

I allowed myself a smile as I turned towards the voice, only to find naught but a sea of pink blooms blowing in the warm summer breeze. I trotted through the flowers until I came upon the hill that held the peach tree we had planted so long ago, and attempted to scan the field for the bright white pony. After a few minutes of looking, I pouted and snorted in frustration. “It is unfair to Us! Thy mane is pink!”

“I have you now…” growled a high-pitched voice from behind me, startling me and causing me to whip around in time to be tackled to the ground by a blur of white and pink. I rolled down the hill with my assailant for a few seconds before coming to a stop.

I looked up at my attacker to find the grinning face of my beloved sister, her smile as triumphant as it was mirthful. I huffed and turned my face away from her, even as she nuzzled my gray-blue mane lovingly. “Thou cheats.”

She gasped theatrically and lifted one hoof to press against her chest even as she loomed over me. “We would never! Thou wounds Us, Luna!” She then looked down at me from the corner of her eye as she smirked. “Thou art simply envious of our skill.” Suddenly her eyes widened a bit as she looked up towards the horizon, and she separated herself from me. “The eve has come. We must bring forth the night, dear Luna.”

Any annoyance I felt bled away into nothingness as I rolled to my hooves and pushed myself to a standing position before following my sister to the hilltop. I fidgeted with my wings to have them settle comfortably against my body, as they were still proportionately too large for the body of a young mare my size.

The two of us arrived to stand side by side with the peach tree at our backs, and I watched as Tia’s pristine white horn began to glow with a golden aura, and at the same time, the orange light of the sky began to fade to a dull red, and then violet until all that was left was darkness. Seamlessly, I turned with my sister towards the opposite direction, and lit my own horn with magic as I reached out for my moon, calling to her and requesting her to rise once more and bathe Equestria in her soft glow. Immediately, she responded by rising gently into the sky over the mountains to the east, and I released my coaxing magic on her before calling to the stars themselves, asking them to lend their twinkling beauty to the night sky once more. For this part, I opened my eyes to see the stars wink into visible existence one by one, the process becoming faster until the entire sky was filled with the many constellations of evening. I let my magic fully fade and heaved a deep sigh as I looked over our daily work. Somehow when we brought forth the night or day next to each other, it seemed so much better and more beautiful. Tonight was no different, and as Tia leaned against me, I knew she felt the same.

“It is most beautiful, Luna.” she commented softly, nuzzling my withers as she laid her head upon my back. “Thou art the greatest sister We could ask for. We thank thee, Luna. We love thee.”

I felt the love and warmth suffuse me as she said those words, and like always, it made a good day a wonderful one.

I leaned my body against hers as I replied, “And We love thee as well, dear sister.”

I gasped as the world ‒ colors, sensations, sounds ‒ all flowed back to me, and I once again found myself within the bland room I had been in before.

“I…” I began, only to find myself unable to speak the words properly. I took a moment to collect myself before stating, “I-I was you. I mean, I’m me now and I know that I was still me, kinda, but I was you.”

I turned to my right to see Princess Luna giggling behind her hoof slightly before lowering the limb and smiling warmly at me. “It was a memory.” She motioned to the bookcases, and I realized that there were far more books and bookcases than I thought there originally were. What I once thought was only a few dozen books turned out to be more like thousands. She levitated the book back to its place before turning to meet my eyes again. “This entire room is filled with our memories. You asked me how we seem so youthful, well this is how. With experience comes mental age, and the memories are part of those experiences.” Her smile then fell as she said, “Suffice to say that not all of our time on this world has been as pleasing as the bit you experienced.” She turned back to the bookcase and ran a hoof over a book that was marked, and sighed sadly. “We record all of our important memories at certain intervals, and those that we find too painful or damaging to bear, we mark, and cast a spell to forget it.” The princess turned back to me and nodded. “A few harsh memories serve as lessons to us, and we keep those in our hearts and minds forevermore to be sure we hold the proper values and morals. The rest…” she motioned to the bookcases, “we forget. It is how one keeps their sanity when you live as long as we do. Should we ever need to relearn a lesson we have forgotten, we come here to do so. It is true though...some memories are better left forgotten.”

I was frozen for a moment while I processed what I was told. To know that the princesses were as stable as they were because they literally forgot about things in their pasts...it was eye-opening. Their personalities made sense now, and I understood why they seemed so young to me, though they were thousands of years old. It was because mentally and emotionally, they were young.

“Why did you show me this?” I asked in confusion. “I mean, would it really be so bad to tell ponies about this? They’re smart, they can handle it.”

“A single pony may be smart,” she countered, “but the masses panic far too easily for such a large thing to be revealed to them. As I said, the peace they experience is in no small part because of their ignorance. There are simply some things they do not need to know, and while it pains us to keep such secrets, we would not burden our subjects with such things during their short lives.”

I raised my eyebrow in skepticism. “What about my short life?”

Princess Luna raised her own eyebrow as she planted her rump on the floor in front of me. “Do you feel panicked or upset beyond reasoning?”

I thought about her question for a moment before shaking my head. “Not really. In fact, I’m actually relieved. Everything makes so much more sense now.”

“Exactly.” she answered. “It is because of your ability to take such an important piece of information like this so well that draws my sister and I to you. You have cited many times to Twilight and the others how different you are, but I believe those differences offer you strengths and insight that no pony could ever have.” It was at that time that I felt a wave of magic pressure wash over me. Princess Luna apparently felt the same, because she smiled and motioned to the door. “Come, we must depart.”

Once again, I followed the princess of the night as we left the room and began to wind our ways through the palace.

When we reached the open area of the landing platform for chariots, I was awestruck by what I saw in the sky.

It was Twilight’s cutie mark, glowing and pulsing in the sky with power the likes of which I’d never felt before, even from Princess Celestia.

Before I could ask any questions, Princess Luna spoke. “Twilight has become whole once more it seems.” I met her eyes as I turned my head, and she jerked her head towards one of the corridors of the palace. “Now, we must prepare you a suit for the ceremony. We cannot tarry longer, I fear.”

With enough of my questions answered for one day, I figured I could follow the princess without talking her ear off with inquiries, so I walked behind her as she made her way to wherever we were headed. I had a newfound understanding for her and her sister, and because of that I felt I could trust them a bit more implicitly. So, without another word, I swore to myself that I would advise and help these two princesses as I could. They understood things like I did, and merely that fact alone was enough for me to feel a sort of kinship with them...more so than I did with my friends in Ponyville. Not to say I didn’t care for them, but there were simply some things about me that Rainbow Dash or the others couldn’t understand.

It seemed I had finally found a place for me in this alien world.

Chapter 8: Preparing for a New Dawn

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Chapter 8: Preparing for a New Dawn

“Um princess,” I said, trying to keep a blush from rushing to my cheeks, “not that I’m not thankful for your help, but shouldn’t a seamstress or something be- *GASP* that’s cold! Watch those hooves, sister!”

When Princess Luna had said I was going to get fitted for a suit of some sort, I had expected to be tended to by a professional seamstress who would custom-make a suit for me. It would make sense of course, seeing as how I am the only one of my kind in this world of ponies. What I actually got was Princess Luna herself measuring, posing, and embarrassing me.

Pretty though those crystalline horseshoes were, they were cold.

That was besides the fact that one of the princesses of Equestria was running all manner of measuring tapes along my body, and being extremely thorough about it. After the first few minutes of it, she had foregone asking me to pose certain ways, instead simply using her hooves to do as she needed. Luckily for me, when she measured my inseam, she used her magic to move the tape. This, of course, didn’t change the fact that the measuring tape itself felt like a cold nylon snake slithering around my thigh.

“Princess Luna!” I shouted, finally causing her to snap her head up in surprise as she looked at me. I was wrapped up in three measuring tapes and an array of different fabrics as I said, “Look, I appreciate this, but wouldn’t it be seen as indecent for someone like me to be dressed by a princess? Let’s not forget the fact that I’m practically naked, here.” It was true. Save for a pair of boxer-briefs, I was nude. While I could understand ponies didn’t hold the same nudity taboo that humans did, my understanding could only go so far.

The princess, by her token, actually looked a little put-off by my words. “Jamison Smith-”

I shook my head and raised a hand in the air. “For fuck’s sake Luna, I’m in my skivvies here. Just call me Jamie and leave it at that.”

She nodded. “Very well. Jamie, I do not mean to offend or embarrass, but I have become quite an accomplished clothier since my return. Tia recommended I pick up some sort of hobby, and I found making clothing for some of the more rare breeds out there in the world is quite enjoyable. Namely the bipeds, such as you.”

I raised my eyebrow as she continued her work, albeit at a much gentler pace. “I’m not the only bipedal thing around here?”

Princess Luna laughed lightly. “Heavens no. There are minotaurs, some species of dragons, dryads, and most elementals, to name a few.”

I nodded with a click of my tongue. “Aha. You see, all of what you’ve just named lives in only myth and legend on Earth. And what are elementals?”

“Stay still a moment, please.” she ordered as she began pinning up a few fabrics around me. After doing so, she sat back with a small smile at her work and nodded as she lifted the pseudo-clothing off of me. “Elementals are beings that take after one of the elements of the world, given life by magic. More often than not they live in peace, but some ambitious magicians or unicorns have sometimes summoned and enslaved them to do their bidding.”

“How many are there?” I asked without thinking.

She rolled her eyes to the vaulted ceiling as she set the clothing and designs beside her. “Oh my, more than I can imagine, I suspect. There are four different forms for each ‘breed’ of elemental, and these breeds coincide with a certain element. This element can be anything from water, to fire, to dreams, to even magic itself. The first ‒ and most common ‒ elemental form is that of a wisp. More often than not you could walk right by one and not even know it, as they so often look exactly like particles of their element. The second form is reserved for those who have gained strength through absorbing more ambient magic as their ‘lives’ go on, and they are known as warders. The warders are capable of basic thought, and while they cannot speak or think as we do, they have their own memories and can learn. The third type of elemental is what’s known as a greater warden, and they live only to protect their inborn element from all who would defile it. They are extremely aggressive, and have been known to attack with little or no provocation to any who wander too near to their homes.” The princess then went silent for a moment before saying, “The fourth, and rarest form of elemental, is that of the colossus. They are the only elementals truly capable of rational thought, speech, and emotions. I…” she swallowed hard as she seemed to remember something painful, “I do not know if any of them exist any longer.”

It took me all of a few seconds to understand what she was thinking of. “You knew them...didn’t you?”

Princess Luna continued with organizing everything in the room as she nodded slightly. “I did. Before my banishment, I knew of only one remaining. She was quite possibly as old as Equis herself, and she was one of my closest friends.”

“Do you think she might still be around?” I asked as I set about picking up my clothes and putting them on.

She sighed and stopped what she was doing to look out a window that overlooked the entire city. “If she is, she would be far away from civilization. She never liked the noise of the cities. I fear, however, that her time passed when I was exiled.”

I finished putting my shorts on before walking over to stand next to the princess, not bothering with a shirt at the moment. I enjoyed the fact that when standing, she actually had to look up at me a bit. Perhaps it was just the fact that Princess Celestia was a giant compared to me, but Princess Luna’s six-foot height allowed me to actually not feel weak and helpless for once in the presence of an alicorn. Besides, when she was being thoughtful, she actually was kind of cute. I kinda wanted to just sit and pet her. Yep, I’m officially having cravings for petting ponies. It’s all downhill now…

I raised my hand above the princess’ withers and hovered it there for a moment as I contemplated what I was about to do. Finally, after nearly a minute, I rested my palm at the base of her neck and kneaded the muscles there lightly as I stood next to her, looking out the window.

“I can’t pretend to know what it’s like for you to lose friends you’ve known for many times my own lifetime.” I said, making a feeble attempt at a pep talk. It was then that I decided to make an honest connection with her, so I added, “But I know what it’s like to feel isolated, and I know what it feels like to be lonely. I…” I gulped as I prepared to talk about the past again, “on Earth, I was never what you’d call a ‘social butterfly’. I pretty much kept to myself because it was easier and less stressful to just deal with myself. The loneliness was the only downside, but I was unwilling to trade that isolation for having to deal with another person’s life. The most I ever spoke to someone was when I would go to the store and buy food.”

The princess leaned a little closer to me, but didn’t make eye contact as she asked, “What changed?”

I chuckled and gestured with my free hand to the air. “This place. My trip here started out as a way to make a quick paycheck, and well...here I am. Truth be told, I probably would have lived another few years by myself before I finally got lonely enough to reach out to someone.”

She was silent for a long few moments before speaking again in a solemn tone. “Jamie, I’m sorry for what has happened to you. You were stolen from your home and family, and have been forced to live in a world you do not understand for quite possibly the rest of your days.”

I sighed and shook my head as I rubbed my hand up through the translucent mane of the night princess. “It’s not your fault, Princess Luna. Equis chose to keep me here for a reason, and if I’m going to be stuck here, I’m going to make it a point to make this life worth living.” I then caught her eye and smirked. “Even if I’m good for little more than being the friend of two princesses of Equestria”

I felt as one of Princess Luna’s large blue wings unfolded and draped across my shoulders, and she offered me a gentle smile. “You act as if this the end of your life. Dear Jamie, this is only the beginning. You began as a mere human, only to became something else, and are now seeing a world that most of your kind could only dream of. Where you might begin as a confidant to the princesses of Equestria, you may end up the general of an army, or a politician that will rewrite laws to benefit everypony.” She then went silent for a moment and added, “Or perhaps a quiet life with a wife and foal would be more your choice.”

I sighed and shook my head. “No wife and no children, princess. I’m the only human here, remember?”

“And why should that keep you from having a family?” she asked in confusion, clearly not understanding how I felt on the matter.

I turned my eyes back to the city spread around the palace. “It’s nothing against ponies, highness. I’m just not attracted to your kind is all. Twilight told me that Equestria’s pretty open when it comes to interspecies dating and marriages, but for humans it’s very strict. It’s so ingrained in my mind from a lifetime on Earth that it might as well be a behavioral gene. So the fact stands that if by some crazy chance I would one day want to settle down with somebody here, I just can’t. No matter how I would try to see things, the fact remains that in my eyes, we’ll always just be too different.”

She nodded a few times before planting her rump on the floor and turning to face me. “What I am about to say will be one of those things you may not wish to hear, but I pray that you will listen anyway, for it is important.” I felt a little nervous about how she introduced what was to come, but nodded anyway, so she continued. “Jamie, I have lived already many times longer than your kind lives in one life. I have seen things that most ponies would think are mere imagination or legend, and I have done things that most ponies would never believe.” She tightened her wing around me slightly as she said, “If that time has taught me anything, it is that all things change with time. Who you are now is not who you will be a week from now. Small things about us change every day as we grow, learn, and adapt to life. You may find that when you look back on this moment, you will laugh at this memory, as well as how hopeless you seemed.” Princess Luna brought a hoof up and pressed it against my bare chest. “At the current time, you see the lack of humans as the reason for why you cannot find a love in your life, whether now or in the future. I however think that the problem is not the lack of humans here, but the inflexibility of your own mind, and I agree with you that it is not something you can control.” She then smiled gently and nuzzled my face fleetingly. “But, I also believe that if you wish to change that at some point, it will change. Be not a prisoner of your own mind, Jamie. It is both your greatest weapon and greatest downfall.”

I snorted in annoyance and rolled my eyes. “A person can’t just change their mind about something that’s been subconsciously ingrained into their mind their entire life.”

She pursed her lips before nodding. “Perhaps you’re right...unless he or she wishes to think differently. I believe you vastly underestimate the power of one’s own willpower. Perhaps when you have found a reason to see a pony as something besides just that, you will have found your mental salvation.”

I rolled my eyes again, but was unwilling to pull away from her warm, feathered embrace. “You make it sound like I’m crazy or something.”

She shrugged before finally removing her wing and pulling away slightly. “None can considered completely sane, having gone through what you have and surviving.” Her expression then turned pensive as she mused, “Although, I’ve always found the term ‘insane’ rather provocative. Many of those deemed insane simply see the world differently than the majority. Is that such a horrible thing?” She then looked to me again with a smile. “I think not. The word ‘normal’ is overrated, as is the state of being it describes. I have always tended to gravitate towards the more eccentric, myself.” Princess Luna then nudged me away gently. “Now, you must groom yourself while I put together your new suit. I expect you back here promptly when you are finished. Shudder will lead you to the guest quarters, where you can take care of your needs.”

Before I could speak, one of the night guards stepped forward and nodded to me, her bat-like wings quivering slightly. “I am First Lieutenant Shudder. You will follow me.”

Her statement was a command instead of a request, and with how intimidating her and the other guards could be, I thought it better to keep my mouth shut and do as I was told. So, not really knowing where I was going just yet, I opted to follow the guard silently as she led me through the winding halls of the palace.

When the two of us arrived at a different part of the palace ‒ which was much less “royal”-looking ‒ Shudder opened a rather unremarkable wooden door to reveal a room that was larger than any bedroom I’d ever stayed in. I bet the princess’ was larger, but it was still a sight to see.

“I assume you can handle everything yourself, yes?” the guard asked as we walked in the room.

I turned to her and nodded. “Yeah. I don’t need help bathing, if that’s what you’re asking.”

She nodded. “Good. I’ll wait here while you groom yourself. When you’re finished, we’ll make our way to Princess Luna’s study again, where I predict she will have finished by then.”

I nodded and retreated to the bathroom, which again was larger than any I had used before. I decided that ogling the sheer size of the palace and its rooms could wait. Princess Luna had asked me to return as soon as I was done, and I wasn’t one to refuse a request from a princess.

As I looked over the different soaps and shampoos scattered about, I sighed ruefully. “Looks like you’re gonna smell like a girl again, Jamie.”

As a guy secure in his own masculinity, I could admit a few things to myself. Glitter and rainbows were pretty. Flowers were nice, and the smell of feminine-scented care products were awesome. But, be it an innate instinct or a cultural thing, I loved the smell of the cucumber, melon, and lavender soap. I didn’t, however, want to make a habit of smelling like that. I suppose I couldn't complain though. The soaps and towels were provided to me and Princess Luna herself was working to make me a suit of some sort for some big thing that was going to happen.

Beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

When I emerged clean, dry, and dressed from the bathroom, it was to come upon Shudder, the night guard, in the same spot she had been in when I had left. These guards were likely to stay still as statues for their entire shifts, unless ordered to do otherwise. It amazed me just how diligent they were, as well as how they could stand stock-still for hours on end, rarely even blinking.

Shudder’s catlike golden eyes landed on me as I approached, and she jerked her head towards the door. “If there’s nothing else, we must meet Princess Luna in her study. She will be expecting you.”

I nodded and followed the pony as she trotted out the door and again through the winding halls of the palace.

This time, I paid attention to where we were going. By the positive reaction I’d gotten from the princesses, I had a feeling that knowing my way around the palace would work to my advantage. So I attempted to memorize the route we took to get to our destination...and failed miserably.

“How do you find your way around here?” I muttered under my breath.

Shudder heard me, and snorted a short laugh. “A lot of practice, that’s how. By air, it’s easy to get anywhere you might need. By hoof, it’s a maze in here. I’m still not sure what the original architects were thinking, but then it isn't my place to question the layout of the royal palace.”

“Maybe it should be,” I grumbled loudly, “this place is a nightmare to navigate.”

She hummed another soft laugh through her nose as we continued our journey, and I couldn’t help but notice just how different this part of the palace was from the area where the guest quarters were. It was almost as if…

“This is new, isn’t it?” I asked. When Shudder looked back at me, I gestured to the walls and ceiling. “All of this. It’s newer than the rest of the place.”

Shudder turned her eyes skyward as she looked over the white marble arches that made up the ceiling. “It was rebuilt after the changeling invasion. I was still in training when it happened, but I heard all about it. It was for that reason that all unicorns guarding the palace were taught spells to detect changeling magic, so that we could never be infiltrated by changelings again.”

The mention of changelings sparked a bit of history Twilight had introduced me to. “Changelings are shape-shifters, right?”

Shudder nodded, but kept her eyes facing forward. “They are. They can mimic the form of any creature of similar size to themselves, which mostly counts as ponies. They use this ability to hide among the common populace, replacing unsuspecting ponies in their everyday lives and soaking up the positive emotions ‒ mostly love ‒ that would be directed towards the target pony. In that capacity, they are parasites, and they need us to survive.” She then sighed as her ears flopped down and her head lowered a bit. “A part of me understands why they do what they do, but another part of me can’t help but think that there must be another way to do it ‒ a way that would work for them without being detrimental to the host.”

I nodded as I rolled the thought around. “Sounds like something you should think on and maybe bring it before the princess when you have something more concrete.”

She nodded curtly. “My life is for Equestria and its princesses. Anything I can do to assist them in making sure our home is kept safe and strong is a welcome task.” Without my knowledge, we had already arrived at the large oaken doors that led to Princess Luna’s study, and Shudder motioned me inside. “Here we are. Best not to keep the princess waiting.”

I nodded and pushed the doors open, stepping inside the room to see the night princess levitating a few dozen different pieces of cloth, needles, thread, yarn, and the notes she had taken earlier as she squinted through the black glasses that sat on her muzzle. She looked up at me and nodded, using her wing to wave me over, and I stepped gingerly around the different objects floating about, taking particular care around the needles.

I took a look around, still somewhat awed at the sheer power of magic itself, and smiled. “You’ve been pretty busy.”

Princess Luna nodded with a smile as she looked back to her work. “If I know my sister, the ceremony will not be for a few days at least, but ‘tis better to be prepared ahead of time, so as to account for any unknown variables. Hence, I wish to finish this as soon as possible, for both our sakes.”

I nodded and sat down on one of the sitting cushions around, and thought for a moment before asking, “So what’s going to happen with Twilight? I assume that she’s going to become an alicorn again now. So what, is she going to be a princess too?”

Princess Luna nodded with a smile. “Yes. My sister has been grooming her to be a princess since the day she was born, and the time has come for her to take up her responsibilities. We need her assistance, and we feel she is finally ready to be what she was meant to be.”

I nodded once before asking, “And do you think your sister will tell her everything?”

She shrugged as she continued stitching the clothing up, which was slowly taking shape into something a little more recognizable to me. “I am unsure. While I believe it would be best for her to be completely honest with Twilight, it is also not my place to reveal that information. It is personal to both of them, so I will wait until Tia decides it is time...whenever that may be.”

I smirked a bit. “So you’re going to be ‘Auntie Luna’ then.”

The princess giggled lightly as she replied, “Yes. I will admit, that title will take some getting used to. It has been far too long since I have been given such an informal title, but I admit that it is quite an attractive idea.”

I stared at the princess for a moment before grumbling and shaking my head. “See, this is what’s bothering me. My brain is telling me that you and your sister are thousands of years old, but when I talk to either of you, it’s like you’re younger than me sometimes. Not that it’s a problem of course, it’s just an odd feeling for me. I have to remind myself that the both of you are older than I’ll ever be.”

She smiled as she continued working. “I shall take that as a compliment then.” After a moment, she pulled the pins and needles away from the suit that was taking shape, and held it up in front of me. “Now, let us see how this is coming together.”

I spread out my arms as she draped the jacket over me, and snaked my arms through the sleeves. Princess Luna used her magic and wingtips to adjust the jacket on my frame as I stood still, and watched as she squinted her eyes and looked over how it fit me. After a moment she levitated a quill to jot something down on a scroll before gently pulling the jacket off of me and setting it aside.

By now I wasn’t all that nervous about being in my underwear in front of the princess, as it was clear there were no innuendos I was missing out on, and neither did feel I had to worry about embarrassing myself or her as I kicked off my shoes and shorts before stepping into and pulling up the silver dress slacks. I took note of just how smooth the fabric was as it caressed my skin, and smiled as Princess Luna looked me over.

“I must say, it has turned out quite well for an evening project.” she commented with a wide grin. The princess took a short walk around me with an appraising eye before smiling and nodding to herself. “I may be only a novice when making clothing for ponies, but I must say that I am quite adept at creating clothing for non-ponies.”

“Careful princess, a fat head wouldn’t look too good with your body style.” I commented with a smirk.

She snorted and held her head high in a haughty manner. “I am allowed to be proud of something other than the night, thank you very much. Even a princess must have her vices, after all.” She then grinned mischievously at me and added, “But if you are so keen to continue your verbal assault, I must warn you that I have my own ammunition.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “Like what? Are you going to make fun of the fact I wear clothes or that I snore or something?”

Princess Luna’s smile remained, which worried me.

“Oh not that,” she began ominously, “but there is the fact that a certain mutual friend of ours has told me that you enjoy singing in the shower. Loudly, I might add...in falsetto.”

My mouth snapped shut at that new piece of information, and I eyed her nervously for a few moments. “Okay, truce. I promise to stop ragging on you if you promise to never tell another soul about my shower activities.”

She extended her hoof, which I took and shook firmly before releasing. The princess then waited until I slipped the slacks off before levitating them away and folding them, quickly jotting down a few more notes before placing the quill in the inkwell and rolling up the scroll. I quickly dressed myself in my normal clothes before noticing she was looking out the window with a smile.

“My sister has returned, it seems.” she stated with a tinge of excitement.

I turned my eyes toward the window to see that indeed, a large white figure was flying towards us from the sky over Ponyville, her form easily distinguishable from the darkness of evening. As I watched, she flared her wings just outside the window before folding them and shooting inside, causing me to have to dive out of the way to avoid her.

“She is herself again, Luna! She’s back!” the solar princess exclaimed giddily. As I rolled over to stand up, I saw her prancing in place with a wide smile on her face like a filly who just found out she was going out for ice cream. It was oddly entertaining to say the least, and I had to fight to keep from laughing aloud. Princess Celestia then looked over at me and her eyes widened as she nearly tripped over herself trying to scurry over to me. “Oh, I am so sorry Jamie! Are you injured?”

I chuckled and waved her away as I stood. “My arm’s a little sore from landing on it, but a bruise isn’t going to kill me. I’m fine, princess. Besides, it’s not everyday I get to see royalty act like a little kid.”

She blushed slightly as she attempted to regain her regal demeanor. “Apologies. This is simply one of the most important things that has happened in my life since Luna’s return.”

I shrugged. “You’re allowed to be excited. And I’m not hurt, so it’s all good.”

Princess Celestia smiled before looking to her sister. “So, how was your day?”

Princess Luna motioned to me with her head. “I fitted him for the ceremony, which I assume is in a few days time.”

The elder sister nodded with a smile. “On Sunday, actually. Twilight has a few things to take care of beforehand, and I wish to give us all time to truly come to terms with such a large change.”

I nodded with a smile before a thought came to mind that made me frown. “Wait, if she’s going to be royalty now, does that mean she’s moving away?”

Princess Celestia looked over at me curiously. “That’s up to her, actually. Are you worried you won’t have a place to stay anymore?”

I shook my head. “No. If I need to, I can figure something out. It’s just...she and I have become pretty close since I’ve been living with her. She’s quirky, but she’s a friend. I don’t want to have to travel all the way to Canterlot just to see her is all, and I’m sure the rest of her friends would agree.”

The elder princess smiled and nodded. “I understand that, and as I said, it’s up to her. The duties I have in mind for Twilight can be done from wherever she wishes. There is no law or rule stating she must move to Canterlot simply because she is royalty. In fact, I think it would be better for everypony ‒ herself included ‒ if she stayed in Ponyville. Since making friends, she has become a pony for the people. She thinks of others before herself, and has never used her standing as my protege for personal gain. I believe it would work to her benefit to stay around the ponies she has come to care for, and the town she now calls home. She needs them as much as they need her, and so taking her away from her friends and home would be a mistake.”

I raised my eyebrow at the very thought. “But won’t your ponies think it’s weird that a princess is living in Ponyville instead of Canterlot?”

Princess Celestia smiled and just barely stifled a giggle behind her hoof. “You let me worry about them. You just worry about making sure Twilight is well taken care of. Brilliant though she may be, I am sure you can agree that she can be rather naive at times.”

I barked a laugh and nodded. “Yeah. It’s that innocence that I kinda like about her though. She hasn’t seen a lot of the things I’ve seen, and so her view of the world as a whole is largely uncorrupted. Being as cynical as I am, it’s nice to be able to be around someone who isn’t so jaded that nothing surprises them anymore.”

“And just what have you seen, Jamie?” Princess Luna asked as she stood beside her sister. “We know so little of your past...it is as if you are a ghost. All we know it that you come from a land known as the United States, you are known as a human, and you were born with a condition that caused fragile bones. We know much about your world, but so little about you personally.”

The mention of my personal past made me a little nervous, and in an attempt to shield myself from the anxiety, I grabbed my shirt off the floor and quickly put it on. “Um...w-what do you want to know?”

“Let us start with something simple.” Princess Celestia stated gently, slowly plodding over before seating herself beside me. “Tell us why you are so reticent towards us concerning your personal life. While it is true that everypony deserves privacy, you seem so walled-off from anypony who tries to get close to you. Why is that?”

This was definitely not what I wanted to be talking about...ever...with anyone.

“Ask about something else.” I muttered coldly, unwilling to speak anything on the matter. Had I not been distracted by my own inner turmoil, I would have been shocked at the fact I had blatantly ‒ and rudely ‒ refused the princesses without explanation.

“Very well.” Princess Luna replied as her smile fell away. “Tell us of the one thing you wish to have of this life of yours.”

I grit my teeth at the answer that was to come. “To go home to my family and friends...who no longer exist anyway.”

Princess Luna walked to stand beside me, and both her and her sister’s wings draped over my back as she said, “You must find a way to move past this, Jamie. Unfair though your fate may have been, this unhealthy longing for that which has passed will eventually destroy you.”

I closed my eyes and shook my head with a frown. “Neither of you have been stolen from your home, so you wouldn’t understand. It’s something you can’t just get over. It’ll always hurt, and I’ll always miss it.”

“I was banished for a thousand years,” Princess Luna retorted, “and returned to a world changed, and all of my friends passed away.”

Without opening my eyes, I pointed a finger to Princess Celestia. “Yes, but you still had her when you returned. No matter what happens from here on out, I’ll never be able to reach out to a family member again, or know that somewhere in the world, my family line lives strong. It’s just me here.” I opened my eyes and felt them stinging with building tears. “I’ve never thought it was all that important to prove my existence by way of some great act or something, but I still want to be remembered when I’m gone. I don’t want to just be forgotten, but that’s exactly what’s going to happen, isn’t it? There’s no other humans here, and no family to carry on my name. It’s just me...and when I’m gone, that’ll be all she wrote. It’ll be like I never existed.” The mere thought of ceasing to exist in every form caused a little part of my heart to break, and the tears began to fall as I mourned the future loss of my very existence. True that when the time came, I wouldn’t know it was happening, but the thought of such a future alone was enough to cause me pain. So many ponies would remember the weird human thing that knew the fabled Elements of Harmony, but no one would remember Jamie…

“We will keep the memory of you alive, Jamie.” Princess Celestia’s voice spoke in an oddly reverent tone. “And through your memory, you will never die.”

The younger princess nudged me gently and added, “I am sure that Twilight too will never forget you. Regardless of what you believe, you have made quite a large impact on the ponies that have come to know you. Stories of you will be passed down through the ages.” She went silent for a moment before placing her hoof on my cheek and turning me to look at her, and her turquoise eyes were shining brightly in the moonlight. “But if you truly wish to make your stamp on history, make it happen. Make it so that you are such a part of Equestria’s history that history itself cannot be taught without mentioning you.”

I rolled my eyes, albeit it probably looked pretty foolish with tears in them. “I don’t want to be some great hero, princess. I just want ponies to remember that one time, there was a guy named Jamie that meant something to someone somewhere. That’s it...nothing more, nothing less.”

“And instead of one someone, you have eight.” Princess Celestia commented gently.

I wiped the tears away and sniffled to keep from dripping any snot, and turned my eyes to the white alicorn to my right. “Say what now?”

Princess Celestia simply smiled and stepped away from me, looking to her sister. “May I show him, Luna?”

The night princess seemed to consider something for a moment before nodding. “You may.”

Princess Celestia’s horn lit up with a golden glow as she levitated a small, unassuming wooden chest from the corner of the room. The chest was so unassuming in fact, that I had figured it to simply be part of the bookcase next to it. When it clicked open though, I found it to be quite different than the rest of the bookcase.

“Wow,” I breathed in surprise, “that’s a lot of scrolls.”

“It is…and they’re all about you.” the tall white alicorn answered.

I looked at her in confusion and my mouth dropped open a bit. “I beg your pardon, but it sounded like you said there’s a chest full of scrolls written about me.”

One by one the scrolls began to float out. “I did, and there are.” She looked over the scrolls as they levitated out and said, “They are written by the Elements ‒ some more than others.” A scroll wrapped in a light blue ribbon floated in front of her face, and she unwrapped it with a smile. “Ah, this is one of my favorites:

Dear Princess Celestia,

I’ve been hanging around Jamie a lot lately, and he seems really down about something. He won’t tell any of us though, and I thought maybe you might be able to help. Problems with a friend isn’t normally something I’d write to you about, but the rest of the girls are stumped too, and...well, he’s pretty important to all of us, isn’t he? I think that maybe you might be able to send me some advice about what to do or what to say, ‘cause I’m not sure what to do about it, but I want to help him.

Rainbow Dash”

She rolled the scroll back up and wrapped it in the ribbon again before placing it on the floor along with all the others. “There is at least one scroll from every one of the Elements-bearers, with some writing more than others.” She looked at some writing on the outside of the scroll and asked, “This one is dated for the fifth of last month. What had you so troubled during that time?”

I swallowed hard and muttered, “It was my birthday.”

Princess Celestia frowned. “I did not know about this.”

“Because I never told anyone.” I answered softly.

Princess Luna pulled away from me next, and stood beside her sister, also frowning. “And why not? Did you not wish to celebrate your day of birth?”

I shrugged as I sniffled again and wiped the last of the tears away. “I didn’t see the point, really. Without my family there, it would seem hollow. I probably would have just ended up miserable.”

The sun princess’ frown deepened as she motioned to the scrolls. “Out of all these, many of them belong to Rainbow Dash ‒ even more than Twilight. She was quite worried about you. So forgive me for saying so, but it seems that your decision to attempt to avoid a distressing situation did not work as well as you might have hoped. Rainbow Dash seems closer to you than the others, and I cannot in good conscience tell you some of the things she confided to us in regards to you. Suffice to say she was very worried, and felt helpless that she could do nothing to aid you.”

Though I couldn’t read the language, I looked down at the rolled-up scrolls anyway, as if doing so would reveal their contents to me. “Why is she so worried about me?”

“Loyalty.” answered Princess Luna’s voice. “Her drive to be loyal to those she holds dear to her heart moves her to tend to their wounds, both physical and otherwise. She cares for you more than you might think, Jamie. She has said she sees so much in you that she sees in herself.”

I raised my eyebrow in interest. “Like what?”

Princess Luna shook her head. “That is for her to tell, not us. Perhaps you should ask her, when the coronation of Princess Twilight Sparkle is concluded.”

I chuckled and shook my head. “Princess Twilight. That’s going to take some getting used to. To me she’ll still just be a nerdy librarian who has a weakness for red velvet cake.”

Both princesses giggled behind their respective hooves before Princess Celestia said, “And I suspect that is exactly how she would wish to be seen. It is one of the things that will make her a wonderful princess.”

I smiled and nodded gently. “Yeah. How is she taking all this, by the way?”

“As you would expect.” Princess Celestia remarked with a smirk.

I snorted a laugh. “So she’s freaking out?”

“Oh yes, very much so.” she said before giggling madly. “I fear a bit for Spike’s safety, to be honest.”

I shrugged. “Ah, he’ll be fine. You know kids, they’re made of rubber. And he’s a dragon, so he’ll bounce right back...out of fire.” Again both princesses giggled, but were interrupted as I yawned loudly. I looked out the window to see the moon about to set, and I gasped. “Damn, it’s almost morning. I haven’t been up this long since I was in college.”

Princess Luna trotted over to me and nudged my shoulder gently with her nose. “Well then, I will show you to your quarters for the day.”

I offered no resistance as I was ushered out of Princess Luna’s study, and again through the maze of corridors that made up the palace.

Unfortunately, the night had decided to catch up with me, and exhaustion made me a little belligerent...and weird.

“But mooooom, I’m not even tired!” I whined pitifully as I nearly crawled into the room, which was oddly the same one I had showered in earlier.

I couldn’t tell whether the night princess was playing along or being serious when she ordered, “Into bed with you Jamie, or no ice cream tomorrow.”

I pouted and relented, unzipping and kicking off my shorts before removing my shoes, socks, and shirt...in that order. I was too tired to care that I nearly busted my ass trying to hop over to the bed with my shorts around my ankles and my shoes still on, but in the back of my mind I knew that I was going to get hazing from one or both of the princesses because of it.

Too tired...worry about it later.

As I laid into the large circular bed, I couldn’t help but muse over how abnormally large it was...only to remember that it was designed with ponies in mind, not humans. Before I could cover up though, I found myself being gently tucked in by Princess Luna herself. Though in honesty I couldn’t really think of her like a mother or even an aunt or something, the gesture was oddly soothing, and served well to pacify me.

The princess’ face then filled my dimming vision, and she smiled gently. “Sleep now, Jamie. When you wake, we will speak of what is to come, and your place in all of it. I will watch your dreams to be sure they are pleasant.”

Before she could walk away, I stopped her with a simple, “Wait.” Again her face filled my vision, and I asked, “When you said that I meant something to eight ponies around here, who are the other two?”

She smiled gently before nuzzling my face. “A confidant is someone Tia and I can speak to who we trust, and care for.” The princess leaned in close, and I felt a soft, moist warmth on my cheek. The princess then pulled away and softly trotted away, closing the door behind her as she left the room.

Wait a minute...did she just kiss me?

‘Sleep now, think later.’

Right...sleepy time...

Chapter 9: The Shadows Gather

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Chapter 9: The Shadows Gather

I woke early in the morning, in time to see the sun rise up over the eastern mountains from the bedroom window. It was the first time in longer than I could clearly remember that I had seen the sunrise in person. Sure, there had always been the internet and television documentaries that could show me what I wanted, but it was an entirely different experience to see it in real life, raw and unobstructed.

“Good morning.” greeted a voice from the far corner of the room.

A few months ago, waking up to someone I didn’t know in my bedroom would have freaked me out. After becoming accustomed to the fact that ponies were very open with themselves, however, I quickly found it within myself to accommodate such an act. Save for the princesses, it was commonplace for a friend or acquaintance to disregard privacy, as for most ponies, they didn’t see the need to have any. It was an odd concept, but one I was thankfully adapting to.

It still weirded me out a bit that there was clearly someone in the bedroom with me, and I wouldn’t have known they were there had they not spoken up.

I cleared my throat and wiped the sleep from my eyes as I replied, “Good morning.”

Stepping away from the glare of the open window, a golden-armored pegasus with white fur stepped forward, her piercing blue eyes seeming to stare into my very soul. As she removed the crested gold helmet, all of her fur changed to a dark gray, and her wings changed from feathered to bat-like. Along with this change, her eyes morphed to gold and slitted.

I raised my eyebrow. “First Lieutenant Shudder?”

Her eyes widened a bit as she asked, “You knew it was me?”

I shrugged. “I do now. The voice was familiar, but I couldn’t place it until you...well, looked like you again.” I pointed to the helmet and asked, “So does that thing have magic in it or something?”

The guard nodded. “It does. The solar guard helmets are enchanted so that all guards look alike, so as to give them anonymity.”

I nodded slowly as I worked my jaw around. I then became confused again. “Wait, I thought you were a night guard.”

She sighed and shook her head. “I am Princess Luna’s personal guard. Technically, that makes me both. I take whatever mantle I must in order to protect her in the way I need to. The exterior doesn’t make the pony.”

I was about to nod in agreement when I noticed the many bandages and bald patches of fur. I stood and quickly made my way over to her. “Jesus...what happened to you?”

The guardspony narrowed her eyes and replied, “Assassins. They weren’t prepared for me, but I still took a few licks anyway.”

I tilted my head as I looked at her, concern likely clear on my face. “I’m glad you’re okay. It would’ve sucked if one of the few speaking guards were killed. How about the princesses? Are they alright?”

Shudder’s posture tensed just a bit, and she blew a soft breath out her nose. “The assassins weren’t after the princesses, Jamsion. They were after you.”

All comfort was lost when she said this. “What?”

She nodded as she looked up at me. “Yes. It’s why I’m here, actually. The princesses asked me to continue watching over you, and to train you in self-defense.”

I took a deep breath and settled myself into the situation as well as I could. “Fuck me. Wait, if you’re going to be around, why do I need training?”

“What happens if I’m not around for some reason?” she asked rhetorically.

I chuckled nervously and nodded. “Right, I didn’t think about that.”

She pointed to the restroom and ordered, “So get cleaned up and dressed quickly. We’ve got a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. If I had my guess, another assassination attempt will happen during the coronation, as the chaos of the event would be the perfect cover. We need you to be able to defend yourself somewhat when the time comes.”

I moved as if I were in a dream. It all seemed so surreal all of the sudden, and I became acutely aware of the fact that this world was not as peaceful as I thought.

As I stepped out of the washroom with a towel wrapped around my waist, I found Shudder pointing to the bed, which had a belt and four other bands upon it. “Put those on and meet me in the hallway when you’re ready. And hurry up, we need to fit in as much training time as possible.”

I waited for the guard to leave before putting my clothes back on and fitting the gear on my body. The belt was pretty self-explanatory, as I knew where the belt went, and the four other bands could only be for my wrists and ankles. The fabric itself was very light and reminded me of silk, but with a subtle tingly sensation seemingly added to them.

After dressing, I stepped out into the hallway to see Shudder waiting for me, and she tossed her head towards the end of the corridor. “Come, we need to get going.”

I followed her as she trotted away, asking, “What exactly are these things? And why didn’t I hear anything about the assassins until this morning? And most of all, why does anyone want to kill me?”

She chuckled darkly as she replied, “A few loaded questions there, eh? Well to answer your first question, you’ll find out later. Second, my job is to operate unseen from the shadows, so if you had known about them, then I wasn’t doing my job right. Lastly, you’re an unknown and have caught the favor of the princesses of Equestria, the Elements of Harmony, and many others. Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long for a group to attempt an assassination.”

The fact that someone wanted to kill me simply because of who I was unnerved me.

“Alright,” Shudder announced as we rounded a bend and came upon an open door with guards posted in front of it, “here we are. Follow me inside and close the door behind you.”

I did as she asked and followed her through the open doors, grabbing and closing them behind us. Once I did so, I turned to look at the room itself. It reminded me of an old-style observatory, being completely circular in construction. The ceiling was decorated with strange glowing crystals of red, yellow, and blue, and strange symbols were drawn along the floors and walls. In the center of the room, where Shudder stood staring at me, was a slightly raised platform with what looked like a base of pure emerald.

She beckoned me with a hoof and said, “Well come on, don’t be shy. I’m not gonna bite you or anything.”

I did as she asked and walked over until I was standing right next to her on the platform.

“Close your eyes and take a deep breath.” she warned before the world seemed to fall away around us.

A prodding at my side brought me back to reality, along with a soft calling of my name. I took a few deep breaths and tried to open my eyes, only to find that I couldn’t. My hearing, however, cleared up a bit, allowing me to better identify the voice speaking to me.

“C’mon Jamison, you need to get up. This is exactly why I told you to close your eyes and hold your breath.” chastised Shudder from my side. I felt her nudging me, so I rolled over and stood. “That’s it. Up and at ‘em, big guy.”

I groaned as my knees threatened to buckle, but stood my ground as I continued to breathe deeply. The more I breathed, the quicker my strength seemed to return until I was standing steadily, looking around the room. The room ‒ if one could call it that ‒ was a void of white that seemingly went on forever in every direction. The only landmark was the small structure behind us, which held only a refrigerator, two beds, an enclosed space that I assumed was a restroom, and a few knobs on a wall.

I cleared my throat as I continued to take in the scenery, asking, “Where are we?”

“This is the guard’s training area, Jamison. It is where you will receive your training, and is where you will eat, sleep, and even bathe for the next three years.” she explained.

I turned to Shudder and raised my eyebrow. “Say what now?”

She chuckled and shook her head before gazing at me with a grin. “Perhaps I should explain.” She motioned to the open area as she said, “This place is what’s known as a ‘pocket dimension’, and it is a construct of magic. In the ‘real world’, this entire place exists in the small area that we stood on before we came here. Physics work differently here, and time passes differently as well. Though three years’ time will pass for us, only three days will pass in Equestria. Gravity can also be modified as we see fit, allowing us to accelerate your training to get the most out of this time.”

I just stood stock still for a few moments before shaking my head as my mind rebooted. “Wait wait wait, I’m going to be stuck in here with you for three years?” She nodded. “Why?”

“Because you are in danger, Jamison. The assassins that I had to deal with will not be the last...not by a long shot. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of Equisians who don’t like you for one reason or another, and so it’s my job to make sure that should you be attacked again, you can defend yourself.” she explained blandly. “I can’t protect my princess if she has charged me to protect you, so I’m going to make sure you can fight your own battles.”

I frowned as I tried to find a way to avoid this. I mean, three years of my life gone? That was bullshit, and I wasn’t going to give in without a fight.

“But I’m not a damn warrior or anything! And when did any of you ask for my opinion about this? I think I should have a say in how I spend the next three years of my life!” I shouted in anger. I whipped away from her and strode towards the structure. “Where the hell is the door? Let me out of here.”

“You’re not going anywhere, Jamison.” Shudder responded sternly.

I slowly turned to face her again and growled, “Let. Me. Out.”

She shook her head, never once breaking her eyes away from my own. “The spell is in place for three years. There isn’t a way out.”

I stared at her unflinching gaze for a moment before snorting derisively and plopping down on one of the beds. “Well then, you’re going to get sick of me sooner or later, so I’ll just chill out here until you do.”

As I closed my eyes, I heard her hooves clopping against the stone-esque floor until they stopped right beside me. “I said we’re training, Jamison. Get up. You can lay down in the bed when I’ve decided you’re finished.”

I shook my head with a dry laugh. “No thanks. I think I’ll just wait things out. You’d be surprised exactly how long a person like me can sit around doing absolutely nothing.” The next thing I knew, I was laying face-down on the floor, with the bed having been flipped over on top of me. I pushed myself up quickly and glared at the pegasus mare before growling out, “Do that again, and you’ll regret it.” I then started to lift the mattress back to the bedframe, but only succeeding in lifting one corner before a hoof stepped onto it, keeping me from lifting it further. I narrowed my eyes and looked up, seeing Shudder staring unflinchingly at me as she stood on the mattress. “Move.”

She shook her head. “I said we’re training. We can do this the easy way or the hard way, and I can tell you right now that disobeying my orders is not the easy way.”

I didn’t break my gaze with her this time, and instead stared directly back into her blue eyes. “I never said I was doing anything your way anyway. This is my way, so step off.”

She glared at me for a few moments before narrowing her eyes and smirking. “I’ll make you a deal. We spar, and if you beat me, I’ll leave you alone. Lose, and you do exactly what I say, when I say it.”

I thought about her offer for a moment. True that when I had first arrived in Equestria, I was nowhere near fit, but after living here for awhile, I was a little more confident in my own physique. Besides, she was only half my height. How bad could it be?

I smirked and released the corner of the mattress. “Deal.”

She nodded and motioned away from the structure. “Come on then, colt. Don’t keep me waiting.”

I couldn’t help but pick up on the condescending way she’d said “colt”, and decided to make my feelings known. “Don’t call me colt, feather duster.”

She only flinched for a moment before continuing her strides toward the open area, and I allowed myself a grin at the fact I had clearly gotten to her.

When we arrived at where she had motioned to, she quickly removed her armor before turning to look back at me, revealing her true, yellow reptilian eyes, along with her bat-like wings flared in an aggressive posture. She then stated, “You apparently forget that here, you’re at the bottom of the totem pole. You’re not a guard, a pony, or a female. Currently, I see nothing to change my expectations about you, which is next to nothing. So if you want me to stop calling you ‘colt’, you’re going to have to make me.”

Maybe it was the fact that Twilight and the others treated me as an equal, or maybe it was just the fact that I was already pissed off, but whatever the reason, her words stung a lot more than I thought they would. It was the first time since coming to Equestria that my status as a male, a non-pony, and a civilian were spoken of in a negative way.

I grit my teeth and took a basic stance, waiting for her to charge. I knew enough about fighting to know that it was a dumb idea to charge headlong into a fight with someone you knew nothing about, so I waited for her to make the first move.

Perhaps that was even more of a mistake.

A powerful flap of her wings was all it took for her to cover the twenty feet between us in less than a second, and I was slammed face-down to the ground as she bent my arms up behind my head and sat on my legs, preventing me from moving.

She applied pressure to my arms, causing them to overextend, and the pain in my shoulders became quite a bit more apparent as I felt the joint threatening to dislocate on both shoulders.

“Give up.” she hissed into my ear. I growled in defiance and rolled my body in an attempt to dislodge her, but her hooves were planted on either side of my body, keeping me from moving. Again I felt her lips just next to my ear as she growled, “I said give up, colt.” With those words, she pressed her weight against my right arm, forcing out a loud pop as my shoulder dislocated. I let out a loud growl of pain, and at this she released me and hopped away, but as I rolled over, I found her only a few feet away. “First lesson, colt: don’t piss of an enemy you can’t beat.” As I stood to walk away, she flew until she was floating in front of me. “Where do you think you’re going?”

I rolled my eyes and pointed to my useless arm. “I’m going to try and get this fixed and sleep it off.”

She shook her head before grasping my arm in both of her front hooves and yanking hard, causing another pop to sound but also fixing it. Her actions nearly caused me to cry from the pain alone, but she fluttered back and said, “Now prepare yourself, because we’ve got a lot of work to do. You’re weaker, slower, and less perceptive than I am, and we’re going to fix all of that by the time we’re done in here.”

I swallowed hard as I tried to keep from wincing from the ache in my shoulder. “I was just settling into life here, and now you have to go and do all this to me? What the hell do you have against me?”

Again, she surprised me with her speed, and was face-to-face with me with the time it took me to blink. Shudder pressed her forehead against mine forcefully and said, “You’re some snot-nosed colt who’s whining about being in Equestria even after almost everypony around has tried to help you, even the princesses. You’re not worthy of their help, and until you are, you’re going to have to deal with me. I’ve worked too hard for too long to get where I am to see some ungrateful colt waltz up and garner the attention of some of the most important ponies in the world.” She drew back a bit before poking me in the chest firmly. “So if you ever want to live a peaceful life here, you’re going to have to prove to me that you deserve it. You’re going to get stronger, faster, and smarter before you’re out of here, and I will break you at least once before we’re done. I’m not here to be your friend, and I’m not here to coddle you. You’re in a world with unseen enemies everywhere, so for your safety and that of those around you, you’re going to need to be able to fight for yourself instead of relying on others to do it for you.”

I growled in annoyance before closing my eyes and shaking my head. “You know, if your job is to make me stronger and all that, then eventually we’re going to come to a time when you’re not going to be able to bully me around like this anymore.”

When I opened my eyes again to look at Shudder, she was smiling softly. “Well then, when that time comes, my job will be complete and we can go our separate lives.” She then narrowed her eyes and said, “But until that time, I own your ass.”

I shook my head and chuckled dryly. “This is exactly why I never joined the military.”

“Like I said,” she replied smugly, “if you want me to stop, make me.”

Our eyes locked on each other intensely for a few moments before I looked away and sighed. “Whatever. I’m not dumb enough to fight against someone that I’m clearly outclassed by, so I guess we’ll do this your way. For now.”

I brought my eyes back to her, and she nodded. “Works for me. Now, I’m not going to mess with your shoulder, because regardless of what you might think, my intentions aren’t to injure you. So in the meantime, we’re going to let that heal and do some cardio. Keep up with me, because if you fall behind, I’m just going to be harder on you tomorrow.”

I grumbled quietly to myself and followed her as she took off at a canter, which was a medium jog for me. Just from our short bout alone (if you could even call it that), I knew I wouldn’t be able to make her do much of anything at the moment. So, for the time being at least, I’d keep my frustration and anger to myself. After all, I was completely alone for the first few weeks I was on Equis, along with starving and trying to find shelter for myself. This wouldn’t be too bad, would it?

Perspective Shift ‒ Third Person

For the next two weeks, Jamie trained with the no-nonsense guard, Shudder. He moaned, complained, and even tried to fight a few more times, but ultimately resigned himself to his fate.

Luckily for him, Jamie learned rather quickly, and picked up on the fact that there was currently no way he was going to defeat Shudder in a fair fight. She was stronger than him, more experienced, and faster. It was an unfair battle if ever there was one, but the more he thought about it, he realized she was right about him needing to be able to defend himself. Compared to ponies, he was flimsy. Jamie soon realized he would need to put in the time to mold his body into something more powerful, and understood Shudder’s attitude on the matter. She probably didn’t want to be there any more than he did, but also took her job very seriously, and would follow the orders of her princess, no matter what they may be.

After a particularly taxing day of training, the human and pony found themselves silently eating an “evening” meal before sleeping. Jamie’s muscles and joints ached from the training Shudder was putting him through, but from what he had come to understand, it was a “good” ache.

Shudder, by her token, was pleasantly surprised by the human. Sure, he had fought her at first, but then again most guard trainees did. Hell, even she defied her drill instructor. That had been the point, though. She knew that every good soldier had to be “broken” first, and had to be shown that as good as they thought they were, they were, in fact, nothing. She knew that his limits had to be pushed, and he had to be shown that he was not “just fine” as he was. He needed to be stronger if he was going to survive in a world with physically-superior beings.

All that having been said though, both were surprised just how well they were working together when Jamie had finally chosen to stop resisting the training. True that genetically speaking, ponies were superior in both strength and stamina. However, both Shudder and Jamie found that humans were far more agile, dexterous, and had a greater range of motion and flexibility. This allowed Jamie to execute movements that Shudder couldn’t attempt even on her best days, and he could use multiple weapons at once.

As much as they both tried to resist, they found themselves growing closer as time passed. With Jamie just realizing how much he wanted social interaction, and Shudder being a pony (and thus, a very social creature), they found their desire for companionship in each other. It began with a softening of their demeanor towards each other, and then slowly graduated to gentle banter back and forth after their days of training. Today was no different, as while they slowly ate their meals, the two found themselves exchanging friendly conversation.

“So what did you originally want to do?” Jamie asked curiously. “I mean no offense, but I can’t help but think that being a guard was a second choice in your life, not the first.”

Shudder shrugged nonchalantly. “I don’t think anypony chooses being a guard as their first choice. For most, it’s a last resort when their other plans fall through. It’s also a good place to start for those who have been in trouble with the law.”

Jamie nodded slowly. “Well, what about you? Why did you join?”

Again, she shrugged. “I was arrested as a young filly for assaulting a guard.”

Jamie raised his eyebrow as he took a bite of the tomato soup they were eating. “Do I even want to know why someone would do that?”

Shudder chuckled and rolled her eyes. “It was a dare from a friend of mine. She bet me ten bits I wouldn’t spit on a guard. Well, I won ten bits...and then went to the juvenile detention center for two months.”

Jamie’s eyes widened and he nearly spit out the mouthful of soup he was swallowing. He composed himself before asking, “Two months? Just for spitting on a guard?” Shudder nodded, and he sighed in frustration. “Jesus. I don’t even want to know what happens if you were to actually hit a guard.”

“A month in the royal dungeons pending an investigation, and one year of community service.” she answered blandly. She looked over to him and smiled gently. “Our princesses do not tolerate crime, and that’s how they’ve kept things as peaceful as they are. Still, they’re also fair. They’re not going to just throw a pony into the dungeon without investigating exactly what happened. If there’s no proof or legitimate witnesses, the charges of such a crime would be dropped.”

Jamie thought for a moment before nodding, realizing this was not much different than the government of most of the civilized areas of Earth. “I guess that makes sense. So what did you want to do besides this?”

Shudder then turned slightly in her chair, pointing to her rump where a cutie mark of a blue ball of flame sat within a slim crescent moon. “I’m not really sure. I mean, cutie marks are supposed to appear when we’ve realized what our special talent is, but I don’t even remember when I got mine. I just remember a pony remarking one day about it, and I realized I had gotten it without even knowing it.” She chuckled darkly and said, “What use is a cutie mark if I don’t even know what it means?”

Jamie raised his eyebrow skeptically. “Why should a silly mark decide what you do in life, or what you’re good at? Humans don’t have those, and most of us get along just fine.”

The guard’s eyes widened a bit as she asked, “Humans don’t have cutie marks? How do you know what you want to do in life then?”

He shrugged. “We pretty much just figure it out for ourselves. Some people never figure it out.”

“What did you want to do then?” she asked with genuine curiosity.

Jamie shrugged. “Well, I was close to finishing college to be an engineer…”

“But?” Shudder interjected.

He sighed and shrugged as well. “I wanted to be a biologist.”

She had finished her meal some time ago, but still sat with rapt attention as she asked, “And what’s that?”

“A person that studies living things.” Jamie replied as he finished his drink and set the cup down on the table. “The only problem is that they would have forced me to live on the space colonies, and I wasn’t having that.”

“Humans live in space?” Shudder asked in utter shock confusion.

Jamie shrugged. “They were starting to back when I lived on Earth. I guess by now, they’ve probably even moved on to different planets altogether.”

Shudder shook her head in disbelief. “I can only imagine how many people lived on Earth for humans to have to leave it and find more room.”

“Twelve billion, last time I was there.” he answered. “It was overcrowded as hell too. That planet wasn’t meant to comfortably support that many people.”

“How big is Earth?” Shudder asked curiously.

Jamie shrugged. “I think it’s about twenty-five thousand miles around at the equator, if that gives you any idea.”

The pony’s eyes widened a bit more as she gasped. “Wow...no wonder it was crowded.”

He nodded. “Yeah.” He then noticed the opportunity to learn something new about his new home and asked, “Why, how big is Equis?”

Shudder put a hoof to her chin as she thought for a moment. “Umm...I think it’s a hundred thousand miles around. Something like that.”

Jamie’s jaw nearly dropped off of his head as he took in this new information. This meant that Equis was four times the size of Earth, and was anywhere from 30%-60% richer in resources per square mile. It was no wonder that science team had wanted to get a look at this place. The entire planet was a literal gold mine.

“A-and how many people live on the planet?” he questioned Shudder in shock.

Again he eyes swung towards the non-existent ceiling before she answered, “About two billion, last time we checked. I know that doesn’t seem like much, but you have to keep in mind that about seventy-five percent of the planet is water.”

Jamie shook his head as his mouth refused to close. It was amazing just how much space was available on this world, and it had about as much land as Earth did.

“Jamison...you alright?” Shudder asked with mild concern.

He violently shook his head, trying to gather his bearings before speaking. “Y-yeah, it’s just that Earth has about the same amount of water covering its surface too.”

The guardspony’s mouth dropped open for a moment before she sat back in her chair. “Wow. How did you even move with that many people around?”

Jamie shook his head as he blinked a few times. “Honestly, I don’t know.” He then yawned and stretched a bit, realizing he’d been sitting at the table talking to Shudder for the better part of two hours ‒ longer than he’d ever done so before. “Well, I guess it’s probably time we get to bed. I don’t want to fall asleep again during PT.”

Shudder’s demeanor again turned snarky as she said, “Yeah, because I’d make you run another six miles if you did. And there’s not a damn thing you could do about it.”

Jamie threw back his own smirk as he took their dishes to the sink and washed them. “Not yet. Just you wait: one day, you’re going to be staring up at me from the flat of your back, wondering how the hell I beat you. It’s comin’, make no mistake.”

With that final bit of banter, the two separated to bathe and prepare for bed.

He couldn’t sleep.

Jamie had always fancied himself a bit of a night-owl, but the truth of the matter was that he had just never been exhausted enough by his daily activities to actually fall asleep at a reasonable hour. That had changed after his forced training with Shudder, but this night was different.

His thoughts kept him awake as he analyzed and re-analyzed things over and over again. The most prominent question that came to mind was: “What is going on with Shudder?”

He didn’t necessarily dislike the pony. Sure, she had practically kidnapped him and made him her training bitch for the next three years, but once he had calmed down and understood her intentions, he realized why she had done things as she had. If she had asked, he would have resisted, causing one or both of them to be injured. He came to understand that he had become a target for fanatics across the continents, and any close to him would be in danger if he couldn’t protect himself. That wasn’t to say that he liked the fact that he was to become an honorary soldier, but he understood the reason for the training.

What bothered him was her demeanor lately.

He came to know Shudder to be aloof and very business-oriented. More often than not, she would speak very little to him if it didn’t involve training or asking for him to pass the salt. Slowly, her stance toward him began to change. It started off as simple niceties, such as asking him how he was doing or asking if he was particularly sore anywhere. From there, he noticed her going out of her way to talk to him, just barely avoiding invading his personal space and privacy sometimes. He could tell that the isolation from her friends on the outside was beginning to get to her, because she hadn’t shown any sort of interest in him beforehand. That and she had made it perfectly clear what she thought of him at the beginning: that he was weak, “lower” than her, and slow.

He did his best to be polite and friendly, but still found it strange that her behavior had done almost a complete one-eighty since they had first entered the chamber.

Jamie was broken from his thoughts by the sound of Shudder tossing and turning in her bed, which was only a few feet away from his own. She seemed to be having increasing difficulty sleeping at night over the past few days, and it became even more noticeable as time went on.

She couldn’t sleep.

Never before had she slept alone in a bed for so long, and never before had she gone without seeing her sister for more than a day. She thought she could handle it by setting her focus and powering through, as she did with everything else. This issue, it seemed, was not to be solved by her power of will, however.

‘This is fucking ridiculous!’ she bellowed within her mind. Shudder was far from used to being unable to solve a problem with hard work and willpower, but it seemed that for the first time, she had found an issue that was beyond her abilities. It went without saying that she was frustrated beyond belief, and was just barely restraining herself from screaming aloud as she writhed in her bed, trying to find a comfortable position.

She knew that to train Jamie...Jamison correctly, she needed to be of sound mind. To be of sound mind, she needed sleep.

‘Besides,’ she mused to herself, ‘I can’t very well talk down to him about falling asleep during training if I do it, now can I?”

Again she rolled over, and frustratingly enough found herself instinctually reaching out for her older sister, who would normally be right beside her. Shudder sighed to herself, realizing that it was unlikely she was going to sleep tonight.

Perspective Shift ‒ Jamie

Shudder was squirming a lot in her bed, and the sheets and comforters were brushing together in such a way that they produced the most sound possible. Needless to say that if she didn’t fall asleep, I wasn’t going to either. So, I weighed my options.

I could always sucker-punch her in the temple, but that would just end up pissing her off in the morning. Or I could choke her out...no, she would just end up reversing it somehow and I’d end up with her pissed off. I could sing her to sleep, but if she didn’t like it, she’d just be pissed off and would have more dirt on me to make fun with.

I couldn’t think of a useful way to handle the situation without pissing her off. Curious.

Well...there was one way I could think of, by what Twilight had told me about ponies. I remembered that ponies didn’t like to sleep alone, so if that was correct, it was likely Shudder often had a bedmate of some sort to sleep next to her. That likely meant that she was feeling increasingly uneasy with the loss of that, and I realized that with us being stuck together for another few years, it was only going to get worse as time went on.

My brain took control of my mouth before I could stop it. “Shudder, do you have a boyfriend?”

The rustling from next to me stopped, and I caught sight of her looking over at me from her bed. “E-excuse me?”

“Do you have a boyfriend?” I repeated. I then slapped my palm on my face and corrected, “Coltfriend, sorry. Do you have a coltfriend?”

She stared at me for a moment, her eyes gleaming in the scant bits of light that shined through the curtains. “Um...no. Why?”

I cleared my throat nervously as I pushed forward with my idea. “Well, Twilight-”

Princess Twilight Sparkle.” Shudder corrected firmly.

I glared at her for a moment in silence. “When she tells me she wants to be called princess, then I’ll call her a princess. Until then, she’s just Twilight to me. Now, are you finished interrupting?”

Shudder looked like she wanted to continue, but sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I’m done.”

I nodded. “Alright. Now, I have a bit of a proposition, and I ask that you let me explain before you answer.” She nodded again, so I continued with, “Twilight told me that ponies don’t like sleeping alone, so I take it you probably have someone you normally bed with, right?”

She nodded softly. “My sister.”

I smiled. “I figured as much. So I guess you’re feeling rather out of sorts now, hm?” Again she nodded, which only caused my smile to grow. “I have a possible solution for you, and you can call tonight a trial run. If it doesn’t work, we never have to do it again, but-”

“Out with it already!” she shouted in annoyance, startling me.

“Share my bed with me.” I blurted out.


I quickly broke the silence with, “I’m just saying that neither of us seems to be getting any sleep because of this. You keep tossing and turning because you’re alone in your bed, and all the noise is keeping me up. It’s for mutual benefit, and I think it would work.”

A few moments of silence in the room followed before she asked, “Is that why you asked if I had a coltfriend?”

“Yeah.” I replied softly. “Ponies don’t think much of it, but I thought I’d ask anyway. It would bother me if I was sleeping right next to some other dude’s girl.”

Silence once again surrounded me before I saw her silhouette flutter through the air and land on my bed beside me. As she laid down, she glared at me and said, “We don’t speak a word of this, understand?”

I nodded with my open hand held up. “I swear.”

As I laid down next to her and covered myself, she scooted a little closer. “You’re still a softgut.”

I shrugged as I looked over at her curled-up form. “And you’re still kind of a cunt sometimes, so we’ll call it even.”

Shudder snorted a laugh before scooting just a little closer, until her fur brushed against my bare arm. A few more moments of quiet stretched out between us before she whispered, “Goodnight, Jamsion.”

I smiled and nodded, though she couldn’t see it. “Goodnight, Shudder.”

Chapter 10: House of Mirrors

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Chapter 10: House of Mirrors

When one hears about something like Stockholm Syndrome, the average person would pass it off as impossible. I mean, empathy and sympathy towards a captor? I never believed it, but while I didn’t really consider Shudder a captor per se, I did blame certain things about my current predicament on her. Namely, the whole, “Help, I’m stuck in a strange sub-dimension with no way out!”

Still, I understood and accepted why it was done, and couldn’t really wholly put the blame on the guard. After all, she had made it quite clear that she was following orders, which meant that Princess Luna had likely been the one to give the orders to Shudder.

However, as the three-month mark passed for Shudder and I, I found an unfortunate thing begin to happen.

It appeared that the magic within me was beginning to have noticeable effects on me again, though not so much physical as behavioral. I became more stressed as time passed, and my personality as a whole became much more aggressive. I knew Shudder’s training didn’t account for this, as while she was forceful and serious when training, I had found her to be very laid back otherwise. I knew that part of my behavioral changes had to be the stress that was brought about from being isolated from my friends for so long, but the rest I couldn’t quite explain. What I found odd was the fact that I was perfectly conscious of these behavior changes, but I couldn’t stop it either. It was almost as though I was playing a videogame as an already-established character: able to make choices, but unable to affect said character’s personality.

It didn’t really bother me all that much, but as time passed, friction began to build between Shudder and myself. We were each other’s only company, and so such friction was only increased by the fact that we were completely alone. There was no one else for either of us to talk to, and so as I began to become more agitated, said behavior also passed to Shudder.

Finally, after a little over three months, the tension came to a head.

It would seem to be a normal training day to the outside observer, but to us it was anything but the norm. My increasingly assertive personality began to grate on Shudder, as I was no longer simply an assertive male to her, I was completely overstepping the bounds of how a male was supposed to behave in Equestria. True that I had found that she wasn’t necessarily old-fashioned in the beliefs of her culture, but even the most relaxed pony had a certain expectation of how a male was supposed to act...an expectation that I was an exception to. This alone caused a fair amount of tension between us, but besides that, I was beginning to take my frustrations about my situation out on her.

Which meant that when she chose to berate me as a male in an attempt to motivate me, I exploded.
As my training had intensified, I had found the strange bands I wore around my wrists, ankles, and waist were not simple pieces of cloth. No...they were magical weights that could be adjusted by a control on the wall. This, however, was not their use for me.

It seemed that the chaos magic that was within me had a very odd side-effect: it lessened physics’ hold on me. This meant that gravity, air resistance, and heat and electric conductivity were reduced on me. This meant that the magic had embedded itself within me the instant I came upon this world, and had actively protected me from the massive planet’s crushing gravity. I was subconsciously thankful to Equis for making my transition as smooth as possible.

The princesses, however, had engineered the magical weights to remove this passive ability of mine.

So, beginning a week after the three-month mark, Shudder had forced me to complete my training regimen under the full effects of the planet’s gravity. Thankfully, my new bone structure and strengthened muscles kept me from being crushed, but the gravity force was equivalent to wearing a two-hundred pound weight vest. This new stress on my body also increased the stress of my mind, which added to my frustration.

As I did a series of lunges (an exercise I had recommended, as ponies didn’t work out the same as humans), Shudder was right beside me, doing her whole “drill-sergeant” thing.

“C’mon, colt! My grandfather could move faster than that!” she bellowed condescendingly. “It’s no wonder your kind is so weak! Move it!”

We had held off on the actual combat training, as it was clear that I had a bit of an aptitude for it, but my physical attributes were lacking. The only problem was, I am a firm believer in the fact that only certain people have the mental and emotional fortitude to be soldiers. As such, while her words might have inspired a normal recruit to work harder, it just pissed me off.

I stopped the exercise and stood up straight, my muscles and joints quivering from my own weight, as well as the physical exhaustion. Still I stood under my own power, and glared at the pony before me. “Alright Shudder, enough of this shit. I’m not one of your cadets or whatever, and I already forgave you for the fucked-up way you brought me here. So enough already. I’m trying to keep in mind the fact that you were ordered to make sure I can defend myself should anything dangerous happen around me, but I’m done being treated like I’m less than you.”

She returned my glare with her own, responding with, “I told you from the beginning that you had to prove yourself worthy of my respect. So, to put it simply, if you want me to stop, you have to make me.”

In the recesses of my mind, I had expected this. Shudder had worked hard to get where she was, being as small as she was for a pony, and so would only respect someone that was as strong or stronger than her.

Unfortunately for her, I had paid close attention to her as we sparred those few times.

I grit my teeth and pulled the four bands off of my ankles and wrists before unclasping the belt, dropping all five pieces to the ground and kicking them away. As soon as the bands left my body, I felt the gravity’s effects on me lessen, and I felt the result of my exercises as well. True that I was a little sore from jogging for a few miles, but I could feel the extra strength in my limbs as well. I didn’t wear the “weights” all the time, but I never really took the time to notice the differences either, as I was usually too tired by the end of the training day to care much.

“Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to fight? C’mon, we don’t have forever, and I’d like to get in some more training after I beat you.” Shudder commented smugly.

I turned my gaze to the pony and stood my ground, having learned that rushing in to deliver the first blow would be a mistake. She would be expecting it, and I would end up losing the match.

So, as I waited, she waited as well. Our eyes were locked, and an arc of tense energy seemed to connect us as we stared each other down.

Suddenly, without warning, she attacked.

