My Family and Other Equestrians

by Blade Star

First published

A HiE fic with a twist. Our protagonist is not alone. How does one approach being in Equestria, when their family is along for the ride?

When our protagonist awakens in the Everfree Forest, he is not alone. Transformed into a creature he once thought to be fictional, and accompanied by his close family he must find his way through this new land. Can he build a new life for them all in Equestria, and how will the ponies react to these strange creatures? Particularly when they find out about a certain TV show.

Comments and criticisms appreciated.

(Not a self-insert)

Thanks to Wadusher0 for the cover art.

Updated every Friday.

Featured on 05/09/2014 (or 09/05 if you're American)

Featured again 05/12/2014 Thanks again, everypony!

And again on 09/01/2015

Chapter 1 - Arrival

View Online

I don’t really remember much about any of it. I don’t remember where I was, what I was doing, I’m not even sure if I was awake at the time. Did it hurt? Was it a fun ride? Did I scream like a girl? I guess I’ll never know, not that it really matters. What I do remember though, is waking up with a pounding head, vision quality on par with 1950’s TV, and all the balance and grace of a man who’s had one too many pints of Guinness.

I lay where I was for a good couple of minutes. I felt tired, and my limbs were heavy; getting up and about didn’t exactly seem like a fun proposition. Even my eyelids felt heavy, and keeping them open took a conscious effort.

But as the minutes ticked by, this fatigue slowly left me, and I began to come to my senses. I was still out of it though, as I looked around and tried to determine where the heck I was. That was when I first began to worry. I wasn’t it my own bed. I’m not the kind of guy who wakes up in a stranger’s garden after a night of partying; I’ve never really been drunk, so waking up in a small forest clearing set off a few alarm bells. How would I get home? Did I have any money? What was Mum going to say when I got back?

More to the point, where was I? There was nothing around me that I recognised, at least, not at first. All around were just dark foreboding trees as far as the eye could see. There wasn’t even that much light, since the intertwined leaves created a canopy that let only a few slivers of light in.

Eventually, after much deliberation, and mental panicking, I decided that my best bet was to try and find out just where in God’s name I was. This forest had to end somewhere. There might be a path, some sign, or anything that pointed which direction civilisation was. I did my best to hold onto the positives, not a very well-practiced skill if I’m honest.

With a conscious effort, and a few pained sounds, I got back on my feet and stood up.

Only to unceremoniously fall back down with a thud that knocked the wind out of me. I winced at the pain of the landing, my body was still sore all over, as if it had been overly exerted.

Since standing up appeared to be out of the question for the moment, I decided to try propping myself up on all fours and sit upright for a few minutes, until my legs decided that they wanted to return to their usual pastime of supporting my weight.

But that too proved to be something of a challenge. Pushing myself up off the floor, I tried to push backwards and bend my knees. Only, they wouldn’t bend. A moment’s experimentation found that instead, they seemed inclined to bend inward. For a few horrible moments I thought that I’d inadvertently broken my legs somehow, and that the pain I was feeling was simply what the endorphins weren’t taking away. A quick visual check though, showed that my fears were unfounded.

However, they did raise a couple of more pertinent questions.

This was not my body.

My body was thin, scrawny, pale, and most importantly bipedal. The one I seemed to be attached to now, was covered in fine grey hide, and in the place of hands and feet, I found that my limbs ended in equally grey hooves. I was a quadruped.

Turning my head to look at myself, my panic and fear growing by the second, I found that I was indeed no longer in possession of a poor example of the species homo sapiens sapiens. Instead, I appeared to be horse like. I had hooves, a fine haired coat, a dark blue tail, and…

Wait, what was that?!

Right there, on my hind quarters, my…er…flank, was an image. On both there was an image of two crossed swords; one silver, and one gold.

That was a cutie mark. Those only appeared on ponies, Equestrian ponies. As in fictional little cartoon horses from a TV show I watched; My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. My eyes went wide.

“Okay…that’s interesting,” I muttered to myself, fear undoubtedly evident in my voice. Blinking a few times in an effort to dispel what I was seeing had no effect. I think I may have screamed after that. But let’s not dwell on that just now.

After a few moments of more panicking, during which I somehow ended up on my back, I decided that I needed to get a better view of whatever had happened to me. A short distance away from me was a small puddle of still water. It would probably give me at least a vague reflection of what I looked like now, although a part of me didn’t want to know and was busy clicking it’s shoes together screaming ‘there’s no place like home’.

This brought me back to walking. Given that I was fairly certain that I was a pony, I understood why my previous attempt at walking had gone so badly. This body wasn’t designed for it. I would need to stand on four legs, not two. In effect, I would need to almost learn how to walk again.

With another effort, although I was rapidly regaining my lost strength by this point, I pushed myself up. It felt a little strange, almost like crawling, except I felt as though I was standing upright at the same time. It was a little difficult, but eventually, I managed to get to my feet and stand fairly steady. Next up was walking.

Again, the idea of crawling helped me there. It was still difficult, and I more or less hobbled rather than actually walked, tripping every now and then like toddler and only just managing to stay upright. After a few failed attempts I managed to find the right pattern for moving each individual leg so that I didn’t trip up. Eventually, I made it to the small pool and got my first real look at myself.

My suspicion was indeed correct, I was a pony. And, much to my surprise and partial delight, I was a unicorn. From my forehead, poking out between my somewhat matted dark blue mane, was grey spiraled horn, about four or five inches long, that ended in a dull point. I wondered if I could use magic, but after straining for a moment (and not really having the faintest idea what I was doing) I gave up on that.

Along with the horn, I had two very large, dark brown eyes, not too dissimilar to the ones I’d had as a human. It felt strange to think about that. I quickly saw that I no longer had my glasses, yet my eyesight seemed perfectly fine. That was a plus; what followed would certainly been a lot trickier if all I could see was a blur.

I also now sported a muzzle, a fairly square thing that gave me a reassuringly masculine appearance. Despite the mess my mane was in, I seemed to be clean shaven. And speaking of my mane, poking up from either side of my head were a pair of bluntly pointed grey ears, which after a few moments of testing, I found I could move easily.

Aside from that, I looked like your standard run of the mill pony. My body looked fairly average in build and size, I had a cutie mark, a horn. All in all, I was a perfectly normal unicorn.

But the face was also familiar to me. As I looked into the pool, I turned my head so that I could see each side from a few different angles. I knew this pony that was now my reflection. I’d come up with the grey coat, the somewhat messy dark blue mane, and the crossed swords cutie mark. This pony was of my own creation, he was a character I’d come up with ages ago. I’d called him Blade Star. Daft name I know, but that’s what happens when you rely on one of those pony name generators. There was no doubt about it, I was my own OC. I actually found that prospect quite exciting, when I managed to stop panicking.

Before long though, I was brought back to the issue at hand (or should that be hoof now?). Where was I? I began to think again. This place seemed vaguely familiar at first, but my discovery of my new body offered a very interesting idea.

A deep, dark, foreboding forest. No. This couldn’t be the Everfree, could it?

No, of course it couldn’t. The Everfree Forest wasn’t real now, was it? But then again, nor were unicorns, and yet here I was. I wasn’t high or whacked out of my mind, and a quick snap at my fetlock with my new teeth confirmed that I wasn’t dreaming. Could this really be Equestria?

My sudden hypothesis was interrupted by the sound of two voices not too far away, somewhere through the trees.

“Oh, good God, what the hell happened?” one male voice asked, sounding as fatigued as I felt. It was quickly joined by another female voice.

“Where on earth are we anyway? How did we get out here?”

A feeling of gladness swelled in my heart as I recognised the voices of my parents; Roger and Margaret. Or Mum and Dad as I call usually them. Quickly picking out where the voices came from (score one for improved pony hearing) I called out to them.

“Mum, Dad, is that you?” I shouted out. I heard the sound of leaves rustling as someone moved suddenly, as if startled. A moment later, I heard my father call out my name in confusion.

“Is that you?” he added. I smiled in relief. Everything would be alright now; I wasn’t alone in my predicament.

“Yeah, it’s me!” I replied. “I think I’m about one clearing over from you guys. Are you okay?” I expected that any moment they’d start panicking. I tried to think of a way to explain to them that they were now ponies. Their response though, surprised me.

“We’ve both fine,” my Dad replied. “We’re both feeling a bit knocked about, but we’re okay. How about you?” They hadn’t changed? Oh boy. This might take some explaining. I did my best to broach the subject carefully. How do you tell your parents you’ve suddenly become a pony, I was still coming to terms with it myself.

“I’m okay,” I began. “Have you two noticed any weird changes or anything?”

“Changes?” my Dad asked, sounding befuddled. “What kind of changes?”

“Well…er,” I replied awkwardly. “I may have changed species. I think I’m a pony now.” I heard my Dad bark out a short laugh.

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” he answered good naturedly. “Come on, son. This is no time for jokes. Stay where you are and we’ll come and find you.”

Well, that’s torn it, I thought to myself. They were in for one hell of a shock in a minute. Or I was; there was that small part of my mind that insisted that what I was seeing was impossible. I stood where I was at the pool, pretty much stock still and waited for my parents to arrive.

They didn’t take long, and I soon spotted the silhouette of my Dad pushing his way through the brush and branches, with my Mum following behind in his wake. A few moments later, they emerged into the clearing.

My Dad was a fairly tall man, around 5’10 (I was previously around 5’8 or so), with a fairly slim build. His hair, which was starting to thin here and there, was a deep silver, though most people tended to find their attention drawn to his unusual monobrow, a feature I thankfully avoided inheriting. He was dressed in his usual plain light blue shirt, with a dark blue jumper over it. He had his reading glasses on as well, though he didn’t tend to wear them except when he was reading or driving.

Behind him was my Mum. She was a very petite woman, barely 5’0 in height and somewhat heavy set, though a far cry from being fat (she’d argue that two kids tend to be murder on your figure). Her hair, which was dyed blonde, was cut fairly short, stopping just at her neck. Her features were round and kind, with fewer wrinkles than my father, and certainly fewer than other women who were closer to sixty than they were to fifty. They were both getting on in years now, both in their late fifties. She was wearing a light coloured blouse and jeans, the sort of thing she usually wore around the house.

Dad had a relaxed smile on his face, like me, glad of someone else in the same mess. His smile vanished when his eyes settled on me though. Looking around in confusion, he called out my name again.

“Are you out here?” he asked. Bracing myself for the inevitable, I walked, which I was now a little better at, over him, waving a foreleg half-heartedly.

“Hi, Dad,” I said, somewhat awkwardly.

You could hear a pin drop.

My Dad stared at me in complete and utter bewilderment. You could see his mind trying to work out what he was seeing. A moment later, after the two of us had stared at each other awkwardly for a bit, my Mum offered her two pence into the conversation. Her contribution consisted mainly of screaming like a banshee and tripping over herself in an attempt to get away. My Dad too backed off and moved to protect his wife. I found myself backpedalling, and possibly screaming myself, but tried to calm things down.

“Woah, woah, woah, calm down, Mum!” I called out, in an effort to try and calm her. “It’s okay, it’s okay! I’m not going to hurt you! It’s me; your son!” This had no effect though, and it was only due to her need for oxygen that she paused in her screeching. My Dad had quickly wrapped his arms round her in a protective hug, placing himself between me and her.

“Who the hell are you?!” he demanded angrily. I sat down on my rear and did my best to explain.

“It’s me, Dad,” I replied fretfully. “It’s your son. I just…look a little different, that’s all.”

“A little different?!” my Mum parroted. “You’re a miniature talking horse for goodness sake. You’re not my son!” I won’t lie, that hurt.

“I am, Mum. I promise, it’s me!” I implored. Still looking wild with fright, my Dad tried to disprove my statement.

“Okay then, when were you born?” he asked.

“January 10th1994,” I replied. “Same as my little sister, Lizzie. Only, she was born two years and six hours later.” Surely such exact knowledge would convince them both of my bona fides.

The same thought seemed to strike all three of us at once. There were four of us in our little family; me, Mum, Dad, and Lizzie. I was here, despite my parents thinking I was…actually, I’m not sure what they thought, they were both here; so where was Lizzie? Logically, whatever had brought us here must have done the same for Lizzie. We’d all arrived in separate places in the forest, so it was possible that she was out there somewhere.

Standing stock still, and with a dark look on his face, my Dad pointed a shaking finger at me. His breathing suddenly became more ragged, and sweat began to appear on his face.

“Where’s my daughter?” he asked darkly, his eyes wild. I tried to reply that I didn’t know where Lizzie was, or if she’d even ended up here, but he cut me off.

“I said where’s my daughter, you son of a bitch!” This time, he shouted. He was panicking. Whereas Mum and I just panic and pither when we’re worried, my Dad tends to try to fight his way out when he’s cornered.

“Look, I don’t know!” I shot back in fear. “I don’t know. But we weren’t too far from each other, so she must be somewhere nearby too. If we all stick together, we can start looking for her. And, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather get out of here sooner rather than later.” My Dad snorted.

“Oh, sure,” he replied sneeringly. “Let’s all just follow the weird horse thing that’s pretending to be my son. It’s not like it’s going to lead us anywhere dangerous!” I tilted my head in a dog like fashion before regaining myself and snorting in a very horse like manner.

“I keep telling you, I am your son!” I exclaimed. “And even if I wasn’t, why would I want to hurt either of you? Ponies are herbivores for goodness sake!” My Dad though, remained resolute.

“No, there’s no way my wife and I are going traipsing through wherever the hell this is with a talking horse thing that may want to eat us anyway.” I’d had enough.

“For the last time!” I yelled, snarling angrily. “I’m your goddamn son. Will you get that through your thick skull, Dad?!”

All of a sudden, my angry tirade was cut off by my Mum crying out in fright. Suddenly, and without apparent movement, my Dad was much closer, and eye level with me. Even more surprising, He was surrounded by a strange dark blue glow. Faintly, I could hear a tinkling sound, like wind chimes.

It took me a moment to realise what had happened. I’d used magic. As in real life, honest to God, no sleight of hand card tricks here, magic. Somehow in my anger, I’d managed to cast a levitation spell, as the show termed it, and was now holding my Dad prone about four feet or so off the ground. He’d gone white as a sheet.

Shocked at my newfound abilities, I inadvertently broke my concentration, or whatever it was that had let me cast magic in the first place. A moment later, my first ever spell fizzled out, and my Dad dropped to the ground. He quickly picked himself up and backed off. I did my best to use my accidental display to my advantage.

“Now look,” I began. “If I really wanted to hurt either of you, don’t you think I would have done it already? I know it sounds crazy, but I swear, I’m your son.”

At this, my Mum, who’d not really been too involved in proceedings beyond screaming in fright, edged forward. Tentatively making her way towards me, and going around her still stunned husband, she kneeled down to be eye level and within arm’s reach of me. Slowly, she reached out with a hand to touch my face. As it drew near, I let out an involuntary whiney like noise, which caused to hesitate for a second. A moment later though, she pressed on, and laid her open hand on the side of my face. Her eyes met mine and we stared at each other for what felt like a long time.

Eventually though, she smiled. And leaning forward, she embraced me in a tight hug. I found my head resting on her shoulder and vice versa. I wanted to breathe a sigh of relief.

“You’re my son,” she said quietly, as she held onto my, as if her life depended on it. “I don’t know what's happened to you, or where we are, but I know who you are; you’re my boy.” A moment later she released me.

“What makes you so sure?” I asked, stupidly tempting fate by playing devil’s advocate for a moment. She smiled softly, and shrugged her shoulders.

“A mother always knows her kids,” she replied. She turned to my Dad, daring him to object. But he had the good sense to keep quiet and not cross her.

Moving around a little, my Mum settled herself to sit Indian style across from me, and motioned for my Dad to do the same. I now had a moment to work out my size, relative to my parents. I reckoned that I was a somewhere around four and a half feet tall on all four hooves. One little mystery cleared up.

As the three of us sat down together, with Dad still a little distrustful, but far less hostile towards me, my Mum took over the conversation.

“So you do you have any idea what’s happened to us?” she asked. I shook my head.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” I replied. “I woke up here about ten, maybe fifteen minutes ago. I feel like I’ve been chewed up and spat out. When I finally came to, I realised that I was like this.” My Mum gestured to my new form.

“So what are you anyway, some sort of unicorn?”

“Sort of,” I answered. “I’m a unicorn pony. See the cutie mark.” As I turned to show off the strange mark on my rear, I heard Dad try and fail to hold back a laugh, which came out as an odd snort. I sat back down again.

“I know this sounds crazy, Mum. But I think we might be in Equestria.” I said.

“Where?” my Dad exclaimed. “Wait, wait, wait. You mean the place off that kids pony cartoon you watch on your laptop?” I nodded.

“It makes sense,” I replied. “I look just like a character from the show. And this place.” I gestured to our surroundings. “Sure looks a lot like the Everfree Forest; somewhere we don’t want to be.”

“What is it?” my Mum asked curiously, evidently the more open of the two. I briefly explained how it was seen as an unnatural place in the show, and full of some rather nasty creatures. And since I had no desire to be scoffed by timberwolves, turned to stone by a cockatrice, or whatever the heck a cragadile does to its victims, I suggested we try and get out, post haste.

“What about Lizzie though?” Dad asked in concern. “You haven’t told us where she is.” I resisted the urge to roll my eyes.

“I don’t know where she is,” I replied. “She may not even be here for all I know. But if you want, we can try to search for her. As long as we’re careful, we should be alright.” I turned to look at the sun through the trees.

“Right, assuming that it’s mid-afternoon, that’s west,” I said, pointing toward the sun that was still fairly high in the sky. Dad nodded in agreement. “If I remember right, Ponyville should be to the north from here. We should try heading in that direction for now, and look for Lizzie as we go.”

“And what then?” Dad asked “Go to some pony village, are you crazy?” I shrugged my shoulders.

Assuming I was right, our best bet would be to find a certain purple alicorn, which made my inner fan jump around in excitement, with Mum and Dad around my fear was beginning to evaporate, and from there either try and get her to help us get home, or go to the princesses in Canterlot. A bit of a far-fetched, yes, but it was better than nothing. We certainly didn’t want to stay here. Luckily, Mum stepped in again.

“You heard what he said, Roger,” she countered. “I don’t fancy running into any of those beasties, thank you very much. I’ll take my chances with the magical ponies. We need to find Lizzie.” She got to her feet. “Lead the way, son.”

And so, with some trepidation, the three of us set off. We left the comparative safety of our little clearing and headed roughly north. We were soon on a small path, but I had little idea of where we were actually going. I’d seen bits of this place about a dozen times. It wasn’t as if I knew it like the back of my hand (or hoof) though. I wasn’t even sure we were heading the right way. More to the point, I had no idea how we were supposed to find Lizzie, if she was even out here. Surely she would have heard us by now and found us; Mum and Dad had found me in mere minutes after all. But we were hesitant to call out for her, lest we attract unwanted attention from the creatures that called this forest home. After all, somewhere in here there was a bloody ursa major.

So we pressed on, hoping that we’d eventually find something that would tell us where we are. I was half hoping that we’d come across Zecora’s little hut. Aside from being friendly with Twilight, she would most likely have the best reaction to us, having experienced the somewhat flighty nature of ponies first hoof.

But in the end, we didn’t find ourselves at Zecora’s hut, but somewhere much larger and, once upon a time, a lot more opulent. As we pressed on through the brush, we suddenly found ourselves in a large open space. And out there in front of us, much to my delight, was a great castle.

“Well, I’d say we’re definitely in Equestria,” I declared, smiling more than I had in a good long time. We’d only run straight into the bloody castle!

“What is it?” my Mum asked. I turned to her, slipping into something of a lecture mode. Combined with my building excitement, it overran my fear and I began to act almost as if nothing was wrong.

“This is the old castle; the Castle of the Royal Pony Sisters,” I replied gleefully. “Before the show, this is where the two princesses lived. It’s where Celestia fought and defeated Nightmare Moon, and where the Elements of Harmony were used to turn her back into Princess Luna. And if I’m not mistaken, the Tree of Harmony should be just down those steps.”

By now overcome with fan based excitement, I set off at a near gallop (the previous walk had allowed me to fine tune my motor skills) and headed down the steps. If anything else, it would confirm not only where we were, if there was still any doubt, but also when we were in the timeline.

Almost slipping a few times on the crumbling stone staircase, I eventually found myself at the bottom, in what I imagine would have once been the castle’s moat. And it was there, nestled away in a little indent in the otherwise sheer rock face, that I first laid eyes on the Tree of Harmony.

There was no doubt about it then, we were definitely in Equestria. My mind was too preoccupied with that one fact to contemplate much else. I sat down and just stared at the great tree, with my parents joining me a moment later. It really was amazing. The tree seemed to give off a light all of its own, and held in its branches were its ‘fruit’; the elements themselves. That meant we were in the ‘present’ so to speak. For a few moments, I’d been thinking about what I’d do if we had been somewhere in the past. Maybe I’d have had a chance to interfere with important events, like stopping the changeling attack on Canterlot.

But no, we were clearly in the present. In addition to the elements, nearby I could see the strange hexagonal box that the tree had spawned, still locked tight. My parents looked on curiously as I bustled about, chattering about every little thing in excitement. Finally, my Dad grew impatient.

“Er, son, I don’t mean to be impatient or anything,” he said. “But do you think we could get back to finding your sister, or maybe getting out of here?” I perked up my ears, a nice new ability.

Turning back to them both, I realised that I’d lost sight of more important issues. My worry returned with a vengeance, for Lizzie as well as myself. I shook my head to clear my thoughts.

“Yeah, er, sorry, Dad,” I replied bashfully. “I kinda got a little overexcited. But I know where we are now for sure, so I think I can find us a way out.”

That was true. While I didn’t know the Everfree Forest, I did have a decent understanding of the route Twilight and her friends had taken when they journeyed here to face Nightmare Moon. To reach Ponyville now, all we needed to do work backwards through each encounter. We just needed to follow landmarks, like the ravine where Rainbow Dash met the Shadowbolts, or the river where they all encountered the sea serpent.

Turning around, the three of us walked back up the stone stairs and began to head away from the castle. I settled on the front and headed directly away from it. Hopefully, that would take us to Ponyville.

My plan didn’t exactly work out to start with. We weren’t hitting any of the landmarks after almost half an hour of walking. With so little sunlight, for all I knew we were walking in circles. If we could just find some landmark it would be a start. We were still no closer to finding Lizzie either. Every clearing we came to, we hoped that we’d find her, in whatever form, unharmed. But try as we might, we could find no trace of her.

I was getting quite worried at this point. So far, my jaunt into Equestria had caused a fight with my parents, potentially put my sister in danger, and completely cut us off from our home. It was hardly the semi-utopia I thought it to be. Mum and Dad were getting restless too, with Dad prodding that maybe he should take over as guide, or that we ought to change direction, possibly even try to set up camp for the night, for it was now late in the afternoon.

Things had almost come to a head when the proverbial clouds finally parted. We finally reached the ravine. The rope bridge was still there and looked to be fairly solid, so we would hopefully be able to cross it. But that was the least of my concerns. At that moment, we could have been stuck in this forest forever for all I cared.

My attention instead, along with that of my parents, was focussed on a teenage girl sitting not too far from the ravine, near some wild flowers. It was Lizzie!

My little sister, though she would now undoubtedly tower over me in my new form, was exactly two years younger than myself. She even had the cheek to turn up right at the end of my second birthday party. Though I admit, it does make remembering birthdays easier. She had a soft, friendly face, like her mother’s, though her face was less rounded. She was a brunette, with her hair extending down past her shoulders. She was dressed in attire more suited to our situation, wearing a ratty old hoody that she’d gotten from me, along with a pair of plain trousers that were presently somewhat stained with mud.

She was, as I said, sitting on her knees, near a patch of blue wild flowers. She hadn’t yet noticed our presence and was leaning forward to pick one of them.

It took me a moment, but I was sure from the first that there was something familiar about those flowers. A moment later, it came to me; Poison Joke! Okay, it wouldn’t hurt her, but I’d rather not see what it did to her regardless.

Before my parents could say or do anything, I set off at my first ever full blown gallop, tearing the ground up as I tried to pick up speed. Running up to Lizzie, I all but launched myself at her and, barreling into her side, knocked her sideways, away from the troublesome flora. The two of us came to rest with me almost on top of her, inadvertently pinning her down.

“Lizzie!” I exclaimed in a warning tone. “You mustn’t touch those blue flowers; they’re poisonous!”

My little sister was, understandably startled, and laid still, staring up at me. After all, a weird miniature horse had pretty much just ploughed into her, knocked her over and, in her brother’s voice no less, told her not to go picking flowers. You could forgive her for being just a tiny bit thrown.

Luckily, we were joined by our parents a moment later, who both quickly grabbed her and held her in a hug. Lizzie remained quiet but returned their hug nonetheless, she certainly seemed glad for the familiar faces. As succinctly as my Mum could, she explained the situation, in particular, who I was and where we were. Lizzie didn’t react too much; she acted more like a startled rabbit than anything else.

That got the three of us worried. As much as I hate to say it, Lizzie was the most…normal, in our family. She usually tended to cope with things pretty well compared to me or our parents. So seeing her pretty much shut down caused a lot of concern. She did show some positives though. At one point when we were all sitting resting by the ravine, she walked over and hugged me, wrapping her arms around me and holding onto me tightly, just like she used to when we were little.

So at last, we were all together. We were in Equestria, somewhat lost deep in the potentially dangerous Everfree Forest, and one of us had randomly been turned into a character of his own creation. But at least we weren’t facing it alone; we were facing it as a family.


Chapter 2 - A Trek

View Online

Now that we were all together at last, we only had one real goal to think about; getting out of this forest and finding someone, or rather somepony, to help us. Since I knew a fair bit about this world, I found myself nominated to again act as a sort of ad-hoc guide. After all, my parents knew little about the Everfree, and Lizzie had almost accidentally come into contact with Poison Joke. And God only knows what it might have done to her. I was hardly the most qualified person, but I think I was the least worst candidate for the job.

So I took the lead, with Lizzie and Mum following, and Dad bringing up the rear.

Our first step was to get across the extremely unstable looking rope bridge that lay before us. It crossed an extremely deep ravine. With so little light, I couldn’t even see the bottom of what seemed to be an endless void. But we needed to get across it. My small amount of knowledge told me that this was where the Mane Six had crossed way back when. Given everything that had happened so far today, my knowledge of the lore of MLP wasn’t exactly at the forefront of my mind. But I did remember that Rainbow Dash had retied the bridge back to its posts after refusing to work for the spectral Shadowbolts. Hopefully her knot tying skills would hold out.

“I think we ought to test it first,” Dad prompted as we all stood on the edge of the abyss. “It doesn’t look exactly solid, does it?”

I was about to turn back to him and reply in agreement, when I realised everyone else was looking at me.

I was the smallest of our group.

And the lightest.

I was to be the one that ‘tested’ the bridge.


My heart began to beat faster as I stepped onto the first, somewhat rotted, plank. The structure creaked from the pressure, and a few gusts of wind caused it to sway slightly.

I’ve never particularly much cared for heights. Heights, bugs, and teeth; those are the three things that make me uncomfortable. And not even being able to see how far the undoubtedly deadly drop was just made things worse.

Still, we needed to get across here at some point. I tried to reassure myself that the bridge had easily withstood the combined weight of six ponies quite easily. But as I brought my back hooves on, the wooden planks creaked again in protest. I decided to tread carefully. I eased my way forward, picking my steps carefully, and tentatively checking each plank as I went. Some easily took my weight without trouble, while others creaked and groaned ominously, causing me to skip over them to the next one. Behind me, my parents and Lizzie watched my steady progress with concern.

Eventually, after what had to have been one of the longest minutes of my life, I made it to the other side of the ravine. The bridge, while it had protested at times, and continued to sway in the breeze, had held firm under me, not even splintering. Turning around, I could just make out the other members of my family on the other side, though the fog that hung around the ravine partly obscured them.

It’s okay! I’m across!” I called out, cupping my mouth with one hoof to magnify the sound. “It creaks a bit, but it seems safe. Just come across one at a time to be safe, and watch your step!” I saw the three of them briefly consult with each other for a minute. Dad then yelled back across the gap.

“Alright! Your sister’s going to come across next!” he shouted back, the fog slightly muffling his voice. “When she’s across, I’ll send your mother, and then I’ll come last!”

“Fine! I’ll wait here for you and keep an eye on things on this side!” I answered.

With everything agreed, Lizzie began her own journey across the rope bridge. She still seemed fairly shook up, for she took a minute or so to get started. A part of me felt impatient with her; it was already mid-afternoon, if we didn’t get a move on, we’d be in here come nightfall. That was when all the nastier creatures came out to play.

Before long though, she started. Having watched me all the way, she chose her path carefully. The bridge again held firm, though it did continue to sway in the wind. I was a little concerned that, being bipedal, and consequently putting more weight on each foot, the bridge might be less stable. But luck seemed to be on her side, for she soon reached me and stepped back onto solid ground. I trotted over to her.

“Hey, you okay, Lizzie?” I asked as she walked up. Again though, she didn’t speak, only nodding in assent. I then called out that she was safely across. Next, it was Mum’s turn.

Like me, at times, Mum can be a bit panicky. But whereas I was currently switching between excitement and fear, she had been pretty scared this whole time. After all, we were seemingly stuck, further from home than most would have thought possible, with nothing but the shirts on our backs (though I didn’t even have that!), in a forest possibly filled with dangerous creatures.

She doesn’t much care for heights either. And unlike Lizzie and me, she was keener to get over the bridge as quickly as possible, rather than go carefully. I gritted my teeth as she scampered across like a deer, causing the bridge to groan in protest. Her heavier footfalls were also making it rock more, as well as putting extra weight on it.

“Mum, slow down; take it easy!” I called out. I really wasn’t liking the sounds the bridge was making at this point. Unfortunately, perhaps a moment after my shouted warning, the inevitable happened.

With a sudden splintering of wood, one of the planks gave way as she stepped on it. Her foot went through the gap and she tripped up, landing heavily on her front. Understandably frightened, she screamed. This brought both myself and my Dad, running from opposite directions to her aid. We were both worried that the bridge, now structurally compromised, might start coming down.

Since she was close to the mid-point, we both reached her at around the same time. She’d gotten back onto her knees, but the shock of it all had caused her to freeze up. And despite Dad and me both encouraging her, she wouldn’t or couldn’t move. The bridge continued to splinter and parts of the rope that held it all together were now starting to fray. I found myself now wishing that I was a pegasus. But since I couldn’t use magic as a unicorn, I doubted that I’d have been able to fly just by virtue of species.

Eventually, unwilling to wait any longer, Dad placed his hands under her armpits, and hauled her up onto her feet. I was actually surprised he was able to do this. Given that, from his position behind her on the bridge, he didn’t have that much leverage. Plus, he wasn’t all that strong to begin with. Still, he managed to get her up, and with me leading, we ran across to re-join Lizzie.

The bridge thankfully held out and didn’t collapse when we jumped off it. But we were all still pretty shaken, Mum especially. Dad was out of breath and sat down next to Lizzie on the soft grass, breathing heavily.

“Whew, thanks for your help, lad,” Dad said at length, still out of puff. “I’d never have been able to lift her myself.” I turned to look at him, perplexed.

“What help?” I asked curiously. “You were the one who got her out of there.”

I actually felt a bit guilty, and silly, for just running out onto the bridge without thinking, and not really being able to do anything. Suddenly though, much to everyone’s surprise, Lizzie spoke up, breaking her earlier silence.

“Your horn was glowing,” she said quietly. “And then Mum glowed and you and Dad pulled her out.”

I guess I’d been too panicked at the time, but evidently I’d tapped into my magic once again. I was still no closer to having control over it, but it was a start. If we were here for a while, I’d certainly want to learn a bit about it. Right after we got out of our current situation.

With the four of us now all across the ravine, we once again found ourselves trekking through the forest. The sun was still fairly high in the sky. At a rough guess I’d say we had five or six hours of light left.

I looked up at the sun in thought as we walked. That wasn’t the sun I was used to. It was some whole other sun. It wasn’t at the centre of a solar system, it was moved around this planet by the magic of an alicorn. The same could be said for the moon too. It was just…such an overload really. Every now and again I would remind myself that we actually were in Equestria, and hopefully, before long, we’d reach Ponyville.

Still, my excitement was tempered by our current situation. There were more pressing issues than running off to meet my favourite ponies. As much as it would be fun to be here, I think we all would want to go home at some point. We all had lives after all. Lizzie was just about to start university again, I’d recently finished and was job hunting, Dad had his own firm to run, and Mum was just beginning to settle into her retirement from teaching. We couldn’t just drop all that so I could go gallivanting around Equestria.

My thoughts drifted to a more immediate plan. Once we came to the edge of the forest, we’d need to get into contact with the ponies, preferably with Twilight Sparkle, now a princess I reminded myself. She’d be most likely to help us and not freak out as a lot of ponies tended to do. Our best bet would be for me to head into Ponyville. As a pony, I wouldn’t draw too much attention, certainly less than having three humans with me.

We’d all been walking in comparative silence for some time now. But I was suddenly startled out of my thoughts when Lizzie, who had been walking alongside me, spoke up.

“What are you thinking about?” she asked curiously. She was still fairly quiet, but at least she was talking now. I shrugged my shoulders.

“I’m just trying to think what we ought to do next,” I replied, still half lost in thought.

“Dad said you were taking us to this pony town outside the forest,” Lizzie said, I nodded.

“Well, yeah,” I answered. “But you, Mum, and Dad can’t just walk in there. They’d all panic. After all, things that come out of the Everfree tend to be bad news. I don’t want any of you getting hurt.” Lizzie pushed a tree branch out of her way as we pressed on.

“That makes sense. I guess that magic could really hurt us. You managed to pick up Mum after all.” I nodded in agreement.

“It’s probably a good idea for you guys to stay on the edge of the forest,” I suggested, before reassuring her, for her face had a worried expression. “Don’t worry, hardly anything goes near the border. All the nasty stuff stays closer to that castle.” Mum then broke into the conversation.

“How much further do you think it is anyway?” she asked.

I wracked my brains. We had been walking for a while now since we left the ravine and the rope bridge behind. It had been a while since I watched the pilot episode, and like I said, my exact knowledge of MLP wasn’t exactly at my beck and call due to my stress levels. I tried to remember the series of events that had led Twilight and her friends to the castle. Before the ravine there had been a…

“Hey look, a river,” Dad said, pointing ahead of us, just beyond a last thicket of trees.

Indeed, there was a river. As we came out of the trees again, we found ourselves standing on the grassy bank. The river was wide and fast flowing. I couldn’t see the bottom of it either. I knew enough about rivers to know that there was no way we could risk swimming. Even if I could swim in this new body, the current could potentially take you quite a way downstream, or even pull you under if you got caught on something. And even if we all got across, walking around in soaking wet clothes was a recipe for hypothermia. We weren’t exactly an SAS patrol unit after all.

No, there was no way we could all swim across, so we needed to find some other way. My dad quickly started looking up and down stream in search of some kind of bridge, or a shallower crossing place like a ford. But there was none to be found. From end to end, at least within eye sight, or until the river turned sharply, disappearing behind yet more trees, this river was deep, wide, and fast flowing, with foam even forming in places on its surface. I didn’t even want to think about what might be in there.

“Well, any ideas, lad?” Dad asked me haggardly, looking at the flowing water in concern.

Ah, yes, I reminded myself; Dad didn’t like water. Ever since he was a boy, mainly due to his mum panicking when some idiot pushed him underwater for a moment at the swimming pool. From that day on, he stays as far away as possible from any body of water he can’t touch the bottom of.

We needed to get across, that much was clear. I remembered that a river was one of the landmarks that we were looking for in order to guide ourselves out of the forest. But how did I even know that this was that particular river? The Everfree Forest was huge; covering a vast area of land, there could be half a dozen different rivers flowing through it for all I knew. I chastised myself for thinking that I could navigate using an ambiguous twenty minute long cartoon as a guidebook.

I was about to suggest trying to create a rudimentary raft of some sort, when fortune intervened. Ahead of us, in the centre of the river, bubbles began to appear on the surface of the water. Something was down there. A moment later, I saw something coming to the surface, something very large. Instinctively, I backed off, as did the rest of my family.

A few moments later, it tore out of the water, shooting up into the air perhaps ten feet. I won’t lie, that scared the living daylights out of me, and I’m fairly certain we all screamed in fright. I was certain that, whatever this creature was, its next move would be to dive down on us and devour us all. That…didn’t happen though.

As the creature steadied itself after broaching the surface, I recognised some of its features. It was a large sea serpent (although river serpent might be more appropriate), purple over most of its body with light orange hair on its head. This included a moustache on its elongated, dragon like muzzle. It was orange on both sides now, but I knew that once upon a time, half of it had been a well styled purple tail. Realising the identity of our assailant, I cried out in surprise.

“Bloody hell, it’s Steve!” I exclaimed in relief. The rest of my family looked at me in complete and utter bewilderment. After all, a moment ago, I was just as scared as them. Dad was the first to come to his sense.

“Steve?” he shouted back in shock. “That’s a bloody great sea serpent in the middle of a river!” I tried to explain.

“It’s okay, he’s friendly, really,” I assured. With some trepidation, I turned back to the huge sea monster, who was now watching us all with some curiosity. I swallowed and hoped I wouldn’t make an ass out of myself.

“Greetings, my friend,” I said, waving a hoof and doing my best to keep my voice steady. “I don’t suppose you could help a lost pony and his friends out could you? We need to get across this river and the current is far too fast for us.” I mentally crossed my now non-existent fingers and hoped the blighter would play ball.

“Well sure, little pony,” he replied, smiling. I’d forgotten just how fantastically camp he sounded. Behind me, Dad was struggling to avoid laughing. Suffice it to say, he comes from a different time.

“I’m always happy to help. And you are right, this current is just impossible unless you’re a good strong swimmer.” With one quick motion, he lay down prone across the river bed, angling his form so that it created a series of islands that we could hop across.

Mum and Dad were a little hesitant at first, but after I jumped across, with Lizzie following me a moment later, they followed suit. You had to watch your footing, since it was a little slippery, but it was easy enough, and in a few moments, we were all on the far bank, that much closer to our goal. We all turned back to the large serpent.

“Thanks for the help,” my mum called out to him. He smiled.

“Oh sure, hon; any time,” he replied, waving a claw in a dismissive way. He then dove back under the water, splashing spray up onto either side.

I was again smiling at our success. Lizzie too seemed to have enjoyed our unconventional trip across the river. Our parents…well, that was another story. The stunned stares told their own story

“That just happened, didn’t it?” Dad said at length. “I didn’t just imagine us all skipping along the back of a giant sea serpent that talked like a fruit.” Lizzie giggled at that.

“No, that happened, Dad,” she replied. “I guess not everything in this forest is out to kill us.”

“Just who exactly was he anyway?” asked Mum. I decided to have a little fun

“Oh, that was Steve Magnet,” I replied nonchalantly, enjoying the moment. “Really nice guy, I think you two would really get along.” Mum shook her head in amazement.

“Before we go on, just answer me this,” she said. “Are we going to encounter anything weirder than that?”

I actually had to think for a moment. What in Equestria was more left field than Steve Magnet? Well, there was good old Pinkie Pie, naturally. Then there was Twilight whenever she had one of her little episodes about being organised. Who else? Well, let’s be honest, most residents of Ponyville would strike most people as a bit funny at times. But off the top of my head, I couldn’t really think of anything quite as ridiculous as a campy, giant sea serpent living in a river that doesn’t eat everything that it comes across. Except perhaps Discord. Now there was somepony I didn't fancy running into.

“Well, not in the immediate future,” I replied, rubbing a hoof against the side of my neck. “But Equestria can be a weird and wacky place at times.”

“Alright,” Dad said, jumping into the conversation. “Do you think it will be much further to this pony town of yours?”

“It’s Ponyville, Dad,” I replied, correcting him. “I don’t think it’s too far. That river should certainly be the last big obstacle at any rate. Well, as long as we don’t run into that manticore.”

“The what?!” my mum exclaimed.

The river, as far as I could remember, was the last real obstacle in our path. Everything else that had impeded the progress of the Mane Six had been the result of Nightmare Moon’s interference. So, I hoped that all we needed to do now was press on until we reached the edge of the forest.

Then would come the tricky part; getting help from the ponies. Effectively, the four of us were about to be responsible for first contact between our two species. Aside from the odd fandom suggestion that Lyra knew about mythical humans, they’d never really cropped up in Equestrian lore, so I had no idea how they might react. Plus, ponies could at times be somewhat xenophobic; just look at how they treated Zecora. How would they react to humans?

It would all depend on how our first meeting went. Assuming that I could somehow get Twilight to follow me, a random stranger she’d never met before, into a potentially dangerous forest that ponies only went into if they had to. We’d still need some way to introduce ourselves and prove we weren’t a threat.

Twilight herself might be level headed, but what about other ponies? And then, what were we to do after? My only real plan was to either try and convince Twilight to help us, or somehow get up to Canterlot to consult the princesses. And how were we to do that? For goodness sake, it would be nightfall in a few hours, and we didn’t even have anywhere to sleep! Once again, our once seemingly jovial foray into the magical land of Equestria was starting to turn sour and my own fears were again starting to creep back up from the depths of my subconscious.

I’m not going to lie, at this point, I was tired, my hooves and legs ached; I was worn out and needed a rest. The long trek had been draining mentally too. Being on the alert for so long was just as draining as walking. I knew that before long our tempers, as well as our nerves, would start to give out, and that was the last thing we needed.

As we continued though, I noticed that, despite the time of day, the sunlight seemed to be getting brighter as we walked. With each step, the shadowy canopy seemed to get less and less. There were more openings between the trees and less dark shadows. All in all, the place began to feel brighter, and so did we as a result.

“I think we might be getting near the edge,” Dad commented, also taking note of the improving conditions. He was walking behind me with Mum, while I was still on point, with Lizzie at my side.

“You’re right, dear,” Mum agreed. “It definitely looks a lot less spooky all of a sudden, doesn’t it? What do you think, son; are we nearly out?” I nodded and called back to her.

“It sure looks like it,” I replied encouragingly. “Once we do get to the edge we can find somewhere to hole up for a bit, while I try and get my bearings.”

I was certainly glad that we were coming to the edge of this place. But I had little to no idea where we’d come out. We might be near Fluttershy’s cottage. But for all I knew, we may have gone completely the wrong way, and now be coming out toward Ghastly Gorge. Still, anything was better than being stuck in that place. At least outside it would be bright, sunny, and comparatively safe.

As it turned out though, my worries were unfounded. For a few minutes later, before we reached the edge of the forest, we all picked up the sounds of another group approaching. Despite my supposedly improved hearing, Lizzie picked up on it first, followed by Dad.

“Shh, do you guys hear that?” she asked, reducing her voice to a whisper, and holding her hand up in a stop signal.

The four of us stopped where we were and listened. Dad crouched down slightly in an effort to be less conspicuous. Faintly, but definitely coming closer, was the sound of not only hooves on the ground, but also a number of voices. It was with a mixture of relief, excitement, and fear that I recognised them all instantly.

Well, I guess we hadn’t gone the wrong way after all.

Chapter 3 - Meeting the Ponies

View Online

It’s difficult to accurately describe my thought process over those next few moments. I’m fairly certain I was swinging between elation and excitement at the imminent chance to meet the actual, real life, honest to God Mane Six, and also fear at just what the hell we were going to do. I’d been thinking about this moment for the last couple hours, planning and trying to anticipate every possible scenario, so that our first contact with the ponies would go smoothly. As I’ve said before, ponies can be remarkably xenophobic at times, and I had little to no idea how they’d react to humans.

The upshot of all that was, much to my discredit, that I froze up completely. My mind was whirring at such a rate of knots that it pretty much crashed. Full blue screen, program not responding, I just stopped stock still as the voices grew nearer.

Luckily, Dad wasn’t quite so overcome with excitement, only fear at the prospect of discovery. Instead, rather than freezing, the primeval section of his brain dedicated to self-preservation at all costs, chose a much more beneficial option; flight.

“Quick! Quick, hide!” he half whispered and half shouted.

He quickly shepherded Mum and Lizzie off the dirt path and concealed them behind a large thicket of shrubbery. They quickly did as he asked, however, he had to come back for me and all but drag me out of the way.

“Jesus, come on, lad!” he ordered.

Finally, I came back to myself and began to move under my own steam, hazily realising the fact that we were about to be spotted and any plan I might have had was about to go up in smoke. We all hid ourselves several feet away from the path we’d been on, well out of sight of anything that might come our way.Through the thick branches, I could see the path ahead of us, while still remaining concealed. Lizzie, Mum, and Dad all crouched down, while I could safely stand upright. The four of us kept as still as we could, and were quiet as church mice as the voices came closer. I peered through the gloom to see if I could spot them.

Soon the voices became so clear that it was possible to make out what was being said. The voices had been clear enough before, but only now could I make out any words. With my newly improved ears, I listened as best as I could, doing my best to tune out the sound of my own accelerating heartbeat.

The first voice I heard had the familiar cadence of a pleasant country twang; Applejack. Between you and me, I always pegged her as best pony, second to Princess Luna, of course.

“Ah just don’t get it, Twi,” she was saying, evidently talking to Twilight Sparkle, the only alicorn of the group. “Just what was that whole fancy light show exactly?” Fancy light show? I didn’t remember anything like that.

“I’m not sure, Applejack” I heard Twilight reply, sounding a little puzzled. “There was a lot of powerful magic involved, that’s for sure. But I’ve no idea what could cause it, or why those energy readings are still moving.” Energy readings? Could she possibly be talking about us? At that moment, a scratchier voice broke in.

“Who cares what it is,” Rainbow Dash said confidently. “Whatever it is, we’re more than equipped to take it on.” Straining my ears somewhat, I could hear the sound of wingbeats. These ears really had turned my hearing up to eleven.

It was then that I first saw them all as they came around a bend in the path. Twilight was leading the small group forward, her horn glowing with a soft magenta colour, and emitting that curious sound of tinkling bells that seems to be a feature of Equestrian magic. Walking alongside her was Applejack, her ever present Stetson hat pushed back slightly on her head. Slightly behind the pair was Rarity. The alabaster unicorn looked somewhat nervous but was much more confident than some of her other companions. Bringing up the rear was Fluttershy. The uneasy pegasus was starting at every odd sound and was doing her best to stay as close to her friends as possible. Finally, hovering above the group was the rainbow maned Rainbow Dash. Unlike the other ponies, she seemed to be spoiling for some action, shooting over to every nook and cranny in an effort to find whatever they were looking for, presumably us.

It felt sort of unreal to see them all, in the flesh as it were. There was no screen between our two groups, no barrier. In a minute or two, I would actually be talking to them all. Once again, my nerves started to pack in. My anxiety was so great that it took me a moment to notice that we were short one pony.

A brief glance up at the approaching ponies showed that we were surprisingly lacking in the pink department. The approaching group lacked a certain bouncing party pony. I was sure that, if the rest of them were here, Pinkie would be along, but for the life of me, I couldn’t see her. I turned around with the intent to quickly talk to Dad about what we were going to do. The best plan I had was for me to step out first, try and introduce us all, and then bring out the ‘aliens’ if you will.

Sadly, none of my well thought out plan came to pass.

Turning around where I was, I promptly froze up in shock. Well shock and amazement.

My parents and Lizzie were all still huddled together, crouched down to keep out of view. But behind them, staring through the few gaps in the bushes with just as much intensity, was Pinkie Pie. And again I emphasise, the Pinkie Pie, as in real life, not on TV; about five feet away.

They all quickly saw my surprised stare and turned around. There was a brief moment of silence as for the first time we all ‘met’ a pony in Equestria. We all stared at Pinkie, and she stared back, albeit with a very large, friendly, and genuine smile on her face. A sort of unreality set in, and the voices of Twilight and the others faded out as the four of us sat staring in bewilderment at the Element of Laughter. Finally, Pinkie Pie broke the silence.

“Hi!” she said excitedly. The effect was instantaneous.

With a sharp cry of surprise from my dad, and a scream from Mum and Lizzie, we all bolted out into the open, half running and half falling over each other, and promptly found ourselves face to face with the rest of the ponies. Pinkie Pie promptly followed us, bouncing on her hooves excitedly, almost jumping to my dad’s eye level, and still grinning at the prospect of making new friends.

“I found ‘em, I found ‘em, I found ‘em!” she crowed gleefully. Everyone else though, pony and human, was quite silent.

Talk about East meets West.

It was like being at a high school dance, that first meeting. Each side stood apart from each other, neither willing to make the first move. We stared at them, and they stared back. The only exception was Pinkie Pie, who continued to bounce up and down excitedly. I did my best to try and read the expressions of the ponies across from us. Mostly, there was confusion. But I saw that when Twilight looked at me, there was some recognition, presumably at my species being familiar.

Finally, after several tense moments, I decided to try and break the ice. Stepping forward a few paces got everypony tense for a moment. I stopped where I was, not getting too close. Hopefully, I wouldn’t make an absolute fool of myself. Still, at least Equestrian and English seemed to be effectively one and the same language. Things would have been much trickier otherwise.

“Er…hello there,” I began, lamely waving a hoof in greeting. It wasn’t exactly the best introduction, but I’m not a social person, particularly when I’m under pressure. I saw Fluttershy in the back of the group relax a little, while Twilight’s confusion seemed to grow.

“My…er,” I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to refer to my family as my family, given the difference in species. But on the other hand, it was bound to come out before long. “My family and I have been lost in this forest for hours. I don’t suppose you know the way out?”

I decided to plead ignorance for the moment. Yes, I knew these ponies would almost certainly help us, but I didn’t fancy explaining just yet how I came to know each of them by name.

My question hung in the air for a few moments, the ponies all still trying to work out what to do next. Eventually though, Twilight Sparkle spoke up.

“Who…who are you?” she asked. “And who are these…people with you?” She’d paused as she’d realised that she had no idea what their species was. I guess we didn't look much like the 'humans' she'd previously met. “More to the point how did you wind up in the Everfree Forest in the first place?”

The inquisitive alicorn was piling on the questions thick and fast, and none of us had sufficiently diplomatic answers to them. A moment later though, Twilight began to use her magic again, her horn being surrounded by a pinkish glow and the sound of tinkling bells permeating the air.

“Wait a minute…” she said a she tilted her head down, pointing her horn towards us; a gesture that somewhat unsettled Dad. As I had done, she took a few careful steps closer to us before suddenly looking up in surprise.

“It’s you!” she exclaimed. The lavender alicorn then turned back to her friends.

“Girls, this is where that strange energy reading is coming from. It’s them! They must have something to do with that magical energy blast!” That kicked Rainbow Dash and Applejack into high gear and they both took defensive stances, while Fluttershy and Rarity backed away uneasily, only Pinkie Pie seemed unphased. I was about to attempt damage control when Mum, much to everyone’s surprise, beat me to the punch.

“Wait, wait, wait, please!” she exclaimed, holding up her hands in a human gesture of surrender. “We don’t know anything about that! We just woke up here in this forest and want to get out and go home!” That got them all to pause for a few moments, either from having listened to her, or merely shock at the realisation that she could speak. A moment later, Twilight spoke again.

“So where did you come from then?” she asked, still a little sceptical, but overall seeming to accept what was being said. This question, I did need to get in front of.

“We aren’t from Equestria,” I said, doing my best to explain. Twilight cocked her head curiously.

“What do you mean?” she replied. “Those three creatures behind you may not be familiar to me, but you look like an ordinary pony.” My dad now jumped into the conversation.

“He may look like that now,” he explained, sounding as if he only half believed his own words. “But until a couple of hours ago, he was the same species as the rest of us. He’s my son, you see.” Twilight looked confused.

“You mean he looked like you before you woke up here?” she asked. Dad nodded.

“Right. Until we all wound up here, he was just like us. Now, he seems to have gone and turned into one of you ponies and we’ve no idea why.”

The alicorn placed a hoof to her chin in thought before coming over to me, her horn glowing again. Perhaps she was examining me with her magic somehow? A few moments later, she relented and looked up to my dad again.

“Well, that part of your story seems to check out,” she declared. “Your son is coated in high level magic; certainly enough to allow for a transformation spell. But I can’t find the actual spell that’s keeping him this way. If it wasn’t for the magic on him, I’d say that he’d always been a pony rather than a…” she trailed off, realising again that she wasn't entirely sure what we were.

“What are you folks anyway?” Applejack broke in, posing the question with a little less tact than Twilight might have liked, judging by the look she gave her orange friend. Dad, luckily, didn’t seem to mind.

“We’re called humans,” he replied. “My name is Roger.” Carefully, he extended a hand out to Twilight. After a moment’s hesitation, and some confusion as to the gesture’s meaning, she walked over and placed her hoof in his hand.

“I’m Twilight Sparkle,” she said, before gesturing to her friends. “These ponies are my friends; Applejack, Rarity, Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy, and the one bouncing around is Pinkie Pie.” We all exchanged brief hellos at this. First contact was actually going better than expected.

“So, if you’re not from Equestria, where do you come from, and how come you’re here?” Rainbow Dash asked, her voice carrying some hint of suspicion. I’d figured that she’d be the hardest to convince. Well, the question was going to come up eventually, so I waded in.

“I don’t think that we even come from the same planet actually, Rainbow Dash,” I replied, now able to use her name without causing suspicion. “I take it this isn’t a planet called Earth?”

“Earth?” Rarity parroted, speaking for the first time. “Wasn’t that one of the names the earth ponies were going to give to Equestria?” She looked to Twilight, the resident egghead, for confirmation.

“I’m not sure really if there is any connection,” I replied. “But our world is a lot different to yours. Humans are the only sentient species; there aren’t any ponies like you, no magic either. We all come from a country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There’s no country there called Equestria, as far as I know.”

Still hovering, Rainbow eased over towards me. Leaning down a little from her airborne perch, she looked me in the eye, which was more than a little unsettling.

“So what are you guys?” she asked, sounding a little more curious. “Some kind of weird aliens or something?” I shrugged my shoulders.

“I suppose you could call us that,” I replied. At this, the pegasus snorted and folded her forelegs across her chest. She then floated back over to her friends.

“Oh come on, that’s a load of horseapples!” she exclaimed. Dad seemed about to offer a counter argument to that, when Pinkie Pie, who’d previously been bouncing away on the side lines, suddenly jumped back into our little dialogue.

“Oh, come on, Rainbow Dash!” she exclaimed, clearly bored. “We’ve been stuck in this opening arc for ages. Can we at least skip to the part where we all go to Ponyville?”

Everyone, pony and human alike turned to look at her in bewilderment. While I had no idea what she was on about, it still made me smile a little. It actually made me chuckle, even if I had no idea what she meant.

“Heh, Dash is right, Pinkie Pie,” I said, laughing to myself. “You are so random.” And with that, I really put my hoof in it. Rainbow Dash started as she realised what I had said.

“Hey, how do you know I said that?” Dash asked, now sounding deeply suspicious. She thought for a moment, before her tone became more aggressive.

“Seriously, how could you know that?!” she demanded, poking me in the chest with a hoof. “You told us that you just got here, from some alien planet, or whatever the hay you said. So how could you know what I said about Pinkie Pie?”

I wanted to slam my hoof onto my face in frustration. Things had been going so smoothly…me and my big mouth. This wasn’t something that could be swept away easily, and the explanation wasn’t going to go down to well either. I looked over to my dad; he jerked his head toward the still waiting group, signalling for me to tell them. I took a breath.

“Okay,” I said, rubbing the back of my neck. “This is going to sound pretty weird to all of you, but I promise that it’s the truth.” Rainbow backed off again and, along with her five friends, listened.

“You six ponies, on my world, are the main characters in a…in a fictional story. We have these things called televisions; they’re…kind of like film reels. And there’s a show about you six…about your adventures, and how you used the Elements of Harmony to defeat threats to Equestria. It started with Nightmare Moon, and the last major episode I saw was when you put the Elements back into the Tree of Harmony to drive off Discord’s Plunderweeds and rescue the princesses.” By this point I was feeling pretty awkward. “That’s…that’s how I know about you.”

You could have heard a pin drop after that. I could tell from the looks of the faces of the ponies though, that they didn’t buy it. Dash certainly didn’t.

“So, what you’re saying is, is that you ‘humans’.” She made quotation gestures with her hooves. “Have basically been spying on us for the past few years?” Oh God, I don’t need a four year old meme right now, Dash!

“No,” I replied. “No, no, no. Until a few hours ago, I didn’t even know that any of this was real, none of us did.” It was then that Twilight spoke up again.

“Okay, let’s test this,” she said, with an air of authority. “What do you know about me? Something that almost nopony knows. If you and your species really have been observing us through this ‘television’, you should be able to come up with something.”

In an instant I had an idea. It was fortunate that it was Twilight who asked, since she had her own, very secret method of establishing her bona fides, between herself and her old foalsitter. And I knew that almost nopony knew about it, certainly not some random unicorn/human. After all, not even changeling spies had picked up on it. Still, it would be a little embarrassing.

Swallowing my pride in favour of building bridges and proving that our story was true, I walked a few paces forward. Walking up to Twilight, I crouched down slightly and began. Already I could feel my face turning red under my fur.

“Sunshine, sunshine, ladybugs awake,” I began. “Clap your hooves and do a little shake.” Twilight, unsurprisingly, didn’t mirror my actions, and stood there with her mouth hanging open. Behind me, I could hear both my parents trying to hold back their giggling and sniggering at my poor attempt at copying the actions.

“Okay,” Dash said quietly, after a few moments. “This is now officially weird.” Twilight backed off still looking deeply troubled. Rainbow then turned to Applejack.

“Honesty is your thing, AJ,” she said. “What do you make of these weird apes?”

Pushing her hat back on her head, Applejack looked us all over in turn, her eyes narrowed. Even though I knew that I was telling the truth, I still found myself breaking out into a sweat under her gaze. Luckily, it didn’t last long, and the earth pony farmer soon had her verdict.

“As crazy as this sounds,” Applejack said, sounding bewildered. “Ah reckon that they’re tellin’ the truth; least as much as they all understand it.” Inwardly I breathed a sigh of relief.

“So these creatures have been ‘spying’ on us, as Rainbow Dash put it?” Rarity asked. Twilight shook her head.

“I don’t think so,” she replied. “At least not intentionally. In fact, this might explain what the blast from earlier was.” She paused for a moment; far too long for Pinkie.

“Well come on then, don’t keep us in suspense!” she exclaimed impatiently. Twilight smiled a little.

“I think this may be further proof of the multiverse theory,” she said, with an air of confidence.

“Er, multi-what, Twilight?” Applejack asked, with a raised eyebrow.

“It’s the idea that there are multiple universes; different worlds,” she explained. “But more importantly, a lot of ponies believe that there might be some overlap between them all. What’s fictional in one universe may be reality in another.”

That would explain how these guys know about us, then?” Rainbow asked. Twilight nodded.

“If I’m right,” she went on, turning to us. “You four were somehow pulled into a rift between our two realities, stepping from one to the other. It would be sort of like the mirror portal. And if that’s the case, we may be able to get you back to where you came from.”

“But there was no rift, as far as I could see,” I replied. “And I don’t remember any light show or explosion when I woke up.” Twilight frowned.

“It could be that the rift was unstable and collapsed behind you,” she said, with an air of concern. “If that’s the case, you may well be stuck here.”

At that suggestion, Lizzie, who had been completely quiet and shaking like a leaf from the start, began to get upset. Even being with her family, the prospect of being stuck on a whole other world, never seeing anything that had been so familiar mere hours before was a lot to bear. I know I was feeling the same way. Equestria was a nice place to visit, sure, but I wasn’t sure about being stuck here.

She clung to my mum’s arm tight, while my mum did her best to comfort her. Seeing the poor girl’s distress brought the silent member of the other group out. Carefully making her way forward, Fluttershy timidly walked over to Lizzie. Initially, my dad moved to stop her, but a quick signal from me told him to let Fluttershy come closer.

The kindly butter yellow pegasus, who was just as adorable as she was on the show, walked over to my sister and gently hugged her. After a moment, Lizzie let go of my mum and hugged Fluttershy back, her crying coming to a stop.

“There, there,” she said, in a gentle, maternal tone. “Don’t be scared. We’ll do all we can to help you get home.” She then turned back to Twilight and the others.

“They can’t stay out here in the forest. We need to get them back to Ponyville,” she said, taking the initiative. The alicorn nodded in agreement.

“I think you’re right, Fluttershy,” she said. The others also voiced their agreement. “It’s probably best if we take you to see Princess Celestia as soon as possible. If anypony can help you get back home, she can.”

Turning around, she beckoned for us to follow, and the whole of us, as a single group headed on out. Before long we found the canopy of trees getting even thinner, and the world around us growing brighter. Finally, after what felt like days, but was really probably no more than a couple of hours, we finally emerged out of the Everfree Forest.

Before us lay the wide open grasslands and the small town of Ponyville. Up the sky sat the floating city of Cloudsdale, far off in the distance, only just visible. And sitting on its mountaintop perch, was the gleaming city of Canterlot. As we stepped out into the light, I smiled and turned to my equally relieved family.

“Welcome to Equestria, everyone.”

Chapter 4 - Teleport

View Online

I don’t think I can really express my feelings at the moment when we all walked out of the Everfree Forest on that sunny afternoon. Like I said before, I’d been swinging between two extremes from almost the moment I woke up and found myself here. On the one hand, this was great; an effective vacation in Equestria, meeting some of the main characters from the show, meeting the princesses in the near future, visiting Ponyville, and all the sites of so many well-known locales…

Well, you see what I mean. My mind was quickly beginning to run away with me and all the opportunities suddenly available. And even better, I had not been cut off from my family in the process. Okay, I doubt they were as excited at the prospect of being temporarily stuck in a world of magical technicolour ponies as I was, but we were all together. If this had all happened to just me alone, they’d have all been worried sick. It would be even worse if I found myself permanently cut off from them.

Ah…there was the counterpoint to my excitement and rampant fanboying. We were, for the moment at least, stuck here. Granted, there are worse places to be stranded, but we’d just spent the last few hours trekking through a potentially dangerous forest, at times in fear of our safety. We were cut off from Earth and all we’d known. This wasn’t some merry jaunt or trashy self-insert story; we were here, with little more than the clothes on our backs. As much as the fan side of me hated to admit it, there were many practical problems in our current situation.

I looked up again to what I knew to be Canterlot in the far distance. I held up a hoof to shield my eyes against the glare of the sun, which was now hovering slightly above the peak of the mountain. Before long, the sun would set, and the moon would rise. That I was looking forward to. Personally, I’ve always been something of a night person, even before I, like so many others in the fandom, took an interest, read fanaticism, in Princess Luna. I certainly hoped I’d get a chance to meet her at some point, before we left. Assuming we left that was.

Still, there wasn’t exactly much I could do right now, was there? And as I said, we were all just glad to be out of that forest and with friends more than anything else.

I actually found myself feeling pretty tired from the experience, and so did the rest of my family by the looks of things. After staring at this wondrous new world, undoubtedly with a goofy smile on my face, for a minute or so, I turned my attention back to my family.

Along with Twilight and her friends, they’d settled themselves down on a small rise a few hundred yards away from the edge of the forest. They were starting to talk amongst themselves as the surprise of meeting each other finally began to dissipate. Relieved as I was from my position as unofficial guide, I turned my attention back to myself, and this pony body. There were quite a few changes after all.

Interestingly, it seemed that my new pony form lacked the allergies my old one was cursed with. I’d had pretty bad hay fever since I was little, and it was now the height of summer. I cannot think of a worse way to ruin a once in a lifetime trip, than to spend it sneezing, coughing, and with streaming eyes. So, as bad as our predicament could be, at least there was that. Dad too, didn’t seem to be affected, he being the one I inherited the affliction from. Between that and the improved hearing and vision, I seemed to have done alright by my sudden change. Perhaps the pollen was different here in Equestria, so that my body didn’t react in such a negative way to the harmless substance. I briefly thought of H.G Wells’ book ‘War of the Worlds’ and hoped that being strangers on this world, we wouldn’t end up the same way as the unfortunate Martians, when exposed to all the completely alien ecosystem.

Filing that somewhat dark thought away for later, I turned my attention back to my family, who were no doubt equally relieved to be out of the forest. They now seemed to be in the process of building bridges with our new pony friends. There’d been the odd brief conversation as we headed out of the forest, but it seemed that only now had the proverbial ice been broken.

My dad was sitting and chatting with Applejack. Back home, we had ourselves a little smallholding. It wasn’t much, just a few chickens, sheep and a couple fields that we rented out to the local farmers for grazing, but it was enough for Dad to consider himself to have at least some knowledge of farming. He’d began talking with her after I told him that she was a farmer, although the sheer scale of her operation seemed to surprise him.

“So how big is this Sweet Apple Acres exactly?” He was asking. Applejack pushed her hat back on her head and thought for a moment.

“Ah’d say somewhere around a thousand acres or so,” she replied nonchalantly, shrugging her shoulders. “It’s one of the biggest orchards in Equestria.” My dad’s eyebrows shot up.

“Seriously, a thousand acres of orchards managed by one farm? How do you harvest it all by yourselves?” Applejack laughed slightly and shook her head.

“Oh it ain’t all apples,” she corrected. “We grow plenty of other crops too. Plus there’s the fields we have for grazing the local sheep and cattle. As for how we do it…”

For effect, she got up and walked over to a nearby apple tree. Turning around so that her back legs were facing the trunk, she gave it a strong kick with both hind legs. The tree shuddered, and a moment later, no less than a dozen apples dropped to the ground. With a quick move of her tail, she batted one of them over to my dad, who deftly caught it in his hand. Turning back to him, Applejack smiled confidently. He simply let out a low whistle at the display, before taking a bite.

“Impressive,” he commented. “And tasty too.” Applejack smiled slightly and leaned against the tree, crossing one leg over the other.

Meanwhile, Mum had fallen into conversation with Rarity. I figured that she at least would need the help of the Ponyville fashion designer, or somepony like her, to make up some new clothes. After all as I said, we may well be stuck here for a while according to Twilight, and my family only had the one change of clothes.

“Hmm, it does seem to be a case of function over fashion,” Rarity was saying, examining the clothes my mother was wearing from every angle. “Though I must say, the material quality does leave a lot to be desired. Where exactly did you find these garments?” Craning her neck around slightly, my mother did her best to read the label in the back of the neck.

“Er, M&S, Marks and Spencer’s, I think,” she replied, with some embarrassment. “They’re a large chain of clothing shops back home. Most of their stuff is made quickly and cheaply in other countries. They certainly aren’t tailor made or anything.” Rarity nodded in understanding.

“Ah, I see. I suppose that when clothing is a requirement rather than an optional accessory, that is the way a business would have to go to turn a bit. Equestria has its fair share of large clothing businesses of course, but I imagine they would be quite small in comparison. I suppose my own small business would count for little more than a pittance then. My own business model certainly wouldn’t last long on a world like that.”

“I don’t know about that,” my mum replied encouragingly. “There is still quite a market for high end clothes. You might get on alright with the right connections.” Rarity tittered.

“Ah yes, that old chestnut,” she said wistfully, perhaps remembering her own encounter with Hoity Toity.

I turned my attention back to Dad and Applejack, who now seemed to be getting along like old friends. I was glad for that.

“No, Ah’m tellin’ ya,” Applejack was saying. “It’s a cowpony, not cowboy round these parts.” Dad was smiling and laughing a little, as was Applejack.

“Seriously, do you just add ‘pony’ as a suffix to everything?” he asked half seriously. “So what, do you get ‘cowpony’ films here?” To his surprise, Applejack nodded.

“Sure, Ah’ve seen a few of ‘em every now and then. Even saw Wild Bull Hickok and Calamity Mane once up in Canterlot.”

For a moment, my dad was rendered utterly speechless. The history of the Old West was something of a hobby for him, just as my interest in the Civil War was, and the idea of meeting the pony equivalent of two of our own Old West’s historical figures interested him greatly.

“Oh, we have so much to talk about, Ms. Applejack,” he said, smiling and lying back down on the soft grass. They then launched into that old conversation any aficionado of the West will start up, given the chance; who’s the toughest, the fastest, and who shot who in the back.

Then there was Lizzie. My little sister and Fluttershy had been pretty much inseparable for the journey out to the edge of the forest. The butter yellow pegasus had suddenly come over all maternal with her after their initial meeting. Mum had been looking after her as well, of course, but the pair really seemed to have bonded remarkably quickly. In fact, she seemed to be the one most accepting of the ponies, happily sitting with Fluttershy, talking about her many animal friends.

My little sister always has been one for cute critters I guess. And that little bit of common ground was enough for the typically shy Fluttershy to open up to her. It had actually surprised me quite a bit when Fluttershy had walked out to comfort Lizzie. No offence to her, she is just as much a hero as any of her friends, but she had seemed the least likely one to take the initiative.

Still, as I said, the pair seemed to be getting along nicely. Lizzie had stopped fretting and crying some time ago, and her tears had all dried out. She was busily talking to Fluttershy about her cottage and the many creatures that called the place home.

“It sounds like such a nice place, Fluttershy,” Lizzie said, playing with her hair a little. Fluttershy was mirroring the action with her own mane.

“Oh…well, you know…you’re more than welcome to come and stay for a while,” she replied. “I mean…if you need somewhere to stay until you can get home.” She smiled, making me want to go ‘d’awww’ as a result. Seriously, in person, that mare is twice as adorable.

It did also take one issue off my plate. It was getting into late evening now, and the sun was low in the sky. It was unlikely that we’d be able to go up to Canterlot tonight, and even less likely that we’d be finding some way back. I was pretty much certain, and my parents both seemed to be thinking along the same lines, that we’d be here for a day or so. So we would need somewhere to sleep. At least Lizzie now potentially had her accommodation worked out.

I was startled out of my thoughts, when Twilight Sparkle walked up to me. The alicorn had been going around our little group talking in turn with each of my family members. Evidently, it was now my turn.

Much to my discredit, I hadn’t actually spoken much to any of the ponies. Excited as I was, as well as somewhat worried, I had pretty much retreated into my old introverted self; like I used to be when I was younger. I’m fairly open and chatty nowadays, but not so long ago, back in high school, I’d been so quiet that the school’s headshrinker had pulled me into her office one day and, I kid you not, told me to ‘get your nose out of those books, and go make some friends’. Ironically, it was about a year or so later that I stumbled on MLP, just as Season 3 was ending.

“Hey, how are you holding up, Blade Star?” she asked curiously.

Ah, yes, quick point I should explain. Obviously my name isn’t Blade Star. That was the name I gave to the grey coated, blue maned unicorn OC that I now resembled. My dad had introduced me to Twilight and the others with my real name. The only reason I asked Twilight to call me Blade Star was for the purpose of not arousing suspicion.

While my parents and Lizzie would have to sneak into Ponyville, simply to avoid alarming ponies, and causing certain flower selling ponies to faint, I could easily walk in with Twilight and her friends without trouble. But with my decidedly non-Equestrian name, I might still arouse suspicion. So, in an effort to avoid that, I took on an alias. Silly, I know, but when you first wind up in Equestria, you tend to make a few missteps, so cut me some slack. I have to live with it after all.

I turned away from my family and the other members of the Mane Six and found myself again face to face with Twilight. Luckily for my own dignity, my nervousness at meeting her had prevented me from running my mouth too much. I can’t imagine how much I’d cringe later down the road if I spent the whole time just banging on about the show and asking her questions.

“Not too bad, all things considered,” I replied. “How about you? I guess this is just as much a shock for you as it is for me.” Twilight smiled in a disarming way.

“It is all very strange,” she agreed. “Especially seeing some random pony perfectly imitate a greeting that nopony except Cadence, Shining Armor, and I know about.” I laughed sheepishly.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” I replied, scratching the back of my neck with a hoof. “But you did tell me to ‘prove it’.” I decided to get to the matter at hand (or should I be saying hoof now?).

“Anyway, how do you figure on getting my family into town? More to the point, where can they stay?” I was about to go on, when Twilight held up a hoof to stop me.

“Easy, Blade Star,” she reassured me. “We’re all going to head to my library for now. Well, you, me, and your family anyway. I’ll send a letter to Princess Celestia to see if she can help us, and we’ll go from there.”

“But how are we going to get them all into town?” I asked. “Okay, I can just walk in with you girls. But ponies are going to notice three humans, and Celestia knows how they’ll react.” My thoughts turned to one Lyra Heartstrings, who, if memory serves, has a slight obsession with humans, at least according to the fandom. Also, I didn’t realise it at the time, but that was the first time I began to slowly slip toward using Equestrian vernacular.

Twilight nodded in understanding and knitted her brows in thought. A moment later, the proverbial light bulb appeared above her head.

“I’ve got it!” she declared happily, with a newly determined look on her face.

“Well, come on then, let’s hear it,” I replied excitedly, eager to hear what the alicorn had come up with.

“I can use my teleportation spell to take them to the library.” That gave me some pause, if I’m honest.

Teleportation, as far as could be made out in the show, was a difficult thing to do, even for one pony. And the idea of a pony even as skilled and as powerful as Twilight transporting not only herself, but also three other people in one shot, seemed quite a stretch. After all, it involved breaking them all down to the molecular level and rematerializing them. I’d seen enough episodes of Star Trek, and the first movie, to know what happened during an accident involving matter transportation. Plus, as far as I knew, Twilight had never performed the spell with so many people at once. The most I’d seen was the rare occasions where she had teleported herself with Spike on her back. And that had left the young dragon’s scales somewhat singed.

“Are you sure that’s safe, Twilight?” I asked nervously. “I mean, from what I know, teleportation is a difficult spell for a unicorn, and carrying three people along with you too. Are there any risks to it? Hell, have you even done it before?” Twilight paused, her confidence staggered for a moment, and she scratched the back of her neck with her hoof.

“Well,” she replied at length. “I’ve never actually done it before, but I’m confident I can do it. I’ve spent years studying complex spells like this. And I’ll be sure to put in a failsafe to return us all back here in case something does go wrong. Trust me, Blade Star; your family will be in good hooves.”

I wasn’t really sure how to respond, after all, this was my family, and there were some serious risks to consider. My opinion would certainly carry a lot of weight when Twilight suggested the idea to my parents and Lizzie. I was about to say no and ask Twilight to try and find some other way; maybe an invisibility spell or something like that. However, I also reminded myself of one important fact; this was Twilight Sparkle, graduate of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns, and her personal student. She knew almost as much about magic as Celestia herself. If she could say with confidence that it was safe, then who was I to doubt her? For goodness sake, everything I knew about this spell came from Star Trek. For all I knew, it was completely wrong and the spell operated on a completely different system.

“Alright then, Twilight,” I said eventually. “Let’s see what my folks have to say about your idea.”

“No! Absolutely not!” Dad exclaimed. “There’s no way, no how you’re scrambling my molecules about!” Dad was something of a Star Trek fan himself, and took the same view of teleportation as Dr. McCoy.

“It’s perfectly safe, Dad,” I replied in an effort to placate him. “Twilight’s teleported herself around dozens of times. “ Dad however, was still defiant.

“My answer’s still no,” he said indignantly. “For goodness sake, lad, we don’t even understand how this ‘magic’ even works. What if it does something to us that it isn’t supposed to? What if we all have some reaction to it? What if we all come out the other end as unformed sludge?!” Behind him, I saw Mum and Lizzie pale noticeably.

We’d been arguing like this for a few minutes. At first, he was open to any suggestions as to how to sneak us all into town. But when Twilight suggested using a teleportation spell and clarified precisely what that meant, he became less than enthusiastic. True, he had become friendly with some of the ponies, but he wasn’t quite ready it seemed, to put that much trust in them. In an effort to allay his fears, I called in a little scrap of knowledge from the show.

“Twilight, could you turn around for a moment?” I asked her. She gave me a slightly confused look, but obliged nonetheless.I turned back to Dad.

“Now look at this, the three of you,” I said, gesturing to Twilight’s cutie mark. I felt my cheeks tinge red as I did so, and I saw Mum do the same.

“This is Twilight’s cutie mark. Everypony in Equestria, except young foals, has one of these. It appears when a pony discovers their special talent. And her special talent is magic. Not a single spell like a lot of unicorns, but all magic; she’s got a natural gift for it. To my knowledge, there isn’t a single spell yet that this mare hasn’t been able to master. She’s used teleportation on herself dozens of times without incident, and she’s even carried Spike around with her when she did it. So trust me when I say that you’re in good hooves.”

At this, Twilight turned back around, a slightly sheepish look on her face. Despite her ability, she still does seem to get embarrassed when somepony heaps praise on her. My little statement seemed to sway Mum and Lizzie in favour of the idea, but Dad, protective of his family, was still unwavering in his opposition.

“I still don’t see why we can’t just sneak in after dark or something,” he said, folding his arms. I frowned.

“Sure, we could do that,” I replied. “But what if you get caught? Ponyville was turned into a ghost town because a zebra came by every now and again. If they get that scared by a genetic cousin, how do you think they’ll react to humans? Trust me, Dad; we need to keep you guys on the down low for now, until Twilight or the princesses can figure something out.

“What about flying us in then?” Dad suggested. “Couldn’t…er…Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy fly us in without being seen?”

Speaking of Rainbow Dash, the firebrand pegasus, unable to sit still for more than five minutes, had been flying above us for some time, stunting and pulling tricky manoeuvres above our heads. In fact, the steady repetition of ‘whoosh’ sounds as she flew by was starting to get on my nerves. At the mention on her name, she swooped down and hovered between our two groups.

“What do you mean, ‘fly you in’?” she asked. “You mean like, picking you up and carrying you?” The uncertain look on her face told us what she thought of this idea.

Still, not one to give up without trying first, Rainbow did make an attempt. Positioning herself behind my dad, and placing her front hooves under his armpits, she attempted to lift him off the ground. But despite the furious beating of her wings and the excersion that was plain on her face, she could barely lift him off the ground for more than a few moments, and only a few inches at that. Eventually, out of puff, she relented.

“Yeah, hate to break it to you, big guy, but that ain’t happening,” she admitted. “Twilight’s idea is probably the way to go.” Pinkie Pie then chipped in.

“Dashie’s right, you guys,” she said reassuringly. “I mean, since we’ve known Twilight, there’s only been a couple dozen minor accidents from her magic, and nopony was really hurt in any of them.” In her head, I’m sure Pinkie thought that was the best possible endorsement of her friend. Dad however, didn’t see it that way. I snorted in irritation.

“Alright look,” I said, walking between pony and human. “There’s one simple way to prove that it’s safe. Twilight can teleport me first, there and back. Will that be good enough for you?” At this point, I was getting a little annoyed at my Dad’s obstinance and was snorting irritably, as horses and ponies tend to.

Still, nopony had any objection to the idea. I think Mum, Lizzie, and the ponies all just wanted to get on with things, particularly Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Following Twilight, I walked away from the group to a safe distance and promised them that I’d be back in a matter of seconds.

Well, either that or my time in Equestria was about to come to a very sudden end.

Twilight began to cast her magic and her horn glowed a bright pink colour. A moment later, there was a bright flash of light and the signature popping sound of a teleportation spell. As my vision cleared, I found myself to be standing along with Twilight, just next to the sign that stood outside the Golden Oaks library.

But we weren’t there long, for a moment later, before I even had a chance to admire the scenery, the alicorn used the same spell again, and we reappeared in front of my family and Twilight’s friends.

“See, it’s perfectly safe,” I said triumphantly.

My brief trip did seem to finally sway Dad around to my point of view and he at last relented.

“Alright, then,” Twilight said after everything had been agreed. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll take Roger, Margaret, and Lizzie to the library now. I’ll have Spike send a letter to Princess Celestia to tell her what’s happened. Once that’s done, I’ll come back here, and we can all, along with Blade Star, head back to town. We’ll all meet up again at the library when we hear back from Celestia.”

“Sounds like a plan, Twi,” Applejack said agreeably. There were similar mumblings from the other ponies.

With everything sorted and ready to go, my family all gathered around Twilight. While I’d already undergone the effects of the spell, I guess they would actually be the first humans to be teleported, technically speaking.

“Okay, I’ll see you guys in a few,” I said, waving to them all.

“See you in a bit, lad,” my dad said. Twilight then powered up her horn.

“Alright, hang on, everypony,” she said. And with that, the alicorn and three humans all disappeared in the familiar flash and pop effect of a teleportation spell. That left me alone with the remaining members of the Mane Six. Now it was on to the Golden Oaks library, or back again as the case may be. In any case, I was heading to Ponyville.

Chapter 5 - Ponyville

View Online

It was quiet for a few moments after Twilight and my family disappeared. The air shimmered for a few seconds, like a mirage, as the effects of the spell dissipated. It was then that I felt the first pang of real anxiety, something beyond my normal levels, since I arrived here. It reminded me of the feeling I felt when I first woke up alone in the clearing in the Everfree. For the first time really since our arrival, I was separated from my family. If it had been just me, alone in that forest, regardless of the knowledge, I’d be panicking and running around like a headless chicken. It was only the knowledge that I was with my family, particularly my parents, which had kept me grounded. And the idea of being separated from them, however briefly, was somewhat unsettling.

Okay, I was not really alone, I was still with Twilight’s five friends, all of whom were willing to help me and whom I knew to be entirely trustworthy. Still though, that feeling of being cut off from my family left me anxious.

Less than a minute after they all left, Twilight reappeared in front of us, minus my family members. Either things had gone perfectly or, as my more pessimistic half pointed out, badly wrong. Luckily, it proved to be the former, rather than the latter.

“I just thought I’d come back to tell you everything went alright, Blade Star,” Twilight said reassuringly. “Everypony made it to the library without a hitch. They’re making friends with Spike right now.”

She then seemed to be a little uncomfortable, as if she had been intending to say more but had suddenly stopped herself. A lavender hoof hung in the air. A moment later, she continued, a little unease in her voice.

“I…er…I guess you know who Spike is don’t you?” she asked. My response was immediate.

“Spike the dragon,” I replied. “Your personal assistant. You hatched him from an egg as part of your entrance exam for Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. He’s been living with you ever since you came to Ponyville and sends messages and friendship reports back to Princess Celestia through his fire breath. He’s also got a bit of a crush on…”

I suddenly found my mouth covered by a pink hoof and an oddly menacing Pinkie Pie stood directly in front of me.

“Forever.” She whispered, with a note of warning. I quickly reminded myself that, despite how painfully obvious it was, Rarity was not to be directly told that Spike had a crush on her. And, having seen what happens when you break a Pinkie Promise, I quickly shut my mouth. Pinkie Pie released me and disappeared away as suddenly as she had come. Twilight then stepped in again in an effort to dispel the sudden awkwardness.

“Er, yes, that Spike,” she replied, sounding just as bewildered as I was. “Sorry, if I sound a bit worried. It’s just a bit strange, you knowing everything about me and my friends.”

One of my failings, among many, is that sometimes I can be pretty much tone deaf socially. I usually eventually cotton on, but sometimes I can misread situations, or miss a few cues. I’m not afflicted with autism or Asperger’s, though I’ve been tested for both at some point or other. Naturally, I’d of course overlooked how uncomfortable it would be for Twilight, and all her friends, to be around someone who had knowledge that they ought not to. I mean, after all, how would I feel if the situation was reversed? If a lavender alicorn suddenly appeared in my room and knew every little thing about me, I’d be pretty uncomfortable too. So, I did my best to make up.

“Sorry, Twilight,” I said. “I guess this is as weird for you as it is for me and my family. I’ll try and avoid showing my hand too much. Although I can assure you, most of your life is unknown to me. It isn’t as if I’ve been following you and your friends every day, usually just when you six go out and save Equestria.”

This seemed to relax Twilight a little. It was still a little uncomfortable, me knowing so much, but keeping quiet about it, and toning down any fanboying, would probably make all our lives easier. There were some things though that’d definitely keep under my hat; some of the darker sides of the MLP fandom and the…clop. I doubt any of them would take kindly to that, and I had no intention of drawing the ire of anypony. Still, I’m sure at some point we could talk about the show, and maybe even fill in a few blanks here and there.

But that, I would play by ear. Right now, it was time to re-join my family in Twilight’s library, and that meant a little walk.

Twilight soon teleported back to the library to have Spike send a message to Princess Celestia, leaving me with her friends once again. While I’d just about managed to find my way out of the Everfree Forest, I didn’t really know my way around Ponyville.

Of course, I knew the important landmarks, like Town Hall, Carousel Boutique, the schoolhouse, and Sugarcube Corner, but the show never really laid out a clear map of the town. Considering that it was a fairly small village, Ponyville was quite the tricky place to navigate, with lots of buildings looking remarkably similar in their somewhat Swiss or German styles. So, I’d need a guide to get me to the Golden Oaks library, otherwise I’d just be wandering around the town for several hours.

Initially, I expected that Pinkie Pie would be the logical choice for a guide. While I might get dragged around the town for a bit and shown every landmark, and be introduced to every single pony there, she’d get me where I needed to go. So I was surprised when she turned my request down with a shake of her head.

“Sorry, Blade Star,” the party pony said apologetically. “But I’m gonna be super busy planning a ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ party for you and your family. Don’t worry though, as soon as I’m done with that, I’ll give you the complete Pinkie Pie tour of Ponyville.”

She then began to bounce away, with audible bouncing noises as she went. The other ponies too, weren’t able to take me all the way there. Rarity needed to head back to her store to finish working on some new designs. Apparently, she’d been busily working away until Twilight came and grabbed her, dragging her off into the Everfree to search for us. Fluttershy too needed to return to her cottage to tend to her animal friends, although she did promise to stop by the library in the evening to check I got there alright, and to see Lizzie again. As for Rainbow Dash…

“Oh come on!” the brash pegasus exclaimed when I turned to her. “What am I, some kind of foalsitter? It’s Ponyville for Pete’s sake, not Discord’s stupid maze. Besides, I’ve got some weather work to finish up. Coming out here to look for you guys put a huge dent in my schedule. And I was gonna practice some of my new tricks today too.”

She folded her forelegs as she hovered in the air with an indignant look on her face. I just rolled my eyes. It seemed the show had definitely given Dash’s ego its correct scale. Although, true to her element, she did promise that if I really was lost, all I had to do was shout for her. She then literally dashed away, leaving a rainbow coloured trail in her wake.

That left just Applejack. As I turned to her to ask the obvious question, the mare giggled.

“Don’t worry, partner. Ah’ll help ya,” she reassured me in her pleasant country accent. “It ain’t that complicated to find Twilight’s home. Just stick with me and you’ll do fine.”

Applejack led me back towards the town. I recognised a few landmarks of course, the town hall, the large windmill, and of course Sweet Apple Acres with its vast orchards. As the two of us walked together, my mind began to drift.

Firstly, I thought of my little sister, Lizzie. She really had seemed to have formed a rapid friendship with Fluttershy, and vice versa. It showed that she was accepting our current situation, as strange as it was, rather than continuing to flat out deny what was happening. After being in this world for so long, and with none of the signs that this was some fever dream or coma fantasy, I think we were all fairly accepting. Even if she had just latched onto Fluttershy as a coping mechanism, it showed that she was on the right track. It would be the last thing I wanted, but it would still be understandable if one of us did take a funny turn after all that had happened today; something like the result of delayed shock and adrenaline.

Mum and Dad were still dealing with things pretty well too, all things considered. They were still somewhat nervous and concerned, but who wouldn’t be? Even I was still uncertain about what we were going to do. Like I’ve said before, I like to have a plan for everything I do, and not having a plan and just winging it is damn near painful to me. I think having each other, and both their kids, more or less, helped to keep them grounded amidst the magical technicolour ponies. Mum and Rarity seemed to have connected fairly well, as had Applejack and my dad, just as I’d, much to my delight, found something of a friend in Twilight Sparkle.

As for me, well, I was fairly calm by this point; the mad pendulum had finally stopped swinging between emotional extremes and settled on a point of cautious optimism. And as we walked down the hill towards Ponyville, I began to consider our next move, though really it was pretty much out of my hooves and down to a combination of Twilight, Princess Celestia, and my dad. Still, I figured that our next destination would surely be Canterlot to meet with at least one of the princesses. As intelligent and learned as Twilight was, Celestia was more so, and I had little doubt that she would be able to explain with confidence the reason for our unexpected visit, if not point out a viable route back home.

Of course, my more pessimistic mind pointed out, there was the possibility that we could be stuck here a little longer than that. Hell, there was even the chance that this could be it, and whatever portal had brought us here was a one way street with no real way back. How would I feel about being stuck here?

If it was just me, I would be distraught, no question about it. But with my family by my side, I wasn’t so sure. I was at something of a crossroads in life. I’d just graduated from university not too long ago, and had been looking for work for a few months, haemorrhaging through what was left of my loan to stave off turning to the dole. Of all the times to suddenly be uprooted from my life and made to start afresh, this was probably the best one. And I wouldn’t necessarily mind that. I always looked upon Equestria as, while not a utopia, as somewhere a little better off than Earth, and it seemed like a place where we could all be very happy. Still, there was a lot that I’d miss, were I to be forever cut off from my old home. My house for one thing, and all my possessions. There’d be no more television or video games, no more internet, no more visiting my own relatives come Christmas time, no more driving down to the shops to grab the paper. And then there were all the things I’d meant to do. I’d never get to drive cattle across the panhandle, or see the Crusader castles in Jordan, or visit Cousin John and his wife down in South Africa one last time. There was a lot I’d potentially be leaving behind.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I could, along with the rest of my family, cross that bridge when we came to it. For all we knew, by this time tomorrow, we’d be shaking hooves with Princess Celestia, who’d wish us on our merry way and send us all safely back home. Heck, there was even the chance we could make this portal permanent. The fans would be queuing around the county for such a thing. In any case, there was nothing I could really do planning wise, until I had some more answers. It was then that Applejack spoke up.

“Well, here we are in Ponyville, sugarcube,” she began as we started to pass between rows of thatched roof houses. “That bridge over there’ll take ya up to Fluttershy’s cottage out by the forest.”

I turned and quickly recognised the small river running through Ponyville, and the modest stonework bridge that spanned it. I did my best to start sketching out a map in my head. The two of us continued into town.

“And right over there is Rarity’s boutique,” Applejack continued.

I picked out the familiar carousel shaped building. If Rarity placed a few of her mannequins out front and somehow got the building to rotate on its foundation, it would honestly be a carousel. It was a fair distance from any other building and quite out on its own compared to other shops in the town. Passing by the shop, Applejack led me into something of a maze of streets before we turned onto one of the larger thoroughfares and ended up at the diabetes inducing building that was Sugarcube Corner. In the window up top, I could see a silhouette of Pinkie Pie pass back and forth. Applejack noticed it too and laughed.

“Well, looks like Pinkie Pie’s already startin’ on that party for y’all.” She said smiling. I laughed too.

“Yeah, it’ll certainly be a nice change of pace after everything that happened today.” I replied.

We continued along the road, heading toward the centre of town, we passed by the town hall, which Applejack told me was a good landmark, as pretty much all the other main roads in the town led out from there in a sort of spider web pattern. We actually stopped for a few moments in the town square to give me a chance to get my bearings. The pair of us sat down at the large fountain off to the far side of the square. Atop the dais was a status of Princess Celestia, rearing up with her front hooves pounding the air. Considering the relatively backwater nature of Ponyville, the quality of the craftsmanship and the resemblance to the alicorn herself was most striking.

As I sat there, I also indulged in a spot of pony watching. Fans of the show had given pretty much every single pony in Ponyville a name, a character and their own backstory if the writers hadn’t. It would be interesting to see how much stood up to the real thing.

I picked out first, two ponies sitting on a bench. One sat like a typical pony, with her forelegs tucked underneath her, but the other sat in a manner than looked almost painful, with a more human appearance. Did I mention that said pony was a minty green unicorn mare with a lyre cutie mark? Naturally, the pony next to her was Bon Bon, who was looking at her companion with a mixture of curiosity and pity.

After that, near the small market that was currently set up in the main square, I spotted Roseluck, Lily, and Daisy selling their wares. I suppressed a chuckle as Roseluck almost fainted when she realised that she’d mislabelled some of her produce.

To complete the miniature tour of Ponyville, and to give me a good grounding of each part of the place, Applejack took me on a route that skirted around the edge of the town towards her own home on Sweet Apple Acres. Passing Quills and Sofas, a business concept that, even in Equestria, borders on the ridiculous, yet still functions, we came towards the edge of the town.

Here I found the wonderfully clichéd Ponyville schoolhouse, with its church like bell and steeple. Outside was the simple playground that no doubt provided plenty of delight to the foals that attended. And of course, this was where Cheerilee worked as well. I wondered if the hints that she and Big Mac were sweet on each other were true or not. Right now, the place was quiet. It was late in the afternoon on a Wednesday, so all the foals had gone home to enjoy the brief break from school that, at their age, seems like a whole summer.

Passing the schoolhouse, Applejack briefly led me along a path out of town, the opposite side from which we had come, saying that she wanted to show me the best route to Sweet Apple Acres in case I ever needed to drop by. For some reason, she smiled at me as she said that, though I’d no idea what it meant.

We stopped on a small rise from which, in addition to the hundreds of apple trees, I could just make out the wooden red and white farmhouse and barn that the apples called their home. It certainly looked very rustic and welcoming, even from here. Before I left Ponyville, I certainly wanted to visit this place, maybe even ask Applejack if I could lend a hand, or hoof. I may not be a bonafide farmer, but my family did have a little smallholding back home; just a few chickens and sheep mind you. Unlike the apples, most of our small parcel of land was, by way of longstanding agreement, rented to the local farmers for grazing sheep and cattle.

After seeing her own home, Applejack turned us around and led me back toward Ponyville. She showed me one of the simplest ways to find my way. The town was mainly built around several major roads, all of which branched out in one way or another from Town hall. So, if I ever found myself a little lost, going there was a good means of getting my bearings.

From the town hall, it was a fairly short trip, with not too many turns to remember, before we found ourselves at our destination. The building was a literal tree house, or tree library, I suppose. Standing completely apart from the surrounding architecture, it was almost certainly unique. It was also a little smaller than I expected. I knew from the show that the interior of the library was quite spacious. Maybe the ponies had discovered trans-dimensional engineering, and it was bigger on the inside?

The place looked welcoming enough, in the fading daylight, the first few lamps were coming on in Ponyville, and the light from within the library gave it a warm, comforting glow. Stopping just before the threshold, I turned to Applejack, who was no doubt preparing to head back to her own home.

“Thanks for helping me find my way here, Applejack,” I said appreciatively. “I think I had more than my fair share of being lost today in that forest.” Applejack chuckled.

“Don’t mention it, sugarcube,” she replied, touching the brim of her hat with a hoof. “Ah just hope Twilight or the princess can help y’all find a way home.” I nodded in agreement.

“You and me both,” I agreed. “And listen, if I do get the chance, I’ll see if we can all drop by Sweet Apple Acres. Even if we do go back tomorrow, it’d be criminal to go without a bushel of your family’s famous apples.”

Smiling and wishing me well, Applejack departed, leaving me to myself in front of the library. Walking up to the odd, stable like door, I found myself at a bit of a crossroads. This was a library, a public building, and consequently there would be no problem with me just walking in. On the other hand though, this was Twilight and Spike’s home, so it would be rude to just wander in. As I thought, the protesting words of one Jesse Pinkman entered my mind, and I chuckled to myself.

To play it safe, I did tap on the door with a hoof, something that’s actually quite different that using your knuckle; yet another thing to add to the list of changes to get used to with this pony body.

Tapping on the hard wooden door, I waited for a response. A moment later, both the upper and lower halves were opened and I saw…well, nobody actually. At first I was a bit confused, but quickly realised what had happened when I heard the noise of somepony clearing their throat. Looking down slightly, I realised that it was Spike who’d answered the door. Even in my comparatively shorter frame, he was still quite small next to me, perhaps somewhere around the three foot mark. He stared at me for a moment with mixture of surprise and mild annoyance on his face.

“Er, can I help you?” he asked with some confusion. I guess being a strange face had thrown him a little. Mind you, I was just as surprised at suddenly meeting the baby dragon.

“Oh, hi there, Spike,” I replied after a moment. “Is Twilight about?” The young dragon nodded.

“Oh, yeah, she’s here,” he answered, stepping aside and letting me in. “But, er, how do you know my name?” My ears splayed against my head as I realised why the little dragon had been so confused by my arrival. As I walked in, Twilight came down the stairs.

“Ah, Blade Star. Got here in one piece I see,” she said in a welcoming tone. “Lizzie and your parents are in the next room settling in.” She was about to go on, when Spike, having shut the front door, broke in on the conversation.

“So, what, are you two like old friends or something?” he asked perplexedly. Twilight, now seeming calmer about the current situation than when I last saw her, merely shook her head.

“No, Spike,” she replied. “Blade Star isn’t from Equestria. He’s part of Roger’s family. He’s their son, and Lizzie’s older brother.” This just left Spike even more bewildered.

“But he’s a unicorn and they’re…” he trailed off, while Twilight began to explain.

As for me, I suddenly found myself in one of the most recognisable places in the show; Twilight’s home and library. This place was warm and cosy looking and seemed to be imbued with the smell of old books. It was quite literally stacked up to the rafters with them, and knowledge about virtually every facet of Equestria and the world was no doubt stored within this comparatively small building. The sheer number of fandom questions and arguments I could settle for just an hour in this place.

Spike and Twilight continued talking for a little while, while I busied myself examining the many books on display. They were all well-made hardback books, reminding me of the style of centuries earlier. There were no paperbacks with cheap illustrations here. Most of the titles were of course around the study of magic, Twilight’s speciality. Perhaps if there was time, I could at some point do a bit of studying. Learning about actual magic, particularly considering that I was now a unicorn, was not something that I intended to let pass me by.

