A Guidepost in Equestria

by Death Pony

First published

An Undead Slayer from the Rifts universe finds himself in a strange land, hoping to prevent another catastrophic event caused by the evil out there in the Multiverse.

A True Atlantean and one of the last Undead Slayers in the Multiverse has been fighting the forces of darkness for a very long time. Seeing a new Guidepost appear in the Multiverse, he goes to investigate and hopefully warn them about the impending trouble such a feat may bring to their world.

A Visitor in Strange Lands

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Bright, blinding energy slowly began to fade from around me as my physical being begun to anchor itself to my new destination. I say me, but I suppose that technically it was only my mind and my soul since my body was still being express shipped to this plane of existence. Soon enough, I was whole again and sitting comfortably with my legs crossed and both my physical and metaphysical eyes closed. (Staring into the void for too long is hazardous to one’s existential health.) As one of the remaining Undead Slayers in the Multiverse, it was common for me to appear in strange lands to fight on the side of Justice and for the preservation of Life and Freedom.

I owed it to them after all.

This time, I had noticed a new Guidepost in the Multiverse, far on the Outside. It was almost imperceptible due to the short duration of the weak Rift that had connected it to the web of the Multiverse, but I had managed to be in the right place and the right time to notice it pulsing like a new born star. I traveled here to make sure that the worst dangers from the Beyond didn’t get a foothold in this new plane.

I felt my Heart in Chains spell was still in effect (which I often referred to as my ‘Invulnerability’ Tattoo) as was my ‘there-is-no-traveler’ spell, something I had cobbled together to make living beings just equate me as part of the background and not something that required a second thought; as such these spells seemed to be keeping me from immediate harm and notice…at least it seemed that way or my first day here could be off to a terrible start. I could tell almost immediately that I’d never been to a dimension so far on the Outside in relation to my home plane before, but some of the excitement I was experiencing had been missing from my excursions for far too long. Every time I made one of these Jumps it was a bit of a gamble, but I’d been lucky enough and smart enough to survive for a very, very long time in this line of work. I mean, one would be hard pressed to find a more dangerous hive of scum and villainy that my own Prime Plane, but there was always a 00 on the Roulette Wheel of Life.

Sometimes the house took everything.

Let’s just say that when I was young my people were the light of civilization for the entire planet and quite possibly the whole universe until our arrogance led us into oblivion. It was enough of a reminder to keep me cautious, despite how I continued to improve myself through study and practice.

Slowly cracking one eye open, I found myself sitting on some lush dark grass in an unpopulated area and after sending out my consciousness to feel the ley energy in the area for other forms of life and finding myself essentially alone, I decided to stop feeding my Invulnerability field and the faint blue aura winked out of existence. I was surrounded by a dark and dense forest, the air thick with tension as sunlight seemed to simply be absorbed by the foreboding wood. What little blue sky I could see was empty save a few wispy clouds and the air was cool but comfortable. The Guidepost I had anchored to was amidst some kind of massive ruin, probably hundreds if not a thousand years old from the looks of it and it seemed to me that it was once a fortress, or perhaps a castle of some sort. I relaxed my muscles and opened my eyes the rest of the way since nothing was about to munch on my not-so-tender flesh and realized that the place was far more vibrant and colorful than any plane I had visited in recent memory. Even a glance down at myself showed me that my usual non-descript attire was just…sharper, more focused, and just plain newer looking. My mouth twisted up a bit like I’d bitten into a lemon.

Not sure what to make of that. Guess it’s orientation and information gathering time.’

Well it could be worse; it could be raining.’

Traveling alone for so long I had developed a habit of trying to use humor and the occasional snarky remark to fend off the crushing loneliness I knew was just waiting to break me down once and for all. Having spent a number of years near the end of the twentieth century living in Pre-Rifts America, I had also picked up a small cache of pop-culture material to keep myself entertained.

Obscure references were quite entertaining when insulting the forces of darkness in verbal sparring but their usefulness in friendly negotiation was only dubious at best.

Thankfully I could always remind myself of all the lives I’d saved over my long lifespan or I’m pretty sure I would have ended up taking greater and greater risks until I gave up my life storming the home plane of some evil Super-Intelligence in a blaze of glory. I felt that spending what was a practically an immortal life span basically alone was far more terrifying than a simple death ever could be. Due to experimental magic during the end of an Era, my body had simply stopped aging and I was physically stuck at somewhere around my thirtieth year for the rest of my existence, although it came with a cost. I could still die, having almost managed it many times, but old age was no longer one of my worries and the pressure of facing an endless sea of years grinding down my soul in bloody battle had finally started to wear me down.

I feared madness was my final destination at this rate.

I slowly stood and stretched to my full height of 193cm (or 6 foot 4 depending on what human culture you asked) cracking my neck with a slight twist and I began to stretch a bit more vigorously to improve the blood flow to my cramped muscles.

Also my ass hurt from sitting for so long with my legs crossed.

Checking my gear while I stretched, I saw my black utility boots were still in good repair and the silver-alloy caps on the toes were moderately shiny and scratch free. The black jeans I had picked up last time I was on Pre-Rifts Earth (or Old Earth as I sometimes referred to it) were still holding up, the small leather bands and holsters on my calves and ankles that held my various accoutrements such as throwing knives, holy water, and a few Techno-Wizard devices I had found practical were still in place. My shirt was a simple dark blue cotton tee covered mostly by the black duster-robe I had custom made.

Normally robes would be tied at the waist and drag the ground but I found that both too limiting in physical combat and too friar-esque. My robe ended at the knee and was always open; its edge was a crisp white fold with black piping. I had kept the deep hood though; it had a number of practical uses and I always felt more like a student of the magical arts when I could pull the cowl up and unnerve people by shining my mismatched eyes out from the darkness at them while expounding vague threats or exposition. I had been born with green eyes, but a near miss from a death spell during a particularly harrowing episode had drained the pigment from my right eye, leaving it a bright blue. Even my most potent healing magic didn’t seem to work to restore the color but I took the trade off as just payment for being damn lucky to still be sucking air. My hair was pulled back into a simple braid, hidden beneath my robe and its stark white color was almost as attention grabbing as my eyes but like I said; experimental magic often leads to unexpected side-effects, annoying side-kicks, and many stock villains.

I had altered and rune-stitched my clothing with various layers of spells to help prevent it from rotting off of me in hostile environments and to keep most dirt and sweat from lingering, saving me from having to carry around many changes of clothes. I had paid a fortune to turn my robe into an extra-dimensional storage space which I abused as much as I could. I smiled when I reached into my robe and verified it was functioning perfectly. Being able to carry an arsenal of weaponry and look practically unarmed in the meantime? Priceless. Even naked though, I was a force to be reckoned with.

Having verified that I was all here and still in good shape, I decided to look around and figure out exactly what I could do to protect this place. Younger adventurers often Dimensional Jumped on a whim, seeking whatever winds of glory they could stumble into but I preferred to look for signs of new civilizations that had learned to reach for the Multiverse and at least warn them about the bigger game they had just thrown themselves into. I stretched out my mind along the ley lines of this world to feel for conflict and suffering I came up nearly empty.

I was honestly quite stunned.

Echoes of pain and suffering are often felt in the ley energy that stretches across a planet, even old sites of violence usually left behind a dirty smear on the Æthere but to my continued disbelief, I couldn’t find more than the slightest twinges of sadness or bitterness. Nothing as common as even hatred seemed to be readily available.

‘I’m not sure what scares me more; the lack of even the most basic of evils or me showing up here because it may be on the way. Whatever the case, something happened here that drew the wrong kind of attention from the wrong side of the tracks; dimensionally speaking.’

‘I’ve lived with just how frightening that was too.’

I knew that intelligent life was here on this world, I could ascertain that much from strumming the ley lines nearby but…near complete innocence for miles and miles? In all my centuries of Riftwalking, I had never even conceived of such a place. I would have to be extra careful here as I felt like a Weapon of Mass Destruction waking up in a children’s nursery and I was a little worried I would corrupt the indigenous life forms simply by being here. I had been lucky enough to notice this plane when it first appeared on my Planar Map and knowing how enticing the scavengers would find a new playground, I refused to simply bail out. If I was a WMD, whatever was coming could be a Global Killer by comparison, a sad reminder that I couldn’t save them all and too often I was forced to bitterly retreat while another plane was plunged into misery and death.

It was times like those that I missed my companions the most.

Eventually I fought off my dark musings and the curious scholar buried under all my baggage decided I just had to meet the kind of beings that didn’t seem to suffer the full concepts of murder, torture, or slavery…at least from my initial findings they didn’t.

I had always done my best over the centuries to do the mysterious stranger cliché; pop in unexpectedly, defeat the trespassing Evil, and then disappear into the night with a slight flourish while trying to avoid impacting their various technologies, thaumaturgy, cultures, tribes, or governments too severely. Maybe not Prime Directive bad like some show in a version of Old Earth I’d seen, but there were Greater Forces out there that might decide one was being too cavalier with dimensional interference and backhand you into the great nothingness as a stern warning. However, I was running into situations where not warning the denizens of their new dangerous position as initiated members of the trans-dimensional community came back to haunt me and I knew I needed to change my tactics.

Feeling that scaring the locals by strolling around was unlikely to earn their trust, I pulled up an Invisibility spell from memory and after cloaking myself in the illusion, I started walking along a ley line that seemed to lead to a Nexus point where a settlement(?) seemed to be. It felt too small to be proper capital or city but too large to qualify as a simple campsite. Before too long, I passed out of the woods and the oppressive air seemed to relent grudgingly. After a couple of hours of marching at a steady pace I found myself on the edge an orchard of some kind, rows and rows of trees (I guessed apple trees from the exaggerated shape and color of the fruit) were lined up and many were loaded with ripe-looking treats and ready for harvest. I admit to not being an expert on the subject, but trees that spawned different kinds of apples on the same branches didn’t click with what little I knew about agriculture. I just shook my head and figured it was probably par for the course this far Outside.

As I continued to cautiously cross the farmland I saw something my centuries of experience hadn’t quite prepared me for. It looked like a miniature horse or maybe a…pony from Old Earth but only its basic form matched up with my personal experiences of them. After all, one of my most commonly used Tattoo Animals was a large gray mare for transportation purposes. For example, the pseudo-pony’s coat was an orange color not usually associated with living creatures and instead of tough hardened hooves at the end of its legs as one might expect, they seemed to simply come to a softer, rounded end. She, I determined, was wearing a brown Stetson hat one might see in Western Earth shows on top of a head of blonde hair tied up into a pony tail. Then I noticed her actual tail was also tied into a pony tail (I smirked at that, points for comical style) and her face showed clear signs of white freckles which was both cute and confusing on fur under a pair of eyes that seemed too large for her head. Finally, on her flank was a… (Tattoo was the first thing to pop into my mind as a Tattooed Mage but then I conceded it could be a brand of ownership or a cosmetic marking) of three apples forming a triangle. I wondered about that last detail but decided to file it away for later.
With a determined look the…cow-pony(?) turned and bucked the tree hard with her hind legs, causing several apples to rain down in her waiting baskets.