Her wings thrust her forward at a frightening speed, but unlike the first time we actually fought, I was ready for it this time. I dropped to the ground as she sailed over me, then quickly rolled to my stomach and pushed myself up again. However, before I could stand, I felt her land on my back and grab my right arm and pull it behind me, attempting to force me into submission. Before she could grab my other arm though, I rolled, causing her to fly away in order to keep from being smashed into the ground.

I stood quicker this time, and cast my eyes around to locate my opponent. I heard the beating of her wings as she flew overhead, and immediately turned my eyes above to see her diving at me.

Again I rolled to the side to avoid her attack, and allowed her speed to carry her away so that I could stand and prepare for her next attack. Compared to the past few sparring sessions I’d done with her, I noticed I was doing quite a bit better already, but realized pretty quickly that I would have to go on the offensive at some point if I wanted to win. I knew that no matter how much I had trained, I was never going to be as strong or have as much stamina as a pony. So instead, I had to use to my advantage the attributes I had that a pony did not, namely my reach, my agility, my sharper sight, and more flexible body.

I kept a cool head, recognizing the fact that attacking or defending in anger was only going to make me sloppy. I kept dodging Shudder’s passes, waiting for an opportunity to exploit her weaknesses. I knew it would take time and I would need to act quickly when the opportunity presented itself, as she was one of the higher-ranked personal guards of Princess Luna, and thus was a cut above the rest. If and when she slipped up, it wouldn’t be for long, and I knew that if I missed my chance, this match would be hers. It was no contest between us in terms of physical endurance: I would tire before she did.

I continued my routine of dodging her charges, waiting for her to switch up her plan into something I could use, but she just recovered too quickly and could fly. That was her greatest advantage, and she was using it to keep me from counterattacking while she recovered by staying high in the air.


I continued to observe her form each time she charged me. Just before I would be forced to dodge out of the way, Shudder would tilt her wings to lean back and prepare to hit me with all four hooves. Needless to say that if she connected, that would be the end of the bout for me. Not only that, but she kept her body poised in such a way that I couldn’t grab any extremities as leverage, nor would I be able to recover fast enough from a roll to counterattack. Those were things she would be expecting, so she was ready for them. She knew how I fought from our few sparring sessions, and she knew I knew that one good hit would be all it would take to knock me down.

So what if I did something she didn’t expect?

Again she bore down on me, and I was forced to roll again as she passed.

She let out a loud breathy laugh as she passed and shouted, “We both know that I can keep this up a lot longer than you can!”

I watched Shudder turn in the air as she prepared to make another charge, so I set my stance as I normally did. However, as she approached, I didn’t dodge this time.

Shudder’s eyes widened at the last second, realizing too late what I was doing.

I sprinted at her, and she flapped hard in an attempt to pull up, but it was too late for her to gain much more than a foot. I hurled myself at her with arms outstretched, and caught her around the neck. As I caught hold of her, I used my momentum to swing around onto her back. My larger frame caused my thighs to settle around her wings, preventing them from moving and causing us to quickly lose the ten feet of air that we had. I felt my balance thrown off as she extended her left wing, throwing us into a spin in an attempt to make sure I took the impact, but I blocked her other wing with my leg, keeping her from stabilizing her position and causing us to complete an entire spin...which ended up with her on the bottom.

We hit the ground with a thud, a rush of breath leaving Shudder’s lungs as she hit, and me struggling to keep my advantage by staying on her back. Without thinking, I laid back and brought my legs to wrap around her throat. As I began to tighten my leg muscles to keep myself anchored, I grabbed her wingbases in my hands and put pressure on the sensitive nerves there, digging fingertips into the groove that held the arteries that fed her wings.

Rainbow Dash had told me just how painful getting an injury to the wings could be, as well as how generally sensitive pegasus wings were. She had told me that with a gentle enough touch, it was a huge turn-on for them to be played with. However, direct pressure to the nerve centers along the bases or a broken bone there could cripple a pegasus, or even result in death from a bleed-out.

This all was proven by the fact that Shudder screamed in agony. Never had I thought I would hear such a vulnerable sound coming from her, but my attack on her nerves sent her into a world of pain. She couldn’t do much more than writhe beneath me for a few moments before she stopped moving altogether. The lack of sound worried me, so I released the wingbones and sat up with concern. No movement came from Shudder save for a few panting breaths, and I knew this was surely no ploy to get me to let my guard down. I stood up and looked down at the prone pony, and saw that her eyes were closed in a pained grimace with tear-trails on her cheeks.

Shudder was unconscious.

“Fuck…” I muttered to myself.

Perspective Shift ‒ Third Person

Hours later found Jamie standing watch over the pony in the bed.

He didn’t like the situation at all. True that he had wanted to best her ‒ to show Shudder that he wasn’t meant to be pushed around forever ‒ but he hadn’t wanted it to be like this. He could only imagine how much pain she’d had to be in to pass out from the painful sensations alone, and his imagination began to paint him to be a jerk. What worried him more was the fact that he had never known someone to be unconscious for so long before, barring an actual coma.

But there was nothing he could do but wait, so wait he did.

Finally, after what felt like multiple eternities, Shudder began to stir. A few hoof-twitches came first, followed by a groan and a fluttering of her eyes.

She blinked her eyes blearily and scanned the room before settling her gaze on the human beside her. “Wh-what happened? Where am I?”

“You passed out.” Jamie answered quietly, taking care to mask the concern within him. “I cleaned you up and brought you to rest until you woke.”

“You...beat me?” Shudder croaked in utter disbelief.

Jamie nodded gently as he opened one of his hands and held it out. “Do I need to remind you of what happened?”

A painful twinge in her wings made up Shudder’s mind for her, and she shook her head vigorously. “N-no, I believe you.” She then sighed and laid her head back onto the pillow. “It’s just that I honestly didn’t think you’d progress this quickly.” She then arched her back, which resulted in a few pops of her spine, then pushed herself to a sitting position. “Well, I guess it’s time to go then.”

Jamie raised his eyebrow in surprise. “Go? Go where?”

Shudder snickered softly. “Back, of course. Back to Equestria, and back to your friends.”

Jamie thought for a moment before stating, “I’m pretty sure three years haven’t passed yet.”

She shook her head as she stood up, shaking out the lingering aches and soreness that remained. “You’re right, it hasn’t.” She then turned and focused her gaze on him with a smile. “Everything that has been done and told to you has been so for a reason. I hurried you in here after waking to disorient you, and then I told you we’d be in here for three years to put pressure on you. I beat you, humiliated you, and berated you to put further stress on you. I was hoping you’d break before long, but it seems the princess was right about you.”

“Right about what?” Jamie asked with growing confusion.

Shudder sighed and offered him an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry for all I put you through, Jamie. Truly I am. My job as Princess Luna’s second-in-command is to be sure that things flow smoothly for her. In your case, that means I had to know how you would react to a variety of situations, and how you would cope with stress and hopelessness.” She chuckled and shook her head. “Princess Luna told me from the beginning that no matter what I did, I wouldn’t be able to break you. I didn’t believe her, but she told me that there are things about you that ponies could aspire to. Where a pony might have been beaten, you adapted. Where a pony might have broken, you molded. I challenged you to things you shouldn’t have been able to do, and you still pushed yourself harder and further than any pony could have on the same scale.” Again she looked at Jamie with a wide grin. “No matter what, you did not give up.”

Jamie finally returned the smile with one of his own as he answered, “What can I say? I’m a stubborn jackass.”

Shudder tilted her head slightly as she replied, “Maybe that term should be changed in your case, because a stubborn jackass would be stubborn just because it could. Not you though. You weren’t just stubborn and refused to give up, you got better as time passed.” She then extended her hoof and touched Jamie on the forearm. “You see, I didn’t really expect to turn you into a fighting machine in here. That would be impossible, as that takes a lifetime to do. Instead, I wanted to find something within you that you could use to your advantage in every situation.”

The human raised his eyebrow as he eyed the pegasus. “And?”

She smiled again. “You’re resourceful, and you don’t stop just because something doesn’t work. Instead, if one angle of attack doesn’t work, you search for another. If you see something as possible, you don’t stop until you’ve accomplished it. You learn quickly, and you’re very perceptive when you want to be.”

“What about in the beginning? Remember that?” Jamie questioned with confusion. “You dislocated my arm and I just walked off.”

Shudder nodded. “You’re right, you did. But would you have been able to do much?” Jamie shook his head, causing her to smile. “Exactly. Where a normal pony would call that ‘throwing in the towel early’, I call it wasting no effort. You knew you couldn’t beat me then, and so chose to wait until you could. Consciously I don’t think that’s what you were thinking when you did it, but that was exactly what happened. Today when I asked you to make me be silent, you jumped into a bout with me without hesitation. You had learned about your opponent, and had strengthened your own body and skills as well.”

Again Jamie pondered her words. He realized that in many ways, she was right, but also believed she saw much more than what was actually there.

Still confused, but not wishing to argue the points, Jamie shrugged. “I guess. So what now?”

Shudder hopped off of her bed and used a hoof to expertly flip her helmet onto her head as she set about putting her armor back on. “Now, we leave. It’s been a few hours back home since we’ve been gone, and I’m sure everypony is wondering where you are.” For a few moments, there was silence, which caused Shudder to turn her head toward the human behind her. “Well, are you okay with that?”

“You…” he began, trying to find the words he wished to say, “you played me the whole time.”

Shudder nodded as she strapped her chestplate in place. “Yes, yes I did. That was the idea, of course. I created a reality for you that you believed, and because of that stress, you reacted in many ways just like I had hoped you would. I had to know how far I could push you before you broke, but you never broke. Not once...not completely, anyway.” After adjusting her weighted horseshoes, she strode over to Jamie and placed her hoof on his knee. “For what it’s worth, you surprised me in so many ways, and Princess Luna will be pleased with you. I do hope you forgive her, as she did it for your own good.”

Jamie snorted as the entirety of the situation became clear to him. “I’m not the kind of person to hold a grudge, and I understand why the two of you did what you did, but I’m still pissed. Not so much at you as the princess. She fucking manipulated me and played with me like a toy.”

Shudder shook her head with a concerned frown. “Jamie, please don’t think of it that way. I promise, she was not toying with you. She had to know everything about you to properly provide for and protect you, as well as allow you to protect yourself. Nothing like this is going to happen again, I promise. Instead, look at it this way: she cares for you Jamie. Truthfully, they both do...quite a bit more than I expected. However, for your safety and to properly understand the dangers posed to you in an everyday environment in Equestria, they had to risk your ire. Your safety is more important to them than you can imagine.”

The human followed the guard as she approached the glyph on the floor where they had originally entered the chamber. “Why me? I’m just some guy.”

“Some guy who helped Princess Twilight Sparkle. Some guy who the Elements of Harmony speak about quite a bit.” Shudder replied with a smile. “Some guy who both princesses find a kindred spirit in ‒ someone who can understand their plight better than any of us can.” She then shook her head as she pressed the minor glyphs on the ground in a special combination, causing the circle to begin to glow and hum with power. “I don’t know why it is, but both princesses have told me that there’s something important you’re meant to do. Equis herself chose you, and one day, I hope I’ll be able to see why.”

Before Jamie could respond to that, they both were caught up in the column of power as it transported them back home.

Chapter 11: Back to the...Present?

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Chapter 11: Back to the...Present?

The journey back to Twilight’s place was uneventful. I didn’t even need to speak to anyone as I left; there was already a carriage waiting to take me home. Honestly, I was kinda pissed off at the princesses for doing things as they had, so I didn’t feel it was a good idea to talk to them in my current state. I would allow myself a few days before chatting again. They’d understand.

Besides, I had more important things to worry about at the moment.

The carriage landed with a slight bump outside of the library, and I offered a curt nod and wave to the guards before walking towards Twilight’s home. It had only been a few hours in the “real” world, so I had to remind myself that it was likely only a little after noon. With that in mind, I knocked on the front door before entering.

“Twilight,” I called, shutting the wooden door behind me and glancing around, “I’m back!”

“Jamie?” shouted Twilight’s voice from somewhere in the library, and I was temporarily blinded as she teleported right in front of me. I felt as she threw her hooves around me and breathed a sigh of relief. “By Celestia, I’m so glad you’re okay. No pony knew what happened to you. It was like you just disappeared.”

I blinked my eyes a few times to clear my vision as I hugged her back. “Sorry about that. The princesses had something important they needed to speak with me about, and it was kind of urgent.”

She squeezed me a bit tighter before releasing me and dropping to the floor, and I just barely caught sight of her new wings flaring for balance with my blurred vision. “Well I hope everything went okay. Are you alright?”

I blinked one last time, my vision nearly completely normal again. “More or less.” I then looked down at Twilight and grinned. “Well now, look at you. Alicorn Twilight Sparkle.”

She ducked her head shyly and smiled. “I-it’s not really a big deal.”

I shrugged. “I guess not. There’s only the whole ‘you’re a princess now’ thing. And I’m sure Rainbow Dash is going to bug you until you let her teach you how to fly.”

Twilight rolled her eyes with a groan. “Ugh, don’t remind me. Rainbow Dash has already been by four times today. Four!”

I chuckled and walked over to the couch before planting my behind in the soft cushions. “Well what can you expect? You’re one of her best friends, and now you can be a flying buddy. Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it.”

Twilight fluttered her wings before they settled comfortably against her sides, then hopped up onto the sofa, sitting next to me. “I mean, maybe. I’m just...well…” she turned away as she mumbled, “I’m a little afraid of heights.”

I grinned and shook my head, patting Twilight on her shoulder. “It’s alright, Twilight. Anyone who can’t stop themselves from falling is likely to be afraid of heights. But you? You’ve got wings now. You can learn to soar through the air the way most can only dream of doing.” I then smirked. “Besides, it’s something new to learn. Aerophysics as it pertains to you personally could be pretty fun to learn about.”

She tilted her head at me in confusion. “What do you mean?”

I squinted my eyes into empty space as I thought for a moment. “Well...think of it this way:” I motioned to her horn and said, “maybe one day you decide you want to teach me about magic. Now let’s just say that maybe I find it the most interesting thing in the world. Nothing catches my attention like magic does.” I then gestured to myself. “But I can’t do magic. I can know the physics and math behind it, but unless I can feel it, there’s always going to be a huge part of the magical world that I’ll just never understand. See what I’m trying to say?”

I saw Twilight’s face scrunch up a bit in that cute way it always did when she was thinking, then she began to nod slowly as a smile overtook her face. “Yes, I think I do.” She then turned her gaze to me and bumped her shoulder into mine. “Thank you, Jamie.”

I nodded with a smile of my own. “No problem. Now,” I stretched my back and popped my neck as I stood, “I have to go get ready for tonight. Do you have any idea where Rainbow Dash is?”

Twilight quirked her eyebrow at me as she answered, “Yes, she should be at her house doing her monthly weather planning session.” She then gasped and smiled. “Oh that’s right! You’re going to Vinyl Scratch’s show tonight! I hope you have a lot of fun!”

I nodded gratefully at her before turning on my heel to the door. “Thanks Twilight. I’ll tell you all about it when I get back.”

As I shut the door behind me and once again stood outside, I was thankful Twilight hadn’t thought to ask me about my time with the princesses. Frankly, I didn’t want to think about it at the moment, as it would just piss me off, and Twilight didn’t need to see any of that. I needed time to cool off, and hopefully tonight would give me the ability to do that.

I broke out in a leisurely jog toward Rainbow Dash’s house (wow, never thought I’d refer to jogging as “leisurely”). The clean air of Equestria and the jubilant atmosphere gave me respite from my emotions, and for the entire journey to the cloud home of my friend, I didn’t think at all. It was a nice reprieve from my habit of thinking about everything all of the time, and I silently promised myself to do it more often.

Fairly quickly (faster than I expected, honestly) I approached the cloud home of Rainbow Dash. I was always at awe when looking at her house of cloud and rainbows, and this time was no different. For a few moments I just admired the beautiful structure before clearing my throat.


I waited a few seconds for my call to be heeded, and within moments a familiar cyan mare poked her head out of one of the windows of the tower. “Oh hey, Jamie!” She shot out of the window and did a little flip before hovering in front of me. “Where were you? You just kinda disappeared yesterday.”

I shrugged. “Princesses had something they needed to discuss with me in private and it was kind of urgent. With everything going on with Twilight and your cutie marks, I thought it best to just leave. Twilight had everything handled.”

Rainbow Dash nodded before gasping and squealing like a fangirl. “Did you see Twilight? She’s got wings now!”

I nodded with a chuckle. “Yep, I saw her. I talked to her a bit, and I’m confident that if you give her some time to think, she’d be cool with learning to fly from you.”

She giggled happily before throwing her arm around me. “You’re awesome Jamie, you know that?”

“I learn from the best, and I do hang out around you quite a bit more than the others.” I replied with a smirk.

She smirked right back as she said, “Damn right.”

I then asked, “So, are you busy tonight?”

Rainbow Dash inclined her head to her home above us. “Well I’ve got to set up the weather schedule, but that’ll probably take only another hour or so. Why?”

“Well,” I began, hoping she’d accept my offer, “I’m going to that club tonight to hopefully make up with Vinyl, and I’d appreciate it if you came with me. I’ve never been much of a clubber, and I’d really feel more comfortable if there was a friend by my side.”

Rainbow Dash seemed to consider my request for a moment before nodding vigorously. “That sounds awesome! Give me some time to finish my schedule and I’ll swing by Twilight’s place at...say, seven?”

I rolled my eyes with a smirk. “Careful Rainbow Dash, this is sounding an awful lot like a date.” Wait what? Why the hell did I say that? “I-I mean…”

I noticed a faint pink lighting up her cheeks as Rainbow Dash giggled in a more girlish way than I was used to from her. “Jamie, it’s cool. I know what you meant. Anyway, you need to work things out with Vinyl first. I’ve been in the middle of two friends fighting before, and it’s not something I want to relive.”

I chuckled faintly and nodded. “S-sorry about that. I just don’t want you to get the wrong idea is all.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and tapped me on the shoulder. “I get it. You’ve already explained this all to me, remember? So don’t think of it like a date, think of me like your wingpony as you make up with your not-marefriend.”

The implications and sarcasm in Rainbow Dash’s words weren’t lost on me, but I just nodded anyway. She was probably just messing with me, like usual. “Yeah, let’s go with that.” With it being months since I had seen her though, I couldn’t stop the next action and words from coming out. I reached up with my hand and softly rubbed her cheek in an adaptation of a pony nuzzle, smiling at her. “It’s good to see you’re alright, Rainbow Dash.”

She smiled fondly at me (an uncommon expression for the brash pegasus) and returned the gesture, but the way it was meant to be done. She then pulled away and released me from her grasp as she said, “Call me Dash, Jamie. We’re friends, so you don’t have to be so uppity like I’m a stranger or something.”

Those months locked away in that strange chamber had warped reality, and I had to remind myself that while I felt like I was getting reaquainted with her, it had only been a single day for Dash and the others. To me, it was like I was regaining something I had lost. I had to keep in mind that the others wouldn’t likely understand what I was going through at the moment.

“Anyway,” Dash said, fluttering above me, “I’m going to hurry up and finish my work and I’ll meet you at Twilight’s place later.” She then ran her hoof over my cheek and added, “You know, I never noticed how different you look with a beard. You should keep it.”

I brought my hand to my face, noticing for the first time that I hadn’t shaved in weeks. After the first few weeks in the training chamber with Shudder, I had chosen to just let it grow out. It wasn’t like I had anyone to impress, after all. Besides, beards are sexy. Regardless of the fact that I wasn’t expecting to meet any humans in Equestria, I kept it for my own enjoyment.

I rubbed my hand against my chin and nodded with a smile. “I think I will. Thanks, Dash. I’ll see you later then.”

She nodded before speeding back to her house, assumedly to continue her weather scheduling. I chose to go see Applejack, seeing as how I honestly missed her a little. While I didn’t have a job yet, my daily routine had consisted of heading to her farm to see if there was anything I could help with. Never before coming to Equestria had I believed that a feeling of uselessness could drive me to do work for free, just to feel worthwhile.

With that in mind, I turned toward Sweet Apple Acres, and began jogging toward the farm in the distance.

As I passed through the vast fields of Sweet Apple Acres, I couldn’t help but take a few deep breaths as I continued my trek. While the training chamber had somehow provided me with air, food, and water, the air had felt stagnant. There truly was no comparison to the crisp, clean air of the countryside. It made me wonder why I never lived in the rural areas of Earth.

Oh wait, technology. That’s why.

Still, not having a computer or any other “modern” Earth things was freeing in a way. I spoke to people a lot more, tended to be able to appreciate the outdoors easier, and generally felt better. Probably because I wasn’t sitting on my ass eating junk-food all day, but I was oddly okay without that stuff. Truthfully, if I had a choice between technology and what I had now, I’d actually have to consider it for awhile.

Besides, I had real friends now. Before coming to Equis, most of my “friends” were people I spoke to online in some way. I didn’t even know what their voices sounded like. Kinda sad, but then again that’s what my life was. Not to say I didn’t enjoy it at the time, but it’s just so different now. From what I understood, ponies had been around longer than humans had, but they didn’t need all our technology. They had magic and friendship, and they were happy that way. I had told Twilight of some of the things humans had, but besides being interested in a “brand-new thing” type of way, she seemed rather unconcerned with the technology itself. I realized that ponies didn’t need technology since they had magic, strength, and aerial agility to do the things human machines could do. They could move immensely heavy loads, move and manipulate things as well as hands could, and could project music or even images with magic. They had no need for anything humans took for granted.

For example: Applejack and her family’s unique way of collecting apples.

Humans either did the job by hand or employed machinery. The Apple family though? They didn’t need any of that. With just a swift kick, an entire tree could be cleared of fruit in one fell swoop. It was much faster than humans were capable of doing, and it was cleaner as well.

It took Applejack turning around face me for me to realize that I had been staring at her. Thankfully she seemed to be a fairly lax pony when it came to my societal fuck-ups, as she just smirked at me. “How’s tha view back there?”

I moved my gaze to her face and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry about that. Just admiring your apple-bucking skills. Humans can’t do anything like that.”

“So you’ve said.” she commented, wiping her brow with a hoof. She then trotted over to me and nudged me with her shoulder. “So where’ya been? Y’all just vanished yesterday.”

I shrugged. “Business in Canterlot. The princesses needed to speak with me about Twilight. Seems they want me at the coronation, so they needed me to get measured for a new suit.” I then raised my eyebrow as I asked, “So what do you make of Twilight’s new transformation?”

Applejack tilted her head a bit as she looked at me quizzically. “It’s a little different, but she’s still just Twi ta me. She said she don’t wanna be treated any different, so Ah ain’t gonna treat ‘er like anything but a good friend.”

“I think that’s a good idea.” I replied with a smile.

Applejack nodded before beginning to load the baskets into her nearby cart, which I helped with. “So,” she began, grunting as she pushed a basket toward the back of the cart, “what do ya got planned fer today?”

I shrugged before hefting one of the apple baskets up onto the flatbed. “I’m going to some club called the Pipelines or the Pipeworks or something. Dash is going with me to make sure I don’t make too big of a fool of myself.”

Applejack hitched herself to the cart and began pulling it toward the next round of trees. “Ah’m sorry, but ya’ll don’ really strike me as tha clubbin’ type’a guy. That’s more’a Pinkie’s thing.”

I chuckled and moved my arm in a windmilling motion to loosen the muscles (a habit I’d picked up during my training with Shudder). “You’re right about that,” I then sighed, smiling gently, “but it’s not about the club; it’s about Vinyl. I have to apologize for how I treated her. Whether she accepts it or not, I have to at least be able to say that I did try to make things better.”

Applejack didn’t turn to look at me again, but nodded. “That’s a good idea, Jamie. It’d be nice if more stallions took the initiative around here instead’a waitin’ for tha mares to take action.”

“Maybe they would if they weren’t bullied for not ‘acting like a stallion’ or ‘forgetting their place’.” I commented dryly, which caused Applejack to turn and frown at me with an unasked question clear in her eyes. I sighed and nodded, “Yes, it’s happened quite a few times. Twilight told me that I don’t have to worry about being beat up or anything, but it’s still frustrating to be treated the way I have been. Equestria’s males don’t know any different, but I do.” I then shrugged. “To everyone around here though, I’m just an alien, so I’m expected to be different. I guess that’s why I get more leeway on things.” Before she could respond, I held up my hand and smiled gratefully at her. “I know that none of you or the others see me that way, and for that I thank you. I wouldn’t be able to handle things without you all by my side.”

Applejack ducked her head bashfully as she scuffed the ground with a hoof. “Aw c’mon, Jamie. We were just doin’ what any good friend would do.”

I shrugged. “Maybe, but so few actually want to get to know me. So many want to talk to me just because I’m the ‘weird tall thing’, not because I’m actually interesting to them. It’s kinda sad, but it’s the truth.”

“Well, it’s their loss then.” Applejack spoke sternly. “If they ain’t smart enough ta see that we’re more alike than different, then they don’t deserve ta know ya. Let ‘em stew in their own ignorance, Ah say.”

I cocked my head to the side with a smirk. “I feel sorry for people who just think you’re a dumb hick. They’re missing out on a great pony.” I then kneeled and placed my hand on the blushing pony’s shoulder. “Thanks for putting up with me, Applejack. I know I’ve been a dick sometimes and I know I’ve been kind of a whiner. I just want to thank you for sticking around. Not everyone would have done that.”

“Well yer welcome.” she replied with a warm smile. She then shoved me away, still grinning. “Now y’all are stallin’. If ya got somethin’ so important ta do tonight, ya’ll need ta get cleaned up. Go on, git.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Alright alright, I’m going. I just wanted to say hey and make sure everything was alright. See you tomorrow, I guess.”

Applejack nodded, but said nothing else as she turned back to her work. I allowed myself another smile as I gazed at one of the few people in my life I could consider a friend, before turning and jogging back toward town.

After showering, trimming my beard and lining it up, and dressing, I found myself admiring my reflection in the mirror within the room provided to me in the library. As I looked over the man in the mirror, I couldn’t help but think one thing:

Damn, I cleaned up nice.

It wasn’t often in my life I had actually tried to look good, save for a job interview or meeting with a client. I hadn’t, however, ever actually “dressed up” to go out for a night on the town. I was a clean individual by nature, which meant that by default, I smelled nice and was hygienic. With that being the case, even when going on a date, I didn’t do much differently besides wearing a nicer outfit.

I looked at the mirror again.

But this...this was something altogether different. I was going to make up with a pony I had carelessly hurt, and was being escorted by another pony to make sure I didn’t do anything too jackass-y. Neither of them were potential romantic partners of mine (unless something in my life had changed and I didn’t even know it), but for some reason I felt that I should look my best. For some reason, I felt they deserved it.

Whatever. I’d think on it later, after a few drinks.

“Jamie? Can I come in?” I heard Twilight ask from just outside my door.

I continued admiring myself and nodded, not taking my eyes off the mirror. “Sure, come in. I’m dressed.”

The door creaked open, and a set of soft hoof-falls made their way around to my side before a slight creak of bedsprings told me Twilight had hopped upon the bed. Her face then peeked around my shoulder, and she smiled. “Wow. I’ve never seen you so dressed-up before.”

I eyed the simple navy-blue suit that Rarity had created for me, which I hadn’t wore until this moment. Though some parts of it were a little tight (as she’d had to adapt her knowledge of pony body mechanics), it was still very nice and the fabric breathed well. I opted to wear the collar open without the tie, which gave me a rather casual-yet-distinguished look. I’d always liked the look of a good suit, but this would be the first time I’d ever wore one to something other than a job interview. The suit had been Rarity’s “welcome to Equis” gift to me, and now I felt a little bad for taking so long to wear it. I’d have to swing by and see her when Dash and I made our way to the club, to let her know that I appreciated the suit.

I smiled at Twilight’s reflection and ran my fingers over the collar of the jacket. “I must say, I clean up pretty nice. I feel like I’m going to prom or something.” She looked at me quizzically, so I explained, “Prom is a major event that happens for twelfth-year students where I’m from. It’s kind of like the Grand Galloping Gala, but there’s usually only young people there and the most important people are students, not royalty.”

She nodded. “Ah, I see. The problem is, you don’t have a date.”

I smirked as I said, “Well, I kinda do. Dash is my date, so to speak. We’re not together or anything, but it’s as close as I can think to what she’s actually there for.”

Twilight raised her eyebrow. “Which is?”

I chuckled. “Basically to make sure I don’t do anything too moronic in public, and to distract Vinyl so I can run away if things go bad.” I then sighed and dropped my smile. “I really hope things go well. I kinda miss Vinyl.”

Twilight reassured me with one of her winning smiles. “If she likes you enough to openly express interest in you, I think you’ll be alright. She probably misses you just as much as you miss her. My only guesses as to why she hasn’t tried to apologize by now is that either she has too much pride and doesn’t want to seem weak, or she’s afraid of you for some reason. Personally, I’m leaning more toward the former than the latter.”

I scratched the back of my head nervously at her reminder of Vinyl’s apparent attraction to me. “Yeah...I’m still wondering how I’m going to handle the first part.”

Twilight gazed at me with confusion clear on her face. “What do you mean? I thought the two of you were friends.”

I nodded, raising my hands defensively. “We are, it’s just…” I sighed and sat back on the bed, and Twilight draped her head over my shoulder. “It’s just that I don’t really feel for ponies that way. It’s nothing against ponies, I just don’t really find myself attracted to any of you because of the difference in species.” I then looked to Twilight’s reflection. “I mean, if she were one of my own kind, I would jump on that. But she’s not, so it’s just awkward. I don’t find ponies ugly, but I also don’t really find myself attracted to you all either. Somehow though, I have a feeling Vinyl will take it personally. She’s kinda hot-headed like that.” I reached across my shoulder and rubbed Twilight’s cheek affectionately, not even worrying about such contact anymore. “I’ve come to realize that all of you mean a lot more to me than I thought. I don’t have family here, so you girls are all I’ve got. I don’t want to lose the few of you I consider friends, because I might not make any more. I’m pretty hard to get along with, and honestly I chalk the friendships I have now up to luck. Applejack found me, and the rest of you are all pretty close.” I absentmindedly ran my fingers through Twilight’s mane, enjoying the silky feel as I bore my worries to her. “It just kind of happened, and I can’t count on something like that happening again. I have to make sure that I maintain what I have.”

I felt a small smile creep onto my face as Twilight pressed herself closer against me, nuzzling my chest with her chin as she did so. It was a new development for me, but it was times like this that I enjoyed how tactile ponies were compared to humans. For a normal human, such contact would seem awkward unless the two were romantically involved, but for ponies this was completely normal between friends. It’s like on a base level, they just care more about each other than my own kind does.

“You know,” she began, her presence both calming and strengthening me, “you’re a lot less touch-shy all of the sudden.”

I froze, remembering that such a thing was likely strange for her. My time with Shudder had desensitized me to ponies as a whole, as well as their mannerisms. Still, I didn’t really want to reveal what had happened to her and the others just yet. A good time to do it would be after the coronation, when both of the other princesses were present.

So instead, I made up a small lie. “I just figure that if you all are okay with it, I can be too. Besides, it is kinda nice. You all have no idea how soft you fur feels against bare skin.”

Twilight giggled softly, her subdued voice making her sound very relaxed. “Well for future reference, we’re all perfectly okay with it. Truthfully, I would have preferred being closer to you, but I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. It just felt odd for me to treat you like a close friend, but not be able to hug you when you were feeling down. It’s probably part of the reason Fluttershy seems so awkward around you. She just doesn’t know what to do if she can’t coddle somepony when they’re feeling sad or upset.”

I chuckled and nodded. “Yeah. She’s a good pony though, and I hope she didn’t take it personally.”

“She didn’t.” Twilight assured, locking her eyes with mine through the mirror. “She knows how uncomfortable you were at first, and if there’s one thing Fluttershy strives to do for her friends, it’s making them comfortable.”

I nodded before gently pulling away and standing. “Well, I have just enough time to head to the spa for my interview. Wish me luck, Twilight.”

She gasped and nodded. “Oh that’s right, you have a job interview today! Good luck Jamie!”

I waved my hand in farewell to her and quickly left the library, hopefully toward a new job and the true beginning of a home on this world.

Chapter 12: "But I don't do spas!"

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Chapter 12: “But I don’t do spas!”

As I made my way through Ponyville to the Sleeping Dragon Spa, I simply enjoyed the calm atmosphere. I had become a common enough sight so that other than a polite wave and smile, ponies didn’t even bat an eye at me passing through the town. It added a desirable sense of normality for me that made Equestria feel a little more like a home instead of a place to live, and I couldn’t help but smile a bit at the thought. Even now, there would be a faint pang of longing whenever I thought about Earth, but my time with ponies willing to put up with me had helped me ease into the fact that Equis was my home now, and there was no getting around it.

I was finding it easier and easier as time went on to turn my mind away from the more negative thoughts, and the warmth and care that was freely offered to me by so many helped. Sure, I was still in no way completely comfortable with my new situation, but if I was ever presented with a choice to return to my world in the correct time period, I am not entirely sure I would take such an offer.

Crazy, I know.

I had formed a home for myself here, filled with friends who cared about me and would miss me if I was gone. I was finally coming to terms with the fact that given the choice to return to Earth, there wouldn’t be anything left there for me. No family, no friends, and no familiarity. My old life could finally be laid to rest for me, and honestly, it was a good feeling.

That wasn’t to say that I completely understood Equis, nor that I liked everything about it. For one, I just couldn’t figure out the two Equestrian princesses, nor what they had in store for me. Both claimed to care about me and even wish to be my friend, but the way they acted and treated me reminded me of a cat playing with a mouse: batting it around with its paws until the mouse died, or the cat became bored. I could only hope my relationship with the princesses (if you could call it that) wouldn’t end that way, but I had my doubts.

Currently though, I decided not to think about that particular part of my life. I had a job interview to ace, and walking aimlessly throughout the town nitpicking at what I liked and disliked about the world I lived in would get me nowhere.

I was pleased to find the place of my possible job to be fairly close to the library, at a mere ten minute walk from point A to point B. The building itself looked a lot like what I would expect a circus tent to look like, only with more subdued colors and a solid construction. I pushed open the door as I ducked my head to enter, and was met with a rather quaint waiting room housed by a few patrons, and a small desk worked by a pink earth pony with a pastel blue mane and tail. She wore a headwrap that kept her mane out of her face, and a smile that could put at ease even the most uncomfortable person.

Said earth pony noticed me as soon as I walked in (as did everyone else), and she motioned me over with a hoof. “Welcome to the Sleeping Dragon Spa! You must be Mr. Smith, correct?”

I nodded with a smile. “I am.”

The pony smiled in return and jerked her head toward a door marked “EMPLOYEES ONLY”. “Follow me. We’ll get started right away.”

I pushed open the door by easily reaching above the spa pony, and followed her into a back room that led to a break room-like area where another pony with nearly the exact same style as the one previous sat, except with swapped colors for her mane and tail.

The pink one stopped next to the other and greeted, “I’m Aloe Blossom, and this is my sister Lotus. As you may have already guessed, we’re the proprietors of the spa, and the ones you will be meeting with today.”

I nodded with a smile as I sat down at a chair provided to me. “Thank you. I’m Jamison Smith, and it’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

Aloe Blossom nodded before looking to her sister, who picked up the conversation. “With our business having picked up dramatically in the past year, we are always looking for skilled workers to help out around the spa, and Princess Twilight Sparkle tells us that you’re rather qualified for a masseur position.”

I shrugged. “I suppose so, though I only have experience with providing my services to aging pets and the like.”

Lotus Blossom nodded before motioning to a waiting spa bed that looked oddly similar to one I would find on Earth, only offering support in different places for the different body mechanics of a pony. “Well, let’s see what you can do.”

As her sister took her place upon the massage table, Aloe Blossom began explaining to me. “As with any business of this type, you are strongly encouraged to disregard the common cultural issues that may or may not revolve around touch. Our clients trust us, and that trust will extend to you should we hire you. That being said, there will be no groping of intimate areas, and we do not deal in ‘happy endings’. For this practice session, Lotus and I will openly tell you if something is inappropriate, or if you should push a little further with your ministrations. After all, a good masseur is very thorough.”

I looked to Lotus Blossom as she lay waiting on the massage bed, and took a deep breath before unbuttoning and removing my jacket and rolling up my sleeves. I then approached the prone pony and grabbed the nearby oil bottle, squeezing a minimal amount into my hands and rubbing them to warm it. Finally, I began running my hands and fingers over the shoulders of the pony presented to me.

Immediately Lotus Blossom spoke up. “Alright, immediately you’re doing something wrong. This is meant to be a relaxing massage, so don’t be afraid to put a little more oomph into it. I won’t break.” I sighed and applied more pressure with my fingers and thumbs as I worked over the muscles around her neck and shoulders, and heard her groan underneath me. “Yessss...much better.”

I focused on digging deeper into the muscle with my fingers, using my unique ability to manipulate the flesh in a way no pony could with their hooves. As I heard the snaps and pops of muscles uncoiling and knots being worked out, I gradually moved my hands lower, before stopping at the withers.

Apparently Aloe Blossom noticed my plight, as she explained, “Anywhere else in society, you are not to touch the bare back of a pony. However, this is an environment where that rule is void so long as it is done in a situation such as this. Clients know that, and trust us to do our job to the fullest extent.” She motioned with her head toward her sister and smiled. “Go ahead, get in there.”

Being given the okay on what would normally be a no-no, I began to work my hands into the slender muscle that bordered the spine, relaxing and warming it as I continued to massage. Unlike a human, there weren’t many muscles along the back, but I worked to get wherever it was needed. Lotus Blossom melted at my touch, and her critiques of my skill was reduced to unintelligible babbles as she attempted to become one with the massage table.

Aloe Blossom continued pointing things out to me as I went on with my work. “Don’t forget the front legs. We walk on those too, so they need attention as well. Hooves get sore from walking all day, but take the longest to soothe. Save those for last.”

I nodded as I continued, moving my hands from the spine of the pony to her haunches, and again pausing.

Aloe Blossom giggled and said, “Same thing as the back here, Mr. Smith. Just limit your touch to actually massaging, and you’ll be fine. Avoid the obviously intimate areas of a pony underneath the tail, and you’re not doing anything wrong in this context.”

I continued carefully, using my palms and fingertips to knead the soft muscles of the croup and dock before moving to the firm rump of the pony. Immediately, my brain saw fit to advise me I was practically groping a pony’s ass, but neither pony seemed to find an issue with it, so I just passed it off as part of the job.

Good thing I don’t fantasize about ponies, or I’d have a rigid problem to deal with.

Lotus Blossom’s groans of approval graduated to soft moans, which even with my lack of attraction to ponies began to make me feel a little...warm. I chose not to focus on my own plight though, and continued my work, moving further down the splayed hind legs and kneading out all the kinks and knots in the muscles there. Finishing with that, I then moved toward the head of the table again, and did the same to Lotus Blossom’s forelegs, noticing the relaxed pony sporting a wide smile on her face.

As I finished with her sister’s forelegs, Aloe Blossom appeared beside me to once again offer advice. “Now for the hooves. Unlike what you might believe about a pony’s hooves, they’re actually not as solid as you think. They are malleable keratin over a fleshy core, and have nerves spread out throughout the whole thing. The best advice I can give you is to work it like you’re trying soften a piece of clay by hand. A hoof will never get that soft of course, but that’s how you should do it, and a few minutes of that will leave a pony very happy.”

I acknowledged her pointers with a nod and worked the hoof to the best of my ability with my hands. Contrary to what I had initially thought about hooves, fur didn’t cover the whole thing. Instead, there was a longer layer of fur that was styled to cover them for a uniform surface when in public, but in actuality, they were the same as a horse’s hooves. The texture, however, was quite different, and was much softer than I thought. Even with just the pressure of my hands, I could feel the hoof give just a bit, and this was answered with a soft moan from the pony on the table.

While moving my attention to the other forehoof, I asked Aloe Blossom, “Is your sister always this vocal?”

Aloe Blossom answered with a giggle. “Not unless it feels good, which is a good sign for you. She can be rather picky when it comes to business.”

I shrugged as I added differing pressure to Lotus Blossom’s left hoof, and then moving to the hind legs. “Honestly, this is a lot easier. Animals can’t really tell me when something feels good, so it’s a plus that ponies can talk.” I began firmly rolling the right rear hoof between my hands as I added, “It also helps that you all are willing to teach me what to do and what not to do. I wouldn’t want this entire town thinking I’m a pervert or a deviant.”

Aloe Blossom giggled and shook her head. “I don’t think you have to worry about that. Although you might become our most popular worker here with those hands of yours.”

I cleared my throat nervously at the praise. “I can’t be that good. Like I said, my previous clients couldn’t even talk to me.”

Aloe Blossom smiled as I finished with her sister’s final hoof and moved around to the front of the table. “Well, how was it Lotus?”

The mentioned pony groaned softly as she lifted her head, and smiled. “Better than I expected he could do with those flimsy things. Guess I was wrong.” Lotus Blossom lifted her gaze to look directly at me, and she grinned happily. “When can you start?”

I shrugged. “When do you need me? I’m busy tonight, but any other time would be fine.”

The prone earth pony looked to her sister for a moment before turning her attention back to me. “I think we’ll have you work the afternoon shift on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at first. It’s a high-volume time of day, but the middle of the week tends to be less busy than the weekends. The shift starts at 1:00p.m. Does that sound alright to you?”

I honestly had no regular issues with a schedule like that, so I nodded. “That sounds great.”

Lotus Blossom finally composed herself and stood, letting out a soft moan as she felt the relaxed state of her body. Eventually, she looked up at me with a happy smile. “Your pay will be twelve bits per hour, with tips.” I was pleasantly surprised about this, as Twilight had informed me that an average wage for a job was around eight bits per hour.

I smiled again and offered my hand for a polite handshake. “Well, it is a pleasure, and thank you for this opportunity.”

Aloe and Lotus Blossom both nodded as one by one, they shook my hand. At the same time, they said, “We’ll see you again soon!”

I had pieced together that they were twins, but saying the same things at the same times was a little weird.

I offered a polite wave before preparing to leave, only to stop in my tracks as a question came to mind. “Oh, what should I wear?”

Both ponies looked at me with confused expressions, Lotus Blossom saying, “Um, you really don’t have to wear anything.”

I cleared my throat uncomfortably before answering, “My race is clothing-required. I’ll leave it at that.”

Both sisters looked at me in confusion, but Aloe Blossom tilted her head in acquiescence. “Well, I guess just wear something clean and comfortable without being distracting or a safety hazard.”

I smiled, having a pair of cargo shorts and a tee in mind. “Awesome. I’ll see you both in a few days then.”

“Bye!” they answered together, in an oddly more-cute-than-creepy way.

Yes, there is such a thing...shut up.

As I pushed open the door to the library, I was caught in a rather interesting situation.

Twilight had Spike pinned to the ground as she loomed over him, and she shouted, “GIMMIE!”

Spike had his eyes squeezed shut as he lay prone, face down, over something he was hiding underneath him. “NO!”

It was at that moment I cleared my throat, and Twilight looked up at me with a horrified expression. Her hips were flush against Spike’s tail end and her wings were spread wide, the realization of which caused her to blush brightly. “I-IT’S NOT WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE!”

I smirked evilly. “And what does it look like, Twilight?” The young alicorn only blushed a deeper shade, turning her cheeks maroon as she sputtered and leapt away from her dragon assistant. I chuckled and shook my head. “God, I wish I had a camera.”

Twilight tucked her wings against her body with a snap, clearing her throat and trotting over to me with a smile. “S-so how did your job interview go?”

Again I smirked. “Oh, this isn’t over Twilight. There’s much hazing to be done yet.” As a new blush began to light up her face, I shrugged with a warmer smile. “Still, I guess we can change the subject for now. It went great. I’ll be working Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.”

Twilight tilted her head curiously. “What did you have to do during the interview?”

I shrugged again. “Demonstrate my skills on Lotus.” I shifted my feet a bit with nervousness. “It was a little awkward to be touching a pony in places I have been told not to, but they both assured me it was part of the job.”

Twilight raised her eyebrow at me. “How so?”

“I massaged her ass as part of the job.” I explained dryly.

Twilight’s blush returned. “O-oh. Is that going to be a regular thing?”

I nodded. “Apparently so. The sisters told me there’s different rules for massages, and to be fair, your flank muscles are used all day when you walk, so they get pretty tight.” I grimaced as I realized what I had just said. “I just called a pony’s ass tight, didn’t I?”

“You did.” Twilight affirmed with a grin.

I groaned and slapped my palm over my face. “Thank God I only said that in front of a princess, otherwise I’d be in trouble.”

“Maybe that would put Vinyl in a good mood for you tonight.” Spike commented. I looked over to him, and he shrugged. “She likes you, so tell her that she has nice flanks. She’ll dig that.”

Twilight sputtered incoherently for a few moments before shouting, “SPIKE!”

I just barely kept from laughing aloud, and shook my head. “I’m trying to apologize, not ask her out.”

“Well why not?” Spike asked, purposefully avoiding Twilight’s glare. “You like her, she likes you; it’s perfect. Go get her.”

Twilight was apparently too stunned to speak from listening to her young charge suddenly sounding not only more mature, but better versed in modern social structure.

Still, I shook my head. “It’s a human thing, Spike; can’t see ponies like that. It just feels...weird for some reason.”

Twilight finally composed herself as her interest was piqued. “Why?”

I shrugged, trying to get my words together before saying them. “Well…” I thought for a moment before saying, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but on Earth, ponies aren’t sapient. They can’t talk, and it’s highly unlikely they even think like humans do. They’re just animals, and as bad as it sounds, that’s what I’m reminded of when I see an Equestrian pony.” Before Twilight could retort, I continued. “It’s gotten better, of course. As you can tell, I’m fairly alright with physical contact now, and I can see those of you I’ve gotten close to as friends. Still, there’s that little part of my mind that’ll always tell me, ‘Dude, that’s a little horse.’”

Twilight’s face looked like a cross between surprise and offense, and I mentally cringed. “I’m not entirely sure how to take that.”

I sighed and shook my head. “It’s not in a mean way, I assure you.” Again I took a few seconds to organize my mind before saying, “Alright, let me try and explain it to you this way, and let’s use Rarity as an example: around here, I’ve been told she’s known as one of the most attractive mares around. Both stallions and mares try to get her attention, and she’s not only intelligent, but kind and generous.” Just imagining such a woman caused me to smile. “Now if she was a human, damn, she’d be a hell of a catch.” I then shrugged helplessly. “But she’s not. When I look at her, I see an intelligent businesspony who is kind and generous, but that’s it. I mean sure, she’s pretty ‒ even I can admit that ‒ but she’s not attractive to me. I can look at her and know that she’s beautiful, but she’s just not the type of beautiful that a human looks for.” I then remembered a certain unfavorable part of human culture and grimaced. “Well, she’s not the type most humans look for.” I shook my head vigorously to clear the unwanted images, and looked hopelessly at Spike and Twilight. “I’ve already explained this to both Princess Celestia and Princess Luna: I don’t find ponies attractive. To be honest, when I see the few of you that I feel comfortable with, I actually have to restrain myself from rubbing your bellies or patting your heads like I would a dog, because ‒ and don’t take this the wrong way ‒ you all are adorable sometimes.” At Twilight’s skeptical expression, I pointed to her and explained, “Like that way you grin like a crazy mare and bounce a little on your hooves when you get the chance to learn something new. Cute. As. Hell.”

Twilight blushed deeply and turned her face away. “I don’t do that all the time.”

At that point, Spike decided to add to her embarrassment. “To be fair, it is pretty cute when you do that, Twi. It’s like when it happens, you’re not Princess Twilight Sparkle or even Twilight Sparkle: Protege of Celestia. Instead, for those few seconds, you’re just little filly Twilight, getting to learn something new and interesting.”

Twilight huffed in annoyance. “You two aren’t ever going to let me live that down, are you?”

Spike laughed. “Of course not. You’ve got a ruthless human and your younger brother rooming with you. You’re doomed to live with that for the rest of your life.”

Twilight rolled her eyes as her wings fluttered in frustration. “Thanks Spike.”

I chuckled as well and gave Twilight an affectionate rub on the cheek. “We do it because someone has to remind you of who you were, so you can continue being who you are, and turn into who you are meant to be.” I tilted my head in confusion before commenting, “Wow, that’s surprisingly philosophical of me.”

Twilight tilted her head as well. “I agree. Perhaps it has something to do with the chaos magic inside of you.” Her eyes then widened and she hopped to her hooves. “Oh! That reminds me; I need fresh samples of skin, blood, and hair. I’ve been testing the samples I took last time, and I’ve come across something rather interesting. However, before I can be sure about my theories, I need fresh data to work with.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Care to elaborate?”

Twilight shook her head with a frown. “I’d rather not until I’m sure, if that’s alright. Both Spike and Princess Celestia have brought to my attention just how easily I can jump to conclusions, so I’d like to be sure before I say anything.”

I reluctantly removed my jacket and rolled my sleeve up before saying, “Just promise me you’re not going to make an army of evil human clones or something.”

Twilight giggled and shook her head. “No problem there, Jamie. Besides, humans are too headstrong to train on my own, and I’ve already experienced what too much of a friend can be like.” As she levitated a syringe and alcohol swab toward my arm, she cringed a bit. “Too much Pinkie Pie.”

As my arm was cleaned and then punctured, I asked, “Is it something dangerous that I should worry about?”

Twilight shook her head as a pair of scissors clipped a lock of hair from my bangs, and a file scraped some skin cells into a container before sealing. “Not at all. What I can tell you is that I think I might have found out how your magic is manifesting.”

I raised my eyebrow as a bandage was placed on my arm where the blood was taken from. “Like I’ll be able to cast spells or something?”

Twilight shook her head. “I don’t think so. Your magic seems to be more internal, but like I said, I want to do some more tests before I definitively claim anything.”

I nodded, thankful that Twilight was gentler than the first time she “harvested” me. “Well, thanks for keeping track of things. I’m glad I have you looking into this; the last thing I want is to suddenly find out I have some magic cancer or something.”

Twilight giggled as she sterilized and packed the containers gathered. “Nothing like that, I assure you. It’s been proven that your body has already assimilated magic just fine, so I don’t think there’s any imminent danger involved here. I just want to be sure that if anything does start happening, you have somepony that has an idea of what’s going on.”

The thought that my body had fundamentally changed still unnerved me, but I nodded. “Again, thanks.” I stretched a bit before walking toward my room. “Well, I’m going to go ahead and shower again before I go to the club. Rainbow’s going to be dropping by soon, so if she gets here before I’m out, just tell her I’m freshening up.”

“Got it, Jamie.” Spike answered as I left the room.

As the hot water cascaded down my body, I couldn’t help but feel a little apprehensive toward what was to come tonight. I mean, by what Octavia had told me, it was quite likely that I was going to be just fine as far as my relationship with Vinyl was concerned. What concerned me though was the fact that Vinyl may very well want more than a mere friendship with Ponyville’s resident human, which unfortunately for her was not something I was keen on exploring.

As much as thinking about Princess Luna and Celestia angered me, they had spoken to me some very useful words of wisdom. As part of what was to be my new life, I realized that my old plans and old ideas probably weren’t going to pan out the exact same way as I initially envisioned them. This being the case, I couldn’t say that my future was going to end up a certain way.

And, for the first time, I could admit something to myself.

Maybe as time went on, my indifference toward the pony form would wane, and perhaps one day, I might even find myself eyeing them in the way I would a beautiful woman. I didn’t really believe such a thing would happen, but I could admit to myself that such a thing was possible, no matter how unlikely. After all, my thoughts of what was and what could have been were all wiped off the face of potentiality when I came to Equestria, and the realm of impossibility didn’t seem so vast anymore. Rather than forcibly push the thought away or even completely disregard it, I simply let it settle within my mind as a possible truth of my existence. Objectively, I could tell that my willingness to be more open to possibilities like that was likely an effect of the magic within me, but I realized that there was also nothing I could do to stop it.

Instead, I turned my mind toward my mission tonight: get my friend back.

Chapter 13: Revival

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Chapter 13: Revival

“Jamie, quit messing with that.” Rainbow Dash chastised, motioning to the blazer I wore. “It’s fine, you look fine, and everything’s going to be alright. I’ve got your back.”

I forced my hands to my pockets, and took a steadying breath as the two of us walked to the Lunar District of Ponyville. “Thanks for doing this, Dash. I owe you one.”

She grinned and shook her head, knocking her shoulder lightly into my leg. “Just don’t get drunk and make a fool of yourself and we’ll call it even. I’ve got a rep to keep, and I’d rather not ruin it by being seen with a trashed monkey.”

“Human.” I corrected with a grunt.

“Whatever.” she replied with a roll of her eyes. “Monkeys scream a lot and they tend to make a mess indoors, which I think is exactly what you’ll be like if you have too many drinks.”

I sighed and shook my head. “Honestly, I’m more worried about waking up in some random pony’s bed, with no clothes on and no memory of the night previous. As long as you can keep that from happening, I’ll be happy.”

We continued our trek to the club, but Rainbow Dash sent me a very confused look. “I thought you said you don’t really feel that way about ponies.”

I glanced in her direction. “I don’t, but testosterone is a hell of a hormone, Dash.”

She rolled her eyes disbelievingly. “It can’t be that bad.”

I pursed my lips and nodded. “Okay, well how bad is it when heat season rolls around?”

Rainbow Dash’s face began to change from cyan to lilac as a blush lit up her face, and she nearly tripped over her own hooves. I jumped a little inside at the small victory, having never before made the daredevil pegasus lose her cool.

After a few seconds of Rainbow Dash struggling to compose herself, she coughed and answered, “I-it’s bad...like really bad.” The blush on her face began to die down as she continued. “I mean, I guess it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be though.” Rainbow Dash looked up at me and flapped her wings until she was hovering next to my head. “I’m going to let you in on a little secret:” I leaned closer so she could speak directly into my ear, and she whispered, “heat season is all an act.”

I raised my eyebrow and turned to look at her. “What do you mean?”

She chuckled softly and shook her head. “Did you really think the mares in town go crazy and abduct any males that might be around?” She shrugged. “I guess if you did, then the whole thing worked the way it was supposed to. See, the fact is that behavior-wise, we don’t change all that much during estrus. Mentally and emotionally though, we do...like a lot.” I motioned for Rainbow Dash to continue, and she sighed before saying, “Okay, even though males technically don’t have to worry about being hog-tied and dragged away to their lustful doom, it’s still not a good idea for them to be around. Mares get more emotional, and we can’t really think straight.” Again the blush came to her face, and she cleared her throat nervously. “For me at least, I think about sexytimes constantly. Not enough to where I’ll lose control and tackle somepony to the ground, but enough that if there’s a fine piece of flank nearby, I won’t even be able to do my job.” She sighed and nearly grimaced as she spoke the next word. “Intercourse gets rid of the heat for a day or so, but that’s also the problem; when a mare’s in heat, she can get pregnant.”

I nodded. “Okay, but why all the rigamarole? Can’t you all just tell the guys tha-”

“If you were a horny guy and had females everywhere willing to have a roll in the hay with you, would you trust yourself?” she asked with a frown.

I thought for a moment before smiling sheepishly. “I-I guess not. I mean I think I’d be okay, but I’m not sure.”

Rainbow Dash sighed before dropping to the ground again, trotting next to me. “I know it seems kinda weird to do all that acting instead of figuring something else out, but Princess Luna put this whole thing into effect thousands of years ago. There’s a reason it’s stuck around this long; it works. It’s easier for males to be afraid to go outside during heat season than to risk trusting them to control themselves around a bunch of sex-craving mares.”

I was pleased that things weren’t as strange in Equestria as I had believed, but cleared my throat when I realized the tangent we had gone off on. “So basically what makes it so hard is that you can’t stop thinking about sex, right?” She nodded, and I just chuckled. “Dash, that’s what I go through every day of my life. On Earth, it’s just called being a man, and the longer a guy goes without getting laid, the worse it can get.”

Rainbow Dash’s cheeks lit up again, and she chuckled nervously. “S-so you’re like, in heat all the time?”

I chuckled darkly, showing off my fangs (yes, I’m calling them fangs now. Fangs are badass). “You worried to be around me now?”

Rainbow Dash seemed to realize how she was acting, as she stopped cowering and smiled sheepishly. “Sorry. I didn't realize until now just how bad it must be for you. Sharp teeth and prey instincts don’t go together all that well either.”

I shrugged as we continued walking. “And yet ponies have become interested in me in both the scientific and romantic sense.” I chuckled again, this time full of mirth. “If only you all knew exactly what humans were.”

“Explain it to me. We’ve got a good ten or so minutes until we get there.” Rainbow Dash replied with a smile.

I nodded before turning my gaze back to the road ahead of us. “Alright. Well first of all, you need to understand that in the world I come from, we’re the only sapient species. That means that we are the only one that’s evolved to read, write, and speak our own language.” I sighed before stating, “Humans have come to understand what we call the ‘Theory of Evolution’, which is a scientific idea of how we came to be, as well as other species on the planet. Basically, the theory states that the strongest of a species will survive and breed to pass on its genes to the next generation, while the weak will be left behind with little to nothing. Now what you need to understand is that in every generation, some mutations to the genome crop up, which can be either positive or negative depending on how well it allows us to survive. ” I pointed to her and said, “For example: wings give a unique advantage over those that are tethered to the ground. In a fight with someone of your same strength, you’d likely win, which means that you would survive, while the other would not.”

“I don’t mean to sound like Rarity or anything, but that sounds kind of…” Dash voiced, seeming to grasp for the correct word.

“Barbaric?” I offered. Dash nodded, and I smiled gently at her. “Survival of the fittest, my dear. If the world were uncivilized and we were all fighting for our own survival, some would survive while others would not. That’s evolution at the base level, and whoever has the easiest time surviving will give birth to a new generation that is more fit to live in the world. Over time, what an animal once was will change through the generations, giving rise to completely different species that have evolved to live more efficiently. ” I cleared my throat and continued. “So anyway, with all the other animals of our world, humans clawed their way to the top. We aren’t the strongest, we don’t have claws, and neither are we very fast. What we do have is our intelligence, our physical endurance and healing ability, and our ability to think rationally. With all of that, we were able to become the apex predator of the entire world, with no natural enemies and nothing to oppose us as far as predation goes. And by God, we will eat anything.” I scratched my beard and sighed softly. "And that's another thing you have to remember about my kind, Dash; we're predators. We are the most dangerous kind of predator, because we are the one that you have to watch out for whenever you turn your back. We are the only predators that walk the earth that hunt for sport, not survival."

"Wow," she breathed almost reverently, "humans are hardcore."

I nodded. "They can be. What's even crazier is our biology though." I smirked as I continued. "Our bodies are incredibly resistant to damage, for example. While a broken leg might kill another animal from the shock alone, a human can get back up and hop away, healing the injury within only a few weeks or months. We have a hyperactive scarring response as well, allowing us to recover from virtually any injury that isn't immediately fatal. We can survive for longer without sleep than any other animal alive, and we can live solitarily or in a group." I pointed to my teeth. "And let's not forget about the dangers of human bites."

Rainbow Dash looked at me with a curious expression. “Human bites? No offense, but until recently your teeth were a little small.”

I nodded. “Yeah, but I still had canines, and enough jaw strength to break the skin if I needed to.” I then shrugged, seeing the lights and young ponies associated with the Lunar District coming into view. “The bite itself isn’t what does someone in though. Instead, it’s the bacteria that we have in our mouths. Even if the bite itself isn’t that dangerous, the wound can quickly become infected, killing our victim with overwhelming infections. In fact, it’s dangerous even to other humans.” I then chuckled again. “And yet, ponies want a piece of Equestria’s only human. You all are crazy.”

"I know you wouldn't hurt me though." Dash murmured quietly. She then coughed and said, "I mean us; you wouldn't hurt us. That's why we're not afraid of you."

I raised my eyebrow. "I could."

"But you won't." Dash confidently stated.

I offered her a warm smile and nodded in agreement. "I won't."

Dash's initial statement about me wasn't forgotten by a long shot. True that I had come to know a much more caring pony than most saw, but it was unlike her to refer directly to her and I in such a sense. It was likely I was overthinking things though, so I ignored it for now and focused on the building in front of us.

It was a large brick building with steel pipes running from the foundation to the roof, which I couldn't figure out a practical reason for. In front was a long line of ponies bordered by a velvet rope, overlooked by a massive neon sign.

"Well," I muttered to Dash, "it seems fairly obvious."

She nodded with a grin. "Yep, this is the place. C'mon, let's get in line."

As my prismatic friend and I made our way to the rear, I couldn't help but notice the stares I was receiving. True that I sort of expected them, but that didn't make me feel any more comfortable about it.

"Excuse me," shouted a masculine voice from behind us, coming from one of the bouncers by the door, "are you the human?"

I restrained a laugh and snarked, "No, I'm Discord." The bright orange stallion stared at me in horror, so I blandly clarified, "That was a joke."

He cleared his throat and trotted over to us. "You're on the VIP list tonight, courtesy of tonight's DJ."

I nodded dumbly before following the bouncer, Dash whispering, "You're a VIP? Since when?"

Instead of firing off a retort, I simply entered the club, and was immediately aware of the deep thrum of bass rumbling through my body, which I hadn't heard or felt outside. A glowstick-clad unicorn mare approached us with two bands floating in her magic, so I silently offered my wrist as it wrapped around and adhered to itself. From there, I followed Dash through another set of double doors and was assaulted by booming bass and synthesized music.

I felt Dash rest her arms on my shoulders as she loudly said from behind, "There she is, on the main stage." I looked to the DJ booth, and saw the familiar two-toned blue mane of a white unicorn, bobbing to the rhythm. Dash then voiced, "Wait here. I'm gonna get us something to drink."

I nodded to my friend as she flitted away to the bar, which happened to be the only landmark I could spot in the darkness of the club. I suppose that was the idea though, so I ignored the questions that presented themselves; instead, I subtly tapped my toe to the beat running through me. Having never actually been to a club since one time in high school, it went without saying that I was a little out of my element. Still, as I looked to see Vinyl Scratch doing her thing on stage, I steeled myself and enjoyed the music. After all, I did care about her, seeing as how she was one of my first friends since coming to this world; if nothing else, she at least deserved to know that I cared about her enough to attempt to mend our friendship.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught Dash approaching with a two-cup holder in her mouth, so I reached over and grabbed it so that she didn’t have to hold it longer than necessary. True that ponies had sort of evolved to hold things using their mouths, but I knew it couldn’t be that comfortable.

She nodded her thanks as I took the drinks from her, and then flitted up so her mouth was next to my ear. “Alright, this’ll get us started: some Sweet Apple Acres cider. It’s got a good kick to it, but it’s tame enough not to knock you on your flank.”

I looked to Dash out of the corner of my eye and nodded before grabbing one of the drinks, immediately taking a sip to soothe my nervously dry throat. There was a part of me that assured I didn’t have anything to worry about, seeing as how with Vinyl adding me to the VIP list, it was clear she wanted to speak with me. Still, with Dash and Twilight’s explanations, it was also clear she was attracted to me, which complicated things. That was beside the fact that as a pony in general, Vinyl was quite the wild card.

Oh well. There’s a reason they call alcohol “liquid courage”. With a sigh, I downed my entire drink in one gulp, motioning to Dash for another.

Lasers, man. And smoke. And...awesome.

Maybe it was the fact that pony drinks were weaker than those of humans, or maybe it was that I had always had the alcohol tolerance of a three-hundred fifty pound man, but whatever the reason, Dash and a few other ponies that had saw fit to subtly eye me throughout the night were flabbergasted as I slammed my twelfth shot of Apple Bucker upon the bar counter (which was curiously the exact same as an Apple Fucker). By this point, I was pretty well lit, and wanted to dance.

“Dash!” I shouted louder than necessary, causing the three or four ponies around me to jump a little. “We’re dancin’. Get your colorful ass up and shake it with me!”

Being well-accustomed to my speech styles by now, Dash just chuckled with a mild blush and nodded, taking my hand as I pulled her to the darkened dance floor. The funny part was that I can’t dance sober, so I knew dancing drunk was a bad idea, but I also didn’t care. For the first time in a long time, I was fit to cut loose and do whatever I felt like. The hangover and aching muscles that were sure to come later were sober Jamie’s problem, not mine.

Fortunately for me, Dash was nothing if not creative, as she quickly figured out that dancing as most ponies did (all four hooves on the ground) wasn’t going to work. So without preamble, she flapped her wings as she rose on her hind hooves and deftly balanced to stand erect. This put her at only a few inches shorter than me so that she could look me in the eye, and with her stunning mane and slightly spread wings...damn, she looked beautiful.

Wait, did I just think that? Fuck it, who cares.

Dash flashed a cocky grin as she began to dance with me fluidly, keeping in constant contact with me in some way so that she could keep from falling. Oddly enough, I liked having her close to me, and found myself occasionally running a hand through her mane or along her cheek as she led me through simple steps. I was subtly aware of the blatant stares we were receiving from the ponies around us, but I didn’t care. I was having fun, and I wasn’t going to let self-consciousness ruin it.

Even as track after track played over the sound system, Dash’s eyes never left mine, and her smile never wavered. I didn’t care that she was a pony, because if even just for a minute, I could simply revel in the fact that there was someone in my life that cared for me simply because of who I was, not what I could do for them. It was such a rare thing nowadays that I latched onto it as my inhibitions fell away, and I found myself wishing I had known people like Dash and the others back on Earth. It was nice to have someone that gave a damn, and wanted nothing more from me than my friendship.

“Um, J-Jamie?” Dash called to me as the song led into another on the set, and I looked down at the mare in front of me. “Y-you can let go, now. We’re in public.”

I blinked my eyes to focus and found Dash with her back pressed against my chest, and my arms wrapped around her barrel. Through the haze of my mind, I realized just how intimate our position looked to a pony, and I hurriedly released her with a sheepish smile and a nervous cough. “S-sorry about that, Dash. I got a little carried away.”

My friend was luckily very understanding, as she just shook her head while she turned to face me, draping her arms over my shoulders. “It’s alright Jay, just be careful with stuff like that. It can send the wrong message to a girl.” She then smirked and said, “Still, you looked like you were having fun. I figured I could let you enjoy that for a little bit. This is a club, after all.” Dash motioned with her head to the stage and said, “But tonight, you have somepony important to talk to. She’s done with her set and...oh, here she comes.”

I looked to where Dash was looking to see Vinyl approaching through the sea of ponies. I found it oddly interesting that the ponies all around seemed to bend to her desires, but I suppose it made sense. After all, Vinyl was a goddess of the nightlife, and her subjects would readily bow to her every whim. So, it went without saying that just making room for her was perfectly acceptable.

Dash offered the DJ a smile as she approached before swiveling to stand at my side. It was a simple gesture as she pressed herself against me, both comforting me and allowing me to focus more on the unicorn in front of me.

"Hey Jamie," she greeted with her trademark toothy grin, "can we talk?"

"I saw you dancing out there." Vinyl commented offhandedly as we entered the backstage, where her team was working furiously to be sure her equipment was in good working order. She then motioned to Dash with a grin. "I take my eyes off you for only a few days, and you're already picking up fillies."

Being confronted with what I came to the club for seemed to sober me up quite a bit, as I was able to notice that even though her tone spoke of playful mirth, there was a strong undercurrent of pain. I was oddly thankful that ponies are so bad at hiding their feelings. Also, I had to remind myself that what was months for me was only a few days for her, so with Vinyl being affected so strongly in so short a time, it was clear I had vastly underestimated our relationship.

I offered Vinyl a small smile before motioning to Dash. "She's not my girlfriend, she's just here to make sure I don't make too big a fool of myself." Vinyl seemed to relax a bit, so I continued with honesty. "I've missed you, Vie. I'm sorry I made you think I don't value you, because that would be untrue."

Vinyl removed her glasses before taking a deep breath and focusing her ruby gaze on me. "I missed you too, Jamie. I'm sorry I flipped out on you like that. It was unfair, no matter how much I was hurting. You deserved better than that." She shrugged with a happy sigh. "Seems Tavi's always lookin' out for me."

I nodded before turning to Dash. "Do you think you can give us a few minutes?"

Dash nodded before nuzzling my hand affectionately. "Sure thing, big guy. I'll be out on the floor." I nodded to her before gently rubbing her cheek with my palm, then watched her go.

"She really cares about you." Vinyl commented softly.

“A lot of ponies do, strangely enough.” I replied with a smile. I then smiled sheepishly and turned to face Vinyl. “It just took me a bit to take my head out of my ass and realize it.”

Vinyl reclined in the chair she sat upon, crossing her hindlegs and placing them on a footstool. “So why be that way in the first place?”

Whether it was because of a bit of maturation on my part or the alcohol, the answer came easily. “Fear of the pain of loss, mostly. I figured that if I didn’t allow myself to get too close to any of you, it would be easier for me to leave when the time came.” I then chuckled mirthlessly and flopped down on a beanbag chair to Vinyl’s side. “Of course, that was because I was banking on the idea that I was returning to Earth. With that falling through, I had to deal with the fact that I had been a royal prick to all of you, merely because I didn’t want to say goodbye to friends.” Before she could speak, I added, “With my luck though, I made friends anyway, but chose to ignore it. I tried to protect myself by completely ignoring the bonds that were forming, and in doing so hurt those who had come to care for me, doing ill to the ponies who were there when I was alone and scared.”

I caught Vinyl nodding sagely out of the corner of my eye. “You’re not the only one guilty of only thinking about yourself.” She released a sigh before saying, “The whole time you were talking to me that day, all I could think was, ‘Am I not good enough to be a friend? Was I not memorable enough for him?’ It hurt, a lot, but I never once thought about just how hard it was for you. So much is different for you here, and you don’t have anyone of your own kind to talk to about things; no pony really understands what it’s like for you, and maybe no pony ever will.” Vinyl then reached across the armrest of her chair and laid a hoof on my forearm, smiling gently. “There are ponies out there that want to try though, because we care about you. You’re a friend, and even if we will never completely understand everything about you, that doesn’t mean we can’t be great friends.”

I took a deep breath and nodded, feeling the tension and nervousness leave me as Vinyl’s hoof gently stroked my arm. “Thanks Vie. It’s nice to be reminded that no matter what, I have friends out there. Not many people would be willing to put up with all I’ve put you through.”

“Only the ones that matter.” she replied with a grin.

I nodded. “Indeed.”

As soon as I spoke the words, Vinyl hopped out of her chair and made her way to my seat before quickly embracing me and laying her head against my chest. Save for a few times when Vinyl had to help me drunkenly stumble out of a bar, we had never actually hugged. As I returned the embrace, I couldn’t help but think that she was much softer than I expected, and smelled like blueberries despite the sweat she was sure to have on her. I sat still and enjoyed the closeness provided to me, and was quite pleased that I had my first friend back. Truthfully, even though I trusted Octavia, a part of me had been afraid that Vinyl would never want to speak to me again. It appeared my fears were groundless, however, so I let the last of the tension melt away and hugged Vinyl tighter.

The few ponies in the backroom that passed us by eyed us curiously, but didn’t speak a word in regards to our actions. In honesty, I wouldn’t have cared anyway. Be it the “don’t give a shit” chemical in alcohol or simply the joy of a friendship renewed, not even the princesses could make me relinquish my hold on the little DJ in my grasp.