After Twilight had explained fully the situation to Spike and reintroduced us to each other, we got on pretty well. Spike, like Twilight, found the strange series of events that had brought us here most interesting, comparing it all to the storylines from one of his Power Ponies comics. After a few moments getting to know each other, Twilight led me through the small passageway that connected two parts of the lower level of the library, taking me to where my family was waiting.

Chapter 6 - Settling In

View Online

Emerging out of the small stairway into the second half of the libraries lower floor, I found myself reunited again with my family. The three of them seemed to have settled in fairly well so far. Dad, like me, had taken to browsing through the seemingly endless shelves taking out a book or dusty tome now and then and leafing his way through it, although since none of us could really read Equestrian too well there was some similarity to English. Mum meanwhile, seemed more interested in the unusual construction of the library and was pottering about the room, looking at how the natural tree seemed to effortless meld with the requirements of the library. The shelves for example, far from being placed there, or carved out, looked almost as if they had literally grown with the tree. As for Lizzie, she had her nose in a Daring Do book that she’d found and seemed to be fairly interested in the exploits of Equestria’s Indiana Jones, mainly going by the pictures. They all looked up when Twilight and I walked in, with Spike trailing a little way behind us.

“Oh, hey there, lad,” my dad said. “I gotta say you definitely made the right call in pointing us here. Although it seems that they use a different written language than us.” He gestured to the many books he was still browsing through. I smiled at his slight annoyance.

“I'm sure Twilight will be happy to teach you,” I replied knowingly, though slightly annoyed at the fact that he got to go through the library’s catalogue first, even if he couldn't read it. “What about you, Mum? Are you settling in okay?” My mum shrugged her shoulders before rubbing a hand across the back of her neck apprehensively.

“About as well as you can expect,” she answered. “Although there are one or two things I’ve seen since I got here that still baffle me.” I raised an eyebrow.

“Oh, like what?” I asked.

“Well, when the three of us got here,” she explained. “Twilight took us all inside and went to talk to the lizard of hers; Spike, right?”

“Dragon.” Spike reminded her as he restocked a few of the library’s shelves. “Lizards can’t do this.” With that, and with great effort, he blew out a small flame of greenish coloured fire. The look on my Mum’s face was priceless, though I quickly reassured her that she had little to fear from the friendly, young, baby dragon. A moment later, after recovering herself, she continued.

“Right…dragon. Sorry, Spike,” she apologised. “Anyway, she rattled off a letter to this princess of hers. He wrote it down and tied the scroll up. But then he burned the whole thing up. And the smoke…well, it sort of came alive. It flew out the window!”

The reason for all that was fairly obvious to me. Any fan of the show worth his salt (a phrase that had new meaning here in Equestria) could easily tell you that Spike possessed magical fire breath that allowed him to send and receive letters like that. However, I remembered how my excessive knowledge had unsettled Twilight before. So, turning to her, I opted to hold my tongue.

“Well, I think Twilight here can answer that question better that I can,” I half lied. “After all, she’s the one who hatched him. Wait…dammit!” I promptly connected my hoof to my face in annoyance. This time though, Twilight didn’t seem to mind.

“You see, Margaret,” the young alicorn explained. “Spike's flame breath is enchanted. Anything he burns up gets sent directly to Princess Celestia. When I first came to Ponyville, I used it as a way to send friendship reports every week. And then later on, my friends did the same thing to. But now that I’ve completed my studies and become a princess myself, we just use it as a way to communicate important messages quickly.” Mum listened in interest, though my dad had picked up on the more important fact that Twilight had subtly dropped into the conversation.

“Wait, you’re a princess?” he asked, with no small amount of surprise in his voice.

For her part, Twilight suddenly came over all sheepish, a strong blush appearing on her face. From my own knowledge, I knew that she was still getting used to the idea herself, and that she didn’t want her new title to affect the way ponies treated her.

“It’s not a big deal,” she replied, sounding slightly embarrassed. “You don’t have to bow or anything, Roger.” I jumped back in to the conversation in an effort to divert attention from the awkwardness that had suddenly sprung up.

“So have you had any response from Princess Celestia yet, Twilight?” I asked offhandedly. She shook her head.

“No, not just yet,” she replied. “Though I’m sure we’ll hear from her soon.”

It was at that moment that Spike was suddenly seized with an odd series of spasms. At any other time, I would have thought this to be the result of illness. But I recognised the symptoms of an inbound letter well. With a particularly loud burp, the world’s only living fax machine coughed up a large plume of smoke. A few moments after that, it rematerialised in the form of a scroll bearing the golden horseshoe seal of the sun princess, all neatly tied up in a crimson coloured ribbon.

Spike caught the communique in his claw as it stopped briefly hovering in the air, dissipating the remaining magic that had brought it here. He was about to undo the seal himself, but Twilight was more than eager to see what her mentor had to say. Taking the scroll from his grip in her magenta coloured magic, she hovered the note in front of her. From my position standing next to her, I was able to see what the note said, although just as Dad had found, I couldn't actually read it. It ran in this fashion:

“My dearest Twilight Sparkle. I must confess that, outside of the mirror portal, neither I nor my sister have heard of these creatures that call themselves ‘Humans’ before. It seems highly likely therefore, that they are truly foreign to our world; your theory about a dimensional portal certainly holds water in light of the events in the Everfree Forest. I hope that we will soon be able to allow them to return to their own world through the same means. Regrettably, both my sister and I are currently engaged in trade negotiations with representatives from the Griffon Kingdom, so I will not be able to receive them in Canterlot until this weekend. Please do your best to make them comfortable and enable them to settle down in Ponyville. On Saturday morning I shall send a chariot for you all, and we can see about sorting this problem out then. I look forward to seeing you all. Your friend and mentor – Princess Celestia.”

Twilight rolled up the scroll and passed it back to Spike. The three members of my family looked on with anticipation.

“It looks like you may have to stay here a little longer than you initially planned.” Twilight began.

“What do you mean?” my mum asked.

“The princesses are both busy with trade negotiations with the Griffon Kingdom this week,” she explained. “Princess Celestia won’t be able to see you until Saturday.” This didn’t sit well with my dad.

“Seriously?!” he exclaimed. “A whole new species turns up in her country, and she wants to put trade negotiations at the top of the list? Don’t we get some kind of priority?” My mum was a bit more understanding.

“Come on, dear,” she countered calmly. “If the situation was reversed and a group of talking ponies suddenly appeared on Earth, I think they’d get a decidedly colder reception. We’d probably lock them up for goodness sake! Besides, we’re hardly a threat and we can put up with staying here for a day or two. So I think you can see why this princess might want to put us on the back burner. Besides, it’s only three days. It’ll be a chance to explore this place, see the sights. Heck, it’ll almost be like a little holiday.”

It was at that moment though, that a thought struck me. Today was Wednesday, so we were going to be here for at least three days, rather than just a few hours. Where were we all going to stay? Celestia’s letter had asked Twilight to make us all comfortable, but could she look after all four of us? And what about basic essentials; my family literally had nothing but the clothes on their back, and I didn’t even have that! I promptly voiced this concern to the most well organised pony in the room.

“Hang on a minute,” I said, jumping in to the conversation. “Where are we all going to stay for the next three days? It’s not like we can grab a room in a hotel or anything.” Twilight and everyone else thought.

“Well, if two of you are okay with sharing a bed, I suppose I could put you up for a while,” Twilight offered. “But I’m not sure there’ll be enough room for six of us here.” Lizzie then spoke up.

“Fluttershy said, on the way over here, that if I needed a place to stay for a while, I could stay with her.” Dad nodded in agreement.

“As long as you’re okay with being on your own for a bit, sweetie,” he agreed. “Though I’m sure we can all meet up between now and Saturday. What about you, lad?” They all turned to me.

I wasn’t actually sure where I could stay. If I had the bits, I might try looking for some B&B or little hotel here in Ponyville. But asking Twilight to lend me some money seemed like pushing her generosity a little too far, considering she was already looking after Mum and Dad at no charge. So where else could I stay?

My first idea was to join Lizzie at Fluttershy’s cottage, but I quickly shot that idea down. Her cottage was small and crowded enough as it was with all the animals she cared for, plus Lizzie; as with Twilight’s library, it would be too full.

Rainbow’s home was out of the question, magic or no, there was no way, no how I was setting foot on clouds without a parachute. Plus, as loyal as she can be to her friends when it matters, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to tolerate the brash pegasus for three days. It would look bad if I came back from Equestria as ‘the brony that throttled Rainbow Dash’.

Pinkie Pie too was not really an option, since she lived with the Cakes. She only had her small room above the shop, and that was in addition to those Cake twins. I’ll be honest, gurgling small foals that like to walk on the ceilings and look at you with those unsettling, soulless eyes did not seem like the best roommates come bedtime.

So, I had two choices left. The logical choice was, of course, Rarity. Given her role as the Element of Generosity, I was sure she’d be able to make something work for a few days. Her home above Carousel Boutique was large enough, and she had more than enough couches for me to sleep on. But after thinking about it for a moment, I wasn’t too sure. That became even more the case when, after suggesting the idea, Spike started giving me the evil eye.

Thus, I had only one option left open to me; Applejack. The country mare had suggested that I stop by some time, but I wasn’t sure she’d be able to take me in. On the other hand, if she could let me sleep on the sofa for a couple nights, I could at least earn my keep by helping her out on the farm. That was the one problem with all my other options; I hate being seen as a freeloader you see, so having a way to pay back Applejack and her family put my conscience at ease.

“Well, I guess my best bet is probably Applejack’s then,” I said, causing Spike to relax a little. “I can head out and see if she can let me have a spot on their couch for a night or two.”

“So where’s Applejack live then?” my mum asked.

“She’s got a farm a little ways outside of town,” I replied. “Did you see that whole load of apple trees on the other side of the town; that’s the edge of the farm. Plus I can probably lend a hoof working there, at least enough to earn my keep for a few days.”

“Alright, sounds like a plan,” my dad said. “So, your mother and I will stay here with Twilight for a bit. Lizzie, you’re going to stay with Fluttershy, and you, son, are going to be at this farm. Right?” I nodded.

“What about us all going out and about, Twilight,” I asked. “I know Princess Celestia didn’t say anything, but it’s probably best that you keep us under wraps for the time being.” Twilight nodded.

“I have to agree with you there, Blade Star,” she replied, before turning to my dad. “I know it might be a bit boring for you three, but you ought to stay inside and out of sight until we can think of a way to explain this mess to everypony.”

“So how am I going to get to Fluttershy’s then?” Lizzie asked. Twilight smiled and trotted over to her.

“Simple,” she replied. “I’ll just use teleportation like I did before. I can do the same thing on Saturday when Celestia sends a chariot for us.”

“And I can make my own way, I think,” I added. “Applejack gave me a little tour of the town on the way over here. I’ll head to Town Hall and then follow the road up to the farm. If worse comes worst, I’ll just follow the apple trees.”

With everything agreed, three of us made preparations to leave. Twilight asked Spike to help Mum and Dad set themselves up in the spare bed across from her own upstairs. After a quick goodbye, Twilight had Lizzie stand next to her and the pair disappeared again in that same flash and pop as before. I waited for Twilight to return before I left, just to be sure that Lizzie got to her destination without trouble. It wasn’t long before the alicorn, now alone, reappeared in the library.

“Okay,” she said brightly. “Fluttershy’s more than happy to look after Lizzie until Saturday morning. Are you two both settled in?” My dad nodded.

“Yes, Twilight. This should be enough for us to get by with for a couple of days. You’re very kind.” She blushed again at that.

“What about you, Blade Star?” she asked. “Are you heading off now?” I nodded.

“Yes, I guess I ought to be off if I want to get there before it gets too late,” I replied. “I’ll see you guys on Saturday then.” With that, I turned and headed out the door.

Stepping out of the library, I realised that I’d spent more time at Twilight’s than I initially thought. In contrast to the bright sunny day from before, it was now well into the evening, and the moon hung low in the sky, with the last few lights of day in the far west. Gone was the light blue, almost cloudless sky, and in its place was a mixture of red, purple, and golden hues that bathed the whole landscape in a warm glow. Back home, it would have started to drop cooler by now, but Equestria’s climate seems to be more along the lines of the North American continent, noticeably warmer than back home. It was now still warm, but not uncomfortable. It actually made my journey to Sweet Apple Acres quite pleasant.

Working my way through the town, following pretty much the same route that had brought me to the library, only in reverse, I watched ponies closing up the last few open shops and stalls. The town was steadily growing quieter and quieter as the day drew to a close.

I reflected on the fact that, in a couple hours or so, I’d be able to see the night sky in Equestria for the first time. Back home was a bit of an amateur astronomer. Living out in the middle of nowhere meant there was little to no light pollution, and on a cold, clear night, you could see perhaps thousands, if not millions of stars. I decided that, if I had the chance, I would stay up a little while and take a look, and do a spot of comparing.

I must admit, I’ve always been more of a night person, and the moon and the night sky had fascinated me from a young age. Hopefully, in three days’ time, I might get to meet the mare that was responsible for it all, at least insofar as raising the moon was concerned. Like quite a lot of people in the fandom, I did have something of a bias toward Princess Luna, and as I said before, she was right up at the top of my list of ponies to meet.

Still, at present the sun was still clinging on, the last few rays streaming over the horizon, staining the sky with those amazing colours. Walking past Town Hall again, and doing my best to remember the route, which was of course all now reversed, I began to make my way out of Ponyville. Crossing over the stone bridge that crossed the small river that ran through the town, I left the cosy, lighted houses behind, and began to head toward the huge plantation that dominated the other side of Ponyville.

Before long, the pathway soon changed to simple dirt roads, which were actually quite a bit easier on my hooves if I’m honest. Despite having been a unicorn now for just under a day, walking with four legs was starting to feel surprisingly natural. I’d found the right rhythm and it was hardly different from walking on two. Maybe it was linked to how quickly horses learn to walk? After all, I remember seeing foals on one of the local farms, up and about on their overly long legs a few minutes after being born.

Anyway, before long, just as the sun was finally dipping behind the hills in the distance, I found myself walking under the archway, and past the fence lines that marked the border of Sweet Apple Acres.

The path was fairly straight, bordered on either side by wooden fences. In the last fading moments of sunlight, it reminded me of parts of mid-western America; places like Kentucky or Tennessee. I’d never been to the states myself, but from pictures and films I’d seen, it seemed to fit the bill.

As I walked on, I saw another small path, branching off from the one I was on, and that headed deeper into the orchards. I could just about make out a child’s treehouse towards the far end. And while I couldn’t be certain, I was fairly certain that that was the clubhouse of the famous, though at times infamous, Cutie Mark Crusaders. Potentially, I’d be meeting at least one of them before long.

My thoughts turned to my own cutie mark, and I glanced back at it for a moment. What did it mean? Was it really my cutie mark, or was it just the one I’d given the character I’d created? Well, at least those three fillies wouldn’t rope me into one of their mad schemes, and I wouldn’t arouse suspicion. I just wouldn’t mind knowing though.

Eventually, just as the twilight was fading and the moon was beginning to rise, an event which saw me briefly pause my journey to admire, I came to my destination; the farmhouse. Well, farmhouse and barn. It always struck me as an odd design choice personally, but who am I to judge?

I was lucky that I arrived when I did, much longer and I’d have been finding my way in the dark. Until the moon rose higher and lit up the landscape, I was without a light source. And since I couldn’t get my magic to work on command, I couldn’t just create one myself. That actually annoyed me a little. I mean, for goodness sake, even Snails can do that.

Walking around the farmhouse, I found myself at the front door. After taking a moment to make sure I looked somewhat presentable and to collect my thoughts, I knocked on the red and white wooden door. It was still fairly early yet, and all the lights were on, so I knew I wouldn’t be inadvertently waking anypony up. Listening with my somewhat more sensitive ears, I heard movement and voices from within. A few moments later, the latch lifted and the door opened, sending light from inside the farmhouse streaming out into the darkness. And right there, standing in the doorway, looking just a tad imposing, was Big Macintosh.

Now, I have never been the tallest guy in the room. On Earth, I stood at around 5’8, 5’9 on a good day. So I was a little below average, but I never considered myself short. I was roughly the same scale here in Equestria in this pony form. Okay, yes, I did now look up at my little sister, but I had an inch or so on Twilight and all the other girls.

But that did me little good compared to Big Macintosh. Were I still my old human self, he would have probably come up to my shoulders. As it was, I was about eye level with his snout. Add to that the mass of a four legged being compared to a biped, and you have one imposing sight. Of course, I knew he was perfectly friendly, but still, for a moment I was put off. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I did my best to strike up a conversation.

“Er, hi there,” I began, a little uneasily. “You’re Big Macintosh, right?” The stallion nodded.

“Eeyup,” he responded gravely.

“Is Applejack about?”


“Can I talk to her for a minute? Twilight sent me.”

“Eeyup.” This was starting to get a bit tedious. Mac briefly stepped away from the door and I heard him go into the next room. A moment later, Applejack came out to the doorway, a slightly surprised look on her face.

“Hey there, Blade Star,” she said, smiling. “What brings y’all out this way?” I quickly explained myself.

“Twilight heard back from Princess Celestia,” I explained. “She says that we’ll need to stay in Ponyville until Saturday when we can go up to Canterlot. Mum and Dad are staying at Twilight’s, and Lizzie is staying with Fluttershy, so I was wondering if I could maybe stay on your couch for a couple of nights? I’d pitch in and do what I can to help around the farm, of course.” Applejack smiled and nodded happily.

“Well, of course you can stay here, sugarcube,” she replied, beckoning me inside. “Ya can take the spare room for a couple days.”

That was a relief, I wasn’t certain if Applejack had the room to house me, and I didn’t fancy too much walking back to Ponyville in the dark. Closing the front door behind me, Applejack led me into the front room of her family home. Whereas Twilight’s library had a warm, cosy feel of…well, a library, the farmhouse had a more rustic charm that I actually found quite comforting if I’m honest. Taking me through another door, I found myself in the kitchen, which doubled as a dining room. It was here that the rest of the Apple family were sitting down, about to have dinner. I blushed slightly.

“Oh, I’m sorry, Applejack,” I apologised. “I didn’t realise you were all in the middle of your dinner.” Applejack though, was quick to reassure me.

“Nonsense, sugarcube. Ya came at just the right time, Ah reckon.” She then turned to Granny Smith, the ancient apple matriarch. “Granny, how’s about settin' another place tonight; we got ourselves a guest.”

The venerable Granny Smith, who had been standing at the stove, tending to the meal, now turned around to face me. Applejack quickly explained to her grandmother why I was here. For a moment, she squinted at me with her weakening eyes, but a moment later, her face brightened.

“Oh, of course, there’s room in this here house, Applejack,” she agreed. “Long as this feller’s willin’ to lend a hoof now and then.” I smiled and nodded.

“I’d be happy to help out in any way I can, Mrs. Smith.” I replied. This got her laughing.

“Ah, just call me Granny like everypony else there, ya young whipper snapper,” she ordered. “Now come on and sit yourself down.”

Ponies of course, didn’t really have chairs as we’d recognise them. Sometimes you’d see places with large cushions, but that would be in too sharp a contrast to the Apple family’s more simple way of life. I found myself sitting between Applejack on my left, and the young Apple Bloom on my right. Big Mac sat across from me, and was now giving me something of a warning look, though I couldn’t be sure with his impassive features. As Granny Smith laid out the dinner, I introduced myself.

Being so close to the Element of Honesty made me feel a little uneasy about the white lie I was telling. I didn’t need to look, I could feel Applejack’s burrowing gaze on me the whole time. I mean, I probably could have told them precisely who I was; Applejack would no doubt have backed up the facts. But then they’d know about my parents and Lizzie, and potentially have to sit on that secret for a good long while. So, with that in mind, I omitted a few details. I didn’t weave a fiction; I merely said that I was far from home, and in town for a couple of days until I could get up to Canterlot, and that if push came to shove, Twilight would explain everything. While not entirely satisfactory, it seemed to be enough for the Apples’, at least for the time being.

With the introductions over, the five of us settled down to dinner and chatted convivially. Again though, a few times, I felt that Big Mac’s gaze was not exactly friendly. Might it have something to do with the fact that I was a comparative stranger who seemed to be getting on well with his little sister? Were our roles reversed, I’d probably be doing the same thing. Still, aside from that, we all got on well.

After dinner was done with, and all the plates had been washed up and left to dry, Applejack led me upstairs and showed me the room I would be staying in for the next couple of nights.

Much like the rest of the farmhouse, it gave off a sort of rustic, cosy, and somehow familiar feeling. It was of course, rather plain. A simple wooden door led into a moderately sized room with bare floorboards and wooden wall panelling painted a dark green. A single window looked out over the orchards, and at present was letting moonlight stream in. Against the left hand wall was a bed, with a headboard that had an apple motif carved into it. Aside from that, the only furniture was a bedside table, and against the right hand side wall was a small writing desk and a couple of shelves. All in all, it was more than enough to satisfy my needs. Heck, it was a decided step up from most student accommodation I’d lived in.

By now it was getting late, and I was about to turn in. However before she left, Applejack had a quiet talk with me.

“Listen, Blade Star,” she said as she stood in the doorway. “Ah’m mighty sorry ‘bout how Big Macintosh was actin’ tonight.” Oh, so that hadn’t been my imagination. Applejack continued.

“He just gets a mite protective of me around colts he doesn’t know. Give him a day or two and he won’t have any problem with ya.” I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

“Eh, it’s alright, Applejack,” I replied. “I’m an older brother too, so I can see where he’s coming from. Anyway, I’d best bed down for the night.”

“That you should, sugarcube,” Applejack agreed. “Y’all have got an early start tomorrow. Be seein’ ya at sunup.” With that she closed the door and I settled down in my new bed to go to sleep.

Wait, did she say sunup?

Chapter 7 - Applebuck Season

View Online

In my early days at university, I picked up a rather interesting, and somewhat odd, trick to getting up early. A roommate of mine, who unlike myself, had gone to a public boarding school (public paradoxically meaning private) suggested it to me, claiming that it had always helped him get up at early hours. Instead of the usual suspects such as the Indian trick of drinking lots of water the night before or simply setting an alarm clock far away from your bed, so you were compelled to get up, he suggested something a bit more unusual. Just before you went to sleep, you head-butted, with some considerable force, the headboard of your bed, the number of times equal to the hour you wanted to get up. So, six thumps equalled waking up at six. When he first told me his ‘brilliant’ method, I figured that he must have banged his head one time too many. But for the hell of it, and since at the time I was suffering from insomnia and knocking myself unconscious seemed like a good idea to get myself to sleep, I tried it. And wouldn’t you know it, it worked, consistently too. Though I wouldn’t recommend using it too often.

It was this method that I fell back on when I settled down to sleep in my new room on Sweet Apple Acres. Having volunteered to help out on the farm for a day or two, Applejack had told me that I ought to be up and about by sunrise. So, I set my internal alarm for five.

And wouldn’t you know it, the next morning I did indeed wake up at five in the morning, right on the dot. I came to a little groggily, but was soon wide awake. For a few moments, while my mind tried to get itself into gear, I was somewhat scared. I didn’t recognise where I was, more to the point, I was again surprised by my pony body. Luckily, after a few brief moments of panic, my memory kicked in. I was Blade Star. Yesterday I’d awoken in the Everfree Forest, and found myself turned into a pony. The whole strange series of events came flooding back and I was quickly myself again.

Throwing off the bed covers, I looked about me. The room was fairly dark, but with a bit of luck, I was able to find my way over to the window and throw open the curtains. It was still dark outside, pretty much confirming the time. Out on the horizon, the first faint red, orange and yellow slivers of daylight were beginning to appear, just about making it possible to see the land before it. It was actually rather pretty. How long had it been since I’d gotten up with the dawn?

I was about to go on admiring the beauty of rural Equestria, when I was startled from my thoughts by a sharp rap at the door. I jumped up with a start and, surprisingly enough, let out a very horse like whiney.

“Blade Star? Ya up yet?” A voice called out. It was Applejack, who was evidently more of a morning pony than I was. I gritted my teeth and splayed my ears at her banshee like wail of a greeting. I turned to the still closed door and called back.

“Yes, I’m up, Applejack. I’ll be down in two ticks. Come on in if you want.” Walking over to the door, I opened it and found the orange country mare, hatless, though with her mane already tied up in a ponytail with her signature red ribbons. She smiled at me.

“Mornin’, sugarcube,” she said, in a softer tone of voice. “Granny’s just setting out breakfast, so y’all can come down when you’re ready. The bathroom’s just down the other end of the hall. Ah’d get a move on though. You’re gonna need all the Apple family vittles’ ya can get for today. It’s gonna be mighty busy.” I nodded in understanding and began using my hooves in an effort to sort out my dark blue mane, which was apparently just as difficult to control as my own hair had been.

“Okay, Applejack. Give me a couple minutes to make myself presentable, and then I’ll be right down.” I answered.

Applejack headed downstairs, leaving me to straighten out my room. It took a little bit of concentration, but I was able to make up the bed without much trouble. I actually started for a moment when I realised there were no clothes for me to put on. I suppose having that as a key part of your routine for over twenty years makes it a hard habit to break. I actually felt, for a few moments at least, a little self-conscious about stepping out into the hall.

At a steady trot, I made my way to the bathroom. It wasn’t particularly different from its human counterpart, and I was thankful to find a spare toothbrush for myself. I cleaned my teeth, which were themselves quite different, and a little weird if I’m honest, being the flat chompers of a herbivore, rather than the familiar set of meat tearing fangs humans tended to possess. I considered taking a shower, but given that I was going to be working all day today, and undoubtedly working up a sweat, and since I seemed fine as it was, I decided to head on down to breakfast.

Walking down the stairs, something I hadn’t done until that moment, I found myself a little off balance, what with my centre of gravity being in the wrong place. Still, I didn’t go tumbling down and found myself in the kitchen with both my pride and my neck intact. The Apple family were already there. Granny Smith was again at the stove, and the other three members of the family were tucking into their breakfasts. A fifth place had been set for me.

Sitting down, I soon found what I think was a bowl of what Americans call grits placed in front of me, courtesy of the Apple matriarch. Not too dissimilar to porridge in both taste and function. Along with that, on the table there sat a pitcher of apple juice, along with some eggs, toast, and pretty much everything that would make up a fried breakfast, barring of course any meat.

“Thanks, Granny.” I said gratefully as I reached for the pitcher of apple juice.

However, much to my surprise, all four ponies had paused for a moment, frozen in surprise. I looked up, a spoonful of grits hovering in the air.

“Er, everythin’ alright?” I asked, not noticing the subtle change. Applejack blinked and tilted her head for a moment in confusion. Eventually, it was Apple Bloom who asked the question.

“What just happened to your voice, Blade Star?” she asked curiously. “Last night ya sounded kinda like Pipsqueak, and now ya kinda sound like Big Macintosh.” Ah, this old party trick. I felt relieved that I hadn’t inadvertently committed some pony faux pas.

You see I, along with my mum and a few people on her side of the family, have this odd little quirk. If you put me near someone with a noticeable accent for a long period of time, say a couple hours or so, my own accent will subconsciously change, along with my syntax and general mannerisms. I don’t know why it happens, but I certainly don’t do it intentionally, and once it starts it’s pretty hard to get it to stop. I had, to my surprise, been mimicking the southern drawl of the Apples on and off since I got up. I quickly explained this, much to the amusement of the Apples.

“Well, that there is one mighty strange parlour trick ya got there, sugarcube,” Applejack declared. Big Mac and Granny Smith agreed, while Apple Bloom just seemed interested.

“Ah can try to keep a lid on it if it makes y’all uncomfortable.” I offered meekly, but this was quickly turned down by Applejack, who reminded us of that old phrase; ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’.

After that, the five of us settled down to breakfast again, chatting about what we were all going to be doing today. As I went, I tried to listen to my own voice and to get an idea of what I sounded like. Apple Bloom wasn’t quite correct in saying that I sounded like her brother. No matter how much my voice changes, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to mimic that baritone. The best comparison I can give is that it was similar to Braeburn, though not quite as soft in the inflection. Eventually, I stopped paying it any mind, since it didn’t seem to bother anypony, and returned to my breakfast.

After we’d all finished, and I’d insisted on helping Granny Smith with the washing up much to her chagrin, Applejack, Big Macintosh, and I prepared to head out into the fields. Apple Bloom meanwhile headed off to the schoolhouse. That actually surprised me. Apple Bloom was still just a little filly, but here in Ponyville, it was seen as being perfectly safe for her to walk there and back on her own. But then again, this is also a place where ponies seldom if ever lock their doors.

Granny Smith meanwhile, after putting all the dishes, bowls, and utensils away, briefly turned and addressed me.

“Well, thanks for all your help, young’un,” she said in her kindly way as she smiled up at me. “It sure will be nice to have some extra hooves on the farm, what with Applebuck Season startin’.”

Ah, Applebuck Season. If I remember rightly, that was the first episode I ever saw. Each year, the whole farm had to be harvested as the trees all bore their fruit. And given the size of the farm, it would be a lot of work for the three of us. I smiled inwardly as I remembered the episode in question, and how Applejack, in her bull headed way, had tried to do the whole harvest herself after Big Mac was injured. Perhaps, in light of that experience, she was now more willing to accept a bit of help.

Granny Smith then walked into the front room and promptly fell asleep in her rocking chair, snoring loudly. That just left the three of us to quietly sneak out without waking her.

I followed Applejack out into the yard, with Big Mac following close behind. The stallion’s attitude seemed to be pretty much the same as it had been last night. He didn’t do anything, or even really say anything, but there was something in his body language and the way he looked at me that said ‘I’m keeping my eye on you’. As we headed out, Applejack explained what was happening.

“Okay, Blade Star,” she said. “Here’s how this is gonna work. We’re gonna work our way around all the orchards on the farm in one big circle. We’ll start out easy today and work on the eastern side of the farm. Ah reckon that if we can finish harvesting that side of the farm, we’ll be able to wrap things up by Sunday.”

“Sounds like a plan, AJ,” I replied. “How do ya want to organise us? Work in a team or each have our own section?” Applejack gestured to the seemingly endless rows of trees.

“All the orchards on the farm are pretty orderly like. And there are about a dozen or so rows in this section. If we each take four and work our way through, we should each have about the same amount of work to do. We’ll stop for a break at noon when it gets too hot, start up again at around three, and then finish come sundown.” I nodded in understanding. Applejack then turned to her older brother.

“Big Mac, y’all can take the four rows nearest the farmhouse, Ah’ll take the middle four, and Blade Star can take the furthest section.”

“Eeyup,” Big Mac answered. Again, he gave me something of a sidelong glance; evidently he was still sizing me up.

Before the three of us actually started on the trees, we first headed to one of the many smaller barns that were dotted about the farm. Applejack told me that these were used for storage, to save having to take everything all the way back to the farm house when we were actually applebucking. We soon came across one of these smaller barns, nestled amid the orchard we planned to clear today.

Big Mac lifted the wooden bar on the door and opened it up. Inside, it was mostly empty, with the exception of a few bales of hay and a couple dozen or so wooden buckets stacked on top of each other. It was these that we’d be needing.

You see, applebucking works in a set of stages. The first thing you have to do, before you can even think about taking a swing at the tree, is set up the buckets around it to catch the falling apples. This was easier than picking them all up one by one and saved quite a bit of time too. Once these were all set up, then you could actually clear the tree. A few hits later, and after checking that there were no hangers on still on the branches, and none that had missed the buckets, you had to haul them all back to the barn; hence why those smaller barns were built all over the place. The buckets could them be dumped into the carts that were also stored in the barn. And at the end of the day, we’d use those carts to take everything back to the main barn at the farmhouse, and from there, they’d be taken into town to be sold. So you can see why clearing four rows of trees on my own could be expected to take the better part of a day.

Mac hauled out three of the carts and left them outside. I noticed that each actually had a tow hook on the back, meaning that, if need be you could connect the carts together like a train.

We each then picked out four buckets. They were actually quite large and difficult to move about easily. I’ve never been the strongest person around, and it was a little taxing to pull the things even when they were empty. Still, I wasn’t about to start complaining about it. Stacking all four on top of each other, I followed the example of the two more experienced farmers and hauled the four buckets out to the orchard. It was here that we’d be splitting up somewhat to work on our own sections. So Applejack gave me a quick rundown on the subject of applebucking.

As a human, there was no way I could ever hope to accomplish much hitting the trunk of an apple tree with my feet, aside from possibly fracturing my ankles in the process. As a pony though, a strong buck from my hind legs probably had enough force behind it to do serious damage to someone. After all, I remember when I was much younger, a friend of mine had had to be flown to hospital by the air ambulance when she was thrown from her horse and it kicked her. So, it was of little surprise that I now could knock apples out of trees.

Of course, there was a bit of magic tied into the bargain as well. I probably would never be as good as Applejack or Big Mac, simply because I lacked the innate earth pony magic that gave them their unusual strength, stamina, and an innate connection to the land. Still, Applejack assured me that I’d still be able to do my fair share of work. The last thing I wanted was to be holding up the harvest.

Applejack led me over to the first tree I was lined up to clear and helped me set up the buckets around it.

“Alright, sugarcube,” she began. “First things first; when ya set your baskets down for the apples, try and put ‘em under where the apples are all bunched together in the tree. It’ll save time pickin’ up the few strays that miss.”

Following her direction, and using a combination of my hooves and teeth (despite my continued attempts, I hadn’t been able to get my own unicorn magic to do much), I placed the buckets in position around the tree, looking up into the branches to check that they were all roughly lined up. Applejack nodded in approval.

“Okay, now the real trick with applebuckin’ is findin’ the sweet spot in the tree,” she went on. “Every tree on the farm is just a mite different, but they all have one spot on the trunk that, if hit just right, will knock pretty much every apple off its branch. It’s easier for me and Big Mac, since we’ve been at it for a few years; it takes time to learn the right technique. So don’t worry if it takes a few kicks to get every last apple. And we do need every last apple, sugarcube. There’s nothin’ worse than leaving a perfectly good apple to rot away. Anyway, once you’re sure you’ve got everythin’, ya can haul your baskets back to the barn and put all the apples in the carts, and start all over again. Ya with me so far?”

“Yeah, Ah think so, Applejack,” I replied, nodding, and eager to start. Applejack smiled wryly and pushed her hat a little way back on her head, before stepping back and gesturing to the first tree.

“Alrighty then,” she said. “Let’s see what ya got.”

With everything set to go, I walked over to the first tree as Applejack and Big Mac looked on. Turning around, I practiced half kicking out a couple of times, since lashing out like this messed with my sense of balance somewhat, I needed to shift my centre of gravity over to my forelegs. With that done, I took a breath and kicked out…hard.

My rear hooves slammed into the tree with a solid thwack. The impact was a lot like swinging a golf club, and feeling it connect with the ball on a solid drive. Luckily, I’d kept my legs slightly bent at the knee to avoid the impact shooting up along my joints. Still, it was a fairly strong impact.

The trunk of the tree shook, as did all the branches, which quivered slightly. A moment or two later, the apples started to fall, one, two, three, then a fair stream of them. The surrounding buckets quickly took in their fill, though a few missed or bounced off the rim, landing on the ground. Looking up into the tree, there were still plenty of apples left to go, but for a first attempt, I seemed to have done pretty well.

Applejack let out a low whistle of approval, while Big Mac nodded slightly and continued to watch my efforts in silence.

“Well Ah’ll be; that ain’t half bad, sugarcube,” Applejack congratulated me, throwing a foreleg over my shoulders. “Another couple kicks like that and ya can start hauling the baskets back to the barn.

That made me smile, and stroked my ego a bit. I’d have been a bit embarrassed if all my efforts came to nothing. And while I didn’t have AJ’s knack for clearing a whole tree with one kick and not missing a single apple, I was still able to do enough to earn both her and her brother’s approval.

A couple more solid hits into the tree and Applejack agreed that it was cleared. Picking up the remaining apples off the ground by their stem in my mouth, I finished piling all the produce into the buckets. I now had to haul them off to the barn and place them in the cart. Applejack and her brother meanwhile, satisfied with my ability to do the work, set off to make a start on their own sections of the orchard.

The trip back to the barn seemed longer. The buckets were all noticeably heavier with their cargo, but try as I might, I couldn’t convince my unicorn magic to lend a hand. Still, it was probably just as well, since I knew that Applejack, while willing to see unicorn magic used if needed, preferred to avoid it if at all possible, relying on the more subtle innate earth pony magic of her own tribe.

So, by the time I reached the barn and had loaded the apples into the first cart, I was already working up a sweat. My body, which had exercised precisely once in its lifetime, protested greatly against this sudden taxation and exertion. Still, I pressed on, with a stubbornness not too dissimilar to Applejack’s. As I took the empty buckets back to the orchard, I laughed to myself as I remembered Applejack’s attempt to do all this by herself. I could easily understand why she was worn out in the end.

That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the morning. All in, I’d say there were the better part of thirty trees that I had to clear. It was damn hard work, and as Celestia’s sun rose higher and higher, and the temperature grew hotter and hotter, it became even more tiring. But we all pressed on, I even began to get into my stride and by tree number seven, it was no longer as painful, or at least I’d gotten used to it. I got into a good routine and actually began to enjoy the work. I actually like simple, repetitive jobs; it gives me time to think and reflect.

As I came to the end of the first row of trees, I found Big Mac, who was undoubtedly well ahead of me, waiting for me. The imposing red stallion looked over my progress with a practiced eye. Then, ever so subtly, he turned to me and nodded in approval, evidently satisfied with my work so far. This quiet gesture of respect hopefully signalled an easing of tension between us; it was a start in any case. He then returned to his own work as quietly as he had come, passing Applejack on his way back.

I was about halfway done, and sweat was all but streaming down my sides, when Applejack came over, announcing a halt for lunch. Honestly, I felt like collapsing in a heap. I’d hit a wall in my endurance about half an hour ago and had been running on empty ever since. Only my damn pride had kept me going, though I’m sure that if I’d kept going, the heatstroke would have taken that right out of me.

The three of us took all the buckets back to the barn and emptied what we had into the carts. As a humanitarian gesture, Mac hitched all three carts together behind him and took them to the farmhouse, leaving Applejack and me to follow.

“That’s not a bad bit of work for your first time out, sugarcube,” Applejack said as we walked. “Though ya really ought to pace yourself this afternoon, this ain’t a race after all, and we don’t expect ya to keep up all the time. Better to take a rest once in a while than end up in front of Nurse Redheart.” I laughed hollowly and smiled up at Applejack. My head was currently low to the ground as I tried to catch my breath.

“Sure, AJ,” I replied. “Ah’ll…Ah’ll keep that in mind.” I paused to wipe a few beads of sweat off of my forehead; my mane was already pretty matted too and I found myself wishing for a freak snowstorm or a lunar eclipse, anything to blot out that blazing sun.

“Anyway,” Applejack continued, far less affected by the strain than I was. “Let’s head on back to the house, get some ya some water and a decent lunch. Then we can rest up for a couple hours before we head back to work.” I nodded in understanding.

“Fair enough. Hey, do ya mind if Ah head into town to check on my folks?”

“Course not, sugarcube. Just make sure ya get a good rest, and be back here before we start workin’ again.”


A little while later, I was feeling pretty bloated. Like an idiot, as soon as we’d got back, I’d gone and drank the better part of a full bucket of water. Add to that lunch, which at that point my body was also furiously demanding, and I felt a few stones heavier. Still, with any luck, walking it off would be the best solution. And since I wanted to check up on my parents and Lizzie, that seemed like the best thing to do.

So, promising Applejack that I’d be back well in time for when work started up again in about an hour or so, I started on my way back to Ponyville. That was actually the first time I’d walked that road in the daytime. I have to say, it looks much prettier in the twilight hours, but at least it was easier to see where I was going. Following the dirt road, I soon found myself coming across landmarks that were at least vaguely familiar, it would be a while before I was fully confident about finding my way.

Still, it wasn’t too much trouble to find Town Hall and the large statue of Celestia; I could find my way from there without too much trouble. The market was set up today, although since we were all busy with Applebuck Season, Sweet Apple Acres didn’t have its usual stall up and running. Still, the place was animated as ever, with a hundred and one different things being bought and sold and haggled over. And then of course, there were all the shops, including the ridiculous ‘Quills and Sofas’. How that store has managed to stay in business, I have no idea. And don’t get me started on how it has branches all over Equestria.

Following the semi-familiar route, I soon found myself on the right road and walking toward the library. As the old treehouse came into view, I thought it looked rather quiet, as a library should, I suppose. That assumption however, was promptly broken by what happened next.

With a startling bang, like a clap of thunder, and a sudden discharge of thick black smoke, the library briefly disappeared. As it cleared, I saw that the source of the smoke was coming from beneath the trees roots; that meant the basement. And before I knew it my once unsteady walk had turned into a trot, the trot turned into a canter, and the canter turned into a full on gallop.

Chapter 8 - The Result of Years of Research

View Online

As I reached the library, I pulled up short and examined the situation. The smoke had subsided quite a bit by this point. However, there was still a little bit coming from between the roots. Still, there didn’t seem to be any signs of fire or anything to suggest to whole place was about to come down. And after all, the place had survived being catapulted into the air at one point. I doubt anything short of a sustained, high power blast of undirected magic could even scratch the place.

My first thought was, understandably, for my parents, both of whom I knew were inside. Running for the door, I attempted to open it and barge my way in. But that attempt was short lived, as the door held firm; the place was locked up.

Normally, that would come as a surprise, for a library to be locked up during the daytime. But since Twilight had both my parents in there, and since we’d all agreed that it was best to keep their presence a secret for the time being, it should not have come as a surprise.

Still, being unable to get in and check that neither my parents, nor Twilight and Spike were hurt worried me, so I banged on the locked door with both my front hooves.

“Twilight?! Spike?!” I called out. “Are you in there?!”

Getting no reply only inflated my worry. My thoughts turned to darker places, and the idea that they might now all be lying injured as a result of whatever had happened. So, I endeavoured to force my way inside

Now, as a rule, unless the door is made of paper, I would have no chance of kicking it in without or doing myself an injury. Even the police back home didn’t kick doors in; they used what they called ‘The Big Red Key’; a one man battering ram that made light work of anything that wasn’t PVC. I didn’t have a Big Red Key, but I did have two solid back hooves.

Turning around, I kicked out at the wooden door as if I were kicking a tree back on Sweet Apple Acres. The door didn’t stand up to it. With a sharp clang as the lock gave way, the door burst open, swinging back on its hinges after banged against the wall.

Running inside, I found the library in quite a state. It looked like a bomb had gone off. All the tables had been overturned, books had been scattered all over the place, and even the odd window had been blown out. Rainbow Dash herself couldn’t have made a worse job crashing into the place when she was practising her stunts and tricks. But worse still, there was no sign of anyone, human, pony, or otherwise.

I quickly found my way to the basement door, and I was about to check for heat on the other side, when it too burst open and a slightly overdone alicorn emerged, a singed dragon following her. Still, they both looked relatively unharmed.

Twilight coughed a couple times as she walked out, putting a hoof to her head. I fell back on the St. John’s training from when I was younger and went to check on her.

“Twilight! Are you alright? What happened?” I asked, checking her over for anything more serious than a singed feather. The alicorn seemed quite shaken up, and coughed a couple more times before replying.

“I was…” Another cough. “Trying to open the rift in the library, to see if I could find you and your family a way back. But it destabilised and collapsed.” Spike stood behind her, with singed scales, and clutching at his tail like a child does a stuffed animal.

“What about my parents?” I asked, who I noticed hadn’t yet come up. Twilight was quick to reassure me.

“They’re okay,” she answered. “I managed to put a shield around us. It held back most of the blast. Though I can’t say the same for the library.”

“Aw, heck,” Spike exclaimed. “It’s gonna take ages to put everything back where it belongs.” Twilight laughed a little.

“That can wait, Spike,” she replied. “Let’s fix ourselves up first.” She began to lead him off toward the upstairs.

I meanwhile headed down into the basement the pair had just come from. There was still a little bit of smoke hanging around, but not enough to obscure my vision, or interfere with breathing. The basement was in even worse shape than upstairs. A good chunk of Twilight’s scientific equipment had been either damaged heavily or completely knocked out. Still, the place seemed to be holding together well enough. Aside from a lot of burn marks and soot damage, the place looked to be in good shape.

I didn’t know much about fires or explosions, apart from the odd bit I picked up from TV shows. But I did recognise a void when I saw one. In the centre of the room, not too far from the foot of the stairs, there was a single spot of untouched floor. Something had been there to protect it from the light and heat of the explosion, and whatever that was, was now gone. Presumably, that was where Twilight had tried to create her opening before it came unstuck.

A little way past that were my parents, both unhurt, but a little shaken up just as Twilight and Spike were. I quickly rushed over to them, and hugged both of them, propping myself up on my hind legs and wrapping my forelegs around them.

“Oh thank Celestia,” I exclaimed. “Are you both okay?”

“We’re both fine, son,” my dad replied, returning my hug. I dropped back down to my hooves. “Twilight threw up some kind of force field; it took the brunt of the bang before it collapsed.” I quickly ushered them up the stairs.

“C’mon, let’s get you both back upstairs. I’m sure Twilight has a first aid kit around somewhere.” My parents both followed me up the stairs, their steps careful and a little hesitant.

“It makes you realise how powerful this pony magic is,” my mum said as we ascended. “The last time I felt a bang like that, I was in Birmingham when the paddy’s set their bomb off.”

“Could be worse,” I replied. “When Twilight first used her magic as a filly, she turned both her parents into potted plants and turned Spike from an egg into a fully grown dragon. It took Princess Celestia herself to get her under control.” Dad laughed.

“Heh, remind me not to tick you off when you start to use your magic.” Smiling, I shook my head.

“No, Dad, Twilight’s a magical prodigy. Even if I do get my magic working, the best I’ll be able to do is probably pick things up with it, and even then, probably not things that weigh too much. Assuming of course, I get it working before we get home.”

The three of us then reached the threshold and came back out into the library proper. My parents both went upstairs to catch their breath. Glancing at the clock, I saw that it was almost time for me to head back to Sweet Apple Acres, so I made for the door. And I would have done so, were it not for one terrifying entity blocking my path.

An angry Twilight Sparkle.

Her wings were flared out, her ears pressed back, her nostrils flaring, and her eyes seemed to boring a hole right through my skull; I was in trouble.

“Blade Star!” she exclaimed angrily. “What in the world did you do to my front door?!”

Oh, that. I guess in the heat of the moment, and the equally sudden relief at finding everyone inside unharmed, I forgotten about my little breaking and entering. Leaning around the mad alicorn I looked at the damage.

It was pretty bad at a glance. The door had been locked when I’d hit it, and as it was forced open, the bolt had pulled away a good chunk of the door frame. The door too had taken quite the pounding, with two new horseshoe shaped marks on the front, and a fair bit of damage on the back, caused when it swung back on its hinges and hit the wall. I was no builder, but I’d say that the thing would need to be replaced, along with a fair bit of repair work to the doorframe.

I wilted in front of the alicorn, feeling suitably embarrassed and guilty over my actions.

“Oh, heck, I’m sorry, Twilight,” I replied awkwardly, scratching at the back of neck with a hoof. “I guess I kinda kicked your front door in after I saw the explosion. I thought you and my parents might be hurt.”

In hindsight, it was a stupid move; the result of panic. In addition to thoroughly ruining Twilight’s front door, I had also potentially placed myself in danger. If anything serious had happened, what would I have done? With no training in either firefighting, or real lifesaving beyond bandaging cuts and splinting arms, I would have been of little use, and possibly gotten myself hurt for my trouble.

Twilight however, seemed to cool her temper a little at my response. While the execution was flawed, my intentions were good at least. After all, how would she have reacted if she saw her parent’s house suddenly start spewing out smoke? I’ll wager more than a few bits that she’d go charging in with just as much foolhardiness as I.

“Well,” she said, in a far quieter tone. “I suppose I can’t really blame you for that. But…er…did you have to kick it that hard?” I smiled awkwardly again.

“You can blame Applejack teaching me applebucking all morning for that.” I answered light heartedly. I was about to go on, when Dad called from upstairs.

“Twilight!” he called down. “It looks like that explosion has drawn a bit of a crowd. There’s a whole load of ponies gathering outside the library.” The two of us looked outside.

He was right. Given that the explosion was pretty loud, it was to be expected that half the town would come looking to see what was going on. At a rough guess, I’d say there were the better part of thirty ponies out front. I happened to glance at the clock; I needed to get a move on if I was to get back to Sweet Apple Acres in time.

“I think you better head out there and allay their fears, Twilight,” I suggested. “I promised Applejack I’d be back at her farm in ten minutes to get back to work. But I promise I’ll come back this evening and help fix things.” I began to walk away, when Twilight called me back.

“Pinkie Promise,” she ordered, half sternly. Laughing slightly, I did the required motions as I spoke.

“I Pinkie promise that I’ll come back this evening to help you repair your front door. Cross my heart and hope to fly. Stick a cupcake in my…ow!” Like a fool, I neglected to close my eye before I poked it. Twilight laughed at my plight. Shaking my head and blinking a few times to clear my vision, I reiterated myself.

“I’ll be there this evening, Twilight. So long!”

With that, I started back for the farm. Though I could have sworn I heard someone out there whispering ‘forever’, and I could feel a pair of unseen eyes watching me all the way back to the farm.

I had to keep up a fair pace back through town and headed toward Sweet Apple Acres. I had planned on checking on Fluttershy and Lizzie that afternoon as well. But given all that had happened, I now had very little time left, so that would have to be put off for another day. The town clock began to strike the hour just as I passed through the farm’s gates, and I broke into a gallop in order to reach the farmhouse.

I found both Applejack and Big Mac a little ways off from the house and farmyard, near a small grove of apple trees. Applejack was reclining against the tree, her hat tilted forward over her eyes and her hind legs crossed over each other, with her forelegs behind her head. For a quadruped, it was a remarkably human position; something I would have more expected from Lyra, assuming of course anything I thought I knew about her was true. As for Big Mac, he was lying down in the grass more after the fashion of a horse or dog, with his forelegs tucked under his front. From his mouth, there protruded a long wheat stalk, which he was contentedly chewing on. Both ponies roused themselves and looked up as I came back at a pace somewhere between canter and gallop.

“Well hey there, Blade Star,” Applejack greeted, pushing her Stetson back into its usual place on her head. “You’re just in time to get back to work.”

I pulled up, huffing and panting somewhat from my run back to the farm. Even in this new pony body, it seemed that general fitness was not my strong point.

“Say, you alright, sugarcube?” Applejack asked as she noticed my fatigue. I paused to wipe a bead of sweat from my forehead.

“Sorry, AJ,” I replied, slipping into my mimicry of her accent again. “Ah didn’t wanna get back late and make you two wait up.” I briefly explained what had happened at the library, and how I was now obliged to go back and help Twilight with repairs. Applejack let out a low whistle.

“Sounds like ya had quite an adventure, sugarcube,” she declared. “Ya think ya can manage the work on your own?”

Actually, I didn’t. Well, no, I could do the work. But more than likely, the sun would have risen on the next day before I’d finished. I was an academic, and not particularly practical, though I did know a bit about woodwork and the like. Still, my stubborn pride wasn’t about to let me admit that.

“Ah reckon so, AJ,” I replied simply.

Now, it was at this juncture that I think Applejack’s position as the Element of Honesty shone through, and she quickly saw through my words, although she was kind enough not to rub salt in the wound.

“Well, Ah ain’t busy this evenin’,” she said. “Ah reckon Ah might come along an’ join ya. Ya can borrow my tools as well.”

I was glad of help on that front. Strangely though, I heard Big Mac snort as he got to his hooves. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that.

“Anyway,” I went on. “What’s on this afternoon, AJ?” The orange earth pony gestured for me to follow her.

With Big Mac following behind us, we headed back to where we had last left off in the orchards. Stopping at the barn, we all took up the large baskets and hauled them out to where we’d left off.

“Ah’d say we made some good progress so far today,” Applejack said as we neared the orchard and prepared to split off to tend to our own sections. “If we can clear out this section of the farm today, we might even be able to take it easier tomorrow.”

“Nnope.” Big Mac called from his position a little ways behind us. Evidently he wasn’t a fan of slacking off.

Reaching the orchards, the three of us parted, still within shouting distance, but not really close enough to talk.

The afternoon was just as trying for me as the morning was. Even though the midday had passed and the sun was now steadily setting in the sky, it was still very hot. Equestria’s climate I guess, at least the centre of the country, I don’t know about the rest, isn’t that dissimilar to that of the mid-western states. So, while most Americans would probably take things in their stride, I found it a touch warm, having been used to cold, overcast days, with summer weather rarely topping twenty degrees Celsius.

As I steadily worked my way through my section of trees, getting into something of a rhythm, I felt myself begin to sweat again, with the runoff trickling down my sides and matting my mane around my horn. Applejack and Big Mac were in the same boat, though not quite as much as I. I was paying dearly for my lack of physical exercise for the last…few years.

“Keep at it, sugarcube,” Applejack called out encouragingly as we both met at the end of a row. “This right here is the worst part of the day. It’ll drop cooler soon enough, just you wait.” That did perk my spirits up a bit, as did the fact that I was more or less either keeping pace with the two Apples’ or only falling a little way behind.

The afternoon kept on in its monotony of applebucking, hauling full baskets to the barn, and then dragging them back to do it all over again. However, there was one other incident that stood out.

As I’d been working, I’d been slowly moving from Applejack’s side of the field over toward Big Mac’s. The stallion still remained somewhat impassive, and perhaps just a little cold toward me, being far less chatty than his little sister and occasionally giving me a sideways glance. However, that seemed to change when the two of us both began hauling a set of filled baskets back to the barn at the same time.

I’d just finished clearing the last but one tree on that particular row, and Mac was one more ahead on his. I’d taken to using a length of rope as a makeshift yoke, rather than pushing the basket with my head as Applejack did. It didn’t make the work much easier, but it was a bit painful on the neck.

As I drew up alongside Big Mac, I noticed the big red stallion pause and watch me for a moment. I’d noticed that he’d do this every now and again the whole day. The expression on his face was a little more readable; it was as if he was deciding something, or turning something over in his mind. As I passed him, hauling what felt like the thousandth basket of the day, I saw him seemingly come to a decision. He smiled slightly and nodded his head toward me, nothing more, nothing less. After that though, I noticed his watch became far less relaxed and the cold looks stopped. Perhaps his view of me was changing a bit. I’d come in as a stranger, but so far, I’d proven that I could do the work and earn my keep without complaint.

So, the three of us continued to toil away in the slowly declining heat. Still, it was very quiet, aside from the continuous thud from one of us making contact with a tree, and the occasional grunt from some effort. I’d always found some enjoyment in singing or whistling when doing something physical like this for long hours. I’m not a brilliant singer, but forced attendance to church, and growing up in rural Wales, which is full of choirs, had given me a better singing voice than the average. I had quite a good repertoire too, mostly campfire songs from re-enactment camps. I picked one of these out now.

Tis old Stonewall the rebel that leans on his sword.

And while we are mounting prays low to the Lord.

Now each cavalier that loves honour and right,

Let him follow the feather of Stuart tonight.

Come tighten your girth and slacken your rein,

Come buckle your blanket and holster again.

Try the click of your trigger and balance your blade,

For he must ride sure that goes riding a raid.

“What song’s that, Blade Star?” Applejack called, trotting over to me. Pausing in my own work, I turned to her.

“Oh, just an old cavalry song, Applejack.” I replied. Applejack’s face became puzzled.

“Cavalry?” she asked. “What’s that then, some kind of music?” I laughed slightly. Of course, ponies wouldn’t really have much of a concept of mounted soldiers.

So I took a minute or two to explain the concept. She and her brother were both surprised at the idea of humans riding on horses, although Mac agreed that it did make sense.

“Ah s’pose it’s kinda like pegasus ponies,” he said. “They’re faster and more manoeuvrable than other folks.” I nodded in agreement.

“Exactly. Cavalry would be used to scout ahead of an army, or to harass an enemy.”

“You sure know a heck of a lot about all this stuff, sugarcube,” Applejack said, pushing her Stetson back on her head. “So what, were ya like a guard or somethin’ back home?” This time I laughed more heartily.

“Good God no, Applejack!” I exclaimed. “Ah learned about all that stuff at school; history. Cavalry went the way of the dodo almost a century ago.”

As we continued to work, I kept up with the odd song, even teaching Mac and Applejack a chorus from a couple of them. It helped the day pass at a quicker rate, or so it seemed. The temperature too began to drop, making work more comfortable. Granted, my muscles were still aching from the work, but I was willing to power through that.

Eventually, with the sun low, and having all reached the end of our assigned sections, Applejack called a final halt to the working day. And with a profound sense of relief, I followed the Apple siblings back along the path to the farmhouse.

We reached the farmhouse just as the sun was dipping below the horizon, painting the sky a mix of reds and golds, while higher up, the sky began to turn a darker shade of blue. As the three of us drew up, Granny Smith came out to meet us, a large metal triangle in her hooves. Without warning, she suddenly began to beat the thing mercilessly.

“Soup’s on, everypony!” she called out over the racket. I expected that she could have been heard a quarter of a mile away. Sadly, Applejack, Big Mac, and I were just a few paces off.

We all shook our heads and rubbed out ears in an effort to get the ringing to stop, which persisted long after Granny Smith had laid down her instrument. Following the elderly green mare, we all headed through into the kitchen, where dinner was waiting.

Apple Bloom was already sitting at the table, having got back from school a few hours ago. She seemed glad to see that I was still here and had more than a few questions. I was able to explain that I would be here at least until Saturday morning, when I’d have to head up to Canterlot. The five of us then sat down for our meal.

“So, how d’ya take to your first day of applebuckin’, sugarcube?” Applejack asked innocently, smiling.

“Not too bad Ah think,” I answered. “Sure, Ah was a mite out of my depth, but Ah think Ah held my own.”

“Eeyup.” Big Mac trumpeted, agreeing with me. He turned to his grandmother. “Granny, this here colt might be new to farmin’, but he learns mighty fast and gives it all he’s got.”

I was quite surprised at the sudden testimony from him. While he seemed to have settled down to my presence, I didn’t expect him to have quite such a turnaround in his opinion of me.

“So what’s happenin’ this evenin then?” Apple Bloom asked. “Can ya help me with my math homework, Applejack?” AJ shook her head.

“Sorry, sis,” she replied. “But me and Blade Star have to head on over to Twilight’s tonight, help her replace her front door.”

“Oh, so that’s what that noise was.” Apple Bloom said to herself.

“Besides,” Applejack went on. “Ya know your brother’s better suited to them fancy mathematics than Ah am.” Mac rolled his eyes at that.

After dinner, I took the brief opportunity to bed down and catch forty winks before heading out with Applejack to the library. She appeared in the doorway decked out in a full tool belt with enough kit to possibly consider building a small kitchen extension. I knew a bit about DIY; after all, as a wise man once said:

‘Take these three items right here. WD-40, vice grips, and some duct tape. Any man worth his salt can do half the household chores with just those three things.’

Still, I wasn’t too sure about all this, and was privately glad for Applejack’s help. As we made our way to Twilight’s in the…well, twilight, I chatted with AJ about what I knew about DIY, along with what had happened at the library that afternoon.

“Yeah, that’s Twilight for ya, sugarcube,” she said, laughing. “But in my experience, something going up in smoke like that usually means she’s on to somethin’. With any luck she’ll be able to get y’all home in no time.”

“Ah sure hope so,” I replied, then hastily adding. “Not that Ah ain’t grateful for your hospitality.”

“Shucks,” Applejack replied. “Ah’m just grateful to have another set of hooves to help out on the farm. It’s nice to have some company beside your own kin once in a while.” She turned and smiled at me.

I was actually a little surprised at how accepting Applejack had been of me, considering that I’d only been in Equestria for a couple of days. Given her more conservative leanings, I’d have expected her to be a little more suspicious, at least at first, just as Rainbow Dash had been. But instead, she already felt like an old friend. I couldn’t help but feel that it would be an awful shame if we did end up departing on Saturday.

Before long we came upon the library. The lights were on and Spike was sitting outside waiting for us, reading one of his comic books. By the looks of things, Twilight had managed to get the door to close most of the way, but the clean fracture across it meant that there was no use in it anymore. Hence, the lengths of wood balanced on our backs. We’d build the thing from scratch and then simply attach it to the existing hinges, since it was only the wood that had splintered.

As we set our materials and tools down on the soft grass, Twilight trotted out to join Spike, a pot of tea held in her magic. She was a little surprised to see Applejack, but soon agreed that it would be a good idea for her to lend a hoof. At least if she wanted a new front door before next week. The young alicorn had already taken her own look at the door and drawn up a little plan of how to build a new one. It certainly saved us time, and let us construct a replica, rather than making a more traditional frame door that would have stood out next to the rest of the building.

For the next few hours, the three of us worked away, while Spike kept us supplied with tea and sandwiches. I actually wasn’t as bad as I thought I was, although using a hammer when holding it between my teeth was a bit tricky, and occasionally painful.

Before long, the new door was complete, and between the three of us, we were able to get it into position so that Applejack could replace the screws and attach it to the hinges. Much to our mutual surprise, we were able to reuse the handle and lock from the old door. When I’d kicked it open, it had simply busted though the frame of the door, without taking much in the way of damage, so it was still serviceable.

Satisfied with the result, the three of us parted ways, with AJ and I heading back to the farm for some well-earned rest. It was getting quite late after all, and we still had an early start tomorrow.

I’d found the little project quite enjoyable too; it was a chance to get to know both Twilight and Applejack in a more relaxed setting. Still, it felt strange somehow, talking to two ponies who I once thought to be pure fiction, and who were somewhat famous, at least among the fandom, it made me feel a bit more at home around the alicorn. I really was starting to like it here.

Chapter 9 - The Last Day?

View Online

The next morning, the sun rose on what was potentially, if not ideally, my last day in Equestria. Tomorrow, the four of us, along with Twilight Sparkle, would be heading up to Canterlot to meet with Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.

I woke up in fairly good time and promptly threw the covers off of me, before I had a chance to drift back into a peaceful slumber. Getting up, I trotted over to the window and took a look out at the farmyard below. The sun was just barely coming up over the horizon, coating everything in the greyish haze of a summer dawn. Already I could hear the sounds of the birds and insects beginning to stir.

Blinking a few times, I did my best to get the sleep out of my eyes; one of several tasks a hoof is not really suited to, even if my eyes are much larger now. I found myself once again irritated that I had no real access to magic. Perhaps before I left, Twilight might be able to teach me one or two things; just enough so that I could say that I was able to use magic in Equestria.

That brought my thoughts around to the impending visit to Canterlot. It had been exciting enough meeting Twilight and her friends, but the princesses? I was sure that they meant us no harm, but I couldn’t help but feel some trepidation at meeting Princess Celestia or her sister. Let’s face it, TV show or no, I knew them only by reputation. And then there was all the protocol to consider. Technically, we had made first contact with an alien race, and in twenty four hours, we’d be meeting their leader.

The highest up the food chain I’d ever gone was meeting a peer; Lord David Davies when Dad and I crossed paths with his hunt out in the back country. And he hardly asked that much respect; the man was as mad as a bloody march hare. In real terms, the most senior person in government I’d ever met was my MP, I knew very little about meeting a princess.

Well, that’s not quite true, I did know a little bit. Coming from a constitutional monarchy like Britain, you did learn some royal protocol, like addressing the Queen as her majesty and so on, but that didn’t really help here. For heaven’s sake, the show never explicitly stated what Celestia’s title was; as a princess she was ‘your highness’ but I’d heard even Twilight address her as ‘your majesty’. I suppose that’s what happens when you have a princess in the place of a queen.

I shook my head in an effort to clear my thoughts. It was unlikely Celestia would expect too much. As long as we were polite and respectful, I was sure we’d be fine. In any case, we’d cross that bridge when we came to it. Right now I had more important matters to attend to, like breakfast.

It was at that precise moment that Applejack came by to wake me up with a loud rap on my door.

“Blade Star?” she called out. “Are you awake yet?” I quickly called back.

“Yes, Applejack,” I replied. “Ah’ll be down stairs in a minute.” That odd accent was kicking in again. One of these days I’m going to find out why I do that; mimicking.

As I quickly made my bed, another task not really suited to hooves, I again felt compelled to laugh at myself over my nom de guerre. Even by pony standards ‘Blade Star’ did not sound natural. Well, it was too late to do much about that now, wasn’t it? And to be fair, I never particularly cared for my old name either.

Opening the door, I walked out into the hall. At the same moment, Applejack emerged from the bathroom opposite.

“Morning, Applejack,” I said with a smile. AJ smiled back, and for some odd reason I felt my face flush slightly.

“Mornin’, Blade Star,” she replied. “Ready to get to work?”

“Of course.”

The two of us walked down the hallway towards the stairs. I was looking forward to another decent breakfast.

It was then though, that a thought struck me. Every now and then, I’d have these moments where the minor practicalities of our strange situation would push themselves to the forefront of my mind. The notion of breakfast had just triggered one.

“What have my family been eating here?” I wondered out loud, no doubt confusing Applejack, who was just about to start down the stairs. She turned back to me and offered her signature raised eyebrow.

“Pardon?” she said, perplexed. I realised I’d been thinking out loud.

“Oh…er, nothing, Applejack,” I said with a wave of a hoof. “I was just wondering what my family had been eating since they got here. You see, humans are omnivorous; we eat both meat and plants. But ponies are herbivores. So I was wondering whether they were having a vegetarian diet or making do somehow.”

Technically, it would be just my parents. Lizzie was a vegan, and had been for a few years. While hay wouldn’t be particularly palatable to her, she’d be fine with the majority of pony foods. My parents would too of course. I was thinking more long term and what might happen if they didn’t all get enough protein in their diet. Dad had explained all this to Twilight when we first settled down in her library too. Being on Sweet Apple Acres, I hadn’t been around to see her solution.

And of course, it was no issue for me. This equine body was perfectly fine with hay, daisy sandwiches, and all of the other things that would be unsuitable for humans. In fact, dwelling upon it, I found that the thought of raw meat actually made me a touch uncomfortable, like nails on a chalkboard. I guess I’d have to temporarily give up the bacon sarnies.

Coming out of my reprieve, I realised that I’d been standing there like a fool for about half a minute. Applejack was looking just a little perplexed. Rousing myself, I quickly got back to the business at hoof; breakfast.

“Sorry, Applejack,” I apologised. “Got lost in thought.” Applejack let out a short laugh.

“Yeah, I thought ya might have,” she replied. “C’mon, let’s get some vittles’ in ya.”

The two of us walked down the stairs and soon found ourselves in the kitchen. Big Mac and Apple Bloom were both at the table already, while Granny Smith was busy attending to the stove. The three of them greeted me in their usual friendly way, apart from Big Mac, who simply nodded at me. His hostility towards me had lessened noticeably, which I was grateful for. I took my seat at the table next to Applejack and opposite young Apple Bloom. A moment later, Granny Smith set breakfast down in front of me.

“So, what’s on the agenda today, Applejack?” I asked, helping myself to a slice of toast and some jam, or jelly as the jar said; I guess I’ll have to get used to some of the Americanisms.

“We’re gonna be workin’ on the other side of the farm today, sugarcube,” Applejack explained. “It’s actually part of the original orchard from when the Apples’ first came out this way, so the trees are a mite bit tougher than before.”

“How so?”

“Well, the younger trees don’t tend to hold onto their fruit that much. A good strong buck from Mac or me will clear them out in one. These ones though are much tougher. Ya might find it a bit slow goin’ today.”

I hoped it wouldn’t be too bad. Given how out of shape I was, I’d been nearly exhausted yesterday, and now I was meant to deal with these ‘tougher’ trees. For a brief moment, I inwardly cursed myself for offering to help the Apples. A moment later though, I realised that was selfish and short sighted. If nothing else, the days would be long and slow if I wasn’t out helping in the fields.

“Ah’ll do my best to keep up with ya then, Applejack,” I replied. AJ then turned to her little sister.

“What about you, AB?” she asked, calling her sister by her nickname. “How are things at school?” At that, the little filly perked her ears.

“Aw shoot!” she exclaimed, her eyes going wide for a moment. “Ah almost forgot! Applejack, can Ah borrow a jar of Zap Apple Jam? I need it for show and tell today.” Applejack did her best to suppress a grin as she got up.

“Course, sugarcube,” she replied. Trotting over to a nearby kitchen cupboard, which I saw was damn near full of the stuff, she passed Apple Bloom a jar.

The little filly quickly took it and promptly stuffed it into her saddlebags. It was just before eight o’clock now; high time for the filly to be heading off to school. Seeing the time, Apple Bloom scoffed down her breakfast like a rabid timberwolf and quickly began to badger her grandmother to take her to school.

“Oh, hold yer darn horses,” the apple matriarch exclaimed at the filly. “Ah gotta clean these pans off first.”

“But, Granny, if we don’t go soon, Ah’m gonna be late again!” Apple Bloom protested. I saw an opportunity to lend a helping hoof, I was pretty much done with my own breakfast anyway.

“How ‘bout Ah take care of all that, Granny Smith?” I suggested helpfully. Applejack however intervened.

“Blade Star,” she said. “Y’all are our guest here. Ah got it.” I smiled and shook my head.

“No, Applejack,” I replied. “At present, Ah think Ah constitute a farmhand. Besides, it’s the least Ah can do for getting three square home cooked meals a day and a warm bed.” I trotted over to the sink, which was now full of pans, plates and dishes. Seeing that I wasn’t about to be persuaded, Applejack relented.

“Fine,” she said, adjusting her ponytail for a moment. “But Ah’ll lend a hoof too.” And so she joined me, helping to dry everything that I cleaned up. Faintly, behind me, I heard Big Mac let out a low growl of annoyance. I guess I wasn’t quite in his good books yet, and the fans were right about his protective nature.

Between the two of us, we made fairly quick work of cleaning the kitchen up after breakfast. The slight delay also gave Big Mac a chance to walk over to one of the storage barns and set everything up for today’s part of the harvest. I was actually a little surprised that he left the two of us ‘unsupervised’ as it were. Hopefully that was a sign that his initial distrust was starting to wear off.

Before too long, Applejack and I set out to join him in the orchards. As we walked through the rows of apple trees, bathed in the early dawn light, Applejack explained what we would be doing today.

“Okay, Blade Star,” she said as we made our way towards Big Mac. “Remember what Ah said; these trees are a mite bit harder to harvest than the younger ones we did yesterday. Take your time with each one, and be careful not to put too much power into your kick; you’ll most likely just hurt yourself.” I nodded in understanding.

“Got it, AJ,” I replied, calling her by her nickname.

“Ah’ll stay with ya for the mornin’ at least,” she went on. “Big Macintosh will do one row, and we’ll work on the other. That way, even if this does wear ya out a bit more than yesterday, you’ll have a chance to catch your breath. These trees may be tough, sugarcube, but there ain’t as many of them as the other orchards on the farm.”

It was at that moment, we rejoined Big Mac. The large, red stallion had already set his and our baskets around the first trees and was beginning to harvest his first. To my surprise, at his first strike, only a handful of apples dropped from the tree’s branches. It took two more solid hits before, after a careful check of the tree, Mac was satisfied and prepared to move on. Applejack certainly wasn’t kidding when she said that these trees would hang onto their fruit as if their life depended on it.

Following Applejack, we both came up to the first tree in the row. Big Mac had already set up the baskets for us, so it was just a simple matter of kicking them. I’d done fairly well for myself yesterday, and now could at least do a halfway decent buck. Still, based on the results of Mac’s efforts, I knew I was in for a bit of trouble.

I turned myself around as Applejack watched. After practising kicks a couple of times, I struck out at the tree. My hooves hit home with a solid thud. I’d remembered to keep a slight bend in my legs to prevent the shock reverberating up my legs, but I still found myself wincing a little from the impact it had on my hooves.

Turning around again, I examined the fruits, if you’ll pardon the pun, of my labour.

There was one apple in the nearest basket.


That was it.

Off to the side, I heard Applejack attempting to stifle her laughter at my no doubt befuddled expression. Turning to her, I scowled slightly; I’ve never liked being laughed at, it brings back memories from high school, even if I knew she didn’t mean it in a cruel way. I did my best to play down my embarrassment.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up, Applejack,” I said with a very equine snort. Applejack managed to get her fit of giggles under control.

“Sorry, sugarcube,” she said, genuinely. “It was just the look on your face is all.”

“Okay then,” I replied, stepping to one side. “How about you have a go then?”

Applejack and I traded places, with her kicking out at the tree. Like me, she took a couple practice kicks to line up her strike, and then lashed out at the tree, actually causing the trunk to bow slightly from the impact. A few moments later, just under a dozen apples dropped into the baskets that surrounded the tree. AJ turned round with a slightly smug look and crossed one foreleg over the other as she leaned against the trunk, in an attempt to look relaxed.

“No fair,” I said, smiling back. “You’ve got the Earth Pony strength on your side.”

“And years of experience,” she added, flashing a smile. “Don’t worry, sugarcube; you’ll start to improve soon enough. By lunchtime, we’ll have you harvestin’ a tree almost as fast as Big Macintosh.”

“Nnope,” the red stallion remarked, as he moved onto the third tree in his row.

Applejack, as it turned out, was half right. We slowly but surely worked our way through the orchards, with the two of us switching roles at each tree, Applejack was, of course, far better at it then I was. I definitely took a bit longer to completely empty a tree of its apples than she did. However, as the morning wore on, I began to improve, finding that sweet spot between hitting the tree with too much force and not enough to dislodge the apples.

Despite the hard work, it was actually less exhausting than yesterday had been, since we were going at a slower pace. It was still tiring of course, but as the sun got closer and closer to the midday point, I was nowhere near as worn out as I had been the day before.

Since the two of us were working together, it wasn’t too long before the pair of us started chatting as we worked.

“So it just happens?” Applejack was saying. “Ya spend enough time around somepony and ya start mimicking them?” I kicked out at the trunk of the tree, prompting several apples to fall.

“Not always,” I replied in my Appalachian drawl. “It has to be fairly strong and distinct from my normal way of speakin’. And that Tennessee soundin’ accent of yours is plenty strong enough.”

“Tenna what?” Applejack asked. I realised that I was referring to a place that was just as foreign to AJ as Equestria was to me.

“Tennessee,” I repeated. “It’s part of another country back home. Your accent’s mighty similar to theirs.” Applejack thought as we traded places.

“I guess that makes sense though,” she said. “When ya first got here, ya sounded a bit like you were from Trottingham.”

“In fact,” I went on. “Y’all have quite a lot in common with the southern US. Right down to that there Stetson on your head. If ya went there, you’d most likely get along with the folks there.” Applejack began to haul away the filled baskets, with me following with the others.

“Well, sounds like our two worlds have a lot in common then,” she said, as we pushed the filled baskets over to the cart to haul them away, Applejack changed the subject.

“Blade Star, Ah know y’all are hopin’ to get home in a day or two, but if y’all do end up stuck here for a mite longer, ya know you’re welcome to stay here on the farm. Heck, havin’ an extra set of hooves around has gotten me thinkin’ ‘bout hirin’ an extra farmhand full time. The job’s yours if ya want it.” I was a little taken aback by her offer.

Of course, if we were stuck here for a while, it would be good to have at least one member of the family start earning some corn. AJ’s offer though got me thinking. What if we were stuck here? I found myself reflecting on my life back home. I’d recently finished university, and had been looking for work when all this happened. Now that I think about it, Blade Star BSc Econ (Hons) does have a nice ring to it. Plus I’d never have to worry about paying back my loans. If we were stuck here, I could now potentially step right into a steady job, a roof over my head, and a fairly bright future. Back home, while not bleak, my prospects had not been exactly brilliant. Like most people my age, I was stuck applying for job well below my qualifications to build up experience, and God knows how few jobs were going.

If my family wasn’t here, there’d be no question; I’d want to get home as fast as possible. But with things as they were, would it be so terrible if we were stranded here?

I shook myself out of my thoughts when I realised that I’d been standing there like a lemon, lost in thought. Besides, it was getting ahead of the game. For all I knew, tomorrow we’d all be back in Blighty.

“Thanks, AJ,” I said as we loaded up the cart. “Ah’d like that. Ah like workin’ with ya.”

I quickly realised, though still too late, that that last part could easily be misinterpreted by AJ. I quickly found myself blushing and backtracking, never mind thanking my lucky stars that Big Mac hadn’t overheard, for he was up at the other end of the orchard.

“Ah mean…what Ah meant to say was…er,” I hurriedly tried to correct myself. Applejack however, cut me off, putting a hoof to my lips.

“Relax, Blade Star,” she said, with a smile and a sparkle in her eye. “Ah like workin’ with ya too.”

Then, without telling me exactly what she meant by that, she cantered off to find her big brother to tell him that we were breaking for lunch. I was left standing there, blushing under my slate grey coat. After a few moments, I came to my senses, and followed the siblings back to the farmhouse.

While the Apple family sat down for lunch, I decided that, after grabbing a snack to keep my strength up, that I’d do a repeat of what I did yesterday and go visit my family, only this time, I’d go to see Lizzie, who was staying at Fluttershy’s cottage.

Heading down the dirt path, I soon found myself on the outskirts of the farm. I had a rough idea of where I was going; Fluttershy’s house was right on the edge of the Everfree Forest. In fact, we’d emerged not too far from there when we first got here. I wouldn’t need to go through Ponyville at all. All I needed to do was follow the path that led from Sweet Apple Acres to the edge of the forest. According to Applejack, that road would lead me right to Fluttershy’s home, adding that if I got lost, all I needed to do was find the small brook that ran near her house.

Now, normally, this would be no bother for me at all. I wasn’t an expert, but I could follow basic directions. In fact, back when I was in primary school, I’d been on a little orienteering course at one of those outdoor pursuits centres in the Welsh countryside. I hadn’t much cared for wandering through the forests looking for silly coloured stakes, but it had taught me basic map reading and navigation skills. At present however, my mind was on other matters, namely Applejack.

Now, I may be a fan of the show, but I never looked at ponies in that way. I might like or identify with some of the characters, but they were just fictional, and it’s hard to fall in love with someone who’s just a work of fiction that you’ve never met. But having spent a couple of days with the real Applejack I was…well, I wasn’t developing feelings for her per se, but I had grown to like her quite a bit. But I saw her as more of a friend, at least I was fairly certain I did; I’ve never really cared for romance, it’s never interested me at all if I’m honest.

Besides, it was more than likely, according to my mind, that it was all in my head. For goodness sake, I’d only known the mare a couple of days. And from what I’d seen in the show, AJ wasn’t the romantic kind either; that was more Rarity’s speciality. No matter what some strange part of my brain said, this wasn’t some ship fic, nor did I want it to be. I liked Applejack as a friend, and I wasn’t looking for anything else.

By the time I’d reached Fluttershy’s cottage, I’d decided to put the whole incident behind me, chalking it up to an overactive imagination. As I trotted across the familiar, yet new bridge over the brook that led to Fluttershy’s cottage, I felt myself calming down again, as my stomach stopped doing loops.

Fluttershy’s small, cosy home, evoked memories of Snow White, at least the 1940’s Disney version. While there was plenty of wildlife on Sweet Apple Acres, this place was positively teething with adorable critters, mostly birds and other small animals. Being a stranger, they mostly gave me a wide berth, but didn’t seem too afraid of me. I guess that’s one perk of no longer being an apex predator.

Trotting up the path, I rapped on the front door with a hoof. A moment later, the door opened a crack, evidently on the chain, revealing one of Fluttershy’s teal blue eyes.

I struggled not to keel over from the adorableness right then and there. If there is one thing the show didn’t demonstrate enough, it’s how adorable Fluttershy can be. She quickly recognised me.

“Oh, it’s you, Blade Star,” she said, in a quiet voice. Although, compared to the first time I ‘met’ her back in Season One, her voice had gotten louder, it was still only just above a whisper and positively endearing. Struggling not to physically say ‘d’awww’ at the sight, I greeted the mare.

“Hello there, Fluttershy,” I said kindly. “I was wondering if I could come in and talk to Lizzie for a little while.”

In response, Fluttershy briefly closed the door, unhooked the chain and then opened the door fully.

“Oh, certainly, Blade Star, she said sweetly, ushering me inside. “Come inside. We were just having tea together.”

The mention of tea jogged another little bit of fandom knowledge for me; Fluttershy’s newest friend, who also liked to drop in for tea every now and then. Warily, I looked around for the infamous Discord. Reformed or not, Equestria’s answer to Q was the last person I wanted me or my family to run into while we were here. Actually, for all I know, that psychotic trickster may even be responsible for all this. There’s a thought.

Luckily, no Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony was forthcoming. Walking into the living room off the hall, I found the place quiet, aside from Fluttershy’s pet rabbit, Angel. The bunny glared at me briefly before hopping over to his owner and jumping up onto her back. Lizzie was nowhere to be seen. I was about to ask Fluttershy where she was, when she walked over to the foot of the nearby stairs and answered the question for me.

“Lizzie,” she called up. “It’s okay. You can come out now. It’s your brother, Blade Star.”

I heard a door open somewhere upstairs, and a moment later, my little sister appeared. Fluttershy led the two of us over to one of the sofas where we all sat down to talk.

“So how have you been holding up, Lizzie?” I asked as Fluttershy poured us all some tea.

To my surprise, Lizzie actually seemed to have settled in quite well. She was a far cry from the scared girl I’d known just a couple of days ago. It seemed as though Fluttershy had really helped her, particularly when you remember that it had been just the two of them, with Mum and Dad up at Twilight’s library.

“I’ve been okay, I guess,” Lizzie replied, a little quietly. “I’ve been helping Fluttershy look after some of the animals when I can. It is getting a bit boring being stuck in here though, and having to hide upstairs when any of these ponies drops by.”

Ah yes, both Lizzie and my parents had been under a quarantine of sorts, keeping out of sight of other ponies to avoid causing any panic.

“Well, you shouldn’t have to keep that up much longer, sis,” I replied. “All four of us will be off to Canterlot tomorrow, and we’ll get this whole mess sorted out.” That seemed to perk her up a bit.

“It has been nice having some help here though,” Fluttershy added. “I’ve been very busy this past week trying to take care of all my animal friends before the annual bunny census.”

“And how have you been coping with pony foods?” I asked.

Lizzie was a vegan by choice, and was well used to avoiding meat, which probably would make her more acceptable in pony eyes. Still, there was still no chance of her enjoying hay fries any time soon.

“I actually helped Fluttershy cook a few meals from back home,” Lizzie said, with no small amount of pride in her voice. “I showed her Mum’s recipe for Ratatouille the other night. And Fluttershy’s been helping Mum and Dad too.” That peaked my interest.

“Oh, how?” I asked, sipping on my tea. Fluttershy explained.

“I’ve been letting them use some of my meat from my stores,” she explained. I was a bit perplexed at that.

“Meat?” I parroted.

“I keep a small amount of meat on hoof for my carnivore friends,” Fluttershy elaborated. “You can’t expect every creature in the forest just to eat berries and nuts, Blade Star.” She and Lizzie giggled at my surprised expression, making me blush slightly.

Still, it was good to see my sister laughing again, and it was nice to see how enlightened Fluttershy was when it came to nature. I was certainly glad I wasn’t dealing with Fluttershy back in Season One. She’d never have had the courage to make a joke like that. I found myself resisting the urge to d’awww again.

I stayed for another twenty minutes or so, chatting with Lizzie and Fluttershy. I was glad to see that she was settling in. When we’d all first found ourselves in the Everfree, she’d been particularly rattled by the experience. It probably didn’t help that her first encounter with someone was me launching myself at her to get her away from that Poison Joke. Come to think of it, I probably ran into her with a fair bit of force too. I hope I didn’t hurt her back then.

She seemed happy enough now though. I was worried that separation from Mum and Dad might make things worse, but she seemed to be fairly relaxed around Fluttershy. The pair had really bonded with each other. Fluttershy was acting almost maternally around my little sister. It would be a shame to part them, but I was just glad that her visit to Equestria hadn’t been one fraught with anxiety and fear.

When the town clock began to chime the hour, I headed off back to Sweet Apple Acres. Fluttershy and Lizzie meanwhile returned to their rabbit counting. As I walked back though, I couldn’t help but dwell on the one subject I hadn’t brought up; Discord.

If there was somepony I had no desire to meet, it was him, reformed or not. In the back of mind, I couldn’t shake this nagging doubt that somehow that psychopath was in some way responsible for this. We’d certainly caused a fair amount of chaos with our arrival, and it certainly fitted his style. I was actually a little surprised that he hadn’t made himself known. Did we not warrant his interest? Damn, that sounds a bit egotistical, doesn’t it?

Putting thoughts of unstable beings of pure chaos to one side, I headed back to the farm. Trotting up the path soon brought me to the farmhouse, where the two Apple siblings were waiting. This afternoon, I’d be working with Big Mac.

Needless to say, I don’t have too much to report on that front. I could write what happened with the same detail as the morning, but it would be rather dull. The red stallion was pleasant enough towards me now, seemingly satisfied with my work ethic. But as I was already well aware, he wasn’t much for conversation. So, the two of us worked in silence, albeit a fairly comfortable one.

When six o’clock rolled around, we heard Granny calling us in for dinner. Heading inside and gathering around the dinner table, we chatted about the ongoing harvest.

“Ah reckon we ought to finish up this harvest by the middle of next week,” Applejack was saying.

“Think y’all will be able to manage without an extra hoof, AJ?” I asked jokingly.

“Ah think we’ll survive for a couple days without ya, sugarcube,” she replied.

“Now, ya know Ah’ll be leavin’ early tomorrow,” I went on. “Twilight will most likely want an early start.”

“As long as ya promise to come back here, if’n those princesses do find y’all a way home,” Granny Smith said, with a stern wave of a wooden spoon.

“Of course, Granny,” I replied.

That night, I lay awake in bed for a while, thinking to myself. I couldn’t help but be in two minds about tomorrow. On the one hand, I wanted to go home. I may not have had the best life, but it was far from terrible. Like I said before, I was at a crossroads, waiting to step off into adulthood. My parents and Lizzie were also probably wanting to get home tomorrow. As interesting as this little adventure had been, they all had lives back home; Lizzie was in university, Dad had his firm to look after, and Mum had her own studies to look to.

On the other hand though, I did like it here. I’d really gotten close with the Apples over the past few days. They’d taken me in, given me food and a bed when they had almost no idea who I was; I owed them more than I could ever repay.

Heck, the room I was currently sleeping in, the Apples’ had begun to refer to it as my room rather than just the spare room.

I tossed and turned for a while before coming to a realisation. It all depended on what happened tomorrow. If there was a portal, I’d be going through it with my family. No matter what, I wasn’t leaving them. My own concerns, and my own happiness, were secondary to that.

All I could do was wait and see what tomorrow would bring.

Chapter 10 - Mr. Star Goes to Canterlot

View Online

On all the previous mornings, I’d woken up on my own, my own internal body clock waking me up in time for the working day. This time however, I got a far less comfortable wake up call. Instead of gently coming to, I got quite the surprise.

I was still half asleep at first; I didn’t really notice what was happening. Only when I felt the chilly morning air, and the ground disappear from underneath my hooves did I realise something was up.

Opening my eyes, I blearily looked around. I was no longer in bed. Instead, I was suspended some four or five feet above the floor of my bedroom. My bed, the sheets surprisingly already made, was off to my right. Faintly, I could hear the signature wind chine like sound of magic being used, and the edges of my vision glowed with a magenta hue.

It was actually kind of relaxing, being suspended in the air like this. At least, that’s what my half-awake mind thought. However, my view of the situation changed a couple seconds later, as the magenta hue around me fizzled out.

With little ceremony, gravity quickly took over, and I found myself landing on the floor with a dull thud, my limbs all collapsing under me, unprepared for the sudden weight. I thus landed splayed across the wooden floor. Needless to say, it hurt like a bugger. It also had the added effect of jolting me awake.

“Ow! Son of a…” I exclaimed, nursing my bashed chin with a hoof. I lifted my head and looked for the cause of this sudden turn of events. Curiously, although I didn’t notice it at the time, my accent had now slipped back to its normal British English.

Standing just inside my room, the door still open, and looking ever so slightly unhinged, was Twilight Sparkle. Groggily, I got to my hooves and turned to face her. A couple joins popped as I did so.

“Argh!” I winced. “What’s the deal, Twilight?” Twilight however, was having none of that.

“Come on, Blade Star,” she said hurriedly. “We need to get back to the library as soon as possible!” She then turned around and headed back to the doorway, trotting in place there. She really was agitated.

“Any particular reason why?” I asked, briefly taking a moment to tidy my mane; I had a serious case of bedhead. Twilight looked at me as if I’d announced that the moon was made of cheese.

“Don’t you remember?” she asked. “You’re coming with me to Canterlot today.” Glancing around, I found the clock on my bedside table, it read half past five. A fresh wave of tiredness hit me.

I was about to ask her why that warranted waking me up at such a God-forsaken hour, but then I remembered the letter Princess Celestia had sent. She’d said that she’d see us today, but she hadn’t said when precisely. Twilight had evidently interpreted it to mean very early in the morning. I might have done something similar in her horseshoes, although not quite as extreme. Still, there was no sense going off at her about it. I did my best to avoid being too cranky, but I never was much of a morning person.

“Alright, Twilight,” I said, rubbing the sleep from my eyes. “Let me just get some breakfast and I’ll be right with you.” If she could wait for another half hour or so, until six o’clock, she could have breakfast with AJ and the others. Hopefully the pause would help calm her down. But alas, it was not to be.

“No time for that,” she replied, taking me by the hoof. “You can have something at the library.”

With that, she powered up her magic again, and the two of us disappeared in the flash of a teleportation spell.

That was actually the first time I’d ever had something like that happen. It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience, but I put that down to Twilight being in a rush. When we rematerialized in the library a moment or two later, I was once again knocked woozy, and my mane and tail had both been slightly singed. I recalled a similar thing happening to Spike, and under similar circumstance.

Shaking away the cobwebs and regaining my balance, I looked around. I was standing next to Twilight in the main foyer of the library, where we’d all made our plans a couple days before.

Sitting at a table, looking equally tired, were both my parents. A simple breakfast had been set out, courtesy of Spike, who seemed to be wide awake and fairly calm, in contrast to his surroundings. He set down a plate for me, for which I was grateful. I don’t know if it was an effect of the teleport, but I was starving. My parents looked up as I sat down with them.

“Oh, hello, son,” my dad said as I pulled up a chair. “I see you got picked up as well.”

“Yep,” I replied, taking a bite of pancake. “How long have you been up?”

“About a half hour or so,” he replied. “Though I can’t say for sure how long she’s been up.” He gestured to Twilight.

“She’s been fretting all morning,” Mum explained. “I can’t imagine though that this princess would send anyone down this early in the morning.”

Well, it was just before dawn, so there was a good probability that Princess Celestia was up and about already. After all, she had to raise the sun for dawn to actually happen at all. I still couldn’t quite believe that we were in a world where such things happened. It was incredible just to contemplate. Early summer dawns do tend to make me a bit wistful and philosophical.

The three of us ate in a familial silence, Twilight having already eaten when she got up. Spike joined us though when he’d finished cooking. Considering his age, he’d done well to make these pancakes from scratch.

Twilight then announced that she would go over to Fluttershy’s and fetch my sister, and then she’d give us a ‘brief’ lecture on royal protocol and other such matters. Having explained that, she disappeared in a flash of light, leaving us alone with Spike.

The four of us chatted amongst ourselves while we waited for Twilight to return. All things considered, my parents seemed to have adjusted fairly well to their current situation. It had only been three days, but they’d already grown accustomed to having a baby dragon around. Like Lizzie, they’d both had to be a little careful, making themselves scarce whenever somepony came into the library.

They had also had a bit of a reward though. Given that the two of them only had the clothes on their back, they’d quickly found themselves in need of new clothing. While it had been something of a challenge, even for her, Rarity had done her best to make something for the two of them. They were now both dressed in somewhat smart-casual clothes, suitable enough for Canterlot.

“Rarity did do a fantastic job though,” Mum said as we ate. “I mean, when you think about all the differences between us and ponies. I mean, she had it done the next day!”

“Please, there’s nothing Rarity can’t do when it comes to clothes,” Spike jumped in.

While I may not have been bound by a Pinkie Promise, I decided to keep my mouth shut about his crush on Rarity. Although, judging by the looks on their faces, Mum and Dad had figured it out already.

“Well, I’m just glad I’m not going before royalty in three day old clothes I’ve slept in,” Dad said.

“That’s one advantage of being a pony, Dad,” I replied, sipping on my coffee, which had properly woken me up. “No need to wear clothes all the time, just special occasions.”

At that moment, Twilight returned, appeared just where she had left, only with Lizzie in tow. Like me, she looked a little worse for wear from the experience. Twilight’s rushed teleport had singed her hair slightly, but it was hardly noticeable. My little sister was quickly herded over to the table, where she joined us for breakfast. Unlike the rest of us though, she looked to be wide awake, she’s more of a morning person than me or our parents.

“Hey, guys,” she said as she sat down and helped herself to some toast. “What’s up with Twilight?”

Lizzie too seemed to have adapted over the past couple days. As I said before, usually, out of all of us, she was the most unflappable. Dad used to joke that she was like Fred out of Galaxy Quest. That’s how she seemed now. It was good to see her back to something like normal, considering how shaken up she’d been before.

“She’s just freaking out a little,” I replied. “She gets like this whenever she has to do something important or meet a deadline. Heck, once, she cast this spell on the entire town by accident, made them all need this old doll, all so she could solve a friendship problem and send a report off to Princess Celestia.” The three of them looked at me in surprise, while Spike merely grimaced at the memory.

“Seriously?” Mum said, somewhat shocked. “I knew magic could do all sorts of things, but I didn’t realise it could do stuff like that.”

“Well, Twilight does have a gift for magic,” I countered. “It’s her cutie mark after all. Most unicorns can only use levitation spells, illumination spells, and maybe one signature spell connected to their cutie mark. Pegasi and Earth Ponies can’t use their magic in the same way, but it helps them fly or gives them more strength and stamina.”

“We have had this lecture, you know,” Dad said, rolling his eyes.


I decided not to mention a certain Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, or other advanced magic users. I doubt they’d react well to Discord. For goodness sake, I hadn’t told them much about any of the more dodgy characters in Equestria. They knew next to nothing about Nightmare Moon, Chrysalis and her changelings, or the twisted King Sombra. There’s a point; we were halfway through Season 4 at the moment. What if we were still around when the next Big Bad turned up?

I didn’t have time to dwell on that though, as Twilight came trotting back down the stairs, a waistcoat draped across her back. She quickly levitated it over to me.

“Here, put this on, Blade Star,” she instructed.

I figured this too had to be one of Rarity’s designs. It certainly looked high end enough. Putting it on, I quickly buttoned the front up and smoothed it out to ensure I looked presentable. There was also a collar that wrapped around my neck, although no tie to go with it. That was lucky I suppose. I wasn’t good at tying knots at the best of times, I doubt I’d be any better with hooves.

The six of us then continued to chow down on breakfast, with Twilight still a bundle of nerves. Every few minutes, she’d go over to the window that looked out onto the street to see if our transport had arrived. But for the moment, there was no sign. Evidently, Princess Celestia wouldn’t be seeing us too early in the day.

And so we waited as the clock hands slowly crept round its face. By degrees, we all split off to do our own thing. Spike went to clean up breakfast with Mum helping him, Dad sat down with a couple books (Twilight had spent the last couple days helping him learn the Equestrian alphabet, and he’d made enough progress to read at a fairly slow pace), Lizzie went upstairs and watched some of the small birds that were hanging around Twilight’s bird feeder. As for me, I just stayed where I was, and resting my head on the library table, took the chance to catch up on some much needed sleep. God knows I needed it.

A while later, I found myself again jostled awake. This time though it was my dad, so at least I didn’t get an expected reunion with the ground. I’d fallen asleep with my jaw resting on the edge of the table, so my joints were a little stiff as I got up and stretched. Still, I felt well rested now. Taking a moment to yawn and arch my back, I looked around for a clock. There was one on the far wall, ticking away. The time read ten o’clock. I’d been asleep then for the better part of five hours.

“Come on, son,” I heard my dad say, while at the same time feeling someone prod me in the side. “That chariot thing has finally turned up.” I blinked a couple of times and took a moment to straighten out my mane and my waistcoat.

“Alright, alright, I’m coming now,” I answered. I trotted past Spike, who was staying behind to look after the library in Twilight’s absence.

The rest of my family, along with Twilight, were already at the door. They’d have to slip out fairly quickly, and it would have to be a quick dust off in order not to be spotted by anypony who happened to be out and about at that moment. I quickly trotted over to join them. Twilight looked back to our little group.

“Okay, everypony ready?” she asked. She seemed a fair bit calmer than she had been before, although the prospect of going outside with three humans was putting me a little on edge. I said as much to her.

“We’re just all going to go out there?” I asked. “Won’t somepony see us?”

In response, Twilight activated her magic and, much to my surprise, I saw the three human members of my family simply fade out and disappear. It even had the same shimmering effect of a Romulan Warbird cloaking. The gulf between us now joining the conversation, a strange thing, considering I couldn’t see any of them.

“Hang on!” my dad called out. “Where’s everybody gone? Margaret? Lizzie?”

“I’m here!” Mum chirped back, I can’t see you though; just Twilight and the boy.”

“What’s going on?” demanded Lizzie.

