Conflagration: Contagion

by GearMane

First published

The once human and now pony mare, tries to find both meaning and trust months after her arrival.

Once a human, now a mare.
The soul and mind that crossed over into Equestria and inhabited a wanted criminal now struggles to find meaning, trust and most importantly of all, friends.

What Dreams Shouldn't Become

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The beginning of the day, same as always. The sun blared it's harsh rays inside the window down onto the bed. It was time to get up. The mare rolled from the bed and onto the floor, remembering to make the bed and she trotted slowly to the window in her room. There were no bars, no guards outside, no tether to keep her in this place, but still she was here.

Ponyville was beginning to look better though the window. Slowly rebuilding itself to it's former glory. Even if it was a little empty. The wooden houses were getting an update, and everypony's new choice was stone and metal, nothing that would burn as easily as it did before.

Twilight's monster, her dirty little secret. It was the looks she got when passing the other ponies in town. The quiet muttered breath, cold stares and shuttered doors, it all began to become too much to bear. Nopony would talk with her, colts and fillies hiding behind their parent's hooves. Even though the situation had been fully explained, she was still wearing the skin of a monster.

Three months. It only took twenty one days to form a habit, to make a change for the better or fall into a deep rut where the sun wasn't able to shine. After that period of time, things would flow naturally. No matter how uncomfortable that habit was. Everything became a habit.

The weight of everything she bore felt heavier today. She didn't want to go outside anymore, it was too painful to wander around, not welcome anywhere. No place in town would have her, and the Golden Oaks library where she now lived had become that of a guided cage. A reminder that even though the mater had been resolved, the decision to come here was a selfish mistake.

Those couple of days lingered still. Her arrival in Equestria and the events that followed. Imprisonment and the treatment inside, though it was made lighter from a special visit from a stallion, though in hindsight, it was probably not the best idea. The 'execution' though, the rope tight around her neck. She shuddered at the thought.

After Ember had been dealt with, the new mare was faced with two choices: Stay in Canterlot under the guidance of the Princesses, or stay with Twilight in Ponyville. Neither seemed like the better choice, but chose Ponyville as it felt more like a familiar place.

Even in the clear, there were restrictions. She wasn't allowed to leave Ponyville proper without Twilight as an escort. She was also given a specially crafted horn ring, similar to the suppressive studding from prison, however this one was more decorative, lighter and limited magic, not suppressed it. It's limit was that of simple manipulation, allowing her to practice levitation without risk of turning everything nearby into ashy carbon. It was a better instructor than the private lessons with Twilight, as she was able to practice and use it anytime.

She now peered out the window from her third story bedroom. It had been emptied and cleaned when she arrived in Ponyville. Now it's wooden walls were barren, the bed sat in the center wall and an empty nightstand with a single half burnt candle and stacks of books were the only indications that anypony lived in here.

The bed was stacked with blankets. Though it was the early fall, the nights were not cold enough to merit such a stockpile. As time went on from her arrival, her body became colder and colder, warming just slightly when by a fire. There was no answer as to why this was, Twilight didn't even know, but her hooves were almost always cold.

From the height vantage she was able to see most of the town. Stores and homes already rebuilt near the tree and the blackened earth of the bare ground where construction was not yet started, where homes had once stood.

From between two buildings, roughly a hundred feet away was a figure bathed in shadow. From the direction of the body, and the way the head was angled, it was looking directly at her, in the window. The sun bathed the area in light, defining the figure a bit more. It had no mane to speak of, it looked as if it was shaved to be level with the rest of the form. It's tail was a large mass, the sun didn't pierce it. The entire body of the pony was grey, no indicating marks anywhere, entirely grey.

The mysterious pony, who's gender couldn't be identified at this distance, turned tail and started off between the two structures. Sunlight glinted off it's body in an odd fashion. It was wearing armor of some kind, still, the distance was hindering. She thought nothing of the shape as it disappeared around the corner. Every pony in town knew where she lived, and accusing glares from were often cast into her window. Now a guard was glaring at her.


It was Twilight, she always was up before her, making breakfast and tea for the morning. Coffee apparently didn't exist here. Eggs as a meal item themselves were out of the question and the cinnamon cereal squares were definitely out of the question. Breakfast in Equestria was always sub-par in comparison.

"Anya?" She asked again, moving closer to the mare staring out the window.

It wasn't the best pony name. but then again she was never that creative to begin with. However, it was simple and stood out in a world full of face-palm obvious names that could be figured out with little thought. It was far flung from her created character though, a headstrong pony, capable of everything thrown at them. She was quite the opposite.

"Yes?" Anya replied, quite timidly, turning her body as the tone her name was said sounded as if she was in trouble. She didn't want to admit it, but Twilight scared her, something seemed off. The lengths she was willing to go, in blind rage months ago. Things were different, but she was still capable. At times her temper would flare, and Anya would watch as Twilight had to stop herself from swinging at her with a hoof.

"Later on today, we are going out for your weekly training. For now, breakfast is ready." Twilight informed her.

"Ok." she said simply.

Every Sunday,(or what passed as Sunday here) Twilight took them both to a vacant desert, somewhere in Equestria where nopony would get hurt. There she had the ring removed and began to slowly learn how to control the power she now possessed. Every failed spell became more glassed sand in the wastes, creating a rather large area that looked like a war zone. It went to prove that the problem wasn't a mental one, rather that something was wired backwards in her brain, as other unicorns' failed attempts at spells just fizzled out. Her's exploded in a fireball. It would have been useful elsewhere, being able to turn rocks into magma, sand into glass and metal into a boiling pool of slag.

Truth be told, she hated the training. It was always nerve racking, Twilight becoming visually frustrated every time one of the higher level spells failed. As much apprehension as Anya had, Twilight seemed to carry more, and her vocal reaction to each track of blackened and glassed sand made it obvious.

Despite the amount of study, and control of simple spells, every time she felt the higher tier spells slipping away when she called upon them, casting the gathered energy out in the form of flames and searing temperature. However decimating the burned land was when she was done, there was a small upside. Flames, summoned or not never seemed to be able to touch her, squelching fires and dimming candles when she was near.

Anya followed Twilight down the wooden stairs and to the additional kitchen that was built at Twilight's request. It was a stone walled structure with a soapstone floor and a large cast iron stove flanked with a pile of split timber. Lower level branches that had grown out became cabinets, the branch cut into and a door shaped to put the utensils in. The roof was thatched with reeds and every summer they were replaced, leaving the kitchen area open during the hottest months. Eating at a table with the sky clear above must have been an experience.

Today they were having croissants, tea and a small bowl of butter. It was a dainty serving, however in a land where eighty percent of the countryside was edible, there was no starving. However, eating flowers from somepony's window box was frowned upon.

During breakfast, a question popped up into Anya's mind. She didn't know how old her body was. The question had slipped her mind, and now that it was three months in, the reminder of time passing had brought it to the forefront.

"Twilight," she paused, letting the unicorn finish her sip of tea.


"How old was she, Ember?"

"She was twenty two, if I remember correctly haw you calculate your years. Pony-wise, she was eleven."

"And how old are you?"

"That's not really a question you should ask other ponies, as it's very impolite. But you didn't know. I am going to be fourteen this year." she nodded.

"And how long is the general life span of a pony?"

"Living to the end of natural life, we generally live to be eighty. That's in pony years."

Anya quickly doubled that, to make a hundred sixty human years. Though Equestria had nearly an additional month to it's calendar year, that was still a very long time. It took two cycles of a year for them to age an actual year, with what Twilight called a 'Midway' party on the non-marked birth years. Still, she had the better part of a century and a half in front of her. And why they calculated every other year for age was a mystery, Twilight didn't even know it's origins.

"When is a pony considered an adult?" She continued the line of inquiry.

"It all depends on the pony. We don't put emphasis of specific age ranges here. Some are more capable when they are eight than many ponies who are thirteen. I believe I remember you saying that there are three transitional ages. At twelve you are taught about procreation and genders, at eighteen you are considered an adult and are legally capable of several things, and the final stage at twenty one when you would have access to everything legally." Twilight smiled, showing her ability to retain information quite well.

"That is a general overview of my world yes."

"Odd that your society has age marks like that. There is very little standing in anypony's way once they prove they are capable."

"So a colt or a filly can walk into a bar and order a drink?"

"I don't see why not. In a general fashion, they know what alcohol is and what it does to a body. I don't see why they would though, I'm sure their parents have several bottles around the house for cooking and consumption. In addition that it doesn't have the stigma here as your question would indicate."

Anya sighed heavily. Learning things that should take several years, in the span of three months, was incredibly taxing.

"Don't worry. There are only two written laws of any precedence: Do not steal and do not murder. Those are the base laws, but as a unicorn, there are a few more. The Dispensation of Spells and Interference of Spells. The Dispensation is that each unicorn wanting to learn a higher level spell must receive authorization to use such. The Interference is meant to keep unicorns from changing property or other ponies with magic. First offense is a two month period in studding, and continued offense will result in horn removal."

Anya had just grasped the ability to move objects without flattening them, and began to use levitation to help her from the lack of hands she now had. Having that removed would be unthinkable. From the disgusted look on Anya's muzzle, Twilight spoke again,

"The horn grows back, it just takes the better part of a decade. However it is a very stifling, but quite called for in certain circumstances."

Breakfast was over, and even though Twilight's enlightenment was just that, as much as she tended to drone on after each bit of information, Anya just didn't feel like listening today. Normally she would have sat for hours, taking in everything she could.

Her stomach still growled, even after three cups of tea and two heavily buttered croissants. The park on the edge of town was always a great place to visit. The grass near the edge of the field was left mostly un-cut, and the longer it seemed to stand in the sun, the sweeter it became.

"Twilight, can I go to the park?" Anya asked, she always had to let her know where she was headed, just another thing she had gotten used to.

"That's fine with me, just remember that after lunch we are headed to the desert for a few hours." Twilight reminder her again.

Anya washed out her cup and set it back on the table. Most of the dished were never used, just a few cups for tea, the kettle and a single large serving plate. Other than the special call from Celestia, Twilight was a bit of a homebody, spending her time reading and helping other ponies select books.

She trotted to the door and jumped in shock as something crawled between her legs. It was a lengthy lizard creature almost four feet long, small stubby wings on his body and a long snout full of razor sharp teeth with twin small horns jutting from the rear of his head. It's color pallet was friendly, but the rippling muscles that could strangle anypony to death in seconds once wrapped around them. Smoke billowed out it's nose and she shouted.

"Jesus Christ! Spike, you scared the shit out of me!"

Twilight ran into the main floor of the library to see what the cause for alarm was. Spike moved like a snake and darted up her leg and coiled himself around her torso and neck. She shot a look at her, one that stated 'Nopony yells at my dragon'.

"Sorry..." he squeaked, rather timid for a dragon.

"It's just... Christ. You just scared me, that's all." The dark blue mare pushed a hoof to her chest, feeling her heart pounding out of her rib cage. It was one thing to imagine creatures like that, but the less-than-friendly appearance of Spike in reality was enough to make the mare piss herself, and she nearly did.

The birds were ok, landing near or on her when she was outside, but a smaller version of something out of that dragon slaying game darting about made her feel tense. No matter how gaily colored he was. The fully grown ones must have been soul shattering. She shivered.

Twilight continued her gaze, being the protective mother that she was had become. After all, she was the first one he saw and had been taking care of him since then. For what end that would serve, nopony knew, but it was something and it wasn't going to change.

Lowering her head and ears, she stated, "I'll just be going then."

She went to the door and slipped on her satchel, a single shoulder mounted bag. It was much easier to put on than saddlebags, though had a vastly smaller storage space. Inside it was a thick folder with a document from Princess Celestia, explaining who she was for anypony that hadn't yet been told, and a thick book entitled "Spells for Advanced Unicorns: Vol 2".

Last night she had found a pair of scissors and attacker her mane and tail. She didn't like the long hair that Ember had sported, it was always getting in her way. Instead she snipped the length of her tail in half and clipped her mane back to no taller than her horn. It would have been called dyke-ish, but that word didn't exist here, and she wasn't going to start using it. She already looked dramatically different, and once outside it's effects showed immediately.

Trotting down one of the main veins of the city, no pony turned tail to run. They didn't hide their children or cast accusing stares. Everypony else carried on as normal. If she had any Bits, she was confidant enough to walk into any of the shops without fear of being run out. It would seem that the ponies were superficial, or just used to how each one looked considering they almost didn't change that at all.

The park was almost full. On a nice day such as this, everypony was out with their family and enjoying the outdoors while it lasted. It was late in the year and the weather was going to change soon. Anya walked across the neatly kept grass to the line of trees, the limit of where she could go. Settling under the tall grass of a tree at the edge of the park and loosing the satchel. She began to eat away the grass in front of her, eventually making a hollow area to settle in.

Settling in the sun, she began to feel warmer. The day was fair and nopony else seemed to need any clothing to keep them warm, but Anya still felt cold even in direct sunlight. It was still better than being away from it, but not enough to stave off the cold that seemed to creep inside constantly.

It was laughably odd. She was now living in a tree and eating grass because of hunger. Back home this was psychotic behavior. Anya sighed, remembering again what she had lost in the transition. It was eating at her to keep these comparisons going. It was torture to hold the faintest hope that she was going to be able to get back. If Celestia was true to her word, her parents would at least know what happened, even if they never understood it. She turned her attention to the spell book.

Spells were drawn out in parts, or a Scrawl as they were known here. Some of them were a mere symbol surrounded by a circle. Others were master works of art in themselves, comprised of several symbols, surrounded by masterful line work that feathered out.

They were broken up into four pieces as a direction on a clock. The top was elemental attributes, what each spell had as it's requirement, it any. The right side was physical attributes, left side was mental attributes, and the lower portion was magical. Each had their own need to fulfill the spell successfully. A large portion of the time was spent decoding these images, as to what they meant.

There was one that caught her attention. It was a spell that altered the coat and mane permanently. While she recognized several of the symbols, clarity, that was in most of the spells. There was also vision, seeing what you want and right below that was a symbol she had never seen before. It also contained body and shift. That unknown symbol had to have been color, or shade. The final one was ability, the required knowledge and proper power to cast the spell, and it indicated a meager level of skill.

With an abrupt look skyward, she knew it was high noon or just about there. Anya marked the book with the envelope on that spell and stuffed it quickly inside her bag. With a second thought, more of her stomach speaking, she grabbed a magic wisp full of the grass and broke it from the stalks, shoving it in her bag she thundered off back to the Golden Oaks Library.

Luck was on her side, and Twilight had just pulled the kettel from the stove for tea and sat it on the table after pouring a cup for herself. The table was set with a plate of muffins, their contents unknown, but they appeared to be blueberry. A small box of tea bags besides that.

She had already shed the satchel, but withdrew the book and set it on the table. Twilight saw the book mark, but remained silent, letting the mare pour her tea and carve into a muffin greedily before she asked.

"What did you find?" Twilight motioned to the envelope between the pages of the book.

Instead of vocalizing, she merely opened the book and floated it to the table in front of her. There was a pause as she glanced over the symbols.

"I don't know what that symbol is..." she said, pointing towards the shaded roundish block in the mental grouping of the spell.

"That means spectrum. It refers to light and color, visible waves of light as seen by the eye. It's quite simple for colors, but much harder to grasp as it relates to invisibility. That is something you can try later on today."

"You won't help me with it?" Anya asked, surprised.

"I will provide information on anything in relation to spells, however you need to learn to cast them yourself. Ember was a more capable mage than you are. She would have no problem with a spell of that low magnitude."

"I'm doing the best I can. For three months I've been stretching myself to understand everything I can." Anya tried her best to avert Twilight's anger, as she was seconds away from having 'an episode'.

