Evergreen Heart

by Aprion

First published

Aeron, a human man is transported to Equestria and killed by Timber Wolves, only to be reborn as something different. Will the Ponies learn to accept this new creature?

Aeron, a human man is transported to Equestria through means unknown. After appearing in the Everfree forest, he is attacked and killed by the malicious Timber Wolves. But his story does not end there. For he is reborn as something new to Equestria. But will this new being find acceptance among the Ponies? And how will his presence change the course of events as we know them? Only time will tell.

( Tags may be added or changed as story progresses. )

09-01-16 Holy Horseapples, this got featured :pinkiegasp:
26-02-17 Over 2000 likes. I never dreamed that was possible :yay: Thanks everyone.

Chapter 1: And so I died.

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Chapter 1
And so I died.

Branches whipped across my face, thorns tore at my clothes and skin. The blood from numerous cuts and scratches stained the leaves, and still I ran. I knew at the very core of my being that it was pointless. I mean I won't lie, I was an overweight man in his thirties with all the grace and endurance of a snail. I was never going to outrun these creatures, not in a million years. And yet the will to live, that survival instinct of all living things kept pushing me on. Even as my legs throbbed with lactic acid build up, my lungs burned and my dry throat screamed out at me for mercy, I kept going. I hauled my body across a fallen log, nearly twisting my ankle as I did so. I could hear a river ahead of me. Maybe if I crossed it they would stop following me. Do Timber Wolves even swim? The show never answered that. I sadly found out that they do.

I never imagined this was how I would meet my end. I'm not even sure how I ended up here in the first place, in the fictional world of My Little Pony. That sort of thing only happens in fan fiction. And yet here I was, in the middle of what I assumed was the Everfree Forest, running for my life from a pack of Timber Wolves. Let me tell you, the show does not do these things justice. They are absolutely terrifying. Not only are they a lot bigger than the cartoon would suggest, but they also emit an unnatural aura of dread. And stink to the high heavens, like a bog or rotting leaves dredged up from the bottom of a slow running river, mixed with the sickly sour smell of rotting meat on a hot summer’s day.

How did I get here and into this mess? Like I said, I'm not sure. All I remember is that I was on my way home. The weather report forecast rain. It had just started to drizzle as I was opening my car door. Then there was a blinding flash and deafening thunderclap, and when I regained my senses I was lying face down on the forest floor. Sounds like a bad cliché, I know, but that’s all I remember.

I don't really consider myself a Brony. I mean yeah, I watch and like the show, but I don't go to conventions, and unlike some fans I don't have a boatload of pony merchandise. Except for a Pinkie Pie plushy. Not that you care or anything.

In any case, as soon as my senses returned to me, I painfully picked myself up off the forest floor. I felt completely disoriented. I grew up in a small city and the nearest thing we had to a forest was an overgrown park. I had absolutely no clue what to do aside from a few survival tips I picked up watching the discovery channel. As far as I could tell, it was the middle of the night. I mean, with the moon overhead and all, that was a really astute observation. The thing that bothered me was the inexplicably silhouette of a unicorn on the surface...

“It can't be,” I gasped. “I'm in Equestria?”

I don't know how long I stood there staring at the moon. My brain had pretty much crashed to blue screen. Your Mind.EXE has encountered a critical error. Abort. Retry. Fail? WTF? Reboot loser! Do it now! Yeah.... to say I was shocked would be an understatement.

I was snapped out of it when the image shimmered and disappeared. It had been a while since I watched the pilot episode, but I clearly remembered this part. The return of Nightmare Moon. At least now I knew 'when' in the timeline I had arrived. Not that it did me any good at the time. Barely a moment had passed since the silhouette vanished when I was startled by the bone chilling howl of a wolf. The first call was picked up by another, and then another. Now, had these been regular wolves, I wouldn't have cared too much since they rarely attack humans. But I remembered what lurks in these woods, and I had no desire to meet it. I started to move away from the sound as fast as my legs would carry me.

I don't know how long I ran, but I had barely traveled a mile or so when I found myself in an ambush. A dozen pairs of glowing green eyes stared at me from the undergrowth. I was surrounded. My first instinct was to run, but I squashed that with some effort. My poor condition aside, running from predators only set them off. That left me one option, to fight.

I looked around for a weapon, any weapon, settling on a large piece of wood littering the forest floor. I slowly bend down to pick it up, not taking my eyes off the approaching Timber Wolves for even a second. My improvised club in hand, I backed towards the nearest tree. At least that way they wouldn't be able to get the jump on me from behind.

A bolt of fear went through my spine when the first one fully emerged from the bushes. It was much bigger than I expected, and a whole lot meaner looking than the somewhat silly wolves in the cartoon. This one had a mane of thorny vines and instead of maybe eight peg or stake like teeth, it had dozens of thick rose like thorns at least two inches long in its maw. The second one to emerge seemed to be largely covered in what looked like poison ivy, the inside of its mouth covered in tiny needles like an inverted cactus. I swallowed hard, my arms shaking from the adrenaline that was racing through my body.

The first one lunged at me. I clumsily sidestepped and it smashed face first into the tree behind me. I brought the club down across its head as hard as I could. Either I must have hit something vital or the tree did more damage than I thought, because its head pretty much shattered in a shower of twigs and leaves and other detritus. Emboldened by my success I turned to swing at the second one, but its jaws snapped shut around my club and with a wild jerk it tore the weapon from my hands. With a loud crunch it bit the thing clear in half. My mind decided that perhaps running was the better choice after all, and before I even realized what I was doing my legs were already carrying me away with the wolves in hot pursuit. And that leads me to now.

I finally reached the river, its waters surprisingly calm. Without hesitation I jumped in and began to swim across. The shock of the cold water reinvigorated me some and I made it across in good time, but sadly so did the Timber Wolves. Their wooden bodies floated effortlessly across the water like the ferryman across the river Styx. My body felt heavy as I hauled myself onto the shore. The ground was muddy and slippery and I lost my footing several times, and that proved to be my doom. I barely made it twenty paces from the river when a set of jaws clamped down on my left leg. I'll be honest, I shrieked like a little girl from the pain. I don't know what that thing had for teeth, but it made short work of my jeans and tore a fist sized chunk of flesh from my calf. Needless to say, I wasn't running after that.

I went down hard, smashing into the ground face first. I felt my nose break and nearly threw up as tears made my vision blur. A snarl from behind made me roll over, kicking out with my good leg. I caught one in the snout but two more jumped me, biting and tearing at my limbs. My clothes and flesh were shredded in mere moments. One of them bit down on my right arm. The bones snapped like twigs and all I could do was thrash and scream in agony. Time seemed to slow to a crawl. My other arm got broken and then torn off at the elbow, my blood spraying across the forest floor. One of them sank its teeth into my belly and tore me open. My guts spilled out like streamers of confetti. I began to choke on my own blood. Tears streamed from my eyes as I wordlessly begged for my mother. Yeah, my mind had been reduced to a gibbering wreck by that point. A helpless child, calling for the safety only a mother’s arms could offer. I felt myself slipping away as a pair of jaws descended on my face.

Then the ground trembled and a rainbow colored shock-wave burst through the forest. All I saw was white, before things changed forever.

Chapter 2: And so I lived?

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Chapter 2
And so I lived?

Consciousness returned to me slowly. And with it came confusion. Shouldn't I be dead? Not to look a gift horse in the mouth but how in the world am I still here? I lay in the dark void for a time contemplating my situation before I tried to open my eyes, but they would not respond. Nor would my arms or my legs. I felt a surge of panic shoot through me. Was I paralyzed? Why can't I see, why can't I feel anything? What is going on? Come on eyes, open! I need to see. I need to see. I NEED TO SEE!

Vision returned to me, but not in the way I was accustomed to. I could tell right away because I did not have eyes to open. Instead the darkness slowly gave way to light and images began to form. Its hard to describe it with words alone. It was like seeing and touching and hearing at once. I could see the forest around me just like with my eyes. But at the same time I felt it as if I had dozens, no hundreds of hands touching everything. And on top of that I was sensing my surroundings as if through echo locations. But I was making no sound at all. And everything looked different, more vibrant. Almost glowing, like looking through a thermal imaging camera. Most confusing though was that I was looking in all directions at once. Almost like having eyes in the back of your head.

With my vision restored my panic began to subside somewhat. That is until I laid eyes on my body. My very dead mutilated half eaten body lying several feet away from me, surrounded by the shattered debris of half a dozen Timber Wolves. I screamed. At least in my mind I did, for I was still unable to produce sound.

I don't know how long I screamed like that. It could have been five minutes or five hours. I was in such distress that time lost all meaning for a while. Frankly I'm surprised I'm still sane after all that has happened. Or maybe I have gone insane and simply don't realize it? After the screaming came denial. “This isn't real. I am dreaming. Any moment now the dog will wake me up and things will be back to normal.” I must have repeated that single thought a thousand times over. I suddenly noticed the sun had risen. For the warm rays of high noon caressed me, and new energy coursed through me. I found it strangely soothing. I say that because normally I avoid the sun like the plague. Some people get a tan, I get sunburn and then start to peel like old paint on a fence. Disgusting I know. But no, for the first time ever I welcomed the suns warm rays. It felt right.

My mind calmed, and my senses grew sharper. And suddenly a new feeling entered my senses. I felt the forest all around me with new intensity. I felt every broken branch, every leaf, every blade of grass. Every rock and pebble. I felt myself reaching out to them, like ethereal hands grasping. I focused on a nearby branch, I became intimately familiar with it. I felt every groove in the bark, every knob, every leaf still attached and every vein inside said leaves. And suddenly it moved. My ethereal hands grasped it and dragged it over to me. To what I have come to know as my core. I will explain about that later. I began to reach out further. Drawing in everything I could. Twigs, roots, branches, logs, leaves, moss, bark, mushrooms, even small rocks, everything! All of it came together in a writhing mass of green and brown. I felt myself sprouting roots, like tiny feelers snaking through the mass of detritus that was forming and surging around me.

I experimented with it for some time, to give it shape and form and function. I focused on what I was familiar with. A hand. I weaved together branches and twigs. I bound them with moss and vine. And slowly but certainly a hand formed. As soon as it was complete it felt so right. Like it had always been there. I flexed it and wiggled its fingers as effortlessly as if it were my own flesh and blood hand. Next came the arm, then a shoulder. A broken hollow tree trunk became my new ribcage. And my core took place within. Held secure in an intricate weave of vines and branches. Piece by piece I scraped together a body. More roots and vines sprouted from my core, binding it all together. I could feel my core pulse with energy. Like the beating of a heart. Lastly I tried to shape a head and face for myself. But it came out more like a featureless mask of bark with two holes for eyes. Not that I needed the eyes to see as I was now, but the familiarity of it helped focus my vision. Being able to see in all directions at once can be extremely disorienting for a being who is used to having a hundred-eighty degrees field of vision. When I tried to take my first step forward it felt like I was walking sideways until I mentally reoriented myself.

My new body took some getting used to. It was made of the combined mass of almost four Timber Wolves worth of stuff, so needless to say it was big. I stood at least seven and a half feet tall and almost half as wide. Slowly I lumbered over to the river and looked into the calm water. I had not fully grasped what I was doing until I saw my reflection for the first time.

“Holy crap, I'm a Treant.” I mentally said to myself. Because that's pretty much what I looked like. I could have said Dryad instead but Dryads are all female and a lot prettier than my cobbled together look. At least if popular fantasy is to be believed. I pretty much looked like a walking tree. Or an amalgamation of several trees, and various other flora. Or perhaps I was nothing more than a human shaped Timber Wolf? Whatever the case, the question that nagged at me was how did this happen? How does one go from being Timber Wolf chow to being a living tree.

“Am I alive? Or am I a ghost and I'm haunting this pile of wood?” I asked myself.

I looked back to where the remains of my old body lay. I must admit I was afraid to approach it. It's extremely unsettling seeing yourself from the outside. Even more so when your body is a bloody mutilated mess.

“What am I gonna do with..me? I can't leave my body lying there, its bound to be dragged off by predators. Do I bury it?”

Frankly the idea of burying my corpse made me sick. If I still had a stomach I would have tossed my cookies for sure. I mean how fucking twisted is that? Having to bury yourself. I couldn't do it. I just couldn't. Instead I spend an hour looking around the forest until I stumbled upon a cave. After making sure it was empty I placed my body inside and then sealed off the entrance with a large boulder. Yes this new body was surprisingly strong. Anyway the cave would keep my... remains, safe for the time being. Until I could make up my mind on what to do with them.

Now it was time to get out of here. If this really was Equestria, and after being eaten by goddamn Timber Wolves I had no doubt that it was, there was only one logical course of actions. Get out of this stinking forest and meet some ponies. But what direction to go in. I couldn't just wander around aimlessly. Well okay I could but that would be pretty darn pointless.

Looking around I spotted a small mountain not far from my location. It would give me a good vantage point to figure out where to go. My path thus set I began the slow trek upward. The more I moved around the more natural it felt. My limbs had been a little stiff at first but soon walking felt as natural as it always had when I was still flesh and blood. This new body was surprisingly steady. Every step my roots would sink slightly into the ground to give me a strong grip. It made going up the mountain path a breeze. When I finally ascended high enough to look over the treetops I stopped to take in the sights.

From up here the Everfree looked rather calm and peaceful, belying the dangers that lay within. The sky overhead was cloudless and calm. And the suns warm rays filled me with vigor. In the distance a short ways away I could see the ruins of the castle of the two sisters. I was closer to it than I thought. If only I could have made it there before the wolves got me. I squished that line of thought before it could sour my mood. No use dwelling on it. Now to some that may seem awfully apathetic, but I reckon it was either shock or insanity or both at this point. I'm actually still not sure to this very day.

I let my gaze drift across the horizon until I spotted a mountain in the far distance, and on its side I could just make out the spires of what could only be Canterlot. And since Ponyville lay in roughly the same direction I now had a path to follow.

Chapter 3: Onward to Ponyville

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Chapter 3
Onward to Ponyville

It was later that afternoon when I finally approached the edge of the Everfree. I could tell because the vegetation became steadily thinner. The journey itself had been pretty uneventful. I had seen hair nor hide of any creatures. No Manticores, no Timber Wolves, no Hydra. Then again the Hydra lived in the bog, not the Everfree. As far as I knew anyway. I did run into a small flock of Para Sprites, but the colorful little... 'insects'? What exactly were they anyway? Well whatever they are classified as, they ignored me. I think I saw a cragadile as I passed by a pond, but it could have just been a rock or log.

The closer I got to Ponyville however the more nervous I became. Would they accept me? Would they run at the very sight of me? For all their friendliness Ponies could be awful skittish. I mean just look at what happened with Zecora. Wait a second, is Zecora even around at this time? Or did she not settle in the Everfree yet? For all I know events could transpire in a completely different order from the show. Considering how the season seemingly changed at random depending on the episodes needs. I mean, one episode its Winter Wrap up, and two episodes later its autumn and the running of the leaves.

And how long had I been unconscious anyway? It could have been mere hours or several days. Who knows what events could have transpired since then. I guessed it had not been longer than a few days since my original body had not decayed yet, or been dragged off by scavengers. So less than a week since Luna's return? I had no way to know for sure. I couldn't help but wonder what she and Celestia would make of me.

All those questions kept running through my head while I made my approach. I found myself moving slower and slower the closer to the edge I came. My newfound senses were beginning to pick up the occasional woodland critters. I think they were mostly squirrels and mice. But at the time I wasn't accustomed enough to my new senses to tell. It was strange and confusing how my new senses picked them up. It functions somewhat like a natural radar. Anything that gets within a certain distance of me and I just 'know' its there. The bigger the creature the easier it is to spot, and the further away I can sense it. However as I reached the edge of the Everfree proper and caught my first glimpse of the orchards of Sweet Apple Acres I sensed something I did recognize. The vile magical aura of more Timber Wolves. Yes apparently the more magic a creature has the easier it becomes to spot as well.

I don't know how exactly I was able to recognize them for what they were right away. But I could sense a trio of them lurking near the edge of the forest somewhere on my left. And if this new gut feeling of mine was accurate they were stalking something. A surge of anger went through me. My leaves rustled as if caught in the wind as the feeling rushed through me. Whatever those damn things were planning, I was going to spoil it. I turned left and began to stomp through the undergrowth. My anger rising with every step.


********


Apple Bloom was playing hoofball with her new friends Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo on one of the clear patches of land in between the fields of the orchard and the Everfree. They had met at Diamond Tiara's cute-ceañera the other day and bonded over the fact that none of them had their cutie mark yet.
They spent some time passing the ball between them until Scootaloo spoke up.

“This is getting boring, and apparently none of us are talented enough in hoofball to get a cutie mark out of it.”

“Aww don't give up yet Scootaloo.” Apple Bloom piped up. “Maybe we just need ta step it up a notch.”

Putting action to word she tossed the hoofball up high and gave it a double buck with all her strength. Rocketing it back towards Scootaloo. The orange Pegasus filly gave a yelp and ducked, barely in time to avoid getting conked in the head. The hoofball passed over her, the air friction scorching the tips of her primary feathers.

“Hey! Watch the wings!” She squeaked. Her voice going even higher than Sweetie Belle's.

Apple Bloom had the decency to blush. “Sorry.”

“Oh no.” Sweetie belle cried out as she watched the hoofball fly off into the Everfree forest.

“Nice going Apple Bloom.” Scootaloo scoffed.

“Y'all were s'posed ta catch it Scootaloo.” Apple Bloom huffed. “Well, let's go an get it back.”

“Uhm.. are you sure its safe Apple Bloom?” Said Sweetie Belle whilst eying the forest uncertainly.

“Well... Granny Smith always cautioned us about settin' hoof in the Everfree, But as long as we stay on the edge we'll be fine.” she said confidently.

“Hey, maybe we can get our cutie mark in..uh.. Forest Exploration?” Scootaloo chimed in.

“Hay yeah.”

“CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS FOREST EXPLORERS, YAY!” All three fillies cried in unison before running off into the Everfree to find and retrieve the hoofball.

Unbeknownst to the little fillies, three pairs of glowing eyes were tracking their every move. And as the crusaders entered the Everfree, they began to move in. The three fillies spent several minutes fruitlessly searching for the hoofball. Blissfully unaware of the danger that approached them.

“Are you sure it went this way Sweetie Belle?” Scootaloo asked.

“I think so. Maybe it just went further than we thought. Apple Bloom did buck it pretty hard.”

“Ah said ah was sorry.” She mumbled, pushing aside several branches in her search.

“Well we better find it soon. Its getting late, and if I don't get home before dark, Rarity will read me the riot act.”

“Maybe its in these here bushes.” Apple Bloom said as she pushed aside more branches, only to come face to face with a Timber Wolf.

“AAIIIEEE! RUUUUUUN!” The little filly screamed as the beast let out a snort of stinking breath, baring its teeth.

The three of them began to gallop in the opposite direction, only for their escape route to be cut off by the other two wolves.

“Somepony HEEEEEELP!” they shrieked in unison.


******

If I still had a flesh and blood heart it would have skipped a beat upon hearing the panicked cry for help. The blasted Timber Wolves had found their prey, and those voices sounded awfully familiar. I broke into a run. Moving as swiftly as this body would allow. And within a minute or so I had found them. Three Timber Wolves were circling a group of little fillies. Fillies I recognized instantly. The Cutie Mark Crusaders!

They had the fillies trapped between them. The three of them were huddled together and shaking with terror. Any second now one of the wolves would pounce and those poor things would be torn to shreds. The all too recent memory of being eaten alive by these demonic beasts came crashing down on me, it threatened to overwhelm me with paralyzing fear. But the anger I felt earlier burned that fear away with the intensity of the sun. I wouldn't let those sweet fillies come to harm. I pushed the memory to the back of my mind and charged.

As I came barreling through the underbrush, twigs and branches snapping loudly as I pushed through them, the nearest Timber Wolf turned to me and let out a threatening snarl. I would have snarled right back at the thing but I still hadn't figured out how to produce sound without vocal chords. It must be possible since they can snarl and bark and howl. But I would worry about it afterwards.

The Timber Wolf charged at me, and I brought down my fist smack dab in the center of its snout. There was the whip crack of wood striking wood followed by the sound of splintering lumber as my fist tore through the beasts head, spraying twigs and leaves everywhere. It felt so very satisfying. Something caught my eyes though. My new vision picked out what I can only describe as a wispy cloud of greenish energy that rose from the destroyed wolf and fled into the forest. Now we've seen the green glow in the show, but it never explained where it came from or where it went when a Timber Wolf came apart. Yet another thing to worry about later since I still had two more wolves to deal with.

The other two growled and stalked closer, more cautious this time. Their maws were dripping with sap like saliva. I stood up straight and tried to make my posture as threatening as possible. I could feel my form shifting as I absorbed the remains of the Timber Wolf I destroyed and added it to my bulk.

They snarled and snapped their jaws at me but kept just out of arms reach as we circled each other. I kept moving until I imposed myself between them and the cutie mark crusaders. I took a swipe at one of them as it tried to get passed me and attack the fillies. It struck back and clamped its jaws down on my arm. Its clawed legs kicking and scratching at me. Its spike like teeth dug into my wooden skin. The bark and twigs snapping under the pressure. It still surprised me just how strong and hard those wooden jaws and teeth were.

I grabbed the beasts head and tried to pry its jaws open but it refused to let go. Its partner tried to get me from the other side, but I saw it coming and kicked it away, shattering one of its legs. Good, that would keep it off me for a moment until that leg could reform. My efforts to pry the other wolf off my arm proved futile so I switched tactics. I swung my arm around and began to smash the wolf into the nearest trees repeatedly. With each blow, chips and twigs would shatter and fly off it, but still it clung to me. I'll give the thing points for tenacity. Behind me I could see the crusaders scurry backwards. Keeping as much distance from the fight as possible. They huddled together in between the gnarled roots of a willow tree. Observing the fight with large frightened eyes.

At last with one final smash the wolf lost its magical cohesion completely and it fell to pieces. I could see the trails of its animating essence flee back into the depths of the Everfree, much like its partner had. That just left me the one with the broken leg. It was rapidly reforming said leg, the green glow that animated it was pulling in branches and twigs to replace the lost limb. I decided to waste no time and lunged at the beast. Grabbing it by the neck and tail, it thrashed and snarled, jaws snapping as I raised it up high overhead before bringing it down hard across my knee, snapping whatever served as its spine in half, before throwing it bodily into another tree. It fell to the ground and looked at me, its glowing green eyes briefly gazing at me with murderous intent before it lost its cohesion and came apart.

I stood there for a moment, making sure it would not reform, before I turned to the crusaders to make sure they were okay. They looked scared but unharmed, that was good. As I approached them however I could see the panic in their eyes rising and I slowed my steps, coming to a stop just a few feet away from them and kneeling down to make myself less threatening. It didn't help much. If only I could speak to them. But how? How did I make this damn form talk? There had to be a way. Focus Aeron, speak. Say something, make noise, any noise. Somehow! My frustration at my lack of success boiled over and I was actually starting to shake with anger. I wanted to scream. To give voice to my frustration.

Being unable to communicate is a terrible thing you know. Its like being a prisoner in your own mind.

“What's it doing.” Scootaloo whispered, her eyes full of fear.

“I don't know.” squeaked Sweetie Belle on the verge of tears.

“P-please Mr monster, don't eat us, ah promise we taste terrible.” Apple Bloom said, her voice sounding shaky.

I was never to good with children, never really cared for them, but seeing those three little fillies shaking on the verge of tears it damn near broke my heart. Come on I need to be able to talk to them. How does sound work. I racked my brain, or whatever passes for it now, searching for answers. Of course, vibrations and wave lengths. So perhaps....

I focused on my insides, shifting around bits and pieces and growing new ones. Don't ask me how it works because I honestly don't know how to explain it. Its mostly instinctual or something. Yeah I know that doesn't tell you much, I truly wish I had all the answers myself. In any case I formed what was essentially a rudimentary voice box and vocal chords. Time to give this a try. I held up my hand in what I hoped was a friendly manner and tried to form a word. What came out was not what I planned.

The sound that I made was more like a growling gurgle. All three fillies let out a terrified shriek and bolted. Running as fast as their little legs could carry them out of the Everfree and into the orchard.

“AAAAPPLEJAAACK!” Screamed Apple Bloom as I lost sight of them amidst the apple trees.

“Wait.” I managed to moan out.

Oh sure, NOW it works! Just freaking perfect. I punched the ground in frustration. That was not the first impression I wanted to make. Scaring the life out of those three girls. Well... at least they were alive. And that was infinitely better than the alternative. I guess I would have to practice my speech if I wanted to explain myself when Applejack and the rest of the ponies came looking for the 'monster' of the Everfree. And man does my new voice sound weird.

My human voice was rather high in pitch. I'd often wished it was deeper. This new improvised voice sounded deep and echoey. It kind of reminded me of the Protoss from Starcraft. At least that's the best comparison I could draw. Could have been worse I guess. I could have sounded like Gilbert Gottfried or something. Ha, could you imagine a tree creature speaking with his voice?

The sound of heavy hoof falls approaching snapped me out of my thoughts. I decided now was probably not the best time to introduce myself to the ponies. Applejack being fiercely protective of her family would probably buck me into next week before I could get another word out. I decided I would return once things settled down and swiftly retreated back into the Everfree. I could just barely make out Applejack and Big Macintosh dashing towards the Everfree before my vision became obscured by the forest.

I needed to hide in case they would try to follow me. Trying to blend in with the rest of the woods I shed the Timber Wolf parts I had absorbed as well as a bit of extra bulk to make myself thinner. Next I took a stance next to some willow trees and merged my legs together into a single trunk, my roots digging deep to hold me fast. I twisted and split my arms and raised them high. I now pretty much looked like a sickly old tree. I kept still and waited.

They didn't follow me too far in thankfully. I could sense the two ponies searching nearby for a minute or two before they retreated back beyond the forests edge. The sound of their voices drifted on the wind.

“Ah'm tellin' ya sis, there was a monster right here. It smashed them Timber Wolves and then it was comin' for us.”

“What in da blazes were y'all thinkin' enterin' the forest in da first place.” Came the voice of Applejack.

“We were jus' lookin' for our hoofball.”

“Hoofball Shmoofball! Y'all coulda been killed.” Applejack shouted, her voice cracking. “Don't y'all ever do that again. Yer mah only sister. Ah can't bear the thought of losing ya like that.”

“Eeyup.” Said the deep voice of Big Macintosh.

“Ahm sorry big sis.” Came Apple Blooms voice, thick with tears.

I couldn't make out what they said next but if had to guess there was probably a lot of hugging involved.

“So what do you think that thing was?” Came the voice of Scootaloo.

“Ah reckon ah don't know.” Said Applejack. “But I'm gonna talk ta Twilight about it. Come on y'all, let's get back to the farm. And you three are forbidden from playing back here until we figure out whats going on.”

I waited quietly for another minute or two as they all retreated beyond the range of my senses before I dared to move, reassuming my humanoid form. It was becoming easier to reshape my form the more I practiced it. I stood there for a moment thinking, at a loss as to what to do now. My plan of simply walking into Ponyville and hoping for the best was pretty much out the window right now. Well it wasn't exactly a great plan to begin with.

The hour was getting late. And with the sun beginning to set I found myself feeling less energetic. I guess my new form took most of its sustenance from the sun. That made me wonder, did I need to eat? At the very least absorb nutrients, or did I live off of magic? There was so much about my new existence I didn't know. As I contemplated these things I walked deeper back into the Everfree until I found a small clearing. This was as good a place as any to rest a while.

Sitting down against a large oak I began practicing with my newfound voice.

“Don't be... afraid, I mean... no harm.”

I practiced the alphabet, and from there I just said out loud whatever came to mind. I even tried to sing a few songs at one point. The results were less than encouraging. Back when I was human I 'couldn't carry a tune in a bucket' as my friend was so fond of saying. My transformation had not improved that any. Giving up on trying to sing I went back to just saying whatever came to mind. By the time I finally had enough of quoting movies and reciting passages from books I'd read it was well after dark. I looked up to the sky, marveling at how clear the stars were. Back home living in a city there was always so much light pollution that it was hard to see all but the brightest of stars. But here, in Equestria the sky was perfectly clear and there were thousands of them, forming a beautiful tapestry in the night sky.

I lay down in the grassy clearing and just stared at the stars, not thinking about anything for a while.

Chapter 4: Zebras and Soul Containers

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Chapter 4
Zebras and Soul Containers

I 'awoke' for lack of a better term, the next morning when the first rays of sunshine penetrated the gloom of the Everfree forest. It wasn't really sleeping that I did though. I believe it's closer to entering a state of suspended animation in order for this body to preserve energy during the night time. As a side effect my mind pretty much blacked out for a time. Well at least I didn't suffer any nightmares. The past twenty four hours had been traumatic enough to give a person nightmare fuel for years.

Of course this is all speculation on my part. I'm no scientist by any stretch of the word. So this is all guesswork based on what little knowledge I do have. Plus there is magic involved, and where magic is involved the laws of conventional science are pretty much thrown out the proverbial window with an anvil tied to them. After which it falls upwards at a fortyfive degree angle. But I digress.

The suns rays revitalized me some, but I felt... I guess thirsty. It's not exactly the same feeling, yet it was familiar enough that I knew what to look for. So after basking in the morning sun for a few minutes more I decided to go and find a source of water. I retraced my steps from the previous day until I came upon the small pond where I thought I saw that Cragadile. Said creature was nowhere in sight so I guess I was mistaken after all. I stared at the clear pond wondering how I was going to drink from it. I had no mouth or stomach so how would I....

The answer was so bloody obvious that once it came to me I face-palmed with a loud groan. I'm pretty much a walking tree, and how do trees absorb water. That's right doofus, use your freaking roots! I promptly stuck one of my legs in the water. It's pretty much like drinking through a straw. Or several straws at once in this case. I couldn't really taste the water, but it felt incredible as it slowly worked its way through my vines and to my core, carrying much needed nutrients. As I drank I began to sprout several fresh leaves and even a few flower buds. I'll come back to those later.

At last I had drank my fill and it was time to move on. I decided to explore the Everfree some more before making a second attempt to meet with the citizens of Ponyville. That way if things went pear shaped and I was forced to flee an angry mob I would at least know my way around. Now you might think I'm overreacting and that the ponies were unlikely to come after me in an angry mob, but after seeing those two torch and pitchfork happy stallions in Appleloosa's Most Wanted I'm not taking any chances. Paranoid? Maybe. But I'd rather be paranoid than on fire thank you very much. Just because I look like a walking pile of kindling doesn't mean I have a desire to be burned.

Anyway, I decided to head east and see what I could discover. Bad reputation and dangerous wildlife aside the forest was actually quite beautiful, in a savage sort of way. And filled with every kind of flora imaginable. Some mundane, others highly magical. To my new vision this created a spectacular light show. Those plants that were rich in magical essence glowed dim and bright in all the colors of the rainbow, and even a few colors the human eye can't see and for which I have no names. Each magical aura is different too. Some pulse like a heartbeat. Others appear as a fog or smoky tendrils. Some even twinkle and dance like fireflies. It was enrapturing, and if I still had human eyes I probably would have shed a tear.

As I moved along I noticed a slow but steady increase in Para Sprites. That's when the weirdness began. The ones I encountered yesterday pretty much left me alone. But these ones decided to follow me. They kept buzzing around me like little winged planets orbiting the sun. The sun in this case being me. Some even started to perch on me. By this point they were becoming a nuisance since their numbers began to obstruct my vision. Then they started to nibble on me. Stripping the leaves and moss straight off my body. I began to flail about trying to scare them or swat them away but they kept coming. I was really beginning to dislike Equestria because this was the second time in two days that something from this world tried to eat me. But this time I wasn't so helpless.

I learned something new that day. I learned that I had a far more versatile magic of my own than I had previously thought. Because when my frustration with the Para Sprites reached its peak, my core unleashed a pulse of magic that spread throughout my body. The flower buds that had been growing on me suddenly burst into full bloom, and from them emerged the mother of all venus fly-traps. A dozen bulbous heads filled with thorn like teeth on flexible vine like stems shot out and chomped down on any Para Sprite within reach with a loud crunch. Potent digestive acids broke down the mangled remains into a rich nutrient slurry in moments and my body rapidly absorbed it. And you know what's the most disturbing part about it all? They were abso-freaken-lutely delicious. Like giant winged skittles. I must have eaten over a dozen of the little buggers before the rest of them got wise and scrammed. Serves em right for trying to eat me.

Their work done, the fly traps retracted back into their buds. I stared at one located on my forearm and wondered what else I was capable of. I would have to experiment with my abilities in due time.

******

It was Close to high noon as I made my way down a particularly dense part of the forest when I suddenly felt a strange resistance. One minute I was walking along piecemeal, the next it felt like I was wading knee deep through peanut butter. My core vibrated as I sensed a strong magical barrier pushing against me. I looked about trying to find the source of this strange magic, and after some time I found it. Hanging from a tree branch was a fetish. A small wooden mask painted with bright colors and decorated with beads and feathers. It was emanating a powerful compulsion telling me to turn away and leave. I tried to go around it rather than try and push through its field of influence, but as I tried to circle around I came across another and another. Each overlapping with the previous one, forming a protective circle across a wide area. Left with no other option I decided to push through them. It took every ounce of willpower, but eventually I managed to move past them and resume my path. That's when I ran into a familiar Zebra.

She appeared before me as if out of nowhere, and when I looked past her I could see the tree that served as her home in the distance between the bushes. Of course, I should have realized that those fetishes belonged to Zecora. In hindsight they were obviously meant to repel the dangerous creatures living in the Everfree.

“Though I have never seen the likes of you, know I won't simply let you through. If invade my home is what you dare, you will find me well prepared.” She said to me with narrowed eyes.

Ah yes the rhyming thing. I always liked Zecora, and I wish she had a bigger role in the show, but the rhyming thing tended to get a bit old once the novelty of it wore off. Well if I was ever going to make friends with the locals I might as well start with her.

“I apologize for intruding upon your home uninvited. I mean you no harm.” I said while bowing to her.

“Spirits often mix their words with lies, to trust you blindly would be unwise.”

Okay not off to a great start.

“I assure you, I'm not a spirit.”

She gave me a hard glare.

“Do not try deceiving me, what else could animate a tree. In this forest only one thing moves the wood, and it is never any good.”

“I take it you speak of the Timber Wolves? We met, and I do not like them one bit. What exactly are they anyway?”

“Ancient woodland spirits driven mad by a curse. Their hate so strong they will not disperse. Their malevolent purpose to end for good, the life of any who enters this wood.”

“Well I'm not sure what I am. But I'm certainly not some ancient mad spirit hell bent on killing everything I see.” I said while holding up my hands in a placating gesture.

“I did not have any choice in what I became. I'm still unsure as to exactly how I became what I am. But the last thing I want is to bring anyone harm. I am alone in this world, and I would rather make a friend than an enemy.”

She seemed to mull over my words for a while before finally saying: “If your intentions are truly benign, then I welcome you to this home of mine.”

“Must you speak in rhyme? I mean no offense but its a little confusing at times.”

“I do not, but to be fair, I like how it gives me a mysterious air.” she said with a chuckle.

“Well would you mind speaking without the rhymes with me miss..?”

“Zecora is my name oh mysterious guest, and I will honor your request. Let us speak plainly.”

I nodded my thanks to her and followed her back to her home. I had to shed some of my bulk in order to fit through her door. Perhaps It would be a good idea to adjust my form later to fit in better among a society of small sapient equines. I put that thought on the back burner for the moment since Zecora was addressing me.

“So what do I call you, oh mystery tree?”

“My name is... well it used to be Aeron, but.... I'm not sure it suits me anymore.”

“And why prey tell would you say so, Aeron?”

I took a moment to gather my thoughts.

“Let me explain what happened as far as I understand it.”

And so I explained everything that happened to Zecora while she prepared tea for herself. She offered me some too but I declined, instead asking for a simple bowl of water I could absorb. I told her how I ended up in this world against my will through means I did not understand. I told her of my confrontation with the Timber Wolves, and how it led to my death. And how I found myself trapped in this new form upon awakening, having been pulled from deaths doorstep. I made no mention about the My Little Pony, Friendship is Magic show and how this world was nothing more than a cartoon in my home dimension. That was knowledge that benefited no-one at the moment, and could lead to a potential existential crisis. And I so didn't need to deal with that right now since I was barely hanging on to my own sanity. Anyways, she took it all in stride, never interrupting me. When my tale was done she sat there for the longest time with her eyes closed, probably mulling it over.

“The story you tell is hard to believe. Frankly I have never heard its like before. Yet I do not sense deception in your words, so I will choose to believe you. But I fail to see how that makes you unsure about your name.” she finally said.

“That was the name of my old self. But that's no longer who and what I am. Aeron the human died in the woods the other night. I am me and yet I'm not. All that's left of me is my mind. And I don't even know how that is possible.” I answered, feeling relieved that she believed me.

“By all accounts I should be dead.” a shudder went through me as I said so, causing my leaves to rustle.

Zecora sat quietly for a moment more before she answered.

“It sounds to me almost like a soul transfer. Like those who practice the forbidden arts of necromancy perform. They take their living soul and place it in a phylactery. A vessel for storing the spirit and its life force. Tell me Aeron, where does your spirit reside within that hulking body?”

Her words hit me like a hammer. Necromancy? God I hope not. As any fantasy novel will tell you necromancy is bad shit to be dealing with. But since I'm pretty sure I'm a living... thing.. and not an undead of any sort. We could probably rule out necromancy for the moment.

“I think it resides in my core.” I said hesitantly.

“And what is this 'core'? Where do you keep it?”

I instinctively placed a hand over my chest, suddenly feeling very defensive.

“Might I take a look? I promise no harm will come to you.”

After a moments hesitation I nodded. This was Zecora we're talking about. She's a healer, she wouldn't intentionally harm me. Knowing that seemed to soothe the protective instinct I felt. I focused on my form and my chest began to writhe and twist. Vines and bark retracting until it was completely open.

“This is most peculiar indeed.” She said after looking inside my chest.

“What does it look like?” I asked her.

“You mean you do not know?” she asked. I nodded.

She moved into the back room of her tree house, only to return with a mirror. She held it up before me so I could have a look at my core for the first time. I had to resist the urge to face palm. Because the core of my being and the apparent container for my mind and soul was a fist sized 'Horse Chestnut Burr'. I swear the universe has a twisted sense of humor. It was round and spiky and emitted a greenish blue glow that pulsed like a heartbeat. A spiderweb of thin roots and vines grew from it and snaked their way outwards throughout my entire form. Every time it pulsed, tiny motes of light would shoot along the roots and vines like nerve impulses. It was almost hypnotic to watch.

“That's...me?” I said, my voice barely above a whisper. “That's what I've been reduced to?”

“How very curious.” Zecora said. “It is much like a Timber Wolf's heart, only bigger and alive. And I sense none of the malicious entropy that they emit.”

“Entropy you say?”

“Indeed. The Timber Wolves are spirits of rage and decay. It is why their forms emit such a stench. Their own entropic energy causes their forms to slowly rot from the inside out. This is why their bodies are made of only dead wood, and their cores are rotting and black, covered with mold.”

A wave of disgust went through me. Yet even more reasons to hate those filthy things.

“Yours on the other hand is healthy and alive, and indeed very much flourishing.” Zecora continued.

It certainly looked healthy as far as I could tell. Still it was strange and not a little bit unsettling to find that everything that made me, well.. me, was stored in such a small and vulnerable looking seed.

“I also sense strong magic from within.” said Zecora. “But it is wild and untamed, like the Everfree itself.”

I nodded as my chest slid closed once more. Even though I knew she would not harm me I felt infinitely more at ease with my core safely hidden behind several thick layers of bark and vine. I almost felt naked while it was exposed. Quite ironic if you think about it.

“I noticed that I have some peculiar, abilities. Yet I seem to only be able to control a handful of them consciously. Like reshaping my form. Others seem to happen instinctively. Mostly when I get upset” I said.

“Perhaps with discipline and time you will be able to learn how to control all that you are and all you can do. Right now you are very much like a newborn, unaware of your full potential. Perhaps with self exploration through meditation you can explore your wild magic. I could show you a technique or two. I offer to you the hospitality of my home for the time being while you master that which I can teach.” Zecora replied whilst she sipped her tea.

I mulled over that for some time before finally answering her.

“I would appreciate your help greatly. As I said I have no friends in this world and the thought of wandering the woods alone while finding out who and what I am and what I am capable of is... not really all that appealing.”

Humans are social creatures after all, and even I with my introverted personality craved companionship.

“T's not exactly true what you say, for you have surely made a friend today.” she smiled at me with a twinkle in her eyes.

I felt a strange warm sensation in my core, it took me a moment to realize It was gratitude.

“Thank you Zecora, for showing me such kindness and hospitality. I hope I will be in a position to pay you back in kind someday.”

I extended a fist to her and she lightly bumped it with her hoof. The Equestrian equivalent to a handshake.

“You are quite welcome, my friend.”

Chapter 5: Stories and Meditations.

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Chapter 5
Stories and Meditations

I spent the next two weeks staying at Zecora's place. She turned out to be quite the conversationalist, when she wasn't speaking in rhyme. I asked her about the reason for the rhymes once, she told me that rhyming takes a great deal of skill and she did it as a form of mental discipline. Over time it became a habit to the point where she began to speak in rhyme almost full time. And as she mentioned before, she enjoyed how it gave her an air of mystery. We spoke about a great many things during those weeks. I asked her about her life and experiences, and she in turn asked about mine, a little tit for tat if you will.

I was standing outside one evening during the first week, soaking up the last of the evening sun whilst Zecora was busy inside her home with a new brew. The forest around her house is a lot more open than shown in the show. Where it always seemed a tad gloomy.

“What was it that brought you to Equestria Zecora?” I asked her through the window of her home.

She briefly looked up from her work to reply.

“The answer to that is a bit of a tale to tell, so come on in and sit a spell.”

With he sun almost gone I figured I might as well, So I shrunk myself down in size to fit through her door and took up a spot against the wall so as to not be in her way while she worked.

“It all began back home in Zebrica. Our tribe was large and prosperous, living on the great Savannah. At the time, I lived in a small hut with my parents and my little sister. My father was a craftsman, and my mother a seamstress. We did not have much, but we were happy.”

She paused to add a hoof full of berries to the cauldron before resuming her tale.

“When I was old enough, my father decided that he wanted more for his daughter than the simple life of a crafts zebra. I didn't know what I wished to do with my life, and since zebra do not earn a cutie mark as ponies do it was up to me to discover where my passion lay. My father wished me to become a Shaman, to earn prestige and standing. Not wishing to disappoint him I agreed to seek apprenticeship.”

More herbs were added to the cauldron and she stirred them with a wooden ladle she held in her mouth.

“What happened then?” I asked from my spot by the wall.

“I met with the village Shaman and made my request. She was a kind old mare, learned and wise, and she agreed to take me on as her apprentice. Over the next few months she taught me a great many things. She helped train my spiritual and magical senses, what my people call the minds eye, so I could feel the magic and the spirits of the land. She taught me to interpret various mystical signs and portents. And though we are not as magically gifted as the Unicorns of Equestria, we Zebras have our own brand of magic. She taught me several useful cantrips.”

That explained a few things. Zecora was capable of several minor magical feats. She could light the fire under her cauldron with a gesture for example.

“She took me out into the wilderness and taught me the arts of herbalism. Which plants had what effect and how and where to find and harvest them while leaving behind enough so that they may regrow in time. And most importantly, she taught me how to prepare these and brew precious healing salves, potions and elixirs. That is when I discovered my passion for medicine and the healing arts.”

The cauldron came to a low boil and a gentle waft of purple steam rose from its depths. A Para Sprite flew in through the open window next to me. Probably attracted by the smell rising from the cauldron. One of my fly traps shot out and snatched the little skittle from the air before it could start snacking on Zecora's ingredients. I had discovered that consuming nutrients, be it from a source of water or by eating things such as Para Sprites, would bolster my energy reserves to the point where I was no longer required to sleep or hibernate or whatever you want to call it. I could function on sunlight alone for a time, but it could not sustain me indefinitely. Zecora didn't mind me eating the occasional Para Sprite. They were a pest species anyway and this way her ingredients would be safe. I turned my attention back to her as she resumed her tale.

“After I discovered my passion for medicine I began to devote more and more time to that part of my study, until I had learned all I could from my teacher. I then had to make a hard decision. Stay and become a full shaman, or go and pursue my new dream. I chose the latter. I went to my teacher and told her of my desire to travel and learn all I could about medicine both at home and abroad. She was sad to see me go, but she told me that if such was my dream I should grasp it with both hooves and follow my heart. She even gave me a parting gift.”

She pointed to a little mask hanging over the doorway.

“It means, Safe Journey.” She said with a smile, but it soon faltered. “I wish my father had taken the news so well.”

I felt a slight pang of sadness at her words.

“I take it he did not agree?” She shook her head.

“He was furious. He did not wish for his eldest daughter to become a traveling vagabond with no real place to call her own. He actually forbade me to leave. I was furious, who was he to stand in the way of my dreams? I left the next day after saying farewell to my mother and sister. My father did not show up to say goodbye. I have not spoken to any of them since. That was many a moon ago, I traveled far and wide and learned many things. Eventually my journey led me here to the Everfree, and I have taken root so to say, if you will pardon the expression.”

“Maybe one day you should visit them, perhaps reconcile with your father. He is family after all.”

My thoughts briefly turned to my own family. I would likely never see them again. I banished the thought from my mind before it could crush me with despair and turned my attention back to Zecora.
She sighed deeply.

“Perhaps one day. The journey is far and, I must admit I am... afraid. Not of the journey, but of what he will say. I do not know if I can face him” she said dejectedly.

“Well, maybe one day, when you are ready to make that journey, perhaps I'll come with you.” I said whilst warping the features of my mask like face into a crude semblance of a smile. It came out more like a grimace. Perhaps someday I would master my form to the point where I could effortlessly recreate the finer details of facial expressions, but for now that was beyond my skill level.

“Now that would make the journey interesting for sure.”

“Any challenge becomes easier when you face it with a friend.” I said.

We sat together in comfortable silence for a while until Zecora looked at her cauldron.

“This brew is getting a bit thick, some water from the river should do the trick. Swift will be my return, please watch the potion and see it does not burn.” She then took a large clay jug, balanced on her back and trotted out the door.

It still surprised me how she, and ponies in general managed to balance things so effortlessly on their back. Still it would take her several minutes to make her way to the river, and longer still to make her way back with a full jug of water. So I stood by the cauldron and watched it diligently, giving the content the occasional stir so it wouldn't burn. But as I watch the bright green potion boil and bubble I was getting slightly bored, and a childish impulse came over me. A memory from years ago surfaced, and I grinned mentally as I began to chant.

“By the powers hale and hearty, of an earthquake on a roll. Prove these parts be part and party, of the one and only scroll. Formula of deepest night, if its you then show your might. Join what once was rent asunder, to the sound of flames and thunder. Ready, set, Wunschpunsch.” I even waved me arms about in mock magical gestures.

“I know my formulas quite well, yet I have never heard such a spell.”

I cringed, having been caught in my silly act. Zecora was standing in the doorway, the full jug balanced on her back and an amused grin on her face. If I could blush I would have resembled a tomato.

“Erhm....Its not a real spell, its from a children's book that later got turned into a play.” I said play because It would take way to long to explain television and cartoons to her.

“Don't be embarrassed, it was quite amusing to watch you.” she chuckled.

I swear I miss having facial expressions because I would totally be pouting right now. Zecora emptied the jug of water into the brew and stoked the fire to bring it back to a boil. The brew now had a nice milky consistency. All the while she worked she kept glancing my way wearing that little smirk. I swear that Zebra has a mischievous streak she keeps well hidden.

******


Over the course of the next few days I performed several meditative exercises to try and clear my mind and get a grasp on my innate magic. Slowly I was beginning to get results. Zecora taught me to think of my magic as a bright liquid and visualize that image in my mind. Next she told me to hold that image and focus on my core, where the magic is stored and imagine it like a bottle or bowl. It took me the better part of a day but eventually through trial and error I finally connected to my innate magical reserve. Now that I could sense it I had to push it to where I wanted it to go. It all boils down to visualizing the path you want to the magic to take and then push it in that direction. It sounds easy, but for a being from a world where magic only exists in movies and books it was rather hard. But after a while I had my first success.

With a concentrated effort I was able to shed the dead wood I had absorbed and replace it with living wood I grew myself by magically stimulating the living plants I had absorbed. It took a lot more energy to do so than it took grabbing dead wood from the surrounding forest, but the living wood was a lot stronger and way more durable.

I next focused my efforts on my fly trap buds. So far these had responded purely on instinct whenever a suitable food source came within reach. It was for that reason I mainly focused on Para Sprites and kept away from squirrels and other woodland critters. Gods forbid I accidentally ate one of Fluttershy's critter friends. I shudder to think what she would do to me. Best not dwell on that thought. That way lies madness.

Anyways, by focusing my magic on the fly traps I soon gained conscious control over their movements and actions. I could make them grow or shrink, change their colors, and even got them to spit their digestive juices like a squirt gun. Let me tell you those things produce some frighteningly potent acid. I could even detach them from myself and have them act autonomously for a time. Until the magic reserves I infused them with ran out and they simply withered and died unless I reattached them before that happened. Whats more, while detached I could still sense what they sensed. It was like having a spy camera I could place at will. Now if only I could make them mobile. Perhaps in due time.


*****


I was trying something new today. Zecora had expressed a desire to visit Ponyville sometime in the next couple of days. I figured this would be a perfect opportunity to finally introduce myself to the ponies. But in order to reduce the chance of me scaring them off I decided I needed a form that would be less intimidating to them. To that end I was trying to grow myself a new body, an equine body.

To that end I had taken an acorn from a large oak tree growing at the edge of the everfree, and planted it in the ground near Zecora's hut. I was currently pouring my magic into it in order to mold and accelerate it growth. It would become the base for the equine body I was attempting to create. If you are wondering why I did not simply reshape my existing body its because I figured it would make a good exercise for my magic.

It took me the better part of the morning to grow a sturdy frame of living oak and shape it into the form of a pony. I had based it roughly on Zecora in order to get the size right. But its overall dimensions were definitely those of a stallion. It was a bit thicker in the barrel and chest and it had a broader muzzle. Satisfied with its overall shape I took a short break to stand in the sun and recover my magic. It still surprised me somewhat how something as simple as sunlight could revitalize this form so quickly.

As I looked over the new body I had grown it struck me how incomplete it looked. It was basically a big wooden dress form or marionette at this point. It needed something more. An idea struck me and I proceeded to scrape some fine moss of my body and placed it atop the new one. I then poured my magic into the moss and commanded it to grow. Within the hour the entire mannequin, or should I say ponyquin, was covered in a layer of moss. Now it looked almost as if it had green fur, excellent. Next I would give this body a mane and tail. For this I used a mixture of willow vine and reed grass. The results were a nice thick bushy mane and a long tail. But I did not like the colors to much so I used my magic to change the yellowish grass and the green willow vine to a deep purplish red color, like the leaves of the snapdragon plant. There was only one final touch needed to finish it off.

“Zecora.” I called to her.

She stuck her head out the window and answered my call. “Yes Aeron? Was there something you need?”

“Actually yes, do you have two gemstones I may borrow? Preferably the same size and shape if at all possible.”

“Hmmm, I do keep a supply of amethyst for mixing in with potions. Will that do?”

“That would do just fine.” I said as I walked inside to see what she had available.

After looking through her supply and finding two fist sized pieces of amethyst I took them outside to my mannequin and placed the two gemstones into the empty shallows where its eyes should be. Now when I inhabited this body its eyes would not look like simply two eerie glowing holes like my current ones. The gemstones would not obstruct my vision so it was no problem.

I stood back and looked over my work. Not too shabby for a first try if I do say so myself. It wouldn't stand up to scrutiny up close, but from a distance it certainly looked like a regular earth pony. Well, time to take this thing for a spin.

I focused my magic on the mannequin and opened up its chest. I had left a hollow pocket inside when I directed its growth. Next I opened my own chest to transfer my core. I knelt down so I would be roughly at the same height and several vines shot out to connect to the mannequins open chest. I detached from my humanoid body and was overcome by a sense of weightlessness. One moment I had limbs that felt heavy, and the next I felt as if I was but a shapeless blob, floating in a void. It was a little unsettling, and for a moment my core just hung there. Dangling from the mannequins chest by a couple of vines. It took me a minute to regain my focus and haul myself into the new body. As soon as I was inside I sent out roots and vines to connect me. As soon as these made contact with the body I felt whole again.

My humanoid body, now nothing more but a husk, fell over sideways and came apart. I stared at it for a moment before I gathered my wits about me. Time to take this body for a walk. I took a step and promptly fell flat on my face. What the? I tried getting back on my feet, or hooves as the case now was but all I ended up doing was flail about drunkenly. For a moment I wondered if I had screwed up during the creation. And that this body was somehow defective. But no the situation was a lot simpler. The reason I failed so miserably to walk was because I simply wasn't used to moving around as a quadruped. It takes a whole different set of motions than moving about as a humanoid. Not to mention my sense of balance was completely thrown off.

As I scrambled about trying to get up the sound of laughter drifted over to me, and I looked up to find Zecora standing there doing her best to smother her laughter as she watched me flail about like I had drank half a brewery.

“Stop snickering and lend me a hoof you ninnie.” I said with a frustrated snort. She only laughed harder.

“Having some trouble with your new form there Aeron?”

“Gee whatever gave you that idea. Was it the graceful way I face planted, or me flopping about like a beached fish?”

My only answer was a renewed outburst of snickering.

*******

Eventually with Zecora's help I managed to get to my hooves and walk around without repeatedly introducing my face tot he floor. And after an hour or so I had managed to partially master a normal four beat gait and even move up to a light trot. It still felt strange, almost alien to walk on all fours, but at least I managed it without falling over.

“If you feel confident enough in your skill, perhaps you will accompany me to Ponyville?”

I'll admit, now that the moment was here I suddenly felt pretty nervous. But, I had made this form specifically for this purpose, so no sense in quitting now.

“Sure, I could use the walking practice.”

“Then I shall retrieve my saddlebag from inside, and off to Ponyville we'll stride.

Chapter 6: Bridle Gossip

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Chapter 6
Bridle Gossip.

This was going to be all kinds of awkward, I just knew it but still I trotted on with Zecora walking just in front and to the left of me. We didn't talk much during our trek, instead we simply enjoyed the outdoors. It was quite a nice day with nary a cloud in the sky. Guess the weather team was up early today to bust all the clouds. Must be nice being a Pegasus, making the weather actually sounded like it might be an enjoyable job. Zipping through the skies, placing or busting clouds. I've often wondered what its like to fly but even if I had wings I'd probably be to scared to get very far off the ground. Fear of heights you see.

I've also got an irrational fear of bees, which come to think of it could be a problem now that I'm a plant. The idea of being constantly bugged by bees attracted to me freaked me out. I kept looking from bush to bush and flower to flower, dreading the sudden appearance of the little black and yellow monsters. I became so distracted to the point where I failed to see a rock in the middle of the road, and as a result tripped over it and did a full face plant. And there goes my dignity right out the window, again. Well I wasn't using it anyway, I swear its a good thing this body doesn't feel pain. At least not in the conventional sense.

“I thought your control was getting better. Or did you simply desire to rest? There are less drastic ways to tell me so you know.” Zecora said with a twinkle in her eyes.

If this form had hands I would have flipped her off.

“Yes yes, lets all laugh at the clumsy tree creature. Why don't you lend me a hoof instead? I'm fine by the way” I mumbled from my not so comfortable position on the ground.

She gave me a semi apologetic look and helped me back to my hooves, but that damn twinkle never left her eyes. I can't blame her too much though. I mean I've done my fair share of laughing at other people doing stupid stuff, face planting among them. At least she had the decency to hide it.

At last we came upon the edge of the Everfree and the dirt road leading to Ponyville.

”Are you sure you want to wear that?” I said pointing to her worn traveling cloak.

“Is there something wrong with it?”

“No offense Zecora but it makes you look a bit creepy with your face hidden in shadow under that hood. You know how ponies are a skittish lot.”

“I had not considered that.”

“Why do you wear a cloak in the first place?”

“Mostly force of habit. During my travels I've gone to many a place that did not have such a temperate climate. This cloak has shielded me from scathing sun and biting cold. I feel rather comfortable in its folds.”

“Well with such a nice sunny day it seems like a shame to hide beneath it. Why don't you put it in your saddle basket for now?”

After thinking it over a moment she decided to take my advice and put the worn cloak away. Hopefully the ponies would respond a bit more positive this way. As we came upon the small stone bridges at the edge of Ponyville we were spotted by a mare I did not recognize. Then again there are so many background ponies its hard to remember them all, If they even had names in the first place. She spotted us and promptly made a run for it. About a minute later the sounds of the first windows and doors being slammed shut drifted back to us. And thats my hope dashed that we could make this less awkward.

Next to me Zecora let out a weary sigh. I'm guessing this wasn't the first time this happened. Or the second, or even third. And if I was any judge of character it bothered her more than she let on. She shook herself and trotted forward with determination towards the market square.


******

Twilight Sparkle was having a good day, emphasis on the was. Because once she and spike had gotten to Sugarcube Corner things had taken a turn for the bizarre. Pinkie had beckoned her and spike inside with a panicky stage whisper only to find that the rest of her friends as well as Apple Bloom were also inside, hiding in the dark like a bunch of foals hiding from the bogey mare.

“Would somepony mind explaining what the hay is going on.” Twilight said with a huff.

“Its that wicked enchantress Zecora. Shes come back ta town again. Y'all better keep yer heads down.” Said Applejack as she glanced out the window.

“Excuse me? Who are you talking about?” Twilight asked, confusion clearly written on her face.

Pinkie and Applejack motioned her over to the window.

“We're talking about her.” Said pinkie as she pointed with her hoof to where Zecora was approaching.

“You mean the zebra?”

“The what?” everyone chorused.

Twilight let out an exasperated sigh “She's a zebra. They are an Equine species just like us ponies. They hail from Zebrica, a warm land far from Equestria, but I didn't know there was a zebra living in Ponyville.”

“She doesn't.” Said Rainbow Dash “Zecora lives in the everfree forest. Nopony in their right mind would hang out with somepony living in that place.”

“Well then who's the stallion she's with?” Twilight retorted.

Suddenly everyone crowded the window, trying to see who twilight was talking about.

“I've never seen him before.” Pinkie said. “Ohmygosh! I'll need to throw him a welcome to Ponyville party. As soon as we get him away from that creepy Zecora.”

“Wait a minute, something ain't right here.” Rainbow said. “That pony doesn't look right.”

“What in the hay are y'all talkin' about Dash. He looks like a regular stallion ta me.” Said Applejack.

“Uhm.. I'm sorry but... Rainbow Dash is right. Something about him looks off.” Fluttershy spoke timidly.

“How in the world can y'all tell?”

“Duh! Were Pegasi, we got the best eyesight of all ponies. And I'm telling you theres something up with that guy.”

“Maybe that wicked enchantress has put him in one of her evil trances!” Pinkie shouted.

“Her what now.” Twilight deadpanned.

“Its one of the many evil things she does, oh she's so evil I even wrote a song about it.”

Rainbow Dash rolled her eyes as pinkie pie jumped up on the table. “here we go.” She groaned.

“Shes an evil enchantress and she does evil dances, and if you look deep in her eyes she will put you in trances. Then what will she do, she'll mix up an evil brew, then she'll gobble you up in a big tasty stew. Sooooooo, watch out!” Pinkie Pie sang at maximum speed.

Everyone stood there slack jawed for a moment, staring at her.

“Wow, catchy.” twilight finally spoke up.

“Its a work in progress.”

“All singing aside, what exactly is wrong with that pony?” Twilight asked.

“Is he a zombie!?” Spike cried out as he hoisted himself up in order to look out the window.

“Ugh, Spike theres no such things as zombie ponies. And this whole things is getting out of hoof. All of this is just rumors”

“Y'all don't know that Twi. It could all well be true.” Applejack cut in.

“But... uhm... how will we know for sure.” Fluttershy mumbled.

“Well why don't somepony just go on up there an' ask?” Said Apple Bloom.

“Don't y'all spout such nonsense Apple Bloom. Now hush and let the big ponies talk.” Applejack said scathingly to her little sister.

“Ah am a big pony, and it ain't nonsense and ahm gonna prove it.” Apple Bloom muttered under her breath as she snuck out through the back door in the kitchen while the mane six bickered among themselves.

********


Well so far this had been a waste of time. Everywhere we went the streets were deserted. Its not like I wasn't expecting it, but it still gnawed at me. I could sense the ponies watching us. Hidden behind peepholes in doors and lurking behind drapes in their windows. Their eyes following our every move like a hawk. I couldn't hear them, but I'm sure wild rumors must be flying about now. If I've learned one thing its that rumors move at relativistic speeds.

“So why exactly did we come here?” I asked Zecora as we crossed the market square.

“I was hoping to do some shopping for certain herbs and flowers that I need, but they seem to be closed yet again. I also wished to look for certain herbs that flourish in towns but struggle to grow in open fields. Sometimes their seeds can be found within the ground.”

“Maybe I can assist with the latter.”

I let my senses reach out and pushed a little magic into them, sweeping over the ground around us. I didn't find any seeds in the vicinity, but my senses did pick up something else. Namely a certain little filly who was trying her level best to approach us unnoticed. When she got within ten yards of us I turned to face the spot where she was hiding behind a cart laden with carrots and celery.

“You don't have to sneak up on us you know. Its okay to just come on up and say hello.”

Apple Bloom let out a surprised gasp before slowly emerging from behind the cart. Her posture was slightly tense. Like a wound spring ready to snap into action. Zecora turned and greeted her with a smile, since I could not.

“Hey there little filly. What is your name?” Zecora said.

“Ahm called Apple Bloom.”

“So nice to see you again Apple Bloom.” I said as I extended a hoof to her in greeting.

It was at that moment fate decided to be a right royal bitch. I guess she felt cheated or something. Because the moment I stuck out my hoof in greeting a tiny black and yellow monster decided to land on it.

“GAAAH! Bee! BEEEEEEEE! Gettitoffgettitoffgettitoff!!!”

I began to flail my front legs like an idiot. This of course angered the bee, who began buzzing around me in angry circles. Thats when I completely spazzed out. Like I said, irrational fear to to the point where its become a phobia. I ran in a circle flailing and screaming. I even did a stop drop and roll at one point as if I were on fire. Stop laughing! Bees are serious business. The bee in question had long since lost interest and flown off while I was on the ground twitching like I just had a stroke.

“Uhm.. are you alright?” Apple Bloom asked hesitantly.

Thats when I noticed all the other ponies staring and whispering from their doors and windows.

“The wicked enchantress has hexed him.” Said one

“Its a torture curse, hide if you value your life.” said another.

“She's turned that stallion into a monster to kill us all!”

Oh for fuck sake, I thought as I face palmed, or face hoofed in this case. I rolled over and got back on my hooves, shaking some of the dirt off.

“Would you all just calm down, She didn't hex or curse me, you ponies are being ridiculous.” I yelled at them with exasperation. My strange voice sadly did nothing to elate their fears.

“The monster is on to us! Its angry! RUN AWAY!”

Everypony vanished in ten seconds flat. Aaaand cue the chirping crickets, oh and theres the tumbleweed. Said tumbleweed rolled on by awkwardly, carried by a tiny gust of wind.

“I'm so sorry, maybe we should get out of here before they decide to come back with pitchforks and torches.” I mumbled to Zecora.

I felt terrible. Here I was hoping we could just try to make a casual introduction and hopefully get the ponies used to us. But it seems my little freak out had pretty much ruined our chances. Goddamn bees. Screw you lady fate, screw you right in the eye.

“I suppose it is wise to return when nerves have cooled, and rationality once again rules.”

As we walked out of Ponyville, our moods rather sour a little voice grabbed our attention.

“Ahm sorry y'all got such a cold welcome.”

Apple Bloom, I had completely forgotten she was there. But she had been following us all the way.

“Its not your fault little one. Another opportunity will come. Perhaps next time they look they will not be so spooked.” Zecora said.

“They're all just bein' a bunch ah silly scaredy ponies.”

Ah out of the mouths of babes. I noticed her staring at me with a quizzical expression.

“You said it was nice ta meet me again. But how can that be? Ahm pretty sure we've never met or I'd certainly remember a strange pony like ya self. You talk kinda funny like.”

Her blunt honesty was rather refreshing, it brought a smile to my face. Well mentally anyway.

“Well last time we met I looked a little different.”

“Different how?”

“Remember when you and your friends got attacked by timber wolves a while ago.”

She nodded

“I was the creature that came to your rescue.”

She stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes went wide as saucers and her irises shrunk down to little pinpricks. She looked ready to bolt. I noticed Zecora giving me an odd look as well.

“T-that was you?”

I nodded. “Don't be scared, I won't hurt you.”

“W-well, why didn't ya say so back then? Ya nearly gave us all a heart attack.”

“This may sound silly but at the time I didn't know how to speak.”

The look she gave me was full of skepticism.

“Its true I swear. And I'm sorry I scared you, its the last thing I wanted to do.”

“Its awright.” she said after a moment of thought while idly digging at the floor with a hoof.

“I'm just glad you girls are okay.” I said as we resumed our trek back to the everfree.

As we walked Zecora leaned over to me and said, “You never told me you rescued a bunch of fillies from timber wolves.”

I tried to shrug but couldn't pull it off. I guess pony bodies aren't build to make that particular gesture.

“Must have slipped my mind.”

As we came to the edge of the Everfree I turned to Apple Bloom, “You best head on back home from here. The Everfree is no place for a little filly.”

“Aww but ah have so many questions ah wanna ask.”

“Maybe, but I bet your sister is worried about you and looking for you as we speak.”

Apple Bloom scowled, “She worries too much. Ahm a big pony, ah can take care of mahself.”

“I'm sure you can, but as a big brother to a little sister let me tell you, its our job to worry about our younger siblings. Not because we don't believe they can do things on their own, but because we care about them and want to make sure they are happy and safe.”

“Ah guess so.” she replied after a moments thought, sounding mollified.

“You should run along now. You don't wanna get in trouble right?”

She nodded and started to walk away but then stopped.

“Hey, will ya come an' visit me and mah friends? Ahm sure they'd like ta say thanks, you know, for savin' our tails an all.”

“I can do that, but best clear it with your big sister first. I wouldn't want her to get the wrong idea about you and your friends meeting with strange ponies and all that.”

“I guess so. When will you come to visit?” she asked

“How about the day after tomorrow?”

Apple Bloom nodded then took off with a dash, back to Ponyville. I turned back to Zecora.

“Well, it didn't go as we hoped, but with any luck this will be the first step in removing the ponies fear of you, and me as well.”

She gave me a hopeful smile.

“It would give me great elation to improve my reputation. If they can put their fears in the past, we can forge a friendship that will last.”

“We'll make it happen somehow.” I said as I moved into the forest.

“Where are you headed? My home is the other way.”

“I know, but there is something I need to do. I've put it off for too long already, I might as well do it now. Hopefully I'll be back by sunset.” I said as I resumed my way.


********

“Where in da hay have you been missy.” Applejack said as Apple Bloom entered the farm at Sweet Apple Acres a few minutes later.

“Ah went ta talk to Zecora and that strange stallion.”

“YOU WHAT!” Applejack shouted, causing Apple Bloom to flatten her ears at the sheer amount of volume.

“Calm down an' let me explain sis.”

“Calm down? CALM DOWN!? Y'all could have gotten yaself cursed. Don't ya tell 'me' ta calm down.”

“But Applejack.” She started to protest but the stubborn farm pony cut her off.

“Don't ya go an but Applejack me. You go on and git to yer room to think about yer fool actions. Ah don't wanna see you till supper time. Now git!”

With a scowl Apple Bloom stomped up the stairs. If looks could kill Applejacks hat would have bursted into flame right then and there.

********

As I walked through the forest I began to pull in as much wood and plant matter as I could reach. My equine form began to warp and twist as my hind legs elongated and my spine extended before I pushed myself upright to resume my trek on two legs. I flared my magic and vines burst through my front hooves to form fingers and my chest widened as my shoulders realigned. As much fun as moving around like a pony had been, it felt infinitely more comfortable and natural to move as a biped.

The task ahead of me would require a good bit of physical strength so I bulked up my form to ensure I was suited for the task at hand. As I reached my destination I steeled myself for what I was about to do. My vines elongated as I grasped the big heavy boulder I had placed in front of the cave and heaved. In a minute or so the entrance was clear and I stepped inside. The air in the cave was moist, and it was probably a good thing this body lacked the ability to smell. I moved forward and quickly began the gruesome task of wrapping up the remains of my former self in vines and leaves.

After two weeks in this cave decomposition had well and truly set in. What remained of my former self was nothing more than rotting layers of meat and organ matter barely clinging to the bones. My face had been reduced to nothing more than a bare skull. Its eye sockets dripping with a disgusting soup that had once been my eyeballs. And there were insects everywhere. I briefly considered spraying my remains with acid from my fly traps until they dissolved and just be done with it. But no, I wanted to do this properly.

My gruesome package secure in its blanket of vines I left the cave and began the second leg of my trek. During the past two weeks I had thought a great deal about what I wanted to do with my body. I finally decided to give it a proper burial. The next question then became where I would bury it. I didn't just wanna stick it in the ground in some random meaningless location. I first considered burying my body near Ponyville. But that would be a bit awkward. And I doubt Zecora would appreciate me digging a grave near her place either.

No after a lot of internal debating I decided there would be only one place I'd want my body to be buried. The one peaceful place in the entire Everfree forest. With deliberate steps I descended the ancient crumbling steps, and entered the cave of the Tree of Harmony.

Chapter 7: Origins of the Tree of Harmony.

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Chapter 7
Origins of the Tree of Harmony.

As I entered the cave, I was almost blinded by the massive amount of magic that radiated from the Tree of Harmony. The thing was like a miniature sun, shining in a dazzling rainbow of colors, gently humming with life.The aura that emanated from it was so overwhelming I stood rooted to the spot for several minutes, simply trying to get used to its presence. Even without the Elements embedded in its branches and trunk, this monument to Harmony was the most magnificent sight I’ve ever had the privilege of laying my eyes on. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how much more powerful it would be when the elements were eventually returned to it.

After what felt like ages of staring into the gentle light, I finally got used enough to the tree's presence to move and get to work. I found a nice secluded spot a little further into the cave, a respectable distance away from the tree. I placed the cocoon with my body on the floor and began to dig. It was slow going at first; the cave floor was a bit harder than I anticipated. But by burrowing my roots and slowly enlarging them I was able to break through the hard upper layer to get to the softer ground underneath. From there the task became much easier. Once the hole was deep enough so that I had to put most of my upper body into it to dig, I withdrew and carefully placed the cocoon in the hole. I took one last look at 'myself' and filled the hole back up.

I felt empty now that my task was done. I thought burying my body would give me a sense of closure. Part of me wanted to mourn myself, but it felt ridiculous since I wasn't exactly 'dead’. Worst of all, I couldn't even cry to vent my frustrations. You have no idea just how cathartic a good cry could be. However, this body was incapable of shedding tears. Maybe that’s why I've been feeling and acting so awkward at times. I wasn’t able to feel and act the way the human mind is accustomed to.

Perhaps that’s why despite the horror of my near death experience, and my transition into this form, I haven't gone completely mental. Most people would be a basket case after what happened to me. I'm about as average as they come, where humans were concerned. I had neither impressive physical prowess nor great mental fortitude. I was just another average Joe trying to make his way through life and claw out a little spot for himself to be happy and secure. By all accounts my mind should have snapped like a twig under the pressure of it all - and yet here I am, being all analytical about it.

I sat in silent contemplation for the longest time until I felt something touch my mind. It was like a whisper in my ear, but without words. Something was calling out to me. It took me a minute to pinpoint the origin of the ‘sound’, and even longer to realize I was actually hearing the Tree of Harmony. Yeah, I was 'hearing' a tree speak to me without words. Freud would have a fucking field day with me.

For a while I tried to ignore it, but the longer I sat there pretending not to hear, the stronger the call became. I finally turned around and walked towards it. This close up it’s magic was so bright it was almost painful, yet it felt soothing, in a way. Like a mother embracing her child. It felt safe, secure. Little by little I felt my anxiety melt away. I slowly reached out with a hand, almost touching the trunk. My fingertips tingled with static electricity, like touching one of those plasma balls you sometimes saw in those stores that sold gadgets and knick knacks. This tree was ancient. I didn't realize how ancient until my fingers made contact with its crystalline trunk.

It was like a floodgate opened and a sea of information just washed over my mind. I could make no sense of it, until a voice suddenly cut through the din and spoke to me.


“Be at peace and welcome, child of the earth. Know the origins of the Guardian of Harmony.”

Before my mind’s eye a story unfolded.


“Before recorded time, when the stars were young and the world was new, came the first of the Alicorns. The first to appear was Caelus, creator of the heavens. Next came his brother, Tempus, the steward of time. finally there was their sister Alitura, keeper of the earth and all that grows on it.

The powers of Chaos, bringers of change, had shaped a new world. But it was barren, frozen and cold, spinning endlessly in the void between stars, without life.

Seeing this, Caelus pulled a star from the heavens to serve as this new world’s sun. It melted the ice and snow, creating the first lakes and oceans. To act as a balance to the scorching sun, he also gave this new world a gentle moon, to illuminate the night and bring forth the tides.

Acknowledging his brother, Tempus took the energy of the aether and the cosmos and infused the new world with it, thus jump starting creation by giving it the spark of life. Seeing the brimming potential of their work, he wrangled the limitless energies of time and space to grant magic upon the earth.

Admiring the others’ work, Alitura let her energy wash over the world, and in its path sprouted vast forests and meadows and grassy plains. At a stomp of her hooves mountains rose and valleys were born. Soon the world was full of lush green land.

With the world ready, soon life began to flourish. There came many children to inhabit the new world. First amongst them were the Dragons. Strong of form and ruthless of mind, born from the raw magic and the spirit of fire. In their wake, others soon followed - the Diamond Dogs, Griffons, all majestic and unique in their own right. Last, came the Ponies.

Where the other children of the new world flourished, the ponies struggled and faltered, unable to compete with the rest of creation’s children. They did not have claws like the Griffins, not the iron scales of the sons of fire. Seeing such injustice, the three Alicorns decided to grant them a tiny portion of their own strength, so they might stand up and make their own path.

Caelus took from himself a feather, letting it gently float down to the land below for the ponies to catch. The power locked inside the boon called out to the sky, granting all who touched it wings - and so the ponies took flight amongst the birds. Those were the first Pegasi, and they were given rule over the seasons and weather.

Tempus cut a sliver from his own horn and embed it into the earth. Curious ponies approached the artifact and upon touching it were given a glimpse into the infinite power and beauty of the magic He created. Upon their foreheads grew horns of their own, granting them control over Tempus’ creation. With their eyes now open to the aether flowing around and through them, the first Unicorns were appointed the stewards of magic, capable of moving the sun and moon alike.

While the Pegasi and Unicorns revelled in their gifts, one group of ponies was still left out. Those did not catch the feather nor touch the horn shard, for they were busy trying to make a life of their own with just the strength of their hooves. Impressed by their tenacity, Alitura took some of her power and with it she blessed their first harvest to ensure it was rich and bountiful. With this blessed food the ponies held a great feast. All who ate from it were granted a powerful connection to the earth, immense strength and boundless vitality. Their ears and eyes opened up to the beauty of nature, letting them care for it like no other tribe. So the Earth Ponies came to be.


Their task complete, Tempus and Caelus eventually departed the world. Alitura, ever the mother, decided to linger a while and watch over the earth she helped create, being it’s silent observer for millennia.

All was good in the world, until the agents of entropy sniffed out the magic left behind by the powerful alicorns. From the dark and wicked dimension of Tambelon came the evil horde, led by the powerful demon lord Grogar.

Grogar sought to conquer the new world, enslave its children and suck its magic dry, leaving behind an empty, dead husk. Alitura would not let that happen. She stood with her children as they battled the forces of Grogar and faced the demon lord in single combat.

The battle between these titans left many a scar upon the land. The island of Trotlantis sank beneath the waves and was forever lost. The green hills of Draconia were obliterated and became the badlands. Eventually Alitura succeeded in defeating Grogar and banished him and his hordes back to their dimension, but not before Grogar committed one last act of spite.

Using some of his own vile blood from one of his many wounds, Grogar put an everlasting curse upon the land. It would grow wild and untenable, giving birth to all kinds of monsters and bizarre creatures. Where the tyrant's blood splattered on the landscape, the Everfree Forest was born, destined to consume the world in it’s dark tendrils and twisted magics.

Alitura, mortally wounded as she was, used all of her remaining magic, and even her very life force to create a guardian against evil. That protector would be known as the Tree of Harmony - it’s magic would keep the curse from spreading further, controlling and containing all that lived and grew within the Everfree. In times of need, the fruits of the tree could be harvested by those that embodied the elements that Aliura cherished the most: Honesty, Laughter, Loyalty, Kindness, Generosity, and Magic.

With her last breath, the Alicorn wished her beloved world prosperity and growth, starting another era of peace. With her essence spread to the world, it would not be long before part of her took root in another pony, letting it become an alicorn capable of continuing Alitura’s work of guidance and protection.

All the children of the world mourned her passing, honoring her sacrifice in story and song from the highest peaks to the deepest valleys. Eventually Alitura's sacrifice became legend, and that legend was later lost to time. Still, the guardian remains. As it always has. As it always will.”



It’s story told, the voice went silent and my senses returned to me. I was stunned by what I learned, and a little bit confused. Why would the tree of harmony share this knowledge with me, and to what end? Was it simply that because of my unique nature I could hear its voice where others could not? Or was there much more to it than I understood? Did the tree have some kind of plan in mind for me? The very idea scared me witless. I wasn’t cut out to be a hero or some valiant champion of good. I'm as common as they come, or I used to be at least.

I wasn’t looking to get into some grand adventure or mythical quest. Heck, I didn't even want to come to this world in the first place. I never asked for any of this. I felt like a rat running through someone else's maze for reasons beyond my ken. I reached out to the tree with my magic, hoping to find answers,but nothing was forthcoming. Its voice remained silent.

“Giving me the cold shoulder all of a sudden?” I growled.