‘Seems she’s a farmer-type and is gathering apples. I deduce; she’s probably an apple farmer.’

‘I’m a genius, self-high-five.’

‘Or maybe she’s less a farmer and more like a serf or slave, although I don’t see any physical or magical restraints and there’s the lack of oppressive aura. She’s apparently a strong farmer-type at that, seeing as how she’s planning to carry what looks like half her weight in apples. Judging from what I feel, the gravity here is Earth similar but maybe she’s physically denser than she appears or these apples are lighter than I realized.’

I mulled over the idea of introducing myself to this creature, but I needed more information first. For all I knew, she was incapable of speech or might turn hostile when faced with a stranger trespassing on her work area. I wasn’t a great psionic Mind Melter so peeking into her innermost thoughts was outside my current abilities. While I stood there digesting what I’d seen she wiped her brow in a very human-like gesture, even giving the expected sigh while doing it and managed to lift the other basket onto her back, using her legs. At least she was wearing the smile of one who didn’t mind honest but hard work and I leaned even further away from slave and more towards a simple farmer.

‘Gravity manipulation perhaps? Or she’s channeling some force that allows her to grip objects without fingers… Either way, it seems to classify her as a magical or psionic creature. Also, her legs seem to be akin to double-jointed giving her a range of motion more similar to humans as well. How Interesting.’

As she walked (trotted?) off with her apples I continued along the ley line, heading to what felt like a gathering of more life forms. Soon enough I found the edge of the farmland complete with a white fence to mark its borders and beyond that a road leading to what I assumed was my first destination. The pseudo-pony from earlier had only come up to about my chest give or take, so hopping over the fence wasn’t difficult. I wasn’t sure if the pony was a caste of laborer or if the entire planet was simply full of orange ponies. I found the idea both humorous and slightly off-putting. A civilization of peaceful herbivores might consider my presence to be an unnatural disaster of epic proportions if handled poorly.

After all, I was personally responsible for destroying tens of thousands of creatures (living, un-living, undead and probably everything outside those categories) in my crusade against the dark of the Multiverse. The blood on my hands would probably never wash clean, and even if I knew that everything I had done was for the right reasons, fighting and killing were never something I relished after my initial rage had burned out when I first started. To many in the planes visited, I was just as terrifying as the monsters I battled. My being an omnivore would just be the icing on my scary-cake in this dimension.

To be fair though, while I’d eaten many different animals in my various travels I’d never eaten horsemeat or a sapient creature, considering how the first betrayed the trust of my own mount, Stormcloud and the latter went against the grain of my existence. Stormcloud couldn’t talk per se, but being a magical construct in the form of a Tattoo and powered by my inner strength…I shrugged mentally. We could feel each other’s emotions on a very basic level and that was plenty for me to view the idea of horse consumption as distasteful, even in dire situations. I lamented that meat may be off the menu during my stay here and continued down the road towards a large group of entities.

However, I needed information about the world I was in and even more importantly; I needed to know if I was the first Riftwalker to reach this plane.

This time I intended to succeed in my self-proclaimed title of Warden.

Eventually I came to a bridge on the outskirts of a town. Clear flowing water passed beneath the wooden bridge and several buildings of various styles were visible. The closer I got to the place, the more of its inhabitants I saw and the more surreal the experience became. Not just orange ponies, but a Technicolor explosion of them with numerous hair styles and various makings on their flanks. Once I was close enough to determine that some were in fact speaking to each other I silently activated my Eyes of Knowledge Tattoo, hoping to gather more information. Sure enough, I could understand what was being said as I slowly and carefully walked through the town. My spell even allowed me to make out the banner sign over the road which simply read ‘Ponyville’.

‘Okay, so naming conventions here are a bit simplistic perhaps? Or this was their first settlement and they just went with the flow…‘

‘Seriously though, “Ponyville”? ‘

I found it amusing and struggled not to laugh out loud.

Some of the denizens of the place walked close enough for me to overhear them.

“-ers, but you know how she can be.” One pony giggled to her friend who only nodded sagely.

“Delivery for you!” piped a gray wall-eyed pony from another part of town, somehow without her speech being heavily affected by the letter she held in her mouth to a lilac colored pony on the street. From her pouch I placed her as a postal pony.

‘Pony Express anyone?’ *rimshot*

‘I know, I know…that was bad.’

As I moved deeper into the town while dodging colorful ponies, I felt a pair of eyes on me. After quickly double checking that I was still invisible, I began to search the area for who was watching me.

‘Damn, I hadn’t counted on any of them being able to see the invisible. Just stay cool and-‘

That was when I noticed a bright pink pony with dark pink hair standing about ten feet away and staring intently at me with a smile on her face. Her blue eyes showed no fear. I slowly tilted my head to the left until my ear was almost touching my shoulder. Her reaction was to mirror me completely. Amused, I raised one hand slowly and waved and she somehow managed to copy me without falling over.

“Pinkie, do I even what to know what you’re doing?” I looked over to see a small cyan pegasus floating near the pink one, her rainbow colored mane and tail causing my eye to twitch in disbelief. Since ‘Pinkie’ was still mimicking me she was also facing her friend.

“I’m communicating with the mysterious two-legged alien over there Dash! We’re playing charades and so far I’m winning!” she replied, bubbling over with cheerful exuberance.

“The alien...” ‘Dash’ responded deadpan as she stared at what looked like empty air to her. “Pinkie Pie, I don’t see anything th- Wait a sec! Are you trying to prank me again?” Her smile seemed sly and self-assured.

Without waiting and suffering an uncharacteristic bout of madness, I rose up one leg until it was perpendicular to the ground and slowly began to turn in circles with one hand over my head and the one called Pinkie Pie not missing a beat, began to turn as well somehow challenging my understanding of pony-physics. I liked her.

“Nopey-nope! Invisible aliens are invisible silly! If you could see him then they could see him and then everypony would be all like ‘AHHH~’ and ‘EEEK~’ and then the alien might be like ‘RAWR~’ or he might cry, and I don’t want to see the alien cry Dash. Think of the aliens Dash!” Pinkie Pie delivered this with the range of a top-class actress giving each nuance the right focus and I damn near lost it right there.

I figured I had messed around enough for now.

I had a huge range of options available to extricate myself from this situation but I didn’t want to risk casting spells on the ponies, not even a simple sleep spell, because I felt it would be rude to start messing with peaceful inhabitants who weren’t trying to hurt me. Instead I slowly came to a stop in front of Pinkie Pie, bowed in the most dramatic stage flourish I could manage and cast one of my favorite and rarest spells.

I Time Slipped.

Everything around me froze as I stepped outside the time stream and activating my Heart with Small Wings Tattoo, I ran at a top speed of around one-hundred eighty miles an hour around the side of a building some distance from the pink one in the sparse seven seconds I had. I couldn’t harm anyone while time slipping but it was handy for quick getaways. Sure enough, the spell ended and a surprised Pinkie Pie could be heard exclaiming that I had vanished, perhaps to my home planet. I think I could hear the rainbow pony hoof(?) her forehead from my hiding place.

‘As fun as that was, I just had a close encounter with no warning. That’s quite sloppy of me. Not to mention I’ve been using too much magic in such a short amount of time.’

‘At least she had a sense of humor about the whole thing but the jigs up. Now I need to find a way to diplomatically explain my presence here. Sarcasm free even.’

I quietly sighed and weighed my options. I would have loved to metamorphosis into a pony myself but Undead Slayers like me were unable to be physically transformed by any means. This was a safety measure to prevent the possibility of any Slayer being turned into a vampire, our natural enemy. An undead-Undead Slayer if you will. I shuddered at the nightmares that would bring to entire galaxies. I was however quite good at illusion and mental trickery thanks to time spent in one of the fantasy realms of the Multiverse and getting to study under an actual Illusionist made me quite proficient at warping perceptions. I could fashion an illusionary body that affected all five senses, making it seem as real as an actual pony. Naturally, this was far more subtle and powerful than simple invisibility and the drain would be much larger, but if the Pink One had actual True Sight…well, I guess it wouldn’t matter at that point and my cover would be blown.

First, I needed a…Stallion I guessed was what male ponies were called, that I could use as a baseline for my illusion. Scanning the crowd I did pick out a couple males and was able to extrapolate what I needed for a basic body considering their bigger size and more muscular frame. After tuning my eyes to the magical energy spectrum and watching the locals for a while, I was able to hypothesize that the winged pegasi were using magic for flight and weather manipulation and the earthbound ponies without horns were using magic for body enhancement and Earth manipulation, making them stronger and sturdier than the others.

It was the unicorns that intrigued me.

They were the spell users of this place, channeling energy through the horn to cast spells. So now I knew what kind of male to form, but the brand on the flank was still a mystery. From what I had observed over the last couple of hours from my hiding place, only the very young ones lacked the marking and that meant I needed to come up with something for my avatar to avoid drawing too much attention. After musing for a few more minutes, I decided to use one of my Tattoos as a brand. Since the theme seemed to be occupational or interest related concerning the markings I figured my Phoenix Rising from the Flames would work as a magical-healing-pony mark. At least, that was what I was going to tell anyone who asked. I was a mystic healer, traveling around and looking for work. Sounded just vague enough for me to flow with the story as needed.

‘Perhaps my name could be…Magus. I’m Magus Mender, proficient purveyor of potent pony panaceas. Considering the naming conventions I’ve seen so far, it seems passable.’

‘I sound like a snake oil sales…pony, I suppose. When in pony-Rome…don’t look a gift pony in the mouth and just pony up.’

‘Okay, that was bad and I should feel bad.’

With the last piece clicking in place I focused my Potential Psychic Energy into a mass and fashioned a sturdy midnight-blue unicorn but I edged more to a lean athleticism rather than the powerful plow horse build since I was playing the scholar archetype, with a white braided mane and bushy white tail sporting a flaming phoenix rising from the flames mark on the rump. The artist in me left the eyes mismatched green and blue since my subconscious has done it without my realization. To finish the job I erased most of my actual presence so that anything I said or did would all seem to originate from the ‘Magus’ avatar instead of me and added a saddlebag to help sell the traveler story. To finish the job I constructed a telekinetic shell to prevent solid objects from simply passing through my avatar and when I finished I felt the drain on my magic reserves telling me I couldn’t keep this disguise up for extended periods of time. After looking over my work one last time, I shrugged and figured the only way to know for sure was to try it out.

Magus walked out into the street and watched the traffic patterns a bit, seeing if anyone paid any undue attention to him. While he did get an occasional glance from passersby, he assumed it was just a new face in town thing and not a declaration of being discovered as a fake. As he trotted down the street, giving a friendly smile and nod to those who looked his way, he noticed the orange cow-pony from earlier in the day, selling apples and apple products (naturally) from a mobile stand. Since this pony was the first being he had seen since entering this world and was fairly close to the Guidepost for this dimension, he figured she might be a good starting point for information gathering.

