Solar Wind

by Radiant Dawn

First published

A strange cosmic storm leaves a fleet captain stranded in space. With no contact with his kind and unfamiliar surroundings, he will need any help he can get to survive and find his way home.

Captain Diedrick Thompson was a Solar Fleet captain -- the youngest in recorded history. Upon getting caught in a strange magnetic storm while doing a routine patrol within his race's cosmic backyard, he finds himself forcibly relocated in space, with no idea where he is or even when he is. As isolation sets in, he finds that he will need help to figure out just what happened, and if he can find his way back home. Unfortunately, the peace-loving princesses of Equestria won't take kindly to such an imposing person making planetfall.

This story is rated T for teen.

Contains incidences of consumption of alcohol, violence and minor gore, adult language, crude humor and implied sex.

Note: This story ignores everything after the end of Season 3, including Equestria Girls; this means that Twilight never went to the alternate dimension, but is still an alicorn. All ponies and other beings present are anthropomorphic, meaning they are humanoid in shape but still have hooves, wings, fur, etc. Pony technology is comparable to our modern human technology, with a few differences.


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“We have cleared the storm, captain.” advised an accented voice through speakers. “Sensors are searching starcharts for familiar patterns in an effort to determine approximate location within known space.”

“Thank you, Orac.”

The response came from a man considered young by his peers, as his black hair had not yet started to gray with the wisdom of age. Save for a single scar over his right eyebrow, his face was unblemished, offering further to his youthful appearance. By his subordinates he was known as captain, but by his commanding officers his moniker was often “kid” or some other condescending title. It irked him to no end, but he knew of course that was the very reason they did it. He had learned the “game” of military hierarchy quickly, which meant he understood the reason for officers making sure those lower in rank needed to be reminded of their place.

As he pondered his reasons for taking the mission that had brought him to some currently unknown corner of the metaverse, he began inspecting the bridge to be sure nothing was out of place from the decidedly rough flight thus far. To the captain’s relief, nothing seemed damaged or broken, though the navigation array seemed to have a few malfunctioning sensors…

“Orac?” he asked while crouching to fiddle with the components of the holographic display.

“Yes captain?” the computer responded helpfully.

He spent a moment looking over the components for the display before closing the cover and standing with a huff. “What are the results of the starchart search?”

“Inconclusive.” the computer replied after a moment of silence.

The captain raised an eyebrow skeptically, making his way to the head chair. “So basically, you’re saying you have no idea where we are.”

There were a few more moments of silence before the computer stated, “If you wish to use layman’s terms, that is correct.”

He shook his head with a sigh as he fell back into the captain’s chair. “Lovely. Do us a favor and run a few proximity scans while deploying the scout probes. We’ll likely be able to learn more if we can find a point of orientation, and perhaps some intelligent life might be able to help us. See if you can find a populated planet nearby.”

“Understood, sir. Deploying the probes and firing up the proximity sensors. I would advise ingesting some sort of sustenance, lest you faint from exhaustion...again.” the computer responded in a snarky tone that seemed somehow unfitting for a machine.

The captain rolled his eyes as he stood. “If you’re going to needle me, then at least call me by name. Saying such things and then referring to me as ‘sir’ or ‘captain’ just confuses me, because my mind wants to discipline someone, but there isn’t anyone to do so to.”

“Very well, Diedrick.” the computer replied with an implied grin. “Now, will you make your way to the rec quarters on your own or must I blare alarms to herd you there?”

Captain Diedrick Cornelius Thompson was strong in many ways, but at the moment found himself rather helpless before the threats of a computerized GIN unit.

“Fine, fine.” he grumbled before beginning the journey to the rec hall.

To his endless gratitude, Diedrick found the Hyperion to be the pinnacle of the technology available to Sector A-34. Running from the work of an astral Genuine Intelligence unit (which unlike centralized units was not based in any one area of the ship), the Hyperion was able to be piloted by an entire crew, or a singular individual ‒ the latter of which was currently the case. Since it was designed with a large crew in mind, it offered the very best in modern amenities for nutrition, entertainment, and comfort. While normally it made the spacecraft seem like a miniature city, vacated, it seemed to echo more than necessary with silence.

Diedrick sat at one of the tables in the mess hall, hungrily shoveling what was once a liver pie with peas into his mouth. He thanked whatever deity was watching over him that the developmental team for his ship had thought to include such a comfortable ship interior, which was a stark contrast to the downright frightening appearance of the exterior.

As a Class 2 destroyer vessel, the Hyperion had changed the tide of battles merely by it’s appearance alone; enemies fled at the sight of its sixty-two laser batteries, and those that stayed were made to be examples to any foolish enough to stand against the pride of the Sol planetary system. Powerful shield batteries shielded the ship from space debris and all but the most determined of attacks, and the hull was heavily armored with nanomachine technology that would repair damage accrued.

Currently however, the captain was simply pleased to have hot food and a hot shower available to him.

“Captain?” a familiar voice chimed over the sound systems.

He swallowed the bite he had taken and looked to the ceiling speaker that he could see. “What is it, Orac?”

“The probes are still out, but preliminary scans have finished.” the ship’s computer answered. After a moment of silence, the computer continued with, “There is a very large Class C planet within fifteen million kilometers.”

“Well-” the captain began to answer excitedly.

“However,” the computer interrupted, “it seems to be completely sheathed in some sort of radiation. Said radiation is from an unknown source, but seems to be electromagnetic in nature and is more powerful than gamma radiation. The problem with this is that said energy is preventing surface scans, and all preliminary space scans have shown a distinct lack of any observation satellites in orbit. That, however is by far the most easily grasped information.”

“O-kay…” the captain muttered, scratching his scruffy beard in response, “what is the strange thing you are inevitably going to tell me about this planetary system?”

“Its single moon and the star revolve around the planet.” the computer, Orac, explained dryly.

Captain Diedrick raised his eyebrow skeptically. “Isn’t that sort of, oh I don’t know...impossible? Physics don’t work that way; thousands of scientists throughout history have proven that the more mass an object has, the more gravity it commands. This is why the star of a planetary system is always the central focus of said system, since no planet can get as large as a star can. Are you sure your sensors aren’t malfunctioning?”

“I take offense to your question, Diedrick.” Orac replied with annoyance. “My sensors are error free, meaning that either the planet is somehow more massive than the star ‒ which is nigh impossible ‒ or there is some other force at work here; a force we do not yet fully understand.”

The captain nodded with a sigh. “I suppose for now, we’ll have to assume the latter. Have you-”

“Sent communications to headquarters? Yes, I have. We are currently broadcasting on all frequencies, but we have heard nothing as of yet.” the computer replied with a glum tone.

Captain Diedrick slumped a bit, resting his chin on his palm as he thought for a moment. “Well, we have little other choice than to attempt to make contact with any beings on the surface and see if they can help us. Even with quantum bursts, it’ll take at least a week for us to hear back from headquarters if they aren’t in this galaxy. Considering the fact that we can’t even use the star charts to find where we are, I believe that’s rather likely. Send down the terraprobe to see if it’s safe first, and if it returns, I’ll head down to the surface. Park us in medium orbit with shields at full but weapons on standby. If there are any sapient beings on the surface and they are able to detect us, I want to give them the impression of only cautiousness, not hostility.”

“Understood, captain. Entering hyperspace in T-minus ten minutes and counting. Please make your way to the bridge.” Orac advised before going silent.

Captain Diedrick sighed before standing and flexing his hands a few times. “And so it begins again.”

Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

“That’s not supposed to be there.” Princess Twilight Sparkle mumbled to herself as she gazed through the lens of her telescope. She once again looked over the several books of star charts that were levitating around her before turning her attention back to the telescope. “Definitely not supposed to be there.”

The young alicorn was confused; actually, frustrated would likely be a more accurate word. While she knew it was not specifically her job to plot the stars in the sky, she did so to help her fellow princesses. Luna was far more busy than she after all, so Twilight had decided to pick up some of the more abstract duties, so that things would run more smoothly. After all, Celestia had once told her, “No deed done out of the goodness of one’s heart can ever be called insignificant, no matter how small it seems.” Twilight had took her mentor’s wise words to heart, and as she was still being assimilated into the royal family, she often found herself with more than enough time to work from behind the scenes by organizing important records, validating said records, and more recently, handling minor affairs of state that shouldn’t have made it to court in the first place. This all in turn offered all three alicorns of Equestria more free time to themselves, which meant they could all have time to simply be ponies instead of princesses.

Unimportant though it may have sounded, Twilight couldn’t argue with results.

Currently, Twilight found herself more than a little peeved that there seemed to be a bright spot in the sky that was only getting brighter as the minutes passed. It meant that either a previously uncharted of star was being destroyed in a supernova, or there was a comet that hadn’t had its elliptical path mapped yet. That wasn’t the unfortunate part of course, since Twilight would normally jump at the chance to discover something new; no, the problem was that Luna was too busy to speak with at the moment, which left Twilight with no one knowledgeable enough to speak with this discovery about. After all, if she couldn’t speak to the princess of the night about the night sky, who could she speak to? Spike was busy and Celestia was currently investigating a strange incident just outside Gryphonia, which meant Twilight was on her own.

A knock at her door startled Twilight, causing her fur to stand on end in surprise. After taking a moment to smooth down the parts of her coat that showed she answered, “Come in, please.” Her room was entered by a tall orange-coated guard with a blue mane and tail. She offered him a warm smile. “Hello Flash Sentry. Do you bring news?”

The guard removed his golden helmet and nodded with his lips pulled into a neutral line. “I have, your highness. Princess Celestia is making contact with us from just outside Gryphonia, and requests your presence in the viewing room immediately.”

The princess raised her eyebrow but nodded, smoothing out her pants and jacket as she stood. “Very well. Lead the way, Flash Sentry.”

Twilight had always prided herself on being able to deal with whatever pressure was put on her, even if she sometimes was accused of “bringing the crazy”, as Rainbow Dash put it. Still, she knew that no matter what, she could find a resolution to nearly any problem presented to her.

Twilight’s problem-solving abilities weren’t what had her nervous at the moment, however; rather, it was the fact that her mentor Princess Celestia had required her immediate presence in the viewing room, which meant that whatever was going to be spoken couldn’t wait until Princess Celestia returned to Canterlot, nor would a letter arrive fast enough, even by magic (the latter of which only took two minutes, even from such a distance).

As Twilight entered the viewing room with Flash Sentry, she watched anxiously as he nodded to her before closing the door behind her, leaving Twilight alone within the room before a large viewing screen. Celestia stood in an open field in all her beauty and regality, waiting patiently for her apprentice to approach.

“Twilight,” the solar princess greeted with a smile, “it is so good to see you. However, this contact is not for pleasure.”

Twilight nodded determinedly. “How can I help, Celestia?”

Princess Celestia smiled at her student and nodded, gesturing behind her to a strange metallic device embedded in the field she and her guards were blocking off from the public. “As you know, a few days ago our allies in Gryphonia advised us that something of unknown origin impacted the border between our two lands, and to be sure that neither of us were the perpetrator of the event, I left to investigate.” The elder princess then sighed a little tiredly. “However, therein lies the problem. From what I can tell by preliminary magic scans and visual observations, this device seemed to come from the sky.”

Twilight raised an eyebrow. “The sky? Can you be a little more specific than that?”

Princess Celestia nodded before explaining in a hushed tone, “Twilight, I believe we’ve come upon technology that is not of this world. While the materials it seems to be made of are clearly able to be found on our world, this design and the fact that it has burns consistent with atmospheric reentry point toward the very real possibility that it is something not of Arcadian origin.”

Twilight was silent for a few moments as she grasped what her mentor was trying to say. “So...aliens.”

Princess Celestia nodded with a sigh. “And I realize how downright foolish the notion sounds, but I have no other plausible explanation. Have you noticed any strange happenings in the sky lately?”

Twilight gasped and nodded vigorously. “Yes, I have! Just an hour or so ago I was studying a new phenomenon in the sky; it appears to be a bright light that is getting progressively brighter, but as far as I can tell it is not a comet. Do you think these two events might be connected?”

The elder princess’ eyes widened as she slowly nodded. “I think that very well might be the case, Twilight. I would like you to do your best to track this anomaly in the sky and try and figure out what it is and if it is actually approaching our planet. I need to know with as much forewarning as possible if we need to rally the military in preparation for an attack.”

Twilight’s jaw unhinged a bit as the implications hit her. “We’ve never made contact with another world before ‒ heck, the only ponies that can even go into space are you and Luna. Do you really think this might be an invasion attempt?”

Princess Celestia glanced back at the strange device before shrugging helplessly. “I am not sure, but life has taught me it is far better to be wary than blind to danger. I will have my communicator by my side should anything come up, so do not hesitate to contact me if you discover something new.”

Twilight nodded before closing the connection with the other princess, now very anxious about what might be coming in the near future.

As her student’s face disappeared from the communicator, Princess Celestia looked back over the assortment of gryphon and pony guards assembled. She nodded to the gryphon officer present before turning to her own guards.

“Listen up, ponies: we have come in contact with possible offworld technology.” she advised, much to the surprise of the guards gathered. “I want a perimeter set up in a one hundred yard radius; no one gets in or out without mine or Commander Steelbeak’s permission, is that clear?” All the guards nodded with shouts of affirmation before turning to execute her orders.

As the guards all went about their business, Commander Steelbeak made his way to the princess, who was now standing only a dozen or so feet away from the strange device.

“Any clue what it is?” he asked, scratching the feathers under his chin as he narrowed his eyes at the metallic thing.

Princess Celestia shrugged. “I have no idea, honestly. However, as I said, I believe it may very well be alien in origin.” She then turned her eyes to the grizzled gryphon commander. “Twilight has advised me of a strange anomaly in the sky, and if my hunch is correct, something or someone is approaching the planet at high speed.” Once again she looked to the metallic machine embedded in the ground in front of them. “I worry for my ponies, just as you worry for your own people; while I want to be wary, I do not wish to cause undue panic among the masses. However, if I’m right, we need to be prepared.”

Before either could say anything more on the matter, strange grinding and humming noises came from the machine, causing them both to back away in caution of what might happen. They both watched as a small red light began to flash on the top of an antenna, followed by a beeping noise.

Suddenly, rapid flashes of blinding light incapacitated all within the area, followed by what could only be described as a massive explosion that knocked all within a hundred feet to the ground.

As Princess Celestia gathered her bearings, she attempted to stand while reaching blindly for the nearby commander’s clawed hand. Once she found it, she stood and pulled him with her, until they were both off the ground so that they could survey the area. Princess Celestia’s vision began to clear, and the ringing in her ears died down to a manageable level. After a moment of searching however, she found the strange device to be gone, instead seeing only a patch of scorched earth where it had once been.

She gasped, whipping her head around in shock as she attempted to locate their target. “W-where is it?!” A tap on her shoulder got her attention, and she turned to see Commander Steelbeak looking and pointing to the sky. Sure enough, when she turned her eyes heavenward, she could just make out a retreating ball of fire in the sky, just before it cleared the atmosphere and retreated into space.

“What the hell was that thing?” Commander Steelbeak growled, digging a finger in his ear in an attempt to clear the remaining ringing.

Princess Celestia shook her head wearily. “I still don’t know, but I think I was right about something coming to the planet.” She turned to her compatriot and stated, “Return to your king and have him rally the troops. I will do the same once I return, but for now, you need to prepare your people for a possible invasion attempt by an unknown force. Ask the king to contact me tomorrow at noon, and we will figure out our next course of action.”

Captain Diedrick was looking over the different images the probe had brought back a week after its departure, sipping coffee as he did so. He had been up for nearly twenty-four hours straight once the probe returned, as he was simply aghast at what it had found.

The most important thing the probe had found was that the strange radiation surrounding the planet was completely benign, in the sense that it wouldn’t damage living tissue. Furthermore, the air on the planet was nearly an exact match for that of Earth’s, only with a far less degree of pollution ‒ negligible, in fact. There were familiar forms of wildlife and plantlife present, as well as liquid water. The soil was also completely compatible with terran flora, which meant that in many ways, this world seemed to be a much younger (and much cleaner) Earth. At that point in his investigation, he had been sorely tempted to make planetfall.

That was, of course, until the latest pictures were analyzed.

“Humanoid” was the first word to come to mind, then “xenomorph” after he looked over the photos a little more closely. All the creatures had fur or even feathers upon their bodies, yet from what he could tell from body structure and posture, they all seemed to be built to walk on two legs instead of four. Furthermore, he could see hands and even human-like mammary structure on the females. From there however, he could see a very large difference between facial structure and other things.

Many of those present in the speed photos had hooves on the legs, an equine facial structure, complete with mane-like hair and even a tail. Some had wings, some had horns, and one had both.

Others were feathered along all of their bodies, save for the legs, which seemed almost feline in form. This was complete with a beak for a mouth, eagle-like eyes, and a very lion-esque tail.

Lastly, and most importantly, Diedrick noticed that all present in the pictures were wearing complex clothing ‒ a rather obvious sign of higher-thinking societies.

Something seemed to prick at Captain Diedrick’s mind; a sort of sense of familiarity with the beings present in the probe’s photos.

“Hey Orac,” he began, stacking the photos before placing them into the folder beside him, “does anything about the beings in these picture seem...I don’t know, familiar to you?”

“I was thinking that very thought sir, at which point I began scouring our database for anything similar.” the computer replied proudly. “After a few minutes, I found something rather interesting that I believe you should take a look at.”

Captain Diedrick nodded before turning his chair to face the large bridge monitor. “Very well, show me what you’ve found.”

The screen flashed as images appeared, and the computer began explaining. “While it is not exact because of the humanoid form of the creatures we’ve seen, I believe this is the most accurate we’re going to find.”

The captain looked over the images and names present before looking to the title. “Creatures of Mythology; Orac, these are legendary creatures of Earth that have never actually existed.”

“Indeed captain,” the computer replied dryly, “and yet on this planet we already see what appears to be unicorns, pegasi, gryphons, and a winged unicorn. We’ve already seen that this system seems to operate on very different rules than what we’re used to, so such mythical creatures being the sapient lifeforms isn’t that much of a stretch.”

“And clearly, they’re also intelligent.” he replied gravely. “I’m not sure how much help they’ll be, but we don’t have any other choice.” He stretched and loosened the collar of his uniform before standing. “Well, let’s head to the armory. Only an idiot would go alone to a planet with nothing to protect himself with.”

“So why are you going to the armory then?” Orac replied snarkily.

The captain grumbled to himself as he stomped down the corridor.

Celestia was pacing nervously; she never paced.

The nervousness had overcome her though, as her student Twilight Sparkle had advised her that not only had the strange anomaly in space stopped, but that something was now approaching the planet again, seemingly from the unknown object in orbit around Arcadia. Furthermore, its course had been plotted, and she was now waiting a short way in the mountains bordering Equestria and Gryphonia for it to land.

Celestia was powerful; she knew that. However, she was no fool, and knew that overconfidence could easily get her injured or even killed. The fact of the matter was she and her guards were going to be dealing with an unknown, and she had no idea if it was hostile or not or even how powerful it was. She had every right to be nervous because of that, if not for herself then for her ponies.

Celestia’s anxiety reached its peak as the fireball in the sky began to slow as flames seemed to shoot out from the bottom of it, and its shape became clearer as its speed decreased. She saw a strange arrow-shaped craft that was made of shiny metal, with much darker coloring underneath. It looked to be heavily armored, whatever it was, so instead of ordering an attack, she waited patiently for it to land. She was bright enough to know that it was clear something was controlling its descent at least, so she knew that its vulnerability was inside; blasts to the outside would do little to nothing, and would only provoke retaliation. With a raised hand, she silently ordered all the guards and her allies to stay their weapons and magic as they all waited for the craft to come to a stop.

The fires from under the craft changed from orange to blue as it continued to slow, until finally it was hovering only a few dozen yards off the ground in front of them. What looked like legs extended from underneath, which supported the craft as it came to a halt and landed.

For all present, weapons and magic were at the ready, but they all waited patiently for something ‒ anything ‒ to happen.

Finally, after a few tense moments of silence, a hiss of steam escaped from a crease on the craft, followed by the crease opening slowly with a deep hum of machinery. A ladder then seemingly erupted from the base of the portal, straightening as it led from the craft doorway to the ground. Lights within the interior gave way to a large figure as it moved into the doorway, and all the ponies and gryphons present watched with balanced curiosity and caution as it turned and began to descend to the ground via the ladder. Once again Princess Celestia was forced to order her guards to stay put, lest they provoke the being before them.

The first thing she noticed was that it wore what could only be armor, though it was a design she was not familiar with. Seeing as how it came from space, she could only fathom it was meant to protect it from the environment, seeing as how every inch of its body was covered in the gray and black armor. Also, it wore a helmet with a reflective visor that gave no hints as to what the creature looked like under the apparel it wore. A strange object stuck up above its head from its back, and by the position, Celestia could only conclude that it was a weapon of some sort.

It finally turned to face them all as it officially stepped upon Arcadia for the first time, and Celestia could tell it was studying them ‒ likely trying to conclude if they were a threat or not. After a few seconds of tense quiet, the figure relaxed its posture and reached to its head, pressing a finger upon the side of it.

The helmet split apart and began to retreat, revealing a head of black hair, olive skin, and small hazel-colored eyes. It was then that Celestia saw something she definitely recognized: the sharp eyes of a soldier; this creature, whatever it was, was a warrior of some kind.

Fortunately for all present, Princess Celestia was nothing if not diplomatic.

Offering a close-mouthed smile she greeted, “Welcome creature; welcome to Arcadia.”

“Quod homo ex solis.” it replied neutrally.

“I beg your pardon?” Princess Celestia asked with a raised eyebrow.

The creature repeated itself. “Quod homo ex solis; it’s the name of my species. Referring to me as ‘creature’ in your records seems a little crude, don’t you think?"

Princess Celestia’s eyes widened, pleasantly surprised that not only could the creature speak her language, but it also possessed some form of manners. “You are correct. Well then, I might as well introduce myself: I am Princess Celestia Solari, ruler of Equestria and steward of the sun.” She then gestured to the gryphon by her side. “This is Commander Steelbeak of Gryphonia, military envoy for his people to the north. Might I know your name?”

The being nodded, still keeping its expression neutral. “I am Captain Diedrick Thompson of the Sol planetary system.”

Princess Celestia narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “Did you mean s-o-l-e ‘sole’ or S-o-l ‘Sol’?”

“The second one; Sol, like our star.” the captain replied with a raised eyebrow. “Why?”

Princess Celestia’s mouth dropped open in surprise; the fact that her astral charge and this being’s home star was named the same thing could not be mere coincidence ‒ she had lived far too long to believe in coincidence anymore.

Princess Celestia took a moment to gather herself before responding, “Because our star is named the same.”

Captain Diedrick stared at the princess for a moment before stating, “We speak the same language, and have named our star the same thing. We also have similar body structures; I think we have quite a bit to talk about.”

Princess Celestia nodded firmly. “Yes, it seems we do. Unfortunately I cannot allow undue panic to befall my citizens, so I must ask that you remain here for a few days until we can decide what to do with you.”

The captain raised his eyebrow at the princess. “Decide what to do with me? What does that even mean?”

Thousands of years of dealing with hostiles in wartime came back to Celestia as second nature, and she offered a confident smile. “Surely you don’t expect us to allow you to simply wander our lands freely. We must detain you of course, at least until we can determine whether you are a threat or not.”

The mere thought of being detained without cause made the captain’s blood begin to boil. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

Princess Celestia nodded. “This is true, but it may be only a matter of time before you begin harming my people; that is something I simply will not allow.”

Diedrick’s hands clenched unconsciously as he grit his teeth. “If I’m not wanted here, then I’ll just leave. I’ll find a different planet that’s a little more accommodating. I don’t have time to sit in some jail while you try to figure out if I’m dangerous or not.”

“You’re not going anywhere.” Princess Celestia stated firmly, motioning to her guards. “I will have you forcibly immobilized if I must.”

Diedrick’s patience was quickly wearing thin, and he had decided he didn’t very much like the white horse-thing. “As I said, I don’t have time for this. I’ll make this nice and clear so that there’s no chance you can misunderstand: I’m leaving. If you try to stop me, you’re going to get hurt.” Four pony guards approached him, and he simply warned, “Don’t do it; I’m warning you only once.”

Attempting to use numbers and a variety of different abilities, two earth ponies, a pegasus and a unicorn attempted to subdue Diedrick, rushing him all at once, with the pegasus approaching from behind to tackle him to the ground. In a flash of movement, both earth pony guards fell to the ground, and the pegasus was grabbed in the air and thrown like a toy. The unicorn guard then attempted to levitate the captain with magic, and as he was picked up off the ground with a flail of surprise, it seemed that the struggle was over. Then, with only a second of warning, Captain Diedrick pulled a strange device off of his hip and fiddled with it for just a moment before firing two blasts from it, hitting the unicorn guard in the chest. The blasts electrocuted the guard, causing him to lose focus and drop his target, at which point Diedrick rushed over and made a well-placed hit to the back of the guard’s head, rendering him unconscious.

Standing in the wake of four defeated royal guards, Diedrick looked back to the princess with anger burning in his eyes. “Now, I’m leaving. Yet again, if you try to stop me, you’re getting hurt.” Deciding not to take any chances, he slung the weapon from his back around to hold in his hands, ready to fire if necessary.

As he expected, the princess just had to try her hand too.

He found himself once again lifted into the air against his will, and he twisted in the air until he could see the princess glaring at him. Just before she could open her mouth to speak, he took aim and fired a blast of molten energy at her feet, the shot erupting with the sound of a thunderclap and leaving the ground smoking where she had stood just a moment ago.

With a growl he aimed right at the base of the princess’ horn. “Put me down. The next shot’s going in your forehead.”

Princess Celestia cautiously lowered him to the ground, but kept her glare burning on him. “You dare to threaten a princess of Equestria?”

Diedrick shook his head. “It’s not a threat, it’s a warning. I’m not a diplomat or a politician; I couldn’t care less who you are or what you do. I’m a soldier, and all I know is that when I came here to ask for help, you attempted to have me detained, and when I tried to leave because it’s clear I’m not welcome here, you tried to stop me.”

Princess Celestia didn’t take kindly to being defied, let alone by a visitor to her planet. However, she kept her anger in check as she suggested, “I could simply have you killed, you know. Clearly this is too much trouble, and you might bring an invasion force here.”

Diedrick smirked darkly. “And if you do that, I have a Class 2 Destroyer starship orbiting this planet, ready to burn it to a cinder. Your petty threats don’t scare me princess, so stop embarrassing yourself. Let me leave, and you’ll never hear from me again.”

Being silent this whole time, Commander Steelbeak decided to speak up. “What exactly did you want help with, stranger?”