“You can't just dump all of that one me and then leave me wondering as to why, you bastard!”

No answer. Not that I expected one really. I sighed mentally.

“Guess I'll figure it out in time.”

When I stepped out of the cave, the sun had already set and the cool night air caressed my leaves. I looked up at the sky, watching the stars twinkle and shine. I wondered if Caelus and Tempus were still out there somewhere. Did they even care about what happened to their sister? How would they react if they ever met her descendants. My thoughts briefly wandered to Celestia and Luna. I hope Luna is adjusting well to life after her banishment. Yeah I'm a bit of a Luna fanboy, sue me.

I shook myself from my musings and began the long walk back to Zecora's place. I could already feel my body growing a bit sluggish; I had expended a lot of energy today and my reserves were dwindling rapidly. If only I could find a couple of parasprites to munch on. That would surely hold me over until I reached Zecora. Alas, the little bugs rarely seemed to venture out at night. Something else was out there though, as a familiar howling reached me. Timber Wolves. If it’s the last thing I'll do in this world, I will find out where they keep coming from and destroy the place, if only to make sure they would never threaten the ponies again. Especially the crusaders. I might not be good with kids, but I had a soft spot for those three fillies.

My thoughts drifted to the upcoming meeting with them. Hopefully it will go better than the last time. At least Apple Bloom seemed to be on my side. I hope she was able to talk some sense into Applejack, because that pony can be awfully mule headed. Ugh, so many things to worry about. I swear I could use a stiff drink. Can this body even absorb alcohol or would that simply poison me? And if I can drink, can I even get drunk? Spending the rest of my existence forever sober sounded like a dull prospect. I must’ve been more tired than I realized. My mind was all over the place. Perhaps I should just sleep here. Yes, sleep sounded good.

I stood amidst several thick briar patches, dug my roots in deeply and allowed my mind to drift off. Soon, the blackness of sleep claimed me.

Chapter 8: Let sleeping dragons lie.

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Chapter 8
Let sleeping dragons lie.

I dreamed for the first time since my rebirth that night. I wish it had been a nice dream, but no. I found myself back where it all began in the darkness of the Everfree. Back in my frail human body. Then came the wolves and the running. Their baying howls chasing me until I was surrounded by teeth and thorns. Pain, despair and panic. My flesh torn and bloodied. Something vile waiting in the darkness, laughing at me. Finally, rainbow light washing over me and everything fading to black.


I awoke with a start and if I still had a heart, it would have been pounding its way out of my chest. It seems my body had responded to my subconsciousness distress. The area around me looked like it was ripped straight out of a cheap horror movie - dark thorny vines covered the entirety of the ground, the natural undergrowth around me was now armored with thick briar patches, all wrapped up in at least three different types of poison oak. Hungry fly trap maws whipped this way and that, apparently looking out for something to spray with the viscous fluid they constantly dribbled. I looked scary as fuck. Like some murderous halloween horror tree.

It took me a moment to calm down and center myself so I could regain conscious control. That's when I finally noticed it was raining. The sky overhead was covered in miserable looking gray clouds that let out a constant drizzle.

“How fitting.” I muttered. “A miserable day to match my miserable mood.”

Yeah, that dream didn't exactly leave me in high spirits. I lived through it once, I certainly didn't want to relive it again and again in my dreams. But how did I suddenly regain my ability to dream? Was it because of the tree of harmony? Or was my mind simply beginning to adjust to this body? Whatever brought about the change, I wasn't sure I welcomed it. Even as a human my dreams had often made little sense to me, and I certainly didn't relish the idea of waking up to nightmares every time I was forced to hibernate. And if this miniature death forest I unconsciously sprouted was my reaction to said nightmares, it would be extremely dangerous for anyone to be near me when resting.

“Best to take care of this before moving on.”

I concentrated on my magic and let it flow outward. Using my powers in this way still felt strange to me. Imagine suddenly growing another pair of arms, for example. Now you had to pick which arm to use. It used to be a simple choice of right or left, but now you had to pick left one or left two. See how that suddenly gets a bit complex? Now imagine not having two pairs of arms, but hundreds. Thats pretty much how controlling magic felt like. Having to pick just the right arm to flex... but I digress. With a focused effort I managed to shed the added defenses and undo the changes I had wrought to the surrounding plant life.

I let out a deep mental sigh, wondering what to do next. I had no real plans for the day. My meeting with the crusaders wasn't until tomorrow. I just didn't know what to do. Back home I would often spend my free time reading. I guess Twilight would like that at least. That wasn't really an option here. I mean, it wasn't impossible to get my hand on some books. Heck, Zecora had a pretty nice, if small, collection. But although these ponies were speaking 'English' or Equestrian, whichever you preferred, their written language seemed to have more in common with Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was utterly unreadable to me.

Ugh, I was getting tired of the rain already. It tasted kinda funny too. Probably because everything in the Everfree was saturated with magic to some degree. I guess that’s how the Everfree functioned without interference from the ponies. But I still didn't understand where that magic came from. I mean yes, it came from the curse that Grogar put on the place. But where is the source? I guess the finer workings of the Everfree will remain a mystery for now. I wish I had time to explore the deeper parts of the woods. If I did that now I would never make it back in time for my meeting with the crusaders tomorrow. This place wasn't exactly small. Leave it to cartoon logic to make a journey of a few hours seem only several minutes long. What did they call it again? The length of the journey is relative to the demands of the plot, or something along those lines.

“Well, better get back to Zecora's place. No sense staying out here in this depressing drizzle.”

Little did I know things wouldn't exactly go as planned.

********

Outside the everfree it was just another bright sunny day, and three little fillies were sitting around the wooden picnic table just outside the barn at Sweet Apple Acres.

“Does anyone have any other ideas on how we can earn our cutie marks?” Asked Sweetie Belle as she looked over the list they were compiling.

“How about roller skating?” Said Scootaloo.

“Tried that. Didn't work out.” Apple Bloom replied.

They were interrupted by Applejack who came out of the barn dragging a bale of hay.

“Apple Bloom, did y'all finish yer mornin' chores?”

“Eeyup, done and done,” the little filly replied. “Finished em a few minutes ago.”

Applejack looked at her approvingly. “Well alrighty then. Why don't y'all skedaddle along then so ya won't be underhoof here.”

“Aww, but Applejack, we still need ta make plans for our Cutie Mark Crusaders clubhouse.”

The other two fillies nodded their heads enthusiastically.

Applejack gave the trio a slightly confused glance. “The what now?”

“It will be a place where we can hold meetings,” said Sweetie Belle

“And come up with awesome ideas on how to earn our cutie marks,” Scootaloo piped in.

“And, and... what they said,” Apple Bloom finished.

Applejack put a hoof to her chin as she mulled the idea over.

“You young'uns are in luck. Ah may have just the thang.”

A chorus of huh's greeted her in response.

“Just follow me.” Applejack grinned and set off at a brisk trot.

Shrugging, the crusaders moved after her. They trotted across the orchard for several minutes, moving past the zap apple crops and down into the westernmost fields. The further they got, the more unkempt the orchard became, with bushes and other plants growing amidst the apple trees. The Apple family no longer tended this part of the orchard since large sections of it had become home to fruit bats, and so it had become overgrown with other plant life in time. They left the fruit bats alone for the most part so long as they didn't migrate to the other trees. The bats for their part seemed more than content to stay in the western orchard and were easy to get along with.

“Where’re you takin' us?” Apple Bloom finally asked.

“We're almost there, young'uns.”

“I've never been out here before,” said Sweetie Belle as they pushed their way through some bushes.

“Ouch!” cried Scootaloo as one of the branches from a nearby bush whipped her in the face.

“Oops, sorry,” Apple Bloom said sheepishly shuffling away from the leering pegasus.

“Are we there yet?” Scootaloo muttered as she wiped a hoof across her muzzle to rub away the sting.

“There? Where? What? I don't even know what we're doing,” Sweetie Belle squeaked.

“Well young'uns, were here.” said Applejack, a hint of pride in her voice.

They came to a small clearing dominated by one extra large apple tree. In its crown, the fillies could make out the darkened planks of some structure.

“Applejack, what's this?” Apple Bloom asked.

“This 'ere used ta be my clubhouse when I was but a little filly.”

“Back in the pony stone age by the looks of this dump,” Scootaloo whispered to Sweetie Belle, who gave the Pegasus filly a disapproving stare, giggling nonetheless.

“It's a bit of a fixer upper, but with a little hoof work this 'ere place could be yer own personal clubhouse in no time.”

Apple Bloom looked at the clubhouse while holding up her hooves as if she were framing a picture. She stuck out her tongue and narrowed her eyes in concentration.

“Eeyup, ah think ah can fix this up right sweetly.”

“You do?” Sweetie belle and Scootaloo asked, surprise written all over their faces.

“Well sure, it can't be all that different from fixin' stuff on da farm. Ah do that stuff plenty when doin' mah chores. We'll just need some supplies an' the big toolbox from the barn.”

“Well I'll just leave y'all to it then,” Applejack said as she walked off. “Gotta git back ta work. Y'all have fun now.”

The girls waved goodbye to Applejack before trotting up the ramp to inspect the clubhouse in detail.

It was indeed very worn and in disrepair, but nothing a little hard work couldn't fix.

“This is great,” Sweetie Belle exclaimed.

Scootaloo leaned on the window sill, which promptly collapsed. “I dunno, are you sure you can fix this dump Apple Bloom?”

“Just leave it ta me. An' this will be perfect for meetin' our new friend.”

“What friend?”

“Oh right, I forgot to tell y'all.”

She quickly peered outside to make sure her big sister was well and truly gone.

“Remember when ah told y'all Zecora came ta town? An' how she had a strange stallion with her?”

The other two nodded their heads.

“Well, ah went up and spoke to em.”

There was a collective gasp.

“Are you nuts? What if she hexed you!” Scootaloo shouted.

“Calm down, jeez, ya sound like mah sister. Zecora ain't a bad pony. She was actually real nice.”

The other two fillies looked skeptical but took her at her word.

“So is she the new friend you mentioned?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Apple bloom shook her head. “No, ahm not talkin' about her. Remember the creature that appeared when we got jumped by them timber wolves two weeks ago?”

“Don't remind me, I still have nightmares.” Sweetie squeaked.

“Well, turns out he wasn't no monster at all.”

“Are you kidding me?” Scootaloo shouted. “It probably took out those timber wolves so it could eat us all by itself.”

“No it didn't!” Apple Bloom yelled back. “He wasn't trying ta eat us. He was tryin' ta save us.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

“Because he told me so himself. He was the stallion that came ta town with Zecora.”

“You mean the Everfree monster disguised itself as a pony!” Sweetie shrieked.

“Ugh, he’s not a monster Sweetie Belle.”

“I heard he was Zecora's personal slave,” Scootaloo said in a conspiratorial voice.

“I heard Zecora turned some poor stallion into a zombie plant pony using some evil brew she concocted at her home in the Everfree,” Sweetie Belle added in a stage whisper.

“Who in da hay is spreadin' all that hogwash?”

“Well I heard it from Twist, who said she heard it from her mom who heard it from Rose, Lily and Daisy at the flower shop.”

“Oh my gosh, those three? No offense Sweetie Belle, but they all are even bigger drama queens than your sister,” Apple bloom scoffed.

Sweetie Belle had the decency to blush. She looked down sheepishly.

“I guess those rumors are a bit ridiculous, considering the source.”

“So what exactly happened?” Scootaloo asked Apple Bloom

“Well I didn't get the full story, seein' as we were at the edge of the Everfree and they didn't want me followin' any further, but he apologized for scarin' us. Seems like he wasn't able to speak or somethin' when we first met. But he was actually kinda nice and when ah asked him if he would come an' meet with us he agreed.”

“And you just agreed? What if he's planning to foalnap us?”

“Don't start that again. He did say ah should ask Applejack if it were okay, but she wouldn't listen. As soon as ah mentioned Zecora she got all suspicious an' crazy like da rest o' da town ponies. But it’s like Twilight said, we can't go round actin' un-neighborly to folks just cuz they look different. So ahm gonna give em a chance, and ah would like it if you two would give em a chance too.”

Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle looked at each other, unsure what to do. Finally Scootaloo spoke up.

“If you think they're okay, then I'm willing to give it a try. Plus I admit I'm kinda curious now.”

Sweetie Belle nodded, “So when will he come and meet with us?”

“He agreed to come round tomorrow. So ah figure we should wait near the border of da Everfree.”

“So if we're gonna meet him we should at least clean this place up a bit. Wouldn't want him to think we're poor hosts, right?” Sweetie said as she looked around the dusty, cobweb filled interior of the club house.

“She's right. We should get started.” Apple Bloom replied.

“Lets do this Crusaders!” Scootaloo shouted.

They all hoof bumped. “Yeah!”


********

I couldn’t freaking believe this. I was lost, AGAIN! Curse this stupid forest and all that's in it! Oh wait... never mind. That would’ve been redundant. I just wished this rain would let up. I never liked rain. Back when I was human I used to wear glasses, and those two never mixed. Plus I just plain dislike getting rain in my face.

I was trudging along the base of a small mountain, one of several spread throughout the everfree. I was looking for a path up so I could look around and find a way back to Zecora's when I came across a large cave entrance. Even though I wasn't feeling the least bit tired, I decided to rest a while anyway just to get out of the rain for a bit. In hindsight, I should just have kept moving.

After standing at the entrance for some time I got bored and decided to explore the cave. Hopefully the rain would let up in the meantime. The darkness of the cave's interior proved no problem for my altered vision. After about a minute of walking the tunnel opened up to a large cavern, filled with gemstones; there were emeralds and sapphires, rubies as big as my fist, and diamonds so large they would be worth a king's ransom back on earth. There was more wealth here than I could’ve spent during a lifetime back home. A sinking feeling came over me though as I looked at the small mountain of gems before me. Ah crap, this was a dragon’s hoard, wasn’t it? It was time to make a quiet exit.

I inched back to the cave opening, but from behind the enormous pile of gemstones rose a large scaly head. Its bright yellow snake like eyes glared at me with cold hatred. This dragon was blue, so it wasn't the one spike encountered. Just how many damn dragons made their home in this forest?

“What are you doing in my lair, you filthy little creature? Come to take my precious gems, have you?”

“No, I'm not here for your gems. I was just getting out of the rain and decided to have a look around. I've got no beef with you, so I'll just leave.”

“Yes you will, and if you ever set foot in here again, I will burn you to cinders, you maggot.”

“Alright alright, no need to get your scales in a twist.”

“Damn scaly assed lizard bastard,” I muttered under my breath as I started to walk away

“What did you call me?” the dragon growled, its voice icy and deadly. I clearly underestimated the dragon’s hearing.

If I had blood, it would have frozen in my veins. Hell, I think some of the sap in my branches froze. The dragon stomped over its pile of gemstones towards me, its eyes alight with fury.

“I'm going to enjoy tearing you into little chunks, you miserable worm.”

I ran. I ran as fast as I could down the tunnel and almost made it to the exit when there was a dull roar behind me and I was engulfed by a torrent of flames. I was blasted out the tunnel exit in a ball of fire, landing in an undignified heap several yards away. To my good fortune it was still raining. I rolled along the wet ground to douse the flames licking at my form. Burning to a crisp was NOT the way I wanted to go. Note to self - next time you are faced with a dragon, just shut your mouth. The beast in question came stomping out of the cave and roared in anger.

“l-look, I'm sorry alright!” I tried, but all it got me was a swipe of its claws.

I found myself airborne again, this time crashing down amongst the trees. Parts of my body flew off in chunks and my left arm hung broken and useless from a few thin vines.

“I'm gonna enjoy killing you,” the dragon crowed sadistically as he loomed over me.

A claw descended and gripped me like a vice, holding me down to the ground and slowly crushing the life out of me. I could feel my outer shell begin to splinter and crack under the pressure. So this is how I die a second time, huh. Crushed and burned by a cantankerous old lizard. And this time there wouldn't even be a body to bury. Just a pile of charred wood.

I didn't want to die. Not like this. Not again. Please! I didn't want to die! I should have kept my mouth shut. I should have just walked away. But.... fuck him. Fuck him and all the rest of his scaly ass family. I wasn't looking for trouble, so why did he have to go and insult me and be a jerk? Why do all dragons except spike have to be utter assholes? I didn't wanna get killed by some asshat of a dragon who thinks he's the fucking king of the forest.

I felt my anger boil over into unbridled rage. Rage against the unfairness of it all. Rage about what happened to me. Rage against fate. I never asked for this. I never wanted it. I just wanted to live my life in peace. And I’ll be fucked sideways in hell before I let some scaled wanker with a hardon for gemstones end my existence now.

I let it all flow through me. All the pain, hate, fear and fury I had somehow kept bottled up these past few weeks. I let my emotions swallow me whole, and my magic surged to the fore. But something else did too. Something dark that had been lurking at the back of my mind where I could not sense it.

“Any last words before I snap you in two, little forest creature?” the dragon said mockingly.

“Just two,” I snarled. “FUCK! YOU!”

Roots shot out and burrowed deep into the earth, drawing power from it directly to bolster my own magical reserves. I unleashed my vines to lash out like whips. My first efforts were in vain. They did nothing against the dragon’s hard scales, so instead I wrapped them around the wrist of the claw holding me and began to thicken and tighten them. If I could put on enough pressure the beast's grip would loosen. The dragon tried to pull back but I burrowed my roots in deeper and wider still, holding him in place.

“What do you think you're doing?” the beast snarled.

I said nothing, instead I began to grow flytraps. I poured in as much magic as I could suck out of the ground. Bigger, they needed to be much bigger and potent. Those were my directives as I set my powers to work. I was done showing restraint, I let the energy flow freely and the flytraps grew big enough to swallow a cow in a single gulp. The dragon seemed surprised at this new development, its eyes widening a fraction. Perfect! The flytraps bulged and let loose a high pressured stream of milky looking acids directly in the dragon's face.

I will never forget the thing’s ungodly shriek of agony for as long as I live. They must have heard it all the way back in Canterlot. Instantly, the crushing pressure on my body ceased as the dragon yanked back its claws, the vines holding it snapping like string. The dragon tried and wipe the corrosive liquids out of its face and eyes. Semi solid chunks of flesh dribbled through its fingers as it clawed at its own face, only to yank its claws back as the acid began to eat at the flesh of its fingers too. Its eyeballs burst and part of its skull was open to the air as the flesh ran off it like hot wax. It stomped around blind, its tail thrashing every which way.

I stood up off the ground, my broken form re-knitting slowly as I drew yet more power from the earth. The dark presence I felt earlier bayed for blood, and in my current state of mind I was only too happy to oblige. The dragon was blindly trying to find its way back to the cave, the fight well and truly taken out of him. But I wasn't about to let this son of a bitch off the hook. I was through being fate's whipping boy. This asshole was going to kill me because of one small insult, and seemed to be enjoying himself while doing it. I knew his kind, I've been bullied by them all through my youth. The biggest, baddest guy on the block. If you didn't do as he said, he punched your teeth in while smiling. Well, I was going to make an example out of this tough guy.

“Where do you think you're going?” I said as I directed more and more vines to grasp and bind its hind legs, causing it to stumble and fall.

“You think you can just try to kill me and walk away? Nuh uh. Let me tell you a little bit about my species, son.”

The dragon let out a blast of fire, but his aim was off since he only had his ears to try and locate me now, torching a few trees instead. I directed more vines to entangle its neck and finally to clamp its maw shut. Several of them snapped as the dragon struggled to free itself, but for every one that gave out I added two more.

“You see, my species started off as simple little monkeys living in the jungle. But eventually we evolved and became the dominant species on our planet. There are many theories about how and why that happened. Some believe it's because we were the smartest of all the creatures. Others because we were the meanest ones. But no, that's not it either. We came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest. But because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. And you! Don't! FUCK WITH US!"

With one mighty burst of magic I constricted every vine around the dragon's neck, until with a series of sickening cracks it snapped in three places. Its body went into brief spasms, until finally it lay still, blood leaking out of its maw in a steady little stream.

I wasn't done, not by a long shot. In my rage, I had let loose the beast and it was hungry. I let out a roar of my own as I tore into the carcass, my vines ripping and tearing. What they couldn't wrench apart I sprayed with acids until it gave way. I drank deeply of its blood and liquefied flesh. Its essence ran through me, filled me with power. I was drunk on it. I needed more. My form shifted again. My face morphed into a snout filled with spike like teeth. I sank them into the exposed organs, tearing bloody chunks from them and wolfing them down to be broken into nutrients. My mass grew and grew as more and more vines and fly traps burst from my form to aid in the task of devouring the corpse. The forest ran red with all the blood. It would feed the trees around for days.

I felt my control slipping, the beast taking the reins. Bones were cracked open and their marrow sucked dry. Everything that could be melted down was rendered into slurry to sate my seemingly endless hunger. My bark hardened until it was like steel, needle like thorns with razor sharp tips adorned my vines. The dragon's essence brought forth a storm of evolution as I took its flesh and its magic into myself. I lost all semblance of form, becoming nothing but a writhing mass of roots, vines and carnivorous flowers. My only desire to rend and tear flesh, to eat and eat and eat and eat......

Chapter 9: The beast within.

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Chapter 9
The beast within.

Zecora stared out the window of her home. The weather above the Everfree was dreadful and it seemed to be growing worse still. The drizzle from that morning had turned into a full on storm, fat raindrops spattering against the glass of her window. She felt a cold shiver run up her spine.

For the last couple of minutes she had felt restless - it wasn't just her, either. It was as if the Everfree itself felt uneasy. There was always a certain lingering sensation of danger, but she had long since grown accustomed to that. No, this was something else. Something that filled her with an unnatural sense of foreboding.

She walked into the small area she used as a kitchen and started heating up a pot of water. Perhaps some nice soothing tea would help her quench the eerie feeling. She had just put the kettle on the stove when an ungodly scream of agony echoed across the forest.

“What in the name of the seven kings is going on out there,” she cursed in her native tongue.

Zecora opened her window and angled her ears, listening intently for whatever it was that howled so fiercely. As seconds ticked by, the zebra realised that the ever living forest suddenly became deathly still - no bugs buzzing about, not a bird singing its song. Just as she was about to retreat into her home, shrieks and cries erupted in an echoing cacophony of pain and suffering. Along with it came the crowing of confused birds that took flight, thousands of them flocking over and away from the woods. The stunned shaman looked on in mounting horror as first a few, then by the dozen, wild creatures ran blindly past her tree, tripping and trampling anything that stood in their way.

She had to know what was going on, but Zecora knew better than to go running off blindly into the woods. Only fools did such reckless things. No, she had a better method to discern what was happening, thanks to her shaman training.

She rummaged through one of the few cabinets she had and soon found what she was looking for - a shallow clay bowl decorated with a relief of symbols that belonged to her native tribe. She blew some dust off the relic, not having used it for some time. She then filled it with water and set it down before her. She took a seat and stared into the bowl, beginning a chant in her native tongue. It was a simple but effective scrying technique.

“Roho kubwa, unipe mbele kuona nini uongo zaidi,” Zecora chanted as she cleared and focused her mind, allowing the spirits to grant her a vision of what went on.

After several minutes the water in the bowl began to ripple as if hit by a raindrop. An image began to form and sounds filled her mind, showing events happening not all that far away. What Zecora saw in the waters of the scrying bowl elicited a gasp of horror from her.

She saw a snarling, hissing, roiling mass of vegetation devouring everything in sight. Critters ran into their burrows or hid in the trees only to be dragged out by vines, squealing and shrieking ,and tossed whole into waiting maws or acid filled pitcher plants. Some of the larger predatory creatures fought back, most still opting to flee like the rest of the animals. The only creature that was remotely holding its ground was a large adult hydra, and only because it regenerated the heads it was losing. A pair of Manticores was trying to defend their young, the female using her body to shield the cubs while the male attacked the vines with tooth, claw and stinger tail. Its attacks only brought it pain as barbed thorns sank into its flesh and stuck fast. One of the cubs got snatched by a vine, and when the mother intervened she too was hoisted up. Both manticores were dragged into the roiling mass and dumped into waiting pitcher plants. Their mewling cries were mercifully brief. The wounded male snatched up the remaining cub by the scruff of its neck and ran for it.

The more the unholy creature devoured the more it grew and spread. It assimilated the surrounding vegetation and turned it into more of itself. If left unchecked, it would grow until it consumed the entire Everfree forest, and everything beyond.

“Oh merciful spirits say it ain't so, say its not my friend who causes such woe.” Her voice was thick with emotion, for she recognized the acid spitting flowers that were consuming all that moved.

She ran outside into the rain, throwing caution to the wind. She had to put a stop to this. The rational part of her mind told her this was dangerous and foolhardy, but her heart told her she had to try. She had to talk to her friend and find out why he was on a rampage, to talk some sense into him. She had to see with her own eyes what the spirits had shown her.

And so she ran into the woods. It did not take much effort to find him. All she had to do was follow the path of the fleeing animals in the opposite direction.

********

Fluttershy was out in the sun, humming to herself as she carried a bag of feed to the chicken coop. She walked into the pen and called out to her feathered friends.

“Good morning little chickens, I hope you're all hungry.”

There was no response, which puzzled Fluttershy. Normally her chickens would be out and about by now, especially when she brought food over. She put the bag of feed down and walked over to her coop, sticking her head inside.

“Is everything alright?”

Her flock were all sitting in one corner, looking extremely nervous.

“Goodness, what's gotten into you all? Did something happen?”

Her chickens clucked nervously. Something was clearly amiss.

“It's okay little friends, why don't you all come outside for a little while and have some breakfast.”

She tried to coax them out for several minutes more but they wouldn't budge. It was then she noticed a commotion outside. She pulled her head out of the chicken coop and saw all manners of creatures flee the Everfree forest. She was about to ask one of the fleeing animals what was going on when there was a ruckus behind her. She turned around to locate the source when she noticed her critter friends fleeing her cottage and joining the mass exodus away from the Everfree. Even Harry the bear was running away.

She tried for several minutes to calm the frantic critters to no avail when a voice above called out to her.

“Fluttershy, what in the hay is happening?” came the voice of Rainbow Dash, who dropped to the ground moments later. “Why are all those animals fleeing the Everfree? There's a virtual stampede heading for the hills in every direction.”

“I don't know, it started a couple minutes ago. I went to feed my chickens, but they were all scared for some reason. Next thing I know there's hundreds of animals of all kinds coming out of the woods.”

“Okay, you stay here and keep an eye out. I'm gonna go find Twilight. Maybe she knows what's going on. I'll be back in a second.”

With that, Rainbow Dash flew off at top speed, leaving behind an anxious Fluttershy who stared at the Everfree forest with worried eyes.

*********

Zecora had been running for several minutes, going against the endless stream of fleeing animals. Finally she caught sight of the mass of carnivorous plants through the trees and dashed towards it. She skidded to a halt when she got within thirty yards of it and gagged. The stench of blood and the sour sweet stink of acid was overpowering. It permeated the entire area. She swallowed the bile that rose in her throat and called out.

“Aeron, my friend, what madness has got hold of you? Why are you attacking all these creatures?”

A trio of carnivorous flowers focused their attention on her, hissing like a bunch of angry cobra's. Before she could get another word in she was forced to run for her life as streams of acid began spraying in her direction. A grasping vine shot out, trying to tackle her, but she jumped over it and under the next one that came at her. A third one hit her across the flank like a bullwhip and she cried out in pain, but she kept going, dodging between the trees to evade the snaking vines. More acid came her way, spattering against the trunk of a large tree she passed only seconds earlier.

Something was terribly wrong. She may only have known Aeron for a short while, but this behavior was completely out of character for him. Something must have happened. She made it to a safe distance and stopped to assess the damage. The vine that had hit her had left a nasty cut across her flank and several thorns were stuck in her flesh. She glanced back at the writhing mass of vegetation and decided it was safe enough to take a moment to remove them. Pulling the thorns from her flesh proved extremely painful. They were barbed with serrated edges, almost like a saw-blade. At least they weren't poisonous.

A terrifying howl got her attention and she spun to face the creature, again when a gigantic wolf's head formed out of it to swallow the hydra it had been fighting whole. Her eyes went wide when the possible implications of what she was seeing struck her. Could it be that her friend was not in control of his actions, but rather the corrupt spirit of a timber wolf? On their own, such beings were dangerous enough, but if one had access to the unquantified magical abilities Aeron seemed to posses, the horrible ramifications of it were on full display before her.

She fled, for there was nothing she could do from here. If the spirit of the wolf was in control then there was only one way to help her friend now. She just hoped she had enough time.

********

More and more creatures poured out of the Everfree forest, fleeing in all directions, and more and more ponies showed up to watch the spectacle.

Twilight came running up to Fluttershy with Rainbow Dash following from above.

“Fluttershy, what's going on here?”

“We were hoping you could tell us, Twilight,” Rainbow cut in before Fluttershy could answer. “They've been pouring out of the Everfree for a while now. Something weird is going on.”

“Could it be some sort of spell?” Fluttershy mumbled nervously from behind her mane.

“Maybe, but I have no idea what sort of spell could cause a whole forest of creatures to flee in a panic.” Twilight said.

There was a sudden commotion among the ponies watching the edge of the woods as an adult Manticore carrying a cub came barreling out of the underbrush. The great beast was bleeding from several cuts and its eyes were frantic. Several ponies ran in terror, but Fluttershy responded in a heartbeat. With a speed that made Rainbow Dash blink she interposed herself between the Manticore and the ponies and began to calm the beast with a soothing voice and quiet words.

Once the Manticore was calm she gave it and the cub a quick examination. When she saw the grievous wounds and wicked barbed thorns still embedded in it she let out a horrified gasp. Twilight and Dash were at her side in an instant.

“What is it Fluttershy, what have you found?”

She quietly showed them the wounds, eliciting a gasp from the other two ponies.

“I don't think I want to meet whatever did that,” Dash said.

Twilight's horn lit up as she cast a quick diagnostic spell on the thorns.

“I'm sensing remnants of a dark and feral magic. I need to consult my books to figure out what-”

“AIIIEEEE!”

A panicked scream interrupted her and everyone whipped their heads around to see what was happening. A section of the Everfree forest had burst open, writhing vines and roots emerging from the crack The wounded Manticore grabbed its young and fled. Ponies milled about in panic or stood rooted to the spot when giant carnivorous flowers angled their maws towards them.

“Everypony, run back to Ponyville!” Twilight shouted, using magic to amplify her voice.

Vines began to whip out, trying to snare them and sprays of acid arched through the air. Twilight threw up a quick barrier spell to shield herself and Fluttershy. The acid bubbled and hissed as it slid down the magical forcefield.

“Rainbow, get everyone out of here!” Twilight yelled to her multichromatic friend before launching a Flash-Fire spell at the aggressive mass of vegetation.

The magic struck the vines, causing them to sizzle, boil and catch fire. One of the hissing flytraps tried to bite the purple stream of energy, and ended up literally exploding, the acid and other fluids inside evaporating into a scalding mist within seconds.

“I need every unicorn who is capable of casting Pyromancy spells with me now!” Twilight yelled at the group.

Several unicorns stepped forward, some more willingly than others. Lyra, Silver Spanner and Vinyl Scratch were amongst the first to stand by Twilight’s side.

“We need to set up a flame barrier spell to contain this thing. I need anypony who knows how to channel flame spells no matter how basic to pour your energy into the spell I’ll prepare. The rest of you, watch the flowers and keep them off us any way you can. Use whatever spells necessary!”

***********

Zecora stormed into her home and slammed the door, barricading it as best she could. The timber swarm, as she referred to the out of control spirit, had not been heading her way, but if it kept spreading it was only a matter of time before it reached her home. Hopefully the barrier she had around the perimeter would give the beast pause. She needed time to prepare, but first she had to treat her injury. She took a jar of healing salve and gingerly applied some to the nasty cut across her flank, hoping it would not leave a scar. The ointment stung terribly, but soon the pain died down to a dull throbbing ache. At least now she wouldn’t have to fear infection.

With her injury taken care of she began to gather ingredients from around the house whilst throwing a cantrip at her cooking pot to start the fire beneath it. First fresh water went into the pot. Next she gathered up many powerful herbs. She prepared the ingredients with diligence. She had only done this once under the watchful eye of her mentor, and she could not afford mistakes. She sliced and diced the herbs extra fine then tossed them into her mortar to ground them up into powder. One by one she added them to the pot and soon the water began to take on an amber hue. As the ingredients were added to the brew she began to sway and dance rhythmically until the stew like brew began to boil.

Over in Ponyville pinkie pie suddenly fell over as her body was shaken by a combination of shudders and twitches.

“Are you alright pinkie?” Mister Cake asked.

“I WAS RIGHT!” She yelled.

“Right about what?” the confused store owner asked.

“I dunno, but my pinkie sense just told me that I was right about something, and that it had something to do with cooking and dances.”

Zecora stirred the thickening brew carefully. What she was brewing was a very potent mixture reserved for special rituals. It would help to put her in a powerful deep trance so she could perform what her mentor had called spirit walking. It would allow her mind to wander outside of her body and in doing so make contact with another. She hoped that doing so would allow her to reach Aeron, if it wasn't too late. She left the brew to simmer and began to prepare the rest of the things she would need.

First she cleared out an area of the floor and put down two incense burners. To this she added strong relaxing incense and then lit them. Soon a pleasant scent began to rise from them. Next she took a small clay jar from a cabinet. It contained special body paint made with pigments from her homeland. She dabbed a hoof into the jar and began to carefully apply the paint to herself, chanting a cleansing prayer as she did so. She carefully painted ritual markings on herself in a slow deliberate pattern. Once complete she stood up and stretched her limbs then went to check on the brew.

The mixture appeared to be just right, so she turned off the fire and allowed it to cool while she prepared a few additional precautions. First she took a mixture of coarse salts and powdered gemstone and made a wide circle on the ground. It would serve as a barrier against malignant spirits and hopefully give her one more layer of magical protection should the timber swarm arrive at her home. Next she lit several colorful candles made of a special wax and placed them around the room. These too would act as a warding measure and would keep away those spirits who were not hostile but merely curious. Lastly she brought out a small Tiki Idol and placed it just within the circle. The Tiki would serve as a beacon for her own spirit so she would be able to find her way back.

Her preparations complete she took a wooden bowl made from a coconut shell and scooped some of the brew from her cauldron. With slow deliberate steps she walked into the circle and sat down.

“Roho kubwa ya hewa na ardhi, great spirits of air and earth, kuongoza ukimbizi huu wanyenyekevu, guide this humble seeker.” she began to chant, her voice low.

She lifted the bowl and took a drink from the still warm potion. The taste was as terrible as she remembered but she swallowed it anyway.

“kufungua jicho langu ndani, open my inner eye, naomba kifungu katika ulimwengu wa zaidi ya, allow me passage to the realm beyond.”

She took the bowl and drank the remaining potion in one gulp then closed her eyes, taking a deep calming breath.

Suddenly she lost all feeling in her body, but she knew this was normal. It was the first sign that the brew was working. She breathed out slow and allowed her mind to drift. When next she opened her eyes she was hovering above herself. Her flesh and blood body was sitting in the circle, deep in trance and appearing asleep. She waved an ethereal hoof in front of her face before giving herself a onceover. She still looked like herself, be it a translucent blueish green version of herself.

Zecora took a moment to center herself before taking off as fast as she could go, back to the timber swarm.

*******

Twilight was panting hard, doing her best to stay alive. She had been so sure the flame barrier spell would stop the monster but it just kept coming. At first the creature seemed to burn up as it came in contact with the spell, but after a minute or so the flames died out. The vines were actually bleeding watery sap, giving the flames no time to take hold. Everypony had broken and run after that. Doing their best to evade the grasping vines and sprays of acid. She could still smell the stench of burning hair from a few droplets that had splashed the tip of her tail. It was only through sheer dumb luck that nopony had been heavily injured or killed yet.

She dodged another splash of acid and telekinetically threw a large boulder at the writhing mass. Crushing several dozen vines and a couple of pitcher plants, the acid leaking out and consuming its own mass. Still the thing kept coming. She caught a brief glimpse of Rainbow Dash and several other weather team pegasi as they pushed in a couple of thunderclouds to buck lightning into the monster. Beside her every unicorn that wasn't fleeing for their lives were hurling whatever spells they could at the thing in an effort to stop it. She saw Vinyl throw some sort of sonic explosion spell, Lyra firing blasts of raw telekinesis, and some pony she didn't recognize fire a bowling ball like a cannon. Speaking of cannons, pinkie pie had rolled out her party cannon, but mister and missus cake were helping her stuff it full of everything but the kitchen sink to launch at the creature.

Twilight realized they were fighting a losing battle. For all their efforts the thing was driving them back towards ponyville inch by inch.

Suddenly Rainbow Dash was by her side again, “That's it Twi, we used up all the thunderclouds in the vicinity and it barely made a dent in the thing. What do we do now?”

“I don't know, we can't keep this up.” she groaned as she lifted an empty cart and hurled it at the thing, “We can't hold it back for long. Tell the mayor to evacuate Ponyville. Get everyone on the train, foals and elderly first.”

“On it!” Dash threw her a salute before rocketing away to start the evacuation.

“We're gonna need a lot more help if we're to stop this thing Twilight” Said Lyra from beside her.

“I know, I've already had Spike send a message to the princess asking for guard support, but even at top speed they won't be here for at least an hour. We just need to hang on long enough to get everypony to safety and then we can regroup.”

She returned to casting spells as best she could but she could feel her magical reserves begin to wane. She couldn't even imagine how the others must be feeling. She took a deep breath and focused on an advanced combat spell she read about once. The air before her shimmered as a wide tipped spear of pure magical force took shape. She then used a telekinetic burst to hurl the ethereal weapon at the monster. The spear sliced through the wood and vines like a hot knife through butter, sap and acid splashed everywhere as it drove deep into the mass of vegetation. The thing let out a strange shrieking noise and seemed to pause for a second. She let out a small whoop and bounced up and down for a brief moment, relishing her small victory. It might not be much but she took some satisfaction in giving pause to the monster who was threatening her friends. She was snapped out of it when something landed at her hooves with a thump. She glanced down only to find a strange looking pinecone covered in thorns.

Then the thing exploded.

**********

It took Zecora half as long to get back to the timber swarm now that she did not need to move around the trees. She could simply pass through them like a ghost. Finally she reached the writhing mass of terror. The first thing that caught her attention was the evil dark green glow that emanated from it. This was clearly the aura of a timber wolf, but something had enhanced it. Something much older and darker. She had no time to think about that now, she had to find Aeron's consciousness. She had to find the core. But where in the creator's name could it be. All she could see was a sea of carnivorous vegetation. She began to fly over it whilst opening her spiritual senses to their fullest. She felt rage, pain and hunger, oh merciful maker so much hunger. An eons old mad desire to consume living essence to still the hunger and dull the pain. And behind it all a sadistic impulse to inflict suffering. It was almost too much for her. If she had been in her body the sensation would surely have made her vomit. But she had to push on, she had to find her friend. She let her senses wander, trying to find that one spark of light she knew must be somewhere. There! She could sense it, a tiny spirit, like a flickering candle flame. She sped towards it and dove right into the writhing mass below, into the darkness. And suddenly she was elsewhere.

She found herself back in her normal body inside a room unlike any she had ever seen. It was a medium sized bedroom that doubled as a study. The walls were made of white stone. In one corner was a desk with a strange flat device on it as well as a second rectangular device with buttons marked with letters and numbers. Several books stood off to the side on the desk. Next to the desk was a display cabinet filled with an assortment of knick knacks. On the opposite side of the room was a bookcase filled with books of all kinds as well as a number of strange glossy cases marked with the letters DVD and several titles in a language she didn't know. Next to the bookcase was a small window, its curtains were closed. Underneath the window was a simple bed. And on that bed sat a creature unlike any she had ever seen. It looked vaguely like a hairless version of the large apes that lived back in Zebrica. The thing had wrapped itself in a blanket and crawled into the far corner.

“Hello? Aeron, is it you?” Zecora said hesitantly

The creature blinked as if seeing her for the first time, “Z-zecora?”

“Yes my friend, its me. I'm glad I found you, I was worried I would be too late.”

“I'm sorry.” Aeron said, his voice breaking into a choked sob, “I didn't want this to happen.”

“Shh it's going to be alright my friend, follow me and let your troubles end.” She held out a hoof to him.

“I can't! I can't go outside. If I do it will get me.” he cried as he motioned to the only door in the room, hastily barricaded with a cabinet and chair.

“But you must,” she said a she pressed a gentle hoof against his shoulder. “Only you can get yourself out of here and end this. I can only show you the way.”

“I don't even know where here is. Or why I'm suddenly human again. I don't know what's happening anymore.”

Zecora sat down next to him on the bed, “This is all in your mind my friend. This place,” She said waving a hoof at the room, “Is what's known as a mindscape. It is a visual representation of your inner self. A place where you feel safe.”

“My bedroom back on earth.” he mumbled.

“But you cannot stay here Aeron. You must face the beast and regain control. Do you know what's happening in the outside world? Right now the beast is trying to consume everything. If you don't stop it here and now it will soon devour what is left of you, and then all of Equestria.”

“But how? look at me Zecora, I'm nothing, how am I supposed to fight this beast. I don't even know where it is right now or how it got free in the first place.”

“Do you know what happened before all this? What were you doing before you came here?” She waved a hoof at the imaginary room.

“I... I was lost and trying to find my way back to your place, but I ran into a dragon and.. I said something I shouldn't have. Then the dragon got mad and tried to kill me. Then I got mad myself and... and I fought back.... and killed it. That’s when the hunger started, then came the beast and it chased me all the way in here. I barely made it in the door before it got me. But so long as I stay in here it leaves me alone. I don't even know what it is. When it hunted me all I saw was shadow and evil glowing eyes.”

“It is the remnant of a timber wolf spirit. It has latched on to the primal part of your own self and taken root. When you traded reason for rage, you gave it power and it broke free of your control. If you are to regain control, you must cage the beast once more for if you do not it will return to finish the job, and both you and Equestria will be doomed.”

Aeron shuddered, “I can't, I don't know how.”

“This is your mind Aeron, in here you are the master. You can do anything you desire, much like in a dream. All you need to do is believe in yourself. Anything you imagine in here will become reality.”

For the longest time they sat in silence until he finally spoke up.

“I don't know if I want to go back Zecora. Out there I'm just a... a thing, some weird creature I was never meant to be. Was it destiny? Or some random convergence of magics? Am I even in control of my own fate or am I a puppet dancing on the strings of some storyteller for other people’s amusement? I don't know what I'm meant to do or where I'm supposed to go, and I feel lost and.. alone.”

She wrapped her forelegs around him in a hug saying, “I'm sorry my friend. I know this is a heavy burden for anyone to carry. But you aren't alone. You have me, and in time you will have more friends. And they will help you, trust in that. Believe in that.”

He leaned into her hug and for the first time in weeks he cried. It might just be in his mind but it felt like a relief to finally be able to shed tears again. He cried for what felt like hours, but time had little meaning in the mindscape. Once he finally calmed down Zecora let go of him gently.

“I'm sorry, you must think me a weak fool.” Said Aeron as he wiped his eyes.

“Nonsense, there is no shame or weakness in shedding tears. But come my friend, I hate to push you after such an emotional moment but it's time to face the beast. The longer you wait the stronger it grows. Gather your wits and focus your thoughts.”

With a slow nod Aeron dropped the blanket and got up off the bed. Zecora briefly studied him. While shorter than his plant form he was still taller than her by a good head or so. His mane was very short, and he had a small mustache and beard not unlike those sometimes sported by minotaurs. His eyes were incredibly small compared to those of a pony. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt and she observed how his arms were rather hairy, but nowhere near as hairy as any creature on Equestria she was familiar with. He also wore pants of some rough material she didn’t recognize. His legs were a lot longer than those on a minotaur, and they were oddly straight.

“So this is your true form.”

“Yes, I know it's not much to look at but, this is me. The real me, or how I used to be anyway, before….”

She placed a hoof on his hand and gave him a sympathetic smile. She could not imagine how hard it had been for him, but she could at least be a shoulder to lean on. Then she turned back to the door, pushing aside the cabinet and chair to clear the way.

“Are you ready?”

“Not in the least.”

“Have a little hope my friend, I will be by your side.”

And with that they reached forward and opened the door.

***********

Twilight stumbled drunkenly, bleeding from a nasty head wound. The monster seemed to evolve newer and more diabolical methods of attack the longer the conflict lasted. First it had started shooting exploding seed pods that were covered with barbed thorns. There were still thorns stuck in her barrel from the one that had gotten her, making breathing too deeply a painful experience. She wasn’t the only one injured. Some of the flowers had stopped shooting acid, but instead had begun to puff out thick clouds of spores. The spores caused a burning itching rash upon contact. Lyra had taken a full blast of the spores and had to be carried away after breathing them in. The poor mare couldn’t stop retching and was barely able to draw breath. Twilight had called for a full retreat after that happened. Unwilling to find out what horror the thing would unleash next.

The evacuation of Ponyville was in full swing. Already the train had left, stuffed to the brim with ponies. Every available Pegasus had been rounded up to help fly cart-fulls of ponies to safety. Many of the ponies that had been trying to hold off the vines had suffered cuts from thorn grenades or minor acid burns. Those with severe injuries were given priority and carried directly to canterlot for treatment. By now the vines had reached the town proper, and several buildings on the outskirts were in the process of being demolished. Thick vines crushing the support beams and walls until they collapsed in on themselves. A few buildings had caught fire as a result of acid hitting the thatch roof. Rainbow dash had immediately sent a few pegasi off to grab whatever rainclouds they could in an effort to keep the flames from spreading.

Twilight tried to fire another telekinetic blast but found she could no longer cast spells. She felt completely drained, her head was spinning and she lost her footing. But before she could fall Applejack appeared at her side, letting her lean into her.

“Ah got you sugarcube just take it easy, you've done enough for one day.”

She leaned into her friend and allowed her to guide her to one of the last waiting chariots. Rainbow Dash herself had strapped herself to the front, ready to carry them off.

“Is that everypony?” she asked AJ

“Everypony is either on the train or in the air Twi, we're the last few.”

“I can’t believe this is how it ends. After we saved Equestria from nightmare moon now Ponyville will be destroyed by this, this… monster.” She blinked back a few angry tears.

“Something is happening.” said Dash, pointing at the deadly flora.

A shudder went through the mass of monstrous vegetation. The vines shook and quivered and the thing let out a howl as if something had just kicked it in the gonads.

“What's it doing now?”

“I have no idea.” Twilight said.

***********

When they stepped through the door Zecora and Aeron found themselves in the middle of a dark forest. It was hot and humid and foreboding.

“Why the heck does the inside of my head look like Endor?”

“I have no idea what Endor is, but this wood is likely made by the beast to feel more at home.”

“Well I don't like it, not one bit”

for the longest time they carefully made their way through the woodlands trying to find the beast. Until it found them. It started with a furious growl that set their teeth on edge. Then the beast emerged from the gloom. A monstrous wolf of shadow and bone and ghostly organs. It absolutely reeked of corruption and death. Its eyes twin pits of hellish green madness.

Aeron felt fear and despair grip his heart, Every instinct told him to bolt. To hide and cower somewhere. Zecora felt it too, but she knew how to fight back against the beasts abominable aura. She stood tall and stared it in the eye.

“Back to your cage, beast of night. In us you shall instill no fright.”

It snarled and bared its teeth at her. Next to her Aeron flinched.

“Stand tall Aeron, I cannot fight it for you. Only you can break this beast and cage it once again. The time is now. This is your mind, your domain. You are it's one true master. Believe it!”

Aeron swallowed and looked the beast in the eye, and saw what it intended to do. He saw how the beast was consuming Ponyville. It would destroy the town and grow larger, until it reached Canterlot. It would devour Aeron's mind little by little and use his knowledge and imagination to grow and evolve new and ever more effective ways to hunt and destroy. It would overrun the city and eat every pony too slow to flee. It would eat Celestia and absorb her power much like it had the dragon's. And it would seek out every pony from Aeron's memory and devour them agonizingly slowly, savoring their torment. Unbidden, the faces of three terror stricken fillies came to mind. No, not them. Not that!

With a savage cry Aeron leaped forward, punching the beast in the snout with all the power he could muster. He wanted nothing more than to stop this terrible monster. To beat it back into submission and put an end to its vile desires. And in the mindscape his desire and thoughts became reality. With a strangled howl the beast flew back as if struck by a freight train, smashing through trees and bushes and finally crashing into a large boulder.

“You will not have them! Never again! I won't allow it!”

The beast sprang to its feet, necroplasm leaking from its shattered maw. It roared a challenge and charged. It pounced on Aeron and clawed at him whilst trying to tear his throat out. They struggled on the floor, rolling and bucking. Aeron cried out in pain as the beast tore at him, but the pain was dull compared to the pain he felt in his heart at the thought of the Cutie Mark Crusaders being digested alive by this abomination. He threw the beast off him and rolled back to his feet. It came at him with thorny vines, sprays of acid and bony blade like teeth.

He needed protection, some way to defend against the monsters supernatural attacks. An image came to him and Aeron threw up his arms, a shimmering barrier that blocked the beast's attacks forming in front of him.

“How did I just do that?” He said as he stared at his hands.

“Because you willed and imagined it my friend. Like I told you, you are the one with real power in here.” Zecora shouted to him.

The beast came at him again. Vines lashing out like whips, and necrotic looking flowers belching acid. Aeron jumped and dodged back, trying to summon the shimmering barrier again. It took him some effort but he finally made it work, and he used the cover it provided to take a much needed breather. This might just be in his own mind, but it still felt very real and taxing.

“It’s using my own attacks against me.” he said between gasps for air.

“Because it knows nothing else. It is but a parasite, feeding on your imagination. It has none of its own.” Zecora shouted.

“If… if that is so then… then it only has power because It stole it from me? whatever it's doing to the outside world, it's using my imagination to commit its horrors.”

“Yes my friend, but now you are beginning to see. The beast only has as much power as you grant it. It is but a passenger inside a spare portion of your mind.” Zecora said

“Then can't I banish it from here forever?”

She shook her head, “No, it is part of you now, as much as any memory or instinct. It will always be there, but now that you know where it is you are it's master and jailer.”

The beast did not appreciate her words. It lunged at Zecora with a burst of vines, intent on strangling her before tearing her limb from limb. But Aeron got there first. Protecting her with the same shimmering barrier of light. Howling in fury the beast lashed out with blinding speed in an all or nothing attack. But somehow Areon managed to strike first. Kicking the beast away from her and into the ground.

“I’m starting to understand now. Thank you Zecora.”

He turned to the beast as it reared up to its full height. Its aura of dread and despair flaring up. It grew to the size of a bus. Long fangs growing from its maw like a sabre toothed tiger. Even longer spikes erupted from its back along its spine, and it growled deeply. thousands of black wasps swarmed around it like a cloak of darkness.

“I know now what you are doing beast.” Aeron said.

“You steal my ideas from my imagination and my memories. And you seem to know my fears as well. But thanks to Zecora my eyes are now open.”

The swarm of insects came at him, and for a moment Aeron faltered, but he regained his composure and stood tall once more. He now had its measure. Once he overcame his fears the fight was practically over. He shrugged of the insects with a small burst of energy.

“You have no real power in here, all your attacks are stolen from my memories. You lash out at me with my own fears and phobias. But I will not let you win. It is time for you to go back to your cage.”

The spirit roared at him. Its eyes full of madness.

“Well if you want new attacks so badly, let me share one of my favorites with you.” Aeron said with a mad glint in his eyes.

The beast took a hesitant step back, baring its bone like fangs.

“You may wanna brace yourself Zecora.” Aeron grinned wickedly.

His zebra friend looked at him with slight apprehension. “What are you doing?”

He just smiled and began to chant, “Darkness beyond twilight, crimson beyond blood that flows. Buried in the stream of time is where your power grows. I pledge myself to conquer all the foes who stand before the mighty gift bestowed in my unworthy hand. Let the fools who stand before me be destroyed, by the power you and I possess… DRAGON SLAVE!”

What followed those words was a beam of crimson light and an explosion unlike any the poor zebra had ever seen nor ever wished to see again. The whole forest shook as if caught in a massive earthquake and the poor mare was thrown to the ground as the ridiculously large magical blast wave and storm of dust knocked her over. When things finally settled down the beast lay on the ground in a broken heap in the middle of a large crater.

“That was a little spell courtesy of miss Lina Inverse, I hope you liked it monster.”

The beast only had the strength left to let out a gurgle. Slowly Its mass dissolved and it lost its monstrous appearance, until all that remained was a scrawny looking wolf pup of midnight black. It lay on the floor unable to move, staring at them with angry yellow eyes. It opened its mouth to growl but all that escaped was a little yip. With one last look of disdain Aeron banished it to an iron cage. And once the cage door slammed closed the jungle too began to dissolve. Replaced with a city street.

“You have done it my friend, the beast's reign is at an end. I don’t know who this Lina Inverse is, but please don’t ever do that again. I feel as if you took ten years off my life.”

Aeron grinned sheepishly. “Sorry about that Zecora.”

She gave him a wry smile. “At least it is over.”

“Because of you Zecora. If you had not come for me I would still be cowering for my life inside that room. But you showed me the truth and a way out. Thank you. I owe you more than I can say.”

“Think nothing of it my friend, but now you must wake and take control once more before..”

Zecora was interrupted when the city shook and trembled violently. The landscape began to shatter as if made of glass and the sky turned black as night.”

“What is happening? Zecora what's going on?”

Before she could answer Zecora found herself forcibly ejected from his mind.

**********

In the outside world, the mane six and the remaining evacuees watched in horrid fascination as the massive swarm of vines and roots began to wither and die. Tendrils of corrupt magic burst and ruptured through the flowers and vines and bled off into nothingness. The vegetation disintegrated into dust, unable to hold onto the dark corrupt magic it had drained from the very soil of the Everfree forest any longer. And without the power of that evil magic it was no longer able to sustain its enormously increased body mass. When the last of the writhing mass finally disintegrated it left behind two things.

A pile of animal bones. A horrid testament to its hunger. And on top of it all lay a prickly seed that pulsed with a gentle light, like the beating of a heart.

Chapter 10: Prison of glass.

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Chapter 10
Prison of glass.

I must have been unconscious for quite some time. I’m not entirely sure what happened, my memory of events leading up to this moment is extremely vague. But the next time I woke up I felt weightless. When my vision came back to me it was slightly distorted, because I was floating inside a slightly pinkish fluid of some kind inside a thick glass tube. I had no body, my core was open and exposed and I felt naked and vulnerable. I guess this is how a goldfish in a bowl feels. I tried to regrow a body but my magic would not respond. Imagine if your arms and legs were being pinned down by something big and heavy with just enough leeway to wiggle your fingers and toes. Thats pretty much how I felt at the moment. I was still too tired to put any real effort into it and so I floated in silence for some time before I suddenly heard voices.

I was surprised I could hear anything at all because I certainly couldn't see much at first. It felt as if someone had put blinds over my eyes and I was struggling to lift them. It took an incredible amount of effort to force my magical vision to cooperate with me, but finally I was able to see a little of my surroundings. I noticed I was inside some sort of alchemist's laboratory. There were books, of course, strange devices that blinked and beeped and spat a continuous stream of paper. One even had a Jacob's ladder mounted on top. The constantly rising arc of electricity was almost hypnotic to watch. Countless beakers and test tubes filled with colorful liquids adorned a set of tables on the far side of the room. Unknown and equally brightly colored solutions were bubbling over several Bunsen burners.

One side of the room housed a blackboard with some mathematical equation that went way over my head. Math was never my strong suit. My teachers had tried everything they could think of to explain it to me but they might as well have been speaking Japanese. I've always been more interested in biology and such. And no I'm not talking about the sexy kind. Get your mind out the gutter.

The voices came closer. I was somewhat surprised I could hear them clearly despite the fluid surrounding me. Anyone who has ever gone swimming knows how weird sounds are while you’re underwater, then again I don't exactly have ears anymore. I heard a door open and saw several ponies descend a flight of stairs, then it dawned on me where exactly I was at the moment. This must be Twilight's basement. Wait is it safe to leave those Bunsen burners running? I mean we are under a tree for Pete's sake. My train of thoughts was thoroughly derailed at what was said next.

“Why don't you just destroy it and be done with it Twi. If that thing is really at the heart of what happened then it's way too dangerous to keep around.” Said Rainbow Dash as they arrived in the lab.

All of the mane six were present. I noticed Twilight was sporting a bandage around her head and several plasters along her barrel. I mentally flinched. If this was the beasts doing I can't imagine they liked me very much right now. They don't know what happened so they must think I'm responsible. I guess in a way, I am. After all I was the one who set the beast free, intentional or not.

“It's perfectly safe for now Dash. The princess sent me the fluid it's floating in directly from the arch magos labs in Canterlot. It's what's known as a 'Null Solution', it's designed to safely contain dangerous magical artifacts. It renders the magic of whatever is stored inside it completely or close to inert.”

“So in simple words it shuts it off so long as it's inside there.”

Twilight rolled her eyes, “That's what I said.”

So that's why I was feeling so sluggish. This liquid was keeping my magic from functioning properly. No wonder I had trouble seeing the far side of the room clearly. All of my senses operate through magic. Without it I may as well be a blind deaf quadriplegic.

“Well I agree with Dash,“ Applejack said, “It might be safer to just be rid of the thing. Keepin' it around is askin' fer trouble.”

“Well the decision is not up to me, princess Celestia wants to see it for herself, but right now she is occupied organizing the relief force to help with the damages and the injured. Ponyville General can't handle it on their own. We have over three dozen wounded, ranging from lacerations to acid burns and whatever the hell those spore clouds did. Poor Lyra is still in critical condition.”

I mentally blanched at that revelation. I desperately wanted to make it right or at least apologize to them, but I couldn't move, I couldn't speak. I could barely feel my magic at all. And there was no sunlight here to revitalize me. Already I could feel myself slipping back to sleep. If only I could explain what happened.

“So how long 'til the princess gets here to deal with... that.” Applejack said whilst pointing a hoof at me.

“A few days at most I think.” Twilight answered. “I will be running some preliminary tests on it in the meantime. How are the repair efforts faring?”

“Well we stopped the fire before it could spread to far, but a lot of buildings are a complete write-off. Them vines demolished seven homes and two small businesses more thoroughly than an angry buffalo stampede. At least five more lost their roof to the fires. The roofs will be a cinch to fix, but rebuilding them other buildings will take a few weeks at least.”

At this point I noticed Fluttershy glaring at me. The look in her eyes was something I never expected from the gentle yellow Pegasus. She was staring at me with a mixture of unadulterated hatred and disgust. I couldn't take it. To receive that sort of look from her of all ponies. I felt an empty ache deep in my core, like someone jabbing a proverbial knife into your heart.

The rest of the conversation was lost on me as I slowly sank back into unconsciousness, not wanting to see those hard cyan eyes silently judging me any longer.



I awoke with a jolt, feeling suddenly revitalized. Mentally shaking away the last cobwebs of sleep I noticed twilight was alone. She was maintaining some sort of spell. A tiny globe of light hovering over my prison, at least that's how the tube I was in felt to me.

“Subject seems to respond well to photonic particles and ultraviolet wavelengths. After mild exposure to my ‘natural light’ spell the luminescent pulses exhibited by the subject have become more frequent.” Twilight dictated while taking notes.

She was going over several textbooks, scribbling something onto a notepad before she picked up a roll of parchment and began to write, dictating as she did so.

“Preliminary report continuation, subject evil seed.”

Evilseed? Really! I felt an overwhelming urge to facepalm. Seriously I'm nothing like that guy. Of course that's not what she meant, but it was the first thing to pop into my head, so to speak.

“In its base form the subject seems to resemble little more than a seed, its appearance closely matching that of Aesculus hippocastanum commonly known as the Horse Chestnut or Conker Tree. The subject however has above average size and mass compared to normal chestnut burs, weighing in at double its size and weight. Furthermore subject seems to emit constant low level pulses of magic. Standard Thaumatological testing has classed its base type as feral magic. Unlike the magic practiced by Unicorn Magi and Zebra Shaman, feral magic does not require the user to craft a spell matrix to shape the raw magical energy into a desired ability or effect. It works more by tapping directly into either the user's imagination or their base instinct in order to shape the spell. This sometimes leads to unexpected and dangerous effects and should only be attempted by highly trained spell casters under supervision in case of magical backlash. This form of magic is most commonly observed among non sapient and highly magical monsters and creatures. For additional information on feral magic see Clover the Clever's A study of Magics from Equestria and beyond, Volume Two.”

I only understood about half of that explanation, all it told me was that my magic was potentially very dangerous. Yeah, like I hadn't realized that already. At this point she ran out of ink and had to pause her scribbling to levitate a fresh inkwell onto her desk. More books levitated over and she quickly leafed through several of them before resuming her dictation work.

“The subject has so far displayed the following magical abilities. First and foremost the subject has displayed extremely high level Florakinesis, alternately known as Chlorokinesis or plant manipulation in layponies terms. The subject was able to manipulate and create specialized attack organisms, generate improved abilities of existing flora as well as creating completely new ones seemingly from scratch. The amount of magic required for this and on such a large scale is staggering.”

I'll admit it was sort of relaxing and informative to watch her work. Though so far I hadn't learned anything I didn't already know. The hours ticked by slowly while I watched Twilight search through books, write her report and give the occasional glance in my direction. At one point she even performed some kind of magical test on me. I don't know what spell she cast but I felt a strange tingling sensation go through me. I'm surprised the null solution didn't block the spell. Then again maybe it only worked to keep things in and not out? Whatever the spell told her she must have disapproved of its findings because she scowled at me before going back to her writing. If only I could communicate with her.

I tried once again to summon my magic in order to grow a single vine to lift me out of this tube. I strained and strained and my core grew a single blade of grass that promptly wilted as the null fluid cut off the magic sustaining it. I just didn’t have the juice to keep it up and overpower the effect of the potion. I was well and truly trapped and at the mercy of my captors. Who likely didn't even realize there was a sentient sapient being in here.

The effort to grow that blade of grass must have sapped what little power Twilight's light spell gave me because I lost consciousness again shortly after.



I next awoke to excruciating pain. How to describe it? Have you ever gone to a dentist and had a cavity drilled without any kind of anesthetic? Now imagine that pain shooting through your entire being. It was blinding, as in I literally couldn't see because the pain kept me from focusing my magic enough to grant me vision. Finally the pain dulled to a throbbing ache and I could focus enough to see. The source of the pain became clear soon enough. Twilight had taken some kind of device that looked vaguely like an apple corer and long tweezers and cut into me to extract a sample. She was currently taking it over to an old fashioned microscope where she spent the next half hour peering through its lenses. Occasionally looking up to write more notes. She was interrupted in her work when there came a knock on the basement door.

“Hey Twi,” Applejack said as she stuck her head inside, “we need some help. Somepony got attacked by a Manticore in the Whitetail woods, apparently them critters that got run out of the Everfree have made it their new home.”

Sunlight, precious sunlight! It was leaking in through the open basement door, just close enough for me to pick up some juice.

“I'll be right there AJ.” Twilight replied as she put the sample she took from me in a test tube. She then vanished up the stairs and the door slammed shut, cutting off the sunlight.

Once again I was alone in the dimly lit basement with not but my thoughts. What little of the sunlight I had absorbed wouldn't last long so I set to work undoing the damage inflicted upon my core. It took everything I had left in me to summon enough power to seal the hole, but I managed it, leaving me once again feeling drained. I mentally sighed. Once again I had no choice but to float here and wait.

Twilight did not return that day, in fact it was several days before she showed up again, and she wasn't alone this time. I had spent most of the time alone in a near sleep state. Never completely out but never really awake either. Partially from lack of magical reserves, partially from boredom. It gets incredibly lonely and boring when you are stuck in a glass jar with only your own guilty thoughts and worries to keep you company.

In any case I was jolted back into full wakefulness when I heard Twilight's voice coming down the steps.

“It's down here princess.”

When I laid eyes on Celestia for the first time all that went through my mind was how much power she possessed. It wasn't as overwhelming as the magic coming off the tree of harmony. However, where the tree of harmony had been like a bright and steady light, warm as the sun but steady as a modern light-bulb, Celestia's magical aura was more akin to watching a solar storm through a special filter. Like a roiling sea of fire and light, with flares shooting off to lick at their surroundings. It's raging appearance seemed completely at odds with her calm and gentle personality. I could feel the energy radiating off of her even through the null fluid. Her very presence was revitalizing me more than the sun ever could, to the point where I could feel my core brimming with stored power. Yet the null fluid kept it all locked inside with nowhere to go. I was afraid I would simply burst at some point, but that fortunately never happened.

“Incredible how something so small and harmless looking could be such a threat to my little ponies.” said Celestia as she studied me with a critical eye.

“I will take it back to Canterlot for a more in depth study at the arch magos laboratory.”

“I would like to be there princess.” Twilight said. “I would like the opportunity to study it further.”

Celestia smiled at her.

“I thought you might. And your assistance would be most helpful. I will go ahead and take it to Canterlot. I will see you when you've wrapped things up here my faithful student.”

And that's how I found myself secured in a crate and on a Pegasus drawn chariot speeding off to Canterlot.

Chapter 11: PhD in Clueless.

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Chapter 11
PhD in Clueless.

It was mid-morning in Ponyville as three small figures made their way out of town past the checkpoints set up by the royal guard. The guard were out in force in and around Ponyville, keeping an eye out for roaming monsters. With so many predators and critters driven out of the Everfree, the immediate area around Ponyville was potentially unsafe to travel through. Guards patrolled the roads leading in an out of town, and kept a close eye on the borders of the Whitetail Woods, where the majority of the animals had relocated. Still, the patrols couldn't be everywhere at once, giving the Cutie Mark Crusaders the perfect opportunity to successfully sneak out of town and into the Everfree.

“Why the heck are we going in here?” Scootaloo asked as they entered the Everfree outskirts.

“To look for our friend and see if he's okay,” Apple Bloom replied.

“First, he's your friend, not ours, and second, how do you know that he wasn’t the monster that nearly destroyed the whole town?”

“No way, he wouldn't save us just to come back and try to eat all of Ponyville. That don't make a lick of sense.”

“You realize he simply could have been lying all along right?”

“Hogwash and horse apples,” Apple Bloom said vehemently. “Ah refuse to believe that until I see proof of the contrary.”

“You're as stubborn as a mule, Apple Bloom. Don't come crying to us if it turns out we were right.”

Before the two fillies could argue further Sweetie Belle chimed in, “You still haven't explained where we're going exactly. We're not gonna wander around the forest at random right?”

“Course not, we're gonna find Zecora's place,” Apple Bloom replied.

“Why her?” Scoots asked.

“Because she knows him, an' maybe they were hiding out from the monster together.”

“I guess that makes sense. But isn't it dangerous to go in here? Last time we set a hoof in here we almost got eaten,” said Sweetie.

“I heard Rainbow Dash say that most of the dangerous creatures that lived in here have made their home in the Whitetail woods and the surrounding countryside now. Its why all the guards are hanging around town. So it should be okay,” Scootaloo answered before Apple Bloom could.

“I hope so, Rarity would be awful cross with me if I got eaten.”

“Ah think that would be the last thing you need to worry about if you got eaten, Sweetie Belle,” said Apple Bloom

“Oh, yeah,” she said with a sheepish blush.

`I still don't understand why we're out here risking our hides for two creepy strangers,” said Scootaloo.

“They ain't creepy, just different. Why is everypony so skittish when meeting new creatures anyway? There's plenty of other species out there, like the griffins. You don't see ponies freaking out about them,” Apple Bloom huffed.

“Okay, I'll give you that one. But they are still a bunch of strangers. That we know almost nothing about.

“My dad always says, 'A stranger is a friend you just haven't met yet',” Sweetie Belle offered.

They walked for some time, or in Scootaloo's case rolled along, sticking mainly to the small winding dirt road that snaked its way through the woods.

“Is it me, or does the place feel less creepy than it used to?” Apple Bloom asked.

“Looks the same to me,” said Scootaloo

“Ahm not talkin' about how it looks. Ahm talkin' about how it feels. It don't make my skin crawl as much as it normally does.”

The other two fillies stood still for a moment as they focused their senses on the forest.

“I honestly can't feel the difference,” Sweetie Belle said.

“Me neither,” said Scootaloo, “Are you sure you aren't imagining things?”

“Maybe it's because she's an earth pony?”

“What difference does that make?”

Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “Did you pay any attention in class when Miss Cheerilee talked about the different pony species? Earth ponies are more closely connected to nature, so maybe Apple Bloom is able to sense something we can't.”

They walked on in silence as they contemplated that. Before long they happened upon Zecora's home.

“Is this the place?” Sweetie whispered.

“Looks creepy to me,” Scootaloo said as she scowled at the tree home with its colorful mask decorations.

“Will you two stop bein' a bunch of scaredy ponies? Let's go an’ say hello.”

Putting deed to words she stepped up to the door and knocked.

“Hello? Miss Zecora? Are you home?”

“Maybe she went for a walk?” Scoots offered when no reply came.

“Let’s look in the window.”

“Or how about we head on home?” Sweetie said timidly.

Ignoring Sweetie Belle's remark, Apple Bloom stood on her hind legs and pulled herself up with her front hooves to look through the window. She gasped at what she saw.

“It's Zecora, an' she looks hurt,” she thumped her hoof on the window but the Zebra gave no response.

“I think she's unconscious.”

“You sure she's not just sleeping?” Sweetie Belle asked.

Apple Bloom gave her a glare, “On the floor?”

“Then let's get in there and help her,” Scootaloo said as she started pushing against the door.

“It's no good, the door is barricaded. Scootaloo, you should go get help.”

“Why me?”

“Duh, because you're the fastest, you dodo.” Sweetie Belle said as she pointed at her scooter.

“Oh, right!”

With no time to lose, Scootaloo hopped on her scooter and sped off back to Ponyville, her little wings buzzing like the engine on a dirtbike. She wore a look of single minded concentration as she zigzagged between the trees, jumped over logs or ducked under low hanging branches like a stunt professional. She might not be able to fly yet, but she was as nimble and agile as any pegasus could ever hope to be.

It took the speedy filly no time at all to make her way out of the Everfree, bursting through the underbrush with a whooping jump. She hung in the air for several seconds before gravity reasserted its grip and brought her back to the ground. She briefly reveled in the sensation of the wind beneath her wings, but she could not dwell on that; Zecora and the girls were depending on her.

As she sped down the road leading up to Ponyville, she ran into two guards on patrol, a
unicorn and a pegasus. She brought her scooter to a screeching halt, kicking up loose dirt and pebbles as she slid to a stop in front of them. The unicorn looked a bit startled while the Pegasus gave her an appraising glance.

“What's the rush there, little filly?” the pegasus asked.

“I need help, somepony's hurt. Come on!” she said without preamble.

“Slow down there kid,” said the unicorn, “Who got hurt and where?”

“It's Miss Zecora, she's the one who's hurt. She's at her home in the Everfree.”

“Zecora? Ain't she that Zebra enchantress we been hearing rumors about in town? Ponies keep whispering the wildest things about her,” said the pegasus.

“Yes that's her, I don't know what happened but she's apparently unconscious back at her home.”

“And what the hay were you doing in the Everfree forest,” said the Pegasus.

“Look, I can explain all that later but she needs help now!”

The pegasus looked like he wanted to argue but the unicorn held up a hoof to stall him.

“Stow it, Cloud Jumper. Lead us to her, kid.” he said to her with a look that was all business.


Before long the trio arrived at Zecora's hut. The two guards took one look through the window before jumping into action. With a telekinetic flick of his horn, the unicorn guard cleared the items barricading the door.

“At least we know who was responsible for unleashing the monster.” Cloud Jumper said once they stepped inside, “Look at all this. I don't know what sort of sorcery she's got going, but I betcha she conjured up that monster and it turned on her.”

Before any of the CMC could protest the unicorn guard slapped him across the back of the head. His helmet ringing like a gong.

“OW! What the hay Star Horn?”

“Are you bucking daft? Do you know anything about Zebra magic?”

“Well... no, but...”

“But nothing you blathering foal. I've been to Zebrica as part of Celestia's personal escort twice now. I've learned a thing or two about Zebra culture and magic during our stay, enough to recognize a spiritual protection circle when I see one. Whatever she was doing here it wasn't anything malicious. Now stand back and let me work.”

Star Horn knelt down next to Zecora and began to cast a standard diagnostic spell.

“No visual wounds of any kind, but that doesn't tell us much. She's dehydrated, probably hasn't drank anything for a few days at least. Breathing is shallow. Stand back, I'm going to perform some first aid treatments.”

He began to cast several first aid spells.

“That's odd, she's not responding to treatment. There is something going on inside, I'm sure of it.”

He cast a more complex diagnostic spell. The girls watched silently as he worked.

“It's just as I thought, she's suffering from internal injuries. It's a small miracle she's still alive.”

He cast another series of spells, his scowl deepening with what they revealed, “Dear Celestia, she's suffered psychosomatic wounds. I've stabilized her for the moment but she needs to be taken to the nearest spell injury ward on the double.”

“Psychoso-what now?” Asked Sweetie Belle.

“Psychosomatic. It's when the mind believes something so strongly the body responds in kind,” Star Horn answered without pause as he continued to treat Zecora as best he could.

At the fillies confused looks he elaborated.

“Let me give you an example. If I were to cut you with an illusionary sword, but you don't know the sword is not real, and with enough power behind the spell you would spontaneously start to bleed. All because your own mind believes it so strongly that your own body makes it real.”

The fillies nodded in understanding.

“Of course there are many things besides illusions that can cause such wounds. Magical backlash for example can also create such injuries. There have even been recorded cases where ponies have literally died of fear. But enough talk, we need to get her to the hospital on the double.”

He then turned to Cloud Jumper.

“Take these three back to town, I'm going to teleport the Zebra directly to the hospital.”

Cloud Jumper threw him a salute. Star Horn closed his eyes, focused all his power into a teleportation spell, and in a flash of crimson light and ruby colored sparkles he and Zecora vanished.

************


The flight to Canterlot had been rather brief. I was glad to be inside the crate for the duration, though; I never did like heights. I felt the chariot touch down and then the crate being carried or possibly levitated away. When they finally opened up the lid I found myself in a room that looked like a mix of a wizard's tower, or what I imagined a wizards tower to look like anyway, and a modern day laboratory. Its weird how the pony world seems to just mix and match technology levels at random. Or outright replaces some with magical equivalents. A discussion for another day I suppose.

At least this place had proper windows. They were high up but the suns precious rays could reach me at least. There was a virtual swarm of ponies milling about the room. Some wearing lab coats while others were dressed in wizards cloaks similar to the one Trixie wears, just a lot less gaudy.

For the next couple of hours I was poked and prodded and zapped with every diagnostic spell in the book. No, really, they carried in a big book and went through the entire thing spell by spell. At least nopony tried to take a chunk out of me again, and none of their spells were painful. Though there was the one spell that made me feel like I was itching all over. Fortunately the feeling went away as soon as the spell stopped.

“Is that everything?” one pony in a lab coat asked a wizard pony.

“We haven't tried the Samophlange yet.”

“What the buck is a Samophlange?” some pony in the background muttered.

“It can wait, it's almost three in the afternoon and I still haven't had any lunch.”

At that statement a collective growl of several stomachs went off all across the room and many ponies looked sheepishly at their own bellies.

“Alright everypony, let's break for a bite to eat before somepony thinks it's a good idea again to eat what’s in the petri dishes,” a pony in a lab coat and thick glasses said.

“Hey, that only happened once!”

Oh sweet merciful Luna my fate is in the hooves of idiots.

**************


Nurse Redheart was sitting behind the reception desk at the Accident & Emergency department of Ponyville General Hospital. The day had been slow so far and she took the time to fill out some of the paperwork that had backed up. She had just picked up the next dossier when she was startled out of her seat by a bright flash and the trademark popping noise of a teleportation spell. A unicorn stallion in guard armor stood over the unconscious form of a Zebra mare. Responding purely on training and instinct, Redheart hit the emergency button on her desk before she dashed on over.

“What's happened?” she asked the guard in a clipped tone.

Star Horn’s reply was equally crisp, “Psychosomatic trauma, cause unknown. Internal injuries only as far as I've been able to determine. She's not responding to standard first aid. I've managed to stabilize her enough for transport. No idea about her mental state, she’s been unconscious, presumably for several days, causing dehydration.”

Redheart clicked her tongue disapprovingly as she felt Zecora's pulse. A moment later several more ponies entered the room. Two additional nurses and a unicorn pony in a doctor's coat wearing a stethoscope. She quickly filled him in on the patient's condition.

“Alright everypony, let's start an IV line to get some fluid into her, then we'll take her down to the spell ward for a full examination and determine the best treatment.”





It was about half an hour later that Cloud Jumper arrived with the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Star had been speaking with the doctors when they arrived and they caught the last bit of the conversation.

“We have done our best to treat the injuries, but she remains in a comatose state. We can only hope she will wake up on her own soon.”

“Ain’t there anything you can do doctor?” Star horn asked the older stallion.


“At this point, no. If we try to wake her up by force we could end up doing more harm to her. She has been exposed to a very strong dark magic, adding more magic into the mix will only be detrimental. The best thing to do is let her rest and recover and hopefully she will come out of it within the next few days. Frankly we were lucky you found her when you did.”

“Don’t thank me, thank these three little fillies. If it wasn’t for them checking up on a friend we would never have known she was out there. Didn’t anypony think to check on her after the monster attack?”

“Well, no. Pretty much everypony in town tends to avoid her.” said Sweetie Belle.

Before Star Horn could ask her about it the door swung open to allow entrance to an irate Applejack.

“Apple Bloom, have you lost your gall darned mind! First I hear you an’ your friends are bein’ escorted by the guard, then I hear you’ve been in the Everfree forest, an’ now I hear you three have been goin’ to Zecora’s place! How many times have ah told y'all not to get involved with her and her creepy mumbo jumbo, or to keep your rumps out of the Everfree forest?”

“But Applejack,” Apple Bloom began but one look from her big sister made her falter.

“But nothin' Apple Bloom. Ah told y'all more times than ah can remember not to associate with her type. You girls are all in a heap o’ trouble an' then some,” Applejack said whilst glaring daggers at the CMC.

“Are you for real?” Star Horn said acidly, “These girls just saved her life. Had they been so much as an hour later we’d likely be having a funeral right about now.”

“Well be that as it may ah still don't want them near that nasty Zebra and her creepy hocus pocus.”