“I’ve got another set soon.” Vinyl mumbled as she lay comfortably against me.

I nodded slowly, my eyes closed. “I figured. It’s not even nine yet, so I figure you have a long way to go.” She nodded in agreement. “Well, I better get going then. I’ve got a coronation to get ready for, and one very manic Twilight Sparkle that I’ll need to calm down.”

“Stay.” Vinyl pleaded softly. “Just five more minutes. I’m playing a set at the soon-to-be princess’ afterparty, so I’ll see you there...but I’m not ready to let go just yet.” Then came the clincher, when she looked up at me with those bright vermillion eyes, and my defenses fell away.

I sighed in defeat and nodded. “Alright, I’ll stay for a few minutes.”

“Thank you.” she murmured as she rubbed her muzzle against my chest.

I knew at some point I would need to address her apparent infatuation with me, but for the time being, I simply basked in the affection of a good friend, and one that forgave my faults.

As Dash escorted me home, it became clear that I had made a rather large oversight when it came to alcohol. While it was true that regular pony drinks were generally weaker than most human alcoholic beverages, it seemed that hard liquor was pretty much the same. That wouldn’t have been a problem though, if I had remembered that hard liquor takes longer to process than beer or cider, and you continue to get more trashed even after you’ve stopped drinking. I didn’t feel the slightest bit nauseous, but damn, the ground seemed to refuse to stay still.

“C’mon Jay, we’re almost there.” Dash repeated for the third time, trying her best to keep me from falling on my face as she flew beside me.

It was a struggle, but I had only fallen once as we made our way to the large tree library not too far in front of us, though my right knee and elbow made sure to remind me constantly of my loss of balance.

I took slow, stumbling steps of fluxed balance as we made the journey, but otherwise felt remarkably good, all things considered. After all, I was still conscious, Vinyl had chosen to forgive me for my idiocy, and Dash smelled really good for some reason. I’m still not sure why I thought the latter, but there was plenty of “fuck it” in my system at this point ‒ more than enough for me to not give a damn about random thoughts here and there. Thinking someone or something smelled abnormally good was not in any way the strangest thing I’d ever thought while under the influence, nor would it be the last.

I tripped a bit as my toes caught something, and was just barely stopped from face-planting by Dash’s hooves around my shoulders. “Easy, big guy.”

I nodded silently and instead focused on making my way to the Golden Oaks in front of us, and cheered inwardly when my hand rested against the door. I pushed open the door as I steadied myself against the doorframe, and stepped inside with Dash beside me.

Twilight was sitting at the large table in the center of the room, a mug of tea floating in front of her and a worrisome frown on her face. She looked up to Dash and I as we entered, and let a relaxed smile curl her lips. “Hey, you two. How did it go?”

I stumbled past the alicorn and collapsed onto the sofa behind her, groaning in comfort as I did so. “It went well. Vinyl and me are cool again, and she’s going to be at the coronation.”

At the mention of what was to come tomorrow, Twilight visibly flinched.

Dash fluttered over to her friend and placed a hoof on her shoulder. “You alright Twi?”

Twilight took a deep breath before slumping with her chin on the table. “I think so. It’s just a lot to take in, you know? I mean, I won’t say that I didn’t want this in some way; I’ve always had a little bit of a fantasy about being a princess. Still, I just didn’t expect it to really happen, let alone be so abrupt.”

The haze of drunkenness was heavy on me, but I still knew what to say. “Princess Celestia is really smart, Twilight. She wouldn’t have done this if she thought you weren’t ready. Besides, you have me and all your other friends to help you out.” I then chuckled and said, “Besides, Princess Luna was very thorough when designing my outfit. No point in letting it go to waste.”

“Thorough?” Twilight asked in confusion.

I nodded with a grin. “She measured everything, and eventually found it more efficient to pose me with her hooves instead of asking me to move.” I then shrugged. “Although, I suppose it was less invasive when I had a gay guy measure me for a tux for my mother’s wedding. He got a little handsy.” Both mares blushed a bit at what I was insinuating, and I just laughed it off. “In all seriousness though, you’ve got this Twilight. They’re not going to just thrust you into the political arena with no training; they’re still going to teach you. It’s just going to be different lessons than you’re used to, and we’ll be there to help you every step of the way.”

Twilight seemed to relax a bit more and she smiled at me as Dash stood beside her. “Thanks, both of you. I don’t know what I’d do without you all.”

“Probably have a mental breakdown and destroy the town.” I commented with a sly grin.

“That was one time, and it was the parasprites’ fault, not mine!” she shot back angrily.

I laughed and shook my head. “I’m just yankin’ your chain, Twilight.”

She rolled her eyes at me before downing the last of her tea and standing. “Well, the train leaves at seven tomorrow morning, and we’ll be taking the royal car.” I saw her horn glow as the sound of the faucet in the kitchen was heard, and then it stopped before a large glass of water levitated over to me. Twilight pointed to it and said, “Drink that. I don’t want you to be whining tomorrow about a hangover in front of the princesses.” I rolled my eyes right back, but did as I was told. I held the empty glass out to her and she sent it back to the kitchen, then trotted over to me. “Alright, let’s go to bed. We’ve got a big day tomorrow, and I want to be sure we’re all well-rested.” Twilight turned her eyes to Dash as she asked, “Are you staying the night?”

Dash looked to me with a wordless question in my eyes, and I just nodded. “Sure, why not? You’re warm and soft, and in honesty, I get kinda lonely sometimes at night.”

Dash just grinned at me. “You know I’m not going to let you live that down, right?”

It took me a moment for me to realize what I said, but I just shrugged and turned toward the bedroom. “That’s sober Jamie’s problem.”

After showering and dressing down for the night, I once again found myself in bed with Rainbow Dash, and once again enjoying it more than a human should. I’d had both cats and dogs throughout my years of growing up, so I enjoyed the familiar feel of a warm, fuzzy body to hug in bed, but I had to remind myself that this fuzzy was connected to a sapient mind as well. Also, I probably shouldn’t pet her back, touch her tail too much, or give her a kiss on the nose.

A part of me wanted to though, and not because it saw her as an animal.

As I had more and more begun to see ponies as people as opposed to animals, my brain had started to subtly change in regards to how I felt about them, and how I acted.

I would never refer to myself as a guy who was a stud, but I’d had a few women share my bed in the past. More often than not, for me, it was an act comfort and closeness instead of just sex, and I would find myself eagerly reciprocating any cuddles that were offered. By nature, I was social, but had conditioned myself as a defense mechanism to distance myself from others. Whenever I would sleep alone at night though, the feelings of loneliness would often surface as I laid in bed, and I would sometimes find myself reaching for another who wasn’t there.

It was in that respect at least, that Equestrian ponies were perfect friends for me. Sleeping in the same bed didn’t have to mean anything beyond mutual comfort, and the ones that I considered friends were more than willing to physically show me their affection, even in public. As much as I hated to admit it, even in the beginning, I liked it. I enjoyed the feeling of another wishing to be close to me, and loved knowing that I wasn’t alone.

I still found myself at odds in my own heart and mind on certain matters though.

I am a man after all, and I hadn’t been exaggerating to Dash when I explained what being a human male was like. True that I didn’t think about having sex all day every day, but it was true that there was always something sexual in nature floating around in my head. The reason this was a problem was because my brain had begun to assimilate the fact that there are no other humans in Equestria, or the planet for that matter. And so, here and there, I would find disturbing thoughts or images of a sexual nature that centered around ponies, or even worse, my friends specifically. Being a base instinct, the desire for physical intimacy wasn’t something I could just ignore and hope it would go away. In fact, it had been slowly building ever since I had come to Equis, and with no outlet (it had always felt weird to “take care” of myself), my brain had naturally sought out other possibilities besides my own kind.

For example: earlier in the night when Dash and I was dancing, I had thought she was beautiful...and not in an abstract way.

It hadn’t been the first time I’d thought of such a thing about one of my friends, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last. Without a doubt, I expected it now, as expecting certain actions of myself or the physical world allowed me to more easily prepare for their eventuality. However, there was still a very strong part of my rational mind telling me that such a thing was wrong, and I just couldn’t get past it. Yet again, I hadn’t been lying when I explained to the princesses and Dash that I just wasn’t attracted to ponies that way, but a part of me wanted to be. More than anything, it wasn’t so much that I was sexually pent-up, but rather that I was romantically lonely, and without some sort of outlet ‒ even as a random girl over the internet ‒ the desire for someone to call “mine” was becoming stronger every day.

I kept it to myself though, until I could figure out what to do about it. I mean let’s face it, no matter the species, people probably wouldn’t want to be with someone that wasn’t sure about how they felt. I knew I cared for my friends, but what I was unsure of what how much, and until or unless I knew, I wouldn’t be making any advances on that avenue.

It struck me as odd just how wrong I had been when I had recited to Princess Luna just how skeptical I was about the idea that I could ever love a pony romantically. It made sense then that I was shocked to be able to see that preconception slowly being destroyed before my very eyes. I had tried not to think about it, and most times completely ignored the idea outright, but now it was becoming painfully clear that I would have to deal with my hang-ups at some point. The question was: which would win? Would my mind decide that there just wasn’t any possibility in a romantic venture with another species? Or would my heart, something I’d neglected for most of my life, triumph?

It was frustrating to ask these questions, as with such strong thoughts and emotions, I couldn’t even be sure of what I wanted, let alone with who. So, with a sigh, I shoved the troubling feelings to the back of my mind for now and relaxed in bed.

Dash murmured in her sleep and wrapped one of her hooves and a wing around me in an almost protective manner, and I couldn’t help but smile at the endearing gesture. No matter what I could feel for these ponies, there was no denying they were adorable.

With a twist of my head, I whispered, “Goodnight, Dash.” She smiled gently and hugged me a little tighter as she slumbered, and I finally allowed sleep to claim me as I wrapped my arm around one of my best friends.

Chapter 14: Unreal

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Chapter 14: Unreal

The Ponyville Express was currently chugging away as it ran the track from Ponyville to Canterlot, giving me and the six Elements of Harmony three hours to settle ourselves a bit as we approached the capital. Luckily for me, the train cars were built for comfort and were larger than necessary, so I didn’t need to constantly duck to keep from hitting my head on things.

That wasn’t what was really on my mind at the moment though; instead, I was worried about the multiple pieces of parchment that Twilight had brought with her, and the not-so-subtle glances she kept aiming at me from time to time as she leafed through them. She had told me this morning before we left that she had something important to discuss with me, but hadn’t said anything more once we boarded the train.

For the time being though, I ignored it and chatted with Dash, as I usually did. I got along just fine with all the other Elements, but I always seemed to get on better with Dash and Applejack. Since Applejack was busy having a friendly debate with Rarity and Pinkie Pie was whispering and giggling with Fluttershy, that left Dash and I to ourselves.

“So, how are you feeling after last night?” Dash asked casually, laying on her back across the bench seat with her head in my lap.

I shrugged as I gave a small smile. “Much better now that Vinyl’s talking to me again.” I then frowned a bit and said, “But I’m still unsure what I’m going to say to her about her rather obvious feelings for me.”

Dash was silent for a few moments before looking up to my eyes. “Why not just give it a try? Maybe you’ll like it more than you thought you could.”

I kept silent for a moment as I processed what she said, then shook my head. “I don’t want to just jump into something like that if I’m not serious about it. It wouldn’t be fair to Vinyl, and I don’t want to screw things up between us again.” I brought one of my hands down to the pony in my lap and ran my fingers through her mane as I talked. “It would be like the Wonderbolts calling you to train with them, but then just benching you during shows and never actually letting you fly.”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Jamie, you’re an awesome guy, but I really think you’re overthinking all this. I mean, I’m pretty sure on your planet that people don’t just fall in love at first sight or anything. That only happens in those lame romance novels that Rare reads.”

“I heard that!” Rarity shouted angrily. “Excuse me for being the only pony here that seems to have any notion of romance.” She scoffed as she eyed the position Dash and I were in, then turned away.

Dash stared at Rarity for a moment before continuing. “Anyway, like I was saying, nopony just up and decides they want to spend their entire life with somepony after just meeting them. It takes time; shoot, even I know that.”

I nodded. “And I understand that, but even I know that there’s a certain measure of physical attraction that starts that interest in person. The first things we notice about someone are physical: the way they talk, walk, and even dress. All those things are what catch our attention first, and oftentimes if we aren’t attracted by that, we don’t give further attention.” I shrugged as I continued running my fingers through the rainbow mane. “Like I said before, I don’t find ponies ugly, but neither do I see them as particularly attractive. No offense, but save for your colors, you all actually look a lot alike to me.” Dash looked up at me in confusion, and I chuckled. “If all of you had the same hairstyle and were all colored the same, I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference without you talking. I identify who you are by your voices and smells, as well as your unique colors.” I separated a lock of Dash’s mane between my index and middle finger, and held it in front of her face. “Especially you. You’re kinda hard to mistake for someone else.”

Dash rolled her eyes. “Yeah. I remember you talking for about a week about how awesome you thought my hair was.”

I held up my hand in a helpless gesture. “What? No one on Earth has hair like yours unless it’s dyed. It’s unique, and I think that’s awesome. In fact, I haven’t seen another pony with hair like yours either.”

Dash chuckled weakly before readjusting herself to be more comfortable. “I got made fun of a lot for it when I was younger, though. Young colts and fillies will find any reason to make fun of you in flight school, and my mane made it easy for them.”

I gave her a wry smile and nodded understandingly. “I can level with that. I was a chubby kid when I was in elementary school, so I got made fun of too. It might be part of the reason I turned out the way I did, honestly.”

Dash smirked and pressed one of her hooves into my stomach, causing me to reflexively flex the muscle there. “You’re not chubby anymore though. I might even go so far as to say I’d pick you first for a game of hoofball.”

I smirked right back and nodded. “Well I’m sure my inner child is thanking you right now.”

Dash nudged me playfully with her head before turning her eyes to Twilight, who was furiously looking over her work. “What do you think Twi’s up to?”

I shrugged, going back to combing her mane with my fingers. “I’m not sure. She told me before we left that she had something she had to talk to me about, but honestly, I think she’s just trying to distract herself and keep from freaking out. This whole coronation is a big step for her, and I don’t think she’s sure how she’s supposed to feel about it yet.” I then smiled fondly and said, “But she’ll be alright. She has me and the rest of you to keep her from losing her cool, and the princesses will make sure everything’s taken care of.” While I still had some things to resolve with Princesses Celestia and Luna, I knew they would look out for Twilight.

“What happened?” Dash asked quietly, looking up at me with mild concern written on her face.

I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at her. “What do you mean? I’m fine.”

“Whenever you’re upset about something, your nostrils flare and your left eye twitches a little bit.” she explained placidly. “Both of those happened as soon as you mentioned the princesses, so I know something happened when you were in Canterlot.”

I sighed and looked away, a little ashamed. “I’d rather not talk about it right now, please. After the coronation I’ll explain everything, but right now just isn’t the time. We have more important things to worry about.”

Dash reached her hoof up to bring my face back to look at her, and she stared at me for a second before releasing me and nodding. “Fine. So long as you promise me they didn’t hurt you or anything.”

I shook my head with a small smile. “Not really. Like I said, I’ll explain everything later. Nothing really bad happened, I promise.”

Dash again bore her eyes into me before shrugging and closing her eyes again. “Alright then.”

Twilight then stood and levitated her work away before turning to us and saying, “I’ve something a little important I need to ask you about, Rarity and Pinkie. Could you follow me, please?” With little more than a curious expression, the two ponies followed Twilight out of the cabin and into the hallway, off to talk about whatever was going on.

“So…” Applejack started nervously, looking at Dash and I with a confused expression.

I looked to meet her gaze and raised an eyebrow. “What’s up, AJ?”

Applejack seemed to hesitate for a moment before whispering something to Fluttershy, who blushed and shrugged. Applejack then looked back to me and asked, “Are y’all t’gether now or somethin’? ‘cause yer bein’ awful touchy lately, and Ah’m just curious is all.”

I looked down at Dash and raised an eyebrow, and she just shrugged back at me. With a sigh I looked back to Applejack and shook my head. “No AJ, we’re not. Why, am I doing something I shouldn’t be doing with a friend?”

Applejack seemed to consider my question for a minute before answering, “Well, not really. Ah’m jus’ wonderin’ b’cause Ah ain’t seen RD this close with somepony since Fli-”

“Don’t mention her, AJ...please.” Dash interrupted with a groan. “That was a long time ago, and it was a mistake.”

“Then why…?” Applejack asked, urging one of us to answer her question.

Truthfully, I didn’t have an answer, so I deferred to Dash for an explanation.

Dash took a deep breath before saying, “I don’t have family close by like you do, AJ. I mean sure, I got you girls, but when I get home, I’m alone.” She seemed to compose herself a little more with an uncomfortable grimace on her face. “I don’t have a pony waiting to ask me about how work was today, or tell me ‘it’s alright’ when things go bad; it’s just me. Ever since I moved to Ponyville, that’s how it’s always been.”

“So why not move back ta Cloudsdale? That’s where yer fam’ly is, right?” Applejack asked in confusion.

Dash nodded slowly. “Yeah, that’s where my family is. I don’t want to leave Ponyville though; it’s my home now, and you girls are all here.”

“T-that still doesn’t really explain why you’re so tactile with Jamie, Rainbow Dash. E-especially lately.” Fluttershy commented, finally speaking up.

Dash thought for a few moments about her answer before shrugging. “I guess maybe it’s because we’re so much alike, and I feel like I need to keep him safe.” She then looked back to me and said, “I want to make sure you’re not so lonely, and it’s nice to have somepony to hug that isn’t going to call me lame or a whorse.” At my look of confusion and mild shock, she added, “I’ve got a pretty colorful past, Jamie. It’s part of the reason I left Cloudsdale.”

I know it’s a little unfair, but I’d always seen the ponies of Equestria as more innocent than I was; Dash’s shadowed comment about her past made me rethink my initial assumptions though, and forced me to see a much deeper personality that I didn’t know existed. I suppose we all have things in our past we aren’t proud of, and some of us have no choice but to start anew. I’d had friends who’d had to do that before, for one reason or another, so I was familiar with just how that could affect a person.

Fluttershy gingerly stepped to Dash and nuzzled her before saying, “We’re your friends Rainbow Dash, and we won’t think any less of you for your past. Not ever.” It was clear to me by her expression that Fluttershy knew more than I did, but I wasn’t going to pry. If Dash had things in her past she was trying to forget, talking about it probably wasn’t going to help.

Dash nodded with a smile to her oldest friend (at least from what I understood). “Thanks ‘shy.” Dash then looked to me and explained, “Mostly though, I think it’s because after you blew up on whatsherface when she said she was going to rope you, most ponies don’t want to offend you on purpose. It makes it easier to be close to somepony if I don’t have to worry about ponies thinking we’re together or something. For the most part, they think I’m just being friendly to the weird alien dude, and that’s fine with me. They don’t know you, and if that’s all they think, they don’t need to.” I noticed a rather curiously interesting expression on Fluttershy’s face as Dash voiced her opinion, but it vanished as soon as it had come. Clearly there was something going on that I didn’t know about, but if it was about Dash’s past, it wasn’t my place to pry. She and I were close, but we weren’t close enough for me to stick my nose in her personal business.

“Ah’m just sayin' that it's a big change from the way Dash normally is, and the way you used to be, Jamie." Applejack explained.

I nodded. "Well maybe it was time for a change anyway. I just got sick of keeping people at arm's length when it's unneeded, and I'm pretty sure I can trust all of you." That particular statement would make more sense to them when I explained my time in Canterlot after the coronation.

Applejack seemed to consider my explanation for a moment before smiling and nodding. "Well Ah'm glad ya seemed ta take yer head outta yer ass, Jamie. We were startin' ta think ya jus' didn't like us."

I immediately shook my head, raising my free hand in the air. "Absolutely not. Besides thinking that you all are awesome people, I'm grateful for the fact that you all took me in and fed me when I was homeless and starving. I can't say the same thing would have happened even on my own planet." I then shrugged. "Which is kinda sad, but that's one of the differences between our peoples that I'm happy with."

"W-well," Fluttershy began, in a tentative tone, "if it helps at all, we're glad you're here then. I was so afraid when we first came across you, because we were worried you would die." As she spoke, tears sprang to her eyes. "I can't imagine what it would be like to see somepony in need and just...ignore them."

"We're very different people, Fluttershy." I answered sagely, stroking my beard (and admittedly trying to look cool doing it). "True there are many things we share, but we are also very different in many ways. Thankfully for all of you, not too many of those situations have come up yet, save for the whole thing my kind has against nudity. Other than that though, I notice for the most part that our societies have a lot of things in common." I pointed down at Dash, adding, "This isn't one of those things though, at least in my culture. Compared to ponies, humans like their personal space. In fact, the wrong person even brushing up against another human could start a fight, and unlike here, fights can easily lead to serious injury or death."

Dash already knew this, but Applejack seemed shocked at the barbarism of my kind. Fluttershy, however, seemed oddly calm as she simply nodded with a neutral expression.

"Predators tend to be much more aggressive and territorial." Fluttershy explained softly. "It seems that even higher-thinkers can't escape the power of instincts."

I shook my head ruefully, knowing just how dangerous those instincts could be. "No, we most certainly can not."

Just after speaking, I heard the door to the cabin reopen as Twilight, Pinkie Pie, and Rarity reentered it. After straightening all her notes and clearing her throat, Twilight announced, “Girls, we need to talk.”

Fluttershy turned her eyes from me to Twilight with a worried expression on her face. “W-what is it, Twilight? I hope it’s nothing too serious.”

Twilight shook her head as we all looked to her. “It’s not too serious, at least I don’t think so. However, it does affect all of us in a way.” Twilight’s eyes then migrated to me. “And you too, Jamie.”

I furrowed my eyebrows and pointed a finger at my chest. “Me? Why, what’s going on?”

Twilight hoisted herself upon the seat across from me before tapping her hoof on the papers in her lap. “These are the results of the studies I’ve been doing on the samples you’ve given me, and I’m fairly sure that I can finally speak with everypony present about what’s going on.” Before any of us could speak, she added, “It actually explains quite a few questions that I’ve had, and might give you peace of mind.”

I felt Dash shift her wings a bit as she worriedly asked, “It’s nothing bad, is it?”

Twilight almost shook her head, but settled for shrugging gently. “I can’t really say whether this is inherently positive or negative, but it does complicate things a bit.”

I sighed and pinched the bridge of my nose in my fingers, feeling a headache surfacing. “Please stop with all this beating around the bush and just tell us, Twi. We’re already stressed enough as it is.”

Twilight glanced down at her papers once more before nodding. “Alright. Well, I’ve figured out a few things about your biology that you probably want to know, and I think I’ve also discovered how the magic within you is manifesting, at least in part.” I silently motioned for her to continue as we all waited, and she sighed before doing so. “I first had my suspicions when I realized that you had to be expelling the magic somehow, as magic buildup without some sort of outlet would have caused damage to your body. Since you didn’t show any signs of magical sickness, I knew you had to be getting rid of the excess somehow. That’s when I asked for the newest samples, and that’s when I started testing for more subtle magic.” Twilight looked up to me and said, “Your magic isn’t like a pony’s Jamie, and even though you have chaos magic within you, it’s not like Discord’s either. Even though Discord thrives on causing chaos and disorder, he still needs to actively cast his spells most of the time; you don’t.”

I raised my eyebrow skeptically. “So what, I’ve been just bleeding magic or something?”

Twilight caught her lower lip between her teeth as she considered her words for a bit, then answered, “In a sense. Like I said, your magic is subtle. In honesty, I would have never realized just how it was manifesting if I hadn’t first realized that you had to be burning off the excess magic somehow.”

I waited a few moments in silence before urging, “And?”

Twilight gestured to all present. “You’ve been passively affecting the minds of those around you.”

I felt a little stab in my gut at the explanation. If what Twilight said was true, it meant that everything I thought I knew about her and the others might have been a lie, or that I made them think and do things that they wouldn’t have normally thought and done. However, I also couldn’t refute her claim. After all, if there was one thing I knew I could trust Twilight on, it was magic. She knew what she was talking about, and also knew what such a statement implied. Thus, I knew she would have tested and retested before saying what she had.

“Mind control.” I nearly growled. “I’ve been controlling ponies and not even knowing it.”

Twilight shook her head before reaching across the gap and placing a hoof on my knee. “Mind manipulation, actually. Mind control would insinuate that not only are you conscious of what you’re doing, but that those under your influence have no free will of their own. This was proven to be false when Vinyl Scratch reacted towards you the way she did when she found out you were ready to leave her behind without saying anything. It’s not control per se, but rather a form of mental suggestion.” Again she gestured to the ponies present. “It’s how and why we became so close with you so quickly, and why we feel more comfortable around you than even some ponies. You were lonely and afraid, and your magic reacted by drawing us close to you.” Twilight pointed at Dash, who was still laying in my lap. “Rainbow Dash isn’t known for being publicly affectionate towards anypony, nor is she known for communal sleeping. Until you came around, she was very solitary in her day-to-day life.”

“Hey, wait a minute.” Dash interrupted as she pushed herself to a sitting position. “I like being around Jamie because he’s cool, and he’s not like any other stallion. He’s like one of us, and I like that about him.”

Twilight nodded with an unreadable expression. “What about Scootaloo? She’s like a younger sister to you.”

Dash seemed to recoil just a bit, and she rubbed the back of her head nervously. “W-well, uh…”

“I can prove what I’m saying, too.” Twilight stated, standing in front of Dash. “I’m about to cast a shield around you that negates the effect of all outside magic, effectively creating a magical deadzone.”

Dash looked a little more nervous than normal, but nodded as Twilight’s horn began to glow. A shimmering bubble of energy appeared around Dash, and immediately she seemed to tense a bit. I noticed a few things happening, and it appeared Twilight had as well as she let the shield drop.

“Your behavior changed immediately when I negated his aura’s effect on you.” Twilight explained, frowning a little. “You retracted your wings and scooted away from him, without even realizing you were doing it.”

Dash looked up at me with a heartbreaking expression on her face. “R-really?”

I sighed through my nose and nodded glumly. “Yeah. It’s like you suddenly had a personal space bubble, when usually, you don’t care about being around me.”

“I still don’t!” Dash exclaimed loudly, placing her hoof on my shoulder. “You’re one of my best friends, Jay. Magic can’t fake that…” her eyes then shot to Twilight with a bit of a manic twinkle, “can it?”

Twilight held Dash’s gaze for a moment before turning her eyes away. “Magic can do almost anything, Rainbow ‒ it can even create false memories to make somepony remember things that never really happened. Forging a bond where there might never have been one is well within magic’s realm.”

So, there it was. With Twilight’s diligent research, I came to find out that these ponies that care about me might only do so because I was coaxing them to without even knowing it. Similar to any relationship formed on lies, I found myself unable to be sure if the bonds that had formed were real or not. Within only a minute or two, in my mind, I was back to being alone.

“I need some air.” I announced before standing and making my way out of the cabin and toward the rear of the train.

The caboose of the train was fairly quiet thankfully, which was good because my mind was abuzz with thoughts that were so loud I was developing a migraine. The rhythmic click-clack of the train cars over the rails calmed me a bit as I thought, and allowed me to more logically look at what my life had become.

For what felt like years now, I had lived in Equestria. I was stranded and isolated from my kind, and not even the most powerful beings of this planet knew how to get me home. And so, after having a few whiny fits here and there, I started to slowly make Equis my new home, forming relationships and even getting a job. With those relationships came a small sense of normality, and with that normality came a sense of home that I hadn’t felt for a long time, even on Earth. And then, just like that, Twilight had found that my sense of normality might be a lie, and my friendships might be a sham. It put a wide hole in my world view, and even though it hadn’t been a conscious choice on my part, I only had myself to blame.

Now, the question was rather simple: how do you form a real relationship when your own heart and magic work to idealize it all? The problem with this question was that it dealt with things that couldn’t be quantified or touched, and thus, I already had a problem coming up with an answer. Numbers and statistics were easy, after all; hearts were infinitely more complex.

For the first time in my life, I had come across a problem with no end to start at, and no morally-sound solution.

In frustration, I shook my head and opened the door behind me, heading back inside. After all, we had more important things to worry about at the moment. My own personal issues could wait until the new princess was crowned, but mental manipulation or not, Twilight needed me right now.

As I slowly made my way through the different cars, I offered only a polite wave to ponies I would pass. I wasn’t in the mood for talking, but that wasn’t any excuse for rudeness. All the same, I secretly hoped I wouldn’t run into anypony that knew me besides the other Elements. This issue that I had needed to be kept private for the moment, until I could figure out how to deal with it.

Luckily for me, I caught sight of Twilight and a few of the others heading up toward the restaurant car, which meant I could spend some time alone to collect my thoughts before they would return. Just to make sure though, I stepped up to the cabin and prepared to knock, only to see Applejack holding Dash in her hooves as the pegasus shook with sobs. It became clear that this was meant to be a private moment, so I stepped away and prepared to make my way back to the rear car.

“I thought I loved him, AJ!”

The loud, tear-laden proclamation froze me in my tracks, and I turned my eyes back to the cabin in horror. A few confused ponies passed me as I stood stock-still, but offered nothing more than a curious expression as they made their way through the car, heading toward whatever destination they had.

I couldn’t move, and was too afraid to speak. I wasn’t so stupid as to try and rationalize with myself about what she might be talking about, because I knew damn well who “he” was and knew the kind of tears she was currently crying on her friend weren’t of joy. Somewhere deep within myself, I had the desire to know more, so even though I knew I would hate myself later, I leaned against the wall and focused on the sounds of muffled sobs coming from within the cabin.

“It’s gonna be alright, sugarcube.” Applejack murmured to her friend, trying her best to comfort the crying mare beside her.

“Is it?” Dash replied, venom dripping from her words. “I just found out that the only male I’ve ever trusted was making me like him, and he didn’t even know it.”

“Exactly,” Applejack jumped in, “he didn’t. He wasn’t doin’ it on purpose, an’ he wasn’t doin’ it ta be mean. You ‘n Ah both know he’d never hurt ya on purpose.”

I could hear Dash sniffling inside the cabin, and a part of me wanted to rush in and give her a hug, shouting how sorry I was and that I hoped she could forgive me. I wanted to explain to her just how much she meant to me, and tell her that I never wanted to hurt her.

But a stronger (and more calm) part of me told me to stay my hand; now wasn’t the time.

“But how am I s’posed to look at him the same way?” Dash pleaded, her normally strong voice cracking with sorrow. “What am I s’posed to feel when I know that how I feel might not even be real?”

“Ya decide if he’s worth it ‘r not, RD.” Applejack replied softly. “Ya gotta decide if ya really like him enough ta look past this. Don’ think about it right now though, b’cause Ah think we all got some things ta think about.” There was a moment of silence before she continued. “Y’all aren’t tha only one that’s confused, sugarcube. Jus’ get some rest, and we’ll talk about it later.” There was some shuffling within the cabin for a moment before the door opened, and I watched quietly as Applejack slid the door shut. Without looking up at me, she whispered, “How much did ya hear?”

I stared blankly at Applejack for a moment before replying, “Since she shouted that she thought she loved me.”

She sighed before jerking her head forward. “We gotta go find Twi. She said that wasn’t all she needed ta say, but RD needs ta rest on her own fer a spell. C’mon.” Applejack then began trotting away, and I followed silently as I pondered the possible ramifications of what I’d unconsciously done.

The restaurant car was quite a bit more lavish than the rest of the train, though I suppose it was meant to be comfortable and a place to talk to friends. All the same, it didn’t do much to settle my nerves, as I couldn’t help but think about what else Twilight had to say to me. She had said there were several things she had come up with, so I was more than a little anxious, to say the least.

“Jamie,” Applejack said, trotting beside me as we made our way over to the other Element-bearers, “we’re gonna get through this together. No matter what, yer still mah friend, and Ah don’t abandon mah friends.” I didn’t respond vocally, but offered her a short nod as we approached the table that the rest of our friends were sitting at.

Pinkie looked oddly somber compared to her normal mood, but still offered me a warm smile as Applejack and I approached. Twilight lit her horn and pulled out a chair next to her, which I took gratefully, and Rarity also sent a smile my way.

After I had situated myself, Twilight began with, “I know this is probably a lot to take in right now, but I wasn’t finished yet, and I know how much not knowing the situation bothers you.” She took a deep breath and locked her gaze on me. “I just figured we should get the biggest issue out of the way first. These other things are simply for you; they don’t directly affect the rest of us.”

I nodded a few times before asking, “Can I get a drink? Sorry, but I can’t help but feel that a glass of something strong would help.”

Applejack nodded to me before making an odd series of movements to the pony at the bar, to which the barpony nodded and went about mixing a drink together. A moment later, the pony approached and slid the drink to me, and Applejack dropped a few bits on the table for him. I took the iced drink and sipped it without thinking about it, enjoying the familiar burn of honey and whiskey.

“Better?” Twilight asked with a small smile.

I offered my own grin, though it seemed rather unconvincing, even to me. “Better.”

Twilight nodded before stretching out her neck and taking another few breaths to calm herself. “Alright, so we’ve got the big thing out of the way. Now there are just a few minor things I want to make you aware of, so you aren’t surprised by anything and so that you fully understand your situation.” I silently motioned for her to continue as I took another sip of my drink. “Well, first I’d like to talk about your recent physical changes, which includes your teeth.”

I nodded, now honestly interested. “Yeah, I’ve been wondering about that.”

Twilight’s smile widened just a bit as she explained, “Well, from what I can tell, it seems that your magic has fundamentally changed you to be able to more easily survive on Equis. From what I’ve been able to put together, you’ve innately been worried about being in danger because you’re physically weaker than us and can’t cast spells, so your own magic chose to bring out your more predatory characteristics in an effort to allow you to intimidate those that would do you harm, or defend yourself against those that aren’t deterred.”

I raised my eyebrow at this. “And sharp teeth are supposed to help with that? Other than making ‘meat day’ with Spike easier, having larger canines and sharper premolars doesn’t seem to be helping that much.”

Twilight shook her head. “But it does. You have to remember that ponies are innately a prey species, and we subconsciously react in many ways that reflects that. Baring your teeth to a pony that gives you trouble would deter most would-be assailants, and in a pinch, your bite could save your life. You have to remember that your teeth aren’t the only thing that changed, though.”

“My bones.” I added helpfully.

Twilight nodded. “Yes. The condition that you were born with caused you to have weak bones, but simply correcting that condition wouldn’t have been enough for you to be as hardy as a pony. So, your magic changed your biological makeup to make your bones even stronger than a normal human’s, so that you could hold your own against a pony if one were to assault you.” She then sighed with a small smile. “Luckily for all of us, Ponyville is a very peaceful town compared to somewhere like Canterlot or Fillydelphia, but you do feel more safe knowing that your bones aren’t in danger of shattering, don’t you?”

I nodded again. “Well of course. Back at home, I often had to walk down stairs with the utmost care, because one slip could put me in the hospital for months.”

Twilight extended her wing to cover my back as she nodded as well. “Exactly. Your magic reacted to your feelings of vulnerability to make you more durable, and thus more capable of defending yourself if the need arose. Of course, what I found most interesting was something that wasn’t readily observable until I took your blood.” With that, she passed me one of her note pages, which was thankfully written in english.

I looked over her findings, unable to understand much of it, but noticed multiple side notes written for convenience. Much of it seemed to be for Twilight’s sake, but one particular sidenote was in bold, underlined twice, and circled.

“Unknown antibodies present?” I voiced aloud, looking to Twilight as I did so. “I’ve had diseases that ponies can’t get, so wouldn’t it make sense that there are some antibodies that you won’t recognize?”

She nodded, put pointed a hoof at the paper again. “Yes, but the reason why I circled that wasn’t because of the unknowns, it was because of what I did recognize.” I thought it a little backwards to mark things the way she had, but it wasn’t my notes. Instead, I waited patiently as she leafed through her notes and handed me another, which was much more organized than the last. This one she pointed to as she read off the findings. “What you do have are antibodies to pony pox, feather flu, hoof and mouth, unicorpus, and lunar fever. This means that you came into contact with all of these diseases at some point, and you developed a very strong immune response to them even though your body has never come across them before. What’s more, at least from what I can tell, you never actually displayed any symptoms of said ailments, which means either somepony from the CDC injected you with a cocktail of different vaccines, or your magic protected you yet again.”

I furrowed my brow and waved my hand dismissively. “Wait wait wait, you have something called the Center for Disease Control here?”

Twilight cocked her head to the side in confusion. “Well, yes. How do you think most ponies stay so healthy?”

I shrugged and leaned back in my chair, a little placated with the fact that such a familiar entity existed in this world. “No, I know why it’s there, I just find it interesting that it’s called the same thing here that it is on Earth.”

Twilight nodded slowly before clicking her tongue. “I see. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that while unicorpus and feather flu are restricted to only certain types of ponies, the rest can infect any type of pony. Furthermore, pony pox and lunar fever in particular are highly contagious, with the latter often being fatal to a pony that wasn’t given the vaccine as a foal.”

I wasn’t by any means completely understanding when it came to medicine and biology, but even I understood a few things here and there.

I stared hard at Twilight for a few seconds before asking, “But we can’t form antibodies to things our species can’t catch, right?”

Twilight offered an affirmative nod. “Yes, which means that you are vulnerable to these diseases, but somehow you never caught them. The only possible explanation for any of this is that your magic has been actively and preemptively protecting you from the dangers posed to you, which is causing me to have to rethink everything I thought I knew about the way your magic came to be.”

I raised my eyebrow again in confusion. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” Twilight began, chewing her lip as she glared down at the wooden table we all sat at, “I initially thought that Equis itself bestowed this magic upon you to keep you safe, but with how specific your magic seems to be reacting to stimuli, I think I might have been wrong.” Rarity silently motioned from across the table for Twilight to continue, and we all sat in rapt attention. “Maybe...maybe humans are inherently magical, but your magical nature is dormant because there is no outside catalyst on Earth to awaken your potential.” Twilight shrugged her shoulders weakly, bringing her eyes to mine. “It’s all just speculation, but it makes more sense to me than what I originally thought.”

Even with everything going on, I couldn’t help but chuckle merrily. “God, my world could use someone like you to see the abstract and think of things no one else does.”

Twilight blushed, her cheeks turning a soft maroon. “I’m just looking out for a friend, Jamie. Mental manipulation isn’t powerful enough to form a friendship, it just makes it easier for it to happen. You’ll always be my friend, and I want to make sure you’ll be healthy and safe.”

I smiled gently and moved my hand to hold Twilight’s hoof, giving it a gentle squeeze. “Thanks, Twilight. I always feel safer knowing that I have you by my side.”

“And I’ll always be there, no matter what.” Twilight replied, placing her other hoof onto my hand and gesturing with her head to the other four ponies gathered. “We all will.” The other Element-bearers all nodded their assent, and Twilight released me, still keeping her wing around my shoulders. “Friends are there when they’re needed, and you need us.”

My smile got just a little wider as I said, “Thanks. God knows I’m going to need the support with everything that’s going down.” I lifted my drink with my as I stood, and felt Twilight’s wing retreat from my back as I stretched my shoulders and back. “Anyway, I think I’ll just wander around for a bit, but I think Dash needs you all right now. I have a feeling she isn’t going to want to speak with me, but she shouldn’t be alone either.” I shared a meaningful look with Applejack, but said nothing more.

Applejack hopped off of her chair and stepped over to me. “You don’t need ta be alone either, though.” She turned her head to look at her friends as she said, “Ya’ll go keep an eye on RD. Me ‘n Jamie are gonna mosey. Come find us if somethin’ comes up.” Applejack didn’t wait for an answer as she bit my sleeve and pulled me with her as we left the restaurant car.

We made our way toward the rear of the train again, stopping at the caboose and stepping outside for some air, watching the rolling hills passing us by as we made our way toward Canterlot. Though I couldn’t see the city yet, what with all the mountains in the way, I knew it’s where we were headed. This in turn caused a spike of worry to bloom within me as I realized that not only would I have to explain exactly what happened while I was in Canterlot, but also that I would have to confront the princesses about what had been done to me.

Honestly though, I was looking forward to the latter.

My thoughts were interrupted as something was plopped down on my head, and I looked to my left to see Applejack returning to leaning against the railing in front of us, now hatless. I reached up and touched the broad brim of her signature hat, and couldn’t help but smile as I felt the worn fabric between my fingers.

“One ‘a mah lucky hats.” she said, her tied blonde mane whipping about a little in the wind. “Ah got a bunch of ‘em, so you keep that one. Maybe it’ll do ya some good.”

“If you have a bunch of them,” I began, pressing the hat firmer against my head so it didn’t fly away, “then how can they all be lucky?”

Applejack chuckled and shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe b’cause they’re mine, and Ah’m a lucky pony.”

I rolled my eyes at Applejack, just causing her to laugh louder as we stood together against the railing, watching the beauty of nature pass us. After a few seconds, I joined in with some chuckles of my own until we were both laughing loud and hard like fools, neither of us particularly caring. It felt good after everything that had happened, and for a few moments, everything did feel like it would be alright.

“Everything’s gonna be fine, Jamie.” Applejack spoke as she looked out over the landscape, lightly bumping her shoulder into me. “Yer not alone in this, and no matter what, ya got me.”

I thought for a moment before grimacing. “What if that’s just my magic making you feel like that?”

“Then Ah’d be alright with that.” she responded without hesitation. Applejack turned her emerald eyes to mine and smiled gently. “It ain’t yer fault, and all that besides, y’all have have proven yerself ta be a good friend. Magic didn’t help me ‘n Mac bring down that barn, and magic didn’t help me get ‘bloom home when she got sick at school.” Before I could say a word, she continued with a more powerful memory she had of us. “Magic wasn’t there ta help me set up mah pa’s birthday celebration, and it didn’t hold me when Ah cried because no matter how many years pass, he ain’t never comin’ to it.” She pressed her hoof to her head and said, “Those memories are real, and Ah know that because you know that, and so does Mac ‘n Applebloom. No matter what anypony else tells ya, that’s what makes a good friendship. Ya gotta be willin’ ta go through bad stuff t’gether, and come out tha other side alive. A lotta times it ain’t pretty, but the friends that made it through with ya are better because they know who ya really are, and have seen ya at your worst.” She looked up at the morning sky and smiled fondly. “Tha girls ‘n Ah have been through a lot t’gether, and that’s why we’re so close.” Applejack then pressed her hoof into my side. “But you and me’ve been through rough patches t’gether too, and we were there for each other. So, magic or no magic, Ah ain’t leavin’ ya behind.”

I smiled as a warmth flooded me, and slung my arm around Applejack’s shoulders, pulling her closer to me. She didn’t resist, and rested her head under my chin as we stood together.

Maybe this magic inside me helped me get where I was, but I wasn’t going to give up my friends without a fight. What I had was what I held precious now, and it was worth preserving. Besides, I knew that with a determined pony like Applejack at my side, I could weather almost anything the world had to throw at me. Things with Dash had become very complicated rather quickly, but I wasn’t as worried anymore. I knew Applejack had my back, and I knew that no matter what, that would be plenty.

For just a few moments of serenity, I forgot about my plight and enjoyed the embrace of a friend as we headed to one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Chapter 15: Rekindle

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Chapter 15: Rekindle

Applejack and I spent nearly an hour and a half alone sitting outside the rear of the train, just talking and getting to know the specifics of each other’s lives. True that I knew her pretty well by now, but it was always nice to hear the little stories that built the pony that ran Sweet Apple Acres. In my opinion, I think it did me a world of good to just sit and talk with a friend. It allowed me to realize that even though this mindfuck my magic seems to produce helped me get to where I was, it had still taken my own personality to form the bond that Applejack and the others shared with me. While it was true that I was closer with Twilight, Applejack, and (hopefully) Rainbow Dash than the other three, I still considered them all to be friends. I silently decided that even if these relationships were formed under less-than-ideal pretenses, I still wanted them, and still treasured the ponies that had come to care about me.

While in my introspective mood, I came to notice just how much I had changed as a person since coming to Equestria. Perhaps it was because of a lack of so much that I had known on Earth, but I found that I came to value people over things. True that I had never really had trouble becoming a friend to someone when I put my mind to it, but I rarely (if ever) actively sought out other people, instead choosing to isolate myself within the safety of my home with my computer. Now, I could honestly say that I didn’t miss that life. So much had changed, and much of it had been difficult to come to terms with, but the one thing that I could honestly say I could not give up was the friendships I had formed. Granted I had fought it in the beginning, but once I took my head out of my ass I realized just how much these ponies meant to me.

Twilight, for example, was my rock. In the turbulent sea of my recent life, she was my life raft. When I was feeling depressed or angry about something, she had been there, even if I didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t count the number of times that a simple sentence or smile from her had been enough to change the outlook of my day, simply because I knew that while she might not completely understand me, she tried, and was more than willing to help me whenever I asked.

Applejack was as close to a sister as I could hope to have in Equestria. She was kind and loyal to her friends and family, and far more intelligent than she gave herself credit for. Having lost both of her parents at a young age, she was able to relate to my own loss in some way, which made it more comfortable for me to open up to her. Her desire for honesty in all forms drove her to push the truth in my face, even if I sometimes didn’t want to hear it. And, while it might earn her my temporary ire, she never backed down when she decided I needed to hear words of advice. I owed her my sanity.

Octavia and Vinyl were a match made in heaven ‒ one loud and passionate, the other gentle and soothing. Truthfully, I didn’t know how they had become friends in the first place, but I know that both of them had done their part in earning both my affection and respect. They were successful businessponies, and yet down-to-earth enough that I wasn’t intimidated by them. They had been two of the first friends I made in Equestria, and had done their part in making sure I didn’t feel lonely. Vinyl would take me out drinking to shoot the breeze and just hang out, while Octavia took it upon herself to allow Equestria’s only human to vent sometimes. Both were important to me, and while I couldn’t share Vinyl’s specific feelings, I cared deeply for them both.

Then of course was Rainbow Dash, Equestria’s wonder of the skies and the most loyal person I had ever met. I’d never known anyone quite like her before, and it wasn’t simply because of her unique hair. Beyond the bravado and pride I had found an immense well of emotion, and someone who would die before abandoning a friend. Even with everything I had put her through ‒ from my childish behavior to my reluctance to get close to anyone ‒ she had persevered through it all, and had become one of the most important people in my life. Today, I found she might love me in a way that was obviously not platonic, and yet I didn’t find myself feeling particularly put-off or upset. I knew that no matter what, she would still be a friend to me, and that was more important than anything else I could think of. With time, we could both get through it together, and become closer because of it.

Whenever I thought of those important to me, there were three others that would come to mind, but they seemed to be floating just on the outside of my conscious thought. Shudder seemed like a good pony, but I couldn’t tell whether her behavior toward me had been simply because of the job or if it was genuine. Then, there were Celestia and Luna, neither of which I could figure out. Friends don’t order a guard to lock their friend away for months, after all. As far as I was concerned, that alone would be enough to permanently ruin a friendship, but I also couldn’t help thinking that something about that situation didn’t add up. While I didn’t know either of the two princesses all that well, they both seemed loving and intelligent, so I knew there had to be something else to their motives. I would have to ask them when I spoke to them after I arrived in Canterlot, because it was an answer that I needed.

In addition to the issue with the princesses, I had to decide what to tell the others. I had promised Dash that I would tell them all what was going on, but I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to do that anymore. Even though I wanted to get everything out in the open, a part of me didn’t want to permanently tarnish their image of their rulers. Beyond simply making the six ponies angry, I was unsure how it would affect the Elements of Harmony. I still didn’t know much about them, so for all I knew, it depended on the harmony of friendship and trust. That alone upset me, and the fact that there was still so much about this world I didn’t understand complicated matters.

As the train continued its journey to Canterlot, I spent much of my time in the restaurant car, as it was the only place I was not going to encounter Dash unless she wanted me to. I did it more for her benefit than mine, as I was unsure how she was feeling. What I did know was that she was going to need time to deal with what was going on between her and I. From what little I could deduce, it was clear she had a problem trusting males, and so for me to try and work things out immediately would have been detrimental to our relationship. Even though I couldn’t say loved her romantically, I did care for her quite a bit, and didn’t want to risk losing a friend simply because I was impatient. For her ‒ or any of my friends, for that matter ‒ I could be patient. She was worth it, and I was going to make sure she knew it.

Other than asking Applejack to pass on my message to Dash (about me waiting), I kept to myself. Ponies here and there would spend a little too long eyeing me, but at this point I wasn’t bothered by it. Truth be told, if I were on Earth and an odd-colored talking pony was suddenly seen walking down the strip, I’d probably stare too. It was simply something I was going to have to deal with, because of my unique form. No matter how long I lived on this planet, I was going to be seen as different simply because of how I looked.

Since we had only a little under an hour left until we arrived at Canterlot, I busied myself with nursing my third glass of whiskey and thought about what was to come for us all. I couldn’t claim to know how the public was going to react to me, as I knew that most of the ponies at the coronation were going to be from Canterlot, which meant that most of them wouldn’t know who and what I was. I hoped that my close proximity to Twilight and her friends would help assuage any fears or misgivings presented, but that was only a best-case scenario. I knew by experience that things rarely went according to plan for me, so I kept that in mind to prepare myself. Beyond that though, there was the fact that one of my friends was going to become royalty. I’d never personally known royalty before the princesses or Twilight, so I was unsure how that was going to affect us all. While I wasn’t particularly worried about any of the Element-bearers changing their stance toward me, I knew for a fact that some ponies weren’t going to be comfortable with my close relationship with Twilight. Putting aside the fact that I was an alien, I reminded myself that I was male, and simply because of my gender things could become complicated. If ponies were anything like humans when it came to gender roles, I knew that things could become pretty volatile if I were seen casually conversing with Twilight in public. I hoped that wouldn’t be the case, but I was always a “better safe than sorry” type of guy.

The thought of Twilight brought a smile to my face.

Though she was young, I couldn’t think of a better person to be put in a position of power. I knew that I could trust her not to take advantage of the powers vested in her, and I was fairly certain that she was strong enough of mind and heart not to let the stress of her new title change who she was. She was kind and thoughtful, and had vast potential when it came to leading others. Just from what I’d seen and heard already, it was clear that while she didn’t openly think herself to be a leader, she was more than ready to take charge of any situation if it was required. She was a quick learner and had the ability to weigh multiple outcomes to a situation, choosing the best solution quicker than I could ever hope to. Twilight was a born leader, and I knew with every atom of my being that she would make an amazing ruler for her people.

It was at that moment that an odd thought came to mind.

On Earth, sometimes young children could be named a king or queen, depending on the country. I had a sudden flash of self-loathing when I realized I didn’t actually know how old Twilight or the others were. It’s not that such information would really change how I saw any of them, but I had simply never thought to ask. While I knew I couldn’t really compare Equestrian ponies to their non-magical counterparts of Earth, I knew that terrestrial equines could walk only an hour or so after birth, and quickly became independent within a year or two. Along with the fact that I didn’t actually know the lifespan of Equestrian ponies, this meant that I knew even less about ponies than I thought.

What was considered old for a pony; what was considered young? These were questions that I began asking myself, as it could become important at some point. Did it mean that I, at only twenty-four, was the oldest of our little group? Could Vinyl, a well-established musician, be under fifteen? I suppose I couldn’t really compare ponies to humans in terms of age, because so much was different, but it would be frowned upon on Earth for someone my age to have a young teenager pining after them.

I knew that there was only one way I was going to get an answer, and as I looked around the dining car, I decided it was probably best to just find Twilight and ask these questions directly. I decided to do just that, as I was positive it was going to bother me until I knew, so I stood and nodded to the bartender before heading back toward the cabins to look for Twilight.

It didn’t take me long to find Twilight, since I nearly tripped over her as I opened the door out of the dining car.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Are you okay Jamie?” Twilight asked worriedly, Fluttershy and Rarity in tow.

I nodded with a smile, rubbing my forearm, which had contacted the door frame as I caught myself. “Yeah, I’m cool. I’m actually glad you girls are here, because I have a few random questions for you all.”

Twilight arched her eyebrow at me. “How random? And why do you have AJ’s hat?”

I reached up again and touched the brim of the stetson, smiling to myself. “She gave it to me, saying it was lucky and that she wanted me to have it. Anyway, the questions are nothing personal. It’s just regarding things related to ponies that I don’t know, and realize I never thought to ask.”

Twilight smiled at me and nodded. “Oh, alright. Let’s get a table and an early lunch, and you can ask us whatever you want.”

I followed the three ponies as we sat in a small booth (small for me, anyway) and motioned to a server to take our orders. After giving him our meal choices, we all got comfortable.

“Alright Jamie,” Twilight began, nudging me with her shoulder as she sat next to me, “what questions did you have for us?”

I reached up and scratched my beard before answering, “Well it’s regarding a few things, actually. First of all, how long do ponies live?”

Twilight looked to her two companions before shrugging to me. “It depends on the pony, really. Generally speaking, the more magic a pony has within them, the longer they live. The average earth pony tends to have the least magic, and they live anywhere from fifty to one hundred years.”

Fluttershy softly picked up the answer from there. “Pegasi have a little more magic in them than earth ponies do; we have to, since we use it to fly and move clouds. Pegasi tend to live about eighty years, depending on where they live, with pegasi in pegasus cities like Cloudsdale living longer.”

“Why is that, Fluttershy?” Rarity asked in interest.

Fluttershy ducked her head a bit and shrugged gently. “Um, n-nopony really knows. Pegasus and unicorn researchers think it might have something to do with their regular use of magic, since they use it almost all the time to walk on clouds. The researchers think that with more magic flowing through them, their body cells degenerate slower.”

I then turned my eyes to Twilight, who was smiling. “Because of the amount of magic they use every day, and have within them, unicorns live the longest, spanning anywhere from one hundred fifty to three hundred years.”

“Wow.” I breathed in astonishment. After a moment of taking the information in, I asked, “What about alicorns?”

Twilight sighed, letting her ears droop. Her body language already told me that she didn’t know, but I let her answer anyway. “Nopony really knows for sure. The only alicorns we’ve known about before me were Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, and Cadence. Cadence was born a unicorn like me, and ascended to become an alicorn when she was revealed to have a connection with the Crystal Heart. Celestia and Luna though...they’re thousands of years old already, and show no sign of physical age.” Twilight then swallowed and narrowed her eyes a bit as she added, “I remember when I was little, I told Princess Celestia that I wanted us to be together forever.” She blushed a bit. “It seems a little silly now, but I remember her saying that nothing is forever. I’m still not sure what she meant by that, but maybe if I ask her, she’ll give me an answer now.”

“Well she should.” Rarity stated, a little indignation clear in her voice. “After all, it concerns you too, now.”

Twilight bit her lip, and I could see already in her facial expression that she was thinking about what it would be like to live that long.

“To be honest,” Twilight started in a somber tone, “I’m not sure I want to know anymore.”

Fluttershy nodded in understanding, but Rarity asked, “Why not, darling? Surely-” Rarity cut herself off, her eyes widening slightly in realization.

Twilight sighed and lowered her head, her nose almost touching the table in front of us. “If you were going to outlive all of your friends, would you want to know?” I wrapped my arm around Twilight’s shoulders, and she leaned into me as she continued. “I know that unicorns live longer than most, but I don’t want to outlive all of you. Maybe at some point I’ll ask them, but right now, it’s not something I want to think about. I don’t want to imagine life without my friends.”

“Your future’s still yours, you know.” Fluttershy softly commented, reaching across the table to take her friend’s hoof in her own. “No matter what the truth is, it doesn't’ have to be a scary thing. My mother always told me that I should prepare for the future, but live in the present; the best things in life happen today.”

Yet again, I was surprised by Fluttershy. As her name suggested, she was very shy and soft-spoken, but was more than willing to stand up when her friends needed her. She displayed a strength and wisdom I hoped I could have, and her words seemed to instantly raise Twilight’s mood.

Twilight smiled at her friend, and brought her hoof over the yellow one to gently squeeze it before releasing. “Thank you, Fluttershy. That really helped me.”

Movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention, and I turned to see the unicorn server waiting patiently, levitating a large tray above his back. He smiled sheepishly and said, “Sorry. I didn’t want to interrupt anything.” With my nod, he went about setting the plates of hay and oats on the table, along with a garden salad for me. After placing our drinks, he offered a curt nod before turning and leaving, letting us enjoy our meal.

The four of us ate silently for a bit, just letting the relevant information sink in. For me, it was quite a bit of information, and to find that unicorns could live up to three hundred years was a little surprising. For Twilight, it was a comfort for her to know that things didn’t have to be bad, even if she was destined to live such a long life. It allowed our minds and emotions to settle a bit until I felt comfortable breaking the silence.

“So, I actually have one more question.” I asked after swallowing a particularly tasty slice of tomato.

Twilight looked up at me and put down the small bundle of hay. “What is it, Jamie?”

I quirked my lips to one side for a moment before asking, “How old are all of you? I never actually asked.”

The three ponies finished their bite of food or sip of drink before looking to me, Fluttershy answering first. “I turned seventeen a month ago.”

“Twenty-two.” Rarity said with a smile.

Twilight nodded to me and said, “Nineteen. I think Pinkie Pie is a year younger than Fluttershy, and Applejack is eighteen. I’m not sure about Rainbow Dash.”

“O-oh,” Fluttershy spoke up (an odd phrase to use for her), “Rainbow Dash is turning nineteen at the end of this month.”

I was subtly relieved at the fact that of the six Element-bearers, the one that might be attracted to me was within an acceptable age range. Of course, it’s not that it really mattered since I wasn’t dating ponies, but it would have felt weird to have a young teenager crushing on me, especially with how close we were.

“How long do humans live?” Twilight asked curiously. While she knew my age, I hadn’t directly told her the lifespan of humans.

I shrugged, again scratching my beard. “It depends on a number of factors, but generally the limit is a hundred, with fifty-five to seventy being the norm.”

“Are there different types of humans?” Twilight asked curiously, her subtle excitement not so subtle.

I shrugged. “Different colors maybe, but generally we’re all the same. We all have the same basic body style, the same senses, and the same physical limitations. Well, generally anyway. Some of the races are stronger or taller than others, but it’s generally the same across the board.”

“That sounds rather droll, darling.” Rarity commented, daintily sipping her glass of red wine.

I shrugged again, taking another bite of my salad. “It’s worked pretty well for us so far. Any advantages different races of humans have are largely cultural, not biological. The Inuit, for example ‒ which is a race of humans who live in the northern hemisphere, near the pole ‒ don’t survive there because they’ve evolved to, but rather because they have cultural lessons that they pass on to the next generations, teaching them how to survive in such a cold and often desolate environment. They’re good at it because they learn to be, not because they’re born that way.”

The three mares all nodded slowly, understanding slowly washing over them.

The four of us went back to eating silently, now that questions had been answered and emotions settled. The silence allowed me to think again on things, this time on my future and that of my friends. If what Twilight said was accurate, she would likely outlive all of us. I knew for a fact that most of them would outlive me, since I was the oldest out of all of them, and I tended to do stupid things. Besides that though, I thought of our future as friends, and the possibilities were near-endless. Visions flashed through my head of many things:

Twilight Sparkle having a school named after her, smiling confidently as she watched students enter it for the first time.

Rarity as a mare of advancing years, still classically beautiful and still masterfully creating some of the most unique and amazing dresses the world had ever seen.

Fluttershy, happily trotting through a forest with a young red-coated pegasus filly, nuzzling the little pony as they did so.

Rainbow Dash realizing her dream as a Wonderbolt, standing proud on a cloud overlooking the next generation of great fliers.

Applejack, aged but still strong, sitting with her older brother on their front porch, and looking with pride out over the vast fields of Sweet Apple Acres.

Pinkie Pie, smiling widely as she sat with her friends at a table, celebrating years of friendship with her closest and most treasured friends.

Lastly, I saw Vinyl on stage doing her thing, while her best friend Octavia smiled supportively at her from the crowd, screaming her name.

I didn’t know whether any of these visions would come true, but they were possibilities; they might happen or they might not. When I thought about it seriously, I couldn’t readily discount anything anymore, as I was in a world inhabited by creatures of legend that used magic regularly. The impossible had become possible for me, so thinking that something couldn’t happen was a rather narrow-minded and ignorant viewpoint.

As I further sank into my own mind, the idea of infinite possibilities began to take my thoughts and run with it, bringing all sorts of things to mind. The most prominent things to come to mind were that of a romantic partner, or lack thereof. I remembered that mere moments after I had heard Dash’s private talk with Applejack, I found myself silently grumbling, “Why can’t she be human?” It was an odd thought to be sure, but the truth was that had she been a human, I would have readily returned her feelings, or Vinyl’s for that matter. More than simply being lonely, I liked them both. I enjoyed their company, cared for them as great friends, and had been through quite a bit with them both. Such a history, however short, was a great foundation for a strong romantic relationship, but I just couldn’t. No matter what, there was always that mental block within me that just wouldn’t let me take a step into that unknown, regardless of how much better it would probably make things. The worst part was, I knew it would probably make things better, for me and someone else. Even so, I just couldn’t help what I felt...or rather, didn’t.

“Why are you resisting so much?”

The thought came to mind unbidden, and I felt it was not my own. There was no voice, rather the thought was simply...there. I was unsure of just what magic’s limitations were, so I looked up at both Rarity and Twilight to see if they seemed to be hiding something. As I glanced at them, neither seemed particularly suspicious, and both offered me gentle smiles as they continued their meals. I knew both of them well enough to know that both became very nervous when lying, so it was clear to me that neither had used magic on me or something to put that thought there. So, the real question was, where had it come from?

“Are you alright, Jamie?” Fluttershy’s voice floated over to me.

I looked at her and gave a reassuring smile, nodding. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Fluttershy eyed me with suspicion for a moment before slowly turning her eyes back to her food. I suspected she could tell something big was on my mind, but also knew she wasn’t going to press me to spill the beans.

I’d have to watch that pegasus. She was too sharp for her own good.

The door to the far end of the dining car opened and closed, revealing Applejack as she trotted over to us. She had a rather weary expression on her face, and it was more than clear to me why.

“How is she?” I asked nervously.

Applejack sighed, running a hoof through her unfettered mane. “RD’s copin’. She’s nappin’ right now.”

I sighed and shook my head, taking a long draw of my drink. “I just wish it hadn’t turned out this way. Although, I guess it wouldn’t be quite so complicated if-” I cut myself off, looking to Applejack with worry.

She motioned to me to continue with a hoof, squeezing into the booth beside me. “Go ahead, they already know.”

I nodded. “It would just be a lot less complicated if one of my friends hadn’t fallen for me, or think she did.”

“It’s rather clear to all of us just how she feels about you, darling.” Rarity countered.

“And there’s no spell that exists that can make one pony fall in love with another.” Twilight explained, just before adding, “Love potions don’t count, and the effects would have worn off in less than a day.”

“She’s felt this way for weeks.” Fluttershy said softly, causing all of us to look at her. Her nervous nature flared up a little, and she hid behind her mane as she continued. “R-Rainbow Dash trusts me with things l-like this. I’ve known her the longest, and she knows I would be her friend no m-matter what.” She cleared her throat and straightened her posture, and her voice strengthened a bit. “Whenever Rainbow Dash needs to talk to somepony about her feelings, she comes to me...and she’s been feeling very strongly about Jamie for a long time, only recently admitting to herself that she likes him as more than just a friend.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion, running my gaze over the four gathered around me. “So what are you trying to say?”

Twilight nudged me with her shoulder, getting my attention. “Magic can help to strengthen emotions that already exist, but it can’t create romantic love from nothing. For example: no matter how close you and I became, I just could never see you as a possible partner. It has nothing to do with you either, because I honestly don’t care that you’re a human ‒ you’re just not my type.” She shuffled a bit to extend her wing around my back before saying, “If Rainbow Dash feels like she could see you as a special somepony, it’s because the basis for those feelings were already there, whether she knew it or not.”

“A spark of love is very different from a spark of friendship, dear.” Rarity explained, her tone soft and comforting. “No matter how strong the magic, one cannot fall in love with another they can not see in that specific light.”

I raised an eyebrow, causing Applejack to say, “It’s like if her heart ain’t got tha right-shaped place fer you ta fit in, it ain’t never gonna happen.”

I nodded with realization, stroking my beard (it’s comforting, sue me). “That makes sense.”

“So you see,” Twilight began, her tone a little annoyed, probably from me understanding Applejack better than her, “your magic never made Rainbow Dash care about you the way she does, it simply helped her to see what was already there.”

Again I raised my eyebrow skeptically. “So what, she was destined to love me? Besides that sounding like a load of shit, it’s probably the cheesiest thing I’ve ever heard.”

“Well I think it’s romantic.” Rarity swooned, placing her forearm on her forehead and slumping against the seat. “Two star-crossed lovers, separated by both culture and species, destined for a life of love! From the single spark of their first meeting, an inferno of passion blazes forth and-”

“Rarity this is real life, not one of your romance novels.” I deadpanned, staring at the unicorn with an unamused face.

Rarity crossed her hooves and pouted, sticking her bottom lip out pitifully. “Well I thought it would have been quite romantic, thank you.”

“I understand that, but I’m not feeling any ‘inferno of passion’,” I explained, just before sighing and lowering my eyes to the table, “and that’s the problem. I can’t return her feelings, Rarity. Every time I reach through my mind and envision a human woman just like Rainbow Dash, my heart starts racing; whenever I think about Rainbow Dash as she is though, there’s nothing there.” I shrugged helplessly, a little ashamed, to be honest. “I’m not grossed out or anything anymore, I just don’t feel anything.”

“Ponies are gross to you?” Rarity asked with a hint of offense.

I shrugged. “Used to be, and only in the intimate sense. You have to remember that where I’m from, ponies are just beasts of burden. They aren’t intelligent, and look quite a bit different than you all do. I feel bad saying it, but you all still resemble them, which is why things have been so difficult for me. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve wanted to scratch one of you between the ears, or press my face against yours while I pet you and whisper soothing things into your ear.”

Through Rarity’s white fur, I could very clearly see as her cheeks began to redden, and she fanned herself with a hoof. “Oh my, that sounds like quite the romantic evening to me.”

I raised an eyebrow at the comment. “Even with the scratching between the ears?”

“Especially with that.” Applejack answered, grinning a bit. “Gotta remember, ponies can’t reach there very well, so for someone we trust to do it for us…” She sighed and got a dreamy look in her eyes. “It’s a pony thing, really. Suffice ta say it feels real good, but Ah can’t say it’s somethin’ restricted ta just special someponies.”

“So you wouldn’t mind if I just…” I voiced, just before reaching my hand behind Applejack and gently scratching her head, just between her ears.

I felt as Applejack’s powerful shoulder muscles instantly relaxed at my touch, and she actually slumped a little against me with a soft whinny of happiness. I laughed aloud at her response, but continued my action.

“So this isn’t weird at all?” I asked curiously. “Because I have to say, I’ve been having to restrain myself from doing this pretty much every moment I’m around you recently. I don’t think any of you have any idea just how cute you can be sometimes.”

Twilight shook her head. “There’s nothing strange about it. It’s a pony cultural thing, and I actually think it evolved from a time when our ancestors manually groomed each other. It’s common between trusted friends, family members, and special someponies. While it isn’t considered a particularly intimate action, it still isn’t generally done in public, and never with ponies who haven’t expressed a strong friendship with you.” She then cleared her throat and said, “For example: if you were to strike up a conversation with one of the ponies in here and then try to do that, it would end badly.” Twilight then placed a hoof to her chin and mused, “Although, now that I think about it, males generally don’t participate in that specific behavior.”

“The grooming thing?” I voiced in confusion.

Twilight shook her head. “Physical contact in general. Other than with their offspring or special someponies, male ponies tend to keep to themselves.”

I chuckled aloud, nodding at the thought. “Yeah. I can’t say male humans are all that touchy either. In fact, being too touchy around guy friends can get you hazed or even alienated. It’s just not something that’s done, and I’m not entirely sure why.” I shrugged my shoulders, feeling as Applejack pushed against my hand that had stopped its work. I resumed the gentle run of fingers through mane, and looked back to Twilight. “Some parts of our society are a little homophobic, especially the male population. That might be part of it.”

Twilight quirked an eyebrow at my words, looking completely confused. “Homophobic? What does that even mean?”

I furrowed my brow with my own confusion. “You don’t know what homophobia is?” The mares (minus Applejack) all shook their heads. “Well, it refers to a permeating feeling of strong discomfort toward homosexuals and their lifestyle, which can range anywhere from mere aversion to outright hostility.”

Twilight’s eyes widened in understanding, and she frowned a little bit. “Why would anypony hate another simply because of who they love? That’s just...wrong!”

“I must agree.” Rarity cut in, almost angrily. “One cannot control who their heart yearns for, and sometimes that may be the same gender. It is not within anypony’s rights to decide who another can and cannot love.”

I nodded in agreement. “I feel the same way. The problem is that we have several organized religions on Earth that portray homosexuality as something evil, and some feel that if people disagree or won’t listen, the need to be made to listen.” I sighed woefully, feeling a bit upset at my world’s history. “It took many years for homosexuals to even have the right to marry in many countries, but even now, it’s probably still difficult for them. Even with all the time that’s passed on Earth by now, human nature doesn’t change, and the religious lessons ‒ whether they be right or wrong ‒ can span thousands of years.”

“Humans are weird.” Twilight commented dryly.

I nodded, feeling Applejack lay her head against my shoulder as she began to softly snore. “We’re definitely one of a kind.”

Fluttershy watched in silence as Applejack slept against me, and offered a small smile. From what all Applejack’s friends had told me, she had a habit of working herself too hard, even when she had two other capable members of the Apple family to help her on the farm. Her pride in her work was one of the things her friends loved about her, but her workaholic mentality worried them at times. So rarely did I actually see her rest that it was a sort of privilege to see her relaxed enough to sleep next to me. By Fluttershy’s expression, it was clear she believed Applejack needed it, so I kept still and let the farm mare rest as we continued the journey to Canterlot.

As the four of us finished off our meals, Twilight’s wing never left my back, and Applejack’s warmth never left my side. Even with the shocking realization of what the magic within me had done, they had proven that they were more than willing to work through it with me, and would not abandon me. I hadn’t had much time to truly come to terms with just what my subconscious mind manipulation had been doing for all the time I’d been in Equis, but knowing that my friends would still stick by my side did wonders to kill my worry.

After so long being solitary in my life, I couldn’t honestly say how I had lived so long without the comfort of close friends, and the love they shared with me.

I brought my thoughts to dwell within, and analyzed myself and the recent thought that had come to mind; when had I become so emotionally adept? Before coming to Equis (and for awhile after), I was socially and emotionally retarded. I always felt a little awkward speaking to people in person, regardless of whether I knew them or not. I suppose my recent adaptation to social interaction had to do with the fact that I spoke to ponies every day, and even lived with one. I didn’t have a choice but to be around them nearly every second of every day, so I had developed very quickly as far as social etiquette was concerned. Besides that fact, I realized that a few things about my thought processes were different as well. For example: when humans spoke about love in a general sense, more often than not, the first thing most people thought of was romantic love. However, just in the short time I’d been in Equestria, I had come to readily identify and be able to speak about the many different types of love that filled this world. Familial, friendly, and even romantic love were things I could speak about without feeling awkward, which in itself was odd for me.