Diedrick turned to the grizzled gryphon soldier and shrugged. “I’m stranded, and I’m trying to find out where I am so I can go home.” He then turned his eyes back to the pony princess. “So as you can see, there isn’t anyone else; I’m it. However, don’t let that make you overconfident. I’m more than capable of defending myself alone against a bunch of subpar soldiers like this.”

“Subpar?” Princess Celestia questioned, her anger slowly rising. “I’ll have you know these are my personal royal guards!”

Diedrick rolled his eyes. “Well then you should retrain them, because if they can’t win a four-on-one fight, they clearly aren’t good enough.” With a sigh as he reformed his helmet, turning away before stating, “For what it’s worth, I didn’t want any of this to happen; I didn’t want to cause any trouble at all. I just want to find out where I am so I can get home.”

“We’ll provide you with living quarters.” Commander Steelbeak offered. “In return, we ask that you lend some of your skills for our soldiers to learn.”

Diedrick thought for a moment. The offer sounded good, and it was never said exactly how much he needed to provide to be considered an even trade. Besides, from what he could tell, at eight feet tall, he towered over all of them, and he was fairly confident he also outclass them in strength as well. The gryphons also hadn’t necessarily bought his ire either, which was a plus.

“And you’ll tell me what you know about where I am in the cosmos?” Diedrick questioned carefully.

The aged gryphon nodded, adjusting his crimson uniform. “Aye. We’ve been plotting the stars for several thousand years, so I am sure our charts will be useful to you in some small way.”

Diedrick nodded with a smile. “I appreciate that. Shall we be off?”

“Unfortunately,” the commander began, “our cities can only be accessed by air. From what I can tell, you do not appear to have wings.”

Diedrick raised an eyebrow before once again removing his helmet and pointing to his ship. “Um, this flies. So long as you have a suitable spit of flat land, I can land it.”

Celestia, however, was not pleased by the forming arrangement, and she jerked her head off to the side. “Commander, might I have a word?” Steelbeak looked to her in confusion before nodding and stepping a distance away from the visitor. Once they were far enough away to avoid eavesdropping, Celestia hissed, “What do you think you are doing? This is an obviously dangerous creature, and for all you know, it could simply be looking to gain your trust before-”

With a raised claw and a glare, Commander Steelbeak silenced the pony princess. “Allies though we may be, you must remember that your choices need not be ours. I have invited the captain to our lands in hopes that he may learn what he needs to while we learn about him and his kind, and in doing so, creating a powerful ally. You would do well to keep in mind that predators are not so easily cowed by displays of power, especially when they have power of their own to bring to the table.”

Princess Celestia raised an eyebrow as she quickly glanced to their visitor. “Predator?”

Commander Steelbeak grimaced with a bit of contempt. “Truly you cannot tell? Look at the forward-facing eyes, the sharp teeth, and the behavior toward threats.” As the princess turned her attention back to him, he sighed a little sadly. “Not to seem racist, but you ponies tend to fear and shun that which you are not familiar with; a perfect example would be the Bloodtalon Conflict, when slave gryphons fought to free themselves from pony oppression.”

Princess Celestia frowned shamefully. “Steelbeak, I-”

“Was in self-imposed exile, I know.” the gryphon commander finished for her. “Regardless, your absence caused the breeding of fear in your ponies, and with that fear, they fought to kill or enslave threats. I don’t blame you, but I ask that you remember that though you often fancy yourself separate from the mortals, you still feel many of the same things they do. Just today, you were prepared to imprison someone simply because they might be dangerous; where is the justice in that? Have you no honor? Have you no shame?” Realizing that the pony in front of him was just barely holding back tears from having been so thoroughly disciplined by someone she considered a friend, he sighed and shook his head as he turned away. “We will speak again when I have settled our guest in a little. Until then, perhaps you should think on your behavior and that of your subordinates.”

Choking down a whimper, Princess Celestia motioned to her guards and led them a short distance away before casting a portal spell to Canterlot, leaving the field before she could make more of a fool of herself.

As Commander Steelbeak made his way back to Captain Diedrick, he mentally berated himself for being so harsh with the princess, though he knew it was needed. Shaking his head, he smiled to the captain and said, “We are ready to depart. Unfortunately, the mists surrounding the mountains make it all but impossible to navigate by sight, so I will fly ahead of your craft and lead you to our capital, Cragbreach. I’ll need to ask you to be careful, as I’ll need to be close so that you can see me.”

Diedrick smirked and patted the armored hide of his craft. “This old bird has the ability to see infrared, which will let me see you through the fog. Also, I can use sonar pings to see the terrain, so I’ll be good so long as you don’t forget where you’re going.”

Commander Steelbeak didn’t understand what this “infrared” was, but if it allowed his guest to navigate the Spearpoint Mountains, that was good enough for him. With a nod and a smile, he turned to his squad. “Alright boys and girls, we’re headed home. I’ll lead our guest through the mountains, and you all escort him. Move out!” As the twelve gryphon soldiers formed lines to accompany the craft, the commander turned to Captain Diedrick. “We’re ready to leave when you are, just be careful not to burn my squad. At cruising speed, it should only take us a little over ten minutes to arrive.”

Diedrick nodded as he donned his helmet once again. “You lead, I’ll follow.”

The flight through the mountains was uneventful, much to Diedrick’s relief. To his surprise, he found the predators more hospitable than the herbivores. Perhaps not as impressive with their lack of access to the strange energy the horse-people were able to wield, but more willing to offer him fair treatment; that alone was worth forming an alliance. Besides, from what he could tell of the city, they seemed fairly technologically advanced, at least on par with twenty-first century humans.

The landing craft made its touchdown just outside a large building built into the side of a mountain, which by its form alone seemed to be the capitol. Diedrick filed the information away for later as he disembarked, waving in a friendly manner to his escort.

“Welcome to Cragsbreach, Captain Diedrick. We hope it is up to your standards.” Commander Steelbeak greeted happily.

Diedrick took a look around, recognizing the familiar smells of a modern city. Restaurants could be seen from the steps of the capitol, and he could even see lit signs around the city. With a smile and a nod he replied, “Yes, this seems quite sufficient. I appreciate the hospitality.”

“Now,” Commander Steelbeak began, gesturing to the capitol, “we will meet with the king first, and then we will set up your lodging. Seeing as how it was my choice to bring you into our land, it is customary for me to be the one to offer you a room. Thankfully for you, it just so happens that I have a few guest rooms available for you to use, and plenty of room.”

Diedrick nodded with a smile. “That sounds good, Commander Steelbeak. What can you tell me about the king?”

Commander Steelbeak thought for a moment before answering. “Well, king Razorclaw has ruled for ten years, taking the throne after his father passed away. Where Blackfeather the Great was a fierce warrior, his son has focused more on enriching the lives of the people by advancing technology and ruling with a firm, but fair claw. He has brought our people to a new era, one defined by betterment of our society instead of military conquest.” He sighed with a smile turning the corner of his beak up slightly. “Our warriors will always hold a place of honor and prestige in our society, but no longer are we known as ‘the savage gryphons’.”

Diedrick nodded in understanding. “Sounds a lot like the way my people evolved, actually. So, do you think I have anything to worry about?”

Commander Steelbeak shook his head. “I do not. It goes without saying that you will be required to disarm before entering, but with my personal word of reference, I think the king will actually take quite the shine to you.” With a toss of his head he said, “Come, let us be off.”

With one last glance at the impressive architecture, Diedrick followed the flock of gryphon soldiers inside, preparing to meet royalty for the second time today. Just quietly enough so that only he could hear it he muttered, “Hopefully he doesn’t throw me in jail like the other one tried to.”

As night fell across Equestria, Princess Celestia found herself rather introspective.

“When did I become so distrusting?” she asked herself, shame radiating off her in waves as she sat wrapped in blankets, watching the moon rise in the distance. “When did I start thinking forsaking one’s freedom was the right thing to do?” After all, Discord had been reformed, so why did this new creature threaten her so much?

“Because I know what Discord is capable of.” she answered aloud to an empty room. “Chaotic though he may be, I at least know to expect randomness and the unexpected. With this Captain Diedrick Thompson, I know nothing.”

That was it, wasn’t it?

“I’m afraid of the unknown.” she thought with a groan. “By the stars, Steelbeak was right. I’m a monster.”

Princess Celestia had always been her own worst enemy, as well as her harshest critic. In this instance, she saw all the things she fought to abolish from Equestria within herself, and she hated it; she hated herself.

“Equestria is supposed to be a land of peace and love.” she mused silently. With a dry chuckle she remarked, “And yet the ruler herself denies both to a visitor from another world. How fitting that I should be the one to break my own rules.”

As she finally lay down on her overly-plush bed, she frowned and closed her eyes. Sleep would not come easy tonight, but tomorrow would be a day when she reevaluated what she had become, and what she wished to be. With a final flash of self-loathing, Princess Celestia allowed her consciousness to melt away as Luna guided her and others to the realm of dreams.

With hope, hers would bring perspective.

Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Contrary to what Diedrick had believed of a castle built into a mountain, it was outfitted with all the modern amenities one would expect of a race that hadn’t yet mastered space flight. As he made his way through the long hallway past the foyer, he saw electronically-locked doors, electric light fixtures, a comm system wired in the walls and ceilings, and even a few vacuum cleaners here and there (though it was beyond him why they would be needed in a stone-floored hallway).

Deciding to gather some more information before meeting with the ruler of a race of previously-mythical beings, Diedrick chose to ask a few very important questions as he walked. “What should I expect when I meet with the king?”

“Expect?” Commander Steelbeak echoed.

Diedrick nodded with a flat look. “Yes, expect; what should I act like, do I need to bow, should I refer to him by ‘your majesty’...stuff like that.”

The elder gryphon’s eyes widened. “Oh! Yes, apologies for that. Well, I say act as you normally would to superiors; his subjects are expected to bow and refer to him as ‘your highness’ or ‘your majesty’, but foreign dignitaries and military officers are exempt from that rule. Instead, give him a respectful salute while looking him in the eyes, and refer to him as ‘King Razorbeak’. You are to hold your salute until he sits, and wait for him to address you before speaking. Request permission to speak freely if you feel simple questions will be inadequate for either of you.”

“I’m supposed to look him in the eyes?” Diedrick asked in confusion.

Commander Steelbeak nodded. “Of course. Meeting a gryphon’s eyes shows that you respect them and gives you the standing that befits your military upbringing. Averting your eyes would mean that you are either a liar or a coward, neither of which the king would take kindly to.” He thought for a moment longer before saying, “Also ‒ and I’m only telling you this because you don’t know ‒ he will attempt to cow you by threatening you, or even approaching you directly. This is a test to show your resolve, and you are not to back down, no matter what.”

Diedrick nodded before raising an eyebrow. “Wait, if this is a test, why are you basically giving me a cheat sheet?”

Commander Steelbeak considered his answer for a moment. “Because I do not serve the crown, I serve Gryphonia; I will do what is best for my country, and right now, I think you might be a very nice blessing bestowed upon us. I want you to succeed, for if you do, we all do. There is much we can learn about you, and hopefully there is much we can help you understand so that you can get home.”

Diedrick nodded. “I understand. I’m much the same, really. Luckily for me, most of the time I work on only vague orders, and more often than not I am completely on my own. For example: before I found your planet, I had been alone for nearly two months.”

The commander nodded before stopping at an oversized double door, turning on his heel. “The throne room is just ahead; we’ll need to temporarily take your weapons.”

Seeing as how he figured these gryphons were his best chance to figure things out, Diedrick complied and removed his energy pistol, his rifle, and his combat blade. Next, he opened his waist pouches and removed the ammunition he had on him. Once that was done, one of the armored guards at the door patted him down briefly before nodding, and the doors were opened.

Diedrick beheld what he would have expected of a throne room in structure, but it seemed rather bare in decoration. He had expected decorative tapestries, a long crimson rug, and maybe even an army of butlers waiting and beck-and-call. Instead, he saw bare granite walls leading to a small raised platform where a comfortable wooden throne sat. He noticed as all but the commander and three soldiers broke away to stand near the door, while the rest made their way to the throne.

As the five of them stopped at the foot of a small set of stairs leading to the throne platform, Diedrick began to fidget with boredom. A glare from one of the gryphon soldiers stopped him, but he still couldn’t help but drum his gloved fingers upon his hip.

After a few minutes of patient waiting, a tall slate-gray gryphon entered the hall from a door behind the throne, and it didn’t take much thinking for Diedrick to realize that this was the king. He was dressed in rather spartan clothing compared to what he had expected of royalty, but it wasn’t his job to judge.

As the soldiers around him saluted by holding a hand over the eyebrow, Diedrick only marveled for a second at the familiar motion before doing it himself, meeting the sharp golden eyes of the king as he made his way around the throne and sat down. Once he had done so, Diedrick lowered his hand and stood at ease with his arms crossed behind him, waiting for the king to speak.

With a wave of his clawed hand, the king ordered the guards to leave, save for the commander. After a few moments of waiting for the hall to clear, the king finally spoke to Diedrick.

“So, you are the strange creature that came from the sky.” he mused aloud, a confident smirk on his face. With a critical eye he concluded, “You aren’t quite what I expected. Somehow I envisioned someone a bit taller, and not so...flimsy.”

Already the shadowed threats were beginning, so Diedrick remembered what he had been told. With respect he replied, “That’s probably what many of my enemies have thought before they knew no more, King Razorbeak.”

The king’s eyes widened for just a moment before he smiled and stood, approaching the alien. “Well then, let’s have a look at you.” He raised his clawed hands before pausing, locking eyes with Diedrick. “Do you mind?”

Diedrick was unsure of the question at first, but then realized what the king must have been asking. With a nod of acquiescence, he allowed the older gryphon to place his clawed limbs upon him.

King Razorbeak immediately noticed a few things about this new creature in his land. First, the reason he didn’t seem so large and imposing was because he lacked both fur and feathers, which usually would have added quite a bit of size to the body. His shoulders, forearms, and neck were much thicker than that of a gryphon, and the fingers, while they seemed to lack claws, were far more dexterous. The more the king inspected the captain, he came to find that it was likely the only thing gryphons would be able to outclass him in was flight, simply because he lacked wings. When Commander Steelbeak originally told him of what this being was capable of, he had believed his old friend to be exaggerating. Now, looking at the eight-foot tall man, he realized it was quite possible the commander may have been underestimating. King Razorbeak was no fool, after all; he knew better than to ignore the obvious ‒ that this creature was taller, stronger, and faster than a gryphon on land.

Cautiously lifting the upper lip, King Razorbeak noticed a set of well-developed canines, confirming his initial belief that he was dealing with a fellow predator. This made things easier, since he knew that prey species were generally easily offended.

“What are you called, creature?” the king asked as he released the captain.

Diedrick cleared his throat. “My name is Diedrick Cornelius Thompson. My kind is known as Quod homo ex solis, or the ‘people of the sun’.”

King Razorbeak nodded. “I see. If I am not mistaken, your kind seems to be a highly evolved form of primates, yes?” Diedrick nodded. “And you are carnivorous in nature.”

“Omnivorous,” Diedrick corrected, “like many primates, at least from my world. To put it simply, we will eat anything so long as it’s edible.”

King Razorbeak grinned. “Indeed. Would you be above eating a pony?”

“I don’t eat sapient beings.” Diedrick shot back, realizing what the king was essentially asking. “It’s a moral thing, really; I don’t want to have to explain to one’s family and friends just how tasty they were.”

King Razorbeak barked a laugh, nodding. “I can understand that. Besides, ponies are rather touchy on the subject of eating meat. Heavens forbid nature actually runs its course and a predator hunts and eats a prey animal. However, you intrigue me, Diedrick. You, a stranger, come to my land and seek help. What makes you think that was a smart idea?”

“Another veiled threat.” Diedrick thought.

With a confident smile he replied, “Because I have things to offer in return that you can’t get from anyone else.”

“I could always use persuasive methods to get what I wish out of you.” the king threatened.

Trading blow for blow verbally, Diedrick thought for a moment before making his response. “You could surely try, but you would end up with no new information and a lot of dead soldiers.”

King Razorbeak took another step back, subtly tensing his arms and legs. “You seem rather confident in your abilities.”

“I’m a ship captain, King Razorbeak. It’s my job to be able to read my foes, and your kind would pose little to no threat to me in a fair fight.” Diedrick answered confidently. “Now if one of you were to take to the skies, that would make things a little more difficult, but I’m still confident I could win.”

“Is that so?” the king questioned. “Well then, perhaps we’ll need to test that soon.”

Diedrick shrugged. “So long as you know someone who’s smart enough to admit when they’ve lost, that won’t be a problem. I don’t want to break any bones on any of your people simply because they were trying to prove something by taking on the big bad alien.”

King Razorbeak shook his head. “We fight for honor and the thrill of battle, but we are far from the savages our kind used to be. Worry not stranger, should one of my men wish to fight you, you will find them an honorable opponent.” With a firm nod he said, “Now, we must discuss a few issues we seem to have come across. First of all, you seem to have become quite at odds with ponies within only minutes of landing on our world; how did you accomplish this?”

Diedrick shrugged. “She wanted to detain me as a prisoner. I said no and tried to just leave the planet, and she tried to stop me. There’s not much more to it than that, really; I don’t inherently have anything against these ‘ponies’, but I won’t be talked down to and neither am I going to be treated like a criminal when I’ve done nothing to deserve it.”

The king nodded once again. “Understandable. Next, we have a potential issue with the power you displayed, as I am not so foolish to assume that your weaponry is the extent of that prowess. Because of this, you will be watched by Commander Steelbeak himself as you enjoy your stay here. Do you find issue with this?”

“I don’t.” Diedrick answered. “Honestly, I’d be surprised if you didn’t have someone watching me. So long as there aren’t any bars on the doors and windows of wherever I’m staying, that’s good enough for me.”

“Excellent,” King Razorbeak answered happily, “then it seems we will get on quite well, I think. Lastly, in return for our services, I must ask that you do not leave the city without an escort while you stay here. It could cause undesirable developments across the kingdom if an unknown being is seen freely walking the lands, and I cannot risk a panic.”

Diedrick shrugged. “That seems fair enough, so long as I’m not chained up or anything.”

“We’re cautious, but not barbarians.” King Razorbeak shot back, a little offended. “The time for needless imprisonment left when my father died, and if I have anything to say about it, such a time will never live again in these lands. We are a people of enlightenment now, and we hope to equally balance our military strength with mutual respect for others.” He chuckled softly. “Some of the elder gryphons think it mad, but I see the potential for a much better way of life for my people, and the results thus far do not lie. Worry not, captain; as long as you stay here, you will be treated as a guest, not a prisoner.”

Showing a smile of gratitude, Diedrick nodded. “That seems very acceptable, King Razorbeak. Thank you.”

“I am pleased that we have come to an agreement.” the king replied with a smile of his own, nodding to the waiting Commander Steelbeak. “Commander, please escort the captain to where he’ll be staying and return his gear. We will speak more at a later date.”

As Diedrick left the throne room with Commander Steelbeak, he couldn’t help but ask, “He’s giving me my gear back?”

With a chuckle, the gryphon nodded. “He is indeed. The king is a very good judge of character; if gryphons had obvious ‘special’ talents like ponies did, reading others would be his.”

The mention of a special talent that these ponies seemed to have confused Diedrick, but he kept silent for the moment. Questions could come later; for now, he simply wanted somewhere to relax so he could digest all the new information that had been given to him.

After a few minutes of walking (and quite a few curious stares from the people of Cragsbreach), Diedrick found himself standing in front of a veritable castle in its own right, the grand manor of Commander Steelbeak speaking of his respect in the community and the rewards given for his years of service.

“Home sweet home.” the gryphon commented with a grin, turning to Diedrick and jerking his head toward the front door. “Come, you should meet my family. I wouldn’t want you to-”

Just before the commander could finish, the front door was thrust open with quite a bit of force as a brown and white blur shot through it, threading between Diedrick’s legs. Just as Diedrick looked to see what was currently using him as a shield, he heard a piercing screech, followed by another much larger blur slamming into his chest.

Only his superior size and weight kept Diedrick from being knocked over from the hit, but his assaulter was not so lucky. Sitting by his feet was a gryphon with violet eyeshadow and violet-tipped feathers on its head, leading him to believe it to be a young female. She was rubbing her brow as she pushed herself to a sitting position, panting softly.

“Ugh,” she groaned in a daze, “what’d I hit?”

With a frustrated sigh, Commander Steelbeak rubbed the bridge of his beak. “Captain Diedrick, please allow me to introduce you to my rambunctious daughters, Gilda and Tara.”

“Captain…” Gilda whispered to herself before turning her head up and opening her eyes.

Upon seeing the captain, she gasped and scrambled to her feet as her feathers fluffed up in an instinctive attempt to seem larger. After taking a moment to realize she was likely appearing to be a frightened little chick, she straightened her posture and locked her eyes with this “captain” before her. She mentally noted that he was a good two feet taller than her, and wore a peculiar outfit that covered his entire body. From his sparsely-haired head, she could determine that whatever he was, his kind didn’t grow fur everywhere, which meant the clothes were likely used to cover himself in lieu of hair or feathers.

After inspecting her father’s guest, Gilda concluded that he was obviously a military guy, and any uniformed officer was okay in her book. So, with a confident grin, she extended her hand to him. “Nice to meet you, captain. I take it those pony lame-o’s couldn’t handle you?”

Diedrick took the young gryphoness’ clawed hand in his own and shook it firmly. “A pleasure to meet you as well ma’am, and no, I suppose not. Already I find myself fitting in quite a bit better with your kind than theirs.”

Gilda released the captain’s hand and nodded, noticing just how strong his grip was. “In all my years of knowing about ponies and living near them, I’ve had one friend out of the thousands of them that could handle me.” She rolled her hand in the air in an indistinct manner. “You know the kind; they get all scared of things that are different from them, and so they don’t want it around.”

Diedrick nodded wordlessly before looking behind him, seeing a much smaller gryphon hiding behind his large form. Turning on his heel to face it, he kneeled down until he met the gold-flecked brown eyes of the commander’s second daughter. With a gentle tone of voice he greeted, “And so you must be Tara. It’s a pleasure to meet you, miss.”

The young chick looked up into the man’s eyes and nodded shyly, realizing she had sought safety from her older sister by hiding behind a complete stranger. “Y-yes sir.” After recognizing the familiar look in the man’s eyes, as well as the sight of armor ‒ unfamiliar though it was ‒ she gasped and asked, “Are you a soldier like daddy?”

Diedrick nodded with a smile. “I am indeed, though I’m not from this world. I’m lost, so your father will be helping me get home; is it okay if I stay with you until then?”

Taking a moment to think the question over, the gryphon chick then nodded rapidly, her crimson-tinted head feathers bobbing cutely. “Yeah, that’ll be so cool!”

Diedrick stood, still smiling, before looking back to his host. “Well, let us not put it off any longer now. I am sure the sooner things are settled in, the sooner we can begin helping each other out.”

Commander Steelbeak nodded before looking to his older daughter. “Gilda, please take his weapons to the guest room on the second floor; you know the one. Prepare the room for a non-gryphon guest.” He then looked to the younger and said, “Tara, go find your mum and tell her we’ll be having a guest stay with us, so we’ll need an extra place at the table set for tonight.” With a duo of salutes, the two younger gryphons rushed inside the house, Gilda only taking a moment to gather Diedrick’s gear as he handed it to her.

Once the two were alone, Diedrick looked to the commander with a raised eyebrow. “Rather obedient children you have there, commander.”

Smiling warmly, Commander Steelbeak nodded. “Aye. From a young age I instilled within them the values of hard work, respect of one’s elders, and good manners. True that they will slip up here and there, but they are still children, after all.” He then shrugged, closing his eyes and chuckling. “Gilda has just reached adulthood, and I’ll not be false and say her adolescence was easy to deal with. Still, she has truly come into her own, and though she has a long way to go, she is progressing and that’s what counts.”

Diedrick nodded as he followed his host inside the large home. “Well just so you know, my respect for you just increased a few levels.” As Commander Steelbeak glanced back at him, he shrugged. “It takes a good man to be a good father, as in many ways, parenthood is one of the most difficult jobs in existence.” He pointed toward the interior of the home. “To have two well-mannered children like that it’s clear that you’ve done a fine job with them.”

Eyes widening in surprise of the captain’s observations, Commander Steelbeak nodded. “I do try. So long as they are happy and don’t end up harlots, I feel I’ve done a good job with my girls.”

Diedrick found he enjoyed the blunt nature of Commander Steelbeak’s speech, allowing him to relax just a hair. Gently closing the front door behind him, he sighed thoughtfully as he envisioned roads in his own life that had gone untraveled; roads that might have provided him his own family. Shaking the thought away, he rolled his eyes at his own depressing thoughts. ‘I’m still young after all,’ he thought, ‘so it isn’t as if such a thing is completely off the table for me.’

“Now,” the commander announced, bringing Diedrick out of his inner musings, “I’ll allow you to settle yourself and clean up. Dinner is at sundown, and anything you need you can ask Gilda for; her room is on the same floor as yours.”

Glancing around and realizing just how familiar the architecture was, Diedrick saw fit to file yet another strange similarity away in his mind for later analysis. For now, he simply nodded to his host as he was led up a large wooden staircase, which gave way to an open second floor that was obviously made to accommodate both flying and flightless residents.

After a short tour of the upstairs, Commander Steelbeak beckoned his guest to an open room, which had an alien rifle propped up against the window of one wall. “Well, here it is. I do hope it is to your liking.”

Diedrick entered the room and found it furnished with a bookshelf, a queen-sized bed, and a nightstand. While by most people such a room would be considered spartan, Diedrick was simply happy to be staying somewhere that didn’t have bars caging him or cameras watching him. So, with a grateful smile, he nodded. “This will do quite well, thank you sir.” He then snapped his fingers and said, “Oh wait, one thing though. I don’t seem to have any clothes, so I’ll need to go back to my ship and-”

“Already taken care of, captain.” Commander Steelbeak interrupted with a smile, pointing to a steel locker set in one corner of the room. “During the ruckus of disembarking and preparing you to meet the king, one of my men took the liberty of bringing out this container, which was helpfully marked ‘civy wear’.”

‘And they can read english.’ Diedrick thought quietly, putting yet another thought away to think about later. He nodded with a smile. “Well I thank you and whoever saw fit to grab this, as it saves me a lot of time. Now,” he turned back to his host, “I need to wash up.”

Commander Steelbeak nodded. “Gilda will be able to show you where the washroom is and how everything works. Apologies, but I must depart, as I have a few things to take care of before the day ends. My daughters will be able to answer any questions you have until I return, so I ask that you not bother my mate.”

Diedrick raised an eyebrow. “I don’t know what sort of aura I’m giving off, but I don’t intend to disrespect the wife of someone who’s letting me stay in their home.”

Commander Steelbeak chuckled and waved a claw at him. “I meant no offense, simply that she gets ‘in the zone’ when she’s preparing supper for the family, and can become more than a little upset if she’s bothered.”