‘Well, here’s the acid test,’ he thought at the last second.

“Hello there. I was curious, how much is an apple, if you don’t mind my asking?” Magus smiled while asking.

“No trouble ‘tall stranger. Ah’m sellin apples at five fer two bits today,” she replied, a distinctive southern accent usually found in the United States flavoring her words. Applejack had never met this pony before, but the Apple family never turned down new business.

‘Curiouser and curiouser, an accent I never thought to experience outside of Earth and they do use an exchange service based on currency,’ Magus thought.

“Ah, I see. Bits is it?” Magus sighed. “Unfortunately, I’ve only just arrived in town today, with not a bit to my name. Perhaps you might know where a new face could earn a few bits?” Magus asked, putting on a sheepish smile.

The cow-pony blinked in poorly hidden surprise. “No bits? Well shucks sugarcube, you must’a had quite a time on the trail I reckon.” Applejack began to wonder if he was a beggar or some bitless drifter looking for a hoofout.

Magus gave a good natured chuckle while raising a hoof in front of him. “Entirely my fault I’m afraid, my organizational skills aren’t always as sharp as I’d like them to be at times. I simply decided to set out on a trip and see the world, as it were. I’m a healer by trade, but without knowing the fair value of my services, I fear I may have shortchanged myself a bit.”

“A healer huh? Like a doc?” The cow-pony seemed suddenly interested in what she was hearing.

‘So professional medical care is not completely unknown here, check,’ he thought.

Magus coughed a bit with a mild look of embarrassment. “Well yes, I do have some training with standard medical procedures, but my focus is magical healing. Magus Mender is my name, and magical cure-alls my game.” Magus gave a slight bow and grinned up at the apple farmer.

The apple vendor squinted her eyes and tiled her head while rubbing her chin with one hoof, obviously thinking about what Magus said. “Well, mah name’s Applejack mister Mender and if what ya’ll telling me is true ah might just have a job for ya, be willin to pay in food and maybe a few bits if yer interested.” She vaguely recalled that healing magic was supposedly rare, but it was hardly her area of expertise. That was more Twilight’s thing.

‘She isn’t foolishly trusting but is willing to negotiate services, that’s…good and bad. They could probably show more caution with strangers around here,’ Magus noted.

Magus smiled. “Splendid! And what, pray tell dear Applejack can Magus assist you with?”

Applejack sighed and bowed her head, pulling her hat down a bit as if she had to tell this tale more than once and it was becoming routine. “Mah brother Big Mac done gone and hurt his’elf tryin to keep mah little sister from harm when we was tearin down an old barn. The docs in town laid him up for a couple weeks, but with applebuck season already started…”

‘They practice self-sacrifice, obviously they are skilled architects, and use scheduled agriculture I assume, also good to know. She doesn’t seem tainted or confused and I’m not getting any fear or evasion in her aura or words. Seems I may have gotten here first after all, thank the gods,’ Magus thought, his hope rising a bit.

Magus nodded. “Of course, say no more my friend, I think I can be of assistance here. When you like, I am willing to follow you to your brother’s bedside and offer my services.” His smile was genuine and warm. He didn’t exactly know what applebuck season was but it didn’t really matter and he could hazard an educated guess; her brother needed help.

It was pretty simple, really.

Applejack smiled as Magus. “Ah sure do appreciate it mister Mender.”

“Magus, please. Mister Mender makes me sound like an old pony you see.” Magus winked at her with a grin.

Applejack chuckled and Magus noticed a slight blush. Perhaps winking was too forward in this world but her response to flirting filled in some more blanks for his assessment. “Well now Magus, ah can’t say ya look all that old from where I’m standing. How long ya been walkin’ round?” She was packing up her cart as we talked, getting ready to quit for the day.

Magus had already heard of a city not too far away while eavesdropping the last few hours that seemed large enough to avoid too much scrutiny. “Originally I was from a small section of Manehatten (classic), one of the poorer sections I’m afraid. Seeing that a fresh start might be a good way to find my way in the world, I set out only a couple of months ago, taking my time and trying to drum up some business. Sadly, it seems not many were willing to trust me at my word as a magical healer. I’m afraid I might have been slightly naïve about my chances.” Magus was lightly probing Applejack with empathetic magic to gauge her reaction, and he noticed that while she didn’t believe everything he said, she also hadn’t decided to outright consider him a liar either. Magus decided to take the initiative and try to head off any problems.

‘She’s more astute than I first assumed. Excellent! This is the type of being that will make a useful ally if things go the way I hope,’ he thought in excitement.

Magus sighed before she could comment and looked over at her while his head was down. “I’m afraid my youth was…checkered. So, I hope you’ll forgive me if I…withhold certain details about myself. I really am trying to start a new life, a better life.” He mustered a little shame in his voice to sell the story. It seemed Applejack was quite the sharp pony, but his deception managed to do the trick as her budding suspicion seemed to pull back into genuine interest.

“Well shucks sugarcube, ah’ve made a few mistakes maself, so don’t you worry none about folks judgin ya too harsh ‘round these parts. Ponyville might just be a good place to start a new life.” Applejack worried she had almost fallen into her habit of prying into folk’s lives too much again and mentally shook herself.

They traveled down the town street leading to Sweet Apple Acres in a comfortable silence for a few moments before Magus decided to engage his companion in conversation.

“Thank you Applejack, that’s mighty kind of you to say.” Magus gave another warm smile. “So your brother; is he in a medical facility or was he well enough to stay at home?”

“Big McIntosh is at home, trusted up like a turkey. Hurt his back an one’a his legs is broke, nothing he won’t come back from, just not soon enough fer being useful anytime soon.” Applejack said this with a bit of melancholy in her voice and Magus could tell she was doing her best to hide her real feelings about how worried she was.

Magus noticed an honest to goodness gingerbread house out of the corner of his eye and nodded while looking thoughtful. “Yes, well have no fear Applejack. I will do my best to fix your brother right up and the applebuck season should go more smoothly for you I wager.” Magus was about to turn to look at his benefactor when his vision was filled with the face of the Pink One.

‘Well, this could be bad,’ Magus thought in surprise.

Stepping back and falling on his rump, Magus leaned back from the blue eyes and pink mane of the grinning pony and waited to see what happened next.

“Hiya Applejack! Who’s your friend? I’ve never seen this pony before!” Pinkie never took her eyes from the new stallion while talking to her farm-pony friend; she stood only inches from Magus as if appearing out of thin air.

‘And now the moment of truth.’ Magus thought darkly. He waited to let Applejack answer.

Applejack turned with a wry smile and looked at her pink party pal. “Pinkie Pie, this here’s Magus and he’s new in town. We’re headdin over to Sweet Apple Acres t’ see if’n he can help out Big Mac. Magical healin’ and all that.”

Pinkie’s eyes got even bigger, although that had seemed physically impossible before just now. “Wowie-wow! A magic-healing pony!? Are you a cleric? Or ooohhh maybe you’re a shaman or a priest! Maybe even a druid! Then you could change into a big ole bear or a lion! RAWR~” With her final cute roar she tackled Magus to the ground and pinned him down, his mind trying to sort through the exchange before answering.

‘That was rather adorable, but they’re seriously lacking in danger sense. How peaceful this world must be,’ he thought ruefully to himself.

Chuckling up at his captor Magus replied, “No, just a student of magic with a penchant for healing I’m afraid. Nothing as adventurous as…those other things you mentioned.”

Pinkie’s mane seemed to deflate a little. “Aww! I wanted to ride a big ole bear into town.” Her disappointment quickly faded in the next moment. “That’s okay! That still means a new friend and another party! A welcome to Ponyville Magus-the-Medical-Magician party! I can’t wait!” She seemed to be so excited even her tail was wagging.

Magus just smiled up at her from the ground. “That’s sounds quite generous of you Pinkie, but business before pleasure and all that. I need to look at Applejack’s brother before we can plan any parties. Also, you’re still on top of me.” Magus winked with a grin, causing Pinkie to bounce off with a slight blush, just now realizing how compromising their position was a moment ago. Winking was definitely considered flirting, Magus noted with interest. He was curious enough to consider taking notes on how romance worked in this new world if he had time.

It seemed to Magus that he was an attractive sight by pony standards from the last two reactions due to his harmless winking. He just hoped he hadn’t made himself stand out too much in that respect.

‘Play it soft man, they don’t seem to mean any harm.’ Magus thought. Even if they became violent with Magus, he was just an avatar.

Climbing up off the ground, he tried to awkwardly dust himself off a bit before smiling at the Pink One and continuing down the road. Pinkie Pie was bouncing along next to them, apparently she had joined the party on their quest to heal big brother.

“Can you only heal ponies or can you also heal other things, like trees and animals? Fluttershy has aaallll kinds of animal friends that she helps out when they get hurt and Applejack lives on a FARM! And their farm has TREES, and I guess even trees can get sick! Are you also a tree and animal druid Mister M&M?” Pinkie asked, somehow without even taking a breath.

Magus blinked at the pink pony. “I’d say please just call me M&M, but instead I’ll just ask you to not call me ‘Mister’, I’d rather not feel any older than I need to. As for plants and animals, I can heal both of them in a sense, but I’m not a miracle worker or anything.”

Applejack was slightly stunned, “Ya’ll can heal trees? Like trees that done been knocked over or broke in’a storm?”

Magus looked at the farmer with a kind smile. “I can’t return life to a dead tree Applejack, but if it is only damaged… Well, I can usually make sure the tree will recover; if that helps.”

From her expression, one might think the farm pony had been told Magus was a genie with three wishes for her.

Soon enough they were passing what Magus at first assumed was an actual carrousel, but instead turned out to be a house or business simply built to resemble one. While wondering what kind of beasts one would ride on an actual merry-go-round in a world full of ponies, a while unicorn with an obviously well groomed deep violet mane was stepping outside the building and closing the door behind her. Soon enough she noticed her friends walking past her boutique.

“Applejack, darling, what-“the unicorn began, until she noticed the stallion she’d not met before. Her eyes widened a bit before she could contain herself and then she slid into a well-practiced smile. “Dear Applejack, who is your new friend? I was sure I knew every stallion in Ponyville…” she let her voice trail off, fluttering her eyelashes at Magus.

‘Quite the charmer this one is. But I’ve got a little charm of my own,’ Magus chuckled mentally.

“Magus Mender madam; May you memorize my melodic moniker.” Magus said with a deep bow and in a cultured but friendly voice while giving a slight flourish with one of his hooves. “And who, might I ask, do I have the pleasure of meeting today, if I may be so bold?” He smiled up at the unicorn with only a slight bedroom-eyes look. He wasn’t trying to offend or lead her on but she was an obvious flirt.