Anya didn't know the Princesses that well, but from her observations the unicorns that possessed quite a higher level of power tended to be a bit mentally unstable. What pony would burn an entire town to the ground to prove a point, get what she wanted? From all accounts, and her limited understanding, Ember was a psychopath. Twilight's violent mood swings could be just stress, but as frequently as they happened, it was beginning to look like a problem.

Problem with that potential mus-diagnosis was that she herself was now one of them. But she didn't feel off, she felt exactly the same mentally as the day she came here. Did someone know they were crazy? Is it possible to tell? Hopefully it was a product of nurture, not nature. Just thinking about potentially being insane was going to drive her to exactly that.

"I'll try better." she added.

"You had better." she replied venomously.

Give her some space. That was the best idea. Anya retreated to her room with the satchel and book, intent on reading over the spell and it's hoof notes while bundling up the grass she picked into small cake like bundles.

She stripped the outer leaves of long grass and broke the stems into four inch long lengths. The heads that had gone to seed were packed in the center, stems around and bound together with the flexible leaves.

Spectrum. She contemplated the word. It meant a range as it pertains to sight. The light spectrum, light and dark in regards to lumen. The sun and the moon, night and day. It meant colors, and their diffusional in the oxygen atmosphere. All the colors of the rainbow, from white to red to black. This is what she knew about it.

Unfortunately she was unable to explore the colors through magic, the studding ring kept her from reaching out to feel them. It was part of the spell casting, to understand completely the Scrawl and it's parts. Mentally she understood the rest of the portions, but needed to understand color as regards to how magic understood it. And in the end, the real bottle neck was casting it.

The mare hung her head, realizing that it was a physical impedance stopping her. The body that was now hers, was flawed. However, she had learned to control it, to wrangle it's power under control. It needed to be, more for everypony else than her sake. She knew something was wrong, but didn't have the where with all to say what it was.

Twilight wasn't long in coming to her room.

"Time for more training." she stated, plodding into the bedroom with saddlebags stuffed to the gills with the usual supplies. Plenty of potions, aloes and ingredients should they need more.

The two stood side by side, and Twilight shroud them in a glow, speeding them the distance of several thousand miles in the blink of an eye.

Each unicorn was different in their ability, both in performance and endurance. Most cast magic was inside, in something like a reservoir, varying on it's natural capacity from pony to pony. While it could be used as a muscle and increase in size, a unicorn with a smaller reserve wasn't capable of more powerful spells, even after years of practice. Aside from internal power, they had the ability to channel magic that was nearby and in the air, however this was limited by the area one was in.

Spells were divided into four tiers. Basic, the spells that were either naturally learned or smaller power ones that pose no threat to anypony. For the most part these spells are manipulation based, allowing a unicorn to move and use objects that are out of reach.

The intermediate spells are transformative. Allowing the users to change the matter around them, expend energy to change objects. Illusion spells, alteration and creation spells fall under this realm. These spells are not blacklisted, but rather skill oriented. Teleportation is a skill that falls under this set. Once the unicorns can provide a sufficient example that they are ready for these spells, they can have access to them.

The expert level spells are restricted. These are far more powerful ones that rely on manipulation of emotions and body, and will. Love, sleep, making one vulnerable to suggestion. Most of these change free will or subjugate ponies into the caster's will. These are not readily available for general use and can be punishable if they are cast without authorization.

The Black spells are forbidden to but a few members of Equestria. The princesses, Twilight, Ember and select few other mages are the only ones that . These spells are extremely dangerous. Destruction, death, resurrection, protection and time manipulation are just a few of these spells. They are kept locked away in Canterlot, as if they would fall into the wrong hooves, it would be extremely dangerous.

There was still so much to learn and so far to go. It felt insurmountable, as she was alone most of the time. Left to herself in the library and to mill about town aimlessly. Twilight seemed distant, distracted and at times, a bit rough with her. Events as she knew them were a fifty-fifty chance that it never happened, and more than half that time, how they transpired was wrong as well. So keeping her muzzle shut about what she thought she knew was the best idea. It would seem that the television show was able to see mere snapshots of this world, gleaming information to build a world that imagination was used to fill in the holes. With everything learned so far, she realized that she knew next to nothing.

If there was one spell that Anya wanted to learn more than any other, it was teleportation. The ability to blink around space would prove more than useful, it would allow her to explore Equestria with ease, when and if she was ever left to roam free.

Teleporting was like walking through an open door way. If you had a clear sight of the area you wanted to travel into, it was merely a step away. The components for mastering the spell were complexly simple. Body, mind and speed were the main components, bend was also acceptable, though added in complications.

They arrived at the same stretch of land as the previous months. Scorched, ruined and utterly unusable. The hills reflected sunlight from the glassed surfaces, stretching out in every direction and in what seemed even past the horizon. The only landmark was a single lone cactus, untouched on it's own patch of sand.

Twilight loosed her saddlebags and deposited them at the base of the cactus. The mare then raised her horn to the sky and blanketed herself in a soft glow, a warding. Once she was protected, the studding ring came off Anya's horn.

Now free to feel the ebb and flow of the magic around her, Anya's internal reserve began to replenish, drained from the month of manipulation of objects. It wasn't long before she was full, topped off and the cool infiltration down her horn subsided.

"Today we are going to try something different." Twilight announced, "Today you are going to focus, and try to return the desert to it's un-blemished state. Rather than try for some of the advanced magic, I've decided to keep it simple for today."

"Terra-forming?" Anya asked, alarmed that she had never that before.

"Regression, alteration, shift." Twilight recited, reminding the mare of the parts needed. "You have all you need out before you. The sand left untouched, and the glass. A proper comparison between the two is here."

"O...kay." Anya said with hesitation.

Carefully reaching out, she picked up a ball of sand in magic and rolled it around. When she was allowed to feel the materials of the world in this way, it was adding, very slowly albeit, to a codex of sorts in her mind. Understanding everything down to it's base was the key to complex unicorn magic. The more one understood about everything, the more they were able to do when highly complex spells were created.

Sand was dust. Dust from thousands of year ago that settled on a surface. It collected in layers, millions of layers of dust that became covered with more dust, plant fibers, fallen tress and the bodies of those that passed on. Over a millennia the weight on top of the first layers crushed it together, creating giant slabs of rock. Eventually the slabs broke up and the rocks became smaller and smaller, until sand was made. Even to this day, the sand was still breaking down. becoming dust. The circle was unbroken.

The sand was turned into glass from heat, a heat that bound the atoms together. Anya knew what happened when one should split an atom, and didn't want to try. That was a new kind of fire, one this world should never know.

She focused and broke off a small piece of the glassed sand. Regression. It was heat that made this, and to regress back would require the heat to be removed. It was still noticeable, the mark she had left on it these past months. It was still in there, a small amount of heat, stored. It was easy to access, perhaps because of the nature of how it was made.

The heat energy was drawn out with ease, streaming out with a small beam of light that wisped out of the glass and into the air. The glass lost it's shine, becoming dull. She dropped it to the ground and the shard's shape fell apart, becoming black sand.

Twilight's eyes lit up with anticipation. The color was wrong, but none the less, she was able to remove the damage. "Now, fix everything."

That command seemed to have a clandestine undertone. Anya gulped. Take it slow and easy, bit by bit it would be done. With renewed vigor that slowly things were being wrestled to her control, she lit up her horn and began to touch the glassed sand.

Like seeping water, the pink haze cast from her horn crept all along the blackened earth, removing the energy from the sand and crumbling it into small black hills. With most of the glass in eye-shot now back into sand, she realized that it was almost done, however looking up to see the massive glowing orb of fire over the center of the desert.

Her heart sank, having not anticipated this. Normally it would have been absorbed back into the atmosphere into usable magic, but the amount that was being drawn out didn't have time. It was going to flare back out and ruin everything.

"Damnit, damnit, damnit..." she muttered.

Twilight sensed that she was going to panic, loose control. "Steady." she voiced with a calm tone.

"What do I do with it?" Anya squealed, looking around for somewhere to send the massive ball.

"Dissipate the energy." Twilight answered, "Calm, you can control it. Feed it into the air slowly."

With the ball of flame in her grasp, she contained it and began to squeeze it into a smaller shape to concentrate the energy. The ball began to squelch, hissing out small jets of fire as it didn't seem to like being contained. Quickly the ball rebelled, spinning into a sphere of flame within her grasp.

The ball bounced, bucked in her aura, moving in any random direction where here energy felt the weakest. It was beginning to jump out of her control.

"Steady!" Twilight yelled, taking a defensive step back and raising a secondary shield visibly around her. She knew that it was going to get bad.

Anya ignored her, sending any mental power towards the mare would have broken concentration. She needed to deal with this, control it. This was the only way to prove to Twilight that she was making real progress.

She brought the ball closer, condensing it more. She could feel the heat as it was pulled in closer, gently warming her.

"DISSIPATE IT!" Twilight shouted, a tinge of fear in her voice, seeing the ball ready to spiral out of her control.

Still no attention was payed to her, the ball was under her control now, completely. It was the first time she was able to feel the flames, study them for what they are, understand what Ember had felt.

Fire was excited molecules, using a source to continue it's burn. Turning energy into light and heat. In most cases it was wood, or other flammable materials, this time it was magic feeding it into the frenzy. She felt more than her energy to control the ball leave her body, it was feeding off her.

Anya closed her eyes and instead of focusing more energy to keep it contained, she began to draw energy from it. Slowly the fiery orb shrank, cut off from oxygen and fuel it withered out and smoked away. When it was over she felt a massive surge pulse through her body, drawing in a gritted toothed breath. The cold she had felt, the mind numbing shivers all vanished as warmth spread through her body.

She turned to Twilight with a soft smile.

"I'm beginning to understand."


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Anya's triumphant smile was met with contempt from Twilight. After all, she had just managed to turn glass into sand, albeit black sand, and wrangle the ball of flames under her control to rid of it. That was something she hadn't done before with any degree of success. Though the mage was far from impressed, her muzzle wrought with anger.

"That was utterly reckless!" The lavender unicorn shouted. "Do you know what could have happened you were unable to control it?"

Anya paused, confused as to why it was reckless. They were in the middle of nowhere. A desert that stretched as far as the eye could see and potentially more past that. There was nopony in a few hundred miles, and no way that either of them would have been injured by it. She shook her head, trying to imagine what Twilight meant.

"I don't... What are you talking about?" Anya stuttered, folding her ears back and lowering her flank towards the ground.

"It could have flown off, out of your control and off into Ponyville! It would have been..." Twilight paused, realizing that they weren't anywhere near the town. She quickly corrected the line of thought, " could have sustained numerous injuries."

"It wouldn't have. It was trying to go in the complete opposite direction. It was..."she stopped. Even though this was the first time Anya hadn't managed to scorch the ground with her attempt, the argument wasn't worth straining the already tenuous relationship she had with Twilight. If it could have even been called that. It was better to just go along to get along.

Twilight stomped over from the cactus where she had been watching from and began to trot in slow circles around the mare. "This is why you can't get anywhere. You aren't listening to my instructions. It's not from lack of effort, rather lack of following my orders."

"I HAVE followed everything you have taught me, to the letter. And-"

Twilight stomped a hoof in the sand, which had less of the audible effect she wanted it to. "You are not! I don't think you realize this, but I can feel your effort, feel how you are casting each and every spell, feel everything you are doing, even now. Everything you have done so far has been wrong. The wrong order of casting, wrong in the way you visualize each element. If you are going to get anywhere, you need to LISTEN to me."

"I HAVE listened. It's not me, it's YOU! You keep yelling, telling me when I'm going wrong, but not how to fix it. Your directions may work for you, the way you cast your spells, but obviously that doesn't work for me. I'd be better off left to learn on my own at this po-" Anya was cut off as Twilight lifted a fore hoof and sprung it forward into her nose.

For a split second her vision went black and then seemed to reset, seeing Twilight's hoof come out, then herself sitting on her haunches with the offender back on four legs. From a throbbing pain she felt a warm trickle of blood run down her snout into her open muzzle. Stunned, she sat on the black sand, letting her pride ooze out slowly. It wasn't the first time this had happened, but it had been a while since it did.

"You are NOT going to learn on your own. You NEED my guidance. I made that mistake the first time around, and it's not going to happen again. It's NOT going to happen again."

Anya wiped away the blood with her hoof. That's what she deserved, standing up to her like that. Maybe the reason Ember went so wrong was because she was merely let loose on her own. Maybe there was something horribly wrong inside that made her the way she was and needed to be hounded into doing the right thing.

No. She was her own pony now. She wasn't going to burn anything down to the ground, to hurt anypony like Ember had done before. Though she hadn't yet mastered herself, she wasn't going to let previous owner's action in this body dictate the course of her new life.

Twilight had been more than overbearing. More than a mother concerned with the well being of her child. She was just a warden of a prison, looking for any excuse she could to exert herself over Anya. This had gone on for far to long, being afraid of Twilight and what she would do if her order was followed. It was going to be a dumb thing to do, recall dumb, but Twilight needed to be shoved off her in a verbal manner.

She spoke in a soft voice, to try and calm Twilight down.

"You have guided me this far. You have shown me the basics and the groundwork for spells. But they way you are teaching now isn't helping at all. Everything you try to have me do, your way feels wrong. The instructions you give me don't seem to work with this body. If I am going to learn some of the higher level spells you want me to, I need to understand how this body works. If that means I need to play with fire, to be able to control it when it does happen, that's how it needs to be."

"NO! No fire, no flames, none of that." She growled, visibly crawling under her coat at the mere mention of the word.

"Then how am I supposed to stop it? How am I supposed to control something I am not allowed to learn about fully? How?"

"By doing things EXACTLY how I say!"

"I have been! How many times do I have to say this? For what ever reason, the methods you teach are fine, but in the execution... It just... doesn't work. You need to let me do things like I did with the sand." Anya shot back.

"I said NO!" Twilight stomped a hoof defiantly.

"We are in the middle of NOWHERE! Fireballs, flamethrowers and even if I turn this entire desert into glass a mile deep, it's not going to hurt anypony."

"It's not right here I'm worried about. It's later on. You said yourself that something was wrong with her body, what if that is the reason Ember did what she did in the first place? I can't let you get close to what she was capable of doing. I can't risk everypony like that again."

"Twilight..." Anya sat down on the sand, tears beginning to well up in her eyes. "I'm not that mare, I don't want to hurt anypony...I want to do everything right. I want to be more than just a burden. I'll wear your ring and live with you for as long as it takes. I'm not her..."

Twilight just stared at her with cold eyes. None of the emotional gravity was sinking in, she merely saw a mare begging to do something that she had no rights to do. New mind or not, seeing her perform the same acts... it was still too soon, the wounds still to deep. If she was honest, not even a millennia would be enough time.

"If I can get this under control..." Anya sniffed, blood mixing with mucus dibbling from her nose, "Then I can do it. I can. Let me learn, I'll wear the ring until the day I die, just let me learn."

Twilight furrowed her brow and gritted her teeth. It was done, Anya didn't want to follow directions, do what she said, then all was lost. There was no teaching this mare, no getting her back on track the right way. She plodded over to the saddlebags and picked hers up to affix it to her waist.

"I've been trying to help you. If you want to do things on your own, then fine. Be the King of sand in your blackened empire. I'm done." she growled, using a hoof to kick Anya's satchel away from her. In a split second of light, Twilight was gone, teleported back to Ponyville.

"Well fuck you too." Anya grunted after the unicorn was gone. She would be back, Twilight always stormed off like this. It was better than the alternative of the two verbally circle jerking each other. She sighed, it was a really dumb idea.

With Twilight now gone, Anya turned to the spell book and opened the marked page. From the satchel she brought out a book with color swatches glued into it. Resting on the warm sand she began to page through and look for her new colors.