“It’s alright,” Twilight reassured them, while I did my best not to laugh at the silliness of the situation. “I just placed an invisibility spell on you so we can get in the chariot without you being seen.” There was a pause.

“So why the heck did we have to spend three days cooped up in here then?” Dad exclaimed.

“It’s difficult to maintain for long periods,” she explained. I noticed her grimace for a moment. “I can probably keep this up for another thirty seconds or so.”

“Okay, c’mon you three,” I encouraged. “You heard Twilight. We’d best be on our way.”

“Says the slow coach,” Lizzie countered.

Opening the door, Twilight and I headed outside, with the others following. We didn’t get too far before somebody yelled.

“Ouch! Watch where you’re going!” Mum exclaimed.

“Well, I would if I could see you!” Dad shot back.

“Keep quiet!” I hissed at them, so as not to be seen talking to thin air. “You’re gonna get us all busted!”

Luckily, after that, the trio managed to avoid bumping into one another and we soon reached the chariot.

It was a moderately sized, somewhat gaudy golden thing, pretty much identical to the one that had ferried Twilight to Ponyville on the eve of the Summer Sun Celebration. It was a bit of a squeeze, but we all managed to fit on board without too much trouble. When we were all aboard, Twilight closed the side door with her magic and sat down.

“Well, this is gonna be a long trip,” Lizzie commented. “That castle on the mountain must be thirty miles away at least. And isn’t Twilight’s spell supposed to run out in a minute.”

“We’ll be alright once we get up to a decent altitude,” Twilight replied offhandedly.

The stunned silence from the rest of my family told me that they mustn’t have seen the chariot land. They didn’t know that we’d be flying.

“What d’you mean ‘altitude’?” My dad asked. “Those might be pegasus ponies, but there’s no way this thing will fly; it goes against all the laws of aerodynamics.”

The two guards, dressed in their ornate golden armour and blue plumage now began to canter forward and flap their wings. Even though I couldn’t see them, I could imagine the looks of my parents’ faces.

“Well, you know, Dad,” I replied. “They said the same thing about bumblebees.”

And with that, we began to climb up into the sky. Mum let out her signature ear piercing scream as the heavy chariot lumbered into the sky. I actually found myself asking the same question though. The show never did explain how these things stayed up in the air and level, rather than pulling the pegasi down with it. After a moment of thought, I mentally shrugged my shoulders and chalked it up to the old standby excuse; ‘because magic’.

We were soon high above Ponyville, far enough that nopony below noticed when Twilight’s invisibility spell finally gave out. In the same manner as they had ‘disappeared’, my parents and little sister shimmered back into existence. It certainly made the chariot seem a bit more cramped. Before, it had just been Twilight and I, with a large gap between us. One of the guards pulling us briefly looked back, and was no doubt surprised at the strange creatures he saw. But, as usual, he remained stoic, and said nothing, quickly returning his attention to the task of flying. We too all settled in for the trip up to Canterlot.

“You could have told me,” Mum said to me, half scowling. I grinned back.

“You never asked,” I replied. I ducked to dodge the half-hearted smack behind my head. “Come on, this is no worse than flying to Jersey. We’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”

“Thirteen minutes actually,” Twilight replied. “And before we arrive, I’d like to go over a few important things with you. You are going to be meeting the princess after all.”

“I think we have a fair idea, Twilight,” Dad replied. “Bow, call her ‘your majesty’, don’t say anything too rude.” Twilight cut him off.

“It’s a little bit more than that,” she replied a little hotly. “We’re going to be in Canterlot Castle.” I jumped in too.

“She’s right, Dad,” I replied. “You ought to know about the Royal Guard too. They may be ponies, but I guarantee that they’ll lay you out if you cross them. There like the guards at Buckingham Palace; ceremonial, but still soldiers. They don’t talk or move, but you shouldn’t mess with them. After all, their captain is Twilight’s big brother.” I bit my tongue a moment too late; I really need to stop running my mouth.

“I think what he’s saying, dearest,” Mum added. “Is that you need to be on your best behaviour. We don’t want an action replay of the Dáil Incident.” All four of us, apart from Twilight, collectively cringed at that memory. Dad still wasn’t allowed in the Paddy parliament.

“Alright, alright,” he conceded with a wave of his hand. “I promise I won’t do anything rash. But I do think you ought to let me do most of the talking, lad.” I frowned.

“I know more about this world than you do, Dad,” I replied.

“True,” he agreed. “But I’m not sure the human race should be introduced to this lot by a lad who’s barely out his teens and froze up when he met six girls.” I turned red at that, still sore about it.

“We’re not introducing the human race,” I replied shortly. “Just us. And since we’re throwing TV shows around, this isn’t some first contact away mission, Mr. Trekkie!”

Mum and Lizzie, as well as Twilight looked a little uncomfortable as the two of us butted heads. In hindsight, I can’t help but find it quite funny. After all that had happened, we were arguing over who got to talk to the princess. Luckily, before things got too out of hand, one of the guards called back to us.

“If you two wanna pipe down back there,” he called gruffly. “We’re starting our decent. We’ll be landing at the palace in a couple minutes.” Twilight now took over things again.

“Okay, everypony,” she said, out of habit. “My brother, Shining Armor is going to be waiting for us when we land, he’ll escort us to the throne room to see Princess Celestia. I’ll introduce you, and then you just let the princess speak. Clear?”

“Yes, Twilight,” Dad and I nodded, nodding dutifully.


I felt a twinge of anxiety as we drew nearer to the ground. In a few minutes I’d be meeting Princess Celestia herself, however brief it might be. I’d never met my own monarch, but this would certainly be damn close to it. I was certain that she’d want to speak to all of us at some point. I just hoped that I could avoid freezing up again like I had when I first met Twilight and the others.

On the other hand though, I couldn’t help but wonder if there would be a chance to meet Princess Luna. I’m not gonna lie; I’m a bit of a Luna fanboy, always have been, always will be. It might have been a silly idea, but I was still hopeful our paths would cross, simply to say hello if nothing else.

As I pondered these two possible encounters with Equestrian royalty, the chariot jolted ever so slightly as we touched down on the ground once more.

Well, as much as you can call it ground when you’re a couple thousand feet up an almost vertical mountain.

I think my ears just popped.

We touched down on what I suppose you could call a landing platform. It was a bit like a helipad back home; the sort you saw on top of police stations and hospitals. I guess this was where all the chariots pulled by the Royal Guard came from; like a depot of sorts. The area was presently brimming with activity. There had to be at least a dozen guards waiting for us, all armed, although none of them seemed particularly aggressive.

Standing at the head of this little assembly was a clearly senior officer, even if you didn’t know much about MLP. In contrast to the fairly simple gold armor of his comrades, this fellow wore a more ornate set, with light and dark purple trim, and the blue plumage, his mane which sprouted from a gap on the helmet, had a few natural highlights in it instead of the single blue shade. It was easy enough to recognise this stallion, even if I couldn’t see his cutie mark. It was Shining Armor; Captain of the Royal Guard.

Well, we were important enough to warrant the attention of Celestia herself, so it only made sense that she’d send her best man to escort us. I was a little surprised to see him though. I’d always thought that, after him and Cadence took over looking after the Crystal Empire that he’d moved up there. Apparently though, he still fulfilled his duties here in Canterlot. And I always thought you had to be hard up to work two jobs.

The wings of the two pegasi snapped to their sides as the chariot came to rest, and Twilight opened the door at the side. She quickly ran over to her brother, or BBBFF as she would put it.

“Shining!” she called out, trotting over to him and embracing him in a hug, which he gladly returned.

“Hey there, Twiley,” he replied warmly. “It’s good to see you.”

Twilight now turned around and motioned for the four of us to step out. Dad went first, then Mum, then Lizzie, and I brought up the rear. Shining and the other guards watched with a mixture of surprise and curiosity. Still, they stayed fairly impassive, and took no action. Twilight introduced us all.

“Shining,” she said. “This is Roger, Margaret, Lizzie and Blade Star.” She pointed to each of us in turn, with Shining giving each of us a respectful nod.

“I’m Captain Shining Armor,” he replied, pausing briefly to remove his helmet and tucking it under his foreleg. “Princess Celestia has asked me to escort you to the throne room for an audience with her. If you’d like to follow me please.”

“Sure, Captain. Lead on,” my dad replied with a wave of his arm.

The guards formed an effective ring around us as we moved. Shining was at the head, while a few other guards followed, acting as a security detail. A silence quickly fell on our group, particularly as we made our way into the castle.

As I’ve said before, the show doesn’t really do justice to the world of Equestria. The great halls of Canterlot Castle were no exception. Beautiful stained glass windows let light into the opulent marble hallways, and glittering chandeliers hung from the ceilings. We were all in awe of it. It certainly put places like Buckingham Palace, or even the Vatican to shame.

As we made our way through the corridors, a question popped into my head, so I trotted over to Twilight, who was walking just behind her brother.

“Say Twilight,” I said, keeping my voice fairly quiet. “Did you tell your brother about…well, everything?” Twilight shook her head.

“He’ll be with us when you meet Princess Celestia,” she replied. “I thought it best we explain everything then.” I nodded in understanding.

“Fair enough,” I replied. I had vaguely considered attempting to strike a conversation with the larger unicorn. But I didn’t want to throw him by displaying knowledge I shouldn’t have. So I decided to hold me tongue and let myself drift back to the rear of our little group.

We eventually came into a more recognisable hallway. Here, the stained glass windows depicted events from the show. There was Luna’s return, Discord’s brief escape, the Changeling invasion being repulsed, Sombra’s defeat, and finally, Twilight becoming an alicorn and princess. It was still a thrill to know that I was in the same world where all these things happened.

Coming to the end of the corridor, we came upon the doors to the throne room. Off to one side, I could see the entryway for the vault, where Celestia had previously stored the Elements, until Discord decided to have a bit of fun and hide them during his escape.

We stopped in front of the impressive doors. They were massive, even by human standards. Easily large enough for even Celestia to pass through without trouble. At present, they were shut tight and guarded by two more pegasi of the Royal Guard.

Shining Armor nodded to the pair who, without a word, moved and pushed against the heavy wooden doors, opening them up and letting us into the throne room.

Our little group was ushered inside and we found ourselves walking along the plush red carpet that eventually led to the dais the throne sat on. That was the first time I laid eyes on Princess Celestia in person. She was sitting on her throne, waiting for us, her face calm, but nonetheless welcoming.

We were led inside as the two great doors closed behind us gently, hardly making a sound. Faintly, I heard the locking mechanism turn. Evidently there were to be no interruptions.

The group of guards that had brought us here now broke off, including Shining Armor, and took posts around the edges of the room. Shining Armor walked to the foot of the dais and offered a brief bow, which Celestia returned to what was essentially her equal. He then stepped to the side to let Twilight up.

Well, moment of truth. I wondered how things would go. There was only one way to find out.

Chapter 11 - Sun and Moon

View Online

The five of us walked to the foot of the throne.Twilight, like her brother, offered but a brief bow to her mentor and fellow princess. I on the other hand, bowed properly. While I was not strictly a citizen of Equestria, Celestia was still royalty and was entitled to some level of respect. Just as I might refer to the American president as ‘Mr. President’, even though I myself am British, I thought it best to respect local custom.

It seemed Mum, Dad, and Lizzie had the same idea too, or followed my lead, for they all either bowed or curtsied as their gender dictated. Celestia too acknowledged this with a bow. She then turned her attention back to Twilight; her former student.

“Twilight, it’s so wonderful to see you again,” she said. Her voice had that same comforting maternal tone that I was familiar with. I felt some of the butterflies in my stomach flutter away. Celestia now turned her attention back to the four of us.

“I take it that these are the humans you and your friends found in the Everfree Forest.” Twilight nodded.

“Yes,” she replied. “This is Roger, Margaret, Elisabeth, and Blade Star.” Celestia quirked an eyebrow at the mention of my name, but said nothing further and let Twilight continue.

“From what I can make out, the four of them were brought to Equestria by some kind of portal. Though whether it was natural or artificial, I don’t know. I tried to recreate the portal at the library, but it just destabilised. I was hoping you might have some ideas.” Celestia nodded and stepped down from her throne.

“Indeed I do, Twilight,” she said, making my parents both crack a smile. “But before we go any further, I’d like to get to know these people a little better.”

The princess walked down the steps and approached my dad, who stood on the far left of our group, with me at the far end. I saw his eyes widen in surprise as he realised that Celestia was just as tall as he was, not counting her horn. He bowed and as he rose, extended a hand.

“Good morning, your highness,” he said. Celestia, well versed in the ways of several species, placed her own hoof in his hand and shook it.

Please, Dad, no Blackadder jokes, I thought to myself. Celestia smiled at him warmly. As it turned out though, Dad was actually more diplomatic than I gave him credit for, going as far as to open initial relations.

“Princess Celestia,” he went on. “As a British citizen, I offer you greetings on behalf of Her Most Britannic Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of Almighty God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and all her Realms and Territories beyond the Seas, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth of Nations, and Defender of the Faith.”

“Quite a collection of titles,” Celestia commented, sounding somewhat impressed. “I take it this United Kingdom is a monarchy, somewhat like Equestria?”

“A constitutional monarchy, ma’am,” my dad replied, switching to another way of addressing a princess. “Our queen is a figurehead, but retains a great deal of power, simply not exercising it. The vast majority of the countries on Earth though are democratic republics, with their monarchies abolished, either by rebellion or reform.”

“I see. Then we are not so different,” Celestia replied. “While our diarchy may be absolute, much of the day to day business is conducted at a more local level with elected representatives. In fact, it is often the cities and towns themselves that negotiate trade and other business with one another. My sister and I act at the international level and as a unifying force.”

“That must make things difficult to run at times,” Dad said. “It must be difficult to keep track of things like the various local laws and statutes. And I always thought our legal system was complex.” Celestia turned her head slightly to look at him sideways.

“You seem quite knowledgeable on the subject,” she suggested. Dad smiled.

“I’m a solicitor, or was until I found myself here,” he explained. “My firm specialises in criminal law.”

“And what of this ‘Commonwealth of Nations’?” Celestia enquired. I half wanted to jump in myself, being a bit of a history buff. But I figured it would be rude to interrupt the princess; no doubt I’d have my turn soon enough. Dad explained.

“Our country once possessed a large empire that covered roughly a quarter of the globe. But over the last fifty years or so, the vast majority were granted independence to prevent outbreaks of rebellion and foster democracy. While each former colony is now independent, most are a member of the Commonwealth, and they cooperate on matters of trade, mutual defence, and diplomacy, and their leaders regularly meet to discuss matters relating to their respective nations. Some members continue to recognise the Queen as their head of state, even after becoming independent. Consider it a twilight form of empire.”

Celestia seemed greatly interested in the idea. In a way, Equestria was very much like the Commonwealth; a lot of the regions were fiercely independent in their own way, but all came together under the banner of Equestria for mutual benefit.

For whatever reason, she didn’t question the last title in the royal style. Equestria, as far as I could make out, didn’t really have religion in the same sense we did. Not that I could be certain; at best I’d seen a fleeting glimpse of a funeral in one episode. Still, evidently satisfied, she moved on to talk to my mum. I must confess I thought Dad had done rather well for himself; his summary of the Commonwealth seemed to have impressed Celestia. It finally put my concerns about us being viewed as barbarous to bed.

Taking a few steps, Celestia moved along our little line and turned to Mum. She was significantly taller than her, even without the horn. Mum however, didn’t seem fearful or anything, for which I was glad. Friendly or not, Celestia’s size was enough to make most people stop and pay attention, and I knew for a fact that she could be intimidating when she needed to be. Luckily, this was not one of those times.

As with Dad, Mum offered a brief curtsy to Celestia and shook her hoof.

“A pleasure to meet you, Princess,” she said. Celestia let out a soft laugh.

“Please,” she said. “You are guests here. Feel free to call me Celestia.” Mum nodded.

“As you like, Celestia.”

“I do hope your time in the Everfree Forest wasn’t too unsettling. I know most ponies are fearful to go in there.” Mum now smiled back.

“Well, it was a little frightening at first. Especially when we both saw how my son here had changed. But he was quite good at helping us find our way, and not long after, we ran into Twilight and her friends.”

“I will of course, do my upmost to ensure you are returned back to your world,” Celestia promised. “Until then, I will see to it that some rooms are prepared for you to stay. At least for this weekend.”

“Thank you, Celestia,” Mum said, with a slight nod. “I’m sure Twilight will be glad to have her library to herself again.” We all let out a little, albeit still formal, laugh at that. Celestia then came to Lizzie.

My sister was a little more unsettled by the large alicorn. It sort of reminded me of a time when we went to Disneyland Paris, and she was afraid of the various Disney mascots wandering about. I smiled to myself as I remember her, six years old, burying her face into Mum’s jacket to hide.

Luckily, she’s a lot less flappable nowadays. Mum put a reassuring hand on her shoulder, which seemed to calm her down. Celestia, no doubt used to foals being just as shy, lay down so she was little shorter than Lizzie, and thus less intimidating.

“Hello, Princess,” Lizzie said, fairly quietly. I guess some of Fluttershy’s shyness had rubbed off on her. Celestia smiled.

“Hello, Lizzie,” she replied kindly. Lizzie still looked a little uneasy at meeting the alicorn, but then, out of the blue, asked a question that, if I’m honest, I’ve wanted to know the answer to for ages.

“How do you get your mane to do that?” she asked, pointing at her large, flowing mane.

It was an impressive thing, and something neither of my parents had commented on. As if held by an unseen breeze, it rippled like water, the greens, blues, and pinks all intermingling, creating all sorts of patterns. Celestia giggled at the question.

“Mainly magic,” she replied with a grin. “And some help from my personal manedresser. Touch it, if you’d like.”

Hesitantly, Lizzie reached out with a hand. She paused for a moment, before letting her fingers slip into the flowing mane. To my surprise, it had very little effect, hardly disturbing the elegant patterns. She let out a little gasp as she held her hand in there a few moments longer, before retracting it.

“That’s cool!” she declared, now more confident than before. Celestia giggled again before standing up.

Now, she came to me. I’d had some time to prepare what I was going to say to her on the way here. I was certainly determined not to freeze up like an idiot, as I had before when we were all in the Everfree. It was a bit tricky though. You think Celestia looks intimidating at 5’3? Try being no more than 4’6. She absolutely towered over me, far more than Big Mac did. But, as I said before; nothing about her seemed even remotely hostile. I felt completely safe around her. I was about to offer my own greetings when the white alicorn beat me to the punch.

“And you, I take it, are Blade Star,” she said, looking down at me. “I think you and I have quite a good deal to talk about.” That sounded almost ominous.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said quickly. I wondered where this was going, although there was one obvious answer. I looked up at her, but her gaze revealed nothing but a well-practiced poker face.

“Twilight tells me that you…know things, about Equestria. Things that few ponies, and no doubt even fewer humans could possibly know.” I nodded.

“That’s correct, your highness,”

The princess stepped away for a moment, before turning back to face me.

“You passed several stained glass windows on your way here,” she said. “Tell me, what do each of them represent?” I thought for a moment before answering.

“Each portrays a crucial moment in Equestria’s history,” I replied, doing my best to avoid running my mouth like a fanboy. “From Equestria’s founding and the banishment of the Windigoes, to Discord’s appearance and imprisonment, Princess Luna’s banishment and subsequent return from the moon, the Changeling attack on Canterlot during the wedding of Shining Armor and Princess Cadence, and King Sombra’s return from imprisonment within the ice of the Frozen North, and his failed attempt to take over the Crystal Empire, he was then defeated by Spike of all people.”

“Impressive,” Celestia replied. “Considering that, since you claim to be from another world, such knowledge should be beyond your reach. You have an explanation, I take it?”

“I do, your highness,” I replied.

And so, I explained everything to the best of my knowledge. I told her about the show, Lauren Faust, the other generations, even the comics, which seemed to be hit and miss in terms of their canon. I also briefly explained how I’d gotten involved in it personally, and the positive effect it had had on my life. All in all, it took about a quarter of an hour.

Celestia didn’t respond too much, beyond asking the occasional question, but I could tell that she was deeply fascinated by what she was hearing. When my story was done, she stayed silent for a moment, thinking, before she spoke again.

“Your explanation is…intriguing, Blade Star,” she said at length. “However, it does raise some serious questions. For one, the idea that, even now, we may be observed by those from your world.” Twilight now, spoke up.

“I don’t think that’s likely, princess,” she said. “The kind of observation required to get such a close representation of our lives would no doubt be noticed by somepony. I think this is more likely proof of the multiverse theory.”

“That’s the whole malarkey about an infinite number of universes when every possibility exists, right?” my dad said, turning to her. Twilight nodded.

“Exactly, it stands to reason that in that infinite, there would be at least one where another universe is just fiction. I’m sure that somewhere out there, all this would be treated as fiction too, and the world Blade Star and his family came from.

“If I’m right, then they arrived here through a sort of bridge, a moment in space/time where the two different universes briefly merged. Think of it as an unstable form of mirror portal.” Celestia frowned.

“What you suggest would require vast amounts of magic, Twilight,” she said. “If your theory is correct, then I fear it may be difficult, if not impossible for these people to return home.”

The news hit all four of us like a ton of bricks. All of a sudden, the bottom of my world had vanished. Up until now, as strange as this all was, our visit to Equestria had been a mostly enjoyable experience. And while I had toyed with the idea of what to do if we were stranded, I’d never really thought it to be the case. I’d hoped for a stable portal or something, so I could go back and forth. But to be trapped here? Granted, there were worse places to be stranded, but still, we were now cut off, perhaps forever, from everything we’d known. Up until now, we’d all been just, almost expecting Princess Celestia to pull a rabbit out of her hat and send us on our way.

Mum and Lizzie both turned to Dad and hugged him, with Mum doing her best to avoid crying. I just sat down, unsure whether to laugh or cry. Celestia and Twilight did their best to comfort us.

“Please, do not lose hope yet,” Celestia implored. “I am sure that there is some way to get you home. It is simply a matter of finding it. I’m certain that Twilight would be more than glad to help me in that regard.” Twilight nodded.

“Of course, princess,” she replied dutifully. “I’ll put all my other projects on hold until I find a solution.” Celestia nodded and smiled kindly at her.

“Until we do find a solution though,” she went on. “I shall do my best to make your stay in my nation as comfortable as possible. I certainly would never wish for anypony to find themselves in such a position.”

Activating her magic, her long horn glowed for a moment, before a medium sized bag appeared, floating in the air next to her head. She levitated this over to my dad, placing it in his hand.

“There are 2,500 bits in there,” she explained. “That should be more than enough for you to live comfortably for some time.” Dad opened the bag, and I saw the gold reflecting on his surprised face.

“As I said before, the four of you are welcome to stay here in the castle until Monday. I shall then accompany you back to Ponyville and explain your presence to the townsfolk. I think we can now avoid the need for secrecy.

“As far as housing is concerned, if my memory is correct, there is a modest house in Ponyville that has recently gone on the market. With some modifications, it would be more than suitable for you.” She turned to one of her guards. “See to it that the estate agent is fetched up here, and once the purchase is complete, have some of our engineers begin modifications.”

The guard nodded and promptly trotted out of the throne room, passing us along the way. Dad looked up to the princess, still holding his wife and daughter closely.

“I appreciate all of this, your highness,” he said. Celestia smiled slightly.

“I’ll have my guards take you to the guest wing of the castle. No doubt you would like some time together to process all that has happened. But I would be honoured if you would join me and my sister later tonight for dinner.” Dad looked to the three of, and we all nodded.

“We would be happy to attend, princess.”

The four of us were then quietly escorted to our temporary accommodations. It was a bit of a trek from the throne room, but it was conversely a stone’s throw away from the dining rooms and gardens. Not that any of that really bothered me that much. Like everyone else, I was still processing what we’d all heard.

An interesting side note was that, according to Twilight, the mirror portal did in fact exist. But I didn’t particularly care about the canon of the show at that point. Honestly, I just wanted to go and lie down for a while.

It was just the four of us at the moment. Twilight, along with Shining Armor, had remained behind in the throne room to talk with Celestia. The only pony beside myself, were the two guards who were taking us to our rooms. They were an escort, rather than a security detail. After our introductions, they’d all become far less wary around us.

We soon came to the right part of the castle, although I had virtually no idea how the heck we’d gotten here. I’d not really been bothered to note down each and every little turn. If Canterlot Castle had one fault, it was the fact that all the bleeding corridors looked the same.

Our first stop was one of the larger suites, where my parents would both be staying the next night or so. There was some slight unease when Lizzie expressed a desire not to be apart from her parents. Luckily, her own, somewhat smaller room was just down the hall. Since we were not prisoners, in fact I was told that we had free rein of the castle, within reason, it would just be matter of going down the hall to see them if she wanted.

And so, in short order, all three of my family members had departed, leaving me on my own with the two guards. In a way, I was a little glad. When I get despondent, I prefer to be on my own for a while. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy being around family. But after such a shock, I just wanted some time to myself.

My own suite, as it turned out, was a little further away from the others. Not by much, but enough that I had to commit the route to memory if I wanted to find my way. Mine was apparently one of the suites visiting ambassadors used when they stayed in the castle. Opening the large door, I found the place to be quite opulent. Like everything else, the floor was marble, and the walls were decorated with impressive, and no doubt expensive, artwork. There was a large four poster bed for me to sleep in, along with a desk and bureau. There was also an en suite bathroom, with a large tub, complete with whirlpool if you can believe it. Finally, there was a second door that led out onto the balcony which overlooked the city and the valley below.

After thanking the two guards, I was left to myself. I sat for a little while, looking around the room. I found myself longing for my more simple quarters on Sweet Apple Acres, or my own room back home.

Climbing up onto the bed, I tried to think. If only I could plan, I would feel slightly better. The feeling of being entirely powerless and at the mercy of the universe was not a feeling I much cared for. I don’t believe in the no win scenario, to quote Admiral Kirk.

But there was not much I could think of. I knew jack about magic, never mind how precisely we got here. Heck, even Twilight and Celestia could only guess it seemed. Even though I knew that my family were close by, along with at least one good friend, who would do everything within her power to get us home, I couldn’t help but feel isolated.

I managed to stop myself from outright crying. It may be old fashioned, and bad for my mental health, but I’ve never thought it right or proper to cry, not since I was a kid anyway. I did my best to shake off this melancholy feeling. Like I said before, there were far worse places to be stranded in. I tried to claw back the view I’d taken of all this before; viewing it as an adventure, rather than a crisis. Still, it didn’t make me feel too much better.

In the end, I guess I must have drifted off to sleep. I was startled awake again by a knock at the door and a mare’s voice calling out.

“Mr. Blade Star?” I heard. Shaking the cobwebs loose, I got up and trotted over to the door.

Opening it up, I found myself faced with one of the castle’s maids. She was an earth pony with a very light brown coat, and a charcoal mane. She was wearing one of those stereotypical maid’s outfits, albeit adapted to the equine form. She smiled up at me; no doubt I looked a little ragged.

“Yes, ma’am?” I asked, briefly slipping into my southern accent as I blinked and rubbed my eyes for a moment.

“Princess Celestia asked me to take you to the dining hall for dinner.” I nodded in understanding.

“Of course,” I replied, now a bit more alert. “Do ya mind if Ah just take a moment to make myself presentable?”

“Not at all.”

Heading back inside, I popped into the en suite and quickly splashed some cold water on my face, and did my best to set my mane right. One thing I needed to get used to was having a mane. It wasn’t like the hair I used to have; you couldn’t just smooth it flat. I guess I’ll have to talk to Lizzie about styling at some point.

Satisfied with my appearance, I headed back out to where the maid was waiting patiently. Sub-consciously, I did my best to set all my earlier thoughts to one side and put on my best faux smile.

“Alright, lead the way,” I said.

It wasn’t too far to the dining hall, as the maid called it. We passed the suites where my parents and Lizzie were staying, all of which were now empty. I guess they’d already been picked up, being as how they were nearer. As we walked, the maid struck up a conversation with me.

“So, where are you from then?” she asked. “That accent sounds pure Appleloosa to me.”

For a moment, I was caught off guard by what she said. It took a moment for me to realise that I’d suddenly drifted into speaking with the same southern accent that I’d adopted around Applejack. I wondered what had brought it on. Well, no offense to AJ or her family, but I’d rather keep my old way of speaking around the princess. Just so I don’t have to explain the whole thing. Consciously, I did my best to alter the way I was speaking.

“Sorry, I didn’t realise I’d started doing that again.” The maid turned back to look at me, no doubt surprised by the sudden change. “It’s just a weird tick I have. I’ve been staying with some folks down in Ponyville who speak like that. I sort of picked it up.”

The maid simply gave me an odd look for a moment, before shrugging her shoulders. Great, yet another person who thinks I’m on the spectrum.

After a slightly uncomfortable silence, we arrived at the dining hall. Two guards stood on watch outside, but made way to let us pass.

Heading inside, I found the table laid for six. It was rather long, banquet style table, made of out of what looked to be expensive mahogany. Three chairs had been provided, presumably used by other non-pony species, for my family, while Celestia, Twilight and I had the more normal cushions to sit on. Celestia sat at the head of the table, while Mum and Dad sat on one side, and Twilight, Lizzie and me sat on the other.

Celestia smiled as I entered and my dad called out a greeting to me. I quickly took my own seat between Twilight and my sister. The last time I’d attended anything this formal was when my department at university hosted their annual graduation ball. Even in the waistcoat and collar I was wearing, I felt a little underdressed.

The princess nodded to one of the servers, who were stationed along the edges of the room. He promptly, headed through a double door toward the kitchens, and a minute or so later, dinner was served. It was a strange combination of dishes from start to finish, with differing diets for ponies and humans.

As we ate, Celestia struck up a conversation with each of us, ensuring that we all chatted freely. We’d all had some time to take stock of recent developments and now was as good a time as any to decompress.

My spirits certainly perked up being around my family again. The previous melancholy that had bothered me lifted somewhat. The same could be said of the rest of my family. We all began to chat about what we’d do when we got back to Ponyville.

Lizzie was keen to remain with Fluttershy if possible, having found the mare to be good company and the work enjoyable.

Dad meanwhile, was talking with Celestia about how her Day Court operated. I must admit, the little nuances like that that the show never really elaborated on were interesting to me too.

Mum was a little less sure, and was more focussed on getting this new house Celestia had promised them up and running. And the small matter of getting new clothes made up for all three of them. She did however, express some interest in the schoolhouse and chatted with Celestia all through dessert about her own school for gifted unicorns.

As for me, well, if I was to be stuck here, I planned to be stuck on Sweet Apple Acres. I mentioned how Applejack had offered me a job of sorts before we left, and what she’d said about enjoying working with me. For some reason, that made Mum giggle briefly and almost choke on her drink.

I also talked with Twilight about magic. If I was going to be here for some time, I might as well learn how to use my magic. The young alicorn was eager to take on the role of teacher, and Celestia too agreed that it was getting near the time where she ought to take on her own student, to pass on her own knowledge.

Eventually though, things began to wind down. Although I can now say I’ve had dinner with Princess Celestia, something not too many ponies can boast about. We all finished up with a little coffee, although Celestia stuck to her preferred tea.

It was now quite dark outside, Celestia having briefly stepped away to lower the sun a half hour ago. The sight of the full moon hanging low in the sky caused an idea to jump into my head.

“Princess,” I said, catching the alicorn’s attention. “Does your sister hold Night court tonight?” Celestia beamed and nodded.

“Indeed she does, Blade Star,” she replied. “She’s taken to holding court each night before tending to the Dreaming Realm. Although I must admit, she has few petitioners compared to my own court.” I frowned at that. Luna had been back from exile for a few years now. I’d hoped that she’d start to get a bit more popularity. My little idea began to take root.

“Then, if you have no objection, your highness, I will call upon her this evening.” Celestia smiled again.

“I’m sure my sister would greatly enjoy the chance to meet you, Blade Star,” she said. “In a way it is fortunate that you will be here for a little longer than I hoped. It would have been a shame for you all to arrive and depart without meeting her.” I got up from my seat.

“Indeed it would, your highness,” I agreed. Then, with a quick nod to the solar alicorn, and after wishing everyone else a good night, I headed out of the dining room and made for the throne room.

Chapter 12 - A Conversation with the Moon

View Online

Leaving the dining room, I did my best to find my way back to the throne room. Not an easy task, I can tell you! It’s bad enough that all the corridors look the same, but at night, the castle took on a completely different look altogether. The once bright, sunlit hallways were now somewhat darker, lit only by the light of the full moon, and the odd lantern placed at intervals.

The whole place was quiet too. Most of the staff had gone home for the night. Given how quiet it was, the place ran on what looked to be a skeleton crew in the night hours. It took me about half an hour in the end, but I managed to, after coming across my suite, find my way back to near the dining hall, and from there to the large double doors that led into the throne room.

The castle may have been quiet, but it was still pretty well guarded. Of course, with the change in shifts, the pegasi had now been replaced by thestrals. I’m not entirely certain what to call them. Thestrals was the term I was familiar with. A lot of people back on Earth suggested that ‘bat pony’ was something of a slur. I didn’t want to inadvertently refer to any of these guards by the pony equivalent of the n-word. I made a note to ask Twilight at some point. That was just one on a long list of questions I had for the little alicorn.

Walking up to the large double doors, I felt a fair amount of trepidation. Both thestrals were somewhat larger than me, and looked damn imposing in their armour. This only increased when, as I approached, they extended their wings to block the way in. I even heard the sound of the wing tip blades whistling as they were drawn. I stopped dead in my tracks as I found myself staring into two pairs of yellow, cat-like eyes.

“Who goes there?” asked the guard on the left in a deep, baritone voice. I’m fairly convinced that Celestia must feed her guards gravel to get them to sound like that. Summoning up my courage, I did my best to reply in a confident tone.

“Blade Star,” I replied in my British accent, it seemed as though my brief drop into Applejack’s accent was just a fluke. “I’m a guest of Princess Celestia. I would like an audience with Princess Luna.”

I wasn’t sure of the protocol here. For all I knew, there was a whole boatload of procedures I skipped. When my parents visited Vatican City a few years ago, they had to apply for a pass just to stand in St. Peter’s Square for an audience with the Pope, along with a few thousand others. And here I was, asking for a one to one meeting with the Princess of the Night.

The two guards looked me over for a moment, clearly checking me over to see if anything was amiss. Just because the princesses are powerful alicorns, able to see off all but the most grave of dangers, doesn’t mean security should be lax. After a few moments, the two nodded to each other in agreement, and relaxed their wings.

“You may enter,” the other guard said.

With that, the pair, as their daytime counterpart had before them, opened the two large doors and allowed me inside. Stepping through the threshold, the doors soon closed behind me, presumably to give me some privacy.

As soon as the doors closed, I became acutely aware of how quiet it was now. I used to sit outside on a clear night back home. You didn’t hear anything except the nearby stream, and perhaps the sound of grass tearing as the cows munched away. It was like that now. The normal hustle and bustle of court had died down. Now all that remained was the sound of my hooves clicking on the marble floor.

I stepped forward, and quickly turned my attention to the throne. And there she was; Princess Luna. She was sitting on the same throne that her sister typically occupied. I later learned that plans were in the works to completely redesign the throne room to include two thrones. These however, would not begin for a couple years. For the moment, the two sisters had to share.

The dark blue alicorn was sitting on the throne, wide awake. She was quite beautiful in person. While Celestia gave off a more motherly vibe, Luna was a little different, seeming more graceful and reserved. Right now though, I wasn’t much fussed with that. Her gaze was fixed on me, her teal eyes boring right into my soul. I knew from watching Season 2 that Luna could be intimidating, but I wasn’t really prepared for meeting her in person. Feeling slightly uneasy, I advanced to the foot of the dais. She watched me all the way without a word.

As I came to a stop, I offered a deep, sweeping bow, as I had to Princess Celestia. The alicorn still made no move or reply, and merely continued to stare. I felt like a kid called to the Head’s office.

“Good evening, Princess Luna,” I said, hoping that I wasn’t committing a faux pas by speaking first.

Luna’s neutral face held a moment longer before she at last broke into a smile. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. For a brief moment I feared that I had either offended her somehow, or that for whatever reason, she was in a foul mood. It would indeed be a shame if Best Princess turned out to be a case of ‘never meet your heroes’.

“Good evening, my little pony,” she said in a soft, soothing voice that had just a hint of Rarity to it. “And tell me, what brings you to my court at such an hour as this?”

I was slightly surprised at her response. I knew that she had been back from her exile for over a year now, and she had been doing her best to adapt. However, there was a part of me that hoped she still spoke in her more old fashioned Equestrian dialect. Although I don’t think I could handle the Royal Canterlot Voice. In any case, I smiled back at her, and felt just a little more at ease. After all, I was still addressing one of the most powerful ponies in Equestria.

“My name is Blade Star, your highness,” I said. Luna nodded in understanding.

“Ah yes, the unicorn that is not a unicorn,” she replied with some intrigue in her voice. “My sister told me about you and your family. But what brings you to my court?” I thought for a moment about what I was going to say. Truth be told, I’d been rehearsing this the entire walk over here. But like most battle plans, it had not survived first contact.

“I thought it only right to call on you, your highness,” I replied, feeling my heartbeat increase a little. “After all, you are just as much a ruler of Equestria as your sister. And I had personally hoped to meet you.”

“Oh?” Luna said, raising an eyebrow. I made my move.

“Am I correct in assuming that Princess Celestia told you about the ‘show’ that’s found in my world?”

Of all the characters in MLP, Luna was the one that the majority of fans were….shall we say, enamored with. Despite her few appearances, she had had a big impact on the fandom. Personally, she was my favourite princess, and one of my favourite characters overall.

“You are, young Blade Star. Although I confess it is a strange idea, even for the likes of me and my sister.”

“Well, your highness, on my world, many who watch that show admire you greatly. I count myself among them. Many people admire your character, as well as your night.” Luna smiled wryly.

“Intriguing,” Luna said. “I take it that the same applies to my sister.”

“Nowhere near as much, your highness,” I replied, with a smile of my own. Celestia may have her own fans, but the number paled in comparison to Luna’s. “Of the two princesses, you are by far the most popular.” Luna hummed.

“Perhaps when we find you a way home, I shall visit this world of yours. It would be pleasant to be the more popular one for a change.” She smiled down at me. “And please, call me Luna. I detest such formality between two ponies.” I bowed.

“As you like, Luna,” I responded. I found myself squeeing internally. The alicorn got to her hooves.

“My court is quiet for the moment. And it will be a few hours before I must begin walking the dream realm. If you wish I shall show you my observatory. You would be better able to view the night from there. And the two of us can hold a less formal conversation.” I was a little caught off guard by the sudden gesture.

“Th-thank you, Luna,” I said hurriedly. I honestly hadn’t expected this. “I am honoured.” Luna smiled again as she strode past me. She really was quite beautiful in person. I said that already didn’t I?

“Follow me, Blade Star.”

And so, I followed.

Luna led me out of the throne room the same way I had entered. As we passed through the double doors, the two thestrals on duty snapped to attention for a moment as the alicorn passed by.

I was quite surprised by the sudden turn of events. Sure I had no qualms with this happening, but I’d figured I’d simply introduce myself to Princess Luna, explain a bit about the fandom, try not to embarrass myself by fanboying too much, and then go on my merry way. The idea of being invited to her private observatory was quite the ego boost.

As we walked I noticed something odd. I’d fallen in step behind the princess, to the right and half a step backward. That was the way a junior officer in the military accompanied a superior. Luna too, seemed to quietly take note of that.

We took a different route to the way I had come. This time I did my best to make note of landmarks where I could, starting to form a mental map of the castle in my head. Before too long, I found myself standing in front of two double doors. While not as large as the ones that led to the throne room, they were nonetheless intimidating. Both were a dark blue in colour, not dissimilar to Luna’s coat, and were emblazoned with the image of a crescent moon. Once again, it was guarded by two thestrals, who, after briefly inspecting me, opened the doors and let us pass.

The architecture now changed noticeably. Gone were the long corridors. Now I faced a large set of stairs, sufficient probably to impress the evil King Sombra. They went up in a spiral pattern, so I assumed that we were entering one of the towering spires that made up Canterlot Castle. I knew from the show that both princesses had their own tower, and Luna often stepped out onto her balcony to raise the moon. It was a shame that I’d been having dinner while that was happening. Hopefully I’d get to see the process at some point.

Luna led me up the stairs, which seemed to go on for quite a while. I’m not terribly unfit, but nor am I in the best of shape. By the time we reached the landing at the top, I was pretty close to beat. Luna in contrast, courtesy of her alicorn strength, was barely winded.

Here we came across one small set of doors, which presumably led into her observatory. In the place of the crescent moon, these doors had a telescope motif.

“Here we are, Blade Star,” Luna declared. Activating her magic a moment, she unlocked the door and let us inside.

The interior of what one might call her study was impressive to say the least. These were not her personal chambers mind you. This was more a place where she worked during the night hours when she wasn’t in the throne room. There were several desks, all covered in parchment, scrolls and quills. There were also charts of the night sky, with the various constellations marked out and annotated. Finally, at the far end of the room, placed just in front of an open window, was a large, and undoubtedly powerful telescope. Luna stood beside me a moment and looked around the room. She frowned.

“Hmm, it seems that our servants have not been in here yet,” she said, with some slight annoyance. “I was hoping to provide you with some refreshment. But come, let us indulge ourselves in a spot of stargazing.”

She walked over to the telescope, and I followed. It was a magnificent thing, hoof crafted no doubt, and extremely intricate. Equestria seems to be in an odd spot in terms of technology, showing some signs of modern tech that we would be familiar with, but also being in a more Renaissance period too. This telescope seemed to be the latter, rather than the former.

Luna leaned down and placed one eye against the eyepiece. Adjusting a few of the knobs with her magic, she fine-tuned the device for the clearest possible image. A moment later, she reared her head again and took a step back.

“Please,” she said, gesturing to the instrument.

Carefully, I stepped forward. Being shorter than Luna (next to her, I was about eye level with her neck), I had no need to lean down. I simply took a look through the eyepiece.

The telescope appeared to be focused on a particular constellation, although it bore no resemblance to anything I was familiar with. I quick swivel around showed no Big Dipper, no Ursa Major (well, apart from the one living in the Everfree), no Orion. The whole sky was somewhat alien to me. And here I was, standing next to the mare responsible for it all. Who better to put my questions to? Before I could however, Luna spoke up.

“Why don’t you examine some of the constellations, Blade Star,” she suggested. “If you will excuse me a moment, I will go and search for one of my servants to brings us a drink. I shall not be long.” I offered a slight bow as Luna departed, leaving me alone in the room.

I spent a few minutes more looking through the telescope, even using it to examine the moon in more detail. It was quite clearly not the same moon that I normally knew. That put to bed the idea that Equestria was just a very prehistoric or post-human Earth. However, after looking from east to west a couple of times, I began to wonder where the princess had gotten to.

Pausing in my observations, I took another look around the room. I spotted one thing that had eluded my previous observations. In one sort of nook in the far corner of the room, there stood a piano; a miniature grand is what I think you’d call it. I’d not realised that Luna was any kind of musician. Trotting over, I examined the instrument.

Like everything else, it was high end, although I sincerely doubted that the keys were ivory. I wasn’t much of a player myself; Lizzie was the more musical one, in fact she did play the piano. Still, I made an effort. Gently placing a hoof on one of the C keys, I pressed down with a hoof. That resulted in a jumbled mess of notes. A hoof after isn’t really suited to such fine work like fingers or magic are.

Still, I persevered. It took some effort, but after a while, I learned to use the corner of my hoof to strike one key at a time. With a little more practice, I was able to play the opening of ‘Ode to Joy’.

There was one piece that I could play though. I’d actually memorised the key combinations as a party trick back in university. I was able, as a human at least, to play Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’ with some skill. That, took a bit more work. Particularly when you consider the complex movements required even with hands. Still, after about ten minutes, I was able to play it and, with the moonlight streaming in, began to lose myself in the music.

It wasn’t until I heard somepony clearing their throat behind me that I realised that Luna had come back from her errand. I quickly jumped out of my skin in surprise. And I was a little worried that I was in trouble for messing with her personal possessions.

“Oh…erm, my apologies, your highness,” I stammered out. Luna however, smiled.

“No apology is necessary, Blade Star,” she replied soothingly. "I merely wished to offer you a drink.”

She turned to one side, revealing a tray, with two glasses and a large bottle of a clear liquid.

“It required a trip to the castle’s vaults,” she went on. “But I was able to locate some of my ancient moonshine. I reserve it for special occasions.”

Moonshine? As in hillbilly firewater? I was surprised at that. We’d never seen anything more than cider and root beer in Equestria. Although given the show’s rating, that was hardly surprising. Still, I wasn’t much of a drinker; whiskey was usually enough for me. Moonshine would probably take my head off. Luna evidently saw where my thoughts lay, for she let out a laugh.

“Do not think this to be some deadly concoction brewed in some peasant’s still,” she explained. “My moonshine is brewed from the moonlight itself. I assure you, it is quite palatable. My sister has the annoying habit of serving it to various dignitaries to ‘liven up’ an evening.” I relaxed at that.

Activating her magic again, Luna filled both tumblers halfway, before replacing the cork on the bottle. Lifting one in her own magic, she made me to join her.

“Come, we can talk out on the balcony,” she said. I made to follow her, but paused in an effort to pick up my glass.

I’d sort of mastered using my two front hooves to hold things. But holding something and walking with it was another matter. In all my attempts, I’d just fallen on my face and felt like a fool. Luna paused in her stride and turned back to see me struggling to balance the glass in my two front hooves. One eyebrow went up in surprise.

“Blade Star,” she said with some confusion. “You are a unicorn. Why don’t you use your magic to hold your glass?” I felt myself blush in embarrassment.

“Like you said, Luna, I’m not really a unicorn. I’ve managed to accidentally use my magic once or twice, but I can’t use it on command like you ponies can.” Luna thought for a moment, before examining me, her horn glowing softly.

“Well, it seems that you have magic inside of you, and unicorn magic at that. But you are like a foal, and don’t yet know how to manipulate it.” I grinned bashfully at that.

“Twilight didn’t have much time to teach me anything when we were in Ponyville, and since I’d hoped that we’d be going home before long, it seemed a waste of time to learn.” Luna looked down at me and smiled knowingly, a plan forming in her mind.

“Perhaps I can offer you some insight?” she suggested. My inner brony jumped at that offer, and I quickly agreed.

Setting down her own glass, Luna sat down next to me and began her ad hoc lesson.

“Magic, as I’m sure you’re aware, Blade Star, is an unusual force. It is a part of us all, yet separate, it takes many forms, and yet all comes from one primordial source. Magic is a tool that sometimes has a mind of its own. As a unicorn, you have the power to manipulate magic to some degree, in this case, by using it to levitate and manipulate an object. Think of it as another limb. Just as you move those with a thought, you can do the same with magic.”

In other words, use the force, I thought to myself with a smile.

“So I should just reach out like I would with a hoof?” I asked. Luna shook her head.

“Not quite. Visualise what you want your magic to do, and it will endeavour to accommodate you. The more focused the image, the more precise the result. As time goes on, such things will become second nature to you, and it will be as if you simply possess another, invisible limb.”

And so I did my best to concentrate on the idea of the glass levitating off of the tray. I didn’t try to force it, I just did my best to focus. Initially, nothing happened. But after a few more moments, I heard the signature sound of wind chimes that told me unicorn magic was at play. I watched as the glass was surrounded by a dark blue aura, somewhat darker than Luna’s or Rarity’s. Very slowly, the glass began to rise. Luna smiled.

“Not bad,” she commented with no small amount of approval. “Now try and get the glass to move with you, so we can walk out onto the balcony.”

And that, my friends, is where it all came a bit unstuck. I took a step forward, and envisaged the glass moving with me. But to my surprise, the aura around the glass vanished, and it dropped back to the tray, although luckily it didn’t shatter or crack. I meanwhile, suddenly found myself encased by my own magic, and was lifted off the floor and inverted, like Twilight had been in the Crystal Empire. I let out a very stallion-like scream at that. Luna giggled at my plight, only making me blush more.

“How do I get down?!” I half-shouted as the blood rushed to my head.

“Calm yourself, Blade Star,” Luna reassured me. “You are in no danger. Just relax yourself and allow the spell to stop naturally.”

I did as I was told, and a few moments later, my magic fizzled out, just as it had before, and I dropped back onto the ground with a thump.

Getting back on my hooves and rubbing the back of my neck, I looked up at Luna. She was smiling down at me, her form bathed in the light of the silvery moon. I found myself wondering how such a kind pony could become Nightmare Moon. Had I not seen her dark transformation for myself, I would not have thought it possible.

With some assistance from Luna, I was able to pick up my glass and walk with her out onto the balcony. It was still a tricky experience. The closest analogy I can think of is when a young girl tries on heels for the first time. You feel ever so wobbly.

The pair of us sat and talked for some time out there. Luna asked me what I knew about her. I did my best to recount all the knowledge I had at that point. Her duties relating to the moon, her tragic fall to darkness, and the resulting exile, followed by her return and reformation. We also chatted about her dream walking ability. I don’t often remember my dreams, I’ve certainly never experienced anything like lucid dreaming, which Luna used with Scootaloo.

And of course, we talked about the show, and her part in it. I talked a little about some of the fan works inspired by her character; the art, the music, the many stories. I must confess I stayed far away from the subject of…well…you know. I didn’t think it right or proper to discuss Rule 34 with a princess.

We also went through a fair few glasses of moonshine. It was actually quite pleasant; akin to good sake perhaps, but with a quality I can’t quite describe. I wasn’t buzzed, but I was more relaxed that I had been when I first stepped into the throne room.

As the night wore on, we even talked about the moon and humanity’s first step into space. I must say, never in my wildest fantasies did I imagine myself laughing and joking with Princess Luna.

Eventually, I heard the bells down in Canterlot proper strike two.

“Wow, I didn’t realise how late it was,” I said, suddenly feeling a wave of tiredness wash over me. I’d been up since dawn after all.

“Let me take you back to your quarters, Blade Star,” Luna offered. Here though, my British sensibilities stepped in.

“Oh no, you don’t have to do that, Luna,” I replied. “I can find my own way.”

“Nonsense!” she responded hotly. “It’s the least I can do for a friend.”

It took all of my willpower not to jump up and down on the spot like Pinkie Pie. Princess Luna, the Princess Luna, a pony I admired almost above all others, considered me a friend. My inner brony went into absolute overdrive. Luna undoubtedly noticed.

The alicorn princess led me back down the stairs and through the same twists and turns, until we arrived in front of the door to my suite. On the way back, in contrast to the way I’d followed her before, I found myself walking side by side with her. I did my best to thank her.

“Luna,” I said. “I can’t thank you enough for such a pleasant evening.”

“One of my many duties, Blade Star,” Luna replied. “Is to connect with my little ponies. And I would enjoy your company again, while you are still in the castle. Feel free to seek me out.” I bowed slightly.

“Most kind of you, princess.”

I headed back into my room, while Luna made presumably for the throne room or her own chambers. I was tired. But one thing I wasn’t was fearful. While I had had to hear some hard news today, I no longer felt the same fear and apprehension at being stranded in Equestria. In fact, as I climbed into bed and lay down to sleep, I don’t think I gave that particular problem a single thought.

Chapter 13 - Chaos

View Online

Since I’d fallen into the habit of getting up early on Sweet Apple Acres, it was no surprise that I found myself waking up not long after the dawn broke. Coming to, I blinked a few times to clear my vision. My head, while not in agony, definitely had a few twinges that weren’t there the night before. I chalked that up to the moonshine I’d enjoyed. It might have tasted like sake, but it kicked like whiskey.

I sat up in bed with a start as the memories of last night came flooding back. I’d gone and met with Princess Luna, who had taken me up to her tower for a spot of stargazing, along with moonshine and conversation. She’d helped me unlock the beginnings of my magic. A quick thought and I found the clock on the bedside table next to me floating in front of my face. It was certainly a nice surprise to find that it wasn’t all a dream.

And then there was the small matter of Luna herself. She’d called me a friend; something I knew her to be somewhat selective about. I still couldn’t quite believe that it had all happened as I remembered. It seemed too good to be true.

Getting out of bed, I did my best to make it up and save the castle’s staff a bit of trouble, before heading to the bathroom to brush my teeth. Like a hotel, there were a few basics provided for me. Using my magic, I picked up the toothbrush and set to work. It’s a little hard to describe. It wasn’t like having my hands back, but I had just as much control and feeling through my magic as I would if they were. I was a little clumsy at first, but soon began to pick up on finer motor control.

I repeated the practice on a mane brush as I smoothed out my mane. It was a little long at this point. I wondered what ponies did about that. Did they have barbers and hairdressers in Equestria? I knew Rarity styled hers no end. Yet another little thing to find out about.

Stepping out of the bathroom again, I felt distinctly more confident. I could use magic now, at least, enough for everyday activities not to be a chore. I did wonder though how powerful I was. Back home, I wasn’t especially strong. Did that carry over to my magic? Of course, I knew I was no Twilight Sparkle, but I was rather curious to know just where I stood on the scale between foal and alicorn princess.

My musings and brief delusions of grandeur were then interrupted by a knock at the door. Trotting over, I used my magic to grasp and turn the handle, still enjoying the relative novelty of the act.

I expected to meet another of the castle’s maid or butlers, or possibly one of the stone faced guards. To my surprise though, I found myself staring at someone noticeably further up the food chain.

While the pony that stood before me had a blue mane and a white hide, he was far from your common or garden Royal Guard; it was Shining Armor. I was quite surprised to see him if I’m honest. Sure we’d met briefly the day before, but I figured that he had better things to do. Actually, I was a little surprised that he wasn’t up north in the Crystal Empire with his wife.

Still, it seemed he was here now, so I did my upmost to be civil with him.

“Captain Shining Armor,” I greeted, offering a small nod of respect to the captain of the Royal Guard. “What brings you this way?” Shining’s expression was fairly neutral, just as it had been the day before.

“Princess Celestia wanted somepony to bring you to the dining room for breakfast,” he said. “I volunteered.” I was taken aback by that.

Still, I was ready to go. So I stepped out into the hallway and motioned for the captain to lead on. As I had initially done with Luna, I found myself naturally falling in behind and to his right, a couple steps behind. The two of us walked in silence for a time before I struck up a conversation.

“I’m surprised that the commanding officer of the Royal Guard came just to take me to have breakfast,” I said offhandedly. Shining glanced back.

“I was hoping to talk with you,” he said, in a somewhat more friendly tone. “I wanted to ask you some questions.” I decided to have a go at being clever.

“No,” I said. That caught Shining off guard. He turned back to me again with a whinny.

“What do you mean?” he demanded. I did my best to hold back a grin.

“Your first question, captain,” I replied. “We are not here because of some secret plot to take over Equestria, nor do we have any intention of harming its citizens.”

It seemed logical that that would be Shining’s first question. I’m actually a little surprised that the subject didn’t come up when we met with Princess Celestia. I could see where he was coming from. If an alien showed up on my doorstep, I’d probably assume it was the vanguard of an impending invasion.

As it turned out though, my deduction was faulty. I guess I’m no Sherlock Holmes.

“Good to know, Blade Star,” Shining said with a smile. “But I was actually going to ask you about this ‘television show’. Twiley told me about it after the four of you were settled in. I was wondering where I fit into it.”

I felt my face heat up and was thankful for my now slate grey coat that hid the blush for the most part. That’s what I get for trying to be a smart arse I guess.

“Oh…erm…right,” I said, as my ears flattened themselves against my skull. “Well, you were introduced to the show just before your wedding. That’s also where we met Cadence, and Queen Chrysalis.”

I felt a small amount of bile bubble up in me at the mention of the changeling queen. I didn’t as a rule mind the other villains of the show. But Chrysalis really drew my ire and, laugh if you must, I’d always felt a slight desire for revenge against the fictional shapeshifting bug.

Sometimes I think I get too caught up in the fandom for my own good. I forget it’s just a show.

Well, it used to be.

I shook that particular thought from my mind and continued.

“We saw you next with your wife during the defence of the Crystal Empire, when you took that hit from King Sombra to save the others. And of course when you threw Princess Cadence to save Spike and secure the Crystal Heart.”

Shining smiled at the latter part of my statement. He’d certainly acquitted himself better then than during the changeling attack. Although to be fair, the bug queen had pretty much left him without his usual abilities.

“So I show up a few times then, do I?” he asked as we turned a corner.

“A few episodes, yes,” I replied. I half wondered if this itself was an episode. Hell’s teeth, what if I’d accidentally triggered a season finale episode or something?

The two of us continued to talk as we made our way to the dining room again. I got the guard captain to fill in a couple blanks in his own story. And by the time we reached the dining room, we were chatting quite amicably.

Opening the door with my magic, something Shining noticed instantly, I found the rest of my family and both princesses sitting at the table. The group all looked up from their meals and conversation at our entrance. Of particular note was Lizzie. I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes seemed to wander towards Shining Armor and linger a little longer than normal. Lizzie always used to poke fun at my love for MLP. Was she now taking a fancy towards Shining perhaps?

I laughed inwardly to myself. I doubted it.

Trotting inside, I found that the only vacant seat was next to Dad. He and Twilight were on one side, while Mum, Lizzie and Luna were on the other. Princess Celestia meanwhile, sat at the head of the table. With a brief nod to the princesses, Shining withdrew to return to his duties.

I quickly jumped into my seat at the far end. There was quite a spread set out for us. And to my surprise, there was even some meat. In hindsight though, that made some sense. The princesses occasionally had visiting dignitaries, such as griffons, who included meat in their natural diet. As tempted as I might be, the very thought of eating meat now left a bitter taste in my mouth. It was a strange effect of taking in this form; one of my favourite foods, pork sausage, was now entirely unpalatable. Conversely, I did now have a taste for dandelion sandwiches.

I helped myself to some toast and orange juice, as well as some pancakes. Dad had grabbed a few of those for himself too.

“These are pretty good aren’t they, lad,” he said, with his mouth full. I caught Mum giving him a stern glare for his trouble.

“Well what do you expect from some of the best chefs in Equestria, Dad?” I replied. I knew for a fact that Celestia had damn near an army of cooks at her disposal, mainly due to her cake…shall we say habit rather than addiction.

“I’m sure they’d do a bang up job too,” he replied with a smile. “But it was actually Princess Celestia here who cooked them.”

I was a little taken aback at that. I knew there would be things about Equestria and its inhabitants that I didn’t know, but I wasn’t expecting to encounter a gap in my knowledge so soon. Celestia…a cook? Like I said before, I knew she loved her cakes, but I never thought her a cook.

“I always like to do a little bit of breakfast myself, Blade Star,” Celestia explained. “Just to show both my servants and my guests that I care. And that I’m not above rolling up my sleeves when the occasion calls for it.”

I took a bite of one of the pancakes on my plate. They were, I must confess, excellent, even if they were of the American style. Our little group continued to chat as we ate.

“You guys all have an okay night?” I asked my three family members.

“Well, we all at least managed to get to bed before two in the morning,” Mum said jokingly. “Princess Luna was just telling us about meeting you the other night.”

“And it also explains were that bottle of the thirty six went,” Celestia added. “Luna, I was saving that for when the Saddle Arabian ambassador visits.” Luna tossed her head haughtily.

“You really shouldn’t hoard my moonshine so aggressively, dear sister,” she replied. “I am more than happy to produce more when required. So I see no harm in sharing a bottle or two between friends.”

“I think my son’s head might disagree with you there, princess,” Dad said. The somewhat increased volume of conversation was worsening my existing headache.

“You know what they say,” Mum said, jumping on the bandwagon. “If you can’t handle the hangover, do not over indulge.” I decided to get her back.

“Yeah, says the woman who giggles after half a glass of wine and falls asleep after a whole one.”

All of us burst out laughing at that. It felt good. For the first time since we got here, we were all together, all relaxed and enjoying ourselves. You’d never have guessed that we were stranded here and cut off from our home.

Eventually, the conversation turned to what we’d be doing today. Tomorrow, we’d all be heading back down to Ponyville, and we’d no longer have to worry about keeping away from prying eyes. That would be an interesting little experience. But for now, we had a brief reprieve. Dad already had plans.

“So you’re sure you don’t have any objections to me observing you in court, princess?” he asked. Celestia smiled maternally and shook her head.

“Not at all, Roger,” she replied. “It will be nice to have some company for a change, and it will give you a chance to see if it is something you would be interested in.” I reminded myself that Celestia had, sort of, offered Dad a job working for her if he wanted it.

“Fair enough,” he said with a nod, and dabbing his mouth with a napkin. “What about you, dear?” Mum looked up.

“I thought I might head down to Canterlot today,” she said. “Before we left, Rarity recommended a couple of places that might be able to help us out with our clothing situation. She’s been very kind helping us, but I don’t want to make the poor girl do the three of us an entire wardrobe each. I guess I can take a few…bits was it?” She looked over to me, and I nodded. “I can take a few bits down and get a few things set in motion.”

“How about you, Lizzie?” I asked. My little sister had been fairly quiet so far. I think she was missing Fluttershy a bit.

“I was going to hang out with Twilight today,” she said. “She’s going to spend some time with her brother, and I thought I’d tag along.” Ah, so perhaps there were some grounds for my suspicion. Well, I knew a couple female bronies who were sweet on the guard captain. And don’t even get me started on Big Mac.

“And what about you, Blade Star?” Celestia asked, turning to me. I paused for a moment and thought before an idea popped into my head.

“If you have no objection, your highness,” I said. “I wouldn’t mind taking a walk around the castle gardens.”

There had been a few benefits of my recent transformation. Two of these stood out in particular. Firstly, my vision; back home, I was long sighted and had required fairly strong glasses all my life. That, I could live with; I actually found it a little odd not to feel the frame sitting on my nose and ears, and that when I woke up I could instantly see clearly.

The other benefit though, and if I’m honest a far more important one, was the fact that in this body, I no longer had hay fever. True the allergy had gotten less and less as I grew up, but for three weeks in July and August, I was of no use to anyone. It was presently mid-June. By now I was normally getting some early symptoms. But despite walking around the pleasant countryside for a week with hardly any rain, I hadn’t sneezed once. I can’t say how brilliant that is.

Consequently, given that there was still a chance we may go home, I wanted to enjoy the situation while it lasted. I’d always enjoyed nature, but until now, my body hadn’t particularly cared for it. And the Royal Gardens, if Fluttershy was to be believed, was some of the most remarkable in all Equestria.

Princess Celestia smiled, seemingly pleased with my choice.

“Of course you may,” she said. “Spend as much time there as you like.” With that, the princess got up, prompting us all to do the same out of respect.

“Roger, if you’d like to follow me, we can make a start.”

Dad nodded and promptly followed her to the door. Twilight paired up with my sister to go and find Shining, while Luna took my mum to one side, offering to escort her into town before she went to bed. After all, while it was half eight in the morning for us, to her, it was getting late.

I meanwhile, found myself accompanied by a guard and was shown the way to the gardens; a simple enough route accessible by one of the castle’s main thoroughfares. After a short walk, I found myself outside, walking down stone steps and onto a gravel path. From there, the castle gardens were spread out before me. There had to be a least a couple acres or so behind the castle, and it all looked to have been turned into a mini reserve.

Thanking the pegasus guard for bringing me here, I trotted down the path and walked up to the medium sized fountain that sat in the centre of the gardens. I decided that, to start with, I’d look around some of the more enclosed areas. I knew from Season 2 that there was also a hedge maze to get lost in for a while. After that, maybe I’d just find somewhere to sit and watch the world go by. It was just a shame I didn’t have a good book on hoof.

I spent the rest of the morning and a bit of the early afternoon too, walking around the gardens. It was strange to be in such a place and not be struggling to breathe, see, or stop sneezing. Seriously, those three weeks of the year used to be the worst of my life, even on prescription meds. For the first time in over twenty years, I could roll in the grass, smell the flowers, and just enjoy the beauty and harmony of it all.

And let’s not forget all the animals that lived in the gardens. Every now and then I’d spot a squirrel or songbird, although I knew there were plenty of more exotic animals in here too. But this was no petting zoo, and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake Fluttershy made at the gala and end up having a nervous breakdown. Though I must confess it was rather nice to see all the animals up close; another little advantage of no longer being a predatory species.

Eventually though, I decided to go a little further afield. Walking over to a large wrought iron gate, I opened it and let myself back into the main garden, with Canterlot castle sitting behind me in the background.

I recognised this area in particular. This was where the various statues of Equestria’s heroes were. The vast majority of these, I didn’t recognise. Although names like Starswirl the Bearded stood out. I took it all as an opportunity to expand on my own canon knowledge. Among the names I didn’t recognise, there was Flash Magnus, a pegasus, Rockhoof, a towering earth pony with a touch of Viking to him, and Mistmane, an ancient looking unicorn that sill somehow managed to seem beautiful.

I was fascinated by all these ponies, and did my best to learn what I could from the small plaques on the base of each statue. As I walked though, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. As far as I could tell however, I was alone, apart from a couple of gardeners and guards.

At length, I found that I’d come to the far end of this part of the gardens. And there was one statue that I recognised instantly. It was no pony, but a mishmash of all sorts of creatures, woven together to create a serpentine form. Its expression was one of shock and fright, with both its arms, a talon and lion paw respectively, held out in front as if to stop something. Any brony worth his salt knew this fruitcake, it was Discord.

Hang on a minute…

I’d previously asked myself when I was in the show’s timeline. In fact it had been one of my first questions when I’d first realised that we were in Equestria. Upon coming to the old castle in the Everfree Forest, I’d gone down and found the Tree of Harmony, with all the Elements in its branches. And Twilight was now an alicorn, so I knew I was in the present.

So what in the wide, wide realm of Equestria was Discord doing still encased in stone? He ought to have escaped, been defeated, then released and reformed by now. And yet here he was still encased in stone. Had I made a mistake? Was this world’s version of Equestria slightly different to my own? I was perplexed.

“You shouldn’t be here,” I said, half to the statue and half to myself. “There shouldn’t be anything here. This doesn’t make any sense.”

And with that, I got the shock of my life.

“Make sense?” a voice asked. “Oh what fun is there in making sense?”

I damn near leapt out of my skin. The ‘statue’ had seemingly come to life and was now leering down at me from its pedestal. With a snap of his talons, Discord disappeared for a moment, before reappearing right next to me, startling me again.

I’m not going to lie, I was frightened. And with good reason too. Discord was supposed to be reformed, sure, but that didn’t make him any less terrifying. He stood about six and a half feet tall; taller than the princess or my dad, and far taller than me. However, after he appeared beside me, he coiled himself down to be nearer my height and partially encircling me.

“My, my, what do we have here?” he asked, regarding me curiously with mismatched red and yellow eyes. I quickly backed away.

“Stay the hell away from me, Discord!” I snapped, my fear actually pushing me toward anger. The draconequus was unfazed.

“Ah, so you know me then?” he asked. “Well, that’s certainly surprising.”

“I also know you’re reformed,” I went on. “And Princess Celestia will have your head if you hurt me!” Discord held up his paw and claw.

“Simmer down, dear boy. I’m merely curious.”

Snapping his talons, he produced a magnifying glass and proceeded to examine me closely, while I remained rooted to the spot. I wasn’t too comfortable with such an examination. But could I expect anything less from Equestria’s version of Q, and its newest and least trustworthy ally?

“Curious about what?” I asked, my initial fear giving way to annoyance.

“Why you, my little pony,” he replied tapping me on the nose with a paw. “Though I think we both know that isn’t true. You’re no more a pony than I am.”

“True,” I replied warily. “And I’m not from around here either.” Discord got up and folded his arms.

“Hey! I’m supposed to be the cryptic one!” he snapped back. “Well, let’s see what we can find out about you. Hmm, well, you certainly aren’t usually a unicorn, and you aren’t used to having magic. You definitely aren’t from around here. And yet you recognised me right away.”

“You’re…somewhat famous where I come from,” I replied. “I don’t mind the odd bit of chaos in small doses. Your exploding chocolate milk was inspired.” Discord smiled and offered a deep bow.

“Oh, I try, I suppose, I try,” he said with false modesty.

At the moment, a thought occurred to me. The princesses had no idea how we’d gotten here, but Discord might know. He had magic that was just as powerful, if not more so than an alicorn. Our arrival here could be all his doing. I decided to try and find out.

“So as the undisputed master of chaos,” I said. “You wouldn’t happen to know anything about how me and my family got here, would you?” Discord now looked slightly offended.

“Goodness, no,” he replied, sounding serious for once. “There are some things even I don’t dabble in unless really necessary.” I eyed him suspiciously.

“Besides,” he went on, now with a mischievous smirk on his face. “If I did, don’t you think I’d have picked somepony just a little bit more interesting?” I growled irritably at that, letting him get under my skin, although it did suggest that he genuinely had no part in bringing us here. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not.

I was about to shoot back a scathing retort at the Spirit of Chaos and Disharmony, when, with a snap of his talons, he disappeared in a flash of light, just like old Q. I let out a sigh of relief. I don’t think I’d been so scared and annoyed at the same time in my whole life. Discord might be amusing on the screen, but not so much when you’re exposed to the effects of his chaos magic yourself. I took a breath, copying the technique Cadence had taught Twilight, in an effort to calm down. It probably would have worked too, had Discord not reappeared a moment later. This time, he was dressed in a crumpled raincoat over a suit and tie.

“Oh, there’s just one more thing,” he said in an appalling impression of Columbo before switching back to his normal voice. “Did you say something about a family?” My eyes bulged. It was enough getting them used to the idea of talking ponies.

“You stay the hay away from them, Discord!” I warned, pointing a hoof at him.

With a smug smile, the draconequus disappeared a second time. I snorted irritably. All I could do was hope that each of my family members were with somepony when that trickster showed up. I may have told them all a fair bit about Equestria, but I hadn’t mentioned Discord.

In any case, I was now no longer in a mood to relax in a beautiful garden. Making my way back up the steps, I decided to go and find Princess Celestia to let her know what happened, or at the very least Twilight. Discord may still be Discord, but I knew that he could ultimately be brought to heel. If all else fails, we could get Fluttershy up here to give him a stern talking to.

Heading inside the castle, I made my way first towards our three suites, to see if any of my family members were there. If not, then I could try the throne room, or ask some of the guards if they’d seen Twilight.

As I passed by my own door though, I couldn’t help but hear a faint sound coming from within. It only lasted for a moment, but I still picked it up with my equine hearing. My ears twitched at the sound, trying to pinpoint it. It sounded like a table or cupboard being moved across the floor, but only for a second or so. Curious, I opened the door to take a look.

The room was empty; at least, it appeared that way at first. And by empty, I mean entirely empty. All the furniture was gone; the bed, the desk, even the large wardrobe. A moment later though, I realised what had happened. The floor looked a little off, the tiles seemed to be different. It took me a second to realise that the ‘floor’ was actually the ceiling. Looking up, I found all the furniture hanging from the ceiling. Somehow, Discord had used his magic to turn the entire room upside down.

At that point, no amount of calming techniques would save me, I just lost my temper.

“Discord!” I bellowed angrily.

And wouldn’t you know it, somewhere, I could hear that insane god of chaos laughing at me.

Interlude 1 - Dad in Day Court

View Online

Note: Just a reminder - this interlude takes place from the perspective of the protagonist's father.

Following Celestia out of the breakfast room, we both set off toward her ‘Day Court’. From what I could understand from my son’s inane ramblings, she acted as a sort of Court of Appeal open to all. In that sense, the whole judicial system of this dimension, universe, or wherever the hell we were in, was quite archaic.

Where I’d grown up had gotten pretty rough and tumble lately. More business of course, but it’s sad to see your childhood home take a nosedive. Here, at least based on what I’d seen so far, crime was all but non-existent. While the odd crime would be brought up, she was effectively a legislator in her own right. There was nothing similar to the Commons here, just these two ‘princesses’. I suppose this made our new home an absolutist monarchy. Actually, given that there were two of them, I suppose the correct word would be diarchy.

While this was a fair bit to wrap my head around, it was blown completely out of the water by magic. I’d told both the kids stories about magic over the years, but to see it actually be used, and not be just a clever parlour trick was astounding. It’s even weirder to have your own son use it on you while you’re having an argument. While I knew no one here had any untoward intentions, I couldn’t help but be slightly fearful of these magical creatures. From the stories my son had told me, there were villains here, and they were far more dangerous than many of the ‘villains’ I had met.

Hell, the worst case I’d seen was a mick horse slaughterer who’d got in a fight with his brother and took his head off with a meat cleaver. That was messed up and sick of course, but to know that there were shape shifting creatures that could suck the love out of you, chicken headed monsters that’d turn you to stone and wolves made out of wood. It filled me with a sense of fear. Yet my own son was skipping about like he’d found Narnia.

We neared a large ornate door bearing the symbol of the sun. Celestia paused and turned to address me briefly. She was one of the few creatures I felt safe around. While I knew she was one of the most powerful creatures here, I felt no reason to fear her. Above all else it was nice to be able to look someone in the eye.

“Right, Roger,” she said. “Beyond this door is the throne room you were brought to yesterday. I’ll take my place on the throne, and you shall sit next to me, the guards know what to do. Feel free to ask me questions between cases but please follow a couple of rules.” I nodded. She assumed a more regal posture.

“First, do not interrupt me during court, and if you do speak, address me as ‘your highness’ or 'Princess'.” I nodded. “Second, obey all the instructions of my guards. And finally, regardless of how things would be done on your world, this is Equestria, so do your best to accept any discrepancies. I know you were most confused by our lack of a council.” She smiled again. “I hope you will find this a rewarding experience.”

“Thank you, your highness,” I replied. “I shall do my best to follow your rules and not get in your way too much.” Inside, I was a little annoyed. I didn’t like having ground rules set for me like some six year old. But to be fair, she was a princess and she did not know how I might have reacted, so I silently forgave her.

I found myself, as we stepped through the doors, back in the throne room we had all found ourselves in yesterday. The room was very much like the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles, consisting of a single long corridor leading to the dais and the throne. Hanging from the rafters were huge banners. It sort of reminded me of the Great Hall from the Harry Potter films, God knows I had to sit through them enough times.

A trumpet blared as we entered and the various guards snapped to attention. An impressive show of discipline if nothing else. The Princess, for that was who she now was, took her seat on the throne, a high backed chair, lacking the legs of a human seat. She bid the guards to be at ease.

One of them brought a similar, smaller high backed chair for me, though this one was modified to account for my bipedal stature. Following old protocol, I remained standing until Celestia had taken her seat.

“Let Day Court commence!” The Princess proclaimed. And with that, the guards opened the two vast doors that previously barred entrance to the throne room.

What I saw took my breath away. There had to be at least two hundred of these equines waiting outside. And I thought a day with a dozen cases was busy! The Princess leaned over to me and explained that each ‘petitioner’, I noted the terminology, would be brought before her individually, be permitted to speak their piece before she, after consulting with her advisors, would pass judgement.

The first of these ‘petitioners’ was a regular pony, without horn or wings. An ‘earth pony’ if I remember the lecture I got from my son. He wore a style of clothing, as did most of the other petitioners that simply said ‘Look at me, I’m rich!’ I suppose in a non-democratic society it was natural for a rich, land owning class to still exist, and for them to get priority in speaking to the nation’s rulers through court intrigue. Celestia again leaned over to me.

“This is Filthy Rich,” she said, it took a great deal of effort to not burst out laughing. “He’s actually from Ponyville, and runs a chain of stores there. He’s actually more tolerable than most.” I wondered what he would want from the Princess.

Reaching the steps of the throne, he bowed to the Princess and greeted her. He sounded a little like that earth pony my son had been lodging with, Applejack I think it was. His case revolved around business, namely, his desire to expand his ‘Barnyard Bargains’ store into Canterlot.

“Princess, while my stores are renowned across Equestria, I think it is a crying shame to not have one here in Canterlot. It will improve the supply of Zap Apple Jam from the Ponyville region no end. I already have a contract with the producers. I just need your consent to build the store in the city, and possibly set up a private outlet in the castle,” he said. I feared this was only part of his presentation.

I was right, about three minutes in he’d brought out flip charts and pie graphs. I thought presentations at the Law Society could be tedious; this was a whole new level. Even the guards were struggling to stay awake. Only the Princess remained unaffected.

After he had gone over profit margins, the effect on his operations elsewhere, the cost of building a new store and innumerable other things, he at last, to my great relief, shut his trap. At first his Kentucky accent had been pleasant to listen to, but after over an hour I was sick of it. The Princess cleared her throat to offer her judgement.

“Mr. Rich,” she began. “You have clearly put a great deal of thought and time into this project. And your proposal would benefit Canterlot as a whole, particularly some of the poorer areas of the city. However, Barnyard Bargains is a rural store is it not?”

“Erm, well yes, your highness, it is. But I would like to show I am more than able to keep up with city life,” he offered.

“And what of your family? How will they cope with a father constantly moving around the country? You travel around a great deal already. I would be inclined, were I in your shoes, to be more concerned for the welfare of my family, than for any business.”

This seemed to flip a switch in his mind. In an instant, the whole aura of professionalism and savviness vanished. As if he was remembering something. He then quickly bowed, thanked the Princess, and took his leave.

“What was all that about, Princess?” I asked.

“He has a little filly to take care of. He’s been throwing himself into his work for some time. That’s the third time he’s come here this month. I just gave him a nudge in the right direction.” She smiled as the Earth pony hailed a cab at the castle gates. She then called on the guard to bring in the next case.

The next case was a little strange to say the least. While the first had lasted for just over an hour, this one, by my watch, took no more than a minute.

Another earth pony entered. This one was bright pink and happily bounced up to the throne. It took a moment, but I recognised her as one of the ponies that we had met in the forest when we first arrived. And in spite of her happy personality, this one was truly disturbing. The only advice I had been given by anyone on this world was to accept whatever happened when she was around, and to not question it.

As a result, neither of us spoke up when she bounded up to us and leapt behind the throne. A loud clattering sound came from there, as if there was a huge storage area or a cupboard.

“Oh, I know I left it here last time,” she muttered. “Let’s see, eye patches, mirrors, tangerines, Twilight’s cane, beach ball. Ah ha, there’s my party canon!” She returned carrying a small pink canon. “Thanks, Princess.” And with that, she headed out.

“I’ve learnt with Pinkie, it best to just let her be,” said the confused princess. Nevertheless, court was held up for ten minutes while a contingent of guards looked behind the throne for wherever Pinkie had hidden all that stuff.

When at last things calmed down once again, we were able to let the next petitioner in. After about two dozen different issues were sorted out and settled by the Princess, she called the customary lunchtime recess. I was certainly thankful for a break. I was running on near empty and I’d taken down so much in notes my hand was starting to cramp.

I was expecting more of the same after the recess ended and we returned to the court. However, our next petitioner was not what you’d call normal. I’m not sure if he was even sane. It all began when a loud, angered voice rang through the halls of the castle.

“Discord!” the voice called. It sounded somewhat like my son.

At that moment, a light appeared in the centre of the throne room. This prompted the guards to take a protective stance, four of them moved around the Princess. I on the other hand was left to fend for myself, but then again, I was not ruler of this land.

The light finally dissipated to reveal the strangest, maddest and most frightening creature I have yet to see in this country called Equestria. The thing was serpentine in appearance with a long slender body and was slightly taller than me. It was a mismatch of various animals. I could see parts from a goat, equines, reptiles and others I could not hope to identify. But the worse thing about it was its eyes. They were a sickening yellow, with bright red pupils; they weren’t even the same size as each other. It was as if one was in light and the other in dark, reacting differently.

This being was howling with laughter, as if its’ arrival marked the single funniest thing in the universe. I looked to the Princess for guidance. The look on her face spoke volumes. Whatever this thing was she disliked it, with a passion. She continued to stare at it as its’ laughter finally died down.

“What have you done now, Discord?” she asked. For the first time, I heard the beginnings of anger in her voice. The creature replied in a voice that was oddly familiar.

“Oh nothing much, Tia. Just causing a little bit of chaos. That and I had to meet the newest addition to your little realm.” He paused and looked at me. I won’t lie, I was frightened. He sidled up to me and leaned around my shoulders. “Well, well, there is more than one after all. Honestly Celestia, you should have told me we had such interesting guests.” The Princess shot him a look.

“Leave him alone, Discord. He is my guest here and you are clearly frightening him.” That bruised my ego a bit. “Roger’s kind has never encountered us before, never mind a draconequus like you.” So that’s what this ‘Discord’ was.

“Oh don’t be so scared, I’m harmless really. Besides, the other one didn’t seem to mind me. We were having quite the chat.” That explained the previous cry.

“You will leave them all alone, Discord. They are going back to Ponyville tomorrow where you will be unable to bother them.” Discord immediately started.

“There are more of them.” He hugged the Princess, drawing a scowl from her. “Oh dear Tia, why didn’t you say so before?” And with that he snapped what appeared to be talons and vanished.

“What was that?” I asked as my fear subsided.

“That was Discord; he’s the spirit of chaos and disharmony. Until recently he was my sworn enemy. Now though we are working on reforming him, though I must confess, with mixed results. I’m sorry that frightened you, but he actually isn’t dangerous, just chaotic.”

I was calmer now, and began to reorganise my notes, while the guards returned to their former positions along the wall. Petitioners were once again brought in, but I couldn’t help but occasionally cast glances at the stained glass windows that showed the story of Discord. I’d have to ask the boy for a little bit of background on him. Hopefully, he wouldn’t make it into yet another lecture.

At five o’clock the last petitioner was heard, a simple theft case, and one of only two criminal cases in the entire day, the other also being a misdemeanour. I’d learnt a fair bit since I’d got here, several times in between petitioners the Princess asked me how a particular incident would have been handled back on Earth. She seemed to serve a variety of roles, from magistrate to planning officer and a hundred roles in between, as well as a ruler. It amazed me that she could do so much for so little reward. I’d certainly have a fair bit to talk about this evening.

Chapter 14 - Return to Ponyville

View Online

So, as a result of Discord’s…antics, I no longer had anywhere to sleep. Or rather, I did, only I couldn’t reach it anymore. Unless I suppose I tried that self-levitation trick Twilight used in King Sombra’s castle, but I doubted I could keep that up, not all night long, and certainly not while I was asleep. So I needed to do something about it.

Walking inside the seemingly empty room, I looked up at the furniture that was currently plastered to the ceiling, or rather, the floor which had now become the ceiling. As I said before, I was actually on the ceiling right now. The carpets, along with everything else, was above my head.

Well, I suppose this was a good opportunity to test my magic, I thought to myself. I knew I had magic, but I was a little curious to find out how powerful I was. Magic, as I already knew, relied on both strength and skill. I knew for a fact that, no matter how good I got, I would likely never be a match for Twilight. At least, not without using some crazy artifact that messed with your head like a certain unicorn once had. Still, Discord’s little prank would make a good test.

Reaching out with my magic, I took hold of one of the bedside tables. At first, I tried to pull it down back to the ground, but that seemed to have little to no effect. The table, which I ought to be able to lift easily enough, remained firmly stuck. I cut off my magic and paused to think for a moment. Discord was chaotic, as was his magic. So logic would play little part in solving any problems he created. I was trying to recover the bedside table by pulling on it. But given how everything was seemingly inverted, perhaps I ought to try the reverse?

So I did. This time, I tried pushing the table, as I was trying to lift it over my head, rather than pull it down to my level. And wouldn’t you know it, slowly but surely, it began to float down to me. It was hard work; like pushing it up a hill. It didn’t help that the suite had quite high ceilings. Still, in the end, I got it down to me and rotated it to be right side up. With a sigh, I let my magic fizzle out.

The moment I did that, the bedside table shot back up into the air, slamming into the ceiling with a thud. I winced at the impact.

“Well that makes a whole lot of sense,” I muttered to myself irritably. Why had that happened?

It took a few minutes, but I managed to work it out in the end. The whole room had been inverted. The floor itself, along with everything except the doorway in, was now where the ceiling ought to be. And when I tried to pull down the bedside table, it had been as if I was lifting it. The only idea that made any sense, and conformed to Discord’s love of chaos, was that gravity within the room had also been inverted. Down was up and up was now down, hence why everything stuck to the ceiling.

Well, I hadn’t the slightest idea how to undo any of that. I could use my magic to pick things up, open and close doors, and that was about it. Undoing crazy chaos magic was more an alicorn’s beat than mine. Closing the door, I was about to head out to look for one. Celestia was in court, Luna was most likely resting, but Twilight should be free. She was with Shining Armor and Lizzie somewhere, though where in particular I had no idea.

I was about to trot down the hall and hunt up a guard to ask, when I heard a pair of voices coming down the hall. I recognised them to be just the pony, and human, I was looking for.

“So how did you like Shining, Lizzie?” Twilight asked as she trotted alongside. My little sister looked to be a little spaced out, lost in thought.

“Or, erm, he was really nice, Twilight,” she replied, sounding just as out of focus as she looked. I was so going to use this against her next time she made fun of me for liking MLP. The two of them looked up as I cantered up to them.

“Ah, Lizzie, Twilight, thank goodness I ran into you,” I said. I turned to Twilight “I ran into your pal Discord in the gardens Twilight. And now that psychotic jerk has turned my room literally upside down.” Twilight balked at that before groaning and putting a hoof to her face.

“Argh,” she exclaimed. “He promised Princess Celestia that he wouldn’t do that after that incident with the Mareitanian ambassador. Let me see if I can help.”

The three of us walked over to my door, which I’d closed as I left. As I put my hoof on the door, I couldn’t help but hear that same sound of magic again. Don’t tell me…

Opening the door, I was half relieved and half annoyed to find that everything had gone right back to the way it was supposed to be. The only exception being that one of the bedside tables, the one I’d tried to move, now had a minor crack on it from ‘falling’ onto the ceiling when I let go of it. Lizzie took a look inside.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it,” she said, with puzzlement clear on her face.

“Hmm, me either,” Discord said, leaning down next to her. I think the both of us clocked what was wrong at the exact same moment.

Lizzie screamed and, like me, all but leapt out of her skin at the sight of the draconequus. She quickly scrambled behind Twilight, who flared out her wings to both offer her protection and some form of intimidation. Discord meanwhile, simply hovered in the air, his mismatched wings flapping, and doubled up in laughter.

“Oh, you should have seen your face!” he exclaimed, pointing at the now frightened girl.

“Discord!” Twilight snapped. “I was hoping that you could use meeting these ponies as an opportunity to make some friends, not terrorise them!” Discord stopped his laughter and landed on the floor.

“Why, Twilight,” he said with an air of dignity. “I’ll have you know that I’ve every intention of making friends. One of the key precepts of friendship is the ability to take a joke. You should know that.”

“Jokes that scare ponies aren’t funny, Discord,” Twilight replied with a frown. “True, there’s nothing wrong with friends playing pranks on each other. But doing it when you know they don’t like it will only harm a friendship, and it will ultimately leave a pony alone.” Discord smiled now, with an air of nostalgia.

“Ah, you’re so much like Celestia, Twilight,” he said wistfully. “Sometimes I think I only drop by to listen to these wonderful speeches of yours. In any case, Blade Star’s room is just how he left it; no harm, no foul.”

“Thank you, Discord,” I said, hoping to placate him a little. He smiled as he turned to me.

“You are most welcome, dear boy,” he replied, before snapping his talons and disappearing.

I spent the next half hour explaining everything to my little sister. After all, her first encounter with Discord had been a bit of a scare for her. Twilight and I did our best to reassure her that he meant no harm, and that he was more or less reformed. Still, I hoped he didn’t bother us too much. Discord was nice in small doses, and behind a TV screen, not so much in person. Although I have to admit, it was quite clever how he managed to literally invert gravity just to mess with me.

The three of us spent the rest of the afternoon in the library. Twilight had been meaning to go there to look at some of the new additions that had arrived. It also gave me and Lizzie a bit of an opportunity to brush up on our reading of written Equestrian. Our spoken language might be the same, but the written word shared few similarities.

It also gave me a chance to look at a spot of lore; things that the show never went into much detail on. I found the hours passing quickly as I buried my snout in a book on the fundamentals of magic. If I was going to be a unicorn long term, I might as well learn just how this horn on my head works.

It also gave me a chance to reflect on this short trip. So far, I’d met both princesses, become something of a friend to one of them, and garnered the attention of the physical incarnation of chaos. And it’s not even been a week since I got here. What fun times I live in.

Seven o’clock saw all of us back in the dining room for dinner. We were treated to an excellent meal, as before. We all happily chatted about what we’d done with our day. After all, all of my family, myself included, had been fairly busy.

Firstly, there was Dad. He’d spent the entire day sitting next to Celestia while she held her court, quietly making notes and comparing it to our own system of government. He now had pages upon pages filled with scribblings. While there were some glaring differences between our world and Equestria, he said that for the most part, it wasn’t too different from Britain; a monarchy at the top, supported by a democratically elected government. Their laws, while they may use different names, were more or less similar to our own, although, due to the more harmonious nature of Equestria, serious crimes were few and far between. He’d also taken the opportunity to have a conversation with the princess during the lunch recess, and had firmed up her offer of employment as an advisor on matters of law. Twilight had quickly jumped in and offered him access to her library back in Ponyville to help him study and fill any gaps in his knowledge. There were of course a few things he was a little unsure about; he was still a little perplexed about the legal differences between ponies and cattle or sheep, the latter still being effectively animals, rather than citizens.

Mum meanwhile had been down in Canterlot, and had returned, along with a couple of overloaded guards, with plenty of new clothes, specially made for herself, Dad and Lizzie. She’d even found a halfway decent tailor apparently where Dad could get some suits made. With his new job all but in the bag, he’d certainly need some to look professional.

Before she’d gone down into the city proper however, she’d had a chance to talk with Princess Luna, who was kind enough to lead her down, along with a couple guards. The pair had fallen into conversation about a fair few matters, with the subject of me coming up at one point. Much to my annoyance, it seemed that Mum had been swapping a few stories with the lunar princess. In particular, the subject of bronies had come up. I know for a fact that all three of my family members thought I was a bit weird. If I’m honest, sometimes I do too. Still, it was a little annoying to have Luna poking fun at me with fandom references. But then again, what had Discord said about taking a joke?

As for Lizzie, she’d spent the day with Twilight. They’d gone to visit the castle libraries in the afternoon, which was how they met up with me. But in the morning, Twilight had gone to visit her older brother, or BBBFF, as she put it. She’d introduced him to Lizzie, and the two really seemed to have hit it off. While she insisted that they were simply friends, I couldn’t help but laugh silently as she tried to hide that dopey smile of hers. While I doubted she was attracted to him, I knew for a fact that Shining was a pretty nice guy. After all, he had managed to catch the eye of the Princess of Love herself. I chalked it up to a harmless little crush, although I did make sure to drop in the fact that he was married. Now if only I could pass on my condolences to the members of One Direction.

With that, our conversation turned to what would be happening tomorrow. We’d be going back to Ponyville bright and early, just after breakfast. Celestia would accompany us and explain the situation to the townsfolk. Hopefully, the presence of their beloved monarch would help allay any fears about the ‘aliens’ among them. But then again, look how they all reacted whenever Zecora came into town. According to the princess, xenophobia was still a problem in Equestria, one she had spent many years trying to correct. For the most part it was simply ignorance, but there was a small minority who was openly hostile to other races. I silently hoped that there was nopony like that in Ponyville.

With dinner over, our little group began to break up to pack and get an early night. However, before I headed off, I felt that it was a good idea to talk with Princess Celestia, and let her know what was going on with Discord. Reformed or not, I didn’t fully trust him, and I was a little concerned that he might continue to bother my family in Ponyville. As we all headed our separate ways for the evening, I approached her.

“Excuse me, your highness,” I said. I still wasn’t too comfortable calling her Celestia to her face; it was like your old school headmaster asking you to call him by his first name. “Could I have a word?”

The white, swan like alicorn looked down at me and smiled for a moment.

“Of course, my little pony,” she said. I did my best to resist the urge to squee.

“I just thought that I should let you know that I ran into Discord today.” Celestia frowned at that.

“I thought as much,” she said, mainly to herself. “Discord came to my court today as well to annoy your father. I imagine that it’s merely his idle curiosity. Although I would have preferred to introduce you all to him after you were settled in Ponyville. I suppose you know a little bit about him as well.” I nodded.

“A few details, your highness,” I replied. “Twilight and the others turned him back to stone, and you later had them reform him. He’s now quite friendly with Fluttershy, who can more or less bring him to heel.”

“Then it may be the case that you should seek out Fluttershy if he does bother your family,” Celestia suggested. I agreed and bowed briefly before departing.

Heading back to my room, I decided to get an early night. It would be a somewhat early start tomorrow, and I didn’t want to be formally introduced to Ponyville with bleary eyes and bedmane. So, with the night drawing on, I climbed into bed and let sleep take me.

I’d set my alarm to wake me up bright and early at half past six. That seemed like a good enough time to wake up, come to, brush my teeth, get dressed and be ready to head back to Ponyville.

It wasn’t however, early enough for one Twilight Sparkle. As on the day we’d all left to come to this glimmering city on a mountain, I found myself levitated out of bed, courtesy of her magic. This time though, she was kind enough not to drop me.

Given how important today was, we were all going to be introduced to all of Ponyville after all, Twilight was being…well, Twilight. She’d already packed and repacked her bags a few times as a coping mechanism, but without Spike on hoof to help her calm down (after all, somepony needed to look after the library in her absence), she’d been running through checklist after checklist, trying to account for every possible contingency. Everything from what to do if the meeting went smoothly, to what we would do if the crowd broke out the torches and pitchforks and tried to kill us.

“Twilight,” I said, putting a hoof on the bridge of my nose. “How likely is any of that to happen? Princess Celestia is going to be with us. Even if something did happen, she wouldn’t let any harm come to us. Your friends are going to be there as well. Just relax.” Twilight however, simply continued pacing up and down my room.

“Blade Star, how can I relax?!” she exclaimed. “You’re going to effectively be introduced to all of Equestria today! What if I say the wrong thing, or what if somepony tries to hurt any of you? What if Princess Celestia thinks I’m failing as a princess and sends me back to…”

“Magic kindergarten?” I finished, giving her a deadpan look. That got her to stop her verbal tirade. I took a breath and did my best to try and calm her down, putting a comforting hoof on her shoulder.

“Twilight, do you remember the last time you got this stressed over something? If I recall correctly, you actually made things worse through a misapplication of a ‘Want it, Need it’ Spell. You can’t control how ponies are going to react to all this, you can however, reassure them. They trust you, just as they trust Celestia. Just focus on that that. Que sera, sera; what will be, will be.”

My little speech did seem to calm Twilight down. It probably helped that I spoke from experience. While I’d never inadvertently caused an entire town to become obsessed over a doll, I did know what it was like to get stressed before a major event. To be honest, I was probably just as stressed about it all as Twilight was. The only difference was my coping mechanism; find someone who’s more stressed out than me and take care of them.

With a little work, I was able to get the alicorn calm enough to go and have breakfast before we left.

After we’d all had breakfast and packed everything away, we were pretty much ready to head out back to Ponyville. We’d be going by air once again, with my family and Twilight in one chariot, and Princess Celestia following in her own personal transport. And of course, there would also be a few guards along for the ride as well. The princess may be an immensely powerful alicorn, albeit one too frequently subjected to the Worf effect, but she still had security protocol to follow.

As before, we took breakfast with her. Luna, sadly, had gone to bed early this morning; apparently it had been a busy night for her, with a few nightmares to quell. Still, it was nice to go over a few things with Celestia before we departed. At the end of the day, this whole introduction would have to be handled very delicately. Like I said before, just look at how Ponyville reacted to a zebra. Celestia outlined her plan to us.

“Once we take off from the castle,” she was saying. “I will use my magic to place an illusion spell on the chariot. That will effectively make you invisible to any passers-by. I’ll keep it up when we touch down in Ponyville, and then, one by one, you can step out of the chariot, where you’ll be visible again. That will allow us to introduce you one at a time.”

“That makes sense, Celestia,” Dad said with a nod of agreement. “What about crowd control though? You said before that the whole town will turn out to see you visit. Even if all goes smoothly, you’re still going to have a lot of ponies wanting to meet us.”

“Hence the guard detachment,” Celestia explained. “They will form a cordon around you. While it will be safe enough to let a few ponies get close, they will stop you from being rushed by a crowd.”

“Hopefully it won’t come to that,” I said, bringing a bit more optimism to the table.

“You know that saying, son,” Dad replied. “Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.”

That was really all we could do. How ponies reacted was entirely up to them, as I’d said to Twilight.

After breakfast, we collected what few possessions we had, and were escorted by guards to a sort of landing pad. In human terms, it was similar to a heliport I guess. This was where all the castle chariots took off from and where they were stored when not in use.

The five of us were led over to a fairly large model, similar to the one that had brought us here. After loading our luggage, we all climbed aboard, with Twilight using her magic to help Mum get up the high step.

Nearby, there stood Celestia's chariot. Well, it was more like a throne with wheels on it really. It was ornate with emblems of the sun dotted around the chassis, and was pulled by two pegasus guards. The large alicorn climbed aboard and settled herself down. We too prepared for take-off. This time at least, hopefully, Mum wouldn’t scream all the way there.

“Okay, is everypony ready?” Twilight asked. We all nodded.

The little alicorn nodded to the princess, who returned the gesture. Activating her magic, I saw her horn light up with a golden colour. A moment later, the air around the open top chariot shimmered for a few seconds. To us, there was no change beyond that, but a quick check with a nearby guard confirmed that, from the outside, the chariot now appeared entirely empty.