The unicorn tittered with a slight blush. “Oh my, and a gentlecolt too? I must say it’s not often I meet a cultured pony here in Ponyville and your eyes are simply stunning! Green and blue eyes, oh I can just feel some inspiration coming on from looking into them! Ahem, I am Rarity and this is my Carrousel Boutique, for I am the resident fashionista of Ponyville, premiere provider of excellence for all of your fashion needs.” She was quite proud of her business.

Clothing for ponies. That’s…unexpected, considering they’re all naked for the most part.’ Magus noted.

“That’s rather fascinating Lady Rarity. I confess I’m rather lax in my studies of fashion but when I consider that you’re building your reputation and standing outside of a huge city, it just reinforces the image of an artisan who seeks quality over quantity and I have every confidence that you are bound for great success, seeing your honest passion for your craft.” His smile was warm without any trace of mockery. Seeing others truly passionate about their lot in life always helped ease his burden and made it all feel worth it, even if only for a short time.

Rarity looked like Magus had just sprouted wings and offered her a ride to the moon. She slowly brought one hoof up to cover her mouth while looking poleaxed before she whispered loudly, “That may be the nicest thing I’ve ever heard about my chosen profession.” She recovered quickly and dropped her hoof from in front of her face with a slight clearing of the throat, “Don’t misunderstand me darling, my friends have always supported me, but to hear a stranger say something like that… Most ponies find clothing to be little more than a curious accessory or a symbol of status.” She was getting misty-eyed and Magus worried he may have laid it on a little thick.

Magus slowly walked up to the unicorn and gently placed a hoof on her shoulder. “As long as you believe in yourself dear Lady, others will follow your example. No creature of a serious nature could mock another who tries their best at what they love,” he said gently, trying to reassure her. He couldn’t see the others behind him but Pinkie Pie was still bouncing and sporting a huge grin while Applejack was staring with her mouth agape, obviously surprised at how serious the conversation had become without notice.

Magus was unprepared for the sudden hug from Rarity, but he just gently patted her back while she collected herself.

‘I guess that could have gone worse,’ Magus thought with a smile.

A few moments later, Rarity stepped back blushing furiously. “My apologies darling, I was just… I must look a mess!” She was wiping her face with a lace edged cloth, fussing over her makeup.

Magus chuckled warmly. “Quite all right my Lady, quite all right. However, I think I’ve held up my current employer long enough with my long-windedness,” and trotted over next to Applejack, who had recovered herself just in time and was looking at Magus with an inscrutable look. “My apologies Applejack, I may have said too much but I’m known to speak my mind without filtering. Call it a character flaw if you will.” He gave the farmer a sheepish smile.

“Don’t ya’ll worry ‘bout that Magus. I‘s just…surprised ya said such a nice thang to somepony ya just met. That was mighty kind of ya partner.” She was smiling and patted Magus’ shoulder with a gentle hoof as she said it. Magus had gone up a little in her estimation.

“I don’t understand darling, what is Magus doing for you? He doesn’t seem the…rustic type, no offense,” Rarity offered.

“None taken my Lady,” Magus grinned.

Applejack rolled her eyes. “He’s a magic-healin’ pony and we’re gon’ to Sweet Apple Acres ta look at Big Mac, since Magus here says he can fix him up right proper.”

Pinkie Pie popped her head up in between the two girls and added, “He’s a druid who heals trees and animals too! But he won’t turn into a bear or a lion I guess,” she groused at the end.

Applejack gave a disgruntled snort and turned to continue on down the road with her cart while Magus just barked a short laugh and turned to follow, leaving the unicorn to look at the three retreating ponies a moment before bolting after them. “Druid? Trees? Whatever are you talking about Pinkie dear?”

As Rarity moved up to join the group she looked at Magus in askance. “I’m sorry darling but what is a druid?”

Magus smiled at her and gave a small shake of his head. “I’m a student of magic actually, and I seem to excel at healing others. Pinkie Pie has taken it upon herself to refer to me as a druid because I mentioned I can heal things aside from ponies.”

“Healing magic? Darling, that’s absolutely fabulous! That’s an exceedingly rare talent among unicorns. I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure of meeting one before today.” Rarity seemed quite excited with the prospect of meeting such a special pony.

Magus gave a slight sigh and bowed his head a bit. “I’m afraid that most of my learning has been…experience and observation rather than guided tutelage. I didn’t enjoy the most…comfortable lifestyle growing up and most of what I know was given only through the kindness of one elder unicorn that lived in the poor district I grew up in. He was stern but fair. I’m afraid that once he passed on, I found myself wanting to leave Manehatten, which I did only recently. Seems I have a lot more to learn than what I know simply watching and mimicking how the ‘better half’ lives. At least I seem to have cultured a robust vocabulary, sneaking around the university districts of the city as a child.” Magus was trying to keep his background to an unlucky orphan with a talent in mimicry and a thirst for knowledge, but Applejack was still a constant worry since she seemed quite sharp and perceptive.

‘I am starting to feel rather bad about all the lies,’ Magus thought.

What he didn’t expect from the three mares was the sense of compassion and sadness that seemed to roll off of them and into his empathy magic when they realized he was admitting to growing up as an abandoned foal. Even the bouncy pink pony seemed to deflate and stop bouncing when she realized what he was saying. Before they started to feel too terrible, he decided to act.

“Now girls, I get the sense you want to feel bad for me but everypony has trials they must overcome in life. I’m here, and I choose to believe I am the pony I am today because of the life I’ve led. I won’t demand anything from you but I do ask you not pity me. I’m seeking a new life and that means I’d like to look forward to the future and not focus on the past.” Magus smiled but his eyes were firm. He didn’t want anyone selling him short or sidetracking him because of a non-existent childhood story but he needed a convenient excuse for not knowing things that others might take for granted in this world. It was vital he get a sit-rep on this world before too much time passed. He still needed to do some research on who ran the show here and how to get in touch with them.

Still, these ponies were a fantastic reminder of the days when Magus had friends of his own, all those years ago. He really did miss the witty banter and having someone who would watch his back when things got bad.

His speech was met with a surprise group hug, causing Magus to freeze up for a moment before laughing. “Thanks everypony, but I'm fine, we’re all fine. Let’s not use up too much daylight now.” He was gently removing himself from the hugs while patting the ponies on their backs. Magus was still surprised by how physical these ponies could get at times.

“Silly-filly Magus, the law of conservation of energy states you can’t use up too much daylight!” Pinkie Pie offered helpfully. Her two friends just looked at her confused.

Laughing, Magus just rubbed the top of her head with a hoof. “It’s simply a figure of speech, but don’t ever change Pinkie Pie.”

“Okie-dokie-loki!” She replied while bouncing along the road. Her friends just rolled their eyes at her continued antics.

Magus couldn’t understand how he’d gotten so close to these ponies in such a short time, but his guard was still up for the most part. They just seemed to make it easy to like them and it was a good feeling. He inwardly shuddered to think they might have some bad news coming soon, but he would be there to stand with them, even if they didn’t know it. In the back of his mind though, he knew things were shaping into something he dreaded slightly.

They continued down the road a bit in a comfortable silence as the houses of Ponyvillie began to thin out and open out into the surrounding countryside. However, something that began as an itch in the back of Magus’ mind blossomed into a faint warning. He stopped and cocked his head to the side looking around for the source.

“What’s wrong darling? Is everything alright?” Rarity asked. Applejack and Pinkie Pie were looking at Magus in concern.

“I don’t know I feel…” There, behind them somewhere he felt something approaching at high speeds but he didn’t see anything along the road. Looking around he did notice something in the sky and it was approaching quickly.

“Look out!” a faint voice cried from the air above, resolving into a familiar cyan blur speeding towards them all in a dizzying spiral complete with a multicolored vapor trail, but obviously out of control and heading for a spectacular crash.

Quickly Magus moved in front of the rest of the ponies and crouched down low on all four legs tensing his muscles and doing quick calculations. Just before the inevitable crash he leapt high into the air and tackled the falling pegasus, rolling onto this back to cushion the fall and pulling her in close while reinforcing his outer shell with some softer layers and adjusting his position with telekinesis.

He couldn’t actually get hurt after all.

They landed hard as her momentum drove the two of them downward at a newly adjusted angle, the Rainbow colored pony landing on top of Magus as they impacted the ground and slid about eighty feet by his estimation before coming to a stop. His companions shouted various things as they ran towards them. Magus was too busy restoring his telekinetic shell to pay much attention to the outburst before he checked on the one he was cradling.

‘Dammit, that just sapped a lot of magic I could have used! I’m still good but I may have to cut this visit short if this keeps up too much longer,’ Magus thought.

After a few seconds of dizzy groaning the pegasus lay against Magus’ chest, her eyes closed. “Ouch! Ugh…that could have gone better… Triple axel rolls my flank… Wait, why is the ground so…warm? What the buck happened…?” she was muttering, still dazed.

“Rainbow Dash, ya’ll all right? Just what the hay was you tryin’ to do ya featherbrain? Look’it what ya done to poor Magus,” Applejack said as she ran up to the pair, leaving her cart in the road.

“Magus dear, are you alright?! Goodness that looked just dreadful! You were so gallant by catching poor Rainbow Dash and sacrificing yourself!” Rarity was beaming at the pinned stallion while her magic fanned her face with a little lace fan.

Pinkie Pie was bouncing around in a frenzy. “That was sooooo cool! Magus was like WHEE~ and then he was like YOINK~ and THEN he was all KA-BOOM~! That was a great catch! I wonder if pegasus catching is a sport ‘cause you would be soooo good at it!”

“What?” Rainbow Dash said as she moved her head up and tried to open her eyes. “What are you guys talking about now-“ Once her eyes were open she found herself staring into a pair of mismatched eyes only inches from her face, looking at her in undisguised concern while apparently lying on top of said stallion.

“Are you alright?” the stallion asked gently, still holding her gingerly against his chest.

She didn’t move or say anything for several seconds, although her face seemed to be heating up quickly while her brain struggled to put the pieces together. “Uh…umm…” She slowly pressed her front hooves against Magus’ chest and pushed herself up and away from his face before placing her forelegs on the ground on either side of him.

Magus took the initiative and putting his forelegs on the ground, he slid out from underneath her. Once he rolled over onto his feet and trotted a couple of steps away, he began dusting himself off nonchalantly while looking down at his chest, giving her time to recover from any embarrassment without his gaze on her.

Blushing furiously, Rainbow Dash started to stand up but gave a sharp cry of pain and fell over with a mumbled curse, holding her back left leg in pain. A solid bruise was visible from the hard impact, although it was far better than her potential injuries from crashing into the ground without help.

Her friends circled around her in concern and started talking to her all at once. Magus waited a moment and then approached the group. “I’m a healer miss; if you like I can help.” His comment caused them to all fall silent.

“It’s my leg, *hiss* I think I sprained it pretty good.” Rainbow said, her eyes shimmering with unshed tears as she fought to stay tough. Crying was beneath her.