I wasn’t entirely sure whether it was simply adaptation to a new environment, or magic’s effect on me.

“Bit for your thoughts, Jamie?” Rarity chimed, smiling warmly at me.

I just shook my head. “Nothing really going on in my head at the moment. Just a little introspection is all.”

“Anything in particular, darling?” Rarity prodded gently.

I shrugged my free shoulder, the one that wasn’t occupied by Applejack. “Just how much I’ve changed in under a year. I thought I knew who I was, and now all the sudden I look at myself ‒ the way I talk, act, and even think ‒ not quite recognizing the person I’ve become. It’s not a bad thing really, just odd.”

I felt the wing on my back press a little tighter against me as Twilight’s hoof found my hand, and I turned to see the alicorn gazing back at me with a bright smile. “We know who you are, Jamie; you’re our friend, and no matter what happens, we’ll always be here to guide you through whatever insanity ensues.”

I was about to make a snarky remark on her latter comment about insanity, but realized that Ponyville was a bit of a disaster magnet. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that things would never be boring there.

“Next stop, Canterlot! Prepare for arrival!” announced a loud voice over speakers placed throughout the train.

Fluttershy rose from her seat and slid out of the booth, shifting her wings a bit. “I should probably go and help Pinkie get Rainbow Dash ready.”

I knew that there was going to be more to Fluttershy’s interaction with Dash than just “getting her ready”, but I simply nodded with the rest of the group as the timid pegasus left the dining car. We all needed someone to confide in, and Fluttershy was Dash’s. I was fine with that too, as I wasn’t too good with talking about my own feelings most of the time, so I knew I would be useless talking to Dash about hers...least of all when they regarded me in particular.

For a long few moments, there was silence between us all. The world move on around us, but without anything important to say, the four of us were frozen in a bubble of quiet. It was strange, and I had the odd feeling that one of them wanted to say something, but felt a little too awkward to voice it aloud. A tension had settled in the air, but I was unsure I was the one who was to break it.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, Rarity spoke up. “Well if nopony else is going to say it, I will.” She then looked directly at me and sighed with a sorrowful expression on her face. “You must speak with Rainbow Dash sooner rather than later. I fear you don’t realize just how fragile she truly is, and she needs to know that things between you will not change.”

“I’d be lying though.” I replied dryly. “Even if I can’t make myself care about her the same way she does me, that doesn’t change the fact that me knowing about how she feels changes our relationship. In the back of my mind, I’m always going to have to live with the fact that every moment around her, I’m hurting her without even meaning to.” I shook my head, letting out an angry snort. “This could ruin our friendship forever, and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do or say to fix this.”

Rarity seemed to consider her thoughts for a moment before asking, “How much does she mean to you?”

I raised my eyebrow. “Well, you’re all my friends, so you’re all-”

“I wasn’t asking about the rest of us,” Rarity interrupted with a stern scowl, “I was asking about Rainbow Dash specifically; how much does she mean to you?”

“She’s not someone you deserve if you can’t say it aloud.”

The words within my mind came again, but my voice dropped to a low growl as I answered, “She’s as much a part of my life as the air I breathe or the food I eat. Without her in my life, I don’t know if I could ever be happy again.” I blinked dumbly as the words tumbled out of my mouth. Had I really said that aloud? Where had that come from?

Movement from my side caught my attention, and I found myself looking at the sleepy yet skeptical eyes of Applejack. “Are ya sure ya don’t like her tha same way she does you? ‘cause that sounds an awful lot like somethin’ somepony would say about their special somepony.”

“I have to agree, darling.” Rarity added with a soft smile.

“Me too.” Twilight jumped in, her hoof again finding my hand.

I sighed and lowered my head, but flipped my hand around to grasp Twilight’s hoof as I did so. “I didn’t mean for it to sound so deep like that. I meant it, but didn’t mean for it to sound like I was pining after her, because I’m not.” I brought my gaze upon Rarity sitting across from me and let a breath out through my nose. “I want a family someday, just like any sane person would. The problem is, when I envision a family, a pony isn’t a part of that.” I closed my eyes and breathed slowly to keep from growling in frustration. “I don’t know what’s happening to me anymore. Ever since a few days ago, I’ve been thinking and saying things I would never have thought or said before, and I’m not convinced it’s only because I’ve had to adapt to this new world. Who I am has fundamentally changed, and I’m not even sure who I am anymore.” I motioned nonspecifically with the hand behind Applejack. “What I said about Dash just a second ago...I don’t even feel like it was me saying it. It just came out. I meant it, but it’s just not something I would say normally, and the fact that something like that is happening scares me.”

From the corner of my eye, I could see Twilight’s face screw up in thought for a moment before she closed her eyes and her horn began to glow. A second later, her notes appeared floating before her with a familiar flash of teleportation, and she began searching through them. After a few more moments, she stopped on one page and pushed it over to me with worried eyes.

As I began to read the words, Twilight supplemented with, “Remember when I said that I only knew ‘in part’ how your magic was manifesting? Well that’s because I came across something strange that I couldn’t explain until now.”

I ran my eyes over the translated pages, seeing terms such as “internal aura seepage” and “complex modular magical nature”. “Um, what exactly am I looking at?”

Twilight pointed her hoof to the bottom right corner of the page, where a bold note had been circled twice. “The magic that you give off wasn’t accounting for all the magic you were burning, and I noticed that the remainder was being directed internally. I didn’t know why at first, but it’s quite clear to me now, and if you think about it, it’ll be clear to you too.”

“I’m...” I began, pausing as I collected my thoughts, “I’m using magic on myself?”

“Yes.” Twilight answered, her tone soft but her expression one of wonder. “It’s nothing I’ve ever seen before, and even what I know about chaos magic didn’t allow me to predict this.” She then smiled sheepishly. “Although that makes sense, since chaos magic by nature is unpredictable.” Twilight’s smile dropped as she locked eyes with me, positive in her “diagnosis”. “Your magic has been affecting your own mind for some reason. I think it’s tied to an innate survival instinct within you that is actively working to further adapt not only your behavior, but thoughts to better fit life on Equis.”

I swallowed the lump that had formed within my throat, feeling much like I had just been told I had cancer. After a few seconds of tense silence, I croaked out, “Am I even going to recognize myself in a month? What am I becoming?”

Twilight shook her head, looking helpless. “I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, Jamie. All I can promise you is that we’ll be here with you through it all.”

“And so will I, big guy.” added a familiar scratchy voice from my other side.

The four of us looked to the end of the table to see Pinkie, Fluttershy, and Rainbow Dash standing patiently, all with comforting smiles on their faces.

I swallowed again, my mouth having suddenly become quite dry, and opened my mouth to speak. After a few seconds of me imitating a fish ‒ opening and closing my lips repeatedly ‒ I found my voice. “Rainbow Dash, I’m so sor-”

A cyan hoof flew to my lips, silencing me. Dash had a soft smile gracing her lips as she leaned against the table, her eyes boring into mine. “We can talk about me later, Jamie. Right now, you need me, and I’d never abandon a friend.” She removed her hoof from my mouth slowly, the action almost turning into a caress as she did so. Her smile never wavered as she said, “Loyalty is my thing, and you’re one of my best friends. No matter what, you’re never getting rid of me.”

Once again, I was amazed by the depth of character that Dash was revealing to me. She was so much more complex than I could have imagined, which only added to how amazing she was. I felt like she was allowing me to be selfish by not talking about what was going on between us, but I was also shamefully relieved that she was choosing to support me when I needed it.

“Alright folks, welcome to Canterlot!” announced the conductor’s voice over the loudspeakers. “Don’t forget your luggage, and watch your step on the way out. Thanks for travelling with the Ponyville Express!”

At the conductor’s instructions, everyone started to stand and move to get their things, but Dash and I remained, neither willing to look away from the other. I tentatively lifted my hand toward her, hesitating for a moment before bringing it to her cheek and rubbing affectionately. She leaned into the touch for a moment before flying forward and embracing me, fluttering her wings until I brought my arms around her to support her weight. I can’t explain in words how nice it felt to know that she was willing to be near me, as those few hours of worry that I’d lost a great friend weighed upon me heavily.

After a minute or so of the hug, she released me and retreated a bit, jerking her head toward the open doors. “C’mon, we’ve got a coronation to get ready for.”

I smiled at her and nodded, tilting back the brim of my new hat. “Right behind you, Dash.”

We stepped off the train together and headed to where our friends were gathering, and I sighed heavily. This was going to be a long few days, but I knew we weren’t here for me. Twilight needed us, so for now I pushed away my lingering personal issues, and prepared myself to support a friend in need.

The eight of us (I had completely forgotten Spike was even with us) made our way from the train station toward the palace, and it became immediately clear just how much of a stir my presence was going to cause. After all, my time in the capital was limited only to the palace, so none of the ponies living in the city itself had seen me unless they worked in the castle.

Thankfully, being surrounded by five well-known ponies and an alicorn helped to ease things along for me, but therein lied another issue.

Ponies that we passed began bowing their heads as we walked toward the palace, and I could see Twilight becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the situation. I mean technically, this was what was going to be happening soon anyway, but I knew that with the kind of pony she was, it was going to take a long time to get used to. It didn’t even matter that Twilight wasn’t wearing a crown or anything either, simply because she was an alicorn; the only three known alicorns before Twilight were all princesses, so all the ponies immediately connected “alicorn” with “royalty”. As we continued our trek though, I noticed Twilight becoming increasingly more agitated, as demonstrated by the horizontal jerky twitching of her tail. I decided that I would share the burden for her, and reached down to her mane and ran my fingers through it gently.

Twilight looked up at me with a grateful glow to her eyes, and I nodded supportively as the gazes became focused not on the new alicorn, but on the strange creature that was so casually touching her. I didn’t mind the attention, since it was for Twilight’s benefit. This whole thing was going to be stressful enough for her, so I was willing to do whatever I could to relieve or prevent some of the stress she had.

After only a few minutes of walking, we arrived at a massive marble staircase leading to Canterlot Castle itself. From what Twilight had told me, this area was known as the Grand Stair, and was the site of the Summer Sun Celebration when it was held in Canterlot. Twelve male guardsponies wearing golden armor and all having a white coat, lined the stairs, and a larger white unicorn in a red captain’s uniform stood at the top of the staircase, next to a pink alicorn with multicolored lavender, pink, and cream-colored hair.

“Shiny!” Twilight yelled excitedly before all but racing up the stairs.

“Twily!” the now-named unicorn replied, meeting Twilight halfway and embracing her tightly. After a moment of affection, the two released each other and he smiled at Twilight. “It’s good to see you again, sis. I hope the train ride wasn’t too long.”

Twilight shook her head with a smile and wave of the hoof. “It was no big deal. I had my friends to keep me company, so everything’s alright.” She then looked to the other alicorn and smiled gently, nuzzling her as she approached. “Hi Cadence. It’s so great to see you again.”

The named alicorn returned Twilight’s nuzzle before smiling in a way that could warm the coldest tundra. “It’s great to see you too, Twilight. Are you alright?”

Twilight looked back at all of us before smiling and turning her attention back to Princess Cadence. “I think I will be, Cadence. Everything’s going to be alright.”

Princess Cadence nodded before catching my eye, moving with who could only be Captain Shining Armor to approach me. When they both stood before me, I dropped to a knee so they wouldn’t have to crane their necks up just to look at me, and offered them a smile. “I’m Jamison Smith, but you both can call me Jamie. It’s a pleasure.”

Shining Armor’s eyes drilled into me, and just from his expression, I could tell he was appraising me to see if I was a threat. I let him do his job, seeing as how he was captain of the royal guard, and I didn’t have anything to hide. He stopped right in front of my face and took a good look at my teeth before backing away a respectful distance and offering his hoof in greeting. “I’m Captain Shining Armor of the royal guard, and I’m glad you could make it. The princesses have told me quite a bit about you, and I’m pleased the rumors coming from the ponies in Canterlot were false.”

I took his hoof and shook it, but raised my eyebrow in interest. “What kind of rumors?”

After we released each other, Shining Armor’s face split into an amused grin. “Some of the rumors claimed that you were ten feet tall, and had a ‘maw of fangs, able to swallow a pony in a single gulp’. I’ve also heard outlandish tales of you being able to lift a pony with one arm, and you even bested Lieutenant Shudder in single combat.”

I laughed aloud, unable to keep my amusement contained. After a moment of collecting myself to a few quiet chuckles, I sighed and shook my head with a grin. “As you can see, I’m only a little over six feet tall, and I clearly can’t swallow a whole pony at once. For the record though, I could lift a pony with one arm probably, if I tried, and I did beat Shudder in a fight. We were just sparring though.” Twilight gasped and looked at me in shock, and I just shook my head. “I’ll explain later; it’s a funny story, actually.” It wasn’t, but I didn’t want to explain what had gone on the last time I was in Canterlot. Twilight needed to be kept calm, not turned into a raving lunatic.

With how suspicious I expected Twilight’s older brother to be, I was actually a little thankful for my magic’s mind-manipulation at the moment.

Next, Princess Cadence stepped closer, and eyed me with curiousness. Her lavender eyes settled on my own, and for a few moments, we seemed to have a wordless conversation. I gathered the distinct impression that she was sizing me up in some way, so I tried my best to convey that I was adamant on making sure Twilight made it through this event. I’m not exactly sure how one would do that just with the eyes, but my point seemed to get across just fine, as she backed away a bit and also offered her hoof to me.

“I’m Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, though I would prefer if you simply called me Cadence.” she greeted happily as I took her hoof in my hand and shook it. “I’m glad that Twilight has a friend like you.” Twilight and Shining Armor sent confused looks my way, but I just shrugged and smiled at them. I released Cadence’s hoof, and she turned to Twilight. “Come with me, Twilight. We’ve got to get you prepared.” She then motioned to the other five ponies and dragon. “The rest of you are welcome to come.”

Without a word, Twilight followed Princess Cadence as she walked away, as did the other five Element-bearers, but Rainbow Dash glanced at me for a moment, seemingly debating whether she should leave me or not. I smiled at her and shooed her away with my hand, and she nodded before following the others inside.

Now alone, I looked to Shining Armor in confusion. “Am I not allowed to go because I’m a guy, or is there something else planned for me?”

He was still watching his sister and the others disappearing inside, not even turning to look at me. “Princesses Celestia and Luna have requested an audience with you.” Finally, he did turn to look at me, but with a very confused look in his eye. “They did, however, wish to stress that this is a request for some reason, and that you are in no way obligated to see them if you don’t want to. I’m not sure why, but that’s what they said.”

Given the option to decline, I took a few seconds to weigh my choices. On the one hand, I was still angry with them both, and wasn’t too keen on seeing them unless they were going to apologize and explain just what the hell was going on. On the other hand, it would be rude to decline, and I did have questions for them.

“I’ll meet with them.” I answered determinedly.

The captain nodded before trotting up the stairs, beckoning me to follow. “Follow me. They’ll meet with you in the private sunbloom garden. I’ll escort you there first, and then fetch the princesses.” As the two of us began our journey through the wide halls of the castle, Shining Armor whispered, “I’m not sure what’s going on between you and the princesses, but I hope it’s nothing too serious. I’ve never known either of them to look so anxious before, so I ask that you please work out whatever is happening.”

I furrowed my eyebrows at his statement. “You’re their captain; they won’t tell you anything?”

He shook his head, still facing ahead of us. “They both said that it was private, so it must be serious. Clearly not serious enough to tell their most trusted guard, though.” He snorted a bit at the latter statement, almost angrily.

I shrugged as we continued to walk. “It’s nothing pertaining to national security, I assure you. It’s between me and them, and it really is private.”

No more was said between us, and I followed silently as I was led deeper into the castle.

After a little over five minutes of walking, we arrived in a much smaller garden than the public Royal Gardens, which made sense since only a few ponies probably had access to this one. The flowers in the garden resembled tulips in shape, but grew in massive pillar-like clusters that were taller than me. Furthermore, the blooms themselves had a flickering color scheme that included yellow and orange, giving it the appearance of fire.

“I’ll fetch the princesses.” Shining Armor announced, but I was too focused on the flowers to turn to him. “Just wait here, and they’ll arrive in a few moments.” I nodded absently, and heard the soft hoofsteps of him leaving the garden and reentering the castle.

The garden itself was beautiful, with lush, green grass and several pillars of these “sunblooms”. It was all nestled in a small courtyard sequestered deep within the castle itself, and from the look of the flora growing there, it was clear it was very well taken care of. I could almost feel the love that went into the garden, and I decided to simply have a lie down in the grass while I waited for the princess to arrive.

I untied and kicked my shoes off, removing my socks next before laying down on the soft grass. The scent of the sunblossoms ‒ a mixture of honey, cinnamon, and another scent I couldn’t identify ‒ surrounded me, and did a good job at calming my nerves and allowing me to relax. The warm sunlight that shone on my skin and hair warmed me in both body and soul, and I found myself more relaxed than I’d ever been before.

I don’t know how long I lied there, but after a little while, I felt the familiar pressure that came from the magical aura of the princesses. I heard two sets of four hooves approaching, and muted words that I couldn’t discern. The hoofsteps stopped a few feet away from me, and I heard the soft sound of two bodies settling into the grass by my head.

Without opening my eyes, I greeted, “Hello princesses.”

“Hello Jamie.” Princess Celestia answered, returning my greeting.

“It is good to see you again, Jamie.” Luna answered next, her voice sounding more subdued than I remembered.

“Is it?” I replied in a nonchalant manner, but even hearing my own voice, I could hear the venom in my words.

After a few moments of silence, Luna stated, “We have much to talk about.”

“Yes we do.” I shot back quickly, opening my eyes and sitting up to face both princesses, who were laying down a short distance in front of me. “First of all, I want some answers. That seems reasonable, yes?” Both princesses nodded silently, so I forged on. “First of all, why the hell did you have Shudder lock me away in some time chamber for three months? Frankly, I don’t even believe there were any assassins, and that you two decided it would be fun to fuck with the weird human.” At any other time I’d be internally screaming at myself for cursing at the princesses, but I was a little too upset to care.

Princess Celestia locked her gaze with mine for a moment before lifting her wing and levitating out six brown folders, sending them to me. “Translated for your convenience.”

I raised an eyebrow but accepted the folders, then flipped open the first one and was shocked to see it filled with photos and documents. The photos showed a bright yellow unicorn with a two-toned green and yellow mane. The eyes were closed, and there were multiple bruises and cuts clear on the face. I glanced away from the photos to the documents, the first one bearing a large stamp that spelled “DECEASED” in large red letters. I closed the folder and set it down in an almost reverent manner, then opened the next one. This one was a unicorn as well, also labeled DECEASED. The next one, a pegasus, labeled DECEASED. Unicorn, DECEASED. Pegasus, DECEASED. Pegasus, IMPRISONED.

I looked up in shock from what I had just seen, and Luna motioned to me with her hoof. “Your assassins, whom you don’t believe exist.” She then nodded to me with a frown. “Their families beg to differ.”

I stared at the documents for a few moments before setting them aside, glaring at the alicorns. “If what you say is true, why should it matter? They tried to kill me, so whether by my hand or someone else’s, they got what they had coming to them.”

“Maybe,” Princess Celestia spoke in an even tone, “but the families were innocent. They were told from a pony they didn’t even know that not only was their son or daughter a criminal, but dead or imprisoned.”

“They are still our subjects, and we love them all.” Princess Luna added, with a sullen look on her face.

I grit my teeth and growled, “Oh, so this is my fault, hm? I guess if I had never come to this world, they might never have done what they did, and wouldn’t have had to die. While we’re at it, I should apologize to Shudder as well. After all, it was my fault she had to take them out in the first place, right?” Unable to stop my momentum, I stood and bared my teeth in a snarl. “What about me, huh? What happened to, ‘we want a confidant and friend’? Maybe your ponies love you because you bring them prosperity or whatnot, but I have to say, you suck at making friends!”

“You hide from love, but not anger? My, you’re a strange one.”

The odd voice-that-wasn’t only incited me further, and I couldn’t stop myself. “From day one I’ve been tied up, kicked, and altogether fucked with by your ponies, especially you two.” Princess Luna flinched as if struck, but Princess Celestia showed no reaction, other than her posture subtly slumping a little. Now nearly frothing at the mouth with anger, I stepped forward until I was standing right in front of the two alicorns, and glared at them both. “So I want an answer as to just what your motives are, and what the hell your plans are for me.” After a moment of deep breathing and allowing the garden’s atmosphere to calm me, I lowered my voice and spoke again. “I’m sorry for shouting, but I want answers. I can’t figure out the two of you, and that makes for a very poor relationship by any standard. So please, work with me here.”

Both princesses were silent for a long few seconds before Princess Celestia stood and looked me in the eye. “What you must understand about us is that we must weigh our actions with the good of those they affect; before friendship, your wellbeing comes first.”

I raised my eyebrow skeptically (such a common reaction for me recently). “Explain.”

Princess Celestia nodded almost imperceptibly before sitting down. “We knew of your issues with ponies early on, so forcing you into close confines with one would allow you to quickly adapt to the thought of a pony being similar to humans in the sense of sapience. This would allow you to more easily live in this world, and make your stay here more comfortable overall; a little pain for a lot of healing, if you will.” I hated to admit it to myself, but that did make some sense. “Furthermore,” she continued, “every pony is taught basic self-defense as part of our educational curriculum. From age five to ten, they learn to defend themselves from any that might wish to hurt them. While our land is at peace, not every pony is peaceful. It would make no sense to have Equestria’s only human ‒ and such a large target ‒ be unable to defend himself.”

I frowned. “Besides the obvious size difference, why am I a large target?”

Princess Luna stood now, and she took her place beside her sister. “You already stand out in a crowd, but there are a sizable number of nobleponies who are what we refer to as ‘Purists’. These Purists believe that Equestria is a place only for ponies, and some groups of them are desperate enough to resort to violence and murder.”

“Isn’t that a little extreme? Why the hatred for non-ponies?” I asked, half in worry and half in genuine fascination.

Princess Celestia’s face became rather grim as she said, “Equestria was not always at peace, Jamie. Long ago, it was fragile and scattered, and many outside races took advantage of our weakness. Gryphons, dragons, diamond dogs, and even changelings roamed these lands, stealing our resources or outright killing ponies. It was during that turbulent time that these Purists were born, and they led crusades to drive out our enemies. We owe what Equestria is today to them, but I fear that even in peace, their fear and hatred of non-ponies persists. The stories they tell their kin fuel these fears, and they will do whatever is necessary to ensure Equestria is kept safe from outsiders, even if it means murder.”

“While I can understand those concerns,” I muttered, “clearly murder of visitors to your land can’t look good to the other races of this world. Why do you allow it?”

For the first time, the sun princess actually looked angry. “I don’t allow it, Jamie. I am sure that you, more than anypony, can understand just how difficult it is to kill a belief.” I nodded, as most of Earth’s history was filled with similar ideas that were more durable than the people that carried them. Princess Celestia then sighed as her anger bled away. “I have worked for centuries to completely stamp them out, but I will not outright execute my ponies, Jamie. I guide them through love not force, and though it is a better choice, it sometimes takes longer to become effective.”

“Humans would have just publicly executed them at this point.” I commented dryly, not even surprised by the widening of eyes in shock that I received. “Or imprisoned them for life, depending on their crimes. All I know is that we’ve bombed entire countries before just looking for one or two guys.”

“Did it work?” Princess Celestia asked, hope seeping in her question.

I chuckled darkly. “Yeah, after a few thousand innocents were killed in the crossfire.”

Princess Luna placed a hoof on her lips as she silently shook her head, and Princess Celestia replied, “That’s barbaric.”

I shrugged, my mood darkening a bit. “Humans can be. Clearly, ponies can be too though.”

Both princesses seemed to wince at this, but didn’t deny it. After composing themselves, they sat down to my sides and were silent for a long few moments.

Finally, after what felt like hours instead of seconds, Princess Celestia mumbled, “We ask for your forgiveness, Jamie. Regardless of what you may think, everything we do is for a reason, even the things which are unpleasant.” Her head then drooped a bit in what could only be shame. “That does not excuse what we put you though. I ask only that you try and remember that we are acting with millennia of experience behind our choices, and are doing so to bring about the best outcome in the big picture.”

“Keep in mind that every big picture is made up of a lot of smaller pictures.” I retorted, crossing my arms as I did so.

“It is not something we remember well, Jamie.” Princess Luna said in a pleading tone. “It has been so long since we have allowed a personal relationship with anypony outside of family that we have nearly forgotten how to connect with others on a more personal level. We have mastered ruling our ponies and being authority figures to them that rule with love and care, but our experience in personal relationships is outdated and fading.”

“Out of all the things you could forget, that had to be one of them?” I remarked with disbelief. “What about your memory library that you keep?”

Princess Celestia looked to her sister in surprise for a moment, then turned to me with a shake of her head. “In much the same way you cannot learn to love another by reading romance novels, we cannot learn to connect with others on a personal level from faded memories. The memories remain, but the teachings can fade with those that are more abstract.” She then cleared her throat nervously. “That is besides the fact that we have so little practical experience in that avenue anyway.”

I rolled my eyes. “Surely you two have memories of friends from when you were younger.”

Both princesses shook their heads as Princess Celestia answered, “Perhaps we did, but those memories faded before we developed the idea for our ‘secret library’.”

I stood silently for a few moments as I contemplated what I was going to do. They both made convincing arguments, and to be honest, I did believe them. However, I needed to be clear just what needed to change between us. I liked the princesses and understood what they stood for ‒ there was no getting around that ‒ but their personal social skills needed work. I would have to be clear and concise in my conditions, it seemed.

“I can only forgive you if you offer your word on a few things in advance.” I stated, my tone firm, but understanding. I stepped away and turned on my heel, facing them both. “First of all, no more doing things for my own good. If you see an issue I’m having and want to help, talk to me about it. I won’t deny your methods worked, but it really pissed me off. Second, don’t think you can order me around. I might technically be your subject, but if you want a friend, you have to treat me like one. That being said, I’m not going to go around breaking laws or anything, nor am I going to use my standing with you to get free shit or something.” I then sighed and rolled my shoulders. “Third, I want to hear from you more often than only when things are going wrong in our lives. I don’t care if it’s letters or the odd visit, but I’m not going to make an effort if you won’t.”

Princess Celestia looked to her sister for a moment before nodding to me. “We accept.”

“Then I forgive you.” I answered with a small smile. I then jerked my head toward the castle. “C’mon ladies, we need to get ready for Twilight’s coronation. I’m actually a little excited to wear that suit you made for me, Princess Luna.”

“No titles please, Jamie.” Princess Celestia replied as they both followed me toward the castle interior. “Coworkers and business colleagues use titles; friends do not. In private, I am simply Celestia, and she is Luna.”

I nodded with a grin. “Fine. Celestia, Luna, let’s go. Twilight’s not going to be happy if she’s standing out there before you are.”

Both princesses loosed a fit of giggles before passing me, leading me through the castle as friends instead of superiors...and it felt pretty nice.

Chapter 16: Real is Relative

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Chapter 16: Real is Relative

For probably the fifth time in the last hour, I stared at myself in the vanity mirror in front of me, trying to see if maybe I would still look like myself anymore. Things were changing so radically and quickly for me that I worried the next time I looked at my reflection, I wouldn’t recognize it.

Perfect example: I forgave the princesses ‒ both of them ‒ within minutes.

On Earth ‒ which for some reason seemed like a lifetime ago ‒ I was the kind of guy that held grudges. My past with people dictated our future together, because if they had done something bad to me, I remembered it forever. I was spiteful and cold to those who had committed past wrongs to me, and took apologies with a grain of salt. I just didn’t trust anyone, though perhaps that had a lot to do with my past, including my family.

So what about these ponies made them special? Had someone on Earth confined me for months and said it was for my own good, I would never speak to them again. Yet from the moment I saw the shame-filled faces of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, I knew I couldn’t not forgive them. It wasn’t because ponies as a whole were adorable (though that did make it hard to resist hugging them) and nor was it because the princesses were royalty; I didn’t give a damn about any of that. It was because somewhere inside, I could understand why they had done what they had. That was what confused me ‒ I never before saw things beyond the obvious, nor did I have any desire to. Be it my very practical way of thinking or my innate desire to keep things simple in life, I didn’t want words or actions to mean more than they seemed...but it seemed something within me had changed, and I wasn’t sure I liked it. I seemed to be losing who I was and becoming something else, and I wasn’t very partial to the fact that it seemed to be happening without my consent or desire to do so.

“What am I becoming?” I groaned to the empty bedroom, glaring at my reflection.

“You’re becoming what you must to achieve happiness, which is what you want.”

“It is what I want.” I spoke aloud to myself in response to the thought-that-wasn’t. “I’m just not sure I want to lose who I am.” I then growled in frustration. “Great, now I’m a crazy person talking to myself. Just fucking awesome.”

“You’re not talking to yourself.”

That time I quite clearly heard a voice within my head.

With a yelp of surprise I stumbled away from the mirror, falling onto the bed behind me as my knees hit it. I gulped down air as adrenaline caused my heart to beat madly and my fingers to quiver in a classic fight-or-flight response...to something that wasn’t there.

After taking a moment to calm myself I mumbled, “Great job Jamie, you’ve finally lost it. It only took a little under a year in a magical planet of talking ponies, but you’ve finally broken the wall into bat-shit crazy. Well done; your mother would be proud of you.”

“Would she,” the silky feminine voice snarked, “or would she scold you for talking badly about yourself?”

I took more deep breaths to calm myself before asking, “What does it matter? She’s dead, and I’m not going to see her again. I don’t think having some chick talking to me in my head would be at the top of the list of ‘crazy shit in Jamie’s life’ if she knew where I was.” I sighed and groaned. “Aaaand I’m readily talking to myself now. Fan-fucking-tastic.”

“I believe I already said that you’re not talking to yourself.” it...she replied.

I groaned loudly, placing my hands over my face. “And now the little voice in my head is referring to itself in the first person. I wonder if this is what dissociative identity disorder is like for everyone who has it…”

I thought...heard...something’ed a sigh as the voice replied, “If I can prove I am not simply a figment of your imagination, will that put your mind at ease?”

I sighed and nodded...to an empty room. “Yes, it will. Frankly I’m not sure how you’re going to do that, but-”

The feeling of something trailing down the side of my neck halted my words, more so because of what I recognized the texture as rather than touch itself. It was soft, small, hairless, and warm. It could only be a finger; someone’s finger was touching me in a world of ponies.

I cracked open my eye and looked to my left to see something I never thought I’d see again: a human.

A female human.

A naked female human.

A very attractive naked female human.

And she was laying right next to me, caressing my throat with her fingers as if we were lovers.

“FUCK!” I shouted in obvious surprise, scrambling to put distance between the two of us...only to be reminded that the bed was finite, and thus had an edge leading to a rather unforgiving stone floor. The back of my head collided with the ground, causing me to see stars for a few moments as I gathered my bearings. For a few moments I believed I had just had a sexually pent-up hallucination, but that was until a soft (and decidedly attractive) voice once again made itself known.

“Are you alright Jamie?” she asked with what I believed to be concern.

My eyelids burst open, and I quickly sat up and again scrambled to get away from whatever was on the bed. After all, there was clearly something very odd going on here, as I was quite sure that not only was I the only human on the planet (at least from what the others had told me), but I was also sure that I had just a few seconds ago been the only one in the room. Magic was the only explanation I could readily think of to explain the situation, even though it felt like a bit of a cop-out, but I wasn’t entirely ready to deal with the fact that there was now a veritable human wet dream sitting on the bed, grinning at me. I was actually a little happy that I was currently the only one in the room at the moment though, as if anyone else were to-

“Jamie? It’s Luna, are you alright in there? I heard shouting.”

Fuck me in the ass dry…

I momentarily broke my focus with the woman on the bed to answer, “Y-yeah, I’m fine!”

“Don’t come in, I’m masturbating.” the woman suggested.

“Don’t come in, I’m masturbating!” I responded without a thought, only to gasp in shock and grimace in what I’m sure was quite the entertaining way. “I-I mean…”

There was complete silence from the other side of the door before Princess Luna replied, “Um...a-alright then. Just um...let me know if you need help.” A gasp sounded from the other side of the door followed by, “I mean, I’ll be in my room if you need me.” A choked breath then came from the night princess. “Just meet me in the banquet hall when you are finished!” A furious clopping of galloping hooves raced away from the door, followed by muffled curses all the way down the hall.

As soon as Princess Luna left the hall outside the room, I turned with utter shock to the being that sat on the bed. “Okay, what the fuck just happened? I know damn well that I would never have told the princess I was beating it, even if I was! That was you, wasn’t it?”

The woman (I keep wanting to call her a girl, but there was nothing “girl” about her; that was all woman, man) smiled coyly before darting her eyes away innocently. “Moi? Oh surely you don’t think little ol’ me had anything to do with it. After all, I’m not real, right?”

As I glanced over the real-ness of her form, I noticed a few things. First of all, her sun-touched skin was covered in what looked like tattoos, except they were moving around her flesh as if they were alive. Her long wavy hair was a brilliant fiery red at the roots, fading into a golden orange near the middle, and finally blending into a platinum blonde near the tips. Her irises were bright orange, and her lips just barely concealed bright white teeth, accompanied by two elongated canines...like mine, really. Lastly, her hair was waving slightly as if there were a gentle breeze blowing through it, though not enough to lift it into the air like the solar and lunar alicorns.

I furrowed my brow and strode to the bed, throwing the comforter over her nude form as I replied, “Well you certainly look real…” I then realized that the blanket hadn’t simply fallen upon the bed, “and things react to you like you’re real too.” I closed my eyes for a moment and took a few deep breaths before opening my eyes and asking, “Who and what are you?”

She hugged the comforter to conceal herself as she smiled. “My name is Saiian.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Cyan like the color?”

She shook her head. “Like my name. In english it’s spelled S-A-I-I-A-N, so don’t screw it up.” She then shrugged softly. “As for what I am, that’s quite simple; I’m an elemental.”

I nodded slowly. “Uh huh...and where did you come from?”

Saiian tittered gently before answering, “From inside of you, Jamie.” At my look of incomprehension, she broadened her explanation. “Twilight was wondering how your magic was reacting in such specific ways; well, I’m the reason why. I’m your magic.”

I raised my eyebrow again. “Twilight and the princesses said that my magic came from Equis.”

She nodded. “I did. Mother gave me to you to protect you and keep you safe, and to help mold you into who you need to become, as well as who you want to be.”

I kept silent for a moment before I queried, “And who do I want to be?”

Saiian smiled and shook her head. “That’s for you to decide, not me. Whatever you decide, I’m going to help you get there.”

I pursed my lips and nodded. “I see. What kind of an elemental are you, exactly? Princess Luna told me that elementals tend to look like their element.”

She shrugged with that same maddeningly calm smile. “Well I’m two types actually; chaos magic and elemental magic. Those two types of magic represent what humans are in Equestria, so I guess you could say that I’m a human elemental.”

“Which is why you look like…” I suggested, motioning nonspecifically to her.

She nodded, still smiling. “Yes.”

I thought for a moment before continuing. “Princess Luna told me that there are different types of elementals, like the wisps and the warders; with you being capable of rational thought and speech, I think it’s safe to assume you’re not either of those, though. What kind are you, exactly?”

Her face scrunched up in thought for a moment, and at the same time I felt a little tickle from what felt like inside my head. After that moment she smiled and replied, “I’m a colossus.”

I furrowed my brow in skepticism. “But Princess Luna said they were all gone...well, she actually said she only knew of one remaining when she was banished a thousand years ago.”

Saiian nodded encouragingly. “Keep going.”

“Are you the only one left?” I asked.

She nodded.

“And how old are you?”

She placed a finger to her lips for a moment before answering, “Oh as old as the planet is, I think.”

One by one the pieces began to fall into place, and my mouth dropped open in disbelief as I breathed out, “No…”

Saiian just grinned toothily. “How is little Luna doing these days?”

I turned slightly before collapsing onto the bed, staring at the ceiling. “Princess Luna’s closest friend before her banishment is inside of me. What in the actual fuck.” I turned to glance at Saiian as I asked, “Shouldn’t we go and see her? I know she’d love to hear from you.”

Saiian sighed while still smiling, but shook her head. “She won’t be able to see or hear me.”

I frowned. “But I can see you and hear you.”

She nodded before placing a finger on my forehead. “Because I’m up here Jamie,” she then placed the same hand’s palm over my heart, “and here. You feel me when I touch you because I’m made real through you, and the blanket and other things react to me because you believe it will; it’s not real.”

I frowned again. “So none of this is real?”

“It’s real to you.” she insisted, but then gestured around the room. “All that you’re hearing, seeing and feeling in regards to me is not though. In reality, this comforter is just laying on the bed, and you’re sitting on the bed silently, looking off into space.”

I shrugged. “I can still tell her though.”

Saiian shook her head, her smile finally dropping as she sighed heavily. “She wouldn’t believe you; in fact, she might think you’re playing a cruel joke on her.” Her smile returned with a mischievous vengeance as she added, “There is one way she could hear me though, but you wouldn’t like it.”

“How?” I asked curiously.

Saiian cleared her throat nervously and said, “You um...you have to kiss her.”

My eyes widened as I worked my jaw for a moment. “Kiss the princess.”

“Yes.” Saiian replied with a nod.

I rolled my shoulders and sighed. “I don’t think I’m down with kissing a pony, Saiian. Sorry.”

She smiled again, but the smile seemed just a little forced now. “It’s alright; perhaps another time.”

I swallowed and nodded. “Perhaps another time.” Seeing her happy facade cracked caused me to feel more than a little sorry for her though, so without thinking about it, I scooted closer and wrapped her in a hug. She tensed for just a second before leaning her head against my shoulder, wrapping her own arms around me and holding me tightly.

After a bit she released me, smiling broadly as she did so. “Thank you, Jamie. I’d forgotten what it’s like to feel.”

I stared at her in confusion. “You were stroking my neck only a few minutes ago; you didn’t feel that?”

She shook her head. “I am a part of you, Jamie; I can only feel what you want me to feel. That hug was for me, so I felt it. Yet again, thank you.”

I nodded with a smile. “You’re welcome.”

She then stood, causing the comforter to fall from her shoulders. “Now, you need to get ready. You’ve only got another hour until you’re due in the banquet hall to see Luna, so you need to be completely dressed in your suit.”

I closed my eyes and sighed to keep from staring at Saiian. “For fuck’s sake, can you at least magic some clothes on or something?”

Saiian’s playful streak was back as she sauntered over to me, swinging her hips as she did so. “Why, see something you like?”

I squeezed my eyes closed and placed my hands on her shoulders, holding her at bay. “Please...this is too much to deal with right now.”

“Aww, you’re no fun.” Saiian replied as I felt her bare skin suddenly change texture to something else.

Opening my eyes, I noticed she was now wearing a simple tee-shirt and jeans, which was good enough. “Thanks. It’s been too long since I’ve been laid, and I can’t even really touch you, so it’s not fair to do that to me.”

She pouted. “Oh, so you can go to a strip club on Earth, but you don’t want to look at me? I’m hurt.”

My jaw dropped open in disbelief. “H-how did you-”

She grinned, pointing to her head. “I’m in your mind, remember.”

I blinked before smiling sheepishly. “R-right, memories.” I then shrugged, moving toward the suit that was hung up on the door near the washroom. “Anyway, there’s a reason I never went to another strip club again; I can’t touch. I don’t like not being able to touch ‒ it’s torture.”

“Some guys like the tease though.” Saiian replied from behind me.

I pulled the suit down and looked at the star-studded fabric, which was as amazing as it was comfortable. “Well, they’re masochists.”

Even though parts of Saiian made me a little uncomfortable ‒ namely the fact she likely knew my deepest, darkest secrets ‒ it was indescribably nice to just sit and have a chat with another human, even if it was an illusion. The fact that she was drop-dead gorgeous helped too.

Hey, I’m still a guy. Don’t judge me.

However, just as I was about to begin dressing myself, I came across a very interesting situation.

“Um…” I began uncertainly, “can you see everything I see?”

“Yes.” Saiian replied brightly.

I nodded. “Uh huh...so even if I can’t see you, you will still be able to see me when I’m changing.”

“Correct.” she responded.

I turned to face her, locking my eyes on hers for a few moments as I thought. Finally, I sighed and shook my head. “I guess you already know what I look like naked then, so it doesn’t really matter at this point, does it?”

Saiian nodded with a grin. “I know everything you know...everything. For example: I know about that tiny little birthmark on the inside of your right thigh ‒ the one that looks like a little teddy bear.”

I supposed I should have been embarrassed, but I think at that point my mind was desensitized to crazy shit. So, instead of blushing in embarrassment and stuttering like a fool, I just shrugged and took off my shirt, throwing it toward the bed before unclasping my belt and removing my pants.

“Woo! Take it off!” Saiian encouraged, causing me to just roll my eyes as I kicked off my socks and grabbed the dress socks provided to me.

As I dressed, I pondered the fact that with me normally being as private as I was around ponies, I was oddly unconcerned with the fact that I had undressed in front of a beautiful woman that just happened to be made of magic. I suppose realizing the magic within me was sapient could be counted as by far the strangest thing that had happened to me so far in life, so I guess I was a bit jaded by everything else. Of course I didn’t want to think up the deadly words of challenge to the universe, lest creation deem it necessary I be reminded of just how insignificant I was in the grand scheme of things.

As I continued dressing, I busied my mind and mouth by asking questions of the ancient being in front of me.

The first of which could be the most important. “How long are we going to be bonded together?”

Saiian shrugged, kicking her legs idly. “I’m a gift to you from Mother Equis; I’m yours until death.”

I furrowed my brow as I buttoned up my shirt. “Earlier you made me say something to Princess Luna I would never have normally said; how did you do that?”

Saiian grinned with a chuckle. “It’s not something I’m technically supposed to do, though I will admit it was quite amusing. Simply speaking, now that you’re aware of me, I can’t do anything unless you let me. Beyond interacting with you, I have no control over your body or the physical world.”

“No offense, but that’s a relief.” I replied with a mirthless laugh. “The last thing I want is for all these ponies to think I’m a liability.” I then raised my eyebrow. “If you were with me since the second I stepped on this planet, how are you just now able to talk to me?”

Saiian shrugged. “You’re just now comfortable enough with your magic and Equis that you’ve been able to hear me. For your information, I’ve been trying to speak to you for months now, but you’re a stubborn ass when you want to be.” She then frowned. “Speaking of being a stubborn ass, when are you going to tell your friends about your childhood?”

The mention of my past caused me to fumble with the belt of my pants before getting it right. “I suppose I really can’t hide anything from you, can I?” I sighed and shook my head. “It’s not relevant, and it would only make them sad; shit, it makes me sad, and I’ve had years to get over it.”

Saiian groaned in frustration. “It’s perfectly relevant! It explains exactly why you’re so reluctant to get close to anyone, as well as why you can’t love anyone here!”

I rolled my eyes, never even raising my voice. “That’s because they’re ponies, not-”

“That’s bullshit.” Saiian cut in, surprising me with her curse. “I know you inside and out, and I can tell you that what’s holding you back isn’t the fact that they’re ponies, it’s because you’re so terrified to let anyone in that you just keep everyone away. You already have adapted how you see them, which is why you can think of them as friends instead of just cute little animals. That’s not the problem. What is the problem is that you’re so afraid to trust anyone that much that you subconsciously push everyone away so that they can’t hurt you.”

I huffed angrily, shoving my shoes on with more force than was necessary. “And yet I’ve still gotten hurt anyway; I’ve been manhandled since I got here, and the princesses decided to lock me away and get my ass kicked for months.”

Saiian shook her head firmly. “That’s not the type of hurt I’m talking about. The kind of hurt I’m talking about is the pain of love ‒ not of friendship, but of romantic love. You’re afraid that if you were to ever trust anyone that much, they would have your heart in their hands. You don’t trust anyone to have that kind of power over you without abusing it, so instead you just ignore it all.”

I sighed as I finished tying my shoes, resting my arms on my knees. “Say that you’re right ‒ say that I have major trust issues, which is what everything stems off of. Well, how would I even fix that?”

A very firm slap to the back of my head brought my eyes to Saiian, and she was glaring at me with an exasperated expression. “You talk to your friends about it, stupid! They can help you, but only if you want them to.” She shook her head sadly. “But I know you’re not ready yet, so I’ll leave it alone for now. Right now though, you know what needs to be done to get to that point, so you need to decide when you’re ready to fully open up to your friends. Once you get over that hump, the rest is easy.” Saiian sighed softly before reaching up and placing her hand on my cheek, the warmth of her skin sinking into me. “And I’ll be here too, so you won’t have to do it alone.”

I chuckled. “You can be sweet when you’re not being...well, you.”

“I have many facets to my personality, just like you.” she retorted with an annoyed expression. “For example: just because you act like a prick sometimes doesn’t meant that’s who you are.”

I nodded with an unamused expression. “Point taken. Now,” I pulled the jacket on and shuffled it into position, smoothing down the lapels and buttoning the front two buttons as I smoothly tied the midnight blue bowtie ‒ a skill I’d picked up that I was sure would never be useful, “I believe I’m ready to go and meet the mortified Princess Luna in the banquet hall.”

Saiian rolled her eyes as she looped her arm in mine ‒ which I’ll admit was nice. “It won’t be that bad.”

I raised my eyebrow. “Not that bad? I told one of the princesses of Equestria that I was having a date with Rosy Palmer and her five sisters.”

Saiian barked a laugh and nodded. “Yeah, that was pretty funny. Still, I promise that it’s going to be fine. Little Lulu isn’t as innocent as you think, Jamie.”

At her words, images rushed through my head and I groaned loudly. “Ugh, I didn’t need to know that.”

“Sure you did.” Saiian replied brightly. “Who knows; it might come in handy later on.”

I shook my head disbelievingly, but allowed Saiian to pull me to the door as we prepared to leave. As soon as the door swung open though, the two guards on post snickered at me, which put me on edge.

“What?” I inquired. “Do I have something on my face?”

The guard on the left (which happened to look identical to the one on the right) shook his head and answered, “Nothing, I just hope you didn’t make much of a mess in there with all the fun you were having.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “Fun?” Suddenly realization dawned on me, and I groaned. “Nothing happened! I have no idea why I said that, and...yeah, I have no idea. I’m crazy, don’t pay attention to me.” With a shake of my head, I continued down the hallway, arm-in-arm with my imaginary friend.

Chapter 17: Coronation/Confrontation

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Chapter 17: Coronation/Confrontation

As Saiian and I walked to the place we were supposed to meet Luna, I thought deeply about just how much my life had changed since leaving Earth, and subtly worried about just how much stranger things would be before the end...whatever that may be. I couldn’t discount anything anymore, since probably the last thing I thought possible had happened with Saiian being a powerful elemental in my head, so instead of following my normal habits of ignoring the issues, I began to try and run through a few scenarios in my head. The only problem was, besides the consistent imaginary visions of me, smiling, with a wedding ring on my finger and a lovely house behind me, I couldn’t seem to mock up anything else. The rest of the possibilities available were hazy or unclear, and I couldn’t think of why.

“It’s because you’re still unsure of what you want.” Saiian’s voice answered, causing me to glance out of the corner of my eye at her. She smiled and added, “Until you become resolute in what you really want out of this life, the possibilities are endless, so you’ll be unable to even force yourself to imagine them. Too much inner turmoil and all.”

“Inner turmoil?” I whispered, not wanting to seem like a crazy person as I walked down the guarded hallway.

She rolled her eyes. “When you’re speaking to me, you’re actually just using that voice everyone has inside their head; you don’t need to whisper. And yes, turmoil. You’ve found at least two ponies on this world that are attracted to you, but you can’t return their feelings. You feel bad for that reason, because deep down, you wish you could.” She sighed and hugged my arm a little tighter, and I’ll admit that it felt nice. “You have friends, but you’re more lonely than you let on, because you don’t want to burden them anymore than you already think you do. You wonder from time to time if you should just bite the bullet and just take one of them on a date, simply to give them what you believe they want.”

I breathed out through my nose. “I don’t know what to do, Saiian. I do care about them ‒ they’re my friends, after all ‒ and so I hate denying them what they want simply because I’m against it. It’s not fair to them, and I do wonder what it would be like from time to time.”

She shook her head resolutely. “No, don’t do that. Giving them a ‘pity date’ wouldn’t be fair to them either, and you would damage a friendship in the process. Besides, even if you think about what a romance with a pony would be like, in your heart, you still aren’t ready. You would just end up feeling incredibly awkward the whole time, and anything you do or say in such a situation would be forced. That would be more painful to them than a simple ‘no’.”

I shrugged helplessly. “So what do I do then?”

Saiian turned her eyes toward the ceiling for a moment before answering, “Well, from what I can tell from your thoughts and feelings, only something incredibly jarring or traumatic could change the way you feel without you being more open with all of them about who and what you really are.”

Thoughts of my childhood flooded forth, and I shuddered. “I would really rather prefer to leave that part of my life buried.”

“Revealing something so personal and damaging to them is the only thing that would make you feel comfortable enough to take that last plunge.” she explained quietly. “Trust is the key here, and until you allow yourself to trust them enough to know all of you, you’ll just keep closing yourself off.”

I shook my head, eyeing the large double doors in front of me. “But I don’t mean to do that…”

“You do it anyway.” Saiian advised with a sad smile. “That is the only answer I can see to this problem, so work toward that.”

I sighed and nodded. “Alright...but later. Right now, I have to be there for Twilight and the others.” With a few deep breaths to prepare myself, I pushed open the doors and entered the dining hall.

A few guards were present, as well as the princesses, both of which were dressed in luxurious gowns. Princess Celestia offered me a warm smile and a nod, while the younger princess blushed and looked away. It was a cute response, especially on such a regal pony, but for the sake of her pride, I stifled my bubbling laughter.

Princess Celestia stepped toward me, and I felt Saiian release my arm as she did so. The white alicorn looked over me for a moment before smiling and nodding. “Luna has done fabulous work, as always. Well done, sister.” Princess Luna muttered her thanks, but said nothing else.

Deciding to broach the subject on all our minds, I cleared my throat. “How is Twilight doing?”

“Stressed.” Princess Celestia answered blandly.

I chuckled and shook my head. “I may not know her as well as you do, but I think she’s far beyond stressed right now.” I motioned my hand nonspecifically to a random door and asked, “Should I go see her?”

Princess Luna finally collected herself and shook her head as she walked over to us. “Twilight will be fine, Jamie. Right now she has her other friends to take care of her, so we must quickly inspect the throne room and courtyard to be sure all is prepared for the event.” Opening one of her wings and jerking her head toward where I remembered the throne room to be she asked, “Will you accompany me for a moment?”

Glancing to the elder sister and receiving a nod, I smiled at Princess Luna. “Sure thing, princess. Lead the way.”

As I followed Princess Luna down the hallway, Saiian was once again at my side, looping her arm in mine. Yet again, I can admit it felt nice to have her there, even if I was the only one that knew it.

“You appear to be in much better spirits compared to when you originally arrived, Jamie.” Princess Luna commented, glancing back at me.

I shrugged. “I’ve had some time to come to terms with some things and do a bit of soul-searching, and I think I have a direction I want to take my life now.”

“Soul-searching?” she queried with a smirk. “Is that what they call it now?”

I rolled my eyes with a sigh, quickly thinking up an excuse for our “altercation” a short bit ago. “I was naked and you caught me off guard, so I shouted out the first thing I could think of to get you to leave.”

As the princess kept walking, Saiian decided to say, “You should have some fun with her. Make a lewd comment or something; she’ll laugh, I promise.”

Deciding to trust Saiian for the moment I turned my attention to the princess and added, “Although if you still want to ‘help’ me, that’s cool too.”

I watched as a blush lit up Princess Luna’s face, crawling all the way to her ears and turning her head nearly maroon in the process. True to Saiian’s word, she laughed and replied, “Simply because I am over two millennia old does not mean I cannot be put off-balance by a well-placed comment or remark, so well done on that.” Once again she looked back at me, but now I could see a very warm tone to her expression and eyes. “I see the beginning of a beautiful friendship here, Jamie. Thank you for treating me as a pony, and not constantly as a princess.”

I decided this time to go with complete honesty, so I took a deep breath as I prepared to make my feelings about us known. “Princess, I didn’t take kindly to you basically imprisoning me for months, as well as the fact that I’ve felt more than a little abused on a few occasions because of my ‘uniqueness’. While it’s true that I’ve forgiven both you and your sister, I can’t say I trust the two of you all that much now, so if you really meant it when you said you wanted a friend and confidant in me, then you’re going to have to earn that trust by treating me like a friend instead of a toy to play with.” Before she could respond I added, “And while I appreciate you both having my best interests in mind, I ask that you please respect me enough to talk to me first instead of just taking action on your own.”

Princess Luna stopped in front of me, turning fully to look upon me with a sorrowful expression. Dipping her head low she said, “Truthfully, I knew from the beginning that doing what I did would earn your ire, but I must do what I feel is right.”

I nodded. “And I understand that, but perhaps your definition of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ needs updating. For example: exerting full control like that over someone you want to be a friend to is considered very wrong, so don’t ever do that again.” Princess Luna’s head lowered further in what I recognized a pony did when embarrassed or ashamed, so I gently ran my palm and fingers over her cheek and smiled at her. “Don’t make that mistake again, please. You’re a very likeable pony when it comes right down to it, so I’d hate to come to dislike you simply because you made the mistake of asserting control when it isn’t needed. Also, since the bearers of the Elements of Harmony seem to be so protective of me, you can expect to lose their trust and friendship as well.” Realizing I’d forgotten to tell her and her sister of what I was going to do, I added, “Speaking of, they’ve been asking about my behavior and just what I did when I was last here in Canterlot, and I’m telling them all the truth after the ceremony.”

Princess Luna pulled away from my hand and closed her eyes with a sigh. “I understand. They are all close to you and deserve to know the truth, so I will advise Tia of what you plan to do as well. Truthfully, I think it would be best to have everything between us all in the open, as secrets can quickly cause a degradation in any relationship.”

I nodded again, with a smile this time. “Sounds good. Now, let’s go see how the preparations are going.”

The coronation was great, but I won’t really bore with details. Basically, Twilight was announced and crowned in the throne room amidst some song that everyone seemed to know except for me, then she addressed a crowd of probably a thousand or so ponies gathered in the massive courtyard, crying as she did so. Princesses Celestia and Luna looked on with pride as Twilight became known as the princess she was meant to be, and finding myself on the receiving end of quite a few glares and stares from strangers, I decided to sit back away from the action and just watch.

Once the after party began (I’ll give you one guess as to which pink party pony planned it), I blended into the crowd the best that a tall alien could. I received quite a few praises on my choice of clothing, to which I pointed out the princess who had been so kind as to put it together for me. This in turn caused the night princess to become the target of quite a few classy nobles who wished to know just why she had decided to create such an elegant ensemble for an alien, and a male no less. While I wasn’t privy to any of the conversations directly, I’m not stupid, and I knew by now how the world outside of Ponyville saw me.

“Quite the party she put together.” commented a familiar boy-like voice from beside me.

I nodded, smiling as I looked to see Vinyl standing beside me while I sipped on my punch and watched the party from afar. “It is indeed. I’m glad she was able to put one together on such short notice too.”

Vinyl nodded and levitated her own glass to her lips to take a sip, smacking her lips with an “ah” of satisfaction. “Yeah, Pinks has always been good at pulling parties out of nowhere. Not that she really needs a reason for a party though, but you know what I mean.”

Taking another sip of the tart alcoholic drink I asked, “Where’s ‘Tavi?”

Vinyl pointed to the stage behind the crowd of ponies, where Octavia was playing with her quartet, showing a passion in her movements that I had become quite accustomed to. It seemed that the ponies of Equestria all had something they were truly passionate about, and it nearly always coincided with their cutie marks. It made me wish from time to time that humans got cutie marks, since at least then I would be able to know what I was truly born to do in my life.

“How’ve things been since yesterday?” Vinyl asked nonchalantly.

I shrugged, downing more of the drink in my tall glass. “Hectic. There was no way I wasn’t coming to this thing with Twilight, so I’ve had to deal with all the craziness involved. That’s not to say I’m not happy for her, because I am, but I’m not really the type of guy that likes huge events like this.”

“You came to my show last night,” Vinyl pointed out, “and if I’m mistaken, you told me that you enjoyed my music.”

I nodded. “I did on both counts, but I came there to see you, not the show. I could perfectly well enjoy your music chilling out with just a few friends instead of a bunch of sweaty, drunk ponies that are dry-humping on the dance floor.”

Vinyl chuckled and quipped, “If I recall, you did your own share of ‘dry-humping’ with Rainbow Dash.”

I felt my neck and cheeks heat up with blood as I coughed and sputtered on my drink, remembering my drunken actions that night. After pulling myself together I retorted, “I was drunk, so that doesn’t count.” I sighed and relaxed a bit as I felt Vinyl shift to press herself against my side, and turned to smile at her. “I’m glad you’re here, Vinyl. With Twilight and her friends being all caught up in this whole meet-and-greet thing, I’ve been having to sit off to the side.” Glancing around I added, “Maybe it’s just me, but whenever I’m around them, these Canterlot ponies are giving me these weird looks, as if to say, ‘How dare you’. It’s aggravating.”

Vinyl shook her head. “Gotta remember that these ponies don’t know you, and you’re a male. If they see you up there with all these national heroines and a princess, they’re going to look at you like that; to them, it’s an insult for a male to think he has the right to be around ponies as important as them.”

“Well I happen to be important to those important ponies, so these nobles and such can fuck off for all I care.” I growled, lowering my now-empty glass to the table next to me. “Still, I’m here to support Twilight, not start a fight.”

Vinyl again pressed her side against my leg. “Well if something does happen, I’ve got your back.”

“And so do I.” added another familiar voice.

Widening my eyes I answered, “Shudder?”

The named pegasus fluttered around my face until I could see her, and nodded with a smile. “Yep! It’s good to see you, lanky.” She then surprised me with a hug. I say “surprised” because while it was true we often shared a bed while I was under her command in that weird chamber, I hadn’t expected such behavior to continue outside. Still, it was nice to know that I’d made a friend with someone in such a high position in the country, so I returned it as I wrapped an arm around her shoulders and ran my fingers through her mane.

“Jamie, who’s this?” Vinyl asked, and I could nearly taste the jealousy in her tone.

I released Shudder and smiled at Vinyl. “This is First Lieutenant Shudder, leader of Princess Luna’s wing of royal guards. She watched over me when I was here the last time, since some ponies didn’t take too kindly to my being so close to the princesses.”

Gasping, Vinyl asked, “Somepony tried to hurt you?”

“They tried to kill him, actually.” Shudder answered with a frown. “After that, Princess Luna asked me to watch out for him.”

“They probably don’t like the fact that some male alien is so popular with those in such high positions in the world, like the princesses and Elements of Harmony.” I explained dryly. “Some of those ponies decided to take extreme measures to eliminate what they see as a blatant insult to all that your culture currently stands for.”

For a few moments, Vinyl simply stared with her mouth working much like that of a fish. After shaking her head vigorously she said, “I mean I’ve always thought it was weird how you didn’t act like a stallion, but none of us in Ponyville would ever want to hurt you for it. Hay, I’d say we’d even protect you from ponies like that!”

Shudder nodded, landing on a chair next to me. “We think that’s why he was never attacked in Ponyville, because he’s so well-known and accepted there. The princesses think that whoever put out the hit believed that they could spin it as just a casualty of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time, since Canterlot can be pretty dangerous after dark.”

After a few more moments of Vinyl’s silence she growled, “That’s so messed up.”

I nodded. “And I’m glad you think that, but the fact of the matter is that some ponies are never going to accept who and what I am. I’ve come to terms with that, and I’m okay with it because I have you and my other friends to be the ones that do accept me.”

“B-but,” Vinyl sputtered, lowering her voice before hissing, “ponies tried to kill you, Jamie! You’re acting like that’s no big deal!”

I shrugged, looking to Shudder briefly. “It is a big deal, and I know it is, but what am I going to do about it? The most I can do is keep alert and stay away from areas of this country where I’m obviously not welcome, and hope that if someone does come after me at home, one of you are around to help me handle it. I’m not going to sit around worrying about it all the time, since it’s just going to stress me out without changing anything.” Narrowing my eyes and gazing out over the crowd of ponies gathered, I knew deep down that at least one of them were likely one of the types of ponies that hated me. “At the very least, they want me afraid, so sitting around and being scared will only give them their victory. I might not be a royal guard like Shudder or an athlete like Rainbow Dash, but I’m not going to be intimidated by some coward that’s too much of a pussy to face me in public.”

“Well like I said,” Vinyl stated firmly, patting her hoof on my leg, “I’ve got your back ‒ we all do. No pony’s going to get to you without going through us first.”

I nodded and offered the DJ a smile. “Thanks Vinyl. I knew I liked you for a reason.” Vinyl blushed faintly and grinned as I turned my attention to Shudder. “So, how’s security tonight?”

“Actually,” the guardpony began with a smirk, “I’ve been assigned to look over you directly, so general security isn’t my job tonight.” She motioned to the seven or so batponies in the rafters of the open-roof assembly chamber. “That’s their job, so I get to sit here, drink, and make sure you don’t do anything absurdly stupid.”

For the first time recognizing she looked different than the others of the night guard, I blurted, “Why don’t you have wings like them?”

Extending her feathered wings and fluttering them once, Shudder smiled. “Top rank has its perks. Unless we’re in formation at a public event outside of Canterlot, I’m allowed to go without the wing enchantment on my armor. While it’s true that the whole bat-wing thing is just an illusion, I work hard on my wings, and I want ponies to see the work I put into them.”

I nodded with understanding. “Yeah. Rainbow Dash has told me just how tedious preening and wing care can be, so I understand how difficult it must be.”

“Unicorns have it easy.” Vinyl commented with a grin, sipping the last of her punch from the glass.

“Earth ponies too.” Shudder added with a perturbed look. “You ponies just have to take a bath once a day or every other day and you’re set. Pegasi have to preen every day, or more if they fly a lot.”

I chuckled and raised my hand in the air. “I probably got it the easiest seeing as how I only use like half the soap that you do, and I can be in and out of the washroom in, like, five minutes if I hurry.”

Shudder glanced at me with a challenging twinkle in her eyes. “We don’t have to wear clothes.”

“I don’t have to brush my entire body.” I retorted, a smirk adorning my face.

“I can fly.” Shudder shot back.

I shrugged. “I can hold two things at once, bend in ways you can’t, and can see farther than you can.”

Scrambling to stay in the “game”, Shudder countered, “We can hear better and are stronger!”

I chuckled and shook my head. “I think I’ve proven that strength isn’t everything, and without hooves, I can be far quieter than any pony could even dream of being.”

Twisting up her face into a grimace, Shudder finally admitted defeat as her ears flopped back and she lowered her head. “Alright fine, you win...for now.”

I chuckled and shrugged. “I’m just holding onto what little I have that ponies don’t, seeing as how in a fair fight, I’m fairly sure most of you would be able to take me if I wasn’t ready. I mean, your hooves are as hard as stone, and they really hurt to get hit with.”

“But you think we’re cute.” Shudder countered with a flat look.

I nodded. “I do, and you are.” I pointed to Vinyl first. “Like when you hop on your hooves when something really cool happens and you get all excited ‒ cute as hell.” I then pointed to Shudder. “And when you try and hold in a laugh because you’re trying to be serious, but your cheeks bulge out and you snort a little in the process; that is also quite adorable.”

While Vinyl didn’t seem too miffed about being called cute, Shudder sat on her haunches and crossed her arms with a pout. “I’m a royal guard; I am not cute.”

I extended a finger and tickled her cheek, which she promptly slapped away with one of her wings. I just chuckled and said, “You’re really not helping your case right now.”

Shudder rolled her eyes but smiled. “Whatever. I’m going to get another drink, so you two don’t get into any trouble. See you later.”

I nodded to her and waved as she flew away, sitting in the chair she had vacated. Glancing to Vinyl I commented, “I figured that you would also be upset about being called ‘cute’, Vinyl.”

She chuckled and shook her head, sitting on the floor right beside me. “I play shows to a bunch of drunk, horny ponies. Being called cute is by far the most tame thing I’ve heard.”

I silently nodded in agreement and brought my hand to rest on her neck, stroking the fur gently as we continued to watch the afterparty of Princess Twilight Sparkle unfold.

The party ended, as all good things do, and I found myself sitting in a room with Twilight and the others as we waited for the other two princesses to arrive. Vinyl and Octavia had spoken to me briefly before leaving, and since the cleanup crews needed to be closely monitored to make sure they did their jobs right, Shudder stayed behind as well. I tried my best to relax as I waited for Princess Celestia and Princess Luna to arrive, but while the Element-bearers simply thought they were going to speak to us in private about Twilight, I knew this was to be a confrontation between us all about what was done to me.

I should have felt bad I suppose, but I was just glad that not only was I not the one that was going to be yelled at but also that the truth was finally going to be out in the open.

Saiian kept me company ‒ having decided that in my high-stress state jokes and teasing weren’t appropriate, she instead held my hand firmly yet comfortably as I stood in Princess Celestia’s study, listening to the Element-bearers talk about their nights at the party and coronation. Twilight of course was the focus of most of the conversations, though Rainbow Dash’s supersonic, rainbow-trailed flyby was praised as well.

Finally, after a long half-hour of waiting, the two elder princesses showed themselves as they closed the door behind them, striding into the room and smiling at all gathered. However, after settling their gazes on me, I was positive they both knew what was coming. Before I could speak, they turned toward Twilight with bright smiles on their faces.

“How has today been for you, Twilight?” Princess Celestia asked the new princess.

Twilight released a sigh and planted her rump on the floor, smiling. “Stressful yet wonderful, to say the least. I’ll admit that it’ll probably be a long time before I can accept that this has all really happened, but I don’t regret it.” Her smile widened a bit as she looked to all of us briefly. “This is what I’m meant to be; I can feel it.”

Princess Celestia’s eye twitched briefly as she struggled to hold her emotions in check. She glanced momentarily to me before announcing, “While I am happy things have gone well for you, I cannot in good conscience say that is all I need to speak with you about. There is something very important that needs to be addressed concerning Jamie and all of you ‒ more specifically, what he was doing in Canterlot.”

Rainbow Dash’s ears perked up as she said, “Yeah, what was up with that? Why was he here and what happened?”

Princess Luna looked to all gathered before answering, “To put it bluntly, we have taken an interest in Jamie. In him, we see the possibility for a friend and confidant who can see and understand the world as we do. It is because of that ‒ as well as creating the suit he is currently wearing ‒ that we asked him to come to Canterlot. However, it is because of what happened during his first night here that he was away a day longer than we initially planned.”

“What happened, princess?” Applejack questioned, the subtle tensing of her facial muscles and shoulder speaking of anxiety.

Princess Celestia let out a breath before answering, “There is no easy way to say this, so I will speak plainly: somepony tried to have Jamie killed.”

An exaggerated gasp uttered forth from Rarity’s mouth followed by a shriek of, “WHAT?!”

I nodded in agreement. “Yeah. I don’t know if any of you saw her, but that night guard that was hanging around me tonight was First Lieutenant Shudder of Princess Luna’s personal guard. She was assigned to watch over me after the incident.”

Princess Luna decided to pick it up from there, and I became quite sure things were about to get interesting. “We made a decision that would ensure Jamie’s assimilation into society mentally and emotionally, as well as give him a few personal skills that would allow him to protect himself should he be attacked again.” Taking and closing her eyes for a moment, Princess Luna continued with, “We locked him and First Lieutenant Shudder in the Warped Time chamber for six hours.”

While the rest of them looked confused, Twilight’s widening eyes made it clear she knew what the chamber was, as well as how it worked. I could see her brow furrow as she quickly worked the numbers in her head, then muttered, “Three months…” After bringing her head up and standing with a shifting of her new wings, Twilight growled, “You locked him away for three months?”

Realizing the tone in Twilight’s voice, I attempted to calm her. “Twilight, you have to understand-”

“Leave, Jamie.” Twilight ordered, a note of authority in her tone that I had never heard before. When I didn’t respond, her eyes shot to me, and I could see the irises glowing brightly as she repeated, “Leave. I’m going to speak alone with the princesses, and you don’t want to be here for that.” Glancing to her friends she added, “You all should go to. Keep an eye on Jamie and wait for me in my room; I’ll be there in a little while.”

The tone that Twilight was using was not the kind tone of one of my friends, but the authoritative aura of a powerful princess who was pissed.

Deciding it would be best to let Twilight handle things for now, I quietly ushered out the other girls and closed the door behind me, hearing said door lock on its own as a powerful magical pressure began to emanate from the study. I quickly made my way through the halls and closed the door to Twilight’s room behind us once we were all inside, hoping that by some miracle the slab of wood and metal would protect us from an enraged alicorn.

Though everyone was completely silent, I felt we were all thinking the same thing at the moment: I hoped Twilight didn’t hurt the other princesses in her anger.

Chapter 18: It Began with You

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Chapter 18: It Began with You

As the six of us waited in Twilight’s suite (which was far more lavish than it had any right to be, even for a new princess), I busied myself with holding silent conversations with Saiian while the others played game after game of Luna’s Moon and other card games that were unfamiliar to me. I figured that while we all waited for Twilight to return, I would gather all the information from Saiian that she would give me, seeing as how she had been around even longer than Luna and Celestia had been.

I learned a great many things as I spoke with my inner elemental, from how Equis was formed to just what exactly Celestia and Luna were ‒ it turned out they weren’t mere ponies with wings and horns. Celestia and Luna went through much the same process as Twilight did when she ascended to alicornhood, only much more complex and it took longer. For them, it took nearly a week for their transformation to be complete, and it was accompanied by both pain and feverish nightmares. Twilight had it easy it seemed, seeing as how she had been born an alicorn. Beyond all that though, I learned that the Celestia and Luna I had come to know were a far cry from who they were as regular ponies. From what Saiian told me, they were not simply stewards of the sun and moon, but rather they were the sun and moon in many ways. When they connected with their cosmic counterparts and ascended to become alicorns, their personalities and even physical attributes completely changed to reflect what the sun and moon represented.

Celestia was the sun in so many ways; she was meant to be very visible and beautiful. She was warm and loving, nurturing and caring, but possessed the power to destroy everything around her if her control slipped on her limitless power. She was the most powerful being in existence, and because of that, spent every second of every day keeping much of her might caged, lest it destroy all she held dear. In ages past when she was still learning to control her power to appear as a pony, she was worshiped as a goddess and feared as a destroyer. It seemed under her loving and caring exterior, she likely harbored painful and horrible memories of a past that reminded her of just how important control was.