“Ah.” Diedrick murmured before extending his hand. “Well, I appreciate you opening your home to me, sir. It’s become obvious to me that not everyone on this world is so welcoming.”

Frowning at the thought of the Equestrian princess’ behavior earlier in the day, he sighed. “She has lived longer than you or I can fathom as mortals, and sometimes her behaviors can be a bit eccentric when dealing with the unknown. Give her time and she’ll come around, I promise; whether you are here for a week or months, she is a good ally to have on your side.”

Deciding not to respond verbally, Diedrick merely nodded as his hand was shook and the commander left silently, leaving him alone in the room for the moment. He reflected quietly on the fact that this was the first time he had stayed in a foreign land with all of his weaponry still with him, and one of the only times he had done so with the knowledge of the entire military and a monarch. With a sigh, he strode to the steel locker and typed in the combination, causing the lock to unhinge and the lid to spring open as a few stray articles of clothing were flung into the air, only to land on Diedrick’s head. Removing the pair of boxers and sock that had taken residence on his head, he stood and pulled a pair of pants, a shirt and a towel from the locker before turning and heading back to the doorway.


‘Who and what the hell is that thing?’ Gilda thought to herself, confused as to whether she should be upset that her father invited someone to stay without telling her, or happy that said person wasn’t another snobby ambassador from Equestria; for creatures that thought gryphons to be “uncouth” and “barbaric” in many ways, they sure liked to visit a lot. This new creature though, he seemed very different in comparison to her father’s usual guests, and was a soldier, which was always cool in her book.

Still, she wasn’t sure if she trusted him. Her father had long ago pointed out to her the difference between a normal soldier, and veterans of war. This guest, he had that look of one who’d seen combat quite a bit, and the fact he was alive meant that he’d probably done his fair share in said conflict. She wasn’t afraid of him of course ‒ Gilda wasn’t scared of anyone except her father ‒ but she was just...wary. Healthy caution kept people alive, after all.

Just as she rounded the corner of her bedroom door though, again she ran into the guest, but thankfully kept her stance this time. Forcing herself not to flinch under the sharp and alert eyes trained on her, Gilda offered him a friendly grin. “How are you settling in, captain?”

Diedrick shrugged, holding up his clothes where she could see them. “Alright, but I could really use a wash. Your father said you would be able to show me how everything works so that I don’t blow up your house or something.”

Chuckling, Gilda shook her head. “We use water just like ponies do, so I’m not sure how you’d do that. Still, I won’t lie and say it wouldn’t be pretty entertaining to see you pull that off.”

Stepping away from her doorway and curling a clawed finger for the captain to follow her, Gilda made her way to the large washroom nestled against a corner of the upstairs floor. For some reason, she felt the need to smooth down her shirt, shorts and feathers as she led her guest to their destination, but determined it to be unimportant to think about. After all, she just wanted to look presentable to him since she had already run into him twice already. Mentally chastising herself, Gilda sighed in embarrassment. ‘Ugh, did I really do that? The guy probably thinks I’m a clumsy ass now; great going, G.’

As the two of them entered the tiled washroom, Gilda began pointing to and naming off its fixtures. “Sink and shower ‒ red knob for hot water, blue for cold. Toilet if you need to use it, and the handle flushes-”

“I think I can get it from here, ma’am.” Diedrick interrupted with a chuckle. “My kind hasn’t seen things quite like this for nearly a thousand years now, but I’m sure I can figure it out.”

Backing away and coughing nervously, Gilda nodded. “Right...I didn’t mean to offend or anything, man. It’s just, you’re from a different world and all, so I figured maybe-”

“That I wouldn’t know how to use a water-pressure shower or a gravity-pump toilet, right?” Diedrick finished with a smirk. “It’s alright, I know my way around here. Thank you very much for your help.”

Deigning to remain silent, Gilda quickly left before she could make any more a fool of herself. Even with her reservations about this stranger, she still found herself oddly excited to get to know the alien being. After all, he couldn’t be anywhere near as bad as ponies could be, could he?

The hours before sunset found Diedrick sitting alone in his provided room, freshly groomed and dressed down in common street clothes. It had been nearly two spaceyears since he had felt the unfitted fabric of civilian clothing, but he could readily admit that it had its charms. Though it had been nearly ten years since he had taken up his military career, slipping back into a non-wartime role came easily to him, though his training still urged him to think logically in all situations.


He was on an alien world with no contact with Sol HQ or any other known allies. He may or may not be able to get help from the people of this world, but the fact that there are so many similarities between this world and the one his people came from was beginning to worry him for some reason.


The help offered to him was a double-edged sword, in that he was expected to offer something useful in return. Because of his military career, he was sure it would have something to do with either technology, military tactics, or even secrets that he might know (though the latter wasn’t much). All he knew for sure was that he would have to make sure the status quo stayed in his favor, as he couldn’t be positive if these gryphons would continue being accommodating if he was assumed to be a used-up asset. More worryingly beyond all that though, what if the rip in spacetime that clearly brought him to this place worked on a fluctuating time flow? It might mean that if he found a way back to familiar space, he could end up decades before or after he was just in his home system, which could cause any number of things to go wrong; the fabric of time could be a fickle mistress, he had found. The truth of the matter was that he had no idea what he would do if and when he found out where he was in the metaverse, and the thought of not knowing how to act scared Diedrick.


He was going to form new allies on this world. More than anything, he knew a lone wolf in the cosmos was a dead one, so more friends and allies meant more collective strength and a greater chance at continued survival. He would need to find out what they knew and how they worked as separate cultures, as well as how this strange planetary system worked and just what the hell this strange energy surrounding the planet was, as well as that force that princess used against him. He would need to be alert for any suspicious activity against him, and would need to be ready to act quickly if he caught scent of something dirty going on.


First, before anything else, he was hungry.

Diedrick stood from the bed and stretched briefly before making a few strides to the door and heading down the stairway to the bottom floor, from where he could already smell something lovely being cooked by his hostess, no doubt. Seeing as how he hadn’t formally met Commander Steelbeak’s wife yet though, Diedrick thought it better if the commander himself was the one to introduce them. He was sure the missus probably knew there was a guest in the house, but he didn’t want to startle a potentially-hostile gryphoness.

Thankfully, his concerns were handled a mere second later.

The door opened with a loud, “I’m home,” followed by the master of the residence entering, nodding to his guest with a smile. “Well, you clean up quite nicely.” Looking over the captain, Commander Steelbeak chuckled. “You’re a might bit sparse in the fur department, aren’t you?”

Diedrick ran his palm over his face and nodded. “Yeah. My people evolved from primates originally, but our ancestors lost a lot of our fur in the process, which is why we wear clothes now. Still, there’s nothing quite like the feel of something like silk against bare skin.”

“And you’ll never know what it feels like against clean fur.” the commander retorted, sporting a grin. “Now, I think we’ve put this off long enough, and it smells like supper is just about finished. Come and meet my wife before she sets the table, so we can say a stranger didn’t turn up to eat with us.” Under his breath he added, “Though it wouldn’t be the strangest thing that’s happened in this house…”

Without another word the duo made their way to the extravagant dining room, which was furnished with a dark-stained maple table with sixteen chairs spreading about its impressive size. A cushiony and soft rug separated the table from the hardwood floor, and a gaudy chandelier lit the room.

Before he could stop himself Diedrick blurted, “What year is it?”

Commander Steelbeak glanced at him and answered, “3042, though our people have only been civilized for the last two-thousand years. We use Equestria’s calendar, as it is more accurate with when the races of the world began to evolve from creatures of instinct to creatures of true sapience.”

If what the gryphon said was true, it meant that the people of this planet advanced far faster than the people of Earth had. The thought made him a bit wary, as this meant it was likely the beings of this planet were a mere few years away from space travel, and subsequent colonization of their galaxy; if they continued to progress technologically as quickly as they had thus far, Diedrick could admit to himself that they had the potential to overtake the Sol system in universal exploration.

Such a thought was for another time however, as a plainly-dressed gryphoness entered the dining room.

One of the things that confused Diedrick about gryphons (in both the realistic sense and in mythology) was their biology: were they innately avian or mammalian? The reason he thought this was because while they had the wings, feathers, and head of a bird of prey, they had the lower half of a lion, complete with padded feet and a tail. Such things wouldn’t have been much of a problem normally, but the humanoid structure of their bodies on this world gave them a disturbingly appealing appearance to a soldier such as Diedrick, who hadn’t seen another of his own kind for months now. Feminine hips melded easily into the shiny brown feathers of the body, but underneath the down of the upper torso was clearly two very familiar mounds, thankfully covered by clothing that Diedrick thanked multiple deities the people of this planet wore. It was at that moment that Diedrick found a very disturbing thought claw its way from the depths of his imagination, right to the forefront:

‘I wonder just how humanoid they are?’

Diedrick mentally shook the images away as he realized the commander was speaking to him, gesturing to his wife. “...this is my mate and better half, General Typhoon.”

Raising his eyebrow, Diedrick couldn’t help but remark, “That’s quite a strong name.” Doing a mental double-take, he added, “Wait, general? Like, as in, your superior?”

Commander Steelbeak chuckled and nodded. “I did call her my better half, didn’t I?”

Realizing he was in the presence of one of far superior rank to him, Diedrick had to restrain himself from standing at attention and saluting sharply. Instead, realizing that this was an informal situation, he extended his hand and nodded with a respectful smile, meeting her eyes as he had with the king. “It’s an honor, ma’am.”

Rolling her eyes, the general clasped his hand in her own with a chuckle. “Dear, you’re a guest in my home. Drop the soldier act and just call me Tee, or Ty, or something else; you’re not one of my men, so you don’t need to act like I’m going to send you to the brig or something. In my home, you are my esteemed guest and I am your hostess, so don’t be afraid to speak with me as an equal.” Releasing Diedrick’s hand she continued with, “I do appreciate the respect, but I would much rather you address me with only as much respect as I deserve as a new acquaintance. I receive enough salutes and ‘yes ma’am’ answers at work, so I don’t need it here unless I’m telling my girls to do something.”

Nodding firmly, Diedrick smiled. “Very well, I accept your terms.”

Recognizing that Diedrick’s military training seemed to run much deeper than she initially thought, she simply sighed and shrugged. “We’ll work on that some more later. Now, please wash your hands before sitting at the table; dinner will be ready shortly.”

As Typhoon left the room, Diedrick stood silently next to the commander for a few moments before commenting, “I feel like she makes one hell of an officer when she’s working. She just projects this aura that demands obedience, even if she’s just asking something.”

Commander Steelbeak nodded. “She does, but it’s also what makes her such a good mother and wife. She keeps me and the girls in line when we go mad, and because of her position is quite respected in the community.”

Raising his eyebrow Diedrick asked, “Isn’t the two of you being married a bit of a conflict of interests in your work?”

“Not at all.” Commander Steelbeak replied with a smile. “I answer directly to the king, not her, as I handle affairs within the palace and security of his highness. She handles the regular military, and only presides over my station during wartime.” Chuckling lightly he explained, “It’s actually because of my wife that such measures were taken within the military. When it was revealed that the two of us were dating many years ago, she was already a lieutenant colonel, and had brought our people out of civil war with King Razorbeak’s help. She made it clear that if measures weren’t taken to fix the issue with us being together, she would retire. Well, as you can imagine, the king and his advisors couldn’t afford to lose such an important and respected officer because of such a simple issue, so they resolved it by reorganizing the balance of power, and making the royal guard its own separate entity with a private command chain.”

Nodding with understanding, Diedrick smiled. He always liked to hear about how people would fight fang and claw for that which is most important to them, no matter what it was. Such a thing revealed special people in the world with conviction, and people like that were the type that Diedrick tended to gravitate towards, since he felt them to be kindred spirits. True that he’d not yet found himself faced with a decision that would require such a resolute stance, but he was confident he would likely react in a similar way to this gryphoness, Typhoon.

Walking over to what Diedrick recognized as a stereo, the commander pressed a button on the front of it and turned a knob, allowing peaceful classical-style music to begin flowing throughout the home. A moment later, the sound of wings and feet on the second level preceded the two younger gryphons of the household entering the dining area, greeting their father with a smile and nod before walking into the kitchen to wash their hands.

“Yet again, I’m surprised at how obedient your children are, sir.” Diedrick commented, impressed.

The commander nodded silently before turning his eyes to Diedrick, requesting, “Please, enough with the ‘sir’ thing. Same as my wife, you are not my subordinate, you are my guest. Call me Steelbeak, please.”

Nodding, Diedrick offered him a smile. “Understood, Steelbeak. I meant what I said, though; I remember my mother often had to come up to my room and drag me away from whatever I was doing so that I would remember to eat sometimes.” He shrugged. “I guess it’s just nice to see kids who listen better than I did as a child.”

“Do you have children, Diedrick?” Steelbeak asked curiously.

Shaking his head, Diedrick sighed. “No, I don’t. With how wild my teenage years were and my military involvement beginning in young adulthood, I didn’t have time for it. I had more than my share of opportunities, but I didn’t want my child’s only memories of his or her father to be occasional visits home, with their mother doing the majority of the childrearing jobs.” He smiled fondly, remembering his own childhood. “I had a good upbringing, and I wanted to make sure my own kid had the same opportunities I did.” Silently, he added, ‘Though I never took most of them.’

“Good man.” Steelbeak replied, patting Diedrick on the shoulder. He then motioned to the kitchen behind him and said, “You should wash your hands as well, I think. It wouldn’t do well for you to share our table without having clean hands.”

Deferring to the good advice, Diedrick walked past Steelbeak to the kitchen, watching silently as the two young gryphons finished washing, and trying his best to keep out of the way as he did so. When they finished, he quickly soaped up and washed his own hands while marvelling at just how homey the place felt, when he had halfway expected the place to have bird perches and bird feeders or something similar. With a restrained chuckle, he had to admit to himself that the image of one of the gryphons around him sitting on a wooden perch and pecking out seed would be very entertaining to watch, all things considered. However, felt such a silly thing might be a little offensive, so he kept the thought to himself.

“You’d better get to the table soon, Diedrick.” Typhoon’s teasing tone suggested from behind him.

Turning to the gryphoness, he nodded. “Wouldn’t want whatever meal you’re making to be gone before I get to taste it, I suppose.”

“Indeed,” she returned with a smirk, “since, as the saying goes, ‘I’ve slaved all day over a hot stove for you, and this is the thanks I get?’”

Barking a laugh, Diedrick nodded and retreated to the dining room, Typhoon in tow.

The other three were already seated around the table at one end, and Typhoon took her seat at the head, next to her husband and older daughter. Motioning to the empty seat beside Gilda, Typhoon said, “Well don’t be shy, take a seat.”

For some reason, Diedrick thought it prudent to shoot a questioning glance to Gilda as he silently asked for permission to do so, as he was unsure if it might cause friction of somesort. To his relief, she nodded with a grin and watched as he took his place.

Curious at the silent exchange, Steelbeak asked, “What was that just now?”

As plates began to be filled from the platter and bowls of steaming food, Diedrick answered, “There are many different cultures just on my own world, and an infinite amount in the cosmos. As I was unsure of the family dynamics that your people hold true to, I thought it polite to ask the person I’m sitting next to if it was alright to do so, just in case.” He shrugged. “In some cultures that I know of, simply eating with the wrong hand can be considered disgusting and an insult, so I just wanted to cover all the bases.”

Chuckling, Steelbeak shook his head. “Gryphons are a rather vocal race, so worry not; if you do or say anything we don’t like, we’re going to tell you.”

Diedrick nodded as well, gratefully taking the bowl of seasoned beans passed to him. “Well, that makes everything that much easier. I don’t think I could take living around people that I always had to worry about offending, and them not saying anything about it for one reason or another.”

“Yeah, that would be ponies.” Gilda muttered with a scowl.

“Gilda…” Steelbeak warned before turning to Diedrick. “Though my daughter’s tact is a bit lacking, she is regrettably rather accurate in general. Let it be said that gryphons and ponies are two very different groups of people, with very different ways of doing things.”

Passing off the bowl and waving his hand in dismissal, Diedrick answered, “No big deal. As you well know Steelbeak, I am quite familiar already with some rather hostile behavior from them, so while I wish I could give them the benefit of the doubt, I can’t help but feel a little prejudiced against them already.”

“Prejudice tends to breed more prejudice.” Typhoon voiced sagely. “It’s why we endeavor to foster relations will all the civilized peoples of the world, since we well know just what it’s like to be discriminated against.” Shaking her head she said, “But that is a conversation for another time, preferably with plenty of liquor. Diedrick, how was your early life?”

Grasping another bowl, this one filled with what looked like red corn, Diedrick shrugged. “It was good, though I’ll be the first to admit that I was a bit of a wild child, and it only got worse as I hit adolescence. That being said, I still loved my childhood, and wouldn’t change anything about it.”

“Do you have a mate waiting for you back home?” Steelbeak questioned as he began to carve up and serve what Diedrick could only describe as a very large turkey-like roasted bird.

Diedrick shook his head. “No, not really. I never really had time to form any strong relationship with the fairer sex, and most of my friends are other males, seeing as how many parts of the military are still gender-segregated to prevent unwanted pregnancies and such.” He shrugged, nodding gratefully as he was served a slice of the giant-turkey-thing. “That’s not to say there aren’t a few women I could think to look up if I was ever put on furlough, but not anything significant.”

As he began to pour glasses of wine and pass them around to his family and guest, Steelbeak frowned slightly. “That’s a shame. You’re still very young; at your age, I was on the prowl, which was how I met Typhoon here.” He gazed lovingly to his wife before turning his attention back to Diedrick. “You should refrain from waiting too long before pursuing someone who has caught your eye.”

Raising his eyebrow with a smirk Diedrick asked, “My age? How young do you think I am; take a guess.”

Looking over Diedrick, Steelbeak noticed a distinct lack of age lines or predominant wrinkles, and his eyes looked sharp and clear. After thinking for a moment he answered, “I’m guessing twenties.”

Nearly choking just on air, Diedrick fought to keep from bursting out laughing, but couldn’t fully repress a chuckle. “You’re off by anywhere from seven to sixteen years, depending on your specific guess.”

Though she’d never admit it, Gilda was quite gifted when it came to anything number-related, and she quickly worked the equations in her head before asking, “You’re thirty-six?”

Turning to the gryphon beside him, Diedrick pursed his lips and nodded. “Very impressive. Yes, I am well on my way to what most of my people would consider middle-age.” Realizing his verbal slip up, he hoped with every fiber of his being that those present would think his comment about “most” referring to a societal thing instead of biological, which to his eternal gratitude, they seemed to do just that.

“Well, I retract my earlier statement then.” Steelbeak said with a grin. “I figured you for a young chick, but it seems there is far more to you than meets the eye.

By the subtle gleam in Steelbeak’s eyes, Diedrick suddenly became somewhat less sure about his previous thought regarding his statement, as it was clear Steelbeak was far more observant than he seemed. He would have to be more careful around the commander, it seemed.

Regardless, the meal with the family of gryphons was nice, and Diedrick found many of the tastes of the food to be either wholly familiar, or at the very least similar to what he was used to. Culture, meal styles, and even family dynamics of the gryphons seemed to be too similar to his own people’s to be mere coincidence, and yet again, Diedrick found himself taking mental note of yet more things to analyze later.

The amount of similarities between his kind and the gryphons was uncanny, and honestly, a little unsettling.

Even with his worries, Diedrick found the family of mythical creatures to be very kind and accommodating, and were more than willing to speak to him plainly. Even the youngest, Tara, had a few things to ask him, which made him smile for some reason. She was a cute little thing after all, and Diedrick had always been good with children.

Eventually though, dinner was finished and the youngest child was put to bed by her father, which left Diedrick at the mercy of two assertive gryphon females who began to poke and prod him with questions pertaining to anything and everything, ranging from his love life to, oddly enough, the request for sparring sessions between them. Diedrick’s answer to the latter was a “maybe” since he was unsure whether he should or not, but for the most part he found the friendliness offered to him a rather nice breath of fresh air since coming to this unknown planet. He was pleasantly pleased with his first contact with an alien species in his career, his initial meeting with the pony princess notwithstanding.

‘I’ll have to visit here sometime in the future.’ he thought privately.

As night fell and the house began to quiet, Diedrick went through his nightly routine of doing a few pushups and situps, then cleaning his gear and laying out his clothes for the next day. Routines were always a good thing after all, so if he was going to be on an alien world, he vowed to keep his habits intact to ease the transition.

Even with his attempts to relax, Diedrick found himself unable to sleep in the unfamiliar room, and soon found himself opening the nearby window to climb onto the butterfly roof. Laying down on his back, he began to look at the stars as the world slept.

The sky was as alien to him as could be, with patterns and constellations that were wholly unfamiliar, leaving Diedrick feeling more isolated than ever. Without a “next objective” or “next mission” to handle, he felt more than a little loss, which just left him unable to rest his mind and swirling thoughts within. Diedrick was no stranger to isolation and troubling thoughts at night, but somehow, the true extent of his situation finally hit him all at once. This wasn’t Diedrick’s first time in an unknown part of the metaverse, but every time before now the quantum burst transmissions had been able to contact his home system, eventually leading him home.

For the first time in his career, Diedrick began to doubt himself.

A faint rustling from the far end of the roof caught Diedrick’s attention, and in an instinctual reaction, he drew his energy pistol from his hip and readied it. His eyes sharpened, glittering in the light of the half-moon, and the pistol began to hum as it charged a burst of stunning electricity.

“Who’s there?” he called warily, darting his eyes about. “Show yourself!”

A pair of taloned hands were thrown up over the edge of the roof as a voice answered, “W-woah, chill out!” The shape of a familiar young gryphon floated up over the edge of the roof, flaring its wings briefly to land quietly.

Recognizing the violet accents of her feathers and eyes, Diedrick furrowed his brow. “Gilda? It’s late; what are you doing out?”

She walked over to him, nervously fiddling with her robe as she did so. After a moment of standing in silence, Gilda sat beside Diedrick and sighed. “Can’t sleep, like you.”

Diedrick raised his eyebrow curiously. “Wouldn’t your father be more than a little peeved that you’re sitting outside alone with an alien space soldier?”

Gilda laughed and shook her head. “Trust me, you’re not anywhere near the kind of person dad would be worried about. He’d be more worried about the chaos-causing draconequus kinda guy, rather than a respectable soldier.”

“What the hell is a draconequus?” Diedrick asked, holstering his pistol and laying back against the roof again.

Gilda lay down a foot or so away from him and answered, “Imagine a crazy-looking monster with the one arm of a lion, an arm of an eagle, a leg of a lizard, a leg of a goat, a deer’s antler, a goat’s horn, a snake’s tail, and two different-sized eyes of yellow with red pupils.”

The image brought to mind was...well, chaotic, and Diedrick couldn’t help but chuckle. “Oh, I’ve got to meet this thing at some point.”

Gilda shrugged, waving her hand in the air. “Supposedly he’s reformed now and only uses his powers for good, though we gryphons still don’t really trust him.”

Raising his eyebrow, Diedrick turned to his company. “Powers? What kind of powers?”

Gilda turned one eye to look at him without moving. “Magic. He can do pretty much anything with it, from making chocolate rain fall from cotton-candy clouds to eliminating gravity, causing everyone to just kinda float around.”

Diedrick frowned before turning his body and propping his head up on his bent arm. “There’s no such thing as magic.”

Realizing what he was saying, Gilda shook her head with a grin. “You’re not on your world anymore, captain. Here, magic exists, and it does some pretty crazy things.” She pointed to the sky and asked, “You came from space, right?”

Diedrick nodded. “Yeah. Took awhile to find this planet, but I found it eventually.”

“Notice anything weird about our planet system?” she asked, smirking. “You saw both the sun and moon revolving around the planet, didn’t you?”

Diedrick’s frown deepened, and he sat up completely now. “Yeah. Do you know why that is?”

Gilda nodded. “I do, and so does everyone else.” She also sat up, looking directly into Diedrick’s eyes. “That princess you met? Her and her sister use magic to move the sun and moon around the world, which is why it works like that.”

The implications of just how much energy and power would be required to move a star against inertia and gravity ‒ even a small one ‒ was frightening to imagine for Diedrick. Shaking his head he muttered, “N-no, that’s impossible. There is no possible way one person can go against the physical laws like that, let alone with telepathy.”

Gilda shook her head, laying back down and looking at the starry sky. “I’ve seen her do it, Diedrick. I’ve seen her stop the sun in the sky and move it around like it was just a toy to her; she’s more powerful than you could ever imagine.” She sighed heavily. “Dad told me what happened when you first met her, even though technically speaking, he wasn’t supposed to. Trust me when I say that you did what thousands of ponies, gryphons, and even dragons throughout history have tried and failed to do: you stared down the physical embodiment of the sun, and she blinked first. The only thing that kept her from ripping you apart was probably your threat to destroy the planet if she did. Make no mistake, she is stronger, faster, and more dangerous than anyone else on the planet, and somehow, you out-bluffed her.” She chuckled softly. “That’s probably the most insane, coolest thing anyone has ever done in the history of forever.”

As he tried to absorb the impossible things he was being told, Diedrick nodded dumbly with unfocused eyes. “Y-yeah, thanks.” He gulped audibly and asked, “Is she a goddess or something?”

Gilda shrugged. “No one really knows, though she doesn’t deny or affirm the rumors. I will say this: she’s one of only six people on the entire planet that have a permanent ‘not to be messed with’ sign taped to her forehead. She hasn’t really fought against anyone personally in, like, thousands of years, but legends say she used the power of the sun to fight back the dragons threatening the lands that would turn into Equestria.”

“She used the sun? What does that even mean?” Diedrick asked worriedly, now becoming a little more convinced of this princess’ power.

Gilda smirked. “I mean fire, and lots of it. No one knows exactly how she did it, but everyone knows that dragons are supposedly fireproof; I mean, they bathe inside of volcanoes for stars’ sake!” She then shook her head with a sigh. “Believe me, I know it sounds crazy ‒ hell, I didn’t believe any of it either when I was a chick ‒ but these ‘legends’ aren’t written in children’s stories, they’re in HISTORY books.”

Diedrick sighed and again turned his eyes heavenward. “So I just picked a fight with the most powerful being in existence...great.”

Gilda shrugged. “Lucky for you, she’s forgiving. I say give it a week or so and let my dad talk to her, and I think everything’ll work out alright.”

“Your father’s in good with the princess then?” Diedrick asked, finding his nerves slowly settling as Gilda explained things to him.

She nodded, smiling faintly. “They’ve been friends a long time, but I don’t know how exactly they met. All I know is that they trust each other, so if my father comes to trust you and tells the princess, she’ll ease up on you as well.”

“You know a lot about Equestria for not living there.” Diedrick observed.