Star Horn’s scowl deepened. “Is everypony in this town a speciesist hick or is it just you?”

“Excuse me?” Applejack said dangerously.

“You heard me, I’m asking you what your bucking malfunction is. Has that zebra ever troubled you?”

“Well... no, but-” Applejack began but Star Horn cut her off.

“Has she ever threatened you or anypony you know?”

“No but-”

“Has she ever done anything illegal?”

“Not to my knowledge but that-”

“So here we have a mare who has done absolutely nothing wrong and you and the rest of the town treat her like she’s the next coming of Nightmare Moon, and for what reason? Because she looks different? Because she comes from a culture you know nothing about? Because she has, as you so eloquently put it, ‘hocus pocus’? You ponies should be bucking ashamed of yourselves!”

That took the wind right out of Applejacks sails. She looked away, not wanting to meet Star Horn's angry eyes.

“Ease up on the mare mate, before you get in trouble with the sarge,” Cloud Jumper stage whispered in Star’s ear.

“Getting in trouble for what trooper?” A new voice said from behind them, making everyone in the room jump in surprise at the stealthy appearance of the newcomer.

The newcomer turned out to be an earth pony mare, even taller than Applejack with a flaming orange coat and fiery red mane. Her stern eyes, which were a bright grassy green, were glaring out from under the brim of a campaign hat she wore in lieu of the traditional guard helmet. Her cutie mark was hidden beneath her standard issue guard armor. How in the hay such a big and flamboyantly colored pony had been able to sneak up on them was anyone's guess.

“Sergeant Fire Shot, we didn’t see you there ma’am,” Cloud Jumper said, his voice sounding an octave or two higher than normal.

“Obviously,” she deadpanned with an expression of extreme boredom, yet her eyes contained hints of mirth, “Now would one of you care to explain what the hay is going on, because all I got to work with so far is a bunch of rumors and hearsay, and you know how much I like those.”

“I will give you my report of the situation as I understand it ma’am,” Star horn said.

He spent the next few minutes explaining how the girls had found Zecora after sneaking out of town past their patrols. How Scootaloo had come across them and requested aid. How he had taken Zecora to the hospital, how nopony had bothered to check on the zebra before now because she was treated as a social pariah for apparently no reason, and how he got into an argument with Applejack because of her reaction. Fire Shot took it all in with a stoic expression.

“I see, looks like I have a few perimeter guards to give a dressing down later,” she said in a tone that made the two guards shudder in sympathy for their fellows. “Well then, trooper, how do you suggest we deal with this situation?”

“I would nip this in the bud before it escalates to pitchforks and torches level ma’am. With how fast rumor tends to travel it won’t be long before everypony knows miss Zecora is in the hospital.”

“I agree, let's go have a talk with the mayor about this.” She then turned her attention to Applejack, “You come with us as well, miss. It’s time this town got a much needed reality check.”

“What about mah sister an’ her friends?” Applejack began to protest. “Are they in trouble with the guard?”

“Well, normally they would be for sneaking past the patrols, but considering their actions saved somepony’s life we can just pretend that never happened. Now they can tag along, or they can stay here and visit their injured friend, if the doctor permits it.”

Applejack wanted to protest the idea of her sister being around Zecora, but one glance at Star Horn made her reconsider as his words rang through her mind again. ”What has she ever done to you?” Perhaps she had been treating her unfairly. She looked over to Apple Bloom.

“Are you comin’ or stayin’ sugarcube?”

“Ahm gonna stay here for a while, if that’s okay?” the little filly responded.

“Ah suppose it is.”

“Are you still mad at me?”

Applejack took a moment to gather her thoughts.

“Only fer puttin’ yerself in possible danger sugarcube. But ah guess ah can’t be mad at ya for savin’ somepony’s life now can ah? Just don’t think yer off the hook fer sneakin’ into the Everfree. We’ll definitely have words about that with Granny an’ Big Macintosh later,” she said before following the trio of guards out of the hospital.




***************

The sun finally set and the lab was slowly emptying out. Ponies wrapped up their experiments and switched off all but the most essential equipment. Pretty soon, the last of the lights went out and the lab descended into darkness with only the first rays of the moon and starlight to see by. After being poked, prodded, and zapped with spells all day and watching these pony scientists mill about like a bunch of school kids. Feeling tired and numb, I soon drifted off into a light sleep. My dreams were restless that night. I kept dreaming of losing control. Of eating ponies and griffins and minotaurs alive. And about a bearded face, laughing cruelly at my anguish from a distant place. I wanted to punch that face in the teeth. I wanted it to shut up and leave me alone. The more it laughed, the angrier I felt.

I was roused from my sleep when I felt something brush against my mind, trying to gain access. It felt unsure, like the fleeting touch of a butterfly. For a moment I thought I had merely imagined it. But when it touched me again my mind stirred into wakefulness in an attempt to resist intrusion. I awoke with a slight start and looked around, but the lab was empty and dark save for the light of the moon. A glance at the wall clock on the far side of the lab showed I had only been asleep for less than an hour. I floated there in the darkness for some time, until the lab door suddenly opened to allow entry to my most favorite pony of all, Princess Luna.

Luna looked around the darkened lab before her eyes suddenly zeroed in on me. As she stepped closer into the moonlight I noticed this was not the Luna I knew. She was not her midnight colored self, nor was she the pale blue haired version most associate with 'Woona' but somewhere in between. Her coat was more of a deep marine color. Her hair was still the pale blue and lacked it's ethereal quality, but it was starting to move on its own already. I guess this is what she looked like while she was part way through her recovery. Her magical aura was something else entirely. She radiated such a calm gentleness, like a still pond that sparkles in the moonlight, surrounded by little wisps of fog. It struck me once again how opposite her aura was from her personality, much like Celestia. Luna seemed much more, if I dare use the term, brash, rash and easier to rile up. Yet her aura was like calm incarnate. She was staring at me with an expression that was both dejected and curious.

“This is the monster that has everypony in an uproar? The sleeper whose cries disturbed the realm of dreams?” she mused aloud.

I could see the glow of my own magical heartbeat reflected in her eyes. Eyes that looked at me with deep hidden sadness.

“We can feel thy presence spirit. And we cannot help but wonder if we are to blame for thy creation. Thy appearance so soon after our return, thy rampage through Ponyville. Yes, we heard about that. If truly we art responsible for it... “ She let out a deep sigh.

“Another blemish to our name. Another mistake that never should have been. Our sister was right, if we are to regain the trust and respect of our subjects we must own up to our mistakes and correct them. We do not know if thou art aware of us or if thou even possesses true consciousness, spirit, for we could not peer inside thy dreams. But we heard of thy intelligence and malicious behavior. We will ensure thou can't ever harm our subjects again, for we will deal with thee ourselves.”

Whoa whoa, hold your horses, princess, you are jumping to the wrong conclusions here. I might know jack about the finer workings of magic, but I'm pretty sure your return had nothing to do with me getting trapped in this damned seed. And me going on a rampage certainly wasn't your fault.

“But we will not banish thee to some wasteland for thee to slowly starve. We are not so cruel. We will grant thee the mercy of a swift end. Mine sister would have her pupil and her scientist subordinates study thee, but if thou art indeed born of mine dark magic then tis best to simply obliterate thee and be done with it, before thou can spread corruption to others. May thee find peace in oblivion.” she said as she slowly began to charge up her horn.

It was now or never. Either I got out of this tube or she would disintegrate me. I called upon all of my stored energy and forced it all into my magic. I had to break out of this tube somehow. Then an idea came to me. Well, more like a gamble born of desperation. I began creating a high pressure seed pod, like those seen on the Cyclanthera explodens - commonly known as the exploding cucumber - filled to the brim with the hardest, sharpest most jagged seeds my imagination could conjure up. It took every bit of energy I had absorbed both from Celestia and from the day's sunlight to keep the null solution from draining and thus destroying the pod. With a final burst of power I overloaded the seed pod, which blew out like an inner tube and blasted its seeds everywhere. The null solution robbed many of them of their momentum, but it could not stop them all. They hit the inside of the tube with a hard thwack and cracks began to spiderweb out from the points of impact. The pressure of the liquid did the rest and the tube shattered. I was free.

I was washed off the lab table in a rush of fluids and broken glass, just as Luna's spell blasted through the spot I previously occupied and burned a furrow into the wall behind it. Yikes! My senses, dulled for so long by the null fluid, roared back into full awareness. It felt as if I had been walking around with extra thick sunglasses and earmuffs for a week, and now they were finally gone. My magic, no longer suppressed, surged forth as vines and roots began to sprout from my core at a fast pace to finally reform a body. Luna did not take my escape attempt well. A second energy blast scorched the floor just to my left. I reached out with a vine and dragged myself under the lab table and out of Luna's line of sight.

“No no no. Thou can't get away, our sister shalt be furious with us if we let thee escape.” she began to mutter, her voice containing a hint of panic.

She tried to levitate the table, but it was bolted to the floor. I reached out with another vine and dragged myself out on the opposite end and behind a series of cabinets. Oh damn oh damn I don't wanna fight her. Shit shit shit, Celestia will drop the fucking sun on me. Think, Aeron, fucking think. Wait a second, why fight when I can finally communicate. The screeching of metal being torn as Luna ripped the table out of the floor spurred me into action. I directed my rapid growth to form some vocal chords to speak with. It turned out to be quite the task after almost a week of being unable to communicate; I had almost forgotten how to make them work. While I struggled with my magic, Luna was doing some redecorating of the room. Tearing out lab tables, cabinets and anything else in order to find me. I finally managed to shape enough vegetation into a proper voice box just as I heard her hoofsteps approach my hiding place, and called out to her.

“Stay thy hoof, Luna, Princess of the night, steward of the moon, guardian of dreams and keeper of the night sky. I am not thy enemy.”

Now before anyone calls me out on talking all fancy-like, I was merely trying to approach her in a manner more familiar to her. Remember, she's been away for a thousand years. If I addressed her like some common mare she would be even less likely to listen to me. The heavy metal table hit the floor with a dull clang as she let out a surprised yelp.

“Thou.... thou speaketh?”

“Did thee expect me to quack instead?”

“Mock us as thy like creature, but it will not dissuade us.”

“I was not mocking thee princess, merely attempting a bit of levity to defuse the tension. Please hear me, I am not thy enemy.”

“Step out where we can see thee.”

“Will you promise not to disintegrate me on sight?”

She mulled it over for a moment. “We will consider it. But no trickery!”

By now I had grown enough plant matter to form into a body. I opted to try something new. Until now I had mostly gone with a humanoid body and only tried a pony once. This time I figured I should try the best of both worlds. I decided to assume the form of a Centaur, because screw it, I like having hands. I kept it small, roughly between four and five feet tall, about the same height as your average pony stallion, using a lot of moss and willow vine to form the outer layers. It would be soft and pliable so as to look unintimidating. I gave it a featureless mask with extra large almond shaped eyes so it would appear more friendly, with thin vines to serve as hair, and slowly stepped out from behind the cabinets. Controlling six limbs at once would have been a daunting task once, but controlling this many vines had given me just enough practise to walk without looking too clumsy. I could see her eyes widen just a fraction as I stepped into view and she kept her horn trained on me at all times.

“What manner of creature art thou?”

“I wish I knew the answer to that myself princess. But I swear I am no threat to you.”

She snorted. “The citizens of Ponyville would claim otherwise.”

“Yeeeeeah,” I said whilst rubbing the back of my head sheepishly, “what happened in Ponyville was the result of a series of unfortunate events. I won’t claim to be blameless, but there were a few things going on that were beyond my control.”

“And thou expect us to believe thee? Thy could be attempting trickery. If thou really art the spawn of our other self...”

“You mean Nightmare Moon?” She flinched slightly, “I do not believe her magic was responsible for my creation.”

“We cannot be sure of that, and since our confrontation with our sisters pupil and her friends our other has been silent, so we cannot ask her.”

Wait what? Nightmare Moon isn't gone?

“You mean the parasite is still with you?”

She blinked at me. “Parasite?”

“Were you not possessed by the creature known as Nightmare Moon?”

Her eyes narrowed slightly. “We were never possessed by some creature, she has always been with us, our other self. For as long as we can remember.”

Could it be? Could she have a true split personality, but one that is fully aware of the other? That would certainly debunk the parasite theory. I was trying to think of a delicate way to broach the subject, but luckily she just kept on talking on her own.

“We... we miss her. It is strange to have not but silence in our head. When things got, difficult, she would give us strength, she would allow us to persevere. We... are unsure what to do without her. For all the wrongs she committed, she was still part of us. She protected us.”

In that moment she looked so small and vulnerable. I would have hugged her but that would probably have been a bad idea right then. I could hear the sound of hoofbeats in the distance, our little ruckus clearly hadn't gone unnoticed, and from the slight rattle that accompanied the hoofbeats it was a safe bet that whoever was coming this way was wearing armor.

“It seems we are about to have company.”

Luna looked up and her ears began to twitch and turn, then she let out a groan, “We were sure we had lost them.”

As I suspected, and feared, ‘them’ turned out to be a contingent of Celestia's royal guard. They came crashing through the lab door, horns lit and halberds raised. The pony in the lead, a large unicorn stallion, was wearing a condescending sneer. Great, bet you ten bucks this guy was some noble fop’s son who earned his position thanks to daddy's money, with an ego big enough to crush a dragon.

“Princess Luna, you were told not to go wandering about without an escort. Your sister left us with specific instructions to be at your side at all times. Now what manner of trouble did you manage to get yourself in?”

Oh good grief I was right, this guy was like Jet Set and Upper Crust turned up to eleven. And that holier than thou tone of voice made me want to smack this guy in the muzzle. He was talking to Luna like she was some inept foal not fit to be about on her own. He then seemed to notice me for the first time.

“What sort of disgusting looking creature are you associating with princess? Why ponies would think you were nothing but an uncouth commoner, hanging around with unsavory types like that.” He said in a tone that made prince blueblood sound downright pleasant and charming.

Seriously, was this guy for real? He not only fails to properly grasp the situation, but he insults both his princess and a potentially dangerous creature in one breath. Here's a prospective candidate for the Darwin awards if ever I saw one. Luna seemed to be at a momentary loss for words. I'm guessing she isn't up to her usual level of confidence yet, or she would never allow a guard to speak to her that way. Hell, she would have given him a scathing reprimand. I suppose she doesn't want to antagonize anypony or disappoint Celestia. Well lucky for me, I don't have that holding me back.

“Excuse me? Insult her Highness again and I will come over there and smack that smug look right off your face, mate,” I said with as much authority and venom as I could muster.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking I’m an idiot for antagonizing a group of armed guards. And yeah you are probably right, but this guy was ruffling all my proverbial feathers (or vine leaves, speaking literally), so I was not feeling very civil. Especially after being stuck in a tube for a few days. As expected they all tensed up and pointed their weapons at me with a little more urgency. The pompous prick glared at me.

“How dare you speak to me that way, beast! You will surrender and we will take you to the dungeons where you belong.”

“Try it and I will fold you like a lawnchair, you douche canoe.”

“ENOUGH!” Luna bellowed using the royal canterlot voice. Damn, that's a lot of volume in an enclosed space.

“Guards, thou will stand down, and creature, if thou take any aggressive actions towards anypony, we will strike thee down!”

Now there's the Luna I know, strong, assertive and in control. Now hopefully, if I play my cards right, we can resolve this mess favorably for everyone.

I bowed to her. “As you wish, Princess Luna.”

“Princess, you can’t just let this, this thing roam free,” the prick protested.

“We have no intention of doing such. We will take the creature to our sister. She will want to know what has transpired and no doubt has questions.”

“Then we shall escort the prisoner.”

“There is no need, we shall take it to her directly,” Luna said as her horn began to glow.

“Uh, wait a second, what are you...” I began before I was momentarily blinded by the flash of a teleportation spell, and then blinded some more by the light of Celestia's magical aura.

I tuned down my magical vision so I could actually see what was going on. We were in the throne room, the few nobles still hanging around after the end of the day court stared at us dumbstruck. Startled guards were hurriedly pointing their weapons at me while Celestia took in our sudden appearance with a stoic mask, yet there was a hint of mirth in her eyes. Most likely she was just grateful for the interruption to the boredom of court routine.

“Luna, what is going on? And who is this?” She asked while looking first to her and then to me.

“Tis a strange tale, mine sister. Let us introduce thee to the monster of the Everfree Forest.”

Celestia's gaze hardened as she looked at me. Any hint of mirth was gone from her eyes and I could see her magical aura flaring just a bit as she rose imperiously from her throne.

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire.

Chapter 12: Talks and Troubles

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Chapter 12
Talks and Troubles.

Celestia glared at me with undisguised anger, her eyes narrowed. I swear being on the receiving end of that glare was the most intimidating thing ever. Seriously she made the dragon look like a pushover.

“Luna, what were you thinking setting this creature free?”

I figured now would be as good a time as any to speak up. I stepped forward before Luna could form a reply, the guards on either side of us tensed up, ready to intervene if I made any hostile moves.

“Do not be angry with her, princess Celestia. Your sister was merely trying to do what was right in her eyes.”

Even if that included vaporising me. But I left that part unspoken. No need to get my favorite princess in trouble for acting hastily and without having all the facts. Like her sister, Celestia seemed momentarily taken aback by my ability to speak.

“You had best explain yourself, for you stand accused of a great many wrongs, creature.” She sounded more intrigued than angry now, but her eyes still held a hard edge to them.

“Look can we stop with the creature already, I know I look rather, exotic, but I have a name. So if you must address me then call me Aeron.”

One of her personal guards glared at me, “Speak to the princess with respect beast.”

I sighed mentally. Another prick, just my luck. Gotta stay diplomatic though, don't wanna get vaporised by the sun diarch.

“Apologies, princess.” I said with as much respect as I could muster, despite my fraying temper. I was never a fan of stuck up guards, especially the over zealous kind, or anyone in an authority position throwing their weight around just because they could.

“Well then, Aeron, would you be so kind as to explain who and what you are, where you came from, and why you felt it necessary to attack my little ponies?”

I took a moment to gather my thoughts before I answered her.

“That is a long and complicated story princess, and I don't exactly have all the answers to that myself.”

“Then explain as best you can. Let's start simple, who and what are you? I have lived a long time, and I have never seen the likes of you before.”

“That.... is one of the questions I don't have all the answers to. I wasn't always like..this.” I said while pointing at myself. “Up till about two weeks ago I was a being of flesh and blood like yourself.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Truely? Then how did you end up like this?”

“I don't exactly know, though it likely involved a great deal of magic. That and my death.”

Her eyes widened a fraction. “I must have misheard you, did you say you died?”

I found myself fidgeting involuntarily as I remembered the timberwolves teeth sinking into my flesh.

“Yes. I don't know how, but I was somehow taken from my home, and transported to the depths of the Everfree forest,” some of the nobles let out gasps or panicky squeaks at the mention of the forest, “I had scarcely gotten my bearings before I was chased by Timberwolves.” More gasps rose around me.

“They chased me for I don't know how long until I could flee no more, and then they ate me, alive.”

I caught a glimpse of a noble tossing his cookies all over a guards hooves. The majority of those in attendance had looks of horror and disgust plastered all over their faces. Even Luna and Celestia looked a little green around the muzzle.

“I remember pain and the smell of my own blood. I remember feeling the life slipping out of me, then a burst of light, and when I could finally see again...” I waved a hand at myself. “This.”

I looked back at Celestia, her gaze had softened considerably. Luna looked at me with an expression bordering on pity.

“Thou said it happened a fortnight ago. That was the night we returned.”

“Yes, princess luna. I remember seeing the moon for the first time. I saw the silhouette of the mare in the moon, which made me realize I was in Equestria, since our moon doesn't have a unicorn's head depicted on it.”

“What do you mean our moon?” Celestia interrupted me, “There is only one moon that orbits Equus.”

Well here comes the first bombshell, “Because I'm not originally from Equus princess Celestia. I'm from a planet called Earth. Which, as far as I know isn't even in this dimension.”

All around the room there was an eruption of chatter and angry shouts.

“He lies.” Shouted one pony. “There is no such thing as other dimensions.” cried another. “He's trying to trick the princess with some elaborate fantasy to avoid punishment.” yelled a third.

Lies! Fabrications! Monster! Send it to the moon! Beast! Charlatan! To the dungeons with it! Lock it in Tartarus! The uproar grew louder until Celestia slammed a hoof down with a bang.

“Enough!” She glared at the assembled nobles before looking back to me. “Your claim is quite, fantastical, Aeron. But not per definition impossible. It is something we can get to the bottom of later however. What I want to know right now is why you attacked Ponyville. What did my little ponies do for you to feel it necessary to try and destroy them?”

“That was not me!” I said vehemently, “I was not the one in control when that happened. The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt anypony.”

“Then why? Please tell us what happened.”

I stared at my own hand for a long moment before I looked back at Celestia and continued.

“I had been staying in the Everfree forest with Zecora, she's a zebra herbalist who lives there. I had gone back into the deep parts of the forest to give the remains of my... my old body a proper burial. I had hoped it would give me some closure. When I was done and tried to make my way back I got lost. I ended up taking shelter from the rain in a cavern, but it turned out the cave already had an owner. A dragon who didn't appreciate interlopers.”

Celestia looked as if she just bit the inside of her cheek, I guess dragons were unpleasant to deal with, even for her.

“I was feeling miserable and prickly, and when the dragon told me to get the buck out of his home I ended up insulting him. Then he tried to kill me.”

Both princesses scowled at that while I kept talking. I felt it best to just get it over with.

“For the second time in less than a week I was staring into the jaws of death. He smacked me around like a ragdoll, then tried to finish the job by slowly crushing the life out of me. Last time I was on death’s door I gave up, this time something in me snapped. I let my rage boil over, and in doing so I set something terrible loose. I don't exactly understand it all, but from what I remember of it and what Zecora told me is that one of the Timberwolves that ate me took up residence in my mind, or something to that effect. And when I lost my cool it took the reins and went on a rampage. It was the beast that razed Ponyville, not me.”

Once more the crowd was breaking into angry mutterings, calling me a liar and deceiver. Accusing me of making up excuses for my crimes. Celestia cut them off with a furious glare.

“One more outburst and I will have the throne room cleared.” She said with a stern voice.

“Wait, what of the dragon that attacked thee?” Luna asked.

I hesitated before answering. “Dead. In my anger, I killed it, then the beast took over and devoured it.”

“Thou killed an adult drake? By thyself?” Luna said with disbelief and a hint of respect. Celestia on the other hand scowled at me once again.

“Surely you did not need to kill another sentient creature.” she said cooly.

“What did you expect me to do Celestia?” I asked, ”I had died once already, I had no desire to repeat the experience. It was him or me, I chose me, and were I in that situation again I would do it again. That dragon was a grade A bastard, and if you ask me the world is better off without his scaly ass in it.”

“Who are you to decide that?” She asked me with a great deal of disappointment in her voice. “What gives you the right to decide who gets to live and who gets to die?”

“I’m a person who was trying to stay alive in a desperate situation. What if it had been a pony? If a pony killed a dragon, would you still be disappointed or just happy that he or she survived the encounter.”

“A pony would never take a life like that.”

“Bullshit!” I yelled, causing the crowd to gasp at my audacity, “Any living being who finds itself in a life or death situation will choose life over death no matter the cost. It’s called survival instinct. Even you would do the same if you were desperate enough and pushed into a corner. If you claim otherwise then you are a lying hypocrite. And no, sacrificing oneself for the greater good does not count. There is a difference.”

A guard pointed a spear at me with narrowed eyes, his lips curled into a sneer. It was that same stuck up asshat from before “Hold your disrespectful tongue you filthy monster.”

I acted without thinking, I yanked the spear from his grasp before he could blink and snapped it in half before tossing it back at his hooves.

“I swear, the next pony to point a weapon at me will have it shoved sideways up his plot hole.”

Celestia glared at me disapprovingly but took no action since I didn’t actually hurt anyone, she did raise a hoof to forestall her guards from taking any other actions. Several of them had seemed ready to pounce. Luna seemed to be stifling a snicker. I bet you ten bits she hasn't had the warmest of welcomes herself if what I saw earlier is any indication, so me laying into the guards was probably feeling a bit cathartic to her. Celestia let out a tired sigh.

“While I reluctantly concede your point I cannot approve of taking a life so… callously. Taking the life of any creature should always be the very last resort in any situation.”

Luna looked as if she wanted to speak up but in the end she stayed silent. I guess whatever she wanted to say about that wasn’t meant for the ears of the crowd.

“Look, princess, I'm not normally a violent person. I don't want to hurt anypony, or any other creature for that matter. Yes I killed a dragon, but that was mainly in self defence and... blind anger. I won’t claim innocence there…. But I’m not some rampaging killer. Heck I rescued three little fillies from certain death while I stayed over at my friend Zecora’s place.”

She didn’t show it, but I could tell she was surprised by that because even though she could hide her physical reaction her magical aura flickered as if hit by a sudden gust of wind.

“Is there anypony who can confirm that?”

“You can ask them yourself if you like. They live in Ponyville, they are related to Twilight Sparkle’s friends Applejack and Rarity.”

Celestia’s horn lit up and quill and parchment rose from behind her throne. Which made me wonder what other stuff she keeps back there. Five bits say she has a hidden stash of cake somewhere in this room. Well, if you believe populair headcanon that she’s a complete cake addict, but i digress again. She quickly penned a letter which she vanished with a spell. No doubt she was contacting Twilight to confirm my story.

“So, what happens now?” I asked.

“That depends on your intentions, Aeron.”

I took a moment before I answered her.

“If you fear I will try to conquer Equestria or something equally ridiculous you can rest easy. I harbour no ambitions of conquest. I’m not some cheesy villain of the week.”

That statement got me a slight chuckle, though I couldn’t tell who was doing so.

“I never asked to be like this,” I waved a hand at myself again, ” A thing that nobody understands. I never asked for these powers, heck it scares the life right out of me when I think about all the things I’m now capable of. I don’t even know what exactly I am capable of. I discover new abilities almost every day.”

I let out a deep mental sigh, my form wilting just a bit.

“I just want to... heck I don’t know what I want.. I’ve barely had a moment to think since I arrived in this world. It’s been just one shock after another. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know where to go...I… don’t know.”

I lapsed into silence. The crowd was murmuring all around us but Celestia herself was sitting silently gazing at me. I had no idea what went through her mind but that almost motherly gaze of hers gave me a faint flicker of hope that perhaps I would get out of this intact after all. Finally she rose to address the crowd.

“The court is now closed, everypony go home.”

Several nobles raised their voice in protest, but she held up a hoof to silence them.

“If you have any concerns or issues you can bring them up in tomorrows court at noon. Dismissed” She then stepped down from the dais and quietly addressed me, “Walk with me.”

As the last of the nobility of canterlot vacated the throne room I followed the Princess out through a pair of side doors with several guards plus Luna following in our wake.

“If I may ask, where are we going?”

“To my private study.” Celestia replied, “I believe you spoke truthfully, but I still wish to know more about you. I figured we could speak more easily in a more, relaxed setting.”

“And away from gossiping prying nobles I presume.”

She tittered “Quite so, while we love our little ponies dearly, they can be a bit… excitable.”

“A nuisance thou means.” Luna muttered quietly from just behind us.

Celestia was about to rebuke Luna for her remark, but I interjected. “Speaking of nuisances, the guards you assigned as escort for your sister were treating her quite disrespectfully.”

Celestia raised an eyebrow at me. “Oh?”

“Indeed, they treated her like she was some inept little foal at best, or a bothersome nuisance at worst. Hardly how I would expect them to treat a returned member of the royal family. ”

Celestia looked at Luna, “Is this true sister?”

“Tis nothing worth mentioning Tia.”

“No dear sister, it is worth mentioning. And I will have words with them later.”

“Tis nothing less than what we deserve, or expected.” Luna said quietly.

“Please don’t do that princess.” I said.

“Do what?” Luna asked, looking confused.

“Talk as if you deserve naught but hate and ridicule.”

“But we do, we have committed great wrongs to our little ponies, wrongs we must atone for.”

“Don’t you think being locked away in the moon for a thousand years is penance enough? What more do you want, a public flogging?”

I jumped forward and struck a pose as if reading from a scroll like a town crier of old.

“Hear ye hear ye, gather ye round one and all and feast thine eyes upon yon stage as today we spank the royal flank for crimes against ponies from long ago” I proclaimed loudly in my best ye olden times voice.

Had she been drinking I’m sure she would have done a spit take judging by the face she made. She was sputtering indignantly, trying to form a coherent sentence. Behind Luna the pair of guards that had been escorting us were desperately looking everywhere but in her direction lest they stare at her flanks, no doubt imagining the scenario I just painted in their minds. Celestia, for her part looked like she swallowed a bug. Her cheeks bulging out and her eyes crossed as she did her best not to burst out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

“Luna, all jokes aside, you have spent the equivalent of ten times my original lifespan locked away in isolation for what you did. You have been judged by the elements of harmony and found worthy of a second chance. It’s time to let go of your guilt and self loathing and seize that chance.” I told her sincerely.

After a long moment of uncomfortable silence Celestia cleared her throat.

“It seems we got a bit sidetracked, this way please.” She said before we resumed walking.

Luna was silent the rest of the way, seemingly lost in thought if her contemplating expression was any indication. It didn’t take long before we reached a set of double doors that led into a rather cozy study. It even had a fireplace. There we two sets of comfy chairs and a couch. There was a desk at the far side and the walls were lined with bookshelves. I bet Twilight would love holing up in here with all these books.

Celestia gestured to one of the chairs and I took an awkward seat. Having the lower body of a pony made sitting a strange experience. It’s actually more like lying down. I guess this explains the more ancient Roman and Greek designs of the furniture. It’s much easier for a pony to sit or lie on.

“I must admit I am surprised you believed me, just like that.” I said.

“I have lived a long time Aeron, You learn to discern truth from lies when you have been around as long as me. It also helps that I once wielded the element of honesty. Its power lets one detect any lie no matter how well told. Some of that power still lingers in me, even though I can no longer wield the elements.”

That’s interesting, I guess some of the power rubs of on the wearer. Or perhaps it merely enhances what is already there? Yet another thing to mull over later. Perhaps I could ask the tree of harmony directly? It did speak to me that first time. Then again perhaps I better leave it alone, magic as powerful and old as that is probably best left undisturbed as much as possible.

“Before we continue, would you like something to eat or drink?” Celestia asked.

“Uhm, just water would be fine I guess since it's unlikely you have any Parasprites around here.”

“What pray tell would thou need Parasprites for?” Luna asked with a puzzled expression.

“Well, uhm, they make for good sources of nutrition and energy, and they taste good. At least to me.”

“So you were a carnivorous creature then.” Celestia stated matter of factly. “Before being turned into, this, I mean.” She waved a hoof at my form, “Your rampage through Ponyville and the Everfree pretty much showed beyond doubt that your current form eats meat.”

“ Actually I can survive on water and nutrients from the soil as well as pure sunlight alone. I also seem to absorb energy from magic, to a degree. But it’s not very efficient. This body expends a great deal of the energy I absorb from the sun almost immediately in order to sustain itself, and when the sun goes down I become lethargic and fall into a sleep like state, leaving me vulnerable. By consuming biological matter, such as parasprites, I can create stores of energy for use at a later time. It allows me to function even at night. I discovered I could eat them purely by chance and I chose to feed on Parasprites almost exclusively since then. They are abundant in the Everfree, the wildlife and some carnivorous flora eat them and keep their numbers in check lest they'd become a plague and spread beyond the boundaries of the woods.”

“And it does not disturb you to eat the flesh of another being?”

“My original species are omnivores princess, so eating meat is not new to me, though the manner in which it is consumed took a little getting used to.”

“What sort of species do you originally hail from then?”

“We call ourselves humans. My species, or should I say former species are mammals belonging to the order of primates. The scientific name would be Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Our average lifespan is somewhere around seventy five years, give or take, for most people. The oldest confirmed recorded age for a human was one hundred and twenty two years old. Which is rather exceptional.”

“Such short lives, even our ponies live much longer than that. It seems almost cruelly short.” Celestia said, her eyes showing a hint of sadness.

“How long does the average pony live then princess?”

“Most of our little ponies live up to an average of two hundred and fifty years. Though there have been individuals who have reached three hundred, Starswirl the Bearded for example lived to the ripe old age of three hundred twenty.” She said with a nostalgic smile that was halfway between joyful and sad. No doubt remembering all the times she shared with the old pony mage.

And damn, that’s a long time, but I guess that does explain how Granny Smith is still around if she was present during the founding of ponyville.

“So thou art from a race of monkeys?” Luna interjected.

“Actually we’re descended from apes, well, depending on who you ask. Some do not believe this to be so for religious reasons. But I have never had much use for religion. Frankly I believe adherence to a religious doctrine hinders progress and growth, both scientifically, personally and as a species as a whole, and causes more harm than good in the end. Terrible wars have been fought and the darkest of deeds have been done in the name of faith.” I said with heaviness in my voice.

“Thy species sounds like a dangerous and violent one.”

“Sometimes. It is true that humans have a darker side to them and that humanity has fought some of the most terrible wars to ever occur on our world, but we have also created great works of art and music, invented mathematics and sought to understand the world around us through science. We have explored virtually every corner of our world, and even traveled to our moon. We may be more violent than you ponies, but overall we strive to do what is good and right, and to live our lives in peace”

“Wait, thou hast been to thine worlds moon?” Luna exclaimed, her eyes wide, “How?”

“Humans have build great machines capable of escaping the planet's gravitational pull. I only understand the very basics of how they work so please don’t ask me to explain.” I really didn’t want to try and explain the concept of space ships, rocket engines and every other complicated part involved with space travel.

“Thou must possess great magics to build such devices.” She said, her voice full of wonder.

“Actually, in my world there is no such thing as magic, except In works of fiction.”

Both alicorns stared at me with open mouths.

“Ludicrous, how does a world with no magic even function?” Luna muttered to herself, pacing around the room. Celestia for her part sat silently, apparently deep in her own thoughts.

The longer the silence dragged on the more fidgety I felt. Part of me still couldn’t believe I was having a ‘casual conversation’ with two Alicorns. But hey it was infinitely preferable to being back in that tube, or in a dungeon, or turned to stone. Even if the conversation got a little awkward or complicated at times.

“So what do humans look like?” Celestia eventually asked after long minutes of silence, broken only by Luna’s muttering.

“I could show you, for the most part anyway, just give me a moment.” I said standing up, the two guards still present tensed up but Celestia waved a hoof unconcernedly, telling them to stand down.

I gathered some magic, actually leeching some from Celestia's aura since I was still feeling a bit drained after my escape from the null fluid. I then reshaped my body into that of an average human, or as close to it as I could mimic anyway. Ten fingers and toes made of wood, vines to mimic the flow and curve of muscles. I almost looked like a green version of one of those anatomy pictures you see in medical books. I then covered it all in a paper-thin layer of light colored sapwood to serve as the skin. The only exception being my face, which remained the same featureless wooden mask. I was now tall enough to look celestia in the eyes while standing.

“Sorry I don’t know how to do a proper human face yet. This is as close as I can mimic my old form.” I said as I slowly turned around in a circle.

The two princesses looked me over from head to toe with studious expressions on their faces.

“Thou said thy species was omnivorous, but this form seems to lack claws or anything else to hunt with.”

“It’s true that humans lack natural weapons like most predators, but that’s why our ancestors mastered the use of tools such as spears and later bows to hunt with. Ancient humans were persistence hunters, since humans were slower than their prey they used a combination of running walking and tracking to pursue their prey until said prey collapsed from exhaustion. Humans are nothing if not tenacious. ” I said as I reverted back to the Centaur form.

“They almost sound like the griffons.”

I mulled that over in my head for a moment. “I guess we may share a few character traits.”

“So I don’t have to worry about you eating any of my ponies?” Celestia asked me after a moment's pause, a serious expression dominating her face.

“I thought I already said I didn’t want to hurt anypony. I may hail from a race of omnivorous hunters, and my current form requires the occasional intake of meat to function optimally, but I won’t eat another sentient being.”

“Thou ate the dragon.” Luna deadpanned.

“No princess, the beast did.”

“Ah yes, the beast. Should I worry about it breaking free and going on a rampage again?” Celestia said.

“Not according to what my friend Zecora told me. The only reason the beast got out that first time was because I was unaware of its presence and it caught me by surprise. Now that I know it is there I can keep it under control.”

“I hope that is true.”

“So do I princess.” Was the thought I left unspoken. I really hope Zecora was right and that the beast won’t ever get loose again. Both for my sake and that of Equestria.

“I must ask, why did thou assume thy current form rather than thy human one?” Luna said as she sat down again.

“Well, I had hoped it would put the ponies more at ease since it’s closer to an equine form, and it is convenient for me. I assumed a pony form back when I was in ponyville with Zecora, but unlike a real pony I cannot grasp things with my hooves. I’m guessing because I lack whatever innate magic allows your kind to manipulate things with hooves. So having a centaur body allows me to use my arms to grasp things. Basicly its the best of both worlds.”

“But how did thou know what form to take? There are no centaur in Equestria. In fact the only known centaur is a prisoner in Tartarus.”

“There exists many a myth and legend in my world princess Luna. Our mythology describes many a creature that, while they don’t exist in my world, do exist here in equestria. Centaur among them. Other examples include hydras, Manticores, and even unicorns and pegasi. In fact most of Equestria's population is made up of creatures my kind has only encountered in fairy tales and works of fantasy.”

“Hast thou tried taking on other forms? What about a pegasus? Can thou fly?”

“I haven’t tried, but I doubt I could fly. Lacking the magic of a pegasus. Even if I could fly I doubt I would do it often, if at all. I have a fear of heights.”

“A shame, flying can be a very relaxing experience.”

“I shall take your word for it princess Luna.”

“Perhaps you can experiment with it at a later time.” Celestia suggested, “It would be a good way to explore the limits of your abilities after all.”

We lapsed into silence for a bit while a maid came by with a food cart. It contained water for me and some Tea and cake for Celestia. Luna apparently prefered pie instead of cake.

“That is the one thing I miss most.”

“What’s that?” Both princesses asked at the same time.

“The taste of other food. I can’t eat cake or pie in this form. And fruit has no real taste. It’s like eating wax.” I said while sticking my hand into the mug of water and absorbing it directly.

“Mine sister would find that a terrible fate indeed, considering she loves her cake so.” Luna deadpanned, causing Celestia to blush lightly.

“I wonder if eating fruit makes me a cannibal, being a tree and all.” I chuckled. The thought was ridiculous of course.

“Pardon our curiosity but, what do Parasprites taste like?” Luna asked suddenly.

“Skittles.”

“What are these, Skittles thou speaketh of?”

“Small fruit flavored candies from my world.”

Luna seemed lost in thought for a moment, a strange glint in her eyes.

“Sister, you weren’t planning on trying to eat a parasprite were you?” Celestia said as she eyed Luna.

“N-no, of course not sister. What gave thou such a notion.”

“Good.” There was a short pause before celestia said, “Because they taste terrible.”

I swear I heard the sound of a record scratching to a halt. We all stared at Celestia for a moment before she burst out laughing.

“You are all too easy to fool.” She said between fits of laughter.

The two guards just chuckled nervously. Luna stuck her nose in the air.

“Thy sense of humor is still terrible sister.” She said indignantly, but the effect was diminished by the smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth.

As for me, I was quietly snickering because I just know that somewhere out there in the universe there is a fan of the show currently drawing Luna with a parasprite in her mouth. And I bet it’s either cute or hilarious, or both.

After consuming our snacks Celestia resumed the conversation.

“Something occurred to me.” She said as she put her now empty plate down.

“What's that princess?”

“You said you came from another dimension, yet you seem to know a great deal about our world for someone who has never been here. You recognized the mare in the moon, and even spoke of the elements of harmony earlier. How is it that you know these things?”

Oh crap. I didn’t think about that.

“Well I… uh…” I faltered.

“So was your story about being from another world nothing but an elaborately crafted lie after all then?”

Well I told them this much, may as well tell them the rest and see what happens.

“I can explain how I knew these things, but I request that you send your guards away first princess.”

“Thou would not be planning anything nefarious now would thee?” Said Luna as she eyed me suspiciously.

“No, nothing nefarious like that princess, But I feel certain that once you hear my explanation you would rather not have word of it spreading. Some ponies might not take it well.”

After a minute or so Celestia nodded and motioned to the guards to dismiss them. They left the room reluctantly, obviously not pleased with leaving them alone with me.

“Alright then, let's hear this explanation of yours.”

“What I am about to say will sound absolutely crazy, but I swear upon the tree of harmony that it is the truth.”

That statement raised a few eyebrows.

“The short version is this. In my world, Equestria and all its people are all part of a work of fiction for the entertainment of children.”

Luna glared at me. “That is the most ludicrous thing We have heard in eons. And We have met Discord, so that’s saying a lot.”

“It is the truth princess. There is actually a theory behind it.”

“Please elaborate then.” Celestia said, her tone strangely neutral.

“Pardon me if It doesn’t make complete sense, I’ve never had to summarize it before. Basically it’s like this, there exists a theory that there are an infinite number of alternate parallel universes besides our own. Some so radically different as to be utterly alien and incomprehensible, others so similar you could spend an eternity looking for a difference. These parallel universes are created by the choices we make. An infinite number of choices. For example in one universe you chose to eat cake, in another you chose to eat pie instead. Each choice creates an alternate world, one for choice A and one for choice B. You follow me so far?”

A pair of nods answered me.

“Now some people have speculated that whenever someone writes a piece of fiction this also results in the birth of another alternate universe. One where that fiction is actually reality. Others suggested that the idea of such fiction is actually that alternate universe somehow bleeding through the fabric that separates realities, and into the thoughts of an individual as a sort of universe spanning psychic beacon. Then that individual creates his fiction based on the knowledge that bleeds through into their subconscious mind. In an infinite number of realities, what is fiction in one, is reality in another. Thus all fiction is reality somewhere and all reality is fiction.”

I hope I didn't break them. They were staring at me with the strangest expressions.

“This cannot be so. This flies in the face of everything we have ever believed about the cosmos. It cannot be real.” Luna finally stated.

“The fact that I am standing here talking to two beings who in my world are but beloved fictional characters would suggest otherwise.”

“We are beloved?” Luna said with surprise in her voice.

“More than you can know princess. You may not be able to ever meet them, but in my world there are hundreds of thousands of people who love and admire you. Both children and adults alike.”

Oh dear I think she’s about to cry. Her eyes were getting a bit misty even as a small smile tugged at her lips.

“That does bring up the question of how you were brought here.” Celestia mused out loud.

“I don’t know Princess. One minute I was on my way home, the next thing I know I’m blinded by a brilliant light as if I looked into a lightning bolt at point blank. And when I finally regained my vision I was here. Whoever or whatever was behind it is a mystery to me. Heck I doubt it was even intentional. Perhaps I was merely collateral damage.”

Whatever fate has in store for me, she picked one heck of a doozie to drop on me, that’s for sure.

“ To bring us back to your explanation, I see why you would not want other ponies to know, some would indeed not take this too well. But it does make me wonder, If what you said is true, then what else do you know of our world? What has this, fiction, shown you?” Celestia asked.

She seemed awfully calm for someone who was just told she’s nothing but a fictional character in a make believe universe. At least from where I stand. I guess I can chalk it up to her millennia of experience.

“Too much and yet nothing.” I answered.

“That is a rather vague answer, care to elaborate on that?”

“I know a lot of things, Like the names of certain ponies, locations across Equestria, other characters who pop up in the stories from time to time, some of the villains too. I know of some of the immutable facts, like the elements and tree of harmony, but before you ask I know nothing of the future. That is to say, I know of what might possibly happen, but my very presence here in this reality has altered events irreparably already.”

I refilled my mug with water and then dipped my fingers in, letting a few drops fall back down into the mug, causing a ripple.

“By being transported here at this point in time I’ve caused things to change, the effects of those changes will ripple outwards and spread, causing subtle and not so subtle alterations to the existing timeline. Some events will still happen according to the original timeline as depicted in the stories, while others will be radically altered. This pretty much renders any information I have useless. And before you ask, no princess I will not divulge the original information to you. Doing so would only be detrimental because you would try to use it to prevent things that, while unpleasant, need to happen.”

Celestia seemed disappointed for a moment before she spoke up, “I can see the wisdom in your words, but I would beg of you just one answer.”

“Regarding Twilight I presume.”

“Yes.” She said quietly, her eyes looked so tired and longing for a moment, it was a strange emotion to see on the normally unflappable alicorn.

“Let me ask you this princess. Has she ever failed you?”

Celestia shook her head.

“Then that should tell you all you need to know.”

She frowned at first at my non answer, but then she broke into the happiest smile I’ve seen yet.
It was at that moment a scroll appeared in a puff of smoke.

“Well speak of the devil.” I said.

“Beg thy pardon?” Luna said as she gave me a quizzical look.

“Just an expression from my world princess, It is used when an object of discussion unexpectedly becomes present during the conversation. It can also be used about a topic that quickly becomes relevant. Your sister's student in this case.”

Celestia nodded as she used her magic to levitate and unroll the scroll. Her eyes moved rapidly as she read it.

“It would seem the little fillies you spoke of confirm your story. One of them in particular seems eager to see you again. ”

“That would likely be Applebloom. Before everything went wrong I did promise to meet with her and her friends. I had hoped that by earning their trust I could make some inroads with the rest of Ponyville, both for myself and Zecora. I just wish things hadn’t gone so disastrously wrong.”

We were interrupted by a sudden knock at the door which then swung open before either princess could respond. In stepped A certain white unicorn with a long blonde mane.

“Pardon the intrusion Aunt Celestia but I must speak with you at once.”

“Blueblood, my nephew, can’t it wait? I am entertaining a guest.”

“My apologies aunty, but it is exactly because of sir Aeron that I am here.”

Celestia motioned for him to go on.

“The nobles believe you are being too soft aunty,“ Blueblood continued, “After you ended the sun court I lingered behind and overheard a conversation between several members of the greater noble houses. They will not stomach a, and I quote, dangerous manipulative monster, to roam free. They plan to go behind your back and use their influence to put sir Aeron on trial before the tribunal of the tribes.”

“How do these foals believe they can go behind the backs of their princess.” Luna snorted angrily.

“Apparently through some legal loophole Aunty Luna. I fear I do not have all the details, had I lingered any longer they might have seen me. I figured it best to warn you all of what they were planning.”

“What exactly is this tribunal of the tribes?” I asked.

“It is trio of judges, one from each tribe, unicorn, earth pony and pegasi. The tribunal was instituted after the unification of the three tribes to dispense fair judgement and justice. While they are seldom called upon in modern times as most disputes are settled in the sun court, the tribunal does predate Luna and Myself taking the throne. I could technically overrule them, but that would cause a lot of friction with the nobility.” Celestia said.

“And it’s never a good thing to piss off the ponies who help run the day to day operations of the country, am I right?”

She gave me an apologetic look. “They would decry it as an abuse of my authority and an obstruction of what they believe to be justice.”

Luna muttered something extremely unflattering under her breath about politics and the nobility in general after hearing that.

“Thank you for bringing this to our attention Nephew.” Celestia told Blueblood.

“It was the least I could do aunty. At least now you can prepare for their plans. I shall keep my ears open among the nobility, should I learn of anything else I will inform you at once.” Blueblood answered sincerely before he turned to me.

“If you require legal council I know of a skilled individual who represents members of non pony species a lot sir Aeron.”

For once I’m glad my face has no expression, because if it did I would probably look completely flabbergasted. Blueblood was not at all what I expected. I expected a haughty, blustering buffoon, but he was courteous, kind and downright pleasant. I mentally shook myself and answered him.

“That would be most appreciated, since my knowledge of the Equestrian legal system is non existent, thank you prince Blueblood. I will be in your debt.”

“Think nothing of it, I will have him contacted at once. Please excuse me.” And with that he trotted out of the room.

Luna scowled at the closing door. “It seems the rabble are being rebellious. You give them way too much leeway sister.”

“Times have changed Luna. I can’t simply overrule everything I don’t like or disagree with. But I am rather surprised they would go this far. I wonder what reason they could possibly have for this.”

“You think there’s more behind this than a xenophobic knee jerk reaction?” I asked Celestia as she poured more tea for Luna and herself.

“While I must admit that our little ponies can indeed be rather, xenophobic at times, It seems like a rather extreme reaction.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure after what happened in Ponyville.”

“Oh? Do elaborate, please.”

I told her of what happened with Zecora and the town's general reaction to her. Celestia seemed disappointed.

“It seems I have been sheltering my little ponies a skosh too much.”

“More like a lot of skoshe’s” Fluttershy’s voice rang out in my mind.

“Speaking of Ponyville, while I was, detained, I overheard a conversation between your student and her friends. They said that several ponies had been injured... some severely. I was wondering if… if there was anything I could do to help, or at least make reparations of some kind. And if at all possible I would like to find out how Zecora is doing.”

Celestia nodded, “While I cannot think of anything you can do at the moment, the least I can do is inquire after your friend.”

“Thank you princess.”

There was another knock on the door, this time whoever it was waited until the princess bade them to enter. A pegasus pony who looked as if he walked straight out of a Men in Black cosplay convention entered, carrying a scroll under his wing.

“Beg your pardon your highness, but I have a message for you.”

“A message? From whom?” Celestia asked surprised, clearly not expecting any messages at this hour.

“This came from operative Sweetie Drops highness. Marked for your eyes only.”

Bon Bon? I wonder what that’s all about? Field report maybe? She was part of a monster hunting unit after all.

“Thank you, Nightwing, you may go.”

“Highness.” The pony saluted and marched out the door.

Celestia unrolled the scroll and began to read it. The more she read the further her expression fell.

“What is it sister, thou seem troubled, and who is this Sweetie Drops?” Said Luna.

“She is a pony who used to work for me some time ago. She just broke half a dozen rules using official communication channels meant only for very specific messages to send a personal letter begging for my help because her marefriend is dieing, and the doctors say they can’t help her. Their magic apparently doesn’t work on whatever is afflicting her, and so she’s written this desperate plea for me to save her marefriend’s life, knowing that she could end up in a heap of trouble for doing so.”

Realization hit me like a jolt of electricity. “Wait, you are talking about Lyra. She was one of the ponies injured when..”

“Yes, when you rampaged through Ponyville.” Celestia said harshly before she sighed, “I’m sorry Aeron, I didn’t mean it like that. I’m just… I don’t know if I can help this pony, this Lyra. If the best doctors in Canterlot can’t save her then there may be little that even my magic can do for her.”

“We may not be able to assist in this matter my sister, but perhaps Aeron can.” Luna said suddenly, causing both Celestia and me to look at her.

“Think about it sister. If it was his powers, his magics, that caused the damage, perhaps they can undo them.”

“That…. Might be possible.” Celestia mused. “Magic does seem to operate by its own set of rules after all. Perhaps this approach might work. It seems there might be a way for you to make amends after all Aeron. If you feel you are up to the task.”

I nodded. “I will do whatever it takes to help her and make it right. And if I can’t help her then… then at least I want to beg her forgiveness, before it’s too late.”

********************



With little else to discuss at the time and no further interruptions, Celestia called for a guard escort and we made our way over to the Canterlot hospital with all due haste. To say that the mood of the group was subdued as we travelled the streets of canterlot was an understatement. I for one certainly felt uneasy about all this. I just wanted to help make it right, but I dreaded the possibility that I might be unable to do anything. And if that were the case, then Lyra would soon be dead. I shook my head. Best not dwell on the negative.

To make sure I had enough magical power to do… whatever I would end up trying to do, I leeched as much energy off of Celestia and Luna’s auras as I could. I Just hoped it would be enough.

We eventually reached the hospital and made our way over to the intensive care unit. The closer we got the more nervous I felt. As we passed through the doors separating the ICU from the rest of the hospital we spotted Bon Bon in the hallway next to the room where they were keeping Lyra. She was pacing up and down nervously and looked incredibly haggard. When she spotted our group her eyes went wide as saucers. I guess she didn’t expect both Celestia and Luna, along with a contingent of guards to appear.

“P-princess Celestia, I… I know I sh-shouldn’t have sent the letter that way, but I..” She stammered, eyeing the guards nervously before Celestia cut her off.

“It’s alright my little pony, you’re not in trouble. While I can’t say I’m pleased that you broke the rules, I more than understand why you did it.”

Bon Bon threw herself at Celestia’s feet, or should I say hooves.

“P-please princess, you have to help her. I-I don’t know what else to do.” She pleaded on the verge of tears.

Celestia draped a wing over her back shushing her gently.

“That’s why we are here, we’ll do what we can. Though, I cannot promise anything, I will try to make it right.” I said quietly.

Bon Bon looked up, noticing me for the first time.

“W-what… what are…” A spark of recognition flashed across her eyes as she seemed to realise who, or rather what I was. “You.. you did this to her.”

“I’m sorry about what happened, And I will do what I can to try and make it right. I just.. I never meant for her to get hurt, for anypony to get hurt.. It was…”

Her hoof connected with my face. She had moved so fast I didn’t even notice. Everyone stood frozen for a moment. It didn't hurt me but it did break some of the twigs and branches that made up the inside of my jaw and cracked the mask that served as my face. The cracks spider webbing from the point of impact on my cheek, all the way up to where my eyebrow would be.. She raised another hoof to strike me, the guards moved to try and stop her but I held out my arm to block their path, and waited, but the second blow never came. Tears were leaking from her eyes, leaving dark streaks in the fur of her face.

“If she dies, Celestia be my witness, I will find a way to kill you, if it's the last thing I do.” She snarled through clenched teeth whilst fighting to keep her voice steady.

I looked her in the eyes and gave a slight nod, “I believe you.”

Having said her piece Bon Bon stepped aside and allowed us to proceed inside.

I mended the cracks in my face mask as I entered the room. Bon Bon striking me had been unexpected, but then if I had been in her shoes, or horseshoes as the case may be, I would probably have done the same. Grief can make people react extremely. I guess the same holds true for ponies. I shook myself from my thoughts and focused on the occupants of the room.

Lyra was lying in the sole bed in the room, hooked up to various monitors to keep a close eye on her condition. A doctor and nurse were tending to her. She looked pale and her mane was clinging to her forehead with sweat. She was struggling so hard to breathe, fighting for every precious gulp of air. As we entered the room her eyes locked onto me with undisguised fear.

“It’s okay my little pony,” Said Celestia as she stepped up beside me, “He is here to try and help.”

“I don't want... I don't want to die. Please, I don’t want to die.” She managed to gurgle out before coughing wetly.

When her hoof came away from her mouth I could clearly see little specks of blood on her fur. Oh dear god she's drowning in her own blood.

“This was a mistake, it's stressing the patient.” The doctor began to argue.

Before he could finish his argument and call for our removal from the room I steeled my resolve and I rushed over to Lyra’s side. She trembled as I gently placed a hand on her barrel.

“You won't!” I told her with every ounce of conviction I possessed, keeping my voice as gentle as I could, “I won't let you die Lyra. Please, let me help you.”

Our eyes met, flecked golden yellow staring into the green orbs of my featureless mask. I saw so much fear in them, but also a spark of hope. Finally she gave a small nod, the rest of the room let out a collective breath of relief. I gently placed both hands on her barrel and let my magic flow out. I meant what I said, I would do anything and everything in my power to see her through this. It did not take long to find what I was looking for.

I could sense them inside of her, the spores the beast had unleashed had clung to the inside of her lungs and began to grow into mold. The mold was slowly covering every inch of her lungs, blocking her alveoli and causing hemorrhaging. I frowned, well mentally at least. No wonder they were having trouble healing her. The mold radiated low intensity field of malicious magic that had foiled all attempts to heal her through both magical and conventional means. Truly disgustingly diabolical. However, though the beast may have infused these spores with its own dark magic, they ultimately came from me. So I could do something about them.

I tried to channel my power into them, but the magic seemingly dissolved before it could reach deep enough inside her. I tried it again, pouring more power into it this time but to no avail, the energy simply seemed to fizzle and disperse before it reached her lungs. I would have snarled in frustration but I didn’t want to spook the poor thing any further than she already was. Then an idea hit me.

“Lyra, I'm going to need you to trust me. What I'm about to do won't feel very pleasant, but you must not struggle or fight me. I promise, when it's over you will be alright.”

Her eyes told me she wasn't completely convinced, but with no other option but certain death she nodded once more in acquiescence.

“Good, now open your mouth and hold very still.”

I gently placed a hand on her cheek as she complied with my request. I let my magic flow outwards and a vine sprouted from my hand, snaking its way into her mouth, down her throat and into her trachea where it split and proceeded into her lungs. I kept the vines as thin as possible to spare her any discomfort, but the sensation of something snaking its way down your throat is incredibly unpleasant no matter how small it is. And when you enter the lungs the body's natural reflex is to try and expel the foreign object immediately. The second my vine entered her lungs her eyes shot wide and she began to cough and make noises of protest.

“Shhh, keep calm Lyra, this won't take a minute. You're doing fine, just try to breathe normally.” I said to her, keeping my voice as calm as possible.

Now before you wonder why I put her through such an unpleasant ordeal, it's because it was the only way to remove the spores and mold. I could not influence them from the outside through magic alone. I needed direct physical contact, and this was the only way to get them from the inside, short of performing actual surgery on her. That’s not something I want to see up close.

The second I made contact with the mold and spores I blasted them with a burst of my magic. Essentially what I did with that was overriding the dark magic that was controlling them and subjugating them to my will. And no these things are not sentient nor sapient, but they did operate on a rudimentary level, much like a virus, following a preset line of commands. Grow and consume, which they did until I countermanded it with a new directive.

My command was simple, wither and die. And so they did, and with the malicious magic now gone it allowed me to re-absorb them as nutrients. I did it as gently as I could but I cannot imagine that the sensation of mold being pulled from the inside of your lungs is a pleasant one, so it was no surprise that Lyra began to struggle and push against me.

“You're hurting her! Stop!” Bon Bon yelled beside me.

“It's almost over. Please, for her sake let me finish” I said calmly but firmly.

Bon Bon looked ready to lunge at me, but was held back by Celestia gently placing a wing on her withers.

As I absorbed the last of the spores I began to focus on my magic once again, telling it what I wanted it to do. Twilight could probably describe it ad nauseam in great technical detail, what spell matrix was used and how much arcana this and mana that, but I'm neither a trained mage nor a scholar so suffice to say I used my magic to power boost Lyra's body by temporarily bestowing her with a portion of my own regenerative properties, putting her cells into overdrive for a moment to stop the hemorrhaging and allow her alveoli to regenerate.

Now I could claim it was all a brilliant stroke of genius on my part and that all this went according to a brilliant plan I devices earlier, but that would be a lie. I was working purely on instinct and intent, hoping for the best result. A story I once read said that ninety nine percent of wielding magic is all about intent. And the rest is just fancy words. Well my intent was to heal her, and my magic responded on its own.

I honestly wasn't sure if I could, but I figured that since my magic is nature based, It should be able to give life or heal, as much as it can bring harm. Nature is all about balance between life and death after all. I'm just glad it worked. My task complete I withdrew the vines as swiftly as was safely possible, allowing Lyra to take her first easy breath in days. She seemed stunned with surprise.

“I... I'm going to be okay now?” She croaked. Her voice still a bit raw.

The doctor cast a quick diagnostic spell, eyes widening in surprise.

“I don't believe it. According to my spell she's in perfect health when moments ago she was but hours away from death's doorstep.”

There was a cry of joy from behind me and a multi colored blur sped past me to wrap Lyra in a bone crushing hug. Bon Bon was desperately clinging to her, crying tears of relief. Lyra nuzzled her mane and whispered something into her ears I couldn't hear. I turned to leave so the two of them could have some privacy when Lyra called out to me.

“Wait.”

I turned to face her.

“Thank you, for saving my life.”

“You do not have to thank me Miss Heartstrings, I’m just glad you’re alright. It was my fault you were hurt in the first place, and I am deeply sorry that happened to you. The last thing I ever wanted was for anypony to be harmed, please believe me when I say I was not in control of my actions at the time, and I will do everything in my power to make sure this never happens to anypony again.”

She stared me in the eyes for a moment as if searching for something before she spoke up.

“Then, for what it's worth, I forgive you.” She said. Making Bon Bon look up in surprise.

“Lyra, he nearly killed you, how can you forgive him so easily?”

“If what he says is true and he was not in control then don't you think I should forgive him?”

Bon Bon humphed but didn't say anything. I guess it's going to take a lot longer for me to earn her forgiveness too. Right now I was just glad Lyra was alright and not holding a grudge. I don't think I could bear having her death on my conscious.

As we left the room and walked towards the exit celestia leaned down and quietly spoke to me.

“You did a great thing tonight Aeron. You have my gratitude.”

I shook my head, “All I did was right a wrong that never should have been in the first place. But, I am glad that she’s going to be okay.”

The mood as we walked back to the palace was much lighter, but it seemed the evening had one more nasty surprise in store for me. As we approached the gates a second group of guards approached us and blocked our way.

“What is the meaning of this?” Celestia demanded of the pony in the lead. Said pony looked incredibly uncomfortable.

“A thousand pardons your highness, but we have orders to take the creature into custody.”

“On whose authority? Neither mine sister nor myself gave such orders.” Luna boomed.

“Apologies princess Luna,” the guard bowed deeply to her, “We are acting under the authority of the Tribunal.”

Damn, those nobles certainly don’t waste time.

“And when will the tribunal take court?” Celestia asked, her tone just a smidge above icy.

“Uhm, in two days your highness. We are to take the creature to the dungeons in the meantime to make sure it won’t flee to escape justice.”

Luna was about to say something but Celestia shook her head at her. Arguing about it in front of the castle for all to hear and see would help us none. It didn’t stop Luna from giving the guards a death glare worthy of her Nightmare Moon alter ego though. The poor stallion looked like he was about to wet himself.

Celestia turned to me with an apologetic look, “I am sorry Aeron, but I..”

“I know princess.” I said, cutting her off. “It’s alright. I’m sure this will all be cleared up in a few days and we will be able to laugh about it later.”

Celestia gave me a small smile. “I will make sure of it.”

With those parting words I let the guards take me into the palace and down to the dungeons. I swear I can’t seem to catch a break. If I ever meet Lady Fate and her brother Murphy in person I will deck them both in the schnozz.

With a cast iron skillet.

Chapter 13: Spies, Cards and Doctors.

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Chapter 13
Spies, Cards and Doctors.

Princess Celestia was sitting in her personal chambers working her way through a pile of documents. An elegant quill floated in her golden yellow aura as she worked her way through the stack of paperwork. The hour was getting late but she wanted to finish this before she went to sleep. Her brow furrowed slightly in concentration as the quill quietly scratched across the parchment. The only other sound in the cozy room was the gentle crackle of the fireplace, the light it emitted casting everything in a warm glow. A faint rustle of fabric drew her attention to one of the balcony windows where one of the long curtains swayed gently as if disturbed by the evening breeze. But Celestia knew better.

“Must you always make such a dramatic entrance, Borealis.”

Emerging from the shadows as if he were one with them was a Thestral stallion, his coat a deep midnight blue, almost black. His short spiky mane, by contrast held subtle shades of light to deep violet, blue and teal green.

“It’s sort of a requirement for my line of work your highness.” The stallions warm bass voice was full of amusement.

“And I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you secretly get a kick out of it.” Celestia retorted good naturedly.

He nodded his head respectfully but smiled all the same “Guilty as charged your highness.”

“How is your sister?”

“Doing well your highness, she’s keeping an eye on your sister as we speak.”

“Anything I should know?”

“Some of the royal guard are, less than welcoming, to princess Luna, but then you already heard that.”

“From our guest, yes. But I wanted to make sure he was being truthful. Luna has been rather, evasive on the subject.”

“I thought you said you believed him your majesty? You and your sister seemed to get along with him well enough.”

“A wise pony once told me: Trust, but verify. I want to believe him, but some of the things he told Luna and I have me concerned. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and offer him friendship in good faith, but that doesn’t mean I will simply turn him loose without some sort of oversight or contingency.” Celestia said as she put down the quill and rolled up the scroll she had been working on. Sealing it with a piece of ribbon and royal wax stamp.

“His magical powers are formidable. By his own admission he destroyed an adult drake, and If the reports I received from Twilight Sparkle and other eye witness accounts are accurate he also decimated a large portion of the carnivorous wildlife in the everfree forest. Not to mention fending off several skilled unicorn casters, my student among them, and the entire Ponyville weather patrol. Turning such a creature loose without oversight or simply trusting it blindly would be foalish in the extreme.”

Borealis nodded as he spoke, “I see how that makes you wary of him, but if that is the case, why not simply lock him in tartarus and be done with it?”

Celestia sighed, “Because that would be short sighted and cruel. He seemed genuinely remorseful about the attack on our little ponies. And when he learned of the fate of Lyra Heartstrings he did all he could to heal her affliction. Without which she surely would not have survived. I sincerely doubt that a being who was truly malicious at heart would have done so.”

“Unless it was all an act to save himself from your wrath.” Borealis opted.

“Possibly, however I do not believe it was. Even so, I will not risk the lives of my little ponies solely on my gut instinct. That is why I want you to keep an eye on him and keep a precise account of his actions.”

“It’s all moot at this point, if the tribunal finds him guilty they may send him to tartarus anyway.”

“This whole trial is a farce as far as I’m concerned. A bunch of self entitled colts and fillies throwing their weight around as part of a tantrum because they disagree with mother's decision.” Celestia snorted.

“Is that how you see yourself highness? As a mother to us all?”

Celestia snorted lightly, “Sometimes I suppose. These bickering politicians and nobles certainly remind me of squabbling children often enough.”

“Have you learned who was responsible for getting the tribunal involved highness?”

“Alas no, Blueblood was unable to identify the nobles in question.”

“Do we at least know who is presiding over the proceedings?”

“Representatives of house Storm Chaser, house Blessed Fields and house Lulamoon will be chosen as judges, if what Blueblood heard is correct.”

“Well it shall certainly prove to be interesting. I assume you and lady Luna will be attending?”

“Indeed we shall. To make sure it is indeed a fair trial.”

“Better you than me your Highness. I have neither the stomach nor the patience for politics.”

“Neither does my sister. She was always much more at home on the battlefield than in the political arena, so to speak.”

“It is good to have the lady luna with us again.” Borealis said wistfully.

“I take it you and your kin in the night guard have been looking forward to my sisters return the most.”

“But of course highness. Having princess Luna back with us, It’s like, being reunited with long lost family. Just to be in her presence fills our hearts with warmth and joy.” Borealis said with adoration, “No disrespect to you of course princess Celestia.” He hastily added.

Celestia let out a lighthearted chuckle, “No offence taken old friend, it is good to know that some ponies have been looking forward to her return with joy rather than dread. It is not surprising you feel such exuberance in her presence, considering she had a hoof in creating your ancestors. That forges a bond that goes beyond blood, kinship or magic.”

“I was told the legends, but I never really believed they were true. So the princess really did create our ancestors?”

Celestia nodded, “She did, long before her…. her time as Nightmare Moon.”

“That brings me to the other matter you asked me to look into highness.” Borealis said, shaking Celestia out of her guilty thoughts.

“Ah yes of course, how could I have forgotten, what do you have to report?” She said, her expression suddenly guarded.

“We followed their trail all the way to a hideout in Hollow Shades, but there was nothing left there. They simply vanished as if they had never been there at all. They cleaned the place out, no documents no traces, nothing. We questioned some of the locals, but it all turned up empty.”

“Thats is, most disturbing.”

“What do you want us to do now?”

“With nothing to go on, there is precious little we can do. Have your agents continue business as usual but remain alert for any trace, rumor or sightings. The moment they make a mistake or show a glimpse of themselves we will come down on them like a thunderstorm.”

“As you wish your highness. Was there anything else?”

Celestia shook her head, “No, you may go about your duties.”

Borealis bowed respectfully, “By your leave then. I bid you goodnight and pleasant dreams.”

With those parting words he stepped back and faded into the shadows, as if he had never been there at all. Celestia tried to return to her paperwork, but found herself unable to concentrate. Her thoughts plagued by yet more worries.


***********************


Well as far as dungeons go this wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was actually quite pleasant. I was expecting a dark damp cell with rusty iron bars and a bucket for a loo. Well the bucket was still there but lucky for me, I don’t have that function anymore. But the cell itself was actually okay. There were four cells in total, adjacent to a guard room. It was clean, the bars weren’t rusty. In fact they looked freshly polished, as if someone had wanted to make a good impression or something. Weird right? I even had sunlight coming in from several barred windows in the wall opposite my cell. The cell itself was made of bare stone. It held a single cot to rest on and nothing else, beside the aforementioned bucket. My one enemy though was boredom. I’ve been in this cell since last night, and the novelty of it has worn off.

“So did you guys draw the short straw or what?” I spoke to the two guards who were sitting at a small table on the far wall below the window, their spears propped up against the wall.

There were at least two guards stationed in the room at all times, most likely to keep an eye on me to make sure i didn’t pull a vanishing act or made trouble. These two had been here since dawn and were clearly as bored as I was. One was a white mare, the other a grey stallion.

“Quiet prisoner.” The mare said curtly.

“Oh come on fellas don’t be like that. How about a little conversation to pass the time huh?”

“We are not allowed to fraternise with the inmates.”

“Oh come on you must be as bored as I am.”

Stoic silence was my only reply.

“How about a game of cards? I bet you guys have a deck on you.”

“How would you know?” Said the stallion.

“It’s like a universal rule, guards like card games. So whaddya say we play a few rounds?”

“Ain’t gonna happen.” said the mare.

“How about a wager then. I bet you I can walk straight out of this cell.”

“Yeah sure, and I’m the tooth breezy.” The stallion smirked.

“If I can walk right out of this cell, you will have to play some card games with me.”

“Whatever you say prisoner.” The mare said nonchalantly.

Clearly she thought I was pulling their legs. If I had a proper face I would have grinned impishly. Instead I walked right up to the bars, and with a little push from my magic I simply squeeze straight through them like I was Mister Fantastic himself. The vines and twigs that made up my body simply bending and curving around the bars before reforming. Both guards jumped in panic and fumbled for their spears.

“H-hey get back in your cell, right now.” The stallion stuttered as he leveled his weapon at me.

“Sure, but you owe me a card game.” I say as I point a finger at him. “After all, a bet is a bet.”



About an hour later the door that leads into the guard room pushes open to admit none other than Shining armor. His eyes go wide as he takes in the scene before him. I’m back in my cell, like I promised, but the two guards have pushed their little table up against the bars so I can reach my hands through, and we’re right in the middle of our game. Their backs are to the door so they haven’t noticed Shinings entry yet.

“Got any fives?” The mare who’s name I learned was Sunny Spring asks me.

“Go fish.”

Yeah we’re playing go fish. I would have gone with poker, but none of us had any chips or bits for that matter. Besides Poker with just three people is kind of dull. At least these two have warmed up to me a little, which I found kind of surprising. I fully expected them to ignore the bet and just get angry, but they were good sports about it once they got over their initial panic. As Shining Armor gets over the shock of the scene before him he walks up to us with an angry glare.

“Hey Shiny, wanna join us?” I say as casually as possible. The two guards panic none the less as they realise who’s standing behind them.

“C-captain.” Sunny Spring stammers. Her grey partner goes white as a ghost.

“Just what the buck are you two doing? You are supposed to guard the prisoner, not fraternise with him.”

“Oh lay off them Shining, we were going nuts just sitting here staring at eachother. Besides they were technically still keeping an eye on me, we were just entertaining ourselves while doing so. No harm done.”

“That’s Captain Armor to you prisoner. And you have a visitor.” He says pointing a hoof at the doorway.

From said doorway emerges a verditer colored minotaur, tall as a mountain and dressed in a deep blue suit and red tie. And apparently no pants. Is there some kind of social stigma when it comes to pants? Shining marches the guards out the door, presumably to read them the riot act. Did he always have a stick up his plot, or is he just extra on edge today? I don’t have time to ponder the question as the minotaur steps up to the bars.

“Greetings, Ironclad Case is the name, defense attorney is my game. Prince Blueblood said you were in need of council.” He bellows with gusto as he offers me a hand to shake.

My head momentarily spins from his stentorian introduction. Seriously, has this guy ever heard of volume control?

“Are you in any way related to Iron Will?” The question slips out before I realise it.

“I have a cousin by that name, runs workshops or some such. You know him?”

“Only by reputation.” I fib as I take his hand and give him a firm shake.

“Well anyhow, we need to discuss your case Mister, Aeron was it?”

“That’s right.”

“Are you aware of the charges being brought against you?”

“Not really, aside from the obvious. They have told me nothing.”

“Hmm.” he frowns.

“Do you… have a list?”

He proceeds to bring out a briefcase from… I have no idea where. Do they have hammerspace in this world? Or a bag of holding? A dimensional pocket? It would certainly clear a few things up. I swear I will get to the bottom of it if it’s the last thing I do. Perhaps it will be, if things go pear shaped for me in the worst way. The clearing of his throat grabs my attention, he’s now holding a list.

“Let's see, there’s the charge of murder for killing the dragon.”

“Self defence.” I respond curtly, to which he hmm's.

“Off the record, as a former warrior in the Taurian army I salute your skills and prowess as a warrior for slaying a drake.” He whispers, or what passes as a whisper for him. To anyone else it would be a normal speaking volume.

“You are also being charged with assault, destruction of property, use of illegal magics, and.. Poaching.”

“Yeeeah, the assault and destruction of property was the beasts doing, I have no idea what illegal magics they are talking about and poaching? What the heck?”

“They likely wish to fine you for hunting the monsters of the everfree without a license.”

“That is ridiculous.”

“And a minor thing compared to the other charges on the list. Since you admitted to killing the dragon there is no way you can plead 'not guilty', the best we can do there is try and strike a deal and hope for leniency. As for the assault and destruction charges, we need to prove you were not in control. An expert in spirit possessions would be vital to your defense. Lastly theres the use of forbidden magics.”

“What forbidden magics? I know exactly dick about magic, hell in a handbasket most of my magic just works through dumb luck, instinct and pure willpower.”

“I have a preliminary analysis report here by one Twilight Sparkle, she’s apparently an expert on the subject. We can call her up as an expert witness.”

“Assuming she’s not working with the prosecution. I don’t think she likes me very much.”

“Her like or dislike of you is irrelevant. I will contact her as soon as we are done here.”

For the next hour we discussed our defense strategy. But I was honestly not optimistic. Even if everything went my way I was looking at a minimum ten to sixteen months of prison time, if not outright banishment from Equestrian soil for a minimum of one year for slaying the drake. Worst case they would throw me in Tartarus with the likes of Tirek. Though Ironclad was optimistic that would not happen I myself was a lot more sceptical, the way fate seemed determined to mess things up for me.

*****************



Star Horn strolled casually through Ponyville. He was currently off duty and feeling pretty good. The day had started off a tad chilly, but the mid morning sun had driven away the last of the cold and the birds were out en masse and filling the air with their song. Just as he passed one of the inner bridges that led away from the market square a chipper young voice called to him from behind.

“Mornin’ mister Star Horn, where ya headin’ off to?”

He looked behind himself to see a trio of little fillies walking up to the bridge.

“Morning, Apple bloom right?”

“Tha's right,” The little fillie said chipperly, “And you ‘member Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo.”

The other two fillies waved a hoof in greeting.

“Of course, how could I forget. Especially after your little stunt.”

The three smiled sheepishly.

“So where ya off to Mr Horn? You on special guard business?” Scootaloo asked, excitement clear in her voice.

“Actually no, It’s my day off. I was on my way to Ponyville General to see if miss Zecora’s condition has changed yet.”

“Would it be okay if we tagged along?” Apple bloom asked.

Scootaloo looked a little disappointed, clearly preferring to go on an adventure instead.

“I suppose its alright.” Star Horn said. “Just don’t break anything.”

“We wouldn’t.” Sweetie Belle protested.

“Not on purpose I’d reckon, but I’ve heard the stories around town about you three. In just a short while you three have caused more chaos around Ponyville than any other pony in living memory.”

“We’re not that bad.” Scootaloo protested hotly, but Star Horn only chuckled.

“Come on, Let's go visit the hospital, and afterwards I will buy you girls lunch.”


It did not take long for them to reach Ponyville General. The nurse at the front desk greeted them with a smile and smoothly directed them to Zecora’s room since she remembered them from the other day. As they approached the room however they were surprised by the sounds of a clatter and a thud followed by pained groaning. Star Horn immediately dashed ahead of the three fillies and threw open the door.

Zecora lay in a tangled heap on the floor, half wrapped in the sheets. She was struggling wildly to throw them off her whilst speaking rapidly in her native tongue. The look in the eyes was panicked and unfocused.

“Girls, get the nurse.” Star Horn barked before he galloped over to Zecora’s side, “Easy, easy there miss, you are safe.”

The zebra’s eyes turned to him and slowly seemed to clear. She stopped fighting the bedsheets as if they were trying to strangle her and let out a shaky breath.

“It’s alright miss, I got you.” Star said calmly as he helped her off the floor with his telekinesis.

Moments later they were joined by the crusaders, who returned with a nurse. The nurse in question immediately began to examine Zecora.

“Ohh my head, it feels as if it were used like a drum.” She groaned, “You my good pony, do you know why it does?”

“Easy there miss Zecora,” said the nurse, “you have been unconscious for a long time. Try not to exert yourself too much yet.”

“With your request I shall acquiesce, for I do not wish to cause distress.”

“You certainly have a way with words.” Star Horn smiled, “How are you feeling? Any pain besides the headache?”

Zecora shook her head, slowly. Not wanting to aggravate her condition.

“Please relax while I go inform the doctor of your condition. I will return shortly.” said the nurse before she trotted off.

“Hi miss Zecora, ahm glad you’re okay.”

Zecora looked over to the little yellow filly that had addressed her. “If my memory has not failed me on the spot, your name is Apple Bloom, is it not?”

“Thats right, I’m glad y’all remember me.” Bloom said with a smile.

“How could I forget such a charming little filly.” she croaked.

“Would you like some water miss?” Star Horn asked.

She gave him a nod, and he busied himself grabbing a plastic cup from the small supply cabinet in the room and filling it with water from the adjacent wash room tap. Zecora greedily drank it down once he levitated it over to her. She couldn’t remember the last time her throat had felt so dry. She coughed and spluttered a bit after the first gulp, but the cool water felt so good to her parched throat.