With our little security measure in place, the two crafts took off. Celestia’s personal vehicle went first, accompanied by a small flight of guards, who formed a ring around her. We meanwhile, brought up the rear. After flying straight and level for a few minutes, we began the steady descent down towards Ponyville.

It was a short flight back down the mountain. Ponyville slowly grew larger and larger as we dropped down toward the ground. I could see the town, with Town Hall in the centre. I could even make out Golden Oaks Library if I squinted. Off to the side, I could see the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres, and further south, the dark and foreboding Everfree Forest. We were going to set down in the main square, right in front of Town Hall. There wasn’t really anywhere else to set down, unless you wanted to be outside of town.

Drawing nearer still, I could see a large mass of colour around town hall. The better part of a hundred ponies were gathered outside the building, evidently waiting for our arrival. Slowly, the indistinct blobs became clearer, and I began to recognise the odd pony here and there, including a certain grey pegasus.

By now, we were all but skimming over the treetops and roofs of the town. We’d be landing any minute. I felt my heartbeat kick up and my stomach began to feel a touch queasy. I wouldn’t have too much to worry about; regardless of my origins, I still looked like a pony. A few ponies in town would even recognise me. Mum, Dad and Lizzie on the other hoof, they’d have a bit more work to do.

Our two crafts landed and quickly came to rest in the centre of the crowd. Ponies bowed as the princess stepped down. After a few moments letting the crowd quiet itself, Celestia began to speak.

“Greetings, my little ponies,” she said, her voice loud, but a far cry from the Royal Canterlot Voice, and still holding that same motherly undertone. “As I’m sure you are all aware, the Everfree Forest has been at the epicenter of some unusual activity as of late.”

The crowd murmured in agreement. Between the occasional pack of roving timberwolves, cockatrices, cragadiles, and that terrifying Ursa Major, the forest had caused more than a few problems for the residents of Ponyville.

“Two days ago, a group of creatures were brought before me and my sister, having been found inside the forest. They have come from a land beyond Equestria, indeed, even beyond our world.”

That caused everypony to kick off. Question upon question was being shouted at Celestia. How many were there? Where did they come from? What did they want? Were they good or bad? You know, the usual sort of questions when you effectively announce the existence of aliens. Of course, Celestia could hardly answer any of them. The noise was so loud that you couldn’t even hear yourself think. She took a moment before raising her hoof.

“Please, everypony!” she called out, in a voice ringing with authority. “Please allow me to finish.” The crowd once again fell silent.

“I have spoken with these creatures myself. I can assure you that they are no threat to us. There are only four of them, and they are a family; two parents, and two children. They are lost, and stranded here for the time being, and I have offered them sanctuary in Equestria.

“Three of them are from a species known as ‘humans’.” At this, I heard a startled gasp from somewhere within the crowd, followed by some quiet, excited whispering. “The other has been altered by magic, and now appears to be a unicorn. As different as these creatures might be, I ask you to do all you can to help them and support them, while I, along with my sister and Princess Twilight attempt to find them a way home. Treat them as friends, and I can assure you that they will respond in kind.”

As she paused, ponies began to quietly talk again. The fear had gone out of the crowd, replaced more by curiosity than anything else. Celestia continued.

“So, without further delay,” she said. “Let me introduce you to Equestria’s newest citizens. Blade Star, if you wouldn’t mind?”

That was my cue. Taking a deep breath, I stepped down from the chariot. I passed through the slight haze which represented the invisible barrier that had previously hidden us all from the crowd. All I could think was one thing.

Show time.

Chapter 15 - A New Life

View Online

Stepping out of the carriage, I found my hooves softly touching down onto the soft, green grass of Ponyville. It felt good to be back. In spite of the short time I’d spent here, I’d come to regard the little town as the closest thing to home. Of course, to me, home really was still back on Earth. But I thought of the town, and in particular Sweet Apple Acres, as a sort of home away from home. I knew people, or rather, ponies here. I didn’t feel like a stranger.

Still, that didn’t really help much when I saw the reaction I got. I’d expected all sorts of responses, but the whole crowd going into a sort of stunned silence wasn’t particularly high up the list. You could hear a pin drop as I stepped down, the sound of my hooves hitting the ground reverberated around the square. I guess it was more built up anticipation than fear, but it was still a little uncomfortable. I was well aware that I was now going to have to explain both who and what I truly was. Mum, Dad and Lizzie had the advantage on me there, being completely new to Ponyville’s little world.

I looked over to Celestia, looking for some sort of prompt. The white alicorn smiled softly over at me and gently nodded her head. I guess I had to introduce myself. I ought to have practiced on the way over here. This was like your first day at a new school, standing at the front of the glass, introducing yourself to all the other students, cliques and groups. Personally, that’s not an experience I’d care to repeat. Still, needs must. I couldn’t stand here like a muppet now could I?

I opened my mouth and was about to start my little spiel, when Apple Bloom of all ponies broke the brief silence that had settled over the town. Jumping up onto a nearby table to be more visible, and with her friends flanking her on either side, she posed her obvious question.

“Princess Celestia,” the little filly called out, catching the alicorn’s attention, along with the rest of the assembled crowd. “How is Blade Star an alien? He’s a pony.”

It made sense of course. I hadn’t outright lied to Apple Bloom, but I had lied by omission. All I’d said was that I was far from home and trying to get up to Canterlot. I’d never said anything about being a pony or not. Still, I didn’t like the fact that I had to pull the proverbial rug from under the filly.

“That’s not quite true, AB,” I called out, prompting her and everypony else to look at me. I felt the same shock of well over a hundred very large pairs of eyes staring at me. “I’m sorry for keeping it under my hat, but I didn’t want to make a fuss or scare anypony. I may look like a unicorn pony now, but until a week or so ago, I looked just like the rest of my family; a completely different species. I don’t know what caused it, but something turned me into what I am now.”

Celestia nodded at my concise explanation, while Apple Bloom and the other Crusaders looked at each other and began to talk amongst themselves trying to work out what this all meant. Apple Bloom in particular seemed oddly pensive. Big Mac soon lumbered over to her and put a reassuring hoof on her shoulder. He was no doubt just as thrown as anypony else. But given his nature, it was hard to tell what he was thinking.

Looking over at the pair though, a thought occurred to me. Where was Applejack? Amongst the crowd, I could see Twilight’s other friends; Spike, Fluttershy, Rarity, Pinkie Pie, who was muttering something about how she knew that ‘those monkeys’ would come visit if she waved at them enough, and Rainbow Dash, who was hovering a couple feet off the ground to get a better view. Applejack though, was nowhere to be seen. It seemed odd that she wouldn’t turn up to something as important as this, particularly when you consider that she was sad to see me go.

My thoughts were cut off as Celestia began to speak again. I was quite happy for the attention to be taken off me and transferred to somepony more comfortable in the limelight.

“Now,” she went on. “You can meet the rest of Blade Star’s family.” She turned to the still seemingly empty chariot. “If you would all come out now.”

My dad was first out, followed by my mum, who he helped down with a hand, and Lizzie who got a carry for her trouble. Celestia briefly activated her magic and removed the invisibility spell that had previously kept them hidden in the chariot.

The assembled crowd, Twilight’s friends excepted, all let out one combined gasp of surprise. It was a miracle they didn’t turn the square into a vacuum. Now there came the stunned silence. Luckily though, as before, there was a pony willing to break it. This time it was Lyra, although rather than talking to any of us, she simply turned to Bon Bon and said.

“Hah! I told you they were real, Bon Bon! Who’s the crazy pony now then?!” While it was nice for the town’s, and indeed Equestria’s, only anthropologist, if fanon is to be believed, to be vindicated, her excited comments did start a chain reaction.

Now you could feel the instinctive fear and alarm in the crowd. After a moment’s pause, like standing in the eye of a storm, it all kicked off. I couldn’t tell you who had the first question in.

All at once, ponies began shouting questions, at Celestia, at Twilight, at me, and even a few at my family. The noise was utterly deafening. My own ears pressed back against my skull in an effort to block out the noise, while the rest of my family partially covered their ears with their hands. I’d never been to a football match back home, but I imagine this was what the noise was like.

Celestia called out for ponies to calm down, trying to placate them and waving her hooves in front of her. But the crowd was too excited. They were actually beginning to draw closer to us. Dad even moved in front of Mum and Lizzie to shield them. Luckily, before that happened, Celestia’s patience ran out.

“SILENCE!” she bellowed, for once using the ancient Royal Canterlot Voice that had come to prominence courtesy of her sister.

Despite being only one pony, the shout trumped every other voice combined, echoing around the square long after the crowd had fallen silent. I hadn’t seen her do that since she admonished Twilight at the end of ‘Lesson Zero’.

Instantly the questions and shouting stopped and every pony, human, dragon, and any wildlife that happened to be around, all turned to face the owner of that voice. I gotta admit, that’s a neat party trick. For a moment, I saw a flash of embarrassment on Celestia’s face. She paused and cleared her throat before speaking again, this time in a much softer tone.

“I understand that these creatures are strange, and perhaps a little frightening to some of you.” I had to bite back my laughter at that. The idea of anypony being scared of Mum was just brilliant. “But having spoken with them myself, I can assure you all that they bear no ill will towards ponies or any other species in Equestria. Roger, here, has offered to assist me in my court; an offer I am happy to accept. His wife, Margaret, is a schoolteacher on their world and a devoted mother. And their daughter, Elisabeth has spent the last few days helping Fluttershy care for various animals. These are not beings that wish us harm; they are not our enemies. I ask that you accept them all as friends, and do all that you can to help and support them, until my sister and I are able to find a way to send them back to their home.”

The crowd digested all this information in silence. In spite of all the odd happenings in Ponyville, this was still quite out of the norm for many. As I said before, as much as I am sorry to admit it, many ponies do have a slight xenophobic streak in them. But given how the crowd seemed to be relaxing a little more now, it seemed that Celestia had gone a long way in dispelling such trifles. All we needed now was for somepony to make the first move. I imagined that it would be one of Twilight’s friends, or possibly Mayor Mare. But it was actually somepony quite unexpected.

After a few moments of silence, the assembled crowd parted to reveal Lyra, the mint green unicorn. She’d evidently made her way from somewhere near the back of the crowd, right to the front.

Her expression was…unsettling to say the least. She reminded me of Twilight when she was researching a spell of particular interest to her. Her eyes were wide and she had a big grin on her face. With some small amount of hesitation, she made her way over to my dad, who was now standing, with Mum and Lizzie a few paces away from Celestia. She was a little cautious, but her fear seemed to be trumped by her desire to meet a real human. Honestly, of all the things the fandom got right…

Walking up to him, the unicorn reached out with a hoof and took hold of his right hand. And, with no small amount of care and delicacy, she began to examine it, turning it over in her grip and looking at it from a variety of angles. To be fair to the slightly crazy mare, her approach was very scientific. She examined the structure of the hand, the bones, muscles, nerves. She tested how the various digits moved and flexed, and even squinted to examine the unique swirls and spirals of his fingerprints. While it was a little odd, and perhaps a touch intrusive, it wasn’t beyond the pale. At least, it wouldn’t have been if not for one simple thing. As she performed this careful analysis, she kept uttering one word, over and over again.

“Hands,” she said, sounding as if she were in some sort of trance state.

Her voice was barely above a whisper, but her eyes seemed to light up each time she said it. To be fair, this was her getting vindicated after all the years of ridicule about the existence of humans. It would be like one of those bonkers alien conspiracy nutters finding out that there actually were lizard people who arrived in the pyramids, which were actually disguised spaceships, and had secretly engineered every human conflict from the Hundred Years war to 9/11 in an effort to destroy our species and colonise the planet. At least, I think that’s how one of the wackier theories goes.

And whacky was probably one of several words my dad would have used to describe the unicorn that was currently holding his hand. Well, one of the more polite ones anyway. Mum, Lizzie and I were all doing our best not to burst out laughing at the surreal situation playing out before us. Even Celestia and the guards seemed a little at a loss. Eventually, Dad’s patience began to wear thin.

“Er…can I have my hand back, please?” he asked diplomatically. Lyra made no reply, and when he tried to gently withdraw from her grasp, she just held on tighter.

Trying to not show that he was getting alarmed, he applied a bit more strength in an effort to shake off the mare. Lyra however, just activated her magic instead. She seemed to have gone into a sort of trance, and now had a death grip on him. I swear that under the aura of her magic, Dad’s hand was starting to turn red.

Celestia was just about to take a leap and intervene, when out of the crowd, Bon Bon emerged.

I wasn’t certain how much of what I knew about Bon Bon was true. I knew she and Lyra hung out a lot, but as to the status of their…relationship, that was up in the air. Still, she seemed to be willing to offer some help.

The earth pony mare, no doubt embarrassed by her friend’s actions, awkwardly smiled at us as she walked over.

Reaching Lyra, she shook her with a hoof.

“Okay, Lyra,” she said, trying to keep her voice down and not yell at her friend. “I think it’s time you let go of his hand now. Ponies are starting to stare.” She glared at the still entranced mare.

“Hands,” Lyra muttered, entirely unfazed. Bon Bon snorted. Placing her hooves on Lyra’s shoulders, she tried to pull her off.

“Okay, Lyra.” Tug. “That’s enough.” Tug. “Time to go home now.” Tug


There was now a sort of strange tug of war going on. My dad on one side, Bon Bon on the other, with Lyra Heartstrings in the middle. Finally, after one more tug, and a solid rap to her horn, Lyra let go and Bon Bon managed to pull her clear. Dad took his hand away quickly, flexing the fingers and checking his wrist. Luckily, nothing seemed to be broken.

Lyra however, remained in her self-induced hypnosis. And so, Bon Bon took hold of the nape of her neck and physically dragged her away, briefly stopping to say sorry before disappearing into the crowd. All in all, the whole thing was over and done with in a few moments, but it felt like an hour.

Still, with the situation in hoof, we all began to see the funny side of it, ponies and humans. Even Celestia was giggling softly behind a hoof. All that was missing was for Bon Bon to put Lyra in a strait jacket.

Luckily for us, that was the catalyst for other ponies to approach us, mostly to apologise. Still, it broke the ice. Before long, Twilight’s friends, along with a few background ponies I recognised had come over to talk with us. I personally found myself talking with Golden Harvest, aka Carrot Top, while Mum and Dad chatted with Zecora. Before too long, the four of us were working our way through a roster of background ponies. I found myself looking around for a certain grey pegasus.

But as I said before, there was one pony who was conspicuous by her absence; Applejack. I’d figured that she was just somewhere in the crowd. But try as I might, I couldn’t see her. Frowning, I made my way over to Twilight, who was hanging back from the crowd slightly with her mentor. The two princesses were chatting together, with the elder princess letting her usual mask slip for a moment.

“Hey, Twilight,” I said, catching the younger alicorn’s attention. “Have you seen Applejack around? I was just looking around and couldn’t see her. She’s not with Apple Bloom or Big Mac, or with your friends.” Twilight paused her conversation and frowned.

“That is a bit unusual,” she agreed. “I’d have thought that Applejack would be waiting for you when you and your family came back.”

“I hope everything’s okay with her,” I said, partly to myself. I’d promised her that, whatever had happened, I’d come back, at the very least to say goodbye.

I was just about to leave the two princesses and go and walk amongst the crowd to try and find her, when Rarity and Twilight’s other friends came over, and at quite a brisk pace to.

“Blade Star, darling,” Rarity said, sounding a little out of breath. “There you are. We’ve been looking all over for you.”

“Is something the matter, Rarity?” I asked. All four of them nodded.

“It’s Applejack, dear,” Rarity explained. “Ever since you left, she’s become so despondent.”

“Right,” Rainbow Dash agreed. “All that pony does is work, work, work all day long since you guys went up to Canterlot.”

“And she hasn’t smiled or laughed even once, no matter how many funny jokes I tell her,” Pinkie added.

Well, that sure as anything didn’t sound like the Applejack I was familiar with. Sure, I would have been pretty sad too if I’d come back here to just say goodbye before heading back home, but she must know I’m staying, surely. I put that question to the girls.

“We all tried to talk to her,” Fluttershy explained. “But all she does is tell us to leave her alone and let her get on with her work. And she looks utterly miserable. She won’t even talk to Big Macintosh or Granny Smith.”

“Please, darling,” Rarity implored. “You’ve got to go to her and snap her out of this funk. None of us can stand to see her like this.”

I was surprised to say the least. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Applejack is no stranger to loss. I figured that she’d be sad to see me go, but that she’d get over it soon enough. After all, I’d only been living with them for a few days. I guess it didn’t occur to me just how much of an impression I’d made on her, and how close I’d gotten with her and her family.

In any case, it was clear that she was in a bad way. And I was the only one able to bring her out of her current mood. If she really was so sad because she was missing me, then my return would lift her spirits.

So, it seemed as though there was only one thing for it. I would have to go over to Sweet Apple Acres a little bit earlier than planned. While it was a bit of a shame to ditch my own welcoming party (although I had it on good authority that pinkie was already planning another one for the four of us), I needed to help my friend first.

After making my way over to my parents, I let them know where I was going, assuring them that I would be back as soon as I could, hopefully with Applejack in tow. Twilight was staying here with my friends, while Princess Celestia and her guards would be returning to Canterlot Castle. As much as the solar alicorn had enjoyed things, it was high time for her to get back to the business of governing a nation. She promised my dad that she’d send him a letter via Spike about his new job.

I left Ponyville just around the same time that the princess did. I caught a glimpse of the two chariots taking off into the sky and heading back towards Canterlot. I of course, was heading in the opposite direction. Well, sort of. Directly south was the Everfree Forest, not a place I fancied venturing into again. But to the west of town was Sweet Apple Acres, and it was on that track that I now found myself. Despite the short time I’d stayed here, and the fact that I’d been away for a couple of days, I found the route was still familiar to me, and I could probably now find my way even if I was blindfolded. Before too long, the old red barn and farmhouse hove into view. I couldn’t help but view the place as home.

It was getting on for mid-afternoon now. The sun hung a little lower in the sky, but it was still a fair ways from sunset. The working day still had a long way to go yet. Sweet Apple Acres was fairly quiet, as it typically was. A few birds here and there chirped among the trees. I even spotted a fruit bat, hanging upside down in one of the branches. But of ponies, there was no sign. Mac and Apple Bloom were still in town, getting to know my parents and my little sister.

That left just Applejack and Granny Smith. It made sense that the elder apple matriarch would still be here. I made my way along the dirt paths and soon found myself standing outside the farmhouse that also served as a barn for the Apples’.

I was lucky that Ponyville was the kind of town where folks seldom locked their doors. Although, having said that, I myself am quite security conscious. The front door was open in any case and I let myself into the kitchen. It was empty.

“Hello?” I called out. “Anypony here?” I received no reply. Passing through the kitchen to the hall, I came to the foot of the stairs.

“Applejack?” I tried again. “Are you up there?” Still, there was nothing.

So I tried the living room. I’d spent a little while here in the evenings reading and chatting with AJ and Big Mac. It was here that I managed to find somepony. Sitting in her rocking chair, snoring quietly, was a sleeping Granny Smith. At her age, the mare needed all the rest she could get.

Still, she was the only pony who would have any idea where Applejack might be. I knew she was on the farm somewhere in one of the orchards, but Sweet Apple Acres was around half the size of Ponyville. Even if I was a pegasus, it would take a long time to search. It dawned on me too late, that I should have asked Big Mac where his sister was. Well, I was here now, so there was nothing for it.

Reaching out with a hoof, I gently shook the elder mare.

“Granny!” I called out, keeping my voice low. Oddly, my new accent began to return as well. “Granny, it’s Blade Star. I need to know where Applejack is.”

At my gentle urgings, Granny Smith stirred, her amber eyes blearily opened and after a moment, fixed themselves on me.

“Wha…Blade Star?” she said tiredly. “Ah thought y’all were headin’ up to Canterlot.”

“Ah was,” I replied quietly. “Me and my kin jus’ got back. Folks in town were sayin’ that Applejack’s been mopin’ somethin’ fierce since Ah left.” Granny let out a brief laugh.

“That sounds about the size of it, whipper snapper,” she replied, coming to a bit more. Poor filly’s been missin’ you since the moment ya left. Ah ain’t seen her like that since before she left for Manehatten.”

“Well, if Ah go see her, Ah reckon Ah might get her spirits up. Can ya tell me where she is?”

“Sure, young un,” Granny replied. “She’s been in the southern orchard all mornin’. Reckon she’ll still be there now, down by the pond.”

That was all I needed to know. Thanking her, I let Granny Smith go back to her mid-afternoon nap. Quietly making my way back out the house, I waited until I was far enough away not to disturb her, and then put on a burst of speed, breaking into a full gallop.

I was a stallion on a mission.

While Granny Smith had given me some idea of where Applejack was, the southern orchard was still a pretty large area to cover. Once again, I found myself wishing for wings instead of a horn. Sadly, as I’m nowhere near as powerful as Twilight, even when she was a unicorn, there’s no way I can self-levitate myself. So, I had to stick to the ground.

I did have one thing to narrow my search down though, at that was the information that she was near the pond. You see, in that particular neck of the woods, there is a large deep pool, which Applejack told me was a mixture of fishing hole and swimming hole for the family. Due to its large size, it constituted a small lake, and consequently didn’t heat up and evaporate even in the high summer. There was another small lake at the opposite end of the farm, but that was the result of a beaver dam, technically making it an artificial as opposed to natural pond.

Still going at a full gallop, evidently this new equine body was in a little bit better shape than my old human one, I soon found myself drawing up to the lake in question. And there I was confronted with a sorry sight.

There was Applejack. She was bucking away at one of the many threes that surrounded the lake. But while her kicks were strong and precise, they lacked the usual passion I’d come to expect from her. Her head was set low as she moved to collect the few apples that had missed the baskets. She just looked so deeply and utterly depressed. I’d never seen her in such a sorry state, not even when Discord corrupted her and made her lie constantly, and turned her bright orange coat into a muted grey. Even her eyes seemed to have lost that usual confident gleam.

I was standing about ten feet away, just below the small hill she was on, on the edge of the lake. She wasn’t really paying much attention to her surroundings and hadn’t noticed or heard me come galloping up.

I hated to see my friend like this. Aside from Luna, or possibly Twilight, Applejack was the pony I had connected to the most in my short time in Equestria. Despite the fact that we came from different walks of life, never mind different worlds, I’d found in her a good friend.

At first I thought about just galloping over to her, but that seemed a bit cliché. Besides, we were friends, not lovers. So I did the next best thing.

As she moved the baskets around to the next tree, I quietly made my way up the hill to join her. With her head hung low, combined with the wide brim of her Stetson hat, she wouldn’t see me. I watched as she kicked out hard at the tree, though still with a mechanical quality that didn’t befit a mare of her skill and passion. As she moved to pick up the few stray apples, I lifted one up in my magic, startling her for a moment as the apple levitated in my dark blue aura.

“Here, let me help ya with that,” I said in my soft Appalachian accent that living with the apples had given me.

Applejack looked up and let out a surprised whinny. In an instant though, her green eyes fixed on my own brown ones. As if by magic, and quite possibly it was, her demeanour changed completely. That spark came back and she smiled almost as wide as Pinkie Pie could. Such things warm any stallion’s heart.

“Sugarcube! You’re back!” she exclaimed, grabbing me and pulling me into a strong hug. I let out a laugh.

“Back and here to stay, Applejack,” I said as we embraced one another. When she released me, I had a chance again to look at her smiling face. I cracked a wry smile.

“Ah reckon Ah’ll take that job offer now, AJ,” I said softly. “Ah take it it’s still available.” Applejack just hugged me again, even tighter.

“Ya can start tomorrow morning, Blade Star,” she replied happily, faint tears in her eyes.

And so, that was how my new life started. I’d known for a few years that it was getting high time for me to leave the proverbial nest. I was in my early twenties and had finished university. I was at the big crossroads in life. And until recently, I had been wondering what to do with myself.

Back home, I’d had a pretty good life. It wasn’t like I had some clichéd long suffering background. I had a good home, loving parents, everything I could ask for really. But standing at that crossroads, I found myself unsure of where to go. Now it seemed, I had myself an answer.

I would be living and working on this farm, at least for the next few years at any rate. At present, I didn’t really want to leave. I was still close to my parents; their new home, once properly renovated was just a short trip into Ponyville. And Lizzie was still staying with Fluttershy, an equally short walk away.

Of all the possible ways the next few years could have gone, this certainly seemed like a step in the right direction. It certainly seemed like I’d found that direction at last. Honestly, I just felt…happy.

The two of us stayed on that hilltop for a little while. I told Applejack what had happened in Canterlot and brought her up to speed on our new situation. In short, I was here for the long haul, a fact that seemed to please her no end. Of course, I hadn’t given up hope of getting back to Earth. But I did know that, for the present at least, this was where we’d be staying. It only made sense to try and push forward rather than pine for my old home. And that was all the more easier given that my family were all here with me.

At length, we both headed back to Ponyville. The little welcoming ceremony had begun to wind down by the time we got there. There were now only about a dozen or so ponies chatting with my parents and Lizzie around the fountain. I explained to them that I’d gotten myself a new job and living quarters.

The rest of my family had done quite well too. Mum and Dad had arranged to stay with Twilight for just a little while longer until their new home was suitably modified and up to code (take a wild guess at who was currently reading a copy of said building code). Lizzie too, as I had suspected, was going to continue to stay with Fluttershy. Mum and Dad’s new house was large enough for her to stay, but as with me and AJ, the pair had become pretty inseparable.

The only other thing to know about, from Twilight, was that Celestia would be sending me some advice, through Spike, on how to deal with Discord if he did continue to harass me or my family. In any case, for I think the first time, both my family and the Mane Six were all grouped together in public.

We all stayed in town chatting and enjoying ourselves until the early evening. Everyone in my family, myself included, had made a few new friends in Ponyville, although Dad wasn’t too sure about letting Lyra conduct further ‘research’ on him. He was also arranging with the princesses when he could start working for them. The same could be said for Mum. She’d not had a chance to talk to Cheerilee herself, but Twilight had on her behalf, expressed an interest at lending a hand at the schoolhouse. Lizzie meanwhile, was poised to help Fluttershy conduct the annual bunny census next Wednesday.

As our little gathering broke up, AJ and I walked home together and chatted about the finer points of my employment. It took some wrangling on her part, but I eventually accepted a decent wage, which would be partially deducted to pay rent for my room; something I insisted on.

My room was just as I had left it, and I had soon stowed my few possessions away. With that done, we all gathered around the table for dinner, with granny Smith, now wide awake, serving up some excellent grub.

It had been a long day though, and I had an early start tomorrow, so I headed to bed a little earlier. Tomorrow would be my first real day in Equestria, a visitor no longer. And I planned to pay a certain clockmaker a visit.

Chapter 16 - Time

View Online

I woke up the next day, early as always. While a boat load of stuff may have happened over the last few days, it was still Applebuck Season. In my absence Big Mac and AJ had completed another two sections of the apple orchards. There were now two left. If we could do one each day, which was a reasonable estimate and workload, we would be able to finish up by the end of tomorrow, though weather schedules could force a change to that. After that, it would be a case of making up the cider and then preparing for winter.

As I left my room, I met Applejack in the hall. I wished her a good morning, which she returned. I wondered if before long, my southern accent would become the norm and my old way of speaking the anomaly. I wouldn’t mind that; I was a new pony after all.

As soon as we reached the breakfast table, I was set upon by little Apple Bloom. The young filly had so many questions, as children always do. In a rapid fire quiz round, she asked me about my family, myself, what I knew about her and the Crusaders, what my old world was like and about a dozen other things before Granny Smith interrupted her and quietened her down.

“Now, now Apple Bloom, at least give him a chance to answer some of those questions ‘fore ya ask him all the rest of ‘em,” she chided kindly. Apple Bloom thought for a moment about which question she wanted answered first. The result, in hindsight, was inevitable.

“What’s yer cutie mark mean, Blade Star?” she asked. If it was still possible, I would have pinched the bridge of my nose. As it was, lacking fingers, I simply rolled my eyes.

“Well Apple Bloom, Ah had my cutie mark when Ah got here. My OC, which is what Ah look like now, got it ‘cause he’s really good at protectin’ folks.” I paused; I had done that to an extent while I was here. When we arrived at the Everfree Forest, I had guided my family through all its perils and got them safely to Ponyville. And when Twilight had had her little lab disaster, I had immediately gone to help then too. Maybe that really was my special talent. I hadn’t really considered such a concept back on Earth.

“What about yer family? Do they have cutie marks too?” Apple Bloom offered another cutie mark based question. I partially regretted telling her, as she would undoubtedly offer my family membership to her organisation.

“Before I tell you, Apple Bloom, you should know that humans don’t actually get cutie marks, ever.” I waited for this to sink in. “So technically, all three of my family members are blank flanks.” While this key phrase triggered Apple Bloom’s interest, she did not begin planning to incorporate my family into the Crusaders, I breathed a sigh of relief as she headed off to pack her things for school.

“Oh Apple Bloom,” Applejack said. “I swear, one of these days she’ll recruit every colt and filly without a cutie mark into that club.”

“Hey at least it’s somethin’ constructive and pretty safe,” I replied, pretty being the operative word. “Back on Earth, kids would form gangs just as an excuse to steal stuff and fight each other.” I didn’t go on to discuss what those gangs evolved into later on.

“Ah suppose, Ah just wonder what they’ll all do when they finally succeed. They’ve been huntin’ for their cutie marks for so long, Ah can’t imagine ‘em not doin’ it,” Applejack replied. She finished off her breakfast and stood up. “C’mon then you two, time’s a’wastin’.”

“Right behind ya, Applejack,” I replied.

“Eeyup,” added Big Mac.

The penultimate day of Applebuck Season saw us in the eastern orchard. Here, apples were not the only thing hiding in the trees. Apparently, since Winter Wrap Up this year, a colony of Fruit Bats, not the vampiric variety, praise Celestia, which had been forced out of another orchard, had taken up residence in the trees. When struck then, the trees would release both apples and these multi-coloured bats, which would be no doubt irritated at having their rest interrupted. AJ gave me some quick instruction on how to handle these creatures.

“Now, when ya buck the trees,” she said. “These critters’ll come buzzin’ out. Best thing to do when ya set ‘em off, is to wait and let ‘em settle down again in the cleared tree. When they’re back to sleep, move on to the next.” Not all the trees had bats in them, so it really was the luck of the draw. It might be that you could clear a whole row and find none, or find a colony in every tree. It would certainly throw out our usual rhythm.

By about ten o’clock in the morning, we were spread out all over the orchard. Applejack so far, was in the lead, having encountered the least fruit bats. Big Mac had had his fair share of them but was coping well. I on the other hand, well, let’s just say Discord wasn’t lying when he said he could sense my species chaotic nature. For the last three rows, every single tree had had bats in it. More than once I heard the pair snigger slightly at my misfortune.

An hour later though the situation was reversed. I was ploughing through trees and working up quite a sweat, whilst Big Mac had been forced to a snail’s pace. Applejack seemed to be blessed with continuous good luck and merrily worked her way through her section without trouble. Big Mac however, was getting sick of the brightly coloured, and fantastically noisy Fruit Bats.

“Consarn it! Will ya’ll just shut the hay up!” he bellowed angrily, rearing up to take a swipe at the pests.

“Now, now, Big Mac,” I cautioned jokingly. “Ya gotta respect the local wildlife. Got just as much right to be here as you.” Big Mac snorted again and muttered something about the stupidity of wildlife protection laws. After all, we were lucky that we could even harvest these trees at all, since the bats were endangered, we could not move them.

At midday, as usual, Applejack called a halt to the work. One of these days I would have to stay with them for lunch, which I had not done since I had arrived. Today though, I had to go meet a fellow alien I left Applejack to prepare the lunch with Granny Smith, while Big Mac continued to grumble about the Fruit Bat infestation.

So, once again, I found myself trotting into Ponyville. I still can’t get over that expression, it still sounds weird to me. Time Turner’s shop was not too far from Quills and Sofas. Unlike the latter’s unusual business model, his clock shop was a relatively common sight. The windows were filled on both sides of the door with wall clocks of several designs and even a huge grandfather clock possibly taller than Celestia. In the foreground, were a variety of ornate watches. One of these was a silver pocket watch, on the cover, was carved a number of High Gallifrayan markings which I could not hope to decipher. This was more evidence of Time Turner’s credentials.

I considered on the walk over there what I would say to him. I couldn’t very well greet him as The Doctor now could I? Since he had his fob watch, he might have repressed his Time Lord characteristics. Perhaps that was why he was a pony. In the end I decided to begin by dropping subtle hints, and if I got a reaction, I would become more obvious as to my knowledge of his true nature.

I stepped through the shops front door, the bell suspended above the frame chimed happily. Almost instantly, my ears were assaulted with a symphony of ticks and tocks and thousands of clocks counted off the hours, minutes and seconds of the day. I looked to the front of the store. The counter was empty, but I could see a way to some sort of back room.

“Hello? Anypony here?” I called out. From the back, I heard a variety of crashing sounds, as if somepony had dropped something, this was accompanied by the odd curse.

“Be right with you, my friend,” a voice not too dissimilar to my own called out. “Just give me a minute. Oh and you might want to cover your ears.”

“Why’s that?” The question had barely left my mouth before I was cut off. All at once a variety of gongs, chimes, calls and melodies erupted as every single clock in the store struck the hour. Luckily, as it was only one o’clock, the noise was brief. As things settled, Time Turner emerged. His brown mane an unkempt mess and a wild look in his eye that showed both brilliance and madness. The earth pony laughed.

“That’s why, lad. Just be thankful you didn’t come an hour earlier. I recall once when a Pegasus shot out of here in a flash when they all struck twelve.” He smiled kindly, wiping his brow with a foreleg.

“At least it wasn’t a cloister bell. I’ve heard one of those before too, fantastically loud thing when you’re trying to concentrate,” I replied, hoping this first reference would be picked up. For a moment, he started, before quickly recovering and brushing off my comment.

“I wouldn’t know about that I’m afraid. Now what can I do for you. Blade Star was it? I take it you’re one of our extra-terrestrial visitors?”

“I just wanted to ask you a couple of physics questions. Twilight tells me you’re quite the scientist.” I readied another reference. “I imagine ponies like yourself would love to see some of the technology we’ve come up with over the years. You probably could do with your own spacecraft.” Again he started, but remained unruffled.

“Oh no thank you, I’d much rather keep my hooves on the ground. I’m no Wonderbolt. So what do you want to know?”

“I just need to work out the composition of a metal I found near where we all landed.” Time for a big reference. “I think it’s Dalekanium.” This got a reaction, of sorts.

“Why don’t you just stop beating around the bush and tell me what you really want, dear boy?” He said his voice serious now compared to his tone a moment ago.

“Fine, I’ll be blunt. I have need of your ship to get my family home.” In vain he tried to throw me off.

“A ship? Dear boy, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re about as far from the coast as you can get,” he replied.

“You know what I mean,” I countered. “Don’t play dumb.”

“Now you listen to me you little…” I cut him off.

“Doctor.” Instantly, he fell silent. He seemed to fall into deep thought.

“It’s been such a long time since anyone called me that,” he said, after a long pause. “I take it you are a human then, and you are aware of this world from that children’s show?” I nodded “Then it seems we’re both victims of circumstance.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I take it your travelling here was not your doing? I can’t leave here because of this dimension’s time vortex. At best the TARDIS is able to travel to a point in the past, and only materialise for about a minute. Hence how I am here now. The TARDIS is about twenty years hence, so I have to sit and wait. But, I have got enough to do for the moment.” He paused, thinking.

“The trouble is that even when I do ‘catch up’ with the TARDIS, I still can’t leave this dimension. And it seems, neither can you.” So that was that. The Doctor himself was stuck here, unable to leave. That seemed to put a dent in any hopes of sending my family home. Was it wrong of me to be happy with this arrangement?

I thanked the old Time Lord, giving my word that I would tell no one, especially my own family, of his origins. It did surprise me though that neither of my parents picked up the reference Twilight inadvertently made that day at the library. Maybe they just saw it as another strange part of this world.

I walked back toward Sweet Apple Acres. Strangely enough, I encountered all three members of my human family on the road there, heading the same way.

“What are you three doing out this way?” I asked. “Still house hunting?” Back on Earth, my parents had been heavily into renting out houses and took the expression ‘right time to buy’ way too far. The current count was seven, not including our home.

“No, we’re heading up your way actually,” my mother replied. “Twilight told us to head to the barn at Applejack’s and we met your sister on the way.” Nopony was with them, and Ponyville did seem quieter than usual. I guessed that Pinkie was finally making her move. She had had to put off the party for over a week after all.

When we reached the entrance to Sweet Apple Acres, we found Apple Bloom waiting for us. She was grinning like a Cheshire cat and making no attempt to hide it.

“Howdy, AB. What’s with the smile?” I asked. My parents looked toward me, as did Lizzie at my sudden change of accent.

“Oh, ‘s nothin’, Blade Star,” she answered. “Applejack just told me to tell ya that she’s cancellin’ work for the day and wants ya to come on back to the barn.” This was definitely our party, and the little filly promptly shot off in the direction of the barn. My inner brony once again made itself known at the prospect of attending a genuine Pinkie Pie party. I decided not to tell my family, who seemed completely mystified at this turn of events.

We neared the huge red barn that marked the dead centre of the Apple family’s property. I briefly considered the number of possibilities that lay behind the door. Pinkie might have readied her Party Cannon, she might literally roll out her Welcome Wagon, hopefully putting the cake and streamers in the right place this time, or she might have used the barn’s size to create a huge three figure attendance, town wide party for us. With that, I opened the door.


Chapter 17 - Pinkie's Party

View Online

The moment I opened the barn door, Pinkie Pie and all the others leapt out of their hiding spots. I had a few seconds to look around and see what the crazy party obsessed Pinkie Pie had done. Naturally, the entire of the barn was filled with balloons and streamers. Sitting off to the side, still smoking, was Pinkie’s patented Party Cannon. Obviously, she had used this device, which I am still yet to fully understand, to decorate the barn so quickly.

Dozens of tables had been set up with all kinds of party foods and drinks. From my position, I could see crisps (chips to American readers), sandwiches, and bowls of punch, amongst others. The sheer amount that was here was incredible. In the background, I could hear music playing from a gramophone, neither too loud and obnoxious, nor too quiet and subtle. Nor was it some god awful Whale song, which I had once had to endure for four long hours at a party for a friend of my family.

Then there were the guests. In addition to the Mane Six, Pinkie seemed to have invited pretty much all of Ponyville here to this shindig. I could make out loads of background ponies and minor characters from the show. Lyra was sitting with Bon Bon, who was undoubtedly keeping her on a short leash. I could see all three of the Crusaders looking at the four of us in awe, no doubt scheming. On the one hand, they were cute and adorable, on the other; they had a tendency to get covered in tree sap and did inadvertently release Discord. Mayor Mare had also clearly decided to attend; she and her aid were standing with Twilight, probably here on business. Time Turner was here as well, with Derpy, whose eyes seemed to be focussed on both me and some of the framework in the barn’s roof. I could go on, but all this happened in about five seconds so I won’t bore you.

So, in the spirit of attending a surprise party, we all looked surprised. My parents didn’t have to make much effort; they had yet to come to terms with the expression ‘Pinkie being Pinkie’. I hoped soon they would stop questioning her antics, that road only lead to headaches. As the cheering died down, Pinkie bounced up to us, allowing her to briefly look even my father in the eye.

“Were you surprised? Were you? Huh? Huh? Huh?” she said, as she bounced from me, to Lizzie to both my parents. Since I was probably the only one with coherent thought at this point, I spoke up.

“Yes, Pinkie! We were surprised, though I figured you’d be setting up a party for us soon. It’s what you do for everypony isn’t it.”

“Yeppers, Bladey!” Pinkie replied. “Everypony new in Ponyville gets a ‘Welcome to Ponyville’ Party, but since you’re not even from Equestria I decided to throw you a ‘Welcome to the Universe’ Party! I’ve never thrown one of these before, so this proves my theory. If it exists, it will be partied with, no exceptions.” If Pinkie was on Earth, would she be considered mad, or brilliant?

“What on earth is that cannon doing there though?” My father asked, noting the large pink, wheeled contraption in the far corner of the barn. Pinkie glanced toward it.

“Oh that’s my Party Cannon! I use it to decorate everything for a party, or beating up mean changelings. It's even faster than Dashie.” She paused. “Hey, you don’t have any party stuff on. Wait right here.” She quickly zoomed off and retrieved the cannon, along with the Crusaders who greeted us all kindly.

“Load!” Pinkie ordered, becoming serious. The Crusaders stuffed a strange packet down the barrel.

“Run out!” she bellowed. The cannon was moved forward so it would not jump back into anypony. I realised what was about to happen and proceed to cover my ears.

“Ready!” proclaimed the three Crusaders as they moved to take up the firing pin.

“FIRE!” Pinkie bellowed. In an instant, I felt a strange sensation all over and my vision became obscured. The blast also played havoc with my hearing, though back on Earth, I would have probably lost my eardrums. When everything cleared, I found I had a party hat perched on my head, was covered from head to tail in streamers and had a massive smile on my face. The Party Cannon, in short, worked. The same had happened to my family, who were looking at me as if I had gone mad.

“What just happened?” My mother asked. Her voice filled with a mix of confusion and amusement.

“The Party Cannon. And Pinkie Pie. Just go with it, Mum,” I answered.

Pinkie quickly dragged us all into the party and began introducing us to, well, everypony in Ponyville. How Pinkie had the knowledge of some two hundred ponies in her head, including birthdays, musical tastes, favourite foods and dozens of other trivial facts, was beyond me, again I chalked it up to Pinkie being Pinkie, the safest option. Either that or she truly was insane.

As the party continued, we each split up to go and be social. My parents naturally stayed together, but were having the time of their lives. Very quickly they fell into conversation with Roseluck, who ran one of the stands in the market. Their anniversary was coming up and my father wanted to get his wife a beautiful bouquet as he always had done back on Earth. Of course, it took a few minutes for Roseluck and the others to explain to him, that such flowers were considered a delicacy here in Equestria and not romantic gifts. I grinned as my father realised that he had pretty much planned on going to the local deli for an anniversary gift.

Lizzie had gone off to be with the Crusaders. While she was their senior by several years, it was no doubt good for her to spend time with them. Both me and her usually got on well with kids. And since the children in this society were significantly better behaved than their human counterparts, she quickly got into playing games with them. Before long she was having a whale of a time with Pinkie and the Crusaders playing ‘Pin the tail on the Pony’.

As for me, I had quickly gone to say hello to the mayor. We had briefly met during our initial welcome, but this gave us an opportunity to really talk. As a student of Politics, I know that it never hurts to have connections, though I was already on a first name basis with one of Equestria’s rulers, so perhaps it was a little overkill. Pinkie had quickly put on some dance music. I myself could not, cannot and therefore will not dance. However, the opportunity to see Twilight ‘dancing’ was too good to miss. When my Mum saw it, she initially thought that the Element of Magic was having some sort of violent seizure; I had a similar reaction when I first saw her attempts at dancing back in Season Two.

It briefly occurred to me that many would consider these festivities as childish or unsophisticated. On Earth, I would have agreed with them. But here, it was not the case. To be honest, I was having the time of my life as was everypony else. I hadn’t been much of a party animal back on Earth. Particularly after it was made clear to me that a ‘party’ in my age group, consisted of stupidly loud and repetitive music, unhealthy amounts of alcohol and sex, amongst other things. Needless to say, that wasn’t my cup of tea. Laugh and scoff if you must, but I’d much rather attend a genuine Pinkie Pie party any day over that.

A few hours later, as dusk began to fall, the party wound down. Ponies started to head home to prepare for work the next day. It was Tuesday evening after all, tomorrow would mark the end of our first week in Equestria. It seemed so much longer than that when I thought about all that had happened.

Some had a little trouble letting go of the festivities. Berry Punch, at some point had managed to have bit too much of the slightly alcoholic punch. She was now staggering around giggling and her companions were trying to steady her and get her home. Lyra also was unwilling to leave. She had engaged in a slightly more sensible and less crazy conversation with my father during the festivities, I think she learned a fair bit.

Me and Applejack, and Big Mac, still had Applebuck Season to finish. Then before long it would be time for Cider Season, and consequently poor Rainbow desperately seeking a cup of the stuff. After that, there was the Running of the Leaves and Nightmare Night to look forward to. Then would come winter and Hearth’s Warming, a trying time for the weather pegasi according to most accounts. Finally, came the time every brony, no matter how junior they are in our fandom knows about: Winter Wrap Up. That song, when I first heard it, had stuck in my head for nine days before finally petering out. I certainly had a lot to look forward to. Lizzie of course, was helping Fluttershy with the annual bunny census tomorrow. My parents were still house hunting, though they had told me during the party, that they had their eye on a nice little cottage just outside town. Apparently, it was a great deal like our old home back on Earth, just smaller. All in all we had a lot to look forward to.

I bid Pinkie and the others who were still partying a good night. It was getting on for half past ten and I had work with an early start tomorrow. However, I could not really resist going out to a quiet spot just outside Ponyville, to gaze at the heavens. The moon was full tonight; it seemed to change size almost randomly. Perhaps the waxing and waning of the moon were somehow connected to Luna herself. So, I headed out into the orchards and quickly found a nice elevated spot.

The entirety of the hill was covered in the pleasant light of the moon; the grass took on a beautiful quality. I thought back to something I had read once in ‘Watership Down’ about the moonlight. It spoke of how we think of everything, including Ponyville, in daylight. It is a natural state of affairs for everything we know to be remembered in daytime. Moonlight though, is different. It gives everything new, amazing and rare quality, changing a simple field of grass into a wondrous flowing sea and a small pond into a beautiful mirror. Even as I closed my eyes, I could feel the softness of the moonlight.

Despite the brightness of the moon, there were many stars out. Luna had created some constellations and had a fixed North Star in the sky. But try as I might, I could not find Ursa Minor or Major, though I could find Orion. Why would ponies identify a constellation as a man? We were the first humans here. I filed this away in ‘things to ask Twilight’. I didn’t want to think, I just wanted to enjoy the night, as its creator intended.

I could feel the magic in the air, possibly an extension of Luna’s own aura. It was easy to find, but like everything else about the night princess, was more subtle than that of her sister’s, though no less powerful. The best description I could find for this form of magic was the feeling I previously described, the feeling of the moonlight.

My thinking and reflection was interrupted as I heard a distant bell chime eleven. I had to be up, about, and working in around six and a half hours. I set off at a brisk trot back towards home, back toward Sweet Apple Acres’ farmhouse. Before I left though, I looked up to the moon one last time.

“Good night, Luna,” I said, briefly bowing to the satellite. As I trotted off, I could have sworn I heard a gentle voice reply to me.

“Good night, Blade Star.”

About ten minutes later, I was back at the farmhouse. Applejack had left a key for me under the mat. I quietly let myself in, locked the door behind and crept up to bed. I didn’t want to wake any of my companions from their slumber unnecessarily. I found my way to my room and slipped into bed. Tiredness quickly overcame me, and I was out like a light. I had one last busy day tomorrow.

Chapter 18 - Home Stretch

View Online

Due to the lateness of the hour at which I went to bed, the next morning, I found myself being woken up by Applejack. First the cowpony tried simply prodding me with a hoof. This proved ineffective so she began to shake me a little. When this too proved futile she resorted to the simplest method, and unceremoniously rolled me out of the bed. That got me up.

“Ah! Who!? What!? When!? Where!?” I blurted as I suddenly woke up.

“Breakfast is on the table, Blade Star,” Applejack said. “And if Granny has anythin’ to say about it, it’ll be gone in a minute. So come on, get up; one last day afore the end of Applebuck Season.” Memory quickly returned to me.

“Alright, Applejack. Ah’m up. Just gimme a sec to make myself presentable,” I replied, stretching, my accent once again kicking in. She smiled and headed back downstairs to breakfast.

It quickly dawned on me that I too needed that breakfast, so I quickly began to prepare myself for the day. I hurriedly made my bed up, threw open the curtains, tidied my mane and tore out of the bedroom toward breakfast.

When I finally got downstairs, everypony else was just beginning to finish up. Luckily for me, there were still some bare necessities left, including coffee. I swear, even as a morning pony, I still needed that stuff first thing. The Apples had an unusual way of serving their coffee. Instead of offering cream and sugar, they would set a small beaker of their own apple juice next to the cups of coffee. This had initially thrown me a bit, but according to Granny Smith, the apple juice both gave the coffee a bit more of a kick, and reduced the inevitable crash later on. So, not wanting to break with Apple family tradition, I tried some.

By Discord’s beard! This was a damn good cup of coffee. Granny Smith was right; the apple juice really did give it a stronger kick as well as countering the otherwise bitter flavour of black coffee. Back when we were all at the palace, there had been a running gag between me and Twilight. Whenever the princess asked me how I wanted my coffee I always replied ‘black as the heart of King Sombra’. While this always drew a laugh, Twilight cautioned me not to use such a joke if I ever visited the Crystal Empire.

So, with strong coffee quickly replacing the blood in my veins, we all prepared to head out for the last hurrah of Applebuck Season. One last day and we were done. The majority of the orchards were already bare and devoid of apples, their leaves already starting to turn beautiful colours of red, gold and yellow.

Of course, since we had sort of skipped half the work yesterday due to the party, today we would have to do our normal workload and half again. We were in for a long day. Luckily though, my strength had been improving since I started, we had Big Macintosh, with his impossible strength and if needed, we could always call on our friends to help out.

The trees also were not that tough, and could be cleared usually with just the one hit. There were just so many of them. It was like Zulu but with apple trees. An hour in and we were going strong. We all kept together, but due to the sheer amount of work we had, there wasn’t much time for conversation. We did do our best though to encourage each other.

“Come on y’all, we’re nearly a quarter of the way through. Just keep goin’ and we can all kick back for the week!” Applejack proclaimed.

“Eeyup!” offered Big Mac.

I just kept my head low, nose to the grindstone and all that. Although I could hear a snippet of the Simpsons movie in my head. ‘Must keep going. Must keep going. No I can’t. Yes you can. No I can’t. Yes you can.’ This got tedious after thirty five minutes.

So I just kept going after the apple trees and trying to keep a steady but sufficiently rapid pace. Of course, since we were doing more work today we wouldn’t have as much time for a break. In fact, we kept working right through the midday. When we finally paused for a one hour break at one o’clock, we were all soaked in sweat and tired as anything.

We all quickly headed back to the farmhouse. First things first, hydrate. We each probably drank about four bottles of apple juice each. With that in us and a quick meal of apple pie, we sat down in the living room to rest for as long as we could. My muscles ached, a lot. Back on Earth, I was not a physical person. When a school health questionnaire had asked how often I exercised, the worst option they gave was once a week. So I took my pen and crossed out the ‘a week’ part. It was probably true, I had exercised, once. It was horrible. Now though, I was relatively healthy. While I wasn’t as strong as Applejack, and nowhere near as strong as Big Mac, I could nevertheless hold my own.

Half an hour later, we trudged back out again, still not fully recovered, to go out and do it all again. The worst part was, from my position, we didn’t appear to have put much of a dent into the number of apple trees still carrying apples, though Applejack said we were about halfway through.

An hour and a half later, we were all struggling to even hit the trees, never mind dislodge the apples from them. We were all gasping for air and could barely lift our hind legs, or feel them for that matter.

“Ah think we’re gonna have to throw in the towel y'all,” AJ said. “There’s not much left, but ah just can’t go on. How about you two?” There was a brief puffing sound before Big Mac replied.

“Nnope,” he said feebly. It gave me some small comfort to know that it wasn’t just me who was exhausted.

“How ‘bout if ah go ‘n’ see if any of the others are free to help. Ah’m sure Twilight’d be willin’ to help us out,” I suggested. Applejack and Big Mac readily agreed. The alicorn princess would have no difficulty in clearing around fifty apple trees. Hay, she did that back when she was still a unicorn. But it soon turned out that her help would not be needed.

At first, we just heard a faint rumble. I thought it might be a stray storm or something. It certainly sounded like thunder in the distance. But unlike thunder, this rumble just kept on and on, and was getting loader all the time. The water in the nearby lake began to ripple; indicating whatever was causing the noise, was on the ground. And it seemed to be heading straight for us. Even in our exhausted state we all looked up.

Suddenly we saw a rainbow coloured blur shooting across the sky. If you’ll pardon the pun, Rainbow Dash was flying. She had to be going pretty close to her maximum speed. She seemed to be shooting all around Ponyville. I could faintly hear her shouting something. As she neared us it became clearer.

“Stampede! Everypony run for it, there’s loads of them!” she cried.

My blood turned cold. I’d never seen a real stampede before, but I was fully aware of what a herd of stampeding cattle can do. Even one frightened animal can prove deadly to a human. We quickly all turned to make a break for it, but in our state, I feared we wouldn’t be able to get far. That’s when we first saw them.

Rabbits, or bunnies. Hundreds of them, their eyes wide in terror, were bolting across the open fields. They were heading straight for us, but due to their small size, they were not much of a threat to us. Following behind them, going as fast as her wings would carry her was Fluttershy.

“Oh no! Please bunnies, just stop! There’s nothing to be scared about, just follow me back to my cottage, please.” Her desperate begging and pleading was ineffective on the usually timid creatures. Whatever had scared them had scared them bad. Following behind Fluttershy was Lizzie, also doing her best to placate the tiny beasts.

As they began to crash into the orchard, a remarkable thing happened. The apple trees began to shake from the vibrations. One by one, they steadily began to lose their fruit. We all looked on in amazement as over three hours of work was accomplished in mere moments. By rabbits of all things! Still, there was the problem of the oncoming armada of bunnies, not the way I would wish to go. Luckily for us, help was at hand.

Granny Smith walked out directly in front of them all, the dinner triangle in her hooves. As they neared her, she struck the instrument once, with force only an earth pony can possess. The ensuing high frequency ring caused us all to splay our ears, while the bunnies all suddenly stopped dead in their tracks. Granny Smith smiled slyly at her little trick.

Now stopped in their blind panic, the rabbits were more than willing to listen to Fluttershy, who guided them back home. Apparently, she and Lizzie had been part way through the census, when Winona had jumped in amongst them. Her excited barking and her role as a carnivore had triggered the rabbits’ natural flight instinct.

While the stampede had been a trying time for Fluttershy, it had certainly saved us a great deal of trouble. Thanks to those tiny creatures, we were finished. All of Sweet Apple Acres had been harvested, and on time too.

“Ah swear,” said Applejack “That little dog is sometimes more trouble than she’s worth, but at least this time things went our way.”

At that moment said canine immediately joined us. Her tail wagged as she barked happily, evidently pleased with both her bunny chasing skills and the fact that she had just helped AJ finish Applebuck Season. I liked that dog. She was remarkably intelligent, even for a collie. She frequently chipped into conversations, which she evidently understood and was a great companion to all of us. It was just sometimes, particularly if she hadn’t been walked, she would get over excited.

We all headed back to the farmhouse, we needed the rest. All the bushels of apples were taken to the barn for storage. A fair few would be sold as is, while some of the best would be set aside for Cider Season in a couple weeks to coincide with the Running of the Leaves. The bruised ones would go to the pigs, who loved them. The rest of the day was spent simply relaxing, letting our heavily strained muscles relax.

A few hours later, when we were sufficiently recovered to fall into idle chit chat, we began to converse. I was interested to know a bit more about Cider Season. I knew a fair bit having seen last year’s during Season Two, when Flim and Flam had shown up with their ridiculous contraption. It had been a close run thing, the thought of these ponies losing the farm made me shudder.

“Ah just hope we have a smoother Cider Season than last year, Applejack. Ah certainly ain’t in the mood for no conponies.” AJ heartily agreed with me.

“They won’t be back ah don’t think. After all, Big Macintosh said he wanted to have a ‘quiet word’ with ‘em. Didn’t ya, big brother.”

“Eeyup,” the big stallion said menacingly. Sweet Celestia, I hope those two muppets turn up now!

By evening, we all settled down to a nice quiet dinner, where Applejack also handed me my pay. Overall, I now had quite a pile to my name. Combined with the gift my parents received from Princess Celestia, we should certainly have no money troubles.

Thus another chapter in my life in Equestria drew to a close. Applejack essentially gave me the rest of the week off. Cider Season would open first thing on Monday, with the Running of the Leaves taking place on Thursday next. I thought about maybe taking part in that. My physique had improved greatly since I got here, and Twilight herself, not the most athletic of ponies, had managed to gain fifth place on her first attempt. Tomorrow, I would head to Town Hall and sign myself up. But first, I needed a good long sleep.

Interlude 2 - Back to School

View Online

Note: This chapter takes place from the perspective of our protagonist's mother.

Twilight took me to the local school for nine in the morning, to see if I would be able to, at the very least, get some experience of teaching methods here. With any luck, and perhaps the nod from those two princesses, I’d be able to start teaching here soon enough. I’d actually retired not that long ago. Or at least, I left the school I was teaching at, the head was setting up to turn it from a bilingual school to a minority only one. It didn’t help when said minority had their own government and political parties.

After leaving the library, we walked up the main street, which was somewhat ironically called ‘Mane Street’, and headed out from the town’s centre toward the outskirts. There we found the schoolhouse.

It was a pretty little building, the sort of thing you’d expect to find on a kids TV show. A wooden structure, the schoolhouse was painted a softish red colour. On the roof was a small steeple housing the school bell. Not too dissimilar to my last school in that regard. Out in front of the building was the school yard. It had a couple bits of playground equipment, with a few toys scattered here and there. There were no fences, obviously there was either no concern for children running off or such concern was not necessary. Based on what I’d seen so far, I suspected it was the latter.

We arrived just before nine o’clock, when lessons began, so we ought to be able, according to Twilight at least, to have a brief discussion with the head at the school and settle any details later. Hopefully, in a few weeks, I would be able to start teaching, or at the very least helping some of the struggling pupils as I had done before.

We found the teacher, a Miss Cheerilee, outside keeping an eye on the playing children. She looked to be several years younger than me, were she a human, but she had the look of someone whose been at the job long enough to know their cookies. It is an undisputed fact that young children have the ability to smell fear on teachers. From this initial sight, I knew she could keep these students in line.

“Good morning, Cheerilee” Twilight said as we approached. The cerise coated mare turned to us.

“Oh, morning Twilight,” she said. “And good morning to you…too.” She faltered a little upon seeing me.

“Cheerilee, you remember Margaret right? Margaret, this is Cheerilee,” Twilight introduced us. The earth pony recovered and greeted me, apologising for her shock.

“I’m awfully sorry about that. I know you’re not dangerous; you just took me by surprise. What are you two doing down here anyway?”

“The Princess said it might be in both our interests if I was to come and help teaching here,” I replied. Cheerilee blushed slightly.

“Oh of course, I remember now” she said. “Yes, she did say you had some experience teaching foals. And it would help me reduce my workload a great deal.”

“Well, I don’t know about foals, but I’ve dealt with all sorts of human children over the years. I can’t see any kids here that look particularly unruly.”

Cheerilee’s expression now shifted to a sort of appraising attitude. I probably had a similar look when I first spotted her when we arrived. After a moment, she returned to her previous happy looking face.

“How much experience do you have then?” she asked me.

“About twenty years on and off, plus I often helped out unofficially at my son’s school when he was younger. I’ve dealt with quite a few troublesome students, particularly a few who had learning difficulties.” Cheerilee nodded, impressed.

“Well, I suppose you could observe for today. You won’t be able to teach until you pass at the next inspection, that’s in about a fortnight. But if I let you sit in today on the lessons, I’m sure we can steadily ease you into a few unofficial areas. Then once you pass inspection, which I’m fairly certain you will, you can take a couple of days a week.”

This surprised me greatly. I’d expected at least a demand for a reference of a CRB check. Obviously, this Equestria didn’t suffer from some of the darker faults humans did.

With that Twilight said she’d return to the library, as it was (again) reshelving day. I expected to finish around three, so I promised that I would return around then, depending on what happened over the course of the day.

Cheerilee led me through the building’s front door into the classroom. It was full on Americana, the traditional blackboard, school desks; everything reeked of an idealised time. There were about twenty or so desks with Cheerilee’s own placed just ahead of the board. Given the relatively low population of Ponyville, I wasn’t surprised by the low class size. Mind you, on Earth, they’d have closed this place down in a heartbeat. I’d already taught at schools with an average class size of forty students per group.

“Right then, if you want to take a seat at the back there to keep an eye on things?” She gestured toward a chair leaning against the back wall. She then briefly turned around and called the kids inside.

As the students filed into the classroom, they all instantly latched onto me. Kids notice everything that’s different at that age, and a strange talking biped was no exception. In particular those three that Lizzie had made friends with at the party came up to me to say hello again. Cheerilee quickly reeled them in and got them seated and settled.

“Alright, everypony settle down. Now, I’m sure you’ve noticed we have a visitor today. This is Mrs. Owen.” It surprised me that Cheerilee knew about human names and their significance, perhaps Twilight had told her. “She’s going to be sitting in on a few of our lessons and hopefully, will be teaching you all soon enough.” This drew a number of questions.

“Does that mean you’re not gonna be teaching us anymore Miss Cheerilee?” one foal asked.

“Are we gonna learn about where those aliens come from?” asked another.

“No, no, no. Nothing like that,” Cheerilee assured them. “Mrs. Owen is just going to be helping me out a little. That way, we’ll both be able to get more work done. I’m not leaving Ponyville just yet.”

And so I settled down for the morning lessons. I’d never taught under the system they used in the US. In Britain, you went to primary school, then secondary, and then if you wanted to, stay on for Sixth Form. It was easy enough to tell that this was the elementary level. To my knowledge, there weren’t any other schools in Ponyville. Maybe the high school was off in one of the larger cities. Those puns still make me smile.

We began with history. Ironically, they were studying the conflict between Equestria and the Griffons. The whole story was a mix of the Cold War combined with a few aspects from World War Two and the wars in the Middle East. Today, I actually understood half of what was being taught, since the main subject was the Sixth Griffon War, which I had read a fair bit about when I was with Princess Luna.

She’d been good company while I was at Canterlot. I’d heard her story from my son, but you’d never guess what had happened to her based on her general personality. Though her occasional use of archaic language did throw up a couple red flags. It was nice to have someone to swap notes with about the whole ‘Brony’ phenomenon. Living where we had, I was certain that there were no others for a fair few miles. And I wasn’t about to tell any of our extended family about it. I’d been dreading what would happen when my uncle would come to visit and find the posters and other merchandise my son had in his room.

With the history class wrapping up, we moved on to mathematics. Luckily, they seemed to use the same numbers that humans did. I still needed to fully learn the new alphabet if I was to have any hope of being a teacher. They were working on multiplication tables today. It didn’t seem as if they had much trouble, except for one little filly.

She had a noticeable lisp and seemed to struggle a bit with mental maths. Not really unexpected, but it was important that someone, or somepony, pounced on the problem before the poor thing was left behind. Luckily, Cheerilee had also noticed and, whilst the others worked through the exercises on their own, she helped her with a few of the trickier questions.

It was then that I heard quiet sniggering coming from the front of the class. I guess even in Equestria there horrid cruel little children. Two fillies were giggling amongst themselves as they looked on at the other’s plight. The nastier of the two had a little tiara on her head, with a similar tiara for her mark. Any fool could see she was rich and spoiled one of the class.

There were two kinds of problem children. The first tended to be from poorer areas, and rarely got any help or attention from their parents. These could be helped and encouraged, it was simply a matter of dispelling the anti-swot culture that may have prevailed in their home. The spoilt rich child however, was more difficult. From long experience I knew any complaint to the parents would be met with the claim that their child was perfect in every way, and that it surely must be the other child at fault. They actually encouraged the bad behaviour.

This one definitely fell into the latter of the two categories. I was not the only one to notice their behaviour fortunately, as Cheerilee quickly moved over to the pair. This ought to be good.

“And just what are you laughing at Diamond Tiara?” she asked flatly, causing the two to fall silent. I had to strangle a laugh at that name. It certainly fit the bill if nothing else.

“Oh, nothing Miss Cheerilee,” the filly replied.

“Really, because from where I was standing, you two seemed to be laughing at Twist.” Again, she kept her voice level. Kids often find it scarier when you don’t raise your voice.

“Oh, we’d never do that Miss Cheerilee.” Somehow, the response lacked any sincerity.

However, since she’d got them to stop and convinced them to back off, Cheerilee moved on to check on the others. However, every time her back was turned, those same two would go back two bullying Twist. When Cheerilee came back down towards me, I motioned her over.

“Those two are still going after Twist,” I said quietly.

“I know,” Cheerilee replied. “But I can’t keep tabs on them all the time.” She paused, and smiled, a plan forming in her mind. “Why don’t you have a go at straightening them out? It would more than help prove your ability when the inspection comes around.” I nodded.

“Alright, I’ll give it a shot,” I said, rising from my seat.

So I wandered around for a few minutes, keeping one eye on Diamond Tiara and her friend. As I passed a trio of fillies, one of them gently pulled me aside. I quickly recognised her as one of the kids that Lizzie had been getting along with at the party. She was a yellow earth pony, with a bright red mane and had a huge bow tied in it. This was Apple Bloom; she was the sister of the pony my son was currently staying with.

“Mrs. Owen, Diamond Tiara an’ Silver Spoon are still makin’ fun of Twist.” She said. Looking at the pair she was right, they were still giggling away and Twist was looking more miserable by the minute. A plan formed in my head.

“Here’s an idea. Can you three girls do me a favour?” They all nodded and I explained my plan to them. The bell then rang, signalling the lunch break.

When class resumed, I put my little plan into action. I’d explained everything to Cheerilee while she was watching the kids. While it was a little unorthodox, and probably bent a few rules, she agreed to play along.

So, when class resumed, and they all settled down to work on Equestrian, I nodded to Apple Bloom and her friends. They began by quietly giggling, as Diamond Tiara had done, this quickly drew said filly’s attention. At first, she just ignored it, but Apple Bloom and the others simply kept going driving her steadily crazy. Me and Cheerilee were struggling to keep our composure, as was a thin young colt that happened to listen in on our conversation. Eventually, Diamond Tiara could take it no more.

“Miss Cheerilee, those three blank flanks are laughing at me!” she whined. Cheerilee looked up.

“Crusaders, are you laughing at Diamond Tiara?” she asked the three fillies. She promptly received a negative from Apple Bloom. This quickly formed into a cycle, and Diamond Tiara began to get more and more infuriated. Only when she began to get upset, did Cheerilee at last step in.

“Alright, Apple Bloom. That’s enough.” She turned to Diamond Tiara. “It’s not very nice to have other ponies laugh at you is it?” The filly shook her head. “So maybe you shouldn’t be laughing at Twist.” The filly nodded. “Good, then we’ll say no more about it.”

Half an hour later, the last bell rang and the kids all headed home. I was surprised that there were no parents to pick them up. Evidently, Ponyville was a safe enough place that children wandered around freely. I got up to leave but Cheerilee stopped me at the door.

“You really helped me out today, Margaret,” she said “When I saw you this morning, I wasn’t sure if you’d be a good teacher, but now, I’d say you’re more than qualified. If you come in same time tomorrow, we’ll start introducing you to some of the workload. You can’t teach yet, but you can certainly help me out until you can.”

So, it looked like I was going back into teaching. My pension wasn’t that great anyway. Would I have to reapply to the NUT, or whatever they called it here? I got on well with Cheerilee and, with the exception of those two fillies; the class seemed to like me too. All in all a good start.

Chapter 19 - Lesson One

View Online

In spite of the fact that I was now on a holiday of sorts, I still found myself waking up quite early. Not before dawn as I had had to during Applebuck Season, but nevertheless, earlier than most ponies. After a hearty breakfast with the Apple family, we began to discuss what we would do during our short break.

“Ah’ve gotta go and get trainin’ with Rainbow today. Runnin’ of the Leaves’ll be here before ya know it,” Applejack said. “S’pose you better head on down to Town Hall today, Blade Star. That is if yer still up for racin.”

“Course ah am, AJ,” I replied. “I’ll head into town, go to Town Hall, then to Twilight’s. I was kinda hopin’ she’d give me a couple of magic lessons. All Ah’ve got right now is a levitation spell. But yer probably right, I best get trainin' soon.”

“How ‘bout you, big brother?” Applejack asked, turning to Big Mac. “You gonna be settin all the stuff up for Cider Season?”

“Eeyup,” Big Mac replied. I guess somepony had to get everything ready beforehoof for the cider making, from what I had seen, it was a big operation.

“Me an’ the Crusaders are gonna try out a couple of new ideas,” Apple Bloom chipped in. “Just as soon as we think of ‘em.” This spoke to at least a few hours of standing in their clubhouse thinking. What Sherlock Holmes would have undoubtedly called a ‘three pipe problem’. The filly’s comment drew a little, good natured laugh from us all.

After breakfast was done and dusted, I headed out towards Ponyville. I had everything in my head, sorted. I had always done this, forming a mental timetable for the entire day in my head. I wouldn’t be surprised if Twilight did the same thing. Before I left the farm though, I found I had a travelling companion with me.

Winona had joined me on my sojourn into town. The canine barked excitedly and lolled her tongue out. She reminded me of a dog my sister’s godmother had had. In that case though, it did one thing, play fetch. The only problem was, if you began to play with it, it would continue to play with you until time stopped. At least Winona would eventually tire out and settle. For now though she was full of energy.

“What d’you want girl?” I asked in my best impersonation of Jeff Bridges. Sadly, Winona made no comment about looking for the man who killed her father. She only barked and wagged her tail, continuing to follow me. “Oh alright, you can come with me.”

Ponyville was fairly busy when we got there. What little shock had been present in the townsfolk on Monday had evaporated by now; it was just like being in the show. Or a bad HiE fic. I smiled, this sure would make one great story, too bad I’d never be able to write it.

Town Hall was quite busy with the Running of the Leaves fast approaching. Luckily, entry into this competition was straightforward enough. I merely had to fill out one form with my name, address and any medical conditions I had. There was no tiny writing at the bottom with a tick box promising I wouldn’t sue anypony if I got hurt. Did ponies even have the concept of ambulance chasers, I hoped not. Yet another reason I like Equestria, no ambulance chasers.

I met Rainbow Dash in the queue for the forms and we began to chat about recent events. Naturally, Rainbow’s ego being such as it is, she quickly got on to the subject of herself and her depiction in MLP: FiM. I replied that it was a fair representation of her personality and athletic abilities, with perhaps a hint of sarcasm. I avoided a fair bit of the fandom’s comments, particularly regarding certain individuals interpretations of her personality and mane colours. She never struck me as the type anyway, just a bit of tomcolt. I did however, talk at length with her about her time at Wonderbolt Academy, and the similarities it had to a certain school back on Earth.

With the form filled in and handed off to the race officials, I headed towards the library to see Twilight, and possibly Mum and Dad. Due to the number of ponies applying for the upcoming race, the rest of Ponyville was fairly quiet. Winona once again joined me, they didn’t allow dogs in Town Hall, and we both headed to the library.

With the existence of humans in Equestria now revealed to all, Twilight’s front door was no longer locked. However, as this was her home as well as the town’s library, combined with the fact she was a princess, I decided to knock. Twilight herself quickly answered the door.

“Hello Blade Star,” she said brightly. “You know this is a public library right? No need to knock on the door.” I rolled my eyes; I was given a 50/50 chance at picking the correct course of action. Of course I picked the wrong one.

“Just didn’t want to appear rude, Twilight,” I replied. “Hey, are you busy right now?” She replied that she was not. “Well, do you think you could teach me a couple more spells besides levitation? I want to improve my magic a bit.” This caused the alicorn to freeze.

“You want me to teach you magic?” she asked excitedly. “You want to be my student?” I nodded; she seemed to be having another episode. “YAY!” she shouted clapping her front hooves together. “I’ve always wanted to teach somepony else about magic. Come on in, there’s no time to lose.” With that, I was unceremoniously dragged inside.

Twilight immediately launched into a lecture on magic. It tallied with most of my existing understanding of the concept. However, before we could begin, Twilight wanted to test me. She took me well away from Ponyville out near the lake.

“Now, I want you to demonstrate to me the amount of raw magic you have,” she said.

“What do you mean, Twilight?” I asked, prompting the princess to facehoof.

“Perform magic, so I can see how much energy you have,” she replied. I countered that I could only do levitation at present. “No, that’s not what I mean. Instead of casting a spell, just expel the magical energy, like this.” Twilight then charged her horn and let of a, frankly, epic blast, similar to what she had used against the Changelings. “That’s my raw magical power. It isn’t an expression of skill, just energy. That’s why Chrysalis was able to defeat Princess Celestia without being able to move the sun or moon.” Well, that was one plot hole explained.

“I think I get it now, Twilight. I just tease the magic out like I’m casting, then just expel it, right?” She nodded.

“Watch out though, Blade Star. A unicorn’s first expulsion can be quite violent. That’s why I’ve brought us out here,” she cautioned. I nodded in understanding.

I began to summon up the magic in me. I had some control over it, but relaxed it this time. I channelled the magic into my horn; the energy in it began to make my head spin. I doubted my performance would be as brilliant as Twilight’s, she was an alicorn after all, but this was a matter of personal pride. My horn glowed brighter, the usual dark blue aura being replaced by a bright, white light.

“Cast it out now, Blade Star!” Twilight called.

Instantly, I began to expel the magic. Twilight wasn’t kidding about how violent it was. I had to firmly plant all four hooves in the ground just to keep upright. The feeling in my horn was like lava and my ears were filled with the rushing of air. It actually took only three seconds, but it seemed a lot longer. When I had finally expelled all the energy, I was overcome with tiredness and my horn still felt like it was on fire.

“Easy now,” Twilight said. I felt her at my side, steadying me. “Oh, you might want to get that.” I opened my eyes as she indicated my horn. The bloody thing was glowing like kindling! I quickly blew on it, creating another odd sensation in my head and it returned to normal. The tiredness also quickly left me as I recovered.

“How did I do? Did I pass, Princess?” I asked.

“I should say so, Blade Star,” she replied. “While you aren’t as powerful as I was as a unicorn, you do have a fairly high magical power level, above average anyway. That blast would certainly be effective in a fight.” Maybe that was my cutie mark kicking in again. If my special talent was protecting others, then I might need to fight.

With that test done, we returned to the library. Once again poor Spike, with the promise of gems, was roped into being a test dummy for my magic practice. Most of the spells Twilight taught me were to increase my mental discipline, a vital part of controlling magic. Still it was fun to give Spike another moustache. I let him keep it while he went to see Rarity; the little fellow wanted any help he could get in wooing that mare.

Around three we broke for the day. I told Twilight how, with the end of Applebuck Season, I would be mostly free to come and study with her until next Monday. I started to bug out of there when she began to over plan a teaching curriculum. She would be a good teacher, as long as she could repress her need for absolute perfection and timeliness. Still, first lesson, I’d learnt how to blast something into the middle of last week. I looked forward to the lesson we set up for tomorrow.

I headed back toward Sweet Apple Acres, Winona had gotten bored with me and Twilight just talking. I found her waiting for me at the entrance to the place. In the distance I could hear voices. Winona stopped her barking to listen too.

“Is not!” Cried one voice.

“Is to!” Replied the other. This went back and forth several times as we both moved to investigate.

The row was coming from the clubhouse of the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Both Winona and me quickly climbed up the steps and entered the clubhouse to see what was going on. It wasn’t unusual for the Crusaders to be arguing over cutie marks, but I thought it would be best if I put a stop to it. As I entered, the Crusaders looked up.

“Alright you three, what’s goin’ on?” I asked. My accent seemed to change depending on whether or not I was on Sweet Apple Acres, or near a member of the Apple family. Yet another thing to ask Twilight. Scootaloo and Apple bloom had been having the small shouting match, with Sweetie Belle playing peacemaker. Apple Bloom spoke up.

“Ah’m tryin’ to prove to Scoots here that our special talent is not arguing,” she said.

“Is to!” countered Scootaloo.

“Is not!” answered Apple Bloom.

“Girls!” I said, silencing them. “By the sounds of it, ya’ll have been arguin for hours, an’ Ah see no cutie mark on any of ya.” Apple Bloom smiled, while Scootaloo blew a raspberry at her. “However, don’t you think you’ve wasted enough time arguin’ when ya could’ve been lookin’ for your cutie marks?” This made them all look down at their hooves dejectedly. Sweetie Belle then spoke up.

“That’s what I was trying to say. While you two were arguing, I thought of a new special talent we could try. Lyra was talking yesterday about studying Blade Star’s family. We could be Cutie Mark Crusader Anthropologists.” There was a silence as I mentally facehoofed. This didn’t last though.

“YAY! CUTIE MARK CRUSADER ANTHROPOLOGISTS!” They all trumpeted before dashing off. My only thought was ‘What have I done?’. It was unbelievably cute though.

With the Crusaders now gone to undoubtedly bother my family, and possibly me for hours, I went back to the farmhouse. I wished I’d brought back some of Luna’s Moonshine; I could really use a bit now.

Applejack returned a few hours later from training for the race. Once again she and Rainbow had turned it into their own private competition, though this time, they planned to have a fair race, without any horseplay. I smiled at my inadvertent pun. She had obviously been training hard; she was still breathing heavily and immediately drank about a pint of apple juice. Regardless, compared to last year, she could only improve, having finished joint last with Rainbow thanks to their continuous one-upmanship.

Apple Bloom returned a while later, having been thrown out of the library by Twilight, along with the other Crusaders, for bothering my parents. She commented that she couldn’t even imagine what an anthropology based cutie mark would look like.

We all sat down to dinner around half-past seven. While the Apple family did enjoy their apples, they did not serve them continuously. Tonight’s dinner was an old family recipe according to Granny Smith. What I got was a great Equestrian version of Ratatouille, a dish I had loved as a child.

With dinner over, after I helped Granny Smith clean up, we all headed to bed. The old mare had stopped protesting at me helping her and had begun using my example as a way to encourage Apple Bloom to do the washing up sometimes. With that I went to bed. Tomorrow I was going back to school. It was certainly nice to have access to a few more spells. I looked forward to an opportunity in the future where I could zip Lizzie’s mouth shut.

Chapter 20 - Order and Chaos

View Online

The next day again saw me at Golden Oaks library for another lesson on magic. Twilight had had Spike send me a note last night outlining her brief introductory course. Well, when I say brief and introductory, I mean it came with four textbooks and homework assignments. Normally, this would have driven me up the wall, but, an opportunity to study canon Equestrian magical theory and some history was too good to pass up. Besides, back in university, when I needed to, I could knuckle down and work hard.

Today’s lesson was mainly theoretical, examining more complex magical theory. While I had a relatively good standing in terms of actual power, though I couldn’t hold a candle to Twilight; it was not refined, leaving me unable to perform more complex spells. By mid-morning, I was struggling on a tricky transformation spell. The intention was to turn an apple into an orange. While this sounded simple and on paper seemed simple, it required a great deal of effort and concentration.

Unfortunately for us, our lesson was occasionally interrupted by library patrons, as well as continued visits from Pinkie demanding feedback on her party. As a result, I managed to roast two apples, turn two more into random objects, and one I inadvertently turned into a hand grenade. I quickly undid that last transformation and avoided Twilight’s questions about it. As we continued, Twilight saw I was getting more and more frustrated.

“Hey Blade Star, why don’t we break for a while, let you get yourself together?” she suggested. “Maybe we can head out to Whitetail Woods to get some training in for the race next week.”

“Sure, why not,” I replied. “This is just driving me insane anyway. A good run will clear my head.” I was certain that before long I would snap at Twilight, not the best thing to do to an alicorn princess.

So we halted the magic lesson for the moment and headed out toward what would soon constitute the race course. Whitetail Woods was a beautiful spot, particularly this time of year. All the leaves were wondrous colours of gold, reds and browns. I could see why Princess Celestia enjoyed autumn or fall as the Equestrians called it, a consequence perhaps of their American/Canadian roots in my old universe.

The route was a fairly simple one, some portions of it of course, I recognised from Season One. A large section of the wood was dedicated to collecting tree sap. I hesitantly looked about for the Crusaders, well aware of the effect of combining tree sap and those fillies. Twilight and me laughed fondly about the antics Applejack and Rainbow Dash had gotten up to during the race, we couldn’t help but laugh at the mental image of poor Rainbow being pursued by a swarm of angry bees.

Twilight seemed more relaxed about me bringing up various memories from before my arrival. When we had first got here, she would become uncomfortable if I even mentioned in passing, a memory gained by my watching of MLP. Now though she seemed much more at ease. I voiced my interest.

“You don’t seem as skittish about me talking about stuff I remember from the show, Twilight. How come?” She paused to think for a moment before responding.

“I suppose it’s because I’ve gotten to know you more this past week. We’ve swapped a fair few stories, so I guess, it’s just not as weird anymore. After all, aren’t friends supposed to know stuff about each other?” Ah, the magic of friendship, such a wonderful thing!

“As long as you’re sure, Twilight. I don’t want to make you feel uncomfortable, and I understand if the whole idea of the show freaks you out a bit,” I answered.

“It doesn’t freak me out at all,” she replied. “Okay, at first it was a bit creepy, but you explained it to us. And, you said yourself it helped create a more peaceful philosophy amongst the people who watched it. What was it ‘Love and Tolerate’?” I smiled, she was right. When we’d first got here, my knowledge was a bit perplexing. Now though, I’d been around Ponyville for over a week, enough time to get to know ponies. Maybe it was just that that made it seem more normal.

As I thought, Twilight peeled off from the track to rest for a moment. She motioned for me to join her. As I sat down, she revealed to me the ulterior reason she had for us coming out here.

“Well, we won’t be disturbed here, so we can get in a bit of magical training, don’t you think?” I nodded. “We’ll try a few more transformation spells, and then head back to the library for lunch.”

So for the next half hour, in the calmness of Whitetail Woods, I honed my magic skills a little more. Without the distraction of the town, I was able to get a few spells down. Most of the exercises required me to alter the leaves in some way, either changing their colour, their shape or combine that with a levitation spell to create images with the leaves. It was a strange combination of science and art. Twilight was especially proud of one piece that showed her and the Mane Six defeating Nightmare Moon and saving Princess Luna.

When Twilight had put me through every exercise she could think of, we headed back through the woods. This time though, it quickly became a race and we began to gallop through the trees at breakneck speeds. This, and the race next week, was probably as close as I would get to being in a cavalry charge, and I was certainly seeing it from a unique perspective. We shot out of the woods and followed the path back to the library.

Being a gentlecolt, I insisted on taking Twilight out for lunch in town. We went to a favourite café of hers. It was a nice little place, somewhat like a café I had frequented back on Earth when I was in university. The food was simple, but really tasty, I still have yet to find a better daisy sandwich anywhere in Equestria.

With lunch over, we both returned to the library. When we got there though, we found Spike was sitting outside waiting for us. The look on his face, whilst not outright panic, was still pretty concerned. We both paused and looked at each other, both wondering what he was doing outside. We quickly increased our speed to a trot to reach him more quickly. When we reached him he said one thing.

“I swear I had nothing to do with this.” He indicated the library interior.

Looking inside we were confronted with an, unusual sight. Dozens of books were now flying around the library, their covers flapping like wings. The noise was extremely loud, not just from all the flapping, but also from the strange cries that came from the books themselves. Poor Twilight simply froze in shock, while I facehoofed.

“Argh! There’s only one being on this planet that can be responsible for this!” I complained in annoyance.

“You rang?” Discord replied, sitting comfortably in the centre of the library, one of the avian books perched on his shoulder.

“Discord!” said Twilight. “What the Hay are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be in Canterlot helping the princesses?”

“Oh it’s alright, little princess. I’m on a break.” Discord proclaimed happily. “That and I had to see the newest addition to your group again.” He looked at me, grinning like the maniac he was.

“Discord, you are going to put my books back the way you found them, and then you’re going straight back to Canterlot.” In response, Discord turned himself into a childlike form and pouted.

“Oh but Twilight!” he complained. “I’m so bored! Celestia doesn’t let me mess with any of the nobleponies; I don’t get to cause any chaos anymore.”

“You’re causing chaos now, Discord,” I said “Me and Twilight were just about to get back to magic practice when you turned up.” This caused Discord to raise an eyebrow and return to his usual form.

“Oh, so the human’s learning magic is he, how odd. And from Twilight as well. Have you got your eye on somepony, Princess?” This caused both Twilight and myself to turn beet red, which in turn, set Discord laughing like a hyena. Luckily, at that point he decided he caused enough chaos and disappeared in a flash.

When we both recovered from our embarrassment, Twilight positively fumed. First, the pair of us, with Spike’s, and a while later my parents’ help, had to catch all the books and turn them back into actual non-flying books. While this was frustrating, it did give me a chance to learn how to reverse the effects of minor chaos magic. After that, Twilight had Spike send a letter off to Princess Celestia all but demanding Discord’s head. Only then could we get back to work. The whole debacle cost us a good three hours, but we still got a fair amount of studying done. Twilight told me that she wanted me to try teleportation tomorrow, a skill not usable by every unicorn.

With class dismissed for the day, I again returned to Sweet Apple Acres. On the way I bumped into Fluttershy. She was still looking after Lizzie while my parents finalised the purchase of the house they had selected. I hadn’t seen it yet, but Mum had told me about it while Twilight was writing her letter. It was a nice little place, in town and quite close to the Schoolhouse. Three bedrooms, a spacious living room as well as a dining room/kitchen combo and two bathrooms. All in all it sounded like a nice place, and they were getting it for a good price too.

Lizzie was still staying with Fluttershy and continued to help her look after all the animals. After getting over the shock of the stampede, the rest of the census had gone off without a hitch and the creatures had gone on their merry way. I asked her if she was coming to watch the Running of the Leaves next week.

“Oh yes, I always go to see all the other ponies race. I’m also in charge of making sure all the animals are away from the racecourse so they don’t get hurt,” she said.

“Are you rooting for anypony this year then?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m going to be cheering for Rainbow Dash again. I’ve been practicing ever so hard. Watch.” With that she inhaled deeply, reared up on her hind legs, before falling forward and proclaiming, in her typical voice, ‘yay’. I swear to Celestia, right then I was overcome by cuteness, adorableness and everything else the fandom attributes to Fluttershy. She did though become concerned by the slightly goofy look on my face caused by the sheer amount of ‘d’awww’.

With that, I headed back to the farm. It was sort of strange to come on to Sweet Apple Acres and find all of the apples gone from the trees. They were all being stored in the barns for now, though starting next week, along with selling the freshly made cider, which was gone by nine anyway, Applejack would be selling bushels of apples in the market. I wondered if she’d take Apple Bloom with her this time. From what I had seen, that filly had all but invented pressure selling in Equestria. There were still other crops too; you couldn’t run a farm on just apples. The farm also sported corn, carrots, potatoes and a variety of other crops as well.

At day’s end I headed off to bed. Ideally tomorrow, I’d get in a proper training session with AJ and RD, learn from the best and all that. While I was certain I had no chance of winning against either of those two, I did want to finish in a respectable position. However, that night I wasn’t in for a typical night’s sleep.

Chapter 21 - Nightmare

View Online

I found myself wide awake in the middle of the night. It seemed like I had only closed my eyes for a moment before I was wide awake again. I tried for about half an hour to get back to sleep, but despite my tossing and turning, rearranging the pillow and counting sheep, rest would not come. So I decided to do what I had always done back on Earth when insomnia had struck, I went for a walk.

I tiptoed downstairs so as not to wake anypony else in the house. I knew I would regret doing this tomorrow; it was already two in the morning when I headed out. I set out amongst the bare apple trees in the moonlight. Like everything, the moonlight gave the farm a beautiful quality unmatched by the light of the day. I kept up a steady trot as I wandered in an aimless pattern through the trees.

As I turned around, I saw an odd glow in the distance. There was light emanating from Ponyville, as if the entire town was up and about. I had been going around the acres for a few hours or so by my reckoning, and I estimated it to be around five. Applejack and her family might get up soon, but Ponyville was usually silent until around seven or eight o’clock. As always is the case, I decided to investigate and headed toward town.

As I neared the small hamlet, I could hear voices, lots of them. It seemed as if not only were the residents of Ponyville awake, but they had also taken to the streets. Why though? It was far too early; I could even hear the shouts of excited foals badgering their parents. Something was off, that was certain. My hypothesis was conformed as I noticed the decorated state of the town. Everywhere I looked as I crossed the river, were banners and streamers and balloons. They each bore the same thing, the cutie mark of Princess Celestia.

Why would she be here? And where were the banners of Princess Luna? She was the ruler of the night after all. As I reached Town Hall, I found myself in a crowd of ponies, with no humans to be found. If everypony was up and out of their beds, where were the members of my family?

The whole area was ringed with Royal Guards; evidently the Princesses were due to make an appearance. As I moved through the crowd, I bumped into Lyra. Since she had concluded her interviews, we were on relatively good terms with one another, though I quickly discovered the idea of her being a reincarnated human like me to be false.

“Hey Lyra,” I greeted her. “What’s everypony doing out here at this hour? I thought I was the only one who liked to stargaze round here.” The equine anthropologist looked at me incredulously, as if I had said the maddest thing in the world.

“Come on, Blade Star,” she chided. “This is the most important event of the year! She’s going to be here any minute!” The mare was acting like a little foal on Hearths Warming.

“The princesses you mean. I take it that’s what all these Royal Guards are here for. But where’s the Lunar Guard, aren’t they pitching in?” Again Lyra looked at me as if I had gone mad.

“Blade Star what do you mean? There’s no such thing as a Lunar Guard. And what the Hay do you mean by ‘princesses’?” Before I could form a response, our attention was taken by a sight that made my blood run cold.

A strange blue mist swept around the assembled crowd moving up toward the balcony on Town Hall. I had seen that mist once before, way back in the past, when I first discovered the fandom. The mist settled on the balcony, forming into one of Equestria’s deadliest foes.

“Oh my beloved subjects,” a dark voice called out. “It’s been so long since I’ve seen your precious, little sun-loving faces.” Nightmare Moon; she was back!

For the record, I despise Nightmare Moon. She wrongly took the title of Princess of the Night and forcibly took control of Luna. I will not, till the day I die, forget that look of absolute terror on Luna's face as the transformation consumed her. However, there was little I, or anypony else, could do against her, she was an alicorn after all.

I was panicking. I had to do something, beneath that monster was Princess Luna, the pony I admired above all others. I had to do something, I had to save her. I looked around for Twilight and the others, but I could not see them anywhere. As the Royal Guard attempted to restrain her, Nightmare Moon lashed out at them, sending them flying backwards.

Wait a minute. This wasn’t a return. It was a rerun. At last the puzzle pieces fitted together perfectly. I was in the past, somehow, back in the time of the pilot. This was the return of the Mare in the Moon after her one thousand year banishment. But there was no sign of Twilight, no sign of the Elements, just me. So, with my heart pounding and a desperate desire to save the pony underneath the armour she wore, I stepped out of the crowd.

“Nightmare Moon!” I shouted. This drew the attention of the twisted princess. “Well, well, well, somepony who remembers me. Then you also know why I'm here.”

“You seek eternal night,” I replied fearfully,. “But you are no princess of Equestria, your crown is false. You are not the Princess of the Night.” At once the enraged alicorn was beside me.

“Do you care to repeat that?” she asked coldly.

“Princess Luna is the Princess of the Night, not you!” I answered, with more defiance in my voice now. “You are just a twisted reflection! Return both princesses to us, you have no authority!” And so, I was introduced to a world of pain. Lightning arced across my form, I felt like my skin was being burnt off.

“No authority!” The Nightmare answered. “You foal! I am Luna! I always have been! The only difference between me and her is that I am willing to stand up for myself.” She flung me across the courtyard, at last releasing me from whatever spell she had used to attack me. “I am the ruler of Equestria now! The night shall last forever!”

She was not Luna. Luna would never do this. Somewhere in that monster she lay dormant, unable to move or speak. Without the Elements, I would have to find some other method to redeem her.

“Luna, I know you are in there!” I called out to the Nightmare. “You know this is wrong, you have to fight her. Night-time eternal will destroy everything. Then you will have no one. It will be just you, alone, for all of time. Remove that armour and let me help you.” For the briefest moment, I saw Nightmare Moon’s eyes return to Luna’s own. They were no longer reptilian, but were those wonderful blue orbs that you could get so deeply lost in. But just as quickly they returned to their previous state.

“You lie! You are just another of my pathetic sister’s lackeys. No matter what, I will always be in her shadow! Ponies like you shall not live in my new kingdom!” She reared up to attack me, this time it would be a killing blow. I braced myself. I had tried, but she was consumed, without the Elements, we were lost. I wondered why Twilight and the others were not here. It might have been fun to accompany them on their quest and be there to see Princess Luna’s redemption. But instead, I would die here.

Then though, the sane world intervened. The moon, which had hung motionless over the sky since Nightmare Moon returned, flashed a dazzling light. It was not the cold light of the moon under the Nightmare, but the soothing, gentle light I associated with Luna’s magic. Everypony, including the Nightmare looked away from the sudden bright light.

“Foul creature!” a familiar voice called. “You have a place here no longer, leave this place at once!” The Nightmare took a combat stance.

“What are you? The moon is mine!”

“You are incorrect, Nightmare Moon,” the voice replied. Again, the moon flashed and the speaker appeared. Luna was here, though I had no idea how. “I think you’ll find that the moon is mine, and that you are no longer a part of me.”

For a third time, the light of the moon increased beyond its normal levels. It began to form a beam towards Nightmare Moon, who cast spell after spell against Luna, to little effect. As the light focused, the dark alicorn screamed in rage. And then, she was gone. Everything vanished for a moment. The world then reformed and I found myself again on Sweet Apple Acres, with the true Princess of the Night beside me.

“Are you alright now, Blade Star?” she asked. “That was a very powerful nightmare. I have not seen one that strong for a while.” She paused again as I worked out what was going on. I had been dreaming, it was a nightmare, literally. She had come to save me from it. “You are correct. You are asleep.”

“I suppose it was a sort of attempt at wish fulfilment,” I replied at length. “I just wished I could have saved you, but I couldn't.” I bowed my head, my ears splayed back. Luna placed her hoof on my shoulder.

“Not even my sister could save me then, Blade Star. It took the full power of the Elements to release me from that horror. Nopony, no matter how noble their intent, could have talked me down that night. Though I must say, you did seem to come quite close. And now I am free of that dark influence.” She smiled at me, lifting my spirits somewhat. I then noticed something.

“Hey, you aren’t speaking using the Royal ‘we’ or any of that other old language from your time.” This caused her to giggle slightly in a very un-princess like way.

“I only use that way of speaking when I am in the castle. Tia suggested I try to adapt to speaking in this modern tongue, to help ponies accept me more easily,” she replied. It was nice to have a ‘normal’ conversation with her. “Besides, our time is now. Is it not natural that I talk in the correct manner?”

A wind began to pick up. I knew this to be a sign that I was waking up. Luna too sensed this, and began to take flight. As she moved away from me, she offered a piece of parting advice.

“Remember Blade Star, not everything is in your power. Some things you just have to accept and cope with. You cannot always play the hero, sometimes you need to just live your life.” And with that she, and the dream world we inhabited, was gone.

I woke up relatively peacefully. I was soaked in sweat from the bad dream, but I didn’t awaken with a start. However, I did bolt upright when I opened my eyes. The entire Apple family were gathered around my bed. They all had looks of worry on their faces, though these were now changing to looks of relief.

“What the Sam Hay are you folk all doin’ up here?” I asked in my southern accent. “Ain’t ya ever heard of privacy?”

“We were all just so worried about ya, Blade Star,” Applejack replied.

“Yeah!” chipped in Apple Bloom. “You started tossin’ and turnin’ in the night. An’ ya kept callin’ out ‘Luna’ over an’ over again. We tried to wake ya up, but we couldn’t. Ah was just about to go to get Twilight to see if she could help ya.” I relaxed and smiled.

“It’s okay y'all. Princess Luna herself came to save my sorry hide,” I replied. It occurred to me that Luna had never heard my other way of speaking. I wondered what she’d make of it compared to my much more prim and proper British accent, though that was probably a Trottingham accent to her.

I got myself up. I had definitely tossed about in the night, and the sheets would need a wash to get the sweat out of them. Despite Luna’s intervention, the nightmare had shaken me up more than I cared to admit, the image of Nightmare Moon always had.

I went across the hall to the bathroom and splashed some water on my face. This both woke me up and assured me beyond all measure that I was awake. Though just to be on the safe side, I watched the clock in my room for two minutes. After that, I went down for a late breakfast, I had slept in to half eight. I had another magic lesson with Twilight at nine, so I quickly had breakfast before heading for the front door.

“Hey Blade Star, mind if Ah come and watch you an’ Twilight practice magic today when school’s out for lunch?” Apple Bloom asked. You can’t say no to that filly, so I agreed. In addition, since we were both going the same way, I offered to walk her in to school, so AJ could get in some more training. And with that, we set out for town and our respective schools.

Chapter 22 - Leap of Faith

View Online

Finding myself once again at the library, I let myself in and found Twilight hard at work, surrounded by a variety of books on teleportation. Today, possibly, I might learn how to do that. According to the lesson plan she had given me, the entire day was set aside for attempting to learn basic, short range teleportation. If this came off, I would be a very happy unicorn to say the least.

“Morning Twilight,” I said as I closed the door behind me.

“Oh, good morning, Blade Star,” she replied, looking up from the text she was currently engrossed in. “Ready to start? I hope you read that bit of light reading I gave you.”