Gilda went silent as she sighed heavily, seemingly deep in thought before she whispered, “A year ago, my best friend was a pony. I met her in flight school and trained in the Junior Speedsters with her, but after I had to come back home, we lost contact.” Again she sighed, though this one was layered with a deep sense of shame. “I went to visit her after like a year of us being separated, only to find she had a whole bunch of friends now, and I kinda overreacted a bit.” Gilda shrugged, trying to play it cool as she swallowed the lump in her throat and willed the tears not to fall. “I told her to choose between her new friends and me, and she chose them. After that I came back home, and I haven’t heard from her since.”

“That’s...remarkably sad.” Diedrick remarked, suddenly feeling the need to somehow comfort the young gryphoness. After thinking for a moment he stated, “If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one that’s made mistakes like that. I’m certainly no saint, and I’ve done my share of alienating people close to me.”

“Did you ever stop acting like that?” Gilda asked hopefully.

Diedrick shrugged. “I’ll be the first to tell you that it’s a lot easier when there’s no one around to upset. Frankly, if I can get one person to not despise me outside of the military, I would consider that an accomplishment; it’s hard to make friends with people when I don’t cater my speech to be politically correct.” Turning his head to Gilda, he smiled softly. “You should try and be kind to those that deserve it, but if people don’t like you for who you really are, then you probably shouldn’t try and befriend them; it’ll be a waste of your time, and both of you will end up angry and hurt at the end.”

Gilda thought carefully on his words, and realized they made a lot of sense. What hurt was the fact that she thought her friend had liked who she really was, so she still felt a sense of betrayal from the bitter memory of her last jaunt to the pony lands. However, she could admit that it felt good talking to someone who seemed to understand that aspect of her life, and she found her buzzing mind quieting as her body began to relax.

Rising from the roof, she rolled her shoulders and readjusted her robe to cover herself to protect her modesty. “Thanks for the talk, captain. I think I’ll be going to bed now.”

Diedrick nodded. “Understood. If it’s alright, I think I’ll just sleep out here under the stars; it’s been longer than I can remember since I’ve last been able to.” Gilda nodded with a grin before hopping off the roof, spreading her wings and shooting back inside the open window to her room beneath the awning. With his mind somewhat at ease and weariness finally overcoming his tired body, Diedrick closed his eyes and rested.

Chapter 3

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Chapter 3

As usual, Diedrick’s hearing was the first of his senses to awaken, followed shortly by his sense of smell. Both quickly informed him that the previous day had in fact happened, and that he was not on his ship. This allowed him to wake with a sense of comfortable relaxation instead of hostility or fear, which was a welcome change from the majority of his past endeavors. The scent of breakfast cooking made his mouth water as his stomach grumbled, so he sat up and stretched before standing.

The sounds of early morning in a city reached his ears, and he glanced over the nearby awning to see many gryphons already out on the streets, even before the sun was up. The scent of cooking on the air advised him that this family seemed to wake early as well though, which was fine by him since he often woke at early hours. Still, he could admit to himself even in the unfamiliar environment that being able to watch the sunrise would be nice.

The faint sound of wings catching air caught his attention, and he turned to see Gilda dressed in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt, smiling at him. “Morning. Feel like some breakfast?”

Diedrick nodded before stretching once more. “Sure. Let me take a quick shower and get dressed, and then I’ll meet all of you downstairs. Give me like seven minutes.”

She nodded before taking to the sky again. “Sure thing. I’ll tell my parents that you’ll be down shortly.” With that, she dropped down below the roof, presumably to her own room.

Diedrick gave a yawn before grabbing the corner of the roof and swinging expertly back into his guest room.

As Diedrick finished dressing and strapping his energy pistol to his thigh, he ran a hand through his damp hair before opening the door...and nearly tripping over the small gryphon that was preparing to knock.

After righting himself, Diedrick hurriedly offered his hand to the youngest member of the household, who had fallen onto her behind. “Are you alright?”

Tara smiled up at him and nodded, taking his hand to stand. “Mmhmm, I’m okay. Mum says breakfast is ready, so she told me to make sure you didn’t forget or something.”

Diedrick nodded to her and smiled. “Well thank you for checking on me, miss. I’ll follow you down.” With that, he proceeded to follow the child gryphon (or “chick”, as they were more commonly referred to) out into the overhang and down the stairs to the bottom floor.

When he arrived in the dining area, he found a nice assortment of breakfast-style meats, vegetables, and fruits upon the table. Already this gryphon family was far more helpful than he had known the “ponies” to be, but he couldn’t help but feel a little put off by it.

“I hope you aren’t doing all of this on my account.” he said with a frown.

Typhoon shook her head, taking her seat at the head of the table as the rest of them sat down as well. “Of course not. This is actually a very common meal for us, as well as the instance itself. As a family we share breakfast and dinner every day.”

Smiling faintly, Diedrick nodded as he took his seat. “That actually sounds very nice, and it’s something most of my kind shares in common with yours. We are a very close-knit people, and often large extended families will all live within the same town together.”

“Hmm, that actually sounds nice.” Steelbeak replied as he began dishing up food for himself and his youngest daughter. “Unfortunately, no such thing would ever work for gryphons. We’re far too independent. We have enough trouble most times just putting up with our immediate family.”

Diedrick shrugged. “Evolution does many things, and to my people, it changed our minds and behaviors. Over time, what was once a race of people that fought amongst themselves with wars more commonplace than I care to admit, we became a race united for the first time in our history as a sapient species.”

“This sounds like something we should be writing down.” Typhoon commented offhandedly.

Diedrick shrugged. “I’ve got ways to give you all the relevant history about my people that you might want, and I’m more than willing to provide it if and when I decide I can fully trust you and your kind with it.”

Steelbeak nodded. “Understandable. Well, today we want to see some of those things we can learn from you, so first we’ll be dropping by the barracks to meet with Colonel Silverstreak at Bloodfeather Arena, where our troops are trained. If and when we see the information you provide become useful to us, we will provide you with the star charts you were promised.”

Diedrick nodded with a smile, heaping a respectful serving of food on his plate. “Straightforward and simple...I like it.” After taking a bite of some sort of salted pork-like meat, Diedrick continued. “After we finish up here, I’ll give you a taste of what I can do for you. You won’t be disappointed.”

Gilda released a breath of relief as she stated, “For a second there, I was afraid you guys were gonna start glaring at each other and posturing for a fight.”

Steelbeak shook his head, glancing to his older daughter. “It’s a common way of establishing comfortable boundaries for new acquaintances in the military; a sort of status quo for soldiers, if you will.” He gestured a hand toward Diedrick. “You see, it would be foolish for Diedrick to provide us with everything he knows simply on the chance we might be able to help him. So, what he’s planning is to give us just enough that we are satisfied, while still palming is best cards.”

Diedrick nodded to Gilda. “And he knows that I’ll do that, just like he knows that I wouldn’t believe him even if he promised to provide me with what I needed. Instead, I’m ensuring both of us come out of this situation happy, until or unless true trust is established between us. I don’t know your father all that well yet, so I can only trust him insofar as a man who has provided me with living quarters.” He then shrugged. “Depending on how long I stay here though, I can see a nice friendship forming between us, provided neither of us stabs each other in the back.” Steelbeak nodded to him, winking at his daughter with a smile.

“If you two are finished,” Typhoon began with a roll of her eyes, “perhaps we can eat the breakfast I lovingly prepared.”

As he bit into a forkful of egg, meat and toast, Diedrick groaned happily. “I can definitely taste the love in this.”

“Can we not talk about tasting mom’s love?” Gilda whined. “It’s giving images I don’t want.”

Diedrick barely stifled an outright laugh, but joined Steelbeak in a chorus of chuckling snorts. Typhoon, thankfully for all involved, had a good sense of humor, and shook her head with a smile as the family and guest ate and chatted.

Diedrick was following Steelbeak through the streets of Cragsbreach, dressed in his full armor and armed with his rifle, knife, and energy pistol. The sight of such an unfamiliar creature dressed in unconventional armor was more than a little intimidating to the gryphons, not to mention the fact that he was taller than all of them by at least a foot, but seeing Commander Steelbeak escorting him assuaged their fears. Nonetheless, the two found themselves on the receiving end of quite a few confused stares.

Luckily for them both, Steelbeak’s house had been strategically built to be close to both the barracks and the king’s Bedrock Keep, so that he could quickly make his way to either from home. Within only a few minutes of walking, they had reached the military barracks, drawing entirely new stares from the recruits and officers gathered around the entrance.

“Wow, he does look kinda weird.” muttered one of them -- a gold and brown gryphon female.

Augmented hearing allowed Diedrick to hear the comment, and he chuckled as he replied, “I’ve never met your kind before, so you all look pretty weird to me too.” He pointed to his ears. “I can hear you whisper from about a hundred paces away.” He then shrugged. “I bet you all probably see better than I can though, seeing as how your top half appears to take after an eagle. How far can you all see?”

“I would be able to clearly see you from up to two miles away.” Steelbeak answered, chuckling. “I have to admit though, hearing is quite a bit more versatile than sight. While we must be facing what we’re looking for to see it, you can hear no matter what direction you’re facing, and hearing isn’t affected by light or darkness either.”

Diedrick nodded. “True. So, what are we doing today?”

“Well first,” Steelbeak began, pointing to an elderly gray gryphon in front of him, wearing an officer’s uniform, “I would like to introduce you to Colonel Silverstreak; he handles the day-to-day operation of our standard military, and is the one you have to impress today.”

Turning his eyes to the tall gryphon, Diedrick extended his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Colonel Silverstreak. I’m Captain Diedrick Thompson, ship captain of starship Hyperion, and your resident alien for the foreseeable future.”

Taking the captain’s hand in his own and firmly shaking it, Colonel Silverstreak gestured to the man in front of him. “See boys? Along with hard work and dedication, respect is what will let you go far in the military. Respect those more experienced than you, and respect yourself enough to become stronger, faster, and wiser.” He looked back to Diedrick and said, “And it’s a pleasure to meet you as well, captain.”

As the two got to know each other, Steelbeak announced, “I’ve got to check in with the other guards at the keep. I’ll leave you all to it.” Looking directly to Diedrick he added, “I’ll return for you in a few hours. Try not to hurt them too much.” Diedrick chuckled and nodded, so Steelbeak retreated toward the keep.

As he released the hand, Diedrick did a quick lookover of the soldiers gathered. About three-quarters of them appeared to be mere recruits or similarly low in rank, while the rest were officers of varying degrees. “So, what’s the plan today?”

“I was thinking a bit of a sparring match, if you’re up to it.” Colonel Silverstreak answered. “In gryphon culture, you must earn respect from our warriors.”

Looking around briefly, Diedrick nodded. “That seems fair.” Removing his armaments and setting them aside, he flexed his back and rolled his shoulders before asking, “So who’s first?”

Smirking, the colonel turned to a tall, burly gryphon soldier. “Boulder, you’re up first. Try not to break anything this time.”

Diedrick watched as a gryphon nearly as tall as he was stepped out of the crowd, removing a large two-handed hammer and pistol-like weapon and placing them aside. The gryphon then cracked his neck from side to side before stepping forward, a mere dozen or so paces away from him. Diedrick tensed his muscles as he waited patiently for an attack. To his surprise, the burly gryphon was also waiting, so Diedrick decided to push the bout on his own.

Taking a single step forward and springing off the ground, Diedrick launched himself nearly twenty feet into the air as he raised his heel high above his head. His opponent only had a second of shocked surprise to react as he rolled away, just in time to see the booted heel of Diedrick land and crack the stone of the ground he had previously been standing on.

Attempting to catch Diedrick off-guard as he recovered from his attack, Boulder used his wings to bolt forward and throw a punch at his face…

Which Diedrick caught by the wrist with one hand.

Twisting the wrist sharply, Diedrick soon had his opponent prone on the ground, helpless as he manipulated the weak joints of the arm, which were thankfully nearly an exact match for his own. He then spun around and mounted the downed gryphon, and began to pull back on the trapped arm.

“Judging by the fact that you can’t get up for fear of breaking your own arm,” Diedrick observed with a smirk, “I’d say I’ve won this round.” Punctuating his statement with a tensing of his arms, he began to pull on the limb, causing the gryphon to groan in pain under him. “Unless of course you want to keep going.”

“I think that’s enough.” answered Colonel Silverstreak. “Boulder won’t be much good to me if he can’t use both of his arms.”

Releasing his sparring partner and stepping away before helping him up, Diedrick was silently surprised he had lasted as long as he had. It would mark only the tenth time someone had survived more than two or three seconds against him. He almost wished Boulder had used his wings to fly; he would have lasted longer.

“I hope he’s not the best you’ve got.” Diedrick muttered.

Colonel Silverstreak raised an eyebrow at him. “What do you mean?”

Diedrick pointed to Boulder, who was rubbing his shoulder. “His reflexes were painfully slow, his attack was sloppy and took too long to hit, and he wasn’t flexible enough to escape my arm hold. Had this been a real fight, he would have been dead. If you care about your troops, you need to train them better so they don’t die the first time they come across someone like me.”

Grinning, the colonel shook his head. “No, he’s not the best. Powerful, imposing and ready to fight, but not the most skilled. He has quite a way to go until he’s graduated from the academy.” He then glanced at the recovering gryphon soldier. “Boulder, head to the infirmary to make sure your arm and shoulder are alright. Windcutter, you’re next.”

This time Diedrick saw a much smaller soldier step forward, and took note of her different body structure. She was well-developed and toned, but not enough that it would limit maneuverability or flexibility. Furthermore, she wore much lighter armor, and had multiple crests adorning her chestplate. Diedrick assumed the marks signified rank of some sort, so he figured this fighter would be far more capable than the last.

“I’m looking forward to this, Captain.” Windcutter greeted, her stark white feathers shining in the sunlight. “It’s been quite some time since I’ve been able to spread my wings, so to speak.”

There was a subtle confidence in her words that made Diedrick smile; this was going to be fun.

Luna was not having a good day.

Not so much because she was up running on nearly thirty-six hours without sleep (though that added to her irritability), but rather because her dear sister was moping. While it was true Celestia was strong and radiant as a ruler, as a mere pony she was very fragile, which was something only three on the planet truly knew about. Both Luna and Celestia had been forced to take the reigns of a growing kingdom from a young age after all, which left their personal emotional growth somewhat stunted.

It was by that token that Luna had mentally dubbed Celestia the unofficial “Princess of Pity-partying”.

Luna had heard of her sister’s first meeting with “the visitor”, and how badly it had gone. While it was true that the gryphons were much more civilized than they were a few hundred years ago, it was unheard of for someone to choose them over the ponies of Equestria for their hospitality. It might have had something to do with Celestia’s arrogant behavior toward the alien guest, but “familiarity breeds contempt”, as the saying goes. For so long Celestia was seen and praised as the strong ruler of a prosperous kingdom, and though alicorns were many things, they were not immune to fault.

Night court was a half-day away, which left Luna with the choice to either gorge herself on sweet fruits to stave off exhaustion, or comfort her sister. It seemed that the night princess’ hooves made her decision for her as she found herself hurriedly making her way toward the lunar wing of the castle, where the royal apartments were.

Celestia lay sprawled on her bed, mane and tail in disarray and clothes haphazardly strewn about the floor and bedposts. Truthfully, she didn’t care about the state of her room at the moment, as she was spending her time on much more important actions: judging herself. It was not something she was unfamiliar with, nor was it uncommon, but never before had she felt so thoroughly chastised by someone millennia younger than her.

Steelbeak was a friend after all, and one she had confided in quite a few times. As such, he was one of the only ones who knew the pony beneath the crown, and had the authority to tell her when she was doing something stupid, selfish, or downright wrong. Twilight would never outright criticize her mentor of course (at least not at her young age), and Luna was known to personally deal with many of the affairs that her royal cabinet would normally handle; Celestia was not going to bother her niece unless it was of dire importance, which left Steelbeak as the only one she regularly had contact with who she felt she could speak to as an equal. Since such bonds between her and others were rare, she cherished the few she had, and placed great importance on what transpired between them.

Her morose thoughts were interrupted by a familiar knock on the door -- familiar because of the pattern that had been created between her and only one other, thousands of years ago.

She sighed and pushed herself to a sitting position, covering her nearly nude body with sheets in case the princess was not alone. “Come in, Luna.”

The door opened and shut quickly as the lithe form of Equestria’s lunar diarch entered the room, and shining cyan eyes settled on the slumped form of the sun’s steward.

Celestia released another sigh -- one of relief -- and dropped the sheets from around her body as she stood to greet her sister. “Good afternoon, Luna. Can I help you?”

“No,” she clipped quickly, “I am not the one who needs help at the moment.”

Celestia released a sigh as she sat down heavily on her bed. "Luna, I'm fine. I am simply a bit out of sorts."

“It is unhealthy to bottle up your emotions, sister.” Luna admonished sternly. She pointed to the bed and ordered, “Sit, and talk to me.”

Knowing there was no way she was going to otherwise placate the lunar diarch, Celestia released a heavy sigh and plopped upon the cushioned mattress. After a few moments of collecting her thoughts she asked, “Luna, am I a good pony?”

Luna raised an eyebrow in surprise. “Er...what?”

“I’m serious, sister; am I a good pony?” Celestia clarified. “It seems since-”

“Your run-in with the visitor;” Luna surmised, “that is what this is about?”

Celestia shifted and wrapped her wings around herself, as if trying to block out the shame that began to overtake her. “The first visitor we’ve ever had from beyond, and the first thing I do is try to lock him up. Perhaps the fear of another great enemy has clouded my judgement, but if I truly am benevolent, why did I attempt to detain an innocent without probable cause? What have I become?”

Luna slowly walked toward the bed before sitting beside her sister, embracing her tightly as she did so and nuzzled her comfortingly. “Celestia, you are a good pony; some may say the epitome of good. Regardless of what you have done, you have ever only acted in Equestria’s best interests.” She then stopped and pulled away, looking into Celestia’s eyes. “However, you have let your fear rule your decision here. Perhaps you should get to know this creature before you pass judgement.”

Celestia nodded with a sigh. “Steelbeak tells me he is settling in well enough, and will likely need to speak with us about the stars in our sky. He appears to only wish to find his way home, and will require our star-charts to find it.”

Luna cocked her head to the side as she asked, “Does he know about-”

Celestia shook her head. “No, and I fear it will be quite the revelation to him. It seems he still does not fully grasp what magic is, much less how it works. From what Steelbeak has told me, his world has no magic, and his species has evolved without it. His people are a race of technology and science, not magic and Harmony.” She sighed again, rubbing her eyes. “I fear we will come upon quite a few problems early on, regardless of how hospitable we are.”

“Then we must show him the love our people are known for.” Luna answered with a smile. “Equestria is not its military, nor is its heart one of fire; Equestria is love and harmony, and we must show that to him when we next meet. He could be a powerful ally to any who befriend him, so we must not let this chance pass us up.”

Celestia nodded. “If any more of his kind appear, it would work to our advantage to have one of them on our side.”

If there are any more, sister.” Luna corrected. “You know what happened to the others…”

The elder sister nodded again, this time with a heavy heart. “Yes, I remember. Best to leave those thoughts for when we know for sure the specifics of his arrival here.” With a shrug of her shoulders, she turned her thoughts toward what the visitor might be doing.

‘I hope he’s staying out of trouble.’

“Stop, stop! I give, I give!” shouted another gryphon soldier as he was pinned against the ground, his arms twisted behind him as the armored boot of Diedrick pressed on the back of his head.

Diedrick released the gryphon and offered his hand, hoisting his opponent to his feet with a smile. “Well done; you almost had me. Unfortunately, you overlooked the fact that I am still faster, stronger, and larger than you.” He chuckled and added, “I mean no disrespect by saying this, but none of you are going to be able to beat me.”

Colonel Silverstreak looked over the beaten soldiers behind him and sighed. “I never thought I’d say this, but you’re right. You’re on an entirely different level.”

Diedrick smirked and said, “My people have had thousands of years to evolve, and we’ve basically been bred to fight. From the time we’re young, we’re taught how to survive in a hostile environment, and how to use our abilities to the fullest in all situations.”

Steelbeak could be seen coming up from behind the group, and waved jovially. “Hello boys. So, how did he do?”

Colonel Silverstreak motioned to the defeated gryphons, most of which were still nursing sore joints and bruises. “How do you think he did? It seems his weapons aren’t the only thing dangerous about him.”

Diedrick merely grinned. ‘Oh, if only they knew.’

Steelbeak made eye contact with Diedrick and jerked his head away. “Come, we’ll meet the rest of the community; if you’re going to be staying here, it would work to your advantage to be familiar with our city and the people within it, at least to some degree.”

Diedrick followed, and once they were out of earshot of the others, asked, “Might I ask where you went for the past few hours?”

Steelbeak glanced to his companion. “I compiled a report for Princess Celestia, and met with the king again to advise him of your first day here.”

At the mention of the pony-princess, Diedrick’s mouth curled into a frown. “I can’t say I trust these ponies, Steelbeak. They made a horrible first impression, and didn’t even have it in them to earn my respect by being good fighters.” He shook his head roughly. “The wilds would eat them alive.”

Steelbeak chuckled at Diedrick’s reaction. “The ponies may not be the best warriors, but do not underestimate them. Beyond the fact that they have fostered peace within their lands for over a thousand years, they wield powers we can only vaguely comprehend, and have cultivated both the world’s greatest minds and its greatest artists. True that they are a bit soft by gryphon standards, but there is a reason that the other nations ally with them instead of declaring war.”

Diedrick eyed Steelbeak curiously. “You seem almost afraid of these ponies.”

The gryphon shook his head with a grin. “No, simply cautious. One alicorn has the power to destroy entire cities in the blink of an eye, without so much as breaking a sweat -- Equestria has four of them. They are a peaceful people, but to underestimate their protective nature is to walk the path of the fool.” As they approached what looked like a large park, Steelbeak motioned ahead of him. “We’ll take a quick jaunt through the city and have you meet some of the more influential members of society; get in good with them, and you’ll have no problems with others.”

Diedrick followed without complaint, eager to see more of the gryphon city.

Twilight stood out on the balcony of her home, resting against the crystal railing and thinking about what had happened in just the past few days. The fact that Princess Celestia had not been seen anywhere but her room and study worried Twilight, since she was well aware of what actions she would take if she were depressed. She didn’t like thinking of her mentor being unhappy, but Luna had assured her that things were being taken care of.

“Bit for your thoughts, Twi?” greeted a voice from behind her, just as two scaled arms snaked around her waist and a chin settled on her shoulder.

Twilight smiled as she leaned back into the embrace of her partner and hummed happily. “Just thinking about that alien and worrying about Celestia, even though there’s not much I can do about either right now.”

“Worrying is your thing, Twi.” the other responded.

Twilight turned around in the grasp and looked upon her oldest friend, and more recently, lover. “I know Spike, but I just wish there was something I could do besides sitting here and waiting. You know I hate feeling helpless.”

The dragon tucked Twilight’s head beneath his chin and stroked her mane comfortingly. “All we can do right now is prepare for the inevitability that at some point, he’s going to meet all of us, and we need to make a good impression. I’ll send out a letter to Pinkie, but you need to go and prepare the rest of them. Together we can make sure his second impression of ponies is a good one.”

Twilight nodded against his chest, simply enjoying the embrace of her drakefriend for a moment. “So how did your foalsitting thing go?”

Spike barked a laugh, his chest shaking with chuckles as he struggled to compose himself. “H-he’s definitely a chip off the old block, I’ll tell you that, and I’m not speaking about Rarity’s block. I can’t get him to sit still for anything, so I just took him out and let him run with me through the town to tire him out. We played tag, hide and seek, and even had a sparring match or two before he finally collapsed from exhaustion. He’s gonna be a nightmare when he learns how to fly, and from how fast he’s growing, I don’t see that being too far off.”

“Speaking of our fashion-centric friend, how is Rarity?” Twilight asked with a grin.

Spike shrugged and answered, “She’s alright I guess. She’s a little bummed that her quicker half had work this week, but she knew the week before that this would be an off-week, so all we have to do is wait until tomorrow.”

Twilight smiled again at the thought of the odd couple. “Dash is in Las Pegasus this week, right?”

Spike nodded in return, grinning at the thought of Equestria’s own city of lights. “Yep, and she wouldn’t shut up for it for like a week before she left. I swear, the only time I’ve seen her more excited was when she was accepted into the ‘Bolts.”

Twilight nodded once again before turning to look at Canterlot in the distance, her mouth dropping into a worried frown. “So did you hear about the visitor?”

Spike settled his weight upon his elbows as he leaned against the railing, also looking to Equestria’s capital. “Uh huh. Scootaloo sent me a message about it; she wasn’t on Celestia’s personal guard detail though, so she only knows bits and pieces of what’s happened.” He brushed his hand against the soft spines on his neck, shaking his head with a sigh. “Word is this thing took out four armed guards without even breaking a sweat, and then threatened them with ‘a weapon that fires molten energy’ if they didn’t let him go. If nothing else, this guy’s pretty ballsy; I’m kinda excited to meet him.”

Twilight shook her head, slapping a palm to her face. “It figures you’d want to meet something that threatened to commit regicide.”

“From what I heard, Celestia threatened him first.” Spike retorted with a grin. “That’s pretty stupid if you ask me, no matter who you are.”

Twilight’s face twisted into a grimace. “She had to-”

“She threatened an innocent visitor with no grounds for it besides fear, Twi.” he interrupted sternly, glancing at the princess out of the corner of his eye. “Seeing as how Equestria is the land of tolerance and love, that’s a pretty stupid thing to do when making a first impression.”

Twilight didn’t like it, but realized he was right. With a sigh, she leaned against Spike and turned her attention to the mountain city. “Well, if things pan out the way I think they will, we’ll get our chance to mend the tarnished image our guest has of Equestria. There’s so much we could learn from each other -- so much we could do to help each other.”

With all thoughts toward what might happen next, the dragon and pony silently basked in the late afternoon air.

Chapter 4

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Chapter 4

“I have to leave.” Diedrick announced plainly to the gathered gryphons.

It had been nearly two weeks since the ship captain made planetfall on Arcadia, and he was pleased that the local gryphons were quite welcoming despite their fierce warrior culture. They assured the captain that they had done all they could to assist, but that they simply lacked adequate knowledge of the cosmos to give him the information he needed. Diedrick had kept up his end of the bargain and passed on a few pieces of knowledge that had the potential to bring their military to the next step in the evolution of warfare, but it seemed that he would have to look elsewhere regardless. Unfortunately, his stay on Arcadia was longer than he assumed it would be, and he had to return to his ship to disable the scorched-earth protocol in place.

After finding that the gryphons were not going to be able to provide him with the intel he needed, Diedrick had requested an audience with the king and the important officers, which included the gryphons he had been staying with. Needless to say they had been a little disappointed that such an accomplished warrior had to be leaving so soon, but they knew there had to be a reason for it.

“Why the urgency?” Steelbeak asked, confused as to the sudden need for departure.

Diedrick could only point generally to the sky as he tried to explain. “My ship has standing orders to bombard the planet if I don’t return in three weeks, since the magical sheath that covers your world apparently blocks all transmissions getting through from either side.”