“Do you remember what happened before you lost consciousness?” Star asked after she recovered and set aside the empty cup.

“The last thing I remember was assisting a friend, before it all came to a sudden end.”

Before he could ask her to elaborate they were interrupted by the arrival of Doctor Horse and the nurse from earlier. The doctor immediately began a series of examinations. First came the regular things like blood pressure and listening to her heartbeat and lungs. Then came the magical scans and diagnostic spells. Lastly the nurse brought in a set of different colored crystals. The doctor floated them up to her one by one and passed them over various areas of her body. Every once in awhile one of them would light up like a small lightbulb, drawing a contemplative ‘hmm’ or quiet ‘aha’ from the doctor.

“Well miss Zecora you seem to be making a full recovery. I can detect no lasting side effects or injuries. You should be back to normal in a few days.”

“But something is wrong, I cannot hear the world song. Since I woke up in this bed, there has been nothing but silence in my head.” She replied.

“World song?” The doctor asked puzzled.

“She is referring to the Zebra’s magical connection to the earth around them. Much like earth ponies are connected to the land. We ponies call it the Aether flow.” Starhorn interjected.

“I see,” Said the doctor with mild surprise, “I can assure you the loss of your magical sense is temporary. It is a side effect from the treatment. We had to purge a large amount of corruptive magic from your focal pathways, as a result your magical senses are temporarily numbed.”

Zecora let out a sigh of relief as she sank back into the soft mattress.

“I don’t understand, I thought only unicorns had magic.” Sweetie Belle said.

“Actually all natural creatures have arcane pathways because every species on equus is magical to some degree. It’s simply that unicorns like you and me have evolved to actively channel that magic through their horn. Zebra might lack said horn, but they have learned to wield magic in their own way.” Star Horn answered the little filly.

“You just take it easy now miss Zecora, we will have you right as rain in no time.” Doctor horse said before he left the room.

“I hope my stay here won’t be too long, last time i came to Ponyville I was not welcome.”

“Y’all don’t have to worry about that miss Zecora, nopony is gonna bother ya ever again, and you are welcome in town now.” Apple Bloom said.

“I sense there is a tale to tell, would you share it with me as well?”

“You can thank Sergeant Fire Shot for that.” Star said as he informed her of what transpired the other day.

**************


Mayor Mare stood nervously on the podium in front of town hall as more and more ponies filled the town square. Next to her stood three members of the royal guard as well as Apple Jack.

“Miss Apple, do you know what this is all about?” Mayor mare asked nervously.

She had been trotting on eggshells after the fiery earth pony sergeant had nearly bashed her office door off its hinges and demanded she round up the town for an important announcement.

“All ah know is it has somethin’ ta do with Zecora.” The farm pony answered quietly.

Once everypony was present Mayor mare stepped up to the microphone.

“Fillies and Gentlecolts, I have asked you here because the royal guard wish to make an announcement, so without further ado.” She stepped back to allow Fire Shot to step up to the mic.

“Alright, pin your ears on and listen up because I will only say this once you sorry excuses for ponies.” She belted out in her best drill instructor voice, making several ponies flinch while others reflexively stood up straight.

“My name is Sergeant Fire Shot, and here’s the long and short of it. It has come to my attention that there are some idiotic rumors going around town regarding a certain Zebra who lives in the everfree forest. For those of you who don’t know what I’m on about I’m talking about Zecora. Now I have heard a lot of strange things, like how she eats foals or how she is supposedly an evil enchantress who was responsible for the recent monster attack on Ponyville. Those rumors STOP! Here and now.”

Uncertain murmurs rose up from the crowd. She gave the gathered ponies her trademark death glare.

“Did I say you all could talk you doe eyed daisy brains?! Shut your cake holes and listen up! Those rumors are completely baseless nonsense. If you weren’t such a bunch of sheltered country hicks you would know that a Zebra is almost the same as any earth pony. Just because she happens to have stripes in her coat doesn’t mean she’s some foal devouring monster.”

“But she lives in the bucking everfree!” one pony in the crowd shouted.

“What did I tell you about shutting your noise hole? Do I need to come down there and fold your flank in half? She lives in the everfree because the everfree is very much like her native homeland. Yes you heard me! Zebrica is a place where most forests, or jungles as they are called are more like the everfree than say the white tail woods. To her, living in such a place is no stranger than a Pegasus living in a cloud house.”

“But ah heard she was doing all kinds of creepy magic.” Another pony shouted.

“From what we’ve learned she is apparently a herbalist and alchemist and has received at least some shamanistic training. For those who know nothing of zebra culture, that means all of you! A shaman is a respected healer and spiritual leader among zebra society. You ponies should feel privileged to have someone of such skill living nearby. Instead you treated her like a leper. Now the reason I’m telling you all this is because right now that poor zebra is being treated at ponyville general for injuries she sustained during the monster attack.”

She paused for a second to let her words sink in.

“I will say this one more time, she was NOT responsible for the attack and I will not tolerate you lot treating her like she’s an outcast just because she’s different. This is your only warning. If I hear any more of these idiotic rumors, or worse, if any one of you dares to harass her or treat her in a manner unbecoming of a pony I will personally track you down and kick your flank all the way to canterlot where you can spend a day and night in the dungeons. Is that clear?”

A few nervous coughs were her only reply.

“I said, IS THAT BUCKING CLEAR!!!!” she boomed in an impressive imitation of the royal canterlot voice.

“Yes ma’am.” the entire town square answered.

“Good. Have a nice evening everypony.” she said sweetly before stepping off the stage.



***************


Zecora tried her hardest not to laugh as Star Horn finished his tale. “It seems I owe you a thank you.”

“Just doing my job ma’am.”

“There is still one worry to which you might put and end. Do you know what became of my friend?”

Star Horn let out a sigh.

“That, is where things get complicated ma’am.”

He said heavily as he began to explain what had happened during the time she was unconscious. When he finished her face had settled into a contemplative frown. Suddenly she threw the blankets off herself and slowly got to her hooves.

“Wait a second, what are you doing?”

“Stay in this hospital I cannot, for we must hurry to Canterlot.”

Chapter 14: Trials are boring...

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Chapter 14
Trials are boring...

To call the courtroom we were led into opulent would be an understatement. Instead of holding the trial in the Canterlot palace court we had been brought to the, get this, Hall of Justice. I know right? The multiverse must have a sense of humor. Where was I? Oh yes, Opulence. To the point where it just became plain tacky. Everything was made of dark rich woods or polished marble that must have cost a fortune. Everything was then decorated with engravings that had been filled with precious metals and gemstones that depicted scenes of what I assumed important events in pony history. It was also a bit dusty. I guess the place doesn't get used much anymore. Someone or I suppose somepony had done a quick sweep through with a broom and a duster, but you could still see the particles dance through the air whenever they hit a stream of sunlight coming in through the stained glass windows.

The judge's bench was decorated with the image of a blindfolded pony holding a pair of scales in one hoof, and a sword in the other, similar to the image of lady justice. Yet another parallel between Earth and Equestria. She was flanked on either side by a picture of the sun and the crescent moon. The bench itself was pretty high, towering over the witness stand and jury box alike. Everything about it seemed designed specifically to make a person feel small and insignificant.

As we were escorted to our seats by two armed guards, I let my gaze drift over the public gallery. It was filled to bursting with ponies. I noticed that all the front seats were taken up by the hoity toity Canterlot nobility. And the seats in back were occupied by the everyday ponies from Canterlot and Ponyville. The expressions on ponies faces ranged between anything from fear to disgust, to morbid curiosity or in rare cases, neutral indifference. It was a different case where the jury was concerned. The dominant expression on their faces was hate and loathing. It seems someone had gone the extra mile to fill the jury box with those most unsympathetic to my case. I glanced at Ironclad and he seemed to have noticed too.

“Seems this case is totally rigged. I don’t have a snowball's chance in hell with them, judging by those glares.” I whispered to him.

“Worry not, I will take care of it.”

I had no idea how he was going to do so but it was out of my hands now.

A pony in the dress uniform of the royal guard entered the room and took up position in front of the bench. I guess this was the bailiff then. Another pony, a unicorn in an expensive business suit followed not much later. The prosecutor by my guess.

“All rise!” the bailiff spoke loudly.

As the noise of everypony rising to their hooves died down, a trio of ponies entered the room and took up position behind the bench. They were clearly elder ponies. Not as old and, dare I say, wrinkly as Granny Smith, but definitely showing some signs of aging.

“Presenting the honourable judges, Lord Grimoire of House Lulamoon,”

Had I been drinking I would have done a spit take at the name. Lord Grimoire was a unicorn with a deep blue coat and an open book for a cutie mark. His mane was long and dark purple, and he had a big bushy mustache. His eyes were a pair of stern yellow pools. Still they showed no malice when they gazed upon me. I couldn’t help but wonder how he was related to Trixie. Uncle? Father? Grandfather? Perhaps I would have a chance to ask one day.

“The Lady Willow Vine of House Blessed Fields.”

An earth pony this time. Her expression was a bit haughty. She had a light cream colored coat and a mane of two tone green. Her cutie mark was some kind of tree or bush. I wasn’t sure. Her blue eyes regarded me with disdain. The kind of look you give someone who wastes your valuable time.

“Captain Jade Gale of House Storm Chaser.”

A pegasus stallion who more or less looked like a male version of Fleetfoot. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were related too. His cutie mark looked like a little tornado.

Lord Grimnoir took charge as he told everyone present to be seated. Again the room was filled with noise as everypony planted their plots down.

“Order, court is now in session.” Willow Vine spoke as she rapped her hoof against the sound block instead of using a gavel.

“The case of the sovereign nation of Equestria versus the entity known as Aeron.” Jade Gale continued. “Let the accused rise.”

I stood up, as did Ironclad.

“You are the entity known simply as Aeron?” he asked.

“That I am your honour.”

He stared at me for a moment before he continued, “You stand accused of a great many wrongs. Such as assault, destruction of property, and of course, murder. You have been brought here to stand trial and be judged by a jury of your peers so...”

“OBJECTION! Your honours. Objection!” Ironclad bellowed loud enough to rattle the windows, and wipe the snooty look off of Willow Vine’s face with its volume. The entire public gallery had ducked under their seats in a kneejerk response to the noise.

“Counselor, to what do you object?” Grimoire asked a tad perplexed while trying to fix his mustache, which had poofed up like a cat’s tail.

Ironclad walked around the table and towards the bench.

“As every being present can see, and you yourselves just stated, my client is not a pony but a unique entity. Therefore it would be both unfair and impossible to have him judged by a jury of ponies, as they are clearly not of his kind, and thus they do not qualify as his ‘peers’, ipso facto. I therefore motion for my client to be judged in a bench trial rather than by jury in order to ensure an unbiased and fair sentence.”

The crowd burst into loud murmuring, and several members of the jury looked insulted. Shooting hateful glares at Ironclad.

“Ridiculous, we shall do no such thing” Willow Vine stated.

“Hold on there,” Jade Gale glared at her. “The counselor has a point, and we need to reach consensus.”

The murmuring rose in volume as the judges debated quietly. Finally Lord Grimoire restored order with a few raps of his hoof.

“Your objection is sustained counselor. While this is highly unorthodox we shall resume these proceedings as a bench trial. Fillies and gentlecolts of the jury, your services are no longer required. We thank you for your valuable time. You may leave or take seat in the public gallery.”

One by one the jury filed out of the box and took seats in the gallery. many of them kept shooting me death glares as if I had just robbed them of their favorite things. Still I gotta hand it to Ironclad, that was smooth. I turned my attention back to the bench as Jade Gale addressed me.

“Now that that's settled we can proceed. We shall begin by formally reading the charges, you are then allowed to plead guilty or not guilty as they are read to you.” He then nodded to one of the court clerks. “You may begin.”

Said clerk, a unicorn mare, stepped forward and unrolled a scroll while adjusting her glasses.

“We shall start with the charge of poaching an undetermined number of creatures native to the everfree forest. How do you plead.”

“Not guilty.” I stated crisply. “And I want it on record that I think that particular charge is ridiculous.”

“Order!” Willow Vine yelled immediately. “Behave yourself Mister Aeron.”

“Quite frankly that charge ‘is’ ridiculous.” Jade Gale said. “There are no poaching laws in regards to the everfree forest that I am aware of. Besides all that lives in that place is monsters. If anything, culling their numbers can be considered doing Equestria a favor.”

“Actually there are some laws, but they are archaic and have not been revised since the unification of Equestria when the Griffon kingdoms still had claims to parts of the everfree.” Grimoire cut in.

“Going over those would bog these proceedings down till the end of the day and possibly beyond. I motion we either table these poaching charges until we have time to go over those old books in detail. Or drop them altogether. Frankly they are irrelevant and insignificant to these proceedings compared the the other charges.”

“Then we are in agreement. The charges of poaching are hereby dropped. Let's continue.”

To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I had expected them to try and make every single charge stick. Had we not moved to a bench trial they just might have. Well, never look a gift horse in the mouth and all that. One down, several to go. The rest won’t be as easy.

“On the charge of assault, how do you plead?”

I turned my attention back to the clerk, “Not guilty.”

“Destruction of property. How do you plead?”

“Not guilty.”

“On the charge of wilfully wielding forbidden magics, how do you plead.”

“Not guilty your honours.”

“Lastly, on the charge of murder in the first degree. How do you plead?”

I looked over to Ironclad, who stood up to address the bench once again.

“Your honours, my client is willing to make a deal and plead guilty, provided the charges are changed from murder to involuntary being-slaughter, since my client was acting in self defence at the time.”

Loud shouts of ‘No deals with monsters’ were heard from the public gallery as everyone started talking at once. It took several moments for order to be restored.

****************

Not far from the Hall of Justice a gathering was taking place.
Several ponies dressed in full body suits of midnight black and deep navy blue cloaks were sitting in the basement of a small canterlot eatery. Their faces were hidden beneath masks and cowls. There was about a dozen of them all told. All of them brandished weapons that glimmered like pure silver. Wicked curved daggers and sickles, bearded axes and scimitars. A soft knock on the cellar door drew their attention. A pony in a waitress outfit entered and silently passed a note to the one nearest the door before she bowed and made her exit. The pony who received the note passed it along to another whose cloak had a silver trim.

“What news from our agents?” asked one.

“They report the trial has begun. The distraction is proceeding as planned. We must make ready, the time to strike is near.”

As one they raised their weapons.

“For the glory of our lady, and darkness eternal.”

Chapter 15: Unless your life is on the line.

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Chapter 15
Unless your life is on the line.

With the sound of several small bells the ornate little clock on the desk struck noon, earning a frustrated groan from its owner.

Luna couldn’t sleep. She tried meditating, counting sheep, she even had one of her maids bring her warm milk. Nevermind the fact she disliked milk at the best of times. But no matter what she did or how hard she tried, sleep just wouldn’t come. She had been trying since sunrise. Short of blasting herself with a sleeping hex she was out of options. She paced her room in frustration for several moments before she decided to head downstairs. Rather than walk down from her tower, she ran out her balcony doors and leapt over the edge, gracefully soaring down whilst leaving behind the faintest trail of stars that sparkled briefly before vanishing into nothingness.

She briefly revelled in the feeling of the air whipping past her face and through her mane. It was one of the things she missed most during her thousand year banishment. She opened her wings fully and let the air currents catch her. Gliding gracefully across the courtyard she aimed towards the outer wall of the throne room. Just before she collided with the stone she did a short range teleport, also known as a blink spell, and ended up inside the throne room itself. With a mighty flap of her wings she halted her momentum and came to a graceful stop, touching down on the marble floor with barely a sound.

“Tia? Are you here?” She called out upon finding the throne itself empty.

“Aunt Celestia has gone to witness the trial aunty Luna. She left in disguise with two of her guards.” a familiar voice called out to her. She turned to find prince Blueblood standing there.

Of course, the trial was today. How could she have forgotten.

“Should you not be resting aunt luna?”

“We have tried. Sleep is proving to be especially elusive today.” she grumbled.

“Any idea why?”

“If we did we would not be standing here talking to thee. We would be in our bed, asleep.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence hung between them.

“We apologize, we did not mean to be ‘snippy’ with thee, nephew.” Luna suddenly blurted out, not quite meeting Blueblood's eyes.

“It's quite alright aunty. I understand you have been under a lot of stress. With everything that has happened to you in such a short amount of time it’s no wonder you’re having trouble sleeping.” Blueblood said whilst waving a hoof dismissively.

“Thank you Blueblood, for being so understanding.”

“Weren’t you going to the trial with aunt Celestia though?”

“Nay, we decided not to. We still feel rather uncomfortable in large crowds of ponies, even while disguised we feel as if they stare at us, judging us with their eyes...” She trailed off.

Another silence that dragged out for a minute or so.

“Art thou not going to the trial?” Luna finally asked awkwardly, grasping for any topic of conversation.

Blueblood shook his head, “I would hate to draw attention to myself. I fear I am not as practiced at disguise spells as aunt Celestia, or you. And my coltish good looks do tend to turn a few heads.” He said, flashing luna a winning smile while running a hoof through his mane and striking a haughty pose like so many nobles.

That last bit made the princess crack a smile at least.

“How come thou hast no marefriend yet with such a winning smile.”

Blueblood blushed and coughed into a hoof. “I uhm, have my reasons aunty Luna.”

Another pause, but this time there was no awkwardness to it.

“Still we are surprised thou hast chosen to remain here. We would have thought thou would want to know how things fared at least.”

“I have faith in Ironclad’s skills. He may be far from the most orthodox lawyer, but he knows his laws and how to work the Judges. Besides, as we discussed the other day, this trial is little more than a farce for the masses. Just some of the nobility throwing their weight around. Yet what they hope to gain by putting on this spectacle is beyond me.”

Luna pondered the question for several moments.

“If we… I, were orchestrating such events I would use it to draw away attention from elsewhere. Put on a great spectacle to draw everypony's eye away from the real prize. The trial certainly has done that. Not only that but it has taken a large portion of our guards to maintain order and security. Leaving less of them free to respond to whatever situations might arise. Are there any big events happening in the next few days? Political decisions to be made? Anything like that?”

“None as far as I know. I would have to look into it.”

One of the large double doors to the throne room creaked as it opened and a very nervous maid stuck her head inside the room.

“A thousand pardons Princess Luna, but there are some ponies here that wish to see you.” She said with a tremor in her voice.

****************



Meanwhile at the Hall of Justice.

It took a solid minute of hoof banging and the threat of having the room forcibly cleared to restore order. It was decided to leave the decision whether or not they would change the charge from murder to being-slaughter until the end of the trial. The decision would be pending a lot on the verdict of the other charges, which we now moved on to. First up was the use of forbidden magics. The prosecutor took over and called in his first expert witness, who turned out to be none other than Twilight Sparkle. She looked slightly nervous as she took the witness stand. Probably because she was still fresh out of living as a bookish recluse and now found herself having to address all these ponies.

“State your name for the record.” The prosecutor ordered.

“Twilight Sparkle.” she answered with only the faintest trace of a stutter.

“MIss Sparkle you are the protégé of our beloved princess Celestia, correct?”

“Yes, that is correct.”

“And under her tutelage you have studied magic extensively. Would you consider yourself an expert.”

She gently coughed into a hoof to clear her throat before she answered.

“While I could use more practical experience, I am well versed in magical theory, thaumaturgy, arithmancy, and I know the full schools of magic compendium by heart. So, without meaning to sound arrogant that would be a yes.” she said with a modest hint of pride. Her nerves now fully under control.

“Since you are obviously knowledgeable, you must also know which schools or forms of magic are forbidden from being practised without a license or altogether.”

“That I do.” she answered crisply.

“Could you name those schools of magic that are forbidden for us.”

“Those would be Necromancy,” she said to a slight gasp of disgust from the crowd, “Which is one of the completely forbidden schools for obvious reasons. Invocation magic, which has been outlawed after several incidents involving the summoning of minor demons and other evil spirits.”

Twilight was in full lecture mode now.

“Next there is Bio-thaumaturgy, which requires a healer's license and can only be used by trained doctors and nurses, since this school of magic includes some of the most advanced medical spells known to us.”

“Next we have Apportation, or transport magic if you will, such as teleportation which requires a licence and being registered with the guard since it’s relatively easy for a pony trained in teleportation to enter, say, a bank vault. I myself am licensed and registered with the Apportation Bureau.”

“Lastly there is Wild or Feral magic. And Chaos magic. Feral magic is forbidden because it is very hard to control and incredibly unpredictable, much like chaos magic. It works on instinct or intent rather than via a structured spell matrix like most schools of magic and its effects can be very destructive should the caster lose focus or control of the spell. Feral magic is also susceptible to wild surges since it draws power from its surroundings as well as the spellcasters own mana pool. Should someone use a wild spell in a magically saturated environment the chances of the spell surging would rise exponentially. Only a hoof-ful of highly trained researchers are allowed to experiment with it, and never without supervision.”

“As for Chaos magic… Chaos magic is simply beyond any ponies control. Even Starswirl the Bearded, greatest pony magister of all time could not bend it to his will.”

As Twilight's lecture ended, the glazed look that had descended over the eyes of several ponies, including two of the judges, seemed to evaporate. Several more in the public gallery awoke from their impromptu naps with startled snores. Looking around bewildered before realising where they were and composing themselves.

“Thank you miss Sparkle for that thorough explanation.” The prosecutor said after clearing his throat.

“My pleasure.” she said with a beaming smile.

“Now then miss Sparkle, I understand you personally witnessed the attack by the defendant on Ponyville.”

“Witnessed would be putting it lightly, but yes, that is correct.” She said whilst looking in my direction. Her stare, while not hateful, was far from friendly.

“You also examined the defendant after the event, correct?”

“Yes, though I was unaware I was dealing with a sentient creature at the time. I was under the impression we were dealing with a case of possessed flora. Much like with the timberwolves.”

“Putting that aside for the moment, when you performed your examination did you also do a standard thaumaturgy test to determine the type of magic involved?”

“Yes, but the first results were inconclusive. I had to resort to more, invasive methods to draw a definitive conclusion.”

“And what was this conclusion miss Sparkle? What sort of magical signature did you find on the suspect.”

“All test results showed that the base magical signature of the subject were feral in origin.”

“Thank you miss Sparkle.” the prosecutor said before turning to face the judges.

“There it is your honours. According to miss Sparkles expert opinion it was clearly feral magic. Her findings have since been confirmed by the the researchers at the arch magos laboratory. This is a magic that, as stated, is forbidden by Equestrian law, your honours. It is therefore clear that the defendant is guilty and should be punished accordingly. Your honours, the prosecution rests.”

There was murmuring among the crowd and the judges themselves for a moment before Lord Grimoire addressed Ironclad Case.

“Even though this case seems rather clear cut, would the defence like to cross examine the witness?”

“That I would your honour.” Ironclad boomed.

“You may proceed.” Jade Gale said.

Ironclad picked up one of the file folders on the table and rose from his seat to approach the witness stand.

“Miss Sparkle, you are clearly well versed in the rules and regulations.”

“I would like to think so. I am an A plus student after all.”

“And yet you took it upon yourself to perform these, tests, on my client without proper authorisation. Since according to the file I have here you are not a licenced researcher.”

“What? Yes I am.”

“Apologies, it says here you are indeed licensed as a theoretical spellcraft researcher and alchemist.”

“I told you.” Twilight began but Ironclad interrupted her.

“However you are not licensed to perform magical and biological experiments on sentient beings. And certainly not without their consent.”

“Like I said, I was unaware at the time. I thought we were dealing with a plant, not.. whatever he truly is. I still haven’t figured that out” she said, sounding a bit abashed.

“Ignorance is no excuse miss Sparkle, the fact is you performed experiments on my client without proper authorisation. As such, I motion for the court to declare her findings as inadmissible as evidence.”

“Objection!” The prosecutor shouted.

“But I did have authorisation.” Twilight shouted before the judges could respond, “Princess Celestia herself authorised it.”

That caused a bit of a stir with the crowd. No doubt the rumor mill would be working overtime today.

“Do you have proof of this miss Sparkle?” Asked Willow Vine.

“I have a writ from the princess granting me the authority to perform all necessary tests to determine the origins of the entity that attacked Ponyville.”

“Show us please.”

With a flash from her horn twilight summoned a scroll and handed it to the bailiff who passed it to the judges. They scrutinised it for several moments. Finally Lord Grimoire performed a spell on the scroll. It lit up with a green glow.

“This document is indeed authentic. Objection sustained.” he said

“Do you have any further questions counselor?”

A sudden thought struck me and I motioned Ironclad over to the table. After a brief discussion he gave me a grin and turned back to face the bench.

“Your honours my client has just pointed out an error with this charge.”

“Oh?” Said Jade Gale.

“Indeed.” He said before addressing Twilight again, “Miss Sparkle, you said feral magic is one of the forbidden schools.”

“Yes. I thought I made that clear.” she answered with a hint of frustration.

“So who exactly is forbidden from practicing them.”

“Why, ponies of course.”

“Exactly! Ponies.” Ironclad said loudly. “But as we already established earlier my client is not a pony. Thus this rule does not apply to him.”

“You are in error sir. This law applies to every citizen of Equestria. That includes non ponies.” Willow Vine stated.

“I stand corrected your honour, however my client is not a citizen of Equestria. Furthermore there are places in Equus where the practice of necromancy, for example, is allowed as part of sacred burial rights. Now if one of these practitioners visits Equestria they aren’t immediately arrested and tried are they?”

“You know full well they are not.” Jade Gale said.

“Then by that logic my client should fall under the same exemption for feral magics. Let us not even get into the fact that it is these very same magics that form the core of my clients very being, and to deny him the use and access to them would be akin to a death sentence.”

Silence was the only answer we got. It took the judges fifteen minutes of heated debate to come to a consensus this time. They did not look very happy as they rendered their verdict.

“On the charge of using forbidden magics we find the defendant, not guilty. Be warned you are getting off on a technicality. Any further provocation on your part will see you back in this court, and then you will be found guilty and sentenced accordingly.”

My relief was short lived as the public gallery once more erupted into shouts.

“This trial is a farce!” yelled one pony.

“Where is the justice here.” shouted another.

The more it happened the more I became convinced that every time the crowd erupted into unrest it was the same couple of ponies that stoked the proverbial fires.

************************



“You are certain she is here?” one pony whispered to another as the crowd was shouting for justice.

“According to our sources she is attending this trial in disguise with only minimal protection. Stay alert.”

“If we cannot find her we can at least take care of her protégé.” A third pony whispered.

“Yes, that will do nicely. And it will surely draw her out.” said the first.


************************



“What is the meaning of this. How did thou gain entry to the palace?” Luna demanded as the maid was led into the room at knifepoint by a half dozen unicorns dressed in black. They immediately closed off the room and cast a locking spell on the door and silencing spell across the room itself. Nopony outside would hear them.

“We have come for you, mistress Moon.” the leader of the group said as he bowed to her, “We have come to free you from this gilded prison so we may restore you to your rightful place as the true ruler of Equestria. Your loyal agents are everywhere. Our families have waited generations for your return.”

Luna’s eyes had turned to saucers while her pupils shrank to pinpricks.

“Thou cannot be serious.” She stammered.

The leader of the group looked up confused. “Mistress?”

“We have just returned from our banishment. We have barely recovered from our ordeal. And thou wantest us to follow thee and lead a revolt anew against mine sisters throne. To revel in the darkness, and the suffering of the peasantry? I say thee nay! We would be back on the moon before we could blink our eyes. We will not go back to that lonely desolate void. Never again.”

The leader's shoulders sagged slightly.

“So the rumors were true. The elements have poisoned your mind. They have shackled our mistress and in her place we have you. The meek princess who lets her sister, the false servant of the sun, define her boundaries.”

Luna bristled at his words. Were she at her full potential she would have struck him down without batting an eye. But she could not. Not now. Especially with one of them holding a blade to one of the palace maids. She searched for a retort, but before she could form one the unknown pony drew a silver scimitar.

“If you will not come with us willingly we will take you by force and we will find a way to free our beloved mistress from whatever mental prison you are keeping her in.”

“Over my cold dead body.” Blueblood said as his horn lit up. A quick summoning spell later a rapier materialised in his magical grip as he took up a defensive stance between Luna and the cultists.

“Nephew nay, they have a hostage and they outnumber thee. Thou cannot handle them all by thyself.”

“He won’t have to.” a warm, almost musical voice said as another pony seemingly materialised out of thin air.

She was a tall female thestral with a deep midnight blue coat and long flowing mane in subtle shades of violet, teal green and blue. She spread her wings wide, showing off the deadly razor edged blades affixed to their length. Her stance was loose and relaxed but her golden yellow eyes had an edge of steel to them.

“Traitor!” The leader of the group spat at her. “You should be on our side. You thestrals should be helping us restore our mistress to glory.”

“The days of the nightmare kingdom have passed. Princess Luna wants nothing to do with you and your cult. A cult that should have been rooted out long ago. For the princess’ sake I will see it done. Now surrender.”

“Surrender? You are outnumbered three to one.” The leader said as two of his flunkies took up flanking positions.

The mares lips curled into a slight smirk before she suddenly sprang forward faster than a heavy crossbow bolt, leaving a shimmering trail the color of her mane behind her. She dashed in between the two ponies trying to flank her. Her wing flashed once before she came to a full stop, slamming her hooves into the floor. One of the ponies who had tried to flank her trembled slightly, before he collapsed screaming to the ground. The tendons of both his gaskin and elbow on his left side severed in one masterful strike. He would not be getting up again without assistance. The mare slowly turned to look at the leader, giving him a sultry look.

“Two to one.” she hummed.



*****************



Things were not going well. The trial had moved on to the charges of assault and destruction of property. They called up half a dozen ponies who witnessed the attack. Each of them telling their own version of how the horrible living mass of floral death had attacked the town and injured someone they knew, tore down a couple of buildings, and somehow set fire to others.. Even if the situation was only half as bad as they made it out to be it still made my stomach lurch. Well not literally since I don't exactly have a stomach, but you know what I mean.

Then at last they called me to the stand. After having to sit quietly through this whole song and dance for the last couple of hours I was getting restless and more than eager to give them a piece of my mind. The prosecutor approached me with a condescending sneer on his face.

“State your name for the record.”

“Aeron.”

“Is that your full name?”

I really disliked this guy. He oozed so much of that I’m better than you smugness I was surprised he didn’t leave a snail trail wherever he went, the slimy git. He’s the kind of person you want to smack upside the head simply on principle, because he’s a walking offense against common decency.

“It’s the only one I care to give. Besides there is no way for you to confirm it either which way. I could call myself Lord of the Thundercats, and you wouldn’t know if it were actually true or not.”

“Mister Aeron, kindly behave yourself.” Lord Grimoire said.

“My apologies your honour, by the way, could you ask the prosecutor to wipe that look he’s giving me off his face. It’s bugging the hell out of me and making me snippy.”

“That’s enough Mister Aeron!” Willow Vine spat, “We will not have you turn these proceedings into a circus.”

Sheesh that mare is a hardass.

“Now then Mister Aeron, would you perhaps like to share with us exactly why you attacked the little town of Ponyville.”

“Would it help if I said no?”

“Mister Aeron...”

“Mister prosecutor as I told princess Celestia I did not attack Ponyville. That was done by the beast.”

“Ah yes this nameless, beast, that you claim took control of your body and went on a killing spree.”

“That’s right.”

“Do you take us for fools Mister Aeron?”

“You personally or ponies in general?”

“Mister Aeron!”

“I withdraw the question your honour.”

I just couldn’t help myself. This guy's face just brought out the smartass in me. I could see Ironclad motioning for me to cut out the horseshit whilst simultaneously trying to stifle a grin.

“No mister prosecutor I do not take ponies for fools. I know for a fact that most of you can be very reasonable creatures once you get past your knee jerk flight instincts. And no that was not an underhanded insult. Merely an outsider's observation.”

“If that is so then why do you spin these elaborate lies?”

“It is not a lie.”

“You expect us to believe that you were somehow taken over, or possessed if you will, by an evil spirit that made you do these horrible things.”

“Yes, because that is exactly what happened.”

I then retold the story once again. How I confronted the dragon, how we came to blows, and how I managed to overcome it before losing control. The fact that the prosecutor scoffed at every other sentence I uttered did nothing to improve my disposition.

“Fabrications! Fabrications cooked up by a dangerous criminal being who’s trying to escape punishment. There’s no such thing as possessions” The prosecutor practically spat once I was done with my story.

“OBJECTION!” Ironclad bellowed whilst pointing a finger at the prosecutor. His volume was so loud Jade Gale actually fell backwards off his chair. A few loose feathers flying upwards as he impacted the floor with an audible thud.

“Your own expert, miss Sparkle actually mentioned possessed flora. Are you now saying your expert is wrong?”

“Of course not.”

“So then you agree possession must be a real thing.”

“I would have to ask miss Sparkle to clarify the details.”

“Miss Sparkle would you kindly step up to the bench and clarify a few details for us.” Lord Grimoire asked as a slightly bruised Jade Gale climbed back into his seat.

“Certainly.” Twilight said and stood up from her seat to approach the bench.

“Miss Sparkle you mentioned possessed flora earlier. So according to your expertise possession is indeed possible?” Ironclad asked.

“Well, there are prime examples of spirits, both malicious and benign, manifesting themselves by taking control of vegetation among other things. However, all these recorded incidents show the subjects possessing dead wood. Never has there been a confirmed sighting of a spirit possessing a living host. Timberwolves are a prime example, though ponies often mistake them for elementals.”

“Thank you Miss Sparkle, “ The prosecutor interrupted her before she could start another lecture.

“I would like to point out that Miss Sparkle said that possessions only happen with dead wood. You don’t strike me as all that dead mister Aeron.“

“Objection! Miss Sparkle stated there have been no recorded cases of a living host being possessed.”

“Semantics.” The prosecutor countered, “Your honours we could debate this point until we are blue in the face. But the fact is there isn’t a shred of proof that this alleged possession took place.”

The judged looked at each other briefly before Jade Gale spoke.

“Counselor do you have anything further for us?”

Ironclad turned to me with a look of defeat. We were at the end of our rope here and it would take a miracle to turn this around now.

The doors at the back of the courtroom opened to admit a couple of familiar and most welcome faces. In the lead was none other than Zecora, accompanied by a unicorn stallion I didn’t recognise. Trailing behind them were the Cutie Mark Crusaders. I guess lady fate decided to take pity on me. Which immediately made me paranoid about what sort of crap she was holding back to fling at me later. Yeah I’m the paranoid type. Whenever things go my way I can’t help but wonder what kind of disaster is waiting in the wings. Anyway, Zecora and the unknown stallion walked up to Ironclad and had a brief quiet conversation before Ironclad addressed the judges once again.


“Your honours I have just been told there is an eyewitness who also happens to be an expert on spirits and other supernatural phenomena.”

“I object, this witness was not on the approved list.” The prosecutor shouted.

“Overruled, I am eager to hear what this witness has to say.” Willow Vine replied.

Zecora gingerly walked up to the witness stand to take her seat.

“I’m glad you’re safe.” I whispered to her as we passed by each other. She gave me a gentle smile as she sat down.

“Please state your name ma’am.” Willow Vine said.

“Zecora is the name by which I am known, the Everfree forest has long been my home.”


“It is rare that we see Zebra this far north. What has brought you to Equestria?”

“The everfree is rich in herbs that I require to ply my trade, if you require a potion for what ails you, I can have it made.”

“You are are an alchemist?”

“Herbalist, alchemist, healer and spiritual guide, these are the skills to which myself I have applied.”

“Spiritual guide?” Lord Grimoire asked with a hint of skepticism.

“In my homeland, as a shaman I was trained, and over the years a lot of knowledge I have gained. I was young with much curiosity to sate, thus with spirits I learned to communicate. Through trance and ritual, with the spirit world I can speak. With their help I find the knowledge that I seek. Using what wisdom I learned I guide others on the path of life, so they find fulfillment and avoid the way of stryfe.”

“And how do you know the defendant?”

“We met by chance, when he crossed my path, lost and alone. For a time I took him into my home.”

“You lived with this monster?” The prosecutor blurted out.

“He’s not ah monster!” Applebloom practically growled at the prosecutor before the unknown stallion sitting beside the CMC gently shushed her.

“Order in the court.” Willow Vine said with a rapp of her hoof, “Please continue miss Zecora.

Zecora nodded before she resumed her tale.

“With me for a time he did reside, and much I learned of who he is inside. Now his freedom is what I must defend, for he is with certainty innocent.”

Over the next couple of minutes Zecora explained as clearly as she could what had happened to me in so far as the beast was concerned. She explained how a spirit could find ways to hide in a person's subconscious in order to survive on the mortal plane, and influence them in such a way that it gave them nourishment, for lack of a better term, to regain strength. And how that could eventually lead to the spirit taking control. They once more asked Twilight for her opinion on the matter, but she could do little more than defer to Zecora’s greater knowledge on the subject. She did confirm that the amount of free floating dark magic of the Everfree could accelerate the process. And that my calling upon that magic in order to fight the dragon on equal terms would certainly have done so.

I must admit that my mind kind of zoned out for several minutes at this point as the debate continued. My eyes drifted to the public gallery. When my eyes met Applebloom she gave me an encouraging little wave with her hoof. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle were a little more reserved. Both were looking at me with uncertainty and curiosity. Well it was a step up from fear at least. The unknown Stallion, who I later learned was called Star Horn gave me a mostly neutral expression and a brief nod. As I looked at the rest of the gallery I noticed a white unicorn with a bright pink mane not unlike Pinkie’s staring at me intently. She seemed familiar, yet I was sure I had never met her before, nor seen her on the show.

I had no time to contemplate this further as my attention was called back to the proceedings. It seemed the debate was over and the judges had reached a verdict. It was Lady Willow Vine who once again took charge.

“On the charges of assault and destruction of property we find the defendant, not guilty.”

Before the crowd could decent into an angry mob again she continued.

“However there remains the charge of murder.”

At this point Jade Gale took over.

“Based on the evidence presented during this trial, and the testimonies of these witnesses we have agreed to change the charges from murder to involuntary being slaughter.”

“Mister Aeron,” Lord Grimoire now continued, “We believe you to be an entity capable of reason. Your behavior in this court today certainly proves you are not so different from the common pony. Though you are a bit of a smart plot.”

A few quiet chuckles from the CMC could be heard at that last remark.

“Based on what we of the tribunal have observed, we do not believe that killing other beings is typical everyday behavior for you. Without eyewitnesses or any other solid proof to the contrary, and considering you confessed to the crime of your own free will while having no reason to do so, we of this tribunal therefore see no other alternative but to take you at your word that the death of the dragon, while most unfortunate, was accidental as a result of self defence.”

Willow Vine once more took over. “However, since the killing of other beings is such a serious, and fortunately extremely rare crime in Equestria, we feel it necessary to make an example in order to discourage such incidents from occurring. We therefore apply the maximum penalty and sentence you to sixteen months in the palace dungeon, sentence is to be carried out immediately. This trial is concluded.” She finished with one loud stomp of her hoof on the sounding board.

I was given five minutes to say my goodbyes. The first thing I did was walk over to Zecora and unceremoniously pulled her into a hug, much to the amusement of the CMC. Even the disapproving mutterings of the crowd seemed like little more than the distant buzzing of an annoying fly.

“Thank you my friend, for coming all this way to speak on my behalf. I owe you a great debt.”

“You can repay it fair, by letting me have some precious air.” She wheezed and I sheepishly loosened my grip.

She then introduced me to Star Horn, who had been kind enough to help her and the CMC get here in time. Then Ironclad came over to say his goodbyes. As I shook hands with him the white unicorn that had been staring at me earlier approached us, and then transformed into none other than Celestia herself. Half the room scrambled to bow with such speed I was amazed they didn’t smash their jaws into the floor. She was then beset by an excited lavender blur, better known as Twilight Sparkle. After the two exchanged greetings Celestia turned to speak with me.

“It seems everything went as well as could be expected.” She said

“Traveling incognito today princess?” I asked.

“Had I been observing things officially it would have been a very different affair. Some ponies tend to get a bit worked up when I am present.” She said with a mirthful glance at Twilight who had quite the blush on her face.

“Your disguise seems a little obvious in retrospect. Maybe next time try for something that isn’t white and pink.”

“Hmm,” Said Celestia, “I always did want to experiment with turquoise.”

“I guess I misjudged you.” Twilight said to me now that she had her embarrassment under control. She still seemed rather uneasy around me, but Celestia’s presence was putting her at ease.

“Just don’t go slicing off any more parts of me alright? You have no idea how much that hurt.”

“I’m sorry.” She said, rubbing a hoof across the back of her head “It was only a small bit though.”

By way of answer I leaned forward and then casually flicked her hard in the horn with a finger. This produced a startled yelp of pain from her.

“Ow! What was that for!”

“It was only a little tap.” I said as casually as possible.

She gave me the stink eye for a minute before she relented.

“I guess you made your point.” She said while rubbing her horn with a gentle hoof, “Are we… are we good?”

“Yes Twilight,” I said whilst extending a fist for her to hoof bump, “we’re good.”

One of my guard escorts stepped forward with a pair of hoof-cuffs.

“It’s time to go.” He said not unkindly.

I was about to reply when the room descended into chaos. A trio of unicorns seated in the back jumped up and set off what I assume were smoke bombs. The next thing I knew they emerged from the smoke dressed like a bunch of pony ninja. The smoke bombs turned out to be some sort of riot gas because anypony else caught in it began coughing and screaming that their eyes and nose were burning.

“Death to the servants of the sun!” one pony ninja bellowed. I recognized him as one of the voices that kept riling the crowd anytime the trial went in my favor.

Their horns glowed and a barrage of lethal looking daggers came sailing towards Celestia. Her two bodyguards jumped in front of her and raised a pair of magic force fields. The daggers harmlessly bouncing against them. But not every Dagger was aimed at Celestia. At least a few were aimed at Twilight.

What happened next was a blur. One moment those ponies charged, the next they were crushed against the wall by a mass of writhing vines. The daggers that would have struck Twilight were now embedded in my own chest, and Twilight herself was lying dazed on the floor beside me. She looked up at me with slightly panicked eyes. In a flash Celestia was beside her, checking her for injuries. Star Horn and Ironclad had covered Zecora and the CMC. Ironclad had put himself in the line of fire in front of Zecora and Star Horn had erected a force dome over the three fillies. I stood rooted to the spot, trying to make sense of what just happened. Celestia's two bodyguards took up position between her and me.

“Don’t move!” one shouted at me.

“Have you lost your mind Emerald Aegis?” Celestia almost growled. “He just saved Twilight's life. Make yourself useful and restrain those unicorns.”

As her guards rushed to comply to her order she turned to address me, “Aeron, let them go, please.”

I nodded and withdrew my vines. The unicorns slumped to the floor. They were alive but in pretty poor shape. They likely had several broken bones judging by the indentation they had left in the wall.

“Are you awright?” a small voice beside me asked. I turned to see Applebloom Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle look up at me.

“What?” I asked dumbstruck.

“Ah said, doesn’t that hurt?” Applebloom asked whilst pointing a hoof at my chest.

I looked down at the daggers, counting them for the first time. There were five in all.

I shrugged, “Can’t feel a thing.” I then began pulling out the first one and tossed it carefully to the floor.

“Wicked.” Scootaloo whispered.

Over the next couple of minutes the windows were opened and spells were cast to air out the riot gas. A squad of medics had appeared. They set up a triage area in the hallway to administer first aid. Mainly washing out eyes and performing minor healing spells to whichever ponies had trouble breathing.

The three cultists were given the minimum of first aid before they were hastily taken away, presumably to be treated in a secure location, and then questioned. Things finally seemed to wind down when another guard, a pegasus, came barreling down the hallway, calling for Celestia.

“Princess! princess, there has been an attack on the palace!”

“WHAT!” Several of the windows cracked as Celestia slipped into the royal canterlot voice.

“Several armed individuals managed to get past gate security. They had help from someone on the inside. They took a hoof-maiden hostage and barricaded themselves in the throne room.

“What about my sister? How is Luna?”

“She’s fine your highness, but your nephew.. he..” the guard trailed off.

“What is it? What happened to Blueblood?”


******************

With a fierce battle cry the cultists jumped to the attack. The leader and his henchpony attacked the thestral mare while two others went after blueblood. The last one held on to the maid and told Luna not to interfere with her magic or he would cut the maid's throat.

The henchpony leapt forward, sickles raised, and lashed out with a series of rapid strikes. His weapons swinging in deadly arcs. The mare ducked under the left strike and parried the right with a wing blade. With a quick thrust of her wings she propelled herself forward, inside the unicorns guard to deliver a fierce headbutt directly to his horn. With a yelp of pain the pony’s magical aura fizzled out. His weapons dropping to the floor with a clatter. A follow up buck to the stomach put him out of the fight for a while as he lay there retching and dry heaving.


On the other side of the throneroom, Blueblood swung his rapier in a wide arc in front of him to keep his opponents at a distance. One was wielding a wicked axe, the other levitated a quartet of daggers. The axe pony swung his weapon in an overhead strike. Attempting to deliver a single cleaving blow. Blueblood sidestepped the much slower, heavier weapon easily, and the only damage done was to the floor of the throne room as the axe split one of the immaculate marble floor tiles clean in half. Ducking past his slower opponent, he delivered a swift buck into the stallion’s head, staggering him. A telekinetic slam saw his opponent sail into a wall and rendered unconscious.

He then had to duck sideways quickly as a pair of daggers sailed through the air in a series of rapid jabs, cuts and thrusts. With his rapier leading, blueblood took a couple of steps forward. Each step punctuated by a fierce thrust with the weapons needle like point. His opponent had to leap back rapidly to avoid being skewered by the rapiers greater reach. They danced around each other, blades flying in a deadly dance of parries and thrusts. Blueblood met every dagger strike with a skillful riposte.

“You’re not half bad for a spoiled rich kid.” The dagger wielding unicorn growled in between strikes. “But let's see you handle this.”

His horn glowed brighter, and six additional daggers flew out of his cloak. He shot them at blueblood like a salvo of razor edged missiles.

Blueblood parried the first, ducked under the second then sidestepped the third. The fourth dagger missed his head by a hair. A desperate upward stroke deflected the fifth. Then the sixth one cut his cheek. A small trickle of blood ran from the wound and down his muzzle before dripping onto the floor. He pressed a hoof to his face to examine the wound. It was shallow but bled profusely as wounds to the face tend to do.

“What the matter rich boy? Sad that I nicked your pretty face?” The stallion taunted. “Scared that all the mares at your fancy parties won’t like you now? You have much more to worry about.”

Blueblood let out an angry, determined snort as he raised his weapon again.

“Just because I happen to share the same family tree as the princesses and am therefore given the title of prince doesn’t mean I’m some spoiled rich brat who cares more for his looks than the wellbeing of the common pony. And just to prove I’m not above getting my hooves dirty I’m going to give you a right thrashing.”

“You talk a big game, boy. But I’ve learned to fight in the back alleys of Manehattan.”

With a fierce lunge blueblood shot forward, his rapier leading the way. With a ripping sound and a flourish the cloak on the cultist fell away, it’s clasps cut off. A thin line of blood now decorated the stallion's neck where the blade had nicked his skin. Blueblood looked at him with a smirk.

“I studied the art of fencing since I was a colt.”

His opponents eyes narrowed as he let out a snarl.


Back on the other side of the room the leader was continuing his deadly dance with the thestral mare. The flunky she disabled earlier finally managed to crawl back to his hooves and went to pick up his lost sickles while she fought the leader to a near standstill. He was a deft hoof with his scimitar, but she had the superior speed and agility. Their weapons flashed in silver arcs as they spun around each other like some insane ballet of death.

“You are pretty good girl, tell me your name so I can write you a proper epitaph.” he taunted as he struck a blow across her chest that she didn’t manage to dodge.

As she took a staggering step back his lips curled into a smile of triumph, figuring he had delivered a killing blow. His triumphant smile faltered as he realized there was no blood on his blade. Her peytral armor had taken the blow and merely winded her for a second. Using the opening provided by the stallions momentary distraction she jumped up and spun like a top, whipping her wings outward. A trio of projectiles shot from her wings and thudded into his chest and leg. He looked down to see three slim knives, shaped like feathers protruding from his flesh. Then the pain hit him and he went down screaming.

“When you beg me for mercy later, during the questioning, you may call me miss Aurora.” she whispered in his ear with a downright sadistic smile of glee.

A thunderous right hoof knocked him out for the count before he could say anything else. The flunky who finally retrieved his weapons was looking at her with uncertainty. She sauntered up to him, cracking her neck in a slow deliberate motion.

“Ready for round two stud? I have some more pent up aggression to work out.” she hummed as she cracked her wings loudly and dropped into a ready stance.


Blueblood was trading a flurry of blows with his opponent. He gave as good as he got but the dagger wielding unicorn was using every dirty trick in the book to try and gain the upper hand. Daggers met rapier in showers of fat sparks as their weapons clashed and scraped against each other. The fast paced clang and scrape of steel against steel rang out like a bizarre musical number. Blueblood leapt away from a dagger thrust aimed at his heart and countered with a diagonal upwards stroke. His opponent threw himself backwards and all he caught was a lock of the unicorn's mane that drifted to the floor in a shower of loose hairs.

Then suddenly the unicorn fired a spell. A simple magic bolt. Blueblood barely had time to jump out of the way. The bolt slammed into the throne itself, partially destroying the top. All bets were now off.

With a swipe of his own telekinesis, Blueblood launched several chunks of the rubble at his opponent. Fist sized chunks of stone and woodwork struck the unicorn in the barrel, knocking the wind out of him. He followed up with the same telekinetic bolt, albeit one with far less power behind it and blasted the stallion off his hooves. Not letting up he ran in and delivered a swift hard kick to the cannon. With a sick wet crack and a scream of pain the stallion's back leg now hung broken by his side, putting him out of the fight for good. No unicorn would be casting any spells with that sort of pain shooting through their mind. Not unless they want to blow off their own horn with the inevitable magical backlash.

Behind him there was a thud and another scream as Aurora put her own opponent out of comission by pulling the same trick she used as her opening move and sever the offenders tendons. The both of them then turned to the last pony standing. The stallion holding a dagger to the maid's throat. The poor mare was breathing so fast she was on the verge of hyperventilating.

“Stay back! Back you crazy bastards, I will kill her. I swear it by Nightmare Moon, I’ll cut her throat.”

“Do it and I will run you through before she hits the floor, scum!” Blueblood snorted.

“What’s your name darling.” Aurora asked the mare.

She swallowed hard. “P-primrose. P-please.. I don’t wanna die.” She squeaked as a tear leaked from her eyes.

“You’re going to be okay Primrose. Just look at me.”

“No she won’t unless you two back the buck off.” the stallion snarled, pushing the blade against the mares throat hard enough to draw a thin line of blood.

Aurora raised her wings threateningly. “Harm her any further and you will beg to be banished to the moon by the time I’m finished with you.”

So distracted was he by Aurora that he never saw Blueblood’s horn flare up. He didn’t realise something was amiss until the broken piece of throne impacted with his head. The cultist dropped like a stone. He would be lucky if he got off with just a concussion. The knife he had been pressing to Primrose’s throat clattered to the floor. Primrose herself nearly fainted, staggering drunkenly on her hooves for a few steps until she fell into her rescuers waiting hooves. She was shaking like a leaf.

“Is she gonna be okay?” Luna asked.

“She’ll be fine aunty.” Blueblood said as he shook his head. There was a strange pounding in his ears and his vision swam in and out of focus.

“I c-can’t stop t-trembling.” Primrose sobbed.

“That’s just the excess adrenaline in your body dear.” Aurora said in a gentle voice, “In a few minutes you will feel better, promise.”

Luna slowly stepped up to the shaken mare and cast a calming spell on her. Her attention was drawn back to Blueblood who took a staggering couple of steps. Seemingly dazed.

“Nephew? Are you alright?”

“I don’t… feel.. so good.” Blueblood managed to mumble before his legs gave out and he collapsed to the floor.

“Blueblood!” Luna cried out.

In a flash both she and Aurora were by his side. With a deft hoof Aurora opened his eye, checking his heart rate with the other.

“He’s been poisoned. Those daggers must have been coated with something. He needs a doctor, now!” she said in alarm as Blueblood started to foam at the mouth.

Scrambling back to her hooves Luna ran to the doors. She pushed and pulled but they refused to budge. She fired a standard unlocking spell at them but whatever spell their attackers had cast on it refused to budge. In a desperate bid to find help Luna charged her horn and blew the throne room doors off their hinges with an overpowered telekinetic blast. The two iron wrought doors bounced along the corridor, wrecking anything in their path before impacting on the far wall. One shattered and the other embedded itself halfway into the stonework.

“Get a healer in here! Now!” she shouted at the guards who came galloping towards the noise. It wasn’t quite the royal canterlot voice, but it was a close second.

She ran back inside and skid to a halt besides Aurora and Blueblood. “Stay with us nephew. Stay with us!”


******************



Later that evening at the Blessed Fields mansion there was a knock on the study door. A maid in a crisp Prench uniform stepped into the chamber.

“Pardon the intrusion lady Vine, you have a visitor.”

“Who is it?”

“Its master Poncho, Miss.”

“Show him in immediately, then see to it that we are not disturbed.” She told the maid in a voice that left no room for questions.

“At once Miss.” the maid said as she bowed deeply.

A large dark brown stallion with stern, green eyes and a small, coal black beard was shown in only moments later. The two exchanged pleasantries until the maid had left and was well out of earshot. The stallions casual bearing immediately shifted to one that was all business

“Your report Zizix.” he demanded, his voice was cold as a glacier.

“The plan worked perfectly sir. Those idiotic zealots took the bait hook line and sinker. And they were swiftly defeated as you foresaw.”

“Of course, those weaklings might have been training to fight all their lives for their glorious cause,” he said mockingly, “But no amount of practice can make up for real battlefield experience.”

“As you say general. After they were taken away for questioning the prisoners spilled their guts in no time at all. Already Celestia's forces are rooting out the last of the nightmare cults. By their estimates they will have all of them in custody before the end of the month.”

“Good. With Nightmare Moon truly gone, and her cultists taken out of the picture, that is one less obstacle to the plans.”

"Pardon me sir but would it not have been better to help the cultists and restore Nightmare Moon? The infighting it would cause would only serve to weaken Equestria.”

“No Zizix, Nightmare Moon was powerful, utterly ruthless and extremely unpredictable. She wielded her formidable powers without some idiotic sense of morality holding her back. She would have become an opponent we would be hard pressed to defeat. Princess Luna on the other hoof is centuries out of touch with the world, and now so afraid to step out of line she will be easy to manipulate to our advantage.”

“As you say general. But what’s to keep the cultists from becoming a nuisance later down the line. Ponies are so softhearted I can’t imagine their punishment will put them away for too long.”

“While you don’t need to know, let me put your mind at ease. Once the last of the cultists are in custody, I’ve made arrangements to see to it they are dealt with, permanently. When the time comes, nothing will stand in our way.”

“And the creature sir? It survived the attack. Setting up this whole trial as a distraction was hastily planned and could have backfired spectacularly.” she said with uncertainty.

“Inconsequential. It has served its unknowing purpose. While using it was a gamble, the risk to our endgame was minimal, and the collateral damage would have been far greater had we employed other methods to give the nightmare cult an opening into the palace. This way only a handful of ponies got hurt, and that will benefit us. And as for the creature, by the time our plans come into fruition it will still be in prison. But if through some fluke it is not, and chooses to work against us we will deal with it.”

“As you say sir.” She said with a low bow, “Was there anything else?”

“That will be all for now Zizix. Continue operating as normal. When we have use for you I will make contact through the usual channels.”

“As you direct general.”

“Now that business is concluded, bring in that lovely maid of yours. I feel a bit peckish.”


*****************



On the other side of Canterlot, Blueblood sat in his bed, several pillows propped up behind him. It had been touch and go for a while but they managed to stabilize him long enough for the palace’s resident healer to administer a broad spectrum antidote. It meant his recovery would take a little longer, but they did not need to waste time identifying the specific type of poison that had been used. He briefly glanced up from the book he loosely held in his hooves to stare out the window. A plate with a half eaten daisy sandwich sat on the nightstand. He had tried to eat something but his stomach still felt like it had a live squid wriggling around in it thanks to the antidote.

From his room he had a perfect view of the main wing of the palace and its many towers. He caught a glimpse of Luna in the distance as she stood on her balcony. The faint light of her horn like a tiny star against the darkened sky.. She had raised the moon an hour ago, but like every night since her return she stood on her balcony and practiced manipulating the heavens in order to strengthen her magic.

A quiet knock on his chamber doors made blueblood sit up a little straighter in his bed. Putting the book he had been reading aside he called out, “Enter.”

“Aunt Celestia, here to make sure I’m still among the living?” he said in greeting as the princess of the sun trot into his chambers.

Without a word she stepped up to his bed and put her forelegs around him in a tight hug. Feeling a touch embarrassed he gently pat her on the withers with a hoof.

“I’m alright aunty, really.”

“You could have died today.” Celestia said as she released him.

“But I didn’t, and doctor Swift Remedy says I’ll be right as rain in a day or two thanks to her tender ministrations.“

“You seem to be taking this all in stride for someone who just survived being poisoned.” Celestia said.

“It was nothing aunty.”

“Nonsense. You protected my sister and more importantly saved miss Primrose’ life at great risk to your own.”

“What sort of stallion would I be if I let an innocent mare get hurt. Especially such a lovely filly. Better I get hurt instead of her.”

“Oh?” Celestia said with a light chuckle, “Do you fancy her?”

Blueblood blushed. “It’s nothing like that aunty. Yes she’s a very pretty mare, but uhm, she is not my type.”

“Her loss I’m sure.” She said with a teasing little smile. “The day you find a special somepony a lot of hearts will be broken all over equestria.”

“I’m sure cousin Cadence will take care of the poor souls.” He said in a haughty, aloof tone, but failed to keep a straight face.

Both ponies descended into a brief fit of giggles. After they both recovered Celestia put a hoof on his shoulder.

“Are you absolutely sure you’re alright? It’s not everyday a pony stares death in the face. It can leave them shaken and all too aware of their mortality.”

“I’ll be fine aunty. Really. I’ll admit the whole thing had me a bit shook up, but Swift Remedy prescribed something to help steady the nerves. I’ll be okay.” He gave Celestia his most reassuring smile.

“If you need anything, anything at all, or just want to talk...”

“I will let you know.” He said, still smiling.

Satisfied for now, Celestia walked over to the door.

“Goodnight nephew.” She said over her shoulder before closing the door behind her.

Blueblood let out a sigh. A special somepony to snuggle up against would have been very welcome right then. Perhaps when he was fully recovered he should go out and look for one. With a wistful smile Blueblood returned to his book.


***********************


With a metallic clunk that held an edge of finality to it the cell door closed behind me. It was the same cell I had occupied before the trial. I looked at its bare walls and let out a mental sigh. This would be my new home for the next sixteen months. Well it could have been a whole lot worse. I sat staring at the wall for a time until a wooden thunk pulled me out of my musings. A pair of familiar faces pushed a table up against the bars, and then pulled up some chairs.

“What’s all this then?” I asked with a bit of levity returning to my voice.

“Well we never got to finish that last game, and I was kicking your flanks.” Sunny Spring said.

“In you dreams hot flanks.” Her grey co worker said.

“I never did get your name.” I said.

He mumbled something under his breath.

“What was that? I didn’t catch that.”

“Its Rainy Day.” He grumbled.

“You must be a real ray of sunshine.”

“And this is why I don't tell anypony my name.” he snorted.

“Alright boys, play nice. We’re stuck with each other for quite a while.” Sunny Spring said in that ‘mother dealing with unruly children’ tone of voice as she fished a deck of cards out of her uniform pocket.

The door behind them suddenly opened and Shining Armor walked in with a small sack on his back. Both guards jumped to attention.

“Captain Armor sir… we were just..”

“At ease sergeant. I see you were setting up to play cards again. What's the game? Go fish?”

“Well we uhmm... “

“How about instead we play a real stallions game and play poker instead.” He said as he opened up the sack and pulled out a proper poker set, whilst simultaneously pulling up an extra chair with his telekinesis.

At our dumbstruck looks he turned to me and said “You saved my sister's life. The least I can do is make your stay here a little less boring.”

We looked each other in the eye, and the first sparks of grudging mutual respect were born. I gave him a nod and he gave me a slight smirk back.

“Now then, the game is five card stud, aces are wild.” he said as he shuffled the deck.

Chapter 16: Stone walls do not a prison make.

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Chapter 16
Stone walls do not a prison make.

Day 1.

“So, have you given any thought as to what you’re gonna do when you get out of here?” Asked Sunny Spring.

“Not really, it’s such a long way off I don’t really see the point. But there is one promise I made that I intend to keep.” I replied.

“What’s that?”

“To visit a friend, and hopefully make some new ones.”

“As good a place to start as any I suppose.” She said

We both lapsed into silence. These next couple of months were gonna suck. I just knew it.



Day 5.

“I’ll see your ten, and raise you another twenty.” I said as I tossed my chips onto the pile.

Playing through a set of iron bars would be uncomfortable for most beings, but thanks to my unique physiology I could just make my arms longer and more flexible to allow me to easily reach everything and enjoy the game.

“I see that.” Shining said and added his own chips.

“I’m in too.” Said Sunny Spring as more chips joined the pile

“So… what’s it like being a walking talking cactus?” Rainy Day asked out of the blue.

The other occupants of the table facehoofed.

“What? A pony can ask can’t he?”

“And you wonder why you never get any of the more delicate assignments, mister subtle.” Sunny said with exasperation.

“Fine I’ll be more subtle. So what’s it like?”

Sunny slammed her face into the table with a loud thunk.

“Go ahead and ignore this idiot. Uhm.. you’re not offended are you?” Shining asked.

I shook my head.

“Nah not really. I’m just not sure how to answer that. I mean… that's the same as asking, say, a griffin what it’s like to be a griffin. How can you answer what it feels like to be something when it’s all you know.”

“Ah but it’s not now is it. I heard you weren’t always a rosebush.” Said Rainy.

More facehoofing occurred.

I took a moment to gather my thoughts. It had been a while since I had really contemplated my existence.

“Well If I were to compare it to what I used to be, there’s a few cool upsides, but a lot of downsides too. For example I can’t eat regular food. I don’t know if I can drink alcohol, I mean that stuff’s not exactly good for plants, depending on the type of alcohol anyway. There’s a lot of different types including but not limited to methanol, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol.”

“You sound almost like my sister.” Shining armor said.

“Isn’t she a grade A nerd, captain?” Rainy Day said. Shining gave him a death glare.

“So what else is different?” Asked Sunny Spring.

“Well, things don’t look or sound or even smell the same. Heck I can’t even smell things really. All I get is a sort of vague approximation and I’m not even sure how that works since I have no nose or other recognisable olfactory organs that I’m aware of.“

“Sounds like you got a raw deal.” Sunny said softly.

“Can you still get laid?” Rainy asked.

“Say what?” I said blankly

“You heard me.”

“I don’t exactly have the right equipment for such activity right now.” I said with such deadpan delivery it should have won a freakin award.

“Yikes, that’s rough.” Said Shining with a light blush on his muzzle. He looked about as uncomfortable as I felt about the direction the conversation had taken.

“I dunno, you got all those vines and stuff. Some mares are into that junk.” Rainy Day said.

“What do I look like, a tentacle monster?” I said with just a modicum of outrage, “Besides, no offense to you ponies, but as adorable and cute as some of you are, I am so not into having that sort of relationship with an equine.”

We sat there in awkward silence for a bit, staring at our cards.

“What if they paid you for it?” Rainy Day deadpanned.

I think that’s when Sunny broke the table with her face, spraying cards and chips everywhere. Suffice to say that round was a bust.



Day 7.

Word down the grape vine is they arrested over three dozen ponies from several cities across Equestria. All of them nightmare cultists. They even found two of them hiding out all the way in Appleloosa. All of them are being brought to Manehattan penitentiary. According to Shining it’s the single biggest operation the guard has undertaken in over a hundred years. That kinda drives home just how peaceful Equestria really is. The guard usually do little more than keep an eye out for stray pets and the occasional drunken brawl during cider season.



Day 9.

All of them are dead. All the nightmare cultists they rounded up died last night. Poisoned. They still don’t know If it was a ritual suicide, or someone trying to get rid of them all. They don’t even know how they managed to get their hands on that much poison. A few hooves were pointed at Luna, claiming she was trying to clean up ‘an embarrassment’ as they called it. Others claim it was Celestia taking revenge on the cultists. Both stories sound like total bullshit to me. But this whole situation leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Shining said they are investigating, but likely not a lot will come from it. According to him they have absolutely no leads, no suspects, nothing.



Day 18.

“Weeeell a strange thing happened the other night, you won’t believe it but I swear it’s true. Harry the hairy ape made his escape from the city zoo.”

“For Celestia’s sake Aeron, would you stop singing that insipid song. You’ve been singing it over and over for the past hour” Sunny Spring said through gnashing teeth.

“Well what else am I supposed to do in here all day?”

I have been experimenting with my voice. Since I am no longer bound by the limitations of a human larynx and vocal cords I decided to give singing another try. I used to be absolutely rubbish at it back home. Often being accused of being incapable of carrying a tune in a bucket. Well I was determined to change that. With a bit of magic and a lot more effort I could actually produce a voice that didn’t sound like a dozen crows choking and barfing all at once. It took a lot of repeat performances to get the nuances right though. I could even warp my voice in such a way that I sounded like a woman. That still felt extremely weird though. And I was still unable to shake what I have come to call the Protoss effect. My voice always has a bit of an ethereal echo quality to it no matter what I try.

“Just… just sing something else for a change.” She said

“But all the other songs I know are sang by women, I mean mares. This is the only song I know that’s sung by a stallion.” I argued.

Okay that’s not technically true, I know lots of other songs by male singers, but none that I could accurately remember the lyrics too right then. Besides I was deliberately messing with her, boredom turns me into a jerk at times.

“I don’t care, anything’s gotta be better than that song.” she said with a groan.

“Well…. okay, just remember, you asked for this.” I said with a smirk in my voice as I began to sing anew.

“My Little Pony, My Little Pony, What is friendship all about? My Little Pony, My Little Pony Friendship is magic!”

Sunny Spring’s eye twitched.

“My Little Pony, I used to wonder what friendship could be. My Little Pony, Until you all shared its magic with me.

When I was young I was too busy to make any friends. Such silliness did not seem worth the effort it expends. But my little ponies, you opened up my eyes And now the truth is crystal clear, as splendid summer skies. And it's such a wonderful surprise.”

Ten minutes later Sunny Spring ran screaming out the guard room, swearing eternal vengeance against me. The rest of the day she had the friendship is magic theme song stuck in her head.



Day 24.

“Alright alright, I’ll be good. Now please take the blanket off the window. I swear I’m starting to wilt without sunlight.”

“Told you I would get revenge.” Sunny Spring said as she pulled the blanket away from the room's only window to let the precious sunlight back in.

She had put up a thick blanket two days ago in order to block out the sun, as a way of getting back at me.

“You are a cruel, cruel mistress. One day you will make a kinky stallion very happy.”

“I could still put this back you know.” She said with a glare.

“Shutting up.”



Day 33.

“I will match your fifty, and add another fifty on top.” Said Rainy Day.

“Well someone’s got himself a good hoof.” Shining grunted while he glared at his own cards.

“I will meet your bet and add a hundred on top.” I said.

Rainy stared at my face.

“Darnit I can never tell if you’re bluffing or not with that side table you call a face.”

“You’re just jealous because I’m prettier than you. Now are you in or do you fold.”

He glared at me with indecision. “I’m not gonna let you get the better of me. I raise.”

“Well I’m out.” said Shining.

I stared at my cards, then relented. “Fine, I fold.”

“YES!” Rainy exclaimed.

“Hold it slick, I’m still in, and I call.” Sunny Spring said.

“Fine, two pair. Aces and princesses.” He said as he laid his cards out.

“Well then read em and weep. Royal Flush.”

“Dagnabbit!”



Day 40.

There really wasn’t much of anything for me to do when Shiny, Sunny and Rainy were off duty. The other guards are all a bunch of stiffs. So to fill my time I began to experiment with my powers, trying to find new ways to utilise them. I’ve also started to try and grow a more defined face. One that isn’t a blank mask, and capable of expressing emotion. Progress is slow since I have to use my energy sparingly. While they provided me a cell with a window to let some sunlight in, it’s not exactly enough to last me for extended periods of extensive and intense magic use. Well no matter, I will make due.



Day 66.

I’ve done it! I finally managed to detach a part of myself and keep it alive. Previously when I did this I had to re-attach it after about half an hour or it’s magic would run out and it would wither and die. But now I could sustain it almost indefinitely. The trick was keeping an ethereal connection to whatever I detached. Think of it like a fishing line or extension cord made of magic.

I detached one of my flytraps and lay it on the ground. After focusing my magic on it, the bulbous head sprouted several tendril like vines to use as legs. Now I had to focus my consciousness on it. It felt strange, not quite like being in two places at once, more like.. letting your mind wander as if you were daydreaming. My vision shifted perspectives and I found myself closer to the floor. I was seeing through the flytrap now. It’s senses were much weaker than those of my full body. Likely due to the absence of my core. It's like walking around with blinders on. But no matter. I was way to excited to let such a minor inconvenience stop me.

With a bit of effort I began to direct the little bulb out of the cell. I had to test the limit of my ability to control this thing over distance. I slowly waddled it up to the wall directly below the window. Now how to get up there?

And idea struck me and I sent some more magic it’s way. Another long thin vine began to grow, slithering along the wall until it reached the iron bars. Then, with a bit of effort I had the… drone?... seedling? Ah what the heck, I shall call these little remotes Bellsprouts, just for my own amusement. I had the Bellsprout pull itself up and out the window.

The window led into one of the inner courtyards. I looked around and picked a direction at random to start crawling like a bizarre squid. Eventually I managed to find one of the palace gardens. The walls here were lower to let in as much sunshine as possible and I had the little sprout bask in it for a moment, enjoying its life giving energy. I sat there soaking for maybe half an hour before I decided to move on. Just as I turned around to move along there was a scream behind me.

“AAAH! Spider, giant spider!”

One of the palace maids had spotted me and mistaken my little bellsprout for a giant spider apparently. I suppose that its bulbous little body and the numerous little vines it uses to crawl around do give it a spider like shape from a distance. She dashed off at breakneck speeds, shrieking all the while. I decided I had explored enough for one afternoon.



Day 67.

“Apparently the staff is turning the castle upside down looking for a giant spider nest. One of the maids saw one in the gardens yesterday. Big as her hoof she said. I hope they find the nest soon before they become a problem.” Rainy Day said to Sunny Spring.

“Are giant spiders a common problem?” I asked as casually as I could.

“Not really. But sometimes one or two accidentally slip in with shipments of exotic fruit from the Griffin Empire. If they aren't exterminated quickly they can multiply like crazy.” Sunny answered

“They aren’t deadly are they?”

“Nah, but they make webs everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Last time it happened I even had one in my helmet. Spider silk is murder to get out of your mane.” Said Rainy

“You do realise you sound like some prissy mare when you talk like that don’t you.”

“I do not!” He exclaimed while Sunny burst into snickers.

Conversation died down after that and soon enough it was lunchtime. Sunny and Rainy were sitting at their little table eating sandwiches. That's when I decided to have a little fun. Out of sight from them I created a new bellsprout and with a single, thin vine raised it up all the way to the rafters. Taking control of the little guy I had it crawl along the beam until it was right above the two of them. I took aim for Rainy Day’s head and fell forward off the beam.

My aim was impeccable. The little bellsprout landed right in Rainy’s mane. He let out the most high pitched shriek I’ve ever heard, flailing his hooves around his own head.

“Spider! Get it off me!” He was so startled that he launched his half eaten sandwich right into Sunny’s face. Sending her careening backwards out of her chair with a thud.

I lost it. If I still had to breathe I would have been in trouble because I was laughing so hard.

I was laughing. The realisation of it struck me like a thunderbolt. I was actually laughing out loud for the first time since being reborn in this body. I still don’t understand why I couldn’t before. Or even if it was a physical limitation or some kind of mental blockade. But right then I didn’t care one way or the other. To be able to laugh again was one of the greatest feelings possible.

It took me a good minute or two to regain control. That's when I noticed the two angry ponies standing in front of my cell shooting death glares at me.

“Aeron, you have some ‘splainin’ to do.” They said in unison.

Totally worth it.



Day 73.

Autumn started last week. I didn’t really notice until now. It makes me feel a little sad because I’m missing out on some fun times while I’m in here. Cider season, the running of the leaves. I apparently also missed the parasprite incident. Darn shame. Just thinking about those made me hungry.

I did receive a visit from Zecora and, surprisingly, Star Horn the other day. Apparently those two get on like a house on fire. Sure as heck surprised me. Things have been looking up for Zecora. The town has more or less accepted her. The fact that she’s often in Star Horn’s company certainly helps.

Zecora would have brought the crusaders along for her visit too, but apparently the girls weren’t allowed to come, which is a shame. I really like those little fillies. Which is still very odd to me since I can barely stand to be in the same room as human children. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if I hate them or anything. I just don’t know how to handle them. It’s awkward. And I’m done talking about this.



Day 114.

It was late afternoon when shining entered the guard room. Rainy and Sunny gave him a halfhearted salute as he motioned them over. When it was just the four of us, Shining didn’t stand on procedure and decorum as much anymore.

“Hey Aeron, got a sec?”

“Oh I don’t know, I might have to check my schedule. What do you think?”

He just stared at me blankly.

“Alright, what’s up?”

“I was thinking we should try something a bit more lasting than card games, since you know, you’ll be here a while.” Said Shining Armor.

“And what exactly did you have in mind?” I asked from my bunk.

“This.” he said as he pulled out a stack of books.

“Caverns and Critters?” Said Sunny Spring “Wait, is this the Roleplaying Game. I’ve always wanted to try this but my lame brother and his friends never let me join ‘cause, you know, girl and all.”

“We have a game like this in my world, but we call it Dungeons and Dragons. Heck I’m in, it’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

“Dungeons and Dragons? Sounds like a cheap smut novel.” Sunny snickered.

“You guys are such a flock of nerds.” Rainy Day said.

“I know for a fact you played this game in school buster, so shut up and make a character.” Sunny Spring told him.

“If one of us is going to be the GM it will be very tricky to play with a party of just three.”

“Not to worry,” Said shining, “I know two other guards who play the game. I can add them to the duty roster for prison guard duty. One of them is a great GM.”

“Well then there’s just one more thing to do.” I said.

“What's that?” Shining asked.

“Dibs! Not cleric!” I shouted.

“Not cleric!” Shouted Shining.

“Not cleric!” Sunny Spring called.

“Awww, you guys suck.” Rainy Day grouched.

So we got to work making some characters. Shining even brought pre printed character sheets for us to fill out. He’s such a lovable nerd under all that military decorum.

“Hey Aeron, I think you’re in this book.” Said Sunny Spring as she flipped through the critter manual.

“Eh?” was my elegant and cultured response.

“Right here.” she said pointing at a creature entry with her hoof.

“Dire Shrubbery?” Rainy Day said before he collapsed laughing. The others joining him a second later.

“You can all kiss my grassy plot.” I snorted as their laughter intensified.



Day 122.

I've begun to send out some more Bellsprouts. Instead of controlling these however I’ve given them a preset task. Go out, find some seeds or fruits, and bring them back. I want to see how complicated a task they can do on their own. So far I’ve sent out five as a test run. If it goes well I’m considering sending out more. I want to collect as many different seeds as I can before winter sets in, in order to try a few experiments.



Day 124.

My Bellsprouts finally returned today. Not only did they succeed in their mission, but after being out in the sun for two days, re-attaching them gave me a massive energy kick. These little guys are like mobile solar batteries. They all brought me something too. A nice diverse collection of herb seeds, some cherries, an apple, and... a frog. I’m guessing that last sprout is a smidge retarded or something, what am I supposed to do with this thing?

After a moment of contemplation I decide to eat the frog, after making sure none of the guards were looking my way. The darn thing tasted like sour candy. Guess I won’t be doing that again. I much prefer the fruity skittle flavor of parasprites. Why the hell does everything I eat taste like candy anyway? More questions that can apparently only be explained as magical shenanigans.
Anyways, now that I have some seeds I can start experimenting.



Day 131.

“My Little Pony, My Little Pony...”

“Sing it and I will set you on fire.” Sunny Spring growled.

“Whoa there nelly, let’s not get crazy here.”

“You done singing that song?”

“Fine, I’ll sing something else, no need to get your knickers in a twist.” I said sarcastically.

“What the buck are knickers?”

“Oh right, you equines have no concept of underwear.”

“You are such a weirdo.”

“From where I’m standing you ponies are the odd ones.” I said while putting some seeds into a pot full of soil.

I had requested a few flower pots and soil samples in order to try a few experiments with growing herbs and flowers. I was given permission to have those in my cell, provided I tried nothing dangerous. Which I really had no intention of doing. With the seeds now buried I held one of my hands above the pot and began to channel my magic through it.

I could feel the seeds in the soil, and inside them the tiniest motes of life, waiting for just the right stimulus to set them on the path towards their full potential. I wonder if this is what earth ponies feel when they work the land.

Locking on to that tiny mote of life I gave it the gentlest nudge with my magic. Lo and behold, a tiny seedling sprouted from the soil almost instantly. Like watching a timelapse recording. I channeled just a bit more power through my hand and the tiny seedling actually grew another inch. Gently curving towards my hand as if seeking me out like it would the sunlight. Eat your heart out Poison Ivy.

“How did you do that?” Sunny Spring suddenly asked, snapping me back to reality.

I gave her a shrug. “I don’t really know. I just do it.”



Day 150.

“You enter the room and are confronted by a pair of windigoes. Roll for initiative.” Said Stout Shield our GM.

He was one of the guard ponies shining had brought in to fill out our Caverns and Critters group. Like Shining had said he was indeed a pretty good GM. He ran a pretty cool campaign with just the right mixture of action and adventure, and plenty of roleplaying opportunity. We all rolled for initiative and the clatter of dice filled the room.

“Holy Scripture starts casting mass protection from cold.” Said Rainy Day.

“Good call.” said Shining Armor, “My Paladin, the mighty Silver Shield will take a defensive stance to protect him while he casts.”

“Rosethorn will ready her crossbow.” Said Sunny Spring who was playing a ranger.