Twilight’s ‘light reading’ was a 400 page long tome, with tiny writing. I was glad that I no longer needed glasses in this new form, for I would have undoubtedly struggled to read it without my current 20/20 vision. It was tricky enough that I had to translate it in my head. My knowledge of modern Equestrian was coming on in leaps and bounds. It wasn’t as if I was learning a new language, with grammar rules and all sorts, the only difference was how individual letters were written, Equestrian had the same alphabet as I was used to.

Teleportation was, with the exception of high level alicorn and element magic, the most complex spell any magical creature could hope to create. It took vast amounts of concentration. From what I had read, even the slightest lapse could have disastrous consequences, such as teleporting yourself into a solid object. So, no pressure.

I wouldn’t be practicing the actual spell until later in the afternoon. The entire morning consisted of Twilight lecturing me on how the spell functioned. As I said, it required lots of concentration to accomplish. I remembered when she herself had partially botched an attempt, singeing both Spike, who was out on errand at the moment, and herself in the process. Hopefully, I wouldn’t do that. Twilight went on to talk about the actual casting. Without resorting to a very long lecture on how magic functions, to teleport, you had to weave a variety of spells together, keeping them all stable at the same time. When casting of course, a pony also briefly disappeared from the world. Only for a nanosecond, but it was a dangerous time, when you could fall out of the spell, and never rematerialize.

With all the safety stuff explained and drilled into my head by Twilight, who refused to move on until I could repeat all of it in my sleep, we began to study the spell itself. I still could not believe I was doing this. Teleportation, a dream of most humans since they first saw it on Star Trek, the possibilities were endless, assuming I could do it. Not every unicorn had the ability to cast such a spell.

Twilight herself, with the special talent of magic itself, had no trouble learning and frequently casting such a spell, and any alicorn could do it in their sleep. But for others though, it was not always doable. Rarity for example, despite having wielded the Element of Generosity could not teleport. Her special talent focused on fashion and her gem finding ability. My special talent, supposedly, was protecting ponies, though that still seemed a bit much for me. As such, neither I nor Twilight were sure one way or the other if I could teleport. But it never hurt to try.

So for the next few hours, I practiced the spell. I never cast it, only attempted to form it. This meant I cast my horn alight and went as if I was going to teleport, but at the last moment, I would deactivate the spell.

“It looks promising, Blade Star,” Twilight said encouragingly. “You seem to be able to reach the point of casting without trouble. A couple more practice attempts, and I think you’ll be ready to try.” I was glad of this; it was getting on for lunchtime.

After three more successful attempts, Twilight deemed me ready to give it a shot. It would be a simple teleport. All I had to do was teleport three feet to my left. This was an easy enough distance, not requiring loads of magic, but also enough to see if I had actually teleported, rather than just briefly phasing out.

I now stood in the dead centre of the library. In a few moments, I would either be the first human, sort of, to use teleportation, or I’d have spent over five hours learning about a spell I could never use myself. Twilight gave me one last check-up. When she pronounced me ready, she stepped back.

“Okay Blade Star. It’s all up to you now. Good luck.”

I closed my eyes and began to concentrate. I felt and heard my horn cast alight. I began to weave the spell together, bringing more magic together than I ever had before. Pushing my fears aside, I moved towards casting. The power of the spell increased, and I could see the light of my horn, even through my closed eyelids. The spell was now ready and stable. All I had to do now was cast it. I took a deep breath and, figuratively, jumped.

“Hey Blade Star. What ya doin’?” asked a voice suddenly, as the library door banged open.

I lost focus for a moment. Suddenly a wave of magic shot across me, causing me to cry out. The spell was becoming unstable. I had to shut it down. But it was too late, as I panicked, I began to cast. I felt the strange sensations Twilight told me were associated with teleportation, and I could tell they were not the normal ones. As I felt my body begin to phase out, I heard Twilight cry out.

“Blade Star!” she screamed. And with that, I was gone.

The magic of the teleport subsided. I seemed to have phased back into existence. Opening my eyes, I was confronted with darkness. Twilight had told me about this place, this was the Void. A teleporting unicorn or alicorn briefly passed through here, but it seemed like I had materialised here. As I began to panic, I quickly found that I couldn’t focus enough to try and teleport again. I could very well be trapped here.

“Blade Star!” came Twilight’s voice again. I cheered in my mind; she had come to save me from this place. I looked around for her, but in the darkness I could not see her.

“Twilight!” I called out. “I’m over here. This way!” I replied. Desperate to find her I cast my horn alight.

What I saw confused me. I could see towels, and pipes. Certainly an odd setting for the Void, called Hell by some species. Suddenly my world was bathed in bright light, and I saw Twilight smiling at me.

“Oh thank goodness!” she said. “For a moment I thought I’d lost you.” She pulled me out into the light, and I was in the library once again, relived to be back.

“Certainly a strange place that Void, Twilight,” I said. This drew a confused and eventually humorous expression from my teacher. As well as a giggle from Applebloom, who had obviously been the one to enter and throw me off.

“Blade Star, that wasn’t the Void. That was my closet,” I balked. Turning around, I saw that I had emerged from the small cupboard. I suppose the towels should have been a hint. “You just teleported in there when Applebloom came in and spooked you.”

“Well,” I said. “At least I know I can teleport now.” Silence persisted for a second before we all burst out laughing at the silliness of the situation. Apple Bloom then spoke up.

“Ah’m sorry I scared you, Blade Star. Ah didn’t realise that you two were so busy.” I smiled at her. You can’t stay mad at a face like that.

“It’s okay Apple Bloom. Ah’m okay. Besides, even if somethin’ had gone wrong, Twilight would have come saved my hide. Right, Twi?” I said. Twilight looked confused however.

“Blade Star, what in the wide, wide world of Equestria happened to your voice? You sound like Applejack’s cousin.” I realised that in talking to Applebloom, I had switched accents.

“Not sure, Twi,” I answered. “But, ah always talk like this back on the farm an’ whenever ah’m with the Apple clan.” This just caused Twilight to smile and shake her head.

“You’re almost as random as Pinkie Pie,” she said “Can you change back?” After a couple of attempts, we found that I could, provided that I concentrate. So I switched back to my ‘Trottingham’ accent to talk to Twilight.

“Well, now that we’ve got teleportation down. I suppose I best be off to get some training in with Applejack.” I paused. “Hey, do you think I can try teleporting there? It’s only a five minute walk.” Twilight gave her consent, and I disappeared in a flash of light.

I almost made it to where I wanted to go. My desire to show off came back to haunt me. I found myself again in Whitetail Wood, just not on the ground. In full view of Rainbow and Applejack, I was literally up a tree. Without much ceremony, I climbed down as the two mares looked on, sniggering behind their hooves.

“So how’d the magic practice go, Blade Star?” Rainbow asked sarcastically. At this point, both of them broke down into a fit of giggles.

“Can we just get to training, RD?” I asked, slightly irritated. “Or do you want to fall behind and see me overtake you on Thursday?” This got her into her competitive mind set.

So for the next three and a half hours, we ran and reran the course. The two mares were pretty much evenly matched, while I tagged along a few seconds behind. I may be fitter than I had been as a human, but I was still no athlete.

As we finished our fourth consecutive run, we paused for a rest. We all now had a good feel for the course. The majority of it was flat with only a few inclines. As such, it was more of a straight gallop. However, the length of the course meant that we had to pace ourselves carefully. Applejack told me how those in front tend to be quite tired, but those who finish further back even more so, due to poor pacing. As we headed back into town, we continued to jog to warm down. Rainbow took to the air as we walked. This reminded me of something I, along with every other brony, wanted to ask her.

“Hey Rainbow. Can you do the Sonic Rainboom for me sometime? I’ve seen it on the show a few times, but I’d love to see it in real life.” The Pegasus moved down to trot alongside me.

“Sure I can do it, but it’ll have to be somewhere out of the way. Last time I did it near Ponyville, I pretty much blew out every window in town. Twilight had me picking up all the glass for days,” she replied, wincing at the memory.

After we set up a time, roughly a day or two after the race, RD took off for her cloud home, while Applejack and I headed back to the farm.

“Ya know Blade Star,” she said. “Ah heard yer folks are gonna be closin’ the deal on their house in a couple days. Maybe tomorrow, ya could go an’ pay them a visit.” She was right; I hadn’t seen much of my family recently. It would be good to see their new home to be and to catch up generally. They’d certainly be in for a shock when I teleported in.

I promised AJ I would go and see them, as well as Lizzie tomorrow. Twilight had given me Sunday to rest and read up on the things I had learnt. She had also agreed to postpone the lessons over the next week beginning again on the Monday after the race. As such, I had tomorrow off from my magic lessons. I therefore decided to devote tomorrow to the thing I valued most, my family.

Chapter 23 - Sunday

View Online

Today was Sunday. I had had an agreement with my parents about Sundays. In spite of my atheist beliefs, on the first Sunday of every month, I would accompany them to church. This would be a change for them. My family were by no means ‘god fearing people’, but they did believe in attending every week. In Equestria though, there were no churches.

The show had never been fully clear on this matter, but as far as I was aware, Equestria lacked the concept of religion. It wasn’t really necessary when you could simply make an appointment to see one of the princesses. While they themselves were not gods, they were fairly close to the definition.

As such, it seemed Sunday in Equestria was set aside simply as a day of rest, without any theistic connotations. Most of the shops in town were closed as was the school. Twilight kept the library open, but she rarely saw any patrons on a Sunday. As she had also suspended our magic lessons until the Monday after the Running of the Leaves, I had little to do. This was very much the calm before the storm though. Next week, until Wednesday, was Cider Season, and then on Thursday was the race. As I wouldn’t have a great deal of time on my hooves in the near future, I decided to use this moment to visit my family. I had neglected them a bit since everything had settled down.

My parents had selected a nice enough house just outside of town. It was by no means out in the sticks as our previous home had been, but it was a good walk to Town Hall. The final sale of the property was due in a day or so and I wanted to have a look round before then.

So, after breakfast, I set off for the address I had been given. Twilight had said she and my parents would meet me there to show me around. Rarity had really come into her own over the matter. Owing to my family’s unusual nature, non-pony furniture, such as chairs and higher tables were required. This was being handled by carpenters in town. Rarity however, had insisted on helping with the interior design, in addition to extending my family’s wardrobe to more than a mere two outfits each. It was therefore no surprise when I ran into her on the way there.

“Hello Rarity,” I called as I spotted the white unicorn ahead of me.

“Oh, hello Blade Star,” she replied, leaning out from behind the pile of clothes held in her magical grip. “I just thought I’d deliver these new ensembles to your mother and father. I simply cannot stand the idea of them only possessing a couple meagre outfits.” I rolled my eyes at this, although it was very generous of her.

“Really my dear, you are too kind,” I chided her. “You’ve made almost a dozen outfits between them, at least let me pay you for the material, if not for the work.” Rarity instantly harrumphed.

“I insisted that these be free. They are gifts, and I shall not take a single bit from either you or them.” She held her head high with her eyes closed. There was no way I could argue with that. So, we quickly fell into normal conversation.

“How’s business at the Boutique been then? I heard from reputable sources,” (Pinkie Pie) “that you’ve had quite a few orders for your autumn line.” She nodded.

“Quite, though I’m already working on the new winter collection. Fashion does move at such a pace, Blade Star, sometimes it is hard to keep up.” She paused for a moment. “You know Sweetie Belle talks about you all the time. It would be nice if you could stop by for tea at some point.”

I inwardly groaned at this. Rarity was a wonderful pony, but afternoon tea with her could be, to quote Discord ‘quite dull’. I quickly wracked my brains for a credible excuse, or even a way to postpone such a thing. But before I could she offered another suggestion.

“Actually Blade Star, in a couple of weeks, I will be going up to Canterlot to show off my new line at Hoity Toity’s fashion show. If you don’t mind, I would appreciate a stallion such as yourself coming with me.” I raised my eyebrow at this, causing her to start and instantly backtrack. “No no no, I didn’t mean like that! Just as a friend and for appearances.” She smiled hopefully at me.

“Oh alright,” I said, giving in. “just let me clear it with Applejack and Twilight first though.” It wouldn’t hurt to go with her, and I hadn’t spent as much time with Rarity as I had with the others. So, after Cider Season and the race, I was off to Canterlot.

As we continued to chat, the house came into view. It was a nice looking place. Standing out on its own was a two story building. Out front was a decent fenced garden, with a path leading to the front door. Vines climbed up the entire front facing wall of the house. Looking in through the windows, I could distinguish the kitchen on one side, and a living room on the other. The whole thing struck me as homely. The sort of building you imagine as the archetypal childhood home. Waiting for us was Twilight and my parents.

“Hello Rarity, hello Blade Star,” Greeted Twilight. We both returned her greeting.

“Hey there, my boy,” Said my father. Neither of my parents, or Lizzie for that matter had been able to convince themselves to call me by my new name. Fairly understandable I guess, for the moment they both called me son, boy or something to that effect, while Lizzie called me bro. The latter I have yet to explain, she never called me that back on Earth.

My dad had the keys to the house with him, borrowed from the estate agent. He turned the key in the lock and let us in. It was still quite strange to stand next to any member of my family. As a human, I had been about 5’8, now though, I was just a little over 4’2, though I could regain my height if I stood on my hind legs. As a result, I was the shortest person in my family. It’s so strange to go from being taller than both my mum and little sister; to having them both tower over me. On the other hand, everything in this world was better suited for me, most of the furniture in this house was being custom made due to the difference in scale.

Walking inside, I was greeted by a very nice, cosy hallway. There were two doors, each one leading to either the living room or the kitchen. In front of us was the stairs, which led up to the bedrooms and the upstairs bathroom. Beyond the stairs was the utility, leading to the back garden. All in all, the building was not very deep, but it by no means felt cramped. It reminded me of my old home back on Earth.

“You weren’t kidding. This is a pretty nice place, Mum,” I said, having looked all around the ground floor.

“Yes,” she replied. “As soon as the sale goes through and the new furniture’s finished, we can get out from under poor Twilight’s hooves.

“Oh please,” Twilight countered. “It’s been great having you two over. And you’re welcome to drop by anytime.” She turned to my father. “Do you want to hang onto those law books, Roger?”

“Sure, if you don’t mind. Your princesses said I could start working at the court tomorrow as I now have sufficient knowledge of your laws. Hey, while I’m thinking about it, I better stop by the train station; see if I can get a season ticket or something for the commute.”

Since my father would be working in Canterlot, he would need to take a train pretty early on. That was no different to what he did back on Earth. Day Court was held every weekday, so it would be similar to his old routine. He handed the house keys to my mother.

“Here, take these back when you’re done, love. And don’t forget to lock the door behind you.” He turned to face me. “Fancy coming down to the station, lad? I could use the company.” I agreed and we both set off, leaving Twilight, Rarity and my mother to continue to look around the house.

We headed back the way me and Rarity had come, and entered Ponyville proper. It was nice to see they were both settling in. Soon enough, they would have their own home, and Lizzie would be able to join them if she wanted to. We both strolled down the main thoroughfare towards the station. It was a nice enough building, but relatively non-descript. We were confronted with the timetable and price list, in Equestrian, of course.

“Erm, I don’t suppose you could translate this lot for me?” My dad asked hopefully. I sighed and responded, setting in motion an odd turn of events. Firstly, my southern accent kicked in.

“Dammit, Dad! I’m a unicorn not a universal translator!” I complained. Instantly though, my father had a smile on his face. The kind of smile you associate with trolls. There was a brief silence.

“That’s it!” He exclaimed all of a sudden. “I know what I’ll call you now.” I already half saw where this was going, the effect of a particular turn of phrase and my southern accent pointing to one logical answer.

“What?” I asked half-heartedly.

“I shall call you ‘Bones’!” he professed. I bloody knew it! He took his liking for Star Trek way too far. On the other hand, at least he’d stop calling me ‘boy’. Resigned to my fate, I set about translating everything for him and we managed to get him a season pass for Canterlot.

With that done, we walked to the nearby park. Sitting down, my father looked at me curiously.

“You know you look like a dog when you sit like that, right?” He said. I laughed as I looked at the natural position I had taken up on the bench.

“Would you rather I sit like Lyra does then?” I briefly repositioned myself into what resembled my father’s posture. “Because I can tell you, this is by no means comfy for a quadruped.” We both laughed as I resettled.

“Bones, I know it’s you in there, but I still can’t get over it,” he said at length, shaking his head and smiling. “It’s just so strange, knowing that my own son is a, well.” He trailed off.

“A horse, a pony?” I offered, he nodded. “You just have to realise dad, these ponies aren’t like the ones on Earth. Don’t think of them as ponies, think of them as aliens. That’s what they are really, except for appearances; they’re nothing like the creatures we remember.” This seemed to give him food for thought, and we both relaxed for a while.

“How’s Applejack?” he eventually asked. “You seem to really have settled down up there.” He grinned as if he was implying something.

“She’s fine; we’re all getting ready for the start of Cider Season tomorrow. There ought to be around two dozen barrels of the stuff every day. You just wait; the queue’ll be a mile long.” My father smiled knowingly.

As he was about to continue, he was interrupted by Spike, who ran up to us. In his claw was a scroll bearing the seal of Princess Celestia.

“Hi you two. Just got this when I was cleaning the library, looks important.” He handed the scroll to my father. Breaking the seal and opening the scroll, my father was confronted by a letter written in Equestrian. I cast my horn alight and gently took the letter from him.

“Here, let me translate that for you,” I said, pre-empting his request. I looked over the letter, quickly translating the letters in my mind. “Dear Roger. As you now feel that you are ready to aid me here in Canterlot, please find enclosed your Royal Travel Pass. As a representative of the Equestrian government, you have the right to free travel across the nation for the purpose of work. I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Signed Princess Celestia. P.S, Sorry I didn’t give this to you in my last letter, it completely slipped my mind.” I couldn’t help but grin.

“Well, looks like Trollestia strikes again,” I said jokingly. “Come on, we can probably get that ticket refunded.” My father laughed as well.

“I still can’t get over the whole magic thing,” he said. “Even you’re using it now.” I decided not to show off my teleport ability this time, he seemed more than fascinated by levitation and Spike’s fire breath. We headed back to the station; luckily my father was able to get his money back, particularly after he displayed his newly acquired pass.

We then returned to the library. Lizzie had returned to Fluttershy’s, while my mother and Twilight had come back here. We found the human in the kitchen cooking happily, while Twilight busied herself with reshelving books. By the smell of things, my mother was doing a nice soup dish for dinner.

“This must be the first time you’ve cooked for a princess, eh Mom?” I said as our little trio entered.

“Oh dear, you know Twilight doesn’t care for that title,” she replied. “You staying for dinner?” I was about to decline and head on home for the evening, but I did promise myself that I’d spend more time with my family today, so I agreed.

“Sure why not. You making croutons to go with that?” I asked.

Chapter 24 - Cider Season

View Online

I was up and working early on, even by Applejack’s standards, the next morning. With the moon setting behind us, we hauled out the cider press and the hundreds of apple bushels for cider making. The idea was that we would make the first batch this morning, fresh for the customers, and then keep going all through Cider Season to keep up with demand. Even as me and Big Mac strained at the cider press, we could see and hear the first ponies stirring from the many tents set up along the fence line.

The system of making the cider was the same as I was familiar with. Granny Smith acted as quality control, inspecting every single apple to ensure it was suitable for cider, discarding it if it was not, and throwing it into the press if it was. Applejack and Applebloom would work together in a rally to bring new bushels of apples out each time the current one was exhausted. As for the two males of the Apple household, I and Big Mac would run on the treadmill of the press, certainly good training for the race.

We hauled the cider press into position near the barn; Big Mac had spent the last few days reassembling the contraption. Despite his apparently simple nature, Big Mac was apparently quite intelligent. If you could convince him to open up. It wasn’t that he didn’t like to talk, just that for most of the time, he preferred to listen. He was actually quite a complex character.

“Alright you two unhitch yerselves and get ready to start runnin’,” called Applejack as she brought out the first load of apples. We both disentangled ourselves from the harnesses and stepped onto the treadmill.

“Okay,” I said, mainly to myself. “If we start slow and ease our way up to a high speed, we should be able to churn out enough cider for everypony.” Starting at a run was almost impossible anyway, and a smoother pace was needed to create the best cider.

“Eeyup. Just take ‘er nice an’ steady,” said the red stallion next to me. And with that, we braced ourselves on the treadmill. We let Granny Smith sort through the first bushel and Applejack bring the second before we started a slow walk.

The cider press, considering Equestria had the beginnings of computers, was remarkably basic. I stood on the treadmill, which via pulleys and ropes moved a great circular stone which would press the apples, the juice then went into barrels which would ferment for a few hours before being sold as cider. Naturally, this didn’t fit with my own knowledge, but then again, this was Equestria and I was a previously fictional equine.

By the time the sun began to break the horizon, marking the hoofover of power between the two princesses, we had about a dozen barrels happily waiting. This first spate of production would slow as Applejack and her younger sister invariably broke off to serve the cider and take in the Bits.

As the many ponies that had spent the night camped out in front of the acres emerged, we had over thirty barrels ready and waiting.

“Oh come on! Again?!” Came the distraught cry from poor RD, as she found herself far back in the queue. However, with Applejack’s agreement, I had taken measures to see that this time, the Pegasus had no trouble in getting at least one mug.

Big Mac and myself kept up a steady pace on the press as new bushels were steadily sent in. Further back by Granny Smith I could hear her continuous commentary on apples, consisting of ‘good un’ and ‘bad un’ depending on the quality. This was really more like a day’s worth of training for me, three days running on this press would improve my already good stamina no end. I called out to Applejack who had just left the stall.

“Ya know it’s mighty strange, AJ. Before ah came here, I was the laziest feller you’d ever see. You and yer family have made a new pony out of me. Hay, I wonder if y’all’d even recognise me if I was still human.” This drew a smile from Applejack.

“You were lazy, Blade Star? Really? Cos ah’ve known ya fer a couple weeks now, and Ah say yer one the most hardworkin’ ponies ah’ve ever met,” Applejack answered, surprised. “Besides, ya said yerself, yer a new pony now.”

I suppose it had only recently begun to dawn on me properly. I was a new pony. I wondered how much of the ‘me’ that had first crossed dimensions, the ‘me’ that was human, was left. Running on a cider press for a few hours will make anypony philosophical and wistful, regardless of their species.

As the sun rose higher, the temperature inevitably increased. Luckily, to ensure we didn’t sweat ourselves away, AJ called a halt to our work at midday. Both me and Big Mac went back to the farmhouse to have a quick drink and rest up. So once again, I was to have a conversation with the ever talkative Big Macintosh.

“So,” I began. My slightly improved social skills weren’t going to be of much help here.

“Eeyup?” Big Mac replied.

“How many Cider Seasons have you seen then?” A fair enough question, considering the pointlessness of discussing the weather.

“Getting’ on fer two dozen ah s’pose,” he replied. “Bin at it every year since sis got back from Manehatten.” I remembered that little story. It still made me smile, the idea of the Applejack I knew mixing with some high class city slickers. For some reason though, it also made me uneasy.

“Ah’ve heard a fair bit about that place, kinda like a city back on Earth, New York. Looks the same, has the same type of folks. Same problems.” This seemed to peak Mac’s interests.

Half an hour later, Applejack came to fetch us to relieve her at the stall. Big Mac would go back to the press, while she and Apple Bloom would continue bringing in fresh apples. What she found was her brother and me chatting openly. I must say, when you get Big Mac talking, he knows his cookies. We chatted about Manehatten, city life and our mutual distaste for it, as well as dipping into politics, something I had not expected of him. This also, I suppose marked an increase in his acceptance of me. He had never had any sort of problem with me, but he was just a little overprotective of his siblings. I chalked that up to whatever had happened to their parents, and I didn’t intend to open that can of worms.

“Well, as much as I hate to break up you two country hens, it’s time to get back to work,” Applejack said as we halted our conversation.

“Alright AJ, we’re goin’, we’re goin’., I said good naturedly. “I’m on the tap right?”

“Yep, two bits a mug. Try not to let Pinkie buy the entire stock. Big Mac, you up fer another hour or so on the press?”

“Eeyup,” he replied.

So we all trotted back out. The line for cider, if anything, seemed to have grown as the day wore on. Undoubtedly, some ponies would be spending a second night out here.

Compared to working the press, actually serving the stuff was far more taxing. Not on my muscles, but on my patience. You would think that it’d be a case of taking the bits and drawing a couple mugs. Oh no, you had ponies come up demanding two dozen mugs, ponies that would inevitably try to haggle a bulk price and all the time you had ponies trying to get to the front of the queue, sure in the knowledge that it was their turn next.

The result of this near riot over cider eventually forced my hoof, or rather my horn. Several times, I blasted off magic into the air to mimic a gunshot. This usually caused any unruly parties involved to calm down, or gallop off into the distance. All that was missing from the scene sometimes was the classic western piano music in the background. I wouldn’t have minded, but this stuff wasn’t even alcoholic.

I personally had yet to try any of the cider. That had all been accounted for in my plans to help Rainbow. While I knew it was undoubtedly good, the lengths to which the inhabitants of Ponyville would go to get just a sip were astonishing. More than once, Big Mac or AJ had to come and help out, just to prevent the stall from being overrun.

Eventually though, the queue’s length began to diminish and the ponies became quieter as their desire for cider was satisfied. Apple Bloom told me that the first day of Cider Season was always like this and that by the end, things were much more relaxed. Big Mac eased up on the press and the number of barrels began to diminish. Inevitably, I saw a certain rainbow-maned Pegasus nearing the front of the queue. She reached me just as the last barrel emptied. The look on her face was a strange cross between rage, unbridled anger and resignation.

“Oh come on, Rainbow Dash,” I said, smiling. “Do you really think I’d leave you ciderless, given how well I know you?” I produced the barrel that I had set aside for RD, me and the Apples. Rainbow’s eyes lit up like a filly’s on Hearth’s Warming. Hooking the barrel up to the tap, I drew us each a mug each. Her reaction was to utter the phrase ‘Oh my gosh’ around half a dozen times at an incredible speed.

“Well, cheers everypony,” I said raising my own mug.

Right up to that moment, I wasn’t much of a fan of cider. But as soon as I got a drop of that stuff. Well, let’s just say I now understand why the ponies around me were so desperate.

By evening, we all adjourned to the farmhouse. Big Mac and I hauled the press back into the barn and packed away the stall. Once again Applejack had promised to do her best to increase production. It wasn’t that we were short on apples. But we couldn’t just divert everything into cider. Of the apples we had harvested, the majority would be sold as is, not just in Ponyville, but across Equestria. Then you had a share for the production of apple juice. Finally, there was the good stuff; Applejack had a small number of the apples go into the family’s Hard Cider. This year’s production wouldn’t be ready for another few years.

However, the hard cider from eight years ago was more than ready for drinking. Thus I found myself with Big Mac and AJ, enjoy a couple glasses of the stuff. Like the last time I had had a drink with anypony, it was quiet and civilised. With the notable exception of Berry Punch, alcoholism and binge drinking seemed non-existent. If you had a drink, you might get a bit tipsy, or drunk, but it wasn’t a social activity in and of itself.

We spent the evening discussing and reminiscing amongst ourselves. I’ll admit the cider did loosen my tongue somewhat, but I didn’t let slip anything embarrassing. If anything, it served to reinforce the existing strong camaraderie between us all. After three glasses each though, we decided to pack in, the stuff packed a wallop, not as much as Moonshine, but it was still strong.

Tomorrow, we would do it all again. It might have been tiring, but according to Big Mac, the farms profit over these three days increased tenfold over the norm. And since that money consequently went into my pay, it was not something to sniff at.

Chapter 25 - Justice on Sweet Apple Acres

View Online

Apple Bloom had said that today would be ‘quieter’. She was right. This time, I only had to fire two warning shots into the air while I was serving the cider. The queue still stretched all the way back to Ponyville though. We also had a bit of extra help today as well. In thanks for holding back some cider for her, Rainbow, in a touching display of loyalty, helped Big Mac on the press, giving everypony else an easier time. AJ and Applebloom were able to keep up a steady pace delivering new bushels, and I could permanently run the shop front. In spite of her age, Granny Smith was like a machine when it came to her quality control. It was this that had arguably saved the farm last Cider Season.

With Rainbow’s help we were able to increase production somewhat, pleasing ponies no end. It wasn’t that we were short on hooves to help us; it’s just that you can only make so much good quality cider each day. The increase also allowed us to satisfy what Applejack called ‘Pinkie’s Share’. Every day of Cider Season, Pinkie would turn up, without fail, and buy at least a dozen mugs.

“Ya know Applejack, if that were anypony but Pinkie Pie, ah’d say she was sellin’ stuff on the Black Market,” I said as AJ brought me another fresh barrel.

“Fer a while ah thought she was,” she replied. “In the end ah had AB follow her back to Sugarcube Corner an’ see if she was doin’ that.” The orange mare smiled wistfully. “Turned out she just drinks lots of cider, an’ Ah mean lots.” She burst out in a fit of giggles.

We kept up this pace all through the morning and by lunchtime; the queue had trickled away considerably. The addition of myself and Rainbow Dash had raised the overall output to something near last year’s. She had also realised the usefulness of access to a treadmill prior to the race, which was after all, in two days’ time.

It was about one in the afternoon, when we had just come back to work, that I was met with a pleasant surprise. Twilight, Fluttershy and all my family descended on Sweet Apple Acres. It was nice to see Twilight outside of a school based setting. Fluttershy and Lizzie came together, while my Mum and Dad came with exciting news.

“It’s finished!” My Mum exclaimed gleefully.

“What is?” I asked. “The house?” My father hugged my mother and smiled.

“It sure is, Bones,” he replied. “Twilight and the removal folks just finished getting the last bits and bobs in, so we’ve moved in today!”

“Although, a couple things need replacing, one of those ponies was a bit clumsy.” I sighed inwardly.

“This pony didn’t happen to be a pegasus mare, grey coat, blond mane, bubble cutie mark, with a lazy eye?” I asked knowingly. Twilight rolled her eyes in the background.

“Well, now that you mention it,” my mother began, but I signalled her to stop there. She, like Twilight, rolled her eyes. “Brony thing I’m guessing?”


Applejack heard my impression of her elder brother as she walked up to us with yet another fresh barrel, drawing a laugh from her. Spotting her two friends, she greeted them kindly. It was nice to see that nopony was making any real fuss about my human family. As I said before, everything had practically settled down, though whether that was a good sign or not was still debatable. Applejack drew a few mugs of cider.

“Fancy joinin’ us?” She asked the assembled group. “Y’all should at least try one mug of cider before ya head out.” Both my parents took a mug, as did Lizzie and Twilight, each in turn handing over a couple of bits each. Fluttershy also took one, though I think she may have just been being polite. In spite of this cider’s non-alcoholic content, I insisted that I would stick to apple juice until we all finished for the day. Customers however, continued to lessen as the afternoon wore on, so we had some time to catch up with each other. My parents were still baffled by my change in accents, at this point I was almost used to my southern one though. As my family headed off, Applejack turned to me.

“So, er, Bones?” she asked curiously.

“Don’t you start as well, AJ,” I said jokingly.

An hour or so after everypony had headed back, we were getting ready to halt production and move all the kit back into the barn. RD warned us that a bit of a storm was set up tonight, we had after all, had almost two weeks of clear skies. Luckily, in view of Cider Season lasting one more day, she had managed to schedule the storm for the night. While this would ruin my view of Luna’s night, the viewing of which had become something of a habit, at least it wouldn’t affect customer numbers tomorrow.

Me and Big Mac had one again hitched ourselves to the cider press and were preparing to drag it in, when we were approached by Rainbow; she seemed some kind of ticked. Streaking down from her advantageous altitude, she alighted alongside us.

“Guys, we got trouble,” she said as the retracted her wings.

“What do ya mean, Dash?” I asked, as I relaxed in the harness.

“I saw a couple of ponies snooping around the apple orchards. Didn’t get a good look, but they were definitely there.” I unhitched myself completely from the press.

“Well, best go tell Applejack then. Big Mac, I’ll be back in a minute to lend ya a hoof, okay?” The stallion nodded, so we both set off.

We both sprinted back toward the farmhouse. Applejack, Granny Smith and Applebloom had already headed in to set up dinner. The two of us burst in like a couple of Royal Guards, scaring the life out all three of them.

“Now what in the name of Celestia is goin’ on here?!” Applejack demanded.

“We got a couple snakes in the grass, AJ,” I replied.

“Yeah, I saw two ponies snooping around the orchards,” Rainbow elaborated. Applejack and Granny Smith scowled.

“Come on Blade Star,” she said, picking up her lasso. “Let’s go find those varmints. If there’s one thing Ah don’t have time for, it’s a no good thief.” If only we had a couple of Winchester repeaters, I thought to myself. “Rainbow, you mind taggin’ along, we could use your speed if they make a break for it.” RD saluted and took off.

Night was just beginning to reclaim the sky from the day, and the clouds were moving in as we reached the orchard Rainbow had found our two ‘visitors’ in. There was definitely somepony there, and judging by the way they were searching the trees, their intentions did not seem honourable. Sweet Apple Acres apples were of the highest quality, which meant that every now and then, you’d get somepony trying to get a couple for free, or in an attempt to cultivate their own high quality apple trees. They were doing their best to keep low, but were making a bit of a hash out of it. My military experience may only amount to hours of Call of Duty and Operation Flashpoint, but even I could do better than they were.

“Looks like there are only two of them,” Applejack whispered. “I reckon we oughta be able to take’ em.” As we looked on, the two ponies, split up, heading to opposite ends of the orchard. “Perfect. Blade Star, you take the one on the right, an’ Ah’ll take the one on the left. RD, you stay back here in case somethin’ goes wrong.” We all signalled our understanding and set off.

I kept myself low to the ground as I moved towards my assigned mark. It was a unicorn pony, so I figured I might need magic. I had a couple low level spells that would help, and if worst came to the worst; I could just discharge raw magic. Twilight had taught me well. The unicorn looked, given his size, to be a stallion; I managed to get behind him. I figured I would take him by surprise and use a basic restraining spell Twilight had learned from her brother.

It was then my mind decided that I ought to say something before taking the bugger in. The words of a certain Captain Macmillan entered my mind. I crept closer to him; he was still unaware of me. Even in this quadruped body, I could still swing a decent left hook. It would disorientate him and give me a better chance of restraining him safely.

“Oi, Suzy!” I called out in my best Scotch accent.

The stallion promptly turned around to get socked in the face. I wasn’t surprised to see a god-awful red moustache on his muzzle. It seemed some old friends were back. Apples tumbled out of the sack he had slung over his shoulder. I was about to use the restraining spell Twilight had taught me when the little sod kicked out, throwing me off balance. He quickly scrambled to his hooves and began to gallop away.

I quickly began to give chase, for he was heading back to his companion, but before I did, I charged my horn and used what Twilight termed a ‘Flare Spell’, to light up the overcast night so all could see where they were going. The bright red light showed up my own quarry, as well as Applejack and Rainbow struggling with their own.

“Stop in the name of the diarchy!” I cried. Always wanted to say that.

As we both neared the struggling trio it looked very much like a fight would break out. Two unicorns against a Pegasus, an Earth pony and a partially trained unicorn, did not give good odds.

It was then though, that Big Macintosh came charging in like the 5th Cavalry. Evidently he’d seen my Flare spell, come to investigate and seen what was going on. He was going hell for leather across the open ground heading straight for us. To this day, I have never seen any creature as terrified as those two conponies. He broadsided the one I was pursuing and the other quickly surrendered to Applejack and RD. We all closed in on the now very frightened pair.

“Well, well, look what we got here,” Big Mac said, wincing slightly from the pain in his shoulder. “Long time no see Flim, you too Flam. Ah s’pose we ought to have a little talk.”

Luckily for the Flim Flam Brothers, that was all Big Mac did, talk. Apparently, after they had fled Ponyville, they had continued up and down the country trying to flog their low quality produce of cheap cider and nonsense tonics, each time drawing ire from the local population when they were found to be either, in the case of cider, undrinkable, or in the case of their tonic, glorified apple juice with no medicinal qualities. As a result they were two of the most wanted ponies in Equestria. When the Guards came to collect them, they were more than happy to go, quite desperate to get away from the Apples and myself, as well as RD. They would be taken back to a court in their home town of Fillydelphia to answer for fraud charges, in addition to the theft charges we intended to bring against them. As I said, Sweet Apple Acres apples were of the highest quality, the one thing their attempt at cider lacked.

By the time the whole matter was settled, it was quite late and the storm was imminent. So we quickly hauled the cider press back inside, just as rain began to fall, and then we went back to the farmhouse for a late supper. One more day of Cider Season, and then the day after was the Running of the Leaves. I asked Applejack if I could keep working on the press all day tomorrow.

It became clear that this would be a necessity, as Big Mac’s tackling move had put his shoulder out somewhat. Rainbow also had to work tomorrow clearing up this storm. So tomorrow, I would work the treadmill, while Apple Bloom would serve the cider. Big Mac was restricted to hauling the, to him, light bushels back and forth.

Chapter 26 - Close of Season

View Online

Today was the final day of Cider Season. Tomorrow was the day of the race, and I was sure to get some good training in today. With Big Mac walking wounded after barrelling into the Flim Flam Brothers, I was the only one available to man the treadmill. On the plus side, the increase in pony power to pull the apple bushels around meant that Applejack and everypony else, would be able to ease off. As for me, well, AJ summed it up pretty well.

“Right Blade Star. We’re ready to go. Now start runnin’ like you’ve never run before!” And so began the longest marathon I have yet endured.

The first difficulty presented was getting everything moving. Once the treadmill, and consequently the massive press, was rolling, it was easy to keep up momentum. Starting however was another matter. My hooves struggled to get grip even on the treadmill and I regretted not having Big Mac’s herculean strength to help me at least move off. It was like trying to push a car uphill, with the handbrake still on.

Finally though, I gained traction, and began to move off. I was rewarded with the slightly off putting sound of slowly pulverized apples. Evidently, I had played too much Dead Space back on Earth. Now that I was moving, I began to increase my pace. It was still tricky though. I had to keep things steady. If I slipped up the whole thing would stop and I’d be back where I started.

About twenty minutes later, I had progressed to a proper gallop and had stopped accelerating. From now until lunch, all I had to do was keep going with my current steady pace. It was fast enough to keep up with demand, but not so fast as to cause the press to run dry, which, according to Granny Smith, happened once before and caused severe damage to the very expensive press.

“All the stone got chipped, an’ wouldn’t press no more. Belt went and snapped off an’ all of those confangled pulley things done gone ‘n’ snapped,” she told me. Needless to say, I didn’t want that to happen. Even with my current funds, there was no way I could pay for a new one, and for the Apples, it would cripple them financially.

The Apples were by no means poor farmers. I always found such ideas to be a contradiction in modern times. Nevertheless, they were not swimming in bits either. I suppose they rested just on the borders of middle class in terms of their savings and wealth.

I looked across to the stall where Applejack was. Apple Bloom and Big Mac were still hauling bushels into the press. She seemed to be getting into a pretty heated argument with one of the customers. Probably another muppet who though he could haggle. There was always somepony who reckoned that they deserved a lower price than everypony else. Applejack usually convinced them otherwise. This guy however, didn’t appear to be getting the hint.

“Look partner,” AJ said. “It’s two bits a mug, and that’s that. If ya want more then ya pay the same rate. An’ ten mugs are still twenty bits.” The stallion though, was still not dissuaded.

“For goodness sake!” he complained in a Manehatten accent. “Nopony’s gonna spend that much for bulk. Every other place in Equestria does some sort of bulk discount. And don’t give me no horseapples about this being a family business neither.” That ticked me off, but I remained confident AJ could handle him.

“Look, there’s no discount on Apple Family Cider, mister. Unless you wanna pay the proper price, move along.” Then, he went and did something very, very stupid.

“Oh come on, sweetheart. I’m sure I can find some way of making it up to you.” He made eyes at AJ. Needless to say, that didn’t quite sit right with her.

“Ah’ll say this once, partner. Git.” Her eyes took on a hard look. Having seen how fast she could clear a tree, any fool could tell annoying Applejack was a bad move. Except this guy of course. He then said something which, for the sake of Applejack’s honour, I am not going to repeat. What I will say, is that the remark earned him a hoof across the face. Now, he too was ticked off and looked ready to sock her back. Luckily though, help was at hand.

As the pair stared each other down, the stallion found himself in a shadow. A big one. It belonged to Big Mac, and he’d heard everything. By this point, everypony else had stopped to watch the grand spectacle unfold.

Big Mac’s expression remained impassive. His eyes gave nothing away. To an opponent, that is more frightening. And it sure as hay made him a hell of a Poker player. In the briefest of moments, all traces of cockiness in the stallion vanished, quickly replaced by fear. Even walking wounded, Big Mac’s sheer size made him a force to be reckoned with. He snorted crossly.

Finally, having realised that he was faced with, an angry Applejack, Big Macintosh and a crowd of onlookers, the stallion evidently concluded he was in the wrong, and he set off at a very fast gallop.

I’d kept up my pace on the press, but had been ready to jump off in the event Mac needed help. But it takes a special kind of stupid for a pony to take on Big Mac one on one. He spoke briefly to his little sister.

“Ya okay, sis?” he asked gently.

“Ah’m fine, big brother. Ah could’ve taken him anyways,” she replied smiling. With that, the brick red stallion returned to his work and AJ went back to serving the customers. Half an hour later we broke for lunch.

After a decent lunch we still had a half hour or so before we needed to get back to work. Sweet Apple Acres was a beautiful place, either under Luna’s moon or Celestia’s sun, so I took the opportunity to contemplate things for a bit.

The big race was tomorrow, and all the training I’d put in, either in Whitetail Woods, or on the cider press would hopefully pay off. After that, at some point Rarity was taking me to Canterlot. It would be a nice chance to get in some early Hearth’s Warming shopping done. I always believed in being prepared. Such a visit would also give me the opportunity to see Princess Luna again. I wanted to thank her for her advice and timely act of rescuing me from that nightmare. And just as a chance to talk, I liked to think we had a fair bit in common. Personality wise, not the whole thousand year exile by her own sister bit.

I moved to think about my long term plans. Given what I had found out so far, barring any sudden new development in magical science (now there’s a contradiction!) we would probably be here for the rest of our days. It wasn’t that I had severed all ties with Earth and humanity. It was just that I had forged new ones here. I regretted that I would never see the Grand Canyon or be able to get a pilot’s licence or go and visit Paris one more time. Nevertheless, things could be worse, so I wasn’t going to complain. I had friends and family, a job, lived in a beautiful place. What more could I ask for?

“Bit fer yer thought, Sugarcube?” said a voice behind me. I jumped up, startled. It was Applejack.

“Nothin’ much, AJ. Just contemplatin’ the great mysteries of life,” I replied, smiling. The orange mare looked intrigued.

“Oh, any groundbreakin’ theories? Or are ya just messin’ around with ideas?” she asked as she came and sat down next to me.

“Just thinkin’ about my life. What’ll happen. What’s happenin’ back on Earth. I didn’t count on turnin’ into a pony and wakin’ up in the Everfree.”

“So what did ya bank on happenin’?” she asked. I looked away.

“Ah don’t know. I figured Ah’d get a steady job in some office after a while. Maybe do that fer a few years. Meet a nice girl, settle down.” I paused to think.

“Two out of three?” I looked up. “Ya ain’t got no fancy office job, but you got those other two things.” I supposed she was right. I was too lost in my own thought to spot the hint.

“Ah just wonder what everyone else back on Earth thinks. Do they think we all just vanished? Do they think we’re dead? An’ what about my dad's business, who’s runnin’ that now? Ah’ve left a lot behind, AJ.” I stopped, I was becoming too depressive about something beyond my control.

“How about you? Ya always plan on runnin’ this here farm?” This made the mare smile.

“You know it. Ah had a bit of a funny time when ah was a filly. But I know that this is where I belong.”

“Must be comfortin’, being so at one with yer destiny,” I replied. I supposed that all Equestrians were pretty sure what to do with their lives. While I had a cutie mark, I wasn’t certain what it really meant.

“Ah wasn’t always, Sugarcube,” she said. I turned my head to look at her. “There’s been a few times where Ah thought of givin’ up. Shoot, there were days when Ah wanted to leave this farm and never come back.” She paused and looked down at her hooves. “When our folks passed, Ah wanted to leave. Ah couldn’t fill their horseshoes. Sure Ah could buck apple trees, but Ah didn’t know nothin’ ‘bout runnin’ a farm. The whole world seemed like this void. No roads, no directions. But trust me, Blade Star. When ya find yer callin’, ya won’t miss it.”

And with that, she got up and headed back towards the cider press. I could see it and the huge stack of barrels in the distance. She turned round and called back to me.

“Ya ain’t gonna find yer callin’ sitting on yer flank. Come on Bones!” she hollered. Great, now she’s calling me that too. I smiled and trotted back toward the press.

When I got back, I was again faced with the task of getting the press moving again. The effort required quickly banishing any of the previous introspective thoughts from my mind. Once again, after about twenty minutes, I was up to speed again. This was the last of the cider for this season. Instead of being sold, it would stay in the barrels in the barn steadily fermenting. Hard cider had an unusual taste. Something along the lines of whiskey if nothing else. It had a similar golden colour as well.

Big Mac brought another bushel of apples for the press. There was only a few more left. The end was in sight. Unlike the end of Applebuck Season, we would, hopefully, not have to face a stampede of frightened rabbits.

“Here ya are, Bones,” he said chuckling. Guess I’ll just have to get used to that. It was better than the nicknames I had on Earth in any case. And when I thought of that character, I supposed I could take some positives from it, McCoy was a decent guy. Apple Bloom did the exact same thing when they hauled the last bushel in. Applejack called out.

“Alright now ease ‘er down to a stop, Blade Star.” With that, I slackened my pace and let the machine’s own weight bring it to a halt. We all looked to each other smiling. I jumped down off the press.

“And that gentlecolts, is how we do that,” I said.

Me and Big Mac hauled the press back into the barn, where he’d disassemble it until next year. For all intents and purposes, Sweet Apple Acres was now done until Winter Wrap Up. The orchards were bare; all the crops had been harvested. From now on, sales would come from the stores. No more applebucking. We all headed back inside to get some grub.

It was around nine o’clock when I found myself again out in the apple orchards. It was still bright, the moon again casting its glow across the land. I wasn’t always sure why I did this. I just enjoyed it. If I ever had a rough day back home I would do one of two things, depending on the weather. Either play ‘The Smile Song’ on YouTube or go out and look up at the night sky. Given that there was no internet in Equestria, and that I had access to the real Pinkie Pie, the former was rendered void, the latter however, had been improved hundredfold. For the second time that day, I was joined by a familiar figure.

“Ah thought Ah’d find ya out here, Bones,” Applejack said. I smiled.

“Hi ‘Jack,” I answered. She trotted up next to me and looked at me perplexedly.

“’Jack’?” she asked, perplexed.

“Well, if y'all are gonna call me ‘Bones’, I reckon it’s only fair Ah get to give you a nickname too. Just shorter than sayin’ ‘Applejack’ all the time.” She thought for a moment.

“Yeah, ah like it. Feels like it fits me.”

“Now then, what do ya wanna talk ‘bout?” I asked.

“Ah was just thinkin’, ya know a fair bit about mah life. But Ah don’t know much about you. About yer past Ah mean.” That made sense.

“Well, there’s not much to tell ’Jack. Ah’m twenty two years old, did good in school, went ta college, got me a degree. Had a few friends in high school. I weren’t no loner but I wasn’t Pinkie Pie neither, got bullied some when I was younger too. Used to spend most of my days buildin’ model airplanes or readin’. Then Ah came across all this.” AJ promptly cut me off with a question.

“What did ya get yer degree in?” she asked.

“Politics. Which accordin’ ta most makes me a cheat an’ a liar,” I said with a ghost of a smile.

“Ya ain’t no liar, Bones. An’ that’s comin’ from the Element of Honesty herself,” AJ replied. “So what about yer family?”

“Just us really now, and a few cousins scattered around the old Empire. No close family left though. Not like you, yer family has to be one of the biggest Ah’ve ever come across. How long till the next reunion anyway?”

“A few months yet, can’t expect everypony to travel long distance in the winter.” A fair enough reason, given Equestria seemed to get actual winters, as opposed to the British winter, which was identical to the British autumn, spring and summer. I wondered how long it would be before the first snow came. We were entering October now and getting close to Nightmare Night. I guessed everypony would hunker down when the snow did come.

Me and Applejack kept talking well into the night. Mainly just really getting to know each other’s stories and telling each other tales of our lives. I could hardly leave her in the dark if I was going to be living under the same roof as her for the foreseeable future. We talked about my folks, I was careful not to ask too much about her own, out of respect, my time in school and our experiences of life in general.

By the time we turned in, it was getting pretty late. The race started at half past ten tomorrow and we had to be there at the top of the hour. I’d done all the training I could, as had Applejack. Tomorrow it would all come together.

Chapter 27 - Whitetail Downs

View Online

I woke up bright and early. Today was the day. Race day. I contemplated staying in bed just a little longer; I was going to be done in by day’s end. Celestia though, evidently had other plans, for the sun moved to a position where it could shine through the small crack in the curtains and shine into my eyes. No matter what I did, I was still blinded, so I resolved to get up. I would get up and close those bloody curtains and go back to sleep for ten minutes.

Of course, fate, or Celestia had planned for that too, as the curtains wouldn’t quite close properly. After wrestling with the curtains for a good five minutes, I realised that it would be pointless to return to bed. So, I headed downstairs. My stomach was already demanding food.

In spite of my herbivore diet as dictated by my species, I had found over the last couple of days that I missed meat. Not to the point of a desperate desire, just an awareness of its absence. Even now, I had a minor craving for a sausage sandwich. Of course, in reality, I found meat quite unpalatable now. When I had visited Fluttershy’s cottage to see Lizzie I had been able to smell the meat she kept for her carnivorous friends. The smell that once made my mouth water now almost made me gag. Yet another part of ‘me’ that was lost during my transformation.

I shook my head. That is why you don’t think about stuff this early in the morning. I reached the bottom of the stairs and headed on over to the breakfast table. As ever Granny Smith was slaving over the stove. Big Mac was busy trying to restrain his youngest sister, who was bouncing around like nopony’s business. Evidently, the pre-race excitement had got to her. Applejack, or ‘Jack, as I now called her, was conspicuous by her absence however.

“Where’s Applejack got to, Granny?” I asked the elderly mare.

“Oh, she wanted to get in some last minute trainin’ fer the race today. Ah think she’s at the course already helpin’ folks out there,” she replied. Not unexpected AJ did style herself as one of the most dependable ponies around.

I had my own breakfast, with the race, it was vital that I had a good breakfast before attempting the course. After that, I bid goodbye to Big Mac and Apple Bloom, who would later join me and AJ at the racecourse, watching from the stands, and set off to join Applejack.

The trip to the course’s start was relatively uneventful, though I did see a few other entrants to the race on the road. When I arrived, most of the stands, decorations and course markers were already set up. I found Applejack hauling a couple hay bales into place to mark the perimeter of the course.

“Mornin’ Applejack,” I called. “Need any help?” The mare paused and briefly pushed her Stetson back to wipe her brow before replying.

“Sure Bones. Grab those last few bales and haul ‘em on over this way.”

I decided that this would be a good opportunity to practice my magic, namely levitation. AJ preferred not to use it in the running of Sweet Apple Acres, with good reason. It kept everypony, including unicorns like myself in top physical condition, magic in her eyes, was a form of cheating. But it was only a couple of hay bales; they were pretty light, even Applebloom could move them without too much trouble. Channelling the magic into my horn, I encased the two bales in my typical dark blue aura, and lifted them about four feet off the ground. If nothing else, it was good practice for me. I wouldn’t be having any further tutelage from Twilight for at least another three days.

Me and Applejack reached our respective destinations at almost exactly the same time. I lowered my two bales into position before cutting off the levitation spell, while AJ, with great finesse, simply bucked them off her back, and smiled knowingly as each bale landed in its proper place. Just for a laugh, I whistled the first few bars of ‘Anything you can do’. I was surprised when AJ whistled the next few bars back.

With the course now set up and ready, the wildlife cleared from the course area by Fluttershy and Lizzie and the racers steadily streaming in, we both prepared for the start. Very quickly we were joined by Rainbow Dash. In her typical way, she performed a quick pass over our heads, her rainbow coloured trail streaming behind her, before coming about and alighting before us.

“Sup, guys,” she said in greeting as she resettled her wings.

“Howdy, RD,” Applejack returned. “Up for comin’ second this year?”

“Oh AJ, I wouldn’t want to steal your spot on the leader board,” Rainbow replied with feigned sincerity.

Obviously, while they had agreed to run a good clean and fair race this year, there was still a bit of friendly rivalry between the pair.

“Just as long as we don’t have to lash down yer wings this year, Rainbow,” I chided. “Though I wouldn’t mind seein’ ya trussed up like a turkey again.” This drew a giggle from Applejack.

“Oh lay off, Bones,” she countered. Great, did everypony in Equestria know that nickname now?

We kept talking for a few minutes as racers continued to pour in. We’d already been to pick up our markers. Rainbow was 4, Applejack was 6 and I was lucky 7. As the start time for the race came closer and closer, Applejack spoke up again.

“How about we make this race a bit more interesting?” she asked playfully. Rainbow groaned and turned to me.

“Blade Star, life advice. Never agree to a proposal from anyone, not even your best friend when they offer to make things ‘a bit more interesting’,” she cautioned. Were it anyone but Applejack, I would be inclined to agree with her. But as the Element of Honesty, I’d say she was pretty trustworthy.

“How much AJ?” I asked.

“Twenty Bits. Me or RD,” she replied.

“Deal. I’m puttin’ my twenty on Applejack,” I replied, before spitting on my hoof and sealing the oral contract in time honoured fashion. Rainbow however, was less willing and seemed to bow out. I couldn’t resist.

“Do my eyes deceive me? Is the great Rainbow ‘Danger’ Dash, backing out of a competition?” This got RD going, and she immediately put forward her own twenty Bits, raising the pot total to sixty.

“What’s going on here?” Asked a familiar voice, we had been joined by Twilight. “Did I hear the sound of bits exchanging hooves?” She paused for a moment. “I’m in. Put me down for Rainbow.” And much to our surprise, she too put forward her own twenty bits.

With that we heard ‘Call to the Post’ go up, and we all headed for our respective positions on the grid. In total there were about thirty five, perhaps forty racers. Certainly able to produce enough force to shake the leaves from the trees. Applejack and Rainbow Dash were right at the front of the pack, while myself and Twilight were further back at around tenth position.

“Ready for this, Blade Star?” she asked. Evidently, word hadn’t yet got round to her of my recently acquired nickname.

“Born ready, Twilight,” I replied cockily. “Who knows, I might even be the underdog of this race.” I was also delusional. High above, Pinkie Pie and Spike hovered in Twilight’s balloon. A megaphone attached to the basket allowed both of them to pass their comments onto the spectators below.

“Well Spike, here we are again for the annual Running of the Leaves,” announced Pinkie.

“Right you are, Pinkie,” Spike returned. “And this year for the first time, the race will feature extra-Equestrian competition in the form of recent arrival Blade Star. Though by the looks of things, the odds are still resting on Ponyville’s two most competitive ponies; Applejack and Rainbow Dash.” Cheers went up as Spike announced both names. Rainbow earned particular admiration from Scootaloo, who was bouncing amongst the crowd using her small wings to briefly propel herself upward.

“Alrighty everypony. We’re coming up to the start,” Pinkie cheered. The racers, myself and Twilight included, braced ourselves in preparation for the start.

“Racers, on your marks,” came Spike.

“Get set,” followed Pinkie. I tensed myself for the start. The start after all, was everything.

“GO!” The two commentators shouted. A loud bell rang and we charged out of the gate. The race was on.

The noise was positively deafening. There was the thunder of hooves, the excited cheers from the waiting crowds and all the while, high above, Pinkie was commentating as only she could. It was like watching the horse races on a Saturday back home. Poor Spike struggled to even get a word in.

“And it’s Rainbow Dash closely followed by Applejack, Lyra challenging her as we come up to the first furlong. Closely followed by Derpy Hooves looking for an opening as the pack clears the gate. Looks like a few had a bit of a poor start with Roseluck bringing up the rear with number 52. The track this early on is quite rough so it’s not a wonder the start is tricky with many a hoof struggling to find that initial grip. And of course the sun of our dear Princess Celestia for once being an inconvenience as racers are forced to charge headlong into that early morning light.” At last she paused for a breath, but was quickly back at it again.

“And now we see everypony starting to spilt up, Applejack and Rainbow Dash still favourites in the odds pulling away with amazing speed. Extra-Equestrian underdog Blade Star sticking close to the front of the main pack so far with Twilight Sparkle who took fifth last year in spite of her being novice. Looks like early on the odds are tallying up with Applejack and Rainbow Dash continuing to pull away from the rest, number 4 and 6.” At last I was able to tune Pinkie out and focus on the task at hand.

First task, avoid going over. Galloping this fast surrounded by other ponies mere inches away would make a slip up quite painful. Second, try and pull away from the rest early on, that way I could ease off and have good reserves for the final sprint to the finish. The herd mentality of the whole thing kicked in as well. I felt a strong need to keep up with the others, sticking as close as I could. My vision also tunnelled very quickly and I could only just see Twilight out of the corner of my eye. She too was initially giving it her all.

The first part of the course was relatively open. Not many trees just yet, the real point of the whole exercise was Whitetail Wood. That of course had a further incentive to keep everypony moving. Namely, falling behind typically meant getting covered in innumerable leaves.

I kept myself going steady and began to clear the pack as did Twilight and a couple others. It was only marginal progress but I was nevertheless drawing further forward. By my reckoning, Twilight and myself were now at fourth and fifth respectively. Lyra was just ahead of us holding on to third. Bon-Bon had fallen a bit further behind.

“Enjoying this?” Twilight asked as we galloped. She wanted a conversation now?

“Sure I am, Twilight,” I replied between breaths. I was straining myself a bit, so I eased off. “Think we can take Lyra?” She nodded and put on a burst of speed. Not one to be outdone I followed her.

We drew level with Lyra as we crossed over the river. Our first attempt at passing her was cut off by the narrow bridge. As we both went to try and pass her on either side the road narrowed. Had we both continued we would have sandwiched poor Lyra and probably all gone over on the bridge, causing a huge pile-up. Luckily, we both saw the oncoming danger and backed off.

Our second attempt was more successful, the road broadened out again and there was now room to pass. For one of us. Being a self-styled gentlecolt, I let Twilight pass. She did seem a tiny bit faster than me at the moment anyway. I quickly followed her and, much to Lyra’s consternation, we passed her. I was now in fourth and Twilight had taken third. About three hundred yards up ahead we could just about make out Rainbow’s multicolour mane, Applejack simply blended into the woodland colours with her gamboge coat blending into the background.

We were now entering Whitetail Wood. Instantly, the number of leaves increased almost exponentially. My vision was filled with red and gold hues. While we were ahead of the pack, the oncoming vibrations could be felt this far ahead. I sure as anything pitied the poor saps at the back that would have to gallop almost blindly through the storm of falling leaves.

It was just as beautiful as when I had visited with Twilight or with AJ and Rainbow. It gave a very New England sort of feel with all the beautiful autumn leaves. Even at the speed we were going, which by my reckoning was somewhere in the 25-30 mph ballpark, I still found time to admire the beauty of it all. Twilight did as well, naturally. Though not like the last time. Indeed, this year she seemed to have changed her strategy somewhat. While she wasn’t going hell for leather, which incidentally is not a phrase one should use in Equestria, she was certainly going faster than the gentle trot. We’d both been jockeying for position since we began, there was very little difference between us. Given the unlikeliness of catching the two front runners it was now a battle between the two of us.

“Well, Twilight. Looks like it’s just you and me now, eh?” I called to her.

“Oh don’t be so sure, Blade Star,” she countered. With that she put on a burst of speed and inched ahead of me. She was trying to mess with my head a bit, get me to waste energy to regain mere inches. Clever girl. High above Pinkie’s commentary filled my ears again.

“Well with the pack now spread out we’ve got half a dozen minor battles going on. Up front the two favourites Rainbow Dash and Applejack are still giving tit for tat and about three hundred yards back Blade Star and Twilight are fighting for third. After that comes the main pack now lead by Lyra after that loss just pass the last bridge. We’re now coming up to the area that saw so much hijinks last year by the two leaders.” Spike promptly took over as Pinkie paused for breath.

“It sure is a tough section, Pinkie,” he said over the megaphone. “The whole area is littered with buckets to collect tree sap, plus there’s several wasp nests littering the area. Racers will have to watch their tails if they don’t want to get stung.” He was about to go on, but Pinkie cut him off, at last abandoning her race commentator personality.

“How do you know they’re wasps, Spike? I always thought they were bees. Ooh, ooh, do they each make different noises so ponies can tell them apart. Do bees go ‘buzzzz’ and wasps go ‘buzzzz’?” Of course, there was no difference between the two sounds. Bugs did sound different though. I could recognise the sound of one particular native bug species any day of the week. Bugs always unsettled me. Particularly them.

We were now about halfway through the wood. As Spike had said, we passed many a bucket of collected tree sap. I actually had to leap over a patch of tree sap, possibly the same sap that got spilled last time. Luckily, it wasn’t sticky enough to impede my progress, but, as Twilight found out, it did leave a sticky feeling on your hooves.

Amazingly, we were now even closer to the two leaders. Close enough to warrant some ‘encouragement’. I thought back to that ‘Band of Brothers’ series and their first CO, Captain Sobel.

“The Japs are gonna get you!” I called to RD and AJ. This was quickly followed by ‘High ho, Silver!” Both mares turned back to look at me in confusion. “Just run faster!” I clarified. And the two mares rolled their eyes and turned back to focus on beating each other. I turned to Twilight to offer her some encouragement. “Not far now, Twilight. Ready for the sprint?” As soon as we cleared the wood, we’d both go as fast as we physically could to get as close to Applejack and Rainbow as we could. Twilight was starting to struggle, but nodded.

And then we cleared the wood. The leaves finally stopped falling and all that could be seen was the wide open Equestrian countryside. And the finish line. It was about a quarter of a mile away and I could see the cheering spectators, including all of my own family as well as the Apples. Pinkie and Spike were hovering over the finish line. Dangling from a rope, Spike held a camera in his claws, ready to get a photo finish.

Me and Twilight were still neck and neck, neither of us giving an inch. I had a brief inner conflict over what to do. Should I let Twilight take third without trouble, or should I give her a run for her bits? Quickly, I decided on the latter and powered forward, inching ahead by a nose or two. As we reached the stands, I could hear my father in particular yelling. He seemed to have fallen back into an old routine.

“Come on, Rainbow! I want those bits! Run!” he cried. Looks like I wasn’t the only one who’d partaken in games of chance. Personally, I thought that was a fools bet. I was banking on Applejack winning this with her superior stamina against Rainbow’s straight line speed.

They crossed the finishing line and the camera went off. We crossed the line about three seconds later. Twilight and me were also too close to call and I was briefly dazzled by the camera flash. As soon as I crossed that line, the tiredness kicked in. I had been so focused on the race I hadn’t really fully appreciated the burning pain in all four of my legs or the pain now caused by breathing. Needless to say, with the race over, my body quickly put me back in my place. Clearing the track I simply lay down, dead to the world.

When I had at last recovered fully about ten minutes later, I found that the result of the race was still in dispute. Spike had taken two shots; one of Rainbow and Applejack crossing the line and one of me and Twilight. The second image was easy enough, by about half a nose I had just about piped Twilight at the post setting us in third and fourth respectively. The question now was who had taken the much sought after first place. And would I be winning any bits?

The problem lay in the first photograph. Judges were clustered around the table on which in sat studying it with magnifying glasses. Twilight walked over and did her best to help by enlarging the photograph via her magic; even the smallest difference would help determine a winner. But try as they might they couldn’t seem to find a definitive answer.

Next my father, who apparently had put a whopping fifty bits on Rainbow winning, pushed aside the judges and studied the photograph for himself. His eyesight though, was not what it once was. So, the inevitable happened.

“Bones, you come and have a go. I can’t do anything and none of this lot will agree.” He gestured to the judges surrounding him. I trotted over to look at the photograph for myself.

With Twilight’s help the original Polaroid was now about 2x2 and much more detailed. Very CSI: Miami in that way. The shot was top down and caught both mares the instant they crossed the line. I tried looking for anything that would distinguish the two. A hoof stretched out, an inch more of muzzle, Hay even one of them bobbing out their tongue would have settled this. But no, there was nothing.

“Looks like a tie to me, Dad,” I answered at length. This was subsequently backed up by Twilight and the judges amidst cheers of disappointment from the assembled crowd. Most disappointed of all of course were the two mares concerned. Forced to settle for a joint second place, Twilight had to hastily duplicate the silver medal. I myself got the bronze for third place. While Twilight got a medal for her fourth place position, she was more than pleased that she had improved over last year’s fifth place.

As for the bets, anyone who had a bet on either of the joint victors got their original bits back, so at least the supposed winners were not out of pocket. Still, not that some ponies and humans were a bit annoyed.

“Honestly, another inch, Rainbow!” my father complained. “Another inch and we’d both be winners.” Rainbow was just as annoyed with herself as was Applejack. While they didn’t see themselves as failures, they were annoyed about the inconsequential outcome of the much vaunted race. Suddenly though, another voice spoke up.

“At least you have your bits back, Roger. I’m a good one hundred out of pocket,” came a maternal voice. I looked up in surprise as the crowd parted to reveal Equestria’s Solar diarch. Very quickly, the slight bitterness of the situation was forgotten as the crowd promptly bowed. Myself included, I was a citizen of Equestria after all.

“This is the second time you two have tied in the Running of the Leaves,” she said to Applejack and RD. “Still, at least this time you ran a fair race. Surely you’d agree tying in a fair race is better than coming joint last in an unfair one.” Ah, Tia, ever the troll.

“Ah s’pose,” said Applejack. “An’ we did still both get medals an’ a split of the prize money.”

“Yeah!” RD agreed. “A silver gong and two hundred and fifty bits isn’t all bad!” Celestia smiled as the general mood began to pick up. As the crowd and the victors went to satisfy their new found desire for revelry, the Princess turned to me, quickly noting the bronze medal around my neck.

“My, my Blade Star. A third place on your first attempt. Perhaps I should consider you for the Royal Guard. You certainly have the stamina,” she said.

“Thank you, your highness,” I replied, ensuring that I spoke with my Trottingham accent. “Twilight did very well as well. For most of the race I was just trying to keep pace with her.” Celestia smiled.

“I also understand there was a bit of an incident at Sweet Apple Acres two days ago. A theft if I remember correctly. You helped catch the two responsible.” I blushed, to this day I insist that Big Mac did all the work. “It certainly speaks to your own special talent, Blade Star.” I turned to look at the two crossed sabres on my rear. With that, the Princess took her leave to bid farewell to the resident of Ponyville. Before she did though, she turned back to address me one last time.

“You know I also heard that you may be heading to Canterlot soon. Is that true?” I nodded. “If you don’t mind, I’d appreciate it if you could stop by the castle at some point. My sister often speaks of you.”

“I’d love to, your highness,” I replied.

“Then I shall see you in Canterlot.” She paused. “Bones.” And with that, she headed off.

Interlude 3 - Darrowby 385

View Online

Note: This chapter takes place from Lizzie's perspective.

Now that the ponies had had their huge race, all the animals me and Fluttershy had moved away from the course had to be moved back. There were loads of different species, and each had to be done one at a time. Starting with the smallest creatures like the rabbits, mice and songbirds, we would move the population of Whitetail Woods back from their temporary accommodation near the cottage to their original homes. Fluttershy said there was never really much of a risk of any of the animals getting hurt, but I knew she would never forgive herself if something did happen.

The plan was to start in the early morning and move all the creatures based on their size and sleep schedules. While the bats that were currently living in the attic were quite small, we would leave them until much later as they slept through most of the day. I guess that there were roughly about two hundred animals to move today, and only the two of us to do it.

I’d always been good with animals, but Fluttershy’s abilities were epic. She could literally talk to any of the animals. They would understand her and she could understand them. Sure, I could work out when the animals she cared for needed feeding or if they were hurt, but I couldn’t work out say, when one of the birds wanted to move to a different house because the sunlight was annoying them. But that aside, I got on well with most of the animals. As soon as Fluttershy said I was okay, they all warmed up to me. It was kind of like being in a petting zoo.

There was one animal that I didn’t get on with though. Fluttershy kept this rabbit with her all the time. She called it ‘Angel’. That has got to be the most inappropriate name for such an evil ball of fluff. That rabbit had to be the single most evil little creature I have ever come across. It was really smart and had the foulest of tempers. No matter what Fluttershy did, he always seemed to throw some sort of wobbler. And she always went and forgave him afterwards when he got his way. Fluttershy was one of the kindest people I’ve ever met, but you can have too much of a good thing.

As we sat eating breakfast, Angel bounded up to Fluttershy holding both his breakfast bowl of carrots and lettuce and a cookbook. He immediately stamped his foot on the table to make his presence felt. He’s such an obnoxious little brat.

“Oh, what is it Angel Bunny?” Fluttershy asked. The rabbit opened the cookbook and showed her a picture of an extravagant dish that was probably almost as big as him, and tapped his paw against it. Evidently he wanted it.

“Why don’t you have your breakfast first, Angel? Maybe when we get back from helping all the other animals move back I’ll make it for you.” This sounded fair enough. But in response, ‘Angel’, kicked away his existing breakfast and began to lie on the table, looking ill.

“Well, I don’t want you to starve,” Fluttershy said, wavering. I stepped in at this point. I just couldn’t bear to see this happen again.

Reaching down to the floor, I picked up Angel’s breakfast off the floor. Scooping the spilt foodstuffs back into the bowl, I put it on the table in front of him. He looked at me with a raised eyebrow, as if saying ‘Are you serious?’. I returned that with a look that simply said ‘Yes’. The rabbit still refused to eat though. Ordinarily, I’d have been inclined to pry open his mouth and force feed the little bugger. But Fluttershy wouldn’t approve of that. So, I tried an ultimatum.

“Eat or go hungry,” I said, staring him down. Fluttershy moved to protest but I quickly motioned her to be quiet. After a brief staring contest, Angel began to eat.

“Sorry about that, Fluttershy,” I said after he had bounded away out of earshot. “I wouldn’t have really let him go hungry. I was just bluffing.”

“Bluffing?” Fluttershy asked.

“I made him think I was serious. I didn’t have to actually do anything, because he thought I was going to do something,” I explained.

“Oh, I don’t like to be unkind to my animal friends. I only use ‘The Stare’ if they’re being really uncooperative. Most of the time, I’m able to make them see reason. I even managed it with Discord, I think.” I recognised that name. Bro had been having some trouble with him recently, and Dad had met him when we went to the castle. He sounded like a real jackass.

As for Fluttershy’s unique ability, ‘The Stare’ was something that had to be seen to be believed. She only ever used it, as she said, as a last resort. But it was definitely something when she did. It was kind of unsettling to watch; the way the animals seemed to get all hypnotised and simply did as they were told. It would be a dangerous ability in the wrong hands.

After breakfast, we started getting all the animals organised. They were scattered all over the place, right up to the border with the nearby forest where we arrived. Fluttershy said she’d been in their a few times, but it always made her scared. That was the oddest thing about her. She would be timid as Hell most of the time, but when it came to caring for animals, she was all business and not afraid of anything. Twilight said she’d even once managed to reduce a huge fire-breathing dragon to tears.

Fluttershy decided to begin with the rabbits. They were the most flighty of all the creatures we had to move. I certainly didn’t want a repeat of that crazy mess when that dog that lives with bro and his friends came and scared them all. That thing was properly mental. Fluttershy called to me.

“Lizzie, can you head up near the brook and bring all the bunnies from there here?" She threw me a few carrots to ensure I had no trouble.

“Okay, Fluttershy,” I replied. The rabbits were more than willing to follow me when they saw the carrots I had, and they quickly all settled when Fluttershy told them to. We then began to lead them back towards the woodland they came from. I stayed at the back of the small, furry column, while Fluttershy, using her wings, flittered around the group setting any strays back on the right track.

“Right, we’re going to have to go through Ponyville now, Lizzie,” Fluttershy said as we approached the village. “Do your best to keep them together and make sure nopony gets in their way or scares them. And don’t let them eat anything.”

That last bit proved to be the most difficult. Ponyville was filled with flowers and vegetable patches, all of which looked delectable in the eyes of rabbits. We moved fairly slowly, so both of us constantly had to go and catch rabbits that were threatening to stray off to feed, and at the same time, keep the whole group together.

At last though, we cleared Ponyville and were getting quite close to Whitetail Woods. The rabbits knew where we were headed and as soon as they saw the wood, they took off back to their homes. As they disappeared into the undergrowth, Fluttershy turned to me.

“Well, that’s one group done; now we can move on to the small birds.”

This was easier said than done. With her wings, Fluttershy had no trouble staying with the birds and keeping them together. I on the other hand, confined to the ground, could only follow below with some bird food to entice a few to follow me. Worse still, this time everything had to be managed in three dimensions. The birds could easily peel off and disappear into the distance very quickly. This meant Fluttershy had to do the jobs of three people, ponies. When we finally reached Whitetail Woods again after about an hour of herding the huge flocks we were both exhausted. But I felt like I hadn’t done that much to help.

Fluttershy saw me down below and landed next to me. Her eyes were filled with the same concern she had shown when I had first met her.

“Lizzie, what’s wrong?” she asked. Her voice filled with the same concern I could see in her eyes.

“I’m not being much help am I?” I replied bitterly. “I mean, I can’t fly, the animals don’t trust me like they do you, and I can’t communicate with them like you can.” I was about to go on, but Fluttershy cut me off.

“But you help,I looked up. “Lizzie, I’m not looking for another expert. You help me as much as you can. I couldn’t ask for anything more. Besides, you do help me with loads of things.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Well, you help me keep Angel Bunny under control; you know I let him get away with too much. You’re more used to handling meat than I am and you’re not scared of the carnivores like I sometimes am. You help me out so much. I don’t know what I’d do without you. It’s just nice to have somepony else around the house.”

With that, she stood on her hind legs and hugged me like Mum and Dad used to do when I was little. I could see what bro meant when he talked about an Element of Kindness. Fluttershy was the definition itself. After a few moments, she released me and settled back on all fours.

“Come on,” she said. “We have a few more species to move.” And so we headed back to the cottage.

We’d moved loads of different animals today. This last one though, puzzled me. The whole reason that we had originally moved them away from the racecourse was so that the huge stampede of ponies wouldn’t hurt them. This last group though would probably have come off best in any altercation. We had to move the bears.

When you consider how timid Fluttershy can be, you may think her to be completely unsuitable for a task like this. Seeing her converse though, and order around no less than half a dozen fully grown grizzly bears quickly put that idea to rest.

I could see she was a little scared, or at least, she was being extra careful. I was too, even on all fours, these bears shoulders were eye level with me. It was much nicer moving the foxes and badgers and boars back. The bears were quite harmless though really. They ambled along quite happily, content to follow me and Fluttershy. I’d never been this close to bears before, I’d always thought that they were really territorial and didn’t like getting too close to humans. On the other hand, we were the first humans here since, well forever.

As we neared the wood for the last time, I noticed one of the bears was limping a bit. I pointed this out to Fluttershy who, after cursing herself for not spotting it, went over to check on the bear.

“Oh, are you alright? It looks like you’ve strained something,” she said looking over the left hind leg. The bear grumbled a response. Fluttershy had him stop and lifted the leg off the ground.

“Does it hurt here?” she asked, receiving what I assumed was a ‘no’ in response.

“And how about here?” As soon as she touched it, the bear let off a loud bellow, rolled over and began cradling its leg. Fluttershy though, seemed unconcerned. “Shh, it’s okay. You’ve just strained the muscle at some point. She removed something from her saddlebags. Quickly she bandaged up the leg and gave the bear some sort of pain medication and advice to rest up for a few days. But for the moment the bear apparently wasn’t able to put weight on its foot and couldn’t walk.

The other bears were able to lift its front half off the ground and me and Fluttershy helped to keep its injured leg off the ground. Something which Fluttershy, who was actually weaker than me in strength, confessed she would not have been able to do on her own. After a few minutes, we made it to the small cave which the family of bears called home. We were all, human, pony and bear alike, tired out from lifting the heavy weight, but the bear seemed quite thankful.

With all the animals resettled back in the forest, Fluttershy and I headed back home. I wasn’t sure yet whether or not I would go and live with Mum and Dad at their new house. I’d been turning the idea over in my mind frequently.

As we entered the small, cosy little cottage, Fluttershy removed her saddlebags and placed them out of the way. She always kept it on hand in case of sudden emergencies. Angel was sitting on the sofa waiting for us, cookbook in hand, again. Since she had neglected him a bit today with all the work, and as he had eaten his breakfast as I asked, Fluttershy decided to give him what he wanted.

I headed upstairs to lie down for a bit. Carrying semi-crippled bear takes a lot out of you. As I went upstairs, Fluttershy called me.

“I’m just going to the library, Lizzie. There are a few books I need to return.” I don’t know why I said what I said; it was just habit I guess. In any case, it made both me and Fluttershy freeze and look at each other.

“Okay, Mom.” A very awkward silence prevailed.

Chapter 28 - Cupcakes

View Online

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning in mid-October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard, wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was standing in the hallway of old Stern Wood’s place. Above the doors which could have let in a troop of elephants, there was a stained glass panel showing a guard in bright, shining armour rescuing a pretty mare tied to a tree. She had no clothes on but she had a very long and, convenient, mane. He was fiddling with the knots and not getting anywhere. If I lived in this house I thought that sooner or later I would have to climb up there and help him; he didn’t seem to be really trying.

I waited for the butler to come back. I was wearing my powder blue suit, dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, and two pairs of black brogues on my hooves. I was neat, clean, shaved, and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it. I was everything a well-dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million bits.

My foray into the world of Equestrian crime fiction, graciously gifted to me by Twilight was brought an abrupt halt when a wave of pain surged in my head. Instantly, I dropped the book I was reading and doubled up in agony. Whatever it was, it was sudden. It was worse than any migraine I’d had. I tried massaging my forehead and quickly found the problem. An apple, and a rotten one at that, had become impaled in my horn.

Across the way, Applejack and Apple Bloom had been collecting any of the unsellable apples to feed for the pigs. I’d been watching them this morning happily making a game out of the whole thing, with AJ batting the apples with her tail for Apple Bloom to catch. This one had evidently gone a bit wide and chosen, possibly by the will of Discord, to land where it had.

Removing the offending apple from my horn caused another wave of pain. Sweetie Belle was certainly more stoic when a similar incident happened to her. Perhaps there was a difference in sensitivity between the genders, or maybe I was just being a bit of a cry-baby. Once it was off, the pain quickly vanished, just as suddenly as it had come. However, my cries of mild agony had attracted the attention of the two ladies across the way.

“Ya okay, Bones?” Applejack called as the pair trotted up.

“Have you seen that last apple, Blade Star? I missed one of ‘em. Sis says she saw it go over here.” I couldn’t be mad at her. Not only did she have her typically adorable face on, that was smiling at me, but she also had a basket filled with caught apples strapped to her head, making her slightly top heavy. She was just too cute.

“Ya mean this one, AB?” I asked, producing the evil apple from behind me, now with a neat skewer hole through its centre.

“Yeah, hey, where’d that hole come from?” She asked curiously. Applejack moved closer to get a better look. She smiled and broke out into a small fit of giggles. She really did have a nice laugh.

“Well that explains all that howlin’, eh Bones?” she said between giggles. “Guess ah must’ve sent that one a bit wide. Didn’t hurt too much did it?” At least she showed some concern for my well-being.

“Just a bit, ‘Jack, I replied. “Guess ya need to work on yer aim.” This earned me a raspberry. “Besides, Ah figured ah might go into town today. Anythin’ ya need me to get while Ah’m there?” Applejack thought for a moment.

“Ya sure it’s not too much trouble?” she asked after a brief pause.

“Nah, got nothin’ better to do, unless Ah hear from the princesses or somethin’.”

“Well then, ya could go an’ fetch a few things from Sugarcube Corner. Pinkie’s promised to do us all a dozen of her cupcakes to make up fer that dang tie yesterday.” Both parties were still sore about the lack of a clear winner yesterday. While it did prevent any escalation by the loser, it also left both Applejack and Rainbow Dash feeling a little annoyed with themselves. A couple cupcakes would clear that right up.

With that, I stuck a leaf in the book I had been reading as a bookmark and headed back to the farmhouse to grab my saddlebags and a bag of Bits, in case something in town, particularly at Sugarcube Corner, caught my fancy. While I was not swimming in bits, I was no longer completely without currency. All told I had around six hundred or so, stashed away in my room. I could have had over one thousand five hundred had I accepted Princess Celestia’s offer of aid. But I am a proud being in matters of finance.

Winona once again followed me into town, but peeled off and headed back when she spotted Granny Smith in the market. I guess she was the one she saw as being the pony most likely to provide food. Dogs, for all their loyalty, will usually go with whoever has a treat in their hands.

Sugarcube Corner was perhaps one of the more bizarre buildings in Ponyville. It really did look good enough to eat on occasion, and as I approached I saw one young colt being chastised by his mother, after apparently trying to take a bite out of a large and, might I add structurally vital, candy cane. I wondered how it had been constructed. I mean, sure, it was a wonderful thing to look at, but how on earth did you build something like that, and without the whole shebang falling in on itself.

As I passed through the front door, the bell, suspended in the frame above chimed softly, reminding me of that old café I used to go to with my grandfather. It had been many years, but I still missed him. The inside was not quite as whacky as the outside, with signs that perhaps at least one sane pony had been part of the construction team. Directly in front of me was the display stands, filled with all kinds of cakes and confections. Closing the door behind me, a voice called from somewhere in the back.

“I’ll be right with you!” And with that Mrs Cake trotted out from the residential part of the building. Throwing on an apron quickly, she moved behind the counter. “Now what can I get for you, dearie?” she asked kindly.

“Just come to pick up those cupcakes for Applejack, Mrs. Cake,” I replied, my southern accent still sticking. It had been doing that on and off since my teleport spell practice at the library.

“Oh, I think Pinkie Pie’s been holding on to those for ya,” Mrs. Cake replied. “Pinkie!” She called.

“Yes Mrs. Cake?” answered a voice over my shoulder. I turned around and found myself less than an inch from Pinkie Pie, who seemed to have materialised beside me. Needless to say, I was spooked by that. Pinkie was apologetic however. “Oops, sorry, Bladey. Didn’t mean to scare you.” She continued beaming at me, luckily, Mrs. Cake intervened.

“Pinkie, he’s here to pick up Applejack’s cupcakes for her,” she offered. This moved Pinkie into action. She seized me by the foreleg and dragged me into the back of the store.

With little ceremony, Pinkie pulled me past the counter and into the main hallway of the building. I expected that she had kept them out of the way, in the kitchens perhaps to prevent them being damaged or accidentally sold. However, much to my alarm, she led me away from the kitchens and store cupboards and toward a large ominous looking basement door. Pinkie answered my question before I had a chance to ask it.

“This is where I keep all my ‘special’ cupcakes, Bladey,” she said, her typical grin taking a darker look for a moment. “Dashie helped me make them.”

And with that, I began to panic internally. I’d read various infamous fan fictions since I’d joined, but Cupcakes really stood out. The fact that Pinkie Pie was now leading me into the basement, where she apparently kept cupcakes, that Dash had ‘helped’ her make, unsettled me to say the least.

When I’d spoken to Princess Celestia about my multiverse theory, I had wondered about the possibility of other MLP based universe existing. But a Cupcakes universe? I never was the type to beg for my life, as I said, I am a proud being. But in this case, I made an exception.

After babbling out something completely incomprehensible that may or may not have been a plea for any kind of mercy, Pinkie stopped in her tracks and turned to look at me. Was she considering letting me live? Or was she just prolonging the inevitable?

“What are you so scared about, Bladey? We’re just going to get the cupcakes you came for,” she said, still maintaining her cheerful demeanour. She opened the basement door and inside there were hundreds of.

I’m not quite sure how to say this. There were boxes. Marked ‘flour’. There was no horrific torture equipment, no disturbing mortal remains. Nothing. It was just a basement. I might have had a brief mental celebration. If Pinkie was aware of what had transpired, she didn’t show it. Releasing me from her grip, she headed off to a corner and retrieved a cake box, filled with cupcakes. Of the usual variety.

“Here you go, Bladey,” she said, passing the box to me, which I balanced carefully on my back. “Come on back upstairs and you pay Mrs. Cake for them.” Seizing me by the foreleg again, she dragged me back up to the storefront to pay. Handing over the bits, I couldn’t help but smile.

I mean really. Pinkie Pie as a vicious axe wielding psychopath? As long as you weren’t actually reading it, it was quite a funny image. I felt somewhat guilty for misjudging her like that. I’d known her for just over a fortnight and here I was still making judgements based on fan fiction written by messed up twenty year olds. She was the Element of Laughter for Celestia’s sake! While they all knew a bit about the Brony fandom, I had glossed over some bits. Cupcakes was one along with the Conversion Bureau and any other grim or dark sections. I doubt any of them would forgive me if they found out.

I was about to head out the door and back to the farm when a thought stuck me. I ought to do something for Pinkie to make up for what happened, even if it was all in my head. I did feel terrible for having even considered it.

“Hey Pinkie, how busy are you today?” I asked. Pinkie bounced up and down excitedly.

“Oh, oh, we’re really busy today, Bladey. I’ve got to bake seventy two more cupcakes, eighteen carrot cakes, thirty one sponges, a sapphire cupcake for Spike and an anniversary cake for Mr and Mrs. Cake.” Most people would sound slightly depressed at the sheer workload of all that. But not Pinkie, if anything, she was looking forward to all the cakes which, by her logic, would make lots of ponies happy, so she ought to enjoy it. “Why?” she asked.

“Just thought Ah might offer to help out. Ah used to do a bit of baking with my mom, not somethin’ you forget,” I replied smiling.

Pinkie was more than happy to let me help her, and after checking it was okay with the Cakes, I threw on an apron and followed Pinkie into the kitchen. In contrast to her slightly, dare I say it, chaotic personality, Pinkie kept the kitchens extremely well organised. That was probably why she was able to fulfil all the orders the store received.

As the third batch of cupcakes went into one of the large, yet pink ovens, we paused to catch our breath. It seemed even the logic defying Pinkie Pie was not omitted from the concept of tiredness. The speed at which we were working the ovens had me sweating like it was Applebuck Season all over again. While Pinkie seemed a bit winded, she was still going strong. And still humming the Cupcakes song.

“You’re like a machine, Pinkie. I knew you were good at baking, but I didn’t know you were this good. You’d probably put a fair few chefs to shame back on Earth.” It was true; we’d churned out, between us, all the required cupcakes in just under an hour.

“I’m not that good, Bladey. I just work hard like everypony else. Now come on, help me with the kumquats.”

I stayed for a couple more hours to help finish up the larger orders. Even with all the work, she never stopped smiling. Ordinarily, this would have thrown up a red flag for me. Excessive smiling tends to be a sign that a person is just a little unhinged. However, with Pinkie, the smile was completely sincere. That was what I liked about her the most. No matter what happened, you couldn’t break her. Even on her darkest of days, she would still be smiling and doing her best to cheer others up. Quite in contrast to cynical old me.

Once the last of the sponges came out, I bade Pinkie farewell, and headed back home. I would have gone all the way back, but I quickly remembered the promise I had made to Rarity about going with her to Canterlot. As I was in town, it wouldn’t hurt to swing by the Carousel Boutique and pay her a visit. Once we’d sorted out the details, I could go and check everything was okay with AJ. Sweet Apple Acres might have been closed for the winter, but that didn’t mean I was going to disappear off to the city without checking first.

And with that, I headed toward Rarity’s home and business. AJ could wait another half hour for the cupcakes.

Chapter 29 - On Fashion and Romance

View Online

The name Carousel Boutique was no accident. Had you slapped on a couple poniequins on the outside and somehow got the building to rotate on its foundations, it would have easily passed for a Victorian carousel. Like many businesses in town, the shop doubled as Rarity’s home as well as her place of business. I always found it odd that Rarity was able to do so well from a relatively rural location. I hadn’t worn any sort of clothing since the trip to Canterlot. I think that might be the one thing that unsettled my father the most. Maybe when I got back I could sit down and have a proper talk with my parents. It was nice to talk to them on Sunday, but I did still feel as if I was neglecting them.

Once again, I was confronted with a door and the ultimate question; do I knock or just enter? I had learnt that Twilight had no problem with people just walking into the library, but Rarity was different, and much more liable to take offense if I picked the wrong one. And so with that, I knocked.

After a moment the door was opened to me and I was met, much to my surprise, by Spike. I had expected him to be at the library today, though I did know he occasionally went to Rarity’s to help her with her work. And in an attempt to woo her. Mainly the latter.

“Hey, Spike. Is Rarity in?” I asked. Subconsciously, I had been struggling not to start calling him Spyro. The infant dragon nodded.

“Yeah, she’s just putting the finishing touches on a couple of her new designs for Canterlot.” He opened the door a little wider to grant me access.

Following Spike into the kitchen, I seated myself at the table, while he went to fetch Rarity. I could hear the tone of their conversation (not that I was eavesdropping) and Rarity seemed more than thrilled that I had arrived.

She walked in with her spectacles still perched on her snout. These were quickly levitated off and placed in their case, revealing a pair of eyes that betrayed a hint of tiredness.

“Oh I’m so glad you could come, darling,” she said as she settled herself. “I’ve just put the finishing touches on my designs. I am ready for Canterlot!”

“Spike told me you had just finished up,” I replied, doing my best to repress my previous accent. “Mind if I have a quick peek? I may not be a fashion guru, but I know a good design when I see it.” For all my intellectual ability, I did not have a clue what I was doing when it came to fashion. However, it seemed that more often than not, following what generally appealed led to a choice that was aesthetically pleasing. But if you asked me to justify my choice, then I was in trouble.

“Oh of course, I’m always looking for a little bit of input, Blade Star. Come on through to my work room. I have the entire collection up there. Actually I was just about to take them off the dress forms. I could use a little…” She didn’t get a chance to finish her sentence.

“I’ll help, Rarity!” called Spike as he sprinted into the room. I am certain that I saw Rarity blush for a moment.

Rarity led me up the stairs to her work room. As it appeared on the show, it was organised chaos. Fabric, drawings and tools were scattered everywhere. But in the centre of the room, sitting on six dress forms, Rarity’s new designs lay pristine and clean, in a sharp contrast to the rest of the room. It was quite strange really, Rarity’s home and business was as neat and tidy as my own rooms back on Sweet Apple Acres, yet the place where she created her brilliant designs looked an absolute tip. This was even stranger when you took her fastidious need for cleanliness into account.

“Here we are, darling. I call it ‘Winter Wonderland’.” The six garments before me were absolutely beautiful. Going with the white snow that would soon cover Equestria for her colour base, Rarity had created a wonderful line. The dresses were long and formal looking in appearance. But, if a stallion may speak his mind, still gave a hint of mystery to the mare that wore it. Rarity had played to her strengths well. The designs had numerous accessories such as glistening tiaras, gem encrusted bands and light blue ribbons adorning the fringes of the dresses. All in all, what I had come to expect from her.

“Rarity, these are beautiful. I know that doesn’t mean much coming from a member of the proletariat like me, but they really are beautiful. Were these for humans, I would have mistaken at least this one for the dress Lizzie wore to her prom.”

“Why thank you, darling,” Rarity replied. “I tried to have each dress reflect the different personalities of winter.” I did my best to hide the confusion I was experiencing, luckily, she explained. “This one for example, is slightly cold looking and icy, intended for business. But this one is a much softer colour giving off a more approachable vibe.”

“Yes, I can see that.” It made much more sense now. “This dress does give off a sort of ‘Ice Queen’ feel doesn’t it?” I briefly explained myself when I realised Rarity probably had never read ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. “Besides, Ah’ve seen you create a fashion line from bits of a Manehattan hotel room, I’m sure you will have no trouble with access to proper materials.”

“Oh hush, you!” Rarity replied with mock fury. “And anyway, you’re the one coming from a society where clothing is mandatory. I’m just surprised you’re not all fashion experts.” I smiled.

“It’s not as good as it sounds. Most people don’t know anything about fashion, nor do they care about its usefulness.” As beautiful as Rarity’s designs were, they all still had a pocket or two and didn’t look that difficult to move in. “That and not all our clothes are made by people who ought to be making them. There are some countries out there that have children working on production lines to keep costs low.” I recalled how I had felt somewhat guilty when I saw a couple of my shirts were labelled ‘Made in Honduras’. “It’s better to have clothing as something for the elite and special occasions. It makes you appreciate the ensembles more genuinely.”

Rarity seemed a little taken aback by this sudden spout of human thought.

“Yes, I suppose so. Even the finest wine or the most beautiful bouquet does become bland if you partake of them every single day,” she answered. Glancing at the ornate clock on the wall, she started. “Oh no, I was supposed to go to Sugarcube Corner half an hour ago. I need to pick up that thank you gift for Spike. Oh, but I still have to pack all these clothes away in preparation for the trip to Canterlot.” Ever the gentlecolt, I stepped in.

“Relax Rarity. I’ll take him up there; give you some peace and quiet eh?” I said. “So when are we heading off then?”

“We’ll need to catch the overnight train to Canterlot on Wednesday evening, and get there on Thursday. Stay two days there, and then catch a regular train back for Saturday evening.”

“Right then, I’ll just double check with ‘Jack to make sure everything’s okay and then I’ll drop by. Fair enough.” Rarity nodded and as I departed the room, she seemed to have a knowing smile on her features.

I descended the stairs back to the shop floor to find Spike. He’d perched himself on one of the display stands.

“Right oh, Spike. Rarity asked me to take you to Sugarcube Corner; you’re to get a reward for your troubles,” I said, smiling. The dragon quickly got up and followed me out the front door. We both called upstairs to Rarity as we left.

The pair of us walked in silence for a while. I’m all one for quiet but it was just odd that it was Spike who seemed to have lost his tongue. Other than my dad, Time Turner and Big Mac and Shining Armour, Spike was the only male I knew. I think sometimes we all felt a bit outnumbered. As a result, I tried engaging him on that front.

“Ah was surprised to see you at Rarity’s, Spike. Ah’d have figured you’d be at Twilight’s. Weren’t she doin’ another re-sortin’ or somethin’ today?” I allowed my accent to relapse to what had all but become the norm for me. Spike looked up.

“Dude, I know you know. Twilight told me about that show. You don’t have to beat around the bush.” He sighed. “I know I haven’t got a chance with her.”

I was surprised that he had opened up to me so suddenly. His crush on Rarity was his most closely guarded, if not most secretive, of secrets. True, I did know, but I was still startled. However, regardless, I had to counter his last comment. He’d always seemed so confident about winning her before.

“Ah wouldn’t say that, Spike. In fact Ah reckon, with time, she might grow to see you in that way too. Ah mean, okay, she’s not exactly dating you, but she does like you. You should have been there all those times when she was talking about you. Ah saw her blush when you offered to help. Takes a fair bit of work to make a lady like her blush. And what about you, as Ah recall, you saved an entire empire on one occasion. Don’t put yourself down. You never know,” I finished emphatically.

The young drake looked at his feet, thinking.

“Well, she did kiss me that one time. Still probably nothing compared to you, right?” Now here fillies and gentlecolts, is an embarrassing moment. The moment when you realise the total number of times you have kissed a girl, is equal to that of a baby dragon.

“Don’t be so sure, Spike.” And with that, we arrived at Sugarcube Corner. After getting Spike the sapphire cupcake Pinkie had baked for him, which I paid for as a way of paying back Rarity for all her work, we both headed out of town. It was getting quite dark and the moon had already risen. I was taking him back to the library, I’d realised a small errand had had me out of the house for most of the day. But I thought that, as he had pretty much told me everything, it was only proper of me to do the same.

“You know Spike, you shouldn’t be so eager to grow up. It isn’t as fun as it looks. Sure you like Rarity. Hay, she may even be your true love. But not just yet, give it a little time.” Spike nodded in understanding. I still haven’t seen anyone fall so head over heels for a girl. I just hoped that the romanticised drivel I was spouting would come true. I’d hate to see Spike crushed like that, for that would be the outcome if Rarity didn’t return his feelings. I didn’t know much about love, but I did know that it could be dangerous. I did my best to be honest with him.

“Spike, Ah can’t tell you what to do with your life. Nopony can; not me, Twilight, Rarity, not even the princesses themselves. At the end of the day, it’s your call. All Ah’m saying is give it time. Now come on, let’s get you back home.” And with that, we resumed our trek to the library.

Twilight thanked me for bringing Spike back. He’d apparently gone off to Rarity’s at around two o’clock. Understandably, by six, she was getting a little concerned. I explained that we’d been chatting about stuff.

“What do you mean ‘stuff’?” she asked.

“Nothin’, Twi. Just some guy stuff. Ain’t no need for you to go sticking your snout in it,” I replied jokingly. Twilight smiled at me, perhaps clocking on to the possible subjects discussed between members of the opposite gender.

I quickly headed back to Sweet Apple Acres. It was now well and truly dark, though as usual, the moon cast enough light to see where I was going. The Apple Family was just sitting down to dinner when I got in.

“Now where have you been?” Applejack asked as I closed the kitchen door behind me.

“In town, like Ah said, ‘Jack. Ah got the cupcakes right here.” I quickly retrieved the box from where I had left it in the hall. “Ah just got held up a bit with Rarity. Speakin’ of, can y’all do without me next Wednesday, should be back for the weekend?”