After some thought she decided on a light brown, bronze yellow and electric blue. Of the colors she had to choose from, they were what jumped out at her.

Anya had calmed down. Maybe going to learn under Twilight wasn't the best of ideas but it sounded good at the time, and she didn't know if she was able to recant the decision. Either of the Princesses would have been a better choice in retrospect. Celestia would have been the best, what other pony would know better about fire than her? As with the decision to come here, it was time to make the best of what she could.

After studying the color samples, feeling how each of them reflected light under a magical aura it was time to test her ability to change. From her rested position on the ground she gathered up a small pile of black sand and began to focus on it. One by one the black granules were changing, lightening to a blue hue, though not completely.

It was another four hours later before the mare was able to satisfy herself that she had grasped changing the sand into the color she wanted. The sun was lower in the sky, but there was still more daylight left. Odd that Twilight wasn't back yet.

Instead of changing herself entirely at once, she began to explore her fore hoof and managed to shift a small portion of the follicles and underlying skin to the brown she had chosen. Things were proceeding suspiciously well, whatever brought about a change in her ability was a good thing. Anya hoped that it lasted.

Without a mirror it was impossible to tell if she had done the spell correctly to change herself into the colors that were chosen. Her tail and what she could see of her body were a match for the color cards, but there was a lingering fear that her head was incomplete. However she did have sand, and when heated that became glass.

Anya stretched out with her horn. This was the first time she was able to make fire without Twilight stopping her. Slowly she excited the molecules in the sand and had a small pool of white hot slag in seconds. Being careful not to pour too much magic into it and vaporize the pool, she began to gently touch it's surface to smooth it out with the pink aura then proceed to reclaim the heat inside of it.

The same tingle of warmth erupted through her body as before, ebbing off the chill that had crept back inside hours ago. Anya let out a soft moan as it's effect crept up into her skull. It was like scratching an itch ignored for too long, and once satiated a calm washed over her. Was this why Ember was doing it? The feeling she got afterwards, addicted to fire and flames? Was that even possible to become hooked on?

Anya stopped. She had never been addicted to much of anything before, ponies aside. She began to feel guilty, enjoying it's feeling as it went through her. Twilight could have been right, a mare driven to the rush of the flame, seeking bigger and bigger infusions of whatever this feeling was as time went by. She rubber her hooves together nervously. She didn't want to be that mare, the one that needed it.

The pool had turned into a perfectly smooth surface with enough reflection to look at herself. Once peering at herself she grinned slightly. The spell had worked completely, changing her outward appearance to what she had envisioned. Instead of the light blue with a gold tinted red mane, she was now a light brown mare with a yellowed mane and lightning blue highlights. It was a change that long needed to be made.

The sun began to creep lower in the sky, just touching a dune near the horizon. Suddenly Anya was hit with a double edge sword, realizing that Twilight may have left her for good, or possibly as part of a test. To make matters worse, she had no idea where she was. The only place she ever remembered having a desert was just north of the Zebra Headlands, and stretching into Las Pegasus. Though these memories weren't from this world, it was from some art that came with the box set of DVD's. Damnit. Did she stay and wait, or head out on her own?

The sun was now casting it's last light across the desert, the sand becoming cooler that it's rays were not keeping it at a constant temperature. Other ponies would have begun to wrap themselves in heavy clothes to get through the chilling night, but Anya had the ability to create all the warmth she needed. She put the sun to her left and began to walk North. Twilight didn't seem to be coming back.

Luckily the pseudo sweet-rolls she had made were inside the satchel and one of them stopped her stomach from churning anymore than it already was. Trudging through the sand in a northern direction, guided by Luna's moon, she was able to cross dune after dune, looking for signs of life.

Anya walked with purpose though, not fearing how far she would need to go. This was all new to her, filling her head with a sense of adventure and block out the fear of death in this arid waste.

Tiny desert animals skittered around on the dunes, leaving highly visible tracks as the landscape changed from sand dunes into flat lands with cacti and other desert fauna. It was closer to the end of the desert at least. Nothing grew where there was no water.

She was half tempted to try the teleportation spell in the book but she feared that she was getting closer to civilization. The last thing she needed was to torch a town. On hoof her journey continued, even after the moon had left it's apex.

With no way of knowing how far she had come already, and the last of the grass bundles eaten, the sense of adventure had been replaced with aching hooves and limbs. As far as the eye could see it was still desert, but the vegetation was becoming more and more plentiful. Anya pushed a bit further until she spotted a small grove of palm trees. It was close to five in the morning when she reached them and collapsed under their low hanging leaves.

"Ma`m." a voice said calmly. Strange that there would be somepony waking her up at this time. Twilight usualy did.

"Ma`m." it repeated. It was a male voice. What was a stallion doing in her room?

"Miss." the voice got rougher, and a hoof placed at her side to gently rock her awake.

"I'm up Twilight." Anya groaned, rolling to her side and sitting up.

"Thank Celestia. I though youse` dead." the male voice breathed a sigh of relief.

Anya quickly took a look at her surroundings. She wasn't in her room at Twilight's, rather sleeping below some small desert trees sitting on the edge of a small pond. Across the water stood a group of ponies behind railing, staring intently at her. Where the hell was she?

"Ya upset our guests. Scared the youngins into thinkin a dinosaur gotcha."

With a quick look around she saw the head of a cartoonishly colored t-rex who's giant maw was in the water to drink. Obviously a prop, but she bolted awake and rose to her hooves immediately.

"Jesus fucking Christ!" She gasped.

"Naw, ah`m Trail Blaze, park ranger." the stallion replied.

"Where am I? I was walking through the desert all night." Anya asked, picking up the satchel and slinging it around her neck. The green pegasus beside her took to the air and motioned her outside the exhibit. He was wearing a light blue shirt with a logo on it but couldn't make out what it was.

The two began to head down the overgrown path, Anya following the pegasus that flew a head higher than her. She maintained focus on the path, as the view upwards was a strait shot right into his hitch and accessories. That may be something she never got used to, ponies wearing shirts and having their parts in plain view.

"Yer in Oasis Park, bout fifty miles outside of Las Pegasus." Trail explained. "Good thing too, that there desert stretches a long ways. Surprised that tha air patrol didin spot you neither."

"Well, I need to get back to-" she stopped. Was it the best choice to head back there? Twilight had left her in the desert after announcing she was done with her. A though ran across her mind, what if Twilight was trying to get rid of her? Say that she had bolted off in the middle of the night, or attacked her in the desert? Damn. There was some angle Twilight was playing at, she always had one.

"I need to get back to Canterlot."

"That's close to seventin` hundred miles away. How ya get yourself all the way here?"

"Teleportation spell gone wrong." Anya blurted out. "I don't want to try it again encase I end up near the Crystal Empire."

Shit, she wasn't wearing the studding ring. It would have been odd to slip it on, as without Twilight's spell to lock it in place it could be easily removed. Still, first chance she got, it would go back on. She still didn't trust herself enough to use magic without it. First bathroom, she would do it.

"Ah. Well theres` a rail line that heads to the city, ya could catch it ta Canterlots from there." the pegasus explained. "Well, heres`a main gate. Have yerself a nice day ma`m."

"Thank you." Anya nodded.

Normally there would be a massive parking lot for a park, but it was just a small area with several chariots occupying half the available spaces. A Polynesian style restaurant that was built of bamboo and leaves was packed to the brim with ponies and a small hut on an elevated platform with two tracks on either side of it.

Once at the station hut, she walked up the the window.

"I need a ride back to Las Pegasus."

The creamy-tan earth pony turned around to face her.

"The train will be here in about..." she looked at the clock on the wall, "...five minutes, and you will need your Oasis Pass to board."

"I... don't have a pass, or the money for it."

The mare behind the window twisted up a small smile. "That's ok. I'm sure I can think of something to let you have a ride back."

The train thundered down the track and squealed to a stop at the station. Anya found herself busied with helping the crew unload boxes of food and containers of water. Being a unicorn, she was able to levitate the heavier objects out of the small cargo car and into the receiving dock several strides away. The other workers were more than happy to sit back and let her do the heavy lifting, being earth ponies and all. She managed to unload most of the cargo by herself.

Once the train pass was secured she made her way to the bathroom on board and slipped the ring on over her horn. It slid down and stayed with friction, but could easily be removed if need be. As the extra sensory was cut off, she felt much better. The threat of bursting everything into flames was now nullified. She made her way back to the seat and decided to take a nap as it would be a few hours before she was in Las Pegasus.

Anya was awoken by the screeching of the brakes, ringing in her ears and rattling her teeth. Heart thumping, she burst awake and stood up on her seat. Her alarmed state lowered as the train let out a low whistle and slowed into the station.

She half expected a swarm of armored guards to descend upon her, but as she exited the train and was met with nothing, breathed a sigh of relief. Through the sea of ponies exchanging positions from train to station, the mare worked her way to a map of the platform.

The station was massive. The engine she arrived on was a smaller transportation train, dwarfed by the stellar beasts of iron and steel beside it. Massive cylinders that made up the fire and steam box laid upon thick wheels that towered above two ponies stacked on top of each other. The station and the volume of travelers dwarfed New York in the late 1800's when rail travel was at it's peak. It made sense, as pegasus flew places, but the rest of the ponies had to travel somehow, and cars didn't exist.

Up on the schedule board were a list of trains and times. With the list of tracks and train times, the station seemed to be winding down for the night. It was close to five in the afternoon and very few trains were headed out of the station, but plenty were arriving. It was going to be late in the evening before the last train headed out.

"Damnit." she muttered under her breath.

Vowed to be undefeated, she traveled the length of the platform to the attendant's station at the very end of the run.

"Excuse me," she said softly, as the attendant was away from the seat, paging through a newspaper back behind another desk. "I'm looking for a train headed to Canterlot, and I can't find one on the board."

The maroon stallion dressed in a dark blue shirt removed himself from back behind the desk and came over to the open window.

"Sorry miss, at this time of day, there are no trains headed to Canterlot. Most of the departures leave early in the morning. I'm sure the one that left today is just arriving there now."

"So... there is nothing until tomorrow?"

"Sadly, no. However there is a private train that is headed to Ponyville. From there you can catch a connecting line to Canterlot. It will be faster than waiting for the morning. She's an old red Trans-Con twenty one out on track fifty five." he pointed a hoof out towards the far side of the station. "You can always ask and see if they will give you a ride."

"Ok! Thanks!" Anya said, and hurried up and over the bridges the trains went under. The bridge over the tracks was covered in a fine layer of soot that brushed off on her legs as she went past. She was almost out of station before the red train engine appeared, nestled between two black beasts pouring smoke out into the air.

Down on the platform she approached the engine, intent on asking the conductor if she could ride. Before she arrived at the lead car a mare dressed to the nines stepped out to intercept her.

She was an odd colored one, a darker hue of something akin to a dirty pumpkin with a fair colored mane and tail that was a bit more white than it was yellow. Her cutie-mark was obscured with a pair of neatly pressed grey and white striped pants. Her mane was tightly coiled into a bun with a large holder sticking out of it. Perched near the end of her muzzle was a pair of spectacles, large enough to see through, but not so big as to overpower her other features as the main attraction.

"What are you doin'? This here is a private train, invite only little miss." she said, speaking loudly over the hiss and whistles of departing trains. Even over the ambient sounds, her voice spoke in a regal way, almost a threatening command.

"Sorry, "Anya backed up a bit, "I'm sorry. I just need to get to Ponyville so I can ride on to Canterlot." She knew that if there was a ride available, she was going to have to work for it. "I'm more than willing to work in exchange for a ride."

The brownish mare smiled. "Now you are talkin` mah language missy. We were supposed to be headed back ta Ponyville earlier today, but the usual package jockey ain't here. Been catching seven shades of Tartarus trying ta this last load delivered. Ah'd greatly appreciate some help."

"Sure, sure. And I'd get a ride to Ponyville in return?" Anya asked, her ears perking up

"Yep." the mare nodded.

Anya followed the mare to a side car after a long length of passenger and kitchen/dining cars. The earth pony used her rear hooves to slide the door open, though it took quite a bit of effort, to reveal a palette of neatly stacked boxes.

"Seein as you ain't got a cart, ya oughta be right good with magic then ta move these."

"I've got it." Anya grinned and with little effort, managed to pick up the palette with her pink magic and pulled it from the train. A broken pallet jack on the wall let her know that it was the reason the supplies weren't unloaded.

Wide eyed, the mare gasped. "Where have ya' been all my life? Ain't never seen a unicorn pick up somethin like that and not break a sweat."

"Just talented I suppose. Where are we headed?"

"To a restaurant just a small trot away. Last one of the day. Just don't drop the load, ah hate damaged goods. Eats inta the bottom line too much."

Anya rolled her eyes, she knew people like this. It was all about the money, short changing everyone else but themselves. Probably never worked a real day in her life, sitting behind a desk and pushed papers. The suit and the glasses should have given it away. But she was the only way back to Ponyville at this time so her attitude would have to be put up with for now.

It was a short trot to the restaurant, the Aces and Eights. A casino. Looking up and down the main thoroughfare, Anya realized that Las Pegasus was in fact the pony version of Las Vegas. Millions of light bulbs rounded the cheerfully lit signs up and down the causeway. Casinos, booze and mares, list like the real Vegas.

However, as she looked upwards, the real Vegas didn't have that. A Massive Colosseum, banners flying in the wind and ponies casting shadows as they trotted past the windows. A waterfall ran from the top of it's blindingly lit white marble columns, falling down the center and off into a pool below. It was even more spectacular from the fact that this entire casino was sitting on a large cloud high above the city. The Mile High Club. Anya had to stop. As gorgeous as the city looked, the floating casino was the icing on the cake and she wanted to eat it.

"Ain't never seen nothin' like that have ya little miss?" The business pony asked, noticing she had stopped to stare at it. "We are here, ya can oogle the place on our way back."

The palette was successfully delivered and the two made their way back to the train at an even slower pace, Anya taking in all the new sites and smells. The city was amazing. Once she was settled in and on her own, it was defiantly a place she wanted to visit again, to see all the sites.

Once back at the station, the water boiling and engine stoked to pour smoke from the stack. The train was ready to go at a moment's notice. The duo climbed aboard into a rather lavish passenger car. The cushions were twice as thick as the smaller train from Oasis Park, she sunk right into it's marshmellowy goodness. Each seat was it's own separated spot, a small table dividing the two. It was luxury at it's best.

"Need something ta eat? The dining car is cooking up a late dinner for the rest of the train." The suited mare asked.

"Yes, please. I haven't had anything to eat since last night. And something to drink as well, please?"

"Then we can head on back to the dining car, don' worry the seat there are just as comfy."

The dining car screamed Earth circa 1950. Black and white tiles, chromed islands and matching thick vinyl seats. Red coffee mugs, filled with tea and other substances were scattered around the booths. Throughout the dining car there were roughly twenty ponies, some at the bar facing the ovens and the rest at tables around the car.

"Who are they?" Anya asked as the two settled into the only empty booth in the car.

"My staff, engineers and guards. I run several large restaurants all over Equestria, and with all the management and bits that change hooves I need a large team to service each of my establishments. Though after t'day ah think ah need a full time delivery crew."

A waitress walked by, levitating a tray of mugs. "Good evening misses," she nodded to Anya then again to the business pony. The orange waitress cleared her tray, setting down two mugs for each of them and retreating back behind the counter.

"Bottoms up!" the suited mare cheered and put a hoof through the massive loop on the mug, downing it in a single gulp. Anya just raised the mug to her lips to sip gently at the hot liquid, coughing as the drink tasted of strong cinnamon.

"That's a bit harsh to the nose." Anya set the cup back onto the table.

"That's why ya gotta take the whole thing at once!" the dining companion said, and slammed the other drink down. She shivered in quite a comical fashion. "That oughta' put some push inta' ya plot."