“And what of your mage, Aeron? What will Greybeard the Sparkly do?”

“First up I cast Quickened Invocation, followed by Summon Legendary Creature.”

“What? You can’t do that.” Stout said.

“I took the Epic Spell feat last level. I can cast one epic level spell, once per day, provided I have a one use mana stone. And as you recall I got one from that treasure chest we looted last session.”

“He's right, it's in the players hoofbook, page fifty-six.” Said Shining as he leafed through said book.

“Okay so what are you summoning?”

“I summon the Legendary Dragon, Trogdor the Burninator to lay waste to these windigoes with his Firebreath of Burnination.”

I rolled the dice with a flourish while the rest of the party facehoofed at my theatrics.

“Critical fumble. Your spell still works, but the summoned creature goes on a rampage, attacking friend and foe alike. Everyone roll me some saves versus firebreath with a minus ten modifier.” Stout shield said.

Our entire party was burned to a crisp. The silence that followed was deafening.

“In the future you are so banned from playing mages.” Shining Armor told me.



Day 152.

Winter has officially begun. I can spot the occasional pegasi moving snow clouds around. More importantly my body is growing sluggish because the sun’s rays have weakened. If I want to keep my power levels up during the season I will have to consider other sources of nutrients. With no access to parasprites that leaves me precious few choices. I suppose I could eat the critters living in the palace gardens. I’m not so sure ponies would approve though. Especially a certain yellow pegasus, if she found out.

I had to find something to eat. I created a dozen bellsprouts and sent them scurrying off in all directions. I kept only a casual eye on them as they roamed around the palace and the city. Until one of them happened upon a nest full of rats. Not my first choice, but i needed the nutrients. With a burst of magic I evolved the bellsprout to be able to spray a paralysing toxin and to create grasping vines. Soon enough it returned with a trio of plump rats stored safely inside its own bulbous body.

One bellsprout got mangled by a cat and didn’t return. Another fell into the freezing water of the palace moat and died. A third fell off the edge of the city and plummeted to its doom below the mountain. The rest returned with more rats and a couple of mice. I can tell you right now that neither one tastes very good. Rats taste like stale candy corn, and mice are kinda chalky. I swear my sense of taste is completely fucked up. But at least it’s nourishment.



Day 166.

“Morning guys.” I greeted Sunny and Rainy as they relieved the night shift. “Whats with the goods?”

Sunny was carrying a cake box on her back while Rainy had a small keg on his.

“It’s the captain's birthday today, so we brought cake and some hard cider to celebrate later.”

“Wait, it’s his birthday and he didn’t take the day off?”

“Nah,” Sunny said with a wave of her hoof, “Shining doesn’t like to make a big deal out of it so he goes to work as normal. But I’m sure his folks have a surprise party planned for after his shift ends. They usually do.”

“Won’t he object to you guys bringing alcohol in here during your shift?”

“Nah it’s all good.”

Later that evening Shining Armor came by. Sunny and Rainy yelled surprise and presented him with a the cake and cider. Then they sang him happy birthday, I even joined in with the singing. Shining looked slightly embarrassed. As they sat down for cake and drinks Shining suddenly called out to me.


“Hey Aeron, you wanna try some cider?”

“I don’t know. I have no idea what will happen.”

“It’s just the one, what’s the worst that could happen right?” Rainy Day said.

“Please don’t jinx it.”

“It will be fine, give it a try.” Shining Said as he passed me a mug.

I carefully sank my fingers into the cider and drank it. It felt like fire was shooting through me. The same as when you take a shot of spirits. A good burn. Some of the leaves on my body wilted and fell out, but I felt such a buzz.

“Wheee.. That stuff’s gooood.” I slurred. “Aww sheeet man I’m drunk. Hozat posssible. I only had the one.”

“Whoa, looks like someone can’t handle their liquor very well.” Shining said.

“HAH! Iffff I had my old body I would drrrink you unner th’ table, shiny butt.” I said, pointing at him accusingly with a limp hand.

I swayed on my legs and then I fell over. According to Sunny I spent the rest of the evening on the floor, twitching and giggling like a fool anytime any of them came near me. Guess alcohol is out for me.



Day 174.

I learned something new today. I can somehow recreate any plant I’ve been in contact with. Apparently magic has a memory or something. I wonder if I will ever properly figure it out.

Anyway, it happened when I ran out of shimmerweed seeds. Its a herb that, when properly ground and added to a potion, provides great pain relief. I had been growing a bunch with the intent to ask Shining Armor to have them sent to Zecora, but the cold weather has killed them off. I became rather frustrated with the situation, and then my magic flared up and I began to grow the plants from my very body, complete with seeds to harvest. I then tried to do the same with other plants. But it only works with plants I’ve had contact with. So I can’t spontaneously start growing stuff like Ice Irises or anything. Still, this has potential.



Day 181.

“Happy hearts warming.” Shining armor said as he came by.

“Hello Shining. Happy hearts warming.” I replied.

“My sister asked me to pass this along to you.” He said as he handed me a thick envelope.

“Uh, thanks.” I stammered. I did not expect that.

After Shining left I opened the envelope. There was a pair of photos in there. The paper was thick and glossy. The first picture showed Zecora and Star Horn, standing in front of a big christmas tree in the town square. On the back was a little rhyme that wished me a happy hearts warming. The second picture was from the crusaders. Showing Applebloom Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle standing in front of the tree in their school. More well wishes were written on the back in three distinct styles. Sweetie Belle’s writing was curly and neat. Apple Bloom’s was more practical, lacking any fancy curls and curves. Scootaloo’s writing was… well rough, like hastily jotted down with minimal effort. I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise with such an energetic little filly.

I smile at the two pictures, before I stuck them to the wall of my cell with a bit of sticky sap.

“Happy hearts warming.”



Day 195.

Today is winter wrap up. Apparently the winter this year was shortened by two whole weeks because there have been a few harvest failures. To keep ponies from starving they decided to start spring early so planting could begin right away. I really can’t complain. The sun returning to its full strength is giving me a much needed pick me up. Good. now I won’t have to eat rats and mice anymore.



Day 202.

“You know, when you get released you could always start a business.” Sunny Spring said to me as I placed some more seeds into the latest addition to my little cell garden. “With your powers you could grow anything a pony could ever need.”

“I guess they are good for something. But what would I do with the bits? I don’t exactly need to buy food or or clothes or anything like it.”

“What about a house?” She opted.

I paused to think about it. “I guess… just need to find the right place to buy or build one. One thing I know for sure though is that I won’t be living in Canterlot. To many snobby ponies and nobles for my liking.”

“Well I can’t argue with you on that point.” She says.

“Did they ever find out how those cultists managed to get their hands on that poison?”

“I’m afraid not. And afterwards ponies seem to have forgotten all about it. Out of sight out of mind huh.” Rainy Day cut in.

Yeah, that’s a tactic that never comes back to bite you in the ass later. I still can’t shake the feeling like we’re missing a vital piece of the puzzle here. I hate being left with more questions than answers.



Day 212.

Nopony came in to relieve the night shift. Sunny and Rainy stepped out to see what was keeping their replacements and haven’t returned. I’ve been sitting here alone for the past two hours. I decided to send a Bellsprout to the window. Maybe I could learn something by listening in on the palace staff. Controlling these little guys is getting easier all the time. It’s like flexing a muscle. With a little flourish the Bellsprout shot a vine up to the bars and rapelled up like a flowery little batman. Or bat spider, since they still look all spidery from a distance. Anyway, with a jolt of magic I slipped my mind into the little guy and crawled outside.

That’s odd. It's raining chocolate milk, why is it raining cho…… ooooooohhhh SHIT!

Chapter 17: When Chaos drives, Insanity holds the reins.

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Chapter 17
When Chaos drives, Insanity holds the reins.

Okay, okay don’t panic, it’s just Discord on the loose. All I have to do is sit here quietly and let Twilight and company handle it.

Yep that’s what I’ll do....

I’ll just stay here and…

And…

Man buck this, I’m not gonna sit in here and do nothing. What good is having all these powers If I don’t use them. For the greater good. Insert famous spiderman quote here and all that jazz. Oh sweet merciful goddess am I developing a superhero complex or am I just regular crazy?

….

What the heck, I’ll roll with it.



With a little touch of magic I squeezed myself through the bars of my cell like I did once before and moved over to the guardroom door. It turned out to be locked tight. A quick blast of acid saw the lock reduced to molten slag.

Now I know what you’re thinking, no acid is that potent. Normally I would agree with you, but this shit is magical. It’s acid on steroids and then some. At this point I wouldn’t bat an eye if it turned into a little googly eyed blob and danced the hula. But I’m getting off track.

With the the lock taken care of, I opened the door and set off for the nearest staircase to the ground floor. The palace itself seemed to be deserted. Silence filled the corridors, disturbed only by the clip clop of my wooden hooves. I walked along them in a random direction hoping to find…. somepony, anypony. That’s when I first noticed the statues. There were always statues in the corridors as part of the decorations. But none like this. They depicted ponies in strange and sometimes downright obscene poses. And then it hit me. These weren’t statues at all. They were the guards, the maids and even a noble or two. All of them frozen in a granite prison with a look of horror on their faces. And then a voice echoed through the palace.


“To retrieve your missing Elements, just make sense of this change of events. Twists and turns are my master plan. Then find the Elements back where you began.”

I would recognise that voice anywhere. Discord had just issued his challenge. And that meant the obvious destination would be the palace hedge maze.



As I ran through the corridors towards the front gate, doubt began to seep into my mind once again. How in the world was I going to fight Discord? I mean, he is a spirit. How do you hurt a spirit? I could tear his physical form asunder sure, but he would just snap his fingers and reform. Aside from that, chaos magic in this universe seemingly has no limitations, making him nigh omnipotent. And what did I have? I could make seeds grow. Okay I could do a bit more than that, but compared to Discord’s raw magical potential I might as well have been a gnat.

Can’t beat him through raw force, can’t outwit a trickster, well I’m sure some people could. Just not me. I have my moments but I’m not that witty. Can’t stun him with science and logic. So what does that leave? Baffle em with bullshit? Well bullshit I can do.


I arrived at the hedge maze just in time to see the girls disappear behind walls of shrubbery. And there, floating just a foot above the ground, was Discord.

As I looked upon him for the first time I felt a sudden onset of vertigo. To my magical sight Discord’s unique magical aura appeared as a multi colored tear in the very fabric of reality, with dozens of rainbow tendrils snaking outwards and grasping wildly at the aether. It’s enough to give a person seizures. I shook my head and dulled my magical vision to a more tolerable level.

He was hanging silently in the air, steepling his fingers and smirking as I approached. I still wasn’t sure what to do. All I could think of was to try and distract him for as long as possible. An idea came to me at the last second and I formed a smirk of my own.

“Bah Weep Graaaagnah Wheep Ni Ni Bong.” I said as I stopped about ten or so feet from him.

“Bah Weep Graaaagnah Wheep Ni Ni Bong?” Discord repeated with just a hint of confusion.

“Bah Weep Graaaagnah Wheep Ni Ni Bong!” I repeated with gusto.

“What are you saying? You’re not making any sense!” Discord snorted irritably.

Well that’s a perfectly good joke wasted. I figured if there was any being in this dimension who might get it Discord would be the one. I guess I was wrong. Well I got his attention, now what. Oh, idea!

“Make sense? Aww what fun is there in making sense.” I said, doing my best John de Lancie impression. Which admittedly wasn’t very good. Still it got the desired result.


“I… wha… you… but… you can’t… so that’s what that feels like. I don’t like it.” Discord said after a moment of stuttering and trying to form a coherent reply. “And I don’t like you stealing my shtick.”

“Meh you can have it back. Mines bigger.”

“What?” he deadpanned.

“My stick. Its bigger than yours.”

“Not stick you imbecile! Shtick.”

“You might wanna get that looked at. With the right cream it will clear right up.”

Both of his eyeballs fell from their sockets and rolled across the grass like a pair of yellow golf balls, before he snatched them up and popped them back in. “Are you insane?”

“That’s a question I’ve been asking myself ever since I got here. When I finally find the answer I will let you know.” I answered honestly.

“ENOUGH!” He bellowed, obviously thinking I was taking the piss outta him. The top of his skull flew off like the lid of a tea kettle boiling at full steam. Said steam was coming out of his ears with a whistle. “Do you have the faintest inkling as to whom you speak? I am Discord, the Master of Chaos. I will not be mocked by some.... thing.”

I made a sound like a quiz show buzzer. “Wrong! The Thing is the other guy, he’s orange, I’m green. Still, thanks for the compliment.”

He stared at me silently for a moment, leaning in for a better look, and I felt a tingle of dread crawl down my proverbial spine. He was eying me like a predator sizing up his prey. Finally he pulled back out of my personal space.

“Was there a point to all this or did you come here simply to annoy me and waste my precious time?” he said while yawning and checking an oversized pocketwatch that he pulled from his torso.

“Annoy you? And here I was trying my hardest to be welcoming. You of all creatures should be able to appreciate a bit of chaos.” I said neutrally.

“That's not chaos, that’s just random gibberish.” He said as a paper ribbon full of random numbers, like from an old Edison Stock Ticker, floated out his ears and drifted off across the horizon.

“But isn’t that what all chaos is at its heart? Random events that bring about changes great and small. The intricate clockwork that keeps the universe spinning.” I said, making turning motions with my hands.

“You talk a good spiel but I doubt you truly understand the intricacies of true chaos.” Discord said haughtily, suddenly dressed in an expensive suit of mismatched colors and a powdery wig, the kind that was popular amongst the nobility of old. The entire ensemble made him look snobbish in the extreme to match his tone of voice.

“I don’t truly have to understand something in detail to know that it has it’s place in the whole of things. But I do know for a fact that chaos is not evil. Chaos just is.”

“Well then, If you’re not some dashingly misguided hero here to try and vanquish the evil spirit, what is it that you want from me?” he asked as his outfit vanished once more.

“For starters you could stop tormenting my friends.” I opted.

“Friends? You actually believe those ponies are your friends?” he chuckled.

“Well not yet, but hopefully someday. And if you would just stop tormenting them they might actually warm up to you too.”

“They will never accept the likes of you or I. We are too alien, a disruptive influence on their precious ordered existence. Look at this place!” he said as he waved his arm, taking in the whole of Canterlot.

“Everything in it functions according to their whim and designs. The very weather itself shackled and slave to their will. It’s all so sickeningly orderly. But we, we are the the antithesis to their designs. The untamable raw powers of nature and magic. This world has been unbalanced far too long without true chaos. And I will see it delivered.”

“And to that end you would first mentally torment a bunch of girls? Pardon me for not fully grasping the big picture here, but what purpose could that possibly serve?”

“They carry within them the potential to awaken the elements of harmony. The one power, the only power, that can truly stand in my way. The power of harmony has ruled for too long. It’s stench lingers everywhere. Even your own form reeks of it, cloying and stifling. I will see this world set free from Celestia’s perfect order, and returned to the chaos that first created it. They are a threat to that goal, and I will see that threat neutralised.”

“But you are overdoing it. Chaos should be subtle, It’s influence barely felt or observed in the day to day lives of people, or ponies. Because that’s when chaos is at its best. When it simply becomes another part of the whole and keeps the world spinning. Instead you are twisting the world into some insane mockery of itself. Where is the balance in that?”

“You just don’t understand.” He said dismissively.

“Oh I understand perfectly. This isn’t about balance or restoring the proper way of things or any of that. This is about revenge. You want to torment Celestia for locking you in stone for a thousand years. And the best way to torment Celestia is by tormenting that which she holds most dear. Her little ponies, specifically her faithful student, the one she loves as if she were her own flesh and blood. Her friends are just the icing on the cake for you.”

His eyes narrowed and he glared at me in anger.

“I get it, you’re angry, and you have a right to be. And I’m fully aware I’m playing devil's advocate here because I would want revenge too, but it’s not going to solve anything Discord. Lashing out against Celestia and her ponies is only gonna come back to bite you in the ass later. So you need to take a step back and stop acting like a petty child, throwing a tantrum because mommy sent you to your room.”

“Sent me to my… Do you have any idea what it’s like to be locked in stone? Unable to move, to do anything, yet fully aware of the world around you!. How could you possibly understand.”

My time in Twilight’s lab, floating helplessly in the null fluid came to mind.

“I might have a better understanding than most. Even if my own experience was like the blink of an eye compared to yours.” I said but he clearly wasn’t listening anymore because he kept on ranting.

“This world was mine long before the Alicorns came. Long before Celestia and her sister even existed. They stole it from me. Twisted it until it was unrecognisable. I’m taking it all back.”

“Discord please, don’t do this. It’s beneath you. I really don’t want to fight you, but I can not let you do this to them.”

“You don’t have a say in the matter. You cannot stop me! No I think I’ll just make a few adjustments, then send you on your merry way.” He said as he reached for my head with his eagle claw.

I grabbed it about an inch away from my face. My eyes narrowed.

“You might want to reconsider doing that, trust me. What I keep up here,” I tapped my head, “You want none of it. You may be fine entering and twisting the innocent naive minds of ponies, but you are not ready for what lies within the depths of mine. Not by a long shot.”

It could have been my imagination, but I’m certain I saw a flicker of doubt cross Discord’s face. Then it was gone, and the next moment his expression turned to one of pure undiluted rage, and I found myself blasted off my hooves by a point blank burst of chaotic magic. Gone was the comical trickster. The being that floated in its place was all raw emotion and primeval magic. I tried to crawl to my feet but another blast of magic slammed me back into the floor and cracked my mask.

“You arrogant gnat. If two Alicorns couldn’t truly stop me what chance could you possibly have?”

Another blast of rage fueled magic tore me asunder. My left arm disintegrated and my lower body pretty much exploded into jagged chunks of wood and tree sap. His lion paw slashed across what was left of my chest, tearing away the wood to expose my core. A snap of his eagle claw and I was torn free from what remained of my body. As the last of my connecting vines snapped all my senses went dead, save for my hearing and sight. I hung suspended in the air while Discord stared at me.

“And they call me a abomination.” He said mockingly as he studied my form, “Begone.”

Another snap of his claw and I was suddenly sailing through the air at great speeds as if I had been fired out of a cannon. Canterlot mountain vanished into the distance. For a minute or two I flew up, then gravity reasserted its pull on me and I began to fall. I could see the distant ground below. Farmland and forest passing by rapidly. I sailed across ponyville, close enough to see panicked ponies milling about the now blue and pink checkered landscape. Dodging bunny stampedes and chocolate milk thunderclouds.

A piece of floating soil, complete with a house on top suddenly appeared in my path. I bounced off the thatch rooftop and continued on my way. Now there were trees beneath me, and they were rapidly closing in. I flew straight through branches and leaves, then smacked into a trunk with a resounding thwack. The impact split me open and I tumbled down, battered and broken, coming to a stop in the soil between the roots with a barely audible thud.

I lay there for some time, stunned and in pain. I could feel something ooze out of the crack in my core, staining the soil with a glowing green fluid. I think…. I think I’m done for.

As I lay there, my vision blurring in and out, something began to claw at the back of my mind, baying for blood. Oh no you don’t! Just because I’m half dead doesn't mean you get to come out and play. I mentally pushed the beast back into its cage. I was in control, but the desire to exact revenge remained. Smoldering in the back of my mind like a forgotten campfire. They say anger is more useful than despair. Anger can be given a purpose. And you know what? They are absolutely right. I tapped deeply into my reserves and channeled them into regenerating myself.

Nothing happened.

******************************


Celestia paced up and down her bedchambers. Worry etched on her face. Did she do the right thing by leaving this all up to Twilight? Her reasoning was sound. The elements were bound to the six of them now, they stood the best chance to defeat the master of chaos. But even so she could not shake the fear wriggling in the pit of her stomach. She walked over to her writing desk, where a gently steaming pot of tea waited. After pouring herself a cup and blowing on it she took a small sip. The bittersweet taste of the tea always helped steady her nerves and focus her mind.

“Would you like to know how your precious elements are doing Celestia?” the voice of Discord suddenly resounded in her chambers, startling her into dropping her tea.

She looked around for the trickster spirit, who appeared like a puff of smoke from the teapot on her desk, like a genie from a lamp. A pink tea cosy adorned his head like a turban and he wore a Saddle Arabian vest in eye wateringly bright orange. He conjured forth a crystal ball in his mismatched limbs, it came to life, showing images of Twilight and her friends inside the labyrinth.

Against her better judgement, Celestia peered into the crystal ball to see Twilight, Rarity, Pinkie and Applejack walking through one of the flower arches inside the maze.

“Fluttershy! I'm so glad to see a friendly face. This awful labyrinth is getting to everypony.” Twilight exclaimed upon finding the butter yellow pegasus.

“Aw, boo-hoo-hoo! Why don't you wave your magic little horn and make everything alright?” Fluttershy sneered.

Twilight stood stunned by the normally so timid pegasus reply. “Uh…”

“Oh, that's right, you can't. You don't have one.” Fluttershy said as she whipped twilight in the snout with the tip of her tail.

The young unicorn looked dumbstruck as she rubbed her stinging muzzle with a hoof.

“What is happening to my friends?” she mused aloud, the barest hint of despair sneaking into her voice.

Celestia looked away from the crystal ball. “Stop this senseless cruelty Discord.”

“I’m not the cruel one here celestia. You are! I’m merely paying it back in full by confronting these girls with their own dark sides.”

“What you’re doing is pointless and vile. Twisting innocent ponies into mockeries of themselves. What we did, we did for the good of equestria.”

“Is that what you tell yourself to help you sleep at night? That your actions served Equestria. Is that what you told yourself when you turned me to stone? When you sent poor little Luna to the moon? You banished her to a variation of the same fate you did me. A fate worse than death. Being imprisoned without the ability to interact with the world, yet fully awake and aware.”

Celestia's eyes widened and she froze, a tingle of familiar dread running down her spine.

“What? Did you think she was asleep up there on the moon? Having a nice relaxing nap during her millennial time out? Oh how wrong you are. Why do you think she’s been so eager to please. She's desperately trying to stay in your good graces. Absolutely terrified of being sent back to the cold empty void.”

Tears were stinging the corners of her eyes now. One of her greatest fears during all those centuries was that Luna was awake and aware during her time on the moon.

“In space, no one can hear you scream. But I heard her.” he said, tapping his ear.

”Her mind was shrieking into the void like a psychic beacon of despair. Calling for ‘you. Begging you to bring her back. But you didn’t hear. You didn’t care. You left her there alone with nothing but dust and her own thoughts to keep her company for a thousand years. At least I had some entertainment when ponies visited the gardens.”

His words were like icy fists punching her in the gut.

“But she, she was alone in a never changing wasteland with nothing to do but watching the world spin. How she has not gone insane I will never understand. Maybe she already was, and always has been. After all you can’t break what’s already broken.”

She screwed her eyes shut and turned away. She didn’t want to hear any more. Her guilt threatened to consume her. Using the elements against Luna had been a terrible mistake.

The door to Celestia’s chambers swung open with a bang, breaking her out of her misery. In it stood her sister. Her eyes ablaze with moonlight and astral hair billowing in an ethereal wind.

“Enough Discord. Leave mine sister alone. Thy presence is not welcome here” Luna growled, her horn alight with magic.

“Dramatic much? This isn’t some cheesy stage play you know.” Discord mocked only to be met with a magic bolt to the face.

“We told thee to leave. So begone!”

“Fine.” he snorted as his face popped back into shape. “I’m done here anyway.”

He vanished into his tea cosy turban like dust into a vacuum cleaner, which then disappeared with a pop. Luna let out a sigh of relief as the light left her eyes and her mane turned back to normal locks of blue. Silence was all that remained until Celestia’s quiet voice reached her ears.
“How did you know Discord was here?”

“We... were on our way to talk to thee about the current crisis when we sensed thy distress. We… also may have listened at the door.” She said with a tinge of guilt.

“Is it true…. what discord said? Did I leave you alone and awake in the cold void.” It was a question she had wanted answered since the day Luna returned, but she dreaded the answer so much she could not bring herself to ask, and then she tried to forget all about it.

Celestia waited, the silence stretched on for what felt like an eternity, thick and smothering like a heavy blanket. And then the answer she had feared came.

“Yes.”

She couldn’t breathe. Her heart felt like it was being stabbed over and over with a knife. She began to hyperventilate. Her vision blurred as she swayed on her legs.

“Tia, TIA! Get a hold of thyself!”

Her sisters hoof connected with her cheek with a resounding slap. Snapping her back to her senses. With an effort she willed her breathing to slow down. Still her heart thundered in her ears and she could barely make out her sister’s form through the tears blurring her vision..

“Lulu I…. I’m so... so sor..”

Luna’s legs and wings wrapped around her in a tight hug.

“We forgive thee Tia. Yes our time on the moon was terrible, but we forgive thee.” Luna said. There may have been some residual resentment, but it evaporated at the sight of her heartbroken sister.

“I don’t want you to hate me.” Celestia sobbed.

“We don’t” came the whispered reply in her ear.

They sat there on the floor, wrapped in each other’s embrace. This had been a long time coming. Neither of them had really wanted to talk about the past after their initial reunion. Neither of them really felt ready. They had danced around the issue for months. Discords actions had ripped off the bandaid in one swift, harsh motion. Leaving them both raw and exposed. But now, at last the healing could truly begin.

Celestia finally composed herself enough to ask a question that had been at the forefront of her mind “How did you bear it? How did you possibly stay sane?”

“Thou forgets sister, we are the guardian of dreams. When our other half lay dormant we visited the world through dreams. And though we were too weak to influence these dreams, just being there kept us sane. Even so, not all is good. We, feel uneasy when around lots of other ponies. We have gotten used to the solitude. It will take time before we feel comfortable again in large crowds.”

Celestia nodded slowly, “And what of her? How is your other half doing?”

“She…. has been silent. Ever since Twilight Sparkle and her friends confronted us in the ruins of our old home, ever since they used the Elements of Harmony, her voice has been absent.”

“Is that why you looked so lost all this time? Because she is not answering?”

She nodded.

“Lulu, I.. I should have..” words failed her. Her thoughts were so jumbled. There were a million things she wanted to ask and say. And yet none would make it past her lips.

A gentle hoof on said lips silenced her attempts to speak.

“Shhh, we shall have ample opportunity to talk about everything in detail later, Tia. For now however, thy student is in need of thy help.”

******************************


I lay staring at the sky. The sky that seemed to change color every five minutes. It had been blue, then green, then a nice fuchsia, and even puce. A flock of winged pie tins flew by. Day turned to night, then back to day a few minutes later, and then a whale passed on by overhead, leaving a trail of cheeses. All the while my vision kept blurring in and out, turning the world into the weirdest acid trip imaginable.

I had panicked at first, when my powers gave out. Screaming and hollering and cursing everything and everyone until I couldn’t think of any new curse words anymore. I was just spent. Completely and utterly spent. I wallowed in self pity next. Wondering if my end had finally come this time. I survived timberwolves, a dragon, being put on trial by ponies. And now I was gonna die in the dirt because of a guy who’s body resembled a kindergarteners art project. Talk about an ignoble end.

I have no idea how long I was laying there in the dirt, especially with the day and night cycle lasting only a few minutes. But eventually I gave my magic one last desperate push in an effort to heal myself. Nothing happened. That is to say, the regeneration didnt kick in, but something else happened. I felt a sudden presence. My sight was pulled to the tree I lay beneath and I reached out to it. Somehow the tree reached back to me and a connection of some kind sprang up between us. I can’t put into words exactly what happened. I was talking to it without using any actual words. It’s a sensation that defies description. It asked, for want of a better term, if I was alright. I told it I was wounded, and that my powers were unable to heal me. Then it offered to share some of its life force with me, freely and in good faith. I accepted its offer with gratitude, and as its essence flowed into me I felt restored and brimming with energy.

As if playing a video tape in reverse the green goo that had leaked from my core sucked itself back in through the crack which promptly regenerated. The moment the crack completely vanished my blurry vision snapped back into crystal clear contrast and my regeneration kicked in with a vengeance. I promptly proceeded to grow a new body, and while I was working on it I finally noticed where I was exactly. I was at the edge of the orchard on Sweet Apple Acres. The border of the Everfree only a few paces away. A new plan formulated in my mind and I altered my form from what I had originally intended. I reshaped myself into a timberwolf. I placed a paw upon the apple tree and silently thanked it for its gift. Then I turned and dashed into the Everfree forest.


It felt good, running through the woods like this. It felt liberating. I felt alive. But I had a purpose, and not a lot of time. And if I did this right I could solve two problems at once. Trees shot past me in a blur, but I knew the way. I could sense my destination like a beacon in the dark of night. Time lost most of its meaning as the forest zipped past me. I could hear the rush of water up ahead. I coaxed more speed out of my body and leapt across the river that bisects the Everfree. I landed on the far side, my legs sinking into the muddy bank, not far now. With a heave I tore myself free and continued onward until I reached the chasm and the cave of harmony.

As I entered the cave and adjusted to the bright glow of the crystalline tree I let my senses reach out far and wide. There, just a foot below the surface, I could feel them. Plunder vines! Their aura a twisted mockery of nature. I slammed a paw into the ground and began to dig. In moments I had unearthed the first black vine. The moment I touched it, it shot towards me, It´s barbed coils grasping and constricting. I could feel it trying to drain my energy. I reached out with my mind and slammed my will against its. It had no real consciousness. Not like a sentient creature. But it had a twisted mockery of a will. A will that I needed to break.

“Submit! You are mine now.” was the thought I lanced into it with a burst of magic.

I could feel it’s instincts reeling against my dominance. It did not speak in words, but to me it may as well have been screaming. NEVER! It roared.

“You will DO as I SAY!” I growled, blasting my magic into it like a dozen psychic spears.

I could feel it writhing and twisting as if in agony, even though it couldn’t feel actual pain. The drain on my energy slacked and the vine ceased to struggle. I tore it out of the ground, roots and all. Another burst of magic saw it reduced back to a small black seed. I swallowed it and safely stored it away. Then I started on the next one. Tearing it from the ground and dominating it’s will.

It took me maybe an hour to get them all, but when I was finished I was certain no more of them remained. That was good, it meant the tree of harmony would be safe in the future. I felt mentally drained from the constant struggles for dominance, who would have thought that controlling a couple of seeds would be that much of a struggle. I wished I could just lay down for a while and rest, but I couldn’t rest yet. Not yet. Not before I gave Discord a taste of his own medicine.

I left the cave and began the long climb up the steps out of the chasm.

******************


Sneaking into ponyville was easy amidst all the chaos. The world had turned so completely crazy that no pony gave me more than a casual glance. They walked about in a daze, their eyes hollow and tormented. Like a shadow of their former selves. It might have looked funny in the show, but was just plain cruel to see it in the flesh.

I stalked through the narrow alleys between the cottages, ducking ballet dancing buffalo performing some messed up rendition of swan lake or the nutcracker and hid in a rose bush. From the bush I then made my way behind a trashcan and from there over a little wooden fence. I snuck through several backyards, humming the mission impossible tune while evading a mutated bunny stampede when a burst of insane laughter reached my ears.

I followed the sound until I reached the former market square. Now it was a shallow misshapen hill covered in a checkered pattern of blue’s, atop of which stood a tacky cliché of a throne. The kind you would expect from some vain tyrant with no taste. And reclined upon that throne was Discord, casually sipping his chocolate milk. That is to say, he drank the glass around the milk.

I had found him. Now it would be time to put my plan into action. If I could just get close enough to surprise him I could unleash the plunder seeds on him and hopefully weaken him enough to take him out. I let my body fall apart until it was little more than a heap of vegetation on the ground, then I began to creep forward slowly, ever so slowly. I made my way behind the throne to stay out of his sight, keeping my form small and low to the ground I slithered forward, almost like a snake. Hmm snake, that gave me an idea. Just a little further and I would be within striking distance.

Chaos is a wonderful, wonderful thing.” Discord laughed from atop his throne as he surveyed the mayhem around himself.

“Not as wonderful as friendship.” Said the voice of Twilight Sparkle.

Ah crap, looks like the girls are here early.

“Oh, this again?” Discord said, sounding bored.

“That's right. Ya’ll couldn't break apart our friendship fer long.” Applejack said challengingly.

“Oh, Applejack, don't lie to me. I'm the one who made you a liar. Will you ever learn?” Discord said smugly as he tried to rip the element of honesty from Applejacks neck with a telekinetic swipe. But a quick shielding spell from twilight saved both the farm pony and the element from harm.

“I'll tell you what we've learned, Discord: we've learned that friendship isn't always easy, but there's no doubt it's worth fighting for!” Said twilight.

“Ugh, gag. Fine, go ahead, try and use your little Elements. Frienemies. Just make it quick. I'm missing some excellent chaos here.”

“Alright, ladies, let's show him what friendship can do!” Twilight exclaimed as she began to power up her element.

I stopped. It looked like my help wouldn’t be needed after all. This was their moment, no need to muck it up now. I should be safe enough back here. Perhaps in hindsight I should have just stayed quietly in my cell in Canterlot. It certainly would have saved me some pain.

I watched as the elements began to glow with power, and truth be told my inner brony felt a little giddy that I would get to witness this moment in person. Here it comes.

With a backhanded blast of energy, Discord threw the mane six aside like ragdolls. The girls rolled across the ground, bouncing a few times until they came to a stop in a heap. With another swipe of magic the elements of harmony were torn away and dumped in a pile at discords feet. His sadistic laughter filled the air.

Oh you fucking bastard.

“Did you honestly think I would be fool enough to just sit here and let you blast me with the elements of harmony. How stupid do you think I am?”

He then proceeded to zap them with arcs of electricity as if he was emperor freaking Palpatine himself. Laughing insanely as the girls writhed and screamed. If I still had blood in my veins it would be boiling now. He briefly seized his attack to let out another burst of insane laughter and I began to close in once more. With trembling legs the girls got back to their hooves. Little arcs of lightning fizzling along their coats. They stared at Discord defiantly.

“It’s not over yet Discord, we’ll find a way.” Twilight nearly spat at him.

“Oh how wrong you are, Twilight Sparkle. This is the end of the line for you little ponies. You have nothing left to throw at me.”

“You'd be surprised what innovative munitions can be created by one immortal being who's set his mind on killing another.” I said loudly. yeah, I quoted Q there.

Discord flipped himself one-hundred-eighty degrees in the air, hovering upside down to look behind himself as I rose up from the ground only a few feet away from him. Shaping my body into that of a giant cobra.

“Payback time you chaotic son of a bitch.” I growled as I unleashed the power of the plunderseeds.

The look of utter surprise on his face was priceless. I enveloped discord like a tidal wave of vengeful vegetation. He tried to teleport out, but the power of his own creation turned against him and his attempt to teleport failed with a fizzle of magical sparks. One plunder vine shot forward and wrapped itself around his throat with a crack like a bullwhip. Immediately I could feel the magic beginning to drain out of him and flowing into me. And it felt so very wrong. I can only describe it as tasting food that has spoiled. Absorbing his magic was the equivalent sensation to taking a big bite of chinese takeout that has gone off. My first instinct was to release him, but I suppressed it with an effort and held on.

He began to blast me with raw chaos magic. Bolts of seizure inducing technicolor energy blowing fist sized holes into my form. He was trying to find my core, but I was not about to give up, not now. I kept my core on the move within my form as more and more plunder vines shot forward from the wounds he inflicted on me, grasping and entangling him. He let out a growl and unleashed a torrent of plaid colored flames from his mouth like a dragon, setting my head on fire.

I constricted the vine around his neck as hard as I could, choking the very life from him in an effort to prevent him from breathing any more of that strange fire. As an added bonus it kept him from talking since I was in no mood to deal with his bullshit. The chaos fire soon turned my head into little more than ash and cinders, but like the hydra of legend I regenerated two more from the still smoldering stump. They lanced forward and bit into his arms. Snapping them backwards.

“Two can play the blasting game, asshole!”

Dozens of spiked pinecones popped up all over my serpentine body in a burst of green power.

“Fire in the hole!” I cried as they detonated with a crump like grenades. Flinging razor sharp thorns everywhere. They blasted through discords flesh like bullets, pulverising whatever passed for his internal organs, but he didn’t so much as cringe.

Since blasting me had no effect he began to shapeshift in an effort to escape my grasp. I constricted further, keeping a firm squeeze on him as he morphed into a variety of animals. I almost lost my grip when he transformed into some sort of strange rhinoceros with a Tee shaped horn and a row of spines along its back. But I managed to hold on with a titanic effort as he stomped around trying to throw me off. I grappled his midsection with a pair of thick vines and began to twist them. As i upped the pressure his armored hide began to buckle, and then his spine snapped with a sickening crack, but he regenerated even faster than I could.

With that tactic a bust too, he returned to his basic mismatched shape and began to actively push his magic into me through the plunder vines in an effort to overload me. I pushed back, I had to or the chaos magic would certainly destroy me from the inside out. While there may certainly be similarities between our magics, and my body can absorb some of it, absorbing too much of it was still akin to drinking a vat of toxic waste. Already I could feel my strength beginning to fade. The battle had turned into a magical tug of war, and I was losing. I had to end this fast.

I reared up and my twin snake heads vomited forth a cascade of acid, covering discord from head to mismatched toes. Flesh steamed and hissed before it ran molten off his bones, but like some twisted insane version of Wolverine it grew back as quickly as it dissolved. It did have the effect of momentarily distracting him, and that was all I wanted. I wrapped him in my coils like a freshly caught rat and squeezed with all my might.

“Twilight, now! While I have him!” I called out to the girls.

They stood, staring at the battle with expressions of horror and disbelief.

“But we can’t, you’re in the way.” she cried.

“Don’t fucking give me that. Blast him, NOW! Before he has a chance to overpower me!”

In a flash, Rainbow Dash had grabbed the elements from their pile and handed them out to her friends. Then she took her place by Twilight’s side again. But Twilight made no move to call upon the elements power.

“Do it Twilight.”

I could see the doubt in her eyes, she was racking her brain to try and find a different solution. The others started to trot in place nervously, glancing at her.

“Damnit Sparkle, for once in your life stop overthinking things and just DO IT!”

“I’m sorry.” she whispered before her eyes went white.

The very air seemed to vibrate with magic for a moment as the elements powered up, and then the rainbow blast of harmony thundered toward us. Discord’s expression turned to one of utter terror as the multi colored beam slammed into us. A dome of power fell across Ponyville, and everything went white.

I was expecting…. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I got certainly wasn’t it.

I felt no pain, no fear, nothing. Even as the power of harmony destroyed the plunderseeds I had borrowed, the waves of magic washing over my body felt more like the gentle lapping of the ocean. I knew this magic, I had felt it before. On the night of my rebirth, then again when I touched the tree of harmony. It felt gentle and warm, it felt like love, like life. For a brief moment I felt connected to everything. I could feel the spark of life in every blade of grass, every flower, every bush, every tree within a mile of Ponyville. Like millions of tiny motes of light, dancing in an intricate pattern before my mind's eye. And as my consciousness made contact with them their lifeforce trilled in acknowledgement of my presence. It was the single most beautiful thing I have ever felt.

The whiteness faded and color returned to the world. With a dull crump the now petrified form of Discord fell to the ground. Face frozen in terror. I sank to the ground, suddenly unable to control my body as the sextet of ponies came rushing forward. I tried to move, but got no response whatsoever, as if my entire form had somehow short circuited. I could still feel the body, but it was beginning to decay rapidly.

“Please be alright, please be alright, please be alright.” Twilight kept muttering over and over.

Unsurprisingly perhaps Rainbow Dash poked the Discord statue in the nose and blew a raspberry at it. Rarity seemed to hover over Twilight’s shoulder, her face full of uncertainty whilst Pinkie looked on with unbridled curiosity. Fluttershy hung back from the group and kept her distance from me, her eyes full of mistrust.

“Is he gonna be okay Twi?” Asked Applejack, hovering in the corner of my vision.

“I don’t know. I don’t know what the elements effects on him are.”

I sent out a small burst of magic to my bodies larynx, the resultant noise was like static on an old radio.

“I’ll be fine Twilight.” I rasped. “All the magic has simply shorted out my body.”

I could see relief flood her face.

“So.. what now?” she asked after a moment.

“I think this body is a write off. Any chance you could dig me out?”

“Uh, sure.” She said uncertainly. “Where exactly are you?”

“A little to the left, little higher. Right there.”

“Okay, I’ll do this carefully.” Twilight said as she lit up her horn and then started to slice through the wood with a magical beam.

In moments I was cut out of the dying husk and picked up in her telekinetic field. Being held in her magic kinda tickled, but not so much as to be uncomfortable or unbearable.

“So what now?” Asked Twilight. Of Course I couldn’t react. “Are you okay?”

“Uhm, I don’t think he can speak without a body darling.” Rarity offered.

“Oh right, of course. So uhm.. I guess we better report to the princess.“



A few minutes later we entered the Ponyville library. Twilight placed me gently on her kitchen table and went off to see if spike was feeling well enough to send a letter to the princess. The rest of the group was milling about the kitchen. It was Rarity who spoke up first.

“Fluttershy dear, is something the matter? You’ve been very quiet the last few minutes. I mean, even quieter than usual.”

“Oh uhm, no, it… it’s nothing.” She said quietly, but she kept glancing in my direction, giving me sour looks.

“It’s our, guest, isn’t it.” Rarity whispered to her as she came over to sit beside her. To my magical senses she may as well have been speaking through a bullhorn.

“Uhm, well… I…. I don’t… I know I shouldn’t but… I don’t like him.” Fluttershy said in a barely audible voice. “He… he eats creatures, and.. he scares me.”

It would seem she still wasn’t over it. Even after all these months. And I guess that little display back there didn’t exactly help.

“Well I must admit, that was the most violent and unsettling thing I’ve had the misfortune to witness.” Rarity said, looking just a little green around the muzzle.

“What I want to know is what this guy is doing out of jail.” Dash said as she poked me with a hoof, rolling me across the table in Fluttershy’s direction. Said mare immediately scooted back a little.

“Sheesh shy, you really don’t like this guy huh?”

She shook her head.

“Don’t ya’ll think it’s a might rude to be yappin’ about a guy when he ain’t exactly in a position to reply?”

Thank you Applejack, you read my mind. I sighed mentally. I suppose I might as well bite the proverbial bullet and get this over with, I should be suitably recovered by now. With a tweak of mental focus I gathered my magic, my core glowing briefly, and then I unleashed it. Vines immediately began to grow from my core, just as Pinkie decided to poke me.

“He’s gonna gobble us up!” she shrieked as my sudden growth spurt spooked her. She jumped back and bowled Rainbow Dash over. The two of them went down in a flailing mess of hooves and hair.

Before things could escalate I rapidly formed a new voice box.

“Don’t be silly Pinkie, I don’t eat ponies.” I said a bit more irritably then I’d intended.

“Just innocent creatures.” Fluttershy muttered under her breath.

By now I had grown enough material to form a proper head. Which I turned to address Fluttershy.

“Don’t you feed fish to some of your animal friends? How is that any different?”

She had the decency to look rather guilty at that. I directed my growth as speedily as I could, going for functionality rather than pleasing aesthetics. In another minute I once more had a functional Centaur body, it was crude and ugly but at last I was mobile. I would worry about spiffing it up in a little bit.

“I beg your pardon darling,“ Rarity said, “but you must admit that your method of dealing with Discord back there doesn’t exactly inspire trust or confidence.”

“Look,” I said as let my gaze drift over them, “We got off on the wrong foot, or hoof in your case. The way we all met the first time, an unfortunate incident. If I could get a do-over I’d make sure that none of it ever happened. Sadly the universe doesn’t do do-overs. All I can ask is for you all to give me a chance to start anew. To show you all I’m not some horrid violent monster to be feared.”

“Scuse me for sayin’ so, but your actions don’t exactly match yer words pardner. That Display back there? Looks to me like you was doin’ yer right best to kill him.” Applejack said.

“Its really not like that Applejack. Discord is incredibly powerful, and for all intents and purposes, immortal. He is magic made flesh and can’t truly be harmed. Not unless you can somehow make him mortal first. This was the second time I faced him, and the first time he tossed me aside like It was nothing. I had to come at him with everything I had to keep him occupied long enough for you all to put him back to stone. And even if I could kill him I wouldn’t.”

“Excuse me darling but did you say second time? When was the first?” Rarity asked.

“It was right after you girls entered the hedge maze. I tried to distract him at first, then I tried to talk him down. Then he got angry and launched me all the way from canterlot to ponyville.”

“Uhm, when you say launched, do you mean…” Dash asked uncomfortably.

“Shot me right off the mountain like a cannonball. I actually crashed right on the edge of Applejacks orchard.”

Dash actually winced. Well considering how many times she’s crashlanded I’m sure she could vividly imagine how nice that landing was.

“Look, I’m not asking you all to forget everything that happened and be best buddies all of a sudden. These things take time after all. All I ask is a fair chance to get to know you all, and for you to judge me without preconceptions. Can you find it within yourselves to do that?”

They looked at each other quietly for a moment. It was Applejack who spoke up first.

“Well, after all of the trouble with what happened with Zecora ‘n all that, let’s just say ah learned not to judge an apple by it’s shine. So ah’m willin’ to give ya a second chance. But you only get the one ya hear?”

“Gotcha, and thank you.”

“Well, mah little sister seems to like ya’ll, and you did save her life that one time, so it’s the least ah could do. But no funny business around her.”

I held up my hands in a placating gesture. “You have my word.”

“Well I still wanna know what you’re doing out of jail first.” Dash said, getting in my face in true Dash fashion.

“Well after I learned Discord had escaped I couldn’t just sit there and wait while you girls were trotting straight into danger. What sort of person would that make me? I was just trying to do the right thing.” I said as I gently pushed her out of my personal space.

“So you what? You escaped just so you could try to save the day? Do you have a hero complex or something?” She asked.

“Gods almighty I hope not.” I said with no small amount of horror, “My life is complicated enough without throwing that into the mix. Besides, isn’t that your shtick?”

“Hey!” she exclaimed, puffing up her cheeks indignantly at my jab.

“He’s got you there RD” Applejack chuckled.

I let out a polite chuckle before I was suddenly beset by an energetic pink hurricane.

“Hi there, I’m Pinkie Pie. Do you like cupcakes? What about regular cakes? Do you like big parties or small parties?”

“Okay, to answer that in order. Yes. Better than cupcakes, though honestly I prefer apple pie with whipcream over cake. I like parties with small groups of friends rather than big ones with people I don’t know well. Now, can I ask you a question Pinkie?”

“Sure! What do you wanna know? My favorite color? Because it’s really not hard to guess. It’s pink!” She said with a smile that was all teeth.

“When does the Narwhal bacon?”

“Duh, at midnight of course, everypony knows that, but it’s not Narwhal season yet silly. And ponies don’t really have a use for bacon. Bacon is for griffins. Unless you want bacon flavored cupcakes maybe?” she answered with exuberance.

“Do you know what they are talking about?” Rarity whispered to Applejack. Confusion dominating her face.

“Ah have absolutely no idea.”

“That was just me trying and failing to outrandom Pinkie.” I said with a chuckle of defeat.

I was met with blank stares.

“Are you sure you’re not crazy?” Dash said.

I chose to ignore the remark and focused my attention on Fluttershy instead.

“Is there any chance you and me can start over, I really don’t want there to be any hard feelings between us.”

I slowly extended a hand towards her, hoping for a hoof bump or shake, but she flinched away.

“I’m sorry, I… I’m not ready just yet.”

I sagged a bit. “I understand, I will keep a respectful distance until you change your mind.”

Further conversations were interrupted by Twilight coming back down the steps, Spike followed her down a little later, still looking a bit woozy. His eyes widened slightly when he spotted me.

“I’ve informed Princess Celestia about what happened here. She will send some ponies to collect us in the morning. There’s to be a big ceremony in canterlot and everything.”

“Sweet!” Dash shouted.

“Aeron, the princess said you are to stay here with me and Spike until they come to collect us, and not to try and run. You, weren’t planning to run were you?”

I shook my head. “No, I will stay with you until morning. And no I’m not going to cause any trouble. I give you my word.”

That seemed good enough for her. As the girls chatted excitedly among themselves in anticipation of the celebrations, I noticed Spike kept glancing in my direction.

“Something on your mind?” I asked the little drake.

“Did you really eat a dragon like everypony says?” He asked bluntly.

“Spike!” Twilight spoke up to chastise the little drake, but I held up a hand to forestall her.

“Yes, I did. Though in my defence, I wasn’t exactly myself at the time.”

“Are you gonna eat me?”

“Now why in the world would I eat one of the coolest dragons in Equestria? Thats crazy talk.”

“You think I’m cool?” He asked with surprise and scepticism.

I lowered myself until I was almost eye level with him.

“Spike… You’re kind, helpful and you care a great deal about Twilight and her friends. You might mess up from time to time but that’s because you are still young and sometimes over eager. But your heart is in the right place. So yeah, in my book that makes you cool.”

I swear the little guy stood a foot taller when I finished talking.

“Hey do you like comic books?” he suddenly asked.

I guess little boys are the same everywhere. Man that made me sound like an old man.

“I don’t think I know a single guy who doesn’t” I spoke in reply.

“Let me show you some of mine, I got all the latest.” he said as he rushed back upstairs. His earlier dizziness completely gone.

“That was nice of you.” Twilight stage whispered to me as she came over.

“It was the honest truth.” I shrugged. “The little guy has great potential, all it takes is a bit of nurture and coaxing to bring it out of him.”

“I’m trying.” Twilight said unsurely.

“And doing an excellent job, Twilight. But make sure to take time to listen to his concerns as well. Even when you have a full schedule or other things on your mind.”

She nodded and turned to go back to her conversation with the girls but I interrupted her.

“Twilight, why did you hesitate back there? When I told you to blast Discord.”

“Well, you were in the way and I had no idea what the Elements of Harmony would do to you. You saved my life once, I couldn’t just zap you. What if it had turned you to stone too. We still know so little about how the elements work.”

“I…. thank you Twilight, your concern is touching.” I said with sincerity.

“You’re welcome. I’m just glad it all worked out in the end.” She smiled as Spike came rushing back with a stack of comic books in his claws, his face full of youthful enthusiasm.

“My favorite comic is the Power Ponies. I think Radiance is awesome. Who is your favorite?”

“I’m not super familiar with the Power Ponies, but I like Fillisecond.” I said with a glance at Pinkie as I took a seat at the table next to spike.

“Twilight once said you’re from another world. Do they have many comics there?”

“Oh yes, and something even better called cartoons.”

“What’s a cartoon?” he asked in that deadpan way only Spike can pull of.

“It’s like a comic book, but the pictures move and talk and it has music and sound effect. You watch it on a big device called a television. It’s almost like a play, but it’s all drawn.” I noticed twilight taking notes from the corner of my eyes as I explained the basics of animation, as far as I understood them.

“That sounds awesome. Do you have a favorite?” Spike said with bright eyes full of wonder.

“Oh I have several,” I said casually as a certain cartoon about magical pastel ponies crossed my mind, “I don’t think I could ever pick one favorite above all. But there was one cartoon that stood out for me as I grew up.”

“Which one was that, what’s it called?”

I mentally smiled as a warm wave of nostalgia filled me.

“Let me tell you a bit about He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.”

*******************

We were in canterlot the very next day for the grand celebration.
The great hall and the throne room were jam packed full of ponies who stared at us as we entered through the double doors and walked up to the dais. There was cheering and clapping and hoof stomping as we made our way down the center. On the top of the steps stood Celestia, beaming down with a smile at us. One by one we climbed the steps and took our place opposite Celestia. I couldn’t help but wonder where Luna was at that moment. I had seen hide nor hair of her. I guess she still doesn’t like crowds. Celestia held up a hoof for silence and addressed the masses.

“We are gathered here today to once again honor the heroism of these six friends who stood up to the villain Discord and saved Equestria from eternal chaos. And let us not forget sir Aeron, who risked his life to help them achieve that victory”

She lit her horn and pulled away the curtains revealing a stained glass window depicting our defeat of Discord. The window was pretty much the same as I remembered it from the show, except now there was a tiny stylized representation of myself standing off to the side as the girls fired their magic at discord. Whoever made the window seemingly glossed over my part in it all. But honestly I could care less. I didn’t do it for a reward and I don’t care about having my image set in glass for all to gawk at anyway.

Celestia then turned to address me directly. “Aeron, for your actions in service to Equestria I hereby grant you a royal pardon. As of this moment, you are a free being.”

The crowd clapped politely, though with far less enthusiasm than they did when cheering for the mane six. Bloody nobles and canterlot elite. I glanced to the side and saw the mane six and Spike smiling at me. Even Fluttershy gave me a genuine little smile. And right then, everything felt right with the world.

***************


While the girls celebrated their victory with a great party, I quietly made my exit from the main ballroom and slipped outside into the palace gardens. The evening air was cool and the gardens carried a pleasant smell. I’m still not sure how I’m able to tell that but whatever right?

It took a bit of searching, but eventually I found the place where Celestia had stashed Discord. In an overgrown part of the gardens, way out in the back where the palace staff rarely traveled. I guess she thought he would appreciate the natural chaos of the place.

“I know you can hear me.” I said as I approached his petrified form.

His stone eyes stared blankly ahead. His face locked in a silent scream of terror.

“I also know you held back. You could have destroyed me at any time while we fought. But you didn’t. I believe I understand why. Chaos doesn’t destroy, not willfully anyway. Destruction can be a result, but that is not the purpose, chaos is about change. Change is not always gentle, often it’s fraught with risk or hardship. But it’s sole purpose is not destruction. It’s not Entropy, which destroys anything and everything it touches.”


Briefly my mind flashed to the timberwolves. Those were agents of Entropy.

“No, destruction was never your purpose, for if you did destroy me and the girls and everyone else, you would be alone. You may be chaos made flesh, but you are also a person, and no person, no matter how strange, eccentric or bizarre, can stand being alone forever.”

I placed my hand on his petrified chest. “You said you wanted to take back the world they stole from you. To return it to the way it was. But I believe what you truly want, what you need, is a friend. Someone who will accept you for who you are, not what you are. Deny it if you like, call me insane, claim whatever you want. But at your core, in the deepest darkest recesses of your being you know I’m right. All it takes, is for you to take a chance.”

I stepped back and turned to walk away.

“I promise you, someday very soon you will have that chance. When that moment comes, be honest with yourself and grasp that chance. Because the world needs a little chaos in it, all you need to do is share, and have faith in someone.”

I threw one last look over my shoulder before I left the overgrown garden.

“If you can do that, you will find not one, but two friends on that day. Think about it.”

*********************



Unbeknownst to Aeron, two ponies had observed his conversation.

“What do you make of that Tia?”

“I don’t know Lulu.” Celestia said quietly.

“Could it be that we were wrong about Discord?”

“I truly do not know. But if we were, then we must find some way to make it right.”

The two of them stood in silence for a moment.

“Even though his words were cruel and hurtful, they brought us closer together, and perhaps they helped begin mending the wounds of the past. I admit I was avoiding the subject until he forced me to think about it.”

“That makes two of us then.” Said Luna, “So in his own strange way he helped, by forcing us to face the past, and each other.”

“It is the way of chaos. It changes the world, for better or worse, whether we are ready for the changes or not.”

Another moment of contemplative silence passed between the sisters.

“Things certainly have been lively since my return and Aeron’s arrival.” the lunar princess mused aloud.

“Yes they have, and I have a feeling there is a lot more on the horizon. But those are troubles for tomorrow. Come, let us rejoin the Celebrations”

“Perhaps we will stay for a little bit. We heard from twilights friend, the pink one, that her farmer friend had brought the ‘good stuff’.”

“Ah, Apple family Hard Cider. You my dear Luna are in for a treat. Let us share a cup.” Celestia smiled.

“Ha, we will drink thee under the table sister. Thou could never hold thy liquor.”

A grin appeared on Celestia’s lips.

“Oh I think you will find I’ve gained quite a bit of tolerance over the centuries, Lulu.”

“Thy challenge is accepted.” she exclaimed with a laugh.

Chapter 18: Just a stranger on the road.

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Chapter 18
Just a stranger on the road.

After the celebrations I decided to stay in Canterlot one more day, mainly so I had ample time to say my goodbyes to Sunny Spring, Rainy Day and Shining Armor. We had become good friends over the months, and as I prepared to set out I made a promise to stay in touch. We were currently standing in the central courtyard. It was a beautiful spring day and to everyone's relief there wasn't a chocolate raincloud to be found.

“But how will we finish our C and C campaign. We still have to retrieve the crown of Sontar Ha from the Castle of Fear.” Shining said as the four of us stood in the shade of one of the immaculately trimmed trees that lined the courtyard path.

“Well assuming all our schedules allow for it we could always set regular dates to continue the campaign. Say, once or twice a month?” I opted.

“I suppose so. We’ll work it out somehow.” he said with renewed determination. “We’ll just have to find a suitable place to play. I don’t think the dungeon is an option, no matter how oddly fitting that is.”

“Yeah, no thanks. I’ve seen enough of that place to last me a lifetime.”

A moment of silence passed between us. “ Well I guess this is goodbye for now.”

“Fly free little seed, fly free.” Rainy said while pretending to cry in an over dramatic way. He even produced an oversized hanky.

“You are such a plot hole.” I told him, but there was no accusation in my voice, only mirth as I gently slapped him on the withers.

“Just stay out of trouble. I know you will miss us, but getting arrested just to spend time with us is taking it too far.” Sunny Spring laughed.

“I wasn’t planning on it, but yeah, and you three be careful too you hear? We don’t want a repeat of the custard incident.”

“I thought we had agreed never to speak of that again.” Rainy said with a shudder. “I can still see it when I close my eyes. So much custard.”

“Think happy thoughts Rainy.” Sunny said as she patted his shoulder.

“Well it seems I’ve overstayed my welcome, so I’ll be off.” I said as I turned to go, “Oh and Shining..”

“Huh?” was his well thought out response.

“When you finally ask Cadance to marry you, make sure to tell Twilight in person, or no force on Equus will be able to save your sorry flank from her wrath.”

“Wha, bluh, I mean.. Cadance and me… we, we aren’t that close, we’re just dating.”

“Oh sure, keep telling yourself that mate. If you repeat it in front of the mirror everyday it might even become true.” I said with a grin audible in my voice.

“Just get out of here you.” He said trying to hide the pink in his cheeks. The others burst into laughter.

With a final wave goodbye I started my way out of the palace. Just before I crossed the drawbridge that led into the city I was stopped by a familiar white unicorn.

“Prince Blueblood, come to make sure I remove my mossy butt from your palace?” I greeted cheerfully.

“Quite the contrary sir Aeron, and technically it's aunty’s palace.“ he chuckled good naturedly.

“I’ve come to invite you back at some point, namely next month.” he said as he handed me two golden tickets. I studied said tickets for a moment.

CONGRATULATIONS.
You are cordially invited to this year’s GRAND GALLOPING GALA! Hosted at PRINCESS CELESTIA’s palace in CANTERLOT.
Formal attire only. Admit One.

I looked at him bewildered.

“I hope you’re not offended when I say these sorts of gatherings aren’t really my thing.”

“Not at all. But that’s exactly why I’m inviting you. So there will be at least one person I can hang out with during the evening without having to make polite but meaningless conversation or listen to ponies drivel on about political reforms and taxes. Plus your presence would really rub it in the faces of those among the nobility that wanted to see you rot in Tartarus.” He gave me a conspiratorial smile.

My respect for him just grew by leaps and bounds. “Ah discussions of politics, the inevitable burden that comes with leadership. Very well then, it seems I have no choice but to accept, if only to save you from such a dreadful fate. But why two tickets?”

“In case you wish to bring a date of course.” He said with a smile. I’m still not sure if he was just messing with me then or if he was serious.

“So now that that’s settled, where are you off to?”

“Uh.. Ponyville. I have a promise to keep.”


“Do you have bits for a train ticket?”

“No but that’s okay, I was actually planning to walk there.”

“Are you sure? It’s not exactly far but…”

“I’m sure. After spending several months in jail and then all the commotion of the last few days I look forward to the peace and quiet of the countryside.”

“Well then, I wish you a safe and above all, pleasant journey.”

“Thank you my friend, and also for everything you’ve done for me in the past. You didn’t even know me and yet you went out of your way to help me and treated me as a person rather than a thing. If ever you need something, you have but to ask.” I extended a fist and bumped his hoof.

“Make sure to show up at the Gala and we’ll call it even.”

“Deal.”

With a final wave goodbye I trotted across the bridge and into the city. As I walked I transformed myself into the form of a regular earth pony so as not to draw any unwanted attention. During my time in jail I had become quite good at my mimicry. The trick was not to use wood for the outside. I still used a wooden inner structure, almost like a skeleton, but instead of covering the outside with moss covered bark I now covered it in a thick, tough, rubbery layer of fungi. Like a giant mushroom. The result? I could now make a very convincing disguise in almost any color, complete with articulate face, thanks to the pliable nature of the fungi.

It still takes some effort to get expressions just right, and up close you can still tell I’m not a real pony. But anyone over a couple of feet away will see just another earth pony going about his day. The only thing I still haven’t been able to fix is the eyes. Which are still a pair of glowing orbs. That’s why I keep my mane extra long so it covers a large portion of my face to hide them. A problem I hope to rectify with a bit of magical research. I’m sure Twilight can help me with that. The mane itself is actually made of cactus spines, like those you see on Cephalocereus senilis, commonly known as the old man cactus.

So yeah, anyone who currently looked at me saw nothing but a green earth pony with a shaggy grayish mane. What’s that you ask? My cutie mark? Well I could only do something simple at the moment, so I used a stylized image of a Red Cap mushroom for now. If anyone asked about it I could simply tell them my talent lay in herbology. Not a great stretch of the truth.

In any case, I made it to the city gate without any incidents, and from there began the long walk along the winding road down the mountain.

***********************



I made excellent time and around noon I had left the winding mountain path behind and was following the main road out of canterlot and into the province. The pale sandy color of the bricks looked almost yellow in the golden rays of the midday sun, and as I looked back over my shoulder towards Canterlot palace, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the wizard of Oz. Though Canterlot was a far cry from the emerald city, at least they had real wizards.

I leisurely trotted down the road, soaking up as much sunlight as I could. To the left and right of me was nothing but open grassland and fields of crops. In the distance I could see the faint silhouette of a couple of farmsteads. Trees lined the road on one side, providing a bit of shade and the song of birds reached my non existent ears. In the distance a bell tolled, signaling lunch time for the farmhands. Despite this being a well traveled commerce route there was hardly any traffic. A pair of stallions pulling a lumber cart passed me by at one point, but for the most part the roads were completely empty. It was so incredibly peaceful out here.

Something buzzed past my face. I whipped my head around so fast I nearly decapitated myself as the wood that made up my neck snapped with an audible crack. There, hovering just to my left was a dread creature bedecked in black and yellow stripes. Sanity promptly ejected itself from my mind.

“BEE! BEEEEEEEE!” I screamed like a girl and set off into a mad dash.
“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck!”

I ran blindly, nearly tripping over my own legs in an effort to put as much distance between myself and my buzzing nemesis. I must have ran nearly half a mile before my brain finally re-engaged and I slowed down to a trot. Fucking bees.

I’m still surprised by the speed I can reach as a quadruped. As a biped I would never be able to run that fast, even if I was in tip top shape. Which honestly, I’ve never been, but enough about that. With my uhm… successful evasion of my nemesis, yes let’s call it that, with my successful evasion completed I resumed my walk down the country roads and simply enjoyed the peace and quiet. Sadly said peace and quiet was soon disturbed once again.

I happened not long after I came upon the main crossroads. This was where the great equestrian commerce route out of Canterlot split into three directions. The two paved roads led east, the northernmost one to Filly Delphia, the other to Horseshoe Bay and the great trade city of Baltimare. From there, trade ships sailed the Celestial Sea south towards Zebrica, and further east to the Griffin Empire or far Neighpon and the unexplored Shard Islands. The other road led to the south, To Dodge Junction, Ponyville and eventually the Badlands. This road was one of the more commonly seen dirt roads. I guess it makes sense since traffic in this direction is much lighter. Most of the trade goods bound for Dodge Junction and Ponyville are shipped via train. And the badlands see little to no traffic at all, so why bother constructing a paved road if a dirt road will suffice. Plus I think most ponies actually prefer the dirt roads. Probably easier on their hooves.

As I followed the road south, the sounds of an argument soon became audible. Just up ahead was a cabbage farm, at least I think they were cabbages. Then again it really doesn’t matter. What matters was the two burly stallions throwing what looked like a mare off their property. And I mean literally throw. The both of them tossed her into the dirt like so much garbage with more than a little excessive force if her pained squeak was any indication.

“An’ stay out.” One of them said to the mare who was trying to stand up.

“We don’t need your sort round these here parts.” Said the other as he threw what looked like an old duffel bag at the mare. Knocking her back down into the dirt.

Now I’m not normally the type to get involved in other people's business, but when two lugs the size of an outhouse think it’s okay to toss around a girl almost half their size, well that shit just ain’t gonna fly.

“Gentlecolts, that’s no way to treat a lady.” I said loudly as I approached.

“This here ain’t none of yer business feller, y’all just move on along now.”

“I’m making it my business. Now you apologize to the lady or I’m going to do something very uncivil, you hear?”

The big lug on the right didn’t seem to back down, however the other got a good look at me and became hesitant.

“Uhm plough shear,“ he mumbled to his friend, “Let’s just drop it, somethin's funny ‘bout this guy.”

Plough Shear didn’t seem to be listening because he got right up in my face. Now I made this form pretty tall. Just short of Big Macintosh in size. But this stallion was almost a head taller still. I guess they grow em big and dumb around here.

“What you wanna do eh?” he drawled in my face whilst prodding me in the chest with a hoof.

Oh I knew exactly what I was going to do. My eyes lit up as my face suddenly split in half from ear to ear as I opened my mouth, revealing enough thorn like teeth to give a tyrannosaurus feelings of inadequacy. At the same time I purposely began to salivate tree sap. But I changed it’s color to red, much like the sap of the Dracaena cinnabari, also known as the Socotra dragon tree or dragon blood tree. The result looked like a rather gruesome spectacle. To top it all off I let a deep threatening growl escape from my throat. The kind a lion would make.

Plough Shear’s pupils shrank to pinpricks, then his eyes crossed and he fainted right there on the spot. Felled like a tree at a beaver convention. His friend let out a shriek like a little girl and bolted. I curled what passed for my lips into a vicious, satisfied grin before turning my face back to normal.

“You alright there miss?” I asked as I walked over to the mare who was still sitting on the road with her mane draped over her face.

She mumbled something under her breath.

“I’m sorry I didn’t quite catch that.”

“Trixie said she didn’t need any help, but…. Trixie is thankful all the same.”

It was then that I took my first good look at the mare in question. Brilliant azure coat? Check. Pale cornflower blue mane? Check. Star shaped magic wand cutie mark? Also check. I briefly turned my eyes skywards, wondering if the universe was once again screwing with me. I mean come on what are the freaking odds? I swear if I ever get my hands on lady fate, that gal is in for one heck of a spanking. Still, no need to be rude to Trixie just because fate is having another go at me.

“Can you stand?” I asked as I helped Trixie to her hooves.

“Trixie is fine, no thanks to these ruffians. Trixie was just asking for a job. But it would seem Trixie’s broken reputation preceded her.”

I couldn’t help but feel a stab of sympathy for her. I know what it’s like to be down on your luck. I wanted to say something but she was staring at the unconscious form of Plough Shear.

“What did you do to him?”

I guess she missed my little performance. “Just gave him a scare. For such a big, tough acting lunk he’s not actually all that brave.”

Trixie snorted. “Best to be away before they blame this on Trixie too.”

“Are you sure you will be alright?”

“It takes more than a couple of hayseeds to bring down the Great and Powerful Trixie.” She boasted. Though her heart was clearly not in it.

“Well then I wish you good luck.” I said as I began to walk off.

After a couple of yards it became apparent that Trixie was following me.

“Was there something else?” I asked.

“Nothing, Trixie merely needs to travel in the same direction.”

“Very well.” I said as I resumed my course.

I suspected that her needing to go my way had little to do with her actual destination and more to do with sticking near me in case those two decided to come after us to make trouble. Though after that little display I doubt they would be that stupid. We had been walking for about twenty minutes or so, and all the while I could see her studying me. She tried to be subtle about it at first, but as time went on she became more and more obvious. I decided to address the issue before things really started getting awkward.

“Something on your mind miss Trixie?”

“Nothing!” She squeaked. Then after another minute or so she finally worked up the nerve to just ask. “Trixie was just wondering what sort of strange pony you are.”

“Well that’s an easy question to answer. I’m not really a pony.”

“Then what are you?” she asked warily.

“That’s a rather personal question don’t you think? But I will make you a deal. You ask a question, then I ask a question, a little tit for tat. Sound fair to you?”

“Trixie accepts.” She said after mulling it over for a minute.

“Well then to answer your first question, I used to be a man, before a… well let’s call it a magical mishap transformed me into… well I don’t know what to call myself really. There are many fictional creatures that I have traits in common with. But none that really fit. Dryads, Sylvan, Orcwort, Ents, Tendriculos, Elementals, Treants, Kodama, the list goes on. But as for who I am, you can just call me Aeron.”

“What is a man?”

“Tut tut, you had your question, now it’s my turn. That was the agreement.”

She puffed up her cheeks a little in that adorable way that ponies do, but she acquiesced.

“So you said your name was Trixie?” Of course I knew that but she didn’t know that I knew her full name.

“Trixie Lulamoon, the Great and Powerful.” She said, tossing her mane and walking a bit taller. “And that counted as your question.”

Cheeky, “Fair enough, ask away.”

“What’s a man?”

“Male of the species Human, or Homo Sapiens if you want to get technical. A bipedal being that somewhat resembles a hairless ape.”

“Trixie has never heard of such a creature.”

“I’m not surprised. We aren’t native to this world.”

“What?”

“My turn first. Are you in any way related to Lord Grimoire Lulamoon?”

Her ears drooped and her eyes darted away.

“Touchy subject?”

“He is Trixie’s grandfather.” she sighed sadly.

“Not a very good relation then?”

“No, he disapproves of Trixie’s career choice. He would sooner see Trixie waste away in some stuffy tower, researching magic and pouring over dusty old tomes. That is not the life Trixie desires.”

“And how do your parents feel about it?”

“They are no longer alive. Trixie was raised by her grandfather instead.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. Do you think they would have approved.”

“Trixie has no idea, she never got the chance to ask. They passed when Trixie was but a tiny foal.”

“I’m sure they would have loved your act.”


“Trixie likes to think so, it’s why she works so hard on her performances. Trixie is a true show mare. She lives for the chance to amaze ponies and bask in the applause of her audience.” Her face fell even further, “Except that doesn’t happen anymore.”

“What happened?” I asked. I knew of course but I had to let her tell it in her own way.

It took her a while to tell everything, and even though I knew the story, I listened patiently. She embellished a bit here and left out a few embarrassing details there, but overall it was pretty clear.

“And that’s when Trixie ran out of town.”

“Why did you run? You said it yourself, it was those two fool kids that brought the Ursa to town, not you. You did your best to try and fend it off. You may have failed but you tried.”

“Trixie could see the way the wind was blowing. The townsfolk would have turned on Trixie and would have thrown her out. Trixie decided to leave before they could turn on her.”

“Well to be fair, you did treat some of them a bit harshly during your performance.”

“It is the way one has to deal with hecklers. There will always be hecklers.” She gave an irritable snort.

“Hecklers?”

“Trixie sees her fare share of them during her shows. Always nay saying. Calling Trixie out. Booing her acts. Best to show them up right from the start.”

“I think you may have taken that approach a bit too far.”

“It is hard enough putting up a show for ponies without their presence. Best to deal with them immediately and forcefully. That way they will be too embarrassed to heckle Trixie further.”

“But don't you see, you are so focused on them your show has suffered for it.”

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to impress ponies with magic tricks? A third of the population is magical. Some are even better than Trixie. But this is Trixies life, her destiny! It’s everything Trixie ever wanted. She just… “

She broke down into sniffles.

“Trixie just wants to perform and make ponies happy so they will shower her with applause. But nopony appreciates her tricks.”

“I’m sure some of them do Trixie. Is there any way to improve your show? Maybe pull of more impressive tricks?”

She shook her head and pointed at her flank.

“You see Trixies cutie mark? Trixie is good at performing lots of small cantrips, but not so good with the big spells. About the biggest spell Trixie can perform is her pyrotechnic spell. All her other spells are only good for small tricks.”

“So your cutie mark gives you a very diverse array of spells, but because of that it sacrifices power for variety.” She nodded in confirmation.

Interesting. It seems that ponies have a predisposition towards one type of magic or another depending on their cutie mark. But most magic related cutie marks are rather vague. Twilight has a bunch of stars for one. Trixie has a wand and some magic swirly line. Sunset has that yin yang sun of hers. And of course… Starlight fucking Glimmer, has a little star and swirly lines. None of those marks are very clear or easy to interpret. It also seems stars and swirly lines are recurring themes with magical cutie marks. But I’m getting off track.

“Then perhaps the solution doesn’t depend so much on which spells you use but rather on how you use them.” An idea began forming in my mind, “Or, who you use them for! Have you considered performing for fillies and colts instead of adults?”

“What?”

“Think about it. Most adults are all a bit jaded. They've seen a lot of magic already. At work perhaps, or somewhere else. They may know someone who can do impressive spells, so naturally it's hard to impress all of them. But foals are still young, have not seen as much, so they are much more open to your act. And if you can show them lots of small tricks first, then finish with a big one at the end I’m positive your act will be a great success. If you mix in a little bit of comedy as well you are sure to keep their attention. Kids love to laugh after all. And maaaaybe not boast so much.”

Trixie seemed to be giving the idea some serious thought.

“If you can create a brand new show, and tailor it towards a younger audience I’m certain you will know success again. Sure it might not be as glamorous as performing for an adult audience, but their adoration will be just as sincere, if not more so. And I doubt any of those foals are going to be heckling you.”

“Your idea certainly has merit. But Trixie can't.”

“Why not? If you are afraid to fail.. “

“Trixie fears no failure, it’s just…. Trixie doesn’t have anything to work with. Trixie lost her wagon and all her stuff. Why do you think she was looking for work on that cabbage farm. Trixie doesn't have a bit to her name.”

“Well then we just need to find a way to get you a new wagon and some props for your act.”

“Trixie has tried, but nopony will hire her.”

“What happened to your old wagon anyway?”

“Trixie doesn't know. It could still be in Ponyville, or what's left of it after the ursa smashed it anyway. Who knows what those ponies did with it. All of Trixies belongings were in there.” she sighed.

“Well then let's go to Ponyville and see what we can find out.”

“Trixie can’t possibly go back there.” she said half panicked, “Trixie was humiliated. Humiliated by Twilight Sparkle!”

“Trixie stop, you can’t blame this on Twilight. I happen to know Twilight and she would not do that to you. Certainly not on purpose, If she did then it was unintentional. Whatever animosity you feel towards her, you need to let it go. If you ask her for her help I’m sure she would be more than willing to give it.”

She looked like she wanted to protest at first, and then seemed to sulk for a moment, before she realised something “Wait, you know Twilight Sparkle?”

“We met, twice. Three times if you count the time she tried to study me.”

She looked at me questioningly

“It's a long and complicated story that I really don’t want to get into right now. Look, let's just go to ponyville. Trust me, with me there, nopony is going to pay attention to you while you sort things out.” At least I hoped not.

She still looked uncertain. She was biting her bottom lip in an adorable way as she went over the idea of going back to ponyville. At long last she sagged a bit and nodded.

“Trixie will go. Trixie would like to get some of her belongings back if they are still around.”

“That’s the spirit.” I smiled.

We started walking again. After a few minutes of silence Trixie spoke up

“It’s Trixies turn to ask a question. What exactly happened with you in ponyville that makes you so sure they will pay no attention to Trixie?

“I really don’t want to talk about that. Besides, you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Try Trixie.”

She kept pestering me for another half hour before I finally relented. So I told her the whole story. Everything from the moment I landed in the everfree forest right up to meeting her on the road.


******************************


It had taken me most of the afternoon to tell the story. Only leaving out the part about Equestria being a fictional world and all that mind shattering stuff. Trixie didn't admit it, but I could tell she was a bit flabbergasted as well as unsettled by my tale. I'm just glad I hadn't scared her off. I was actually starting to enjoy her company. Below that brash showmare exterior was a pretty pleasant pony to get to know. Also a touch insecure. That was why she referred to herself constantly in the third person. Both as part of her stage act and as a defense mechanism. Speaking of herself in the third person helped her to lessen the impact of all the negative attention. I’m not sure if that’s healthy, but I’m no shrink so I simply choose not to judge.

Ponyville was less than a day's ride away by train, but a good two to three days on hoof depending on how much one walked, because the road went the long way round through farm country and past Rambling Rock Ridge, then skirted the outskirts of the Everfree until it reached Ponyville. It was nightfall when we came to a fork in the road, the left path led to the ridge and from there to Dodge Junction all the way in the south. The right fork led to Ponyville. We had made very good time though and we were about halfway there. With luck we would reach Ponyville tomorrow evening. The first trees of the everfree were already visible in the distance. Their dark peaks silhouetted against the sunsets purple and red sky.

“We should find a place for you to sleep.” I said.

“What about you?”

“I don’t really need to sleep, unless I run out of energy. But after such a nice sunny day I can easily stay awake during the night.” I said as we trotted along.

“If Trixie remembers correctly there should be a little Inn further down the road.”

“How would you pay for it though? You said you had no bits.” Neither did I but I had originally planned to just plant myself down if I needed to recover, or simply keep walking during the night if I didn’t.

“Trixie doesn’t, but, “ she stopped and opened the duffel bag she’d been carrying. Pulling out what turned out to be the clasp of her magic cloak. Her cloak and hat were in that bag.

”Trixie still has this. It’s real silver and the aquamarine set into it should be worth enough to pay for a small room.” She looked at the silver clasp with a sad little smile.

“You can’t do that. It’s part of your outfit.”

“What choice does Trixie have? It’s all she owns.”

I pondered the question for some time, until an idea hit me.

“Perhaps I can help pay for the room. Provided the innkeeper agrees. Let’s go and find out shall we?”