“Let’s have a look, shall we?” Magus said, now in his clinical mode. He mimed scanning her leg with a spell then nodded and gave a detached hum. “Yes, I can fix this up no problem. You’ll feel some tingling but it shouldn’t hurt, if you’re willing to let me help.” He waited until she was ready.

Rainbow Dash didn’t know this new pony but her friends were all smiling at her and Applejack was nodding at her that it was going to be okay, so she figured if they vouched for this dude he must be on the level. She just nodded at Magus once, waiting for the inevitable pain from getting her leg fixed. All doctors promised it wouldn’t hurt but that was so rarely true.

Magus smiled at her and activated his Rose with Bleeding Thorns Tattoo while his real body secretly moved up to the injured pegasus. Magus produced a convincing light show while his controller cast the healing energy into her body.

Warmth spread throughout Dash’s body causing her breath to catch as it flowed over her and enveloped her like…the best hug ever on a bright spring day she thought. Her hurt leg tingled a little then slowly she felt all the pain drain away as the bruise disappeared leaving her shuddering a little at the relief that flowed through her mind. The short shot of ecstasy that ended the spell triggered things in her body she hadn’t quite experienced before and then it vanished, like something on the tip of your tongue one moment and then gone the next.

“Oh my,” Rarity breathed quietly. “I’ve never seen such a complex spell weave before. That was…beautiful.”

Magus smiled at her then looked at Rainbow Dash. “How do you feel now?”

Slightly dazed, Dash stood up gingerly testing her leg before realizing it was as good as new. She looked at Magus with a wide-eyed stare for a moment before taking an excited pose in the air and what looked like clenching a hoof in front of her to Magus she exclaimed, “THAT. WAS. AWESOME!”

Applejack came up and placed a hoof on Magus’ shoulder with a low whistle. “Well partner, ah can see that bringin’ you ta Big Mac was the right idea aftr’all. Thanks fer catchin that bird-brain and patchin her up. She’s so dang reckless, it’s a wonder she ain’t in the hostpital ev’ry other day.”

“I’m just glad I happened to be here,” Magus said out loud, even though inside his worry increased that he’s been snagged in a Fate Weave after all. ‘Shit! Was I set up by one of the Powers!? Too many coincidences in a row, especially the fact they all seem to be friends…yeah, this can’t be random…’ Magus cursed his luck or in this case possible fate, but it didn’t change his goals; keep this world safe, keep this world happy, and don’t cause trouble. Magus hated being manipulated but he was hardly the most powerful thing in the Multiverse and sometimes, you just had to go with the flow.

Down on the Farm

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Magus shook off his thoughts, smiled at Applejack and said in a slightly forced tone, “Naturally, I believe those that can help others, while not required to mind you, should lend a helping hoof when possible. Now then, if you ladies are all okay, let us make our way to yon Big Mac, as I can tell Miss Applejack here is looking forward to her brother’s recovery.” With that he started slowly walking down the road, waiting for the rest to catch up but the nagging suspicion that he was now in the web of a Great Power and would be dancing to Their tune still upset him quite a bit.

‘Which one is it? Which self-proclaimed god is messing with me? They’ve seen fit to ignore me for centuries, why now?’ Magus fumed inside his mind. ‘Loki? Set? F.S.M? I really don’t need supposedly omniscient beings trying to twist things around right now. Haven’t I done enough!? Haven’t I paid more than anyone should be asked for!?’ Magus was starting to build up some anger.

‘I’m sorry child,’ a female voice quietly echoed in his mind.

Magus nearly stopped walking in shock, but when the voice didn’t respond to his queries, he just shook it off and figured that ‘She’ would only give him crumbs when it was needed; whoever She was.

‘Also, I’m starting to worry about my magic reserves,’ Magus grumbled silently.

Rainbow Dash flew over to Magus with a slight frown. “Yeah, that’s cool. Um, so thanks…I guess? For helpin’ out, I mean I totally would have been fine…but since you went outta your way and stuff…” It was obvious that the pegasus’ ego wouldn’t allow her to give simple thanks, but Magus was a pretty sharp character himself.

“Of course Rainbow Dash, I didn’t realize it was you at first so I sort of just leapt into the fray so to speak. I’m quite sure you could have managed without me, but all the same I’m glad I could at least cushion your landing a bit, I’m not sure the roads would have been improved by a full-blown landing.” Magus just lightly nodded while speaking, as if the thought of Dash needing help was an obvious mistake. Applejack and Rarity both gave a good natured eye roll at his handling of their friend’s ego while Pinkie Pie was using both hooves to stifle her giggles.

Rainbow Dash just smirked at the strange stallion before adopting a ‘stern’ expression. “You talk funny dude, but you seem all right, I guess. That was a pretty sweet grab by the way, for a unicorn I mean. Do you like, play sports or something?” Her face turned to that slight pensive frown she was trying to maintain, as if she wanted to suspect Magus but couldn’t find a good reason why yet.

He grinned. “’A strong mind should exist in a strong body,’ at least that is what my teacher always said. He said, ‘the greatest castle in the realm was of no value if the foundation was weak.’ We played a number of games, such as kick the can and dodge ball when I was young. Since then, I’ve taken to endurance running and the occasional bout of manual labor to stay fit. It also helps to have magic to protect oneself from a hard landing.”

Pinkie Pie popped up next to them. “Oooh I love games! Those sound really fun! You’ll have to teach them to me sometime! Then we can have a big old game with like, the whole town! But why were you being a meanie-meanpants to that poor can? And I have balls aaalll over Ponyville, for you know, bouncy-ball emergencies!”

Rainbow Dash gently pushed the pink pony out of her way with a frustrated look when Applejack came up next to the stallion. “Well now Magus, if’n yer lookin fer some of that ‘manual work’ we could always use another hoof on the farm ‘bout this time of year. Keeps ya fit and we’d keep ya fed.” She was secretly happy they might get another pony out on the farm this year to bring in the harvest.

Rarity was mumbling something under her breath while looking at the ground in furrowed thought. “But darling, don’t you get…sweaty and lathered?” She shuddered at the thought.

Magus said off-handedly, “Sometimes getting sweaty is part of the fun.” Honestly, he wasn’t really thinking about the comment deeply, but Rarity interpreted it quite differently.

The unicorn’s face looked about to burst into flame as she looked over at the smiling stallion, who was looking decidedly innocent as he trotted next to the girls. Her expression quickly smoothed into a feral little smile. ‘Oooohh, what an incorrigible flirt! Rarity is INGRUIGED!’

Rainbow Dash was getting mildly annoyed, “Uh, excuse me? I was talking to him? Thanks,” she added with some sarcasm. “Anyway, I’m the fastest flyer in Equestria, Rainbow Dash! I didn’t hear who you are yet.” She was mugging a bit while floating next to Magus.

“Of course, I am Magus Mender a magical healer. I’m new to Ponyville and we’re on our way to visit Big McIntosh so I can see about fixing him up in much the same way we…were able to see to your slight leg issue.”

“Ohhh yeah! That was cool! One minute it was…uh, a little painful and then ZING, all good. That was seriously awesome dude.” Dash was still rather excited by the display of Magus’ healing prowess but then the embarrassment of landing on top of the stranger cooled her enthusiasm a bit when the rest of what he said suddenly clicked. “Wait, seriously? Big Mac? What’s up with that guy getting hurt all the time? He doesn’t really seem like the clumsy type…” She cut herself off quickly when she noticed Applejack glaring daggers at her. She rubbed the back of her head with a sheepish smile. “Sorry AJ!”

Applejack sighed deeply. “He kept Applebloom from gittin’ hurt when we was tearin’ down that old barn. Silly-filly was playin’ in the wrong place and Big Mac did what ‘ny brother would do.” She perked up a bit and tapped Magus on the withers lightly. “With Magus here tho, why I bet ol’ Mac will be fit as a fiddle.”

“Hay yeah, he’ll have him fixed up in ten seconds flat!” Rainbow Dash said while performing a little loop the loop, then realized she was getting too excited again and returned to watching the stallion as if he was going to either burst into flames or turn into a winged-hydra and fly off into the sunset; or maybe both.

“How is the rest of your family doing Applejack darling? I haven’t been out to the farm in a few days. Is Granny Smith in good health?” Rarity was sneaking sultry glances at Magus while trying to distract herself by talking to her friends.

Applejack chuckled. “Ya know how Granny is. She’d prolly be out there tryin to buck apples if’n her hip weren’t botherin’ her. Still makes the best homemade breakfast spread ‘n Ponyville though.”

The sight of the white picket fence meant they had nearly reached their destination and Magus sighed inwardly in relief. Simply vanishing before he exhausted his magic reserves would be a last resort and would be almost impossible to explain away.

“You have a lovely farm Applejack. I think I may have to take you up on some farming in the future. I think I’d enjoy myself.” Magus was smiling at the field of trees with a faraway look in his eyes, obviously some memory playing in the back of his head. Applejack looked proud enough to burst but noticed the stallion was lost in his thoughts and just smiled at him quietly.

“Best apples in Equestria!” Rainbow Dash proclaimed while looking at her farming friend with pride.

In short order they were walking up to the porch of a careworn farmhouse, complete with a rocking chair, or a pony-version of one having much longer rockers for resting forelegs. Applejack quickly dropped off her cart and led the group into the farmhouse.

“Alright girls, ya’ll just rest here in the livin’ room and I’ll take Magus up ta see Big Mac. We’ll sip on some lemonade after ‘while, so make yerselves comfy. I think Granny is takin’ a nap so keep it down ya’ll.” Applejack said while moving to the stairs. The others agreed and took seats around the space while Magus followed behind.

Quietly following her up the steps, Magus was listening for any sounds that might reveal how many beings were upstairs but all he could catch was the sound of gentle breathing from one of the rooms above.
“This here’s Big Mac’s room,” Applejack pushed to door open as she spoke. “Mac. Big Mac!”

On the bed with a crude support hanging from the ceiling that supported a leg cast was a rather stout stallion the shade of a red apple, also somehow with freckles. He snorted once blowing a lock of orange mane away and looked at his visitors with a curious eye. His body wrapped and supported by braces and slings, he certainly didn’t look all that comfortable but just waited on his sister to explain what was going on, his mane looking slightly disheveled.

“Big McIntosh, this here’s Magus and he’s a magic-healin’ pony. He’s goan' fix ya up right as rain,” Applejack explained while putting one hoof on Magus’ shoulder. “You ready to get up outta that bed yet?”

The red stallion was able to show a parade of emotions with subtle eye movements from surprise to furrowed thought and then finally grudging acceptance. They had rather expressive faces for ponies. “Eeyup.”

Applejack just chuckled while shaking her head. “Alright sugarcube, you got the go ahead.”

Magus walked up to the bed and smiled. “Hello Big Mac. Worry not, there should be no pain although you will feel some tingling at first and once I’m done you may need some rest considering the extent of your injuries. By tomorrow morning you should be fine and ready to return to work. Whenever you’re ready just let me know.”