Not wanting to be one to miss out on the fun, Anya followed suit and downed the mug in front of her, cheeks reddened from the snide sexual comment. The cinnamon was drown out by an overwhelming taste of sweet apples, but then burned of cinnamon shortly there after.

"Jesus Christ..." she muttered. It wasn't horrible, but reminded her of the nasty 'Irish car bomb' drink. Drink it right and it was good, but you had to do it fast. Once that was over the drink hit her just right, warming her stomach and thenit radiated outwards. Once it was down, it was all good.

"So, whacha wanna eat? We got most foods here."

"Anything, I'm hungry." Anya replied, taking small sips at the hot liquid so that she wasn't overcome with the strong taste. Even if a bit stiff, it began to melt her from the inside out.

"Then ah guess we'll both eat some boiled potatoes with carrots an for desert we can have some chocolate pie." The business mare said over the room to the waitress who nodded at her. "And three more mugs as well."

"So little miss," she began speaking to Anya, "Where ya from?"

Good question. Most ponies wouldn't believe she was from a different reality, so it may be best to just fuzz the details. It was taking a long shot in the dark, saying that she was from another continent, but it may just work. It wasn't lying, merely trying to sound less like a complete nut-cake.

"I'm not from Equestria originally. Wasn't born here, rather... came over after ten years. I saw so much that I loved here that I gave up everything I had before."

"Whad ya parents have to say bout that? I guess ya went and told `em?"

Anya folded her ears back, less of a controllable response as they tended to change when faced with an emotional and physical interest. "No, there was an offer that was time sensitive. I didn't even think about them, just left."

"So ya just uprooted ya entire life to be here. Disappeared like a wisp." The dining companion stated, as if trying to understand exactly what happened.

"Yes. I left everything I owned, took nothing with me and left no messages. Just gone."

"And ya did send a letter after ya got here?"

"I can't. There's no way it could reach them at all, it's not physically possible. I would send one if I could, I really want to, but it's impossible. I was lied to when told it was possible. All of that aside, they believe I'm dead. There's extenuating circumstances as to why that is. I'd rather not talk about them, but overall it was a selfish decision."

"That there is a really bad situation ya got there."

"I know," Anya loosed a tear and took another sip from the mug to finish it off, "I should have thought it out, told them. I wish it was something that can be undone. But I'm here now, and trying to make the best of it. Trying to fix things, I have to make my life here work."

"Ta me, it sounds like ya knew about the mistake ya made, and ya trying the best to fix it as best ya can." she nodded.

"Well, it's not as easy as just moving here. I have a... teacher, a mentor that is trying to help me fit in. She's hell bent on making me do things her way, and that's just not working for me. She has taught me alot, and given me great insight as to how things work here and I thank her for that. I try and try to do things her way, honestly try, but she won't let me learn they way I need to." Anya took a bigger gulp from the third mug, it was getting easier to drink as the flavor had already burnt out her palette from it.

"Sounds like ya teacher needs some schoolin' herself. Some ponies jus learn different from the rest, ain't right ta herd em all inta one place and make em jump the same fence."

"Once in Canterlot, hopefully all of this can get sorted out. I have a... friend there who can possibly help me."

"Whacha need help with?"

"I may be in a bit of trouble, have to talk to... somepony there to figure things out."

"What kinda trouble?" The mare raised an eyebrow, "Hopefully no kinda trouble what needs bars."

Anya looked down at the table, her ears folded in regret and took another sip from the half empty third mug. "No, no. I just may have been kicked out by my roomate, she's also the teacher I mentioned. I'll have to see about everything once in Canterlot. My friend there would know how to handle this."

"Hopefully that teacher of yers comes about. Yer a real nice helpful pony, pulling ya own weight and ah'd hate to see you strugglin anymore than ya already are. I'd also slow yer ponies with those drinks." the mare said.

"Why's that?" Anya asked after finishing off her third mug.

"Yer getting a little loose there missy. Ramblin on a bit like a chatty box. Half-a-that there drink is whiskey." business mare informed her.

"Ah fuck..." she muttered.

"Jus don' stand up for a while. Cloppin around with four rubbah hooves ain't easy. Food should help knock some of that outta ya."

As if on que, the waitress showed up with their dinner. The potatoes came with several small bowls filled with sour cream, butter and various herbs for seasoning. Anya didn't put any of them on, as she didn't know what they were. She just drowned the potato in butter and dipped it's golden flesh into the sour cream. The carrots were simply steamed, but delicious when doctored with salt and pepper from the art-deco shakers.

The mare stared at Anya with intrigue. Obviously even unicorns were supposed to use proper cutlery. She was just eating the food out of a small whisp of magic. The whiskey had hit her hard and she wanted to negate the effects beginning to bog her down.

"They have forks and spoon where ya come from?" The mare asked, appalled at the unicorn's table manners.

"Yes, we do. I'm just really hungry, sorry." Anya apologized, sinking into her seat a bit.

"Ah guess ya just hungry."

Anya nodded.

Pie was served next. It looked like a black chocolate fudge, topped with whipped cream. It was incredibly rich, weighing heavily in her stomach. It was extremely satisfying though. She remembered to use a fork this time, carefully moving it to her muzzle for each bite. Twilight never cared for flatware, as she ate with magic as well. Habits.

The food was gone and they two moved into the passenger car. Apparently the mare still wanted to chat. Anya had to lean a hoof over her shoulder, as the equivalent of nice shots of hard alcohol sat in her stomach. She however made a mental note, that it effected the body first rather then the mind, but that would come later. Dumb pony body.

The passenger lounge seats seemed more comfortable than before, perhaps it was her numb body that helped that. Anya felt better than she had in a long while. The business mare took a seat right across from her,

"Maybe ah can help, with advice at least."

Damned alcohol. Her head bobbed up and down, succumbing from the effects of being full on drunk. The food wasn't helping much, usually meats and protein helped to stave off or reduce it's effects much better, but as of yet there were no such places where she was able to get a hold of a steak, or glorious bacon. Much less what her body was going to do when it was ingested.

"Sure." Anya nodded, eyes lazily bating up and down.

"When ah was young, ah had family all over `Questria. Ah didn't know what ta do, jus bounced around from place ta place. Tried near about everythin under the sun. Eventually made it back home an started selling goods an food. Found out it's what ah was good at. Made an empire opening restaurants all over."

"What does this have to do with anything?"

"Everythin. Ah spent so much time tryin ta find someplace ah fit. Though ah could run away from it all. Time showed me ah was wrong. Came back and bit me right in mah soft bits. Caught Tartarus tryin ta make things right, things still ain't all good, but ahm gettin there. Jus don't think ya can run from it all. It eventually catches up ta ya at some point. Just gotta deal with the problem head on."

The train vibrating down the tracks, the warmth she felt inside of her and the booze all sent her into a trance. Barely able to keep her head up anymore, she slowly let it down into the pillow in front of her, falling asleep immediately.

The business mare let out a small chuckle and stood up from her own seat. She placed a hoof on Anya's shoulder.

"Ah hope ya find whacha lookin for little miss."

Over the loud speaker a soft voice called out.

"Destination Ponyville in two hours."

Anya floated in and out of sleep, waiting for the pulsating pain to stop. The train however had stopped, it's rumble stopped vibrating her a long while ago. The sun was already up, and there were no blankets around to cover her head. It was time to get up, hangover or not.

The train was mostly deserted, but her grunting as she stood up brought around the mare from last night. She wore a blue and grey striped pants suit this time, a change from last night. However the small glasses still remained the same, perched at the end of her muzzle.

"Ah though ah'd let ya sleep so ya could have some breakfast before cathin that train ta Canterlot. Got an hour an breakfast is already done."

"Thanks. I need to use the bathroom first though."

"Allright, ya know where the dining car is." the mare nodded.

Bathrooms. An oddity here, as there was no toilet paper at all. The 'toilet' was more of a trough, mounted on the wall and floor just below stomach level. It looked like a porcelean sword fish beak with a half bowl at the rear. You were supposed to back yourself up to it, get done and leave. It was that simple. No need to go into gross detail, but pony anatomy allowed quick restroom stops. Out of habit, she looked around for a sink and towel, but there was none, never was.

There was a mirror though and looking inside she saw a real mess of a mane. Even though it was short, it was all over the place. With no bush in sight, she sighed. At least it was hiding the studding ring. She thought to take it off, but as she wasn't fully under control of her body yet. Best to leave it on.

She returned to the dining car and joined a seat across from the mare. True to her word breakfast was ready. A plate of buttered asparagus, thick toast with jelly spread over it's browned face and a bowl of oatmeal with the brown sugar melting into it. Odd however that there were three spaces set.

"Ah got an old friend of mine stopping by before ah load up an head out. An here she is now!" The mare exclaimed, jumping from the seat and to the side door. Moving at a rather fast pace Anya noticed that she had a limp, something she hadn't noticed before.

Thinking it was impolite to stare, she returned her gaze back to the food and waited for the two to come over to the table. Her heart dropped when she realized that the guest was Twilight Sparkle herself.

Twilight didn't notice her though, she had changed her coat and mane after she had left. There was nothing visible to let her know that Anya was, well Anya. She kept her muzzle shut, hoping that she would be able to eek on by and get to Canterlot.

"Ah'd like ya to meet mah friend, Twilight Sparkle. Also, ah don't remember us exchanging names last night," The mare held out a hoof so they could shake,

"Ah'm Apple Jack, an you?"

"The fuck?!" Anya blurted out in surprise, her hooves shooting to her muzzle as if trying to force the vocalization back in. Bad idea. Twilight snapped her head directly towards the mare, knowing instantly who it was. Nopony except her ever said that word.


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Anya sunk back into her seat, realizing the charade was up. She wasn't hiding by any means. She would have preferred to arrive in Canterlot under the unicorn's nose. Twilight's gaze was all she needed to see, nopony ever used that word, it was something truly unique that she had brought with her. She moved her front hooves nervously, awaiting whatever would follow.

"Hey... Twilight." She swallowed hard, lowering her head.

Twilight pulled her from the seat and wrapped her hooves around her.

"I'm so, so sorry." she muttered, while pressing her cheek against Anya's, the beginnings of tears forming in the corners of her eyes.

Both Anya and Applejack were confused, for different reasons though. Applejack was confused as to the relationship these two shared and Anya in general as to what had happened.

"What's going on?" Anya asked, letting Twilight break the embrace and return to the seat at the table, edging away from the mare.

"Ah'd like ta know as well." Applejack echoed Anya.

"I got so angry. I just... lost it." she hung her head in shame.

"That happens alot..." Anya deadpanned, feeling a tingle from her nose where she had been struck.

"What ah miss?" Applejack interjected. "Who is this pony?" Her confusion turned into concern as her tone became harsh.

"Applejack this is Anya. She's..." a pause to consider the phrasing. "She is the traveler, the one who allowed us to punish Ember at her own peril."

No, no, no. Twilight was not going to twist this. Give the events of her arrival were at the very least unacceptable, but they were down right hostile. It would have been understandable if they held off on everything, but the quickness at which everything had moved was stunning. There was alot going on behind the scenes that Anya wasn't privy to, but she wasn't going to let Twilight sugar coat the entire situation as if she had been on a pillow the entire time with knowledge of the events prior.

"You call beating me while I was defenseless, putting the rope around my neck yourself when you KNEW I wasn't Ember. When you pulled the lever, sent me to what I thought was death. I-" Anya stopped. Getting angry wasn't going to solve anything, wasn't going to prove a point. "And then yesterday. You punched me right in the nose, then after some arguing, then left."

Twilight didn't make eye contact, rather stayed looking at the ground. The seething mare was ready for another verbal laceration, but saw the distress of her so-called-friend. Anya pursed her lips behind gritted teeth, Twilight always had an agenda, to make light of situations that in reality had been much worse to get through.

"What the HAY is goin on here?!" The neglected mare shouted. Both Twilight and Anya took pause.

"Ya both need ta calm down. Twilight, you especially." she shot a glare over to the lavender unicorn. "Now, tell what happened. Anya is it? Let's start with ya."

"Twilight has been on a vendetta since I arrived. Intent on making my life a living hell. Yesterday we went out in the desert, like every week, and a verbal fight started, then she punched me in the nose." Anya said, noticing that as she spoke this time, Applejack seemed uneasy.

"Punched?" Applejack inquired.

"Yea." Anya raised a hoof and pushed it forward to mimic what had happened.

"Ah see..." glaring eyes shot over to Twilight who winced as if in pain. "An why would ya hit ah nice pony like Anya, Twi?" She was forcing that word out, being told that she was Ember at one point had added a bit of taint to how she was seen.

"Emb... Anya was doing everything wrong, completely the opposite way I had shown her, the way I had taught her. Then her tone became rather offensive, agitated. She wanted to try and learn how..." She trailed off and began to nervously squirm on the seat, "To learn how to control it, fire."

That word was going to forever haunt them. Applejack began to loose concentration, nervously looking out the window to Ponyville. She removed her glasses and set them on the table, suppressing tears welling up in her eyes and letting out a quivered exhale.

"Are you ok?" Anya asked and reached out a hoof across the table to Applejack. She didn't recoil as they touched, rather placed one on top of her's very slowly.

"Yea, ah'm ok." she nodded. "Ya ain't... her. Ember is dead, an ya are just caught in an orchard o` bad luck. Twi, could ya step out for a while."

The unicorn's ears perked up. "You want to be alone with her? Why?"

"Twi, please."

A defeated looking Twilight left the dining car and into the adjoining passenger car.

"Ah need ta tall ya something about Twilight. She's takin' this whole thing as her problem. She thinks that this whole thing is her fault."

"Why is that?"

"Twilight always knew magic and those things, did real well with Celestia as a teacher. Several years ago, she had learned all she could an set loose on her own, only after a final test if ya` will. Her test was to teach a young mare named Ember. She was just a little older than a filly, just barely."

"Twi did just fine, she helped her ta understand everythin' there was about magic. All day an night they were always in their books, tryin' to get a hoof up on each other in a playful way. I ain't never seen two friends have so much fun together. They were both alike, like Ember was ah long lost sister or one o` them doubles from a mirror they got locked away in Canterlot."

"Ember then got older an she changed. They'd fight with magic in a playful manner before, an Ember kept getting rougher and rougher every year. Twilight always had some sorta bandage on her at one point. We all told her what we felt, that somethin' was off. Twilight just waved us off an` said they was all accidents, a mare who'd just been growin' inta' herself."

"She grew distant from Twilight, more concerned about herself an bein' the center of attention. She was still there for her though, just like Celestia was there for Twi when she was young. Twilight won't ever admit it, but what they had before was gone. She started to blame herself for it."

"A bit later on Ember was accepted to the Arcane Magics as a instructor. Twilight was so proud seein' her student growin' up an movin' back ta Canterlot. Twi kept writing letters, but very few came back. Friends don't do that ta eachother."

"Twilight felt like a mother to Ember then. How long were they together?"

"It was close ta six years. Ember became Twi's student when she was only five years old."

Anya had to think for a second. Five years meant ten in human years, because they went on a bi-annual basis for birthdays here. "She spent more time with Twilight than her own family? That seems odd to me."

"That's just how things all go here. Been that way for ah long while, still be that way when we all go."

"What happened after she left for Canterlot?"

"Well, Twi kept the letters goin', and even visited her every once and ah while. Don't know what happened, but she eventually stopped goin' ta see her Twilight spiraled into a depression, whatever happened with that wasn' no good thing. Then that whole... thing happened."

"Everythin she knew came crashing to the ground. Somepony she saw as her daughter almost destroyed her entire life. Twi felt... responsible for it all. Thinkin' that everythin that happened was her fault, cause she had failed somehow. Ah don't think that did her any good. She hasn't talked with anypony about what happened, an no offense ta you, but havin' you around ain't doin' her no good. We all are worried about her."