Typhoon, who Diedrick found far more intimidating in full armor, simply raised her brow at this. “Isn’t that a bit excessive?”

Diedrick shrugged. “Depends on the circumstances. If it was due to negligence on my part, that would be a stupid mistake, and I tend to keep from making those. However, if I were killed because of an extremely dangerous species on this planet, then the planetary bombardment would have prevented said baddies from causing more trouble.” Diedrick looked to the gryphons helplessly. “This wouldn’t be a problem if I was able to contact my ship, but I did the best with what I had to work with.”

The king nodded briefly before extending his clawed hand with a grin. “I apologize that we were unable to assist you captain, but I hope you find your way with the help of Equestria.”

Diedrick took the offered hand and shook it firmly before replying, “I’m not really looking forward to it, but a feeling awhile ago told me I was going to have to ask these ponies for help sooner or later.” He released the king’s hand and stepped back, sighing through his nose. “Here’s hoping they’re more amicable this time around.”

“I do wish we could see this ship of yours, captain.” Typhoon commented, likely speaking what all the others were thinking. “From how advanced this ‘little bird’ of yours is, I imagine your capital ship is far more of a wonder.”

Diedrick was already stepping away when the words had been spoken, and a thought caused him to stop in his tracks. Turning around, he thoughtfully answered, “Well, Orac probably wouldn’t like it much, but I don’t see a problem with that.”

“Orac?” Colonel Silverstreak queried in confusion. “I thought you said there were none others on your ship.”

Diedrick just smiled and nodded. “I did, but Orac isn’t alive in the strictest sense. He’s a general intelligence that was created to basically be the heart and mind of the ship, and he’s the one that keeps things running well as the one that would have burned this planet if I didn’t return within the next week.” He then waved a hand in dismissal at the thoughts they were likely thinking. “Don’t worry about it though. I’m allowed to bring guests on my own ship, and it’s been awhile since Orac had someone new to talk to.”

The colonel just clicked his tongue, not entirely convinced of what he was hearing. “Ah. Well, I for one would be very interested to see this spacecraft of yours.”

Diedrick nodded. “Well, I guess if you can trust me to bring you back here, I can trust you to behave yourself. Anyone else want in?”

Steelbeak stepped forward, nodding firmly. “I’ll go.”

At Typhoon’s subtle, yet noticeable worried expression, Diedrick walked over to the general and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, looking down at her with a smile on his face. “I’ll bring him home safe, ma’am. You have my word.”

With her face twisting into a gentle frown, she nodded with narrowed eyes. “You better.”

Diedrick just smiled before stepping back toward the door. “Well, whoever’s coming, come on then. The sooner I check in, the better.”

Once again Diedrick was at his dropship, fully armed, but preparing to reenter orbit instead of be harassed by a pony sun-god and her laughable excuse for guards. Also, this time he found his ship would be heavy two more bodies, and mythical creatures at that. He’d have to be sure that Orac didn’t scare them by threatening to rev up the dissection instruments (which, as far as Diedrick knew, the ship had never actually used).

“So,” Steelbeak began, following Diedrick’s instructions and strapping himself into the chair provided to him, “how long will it take us to reach your ship?”

Diedrick shrugged as he manually went through the pre-flight procedures. “Depends on the weather and the amount of wind we’ll be facing. Won’t be more than perhaps five minutes, I promise.”

The older colonel finished pulling tight the harness around his chest before asking, “How fast does this craft move?”

“Twenty-two thousand miles per hour. We’ll hit top speed in about a minute.” Diedrick answered idly, continuing his checklist.

The beaks of both gryphons dropped open in shock for a few moments of silence at the answer. Twenty-two thousand. Not even the fastest flier in the world, a pegasus in Equestria, could move anywhere near that fast.

“Th-that’s…” Steelbeak began, only to choke on his own words for a moment, “y-you’re going to kill us; there’s no way our bodies could survive that type of acceleration.”

Diedrick turned around in his chair and raised an eyebrow at the two gryphons, both of which looked more than a little afraid now. “Does your kind not have the ability to manipulate dark matter yet?”

“Dark what?” Colonel Silverstreak replied in confusion.

Diedrick merely grinned and turned back around. “Oh, this is going to be fun, then.” Finishing his system-check, he flipped a few switches on the control panel and waited as the ship hummed to life. Vents inside the cabin opened to allow what could only be life-giving air in for them to breathe, causing the hearts of the two passengers to beat a bit faster in anticipation. Both shut their eyes and braced themselves for the killing jolt that was certain to hit them.

Diedrick just smirked and flipped one last switch, which caused a ripple to move throughout the entire hull on the ship as it became transparent. “Come now, you two are supposed to be soldiers. Open your eyes; you’ve got to see this.”

Slowly and with great reluctance, the two gryphons opened their eyes...only to gasp in awe as they looked around at the world blurring by them.

“We…” Steelbeak muttered quietly, almost reverently, “we’re moving. I didn’t even feel us launch! And we can see everything!”

“Anti-gravity propulsion and dark-matter technology to counteract inertia and acceleration.” Diedrick explained, then pointed to the vents that had opened up all over the cabin. “You’ve been breathing in dark matter particles, and they worked to keep you tethered to this ship, not to the physical world outside of it. To put it simply, we negate the forces that would normally act on our bodies by moving the universe around the craft, instead of moving the craft through the physical world. I don’t fully understand the technology behind it, but that’s the gist of what’s happening.”

The three occupants watched as the world moved around them, and the sky slowly faded from bright blue to black as they left the atmosphere. For the first time in their lives, the two gryphons knew what their world looked like from space.

“It looks so small from up here.” Steelbeak commented softly, in a disbelieving manner.

Diedrick nodded as he turned his chair around to face his two guests, pointing out the hull at one of the billions of lights in the cosmos. “Every one of those tiny points of light is a star, and at least half of them have planets circling them, and half of those have life-sustaining planets. Up here, among the infinite vastness of space, you come to see just how huge the universe is.” He then pointed to the massive, black hull of his ship. “And that, dear sirs, is my ship, the Hyperion.”

Suddenly, the coms buzzed to life as a voice chimed, “Captain, you’ve returned.”

Diedrick just shook his head with a grin. “Well now, you sound so pleased to see me.”

“Anything to prevent the destruction of a planet with intelligent life, sir.” Orac droned. A brief silence followed, only for the AI to add, “I sense additional organisms on the landing craft, Captain.”

“Yes,” Diedrick answered, returning his attention to the command panel, “they are our guests from the planet -- gryphons, to be precise. You can meet them once we’ve docked.”

“Understood sir, beginning docking protocols. Standby and I will bring you in.” Orac replied, going quiet as the conversation ended.

Diedrick then turned around again and glanced to his guests. “Well, give it a few minutes and Orac will bring us into the docking bay, then we can take a short tour of the ship before we head back to the planet.”

Diedrick pulled his rifle off of the rack beside the pilot’s chair and began going through the mindless task of doing some routine maintenance on the weapon, since he didn’t have the parts on hand to do a full clean and polish. Nonetheless, it passed the time, and it seemed like only seconds before the dinging tone of the airlock indicator alerted him that the docking procedure had finished. The lights in the cabin brightened and Diedrick unbuckled himself and stood, causing the two gryphons to do the same.

Before they could approach the hatch that they had entered through less than ten minutes ago, Diedrick stopped them with a raised hand. “Wait a moment; we’re going to fill the ship with fresh air and dark energy to bind the dark matter and flush it from your system. Breathe deep and this will only take a few moments.”

Just after Diedrick said this, the vents on the ship opened once again, but this time a shimmering, hazy fog billowed out of it that seemed to move as if it were alive. Following Diedrick’s demonstration, the gryphons began taking cautious breaths of the hazy air, deepening their respiration once they found it smelled and tasted the same as normal air.

After a minute or so of breathing the shimmering air, a hissing of air accompanied the haze being drawn out, along with Diedrick approaching the hatch before looking back at his guests. “There are still small amounts of dark matter within your bodies that will be passed with some more time, but it’s safe enough to leave this dropship now. I’ll warn you, you’re going to feel a strange pulling sensation once you cross the threshold, but that’s normal.”

Steelbeak and Silverstreak glanced at each other nervously, but followed Diedrick down the long metallic hallway as the hatch opened and he exited the dropship. True to his warning, a strange tugging, both inside and out, accompanied their crossing of the ship’s threshold. While the sensation wasn’t painful, it was certainly uncomfortable.

Diedrick glanced back at his two companions, both of which were wearing grimaces, and one of whom was looking a little greener. He just chuckled and waved them over to follow. “It’s all right, everyone feels like that the first few times. It takes some getting used to, I’ll admit, but it beats the alternative.”

“And what would that be, Captain?” Steelbeak asked, doing the best he could to keep moving despite the queasy feeling in his stomach.

“Death.” Diedrick replied without pause. “Much as we have evolved over the years, my kind -- and yours, apparently -- isn’t indestructible, and we’re still susceptible to the physical forces of the cosmos. This technology, however, allows us to bypass a lot of the laws of physics to allow us to travel further, and faster, than ever before.” He stopped at the keypad at the end of the hall, typing in a sequence before the door slid away into the wall.

The next room was rather small, with only a small console in the corner and another door across from the entrance. The door closed behind them as the three stepped in and Diedrick explained, “This is the decontamination chamber. Close your eyes and mouth, spread your arms and legs, and just wait a few moments until you hear the bell.”

Wary of the instructions but following them anyway, Steelbeak and Colonel Silverstreak waited patiently for a moment before hearing the hissing of air fill the chamber. True to his word, the blasts of air only lasted a few moments before the trill of a bell sounded throughout the chamber, followed shortly thereafter by the opening of the previously closed door that led to the next area. With that, the two gryphon soldiers followed Diedrick into a long, rust-colored corridor with multiple doors along the walls.

Within only a few seconds of walking, both gryphons gasped as they entered the main navigation room of the ship.

“Welcome to the Hyperion navigational array, where Orac and I plot our course for current and future travels, as well as map the current cosmic space we find ourselves in.” Diedrick explained, motioning to the large clear globe upon and within which a three-dimensional map of the current star-system was rendered.

Along with that was a set of large monitors upon the wall that were keeping track of the local background radiation, dark matter and dark energy levels, and any other energies that were nearby. It was a marvel of Diedrick’s people’s ingenuity, and the gryphons were awestruck as they slowly padded around the room.

Diedrick simply watched his guests explore the room, smiling faintly at their wonder. “I take it you approve?”

The two awed gryphons just stood looking around, unable to come to grips with everything they were seeing. For them, it was truly a testament to just how technologically advanced Diedrick’s kind was.

“This is incredible.” the colonel breathed out with wide eyes. “Absolutely amazing; I never thought I would see technology of this scale in my lifetime.”

Diedrick just chuckled, catching the attention of the two gryphons in the room. “This is just the navigation room. There are still many other places in this ship that are as, if not more, amazing to see. Next, for example, we’re going to the armory.”

As Diedrick walked away, he couldn’t help but grin like a loon a the sound of his two guests hurrying to follow.

Princess Celestia was not having a good day, which was ironic since she was often heralded as the princess of the day.

Nonetheless, a long day with the noble houses to discuss the distribution of the national budget followed by a report advising her that Arcadia’s “guest” had entered orbit again had done well to put extra stress on her shoulders. In addition, she had received a message from her gryphon allies of only two words: “your turn”.

While Celestia would never admit to being afraid of anyone outright, the thought of once again being in the presence of the alien, someone that had no fear of her or her supposed might, coaxed forth anxious tingles across her whole body. She feared for her people and the world they called home, since this new visitor seemed to have no qualms with burning an entire planet if he was in danger. A part of her doubted that this Diedrick Thompson would truly exterminate an entire planet, but the threat alone was enough to stay her hand. Bringing death and destruction upon her ponies was too high a price for Celestia to flaunt her pride.

Besides, the reports that Steelbeak had sent her were worrying.

Diedrick Thompson had bested some of the gryphons’ strongest fighters, and it seemed he was not even close to struggling during said duels. The giant of a creature was far more agile than should be possible for one of his size, and he quite literally had the strength to break stone with his blows. In addition, the weapons he used were leaps and bounds more advanced than anything the world had ever seen, and if his little “demonstration” upon planetfall was anything to go by, he was a master in their use. His armor also was a curiosity, and Celestia had no doubt the shiny, black armor was far more durable than it seemed.

The bottom line was that this creature was an oddity, and Celestia did not know how to handle him. She was so used to those around her following her orders without question or at least offering her the respect earned by the steward of the sun, but this Diedrick Thompson did neither. He was not impressed by her magic or title of office nor the magic she could call upon, and was more than ready to defy her.

Still, she could not help but admit that he was intriguing.

“Perhaps we can both get something out of this arrangement.” Celestia mused aloud to herself.

When it came right down to it, Celestia was a simple pony; she cared not for jewels nor the finest Neighponese silk (though both were often offered to her), nor anything else similarly vanity-driven. Instead, as a goddess-like being that was used to supplication from nearly everyone she knew, she valued the few personal relationships she could find where she was treated as an equal instead of a celestial being. Luna had always treated her as such, and even Twilight had begun to call her by name and not cower in reverence every time they met, but other than Steelbeak, the remainder of the world showed her reverence not for what she did, but simply for what she was -- much to her chagrin, some even worshiped her.

This Diedrick may just be the change she needed in life, but she would need to mend the impression he had gotten of her.
Celestia stood from her writing desk, arching her back and stretching while letting out a mighty yawn and extending her wings far enough that they quivered in slight overextension. After a few moments she relaxed, reaching behind and undoing the clasp before letting her dress drop off of her now-nude body. She then headed toward her washroom and began drawing a steaming hot bath.

As the water filled the tub, Celestia thought hard about how she was going to fix the damage she had caused. There was no doubt that there was quite a bit to learn from her soon-to-be guest, but the question was how she would gain his trust enough for him to not mind supplying some of his knowledge and skills for Equestria. The opportunities for technological advancement were endless when compared to Diedrick Thompson’s superior technology, so Celestia only hoped that she could convince him that her original reaction was nothing personal, and that she believed it was in the best interests of her people.

‘Was it though?’

The traitorous thought came unbidden to her mind, and she felt the need to physically shake her head in an effort to rid herself of it. Guilt would do her no good in this situation, other than to remind her of how much of a hypocrite she could be, apparently. Celestia Solis was many things, but perfect, she was not.

For the past two weeks, she had gone through the first contact with Diedrick Thompson in her head over and over in an attempt to pinpoint the instance where she had mentally deemed it necessary to detain someone asking for help. For the good of her people she had to be wary of course, but she couldn’t help but wonder if there was a better way she could have gone about things. Undoubtedly, the answer was yes, but unfortunately Celestia was not able to change the past. Instead, she would have to be sure that their next meeting was more cordial and hope that she could atone for how she had behaved.

Hot water touching her hand brought Celestia out of her thoughts, so she turned the faucet knob all the way until the water shut off. With her bath prepared, she swung her legs over the edge of the tub and let herself sink into the steaming water. As with most things built for either her or her sister, Celestia’s personal bath was absurdly large to allow for her tall stature and wings, but this was one of the few ridiculously opulent things that she took great pleasure in.

Celestia let herself sink down until the hot water cradled all but her head, keeping her nose just above the surface of the water. For a few moments she simply enjoyed the warmth permeating her entire body before dipping her head beneath the surface and levitating a few different soap bottles over to begin washing herself.

‘Soon, I’ll need to fix the problems I’ve caused,’ Celestia thought to herself as she rubbed her fur through the soapy water, ‘but for now, I have to be sure that things are prepared for his arrival.’ With that thought in mind, she went about methodically cleaning herself to prepare for Diedrick Thompson’s arrival in Equestria.

As a scout probe circled the starship destroyer Hyperion, sending video of the outer hull to the three inside, Diedrick was explaining to his two guests just what his ship was capable of in terms of firepower. Both gryphons were horrified to learn that the ship used blasts of molten energy that could level an entire city block with one shot, and the ship had sixty-two of them. The two gryphons had assumed and even hoped that Diedrick was bluffing when he warned of what his ship was capable of, but now it seemed it was entirely possible this ship was a world-destroyer.

A newfound respect and wariness of Diedrick had grown within the two of them, which only added to their curiosity.

“Well,” Diedrick finally announced after the probe began to return to its small dock on the ship, “I think it’s about time we get going. There’s not much more to see in regards to the ship, and you all have seen the kinds of armor and arms I have available, so we can shove off now. Orac,” he announced, turning his attention to the small camera in the center of the ceiling, “we’re leaving now. Send a probe to the location I gave you in about three days. I’ll keep you updated via that.”

“Understood Captain.” Orac replied, just as the door leading back toward the space dock opened. “The ship has been prepared for flight, and all systems are green. Engines are warm and waiting for you.”

Diedrick nodded before motioning to the door and glancing to his two guests. “Shall we?”

The three made their way to the drop ship once again, only for Steelbeak to suddenly ask, “Why all the wolves?”

Diedrick tilted his head back to glance at the gryphon commander out of the corner of his eye. “Hm? What wolves?”

“The emblems everywhere.” Steelbeak clarified, waving his hand in a general manner to the air. “All along the hull of the ship were stylized wolf emblems.”

“Ah,” Diedrick realized with a smile, “yes, I suppose I should explain that.” He cracked his neck to the side as they continued walking, and began to explain. “In my people’s culture, the wolf is a revered holy animal. In many of the ancient civilizations they were known as fierce, yet wise spiritual protectors. Wolves are predators at the basest form, and were seen as both devils and symbols of a warrior by many old, native cultures. Today, to my people, the meaning is somewhat more pronounced because of how we have evolved. We found a…” Diedrick thought of how to word his next explanation without revealing too much, “kinship with them. There is much to learn from the wolf, as they are one of the few animals that have remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years, and yet they still remain.” He then smiled and continued on with much more vigor. “Wolves are animals that are willing to follow, but only if the leader is strong enough to lead. Challenges from younger wolves may happen if they see that the alpha is becoming too old to protect the pack any longer, and so life continues on and the pack remains strong.”

Diedrick chuckled as he reminisced about his race’s ancient past. “I remember long ago my kind employed elderly men, too old to fight, to lead our country. While I can understand that experience is important when it comes to leading properly, these men were bitter, and often took more than they gave to the people. Well,” he chuckled once again, “after the Great Sundering, that changed very quickly. We became closer to a warrior-race than our kind used to be, so those that were too weak or too afraid to fight were cast aside to make room for those that can and would.” He then glanced back at the curious expressions of Steelbeak and Colonel Silverstreak, and just smirked. “Oh we’re not the savages we sound like, but to keep our race strong and surviving, we don’t allow weakness. The weak are encouraged and supported so that they too grow to be strong, and in the end, it gives us all strength.”

As Diedrick turned back around and began to lead them to the long corridor that led to the docking bay, he allowed silence to follow him save for the sound of his boots against the metal floor, and the sound of padded feet.

Finally, after what seemed like an abnormally long time, Steelbeak commented, “I’ll need to keep you away from my daughter, Captain.”

Frowning, but still keeping his eyes pointed ahead of him, Diedrick asked, “And why’s that, Commander?”

“Because gryphons, like your kind, place great importance on battle prowess. Generally speaking, the stronger and more skilled one is, the more he or she is desired by the general public...for multiple reasons.” Steelbeak explained with a wry grin. “I respect you Captain, but I do not think I am ready for my daughter to begin pining for an alien in my presence.”

Diedrick’s eyes widened in surprise, whipping his head around and waving his hands madly. “No no no, I swear I didn’t mean to-”

Steelbeak held his hand up, shaking his head. “I wasn’t placing blame on you Captain, merely stating that I’m not ready for my young daughter to become infatuated with an alien that can fly through space.” He then sighed in slight defeat, urging Diedrick on as he continued talking. “Not that you had to really try. Gilda has always been a gryphon through-and-through, and took an interest in you from the first moment she met you. I cannot accurately pinpoint the sort of curiosity she has at the moment, but if she’s anything like her mother, she will start attempting to find reasons to be around you. I suppose it’s a lucky break that you’ll be going to Equestria.”

While most people would have probably been offended by the gryphon commander’s statement, Diedrick took it in stride for a few reasons: first and foremost, he was reasonably sure Gilda was only a teenager, which even though not necessarily illegal (he hadn’t been educated on the laws of gryphons), it just felt wrong. Secondly and more importantly, Diedrick was not in enough of a comfortable position to even think about anything pertaining to romance or a mate. And lastly, though he would never admit it aloud, he was afraid of what Steelbeak would do to him if he courted his daughter and broke her heart.

The final reason was unlikely because of the first two, but still a valid point all the same.

“I understand Commander,” Diedrick replied as he continued to lead them toward his dropship, “and you don’t need to worry. Not that your daughter isn’t a nice girl and all, but...well, suffice to say we wouldn’t be compatible.”

Steelbeak nodded as the hatch in front of them slid open and they once more entered the dropship. “Thank you for understanding, Captain. Now, let’s ready you for your delve into Equestrian society.”

While listening intently, Diedrick went about preparing the ship for departure by securing the hatch to be airtight and again flooding the air in the cabin with the invisible dark matter molecules. “Are ponies really all that different?”

“Well,” Steelbeak began, taking his seat and beginning to strap himself in, “how do you feel about nuzzles?”

Diedrick stopped in the middle of tightening the straps of his harness, swiveling the captain’s chair around to stare at the two gryphons. “...what?”

Rainbow Dash tried her best to keep from sighing in frustration as she watched her better half frantically try and put together an outfit that would leave an impression on Equestria’s newest visitor, even though she had assured her wife that everything would be fine no matter what she wore. Stars knew Rainbow loved Rarity, but neither of them were perfect, and Rarity’s moments of mania often put a strain on her patience.

Rainbow Dash stood in her full Wonderbolts officer’s uniform, which consisted of a navy blue jacket and pants over a white shirt and black tie, along with shined black hoof-shoes. A pair of wide aviation glasses sat high on her muzzle, and the many badges and marks of service were pinned on the breast of her jacket. She presented the very picture of a Wonderbolts officer, and one day would earn the golden wings that marked her as a senior officer. Rainbow Dash was skilled in ways most ponies could only dream of, mixing abundant natural talent with years of training by none other than her idols-turned-comrades, Captain Spitfire and First Lieutenant Soarin.

Rainbow Dash was used to ponies listening to what she said and doing as she asked, but it seemed some ponies were immune to the “drill-sergeant voice” she used when ordering around the rookies.

Namely, her wife.

“Rainbow dear, have you seen my- oh, thank you darling.”

Rainbow Dash simply waited impatiently for the unicorn to approach as she held a white handbag in the air. “Are you ready now Rares? This isn’t a party; you can’t just stroll in ‘fashionably late’ like you do everywhere else. That’s probably not gonna win you any cool points with this alien dude.”

Rarity rolled her eyes, approaching the slightly shorter pegasus mare and accepting the handbag gratefully. “Dear, not everything needs to be so stiffly regimented. I assure you that we will arrive with time to spare, but even if we didn’t, it would not be the end of the world.”

“Says the drama queen.” Rainbow Dash returned with a playful smirk.

Rarity playfully slapped the chest of her wife before levitating over a brush and giving one last touch-up to her mane.

Rainbow Dash needled Rarity as she always did, but both knew that the former couldn’t help but appreciate how much the latter put into her appearance. Even so, the two of them also knew that Rainbow Dash was not a patient pony. Still, the athlete had to admit that Rarity looked really nice in the white dress that was slitted up the left leg to a borderline scandalous height. The obvious lack of pantylines helped too.

After Rarity finished with her final adjustments, she grasped Rainbow Dash’s hand and gently pulled her along as she headed to the front door of the home they shared whenever the Wonderbolt was in town. “Well, I believe we are ready. Scootaloo is bringing Primus, correct?”

Rainbow Dash nodded, pulling up to walk with the longer-legged unicorn. “Yeah, they’ll be there before we are. ‘Course we would’a been there before everypony if a certain mare hadn’t taken an hour and a half to get ready.”

Rarity snorted in faux annoyance. “Not all of us can be attractive simply by rolling out of bed, dear. Some of us must put time and effort into our appearance; it is the only way to be sure ponies look at us for the right reasons.”

“If you want everypony to look at you, just go without clothes.” Rainbow Dash quipped with a suddenly husky voice. “I guarantee you’ll be the only thing they can think about for days to come. I still couldn’t get that body out of my mind for weeks after-”

“We swore we’d never talk about that night!” Rarity hissed in complete embarrassment, her cheeks beginning to flush with a crimson glow at the memory of the rather passionate night they shared together under the influence of copious amounts of alcohol. Regardless of their current status, Rarity still felt shame because of just how little self-control she’d had that night. As a “proper lady”, she prided herself on poise and elegance, so a night of hot drunken sex tended to shatter that image to anyone who might know about it.

That was all the more reason for Rainbow Dash to periodically remind her wife that even with all the elegance she portrayed, she was still just a pony with the same needs and desires as any other.

“I don’t know why you hate talking about it.” Rainbow Dash chimed as they began their slow trek to the open field outside of Ponyville. “I mean, it was pretty much a dream come true for me. Here I am, rough-and-tumble tomcolt Rainbow Dash, hiding a serious crush from one of the girliest mares I’ve ever met. I didn’t think I had a chance, so when that night happened…” Rainbow Dash’s voice lowered a bit as she shrugged as if she didn’t care, but Rarity could see the echoes of an old fear the Wonderbolt once had, just below the surface, “I thought that even if you didn’t speak to me for weeks after that night -- even if you hated me -- for a few hours that evening and the couple minutes before you woke up the next morning, I could say that I had a taste of what it would be like to have Rarity be in love with me.”

Rariy’s blush had faded away as her wife -- her dear love -- had begun speaking so seriously, and she found herself yet again regretting ever thinking that Rainbow Dash was shallow, or that she was oblivious to her own feelings. Rarity had discovered rather quickly that the tough athlete was only a fraction of who Rainbow Dash was as a pony, and within her sprang forth a deep well of emotion that only those closest to her ever knew about.

Rarity stepped closer to the Wonderbolt officer, leaning over to place a soft kiss on her temple as she explained, “Darling, regardless of what happened after that night, I could never hate you. You were -- and always will be -- one of the most important ponies in my entire life, and no amount of awkward moments or crude jokes could ever drive me away. You are one of Equestria’s most loved citizens, and the only pony that could ever convince me to quite literally roll in the hay.”

“Except for Primus.” Rainbow Dash added with a warm grin.

Rarity returned the smile as they continued their trek, looping her arm with that of Rainbow Dash’s. For a few moments they walked in silence before Rarity’s wandering mind compelled her to ask, “Did you ever think that you would have a foal of your own one day?”