It was perhaps ten minutes later when we came upon the Inn. A medium sized, two storey building that looked like a hunting lodge more than anything. A small sign hung over the door, presumably announcing the name of the place, though I had no idea what it said. I still haven’t been able to figure out the pony written language. The warm orange yellow glow of oil lamps lit up the windows. There was a small garden on one side of the building, presumably for growing their own produce, which was perfect for what I had in mind. Our knock on the door was answered by a sunflower yellow mare with a two tone mane of teal and lime green. A small purple pegasus filly was shyly peeking out from behind her. She looked a little younger than the crusaders.

“Oh hello,” the mare said with a pleasant little smile, “Are you seeking a room for the night?”

“That we are, however we do not have any bits, but if you will hear me out I may have a way to pay for our stay. May we come in to discuss it?”

“Alright,” she said after a moment, “But you better be on the level with me.”

I nodded and followed the mare inside, Trixie was right behind me.

“Oh but where are my manners, I’m Peachy Plum, the proprietor of this establishment. Over there is my husband Swift Wind.” She pointed to a light blue Pegasus who was cleaning tables with a rag.

“I’m Aeron, and this is Trixie.”

“The Great and Powerful Trixie.” she said with gusto.

I gently nudged her in the barrel with a smirk. “Now Trixie, remember what we discussed this afternoon.”

She actually blushed self consciously and looked away.

“And who is this little beauty?” I said as I gave the filly who was still peeking out from behind Peachy a little smile.

“This is our daughter, Melody Star. Say Hi Melody.”

“H-hi.”

“D’awww, she’s adorable.” Said Trixie, making the filly blush.

“Melody huh, you must be a good singer then.” I said.

“Maybe.” she mumbled noncommittally.

“Haha, don’t let her shyness fool you. When my little one’s in the mood she can really belt them out.” Swift Wind said as he passed us on his way to the kitchen.

“Daaaad!” she squeaked in embarrassment, eliciting a good natured chuckle from all of us.

The inside of the inn was nice and cozy. Warm wooden furniture of polished oak and ash wood. On the far side of the room was a stone hearth where a warm fire crackled merrily. Two comfortable looking couches sat on either side of the hearth. A few other patrons were reading by the fire or enjoying dinner at one of the little tables. On the opposite end was a bar of polished rosewood, behind it was the door to the kitchens. And in the middle, opposite the entrance was a staircase that led to the rooms on the second floor.

“Now then, you said you had a proposition of some sort in order to pay for a room for the night?” Plum said.

“Indeed I do, but perhaps I should demonstrate. Do you have any plant seeds from your garden? Or possibly a tomato.”

She tilted her head as she looked at me, one of her ears drooping as she gave me an inquisitive look.

“I may have a tomato or two left in the kitchen, but what could you possibly need it for?”

“Please, bring it here and I will explain everything.”

She nodded and returned a moment later with a little cherry tomato, putting it on the nearest table.

“When we arrived I couldn’t help but notice your garden out front. I take it you grow a lot of your own produce in order to cut down on cost and delivery of goods?” I asked.

She gave me a nod. “I do try to grow most of it myself since Swifty can only carry so much with him when he flies to the nearest towns, and it takes him half a day to fly there and back. But what does that have to do with anything?”

I gave her a smile, “I have a unique gift that might be of use to you, watch.”

I stared at the cherry tomato and gave my magic a nudge. Immediately my vision altered and I could see the spark of it’s life force. It was dwindling fast now that it was off the vine. But it’s seeds were a different story. I let my magic flow into them and they began to grow. Within a few seconds the little tomato burst and strong vines began to emerge. At the thirty second mark there were three full seedlings. Sixty seconds and we had full fledged tomato plants sitting on the table. Still I kept pouring on the magic. With a slight pop a dozen tomatoes sprang forth on each plant. Big, red and juicy.

“There you go, fresh tomatoes.” I said as I stopped the flow of magic and looked up from my work. Only to find everypony staring with slack jawed expressions.

“But that’s impossible.” Trixie exclaimed. “No pony could perform such magic.”

I simply shrugged, “It’s a unique talent.” I said before turning my attention back to Peachy Plum, who was staring at the tomatoes with a stupefied expression.

“If you will allow us to stay the night, then in the morning I will do the same for your whole garden. I can even do it multiple times so you can stock up a nice supply. But you will need to re-fertilise the soil after a couple of times. Will that be sufficient as pay?”

She finally snapped out of it, “oh, uhm, y-yes I suppose that will suffice. Yes.”

“Excellent.” I said with a smile.

Trixie’s stomach chose that moment to butt in on the conversation, letting out a loud rumble that caused her to blush anew.

“Trixie was wondering if perhaps she could get a meal.” She coughed.

Peachy chuckled. “Well I suppose I can throw in a meal since your friend’s help will more than make up for it. Come, sit, I have some delightful vegetable stew.”

Trixie sat down at the table while I helped Peachy get the tomatoes to the kitchen. I politely declined her offer of stew since I couldn’t eat it anyway. Still I enjoyed myself, I was in good company. Swift and Peachy were really nice ponies, and little melody was just plain adorable. As the evening progressed she even worked up the courage to sing a little song in front of everyone. For such a young girl she had quite the voice on her. My guess is somepony will earn herself a musical cutie mark in a few years.

As the evening progressed Swift Wind brought out some cider for all the guests. Again I had to decline politely. After what happened the last time I drank cider I wasn’t planning to have any anytime soon. I would stick with water for now. Still I joined in with the drinking songs and having a good time overall. Apparently ponies have lumberjacks too. I don’t know why that surprised me considering I saw that cart on the road earlier today, but there were these two big stallions staying at the Inn, an earth pony and a unicorn named Chopper and Chip. And boy could they sing.

I must admit I was surprised to see a unicorn working as a lumberjack. Most don’t seem the type for the more mundane jobs. But apparently he can work a bandsaw like nopony else. He even knew how to play music on the thing. Those two were a lot of fun. They even dragged Trixie into the signing, reluctant as she was at first. I even got to teach the three of them Charlie Mopps. Now that was a lot of fun. I don’t know too many drinking songs, but that one I LIKE.

The hour grew late and everypony was having such a good and carefree time that we nearly all jumped when there was a sudden frantic banging on the door.

“Heeelp! Let me in! For celestia’s sake let me in!!” came a hysterical voice through the door.

Swift wind reached the door first, the second he undid the deadbolt it flung open and a stallion came tumbling through. He was a guard pony, and he was in a bad way. His helmet was gone, and his peytral armor was scratched and dented. He was bleeding from a cut across the barrel where the armor had been torn away, and his coat was singed in several places. He looked like he had been through hell.

“Close the door!” he shrieked.

The door was promptly closed and bolted up while we carried the injured stallion to the couch.

“He’s wounded.” said Swift Wind, “Does anypony know any healing spells?” he asked the few unicorns present. But all of them shook their heads.

“Trixie knows some basic first aid spells, but Trixie doesn’t know how much good they will be.” she said uncertainly.

“It’s better than doing nothing.” I said as I bent down to speak with the wounded stallion, whilst simultaneously beginning to remove the banged up armor so she could get to the wounds.

“What happened to you, who are you?”

He tried to talk but went into a fit of dry coughs, prompting Peachy to rush into her kitchen to get him some water. After taking a large swallow from the glass she returned with he finally found his voice.

“My name is Quick Shot, we were on a routine patrol. Myself, our captain and three others. It’s our job to keep the roads safe, especially during the next few weeks.”

“Why? What’s so special about the next couple of weeks?” I asked.

“It’s Star Spider season.” Said Peachy from behind me.

“What harm could a few tiny spiders be?” I asked nonplussed.

“Tiny? Have you ever seen a Star Spider? Sure when they just hatch they are the size of an apple, but when they grow up they can become the size of a cow!” Quick Shot grunted.

Okay, that part is new, that never happened in the show. But then that whole star spider bit seemed pointless in the first place. Not so much now. Quick Shot hissed in pain as Trixie began to cast first aid on his wounded barrel.

“Normally we see one or two who wander out of the everfree during the season. This time we were ambushed by at least thirty of the things, I’ve never seen so many. After the monster exodus last year the spider colonies have gone hungry, and now they are looking for food outside the everfree. They took the captain and the rest of my patrol. I only managed to get away because the captain used an explosion spell. It blew me clear of the horde. Oh sweet Celestia what am I gonna do.”

Swift Wind stood up with a determined look on his face. “We need to get a message to the nearest garrison. I will grab my saddlebags and..”

A skittering sound followed by a bang against the door cut off whatever he was gonna say.

“Oh no.. no no no no, oh merciful sun, they followed me!” the guard shrieked as the sound of more and more skittering legs closed in from all sides of the building.

Everyone was now on edge, heads and ears turning every which way, trying to follow the skittering sounds outside. Chopper produced a logging axe from somewhere, biting the handle so hard I was afraid he would crack his teeth. Those few unicorns in the room lit up their horns in preparation to cast whatever spells they could. Another bang rattled the door, and then another

“Mommy, I’m scared.” Melody whimpered.

Peachy Plum scooped her little filly up in her forelegs. “Shh, it’s gonna be alright sweetie, nothing to be afraid of.

“Will that door hold?” Trixie whispered nervously to Swift Wind

“It’s solid Oak. Even a minotaur would have a hard time tearing it down.” Said Swift Wind.

A sudden feeling of dread made its way down my proverbial spine. This whole situation reeked of monster movie clichés “What about the windows?”

That’s when the first chitinous leg burst through the glass next to the stairwell.

Chapter 19: Night of the Star Spiders.

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Chapter 19
Night of the Star Spiders.

Several things happened at once. That first window had been like the opening signal to an all out invasion. Within seconds the other three windows shattered. Two of them, like the first, had giant legs coming through that were grasping about wildly. The third window gave entrance to a trio of spiders the size of a great dane. They let out keening shrieks before they jumped the nearest ponies. A pegasus and his unicorn marefriend. I swear, spiders should neither be capable, nor allowed to make such sounds, it sent a tingle of dread down my proverbial spine.

The pegasus took to the air and avoided the spider that came at him by a mere inch. But inside the lodge with its low ceiling, he had very little room to manoeuvre. Once the spider recovered from its landing it turned about, and then shot a wad of strands from its spinnerets. The tangle of sticky string hit the pegasus full on, rendering his wings useless. He hit the ground hard, momentarily dazed. Then the spider rushed back out the window, dragging the unfortunate pegasus behind it like a struggling kite. With a shriek of terror he disappeared into the night. It all happened so fast none of us were able to respond.

His marefriend fared little better, she fired a couple of spells, actually managing to kill one of the dog sized spiders with some kind of cutting spell, before the third one webbed her up and dragged her screaming out the window as well.

“Barricade the windows!” Yelled Chopper as he swung his axe at a spider leg that was sticking through. Cleaving it in half. The stump pulled back with a deep shriek. “Don’t let any more of them through!”

I ran to the nearest window, a pair of flytraps emerging from my shoulders as I went. I slammed into the windowsill in-between the grasping legs, launching a wide spray of acid through the broken glass. I couldn’t risk using it inside. I might injure or kill somepony with a stray splash. But out there, that was fair game. My efforts were rewarded by a tortured shriek and the hiss of melting flesh and chitin as the legs withdrew. I focused my power on the now trampled flower bed that had been growing beneath the window. With a magic burst I turned the broken plants into a thick spiked bush that covered the entire window.

Behind me Trixie was working together with Chip on barricading the stairwell window. They used a combination of cantrips to rip apart the tables into individual planks, then Trixie used her rope control cantrip to bind the planks together into a rudimentary barricade, before the two of them attached it to the window frame with a combination of fancy ropework and what I can only assume were sticking charms of some sort. Crude, but it would do in a pinch.

Another pair of spiders jumped through the back window, but this time we were slightly more prepared. I couldn’t risk using acid, but I had more tricks up my sleeve. I dashed towards them but one of them veered off and was met by Chip who wielded a two man crosscut saw in his magic. Don’t ask me where he kept the thing, because I was sure it wasn’t there a minute ago. As I passed him by I saw a couple of legs fly off from my peripheral vision. I had my sights set on the other spider. A pulse of magic fired a hail of cactus spines from my chest like a shotgun blast, skewering the second spider like some disgusting kebab and pinning it to the far wall next to the hearth.

Another spider jumped in through the window behind me, only to be met with Chopper’s axe. The spider’s abdomen was split open with a wet crack as the axe rose and fell. Splattering yellowish guts everywhere. With the immediate danger over I focused on raising another plant barrier over the window nearest to me, while behind me a pair of mares were pushing a heavy cabinet in front of the other one. Just as they were about to complete their task a trio of giant legs reached through and snatched one of them away in the time it took everyone else to blink. With a final desperate push the remaining mare managed to slide the cabinet completely in front of the window, effectively blocking it off. Then she collapsed to the floor, sobbing in terror.

Barely two minutes in and we had already lost three ponies. Not exactly a great start. Something heavy thudded against the door again, and the sound of skittering outside intensified.

“We better reinforce the door too, just in case.” Trixie said.

“That would be wise.” Said Chopper as he and Chip began to push the second couch across the room and in front of the door. We then put as much heavy stuff as we could find on the couch.

With the room as secure as it could be under the circumstances we finally had a moment to breathe and reorganise. I felt a bit drained, despite having soaked up a day’s worth of sunlight. Using that much magic in such a short time had eaten into my reserves considerably. I stole a glance at the remains of the spiders we’d taken out. They looked disgusting, but I couldn’t afford to be picky right now. When nopony looked my way I snuck a bite from one of the corpses. Damn things taste like very sticky taffy, I don’t really like taffy. I prefer fudge. Still it was energy, and that’s what I needed right now.

“What are we gonna do?” Quick Shot began to cry, the guy was obviously down to his last nerve. “We’re doomed.”

“Panicking is not going to help.” Trixie said.

“You saw what happened. Those things are gonna get in here just like they did before and they are gonna get us and drag us off to be eaten and were all gonna get killed! I don’t wanna die yet, I haven't even kissed my marefriend yet. And now I’m gonna get my organs sucked out by a giant spider. Oh Celestia I wanna go hooooooome.”

“SHUT UP!” Trixie roared. Making me and a few others blink at the level of ferocity she was displaying.

“Trixie has been through a really bad time and yet she’s still kicking. Trixie has met the dreaded Ursa minor and survived that too. Trixie has been rejected, ridiculed, humiliated, and even beaten on several occasions. Yet now Trixie finally has a chance to put her life back in order, and Trixie has no plans to die here tonight. So you shut your noise hole and stay calm while we think of a plan.” She glared at the panicking pony and snorted. “Got it?”

“Yes ma’am.” Quick Shot swallowed quietly.

I leaned over and stage whispered to Trixie, “Feel better?”

“Much. Now let’s think of a plan to survive this fiasco.”

I must admit I was surprised by how well she seemed to handle the situation. But then Trixie has been faring for herself for quite some time. Being alone on the road I’m sure she’s had to deal with her fair share of trouble, so perhaps I’m not giving her enough credit.

“We need to get help somehow.” Said Swift Wind.

“Too many spiders out there. The moment you go out, that’s it, you done.” Said Chopper.

“I’m a pretty quick flyer ya know. It’s even in my name. Swift Wind, cause I’m swift as the wind.”

“Spiders don’t care. They shoot you down with webs.”

“Yeah, what is up with the web shooting?” I asked. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

Well except on Spider-man, but that’s a different show altogether.

“Star spiders have magic of their own that lets them shoot webs like a net. They snatch prey that’s too fast to run down, or prey that flies.” Said Chopper.

“You seem to know a lot about them.”

“Have worked in the woods all my life. You best learn about what’s out there if you wanna stay alive.”

“Sound advice, so how long till you think they give up?” I asked.

“Spiders this hungry? They not gonna give up. They gonna keep trying until they get in, even if they have to gnaw through the walls.”

“So waiting it out isn’t an option. That doesn’t exactly leave us much choice.”

“Is there any way to send out a signal?” Peachy Plum asked while she gently rocked Melody in her forelegs. The little filly was clinging to her mother for dear life, doing her best to put on a brave face, even though her eyes were wet with unshed tears.

“I don’t see how.”

Another bang against the door startled everyone. Especially since some of the wood around the hinges creaked ominously.

“What about your unicorn friend. She’s great magician right? She can cast big spell to get attention.” Chopper said.

A lightbulb lit up inside my head. Why didn’t I think of that?

“He’s right. Trixie, you could use your firework spell to send up a call for help.”

“W-what… but Trixie..”


“Oh thank Celestia, if she can do that then the garrison can send help.” Said Peachy.

“But Trixie can’t. As soon as Trixie sticks her head outside to cast her spell Trixie will be dragged off to her doom.” She said.

“Not if we can keep the spiders busy, and you do it from a relatively safe place.” I said.

“You have plan?” Said Chopper.

I nodded. “You and Swift Wind take Trixie up to the roof. Keep the spiders off her. Trixie, you go up there and cast the biggest, brightest, loudest, single most spectacular firework spell you’ve ever cast in your life. I want ponies to see it all the way in Manehattan. Everyone else stay here, huddle up and stay safe.”

“I’ll keep watch down here.” Said chip, brandishing his saw.

“And what are you going to do while we risk our necks up there?” Swift asked me.

“First, I’m going to stock up on energy.” I said as I walked over to the spider corpses. A small burst of magic saw them swiftly devoured by my flytraps. I ignored the shocked and disgusted looks some of the others were giving me, survival first, dealing with the awkward situation bullshit afterwards.

“What in the world are you?” one of the remaining patrons asked me with a quivering voice.

“No time for explanations, besides it doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that I’m going to do everything I can to make sure we all get out of here alive. Now let’s get to the roof and cast that signal.”

“You still haven’t told us what you will be doing.” Said Swift.

I gave him a grin that bordered on crazed. “I’m going to play Indominus Rex with the spiders.”

“Indomi what”?” Trixie said, puzzled.

“You’ll see. Let’s get to the roof.”

“Can we really trust this guy?” Swift whispered to Chopper as we ascended the stairs.

“You have problem with him?” Chopper asked.

“Well… he’s not a pony, he ate the Celestia damned spiders for goodness sake. And what’s with that freaky magic? I’ve never even heard of such a thing. I don’t know how trustworthy he can be.”

“You shared entire evening with him in good spirits, you only freak out now because he shows strange powers and eats meat. Yet you had griffin guests here last week. They eat meat. Now suddenly you have problem with it? Small minded no? We all in this together, you remember that.”

Swift looked away with shame, and I couldn’t help but smile at Chopper’s words. It’s nice to have ponies around that don’t freak out at the first deviation from the norm. But I can’t really blame Swift too much. He’s scared and under a lot of stress. We all are. Heck even I found this entire situation unnerving. While I’m not afraid of spiders, they aren’t bees after all, I don’t exactly wanna cuddle one. Especially if they are big enough to ride one off into the sunset. Swift had one more reason to be extra on edge though. His wife and little girl are downstairs. With their lives on the line I can forgive him for being weary of my freaky powers and dietary habits.

As we reached the second floor we hurried down the hall and gathered around the door that led to the small deck.

“I’ll go through first and grab the spiders attention. The moment the fighting starts you cast your spell, Trixie. Gentlecolts, you protect the lady. Keep the spell going as long as possible and watch your backs.”

“You sure about plan? You have strange powers yes, but taking on many spiders alone, is suicide yes?”

“Don’t worry about me, I’ve faced worse. You just keep miss Lulamoon safe.”

I got ready to open the door and rush through.

“Wait!” Trixie said.

I looked back to her with a puzzled expression when she suddenly hugged the stuffing out of me.

“For luck.” She said after she let go. “This doesn’t mean Trixie likes you or anything. So don’t go getting strange ideas.”

My brain seemed to short out for a moment. What just happened? Did Trixie just pull a Tsundere on me? A quiet but amused snort from Chopper snapped me out of my stupor.

“Uhm..thank you.” I said to Trixie, still too stunned to think of anything better to say. “Now let’s do this.”

“It will take Trixie at least two minutes to gather enough magic to perform the spell you want. So stay alive at least that long. It would be extremely inconvenient for Trixie otherwise.” She said.

“Yes ma’am.” I saluted with a smirk.



With a swift motion the door was unlocked and I stormed through. A Lone spider was sitting at the far end of the deck. I galloped straight for it as I gathered every ounce of power and began to create mass. A beam of magic shot past me and blasted the spider of the roof. Good work Trixie. Now it’s my turn. I ran to the end of the deck and kicked off, leaping as high as I could, then I unleashed my magic.

My body doubled, tripled and then quintupled in size. I slammed into the ground amidsts a virtual sea of spiders in the form of a giant wooden dinosaur and let out an ear shattering roar. The spiders answered with a high pitched shriek and swarmed me. There were a lot more of them than I had expected. If I didn’t know better I’d swear the whole swarm was here. We were surrounded. I snatched up the first victim in my jaws and bit down. Crushing it in a spray of yellow fluid. I tossed the gory mess aside and stormed forward, trampling several more under my feet with a crunch and a wet squelch. One exceptionally large spider charged me head on. This thing was easily the size of a pickup truck. It reared up on four of its legs and presented it’s fangs to me. I barreled into it, my intention to push it over and trample it. But the thing was wise to my actions and grabbed me around the head and neck with its many legs. It’s fangs crunched into my neck and unleashed their deadly payload. I could actually feel it burning. Their venom must have some strange magical properties or be frighteningly potent for me to actually notice an effect. Possibly a mix of toxins and potent digestive enzymes, considering most spiders actually drink their prey’s insides. Kinda like myself now I guess.

I clawed at it in an attempt to dislodge it, pushing it down far enough to bring my jaws down on its head and crush it. I tore it off and swallowed it whole. Using the energy I got from it to repair some of the damage the venom had done. And this was just the first twenty seconds.



Up on the roof the trio of ponies stared open mouthed at the scene unfolding below.

“That’s some friend you have there.” Chopper said to Trixie as all three of them picked their jaws off the floor.

“Trixie had no idea he could do... that.” she said with a shaky wave of her hoof.

“Shouldn’t you be casting your spell?” Swift asked, but didn’t look away from the fight.

“Huh? Oh yes, of course! Trixie will now perform her greatest spell to date.” She said confidently as she lit up her horn and began to amass her magic.



I stomped and bit and lashed out with my tail, and still they kept coming. As if some great force was driving them to fight on despite their losses. Could mere hunger truly be the motivation that made them attack despite horrendous loss? I snatched up a spider the size of a small horse and tossed it bodily into the side of the lodge where it left a giant yellow splatter and chunks of chitin sticking to the wall. Like some bizarre piece of modern art. And then I learned something new, namely that these fuckers were smart. They couldn’t match me in brute force so they now started to try and cocoon me. Already several of them had fired their web strands at me. The sticky strings stuck to my head and torso, making it hard to move freely.

I risked a quick glance at the roof where Chopper was laying into a spider that had climbed up the wall with his axe. Limbs went flying as the axe rose and fell and soon the spider toppled down. I couldn’t see Trixie, but I could see the building glow of magic power. I caught a brief glimpse of Swift Wind bucking another spider off the roof with a flying dive, before my attention was pulled back to the fight as several spiders jumped upon my back and began to try and cocoon me further. I threw myself down to the ground and then began to roll over. Crushing them beneath my bulk. I scrambled back to my feet before they could capitalize on my somewhat vulnerable position. I was covered head to toe in spider guts now.

More of them latched onto my legs and bit down, injecting their corrosive venom. I lashed out with my tail and sent half a dozen of them sailing into the air. One smashed into the wall of the upper floor like an eight legged missile and popped like an overripe watermelon. The rest sailed over the building and landed somewhere on the other side. I ripped, I tore, I bit. I swallowed several spiders whole. I could feel them clawing on my insides before I drowned them with acid and absorbed them. I looked over the battlefield and actually saw several of the smaller spiders drag away the remains of the larger ones. They must be so desperate for food that they even eat their own dead.

I slashed a spider with my claws, tearing it open in a spray of yellowish blood, then slammed my foot down on the corpse. And that’s when my leg snapped off at the knee. The venom must have done more damage than I thought. The wood on the inside was rotten and pulpy, like wet sawdust. I toppled forwards, crushing several more with my bulk as I landed. They swarmed over me now. Biting, stabbing, spraying webs. I needed to change the game.

I roared as I unleashed the last of my reserves. Hundreds upon hundreds of thorny spines exploded out of me as if I was a giant landmine. The spiders that had been crawling over me were turned into a fine mist of blood and guts. The ones behind them were torn to bits by the shrapnel of thorns and chitinous chunks of their own buddies. It bought me enough time to get back on my feet. I had to shrink down and re-arrange my mass to form an intact leg. I simply didn’t have enough power to generate more since I was burning energy as swiftly as I could replenish it. And the swarming mass didn’t seem to have shrunk even a little.

I briefly considered tapping into the earth itself to draw power from it. But truth be told, I was kind of afraid to. What if I accidentally went too far again? Tapping into that nearly endless reserve of power is such an overpowering rush, it’s easy to lose yourself in it. I couldn’t risk losing control. Never again.

Something red flashed in my peripheral vision, then the sky lit up and everything was bathed with brilliant red light, accompanied by a boom like someone just set off a piece of naval artillery. I looked up to see a giant red arrow pointing down toward us. Above it flashed big red letters, and above that a giant spider silhouette. The entire sparkling red display was enormous.

“Trixie, you really are the greatest show mare ever.” I smiled. Someone was bound to see that.

The spiders seemed momentarily disorganized by the whole thing. Some were standing on their hind legs, making threatening poses at the sky. Others milled about in confusion, stumbling over each other. But some were starting to wise up. I tore my eyes away from the sky and prepared to get back in the thick of it.


*****************



High above the buildings of canterlot, princess Luna stood upon her tower balcony, her eyes skyward and horn aglow. She was carefully weaving a tapestry in the night sky. Constellations and sparkling starfields formed overhead. It wasn’t like she was actually creating or vanishing these stars. She wasn't even moving them. No, her magic actually changed the atmosphere of Equus so that the light of certain stars would shine through while others would deflect. Celestia might move the sun, and she might move the moon, but only the ancient forgotten ones could truly move the distant stars themselves.

Luna found this task relaxing. Painting a picture in the sky the way a painter would do so on a canvas. And it also formed a good exercise for her magic. She had grown strong again over the past couple of months. Her coat had returned to its deep dark blue and her mane and tail had returned to their full ethereal form. Tiny white stars danced in their phthalo blue and purple depths. And even though her other half still remained silent, with the return of her full magical power she was starting to feel whole again.

At long last her work was complete and the gentle glow of her horn faded away. The sky sparkled with the light of a thousand stars. She had dimmed the light of the moon slightly so that they seemed brighter.

Something bright and red flashed in the distance, followed a second or two later by the echo of a bang like distant thunder. Luna narrowed her eyes and then cast a spell to increase her already considerable eyesight. She cast her gaze upon the red glow in the distant sky and her vision zoomed in. There in bright glowing red letters flashed a message. Spider swarm attack. Ponies in mortal danger. Help!

“Aurora!” Luna shouted as she galloped into her room.

The Thestral mare emerged from the shadows like a ghost. “Your highness? Is everything alright?”

“Ponies are under attack by a spider swarm, gather as many of the night guard as you can, we leave to face the horde in ten minutes.” Luna said as her horn lit up anew.

Her royal regalia vanished, to be replaced with finely crafted peytral armor. The armor was a deep black, as if it were made out of pure obsidian, and polished to a mirror finish. The peytral piece was joined by flanchard armor, which appeared to cover her back and sides. And her flanks were covered in a segmented crupper. A crinet covered her neck, leaving only a small section free for her mane to stick through. Her silver decorative horseshoes were replaced by studded plate greaves. Finally an elaborate chanfron appeared on her face, a dagger like blade rose from it just in front of her horn, serving as both protection for her horn itself as well as an additional weapon.

“We, your highness? Are you sure it is wise to get involved personally? I’m sure the guard can handle things.” Aurora said while Luna worked on adjusting the armor’s fit.

“We may be a bit rusty, true.“ She said as an enormous crescent blade, almost like a giant Mezzaluna with pointed sides appeared in her magical grip. It was nearly as big as she was, but she wielded it effortlessly.

“And It may have been some time since we last took to the field of battle, but one never truly forgets how to wield a blade. Besides, we will not sit here and expect our guards to rush headlong into danger we are unwilling to face ourselves. Whatever peril awaits us, we will stand side by side with them.” she continued as she gave her weapon a quick spin to get a feel for it once more.

It had been crafted specially for her over fifteen-hundred years ago during the war with the crystal empire. Forged of Minotorian steel and enchanted by the finest magi of the time to never lose its edge. The word eclipse was engraved along its length in ancient Equestrian runescript.

“Now please, do as we asked and round up the night guard. We waste precious time arguing while lives are in danger.”

“Yes, of course, forgive me princess.” Aurora said with a deep bow. It may be her duty to keep the princess safe from harm, but she couldn’t help but feel a delicious tingle of excitement run up and down her spine at the thought of fighting side by side with her mistress in battle.

As soon as Aurora was out of earshot, Luna let out a shaky breath. She didn’t feel even half as confident as she pretended, but she was not going to show weakness in front of anypony. And like she told Aurora, she would not sit idle and let others do the hard work. She intended to be more directly involved in matters rather than adopt her sisters wait and see policy.


********************************


Okay this was getting really difficult now. With my reduced size the spiders became a lot harder to fend off. A lot of my attacks left them wounded rather than outright killing them. I snuck a quick bite from another corpse and used its energy to bring out a few flytraps, using them like point defence turrets. Their acid however was not as potent as it could be. It surely hurt the spiders yes, but unlike that first blast I shot out the window their attacks were rather weak in comparison. Leaving many a spider that got hit still capable of fighting, unless I managed to score a direct hit on their heads.

I snuck a glance at the rooftop after slamming another spider aside with a bodycheck. Trixie was swaying on her hooves, struggling to maintain her spell. The glow of her horn flickered in and out and beads of sweat were rolling down her muzzle and neck. What’s more the spiders seemed to have got wise to them and were now swarming the roof en masse rather than one or two at a time. Chopper and Swift were doing their best to fend them off, but they would be overwhelmed soon. And then things took a bad turn.

A number of terrified shrieks reached me as one of the bigger spiders finally managed to tear the front door off its hinges and the small ones began to climb over the barricade. I charged blindly at the door, slamming into the big spider that was still lurking outside and crushed it against the wall with an oh so satisfying crunch.

“Chopper, Trixie, Swift! Get back inside, they got in! Get back and help the others!” I yelled up at the deck as a trio of spiders jumped me and wrestled me down to the ground.

I snarled and crushed one of their heads between my jaws, spraying brains everywhere. I felt the fangs of the others sink into me and the familiar burn of their venom followed swiftly. I kicked out with my legs, and through luck rather than skill caught one of them, slamming it into the wall besides me, shattering it’s back like an eggshell. It’s broken body fell to the floor, twitching in its death throes. Another bite, another dose of venom. Part of my midsection fell away, sizzling and smoldering.

I heard the sound of struggle from inside the inn. The death shriek of a spider as it got torn open by a saw. An impact on the wall as another was bucked into it. Hooves thundering down the steps, followed by unintelligible cries and the whoop zap of a magical blast. It is only now that I realise the red glow is gone from the sky. Trixie and the others must have rejoined the fight. More shrieks and the sound of something heavy slamming repeatedly into the wall and floor. Then a horrified desperate cry of “NO!” reaches me.

A spider emerged from the door, dragging a silk line, at the end of that line a sticky silk net. And inside that net the tiny, terrified form of Melody Star.

I throw myself forward, trying to grab the line, trying to stop the spider. I almost make it. Another spider slams into my and throws me off. I miss the line. I make another desperate grab for the net itself, but it’s just out of reach. Several spider legs pierce through my weakened shell, one of my legs comes off again. But I hardly register it. My sight is fixed on that tiny crying filly as she’s dragged off and vanishes into the dark of the night.

Chapter 20: Into the Nest.

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Chapter 20
Into the nest.

Princess Luna paced up and down the small courtyard in front of her personal tower. A familiar mix of fear and anticipation coursed through her mind and body. She recognised the sensation as pre combat jitters. Something she had not felt for more than a thousand years. It was like welcoming an old friend. An annoying old friend who nags at you constantly and endlessly, true. But a familiar one all the same. And while she would never admit it, especially not to Celestia, part of her relished it. She adjusted her armour for the umpteenth time and swore that she would take it to the smiths first thing tomorrow. It felt a little tight in the flank. The realisation of that made her cheeks heat up, and she vowed to get out more. Clearly spending most of her time in the palace wasn’t doing her any favors.

She took a deep breath and then went through a few more practice swings with Eclipse to steady herself and keep her mind occupied. The blade almost seemed to sing as it cut through the air, leaving a faint shimmering trail of silvery moonlight behind.

The gate to the courtyard swung open and Aurora came galloping through, followed by a contingent of lunar guards. All of them Thestrals. She Snapped a crisp salute as she stopped in front of Luna. Her soldiers lined up in neat rows behind her.

“Welcome back Aurora, how many ponies did thou bring?”

“Highness, I was able to rally a single platoon in the time you allowed.”

‘Twenty able thestrals.’ Luna thought, ‘That will do.’

“Hast thou briefed them?”

“No ma’am, I figured it best to round up as many as possible rather than waste time explaining.”

“Very well.” Luna said before she turned to face the waiting troops.

“Hear us brave soldiers of our night guard. A few minutes ago somepony sent up a distress signal. There is a swarm of spiders attacking an unknown number of civilians. We do not know how many spiders we face, but we must respond swiftly to safeguard our ponies lives.”

“We, your highness? You mean you’re coming with us?” Asked a young stallion. Aurora shot him a glare but Luna held up a hoof to forestall her.

“You are correct. In case our wearing armour did not give it away, we will fight alongside thee this night.”

A wave of excitement rippled through the assembled ponies.

“Now, gather round me my children of the night, We shall teleport there directly. Be prepared for battle the moment we arrive.”

Swiftly they formed a ring around Luna, facing outwards. As one, every single Thestral spread his or her wings, the moonlight reflecting off their silvery wingblades. With a metallic twang, spring Loaded blades extended from their foreleg greaves like claws. Luna powered up her horn, a mist like shimmer formed around the group.

“Domina noctis aeternae!” Aurora shouted.

“Et magna victoria!” they all thundered in reply.

Luna felt a swell of pride and love as they recited her warcry of old. Her earlier jitters vanished as a soothing calm settled over her. Here she was, about to go into battle, surrounded by those who adored and respected her. Her precious night guard. It seemed ironic, she was seconds away from violent conflict, and yet she felt more at peace in that moment than she had in the past millennia. She focused on her horn, completing the spell. And in a flash, they were gone, and the courtyard stood empty once more.


***************************


With a scream of seething indignation I grabbed the spider stabbing at me with my claws and tore it in half, before I threw myself in front of the door, blocking it off with my bulk. I even managed to crush another spider beneath me as it tried to get in. I had to trust in the others to deal with the remaining spiders already inside. I just had to keep the ones already there from running off with any more ponies, and keep the rest of the swarm outside. Staying put however, that was not easy. Every single fiber of my being screamed at me to run after Melody. But the one part of rationality amidsts the raging emotions knew that if I did that I would doom everypony inside. The needs of the many and all that cold logic. And as much as the trekkie in me is shouting heresy, I’ll say this anyway. Fuck you and your logic mister Spock. What good are the many if you can’t save the few important to you? Still, I stayed put. And vented my anger, anguish and frustration on the spiders.

I mentally grit my teeth as I transformed what remained of my damaged body back into my usual hulking humanoid self. Lashing out at the spiders with oversized fists adorned with spiked knuckles. I had no energy left for anything fancy. From here on I would be relying on my strength alone. The spiders formed a loose semicircle as they approached. They seemed a little more wary of me now after chewing and stomping my way through so many of them. Their reluctance to attack me didn’t last long. One of the bolder ones decided to just go for it and jumped me. I punched it away, feeling its carapace break on impact with my fist, but the damage was done. Emboldened, the others charged in. I punched the first to reach me into the ground, shattering its skull. I kicked away the second, and headbutted the third. I gave it my best, holding my ground while standing ankle-deep in slippery guts. Still, with this many spiders one slipped through my defence eventually and landed on my chest, nearly bowling me over. I grabbed what legs I could and snapped them, managing to partially dislodge it. As it began to slide down however it bit down with its fangs, right into my chest, pumping a full load of venom into me. I could feel it burning its way through me. My insides sizzled, and then the venom ate its way into the hollow part where I kept my core.

My body collapsed to its knees and I screamed as I lost all control. It burned!
Some strange part of my mind couldn’t help but think how Ironic this was. This is what it must feel like for others to be hit with my digestive acid.

The spider that filled my vision as it clumsily clung to my chest suddenly vanished with a shriek, blasted away by a bolt of energy. I looked to my side where I spotted Trixie, standing on top of the barricade behind the broken door, her horn still smoldering.

“Get up!” she yelled, her breath coming in gasps. “Get up and fight, Aeron!”

She unleashed another salvo of what I first believed were concussive bolts. The small, pale magenta streaks of energy zipped past me and struck several spiders that were trying to take advantage of the situation, then they detonated in colorful explosions that blinded and seared them. They were more fireworks. I could see Trixie was struggling with fatigue. Part of her mane was plastered to her face with sweat, and she looked about ready to drop. Still her eyes were fierce and defiant. A far cry from the downtrodden mare I met this morning.

A lone spider tried to pounce for her, and only through some miracle was I able to intercept it with a fist against its face. One of its many eyeballs popped as it slammed straight into one of the spikes on my knuckles. I grabbed it by the head and smashed it into the ground before pulverising its abdomen by bringing both fists down on it. My movements were sluggish, the venom had damaged my core enough to hamper my control, and I simply did not have the energy to regenerate without compromising my form any further.

“I’m sorry Trixie.” I told her as I once more lost control of my legs, gracelessly toppling over.

“What are you apologizing for? Don’t waste your energy making excuses.” she panted.

I couldn’t help but give a wry chuckle.

“At this point, it’s gonna take divine intervention to get us out of this mess.”

In a sense that’s exactly what we got.

The flash of a teleportation spell near the road momentarily blinded us. Before my vision fully returned a familiar voice rang out.

“Night guard, take them!” echoed the voice of princess Luna.

I have never been happier to hear that voice. With a battlecry I couldn’t make out her bat ponies charged into the spider swarm. Wing blades flashed and spider limbs went sailing everywhere. They trampled over the small ones and punched the big spiders with hoof mounted claws. Tearing them open and spilling their yellowish guts into the grass. Several of them launched themselves into the air, only to rain down on the spiders like blade covered comets of vengeance. I watched as one of the ponies got bowled over by a pouncing spider, only for that pony to bite down and tear off one of its chelicerae with his teeth. Never have I seen ponies fight with that level of ferocity. And then there was Luna herself.

She strode calmly through the swarm, swinging a curved blade almost as big as herself in graceful but deadly arcs with a speed and precision that was nearly impossible to follow. A single swing cleaved two spiders in twain. The blade itself left a shimmering trail as it completed a full rotation around her. Almost like a moon orbiting a planet. Her star filled mane completed that picture nicely. Several spiders tried to attack her from multiple sides at once, but her blade moved so fast they never made it. One of the blasted arachnids got through her defence, stabbing at her with its razor tipped legs, but her armour took the blow without so much as a scratch before she brought her blade round. For a moment the spider stood stock still, and I was beginning to think she had missed it, until it collapsed in three pieces. Another spider pounced directly at her face, only to be impaled on her horn, as well as the blade of her faceplate. She didn’t so much blink at the blood that ran down her muzzle.

All around us the swarm was driven back. Let no one ever say that ponies don’t know how to fight, because these bat ponies are a whole different breed. They fight as ferociously as a griffin. Faced with this new opposition the spiders finally decided they had enough for one night. The swarm began to retreat back to the everfree in a roiling mass. However, Luna was not done with them. Her horn lit up with an icy blue light, before she unleashed a massive beam of lunar energy that cut a swathe through the retreating swarm, killing a dozen or more spiders in an instant. Their bodies disintegrating into a fine silvery dust. I quietly reminded myself not to piss her off from now on.

As the swarm ran, Luna turned to her second in command. “Pursue them, harass them all the way back to the everfree.”

“By your will mistress.” the mare replied and took off with most of the other bat ponies. Only two lingered behind to form an honour guard.

“Princess Luna, are you ever a sight for sore eyes.”

“Aeron, why is it that whenever there is trouble, we find thee in the thick of it?” She said by way of greeting.

“Because a certain bitch in a summer dress has it in for me.” I groaned as I tried to get back to my feet.

“We beg thy pardon?” she said looking confused.

“Sorry, that’s just how I picture fate whenever stuff goes wrong. As a flighty redhead in a yellow summer dress, giggling quietly as she toys with the fate of us mere mortals, while her brother Murphy looks over her shoulder and offers her advice to maximise her efforts.”

Everypony stared at me as if I had completely lost my marbles. What? Oh come on, I can’t be the only one who has ever imagined fate or some other abstract concept being personified. After all we speak of Mother Nature and Father Time. So why not Lady Fate and her adopted brother Murphy’s Law? What do I imagine him to look like? Mostly like Chris Rock in a brightly colored tuxedo for some reason.

“Thou truly art a strange one, now, tell us what has happened here.” Luna said, snapping me out of my thoughts.

“All I know is we were just sitting inside, having a good time when a lone road guard came banging at the door, saying his patrol had been attacked. Before we knew it we were surrounded by an endless number of spiders. We barricaded ourselves in, but those barricades were never going to last the night. So we signaled for help.”

“Yes we saw thy display in the sky all the way in Canterlot.”

“Not mine, Trixies.” I said as I motioned to the stunned mare behind me.

“Indeed?” Luna said before she stepped over to Trixie. “Commendable spellwork miss Trixie. We were most impressed. You certainly got everypony’s attention.“

“Uhm.. t-thank you, your highness. Trixie Lulamoon at your service.” Trixie stammered with a bow before she turned on me.

“You never mentioned you were friends with royalty.” She hissed between her teeth.


“Sure I did, I told you all about my past this afternoon.”

“Well you certainly glossed over the part about being on first name bases with the princesses!” She said in an accusatory tone.

“Eh, I’m not really that chummy with Celestia. Luna’s just easy to get along with once you get to know her a bit. It's really not that big a deal.”

“Not that big a… are you even listening to yourself?”

“Trixie, Luna may be a princess, but more importantly she’s just a pony like yourself. And treating her as such is not a sign of disrespect on my part.”

“She’s the bucking princess of the night. It is a big deal.”

“Thou realiseth we are standing right here.” Luna said. And was that a pout? It could have been a trick of the light but I swear she was pouting.

Further arguments were interrupted as the rest of the survivors made their way outside.

“My baby, where’s my Melody?” cried a distraught Peachy Plum.

My face fell. “I’m sorry Peachy, I couldn’t...”

“No! No you have to save her. Y-you h-have to do something. You have to!”

Any joviality I may have felt after being rescued by my favorite princess evaporated faster than a snowball in a volcano as Peachy collapsed into a heap of tears. Swift Wind wrapped a wing around her, his own eyes brimming with tears.

“What has happened?” Luna demanded.

“The spiders took her little filly, as well as several other ponies. There was nothing we could do.”

“Most likely already eaten by now.” Chopper said grimly as he joined our little group. He had a bleeding gash on his barrel, but didn’t seem to even notice it.

We all stood in silent misery for a moment, the only sound the heartbroken sobs of Peachy Plum.

“There may yet be a chance.” Said Luna.

“What do you mean princess?” asked Trixie.

“Most spider species are solitary ones. Star Spiders on the other hoof are one of the few social species. They make extensive underground nests and have a complex hierarchy, led by the biggest, oldest female among them. The broodmother. Oftentimes, foraging parties like the swarm we just faced will take food back to the nest for the broodmother to eat. Since she rarely if ever leaves the nest.”

Hearing her words Peachy threw herself at Luna’s hooves. Clinging to them like a drowning mare to a life preserver.

“P-please your highness, if that is true, save her. I beg of you, save my little girl before it’s too late!!”

Luna briefly flinched as Peachy grabbed her hooves, but she recovered swiftly, standing tall she gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

“You have our word my little pony. We shall do whatever we can to bring thy little one back to thee.”

“How would we even find her?” Trixie whispered to me.

“Doesn’t matter, we have to try.”

“B-but..” she said, her eyes darting back and forth nervously. Clearly the idea of going after the spider horde didn’t appeal to her.

“Hey, it’s okay, I understand. You don’t have to come with us.”

“No! No… Trixie will come too.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. What sort of mare would Trixie be if she left a little filly to her fate. Trixie would not be able to look at herself in a mirror ever again.” She said with a deep sigh. “Just..”

“Just?”

“Just promise Trixie you won’t let the spiders get her.” She said, looking away.

“I won’t. Besides, we won’t be going in by ourselves.”

“I’m coming too.” Said Swift Wind.

“No, you won’t.”

“What! You can’t tell me to stay here. That’s my little girl out there.”

“Aeron, what art thou thinking.” Luna said disapprovingly.

“I’m thinking that if he comes with us he’s going to get either himself or somepony else killed!” I said as I turned to look swift in the eye. “I understand how you feel. I really do. If it were my child out there, and the only way to get to her led through a pit full of broken glass and fire, I would hurl myself into it without a second thought, regardless of the odds of my survival. Which is exactly why you need to stay here. Because I’m not rescuing that little filly only to tell her that her daddy is dead!”

Swift looked like he wanted to argue some more, but Peachy’s hoof touching his shoulder seemed to drain the fight right out of him.

With nothing further to say we set off after the horde and the rest of the night guard. Luna, her two bodyguards, myself, Trixie, Chopper and Chip. I stuck closely to Luna, leaching as much power off of her magic aura as possible to replenish my depleted reserves. It’s a good thing alicorns radiate so much excess magic. We all ran at a gallop, with Luna and her thestrals flying just above us. Well every pony galloped, I was running after them at full sprint. It has been too long since I last assumed a humanoid form. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to run on two legs.

We soon reached the border of the Everfree, where the rest of the night guard were waiting.

“Your highness, why are you here?” Asked one of the thestrals.

“The situation has changed Aurora. These fiendish spiders were apparently able to make off with several victims. Amongst them a young filly. This is now a search and recovery mission. We must locate the nest of these monsters and retrieve our little ponies, if any are still alive.”

“We will not fail you, mistress Luna.”

We organised into teams of two, and each team was given a signal flare. We had thirteen teams in total. Ten teams consisting of two night guards each. Luna and Aurora made up another. So did Chopper and Chip. Leaving me to pair up with Trixie, which was fine by me.

“If Thou finds the entrance to the nest, fire the signal flare and await reinforcements. Under no circumstance must thou go in alone.”Luna said. “Move swiftly, and good luck.”

We set off into the woods as briskly as possible in the darkness. Trixie lit up her horn to light the way for us. Thestrals can apparently see better in the dark than they can in the daylight, so they didn’t require magic to find their way. I briefly caught a glimpse of another light in the distance. That was likely Chip’s horn. Now the pairing made sense. This way everyone could find their way around. Though technically I didn’t need any light to see in the dark either.

We pushed our way through the underbrush, keeping alert for the slightest sound. There were no tracks to follow. Apparently these spiders hardly leave any trace of their passing, even while dragging a victim. Possibly one of the bigger ones had taken to carrying them instead. Even so their nest couldn’t be too deep into the woods. At least I hoped not. We had been searching for close to twenty minutes when Trixie stopped me.

“Trixie really needs to take a quick break.” She said quietly. I guess she was still tired from the fight. Then again she had been using a lot of magic tonight, and the hour was growing very late. Plus we had been on the road all day, so she must be dead on her hooves by now. I channeled a little magic through my hand and grew an apple.

“Here, eat this. Get a little sugar in you.”

She gave me a questioning look before she quietly accepted the apple and bit into it.

“You aren’t just giving Trixie treats to fatten her up are you.”

“What? No! Of course not, why would I..” She was laughing at me. I could see her shaking as she tried to keep it in.

“Oh you cheeky, cheeky filly.” I said with no real malice in my voice.

“Trixie is sorry, but that was just priceless. You sounded so panicked for a moment there.” she sputtered between fits of laughter.

“Yeah well… where I come from mentioning a girl’s weight is like… like poking a Manticore with a stick. Bad idea.”

After a minute or so, Trixie finally got her laughter back under control.

“Ohh trixie needed that.” she said, slightly breathless.

“Glad to be of service.” I said with a mock huff, but inside I was smiling too. It was kinda funny.

“This whole venture will make for quite the story. Now you will have something you can brag about for real when you get your show back on the road.” I said quietly.

“Let’s hope it has a happy ending.” she replied between bites.

I nodded grimly at that.

“This really wasn’t how I imagined this day to turn out.” I said.

“Then what did you hope for?”

“Oh just a nice boring, relaxing day. I’ve had way too much excitement since I got to this world. I never was the adventurous type, yet trouble seems to keep finding me. It's like a stubborn bloodhound I just can’t seem to shake off my trail.”

“Maybe it's a sign you are meant for greater things?”

“Now that is a truly scary thought.” I said, and meant every word.

We were just about to resume our search when a green light lit up the sky to the west of us. Someone had sent up a signal flare. They had found the nest. We rushed in their direction as fast as we could safely manage in the darkness. Soon we came upon the rest of the group. They motioned us over silently. One of them pointed at something through the trees, motioning for us to keep quiet, and when I stole a glance I saw a tunnel opening in the side of a small, tree covered hill, wide enough for ponies to walk through four abreast. The walls and mouth of the tunnel were lined with strands of silk webbing. What’s more, there were at least five spiders roaming about. Most likely sentinels of some kind. I couldn’t help but wonder if we were dealing with spiders or ants at this point. Fucking magical creatures and their weird behavior.

Soon enough the last of our group arrived and we made ready to go in.


**********************



Melody Star whimpered as the spiders carried her deeper and deeper down the dark tunnels. The web she was in stuck to her fur and pulled painfully on her mane at times. She had been crying so much she had literally no tears left, and her eyes were red and puffy. Two other ponies were being carried by spiders to her left and right. She recognised them as customers from her home.

“Where are they taking us. What do they want with us?” Called the mare on her left. She too was shivering.

“I don’t know.” Called the pegasus stallion on her right. His wings reminded melody of her daddy. She wanted to go home so badly.

The tunnels were damp and lined with old webs. Here and there strange glowing mushrooms clung to the wall. Providing a spot of light in the darkness. There was a musty stench that clung to everything, mixed with the earthy smell of wet dirt.

The tunnel finally ended and they were brought into a small natural cavern. The spiders moved over to the far wall where another pony was already hanging in her own web cocoon. Soon enough their own cocoons joined hers, stuck to the wall with a bit of sticky silk before the spiders backed away swiftly. All was quiet for a few moments, then something stirred in the darkness.

Everypony's eyes widened and they all let out frightened whimpers as an enormous spider, easily the size of a small cottage emerged from the darkness. Half of its eyes were milky white instead of blue like the other star spiders. Blindness caused by old age. Slowly the old broodmother approached. Her fangs clicking together as she sized up the morsels her children had brought her. Melody whimpered as those poisonous jaws came closer and closer. The spider's pedipalps brushed briefly over each cocoon, as if she were sampling them. When they finally reached Melody’s cocoon she couldn’t help it, she wet herself. A tiny stream of pee running down her legs and tail. The broodmother pulled back with a light hiss. Annoyed by the pungent stink of urine. She moved aside and her pedipalps latched on to the cocoon of the unicorn mare, who yelped as it was torn free of the wall and tossed to the floor.

“Wha-what.. No, no not me. NOT ME!” the mare in question began to yell. Trying to kick free of her silk prison.

Her yells turned into a shriek of pain as the broodmother bit down with her fangs and pumped the mare’s belly full of digestive venom. Melody screwed her eyes shut and put both hooves over her ears as best she could. But no effort on her part could shut out the poor unicorns agonised death screams as her insides were slowly melted into goo for the broodmother to drink.

***********************



The sentry spiders were easily dealt with thanks to the night guard, who descended on them in groups of three. The arachnids didn’t stand a chance and were swiftly eviscerated. With nothing else to stand in our way we began our descent into the darkness below. The tunnel descended at a moderate angle, neither too shallow nor too steep. The silk webbing along part of the walls must be a way for them to reinforce it and keep loose dirt from collapsing it, clever. Kinda icky, but clever all the same.

Aurora and two of the night guard were leading the way. Their night vision able to pick out any nasty surprises waiting for us. Luna herself followed close behind, together with myself, Trixie and two more of the night guard. Chopper, Chip and the remaining night guard brought up the rear. As we trudged along I noticed some strange bioluminescent fungi growing at odd intervals along the tunnel. I decided to sample one with my powers for later use. Who knows when such a thing would come in handy. After perhaps five minutes of walking the tunnel opened up into a large natural cavern. Dozens of tunnels led off in all directions. There were spiders here too. But so far they had not noticed us yet. Most of them seemed to be resting. Tucked away in nooks and crannies. Barely visible at all. Others were napping right out in the open. Lazily hanging from the ceiling amidsts the stalactites. Like creepy christmas decorations.

“That’s a lot of spiders.” I whispered.

“What do we do now? We have no idea what direction to go? We could wander about endlessly in this place. And who knows how many more spiders are down here. If we get caught in a dead end we’re bucked.” one of the night guard mares said in a hushed voice.

“We will have to hold the central cavern if we are to have any hope of making our retreat.” Aurora chipped in.

“Does anyone have any idea where the broodmother is likely to be?” I asked.

“Hard to say. No two spider nests are the same after all.” Chopper said.

We sat there silently, trying to think up a way to find the victims quickly.

“Aeron, how are thy energy reserves?” Luna suddenly asked me.

“Thanks to my proximity to your magical aura they are recovering well, why?”

“Could thou make some of those plants thou used back when thou were our, guest in Canterlot. The ones thou used to prank the castle staff.”

“Heard about that did you?” I said sheepishly.

“Indeed we did.” She answered with a smirk. “If thou can maketh enough of them we can use them to scout out all these tunnels at once.”

That is actually a brilliant idea, I should have thought of it myself. Why didn’t I think of that myself? Ugh, maybe I’m too used to handling things with brawn rather than brains lately. Something to rectify later.

“I will give it a try.” I said.

“Maketh sure they look as spidery as thou can maketh them.”

I focused my will on my hand and directed my magic to sprout some seeds. Then I set to the task of rapid growing them into bellsprouts. I made sure to give them exaggerated spidery features before I sent them on their way. From a distance they sure looked like spiderlings.

“Luna, I’ve been meaning to ask. Why are you speaking in olden Equestrian again? Last time we spoke you weren’t this… archaic.”

“We do not know of which thou speaketh.” She said with a huff.

She scrunched up her face as her eyes darted left and right. When she was sure nopony was paying attention she leaned over to me and whispered. “Between us, ‘tis mainly nerves. Long has it been since we last led ponies into battle. When we speak in the olden tongue we are better able to hide our nervousness. We cannot look weak or indecisive in front of our troops. It would destroy morale.”

Show no fear huh, I guess I understand. She sort of is their anchor after all. I nodded to her, then got back to concentrating on sifting through the myriad of information my bellsprouts were relaying back to me. They were moving quite swiftly, a far cry from their slow and clumsy predecessors. I just hoped we were not too late.


*******************

With a gurgle, the broodmother sucked up the last of the ‘soup’ from her victim. Leaving behind a shriveled husk. The other ponies were beyond terrified now. It had taken an agonising five minutes for the poor mare to die while her organs slowly melted. Five minutes of endless tortured screaming. The pegasus stallion had fainted from fright, while the other mare was gibbering unintelligible with shock. And little Melody, she apparently still had some tears left after all. She cried as she begged for her mother to come and save her. Then the spider’s pedipalps reached for her cocoon and tore it off the wall. Melody landed on the ground with a cry of pain, her eyes widening in terror as the broodmother came closer.

Behind her, at the mouth of the tunnel that led into the broodmothers lair, a tiny spider shaped plant emerged.

***************************



“I found her! Luna, she's about to be spider chow, we need to do something now!”

“Thy seedling, have it flare it's magic. Burn it out if thou hast to, give us something to lock onto.”

I had no idea what she planned but I wasn’t about to argue with that little filly moments away from death. I sent a surge of magic through the connection and into the bellsprout. Oversaturating it so much that part of its body began to literally boil and rupture from the excess energy. Next to me Luna’s horn flared to life.

“We have it. Secure our escape route. We shall return!” She teleported away with a bang of displaced air. A bang that didn’t go unnoticed by the spiders.

The swarm inside the cavern stirred, endless numbers of eyes suddenly glowed in the gloomy dark. A hiss of challenge was issued.

Aurora stepped forward. “Night guard, you heard the princess. Secure this exit. Let none of these bucking monsters stand in your way!”

We rushed from the tunnel and into the cave.

“Once more into the breach.” I muttered under my breath as I let loose with my powers.

**********************

The broodmother loomed over Melody, its fangs still dripping with the remains of its last meal as it got ready to strike.

“No, I wanna go home. Mommy, anypony, heeelp!”

There was a flash and a bang, and something struck the giant spider like a meteor. Slamming it into the cavern wall with an enraged shriek.


“Away vile arachnid!” Boomed a voice, before a beautiful winged pony stepped into Melody’s view.

“Art thou alright child?” The strange mare asked as she gently gave her a nuzzle.

“I’m scared.” Whimpered melody. “Can I go home now? please?

“Close thine eyes little one. Do not watch and do not worry, this will all be over soon, and then thou can go home.” Luna said as she unsheathed Eclipse, taking a protective stance between Melody and the broodmother.


The broodmother hissed at her. Her chelicerae clicking together aggressively.

“Thou hast feasted on our ponies for the last time abomination.” Luna spoke quietly, “Now thou shalt know mine displeasure.”

The old spider rose up into a threatening pose, ready to strike.

Agile as a cat, Luna sprang forth, Eclipse leading the way. The old spider was quick though. The beasts great fangs shot forward and impacted Luna’s armour with a loud, metallic clang. Fortunately the sword sized fangs failed to penetrate the enchanted, obsidian colored steel. But they still managed to leave a pair of deep scrapes that hissed with drops of corrosive venom. The broodmother had no such enchanted protection. Eclipse shot forward and struck deeply, slicing through several of the beasts remaining good eyes. The broodmother let out a keening wail before battering Luna away with one of its legs. The impact knocked the breath out of her and sent her crashing into the cavern wall. She landed on the ground with a bang and rattle of armour. The broodmother chittered in triumph.

“Thou cries victory too soon monster.” Luna said as she got back to her hooves, eyes ablaze with magic. “We are the princess of the night. We faced the likes of the shadow king and Discord. A thousand years on the moon could not lay us low, we will not fall to an old decrepit arachnid like thou.”

She let loose with her horn, sending a trio of white bolts at the spider. They detonated like flashbangs. Loud and bright, blinding and disorienting. With her telekinesis Luna directed Eclipse underneath her opponent's abdomen and struck. The enchanted blade cut through the monsters chitinous hide with a sound akin to the breaking of a giant eggshell, immediately followed by a wet splatter as a portion of the beasts organs spilled through the cut and fell to the floor. As the beast reared up in pain with a deafening shriek, Luna unleashed a beam of force from her horn, blasting straight through the creatures sternum and out the other end of its cephalothorax, leaving behind a smoking hole.

“To the endless abyss with thee!” She screamed as she jumped on top of the swaying spider and rammed eclipse down into its skull. The blade burst out the other side in a spray of blood.

The broodmothers death wail echoed through the entire nest. Then the old spider collapsed. It’s legs no longer able to keep it upright. Its impact with the floor sent a tremor through the cave. For a moment all was silent, and then the spiders everywhere let out enraged shrieks.

***********************



The central chamber flooded with spiders coming up from below. I had no idea where they were all coming from. The nest must run even deeper than we anticipated for there to be this many. One of the night guards on my left fell with a scream as a spider skewered one of his back legs. His companion managed to slice through the spider's leg with a wingblade and buck the beast away before it had a chance to capitalise on its victims injury and bring its venomous fangs into play. I lashed out with whip like vines. Battering several spiders away. My bellsprouts attacked the spiders from behind. A burst of magic transforming them from harmless little buds into full fledged flytraps. The stink of melting flesh filled the cavern.

From the tunnel leading to the broodmothers chambers Luna emerged, little Melody riding on her back, clinging onto her for dear life. Two of the other kidnap victims were following close behind her. The spiders tried to attack them from behind as they made their escape, but in a flash Aurora was there. Her wingblades sang as she darted to and fro, slicing off spiderlegs and fangs with every move. Watching that mare fight was like watching a dancer. A dancer armed with two feet long razor blades that is.

Trixie and Chip did their best to cover Luna’s retreat with spellfire. Launching bolt after bolt into the spider mass in order to clear a path. For my part I tried my best to both support the night guard whilst simultaneously trying to block off the tunnels and stem the flow of reinforcements with thorn vines and acid spitters. But there were simply too many tunnels and too many spiders. Trixie unleashed her trademark firework spell into the biggest concentration of spiders. The spell detonated with a series of bangs and bright lights. Burning and disorienting many of the beasts. Several brave night guards took advantage of this by jumping into the throng of disoriented arachnids, wing blades and hoof claws stabbing and slicing before they pulled back at the last possible second.

As luna finally reached our position I took little Melody from her so she could fight freely and add her magic to the barrage. I cradled the little filly protectively in my arms. She shivered as she curled up against me. She was a little dirty, but otherwise she seemed unharmed. Her mental state however, I did not wish to think about that. But I was certain Luna would be there for the little one in the coming weeks to keep her nightmares at bay. Several of the night guard took hold of the other two survivors and began to lead them into the exit tunnel.

“Night guard, we are leaving! Assume semicircle formation and fall back!” Luna bellowed over the din of the fight as she fired another series of concussive blasts into the throng of arachnids.

We began to fall back to the tunnel that led to the surface. It was slow going since the spiders were on top of us every step of the way. Slaying the broodmother had apparently enraged them beyond all sense of self preservation. And even though we had found no evidence I felt certain there was some darker force at work here. Their behavior simply seemed unnatural.

“Get the wounded and the civilians out first. We’ll hold here as long as we can.” Luna Instructed Aurora.

The thestral mare snapped a crisp salute and began to lead the way out. The rest of us gathered around the tunnel opening and dug our heels in. A number of spiders were crawling along the ceiling, trying to get at us from an unexpected angle. A quick blast of Luna’s horn turned them into moon dust. Another night guard fell. His left wing torn to shreds and bleeding profusely. Chip yanked the unlucky stallion away with a quick burst of telekinesis, as Chopper split the offending spider’s skull with his axe. After that we fell back into the tunnel itself. We simply didn’t have the manpower to hold our ground otherwise.

The guard led the way. Supporting their wounded between them while the rest of us brought up the rear.

“Make haste to the surface, we cannot hold them for long.” Luna yelled as she fired another blast of magic into the cavern.

Spiders were coming out of every tunnel now, all trying to get at us. The barricades I managed to erect had been torn away completely. My bellsprouts still tried to fight, but were soon torn asunder by fang and leg. The only thing keeping the spiders from overwhelming us now was the exit tunnel serving as a bottleneck. But the moment we’d reach the surface and got out into the open they would be able to swarm us. And with the wounded ponies slowing us down there was no way we could outrun the swarm. Not in the woods where they had the advantage in mobility.

“Princess, can’t you blow part of the roof and seal the tunnel?” Chip suggested.

“Nay, we would risk bringing the whole thing down on top of us.”

No choice then, someone had to stay behind and keep the spiders busy as long as possible to give the others a chance to escape. I handed melody over to Trixie.

“Go, get her out of here. All of you get to safety.”

“We can’t just leave you here!” Trixie protested, guessing my plan.

“It’s not like I want to stay behind, but out of all of us, I’m the one who has the biggest chance to survive this.”

No that wasn’t me bragging or somehow giving into this hero complex I seem to be developing. It was a simple fact. Not even Luna would survive being buried under several hundred tons of dirt. But I probably could. Probably.

“But..” Trixie tried again.

“MOVE! Take her and go.” I yelled as I placed Melody on her back.

Trixie looked like she wanted to argue more, but in the end she turned and ran after the night guards carrying the wounded.

“Don’t you dare die on me, idiot!” she yelled over her shoulder as she vanished down the tunnel.

“Is he gonna be okay?” Melody asked Trixie quietly.

“He had better be.” Trixie scoffed.


Luna fired another beam from her horn before I closed off the tunnel with a thick bramble like bush. Already the spiders were tearing away at it and it wouldn’t last long.

She looked at me. “Aeron..“ She began, But I gave her my most determined look and motioned down the tunnel.

“I’m not trying to be a hero, I’m simply the most logical choice for this.”

“Mind Miss Lulamoons words. Do. Not. Die.” She said before she galloped down the tunnel, leaving me alone to face the horde.

I sighed. What the hell am I doing? How do I keep getting myself into these situations. Maybe I was just deluding myself. Maybe I really do have a hero complex, or perhaps a death wish. Or maybe I’m just fates little plaything until she gets bored and finds something new and shiny to distract her. Or maybe this is all just some crazy delusion and some day I’ll wake up in a padded room somewhere, doped up to my ears next to a guy named Smelly Stu. Time will tell I suppose.

I slammed my fist into my palm and got ready as the last of the thorn bush came down.

“Round two you arachnid fucks.”

They rushed the tunnel en masse, only to be greeted by a shower of acid and blasts of thorny spines. Even so they simply crawled over their own dead in order to get to me. I lashed out with whip like vines, grabbing several spiders and wielding them like flails. Battering and smashing as many as I could with their own bodies. Hehe, spider flails.

It did not deter them in the slightest. I unleashed a cloud of deadly spores, choking the life out of many of the spiders. But even that didn’t seem to slow them down anymore than my other tactics. I erected a wall of razorthorn vines and roots, with a few thorn grenades woven through them for good measure, trying to buy the others as much time as possible to reach the surface. But the spiders were undeterred despite several of them being blown into ground chuck. My barricade didn’t stand up to them for long, with whole sections of it being stripped away at once by powerful jaws and legs. I tried my best to plug the holes, but it had been clear from the start that I was fighting a losing battle.

I slowly backed up and erected a second barricade of thorny vines and acid spitters. I needed to stop the spiders from following us, but It would take more power to do it than I had available, despite the pick me up I got from Luna. It seems I had little choice now, corrupted or not I dug in my roots and reached out to the earth itself in order to draw upon its power. What I found was not what I expected.

Instead of the corrupting energy that permeated the whole of the everfree, I found the unmistakable power of the tree of harmony. We must be close enough for me to connect to it. But I never could before, so why now? Could it be due to the elements of harmony hitting me with the rainbow beam of deus ex machina? Or was it because I removed all the plunder seeds, somehow allowing the tree’s influence to reach further once again? Whatever the reason, it was my good fortune right now. I reached out to it, and it acknowledged me.

‘I need more power, ancient guardian. Please, give me some of yours, whatever little snippet you can spare.’

‘Already have great power you do, why more do you need? For what purpose, use it you will?’

Did… did the tree just talk like Yoda? Or is that merely how my overtaxed mind chose to perceive the tree’s language right now? I really am bloody crazy aren’t I? No, this is hardly the time to dwell on that.

‘To protect the ones I care about.’ was the thought I sent its way.

‘To protect, Mmhmm. A noble goal this is, yes. Then receive this you shall. All I can spare this is.’

‘Thank you.’

I could feel it, new energy flooding through the connection, into me. But it felt different, unlike the time I received some life force from the apple tree. This energy didn’t feel like anything I had experienced before. I felt it flow through me, through every fibre, every cell, down to my very core. And suddenly I felt the very tunnel walls around me. I could almost see the flow of natural magic as it moved through the earth itself. I reached out to it with a hand. The very rock moved, and a section of the tunnel came apart from the rest and jammed itself into the opening, sealing it off.

“Holy shit did I just… did I just...“

I backed up a few yards, reached out to another part of the tunnel and made a fist. The entire thing collapsed in on itself, as if a giant hand crushed it like a soda can.

“No way… no fucking way.”

A crack appeared along the ceiling, getting steadily bigger and pieces of it began to chip away and fall.

“Uh oh, guess I overdid it.”

I ran as fast as I could. Following the tunnel all the way to the surface. I reached the entrance with moments to spare. Tumbling out into the open and landing on my back as the tunnel collapsed behind me, and a wave of dust and debris blew out of the entrance. Before I could get my bearings I was set upon by a mare and a little filly.

“Mister, you’re safe.” Shouted little Melody as she jumped on top of me and hugged her little forelegs around my neck.

“Yes, yes I am, and more importantly, so are you.” I said, giving her a gentle nuzzle the way ponies do. It’s not so odd a gesture really. Heck I’ve done so a few times with my dog. I miss that little mutt.

She hugged me even tighter, but it wasn’t the only hug I received. Trixie was actually hugging my shoulder. Until I looked her way and she quickly let go, looking away in embarrassment. I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Tis good to see thee safe Aeron.” Said Luna as I got to my feet, holding little melody safely in my arms like a puppy.

Ugh I really need to stop comparing ponies to dogs. Even if they are about that size to me, not to mention just as cuddly, if not moreso. Okay mind, I get it, you’re tired and getting off track. Time to wrap this up so we can all get some rest.

“Thank you Luna, It’s good to see everypony else made it out too.” I said as I gave Trixie a gentle nudge. She didn’t say anything, but I could see her smile.

“But what will we do about the nest? It won’t take those spiders very long to dig their way out.” Said Chip.

“Thou need do nothing. We shall call forth the full power of the moon using a spell of our own making to obliterate the entire nest from orbit. ‘Tis the only way to be certain.”

“Uhm Trixie does not wish to cause offence your majesty, but is that not… excessive?”

“Nay lady Lulamoon, these spiders form a direct threat to all the farms and settlements surrounding the Everfree. They have developed a taste for pony flesh, and thus there is naught to be done but eradicate them whole.”

Her decision was final and I can’t say I disagree with it. So we set off, walking until we were a good distance away from the collapsed tunnel.

“This should be far enough.” Luna announced, then she floated rather than flew up into the sky, hovering above the treeline with her front legs aimed at the sky.

“Everypony stand back!” she called down.

Her horn began to glow, and then her entire body glowed. The few clouds in the sky parted, and we had a clear view of the moon, which seemed to glow with unnatural brightness as it moved directly overhead, guided by her magic. Luna was... chanting to herself. I had to strain my supernatural hearing to make out the words.

“Mirror of the day star, hear our command and illuminate this darkest night. Deliver upon mine enemy our furious wrath.”

She threw her forelegs forward and pointed her horn at the woods, roughly where I knew the nest was.

“STELLA MAGNA!” She shouted in the Royal Canterlot Voice.

A beam of pure silver, nearly three hundred feet across erupted from the moon itself and shot down to impact the Everfree. The ground trembled, and I could see small rocks, pebbles and other detritus start to rise into the air all around us. My body felt lighter too, and then I realised what she was doing. That beam was some sort of gravity attack. With a dull crump, every tree caught in the beam broke and collapsed, entire rock formations shattered, crushed as if flattened by an enormous weight. The ground shook harder, like the start of an earthquake. And then part of the forest floor collapsed with a deafening cacophony. Finally the beam cut off, and everything that had been floating in the air fell back down to the ground.

“Unbelievable.” Chopper whispered in awe, and I couldn’t help but agree.

When the dust finally cleared, a deep crater filled with pulverised rock, splintered wood and crushed, eight legged bodies was all that remained of the vast spider's nest. As if the whole thing had been flattened by the strike of a titanic sledgehammer.

Luna landed gracefully and folded her wings. “It is done.”

That’s an understatement if ever there was one.

“Can we go home now?” Asked Melody, still nestled into my arms.

“Yes, yes we can Melody, I bet your mama and papa will be very happy to see you.”

She nodded, then looked at me quizzically, tilting her head ever so slightly. It was adorable.

“What’s wrong with your eyes mister?”

“Huh?”

I gently explored my own face with one hand, Keeping hold of melody in my other arm. When I pulled it away from my face I noticed my fingers were wet with a slightly greenish fluid. I was actually crying tears of joy. I had not even realised.

“Nothing’s wrong with my eyes Melody.” I told the little filly with a smile. “For the first time in a long time, they are working perfectly fine.”

Chapter 21: Must be Tuesday.

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Chapter 21
Must be Tuesday.

It was a morning like any other in the shining city of Canterlot. Ponies went about their business with little care, until the morning paper arrived. That's when the gossiping began, the conspiracy theories came out, and a couple of unhinged ponies started pronouncing the end times on street corners while standing on soap boxes.

Willow Vine was lying on a bench in the Canterlot park, reading a book and doing her best to pay no attention to any of it. A nearby tree provided some shade from the sun as it crept across the morning sky. Occasionally she would glance about before returning to her story. The park itself was relatively quiet with only the occasional groups or individual pony passing through. Most often they were parents with their kids. The bench creaked slightly as another pony sat down beside her. She instantly knew who it was without looking up from her book.

“It seems we may have a problem Zizix.”

“I assume you are referring to the phenomenon last night general? It’s in all the papers.”

“That was no mere phenomenon Zizix, that was one of princess Luna’s great spells. The same spell that she used in the border skirmish of sixty seven AD against Dragon Lord Pyroclastic.”

“I’ve never heard of that battle.”

“Few have, because there were no survivors to tell of it. That spell obliterated Pyroclastics forces in a single stroke.”

A mare and er foal passed them by. The little colt was running after some butterflies, laughing all the way. They both sat silently until the pair had passed out of sight.

“Wait, if there were no survivors then how do you…”

“You know better than to ask such questions Zizix.” he interrupted her. There was an edge to his voice that brooked no arguments

“...Yes sir.... So, what do we do? Does this change our plans?”

“Yes and no. Things will still go ahead as planned, but we will have to resort to more, devious tactics.”

“More devious than usual you mean?”

“Naturally. We will ensure that the night princess is out of the way when we strike. And we will need to acquire some, leverage.”

“How sir, and what leverage?”

“Do not worry about that. You have one task and one task only, and it is crucial. If you fail, then win or lose, we are both dead. Victory is life, failure…”

“Is oblivion, yes Sir.”

“I trust you have already located them?”

“Celestia keeps one near her throne. The other I have not yet been able to locate, it’s definitely in the palace, so it’s just a matter of time. Thanks to my comings and goings as a noble I will be able to scout and map the layout of the palace in detail and create a map from memory. With those plans in hoof I will be able to devise an optimal approach as well as several exit strategies and contingencies. I should be able to secure both and make my escape amidst the chaos without any problems.”

“Good, you have until the end of harvest season; so be thorough. It will take at least that long to get everything else in place unseen. But once things are in motion there is no more room for error or delay. Remember that.”

“Understood sir.”

“Celestia is shrewd. No official blueprints of the palace exist anywhere. She must have destroyed them right after its construction was finished to keep its secrets out of enemy hooves.” He mused.

“I, could use some backup, just in case Sir. As a contingency.” She suddenly spoke up.

He was silent for a moment as he studied her.

“Do you doubt your own skills Zizix?”

“No Sir, but as you always remind me, it never hurts to have a backup to your backup. Layers within layers, plans within plans.”

“I do keep saying that don’t I. Very well, I will send Thrax to assist you. But no more, lest you draw attention to yourselves.”

“Of course Sir, and thank you.”

“You can thank me by succeeding, Zizix. The future of us all depends on it.” He said as he got up off the bench and casually walked away. Nopony paid either of them any attention. Just as planned.

***************



“♫ Sharing kindness, it’s an easy feat, and magic makes it all complete. ♫”

“Trixie swears, if you do not desist with that song, Trixie will hurt you.”

“Oh come on, I’ve always sucked at singing because I didn’t have the voice for it. But now thanks to this form I can alter my voice and actually sing without shattering every piece of glass within a mile.”

“And yet you use this talent to sing the most annoying songs possible.”

“It’s not that bad.”

“Its insipid.”

“You are just jealous of my gift.”

“Trixie might be, if you actually sang something worth listening to.”

“Fine, fine I’ll sing something else. Everypony is a critic these days.” I said with a smirk.

“And none of these ‘cartoon’ themes you kept going on about yesterday.”

“Hey, some of those are darn catchy.”

“You said yourself they are aimed at colts and fillies.”

“Doesn’t make em any less awesome.”

“You are an eternal child.”

“Guilty as charged. I’d rather be childish on occasion and enjoy myself than try to be an adult,” I said whilst making air-quotes with my hooves “and be miserable all the time.”

It’s kind of true, I embrace my inner child as much as I can. Just because you are technically an adult doesn’t mean you have to give up everything you enjoyed when you were a kid. Comic books and cartoons are a perfect example. But I digress.

We kept on bantering all the while we walked. It still surprised me how quickly we had gotten to this level of familiarity and interaction. I’m not usually very good at making friends, yet Trixie and I got along quite well. I dare say I got along better with her than I do with Zecora. And in a fraction of the time. Maybe its because of the danger we faced last night. They do say that such shared experiences create strong bonds between people. Well I for one have no objections to that. As I said before, Trixie is a nice girl when she lets go of her haughty stage persona. Though she can be a bit of a nag. But then we all have our pet peeves. Apparently my choice of songs is one of hers. But if I’m totally honest, it’s kinda fun trying to get a rise out of her.

“By the way Trixie, there's something I've been meaning to ask.”

“What’s that?”

“Do you know any illusion spells.”

“A few minor ones, the smoke and mirrors spell for example. What do you need an illusion spell for though?”

“Can you cast one on my eyes, make them look like a normal pony?” I said whilst pointing at my glowing green orbs.

“Trixie can certainly try.” she said as she charged her horn.

A flash and a zap later and I blinked one eye, then the other.

“Did it work?”

“See for yourself.” She said as she conjured up a small hoof mirror.

I peered into it, and found two regular sky blue eyes staring back at me.

“Nice work. They look perfect.”

“The great and powerful Trixie accepts your praise. By all means, tell us more.”

“Whoa, watch where you swing that ego Trix, you might hit somepony.”

“S-shut up, stupid.” She said with a blush. I couldn’t help but chuckle.

“Stop laughing at Trixie.” She said self consciously.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to make you feel uncomfortable.”

She glared at me for a little while before she relented. “It’s alright.”

I gave her a gentle bump with my hip and we both smiled. No harm done.

“So how long does the illusion last?”

“It’s a simple spell that doesn't require a lot of energy. It will fade in half a day or so unless actively dispelled before then.”

“Can you teach me how to do that?”

“Trixie doesn't know. Your magic isn’t like a pony after all. But Trixie can certainly try to teach the basics.”

“That’s all I ask.”