Anya nodded. "I've talked with her a bit, mostly just answering questions. I can't really remember an honest conversation with her."

"How's she holdin' up?"

"I can't say honestly. I don't know her that well, but every time I try and ask about the..." what was that called, the event? "About the thing that happened she gets angry, and in my face. The other day was the first time she had actually hit me since the day I got here. I really think that she needs you and your other friends, with me gone."

Applejack paused for a second. "Whadya mean 'With you gone'? Are ya going ta... do somethin'?"

"What? No! I mean that I need to be away from her for a while. I managed to make it out of the desert and back here. I'm figuring that I'll head to Canterlot and see about finding other living arrangements." Anya said. The last thing she was going to do was off herself, though to be fair, that disgusting thought had crept it's way inside on several occasions.

"Ah got several places all over Equestria. If ya'd like it wouldn't be that hard ta convince Celestia ta let ya stay there. Of course ya'd have ta work for it."

Anya smiled a tiny bit. Of course business Applejack would want that, no free rides right? The pony version of Alisa Rosenbaum, Apples Shrugged. She had to giggle a bit inside, the horrible nature of that pun.

"Ah can even take ya ta Canterlot as well."

"I think I'll be fine on my own, getting to Canterlot that is. You have already done so much for me. Besides, I want to see Equestria on my own, take a while to make it there and see everything I can."

"Well, there ain't much between Ponyville and Canterlot but a whole lot ah small towns and farmin' country."

"It's still more than I've seen in the past few months. Sitting inside the library and going to the park is all I have really seen so far. Seeing what little I did of Las Vegas was amazing, and I would love to see more!" Anya's spirits began to climb higher, her ears perked up and the beginnings of a smile crept across her face. Her own adventure was about to begin.

"Las what now?" Applejack stated, confused.

"Oh... I meant Las Pegasus. It's called Las Vegas in my... old world.

"Ah can see why ya got em confused. Let's get Twilight back in here, breakfast is gettin' cold."

Twilight and Applejack talked during breakfast and tried to bring Anya into the conversation but they were talking about events and a friendship she had never experienced, thus felt left out. Soon, all the food was consumed and glasses refilled with orange juice.

Twilight hadn't seen any of her friends on a normal basis for nearly a year, keeping to herself to try and get the Ember event under control. Nopony knew her better than Twilight, why get them involved and possibly hurt again.

"Twi, Ah need ta talk with ya about Anya here." Applejack reached out to her with a hoof across the table, the tone of a serious conversation. "Ah think that ya need some time away from her."

"No! Princess Celestia has made it my task to keep her safe, to make sure that she is fine, she's MY responsibility." Twilight withdrew her hoof, offended that anypony should ask her to defy the Princess' orders.

"Ya blame ya'self for what happened, an have been beatin' ya'self up ovah this for goin' on a year now. We all ah worried about ya."

"I can't, I can't let her do anything to hurt anypony again. I have to keep her safe, keep all of us safe." Twilight said, drawing her hooves towards her chest.

"Ember is gone Twilight, an now ya have somepony else here. Anya needs the same guidance ya gave Ember. If ya can't give that ta her, ya need ta let her go until ya are ready. Ya need time ta work ya self out, an all ya friends are here ta help."

"Where is Anya going to go? Who's going to watch out for her?" Twilight asked, looking over to the mare.

"Ah will for now. She ain't ya problem, never was, and still ain't. Ya gotta let her go, or ya life and her life ain't gunna' be nothin' but miserable. Besides, she dun made her way from the middle of nowhere ta get back here and onta' Canterlot."

"But... but, she hasn't learned enough to be out in the world yet!" Twilight sputtered.

"Ya coulda fooled me. Ah thought she was a regular pony all the way till ya said somethin' about her. Anya's more than capable of bein' on her own." Applejack nodded.

Anya wanted to interject as her future fate was decided. She didn't want to leave permanently, but rather give Twilight some time to grieve with the support of her friends. Ember was more than a pony that needed to be brought to justice for her betrayal, she was also very important to her. In some light she felt like an adopted daughter.

"I really shouldn't let her go. Anya has come along way, but is far from capable of controlling her... gift. She isn't even wearing the-"

Anya moved a hoof to pull back the shortened mane that had been changed to nearly the same color as the ring around her horn. If there was one thing she had learned from Twilight it was that until she had a mastery of her special skill, the ring needed to be on.

The previous night in the desert had given her great insight as to why Ember had done some of the the things she did. There was one fact that had shown forth in all of this, that her body had some sort of physical ailment and needed an external heat source.

"I put it back on when near anypony else. I know that I'm dangerous, as it relates to my lack of skill. The last thing I want to do is burn... anything."

Twilight just nodded, seeing her thought process to have been all wrong.

"AJ, I don't want to seem offensive, but what if something happens that you can't control? There isn't much you know about unicorn magic at all."

"Ah offered to see ta her after the Princesses decide how ta handle this. They may decide she needs more time with ya, or she's stayin in Canterlot."

Both of the other mares sat silent. There was nothing left to say that hadn't already been. Twilight understood that this was a good course of action, even though she would have rallied against it if the words were coming from any other pony than Apple Jack.

Everything now hinged on what would transpire in Canterlot. Anya felt apprehensive about the entire thing. It was something she wanted, to know more than the small spaces she had been in. But with such a massive change before her, there were bound to be mistakes she would make. The worst of which would be a repeat, however unintended it would be, of the events that had brought her here.

"Ya have everythin' ya need from Twilight's?" The orange mare asked.

"I don't have much. All of it is in my satchel. A spell book and papers from Celestia, it's all I own. I guess I'll need a map. Other than that, I can leave right now."

"Well, ah can get ya a map and Twi," she turned to her friend, "Ya can send a letter. Let Celestia know Anya is headed her way."

Twilight nodded, looking let down. A tingle of failure ran through her mind. That she was unable to do what she had been given for the second time, with what was physically the same pony. She rose from her seat and slowly trotted to the door of the train car.

Anya wanted to say something, though no thoughts came to mind. There was no reason Twilight needed to feel a failure a second time. Rather an explanation that they needed to walk down separate paths this time around.

"I do want to see you again." she said to the mare in egress who didn't turn to say anything back, just exit the train and onto the platform.

"Let her know that it's not her fault." Anya said, turning to Apple Jack.

"That's something she has ta decide herself. But ah gotta get in touch with some ponies. Ya sure ya want ta walk to Canterlot? Cause ah can give ya a ride."

"I'm fine. I'd rather see things at my own pace, even if it is nothing but countryside, it's better than the past few months."

"Ok then. Ah'll get ya a map and somethin' for the road." Applejack lightly clopped a hoof on the table and shifted from the seat, disappearing into another train car.

Anya wrapped the remaining croissants from the plate in napkins and carefully placed them into her satchel. No point in letting it go to waste like the rest of the food still plated about the car. There would undoubtedly be food along the road, and grass, but better to err on the side of caution.

The suited mare returned to the car with a small leather bag and what looked like a canteen with an apple stitched into the outside felt.

"Here's a canteen, and a pouch with apple and a few bits inside. And a map." the earth pony laid out all the things on the edge of the table.

"Oh wow... Thanks. I uh, also took the left over croissants from breakfast as well." Anya reported, feeling guilty for having shoved them in her bag. AJ just nodded. Anya slung the canteen around her neck and laid the satchel off to one side after depositing the pouch inside.

"Now ya best be off. Twilight is goin' ta need some support before she does somethin' stupid."

"What?" she asked, "Twilight would never-"

"Ah said too much. Out!" Applejack announced, more in a playful tone than officious, giving the mare heading towards the door a rather good shove to move her along faster.

Anya was unceremoniously pushed from the car onto the platform. A loud hiss burned through the air and the wheels spun for a fraction of a turn before catching and moving the train forward.

Odd, she thought. Well, what ever had Apple Jack in a rush would have to wait. Right now she had freedom at her hooves, the ability to take as long as Anya wanted to travel to Canterlot. It was the rush of the unknown, getting in her car and just driving far away. There was no purpose to it but to be alone with music. To feel the road on the tires, to be moving.

Unfortunately there were no cars here, music was played on vinyl records and the radio or walk-man hadn't been invented. The mare shivered with anticipation as she unfolded the map on an empty seat on the platform. Canterlot, according to the legend, was two hundred and one Leagues away. Damn, what was a League in Miles? Two? Didn't they go around the world in 20,000 Leagues under the Sea? She couldn't remember.

The roads looked safe anyway. The first leg of the journey would take her around the edge of Apple Jack's farm in a North West direction, which on the map looked monstrous. Roughly ten Leagues up the road there was a small town, Ardenville. Depending on how long it took to get there, Anya would be able to judge the length this trip would take.

She folded the map and put it into the satchel, remembering to close the top. She didn't need to bumble about Equestria for a month trying to get to Canterlot. Butterflies flapped in her stomach as she smiled. Her first adventure, out on her own. Two hundred leagues, a journey that started with a single step.

AJ disembarked the train from the small offshoot from the main line that went to her farm. The cost of track made it well worth it, as they no longer had to haul tons of apples down to the loading dock. It cut down on time and cost.

After greeting her family she went for a slow walk in the orchard. The entire ordeal earlier on had rocked her to the core. Anya was Ember, in body at least. It has been explained that Ember was gone, some magical hoo-hah about her mind escaping to another place. She expected that whatever was left of her body was bed stricken and would need care for the rest of it's days, even though Princess Celestia had explained there was another mind inside her.

It was good that she had changed her coat and mane. If Anya had approached her as Ember had been, there would have been a reckoning coming to that little mare. Hopefully what ever evil was inside her had left with Ember's mind.

Apple Jack felt sorry for her in all honesty. Tossed into the middle of something she didn't understand, in a world she knew nothing about. To make matters worse, she was staying with Twilight. If she would have known about this situation before, she would have rallied against it. As much as her friend had on her mind, coupled with her other issues, this should have happened sooner.

There was no doubt Anya was well on her way to being a true pony. She even managed to pass under her nose. She had a filly's understanding of the world and for the time being that was more than enough. No doubt that she would need to work back up to Arch Mage, Twilight said there was a reason they needed another unicorn as powerful as she was, but she couldn't remember the reason.

Right now Twilight needed a friend, she had become distressed when AJ had mentioned they part ways for now. A sign that she wasn't well. It was best to check up on her. AJ returned to the train, undressed and took her hat from the rack.

Back in Ponyville.

"YEE HA!" She shouted aloud, standing on her back hooves and gave the air playful kicks all the while grinning like a filly in Sugar Cube Corner. A tingle of pain shot through her flank, it was worth it though. Time to go see an old friend.

"Twi?" Apple Jack called out in the main room of the library. "Ya here?"

"She in her bed room." a deep voice said. It was Spike, calling from atop a book case near a window. He'd been laying on it to soak up the warm sun coming through.

"Yer gettin' mighty big." Apple Jack gulped, taking a step back. She hadn't seen the not-so-little guy for nearly a year now and he had grown to nearly twice his size in that time.

"Yep!" He grinned, showing a row of razor sharp teeth. AJ tried to keep her expression neutral, but his maw gave her shivers down to the very core. It looked capable of effortlessly cleaving a pony in half. But this was Spike, no way he was ever going to do that...

"Ah'll just go to see on Twilight..." AJ trailed off, nervously forcing a smile and trotting her way up the stairs.

Twilight laying was in her bed, facing away from the door and out the window. She had her tail wrapped in her hooves, giving it a stern hug from time to time.

"Ya all right?" AJ asked, placing a comforting hoof on her shoulder.

Twilight sniffled and wiped the visible tears from her eyes, completely forgetting the matter fur on her cheeks, a darkened stain on the pillow told a tale of heaving sobbing.

"She's gone, AJ, she's gone..."

"Anya?" She asked, confused.

"No, Ember. She... she's gone."

"Yea Twi, she's been 'gone' for nearly a year now."

Twilight turned her head, brow wrinkled in confusion and her muzzle agape in shock. "But she just..." she stopped herself, pausing in thought. "Yes, a year now." she nodded confidently. AJ's concerned melted into a hint of anger and disappointment.

"What is today?" she asked to Twilight.

"Tuesday." she spoke with haste.

"What year?"

"Regal Era, One thousand and thirty... four." Twilight's pause did not bringing ease to her friend as she lifted a corner of her muzzle to smile.

"Do you know where you are now?"

"In my bed room, I'm pretty sure in Ponyville." she reported.

Apple Jack frowned and left the room. She was only gone for a few seconds, returning with a hoof-ful of opaque orange bottles wearing a white labels.

"Twi, all of ya medicine is dated six months ago. Ya stopped taking it. Why?"

Twilight didn't respond, she just wrapped her hooves around AJ's shoulders and began to cry uncontrollably who followed her hug in suit. It was twenty minutes before she calmed down enough to speak.

"I don't want to loose her Apple Jack, I don't."

Apple Jack just held her without response. It was bad, but not as bad as it could have been. Whatever she believed in at this point, it would have made it worse to take it away from her in this condition.

Anya wanting to change herself so she didn't look like Ember anymore must have been the reason she had been violent. It was the last piece of her that was left. Changing that meant facing facts the Ember she knew was truly gone.

"Why'd ya do this to ya self Twilight..." she whispered to herself. Between the sniffles and sobs she wasn't able to hear.

"Come n` stay with me for a week."

"Why?" Twilight asked bluntly, releasing her hold and looking sternly into her friend's eyes.

"Cause ah don't wanta' have a talk with Shining Armor, or even Princess Celestia."

Twilight paused, if there was anything she didn't want, it was to have her family dragged into her life at this point. She had always been able to keep on top of it, keep things under control, but this time, she wasn't able to tell. "Have I really gotten that bad?" She asked in alarm. "Cause Ember is gone, I know that."

"Jus twenty seconds ago ya didn't."

Twilight sighed heavily and raised a front hoof, as if about to begin reciting an oath. "I'll defer to your judgement then."

"Ah'll get ya things an medicine." AJ nodded.

Seven hundred miles. That was how far two hundred leagues was. It was going to take a week to get there at this rate. As the road wound around the fields and apple orchards she would hear the blast of a train horn echoing across the air. For most of the journey the road would curve away and towards the tracks, going around hills and valleys where the train would hug the cliffs or cut through them.

The road was amazing though, groves of trees chock full of the biggest and reddest apples she had never seen. The opposite side of the road was a varying scenery of wide open golden plains of wheat, trees that overhung the road and that was a nice reprieve from the sun while it lasted.

Anya had passed Ardenville as the sun touched the horizon. It was a quiet little town a bit from the edge of Apple Jack's farm. Not much was there, several houses, a small inn and brew house that she passed up and a passenger platform by the rails that was little more than wood raised off the floor and a tower for catching the mail bags hung on them. The train only stopped once a week.

Sweet-water Springs was ahead. The map showed a small hut or cabin near it's shores just off the road. Hopefully it was some place to stay for the night. Anya cursed under her breath, she should have stayed at the inn.

The fields were alight with a full moon and millions of tiny star pinpricks in the black fabric that was the sky had brought a beautiful glow to the world. Crickets hummed on either side of her and breezes of wind would occasionally sweep through to join in the moonlight chorus with the owls.

The Ever-free Forest was some-hundred miles away by now, but the lingering thought of some rouge entity crouching in the field, ready to devour her began to bite at her mind. She had slipped off the ring on her horn just in case. She knew how to levitate with near perfection and the insight just a day ago into fire and flames would be an ally. Though she was reserved about using it, meals for perhaps tens of thousands of ponies were out there in that wheat.

The glow off the road was enough to see by, but she wished that before departing she had learned some sort of an illumination spell. Or night vision. That would be awesome. Up ahead there was a sign and she rushed to see it.