Rainbow Dash shrugged lightly. “The thing that always killed it for me was the whole pregnancy thing, and the fact that I thought I wouldn’t be able to be a Wonderbolt and a mom at the same time. Spitfire did it though, so I guess that gave me the push to try it out.” She then chuckled, bumping her shoulder lightly into Rarity’s. “Guess I’m lucky that I didn’t have to carry him for ten months; I really lucked out on that one, because I wouldn’t have been able to eat that much and still be able to fly.”

“Ugh,” Rarity groaned, placing a palm to her face at the memory, “don’t remind me. I gained nearly forty pounds with Primus; he was such a large, healthy foal, but I can’t help but remember the back pain and losing the ability to see my hooves.”

“Yeah,” Rainbow Dash agreed in sympathy, tightening her hold on her partner’s arm, “but you were still every bit as beautiful as the day I met you.”

Even after five years together, Rarity couldn’t believe that Rainbow Dash was still able to make her blush, and yet she was proven wrong time and time again.

Rarity lovingly shoved the smiling athlete, before pulling her back and holding them close together. “If I may steal one of your quotes, ‘you’re going to need a bath with all that sap’.”

Rainbow Dash simply smiled one of those cocky, yet loving smiles Rarity’s way as they looked into each other’s eyes. “You love it.”

“I love you, darling.” Rarity replied, leaning in once again with a kiss ready, only to target lips instead.

Rainbow Dash returned the kiss in full, smiling warmer than a summer’s day. “I love you too, Rares.”

The two looked ahead as they approached the road that led to the clearing they would be meeting in, and couldn’t help but feel strangely anxious.

“Feels like the old days, hm?” Rainbow Dash quipped with a grin, keeping her gaze looking ahead.

Rarity nodded softly, also feeling the strange sense of nostalgia. “It does indeed. ‘Once more unto the breach,’ darling. Hopefully things will go better than Twilight’s battle with that horrid Tirek character.”

Rainbow Dash shrugged with a small smirk. “I dunno, I’m actually kinda excited to meet this guy. He’s gotta have some pretty big stones to basically tell Princess Celestia to buck off. Granted it was a pretty stupid thing to do, but anyone that’s willing to stand toe-to-toe against an alicorn has to be worth meeting at least once.”

“Just as long as you don’t attempt to fight him to ‘avenge Princess Celestia’s honor’ or some similarly silly thing.” Rarity warned gently, a worried frown overtaking her. “I’ve seen you in the hospital enough for a lifetime dear, and I won’t have you putting yourself there again without good reason.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes and assured, “I promise I’m not going to fight the big, bad alien. Happy?”

Rarity said nothing as they continued the remainder of their journey, but gave a gentle squeeze to the arm in her grasp to let the other know that she was grateful for the gesture.

“...and I’m not entirely sure when they’ll- oh wait, there they are.” Twilight Sparkle stated, turning toward the last two to arrive on site. She smiled to the fashionista and Wonderbolt, nodding to them both with a friendly air exuding from her very posture. “Hi girls, we were worried you wouldn’t make it in time.”

Before Rainbow Dash could open her mouth to fire off a blame toward the unicorn at her side, she received an elbow to the ribs. After glaring at her wife she simply responded, “Yeah, we’re here. So, when’s this guy supposed to be getting here?"

“Any minute now.” Twilight Sparkle answered, scanning the sky for any indication that their guest was arriving.

While not filled with guards this time around, the alien’s landing point was still under the watchful eyes of seven national heroes and two additional alicorn princesses. Along with two younger ponies a few hundred feet away, the ponies gathered hoped to project a far more relaxed and welcome atmosphere than the distinctly hostile one the visitor had come upon the last time he met with a leader of Equestria.

No sooner had all gathered given their mutual greetings that a shine from the sky alerted them to the approach of something. Sure enough, as the object drew closer, Princess Celestia could see the familiar shiny hull of Captain Diedrick’s ship that, if the information provided to her was accurate, would be heavy two gryphons on arrival.

The craft swung low over the mountains near Canterlot before slowing as it flew ever nearer to its predestined landing grid, all ponies present subtly tensing for its arrival. Finally, after the two swiveling thrusters on its sides bled away the rest of its speed, small leg-like protrusions extended from its bottom as it came to a rest on the grassy field.

For a few minutes all was quiet, but then a hiss of air accompanied a hatch on the side opening and a metallic ladder rolling out from the bottom of the hatch. The ladder solidified and the hatch fully slid away, revealing a giant of a figure to all those present, who used the ladder to descend to the ground.

As before, Celestia noted that Captain Diedrick was fully-armored in his black and gray gear, with the familiar weapon strapped to his back and the smaller weapon at his hip. He was every bit as intimidating as the first time they met, but she held her ground calmly as she waited for him to fully disembark. Following the Captain were two gryphons, who slowly followed Diedrick’s lead and also used the ladder, much to the confusion of all present. Celestia was concerned to see the two gryphons stumble upon getting their feet on solid ground, and she just barely restrained herself from rushing over and fussing.

“Ugh,” Steelbeak grunted out as he steadied himself, “I would never get used to that.”

Diedrick’s helmet split apart and receded as he walked over to the gryphons and offered a helping hand to each to assure they wouldn’t fall. “Give it a few dozen times and you wouldn’t even feel it anymore.”

“Twice is enough for me, Captain.” Colonel Silverstreak replied, grimacing as he collected himself and stood tall once again. He glanced around the field at all the ponies gathered before settling on the indigo alicorn off to the side. “Princess Luna? I did not expect you to be here.”

“I am here to support my sister and my subjects, Colonel.” the night princess answered in a tone that Diedrick thought was borderline-threatening. She then turned her eyes to Diedrick himself, and the Captain felt as though someone had suddenly wrapped icy claws around his stomach. “So,” she began, her tone as cold as the blue eyes staring at him, “you are the visitor that would stare into the sun without flinching. Rather brave, I must say; brave, but foolish.”

Girding himself and keeping a firm stance, Diedrick locked his gaze with that of the night princess a few dozen paces away. “I’ll not be intimidated by anyone, regardless of what they’re capable of, and I’ll not respect someone who has done nothing to earn it from me. Perhaps here Princess Celestia is revered as a goddess, but to me she’s simply a bully.”

“Perhaps,” Princess Luna halfway-agreed, shooting a glare to her older sister, “and we have spoken about that behavior.” She then turned her eyes back to Diedrick, stone-faced and unreadable. “However, holding grudges will do no good for anyone, so let us please move on from past misdeeds and attempt to forge a better future for all involved. Is that agreeable?”

Diedrick shot one look toward the solar princess -- whom, to his odd discomfort, was slumped slightly in shame -- before looking back to Princess Luna and nodding. “Yes, I think we can put this all behind us.”

“Wonderful.” Princess Luna replied, stepping forward in a slow, methodical manner before stopping just a few feet in front of Diedrick with her hand extended, smiling gently. “I am Princess Luna, and on behalf of the royal family and its subjects, I wish to properly welcome you to Equestria.”

While the smiling pony in front of him was nearly a foot shorter, Diedrick couldn’t help but feel wary around her for some reason. Regardless, he extended his own hand and took her smaller digits within his own, being careful not to crush them. “Thank you, Princess Luna.”

She nodded before gesturing to the others milling about. “I would like to introduce you to a few important members of society, if you would not mind.”

Diedrick raised his eyebrow at the sudden topic change, but said nothing other than, “Okay…”

Princess Luna held out her arm, and two others approached from behind her as she announced, “I would like to introduce you to Princess Twilight Sparkle and her personal guard, Spike of the Jadefire.”

Diedrick quickly shook hands with the smaller alicorn princess, pleased by her sunny demeanor. “How do you do, Princess.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Captain.” Twilight Sparkle returned, happy that the visitor seemed far more relaxed than she had originally thought he would be.

Diedrick nodded silently to the princess before turning to the scaled creature that accompanied her, and couldn’t help but stare blankly for a few moments. After gathering himself, he directly stated, “I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and say you’re a dragon.”

Spike smiled with a fanged grin and nodded. “Pretty good assumption there, Captain. Yes, I’m a dragon.”

Diedrick couldn’t help but notice that, “You’re somewhat...smaller than I thought a dragon would be.” Spike responded with nothing but a grin, as if he knew something that wasn’t readily apparent. For some unknown reason, that smile unnerved Diedrick, somewhat.

“Next,” Princess Luna announced, moving along in the introductions, “I would like to introduce Lieutenant Rainbow Dash of the Wonderbolts performance squadron.”

The named pony lazily flew forward, landing a short distance away before walking the last few feet with her hand extended, which Diedrick readily took into his own hand. Her relaxed smile did wonders to relieve some of the tension in his shoulders, and he felt himself relax just a hair as he greeted her. “The pleasure is mine, Lieutenant.”

“I think we can both be pleasured here, Captain.” Rainbow Dash returned with a cocky smirk, making Diedrick unsure whether she was simply being playful or making a bold pass at him. Either way she didn’t seem particularly bothered by it, so he just shook her hand firmly before releasing it.

Another pony stepped forward next to the Wonderbolt, this one a unicorn of pure white, save for the violet hair she had. “And this,” Princess Luna began with a smile, “is Lady Rarity: resident clothing designer, lesser nobility, and wife to Rainbow Dash.”

While Diedrick found it a little odd for two females to be married, he didn’t think it important to question it. Instead, he extended his hand forward and took the white-furred hand in his own and shook it gently, smiling at the clothing designer. “It is a pleasure, Lady Rarity.”

“The pleasure is all mine, darling.” Rarity replied in the slightly flirty tone she used with nearly everyone. Rainbow Dash had found it a little off-putting at first, but realized that she meant nothing by it, and it was simply part of who Rarity was as a pony.

Luna then gestured the the abnormally tall earth pony mare that had approached from behind Rarity. “This is Miss Applejack of Equestria’s Apple clan, a respectable and widely-known family of ponies that stretches across all of Equestria. Her immediate family owns Sweet Apple Acres, a farm that grows a large percentage of the produce the ponies of Ponyville, Canterlot, and other cities eat every day.”

“Howdy.” Applejack greeted in a friendly manner as she firmly shook Diedrick’s large hand.

Diedrick returned the gesture, but couldn’t help the query that escaped from his mind. “You said Sweet Apple Acres, right -- as in the juicy, heart-shaped fruit that grows on trees?” He received a nod in response, which only caused a spark of excitement to come to life within him. “I’ll have to try some of your produce at some point; in my world, apples are extinct.”

Applejack gasped in surprise. “N-no apples? None at all?” Diedrick merely shook his head, which only fueled the sympathy Applejack felt for the alien captain. “Well don’t you worry none sugarcube, ‘cause we got plenty to go ‘round here, so you’ll get yer fair share.”

Diedrick nodded as he looked back in Princess Luna’s direction, only to be surprised by the sight of two bright cyan eyes not an inch in front of his face. Even after years of military training and reflexes that had saved his life time and time again, all that Diedrick was able to do was shout in surprise and fall back onto his bottom as he struggled to keep his heart within his ribcage. Unfortunately for all present, Diedrick’s racing heart meant something entirely different for him, and he knew that without a doubt, his people’s secret was about to be revealed to all gathered around him.

“And that,” Princess Luna began to explain, “is Pinkie Pie. She is…” her words trailed off as she watched the space Captain writhe in his position as if in pain, and annoyance soon became concern as she watched him continue to contort in agony. “Captain Diedrick, are you unwell?”

“No,” he growled out, rolling over onto all fours as he forced his head up to look at the night princess, “I’m fine, but I’m sorry for what you’re about to see. I-aaaaaaAAAAAGRH!” he suddenly let out a sustained shout that began to lower in pitch the longer it was held, and everyone could only watch in horror as the sounds of bones popping and the squish of flesh moving accompanied grunts of pain.

While for all present it seemed to take hours, in reality, only a few seconds had passed.

Diedrick blinked his suddenly-sharp eyes a few times, trying to clear the tears out of them as he rolled his shoulders and stood, even taller than he had been before. The armor he wore had shifted to accommodate his new form, as it was designed to do, allowing him to move just as comfortably as he had before; it even had places for the new black claws at the ends of his fingers, and the boots had split open naturally to give way to two padded, canine feet, though they were still covered in the meshed armor. Gray-furred ears now sat atop his head, and a long muzzle of sharp, meat-tearing teeth had replaced those he had but a few moments ago.

“It all makes sense now!” Steelbeak suddenly exclaimed, causing the attention of the less-wary to be directed to him. He simply shrugged his shoulders and explained, “The Captain had emblems of wolves on his ship, and he had stated his kind held a kinship with them.” He then gestured to the creature before them. “The emblems and even his mannerisms: they make so much more sense now.”

“I’m a lycanthrope.” the deep, growl of a voice Diedrick now possessed explained to all present, drawing attention back to him. “All of my people are.”

Twilight Sparkle swallowed thickly as she kept her wide-eyed stare on the transformed Captain before them all. “Y-you’re a m-monster?”

Diedrick’s large, sharp eyes darted to the youngest princess as his ears flattened against his head. “We take offense to that term, Princess. On my world, you all would be food for us; would you like it if I called you all that?” Before the uproar could burst out upon the field, Diedrick held his hands up and quickly explained, “That’s not to say that I’m going to eat any of you -- because I’m not -- so please, treat me with the same respect you would one of your gryphon allies.”

All eyes once again turned to the two gryphons standing off to the side, and Steelbeak merely confirmed, “He’s right, you know. We are predators by nature as well, but that does not make us mindless monsters. I can attest to you all that his behavior has not changed from what I have come to know, and if he’s speaking, he’s clearly in control of his mental faculties.”

“Yes, I am.” Diedrick replied, glad that the gryphon that had taken him in for a time was standing up for him. “For example: the square root of three hundred seventy-four is 19.3390796058137. Is that good enough for you?”

Before anyone could even begin to work the numbers in their heads, Twilight Sparkle blurted out, “That’s right; by the stars, that’s amazing!” She then frowned and looked up at the clear blue sky, in which the sun was still shining brightly. “But wait, it’s daytime; aren’t lycanthropes only able to be out and about with the full moon?”

Diedrick smiled his own fanged smile and replied, “Long ago, my people had the same kind of legends. It was only after the legends became reality that we came to find the truth: that true lycanthropes that are in complete control of themselves can change at will, and at any time.” He then pointed a clawed hand to the pink pony that had startled him, causing her own ears to splay in shame. “Her startling greeting surprised me enough that it forced the change as a survival mechanism, as a scare like the one she just gave me would normally mean I was in trouble.”

“Oh…” Pinkie Pie muttered, turning her eyes down to the ground, “I-I’m sorry, mister. I didn’t mean to scare you -- I was just really excited to meet a new po- person.”

Diedrick looked to the sulking little pony and walked over to her, placing a large hand over the poofy mane she had and patting gently. “It’s fine, miss. Just please...don’t do that again. It isn’t your fault, but I tend to react negatively to being surprised like that.” He then cocked an eyebrow and squinted slightly in suspicion. “Though I must confess, I cannot fathom just how you were able to get so close without me hearing, seeing or smelling you.”

“To put it simply Captain,” Twilight Sparkle jumped in, “it’s simply one of those things Pinkie Pie is able to do that neither she nor anypony else can explain.”

At her explanation, he couldn’t help but catch one word that seemed off somehow. “‘Everypony’?”

Twilight Sparkle frowned for a moment before her eyes widened and she giggled slightly. “Oh yes, I suppose no one told you that ponies tend to change their pronouns around when speaking about other ponies specifically. It’s simply something that we’ve always done, and no pony’s quite sure when or why it started.”

‘Curious.’ Diedrick thought briefly before shrugging and offering a smile. “I suppose that’s understandable.”

“So, umm…” came a quiet, barely-noticeable voice from off to the side.

Princess Luna glanced around before looking behind her, noticing the final pony to be introduced was peeking out from underneath her dark wings. “Ah,” she began, gently ushering the pony out to where she could be seen, “I nearly forgot about you, dear Fluttershy.” She then turned her attention to Diedrick, who could only watch as the timid pony pulled Princess Luna’s large wing around her body in what he assumed was a comforting manner. “This, Captain, is Fluttershy. She is an animal expert known for her skill with any and all animals, and is also quite possibly the kindest pony you will ever meet.”

Diedrick’s sharpened senses picked up on several scents from Fluttershy that instantly put him at ease: the smell of damp wood, lush, green grass, and forest flowers. She smelled of clean, open air and...freedom. To put it simply, she smelled of the wild itself. Her scent calmed and called to him in a way he hadn’t felt before, and before he knew it, he was on all fours sniffing at the timid pony’s face and neck.

Much to everyone’s surprise, Fluttershy was giggling at the actions Diedrick was taking, even squeaking and squealing in joy in a way she would with any of the animals she provided care for. For a few awkward moments, all present could only watch in surprise as Fluttershy -- known for the second half of her name more than anything else -- was readily accepting the affection from the giant wolf-like being in front of her.

After a minute of this, Diedrick seemed to gather control of himself once again and stopped what he was doing, pulling back and clearing his throat nervously. “Umm...I-I apologize for that, Miss Fluttershy. I’m not sure what came over me.”

Fluttershy said nothing, and instead inched away from the protective warmth of Princess Luna’s wing toward Diedrick. She extended a hand very slowly, and Diedrick once again found he couldn’t help himself as he pressed the top of his muzzle into her palm, closing his eyes as the warmth from her hand flowed into him. Somehow, against all rationalizations or logic that normally ran through Diedrick’s mind, all he could think and feel was one thing:


This shy, smiling little pony was somehow speaking without words, telling him that he was safe with her, and he had nothing to worry about. The tension that he commonly held in his muscles -- ready to react at a moment’s notice -- began to uncoil. Somehow, deep within, he knew he could trust this pony.

“The gentle heart calms even the mightiest beast.” Princess Luna mumbled to herself as she watched her dear friend caress and nuzzle the massive lycanthrope.

Fluttershy spent a few moments petting and whispering quietly to Diedrick, appealing to his usually-subdued animal instincts, before slowly pulling away and nodding with a smile to Princess Luna. The princess knew that besides having an almost supernatural ability to understand and care for animals, Fluttershy was a phenomenal judge of character; that single, demure nod let Princess Luna know all she needed to about Diedrick.

As for the captain himself, he was currently still in a haze of blissful calm as the once-wary ponies now moved closer at the approval of their animal caretaker friend. It was only when they were within a few dozen paces that he snapped out of his trance, composing himself and standing straight upon two legs again.

Glancing to Fluttershy with an embarrassed cough into his fist, he did his best to sound calm and collected. “Um...while I cannot deny enjoying that, I would prefer you not to do it again; it was extremely embarrassing.”

A decent distance away, Celestia stood next to the two gryphons, in awe of what she was watching.

“This same creature defeated my guards like it was nothing, and then threatened to kill me to protect himself.” she muttered, mostly to herself. “And now, after only a few moments in the presence of the Element of Kindness, he basically became a giant puppy.”

“Are you convinced of his intentions now, Princess?” Steelbeak quipped, half smug, half playful chastising. “Perhaps you reacted rashly to that which you did not understand.”

And, as much as she wished they weren’t, Steelbeak’s words were true. Celestia could not deny that she had allowed fear -- fear for both her people’s and her own safety -- to cause her to jump to conclusions about the alien captain. The realization made the solar princess feel a bit nauseous, but she steeled herself as she set her jaw and began her short walk to the group gathered in the field.

Diedrick’s ears flicked as he heard the approach of another, and couldn’t help but tighten the muscles in his arms and legs as he noticed Princess Celestia approaching finally. Just as a quiet growl escaped his throat, a soft, yellow hand against the armor of his chest brought his attention back to Fluttershy, who was smiling gently as if to say, “It’s okay; you’re safe.” So, instead of snarling defensively, Diedrick simply waited for the solar princess to approach, subtly leaning into the small yellow pegasus in front of him.

“Hello again, Captain Diedrick.” Princess Celestia greeted amicably, a small smile upon her lips. As everyone waited quietly, Princess Celestia finally relented and sighed, her ears splaying in shame. “I...would like to apologize for how I behaved on the day we first met. I hope you can forgive me for my actions so we can move on from here as allies, temporary though it may be.”

Diedrick stared at the princess for a few moments before receiving a nudge from Fluttershy, prompting him to stand and address Princess Celestia. With a deep sigh, he answered, “I cannot say that I am not still wary of you, but your subject Fluttershy seems to think I should accept what you are saying, so I will.” Extending his large, clawed hand forward, he offered a faint ghost of a smile. “Let us start over: I am Diedrick Thompson, and it is a pleasure to meet you Princess Celestia.”

Silently thanking Fluttershy, Princess Celestia reached out her own hand and set it into Diedrick’s, which closed around hers with a deceptively gentle grip and shake. “It is a pleasure for me as well, Captain. I thank you for your trust in me.”

“With all due respect Princess,” Diedrick broke in, releasing the hand he held, “I place my trust in Fluttershy, not you.” He glanced to the animal caretaker beside him briefly before turning his attention back to the princess. “I’m...not exactly sure why, but I know she can be trusted, and she trusts you. Because of that, I assume we must have had a misunderstanding, so I’m willing to let bygones be bygones.”

Princess Celestia frowned briefly, but nodded regardless. “That is understandable, I suppose. I do hope with time that we can overcome this.”

“As do I Princess,” Diedrick muttered quietly, mostly to himself, “as do I.”

For a few moments everyone was silent and simply waited to see what would happen.

Eager to break the awkward silence, Twilight Sparkle stepped forward and announced, “Okay then! Let’s head back to Canterlot castle and we can talk there.” Before anyone could react, the horn on her head began to glow and the next thing they knew, the field disappeared.

The next moment, Diedrick found himself in a large clearing within what appeared to be a hedge-maze, complete with a decorative stone fountain and benches. Of course, with his size, everything seemed a bit...small. After a moment of glancing around, however, Diedrick realized something very startling.

“Did we just teleport?”

All present -- including two other ponies that he either hadn’t noticed before, or were already in the garden -- looked at him as if he were mad, only for Twilight Sparkle to seemingly realize the reason for his confusion.

“Ah, I suppose your kind doesn’t have access to teleportation yet.” the youngest princess mused aloud. She then grinned and explained, “Yes Captain, we teleported; more specifically, I teleported you and everyone else present to the mountain capital of Canterlot, which is the seat of power for all of Equestria.”

“B-but…” Diedrick began, his mind struggling to catch up with what had just happened, “teleportation? That’s supposed to be impossible!”

Again realizing where his train of thought was headed, Twilight Sparkle began to explain, “Magic allows unicorns and alicorns to bypass many of the natural laws of physics so long as the laws of magic and harmony allow it. Even though I’m sure by now you’re beginning to think that magic is a sort of ‘cheat’ for things, it has its own rules that we must follow.”

Diedrick could only blink in dumbfounded disbelief. His people had mastered space travel and began colonizing the galaxy through the marvels of hyperspace, but even with all the amazing things his technology was capable of, it was still forced to follow the laws of physics and the conservation of energy. To put it simply, teleportation was a mere fantasy seen in movies and read about in books, because it directly violated several proven laws of physics. It seemed, however, that through the power of magic and this “harmony” (whatever the latter was), the ponies of Arcadia had a natural ability that allowed them to do things Diedrick’s kind could never dream of being able to do through physics and technology alone.

And all that was besides the fact that they were apparently able to magically move a moon and sun.

“Captain, are you well?”

“Hm?” Diedrick hummed in response, glancing around the ponies staring at him.

“I asked if you are well, Captain.” Princess Luna repeated with concern clear on her face. “I imagine teleportation can be quite jarring for one not accustomed to it.”

Diedrick merely stared blankly at the night princess, his mind still unable to make sense of what had just happened. He and thirteen others had just traveled fifty miles in less than a second, and Diedrick hadn’t even felt it. Also, if what he had just been told was accurate, only one pony had supplied the power for such an action to take place.

“I, um…” Diedrick began, trying his best to get his thoughts in order, but ended up just waving the question away numbly, “I need a few minutes to come to grips with this, Princess.” The group dispersed at his words, save for Fluttershy, who offered him a comforting presence as Diedrick took a seat on one of the benches near the fountain. From there, the ponies and gryphons began speaking about what all this would mean for Arcadia.

Of the more mundane side of things, Celestial Guard Scootaloo found herself trying to explain to a five year-old foal just why he couldn’t run up and pet the “big doggie”.

At the same time, however, Celestia couldn’t help but try to understand just what she had overlooked that this young, timid pony saw. That’s not to say that she was in any way downplaying Fluttershy’s ability with animals -- and, when she overcame her shyness, anyone else -- but over three thousand years, learning how to watch and understand others was something she had to learn in order to keep Equestria growing strong. This, in turn, only meant one of two things: either she was slowly losing that ability, and soon she would no longer be able to decipher what someone was thinking merely by observing them (which was ludicrous, really), or this Captain Diedrick Thompson was so different that she simply couldn’t read him.

“You knew.” Celestia muttered as she felt a familiar presence brush up against her. “You knew that Fluttershy would keep him calm and gain his trust.”

Princess Luna nodded as she took the place next to her sister. “I had ‘a hunch’, as they say. Just as you have full faith in Twilight, I have complete faith in Fluttershy. I knew that she would calm his heart and allow him to accept that your actions were simply a misunderstanding. Had she not been there, I have no doubt things would not have gone anywhere near as well as they have.”

“He intrigues me.” Celestia continued, as if she hadn’t even heard what her sister had said. “In nearly three thousand years, he is the first one that would not bow, even if I asked it of him. To him, I am simply a bully -- and I suppose I was -- but not a princess or a solar alicorn.”

Princess Luna shook her head. “You are looking far too much into this, sister. He can only form assumptions based on what he has seen, as he is not a native Arcadian, and has apparently never heard of us before. To him, we are mythology brought to life, so I can only assume all of this is still quite jarring for him, regardless of the collected front he shows to us.” She then poked her sister in the shoulder with a slight glare. “Your initial behavior didn’t help matters of course, but now we have a chance to make things right...and perhaps make a new friend.”

Celestia could only shake her own head as she glanced over at their visitor. “He doesn’t trust me, and I can’t blame him. He is a lost soul looking for help, and I treated him as if he were a threat.”

Placing a gentle hand on her sister’s shoulder, Princess Luna began to explain, “Trust will come with time if you are honest and sincere, and you will have plenty of chances.” She then used a flicker of magic to gently pull Celestia’s chin to look at her, leveling a rather grim expression on her. “You and I both know that you will have all the time in the world to cultivate a positive relationship with Captain Diedrick.”

Celestia stood quietly for a few moments, mulling the thought over in her mind. “He will hate us; you know that, right? He will seek someone to blame, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will immediately place blame on the ones who can move the sun and moon.”

“Then our jobs will be to cultivate a strong bond with him as soon as we can to ensure that when that time comes, forgiveness will follow the outbursts of anger and sorrow.” Princess Luna wisely advised, knowing full well how much the support of friends could help one overcome seemingly-endless sorrow. “If he shares as much with true wolves as I assume he does, Captain Diedrick will need a pack to support him in his darkest moments. Just as we share much in common with our less-evolved cousins, Diedrick likely carries many instincts and behaviors that are the same as common wolves.”