“Ah suppose so,” Applejack replied, a little perturbed. “Winterisin’ don’t start ‘till after Nightmare Night; so as long as you’re back before then, I don’t see why not. What do you think, Granny?” She turned to the Apple matriarch.

“Ah see no problem with it,” she replied. “Nothin’ doin’ ‘till those pegasus ponies drop the snow on our heads.”

So, that was that. In five days’ time, I would be off to Canterlot. It would certainly be a better opportunity to visit the city properly, as well as see Luna again. I might even drop in on Dad and Princess Celestia during Day Court. I could put up with the snobs and, while I was not a follower of the world of fashion, it never hurt to learn something new. Even if I did have to play hoof candy for a while.

Chapter 30 - The Old Guard

View Online

The weekend would have proved completely uneventful, if not for the thunderstorm. For two long days, we all had to shelter in the farmhouse as the storm kept growing in power and ferocity. Lightning split the sky, casting the whole of the land in brief eerie glows, and torrential rain lashed down so hard its impact on the roof could be heard in the sitting room downstairs.

Unlike weather on Earth though, this storm was in actuality, tightly controlled by the weather pegasi, who had warned pretty much everypony well in advance of the storm and gave time for us all to get everything in. The storm itself had a purpose. According to Rainbow, who dropped by personally to warn us of the impending maelstrom, this storm was designed to give the ground one last soak before the snow came, as well as to encourage the fallen leaves to begin degrading. Crops had all been harvested, so there was no risk on that front, and Fluttershy and Lizzie had relayed the warning to all the animal population. More importantly for Apple Bloom and the other foals, this would ensure a dry Nightmare Night.

For the moment, everyone and everything was keeping its head down and staying in shelter. The storm was the largest I’ve ever seen, the clouds stretched all the way from the Everfree Forest, across Ponyville, right on out toward Canterlot and even a little ways beyond. Humans had always appreciated the beauty of nature, even at its most violent. But for the ponies, it was both beautiful and safe, as it was all controlled.

When it finally came to an end late on Sunday night, most of the plains areas were flooded, rivers were running at their fullest, and any of the weaker trees had been brought down by the high winds. Due to the warning and long standing safety procedures practiced by the Weather Patrol under Dash, no one had been hurt. The trees had all been stripped of their loose branches and those earmarked to fall had been positioned to land away from homes. The flood water could be evaporated fairly quickly, as unlike a storm on Earth, this one finished very quickly. After the rain stopped, it took about thirty minutes for the entire thing to be dissipated by Dash and her colleagues.

Monday morning was bright and clear again, though the temperature had dropped noticeably. There would be no more truly warm days; pretty soon I would need to think about purchasing some winter wear; coat or no coat it could still get very cold.

Monday also was the day that my lessons with Twilight were to start up again. We’d now have another few days before I went with Rarity to Canterlot, and then we would pretty much continue on until Hearth’s Warming. According to the curriculum Twilight had produced, today and tomorrow were marked up as ‘Defensive Magic’. These were slightly higher level spells than those I had practiced previously, with the notable exception of the teleportation spell. While I had now pretty much got it down, I still didn’t really trust myself to use it frequently like Twilight did. That and it took a great deal of exertion to accomplish.

What constituted defensive magic, I was not sure. I already had the ability to let off raw magical energy, but I guess this consisted of more refined abilities and non-lethal solutions. If raw magic was a firearm, then this would probably be comparable to a Taser, to be used if I encountered something hostile like a manticore or a timberwolf. In any case, I was looking forward to it. Self-defence was one of the many things I’d wished I had the opportunity to do when I was younger.

As I approached the library, I was met with a bit of a surprise. Sitting outside, with its two fliers still attached, was a chariot. While it was not Celestia’s, it was nevertheless from the palace. That could be seen from its ornate design, and the fact that two Solar Guards were pulling it. I wondered who could be calling on Twilight from such a distance at such an early hour.

“Mornin’ Gentlecolts,” I said as I passed the two guards. As ever with them, I was met with a stoic face and complete silence. Luckily for them, I was a little more mature than Rainbow and did not pester them.

Just to be safe, considering Twilight had a guest or guests of some importance, I knocked on the door.

“Coming!” Twilight called. A moment later, she opened the door. “Oh hey Blade Star. I thought I told you that you didn’t have to knock.”

“Ah saw you had a guest, so Ah thought Ah’d just be polite,” I replied. Twilight looked confused for a moment before spotting the two Royal Guards, still standing at attention.

“Oh no, Blade Star, that guest is here for you. They’re helping me with your training today.” She paused and turned around. “Strong Shield!”

A dark brown stallion with a dark blue mane not dissimilar to my own stepped out. He was clearly a guard but was not wearing his helmet at the moment. Had he worn his entire uniform, his coat would have been turned charcoal grey as was the case with all unicorns in the Royal Guard. The most striking thing about him though, was his face. Any foal could tell he was a veteran. His face was angular and the look in his eyes was hard and unforgiving. Well, I suppose I mean eye, for he wore an eye patch over his right eye, it reminded me somewhat of von Stauffenburg or Moshe Dayan.

“This is Captain Strong Shield, Blade Star. He’s one of the instructors at the Guard Academy now, but he fought the Changelings during the Royal Wedding, and Shining said there is no one better qualified. Plus we’re friends. He’ll teach you while I do some work with the Crusaders this morning.” She smiled sheepishly.

I promptly drew myself to attention and saluted him.

“Good morning, sir,” I said. Strong Shield glared.

“How do you know what kind of Celestia damned day it is?” he asked sternly. This was going to be tough.

After a curt ‘follow me’ from Strong Shield, we left Twilight and headed out of Ponyville toward the Everfree Forest. As when I had practiced with Twilight, Strong Shield evidently didn’t want to run the risk of getting anypony accidentally hurt. When we arrived at our destination, there were around a dozen or so targets set up. Each one was a pole about two feet high, with a bulb of sorts at the top.

“What’s all this, sir?” I asked. Strong Shield snorted.

“Did I give you permission to speak? Captain Pretty Colt” (which I presumed meant Shining) “says you’re a civilian. But when we’re training you’re a recruit, which means I’m a superior officer. You call me captain and speak when you’re spoken to. Understand?”

“Yes, Captain.”

“Good, then we’ll get to work, rookie.” He hesitated on that last word. “These are magical targets; they can create an image of any possible target. We’ll start with some basic marksmanship. Even as one of those ‘human’ things you still should be able to aim.”

He flared his horn an odd sickly green colour. The targets responded in kind and before my eyes, six of them turned into wooden targets with roundels and a bull in the middle.

“Now, we’ll start with a basic stun spell. Every guard should be able to do this spell in his sleep. A solid hit will put an opponent out cold for about three hours. Keep the magic flow in your horn low, but have a fair bit of your reserves ready. If you need this spell, you’ll probably be outnumbered.”

I flared my horn bringing a marginal amount of magic into my horn as instructed. This was the hardest part; it was very easy to place too much energy into the spell, turning it from a simple stun to a kill shot.

“Right, now then, one shot at a time; focus on your accuracy, not your speed.” I aimed my horn towards the first of the three targets. Steadying myself, I let loose the first shot. It came out as a dark blue bolt, rather than a concentrated beam. Unsurprisingly, this first shot went wide. After two more attempts, I hit the first target. When I had completed the sequence, the first target was surrounded by scorch marks, with one hit on the top edge, the second had one hit nearer the centre, but still high and the third had a hit not too far off the bull.

I turned to Strong Shield, expecting him to be at least somewhat pleased with my performance. The look on his face though, was one of disbelief.

“Sweet Celestia,” he muttered. His voice then rose in volume. “What the buck was that?!” he exclaimed. “Four shots to hit your first, with a poor impact, two more before you improved on your second. Hay, the only one you probably took down was the third! These things don’t even move!” He was some kind of ticked.

“Alright, let’s try it again,” he said at length. “I’ll watch you this time. One target, fire five shots. Understand?”

“Yes, Captain,” I said as I prepared for another round.

Again, my initial shots went wide, but third time was the charm and I scored a hit on the bull, with the other two shots hitting elsewhere on the target. I turned to Strong Shield again.

“You’re tensing up,” he said. “Relax your back and neck, otherwise you’ll jump and throw off your aim. Another two shots I think, and this time relax.”

I let off two shots, this time they went just where I wanted landing pretty close to dead centre. Strong Shield remained stone faced.

“Good, now at least you can hit the broadside of a barn.” I could understand his attitude; I was a civvie, an outsider to a guard. He on the other hand was a battle hardened officer who had fought Equestria’s most insidious enemy. And here he was, having to train me.

“Captain, you don’t have to treat me like one of your guard recruits. I don’t like it or really care for it, you deserve your rank, I don’t.” This however earned me another glare.

“Did I give you permission to speak, rookie? Furthermore, in the Royal Guard, we may not like our orders, but we damn well follow them without question. Or do I have to teach you that too?”

“No, Captain,” I backpedalled.

“Good. Now that your aim is just about passable, we can move on.” His horn flared again and the battered targets vanished, leaving nothing but the small two foot high columns. “Right then, now let’s see how sharp you are with a moving target. Or do you expect your opponents to assemble in front of you and stand perfectly still for your convenience?”

I considered making some wisecrack about how Royal Guards did tend to do just that, at least based on what I had seen. But Strong Shield, in spite of being about my size, in other words average, could probably give Big Macintosh a run for his money, perhaps even beat him.

“No, Captain.”

“Alright, as soon as the targets light up, take ‘em down. Five targets one at a time.” Without waiting for my answer, he flared his horn and the first target appeared.

Like before, it was a large wooden target, only this one moved with about the same speed as a pony at a trot. With my improved aim, my experience of virtual war kicked in and I remembered to lead the target before firing. Strong Shield noticed this and evidently decided I was doing too well. When the third target popped up, it was moving a hell of a lot faster, more like a gallop, and it was moving forwards and backwards too affecting the range. I was grateful magic didn’t have Kentucky windage to take into account.

By the time I’d hit the last one, I was rattled mentally. It was like playing a madcap version Whack-a-mole. This time Strong Shield’s expression showed perhaps the smallest amount of pride.

“Not bad for a rookie.”

“Thank you, Captain.” Strong Shield smiled a somewhat sadistic smile.

“Don’t thank me yet.” He paused. “Let’s see how you do when the targets shoot back.”

And with that, he flared his horn and vanished. It wasn’t a teleport, for there was no signature flash and pop sound. He just seemed to phase out of existence. I looked back toward the impromptu range, the targets too had vanished. There was nothing. Nothing moved. There were no targets that I could see.

“Captain?” I called. No response. “Captain Strong Shield!” Again nothing.

I listened and continued to look around. That’s when I noticed it. There was no bird song. The whole place was completely and deadly silent. I knew this was just training, but it nevertheless unsettled me. As a bit of a control freak like Twilight, I do not like it when I am not certain of what is happening.

It was then that I first heard it. It first came as a sort of humming sound, a bit like when you stand under one of those huge electricity pylons. It quickly became louder than this though. I couldn’t work out from which direction it was coming from though. The strange noise only served to put me more on edge, adrenaline began to kick in, preparing me for fight or flight, I had to give Strong Shield credit, this was no longer feeling like a simple training exercise.

And that was when it happened. There was a loud bang, like the report of a gun. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a green flash. Spinning around to face it, there was now a small crater in the ground next to me. Half buried, but rapidly recovering from the impact, was a black pony like creature. On its back were twisted insect wings. Its limbs were filled with holes, and it had soulless blue eyes without pupils. A Changeling.

It was quickly joined by three others that landed in front and to the side of me. They hissed foully at me, their fangs glinting in the light. Two of them quickly began to hover, starting up that droning buzzing again. I took a fighting stance and made a point to relax my back as Strong Shield had taught me.

“Hello beastie.” I said to the group. And with that, they came at me.

Chapter 31 - The Continuation of Politics by Other Means

View Online

Luckily for me, they didn’t rush me then and there. Instead, one of the two that were hovering tried to buzz me and knock me down. I rolled quickly out of the way and the creature passed harmlessly above me. I turned round and let off a quick shot at the retreating bug. The shot caught it square in the back. It gave a little cry before plummeting back down to the ground.

The other three Changelings hissed angrily at the sight of their comrade being injured. At first, I was sure that they would now rush me, but again, they stood their ground. If they were real, I would have thought that they were sizing me up as an opponent, for that was what it felt like even with these facsimiles. The one in the centre, which evidently lead the other two, looked to its comrades. It made a brief hissing noise and before my eyes, the trio were enveloped in green flames.

They were trying a psychological move. When the flames receded, before me were Applejack, Twilight and Rainbow Dash. Had I not just seen them change, I would have thought them to be the genuine article. As much as I hated and loathed these creatures, I had to give them credit, they were pretty convincing.

‘Rainbow’ charged down at me in a move similar to its companion. Again I rolled out of the way. But this time I had no opportunity to take a pot shot. After it passed me, the creature turned on the spot and performed the same manoeuvre it used to startle me when it arrived. The creature blasted itself forward landing about a foot from me. The impact knocked me off my hooves.

The Changeling was the first to recover and quickly pounced on me as I tried to get up. Any foal knows the ground is the worst place to be in a fight. It got right up in my face and dropped its disguise. It hissed in my face, which frightened me more than I cared to admit afterwards. These things did look like they would bite into your neck if they could. Desperately, I kicked out with my hind legs. I managed to strike its rear with enough force that it pulled back hovering a couple of feet from me. It was now more than close enough to get a shot off at it. I let off two quick shots. Both hit, one on the body and one in the head. Again, the hovering beast dropped to the ground. Two down, two to go.

I didn’t realise it then, but as is often the case in realistic simulations, I was starting to get into it. I think the moment that second target, for that was all they were really, got up close and personal, I began to believe what my senses were telling me, I was fighting Changelings.

The pair dropped their disguises and came straight at me. No chance of dodging this time, and no real chance to shoot. I would just have to take it. They rammed into me and again got me on the ground. This time though, when one of them moved in to presumably restrain me, I punched it across the face with a right hook. I quickly got to my hooves.

“Dirty little beast!” I cried, the two Changelings hissed in response.

I let off another two shots, which caused the Changelings to split to avoid the spells. I went after the one on the left, the one that had knocked me down. For the moment, I’d turned the tables and put them on the defensive. The other Changeling took flight and moved to a higher altitude, looking for an opening. The one I had pursued was now crouched low, it couldn’t fly, for I would undoubtedly hit it. It couldn’t run either. I’d made a crucial mistake; I’d backed my opponent into a corner. Consequently, it went on an all-out attack.

It charged straight at me bowling both of us over in the soft grass. I figured I would be in for a desperate hoof to hoof brawl when I heard a voice.

“Blade Star! Shieldy! Are you guys out here?” It was Twilight, come to check up on us. I could certainly use her help right now. I looked back to the Changeling.

Surprisingly, the creature let up the pressure it had been exerting on me and backed off a little. It couldn’t be giving up. Foul animals like Changelings don’t give up; you have to take them down. I’d swear that it flashed me a smile as green flames crept up its body. I charged my horn again; I could easily get a shot in. But then I saw who it had taken the form of.

Me. Standing before me was a mirror image of myself. Like me its horn was flared with a dark blue aura and it was ready to shoot. Then, in the manner of Changelings, it pulled a cheap shot.

“Twilight help!” It called in my voice. “Ah’ve got a Changeling!” Twilight instantly teleported over to the pair of us. I could tell by the look on her face she couldn’t tell us apart.

“Quick Twi. Stun it!” I said.

“No Twilight, stun him, he’s the Changeling,” my doppelganger replied. Twilight looked back and forth between us, still unsure.

“Not me you unicorn with wings! Him!” I barked. That seemed to settle it. Twilight let off her own spells that send the Changeling flying, knocking down its disguise in the process. It was laid out on the grass several feet away, more than just out cold. I breathed a sigh of relief and turned to Twilight.

“Thanks Twilight,” I said. “I didn’t mean anythin’ by that, just figured that it’d help you pick me out.”

“Never mind that, Blade Star!” Twilight replied frantically. “Where in Equestria did it come from, and these two as well?”

“It’s okay, Twilight. They’re not real, magical targets. Strong Shield set ‘em up,” I answered. The previously frightened alicorn relaxed.

That’s when I realised, there were only three Changelings sprawled out on the grass. There were four before. I turned back to Twilight.

“Hang on, there were four of them. Where’s the last one. Twilight can you see anything?” I asked. She looked around.

“Strong Shield probably turned it off after we beat that last one. C’mon, let’s go find him. He’s probably hiding somewhere watching us.” She smiled, but it didn’t seem genuine. Something just seemed off. She continued smiling, and then I saw it. A flash of green in her eyes. This wasn’t Twilight.

“You’re probably right Twi. Lead the way.” We both began to head toward town.

As soon as I was sure it wasn’t watching me, I lashed out. I fired one burst, aiming for the head. Unfortunately for me, it ducked at the last second; quickly it dropped its disguise and took a fighting stance. Again, it hissed at me.

“What, d’you think ah’m stupid?” I asked it. Again, for what seemed like the hundredth time, it charged.

It tried going through various disguises to confuse me. It went through each of the elements, Spike, Big Mac, Shining, Time Turner and even Princess Luna. That last one almost caused me to hesitate. Unlike the other Changelings, this one was tougher and more experienced. We’d been trying to find an edge for a couple of minutes now, with little success and it was starting to fray my nerves.

“Why won’t you do all of Equestria a favour and just die!” I shouted between breaths. Again, I had begun to lose myself in the experience, combined with my existing feelings. That was when the Changeling went and pulled a truly low move.

Green flames crept up its form and I did my best to disregard whatever it was in the process of changing into. But this time I was taken aback.

Standing in front of me, was Lizzie. Or at least a good rendition of her, she smiled kindly at me. In spite of my foreknowledge, I hesitated. The Changeling shifted back and leapt at me. It knocked me on my back and pinned me. I’d had it. I was too exhausted to throw it off as I had before and I couldn’t hit it with magic.

Luckily though, help was at hand and genuine help this time. The Changeling shimmered and vanished as did the three forms of the unconscious ones. In their place were the small two foot high targets. And standing but a few feet away, was Strong Shield.

Initially, I was tempted to blast the smug looking unicorn for what he had just inflicted on me. Had he not arrived and had that Changeling not been an illusion, I’d probably be bug food right about now. I’d done okay, but I was no fighter and never had been. The only fight I’d ever got in was back in high school where I socked some evil demon child on the mouth after he took a swing at me. Of course, said child had ADHD so was let off. I on the other hand had the book thrown at me.

Strong Shield was certainly gifted in magic that was for sure. As I said his four ‘targets’ were cunning fighters and were extremely believable. Hay, a couple times I had actually felt fear for my life. A realistic simulation like that and you easily lose yourself in it. I heard that it happened to airline pilots on simulators. In the event of a crash some would scream or throw their hands in front of their face.

The Captain helped me to my hooves, I’d stayed on my back after the target vanished, still somewhat winded.

“Not bad, Rookie,” he said. “Sure that last one would’ve probably had you, but you’d have taken a bunch of those sons of diamond dogs with you.” Was he actually impressed with me?

“Thank you, Captain,” I replied. “Ah didn’t do too badly with the first of ‘em, but when they got in close ah couldn’t get a shot off.” This earned me a smack on the head.

“That’s why you’ve gotta back off once in a while, Rookie. The way you were goin’ at them; there was a whole lot of anger.” That was true as anything. “But I ain’t here to teach you fighting skills. I’m here to teach ‘defensive magic’ as Miss Sparkle puts it.”

“So what next then, Captain,” I asked, eager to move on. Strong Shield smiled.

“Next, you go back home and get yourself cleaned up. You look like you’ve been through Tartarus.” He laughed heartily as I took a look at myself.

I was a mess alright. Were I in any kind of uniform I would have been a disgrace to it. My coat was matted with mud and grass stains, I was soaked in sweat from the fight, and once again my horn was emitting a faint glow from over use.

“Yes Captain. Ah might just do that.” Again Strong Shield smiled. He’d really loosened up since that last practice. For whatever reason, he now seemed less short with me.

“I’ll meet you at Miss Sparkle’s library tomorrow at 0800. Don’t be late.” That last bit carried a hint of a threat. “Try some target practice whenever you can. And don’t let yourself go rusty. Dismissed.” He really was treating me to the whole army gig.

With that Strong Shield walked off. I presumed that he’d head back to Canterlot. I hadn’t come across him before. He was equal rank with Shining too, certainly a high rank to be just teaching the new recruits. Though as he had taken up that post after the wedding, maybe at last the Royal Guard would start to become a usable fighting force. Not something to get their flanks handed to them by a bunch of bugs. I headed back to Twilight’s for a quick chat, and then I would head home, maybe stopping to see my folks on the way.

Strong Shield was long gone by the time I arrived in the library. I figured Twilight would want to wrap up everything I’d done today and maybe add some of her own insights. I was slightly confused as to why she had had a serving officer come all the way here when she had a good understanding of defensive spells herself, as seen during the Incursion. I walked in this time and found Twilight putting a few recently returned books back in their proper place.

“Hey Twilight,” I said in greeting. “Just thought ah’d stop by in case you wanted to add anything.” Twilight looked a little confused by that.

“Well, I don’t think so. Strong Shield taught you the basic stun spell and gave you some practice right?” I nodded.

“Yes of course, ah just figured that you had knowledge of such spells. Why’d you need the Captain to come all the way out to Ponyville?” Twilight splayed her ears, not a good sign.

“Blade Star, remember when Princess Celestia introduced you all to the town?” I nodded. How could I forget Lyra? “Well, not everypony in Equestria is entirely comfortable with your species. It’s not you or your family; he just has a distrust of outsiders. It’s understandable in a way. But he sort of wanted you and your family gone as soon as possible.” I was surprised to say the least. “The Princesses made him see reason, but he’s concerned about more of your kind following you.”

“Twilight, do you mean Strong Shield?” I asked with a tinge of confusion in my voice.

“Strong Shield has expressed concern to Princess Celestia. He’s worried about a ‘security risk’. I asked him to come down here to get to know you. It seems to have worked. He said that you weren’t half bad for a human.” She chuckled, but then looked sorrowful. “It’s just I’ve known Strong Shield since I was little, and I hated to see him being so, closed minded.”

I could understand that. What I couldn’t quite wrap my head around was that he had got it into his head that we were somehow the vanguard of an invading army. I suppose Equestria must have its own version of the Daily Mail too. It explained Strong Shield’s initial dislike toward me. But Hay, he’d come around quickly enough, and it was understandable in a way. So far Equestria’s experience of non-ponies hasn’t been all that great

“Well, as long as he isn’t going to drive me or my family out of town, I think we can put up with him,” I said, hoping to lighten the mood. Twilight smiled, evidently glad to have gotten her ulterior motive off her chest.

I left the library and headed back toward home. I thought about setting up a little practice range for myself near the farmhouse. There was a fence line nearby that I could lay targets on. Might be a nice little pass time too. Tomorrow I would continue with Strong Shield’s tuition. Afterward, Twilight wanted to move on to a few more theoretical areas of magic study. Ideally, she wanted me to able to help out with finding a way home for my family. That question still lingered at the back of my mind if, or possibly, when we were able to find a way back, would I go?

Chapter 32 - S.H.I.E.L.D

View Online

The next morning, after having one of Granny Smith’s trademarked Apple Family Breakfasts, I prepared to head out to Twilight’s again. I was to meet up with Strong Shield at eight o’clock sharp for further training in defensive magic. The previous night I’d liberated a few tin cans from the rubbish and set them up on the fence line. Big Mac had also kindly helped me set up a few hinged metal targets that would swing when hit. I now had a good firing range to practice on; the Crusaders had also asked to be allowed to use it. The previous day, they had gone and built themselves some slingshots and a few bows and arrows. Their latest project was, in their own words, ‘Cutie Mark Crusader Marksponies’.

At half past seven, I was about to head out when Applejack stopped me.

“Hey, Blade Star. Would ya mind takin’ AB to school today? Me and Big Macintosh want to get some work done on a few of the wagons.” I was glad she said she was getting around to that. A couple times over the last week I’d voiced concerns about a couple of the carts used to haul the apples around. They’d been in use since before Applejack was born, and they were starting to look just a little bit ropey. Nothing major, but enough to warrant some concern.

“Sure, ‘Jack. Ah’ve got time. You okay to pick her up, or shall ah do that too?” I replied.

“Just take ‘er down to the schoolhouse, ah’ll pick 'er up at quittin’ time.” I nodded and turned to the youngest member of the Apple family.

“Alright, AB you heard yer sister. Time’s a’wastin’,” I called. The little filly promptly stuffed all she deemed necessary into her saddlebags and trotted to my side.

“Okay, Blade Star. Ah’m ready,” she said. And with that, we both headed out for Ponyville.

I quickly engaged Apple Bloom in conversation regarding her and the other Crusaders’ idea of being marksponies. Given their ability to turn even the most innocuous of occupations into a blazing whirlwind of destruction, the idea of them using, even rudimentary projectile weapons, gave me pause.

“So where’d this whole idea come from any way, AB?” I asked as we walked. There was usually a curious if not humorous tale behind each of their escapades’ origins.

“Well,” the filly began. “We were havin’ a history lesson in school the other day, an’ Miss Cheerilee was talkin’ about some of the wars that happened before the first Hearth’s Warmin’. An’ then as she was talkin’, Mrs. Owen went and said it sounded a lot like…erm.” She paused for a moment to think. “Aginer, Agingeror, err, Agincorrrer?”

“Agincourt?” I offered.

“Yeah, that’s the one! Anyway, she told us how all those archers were able to attack from a long ways off and that it took a lot of skill to do.”

“So you three figured you’d have a go yourself?” I said, smiling. “Well, as long as you’re careful. Don’t use real arrows or nothin’, AB. Ah wouldn’t want to see y’all get yourself or anypony else hurt.” The filly gave me a deadpan look, which made me chuckle in response.

We were now coming up to the schoolhouse. It reminded me of my days in primary school, before I moved. Good times. I spotted my mom leaning against the doorframe on the front, keeping a watchful eye on the foals at play.

“Mornin’ Mom!” I called.

Apple Bloom promptly scampered off to meet up with her fellow Crusaders. I prayed to Celestia that she’d taken my advice to heart. They always meant well, and you could never be truly mad at them for long, but a great many of their projects had ended in large scale property damage.

“Hello, son,” my mother replied, walking up to me. “How are things up at Sweet Apple Acres then?”

“Nothin’ doin’ until the snow comes now,” I answered. “Ah’m just on my way to Twilight’s. Got another magic lesson today.” My mother smiled.

“As long as I live, I will probably never get used to your magic,” she said jokingly. “Still, must be better than hooves right?”

“Hey!” called an earth pony foal. Evidently having picked up on the minor slur. We both looked apologetic.

“Oh my, would you look at the time!” I said hurriedly, glancing at my non-existent watch. “I better get to the library or Twi’ll have my head. Ah’ll stop by tonight if I can, Mom. Okay?”

I promptly took off at a gallop, leaving my mom to deal with the slightly irritated foals of earth pony and pegasi decent.

When I arrived at the library, the chariot was once again parked up. Two pegasi guards were again attached to it. It may have been the same pair for all I knew; I never could work out how they could tell each other apart. I guessed therefore, that Strong Shield would be inside with Twilight, ready for the second and final lesson he had to teach me. I pushed the front door open and walked inside.

“Twilight! It’s me, Blade Star,” I called. The lavender alicorn appeared from behind a stack of books and promptly shushed my outburst.

“Quiet Blade Star. You’ll wake him.” I looked across and saw Strong Shield asleep on one of the sofas that sat against the library wall. I looked back at Twilight, my expression forming a silent question.

“He got here about two hours ago. Said he couldn’t sleep anyway, so he’d decided to come here a bit earlier. Then he simply lay down and fell asleep.” Again we both looked at the slumbering unicorn. He was evidently dog tired for he had not stirred one bit since I had arrived. Twilight motioned for me to follow her and took me to her kitchen. Spike was already in there with breakfast cooking, with that trademark frilly apron of his.

“Hey Blade Star,” he said in greeting. “Fancy some breakfast?”

“No thank you, Spike,” I replied. “Ah’ve had an Apple family Breakfast. Should keep me goin’ for a long while. Wouldn’t mind a cup of tea though.”

The one stereotype I possess of my people is my strong liking for, and appreciation of tea. I never went in for any of the herbal hippy dippy hogwash Twilight seemed to like. But I was partial to a good Ceylon blend every now and again, or perhaps an Earl Grey and very rarely some Berber Whiskey. Of course, none of those existed in Equestria. However, as with most things there was a ‘ponified’ version to be found somewhere usually. After some searching in the back cupboards, Spike found a box of Earl Hay. I had to choke down a laugh on that one.

Spike, unlike most ponies, also seemed to appreciate a good tea, having the sense to let it brew for a while before pouring it. It always amazed me how back on Earth, friends of mine would dip a tea bag in the water and then somehow expect flavour of any kind to materialise. Twilight had a very nice tea set of good china. Tea to my mind, is a luxury, and should be served in a manner fitting. As a finishing touch Spike added a slice of lemon wedge to the saucer.

“Thanks, Spike,” I said as the young dragon brought the tray over. Twilight had gone for one of her herbal teas. Lizzie had a thing for those too. “Ah’ll never understand how you can take those, Twi,” I said smiling.

“Blade Star! I’ll have you know that Zecora’s herbal teas are amongst the best in Equestria,” she replied with mock offense.

“True, but a good Earl Hay doesn’t require a trip through a potentially dangerous forest.” I coughed to disguise my next word. “Cockatrice.” This caused the alicorn to blush profusely.

“That was just bad judgement on my part,” she countered, getting a little flustered. I was about to goad her a little more, when the guard captain, who had stayed almost completely still, at last began to stir.

It started as quiet mutterings, as many tend to do when dreaming. I couldn’t pick out any words. He was definitely a bit agitated though, as he began to toss and turn on the sofa. We both paused our conversation to watch the unusual spectacle and to ensure we were not the cause of his disturbance. His mutterings continued unabated though and before long I could make out a few words.

“Squadron……reinforce……breech……princess…….creatures.” This kept up, steadily rising in volume before he finally began desperately crying out. “Fix bayonets! FIX BAYONETS!” And with that he awoke with a start. His breathing was heavy and laboured, his eyes wide in near terror. He looked about desperately, trying to work out where he was. Eventually, as he steadied himself, he turned to Twilight.

“Shieldy, are you alright?!” Twilight’s question was half shouted due to her concern for her long-time friend. She quickly galloped up to him. The captain sat himself up and got to his hooves.

“It’s nothing Miss Sparkle, just a bad dream. Nothing for you to worry about,” he replied, gently nudging Twilight away. His voice was calm and relaxed, almost as if nothing had happened. Before Twilight had a chance to reply, he turned to me. “Now Rookie, let’s get going, we’ve got a fair bit to do today.” And with that he trotted out of the library. That was the most blatant and also the first of many red flags.

Once again Strong Shield led me out of Ponyville to the same area of grassland where I had practiced stun spells the day before. Nothing had really changed since then. I could even see the marks in the grass from where I had fought with the ‘changeling’ yesterday. Strong Shield finally stopped and turned to address me.

“Alright Rookie. Yesterday we practiced using spells in an offensive capacity to take your opponent out of play. Today, we’ll focus on the opposite, absorbing an opponent’s attack and staying on your hooves. Clear?”

“Yes, Captain,” I replied instantly. Though internally I was surprised. Any trace of what had transpired in the library was gone. Or at least hidden under a mask.

“Good,” he paused briefly. “Now, since you know a bit about recent history, you should be able to tell me the best means of defending against a threat with magic.” He again paused, awaiting my answer.

“A magical shield, Captain,” I responded, thinking back to both the attempt to protect Canterlot and the far more successful spell used to keep King Sombra out of the Crystal Empire.

“Correct. Now you aren’t no Princess of Love, so don’t think you can cast one of those ‘love barriers’. The best you can hope for is a basic level absorption field. This will absorb any magical energy that comes into contact with it; be it a stun spell, telekinesis or a transformation.” For a moment, his eyes seemed to look through me and he fell silent. A ‘thousand yard’ stare.

“You okay, Captain?” I asked hesitatingly. He quickly rounded on me.

“Never you mind, Rookie!” he snapped. He only seemed to call me that when he was annoyed. “Now, the drawback of a ‘Shield spell’ is that it is a constant drain.”

Twilight had told me about this in one of her earlier lectures. A typical spell drains energy for as long as it is active. So as soon as a stun spell has been fired, no more energy is needed. With something like a shield spell however, it required a continuous influx of energy to maintain. If that energy was interrupted for any period, such as when Shining Armour was hypnotised, the spell will naturally degrade and fail. In addition, the constant influx meant a continuous drain, the spell didn’t need energy only when it took a hit, but all the time due to the background magic found throughout the world. Needless to say, had my Year 9 Physics teacher followed me here, he would have gone absolutely bonkers. Strong Shield continued.

“So, due to this, only use a shield when necessary. They’re easy enough to form, but difficult to maintain. Use them to absorb an attack, then drop and retaliate. Understand?”

“Yes, Captain.” Strong Shield was again falling into the teaching methods he would use for Guards. But to be fair, you couldn’t really teach this sort of magic without also going into its effective use.

“Right, let’s try you then. First an endurance test.” He turned to face the small targets that were still set up here. “Each of these will fire a low level burst. They don’t hurt on their own, but there’s strength in numbers. Put up a shield and maintain it for as long as you can.” I nodded in understanding. He then outlined the nuances of casting the spell; it was actually very simple as he said. As soon as I cast my horn alight I was encased in a small purple bubble. I guess the colour isn’t affected by a pony’s own aura colour.

“Ready, Captain!” I hollered, remembering the sound absorbing quality of the spell. He replied in kind.

“Okay, standby. Standby. Go!” With that, he teleported out of the firing line and I was ‘lit up’.

The ten targets each began firing their low level burst. From a distance they would have looked like a very impressive light show. From my perspective, in the firing line, I felt like I was in a Viper in front of a Cylon base ship. When that much, of what some would call ‘extremely motivating’ fire, was coming straight towards you, you didn’t really have time to appreciate any conceivable artistic beauty.

When the first bolts impacted my magically powered barrier, I didn’t feel much. Strong Shield had told me that for every hit, I would need to add a little more to the spell to keep it active. But for the first twenty seconds or so, I just kept the spell active. Around thirty seconds in though, I began to notice the strain. The shield was not as thick as it was before and was in places looking dangerously weak. So, I channelled more magic into it. The shield quickly reformed into a more stable form. However, I definitely felt a bit weaker from adding to it.

Over the next six and half minutes this continued. The shield would begin to weaken, and I would add more magic, feeling more tired each time. Finally, I was out of proverbial juice. I had no more magic to give. The shield began to crack and flicker. Finally, it simply shattered, the pieces vanishing as they fell. And with that, I took some hits.

Luckily, I was able to duck down to avoid the last few bolts as the targets stopped firing. As it turned out though, I had other things to worry about. I’d been too busy focusing on the minor matter of maintaining the shield and not getting hit to look towards Strong Shield. What I saw now though alarmed me greatly.

The unicorn guard was standing unsteadily, shaking as if terrified beyond measure. I could see his eyes; they were darting about as if he were a small colt surrounded by Timberwolves. He had that look again. This time, he didn’t scream, just muttered.

“It’s gone…..the city……what do I do?” He was then overcome by another shaking fit. I rushed to his side.

“Captain? Captain Strong Shield?! Can you hear me?” I tapped the side of his face repeatedly with a hoof trying to get him to focus. Luckily my action seemed to bring him around.

“What the Hay are you doing, Rookie?!” he asked crossly.

“Captain, you seemed to be havin’ a bit of a turn there. Are you sure you’re okay?” He sighed in resignation and placed a hoof on the bridge of his snout. Silence prevailed for a while.

“Sorry you had to see that,” he said at length. “I just get these spells from time to time, usually come out of it in a minute or so. Docs say it’s some kind of response to mental trauma. It’s why I’m an instructor and not a guard.” I nodded in understanding.

“Ah’m familiar with such conditions, Captain. ‘Combat fatigue’ occurs quite often amongst human soldiers,” I replied.

“Just, don’t tell anypony okay? Miss Sparkle couldn’t take it if she found out. She and that brother of hers always looked up to me back when I was just a guard.” I promised that I would keep silent.

On the one hand, I wanted him to get help. But I knew that such action would require him to leave the Royal Guard. The episodes seemed to be triggered by the image of a shield collapsing, for he’d shown no issue with the ‘changelings’ yesterday. As for his dreams, I might ask Luna to keep an eye on him when I went to Canterlot.

We continued practicing for the rest of the day, going through the many variations of shields. These ranged from anti-magic, health shields that blocked disease up to the theoretical concept of the love shield that only Princess Cadence could pull off. When we were finished, we headed back to the library. Twilight and myself thanked him for agreeing to come down here and he thanked us for the opportunity. As I took him out to the waiting chariot, he thanked me again.

“When you’re in Canterlot, Rookie, you should come by the officers club. I’ll vouch for you, I owe you.” Thanking him again, I watched as he climbed into the chariot and returned to Canterlot.

Chapter 33 - The Spa

View Online

I had been packing since early morning. Today was Wednesday. Today I would accompany Rarity to Canterlot for the fashion show that was to be held there by Hoity Toity. Tonight we would take the sleeper train up the mountain and settle in on arrival the next morning. Rarity had booked a suite at one of the many hotels in the city. Unlike her previous visit, she could not stay in the castle. The show and subsequent events were to be attended by a number of diplomatic guests, who had naturally claimed the castle suites. Nevertheless, based on their brochure the hotel we were staying at was something equivalent to the Ritz.

Consequently, I was taking great care to pack everything I thought I could conceivably need. I would be taking my existing formal attire for both the show and subsequent reception. But as well as this, I had packed basic toiletries, a reserve of Bits as well as some ink, scrolls and quills and a couple books. For the third time, I checked that I had my pre-booked train ticket, a first class given to me by Rarity, who refused to travel in anything less. The small suitcase Applejack had lent me was now becoming quite difficult to close as were my saddlebags.

“Fancy taking the kitchen sink with ya too?” a voice asked behind me. I quickly turned around to find Applejack leaning in the doorway to my room.

“Ah’m just being prepared, ‘Jack. ‘Sides, at least ah’m only takin’ one case. Last count for Rarity was six.” AJ chuckled.

“Yeah, that sounds ‘bout right.” She smiled as I tried to force all my weight down on the case to seal it. “Here let me give ya a hoof.” With our combined effort we were able to close the case, though it still bulged a little, and it was heavier than sin. The clock on the wall read about five past ten. I wasn’t exactly rushing; the train didn’t even leave until six that night. I just preferred to be prepared and organised, a bit like Twilight. Well, a lot like Twilight actually.

The main reason I was rushing was that I had lots of other things to do in preparation. You can’t just wander into Canterlot in the condition I was in. My once shining grey coat was now quite matted and covered in dust and the odd bit of dried mud from working while my dark blue mane and tail were growing to a point my grandfather would have considered to be ‘hippy’ and my hooves were somewhat chipped and dulled as well. All in all, working on the farm had taken its toll on my mortal coil.

As such, Rarity had insisted that I make myself more presentable before we left. There was only one means of accomplishing this feat according to her; the spa. Dear Luna, how I loathe the concept of spas! I understand that females, particularly high maintenance ones like Rarity, require such care. Me on the other hoof, as long as I had a bath or a shower at regular intervals and had my hair trimmed when it began to make wearing my glasses a chore, I was happy. Nevertheless, Rarity had insisted that I accompany her and Fluttershy on their weekly spa date. I guess this was to be the death knell of my masculinity.

Applejack of course, in the manner of close friends, took great delight at my impending torture. Isn’t friendship magic, eh? As I prepared myself for what felt like walking the Green Mile, she continued to giggle behind her hoof.

“Oh, come on Bones. It won’t be that bad,” she said, still giggling.

“No,” I replied sarcastically. “It’s not as if Ah’m being forced to a place where most sane males fear to tread.”

“Oh don’t be such a stick in the mud!” AJ replied, gently poking my side. “It’s not that bad, and it’s just this one time.” I’m afraid that when she said that, I may have formed a cunning plan.

“If it’s not that bad, why don’t you join me, ‘Jack?” I asked, grinning. The mare quickly spluttered.

“Oh, erm, well. Ah’d love to but….” She couldn’t think of a reason to warrant her escape. Caught.

“Yes, you should join me. I’m sure Rarity and Fluttershy won’t mind. And you could use it too.” I continued to grin as AJ became more and more flustered. Eventually though, she caved, showing her true feeling regarding pampering.

“Fine,” she answered irritably. As we headed downstairs though, we both fell to giggling at our mutual misfortune. Grabbing a sack of bits to pay for my contribution, we headed out.

The Day Spa was actually quite a small building at a first glance. However, like my parents’ new home, it was a deep building, in contrast to the more equal shaped buildings surrounding it. It was to be expected that the spa was painted in a variety of purples and pinks. It wasn’t of course, that far from Carousel Boutique, and so Rarity was already waiting for us when we arrived, with her bags. Fluttershy was also just walking up. Rarity was expecting me, but the sight of Applejack caught her by surprise.

“Applejack, darling? What are you doing here?” she asked perplexedly. “I was only expecting Blade Star.”

“Ah convinced her to join us, Rarity,” I replied. “We could both do with a treatment wouldn’t you say?” I hadn’t noticed that I hadn’t switched to my old accent. The look on Rarity’s and Fluttershy’s faces though, quickly notified me of this.

“Darling, what in the wide, wide world of Equestria has happened to your voice?” she asked. “You sound like one of Applejack’s relatives.”

“You haven’t gone near any of that Poison Joke have you?” Fluttershy offered. Before I had a chance to respond, Applejack jumped in.

“Well, Ah guess he must have been puttin’ on his old accent for you, Rare. Maybe’s he’s tryin’ to get in yer good books. Eh, Bones?” I had a full body blush at her comment.

“That’s not why Ah do it!” I exclaimed. AJ merely burst into giggles and I realised that she was merely retaliating for me making her come here. “Oh, lay off, ‘Jack!” I gave her a gentle shove.

Rarity was also tittering, though in a far more lady-like way. I swear that I saw her give a knowing smile as myself and the country mare continued to plot further retaliatory action. Fluttershy on the other hand, took refuge behind her mane.

“Well, since you are both here,” Rarity said. “Our appointment is in about ten minutes. So shall we go in?” The fashionista turned and headed inside, with myself and Applejack bringing up the rear. Well, ‘for what we are about to receive’ and all that.

The Day Spa’s exterior was, as I said, deceptive. The reception room into which we entered was large and spacious, in sharp contrast to the relatively small looking building. Standing behind the counter was one of the two sisters who ran and owned the spa. I was never fully sure until then which was which. Luckily, Rarity’s greeting allowed me a chance to cement in my brain, which mare was which.

“Good morning, Lotus!” she called as the blue coated mare looked up. “We’re here for our appointment at half-past. Do you mind if Applejack here tags along?” I instantly committed the mare’s identity to memory. Lotus was blue and Aloe was pink.

“Of course not, Miss Rarity,” Lotus replied. Her accent was similar to that which you would hear in Eastern Europe. Perhaps she was descended from the Equestrian equivalent of Slavic. “The spa is quiet for the moment. I will just go and tell Aloe. Please take a seat.” She gestured to a small seating area to our left.

We all settled ourselves in to wait. Rarity immediately picked up some gossip magazine and busied herself with the latest scandal to befall the nobility. Fluttershy selected a nature magazine from some conservation charity. As for me and Applejack, there were no copies of the Equestrian Guard, which was Equestria’s equivalent of the Daily Telegraph and the only publication the Apples cared to read, so we chatted idly for a while. I reminded AJ that she still had her Stetson on, which she promptly hung up in the reception.

After a short while Lotus returned accompanied by her much pinker twin sister.

“Alright everypony, if you would like to follow us,” Lotus said. I silently thanked Celestia that they didn’t do that disturbing ‘twin speak’.

The four of us followed the two mares into the back of the spa. As we walked Rarity outlined the schedule for this torturous session.

“All right, Blade Star, here’s what we shall be doing. First of all, we shall take a mud bath.” I had to stop her there.

“Rarity, Ah’ve got enough mud stains on me already.” I commented dryly. Applejack voiced her agreement. Rarity let out a sigh.

“This mud is highly purified though, darling. It will help cleanse your skin and remove any impurities. It’s nothing like the mud on Sweet Apple Acres. It’s actually imported here from the Crystal Empire.” I whispered in Applejack’s ear.

“Guess you were right about her and imported mud.” We both giggled, resulting in a glare from Rarity.

“After that,” she continued. “We will have a good bath to clean our coats, then a quick spell in the steam room, a massage then a quick hooficure and manecut.” This sounded extensive.

“Rarity, erm, how long is all that gonna take?” Applejack asked.

“Oh, no more than a few hours,” she replied as if it was the simplest thing in the world. The pair of us facehoofed. It was going to be a long day.

And so we were lead to the mud baths. I can only describe these as horrid steaming vats. From where I was standing, imported or not, the only difference between this and the mud found across Sweet Apple Acres was that this stuff was heated. There were half a dozen of these baths in the room, and each was clearly designed for one occupant. So, after a quick sigh of resignation, I descended down the small steps into the mud. Rarity instructed both AJ and myself to allow the mud up to our necks. The ooze was thick and certainly didn’t make me feel ‘cleansed and rejuvenated’, as Rarity had promised. The girls fell into idle natter, as women tend to do in these situations, while I just tried to will this ordeal to be over. I wouldn’t mind a bath, but this just felt horrid.

Luckily, after what felt like an eternity, Lotus and Aloe came to fetch us. I once again committed to memory the fact that Aloe was pink.

“Alright, we can move on to the mineral baths now. A quick shower to remove any excess mud first though.” I had noticed the shower heads directly above each vat. The mud quickly drained away from each vat, revealing all of us, covered in the thick, slimy and uncomfortably warm mud. In a moment though these shower heads began to spray warm water down onto us. We all quickly scrubbed the partially encrusted mud off our coats and skin before climbing out of the now empty bath.

“There, was that really so bad?” Rarity asked. AJ looked about ready to speak her mind. Looking at a nearby clock, I could see that that whole nonsense had taken just under an hour. Sure I felt clean now, mainly because I had just washed all the mud off. My coat now had some of its original shine back. I leaned over to Applejack.

“Patience, ‘Jack,” I said calmingly. “That’s gotta be the worst part done, a decent bath will do us any amount of good.” We both again buried our irritation at being here.

Our procession was lead to another room. This time, there were several large Jacuzzi like tubs, filled with clear blue water. They were clearly intended to be shared, bringing us all nicely to our first awkward situation.

“Right, in we get,” Rarity proclaimed happily, quickly setting herself into the bath. AJ, Fluttershy and myself exchanged somewhat uncomfortable looks.

“Erm, Rarity,” Fluttershy mumbled. “Maybe Blade Star should have a separate bath?” I nodded perhaps a little too eagerly. Evidently Fluttershy had picked up on some human culture and its strong differences with that of Equestria.

“What ever for, Fluttershy? There’s plenty of room for all of us.” I was now beginning to blush brightly.

“Oh, well you see…” The rest of Fluttershy’s explanation came out as an inaudible mumble. Seeing where this was going, I decided to take a leap.

“Rarity, except for a few select situations, it is improper in human culture for this situation to occur,” I stated in my old accent, lacking emotion. Rarity seemed to cotton on, and then, disregard it.

“Oh don’t be such a prude, Blade Star,” she replied. “I assure you, there is nothing wrong with you joining us. Right girls?” She turned to AJ and Fluttershy who shook their heads hesitantly. And since none of the other baths were filled at the moment, it seemed I was fated. Of the four of us, only one really enjoyed her bath. The rest of us revelled in the awkwardness.

The last group based part of this seemingly never ending debacle was an hour or so in a steam room. Were I on earth, this would have been the most awkward part. However, since I had not really worn clothes of any kind since I arrived except for the waistcoat Rarity had made, and combined with Equestria’s lack of a nudity taboo, it was actually quite relaxing.

The sauna was like any other that you would find on Earth. It was about ten by ten with a stack of hot coals in the centre. Lining the walls were benches for us to sit on. Of course, despite their design, we all sat in the typical equine way, lying down on our stomachs. I couldn’t understand how Lyra put up with the pain from the way she sat.

Rarity and Fluttershy had both taken spa robes when we left the mineral bath, Applejack and myself on the other hand, preferred the simpler method of simply shaking ourselves dry, much to Rarity’s disgust and Fluttershy’s amusement. Aloe led us to the sauna and gave us two newcomers a quick safety lesson on the sauna, just in case we had a dizzy spell or something from the heat.

“Aloe, me and ‘Jack are more than used to workin’ in hot weather. Ah’m sure we can take an hour in the steam room,” I assured her. With that, the pink spa pony left us, closing the door behind her.

The sauna was actually quite enjoyable I must say. It was not the uncomfortable feeling I was expecting. I figured that it would just be like sitting in the noon day sun. In reality, while it was warm, it also felt quite cleansing and relaxing. Applejack too seemed to be enjoying herself. And then, Lady Smug piped up.

“See Blade Star, I told you that you would enjoy this. And it has worked wonders on you, darling.” I had to give her credit. My coat was clean and shining like a rook’s wing, and the mineral water had removed all the odds and ends from my mane. All that remained was the massage, hooficure and manecut. The mane cut, I needed, but those other two options seemed to indicate more tedium.

Nevertheless, I would endure. I may not be enjoying it as much as the girls were, but I could hardy pitch up in Canterlot in the state I was in. It would embarrass me, and it would embarrass Rarity, and probably my species as a whole, as well as lowering the reputation of Ponyville in the eyes of the nobles. Social politics eh?

The final three stages of this spa treatment would all be accomplished in one room. A massage to relieve tension, which I have always seen as an oxymoron, then the equivalent of a visit to the farrier and finally, a manecut. For obvious reasons I requested that Rarity not to let the twins style my mane. As long as it was cut and neat, I was content.

The massage for reasons you can perhaps guess, I am not going to describe or mention ever again for as long as I draw breath. Nor will any of the girls as I ensured that they Pinkie promised to remain silent. They agreed to keep quiet in exchange for me not bringing up any equally embarrassing incidents for them, such as ‘Tom’, Iron Will’s assertiveness training and AJ’s breakdown in Applebuck Season. Suffice it to say though, an unfortunate biological reaction occurred. Let’s leave it at that.

The hooficure was not as bad as I thought it would be. Looking at my hooves, they could use some work. Even by my standards, the fore hooves in particular were chipped and in general looked a little unsightly, a consequence of hard work. Lotus though was very talented and evened them out and shined the exposed hooves, doing her best to repair any further damage. My right back hoof had got badly splintered, but as it wasn’t causing me pain, it was simply sealed up.

Lastly, the manecut. Except for the mineral bath, this was the only part of the treatment I admitted that I actually needed. Both my mane and tail were getting to the point of being out of control. Okay sure, there was nothing wrong with the ‘rugged’ look, aside from the fact that I couldn’t pull it off, but I was going to a formal event. Consequently, I fell back into old habits, and had Aloe trim it in a somewhat militaristic style that was low maintenance and would last me for a good month or so.

With that, I was released from the spa. Rarity and Fluttershy stayed on to have their manes more thoroughly styled. Both did have complex manestyles. As for me and AJ, we paid our dues, or rather I did, since I was the one who roped the poor mare into this, and we headed back to the farm. I’d pick up my suitcase and saddlebags and then head down to the train station. I’d then meet Rarity there and we would board the overnight train. I hadn’t had a chance to look at the clock until we exited the spa.

Firstly, it was now getting on for dusk, Celestia’s sun just hanging onto the horizon. Secondly, I could see the overnight train just pulling into the station across town. And third, the clock on Ponyville Tower read half past five; the train left at six. Me and AJ had ourselves a bit of a race.

Chapter 34 - Trains, Hooves and Teleports

View Online

The pair of us began galloping as fast as we could back toward Sweet Apple Acres. I had to grab my bags, check for the last time I had everything and then gallop back to Ponyville to the train station. And I had to do all of this in half an hour. The clock adorning Ponyville Tower was easily visible as we ran and I could see the hands steadily creeping round. At six o’clock the train would depart for Canterlot, whether I was aboard or not.

For every tick of the clock I began to pile on more speed, touching a pace I knew that neither of us could keep up. It took a half hour at a normal trot to get just from Sweet Apple Acres to Ponyville; I now had to do double the distance in half the time. Even at a gallop this seemed impossible.

Still, with Celestia’s sun well below the horizon and a crescent moon hanging high in the darkened sky, it was cooler at the very least. I would not ruin my newly attained ‘clean’ condition by my exertions. Rarity would undoubtedly kill me where I stood were I to turn up to the station sweating after a full gallop.

Finally, we reached the entrance to the farm. Blasting through the fields, the farmhouse quickly came into view along with the barn and the other outbuildings. The two us all but flew through the front door, almost scaring the life out of Granny Smith, who had until then been peacefully napping in her rocking chair.

“What in tarnation is goin’ on here?!” she exclaimed. But we had already rushed up the stairs to my room. Hurriedly, I checked that I had the train ticket and Bits. AJ then quickly threw my saddlebags onto my back, causing my legs to buckle slightly under the weight. I then encased the small suitcase that held my other possessions in my magic and pulled it two my side.

We then turned about, all but slamming the door behind us and hurtled back downstairs. Granny Smith, who was now out of her rocking chair tried to work out what the hay was going on.

“Applejack, what are y’all doin’?!” The mare in question hurriedly shouted a response back to her.

“Takin’ Blade Star to the station, Granny! Back Soon!” And with that we were out the door.

Running was now significantly more of a chore than on the way here. I had a fair few more pounds to carry, plus the strain on my magic. You try concentrating on keeping a spell active whist galloping with extra weight holding you down. It’s not easy that’s for sure. Both of us were beginning to show the strain from exerting ourselves so much.

When we emerged from the orchards and the Ponyville Tower re-entered our view, my heart sank. The clock read ten minutes to six. It had taken us twenty minutes, when we were fresh and unburdened to get to the farm, now we had a mere ten minutes. It was impossible. I brought myself to a halt, with Applejack quickly joining me.

“’Jack, it’s no good. We can’t make it,” I said bitterly. My sides were heaving and my breath came in painful gasps.

AJ’s expression on the other hand was one of inspiration. She’d come up with a plan. A plan that should have entered my mind from the moment we exited the spa.

“Not to be rude, Sugarcube. But, ain’t you a unicorn? Last time I looked Twi taught ya to teleport.” I facehoofed. I was such a bucking idiot. While I was low on physical reserves, I had only been carrying one, comparatively light, case since we left the farm. I had more than enough for a mid-range teleport. But then, a thought dawned on me.

“But, you won’t be able to see me off at the station,” I replied. Everypony and everyone else said they would be there to wave me and Rarity off. It would be strange for Applejack not to be there.

“Ah’m here ain’t I?” she countered. “’Sides, you’re only gone for a couple days. You go on, and ah’ll head back to the house to explain everythin’ to Granny. Now go on, don’t keep Rarity waitin’.”

“Sure?” I asked. She lightly smacked me round the head in response, laughing kindly.

“Go on with ya. Ah’ll see ya Saturday,” she briefly hugged me as I prepared the necessary spell.

With that I charged my horn and weaved the complex spell. Visualising the station in my mind as the destination, I let the magic build up. Finally, with its signature flash and pop, I found myself on the platform.

Everypony was there in addition to my own family. Pinkie had already placed a ‘Come Back Soon’ banner, along with a multitude of balloons on the platform. Twilight asked me to pass on my greetings to Celestia if we had a chance to talk and I told my father that I’d possibly drop by and see him too if I got the chance. They all asked after Applejack and I explained her absence as well as my sudden arrival. Now that I think about it, it was the first time any of my family had seen me teleport. That might explain my mother’s unusually pale complexion.

Before anything else could be said though, I was set upon by Rarity. After briefly chastising me for cutting my arrival time so finely, she insisted that we both board the train immediately as departure was in a matter of moments. So bidding one final farewell to my friends and family, I followed Rarity up the steps and into the first class sleeper car. Moments later, the conductor slammed the doors shut and signalled the engine with his lantern. The train whistled in reply, before steadily setting off.

As the train pulled out of the station, Rarity and I opened a couple of the carriage’s windows to wave and everypony we were leaving behind on the platform. Pinkie, in her characteristic way chased us all the way to the end of the platform, desperately pleading that we not forget her or Ponyville.

As we cleared Ponyville we closed the windows to keep the heat in. The car in which we found ourselves was quite opulent. It was not Canterlot Castle by any stretch of the imagination, but it was certainly more than I would have expected on a train, even an overnight service. There were four beds, two on each side of the aisle each large enough to accommodate a pony easily. Further down towards the end were two sofas to relax in, complete with an attendant coffee table.

Heading further up the train through the door out of our car was the Dining Car, where we would have our dinner tonight and breakfast on the morrow. From what I could see through the window, it too looked as opulent as our current surroundings.

We quickly stowed all our luggage in the overhead racks above us. While I had just one suitcase and my saddlebags, Rarity had arrived with no less than a dozen different bags. To be fair, some of these contained the new designs that she would be showing off at the show. Nevertheless at least eight of the bags contained what she described as ‘basic necessities’. Settling down on her berth, the alabaster mare struck up conversation with me.

“I must say Blade Star, I am so glad you chose to accompany me to Canterlot,” she began.

“It would be nice to head on up there again, Rarity,” I replied. “Been a while since Ah’ve seen the princesses or anythin’.” Rarity looked off to her left, nervously.

“Erm, Blade Star, please don’t take this the wrong way but…” she trailed off.


“Well, do you think you could try and drop your new accent whilst we are in the capital? It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s just that some ponies might give you a less than warm reception.” I smiled kindly, hoping to relax her.

“Well, back on my world, this sort of accent could be seen as quite gentlecolt-like.” I offered. “I thought while I was there ah might try and pull off the ‘honourable southern gentleman’ act.”

“The what?” Rarity asked incredulously.

“Well, let me explain.” I went into a brief explanation of the idea of the ‘southern gentleman’. Whilst it may be nowadays more fiction than fact, it did crop up every now and again. This inevitably led to an explanation of the American Civil War. This in turn led to me spinning a few tales of CSA cavalry officers and stories of the many Partisan Rangers groups. I might have romanticised the whole thing.

Just a little.

Okay, a lot.

After I ended my explanation Rarity seemed to take a very rapid liking to my accent and its supposed connotations. She insisted that I retell a few of the stories I had to both the nobility we would meet and to perhaps a few of the guards. It was a shame I didn’t have a copy of ‘Gone with the Wind’ on me. Given that she had unknowingly referenced it once, I figured she’d probably enjoy it.

We then adjourned to the dining car for dinner.

Given that we were on a relatively small overnight train, in a world which was only beginning to reach a technological level similar to Earth, I was surprised at the quality of the food on offer. I’d taken overnight trains before, the last one being up to Scotland to visit relatives there. In most cases though, the food had either been fairly basic, or horribly similar to airline meals. Here though, Rarity and myself were treated to an excellent pasta dish with a from scratch tomato sauce along with onions and courgettes. All in all, a very nice meal, and all included in our ticket, though to be fair, we were riding first class to Equestria’s opulent capital.

I could not help but feel slightly awkward though. Rarity and I were seated at a small dining table across from each other. The restaurant quality food, combined with the interior decoration of the dining car and the ambient piano coming from some unseen gramophone gave the whole scenario a very date like feel. I did my best to hide my minor discomfort as Rarity seemed to be entirely oblivious anyway.

We continued to chat about history; she had certainly taken to my various stories. Perhaps there is something to be said for vanquished hero after all. My mother had frequently joked that I should have taken to wearing a medallion of St Jude her mother gave her; St Jude being the patron saint of the lost cause, and also policemen if memory serves. As the train continued to press on through the night, our discussion moved toward Canterlot and the fashion show and ball we would be attending.

“Accent or not, Blade Star, at least I know you will be able to maintain the proper decorum at this event,” she said. “While the girls are my closest friends, sometimes….Well, sometimes the nobility do not take kindly to them, in spite of everything we’ve done.” This gave me an opportunity to ask a question I had been meaning to for ages.

“Speaking of all you’ve done, Rarity, I’m quite surprised by the lack of recognition y’all sometimes get. Ah would have thought that as the wielders of the Elements, you’d be all but celebrities.” Rarity smiled.

“Oh we are not that important really, darling," she replied, much to my confusion. “The incident with Discord was confined to Ponyville, and we were merely part of the many in Canterlot during the wedding,” I unconsciously scowled at the mention of that event. “And the Crystal Empire was protected by Princess Cadence. As for those horrid plants, it was all really over and done with before news got out. The only real time we were recognised was when we all first met; but even then, we were overshadowed by the return of Princess Luna.” Concluding her speech, she returned to her pasta.

“Well, I guess that makes sense,” I said, my mind struggling to apply this new information.

Finishing up our respective dinners, Rarity had herself a small coffee, whilst I had a cup of hot chocolate. I have never understood why ponies, or humans for that matter, insist on having coffee at the end of an evening meal. Nevertheless, when we returned to our car, to find the beds turned down, Rarity quickly settled herself down and fell asleep.

As for me, I stayed up a little while longer. I briefly went to the rear of the train to sit on the guard platform to stargaze. However, the speed and rocking motion only served to agitate my stomach, so I returned to my berth. Lying down in the, surprisingly comfy bed, I briefly considered a certain Agatha Christie novel that would be apt to have on hand. The evening had been a pleasant one, reminding me of a bygone era as well as giving me a chance to catch up with Rarity and converse away from that infernal spa. And with that, sleep claimed me.

Chapter 35 - Canterlot Again

View Online

The next morning, I was awoken by a terrifying monster. Seriously, I was. Once again, I was partially forced from my slumber by Celestia’s unnecessarily bright sun. However, what returned me to a state of consciousness was the white hoof which persistently shook me by the barrel. I did my best to return to the land of nod, but it was not to be, as the noises of the train hurtling along the tracks made it impossible to drift off. Finally, I heard a voice calling me, with some impatience I might add.

“Blade Star! Quickly, darling, we’ll be in Canterlot in half an hour!” When this proved less than effective the voice switched to a more simple command. “Get up!”

At that precise moment, my eyes opened just enough to be dazzled by the sunlight. My eyes flew open with the pupils shrinking to pinpricks in a desperate effort to regulate the light. I quickly raised a hoof to my face and blinked to clear the spots.

“Alright Rarity. Ah’m up,” I said groggily. I moved my hoof away as the black spots on my vision began to clear.

That was when I saw it. A foul pony like monster with strange green eyes and a green face too. Its hair was held back by cylinders. A frightening image at any rate. Needless to say, I jumped out of my berth, and I promptly had an unhappy reunion with the floor of the car. As I cried out, the voice spoke again.

“Darling, are you alright?” she asked.

If nothing else, the blow to the head had made me lucid again, and I quickly realised that the frightening apparition was just Rarity applying her many beauty products. She removed the two cucumbers from over her eyes and looked down at me.

“Ah’m fine Rarity. Ya just startled me is all,” I answered as I got to my hooves. “Now what did you say?” She sighed in consternation.

“I said we are almost to Canterlot. So do be a dear and make yourself presentable, hmm?” Evidently the fashionista mare was a little cranky in the morning.

I quickly went to the other end of the car and pulled out the washbasin. Splashing some water on my face completed the process of waking up. I didn’t actually look too bad. I hurriedly fixed my mane removing what my father frequently termed a ‘hen’s arse’. And I removed the sleep from my eyes. I then went back to my berth and lowered my suitcase to the floor. Magic was starting to become an instinctive thing now, requiring far less of a conscious effort, at least so far as simple tasks went. I still felt teleportation was a bit of a stretch.

I threw on my waistcoat and quickly smoothed out any obvious crinkles. It was a bit of a shame that I didn’t have a nice little pocket watch to go with this. Maybe I could drop a hint to somepony for Hearth’s Warming.

With that all done, I briefly returned to the mirror to give myself another quick once over. I looked just as I had the last time I had been to this city. Although I was now perhaps a little wiser and I had been through a few changes. Still this would be the first time I had been to the city proper; it would be nice to see the capital in its entirety, even if it was populated by tiresome, self-serving snobs. The princesses exempted of course.

Roughly half an hour later, after emerging from the long tunnel which led up the mountain, our train pulled into Canterlot. The conductor came through with a call of ‘all change’ and we disembarked.

Naturally, I was obliged to help Rarity with her many bags. While she insisted on looking after those which contained her newly designed dresses, a large portion of the rest were left to me. While my use of magic may have become more and more instinctive, it didn’t lessen the mental strain of levitating ten different bags, including my own. However, I did not have to carry them far, just from the station to the cab rank. As with any railway station, lined up outside the front were a number of cabs. Of course, as Equestria relied upon the proverbial pony power, these were rickshaws and dogcarts.

In spite of spending most of my life out in the middle of nowhere, one of the few skills I retained from urban living was the ability to hail cabs. I quickly engaged a rickshaw on the rank. The cabbie quickly unhitched himself to help Rarity with all the bags. No help for me though, no, muggins had to move all of his bags either onto the roof or into the cab himself. The cabbie went back to the front and re-attached himself.

“Right, now where to, my dear?” he asked Rarity. In spite of vocation, he still possessed a Canterlot accent, which struck me as a little odd. Rarity leaned out to reply.

“Get us to the Equestrian Imperial, please,” she said. The cabbie nodded and we started off.

I kept an eye on the fare meter as we went. Just because Canterlot was full of the rich and famous did not mean it was above your cheap scams. In this case though my concerns were unfounded. We stuck to the larger roads of the city. It was a magnificent metropolis, but I could not see myself living here. I briefly wondered what had possessed Celestia all those years ago when she decided to move her home and seat of power out of the old castle in the Everfree and out to the side of a mountain. The Everfree Forest was dangerous enough, but building an entire city on an almost vertical cliff face seemed beyond the pale. Though, I suppose anywhere was preferable than the place where you imprisoned your own blood in a black and silent hell.

As we continued on, we passed a few roadworks, apparently another universal constant. The area around the site was slightly charred from heat. Perhaps where a Changeling had landed not so long ago. It certainly reminded me of London. There was a noticeable guard presence throughout, a consequence of an honourless attack by a cowardly and conniving race.

At length, we pulled up to the hotel we would be staying at. The Equestrian Imperial Hotel, as the sign on the front of the building proclaimed, was indeed Equestria’s answer to the Ritz. As soon as we pulled up, a couple bellboys jumped into action to help us with the many bags. I was certainly grateful for the assistance, though Rarity did insist that she would carry the dress bags.

The reception was as opulent as I had expected, if not more so. The whole place was marble with deep red carpets underhoof. We both trotted up to the reception where a pretty unicorn mare with a light pink mane greeted us with a well-practiced false smile.

“Hello, and welcome to the Equestrian Imperial Hotel. May I see your reservations please?” Rarity fished about in one of her smaller bags and retrieved a few sheets of paper. She passed it to the mare behind the counter. Taking the papers from Rarity’s aura, she quickly examined them. “Thank you, your room is Number 242. Your bags will be brought up presently.” She then levitated a pair of room keys, one for each of us.

Thanking her, we both headed for one of the many lifts that dotted the foyer. The hotel was a fairly large building, twelve floors all told. We were roughly halfway up, not the penthouse suites by any stretch, but a decent middling position with a large room and a balcony. Room service was naturally included as was dinner and breakfast.

Riding up in the lifts, we began to chat again.

“Well, are you excited to be here, Rarity?” I asked. There was no one else in the lift, so it seemed silly to ride up to the sixth floor in silence.

“Of course I am, darling,” she replied. “I just hope I have a nicer time than my previous visits.” She had a point. The last time she had visited Canterlot on fashion business, she had had to endure the snobbery that filled the city outside the palace. Every other time had involved either being sent somewhere to deal with Equestria’s foes, or repelling an invasion of glorified locusts. Thinking back, I still could not understand how they were captured. They were beating the Changelings left, right and centre and then all of a sudden, they were captured.

I was startled out of my internal rant as the lift bell rang out and the doors opened. Stepping out, we followed the various signs around the floor until we reached our room. Outside a bellhop was already waiting for us, with a trolley filled with our bags in attendance. Encasing my key in my aura, I opened the door to our room. Behind me, Rarity gave the bellhop a generous tip and must have batted her eyelashes at him. When I turned back, the poor guy was stammering like mad.

Entering the room, we were confronted with a layout befitting its price tag. There were two, fairly large single beds, each with an attendant desk and lamp. Off to the side was a wardrobe for our clothes, as well as spare linen and pillows. On each bed was one of those little mints hotels tend to leave, the one nearest the door also had a copy of the Guard on it. Some light reading for later.

Around the corner was a door which led to an ornate bathroom with a large shower stocked with towels and enough hair care products to make even Rarity blush. The entirety of the far end wall was windows and screen doors. These gave us a magnificent view of the city below, with the castle being just visible around the mountainside. Through the screen doors, there was a small veranda with a couple deck chairs laid out, not all that different from the one around Luna’s observatory tower.

In short, this would certainly tide us over at any rate until early on Saturday, which was when we were due to check out.

The fashion show was not due to start until eight o’clock that evening. Rarity of course would have to be there around seven in order for her to finalise everything. That meant sorting out the models, the music, pretty much everything, although of course, most of it was planned in advance. Rarity did seem to get a little tetchy when in a situation like this. I could recall a few times where she had almost bitten somepony’s head off. Consequently we’d have an early dinner at around six.

At any rate, it was two o’clock now, so we had a fair bit of time to rest up before it would be time to head down. The hotel, naturally boasted a restaurant, which based on Rarity’s testimony, was something along the lines of a Michelin starred establishment. It was fancy enough to possess its own dress code, understandable in a way I suppose. The only high quality restaurant I had ever been to back on Earth was called ‘Le Coupe Chou’, translated to English the Cut Cabbage. Still it was a very nice place, nice enough for Obama to go there once or twice.

Hopefully, this place would be just as pleasant, even if they did not serve those rare beef steaklets. I was still sort of conflicted on the subject of meat. I knew pegasi occasionally ate fish, perhaps I could try that. I would ask Rainbow when I saw her next.

“Certainly looks like a nice place, Rarity,” I said, looking over the menu that was left for us in the room. “Been a while since ah’ve gone in for fine dinin’.”

“And so it should, Blade Star,” she replied. The restaurant was recommended by some of Equestria’s most influential critics. I’ve been wanting to dine there for absolutely ages!” Her eyes glazed for a moment. “If memory serves, even Fancy Pants occasionally dines at the establishment.”

Ah, yes. The key to acceptance in Canterlot high society. If you could get him to like you, you’d be fine. He seemed to approve of Rarity, so I doubted I’d have too much trouble. Unintentionally, I had networked connections in the city through Rarity. Still a small part of me disliked him for calling the girls ‘charmingly rustic’. At least he meant well and was a little more accepting than others. If worst came to the worst, I had long experience of burying my anger, I would not show up Rarity that was for sure.

We spent the intervening time in our room. Having settled in and unpacked everything. I took to reading the paper provided. There wasn’t much happening at the moment. A couple of scandals and rumours were flying about but not much else. The only real story of any note was a slight political shakeup in the Griffon government. Based on what I read, it was similar to a Cabinet reshuffle, only in the case of the Griffons a few heads had literally rolled. At half-past five Rarity asked me to throw on my waistcoat while she went to change into one of her own dresses. I concurred with AJ and Spike regarding privacy. Rarity seemed to have something of a nudity taboo, since she went into the bathroom to change, yet for the majority of the time, she didn’t wear any clothes to speak of.

“Mares,” I muttered to myself as I waited.

Chapter 36 - Dinner and a Show

View Online

Dressed in our finest, we headed down to the restaurant, which was on one of the lower floors of the hotel. I had my, what by now had become a signature, waistcoat that Rarity had given to me when I had last been required to visit Canterlot. Personally, I had never cared all that much for suits, even at this point in my life; I viewed them as uncomfortable inconveniences to be avoided at all costs.

Rarity on the other hand, was completely at home in her attire. When she had finally finished preparing in the bathroom, the alabaster mare had emerged wearing one of her own unique creations. The best short description I can come up with was ‘torcher dame’. The dress was a deep blue and full length extending right down to her hooves and trailing slightly behind her. The hems were littered here and there with small blue and white diamonds, a feat only achievable in Equestria. Back on Earth, anyone wearing something like that would have had to put on brass knuckles any time they took it out. In addition to the diamonds around the hems, the neck lining also sported a number of slightly larger stones. The centre of the dress was cut in a fashion not dissimilar to a human one, with a long V-neck design. All of this true attention to the beautiful pendant that hung from her neck. That had to be the largest rock I’ve ever seen. Hay, it could probably pass for the Countess of Morcar’s Blue Carbuncle, in other words, it was the Heart of the Ocean. She’d kept her mane the way she always carried it, though with perhaps a few more products applied.

Short version: damn. I honestly can say, even with my arrival in this dimension or universe or plane of existence, I did not see myself attending a high society fashion event with a beautiful lady in tow.

Once again, the elevator chimed and the doors silently slid open revealing another ornate lobby. Signs were posted here and there for the restaurant which we followed. After a short walk we found ourselves at the doors to the establishment. Off to the side of the doors was a small desk, sitting at which, was a small well cut stallion. Glancing up at us, he quickly got to his hooves.

“Do you have a reservation for tonight?” he asked. Rarity had planned for everything regarding the show and the later ball tomorrow. But neither of us had expected the restaurant to be overly busy. Looking through the doors though, it looked as if almost every table was full. I turned to look at Rarity, the poor girl looked downtrodden. Luckily though, whilst she played the role of a high society mare, I could play more useful parts.

I walked up to the stallion at the desk. Briefly flaring my horn, I removed a few coins from my pocket. All told I had around seventy bits made up of various denominations, each one bore the face of an important figure in Equestrian history. I slid a five bit coin to him, smiling.

“Hurricane,” I said. The stallion smiled and shook his head. I hoofed over another five.

“Hurricane,” I repeated. Again, he shook his head. Go for broke, ten.

“Starswirl?” This time, the bugger smiled and nodded.

Opening the doors for us he passed us off to a waiter who took us to a table for two.

The place was very pleasant. Soft piano music could be heard coming from the grand across the room. It looked like we’d ‘reserved’ one of, if not the last table in the whole place. As we glanced over the ornate menus, I could feel Rarity’s gaze burrowing into me. To be fair, I had just got us into a high class restaurant by greasing the doorman with a few bits. Not exactly the behaviour of a gentlecolt.

Deciding not to prolong the inevitable further, I lowered the menu that I had been using as a shield for the past few minutes to face Rarity. The look on her face was something between fury and disappointment. Mainly fury though. I prepared for the worst as she began.

“Blade Star, I cannot believe what you just...” She was cut off as the waiter came to take our orders.

“And what might I get you two tonight?” he asked in an accent marked with a Prench undertone. Instantly, the previous expression on Rarity’s face vanished, replaced with a typical high society air.

“Oh, I think I shall have the pan Ratatouille, please.” She turned her gaze on me. “And you dear?” Her tone carried perhaps a hint of ice.

“Ah’ll go with the house soup if you don’t mind,” I answered. “And bring a bottle of red wine as well, please.” The waiter nodded and trotted away. Now the fun would begin. I looked Rarity in the eye. “Rarity ah’m really sorry about that earlier. Ah just didn’t want you to be disappointed.”

“Never mind that, Blade Star,” she replied. “I am more concerned with the effect such actions could have on you. All the connotations you’ve caused me to see in your accent and manner would be wiped away if it got out that you bribed a doorpony. And cheaply at that! Goodness knows what it would do to me by association.” She was right, not the best start when you act like a bit of a rogue in the aristocratic capital.

“Ah doubt it was noticed, Rarity,” I needed to calm her. “And ah assure you that it was a one-time thing. In future ah promise that if we come to a high class restaurant without reservations ah will not attempt to bribe my way in. Pinkie Promise.” I made the required motions.

As I said this, the waiter returned with the wine. While I may have grown up near Birmingham, I still knew how things were done in restaurants. The bottle had not been corked and appeared to have been well breathed before hoof. Rarity elected to taste it first. Taking a sip, her nose tinged red slightly under her white coat and she smiled. I thanked the waiter who then poured me a glass and left the bottle on the table for us.

What happened next can either be attributed to Rarity taking wine on an empty stomach, or my powers of charm are more effective than I thought. Let’s go with the former.

“Oh wonderful, darling,” she said, picking up our conversation where we had left off. “At last I can be at peace knowing that you won’t indulge in bribery of Canterlot eatery establishments again.” She smiled happily and slurred her words ever so slightly. Her joke however, indicated that, for now, I was off the hook. Still, probably best to make sure she waited for the food before having any more of the wine. Either it was unusually strong, or Rarity was a bit of a lightweight.

Rarity settled down and seemed to, for the moment at least, forgive me for my earlier transgression. But, as any male ought to know, a female forgiving you is probably just her storing the fault to be used in an argument later. Still, at least this meant we could enjoy a pleasant dinner together before heading to this fashion gig. Once again, the whole date like quality of this experience reared its ugly head. I quickly shot it down.

Rarity was a beautiful mare, there was no denying that, but frankly, she was not my type and was sort of taken by Spike. But then given my situation, who was my type? I had no objection to spending a pleasant evening with her, or with any of the others had they asked. I liked them and cared for them deeply, but I was still unsure about what would eventually happen. Referring to any bad HiE, the human inevitably puts their inhibitions aside and falls in love with, sleeps with and occasionally marries whichever mare has struck their fancy. Try doing that, and consequently explaining it, in a real small town social environment when your parents are a ten minute walk away from your own place.

Still, that was a matter to be settled at another time, one that didn’t require me to be on my best behaviour and move in social circles far beyond my skills and station. We both finished our main meals and set the cutlery, which was all but identical to its counterpart on Earth, on our cleared plates. The food had been of the highest calibre and I would certainly consider coming here again should I ever need to return to this city. The castle of course, I viewed as separate from Canterlot as a whole. It was occupied by two, occasionally three, princesses and a whole slew of guards. Canterlot proper, was occupied by similar guards and a vast slew of overbred snobs.

“Right, now what do you fancy for desert, Rarity?” I asked as she levitated that particular menu to before her snout. “I hear that the Concorde cake is highly recommended.” I might have picked that up in background conversation. Rarity thought for a moment, perhaps considering the ramifications of partaking in such a confection. But then, given the average sweet consumption for most ponies, excluding Pinkie Pie, a sweet tooth was not as debilitating as it would be on Earth.

“I might just try that,” she answered, moving the menu back to its original position on the table. “Although I had better be careful, as should you, Blade Star. We can’t risk damaging these now can we?” She gestured to her dress and my own waistcoat. One of the many reasons I prefer to avoid formal attire.

After desert and a shared pot of coffee, I, being the gentlecolt I am, picked up the tab and we prepared to go. An interesting thing to note on Equestrian social norms; tipping is not compulsory. In spite of Equestria being heavily influenced by and similar to the United States, I was neither scolded by Rarity, nor chased by the establishment’s staff for not doing so. It’s not as though I’m tight with a Bit, it’s just that I never really believed in it as a compulsory measure. The whole point of a tip was a reward for superior service, making it compulsory negated the effect. In any case, we headed out of the hotel and towards the large concert hall where the fashion show itself was to be held.

The place wasn’t hard to spot. The number of searchlights that were shining up into the sky could probably be seen from Ponyville. And naturally, the bright lights succeeded in polluting the sky sufficiently enough to make the many stars Luna placed all but invisible. Damn pro-Celestia ponies, always obsessed with their precious light. My ears twitched in irritation at the act and I quietly snorted in disgust.

In addition to the lights, huge banners were hung across the concert hall proclaiming it as the venue for this year’s Canterlot Fashion Show. And of course, there was the incredibly long queue extending from the front of the building. We of course, would not be in that queue. As Rarity was a designer who would be displaying her creations, and as I was her ‘plus one’, we both had access to the backstage areas. Both of us would be in one of the elevated boxes giving us a better view of the show and keeping the plebs away. Not that I’m being snobbish. Actually, it was the reverse; I was the plebeian keeping the snobs away.

Rarity and I briefly parted ways as we entered the huge hall. She headed off through a maze of back ways to reach the dressing rooms to perform a final check and speak with the various models. I on the other hoof, would go directly up to the box we had been given. I now of course sported a VIP badge around my neck to ensure I was not hassled by the on-site security. There were quite a lot of them, a fair few Royal Guards and what I assumed to be private security personnel too. Who knows, perhaps Equestria had its own version of Executive Outcomes.

Ascending the stairs with the other VIPs, the majority of whom were nobles carrying opera glasses, I was quickly directed to our box. Not that it was hard to find, each one was marked with its occupant’s names. But then, Celestia forbid that the nobility be required to think. The existence of such a group continues to surprise me. While Equestria may be an absolutist diarchy, it had the markings of a democratic state at the local level. I would have expected that such class divides would have withered away by now. Then again, they hadn’t in Britain.

Settling myself down in one of the extremely plush seats provided, I was quickly given a glass of champagne, or least what counted in Equestria as champagne, as any Frenchman will tell you, such a drink is only a sparkling white unless it has been produced in the proper region of France. Though I suppose we would always have Prance.

I placed the glass down on one of the small tables provided and looked out at the scene. The concert hall was a large vast expanse clearly suitable for large scale events from classical concerts, to plays and maybe even the odd rock concert. Of course the one notable exception to the place’s repertoire was the Hearth Warming Pageant which, for Canterlot, always took place at the palace. Looking right to the rear of the theatre, towering above all the others, there was a large ornate looking box, with the national banners hanging from them; the Royal Box. The princesses would not be attending tonight’s event but would be attending the subsequent reception on the morrow.

As the house lights came down, Rarity returned and settled herself taking a sip from her own glass of champagne. Her face showed a hint of nervousness, understandable, everypony who was anypony in the fashion world would be viewing her designs. A far cry from her store in Ponyville. I placed my hoof on hers as a reassuring gesture. And with that, the exhibition began.

Chapter 37 - Paperazzi

View Online

The fashion show, as interesting as it was, did drag on for a fair while. Hoity Toity presided over things, announcing each line as it came. Rarity’s, whilst not the main event of the show, was nevertheless at the very least, one of the highlighted designs. Her winter themed designs looked far better than they had done when I had seen them in the shop. Of course, a great deal was added to the ensembles by the ambience of the display and the models themselves. Sweet Celestia, I’m starting to sound like I actually know what I’m on about.

With each set of designs, the designer was rewarded with a spotlight on their box. And this was one of the reasons Rarity had asked me to accompany her. When the spotlight turned to us, the ponies in attendance saw a highly successful mare, with a not too bad looking fellow accompanying her. In a city that is all but based on style over substance, I think I contributed to Rarity’s style rather well.

When the last ensemble had left the stage and the catwalk, there were of course the speeches to be made. This was more a social thing, mainly drawing from notable celebrities and other important figures in the fashion world. Rarity, for all her amazing skill and what I maintain to be deserved fame, was simply a designer. Only those who had effective dynasties in the fashion world were permitted to make speeches. Nevertheless, after getting over her brief case of butterflies and all the feigned embarrassment that accompanied the spotlight and applause, my companion for the evening seemed to have enjoyed herself immensely.

All that now remained was to exit through the red carpet, another apparently universal concept. We would make our way through the many reporters; get a few photographs taken by necessity and protocol, before catching a cab back to the hotel. Once we reached the cab, I could not foresee any problems. However, I have never been terribly good with crowds.

I guess you could put it down to spending a large portion of my life so far in the countryside. Sure, I had grown up not too far from a major city and had spent my early years in an urbanised town, but that was only until I was ten. I had started to notice it when I occasionally went back there with my father. The vast crowds made me feel uneasy, no matter where I looked, people were always walking at you, and you could never simply follow the crowd. I never had attacks or anything like that, but I could never feel comfortable in large groups. I was typically in a permanent state of unease.

This carried over into high school; I didn’t cope well with the huge numbers of kids. Consequently, I isolated myself, a foalish move in hindsight, and just tried to muddle through. Such behaviour caused me to catch the attention of the native bullies.

The trouble is, I need personal space, hence perhaps why I didn’t cope well with student accommodations either. On Sweet Apple Acres, I had my own large room to myself and if I so desired, I had literally acres of orchards and farmlands to wander in. I’m just no longer used to a busy, bustling city environment. I had a pretty good idea what taking Rarity down the red carpet, with hundreds of reporters, fans and, paparazzi photographers looking on, would do to me.

I have never frozen up in a situation like that, nor did I intend to. It would simply be a matter of breathing steadily, putting on a fake showbiz smile and walking her to the cab. Just put one hoof in front of the other as Fluttershy would put it. No matter what, I was not going to show Rarity, or myself up, certainly not before the media.

We both stood before the large double doors that exited the concert hall, outside the more important, or at least more famous of the guests were departing down the red carpet. Passing the menagerie of flashing cameras and incomprehensible shouted questions they boarded the Equestrian equivalent of a limousine. They were still carriages, just somewhat larger and more opulent. Most were pulled by four ponies due to the increased weight.

We stood with several of the other designers who had attended the show. For many of them, it was either their first or second time attending such an event. Rarity on the other hand had now attended the fashion show in Canterlot, in some capacity, no less than seven times. She certainly did stand out as a proverbial big fish in a small pond. Whilst the other mares, and occasional stallion, chatted excitedly about possibly meeting important figures in the fashion world as well as this event possibly being their ‘big break’, Rarity remained fairly quiet, looking on with a hint of nostalgia.

“Fond memories?” I asked her. Rarity turned to look at me still smiling with content.

“Just remembering what it was like when it was my turn, darling,” she replied. “It makes me realise how far I’ve come since I set up a small little shop in an out of the way town. Who knows, perhaps before long I will get my ‘big break’.”

“Would you really want that though?” I asked hesitantly. “Wouldn’t it mean having to expand your business and move here?” Rarity tittered and shook her head.

“Celestia, no, darling. My business has grown significantly since I originally began and I haven’t felt the need to disappear on you yet have I? No, it would mean more work, but I could never leave Ponyville and everypony. Besides, whilst I may enjoy occasionally visiting Canterlot, I don’t think I could ever adjust to the company here.”

As we talked, we both picked up on a few of the conversations going on around us. To sum up the many conversations, a great deal of backstabbing was going on, with more than a few ponies being thrown under the bus by their supposed friends.

“Ah see what you mean, Rarity,” I said after listening for a while.

Just then, the large double doors again opened out for us to take our leave. In the place of the limos, a number of cabs were lined up along the street. Each one was pre-arranged by the event organisers to take us back to our various hotels. Each designer would head down the red carpet with their ‘plus one’, have a few shots taken by the photographers, answer a couple of questions and then head off. At least, that was the plan.

As soon as the pair of us stepped through those doors our senses came under a fantastic assault. Dozens of shouted questions made it impossible to talk; I could barely hear my own thoughts, never mind another pony’s speech. Our eyes were constantly flash blinded as a variety of camera bulbs went off again and again. It was like having flashbang grenades go off in your face. And to top it all off, the many lights that illuminated the area cooked us as we walked. In short, it was like walking through an assault by Special Forces.

I quickly found that Rarity had latched herself onto my foreleg as we began. I was just as glad as her that there were two of us. I certainly couldn’t have coped walking through this nonsense on my own. I thanked my lucky stars that it was a straight shot to the rickshaw waiting for us at the far end, I was pretty much almost blinded, and of course I couldn’t do anything to compensate, lest I look like an absolute foal.

I tried to focus as did Rarity I guess, and pressed on. I could make out the occasional shouted question from somepony in the assembled press. Though why they should ask any questions when it was impossible for anypony to be heard, never mind understood, was beyond me.

My own slight fear of crowds reared its ugly head as we walked too. The way in which we effectively had to walk down a thin tunnel of space, surrounded on all side by leaches in equine bodies didn’t do much for my constitution. Nevertheless, I did my best to force it down and ignore the sweat building on my forehead. As far as I could tell, I don’t think anypony thought anything was amiss.

Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we reached the waiting carriage. Rarity now turned around, as did I, to address the assembled reporters and take questions. They came thick and fast, though at least they remained on topic and tasteful, so I guess they aren’t as bad as the Western press on Earth. This line of thought lasted right up until this one pony got right up in my face, literally hovering in front of me.

“Smile for the camera!” He semi shouted as he proceeded to flash blind us.

The offending pony was a pegasus of a fairly slight build, with a light blue coat, slightly darker than RD’s and a frankly ridiculous dark green mane. He’d got so much gel in it that it was probably more gel than actual hair. His whole personality just said scumbag. I was beginning to suspect that Equestria did have paparazzi. This was quickly confirmed when he began to ask questions.

For want of a better word, the horseapples that came out of this bugger’s mouth were sufficient to make an entire Cornish harbour blush in embarrassment. They certainly had nothing to do with fashion. Hay, an alarming number pertained to Rarity’s personal life, stuff that you just don’t ask somepony, particularly a lady. I didn’t think, I just acted.

The foul mouthed pegasus went flying down the red carpet, though not through the use of his wings. Plus, I’d like to bet that he’ll have a black eye when he wakes up tomorrow. Rarity had frozen up, her face a picture of shock and outrage, since he began with the obscene questions, so she didn’t put up much of a fight when I manhandled her into the carriage, while shaking my left hoof to get the feeling back.

The pegasus however, in spite of my fairly solid blow, got back up and again attempted to pester us. Luckily this time, a couple of the Royal Guard, who were providing security for the event quickly seized him. He had no press badge on him as all the others did, so I guessed that his presence here wasn’t entirely approved.

“Thank you, gentlecolts,” I called over the now increased cacophony of noise. “Much obliged.” The two guards waved their own thanks in return and hauled the paparazzi away from my view. I then hoped in the carriage myself and instructed the driver to take us back to the Equestrian Imperial, offering an extra ten bits if he got us there in ten minutes. I’d rather not be in a rickshaw when Rarity came to her senses.

Rarity remained in her state, semi-dazed for the whole trip back. I suppose the dual shock of that insulting little Pegasus and then my punching him squarely on the jaw would be a little overwhelming. Especially as it all happened in front of several dozen reporters and photographers.

Our carriage continued on its way through the now darker streets of Canterlot, the roadway only lit by a few street lamps here and there. Away from the hustle and bustle of fashion and show business the night was allowed to prevail with the moon casting its usual soft glow onto the great city.

Finally, we pulled up at the Equestrian Imperial. Checking the clock above the main entrance, I saw that the driver had indeed been prompt in getting us back here. Thus I gave him the extra ten Bits on top of the fare as I promised. Opening the carriage door on Rarity’s side, I helped her down to the street. Then, taking her by the foreleg, I led her inside the hotel.

The incident on the red carpet had by no means completely ruined Rarity’s view of the show, and I doubted it would have much, if any, impact on the reception tomorrow. However, the whole business had thrown the mare off somewhat, even on her previous visits, I could not recall her being hassled in such a way. After a brief wait, we headed into the elevator which would take us up to our room. It was at this point, that Rarity once again became lucid.

“That just happened, didn’t it?” she said. Her speech was half a statement and half a question.

“Yep,” I replied, not really sure of what I was going to say. Given her reaction to my earlier transgressions though, I was certain how Rarity would react. Or at least I thought I was.

I was prepared for her to begin yelling at me for ruining her evening, for behaving in such an uncouth manner, and doing it all in front of some of the most important ponies in the world of fashion. None of this came though. Instead, I suddenly found the fashionista embracing me in a hug. Now I was confused.

“Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you, darling!” she said as she continued to embrace me.

“Err, Rarity?” Just when you think you’ve got a dame figured out, they go and throw a curve ball.

“I can’t thank you enough for saving me back there!” she went on. Eventually, she stopped hugging me and looked me in the eye.

“Aren’t you mad at me for all that though?” I asked stupidly. A moment later my brain chimed in with the advice to shut up and accept the thanks. Nevertheless, I went on. “Ah thought, you’d be ticked at such ‘uncouth behaviour’. Ah mean, all those ponies saw what ah did to that feller.”

“No, Blade Star, that was no petty bar brawl, you were defending me from that vile urchin. If anything, all those ponies will see you as quite the upstanding gentlecolt. Though I must say, I didn’t expect you to send him so far backward.” She then proceeded to titter behind her hoof. I was off the hook, and possibly forgiven for my earlier misdemeanour at the restaurant.

With that, the elevator chimed and the doors slid open silently. We walked out into the hallway and quickly found our room. Retrieving the key from her saddlebags, Rarity opened the door and headed inside, with me following. Closing the door behind me with my magic, I saw Rarity was already lying down on her bed, clearly tired from the events of the evening.

“Well, Blade Star, you sure know how to show a mare a good time. I’m certainly looking forward to the reception tomorrow.” She said as she looked up at the ceiling. I laughed quietly in response, not entirely sure if she was being sincere or not.

“What time is that reception at anyway?” I asked as I removed my waistcoat. “Ah thought ah might do a couple things in the city tomorrow. Strong Shield suggested Ah drop by the Officers Club while ah’m here. And maybe you could do a bit around the shops.”

“The reception should be around five I’d say,” Rarity replied, thinking. “And I certainly could use the chance to get some shopping done, pick up a few materials for a few ponies. So, yes, I don’t see why we cannot do that.” She nodded to herself before getting up off the bed again. “Right, I had better change out of this, darling. Back in a minute.” And with that, she headed into the bathroom to change.

I was again sitting out on the room’s balcony enjoying the night sky. I’d been there since Rarity had gone to change out of her dress. As far as I knew, she was now in her bed, snoring peacefully, with her sleep aid over her eyes.

The events of the evening had caught up with me after she had dropped off and I just felt drained at this point. Busy crowds always did that to me, requiring me to relax for a while before trying to get some sleep. I was currently sitting on one of the deck chairs looking out over the city and the beautiful sky, a glass in my magic. It had been a long day, and I figured that I’d earned it. On the table next to me sat the bottle of Appleoosian Whiskey I’d taken from the minibar and where my current drink came from. I may not drink much with others, but I occasionally had a couple glasses to myself. Still, I knew my limits and wasn’t about to pour a third, plus the ice was melting anyway.

Tomorrow would be busy enough with the reception, so I resolved to simply take it easy at the Officers Club for a few hours. Assuming Strong Shield could get me in that was. That would leave me prepared for the irritation that was called social interaction. On the other hand, I would be a pretty poor Brony if I did not accept the fundamental teaching of MLP; friendship was magic after all. Draining my glass, I replaced the top on the bottle and got up, quickly bidding Luna a goodnight before heading inside.

Interlude 4 - Just Another Day at the Office

View Online

Note: This chapter is written from the perspective of Blade Star's father.

See the Author's Notes for details of a Q&A contest.

“You know that’s the second time that has happened to me, your highness,” I said as we stood outside the throne room, surrounded by guards.

“I think that’s number four hundred and seventy six for me, Roger,” the solar princess replied. “Though I’ve never seen one act with such abandon before or with such unusual means.”

The pair of us, along with anyone else who happened to be in Day Court at the time were surrounded by guards while others thoroughly checked the throne room we had been ushered out of. It was certainly an odd occurrence, though not an unexpected one for an authority figure like Princess Celestia.

I had been at my usual post in Day Court offering my advice and counsel when asked by the princess, and occasionally chipping in with hints I saw as useful. This was pretty much my average work day now, and I had fallen in to a general pattern. Said pattern had been broken by one of the strangest petitioners I have yet to come across.

The pony in question was of the earth type, lacking wings or horns; I personally always found them easier to talk to than the other two groups, not that I have anything against unicorns or pegasi. This earth pony however, had entered Day Court carrying a package. This was not unusual in itself; occasionally grateful subjects would call on the court to give thanks for whatever royal aid Celestia had provided them with. She always accepted them with an air of mild embarrassment, and of course, they were all heavily screened by the Royal Guard.

This time though, the look on the chap’s face was anything but thankful. In fact he looked fighting mad as he carried his parcel up to the dais. I suspected something was amiss and so did the guards, for they all noticeably tensed at the newcomer’s approach. Stopping at the steps, he opened the large square box that sat upon his back. It contained a large pie and for a moment we all relaxed.

All of a sudden though, the pie became airborne as he hurled it at her. I immediately ducked to avoid the culinary projectile, while the guards sprang into action. One took a dive across Celestia’s body taking the object full in the gut. The other three surrounding the throne leapt onto the offender and pinned him to the ground with a combination of magic and brute force. Apparently, ever since an incident a couple years ago when Canterlot was attacked by another species, the guard had been heavily revised in terms of procedures and personnel, they were now much more competent in protecting their princess. Not that she really needed it in this case.

The earth pony continued to struggle with the guards, his superior strength actually allowing him to briefly break free of their grasp, causing a small fight to erupt in the Throne Room. This resulted in another group of guards quickly surrounding both myself and the princess and getting us out of harm’s way. After standing outside for about five minutes, the guards emerged with the nutter in restraints. However, the damage from the fight was quite severe, with several of the ornate columns damaged. Plus, the incident had kicked the hawkish Royal Guard into high gear and they began to comb the entire castle in case the pony had done anything else.

Long story short, court was closed early today. I figured that this would happen occasionally with such a high profile figure as the princess, it had happened to a fair few British politicians, and then of course there was Bush’s encounter with a shoe. Still though the sheer number of times Celestia had been bothered in such a manner surprised me.

“Well, it doesn’t look like we’re going to be doing anything more today. I certainly won’t mind the temporary relief from court,” she said.