Luna, by contrast, was as different from her sister as night was from day, and at least in Equestria, the two Celestial Sisters were likely the source of the saying. The night was many things, but it represented far more than most thought. Beyond the mystery of shadows, the comfort of a starry night and the beauty of evening, night was wishes and love. When the daily hustle and bustle died down and there was nothing left to do but lay in bed before sleep claimed them, ponies whispered their wishes, hopes and dreams to the stars before they finally succumbed to their need for sleep. Late at night when the day’s work was done, lovers would revel in their mutual affection, whether by more physical acts or simply spending time with a special somepony. Luna personified those wishes and that love, which was why she was so heavily affected in the past when her beloved ponies began to ignore her. It was this neglect that gave rise to Nightmare Moon, since the night could be a time of terror for some. Because the night held many secrets, Luna was in many ways far more complex than her sister. While Celestia kept her magical might in check every day, Luna struggled to appear stoic and regal. Her facade was to protect the vulnerable core of her character, since the ponies of Equestria could be so biased against the night nowadays. While I knew for a fact that Luna wouldn’t want pity for what she had to endure, it was hard not to.

Another alicorn existed though ‒ one that I had yet to really get to know: Cadence. She was known far and wide not only as the ruler of the Crystal City (she renamed it after formally adding her lands to Equestria, negating the need for an “empire”), but also as the fabled “Princess of Love”. Be it familial, friendly or romantic love, all was within her realm of expertise, and she used her powers and latent abilities to spread love to all around her. She was nowhere near as powerful magically as Twilight, Celestia or Luna, but her abilities were no less potent. Her personality was warm and inviting (if not a bit flirty at times), and she spent her life ensuring the crystal ponies and the rest of Equestria could find and maintain the love they had. I hadn’t personally met her yet, but both Twilight and Saiian made her sound like someone I would want to meet. I just had to watch out for her protective husband should such a time ever come.

Lastly, Saiian told me about herself personally. It seemed that she only inherited the elemental side of her alignment after becoming a part of me, and she explained to me that a chaos colossus such as her looked much like a massive iridescent whirlwind with eyes. Her life was interesting to say the least, and more often than not her kind brought about the events of climate shifts and even geological changes. Though she served an important purpose in the world of Equis, her chaotic and often destructive nature led her to spend much of her time far away from civilization...which was how she met Luna. Before her fall to madness, Luna often spent great deals of time in the wilderness, enjoying the sights and sounds of the untamed land. The two met during one of these excursions, and after a brief scuffle with each other, the two spoke at great length of their respective places in the world. Much to both of their silent relief, they shared the doubt of their roles in the world, and both felt underappreciated for what they did. It goes without saying that a powerful friendship blossomed between them, and it was many times Saiian that lent a concerned elemental ear to the lunar princess when she was stressed, sad, or worried. Saiian, however, partially blamed herself for Luna’s fall into madness and hatred, and no matter how I tried to spin it in my mind, I couldn’t think of anything to legitimately deny what she said. Regardless of the lack of useful truth, I still felt shitty that I couldn’t make her feel better; my protector though she may be, I still found it easy to care for Saiian as a person instead of just a thing.

Learning new things helped pass the time, though it didn’t do much to settle the tense atmosphere around us.

Applejack and the others had exhausted their ideas for entertainment nearly an hour ago, leaving them all napping, quietly talking, or in Dash’s case, subtly eyeing me as she lounged atop a bookcase. I could tell just from her facial expression that she was battling with herself between laying on top of me somehow (as she usually did) or keeping her distance for fear that what she felt was an illusion. As I thought on the manner, I looked to Saiian and sighed.

“Saiian.” I called quietly, though I knew subconsciously that the others in the room would see me just sitting quietly instead of talking.

The elemental next to me turned her head and met my eyes, already knowing what I was going to ask. “You’ve been thinking about it for almost a half-hour now. Why don’t you just ask?”

I nodded and glanced to the ponies for a moment. “All that’s been happening hasn’t been because of my subconscious controlling my magic, has it?” Saiian shook her head. “So if I were to ask you to do or not do something within reason, you could take care of that.” She nodded. Taking a breath I stated, “I want you to shut off the whole ‘mental manipulation’ thing.”

Saiian eyed me warily. I knew by now that she had pretty much full access to my mind and memories (which to be honest was a little invasive and off-putting, but whatever), but I also knew she knew it made me feel more comfortable for her to audibly speak questions or requests to me. “Are you sure?”

I nodded firmly. “I am. It’s not fair to them or me, so please cut off that specific ability.”

Saiian nodded and closed her eyes for a moment before sighing. “It’s done, but now we have another problem.” I raised my eyebrow and waited for her to continue. “As Twilight told you, magic needs an outlet, and with that bit of magic no longer functioning, you’re now building up magic faster than you’re burning it, and you don’t have a magis reservoir like ponies do. This means that unless we find a solution, you’re going to come down with magical sickness within a day. While it won’t kill you, it’s very unpleasant.”

I placed my index finger on my lips as I thought for a moment before asking, “You have the ability to modify my body, right?”

“Within reason.” she answered.

I nodded. “Would you be able to modify the function of a preexisting organ then?”

She smiled. “I think I know where you’re going with this, but I’ve already done that. I modified your pituitary gland to also work as a Starswirl gland so that you’d be protected from this world’s gravity.”

I nodded again. “So I just need a reservoir thing then.” As I thought, my mind called up all the possibilities before quickly choosing one. “What about my appendix?”

Saiian seemed to think for a moment before nodding slowly. “That actually may work, Jamie. I can do it right now, but I’ll warn you that you’re going to feel a slight pinch.”

“Which means I’m going to want to hit you, right?”


I groaned softly and nodded, clenching my eyes shut and gritting my teeth. “Well, go on then.”

Saiian’s hand found mine just before pain erupted in my lower right abdomen, crawling up into my chest and then behind my eyes. The inside of my body felt like it had been soaked in napalm and lit on fire, and I struggled to contain whimpers of pain.

“Jamie? Jamie, are you alright?” Rainbow Dash’s voice distantly rang through my ears.

I wanted to say yes and tell her that I was fine, but it felt like my body was being burned away from the inside out, so I just squeezed Saiian’s hand in my own and tried my best to ride out the pain until it was over. While I didn’t particularly like pain, I was certainly no stranger to it.

Slowly, ever so slowly, the pain and burning began to recede, leaving only a faint tingling and soreness in its wake as the lack of pain allowed me to spare focus to my other senses. I was slightly aware of a panicked voice nearly screaming my name as hooves shook me relentlessly, followed by a familiar southern accent telling the first voice to “shut up and get a nurse”.

“I’m fine.” I croaked weakly, coughing before clearing my throat and raising my voice a few more decibels. “Everyone calm down; I’m fine.”

Dash’s familiar rainbow mane entered my vision, followed by her rose eyes as she furiously scanned my expression for any hint of a lie. After taking a few moments, she gestured to my face. “You uh...kinda bit through your lip with your sharp teeth, dude.”

Now that she mentioned it, my bottom lip did feel like someone just pierced it.

“Rarity, a mirror if you please.” I requested, holding my open hand out to her.

Like I figured, she had a small pocket mirror (or saddlebag mirror, as the case was) that she kept with her, which she deftly levitated to land in my hand. I flipped it open and looked into the reflective surface, grimacing at the damage done. While gritting my teeth in pain, I hadn’t taken into account the fact that four of my teeth were now much larger and sharper than normal, which meant the skin under my bottom lip now had two gaping holes in it from when I’d caught it in between my teeth to keep from screaming. I then looked down and noticed that my neck and the dress shirt I was wearing were both covered in fresh blood.

As I gazed down at the mess I had made, I hummed to myself. “Y’know, I’m pretty surprised you’re not having a conniption right now, Rarity.” I handed the mirror back to her and waited patiently for her to take it from my hand.

Rarity was quiet for a few moments before she stepped forward and looked up at me proper, concern etched into her face. “Darling, it’s just a silly shirt. What worries me far more is the fact that it looked as if you were dying for a moment, and none of us were able to get a response from you or even move you.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You tried to move me? Why?”

Rarity turned her eyes away, painful remembrance clear in her expression. “Magical backlash is a condition specific to unicorns, and as impossible as it seems, it looked like you were experiencing it. During such a situation, the victim is to be laid down on a flat surface and given plenty of room to keep from hurting themselves. The problem is, your body was so rigid that not even Applejack was able to lay you down.”

AJ, by her token, looked a little embarrassed as she chuckled weakly. “Not ta sound full ‘a mahself, but Ah think we all know Ah’m stronger than you.” Her eyes then narrowed. “But tryin’ ta move you was like tryin’ ta plow a field without a plow; it just wasn’t happenin’.”

“So for you to be so immovable,” Fluttershy continued, having calmed down enough to speak at an audible level, “you must have been in an extraordinary amount of pain. Are you sure you’re alright?”

Glancing to Saiian out of the corner of my eye, I nodded with a smile. “Yeah, I’m alright.” I then turned my attention back to the rest of the girls. “Although, I could really use some ice and perhaps some gauze or something, if you don’t mind. It’s getting difficult to talk without wincing.”

Rarity and Fluttershy both set about scrambling out of the room and into the halls, likely looking for what I asked for, but Applejack and Rainbow Dash were staring me down.

“Ah know a lie when Ah hear one, Jamie.” AJ ground out. “Spill it; what’s really goin’ on?”

Looking into eyes of emerald and ruby, I realized I couldn’t keep up the facade any longer, and I sighed in defeat. “I can explain it, but chances are you either won’t believe me or won’t understand.” Before Dash could retort, I added, “I’m not calling either of you stupid or anything, but trust me, this is more Twilight’s thing than yours. It deals with magic and elementals, if that makes any sense.”

“Ya mean like tha tree ents on tha farm?” AJ asked with a pointed look.

I glanced to Saiian and she explained, “An ‘ent’ is the common term for an elemental warder of the forests. It is not uncommon for ponies to come across them from time to time, but if your friend Applejack does indeed have ents on her farm, it would explain how she can tend to so many trees at once. Ents have the intelligence of a dog, and can be trained like one in many instances. They will care for whatever flora and fauna is within their chosen area.”

I turned back to AJ, new information in hand. “You have ents work your farm with you?”

She chuckled and nodded. “Well ‘a course. Mac ‘n Ah ain’t got a problem buckin’ tha fruit and such, but if we gave all them trees all tha care they need ourselves, we wouldn’t even be able ta sleep or take a break. Tha ents were at tha farm before ponies even came here, and over tha years, we worked out a bit of a partnership with ‘em.” She twirled a hoof in the air. “We protect ‘em by takin’ care ‘a tha land and lookin’ after ‘em, and they take care ‘a tha trees. Ol’ Bloomberg is one of ‘em, and he tends tha fields in Appleloosa now with cousin Braeburn.”

I looked to Dash and she shrugged. “All of us know what an elemental is, whether by Twi tellin’ us or by us seein’ ‘em at AJ’s farm. What’s all of this thing with you got to do with elementals though?”

I sighed and asked, “How do you feel right now, Dash; about me, I mean. Be completely honest. Is it different than what you felt a few minutes before I went all weird on you girls?”

Raising her eyebrow, Dash slowly nodded. “Yeah...how did you know?”

“Feels just like when Twilight put that shield around you in the train to keep my magic from affecting you, right?” I prodded.

Dash’s eyes widened. “Okay, what’s going on? Twi’s not even here.”

I sighed and lowered my gaze to the floor. “Twilight was half-right on her study of my magic. It’s true that my subconscious feelings caused my magic to alter what it did and how it changed me, but I wasn’t the one to change it directly.” I pressed my palm to my chest, but my free hand gently squeezed the hand of the invisible elemental beside me. “There’s an elemental inside of me, and she’s the one that controls my magic. I asked her to cut off the magic that was affecting you girls’ minds, which is why you all probably feel differently than you did a little bit ago.”

“So,” Dash began quietly, “there’s some magic elemental inside of you right now.”

I nodded, bringing my eyes level with that of the two ponies’. “She is the magic inside of me, and only recently have I been able to speak with her ‒ ‘recently’ meaning earlier today.”

Applejack considered my words for a minute. “Well, from what Ah know ‘a elementals, it makes sense. What does all that have ta do with y’all bitin’ through yer lip though?”

I shrugged. “I asked her to change an unneeded organ in my body to work like a magis reservoir, since I don’t have one. When I asked her to stop the affect I was having on you all, it caused that magic to start building up, and without a reservoir, I would get magical sickness. Needless to say, it hurt quite a bit.”

“Umm,” Saiian began, looking a little nervous, “the reservoir will only increase the amount of latent magic you can hold at once. You’ll still need another outlet to keep it from building up and making you ill.”

I nodded and looked to Saiian. “What do you propose then? I don’t want to be messing with the minds of my friends or anything.”

“What’s going on right now, Jamie? You’re just kinda...sittin’ there.” Dash commented.

I looked to my pegasus friend and smiled. “I’m speaking with the elemental inside of me. So that I don’t look like a crazy person talking to himself, whenever I speak to her, it’s inside my head.” I pondered what I just said for a moment before violently shaking my head. “I don’t really understand how most of this works, really. I’m at the point now where I’m just going with the flow as best I can.”

“No offense Jamie,” Applejack began carefully, “but you ain’t really a ‘go with the flow’ type ‘a guy.”

I shrugged. “I’ve had to become one, or else I would’ve gone batshit crazy by now. I mean, I’m in Equestria as the only human, I got locked in a weird time place for three months, and now I find out I’ve got an ancient and powerful elemental inside of me.” I chuckled with just a hint of insanity present. “Saiian also appears as a human like me, and wears little to no clothing. She’s such a perv.”

Applejack quirked an eyebrow. “Saiian?”

“The elemental inside of me.” I clarified.

“If she’s inside of you, how can you see or know if she’s wearing anything? Why does she need to wear clothes? Why-” Dash questioned, only to grunt and shake her head in frustration. “I’m so confused right now.”

I chuckled at Dash’s confusion and patted her affectionately on the shoulder. “It doesn’t make sense to me either. I can only tell you what is, not what I think things to be. All I know for sure is that only I can see her, and I can also feel her if she touches me; the reverse is true for her as well ‒ if I purposefully touch her, she can feel it as well.”

Dash now raised her eyebrow as well. “Why is she a perv exactly?”

“Because she takes great pleasure in teasing me in a sexual manner, knowing that I’m the only one that can see her.” I explained with a flat look, glancing momentarily to where Saiian sat beside me. “The only reason she even wears clothes is because I asked her to.”

“You do realize you sound like a crazy person with an imaginary friend, right?” Dash concluded with an expression that screamed disbelief.

I looked to Saiian for help, but she just shrugged. “I can talk to her, but I already told you there’s only one way to do that.”

I still didn’t entirely believe Saiian’s explanation. “What magical property does a kiss have that would allow you to talk to them?”

She sighed and pointed to my forehead. “The main conduit for a pony’s ‒ or in this case, person’s ‒ magic is located within the head. Two unicorns can bridge their magic by touching charged horns together, but other ponies require a kiss. For obvious reasons, both acts are considered very intimate, which is why you may have noticed that unicorns are very protective of their horns, as well as who is allowed to touch it. In much the same way a horn bridge works, a kiss links the magic of two people together, however briefly, and allows them to perform unimaginable feats if one of them has the ability to use their magic in an outward manner, like a unicorn. You, however, have the ability to allow a pony to connect with me directly, allowing me to talk to them.” Before I could retort on the whole manner, she added, “Even with all that being the case and your emotional reservations about kissing a pony or other intimate acts, we both know you’ve wondered what it’s like. I don’t recommend your friends though, as they do not have the emotional maturity and wisdom of centuries to allow them to separate such an intimate gesture as something purely an act of circumstance. Rainbow Dash would become even more confused, Applejack might downright hit you, and any of the others could have a distinctly negative reaction.”

“So…” I urged.

“Luna...or Celestia.” Saiian confirmed. “So the question is, how far are you willing to go to explain everything?”

True that the mere thought of kissing a pony made me shudder a bit, but the more I thought on my reaction I began to wonder just why I was so against the idea. I couldn’t at the moment say I was for the idea either, but I began to question my reasons for disliking the very idea. I suppose part of it was because I imagined it would be like kissing a horse, but I had learned just in my short time on Equis that making assumptions was a very ignorant and dangerous thing to do. So, the only way for sure to know whether I would dislike it or not would be to just do it.

Besides that fact, how many get to say they got to neck with a princess?

I stood up off the bed and straightened my shoulders determinedly. “Well, there’s only one thing to do then.” I rolled my shoulders and smirked. “Looks like it’s time to buck up and just do it.”

“Do what, exactly?” Dash questioned, and it was only then that I realized I had not spoken solely to Saiian.

I looked to my friend and smiled. “There’s only one way I’m going to prove this for sure, and I need Luna or Celestia to do it. Once Rarity and Fluttershy return with the ice and gauze, I’ll-” I stopped, looking around. “Wait, where’s Pinkie?”

Applejack looked around and shrugged. “Ah hardly ever know where that pony is. Just expect her to pop up when you least-”

“HERE I AM!” squealed the bouncy pink pony from behind me.

While Dash and Applejack nearly jumped across the room in surprise, I merely fell onto my face and was quite pleased I didn’t need to relieve myself when the pony appeared. I suppose I should be used to Pinkie’s randomness by now, but she’s an enigma even in a world filled with mythical creatures. Regardless, I would rather be surprised into a near-heart attack than not know where she is; I don’t like not knowing where and when Pinkie will appear.

After catching my breath and just barely keeping my heart from leaping out of my chest and running away, I turned to Pinkie and sighed heavily. “For chrissakes Pinkie, just poke me or something. The whole shouting loudly thing is going to scare me to death one of these times.”

“But everypony loves surprises, Jamie!” she exclaimed, bouncing on the bed as she gazed down at me. Suddenly, she gasped and hopped down onto the floor, pulling me up roughly as she looked me over. “Oh no, you’re hurt!”

I waved her concern off. “I know, but Rarity and Fluttershy are-”

“We’re back, darling!” announced Rarity as she and Fluttershy reentered the room, a bag of ice and a first-aid kit in tow. Glancing at the Pink pony in the room she greeted, “Oh hello there, dear. Where have you been?”

Pinkie cocked her head to the side. “When?”

“Just now.”

“I was here!”

“No, before that, darling.”

Pinkie scratched her head. “I don’t remember.”

Rarity stared at her friend for a few moments before sighing in frustration and trotting over to me, levitating the bag of ice to land on my lap while Fluttershy floated up to my face and began applying antiseptic to my wounds.

After cleaning me up and icing my wounds, the five ponies went back to passing the time as we all waited to Twilight to arrive. I knew for a fact that the others were trying hard not to be upset with the princesses, since none of them directly mentioned them in an attempt to not think about the two, but I had a feeling that a verbal lashing from Twilight wasn’t the only heated words the princesses were going to hear. A part of me wanted to feel a little sorry for them both about the fact that they had lost the trust of Equestria’s greatest weapons against evil, but the realistic part reminded me that they had this coming for what they did to me. Just as I would expect to be punished for breaking a law, they likely expected this all to happen to them as well.

Thankfully, Twilight decided to enter the room at that moment.

All within the bedroom stood to greet her, but stopped when they saw the state of her. She looked haggard, with clear tear trails on her cheeks and puffy, red eyes. Her wings were drooping tiredly, and her head was held low as she made her way over to me. Finally lifting her gaze from the floor, she looked at me for only a teary-eyed second before lunging forward and latching onto me in a desperate hug, as if letting go would cause the entire world to fall away. I wrapped my arms around the young alicorn and pulled her up with me as I made to sit on the bed again, allowing her to sit on my lap as she sobbed uncontrollably, sputtering broken apologies the entire time. It was then that I felt wings and hooves begin to encircle me as the other five stunned ponies embraced Twilight and I, trying their best to comfort their distraught friend. Admittedly, it felt pretty nice being in the middle of a veritable ponypile, but the sobbing alicorn in my grip sobered my wandering mind very quickly. For now, Twilight needed to be comforted; questions and random thoughts could come later.

The urge to bestow as much comfort as possible overtook me, and I surprisingly found myself planting small kisses on Twilight’s forehead as I stroked her mane and cupped her face in my hand, running my thumb along her cheek as I did so. These actions only caused her to cling to me tighter and increase the intensity of her weeping, but she never once pulled away, so I continued doing to her as I would to a hysterically unhappy child, should I ever have one. I whispered shushing sounds into her ear as I continued to hold her.

After a few minutes of smothering Twilight in the love and affection of friends, she finally calmed enough to catch her breath, hiccuping several times as she tried to compose herself. It took a few more minutes for her to regain any semblance of true composure, but when she did, she looked to me with a heartbroken expression on her face.

“Jamie...I’m so s-sorry for everything that’s happened to you.” she whispered, just barely in audible range. Before I could speak, she continued. “I’m sorry for how we treated you when you first arrived, for how we reacted to unknowns about you, and for how the princesses abused you and your trust.”

I shook my head firmly. “Twilight, that’s not your-”

“Jamie, stop it.” she ordered, glaring at me even as tears began to fall down her cheeks once again. “Without your consent, Equis is now your home, and yet the ponies that live here have treated you like a threat at best, or a toy at worst. I myself am guilty of the former, and I am so sorry I ever doubted you or your intentions.” She shook her head ruefully, lowering her voice again. “I don’t know how or why you don’t absolutely hate us by now.”

Clearing my throat nervously, I answered, “Truthfully, I’ve been through a lot worse. One day soon I’ll tell all of you exactly what my past was like on Earth, but I can tell you now that any negatives I’ve experienced here on Equis pale in comparison to what I went through on my own planet.” The six gathered nodded warily, but kept quiet on the matter. “However,” I began, feeling anxiety begin to creep over me, “there is something that I need to tell all of you, but I need the other two princesses to do it.”

Instantaneously, Twilight’s mood took a nosedive once again. “Why do they need to be here?”

“Because they’ll be able to explain it better than I ever could myself,” I countered, “and it involves Luna in quite an important way.” Somewhere distant in my mind, I found it oddly strange that I didn’t mentally or verbally add titles to the two older Equestrian princesses anymore. Strictly speaking though, I think I’d earned the right to call them by their names.

“Well who’s going to go get them then?” Dash questioned, just barely keeping a growl of anger out of her voice.

I shrugged. “I will. I need to collect my thoughts a bit anyway, so you all keep Twi company for a minute or two, and I’ll be right back.” Before any of them could argue, I slipped away from them and out the door, quickly making my way by memory through the castle corridors...well, Saiian’s memory. Hers was far better than mine.

“Take a left here.” she said, and I obliged as I pivoted and followed the sparsely decorated hallway to Celestia’s study. “So, have you surrendered to the fact that you’re going to have to lock lips with a pony for things to work out the way you want them to?”

I shrugged. “I’ve done stranger things in the name of fixing things, though kissing an alien will be a first.” I sighed and stuck my hands in my pockets. “I’m still a little weirded out about it, but maybe it won’t be as bad as I think it will be. Besides, it’s not like I’m doing it because I want to date her; I’m just doing it so that she doesn’t think I’m intentionally trying to piss her off by saying that one of her only friends in history is inside of me right now.” Grimacing, I added, “That’s quite possibly the strangest sentence that I’ve ever said.”

Saiian giggled and nudged me with her shoulder. “I’m just going to leave that one alone; it’s too easy.” After a moment longer of walking, she gestured to a familiar door leading to an ivory tower. “Well, here we are.”

Two guards were flanking the door, one a night guard and the other a solar guard. While I didn’t recognize the golden-armored day guard, the pegasus in dark armor was one I recognized immediately, and she me.

“Heya Lanky!” Shudder greeted jovially, much to the chagrin of her stoic and professional companion.

After a moment of looking between us, recognition dawned on the day guard’s face as she gasped. “This is the alien you were looking after?”

I whipped my head around and theatrically shouted, “Alien?! Where?!” After a moment of bad acting, I turned back to the two ponies and grinned. “I don’t know of any other tall, handsome aliens in Equestria.”

“Getting a little full of yourself now, aren’t you?” Shudder remarked, smirking.

I shrugged. “Someone has to be.” I then pointed to the door behind them. “I need to speak with the two princesses. Are they still in there?”

The white unicorn day guard shook her head. “The two princesses are not to be disturbed.”

Shudder rolled her eyes and stepped forward toward me. “What she means is that the princesses are pretty shaken up after Princess Twilight Sparkle chewed them out. I’m sure they’ll make an exception if they’re told it’s you that wants to see them.”

The day guard trotted forward with a look of shock as she exclaimed, “Shudder, remember your place! The princesses order, we follow; do not step outside your bounds!”

Shudder growled and poked her compatriot in her breastplate. “Maybe the day guards feel the need to treat Princess Celestia like a goddess, but Luna and the night guards are a family. She’s our mother, and we’re her children; family talks to one another when there’s a problem.”

The other pony grumbled, but acquiesced to Shudder’s explanation. “Fine, but if we get in trouble, I’m blaming you.”

The two guards turned and knocked on the door before entering, closing it behind them while I waited patiently for them to reappear. After a few moments Shudder stuck her head out and nodded to me, so I made my way inside.

The study was noticeably messier than when I left it, with a few books and scrolls littering the carpeted floor and both windows cracked as if struck by a wave of force.

“I don’t think I have to ask who did all this.” I mused aloud, letting my eyes wander around the study before settling on the two princesses, the elder of which looked as emotionally spent as Twilight had.

“Please leave us, guards.” Luna requested, though an undertone of finality was in her voice. Shudder and the unnamed day guard bowed shallowly before stepping out the door and leaving me alone with the two princesses. Luna then looked to me and raised her eyebrow. “Do I want to know what happened to you?”

I rubbed the gauze taped below my lower lip. “I’ll explain later.”

Luna nodded before smiling weakly. “How is she?”

“Blaming herself.” I answered, motioning to the clearly ashamed Celestia. “Like your sister is, no doubt. I just spent the last half-hour consoling a sobbing pile of alicorn.”

“Ah, so your evening is panning out much the same as mine is.” Luna quipped, earning a childish raspberry from her sister as they sat together on an alicorn-sized sitting pillow. Luna continued lovingly brushing her sister’s mane as she turned her gaze back to me and said, “Not that we don’t enjoy the presence of Equestria’s resident alien, but was there something you needed?”

I looked to where Saiian was standing just a few feet away from me before nodding to Luna. “There is, actually.” I took a breath before asking, “How much has Twilight told you both about the magic inside of me and how it works?” A folder was caught in a golden glow from Celestia’s horn, and it levitated over to me, dropping in my hands. As I looked over the materials presented, I realized they were all of Twilight’s notes on me. “Okay...so she told you everything.

Celestia nodded. “She did. I apologize for being short, but is this going somewhere? I am far from being in the mood to discuss anything work-related at the moment.”

I sighed and nodded. “It’s something pretty important, and I think you both need to hear it. I wouldn’t bother you otherwise.” Luna motioned to me to continue, so I took a deep breath before forging ahead. “The magic inside of me is sapient, meaning that it isn’t reacting to my feelings directly or anything. It’s an elemental ‒ a colossus, to be exact.” I then locked eyes with Luna. “Her name is Saiian.”

The brush that was in Luna’s magical grasp slipped away, bonking her sister on the head in a comical manner as Luna’s mouth dropped open in shock.

“W-what did you say?” she hissed.

I nodded in confirmation. “Her name is Saiian, Luna.”

After a moment of shock, Luna’s gaze narrowed as she growled, “I don’t know how you found out about her, but this joke has run its course.”

Celestia’s shamed wallowing graduated to curious confusion. “Luna, who is Saiian?”

Luna’s eyes shot to those of her sister, and she struggled internally for a moment before explaining, “The elemental I spoke of before my banishment. Saiian was one of the only friends I’ve ever had,” she then pointed angrily to me, “and now this foal is using her memory for a sick joke.”

I had expected the response from Luna, but the fact that she thought I would be downright cruel still hurt a little. “I’m not, and I can prove it.”

As my thoughts were coalescing into my plan, Saiian commented, “It’s called a magis bridge; Luna will know what you mean when you say it.”

I cleared my throat nervously and stated, “We can form a magis bridge between each other.”

Celestia tilted her head curiously at me. “But you lack a horn. How would-” Her eyes then widened as a blush spread across her face. “Oh...oh my.”

Luna raised an eyebrow. “What? Am I missing something?”

Celestia cleared her throat as she explained, “A magis bridge is a way in which two unicorns can pool their magic together by touching their horns, allowing them to do far more with said magic than either could do alone. Of course, with how protective unicorns are of their horns, it is seen as a very intimate gesture.”

Luna nodded in understanding. “Captain Shining Armor did so with Princess Mi Amore Cadenza at their wedding, yes?”

Celestia nodded. “But what many do not know is that unicorns and alicorns are not the only breed of ponies that can form a bridge like that. The other method is by a kiss.”

Luna nodded again. “Because one’s magic flows through the head at all times; I know this, but why does that matter for Jamie...and…” Her face took on a lovely shade of maroon as realization hit her, and she nearly choked on her own tongue as she stammered, “S-so you want t-to…”

I shrugged helplessly. “It’s not ideal, but connecting with my magic means you’ll connect with Saiian, allowing her to not only prove her existence to you, but it will also explain just what has been going on with me.”

“And you plan to do that by kissing my sister?” Celestia clarified, slightly dumbstruck.

Strangely enough, most of the “weird” factor had bled away from the idea, to the point where I just shrugged again with chuckle. “I’ve done stranger things in the name of science. My last idea brought me to Equestria, after all.” I gestured to the night princess. “So the only question now is if your sister is okay with it. If you’ve got a better idea on how to do all this, I’m all ears.”

Celestia slowly swiveled her head to look at her younger sister. “Luna?”

Luna was completely still, her jaw still dropped in surprise and the blood from her entire body likely congregated in her face. After a moment more of silence she shook her head roughly and coughed to regain some form of composure. “W-well I am not against it per se, it is simply that…” The remainder of her sentence trailed off, but from the muffled word of “never”, I could figure out what she said.

I leveled her with a flat stare. “You’re joking, right? You’re thousands of years old and you’ve never kissed anyone?”

“Neither of us have.” Celestia confirmed, though without the amount of embarrassment that her sister was feeling.

I furrowed my brow in disbelief. “What is Equestria, ‘March of the Virgin Princesses’? For fuck’s sake!” I sighed and shook my head, waving my hand in the air. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just...you realize how bad that sounds to someone like me, right? You all have a few thousand years on me, but you haven’t gotten any? What the hell, man? Is it some kind of alicorn-princess rule or something?”

“It was actually, in ages past.” Saiian stated dryly.

I glanced to the elemental and rolled my eyes before amending, “Okay, so maybe it was, but it’s not anymore. So why…?”

“Immortals are nothing if not creatures of habit, Jamie.” Celestia explained, smiling gently. “Besides that, I have just never met the right pony.”

“Same.” Luna added quietly.

I raised an eyebrow before sighing and shaking my head. “Okay, that is just not acceptable. I was a complete shut-in for almost two years back on Earth, and even I got some. I used to be a fat guy for chrissakes! Do you know how hard it is to get laid as a fat dude?” I realized I was panting after my short rant, so I took a moment to calm myself before continuing. “Sorry about that, but I mean what the hell. I know you feel all the same emotions and desires as mortal ponies, so why with all this denial of what you want and feel? What’s the point?”

I was leveled with a flat stare from Celestia. “There are more important things in our lives than giving in to what we desire. We run an entire country, Jamie; our wants and needs are not our own, they are those of our ponies.”

I brought my fingers to the bridge of my nose and rubbed, trying to keep a migraine from forming. “Well, as someone you wish to see as a friend and confidant, I have to tell you that you’re both being stupid. You can’t claim to truly care about what your ponies want and need if you deny yourself those same desires. It’s not fair to you and it’s not fair to them.” I sighed and shook my head. “Anyway, we’re getting off topic here. I’ll address those issues later, but for now I came here to seek help and support from you both, and we know there’s only one way to get you to believe me. The question is, are you up for it?”

Luna didn’t break eye contact as she answered, “Are you? It is not I, but you who have an aversion to our kind.”

“I can get past that,” I retorted, shaking my head, “the question is: are you okay with an alien being your first kiss for the sake of reuniting you with an ancient friend?”

Luna was silent as she contemplated my words, but Celestia glared at me. “This doesn’t add up, Jamie; what do you hope to gain from this? From the way it sounds, you seem to be giving more than you are receiving, and I do not mean to offend, but that alone goes against who we have seen you to be.”

Glancing once more to Saiian, I shrugged. “Perhaps I mean to make a change, and the backing of both of you in this will allow me to readily explain what I have become to all my friends. They don’t believe me, to say the least, so I would prefer if I had your support. Now that I know what it’s like to be able to share things with friends, I don’t want to hide something like this, since it could potentially affect them at any time.” I then cleared my throat and said, “Plus, I’ve kinda wondered from time to time just what it would be like...kissing a pony, I mean. It’s true I’m a little weirded out by it, but seeing as how you all are the only sapient beings around and I’m living here for the foreseeable future, I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had thoughts and even dreams about it from time to time.” I shrugged again. “If I’m going to give this a shot, I suppose I might as well start at the top.”

“You do realize this is a vastly different stance on the matter than you had a mere few days ago, right?” Celestia commented, clearly skeptical.

I nodded. “I do, although you have to realize how much has changed for me in that time as well. I’m at the point now where I’m just rolling with the punches, so to speak.” I chuckled. “Which basically means trying out new things and seeing where it will take me. Meeting new ponies, making friends...all that stuff. If I’m going to be here, I might as well get started making this place a home rather than just somewhere I live.”

Luna stood and trotted over before taking a seat directly in front of me, connecting her gaze with my own. “Well Jamie, I can think of no discernable reason why I shouldn’t share this with you, barring your own reservations. If you are truly alright with it, I-”

Instead of letting Luna continue and talk us out of it somehow, I acted on impulse, stepping forward and cupping her cheek before bringing our lips together. Her own widened eyes of shock and a surprised murmur mirrored my own feelings, even though I had been the one to initiate the contact. A part of me thought I wouldn’t have had it in me, but it was clear I was wrong on the matter. And...it appeared I was incorrect on another few assumptions as well.

Kissing a pony ‒ Luna, specifically ‒ was actually not that bad; on the contrary, it was rather nice. Her lips were soft and smooth, with only the barest hint of velvety soft fur around them, offering an exotic yet not unpleasant experience. Instead of thinking, “Well, this isn’t so bad,” I found myself thinking, “Huh, this is actually pretty nice!” Whether it be because of such a lack of intimate contact for so long or the fact that the kiss wasn’t as strange as I had thought it would be, I pushed to deepen the kiss as I felt a rush of magical pressure press against my mind from Luna. Gradually, the sensation of the kiss itself bled away, and the world faded to white.

As sight came back to me, I found myself in an impossible place: the park playground where I spent most of the first years of my childhood. It was by that observation alone that I knew what I was seeing wasn’t real, since I had driven by the spot a few times as an adult, and saw it had been replaced by a shopping center. Concluding that what I currently saw was an illusion of some sort, I swiveled my head around to find out just what was going on. First of all, I noticed that there were no cars or sounds of a lively suburban living area, and no people. Secondly and most importantly, there was a very bewildered midnight-blue alicorn standing a few feet away.

Luna’s eyes slowly drifted to me, and she gasped in surprise. “O-oh, Jamie. Where are we?”

I glanced around again. “This is what my world looks like Luna, or at least the part where I spent the first two years of my childhood.” A stupid thought then came to mind, and I laughed aloud for a moment before saying, “I can now officially say that my lips have taken a female to another world.”

Luna rolled her eyes with a grin. “Stupid…”

I began to look around once more, calling out, “Saiian, I know you’re here.”

Sure enough, a soft hand caressed my shoulder, and I looked to see the elemental standing beside me, though I was quite sure she hadn’t been there a moment before. She gave me a bright smile before looking to Luna, who had a very confused expression painting her face.

“Saiian?” she questioned, tilting her head in the way ponies did when they were confused (which I’m just going to come right out and finally say it: cute as hell).

Saiian nodded. “I’m here, Luna.”

Apparently Saiian’s voice had not changed with her form since Luna had last known her, since the alicorn’s face contorted to utter shock and then unbridled joy as she ecstatically pranced over to the elemental and threw her arms around her in a hug. Tears began to fall down Luna’s face as Saiian embraced her, and I kept silent as the two enjoyed a silent moment of reconciliation.

After a few minutes of silence, Luna croaked out, “I thought I would never see you again, my friend.”

Saiian smiled gently and ran her fingers through Luna’s mane. “I once told you I would never willingly leave you alone again.” She briefly glanced to me before continuing with, “I thank Jamie for allowing me to find you once more, my young friend.”

Luna released Saiian before whipping her head to me and not trotting or cantering, but galloping and tackling me to the ground in a tight embrace. As I struggled to breathe she whispered through tears, “Thank you so much, Jamie. You cannot possibly fathom how much this means to me.”

Poking her in the side I groaned out, “I think I can...air please!”

Immediately relinquishing her grip on me and backing away with a sheepish smile, Luna commented, “You faced your own discomfort and fears to reunite me with one of the greatest pieces of my past.” She bowed her head low to the ground and added, “I hope with time I can return this grand gesture in a way that will please you. You have done something I deemed impossible, and I am honestly unsure how I will repay you.”

I brushed off my jacket and stood, shaking my head. “Don’t lock me away again and we’ll call it even.” After standing, I gestured to Saiian. “She’s the reason for every change within me that’s happened since I came to your world, including minor changes to my behavior.” I then glanced to the elemental directly. “And if I’m not mistaken, she’s the one who very recently made the prospect of kissing a pony look not so bad.” I then shrugged, turning back to Luna. “To be honest, it was much more similar to kissing one of my own kind than I thought it would be, and at least in that avenue, I don’t find any more problems.”

Luna nodded before nervously chewing her lip, looking to Saiian briefly before stepping toward me. “Jamie, we must return to the waking world. We have some more things to discuss, and I think you are finally ready to know the truth.”

Saian snapped her fingers and I had only a second to gasp as the world fell away before my vision once again faded to white.

When sight returned to me again, it was to find Luna’s face a few inches away from mine, and Celestia with a blush covering her entire face, neck, and even her chest. It was then that I realised Luna and I were still kissing, and as her eyes opened, she was hit with said realization as well.

Gently, and at the same time, Luna and I disengaged and pulled away from each other, and I’ll man-up and admit that I didn’t really want to stop, having been deprived of such intimate contact for so long.

“Wow…” I heard Celestia breathe from beside me, utter surprise in her tone. “That was...something.”

“It certainly was.” Luna commented giddily, grinning like a fool before realizing her reaction. “O-oh, the kiss was nice too, but…” she smiled wide again as she looked to her sister, “she’s there, Tia! She’s alive and she remembers me!” She then turned to me and smirked. “For the record, that far surpassed my expectations for a first kiss, Jamie. Reuniting me with Saiian; you truly are something special.” Luna then looked to her sister again, this time dropping her smile and adopting a more serious look. “It is time we tell him everything, sister. He’s ready.”

I groaned and collapsed onto the cushion next to the princesses, slapping a hand on my face. “Seriously, enough with the secrets!”

“In our defense,” Celestia voiced, smiling sheepishly, “we did not even suspect this specific information until mere moments ago, when you told us you had an elemental within you.”

Without sitting up or even moving, I grumbled out, “Explain, please.”

I felt the magical pressure of the room increase as Celestia lit up her horn and levitated a chest from the corner of the room over, opening it and bringing out a single scroll, yellowed with age. She dropped it on my chest, so I unrolled it, recognizing the strange writing of Equestrians.

“Um, I can’t read this.” I stated blandly. “I haven’t learned how to read your language yet.”

Celestia nodded. “I realize this, but this script cannot be translated. It is an ancient scroll that was part of a legend from long ago, that some marveled as prophecy. It is imbued with powerful enchantments to resist aging, but those same enchantments resist all but the most powerful of magic. Because of that, I cannot translate it to suit your needs.” I felt a pressure on my head as Celestia’s glowing aura surrounded me. “I can, however, temporarily link your vision with mine so that you can read it through my eyes.”

My vision once again fell away for a second before I found myself looking down at...myself?

“Woah,” I breathed out, seeing myself say the word, “this is freaky.”

“Now,” I heard Celestia begin softly, “I wish you to read the scroll. With my eyes you will see the world as I do, which means the words will appear readable instead of as a jumble of shapes.”

Sure enough, when Celestia’s vision went to the scroll (which I held up, though it was a pain to coordinate the motion from another’s sight), I could read the words. It wasn’t anything like they magically shimmered to be replaced with english, rather I just kinda...knew. Something about Celestia’s eyes and her mind just recognized the words, even with me being the one seeing through them.

Slowly, I began to read.

“It appeared fromme Elseweyre, having a novel bodie and eyyes of wolfes.” I shook my head, noticing a break in the story. “What’s up with the language?”

Celestia giggled softly. “Much like your world, standardized spelling was not always the way of things. The next entry will be easier to read, I think.”

I nodded, continuing to read (it was strange watching myself nod). “She came from a world similar, and yet different. I saw not hooves, but fingers and toes; eyes of a predator, and the teeth of a meat-eater. Around her I spied ponies of all kinds ‒ ponies of horn, of wing, and some of both.” Another break in the story, leading to a last entry. “Within is a soul of elements, living with the soul of he that is alien to us. He lived with us as if he were one of us, and caught the eye of heroines and villainesses alike. Who was this strange creature, lost among the stars?” I don’t consider myself fantastically quick on the uptake, but I was bright enough to put the pieces together as my vision faded once again to my own. I rolled up the scroll and sat up, facing the princesses. “Okay, what is all this?”

Princess Celestia levitated the scroll out of my hands, smiling down at me. “What you just read are multiple interpretations across the ages of an ancient story called, ‘The Smithy’. The first entry on that scroll was originally written by a seer known as Brighteye, from a time before even my sister and I ruled. What began as a vision was passed off as the ravings of a madpony, and eventually evolved into one of the favorite stories of foals and adults alike. While much of the original meaning of the story has been lost to the ages,” she pointed to the floating scroll, “these three entries are what my sister and I have preserved for the sake of remembrance. Twilight may have told you already, but what many ponies believe to be mere stories passed down through the ages contain grains of truth here and there, and this scroll contains what we analyzed and found to be the most likely bits of truth in a wonderful ‒ if a bit romanticized ‒ story.”

Luna cleared her throat nervously. “Some versions of the story are dark, and even fetishized at some points, but the core of the story comes down to those three entries. It is the bit that we have poured over many times in an effort to snip away the unnecessary bits, and it is what we have found to be the most accurate depiction of what the original seer saw those many eons ago.” Luna pointed to the scroll, and began to explain. “Some saw the creature as male, others as female, but the parts that remain true in every version is that this creature came from somewhere not of Equestria, having a body unlike anything we have seen and having the eyes and teeth of a predator.”

“This creature is seen to be friends and allies alike with all four tribes of ponies ‒ alicorns included.” Celestia explained with a smile.

“Lastly,” Luna picked up, “it is spoken that this creature has an elemental spirit inside of it, and captures the attention of heroines and evildoers alike.”

“The Elements of Harmony and those assassins.” I spoke aloud, thinking to myself. I then shook my head. “Wait, why is this story called ‘The Smithy’?”

Celestia smiled gently. “The creature built and maintained weapons and armor, and was quite adept at it.”

“But-” I began, only to be cut off by a blue hoof pressed to my lips.

“However,” Luna continued with a grin, “the creature was never given a name in the story; it was simply called ‘The Smith’.”

Realization fully dawned on me as I pushed Luna’s hoof away and stood, trembling with anxiety. “W-w-wait wait wait, you think this story is about me?”

“Evidence certainly points to it.” Luna answered, smiling gently. “There is simply too much that matches with who you are to be mere coincidence.”

“We’ve lived too long to believe in coincidence, Jamie.” Celestia chided gently. “While it is true that we are a bit…” she paused, seeming to grasp for the correct words, “out of touch when it comes to personal relationships, foresight and planning is something we do very well. Do not doubt us in this; it would be a mistake.”

My mind raced to grasp the new information I had been given. A legend? Me? No...that couldn’t be true. I was just some fucked-up human from Earth. Sure a lot of things about that story made sense, but…

On the other hand…

The princesses...weren’t really wrong about these types of things. While I didn’t agree with all of their methods, I couldn’t deny that they had an unbelievable amount of foresight and were very observant of the world and its going-ons. They wouldn’t have shown me the scroll for no reason though, so…

“Why did you show me this?” I asked, surprised at how stable my voice was.

Celestia smiled reassuringly, placing a hoof on my shoulder. “Two reasons, actually. The first is to show that everything that has happened and everything you are is meant to be was not an accident. Secondly, and more importantly,” she then craned her neck so that she could reach me, and began rubbing her cheek affectionately against mine, “you were meant to be here, Jamie. I am truly sorry that you were ripped from your world so suddenly, but this proves that you belong here. So please, do not feel like an outsider anymore.”

As the truth of her words sunk in, I realized she was right. Much as I wanted to cling to my past and Earth, I couldn’t deny what the words said, and I had read them myself. I didn’t readily believe in prophecies or precognition, but there was too much in those words I read for my being in Equestria to be mere coincidence.

Part of the reason I had never told my friends about my past was because of what it reminded me of: that I never truly belonged anywhere. Every place I had gone, every person I had met, it had always felt like I was an outsider. No matter the time passed or growing up I did, I always felt so far removed from my own kind. But now, as I learned the truth of another world, I felt for the first time in my life what I had yearned for my entire life.

To belong.

I had friends that loved and cared about me, and two princesses that would risk losing my trust just to do what they thought was best for me, simply because they cared about me that much. For the first time since coming to Equestria, I didn’t feel like I had been taken from my home...I felt like I had been brought to it. Change is always difficult, and there were some things about Earth I might always miss, but now I felt the idea of “home” was Equis.

“Thank you,” I muttered, just before collapsing against Celestia and crying tears of joy.

Chapter 19: Mending Bridges

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Chapter 19: Mending Bridges

“You know,” I began, shifting against my warm, furry support, “I’m kinda glad I didn’t have too many male friends back on Earth. With how emotional and unstable I’ve been lately, I’d have caught quite the hazing from any guy friends I might have. See, we don’t have magic where I’m from, so there would be no excuse for me acting the way I have.”

I felt as Celestia’s wing stroked the back of my neck. “Well, consider yourself lucky that all your friends here are mares then. Besides all that, Equestria is a much more understanding place than what you’ve made your world out to be.”

I shook my head, slowly running my hand against the sun princess’ neck as I did so. “It’s not all bad, really. In fact, there’s quite a few things about Earth that I miss, technology being one of them. Still, it seems that with me being unable to return, I’m only remembering the bad parts.” I sat up straighter to look her in the eye as I added, “For example: Twilight told me that about a month before they found me, there was a female couple in Ponyville that was married. On Earth that could have happened too, but for a long time in our history, there were laws against same-sex marriages. Twilight told me that you all have never had a law like that before. Same thing for polygamy and polyamory.”

Luna gazed up at me from her head’s place in my lap. “We built Equestria to be a place of freedom and harmony for all, and it would not do well for us to limit what ponies can or cannot do with their love simply because of what we may or may not think. ‘twould be unfair to many, since we cannot control who we love or what gender they are.”

I nodded in agreement. “I know; it’s things like that about my world that I never really understood either, but like most other people, I just went along with it. I’m ashamed to say that since it didn’t really affect me, I didn’t care all that much about laws that didn’t make sense to me.” I chuckled dryly and said, “Another example: it’s illegal in most first-world countries to filter your own water, even if you have the means to.” I shrugged. “I mean, I can understand a law being in place because it’s preventing you from doing something that could cause harm to yourself or others, but what about all the rest of them?” With a sigh, I shook my head. “That’s why I’m not a politician.”

“I will be the first to admit that ruling is not all it’s made out to be.” Celestia stated with a grin. “When it comes right down to it, Luna and I rule over Equestria because we think of all other ponies’ interests before our own. It takes a truly selfless pony to be able to forsake their own desires and give them to everypony else.”

Luna nodded, brushing her chin against my knee. “If one whom we could trust appeared and was willing to truly do what was needed for Equestria to grow and prosper while remaining the harmonious place it is, I would lay down my crown without a second thought.”

I raised an eyebrow at the lunar diarch. “Really? You don’t like being a princess?”

“When young ponies imagine the life of royalty, they only envision grand balls and servants, along with lavish living and the finest food and drink money can buy.” Celestia explained with a neutral expression. “The truth of the matter is that in many ways, royalty is a life of requirement, not desire. Most ponies who look upon this palace with starry eyes and fantastical dreams do not take into account the fact that most of our days are filled with mindless paperwork, annoying meetings with nobility, and diplomatic visits. Out of twenty-four hours, Luna and I often only have two of those hours set aside for ourselves, not counting sleeping times; I will be the first to tell you that two hours is nowhere near enough time to completely calm my nerves and prepare for the next day.”

“Besides those very accurate facts,” Luna continued, picking up the explanation of royal life, “my sister and I rarely see each other except to share a meal together. It is a difficult life, and one I would not wish on another who was unprepared for it.”

“Speaking of,” I began, looking toward the door that led to the long corridor that led me here, “how do you think Twilight’s going to handle it?”

Celestia glanced toward the door as well, sighing as she did so. “She will endure, of that there is no doubt. Much like Luna and I have, she will likely be subject to a few emotional breakdowns when the stress becomes too much, but she will have her friends and family to be there for her when it happens.”

I shifted my shoulders as I prepared to stand and said, “Well, we’ve put this off long enough; I came here so that the two of you could explain the truth about Saiian and how her magic is affecting me.”

Luna nodded a few times, frowning as she did so. “I assume quite a bit has happened between all of you are willing to create such a volatile situation simply to explain your behavior and theirs.”

I nodded. “I mean, I think Rainbow Dash falling in love with me is pretty serious.”

Luna frowned even deeper this time, her expression deeply troubled. “And how did Saiian explain this event?”

I looked to the elemental that only I could see, noticing she was strangely silent through all this. “She wasn’t the one to explain how the magic was affecting us all, Twilight was. Twilight said the potential for Rainbow Dash’s feelings to develop like they did always existed, but that Saiian’s magic was basically a catalyst that sped things along. She said that the magic was passively affecting the minds of everyone around me, making them more friendly among other things.” I shrugged. “It might be why the two of you felt drawn to me as well; Twilight told me that usually you’re both a little distant.”

I stood, and Celestia did just behind me as she retorted, “We aren’t distant, we’re just removed from normal society through no fault of our own.”

“We do not distance ourselves intentionally, Jamie.” Luna corrected me with a sad smile. “So many see us as infallible rulers that they consider it a disrespect or even an insult to speak to us as one would a common pony.”

“And what do you think?” I asked, genuinely interested. “How do you want to be addressed by your people?”

Celestia stepped beside me as she opened the door with magic and began leading me through the winding halls of the palace. “Ponies must see us for the rulers we are, so that they can trust that we will be strong where they are not, and will make the decisions that they can not.” She then sighed and looked to Luna.

“But among those we wish to be friends, we hope to be seen as a friend and nothing more or less.” the younger sister continued, smiling gently to me. “You, for example, are one such friend, and while we expect you to follow our commands as your princesses, we do not want you to fear speaking to us informally when the situation warrants it. We want you to bring our attention to our faults when they present themselves, and forgive us our mistakes, as we will do for you. Friends should not fear retribution from the other because of status or station, so neither should you.”

I continued following Celestia before turning to the younger princess and saying, “Oh, random question: why was it that you seemed to uncomfortable when I kissed you, Luna? Besides the obvious ‘I’m kissing an alien’ thing you were probably thinking the whole time, of course.”

Luna cleared her throat as a soft blush turned her cheeks a faint maroon. “Um, b-because ponies usually don’t kiss like humans do.” At my look of confusion she continued her explanation, noticeably quieter. “Because of the bridge of magical energies that forms from a kiss, ponies as a species have grown to develop other ways of showing affection.”

I nodded in understanding. “Like nuzzles and hugging, right?”

Luna nodded in agreement. “Yes. However, we do have our own version of a kiss that doesn’t bridge two ponies’ magical streams.” With an embarrassed blush and a shy smile, Luna leaned up and gently ran her tongue along the side of my throat, causing gooseflesh to appear and a shiver to run through me.

With a shuddering breath I said, “I can appreciate the fact that you prefer to teach by demonstration and that it likely took quite a bit of courage to do that, but please warn me next time. You’re sending mixed signals here, Luna.”

“Indeed, sister.” Celestia chastised from in front of us, glancing back with a smirk. “While it seems Jamie has become more comfortable with ponies and the way we show affection, some displays are inappropriate between two friends, even for instruction.” Celestia then looked directly at me and added, “She’s still learning how the modern world works, Jamie; please give her a pass on that little indiscretion.”

I nodded, rubbing the spot where the princess’ tongue had been only moments before. “I suppose worse things could have happened, all things considered.” I then brought my index finger to my lips and said, “Y’know, now that my mind’s not swimming with all the crazy things that have been happening to me without answers, I actually have a few questions of my own that have gone unanswered for a little too long.”

“Such as?” Celestia questioned, focusing on the path ahead of us and nodding to a few guards that lined the corridors.

“Well,” I began, trying my best to think of a way to broach the subjects, “you said the two of you have never even kissed another pony before -- which kinda makes sense now since a kiss between ponies means more than just affection -- but you said Twilight is your daughter.” Celestia nodded. “How does that work exactly? Did you just kinda find some pony you liked and did the nasty without even kissing him or something?”

Luna attempted to hold in the explosion of laughter that suddenly sprang up within her, to no avail, while Celestia tripped over her own hooves as a blush lit up her face and neck. I must say, blushes show rather well against white fur.

After taking a few moments to compose herself -- as well as shooting a glare at her younger sister -- Celestia looked to me with a frown. “I suppose I should have expected your blunt nature, and yet I am still surprised sometimes.” She finally smiled and shook her head with a giggle. “To answer your question, Twilight is not the product of any stallion mating with me.”

I frowned, my brow furrowing in confusion. “But you said she had a father; Flash Stepper, I think you said his name was.”

Celestia nodded, smiling wistfully as she did so. “Flash Step...and yes, she did have a father. I wished for a daughter, but Flash Step was not my mate, nor was he at all interested in coitus with me.” She giggled again, shooting me a grin. “You see, Flash Step was a homosexual stallion. The only way he would have considered bedding me was if I spontaneously became a male.”

It seemed the longer the explanation went on, the less and less I understood. “B-but how then…?”

Celestia was quiet for a long few moments before speaking again, and her tone had dropped to one of pride and admiration. “Flash Step was a wonderful stallion, and a good friend. The spells that exist today to allow same-sex couples to conceive did not exist in his time, and so his options for fathering his own child were rather limited.” With a sad sigh she added, “Any male will agree that an adopted child can and will be loved just like a child of their own…” she then stopped mid-stride, rubbing her abdomen with a hoof idly, “but it is an entirely different prospect to feel a life growing inside of you, and it is one that cannot be imagined by those who have never experienced it.” Celestia began moving again, but dropped back to walk at my side instead of in front of me as she continued her story. “To get straight to the point, Flash Step was the one stallion I trusted and was from a diverse enough bloodline to give me what I wanted without using the situation to gain favor with me or power. I’m sure you can understand how somepony with the wrong ideals could use such an act against me.”

I nodded. “I can imagine.”

“Well,” Celestia began, smiling faintly as she did so, “Twilight was not conceived normally; she was instead formed by a magis bridge during a time when I purposefully triggered estrus within myself. The spell I cast to perform the act simply did what nature does every day: it took my genetic code and that of Flash Step’s and fused them to create a new, unique life.”

“So,” I began, smirking as I did so, “you and Luna are literally virgin princesses, even though you gave birth naturally to a pony of your own flesh and blood.” I chuckled and shook my head. “There’s a few religions on Earth that center around a child of God who was born to a virgin; I’m sure my people would have a hayday with your story, if they knew it.”

Celestia smiled, shoulder-checking me in a gentle, yet playful manner. “Perhaps one day, you can foster relations between our two worlds when Equis decides the time is right. I am sure you will have quite a few stories to tell by then.”

I nodded before noticing that we had arrived at the door to Twilight’s room, stopping suddenly as a feeling of anxiety began to creep through my veins. “Well, here we are.” I shook my head with a groan and said, “Man, I hate being stuck between friends. I have the distinct feeling that things are going to be tense, to say the least.”

Celestia nodded, her posture and flicking ears telling of nervousness and shame. “I agree, but it must be done. There must be an equal understanding between all of us if broken bonds are to be repaired.”

I nodded once again and placed my hand on the large oaken door. “Well, here goes nothing.”

As I pushed open the door and led the two princesses into the room, I could practically feel the waves of animosity being directed at the two Equestrian diarchs, most of which was coming from Twilight. Nonetheless, I had an objective to complete through all this, so I stood tall and made my way over to the six ponies and dragon that were gathered before me.

“Took you long enough, Jamie.” Spike commented, crossing his arms with a frown.

I scratched the back of my head sheepishly and answered, “Yeah, sorry about that. It took longer than I thought it would, and I needed to kinda collect myself to come back. Luna,” I looked to the moon princess, “want to take it from here?”

The ponies and dragon looked to me like I was crazy when I addressed the princess without her title, but I would explain that bit later. For now, the two elder princesses had things to discuss with the others.

Luna stepped forward to stand at my side. “What Jamie told you all is true; he has an elemental inside of him, and an ancient friend of mine at that. The elemental’s name is Saiian, and much of how Jamie’s magic has been reacting was her doing.”

Twilight wiped her tear-stricken eyes and glared at the two princesses. “How do I know the two of you are telling the truth about this? I’m not sure I can trust-”

“We may have betrayed your trust by our actions against our mutual friend,” Celestia interrupted sternly, “but we are not liars. If you wish to be petty and-”

“Petty?” Twilight growled angrily as she stood, pushing away from her friends and jumping down to the carpeted ground before stomping over to glare up at the taller ponies in front of her. “Caring about my friend’s wellbeing is PETTY?!” The last word was spoken in a roar of rage as Twilight poked a surprised Celestia in the chest. “YOU IMPRISONED HIM FOR MONTHS OF HIS LIFE, AND I’M BEING PETTY?!

“Twilight-” I began in an attempt to calm her down, only to be interrupted by the fuming young alicorn.

Twilight looked to me with tears once again flowing from her -- now-glowing -- eyes. “HOW CAN YOU FORGIVE THEM SO EASILY FOR WHAT THEY’VE DONE TO YOU?!

With a frown, I bopped Twilight on the forehead. The action caused her eyes to cease glowing, and ended with her looking very surprised, sitting on her rump. I kneeled down in front of her and placed a hand on her shoulder as I explained, “I forgave them because I understand why they did what they did, and honestly, it was the right thing to do.” I then shook my head. “That being said, I am in no way completely okay with it, and frankly, I’m still a little pissed about it all. Still,” I glanced back at the two nervous older princesses, “I’ve already vented my anger to them a bit, but I also know that sitting here being upset with them isn’t going to solve anything and it isn’t going to give me that time back. All I can do is forgive them for their mistake of forcing me to do something against my will and try to move forward in such a way so that we all learn a lesson from all of this and don’t repeat any mistakes we’ve made.”

At this point I stood, addressing the rest of those gathered. “I’m not asking for any of you to not be upset about what’s happened, but I am asking you to respect my decision to forgive them for it. I hope that you all will do the same, with time.”

Of course, with Rainbow Dash being Loyalty embodied, she just couldn’t let the matter drop like I’d hoped.

“No,” she stated firmly in a low tone, “I can’t do that.” Her head snapped up to me before she floated over and embraced me tightly, glaring at Celestia and Luna as she did so. “These two treated you like you were a toy, and I can’t stand for that. It’s wrong, and honestly, I almost can’t believe it even happened.” Rainbow Dash released me and pointed her hooves to the two princesses as she growled out, “The two of you are supposed to be good ponies, but you just decided it would be okay to stick Jamie in a place he couldn’t escape to basically get his butt kicked for months.” Before I could speak up, her eyes shot to me. “And don’t deny that last part Jamie, because I’ve seen the guards training before. Don’t take this the wrong way, but up until you came back from Canterlot, you were kinda squishy.”

I quickly glanced at myself, noticing the fact that I could actually see well-defined muscles in my arms and legs, as well as my stomach. “None taken.” I then turned my head back to Rainbow Dash, who had backed off a few feet, seemingly realizing she was basically posturing in front of the two rulers of Equestria. “Still, I think it was good for me, in the end. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been able to see anything but flab on my body?”

“If you wanted to get in shape,” Rainbow Dash began, frowning at me, “you could have just asked, you know; future Wonderbolt here, remember?”

“Could you teach me how to fight too -- ” I asked rhetorically, continuing before I could get a response, “not just brawling, but actual fighting to defend myself against an attacker that’s stronger and faster than me? Could you have done all that in less than three months?”

Rainbow Dash looked as if she wanted to refute what I was implying, but just slumped and landed with a defeated look on her face. “I can’t believe you’re defending what they did to you.”

“I never said I wasn’t upset about it,” I clarified with an unimpressed expression and a glance toward the two alicorns at my sides, “I’m just asking you all to understand and accept the fact that I have forgiven them, and ask that you try and do the same.” I gestured to myself generally as I stood. “I’m alive, stronger, and hopefully wiser. I’ve come out of the situation better off, and while it’s going to take some time to completely get over what’s happened, I understand the reasons for it. The actions that Celestia and Luna took were truly done with my best interests in mind; I can see that now.” Twilight and Rainbow Dash still didn’t look very convinced, but the rest of the group was nodding in acceptance with small smiles present.

“All that having been said,” Celestia began, looking over all the occupants in the room and sighing ruefully, “we understand that in doing what we did, we have broken the trust that you all gave us -- “ she glanced to Twilight with a heartbroken look on her face, “some more than others. We ask that you allow us the opportunity to regain that trust, and perhaps, even surpass the bond that once existed between us.”

All eyes turned to Twilight as the room fell silent once again, and she took a long few minutes before finally speaking in a soft voice. “I guess I understand why things were done the way they were, but that doesn’t excuse the methods used, regardless of the intent behind them.” She looked to Celestia with glassy eyes and tears freely flowing as she said, “I want so badly to be able to feel righteous anger for what you did, but I know you better than that. I know it isn’t in your nature to be malicious, and honestly, I don’t think you could purposefully be mean even if you wanted to be.” She swallowed hard, and pushed herself to a standing position before trotting to my side and looking over the two elder princesses. “I forgive both of you, but that doesn’t mean I’m not upset with this. Please don’t ever betray our trust like that again.”

“Princesses make mistakes too, Twilight.” Celestia stated with wisdom. “For so long you have seen me as infallible, but I believe you are old enough to be able to handle the fact that Luna and I are still ponies; we are just as flawed as any of you, and we are subject to the same weaknesses and shortcomings that you all experience in your lives.” She then glanced to me and added, “Even those of the highest station must be humbled from time to time, or else we become complacent and overconfident in our abilities.”

Twilight took a deep breath and nodded, but refused to smile. “I understand, but it’s going to take some time for me to cool off, and I don’t want to make the mistake of saying something I’ll regret just because I’m angry.” She then jerked her head to the door and said, “We should all probably get going before it gets too dark; the last train leaves at eight.”

As the rest of the ponies began to file out of the room, I stayed behind for a moment to speak to the princesses alone. Celestia’s posture and overall demeanor had taken a nosedive ever since entering the room and feeling the amount of ire directed her way by the ponies gathered, and I felt it would be to our mutual benefit if I didn’t leave without speaking to her.

I slowly walked over to where Celestia stood motionless, and brought my hand to cup her cheek softly as I said, “She’s just upset; she'll get over it with time. Just give her a week or so and I guarantee everything will be okay again.”

“She’s never going to trust me the same way after this, you know.” Celestia muttered with a heartbroken expression as she stared into my eyes. “And yet, I am still keeping a great secret from her; one that will change everything she has ever believed about her life and who she is.”

I nodded and wrapped my arms around her neck, hugging her as tightly as I could. “I know, but she needs time to deal with this first. Just give it some time before you broach that particular subject, as I don’t want her to end up making a crater where Ponyville used to be.” I felt as Celestia’s soft nose nuzzled into my shoulder, and ran my hands through her floating mane in an effort to calm her. “I knew all along though, so I’ll stand by you and take responsibility for not telling her; you won’t be alone when the time comes, I promise you that.”

Celestia choked down a small cry of sadness before pulling away and nodding as she wiped her eyes hastily with a hoof. “Thank you, Jamie. You should get going though before the others start to worry about you.” The corners of her mouth curved up ever so slightly as she said, “Goodbye for now, Jamie. We will be in contact whenever we can.”

Luna moved forward and embraced me tightly with both forelegs, sitting on her rump so that it would be more comfortable for the both of us. “We shall both endeavor to become the friends we so wish to be with you, and in doing so, make your life on Equis that much better.”

“You’ll get there, I’m sure.” I assured with a smile, running my hands along the velvety fur of the lunar princess. With one last squeeze, I released her and stepped away. “Well, I better get going then. Don’t be strangers, now.”

Needless to say that when I finally made my way back to the group, Twilight wasn’t particularly happy. She let her irritation about me just disappearing on them be known, but quickly apologized and explained that she just didn’t want anything to happen to me again. As we continued making our way to the entrance of Canterlot Castle, I couldn’t help but mentally chuckle at the fact that a mere day somehow felt like a week with all that we’d been through, but issues had been resolved and I hoped that things would be better from here on out between all of us.

Just as we rounded one of the final passageways of the castle, I caught sight of not just Shudder, but a familiar white-furred DJ waiting for me in the distance. Shudder’s ears perked and she turned her head, smiling and tapping the unicorn before pointing to me. Vinyl glanced over and smiled widely, waving like a maniac as we approached. Pinkie and Rarity both giggled at the sight, while I just chuckled and shook my head; I had interesting friends.

“Heya, Lanky!” Shudder greeted jovially as she fluttered over and affectionately rubbed my hair. “Are you guys checkin’ out?”

I nodded and motioned to the ponies gathered. “Yep, we’re headed back to Ponyville. We all need some time to assimilate everything that’s happened, I think.”

Shudder nodded in agreement. “I can imagine; one of your friends becoming a princess is probably pretty big.” She then glanced to Twilight and saluted sharply. “Your Highness, it’s a pleasure.”

Twilight blushed in embarrassment and waved the night guard off. “Please don’t do that, I’m still getting used to all this.”

Shudder dropped her hoof and landed on the ground, motioning to the gates. “Well, you all stay safe then. I’ll keep things here under control in the meantime.”

I nodded once before looking to Vinyl. “Are you coming with?”

Vinyl beamed at me and hopped excitedly. “Yep! I don’t have a show for the next two days either, so Tavi and I are gonna head to Rainbow Falls to see the sights. She says it’s supposed to be really cool, so I thought I’d go with her; really, I’m just glad to have a break. Things have gotten pretty crazy with, y’know,” she motioned to Twilight, “everything.” Vinyl then cleared her throat and bowed her head slightly. “U-um, I’m sorry if I’m being rude or anything, Princess Twilight. I’m just not used to thinking about you as a princess, is all.”

Twilight waved the remark away, actually smiling a little. “It’s alright Vinyl. We both live in Ponyville, and to be honest, I’d actually prefer it if you just kept treating me the same as always. You’re a good friend, and I don’t want my friends treating me different just because I’m a royal now.”

Vinyl stood up straight and jerked her head toward the gates. “Well, Tavi’s waiting for us all at the station, so let’s not keep her waiting. I just want to pass out without her yelling at me for making her stand there for a long time.”

I chuckled before reaching down and grabbing Vinyl, who let out a squawk of surprise as I settled her under my arm. “Race you there, Twilight!” As I ran off I shouted back, “And no magic!”

The train ride home was uneventful and significantly less stressful than the one to Canterlot, and some of us were actually so relaxed from the subtle *click, clack* of the train that they fell asleep…

Namely a drooling unicorn DJ.

I ended up having to carry her home before returning to Twilight’s library that night, but I didn’t really care all that much. Sure things could have gone better with my friends and the princesses (although I guess Celestia and Luna are my friends too, and Twilight’s a princess now; should I just say my friends then? Whatever, it doesn’t matter), but I had a feeling everything would be alright with time.

The only thing that put a damper on my mood was the fact that I would be sleeping alone that night, since everypony else had other things to do or had their own issues to work through (I don’t think I have to mention who). All that having been said, it was still nice to be able to just lay in bed and not have anything particularly urgent that needed attending to, and I could just let my mind wander as I bathed in the moonlight.

“You’ve been pretty quiet today.” I commented after laying for awhile in silence.

Saiian appeared sitting beside me on the bed, clothed in fuzzy bunny-print pajamas. She smiled at me and explained, “I figured that with everything going on today, you didn’t need a mischievous elemental messing with you. You already reunited me with Luna, so I figured I owed you a little quiet time in thanks for that.”

I pursed my lips a bit as I thought about what she was saying, and the way I felt about it just didn’t make sense for some reason. I had actually missed her a bit, to be honest, but with all the teasing she often gave me as well as the commonplace visage of a beautiful woman wearing very little was off-putting, if only for the fact that I knew she did it on purpose to make me uncomfortable.

We were going to be together for a long time though, so she shouldn’t have to feel like a burden on me. It wasn’t fair to her, and actually, it wasn’t true either. Maybe there was a way we could both benefit this night…

“While I appreciate you keeping my feelings in mind, I don’t want you to feel like you have to do what I say just because we’re together for the foreseeable future.” I said, turning to look at her fully. “I don’t feel right thinking of you as just something or someone to use for my benefit, so please don’t treat yourself that way. But,” I began, feeling a little more anxious about what I was about to suggest, “if you still want to pay me back for what I did, I think I have a way you can do that.”

Saiian turned her body toward me, sitting with her legs crossed. “What do you need, Jamie? I’ll help you if I can.”

“Well,” I started, clearing my throat as nervousness began to bubble up within me, “I’ve found that I tend to sleep better with someone next to me now. Lately it’s been Rainbow Dash that’s taken that role, but she’s not here tonight and I’m not going to impose upon Twilight; she has enough to worry about.”

Saiian nodded a few times in understanding. “So you want to take me to bed then.”

I winced and looked away with a blush coming to my cheeks. “You just had to put it like that, didn’t you?” I cleared my throat once again as I forced myself to look at her. “All kidding aside though, yes. I would appreciate it if you would accommodate me.”

During my nervous blushing and uncomfortable feelings at the images that sprang forth from the way she’d put things, Saiian’s mouth had curled into a wide and amused grin. Upon leveling with her on what I desired though, the grin had faded and become a warm smile. She moved closer to me and nodded gently. “I can do that, if that’s all you want.”

I nodded as well, pulling at the collar of my nightshirt. “Please. It’s...ugh, this is embarrassing, but it’s what would make me be able to sleep more comfortably. I toss and turn all night unless I have someone to hold onto.”

“Feeling a bit needy, are we?” Saiian teased again, that same infuriatingly amused grin crawling over her lips. She pivoted on her knee and swung her leg over me, straddling my waist as she planted herself on top of me, pondering aloud as she placed a finger on her lips. “I must say, this is rather nice indeed.”

I groaned and dropped my head onto the wall behind the bed in frustration. “I should have figured you couldn’t take this seriously.”