Big Mac absorbed what was said and although it was obvious he was having trouble believing this story completely he just nodded once, indicating that he was ready.

‘Strong silent type I guess?’ Magus thought. Then he performed his ‘scan’ which honestly wasn’t necessary since he wasn’t healing separate parts of his targets but was adding some theater since this was supposedly a rare talent in ponyland. Magus considered the extent of the damage and figured he would use his greater healing Tattoo, the Phoenix Rising from the Flames. Once in position he slipped the magic into the pony slowly so as not to shock him too badly.

Big Mac gasped a little before managing to stop himself, his wide eye closing shut in an effort to not embarrass himself and his mouth stuck open as the magic began to fill his body. His back and leg warmed rapidly although not uncomfortably hot and began to tingle and itch slightly. Soon enough that faded away along with all the sore muscles and joint pains he had acquired in the last few days while being mostly immobile in the large bed. As he lay there gasping a bit, Magus removed his wrapping and cast with a telekinetic blade and tongs. Once finished with removing his bindings, Magus stepped back and looked at his handiwork.

“I suggest taking a moment to clean your body, eat a light meal, and then rest. Otherwise you should be fine. If you feel any lingering effects, be sure to let me know,” Magus said and then nodding at Applejack, he turned and left the room to wait for her.

Applejack was grinning at her brother’s surprise with a few unshed tears in her eyes. He just looked at her as if he was sure this was all a dream and then managed to get to his hooves with a shaky start as if he was sure his leg would collapse under him as soon as he put any weight on it. It didn’t.

“Feelin’ alright?” Applejack asked.

“Eeyup,” he replied, looking as if he wasn’t sure how that could be possible before moving towards the bathroom to clean up on slightly wobbly legs.

Outside the room, Magus was brooding a bit. He was tangled in something, a big game or worse a GAME between Powers perhaps and he hated being a chess piece for anyone or anything, but more pressing were his magic reserves getting low. The avatar construct had been draining him rapidly considering his ‘condition’ and now he’d used a number of complex spells on top of that. He figured he would play the exhausted mage card and bow out from further activity today. He just needed the bits so he could pretend to secure lodgings away from his new friends, or at least he wanted to think of them as friends.

That was another thing that was bothering him. He had been nothing but cordial and polite, yet it seemed they were taking to him a little too quickly…that irritated him quite a bit. Now he wasn’t sure if they really were that trusting and kind or if they were being manipulated into befriending him just to forward some agenda by some self-proclaimed deity. Powers often only cared about the end-game of their pet projects, and while Magus might appreciate how smooth things were going in his plan towards helping this place survive, once he was gone those same feelings would become pain and suffering for those he left behind, having been manipulated thusly into thinking them close friends.

Magus sighed in defeat. ‘One thing at a time man, not even I can carry the Multiverse on my shoulders. Hell, I can barely carry myself sometimes.’

He needed a smoke and probably a nice alcoholic beverage tonight. Mostly though, he needed meditation and rest before he overdid it.

He turned as he heard Applejack come out of the bedroom and put on a tired smile. “Everything is good I trust?”

She just walked up and gave him a gentle hug. “More’n good Magus. Thank ya kindly.”

He patted her back. “I’m glad, but I must confess, this has been a rather tiring day. I’m afraid I’ll need to cut my visit short today and find lodging; that is if you have a few bits handy?”

Applejack pulled back and held him at arm’s length. “Well shoot partner, ya’ll are welcome to-“

Magus gently raised a hoof and touched her nose. “I know what you’re going to say, and while I’m happy beyond words for the offer, I’ve only been in town for less than a day and having a young beautiful mare put up an unattached stranger for the night upon their first meeting… I’d not let anything even possibly become such nasty rumor,” he smiled warmly. “I’ll find a place to sleep for the night, and I’ll feel better. Don’t worry, I won’t disappear in the night or anything,” he finished with a chuckle.

She seemed both flattered and slightly angry that gossip would cause him to refuse to stay, but he was trying to do right by her and she relented. “Ah guess ah can see yer point. Let me get ya those bits and a couple apples.”

“And I will give your friends a fond farewell while I wait,” Magus grinned.

Applejack trotted off to her room while Magus headed down stairs.

“Sooooo? What’s up doc?” Pinkie Pie asked, while suspiciously nibbling a carrot.

Magus greeted this comment with a raised eyebrow and a smile. “The prognosis is a full recovery by tomorrow morning. Alas my friends, I am rather tired from today’s activities and when Applejack returns I shall excuse myself and find lodging for the night. I need my beauty sleep, as it were.”

There was a chorus of what was essentially a disappointed ‘Awwww~’ but they seemed to understand.

“Darling, you aren’t leaving town or anything are you?” Rarity asked, almost on the edge of tears.

“Nothing like that my Lady. I will teleport back to town and find a place to stay the night.” Magus said in a soothing tone.

“Yeah we TOTTALY have to have a party for Big Mac and M&M! So you CAN’T just leave!” Pinkie Pie added while bouncing in place.

Rainbow Dash seemed torn. “You gonna be around for a while? Cause you know…we could, hang out or something?”

“That sounds like fun.” Magus said smiling. They were either normally this way or Someone was messing around with them. The first possibility was endearing while the latter pissed him off.

Applejack came down stairs with a small bag in her mouth and offered it to Magus who placed it in his ‘bag’ using telekinesis. “Now there’s some bits and a couple of our best apples in there sugarcube. Ya make sure ya stop by and see us again as soon as ya’ll can, ya hear?”

“I will do that. Thank you for giving me a chance to prove myself. Everyone, have a wonderful evening.” With that, Magus vanished in a flash of light leaving the four mares alone in the living room, or at least they thought they were alone.

I watched them from my hidden spot, having released the Magus illusion for a moment, before I headed off towards the forest where I first appeared. Camping out under the stars seemed like a good idea at the time, and it would save some of the money I’d just earned. I nibbled on one of the apples and found it may have been the best tasting fruit I’d had in years. So far, I’d satisfied a number of questions about the place I was in, and could establish with some certainty that I was the first visitor here from another dimension, at least using this Guidepost. I’d need to set up some alarms and watch spells in the morning, but I was too low on reserves to do so tonight. Tomorrow I would need to find a place of study so I could fill in more blanks, like who was in charge of all the little ponies and how I could get an audience with them.

I just had to hope my reward for all of this wasn’t a swift execution. Although, I ruminated that wasn’t such a terrible way to go either in retrospect. I think life imprisonment would actually have been worse; or torture but that seemed about as likely as Zeus stopping by to have s’mores with me tonight. I finally made my way into the wood and dropped my invisibility spell. With a hand gesture I brought up a bubble of warm light to follow me, complete with a smiley face I’d seen some caster use somewhere before. I just thought it was cute and made me look less imposing.

Once I reached the old ruin, I set up a campfire and a simple alarm ward around the camp to warn of intruders. I felt like I was being watched but a scan of the area didn’t reveal anything I could ascertain. Pulling a bedroll from my robe-space, I had a lay down and wished I’d had a better view of the sky, as the night here looked fantastic. If I had time I’d have to map some of these stars for reference and study.

Long life leads to many pursuits; at least in my case it did considering how dangerous boredom was for a living weapon. I’d had time to study music, art, astronomy, and archeology to name a few. Some things I’d spent enough time doing that I could be considered a Doctorate but since every plane was just a little different than the next, it certainly kept things fresh. After a moment I pulled out a small cigarette case and removed a jet black cigarette with a small gold band. Clove cigarettes at least smelled better than their usual tobacco-only cousins but honestly I thought the things looked neat and matched my ensemble.

Once my cigarette was out, I tossed the remains in the fire pit and closed my eyes to meditate before slipping off to sleep. Hopefully, tomorrow would be as successful as today had been.

After all; they say hope springs eternal.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep

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Sometime in the night I was awoken by the alarm going off in my mind, my ward having been triggered. I tried not to move right away, seeing if I could figure out the location and how many intruders I was facing. My campfire was burning low, practically coals at this point, meaning I had been asleep for a couple of hours before my guests decided to make a move. My senses told me there were maybe eight to ten creatures out there and they were trying a simple encircling strategy. Silently activating my Skull Engulfed in Flames Tattoo, my body was instantly enveloped in an eerie red glow that resembled heat vapors and wisps of fire appeared and disappeared in random patterns across my body. Feeding my campfire with some elemental magic, the flames sprang up with added vigor and I could sense my visitors recoil a bit as I sat up looking around.

Theatrics go a long way towards negotiating from a position of strength.

Looking around I saw several pairs of yellow eyes peering at me from the darkness from a low vantage point. ‘A pack of predator animals; which usually means an alpha is present. Scare the leader, nothing has to die tonight.’

I had found over the years that approaching the locals and claiming that ‘I come in peace!’ after slashing and burning the local flora and fauna like a psychotic Smoky the Bear usually netted negative results.

‘Everyone’s a critic.’

After looking at them it seemed they were wolves, although they appeared rather…off. I puzzled out that they were constructed of wooden branches and magic rather than the blood and fur I had been expecting.

‘Guess fire was the right choice after all.’

I wasn’t sure if they could understand me, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try.

“Listen up. I may be trespassing in your hunting grounds, and if so I apologize; but I am no one’s meat and if you push me, it will cost you.” With the last couple of words I flared the campfire up and ignited my eyes with blue and green illusionary fire to punctuate each word while launching a fireball into the air with my left hand and pooling a ball of fire in my right, ready to launch. I had to give the alpha credit. Even after my sky born fireball produced a dazzling explosion overhead he didn’t cringe back like his pack members but I could tell he was no longer looking as sure about hunting the ‘big-pink-thing’ as he was a moment ago. He gave me one last look and turned off with his pack slinking away into the darkness with him.

After a few moments of confirming that they had indeed left I extinguished my Control of Fire spell and set up another alarm ward. I was a little miffed I’d had to spend more magic power before the sun even rose that day but for all I knew those critters belonged to someone who was a possible ally. No sense blasting the wildlife or guardian golems when their threat level was probably not all that high.

I was after all a living weapon.

I had a feeling though that some of my so-called benefits would make things more challenging here or wouldn’t be nearly as helpful as I had hoped. Once I had been transformed into a supernatural creature by the experiment I had taken part of, I had received two powerful physical enhancements.

The first was supernatural strength. Without additional strength magic (which I had) I could naturally lift almost two tons and efficiently carry about half that without major problems. Naturally, this supernatural strength was a double-edged sword, like most of my ‘gifts’. Once changed by the experiment, it took the good part of ten years to finally gain full control of my strength and not accidentally destroy whatever it was I was grabbing or pushing. Even now, in a reflex situation or when very emotional, I ran the risk of losing control of my own power and in this new place the last thing I wanted was a dead pony on my hands because of a simple mistake. Even were I to openhanded slap a creature here and not successfully pull my power back, more than likely all that would be left is a headless body and shouts of ‘murderer’. Since I actually was here in the name of Peace, this rankled a bit.