Celestia took a few steps before plopping rather haphazardly onto one of the benches, grunting and letting out a tired sigh as she did so and also not caring about the curious stares she was awarded by doing so. “Well,” she ground out, trying her best to sound relieved, “I think it’s safe to assume he will follow Kindness to Ponyville, but that doesn’t leave us much time to form any sort of bond with him before the truth comes out. I can’t simply leave Canterlot to randomly show up in Twilight’s kingdom unannounced; the nobles would practically riot in the streets.”

Princess Luna snorted in an attempt to cull the laughter that threatened to erupt within her. “I do not believe we are thinking of the same ponies, sister; it is far more likely the noble houses would instead employ ponies to riot for them. They would not wish to sully their hooves with such ‘barbaric’ means that are clearly beneath them.”

Celestia snorted out a weak laugh, but nodded regardless as she raised her head to look at the ponies speaking to the alien captain. Yet again, as she watched Fluttershy remain practically joined at the hip to the large canine-like creature, that strange feeling of intrigue came over her, and she once again found herself hoping -- truly, more than she should -- that she could gain the trust of Captain Diedrick Thompson...though she couldn’t rightly place her finger on why she desired such a thing. Nonetheless, the current moment wasn’t about her. Captain Diedrick was trusting his gryphon allies when they stated that Equestria would be his best chance to get the information he needed, so Celestia knew she had to do all she could to be worthy of the trust Steelbeak placed in her.

With her decision made, she stood once again and called, “Celestial Guard Scootaloo, I request your presence.”

The soldier in question snapped to attention, gently guiding the young pony in her care toward the two princesses as she made her way to her superior. Arriving in front of the rulers of Equestria, she snapped a sharp salute. “Ma’am.”

Celestia gestured to the small group of ponies and one alien. “I ask that you accompany the captain to Ponyville and assure that his stay is safe for all involved. I have no doubt that once the upper nobility in Canterlot gets wind of this, we can expect some sort of trouble to start brewing, and I would like to try and head it off before that happens.” She turned her eyes once again Captain Diedrick. “He will need our help, whether he realizes it or not, so we must be there to protect him from whatever plot may take place. I have no doubt that he could defend himself, but I would also like to prevent an international incident before it happens.” Celestia turned her eyes back to her guard, only for her gaze to jump to the smaller pony that held her hand. “And you, young Primus -- I have a very special job for you.” The young pony’s eyes widened at the words, and Celestia had to fight to keep a serious demeanor, cute though the colt was. “I need you to be sure that the ponies of Ponyville -- namely, the younger ones -- come to accept him as simply another creature of this planet instead of an outsider. He will need your help to fit in, so I need you to make sure ponies know he is not to be feared, and that he can be a good friend if they let him; can you do that for me?”

Snapping his own hand in a salute, the young pony narrowed his eyes to adopt the most serious expression he could. “Yes Princess Celestia!” He then dropped the hand to his side, tilting his head curiously at the princesses. “Does that mean I can play with him?”

Celestia chuckled softly. “After he has settled in and if he is all right with it, then yes. In fact, I believe that showing that you do not fear him could do wonders for his status within society.”

“Yay!” Primus cheered, his shaggy rainbow mane fluttering around with his wings as excitement welled up within him. Suddenly realizing that he was being stared at and was receiving the “that’s so cute” smiles his unicorn mother always gave him when he did or said something adorable, he again took on a more serious expression and nodded firmly. “I won’t let you down, Princess Celestia.”

“I know you won’t, Primus.” Celestia replied, reaching out and gently patting the colt on his head. She then glanced to her guard and urged, “I think now would be a good time for you and your godson to get to know the Captain, Scootaloo. Good luck, and may you have an easier time than I will.”

Scootaloo held her tongue from retorting that it was the princess’ own fault things had turned out the way they did, but couldn’t stop a nearly-silent sigh that escaped through her nose as she nodded and turned, beginning to make her way to the rest of the group.

During all of this, Diedrick was trying to answer the different questions posed to him as he was kept calm by Fluttershy’s mere presence. Most of them were rather mundane -- have you ever met other aliens, can you do magic, what do you eat -- but finally, Twilight Sparkle thought it prudent to ask the question that everyone was thinking, but no one had asked until that moment.

“Are you stuck this way?”

While he knew she didn’t mean it in an aggressive way, he couldn’t help but notice the subtle wince she displayed at her own words. Nonetheless, Diedrick was not offended, as he knew the question was coming sooner or later.

“No,” he replied in a straightforward manner, “I’m not. After the adrenaline fully leaves my system, I’ll change back.”

Next, the soft-spoken Fluttershy asked another question he knew all had been thinking: “Does it hurt?”

Diedrick nodded slowly, locking eyes with the small pegasus at his side. “Every time, and like nothing you could imagine. Over time, however -- and with no small amount of conditioning -- I trained myself to quickly shift my form and remain coherent and alert enough to continue fighting if I need to.” He then shook his head as he chuckled humorlessly, remembering the first few times the change overcame him. “To say that the life my kind has to live is an easy one would be a bold-faced lie, but we make due. We found that instead of being a weakness, our ability to shift into our other form was a great strength that assured we survived as our planet’s entire climate began to shift into an ice age; while many species across the planet died out, we survived and flourished in the new world.”

Twilight Sparkle raised her eyebrow at a term that caught her attention, and she was silently hoping it wasn’t what it sounded like. “What’s an ‘ice age’?”

For a brief moment Diedrick assumed the pony was joking, but he soon realized she wasn’t. With a long sigh he explained, “An ice age is when the global temperature drops by enough that thick sheets of ice cover much of the globe, and only a small portion of the world near the equator is warm enough for broad-leafed forests to grow. Our world has transitioned from ice age to interglacial period -- the warmer period between ice ages -- since it was created, and ice ages nearly always coincide with widespread extinctions of creatures unable to survive in the cold, namely many reptiles and amphibians.” Diedrick knew he was withholding some of the truth, but it wasn’t relevant, and it was one of the few things about his people’s past that still made him a little depressed.

A gentle hand on his own brought Diedrick out of his negative thoughts, and he turned to see Fluttershy looking to him with concern in her eyes. Once again he found himself having a brief, yet meaningful conversation with her, and it ended with another very simple, yet profound feeling: “If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen without judging.”

While a part of Diedrick wanted to understand this strange bond he felt with Fluttershy, as well as the way she seemed to be able to communicate with him in an almost entirely non-verbal manner, he found himself enjoying the comfort of someone that understood him all the same. In many ways, he enjoyed it simply because words complicated the understanding of one person to another -- words could be used to lie, but body language was subconscious for the most part. It appeared that in only a few minutes, this Fluttershy had come to know him almost as well as his own family had, and that thought both confused and calmed him; nonetheless, he knew that if nothing else, he could count on her to stand by his side without hesitation.

“Captain.” Princess Luna’s strangely-commanding voice chimed in, drawing the attention of Diedrick and the ponies that surrounded him. He glanced over to the night princess -- who seemed to almost flow from one place to another in her starry black dress instead of walking -- and nodded to her to continue as she stopped in front of them. “My sister and I will begin searching our royal archives for every scrap of information regarding our cosmos and the stars in it, but in the meantime, you will require somewhere safe to stay.” She then gestured generally to all gathered in front of her, and smiled. “I believe Princess Twilight Sparkle and her friends will be able to find a place for you, and will help ease you into the town while we research.” She then held her open hand to the armored pony Diedrick had noticed before, along with a much younger pony that he assumed must be its younger brother or something. “This is Celestial Guard Scootaloo, and she will accompany you to Ponyville. And,” she cut Diedrick off before he could shoot back a barb of distrust at the action, “she isn’t there to ‘check up’ on you, as you are no doubt assuming; rather, she is there to be sure ponies from the surrounding areas do not purposeful antagonize you.”

Diedrick frowned skeptically, confused that it was believed he needed protecting from the natives. “That’s some trust you’re placing in me, Princess; are you sure that I’m the one who needs someone to look out for them?”

Princess Luna nodded with a smile, glancing once more to Fluttershy. “My friend here has told me all I need to know about your character, Captain Diedrick. I have no doubt that you are out of sorts -- and though you will not admit it, afraid -- but you have no ill will toward my people or anyone else. I trust you because I trust her,” she gestured to Fluttershy, who had the decency to look slightly embarrassed from the attention, “and I know Fluttershy does not associate with those who do not have goodness within them.” She then slowly reached out, Diedrick’s eyes following her hand all along, until finally resting her palm on the armored shoulder of the captain. “We can and will help each other, Captain; you have my word. And, I think if you get to know the ponies of Ponyville, you might find a few new friends to be made.”

While forming personal relationships on a world that he would be leaving from soon didn’t make much sense to Diedrick, he also recognized that it was always good to have allies in the cosmos, no matter how far away. After all, his coming to Arcadia was an accident, and though his people had become masters at space travel, anomalies did exist after all, which explained his arrival to a world so different from anything he was used to. What he did know for sure was that he would prefer to be with beings of such power and influence instead of against them.

That didn’t mean he would follow obediently like a dog, however; they would need to earn his respect.

Diedrick nodded as he stood, causing the princess’ hand to slide off his shoulder. “Very well, I will accompany them to this ‘Ponyville’. Is there anything you would have me do while I wait?”

Princess Luna shrugged helplessly. “Perhaps some rest and relaxation is in order, Captain. Something tells me it has been quite some time since you have simply ‘kicked your boots off’ as they say. Rest up, meet the populace, and sample the fare in town. We will assure you are well-provided for, and we will do all within our power to keep things calm for you.”

Diedrick sighed in annoyance. “Princess Luna, I appreciate it, but I cannot have nothing productive to do. Sure I’ll do my regular PT regimen, but that will only take an hour or two out of the day at most. I need things to keep my mind busy, and as a guest to your lands, I would have nothing to do. As I said: I appreciate it, but I need something productive to keep me going. More than anything else, a wolf detests having no purpose and no pack.”

Diedrick’s words confirmed what Princess Luna had already assumed of him: while he was truthfully only half-canine when it came to biology, he thought like a wolf, not like a...whatever his kind once was. Like nearly every canine on Arcadia (save for timberwolves, as they didn’t count), Diedrick valued having a pack to call his own, and a purpose in said pack. She realized, suddenly, where most of his anxiety and defensiveness must have come from: he was cut off from his home system and all he knew and recognized, which meant that he was isolated and likely very stressed. His reaction to Celestia’s actions became quite a bit more understandable, given his situation.

But, given his skills, an idea began to form in Princess Luna’s mind.

“How about a hunt?” she suggested with a grin, which only grew wider when she noticed the ears on Diedrick’s head perk up, alert and listening. She continued her explanation as she pointed toward the southwest, where Ponyville resided. “Bordering Ponyville is a wooded area known as the Everfree forest, and it is host to all sorts of undesirables that are a danger both to the native animal population, and the ponies living in the nearby towns. Recently, we have had increased activity within the forest by magical constructs known as timberwolves,” but before Diedrick could respond, she added, “and I do not mean them in the way you’re thinking. These creatures are not living in the way we can identify as true life, and they are quite literally made of wood.” Princess Luna sighed heavily as she thought of the recent lives that had been lost due to the timberwolves leaving the forest. “Our ponies are not equipped to handle this threat, and we have already lost one guard platoon in an attempt to deal with them.”

“So,” Diedrick began, feeling a comforting sense of purpose suffuse him once more, “you want me to go in this forest, find what’s causing these things to become so dangerous, and stop it; is that about right?”

“Correct, Captain.” Princess Luna answered, her smile taking on a much more somber tone as she remembered those lost to past endeavors to handle the threat safely. “The timberwolves are a native presence in the forest, but what has made them so bold as to leave the forest, we do not know. This source must be found and destroyed before any more are lost to its influence.”

Diedrick glanced to the dragon a short distance away, standing next to Princess Twilight Sparkle. “What about him? Something tells me a dragon could have handled things just fine.”

“Not without burning down the entire forest.” Spike replied, crossing his arms with a frown. “I know my limitations, and dragons aren’t exactly surgeons when we’re breathing fire. Even though it’s dangerous, the Everfree forest is an important environmental site that needs to be preserved. It goes without saying that torching over seven hundred acres of forest would be detrimental to the environment.”

Diedrick nodded slowly, understanding what he meant. “Okay, point taken. However, I can’t help but feel as if I’m being thrown a bone, pardon the expression.”

Princess Luna merely smiled at his words. “I could be dishonest and tell you that was not the case, but that would be a least in part. It is true that I am bestowing this request upon you to provide you with constructive work that will suit your skills, but it is also something that requires attention immediately. I fear if we wait much longer, the entire countryside will be at risk.”

Diedrick glanced around at the ponies, including the smaller armored one a few feet in front of him. “Why not any of them -- or even the guard? What makes me ideal for this job?”

“You mean besides the fact that you dominated gryphon soldiers in combat?” the armored pony -- Scootaloo, Diedrick remembered -- suddenly added in sarcastically. She rolled her eyes at his question as she explained, “We know what we are, and we know what we’re not; ponies can defend themselves very well, but we aren’t hunters, Captain. We have evolved the means to be alert to dangers all around us, but whether it be because of our culture or our biology, we simply aren’t suited to ‘seek and destroy’ missions.” She then leaned forward a bit, poking a single armored finger into Diedrick’s chest. “You, on the other hand, are a predator through and through, and we all know it. While most ponies would be wary of a hunter in their midst, we all know that you are more than capable of reigning in those instincts and using them for productive purposes. This is one of those times when we need your specific skills to help, and we all know you are capable of things no pony could ever do.”

“I don’t have magic or wings.” Diedrick pointed out, confused as to how his abilities trumped spells and flight.

“But you have the speed and precision of a pegasus on the ground, more strength than the strongest of earth ponies, and enough power to smash straight through all but the strongest of magical defenses. Sure, I could dart around an enemy really fast, but your reaction time is faster than anything we’ve ever seen before, and we all know you haven’t shown us what you can really do.” Scootaloo explained with a smirk. “I know a bluff when I see one, and a good bluff always conceals a palmed ace in case the bluff is called. So, while I’m sure you wouldn’t actually have shot our princess in the head,” everyone winced at that statement, but didn’t interrupt, “I’m also pretty confident you wouldn’t have needed a weapon to subdue her physically had she not levitated you.”

Diedrick raised his eyebrow, feigning confusion. “I’m not sure where you’re getting these ideas, but you might be building my abilities up quite a bit more than needed.”

Scootaloo glanced to all the others before nudging the smaller pony that held her hand, passing him off to his mothers before she suggested, “Then show me your real skills, right now. Prove to me that I’m wrong and I’ll drop it.”

“Umm, Miss Scootaloo,” Steelbeak called from off to the side, nervously, “that may be a foolish idea. I’ve seen him trounce some of our most powerful fighters as easily as if he were swatting flies.”

Scootaloo just smirked as she began removing her helmet, shaking out the flattened mane of short, violet hair. “Then he’ll have no problem against little ol’ me, right?”

Diedrick stared at the petite guard for a moment before looking to the princesses, from which he only received nods in response. The fact that the three princesses gave the go ahead for a bout against someone literally half his size was worrying, but only because he didn’t want to hurt anyone he didn’t need to. Nonetheless, he stood and made his way to a large, open part of the gardens, where he hoped no one would be hurt when he tossed the small pony like a ragdoll.

Much to Diedrick’s surprise, the pony looked oddly calm as she took a her place a few dozen paces away from him, and he once again looked away from her and to the princesses for approval. Unfortunately for Diedrick this was a mistake, as he watched in slow motion as Princess Celestia’s eyes widened as she looked on, but his reaction was too slow to intercept the headbutt to his muzzle.

Pain erupted throughout his entire face, and Diedrick only found himself mentally chanting the word “Impossible” repeatedly as he gathered his bearings and readied himself for another attack, his ears flicking around madly as he attempted to locate his opponent. He realized only too late where she was when a strong blow to the back of his head sent him reeling, and he growled in frustration as his vision swam briefly.

“You’re gonna have to do better than that, ‘Captain’!” Scootaloo jeered with a laugh as she made another pass, landing a strong kick to his ribs and igniting anger within him.

With a deep growl, Diedrick focused his senses and pinpointed the next place she was coming from, and with a single hand, plucked the dashing pony out of the air above him and slammed her to the ground as he prepared tear her armor apart. Before he could even start, however, a strong impact to his face knocked him silly, forcing him to relinquish his grip on his opponent.

Again Scootaloo gloated, further inciting the anger within him. “Is that the best the big bad doggie’s got? I’m a Celestial Guard; anything less than everything you’ve got isn’t going to be enough!”

Diedrick just barely felt his hackles raise at the taunt, only for the diminishing rationale within him to come to a conclusion: this was what she wanted. He was becoming frustrated and angry, and he knew better than anyone just how easy an emotionally compromised opponent was to defeat. With a deep breath and an eye-blink moment of time, Diedrick settled himself and trained his senses on his opponent once again, but this time with a clear mind and purpose.

Scootaloo was far more powerful than she seemed, and her buzzing wings allowed her to dart around the field quicker than he could, but her short range attacks were her weakness if he knew where she was and where she was going to attack next. Furthermore, her smaller size meant that she was using her speed and agility to deliver such force behind her blows, which meant that in a deadlock where she was unable to gather momentum, her blows to anywhere but his face would be annoying at best.

With a simple yet effective plan in mind, Diedrick baited his opponent by facing the opposite direction and feigning an attempt to find her, even though he could quite clearly hear the wings buzzing madly a few feet behind him. He heard the noise intensify as she drew closer for another attack...only for him to strike out in carefully precise retaliation.

He spun away from Scootaloo as she rushed forward, a gust of wind following in her wake, only to catch her by her ankle and use her momentum to throw her to the ground once again. Instead of pouncing, however, Diedrick used his superior strength to slam her around like a ragdoll a few more times, a grunt of pain and gusts of lost breath accompanying each blow. After a final slam to the grassy ground, Diedrick flipped the smaller pony onto her stomach and laid his weight across the backs of both knees while simultaneously locking her arms behind her back and holding them still with an iron grip.

Looming over his downed opponent and breathing heavily, he bared his teeth and growled out, “And now, you die.” Silence across the field followed his declaration as he lowered his head and rested his canines on the exposed throat of his prey, his acute senses easily able to pick up on the fearful responses her body was having as she faced her own death.

Just as all three gathered princesses lit up their horns with spells to save the guard, Diedrick pulled away and firmly yanked the guard to her hooves, releasing his hold on her and backing away to give her space. “Or at least you would be dead in a real situation.” He brushed himself off, picking blades of grass out of the fur of his head and muzzle, before focusing his sharp gaze on the defeated pony once again. “Be confident in your abilities, but never underestimate your opponent; in fact, always assume they are more capable than you are, as you will be less likely to make foolish mistakes that could cost you your life. However,” he then extended his hand to Scootaloo, and the surprise she felt was clear in her expression as he smiled happily, “you fought well, as there were not many even in the gryphon kingdom that were able to land more than a single blow upon me. You’ve earned my respect in that sense, but I urge you to temper your ability with humility -- arrogance can easily get you killed.” Diedrick waited patiently as the pony merely stared at him, adding, “That being said, I would be pleased to have you by my side as a comrade.”

Scootaloo stared at the large, clawed hand offered to her for a few moments before reaching out and placing her smaller hand within it, nodding firmly with a grin. “It would be an honor, Captain. You can count on me. Um…” she then pointed to his nose, “question though: how is your face not broken? That blow to your muzzle should have shattered bone.”

Diedrick rubbed his throbbing snout, just barely holding back a painful grimace. “You won’t be shattering any bone with me, but I can feel the bruises forming nonetheless. You have quite a bit of power in you for one so small.”

Scootaloo shrugged, wobbling a bit in dizziness from the headache that was starting to take over her. “When you’re lacking in size like me, you learn to work even harder to overcome it. Anypony who thinks that I’m going to be an easy target just because of my size will be in for a rude awakening.”

Diedrick couldn’t help but smile at the small pony. He was a visitor to a strange land that he did not fully understand -- an alpha without a pack to lead. However, much as he tried to fight the feeling, he couldn’t help but think to himself that he had just found his beta: his second in command. He liked this “Scootaloo” for her fiery attitude, prowess in battle, and refusal to respect someone simply “because”; he was forced to earn her respect through battle, and that was the way he had been raised. It was the way of the strong -- the way of survivors; it was the way of the wolf.

“Celestial Guard Scootaloo is at a level above the ‘elite guard’ you defeated so soundly when we made our first contact.” Princess Luna explained, a look of pride planted firmly upon her face. “I have no doubt that she is the best-suited for your own personal guard.”

Diedrick was about to counter that he clearly didn’t need a guard, but then thought about things a little more deeply.

He was an alien visitor to a land that was naturally going to be wary of him, and while he was sure he could defend himself if need be, it wouldn’t reflect well on his kind to be seen as short-tempered and violent. Scootaloo would be there not so much to actually protect him, but rather to assure that any actions taken that could get him in trouble would be executed by her, as she had the authority to take action if she needed to. However, more importantly -- to Diedrick, at least -- was that he liked the fiery little pony, and hoped that he could get to know her better with time.

“I would be honored.” Diedrick finally answered, offering a toothy grin.

Princess Luna smiled widely. “Splendid. I know that the two of you will get along just fine.” She then moved to the side, revealing Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and their son between them. “Lieutenant Rainbow Dash, Lady Rarity and their son, Primus, will help to settle you into society. Being seen around them or any of the others present here will raise awareness about you in a positive way, so it would be prudent to get to know them all.”

Diedrick raised his hand to gain attention before asking, “Um, not to sound disrespectful or anything, but what makes these ponies so important?”

Princess Luna smiled brightly, gesturing to all the ponies to gather around her. Once everyone had taken their places, she explained, “In Equestria, the harmony we experience is in no small part due to five important attributes:” she began walking around the semicircle of mares, starting first with the tall earth pony on the end, “honesty,” she then moved to the Wonderbolt officer, “loyalty,” the white unicorn was next, “generosity,” Fluttershy, the kind pegasus, “kindness,” lastly, was the bouncy pink earth pony, “and laughter. Together these five elements unlock the sixth element: the element of magic.” She placed a hand on the shoulder of Princess Twilight Sparkle, smiling gently to the smaller princess. “It is this harmony that allows our kind to harness the primordial magic of the planet to use for our own purposes.” She stepped back, gesturing generally to the six ponies that had stepped forward. “Together, these six special ponies represent what we call the Elements of Harmony, and they are also our kind’s greatest weapon against the darkness of the world. Through their special bond with Harmony, they are able to wield a power greater than anything our world has ever seen, capable of preserving balance in the world against even the greatest evils. Their friendship and dedication to Harmony has saved Equestria and the world numerous times, and I have no doubt they will do so again in the future.”

“I must admit, I’m intrigued.” Diedrick voiced, looking over the ponies that were mentioned. “Exactly what did they save the world from?”

“Me, to start with.” Luna answered without hesitation, a faded pain very clear within her eyes and posture. “I was not of right mind, and wished to bathe Equestria in night eternal.”

Diedrick quickly put the pieces together, realizing that “night eternal” for Equestria would have meant one side of the planet would be a frozen wasteland, while the other became a permanent firefield. He was slowly coming to terms with the fact that two ponies were responsible for the passing of days, which meant that if one should wish to, say, destroy the entire planet on a whim, they were fully capable of doing so. It was frightening to imagine that one being possessed more power than an entire battleship, and quite literally held the responsibility of millions of lives in her hands.

The thought alone made Diedrick a bit dizzy, if he was honest.

“And yet here you are.” Diedrick answered after a few moments, motioning to the night-pony.

The princess nodded, gesturing to the six ponies who were her salvation. “With thanks to them, Captain. Without them, I would have succeeded in my mad quest to force eternal night upon this side of the planet, and in doing so, would have destroyed life as we know it.”

“Don’t forget about Discord.” Rainbow Dash chipped in, frowning at the thought. “Before Fluttershy helped reform him, he was a pain in the a-” she stopped, glancing to her son before continuing, “...behind. He has power over anything and everything chaotic in nature, which means he could all of the sudden decide to turn gravity into apple butter.”

“Gravity to…” Diedrick mouthed to himself before violently shaking his head. “That doesn’t even make sense!”

“Oh, but what fun is there in making sense?” a deep, echoing voice sounded from everywhere at once.

Celestia, surprisingly, only offered a smile as she looked up at the empty air. “Speak of Discord-”

“And he shall appear!” the voice finished, a soft pop of displaced air accompanying the arrival of a suit-dressed draconequus. Despite the odd look of his goat-like face and the mismatched limbs that Diedrick could see, even the Captain had to admit that the burgundy pinstripe suit was very classy. The newcomer looked to Diedrick, his different-sized red-on-yellow eyes blinking at him curiously for a moment. “Ah, so you’re the visitor that’s caused such a ruckus recently. I have to admit, I expected something a bit more…”

“Chaotic?” Fluttershy offered, moving forward to stand next to Discord.

Discord smiled, nodding down at the gentle pegasus. “Quite so, dear Fluttershy. However, threatening regicide on old Sunbutt there proves just how delightfully fun he can be! I must admit, I’m intrigued.”

“Uncle Dizzy!” Primus shouted as he ran to the draconequus, who readily scooped the pony up into his arms.

As Discord greeted the little colt, Rainbow Dash couldn’t help but huff in annoyance. Despite the fact that she still didn’t completely trust the guy, Rainbow Dash had to admit that he was good with children. He was loopy, goofy, and liked pranks; what wasn’t to like for a young colt or filly? And Discord loved the attention, of course. The fact that it annoyed Rainbow Dash was just a bonus, to him.

Discord smoothly slung the colt up over his shoulders so that he was seated just behind his head, using his mismatched horns as leverage. After ensuring the colt was secure, he turned to Diedrick and held out his hand, which reminded Diedrick of a lion’s paw more than anything else. “Nonetheless, I foresee you being quite entertaining in the future, and I, for one, am quite happy to welcome you to Arcadia, Captain.”

Diedrick regarded Discord curiously for a few moments before reaching forward and shaking hands with him, finding the slightly off-kilter gaze a bit more intimidating than he would admit. There was simply something about Discord that told him he needed to be alert around him, and Diedrick didn’t like that feeling at all.

Still, a welcoming presence was better than nothing, he supposed.

“Pleasure to meet you, sir.” he greeted, giving Discord’s clawed hand a good shake before releasing it.

Discord waved the greeting away with a smirk. “I’m no soldier Captain, merely a spirit of chaos. Call me Discord, if you please.”

Discord looked to the others, who merely nodded their assent, then turned to Discord with a nod. “Very well, Discord. So, what exactly are you capable of?”

“Chaos is capable of many things, my dear boy.” he replied with a mischievous grin. “For example: I could turn your fingers into snakes.”