We had made good time after we set out late this morning. I had once more assumed my earth pony disguise as we traveled. I wanted to attract as little attention as possible today. None of us had really slept all too well after last nights adventure. I suppose we could have stayed another day and recuperate, but frankly neither Trixie nor I really wanted to stick around any longer than we had to.

It’s not like we felt unwelcome, on the contrary. After we returned Melody Star to her parents and witnessed their tearful reunion they practically threw themselves at our hooves ( or feet in my case ) and showered us with thanks. I really didn’t feel comfortable with two ponies prostrating themselves before me and singing their eternal gratitude. Luna looked about as uncomfortable as I felt, begging them to rise and waving away their thanks. Claiming we only did what was expected of us. What was right to do. And she was correct of course. Even Trixie looked embarrassed by the attention, and she will be the first to admit she will normally bask in it any chance she gets.

Still there was no mistaking the gratitude and admiration in Swift Wind and Peachy Plums eyes when they looked at Luna. I could tell that despite her embarrassment, Luna was touched. And It will do her reputation a world of good if the story spreads across the populace. It’s time for them all to start seeing Luna for what she is. A valiant defender who stands watch during the night so that ponies may sleep in comfort, instead of a shadowy monster to be feared. Saving a young fillies life will go a long way to mending her reputation. Just have to give it time I suppose, her day will come. And I must admit I’m looking forward to this year’s Nightmare Night. It will be the first time Luna will appear in public since her return. I’m glad that’s one event I won't miss.

Luna had left half of her troops behind, before teleporting herself and the others back to Canterlot. She would have liked to stay, but duty and all that. Personally I think she just wanted to get away because the unceasing shower of gratitude was making her feel embarrassed. Trixie and myself had said our goodbyes to everyone less than an hour after we got up this morning. As promised I did help Peachy with her vegetable garden, despite her protests. She kept insisting we owed her nothing after saving little Melody. But we made a deal, and was going to stick to it. Not in the least because I have my own reputation to work on. And sticking to my promises is a good first step.

I was snapped from my thoughts by Trixie talking to me.

“Sorry what was that? I was kinda lost in thought there for a moment.”

“Trixie was wondering if you would mind answering a few more questions.”

“What about?”

“Well Trixie is curious about you. About the world you came from and those that live there.”

“I suppose I can answer a few more questions.”

“Great. So what are you creatures like?”

“Well…. I suppose we aren’t that different from ponies. We are a social species. We have families, friends. We laugh, we cry, we love. We read and write books, make music; we go to school, and when we’re older we work jobs. Life on my world is not all that dissimilar from Equestria. Though ponies are a lot more peaceful than humans. While most humans are normally very peaceful on average, we can be rather aggressive or territorial at times. I suppose it’s a trait we inherited from our ancient ancestors.”

“I see, sounds a lot like griffons to me.”

“You know, the princesses said the same thing to me once.”

“Is there anything you miss from your world?”

“Lots of things. Most of all I miss my family and my dog.”

“You have dogs in your world?”

“Oh yes. A lot of creatures that exist in my world also exist here. Cows, chickens, dogs, cats. Though Equestria also has a lot of creatures that are only found in mythology on mine. You yourself would be considered a creature of myth.”

“How is Trixie a myth?”

“You are a Unicorn. Unicorns do not exist in my world. They are creatures of myth, described as wild woodland creatures of grace and beauty who can only be tamed by a virgin, and whose horn is said to be able to make poisoned water potable and cure any sickness.”

“Hah, what rubbish, nopony can tame Trixie, virgin or otherwise.”

“Yeah it’s pretty much a load of nonsense, but they got one thing right.”

“What's that?”

“That unicorns are very beautiful.”

Trixie blushed furiously. “W-what? Are you f-flirting with Trixie?”

“Just making an observation is all.”

Oh don’t give me that look. You can’t deny that these ponies are beautiful and cute as a bagful of puppies.

“W-well, keep your opinions to yourself, stupid.” She said as she trotted past me. And it could just be my imaginations, but I was fairly certain she put just a bit more sway into her steps.

“Well, time for some more singing.”

“This song better not be stupid.” she grunted, but I had already started singing.

“♫ Pink fluffy unicorns, dancing on rainbows. Pink fluffy unicorns, dancing on rainbows. ♫“

That’s when she conked me in the head with a pinecone.

*****************

Luna entered the private dining room she and her sister used. After everything that happened she was looking forward to a good meal and a good day’s sleep. She had just been served a plate of eggs when the double doors swung open to admit Celestia.

“Good morning to thee my dear sister.” She greeted her.

“You can leave out the good part Luna.”

“Oh? Has something occurred?”

“Don’t play innocent with me Luna.” She said agitatedly as she tossed a newspaper on the table. On the front page was a picture of the moon, a beam of light shooting downwards.

“That picture was taken last night by a tourist in Manehattan, and it’s not the only one. I hear reports from all over Equestria of ponies witnessing the same. This was your doing was it not?”

“Well of course, we are the mistress of the moon once more after all.”

“Then would you care to explain why in harmony’s name you felt it necessary to use that particular spell last night. What could have possibly warranted that?”

“We were simply doing a bit of pest control sister. To keep our citizens safe.”

“Pest control? Pest control! I would hardly classify the use of a quantum level spell pest control. Just what in the world is going on Lulu?”

“If thou would just calm thyself a moment sister then perhaps we can explain in detail.”

Celestia sat down stiffly and motioned one of the servants for a cup of tea. “I am listening.”

Over the course of breakfast Luna told Celestia of what had transpired the night before. She explained how she caught the distress signal from Trixie, and rallied her guard. How they had fought the spider swarm, then followed them to the nest to retrieve those victims who were still alive. And how she eradicated the nest afterwards with the Stella Magna spell.

“So you see dear sister, pest control. We simply used the most expedient way to destroy the nest and prevent further harm to our beloved subjects.”

Celestia rubbed her eyes with a hoof. “Luna this is serious. Your actions caught the attention of nearly everyone. I received messages from the rulers of every neighboring kingdom and more.”

“Every one?”

“Every, single, one.” Celestia said as she summoned forth a stack of scrolls bearing various royals seals.

“Queen Marijani of Zebrica.” She said as she tossed a scroll on the table in front of Luna. Instead of ribbon it was held together with a string of colorful beads.

“Goddard Gudrun, King of Griffonia.” with a flourish she added a roll of dark parchment with an intricate wax seal.

“Dragon Lord Torch.” A scroll that had more in common with a throw rug of rough animal hide joined the others.

“Fujiwara, Empress of Neighpon.” she continued, and a delicate scroll of bamboo joined the pile.

“Sultan Tarak Majid of Saddle Arabia.” A silk wrapped scroll joined the rest.

“I even received a missive from the Caribou King, Isbrytare, demanding to know what was going on. Equestria hasn’t had contact with their kingdom since his father, King Glaciäris passed away four-hundred moons ago. Do you see how serious this is?”

“What… what do we do?” Luna asked uncertain.

“For now, you, do nothing, while I run damage control.”

“But..”

“Lulu, please. Please understand, I’m not angry with you. On the contrary, I commend your efforts in protecting our citizens. But you can not use spells of that magnitude so recklessly.”

“We were not being reckless sister.” She said hotly.

“Poor choice of words on my part, please, forgive me. But my point is that such powerful spells will draw unwanted attention and cause unrest with the other rulers.”

“They have nothing to fear from us.”

“You and I know that, but they don’t see it that way. You must understand, the world today is not like it was a thousand years ago, their lands are not as peaceful as Equestria. Some of them have been in conflict with each other, on and off for centuries. And now, after a millennium, a powerful player has returned to the field. To them you are an unknown factor to whatever plans and political machinations they have going on. They are bound to be on edge.”

Celestia sighed. “Add to that the fact that some of their subjects are superstitious sort, especially the caribou and the Zebra. Seeing the effect of your spell could be interpreted as a sign or omen by some of them. And not always a benign one. Even some our own more, excitable citizens are causing a ruckus. Until things settle down I need you to lay low.”

Luna didn’t like it, but she could not deny that Celestia had a point.

“We see your point sister, however, we refuse to just sit in the shadows and do nothing. We want to do more, play an active role in the lives of our subjects again. We want them to see that we have changed, that we are not some powermad boogeymare of yore they need to fear.”

“I understand Luna, but you must take it slow. You have only been back for a short while. Give everypony some time to get used to you again. Why not make an official appearance at the gala next month? It will give you a chance to mingle with ponies. In the meantime I will give a statement to the papers and tell them your story of what transpired last night.”

Luna nodded. “Alright Tia, we shall play it thy way for now.” She did not mind Celestia dealing with the papers, she never did like journalists.

“And should you feel the need to leap to some pony’s defence again, please try to be less overt, okay?” Celestia said with a smile and a wink that took the sting out of the rebuke.

Luna gave her a smile back. “Alright sister, now if you would please excuse us, we are in need of sleep.”

“Of course sister, pleasant dreams.”

As Luna left the dining room her thoughts returned to her sister's words.

‘Less overt my dear sister? Oh I can certainly manage that.’ she thought with a sly grin.


*****************

‘Welcome to Ponyville, the friendliest town in Equestria.’ The sign read. Huh, I wonder when they put that one up. The simple road sign was sitting next to the main road into town, about a hundred yards out. It had taken us the better part of the day to get here. Fortunately the last leg of the trip proved to be dull and uneventful.

“Well, we’re here.” Trixie said and swallowed hard.

“Nervous?”

“Trixie? Nervous? Don’t be absurd…… okay yes, I’m so nervous I’m about to toss my cookies all over this sign.” she said whilst prancing on the spot.

“Hey hey hey, calm down Trixie.” I put a reassuring hoof on her withers. “It’s going to be fine. I’m with you. Just have to slip into something more comfortable.”

As I said so I assumed my centaur form. In this form I was about a head taller than Trixie and would certainly catch ponies eye before she did.

“Alright, let's go find the library. If anypony knows what happened to your stuff it’s probably Twilight.”

We casually strolled into town as if nothing was out of the ordinary. The town was relatively quiet with most of the hustle and bustle centered around the market square where most of the populous was doing their afternoon shopping. At first none of them seemed to react to us, but once the first few caught wind of our presence a murmur spread through the crowd. Some looked confused, others scared, and a few looked angry. None of them actively got in our way though, so we chose to simply ignore them for now. It didn’t take long for us to reach the Golden Oak library. A short rapp on the door saw it swiftly answered by Spike.

“Oh hey, it’s you.” He said as he saw me.

“Hey Spike, how is the coolest dragon in Equestria doing today?”

“Ah shucks, I’m doing great.” That’s when he noticed Trixie and his demeanor changed, “What’s she doing here?”

“She’s with me Spike.” Trixie gave a silent wave of her hoof by way of greeting.

“And you are hanging out with her because...?” he asked while giving her a distrustful glare.

“Because she’s a friend, so please don’t be rude to her, she’s not as bad as you think. And if you let us come in, you’ll eventually come to see that too.”

He seemed to mull it over for a moment. “Alright you guys can come in, but no funny business.”

“Scouts honour, Spike.”

“What?”

“Nevermind, it’s just a stupid expression. Is Twilight around?”

“Actually she’s out for a bit. She should be back later.”

“Then I guess we’ll wait here, we have something to ask her. Or perhaps you know?”

“About what?”

“My wagon.” Trixie replied, “Do you know what happened to it?”

“That broken thing? I dunno, you’ll have to ask Twilight.”

I sighed. “I suspected as much. Thanks anyway.”

“Soooo… how did you two meet up?” Spike asked as he went to make some tea.

“Long story, if you have the time we can tell you all about it.”

“I got nothing better to do, so spill.”

“Well… we met up on the road after I Left Canterlot. You see what happened was….”




So we told Spike of our adventure. To say the little drake was surprised would be an understatement. It also earned Trixie some respect. Spike even went as far as to offer her an apology for his part in the whole debacle that led to the ursa minor incident, even though all he really did was stand up for Twilight. But hey it made the little guy feel better and it cleared the air between him and Trixie, so it’s all good right? After that we just talked about nothing important for some time. Eventually Spike and I got into another comic and cartoon debate. Oddly enough even Trixie joined in on the argument. I had honestly expected her to try and ignore us as we got into this. Boy was I wrong. Turns out she used to be an avid reader of Professor Weird, who is kind of like the pony version of Doctor Strange. I swear the multiverse is just crazy sometimes. Anyhow, that was the scene Twilight walked in on.

“And that, is why Transformers are awesome.” I said vehemently.

“Sentient golems that change into everyday objects in order to blend into society and fight some secret war over resources? What nonsense.” Trixie scoffed.

“I hate to agree with her, but that does sound ridiculous. The Power Ponies are way cooler. Besides, what sort of name is Optimus Prime? That’s just weird.”

I let out a gasp “You are speaking great heresy young dragon!”

“Am… I interrupting something?” Twilight asked mildly confused.

“Twilight, you’re back.” Spike said as he got up and gave her a brief hug.

“Hey Twi, we were just having a passionate debate about our favorite fictional characters. “ I said by way of greeting.

“I see…. and what is she doing here?“ she said while waving a hoof at Trixie.

“She’s with me, and she’s also why we’re here. We have a question.”

“What kind of question?”

“The great and powerful Trixie demands to know what you have done with her wagon, Twilight Sparkle.” Trixie said as she got in Twilight’s face.

“Whoa there nelly. What did we talk about earlier?” I said as I unceremoniously pulled Trixie back by the tail. “What Trixie means, is we were wondering if you perhaps know what became of her wagon after she fled Ponyville.”

“Well, it was pretty wrecked so we had it recycled.”

Trixie’s face fell.

“What about her belongings?”

“Oh, those we kept in storage. A few ponies wanted to chuck it all in the trash, but I figured Trixie might want some of it back at some point.”

Trixie’s face lit up with new hope. “See what did I tell you?”

She let out an overly dramatic sigh. “Yes yes, you were right, Trixie was wrong.”

She then turned to Twilight. “Trixie would.. like to start over with you, Twilight Sparkle.”

Twilight smiled slightly. “Well, I guess I can do that much.”

“Now can you take Trixie to where her belongings are kept?” Trixie said with gusto, getting in Twilight’s face once again, but this time out of enthusiasm instead of anger.

“Yes?” Twi said uncertainly.

“Great! Let’s go.”

“You two go ahead, I have something else to do. Meet you back here later?”

“Sounds good to me.” Trixie said, practically dragging twilight out the door. Spike just watched the whole scene with a bemused expression.


“Catch you later Spike.” I said as i stepped outside too.

“Where are you going?”


“To keep a promise.”

***************



“Ah told you this was a bad idea.” Apple Bloom grumbled as they made their way back to the cutie mark crusader clubhouse.

“Yeah yeah.” Scootaloo sighed.

“Why is it we always end up covered in tree sap when we try these outdoor activities?” Sweetie Belle moaned.

“The cutie mark crusaders covered in tree sap, is it tuesday already?”

“Who said that?” Scootaloo asked, whipping her head around to try and pinpoint the origin of the voice.

“That would be me.” I said as I stepped out from the shadow of an apple tree.

“Aeron!” Apple Bloom yelled excitedly.

“In the flesh, bark, whatever… yeah it's me.” I said with a shrug and a grin.

“When did y’all get to ponyville?”

“Earlier this afternoon. I figured it was high time to make good on that promise I made you all those months ago. I hope this isn’t a bad time.”

“Nah, just give us a moment to clean up.” She said as they pulled out some buckets of clean water and started washing the sap, pine needles and leaves out of their fur.

“That looks painful.” I said as I watched them pluck the needles from their fur.

“You kinda get used to it. Considering how often this seems to happen to us.” Scoot said.

“What were you girls doing anyway?”

“Hang gliding , but we sort of crashed into the trees.”

“That explains the sap. Are you girls sure you should be trying such dangerous sports?”


“It's fine. We’re tougher than we look.”

“Can't argue with that.”

Sweetie Belle was the first to finish washing up. While AB and Scoot continued to scrub and pluck she cautiously walked over to me.

“Can… I ask you a question?” she said unsurely.

“Of course you can, Sweetie belle. So long as you don't ask me to explain where foals come from. I ain't touching that question with a ten foot pole.”

“Nah we already know the answer to that one.”

“Really?”

“Fluttershy explained to us where baby animals come from, and that it works pretty much the same for foals.”

“Huh.” that was surprisingly mature. “Well alright then, what’s the question?

“Why do you look like that?” she waved a hoof at me.

“What? You mean like a centaur?”

“Uhuh.”

“Is that what it's called?” Scoot said.

“Thats right.” I replied.

“Sheesh Sweetie Belle, you really are a dictionary and a walking trivia book.”

“I am not.”

“Come on girls don’t argue alright. And to answer your question Sweetie, It’s for convenience mostly.”

“How is it convenient?”

“Well, unlike you girls I can't grab things with my hooves. Whatever natural abilities you ponies have for grasping things doesn't work for me when i take on a pony shape, so i use this form instead. Since it gives me hands.”

“Hands?” Asked Apple Bloom.

“These.” I said while wiggling my fingers a bit

“They kinda look like claws.”

“Sort of, but unlike claws I don’t have sharp nails or talons like Spike does.”

“It kinda look like a Minotaur's, your upper body I mean.”

“We have a few things in common, they and I.”

“Is that what you looked like before you became a plant creature?” Scootaloo asked.

“Sort of. My original species is bipedal, much like minotaurs. Except we have feet instead of hooves.”

“What are feet?”

“Like what spike has, but again without sharp nails.”

“I see.”

“What do you eat?” Sweetie asked.

“Parasprites mostly. When I feel the need to eat that is.”

“No no, I meant before.”

“Oh you know, pretty much anything. Humans, as my original species are called are omnivores.”

“Wait, so that means that aside from vegetables, you eat meat, right.”

“Yes that right.”

“Uhm.. what sort of meat?” Scootaloo asked cautiously.

“Well…. Humans tend to eat a lot of different meats. Cow, Chicken, Fish, Horse, Game…”

“Wait, back up. Your species eats pony meat.”

“Some of us do, yes.”

“Have… have you ever…”

“Honest answer? Yes, yes I have.”

They tensed up.

“Girls, relax. I’m not going to eat you. You have to understand, in my world, animals are not like they are in Equestria. They aren’t sapient like you all are. They can’t talk or think like you can. And I would never eat another sapient species. Besides, you girls are way to adorable to eat.”

“You promise not to eat us?”

“Pinkie promise. Cross my heart, hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye.” I said as I went through the motions. That seemed to seal the deal and they visibly relaxed. After all a Pinkie promise is pretty much akin to a holy oath.

“After all I came here because I wanted to be your friend. It wouldn’t do for me to eat my friends right? That is, if you still wanna be friends.”

“Of course.” they chorused.

“Great.”

“Hey mister Aeron?”

“Just Aeron is fine Sweetie. Calling me mister makes me feel like an old man.”

“Okay, Aeron, do humans have cutie marks?”

I shook my head. “No we sadly don’t. I wish it were that easy for us. You girls are very lucky you know.”

“No we’re not, we don’t have ours yet.” Apple Bloom said sourly.

“But you will get them eventually. And you will know what your special talent is. Humans can spend their whole life without ever discovering their special talent. I envy you girls because once you get your cutie marks you will know exactly what you are good at.”

“Well so far we seem to be no good at anything we try.” Said Scootaloo.

“Yeah we keep tryin’ and no matter what we can’t seem to get our cutie marks.” AB sighed.

‘Should I… ah what the heck. I’m sure it will be fine’ I thought.

“Have you girls ever considered that you might be doing it wrong?”

“Wrong how.” Sweetie squeaked.

“Think about it. A cutie mark signifies what a pony is good at right. It shows you what a pony loves to do.”

“Well sure, but there’s lots of things we like to do. How does that help.”

“Think of one thing, one thing that makes you feel good when doing it. The one thing you love doing more than anything in the world, even when you mess up you just try it again and again until you get it right. Something that you do when you feel sad to cheer yourself up, or something you do because it gives you a rush. Or simply because it makes yourself and others feel good. That is what you should focus on. Finding your special purpose isn’t simply about being good at something, but about feeling good about something. Once you find that, and you nurture it, that’s when your cutie mark will appear for sure.”

They stared at me for a moment.

“That’s actually pretty good advice.” Apple bloom said as she rubbed her chin with a thoughtful look in her eyes.

“You mean sappy advice.”

“Nothing wrong with a bit of sappiness once in awhile Scootaloo.” I grinned.

“For somepony without a cutiemark you give some pretty sound advice.” Said a voice behind us.

“Oh hey Big Mac, what brings you here?” I said as i turned around and spotted the big red stallion.

“Ah came to collect Apple Bloom, it's supper time.”

“Already?” She asked.

“Eeyup.”

“I guess you girls should run along then.”

“Aww but we wanted to talk some more.”

“We can do that tomorrow.” I said with a smile.

“Hey, maybe you could help us find our cutie marks.”

“We’ll see girls. Now run along, go on.”

“So how long were you standing out there big guy?” I asked once the girls were gone.

“Long enough to hear ya make that Pinkie promise.”

“I suppose this is the part where you tell me you’ll snap me in half if anything happens to them.” I said jokingly.

He said nothing.

“Don’t worry big guy, I’d sooner die than let anything happen to those three.”

“Ah’ll hold ya to that.”

“I’m a big brother myself. I know what it's like to worry about your little sister.”

“That so?”

“Eeyup. You have nothing to fear from me. As a matter of fact, I’d like to help out if I can.”

“Help how?”

“With some honest work and a touch of magic.”

“You’ll have to ask granny ‘bout that.”

“I can do that. Would it be alright if I dropped by tomorrow to discuss it?”

“Eeyup.”

“You mind if I linger here for a little while longer? It’s so nice and peaceful here in the orchard. I kinda just want to enjoy the sunset for a bit.”


“Nope. Take yer time.”

“Thanks big guy.”

He left without another word. Leaving me standing near the crusaders clubhouse. I watched the sun set slowly behind the trees. Enjoying the final rays of the day. I let my senses wander for a bit as I stood there. I could feel the life energy within the trees all around me. So calm and gentle, and for a moment i felt almost perfectly content to just stand there forever. Eventually the sun vanished beyond the horizon and I started my trek back to the library.

Chapter 22: The first days of Spring.

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Chapter 22
The first days of spring.

Yet another sunny spring morning in Ponyville. Kind of nice to live in a place where the weather is strictly regulated. No unexpected rain to ruin your day. Trixie and myself were staying at the library for the foreseeable future. How this came to pass? Well Twilight and I made a deal of sorts.

The night before

“You want to do what to my what with a what?”


“I just want to do a series of in-depth thaumaturgic spectro analyses of your body, among other things, to better understand your unique magi-biological morphology.”


I gave her a blank stare and then looked at Trixie for an answer.


“She wants to run tests to see what makes you tick.” The azure mare said with an eyeroll.


“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Next thing I know you will break out the nerve weasel and brain probe.”


“Don't be silly, the nerve weasel is still in the experimental stages; and I promise to be gentle with the brain probe.”


I gave her my best deadpan stare.


“That was a joke.” she said with a sheepish grin.


“Was it?”


“YES!” she yelled indignantly.


“Look Twi, it’s not that I don’t want to help you with your, research, heck I want to learn more about myself as well. But you have a tendency to be.. overzealous.”


“What if I promise not to get carried away? Oh please please pleeease, think of all the things we could learn. Do it for science.” She gave me the most pathetic puppy dog eyes I’ve ever seen on a living creature. She even did a little mewling whimper to boot. I could feel my resolve shatter like glassware at a brick throwing convention.


“Fine,” I said, “On one condition.”


“Name it.” she said just a bit to manically for my tastes.


“I will let you do your… tests, in return, you allow me and Trixie to crash at your place until we can get her hooked up with a new wagon to live in, since neither of us have the bits to stay in a hotel right now.”


“Deal! SPIKE, go set up the spare bed please. We’ll be having guests for a while.”


“Trixie can have the bed to herself, I don’t really need to sleep.”


The azure blue mare muttered something under her breath from the opposite side of the table we were all sitting at.


“Did you say something Trixie?”


“Nothing!” she yelled and then busied herself with the single large trunk of items she had recovered from storage. It apparently contained everything worth keeping to her. The rest of her possessions had either been broken or were of no real value or use to her so she had given them up for recycling.


“Well alright then, no need to get your knickers in a twist.”


“What are knickers?” Spike asked.


“Uuuuuuuh, nevermind, it’s just a human expression.”


Yeah, there’s no way I’m explaining that one to the little drake anytime soon.

The present

So yeah, that’s how it went. Twilight had wanted to start her experiments right this morning, but I told her I had a previous engagement today. I swear they should register pouts as lethal weapons. The one she gave me could level a small city. Despite some lingering mistrust she actually managed to get along well enough with Trixie, which was good since it would be awhile before she would be moving out. At least if my plans went as I hoped. Right now I was In my earth pony disguise on my way back to Sweet Apple Acres to have a talk with Granny Smith. Trixie had decided to stay behind, not really wanting to spend the day on a farm. Instead she opted to stay at the library and brush up a bit on her magical knowledge. And possible gain a few more spells for her considerable repertoire. Twilight had been kind enough to offer her expertise on the subject. Trixie was rather, reluctant, to accept Twilight’s assistance at first. But eventually she accepted it with as much grace as she could muster. It would give the two something to bond over, hopefully. If they didn’t get into a catfight. Fillyfight? Whatever. Just as long as the place is still standing when I return.


While passing through town I could hear ponies whispering behind my back when they thought I was out of earshot, but I chose to ignore them. It was to be expected after all. And I’m not so thin skinned that I’ll let a few random comments get to me. They will have to get used to my presence eventually because right this moment I have no plans to go anywhere anytime soon.


As I passed through the market square I let my eyes roam across all the store and business fronts. Most I didn’t recognise, and the fact I couldn’t read the signs didn’t help either. One place in particular caught my eye. The sign outside was a grinning sheep on a grassy green background with golden yellow script underneath. I stopped a random pony and pointed at the sign.


“Pardon me sir, but what is this place called?”


“You kidding me?” The stallion asked uncertainly, shooting me a questioning glance.


“No, I simply can’t read the sign.”


“Can’t read the… I see. This is the Cheeky Sheep. One of the better known bars in ponyville. They have open mike nights every friday for those who want to try their hoof at singing.”


“I see, thank you my good stallion.”


“Yes well… good day.” he moved off quickly, muttering something about weirdos under his breath but I didn’t care.


The Cheeky Sheep. Well that’s not the oddest name for a bar I’ve ever heard. Does make me wonder how it got the name in the first place. I threw a glance through the windows. The place had all the hallmarks of a rather cozy Irish pub.


“Ohh they have a pool table too. Definitely my kind of place.” At the back of the room was a small stage with a sign next to it. I couldn’t read the scribbles, but the crudely drawn picture of a microphone and a singing pony told me enough. I’m definitely checking this place out later, hopefully when I have a few bits to spend; but for now I had somewhere to be, so I went on my way. Soon the last of the town buildings were behind me and I trotted along the dirt road leading to the apple farm.


There was noone in sight as I passed through the gate to the farm proper so I simply trot on. When I reached the main barn house, the upper part of the Dutch door was open. I knocked on the doorframe and called out.


“Hello, anypony home?”


“Hey Aeron,” Greeted Apple Bloom as she walked out of the kitchen, “What brings you round these parts today?”

“Hey there Apple Bloom, is Granny Smith around?”


“Ah think she’s out in the barn with mah brother. Whatcha need her for?”


“Just wanted to talk business for a moment is all.”


“Does that mean you have some free time after?”


“I might, why?”


“Wanna help me and the girls with our crusadin’?”


“Errr…” Suddenly a number of doom scenarios flashed through my head. A lot of which involved tree sap and my own broken body.


“Pretty please?” She gave me such a hopeful smile and big eyed stare. I swear they should outlaw this level of cuteness. I’m such a sucker for these adorable ponies.


“Well alright, but I do have other things to do this afternoon.”

“YAY! It’s gonna be great, just wait an’ see.” She yelled exuberantly.


I guess we’ll see. It’s not as if every plan of theirs ended in disaster right? What have I gotten myself into? With that promise made I went off in search of Granny Smith. It didn’t take long to find her. She was, as Apple Bloom said, inside the big barn with Big Macintosh, apparently inspecting cider barrels.


“Good morning Missus Smith, Big Mac.” I greeted them as I stuck my head inside the door.


“Mornin’ sonny.” granny said by way of greeting whilst Big Mac gave me a simple nod.


As I stepped inside the barn Granny Smith looked me over with a gimlets eye.


“So you’re the feller who caused that ruckus back when. Big Mac told me you was back in town. You here to stir up trouble again?”


“No ma’am, and for the record, that whole ‘ruckus’ was a very unfortunate accident.”


“Was it now?” I nodded vigorously in response. ”Ah see, so what brings ya here to Sweet Apple Acres then?”


“I was hoping to talk some business with you actually.”


“Now what kinda business would that be? You don’t seem the kind who’d be interested in apples from what I heard.”


“Not apples no, but applewood actually. I know you occasionally sell some.”


“It’s true that we do, but it’s a very small part of our business. How much wood are we talkin’ here?”


“Enough to build a decent size wagon for a pony to live in.”

“That should be manageable. And how are ya gonna pay for that wood son? You look like you aint got two bits to rub together, if you’ll pardon mah frankness.”


“You are perceptive Missus Smith.”


“Just Granny Smith is fine son.”


“Granny Smith then. I was hoping to be able to repay you for the wood with honest work and a bit of magic. My unique magical gifts could be of use to your farm.”


“While I never say no to a hard worker I’m not so sure about introducing any of that fancy unicorn magic to our farm. It ain’t the Earth Pony way.”


“Nope.” Big Mac added solemnly.


“My magic is different than that of unicorns, in fact it’s much closer to earth pony magic as I understand it.”


“That so? Because most of you fancy shmancy magic wielders have no idea how to work a field. The feel of the soil under your hooves, the subtle rhythm of life around you as you work the field. You think you can do better?”


I smiled. “Like I said, my magic is unique. All I’m asking is an opportunity to show you.”


“Well then sonny, we shall put you to the test. And if I find your work satisfactory we’ll see about getting you that wood.”


“Thank you Granny Smith, I will be able to start in two days time, if that’s agreeable?”


“Ya got yerself a deal youngun.” She said as she spit in her hoof and extended it to me.


“Excellent.” I replied as I mimicked the gesture, hocking a bit of thin, non sticky sap into my hoof and bumped hers.


Well that went better than I expected, I thought to myself as I walked out of the barn. Now some of you might be wondering why I did not simply grow a couple of trees myself and use those for wood. It’s actually quite simple, I’m using this as an opportunity to create some goodwill and work on my reputation. The Apples are well respected in Ponyville, so if they think I’m okay then that opinion will hopefully rub off on the rest of the town. Heh, working at Sweet Apple Acres, if this was a fanfiction it would be such a cliché, but then again, with my powers what else am I gonna do? Build boats? Besides, I owe them one. I owe Apple Bloom for giving me a chance and befriending me when no other pony would. Aside from Zecora, but she’s technically not a pony. And I owe the very trees of Sweet Apple Acres for saving my life after Discord nearly broke me.


Speaking of Apple Bloom, she was waiting for me right outside the barn. Crusader cape and all. Oh yeah, now to survive this.


“Ready to go crusadin?” she asked me all chipperly.


“As ready as I’ll ever be.” I said with a hint of trepidation that went completely unnoticed by the energetic little filly.


“This is gonna be great.”


‘Luna preserve me.’ I thought as I followed her into the fields.






It did not take long for us to reach the crusaders clubhouse. As if summoned by magic, Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo were already there. Come to think of it, how did they know to be here just now? Do these three have their own bat signal or something? What would that even look like?


“So what are we doing today?” Apple Bloom asked, voice full of enthusiasm.


“I wanna go bungee jumping.” Scootaloo exclaimed whilst bouncing excitedly.


“Howabout something a little less likely to result in injury?” Said Sweetie Belle. “I don’t feel like getting covered in tree sap two days in a row.”


“Yeah you can count me out.” I said.


“Why?” Asked Scootaloo


“Fear of heights.” I said simply.


“Really? The big bad monster of the everfree is scared of heights?” she said with disbelief.


“And bees.” I said flatly.


“Seriously?”


“They may make sweet, sweet honey, but don't let that fool you. Bees are evil incarnate. The whole honey thing is just a ruse.” I said with a conspiratorial stage whisper after checking left and right for eavesdroppers.


Sweetie belle giggled. “You’re silly.”


“Bees aren’t that bad. We use lots of honey when making zap apple jam.” Apple Bloom said. “Of course ah have to be careful since ah’m allergic.”


“Okay maybe I exaggerate, but I don’t like them coming near me.” A shudder ran through my body, causing me to shed several leaves that were acting as my hair.


“Anyway, what are we gonna do to earn our cutie marks?” Scootaloo got the conversation back on track.


“Well it is a very nice day, how about going to the lake for a swim, I’m sure there’s lots of activities you can do in and around the water that might get you a cutie mark.” I opted. Plus it would be a whole lot safer than bungee jumping.


“We’re not supposed to go swimming without an older pony to supervise.” Sweetie said.


“Aeron can watch us.” Apple Bloom said, pretty much drafting me to be their lifeguard.


“I dunno…” Sweetie began.


“It will be fine.” AB interrupted her.


“Sure I can do that much. I used to be a pretty good swimmer. And I learned how to save people as a child. I can surely keep an eye on three little fillies.”


“Alright, let's go earn our cutie marks. Maybe Aeron can earn his own.”


“I told you, humans don't get cutie marks.”


“But you aren’t human anymore.”


“Yes, but I’m not a pony either.” I said as we started our walk towards the lake.


“Besides, if I wanted a cutie mark I can just do this.”


I focused my magic on my flanks and my mushroom cutie mark appeared.


“Cool!” Sweetie Belle shouted.


“Wish we could do that.” Apple Bloom said with a hint of sadness in her voice.


“Why a mushroom, that's kinda lame.” Said scootaloo


“Well a flower seemed too girly, and it's still related to my own special talents. If you can call it that.”


“So what else can you do? We’ve seen you shapeshift, but do you have any other cool tricks?” Sweetie Belle asked.


“Well…. I can talk to trees, sort of.”


“Talk to trees?”


“That sounds lame.” Scootaloo said with an eyeroll.


“Anything that doesn't involve Rainbow Dash or a high probability of injury sounds lame to you Scoot.” Apple Bloom snarked.


“Hey!”


I couldn’t help but snort with mirth at that.


“It’s not like actual talking using words. But I can feel their energy, their life force. I can feel what they feel, sort of what they think. And in doing so I can tell if they are healthy and happy or not.”


“Isn’t that kinda what earth ponies do?” asked Sweetie


“I don’t really know.”


“Apple Bloom, remember when we went into the everfree forest that time to look for Zecora, and you could feel that the forest felt different.”


“Oh yeah, it didn’t feel so oppressive and wrong that time.”


“Really? You could feel that?” I asked with surprise.


“Uhuh. Granny Smith always tells me that I should listen to the land, but not with mah ears but with mah heart. Does that make sense?”


“You should listen to her Apple Bloom, granny knows what she's talking about.” I nodded.


“I dunno,” she said with her eyes downcast. “I love mah granny but she's a little…”


“Odd at times?”


“Yeah.” she said with drooped ears.


I gently put a hoof on her withers. “Your granny may be what some ponies call eccentric, but she has lived a long life and has much wisdom to share, a lot of it she likely had to earn the hard way. You would do well to listen to her words. Even if some of it may strike you as strange, there’s usually a good reason for it.”


“Ah guess so.” She said, a smile returning to her lips. “ Perhaps I should give her advice another try.”


“I’d be happy to help you. It’s always easier trying to learn new things with a friend by your side.”


“That sounds nice.” She said as we arrived at the lake.


“Blehg, so sappy.” Scootaloo groaned.


I gave the little pegasus a smirk before unceremoniously picking her up and tossing her into the water. She landed with a splash and went under before emerging with an outraged shriek. We all laughed as she spluttered and glared at us before the other two fillies dove in after her. Things devolved into a water splash fight from there.


As the morning progressed I spend most of the time soaking up the sun from the shore while watching them, making sure they didn’t do anything too dangerous. At one point I used my magic to grow both a slide and a diving-board for them. They were having a great time just being kids, all thoughts of crusading for their maks forgotten for the moment as they spend their time just having fun. Said fun was interrupted by the sudden arrival of two other fillies.


“Lookie here Silver Spoon, I spot a bunch of flotsam.” an all too familiar voice sneered.


“You’re right Diamond Tiara.” Silver Spoon crowed.


“Hey, don’t call us things I don't know the meaning of.” Scootaloo shouted.


“Oh wait, I was wrong, It’s even worse. It’s a couple of blank flanks.” Diamond said haughtily.


The pair laughed at their own wit, so focused on the CMC that they hadn’t even noticed me yet. Perfect. I stealthily assumed the form of a bush and then started digging a single vine through the loose soil around the lake. I could see the CMC looking around, probably wondering where I went and why I’m not stepping in to put a stop to Diamonds bullying.


‘Just hang on for a moment girls.’ I thought to myself.


“Maybe the three of you should just build a raft and float away, because you will never amount to anything. Pretty soon nopony in this town will want you around.” Diamond continued her taunts while Silver Spoon laughed at her friends witty comment.


I burrowed my vine through the sand until it emerged roughly a foot or so behind the pair. I then grew its tip into a thick bushel of stinging nettles, and smacked the both of them across their rumps with it. The results were immediate, the two of them jumped forward with a shriek. Diamond Tiara turned to look for her assailant, but I had already retracted the vine back below the surface. Silver Spoon danced in place, whimpering and rubbing a hoof across her rump as the sting truly set in. I made those nettles extra potent so the two of them should be feeling a burning, stinging itch for quite some time. The CMC meanwhile had burst out laughing at the expressions the two bullies were making as they desperately danced about, trying to rub the burn from their rumps. Their dignity destroyed, the two of them took off at a full gallop.


“Serves them right.” I snorted as I re-assumed my pony form.


“Thats was awesome!” Scootaloo shouted. “You’re my new hero.”


“I hope you don’t get in trouble for that.” Sweetie Belle said with a hint of worry.


“I won’t tell nopony if you won’t.” I smirked.


“Deal.” they chorused.


I’ll call this day a win so far.




***************




And the day had started off so well.
It was just after lunch time, and I was currently in Twilight’s basement, hooked up to a blinking beeping contraption that looked like several household appliances slapped together. I have no idea where all this stuff came from since it certainly wasn’t here the last time I was in the basement.


“Is all this really necessary?” I asked as Twilight attached yet another adhesive patch with a wire to my form. I was practically covered in the darn things. Any more and I would look like cousin Itt’s long lost brother.


“Of Course, we can’t risk missing anything during these tests. That would ruin the results.” She said in all seriousness as she strapped a sieve full of blinking lights to my head.


“You promised not to go overboard, this seems excessive.”


“Quit whining, this is for science.” She beamed.


I could see Trixie observing us from the corner of my eyes, she’s pretending to read a book, but I can see the giant smirk on her face. I would flip her the bird, but the gesture would be lost on her. Plus there are so many wires on me I’m afraid to break something.


“Can we just get on with it?” I sighed.


“Just a moment more, I need to make sure everything is plugged in correctly.”


She fiddles with the wiring, and suddenly I got an electric shock.


“Ow, what the fuck?”


“Sorry, wrong socket. And mind your language.” she says far to chipperly.

“If this ends up electrocuting me I will file a formal complaint, in triplicate.”


“Do have some faith in me would you, I know what I’m doing.”


“Famous last words Twilight.”


She busied herself with the device, which began to spit out a stream of paper with what looked like an ECG, or possibly a seismometer readout.


“Alright, the device is on, everything is hooked up properly, let’s do this.”


“So what do I actually do?”


“Nothing yet, I want to establish a good baseline.”


Trixie let out a yawn. “Well this is certainly riveting. And here Trixie was half expecting things to blow up.”


“Science is about facts and data, not spectacular explosions.” Twilight told her with a glare.


“Tell that to the mythbusters.” I deadpanned.


Twilight turned back to me with a puzzled look. “Who are the mythbusters?”


“Oh just the most awesome people ever. They were a group of people who used elements of the scientific method to test the validity of rumors, myths, movie scenes and more. And often created awesome explosions to boot.”


“That doesn’t sound very scientific.”


“You would be wrong Twi, you would be wrong.”


“Moving on, let’s try a little magic shall we.”


“Alright what do you want me to do?”


“Can you just gather your magic in one place? Like a unicorn would with his or her horn? That way we can get a good look at your energy flow.”


“I can do that much sure.”


I focused my energy and let it stream out into my front legs, holding it there.


“Nice.” Twilight said as she made a couple of marks on the printout. “Now can you cast an actual spell?”


“Uh, no… I don’t know any actual spells like you do. I can certainly try to create an effect, perhaps making a seed grow. Would that do?”


“I guess… go ahead.”


Opening a small hole in my side, I reached inside myself towards one of the hollow pockets where I keep things.


“That looks kinda disturbing.” Twilight said.


“It beats having to buy saddlebags.”


I wasn’t sure what was in there right now, so I just pulled out everything and dumped it on one of twilights lab tables. Selecting a choice seed from among the pile, I placed it on the floor in front of me and focused my magic on it. The little seedling burst and began to grow. It turned out to be a watermelon seed. I thought it was an apple seed at first. Don’t give me that look. I might be a plant, but I still have trouble telling certain seeds apart from each other.


As I made the plant grow the scratching and beeping of the device twilight had me hooked up to intensified until it became almost a constant buzz.


“That’s not possible.” Twilight said as she hovered over the device, checking the data. “This has to be wrong. Your magic is throwing all the laws of energy conservation out of the window. It’s as if it has no respect for natural limitations at all.”


“Uhm, forgive my ignorance Twilight but doesn't magic always kick the laws of nature and physics in the flank? I mean a lot of magical effects shouldn’t be possible right?”


“Nooo!” she drawled, “Magic doesn’t simply create or destroy matter or energy, it transforms it from one state into another.”


She trotted over to her blackboard a sketched out a couple of diagrams and pictures of a plant in various stages of growth.


“When a unicorn grows a plant the magic stimulates the plant into absorbing nutrients from the soil more rapidly and converting it into rapid cell growth. Basicly we are speeding up the plant's natural growth cycle. Your magic is making this plant grow without a food source. Everything I learned of magic states that the plant should be cannibalising its own cells in order to make more without an outside source of food, thus causing it to self destruct. According to Starswirl the Bearded’s laws of magic, what we just witnessed should be utterly impossible. How in the name of Celestia do you do it?”


“I don’t know, I just do.”


Twilight let out a disappointed sigh. “And without a spell matrix there is only so much I can analyse. Without it I can’t explain how it works. I guess this was a dead end.”


“As a popular saying goes, It’s magic, I ain't gotta explain shit.


She scowled at me. “Do you have to use profanity all the time?”


“Fuck yes.” I stated with gusto. Eliciting an amused snort from Trixie and a deeper scowl from Twilight. “It’s proven to work as a form of stress relief. And it’s also a coping mechanism. Considering all the strange and dangerous crap that has been happening, both to me and around me since I got to this world; my swearing has been rather tame so far, all things considered.”


“It’s juvenile, unbecoming and frankly bad mannered. Rarity would call it uncouth.”


“Rarity is a generous and creative darling who I greatly respect.” I said. “She’s also a bit of a pretentious cunt who isn’t afraid to use her sex appeal to get what she wants. Doesn’t make me respect or care for her any less though, since her good qualities far outweigh her bad ones.”


Twilight blanched at what I had just said, glaring at me angrily. “You can’t just go around insulting my friends like that.”


“It’s not an insult if it’s true.” I said, causing her to growl at me. “Look, Twilight, your friends aren’t saints you know. Well except for Fluttershy maybe. Then again, you know what they say about the quiet ones. My point is, we all have our flaws. I happen to swear a bit more than is perhaps strictly necessary, but it doesn’t harm anyone; and I reel it in when I’m around children, so kindly get off my back about it. You’re a grown up mare, a little profanity now and then shouldn’t even phase you. I bet you Rainbow and AJ swear all the time.”


“They do not.”


“Maybe not within earshot.”


“Ugh, enough already. This argument is going nowhere, and I’m not going to listen to you bad mouthing or insulting my friends any further.”


“That wasn’t an insult. Trust me, if I really wanted to be insulting you’d know it.”


“UGH, just get out, we’re done here for today anyway.”




*****************



Twilight remained ticked off with me for another day or so, but soon enough things went back to normal. Or as normal as my life gets these days anyway. At least she stopped glaring at me anytime I entered her presence. Was I being a jerk? Perhaps a little. Give me a break, I’m not a white knight. If anything I’m a grey knight at best. Maybe it was just my mind’s way of rebelling against my situation. Equestria is such a saccharine place compared to earth, when something isn’t actively trying to murder the hell out of me that is. But the normal day to day life can be a bit too sweet to handle at times. Especially if Pinkie Pie gets involved. That pony if an endless source of cheer and good vibes. Maybe I should ask her for an apology cupcake for Twilight. Well it would have to wait till later. Right now I was back on the farm for my first day of work.


Honestly there was not a whole lot to do in the spring. Most of the work consisted of pruning the trees, fertilising the soil, planting new saplings and of course pollination. Which is where Ponyville's resident beekeepers came in. Turns out ponyville does have an actual Apiary. It´s kept well away from the town fortunately. I had made it very clear to AJ that I would not go anywhere near the farm on the days when they brought in the hive boxes. The very thought made my proverbial skin crawl. But fortunately they wouldn't be bringing the bees in for a few days yet. Fortunately she understood my situation well enough, though I did receive some good natured ribbing about it.


We were currently loading up a cart with bags of fertilizer and crates full of little saplings. That is to say, I did most of the loading. I´m easily twice as strong as any earth pony, if not more so; and my body doesn't get tired, so I offered to do the heavy lifting while AJ sorted out the tools and supplies we needed. Pruning shears, tape, wire, shovels, you get the idea.


“You doin’ alright there sugarcube?”


“For the fifth time, Applejack, I’m fine. It’s not like I have an actual spine I could hurt. Unlike you and big Macintosh.” I told her as I hoisted two more bags of fertilizer into the cart.


“Sorry sugar, it’s just that… I’m not used to having somepony outside the family working alongside us. Especially not somepony who can lift more than mah brother.”


“Don’t sweat it AJ. I’m just thankful for the opportunity you guys have given me. Most ponies still avoid me. Not that I can honestly blame them but still.”


“They’ll come ‘round soon enough.” She said with conviction. “And we don’t really mind having an extra pair of hooves, or hands, to help out.”


“Hands, hooves, tentacles, it’s all the same to me these days.” I said whilst morphing my front limbs into said appendages.


AJ stared at me with an unreadable expression. “That’s still very creepy to watch up close.”


I turned my limbs back into hooves, “Sorry, didn’t mean to creep you out.”


“No harm done. Ready to get this cart out into the field?”


“Lead the way boss.”

“Just AJ is fine, calling me boss feels wrong fer some reason.”


“Whatever you say AJ.” I said as I slipped into the harness in front of the cart and began to pull. “Where are the others today anyway?”


“Apple Bloom is still in school, and Big Mac is working the east field. We’ll be workin’ the west field and meet in the middle.”


The walk to the west field didn’t take very long. I soaked up the sun as we walked, letting it fill me with strength and energy. It still feels strange to me sometimes how being outdoors feels so right to me these days. When I was still human I spent the majority of my time indoors. My skin didn’t handle sunlight very well. Half an hour out in a field like this would have cooked me like a lobster.


“So what’s first?” I asked as we came to a stop on the edge of the west field.


“First we gotta dig out some o’the stumps that are left over from the ol’ trees. The soil should be soft enough now that winter is gone. Once that’s done we can plant some fresh saplings.”


I grabbed the shovels from the cart. “Sounds simple enough.”


It turned out to be a lot more tricky than I thought. Digging out the stumps was a rather involved process. It took nearly half an hour to dig up just the one. And even then we had to use some brute force to work it free, and still some roots remained behind. Back on earth we could have used an excavator.


“How many of these do we have to dig up?”

“Ah good fifty or so. Big Mac and I usually do about ten per day if we’re lucky.” AJ said as she wiped the sweat from her brow with a hoof.


I looked at the next stump a couple of yards over.


“AJ, do you mind if I tried some magic on the next one? No disrespect to the Earth Pony way of doing things, but I think I can save you a lot of time.”


“Well sure, that was part of the deal ya made with Granny. Lets see what ya got eh pardner.”


I gave her a smile and walked over to the next stump, transforming from a pony into my humanoid form as I walked. Whenever I try something new It feels easier to do while assuming a human form. It takes less effort to control for me as well. I guess it could be considered my default form.


I closed my eyes and focused my magical senses on the stump. There was no spark of life left in it for me to sense or manipulate. Just dead wood. I reached out with my magic, willing the stump to me with my timberwolf ability to assimilate dead vegetation. I feel the stump trying to move. I can see it vibrate as it tries to dislodge itself, but the roots have spread deep and wide and the soil refuses to relinquish its grip on it. Time to try a different approach.


I haven’t tried to call upon this part of my power since the spider nest. I planted my feet firmly in a wide stance and focused my magic inwards. I reached out with a hand and a tremor ran through the ground. I made a grabbing motion with my hand, picturing the stump in my mind. I then turned my palm upward and made a pulling motion. The earth itself moved to my command, ripping the stump free. Rock and soil bending to my will as if they were part of me. I looked at the rest of the row of tree stumps and directed the magic towards them. I stomped the ground with a foot and made the same grabbing and pulling motion with my hand. The ground heaved and the stumps tore free, the soil beneath them moving like the waves of the ocean. The stumps landed in a pile on a free patch of ground, ready to be carted off.


I released my grip on the earth and opened my eyes to find AJ staring at me open mouthed. I gave her my best winning smile. Or tried to anyway. It came out as more of a shit eating grin, despite my best efforts.


“Just call me Toph.”

Chapter 23: What songs do monsters like to sing?

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Chapter 23
What songs do monsters like to sing?

“Ah’m tellin’ ya Twi, I ain’t seen nothin’ like it in all my life. It were as if the ground was alive. He just gestured at it and it moved. If I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes I woulda thunk someone was telling me a load of hooey.” Said Applejack, who was currently sitting in Twilight’s library nursing a cup of tea.

“Advanced Terrakinesis with such precise control, but that makes no sense. All he has ever demonstrated thus far is Chlorokinesis, when did he suddenly get the ability to do this?”

“Ah dunno what all them fancy words mean Twi, and I didn’t bother ta ask. All I know is he saved me an’ Big Mac a week's worth of backbreakin’ work. In fact, the farm is so far ahead of schedule ah don’t know what to do with the extra free time ah got.”

“I simply must study this new development. Where is he now?”

“Far as ah know he was workin’ with Trixie on her new wagon. Since today’s friday, we gave him his pay for the week. Plus a lil extra, Granny insisted. At first he wanted to reject the bits, sayin’ our deal was for the wood only. But granny wouldn’t hear it, saying’ hard work should be rewarded accordingly. He eventually relented and took the bits.”

“And where exactly are they working on her new wagon?”

“Oh he asked if they could use the spare barn as a workshop.”


***********************

“So how do we go about this?”

“Trixie has no idea. She bought her last wagon from a second hoof dealer. What possessed you to try and build one yourself anyway? And without consulting with Trixie.”

“I figured it might be easier and cheaper than trying to save up the bits for a premade one. Besides this way you can have it made exactly as you like.”

“Well next time don’t go making decisions for Trixie behind her back. Still… thank you,
Trixie appreciates the thought. So how do we start?”

“Ah reckon y’all wanna start with the platform an’ suspension for the axles.” A voice drawled behind us.

I turned to see a familiar red stallion. “Oh hey Big Mac, You know a lot about building wagons?”

“Eeyup.”

“I guess you go through quite a few on the farm huh.”

“Eeyup.”

“You mind giving us a hoof with the basics?”

“Nnope.”

“I guess making optimal use of the available space is key. We can’t make it too big or she won’t be able to pull it.”

“Eeyup.”

With Big Mac’s help we were soon able to puzzle out a design based on Trixie's wishes and his knowledge. We settled on a classic Bow Top design. Sixteen feet long by six feet wide at the widest point, and five and a half feet tall, not counting the wheels. Its lightweight design even when fully furnished and loaded should prove no problem for trixie to pull, yet still allow her maximum living and storage space, as well as comfort. It should also prove easy and inexpensive to repair. Plus it would take a lot less wood to build than any other designs. We also added two additional external storage boxes to the design to give Trixie more room for her belongings.

I felt pretty good about the end result. More importantly, Trixie felt good about the design. As she said, her previous wagon was a cheap model she bought secondhand and spruced up. This wagon would be all her own make.

With the blueprints finished we got to building the platform that would form the floor. While me and Trixie busied ourselves with measuring and cutting the beams and planks to the right length, Mac set out to round us up some other tools and materials. Trixie turned out to be a deft hand with a hammer and saw. I’m not sure why that surprised me, since she modified her old wagon to have a built in collapsable stage and everything.

Maybe I’m too used to thinking of her as just a magician. Conveniently forgetting that she’s traveled all over equestria on her own, having to fend for herself in the wilds in-between cities and towns. She's far more capable than the episodes would suggest. I suppose I should really stop making assumptions about ponies based on what little information I’ve glimpsed through watching the show. It’s not exactly fair to them, but honestly it’s a hard habit to shake.

In any case, we made good progress on the platform. As well as the first two arches for the upper structure. We had to stop there though since A, we ran out of wood, and B, we needed a blacksmith to make the axles for us. If we didn’t finish the undercarriage first and put this baby on its wheels it would become too heavy to lift later, even with unicorn magic to assist. With our work done for the day we put the tools away and cleaned up inside the barn.

“Thanks for the help Big Mac, you saved us a lot of trouble.”

“Eeyup.”

“You good to help us out next time?”

“Yup.”

“Great, that should make things go a lot smoother than with just me and Trixie fumbling about on our own.”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not completely inept when it comes to do it yourself projects, unlike some people I know. My old man taught me a thing or two about carpentry and electricity. But I‘m no expert either. And I have zero experience building a wagon, so having Big Macintosh helping us out was perfect.

“So what do we do now?” Trixie asked.

I looked at the late afternoon sun as it touched the tips of the distant mountains “Well the day is almost over, howabout we go and have a drink? There’s a place in town I’ve been meaning to check out now that I have a few bits to spend.”

“Sure, why not. Trixie would enjoy a drink.”

“You wanna come too Big Mac?”

“Nope.”

“Need to finish the last of the day’s chores huh?”

“Eeyup.”

“I getcha, we’ll see you later then. Don’t work too hard now.”

“Eeyup.” He said as he set off to do whatever he still needed to do.

“So where are we headed.” Trixie asked as we trot along the dirt road leading to town.

I assumed my pony form, since my humanoid one would draw more attention than I wanted since my goal was to relax, plus that form is way too bulky to comfortably fit into most buildings in Ponyville. City Hall is about the only building I can enter without having to hunch over in that form.

“I found a nice looking pub called the Cheeky Sheep.”

“It has been some time since Trixie had a chance to relax and enjoy a drink. This shall be a good evening.”

“I hope so.”


As we entered the town we ran into Rarity and Fluttershy coming out of the Spa.

“Hello ladies.” I said with a wave.

“Hello darling, where are the two of you headed?” Rarity greeted with a smile.

Fluttershy greeted Trixie warmly enough. Me, not so much. While she no longer regarded me with open hostility, or as hostile as a pony like her gets anyway, she still flinched away from me like a startled puppy anytime I made any sort of sudden movements in her general direction. Still, I kept my promise and tried to give her space.

“Actually we were heading down to the Cheeky Sheep to relax and share a drink. Would you two lovely ladies like to join us?”

A strange look passed over Trixie's face for the briefest of moments. It came and went so fast I could have imagined it. For a moment she looked.. I don't really know, dissapointed? Jealous? Mistrustful? Or perhaps a mixture of all of the above. In any case, Fluttershy and Rarity looked uncertain.

“Darling, you don’t honestly expect a lady like myself to spend an evening hanging out in a rough and tumble bar do you?” Rarity said perhaps a bit too snootily. Though something in her tone suggested she was putting on an act.

“Oh come now Rarity, from what I saw of the place it's hardly a ratty dive. Come on, it will be fun.” She still seemed to hesitate. “First round is on me.”

She let out a snort of defeat. “Oh very well, I suppose my reputation can survive my slumming it for an evening. You will join us too won't you fluttershy? ”

“Uhm.. I..“

“You wouldn’t leave me to rough it on my own with just these two would you?” Rarity said, giving Fluttershy her best pouty face.

“Okay.” She said in a near whisper.

As we resumed our way Trixie leaned over to me and whispered, “That girl needs to get out more.”

“You’re not wrong, but it’s hard for her. She doesn't deal well with large crowds.” I whispered back.

“What are you two lovebirds whispering about.” Rarity said suddenly. Making Trixie fly into a near panic.

“Wh-what? M-me and… him? Don’t be absurd!” Trixie shouted vehemently. A red tinge shining through the azure blue of her facial fur.

“It wasn’t anything like that Rarity.” I said, caught slightly off guard by her remark. “Trixie and I are just friends.”

Rarity let out a ladylike titter. “Oh my I do believe I struck a nerve.”

“S-shut up.” Trixie muttered.

The sun had just dipped below the horizon as we entered the Cheeky Sheep. The place was surprisingly full already, however we still managed to find an empty table over by the window.

“Alright ladies, name your poison.”

“Poison?” All three of them said with perplexed expressions. Plus a panicked squeak from Fluttershy.

I facehoofed. “It’s an expression. It means name what drink you would like.”

“How frightening your world must be for such an expression to be so common.” Rarity said.

I shrugged noncommittally.

“In any case, I would like a brandy.”

“Brandy for the lady. And what about you girls?”

“Trixie will have an Appletini.”

“Uhm… a plain old Cider would be nice.” Fluttershy near whispered.

“Alright ladies, sit tight and I will return shortly.”

The Bartender of the Cheeky Sheep was a rotund, tan unicorn with friendly grey colored eyes, a massive, shaggy red mane and a voluminous mustache styled into a curl that dominated his face. His cutie mark looked like a freshly tapped keg with a spray of liquid coming from the spigot.

“What can I get ya mate?” he rumbled in a warm bassoon voice.

“I would like a Brandy, an Appletini, a plain Cider and a glass of the weakest alcoholic drink you have. Also, do you have any snacks or meals?”

“Got a fresh batch of sweet potato fries in the oven if’n you like some.”

“That would be good.”

I figured those would be okay with the girls. I couldn’t eat them, but they weren’t for me anyway. It's simply that one shouldn’t drink on an empty stomach. And I doubt any of them have had any food since lunchtime. I knew for a fact Trixie hadn’t. And I doubt the spa has snacks.

Soon enough a tray was pushed my way, containing a medium basket of fries, the drinks for the girls, and what appeared to be a pint of beer.

“Seven bits.” The bartender said.

I hoofed over the bits then scooped up the tray, snaking my way through the growing crowd, back to our table.

“Here you are girls. Drinks, plus something to nibble on. Feel free to dig in.”

I took my seat and lifted the pint, pretending to smell the contents, even though I have no nose. Still whatever sensory system this body possesses allowed me to sample the scent of my drink. It smelled enticing, yet I eyed the glass with some apprehension.

“Something wrong?” Trixie asked.

“Last time I drank alcohol I got blind drunk after having just a small cup of cider, to the point where I became a useless giggling wreck for the rest of the evening. Should that happen again, I apologize for anything stupid I might do. I asked for the weakest drink available but I have no idea how my body will take it. Well…. Here goes.”

Rather than stick my fingers, or in this case my hoof into the glass, as was my usual method of consuming liquids, I lifted my glass and mimicked taking a sip. I had finally found a way to mimic a pony's abillity to pick things up with a hoof. By secreting sticky sap from the frog of my hoof I could pick up objects that weren't too heavy.

Instead of swallowing the liquid I was absorbing it directly through the skin of my face and lips. I could feel a familiar tingle travel through what passed as my veins. The taste wasn’t half bad either. It wasn’t the same as it would have been if I were still human, but it was close enough to enjoy. And I didn’t immediately descend into a drunken stupor. Chalk up another win.

We made small talk as we enjoyed our drinks and the food. Well, they enjoyed the food, I just enjoyed their company. Man, my kingdom for a parasprite to nibble on right now. Suddenly a trio of faces popped up outside the window, namely Applejack, Rainbow Dash and Twilight. Startling us half to death. Dash and AJ seemed surprised to see us, Twilight on the other hoof looked like a mare on a mission. Staring me down with an intensity that was worrying. We gave the three of them a wave before they made a beeline for the door.

“Hey girls,” I greeted them when they finally reached our table, “Nice of you to join us. Have a seat and we’ll get you something to drink.”

“You! You must answer my questions.” Twilight said with a hint of crazy in her voice.

“Uhhh, what’s this about?”

“Ah, may have blabbed to her about yer fancy earth movin’ powers.” AJ said nervously.

“....I see”

“Yes, now tell me how you got them. You didn’t have those last time you were here. And why did you not mention them to me before.” Twilight said while fishing a notebook out of nowhere. How do ponies keep doing that?

“Okay Twilight, you need to calm down.”

“I have too many questions to be calm.”

“Yeah thats why she roped me and AJ into helping her look for you when she couldn't find you on the farm.” Dash grumbled. “And I was enjoying a perfectly good nap too.”

“Alright that’s it, you girls are joining the rest of us for an evening of relaxation and fun.”

“Ah, but I..” AJ began to protest.

“Have nothing else to do. The farm is ahead of schedule and Big Mac is taking care of the last of the evening chores. Park that apple bucking butt of yours and order a drink.”

“Well… when ya put it that way.” she mumbled as she sat down.

“Eh, I was just gonna chill at home, buuut this could be fun. Hey do they have cider in this place?” Dash said as she grabbed an extra chair and squeezed in between rarity and me.

“Uhm, yes, they do. It’s good.” Fluttershy answered Dash. The fur of her face looked mildly discolored from the alcohol induced blush. I’m guessing she’s a bit of a lightweight.

“That sounds lovely right now.” AJ said. “I’ll have a cider too.”

We all turned to look at Twilight who was the only one still standing. She looked slightly defeated.

“But.. my questions.”

“I was given those particular powers by an entity that talks like a little green alien from the planet Dagobah. And that’s all I will say about it for the moment. Now come sit with your friends and unwind Twi, you look more high strung than a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”

She sat down with a grumble before letting out a deep sigh. “Fine, I’ll have some red wine. Canterlot Cellar preferably if they have any.”

I made my way back over to the bar to order them their drinks. The bartender cast a glance behind me at the table before pouring them.

“Ya starting a herd or something mate? You got a whole table full of pretty lasses.”

My eyes widened slightly at the implication. “No man, nothing like that. We just happen to be friends. Well, most of them anyway. Some just tolerate my presence for the sake of the others.”

He chuckled and hoofed me my order. “Didn’t mean to imply anything untoward. Two Cider and one glass of my best Canterlot nine-seventy. Would you like me to start you a tab?”

“That would be nice actually.”

After a quick bit of paperwork my tab was set up.

“You lot just enjoy yerselves now.”

“Thanks.” I said and started to move off, but then turned back around. “I never did get your name.”

“I’m Bilge Hoop.”

“Nice to make your acquaintance.”

“Likewise lad, now you hurry on back. Never keep the lasses waiting.”

I made my way back to the table with some effort. The place was getting very crowded now, and I had to stick the tray to my back with some sticky sap to keep it from spilling over. Which makes the way ponies seem to effortlessly carry things around on their back all the more impressive. I had to cheat in order to achieve the same result.

“Two extra large ciders for the athlete and the workhorse, and you were in luck Twilight, one glass of Canterlot Cellar nine-seventy, very good or so I’m told.”

That brought a smile back to her face. She took the glass in her magic aura and took a studious sniff before taking a dainty sip and letting out an appreciative hmmm.

“I never took you for a wine drinker darling.” Said Rarity.

“I don’t usually drink wine. But on special occasions I indulge a little.” She said, taking another sip.

“This is nice.” Fluttershy said softly. ”It feels nice to spend the evening with my friends like this, but uhm.. aren’t we missing somepony.”

“Hi everypony.” Came the voice of pinkie Pie, who emerged from under the table a moment later, startling all of us.

“Uhh, Pinkie, what were you doing down there? Why are you here?” Twilight asked with confusion.

“Why wouldn’t I be here? It’s friday evening after all.” she said with her usual brand of cheerfulness as she put a glass of chocolate milk on the table.

“What does that have to do with it?”

By way of answer, Pinkie pointed at the stage in the back. A pink pegasus pony with a mint colored mane and a cutie mark that resembled a music sheet climbed onto the stage a moment later. She grabbed the microphone and tapped it with a hoof. “Is this thing on?” Her voice came through the speakers set up on either side of the stage. “Sweet.”

Everypony turned their head and gave her their full attention.

“Alrighty everypony, I’m Acapella, and tonight it’s once again open mic night at the Cheeky Sheep, and you lot know what that means...”

“That we should have brought earmuffs?” A pony jokingly yelled from the back of the crowd, eliciting a chuckle from the rest of the bar patrons, myself included.

“Let’s hope not.” Acapella said with a snort of amusement “Now then let me explain how it works for any newcomers. If you want to sing for us just let me know and when your turn comes, you get on the stage and perform whatever song you feel like sharing.”

“We also have a memory crystal up here that’s hooked into the sound system. If you know the music that goes with the song you want to sing, just think of it and touch the crystal. It will fill with the memory of the music which we can then play. Oh and NO dirty ditties, please. Everypony got that? Great! So which one of you lads and lasses will be first tonight?”

A pegasus mare came forward first. I believe her name was Lavender Skies, but I could be wrong. From the confident look she was sporting I guess this wasn’t her first time up on the stage. She sang a jaunty little tune. A perfect opener to the evening if I was any judge.

“Well, this evening turned out more fun than I had anticipated.” Twilight said, nursing her drink.

“Indeed, I must admit I had my doubts about visiting a pub, a pony hears stories you know. But I must say this establishment has proven delightful so far.” Rarity said whilst sipping her brandy.

“The singing sure is nice.” Fluttershy said whilst peeking out from behind her mane.

“Why don’t you go up there and sing us a song Fluttershy.” I said, trying to make conversation with her.

“Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. I have stagefright.”

“Everypony gets stagefright darling, it's only natural.”

“Not the great and powerful Trixie.” she boasted.

“Maybe not when you perform your, act.” Dash said. “But singing is a whole different experience.”

“Trixie is above such a simple thing as stage fright.”

“Oh yeah? Prove it.” Dash challenged.

The two blue ponies stared eachother down for a moment.

“Alright then…. Trixie shall dazzle you all with a song.” She got up and made her way over to Acapella.

“Do you have to turn everything into a challenge Rainbow?” I asked.

“What? I just wanted to see if she could actually sing.” She said with a smirk.

“You are a bad little pony.” I said with a grin before giving her a hoof bump.

“Alright, that was a great song.” Acapella said from the stage. “Next up to perform is…”

“The Great and Powerful Trixie!” Trixie shouted, appearing from a puff of smoke.

“Nice entrance.” Acapella said with stunned surprise.

“Thank you.” Trixie said with a smile.

“Alright then, Trixie, take it away.”

Trixie took the mic in her hooves and looked around the room. She seemed nervous, but it only lasted a second or two. I could see the mask of her stage persona slip into place. She gave the crowd a confident smirk and took a deep breath.

♫Ya better believe, I got tricks up my sleeve
And I captivate, 'Cause I'm powerful and grea-ea-eat.♫

♫Ya better believe, I got tricks up my sleeve
See me dominate, 'Cause I'm powerful and grea-ea-eat.♫

I will admit, I was not expecting her to sing that. I mean, that song was from the human world. Once more the multiverse is showing its own messed up sense of humor I think.

♫You think you've got what it takes to go toe to toe?
I've got more moves than you'll ever know
I own the stage, I'm all the rage
You're from the past, I'm from the Star Age.♫

Huh, so there was a slight difference in the lyrics after all. Fitting seeing as ponies have not yet reached space age levels of technology.

♫Come on, you're just making noise
Listen how my music destroys
Anything you throw at me
I'm gonna throw back, just wait and see-ee♫

Trixie's performance was met with mixed results. Some ponies were enjoying it, others looked mildly annoyed by her boasty lyrics. I spotted a stallion in the crowd who seemed to take her words literally, seeing as he made ready to lob a tomato at her. A quick burst of my magic saw the offending vegetable explode in his face, showering him in tomato puree and knocking him over into another pony’s drink. A small brawl broke out as a result, but it was quickly stopped by two burly bouncers. Trixie seemed oblivious to it all, singing her heart out on the stage. Her eyes were closed and she was swaying and gyrating to her own rhythm.

♫Don't mean to brag, don't mean to boast
But I'm a six-course meal and you're just burnt toast
Think I'm gonna ever give up?
No, never, ever, ever, EVER!♫

♫Ya better believe
I got tricks up my sleeve
See me dominate
'Cause I'm powerful and grea-ea-eat!!!♫

Is it just me or is there quite a bit of sneaky innuendo in that song? Maybe that’s just the alcohol talking. With a final spin she came to a stop, breathing heavily. She opened her eyes and looked around the room. Things had gotten quiet. I could see her confident mask slipping as the silence dragged on. I started clapping. It was like an opening signal. Slowly, one by one they all joined in, giving Trixie a well deserved applause. She actually blushed and hurried off the stage with as much dignity as she could muster. She quickly made her way back to our table and slipped into her seat.

“Well done Trixie, I had no idea you could sing like that. Truly you are a mare of many talents.” I greeted her.

If anything her blush deepened. “Perhaps not Trixie's best performance, but your praise is welcome.”

“While your choice of lyrics could use some work, I must admit you have a great voice darling.” Rarity said.

The rest of the group offered their own agreements to that statement. Trixie accepted their praise with modesty.

“I will admit, you showed guts up there.” Rainbow said.

“It was good to be on stage again, even if it was just to sing a song instead of perform a show. Trixie still got it.”

“That you do.” I said with a chuckle as the next pony hopped on stage to sing a song.

So far I was greatly enjoying the evening. Good friends, good music, for the most part anyways. And I even found a drink I could enjoy without becoming completely piss blind drunk after a single glass. We listened as the Stallion on stage sang some kind of teary love song. I thought it was a tad too hammy, but the majority of the crowd seemed to like it. I politely joined in the applause as he finished.

“Who will be the next pony to perform for us tonight? Surely there’s another brave mare or stallion willing to get up here?”

I was promptly yanked out of my seat and pushed towards the stage by way of magic. I looked back confused to see Trixie shoving me forward with her aura. “He will!” she yelled.

“Now wait a second…”

“Sing, sing, sing, sing!” Pinkie chanted, all smiles.

“You been hummin’ and singin’ those short weird tunes all week while workin’ pardner. Time ta hear ya sing a real song.” AJ added.

“Yes do go on darling.” Rarity waved me off with a dainty hoof.

“Excellent, get on up here and woo us.” Said Acapella

I was pushed through the crowd with enthusiasm and practically thrown onto the stage. I stood looking at the crowded room and my mind completely blanked out. Singing when it was just me and one or two friends was one thing, but to sing a song in front of a pub full to bursting with ponies? Inside I was having an attack of stagefright of Fluttershy level proportions. What do I sing? I can’t sing in front of them all.

“Alright, what’s your name guvnah?”

“Uhm.. I’m Aeron.” I responded on autopilot.

“Wait.. ain’t you the Everfree monster?” she asked after getting a good close look at me.

“Uhm…yes?”

“This is a rare treat, let’s hear what sort of songs a monster likes to sing then.” she said with a smile.

Was she making fun of me? I looked her in the eyes but there was no malice in them, just honest curiosity. I looked over the crowd again. So many faces. Some staring with interest, yet others glaring with barely concealed mistrust. I can’t do this. Then I looked over to the table were the girls sat.

Twilight looked expectantly. Rarity’s expression was mostly neutral. Rainbow pretended not to care in typical Dash fashion. AJ gave me a wink. Fluttershy peeked out from behind her mane with a tiny smile. And then there were Pinkie and Trixie, both giving me wide, beaming smiles of encouragement. Tuning out everything but the seven of them, a feeling washed over me, like some invisible force guiding my actions. I lifted the microphone.

“This song, is for the best friends a pony could have. May their light always shine true.” I said as I touched the memory crystal and let it fill with the melody of the song.

A minute or so later the opening notes began to blast from the speakers. A quick pause, a deep breath… here we go.

♫Each one of you has something special, That makes you different, that makes you rare
You have a light that shines within you, That you were always meant to share.♫

♫And when you come together, Combine that light that shines within,
There is nothing you can't do, There is no battle you can't win.
When you come together, There'll be a star to guide the way, It's inside you every day,
See it now! See it now!♫

♫Let the rainbow remind you, That together you will always shiiine!
Let a rainbow remind you, That forever this will be your time.♫

To see the looks on their faces was wonderful. First skepticism, then surprise followed by delight. Soon enough all of them smiled. Seeing those smiles encouraged me more than anything, and I poured my heart and soul into the song.

♫Each one of you will sometimes falter, You might stumble, you might fall,
But with the magic of your friendship, you will triumph, over all.♫

♫And when you come together, Combine that light that shines within,
There is nothing you can't do, There is no battle you can't win.
When you come together, There'll be a star to guide the way, It's inside you every day,
See it now! See it now!♫

♫So let that rainbow remind you, That together you will always shiiine!
Let the rainbow remind you, That forever this will be your time.♫

I let my eyes wander over the crowd. To my surprise, gone were the distrustful glares. Instead I saw smiles and ponies bobbing their heads to the melody. Even though the song originally ended there, new words came to me as if through magic. And seeing that many smiling faces felt so good, I just let them flow.

♫Each one of you will stand together, spreading friendship, every day.
With the light and the joy that lies within you, you will always, find your way.♫

♫So when you come together, Combine the light that shines within,
There is nothing you can't do, There is no battle you can't win.
When you come together, The starlight showing you the way, It's inside you every day,
See it now! See it now!♫

♫And let the rainbow remind you, That together you will always shiiine!
Let the rainbow remind you, That forever this will be your tiiiiime.♫

♫Let the rainbow remind you, That together your light always shines.♫


As the last note of the song faded away, the entire bar erupted in cheers and applause. If I could blush I’d be redder than Big Macintosh right now. I took a quick bow then hurried off the stage to rejoin the girls.

“Hoowee,” AJ crowed, “heavens to betsy, that was really something.”

“It was alright.” Said Dash, “A little too sappy for my tastes.”

“Oh hush Rainbow, that was really beautiful.” Rarity said. Wait a second, was she wiping away tears? She wasn’t the only one. I spotted Twilight and Trixie inconspicuously trying to wipe their own eyes.

“It really was. I had no idea you could sing like that.” Fluttershy added.

“I didn’t know either. It just sorta happened, as if something was guiding me.”

“That’s the magic of music.” Pinkie said cheerfully.

“The what now?”

“It’s like this super special magic that only happens on veeeery special occasions. Like when you throw somepony the best super special extravagant party ever, and everypony is filled with love, joy and cheer. And they become so happy that they just can’t help but feel like bursting into song. That’s when the magic of music comes out to make the song extra super special.” Pinkie explained at her usual rapid fire pace.

I blinked. “Really?”

“It’s a rare phenomenon, but it has been documented before. The Thaumaturgical name for it is Harmonious Soul Aria.” Twilight said.

“Leave it to Twilight to ruin a good moment with egghead stuff.” Rainbow snarked.

AJ smacked her on the back of the head in reply. While twilight glared. I wisely decided to stay out of it, taking another sip of my drink. The magic of music huh. Well we have the magic of friendship so why the heck not. It’s like Granny Smith says: ‘Magic is as magic does, just funny that way.’

“Where did you learn that song anyway?” Trixie asked.

“I honestly don’t remember.” I lied, making extra sure to avoid Applejack's eyes. Someday I would tell them, but not today. They were not ready for that.

“By the way Trixie, I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

“Yes?”

“Before I left Canterlot I was given two tickets to the Grand Galloping Gala next month, after promising I would attend.” I said as I produced said tickets from one of my inner pockets. “I was wondering, would you be my plus one for the evening.”

That’s when she fainted.

“Was it something I said?”

Chapter 24: The best night ever?

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Chapter 24
The best night ever?

I hesitated. I really didn’t want to do this. But I must, I must, I must!
It’s been two weeks since that night in the pub. After Trixie woke up she seemed all too happy to accept my invitation. She also vehemently denied she fainted in the first place.

“Trixie was just momentarily overwhelmed by the alcohol, yes that was it. Do not question Trixie on this!” her words echo in my mind. Ponies, strangest creatures in the multiverse. Also some of the most adorable, but I digress.

I sighed and looked up at the sign. I can’t read a word of it. Stupid ponies and their stupid made up written language. I really need to ask somepony to teach me how to read. That's gonna be embarrassing as hell. NOT Twilight though. I would never survive the experience. Fortunately, for the moment I don’t need to read the sign to know what this store sells. Its window display is all the clue I need.

I fished out the remaining golden ticket from my inner pocket, the other was now in Trixie’s possession, and read that last line again: ‘Formal Attire Only’

Now before you ask me how the hell I can’t read the sign but managed to read the gala ticket, these things are apparently enchanted to appear written in the reader’s native language. This way they don’t have to make separate prints for foreign guests like the griffons and minotaurs. Bloody magic, it will drive me insane one day.

I mentally groaned and tried to steel my resolve. I absolutely hate shopping for clothes. But as I said, I must. I put a hoof on the door and pushed it open, stepping inside with all the dignity of a doomed soul who’s about to be executed. A little bell above the door jingled.

“Cooooming.” A voice calls from the back, followed by the most flamboyant stallion I’ve met so far. He kinda looked like a male version of Fluttershy, if she were a unicorn instead of a pegasus, not to mention gay as a fairy. Pale yellow coat, pink mane, though his was a two tone one. The biggest difference were his eyes though. They were a silver grey tone instead of cyan. He was also wearing a stylish doublet and had a pincushion strapped to one fetlock.

“Why hellooo.” He greeted me with exuberance. “Welcome to Silken’s Suits for all occasions. I’m Silken Spool. Now how can I help you hun?”

“Uh, yeah, I need a suit.” I mumbled, his exuberant greeting making what passed for my brain hiccup for a second.