The second of my physical improvements was a far more sturdy body. In my Prime Plane I and other superior beings and materials were classified as Mega Damage structures (or MD for short), something that could withstand almost all natural attempts to damage it, such as fists, axes, and even modern small arms fire and rockets. The best example I can give was passed to me in a run-down bar by a dwarven engineer I once knew on Rifts Earth. He said that a standard human Army tank could be hit with a tennis ball as hard and as many times as one wanted and the tank wouldn’t even register the assault and that was how MD structures reacted to non-MD attacks; which is to say pretty much not at all. As such, only MD weapons, spells, and creatures could damage MD structures. From what I could tell though, this land of Equestria was overflowing with magic and since I knew even the so-called ‘Earth Ponies’ had it flowing through their bodies I concluded they could be a serious threat if they trampled or stomped me en masse as my natural resistance would probably be negated and that wasn’t even counting their unicorn magic.

‘Cute cuddly magical talking ponies that can kill me; I really have been alive too long…’

Shaking off my continued misfortune, I glanced at my timepiece and figured I had another three hours till sunrise. I tossed some coffee beans into an old camp pot full of water and decided on some camp coffee when I woke in the morning. It would be pretty stout and bitter, but camp coffee had a hell of a kick. I placed the pot on the now glowing coals sans magic fuel and let it work its magic while I tried to get comfortable enough to sleep for another hour or two.

Soon enough my internal alarm told me to get up and have some coffee before I succumbed to laziness. I sat up, felt along the edges of my barrier spells and decided it was time to ingest the harsh brew known as camp coffee. Even a hardened killer like me preferred a little sweetness in his coffee and I pulled out a small service set from my robe-of-many-things. Asking evil entities if they wanted to sit down and have some tea with a sterling silver set always netted the most hilarious reactions. Having fixed myself a cup of joe (complete with sugar and cream, thank you very much), I took a sip, cringed a bit at the strength and started a mental list of things I needed to accomplish today.

‘I should set up some magic circles and some trigger wards. Magical landmines for evil entities and maybe a barrier prison for non-good Others? I really don’t want to blow up a potential ally but the fewer Visitors this place gets, the better I’ll feel. Then I need to find an information center, perhaps a library since I doubt they have a Digital Data Repository in this place. THEN I need to find out how to contact the rulers of this place and set up a meeting, spill my guts and hope I don’t lose my head. No pressure.’

Once I’d finished my first coffee, I groaned a bit, stood with a series of pop-inducing stretches, and began drawing a large magic circle around the Guidepost. The first was a Feedback Circle of Evil Rejection I’d devised long ago to deal with incorporeal undead slipping in and out of a small town and devouring children. Anything that the Forces would deem ‘evil’ would find their magic turned inward against them and looped until they reached the mystic equivalent of critical mass, usually resulting in a loud pop and a spray of bodily fluids, or in that particular case, ectoplasm. It wasn’t a fix-all by any means and would only catch a few trespassers before the circle would expire, but if I was lucky that would give me ample time to set up an ambush if things came to that.

Having completed my first Circle, I started my second. A simple Barrier Against Non-Good that would prevent creatures from leaving the circle least they leave behind all of their mystic energy, usually resulting in coma or possibly death. Any Visitors would know the danger before they tried to leave and if they insisted on taking the risk anyway, I couldn’t feel responsible for their plight; there was an entire nation of adorably cuddly innocents riding on this and I wasn’t taking any chances of first contact ending in a hail of bullets of plasma bolts. Adventurers may not always be evil assholes, but I often thought of budding ‘heroes’ and explorers as dangerous children that tended to demand first and shoot those who moved too slowly second. I feared I may be getting cynical in my old age.

With my first two barriers in place I set up some alarm wards for remote monitoring and set them to ignore the local wildlife but trigger if any sapient beings traipsed through the area, perhaps allowing me to catch the fool who set the Guidepost up in the first place and give them a piece of my mind, and maybe a hardy fist to the face and genitals. Maybe I was being harsh but it wouldn’t be the first time some bumbling amateur ruined everything with an ego-powered mistake.

After setting the wards I found myself needing to take a break and recover some of my mystic power. I poured myself a second cup of coffee and after a moment I decided that I wanted to play some music to pass the time. I drew my rune-etched guitar from my robe and spent a moment tuning it. The runes allowed me to enjoy the sounds of a standard electric guitar without the needed amp, speaker, or electricity. Call it an indulgence but I’d earned the few I had, and I liked to play music so it was time and credits well spent. Using my Audio Illusion magic I didn’t even need band mates to play any music I wanted, I just provided the singing and guitar parts and filled in the rest with magic. Apple eat your heart out. After a moment of considering, I settled on a rather fun and slightly technical piece I enjoyed and started to play.

The music poured out as I let the guitar riffs flow through my fingers and started to sing. I closed my eyes and thought back to the time I had spent in America and Canada during the Twentieth Century, traveling around the small towns and the large cities, meeting new people and smiting the occasional evil. Those were some fun times and being among humans again had been a nice change of pace. As the first song finished I opened my eyes and looked up to see a peculiar sight; a zebra-creature was on the edge of my camp staring at me with a mix wide-eyed wonder and practiced restraint. Sporting a Mohawk and an assortment of gold jewelry I quickly deduced it was both sentient and curious but not yet hostile.


I was thankful I hadn’t activated my wards yet so I wouldn’t have to spend that energy again but I didn’t want my new visitor to run off before we could talk so I figured another song couldn’t hurt. Rather than make any aggressive movements or freak out, I gave my visitor a gentle smile and a nod and began another song, with less energy to bring the mood down a bit. Sure enough as the song poured out of the air around me, the zebra relaxed a bit and I think I even saw a smile on its face before it slowly moved closer to my camp. I was glad for the chance to talk to someone while not disguised but feared frightening anyone before I could explain myself.

As the song ended I looked at my visitor and smiled again.

“Hello there, and welcome to my humble camp. My name is Aradael, ‘uh-rad-ay-el’. I realize it’s a rather hard name to pronounce, so my friends just called me ‘Day-el’ for short. And who might you be, friend?” I was hoping that peaceful negotiations were still on the table.

The zebra smiled and replied in a rather sing-song cadence, “I am named Zecora my unusual looking friend, and what manner of being are you with a name so hard to bend?” From the voice I figured it was a she and I had to admit, the whole rhyming thing was rather cute.

I gave a friendly laugh. “My kind refers to themselves as humans, or homo sapiens if I’m being scientific about it. I’m a traveler from another place and I’ve come to these lands hoping to meet new entities and offer my services to those in need. I’ve taken to camping out here because…well, I was afraid my looks may frighten the locals.” I gave myself a disarming scratch on the back of my head to help sell my supposed embarrassment.

Zecora smiled disarmingly, “Yes, looking different can lead to undeserved fear, but once informed the townsponies become dear.”

I raised an eyebrow with a small smile. “I take it even zebras are considered a bit different around these parts?”

With a smirk she replied, “I was once the ‘terror of the wood’, but a brave young filly took a chance and soon was understood. I now live on the edge of the Everfree, but every now and then they come to visit me. Potions and tonics are what I often craft, I also study nature where others mock and laugh.”

I gave her a big smile. “You’re both a shaman and an apothecary? Well color me impressed Zecora. I’d love to talk shop sometime, if that’s okay. I myself am an Arcanist and it’s always nice to meet a peer in the field.” This zebra was fast becoming an interesting acquaintance and I could tell she was surprised at my ability to understand her strange way of talking. What could I say; I enjoy some poetry every now and then. Don’t judge me.

“That does indeed sound like an interesting time, but I find myself wondering about your acceptance of my rhyme.” Her eyebrow was quirked but I could tell she was trying to tease me.

“Oh? I didn’t even notice you were speaking out in rhyme. I apologize for missing that it must feel like a crime.” I kept my expression sincere to sell the bit. Her twitch was totally worth it.

'Two can play at that game my dear.'

She suddenly gave a warm laugh, seeing that we had each seen through the others’ ruse. “Perhaps sometime you’d like to visit me; we can speak of things over cake and tea?”

“That sounds excellent. In fact, I’d like to walk you home. I know these woods aren’t safe. I had to chase off some wolves last night with a little show of force, but I didn’t kill anything. I figured it was bad manners. It will also let me know where you live.” I threw my trademark wink in at the end and sure enough I noticed her slight twitch of embarrassment before she smiled warmly again.

She nodded and turned to walk away and I stashed my guitar and followed after extinguishing the coals of my campfire. As I exited the area I activated the alarm wards and circles from the outside and caught up to Zecora. I was rather excited to talk to another practitioner and the chance to improve my potion brewing was a definite plus.

Zecora didn’t know what to make of the strange being when she'd first laid eyes on him after following the strangest sounds she’d ever heard in the Everfree to their source. Tall, like a bald and hornless minotaur, it sat by the coals of a campfire and sang in a wonderfully robust and smooth (if she was being honest) voice although some of the lyrics seemed like nonsense to her. Its hands flowed over a stringed instrument, much like a concert cello or bass and played without a bow but with dexterous fingers plucking notes in a dazzling display while the accompaniment seemed to flow from the surrounding air via magic.

It was truly beautiful. The second song she liked even more and she found herself quite close to the creature before she’d even realized it. After talking to this Aradael however, she found herself rather charmed by the human. He didn’t give off any bad vibes and he didn’t seem irritated by her rhyming speech, something she found a little flattering. He was even a fellow practitioner of the arts and braved the Everfree like herself. She was a little excited to have a new friend over and played the previous conversation over in her mind while leading the man to her hut.

It was always nice to make a new friend.

First Time Cat Owners

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At first, the trip to my new friend’s hut through the Everfree with Zecora was uneventful.

At first.

Before the morning went to hell I did learn some interesting things about this place, as I did steer the conversation in that direction. The land I was in was only a single kingdom among a few known lands and the Equestrians were ruled by a diarchy of two princesses, one symbolizing the day and one representing the night. They were some kind of super-ponies and had been around maybe as long as I have, perhaps longer. I also learned that there was a pony in town that was considered a close student of the solar princess Celestia, although I read ‘surrogate daughter’ between the lines myself. I was forming a plan to use this information when I learned another bit of information that morning; I’d gotten sloppy.

I had been stupidly, dangerously, and unbelievably complacent.

See, I had figured this place was about as sunshine and rainbows as any plane I’d ever seen. No sense of danger, war was practically unheard of, and the inhabitants I’d met would more likely smother me with cuteness before they would ever draw my blood. At the time, I hadn’t really taken the Everfree or any of the supposed dangers of this world seriously because it just didn’t fit with the mental image I’d built about this cute little fantasy land. Damn, did I screw that up.

I hadn’t considered that the world at large that I was currently exploring had different rules in different areas, because that was completely counter to anything my logical mind could fathom; and I was a freaking planeswalker. Sure, planes had different rules from each other that’s Rifts 101, but rules within exceptions of rules and reality breaking down from one area to the next within the same realm? That was just…insane. I had forgotten just how far Outside this place was. That revelation nearly cost me and all the little ponyfolks everything right there.