An odd feeling caused Diedrick to shoot his eyes to his hand, where indeed, there were now five small snakes, writhing where his fingers should be. With a yelp of surprise, he shook his hand out, only to notice that his fingers were not, in fact, snakes. He was momentarily torn between asking if what happened was real or not, only to quickly decide he didn’t want to know.

Diedrick shot a glare at the strange amalgamation of different animals, though the target didn’t seem to notice or care. Instead, he merely answered, “Oh, don’t worry though, because I have a feeling things will be rather exciting just by your presence alone. Welcome to Equestria, Captain.”

Diedrick focused on calming his racing heart as Princess Luna announced, “I believe all is in order for the time being, so we shall all bid you adieu until we meet again.”

Twilight looked to the princesses of night and day, and nodded firmly with a smile. “I’ll take care of things in Ponyville, and will keep you updated.” She then turned to all of her friends, as well as Scootaloo and Diedrick, and motioned for them to approach. “Well, gather ‘round. It makes it a lot easier on me if we’re closer together.” Discord set the young colt down by his mothers before taking a few steps back to clear away from the radius of the spell.
Celestia stood next to her sister as she watched the group gather together, only for them to vanish a moment later in a flash of magenta light, accompanied by a sound akin to thunder. She continued to stare at the spot they had departed from for a few moments, letting her mind wander aimlessly.

“Well I, for one, like him!” Discord announced with a grin and clap of his hands. “I think Equestria just got quite a bit more interesting with his arrival.” With a snap of his fingers, a cracked monocle appeared over his left eye for a moment, before it became a monocle-butterfly and flapped away. “He adds a bit of chaotic class, and I think you ponies could learn to accept a few more oddballs to balance things out a bit.”

“One denizen of chaos is enough, I think.” Princess Luna snarked as she threw a smirk Discord’s way. “Still, I think befriending another being that Equestria once feared could do the Captain some good. I believe that there are some things you understand about that situation that we could not.”

Discord shrugged his shoulders, knowing that the princess had a point. Besides, if such a thing meant more time spent with his dear friend Fluttershy and the delightful Pinkie Pie, well that was something he was more than willing to focus on. “Very well, I will see if I can’t pick his mind just a bit. Who knows: perhaps we’ll become just best friends.” The last words were said with a smile that quickly became too large for Discord’s face, and his head simply...fell apart. A poof of smoke later found a tiny version of him standing upon Princess Luna’s shoulder, wearing a military helmet and uniform, saluting smartly. “At oh-eight hundred a week from now, we’ll see if we can’t break down those walls and storm the fort!”

Princess Luna nodded as Discord popped into existence in front of her once again, this time at his proper size. “Thank you Discord, your help will be invaluable.” She then glanced to her sister, who was still staring blankly out towards Ponyville. “And, though I believe she needs to work for his forgiveness, I would appreciate it if you put in a good word for my sister.”

Discord turned his own eyes to the sun princess briefly, only to look back to the night princess and nod firmly. “I’ll see what I can do. I make no promises, though.”

Princess Luna pivoted on her hooves, looking out toward Ponyville in the distance. “An attempt is all I ask, Discord. Though he does not know it yet, the good Captain will need our support very soon.”

Diedrick and the ponies he found himself with reappeared in an empty field beside a massive farm, the Captain stumbling briefly as disorientation overcame him. After steadying himself, Diedrick took in the sights and sounds around him, trying his best to push to the back of his mind that they had just committed a crime against physics yet again.

The first thing he noticed was the farm itself, and the large heart-shaped fruits that hung from the branches of the trees. He assumed that this had to be the apple farm the orange mare had spoken about, and despite the situation, Diedrick found himself salivating at the sight of the fruits. He knew that at some point he would have to convince the apple-farmer to allow him the pleasure of tasting some of her crop.

It was only after thinking that thought that Diedrick realized how easily that became an innuendo of a sexual nature.

Shaking the thought away, Diedrick glanced around at the ponies that would be giving him room and board for however long it took for him to leave this planet. They were all gathering themselves from the jump of some great distance, but the shy one, Fluttershy, once again made her way to his side and offered her oddly comforting presence to him.

“So,” Princess Twilight Sparkle announced, “I think I have an idea as to how this should all be done:” she pointed to Fluttershy, who was gently holding the thickly-muscled arm of Diedrick, “Fluttershy will give you a place to stay for a few days, and from there, one of the rest of us will provide a room, and so on and so forth. That way, you’ll get to experience plenty of what our home has to offer, and will be given plenty of unique perspectives on everything. Is that acceptable?”

Diedrick glanced around at the small ponies, and nodded slowly. “That seems agreeable.” He then lifted his arms and began tapping away with clawed fingers at a small machine on his arm, which projected floating holograms into the air for a few moments before he closed them with a final press of a key, causing a chirp to emit from it before he placed his arm at his side once again. He glanced around and advised, “My ship will be landing in this field in a few minutes, so assure any who ask that there is no danger involved.”

Rainbow Dash quirked an eyebrow at this. “You just ‘called’ your ship to us?”

Diedrick shrugged his shoulders. “No sense leaving it out in the open when I can instead have it kept somewhere safe nearby.” He then glanced around, a thought suddenly shooting into his mind. “Wait, am I going to cause a ruckus just by being here? I dwarf all of you in size, and it’ll be quite clear that I’m a predator. I don’t know about your species in particular, but I know that the equines I’m used to are herd-based prey animals. I just don’t want to cause a panic from the mere sight of me.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes. “Please: Fluttershy walks around town with a bear sometimes. Someone that can think and speak for himself isn’t going to worry ponies in Ponyville. Besides, if this place can handle having Discord visit, it can handle you.”

Discord hadn’t seemed all that bad of a guy to Diedrick, but he knew the potential trouble one like him could cause, if the words about his abilities were to be believed. So, Diedrick simply looked to Fluttershy, who gave him a reassuring nod and smile, which calmed him greatly.

“Well,” Applejack spoke up, “Ah don’t know about tha rest ‘a y’all, but Ah’m plum tuckered and could use a good sleep fer tha night.” She then extended her hand to Diedrick, which she shook firmly once he had taken it. “Pleasure ta meet ya, Captain. Come see me iffin ya wanna sate that apple cravin’ ya got, and Ah’ll see if Ah can rustle up some good grub fer ya. Night, girls.” With a final wave, the farmpony hopped the fence of the apple orchard and made her way home.

Rainbow Dash stepped forward next, scooping up her son in the process and extending a hand to the Captain. “Well, it’s been fun, but I have to be back in Cloudsdale in the morning, and this little guy needs his sleep.”

Diedrick took the offered hand and nodded firmly. “It’s been a pleasure, ma’am.” He watched as the white unicorn -- the pegasus’ wife, if he remembered -- offered a polite smile before following her wife and son home, wherever that was.

“I’ll walk Pinkie home.” Twilight offered, motioning to the seemingly endless fount of energy beside her, who was subtly bouncing in joy even as the day wound to an end. “Spike, you make sure Fluttershy and the Captain make it home okay.”

The dragon saluted shortly before turning to his two charges. “Well, let’s get going, shall we?”

Finding it odd that Princess Twilight Sparkle put so much faith in a dragon that was four feet shorter than him, Diedrick could only nod and place limited trust in this drake, hoping that his presence would dissuade any panicked responses from the populace by Diedrick’s current form. Much to his surprise, other than a cursory raised eyebrow or whispers about him by the ponies they encountered on the way, Diedrick noticed that being in the presence of Spike and Fluttershy did wonders to assuage the fears of the townsfolk. However, it was clear that while there would not be riots or mass panics tonight, the following morning would be quite interesting for Ponyville.

As they rounded a hilly area that looked very much like the rolling hills of his home planet, Diedrick took notice of a quaint cottage near a large forest, which for all intents and purposes looked as if it had grown out of the ground itself. Grass and bushes made up the home’s roof, and innumerable bird houses could be seen built into the structure. If there were any doubt of Fluttershy’s passion in life, one look at her home was all Diedrick needed to see to know that she was an animal-pony.

“All right, here we are.” Spike announced, stopping a short distance in front of the home. He extended his hand to Diedrick and shook his hand once again. “I better get home before Twilight starts worrying. Fluttershy will help you with anything you should need, so don’t be afraid to ask. We’ll meet at the castle to start getting to know one another, so be ready about midmorning.”

Diedrick nodded silently and watched the drake as he left, still in awe that this magical world was full of so many mythical creatures of legend. Like wolves, dragons held a prominent place in much of his ancestors’ histories, so it was still quite the treat to meet Spike of the Jadefire. A gentle tugging at his hand brought Diedrick’s attention to the pegasus that would be offering him a place to stay for the night, and he turned to see her smiling face urging him on. Wordlessly, he followed as she led him to the cottage and opened the door to the dimly-lit home.

The scent of many different creatures was easily decipherable amongst the smells of Fluttershy herself and the cleaners she used around her home, but just like the pony, the scents only calmed his mind and relaxed his body as a feeling of safety and security overtook him. The odd feeling of trying to understand the way he felt washed over him once again, but his instincts were stronger, and demanded he relax in the presence of this kind pegasus.

There was still a question that was nagging at him, however.

“You don’t speak much, do you?” he plainly questioned, unsure and unwilling to think of a more tactful way of expressing himself.

Flinching slightly, Fluttershy stopped and turned around with a slightly ashamed expression, complete with splayed ears and wringing her hands. “O-oh, um, I’m sorry if it bothered you. I didn’t mean to, um, make you upset, Mister Captain, sir.”

Even with years of military training and experience on the front line of a major war, Diedrick felt a nearly overwhelming wave of warmth come over him at the sight of the stuttering, demure, adorable pegasus. He just wanted to scoop her up in his arms and pet her. He resisted...for now.

Instead, he merely waved her words away with a gentle smile. “I take no offense, Miss Fluttershy, I was merely making an observation.”

Some of the tension that had built within Fluttershy diminished, and she shrugged softly. “W-well, I just think that words can be so much more complicated. Things like body language and pheromone communication are simple when compared to, well, written or spoken words, but much of it is also instinctual, so we don’t think about it when we do it. Words can lie and hurt based on intent, but nonverbal communication is always honest.” She shrugged once again, reaching with her hand and brushing a few locks of her long, pink mane behind an ear. “I just thought you might be more comfortable with something like that, considering how your first meeting with ponies went.”

Diedrick kept his sharp eyes on the pony, able to clearly see her even in the failing light of day, and just silently observed her for a moment. After several seconds of thought, he answered, “Don’t be afraid to speak simply because of that, Miss Fluttershy. I don’t know exactly why, but I trust you enough to know that you truly have my best interests at heart.”

Fluttershy nodded once again, now staring directly into Diedrick’s eyes. “I know you might not want to admit it, but you’re afraid right now. Of what, I don’t know, but I know more than anypony in Ponyville just what it’s like to feel afraid.” Her wings flared out and she wrapped them around her body as she explained, “A lot of things are really scary, even in Ponyville, like the Everfree Forest, and thunderstorms...and, um...other ponies…” Her words trailed off at the end as she looked away in shame.

Once again Diedrick was struck with a wave of warm feelings for the adorable little pony, and couldn’t stop himself from padding forward and laying a large, yet gentle hand on her shoulder, causing her to slowly look up at him, her bright aqua eyes shining.

After a long few moments of simply looking into her eyes, Diedrick muttered, “I am afraid, Fluttershy.” Removing his hand and taking a seat on the floor, he rolled his shoulders as he removed his weapons to allow for a more comfortable stature, then lay back to rest on his elbows. “I am ashamed to say I fear for myself more than anything else, but I also fear for my people. I kept watch on one of the many trading lanes between jumpgates, and without my presence, I fear that I have left innocents open to attack from those that would take advantage of my absence.” He shook his head with an angry grunt, unable to completely contain the emotions roiling inside of him. “Hundreds or even thousands will die because I am not there; many will go hungry because supplies could not be delivered. I know I am not choosing to leave my post, but I cannot help but place blame on myself for winding up here on your world.”

“Um, how did you get here?” Fluttershy questioned quietly, now curious as to just how exactly this strong creature had found itself on their planet.

Diedrick shrugged helplessly. “One moment I was pursuing a rogue freighter that was responsible for the destruction of a peaceful colony ship. The next, I found myself sucked into some sort of magnetic storm in space. When I exited the storm, I found myself near your world.” Moving his arms so that he could fully lay on his back to stare at the ceiling, Diedrick let out a long breath as he recounted his travels around the cosmos.

Fluttershy was stunned. Beyond having explored every nook and cranny of his own world, Diedrick’s kind had colonized a sizable chunk of the galaxy they were born in, and through these “jumpgates”, were able to instantaneously move from one side of the galaxy to another -- a distance that would normally take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years to cross conventionally. Through their travels, Diedrick’s kind had come upon many other sapient races, -- some peaceful, others dangerously aggressive. It seemed that while this was the first time Diedrick had ever come across true magic -- and what he considered “mythical creatures” -- he was no stranger to meeting new races and cultures.

“We weren’t always like this, you know.” Diedrick stated after a long few minutes of complete silence. Gesturing to himself, he clarified, “I mean, my kind wasn’t always lycans, and we were much...smaller.”

Fluttershy nodded, and though her eyes could just barely make out Diedrick’s form in the darkness, Diedrick himself could see her quite clearly. “Well, did it happen?”

“As cliche as it sounds,” he began with a dry chuckle, “it was because of what we would consider a ‘mad scientist’.” He rolled his wrists, eliciting a few pops from the joints as he continued. “Basically, as the human race -- that’s what we used to be called -- continued to live and breed on the planet, a number of factors had slowly weakened us as a species until we began to die off, unable to survive on our planet any longer against a multitude of illnesses, both viral and genetic. Well, a small group of scientists had the insane idea to bond the DNA of humans with that of another, stronger animal, in order to overcome our own shortcomings. Our choices were rather limited by the fact that over 95% of all creatures that ever existed on our planet was extinct, but there were a few that had persevered alongside us, surviving where others did not. Sharks and a few smaller marine predators were among them, but the one that we shared most in common with was the wolf. We would have chosen an ape -- who shared common ancestors with us -- but all the great apes of the world had long ago gone extinct due to poaching, loss of habitat, and rapidly changing climate.”

“Did it work?” Fluttershy asked, very interested now. True that she didn’t understand science as well as Twilight, but she knew enough to be enthralled by the story she was being told.

Diedrick was very silent for the longest time, to the point where Fluttershy began to hear her own heartbeat in the utter quiet of her home, if she listened hard enough. Fluttershy was used to a noisy home -- a place where many animals congregated tended to be rather loud, after all -- so the sudden void of sound felt deafening.

“I suppose it did...but at a great cost.” Diedrick answered after a long wait, the sheer sorrow he felt for his people clearly audible in his tone. “I suppose in a way, it gave natural selection a leg-up against all we had done to preserve ourselves.” He shrugged. “We tested it years before the Great Sundering, and came to understand that the risks far outweighed the benefits of it...but apparently not everyone thought so. Doctor Christoph,” he shuddered ever so slightly, the slight motion just barely visible in the dark, “decided we needed to be ‘cleansed’, and released his creation on us all in the form of an airborne virus bound to the common cold infection.”

Fluttershy moved closer and placed her hand on the trembling knee of Diedrick, the action causing him to roll an eye toward the pony at his side as she asked, “A-and what happened?”

Diedrick held her gaze for a few moments before answering, “Billions died. The bodies of most were not accepting of the change, and the first time it happened for them, their bodies quite literally split apart. The next few years were spent in constant fear, each person wondering if when -- not if, but when -- the virus came to them, they would die horrifically. This period of time came to be known as the Great Sundering.”

“Oh my goodness…” Fluttershy whimpered, only able to imagine just how terrifying every second of life would be for someone having to go through that, unsure if they would survive another moment.

Diedrick nodded faintly, both unable because of his position against the floor, and unwilling to do much more at the moment. Again silence enveloped them both for an extended length of time as they both thought of the trials of Diedrick’s people. For Diedrick, this meant empathizing with the many that died so that he could live, while Fluttershy could only try the best she could to keep from crying because of all the sorrow she could hear in Diedrick’s voice.

“And then the ice age hit, and even more perished.” Diedrick continued, his tone increasingly sorrowful. “After so much time spent polluting the planet without care, entire civilizations disappeared under ice and freezing temperatures. Much of my people’s history was lost because of it, and in the end, only a few thousand of us remained across the entire planet. Those that remained were forced to pick up the broken pieces of our race, and we swore then and there that we would remember and learn from the past, so that it would never be repeated.” He then shrugged. “Unfortunately, evolution slowly began to branch our race into two distinct people: mine, the people of the sun, and the others, the people of the moon.” He rolled his wrist around as he explained, “My people held onto their mental faculties and kept the ideas of culture, music, science and such alive, but our ‘cousins’ became ravenous beasts that were completely at the mercy of their instincts.” Diedrick let out a long breath as he closed his eyes, remembering the stories from his youth. “Great battles were fought, and many more perished, but in the end, the others were eradicated, allowing us to flourish in the new world. We became the dominant species on the planet, and we have done the best we could to assure the sins of the past did not become the sins of the present.”

Suddenly, before Diedrick could continue, he contorted in pain as a deep growl left him, and after only a couple disturbing seconds of pops, crackles, and squishing noises, the relatively furless form of Diedrick lay in the same place the giant wolf had only a few moments before. Fluttershy, on her part, was more than a little concerned, but reminded herself that this was apparently normal for Diedrick, so she simply offered a comforting presence to him as his breathing leveled out and he closed his eyes.

“Quite a bit less painful than the forced change from earlier today, but it was certainly not comfortable.” Diedrick explained, answering Fluttershy’s likely-unspoken question. “I’ve dealt with it for thirty some-odd years now, so I’m used to it.”

Fluttershy had recoiled in surprise when the change back to his “normal” form had taken place, but scooted closer once it was clear Diedrick was all right again. With a slow motion, she laid a hand on his left shoulder, offering him a kind smile. “I’m so sorry that pain is such a regular thing for your kind.”

Diedrick turned his eyes to Fluttershy, now unable to see her as well in the failing light with his suddenly-dimmed vision. Offering a smile of his own and a gentle shake of his head, he explained, “That pain reminds my kind of what we had to fight through to survive, as well as the cost of our past misdeeds. It ensures we always remember our sins and do not repeat them; never again will we seek to control our own nature when the time has passed for us.” He shrugged, unable to do much else when he truly thought of where life ultimately headed. “Evolution and extinction are a part of nature, and when the time comes for our race to fade into the annals of time, we will accept it graciously and with pride, knowing that we cheated death as a species once already. We were the top of the food chain not once, but twice in two different ages of the Earth, and that is something to be proud of, I think. We created technology that our predecessors could only dream of, cultivated some of the greatest artists that ever lived, and brought about peace within our own by assuring that no matter what, we worked together. No more would we fight amongst each other when there were thousands of other galactic races that would like nothing better than for us to destroy ourselves. Through near-annihilation, we were brought together as a species, and we work every day to preserve that togetherness.”

Before either of them could continue the conversation, a trio of knocks at the door preceded it opening and closing, and the familiar scent -- faint though it was because of Diedrick’s dulled senses -- announced who the newcomer was before Diedrick even saw her.

“Celestial Guard Scootaloo, I had nearly forgotten about you.” Diedrick greeted.

The guard entered the room and nodded to the two, her trained eyesight able to pick them out in the faded light of the waning day. “Yeah, sorry about that. I had to meet with the mayor and work out some things before I made it here, just to be sure everything was ready for you and such. Everything should be good now, so long as you don’t start hunting ponies.”

“That depends on how good they taste.” Diedrick quipped playfully, only to hear a gasp from Fluttershy in the dark. He looked in her direction and explained, “That was a joke, Miss Fluttershy. I don’t hunt sapient creatures.”

The shy pegasus shrank behind her mane, embarrassed. “O-oh, sorry. I just...n-nevermind.”

“I must hunt and eat other living things to stay healthy, but I will not be doing so to any ponies. This Everfree forest seems to be a place most ponies avoid, so I will hunt there in order to keep my less-desirable proclivities out of sight and mind.” Diedrick explained blandly, knowing that any prey species -- no matter how evolved they might be -- felt uncomfortable at the thought of a carnivore hunting and killing to eat the flesh of a recently-living creature. He was no stranger being the subject of cautiousness, so he knew how to reassure others about it.

Thankfully for Diedrick, Fluttershy seemed oddly okay with it, once she overcame her fear of him eating ponies.

“Oh...well, um, that’s okay. I know that you can’t help what you are or what you have to eat, so just, um, t-try and keep from eating any of my animal friends.” Fluttershy requested softly.

Diedrick nodded. “If you point them out to me, I’ll be sure and refrain from doing that.”

“Well,” Scootaloo announced, reaching out a hand to Diedrick to help him up, “I think it’s time we all get some shuteye. From what Princess Twilight told me, your days here aren’t exactly going to be empty, so we should all make sure we’re well-rested.”

Fluttershy nodded in agreement. “Pinkie will want to throw you a party as a welcome to Ponyville, so I think Scootaloo’s right -- we should all get some sleep.” She then stood and fluffed her wings, turning and looking Diedrick up and down with a faint frown on her face. “Oh dear, I don’t think you’ll fit in my guest bed.”

Diedrick pulled himself up from the ground with Scootaloo’s help, and arched his back, eliciting a few pops before he righted himself and let out a long sigh. “That won’t be a problem, Miss Fluttershy. If you don’t mind, I’d actually like to sleep outside tonight.”

Fluttershy gasped at his words, her wings flaring slightly. “O-outside? Why?”

Diedrick shrugged. “To be honest, I enjoy open spaces as opposed to any sort of confinement, no matter how comfortable the space may be. There wasn’t really any choice when I spent time with the gryphons, but here, the grass is soft and the air is clean. There were no clouds in the sky either, so I can only assume it won’t rain overnight. I think a night under the stars would be nice, anyway.” He then gestured to the armored pony beside him. “Guard Scootaloo may appreciate a bed, though.”

“Nah, I’ll be okay.” the mentioned pony countered with a grin. “When I was just a filly, me and my friends used to sleep out underneath the open sky a lot.” She then shrugged, poking Diedrick in the shoulder with a finger. “Besides, I was assigned to watch over you, so I go where you go.”

Fluttershy looked to her two guests and bit her lip in worry. “O-oh, well um, a-are you sure? I don’t want to-”

“We’ll be fine, Miss Fluttershy. We appreciate the concern, however.” Diedrick assured, hoping his host would be calmed by his words, if only a little.

Still concerned, yet unwilling to argue the matter, Fluttershy nodded. “Well, okay. Just know that my door is open in case it gets too cold, o-or it rains or something. You both are welcome to enter whenever you feel like it.”

Diedrick nodded to the kind mare before turning on his heel and striding toward the door, Scootaloo following in tow.

A few moments after the door shut, Fluttershy let out a long sigh and shook her head, forcing herself to remember that Diedrick was plenty strong enough to defend himself, and a Celestial Guard would be providing backup should anything happen. Still, she was a born worrier, and found herself concerned over their wellbeing nonetheless.

Lifting her shirt a bit to get at the pouch that was belted around her waist, Fluttershy fished out a small yellow plastic device, flipping it open and pressing a few numbers on a keypad. After a few moments of bell-like tones, the line picked up with a chipper, “Hello?”

“Hello Twilight, it’s Fluttershy.” the pegasus answered softly, smiling just from the sound of her friend’s happy tone.

“Oh, hello Fluttershy! So, how did things go?” the pony on the other side of the line questioned curiously.

Though Twilight couldn’t see the action, Fluttershy shrugged to herself. “Well, he seems to be comfortable with me. I can tell he misses home, but I think he’ll be okay so long as nopony purposefully provokes him. If they do, that’s why Scootaloo is here.”

“Well, here’s hoping none of the purists find out about him, then.” Twilight replied, and the disdain could clearly be heard in her voice. “It was bad enough when I had to deal with them; I shudder to think of what they might bring out of the Captain.”

Fluttershy nodded to the empty room. “And he doesn’t have the ‘royal voice’ either. Oh dear, I don’t want to think of what he’d be capable of if somepony actually gets him angry.”

“My point exactly.” Twilight agreed. “And even with me, Spike had to calm me down, if you remember. If he wasn’t there to keep me from going into a full alicorn surge, there wouldn’t have been a Ponyville today. Captain Diedrick isn’t nearly as restrained as I am either, so we need to be sure we keep the purist group members away from him at all costs. If they find him and hurt him, it will irreparably damage Equestria’s relationship with him, but if he defends himself and hurts a pony, the law states we have to take him into custody, which would end with the same result: losing what little trust of his that we have. Either way, it’s a no-win scenario.”

“I understand, Twilight. I’ll ask my animal friends to be on the lookout for a few of the key members.” Fluttershy assured. “From there, we’ll just need to be alert to any newcomers in Ponyville.” A long silence followed her words, as she didn’t know what else to say; she didn’t like the thought of needing to be wary of other ponies for the sake of another.

“I don’t like this either, Fluttershy,” Twilight explained, seemingly reading her friend’s mind, “but we can’t risk this. You heard what Princess Luna told us yesterday: Diedrick is our priority above all else, right now. She sees something in him, and we can’t risk turning him against Equestria.”

“Well,” Fluttershy began, glancing out of her window towards the field she saw Diedrick heading towards, “we can start preparing for all that tomorrow. For now, I think we all need to get some rest to make sure the Captain is well looked-after.” Letting out a dainty yawn, she rubbed her eyes before continuing with, “And I have to be awake really early tomorrow to meet with Trixie.”

“Oh,” Twilight exclaimed with an implied grin, “so the first date went okay, then?”

Fluttershy blushed in embarrassment regardless, even though it was true. “Y-yes, and we’re meeting for breakfast tomorrow.”

A faint giggle could be heard from over the line before Twilight answered, “Well then, I’ll let you get to sleep so you can dream about your pretty unicorn fillyfriend. Goodnight, Fluttershy.”

Her blush increased tenfold, but Fluttershy was still able to offer a soft, “G-goodnight, Twilight.”

With a click, the line hung up, and Fluttershy closed the device and set it upon her bedside table, having made her way upstairs during the talk. Since she lived alone, Fluttershy whipped off her shirt and skirt shamelessly, throwing them both in the hamper in the corner before slipping herself underneath the sheets of her bed.

There was no doubt that big changes would be coming with Captain Diedrick in their land, but Fluttershy only hoped that she could show him that Princess Celestia’s behavior was a fluke, and that he could have friends in Equestria. Fluttershy could read him well enough to know that he felt very alone and isolated, so she hoped that the freely offered friendship would help bring him out of the shell he held around himself to protect him from the hurts. Fluttershy knew this about him because she did the same for many years, shutting herself in and away from others to avoid getting hurt.

Perhaps though, with time, she could show Diedrick that it was okay to open his heart.