Saiian pouted in what was arguably a very cute (and consequently very effective) manner. “I’m just trying to have a little fun, Jamie; no need to get all bent out of shape. Besides, you need a little release. You haven’t gotten any in a long time, so there’s no doubt you’re pent up.”

While normally I would have adamantly refuted her claim, there was no sense in attempting to lie to someone that was quite literally in my mind. Instead, I just sighed and averted my eyes from her, lest I stare at the soft dual bounties that were now eye-level and less than a foot away. “Even with that being the case, I refuse to sink to the level of letting my frustrations out on my invisible friend. Besides being at least seven different kinds of wrong for me, I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that to someone,” I then glared at her, “even if they were being a huge tease for no other reason than they can be.”

“So,” she began, sitting up straight and cocking her head to the side, “if I were given true form in the physical plane, you wouldn’t have a problem with it?”

I shook my head vehemently. “Regardless of whether you were physically real or not, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with a beautiful woman on top of me and *GASP* stop doing that!”

Saiian ceased rolling her hips (which, I admit, was quite pleasing) and placed a hand to her face in faux embarrassment. “Y-you think I’m b-b-beautiful?”

With a growl I grasped Saiian by her hips and pushed her off to my left while turning away from her toward the window. “Forget it. Goodnight, Saiian.”

There were a few moments of pregnant silence as I lay there, eyes closed and fuming at the fact that even when I chose to show a rare moment of vulnerability to her, Saiian couldn’t resist messing with me. True that we hadn’t actually known each other that long, but Luna had been good friends with her, so I had thought Saiian couldn’t be that bad, even being a chaos elemental.

A sensation almost too soft to feel touched my shoulder before fingers grasped me and turned me onto my back once again, and I found myself gazing at a rather ashamed-looking Saiian. Part of me wanted to turn back over and give her the cold shoulder, but another part -- I hoped what was a better part -- compelled me to listen to what she had to say.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.” she quaked, closing her eyes as she did so. “It’s been a long time since someone’s been able to see me, and no one’s ever found me beautiful before. I got a little carried away.”

“A little?” I sneered. “You were purposefully teasing me about the fact that I’m basically a starving man who has a big, juicy steak dangling in front of his face, the only problem being that I can never have said slab of meaty goodness.”

I held my angry expression for a few more moments before sighing and resting my forearm over my eyes. “I understand that chaos kinda denotes messing with people, but you’re just pissing me off by reminding me constantly of what I can’t have. I know for a fact that you could have chosen any other form to appear as, but you chose a form that is a perfect match for what is literally the most attractive female I could possibly imagine,” I then moved my arm and opened my eyes, grasping a lock of her gently waving hair between two fingers, “even down to this beautiful fire-like hair. That all leads me to believe that you took this form straight out of my head just to fuck with me; at first it didn’t bother me so much, but when I asked you tonight for something I felt I needed, you basically threw it back in my face. How do you think that makes me feel?”

“Like a plaything.” she muttered shamefully, seeming to curl in on herself. A part of me wanted to let Saiian wallow in her guilt, claiming that she deserved it...but I couldn’t.

With a rueful sigh at the defeat of my will by my own good nature, I looked to Saiian and pulled her gently down to my side and hugging her against me, causing her to release a gasp of surprise.

“You are literally the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on Saiian, and you know that.” I whispered to my bedmate, tucking her head underneath my chin as I rested my hand on her lower back. “I’m still not sure just how much of my mind you have access to, but please remember that the fact that I’ll probably never see a real, physical human being again downright hurts, and you teasing me about it like that is pretty mean.”

Saiian was quiet for a few seconds before answering, “I never looked into your mind for this form, Jamie.” At my raised eyebrow of confusion she explained, “I’m simply using an ability that gives me a physical form that reflects what you find the most physically desirable. I had hoped to simply make you feel more comfortable seeing me, but I admit that I couldn’t resist having a little fun at your expense.”

She sighed and shuddered faintly, and I felt a twinge of intense loneliness flow from her consciousness to me because of the connection between our minds. “I’ve been alone for an unfathomably long time Jamie, and unlike Luna, I was not able to sleep my isolation away. I fear that as the years passed, I’ve forgotten how to behave with another person.”

“Luna was asleep during her banishment?” I questioned, the information completely unknown to me previously.

Saiian nodded sadly. “A thousand years imprisoned on the moon was as short for Luna as a single night’s sleep.”

My face twisted up in thought as I pondered how to handle the situation. I assumed that a thousand years of isolation would weather away even the most powerful will, so Saiian was not completely at fault for her behavior. Still, even young children learn by chastisement.

“Don’t do it again.” I whispered softly. “I don’t mind a bit of playful ribbing here and there, but pay attention to learn the boundaries between playing and malicious taunting. I want us to get along as best we can since we are together for likely the rest of my life, and I wouldn’t mind finding a good friend in you.”

Saiian smiled up at me before tentatively moving forward and kissing my cheek, smiling after she did so. “I would like that, Jamie. Thank you for being understanding.”

The kiss had surprised me a bit, but it was still nice in a way too. With that being the case I closed my eyes and muttered a goodnight to my bedmate, slipping away into a great sleep only a few minutes later.

Chapter 20: "The Wheels on the Bus Go..."

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Chapter 20: “The Wheels on the Bus Go…”

Tuesday -- my first day of work at a pony spa -- came and went quickly, as did the remainder of the next few months. Just like the two spa twins had predicted, I was quickly becoming very popular among the regulars, and my unique talents began to bring in even more regulars. Rarity and Fluttershy, for example, were sure to be at the establishment together every Thursday, rain or shine. This wasn’t a problem per se, but let’s just say it quickly desensitized me to the body of a pony. With my increase in skill and experience, Aloe and Lotus decided to move my schedule to Thursday through Sunday, which meant I was trusted to handle the busiest times of the week. While I didn’t begrudge ponies for their hooves, sometimes I wish fingers didn’t get sore as quickly as mine did.

It seemed that somehow during the intensity of the recent past I had mentally misplaced the months, and found the weather steadily becoming cooler as autumn set in. This in turn allowed me to observe a very interesting tradition known as The Running of the Leaves, in which ponies race a marathon through the Whitetail Wood and parts of Sweet Apple Acres, the idea of which is that several hundred hooves galloping past the trees will knock down the dying leaves. While I understand the concept, the reason for knocking down the leaves still eludes me, and Twilight couldn’t seem to find anything concrete on the subject.

Rainbow Dash and I formally made up, and while she outright admitted to me that she’s still unsure just how the whole “magic-mind-manipula-thingy” (her words, not mine) affected her, she no longer felt uncomfortable being around me. True that it made me a little uneasy knowing one of my best friends felt that way about me, I had missed Ponyville’s rainbow wonder far more than I’d ever admit out loud to her. We all need friends that understand us it seems, and I certainly wasn’t going to turn away the Element of Loyalty.

While Twilight was taking things slow as far as reconnecting with the two princesses in Canterlot, Celestia and Luna had kept their promises by sending me letters on at least a weekly basis, though I received more from Luna than Celestia -- probably something to do with the fact that Luna tends to have more free time than her sister. Nonetheless, I did begin to feel more like a friend and confidant than just a subject or “the alien”. For better or worse, Equestria was my home now, and my friends were doing their best to be sure I settled in well. I will admit I found it rather odd to be speaking to two godlike beings as if they were just regular people, but it was indeed nice to know that underneath the crowns and pomp, Celestia and Luna were just regular ponies who wanted friends like everyone else.

Even with chaotically random visits by Equestria’s resident chaos spirit, life for me became much more stable and habitual, so much so that even the more cautious ponies of Ponyville now welcomed me with open arms and smiles. The young colts and fillies even took a liking to me, and as a whole I became as much a citizen of Equestria as any pony. I no longer felt like an outcast; no, I felt like a person that was important to those around me and had things to offer that no pony could. I’d never consider myself as important as Twilight or the other Element-bearers, but that didn’t mean I lacked a place within the world I now called home.

As far as hobbies and off-time went, I took to spending my days with different ponies whenever I had the chance, trying my best to fully integrate myself into this world. Vinyl and Octavia were a part of those I spent time with often, as I didn’t want to neglect two of my first friends on Equis. Beyond all that though, I had taken up reading, exercising, and stargazing as hobbies, and often could be seen doing one of those three activities in my leisure time. Even with Equestria becoming my official home, I had begun to actually make it feel like home now, and it was a good feeling.

With all this being the case though, that didn’t mean life in Equestria was without its hardships. Beyond having to teach Saiian to act a little more appropriately, the unfamiliarity of Equestrian culture sometimes slapped me in the face. While I hadn’t dealt with the latter in quite some time, I knew the almighty Murphey’s Law would make me its bitch if I let my guard down.

And something told me my time was coming soon.

I found myself casually filing and soaking the hooves of a young mare known as Ditzy Doo (or Derpy, as she was more commonly known) on a chipper Saturday afternoon, trying my best to do so in a personal manner while still keeping things moving. I was not the most outgoing person after all, and so I sometimes misunderstood the nuances between professionalism and distance; it could be difficult to make sure a client was happy without completely focusing on them, but in doing so I could make the mistake of abandoning others who were counting on me to provide services they paid for. It took some practice, but I learned very quickly how to balance several different clients at once while still providing excellent service. Needless to say, my bosses were quite pleased.

The young pegasus I was currently working on was one of Aloe and Lotus’ regulars, as well as Ponyville’s local mailmare. She was a little scatterbrained and goofy, but one would be hard-pressed to find a sweeter or more loving mare in all of Equestria, given what she’d been through. Besides having a lazy eye (which brought no end to both taunts and ill-mannered jokes alike), she had become a parent at a very young age, forcing her to leave behind her happy-go-lucky childhood to focus on being a good mother. In many ways, Ditzy Doo was a inspiration to me, since even with the hardships she had endured, she had remained kind even to strangers, and was completely without bias. She truly saw the world in a different way than most ponies did, beyond the obvious because of her condition, and offered counter views to everything I could think of. Personally, I wish I could have met her sooner.

“You alright there, Miss Doo?” I asked, placing her finished right hind hoof into the heated foot bath.

She nodded with a megawatt smile, her shiny blonde mane bouncing cutely. “Mmhmm! Thanks so much, Jamie!”

Hardly anyone in Ponyville called me by my legal name anymore, and Ditzy Doo was no exception. With a nod to her I announced, “I’m going to go and check on my other clients and I’ll be right back, alright?” My answer was a grin and nod, so I quickly made my way toward the mineral bath room, slipping on my sandals (thank you, Rarity) before opening the door and stepping in.

Two ponies sat in the heated, bubbling tub, eyes closed and content smiles on their faces. One was Octavia (who had made it a point to spend more time at the establishment since my hire), and the other was a mare I did not readily recognize. Still, I made it a point to treat all my clients the same no matter what, meaning that the unknown pony was going to get the same treatment Octavia did.

“Hello ladies,” I spoke aloud, though smoothly to add to the relaxing atmosphere, “how are things going in here?”

Octavia cracked open an eye and smiled warmly at me, raising a soggy hoof out of the water to wave. “We’re just fine here, Jamie. Minuette and I were simply basking in the ambiance, as it were.”

The named mare opened one of her sapphire eyes and smiled at me. “Thank you for the close care, Jamie.” She then popped her head up a bit more and swiveled her head around, her eyes and ears doing the same, before focusing back on me. “You didn’t hear this from me, but Aloe and Lotus were struggling a bit before you came around. Their service is always wonderful, but I could see they were stretched thin around here.”

Just then, a knock came from the door just before a familiar pink earth pony stuck her head in, smiling at me. “Hallo Jamie; would you please cohm to the frohnt for a meenet?”

I fought down an explosion of laughter at the completely fake accent Aloe gave me and just nodded. “Sure thing, Aloe.” I then turned my attention back to the two soaking mares and stated, “I’ll return shortly to check on you ladies; do enjoy yourselves and let us know if you need anything.”

I quickly followed Aloe into the short hallway leading to the front lobby and decided to bring something up that had been eating away at me recently.

“Okay, I have to ask: what’s with the accent?” I questioned bluntly. “Both you and your sister do it; I put off asking about it for fear of offending you or something, but after my time here I know for sure now that it’s not a natural accent at all.”

Aloe giggled softly and answered, “We do it to give a little more flair to the establishment. True that we don’t do it for every pony that comes through the doors, but the new clients and star-dazzled haughty ponies we get really like it, so we keep doing it.” She chuckled softly. “If some of these ponies learned that Lotus and I were born and raised in Ponyville, they’d never believe it.”

I cleared my throat and nervously scratched the back of my head before bringing up another question. “Pardon if this is personal or offensive, but your names don’t really fit the Ponyville style.”

Aloe bobbed her head a bit as she continued trotting ahead of me. “Our parents were from the far east, in a place called Bridlestan near the outer reaches of this continent. It’s not formally a part of Equestria, but is rather considered a neutral territory under its own government. Of course, Equestria and its princesses welcomed any and all ponies with open arms, and my parents saw a far greater potential for growth here than back where they came from, so here we are.”

While I had come to terms with many of Equestria’s city names being puns or a play on words, some of them still made me giggle.

I stifled my laughter as I continued following Aloe to the lobby, silently thanking the fact that ponies couldn’t read minds. As we entered the lobby I caught sight of a pale pink unicorn speaking with Lotus, immediately recognizing her not only by the cutie mark, but the unique body style that I had seen on so few non-alicorns before her.

“Ah, here he ees!” Lotus stated, motioning with her hoof to me as I made to stand beside the uniquely-tall pony. “Meese Fleur, thees ees Jamie; he veel be servicing you today.”

Fleur de Lis was a well-known supermodel in Equestria, recognizable not only by her good looks, but also her warm heart. She was truly a different breed of pony, not allowing her popularity or stature to affect her kindness. I had caught sight of a few pictures of her in magazines here and there, but never had I expected to meet her before.

Fleur turned to me with a bright smile on her face, batting her eyelashes playfully as she looked me over. “Ah, so this is the human of Ponyville; I just had to see you with my own eyes to believe it.” She then not-so-subtly looked me over, raising an eyebrow as she quickly darted her eyes back to my face. “And a male too? My, it seems the rumors were true after all.”

I furrowed my brow, purposefully keeping my voice calm and less-intimidating. “Is there a problem with the fact that I’m a guy?”

Fleur’s eyes widened briefly as she vigorously shook her head and hoof in tandem. “N-no no no, that’s not what I meant! I simply was making an observation!”

At her answer, I raised my hands in a calming gesture and chuckled. “W-woah woah, calm down. I’m not offended since you’ve explained yourself; I guess I just forgot that ponies don’t realize I’m a guy until I talk, usually. Honestly, I’m surprised you were able to pick it out just by looking at me.”

I had to remind myself that ponies were not shy when it came to bodies as Fleur quite obviously glanced down to my crotch. “Well, some things are the same no matter what planet you are from.” I cleared my throat and motioned with my hand for her to look up, trying my best not to be embarrassed. “Right, I apologize for that. Anywho, I thought that perhaps I could experience what so many ponies are talking about lately: the ‘Gem of Ponyville’.”

I raised my eyebrow again. “Is that a euphemism for sex?”

A snort escaped Fleur’s lips before she burst into laughter, which honestly was a little surprising for someone that was supposed to be so refined. She laughed for a good few minutes before wiping the tears from her eyes and smiling up at me. “No dear, not at all. Ponies in Canterlot and Las Pegasus have been talking about your unique talents, and I’d like to experience them for myself. I do hope I’m not imposing at all.”

I raised a hand to my face and rubbed my chin in thought before looking at Aloe and Lotus. “Ladies, how does my schedule look?”

Aloe smiled and answered, “Vee veel be able to take her tomorrow eef you are both villing.”

Again I killed a burst of laughter before it surfaced, looking back to the patient unicorn. “How does eleven o’clock sound to you?”

Fleur smiled at me once again and nodded. “That works wonderfully. Thank you for allowing a space for me on such short notice, Mr. Smith.”

I grinned and shook my head. “Please, just call me Jamie. I feel like I’m in trouble with the law when someone calls me ‘Mr. Smith’.”

My new client nodded once again before turning to the door and glancing back at me. “I appreciate it, Jamie. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

As Fleur left the building, Aloe glanced around briefly before dancing in place like an excited little filly. “NO WAY! We just scheduled an appointment for Fleur de Lis!”

My eyes briefly shot to the door that our new client had left through before asking, “Is she more important than I think she is? I mean supermodels on my world were pretty popular too, but other than walking down runways and showing off new fashions, they weren’t really good for much else.”

Lotus shook her head. “No, you don’t understand; Fleur de Lis is a supermodel, yes, but she’s also one of the ponies who took initiative to spearhead the campaign for both educational reform and gender equality.”

“That thing that happened shortly after you got here with the mare saying she was going to ‘rope’ you?” Aloe clarified, shaking her head. “Never would have happened if Fleur had her way. She was raised in a family with six brothers, so she knows firsthoof how old-fashioned things still are for stallions like you. Her views made her a little unpopular among some ponies, but for the most part she’s an inspiration and a beacon of hope for fairness and tolerance in Equestria.”

Lotus nodded with a smile. “Most of what’s changed as far as equality in Equestria is because of her, her mother, and her grandmother -- all of them fought for the same ideals, and Equestria’s benefitted greatly because of the changes they all helped make.”

I had always wondered why Celestia and Luna didn’t just make changes themselves when they saw something wrong with society, but then I realized that doing so would be a little too much like a dictatorship, and would earn them the disgust of the ponies that trusted them so much. I seems that both Equestria and Earth were similar, in that way: you can present your ideals to people, but you can’t make them change their minds.

I smiled gently at the thought of the unicorn that had just recently left. “I think I’m going to like that mare.”

The workday ended as it always did, with me being escorted home by Twilight and Spike. The two had made it a point to do so ever since the incident in Canterlot, even though I had advised them frequently that an escort was unneeded. Eventually I got over it, and just allowed the two to do as they wished.

The sun was just past the horizon, painting the sky in shades of red, violet, and indigo as the hour of twilight set in. Spike had fallen asleep, as he usually did at this time of day, which left me carrying the little guy back to the library as the day ended. Let it be said that even though Spike was snarky as could be and spoke sarcasm like it was his first language, there was no denying the little dragon was cute.

“I know he doesn’t show it much, but Spike really looks up to you.” Twilight commented softly, smiling at her surrogate brother. “There aren’t too many stallions around here for him to emulate, and I have to say, he couldn’t have picked a better role model.”

I shook my head with a frown. “I’m not a good role model, Twi. I pissed away most of my life on computers and video games, was severely antisocial, and avoided exercise like I owed it money.”

Twilight giggled at my comparisons, but shook her head with a smile as she glanced up at me. “Trust me Jamie, you’re a good role model. I wouldn’t be friends with a bad pony.”

“Person.” I corrected.

She rolled her eyes at me, something I never thought she’d do in response to a correction of verbal precision. “Whatever; the point is, if Spike could want to be like anyone, I’m glad it’s you.” She then flapped her wings and began hovering just in front of me, wobbling a bit due to her inexperience. “You’ve been through a lot, and I can see it’s changed you for the better. Your past doesn’t matter to me or the others -- who you are now is what’s important.”

“I think you’re making out my personal ‘evolution’ to be more profound than it is.” I retorted, frowning thoughtfully. “I’ve just been doing my best at playing the cards I’ve been dealt, honestly. Half the time I have no idea what I’m doing, and there are a lot of things that still don’t make sense to me.” I rolled my eyes and smirked at Twilight. “Figures; language is easy, but the ponies themselves are complicated as hell.”

Equiglyph -- more commonly known as Equestrian common script -- actually was quite a bit easier than I thought it would be, once Twilight taught me the subtle differences between it and english. Modifiers were made very obvious in the written word, and the alphabet had twenty-six characters, just like english. Because the rules were so similar -- and even an exact match, on some accounts -- to the ones I already knew, it only took a little over a month for Twilight to teach it to me. True that I was still no master when it came to reading Equestrian, as I still had to think about some words and sentences when they were written out, but I no longer had to wonder what a sign said or what books contained. Twilight’s teachings made life in Equestria much, much easier for me, and allowed a greater sense of “home” to suffuse me when I thought about it.

“We aren’t that complicated.” Twilight groused, her ears flattening against her head.

I shrugged. “I guess you’re right. Your body language is a lot more obvious, and familiar to me; a lot of the body language ponies use is shared with a longtime friend of humans: dogs.”

Twilight glared up at me, unamused. “Did you just compare ponies to pet dogs?”

I shrugged once again, jerking my head toward her as she floated beside me. “You’re furry and soft, use your ears a lot for nonverbal language, and prance when you’re happy.” I then smirked as I added, “And, you both love to get pet.” Twilight pouted, but I knew she wouldn’t be able to think up a valid response without sounding stupid. It was too cute, honestly.

“Oh, by the way, I met Fleur de Lis today.” I added with a smile, remembering the pretty, kind mare that had come by.

Twilight’s head raised in surprise. “Really? Wow...I’d heard she was coming to Ponyville, but I didn’t know she’d be here today. I would have welcomed her myself if I’d known.” Twilight shrugged as she wheeled to float by my opposite side. “I remember meeting her on a few occasions back when I lived in Canterlot -- really nice mare, and really beautiful too.” I stared at Twilight, surprised she had openly admitted to a mare being attractive. She looked at me and glared. “What?”

“I thought you ‘only liked stallions’.” I quoted, using my free hand for air quotations.

Twilight harrumphed and turned her head away. “I can appreciate the feminine form without being attracted to it, thank you very much.”

I smirked again. “You sure about that? You’re mighty close to a lot of mares, lately. Are you sure you aren’t getting a little action on the side?”

I clearly saw a faint dusting of a blush lighting up Twilight’s cheeks as she answered, “I’m a princess in a kingdom dominated by females, Jamie. No matter where I go, I’m going to be surrounded by mares.” She then huffed in annoyance. “Can we not talk about my lack of dating experience please?”

I shrugged. “Don’t feel bad; I’m pretty sure the rest of the girls haven’t had much experience on that avenue either. It’s not a bad thing, and I honestly couldn’t care less on the matter. It doesn’t change who you are -- you’re still a quirky little pony that’s prone to fits of insanity.”

“Funny guy.” Twilight grumbled before smiling at me and gently nuzzling my cheek. “C’mon, let’s get home before it gets too dark.”

As we reentered the library that evening, all was quiet and peaceful in Ponyville, which was a welcome norm nowadays. Granted Twilight and her friends had made things interesting to say the least, but I had been desensitized to their personality quirks over my time with them.

“I’m going to be away for a little while starting Monday.” Twilight suddenly announced just before we began ascending the stairs.

I raised an eyebrow at her in confusion. “What’s ‘a little while’?”

She fluttered her wings briefly before letting them settle onto her back. “I’m unsure exactly, but I’ve been thinking that I need to get started doing something to help out Princess Celestia and Princess Luna instead of just sitting here doing nothing.” She glanced back at me and clarified, “I’m not actually going to be gone, but I’ll be spending a lot of time out of the library; so much time, in fact, that you’re unlikely to see me much for awhile.”

I shrugged as we began heading to the second floor. “I’m a big boy, so I’m pretty sure I can handle myself. I have a job and money now too, so I can take care of things.”

Twilight nodded. “I understand that, but I don’t like leaving you alone. There’s no telling what could happen if we aren’t here to watch out for you,” she glanced back at me as I began to open my mouth to fire off a retort, “and it’s not your actions I’m worried about.”

I raised my eyebrow as I reached to push open Twilight’s bedroom door. “Do you really think someone would come after me in the middle of Ponyville? Besides the fact that your house is smack-dab in the center of the town, ponies around here are pretty wary of strangers. I don’t think someone would be able to get in without being noticed.”

Twilight sighed and shook her head. “I can’t take that chance, Jamie.” She then turned around and looked up at me. “I’ve requested an armed guard to watch over you in my absence; I think you know her, actually.” Twilight glanced toward the window before smiling. “If I’m correct, she should be arriving any second now.”

A tap at the window alerted me to the presence of a pegasus or alicorn outside of the window, but since it was unlikely an unknown princess was enrolled in the royal guard, I assumed the former. I gently set Spike down in his basket and covered him up before approaching the window and opening it wide, allowing whoever was outside the window to enter.

A faint gust of wind was all that accompanied the entry of a bat-winged pony in violet armor, who shook out its mane before looking up at me with a smile. “Heya, Lanky!”

My eyes widened in surprise as I answered, “Shudder? What the hell are you doing here?”

“I’m your armed escort, it seems.” she answered happily, glancing to Twilight. “Princess Twilight here sent a request to Princess Luna for protection to you during her time away, and I was chosen because of our prior contact.” Shudder removed her helmet and unclasped her armor, which fell away and revealed her true, feathered wings as she looked back to me. “Seems like the two of us are going to be bunking together until further notice.”

As I turned to Twilight, I honestly felt a little peeved by the fact she hadn’t told me sooner. “You couldn’t have mentioned this a few days or a week ago? I don’t mind, but I wish you would have let me know a little sooner than two days before.”

Twilight sighed and shook her head. “I’ve been planning this for awhile, but honestly, I was completely unsure if I was going to do it or not until tonight. Things are stable and safe enough here at home that I think I can get away without leaving Ponyville needlessly unprotected, and I want to be able to return as soon as possible.” She trotted the short distance over to me and reared onto her hind legs to embrace me, nuzzling my face as she did so. “I don’t want to leave Jamie, but neither should I put this off any longer. I just…” she began, only to sigh again and rest her head on my shoulder, “I feel like there’s something important I need to be doing, so I’m going to research what I already know as well as what I don’t, and attempt to be prepared if and when something should happen. The princesses didn’t make me an alicorn for no reason, after all.”

I nodded slowly, clasping my arms around her. “I understand, Twilight; do what you have to do. We’ll be fine and will keep Ponyville running smoothly while you’re gone, and the others can help too.”

Twilight pulled back to look at me, chewing her lip. “Um...the girls are probably going to be joining me for a lot of this -- Spike too.”

I stared at Twilight in surprise for a few moments before shrugging. “We’ll figure something out. If you feel like you need to do this, I’m behind you 100%.”

She smiled briefly before resting her head against mine. “I knew I could count on you, Jamie.” Twilight reluctantly pulled away before stating, “Shudder will be sleeping in your quarters tonight, if that’s okay. I have to leave early in the morning to run a few errands, and I don’t want to wake you up if I don’t have to.”

I chuckled despite the situation. “I haven’t slept in for months now, Twi. Tell you what: I’ll cook breakfast tomorrow and we’ll have a nice meal together so you can get energized for whatever it is that you need to do.”

Twilight smiled warmly, her cheeks coloring as she nodded. “I...I’d like that. I’ll see you at dawn tomorrow, then.”

I nodded in response before turning to my new guard, who was holding her bundled armor in her mouth. “Well, let’s get to bed then; we’ve got things to do tomorrow.”

Shudder and I left Twilight’s room and made our way downstairs toward my room. I glanced briefly at the full moon shining in the window before leading Shudder to our sleeping quarters. Upon arriving she unceremoniously dumped her gear onto a chair in the corner before turning to me and cocking her head to the side.

“So where’s this Saiian character? Princess Luna advised me that she’d be here as well.” Shudder questioned curiously.

Glancing out of the corner of my eye and seeing Saiian appear out of thin air beside the pony, I motioned to the corner the elemental stood in. “She’s actually an internal elemental, so you can’t see her. However, I can see her beside you and-”

I stopped as Saiian began making faces at the confused pony, a smile growing on my face as she began foolishly making lewd gestures.

Shudder just looked even more confused. “What the hay are you smiling at?”

I snorted a laugh to keep from exploding and just waved my hand in dismissal. “Nothing, nothing. Anyway, Saiian’s not a threat or anything, so don’t worry about her. Let’s just go to bed and we’ll start working out things tomorrow.”

Shudder stared at me for a moment before shrugging with her wings and reaching a hoof into her pack on the ground, pulling out something and quickly tossing it into her mouth. She then swallowed with a grimace and hopped onto my bed. “Well, let’s get to sleep then.”

I raised my eyebrow before pulling off my shirt and pants, folding each and tossing them on the dresser across the room. “What was that you just took?”

“Sleeping pills.” Shudder answered simply, walking around in a tight circle before planting her rump on the bed. “I’m a night guard, and we don’t usually sleep at night. I have to reverse my circadian rhythm naturally, but I need to sleep to do that; that’s what the pills are for. For the next few days, I’ll have to take them to make sure I sleep at the same time you do.”

I raised my eyebrow in confusion. “Won’t it be a little counterproductive to sleep when you’re supposed to be protecting me?”

Shudder chuckled before shaking her head. “If somepony is quiet enough to get in without waking me up, they deserve to get to you. Not even a unicorn can get past me.”

I rolled my shoulders briefly before making my way to the bed and slipping on my pajama bottoms and shirt, which rested on the bedspread. “Awful confident, aren’t we?”

“Princess Luna only sends the best to protect those she cares about, Jamie.” Shudder countered with a smug grin.

I playfully messed with Shudder’s mane as I took a seat and slid my way under the covers, chuckling as the pony grumbled and shook her mane in an attempt to restore some sort of organization to it. Just to spite her, I did it again, and laughed when she reached over and did the same thing to me. Shudder then stuck her tongue out at me before curling up at my feet and wrapping her tail and a wing around herself.

Yep...totally not like dogs.

The space to my right became occupied by Saiian as she lay down beside me, as had become commonplace in the most recent days. I hadn’t thought it would be plausible that me, a short-lived human from Earth, would have anything to teach someone that had seen the birth of an entire planet and the thousands of years that followed, but it seemed there were some things even Saiian needed to learn. For example, she learned very quickly what was appropriate even between friends, as well as what I personally would allow regarding teasing and the like. However, besides all that, she had slowly learned just how pleasing it could be to be held by another, and the merits of my recent change of heart toward the platonic communal sleeping arrangements.

My assumptions about the latter regarding Saiian’s feelings on the matter were confirmed when I wrapped my arm around her and she let out a very soft, very pleased-sounding sigh. I reminded myself that Saiian had likely gone longer than I could imagine without even being in contact with the physical world, so something so mundane as a touch on the shoulder was likely amazing for her. It stands to reason then that me willingly inviting her to sleep next to me, and holding her as I did, felt...well, likely indescribable for her. I would never again make the mistake of thinking I knew what someone was feeling about something, but her actions and behavior around me spoke for themselves, really.

“Comfy?” I questioned rhetorically as Saiian shifted to be as close to me as possible without being lewd (which is a fine and very pleasant line, I’ll have you know).

Just as I had become a bit numb to how strange it should have felt having someone in bed with me, I had become similarly desensitized to the feeling of Saiian’s generous curves pressing against my body. Saiian shifted ever so slightly and looked up to me to answer, “Quite, thank you. I honestly pity the way your native culture views sleeping practices, to be honest.”

“I was just like that not too long ago.” I replied, shifting my arm to rest on Saiian’s hip instead of her stomach, since there were two no-no zones within a foot of each other. Granted she probably wouldn’t care either way, but I didn’t want to feel up my bedmate if there wasn’t any chance for...well, release.

Saiian smiled at me, nodding against my chest. “I know, but this world has changed you; for the better, I might add.”

“You’re a little biased missy,” I chimed playfully, “but thank you. I only hope that things will get better from here on out.”

Saiian nodded before staring at me, as if looking into my soul. “They deserve to know about the past, you know. They’re your friends; they’ll understand and accept you no matter what.”

I stared right back at her as I thought silently for a few moments. After considering my options I answered, “Soon, but not just yet. It just doesn’t feel like the right time.”

Saiian pouted a bit, blowing air out of her mouth and causing her bangs to flutter wildly for a moment. “You can’t put this off forever, you know. If you ever want to fully move on from Earth, you need to let it out and let the past die once and for all. Your past shouldn’t control you; it should merely show you where you’ve come from.”

Saiian was right, of course. Though playful and downright frustrating sometimes, she was far wiser than I was, so I would be a fool to turn down her advice thoughtlessly simply because she acted immature from time to time. My time in Equestria had taught me to look beyond the obvious, and the abstract told me that Saiian’s words could be trusted.

Making a decision there and then, I answered with conviction and confidence I didn’t know I had.

“Tomorrow then.” I whispered, my mouth dropping open in surprise at my own words. I glanced down to Saiian and narrowed my eyes. “Did you just influence me?”

Saiian’s brow furrowed and she shook her head. “No, I didn’t. That was all you, Jamie.” She frowned deeper as she asked, “Does that mean you’re not going to?”

I dropped into silence again as I thought carefully. After pondering the pros and cons of my choices I answered strongly. “No, it doesn’t; if that really did come just from me, maybe it is time everything’s laid out on the table. It hasn’t been fair to make them all wait this long, but I didn’t want to freak them out or anything -- ponies aren’t used to the kinds of things that happen on Earth every day.”

“Have more faith in your friends, Jamie.” Saiian chastised gently, tapping a finger on my sternum. “I think these cute little ponies just might surprise you if you give them the chance.”

I rolled my eyes with a playful grin. “Whatever, you old bat.”

“Stupid monkey.” she retorted, grinning as well.

We stared at each other for a few moments before I whispered, “Goodnight, Saiian.”

My elemental bedmate smiled right back, her eyes shining faintly in the moonlight. “Goodnight Jamie. Sleep well, and may your dreams be calm and pleasant.”

Tomorrow would bring more interesting things for all involved, but for tonight, I simply enjoyed having two friends nearby that cared about me and I knew would always look out for me -- not that the others wouldn’t, but…

My bed can only hold so much awesome.

Chapter 21: "...Round and Round"

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Chapter 21: "...Round and Round"

One thing that I hadn't thought about much was the fact that ponies ate a lot of hay. Of course they could eat many of the same things as humans as far as fruits and vegetables went, but I had overlooked the fact that while ponies were about as different from traditional Earth horses as I was, some things did carry over between the two species. Like seriously, they have hay in almost everything that's pre-packaged, and for a healthy digestive system, they needed to eat a lot of it per day. There was even a restaurant called Hale and Hearty Bales of Barley, which in addition to barley and oats was known for its copious amounts of readily-available hay-themed dishes; most of the drinks even contained hay, which was a pain when Twilight or one of the other girls wanted to take me out somewhere, since it was one of the only restaurants around town that I didn't need to crouch just to fit without hitting my head on the ceiling.

Anyway, the amount of hay a pony needed in their diet was a problem for me because even after living in Equestria for such a length of time, I still hadn't quite gotten down preparing hay as part of a meal. More often than not, I included it on a separate plate that those I was preparing for (which, more often than not, was just Twilight) could add to their meals as desired. I also kept it separate since I was usually a part of said meals, and though I was approximately only half-human now, my digestive system still couldn't digest things like hay, grass, or flowers.

Let's just say that because of all that, I rather enjoyed Spike and I's scheduled days like today when we went out and hunted in the Everfree for wild game.

Speaking of the little dragon, as our morning together progressed (with Shudder sitting silently off to the side, reading), Twilight explained to me just how much Spike looked up to me as a sort of older brother figure. True that Shining Armor had originally taken that role, but with the prince-consort being away so often it was rare he was around Spike enough for them to really bond. Because of that (and, of course, the fact that I lived with him), Spike had slowly placed me in that position in his mind. I had never had a younger brother before, but I have to admit that the thought of a dragon looking up to me like that was pretty nice.

After breakfast I advised Twilight to gather all of our mutual friends together later on, though I wouldn't divulge to her why. She seemed a bit put off at my secretive request, but agreed before she left to handle her errands, while I prepared to go to work and hopefully give amazing service to one Fleur de Lis, which would make me look great to both her and ponies as a whole, which would make my life here better and easier and...

Well, you get the idea.

"Ugh, this is going to be so boring!" Shudder whined, breaking the character of what I assumed a high-rank royal guard should be like.

I rolled my eyes and playfully slapped the arm of the pony flying by my side. "Quit your bitching, Shudder. I'll give you a hoofrub if you behave." A smile grew on the face of my personal guard and she nodded ecstatically.

Apparently hoof rubs felt a lot better than I assumed they did, but it wasn't something I could really empathize on, having fleshy feet and all. I did know, however, that though I was expected to be thorough with my work, there were certain areas of a pony that, while not necessarily sex-oriented, were considered off-limits -- for example, a pegasus' wings and a unicorn's horn. I had learned said lesson the awkward way when I'd thought a certain shy pegasus would enjoy a good wing massage, only to have Fluttershy squeak and blush while jumping away as if I'd just slapped her ass.

Suffice to say I'd gotten the lowdown from Twilight that very day, and apologized profusely to my victim...but there was one thing Twilight had never actually answered for me:

"Hey Shudder," I began nonchalantly as we continued the short trek to the spa, "why exactly are pegasi so protective of their wings?"

The guard raised her brow and asked, "You mean besides the fact they're attached to us?" I nodded. "Well, most pegasi work very hard on keeping their wings clean and in good working order, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get them that way. Needless to say we don't trust just anypony with them, which is why it's considered such an intimate place on a pony's body, since for most of us at least, it's what makes us who we are as pegasi."

"And unicorn horns are the same, I imagine?" I half-questioned aloud.

Shudder nodded, flitting to my other side. "Yes, but they're also very sensitive to sensation when they have magic running through them. For most it can downright hurt if somepony touches their horn when they're casting a spell."

I nodded. "I see. I never really thought to question the why since I've simply learned that both are big no-no's." I chuckled a bit, shaking my head. "I honestly thought there was something intimate about it, really."

Shudder bobbed her head from side to side as she considered her answer. "Well...there is and there isn't. It's not intimate in the sense that touching a pony's wings or horn would immediately turn them on or something; it's more of a trust thing. As much as I think it's great that most ponies don't define themselves simply by the fact that they can fly or cast spells, they are still a large part of what makes a pony who they are."

I nodded slowly, biting my lip. "I think I did a bad thing then." Shudder glanced at me from the corner of her eye, silently requesting me to continue, so I sighed and did so. "About a week and a half ago I was spending time with Twilight in the open field near Sweet Apple Acres, just messing around for the most part. It was shortly after that whole thing with Twilight trying to spend some personal time with Cadence, but Discord kept screwing it up." I shrugged, remembering just how stressed out my alicorn friend had been that week. "Needless to say she needed to unwind, so I recommended we go out and spend some time just relaxing."

Shudder nodded with a smirk. "I see...and I assume it was a pain to get her to do that without scheduling it a month ahead of time, right?"

I shrugged again. "Not really; I just picked her up and carried her out of the library while Spike laughed the entire time. I might not be as strong as a pony as far as the ratio of weight to power is concerned, but you all are really light -- like the weight of a medium-sized dog really, which is odd seeing as how you're all at least three feet tall." I chuckled at Shudder's pouted lip before continuing. "Anyway, I pretty much just packed a small basket of snacks and dragged her away from her books toward the field. Maybe I'm an asshole for using it against her, but I know Twilight wouldn't risk hurting me even to escape my grasp, so I knew there wasn't much she could do. After arriving, I made her sit her rump down and asked her to tell me about what she'd been researching the last week." I sighed and shook my head wearily. "Bad idea."

"She got mad?" Shudder questioned curiously.

I shook my head. "No, just the opposite. What I didn't know was that I'd basically jumped headfirst into a four-hour long conversation about a bunch of stuff I didn't even remotely understand, and it was all I could do to just nod and look like I wasn't bored. I actually think I blacked out at one point."

Shudder nodded a few times slowly before muttering, "So...you took Princess Twilight on a date then."

If I'd have been drinking or eating, I would have choked to death.

"W-what?" I sputtered, actually tripping over my own feet and almost falling.

Shudder glanced at me and smirked. "Well I'm no expert or anything, but here are the facts of what you've told me: you took her out to a secluded spot and actually asked her about her day, you spent hours with her and made sure she enjoyed herself, and even made her food." She moved forward and placed a hoof on my shoulder, which was easy for her to do since I had stopped in shock. "Jamie, that was a date. You, a male in Equestria, took Princess Twilight on a date...and I don't care how nerdy she may be, I'm pretty sure she realized it too after you two got home."

I stood completely still for a few moments, my mouth just hanging open before, "Why the hell didn't she tell me?"

Shudder shrugged. "You know the princess better than I do, but from what I've heard she has a tendency to freak out when she's surprised with something really important. My guess is that she either felt embarrassed about not realizing it herself, or didn't want to embarrass you. I don't know exactly how much she told you about courting practices in Equestria but it's extremely rare for a stallion to ask a mare on a date." Before I could ask another question Shudder waved a hoof at me and said, "But that's neither here nor there, and it's something we can discuss later. Right now, I want to know what this 'bad thing' you did was, and why you think it was bad."

While I wanted to thoroughly question the pegasus about how she would have felt in Twilight's situation -- if only to get some heads-up on how I needed to address this -- I sighed and prepared to continue my story, though I threw a glare Saiian's way since she was giggling at my misfortune. "Well, when we were sitting up on the hilltop watching Spike play with a few younger colts and fillies that happened to be in the area, Twilight was sitting next to me with her head on my knee as I leaned against a tree and read a book, just enjoying the calm atmosphere of autumn." I then stopped and went off on a bit of a tangent. "By the way, since I've never directly said it to you before, my kind is not nearly as affectionate as yours is. The whole scratching behind the ears, running my fingers through your mane -- those are things I would normally do to a pet if I had one."

"Did you just compare ponies to pets again?" Shudder grumbled. "Seriously, we're totally diff- oh Celestia, that's good."

Shudder was rudely (though pleasantly) interrupted as I began scratching behind her right ear, and she almost purred as she leaned into the touch. I restrained a laugh at just how unknowingly cute ponies could be.

Shudder lost herself to a good ear-scratch for a few moments before gathering herself and pushing my arm away. "Stop that! That's not fair and you know it!"

I shrugged, wiggling my fingers as I theatrically inspected them and held my hand in the air. "I swear by the stars that I will only use this power for good...mostly."

Shudder glared at me for a moment before asking, "So what was this bad thing you did again? I get the distinct impression you're deflecting."

I shook my head. "Not deflecting, I just have a degenerative condition that causes me to be unable to stop from jumping from one subject to ano-"

"ADD is not degenerative, Jamie." Shudder interrupted dryly. "It's a nuisance at best, and some of the best royal guards have it; get to the point."

My eyes widened in surprise. "Ponies have that condition?" A glare was my answer, followed by a rolling of her hoof as she encouraged me to continue. "Right, right...anyway, Twilight was chilling out and I was running my hands through her mane as we enjoyed the weather when suddenly her wing started twitching." Shudder's eyebrow raised, but she kept silent as we continued walking (flying, in her case) and talking. "I asked Twilight what was wrong and she said her wings were sore, so I slipped my hand under the base of the one not laid against me and worked my fingers against it."

Shudder suddenly circled around to my face, hovering just in front of me. "And she let you?"

I furrowed my brow at the guard. "If you keep stopping me I'm going to be late to work...but yes, she did."

"Did you ever try to touch Rainbow Dash's wings before?" Shudder asked, which didn't surprise me since I'd told her Dash and I shared a bed from time to time.

I shrugged. "One time my finger strayed while we were settling down for bed, and she freaked out. I just passed it off as the way she was though, because she's weird about ponies touching her hooves too."

Shudder moved to the side to allow us to continue our short journey, bud fixed me with a skeptical eye. "And she didn't explain to you why she freaked?"

I shook my head. "Nope, she just said be careful not to touch her wings. Twilight didn't say anything other than that it felt good, so I figured it was just a weird thing that Dash has with her wings -- which I can understand, considering flight is so important to her."

Shudder shrugged and glanced away into empty space. "Which means Princess Twilight either knew what it meant to pegasi and still trusted you enough, or she didn't know and was just enjoying the attention." She glanced to me with a smile. "I wouldn't worry about it; the whole thing with a pegasus' wings is cultural more than genetic, so if she doesn't feel uncomfortable about it, don't worry."

I raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure? I don't want to be seen as a pony molester or something."

Shudder nodded, her smile more comforting. "Positive. I wouldn't do it just randomly or something, and you should probably ask her directly how she feels about it, but ponies are usually pretty open with how they feel; if she disliked it or it made her feel uncomfortable, she would have told you." She glanced to the spa we were approaching and smirked. "Speaking of fondling ponies, how has your job been?"

I nearly tripped from her comment, but continued walking as I replied, "J-just fine, thanks. I'm getting plenty of business and my two bosses seem pretty pleased, so I think I'm doing good. Besides, it's nice to have money of my own -- maybe sometime soon I can buy or build my own place." When I explained to Twilight how Earth's economy worked, she was astonished to find just how expensive it was to live somewhere. The conversion rate of bits to USD was roughly 3:1, but Twilight almost fainted to find a house from Earth would cost the equivalent of 83,000 bits...which was more than most ponies made in a decade. Even after explaining that humans didn't pay for it all at once, she still found it atrocious that the people of earth could be found homeless simply because they couldn't pay enough to live somewhere. Twilight advised me that while there were such things as rent and house payments in Equestria as well, they were vastly lower in price and even if a pony couldn't pay outright to have their own home, there were programs in place to ensure no pony was homeless.

If only humans were so privileged.

"I'm so bored!"

I rolled my eyes as I continued working, trying best to keep my eye from twitching. I'm not entirely sure I succeeded. "If you don't stop your whining I will drown you in the hot tub, Shudder. I swear you're worse than Dash sometimes -- you two might as well be sisters." I pointed to the schoolteacher mare, whose name I had forgotten. "You're lucky she's not a light sleeper, because if you ruin any of my clients' time here I will ruin you."

"Tou-chy." Shudder retorted with a snort.

I shrugged, working my hands deep into the sleeping mare's flanks. "When you mess with my job, we have a problem. Customers don't come here to have a whiny pegasus nearby at all times as part of a relaxing day."

Shudder eyed me working and smirked as she snarked, "Yeah that's right, get in there. Work that flank like a...what did you call it?"

"Guitar," I grunted, doing my best not to blush when the pony at hand moaned in her sleep, "and don't knock it 'till you try it. Hell, even Dash enjoys a good massage every once in awhile because it loosens her up and allows her to fly better." I shrugged, standing straight up and pulling briefly away from the ma- Cheerilee; that's her name. I pulled away from her and shrugged to Shudder. "I'll offer you a free personal session tonight if you want to give it a try."

Shudder considered my offer for a moment before slowly nodded. "You know what...yeah, that sounds good. I'll hold you to that."

I nodded with a smile before glancing to the clock, noticing it was just before Fleur de Lis' appointment. "Well, we'll let Cheerilee rest for a bit while we go and meet my next client up front."

Shudder hopped off of the seat in the corner and followed me through the spa as we made our way to the lobby. Much to my surprise Fleur de Lis was already there, waiting patiently and chatting with Lotus. I approached and nodded to the spa pony before gesturing to the back, which prompted Fleur de Lis to follow silently as we made our way to a free room. On the way I advised Aloe that Cheerilee was resting, but otherwise kept my stride.

As I opened the door to allow Fleur de Lis to enter the room I couldn't help but notice how her tail brushed against my leg as she did so, and how it seemed to linger just a moment as she stepped by. I raised an eyebrow and looked to Shudder, but either my guard didn't notice or didn't think it was important, as she shrugged before fluttering into the room behind me.

After entering I introduced the two. "Fleur de Lis, this is First Lieutenant Shudder of the Lunar Guard. Shudder, this is Fleur de Lis."

"How do you do." they both answered at the same time...which was creepy, to be honest.

Fleur de Lis then looked to me and smiled. "It appears the princesses wish to protect Equestria's only one of your kind, hm? I'm honored to do business with you; not just anypony would be so important to our rulers."

"It's not all rainbows and butterflies, I can tell you that." I mumbled before moving to the massage table and patting my hand on it. "Hop on up and we'll get started. Is there any place you feel needs a bit more attention?"

Fleur de Lis reached back and touched her neck (something that proved how different Equestrian ponies were from horses, since it would normally be impossible). "My neck is very stiff, so I would like some focus there."

I knew very little compared to a pony about pony anatomy, but I could reason to myself that a longer neck meant it took more strength and stronger muscles to hold up one's head, much like a tall girl with a big chest had to have strong back muscles to compensate for the shift in body equilibrium. Either way, both sets of muscles would often get sore from the strain, so I could understand Fleur de Lis' reason for her request.

I offered my hand and assisted my client up the small step-ladder to lay on my specially-made massage table (Aloe and Lotus had been kind enough to order a taller table for me to work with so that I didn't have to kneel to use theirs) and waited patiently as Fleur de Lis settled herself. It was only as she laid down that I truly realized just how much taller than other ponies this mare was, making her a veritable giant among other mares; a pretty giant, but a giant all the same.

She flinched slightly as my fingers descended to her withers before she let out a deep sigh as I began to work. Shudder watched silently as I began to work my fingers deep into the tight muscles, and by her expression, I felt the distinct impression she was a little jealous.

Seems ponies just can't get enough of my magic digits...and I mean that in a completely non-sexual way, you perv.

Ponies, by comparison, were much more heavily muscled for their size than humans were, so I will admit that it took some practice to apply the right amount of pressure to get the job done, and that was overlooking the fact that it was an entirely different body structure that I was dealing with. Still, I was pleased with my choice of job, since it allowed me good pay and good hours, as well as the opportunity to meet new ponies and get my name out into the world. While it was true I had come across one or two clients that felt the need to flirt here or there (one of them was a stallion, to my endless embarrassment), the workplace was otherwise very professional.

I will admit, however, that a few coy mares' compliments had left me blushing.

Mentally shaking myself from my thoughts, I continued my work on Fleur de Lis, taking great pride in reducing the prim and proper-looking mare to a groaning, moaning pile of pony. It was pretty entertaining, I must admit, and I couldn't help but chuckle quietly as I continued my work.

"Yeah, get in there and play that pony like a flute." Shudder taunted, snickering quietly.

"Don't *groan* comment on that which you mmm..." Fleur de Lis attempted to respond, only to dissolve into a puddle of bliss as I worked my expert fingers into the base of her neck. After a few moments of happy sighs and unladylike grunts here and there she finally continued. "Don't comment on that which -- ooh, right there Jamie -- that which you haven't experienced."

Shudder shrugged from her perch. "I'm just observing at the moment, and I think it looks like he's enjoying this more than he should is all."

I shot Shudder a glare before answering, "It's something I'm good at, the company's nice, and I get paid well for it; what's not to like?"

"And the fact you get to work your hands into the flanks of mares all day long has nothing to do with it?" Shudder shot back, grinning like an imp.

I tilted my head since I couldn't shrug. "Yep, that's definitely jealousy I hear there. Wouldn't you agree Miss Fleur de Lis?"

"Jamie please, just call -- ooh -- call me Fleur." the model replied with a smile. "And yes, it most *grunt* certainly is."

Shudder sent us both a expression that made her look as if she'd just sucked on a lemon, but remained silent. Ah, is that the sound of victory I hear? Why yes, I think it is. Jamie: 12; Shudder: 10.

"So," I began, moving my hands in long sweeping rubs across Fleur's back and sides, "I hear that you come from a big family of all males."

Fleur seemed to wake up from a sort of daydream as she mumbled, "Hmm, wha? Oh, y-yes...yes I do." She didn't move except to turn her head and look at me with one eye, smiling in a dopey manner. "I suppose such a thing is uncommon, but I found it very enlightening for many reasons. How have the ponies of Ponyville treated you?"

I head-shrugged again. "Good for the most part, though there are a few issues here and there. I don't know if you've heard or not, but my society was patriarchal for much of our history, and a lot of that has forever affected our culture. Needless to say that it's strange for me to see a lot of what I consider to be masculine behaviors in mares, and some of you are really feminine otherwise. Still, my friends have all made things much easier, and I think part of the reason I haven't been directly accosted has been because the ponies are afraid Rainbow Dash will find out."

"Ah yes, your pegasus marefriend." Fleur commented with a teasing grin.

I rolled my eyes and continued my work, moving to her haunches and digging deep into the tight muscles there. "We're not together, and I don't care who says we are. I'm not saying we're not friends, but it doesn't go any further than that." I thought for a moment before adding, "With any of my friends, for that matter."

Fleur raised her eyebrow curiously. "So, you like colts?"

I barked a laugh and shook my head, trying desperately to keep my laughter under control. "N-no, I don't; I definitely enjoy the company of females as much as most of the rest of my gender."

Fleur still held her brow high. "So then why...?"

"You're ponies." I stated simply. Recognizing by her slightly offended expression that I needed to elaborate, I added, "Humans are the only intelligent beings where I come from, so culturally, we're in no way accepting of romantic relations -- emotional or otherwise -- with another species."

Fleur's offense seemed to bleed away, but she still looked confused. "But you're not-"

"On Earth anymore," I finished for her, sighing softly, "I know. A lifetime of a certain culture isn't lost so easily though, so it's not like I can just suddenly decide, 'Okay, I like ponies now!' It's more complicated than that -- hell, it took almost two months for me to be completely comfortable with ponies touching me. Luna and I have already talked about all this and have come to the conclusion that any sort of further acclimation into society -- no matter the way it's done -- has to be natural." I stood back for a moment and shrugged my shoulders before beginning my work on Fleur's legs. "I won't pretend that the thought of dating a pony hasn't drifted through my head from time to time -- and to be honest, I have a few in mind I would ask -- but when it comes to the physical aspect, there's very little there."

"Very little?" Fleur questioned lazily, still under the effects of my massage. "From what I've heard, the answer to whether or not you had physical attraction to ponies was 'not at all'."

I shrugged, rubbing my thumb in circles as I slowly worked up and down the lithe muscles of her front legs. "Well I hope you don't take this the wrong way when I say this -- because I'm not coming onto you at all or something-"

"Oh come off it, Jamie." Fleur interrupted with a light, airy giggle. "I am a model, so I am quite familiar with others complimenting my looks or casually admiring my assets. I can guarantee you that nothing you say in regards to my physical attributes will offend me, even if it's downright lewd." Fleur then gained a thoughtful look on her face as she added, "In fact, I would consider it an accomplishment to receive praise from Equestria's only alien being."

I chuckled good-naturedly as I rolled one of Fleur's wrists around, eliciting a few pops and appreciative sighs. "Alright alright fine, I'll talk." As I stood up to get a full view of the mare before me, I couldn't help but try and look at her as a pony would; what did ponies look for as far as attraction? Well, I knew that someone like Fleur was considered beautiful, but what was harder for me to pinpoint was why, but I had picked up a few things here and there from Twilight and the others -- enough that I felt I could do a decent analysis of the model before me.

One of the things I had heard mares offhandedly remark about was the flanks of ponies. From what I understood by casual (and accidental, mind you) eavesdropping, stallions were considered attractive if they had firm, hard flanks that were powerful and lean, while a mare was considered the same if her flanks were toned and taut, with a bit of feminine curve. When I really thought about it, judging the behind of a pony was a lot like judging the same on a human, though ponies were much more open about it than humans were; it was commonplace for ponies to quite blatantly "check the goods", and it wasn't frowned upon so long as it wasn't open gawking for long periods of time.

Another thing I knew about unicorns in particular was that their horns were their pride and joy, and were as much an aspect of beauty as they were a conduit for magical power. Unicorns that cared about their appearance regularly filed their horns to give them a smooth, polished look, while mares that couldn't be bothered often ended up with horns that were a bit more rough by comparison. Still, I knew that longer horns were considered more attractive, and not all horns had the same amount of grooves. The groove was an entirely different prospect altogether, and was "graded" by frequency, or "tightness" of the spiral -- a tighter spiral groove was more attractive than those with a more loose pattern. I also didn't know if it was coincidence or not, but unicorns more magically talented tended to have a tighter groove pattern than those that were less powerful; a bit of food for thought.

I didn't know what else ponies -- or unicorns in particular, in this case -- used to determine physical attractiveness of an individual, but it was by these few categories alone that I could complete an accurate enough on-the-spot analysis of the pony standards of physical attractiveness regarding Fleur.

Fleur, by these rules, was absolutely beautiful, with her tall, lithe form and firm flanks, as well as her tightly-spiraled horn and amazingly soft fur. Even from my limited perspective of not really knowing much concerning how ponies judged beauty, I could tell that her career as a model was well-chosen.

"You're gorgeous." I answered after finishing my inspection, smiling at her. "I'm sure you already knew that, but now you have Jamie Smith telling you that." I shrugged, leaning back in and working the kinks out of her other foreleg. "I can tell that you're very beautiful, but I when I look at you, I just can't think the word 'sexy' without shaking my head."

Fleur nodded a few times, but remained alert despite my ministrations. "I think I might understand, Jamie. Would you permit me to speak my mind on the matter of your lack of attraction?"

I shrugged again, rolling the other wrist before moving toward Fleur's rear legs. "Fire away, Fleur; I'm all ears."

Fleur nodded as she prepared her explanation. "As I'm sure you've heard at least once or twice, inter-species couples are not necessarily common in Equestria, but they do happen from time to time. Do you know what most of said couples I've met told me when I asked them 'how it works'?" I shook my head, silently prompting Fleur to continue. "Well," she began, smiling gently as she did so, "nearly all of them said the same thing in regards to it: the love came first, and the lust came later."

"Really?" I questioned with clear interest.

Fleur nodded once again, sighing as I worked on relaxing her hindlegs. "Mmm...yes. Love the person inside first, and love the body last. After all, it's the being inside the body that makes them who they are, not how they look on the outside."

You ever have that moment where you think, "Fuck...how have I never thought of that before?" Well...yeah, that's pretty much how I felt at that exact moment. It was honestly so simple, and I can't imagine how I'd never thought of it before. While it's true I hadn't really felt it for ponies anyway, most of that had been because I had walled myself off on purpose, reasoning that because the physical attraction wasn't there, it was pointless. After all, how could you love someone you couldn't make love to?

It seemed that even with all I'd learned about friendship from Twilight and the others, I still had so much to learn when it came to my own heart and life as a whole.

"You look as if you've just discovered something, Jamie." Fleur quipped with a knowing grin.

I shrugged, doing my best to work high up on the pony's inner thigh without touching anything off-limits. "Maybe. I definitely have some things to think about."

"And perhaps a pony or two to think about?" she questioned mischievously.

I cleared my throat nervously at the thought. "Let's not get ahead of ourselves here."

Fleur considered my words for a few moments before laying her head back down, no longer looking at me. I barely heard her speak when she wisely stated, "Don't ever stop moving forward, Jamie. If you stop, you stagnate; do it long enough, and you die. It matters not how long it takes or how difficult it will be, because as long as you keep learning and growing, life will always be worthwhile."

I attempted to make eye contact with my client, but it appeared that she was finished saying all that needed to be said, so I continued my work in silence as I pondered the words of wisdom I had been given.

Not to sound full of myself or anything, but Fleur was quite pleased, as I expected. While it was true Aloe and Lotus had more experience in the spa world than I did, my hands were capable of things that their hooves were not, and it was that advantage that allowed me to bring in more clients than they'd ever had before. I actually overheard the two talking about possibly hiring some extra employees to handle the increasing customer volume, and without ego I knew it was probably because of my employment at their establishment.

Fleur, as a pony, was very worldly, which made sense since she had likely experienced much more in Equestria than I could likely ever dream of. I hoped I would live long enough to experience all the amazing things this world has to offer, but even as much as I have and would continue to adapt to my new home, I knew I would forever see things and experience them differently than ponies did. Not that I really minded of course, as I had friends to assure my life would still be a good one, however long it was.

I never had many friends back on Earth. It wasn't so much that I was antisocial (though I could readily admit I was), but rather I was isolated because unlike ponies, it was not commonplace for complete strangers to reach out to those they found in need of a friend, even if it wasn't readily apparent there was anything wrong. But, in Equestria, there were ponies like Pinkie who lived by the creed that "everypony -- no matter how young or old, big or small -- needs a friend." It was ponies like Twilight that had brought me out of my shell, and ponies like Ditzy that showed me "different" didn't mean "less".

The more I thought about my new life though, the more I realized just how much I had been missing because of my inability to see past the physical form of a pony.

Romantic inclination, as rare as it had been in my past on Earth, was still a part of life. While it was true that I hadn't actually been a part of many relationships, the random thoughts of "she would be nice to be with" still popped up from time to time, even for me. I had thought the same thing about ponies as well, but that thought also ended with, "...if she were human."

I could readily admit to myself and others that I was a simple man when it came right down to it, and I often thought in simple terms -- black and white, if you will. It wasn't so much that I wasn't intelligent, but rather I didn't see the point in complicating things if they didn't need to be complicated. By this logic, I had not thought any further on my inability to view ponies as possible romantic partners, and simply passed it off as a "case closed" scenario.

Now, it seemed because of my straightforward thinking, I had overlooked something glaringly obvious.

What about them -- not as cute little ponies, but just as people? What about their personalities; did I find myself attracted to them? Because of how easy it was to focus just on what my observation of the physical world showed me, I had long discounted there could be anything else possible...but now, I found myself seriously considering them not as technicolor equines, but as people. I considered their personalities, their quirks, and everything else that made them who they are...and came to a rather surprising conclusion:

Had they been human -- or humanoid, even -- I would have at least considered asking at least one of them out a long time ago.

Suddenly I felt rather shitty and very narrow-minded; blind, even.

"You alright there Jamie?" Shudder questioned from beside me, concern clear on the guard's face.

As much as I wanted to answer with an immediate affirmative, I didn't want to lie to a friend...especially not one that had saved my life and given me the skills to survive, should I ever need them. "No...I'm really not."

Shudder tilted her head in confusion as her brow creased further with worry. "What's wrong, Lanky?"

I let out a long breath before answering, "For a long time now I haven't been treating or thinking about the ponies I know the same as I would other people. I was so afraid for a long time that I would be discriminated against simply because I was so different from you all, but I was welcomed with open arms for the most part." I chuckled dryly, the sound humorless and flat. "But I purposefully chose to relate to ponies as different creatures, while you all welcomed me as one of your own."

Shudder sighed and shook her head. "It's not your fault, Jamie. You've told us just how different of a world you come from, so it makes sense that you see things a little differently than-"

"But that's not the point!" I interrupted angrily, mostly at myself. "Even where I'm from, it's considered extraordinarily rude treat someone differently just because they look different. I'm on your world breathing your air and eating your food, but I'm treating ponies as if they're the aliens instead of me; tell me how that's not completely wrong." I watched as my guard opened and closed her mouth a few times -- looking much like a fish, to be honest -- as she attempted to come up with a response. When she lowered her head and sighed, I nodded sadly. "Exactly."

"Hating yourself won't solve the problem, Jamie." Saiian's voice whispered into my ear as she appeared by my side.

Knowing that our conversation would be private I replied, "But I can't stop it either. I'm grateful to Fleur for bringing me a new point of view, but it's made me realize just how bad of a friend I've been to the ponies that took me in, fed me, clothed me, and made sure I wasn't lonely. All I've done for them is show them how not to be."

The three of us continued walking back toward the Golden Oaks -- two of us talking, one of us watching me walking in silence -- as I tried to accept what Saiian was telling me.

"What does self-blame accomplish, hm?" she questioned rhetorically. "It doesn't solve the problem and neither does it make anyone feel better; it just serves to place fault on yourself, which will only make you feel worse. All you can do is apologize to those affected and resolve to not make the same mistake again."

I nodded as we approached the library, which was only a dozen or so paces away now. "I'll try, Saiian." I then glanced to the elemental and smiled. "Thanks for your help."

I'd come to rely on Saiian a lot more as time passed, and while I couldn't claim to completely accept everything she said all of the time, I often found myself asking Saiian for her wisdom, or a different viewpoint. Besides all that, Saiian quite literally knew me better than I knew myself, and had offered tips on how to overcome things I had been dealing with. I valued her for her assistance, and though I at first found her presence an annoyance at best, I now couldn't imagine my life without her.

Who was I and what ever happened to Jamison Smith?

I pushed open the door to Golden Oaks and nervously smiled as I saw the eight ponies that lived around Ponyville gathered along with...

"Celestia? Luna?" I blurted with surprise. "W-what are you two doing here?"

The two princesses of Canterlot were sitting separate from the rest of the group, though it was near impossible to miss them. I was able to nearly see the tension in the air between the two of them and Twilight, which only made me more nervous about this whole situation.

Celestia inclined her head to me and smiled. "We received a letter from Princess Twilight that you had something to disclose to your friends."

I raised an eyebrow and looked to Twilight, who only answered, "They're your friends too, Jamie; they deserve to know whatever it is you're going to tell as much as the rest of us, even if I haven't quite forgiven them yet." She shot a conflicted look to her fellow princesses before turning back to me. "They care about you as much as we do, so they have a right to know what's going on as well."

I nodded slowly as the surprise wore off, but still felt a nervous knot in my stomach. "A-alright then. So," I cleared my throat loudly, walking to the empty seat left for me between Rainbow Dash and Twilight (which I'm quite sure was no coincidence), "I'm sure you're wondering why I've brought all of you here today." I snickered despite myself before clarifying, "I've always wanted to say that."

Vinyl clopped her hooves loudly to get my attention, though she was smirking. "C'mon Jamie, stay focused."

I cleared my throat once again and nodded, briefly looking over the ten ponies and a dragon that were all gathered. "Well, I think it's time all of you know a bit more about me; more specifically, I think it's time I told all of you about my past."

Twilight placed a hoof on my arm and focused on me with a concerned expression. "Jamie, are you sure?"

I nodded. "Yeah...I am. I've been too secretive for too long, and you all have proven to me that I can trust you enough to know about my past. I'll warn you ahead of time that some of it isn't pretty, but it's still what made me who I am today."

Rainbow Dash's wing extended around my back, and I felt a feeling of utter security suffuse me. I looked around the room to see that all those gathered were only concerned for my well-being, including the guard that originally was only tasked to teach me to defend myself. It brought to light just how many lives I'd touched without meaning to, which only steeled my resolve and assured me I was now doing the right thing.

"We're ready whenever you are, Jamie." Octavia spoke with a comforting smile, holding Vinyl's hoof in her own to offer support to her not-so-calm friend.

I took a deep breath as I felt Saiian's fingers lace in mine as she draped herself over my back, and I have to admit the gesture was very soothing. After composing myself enough to not immediately yell, I began my story.

"I was an orphan;" I began, starting with the most basic attribute of my life first, "I never had a real family. The earliest memory I have is of some foster mother speaking to me -- I can't even remember her name." I smiled briefly as I remembered. "The only person who ever really made time for me was Samantha Smith, my caseworker -- she's who I consider my mother, and she allowed me to change my last name to hers once I grew old enough."

"So the mother's day gift you were going to get..." Fluttershy murmured in understanding.

I nodded. "It was for her." I chuckled humorlessly and shook my head. "Life in the foster care system was hell for me. Most of the families I was placed in already had kids of their own, and while they made sure I was clothed, sheltered and fed, I was never their child -- I was just 'the trouble kid'. I didn't really see Mrs. Smith much until I was around ten, so I spent most of my young childhood crying myself to sleep, wondering why no one wanted me."

I felt Rainbow Dash's wing tighten around me, and Twilight placed her hoof on my arm with a sullen expression on her face. Even the Canterlot princesses were struggling to keep from approaching and coddling me, and I couldn't help but mentally sigh. 'Things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.'

"A lot of the children were downright mean, telling me I was worthless and that's why no one wanted me." I muttered, unwilling to bring my eyes from the floor. "Doesn't sound all that damaging to an adult, but to a kid who has no one in the world, it's extremely cruel."

"B-but it got better, right?" I heard Pinkie whimper, and I almost wished I hadn't looked at her tear-streaked face. "Y-you smiled later, right?"

I took a deep, steadying breath to keep from crying myself just at the pink pony's expression. "Not for years, Pinkie. The verbal barbs weren't all that I received, and it soon graduated to physical attacks from the other kids and sometimes, even the foster parents."

A circle of gasps answered me before Celestia questioned, "The parents abused you?"

I nodded, gently shaking off the ponies around me as I began to pull up the hem of my shirt. "I bet you've all wondered why I don't expose my bare back to you, well..." I pulled the shirt up and over my head, exposing my bare skin to the air. I turned around to allow all to see, and heard a chorus of gasps and muttered words of shock as they now clearly noticed the small, circular scars that dotted most of my upper back and behind my shoulders. "One of my foster parents was a construction worker and a drunk who took a bit of sick pleasure in exerting his control over me. If I ever talked back, this is what happened; he was a smoker, and thought he'd 'teach me a lesson' by putting cigarettes out on my skin." I flinched as I felt a few hooves touch me, but continued nonetheless. "There aren't that many, only because I learned pretty quick that it was better to stay silent and do what I was told -- even if it was unreasonable -- rather than question him and be burned."

"How could anyone do this to a child?" Luna muttered from behind me, her voice cracking a bit.

I shrugged. "There are a lot of truly good people on Earth, but there are just as many, if not more, sick, sadistic people that only want to cause others pain. Besides that, the city I lived in wasn't necessarily the nicest place even at the best of times. So," I began, turning back around and pulling my shirt over my head before sitting down, "I ran away. I spent four years on the streets, trying my best to survive, until I was fourteen. I got a job at a local food mart that let me work in the back, stocking merchandise and things, and that kept me afloat for a few more years. I met Mrs. Smith again when I was sixteen, and for the next two years, she became the person I trusted more than anyone else in the world. She was technically my caseworker, but instead of passing me off to another foster home, she helped me emancipate myself and become self-sufficient so that I could live on my own."

"Emancipate?" Twilight questioned in confusion.

I nodded. "It's the act of making a minor a legal adult; where I'm from, it's illegal for someone under eighteen to live on their own. Anyway," I continued, settling myself back into my "zone" to make sure I didn't break down or something, "my life as an emancipated minor wasn't perfect either, and I could expect to be beaten and threatened by some of the local gangs if I didn't do or pay what they said. Because of my previous condition regarding weakened bones, I often ended up in the hospital."

Shudder furrowed her brow from atop a bookcase. "Earth has gangs too?"

I nodded, absently running a hand through my hair. "Quite a few, actually; more in cities like New York and Oakland. Needless to say they tend to prey on those that are isolated, which made me an easy target. I didn't know anyone where I lived, and was broke as all get-out." I glanced to Twilight, who had worked so hard to help me fit in and open up. "It's why I was so reluctant to get close to anyone, because I didn't know if I could trust any of you. I learned really quickly in life that trusting the wrong person can get you hurt, and unfortunately, it seemed I was almost always surrounded only by the wrong people."

I felt Saiian again drape herself over me, hugging me tightly as Rarity asked, "And what about now, dear? Do you trust us enough to let us in completely?"

The direct question fully brought to light the severity of the situation -- of our situation -- and I felt fearful tears pricking at corners of my eyes. Slowly, and whispered like a secret, I asked, "But can I trust you?" The confused and slightly offended faces that were turned to me prompted elaboration, so I gestured to the two Canterlot princesses. "What they've done is forgivable, since I know they truly only had my best interests in mind, but a malicious betrayal is not something I would be able to survive again. I..." I choked on my tongue, attempting to keep from breaking out into stressful tears as the tension built from the absolute terror of letting these ponies know all of me. I knew that by revealing everything, I had left myself vulnerable, and...I'm honestly not sure how I refrained from bolting and running away to parts unknown at that very moment.

It must have been the loving hooves (and hands, in Saiian's case) of those offering me support.