As soon as it was in range I noticed it; a vampire presence. Unbelievably, I had noticed a bloody vampire and in broad daylight no less, which was a first considering. Even then, with practiced poise and long experience I figured I could handle a single bloodsucker no problem; I had destroyed legions of the damn things over the long years. When I turned to face it however, I couldn’t really wrap my mind around what I was seeing and that hesitation was costly.

It was probably a…manticore of some kind, or used to be one at least judging from the huge cat-like body, bat wings, and scorpion tail. The Vampire Intelligence that managed to get inside it did some really strange things with its new home. Aside from the standard glowing red eyes and green-ashen pallor, it had extended some of its skeletal structure outside the body; rib bones were jagged chest fangs, vertebrae spines formed a saw-toothed ridge along the back, and wing bones formed long raking claws that seemed to scream wrongness, all leaving it looking sickeningly tattered and bristling with bony protrusions. There was some kind of seeping orange goo that oozed from some of these torn wounds and slimy trails leaked from its tear ducts while it moved with twitching, spastic jerks of the muscles, not at all like the vampire’s catlike grace and pure hunter agility I was used to seeing.

Usually vampires were arrogant, cruel, mocking beasts that tortured their victims using the information they had stolen from the host’s mind, all for the joy of listening to them plead and scream but this thing was silent and unnerving. In the past they had almost always tried to engage me in teasing conversation, hoping to distract me with some nonsense or using bribes and hostages, hoping I would lower my guard. The only time this wasn’t true was on the open battlefield, when it was kill or be killed. I honestly couldn’t understand the way some people tried to romanticize these devils. Sparkly or not, vampires didn’t want to love you, they weren’t lonely or misunderstood, and they weren’t ancient heroes just waiting for humanity to ‘get it right’; they simply wanted to peel your skin off and make you eat it while your family watched. You know, because it was entertaining.

Historically when a vampire infects another creature, the Intelligence or core of what makes it a monster, breaks off a tiny piece of itself and enters the new host, then takes control and grows in power as it feeds and spreads, like a cancer that delights in evil and torment. Vampire Intelligences were nebulous forms of pure evil and shadow that pulled the strings from the hellish dimension they called home and all they wanted to do was spread misery and death; because it was fun. However I was a bane to their existence, I was an Undead Slayer sworn to stamp them out and burn them out of every hold I could find. I think they began to take it personally after a few centuries.

This thing however, was something else. I didn’t know it at the time but this forest was some kind of anomaly where the set rules of magic broke down in mysterious ways; ways even the inhabitants couldn’t fathom. As it sprang at me like a broken machine with the speed of a viper, I did the only thing I could think of; I threw a Globe of Daylight spell on Zecora and gently tossed her away from me while trying not to smash her into any trees just before it struck me like a runaway train.

Now, I won’t lie; having a giant cat powered by vampiric strength smack you into some trees? It hurt quite a bit, supernatural toughness be dammed. Even with my martial arts training in how to break falls and land without injury, I bounced like a pinball off of a pair of trees and fell unceremoniously onto my side with a groan. I activated my Knight in Armor tattoo as I sat up and spit a wad of bloody phlegm onto the forest floor, as a field of magic armor encased my body with a faint blue glow.

‘Some cushion for any future flights on Manticore Airlines…’

Using the tree nearest to me I stood up slowly and watched the broken thing just stare with its emotionless, weepy eyes; like it was processing all the information very slowly. I heard Zecora say something off to the side but I threw up a palm in an effort to convey that she stay away while I dealt with Fluffy. My magic was still not in top shape and I hadn’t had a chance to look at my Partition Seals this morning so I was hesitant to just start blasting magic willy-nilly. Instead I summoned one of my weapon tattoos, the Flaming Spear and with a quick spin I pointed the spear at the beast wondering what in the Nine Circles of Hell was going on today.

Having finally decided on a course of action the Manticore began to circle with spastic, twitchy movements before making a clumsy but quick leap in my direction. I thrust the spear upwards while bracing the end on the ground and let it impale itself on the end with a sickening squelch. When it tried to climb along the spear to reach me I lifted it with the spear and flicked it off towards the trees away from Zecora, sliding it off and trying to ascertain how much damage I’d done, if any. It seemed to have coordination issues trying to regain its feet but it managed; just in time for me to crack it across the face with a full on baseball swing with my spear.

‘Ohhh! Johnny, I think that may be a double right there or even an RBI!’

Not a standard spear-fighting technique I know but I was a little pissed off, so sue me. The blade cleft its head deeply before sending it sailing in a lazy corkscrew into yet another tree but it somehow managed to aim its stinger with enough accuracy to clip me in the shoulder at it flew away. I spun a couple times with the force and sat down hard, grimacing but glad it failed to break through my now damaged magical armor field.

“Dammit Fluffy, you’re not making this easy…” I mumbled, trying to stand again.

It appeared the spear was doing some damage but it seemed I would need something a little more undead-fatal to finish this damn thing off. Sticking the spear into the ground, I pulled out my custom Benelli M3 Super 90 shotgun from my robe-space and racked one of the Techno-Wizard Sunshower Shells it was loaded with. I was often envious of how those lab geeks managed to come up with new and interesting ways to lay down a righteous smack down upon the forces of jerkiness. I mean, combining sunlight with running water in one little explosive package? It was genius stuff that never failed to please the seasoned hunter.

I quickly circled around to where I figured I would have a clean shot at its damaged head while it tried to right its broken body once again. Once again, seemingly without looking, it thrust its tail at me in an effort to skewer me but I hopped to the left and blasted it twice in the side of its head, taking full advantage of the M3’s semi-auto capability. The echoes of the thunderous shots broke through the morning air and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I felt a little bad about using a firearm in the land of lollipops and sugarplums. I didn’t feel as bad as Fluffy though, from what I could see.

The shots proved quite effective on the poor beast as half of its head was disintegrated by golden bolts of liquid, leaving a puddle of orange goo pooling underneath the beast as its body tried to deal with the loss of most of its brain by twitching and spasming as if being powered by an alternating electric current. It managed to swing its remaining dead, machine-like eye in my direction, the neck moving like a rusty gate, and for a moment it just stared at me as if looking at an impossible new incest before deciding that crushing the bug underfoot was in order, but soon enough all its movement ceased and the mass of orange goo quickly lost its unnatural luster becoming a noxious black mess, the loss of tension letting the manticore fall over on its side and it begin to quickly decompose into a pool of shadowy ichor. I leapt back from the mess as it started to steam and dissipate in the dappled sunlight, which was now able to affect the remains with its unknown protection no longer active, my ribs offering a protest as the adrenaline began to wear off.

‘What the blue bloody shit was wrong with you Furball?’

I stored my shotgun and dispelled the spear before looking for Zecora and making sure she was alright. I felt like I had failed this world somewhat, even though I had only been here two days and I wasn’t omniscient; I had seen a terrible entity just strolling around this world ready to kill and I hadn’t noticed it somehow.

‘Also, how the hell did I not notice it come through the Guidepost? I should have known the moment it slithered through, unless… Oh no. The culprit who built that Guidepost must be opening portals elsewhere in this world. Dammit!’

Continuing my search quickly ended when I found Zecora not far from where I finished off Count Mantula, looking at the black pool of slime as it dissolved in the dappled sunlight with a look of disgust etched on her zebra face. “I’m sorry about that Zecora, I truly am. I never expected one of those things to find its way here so quickly,” I said with a hint of remorse in my voice. “That could have easily hurt you, or worse. I’m glad I tagged along but…” I signed. Not really sure what I was supposed to feel, since it had been a damn long time since I’d been surprised like that and I had woken up with high hopes of keeping Candy Land safe from harm.

Zecora looked away from the remains with both eyebrows as high as they could go, “That is nonsense my valorous friend, your quick thinking and actions prevented my end. Taking the blame for things you can’t control, will do nothing to help and only take its toll,” she finished with a sad smile. “However my ignorance I must confess, what exactly was the thing that caused this awful mess?”

“I take it manticores are native to this place?” I asked. She nodded. “Then what happened was a vampire, a being of great evil that animates the corpses of its victims to spread misery and death. That poor beast was already dead, but forced into un-life and I was compelled to end its suffering. However, that was unlike any vampire I’ve ever seen. Something about your world or perhaps this forest or the very essence of the animal itself changed it into…that thing rather than the cunning predator I’ve grown accustomed to. I’m going to have to move more quickly now because I fear other things may be slipping through the cracks being left by whoever started this whole mess by building a Guidepost here. I think they are opening holes in reality without any care or thought about what they are doing.” My grim tone caused my zebra companion to frown with worry.

“I understand your need to rush, but hasty plans are quickly crushed,” she said. “Twilight Sparkle is a caster great, talk to her soon and discuss our fate. While I would frown upon dishonesty, the citizens of Ponyville are xenophobic; take it from me. A disguise of some kind may be in order, at least until the crossing of the library’s border.” Zecora then did something I hadn’t expected; upon getting close enough she threw her forelimbs around my waist and gave me a firm hug. After a moment of hesitation I kneeled down and returned the embrace.

I broke our embrace and placed a hand on her…uh, shoulder area (withers?) while looking her in the eye. “I’m going to get you home first my friend, because these woods may not be the place you know anymore. Once you’re there please be very careful who you open your door for. I’m afraid the horrors of the multiverse are not nearly as cordial as I am…or as good looking,” I finished with a wink at the zebra matron.

She chuckled while shaking her head and turning, then continued moving toward her home for several more minutes where we parted ways after she closed her home’s door behind her. I took a moment to admire the outside of her cozy looking hut nestled in the eerie wood and then carefully rolled up my sleeve to check my Partition Seals. Along my left bicep were three solid bars, equally spaced that encircled my entire arm. Normally, they were black when I haven’t taxed myself too badly in the magic department, but the last two days had been a magical stress and I could see the top band was a dull green, meaning it was starting to strain because the pull of my spells was trying to draw upon my sealed power reserves.

Since I figured it wasn’t too far gone yet and because I didn’t want anything to happen to my zebra pal, I went to work setting up a Circle of Repel Evil outside her front door. Once that was done I set up an Alarm Ward in the area so anything not Zecora would set it off and give me a heads up. I really wanted to place my first Translocation Beacon here but I didn’t want to push my luck without proper rest to restore my PPE levels because the first band was now looking a dull orange.

‘I guess I can sleep when I’m dead; or at least I’d like to say that. The truth is, if I push myself too hard I’m going to burn out and then I will be truly useless. Luckily, Ponyville is a ley line nexus. If I can spend some time meditating there, that will help restore my power quite a bit. What was that sweet shack called? Sugercube something I think?’

With that I figured I would head to town for some food and some needed meditation. I always did love a good cupcake.