As she read off the white letters of 'Sweet-water Springs' from the wooden board, the oddity that English was both the language and written word struck her. Or was it English? The thought crossed her mind that it possibly wasn't, just her brain making sense with what Ember's body knew. Celestia had done alot of spell casting on her that was never explained, after their return from the forest and she was deemed fit to leave. Was knowledge able to be imbued with a spell? Best not to think about that, she barely understood what she did and trying hard to gave her a headache. Apparently headaches were all to regular with unicorns.

Thoughts of magic aside, Anya headed down the offshoot through a grove of trees to come upon a crystal clear lake and a small worn down house. A group of candles on a table provided enough light to see the shape of a pony sitting in a chair on the porch. She approached with caution, ready to high tail it out of there.

The moment she came close to the porch, the pony sprang forward from the seat and shouted.

"Who's there?" a high pitched voice called out. "Ya know I don't have my glasses! Come closer!"

He wasn't holding a shotgun, but the dirty overalls and a single piece of wheat from the corner of his mouth wasn't helping the whole 'Deliverance' vibe Anya was getting.

It's Equestria, she reminded herself, not banjo country.

"Hello." she called out, approaching the house and putting a hoof on the step. "My name is Anya and I'm looking for a place to stay for the night."

"Hello little Missy!" He chimed cheerfully, "I'm Didley, I run this here spring. Ant had a visitor in quite some time now. What bring ya this way?"

"I'm heading up to Canterlot from Ponyville and looking for a room for the night." she restated. Clearly Mr. Didley was hard of hearing, or just out of it. Either way he seemed nice.

"A room ya say! Well I don't have no extra rooms, but I have a couch. Though there is one thing I'd nee ya to do for me." He grinned, the few missing teeth sent a chill down the mare's spine.

"And... what is that?" Anya asked, folding her ears down and grimacing, disgusting thoughts ran through her head.

"My wife, bless her heart, has been gone a few years now," he paused and reached back out of the light for something. Great, here it comes. Anya held her breath. He produced a large brown colored glass bottle, "We'd sit on our porch, talk and drink hooch till we got all silly an passed out." He held the bottle out in both fore-hooves and grinned again.

"Just drink and talk with you?" She raised an eyebrow in dis-belief.

"Yussiree! My wife an I did it it most nights once the visitors stopped coming to the spring. Drinkin' alone ain't all it's cracked up to be, not without company."

Twilight never let her have any alcohol and she was never able to buy any. Anya slipped the studding ring from her bag and placed it on her horn, giving it a little twist so it wouldn't fall off. Apple Jack got her loose the other night and that was fun. A smile crossed her muzzle.

"That sounds absolutely fine. Pour me the first glass."

Delight crept across the earth pony's burnt umber body, he bubbled with glee and popped the cork from the bottle with his teeth.

"Only glasses round here are the ones ya see outta little miss!" Didley laughed and offered her the bottle strait up.

Anya took a giant swig from the bottle. It went down smooth and burned in her stomach. The element of fun in a bottle. Tomorrow was going to hurt.


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Why? Why did I do that? Anya asked herself. Before even opening her eyes she knew it was going to be a terrible day. When she did, regret filled her eyes.

She hadn't even made it to the couch. Slumped over on the weathered porch, her stomach and fore-hooves covered in what could only be bile sickened her. She wasn't even capable of getting the to couch the backwoods pony had offered her. Everything ached, sleeping in such a bizarre position had threw her back out and the beginnings of a cramp started in her leg.

Anya didn't feel like stretching, she just wanted to fall back asleep until this damned headache was gone. Unicorns and headaches, they were like the sun and light. There was a reason Twilight didn't keep any alcohol around. It was enough to deal with them without a hangover. She groaned in pain.

"Ah! Ya's up!" Didley's voice screeched in an all to pleasant tone.

Anya groaned again to look through blurry eyes for her things. He probably wanted her to leave soon.

"What a night," she could hear the smile in his voice. "Ya should come take a dip in the springs. It'll put some push back into your hooves."

"I could use some coffee." she groaned.

"Some what now? Nah, come take a dip. Fix ya right up." the elderly stallion gave her a good shove with his hoof. "Also, ya need to wash that fun off yourself."

That's right. No one here knew what coffee was. She had tried to describe it to Twilight once, her substitute was quite stomach churning. There had to be something close to coffee somewhere, a plant that bore energizing pods that could be roasted. Canterlot might have something, they had to. Fuck, Canterlot.

"I should get going, got alot of ground to cover."

"Nah, one last thing. Come on." he waved a hoof. Anya rolled her eyes and began to follow.

Before entering the pool the mare had splashed water on herself and began to clean the sick from her forelegs and chest. The matted fur smelled like the spiced alcohol from last night, completely ruining any chance she had of drinking it again, the odors of vomit and booze now intertwined as one.

The springs were warm, at least this one was. It felt like a hot tub without the horrible smell of chlorine. Didley was right, it did feel good. Anya sunk down into the water until only the top portion of her head was above the water. A warm tingle seeped into every inch of her, going directly into her bones and warming her muscles like fire.

It was the feeling of carelessness, the bliss of sleep while wide awake and the warm massage of a talented set of hands. It was going to be hard to leave, but the sun was already nearing the center of the sky, so much time had been wasted already.

Didley had walked back to the house after showing her the springs. After pulling herself from the warmth and comfort, Anya headed back that way slowly. Wheat from the neighboring field had managed to spread a few seeds into the woods, growing wild and untamed in patches, it provided a filling breakfast, if not lunch at this time of day.

She retrieved her satchel and listened to the ramblings on how ponies had gotten so busy with everything else they didn't take time out to rest anymore, and thus the springs suffered with attendance. Didley was sad to see her leave, the first pony that had come around for as long as he could remember. Anya didn't know if she would be back in truth, but she wanted to return at some point.

It was ten in the morning before she was on the road again. Vigor had returned to her stride and was making good time. A quick look at the map showed her she was twenty leagues out, or roughly eighty miles. A bit more than a tenth of the way. At this rate, it would be over a week until she arrived in Canterlot.

The road had become a bit overgrown at what she could tell was roughly three in the afternoon. The fields of wheat had vanished as she entered the beginnings of the foot hills of the mountains. Trees grew over the path, what weeds would grow in the lack of sun dotted the dirt road. Good thing she had grabbed a swath of wheat for dinner, as none of these plants looked appetizing at all.

At first she thought it was wrong, stealing from the field. Then a thought entered her mind, an obscure fact from history class. Back when the Roman Empire was expanding, they had law. That the first six feet of every field from the road was fair game for travelers. Inns, cities and places to stay were sparse back then, leaving one on the road for weeks, and no one was able to carry that much food on them. With as sparse as the town were out here, it was a safe bet that the same law, or general feeling towards travelers applied.

Sitting down on the side of the road, Anya planned out where she was going to sleep before the sun went down. The largest town on her route was Cloudsdale and a non-pegasus city named Cloudsdale Minor. It looked built on the mountain top at the edge of the Unicorn range, west of Canterlot. But that was at least three days away, two if she ran full bore. That was something she wanted to see! A city in the sky.

She scoured the map for somewhere to stay. Mentally whipping herself with the realization that if she left earlier, when the sun rose, she would be on the outskirts of Oretin already. It was a small town centered around a mine, had several houses, a lodge and a service track that ran parallel to the main line for carting whatever was pulled from the ground for processing elsewhere.

Fatigue was beginning to set in once the sun cast it's last rays of light over the horizon. The days had begun to grow shorter and shorter. She had arrived in the mid-summer, and by now it was the pony equivalent of mid September. Honestly the seasons were odd, Ponies kick starting each as they needed to be. It was reliable however, today was going be warm, tomorrow was going to be warm. The entire world she traveled felt like a thermostat at a constant setting, varying a little bit here and there.

Anya felt capable of a few more hours of travel. The thought of stopping along the road and sleeping there gave her the chills. The Everfree had been an unsettling place, not even a fallout bunker encased in cement would make her feel safe there. The air was foul and her spine shivered there. The feeling here was different, a human fear of things lurking in the shadows. A slow rolling wind passing through the leaves did not help this fear at all.

She removed the studding ring and began to feel out her surroundings while slowly moving forward. Anya was in the blind, trying to run a detection spell. Instead she began to feel each tree, recognizing them as what they were. The grass was next, and then the oddities, dirt, mushrooms and even let her mind wander to herself.

In her vision, a light started to cast off her body. Immediately she stopped, fearing that she had started a fire. her heart thumped in her skull as she waited for a few minutes. The silent glow died down, leaving her confused as to what happened. After a time she tried again, feeling herself and found the same glow coming off of her body. It didn't light up the road or the trees, but merely herself, her form. Could she have detected... herself? She would need to find another living thing and try to feel that as well, see if it glowed too.

It was near midnight and Anya was beat. The road no longer had slow slopes, but was angling upwards and winding back on itself. She was in the foothills now, or did they call them hoof hills? Either way the incline was beating the hell out her legs. It would be another twenty miles to Oretin, there was no way she was going to make it tonight. Not with the weakness in her muscles and on four sore hooves.

She grumbled, the pace slowed to a shuffle as the mare began to look around in the moonlight for somewhere to stay. Trees rocks and the occasional small field, nowhere looked habitable. Thoughts of avoiding the family camping trip now seemed like a bad idea, even worse when she realized she didn't have a tent or a blanket at all. There was a grouping of rocks in gravel off the side of the road. It was going to have to do. It offered some wind protection, but not much else.

Anya gathered sticks fallen logs from the ground near the receding treeline in addition to more than an arm load of tall grass. She spread the grass between two rocks and placed the sticks and wood into a pile, well away from the grass and focused on them with her mind, calling upon her horn to do the deed. They burst into flames in an instant. It was the first time she had been able to start a fire intentionally and in the place where she wanted it.

A smile crept across her muzzle, a flood of warmth spread through her skull and her heart rate began to increase. It was undeniable that it felt good, why it did was foreign to her. Anya just stared into the fire on the makeshift bed of grass, watching it dance across the glowing wood as it consumed it.

She reached out, edging a hoof closer and closer to the warmth. As she did, the flames turned from a golden orange and yellow into a deep blue, the wood hissing in protest as all of it's energy was being pulled from the fibers. Her hoof touched the bed of coals, but wasn't injured.

The fire burnt with the brilliance of the sun, a white hot that sent clear shadows across the road. From miles away it looked as if a star from the sky was placed on the hillside. In a powerful flash as the entire amount of stored energy in the wood was brought out in a blinding nova. It was a warmth she had never felt before, and was content only when she drew it within herself.

A shiver of pleasure ran down her skull, sending a brilliant warmth to every corner of her body. She could feel it's power within her, edging away the chill that had been building. Yes, this was what she needed. The fatigue had vanished and was replaced with an endless well of energy. Anya cooed in delight, one that ended abruptly when she realized the brilliant fire had faded into a pile of fine back ash, no trace of warmth inside it at all.

The world began to glow around her, everything began to shine from deep within it's core. The ground was an ember orange, the trees a stark yellow and the sky itself burned white. There wasn't anything she couldn't feel. The valley below lit up as if under the brightest sun. She lifted the soot covered hoof from the pit and stood up.

Around the ground she could see brilliant white spots, mice scurrying about in the fields. The sky was filled with more dots, not stars but bats and owls. Pinpricks of insects and moths buzzed lazily about. It was euphoria, she could feel the power within all of it, she could take it as her own, it just needed to be coaxed out. And she knew how to do it.

The dream state started to end, the shine started to simmer down as the brilliantly lit world faded back into blue moonlight. Brought from her catatonic state, Anya recoiled in horror. This was something new, and the feelings that came with it slurring her mind with a powerful sludge. She... she saw everything for what it was, and wanted it. Wanted all of that energy inside her. If the fire felt as pleasing as it did, imagine then entire valley in flames. The entire valley under her control, energy for her to feed from.

NO! Not that. She wouldn't fall into what Ember did. She wouldn't do that, she COULDN'T. What would that mean for Twilight, another host repeating the same thing. It would kill her, or even worse break her mind down into nothing. She couldn't do that, make Twilight re-live it.

Think of something other than the chemical release it gave her. Think of anything but the warmth, the glow and the power coursing through her body. The noose. Oh Christ, that was horrible. Her throat closed up as she swallowed, the unfriendly blush of red that turned into purple over time, the pressure in her skull and the wrenching tightness around her neck. That was enough, her legs began to quiver as she remembered climbing those stairs, hooded in a black bag.

Ember's body, her body, was really fucked up. She knew that she needed help, or guidance as to what this was, why it was so pleasant. With ragged breath she collected more logs, started another fire and sat the studding ring tightly on her horn as she turned away from it. A second 'helping' of whatever that was could end in tragedy. She chewed a mouthful of the wheat heads and added the stalks to the bedding.

The fatigue returned and she closed her heavy eye lids. A tear escaped and ran down her cheek. Anya began shivering in fear, she didn't want to disappoint Twilight. It took enough to convince her once she wasn't Ember. The second time wouldn't be possible, and a second round at the gallows... Celestia... Help.

"Hey." A voice called to her.

Anya stirred from her sleep, "Yea, show me the exit from the park." she moaned, rolling half awake onto her hooves. Wait, she wasn't in that park, that was a few days ago.

"Are you OK dude?" The male voice asked.

Anya rubbed her eyes with a hoof, smearing ashes all over her face. "Yea I'm fine, what is it?" The blurry blue shape didn't respond, rather sound like he was choking.

"Are you ok? You sound-" she stopped as her vision cleared. Standing before her was a light blue pegasus, with all the colors of the rainbow in his short cut mane and tail. Anya took another look up and down his body, not believing what she saw.

"Are you..." she paused as he emitted the choking sounds, now sitting on the ground, both front hooved pressed against his muzzle, cheeks showing red. "Rainbow-"

"OH MY GOSH, I can't hold it in anymore! You look like a raccoon!" the pegasus let loose with an energetic laugh, nearly collapsing to the ground.

"What?" Anya blushed, stricken by confusion and a very attractive Rainbow Dude.

"Don't tell me!" he blurbed out between laughing gasps, "Rarity said that make-up looked good on you?"

"Make up-" Anya's eyes widened, just realizing that she had ground soot across her face from a dirty hoof. She let out a small infectious giggle herself and retrieved the canteen to wash herself.

Rainbow's laugh stifled into a giggle, wiping tears from his face. "It looks good on you!"

Anya couldn't respond. She was alight with honor to be in front of Rainbow Dash, whatever gender he was in this incarnation of pony. From a pony's perspective, he was very attractive and anytime he wanted he could put-

"Are you ok though? It looks like you were crying last night. Did somepony not leave a message after a good night?" He grinned and gave her shoulder a little nudge.

"No-no. It was... nothing really. Just afraid." She hesitated. Anya was afraid of herself, but Rainbow would think she was a little wimp for saying that.

"Sounds lame. There's nothing to be afraid of out here. No monsters from Ponyville to Canterlot." he stretched a hoof towards Ponyville and Canterlot.

"So you are he- I mean him. The one and only, the most awesomest pegasus in all of Equestria. Rainbow-"

"Yes, yes! Please, you are embarrassing me." he chuckled nervously while scratching the back of his head and looking at the ground.

A bit of light was brought back into her world. Anya had met THE Rainbow Dash. He was quite the looker as well. Stars felt as if they were floating through her eyes, but were soon replaced with the fact that she had a long way to travel. If Rainbow was to travel with her for a while, she would not complain, looking up as he flew beside her, seeing his-

"I came out here to check out that light from last night. The patrolling pegasus said it looked like an explosion, but didn't want to check on it until morning. Buncha wusses."

"Oh. That was me. I am really good at creating fires..." Anya trailed off. He was going to know exactly who she was in an instant.