"Jamie," Vinyl began, her voice cracking as she struggled to reign in her emotions, "if you believe we would ever willingly hurt you or betray you, then you clearly don't know us well enough." She sat up a little straighter, freeing her arms from Octavia's embrace as she gestured with a hoof to the whole room. "Everypony --" she paused and looked to Spike, "and dragon -- in here loves you, Jamie. You've touched all of our lives in one way or another, you're there for us when we need you, and beyond that you're fun to be around once you got your head out of your ass." She sniffled a bit, but offered me a small smirk at her statement before adding, "You're important to all of us, Jamie -- too important to hurt you on purpose for any negative reason. I think I speak for all of us when I say that you can trust us to always be on your side, no matter what." A chorus of muttered affirmatives followed her words, which only made my heart wrench with happiness.

I'd been crying too much lately; it's a good thing gender roles are reversed here, because I'd feel like a bitch if I was supposed to act like a man.

I sighed happily as I felt hooves, arms and wings encircle me from every direction, smiling and -- by all that's holy -- giggling from just how joyful I felt. I had found friends, I had found my purpose, but finally, after months, I had found a deep peace for the first time in my life. I could trust not just one, but twelve people -- I would have counted myself blessed with only one.

Suddenly, I heard twelve gasps of surprise before Twilight's voice broke in with, "J-Jamie, look at your hand!"

I pulled back from the multicolored mane of Celestia to glance at my hand, my eyes widening as only one sentence came to mind:

"What. The fuck. Is that?"

Chapter 22: The Song of Chaos is Murphey's Law

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Chapter 22: The Song of Chaos is Murphey’s Law

“...Jamie, is that-”

“No, it’s not.”

“...Jamie, I’m pretty sure that’s a-”

“No it’s not; shut up!”

Twelve sets of eyes were now staring at my hand as if it were dancing ballet, which at this point was something I was halfway expecting to happen. After all, my life was now officially downright weird; what next universe, eh?

“Jamie,” Twilight attempted once again, and I grudgingly stayed silent this time, “I’m almost positive that’s a cutie mark!”

I shook my head. “It’s not, and there are a few reasons why: first of all, it’s on my hand not my hip, and there’s only one mark instead of two. Second, how the hell does a glowing rune relate to a talent? Third, cutie marks don’t move.”

The third statement was added as an immediate addendum, seeing as how when I began explaining why I hadn’t just gotten a fucking cutie mark, it started to slowly drift and move around my arm. Yes, I had some magical glowing rune-like mark now floating around the skin of my arm, and it was bright celeste in color. Just one more oddity to tack onto the rest, I suppose.

I stood quickly and stretched out, forcing all the ponies away from me. “Fuck this, I’m going hunting; Spike and Shudder, with me.”

“Jamie wait, we need to talk about this!” Celestia called after me as me and my two companions made our way to the door.

Without turning around or breaking stride I replied, “After I get some meat in me. I’ve been craving it all week and things just took a turn for the batshit-crazy-weird, so unless I do a little predation and consumption of meat, I’m liable to eat a pony today.” At the shocked gasps I turned around and raised my eyebrow in subtle disbelief. “That was a joke. Seriously, what do you take me for? Just…” I sighed and shook my head. “Just give me some time to process all this. We’ll be back later tonight.” Without another word, I exited the library and began my trek toward the Everfree.

While I had gotten some survival training before coming to Equestria, I had never actually hunted before my relocation. With that being the case, I’d never eaten wild game before; while I had to admit that wild beast meat was a bit more gamey than something like beef or even lamb, in a land where the primary race was a primarily herbivorous prey species, I took what I could get.

So, as I sat on a log next to a small stream, I enjoyed the meal of roast cockatrice that Spike had helped me hunt and prepare. Oddly enough the meat tasted like smoked chicken, so I wasn’t complaining. Shudder didn’t partake, but neither did she watch the two of us with disgust. I was pleased that my guard seemed to be a bit more open-minded than some of the ponies around Ponyville were (the mayor finding out I was a predator species did not go down well), and enjoyed the fact that Spike seemed to get along with me much better since we had something quite unique in common now...well, unique among Equestrian citizens, anyway.

I couldn’t avoid the problem in the back of my mind forever, though.

“So, are you just going to sit there munching, or are you going to talk about what’s going on with that mark on your arm?” Shudder interjected, bringing the subject to bear with no subtlety whatsoever.

I swallowed my current bite of meaty goodness and sighed as I rested my elbows on my knees. Lifting my hand up palm-in I answered, “It’s not a cutie mark. Saiian has this same mark on her arm, and it’s even the same color.” I then looked to the elemental beside me and twisted my lips in a nervous manner. “Saiian...what’s happening to me?”

“Do you want the long version or the short version?” Saiian replied as she took a seat beside me.

I placed my head in my hands and groaned. “Short for now, if you please.”

I felt Saiian’s hand grasp mine, which I allowed though I didn’t particularly reciprocate. “You’re becoming more like me as you finally mentally and emotionally accept Equestria as your home, and everything that means.” I removed my hand from my face and stared at Saiian uncomprehendingly. Luckily for me, I didn’t have to force myself to ask questions that sounded stupid even in my head, as Saiian continued explaining. “You’ve accepted that there is no chance for you to return to Earth any time in the near future, and you’ve accepted that you have not only a place, but a purpose here. You’ve finally felt comfortable enough to admit to yourself that you care for these ponies as much as they do you, and you’ve even accepted that you may one day find yourself loving a pony, though you don’t currently understand how or why that would happen.”

I nodded slowly. “Okay...but that’s not all, is there?”

Saiian shook her head with what I could only discern was a proud smile. “By trusting your friends enough to reveal your painful past trials and childhood, you’ve unknowingly allowed yourself to begin to let go of that past, and finally begin to heal...or in this case, become something new.”

“And what will that be, Saiian? What am I becoming; what’s the endgame, here?” I questioned weakly, unsure if I was going to like whatever answer she had for me.

I was right, though not because it was an answer at all.

“I can’t pretend to know, Jamie.” she softly spoke to me, a tone of true regret in her voice. “I know that’s not what you want to hear, but even though I’ve seen this world change several times over, we’re in uncharted territory now. You are the first of your kind to arrive here, and the bond between you and I is a unique one -- it is meant to benefit the both of us, but I won’t say I have all the answers as to any ‘side effects’, because I don’t.”

I nodded once again, but weakly this time as crushing doubt began to overcome me. “I asked you once before if I would recognize myself in the future -- if I would be able to reconcile who I will become in the future with who I was in the past; do you still believe I will?”

Saiian opened her mouth, but no sound came forth. For a few moments she went through that same routine -- opening her mouth without making a sound, only to close it a few moments later -- before finally deciding on what to say.

“Who you are as a person -- who Jamie is -- will never change.” she answered truthfully, though her answer seemed...lacking somehow.

It was then that I figured out what she must have omitted. “What about physically?”

Saiian sighed and lowered her head in shame, likely from the fact she had tried to hide something from me. “I...don’t really know. I do know it’s impossible for one race to change into another -- so you don’t have to worry about becoming a pony or anything like that -- but beyond that, I am unsure. Just...be ready for any changes, as somehow I don’t think they’ll stop with a mark on your arm.” She gestured to her own body, which was clothed in tanktop and a beach wrap around her waist. “I have eight marks in all, written in Oldtongue, that each say something about who I am. You have but one, so while I cannot hope to predict what will happen next, I believe you will gain more or all of my marks before ‘this’,” she gestured generally to the air, “is over. Just know that I will be by your side every step of the way, and we will weather it together.”

I sighed heavily and leaned against Saiian for support as I mentally went over what I had been told. After a few seconds of silence I asked, “I’ll remain human though, right?”

“If you mean that you’ll look like a human, then yes.” Saiian assured with a soft smile. “Don’t worry about suddenly growing wings or anything -- that can’t and won’t happen. That, at least, I’m sure about.”

I nodded before reluctantly pulling away from Saiian’s comforting warmth and strength. “I guess I can take comfort in that, then.” I glanced to Shudder and Spike, who were sitting patiently and chatting while I did the whole talking-to-myself thing, for which I was thankful for. Pinkie in particular had taken to trying to get my attention in strange ways whenever I would zone out and speak to Saiian, some of which had me laughing, and others hurting.

Shudder glanced to me and grinned with a nod. “All finished there then, Lanky?” At my nod, she flapped her wings and took to the darkening sky. “Alright then, let’s get you two home; I don’t want to upset a princess by keeping her little brother out too late.”

Spike rolled his eyes before strolling over to me and smiling. “So are you alright now?”

I shrugged. “As okay as I’m going to be. I’m not going to sequester myself in the library and neither am I going to go on a bar run, so you can consider me safe for the time being.”

Spike nodded to me. “Cool, let’s get going then. The others are probably worried about you, and something tells me they’re not gonna leave until they get answers.”

With a groan I stood and followed the dragon and pegasus as we headed home, and I began to mentally prepare myself to try and explain just what the hell was going on.

The walk back to the library was quiet and serene since the sun was setting, and most ponies knew me well enough to not freak out when “the huge alien” went traipsing through town at night. As Golden Oaks loomed in front of us though, I began to feel a little nervous about how I was going to explain all this.

Shudder floated ahead of me and pushed open the door, escorting Spike and I inside before closing it behind us. Much to my surprise, the main area of the tree home wasn’t filled with ten anxious ponies, for which I was thankful. Something told me that I wouldn’t react very well to such a tense atmosphere, along with the fact that whatever handle I thought I had on my new life seemed to have been wrenched away. Now, I couldn’t even try and plan for my future really. Where once I was a person that liked to have things laid in a line and the future somewhat prepared for, I was now a guy that could only guess at what tomorrow would bring.

Okay, maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but it’s how I felt at the time.

“Twilight, we’re home!” Spike called through the library.

The furious clopping of hooves upon wood floors came from upstairs, followed by the slamming of a door against the wall and the sight of Twilight nearly falling down the stairs. It would have been laugh-worthy if I hadn’t been worried about her breaking her neck or something.

As Twilight arrived sloppily at the bottom, I made my way to her and looked on with concern. “Jesus, are you okay?”

Twilight shook her head and glared up at me. “Am I okay? What about you? You just left earlier, and we were all worried about you! You were emotionally vulnerable, and the first thing you did was go to the bucking EVERFREE FOREST?!”

Wow, Twilight was pissed. That was as close as she had ever gotten to outright cursing.

“Um...yeah?” I answered hopelessly.

“We’ll just, um, go see what’s going on around town.” Shudder mumbled before dragging Spike with her out the door.

In between the worry for my safety as Twilight’s anger was brought to bear and wishing Saiian could help me calm the raging alicorn, I couldn’t help but feel the need for retribution against the two traitors that just left me alone with an angry Twilight. After a few moments of Twilight’s eye twitching in time with the agitated lashing of her tail, she finally began to calm down, closing her eyes and taking a few deep breaths before focusing on me once again. “I know you well enough by now to understand that you don’t like having to rely on others if you don’t have to, but going off on your own in such a state and leaving all of your friends worrying about you doesn’t help either. You don’t have to shoulder this alone, Jamie.”

I shook my head with a sigh of annoyance. “Twilight, you all wouldn’t understand what I’m going through, and I mean that in the nicest way possible. You all would be understanding, but you couldn’t understand exactly what I feel like; I had to get away so that I could focus on me for a bit so that I could come to terms with what was happening, along with speaking with Saiian about exactly what this,” I motioned to my hand, “meant and what to do about it.”

Twilight glared at me defiantly for a few moments before her ears drooped and she hung her head in defeat. She huffed and ground out, “Fine. I don’t like it, but you’re more stubborn than Applejack when you want to be, so I’m not going to fight you about it.” She then looked up at me with a curious expression. “So what did Saiian say, exactly? Are you going to be okay?”

I glanced out of the corner of my eye at the elemental and sighed as she took my hand. “This would be a whole lot easier if she could talk.”

“Actually,” Twilight interjected slowly, a confident smile on her face, “I may have a way to make that possible for us.”

I raised an eyebrow at Twilight in confusion. “Eh? What do you mean, exactly?”

“Well,” she began, walking over to a lectern that had an open book upon it and motioning to said book, “since learning about Saiian, I’ve been researching her kind and just what they are capable of as far as magic, since by what you’ve told me, the intelligent reactions of your magic is due to her.” I nodded, prompting Twilight to continue. “Even with you bleeding your magic off at regular intervals to prevent uncomfortable buildup, I’ve noticed that you generate it almost as fast as the average unicorn, which is something I did not expect. With a spell I developed through some experimentation and repeated testing, I think I can link with that magic to allow me to see and hear what you do for a short time.”

I took in what Twilight had said, chewing my lip for a moment. “Sounds like that could be dangerous.”

“For a novice mage, maybe;” she commented with a sly grin, “but not for somepony like me. I’ve done all the calculations over and over again with the samples you give me every week, and the math adds up just fine. Even if for some odd and unfathomable reason this spell fails, the spell matrix I’ve designed will allow the excess energy to bleed away long before it can do any damage to either of us. The most you would feel or experience in the event of the spell failing is something akin to a small static shock.”

I shrugged. “Sounds like you’ve got everything worked out, then. I know if I had to choose one thing to trust you on, it would be magic.” I then glanced to Saiian again. “What do you think; will this work?”

Saiian, for the first time since I’d known her, looked completely unsure. “I don’t know. Chaos magic isn’t something you learn like arcane, and you don’t feel it the way you do elemental magic -- you just do it. Suffice to say I’m not an expert when it comes to how magic works; I don’t know what’s going to happen.” At my unamused expression, Saiian rolled her eyes at me. “Would you rather I lie to you?”

“But is this going to kill me or something?” I asked her, only half-joking.

Saiian bit her lip in a way that would normally be seen as sultry, but I could tell by the way her eyes were darting between Twilight and I, she was nervous. “No...but I also don’t know if her calculations took into account the fact that chaos magic by definition doesn’t follow rules.” The two of us watched Twilight levitate five sticks of blue chalk as she began to mark out a spell matrix on the ground a few feet away.

“So the whole ‘small static shock’ thing…” I trailed off nervously.

“It won’t hurt more, if that’s what you’re worried about.” Saiian answered, preempting my unasked question. “However, something like full-body paralysis for a few seconds or minutes wouldn’t be out of the question.”

Acting more calm than I felt at the moment, I shrugged. “Good thing I went to the bathroom not too long ago.”

“So,” Twilight cut in unknowingly, “are you ready?”

I still had my doubts about the whole thing, but besides the fact that Twilight’s excited “science face” was adorable, the chance to be able to actually introduce one of my friends to Saiian was too good to pass up. That, and I didn’t feel like acting as a mediator between two people for so much information. Call me lazy, but that’s how it is.

I took a steadying breath to settle my nerves and nodded. “As I’ll ever be.”

Twilight pointed to an open circle right in the middle of the spell matrix, which was surrounded by magical runes. “Stand right there and try not to move too much.”

I nodded and took my spot before looking to Twilight. “By the way, you do realize you’re dealing with chaos magic here, right? How does your math account for that?”

Twilight raised her hoof to respond, only to place it on her chin in thought. “Hmm...you’re right. I didn’t think to take that into account.” She glanced over the spell matrix before erasing a quarter of it and redrawing, checking the book of her notes a few times as she did so. “There, that should take care of things. I added an extra ward for element transmutation and one for magic grounding, which should redirect any errant effects three feet to your left.”

“Should?” I questioned nervously, now feeling more anxious than before.

Twilight sighed and nodded. “Yes, should. Do you still want to do this?”

I still didn’t understand magic as a whole, but knew Twilight wouldn’t purposefully subject me to anything she knew would be dangerous to my health. “Yeah, let’s do it.”

Twilight nodded again, smiling this time. “Alright then: stand still and -- you said you can touch Saiian, right?” I nodded. “Hold hands with her or something. Linking yourselves, even if just in your mind, could help the process. At the very least it couldn’t hurt, and I would like to try and cover everything.” She took a few deep breaths as Saiian laced her fingers in my own. “Alright, here we go.”

I watched with nervous excitement as Twilight’s horn lit up with a sparkly lavender aura. A few seconds of concentration later, two more layers were added to it and the light increased a few magnitudes as well. The spell matrix began to glow blue as her magic touched it, and I felt a faint tingling on my skin as I grasped Saiian’s hand a bit tighter. Arcs of pure energy began to bounce from Twilight’s horn to me, and I had to force myself not to jump away from something that looked like lightning. I didn’t turn my head to look, but I could see a faint glow coming from Saiian next to me as the spell continued, and after another minute or so, the glow faded and Twilight sighed heavily.

“Whew,” Twilight began, shaking her head, “that was more strenuous than I thought it would be.” She then glanced up to me and bit her lip with a frown. “Hmm...it didn’t work. How do you feel?”

I shrugged. “Alright, I guess. I’m not dead, so that’s a plus.”

Twilight rolled her eyes and walked back toward the lectern across the room, levitating her book with her. “Funny guy. Give me a moment to see if I can find out what went wrong, and then I’ll try again if you want.”

I nodded and stretched my arms. “Alright then, I’ll just-”

As soon as I took a step forward to leave the circle, it once again began glowing brightly and an almost deafening crackling of energy filled the room. Twilight’s focus shot to me as she dropped the book and she had just enough time to open her mouth to say something before a wave of force from my left threw me off my feet and into the wall supporting the stairway. It surprisingly didn’t hurt much, but now I was gasping for breath as the air in my lungs was forced out of me. My body felt a little numb as well, but I was clearly still alive, which was nice.

I heard coughing from the other side of the room followed by, “Jamie! Jamie, are you alright?” I groaned and pushed myself to all fours, trying to see through the dust that had thrown up. Twilight then exclaimed, “Oh wow, it did work! You must be Saiian!”

“Awesome,” I grumbled in irritation, “can you help me-” I stopped as I heard something very new about my voice -- specifically, I noticed the fact that my strong baritone had now become a silky alto...and I was not amused. “Alright, what the fuck happened to my voice?” I then pulled at the front of my shirt haphazardly. “And did you shrink my clothes too? My shirt’s really tight across the chest.”

The dust had caused me to close my eyes in futility, so I only heard the worried voice of Twilight say, “Uh oh.”

“No,” I spat out in growing agitation, “no ‘uh oh’. What the hell happened?”

“Don’t, um…” Twilight began quickly, nervously, “don’t open your eyes just yet.”

I growled, now equal parts angry and anxious. “Twilight…” I obediently kept my eyes shut, afraid of what I might see, but still tugged at my suddenly-uncomfortable shirt. That was when my hand met something that likely explained why my shirt felt so tight all of the sudden, and at the same time was likely the reason for my voice change. “Twilight, what I’m holding in my hand right now better not be what I think it is.” Well I could definitely feel it, so…

I made the worst mistake of the day thus far, and opened my eyes to look down.

“God-fucking-damn it.” I muttered, unable to say much else due to even levels of shock and righteous indignation. With possibly the most defeated sigh I had ever (or will ever) muster, I glanced to an extremely ashamed Twilight, and Saiian. “Did the part that was supposed to work, work?”

Twilight just bit her lip and glanced away for a moment before reaching out and- what the hell, how is she touching Saiian? “Better than I thought it would, actually.”

I then threw a glare Saiian’s way, and she just held her hands up in defense. “Hey, I said I didn’t know what was going to happen; I only promised you that you weren’t going to change to a different species, and Twilight promised you that you wouldn’t die. Technically speaking, both of us still spoke truthfully.”

Chancing it, I quickly stood and walked over to the unaffected side of the room, where a full-length mirror waited. Seeing as how it was designed for ponies, I flipped the horizontal mirror onto its side so that it was taller, and then tilted it back so that I could see myself.

My decidedly-shaggy hair now framed soft features and full lips, while every bit of facial hair I previously had must have disappeared during this ungodly event. My once-comfortable button-down shirt that Rarity had generously created for me was slightly stretched across the chest, and I could see the buttons straining a bit to contain two new mammaries that shouldn’t be there. Seeing as how the shirt was designed for a male human, it now looked like I was wearing a tent, as there was now about four or five inches of space between the cloth and my stomach. Further down, I noticed the crotch of my pants was quite a bit roomier while the behind was a bit more...snug.

This was like a bad dream; I had been magically gender-bent, but worst of all…

“Fuck, I’m hot!” I cried out, and the words sounded that much more pitiful being whined with a female voice.

Now I know most people out there, disregarding the fact of a forced sex-change, would be okay with turning out as an attractive member of the opposite gender. However, think about it for a minute: you’re a decent-looking guy with rather masculine features, and the next moment you find yourself looking at your own reflection and thinking, “I’d hit that.”

So yeah...a bit of an identity crisis going on.

Slowly turning my head with a glare that would kill lesser ponies, I locked on Twilight. “FIX. THIS.”

Twilight gulped and stepped away, even though I hadn’t moved from my spot. The posture of utter shame and regret would normally have caused me to stop and control myself, but I just lost my dick. So yeah, I wasn’t caring much at the moment.

“I-I don’t know how!” Twilight stammered as tears began to gather in her eyes. “I thought the circle would account for even chaos magic, but-”

“CHAOS MAGIC DOESN’T OBEY YOUR DAMN RULES!” I nearly screamed, grinding my teeth in fury. “YOU TOOK MY HORN, TWILIGHT!” She paused in her shame for a moment to look at me quizzically, only for me to point to my crotch. “MY HORN, TWI! GIVE ME BACK MY HORN OR I’M TAKING YOURS!”

Twilight scurried away from me and nodded frantically. “I-I’ll get right on it! I’m sorry!”

I took a few deep breaths to try and keep my anger from exploding again; it wasn’t her fault really, but while I knew that, I was now a woman. “Look...Twilight, I’m sorry. Just...please fix this. Do whatever you have to, but fix this as soon as you can.”

Twilight stopped quivering in fear, but still wore a frown as she nodded and began pulling books off of the shelves. I decided to take a seat and try not to feel or look too much at what had changed due to some magical fuck-up. Of course, still having the mind of a man caused a very strange thought to crop up almost immediately:

‘What would it be like to masturbate as a woman?’

“I heard that, Jamie.” Saiian commented with a smirk as she unceremoniously took a seat in my lap. The action should have bothered me, but let’s just say that while Saiian had cleaned up her actions to be more acceptable, she still had little to no understanding of personal space.

I rolled my eyes, but allowed her to take her chosen place. “It was just a random thought; I have hundreds of them a day, and most of them make no sense whatsoever.”

Saiian giggled and nodded. “Indeed, but this is one you can test.”

“Not gonna do it.” I grunted, though I’d never admit to myself outright that the idea did have some merit. Instead, I looked up to Saiian’s eyes and asked, “So, you’re real now?”

Saiian shook her head gently. “Not entirely. From what I understand, my body is now a magical construct born of ambient magic and reconstructed atoms.”

“Nuclear reconstitution…” I breathed in awe. “That supposed to just be a theory; it’s not supposed to be possible.”

Saiian laughed airily. “Chaos elementals live in the realm of impossibility, Jamie.” She then reached over to the main table of the library and pushed a book off of its surface, causing the tome to hit the floor. Twilight glanced back before her sparkling magical aura picked it up and placed it back on the table, at which point she returned to what she was doing.

“Couldn’t you have told me that turning into a woman would be a possibility?” I grumbled, though I was unable to completely stay upset at either Saiian or Twilight. What had happened wasn’t malicious in any way, and what Twilight was trying to do in the first place had worked.

Saiian just stared at me blankly. “What part of ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen’ didn’t you understand? That statement alone should have told you, ‘the chaos elemental doesn’t know, so that probably means anything could happen’. This was always a possibility, as was you growing a second head, or something similarly unexpected. All we knew for sure was that you wouldn’t die and the spell itself wouldn’t hurt you.”

“So the whole getting blown into a bookcase thing?” I grumbled with a roll of my eyes.

Saiian shook her head, glancing to the alicorn that was furiously sifting through several different books at the same time that were levitating around her. “If you remember correctly, that happened after the spell had been finished, and only came about from you attempting to leave the circle. My guess is that this was caused by some sort of magical feedback that the circle didn’t bleed away fast enough.” At my glare, Saiian held up her hands with an innocent expression. “Hey, it kept you from dying like we said, so be happy.”

I sent her a flat look. “I lost my dick and grew boobs as a trade. Forgive me if I’m not jumping for joy at not dying.”

A couple of knocks at the door announced someone’s arrival as the door opened, only to reveal Vinyl and Rainbow Dash returning. It was odd to see anyone coming to Twilight’s as the sun was going down, but then again it was likely they were waiting for me anyway.

Rainbow’s eyes immediately shot to Saiian and I, and she wore a confused look on her face as she asked, “Umm...when did we get more humans visiting?”

“We didn’t,” Twilight called from the side before trotting over and pointing to me, “that’s Jamie and Saiian. I messed up a spell and...well, that’s the result.”

Even though I was more than a little upset still, I wasn’t going to let Twilight take the blame for this. “You didn’t screw up, Twilight. Chaos magic is unpredictable by nature, so this was kinda always a possibility.”

Vinyl’s eyes widened even behind her glasses. “Your voice, Jamie…”

I sighed long and heavily. “I’m female now Vie. I got turned into the opposite sex, which means I lost something...and gained a few things.” I then looked to the two guests and smiled weakly. “I’m sorry about earlier, by the way. I was just...unnerved. I needed time to work through it on my own. As for the mark,” I held my hand up palm-in as Saiian did the same, “you’ll notice some similarities here.”

Rainbow’s eyes darted between the two of us briefly before she turned to Twilight. “What the hay was the spell supposed to do, Twilight?”

“It was supposed to give me the temporary ability to see and hear Saiian like Jamie does, but it seems that when I attempted to connect with his magic core, it...sorta fought back.” Twilight explained lamely, her ears and entire posture drooping in shame.

I stood, causing Saiian to stumble off of me as I made my way to the sulking alicorn princess and placed my hand on her shoulder, trying not to think about how dainty my hand was now. “Twilight, this isn’t your fault. You can’t really prepare for chaos, so don’t beat yourself up over it. Just...don’t take too long finding a fix for this. The moment I get used to being a woman is the moment I officially become crazy.”

“What’re these?” I heard Vinyl question as I felt a hoof poke one of my new -- and surprisingly sensitive -- addition to my chest.

With a gasp of both surprise and something else I’d rather not think about at the moment, I reared back and forcefully slapped the white hoof away. “Don’t do that!”

Twilight stepped between the two of us before anything more could happen, explaining, “Vinyl, you just poked the human equivalent of a teat.” The sight of Vinyl’s face suddenly turning bright pink must have been a clear indicator of what she felt, since she nodded. “Yes, so please be more careful; Faust-willing I’ll be able to fix this soon, but for the time being let’s try and keep from antagonizing Jamie. If he’s going to be stuck like this for a few days, we-”

“Wait a fucking minute,” I blurted in disbelief, “did you just say days?”

Twilight’s ears once again drooped, but this time she didn’t shy away as she explained, “In order to work on a counterspell I have to know what went wrong first, which means a lot of research and testing. If I do it wrong, it could kill you this time, so I’m asking for your patience please.”

I took a few deep breaths to calm myself down and keep from shouting again -- raising my voice wasn’t going to help anyone. “Alright fine. I don’t really have any choice but to trust you, since I know you know what you’re talking about. This just sucks is all, and I’m still not sure how I’m supposed to feel other than outraged.”

“Well,” Twilight began, chewing her lip as she thought, “there might be something I can immediately do to make you feel at least a little better, since those clothes don’t seem to fit you very well.” She closed her eyes and I felt the tingling of her magic against my bare skin all across my body for a moment before it relocated to my clothes. Slowly, my clothes resized to fit me properly, which was both a relief and disturbing.

I looked down at myself and frowned. “Thanks for that, but I hope you’ll be able to fix this as well after we figure out what went wrong -- this is one of my favorite outfits.”

Twilight nodded, finally smiling for the first time this whole thing went down. “I can and will; I’ll get started on the research right away, Jamie.” Once again she trotted off and began levitating books as she left me and the others to our devices.

As if called by some unseen force, the door opened once again as Spike and Shudder returned, and I mentally facepalmed.

“Wow, the library looks better than I thought it would.” Spike announced as she glanced around, only to frown when he noticed the state Twilight was in. He then looked to me and raised one of his brows. “Who’re you?”

“Jamie.” I deadpanned, sighed and slumping against the wall behind me. “Look, I’m not really in the mood to explain this all again, so I’m going to bed.” I pushed off the wall and walked toward the side hallway, tapping Twilight on the shoulder as I did so and muttering a goodnight to her as well as I left the main room.

Upon arriving in my room, I came to notice another issue.

“I’ve gotta get dressed down for bed...God, this is gonna be strange.” I muttered, mostly to myself.

Shudder alighted on the foot of my bed with a smirk. “Do it like ripping off a bandage. That’s the only way you’re going to get through this with most of your dignity intact.”

I groaned as I unbuttoned my pants and slid them down, quickly removing my button-down shirt as well. Looking over my underwear and undershirt, I shook my head. “Nope, not dealing with that today.” Instead I flicked off the magical light and slid into my bed as Shudder took her place, opting to try and ignore the new sensations that came up whenever I moved my shirt around, or shifted my thighs.

I’ll not lie and say I wasn’t...tempted.

“Are you going to keep moving around all night? I’ll knock you out if I have to.” Shudder growled from the foot of the bed.

“Step on a rusty nail, Shudder. I hope you grow a dick overnight so you know what I’m going through.” I shot back, more upset than I should have been, and I instantly felt bad.

For a long few uncomfortable moments we laid still, until Shudder muttered, “And that, my friend, is what mares have to deal with every day. Hormones are a bucking pain, so don’t ever think guys have it harder just because you have to control yourself from ‘standing at attention’ in public.”

I just rolled over, pulling the sheet tighter against me and grumbling, “Luna fuck me in the ass with a studded dildo, I still have another few days of this shit…”

Chapter 23: Adaptation

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Chapter 23: Adaptation

With bloodshot eyes and dark circles under them, I made my way to the library’s kitchen before dawn, as the new sensations and stress that accompanied such a large change had caused sleep to elude me all night. As a person that usually sleeps on my stomach, I found it distinctly uncomfortable now. Shudder followed behind, trying her best not to laugh at me and failing miserably. I could only hope Twilight had a more productive night than I did.

Already sitting at the center table and staring at that weird horsehead bust in the middle, was Twilight. She looked no better than I did, but she had thankfully already prepared some of the steaming morning nectar called coffee, as a large mug of it was sitting in front of her. She had that far-away look she always donned whenever she was thinking deeply, and I knew by experience that any attempt to get her attention would be useless, so I just made my way to the kitchen and poured myself a cup of black coffee. A mere sip of it caused a lot of the tension in my body to seemingly melt away, and I sighed happily before making my way back to the main room.

Twilight had continued staring blankly at the horsehead bust, so I pulled up a stool she kept around the library and sat next to her, snaking my arm around her shoulders and running my fingers comfortingly along her arm. While it’s true that Twilight hadn’t felt comfortable sharing sleeping quarters with me like Rainbow Dash or even Shudder, I had taken it upon myself to offer a reassuring presence whenever she seemed like she needed it, which was often. Twilight had a lot of good attributes, but she tended to become overstressed far too easily.

“I’m sorry, Jamie.” Twilight muttered suddenly, finally turning her head to look at me. “I don’t know what went wrong, and the only one who would know exactly what happened would be Discord himself.” She then sighed heavily, and leaned against me. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we can trust him to not make this situation worse.”

“I thought he’s supposed to be your friend now.” I prompted, causing Twilight to wince a bit and look away.

“I-I’m trying, but it’s hard to forget all the pain and suffering that ponies and my own friends had to endure because of him.” she answered disdainfully, as if the words themselves were causing her pain. “I know I’m supposed to trust that Fluttershy knows what she was doing when it came to befriending him, but…” She trailed off, unable to speak any further on the matter.

I nodded in understanding. “I can’t pretend I don’t agree with you there, Twilight; he’s a tough character to figure out. I mean half the time he seems to want to cause trouble, but the other half he actually seems like a decent guy.” I then shook my head and smiled softly at the alicorn in my grasp. “Still, I don’t think he directly had anything to do with this. Chaos magic might be his entire domain of power, but Discord isn’t the type of guy to play a prank and not own up to it.”

She nodded reluctantly. “Yes, you’re right. Still, I think eventually we might have to go and ask him his thoughts on this entire event. I’ve just about exhausted all my possible leads already, as the spell I cast can’t cause anything like this without outside interference. To put it simply, your chaos magic is what caused this to happen, though what’s unclear is how -- there weren’t any spell matrices built for transmogrification.”

I sighed and brought my hand to run my fingers through her mane in what I hoped was a comforting manner. “Look...I can’t say that I’m fine with it, because I’m not, but I’m also not angry with you. I just want this fixed, but I also don’t want you to rush things and make a mistake, so take whatever time you need to in order to get this handled.” I then grasped her chin and forced her to look at me. “But don’t burn yourself out either, Twilight. I want you to sleep tonight -- none of this ‘stay up all night and research-all-the-things’.”

She giggled weakly, but nodded. “Alright Jamie, I promise. Now,” she pushed away from me and stood, downing the rest of her coffee in the process, “I need to get as much research out of today as I can, and I think it would be a good idea for you to get out for a little bit. Spend time with your friends -- I’ll send a letter off to the princesses letting them know the situation, so stars-willing they’ll be by to see you later in the day after they’ve finished their royal duties.”

I looked down at the alicorn and frowned. “You want me to go outside like this?”

Twilight turned around and nodded as books began flying off the shelves and levitating to the table. “Besides the fact that I need to be free of distractions, I know you, Jamie: if you have to sit around in this place with nothing to do but think, you’re going to just get more and more stressed until you crack. Some fresh air and things to do will be good for you, and I’m sure Saiian would love to experience it all, as well.”

I raised my brow and started looking around. “Speaking of my elemental troublemaker, where is she? I would have thought she would join me in bed sooner or later, but she never showed.”

Twilight pointed to the stairs. “Curiously enough, she began to get fatigued as the night went on, so I offered my bed to her. She’s probably still upstairs, if you want to wake her.”

Shudder broke her silence with a smirk and, “That could be fun. I wonder how deep a sleeper an elemental is.”

I shrugged and made my way to the stairs, waving to Twilight. “All right then, we’ll find something to do today that hopefully keeps hijinks to a minimum...maybe. I promise not to cause too much property damage.” Twilight rolled her eyes before taking a seat at the table and beginning her work. With that, Shudder and I ascended the stairs -- her floating above my head -- and headed towards Twilight’s room. I only hesitated for a moment before pushing the door open and stepping inside.

Twilight was a rather open pony, but even so, I’d had reason to be in her bedroom only twice before; it was spacious, and crammed full of books. Her bed was up on a small balcony next to a window, to maximize the space in the room to allow more room for said books. Twilight was an alicorn now, but still just a simple pony, and so she had a bed that was only large enough for herself. Because of this, the haphazardly placed limbs of a certain elemental could easily be seen dangling from the sides of the bed as I approached.

Shudder chuckled softly, but said nothing as I stood over the sleeping form of Saiian, and I gave a grin and a thumbs up to her before turning back to Saiian and poking her in the ribs. She snorted in her sleep and slapped my hand away before going back to snoring. I giggled (yes, giggled) despite myself, and poked her again, eliciting the same reaction. Still, she didn’t wake, but slowly, a rather unorthodox way to wake up the deep-sleeper began to take shape in my mind. It would be a bit odd on my part -- and maybe a bit cruel -- but I wasn’t going anywhere without Saiian.

Besides, I owed her quite a bit of payback for all the teasing she’d given me.

“I apologize for what you’re about to witness,” I said aloud to Shudder, “but she had it coming, I promise.” Shudder had only a moment to open her mouth with a question ready before I unbuttoned my pants and jerked them down, kicking them to the side before I swung my leg over Saiian’s waist and mounted her in quite the compromising position. I unbuttoned my top and pulled it apart, revealing my resized undershirt that was straining against two orbs of flesh that shouldn’t be there. Next, after hesitating a moment, I whipped off my undershirt to bare my chest.

I should have felt strange and maybe even a bit nauseous, but all I could be at the moment was impressed at the perfection in front of me.

“...so those are-”

“Yep.” I answered Shudder quickly. “Don’t poke them like Vinyl did, or we’ll be fighting.”

I saw her nod out of the corner of my eye. “O-kay, but what are you…?”

I grabbed one of Saiian’s hands in response, and before I could chicken out, brought the open palm to cup one of the...things. I had to stifle a gasp at just how warm it felt, but knew that this was all part of the payback I was about to issue in spades. Holding her hand where it was, I leaned down over Saiian and opened my mouth before giving a firm, yet ultimately harmless, bite to her throat.

The result was instantaneous.

Saiian jerked awake, and I hid my face in her collar, faking sobs as I cried out, “I give myself completely to you, and you FALL ASLEEP?! You promised me an amazing night! How could you?”

A confused mumble was my answer, followed by her body shuffling and her hand testing what it was holding for a moment, the latter of which I grimaced at, but allowed to keep the ruse going. After a few moments of this, Saiian completely froze, and from my position I could quite clearly hear as her magically-constructed heart began racing madly.

I heard a strong gulp before she answered, “J-Jamie, whatever happened, I-I swear I never meant-”

The whole time I had been waiting, I had kept my eyes open until they burned, and blinked a few times to cause tears to appear. I sat up and theatrically flung her hand away from my chest, glaring down at her with glassy eyes. “You swore to me that if I trusted you, you would take care of me; how can you do that if you’re PASSED OUT?!” The grogginess from her first sleep in her new body still had Saiian completely confused as to what had happened -- which had been my plan all along -- which left her to lay there like a fool with her mouth hanging open. After a minute of watching her silently combing her brain for just how we had ended up in this situation, I could no longer keep a smile from coming to my lips. Her confusion grew as I leaned forward, only for me to whisper into her ear: “Gotcha.”

I pulled away, and watched as Saiian stared at me for a few moments. Then, she suddenly shook her head vigorously and pushed me away so she could sit up, chanting, “Why, WHY, WHY?!”

I was barely able to put my shirt back on because I was laughing so hard, but dressed before collapsing onto the small bed in laughter. It was the long, deep laughter that made your stomach hurt, and I realized just how nice it felt, because of all that had happened lately. Pinkie was right: a good laugh is sometimes all we need to brighten the day. What helped brighten my morning further was the fact that Shudder was laughing just as hard as I was.

It felt good to get one over on the flirty elemental, for once.

“All right all right, that’s enough!” Saiian grumbled in embarrassment. “You’ve laughed enough at my expense this morning, I think.”

My laughs petered out as I wrested control of myself from said laughter. After a few deep breaths and residual chuckles, I nodded to her. “Fine then, no more teasing...for now.” Her look of annoyance only prompted me to smile wider. “Oh, I think I have quite a bit of payback for you, and I aim to collect, now that you have a physical body to mess with.”

Saiian frowned -- a mild scowl, really. “I’ll admit it’s not as much fun from this end. And why do I feel so warm?!” The too-thin tank top she was wearing did little to hide her chest as she fluttered it to get some airflow, but I was still grinning like an idiot regardless. This caused the mild scowl to deepen as Saiian barked, “What the hell’s so funny?”

“You.” I answered simply, pointing at her face, which was becoming red-tinted in places. “Getting a little heated there, dear? I guess you can’t take it when it’s directed towards you.”

“What are you talking about?” she spat, frustrated that she was having a rapid increase in body temperature. I had to remind myself that Saiian had never experienced the joys of a body of flesh and blood; even when she was in her chaos elemental form, she didn’t have flesh as most people thought of it. That only made the whole experience more entertaining for me.

I was smirking like a fool at what was unfolding, and the whole experience was going to entertain me for some time, yet. “You’ve been teasing me for months with your body, and what you’re feeling right now is what I felt all those times you would brush yourself against me purposefully, or flashed skin, or did something else that you knew would rile me up. Payback’s a cunt, and I’m just the prick to take advantage of that.” Before she could fire off a response, I answered, “And yes, Shudder, I realize the innuendo I made there. You’re welcome.” The pony in question was hanging on to me, trying not to fall out of the air as she laughed off to the side.

Saiian just glared at me before rubbing her skin, and grimacing. “...Jamie?”

I was still smirking at the novelty of this whole experience, which included the new things Saiian was experiencing. “Yes dear?”

Her twisted expression didn’t abate as she mumbled out, “...I need you to show me how to shower.”

My smile fell away completely.

“I’m sweating.” Saiian explained, running her fingers over her skin. “What happens when you sweat and don’t wash?”

I nodded in understanding. “Right, you’ll stink.” I looked down at own borrowed body, and frowned. “Well, I guess it was inevitable anyway. Come on then, let’s go get this over with.” I held out my hand to Saiian until I felt hers rest in mine, and gently pulled her along with me toward the washroom.

Bathing as a female was...an experience.

Seeing as how I had the most experience with the human body out of the two of us, Saiian simply observed as I washed myself first, offering what little tips I could here and there for making sure everything was clean. I could say I would react differently if I had been in a similar situation with someone else, but that would be a lie, only because with anyone else, said situation would have never gotten past the bathroom door. That being said, one of the only reasons I didn’t feel all that bothered by Saiian was because, for once, she was being completely serious about the whole thing, and because I knew she already knew what my nude body looked like, from no direct fault of her own. The second reason I wasn’t really bothered was because I was, for all intents and purposes, a female now, but the body didn’t feel like it was mine; instead, it felt like a costume I couldn’t take off, that reacted the exact same way my body would to external stimuli. As long as I kept all that in mind, it wasn’t really a problem for me to bathe in front of the extremely attractive woman who regularly shared my bed.

The only issue that cropped up was when it came to washing my new gender swaps.

With a night for my brain to acclimate to the new body and the sensations it provided, said parts were far less sensitive than the day before. Nonetheless, I will readily admit that the new feelings were odd, to say the least. What normally would have taken 5-10 minutes took about twenty, as I had to be careful not to accidentally arouse myself just from washing, which turned a minor chore into an ordeal. After all, I hadn’t had any sexual contact since I had come to Equis, so let’s just say I was more than a little pent-up.

Then came the joy of getting Saiian cleaned up.

Any other time I would have accused her of being purposefully clumsy just to tease and pressure me into helping, but her facial expressions and tone of voice assured me she was genuinely not sure how to handle having a body of flesh and blood for the first time in her life. Nothing untoward happened, but there were a few times I had to directly point out places that needed attention, as well as quite literally hold her hand and show her how to massage shampoo into her hair and scalp. It took awhile, but I was confident in the results, and was pleased with myself for only spending about 30% of the time staring at her nakedness, instead of all of it. That didn’t mean I was going to allow this to become a regular thing, as Saiian was still a hot, naked woman, but I wasn’t going to let her fumble around aimlessly when she legitimately needed help. I’ll admit it was a struggle not to touch her, though, and I’m fairly sure the blush in my cheeks will never completely die down.

After getting ourselves cleaned, I’d had to go to Twilight once more to resize two outfits -- one for me, and one for Saiian -- before taking Shudder with us out into the town. Much like when I first came to Equis, I was the subject of stares, which gave me a feeling of negative nostalgia, since it just made me feel like a freak...again. In addition, I’d had to introduce Saiian to everyone as a “friend” of mine (which wasn’t strictly a lie, but neither was it the complete truth), while also reintroducing myself to the few ponies I regularly spoke to with more than just a passing greeting.

Eventually, we made our way to Sugarcube Corner for breakfast, which was a whole ‘nother thing altogether. First of all, the entire restaurant went dead silent when we entered, which made me want to melt into the floor. Then, once the novelty of two aliens and an unknown pegasus had worn off a bit, Pinkie glomped me and made sure to tell me how much more “soft and squishy” I was now. Furthermore, something that shouldn’t have been disturbing was: Saiian was completely silent the whole time. I would be sure to ask her about it later, but after breakfast, I couldn’t get out of Sugarcube Corner fast enough.

From there, we headed to the small field near Applejack’s farm to just enjoy the sunny day and get some peace and quiet as two of us (two guesses as to who) sorted through our recent changes to our lives. With the lack of sleep catching up with me and the comfort we all offered each other by sheer proximity, Shudder, Saiian and I all fell asleep on each other.

I was awakened sometime in the late afternoon by a firm object pressing on my stomach. Grumbling, I opened my eyes to see a certain solar alicorn looking down at me with concern clear in her expression. She leaned down close to my face and offered a comforting, silent nuzzle as I roused myself from my nap. I felt loads better after some sleep, though the obvious lack of a male body was impossible to ignore. Saiian was practically wrapped around me, still sleeping, while Shudder was already pulling her wing away from where it had covered my thighs while she rested. I pulled away from the sleep-snuggling Saiian and stood, stretching and popping a few joints as I did so. I then silently grabbed Celestia’s face in my hands and gently stroked her cheeks as I rested my head beside hers and let out a long sigh.

“Long day, Jamie?” Celestia whispered quietly, accepting the affection I gave her without complaint.

Again I sighed -- there didn’t seem to be any shortage of those for today. “The longest so far. Yesterday, I gained a freaky mark on my body; today, I’m a woman. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find out I’m pregnant with this world's savior.”

“I’m just glad you’re whole and healthy.” Celestia answered, her large wing brought up around my back to hold me closer.

I chuckled and moved her head over my shoulder to hold her closer to me as well. “I think ‘healthy’ is a relative term. Losing my penis and growing a vag isn’t exactly what I’d call normal by any measure, even in Equestria.”

Celestia giggled softly, pulling away to look at me. Her face morphed into a frown then, as she chastised, “You worried us yesterday, Jamie. I wish you wouldn’t push others away when you’re upset.”

“We all have our own ways of coping, Princess.” I answered, shaking my head as I explained, “I’m surrounded by friends every day, so once in awhile, I just need to be off on my own to think things out. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the support -- because I do -- but I’m still not exactly the most social guy…” I then glanced down at myself and grimaced, “...girl.”

She nodded and released me, stepping away to give us some space. “Twilight sent a message late last night advising me of what had transpired after we left. I must admit, I am stumped as to what could have caused this particular change.”

“I have a theory.” Saiian’s voice groaned out from behind me, only for the elemental to appear beside me a moment later. She looked me over briefly before turning to the princess and asking, “You have the ability to perform minor transmutation, right?” Celestia nodded, a brow cocked in interest. Saiian pointed to me and said, “Change the color of my hair and eyes to match his.”

Celestia’s brow climbed a bit higher, but she nodded before lighting her horn up and covering Saiian in a golden glow. As I watched, Saiian’s fiery hair and eyes cooled until they matched mine, but I still wasn’t quite sure what she was getting at until I heard: “By the stars...you’re identical.”

Shudder floated over from off to the side, and ran a scrutinizing eye over me and Saiian. After a few moments, she backed off and nodded firmly. “The princess is right: physically, you look exactly alike. I think I know what Saiian is getting at, since I’ve been observing your behaviors today.” Saiian’s hair and eyes faded back to their natural colors, but the frown on my face did not abate.

I gulped, mildly worried at what this all meant. “And?”

Shudder pointed to me first. “That stunt you pulled this morning was something you would have never done normally,” I blushed at the memory, but was thankful she had kept the details quiet, “regardless of how upset you were. I think I know you well enough that you actually tend to avoid anything of that nature with anypony. Furthermore, your responses to the ponies around you -- from friends to mere acquaintances -- have been far more...colorful, than normal. At first I thought it simply because of lack of sleep or different hormonal effects, but after observing Saiian as well, I’ve come to a conclusion of how I believe the change is affecting the two of you.” I kept silent and just nodded to Shudder, prompting her to explain further. “In essence, the spell took attributes from both of you and swapped them equally between the two, which is causing changes in behavior. Princess Luna told me a bit about the Saiian she remembers, and the way this one has been acting,” she thrust a hoof at Saiian, “is not what I was prepared for at all.”

I chewed on my lip at the explanation, not liking how much sense it made. “That’s...surprisingly astute of you.”

Shudder’s brow furrowed as she sent a soft glare my way. “I told you: I’m Princess Luna’s best -- the best isn’t stupid, Jamie. I’ve studied magic extensively as part of my training, as well as psychology, and your behavioral changes were severe enough that I noticed them immediately.”

All was quiet for a few moments before I finally voiced, “So I’m losing myself…”

“Adaptation is what helps us survive, Jamie, and oftentimes, our core personalities can change because of mental or emotional trauma.” Celestia explained soberly. “You have done well to overcome the changes and challenges brought upon you by your journey to Equis, but it stands to reason that chaos magic -- whether it be internal or external -- will affect you the same it would a pony. Discord showed Twilight and the other Element-bearers just how powerful chaos magic can be when worked on the mind.”

I glanced to Saiian briefly, who had a blank look on her face, before looking back to Celestia. “Can it be reversed?”

“Of course it can. However…” she began, swallowing thickly, “...we would have to remove the chaos magic from your body.”

“But my chaos magic is…” I looked to Saiian again, who finally brought her eyes to mine. In those eyes, I saw an apology, but also fear. After thinking it over for a moment, I realized why, and could only answer with a firm, “No.”

Celestia moved into my field of view, a worried frown on her face. “Jamie, are you sure?”

“Saiian’s influence alone is what keeps this planet’s gravity from crushing me, and there’s no telling what your natural bacteria or viruses would do to me.” I explained flatly, realizing just how much I actually needed Saiian. However, my desire to have Saiian with me was not only for survival. “Besides: even with her quirks, she’s a good friend, and I can’t do that to her. There’s no telling what it might do to her, and I can’t risk something bad happening.”

Celestia stared at me for a few moments before she spoke again. “This isn’t transmutation, Jamie: a personality change of this nature may be permanent. I have no doubt that Twilight will eventually find a way to give you your true body back, but to fiddle with the mind would be unnecessarily dangerous.”

I shrugged, secretly surprised at how okay I felt with that. “I still feel like me, so I’ll make due.”

“What you feel regarding your sense of self is biased, Jamie.” Celestia warned. “I can confidently say that the previous ‘you’ would be extremely upset by this.”

“A branch that refuses to bend will eventually break.” I replied sagely.

Shudder raised her hoof to retort, only to close her mouth for a few moments. Finally, she stammered out, “D-did...did you just quote Zen Master Bodhi?”

I raised an eyebrow at the statement, again surprised at the parallels between Equis and the world I came from. “Did I? On my world, that’s a simplified version of a teaching from zen buddhism, which is a religion on my world.” I shrugged and hummed to myself. “Interesting that there are so many parallels between us.”

Celestia broke in to get us back on track. “Regardless, I need you to think seriously on this, Jamie. You have changed as a person, and I want to be sure that-”

“If this is what I am now, I’m not going to kill Saiian to get the ‘old’ me back.” I interrupted firmly. “Besides, all my friends have told me that I need to loosen up a bit.”

“This isn’t what they meant, Jamie, and you know it.” Saiian finally spoke, her expression showing clear regret. “I promised you -- just a day ago -- that who you are inside would not change, and I’m still not sure you were completely comforted by it. You were just barely holding yourself together, and now you claim you’re fine with it.”

I shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know any different, at this point. I remember all that, and I remember freaking out about becoming a woman, but besides wanting to be a man again...well, maybe a bit of a personality change wouldn’t be such a bad thing. I was kind of difficult to be around sometimes, and everyone knows it. I was broody, temperamental, and far too serious.”

“But you were you, Jamie, and we wouldn’t want you to be anyone else.” Celestia assured.

I shrugged again. “Does that mean that I’ve suddenly lost you as a friend?”

Celestia bit her lip and shook her head slowly. “Well...no, but-”

“Then all’s well.” I concluded resolutely. “If I get my old thought processes back, I’ll freak out then, but right now it would be pointless to make myself upset simply for the sake of being upset. Right now, all I really feel wrong about is the fact that I’m a woman, as well as being strangely calm about it. I mean, granted, there’s nothing I can do about it on my own, but last night I was freaking out. I can tell that from last night to today my thoughts on the whole thing have changed, but that doesn’t really bother me as much as it should. At the moment, all I can do is go with the flow; that’s the only way I’m going to get out of any of this with my sanity still intact.” Before anyone else could say anything, my stomach let out a loud roar, which prompted me to rub my stomach with a frown. “Right, I haven’t eaten anything since this morning.”

“Well,” Celestia began, leaning forward to give a quick nuzzle, “I must return to Canterlot -- the day is nearly over, and I am sure my advisors would like to know where I am.” I watched as she stepped away, her horn lighting up briefly as a shimmering bubble appeared around us. She gave me one last smile before stepping away and taking to the air. I felt the magical bubble pass over me as she pulled away, at which point she vanished into thin air.

“Y’know,” I said, shaking my head with a grin, “I don’t think I’ll ever get over just how great magic is. So...pub?”

Shudder glanced to me and shrugged, after thinking for a moment. “Pub.”

Equis was a world of olden times -- for me, at least -- which meant smaller towns had thatched roofing, candles instead of electric lighting, and quills and inkwells instead of ink pens. Because of this, there weren’t many actual restaurants around; instead, every town had 2-3 pubs, which served as a place to get drinks of all kinds, as well as good, hot food and a friendly atmosphere. Most of said pubs were family-owned establishments, where everyone was welcome, and no one with bits left with an empty stomach. Needless to say, I had spent a lot of my early time on Equis in said establishments, trying to drink the pain away, but they were much more important to the community than simple “watering holes”. Pubs were a place to cast off the stress and titles of the day and just enjoy oneself, where a complete stranger could become a best friend, and even enemies could deign to share a drink as a token of goodwill to bury the hatchet.

I had spent a lot of time in a specific pub -- named The Wise Guardian after one of Luna’s constellations -- with Vinyl, getting to know the local populace, as well as the local drinks. Because of this, many of the regulars to the establishment knew me by name, or at least by sight (the latter of which wasn’t too hard, mind you). It was because of this that, while my body’s shape had changed radically, it wasn’t difficult for the owner of the establishment to recognize me with a gasp.


I looked over at the petite, chocolate-colored earth mare, who was staring at me from behind the bar counter. “Afternoon, Chocolate Stout. How are things going?”

The small pony looked me over again, shaking her head. “...u-um, o-okay, I guess. What about you though?” She gestured generally, then wrinkled her muzzle as she sniffed the air and stared at me for a moment. “...a-are you a mare now?”

“Woman.” I corrected blandly, taking a seat on a stool next to an open table close to the bar. “Whip us up some drinks, Stout. I’d also like to get three of your veg pies, if I could.” Well aware of what I liked to eat and drink after my visits to the establishment, Chocolate Stout nodded and whispered to one of her workers before ducking behind the bar counter, the sound of wooden tankards clonking together accompanying her movements.

“Spent a lot of time here, have you?” Shudder commented off-handedly.

I shrugged. “I went on a bit of an alcoholic binge for the first week or so of my stay here. Vinyl was good company, but the true reason for my outings was this place and its ale.” The memory of those first few times caused a chuckle to bubble up in my throat. “We found out pretty quick that hay-themed drinks did not agree with my digestive system, but ethanol works just fine.” I then frowned as I thought of something. “I always noticed Vinyl sprinkling salt in her drinks, though; is that a pony thing?”

Shudder nodded to me, pointing to the bar. “When the barmare brings the drinks over, you’ll notice her also bring a small bowl of salt with it. Ethanol doesn’t get us drunk like it does you; instead, it’s the dehydration that does it. Alcohol is just a drink that happens to be able to dissolve salt quickly, and in large quantities.”

I hummed to myself, remembering something I’d heard months before. “It makes a lot more sense now, I guess: I remember Octavia commenting that Vinyl liked her salt a bit too much. Didn’t make much sense to me until right now, though.”

At that moment, Chocolate Stout brought three mugs of what I assumed was cider, as well as a bowl of salt for the table. She then looked up at me and bit her lip for a moment, looking nervous. “S-so, umm…” she motioned to me generally, “what the hay happened?”

“Magical mishap.” I answered plainly, taking a long draw of the sweet alcohol and enjoying the good burn that came with it. I couldn’t help but see the action of Shudder sprinkling salt in her drink differently, now that I knew the reason for it.

“I see.” Chocolate Stout answered with a frown. “Is it permanent?”

At the thought, I felt my body freeze for a moment before I brought tankard to my lips and took a much longer pull from it. I nearly slammed the mug onto the table as I answered, “It better fucking not be. I want my dick back.”

Chocolate Stout nodded to me. “I’d imagine so. Stars, I can’t even imagine what this is like for you.”

“It sucks.” I concluded blandly, holding up my now-empty tankard for a refill. Chocolate Stout frowned worriedly, but took the empty mug and went to the bar to fill it up again. It was then that I looked to Saiian, who was just staring down into her own tankard, a cautious look on her face. “Just drink it.”

Saiian looked up at me before sniffing the liquid and shrugging, taking a tentative sip. The sip was small enough that she only had to clear her throat instead of coughing like a newbie. “It’s...interesting.”

I shrugged, turning back to my own drink as Chocolate Stout placed it on the table. “After the second mug, you won’t even taste it. Besides, it’s what the alcohol does that’s important, not necessarily what it tastes like.” I took a large gulp of my cider, enjoying the fact that on Equis, alcohol’s taste didn’t necessarily coincide with its strength; Sweet Apple Acres Special Reserve, for example, tasted almost like common apple cider, but could knock a pony off of their hooves if they weren’t careful, even without salt. Alcohol was still a diuretic, after all.

“Aaaand three vegetable pies, fresh out of the oven.” the serving mare chimed in, using her nose and no small amount of natural dexterity to slide three small pies on plates to Saiian, Shudder and I, before she smiled at us. “Will that be all?”

I nodded and reached in my bit bag, pulling out three of them and placing them in the small pouch that hung around her neck. “Yeah, that’ll be all. Thanks for the quick service, miss.”

The earth pony mare flashed me a wide grin and nodded, trotting back toward the kitchen and leaving us to eat and drink in peace. I mentally thanked the mare’s professionalism, as I didn’t want to focus on anything but getting as much food and drink into me as I could, and then passing out in a soft bed, preferably with a warm body to cuddle with.

I was feeling emotionally drained and vulnerable; don’t judge me.

“Y’know,” Shudder began, pausing to drop some salt into her drink before taking a long swig, “it’s been almost three years since I’ve been able to sit down like this and just relax in a pub with friends. Last time I did this was with my sister, before she became pregnant.” She let out a soft chuckle and poured more of the salted drink down her throat, audibly smacking her lips. After setting the tankard down onto the table, she let out a long sigh and stared blankly at the table for a long few moments. “I miss this, sometimes. The life of a guard is demanding, and I don’t get much time anymore to just...be a pony.”

I reached around the suddenly-morose pony and scratched behind her ears, joking, “Don’t go all ‘boo-hoo’ on us now, Shudder. If you’re the First Lieutenant, you got there because you’re the best, so be proud of what you’ve done.”

Shudder accepted the ear-scratch with only a slight rolling of her eyes into the back of her head, but composed herself a moment later to look to me and shrug helplessly. “I just wanted to protect the ponies I care about, which is why I joined the guard in the first place. As the years passed, things just got more and more demanding, and suddenly I realized that I rarely even see the ponies I joined for in the first place. Sometimes I wish I could just quit and go home, y’know?” Shudder then grabbed the mug with both hooves and upended it, chugging the half-full mug before slamming it down and motioning to the bar for another. “But...at the same time, I worry about what could happen if I weren’t where I am. I’ve prevented assassinations, watched over the princesses themselves while they slept, and have foiled more than a few coup attempts on the crown, but sometimes I wonder if it’s all worth it.”

“I couldn’t see you doing anything else, Shudder.” I answered with a smile, petting the mane of the unarmored guardspony. “You’re great at what you do, and I’ve seen you -- you love what you do.” I pointed to her cutie mark, which was a shadowy figure looking out over a moonlit field. “You’re the ‘Night-Watcher’, the very idea that protects ponies when they rest. Because of what you represent and the work you do, ponies across Equestria can sleep at night with just a little less fear of the dark, because they know that along with the beasties in the shadows, you and yours are there as well, to fight them off.” I patted her on the neck gently as she glanced up at me, a curious look on her face. “Your niece feels safer knowing that Auntie Shudder is chasing away the monsters before they can even get underneath her bed, and that’s something to be proud of.”

A faint smile spread across her lips, and Shudder bumped her shoulder into me as she muttered a “thank you”. I then took the odd, fabric-looped spoon that ponies used (similar utensils were often all that were available to me) and broke the crust of the vegetable pie given to me. Steam billowed out of it, along with the enticing scent of roasted vegetables and a thick gravy, the latter made from some kind of root that ponies used for a more “meaty” taste. Saiian followed suit, fumbling with the spoon as she did so, while Shudder strapped the utensil to her hoof before following our example. After a few quiet minutes of waiting so that we wouldn’t burn our mouths, the three of us took our first bites of the roasted pies.

I’ll admit, it would be better with some chicken or beef in it, but ponies did a damn good job for just using vegetables.

“I went for longer than I can remember without being able to eat or taste food.” Saiian commented upon swallowing her most recent bite of food. She shakily held another spoonful up into the air, looking over it critically. “It’s a wonder that I can’t accurately put into words, and ponies and other creatures of flesh and blood take it for granted every day. From the time you all are born, you’re eating and drinking -- smelling and tasting -- while I was created only with the ability to feel and see magic.” She shook her head with a gentle smile, taking another bite of the pie and chewing with a blissful look on her face. After swallowing, she looked to me, happy as could be. “I don’t think I’d mind having a fleshy body, if it means experiences like these.”

I nearly choked as I laughed, pounding my chest in an effort to dislodge the chewed food that had been halfway swallowed. Saiian and Shudder looked at me with concern, only for me to cough a few times and wave my hand dismissively at them, letting both know I was okay. Still, if Saiian thought a pub pie was great…

“I can still hear you, Jamie.” Saiian whispered, just close and quiet enough that only I could hear. “I think I can assume where your mind was heading, and I must say that I’m up for it if you are.”

“Not doing it.” I grunted, frowning and turning my face down, trying to hide the fact her suggestion caused blood to congregate in my cheeks from embarrassment. I wasn’t embarrassed by the fact that she was teasing me, again, regarding sex -- or, more accurately, my lack of it; rather, I felt ashamed at the fact that her suggestion held quite a bit more feasibility now, with her having a real, physical body. One of the problems with the whole thing was, “You’re an elemental, and this is your first time having a body of flesh and blood; you have no idea what you’re even asking.”

“I know what procreation is, Jamie.” her voice answered in my head, the echo-ey tone reminiscent of the time before she “showed” herself to me that first time, so long ago. As I glanced to her, she went back to consuming her pie and sipping her drink, but her eyes were still shooting to me periodically. “Besides: I built the image of this body from your memories, and I know everything you do regarding human biology, the stimuli it can detect in the world, and how it reacts to said stimuli. Granted, you had no idea how a female body worked from the perspective of having one, but recent events have changed that, haven’t they? Physically,” she made a subtle show of “accidentally” brushing her hands over her chest before going back to her food and drink, “I am a living, breathing human, complete with everything that comes with such a state...and I do mean everything.”

I was never exactly sure how to respond, so I just thought the words without saying them, hoping that would work. Even then, I silently went back to my meal, determined to get something inside me to sate my hunger and…

I just realized how that sounded.

“You’re still a chaos elemental, which means that there’s a good chance that when Twilight fixes all this, you’ll cease to be ‘real’.” I thought, hoping the words would get to her somehow. “Even if I were interested -- which I’m totally not -- I can’t do that to myself...or you.”

I saw as Saiian glanced at me out of the corner of her eye, but said nothing as we continued our meals in silence.

I’m ashamed to say that I drank quite a bit more than I should have, and was barely able to walk home without stumbling every few steps. Shudder was even worse off, and while I was sure she would still be able to dominate in a real fight, somehow, she wasn’t going to be walking or flying much of anywhere, which was why I had her on my back, receiving a piggy-back ride from yours truly...which was likely part of the reason my balance was so inconsistent.

Saiian, by comparison, was much better off. Contrary to what I had expected of her, she had been very conservative when it came to drinks, and the only indication she was intoxicated at all was a faint blush on her cheeks, and a smile that wouldn’t leave her face. I had been worried that I would have to drag a rambunctious elemental around town, but I was surprised to find her the one with the most sobriety out of the three of us. A part of me was a little disappointed -- a drunk Saiian could have been fun to mess with.

We arrived back at Twilight’s library a little after the moon had reached its highest place in the sky, which meant it was around midnight. The roads had been mercifully empty, which made the stumble back to Twilight’s much quicker, as I didn’t need to explain to anyone what had happened to me, let alone who Saiian was.

With a brief moment to pull out the key and unlock the door, I tromped into the library, mentally cursing for making so much noise in the process. Still, if what I knew about Twilight and Spike proved to be true, nothing short of a bomb going off would wake either of them up before they were ready. I wasn’t at all surprised to see Twilight herself snoring beside an open book at the main reading table (thank goodness; she’d have a conniption if she’d drooled on the book), and the absence of Spike told me he was likely upstairs, already asleep in her room. I kneeled and let Shudder slide off my back, then pointed to the hallway that housed my room, ordering her to get to sleep while she could still walk.

I made my way over to Twilight and shut the book, smiling down at the cute little alicorn bookworm. I then reached down and gathered her in my arms, lifting her off the ground with the intent of taking her to bed. Twilight’s wings flapped weakly in her sleep, but quickly relaxed and hung limply as I turned on my heel and began the slow, unsteady trek up the stairs.

“Are you sure you should be carrying her?”

I glanced back at Saiian briefly, who was thankfully just behind me. I then looked back toward the other half of stairs I still had to climb, and frowned. “Just...have your hands ready to catch me in case I fall.” After only a moment, I very clearly felt as two hands settled on my… “I meant my back, not my a- you know what? Fuck it...just don’t let me fall.” With two hands now settled on my behind, I resumed my journey up the stairs, trying the best I could to firmly put one foot in front of the other without taking an unplanned stair-dive, with an unwilling alicorn passenger.

Thankfully, I was steady enough to make it to the second floor without any incidents, and Twilight was still asleep. Granted, I had to turn my head and raise a curious eyebrow to Saiian when her hands didn’t immediately leave me. After catching my eye, the elemental snatched her hands away as if she’d grabbed a hot coal, and turned away from me mumbling a “sorry”. With that out of the way, I bumbled my way to Twilight’s bedroom and knee’ed the door open to the moonlit room. I was thankful for the longer steps she had leading up to her bedroom, and opted to take them instead of the ladder Spike used to quickly get up and down from Twilight’s window nook. Finally, I reached Twilight’s bed and took a knee on it as I tried to pry her off of me, as she had wrapped all four hooves around me as I carried her, and there was no getting around the fact that ponies were strong. Unfortunately, I knew of only one surefire way to get her to let go of me...but it was a little underhanded.

Slowly, I brought one of my hands up from her rump -- where I’d been supporting her weight -- and began to run two fingers between the wing joints on her back. Immediately, her wings began to straighten from their hanging position into a wide flare, and Twilight’s hooves went completely limp as she let out a faint hum in her sleep. With my task completed, I laid Twilight on her back, and gently coaxed the now-relaxing wings to close until they were tucked safely at her sides. However, to my surprise and mild shock, Twilight’s eyes opened as I pulled the blanket up to her chest and tucked it in. She seemed to still be half-asleep, since she only smiled softly, and craned her neck up to give a soft kiss on my cheek and a mumbled “thank you” before she closed her eyes and laid onto the pillow. Within only another moment, she was letting out quiet snores, so I pulled away and stood from the bed.

“...did that just happen?” Saiian whispered from beside me, and in doing so, voiced my own confused thoughts.

“Twilight’s never done that before.” I mumbled, completely in shock from the sudden gesture of affection.

Twilight hadn’t ever been distant with me, but she tended to show her affection with words and actions in her day-to-day life, rather than with direct physical acts, such as hugging or even nuzzles. So, the question was: what did I make of it? Well, if she was only half-awake at the time, it was likely she thought I was someone else -- someone she really cared for -- and...wait, no that wouldn’t work. Twilight was able to wake up out of a dead sleep and recite all sixteen lines of the Thaumatic Principles before her eyes even opened, so “sleep-goggles” couldn’t be a plausible conclusion. Well, maybe she saw kisses differently than most ponies did. Granted, it was a kiss to the cheek instead of the lips...but then again, Twilight seemed very connected to everything it meant to be a pony, so that wouldn’t make sense either.

The only two logical conclusions were either: a)she knew who I was, meant to do it, and knew what it meant to ponies, or b)she was half-inside a dream, and thought she was looking at -- and kissing -- someone else. And so, because of that, I responded in the most logical way: I leaned down, brushed aside her pink-streaked bangs, and planted a kiss of my own just below her horn. Twilight smiled in her sleep, muttering something indecipherable, but went right on sleeping.

“I think you have an admirer.” Saiian teased quietly.

“More than just one, from what I’ve seen.” I corrected, brushing Twilight’s head once more before turning and leaving the room. Once the door was closed behind us, I slumped with my back against the wall, closing my eyes and letting out a long breath. “I really hope she’s not in love with me, or something. It’s enough already with Vinyl and Rainbow Dash pining after me, but I really don’t want to complicate things with my landlord.”

“You may not have a choice.” Saiian advised blandly, taking a seat beside me. “Regardless of what you may think, you’re not exactly an unlikable...person.” I opened my eyes and noticed Saiian looking intently at me, and felt as she took my hand in her own. “You have quite a few good qualities that have gained you quite the following of friends; friendships don’t happen for no reason, and neither does attraction. I can nearly guarantee that, just like you, ponies would find it hard to be physically attracted to you, simply because your body is so different. It makes sense, then, that your personality is what draws them in.”

“As well as manipulating their minds unknowingly.” I corrected, pulling my knees up and resting my forehead on them.

“It was the best I could do to assure your survival at the time, Jamie; I’m sorry.”

I gave Saiian’s hand a squeeze to get her attention before answering, “I don’t blame you for that, Saiian. You did what you felt was right at the time, and it gave me at least thirteen good friends, unless I’m being presumptuous at counting you among them.”

“Of course not.” Saiian answered immediately.

I brought my face up and smiled at her, leaning my head against her shoulder and enjoying the support she offered -- both physical and emotional. “I never had that many close friends on Earth -- maybe one or two at any one time -- so more than ten is…” I let out a soft giggle and shook my head, “It’s probably more than I deserve, but I’m not complaining. It feels nice to know so many care about me for me.”

We sat silently for a few moments before Saiian abruptly stood, pulling me up by the hand she still held. Her orange eyes then stared into mine for a moment before she ordered, “Time for bed. Much longer on the floor there and you’re going to fall asleep.” She then briskly turned away and headed down the stairs to the main room of the library.

I watched her go, confused at her recent behavior. What was her problem lately? If we traded some mannerisms, I guess she got my sulk-ey attribute while I got her mischievousness. Or maybe it was just the alcohol having an effect on her...or something. Whatever...I needed sleep, and tomorrow was going to just be one more day off before I went back to work, as a woman.

I headed to my room, intent on getting some well-deserved rest, only to find the door half-open with a very irate pegasus standing outside of it, glaring at the closed washroom door.

“I don’t know what you said or did, but you better fix it.” Shudder commented, turning her head to me afterward and pointing her wing toward the washroom. “She’s crying right now.”

I furrowed my brow in confusion. “I didn’t say anything that could have caused that.”