“It has been a long day I suppose,” I replied. I looked to a nearby clock, twenty to twelve. If I hurried I could catch the midday train home and surprise she who must be obeyed. “I might as well head down to the station and catch the train home.” Celestia though had other ideas.

“If I remember correctly Roger, your son in here today isn’t he?” That’s right he was, he’d gone with Rarity, I think, for some fashion show. That had me a little worried. “Perhaps you should go and drop in on him. I think he’s staying at the Equestrian Imperial Hotel, room 242.” Of course, she would just happen to know that. It couldn’t hurt at any rate.

“I might just do that, your highness.” I briefly bowed. “Good day then.”

I never really cared much for paying for cabs in the city, always damned expensive, and fair few would take you for a bit more of a ride than you bargained for. As such, I walked the journey to the hotel Celestia had directed me to. It was certainly a fancy place to be staying at. Perhaps my boy was at last moving up in the world, or the girl he was with was paying for him.

I still got the odd stare as I walked down from the castle to the hotel. These richer snobs aren’t the most accepting bunch. Hell, when Celestia announced to the court that I was to be taken on as a permanent advisor, there was an uproar equivalent to Prime Minister’s Questions, with a great deal of shouting and hoofs being banged on desks and floors. Luckily, unlike PMQs, as soon as Celestia called for order, the complaints ceased. That was certainly one form of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.

Now though, I’d been working in the court long enough to become a recognised face. While not everyone, or rather everypony approved of my presence I was tolerated by the nobility who were cowed by Celestia’s authority. That was in the palace however, Canterlot itself was a whole different ball game with numerous social circles each with its own agenda. I typically got one of two reactions, if I got a reaction beyond the baffled stare. Either they would turn their noses up at me, as much as a four foot tall quadruped can to a six foot tall human, or they would greet me enthusiastically and invite me to some formal event as a means of getting one up over their opponents.

Still, that was not to say that I had no friends aside from Celestia. In addition to her, I would occasionally chat with her younger sister Luna, and I got on quite well with most of the guards. They now actually offered me protection rather than just the princess, and when they were off duty and not required to keep a stern face in absolute silence they were typically quite pleasant to talk to. And of course there were a few nobles I got on with, Fancy Pants, now there’s a fantastic name, was a decent enough fellow. He sort of reminded me of Lord David Davis, who I’d met at the occasional DDH hunt. And of course, always with him was his dolly bird, Fleur De Lis. While I know little about ponies, even I can tell that she’s supposed to be a looker.

Walking into the lobby, I quickly headed for the front desk to see if he was in. If not, then I could at least leave a message for him to come see me when he got back. I’d been in hotels like this on a few occasions, though never to stay at. I’d usually find myself at a place like this for a meeting of the Law Society. Everything was pretty much the same, aside from the fact that there were ponies in the place of humans. I went to speak to the receptionist, tapping on the desk to get her attention.

“Excuse me, do you know if a Mr. Blade Star is staying here at the moment?” I still wasn’t really comfortable using my son’s assumed name. Besides, ‘Bones’ suited him far more in my opinion; he could be just as stubborn. The mare looked over the guestbook in front of her quickly scanning each page before turning to the next.

“Ah, here we are,” she muttered under her breath. “Yes sir, we do have a pony by that name staying here at present, though I believe he is currently out at the moment.” Damn, looks like I missed him.

“You wouldn’t happen to have any idea as to where he went do you?” I asked hopefully. Receptionists and secretaries are notorious for listening in on business which isn’t their own. She thought for a moment.

“I believe I heard something about the Officers Club, sir. I think he was going to meet a friend there.” Ah, probably that vet he met in his magic lessons. My boy’s always had a fair bit of admiration of soldiers, though he always insisted that he didn’t want to be one himself. “If I remember correctly, it’s down in the entertainment district just a ways from Steers bar.” I had to choke a laugh down.

“Thank you,” I replied. “Just in case I miss him could you take a message for me?” She nodded. “Just tell him his dad stopped by.” She raised an eyebrow at me. It took a moment for me to understand her confusion. Eventually though, I realised; I was a human and he was a pony, she was probably wondering how. If he'd come out that way I'd be worried too. "Oh, err, I'm his step-father," I lied. It was easier than explaining why my son was now a four foot tall unicorn pony. With that, she nodded and took the message down for me, while I set off for the Officers Club.

Working my way downhill from the more opulent districts, I quickly found the general area of the entertainment district. The place was filled with clubs, bars and all sorts of establishments the locals presumably used for the purpose of having a good time. I quickly came upon Steers, looked like a nice little place, I couldn’t help but whistle a certain little tune as I passed. Maybe I might stop there sometime, if I get a chance, it had been a while since I’d been to a bar like that.

Following the road further on, I came upon another building, perhaps slightly larger than Steers. Like that bar, it was also one of those basement jobs, with a small flight of steps leading to its entrance. Unlike other establishments though, the door had no windows, with one of those small sliding peep holes at eye level. Beneath that was a sign that proclaimed ‘Officers of the Royal Guard and Invited Guests Only’. That would have deterred most, but hell, if worst came to worst, I could show my court position, which ought to get me somewhere.

I walked down the stairs to the door and knocked twice. The peep hole immediately slid open to reveal a pair of pony eyes. I swear those things are too big for their heads, it makes them easy as pie to read. The eyes regarded me suspiciously.

“You don’t look like a guard to me,” the owner of the eyes said in a deep voice. “Can’t you read the sign? Officers only.”

“I’m merely looking for some...” I caught myself. “Somepony. Blade Star, he might be with a Captain Strong Shield I think.” The eyes continued to regard me with a distrustful air.

“Wait here,” the voice said at length. The peep hole then slid shut.

Moments later the entire door opened revealing a pegasus in full guard armour. After a curt command to follow, I entered into the club.

It was mainly what I expected, a bar, tables, there was even a small band on the nearby stage getting ready to play. In addition there were a couple tables of the other variety in several partially walled in sections, and it was here that I was being led. I was surprised that my son had even considered going to an establishment like this, he’d never been one to go to bars much. He certainly hadn’t spent much time out when he was at university. I would have expected that the relatively large number of patrons, the fairly loud music as well as the drinking would have put him off.

This brought me to another question; what on earth were these ponies doing drinking at half past twelve in the afternoon. Okay it was a Friday but still, a bit early. If I hadn’t just come in here from midday Canterlot, I would have assumed that it was getting on for nine o’clock at night.

The doorman continued to lead me past tables; I recognised a few faces here and there, mainly those who came on shift with the ending of Day Court. Perhaps due to their semi-nocturnal nature this was their Friday night. Eventually, I was led to one of the Poker tables where a game was in progress. It was with a mixture of surprise and alarm that I beheld my son sitting there with cards in his hand, hoof, and a fairly large stack of chips placed next to him. If I had known he knew how to play I’d have taken him with me to some of the firm’s parties. He evidently spotted me out of the corner of his eye, for his suddenly started and looked up.

“Dad? What are you doing here?” he exclaimed. “And how did you get past the doorpony?” The surrounding guards grinned a little at the interruption and the slight embarrassment caused to my son by my arrival.

“Court was shut down early; some whacko threw a pie at the princess. Hotel staff said you might be here,” I replied. He was about to reply when another stallion, who sported an eye patch over his left eye spoke up.

“Somepony threw a pie at the princess?” he asked, alarmed. “Is she alright?” This looked like the fellow that my son had fallen in with back in Ponyville.

“Of course, you fellers caught and arrested the guy, no trouble,” I answered. The stallion turned to my son.

“See Rookie, this is why I need to stay in the academy. If I went back into the guard proper they’d be half trained rent-a-guards not up to standards, he’d have probably hit her too. Still I’m surprised they didn’t pick him out before he acted. Celestia knows I’ve taught ‘em enough about situational awareness.”

“Yeah, literally too in this case,” my son replied, prompting another round of laughter at the other stallion’s expense. “C’mon Strong Shield let’s have the River.” Strong Shield was evidently the current dealer; he placed a fifth card on the table for all to see, a jack. The betting then went round, one pony dropped out, muttering a curse under his breath, while the rest all held out, including my son. There were only three players still in it.

After the last pony raised, Strong Shield also dropped out commenting that it was getting too rich for him. But my son kept bidding. At last though, the other pony called, presenting two threes to go with the current one on the table. The assembled players began to offer their commiserations to my son, however, he continued to smile.

“Ah think not, Swift Wing, my boy.” He laid his own cards out, another three and a jack to go with the existing one. “Full house.” And with that, he claimed the pot amidst cheering from the others. All of a sudden though, Strong Shield looked at the nearby clock and then began to hurriedly whisper in my son’s ear. I heard the word ‘entertainment’. His eyes immediately went wide in fear. Very quickly, he cashed his winnings and got up from the table.

“Right, come on Dad,” he said quickly, "Let’s head out to lunch, my treat.” Something seemed off.

“Oh, I don’t want to interrupt your game, you seem to be doing pretty well.” I replied. “Besides, I’m not that hungry.” I was quickly overruled however, as he again insisted we go and began to steadily nudge me toward the door. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Strong Shield gesturing quickly to him at the clock and urging him to hurry along. Just as we exited the club, I could hear music start up accompanied by what sounded like wolf whistles. As I turned around to look at my son, who was still using his horn to force me along, I could see sweat on his forehead.

“Something going on in there?” I asked innocently.

“No! No, nothing’s going on there! Ah just wanted to get some lunch with you! That’s what fathers and sons do right? They go and chat over lunch!” The sweating was now accompanied by a strong blush. You didn’t have to be a genius to work out what was going on in Canterlot’s Officer’s Club right about now.

Chapter 38 - Preparation

View Online

Right, SITREP. My father has evidently spent too much time in proximity to Celestia, for he has picked up her talent for trolling. I’d had to very rapidly bug out of the club shortly after he’d turned up. It was lucky that Strong Shield had kept an eye on the time, I certainly hadn’t. If it weren’t for him, I would have been there when the ‘entertainment’ arrived. With my dad standing next to me. I was just about able to get him out of the club in time, though he was almost certainly on to me. His grinning and light jibs made that abundantly clear.

So, with that done, I of course had to take him out to lunch, though part of me demanded I literally take him out for his extremely untimely interruption. We went to one of the speciality restaurants in the tourist section of the city. The establishment was not perfect, but it catered to visiting griffons, and as such it served meat. I was surprised my dad hadn’t found this place on his own already.

Anyway, I treated him to a steak dinner to buy him off a bit. It certainly brought my conflicting physiology to a head. The part of me that was human craved the well-cooked eight ounce steak that he was eating. My pony half on the other hand, had to work hard not to breathe in the smell for fear that it would cause me to lose my lunch. The smell was both alluring and revolting at the same time. Why can’t I just make up my mind? It must be possible for me to eat meat in some way; I’ve heard that horses can be taught to eat meats in harsher environments. Hay, King Sombra, if his teeth were any indication, was no herbivore, nor was Nightmare Moon according to legend. Again, I reminded myself to talk to Rainbow Dash about eating fish when I got back to Ponyville.

After lunch, Dad said he would head down to the train station and go back. Apparently court was to be suspended for the entirety of the day, and might possibly have a knock on effect on Night Court too. And all for a pie. Still, the last time they let something sweet and innocent looking into the castle it had almost ended very badly.

I decided not to head back to the Officers Club, if just to avoid the impending ribbing that I would get from the guys there. It certainly was a nice place though. In spite of its size it had a very honkytonk feel to it. The bar was decent with a good range; the food wasn’t half bad either. Strong Shield joked that it was certainly better than the rations he made the new recruits eat during training. I’d made a few friends there too. Sergeant Swift Wing, who I’d managed to almost take to the cleaners, was a Thestral in the Lunar Guard, actually a part of the Equestrian version of a POTUS team. Corporal Buttercup on the other hand, in spite of his name, was a massive, and frankly, badass looking Solar guard who acted as a bailiff in Day Court, though only when criminal cases were heard. The rest of the time, he was on the gates to the palace. Finally, there was Major Hartwin, a Griffon in the officer exchange program. He was actually a member of the Iron Hawks, the Griffons’ airborne paramilitary group, but he had been briefly seconded to the Royal Guard as a way of maintaining relations, a counterpart from Equestria had been sent to the Griffon Kingdom.

After Strong Shield let me into the club, I was quickly introduced and made to feel at home. So, when they asked me to join in a game of Dodge Junction Hold ’em, how could I refuse? I wasn’t too bad, I’d picked up a few tricks at university and the ponies large eyes made it easier to read them, though that was a double edged sword, and I had to be more guarded than usual. And of course, I remembered the key rule in any card game; if you can’t spot the sucker at the table, it’s you.

By now it was getting on for three o’clock, the reception would be in a couple of hours, so I began to head back to the hotel room. I’d certainly sort of miss being here when me and Rarity headed back to Ponyville, though I did miss all my friends and family there. I found myself missing the Apple family keenly and Sweet Apple Acres itself. Of course I missed my family too, particularly Lizzie. Regardless of what had happened, I was still her big brother. Even if she was now a good foot taller than me standing up.

I crossed the road to the hotel, Canterlot did not have that much traffic typically. The small winding streets made it difficult to manoeuvre large carriages, particularly when trying to turn around. According to Strong Shield though, this had also been an advantage in military terms, as a number of guards had successfully managed to barricade several areas of the city, including the concert hall, where an emergency CP had been set up. It was there that he had entered into contact with the enemy. Mind you, he still had not told me how he came by his injury.

I entered the by now familiar hotel lobby, and rode the lift up to the correct floor. Fishing out my room key, I headed in to find Rarity setting shopping bags down on her bed. Evidently she had just arrived back as well.

“Hey, Rarity,” I said. Instantly, Rarity squeaked in surprise and moved to conceal one of the shopping bags with her under the bed.

“Darling, don’t do that!” she exclaimed jokingly as she got her breath back. “I nearly leapt out of my skin.” I smiled awkwardly.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to. What was that anyway?” I replied, gesturing to the bag now stashed under the bed.

“Never you mind, Blade Star,” she answered, prodding my chest with a hoof. Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Perhaps she’d got something for me or somepony else while she was out. “Anyway, we’d better start thinking about getting ready for the ball.” Again I smiled, though this time with a more relaxed air.

“Alright Rarity. Ah’ll just take a quick shower then ah’ll get dressed. Alright?” I moved to grab my waistcoat, but Rarity snatched it up with her own magic.

“Oh, no, no, no, no, darling. This is far too plain to attend a formal ball in. But never fear, I was able to temporarily acquire a far more fitting piece for you." She then levitated what looked like a dry cleaning bag over to me. Opening it, I found a full on tuxedo, minus the bottom half of course. And the shoes. And the socks. In fact, it was really just a shirt and jacket with a bow tie. But hay, pony fashions. I quickly placed the new attire on one of the clothes hooks in the room, and then headed into the bathroom to wash.

I had never really cared much for showers back on Earth. When I was about five years old, I had fallen into a hot bath and been badly scalded, leaving me with several scars. While this had not caused me to develop aquaphobia, it had left me with a strong distrust of showers. Why showers I have no idea, the event had nothing to do with showers, and logically I ought to be more inclined to fear baths instead. But that was how things were. Perhaps it was the subconscious concern I had over controlling the pressure. We’ve all done it, set the temperature too cold or too hot and frantically flailed about to turn off the system, or possibly even hoped out of the shower completely. In my case though, the fear of such an occurrence had left me unwilling to use showers unless absolutely necessary. Unfortunately though, in this case, it was necessary, as there was no bath in the hotel room, an odd state of affairs given the otherwise opulent design of the Equestrian Imperial.

This got me thinking, if this body, that is to say, my current form, was simply a version of my OC, then I ought not to have any scars. They had never truly bothered me, but it would be nice to know if they were there or not. I began to root around through my coat, attempting to translate the positions from my human form to my equine one. Sure enough, I found a small patch of unusually smooth skin on my right foreleg, next to it was a familiar criss cross pattern from one of the bandages, which had partially moulded some of the skin. And of my right side, just before my hind leg, there was another, much larger scar, just as there always had been. Strangely though, this gave me some happiness. It meant that I had retained some of my former self. The changes in physiology, had led to me feel that I might have been losing my humanity, and consequently myself, following my transformation. That helped lay those to rest.

I realised that I had been pondering for a good ten minutes, when I was supposed to be showering and preparing myself for the ball. Using a hoof, I opened the shower door and stepped in. I felt the slight twinge of fear, but it was by no means debilitating, and I liked to think I was no coward. I was certainly not going to be intimidated by a load of equine installed plumbing.

Stepping inside I was confronted with the ultimate intelligence test. They say you are only smart until you try to turn on someone else’s shower. And I can assure you this is the case. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how everything worked before I managed to get the system working.

Even with my slight fear, I won’t deny that showers are enjoyable, but I was more focused on the utility of the device. I never was one of those people to enjoy sensory experience after all. I quickly worked to clean off my coat again, since my painful time at the spa, my coat had begun to lose a little of its shine. Luckily of course, that could be quickly fixed with a bit of shampoo and conditioner. Sweet Celestia, I’m starting to get too used to unnecessary grooming products aren’t I?

With the showering done, I stepped out, soaking wet, and quickly levitated a towel to dry myself off. With that sorted, I quickly grabbed a comb and set my mane right. While a mane is not too dissimilar to normal hair, caring for a tail is a bit trickier. It is certainly more painful to comb as each snag I hit brought a small shot of pain up my tail. Nevertheless, by the time, I was done I looked the part. All that remained now was the tux. So I stepped out, leaving the bathroom to Rarity and prepared to get dressed.

I took my time, both due to the fact that Rarity would undoubtedly be ‘getting ready’ for at least another hour, and of course the tux wasn’t mine. I’m fairly sure Rarity would want her deposit back. Judging by the quality of the material and the fairly ornate design, this tux was worth a pretty penny.

I slipped on the white collared shirt first of all. It wasn’t as bad as I had expected. In the past, I usually only ever wore a suit to attend either a funeral or the odd wedding. That meant that the suits would be new, with stiff collars and generally uncomfortable all over. However, this one wasn’t too bad to wear so far. The collar didn’t constrict me too badly and the sleeves were just the right length. Evidently Rarity had gone to great lengths to ensure I had attire of the highest calibre. Next there was the jacket, a dark black affair lined with a deep red silk on the inside. After applying cuff links to the shirt (which can only be done with unicorn magic if you ask me), I slipped into the jacket. Again, it fitted like a glove.

All that remained now was the bow tie, after all to quote a certain clock repair pony back in Ponyville ‘bow ties are cool’. This one was the genuine article. I was used to tying a typical tie, but any bow ties I had worn, the last one being a university department Christmas party several years ago, had been clip on. Thus, I hadn’t the faintest idea how to tie it, and the four step diagram that I found in the dry cleaning bag didn’t help either. And of course, I had to do the whole thing with magic.

Still, aside from that, I was ready to go, so I continued in my vain attempts to tie the bow tie off in a way that looked vaguely presentable. Luckily though, help was at hand, or hoof, as Rarity emerged dressed in her wonderful outfit as she had been the night before. She looked at me, still struggling with the tie and rolled her eyes.

“Honestly, darling, how old are you now?” she asked jokingly.

“Hey, Ah’m used to clip on ties, Rarity. Besides, these instructions aren’t worth a damn,” I replied passing the useless instructions to her. She tittered at my misfortune.

“Alright, let’s get you sorted then.” My own dark blue aura was replaced by her much lighter one as she took the tie from me. The now seemingly sentient fabric wrapped itself around my collar, tugged itself taught twice and then proceeded to tie itself before my eyes. When her aura faded, Rarity turned me toward the nearby mirror. I beheld a rather handsome looking fellow in a dashing suit with a gorgeous mare standing next to him.

“Well, Ah guess Ah don’t look too bad do Ah?” I said as I examined myself in the mirror.

“Indeed, Blade Star,” Rarity replied. “You are quite the handsome stallion after a good wash and manecut.” I couldn’t help but blush at that remark. I still hadn’t removed the connotations the word ‘stallion’ had in the vocabulary of human females. I quickly fought down my rising blush, which was undoubtedly noticed by Rarity, and slipped into the part I would be required to play this evening.

“Now, Miss Rarity. Shall we go?” I offered the crook of my foreleg to her and we departed.

We again rode down in the lift to the hotel lobby. Whilst I had been showering, Rarity had asked the front desk to arrange for a cab to take us up to the castle. The mare sitting at the desk informed us that the cabbie was already waiting outside for us. Heading out we found a dogcart pulled up and waiting. A ‘reserved’ sign hung from its side. After ensuring that we were the correct customers, the stallion reconnected himself to the front. I on the other hoof, being the gentlecolt I am, helped Rarity climb into the carriage before getting in myself. The driver then set off at a steady trot. We would arrive bang on time at the castle and would be led by the guards to the castle’s ornate ballroom. This was a rare opportunity, the only other time the room was in use, was either during special events in the castle, or during the Grand Galloping Gala. Needless to say, Rarity could not wait. And in all honesty, I was looking forward to it as well.

Chapter 39 - The Reception - Part 1

View Online

Our dogcart, by the time it neared the castle, was caught up in a long queue of carriages of all shapes and sizes. Unlike the fashion show itself, we would have to queue like everypony else to reach the castle entrance. We had been sitting in the queue for a few minutes, when we at last passed through the castle gates, marking the border between the city of Canterlot, and the castle itself, which was the property of the diarchy.

“Ah’d have figured comin’ to Equestria would’ve meant leaving traffic jams behind,” I complained as we sat in the slow moving queue. All that was missing from the scene was some exhaust fumes, the honk of car horns and a few shouted expletives.

“Oh, cheer up, Blade Star,” Rarity replied, “We’re through the castle gates now. We’ll be there in a minute or two. Each carriage has to unload its passengers, and you know how fussy the nobles can be.” I nodded.

“True enough.” Looking further up the queue, I could just make out the entrance to the castle. I could also see a carriage from which a couple of nobles were being helped out. Not only was there a step ladder to ease getting out of the carriage, but two castle servants, presumably hoofponies, were also helping the pair alight. It wouldn’t be so bad, if the carriage in question wasn’t barely a foot off the ground.

Eventually though, we at last reached the castle gates. Taking up my role for the evening again, I leapt down from the carriage, much to the surprise of the hoofponies, and personally helped Rarity down. The dogcart then pulled away to allow the next one forward, whilst we followed the growing crowd of ponies into the castle itself.

Canterlot Castle was just as opulent as it had been on my last visit. Some commented that it’s long white marble hallways made it seem cold and empty at times. That certainly wasn’t the case tonight. The overhead chandeliers cast a bright light onto everything in the castle and the whole place seemed to come alive as more and more ponies entered. We were all steadily making our way to the castle ballroom, where the reception was to be held.

Up front the guards led the group at a steady pace up to the doors of the ballroom. The slightly slow progress gave everypony a chance to chat and gossip with his or her fellow travellers. Amidst the nobles, there was a fairly large smattering of more tolerable ponies. Many were like Rarity, in the fashion business, but operating either away from the more lucrative business opportunities, or they had managed to resist the temptation to become insufferable troglodytes.

Finally, we reached the doors to the ballroom, and standing there, with her typical crown, regalia and gentle, motherly smile, was Princess Celestia. Like a minister at the conclusion of a church service, she would give her greetings to everypony who passed through. I marvelled at the fact that she appeared to know everypony by name. This reception was a huge event, with ponies from all over Equestria and beyond attending. Even as an alicorn both blessed and cursed with life eternal, I was amazed that Celestia was able to retain such vast stores of knowledge, for a relatively insignificant event. At length Rarity and I approached the solar diarch. We both promptly bowed in respect.

“Rarity. Blade Star. So wonderful to see you again,” she said to us as we rose.

“Thank you Princess,” Rarity replied, “It is such a pleasure to be here.”

“Indeed it is, your highness,” I continued, “Shall Princess Luna be joining us this evening?” The snow white alicorn smiled at my question.

“My sister is just finishing a few affairs in Night Court. I’m sure you heard from your father what happened this morning,” she answered.

“Indeed your highness. Ah trust you were not troubled by the incident, strange as it was.” Rarity quickly jumped in.

“What do you mean, Blade Star? What ‘incident’?” I remembered that I hadn’t told Rarity the story Dad had related to me.

“Somepony walked into the Throne Room this mornin’ and tried to throw a pie at the princess,” I answered, Rarity gasped in shock. “Now come along, Rarity. We’re holding up the line.” Celestia sniggered slightly as I led Rarity onward.

Entering the huge ballroom was quite an experience. I have yet to come across a larger forum for events in all of Equestria. Like the rest of the castle, it was beautifully ornate, with subtle hints of Greek and Roman styles, perhaps influenced by the architectural designs of the pegasi. Hanging from the large pillars, as well as from the roof itself, were a collection of steamers and ribbons. Nothing to be even compared to the standard of a Pinkie Pie party, but nevertheless nice to look at.

Several tables had been laid out, vast long things that stretched a good ten, perhaps fifteen feet in length. On these was an elaborate buffet of all sorts of foodstuffs. These ranged from things as simple as dandelion sandwiches up to far more fancy cuisine, some of which I could not even identify. And of course there were a few other options for our international guests. On one table, noticeably distant from the others, was a succulent looking collection of pork, chicken and fish, all looked cooked to perfection. Personally, though, until I had a chance to talk with Rainbow, I would stick to staple Equestrian cuisine.

Near the back end of the room, already playing soft melodies, was a small orchestra of no more than a dozen ponies. One I recognised instantly, a grey earth pony mare with a black mane, who was contentedly playing the cello, it was Octavia, one of Equestria’s most talented classical musicians.

Aside from that, there were of course the many guests. Celestia was already here and Luna would hopefully be arriving momentarily. Then of course you had the usual Canterlot fare. I swear to Celestia, the unicorns here give my race a bad name, as the city had an unusually high proportion of unicorns, almost all of them being stuck up snobs. Of course there were some celebrities here as well. I spotted Sapphire Shores, and quickly made a mental note to avoid. I also spotted three familiar blue and yellow jumpsuits, Rainbow would go ballistic if she found out she missed an opportunity to chat and hang out with Spitfire again, particularly outside of a competitive setting. I hoped to talk to them later, I expect the Wonderbolt Captain would be quite surprised to know that one of the most famous aircraft in the world shared her name. Then there were the various diplomatic guests, representatives from Equestria’s other major cities, such as Manehatten, Fillydelphia, Los Pegasus, Baltimare and so on. Then of course, there were a couple Crystal Ponies from the Crystal Empire. I could see as well a few Griffons. One of whom was Major Hartwin, who was evidently acting as their security man. All in all, this looked to be a fairly interesting evening.

“Well come along, darling,” Rarity said as she too took in the scene, “Let’s go mingle.”

I swear that when I find the vile, evil, reprehensible and plain cruel creature that devised the concept of ‘mingling’, I will cut their head off. Okay, I admit, I have less than perfect social skills and my emotional IQ was once described as dire, but still frivolous conversations with people you will most likely never see again as a recreational activity? It boggles the mind. Nevertheless, that is what I would be required to do for the next while at any rate. At least I had Rarity with me to cover up any missteps.

Across the room, Rarity spotted perhaps one of the most disliked ponies in Equestria – Blueblood. I will not recognise that oaf as a prince for he deserves no such title, his behaviour toward Rarity and pretty much everypony else he has come into contact with should be evidence of that. She looked to me with a hint of worry, her last encounter with him had left her a little battered and she certainly had no desire to speak to him again.

Looking around the room, I again picked out Major Hartwin and the other griffons, a decent enough start for the evening.

“There’s Major Hartwin, Rarity,” I said, gesturing to the group. “He’s a nice enough guy, ah’ll introduce you.” And so I lead her off.

The Major spotted me as we approached. I’d talked with him at length back at the Officers Club, he was one of the few even in the Griffons’ armed forces that had any experience of actual combat. Quite frequently, Diamond Dogs had been an irritation for the border areas of the Griffon Kingdom, resulting in several skirmishes. Even more interestingly, Hartwin himself had once caught and killed an injured Changeling in the Badlands, a rare achievement even by Griffon standards. In spite of this though, he was no barbarian warrior. In fact he was highly educated, and certainly smarter than me. He greeted the pair of us like old friends.

“Blade Star, not fleeing before the last act again I take it?” he said, cracking a wry smile. “And who is this lady friend of yours?” I nudged Rarity forward.

“Major Hartwin, this is Miss Rarity, a very dear friend of mine from Ponyville. She owns and operates the Carousel Boutique there. You may recall her presence at the defence of Canterlot during the Incursion.” The Major nodded.

“Yes, indeed. A pleasure Miss Rarity,” he shook her hoof kindly, “From what I have heard you were quite the warrior princess against those Changelings.” I feigned offense at Hartwin’s remark.

“Easy Hartwin, the evening has barely begun yet.” We exchanged mutual grins.

“Ha, don’t I know it, Blade Star.” He brought another Griffon, a female, forward. “They’ll be none of that for me tonight I’m afraid. The wife would throw me out on my tail if I tried anything.” At this the female griffon giggled. As often occurred in these kinds of situations, the conversation then split between the sexes. Hartwin’s wife headed off with Rarity, while I continued to chat with the old war horse.

Rarity and the Major’s wife evidently hit it off, for they didn’t return for some time. We continued to chat as well, mainly about the group Hartwin served in; the famous and occasionally infamous Iron Hawks.

The group had been founded some sixty years ago and was raised by a member of the Griffon nobility. Instead of maintaining a standing army under a single command structure, the Griffon Kingdom relied upon a number of militias of varying sizes. Each of these groups were raised and commanded by whichever member of the nobility created it, with the right passing down the bloodline. Each city or region had its own groups. In effect, it was a civilised and perfected form of gangs, occasionally rival groups would even get into minor skirmishes over territory and naturally matters of honour. The Iron Hawks operated near the border with Equestria, and had long supplemented the existing border guards. Hartwin himself had been involved in a number of engagements himself, and briefly showed me a medium size gash on his back, acquired from a member of a rival faction. It was a strange system to say the least.

“It may be strange Blade Star, but it works. Aside from having to round up the odd Diamond Dog band or fleeing Changeling not much really happens anyway,” he said at my comment,

“Sure it’s good in peacetime,” I replied, “But what about in a full scale war? How do you get all the factions and groups to band together for the common cause?” Hartwin smiled.

“Just because we don’t all like each other all the time, doesn’t mean we won’t band together if we have to. I may hate the Steel Falcons,” He muttered something about copyright infringement under his breath. “But I’ll still fight with them if I have to. The Kingdom comes first, before clan and before family.”

At this point I was approached by the de facto, moustache sporting head of Canterlot’s nobility. Whilst Blueblood may style himself as such, he lacks influence in reality. Suffice it to say he is incapable of playing realpolitik. As I said, I have always been in two minds regarding Fancy Pants; I still struggle to say his name without laughing out loud. At the end of the day though, he was a decent enough guy, any port in a storm.

“Ah, Blade Star. Good to see you dear boy,” he said, offering a hoof.

“Likewise, sir,” I replied, I noticed his female companion beside him. “And good evening to you Fleur de Lis.” I continued. The tall unicorn mare smiled at me in the way only airheads can.

“I’ve heard a great deal about you. Enjoying yourself I take it? I imagine this is a welcome change from defending your marefriend’s honour.” I almost choked at that. Taking a moment to collect myself, I began damage control.

“Oh, Miss Rarity is not my marefriend, sir. I’m merely here as her chaperone.” At this Fancy Pants raised an eyebrow, whilst Fleur seemed to perk up all of a sudden.

“Oh, I see. My apologies,” he replied lamely, “I was under the impression from what I had heard through the grapevine that you two were something of an item.” He seemed a bit embarrassed with himself now.

“Ah can see how such a view may have come to light. Miss Rarity is an eligible bachelorette after all. But Ah can assure you we are not together, Ah would be grateful, as Ah’m sure Miss Rarity would be, if you would do your best to dispel such rumours.”

“Of course, of course,” he replied, Helps to have a noblepony in your pocket it turns out.

With that settled, I could afford to laugh at the notion Canterlot’s gossipers had formed. Me and Rarity? She wasn’t my type by a long shot, and I wasn’t about to take her from Spike. Hopefully my actions would settle the issue without problems. Just then Rarity approached us. Fancy Pants and Fleur broke off to talk with the Major and his fellow Griffons.

“Blade Star, Princess Celestia just came over to talk to me, I think she’d be glad to get a chance to talk with you as well,” Rarity said, I looked across the room. The princess was talking with a couple of ponies I did not recognise. Their attire was somewhat reminiscent of Arabian in its style, perhaps they were from Saddle Arabia. A thought wormed its way into my head.

“All right then, Rarity. It would be nice to get a chance to speak with the princess in a less formal setting. And those two she’s talking to as well, Ah don’t believe Ah’m familiar with them.” Rarity followed my gaze.

“Oh, that’s the ambassador from Saddle Arabia and her husband, Blade Star. That place has such divine tastes in fashion, I would just love to get my hooves on some of those gorgeous materials they use for their attire.” As we headed towards them, I hoped that my little attempt to impress all concerned would pay off.

Princess Celestia was amicably chatting with the pair when we arrived. We both offered a brief bow to the diarch of the group, who kindly introduced us.

“Oh, ambassador, this is Blade Star, the pony I was telling you about earlier. And this is Rarity a close friend of Princess Twilight.” I turned to the two ponies, hoping I hadn’t gone rusty with lack of practice. Placing a hoof on my chest, near my heart, I offered my greeting.

“As salam aleykum,” I said, switching my accent to suit Arabic and bowing my head slightly. For a moment, there was silence and I feared I had committed a fatal social faux pas.

“Wa aleykum as salam,” came the slightly surprised response from the ambassador, I breathed a sigh of relief internally. Looking up, I saw both Saddle Arabians had a look of surprise on their face. Celestia on the other hand, wore an expression that suggested she was impressed. As for Rarity, she was just confused by what had transpired.

“I did not realise you spoke the language of Saddle Arabia, Blade Star,” the princess said.

“The name bears a striking resemblance to a nation on my old world, your highness,” I replied, “The language Ah just used is the native tongue there. Ah acted merely out of respect, and perhaps a little curiosity.” Again the alicorn smiled.

“This is most strange, Princess,” the ambassador said, “A whole other world, that just so happens to speak both our languages, and an inhabitant of it arrives here. He even acknowledges common social courtesies.” She shook her head. “The world is a curious place.” Just then, one of the waiters came up with three glasses. A glass of wine for Celestia, the other two looked suspiciously like Berber Whiskey.

“Excuse me, Ambassador, but that wouldn’t be black tea brewed with mint leaves would it?” The look on her husband’s face was priceless. She nodded. “On my world such a drink is common in the region where your language is spoken, alcohol, or salt in your own case, is outlawed there. I would recognise it as Berber Whiskey.” I think by this point all parties concerned had run through their limit of surprise.

Myself and Rarity talked at length with the ambassador and her husband. Back on Earth I had always held the Arabs as a people in high regards, both in terms of their culture, which never ceased to fascinate me, and their military skill. My own great, great grandfather had served in Arabia in the First World War. He was not part of Lawrence’s irregulars, but did take part in the capture of Jerusalem from the Turks.

A great many things, particularly with regard to culture transferred over to the Saddle Arabians, of course, with the notable exception of Islam. I am still not sure whether or not that ought to be judged as a decent state of affairs. Saddle Arabia itself was part of Equestria, a province crossed with a protectorate, akin perhaps to the Crystal Empire, though with far stronger links to Equestria as a whole. Nevertheless, the region was a vast one, and its few large settlements were a great distance from anywhere else.

The whole region had apparently been regarded as something of a mysterious and enigmatic place. Filled with vast deserts and searing heat, and at the same time blessed with huge blue oases, palm trees and remarkable cities. It sounded like the Arabia of old, before it had been carved up by Europe, who chose to ignore their wartime promises, a completely alien world, even in a place as foreign as Equestria was.

Our little group continued to make small talk for some time. Celestia of course had to peel off to allow herself to be bothered by the nobility as well as mingle with the other guests. In any case, the small orchestra which had been providing, no doubt at great expense, ambiance for the event was now preparing to switch to its main function for the evening. We were in a ballroom after all.

This of course explained partially why so many of the various guests had brought their husbands or wives with them. There was to be a dance. The orchestra ceased playing for a short while as the various pieces of sheet music were distributed and the various musicians got settled. In spite of the classical pieces which had been playing throughout the evening, the orchestra was aptly set up to play in a variety of styles, from jazz, to big band, to swing. And of course, naturally, the waltz. Couples began to take their places on the floor.

“Well, Mr. Blade Star,” the ambassador said as the crowd began to settle, “If you will excuse me, and I shall see yourself and Miss Rarity on the dance floor.” I turned to Rarity, who had already taken the liberty of seizing me by the foreleg. I put on my best suave smile, which is not my strong suit, but nevertheless believable.

“Would you care to dance, Miss Rarity?” I asked kindly, Rarity did not respond, instead simply nodding and leading me out onto the dance floor and mirroring the position of the other couples. Their posture and stance suggested that the pony equivalent of the waltz was the same as on Earth. The forelegs held one’s partner, while the rear ones performed the dance. Personally, I would have thought that the shift in weight and centre of gravity would cause both parties to fall on their faces, but I digress.

Now, you may recall that I cannot and will not dance. This is not strictly true. I will not partake in modern dancing, if it can even be called that. However, my old grandfather had insisted that I learn to dance in some capacity. If nothing else, he assured me that it would allow me to someday snare a pretty girl and ensure I did not look a fool at wedding receptions. When I was about twelve, he and Grandma had taught me how to foxtrot. To be fair, this had been the way the old man had managed to convince her to allow him to walk her home. A foxtrot was similar to a waltz, aside from the difference in beat. All I had to do was translate this into a form my equine body could use. Simples.

The music started up and we began to dance, with me leading off. I had to put a little bit more thought into everything as I danced but before long, I had gotten back into the rhythm of things. Rarity also seemed to be fairly adept, but that was to be expected, at least to an extent. Briefly glancing around, I could see the various other couple gliding across the floor in a similar fashion. Evidently, I was not doing too badly.

“Blade Star, I didn’t realise you could dance so well,” Rarity said, breaking my train of thought.

“My grandfather taught me to. Told me it would come in handy one day,” I replied kindly as we continued to dance,

“I had expected that you would find this evening a little trying, darling. But you seem to have stepped up to the plate quite well. I feel like I’m the envy of half the room.” She blushed slightly.

“Probably so, Miss Rarity. Probably so,” I replied, adding a smile for effect.

“Oh will you leave off with the false flirting, darling,” she replied, giggling quietly to herself. “I’m certain that I could never replace the ‘apple of your eye’.” I raised an eyebrow in confusion.

The song ended before I could ask her what she meant. The assembled parties offered their applause to the orchestra, who briefly bowed in thanks before preparing the next dance. Just before they began however, a hush fell across the room, and I felt a presence behind me. Rarity’s face also had changed to a look of surprise. I released the mare from my grasp and turned around. Before me was Princess Luna.

“May I cut in?” she asked calmly.

Chapter 40 -The Reception - Part 2

View Online

Alright Bladey, don’t panic, I thought to myself. It’s just the Princess of the Night and one of the ponies you admire the most asking you to dance with her. Nothing to worry about at all. My mind offered a rebuttal in the form of a very loud scream. It was one thing to dance with Rarity, it was quite another to dance with the pony who for half the time was the highest authority in Equestria. Once upon a time, I might have begun to crush on Luna, but not now though, for two key reasons, the most prominent being that she was way out of my league.

Still, the princess stood before me, smiling slightly and offering a hoof. I was hardly in a position to refuse. But I did fear that I would say or do something wonderfully embarrassing.

“But of course, Princess,” I replied, bowing slightly. “Ah would be honoured.” And with that, I led her onto the dance floor, my heart pounding so loudly, I could hear it in my ears. Luna suddenly peeled off however toward the orchestra. Using her most basic of magical abilities, she summoned several sheets of paper and handed them to the various performers. I saw Octavia look over them, she seemed intrigued by what she saw. The group then nodded to the princess and took their places. As she returned, Luna anticipated my question.

“I was merely handing the musicians a new piece I would like to hear played live,” she said, as she took her place. This would be an unusual experience. I couldn’t recall a time when the female partner was so much taller than her companion. I had to raise my head slightly to look her in the eye. And with that, the music began.

I would recognise that tune anywhere; Moonlight Serenade. A beautiful slow piece ideal for a dance like this. My mind, and inner brony for that matter, was still reeling from being asked to dance in the first place. I did the only thing I could think of at the time to distract myself; turn on the faux charm.

“Dropping the Royal ‘We’ and the Royal Canterlot Voice at a public event? Ah must say your highness, ah’m impressed.” Right, well done, I figured I now had about three seconds of life left. Much to my surprise, the usually stoic Luna sniggered.

“As am I. I did not expect a common farmhand such as yourself to be such a good dancer.” Did I just get burned? “Besides, I have been in this new world for a few years now, Blade Star. You didn’t think that I would forever continue to cling to ancient and outdated traditions did you?”

“Touché,” I replied. “Still, Ah’m glad you could attend, Princess.” Luna rolled her eyes slightly and smiled.

“Blade Star, how many times must I tell you? Call me Luna.” I had been hoping that she wouldn’t say that. I was already dancing with her in a most intimate fashion and our conversation was becoming increasingly informal. I had expected that she would maintain a certain decorum at this event.

We continued to dance and twirl as the steady music continued. I was actually starting to enjoy myself. I foalishly looked into her eyes. Those same beautiful cyan eyes. My god, I was turning into a bloody romantic, and after just one dance.

“Ah’m not overstepping my bounds am Ah then?” I asked Luna, I was also praying that Celestia couldn’t see this. Luna shook her head.

“Of course not. I requested you to dance with me, which you accepted. I don’t see why you should see yourself as overstepping the mark. We are dancing at a formal event, I am hardly making some foalish romantic overture.” Oh thank Celestia, I thought. I liked Luna, but as a friend, perhaps even a mentor of sorts. Briefly I had somehow got it into my head that I was in some trashy HiE romance nonsense. “Though I do like you, Blade Star.” Before I could complain more internally, the song ended as we both bowed briefly to each other.

“Thank you, Luna. Ah enjoyed that very much,” I said as we released each other.

“As did I young Blade Star. Perhaps we will partake in such activities again?” I nodded politely. And with that, the princess went to meet up with her sister who had indeed been watching the whole time. To my alarm, Luna instantly began whispering in the white alicorn’s ear.

I looked around for Rarity. I figured we would have one more dance and then think about heading back to the hotel. This plan lasted right up until the moment I spotted my alabaster companion.

She was standing a ways off from the dance floor, a glass of something in her magic. Directly opposite her, standing uncomfortably close to her, as could be seen by her expression, was the second greatest insult to Equestrian royalty; Blueblood. I immediately began to head over to them.

Very quickly I came up with a simple and effective plan to counter this unfavourable situation. Step one: go to Blueblood. Step two: punch Blueblood really hard in the middle of the face. Step three: demand a dual. Step four: win duel and go on with my day. Bear in mind this plan was devised by an extremely angry inner brony that hated Blueblood with a passion. So, yeah, not one of my better ideas.

Luckily for me though, I did not have sufficient time to put my brilliant plan into effect. The look on Rarity’s face turned from disgust to pure, blind rage. Then, in a move I have not seen before or since, she reared up and punched Blueblood right on the nose. Instantly the assembled crowd gasped in surprise. I was even more shocked when I saw Blueblood briefly stagger, before fluttering his eyelids and passing out on the deck. In one punch Rarity had knocked him out cold. Didn’t see that coming. I quickly cantered up to Rarity.

“Rarity, are you alright?!” I asked alarmed, I still had no idea what that foal had done to provoke her so. She was still shaking her right hoof from the punch.

“I’m fine Blade Star,” she replied, her tone still heavily laced with acid. “It’s a pity I can’t say the same for the sorry ass over there though.” She gestured to Blueblood.

In spite of my dislike for the spoilt prince, I went over to check on him, since no one else seemed to be willing. Putting a hoof to his neck I felt a steady pulse. Rarity had landed her punch on his mouth. The poor bugger was already getting a fat lip and was bleeding profusely. I opened one of his eyes, it reacted to the light well enough. In spite of the force behind the punch, the prince seemed uninjured; glass jaw I suppose.

I considered calling for a couple corpsponies, there were plenty of Royal Guard around after all, but since there was no obvious serious injuries, I decided to go for simple approach. I began by tapping Blueblood’s cheek with a hoof.

“Alright sir, come on, up you get.” The unicorn stirred, groaning profusely, and far more than necessary if you want my opinion. “It’s alright, you’re not hurt that bad. Come on, get up,” I encouraged. He opened his eyes, he quickly took notice of me trying to help him up.

“Get off me you stupid oaf!” he complained loudly. Well, I guess Blueblood hasn’t changed much. I continued to help him to his hooves “I said get off! You’ll ruin my suit, this costs more than you make in a year, I guarantee it!” He obviously hadn’t yet looked down at himself. The blood from, well most of his face, had trickled down onto his, frankly vile, suit. He quickly clocked this and let out a scream that I would have expected to come from a filly.

“My suit, you evil mare!” He pointed at Rarity. “First you act in such an uncivilised manner at the Gala and now you dare strike me for mere conversation!” I looked to Rarity, who was a barely contained maelstrom of unending female fury.

“You are the one who had the nerve to insult me,” she countered angrily, “And I have never been so disgusted with a pony’s comments about anypony in all my life. So take that you ruffian!” She glared triumphantly at the prince. By now, the situation was attracting quite a crowd. I picked out Fancy Pants amongst them.

“Fancy Pants!” I called, “Do me a favour please and take Prince Blueblood here outside while ah try and sort this out.” The unicorn nodded and placed a hoof on Blueblood’s shoulder before leading him out. I turned to Rarity, placing a hoof on her shoulder.

“Now, Rarity, slowly, tell me what just happened.”

And so Rarity told me of the events that culminated in her striking a royal prince. It had started innocently enough. She had already anticipated that she would run into him and had done her best to prepare herself for the encounter. Given the events of their last meeting and parting, she had no desire to see neither hide nor hair of him, never mind speak to him. However, whilst I had been away with Luna, he and a group of his fellows had approached her. She had done her best to be civil, greeting him with at least feigned politeness. Blueblood however was anything but civil and opened with the question ‘why are you here?’. Now, bear in mind Rarity was wearing one of her own label dresses and was widely known as a talented designer, so this first volley came as a shock to her. When she replied that she was here as a designer, Blueblood had attempted to sully her name, suggesting that she merely sewed rags together and called them dresses, and that were not good enough for the likes of Canterlot.

In all honesty, I would have punched him at that point and not necessarily in the face.

Rarity naturally took offence at such a remark and demanded that he apologise. Typically, Blueblood’s ego got in the way of that one and he refused to do so, amazingly citing her as the offending party for making her dresses in the first place. It was then, that he went over the edge. He suggested to Rarity that she ought to consider making designs for, let’s say places of little repute, and that perhaps she might look good in one. At that point she had lost it, reared up on her hind legs and taken a swing at him.

“Ah’m surprised you kept your temper for so long, Rarity,” I said as she finished her tale, “Ah’d have punched the sorry idiot much sooner. And ah always liked to think I could keep a cool head.” Rarity sighed in resignation.

“There’s just no way anypony can reason with that imbecile,” she replied. “No matter what, he is in the right and it’s not his fault.” At this point my mind reminded me of my original plan. Technically, I had a case here, Blueblood had insulted a lady under my care, which made the offense far more serious, and had refused to apologise. All I would need was a second and I could go ahead and settle matters the way gentlecolts ought to. Luckily saner heads prevailed, I had never fought a duel, and the practice of true duelling was probably just as illegal as it was on Earth.

However, I was not the only one who sought to tear Blueblood a new one, for Princess Luna had seen everything that had transpired and evidently heard Rarity’s account. This became apparent when she dipped into the Royal Canterlot Voice.

“PRINCE BLUEBLOOD!” she bellowed, “THOU SHALT COME BEFORE US NOW!” Just to be sure, she cast her horn alight and levitated the, evidently magically weak, prince from his position outside the door with Fancy Pants, to a position directly in front of her. The last time I had seen that look on her face, she had been declaring that there could only be one Princess of Equestria. Blueblood simply cowered, somehow maintaining control of his bowels.

“Oh, err, hello Aunt Luna,” he said in a small voice. Luna quickly cut him off.

“THOU SHALT BE SILENT!” Again we all did our best to endure and keep our ears covered. “THOU DISHONOUR THINESELF AND THE ROYAL FAMILY AS A WHOLE, SUCH BEHAVIOUR TOWARD A MARE IS UNFORGIVABLE!” I was hoping that the next sentence would include the word ‘moon’. “WE SHALL DEPRIVE THEE OF AN ENTIRE MONTHS ALLOWENCE FOR THIS!” Okay, this was now starting to look like a case of all bark and no bite.

However, from the look on Blueblood’s face, you would have thought that Luna had donned the black cap. He looked crestfallen and resigned, though some defiance still burned.

“But, but, how will I be able to afford all the clothes I need. I cannot live without my allowance.” Before Luna could issue another deafening rebuttal, I led Rarity out onto the balcony; she needed the air, and an opportunity to clear her head.

We stepped out into the cool, calm night, both of us glad to be away from the hustle and bustle of the reception and the still ranting and shouting Luna. It was completely dark by now of course. It had to be getting on for eleven o’clock at this point. Rarity simply leaned on the balcony railings and exhaled. Again, it had not been the night she had been hoping for. I still had half a mind to go and join Luna and beat the tar out of Blueblood, it alarms me greatly that that colt in a stallion’s body is actually fifth in the line of succession. Rarity looked like she just wanted to go back to the hotel, she looked broken.

I wasn’t going to have that. No, just for once, Rarity was going to have fond memories of Canterlot, visiting there with friends and meeting many interesting and friendly ponies. I contemplated how I would achieve this, that’s when I heard the orchestra start up again, perhaps in an attempt to salvage the mood. We both stood alone on the balcony, and I had promised to be her hoof candy for the evening, I could indulge one of her fantasies. I walked up to her as she continued to look sadly out over Canterlot.

“Miss Rarity,” I said as the music increased in volume, “May ah have this dance?” She looked over to me half-heartedly. Very quickly though, she realised I was serious and burst into smiles.

“Thank you, Mr. Star,” she replied quietly, “I’d like that very much.”

And with that, we began to dance. It was by no means a romantic thing on my end, sometimes a mare just needs somepony to be there for her, to make it all okay again. I was more like a father consoling his daughter than anything else. If nothing else, I could have a good go at it. We continued to dance alone in the moonlight; Rarity was evidently enjoying the faux romantic nature of the gesture. She seemed to regain the gleam in her eye that had vanished after her encounter with Blueblood.

“Thank you for this, darling,” she said as we swayed to the steady rhythm of the waltz.

“Well, Ah am your ‘plus one’ after all,” I replied. “Wouldn’t be right to leave a lady alone and upset on a balcony now would it.” She smiled happily at my comment.

“Well, if this is your idea of simply playing a part, I’m certain your special somepony will enjoy the genuine article.” My face took on a look of confusion as I raised a hoof to allow Rarity to twirl.

“Special somepony?” I asked, “Since when have ah had a special somepony?” Rarity tittered.

“Oh darling, please. There’s no need to keep quiet about it. You and Applejack would make a wonderful couple.” At that point I kind of lost my footing, and Rarity collapsed on to me, suddenly ending the dance.

“Applejack?!” I exclaimed, “Rarity what in the name of all things oats and apples are you on about?” As Rarity righted herself, her expression changed. At first, she smiled as if it was all just a joke, but as her eyes met with mine, they became more serious. I could see the cogs turning in her head as she tried to process what was before her. Finally, she briefly closed her eyes, before looking me in the eye and placing a hoof on my shoulder.

“What I do now, I do as a friend.” And with that, she smacked me across the face. “Idiot!” There was a slight pause in my response as I rubbed my now reddened cheek.

“Not so sure ah deserved that,” I said crossly. Again, the look on Rarity’s face was one of confusion.

“Darling, please tell me you have spotted that she likes you.” My mind instantly flew to that kiss, and how broken up she had been when she thought I was leaving for good and the number of strange remarks I had got from other ponies, and my family. At the time I’d simply written them off as us being close friends, but now. Everything clicked into place.

“Oh boy,” I muttered, running a hoof through my mane. “This ain’t good.”

Chapter 41 - Advice

View Online

Rarity and I were now back in the dogcart on our way back to the hotel. The night had been one of revelations to say the least. A part of me had suspected things from the get go, but I had been unwilling to admit the possibility. Applejack liked me, more than a friend. I sat in silence next to Rarity, not really sure what to feel. All through my life, I had pretty much known what I was doing; I had a plan for almost every occasion. Even my arrival in Equestria had gone relatively smoothly. It was how I coped with everything life had thrown at me. But, I wasn’t prepared for this, I wasn’t prepared for love, the loss of control scared me in a way. In an attempt to lighten the mood, Rarity spoke up.

“I just realised something, Blade Star,” she said, looking over to my sombre form.

“Oh, what’s that?” I replied cheerlessly.

“This is probably the first night out, where I’ve been less well-behaved than the stallion I was with. I caused quite a scene back there didn’t I?” It was true, between knocking Blueblood out and smacking me across the mouth for my incompetence, she had pretty much single hoofedly killed the party. Unless of course, you count Luna shouting loudly enough to shatter glass as a contributing factor.

“You still had a nice time though, right?” I asked. That was my mission for the evening after all. I felt a hoof on my own, another lifted my head up.

“Of course I did.” After that, the silence returned. My mood remained low.

I watched Canterlot roll by, lamps flickered in the streets and every now and then we would pass a Thestral or unicorn of the Lunar Guard out on patrol in the city. Everything was peaceful, silent and calm. Everything that is, except my mind. Finally, I could take the silence and inaction no longer.

“So what the hay do ah do now, Rarity?” I asked, looking her in the eye. The alabaster unicorn was startled for a moment. “Do ah go and talk to her about it, do ah just try and stay friends?” I sighed. “What do ah do?”

“Do you like her?” She asked me, her tone serious.

“Of course ah like her, but,” I sighed. “But ah don’t know.” I ran a hoof across my face. “Ah just don’t know.”

“I can’t answer that for you, Blade Star. You need to find that out for yourself.”

“How?” I answered with a monosyllable. Rarity tittered half-heartedly.

“Spend time with her. Talk to her, take her out somewhere, see what happens. But trust me, when you know, you’ll know.” I raised my head.

I could work this out, I was sure of it. I had crossed dimensional barriers and probably broken half the laws of physics just getting here. I was not going to be stumped by love of all things. I was reminded of the incident with Fancy Pants; it brought a smile to my lips.

“You’re quite the romance guru aren’t you? Ah suppose ah can see why Fancy Pants thought we were together.” Rarity spluttered. “Don’t worry, ah asked him to straighten out the rumours.” She relaxed herself again. With that, we arrived back at the hotel.

After riding up in the lift for what felt like the umpteenth time, we arrived back in our room. Closing the door behind me, I lay down on my bed, letting out a long sigh that I had apparently been holding. Rarity shook her head with mock disapproval.

“Honestly, Darling, I don’t understand what you are getting so worked up about. It’s not as if you are with somepony else. If I were to judge, I’d say this is the first time you’ve even considered a relationship. What’s got you so rattled?” I turned over on my back to look at her.

“Rarity, how do ah say this? Ah’m not the romantic sort. Ah’m not looking for love right now. Hay, ah doubt ah’m ever gonna go out lookin’. Even back on Earth, all ah wanted was to get a decent paying job and enough to satisfy my wants, ah wasn’t lookin’ to share it with anypony. It’s not that ah’m not returning AJ’s feelings, it’s just that it’s not something ah want to do.” Rarity looked at me in confusion, an awkward silence prevailed.

“Blade Star, you’re not a gelding are you?” She asked hesitantly.

And with that, all my troubles vanished, replaced with uproarious laughter. It wasn’t just a chuckle either, for the first time in years I was overcome with uncontrollable belly laughter. Finally, after much effort, I managed to quieten myself and dab my watering eyes.

“No, Rarity, no.” Again I forced down yet more laughter. “Ah can assure you all the equipment is there a fully functional.” The mare blushed profusely. “Ah’m just aromantic*.” She tilted her head in confusion. “Look, ah like AJ, but, it just doesn’t work for me, love ah mean. Ah don’t expect you to understand, hay my folks don’t even get it.”

Luckily, before I could launch into a long and undoubtedly boring lecture on why I could not even consider pursuing a romantic relationship, the clocks in Canterlot struck midnight, reminding me of my role for the evening. I re-entered my part that I had played throughout the evening.

“Ah, midnight, ah fear the spell is broken, Miss Rarity. Perhaps you should get some sleep. No need to concern yourself with trivial matters.” The unicorn looked ready to counter me, but fortunately for me, tiredness overcame her, and she agreed to retire to bed. With her settled and soundly asleep, I headed out onto the balcony. I didn’t feel like sleeping.

I sat out on the balcony, once again with a glass to hoof. I was still thinking about my predicament. Any other being in my position would probably be happy as could be. A kind, honest, gentle and friendly, if slightly snarky at times, female was seeking my affections. We were already good friends as it was and there were certainly grounds for something to happen. Yet here I was drinking as if I’d been shot down in flames.

It had never really bothered me before; in fact my ‘condition’ as some called it had been quite advantageous through my teenage years. My disinterest in love had allowed me to rise above the crowd of hormone crazed morons; I was able to retain my intelligence and sanity. Girls didn’t really give me much attention, nor did I wish them to, and while I may have had some issues in high school, my ability to sit through the Sex-Ed classes without giggling or embarrassment made it a little more bearable. I simply was not fazed by the concept of love; I regarded it as something of a fake. After all I had just spent the evening pretending, rather brilliantly if I do say so myself, to be Rarity’s date.

As I got older though, and became more jaded, my disinterest in love turned into hostility. For example, I’d never been comfortable with physical displays of affection. In my younger years I simply avoided things like hugs, but as a young man the mere idea made my skin crawl. I knew that some of this hostility spawned from them, but I was not sure really why I reacted so strongly against such emotions. After all, I was as human as the next man.

You know what I mean.

But, that was beside the point. What mattered now were my options. I had two options. Either I could enter into a possible relationship, and most likely break a mare’s heart when I could not do all she wished of me. Or I could reject her advances, achieving the same result. I couldn’t envision a scenario where me and love would end well. Love had dealt me a Kobyashi Maru, a no-win scenario it seemed. For the first time in my life, I regretted the way I was, I wanted to go back home tomorrow and throw my arms around her and just enjoy being back. Now though, the whole thing would be an awkward attempt to avoid the issue.

I would have to deal with it sometime, but for the moment who knows? Maybe I could continue to plead ignorance for a while. All I wanted was a friend, and AJ was my friend, the best I could ask for, but no, love had chosen to rear its ugly head. As always it had ruined a previously decent situation. Good for nothing bug food.

I stopped thinking at that point, or rather; thinking became difficult if not impossible, as the world began to lazily tilt from side to side. Evidently, my mortal coil had decided it had had enough. I passed out on the deck chair before I was able to get up, I would probably be sore in the morning.

I woke up with a noticeable hangover the next morning, my head throbbed with each beat of the heart, and every single one felt like a hammer strike. Still, Uncle Jim used to tell me that hangovers build character, at least, that was the excuse he used to justify his somewhat excessive intake when he was in the CID.

Today we would be going home, back to Ponyville, back to Applejack. Dammit. As I came to I remembered what had happened last night. Rarity was absolutely certain that Applejack liked me, though Celestia only knows why. I’d told her that I was aromantic and consequently was unwilling to pursue such a relationship. Rarity had then gone to bed, and I’d drunk myself into a stupor. This time though at least, these revelations did not bring about the same level of concern as they previously had. I had a rough idea of what I was going to do.

While it might have been obvious to others, I had not really been aware of what was happening until Rarity told me. So, I would just keep doing what I was doing. Applejack didn’t know that I knew and hopefully Rarity would not attempt to play matchmaker. For the time being, nothing had to change. I could cross, or jump off, that bridge when I came to it.

I staggered out of the deck chair, my body expressed its dislike for this action very quickly, my head swam and all of my joints felt stiff. I shook my legs a few times in an attempt to restore blood flow; at least I was steady on my hooves. The sun wasn’t too high up in the sky yet, though it was irritatingly bright; I guessed it was probably somewhere around six, my body clock was still waking me up for work. I had not been full on drunk last night, but I’d certainly had a fair bit to drink, the bottle on the table next to me only had about a third left in it. Appleloosa’s finest whiskey had gone down a great deal smoother than it was probably intended to.

Turning around, I headed back inside. I’d luckily had the sense to close the balcony door behind me last night. Had I not done so, Rarity would have most likely been pretty chilly. I opened the sliding door and found Rarity sitting on her bed; she’d been waiting for me. If she had arms to cross, they would have been. As it was, she settled for her forelegs.

“Please don’t tell me you spent the night out there, Darling,” she said, worry evident in her voice. I sighed and rubbed my temples.

“Alright then, ah won’t tell you,” I replied. She immediately got up and glared irritably at me.

“Blade Star! It’s almost winter, it must have been freezing out there last night!” She looked past me, undoubtedly spotting the bottle. “I see you found some method of warmth though.” Any concern evaporated in favour of slight disappointment. I needed to change the subject.

“Look, don’t you go worryin’ ‘bout me, Rarity. Ah’m fine, now at least. C’mon, we’ve got a lot of packing to do. The train leaves at eleven doesn’t it?” While it wasn’t particularly convincing, Rarity let the matter drop and levitated her suitcase over and began to pack her things. I also cast my horn aglow and began to replace my possessions. Looking over to the wardrobe in the room, I saw the suit I had worn last night. That needed to go back. Rarity had the same thought as I did.

“Oh, Blade Star, do you think you could take that suit back to the shop?” I smiled.

“Sure, where is it?” I asked in reply. Rarity gave me a quick guide on where to go. The place was actually not too far from the Officers Club, maybe I could drop in on Strong Shield if he was there.

“Be back here by ten o’clock, alright,” Rarity said as I headed out. I laughed a little, lifting my spirits, and probably hers.

“Yes, dear,” I replied jokingly.

Thanks to Rarity’s clear directions, I quickly found the rental place and returned the suit. I’d been quite careful and in spite of the events of last night, it was deemed to be in a sufficient condition to warrant the return of Rarity’s deposit. Taking the small sack of Bits in my aura and placing them in my saddlebags, I thanked the manager at the desk and headed out.

It was only half past nine, I had bags of time before I needed to head back, pack and check out of the hotel. So, I headed to the nearby entertainment district once again. I passed Steers on the way and wove my way down to the Officers Club. As luck would have it, Strong Shield himself was just walking up to the door. I called out to him.

“Hey there, Rookie!” He replied jovially after turning around and spotting me as I approached. “What are you doing in this neck of the woods? I thought you were heading back today.”

“Not for another hour or so, Captain. Besides, ah kinda need your advice on something.”

“Oh what’s that?” He asked as he rapped a hoof on the door to the club. His gaze met my own, and he evidently saw all he needed to see. “It’s a mare isn’t it?” He said smiling. Before I could reply, the small inspection port slid back to reveal the doorpony. I had evidently made an impression last time, as I was also recognised and allowed access. The dark blue guard captain motioned for me to follow him.

“Well, if we’re gonna be talking about mares, there’s only one thing for it.” He quickly led me in the direction of the bar.

“Tried that already, Captain, and all ah got is a hangover,” I said, pre-empting his offer of a drink.

“Well, it’ll do me some good at any rate,” he replied. He quickly got himself a cider. “Now, what seems to be the problem?” I cleared my throat.

“You know Applejack, back in Ponyville?” I asked.

“Sure,” he nodded. “You’re living with her family right?”

“Right, now, she’s a great pony to be with, and I’ve been friends with her since I got here. But last night, Rarity told me she reckons that ‘Jack likes me more than a friend.” Strong Shield cracked a wry smile.

“’Jack?” He repeated.

“Shorter than saying Applejack all the time,” I replied. “Plus, it’s a way to get back at her callin’ me ‘Bones’.” The instructor across from me began to chortle.

“Oh, so you’ve both given each other names. Well, you are pretty far along.” I sighed in frustration.

“So she likes me?” I asked, knowing the answer already.

“I’d say so, Rookie. And by the sounds of it you like her.” I spluttered at that. “So what’s the issue here? I know a bunch of guys who’d jump at the chance to have a mare like that one in their life.”

“The issue is, I’m not sure if I like her back.” Wait, why did I say that? Yesterday, I was certain that I couldn’t return her feelings.

“Why the hay not?!” Strong Shield replied, his eyes wide in confusion. Again, I sighed.

“Promise this don’t go no further than us?” He nodded. “Ah’ve never loved anypony, Strong Shield. Never, not in my whole life. The whole idea repulses me. All ah want is a friend.”

“Sweet Celestia. And I thought I was married to the job,” Strong Shield muttered. “So you want to let her down easy, right?”

“Ah suppose so, but, ah don’t want to hurt her. Plus ah want to live afterwards; her brother could probably take you down.” Strong Shield let out a low whistle.

“Okay, does she know you know?”


“Then wait, see if this thing passes. If it does, no more problem. If not, I’d think about puttin’ your own feelings aside, Rookie. And, just for the record, that’s what I’d recommend, trust me, the life of a bachelor ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

I looked up as the clock on the bar began to chime, it was quarter to ten. I had to be ready to catch the train home in fifteen minutes!

“Oh, horseapples! Captain, ah’ve gotta head back. Thanks for the advice!” And with that, I dashed back toward the hotel. Strong Shield called after me about something, but I didn’t hear what it was. Once again, I was racing to catch a train.

Interlude 5 - If

View Online

Note: This chapter takes place from the perspective of Blade Star's mother.

The bell rang in the schoolhouse, startling a few of the foals that had been drifting off through the lesson. It was about half past ten in the morning and that meant the kids were due their morning break, or recess as they insisted on calling it. Cheerilee had asked me to take a couple of the lessons myself today so she could catch up on some of the marking and other school paperwork she had to do.

This left me in charge all morning and for a fair portion of the afternoon, Cheerilee promised that she would take over for the last two lessons and that she would be on hand in her office if anything came up. Though personally, her office was more like a cupboard with barely enough room for a pony to stand still in, never mind a human. I still wasn’t officially a teacher yet. Apparently the brass would be coming down in a week or so. I’d be required to teach a full lesson of their choice, all the while closely monitored. For the moment, I could take lessons, so long as Cheerilee was close by.

We’d just finished up a maths lesson. Fortunately basic mathematical principles seem to be a universal constant or at least two plus two equalled four both on Earth and Equestria. History and Geography were a bit trickier for me. I used to criticise some teachers, usually supply ones, that were only a lesson or two ahead of their students, but now I found myself in the same situation. Twilight and Spike had been helping me with the basics for a few weeks now and I was getting better. I certainly felt I’d be able to get through whatever the inspectors might throw at me.

For now though, all I had to do was keep an eye on all of them on the playground. The class was no more than twenty or so, so it wasn’t too hard. Back home, you’d often have two or three teachers watching a good hundred and fifty. If the schoolhouse here existed back on Earth, the council would have closed it in a heartbeat, no doubt moving all the kids to some massive ‘super school’. But there was no chance of that happening here.

The day was slightly overcast and the trees were all now pretty much bare. Before long we were expecting snow. Well, I suppose we actually knew there would be snow, since that been the plan laid down by Cloudsdale, which from what I can make out is some kind of control centre for all things meteorological. It still struck me as a mad idea; a whole city made of clouds. It was whilst thinking this that Cheerilee snuck up on me.

“Hey Margaret,” she said. Her sudden interruption made me start. I turned round to find her standing right behind me.

“Oh, hey Cheerilee. You spooked me there.” The mare smiled.

“Sorry, just checking up on you. And I’m sick of writing at this point.” How she or any of the Earth ponies or pegasi could even write legibly with just their mouths was beyond me. “Any problems?”

“No, kids are doing fine for the moment and…” I trailed off. “Uh oh.” Cheerilee spotted it as soon as I did. Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon were bickering with the Crusaders. Again. I’ve seen kids go at each other before, it’s sadly a part of school life, but the continued vindictiveness of Diamond Tiara surprised me. Her main argument seemed to be she was the better filly due to possessing a mark on her rear end. I knew about cutie marks and the general idea behind them, but I had never come across such elitism over them.

“It’s your turn,” Cheerilee said tiredly. “I’ll keep an eye on the rest.” I nodded and headed over to the five arguing foals.

When I reached them, the five girls were in a full-fledged argument.

“Well, chicken, still think you can fly?” Diamond Tiara goaded.

“I wasn’t trying’ to fly, I was trying to stand on Sweetie Belle’s shoulders. And I was doing fine until you came along!” Scootaloo replied angrily.

“It’s no wonder you can’t fly then, you can even keep yourself balanced,” Silver Spoon countered.

“At least we’re doing something fer Nightmare Night, Diamond Tiara. Ah don’t see you with any one of a kind costume,” Chipped in Apple Bloom.

“Oh what’s that then? The three clumsy blank flanks? I don’t think you’ll need a costume.” The two fell into laughter. I’d had enough of this. It was bad enough that those two were mean as anything, it was worse that they enjoyed it.

“Alright, what’s going on here?” I asked the assembled combatants. Diamond Tiara quickly turned round to face me; a cheap plastic smile adorned her face.

“Oh nothing, Mrs Owen. We were just chatting about Nightmare Night.” I folded my arms. They seemed to recognise this as meaning ‘try again’. “We were talking to the three blank, I mean, the Cutie Mark Crusaders about what they were dressing up as.”

“Really?” I replied. “Well that’s nice.” I did my best to sound sincere and ignore the looks coming from the Crusaders. “And what are you going as?” I asked the spoilt filly.

“Well, naturally, a princess. I have a tiara after all.” Unknowingly, she’d steered the conversation exactly where I wanted it to go.

“Do you mind if I have a look at that tiara? I can’t say I’ve seen such an expensive one before.” The filly handed me her gaudy headpiece.

A while ago, I’d been watching a detective show with my son. In one episode, the case had revolved around a stolen cache of diamonds. They were apparently returned by the thieves. But after testing they were found to be fakes. The simplest test was glass; a diamond will scratch glass like nothing else can. There was a small window in the sports shed.

“You know, if I remember correctly, diamonds are so tough that they can scratch glass without damaging themselves. Shall we try it?” I covertly winked at the Crusaders who readily agreed with Diamond Tiara.

We walked over to the shed’s window and carefully holding the tiara, I scraped one of the stones on the glass. It didn’t make a scratch, probably cubic zirconium. As soon as the group saw the lack of damage, Diamond Tiara’s jaw dropped, while the Crusaders began to snigger.

“Hmm,” I said, taking a long while to examine the no doubt cheap tiara. “Perhaps you should have this looked at.” The filly promptly tore it from my grasp and stalked off, Silver Spoon following close behind. I turned to the Crusaders. “Perhaps she should change her name to Cubic Zirconium Tiara, eh?” I was rewarded with a number of high fives.

A while later the bell rang again and the youngsters filed back inside. I had one more lesson to teach myself before Cheerilee would return. We would then split the work between us. While I was still learning the finer details of the pre-Classical era of Equestrian history, having two teachers really helped improve the overall quality of each class.

Cheerilee though could easily put me to shame. I guessed we were about the same age, but she was far more talented as a teacher than I was. Were she a teacher back home, she would probably have no trouble tackling a class of Year 6 students. She could take almost any subject and make it enjoyable for everyone concerned. Normally when you try to do that, you end up getting too friendly with the kids and that affects discipline.

For now though, I would have to manage on my own. Sitting down at the desk (the chair was taken from our new house) I looked through the lesson plans Cheerilee had left as a general guide. This period was marked as ‘Equestrian Literature’. Below this Cheerilee had written the following:

‘Just pick a poem and have them write it out themselves and discuss it.’

Simple enough. I reached for one of the many textbooks in the schoolhouse on the subject. There were a few on poetry so I couldn’t foresee any problems. Then though, I had an idea. Why not teach them about a poem penned by humanity? It still fulfilled the lesson requirements and it would be something new. With that in mind I quickly settled on a poem.

“Alright, quiet down everypony,” I called out, the foals all hushed in response. Nice to know I haven’t lost the knack. “Right, the last lesson I’ll be teaching you before Ms Cheerilee comes back is going to be on poetry.” At this they all let out a groan.

“Yes I know it’s a bit boring,” I replied. “So I thought we might look at a poem from my world. I can guarantee nopony else will have heard it, you’ll be the first.” This peaked the children’s interest. Walking over to the blackboard, I picked up a piece of chalk and wrote the title. ‘If’.

“If?” Asked Twist. “If what?” I smiled.

“That’s the whole point of the poem, Twist,” I answered. “Now, I don’t have it written down, but I do have it up here.” I tapped the side of my head. “So I’ll dictate.” And with that I began. It was good practice for the kids to learn to write like this. I had to stop and repeat myself a few times with difficult words here and there, but otherwise there were no issues. I was slightly surprised that I still remembered it all after so long, after all, it had been my father who had taught it to me. Finally, we finished.

“Alright, now swap with the pony next to you and double check each other’s work.” A ruffling of paper followed. It would be nice if it caught on and stuck in their minds, the poem was good advice for life for my money. There were plenty of things for the Crusaders to draw on, as well as Diamond Tiara. Inevitably though, trouble brewed.

Since Diamond Tiara was sitting next to Scootaloo and Silver Spoon was sandwiched between Sweetie Belle and Apple Bloom, they had all swapped papers with each other. This had led to Diamond Tiara, in a frankly childish (even by her standards) move, to mark a good half of Scootaloo’s work as wrong. This of course was not the case. Whilst Scoots was by no means top of the class, she was a bright young thing. When the papers were returned, the inevitable happened.

“Hey, what the hay is this for?!” Scootaloo demanded. Diamond Tiara simply looked smug.

“Well, I’m sorry if I couldn’t make heads or tails of your chicken scratch, Chicken.” Then more inevitable happened.

“For the last time, I am not a chicken!” The orange filly’s wings buzzed like an angry hornet. So I waded in again.

“Diamond Tiara,” I said evenly. “Can I talk to you outside?” Anypony could tell that wasn’t a request. She pouted briefly before following me out into the hall. “The rest of you, do any corrections you have and start having a go at memorising the first part.”

Closing the door behind me, I took her a little way down the hall so as to be out of site from the others.

“Now, what was all that about?” I asked her. The filly continued to pout in silence. “I’m waiting.” The filly kept quiet for a little while longer before finally giving in. Children, of any species apparently, can’t stand being in silence near authority figures.

“I wasn’t doing anything. It’s not my fault that stupid chicken’s writing is illegible.”

“First of all, her name is Scootaloo. She calls you by your name, the least you can do is show her the same courtesy,” I countered. “Secondly, I looked at her work. Underneath your scribbling, I could not find a single fault. You however, have yet to correctly spell the word ‘incorrect’.”

“But…” the filly tried to cut me off.

“Diamond Tiara, I am sick and tired of you making everypony else’s day a misery, mine and Ms Cheerilee’s included. You’re staying behind for an hour today.” Now the filly fumed.

“You can’t do that! You’re not my teacher! My daddy won’t let you!”

“I can and I will. I’m certain Ms Cheerilee will agree with my decision. And your father is beside the point.” Somehow, she’d got it into her head that her father’s position as head of a small time outlet chain gave her the authority to do as she pleased. It would probably mean a difficult conversation later though.

Filthy Rich, he preferred to be addressed as ‘Mr Rich’ though many called him ‘Filthy’ behind his back. He was one of those parents who dotted on their child all through their lives. No matter what I or anypony else might say, their child was perfect and it must surely be the other parent’s offspring that were at fault. This of course, might explain Diamond Tiara’s behaviour.

The trouble was that, in spite of his relatively low position in the greater scheme of things, he did have a fair bit of pull on the local level. That meant he usually had the ear of at least one of the school governors, who oversaw schools all around the region.

“Cheerilee, just let me keep her back for an hour,” I pleaded as the day drew to a close. After handing over to her for the History lesson, she’d set the youngsters about their work and led me to her small office. While she completely agreed with me on the subject of a certain spoilt filly, she felt her hooves were tied.

“I know how you feel, Margaret. But I also don’t want to have Filthy and Co. come barging in here with a letter of complaint to the governors.” I groaned, evidently she had tried something similar in the past. “Diamond will tell her father, misconstrued the whole thing, which will then reach the governors. That could cost me my job.”

“You’re not serious?” I asked incredulously. Even by Earth standards that was a daft system. Cheerilee however nodded.

“The whole school system is decentralised. It’s usually pretty relaxed, but if a complaint comes up somepony from Manehatten or Fillydelphia will come down on me like a tonne of bricks. All they’ll see is ‘teacher being vindictive toward student’.” It was then, a thought occurred to me.

“Cheerilee, I work here but I’m not technically on the books, right?” She nodded. “Then they have no power to dismiss me, and I can’t see them going to the trouble to physically stop me from coming here every day. If I do everything, on my own authority, then Filthy’s got nothing.” Cheerilee looked up from her desk.

“For that to work, we would need to have not had this conversation.”

“What conversation?” I replied, grinning.

“Do it,” Cheerilee answered. “It’s about time I was able to put Diamond Tiara in her place.” And with that we both returned to the classroom to give Diamond Tiara the ‘good’ news, in as public a manner as possible.

The last bell rang and the students all filed out. All except one. Still pouting, Diamond Tiara remained in her seat. I’d given her a written copy of the poem we had been studying, and told her I wanted a dozen copies before she left. I saw Cheerilee pass by in the hall.

“You off?” I asked.

“Yep, Mac and I have a date tonight.” If I’d been drinking something, I would definitely have done a spit take.

“Mac? As in Big Mac? Applejack’s brother?” I asked. I received a nod in reply. “How long’s that been going on?”

“Oh err, funny story.” My fellow teacher blushed brightly. “The Crusaders slipped me and Mac a love potion last Hearts and Hooves Day. It made us kinda goofy for a while but after it wore off, well, I realised I sort of liked the guy. He’s such a good listener.” That I didn’t doubt. From what my son told me, the hulking red pony hardly said a word.

“So where you off to then?” I prodded.

“Oh, just to that little bistro place down Stirrup Street. Actually this’ll be the first date I’ve been on in a long time.” Her ears flattened against her head, a clear sign she was nervous.

“Don’t be so nervous, Cheerilee,” I said. “He’s probably even more nervous than you are.” Cheerilee still didn’t look convinced. “Look, when I met Roger, he was the single shyest thing you’ve ever laid eyes on. We were both really skittish when we were on our first date together. But I got him talking and we quickly found out we had so much in common. You just have to feel at ease, that will make him relax too.” There was a brief pause.

Finally, Cheerilee seemed to resolve whatever conflict had been going on in her head. She stood up straighter and looked more confident in herself.

“Wish me luck,” she said smiling. And with that she trotted out, leaving me alone with the tiara wearing hell spawn. I hoped she wouldn’t take too long. Pinkie Pie had said she wanted everyone and everypony at the train station for when Rarity and my son got back.

Chapter 42 - Heading Back Home

View Online

Luckily, I had once again been able to beat the clock. Racing back to the hotel, I had shot through the reception and taken the stairs. An elevator after all was rather tedious and slow. Plus, considering I was now a quadruped, I was considerably faster than I had been as a human. I could realistically run, at full tilt, at around thirty five miles an hour. Still, wings were faster than the fleetest of foot, Dash, assuming the speed of sound was the same as on Earth, could fly at over six hundred miles an hour.

Regardless, I quickly made it back to the room and began to get everything sorted and packed. Rarity of course, had already packed her things and was busy placing her many shopping bags atop one unfortunate bellhop. The pony in question looked to still be in his teens. His legs quivered under the sheer weight.

“Is that everything now, Miss?” He asked hopefully in a nasally voice, his legs threatening to buckle.

“Not quite, my dear friend here isn’t ready to set off just yet,” Rarity replied. The bellhop’s eyes grew hopeful.

“Then, do you think I could set these down for a minute?” Unfortunately for him, it was not to be.

“Oh, that’s not necessary; Blade Star will be out in just a moment.” I was certain she was doing this just to chastise me for being so last minute. I never took Rarity for the vindictive type.

So now, under the dual pressure of both the time and my desire not to see some unfortunate bellhop crushed under a mountain of shopping, I redoubled my efforts. I quickly folded and re-packed my waistcoat placing it in the suitcase and grabbed my toiletries and towel from the bathroom. Then, hurriedly throwing my saddlebags back on, I grabbed my keys and left the room, locking it behind me.

“Right, let’s be off,” I said. I couldn’t tell if the bellhop was delighted or disheartened by that.

Reaching the lobby, I asked the bellhop to take Rarity’s things outside and engage a carriage for us to the train station. Rarity then removed both my key and her own and hoofed them over to the pony at the reception desk. We both then hoofed over the necessary coinage. Between us, the hotel had cost us four hundred Bits for the room and the meal at the restaurant. Expensive yes, but also worth it in terms of the services provided. Mind you, I certainly wouldn’t be coming back to a place like this any time soon both for reasons of finance and my own tastes.

Trotting outside, we found a cab, loaded up with Rarity’s things, waiting for us. Quickly placing my own suitcase onto the pile, we both boarded.

“Right, where to then?” The cabbie called.

“Canterlot train station. There’s an extra ten in it for you if you can do it in twenty minutes!” I called. This was a pretty big ask for anypony, never mind a large cab such as the one we were in. It was getting on for midday, so the streets would be packed with other vehicles as well as pedestrians. To get through would take a skilled driver, with both agile manoeuvrability and a keen eye for gaps to pass through, and of course, a desire for a healthy tip. Luckily for us, the driver we had with us possessed all of these traits.

Unfortunately, he did not possess, from what I can gather, any sense of self-preservation.

Almost as soon as I said ‘Go’, we took off like a bat out of Tartarus. I didn’t even think it was possible for a pony to gallop this fast. At least, not without somepony calling V1 at some point. Worse still, the carriage was certainly not designed for such a high rate of speed; its wooden wheels groaned under the pressure. Reaching the bottom end of the road, we made a sharp turn to the right, roughly ninety degrees. The carriage briefly went onto its left side wheels only as we careered round the bend, much to the alarm of pedestrians.

We quickly found ourselves on the main thoroughfare through the city. At this time of day it was clogged completely. We though, didn’t seem to be slowing down at all, and the much larger carriages, perhaps Equestria’s answer to the truck, drew ever closer. Fearful of Rarity’s safety, and my own more to the point, I leaned out to call to the driver, the wind instantly lashed into my face.

“Hey, buddy! You want to take it easy? Ah may want to get there fast but ah also want to be in one piece too!” I called. The cabbie, still galloping took his eyes off the road to call back.

“Don’t worry my friend! I’ve done this run a thousand times before, you’re perfectly safe!” He shouted back.

He then jinked us hard right into a small alleyway. Canterlot evidently had back roads and shortcuts, and this cabbie has evidently done The Knowledge. I now didn’t dare stick my head out the window again for fear of losing it. I therefore turned my attention to Rarity. For the last couple minutes she had done nothing but cling on to her seat and her bags.

“Is this pony out of his mind?!” She demanded.

“No, I don’t think so,” I replied, briefly stopping to grab something as we made yet another hard and fast turn. “He seems to know what he’s doing. I guess he really wants that ten Bits.”

For the rest of the trip, we both simply did our best to hold on.

We arrived at the train station two minutes early. The cabbie must have been a stuntpony in the past or something. We had had a few close calls, but had not hit a single thing. We’d flown through back alleys, side roads, and even the odd back garden, but we were still in one piece. Mind you, we may have committed a few moving violations. Nevertheless, the cabbie had earned his extra ten on top.

Grabbing our things, we quickly headed into the station and onto the platform. And I say platform as in singular. In spite of being a terminus and also arguably a key hub insofar as travel was concerned, Canterlot Station had only one platform, with one line that led down to Ponyville. Only after passing my new home town did the line diverge, going all over the shop, from Dodge Junction, to the Crystal Empire to Rainbow Falls.

Our train was already waiting in the station when we got there. I still wish they’d designed it to be slightly less girly, or at least less pink. I mean, why not create something like Mallard, or Coronation Scot, or maybe Golden Arrow, sleek streamlined machines that would tear across the countryside setting speed records. Trains had always been a bit of a hobby of mine since I was a boy, Equestria though was severely lacking.

We weren’t on an overnight train this time; instead, we’d reach Ponyville in the early evening. Still, enough time to grab lunch in the dining car and enjoy the ride.

“Come along, Blade Star,” Rarity called. “The train’s due to leave at any moment.” Not a moment later, the guard’s whistle sounded. Needless to say, we both got on board sharpish.

Half an hour in to the long trip back home, myself and Rarity were chatting over lunch. When we’d settled in, Rarity had picked up one of those hateful gossip magazines which also covered current fashions. In it was a special feature section on the fashion show and the reception we had attended. I just hoped the tabloids would be kind; it was the first time I’d been in the paper since that idiot of an MP came to visit my high school.

“Well, anything good in there, Rarity?” I asked. She seemed to be reading and re-reading the same section over and over again. “Err, Rarity?”

“Oh, sorry, Darling, I was miles away,” she said, looking up from whatever she had been reading. “What did you say again?”

“I said is there anything interesting in there?” I repeated.

“Well, you’re in it,” she replied cockily. I balked.

Before I could respond, she handed the article in question to me. A large photograph sat in the centre of the page. It was me, shortly after I knocked that paparazzi for six. Beneath that was an article discussing, in great detail, the whole incident. Mind you, I thought they’d dressed it up a bit more than was necessary. I never really liked such publicity; I preferred to stick to the background. After reading the article again, I passed it back to Rarity.

“Well, that’s new,” I commented. “I just hope they leave it at that.”

“Nonsense Blade Star,” Rarity countered. “I’m sure when Applejack sees this she’ll be even more head over heels for you.” Rarity’s comment brought that whole issue to the fore once again. And I was just about settled again too.

I’d pretty much decided on what I was going to do. I was going to bury my dumb head in the sand and pray that everything got better by itself. That’s what I usually did when feelings came into a discussion. That or get as far away from the problem as possible. Still, it was only a stop gap.

Even now, I was finding myself starting to question my stance on love and romance. A few times on the ride back, I even began to think about what a romantic life would be like. What would happen if AJ and I became more than friends? How everypony would react to the news, dates, marriage, the works. But no. No, I wasn’t going to fall for it. Whatever might be in my head would certainly not happen in reality. I was going to stay friends with Applejack. That’s what she was, my friend, my best friend.

“You’re still thinking about Applejack, aren’t you?” Rarity asked, breaking my concentration. “Honestly Blade Star, she likes you and you like her, will you not at least try?” I sighed.

“Rarity, listen, ah’ve never, ever been in a relationship like that. Now you want me to just suddenly accept love from another species. What would everypony say? What would my folks say? And Applejack’s family? It’s all too fast. Please, just let me do this my way.”

Where did that come from? I was getting worse. In less than twenty four hours I’d gone from a complete disinterest in romance and a rejection of love, to explaining why I couldn’t act on such love. Even if I knew those reasons were a load of horseapples.

“Blade Star, first of all, you are a pony. So I don’t see a problem with species. And second, I cannot see why either your own family or Applejack’s would object, if you both love each other, who are they to stand in the way? You have something against love Blade Star, and I’m not going to stop until I find out what it is.” She fixed me with a stare. The fashionista was too good at reading ponies like that; she’d seen clean through my own excuses.

“Ah… the thing is…” I sighed again. “Ah just don’t trust love, alright? It’s a dangerous thing, physically and mentally. Ah’ve seen too many folks hurt by it to stick my own neck out. It’s too much of a gamble.” I recovered some of my capacity to argue, and to run my mouth. “And I refuse to be blinded by something so petty, Rarity! I have more important things to focus on; like getting my family home! You fall in love and before you know it you’re in some Celestia forsaken cave...” I cut myself off before too much came out.

Outside, the train’s shrill whistle blew, drowning out that last remark and we slowed for the run into Ponyville. We both quickly began to pick out familiar landmarks. It felt like it had been weeks since I had had to run and teleport myself to the station, leaving Applejack in the orchards.

Great, I’m thinking about Applejack again.

Anyway, we pulled into the station; the whole place was covered with balloons and a huge sign that proclaimed ‘Welcome Back’. I guess somepony told Pinkie what time we’d be back.

The engine let off a hiss and steam filled the platform, making it pretty hard to see anything. Still, stepping out, I helped Rarity down with her things. Then, the steam and smoke steadily began to clear and I beheld my friends and family, gathered to welcome us back.

First to step up was Spike, who naturally made a beeline for Rarity. My fellow unicorn smiled and hugged him, declaring that she was glad to be home. Spike was followed by Twilight, of course, who had no doubt provided him with transportation. She too was glad to see both of us, quickly hugging us. Then everyone and everypony just sort of piled in. I remember Pinkie shouting ‘Surprise’ at one point. Very quickly though, I found a pair of hooves around me.

“Blade Star!” Applejack declared happily, hugging me far tighter than a typical friend would. “Ah missed you so much!” For a moment I hesitated. I never had gotten used to such overt displays of affection. But once my mind caught up, I had the sense to return her hug.

“You too, AJ,” I replied. “You too.” With that, she released me, letting me see her face. She was the picture of happiness, her smile almost as wide as Pinkie’s. I chastised myself; even if I had little interest in love, how blind was I that I could not spot the obvious? All that was missing was a kiss.

Before I could do anything else though, I was quickly set upon by my mother. Even at this point, she still treated me like a little kid at times. She half hugged me and half picked me up when she grabbed me. Luckily Dad was on hand to pry her off.

They saved the best for last though, as Apple Bloom and the other Crusaders came out to me, with Big Mac keeping an eye on them. The sheer level of adorableness those three fillies displayed was sufficient to put even Fluttershy to shame. Balanced on their backs was a trio of steaming hot pies, undoubtedly made by Granny Smith and Applejack.

“Here Blade Star, me and the Crusaders made this for you.” Guess not then.

“And there’s one for Rarity too,” Sweetie Belle chimed in.

“And one for Rainbow Dash,” Scootaloo proclaimed, displaying a pie with RD’s cutie mark carved on the crust. Her compatriots glared her outburst to silence.

I couldn’t help but smile at their antics. At everything really. I felt like I was home again. Whenever I got back from university on a Friday night, I always had a good feeling in me, but it had never been this strong. I felt like I was glad not just to be home, but to be with all the people, and ponies, here too. I hadn’t realised how close I had gotten to everypony.

With Spike carrying Rarity’s many bags, and not complaining one bit I might add, I turned to the assembled crowd on the platform.

“Well, ah say since we’ve got three steamin’ hot pies right here, how ‘bout we go and have supper back at the farmhouse?” The barn/farmhouse that I now called home was perfect for such a gathering, just as it was with the annual family reunions. Everypony readily agreed and we set off for Sweet Apple Acres just as the train pulled out again.

We all headed through Ponyville just as Celestia set the sun below the western horizon. Stars steadily began to peek out as the sky changed from its’ former reddish hue, to the deep blue and purple of night. The temperature dropped slightly, but it was still an autumn night, and with no wind, quite pleasant.

We first swung by Carousel Boutique to allow Rarity to set all her stuff down. Even fuelled by his affections for Rarity, Spike’s small arms were beginning to show signs of strain. Several times I asked him if he wanted any help, but each time I received a staunch negative. Behold, I thought, the idiocies of love. The amount the poor drake was carrying would induce injury before too long.

Arriving at Rarity’s home and place of business, we all paused while Rarity herself went inside. Fishing a set of keys from her saddlebags she unlocked the door. The shop had been closed for the duration of our expedition to Canterlot, and a pile of new orders had formed in her letterbox. Spike followed her inside and helped her put her many articles away, again declining any offer of assistance.

With that done and dusted, we set off for Sweet Apple Acres. By this time the moon was steadily rising into the sky and everything took on a silvery hue. Heading further and further out of town, we passed my parents new house. Since they’d moved in not so long ago, the place had taken on a very homely feel. I’d lived in a few places in the course of my life, but none of them had felt like that. It was like the childhood home I’d never lived in. I wondered if Lizzie would be heading there. As far as I knew, she was still living with Fluttershy.

It was an even better feeling when we finally passed through the apple covered arch that marked the entrance to Sweet Apple Acres. While forests tended to be somewhat unsettling at night, there was no such fear prevailing in the vast apple orchards. Coming up on the homestead, me and Applejack opened up the large barn doors and turned on the lights. With help from Pinkie and Big Mac, we quickly set out a few tables, grabbed a few plates from the kitchen, some cider from the cellar and woke Granny Smith up in the process. Luckily though, the kraken was in a good mood, particularly when confronted with the sight of pie.

We all settled down to enjoy ourselves. The pie was, as always, absolutely delicious. Applejack said that both her and her little sister had inherited their ability to cook from Granny Smith. Big Mac however, apparently struggled to boil water on a good day. The table was filled with raucous laughter when AJ recounted Big Mac’s attempt to make dinner. To cut a long story short, he was not allowed near the stove, ever.

Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo insisted that their sister figures each take the first slice of their respective pies. Rarity praised her younger sister, claiming she had come a long way with her cooking. Though she did dash out from the party shortly after, and returned looking decidedly under the weather. As for Rainbow, she loved the fact the Scoots had managed to carve a copy of her cutie mark onto the crust. That reminded me, I had wanted to speak with Dash when we got back; now was as good a time as any.

“Hey Rainbow,” I called to her over the various other conversations. She looked up from her pie.

“Yeah, Blade Star?” She replied.

“You don’t happen to eat fish much do you? It’s just ah heard pegasi eat fish on occasion, thought ah might try it.” She looked at me quizzically.

“I’m pretty sure unicorns don’t go for that kind of thing, Blade Star. Twilight tried it once after she got her wings; she was throwing up for a week.” That last remark caused Rarity to once again shoot out, while Twilight, who had overheard us, blushed.

“I just didn’t take to it well, Rainbow!” She retorted hotly. “Why do you want to try fish anyway, Blade Star?”

“It’s just ever since ah got here, it’s like ah’ve had two halves; my unicorn side, which can’t stand meat, and my human side that’s been craving it. Ah figured since pegasi can eat fish, it might be a decent happy medium.” The two mares both stopped to consider.

“Well, I suppose your human qualities could, in theory, overcome your unicorn physiology and allow you to. But it would be very limited. Your body would reject any kind of red meats or even a large quantity of fish. Maybe you should try protein supplements.” Rainbow shuddered.

“No way, Twilight! I had to drink those things sometimes last winter. No way am I making this poor sap do the same.” She turned to me. “Why don’t we try tomorrow? I’ll catch us some fish out on the lake and we’ll see if you can handle it.” Seemed like a good idea, anything but protein supplements that was for sure.

“Okay Dash, sounds like a plan. You want to swing by here tomorrow?” She nodded as she helped herself to another slice.

“Sure, I’ll pick you up once I’m done with my morning workout.”

At the far end of the table, the Crusaders, along with Spike, had fallen asleep. It was getting pretty late.

“Good lord, is that the time already?” My father asked, looking at the nearby clock. “Come on dear, best be off.” It was getting late. The rest of the group took this as their cue to leave. My parents headed back to their house, Lizzie and Fluttershy headed back to the cottage. Rarity and Sweetie Belle went back to the boutique and Dash placed Scootaloo on her back to fly her home.

As for me, I helped Mac get Apple Bloom on his back whilst AJ helped get Granny Smith back to bed. I was glad to be back, if nothing else, just to be in my own bed again.

Chapter 43 - The Dolphins' Final Message to Humanity

View Online

The next morning, I was woken up by a steady tapping noise on my bedroom window. Groggily coming to, I threw off the covers and staggered to the window. Opening the curtains, I was confronted with the searing light of the sun and a hovering Rainbow Dash.

I may have screamed.

Rolling in mid-air laughing madly, Dash was overcome with the effect her arrival caused. I’d forgotten until that point that she’d promised to come and catch a few fish for me, possibly resolving the current conflict between my human and pony halves. In an effort to salvage some of my ego, I chastised Dash.

“Yeah, yeah laugh it up Rainbow Crash,” I said jokingly. At that point her laughter began to die down.

“Sorry, Blade Star. Your face was just so brilliant. It was like.” She made a face similar to ‘The Scream’. “C’mon, I’ve got a few weather jobs to do today. If you want to go fishing, you better get a move on.” I nodded.

“Okay, be there in a minute or two, Dash.” Rainbow then pitched up out of her hover, briefly stalled, before recovering and dropping down to near the front door of the house. I quickly made myself presentable and brushed my teeth. Then I trotted downstairs, being careful not to wake anypony else. Opening the front door, Rainbow was waiting impatiently for me.

“Jeez Blade Star, you take more time than Rarity to get ready,” she jibbed.

“Do not,” I countered. “Nopony takes longer than Rarity, nopony.”

On the walk to the lake, I asked Rainbow what she had on her plate today. She’d just come from her morning workout to pick me up here, and she had a bunch of weather jobs to do as well.

“Yeah.” Dash said. “We’re starting to build up the first big snowstorm. It’s pretty much the busiest time for weather work, except maybe Winter Wrap Up. We’ve got to form a storm that’ll lay down a thick blanket of snow in one night. Then we can use smaller snowfalls to top it up. It's easy enough to keep it up once it’s started, but that first storm’s a real chump.” She ruffled her wings irritably.

“Ah doubt our weather team’s gonna have any problems,” I replied. “Certainly not with you at the helm. Y’all managed okay with the tornado last year, ah can’t see your folks bein’ stopped by snow.” We approached the lake.