"Awesome!" He grinned, whipping open his wings and taking to the sky to do a loop. "Can you do it again! I want to see THAT!"

"I- uh. It was a bit too much last night. I was afraid I'd set the whole forest on fire. I don't want to do that." Anya explained, turning her attention to the smoldering fire from the previous night. She kicked a hoof to spread dirt across the coals to extinguish it.

"I'm Anya by the way."

"Cool. So, where are you headed?"

"Canterlot. Thought I'd walk there from Ponyville." Anya said flatly, she just wanted to stay away from talking about the fire last night. She pulled the map out and began to focus attention to it. Anything to draw attention away from Rainbow.

She was averaging twenty leagues a day. It was going to take the better part of a two weeks to get to Canterlot. But... Cloudsdale was seventy Leagues from Ponyville and she was already forty into that journey. From there she could catch the train to Canterlot. That sounded like a much more sound plan.

Walking that far was a bit of a large bite. First time she got to be alone and see with world and she was ready to take the easy route. It was less exciting than she had thought. She half expected the road to be lively, pair up with a random pony traveling with her. Spend the days talking as they traveled. It was quite the opposite, just her and her thoughts.

"Canterlot. Jeeze, that's a stiff walk for a unicorn."

Was that just... pony racism, or species-ism? Each type was supposed to have a different endurance. Earth ponies were on their hooves all day, doing physical work. Unicorns used magic most of the time and Pegasus tended to fly all over.

"I guess. I haven't seen much of the world and I want to explore it for myself." she shrugged, letting the unicorn comment slide. Truth was it didn't mean much to her, they were all ponies after all.

"Not much to see but farmland and mountains. See one boring field, you have seen them all. Even Cloudsdale is meh. I mean, yea, city on the clouds is great. But that looses it's cool factor almost immediately." Rainbow shrugged.

"But that is the magical stuff I want to see! I mean, I have not seen a pegasus flying up close before, makes me wish I had wings."

"Then just look at me for a while," Rainbow started to flex his muscles comically "Cause there ain't no awesomer thing anywhere."

Anya giggled lightly, realizing that it was possible Rainbow was flirting with her. And she was completely OK with that, but was completely not OK with the fact that she was OK with that. Christ, this was starting to sound like an incompetent writer shipping her with Rainbow.

No, she wasn't going to do that. None of the popular named ponies were going to be with her. Shipping and OC injection was the worst thing ever. She had bigger problems right now, mainly finding out where to go next and what was wrong with her body before she even thought about settling into whatever was 'normal' here.

Oretin was about an hour away, a quick look to the sky told her that it was early, possibly before nine. She could make it there by noon, definitely.

"I have a long road ahead of me. Did... did you want to keep me company?" Anya asked, hopeful that Rainbow would say yes.

"Naw. I like to move at my own pace, and no offense, but flying slow or walking isn't my speed. I'll see about finding you in Canterlot in a month, maybe I can buy you some dinner?" Rainbow grinned, winking an eyebrow at her.

"Oh," Anya was taken back. Rainbow was hitting on her, or just joking. It was hard to tell what he meant. "I guess." she grinned sheepishly. "I'm thinking on catching a train at Cloudsdale though."

"Ok, well, I gotta go then. Catch you around Anya." Rainbow grinned. In an instant his wings pushed a large volume of air and sped off to the sky, leaving her sight in several seconds.

Wow, he was fast. And a cock tease as well, the male version of a cock tease. A plot tease. Or maybe that was just Rainbow being Rainbow and any covert sexual reference she was getting was just the remnants of her over sexualized humanity. Funny thing that, sexuality. She'd stared at alot of pony flesh in the three months she had been here, it was unavoidable as most of them were 'naked'. But it did nothing for her, at least her body, as it adapted to become numb to any arousing thoughts.

In all honesty, she didn't want to experience heat. A year of nothing, then a few weeks of being on fire... Not looking forward to that. In fact, being disconnected from a sexual drive made her realize how shallow and pedantic such thoughts were. Humans- she had made it a ritual, something to do because it felt good. It's repetition had taken the fun out of it and abstaining put the act into the light of it's importance. Procreation, above all. It did feel amazing though, it had to. Who would want to procreate if it just meant getting hot and sweaty without feeling euphoria?

With the futility of arousing thoughts failing her, Anya waved to the clouds where Rainbow had disappeared into. He was as self infatuated as ever, other than the gender swap, Rainbow was still Rainbow, from what she could tell anyway.

Anya double checked the fire cautiously. Even studded it may have an effect on her, but it was out cold. She readied her satchel, had a light breakfast and continued up the road into the hills towards the Unicorn Mountain range. A mental check had her at Oretin at noon and a small town near the summit at nightfall. She was looking forward to a bed, as the two nights previous she slept outside.

Time on the road let her think. There wasn't much to do but put each hoof forward to advance. As the woods thinned to a remote treeline and eventually just lone pines, at least they look like pine trees, became scarce. The road became rough, blending into the ground that was equal part rocks and gravel. The wagon wheel tracks grooving the 'road' were the only indication that she was still on track.

Anya thought about Rainbow coming onto her and what that meant for her future here. Her sustainability to have something 'normal'. Everything she had learned aside from mathematics and the ability to speak and read became useless the second she arrived. It didn't matter what job or experience she held back on Earth, it amounted to a hill of sand here.

Motors and communications were primitive in their own regards, relying on magic most of the time to operate. Computers didn't exist, everything was typewriters or pencil and paper. For what ever reason, a typewriter with six keys was able to discern what letter to print. Twilight said it was all about where one applied pressure on those keys, that's how it knew what to type. But she was a unicorn, no need for those. Still, everything she knew meant near nothing here.

A grey depression washed over her, realizing that she was at square one. At some point she would have to take this body's old role as Arch Mage of Alteration, but right now that didn't mean anything. It was a long road back there, as she needed to master everything Ember knew. It still left her in the wind, with no direction.

Part of her problem was that of most dreams in regards to pony-world. That one enters Equestria, befriends the main cast and goes on wild adventures with them, or have sex. So far she was one for three, and the last option was unappealing at this moment in time. With as stark as reality was here in comparison to Earth, a wild adventure probably had them seeing broken bones and battle scars. It was a hollow hope that she would see something akin to a season finale, but would settle for some grand... thing to happen.

Still. What could she do? Arch Mage sounded like a responsibility, a duty more than a job. Still, Ember seemed pretty stable. Her house had many lavish decorations she hadn't seen outside that house, even though now they were ash. Maybe that was how work went here, do what you are good at and want for nothing, outside of fantasies. Twilight never got any bits for the rental of books, but she always had some to spend. Anya just didn't understand how work and payment went.

If Apple Jack hadn't offered her a job, which she may not be capable of, what could she do to make money to feed herself and put a roof over her head? Being exposed to a different culture and not having to worry about copy write laws, the options seemed endless. So many hours of television, watching trash movies and shows were an endless well to draw from, but might not go over well here.

From a historical perspective, there was a wealth of information in her head. Unfortunately it was all stories that were interesting relative to humans. The fantasy lands of wizards and unicorns, world ending villains and bizarre characters. In Equestria, these fantastic elements were a part of everyday life. All boiled down, there was nothing in her head worth trying to recreate here.

A fire fighter! That was something she could do with ease! She could already take all of the fight out of a fire, and what better way to put her body's alignment with it to actual good use. No, no no no... Last night was a wake up call and until she was able to better understand herself, she couldn't do that again. At least not until she understood was was wrong with her.

Anya sighed. Thinking about what she was going to do was depressing, considering her lack of skills. For right now she was just going to get to Canterlot, nothing else. She'd get a new direction to go in, if that was what Celestia wanted her to do. Then she'd make AJ's job offer work. It would be a change, something normal she was used to. Work like normal and begin to experiment, find out what she was good at here. Nothing more for now. Simple, to the point and flexible.

God, Ember was a lazy pony. It was just over two and a half days and roughly forty five leagues into the journey and she was already suffering from muscle fatigue. Perhaps there was something to the species variations. A quick calculation had her covering roughly a hundred and sixty miles.

Anya had to stop at that realization. One hundred and sixty miles. Never in her life did she think that she would embark on a journey like this. That was three hours in a car, nothing to be bothered about back on earth. That was a major milestone and found herself smiling. The fact that she had walked that far in a short amount of time was an achievement in itself and with that glow she felt a bit of energy return and started uphill again.

Oretin was close, still up the hill a ways, but the sounds of shouting voices and grinding of metal reached her ears on the wind. It was faint, barely discernible if your attention wasn't focused on it, but she heard it. Lunch with miner ponies, it actually sounded interesting.

After twenty minutes of walking, Anya finally arrived to find the town rather run down. Several houses on the outskirts had collapsed and those that survived were in a state of neglect. The noises she heard were windmills grinding out the rust that had replaced the grease and flocks of birds that had roosted in the houses, chirping and singing. At a distance they sounded like voices, but up close it was just the birds.

Instead of poking about, Anya just trotted with a quick pace through the center of town. The large entrance to the mine was visible from most of the town. A massive carved stone archway, large enough to pass a train engine through. It would have been interesting to take a peek inside, but the derelict town had an ominous presence. With all of the supernatural things around Equestria anyway, it might be pushing it to explore such a place.

As she continued up the hill, she wondered the validity of the map. Some of the homesteads she had passed earlier in the journey were not marked. Hopefully the small town at the summit was there. The sun was beginning to drop lower in the sky and being on top of the large hill in another abandoned town was not her idea of a good night's rest.

Luckily her fears were abated when she reached the top of the hill. Exhausted, hungry and just flat worn out, the last light of the sun let her see the simple shapes of buildings with a soft glow from the windows. The town didn't appear to have a name and the buildings looked to be built recently.

She found a small lodge, an Equestria Motel 6. The mare at the desk was pleasant, but the days of walking had done their damage on Anya. She was just looking for someplace to lay down for the night. Paying a single bit for the room, dinner included, the mare went inside to find it disappointing.

Anya half expected to see a television, a tiny coffee maker and a fresh made bed with old sheets that looked dodgey as to whether or not they had really had been cleaned. Hotel stigma.

Instead she found a simple bed, a small nightstand and an old-school bathing tub in the corner. She deposited her satchel and canteen on the nightstand and slipped into the bed. Tomorrow there would be time to chart her course.

As she was drifting off into a deep sleep, she heard the attendant bring in dinner and place it on the nightstand. It would be breakfast tomorrow. For now she just needed sleep.


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Ohh... Celestia... Every morning was beginning to feel the same. Last night it was booze, as the night before. Today was just the weariness of the journey catching up to her, the two hundred miles she had traveled on hoof. From the moment Anya rolled out of bed she felt the stiffness ring hard in all appendages. A calf-like burning in her front legs felt odd as she walked to the small spear like porcelain toilet. It looked like a stretched urinal that one backs up to, the cold tongue passing between her thighs and soon the business was done.

Over the breakfast spread that was dinner from last night, the mare folded open the map AppleJack had given her. Down in the bottom right corner was a date stamp, 'CE: April, 2031', the faded letters read, as was the sky on the map that used to be blue. CE stood for Celestial Era, but the date meant nothing to her, it could have been 2077 for all she knew. One thing was certain, that the smaller towns on the map may not exist at all anymore, Oretin proved that.

The next big stop was Cloudsdale and Cloudsdale Minor. The town she was in now wasn't listed, but it was just at the peak, north of Oretin. Right now she was in the Unicorn Range mountains that sat west of Canterlot. From the rest of the mountains on the map these were not snow covered, but were on the eastern end of the range and lower in altitude than the others. She brought out her hoof, in an attempt to use a thumb to measure the legend to a length on a digit but laughed instead. A small piece of ribbon from the bit purse sufficed as well.

Cloudsdale was a day and a half away though hills and the valleys between there. Another small town was between the two and had an icon of a wineglass and grapes beside it, Cork. Considering last night's find, she would have to ask the attendant where would be best to stay later on that night, so she wouldn't wind up trying to get to Cloudsdale in the dark of night if Cork didn't exist.

Maybe buy a blanket or coat, the mountains before her weren't snow capped, but the leaves changing color on her journey was a sign the weather was sure to change. And here, the pegasus could change that in less than a day. Making decent time through the small mountains in fair weather only to be hindered by a swift chill that the pegasus would roll in.

Anya packed up what food was left from breakfast and made sure she had everything before leaving the room in search of a shop for some form of cold weather wear and advice on staying on Cork or pushing on through the night.

She was being followed.

Anya had an unshakable feeling that there was somepony behind her, watching her every move. Time and again she would turn and look but would never see anypony. Scouring the cloudless sky for a sneaking pegasus was just as fruitless. She couldn't shake the chill that ran up her spine, seen or not, there was somepony out there. A presence she couldn't explain but rather feel.

The feeling started when she left 'New' Oretin as she dubbed it. Nopony paid her any mind in the town and the shop keep was more than happy to part with a thick wool hooded cloak for a single bit. A pressing feeling that she had caught a tail made her wary, paranoia had her looking over her shoulder every few minutes.

There was nothing to back this feeling up but the knowledge that there were eyes on her. There was no sense of direction from the voyeur, rather it felt like it was coming from everywhere. It was just the pit in her stomach that was a cautionary tale as it twisted in knots. Thoughts of who or what it might be behind her began to swirl in her head.

The whole Ember ordeal was done. By order of the Princesses, she was not to be touched. Any problems she had were to be taken immediately to them, no matter how trivial or substantial. Now that she was away from Ponyville and the lording protection of Warden Twilight, she felt that she was fair game. Somepony with a grudge left to settle, sneaking up on her at night. She doubled her pace, intent to get to Cork before nightfall.

The road was nerve racking, the feeling wouldn't leave her. Anya wasn't able to focus on the scenery around her, just plod on ahead at a quickened pace while constantly pausing at random intervals to see if she could hear hoof steps. The frightened mare took off the ring around her horn, it would look bad to a bystander, but anything that came close to her would be ashed.

By the time she reached Cork, her nerves were frayed. Anya stepped into a side alley and put on the cloak she bought, pulling the hood up over her head and hid the satchel the best she could. An exit further down the alley should have slipped anypony following her.

Once further in town the feeling left her. Relieved, she was able to drop the hood and take in the sights.

Each building was a rough wooden log frame. The walls between them were different colored blues and rich, multi-colored stained glass windows adorned every house no matter the size. Signs littered the main street above doorways; Wagoner, Casks, a couple Inns and Restaurants. The streets were packed full of ponies that were hauling, moving or running about everywhere.

From the town's position in the valley Anya looked at both of the hills running parallel to it. One side bore a grove of what looked like small trees trained to grow sideways and stripped of leaves. The opposite was halfway stripped and swarming with an army of rainbow colored ponies who seemed to be working on a deadline to get the rest of the green mass of plants into carts that were zig-zagging down the hill then back up once emptied. It was an amazing sight to see as they moved about.

The streets were the same. The carts from the hill with gaily painted logos being hauled into large wooden structures, unloaded and then back up to the hill. Ponies carrying bags, casks, papers and all manor of goods scrambling between each other to get where they were going made the streets hard to traverse. Eventually Anya made it into a rather busy inn and waited for the line to clear up.

"I'd like a room for the night." she said, tired of standing in line for what felt like an eternity.

"I'm sorry, we are all full." The dark grey pony with a candle in a brass holder as a cutie mark replied.

"Oh. Then can you point me to another inn?"

"I'm sorry miss. I own both Inns in this town and we are full to capacity."

Anya's muzzle twisted downward on one side, more in thought than in frustration. Tit for tat, tit for tat.

"What do I have to do?" she asked.

"Excuse me?" The receptionist asked.

"You have a couch over there in the lounge," the mare pointed to the large open area where some of the guests were sitting at the moment, conversing. "I can sleep there.