“Well, you better find out what the hay is going on.” Shudder countered, again thrusting her wing at the door. “Your charge -- one of Princess Luna’s only living friends -- is in there, right now, crying. Find out why, and fix it.”

I recoiled at the order, and snarled at the pegasus in front of me. “My charge? I didn’t ask for her to be given to me, and I’m pretty sure she can take care of herself. She’s got some miles on her, that one, so she’s quite able to handle herself.”

Shudder looked up at me, not even a little intimidated by me when I advanced on her. She shook her head and let out a long sigh before she spoke. “You have Princess Twilight and the other Element-bearers as friends, as well as two of Ponyville’s resident musicians, a dragon, me, and the two Celestial Sisters. It’s more than likely that this body of Saiian’s will not last forever, which means that she’ll wind up back in your head, and only able to communicate with you.” She reared up on her hind legs and poked me in the chest. “You have a good number of ponies that care about you, Jamie; in the end, who does Saiian have?”

It only took me a moment to realize what Shudder was saying, and I felt mildly ashamed I didn’t pick it up quicker. “...just me.”

“Just you.” Shudder echoed in a softer voice, dropping back to the floor and nudging me toward the washroom with her nose. “Maybe she’ll never actually say it, but you’re everything to her. Without you, she has nothing -- she is nothing. You mean more to her than you could ever imagine, and she needs you right now; she needs you to support her, for once.”

I stared at Shudder for a moment before turning away and heading to the washroom...only to stop and praise, “Thank you, Shudder. Those psychology lessons sure made you a hell of a mare.”

“The. Best.” she answered smugly. The silence that followed was only broken by my sandaled feet on the wooden floor leading to the washroom.

I stepped up to the closed door and knocked firmly. The sound of what sounded like a shampoo bottle dropping in the shower answered me, followed by a muttered curse and an irritated, “What?”

“It’s me.” I returned, which caused the washroom to go completely silent other than the sound of water from the faucet. I waited a few moments before I added, “Can we talk?”

Another few moments of silence drifted between me and the closed door, until I finally heard, “...let me finish up; it’ll just be a few minutes. Meet me in the bedroom.”

I found it strange that she didn’t just invite me in, but then again, she was already acting differently today. So, with a nod to myself, I headed toward the bedroom and made myself comfortable on my bed, kicking off my shoes and socks. Shudder raised an eyebrow to me, but I placated her with a wave of the hand and confirmed, “She told me to wait for her, so here I am.”

Shudder’s brow seemed to climb even higher as she hopped on the bed and laid down in front of me. “She didn’t just invite you in?”

I shrugged. “I find it strange too, but most of today has been strange. Here’s hoping this resolves the most recent issue.”

As she promised, Saiian entered the room only a few minutes later, covered only in a towel. She looked down at her feet as a bright blush overtook her face and she mumbled, “Um...I-I don’t have anything to wear.”

I popped out of bed and rummaged through the dresser, looking for- “Here we go.” I turned around and held out the pair of drawstring shorts and a tee shirt to Saiian. “This will do for tonight, as I don’t really had much else for either of us, and sleeping in day-clothes isn’t going to be all that comfortable.”

She took the clothes from me and stared at them for a moment before looking up at me, twirling her finger. “Could you turn around please?”

I raised an eyebrow at her, grabbing my clothes and a towel of my own. “Actually, I’m taking a shower as well. Just wait here for me and I’ll be back in a bit.” Thankfully the decision got me out of the growing awkward situation in the room, but I couldn’t help but wonder how strange things were going to get before the night was over for me.

Showering for the second time as a female was noticeably less-strange, as I focused on simply getting it done quickly and efficiently, instead of the individual sensations it brought about. However, I will admit to standing in front of the mirror for a bit, and admiring my new body. The odd thing was that I found myself thinking that I needed to start exercising again if I wanted to keep my figure...only to have to actually remind myself that I was supposed to have a male figure.

Whatever...a thought for another time.

As I made my way back to the bedroom, simultaneously having a good laugh at just how baggy my clothes were now, I idly wondered what Saiian would have to say in regards to what she was thinking and feeling recently. It made a strange sort of sense, when I really thought about it: three people -- two ponies and Saiian herself -- had confirmed that my behavior and even the way I thought about things had changed, just since the previous night, so it made sense that Saiian would be changed as well. I found myself questioning, however, just how much she would change due to my own mannerisms being traded with some of hers, as well as having a physical body, complete with all the sensations and hormones that came with it. Much as humans liked to think they were above the flesh, the fact remained that our own bodies’ chemical signals could change the way we behaved and thought, and it was likely Saiian was right in the thick of it.

Without hesitation, I pushed the bedroom door open and stepped into the room. I found Saiian sitting on the bed next to Shudder, the former of the two looking rather rattled, while the latter looked amused.

I stood silently for a moment in the doorway before closing the door behind me and asking, “Did I miss something?”

“Talk and I’ll pluck every one of your feathers out, one by one.” Saiian warned, which caused the words Shudder had been about to voice to die in her throat, and her mouth to snap shut with a click of teeth. After a moment of glaring at Shudder, Saiian turned to me and patted the spot next to her. “Sit. I’m sure you have questions.”

I hung my towel on the hook on the door and tossed my day-clothes into the hamper in the corner before hopping onto the bed, reclining against the pillows provided. “Yeah, I have a few. Let’s start with this one: why were you crying?”

Saiian glanced away at my words for a few moments before she answered, “...I-I’m not really sure.” After a deep breath she turned back to me, only to shake her head. “I don’t know what’s happening to me, Jamie. Shudder has a theory, though, and I think it makes sense.”

I glanced to Shudder, who looked to Saiian for approval before explaining, “Her body is nearly completely human, right down to the electrical impulses her body uses to communicate. I say ‘nearly’ because of the fact that she is still the conduit for the magic inside of you, which explains why the marks on her body still behave the way they do. However,” she grinned at Saiian, “with the true body of a human, she is also being subjected to the same chemical hormones we all are, and without the childhood or adolescence to learn to control those emotions drawn from what she feels and experiences, she’s getting them all at once, and her mind isn’t sure what to make of it. The only explanation for how ‘complete’ her body seems to be is that your own body was used as a template, and the rest was made from the change you both took yesterday.”

“Well,” I answered, since it actually made sense now, “she’s missed out on about fifteen to twenty years of acclimating to a human body.”

“All my life, I’ve been able to feel every emotion all living things can.” Saiian commented, crossing her arms as a faint dusting of pink crawled over her cheeks. “Now, all of the sudden, they’re so intense, and they hit without warning; it sucks. I mean,” she then looked to me and poked me in the chest, “you started talking about how you don’t feel like you deserve what you have, and you’re so happy to have those who care about you for who you are, and…” she trailed off as tears began to gather in her eyes, and she wiped them away before scoffing. “See? This is what I’m talking about: I think about something sad, like that, and water starts falling out of my face. And then I start thinking of all of the other things that have happened to you, and…” Now the tears were coming faster, and Saiian started sniffling quite obviously. Suddenly she grabbed onto me and pulled me into an awkward hug -- because of the position, not the hug itself. “You didn’t deserve all that stuff, Jamie. You were a good kid, and you turned into a good guy despite it all, and you really didn’t deserve any of it!” Her sniffling had graduated to full sobs now, and I pulled the crying woman into my lap and held her as she wept.

I couldn’t say I knew what she felt -- not all at once, anyway -- but I knew what it was like to feel an empathetic sadness for the misfortune of someone close to me. I hadn’t had many people in my life that I could honestly say were extremely important to me, but even I felt empathy for my newfound friends, which means said empathy had been within me all along, but simply didn’t have a target before now. Saiian knew me inside and out, however, and so she couldn’t help but be empathetic to my issues in life. A part of me wanted to laugh at how strange it was for Saiian to be so removed from her normal character, but another part of me just wanted to hold her close and enjoy the fact that I had another friend, now, that cared enough to cry on my behalf.

“B-but…” Saiian choked out between sobs, taking a few moments to compose herself before continuing, “...I-I don’t want to die.” The sheer brokenness and fear in her tone bought my full attention, and I could only watch in interest as Saiian further settled herself, finally pulling away from me enough to look me in the eye. “For the first time in my life, I know what fresh, clean air smells like, and I can taste food and feel the grass beneath my feet...and I don’t want to lose this.” She held up a hand in front of her face, turning it around and scrutinizing it with a long stare. “I don’t want to lose this body, and I don’t want to lose the ability to experience the world this way.”

“Her body is flesh and blood for the moment,” Shudder broke in, “but only because the residual magic of the spell is holding it together. Once it completely fades, the body will break down into free magic again, and it will cease to be.” I turned my head to see Shudder pointing a slightly wobbly hoof at Saiian as she explained, “It’s true that she is your magic, but nearly all the energy she generates is being given to you, leaving little to none left for her. To put it simply: the body she has is using that energy up faster than she’s creating it for herself.”

I furrowed my brow, looking back to the woman in my arms. “So just re-route some of the magic coming to me and sustain the body. As it is, I have to bleed it off at regular intervals out in the forest, because I’m generating too much.”

Saiian was still sniffling, but she shook her head and looked up at me. “It wouldn’t be enough. All it would do is extend the time the body exists by a few weeks -- maybe a month, at the most. The rest of your magic, you’re using to keep yourself safe from Equestrian diseases, as well as the planet’s gravity.”

I thought for a moment before nodding to Saiian. “We’ll figure something out. Do it: route my excess energy to you.”

Saiian’s mouth dropped open for a moment before she nodded and closed her eyes. After a few moments, she opened them again and announced, “It’s done.” She then looked to me and gave a soft smile of gratitude. “Thank you, Jamie.”

I returned her smile, nodding to her again. “You’re welcome. Now, I think we could all use a good sleep. Tomorrow will prove...interesting.”

“That’s right, Princess Twilight is supposed to be leaving in the morning.” Shudder commented, just before tossing two pills into her mouth and swallowing them with a grimace. “Guess that means it’ll be the three of us around here, for the most part.”

I nodded, standing and moving to my side of the bed, lifting up the sheets to let myself in as Saiian did the same on the other side. After we settled ourselves under the thin sheet, Shudder hopped up onto the bed -- nearly falling over in the process, due to her body’s water levels taking time to equalize -- and settled herself at the foot of the bed, giving Saiian and I plenty of room on the large mattress. After everyone was settled, I reached over and turned the knob on the oil lamp, the flame lowering until is sputtered out completely, shrouding the room in darkness.

Now that Saiian had a physical body, I couldn’t hold her with both arms anymore, as one of them would fall asleep from resting under her all night. Instead, I slid my right arm under both pillows, and as I turned, draped the other over her form, before finding her hand and grasping it in my own. She gave my hand a soft squeeze and muttered a “good night” before she released it, and I relocated my now-free hand to her hip, pulling her flush against me and using her body heat to keep me warm in lieu of a blanket. I tried not to think about how nice it felt when she wiggled her bottom a bit as she got more comfortable, but after a few moments she settled, and sleep began to creep over me.

I woke sometime in the middle of the night, though I didn’t know why at first. All I knew was that I couldn’t see the moon in my window, and there was no no lightening of the sky, so that meant it was somewhere in the middle of the night. Sleeping on my side with Saiian was more comfortable than sleeping on my back, but my recently grown breasts meant it was still distracting.

This was when I realized that Saiian was conspicuously absent.

I rose from the bed, reaching over to give Shudder a brief pet to silently let her know everything was all right, since she had awakened.

Before I could ask, however, she whispered, “She left a few minutes ago -- told me to let you sleep.”

I nodded to her and stood, quietly making my way into the hallway and towards the main room of the library. I got lucky on my first try, however, and saw Saiian leaning against the doorway to the kitchen, sipping a glass of water.

“You know,” she began before I could even question why she was up, “in some ways, life as a sovereign elemental was much easier than this one. Since I've become a part of you, life has become exponentially more complicated.”

I actually felt guilty to be someone else's burden, and I couldn't stop myself from muttering a subdued apology. “Believe me when I say I never wanted to be anyone's burden to bear. For what it's worth, I'm sorry.”

Saiian shook her head, her fiery locks tousling ever so slightly. “Don't be. I consider it an honor and a privilege to actually be of use to someone after so long in the aether. You might find this unbelievable, but some of my most treasured memories have taken place in the short time I've spent with you.” She ended her explanation with a warm, caring smile, looking at me for the first time.

Despite all the flirting and teasing Saiian had thrown my way, her honest words actually made me start to blush a bit, and my tongue didn't seem to want to work right. “W-well, um, you sure know how to flatter a guy...girl...person.”

Saiian smiled at my response in a coy manner before pouring out her glass in the low sink and setting the glass on the countertop. She then made her way over to me and grasped my hand, pulling me with her to one of the windows and sitting down on the little nook built into the room. Saiian glanced out over the night sky as she continued to hold my hand, so I took the seat next to her and did my best to wait patiently for her to speak.

“I was exaggerating a bit when I said I was capable of all the same emotions in my previous life.” Saiian commented in a near-whisper, her eyes remaining on the clear night sky. “As a chaos elemental, my mind simply wasn’t built to feel some things, and I was quite incapable of feeling them. Now though,” Saiian paused, turning to me and grasping my hand with both of hers as she looked down at them, “I can feel everything, and though it’s been only a scant few months since you came to the world, I’ve experienced more in that time than I have in the several millennia I’ve existed.”

My throat seemed to dry up a bit at the simple, yet powerful words she was speaking, but I was still able to utter out, “W-what do you mean?”

Saiian glanced up at me for a moment before she turned her eyes again to the sky, seeming to use the vision of Luna’s night as a way to focus herself. It took a few moments of silent pondering on her end before she finally seemed to organize what she was thinking into anything I could easily understand. “The best way I can explain it is simply this: I was blindfolded. In much the same way that a blindfolded person would experience, I knew there was more happening than I was able to observe, but I was unable to pierce the veil to experience it. However, instead of sight or any of the other natural senses, my veil was over emotions and how I perceived the world with them.” She let out a long breath, followed by a readjusting of the night clothes she wore. “In many ways, life as a pure chaos elemental was so much simpler than my new life.”

“How is it different?” I found myself asking, genuinely interested in the answer.

Saiian smiled before turning to look at me again. “In my past life, I was unable to feel the heart-wrenching fear of death, nor the warm joy of time spent with someone who cares for me. Even when I knew Luna, before her banishment, the concept of friendship was diluted to me: I understood the relationship on a basic level and can say that I enjoyed the time I spent with Luna, but not to the extent that I am capable of, now. Also,” Saiian paused briefly, clearing her throat in what I could only assume was a nervous manner, “never before have I been capable of feeling attraction to another in the sense that beings of flesh and blood can. It is a confusing sensation, most of the time, but not altogether unpleasant.”

Any other time I would have denied the bait, but whether it be because of the lack of adequate sleep or the minor amount of inebriation remaining, I found myself compelled to ask, “Who are you attracted to?”

“You seem to make a habit out of making queries for which you already have the answer, Jamie.” Saiian snarked, pulling away from me and standing. At my blank expression, she elaborated, “Some people can and will flirt with complete strangers -- even if they don’t find said stranger attractive -- simply because it’s entertaining; I’m not one of those people, Jamie.”

I suppose I should have been more surprised -- or even a little disturbed -- that my not-so-imaginary friend was practically admitting she was attracted to me, but in honesty, I found myself intrigued more than anything else. Besides the fact that this was entirely new territory for me (on at least three different levels, mind you), it was rather flattering to know I had caught the eye of someone who was quite possibly older than dirt (there was also a part of me that shouted that it was also creepy, but I ordered that bit to shut up).

For a long few moments following that, there was silence, until…

“...so what now?” I questioned, eager to know exactly where Saiian and I stood, now.

Saiian stared at me, her softly glowing amber eyes boring into mine. After a short eternity, she answered with a simple, “Nothing.”

Where I had been mentally sitting on the edge of my seat, I now felt as if the wind had been taken out of my sails. “What do you mean ‘nothing’? How can you say something like that and just say that it’s nothing?”

Saiian shrugged helplessly. “I was bestowed upon you to keep you safe, and nothing else. I can’t risk letting personal feelings affect my purpose. It would be unwise to do anything else.”

I suddenly found myself standing, unable to stay seated any longer, and looking directly into Saiian’s eyes from only a foot apart. At the time, I couldn’t specifically pick out just why what she said had such an affect on me, but I knew I couldn’t just sit silently and accept it. As the months passed, Saiian had become far more to me than just a protector and confidant, and beyond her stunning looks, her complex personality drew me in as much as anything else. I realized at that moment that I had been ignoring something for months, on the premise that Saiian was not of the physical world:

I wanted her.

Anyone who knew me -- Saiian and my pony-friends among them -- quickly found that I had a rather unhealthy habit of forcing myself to completely ignore certain things, in more severe cases even going so far as to deny their very existence; I had done it when I had first arrived, ignoring even the possibility of not being able to return to Earth, and I did it again regarding Vinyl and Rainbow’s affections toward me. The reason for my bad habit was debatable, but the reason was meaningless, as it didn’t change the fact that I had an avoidant personality, and I purposefully shut out things and/or people that made me uncomfortable. Because of that, I had pushed aside my own desires regarding Saiian, simply because I convinced myself that there could never be anything between two people when one of them technically didn’t exist, and I had become so good at avoiding the issue that, after the initial influx of desire I felt for Saiian, I forgot I even wanted her that way.

For the first time in a long time, I found myself wanting Saiian in a way that had nothing to do with her magical utilities, and, bit by bit, moved closer to her until we were only a few inches separating us. I could feel her warm, sweet-smelling breath washing over my face as I held her gaze, and it took more than I’d care to admit to keep me from pouncing on her like a fool.

“Why?” I whispered, just loud enough to where she could hear me.

Saiian shrugged again, though she seemed to be losing a bit of her seemingly-calm composure, since her eyes darted over my face, and she seemed to be blinking quite a bit more than normal. It also took a few seconds for her to finally formulate a reply. “J-Jamie…” she stopped, and swallowed before attempting once more. “Jamie, please don’t tease me like this. I have lived far too long to be reduced to a rabbit chasing a carrot on a stick.”

“Well,” I answered, taking her two hands in my own as I smiled to her, “what if I want more than that? What if I decided that Saiian, one of my best friends, just so happens to be someone I wanted to spend my time with? What if I find a way to make this,” I nodded to her body as a whole, “permanent?”

Her face twisted a bit, and with her shining eyes and barely-noticeable quivering lip, I could tell she was struggling to keep herself composed. “Jamie, don’t make a girl a promise if you know you can’t keep it.”

Releasing her hands and closing the last distance between us, I snaked my arms around her waist and held her close against me as I pinned her with a look of determination. “You’re right, I can’t promise this will be permanent...but I promise to do everything I can to make it a reality. Would that be fair, then?”

Saiian just stared at me, seemingly struggling to understand just what I was saying to her. It took a few more moments before she finally uttered out a quiet, “Why?”

I shrugged, my smile widening. “Because the Saiian I’ve come to know the past few days is a much deeper and complex individual than I could have ever imagined, and she just so happens to be the one I’m closest to. And, it helps that she’s taken a shine to me. To be honest, I’ve reached the ‘fuck it’ line here, and I don’t see why I should deny this.”

Saiian furrowed her brow at me. “You do realize that, biologically and magically, ponies are more similar to you than I am, right?”

I nodded in understanding. “They may be, but they also can’t understand me like you can. They’ve been raised in such a way that the things I’ve experienced and how I see the world are two things that they may never completely understand. Perhaps in time that will change, but for now, you are the only one I can confide in that will understand me and what I have to say, and that seems like a pretty good match, to me. You know as well as I do that relationships on Earth have been forged with far less than that.” Before she could retort with another argument, I did what I had secretly wanted to since the third week Saiian had been in my life: I kissed her.

Compared to the kiss with Luna, it was mundane, but that’s what made it special: there was no crazy magic involved. Instead, it was an act purely of the physical world, and I could easily focus on the way Saiian initially tried to jerk away, only to press into me aggressively a heartbeat later. Saiian’s hands traveled up into my long hair, and firmly grasped two handfuls as we continued the oral battle. I couldn’t stop the pleasured moan that bubbled up in my throat as pleasurable bolt seemed to shoot down my spine, even as I pressed our bodies closer together, almost as if I were trying to merge our forms into one. Even through our clothing, I could feel her generous curves, and had I been just a tiny amount less sober, I would have began removing those clothes. Instead, I found myself perfectly content, for now, with enjoying the feeling of her pressed against me, squirming with delight as my hands roamed over her supple figure.

As all good things do, however, it had to end, as neither of us were able to hold a breath indefinitely, and the nose didn’t seem to provide enough airflow to the lungs. As we pulled apart with a soft ‘POP’ of suction, we both found ourselves staring at each other. I was unsure what Saiian was thinking, but on my end, I had two warring factions in my mind: one side was repeatedly screaming, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT,” while the other was fist-pumping the air with a triumphant cry of, “IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME!” For my part, all I could do was grin like an idiot, which was a smile Saiian soon returned.

This time, when we leaned in simultaneously, the connection was much gentler, with more affection than desire put into the kisses, nibbles, and pecks. I had never understood describing time seeming to stand still until that moment, as it felt like each second was an hour, but in a good way.

Long story short, it was a pretty good night.

Chapter 24: A True Friend

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Chapter 24: A True Friend

Monday came, as days usually do, quietly and without fanfare. Though it was to be a day with one very obvious difference compared to the rest of the time I’d been on Equis, waking up was still a chore, though noticeably less so due in part to that difference.

Slowly, the waking world welcomed me into its embrace, and I cracked open my eyes and fluttered them a few times to wake myself. Contrary to the norm, however, I felt myself being held tightly from behind, and the warm breath of another was tickling my neck. It was...nice. That’s really the only way I can explain it, since this would be my first time ever being “the little spoon”, and the first time I’ve felt completely at ease waking up in Equestria.

I glanced down and smiled at the sight of Saiian’s arm wrapped protectively around my bare stomach, and gently lifted it away as I moved to sit up. Tilting my head from side to side, I enjoyed the release of tension from the pops in my neck. I did the same type of procedure with my back before standing, pulling the shirt down over my midriff and padding quietly over to the door to exit the room.

Seeing as how Aloe and Lotus had been kind enough to give me the previous day off, I felt quite rested, and my mood only increased with a hot shower. I did, however, have to wash my clothes by hand and hang them up to dry, as I currently only had two outfits that would comfortably fit my new body, but that was a minor inconvenience. As it was, I had the affection of a wonderful person that just so happened to be an elemental, and she was just as much my companion as she was my protector. While I was sure life on Equis was never going to be completely calm, for the moment, it was quite good.

After donning some of my other clothes, which were practically hanging off of me, I shuffled into the kitchen and prepared some coffee for the house -- it would mark one of the few times I was awake before Spike, and I was subtly proud of myself for that. A few minutes later, the sound of soft wingbeats could be heard approaching, and simply from the rhythm, I could tell it was Shudder. I was greeted with a short nuzzle as she passed, and she went to preparing her mug for coffee, with plenty of sugar and cream.

“Good morning.” I mumbled, still not fully awake. Shudder replied with a toss of her head and a smile, and the kitchen was free of anything but the sound of the brewing coffee. I simply enjoyed the quiet, as I could use some peace considering the past few days. I knew it couldn’t last, with my life being what it was, but I was going to enjoy the momentary lull in activity as much as I could.

Seeing as how I didn’t currently have much else to do, I thought it would be a good idea to keep my body in shape, so I rolled my shoulders before doing a vigorous jog in place to get the blood pumping. After only a minute or two, once my body was warm, I continued my exercise by dropping to the floor outside the kitchen and beginning to do pushups. Shudder was quite familiar with my workout regimen, even though it didn’t make much sense to a pony (different body shapes, and all that), so she only watched silently as I went through my morning workout. Twilight, however, had no problem voicing her confusion.

“What the hay are you doing?”

I looked up at her, still continuing my workout, and answered, “‘ello, love. You all right?”, in a very poor British accent. Regardless of my bad acting skills, it had the desired effect of causing Twilight to tilt her head in that cute way that ponies did when they were thoroughly confused by something (which, curiously enough, was one of many behaviors they shared with pet dogs and cats; more adorable research is required to find a connection, if it exists). Shudder, on the other hand, was poorly hiding giggles behind her hoof.

“Is there a Trottingham on Earth as well?” Twilight asked with a wiggling of her ears, the latter of which I refer to as her “science sense” being tickled.

I chuckled a bit as I finished my set of twenty, then stood and answered, “It’s a safe bet that where I come from has all the same languages that Equis does. Written word is different, but I haven’t heard an accent here yet that I can’t place somewhere back on Earth.” I began stretching out, beginning by grabbing my ankles as I folded in half, quickly noticing that the female body seemed to be more flexible compared to a male’s (i.e. my real body). This allowed a much wider range of motion than what I was used to, which served to make stretching much easier. Just to see if I could, I tried to drop down into front-to-back splits, and got much closer to the ground than I could as a male. I would always want to become a male again, but I’ll admit that the body of a female already had a few positives going for it.

Twilight watched me for a bit longer, a slight blush crossing her face, before she shook her head hard to compose herself. Looking to me with an apologetic glance, she reminded, “I’m leaving today, Jamie. I’ve ensured there’s plenty of food in the kitchen, and I’ve brought all my emergency gear up for you, just in case something bad happens.” Her horn glowed brightly as many items began to float into the room behind her, including a raft and paddle.

“...Twilight, why do you have all this?” I questioned, picking up what looked like a flare from the pile.

“To be prepared.” she answered, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.

I grabbed a parachute, holding it up and staring at her with a thoroughly amused expression. “And when would you need to use this on the ground?”

“I had a really bad nightmare one time when I was a filly, living in Canterlot.” Twilight explained, continuing to take inventory of all the supplies. “It was right after my first mana surge, the day following when Princess Celestia took me on as her personal student. Even before my surge, I was still learning to control my magic, so having a surge...exacerbated things.” She levitated what I could easily identify as what I knew were a few “space blankets” into my hands, which I set aside for now. “I’m sure you’ve noticed that a unicorn’s emotions play a large part in their ability to use magic, and while it can lend unimaginable power in a life-or-death situation, that, combined with a lack of basic control, can cause...interesting things to happen. Thankfully, I didn’t transform anypony into potted plants again,” I snorted a laugh at that, “but I did teleport myself a few thousand feet into the sky in my sleep. Luckily, Princess Celestia felt the discharge of energy and found me before I could hit the ground, but from then on, I tried my best to prepare for crazy possibilities like that.” By this point, everything she had brought up from the basement was separated into piles, so she levitated a clipboard over and began checking over everything. “I placed a spell on it that linked it to my physical body so that, if it was close enough, it would be teleported with me if I had another accident like that. I kept it under my bed until I acquired wings. Of course,” she paused to wiggle her wings in the air, “with these, I don’t need it anymore. I might not be all that great at flying yet, but gliding is pretty easy, and I placed a spell on myself that will flare my wings wide should a sufficient amount of wind be detected passing through my feathers by my brain. The shock alone would wake me up, and I’d be able to safely glide the rest of the way to the ground.”

I could only raise an eyebrow at this, both amused and impressed that Twilight had such forethought. Then again, I suppose the threat of a sudden and painful death would be enough for anyone to make a plan to prevent it.

“...okay, so maybe that was a good idea. Why would I need it, though?” I asked, as I was fairly sure I couldn’t teleport...or, “Wait, did you find out I can teleport or something?”

Twilight giggled and shook her head. “No, Jamie, you can’t teleport. What was it you told me that humans said about being prepared?”

Caught against my own words from months previous, I sighed and recited, “Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” I nodded in defeat. “All right fine, I guess it couldn’t hurt to have this stuff. It just seems...silly, but whatever.”

“And you can call it silly,” she replied with a grin, “but if preparation -- no matter how strange it seems -- can save a life, then I’ll do it.”

I gave a childish pout. “I hate it when your logic makes sense. Well fine, I guess I can deal for the time being.”

“After I take stock of everything, I’ll move it back to the basement, where you’ll be able to find whatever you need, since I’ll make sure it’s organized this time.” Twilight finished, standing up and beginning to slowly walk around as she continued to appraise the many things spread out before us. “I’m confident that First Lieutenant Shudder can handle keeping you safe, but it doesn’t hurt to be doubly prepared.”

I nodded before heading to the kitchen again, calling back, “Had breakfast yet?” A quite audible stomach growl from a blushing alicorn was my response, so I laughed and set out to make us a quick breakfast that we could eat together before she and Spike left. Besides that, it would be nice to actually have a sit-down meal with everyone, as we didn’t do it nearly enough, in my opinion. I wasn’t exactly a five-star chef, but I knew enough to make something that tasted good and wasn’t burnt, so I set about gathering up some ingredients to cook us something to eat.

I stood with a frown in front of the bed, frustrated, since Saiian was absolutely refusing to wake up. Every call, poke, or shove went unheeded, and I couldn’t help but imagine that this must’ve been what I was like after a long night of drinking. Saiian, however, didn’t have the excuse of alcohol -- she was just enjoying sleep too much. I couldn’t fault her for the desire to get a good, long sleep (I had fought with Twilight over the same, a few times), but I slaved over a hot stove, and dammit, she was going to partake of the fruits of my labor.

Even though I was frustrated, I couldn’t help but subtly admire her body, but that was neither here nor-


As I traced the contours of her jaw and throat, I noticed the bruise I caused the previous day by biting her...and from that, I formulated a plan.

She did wake up from that, after all, right? Well, there was no sense in getting boring by doing the same thing, so I decided to “turn it up to 11” by using the liberties offered to me by my new relationship to make sure this was a wake up Saiian would enjoy, that would work.

I crawled onto the bed and over Saiian, lying chest to chest on top of her, and just looked at her for a few moments. Despite her mischievous personality and propensity to disregard boundaries, there was no denying that Saiian was a unique, interesting, beautiful creature. I mean, I had to be honest: the physical was very difficult to ignore, and she had quite a bit to flaunt. Even from the very first moment I saw her, I thought she was gorgeous, and being able to know I was touching a real person now just made it even better. For a few more moments, I was content to just admire the living art before me.

“Okay,” I muttered after a minute or so, “time to wakey wakey, sleepyhead.”

I settled my weight on top of her, only supporting myself on my elbows, before leaning over and nipping playfully at the non-bruised side of her collar, just enough for my canines to leave little indents when I pulled away. She let out a groan in her sleep and squirmed, subconsciously wrapping her arms around my lower back. I could only grin at her from my current position, then leaned down again and put a little more force behind my next bite. This forced a gasp from her, and finally, her eyes began to roll around before opening slowly. And then, acting on impulse, I descended and locked my lips with hers, forcing a surprised-yet-pleased hum from her throat. For the first time, I completely surrendered myself to the sensations, the warmth, that I felt. I kept the kiss short and simple, but it was still quite nice, and Saiian’s pleased expression showed that she agreed.

“Mmm…” she hummed again, smiling with her eyes still closed, “if there’s a better way to wake up, I can’t think of it.”

“Probably can’t think of much of anything, right now.” I commented slyly. Though she couldn’t see it, I tossed my hair and winked at her. “Yeah, I have that effect.”

Saiian let out a soft giggle and tapped the back of her fingers on my shoulder. “Dork.” She opened her eyes and stared back at me, lifting her hand and running her fingers through my bangs. “I won’t lie and say that I think you should stay a female, but lady-Jamie is definitely a looker.”

“It isn’t worth losing my dick.” I deadpanned, but then grinned at her. “Still, glad you approve. I’ll be sure to use your attraction against you more often, then.”

She sighed dramatically, rolling her eyes. “Well, if you must get revenge on me for the teasing I’ve given you, I suppose I can’t declare injustice on those grounds.” Saiian then glanced off to the side as she mumbled, “...and thanks for last night. You helped me see that heeding my calling doesn’t mean I have to deny the both of us what we want. Thank you for having the fortitude to make me see I was being stupid.”

I reluctantly pulled away and stood, shrugging. “Eh, I’m the impulsive one here, so I’m sure you’ll be able to tell me the same plenty of times.” Reaching out and taking her hand, I pulled her up with me. “C’mon, I made breakfast and coffee. Twi’s leaving today with Spike and the other girls, so I want us to have a meal together before she has to go.”

Saiian went silent and let me pull her along. After a minute though, she quietly observed, “...which means we’ll have this place all to ourselves.” I didn’t need to see her face to know she had a lecherous smile.

“Don’t forget about Shudder.” I reminded blandly. “And besides that, I’m not really comfortable getting too hot and heavy as a woman. Not to say it won’t happen -- since I don’t know exactly how long I’m going to be this way -- but it’s going to take some time for me to ease into that.”

Again Saiian went silent as I continued to guide her down the hallway, but I knew her well enough to know she would have something else to say to tease me further. I held my metaphorical breath waiting for it, but when it didn’t come, I relaxed a tad and just kept walking.

“...do you think Shudder likes to watch?”


Even with having to fight down a blush due to Saiian’s comment before we entered the main room of the library, the breakfast was filling and conversation was light and friendly between all of us. Twilight explained that the location she and the girls were going to explore would be the ruins of the Castle of the Two Sisters, from where she hoped to salvage some of the ancient lore and knowledge there. She claimed that Princess Celestia herself told her that she and Luna hadn’t returned to the site since the day Luna was cleansed, and were going to allow Twilight full credit rights to whatever discoveries she found there. She made it quite clear to me, though, that she was most interested in the private spell collections the Two Sisters kept, hoping that she might find a remedy for my “ailment”. I was well aware of how dangerous the Everfree Forest alone could be, though, so I made her promise me that she would bail if things became too dangerous for them. Regardless of my predicament, I didn’t want my friends needlessly endangered.

Shortly after breakfast, the rest of the girls arrived, and I bid them all a safe journey before they left...as well as explained just why Saiian was sitting in my lap, idly running her fingers through my hair. To say that it was a shock to them would be a mild understatement, but most of them took it in stride and congratulated me. The odd one out on the congratulations was Rainbow Dash, who looked distinctly hurt, even though she tried to play it off. I’d have to have a word with her at some point, but that could wait until after she returned from their expedition. I had a feeling Vinyl was going to feel similar, and that was a conversation I wasn’t looking forward to.

Twilight also hadn’t mentioned anything about her goodnight kiss to me, nor did she even seem to remember it, so that was a load off my mind. I already had two ponies’ hearts that I had to break, and I didn’t want a third, if I could help it.

Anyhow, with breakfast and the congratulations finished, the girls packed all their supplies up and prepared to leave, and Twilight began lecturing me like I was a five year-old.

“...and don’t forget to douse the hearth before you go to bed. I have wards to protect against a fire, but I’d rather not test them.” she warned as she read off scroll. She had a fucking list. “Also, make sure the cold box is shut all the way -- the door sticks sometimes, and the cooling enchantment’s energy could be wasted if-”

“TWILIGHT!” I shouted, stunning her and the other six ponies standing around us. I didn’t mean to shock them, but dammit, I wasn’t a kid, and I was done being lectured about common sense after ten minutes. I kneeled in front of the alicorn and cupped her face in my hands, smooshing her cheeks together. “Twilight, be cool. I’m not a foal, plus I’m sure Shudder and Saiian will be alert in case I do forget something, which is unlikely. Go out with the girls --” a snort caused me to add, “and Spike -- and just stop worrying. I’ll take care of the place, and I promise it’ll still be standing, and clean, when you get back.”

“B-bhut whut uf-”

I almost giggled at Twilight’s smoosh-speech, but just barely fought it down (Shudder did not). Instead, I shook my head and assured, “Twilight, I’ll be fine. I’ve lived on my own for most of my teenage and adult life, and I know how to work all the appliances in the library. I got this, Twi. Go out, do your thing, and trust me to take care of the place. Trust me to be a big girl and not burn the place down or something -- give me a little credit, please.” I was a little disturbed by the fact that referring to myself as a girl did not disturb me...which is a backward kind of weird. Brushing the feeling off, I let go of Twilight’s face and scratched her behind the ear, earning me an adorable little whinny, and I did giggle this time.

Realizing what she’d just done, she batted my hand away with a wing and smoothed down the fur of her blushing cheeks before locking her gaze with me again. She was silent for a few moments before sighing and looking to the ground. “All right fine, I’m sorry. I know First Lieutenant Shudder and Saiian are with you, but I still don’t like the idea of leaving you here.” She did a cute little breathing exercise before glancing back to me and smiling. “But you’re right, and I do trust you. Just be careful, please. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

“I should be saying the same, you know.” I replied with a grin. “I’m not the one waltzing deep into the Everfree, after all. Guess we’ll both need to keep an eye out, huh?” Acting on impulse, I extended my arms wide for a hug, only to be surprised when Twilight moved forward to embrace me wholeheartedly. Again, Twilight had never been distant with me, but she wasn’t typically as physically affectionate as some of the other ponies in my life, so this was an odd, but not unwelcome occurrence. Nonetheless, we both held the embrace for a few seconds before releasing, and nodding to each other silently.

I watched Twilight as she gathered up their things and began to lead her friends toward the edge of town, each one of them glancing back and waving at least once (Pinkie doing so while bouncing on her head). I returned the farewell and watched them go, thinking silent words of protection and good luck to them as they went on their way. I knew it would only be two or three days at most before I saw them again, but I still worried nonetheless.

“They’ll be fine, Jamie.” Saiian voiced from my side, her fingers lacing in my own. As I kept my eyes locked on the ponies fading into the distance, she assured, “Twilight has a good head on her shoulders, and the others will look after each other. Remember: regardless of who you’ve gotten to know, they are, in fact, six national heroines who have dealt with more than their share of tough circumstances.”

“And I know she doesn’t look or act like it,” Shudder weighed in, “but Princess Twilight was trained by her brother for years before she came here. One of the sweetest mares you could hope to meet, and you’d never know she could drop you before you even had a chance to do anything, with or without magic.”

That came as a surprise. “No shit?” I just stared at the pegasus for a moment before looking back to the road, and I couldn’t see the group anymore. “Well, I guess she’ll be better off than I would be.”

“True,” Shudder acquiesced, “but then again you look like more of a threat. You’re much larger, your teeth are sharper, your eyes better, and your scent projects ‘predator’ to anyone who smells it. Deterrence is just as important as force, in a dangerous situation; you don’t have to fight if you can scare others away.” I felt as she hooked her hooves over my shoulders, and her chin lay on top of my head as a steady breeze ruffled my hair. “Plus, y’know, I did give you some skills to protect yourself in case somepony is stupid and lucky enough to get past me and Saiian.”

I let out a single snort of laughter, reaching up and patting Shudder on the head. “You all know how to make me feel looked-after, that’s for sure.” I mentally shrugged, turning and beginning to walk in a random direction. “Well, let’s go see what trouble we can get into without getting arrested.”

“I’m obligated to place you under arrest if you break the law.” Shudder warned, though I could hear in her voice it was playful. “So that means no theft, no kidnapping, and no public orgies.”

I rolled my eyes at her words, firing back with, “Way to take all the fun out of life.” I slumped my shoulders theatrically and began trudging down one of the side streets. “I guess we’ll have to save the weird and wonderful for when Twi gets back, then.”

Silence settled around the three of us as we continued walking the town. The ponies in town that weren’t at work or school waved to us as we passed, but other than a courteous wave in return, we simply kept walking. Seeing as how the rest of the town hadn’t been advised of Saiian’s existence -- or my own recent change, for that matter -- we still garnered a few odd looks as we went through town, but for the most part, Ponyville was as friendly as always. While I had lived in Equestria for quite some time by this point, I still only had a relatively small group of ponies I regularly spent time with, but with Twilight and the other Element-bearers out, that left very few ponies for me to bother.

With that in mind, I turned toward the part of town that Vinyl and Octavia lived in, deciding that some music and a comfortable setting would be nice, and that I should speak to Vinyl anyway about...things. I caught a look from Saiian out of the corner of my eye, but she said nothing and just kept beside me as we walked.

Much to the surprise of many ponies, Vinyl wasn’t a party-all-day type of pony. True that when she was playing a show and she was in that zone, she was the epitome of a hard-drinking, bumping club-pony that would dance and live the nightlife until she dropped from exhaustion, but in her everyday life, Vinyl was a very chill pony, and her music choice reflected that. So, instead of pumping sounds with a bass-line that made my bones rattle, the main living area was suffused with a smooth, melodic tune that easily lulled me to sleep. It was because of this that, after lazily conversing with Vinyl and just spending time together, it was quite common for me to wake up some time later with a certain white pony sleeping on my chest. The difference this time was that I was resting my head on Saiian’s lap, and Shudder seemed to be trying her best not to make a lewd comment of some sort about Vinyl seeming to enjoy resting her head on my new “pillows”. Honestly, even with Vinyl’s quite-possible attraction to me (I had never actually asked about it), I wouldn’t have minded had she not been drooling on me.

Because Octavia hadn’t been home, when I arrived at Vinyl’s home, we had just hung out as usual and talked about music and such, mostly because I wanted Octavia there for backup when I told Vinyl how I felt about Saiian, and how I didn’t feel about her. I still didn’t quite know how I was going to do all that without alienating one of my best friends, but I needed to be honest with her if I wanted to be a true friend -- I had shared some of my most painful past moments with her and the others, so I had no reason to hide things from any of them anymore, Vinyl included, and nor did I want to.

The front door opened in the hallway to my right, and Octavia announced herself to us. She entered the living area to see all of us, setting her cello case reverently down on a stand, before trotting over and offering a friendly nuzzle to Vinyl and I. She then glanced questioningly to Saiian and Shudder, only to trot away toward the kitchen to put the kettle on to boil. Those of us left in the living area righted ourselves and waited patiently for Octavia to return.

After about ten minutes, Octavia returned with a tray balanced on her back containing a single cup of tea, along with a plate of assorted “biscuits” (they’re fucking cookies, not biscuits!). After expertly sliding the tray onto the table, she took her place next to Vinyl and began sipping her tea almost reverently.

After letting out a sigh of contentment, she turned to me and smiled. “It’s good to see you, Jamie. I must admit that I was worried when Vinyl told me you had an ‘accident’.”

I shrugged helplessly. “Sorry about that. As you can see, I wasn’t physically hurt, but some things have definitely changed as a result of the spell used on me. However, one good thing came out of that:” I leaned back so that Octavia could clearly see Saiian beside me, “this is Saiian. She’s quite literally the source of the magic within me, and until recently, was my ‘imaginary friend’.”

Octavia deftly balanced the saucer and cup on a hoof, extending her free hoof over to Saiian. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Saiian. Thank you for looking after Jamie.”

Momentarily glancing at me with a smirk, Saiian reached out and gave Octavia’s hoof a firm shake. “Believe me when I say looking after Jamie is a full-time job.”

“Right here, y’know.”

Saiian only glanced to me and winked before retaking her place and slinging her arm over my shoulders. “Aww, don’t be mad. You know we care about you.” She then completed the gesture by affectionately nudging her head against mine, which clearly caught Vinyl’s attention, if her furrowed brows and tilted head was any indication.

Deciding to get it all over with, I took a deep breath and composed myself the best I could before speaking. “There’s...well, there’s something else, too. Over the months, I’ve become very close to Saiian, and have very recently found that the connection between us goes beyond mere friendship.” Looking directly at Vinyl, as I believed she deserved the respect of looking her in the eyes, I reached my own hand up and took the one over my shoulder, squeezing it firmly. “Saiian and I are together now.”

All was quiet in the home for a few tense moments before Octavia suddenly squealed like a filly and bounced excitedly on her seat, nearly throwing her tea in the air. “Oh my goodness, congratulations! Jamie, I am so happy for you! How- I mean, when-”

“We had a heavy talk last night, and everything just kinda came together.” I explained, doing my best not to notice that one of us hadn’t reacted at all. After a few more moments, however, I had to glance to Vinyl, and saw that she was frozen -- petrified, really. “Vinyl?”

My call seemed to jolt the DJ out of whatever funk she had been in, and she offered a strained smile to both of us. “Um...wow. Uh, yeah. Congrats, Jamie.” Even with her glasses on, I could tell she was darting her eyes between the two of us as her mouth worked soundlessly. Finally, she announced, “I, uh...I gotta get some air. It’s kinda stuffy in here, right?” Without another word, Vinyl hopped off the sofa and quickly trotted to the back door, opening and closing it without even breaking her stride.

My eyes stayed locked on the closed door, though I muttered, “Well...at least she didn’t hit me.”

“Yet.” Saiian asserted, though some humor was in her tone. I felt her nudge me as she suggested, “You should go talk to her. I don’t have to be a mindreader to know she’s very conflicted right now, so she needs your support.”

Even with Saiian’s words, I was still worried. “This is gonna suck no matter what, huh?”

Octavia looked to be fighting an internal battle before nodding solemnly. “Unfortunately, yes. I believe simply tackling the issue head-on would be best, at this point, and going after her yourself will show you respect and care about her. Go, Jamie.”

Conflict resolution had never been my strong point in life, but I cared enough about Vinyl to make an attempt anyway. So, with a deep sigh, I nodded and stood, following after Vinyl.

The home that Vinyl and Octavia shared was expansive, and the backyard was no exception. I had never asked whether they had a gardener, or whether they tended to it themselves, but the yard featured an elegant yet varied collection of flora spread throughout the yard itself. This all included well-tended, stone pathways to the different parts of the garden, a shady collection of trees with several hammocks strung up, and even a decently-sized covered gazebo, where I had found Octavia on a few occasions, enjoying rainy days with good tea and a good book.

Vinyl was laid down in front of a beautiful koi pond (or at least I think they’re koi; I was never an expert), languidly swishing her hoof through the water. Her glasses were placed on the grass off to the side, leaving her face bare, which in itself was a rare occurrence. This all meant that, should Vinyl talk to me and not just push me away, she wouldn’t have her glasses to hide behind, and I would have to see the emotions plainly on her face.

I quietly stepped out of my sandals and onto the soft, lush grass as I made my way to Vinyl, furiously trying to think of something I could say or do that would help her cope with what I had told her inside. Of course, I came up with nothing, so I prepared myself to simply wing it, as I often had to do in life.

Vinyl’s left ear flicked as I approached, and though she didn’t turn to me, I did notice her haunches subtly tense, which meant she had heard me. I stopped just behind her and debated with myself for a moment before taking a cross-legged seat next to her, waiting silently.

After a long stretch of silence -- a few minutes, at least -- Vinyl let out a breath through her nose and muttered, “I never really had a chance, did I?”

“Past Jamie” would have quickly scrambled to come up with some kind platitudes to make Vinyl feel better, but as I had spent time with all of my pony friends, I had quickly learned that honesty was the best course of action. Sure, the truth hurt sometimes, but I hadn’t met a pony yet that preferred lies over the truth, since the truth always came out, sooner or later.

Nonetheless, I still tried to soften the blow. “If it makes you feel any better, you’re definitely the kind of girl I would be attracted to...but no, you never did. And maybe that’s my fault, but-”

“No, Jamie.” Vinyl interjected, still not turning her head to look at me. “You told us from the beginning that ponies just don’t ‘do it’ for you, and I get it -- really, I do. I just…” again she let out a long breath as she continued to let her hoof play in the water, “I told myself I’d accepted that. It hurt, but it’d be unfair to be mad at you for something out of your control. But, even with all that, I still had a tiny hope that maybe, just maybe, I might be an exception if I waited long enough.”

I thought of all the fun times Vinyl and I had -- the pranks we played on each other, the drunken stories told -- and found myself smiling at the memories. In my mind’s eye, I could remember the adorable look of wonder reflected in her eyes when I told her about the technology I left behind on Earth, and the sheer excitement on her face when I would (poorly) sing a song that I remembered from my previous life. It was easy to mentally picture that saucy little smirk she would throw my way when she thought I wasn’t looking, and the look of utter joy she had when we made up shortly after I found out I would be staying on Equis. Going over all that in my head, I made a rather interesting revelation.

“You would have been the first.” I mumbled, a look of momentary surprise crossing my face as I realized it was the truth. She still wasn’t looking at me, but her erect ears told me she was listening intently as I elaborated, “Honestly, you would have been the one I would be most comfortable with asking out, if I ever decided to be with a pony -- even before Dash.” Despite her not looking at me, I couldn’t help but shrug helplessly. “I know that probably doesn’t make you feel a whole lot better, but maybe that’ll give you an idea of just how much you mean to me.”

“Even before Dash? I don’t know if I believe that, Jamie. I’ve seen the two of you together.” she muttered, her ears laying flat against her head.

I tilted my head from side to side as I tried to think of how best to explain what was going through my head. “Well...when it comes down to it, you and I are more alike than Dash and I are. I was never an athlete, I’m kind of a coward, and I can’t fly. On the other hand, I’ve always been a music geek, I love technology, and I like chilling out. So you see, I actually share a lot more in common with you than I do anyone else. Dash and I are only so close because she’s always around, and she’s not exactly unlikable. Your lifestyle is quite a bit more demanding of your time than ours is, so I don’t see you as much, but that doesn’t mean I value you any less.” I raised my hand and, after debating with myself a moment, gently laid it on Vinyl’s front outstretched hoof. She didn’t pull away, which I was thankful for, but neither did she reciprocate the gesture. Again the silence stretched on, so I did the best I could to be supportive without any words.

“I want so much to be mad at you, Jamie.” Vinyl mumbled after a minute or so had passed between us. “I wish I could just make you out to be the enemy, and that this was all your fault, because that would be so much easier. But…” she sniffled once, and I found myself frowning as I realized she had been crying silent tears for a few seconds now, “I know you didn’t do anything to hurt me or anypony else, and I know you probably feel horrible about it even though it’s not your fault.” She took a shuddering breath before she continued, her voice becoming more lively and less monotone as she kept speaking. “I know this shouldn’t be such a surprise for me, but I guess I was hoping that if I held out long enough, you’d warm up to ponies and I might have a shot. This just sucks.”

I gave her hoof a gentle squeeze to let her know I was there for her, regardless of how I had inadvertently made her feel, and we continued to sit quietly next to each other. Finally, after a few minutes, she scooted over to me until her warm body was settled against me, and I chose to release her hoof and drape my arm around her neck. I hated that I had to crush Vinyl like I had, but at the same time, I was happy she was calm about it, if still upset. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I would be able to do to make her feel better. Save for being a good companion and showing her that we were still friends, I would simply have to support her as she worked through this.

It still sucked, though, and I still had to have a similar talk with Dash.

“Does she make you happy, at least?” I glanced down at Vinyl, so she clarified, “Are you with Saiian because she makes you happy, or are you just lonely?”

I wanted to immediately answer with a resounding yes to happiness, but that wasn’t the whole truth. When it came down to it, ”...both, kinda. She’s the closest thing to a human I’ll likely ever see again, so I think that’s why it was so easy for me to feel romantic inclination for her. Maybe in time that’ll change -- hell, maybe one day I’ll start one of these ‘herd’ things -- but for now, she’s the only one I feel that sort of desire for.” I then let out a long breath as a gentle smile came to me. “But yes, she makes me happy. She can be a big tease and she’s kind of infuriating sometimes, but more so in the way that makes me want to kiss her. It’s only been a day, but we were close even before this, so it’s a lot simpler without all that annoying ‘getting to know you’ BS.”

I glanced over at Vinyl again, and found her crimson eyes focused intently on me. She seemed to be studying me for a few moments before she gave a melancholic smile. “Then I guess I can be happy for you.” She then nudged me with her nose. “You should get going. We’re cool, but I’m going to need some alone time to get over all this, ‘kay?”

I smirked despite myself. “The ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech, hmm?” She responded with a more honest smile of her own, but I nodded regardless. “It’s okay, I get it. Just know that you can come see me whenever you’re ready. I’ll be waiting until then.”

I gave Vinyl a pat on the shoulder as I stood, making my way back to the opulent home of the DJ and her roommate. Just before I could reach the door, however, Vinyl’s voice caught my attention.

“I’m playing The Creature next month, on the thirteenth.”

Even though she hadn’t asked outright, I knew why she had mentioned it. Glancing back over my shoulder at the white pony, I smiled warmly at her. “I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Count me in.” I knew it would take some time for this particular trial to run its course, but at least now, I knew it would turn out okay.

Without another word, I reentered the spacious home, leaving Vinyl to her thoughts.

Chapter 25: A Cure for Boredom

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Chapter 25: A Cure for Boredom

I would love to honestly say that Vinyl came back into the house only a few hours after we spoke. I would love to claim that we made up, she was fine with us being just friends, and everything was going to be okay...but that would be a lie. While I was fairly confident that Vinyl still wanted us to be close, it was clear it was going to be weeks or months before she could move past me, if she ever did.

Without anything else to do to keep me interested, I suggested we head home to get an early night’s rest, since I was going to try and return to work the following day, just to give me something to do; I knew Aloe and Lotus would allow me all the time I needed, but I didn’t want to put more of a strain on our business relationship than necessary.

Because of that, I found myself waking up the next morning in a comfortable bed with my arm wrapped around Saiian, and Shudder resting behind me, her wing extended to cover both me and the elemental. Like most days, my body thoroughly protested getting out of the warm, comfortable place, but I had things I needed to do, so I forced myself to get moving. The morning went as it normally did, with me preparing breakfast and Shudder making the coffee, so there wasn’t anything of note that happened. That, at least, was a relief; I didn’t need any more surprises.

It took some clever negotiation, but Aloe had allowed me to come in to work, after ensuring that I was mentally sound (relative term, there) and physically healthy. It took a few minutes to properly explain what had happened and who Saiian was (both the elemental and Shudder had insisted they stay, to ensure I was safe), but other than that, it was business as usual. While I didn’t particularly feel freaked out by my bodily changes any longer (it was uncomfortable, but I could deal with it for a short amount of time), it was still nice to have some mundanity in my life. My normal clients welcomed me back after a short explanation to each about my predicament, and from there, the day passed as it always did. I will admit my fingers ached a bit more than usual, since it appeared I lost some of my muscle mass from the transformation, but all in all, it was a comfortingly normal day.

At least it was until we had a group of new customers walk in.

A new customer was not exactly common in the Ponyville spa; since it was a small, tight-knit community, while the spa was busy, it tended to have the same customers every week. Sure, a new pony would pop in every now and then, but unless they were some of Rarity’s in-town clients from one of the major cities, it was usually a pony that had simply never been to the spa before, even though they lived in Ponyville. This made it very easy to spot newcomers, and it worked to my advantage to be able to pick out the four ponies that made their way into the mineral baths while I was on a short break. From what I could deduce from looking at them, it appeared to be two unicorns, one pegasus, and an earth pony, the earth pony being the only male of the group. They were led into the room by Lotus, and curiously didn’t even notice me as the spa pony settled them into one of the larger baths. I was located in one of the single-pony tubs toward the far wall away from the door, partially hidden by a large decorative plant. Since I didn’t recognize any of the four, I watched them silently as I soaked in the steaming mineral water. Maybe it was nothing, but Shudder had warned me to be on the lookout for anyone that I didn’t recognize, or that was acting suspicious.

I wasn’t a naturally paranoid person, but it couldn’t hurt to be vigilant; I knew Shudder and Saiian would also be on the lookout, but being an oblivious target didn’t suit me.

I was still a novelty as well, after all, so it was commonplace for ponies to visit the spa just to see me; I knew that could very well be the reason these ponies visited as well, but I was on break for another 10 minutes, and I was going to enjoy it for all it was worth. The hot mineral water made staying put all the more appealing, but I still kept an eye on the new ponies. Of course, part of the reason I wasn’t all that worried was because I knew that even if I couldn’t see her, Shudder was watching; I knew if it was needed, the pegasus would leap to my defense, and she had proven she was capable of taking on multiple stronger people at once, even if they were unicorns. I still didn’t know exactly what Saiian was capable of, but I also knew that being part chaos elemental, it would be interesting to watch. With Saiian watching the building from Pinkie’s bedroom window and Shudder watching from the shadows inside the building, I was confident nothing bad would happen to me.

Their chatter carried over the sound of the bubbling baths, and thankfully, their talk was pretty mundane. Nothing particularly of note, no obvious red flags, and they hadn’t even mentioned “the weird creature in Ponyville”. With that worry thwarted, I let out a breath and settled my shoulders beneath the hot water again, letting the bath wash some of my cares away.

All too soon, however, the minute hand on the clock reached the destination I had been watching for, and with a sigh, I pulled myself out of the tub, wrapping a towel around my body as I did so. I walked past the group of ponies as I left the room, and an audible gasp caught my attention as I did so. I glanced back to see one of the unicorns staring at me with wide eyes and an open mouth, her ears laid flat against her head. She looked like she wanted nothing more than to bolt. Her reaction prompted the other ponies to look around, and all but the pegasus had similar reactions. With that in mind, I beat a hasty retreat to the locker room, so I could dress myself and get back to work.

Upon returning to the front, Lotus was waiting with a scowl on her face, looking like someone had just spat in her face.

Raising an eyebrow, I asked, “What’s your problem, boss?”

Lotus shot a look my way, holding the angry expression for a moment before groaning and laying her chin on the counter. “I just had to convince a few customers you are not, in fact, a wild beast that was going to eat ponies or something.”

I snorted at that. “Ah yes, a wild beast that’s more modest than most ponies, regularly trims her body hair, and knows how to do math. I can even count to a hundred!”

Lotus snerked in an attempt to hide her laugh before falling into giggles. She leaned back and shook her head before cocking her head at me with a grin. “Yes, you’re quite the monster, aren’t you? Running your…um…” she rolled her hoof toward my hands.


“Right, fingers -- all over innocent ponies!” she playfully chastised me. “You rapscallion, you brute! Why, if you weren’t so good at your job, I might have to report you to the princess!”

I droned in a deadpan voice. “Oh no, please don’t tell Twilight. My life will be ruined! Oh no, so terrible!” I placed a finger on my chin, theatrically thinking out loud. “Although, it was her idea to apply here, so she’s partially to blame. I’m fine with that. Let’s tell Twilight it’s her fault.” I shrugged. “I’m still convinced she recommended it just so she’d have a reason to ask me to pet her, claiming it was ‘therapeutic’ instead of me just petting my friends which happen to be small little furry creatures.”

Lotus cocked her head to the side in confusion. “Humans don’t normally pet their friends?”

I couldn’t help the blush that bloomed on my cheeks. “Umm no, not really. If a human runs his or her hands over another human the way I do you ponies, the two of them are likely romantic partners. Then there’s the more lewd definition for ‘petting’ that’s often used, so…nah, not so much.”

Nodding, Lotus conceded, “Right, you told me humans don’t touch each other as much as ponies do.” She tossed her head off to the side, toward the schedule on the wall. “Anyhow, your next appointment is already waiting for you, so hop to it. Let me know when you’re finished and I’ll move her to the steam room.”

Waving briefly to Lotus, I made my way down the hall to my massage room and opened the door. Inside was Aloe, who was sitting next to an unfamiliar nervous-looking mare, doing her best to calm her down and reassure her.

“I promise, you von’t be deesappointed,” she said, darting her eyes over to me for a breath before going back to the mare, who was now staring up at me with wide eyes. “We don’t employ bad poniees ‘ere, and I ask that you trust me ven I say Jamie is very talented.”

The mare in question was a pegasus I had seen in passing from time to time, usually bringing packages from Canterlot for the local post office to distribute. She was well-built, with decently-sized wings and a firm, muscular body, which was at odds with her anxious behavior. Her body was reminiscent of Shudder (though a larger frame), so it was strange that a capable pony was worried about me. I mean, let’s face it: if a pony wanted to hurt me, I had very little defense against them. Unicorns had magic, pegasi were faster than me, and earth ponies were stronger than I could ever hope to be. I was downright flimsy by comparison, which might be why ponies that knew me couldn’t seriously consider me a threat. Hell, Applebloom was stronger than I was, and she was just a little kid.

Deciding to break the tension, I kneeled before the mare and looked into her eyes, slowly extending my hand to her. “I’m Jamie, and I’ll be your masseuse today.”

The smoother female tones of my new vocal cords helped calm the mare down, and I saw her visibly relax a little as she tentatively put her hoof in my hand. “M-my name’s Marigold. It’s nice to meet you, Jamie.”

Closing my fingers around her hoof, I gave it a shake, before letting go and standing again. “Well, unless you have any questions, let’s get started. Nothing better to do to relax you than to just get into what you came here for. And remember: anytime you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, all you have to say is ‘stop,’ and you can leave. The customer is always in control here.”

The mare seemed to relax a bit further, finally donning a tremulous smile as she nodded. “R-right, I appreciate that.” She hopped off of the seat and spread her wings, using a single flap to jump onto the massage table and lay face down.

Aloe nodded her approval. “It seems you ‘ave everysing vell enough in ‘and zhen. Unless you vanted me to stay, miss?”

“Um, n-no, I think we’ll be okay. Thank you, though,” the mare named Marigold assured, still sounding a bit nervous.

With that assurance given, Aloe nodded to me with a smile and promptly left the room. I quickly washed my hands in the sink before moving over to the table. “So, was there any specific massage oil scent you preferred? Our most popular at the moment is coconut and cream, though I personally prefer cucumber and melon.”

“Um, what do you recommend?” she asked, clearly unsure. This must not be something she was often asked, or thought about.

I thought for a moment, unsure how she was going to react to my next question. I decided to just ask, and explain as I did so. “Well, forgive me if this sounds strange, but my best way to do that would be to smell you.” She pushed herself up to look at me, a blush on her cheeks as she seemed to be trying to decide if I was serious or not. “From what I’ve noticed, each pony has their own unique scent, and depending on what it is, certain scented lotions or oils work better.”

Marigold’s lips formed an “oh” before she hesitantly nodded. “O-okay, I understand. Um, sure, go ahead.”

I slowly moved closer, noticing her eyes following me all the while. When I got close enough to feel her breath on my face, I gently said, “I’m not going to hurt you. Promise.” Marigold nodded, so I closed my eyes and moved a bit closer, taking a big breath in through my nose. Immediately I picked up the scent of ozone and rain, which was a common enough scent for pegasi. But underneath that, I could smell wildflowers, which for some reason reminded me of Fluttershy. The last thing I could pick up was the confusing scent of herbs of some kind. Rosemary or possibly thyme, or whatever the Equestrian analogues were.

Opening my eyes and leaning back out of her personal space bubble, I nodded to her. “Okay, I think I got it. You’ve got a floral scent and the smell of some kind of herbs. Do you have a garden at home?”

Her mouth dropped open. “...y-yes. You got all that just by smelling me?”

I shrugged with a crooked smile. “Lucky guess. I figured you either had a garden, or else you worked in a store that sold plants and the like. I would recommend our sugarplum rain oil, which is a light, bright scent that would compliment you quite well. It’s noticeable without being overpowering, and the sweetness is sure to make you smile for hours after you leave.”

After her momentary surprise had ebbed, Marigold gave me another shy smile before nodding. “Okay, I’ll take that.” She again laid down and slowly spread her wings, allowing them to hang off the edges of the table, the lead feathers just barely brushing the floor. “M-my neck has the most tension in it, along with my shoulders. Do you work on hooves here?”

“I certainly can. Are we talking a trim, or…?”

Marigold gave a slight shake of her head within the facerest. “No, I just had that done last week. They could use a little file and buff, though.”

Smiling, I nodded, even though she couldn’t see it. “Sure, I can do that.” I reached over to the shelves that had the massage oils, finding the one I needed and squirting a bit in my hands. I vigorously rubbed my hands together to warm the oil a bit before pressing my fingertips into the base of her neck. Marigold flinched at the touch, so I gently assured, “Remember: anytime you decide you feel uncomfortable, just say stop.”

I saw her body inflate and deflate with a breath before she settled herself. “N-no, it’s okay. I’m just…not used to others touching me.”

I slowly began my work, gently kneading the tight muscles of her neck. “A pony that’s not used to physical contact? I gotta admit, that’s a surprise.” Digging my fingers a little deeper rewarded me with a groan from the mare, so I continued my work. “I mean, physical contact is kinda normal between friends, isn’t it?”

With my hands on her, I felt as the mare stiffened briefly, before my fingers relaxed her again. After a period of silence, she answered, “...w-well, that’s because I don’t really have any.”

I stopped briefly. A pony that didn’t have friends? That might as well be a crime against nature, in Twilight’s book. Still, as an until-recently anti-social human, I could understand. Having more than one person I regularly spoke with was a new phenomenon for me. Back home, the internet was supposed to make humans more connected, but sometimes, I had felt more alone than ever.

Resuming my kneading, which earned me a few more soft groans, I commented, “Well, there’s no better town for a pony like you, then. The princess of friendship herself lives here, and these Ponyvillians are a friendly bunch all on their own.” I let the suggestion hang in the air for a moment before continuing with small talk. “So, I’ve seen you come in from Canterlot. You’re one of the ponies that brings down packages to the post office, right?”

Marigold gave a decidedly pleased sounding noise when my fingers released a knot in the side of her neck. “Uh huh. My division receives the packages from the trains that come to Canterlot, and my team is the one that handles Ponyville deliveries. There’s ten of us.”

I raised an eyebrow at that. “Only ten ponies for all those packages? You all must be workaholics.”

Marigold’s faint giggle was felt through my hands. “W-well, it keeps us in good shape with all the tasty Canterlot restaurants. If I didn’t have this job, I’d be a very round pony.”

I could admit that was probably true. I hadn’t spent too long in Canterlot, but I imagine the seat of the Equestrian government and the home of two alicorn goddesses probably had the best the nation had to offer in terms of food and entertainment. The food in the castle was already pretty good, so I could only imagine the food outside was probably just as good.

I glided my fingers up the back of her neck, finishing at the top and moving up to briefly rub my hands up against her cheeks before rubbing all the way down the sides of her neck. She exhaled with a happy sound, so I moved on to her shoulders next. “Well, if it’s anything like the castle food, I imagine it’s pretty good.”

At that, Marigold started. “Y-you stayed in the castle?”

I chuckled at that. “Well yeah. I mean c’mon: a new species shows up out of nowhere, so of course the princesses had to be notified. They wanted to meet me, which meant I got to eat there. It was pretty cool, but castles are too fancy for me, honestly. Nice mares, though.” I wisely didn’t mention I was essentially the personal confidante of both Canterlot princesses, since that wasn’t exactly public information.

“I can’t even imagine,” she breathed. “It must have been incredible.”

I shrugged again. “Well, I won’t lie and say it wasn’t cool, but I’m a simple person at heart. Gimme a quiet place where I can spend time with my friends, and that’s good enough for me. Whether that be a palace or a one-bedroom shack, I’m not picky. Plus, when I think about living in a castle, all I can think of is all the rooms that have to be cleaned every day or week. It’s too much for one person, so I’d have to hire cleaners to do it, or maids, or whatever, and that would make me just feel bad. I mean, it’s my house, and if I couldn’t even clean it on my own, I’d feel pretty useless.”

“A lot of the castle staaaaff,” she moaned the word out, my hands finding a particularly stubborn knot, and kneading it out expertly. After briefly composing herself, Marigold tried again. “A lot of the castle staff take pride in serving the princesses. They’re well paid, but I imagine many of them would do it for free, just to make the princesses happy.”

“Maybe,” I conceded, “but I’m just some random person. I’m not even a noble. If a person like me had a giant house, I’d just look like a pretentious dick.”

As it usually did with ponies, my crude speech drew a string of giggles from the mare in my care. Ponies had their own little cutsie curses they said, but Rarity had once told me that mine were considered much more direct and crude than most ponies regularly used. The words were understood for the most part, but again, most ponies didn’t curse the way I did. If nothing else, it made me feel kinda special in a weird sort of way.

“S-so, um, where do you live then? If you don’t mind me asking, that is,” she tentatively asked.

The mare seemed largely harmless, so I mentally shrugged and answered. “I’m actually staying with Twilight. Sometime in the future I’ll probably get my own place, but for now, I live with her.”

The mare practically threw my hands off as she bolted up, staring at me with wide eyes. “You live with Princess Twilight Sparkle?”

“I do indeed. She’s a wonderful housemate, if not a bit of a workaholic,” I explained, smiling softly at the thought of my roommate.

Marigold gave a flap of her wings when I worked my way toward her spine, relaxing a moment later. “I couldn’t imagine getting to live with royalty. It must be such an honor!”

Pressing hard into her spine, and feeling the pops and crackles as the muscles released their tension, I could only shrug at Marigold’s assumption. “She wasn’t always royalty, Mari. Do you mind if I call you Mari? Anyway, until she grew wings, she was just a quirky, dorky unicorn. Maybe she’s a princess now, but she’s still the same Twilight. Trust me: she’s just about the most un-royal princess you could ever meet.”

She giggled softly, shifting a bit and seeming to lean into my touch a bit more as I carefully moved around her wings, being extra careful not to touch them. “So it’s true? She was just a normal mare before she became a princess?”

I bobbed my head from side to side. “Well…I’m not sure ‘normal’ would be the right word to describe her. What I’m trying to say is that, while she has a crown and all that, she’s still a pony. She gets sad, she gets mad, she does silly things, she snorts when she laughs -- yes, she really does that -- and she wants to be loved just like any of the rest of you. I guess if she gives an official order or something, you should listen, but she prefers to be treated like you would anypony else. She is the princess of friendship, after all, so she doesn’t want to be deified.”

Marigold paused for a moment, and I likewise paused my massage as I let her think. Eventually, she reluctantly said, “I-I guess you’re right. It’s just, we’re so used to treating princesses like sacred objects that it feels weird to consider not treating one with the highest respect and reverence.”

“Respect her when she asks something of you in an official capacity,” I suggested, resuming my kneading, “but otherwise, just treat her in a friendly manner. She’ll be much happier that way.”

The rest of the session was much more relaxed, and I found myself enjoying talking to someone new for once.

“Bye Mari! I hope to see you again sometime soon!” I said with a smile, giving a kind farewell to the pegasus.

The blushing pegasus offered a shy wave as she made her way out of the establishment, but couldn’t stop the relaxed smile that was on her lips. She paused for a moment at the front door, fidgeting her hooves briefly before trotting over and rearing up to give me a hug. We held the embrace for a moment before releasing, and she walked away with a happy bounce in her gait, leaving the spa without a word.

Lotus, who was manning the counter, whispered, “Not a day goes by that I’m not happy you work here. I swear, you have some magic in those fingers that you’re not telling us about.”

I shrugged, still staring at the front door that no longer showed my most recent client. “I don’t know about that, but if I can bring a smile to the ponies around me, that’s good enough. So,” I turned toward my boss, nodding to her, “who’s next?”

Lotus glanced into the schedule book, running her hoof down the list until she found what she was looking for. “Her name is Sunny, and she’s asking for the full service: massage, mineral bath, hoof and horn filing, the works. She even threw us a little extra to be sure she got you.”

I looked down at the schedule book, frowning at the name. “Sunny” seemed like a fake name for a pony, possibly an alias. Nonetheless, this wasn’t exactly a “check your ID” kind of business, so I just shrugged my shoulders and began my walk down the hallway. “Give me a minute to clean up the room, then send her back.”

After getting back to my massage room, I did a quick tidy-up of the place, ensuring the bed was wiped down, the oils were all put on the shelf again, and all the instruments were back in their places. I then opened the door and sat in a chair, waiting patiently for my next client to arrive.

Sure enough, about five minutes later, a rather leggy c