The lake, just to clarify, was not the large body of water found in the park in Ponyville. Sweet Apple Acres had a large one as well, mainly due to beavers, well within its borders. That made it Apple family property and therefore our own private swimming and fishing hole. The surface was calm and clear, but just below the surface, it was possible to see a few fish darting about. From what I could see, I figured they were trout.

“You know, I’ve never been up here Blade Star,” Rainbow said. “There’s loads of fish here too. You could probably turn it into one of those fish farm deals like they have in Trottingham.”

“Fish farms?” I asked. I knew of the concept, but it never occurred to that Equestria had any.

“Sure, they supply places like Cloudsdale with fresh fish. Easier than everypony fishing for themselves,” she clarified. I stored this for later; AJ might be interested in expanding her business away from apples and other fruits.

“So how do we do this?” I asked Rainbow. The Pegasus had brought neither bait nor pole with her. She didn’t even have any saddlebags with her. She did however, have a smug look on her face.

“Easy, just watch.” And with that, she took off.

Watching her climb, I saw Dash grab a large tuft of cloud that was just about large enough for her to stand on. Even though I’ve seen such a feat several times since I got here, the ability of the pegasi to manipulate gaseous objects still amazes me. Dash brought the cloud down to just a foot or so above the surface of the water and settled herself on it.

She then began to peer down into the lake, evidently watching the many fish that were deep within. Her head began to dart about, left, right, up down, in a very bird like fashion. She was partially avian anyway. The whole spectacle was similar to a heron looking for food in streams. And just like a heron, her head suddenly lunged forward into the water, and a moment later, she produced a large fish.

With a flick of her head, she sent the hapless creature flying toward the bank. Dash then returned to her vigil and repeated the process a few more times. By the time she kicked her cloud out of existence, she had piled a good half dozen fish on the shore. A quick glide brought her over to me.

“See, nothin’ to it,” she said proudly. I was too stunned to reply. In less than five minutes, Rainbow had caught more fish than I could hope to catch in a day. I quickly began to wrap the catch in foil, before placing them in my saddlebags.

“Right, let’s get these cooked and see what happens.”

Neither myself nor Dash were overly talented as cooks. Personally, I had never cooked fish in my life. So we decided to call upon one of Ponyville’s premier chefs. If I was going to eat fish for lunch, I was going to eat fish that was properly prepared and cooked to perfection.

“Spike?” I called “Are you in here?” The pair of us trotted into the Golden Oaks Library in search of the elusive purple dragon. Twilight, who had evidently been working in her basement/laboratory, came up to see what the commotion was about.

“Blade Star? Rainbow Dash? What are you two…” she stopped, briefly sniffing the air. “Oh, eeww! What in the name of Celestia is that stench?” She quickly made to cover her nose.

“Jeez Twilight, it’s just fish,” Dash replied. “We figured Spike could cook it for us; see if Blade Star’s stomach can handle it.”

“He’s downstairs with me,” Twilight replied, her voice nasally from holding her nose. “Spike!”

“Coming Twilight!” Spike called. He quickly appeared from the basement. He quickly picked up the smell of fish. “Hey is that fish?”

“Sure is, Spike,” I said. “Think you could cook it up for us?” The drake’s eyes lit up.

“You bet! It’s been ages since I’ve had a chance to cook fish, Twilight won’t even try the stuff after last time.” Twilight promptly gave Spike the stink eye; the universal signal for ‘shut the hay up’. Spike quickly took the fish from my saddlebags, placing some in the freezer and a couple on the worktop.

“You can breathe now, Twilight,” I said snarkily. She released her hold on her nose.

“Thanks, Blade Star,” she replied.

“What are you working on down there anyway?” I asked. Twilight immediately switched to her ‘Doc Brown’ mode.

“It’s so fascinating, Blade Star. I think I’m actually closing in on how you arrived here.” This sounded interesting all of a sudden. “I was finally able to isolate some of the residual energy. Turns out its not magic at all, its rift energy.”

Since the incident a few weeks ago where half of the basement was damaged in a large explosion, Twilight had continued to research and attempt to work out precisely what had transpired to send me and my family to the Everfree Forest, and turn me into a unicorn in the process.

“Twilight, pretend I skipped quantum physics 101,” I deadpanned. Twilight splayed her ears.

“Oh, right. Well, basically, it means that it wasn’t random magic that brought you here, but a tear in the fabric of space/time. My guess is that when you passed through, you destabilised it forcing it to close again. It may be possible to re-open it in the future from this side.” Okay, this was sounding really good. “The only problem though, is that we don’t know exactly how to re-open the rift. It could quite easily, from what I’ve read, dissipate or shrink to the size of a pinprick.” My heart sank.

“That’s a pretty big problem, Twi,” I said.

“But every problem has a solution, Blade Star,” she countered encouragingly. “Besides, now that I’ve narrowed it down somewhat, the various other ponies Celestia assigned to help will be able to concentrate their efforts too. We’re bound to find a way to open it eventually.” My spirits lifted a little. We were then interrupted by Dash, who had followed Spike into the kitchen pretty much as soon as Twilight began to talk.

“Hey, guys! Spike says the fish is done.” We quickly headed to Twilight’s kitchen.

Spike was perched on a stool hovering over the stove. Two of the fish Dash had caught were frying in a pan on the flame. They both looked done to a turn. Using a spatula, Spike put one on each plate. Twilight defiantly refused to go near the dish. Dash placed hers on her back, whilst I encased mine in magic, and we both went to one of the tables in the library. Twilight quickly began to protest.

“Hey, these are reading tables, not dining tables you two!” She complained.

“Oh come on, Twilight,” I replied teasingly. “Think of this as one of your experiments. ‘Can Blade Star eat fish?’.” The librarian sighed in irritation. With that, me and Dash settled down. Spike kindly brought cutlery for us, though Dash seemed more than content to dive in.

It had been over a month since I had last eaten any kind of meat product. While there had been no physical side effects, I had been going through some kind of mental withdrawal process. If this came off, I wouldn’t have to worry about that any more.

I cut a small piece of the fish with my cutlery and brought it to my mouth. The smell reminded me of home, of fish and chip shops and Friday nights. Hay, if this worked I could introduce Dash to the traditional British fish and chips. I took a bite.

The taste was just as I remembered. Unlike with other meats, I did not feel any real sense of revulsion, though perhaps a little unease at eating such unusual cuisine in terms of a unicorn’s palate. Dash and Spike leaned forward expectantly, Dash even paused in her gorging. My gut began to rumble ominously, I began to feel unsteady. Was my body saying no? My compatriots had all left the table and taken shelter behind various book cases. Then, it happened.

I burped.

It came out like something Homer would do after drinking a pack of Duff beer. The slight queasiness went away and I felt completely normal again. I could eat fish. Off to the side I heard a sigh of relief from somepony.

“Well, mystery solved. I can eat fish,” I said happily. “Spike, think you can batter the other fish with breadcrumbs? I’ll introduce you to a great dish from my old world.” The dragon nodded eagerly. Dash on the other hand merely sniggered, probably at the sheer volume of my bodily function.

“Right, well, if you’re done with your ‘experimenting’, I need to head out now,” Twilight said, grabbing a pair of stuffed saddlebags.

“Oh, where to, Twilight?” I asked curiously as I finished the rest of my fish.

“I’m heading into the Everfree Forest. I need to go to where you and the others first arrived to take some readings. And I need to visit Zecora; I need to borrow something from her for our next lesson.” I remembered Discord’s botched riddle that suggested we do just that. I hadn’t really acted on it, as we had no idea at the time as to how we got here.

“Mind if I tag along? I might be able to help.” She nodded in approval, while Dash quickly excused herself, stating she had weather jobs to do. So, leaving Spike in charge of the library, the pair of us headed into the Everfree.

It had been a long time since I had been anywhere near the Everfree Forest. While the castle and its many artifacts were of interest to me, I was somewhat deterred by the constant threat of an untimely death on the journey. The nearest I had been was Fluttershy’s cottage to drop in on her and Lizzie. I certainly didn’t plan on going in there alone. Luckily though, I had Equestria's newest princess and one of the most magically powerful beings on the planet as a travelling companion. Said companion was currently doing what she did best.

“Okay, saddlebags, check. Scrolls, quills and ink, check. Magical dampeners, check. Supplies for Zecora, check. Copy of ‘A Guide to the Everfree’, check.” This continued for some time, still I was no better, so I could hardly complain. Finally, Twilight concluded her checklist, for the third time. “There we go, okay, let’s go, Blade Star.”

We crossed from the bright Equestrian day into the darkness created by the forest’s unusually thick canopy. The place, for all its dangers, was nonetheless remarkable. The various species of trees here could not be found anywhere else in Equestria, and unlike other varieties, did not share any real similarities with any trees found on Earth. I mean, I’ve never encountered a plant on Earth that could swallow a manticore whole.

Then of course, there were the many animals that called this forest home. I decided not to jab Twilight on the subject of Cockatrices. The biggest risk really was Timberwolves. Manticores and other larger beasts tended to stay much further inside the forest. Timberwolves however, would be attracted to us due to our small number, and they were known to frequently come right to the border, if not leave the Everfree on occasion to hunt. The trick would be knowing if we were being followed.

Still, if worst came to the worst, each of us had the magical equivalent of a high powered rifle strapped to our foreheads. Timberwolves in particular could be driven off by a show of force. If they felt you would take too much effort to kill, they’d slink off and leave you be.

“So, aside from going back to where you think this ‘rift’ may be, what else are we doing?” I asked Twilight.

“Well,” Twilight replied, “I need to quickly visit Celestia and Luna’s old castle to collect a few books. Then on the way back, I need to go see Zecora; I promised to pick up some supplies for her in Ponyville, and I need to borrow something from her too.” She gestured to her bulging saddlebags, they contained what looked like a number of plant extracts, bone fragments and other things a shaman may find useful.

The walk to the castle proved far easier than I expected. I certainly didn’t feel as spooked as I had the last time. Though to be fair, the last time, I had been getting to grips with a new body and explaining to my family that we were in what I thought to be a fictional world. Now, I was more than capable of protecting myself, and I had a good friend with me.

“So how’s the Apple family?” Twilight asked as we continued on.

“As good as can be expected I suppose,” I replied. “AJ’s got everything set up for winterising next week, Big Macintosh has hauled all the equipment back into the barns and Apple Bloom’s finally got tired of playing archery with the Crusaders. Ah think that arrow into the Zap Apple Jam storage was the straw that broke the pony’s back as far as Granny Smith was concerned.” The two of us sniggered to ourselves. “How about you? How’s the life of a royal and her dragon assistant?”

“I don’t know how Celestia and Luna cope. I don’t have that many duties to perform, but sometimes it feels like I’m back in school again. Plus, everypony doesn’t exactly agree with my informal approach to being a princess. Spike has been doing his best to help me adjust, and I’m certainly grateful for all the work he does at the library. These days, it’s almost as if he’s the librarian and I just live there.”

“So what, you want to abdicate then?” I asked half seriously.

“Oh, no, I’d never give up my responsibilities like that!” Twilight countered earnestly. “It’s just I’m still settling into the whole idea.”

With that, we came to the castle at last. I hadn’t had a chance to look inside here the last time, and this was one place I certainly wanted to visit. As we approached, I began to feel the uncomfortable side effects of the background dark magic. It was not as bad as before, but still noticeable. Like a haunted house, the place gave me the creeps. Twilight too was noticeably on edge. As we approached, I noticed our breath was forming vapour; the temperature was dropping. I began to fall back on old traditions.

“De profundis clamo ad te, domine. De profundis clamo ad te, domine.” I muttered in an effort to dispel whatever was around us and my own fears. I resisted the urge to screw my eyes shut in an effort to hide from whatever was here.

Then, just as suddenly as it had dropped, the temperature rose again. The uneasiness left us both and we began to relax. Whatever presence we had felt had decided to let us pass, or at least leave us alone. We walked through the huge doors into the throne room of the castle. Before us were the two ancient thrones from which Celestia and Luna once governed. And hanging above them were their banners; a blazing sun on an orange background for Celestia, and a crescent moon on a deep blue background for Luna. Rarity had tried to remove one of those before, and while I would love to get Luna’s banner (with her permission of course) I did not wish to get into a fight with this haunted house. Twilight led me up a side staircase toward the sisters’ private library.

“What was that, Blade Star?” Twilight asked with a sort of quiet awe.

“Not sure, Twilight. Ghosts maybe. Back on Earth that’s what they used to say if the temperature dropped suddenly. You notice how cold it got?” She shook her head.

“No, not the dark magic, I mean what you did; you dispelled it. I was about to use a light spell and you chanted something.”

“It’s Latin; supposedly it could drive off dark spirits,” I replied. Again Twilight shook her head.

“Anyway, we’re here now. Just give me five minutes to find these books. And don’t touch anything, Blade Star. The books in this library go straight from me to Canterlot, where they go to the Starswirl the Bearded Wing; the knowledge they hold is extremely dangerous.” In light of what happened the last time somepony ‘borrowed’ a book from here, I was not about to argue.

A short while later, Twilight had collected about half a dozen different tomes. A couple of them were too large to fit in her saddlebags, so she asked me to carry them. They were quite heavy and made their presence known when I placed them on my back. Much to my alarm, I noticed several of the books were sealed with a magic lock. According to Twilight only alicorn magic would release it.

We then headed out that same way we came in. Luckily we were not accosted by whatever dark spirits continued to haunt the castle’s halls and passageways. It was a remarkable building, if nothing else a testament to the construction abilities of the time, it was just such a shame that it remained contaminated after so long.

We then took a short walk to the place where me and my family had first arrived. I remembered the place well. It was easy enough to locate the right clearing; the whole area I noticed was covered with scorch marks, as if there had been some terrific heat. Twilight cast her horn aglow and began pacing around the area. It was almost like she was using a living metal detector, her horn seemed to glow brighter as she approached the spot I woke up in and where my family had been. She then took out a scroll and jotted down a few notes. Unfortunately, she could not pick up any trace of an active rift, just its dissipated energy. In other words, it was here, but if it still was, was anypony's guess.

The route we took back to Ponyville was a slight variation from our journey from it. We had to call upon Zecora for reasons Twilight did not make very clear. Other than the fact that she was dropping off supplies for the zebra shaman, I gleaned very little information from her. It was unlike her to be so tight lipped.

When we got to the small hut, which was adorned with various African style masks and other slightly ominous looking objects, Twilight asked me to remain outside. As you might expect, this only increased my confusions. I had been hoping to meet the enigmatic rhyming zebra too. Twilight then emerged with a small box, similar to something you might store precious jewellery in. Like the tomes, it was sealed with a magic lock.

We then began our trek back home. We actually came out not too far from Fluttershy’s. Twilight then said she was heading back to the library and that she would see me tomorrow for my first magic lesson since I had got back. I however, was still thinking about two things; one, why was she being so secretive all of a sudden. And two, I could eat fish, next Friday was fish and chips.

Chapter 44 - Stare Too Long into the Abyss

View Online

I woke up to the one thing that is almost universally despised by all beings throughout the universe; a Monday morning. Today my lessons with Twilight resumed again. My trip to Canterlot had somewhat thrown off her schedule, so I was not entirely certain what I would be learning about today. Though, in light of her discovery yesterday, I was certain the subject of rifts and portals would soon come up.

Forcing myself out of my warm and comfortable bed, I opened the curtains and made the bed up. I can’t help it; I am just one of those ponies that needs everything to be clean, neat and tidy. I then popped to the bathroom down the hall and brushed my teeth. Trotting downstairs, I found Applejack on the stove. This was unusual in itself, typically Granny Smith made breakfast and most of the other meals.

“Mornin’ ‘Jack. Where’s Granny?” I asked as I attempted to shake the cobwebs. I received a yawn in reply.

“Oh, mornin’ Blade Star. Granny’s still in bed, come down with somethin’ awful. Big Mac’s gone into town to fetch Nurse Redheart.” That set alarm bells ringing.

“Nothin’ too serious is it?” I asked, a hint of worry in my voice. I did have some training with St John’s after all.

“Oh no don’t you worry, Bones,” AJ replied. “She just gets somethin’ in her system every now and then. Redheart gives her some medicine and she’s back on her hooves before you can say Zap Apples.” Even though we weren’t related, I did worry about the kind old mare. She was getting on in years now. But as Applejack said, she usually bounced back.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I replied. I helped myself to an apple fritter on the table. “Ah’m headin’ out to Twilight’s; got some more magic lessons this week. She’s kinda annoyed since that trip threw her schedule out the window. Ah should be back for lunch.” I then headed out the kitchen door and set off for Ponyville.

Now, I knew for a fact that Ponyville was famous for its strange happenings. Over the past few years this small little hamlet had been the centre of an attempted coup, transformed into the chaos capital of the world, encased in a magical bubble, overrun by clones and had been reconstructed to be made entirely out of gems. So you can understand why the large shield around Golden Oaks Library didn’t really faze me.

The entire building was encased in a large purple shield. Presumably this was Twilight’s doing. The only unicorn I knew to be able to accomplish such a feat was Captain Shining Armour. The other possible candidates were all either in Canterlot, the Crystal Empire, or in the case of Discord, Celestia knows where. I realised that since his last visit in my previous magic lesson, the joker Draconequus had left me and my family alone. A trend I hoped would continue.

Walking up to the large bubble, I considered how to gain access. Perhaps I should try the simplest approach. I began to hammer on the surface of the construct with my hooves.

“Twilight! It’s me, open up!” I called loudly.

The front door to the library opened and said alicorn came out. When she saw me, her horn quickly flared and the shield partially opened, forming a sort of doorway. As I passed though the arch, I felt a spell of some variety activate and pass through me. As soon as I was through, the gap in the field immediately sealed itself shut again and I found myself hauled inside by Twilight’s telekinesis. Only when she had slammed the door behind us and double locked it, did she release me.

“What the hay, Twilight? You could have just said ‘come in,’” I said irritably.

“Sorry, Blade Star,” She answered sheepishly. “But we can’t be too careful today. The subject of our lesson is for your ears only. I had to be sure nopony could eavesdrop on us and I needed to be sure you weren’t an imposter.” Well, that explained the shield and the previously unknown spell.

“What’s so dicey then that you have to go all Royal Wedding on me then?” I asked. Twilight fixed me with a hard stare and looked me in the eye.

“Dark magic.”

Inside my mind my inner brony began chanting ‘yes yes yes yes yes yes’. While the various spells I had been studying these past weeks were extremely interesting and often incredibly useful, they weren’t exactly, well cool, as Dash would put it. It is an accepted fact that the bad guys always get the coolest toys, and magic was no exception. Nightmare Moon had the ability to move quickly and silently in her shadow form, Chrysalis had her mind control skills, and Sombra’s ability to bring to life somepony’s worst fears was even more impressive, never mind his own shadow form and ability to summon crystals.

All in all, skills that made great party pieces. Of course, there was the small matter of the corruptive nature of such spells. I now understood why Twilight felt such a strong need for security. She was evidently placing great faith in me by teaching this.

This turn of events also explained her unusual behaviour yesterday. The books were all on dark magic. That certainly explained the magic locks that could only be opened by four ponies in all of Equestria. This was something they certainly didn’t even teach at Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns.

“I asked the princesses if I could teach you some of the basics,” Twilight went on. “They agreed that it would be in your interests to learn how to defend yourself against dark magic. Since you know a fair bit about restricted magic already from that show, Celestia agreed the risk was low. But I still want you to Pinkie Promise not to discuss what you hear or see here today with anypony.” A wise precaution.

“Alright Twilight. Ah Pinkie Promise not to tell anypony what you teach me here today. Cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” I made the various motions, this time not jabbing myself in the eye. Twilight smiled and nodded.

“Good, then we can get started,” she said.

The first part of Twilight’s lecture, which I shall refer to as ‘Defence against the Dark Arts’, was a basic introduction and covered roughly what I knew already. Dark magic was significantly more powerful than regular magic, even on par with chaos magic. However, it could be dispelled with enough effort and energy. In the cosmic balance, the two were in a perfect harmony, thus neither light nor dark was ever able to fully trump the other. The biggest danger with using dark magic was that it had an inevitable corrupting effect. A practitioner could very easily lose themselves in their newfound power. The old saying on the subject of power and corruption never rang truer. Any such use then, had to be brief and limited.

As for fighting or reversing dark magic, that was something usually left up to royalty, who possessed the necessary magical reserves. However, it was possible for a unicorn such as myself to resist some of the effects. Hypnosis, which was the first step in a mind control spell for example, could be negated by an awareness of being hypnotised. If the target suspected it, the spell would almost instantly degrade and fail. A hypnosis spell also required willingness to an extent. So, by keeping up my guard, I could reduce the effect and prevent the spell from progressing to the actual control level.

A similar defence could be used for spells such as Sombra’s unique ability. The need and willingness to face your fears could override this spell. By facing up to it, rather than attempting to hide, the spell had nothing to work with and would shut down.

The more advanced forms however, such as transfiguration, were all but impossible for a unicorn to defend against. In that case, my best bet was to fire one of my own spells, any spell would do, in an attempt to get out of range. Toe to toe, it would be like a BB gun against a freight train.

We then began to practice such defensive technique. Twilight would use low level dark magic and alicorn magic, which itself incorporated elements of dark magic, and I would attempt to defend myself.

“Alright Blade Star, are you ready?” Twilight called from across the library floor. I nodded, bracing myself for the oncoming storm. “Okay, first spell will be hypnosis. Bring yourself out of the trance and fire a stun spell back at me.” Again, I nodded. With that, Twilight fired a green tinted blast of magic. The spell seemed to home in on me. As soon as it drew near the spell split into two parts and flew straight at my eyes. I shut my eyes both as a reflex and in an effort to protect myself from the spell. It did little good. In that final second, I tried to focus my mind, I had to remember that I was being hypnotised.

I opened my eyes; nothing had changed. I was still in the library, I felt, well, normal and after briefly glancing in the mirror my eyes weren’t all weird and swirly. Had something gone wrong? I’d seen this done before, both by Discord using his chaos magic and Chrysalis, neither of them tallied with what was happening now.

“Twilight, I think something’s gone wrong. The spell hasn’t kicked in,” I said. “You sure you did it right?” I was quickly cut off by Twilight, who rapped a hoof on the floor before speaking.

“Blade Star, be quiet.” And with that, I shut my mouth and kept it shut.

Hang on.

Why was I still being quiet? Why did I feel compelled not to say anything unless Twilight asked me to? It was strange. I wasn’t ‘under’ as they put it. I was aware of what was happening; I wasn’t drooling and after another check in the mirror, my eyes were still fine. So what the hay was wrong? I decided that I had better go splash some water on my face. I wanted to ask Twilight, but I remembered that she had asked me not to speak. So, I just headed for the stairs. Twilight banged her hoof again.

“Blade Star, stay where you are.” Instantly, I stopped dead in my tracks. What the hay was happening? My thinking process was becoming more and more laboured. Finally though, far in the back of my mind, an alarm bell, very quietly began to ring out. Something was off, very off. Then it hit me.

Hypnosis! That’s what this was. Twilight’s spell had worked, she’d put me under; that’s why I couldn’t think clearly. And the longer I was like this, the less control I would have. Almost instantly, my mind cleared and dozens of alarm bells began to ring. I quickly turned to the alicorn and fired a burst in her direction. Of course, it was only a minor stun spell and did her no harm. Twilight smiled as I regained my remaining faculties.

“Well done, Blade Star. You got out of that in less than five minutes,” she said, a hint of pride in her voice. “Although I suppose that could be attributed to the fact that you knew that I was going to hypnotise you.”

“That was just plain weird, Twilight,” I replied. “Ah was hypnotised, but ah didn’t feel it, not until a few moments before ah broke the spell.” Twilight smiled.

“That’s the point, Blade Star. Hypnosis is designed to go unnoticed by its victim. The key is picking up on what is happening and questioning yourself.”

“So what now then?” I asked.

“Now you try to hypnotise somepony. You need to fully understand how the spell works in order to properly counter it.” I nodded in understanding. “The key thing you need to do when forming the spell is to weave in a trigger; something that will activate the hypnosis. It can be a phrase, a gesture, or even tactile contact. But it must be specific.”

“So what trigger did you use?” I asked.

“Did you notice how I tapped my hoof on the floor before speaking?” I nodded in understanding. An idea for a trigger quickly came to me.

“Okay Twilight, ah have a trigger. Who am ah hypnotising?”

“Spike!” Twilight called. Her dragon assistant waddled into the main part of the library.

“Erm, yes Twilight?” He said uneasily.

“We need your help with something as part of Blade Star’s magic training,” she said.

“But, I thought you told me you were working on dark magic today, no way am I getting involved with that stuff.” Twilight sighed.

“Spike, I promise you it’s perfectly safe. I’d never let anything bad happen to you. There are more sapphires in it for you too,” she offered. Faced with his Achilles heel, Spike quickly agreed. “Okay Blade Star, do it.” And so, feeling somewhat sorry for the unfortunate Spike, I hit him with a hypnosis spell.

Unlike my own experience of hypnosis, Spike’s eyes briefly changed to swirling green orbs. I guess the spell prevents the target from noticing. Twilight instructed me to have Spike perform a few basic tasks. I switched my voice to a slight Irish tint, as specified in my spell.

“Spike, would you kindly…”

After bringing Spike out of the minor trance, Twilight promptly hoofed over the gems she had promised him and left him in peace. We decided not to mention the fact that I had made him sing one of the many secret love songs he had written for Rarity.

Twilight refused to even consider subjecting me to the mentally damaging ‘fear spell’ that had been Sombra’s forte. However, she did include it as part of the lesson. While the effect it had had on both her and Spike during the siege of the Crystal Empire had been upsetting, it was not too bad. Her concern was that, as I came from a less pleasant world, the spell might unearth some traumatic fears and bring them out. She did not want to traumatise her own magic student.

And of course, the counter to such an attack was not really something you could teach. The spell effectively forced its target to face themselves and their own perceived flaws and fears; there is no worse opponent. Accepting our own flaws and facing our own fears was something that we had to do alone. Sombra’s style of magic however, was on the agenda.

“Right, now Blade Star. You remember the shadow magic King Sombra used?” I nodded, thinking back to Season Three. “That is high level dark magic, not even I could pull it off as a unicorn.”

“So how are you going to teach me to control it then if I can’t use it?” Twilight went down into her basement, quickly she returned with the sealed box she had taken from Zecora’s. With a quick burst of alicorn magic, she opened it. Inside was a very dangerous piece of jewellery. It was a silver necklace with a shining red ruby in its centre. Carved into it, was a pony’s head, with a horn and wings; the Alicorn Amulet.

“I presume you know what this is?” She asked, holding up the dangerous artifact.

“The Alicorn Amulet,” I answered. “You confiscated it from Trixie the last time she was here.” Twilight smiled and nodded.

“Good. Put it on.”


“What?” I asked dumbfounded.

“Put the amulet on, Blade Star,” Twilight repeated. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

“Princess Twilight, with all due respect,” I said, still hoping I had misheard her. “HAVE YOU GONE COMPLETELY INSANE?!” I promptly covered my mouth with a hoof and splayed my ears.

“Don’t worry, Blade Star. You’ll be perfectly safe,” She reassured me.

“Perfectly safe? If ah put that thing ‘round my neck, only ah can get it off. And with the amulet’s power, ah won’t want to. How is that ‘perfectly safe’?” I demanded.

“You’re with an alicorn, Blade Star. This thing might be able to beat a unicorn, but it’s still no match for an actual alicorn.” She seemed remarkably sure of herself. I began to turn the idea over in my head.

“Twilight are you really sure you’ll be able to keep a lid on this?” I asked finally. My teacher sighed in irritation.

“Oh, for the love of Pete!” With that, she put the amulet around my neck and locked it on.

I had expected something to happen, anything really; the amulet to glow, menacing clouds forming in the sky, lightning, maybe ominous cackling. But there was nothing, I didn’t even feel any different; in spite of the fact I now had magical potential on par with an alicorn.

“Right, let’s get started,” she said.

For the next half hour or so, I practiced using and countering spells I would usually not even be able to consider casting. I’d say the best part of the whole lesson was the transfiguration session. All told I probably turned a good two dozen books into a variety of human objects for Twilight to study. It was just all so fantastically easy and simple, no harder to perform than a basic levitation. Just for the fun of it, I teleported myself all over the library as I worked. Then of course there was the shadow magic itself. I must say, turning myself into a non-corporeal being was an interesting experience.

Of course, at the back of my mind, I was worried about what this amulet was quietly doing to my psyche; I’d always considered myself megalophobic and the idea of ‘unlimited power’ around my neck gave me pause. Still, I kept on performing various high level spells.

Finally though, came the test. Unbeknownst to me, this was the true purpose of the whole exercise.

“Okay Blade Star,” Twilight said. “You can take the amulet off now. Time to be a normal unicorn again.” I’d been preparing for this since we began; I was certainly determined not to be taken in as Trixie had been. Nevertheless, when Twilight said we were done, I encountered a problem.

I didn’t want to give up the amulet.

I mean, I’d proved I could use it responsibly after all, hadn’t I? My eyes hadn’t turned red, I hadn’t bought a cheap black cape and I certainly had no desire to take over Ponyville. Who knows, the amulet may very well be the key to opening the rift in the Everfree and getting my family home. Hay, it may even allow me to stabilise the rift; make a permanent link between my old world and Equestria.

“Erm actually Twilight, do you mind if ah just borrow it for a while?” I asked hopefully. Twilight quickly caught on.

“No Blade Star, you don’t want to borrow it. Remember what the amulet does to ponies who use it for too long.” She kept her voice even and calm, also flaring her horn in a veiled threat. “The amulet is trying to draw you in, make you addicted to the power it grants. You need to be able to resist this kind of dark magic.”

I found myself in two minds. On the one hand, there was nothing wrong with me; I wasn’t showing signs of corruption as far as I could tell. But on the other hand, this amulet was dangerous and needed to be kept under lock and key, not around my neck.

“Twilight, please,” I said. “Just let me see if ah can open the rift in the Everfree with this. Ah’ll give it back then ah swear.”

Blade Star, look at your eyes and tell me that the amulet isn’t corrupting you.” She placed a mirror in front of me. To my horror, my eyes had, instead of turning red, taken on a frightening look similar to Sombra. Strange purple magic oozed from my eyes, which were now green with red irises instead of white and with brown irises and a twisted grin formed on my muzzle. The frighteningly evil looking visage snapped me out of the horseapples I had been spewing. Crying out in surprise, I unlatched the amulet and threw it on the floor. As my breathing calmed, Twilight placed a hoof on my shoulder.

“Well done Blade Star,” She said, hugging me. I was still a little shaken by what I saw.

“What the hay happened to my eyes just now?” I asked.

“It’s the effect of dark magic; it did the same thing to your horn too. You looked a lot like King Sombra actually.” I hadn’t noticed any change in my horn. Then again, as soon as I’d seen the grin and the look in my eyes I’d removed the amulet, breaking the spell. “It’s actually a very low level spell, mainly cosmetic; a side effect really of higher level magic. Though it can be created just for cosmetic effect too. A lot of ponies use spells like it for Nightmare Night. I figured it might snap you out of it.” A thought occurred to me.

“Hey, maybe ah could go as Sombra this year,” I said. “My coat is about the right colour, and if that dark magic spell is really low level then ah should be alright to use it for one night.” I began planning. I’d need a large red robe, some armour for my hooves and chest, as well as a crown. Twilight suddenly started.

“Oh shoot! I was supposed to pick up my costume today as well. Blade Star, do you mind if we cut this lesson short?” She asked, her ears already drooping at the prospect. I replied that I didn’t mind. After this particularly taxing lesson, I was more than happy to head home early. Plus, I now knew what I wanted to go as for Nightmare Night.

Chapter 45 - Nightmare Night - Part 1

View Online

I was standing in my room back on Sweet Apple Acres, the setting sun cast long shadows across the floor. In another half hour or so it would officially be Nightmare Night, Equestria’s answer to All Hallows Eve. I’d been running around for a couple days in preparation.

Ever since my most recent magic lesson, where I had inadvertently stumbled on the very basic spell that caused my eyes and horn to alter, I had settled on my costume choice. Tonight, I was not a human turned unicorn, currently stranded in Equestria. No, tonight I was King Sombra, ruler of the Crystal Empire, terror of the Frozen North. Amongst the various items I had had to acquire to pull this off was of course, a long red robe with a white border. This elegant and surprisingly comfortable piece of clothing had been acquired from Rarity, who had been taking orders for Nightmare Night.

After acquiring that, I had headed over to the post office in Ponyville to send off for the armour set I would also need. This included a strong metal chest piece and four armoured horseshoes with cuffs. These would be acquired from a specialised metal works in Baltimare, whose main customer was the Royal Guard.

The last piece was Sombra’s signature crown. This was actually made by me, Big Mac and Spike. The design was extremely ornate, particularly in comparison with the other pieces of armour. It started as a single silver band, which of course had to be made up to fit my own head. Spike heated the metal to a malleable temperature, and then Big Mac and I formed it into the correct shape in the barn. We then cooled it, and ensured that it was a good fit. All that remained then was to weld on the various parts onto the crown. To that end, Spike availed himself as a welding torch.

All of these things were now placed on my bed in front of me. And with the sun just dipping below the horizon, all I had to do was put it on.

I started with the chest piece of the armour, the most difficult. Were I not a unicorn, it would have been impossible without help as all the clasps were on the back. These of course would be hidden by the red cape that helped mark Sombra out as a monarch. The cape actually came next as it fitted over the chest armour. With that fastened around my neck, my cutie mark and almost all of my tail was obscured. My movement was also a little restricted as the armour wrapped around my neck. My tail of course, along with my mane had been dyed black, though I couldn’t quite get the shadow look. I had dyed them an hour earlier; I didn’t want to risk sullying the costume, least of all the cape, with black dye.

The horseshoes and armoured cuffs were the most trying. While it was easy enough to slip the first horseshoe on, each became progressively difficult as the shoes made it difficult to grab things. Once again I cheated and used a spot of telekinesis. Once on, they were not as restrictive as the main armour, they did make my hooves feel a bit heavier, and the cold metal sent chills up my legs each time they touched my skin.

Now came the final step, the ‘dark magic’ look. I moved to the mirror in the corner of my room. Using the spell Twilight had taught me, I allowed the smallest amount of dark magic to manifest. This was barely even readable as dark magic, being only 0.15 above the background level. At once, the strange bubbling purple and green mix that was dark magic enveloped my horn. This quickly spread to my eyes as well, which turned almost white. When everything cleared, my horn had transformed into a sort of inverted fang that was grey at the base and grew redder as you reached the tip. My eyes now oozed a strange purple cloud and my irises became red. To complete the effect, I inserted a pair of fangs into the roof of my mouth.

All that remained was the crown. I certainly looked the part. With that placed carefully atop my head, I was the spitting image of the dethroned tyrant of not so long ago. Smiling into the mirror, I said the one thing that came to mind.


With my costume complete, I headed downstairs. Applejack was going to spend the entirety of the festival with me. The event seemed as good an opportunity as any to test the waters regarding matters of the heart. AJ hadn’t told me what she would be going as this year when I asked her, stating that it was a surprise. Naturally, I kept silent on my own costume in kind. Big Mac would once again be looking after the hay rides, his strength allowed him to pull the heavy cart filled with cheering foals all night long.

Apple Bloom had also been unusually cagey on her costume choice. I had managed to learn that she was working in concert with the rest of the Cutie Mark Crusaders, but little else. It seemed as if everypony was holding their cards close to their chest this year.

When I reached the bottom of the stairs, I could see Applejack in the kitchen; she was finishing the last of the candied apples. Now, while I am not usually a prankster by nature, it was Nightmare Night. So, very quietly, I began to sneak up on the cowpony. This was not an easy feat due to the metal armour that I wore. However, she seemed quite occupied with her work, so she didn’t notice my approach.

I managed to sneak right behind her. Holding my position for a moment, she continued to busy herself with culinary delights. Then I struck. I’d managed to achieve a pretty decent impersonation of Sombra’s raspy voice. It’s difficult when there is so little dialogue to work with.

“Crystal slaves,” I rasped menacingly.

Applejack glanced behind and instantly spotted me. I’ve never seen the colour drain from somepony’s face so quickly. After all, I was a spitting image of the dead king and she’d come face to face with the genuine article. Applejack immediately screamed in fright. I’d expected her to bolt or fall over herself in an attempt to escape. But this was Applejack. Instead I made two new friends; Bucky McGillycuddy and ‘Kicks’ McGee.

Applejack delivered her signature applebuck clean into me, with both hooves. Needless to say, I went flying. I may have also seen a few stars. The defensive move left me laid out on the floor. Miraculously, nothing seemed to be broken and no blood had been drawn. I groaned slightly as I got back to my hooves.

“Ooh, dammit, that smarts,” I complained. AJ quickly realised her mistake.

“Oh hayseed! Blade Star ah’m so sorry! Are you okay?” She was instantly fussing over me like a mother hen.

“Ah’m fine, ‘Jack. Ah’m fine,” I replied, gingerly rubbing my snout. “That’s what ah get for tryin’ to sneak up on you.” Applejack took a closer look at my costume.

“That is a mighty fine costume there. When ah saw you, I thought for a moment you were the real deal.” Her eyes then drifted to my own and my horn. “Er, Sugarcube, not to be rude or nothin’, but what the hay is up with your horn and your eyes?” I smiled.

“Well, ah figured if ah was gonna go as Sombra, ah was gonna do it right. It’s the tiniest bit of dark magic, perfectly safe, so don’t you worry none.” Applejack looked a bit concerned for my safety but otherwise accepted it. “Anyway, where’s your costume, festival starts in half an hour.”

“Just finishin’ up these candied apples, Blade Star.” She turned off the stove. “Shoot, ah might as well get it done now.” With that she headed upstairs to her room to change.

Applejack, in the manner of mares, was upstairs for quite some time. She had not dropped me a single hint on what her costume might be. I’d loved her scarecrow costume from last year. It then dawned on me that I didn’t really know what anypony was going as this year. Twilight had dashed off to collect hers before I had a chance to ask her, and the subject hadn’t really come up in conversation with anypony else. I wasn’t even sure what my own family were doing.

My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a door opening upstairs. At last the elusive Applejack emerges! What I saw, well, it surprised me to say the least.

Standing at the top of the stairs was Applejack alright, but in a light I’d never seen her in. Her costume for the evening was a long flowing red dress, clearly one of Rarity’s designs. To say it was alluring would be an understatement. On her hooves were two pairs on equally red high heeled shoes. Around her neck was a small but nonetheless noticeable gold necklace, with a small golden apple hanging from the chain. Finally, she had forgone her usual Stetson. Instead, she had let her mane out of her typical ponytail, her actual tail was concealed under the dress, and had let it simply flow down her neck and across her back.

At that point, my brain’s higher functions pretty much cut out on me. I may not be looking for love but the way she was gussied up, it was impossible not to stare.

Not that I was checking her out or anything. I’m a gentlecolt after all.

“Well, Sugarcube. What do you thing?” she asked. Coherent thought was still difficult for me, never mind coherent speech. Hence:

“Err, wow.” AJ cocked an eyebrow at me and began to walk down the stairs. This only further frazzled my mind. Suffice it to say, you had to be there to describe it. As she reached me, I caught the scent of fine perfume on her.

“Ah thought ah might try goin’ this year as one of those fancy ponies from Manehatten,” she said. “Do you like it?” My mind instantly responded ‘Fleur ain’t got nothin’ on you!’ and proceeded to wolf whistle. Luckily, my mind was still unable to get my mouth to do as it wished. So a few seconds later, when I had collected myself, I managed to churn out:

“Yeah, you look great.” I instantly misinterpreted my own comment and began to blush. With a King Sombra costume on, I must have looked pretty foalish. Desperately, I sought to move things along. “Well, er, how about we head on out?” AJ nodded and we headed out for town.

The festivities were already in full swing by the time we got to Ponyville. We’d left Granny Smith back at the farmhouse this time around. As Applejack had predicted, she’d quickly fought off whatever she’d come down with, though Nurse Redheart insisted that she rest up for a couple more days to allow her immune system to properly reassert itself.

The centre of town was bustling with all sorts of stalls, from all sorts of foodstuffs, such as the ones the Apple family had provided to haunted houses and of course the costume contests for the kids. While I didn’t mind dressing up for Nightmare Night, I figured I was a bit old to be entering costume contests.

We quickly ran into Twilight, who was helping Mayor Mare manage the various events. She’d gone for an unusual costume; a pony who was both real, and yet did not exist; A.K. Yearling. She’d dyed her coat the same tan colour as the author and wore a similar purple cloak and grey hat. A pair of oversized reading glasses sat upon her snout. Standing with her was of course the mayor, who was reprising her clown costume, along with Spike.

Spike too had put a lot of effort in this year. In exact opposite to his choice last year, this time he wore the suit of armour of a knight of yore. An oversized helmet covered his head, though he had rigged the visor open. I recalled a friend of mine who’d dressed up as Master Chief once. The only way he could communicate was by Bluetooth headset. That was slightly creepy.

“Howdy, Spike. Hey, Twilight,” Applejack said, as we walked up to the trio. “Evening Mayor.” Twilight looked up from whatever she was discussing.

“Oh hi, Applejack. Nice costume….AHHH!” Twilight spotted me. “Blade Star? Is that you?”

“In the flesh,” I replied, mimicking Sombra’s voice. “Didn’t scare you did I?” Spike began to giggle quietly to himself. Twilight simply blushed in embarrassment.

“Cool costumes you guys,” Spike said. “What do you think?” I was tempted to mention something about St George and his encounter with dragons, but since Spike was a youngster, I decided to keep my snarkyness in check. As for AJ though.

“You gonna be somepony’s knight in shining armour then, Spike?” She asked mischievously. “Ah think ah saw her over by the hay rides.” The little drake promptly took off. Twilight was still embroiled in preparations for the arrival of the guest of honour, so we left her and the mayor to it and went looking for everypony else.

Walking over to some of the stalls in the marketplace we quickly spotted my parents. Whilst they were not in costume, they certainly appeared to be having a good time. I just hoped against hope that my dad wouldn’t find the dance contest; he makes Twilight appear talented.

“Hi Mom, hi Dad,” I called. My dad quickly spotted Applejack and myself.

“And who are you supposed to be, Bones?” My father asked. “More to the point what’s the matter with your eyes, you pick up an infection or something?”

“It’s just part of the disguise, Dad. A sign of King Sombra’s dark magic.” My dad thought for a moment.

“You’ve mentioned him before at some point I think,” he replied. Back on Earth, I had, perhaps cruelly, lectured my parents on my understanding of Equestrian history. Naturally, the Crystal Empire came up. Perhaps some of it had actually sunk in.

“Sombra is a Spanish word though isn’t it?” My mother chipped in. “I think it means shadow or something like that.” That I oddly didn’t know; it certainly fitted with Sombra as a character though.

“If you say so, Mom,” I replied. “So what are you two doing out here tonight?”

“Me and your father are keeping an eye on some of the kids for their parents. Somepony has to stay at home to pass out sweets. Plus I heard Granny Smith was a bit under the weather, so I got your father to help. I think we’re both a bit too old for costumes though.” Applejack turned to me.

Blade Star, ah’m just gonna go get us somethin’ to eat, okay?” I nodded and Applejack headed off toward some of the food stands. It was difficult not to stare, just a little.

“Anyway,” My father went on, oblivious to my distraction. “Things are getting busy at the castle too, Christmas isn’t too far away. They’re planning on starting the decorating in a week or so.” He realised I wasn’t paying him much attention. “Are you listening to me, Bones? Or were you looking at the mare in the red dress?” I started, realising I had been caught.

“Sorry, dad what were you…” He cut me off.

“Look again.”

I turned around to find something right in my face. The being proceed to shout ‘boo’ loudly enough to make me jump a foot in the air and land on my flank. I looked up and was confronted with an, unusual costume.

Believe it or not, it was a human, or at least a crude rendition of one. The clothes had clearly been borrowed from my dad but the body itself was definitely home-made. The legs were a load of tin cans stacked on top of each other and stuck together. After that, at waist height, I met a pair of eyes. This was followed by another pair at chest height, which seemed to be in control of the arms and another pair behind a mask at the head.

“Nightmare Night!” chanted the first one.

“What a fright!” said the second.

“Give us something sweet to bite!” finished the last.

“Alright you three, you got me,” I said good naturedly, getting to my hooves. “Now who’s who?” The costume opened so we could all see all three Crusaders. At the bottom, evidently in control of the legs was Apple Bloom. Standing on her shoulders was Sweetie Belle, her forelegs stretched to control the two stick arms. And standing on top of her was Scootaloo who was evidently giving directions.

“Isn’t it great, Blade Star? Your sister and Lyra helped us make it.” The fact that Lyra was responsible for creating a human costume did not surprise me in the least. As for Lizzie, I was surprised she wasn’t hanging out with the Crusaders, or at least with our parents.

“Where is Lizzie anyway?” I asked,

“Oh she’s staying in tonight with Fluttershy,” My mom replied. “You know how nervous she gets on Nightmare Night.” That sounded like Lizzie alright. While we had our share of disagreements, she was a pretty selfless person, a lot like Fluttershy actually, minus the shyness of course.

When Applejack returned with snacks all around our little group went its’ separate ways. My parents and the Crusaders walked, or in the case of the Crusaders, shuffled off to the costume contest. As we ambled about we naturally came across the rest of our friends. While small towns can be annoying for their gossiping, it is nice to know everypony around you and to feel safe enough to leave your kitchen door open at night. Plus, gossiping is only bad if it happens to you, otherwise you learn some really interesting and occasionally dirty secrets.

But I digress.

We spotted Rainbow Dash cruising around the area. Once again she’d ‘borrowed’ a storm cloud and was using it to scare the living daylights out of anypony unfortunate enough to catch her attention. This year, perhaps predictably, she had gone as her favourite adventurer; Daring Do. Two thoughts struck me; since Twilight was A.K Yearling, was Dash copying her and vice versa, and secondly, since Daring was a real and very much alive pony as opposed to a character, did it count as copyright infringement? Maybe those two would get a ‘Cease and Desist’ from Daring’s publishers.

Rarity was able to actually attend this year. The previous year she had taken on so many Nightmare Night orders that, according to Applejack, she had finished on the very night and proceeded to fall asleep in the middle of her shop. This year though, she had paced herself and not taken on as much, allowing her to attend the festivities. Her costume was something along the lines of Frankenstein’s monster, or whatever the pony equivalent was. She’d done an excellent job; it looked as if she really was sewn together.

Then of course, there was Pinkie Pie. Nopony had seen her all night, and she had been secretive about her costume, since she too was entering the contest. Her secrecy was to such an extent, that even Rarity with all her gossip had no clue. I however, was in on her plan and was to be part of her act. The crowd parted and we were able to spot her. She walked towards us calmly; her demeanour was almost serene.

Her outfit was reminiscent of the pre-Hearth’s Warming period or pre-classical era to use the correct terminology, around the time of Starswirl the Bearded. She wore a dirt brown robe with a hood attached that covered most of her face. Wrapped around her neck was a small length of rope, which held the hood properly in place. Finally, protruding from beneath the hood was a noticeable horn. Pinkie was playing Clover the Clever, the exact opposite of my own guise. She was good, whilst I was evil. Preparing for the first part of our little charade, I switched my voice to mimic Sombra.

“I’ve been waiting for, dear Clover. We meet again at last.” Pinkie fixed me with a piercing gaze. “The circle is now complete. When I left you I was but a learner, now I am the master.” Without hesitation, Pinkie replied.

“Only a master of evil, Sombra.” With that, she somehow let off a magic blast. I was able to dodge it easily enough and send back a volley of my own, tinted red for effect. We began to circle each other.

“Your powers are weak, my dear,” I said menacingly. Pinkie continued to stare me down.

“You can’t win, Sombra,” she replied. “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” She let off another shot. By this time, a crowd had predictably gathered around us two duelling warriors of yore.

We continued to exchange volley after volley, neither of us gaining the advantage. I had no clue where Pinkie was gaining her own abilities from. The horn on her head looked to be simply rolled up card coloured pink. She also lacked an aura, the blasts seemed to simply come from the tip of her horn and were light blue/green colour, and caused the air to buzz with each shot.

Twilight evidently was not in the loop though, and looked on with a mixture of fascination and plain outright confusion. Even by Pinkie’s standards this was weird. How was she able to use magic? Our duel paused briefly, Pinkie glanced to Twilight. The look on her face became serene and accepting. It was time for the final act.

The glow around the tip of her horn ceased and I took advantage of her moment of weakness. A blast caught her clean in her chest. But instead of going down as she ought to, though the spell was of course merely a light show, she simply vanished. A puff of smoke and her cloak crumpled to the floor empty.

“No!” Twilight wailed, in perhaps actual fright.

I advanced forward to where the empty cloak lay, prodding it a few times with a hoof to be sure. Then in the manner of villain, I let off an evil laugh that resonated around the square.

What can I say, I’m British; playing the villain comes naturally to me. The only question remaining now was where Pinkie had gotten to.

“Pinkie? Pinkie Pie?!” Twilight began calling out worriedly. “Blade Star, what did you do?” In an attempt to dispel her fears, I switched my voice to my normal accent. Even King Sombra is not scary when his voice is reminiscent of Braeburn.

“Don’t worry, Twilight. It’s just a bit of fun. She’ll turn up in a minute.”

“Did you miss me?” said a voice from behind,

Naturally, I cried out in surprise at Pinkie’s sudden return. The mare, minus her costume of course, had appeared directly behind me and was bouncing with barely contained excitement.

“Wow that was really fun, Blade Star! I didn’t know you were that good. Do you like my costume? Oh, wait, it’s over there.” She giggled and quickly redressed herself. “Oh, oh, I have the perfect Nightmare Night present for you.

Pulling her present from some unknown space, she stuck it on my head. Whatever it was, it fitted over my crown and my horn, completely obscuring my vision.

“Erm, Pinkie darling,” Rarity said cautiously. “Why have you put a sombrero on Blade Star’s head?” My inner brony was by this point rolling around on the floor, laughing hysterically. Without giving Rarity an answer, Pinkie then grabbed me by the foreleg and, to the confusion of all concerned, dragged me halfway across town to the library. Going straight through the front door, she brought me to a halt at the far end of the main room. I pushed the sombrero back.

She’d brought me to a flight of goddamn stairs. My inner brony continued to laugh and roll around on the floor of my mind with abandon. Pinkie of course, simply continued to bound around with excitement.

“Alright Pinkie, alright.” I said, “Now you’ve shown me this, will you answer my and Twilight’s questions?” She nodded. “First of all, where did that magic come from?” Pinkie removed the card covering on her horn to reveal a certain useful tool.

“Time Turner let me borrow his screwdriver. He told me it could do lasers and stuff!” She replied.

Before we could ask any more questions though, we were interrupted. Lighting flashed across the heavens and rolling thunder echoed across the landscape. The sky began to turn black, blotting out the light of the moon as clouds formed all around. I quickly removed my new headwear. We all headed outside. In that sense Pinkie’s little display had been quite useful for getting everypony together.

As we all stood looking up at the sky, a bright flash of light erupted from the centre of the storm and the wind intensified. Out of the eye came a dark chariot, flying at speed. Three guesses who was on board. I turned to my father.

“By the prickling of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes,” I said, smiling.

“Silly, Blade Star,” Pinkie replied. “You don’t have thumbs!”

Chapter 46 - Nightmare Night - Part 2

View Online

The chariot swooped over our heads, making a long pass over the town. I’d always favoured Luna’s gothic style chariot over Celestia’s. I never really bought into all that gold and baubles. At the head of the contraption were two of the Lunar Guard’s famous Thestrals, or bat ponies as some preferred to call them. Even at their altitude, their golden eyes could be seen clearly as they searched for a suitable spot. Finally, in an excellent display of piloting skills, the chariot wheeled around and came to a hover just above the square. Its occupant then disembarked.

She floated down to the ground, using her large wings to glide and sideslip. It looked as if she was drifting down, like a leaf. She was just as tall as Celestia, though of course, her coat was black instead of Celestia’s white. Her head was encased in a blue helmet, clearly not an ornate piece of ceremony; but something intended for battle. Similar armour was around her chest and hooves, each baring the symbol of the moon. Her illusion spell had come a long way. She’d even got the eyes right this time.

“I am Nightmare Moon!” Luna bellowed, her false fangs glinting in the moonlight. “If you ponies wish to live to see the sun rise you shall appease my wrath with an offering!” The dark alicorn cackled manically then flared her horn and vanished in a teleport. Silence prevailed.

“Right, so, what was that now?” my father asked hesitantly,

“What, weren’t you listening?” I replied, a grin on my face. “That was Nightmare Moon, the alter ego of Princess Luna. Legend says that on this night she breaks free of her prison and looks for ponies to consume. So, we put on a disguise to protect ourselves and appease her with an offering.”

“So, should we be worried?” asked Mum half concerned, I couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“No, it’s all a bit of fun. It’s really Luna with a disguise spell; the foals give her candy that’s all. She’ll be back in a minute I expect, she enjoys talking with the ponies here.” My parents both remained slightly befuddled. “Just take the foals to that statue out by the forest. Luna will give them a little scare and then they can all come back here.”

Hesitantly, my parents headed off with a large group of foals. Even after being here for over a month, they were still not fully acclimated to the strange way Equestria worked. They understood that it was all just for fun, I think. But with only a limited knowledge of history to hand, and a strange and somewhat frightening alicorn turning up on their doorstep, I suppose tonight would be a little unsettling.

With most of the colts and fillies, as well as few of the adults now off taking offerings to Nightmare Moon, Ponyville was significantly quieter. That meant shorter lines for all the game stalls. Very quickly, Applejack and I decided we’d go and have a bat. I certainly wouldn’t mind trying my hoof at launching a massive pumpkin through the air.

The games were set up not too far from the library. Aside from the square, it was one of the few places in town that had a large amount of space around it. Set up on what could possibly be called the library’s front lawn, were the pumpkin catapults. About thirty feet down range were the targets, each one about the size of the pumpkin.

“Well, AJ, fancy a few flings?” I asked.

“Sure, Sugarcube,” she replied. “It’s been ages since ah’ve had a go at this.”

We each trotted up to one of the large catapults. The pony operating the devices would calibrate the launchers for us. On command, we could alter the direction, power and elevation of the launcher. In effect, it was a very simplistic artillery platform. At first, you might see this as somewhat wasteful too; all those pumpkins being smashed to bits. It actually was quite a money maker though, as it allowed the pumpkins to be broken up into more manageable pieces that helped to make the many foodstuffs.

Applejack was surprisingly skilled. I suppose all those games she plays with Apple Bloom when they’re doing their chores together had improved her aim. My ability though, left something to be desired. We each had five goes to land our pumpkins on the target. When we had finished, Applejack’s target was almost beaten flat, having taken five direct hits. Mine though was still standing; the whole area around the target was covered with pumpkin remains, but not a bit had reached the actual target.

“Dammit,” I muttered irritably at my inability.

“Well, well. And here was me thinking a pony who lived in a barn could at least hit the broadside of one,” said a voice. I didn’t need to turn around; I’d recognise the voice of that slippery serpent anywhere. And here was I hoping he would leave us alone for a while.

“Discord,” I said, irritation clear in my voice.

“Oh my, this is precious,” he continued, sidling about me. “I’d say that’s most of your ego down the drain, Blade Star.” He chuckled to himself.

“My ego is perfectly fine,” I replied, gritting my teeth. “And at least it isn’t overinflated, unlike some folks ah know.”

“Oh you wound me, dear boy,” he countered. “You haven’t even looked at my costume yet. Love your impersonation of crystal-for-brains by the way.”

Sighing to myself, I turn to face my chaotic tormentor. He was indeed in disguise, of sorts. For the most part, he appeared quite normal. At least as normal as the spirit of chaos can be. But strapped to his lion paw was a large light bulb and around his waist was, well a lampshade.

“You’re one of those stupid lamps?” I asked incredulously.

“They can’t be stupid if they sell well, Blade Star.” He stuck his serpentine tongue out at me. At this point, Applejack, having returned from paying the carny, intervened.

“Discord, what the hay are you doin’ here?” she demanded. Discord turned to look at her. His eyes immediately lidded and he smiled.

“My, my, Applejack, don’t you look enticing tonight. As for what I’m doing here, merely a night on the town,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows and sidling around her. That was enough for me. I grabbed the Draconequus by the shoulder and dragged him down to look me in the eye.

“That’s enough, Discord!” I snapped angrily. “Now go and bother somepony else and leave us in peace!” While I may find Discord’s more tame pranks amusing, I do have my limits. Discord though, once again, had a trollish smile on his face.

“Oh, I see how it is,” he said quietly, ensuring Applejack would not overhear us. “So it’s the country bumpkin rather than the little princess you’ve fallen for is it?” He chuckled to himself. I went to punch the smug twit and fetch that lone fang out for him. Unfortunately, still cackling, he teleported away before it had a chance to connect. In anger I fired off the last of my pumpkins. And wouldn’t you know it, it landed dead centre.

I was incredibly close to just snapping then and there. Reformed or not, I still wanted to rearrange Discord’s face. But then, I felt a hoof on my shoulder.

“Whoa, easy Blade Star, easy,” Applejack said, her voice was soothing and helped restore my temper somewhat. I took a couple of steady breaths before replying.

“Sorry, ‘Jack,” I said. “It’s just that dang Discord really knows how to get under my skin.” She smiled reassuringly.

“That no good sidewinder’s always doin’ that. You just gotta ignore him. What’s got you so mad anyway?”

I was about to reply before I stopped myself. I was mad at him for making comments about Applejack. What did that mean? Was I getting worse? In any case, I couldn’t tell AJ that; it would tip my hoof and knacker my whole plan.

“It’s nothin’, AJ,” I replied, hoping she wouldn’t inquire further. “Come on let’s get our prizes.”

In an attempt to take my mind off of Discord’s irritating antics, I got a prize for Applejack. Just to be nice, not that I was being romantic or anything. She’d done the same thing; her prize, a colouring book, was going to Apple Bloom. I’d seen her eying that stuffed Manticore, so I thought ‘why not?’.

“Here you go ‘Jack,” I said as I passed the creature to her. I wish I had been aware of the connotations of such an act. Still, AJ’s blush should have been a hint.

“Oh, thanks, Bones,” she replied, hugging me briefly.

Our brief ‘moment’ was cut off by a number of screaming fillies and colts. A small gaggle of them were bolting away from the forest as fast as their little legs could carry them. Following behind them, my parents were both revelling at the sight. I trotted over to talk to them; I needed something to distract me from Discord’s irritating jabs and my own confusion.

“So, has the evil Nightmare Moon been appeased, or have we lost a few this year?” I asked jokingly.

“I’d say she’s appeased,” my father replied. “Or at the very least weighed down with sweets.” We both laughed a little.

“For a princess, she’s certainly a very good actress,” My mother went on. “I still can’t believe that she was actually like that in the past.” I did my best to hide a grimace. Nightmare Night was all in good fun. But I never liked to contemplate what it actually represented. Still, at least now it was more of a revised version, rather than just enforcing one thousand years of fear and mistrust.

“So where’s Princess Luna got to now then?” Applejack asked.

“Right behind you,” Luna replied. For once I was not the one to get spooked. Instead AJ leapt a foot in the air and fell on her face, the stuffed manticore softening the impact. Luckily, either by restraint or pure luck, she avoided applebucking the Princess of the Night. That would have been awkward. Turning to the Night Princess, I removed my faux crown and bowed.

“Your Highness,” I said.

“Your Majesty,” she countered, mimicking my action. I looked up in surprise. “What? You are a king after all, Blade Star. Technically you outrank me.” She hid a giggle behind a hoof.

“Your elder sister is rubbing off on you, Luna,” I replied jovially. This earned me a pouting Luna, which was positively adorable.

“And I was going to ask if you two would like to join me in some Nightmare Night merriment too.” I know she’s a princess, but the look on her face was still adorable. So naturally, Luna joined me and AJ wandering around the fair.

Luna had clearly been looking forward to tonight all year long it seemed. She was like a filly on Hearth’s Warming, a side of her I hadn’t really seen before. Like all the princesses though, she was still just a pony, and consequently liked to let her mane down every now and again.

We quickly found our way to her most favourite of games; the spider toss. Instantly, my inner brony began spouting off ‘Luna Eclipsed’ references much to my annoyance. I swear, sometimes it is like there’s some sort of sub-personality in my psyche, only it’s like Pinkie Pie.

Both mares accompanying me were excellent shots, I think between them they got no less than a dozen spiders on target. My own aim improved a bit, but I was never much good at throwing things. As for magic though, well my accuracy with that had come on in leaps and bounds. With the little swinging target set Mac and I had made, I’d kept improving my aim whenever I had the chance. Maybe next year I’ll haul it out here and make a stall out of it. Maybe with some of the Apple family’s hard cider as prizes.

As the evening wore on, most of the colts and fillies headed back to their homes, much to Luna’s dismay. Pinkie bounced around anypony she could find, a slightly worrying smile on her face. All the while she chanted the phrase ‘don’t go to sleep’ over and over. Even more worryingly, when we came upon Sugarcube Corner, the entirety of the walls were plastered with, in varying fonts and styles the phrase ‘No friends and no parties make Pinkie a dull pony’ along with the word ‘sekacpuc’. I’ll be honest, that scared me.

“Well, it appears that the celebrations have come to an end,” Luna said, a hint of sadness in her voice. “I had better think about returning to Canterlot, it will not be long now before I must lower the moon.” Over the course of the night, I had watched Luna, as well as AJ enjoy themselves immensely, it seemed a shame to cut everything short simply because the youngsters had gone to bed.

“You know, ah’m sure you could hang around for a couple more hours, Luna. You can be back in Canterlot in half an hour with your two guards. Why don’t you come up to the farmhouse or something? Ah certainly wouldn’t mind a spot of stargazing.” Even with a full moon, the sky was still filled with hundreds of stars. Applejack quickly continued my offer.

“Yeah, Princess, we’d be happy to have you stop by. Bones here spends half the night sittin’ out stargazing out in the quieter parts of the farm. And we’ve still got a fair few of those caramel apples left too.” The promise of free food seemed to sway the Night Princess.

“Very well then, I shall join you. I never have seen your livelihood after all, Applejack.” And so, we headed back towards home.

I’ve said it before. Hay, I may have said it a thousand times, but the world looks truly beautiful in the light of the moon. As we walked through the orchards along the winding path towards home, the three of us were bathed in the lunar light. As ever, it emphasised the princess’ grace and gentleness, but as I looked over to Applejack, I noticed something.

I’m not quite sure how to properly articulate this, so I’ll just say it.

She was beautiful.

Her red dress seemed to flow even more in the moonlight as did her loose blond mane. She seemed to mimic the grace of the princess beside her. I may have once been a human, but I could still see beauty in other beings. I tried to avoid staring as we walked, but I found my eyes continuously being drawn to her. Was this….attraction?

No, no, it couldn’t be. I’d been alive for a little over twenty years. I’d been through High School and University. Not once had a girl turned my head. When I talked with the other guys out of lessons, I’d found a noticeable difference in the way we thought. Unlike them, my eye didn’t dance. I had not, and until that point, was not looking. Yet here, amidst the apple orchards and the moonlight and the gentle breezes, I found myself drawn to the mare. Nothing risqué of course, but I was, noticing her I suppose.

And there was no getting around it. She was beautiful. She was my friend, and according to at least two of my other close friends, she liked me. Was I feeling the beginnings of love? I still was not sure. Much more likely, the fun of the evening was catching up, flooding my brain with various chemicals resulting in this odd feeling. After all, chocolate has been said to mimic the effect. My internal debate was, luckily, cut off as we came upon the farmhouse.

The lights were still on when we got there. Big Mac was just returning from putting the large hauling cart away. That old thing was only ever used for fun or hauling pies and other apple produce unusually long distance. Still, loaded with cheering fillies and colts it was a heavy thing. The stallion looked up as we approached.

“Your servant, Princess,” He said to Luna, touching the fringe of his mane with a hoof. He then turned to his sister. “AJ, you seen Apple Bloom and her friends? They ain’t come back since they headed back to the clubhouse.” Applejack sighed in irritation.

“Ah’ll go look for ‘em,” she replied. “They’re probably still havin’ their little victory party.” The Crusaders had indeed triumphed in the costume contest, much to a certain filly’s chagrin.

“Do you want me to come with you, AJ?” I asked hopefully.

“No, Blade Star, ah can manage those three. You and Big Macintosh look after Princess Luna here ‘till ah get back. Ah’ll just go and get out of this thing and then ah’ll head out.” She then headed into the farmhouse and went upstairs to her room. A short while later she returned, minus her dress and with her Stetson back on her head. She then set off to retrieve the three AWOL fillies. Somewhere in the darker corners of my mind, something whimpered at the fact that she was no longer in that dress.

With Applejack gone, it was just me, Mac and Luna. For the first time in the history of Equestria, males outnumbered females at a social gathering. I cleared my throat, no sense in expecting Mac to get small talk going.

“Well, Luna. Why don’t we have some cider until Applejack returns? Ah’m sure we can spare a barrel, eh Mac?” I looked over to Mac.

“Eeyup,” He replied, and headed down through the cellar door.

And so, with a few glasses of good cider and few caramel apples, we passed the time until Applejack came back with the three wayward Crusaders. With Nightmare Night effectively over for them, they would again be seeking a new special talent to try out. In that sense, their methodology was sound. By a process of elimination, they were bound to find their talent eventually. However, their preference for cool and exciting special talents may have extended the time of their search. It was while thinking about this, that Mac spoke up.

“So, Princess, ah suppose we won’t be seein’ you for a while after tonight,” he said, a trace of sadness clear. “Still, ah’m glad you could stop by, not too often we get guests.” Luna nodded.

“I’m afraid so, I do enjoy stopping by here whenever I can. It makes for a pleasant escape from Canterlot. I must say, it is certainly much clearer out here and…”she paused. “Hold on.”

Rising from her seat, she scrutinised the sky overhead with a practiced eye. By the look on her face she had spotted something amiss.

“Problem, Luna?” I asked. She sighed and cast her horn aglow.

“That thrice damned Vega is drifting again,” she replied, irritation in her tone. “I couldn’t make it out back in Canterlot, but I’ve been receiving complaints from astronomers about its movement for some time.” Carefully she guided the wayward point of light back to its proper place and relaxed again. The two of us looked up in astonishment. I myself could feel the high level magic she had been weaving.

As Luna finished her remarkable display, we heard Applejack and three disgruntled fillies. Amongst the conversation, I picked out AJ berating her sister for staying out so late and the younger Apple responding with a variety of apologies and explanations. All of this stopped though when the group spotted the Night Princess nursing a mug of cider.

After the Crusaders had returned they had spent the intervening time talking with Luna. It wasn’t long though before Rarity and Dash arrived to collect two of the fillies, whilst AJ took Apple Bloom up to bed. It was by now beyond late at night and verging on early in the morning. As Luna’s royal chariot touched down outside the barn, the clock struck five.

“Five o’clock already?” she complained, pawing the dirt with a hoof. “I guess I’ll have to lower the moon from here then.” My inner brony went ballistic yet again. After all, the closest I’d seen Luna manoeuvring the celestial body she commanded had been from Celestia’s balcony when Season 4 began. The other time, I didn’t care to contemplate; she had not been herself.

With her horn alight, Luna raised herself up onto her hind legs, her hooves pounded through the air out of reflex. Very slowly at first, but with increasing speed, the moon began to sink from the sky. In the east a reddish orange glow appeared; the beginnings of the sunrise. Steadily lowing herself back to the ground, Luna sent the moon below the horizon, allowing the sun to rise in the dawn.

As I watched this display though, I felt decidedly uncomfortable. As I watched, the stars steadily vanishing by the light of their larger cousin, a feeling of unease developed in the pit of my stomach. It was almost like fear.

With her task complete, Luna climbed aboard her chariot, which looked decidedly out of place in the dawn sky. Preparing for the distance, she re-summoned her cloak, causing the small colony of bats to reform around her. Wishing us all well, she briefly nodded to the two stallion Thestrals and headed back to Canterlot.

Thus ended my first Nightmare Night in Equestria.

Interlude 6 - Burning Catholics is Wrong

View Online

Note: This chapter takes place from Lizzie's perspective.

“Erm, Bonfire Night?” Fluttershy asked me as we sat at the table.

“Yeah, Fluttershy. It’s a celebration we used to have back home. Everyone gets together to light a huge bonfire and then we let off loads and loads of fireworks,” I replied earnestly. With ‘Nightmare Night’ over, next on the calendar was Bonfire Night before Christmas.

The pair of us had pretty much stayed in over Nightmare Night. Fluttershy had come a long way according to her friends in overcoming her fears, but all those spooky costumes and pranks often proved too much for her. While she agreed that one year she would have to face her fears, she was certain that it was not going to be this year.

In all honesty, I had kind of been looking forward to seeing Equestria’s take on Halloween, and I hadn’t really had much of a chance to meet the other princess that I kept hearing about. From what my brother told me, she was sort of an ex-villain, though I didn’t dare say that to his face. I don’t know why, but bro seems to have some kind of zealot-like obsession with this other princess, she was the subject of the the only internet flame war he ever got involved in back home.

Anyway, come Nightmare Night, Fluttershy insisted that I go out and have fun. Naturally, I wasn’t having that and tried to convince her to come with me. When this proved impossible, I said I would spend the night here with her. I mean sure I wanted to go, but she was my friend, and Nightmare Night came around every year. That was the whole point of the show that was based on this world after all; stick by your friends.

It had now been about a week since then. We’d had a perfectly pleasant time anyway. But I thought it might be nice to try something from back home. So, I suggested Bonfire Night, it was a fun night out usually and was a chance for everypony and everyone to get together. Quite quickly though, my brilliant idea hit a wall.

“Fireworks?” Fluttershy asked, already threatening to shy away behind her pink mane. “Aren’t they very, eep, loud?” The penny, or rather the Bit, dropped.

“Oh, right,” I answered. “Well, we don’t need to have them, the main event is the bonfire and burning the Guy, usually we all get together for that. The fireworks are just a sideshow.” It would be a shame, but we could go without them. Come to think of it, maybe some of the unicorns in town could do a light show instead.

“That would probably be better, Lizzie,” said Fluttershy. “After all, I don’t want to upset any of the animals near Ponyville. Lots of them are getting ready to hibernate soon too.” Another fair point, each time we’d gone out for Bonfire Night, we’d had to make sure our cats were inside and that the dogs weren’t in the garden. Our neighbour had lost her cat one year when the poor thing got spooked and ran into the road.

Still, we now had the beginnings of an idea. We could still have a bonfire, and if we could get enough unicorns to help out with the light show, we could have a proper Bonfire Night. Minus the hot dogs of course.

After we’d cleaned up breakfast and finished up with feeding all the animals, including that stupid rabbit, we set off for town. Fluttershy said that our first stop ought to be Twilight’s, since she knew more about magic than almost anypony. So she could certainly tell us whether it was possible.

We reached the library and found both her and Spike busy reshelving some of the recently returned books.

“Hey Twilight,” we both said, with varying degrees of volume. The princess in question looked up from the various books she had been examining and trotted over to us.

“Oh, hi Lizzie, Fluttershy,” she replied. “What can I do for you?”

“Can unicorns do light shows?” I blurted out, rather stupidly. Twilight raised an eyebrow.

“Light shows?” she repeated.

“Lizzie has an idea for a celebration from her world in two days’ time. It’s supposed to use fireworks, but since it’s so close to hibernation time for all my animal friends, we thought we might be able to do it with magic instead,” Fluttershy elaborated.

“Two days? But that’s the night when all those shooting stars are supposed to appear,” Twilight countered. “A light show would block them out.”

If there is a God, they were smiling on me right about now. I’d only seen shooting stars once before, but they were more beautiful than any light show or fireworks display. Or even a Windows screensaver.

“Why don’t we just use both then Twilight. We can have the bonfire here in town, and that’ll get everypony up for the shooting stars.”

“Err, bonfire?” the alicorn asked. We quickly explained to her the basics of Bonfire Night. She seemed quite taken with the idea.

“So what do you think, Twilight?” I asked hopefully.

“Take it to Mayor Mare’s office. If she agrees, I’ll be happy to help organise everything.” Yes! Get in! Fluttershy cheered and hugged me. We’d got our idea off the ground, once we got the Mayor’s permission; it was all good to go. And how hard could that be?

“No.” That was the answer we got.

“But why not?” I demanded. The two of us were standing in the Mayor’s office with the earth pony herself sitting behind her desk. She’d listened to our ten minute long proposal only to turn us down with one word.

“Because it violates at least half a dozen environment and public safety laws. The smoke alone would blacken half the town before sunrise, never mind the risk of fire breaking out on a thatched roof.”

“Mayor, we aren’t talking about some massive cross burning, it’s a bonfire. It can be small enough to fit in the town square with plenty of room. And it’s easy enough to keep the smoke down as long as it all burns cleanly.” The Mayor shook her head.

My answer is still no,” she said. “I won’t stop you from having a private party somewhere, but not on public property.” I huffed in irritation; clearly she was not going to move on the issue.

Leaving town hall we headed back to the cottage. The town square was the only place I could think of that was large enough to host a bonfire night party.

Wait a minute.

A party.

Pinkie Pie! The Cakes owned a large area of land around Sugarcube Corner! That would be able to hold the crowd and it was private property. While the Mayor could veto events taking place on town property, only a large amount of complaints could prevent events taking place on private property. Better yet, if we could get Pinkie and the Cakes on board, we’d have all the food sorted. I turned to Fluttershy who was also deep in thought, trying to come up with a plan.

“Fluttershy,” I said. “I have a cunning plan.”

Pinkie was looking after the shop when we arrived, though upon telling her of my scheme, she quickly placed a ‘back in five minutes’ sign on the counter. She seemed quite taken with the idea, her own need to party increased to fever pitch with the conclusion of all the Nightmare Night parties.

“Ooh, this is gonna be super-duper brilliant!” She exclaimed, bouncing around us as we continued to plan. “We can set the bonfire up in front of the shop and stay open really, really late and sell all the food for the party. And then we’ll all be able to see those shooting stars. They’ll all be like pew, pew, pew.” She fell into rambling as only Pinkie Pie can.

“That’s very nice Pinkie, but how are we going to set it all up?” Fluttershy asked. Admittedly, I expected Pinkie just to help out with getting a venue and supplying the catering. What she said next surprised me.

“Easy, I’ll just take all those planks of wood I have in the basement, set them up in a criss-cross and use a barrel of Applejack’s hard cider to set it off.” She saw our looks of surprise. “What, you don’t think I know how to make a bonfire?”

So, we now had pretty much everything set up. With the help of Ponyville’s best party planner, we had a place and, rather worryingly, a bonfire all set to go. All that was needed now was the Guy. Naturally, Lyra chose that moment to step out in front of us, an odd contraption in tow.

“Hey Lizzie, what do you want to do with the Crusaders old costume? Seems a shame to just throw it all away.” Ah yes, the human costume I’d helped Lyra and the Crusaders make. Six feet tall, arms and legs, a rudimentary head and it was all made of stuff that would burn.

“That’ll do it,” I said, clapping my hands together confusing the two mares. “This can be our Guy.” Quickly drawing Lyra into our little scheme, we appropriated the old costume to serve as the unfortunate stand in for Guy Fawkes. The unicorn took a rapid, if slightly unsettling interest in the little celebration.

With so many ponies already in on the plan, word quickly spread throughout town that there was to be a human celebration to coincide with the shooting stars display. Add in the promise of on-site catering and by early evening ponies were flocking to Sugarcube Corner. Mom and Dad turned up too, as did my older brother; he’d brought the Apple family with him as well. Of others in the crowd I picked out Lyra and Bon-Bon, Roseluck, Rarity, that clock repair pony and a few of Dash’s friends from the weather patrol. Quite a crowd in any case.

With Pinkie’s assistance, we’d set up a sort of raised marque for us to oversee proceedings. Twilight was there with us as well. As the nearest available princess, it was her job to officiate and light the fire. She just said it was a welcome change from her usual duties.

By about eight o’clock everypony had turned up and settled in. Most of the time when I went to these sort of things, I tended to ditch my parents and go hang out with my friends.


I inadvertently tugged my own heartstrings; I hadn’t really thought too much about my friends back home, I missed them a lot. I’d been planning to go on a night out with them all when we wound up here. I wonder what they think happened. Still hopefully, someday I would be able to see them again. For the moment though, there was a bonfire to be lit, and here I was with Fluttershy of all ponies about to see it all kick off.

To that end, Pinkie was as promised, bounding around the piled wood dousing it with the strongest cider Applejack said she had. At this point I really think Pinkie Pie may be a pyromaniac; no one should enjoy covering something in flammable liquid that much. It didn’t help that my Dad and my brother both kept up the tune ‘Stuck in the Middle’.

With that done Twilight came forward to start the proceedings. Advantage of being royalty I suppose, you get first dibs on the fuse. She cleared her throat and began her little speech.

“Thank you everypony for coming to Equestria’s first ever Bonfire Night. And I’m sure we’d all like to thank Lizzie, Fluttershy and Pinkie Pie for making this event possible.” She paused to allow the stamping of hooves to subside. “And with that, I guess it’s time we lit this bonfire. Tell me when Lizzie.” I grinned and nodded to her in thanks.

“Light that candle, Twi!” I shouted. And with that, Twilight let off a small spark from her horn. Instantly the whole thing caught and the Guy promptly began to roast.

The flames roared as they ate away at the high proof alcohol in the cider very quickly the wood caught and began to crackle loudly. Ponies quickly backed off a little and the odd hot splinter shot out from the inferno. If only I had been as sensible.

“Ouch!” I exclaimed as I felt a hot, stinging sensation on my arm. Looking at it, I saw a small splinter had landed on the exposed skin and left a nasty looking, if relatively small, burn. Still, it was enough for Fluttershy to notice and all of a sudden she was hovering around me, checking me over.

“Oh my goodness,” she exclaimed as she caught sight of the mark. She hurriedly dashed into Sugarcube Corner and promptly returned with a small first aid box. The wound, minor as it was, was quickly sterilised and dressed. She continued however, to hover around me.

“Fluttershy, it’s okay, I’m fine,” I said laughing a little. Her display was just so cute, she was doting on me like…

Like a mother.

I’d tried not to notice it, but more and more, Fluttershy had been acting like Mom used to when I was younger. She always had one eye on me and at the first sign of trouble would turn up with whatever remedy might be needed. She even used her infamous stare on one of her chickens once after the little bugger pecked me.

I wasn’t really sure what to make of it all. I mean, there was no harm in it really, plus she acted like that around the animals she cared for too. I figured it was probably just a result of the way she lived her life. She’d never mentioned much about relationships, and given her shy nature I can guess why. Maybe she just treated whoever she took in as her own by instinct, a way to make up for the fact she had no children of her own. My train of thought was interrupted as a hoof waved itself back and forth in front of my face.

“Lizzie, are you okay?” said a soft demure voice. I looked down and saw Fluttershy had a worried expression on her face. I had zoned out a bit.

“Oh, sorry Fluttershy, I kinda spaced out for a minute,” I answered shaking my head to remove the cobwebs. “What is it?”

“Twilight was just saying that the shooting stars are about to start. I think that little burn should be alright ‘till we get home, so I thought we might go and see the show,” Fluttershy replied.

Not a moment later we heard a chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ go up from the hushed crowd that had gathered in front of the dying fire. Guy Fawkes had gone up quite rapidly and all that remained was the glowing embers. Above our heads, brilliant streaks of light began to flash across the sky. The last time I’d seen this, I was pretty young and we’d only caught a couple. Now though, the sky was filled with them, all appearing for a fleeting moment before vanishing back into the dark.

A quiet awe settled over us all as we looked up into the sky. The only sounds to be heard were the crackling of the fire and the scribbling of a quill on parchment as Twilight took down notes on the display. I simply sat down next to Fluttershy; though I was certain I felt a comforting wing wrap around me in a sort of hug.

The shooting stars finally came to a halt about half an hour later. The fire was now well and truly out. Twilight did however, insist on having Rainbow Dash and a few of the other pegasi dump a few rain clouds on the remains. Better safe than sorry I suppose. With the fire doused down, Pinkie quickly took down the marque and steadily transported it back down to the basement in Sugarcube Corner. Twilight also stopped by before turning in, thanking us for setting the event up and getting everypony out to see the stellar display.

But the best however, was saved for last when we were approached by none other than Mayor Mare herself. If it were possible to walk at the same time, she would have trotted over to us with a cap in her front hooves.

“Lizzie, Fluttershy, I’m really sorry about earlier,” she began hesitantly, “After you left I realized that I came across a just a little unkind. While I am still a little worried about safety at this event, I think I’d be more than happy to let you have this ‘Bonfire Night’ in the town square next year.”

“Thank you, Mayor.” Fluttershy said, pre-empting my own reply, which may have been a bit snarky in any case. The older mare nodded and headed off, leaving just the two of us outside Sugarcube Corner. The sudden silence and relative darkness of the area got Fluttershy moving at a pretty brisk pace.

We quickly reached the cottage and got ourselves inside. Angel was sitting on the sofa waiting for us. Instantly, he began yammering something to Fluttershy in Lapine. Based on his tone, I’d say he wasn’t pleased by the fact that we’d been out so late.

“Now, now, Angel Bunny,” Fluttershy admonished. “We haven’t been gone that long, and you should be in bed yourself.” The rabbit folded his paws and huffed irritably before hopping off. The pair of us headed upstairs.

Since it had become pretty clear me and my family were going to be in Equestria for a while, I’d refused to continue turning Fluttershy out of her own bed. Instead, borrowing some of the money Princess Celestia gave Mom and Dad, I managed to get my own bed made. It wasn’t much larger than a normal pony bed really, and I’d set it up in Fluttershy’s room, since unlike Applejack’s home, she lacked a spare room. Fluttershy didn’t seem to mind the amount of room it took up and we’d pretty well divided up the room to keep our stuff separate. Clambering into our respective beds, we bid each other a good night and turned the lights off.

Chapter 47 - Beavers and Cattle

View Online

Today was the day. Amidst great pomp and circumstance, Dash and her weather team, on orders from Cloudsdale, had declared today to be ‘Snow Day’. At precisely six o’clock this evening the first flake would fall and by next morning Ponyville was to be covered in at least six inches of pristine whiteness. All well and good, if that wasn’t also your time limit to get everything done.

Since today was the day the snow would come, it was also the day the Apple family winterised the farm and their home. The apple trees had been bare for a couple of months now, and at this point were almost completely devoid of their leaves. The grass too had become thinner and lost its lustre.

Now in human society, winterising a farm would involve moving all the animals indoors, organising feed to keep them all fed, having the ground all ready and prepared for the next crop and so on. In Equestria though, things were a little different. For starters, the Earth ponies would be the ones to do most of the work we saw as natural. The last few leaves had to be shaken from the trees, and the grass had to be trimmed back. The pegasi had the greatest job though. All told, they had to reduce them temperature to allow for the freezing of lakes, then they had to increase it slightly to create high pressure to make snow. All this had then got to be whipped up into a near blizzard; that meant a large wind producing taskforce. I didn’t envy the weather patrol today.

However, as for ponies such as myself, we did not exactly have that much to do. Even in more unicorn majority areas such as Canterlot, active magic did not play much of a role in season changes. As a result I essentially had to forego the phallic symbol strapped to my forehead, and do the work of the earth ponies. The job Applejack gave me was to assist the local beaver colony with their dam construction. While they had a large dam upstream that gave us our fishing hole, several others would be needed along the river, in order to slow the flow of water to allow for ice formation.

With Fluttershy’s help Applejack and the others had established a good rapport with this colony and had forged something of a symbiotic relationship. They helped us control water flow through the farm, including the operation of a large scale irrigation system, and in exchange, we allowed them to monopolise fishing insofar as wildlife went. According to Fluttershy, they had previously had serious issues with a bunch of otters.

After that was done and dusted, more conventional jobs had to be attended to. The sheep and cattle all had to be herded back to the pens and cleared off the hills. This wasn’t usually too much of a challenge since you could simply ask them to follow you back to the farm. All the farm equipment was already stowed away, so once the animals were done, we would be set and could go inside and put the heating on.

After getting in a hearty breakfast, I left the homestead and headed on down to the main dam the beavers had constructed. The head honcho I was to see was one Mr Beaverton Beaverteeth, who was apparently in charge of water management. Upon arrival at the dam, I found the beavers hard at work evidently strengthening their home against the effects of frost and ice. One beaver in particular was perched atop the dam and was gesturing to his companions. I figured this guy was the gaffer. Unlike Fluttershy, I did not possess an innate ability to communicate with animals, but Applejack had assured me that they could understand ponies and with effort, could make themselves understood too.

“Mr Beaverton Beaverteeth?” I called out as I reached the colony. The one from the dam jumped down from his pedestal atop it and scurried over to me. The creature made a series of squeaks and clicking sounds with its teeth. Presumably it wanted to know what I wanted.

“Ah’m Blade Star. Applejack sent me out here to co-ordinate with you fellers on slowin’ the water flow for tonight.” Much to my surprise the beaver offered a paw and shook my hoof. He then gestured for me to follow him.

He led me to a sort of complex. Running along the river both before and past the main dam, there were a series of smaller constructs. Each one forced the water to flow over it thus slowing down the flow. Each one of these was just about above the waterline and the river was running noticeably fuller as a result. Beaverton jabbered something to me.

“Looks like you’ve got the water held up pretty good,” I said. “Will each of these be able to handle the pressure over the winter though?” Since the ice would be maintained largely by this system, any failure, such as a dam breaking, could result in a torrent of water forming with enough force to break up the ice.

In response to my question he climbed up onto one of the smaller dams and began to jump about on it. I guess he was trying to tell me that it was strong enough.

“Alright, fair enough,” I replied. “Are you folks ready and all set to go then?” This time I just received a simple nod. “Okay, we’ll be back to check on you tomorrow morning and then somepony will be out here once a week to check structural integrity. Fair enough?” Again, I got a nod and a jabbering reply followed by a hoof/paw shake. Presumably that meant something along the lines of ‘pleasure doing business with you’. With that, I left the beavers in peace. They’d got all they needed for the winter in terms of food and Fluttershy would be on hand too.

With the beavers confident in their ability to keep the dams up and running all through the winter months, I returned back to the farmhouse. Applejack and Big Mac were also there having returned from their own various jobs.

“So how are those beavers doin’, Bones?” Applejack asked me as I walked into the kitchen. “They gonna be okay slowin’ down the river fer tonight?” I settled myself down at the table.

“Should be fine, AJ. Ah took a look at what they’ve got goin’, all the dams should hold the water back long enough for the ice to form. All they really need to worry about is gettin’ fish, and Fluttershy can take care of that.” Applejack turned to her brother on her right.

“How about you, Big Macintosh? The trees all clear of those dead branches?”

“Eeyup,” he replied contentedly. “Should have enough firewood to keep us all warm an’ dry too.” At that point, Granny Smith pottered over with a quick lunch for the three of us. A good piping hot vegetable pie. With the cold weather coming on fast, it would be more a case of stews and pies than salads and sandwiches.

“And how ‘bout you, ‘Jack?” I asked as we ate. “The sheep back in the pen yet?” Applejack nodded.

“Every last one of ‘em. Once we’re done here, all we have to do is move all the cows in and then we’re all set. We can sit and wait for the snow.”

“You know, there’s one thing that’s been puzzling me about today,” I said as we continued to eat.

“Oh, what's that then?” AJ returned.

“How come we have to herd the sheep and the cattle back to Sweet Apple Acres? I mean they seem to be just as smart as any pony, why not just ask ‘em?”

The look on Applejack’s face, indeed everypony else’s face became a mixture of pity and understanding. It reminded me of a time when I asked my grandfather why no one had stood up to the Nazis before the war broke out. Applejack turned to Granny Smith.

“Why don’t you explain it, Granny? You’ve been herdin’ them critters for longer than me or Big Macintosh have.” The Apple matriarch nodded and placed a hoof on my shoulder.

“Ya see, the thing is sonny,” she explained. “Is that while those critters may seem all smart and civilised like us pony folk, when all’s said and done, nothin’ could be further from the truth.” I was understandably confused.

“But, ah’ve seen them talkin’ to each other, and to ponies. They don’t act like animals. They even make their own routine on which fields to graze,” I replied.

“That’s so.” Granny replied. “But, they still do act like animals sometimes. You put a rattler in front of me and I’ll back off and let it be. But them cows, they’ll take off like fruit bats out of an orchard and they’ll keep goin’ ‘till they hurt themselves. That’s why we have to herd them back, keeps ‘em calm and whatnot.” I contemplated what I had been told. On the one hand it seemed wrong to treat a seemingly intelligent species like farm animals. But on the other, I could think of several cases where Granny Smith’s logic applied. Hay, the line between animal and sentient being was pretty blurred for me anyways, considering I was now a talking pony. The beavers, they were animals, and while they couldn't talk they were clearly intelligent. I guess what constitutes an animal and what that means is somewhat different in this world.

With my mind still turning over the moral and ethical implications of what I had been told in my head, Applejack, Big Mac and I headed out to fetch the cattle in. They usually gathered themselves all together for the winter. We would not be taking them all though. Sweet Apple Acres though large, could not take the entire herd. Instead each of the farms in the region would herd away about a hundred head of cattle and keep them safe and secure over the winter.

The whole procedure though was designed to be as calm as possible for all concerned. We wouldn’t just turn up and force a hundred cows on their merry way. This procedure had been going on so long that most of the cows went to a particular farm, mainly family groups and close friends. So when we reached the herd, we’d call out for all those looking to spend the winter at Sweet Apple Acres, then steadily separate them and then drive them back to the farm.

It was a fair walk, the grey clouds overhead made everything feel heavy, almost as if you could feel the as yet unfallen snow pressing down. That was our other concern. Nopony wanted to be out with the herd when the snow started. Once it was up and running Dash said the weather patrol would not be able to shut off until it had done its job.

“Hey Big Mac!” I called as we walked. “How long do you reckon it’s gonna take to get all these cows back to the barn.” The stallion followed my nervous gaze to the sky.

“We’ll get ‘em in before that snow falls,” he replied simply. I on the other hand was not so sure. The cows I was familiar with tended to get difficult when they sensed bad weather. Still, if worst came to worst, we each had a length of rope on our saddlebags, and unlike humans, we could keep up with them if they ran.

With that, we came upon the herd. It was an incredible sight to say the least. I’d seen herds of cattle before but this one was huge. There had to be getting on for over twenty-five hundred beasts before us. Applejack stepped up to the plate. First, she let of an obnoxiously loud whistle to get their attention.

“All right ladies, listen up!” she called. “All of y’all who spend the winter at Sweet Apple Acres need to step forward and follow us!” Initially, there was no noticeable reaction. But as the seconds ticked by, the herd steadily began to shift.

Starting with individuals, cattle began to peel off from the main herd and gravitate towards us. This was soon followed by larger groups and eventually, by my count, there were one hundred and seven cows arrayed before us. The three of us did a rapid triple check of the head count. That extra seven had to be youngsters born this year. AJ once again addressed the crowd.

“Okay, there’s a hundred and seven of ya. Who here’s going through their first winter?” Quite quickly, seven small cows trotted forward out of the group. They were not as large as the others and looked to be a bit uncomfortable at being called out by Applejack.

“That’d be us,” one of the group said. Like most, their accent was reminiscent of people for Wisconsin. Applejack smiled in an attempt to put them at ease.

“Alright, there should be enough room for you extra seven.” She turned to me. “Blade Star, can you lead these young ones back on their own?”

“What for, ’Jack?” I asked perplexedly.

“There a mite uneasy ‘bout all this. Ah don’t want it to worry the others. Once we get back to the farm, they’ll be no trouble, but if we put them with the herd, they might act up and spook the rest.” I nodded; seven cows should be easy enough.

“Alright, ah’ll take them, and you and Big Mac will herd the rest, right?”

“Eeyup,” called Big Mac.

With that, the two Apple siblings headed around the main herd we had. AJ headed to the front to lead, whilst Big Mac, with his larger size and suitable loud bellow, would drive them from the rear. I meanwhile headed over to my small group. Applejack was right; they did look a bit uneasy. I smiled as I trotted over to them, trying to remember everything my father had taught me about cattle.

“Right ladies,” I said. “If you’d like to follow me.”

I knew a little bit about herding animals from my time on Earth. On occasion, a few sheep or cattle would find their way out of a field and start wandering about. Such wandering often took them towards the road that ran near my house. Once you’d found where they’d got loose from, it was simple enough to herd them back. Sheep were simple enough as long as they didn’t panic. Cattle though, one thing I know about cattle is that you must respect them. Just one is equivalent to a VW Beetle and can easily kill a man. That’s not to say that they were dangerous though. Most of the time, if you went just close enough to them to make them nervous, they’d move along.

This was the technique I had in mind when Applejack asked me to lead these seven youngsters home. Of course, instead of driving them, I’d lead them for the most part. To begin with though, they were quite nervous, so I went behind them, keeping in their sight of course, and encouraged them along.

“Alright it’s not far, just start walkin’ and ah’ll lead y’all home,” I called. Very steadily the group began to move.

The pasture quickly gave way to a small dirt track that the cows frequented, from there, it led to a larger track and eventually the road back home. Keeping behind them, I managed to encourage the small herd to keep up a steady trot. I prepared to move in front of them.

“Okay, ah’m gonna go in front of y’all now and lead you home. Just keep heading straight on and y’all will be fine.” I called. As I headed wide around them though, we passed a small junction, leading to an old woodland trail. With me one their left side and the track on their right, the cows followed their instincts and headed away from me. Quite quickly, they caught on to their mistake.

“Oh, er, this doesn’t look right,” one of them said.

“Where do we go now?” asked another. Quite quickly, they began to panic. I went around them to get in front of the group, stopping them before they could go further.

“Whoa, steady on, ladies. You want to turn back around ah think.” I said encouragingly. Having found their guide again, they calmed and turned around. After that they were content enough to follow me.

We arrived back at the farm just as AJ and Big Mac were getting the last of the regulars settled. The snow filled clouds were right on top of us, and I could feel the weight of the snow within them. I was thankful it wasn’t a thunder storm; that could make any animal nervous. Applejack trotted over to help get them inside.

“Glad to see you, Blade Star,” she said as we crossed through the gate. “These give you any trouble.” I shook my head.

“No, they’re as good as gold, ‘Jack. Storm just has ‘em a little rattled.” The small group disappeared inside the large barn. “Right ah guess we better get in before…” My words died in my throat.

I felt a strange sensation on my snout, like water, but softer. I looked about me. Very steadily, but with increasing volume, small white flakes were falling gently from the clouds above us. The snow had started.

“Well, would you look at that,” AJ whispered in quiet awe.

“Eeyup,” Big Mac agreed.

We quickly headed inside. While it was pretty enough now, very soon this would build into a blizzard that would coat the whole region in purest white. Granny Smith had already got the fire in the living room blazing. Apple Bloom had curled herself up on the sofa in front of it and fallen asleep. Getting some hot cocoa into us, we sat by the fire watching the snow steadily build up. I couldn’t help but whistle ‘Let it Snow’.

Chapter 48 - Shopping for Mares

View Online

The snow had now covered Equestria for the better part of a week and with it came the biting cold. While the nights may be shorter in the summer months, I do prefer to sit out and stargaze then rather than in these most frigid temperatures. When we all awoke the next morning, the whole farm, indeed the whole world as far as the eye could see, was covered in perfect, unbroken white. That’s an advantage of living rurally; you always get the snow to yourself.

The farmhouse was a little chilly that first morning, but with a few more logs on the fire and a hot meal in our bellies, we all soon warmed up. With school officially let out for the period of Hearth’s Warming, Apple Bloom insisted that she be allowed outside to sled down the hills on the farm and begin immediate construction of her fortifications for the coming snowball war. Big Mac, claiming that the cold didn’t bother him as much, took her outside to fetch her sled from the barn.

I’d not really done that as a child. I’d lived in a flat urban area and all the snow would be cleared away by gritters before we had a chance to do anything. That and I didn’t particularly care for snow. Still, it was absolutely beautiful to look at.

The sky had also cleared up now as well. The clouds had been emptied and pushed away, and the weather patrol was taking a well-earned break. Dash may come across as a bit of a lazybones with all her naps, but when it came to weather work, she was always the last of the section to clock out. The sky was a now a deep blue colour and the sun shone brightly, though Celestia offered us little in the way of warmth.

My thoughts though, were on the imminent holiday. Back on Earth, it was a busy enough time. In addition to Christmas, all our birthdays fell in either December or January, so winter time meant all hands to the pump in so far as presents. Now in Equestria though, I had to get a great many more for my friends as well as my family. I had to get a present for each of the Mane Six, then there was the Apple family and of course, Princess Luna. So first order of business; make a start with the presents and get something for my family and the Apples.

With everything sealed up or stored away, there was little to do on the farm now. Everything was bare and resting. That didn’t mean though that I got a lie in, at this point my body clock simply wouldn’t let me and try as I might I always woke up just before the sunrise.

But, when life gives you lemons. Since there was little else to do in the mornings, I’d taken to helping Granny Smith with breakfast. Well, I actually just worked the bellows on the stove for her, since she was finding it harder to do in her old age. Applejack trotted down the stairs just as we were finishing up some fried eggs.

“Mornin’ ‘Jack,” I called as I heard her hoofsteps. “Sleep well?”

“Sure did, Bones,” she repli