There was a momentary pause as the receptionist searched her mind.

"My father is harvesting the last of the grapes and in a rush before the pegasus push in the fall frost later on tonight. Give him a hoof and I can let you say on the couch. Tell him Votive sent you over."

"Where is he?" Anya asked, annoyed at the feeling that she was supposed to psychically divine where he was.

"He's probably on the side of the hill with all the commotion, shouting his lungs out." Votive sighed.

"Allright, thanks." Anya said while turning to go out the door.

God dammit.

Anya dragged herself into the hotel. Her chest was bruised and tender from the harness. Every leg ached with the acid burning of a workout gone to far and her entire body was covered in dirt. Pulling a cart wasn't as easy as the earth ponies made it look. She sputtered in the dirt for a while, hauling the hundred-some-odd pound cart was bad enough but load of grapes and leaves was worse. She just didn't have the strength to properly pull or stop the cart, leaving her hooves to fail and grind her body along the trodden path until it came to a stop.

Sure it was fun and games, unicorn hauling a cart, but when she ate shit on the ground, everypony came to help her. A good dose of ribbing for fun, but changed when she fell. After that she suggested to join the younger ponies at the drinking area and haul refreshments up to the stand, nopony said no to that.

Anya was beginning to think there was truth to the whole three different races of pony. The Earth ponies kept going and going, cart after cart and it wasn't just the stallions as even the mares were keeping up. She was beginning to understand the aversion to hard back breaking work everypony other than the earth ones had.

The sun had long since set and she dragged herself to the couch and passed out before she was even fully on it. The white cushioned became stained earth color, something she was going to have to deal with in the morning. If she didn't die in her sleep from exhaustion first.

"Twilight, leave me alone, I'm not in the mood today..." she grumbled through sleep heavy eyes. The commotion of the library was all around her, ponies milling about. Wait. She was in the hotel in Cork, the constant anguish of her mind turning to Twilight as an omen of ill content was beginning to worry her. She didn't want that.

"No, it's Votive. Are you allright?"

"Um... Yes. I am." Anya pressed her hooves under her to lift her from sleep and into a sitting pose. Her chest thumped in anguish from the past day and her hooves pulsed in a deep ache. Today was going to suck. "I'm sorry about the couch..." she mumbled half awake.

"It's fine. Most of the ponies here on business have gone already and it needed a good cleaning anyway. Can't remember the last time it was cleaned in all honesty." Votive smiled. "There's not much left from breakfast, some pancakes and grapes."

"Any bacon or sausage?" Anya jested from her drowsy state.

Votive went wide eyed. "You c-can't be serious." she gasped.

"It was a joke. What I could really use is some morphine." she had quelled the mare's horror as she stretched her limbs, hoping that fatigue would leave them soon.

"Some what?"

"Never mind, I'll eat some breakfast and be on my way."

Votive didn't say a word, merely nodded slowly in confusion and pointed to the dining area that was being cleaned at this hour in the late morning. Anya slowly lowered herself to the ground, grunting in a bit of pain and made her way through the doors.

"There is a bath out back, I suggest you use it afterwards." Votive said in a stern voice as she watched hoof prints of dirt form across the wooden floor, causing Anya to pause and tread more carefully.

Instead of dirtying up the chair and table, Anya instead grabbed what little pancakes were left and a half eaten vine of grapes then followed the signs above the doors to the bath house.

She settled into a wooden tub that looked like a cask for wine that had been halved for water, it's brother right beside it. The hot water felt good as it lifted the layer of dust from her back and began to dissolve the larger clumps that stuck to her underbelly and chest.

The water was deep enough to float in, leaving her hooves to barely touch the bottom as she nibbled on the food she brought with her. In all honesty she could have fallen asleep again right there. But after a quick dunk below the surface to completely clean herself she felt strength returning in a small portion. Strength enough to limp to Cloudsdale minor and get on a train. Then sleep for a month when she arrived in Canterlot.

Anya dried herself off, deposited the last of the grapes in her satchel and spread the map out on the cleared table. The biggest part of the journey behind her, now that she decided to skip the other half by riding on the rails to her destination. She would be in Cloudsdale Minor by nightfall at least.

She thanked Votive for the hospitality, apologized again about the couch and slipped the wool cloak she had bought once the frigid air nipped at her upon stepping hoof outside. It was warm and cloudless yesterday, today there was a gloomy grey cloud cover and a bitter nip on the wind. From picnic to snow plows in one day. Earth or Equestria, the smell of threatening snow was the same.

The chill of being tailed crept into her flank again, but was soon abated when she managed to catch up to a cart laden with wine barrels. They didn't mind that she tagged along, they were headed to the same destination as she was, from there they were headed southward to Las Pegasus.

Anya fell in stride with a light colored purple pony, his pink mane cut short so that it was more like a three inch mohawk that fanned out near the front, leaving only a tiny portion of his horn sticking out. His body was nearly covered with the same type of cloak she wore, obscuring his cutiemark and tail. She matched stride on his right and began a conversation to help pass the time.

"So, where are you headed?" She asked.

"Baltimare. The turning of the seasons means it's harvesting time." He replied with a smile.

"I've noticed that everypony is doing that, I guess it's that time of year." Anya stated, "What are you harvesting up there?"

"Alchemical ingredients for potions. The frost does something wonderful to the lichens and mushrooms in the outskirts of the city. Great for aching joints."

Anya remembered that Alchemy wasn't turning lead int gold, rather something like what medicine men did. Mix together plants and ingredients for salves and ointments, only here they were alot stronger because there was a bit of magic involved in everything. On par, it was no different medicine. Any pill was made from natural or synthesized materials, from the plants and trees, only in a more concentrated form.

"And that is what you do, make potions? How long have you been doing it?"

"Since I came here, to... Equestria. I wasn't raised here. Taught the art of Alchemy and Herb-lore from the zebra's. They have a connection to herbs and plants, not like ponies without wings or horns."

"Pegasus, Earth and Unicorns?" Anya asked, confused at the terminology he wasn't using.

"Is that what they are called?" he chuckled to himself.

"You are a unicorn." Anya stated, taking a second to stop and point at his horn.

"Yea, as much good as that does. I guess that all those years outside Equestria, I guess I didn't develop right." he shrugged, stopping and facing Anya.

Once stopped, she noticed something odd. The left half of his face and neck had stripes on it. Three on his cheek and four down his neck, they almost looked like tattoos and the fur that grew in their stead was turned black.

"Are those tattoos?" she asked, in honest interest.

"Sort of. It's a root extract, more of a dye. It's a long and painful process that takes days to complete."

"But why? What does it mean?"

"It's a marking, that I understand and respect the zebra. Each stripe is for every year that I have learned with them."

Anya looked puzzled, before asking for an explanation he provided one:

"Zebra's believe that everything is connected. Everything everywhere touches everything. There is an un-felt connection, one that cannot be quantified, weighed or measured. From the head, the center of life, down the back and to the tail is a strip of differently colored fur. This solid piece branches out into points away from the center, the source.

"The zebra believe that their stripes are a symbol of connectivity. From the center we spread out to the world beyond. For us, the stripes do not end, they continue on into eternity. Where my stripes end, more begin, return to the center of another and continue on from there."

"Most think it's a religion of sorts. It's more of an observation of life, death and the continuity of all things. Everything starts at the source, extends and returns. All manner of life, no matter what form it is has an aura, an energy. It speaks to those willing to listen. All of creation whispering to you, allowing you to whisper back."

Anya remained silent for a while, mulling over what she had just been told. Zebras did have a unique way of looking at things. They continued to walk along side each other for a while before she asked another question, spurred on by head cannons of others as to what zebra were and the relationship between them and the ponies.

"I don't want to be offensive, but pony and zebra relationships, how is that? What's going on with it?"

"They aren't about to blow each other to kingdom come." The stallion laughed. "But as with ponies, they like to stick with or make friends with those of their own type. I guess it's because they are more comfortable with what they know. But ponies are ponies and zebra are zebra I guess. There is always someone that is going to hate the other. What do you think?"

"I don't know. I just know that some ponies think they are scum, talking bad about them. I see them all, us all, as the same species. Just in different environments, they grew to adapt. Ponies in northern colder areas tend to have thicker coats and manes, those in southern areas tend to have lighter, finer fur because of the heat. I say they just adapted to the areas where they live." Anya explained things as she felt they were.

"Also, you said you were raised outside of Equestria your whole life, does that mean you are seven?" Anya asked, referring to the tattoos.

"No, I'm thirty-two." he answered.

A quick bit of math made him rougly eighteen in earth years. Still a young pony. But the seven marks didn't make sense, they didn't extend any further down his neck, it was the light purple down for a few inches before the cloak took over.

"But you said each one was a year, if you are thrity-two there are twenty five years unaccounted for with seven stripes."

The stallion sighed. "It's a long story. To make it short, I guess I forgot who I was. I woke up one day and nothing made sense. I.. didn't know what was real, or anything but how to speak really..."

"And you spent time in a hospital." Anya finished, "I had something happen like that happen a while ago, an identity crisis so to speak."

"That sounds alot better than 'Hey, I don't remember who I was the past two decades and spent a year in a mental ward.' Identity crisis sounds alot better."

Anya had noticed some oddities in the way he was speaking and math that didn't add up. It may have been a long shot, but as they were speaking she felt... something odd, something similar between the two. She had an incling that she needed to test.

"I don't think an insane asylum has the same stigma attached to it here as it does back on earth." She said nonchalantly, poking, prodding, waiting for the response she was sure that would come.

"No, here it just seems to be like a regular visit to the doctor's off-..." he stopped speaking and stopped mid-stride in the road. Shocked down to the core. Anya had stopped as well, a giant shit-eating grin across her muzzle that stretched a mile wide.

"No,"the stallion shook his head in disbelief. "You mean there are more, there are others... from Earth? Sub-Way and Coca-Cola and horrible synth music from the 80's?"

"And Burger King, video games and flavored condoms. And bacon. Fucking bacon!" Anya squealed, nearly ready to explode. To jump twenty feet into the air and sent colorful balls of light into infinity with how happy she was.

The stallion fell to the ground on his rear, his legs shaking uncontrollably. "So you are dead too then..."

"What?! No! I'm not dead, you aren't dead." Anya said, her voice turning to concern.

"Then where are we? Last thing I remember before waking up in a field and screaming for ten minutes was a crash or something, something horrible."

"Best way to describe it, I think it's an alternate dimension. String theory, the multi-vrsre or something like that. Kinda like earth but with ponies instead of people. But we are very much alive, I know that for certain."

"I'm just... We'd better catch up to the wagon." he said, picking himself up from the ground and slowly heading off until he was sure he could gallop at a decent pace.

"What's wrong?" Anya asked as they slowed down in stride with the wagon again.

"I don't know, this changes everything. I thought I was in some sort of afterlife or something. Dead. Insane hell in the beginning and then a reward after living through it." The air of confidence had left his voice, he began to speak slower.

"What changes though? You are on your way to Baltimare, for your potions."

"You're here now, that changes everything. I have so much to ask, questions about here and back on earth. I have been so scared to talk to anyone about it. A nurse gave me some advice, told me that if I was from some other place, that I was here now and if I could get over that hurdle and live here and now that things would be better. And they have. But knowing for certain that this isn't some sort of heaven or hell... it changes everything. I... I want to get back, go home."

As much as Anya had positive feelings about continuing her life here, even with the rocky start, she began to regret saying anything about earth. This was all fine and dandy for her, a familiar surrounding to her, something passably comfortable. For someone else, this may have been a dream or nightmare, and she just woke him up with an equivalent of a gunshot going off by his ear.

"I'm sorry." she apologized.

"When did you get here? And how?" the stallion blew off her apology. A once dead vigor renewed to full potency.

Anya thought the best way to go forward was carefully, answering each question with a certain degree of truth.

"A few months ago. I was in bed one night and then," she paused. If she told him that she was 'invited', he'd think there was a way out and drive himself insane trying to get back. "I woke up in a basement. They'd mistaken me for someone else, and I nearly died because of that. As for how I got here, it was magic or something, this world is full of it."

"There has to be more! You don't just come here for no reason. The... the amount of energy required to cross dimensions, streams, wherever this place is... There has to be a machine somewhere." The unicorn started rambling, spouting off every science fiction television theory on different dimensions he could think of. "I just... I... Have to get back, you HAVE to help me."

"I don't think I want to go back." Anya swallowed hard, seeing an image of her previous body, dead somewhere, didn't matter where, just the latent image that popped into her mind of a lifeless corpse after it was struck down from across realities. "Don't want to go back and die, find out that I am dead, if that is the case, while I'm still clearly alive here."

There was a long pause in the conversation. The stallion's hoof steps seemed harder, his pace quickened, as if he had a purpose and was heading towards it.

"What would have happened if I never said anything?" Anya broke the silence after what felt like hours.

"I'd have probably gone onto Baltimare, collected my ingredients and headed back to Shoal on the coast. I live on the beach, I always loved the beach..."

"Then do that. I don't know how I got here, I don't know if I can leave. I would think that knowing you weren't dead was a good thing. You seemed genuinely happy before. We can't pretend this never happened, but we can't change anything about where we are."

"I need some time to think... Make sense of something I had put behind me and forgotten nearly a decade ago. I just... need some time to think." he said quietly, lowering his head as they began to walk in silence.

The clouds began to thicken up. Lost in conversation as they walked and passed time the scenery had changed. Trees thinned out and stopped growing, the air became thinner and a steady incline was leading them forever upward. Frost spread across the ground and the last few patches of grass that dared grow at this altitude disappeared.

Rocks started to dot the landsacpe, ones that soon turned into boulders and eventually began to meld into the landscape as it turned into one massive rock that was the ground. The fine gravel that crunched under hoof turned into slightly stepped stones with knee high walls around the path.

The air became biting cold, whistling across the rocks and blasting the traveling caravan hard. It forced those who were uncloaked to slip into protection from the frigid weather.

Silently they all trotted on until they slowed to a crawl, feeling out the path through a choking fog that rendered them blind. Anya quietly slipped of the studding ring and tried the spell she had accidentally cast before. She called it 'Detect life', as that is what it did. It cut through the fog and the ten ponies around her were perfectly visible as white silhouettes against the cold blue ground.

Snow blanketed the ground, first in tiny flurries, then hoof deep. The carriage ponies began to tread even slower as not to loose their grip on the frozen stairs. After a deathly slow pace they all stopped, as the ground leveled out. The outlines of warm houses appeared, other ponies and the start of a small city swept the perfectly flat landscape before her.

"Look at the stars!" The stallion beside her paused from walking, head drawn towards the sky. Anya looked up and saw nothing and then pulled the veil of sight from her eyes.

The sky opened up in a flood of royal blue and violet, a liquid canvas of color swept around in swirls like an artist mixing paint. Small explosions of crimson and yellow clouds appeared, nebula too far to touch glowing in the light of the stars inside them.

Not a single cloud was to be seen as the heavens opened up. Billions of tiny specks of light dotted the sky. Stars arranged in strange constellations and shapes one could almost make out. Instinct drove her to look for the big dipper, but it was not to be found. Instead there were an uncountable number of other points of light to see things in.

The moon was cast in a brilliant soft blue, tainting the ground and everything in sight with it's glow. Everything spread out before her eyes was breath taking, there was no where on, or near Earth that looked like this.

"The stars are happy tonight." her companion said, breaking the long silence between them.

"What... does that mean?" Anya asked, her gaze still fixed skyward.

"It means good dreams tonight." he smiled weakly. "I haven't felt them like this in years."

"If we weren't unicorns and talking, I'd say you were crazy." the mare let a smile close her gaping maw.

"Let's find someplace to sleep for the night. You'll be able to see Cloudsdale in the morning."