“Well you’ve certainly come to the right place.” he said with a wink and a smile. “Can I ask what the occasion is?”

“Uhm, it's for the gala actually.”

“You mean the Grand Galloping Gala?”

“That's the one.”

“Shut uuuup, really? Way to go you. I hear it's near impossible to get tickets to the gala. I’m so jealooous” His smile became even wider. “Do you know what size you are?”

“Not really no. It's my first time getting a suit.”

“Well don’t you worry none darling,” he said with a little wave of his hoof “I will have you outfitted in no time. Just step this way and I will fetch my measuring tape.” He said before practically bouncing away.

I barely had a minute to look around before Silken Spool returned with a measuring tape and notepad in his magical aura. His place was a quaint little tailor's shop, reminiscent of those old fashioned English gentleman's tailors you see in the movies sometimes. Rich wooden furnishings, all polished to a shine, plush carpet. It all gave a warm and welcoming impression. I suddenly felt like I was in a Harry Potter story as the tape began to measure me seemingly on its own. If it weren’t for Silken’s silvery aura around it I would swear it was alive. Silken practically hovered around me and meticulously noted down every measurement.

“That should do it.” He said as he finished writing down the circumference of my neck. “Now lets see what what color suits you best shall we?”

“Sure.” I said with a slight grin. As much as I abhor clothes shopping and wanted to sulk, his exuberance was infectious. I wonder if he and Pinkie Pie share notes.

“You have such a nice green complexion, so I’m thinking something in a deep red, you know, to bring out that coat.” he said whilst floating over some color swatches. He held them up to my coat with a critical eye.

“Oh yes, this is so your color.” He exclaims whilst holding up a swatch of rich red satin.

“Are you sure it’s not too garish?” I asked as I eyed the slightly glossy fabric uncertainly.

“Not if you wear it right hun. This is a special night, and you gotta own it. I guarantee you will look smashing.”

“I will defer to your greater wisdom.”

“Marvelous, now let's get the rest of your ensemble.”

And so he did. First I was fitted in a white silk shirt. Complete with Victorian style cravat. Next up was a black gilet vest. Silken fussed around me some more, adding a pin here or there to adjust the vest to its optimal fit. Finally he grabbed a suit of the same color from the display rack. It was too large for me, but it was just to figure out what adjustments to make. The final suit would be custom made after all. A tuck here and there, a few more pins and it was done.

“My don’t you look sharp.” He said as he floated over a full length mirror so I could get a look for myself. “If you don’t have a date for the gala yet, I’m available.” He said with a wink.

I let out a good natured chuckle. “Sorry, already got my plus one for the evening.” I must admit, as odd as it felt to be wearing clothes as a pony, the suit looked pretty nice on me. He really knows his stuff.

“Oh woe is me,” He said in an overdramatic fashion. “Doomed to always be the bridesmaid, never the bride. How will I go on?” He then burst into laughter, and I laughed with him.

“I’m sure you will survive.” I said good naturedly as I took off the suit, mindful of the pins. Not that they would hurt me, I just didn’t want to mess anything up.

“Oh yes, wounds to the ego ain’t nothing a tub of ice cream won't fix. Though my aerobics instructor will be upset with me. He’s so strict.” he said that last bit in an exaggerated stage whisper. “ Anyways, your suit will be finished by the end of tomorrow. Do you have time in the afternoon for your final fitting?”

“That quick? Well sure, I can drop by in the afternoon.”

“Excellent, see you then hun.”

“See you then.”

“Toodles.”

And just like that I was back outside the store. That certainly was an experience, and not nearly as dreadful as I had feared. I don’t know why I hate shopping for clothes so much, I just do. Well it’s not much of an issue anymore with my current condition, plus almost no being in Equestria wears clothes on a day to day basis, except the snobbish elite. And only as a way to show that they have money rather than for practical reasons or necessity. In any case, I picked up the suit the next day.




Nothing interesting happened for the remainder of the week. Like every Friday afternoon, after receiving that weeks payment, I would work with Trixie and Big Macintosh on Trixie’s new wagon. It was coming along nicely, thanks largely to Big Mac’s help. He introduced us to a good blacksmith by the name of Steel Forge, who ran the smithy in a little village about a half day's walk from ponyville called Gallopton. He set us up with a nice set of axles and steel ringed wagon wheels at a very reasonable price. Thanks in part to Big Mac haggling over it. Now there was a sight I never expected to see. For a pony who doesn’t talk much he sure knew how to haggle something fierce. He practically ran rings around Steel Forge. We also placed an order for a small, iron wood-burning stove, suitable for a wagon. He assured us he would have it ready in two weeks time..

The weekend proved to be a boring affair with nothing of interest happening. Which frankly was a novelty in and of itself. No unexpected monster attacks. Nu magical mishaps. No crusader shenanigans. Not that they didn’t try to rope me into a few. But I put my foot down and told them I had other things to do. Yep that’s how it happened. Alright I may have bribed them with milkshakes to leave me out of it for a while. Fillies and colts should be registered as lethal weapons. Especially when they pout and give you puppydog eyes. Its enough to give a poor sod a heart attack.

And then the day arrived, tonight was the Grand Galloping Gala.

All of us boarded the train to Canterlot that morning, with several bags and trunks containing our outfits in tow. The compartment we were in was fit to bursting with the girls excitement. To be honest I wanted the trip to be over as fast as possible. No disrespect, but I can only stand to be around a gaggle of giggly excited young women for so long before it starts to grind on my nerves. Especially if you throw someone as bubbly and saccharine as Pinkie into the mix. If that makes me sound likesuch a typical male, well tough. I’m only human, well, relatively speaking anyway.

For the next couple of hours I watched the landscape zoom by and tried to tune out the girls. Normally I would kill the time by reading a book, but unless they had books with the same enchantment as the gala ticket I was fat out of luck. Even Spike and Trixie got in on the excitement, happily speculating away about the upcoming evenings events.

Speaking of Trixie, I’ll admit to being curious what her gala dress would look like. After Trixie accepted my invitation, Rarity insisted on making her a dress for the gala, much like she had done for the others. Considering how nice those were, I couldn’t help but wonder. It would have to wait until tonight though.

Trixie wouldn’t even give so much as a hint, quoting that, “A magician never reveals her hoof before the main show.”

The plan was for all of us to make our way over to Twilight’s former home after we arrived and change into our outfits there. Then we would ride in two coaches to the palace itself. I stood in front of the mirror in the guestroom while the girls were getting ready in the master bedroom. I studied my face with a critical eye. Maybe I would look nicer with a goatee? Or maybe a nice Van Dyke beard. I sent a little magic up my face and sprouted a fine, leafy beard.

“Nope, I was wrong.” I said aloud as I banished said beard to oblivion.

As a human I was barely able to pull off a nice beard. As a pony it just looked freaking ridiculous. I straightened my cravat and let out a sigh. I was as ready as I was gonna be. I made my way to the living room, which doubled as Twilight’s personal library. Heck the entire house might as well have been a library. There wasn’t a single room without at least one bookcase in it.

“Hey Aeron, looking good there.” Spike greeted me.

“Looking sharp yourself Spike.” I said to the tuxedo wearing drake. “Ready for tonight?”

“Oh yeah. This is gonna be so much fun.”

I surely hoped so. Honestly, being in the middle of snob central was the last place I wanted to be right now. But I gave Blueblood my word I would attend. And besides that, I didn’t want to disappoint Trixie either.

“We’re readyyy!” Rarity’s voice sang out from the bedroom.

One by one the girls emerged from the bedroom, resplendent in their gala dresses. I must admit they looked even better in real life than they did in the show. It’s hard to appreciate the subtle details of an animated image, seeing it up close and personal in real life however was a different affair. All of them looked radiant.

Then Trixie emerged from the bedroom, and I will admit my jaw nearly dropped.

Instead of something in purple or lavender like she usually wore, she was dressed in a two layered dress made of pale yellow-orange satin and silk that shimmered like gold and ended in a flowing swallowtail. The color contrast really made the azure of her coat pop. Emphasising her natural beauty. She also wore a small, I believe it’s called a cocktail hat, in lieu of her normal wizard one. It was decorated with several small white feathers and a star shaped gemstone that matched her eyes. Her mane was tied into a stylish braided bun, with a yellow ribbon woven through it.

“Well? What do you think?” She asked.

I just stood there, completely dumbstruck for a moment.

“Told you he’d be speechless darling.” Rarity said, her voice all smugness. But smugness well earned. She really outdid herself with the design. Trixie looked absolutely lovely.

“I had no idea a pony could look that pretty.” I said quietly, making her blush. Maybe this evening wouldn’t be so bad after all.


*****************

Earlier that afternoon, Princess Luna stood staring out of her tower window with a feeling of trepidation. Below, in the palace gardens and courtyards, ponies busied themselves putting the final touch on the decorations for the gala. A small army of chefs, sous chefs and other kitchen staff were unloading carts full of ingredients for the open buffet. Pegasi darted through the air, clearing the clouds. The whole palace was a bustle of activity. Only a few more hours till the gala opened. A knock on the door drew her attention.

“Enter.” She called out.

“Pardon the intrusion your highness,“ said the maid who entered, “I brought your outfit for the evening.”

“Thank you Primrose. You can put it on our bed.”

“Would you like me to help you get dressed highness?”

Luna briefly thought about it. “May as well.” she said at last and stepped away from the window.

The outfit itself was a simple yet elegant toga of deep rich purple which complemented her dark coat perfectly. There were also duplicates of her normal regalia, but these were made of sterling silver rather than the pure obsidian she normally wore. It took primrose only a few minutes to help dress her to perfection.

“You look splendid your highness.” She beamed.

“Art thou certain? It has been some time since we attended any sort of formal gathering. We would hate to look out of place.”

“Nervous milady?”

“Of course not.” Luna denied. She wasn’t about to show weakness in front of the palace staff. But inside she felt as if she was filled to bursting with butterflies. Angry butterflies with teeth that gnawed on her insides.

Primrose, apparently more adept at reading her mood than Luna had expected gave her a reassuring smile.

“You look regal and radiant princess, you shouldn’t feel nervous.”

Luna sighed. “It has been some time, we.. we feel uneasy thinking about being in such a large gathering of our subjects. We wish to give the right impression.”

Primrose hesitated briefly, then placed a hoof on Luna’s shoulder.

“You will do great your highness. If you will permit me to speak freely?” At a nod from luna she continued, “I admit when you first returned to us I felt, intimidated. A lot of the staff did. We had no idea what to expect from you, only having myth and legend to draw information from.”

Luna’s expression fell slightly.

“But,” Primrose voice became warmer as she spoke, “since then, you have shown yourself to be a strong, decisive and, most importantly, compassionate ruler. You never treat the staff with anything less than the utmost respect, and we all heard the tale of how you saved ponies from a spider attack recently. If you are worried about what ponies may think of you, then you should know that everyone in the palace has nothing but respect for you. We all sleep easier at night knowing that you watch over us. We all have faith in you, and I believe that in time, all of Equestria will learn to see you as we see you.”

The passion in her voice made Luna’s eyes dampen. “Thank you, Primrose. I, needed to hear that.”

“Don’t mention it your highness.”


******************

We arrived at the palace just as the sun vanished below the horizon. As we stepped out of our coaches there was a flash of light in the sky, and they the stars appeared as if from an explosion of silver light. Everyone outside turned to look at the sky with ooh’s and aah’s. It was as if the stars themselves put on a firework display. And then the moon rose over the palace, full and bright. Casting everything in its beautiful silver light. Luna really outdid herself, and it was nice to see the ponies around us appreciate the display. As the moon reached its highest point, ponies set off real fireworks, lighting up the sky with bursts of red and green. Then the wonderbolts flew over in an aerial display of smoke and lightning. Signaling the official opening of the gala.

“Well they certainly pulled out all the stops.” I said bemusedly.

“Hmph, Trixie could do a better firework display.”

“Yeah right.” Dash snarked.

“She really could.” I said, drawing a smile from Trixie.

Dash rolled her eyes. “Whatever, let’s get in there already.

“I can’t believe we’re finally here.” Twilight gushed, “With all that we’ve imagined, tonight is certain to be the best night ever.”

Unlike with the actual episode, no spontaneous musical number broke out at that point. I guess the magic of music had taken the evening off or something. No sooner had Twilight uttered those words or the six of them scattered like leaves in the wind. Leaving me alone with Trixie, and Spike, who looked rather dejected.

“Guess it’s just the three of us. Shall we?”

We followed the steady stream of arriving guests through the main doors. The evening air was pleasantly cool, but not too cold. Already the main hall and ballroom of the palace were bustling with guests. The murmur of conversation and the tinkle of crystal glassware were a constant low din in the background. A stage band was playing an elegant classical tune. So far it was all very posh. I spotted Twilight as she ran up the entrance hall stairs to greet Celestia. Already ponies were forming a line in order to shake hooves with the princess. None of us bothered to join said line. We weren’t here for her after all. As we entered the ballroom we ran across a familiar pony.

“Prince Blueblood, good evening.” I greeted him jovially.

“Ahh, sir Aeron, so glad you could make it. And who is this charming young mare?”

“Blueblood meet Trixie Lulamoon, magician extraordinaire.”

Trixie bobbed a curtsy to him, partly to hide her embarrassment at my praise of her. Why that made her embarrassed I had no clue.

“H-how do you do highness.” She choked out.

“Oh please just call me Blueblood. I find all the pomp and formality so bothersome.” He said with a warm smile.

“Very well then, Blueblood.”

“Your name does sound familiar my dear. One from the noble houses I do believe.”

“Yes, Trixie has... relations to those.” She said uncertainly. Her tone bereft of enthusiasm.

“Ahem.” Spike coughed.

“Oh pardon us, Spike.” I said apologetically. “Blueblood, meet Spike the dragon, loyal assistant to Twilight Sparkle, the protege of your aunt.”

“I remember you.” Blue said. “I’ve seen you in the palace a few times. I did not realise you were with young Twilight.”

“We’re pretty much a package deal.” Spike said, then he scowled. “Except for tonight apparently.”

Blueblood raised a questioning eyebrow.

“In all the excitement of the evening's events, Twilight and her friends rushed off to mingle, leaving Spike on his own.”

“I see. Speaking of mingling. I hate to greet and dash, but protocol demands I make a short appearance to the usual crowd. Staggeringly boring the lot of them I tell you. I will return to speak with you more post haste. Enjoy the evening in the meantime, I suggest starting with the buffet, they have some lovely hors d'oeuvres.”

We nodded and watched Blueblood trot away. And while he promised to return I had my doubts he would. Seeing as a certain white unicorn had just spotted him and was making a beeline for him.

“And so it begins.”

“What begins?” Trixie asked.

I shook my head “Nevermind, just musing out loud. Let's go see about that food shall we? I do hope they have some griffon dishes. I could use some meat.”

“Think they will have any gems?” Spike asked.

“I dunno, let’s find out.”

As we moved through the crowd I noticed a change in the tone of conversation. Ponies seemed to be staring at us from the corners of their eyes, or from behind champagne glasses. Whispers passed through the crowd. I heard only snippets, even with my magical hearing, but it was enough to puzzle the general conversation together.

‘Isn’t that the everfree monster? And it’s wearing a suit, how quaint. What is it doing with that washed up performer. Guess a beast was all she could get, the ugly mule. At least she’s wearing the right type of dress, for a cheap nag. And they have a nasty dragon with them too, ruffians. Why isn’t someone throwing them out? Ugh what a load of freaks, they really let anypony in these days.’

Those were just a few choice samples of conversation I picked up as we passed by. Lovely, just lovely. I should have asked Trixie to put an illusion on my eyes. Maybe that way I could have avoided detection for a while longer. Stupid green glow. Trixie’s voice snapped me out of my darkening thoughts.

“Trixie doesn’t see any meat or gems. But they do have a good selection of fish.”

“Do ponies even eat fish?” I asked

“Most pegasi do. For others it’s an acquired taste.”

“Do you eat it?”

“Oh yes, Trixie loves Neighponese cuisine. They have this lovely dish where they serve sliced fish on rice.”

“Wait, ponies have sushi?”

“Trixie only knows its name in draconic,” She said, “They call it Xiivaic.”

“Draconic? As in dragons?” asked Spike.

“Yes, Neighpon was co founded by ponies and dragons over three-thousand years ago. The current empress of neighpon is a pony. Her husband is a dragon.”

“Well aren’t you just a font of interesting information tonight.” I said with a warm smile.

“Trixie had planned to tour Neighpon one day to perform her magic acts. Naturally Trixie brushed up on her knowledge.” She said.

“Maybe I should visit there one day too.” said Spike.

“Neighponese dragons are different than your regular Equestrian dragons though, Spike. Equestrian dragons are just… nasty. Present company excluded of course.”

No argument there. I think Spike is pretty much the only exception. Well, not counting a certain blue dragoness. A series of horns blared briefly, catching everypony’s attention.

“Announcing her royal highness, Princess Luna!” A voice rang out.

Luna appeared on a balcony overlooking the ballroom. I must admit she looked very regal, if slightly old fashioned in her toga and silver regalia. But then, it is a style that I think suits her well. It shows both grace and power. Two things she has in spades.

“Greetings my loyal subjects,” Boomed her royal canterlot voice, “We welcome thee to this most glorious eve. Long has it been since last We saw so many ponies enjoy themselves under the light of our moon. It warms our heart to see such revelry. So eat, drink and dance. The night is young and should be enjoyed. Thank you.”

And with that she was gone again. Most ponies milled around a tad confused for a moment before they shrugged it off and resumed whatever it was they were doing. Mostly drinking and chatting. Which I thought was kind of rude of them. I mean the least they could do was give her some polite applause, or any sign of appreciation.

“She looked nervous to Trixie.”

“Really? She looked just fine to me.”

“Trust Trixie, she has put on enough performances to recognise stage fright in a pony. She was barely holding it together during that little speech.”

“Guess she’s still self conscious about speaking in public.”

While we talked I sampled some of the fish. I couldn’t taste any of the spices or seasonings they had used on them, but the fish itself tasted well enough. I wonder if they would taste better raw. I noticed that most of the ponies around the table were pegasi, and the occasional earth pony. It seems the unicorns avoided the fish at all cost. Unlike Trixie, who was digging into her plate of food with gusto while making little noises of content.

“Enjoying the food Trixie?”

She looked up from her plate, a fishtail partly hanging out of her mouth like a cat with a toy, and her eyes were overflowing with joy. It was diabetes inducing levels of cute. She swallowed her little morsel before speaking.

“Oh yes, It’s been too long since Trixie last had a chance to enjoy food this good.”

“Would you like something to drink to wash it down?”

“If you wouldn’t mind?” she said.

“Sure, I’ll be right back.”

With that I moved a few tables down the line where they served beverages. Anything from fruit punch to champagne. I figured champagne would be a fitting choice to start off the evening and moved to grab a couple of... flutes I believe those glasses are called?

“Well well well, the everfree creature, how simply delightful to meet you in person.” Said a smooth voice beside me.

I turned to see a stallion with a dark brown coat green eyes and a small, coal black beard standing there. I immediately disliked the guy for some reason. He gave off a strange vibe for lack of a better term that just screamed wrongness at me.

“And you are?” I answered as casually as possible. Fighting the growing urge to impale him.

“Ah forgive my manners. I am called Poncho, I am a merchant. I run a successful trade caravan as well as a small fleet of several merchant ships.”

“And how do you know who I am?”

“I have a bit of a weakness for gossip, it's one of my many vices.” He gave me what I assume was meant to be a disarming smile, but it just oozed sleaziness. “Current rumors say you fought side by side with princess Luna against a swarm of pony eating spiders. Is that true?”

“Yes.”

“Then I simply must thank you for keeping the roads safe for travel. After all, my business depends on it. If you ever need work, my caravans could always use strong bodyguards. The roads outside of equestria can be dangerous after all.”

“I will keep that in mind. Thank you. Now if you'll excuse me? My date is waiting.” I excused myself.

“Of course, don’t let me keep you.”

It felt good to be out of his immediate presence. Whoever this Poncho is, I don’t trust him one bit. Talking to him felt as if I was being sized up by some unseen predator. Not a sensation I’m accustomed to. Not to mention that overwhelming urge to inflict bodily harm. Where the heck did that come from?

Whatever it was it could wait, I wasn’t going to let the evening be ruined by one unexplained irrational feeling. I turned back to the table to do what I came for, namely to grab Trixie and myself something to drink. As I made my way back to her the whispers of the crowd once again found their way to my non existent ears. Snide comments and remarks, cruder than crude jokes. An insult aimed at either my own, or Trixie’s parentage.

I mentally sighed in disgust. We had been here barely an hour and already I felt like torching the damn place and everyone in it. It’s not like I hadn’t expected this to happen, I just didn’t think it would tick me off as much as it did. It wasn’t even the insults aimed at me that bugged me. I’m pretty thick skinned. It was the ones aimed at Trixie. I get that they would feel a certain amount of animosity to a creature like myself, but she’s just an ordinary pony who’s down on her luck. By what right do they think they can talk about her that way? They can all just explode for all I care. Preferably twice.

Seriously, screw those damn aristocrats and nobles. Here I am just trying to enjoy the evening with my friend, and they look at us as if we just took a collective piss in their salad. Oh but I will have the last laugh. I had expected something like this, and thus I came prepared.

I popped out Herb, my special bellsprout. The one that once brought me a frog. Yeah I decided to ‘save’ him. It’s kind of like making a backup copy of a file. I can save certain personality traits my bellsprouts exhibit and then implant those whenever I spawn one. And the more I use the same one, the more developed it seems to become. With a couple of instructions I send Herb on his way. The grin on my face must have been very disturbing, since ponies all but jumped out of my path as I made my way back to Trixie.

“Where did Spike go?” I asked upon my return, seeing how the little drake was absent.

“He went to find Twilight. Said something about learning more about his dragon origins. Whats with the crazy smirk?”

“Oh nothing, just had some amusing thoughts is all.” I said as I handed her a champagne flute.

We silently enjoyed our drinks for a minute. I sipped mine very carefully in order to test how much the alcohol in it would affect me. Fortunately the actual alcohol content turned out to be pretty weak and I was able to enjoy it without the risk of ending up as a gibbering mass of vegetation on the floor. Things abruptly livened up as Pinkie Pie got on the stage to sing the Pony Pokey, much to the annoyance of the stuffy crowd of canterlot elites. I for one enjoyed their discomfort. Then something weird started to happen. As if by magic, ponies around us suddenly started to change.

A mare exploded out of her dress as her coat suddenly turned into a giant ball of fluff. She looked like a hairy marshmallow, barely able to move about. A unicorn stallions horn suddenly drooped as if it were made of rubber and smacked him between the eyes.

“What’s going on?” Trixie asked.

“I haven’t a clue.”

A dozen more bizarre transformations occurred all around the ballroom. Ponies growing or shrinking, their coats changing color. Bodyparts swelling up or changing into something else. Even a couple of cases of explosive flatulence, much to the misfortune of anypony standing nearby. Things completely broke down for a bit as the afflicted parties started to panic. Up to the point where Celestia had to step in and order the afflicted guests be taken away for medical examination. After that things finally seemed to return to some semblance of normalcy.

“That was bizarre.” Trixie said.

“Sure was. But it was kind of funny to watch too.” I said with a smirk.

Trixie eyed me suspiciously. “You had something to do with that, didn’t you?”

“Not telling.” I said in a singsong voice.

Trixie gave a small snort but couldn’t hide a grin. We just stood there in companionable silence for a bit. Merely enjoying the others presence. I would have been content to spend the rest of the evening that way, but it seemed the universe had other plans.

“Beatrix Lobelia Lulamoon.” Came a voice from behind us. Both of us turned to see Lord Grimoire Lulamoon approach. “I knew it was you! Probably thought I wouldn’t recognise you in that fancy getup!”

Trixie’s expression turned frosty. “Grandfather.” She greeted in a tone that was barely tepid.

“Never thought I would see the day were you would attend the gala. Finally had enough of living as a vagabond?”

“Trixie is not a vagabond, grandfather. Trixie is a performer!”

“Pfheh, you should put your talents to use on something worthwhile.”

“Wait, Beatrix Lobelia?” I said after my brain did a small reboot.

“It… it’s Trixie’s full name.” She said with a hint of embarrassment.

“Wait, I recognize you.” Grimoire said after he got a closer look at me. “We sent you to jail.”

“If you will recall, sir, the princess pardoned me.”

"Hanging out with ex convicts now too? How low have you fallen?” Grimoire asked her, completely ignoring me as if I was no longer there.

“There’s no need to be rude grandfather.” Trixie fumed.

“I see there’s still no reasoning with you. If only you took after your father instead of that… mare.”

“You leave Trixie’s mother out of this!” She all but yelled at him.

“Sir, you are upsetting my date. I must ask you to leave us alone.”

“Date? You are dating this, thing! Have you lost what remained of your senses!” he shouted, getting in her face.

She wrinkled her nose as she got a full whiff of his breath and shoved him back with a hoof. “You are drunk grandfather. Perhaps you should go home.”

“How dare you tell me what to do! I took you in. Raised you. You could have had a brilliant career in magical research, you could have made a name for yourself. More importantly you could have upheld the family name. But no, you turned your back on everything in order to pursue some childish dream in showbusiness. You may think yourself to be the next Hoofdini, but you are nothing but a failed, second rate showpony. And yet you have the gall to speak to me this way.”

He tried to get back in her face, but I blocked his path. “Sir, you need to calm down before this gets ugly.”

“I will show you ugly you monster.” He snarled as he charged up a spell.

I reached out for his horn, my hoof morphing into a hand in order to grip it. My fist closed around the tip like a vice, eliciting a surprised yelp of pain from him. With a shove I pushed him back against the buffet table.

“Now you listen to me, sir.” I all but growled that last word in his face, my voice dangerously low, ”The only reason you aren’t a smear on the floor right now is because as far as I know, you, are the only living family she has left. And it would probably upset her if I melted you into goo. Now I’m going to release you, and you are going to get the buck out of here and sleep off your drunken stupor. You understand me?”

With another mild shove I released him, stepping back to stand beside Trixie. He glared at us with anger and disgust. Slowly moving away from us with as much dignity as he could muster.

“This isn’t the end of it. Mark my words.”

“Go suck a lemon, you cantankerous old prick!” Trixie shouted at his retreating form.

As he vanished into the crowd, I turned to face Trixie and let out a sigh of disgust. “Sweet fucking bat ponies, is he always such a tool?”

She said nothing, she just stared in the distance with anger and hurt in her eyes. All around us ponies were staring.

“Nothing to see here folks. C’mon, shows over.” I said whilst making a shooing motion with my hooves. Soon enough they lost interest and resumed their activities.

“Hey, you okay?” I asked quietly.

She let out a deep weary sigh. “Trixie will be fine.”

We silently lingered at the buffet table for a little longer. Neither of us really sure what to say at that point. It certainly wasn’t how we envisioned the evening to go.

“So, Beatrix huh?” I asked after the silence had dragged on for far too long. Anything to get past that awkward moment.

“Please don’t tease Trixie.”

“I’m not, promise. I just think it's a nice name. If I recall correctly it means she who makes happy, or, she who brings happiness, correct?”

“So Trixie’s mother used to say. Its older Equestrian and hardly used these days. Trixie’s father always said that she picked the name because when she found out she was pregnant with Trixie, it made her the happiest mare alive.”

I couldn’t help but smile at that. “They both sound like wonderful ponies.”

“Trixie misses them so much.” she mumbled, her voice thick with emotion.

“I know how you feel.”

“Do you?”

“In a way. My parents were both alive and well last time I saw them, but they are in an entirely different dimension, with no way for me to reach them. The chances of me ever seeing them again without some form of divine intervention are practically zero. In a way, they might as well be dead. So trust me when I say I know how you feel.”

We stood together in silence once more.

“This evening sure took a depressing turn all of a sudden.” I said with a little disgust in my voice.

“Then, why don’t we change that.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Dance with Trixie.” she said, giving me a little tug towards the dancefloor.

I fumbled. “I don’t know how to dance.”

“That’s okay, Trixie will teach you.”

“I didn’t know you knew how to dance.”

“The Great and Talented Trixie has many skills you don’t know about. She can dance, she can sing, and she makes a mean cheddar mushroom omelette.” She said with a wink.

“Alright then, oh great and talented Trixie. My fate is in your hooves.” I said with a grin as I followed her to the dancefloor.

And so we danced. I won't bother you with the details. Suffice to say it was very awkward at first. If you think it's hard dancing on two feet, try coordinating four hooves. It was only thanks to her patience and guiding my steps that I didn't make a complete ass of myself. Thankfully this wasn’t some complicated waltz they were playing. We must have been dancing for close to fifteen minutes. Just moving and swaying to the music without a care in the world, simply enjoying eachothers company.

“I’m still surprised you’re such a good dancer Trixie.”

“Why?” she asked with a slight tilt of her head.

“I don’t know, you just never really struck me as the type who enjoyed it.”

“Not at first. Trixie was forced to take lessons when she was younger as part of ‘a proper upbringing. Trixie didn’t really learn to appreciate her lessons until she got older. Dancing is an expression of joy and emotion, of energy, and life. A truly gifted dancer is able to seduce a person’s senses and emotions with just the movement of their own body. At least that is what Trixie’s teacher used to say.”

“This teacher of yours wasn’t a pole dancer was she?”

“A what now?”

“Ignore that, my brain forgot to engage its filters for a second.”

“You are so strange sometimes. But, that is one of the things Trixie likes about you. You are unique, and you accept Trixie for who she is, without reservations.”

“I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t. Besides, what’s not to like about you?”

She smiled coyly. We were slow dancing to some classical tune I could not identify when she leaned close to me, a pinkish glow tinting her cheeks. Her face inched closer and closer to mine. Her breath tickled against my skin as her lips slightly parted.

The music abruptly screeched to a halt as a familiar voice suddenly filled the room.

“Alright everypony, you wanted to paartay, so let’s paaartaaay!” Pinkie Pie shouted as a funky disco beat filled the ballroom.

We both looked up to find Pinkie standing on the band stage behind a DJ mixer. Where did she get that thing? I noticed Trixie glaring daggers at the pink pony, who was now running around the ballroom, trying to get more ponies to cut loose and dance to the beat with little success.

“I think we might want to get off the dance floor Trixie.” If I was right, things were about to get hectic.

“Fine, mood’s gone anyway.” She muttered.

“What was that?”

“Nothing. Lets just get some punch or something.”

We had barely made it off the dancefloor when the ballroom doors banged open and Applejack walked in, pushing a trolley laden with a big heavy cake.

“Okay, all you high-class ponies. Here's a highfalutin apple cake for your hoity-toity taste buds.”

Aaand here it comes.

“Stage dive!” Pinkie screamed, leaping off the stage in a swan dive. Straight into Applejacks trolley.

The cake went sailing through the air, right at the opposite doors where Rarity and Blueblood just entered. Both of them screamed, and then Blueblood pushed Rarity in front of himself. Using her as a living shield. I facehoofed as the cake impacted with rarity’s face. Showering her with its sticky sugary goodness. Her temper boiled over as she took in the devastation the cake had wrought on her ensemble, and she rounded on Blueblood with murder in her eyes..

“You, sir, are the most uncharming prince I have ever met! In fact, the only thing royal about you is that you are a royal pain!”

“Ewww...! Uh, stay back! I just had myself groomed!” Blue shouted with panic. Scrambling away from her.

“Afraid to get dirty?! Uaarghhhh!” Rarity all but roared as she shook herself violently like a dog trying to get dry. Showering Blueblood and anypony else nearby with bits of cake and splashes of frosting.

Blue let out a scream and tried to flee the onslaught, only to run right into the ornamental statue they had placed in ballroom for the occasion. The statue wobbled and began to topple over, only for Rainbow dash to zoom in and catch ot on her back. I’m still not sure how she avoided injuring her spine in the process. Dash let out a shout of triumph, but not a moment later she lost control as the statue overbalanced and rolled off her back, only to smash into one of the ballroom pillars. The resulting domino effect saw it topple forward into the next one, and the next one. The room shook as pillar after pillar smashed into each other and crumbled. Until not a single one remained intact. The ballroom floor was littered with rubble. Several refreshment tables had been smashed, and the food spilled out onto the floor. It looked as if a bomb had gone of in there.

“Okay, this is getting ridiculous.” Trixie stated.

“Wait for it.” I deadpanned.

The room shook again, and then the double doors leading into the palace gardens burst open to admit a stampede of animals. It was utter pandemonium after that.

“You’re.. going to..LOVE MEEEE!” the normally timid voice of Fluttershy boomed across the chamber like the roar of a dragon.

I leaned against the wall as I observed the chaos with a bemused expression. Trixie stood next to me, staring wide eyed as a pair of chipmunks climbed into a nobles hat. The owner shrieked and flailed about wildly, knocking over the pony next to him who in turn fell into a table, which promptly collapsed. Showering bystanders with confectionaries. The chain reaction pretty much kept going from there, with animals or ponies knocking each other over. The destruction was total as within minutes there wasn’t a single piece of furniture left intact. Everypony was screaming and hollering, running to and fro in a blind stupor. I bet you Discord would have loved seeing this. A sharp whistle from Twilight saw the mane six rush out the door at Celestia’s urging.

“Let’s get out of the way.” I said to Trixie as I casually strolled out of the ballroom.

“How can you be so calm about all this? And how did you know what was happening? Did you do this?”

“No I didn’t do that. As for how I knew, I really cannot tell you. Not yet.”

“Why not? What’s the big secret?”

I looked her straight in the eyes. “I promise you that I will tell you one day. Just not today alright? I promise you.”

“You had better keep that promise, or Trixie shall be very cross with you.”

“You have my word Trixie.”

As we stood outside in the hall, just across from the main doors we were approached by Blueblood, who was cleaning the last bits of cake frosting out of his mane.

“Aunty’s sun covered flanks what an evening.” He grumbled as he joined Trixie and myself, having cleaned himself off as best he could.

“What the heck was that all about Blue? I’ve never seen you act so….”

“Insufferable?” Trixie opted.

“I was gonna say snobbish but that works too.”

“It’s a long story Aeron, I will explain later if that’s alright.”

“Look, Blue, I’m sure you had a good reason, but, you do know who that pony was right?”

“No, should I have known?” He said with mild confusion.

“That was our friend, Rarity.”

“Who?”

“Rarity, you know, wielder of the Element of Generosity?”

“Oh.... wait, WHAT! Please tell my you jest.” he cried, his face now showing mild panic

“I wish.”

He sat down heavily. “Oh no, ohhh no no no… I think I made a terrible mistake.”

“Wait, you seriously didn’t know?”

“NO! I swear, I had no idea who she was. I thought… I thought she was just another gold digging nobles daughter or somesuch, trying to ensnare me just to increase her social standing. And now it turns out she was one of aunties honoured guests.”

“Does that happen often? Mares trying to snare you for your status?” Trixie asked.

“Too often.” Blue groaned.

“How could you not recognise her after that whole ceremony when we defeated Discord?”

Blue looked embarrassed. “I am, terrible at remembering ponies faces most of the time. Its why I always bring my trusted aide with me whenever I have to discuss politics. Just to keep track of who is who.”

“Didn’t Celestia introduce you? seeing as they were her personal guests this evening I figured she would have at least bothered to inform you.”

His expression turned into the equivalent of a stormcloud.

“She couldn’t have… she.. Oh that.. AUNTY!” he yelled, and stormed off.

“So what now?” Asked Trixie.

“Now? Now we wait for Blue to grab Celestia, then we go and have some coffee and donuts. If that’s okay with you of course.”

Trixie looked over her shoulder at the devastation that used to be the ballroom as several members of the palace staff tried to calm and gather up the animals, whilst the nobility continued milling around in a panic.

“Eh, party is pretty much over anyway.” She said with a smirk. “Some coffee sounds good to Trixie right about now.”

It took maybe half an hour before Blueblood reappeared, a rather chastised looking Celestia following in his wake. With the situation inside the palace mostly under control, and the palace staff on top of it, it was alright for them to depart and see to other matters. Just before we left I briefly lingered by the ballroom door to pick up Herb.


******************

Donut Joe’s was a pretty nice place. Reminded me of a typical American diner mixed with a bakery. As the four of us approached the doors we heard voices coming from inside.

“That had to be like the worst night ever.” came the voice of Spike.

“IT WAS!” all the girls shouted in unison.

“I just hope Princess Celestia isn't upset with us for ruining the Gala.” Twilight spoke sadly.

As if on cue, Celestia picked that moment to throw open the doors to allow us entry.

“That was the best Grand Galloping Gala ever!” She yelled with gusto.

All of the girls gasped. “Princess Celestia!”

“Pardon me, Princess, but tonight was just awful.” Twilight said meekly.

“Oh, Twilight. The Grand Galloping Gala is always awful.” Celestia chuckled.

“It is?”

“That is why I was thrilled you were all attending. I was hoping you could liven things up a bit.”

It was then that Rarity spotted Blueblood standing behind Celestia.

“YOU!” She growled with fire in her eyes.

“Hang on Rarity, hear the poor stallion out.” I said.

“Why should I? Why should I not simply clobber him into donut filling?”

“Please just listen.”

Blueblood stepped forward.

“Miss Rarity I owe you a great apology. What happened tonight, the way I treated you, If I had but known who you were I would never have acted that way.”

Rarity raised an angry eyebrow.

“You see, I was under the impression you were yet another greedy mare who was only interested in me because of my status. If somepony,” He glared at Celestia, who had the decency to look sorry, despite a grin tugging at her lips, “would have bothered to introduce us, or at least tell me of your identity I never would have assumed such a thing.”

“But why assume such a thing in the first place.” Asked Applejack.

“Because this would not have been the first time it has happened. Every year at the gala it’s the same thing. Mares approach me, trying to hook up, hoping to elevate their social status, or simply wanting money. So this year I decided to put on an act. I thought that if I acted like a complete and utter spoiled, narcissistic snob I could scare them off. I am sorry you got caught up in my ill conceived plan. And I owe you an apology as well miss Apple. The food you served was actually quite delicious.”

“Aww shucks, ah forgive ya pardner.” AJ waved off the apology.

“And you miss Rarity? Can you find it in you to forgive me?” He asked while bowing deeply to her.

Rarity mused it over for a minute, her angry scowl slowly melting away. “Alright, I forgive you.”

“Thank you miss Rarity.” Blueblood said in relief.

“Do you think we could perhaps do it over sometime? Dinner perhaps?” Rarity asked with a flutter of her eyes.

“Ah, forgive me miss Rarity, you are a very attractive mare, and I am sure you will make some lucky stallion very happy one day. But…”

“But what? Is there something wrong with me?”

“NO! No, not at all. Its simply that ehm…. I… prefer the company of, uhm… stallions.” he said with a heavy blush. “I hope you will do me the kindness of not spreading that information around.”

Rarity’s blush matched his in strength. “Oh my, of course I shall be, discreet… oh dear is it getting warm in here?” she fanned herself with a hoof.

“We could still go out for dinner sometime though. If only to make up for the horrible way I treated you tonight. I know a nice little place on restaurant row that serves a delightful pasta.”

“Actually, that would be quite lovely.” Rarity said with a smile.

“But why ask us to keep quiet about who you like? There’s nothing wrong with liking stallions, or mares for that matter. Or both.” Dash cut in.

“Something you wish to share with us Rainbow?” AJ said teasingly.

Dash blushed and rubbed the back of her neck. “It’s not important.”

“The reason I ask you to keep it quiet is because there are certain elitists among the nobility who would abuse the information and use it against me somehow.” Blue said.

“Let’s not sour the mood with talks of nobles and politics. Besides, they will have more than enough to deal with in the next few days.” I smirked.

Twilight, seeing my smirk gave me a mild glare. “What did you do?” she demanded.

“Oh I may or may not have had my little Herb here,“ I pointed at the bellsprout that emerged from my mane, ”spike all the fancy hors d'oeuvres and punch with poison joke.”

Twilight’s eye twitched, but before she could say anything Celestia burst into laughter. And I don’t mean her usual dainty giggle. I’m talking bang her hoof on the table gasping for air with tears in her eyes kind of laughter. The look on Twilight’s face was absolutely priceless. I wish I had a camera to preserve the moment.

“That was your doing?” Celestia asked between guffaws “Oh that was priceless. But why did it only affect some guests and not all?”

“Well I used normal poison joke pollen on the food. But I used a poison joke potion on some of the punch bowls. So the ones who only enjoyed the food will feel the effect tomorrow. Those who had the punch were affected within a few minutes.”

“How did you get a poison joke potion?” asked Blue

“Well…”


***************

Yesterday at Zecora’s place

“Tell me that you did not misspoke, did you ask me for poison joke?”

“That’s right. If you could whip up a flask of poison joke potion I would appreciate it.”

"Brew this potion indeed I can, but first I’d like to know your plan."

“I just want to use it for a bit of pranking. Nothing nefarious. In fact I could just create some poison joke plants at will, but the effects wouldn’t be immediately visible. With your potion it would be almost instantaneous. Which is what I require. I promise you nopony will be harmed.”

“While it may be a tad immature, a prank I can appreciate for sure. I shall brew it within the hour, but please do not misuse its power.”

“Trust me Zecora, the ones I plan to use it on deserve a good pranking.”


******************

the present

“That is a dangerous thing to use for a mere prank.” Twilight scolded.

“Are you kidding?” Dash shouted, “That’s brilliant! But wait, what about us? Will we be affected too?”

“Probably, however the effects of poison joke can be cured almost instantly with a simple herbal bath, but if left untreated it will vanish on its own in three to five days. And while the effects can be a nuisance they do no permanent harm. It’s a strange and highly magical plant, but it’s not malicious.” I quoted from the book on natural remedies.

“But uhm..why did you do that? Why did you prank everypony at the gala?” Fluttershy asked quietly.

“Because, with the exception of a few, present company included, all the others there were a bunch of absolutely fucking horribly cunts. You should have heard some of the shit they whispered behind our backs.” I said vehemently

Several of them blushed at my choice of words. Twilight gasped so hard I thought she was gonna choke on her own tongue and clamped her hooves over spikes ears. Or whatever you call those little fin things on his head.

“Again with the profanity, and in front of the princess no less, how could you!”

“He’s right though my faithful student. As much as I love all my little ponies, some of them are horrible fucking cunts at times.” Celestia deadpanned in her motherly tone.

“I think you just gave poor Twilight a stroke princess.” Rarity said whilst waving a hoof in front of a completely unresponsive Twilight’s eyes. She blindly stared into the distance with a look of utter shock plastered on her face.

“Oh dear, I did not mean to break her.”

“Maybe if you kiss her she will snap out of it.” I suggested offhandedly.

“The tabloids would have a field day.” Blueblood said with an amused snort. “I can see the headlines already. Scandal in Canterlot. Princess Celestia caught kissing her devoted protege.”

That got a response out of Twilight, who let out an undignified eep and a stream of protests.

“All nonsense aside though, my faithful student, while the evening may not have gone as you planned, I'm sure you'll agree that in the end it didn't turn out so bad for this group of friends” Celestia smiled at Twilight.

Twilight was lost in thought for a moment before she spoke up. “You're right, Princess. Friends have a way of making even the worst of times into something pretty great.”

“Yeah! Hanging out with friends!” Dash said with enthusiasm.

“Talking!” “Laughing!” Said Pinkie and Fluttershy.

“You mean doing exactly what I wanted to do the whole time?” Spike snarked.

“Yes, Spike. You were right.” Twilight said while she gave him a one legged hug.

“As horrible as our night was…” AJ began

“...being together here has made it all better.” Rarity finished.

“In fact, it's made it…” Pinkie began.

“..the best night ever!” They all shouted in unison.

As the girls talked and laughed with Celestia, and Rarity planned her dinner date with Blueblood, Trixie and I scooted into a quiet booth to enjoy a cup of coffee.

Was it the best night ever? Not a chance. But it was far from the most awful one. And I must admit, I looked forward to reading tomorrow's headlines when the poison joke kicked in and every stupid ponce who had been at the Gala would wake up to find themselves afflicted with something weird.

I patted Herb on his bulbous little flower head. “Good job little buddy.”

Chapter 25: When Fate gets bored, things go pear shaped.

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Chapter 25
When Fate gets bored, things go pear shaped.

The dining room back at the canterlot Palace was filled with chuckles as the two royal sister enjoyed breakfast while reading the newspaper. The headline for that morning edition’s main article read as follows:

Chaos in Canterlot.

From our local reporter Scoop Chase.
For the past two days, Canterlot has descended into chaos as all of the Canterlot Elite seem to have been struck with a mysterious affliction of unknown origins. Doctors have been unable to determine if this affliction is a disease, magical or of some other origin. The effects of the affliction have been many and varied, ranging from bizarre body part transformations to ponies spontaneously enlarging or shrinking, to many, many cases of explosive flatulence. Proving what most commoners already believe, namely that the elite of canterlot are just ‘full of hot air’. So far there have been no reports of the affliction spreading, and a statement from the royal health inspector assures us that there is no danger to the populace. On a brighter note, the outbreak has had a positive impact on the local economy, as the sales of perfumes and air freshener has gone through the roof. We will continue to update you on the situation as it develops.

Luna closed her paper with a chuckle. “We still can’t believe Aeron did this.”

“Believe it little sister, he told me so himself.”

“And thou art okay with this Tia? He essentially poisoned a full quarter or more of Canterlot’s population.”

“With completely harmless and frankly hilarious results.” Celestia chuckled.

“The noses of the nobility would disagree with thee sister. In fact, when the winds blow from the east thou can smell the result all the way over here. The cities upper tier smells like an open sewer.”

“What would you have me do luna? Arrest him?”

“Hardly, we are fully aware we are playing devil’s advocate here. The nobility of Canterlot deserved to be taken down a notch or two, which his prank has done admirably. Just remind us to keep the tower windows closed for the next few days.”

She gave an affirmative chuckle and went back to sipping her morning tea. “The effects should be gone within another day or two, I’m sure we can hold out till then.”

They sat in companionable silence, enjoying their breakfast, until Celestia raised a question. “Why didn’t you join us the other night Luna?”

“For what?”

“Don’t give me that Lulu, you know what I’m talking about. Why didn’t you join us at Donut Joe’s?”

“We did not wish to intrude upon thy time with thine student.”

“Is that really the reason?” Celestia asked with a raised brow.

“Alright, we felt, awkward.”

“But why dear sister?”

“We, don’t know.”

“Are you certain you weren’t just avoiding Twilight and the others.”

Luna sighed. “We are eternally grateful to thy protege and her friends for restoring us to our senses. But we are not yet ready to face them again. We need more time. Time to get used to being without our other self.”

“Luna, I don’t wish to push you but have you considered counseling?”

“Whatever for?”

“Because your progress has been rather… erratic. You are ready to jump into battle at the drop of a hat, but the idea of talking to six young friends, or merely mingling at a party has you all but hiding under your bed.”

“We did not hide under our bed! There wasn’t enough room, so we made do with our cupboards.”

Celestia stared at her sister with open mouth

“That was a joke Tia.”

“Oh.” she said awkwardly.

“Wait, did thou think we were serious. We are not a little foal, sister.”

“I’m sorry, Luna.”

“Thou hath better be. As we recall thou were the one hiding rather than face us upon our return.”

Celestia let out an undignified sputter.

“That is so not.. How could you.. Lunaaa!”

Luna burst into laughter.

“Thy face is priceless sister.”

Celestia sulked. “That wasn’t funny Lulu. I was so afraid back then. Afraid that you had returned, only for me to lose you all over again.”

“Sorry sister, we did not mean to make light of thine feelings.”

“It’s alright Lulu. I’m just glad it all worked out in the end and that you are here with me now.”

They shared a brief hug.

“Thou had better get ready sister. Court opens in less than thirty minutes.”

“I just hope none of the visitors are afflicted with explosive farts.” Celestia said with a shudder.

“We know an air freshening spell.”

“Teach me, quick.”

********************



It was early morning at the Golden Oaks library in Ponyville. We were sitting around Twilight’s kitchen table, having breakfast. That is to say, Spike, Twilight and Trixie were having breakfast. I was just enjoying their company, since I couldn’t eat grass pancakes or daisy sandwiches. Even if I could they would probably taste like something inane such as cotton candy or marshmallows or even peanut butter candy. I honestly don’t understand why everything I eat tastes like candy in one form or another. Maybe it’s my mind that can’t make sense of a plant’s sense of taste, if such a thing even exists. So in its confusion its making me taste candies? Ugh, not knowing the answer could drive a guy to drink. Trying to forget the enigma that was my sense of taste, I focused my attention on Trixie, who was giggling and snorting as she read through todays paper.

“What’s so funny?” Twilight asked.

“Trixie finds this article hilarious.”

“Is this about the aftermath of Aerons prank?”

“Sure is.”

“What does it say?” I asked casually. A smirk tugging at my lips.

“See for yourself.” Trixie said and hoofed over the paper.

“Uhm.. that won’t do me much good.”

“Why?”

“I can’t read this.”

“What do you mean you can’t read that?” Came Twilight’s shocked voice.

Oh snap! “I didn’t say that.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “I heard you loud and clear you know. What’s going on?”

I mentally sighed. “Fine, I can’t read your language.”

“Are you illiterate?” Spike asked bluntly.

“Heck no. I can read and write just fine.Back home I’d love to spend a few hours relaxing with a good book. It’s just that whatever language you guys use makes no sense to me.”

“What do you mean? You speak perfectly good Equestrian Common.” Said Twilight.

“Except that to me you guys are all speaking English. I have no idea how that works and frankly it’s not worth the headache trying to figure it out. My point is, while I’m perfectly capable of understanding your spoken language, your written language is completely alien to me. It looks like a mixture of two or three different foreign languages from my home dimension. One of which is considered an extinct one.”

“Why did you not say something sooner? We can help you, you know. I can set up a lesson plan, and I’m sure I have some books for foals to help them learn to read. Oh and we’ll need a dictionary, a thesaurus and… what?” Twilight drifted off as she noticed me staring at her.

“That’s why.”

“What do you mean that’s why?”

“Twilight, you have a love for learning and academics that is both admirable and beautiful. But that same passion makes you tend to go overboard when trying to impart knowledge unto others. And it’s hard to reign in that enthusiasm once you build up steam. Which is kind of why I avoided the subject within earshot of you.”

Her ears drooped. “Am I really that bad?”

“It’s not bad as in wrong, Twilight. You just need to learn to do things in moderation when others are involved, since not everyone has you boundless enthusiasm, nor your brilliant mind.”

That brought the smile back to her face. “So can I still help you learn?”

“Sure. In fact I would appreciate the help of all of you.”

“The great and knowledgable Trixie will do whatever she can to assist you.” She declared with gusto, making me crack a smile.

“Well I think I have a good place to start for you.” Twilight said as she levitated over a small colorful book with lots of pictures.

“Fillies First Words?” Spike deadpanned, reading the title. “Isn’t that like, for babies.”

“I thought the visuals would help make things easier to remember.” Twi said sheepishly, a blush tinting her cheeks. “I guess it’s a liiiitle embarrassing.”

“There are worse things one could be doing than having to read a children’s book.” I said.

“Like what?” Trixie asked.

“Like having to explain where babies come from.”

Both Twilight and Trixie blanched at that. Spike just looked confused.

“Don’t babies hatch from eggs?”

“Only if you’re a dragon, or a bird. Do Griffons lay eggs?” I asked.

“Then where do other babies come from?” He asked Twilight. Who gave me a ticked off glare that said: ‘Now look what you did!’

“Uhm.. well, you see spike.. Theres the mother and.. The father and uhm... “ Twilight stammered.

“You should ask Fluttershy, Spike. She deals with newborn animals all the time, she could explain it to you.” I said.

Twilight let out a sigh of relief.

“Really?” Spike asked.

“She explained it to the Crusaders, or so I heard.”

“How would you know that?” Asked Twilight.

“Because they told me so, duh.”

“And why were you talking about reproduction with a bunch of little fillies?” She asked in a dangerous tone.

“Whoa whoa whoa, halt!” I said with horror. “Stop that train of thought right there! It’s NOT what you’re thinking.”

Twilight suddenly smirked. “Had you going there didn’t I?” She said with a devious chuckle.

I stared at her open mouthed. “That… that was a nasty joke to pull.”

“Says the guy who infected the entire gala with poison joke.” Trixie deadpanned with a grin of her own.

I wanted to argue, but I realized I had nothing.

“Okay you got me.”

“Consider it payback for the other night.” Twilight smirked.

“Why miss Sparkle, I didn’t know you had such a vicious streak.”

“Why good sir, you will find that I am full of surprises.” she said in a haughty, upper Canterlot accent.

I gave her a smirk of my own. “I guess the saying holds true across dimensions. Bookish girls are secretly the naughtiest.”

Aaand Twilight.EXE has encountered a problem. Abort, Retry, Cancel. I win this round, Sparkle.

She was staring at me with a mortified expression. Her face turning a lovely shade of magenta. Trixie was apparently just as amused by her response as I was, judging by her raucous laughter.

“I don’t get it.” Spike deadpanned and resumed eating his gem pancake.



The rest of breakfast was rather uneventful. After putting the dishes in the sink we all moved to the main floor of the library.

“So what’s on the agenda for today?”

“Actually we’re supposed to meet the rest of the girls and get ready for the dragon migration. Which mostly just involves digging a trench and little else until it’s time.” Twilight said sheepishly.

Wait, already? But it’s only been a few days since the gala. I guess the chronology of the timeline is a lot more different than I thought. Or perhaps it’s the episodes that are out of order. Considering the seasons seem to change at random in the show, that might just be the case. Ah well I’ll just roll with it.

“Aeron, are you listening?”

“I'm sorry, what was that Twilight? I was lost in thought for a moment.”

“I asked if you could help us with the trench. It would be a nice opportunity to observe your other magic at work.”

“So long as you don’t plan on sticking me full of sensor patches again.”

“No, I’ll just bring some attunement crystals and a spectrometer.”

“Whatever makes you happy Twi.”


We exited the library and walked out of town. About half a mile out we came to a halt in a grassy field near some bushes. The grass had a blueish lavender color rather than the usual green. I had no idea why this was so. Maybe it was a strange Equestrian variant of normal grass? Maybe it was magic? Just another item on the list of endlessly growing questions about how this world worked. Half of which could probably be answered with the age old phrase: “It's magic, I ain't gotta explain shit.”

“This looks like a good spot. Alright Aeron,” Twilight said as she lifted a boxy device with several colored crystals poking out of it, “Give it your best shot.”

I shrugged and focused my magic. Calling upon my earth moving ability still feels a little strange compared to my normal magical powers, probably because I haven’t really used these all that much yet. It’s hard to describe in terms anyone can understand. Best way to explain is like… like turning a light switch. My normal magic is like a green light. Then when I use my other magic it’s as if the light goes from green to blue. Making everything appear slightly different. It’s also different in its execution. Where my normal magic is largely controlled by my thoughts alone, this ability is partially controlled by my physical movements. I have no doubt that in time I can master this magic and use it without all the hand and arm gestures, but it’s simply easier for now than having to visualise everything. It’s why I find it the easiest to perform in a humanoid form, which I promptly assumed.

Shapeshifting on the other hand has become like second nature by now. I can slip from one form into another with barely a conscious thought or effort unless I’m trying a radically new form. Still it always feels nice to be walking on two legs. I guess after more than thirty years as a bipedal life-form it feels safe and familiar to go back to it on occasion. Like slipping on a well worn, comfortable jacket. But enough of these wandering thoughts.

I reached out with my hands and my magic grasped at the earth. Then I casually threw my arms sideways. Like Moses at the red sea the ground in front of us split down the middle and a wide trench formed in the earth. I made a downward punching motion and the earth around the edge of the trench compacted and hardened. Preventing it from collapsing back into the trench.

“That about good enough?” I asked as I glanced over to Twilight, who had a scowl on her face. “Is something wrong?”

“No no, it's fine, everything's fine.”

“Twilight? Why do you look so peeved? Was it something I did?”

“I’m sorry, it's just that... your magic is so vexing. Most of the things you do can be achieved through conventional magic. But not without great effort. And yet you seem able to throw your powers around without any effort at all. Where do you get that much power? How do you generate the required energy? I just can’t figure it out, and that frustrates me.”

“Honestly I don’t know. Most of the time I just draw on my own inner reserves. But I do take in magic from around me. The sunlight for instance is converted directly into energy. It sustains me and lets me function, and also serves to increase my magical reserves. When I try something really taxing I can draw upon other things, like the earth itself.”

“But even with all of that you are expending a lot more energy than you should be able to generate or convert in the time it takes for the magic to take effect. There has to be something more at work.”

“Sorry Twi, that’s all I know.”

She let out a deep sigh. “It’s fine, I’ll figure it out one day. And then I’ll write a paper on it. I’ll just have to observe you even closer.”

“Remember our deal. No going overboard.”

“But…”

“Yes your butt is very nice.”

“Wha.. I… wait, whu… Aeron! You can’t just say something like that.” She said all flustered.

“I can and I will so long as you keep reacting so hilariously.” I quipped as I walked back to town.

Seems I’ve figured out the perfect way to shut her down whenever she’s about to go off the deep end or launch into an endless argument. It takes her a couple of seconds to reboot her thought process and follow after me. All thoughts of research forgotten as she gives me an earful about making inappropriate remarks about a mare's hindquarters. Okay so it might not be the best way to shut her up after all. At least she’s not stealthily trying to probe me or collect samples or something equally borderline mad sciency.


Later that afternoon we are all huddled inside the trench. Well, all of us sans Fluttershy, who made a run for it after trampling Rainbow Dash into the dirt when she and Twilight came to get her. We were all just trying to pass the time while we waited. Some, like Trixie and Twilight, had brought a book along. Dash and AJ were trying to arm wrestle. Or is it just called a leg wrestle where ponies are concerned? I had stationed myself in the sunniest corner of the trench and was humming a tune while I soaked up the rays. The only other pony absent was Rarity. She would likely just claim to be fashionably late once she showed up.

“What is that song you are humming?” Twilight asked.

“Its called ‘The power of love’.”

“Dude thats sappy, cheesy and kinda lame” Said Dash.

“Remind me to put the entire song in a memory crystal sometime and let you hear it. See if you think it’s still lame afterwards.”

“Whatever dude.” Dash waved me off. I had half a mind to go over there and bop her on the head, but I restrained myself.

“It does seem a bit sappy for you.” AJ said with a smirk.

“What? Just because I’m a guy I can’t enjoy a good song for what it is.”

“Course not, you just didn’t strike me as the type is all.”

“Just shows you don’t know me as well as you think. Besides I like many sorts of songs. Some happy, some sad, some sappy, some extremely silly. And some that are just badass.”

“What do bad donkeys have to do with it?” Pinkie Pie asked.

“That’s not what that means. It means the song kicks butt.”

“That’s not very nice.” she said with a pout. “And how can a song kick some ponies heiney anyway?”

“Not literally, Pinkie. It’s just an expression.”

“Oooooh.... I don’t get it.”

“Nevermind.” I said. It’s a good thing I can’t get migraines. Because that would have given me one for sure. “Still, it’s not as lame as you think. Love is a source of great power after all.”

“Sure it is,” Dash rolled her eyes, “all it does is make ponies act stupid around each other.”

“Besides, everypony knows that the magic of friendship is the greatest power of all.” Twilight said.

“Silly Twilight, friendship is merely the bud from which love eventually blossoms. The magic of friendship is powerfull, sure. But love, love allows you to transcend any limit. If you love somepony enough you will move the very heavens with your bare hooves if you have to in order to see them safe and happy.”

“My ain't you suddenly the romantic one.” AJ smirked.

“Oh hush you, applebutt.”

“Applebutt? Don’tcha make me come over there and bite ya.”

“Howabout we settle this with an arm wrestle match?”

“No thanks, I’ve seen yer strength first hoof. No need to add injury to insult.”

Eventually we were joined by Rarity, whose eye watering purple, pink and yellow camouflage dress made me question her sanity. Honestly, it's called camouflage for a reason. The point is to blend in, not make those you’re trying to hide from go blind. Even if that would be an effective tactic.

“Ahoy, maties! Dragons ho!” Pinkie suddenly called out to us in the quietest voice I’ve heard from her to date. Soon the skies overhead were filled with dragons of all shapes, sizes and colors.

“Wow, amazing!” Twilight exclaimed as several dragons displayed some aerial acrobatics. To which the others also oohed and aahed. All that is except for Dash.

“Pfft, pretty lame move. Is that all they've got?”

I ducked into the ditch, as one of the dragons sent a stream of fire in our direction after getting in a tussle with one of its flight. Dash was a little too slow and got her mane singed.

“What do ya think of that 'move', Rainbow Dash? Still think they're lame?” AJ said smugly.

“Uh, not so much. The word 'fierce' comes to mind.”

“Not to mention 'formidable'.” Said Rarity.

“And 'super-duper scary'!” Pinkie added.

“Trixie would like assurance that we are indeed safe here. She did not brave a nest of pony eating spiders to end up as a dragon snack.” she said as she huddled deeper into the trench, quaking like a leaf.

“Don’t worry,” Twilight said with a smile, “we’re perfectly safe in here.

“Still, us dragons are definitely a force to be reckoned with.” Spike said with pride as he brought us some refreshments.

“Yeah, right, Spike. That's one of the scariest aprons I've ever seen!” Dash guffawed. The rest of the girls, sans Twilight. Joined in on the laughter.

“What's wrong with wearing an apron? You won't be laughing when you spill blueberries all over your scales, uh feathers. That's one tough stain!” Spike said as he tugged at the small apron he was wearing. It was purple and white with a heart embroidered onto it.

“One tough stain against one lame dragon.” Dash guffawed.

“Oi, lay off the boy, Dash.” I said, mildly annoyed at her attitude thus far.

“Oh come on, I’m just poking a little fun at him.”

“Aeron’s right.” Rarity said sternly. “Spike's style is unique. He doesn't have to look like other dragons.”

“Or act like them.” Twilight cut in.

“My little Spikey-wikey is perfect the way he is.”

“I don't act like other dragons?”

“Oh, not even close!” Said Pinkie.

“But why would ya want to, Spike?” AJ asked.

“Yes, you've got something those dreadfully fierce dragons can only dream of.” Rarity said.

“What's that?” Asked Spike, his eyes full of wonder.

“The cutest widdle chubby cheeks! Oooooh!” Rarity cooed as she pressed her hooves into Spike’s cheeks like some old grandma.

“Cute?! Dragons aren't supposed to be cute! Right?” Spike asked as he pushed Rarity’s hooves away from his cheeks. Normally he would be thrilled to be that close to her, but his frustrations and insecurity were getting the better of him.

“Oh, sweetie, you are turning the most delightful shade of red. It is most becoming.” she said.

Spike let out a frustrated growl and marched out of the trench.

“Oh, isn't he adorable when he waddles off in anger?”

“Waddle?! Arrrrggggh!” Spike shouted angrily and moved away faster.

“I’m disappointed in you girls.” I said with a sigh.

“Ahh come on Aeron, it’s just a little friendly ribbing.” Dash said.

“Not to him it wasn’t. You were pretty much making fun of his insecurities. Try putting yourself in his place. He’s a young dragon living in a culture completely different from his own. He has no idea where he comes from, and unlike you lot, he doesn’t have a cutie mark to help him find his lot in life. All he has ever known is the pony way of living. He has adopted your morals and values as his own, yet there’s a good chance it will make him a pariah among his own kind. He has no clue how to behave like a proper dragon. Which is important to him. And you girls were making fun of him for it.”

“I seem to recall you once said all dragons were a bunch of plot-holes.” Said Dash.

“That’s beside the point. Which was that you all should have been more considerate towards Spike’s feelings.”

“Gee, now ah feel bad for laughin’ at the little guy.” Said AJ, her ears drooping slightly.

“Me too.” added Pinkie.

“Good, because you should feel bad.” I said as I hoisted myself out of the trench and walked away.

“What a jerk.” Dash grumbled.

“He actually had a point though, Rainbow.” Said Twilight.

“Doesn’t mean he has to be so preachy about it.”

That was the last I heard of their conversation before I moved out of earshot.




Later that night I was sitting in the library’s main room, which pretty much doubled as Twilight’s livingroom. I was trying to learn how to read. Several children's books with pictures lay strewn around me. I had made a little progress, but not as much as I would have liked. The scribbly text portion of the language is easy enough to understand once you get the basics. But it's the damn pony hieroglyphs that throw me for a loop since their meaning depends a lot on the ones around them. You can have one that when translated on its own means fire, but when placed next to several others it means something like cooking water or boiling soup. Talk about over-complicating things.

After spending some more time trying to figure it out I tossed the book aside with a frustrated sigh. I needed a break. I looked around the moonlit room. It still feels rather amazing that all of this fits inside a single living tree. My curiosity peaked, I let my senses roam free and connected to the library itself. By now I’d felt enough lifeforce from various plants to immediately notice this one was a little different. It had been subtly altered by magical means in order for the tree to survive being hollowed out to this extend. It also felt much, much older than most of the others I’ve felt. It gave off a sense of age and wisdom. It felt very suitable to a place of learning and knowledge.

I was interrupted by Twilight and Spike who came down the stairs. Twilight’s horn briefly flared to ignite the magical lights around the room.

“Oh, hey Aeron, did we wake you?” Spike asked as he noticed me watching them.

“Nah, I don’t really sleep.”

“What were you doing sitting in the dark?”

“I was trying to talk to the tree.” I said as I waved my hoof at the ceiling.

“You can do that?”

“Sometimes. It's not the same as talking to you or Twilight. So what brings you two down here at this hour?”

“We’re going to do some late night research on dragons. I want to find out more about myself and what it means to be a dragon.”

“Good on you little buddy. It's important to feel good about yourself and know where you stand in life.”

“Would you like to help us?” Twilight asked.

“As much as I’d love to, my reading isn’t all that good yet.” I said as I held up one of the children's books ”But if you need someone to make you two some coffee, I’m your man.”

The hours passed, and two cups of coffee became an entire pot. Soon enough the first rays of the morning sun peeked over the distant horizon.

“Nothing. Nothing in this one either!” Twilight said with mounting frustration as book after book joined the discard pile.

“Nothing at all about dragons? This is getting ridiculous!” Spike shouted.

The door opened and Trixie waddled in, still half asleep. “Whats everypony yelling about so early.” She said with yawn and reached for the coffeepot.

“We were trying to research dragons, but so far we have found zip. It's hard to believe, but ponies know next to nothing about dragons. Apparently they're too scary to try to talk to or study!” Said Twilight.

“I wonder if dragons cry…” Spike said with moistening eyes. His frustrations getting the better of him.

Twilight hurried over and put her front legs around him, hugging him close to her. “Aw, Spike.”

“It's okay, Twilight,” he said after a moment, “I'm gonna discover who I am if it's the last thing I do!”

The front door slammed open and both Rarity and Rainbow dash stuck their heads in. “Yoohoo! Good morning!”

Spike gave a startled “Waugh!” and landed amidst a pile of books.

“Everypony be quiet!” Trixie screamed. “It’s too early for this level of noise!”

“And good morning to you too, Trixie.” Rarity said with a mild scowl.

“You guys wanna join us for breakfast?” Dash asked.

“That sounds great. I'm famished.” Twilight said.

“I don’t eat pony food, but I’ll join you guys out in the sunlight.” I said as I got up off my spot on the floor.

“Count me out. I've gotta get an early start!” Spike said as he began to gather together supplies, and putting them in a knapsack made from a tablecloth. “I'm going on a quest of self-discovery! I need to learn what it means to be a dragon! And the only way I'm gonna do that is to join the dragon migration!”

“You’re WHAT?!?” Everyone but me exclaimed, since I figured this was coming.

“Spike, that's nonsense talk! I know that you're a dragon, but those dragons mean business! They're big, and tough, and scary...” Rainbow started.

“And I'm small, and meek... and I like to wear aprons. See? This is exactly why I need to spend time with them.” Spike interrupted her.

“All I'm saying is that you could get hurt.”

“Darling, this time I really do have to agree with Rainbow Dash. I don't want those big, ugly, nasty dragons to hurt one little scale on your cutesy-wutesy head!” Said Rarity.

“I'm sorry, but I've made up my mind.”

“Oh, uh, quick, do something! Stop him before it's too late!”

“Don’t look at Trixie.” Trixie said with a shrug.

“I’m neither the boy’s father nor guardian. I have no right to stop him, and frankly neither do any of you.” I said when rarity turned her eyes to me.

“But he could get seriously hurt. We can’t let him run off by himself.”

“While I agree that we have no right to stop Spike, I share rarity’s concern for his safety.” Twilight said. “I want you to have this chance Spike, since neither I nor my books could help you. But not if it means risking your safety.”

“Well then, Aeron can come with me.”

“Wait what?” I said, unsure I heard correctly.

“He’s big and strong, and he fought a dragon before and won.” Said Spike. Making both me and the others cringe slightly. Since I had not so much won as much as murdered the hell out of that drake. “Plus he’s a shapeshifter. He could probably disguise himself easily.”

Everypony, and drake, turned to me with expectant looks on their faces. ‘Oh you goddamn bitch.’ I thought to myself as I briefly looked at the ceiling. Fate was having another go at me it seems. Or was this karma for my stunt at the gala? I swear I could hear a girl's coquettish laughter at my expense, though that was probably just my imagination.

“Well Aeron? Will you go with spike and keep him safe?” Twilight asked.

Looking at Spike’s hopeful expression, I didn’t have the heart to turn him down.

“Alright.” I said at long last. “But if I’m going to pass as a dragon I’m going to need Trixie’s help.

Trixie, who had been sipping coffee nearly choked and did a spit take.

“Say WHAT?!” she coughed.

“Look I can take on the shape of a dragon, but I will need your skilled illusions to complete the disguise.”

“B-but.. thats insane. You want to take Trixie on some trip to find and hang out with a big group of dragons. Are you trying to get Trixie killed?”

“I will keep you both safe, I promise. Please?”

Her ears lowered in defeat. “Fine, Trixie will come. Not because I like you or anything, but because somepony needs to be the voice of reason in the group.” She said with a slight huff.

“Noted.” I said while trying to suppress a grin. ‘Voice of reason my ass.’ I thought with a mental snort of amusement.

“Twilight, I can’t believe you’re letting them do this.” Rarity whispered to her.

“Don’t worry, we can follow them at a safe distance.”

“No, you won’t.” I said firmly, having overheard them. “This will be dangerous enough as it is. I won’t have you lot thrown into the mix too. I’ve got enough to worry about as it is.”

Besides, with my luck there’s probably going to be a few confrontations. I might have to say or do something nasty that I don’t want them to see, and subsequently report back to Celestia.

“But…” Twilight began, but I cut her off.

“What is it with you and your obsession with your own rear end, Twi?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about! This is not about my plot!” She exploded at me.

“Whats this about Twilight’s plot?” Dash asked in confusion.

“UUUGH!” Twilight groaned loudly in frustration. Her train of thought once more spectacularly derailed.

“Come on, let’s go outside. I’f I’m gonna be a dragon I’ll need some elbow room.” I said, putting deed to word and walked out the door.

“As long as it’s not like your imperio rex thing.” Trixie Said.

“His what now?” asked Spike.

“When we were facing the spiders he turned himself into this big and scary reptile thing.”

“That’s indominus rex, and no, I have something else in mind. Though not as large as the real thing. I’m not even sure I could maintain something so large.”

The six of us trotted out of town, across the river and into the rocky hillsides.

“Why are we going all the way out here?” Asked Dash.

“Because I need something, and I don’t want to ruin the street in front of Twilight’s home.”

“Would you stop being cryptic already and just get on with it.”

“Fine, this place should do I guess.”

We were on a flat little plateau surrounded by rocky outcrops. I let my senses wander and searched for what I needed. I must have taken a bit too much time because Rainbow’s voice once again found my ears.

“Are you gonna stand there all day?” She rasped impatiently.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Dash well enough, but her lack of patience and restraint gets on my nerves sometimes. Instead of biting out a scathing retort I let that annoyance seep into my magic and pushed it deep into the earth. A tremor went through the plateau and the ground began to crack.

“Alright, stand back, here we go.”

Using both my wild magic and my earth magic at the same time was a new and somewhat difficult experience, but I managed to control them with some effort. I guess it’s a bit like learning to play a guitar. Your left hand has to do one thing, while your right one does another. Now I’ve tried learning to play a guitar, and I was rubbish at it. But this, this I could do.

My body grew and expanded with the strongest, toughest vines I could create, taking on a distinct draconian shape. I lanced my earthen magic deep into the ground and pulled up what I needed. Several large slabs of obsidian tore themselves free from deep beneath the soil and began to orbit around me. I reached out with my hands, or rather claws now, and channeled even more magic through them. One by one the slabs were sliced into dozens of scale shaped chunks. I then covered myself with these. Using a combination of tiny vines, super sticky sap and earth magic to keep them attached to me. I brought up gemstones to form spines, tail spikes and more. Diamonds formed the nails of my claws as well as the teeth that lined my cavernous maw. Giant rubies were carved into sharp points to form my horns. And a collection of emeralds and sapphires formed the spines along my back.

“Darling, next time I need to restock my gem supply you simply have to help out.” Rarity said, marveling at the ease with which I had simply ripped the gems from the earth.

Controlling them felt no different from controlling regular soil. Different texture, but same amount of control. I turned and looked down at everypony, since I was now easily three times their size.

“I suppose I could lend a hand, or hoof. Alright Trixie, illusion time, make me look like a real dragon.”

Trixie gulped and stepped forward, “Any preference for a color?” She asked.

“Whatever takes the least amount of effort to cast and maintain.”

“Basic black it is then, since that’s what you’re mostly covered in it's easier to keep it that way.”

Her horn ignited. It took her some effort, but I could feel the spell taking effect. The obsidian scales took on a more leathery shine. The gemstones changed to form real teeth, nails and spines. And my empty eye sockets became slitted pools of molten gold. She even added a pair of illusionary wings.

“Maybe you should make those wings look tattered and torn. Since I can’t fly like a real dragon, making them appear injured might be a good excuse as to why I’m walking.” I said after getting a good look at them.

Her horn ignited once more and the wings took on a damaged appearance.

“Perfect. You pulled that off wonderfully Trixie.”

She took a slight bow. “The Great and Talented Trixie thanks you for your praise.”

“I must admit, that was some impressive spellwork, Trixie. And yet you insist you can’t do anything complicated. I think you might have simply been looking at your talent wrong.” Twilight said.

Trixie actually blushed slightly at the compliment she got from Twilight and waved her off.

“Dude, you look fearsome.” Said Dash.

“Well I did try and emulate the shape of the most fearsome dragon I know,” I said with a grin. A grin full of razor sharp teeth. It wasn’t an exact likeness of course, since Trixie had to craft the illusion from scratch without any sort of reference, but it was close enough.

“Namely Neltharion the Earth Warder. Before he became Deathwing the Destroyer. Although I’m only about one twentieth of his size right now.”

All of their eyes went wide.

“Only one twe... how big is this guy?!” Dash shouted in disbelief.

I smirked some more. “Bigger than that dragon you kicked in the snout once. Way bigger.”

It was amusing to see her pupils shrink to pinpricks.

“Want me to do his voice?”

“Can you do that?”

“I don’t know. Let’s find out.”

It took a bit of messing about with my faux voice box, but in the end I managed to get a good approximation of his voice and I delivered the lines from the cataclysm cinematic.

“Pain! Agony! My hatred burns through the cavernous deeps!” I rumbled in that deep gravelly voice. Then I did the roar. All of them involuntarily took a step back.

“Dude, don’t ever, EVER!! Do that around Fluttershy.” Dash said after she recovered. “She would never leave her cottage again.”

“That would be bad, yeah. I promise I won’t try that again anywhere near her.” I said in my normal voice.

“Good.”

“Alright Trixie, time to get in.”

“What?” she said with confusion written all over her face.

“Get in mah belleh! You’re riding along inside.” I said as I spread my jaws wide open.

“Trixie is not sure she is comfortable with this.” She said uncertainly as she stared at my teeth.

I let out a little chuckle.

“Alright alright, I will stop teasing you. But I was serious about you riding along inside of me.”

With a little magic I folded back the front plates and vines of my chest. Revealing a roomy cavity, large enough for a pony to fit comfortably inside with some room to spare. Bioluminescent fungi, growing from the top, provided a soft yellow light. And everything was padded with warm, soft moss.

“See, you will be perfectly safe and comfortable. I can even provide you with food. Though you might want to bring along a canteen or two of fresh water.”

“You mean you want her to ride inside you like.. like a dragon shaped suit of armor?” Said Twilight.

“More like a foal in its mother’s belly.” Rarity chimed in.

Twilight shook her head in disbelief. “This has to be the single craziest plan ever.”

“What would you suggest then Twi? That Rarity whip up a dragon costume for her to wear?”

“W-well no, but this all just seems so crazy. What’s the point of all this?”

“Well sure it’s a crazy plan, but a plan nonetheless. Inside me she will be safe from danger, and she can recast the illusion without being seen. Plus I can’t breathe fire. But she can cast illusionary fire, right from my mouth.”

“You are bucking nuts dude. And I should know, I’ve done plenty of nutty things.” said Dash.

“We know.” all the others chorused, making RD grumble.

I turned back to Trixie. “Are you ready?”

Still a little reluctantly, Trixie hoisted herself up and climbed into my chest. She turned around so she faced forward and settled down into the soft moss.

“How will Trixie see?” She asked.

“Don’t worry, I got you covered.”

I slowly closed up my chest, leaving only a small slit for her to see out of should she so desire. The opening itself invisibly hidden under the illusion.

“There we go. Are you comfy in there Trixie?”

“Surprisingly, yes.” Came her slightly muffled reply.

“Try casting some illusionary fire, see if it works like I hoped.”

Trixie lit up her horn once again and I opened my mouth. A stream of orange flame shot forth, just like the real thing.

“I’d say that’s a resounding success. An applause for our brave and talented magician.”

The others rolled their eyes but politely stomped their hooves a few times.

“Well then. Shall we get going? Before we lose sight of the dragons.”

Spike perked up at my words. “Yes! Let’s go!”


And that’s how Spike, Trixie and me found ourselves tracking through the wilderness, trailing the seemingly endless stream of dragons across the sky. They were flying south by south-east, towards the mountain chains that separated the Badlands from the rest of Equestria, east of the Macintosh Hills. I must say I was not particularly looking forward to this. Those teenage dragons behaved like a bunch of asshole frat boys or jocks. Not the kind of people I like associating with. I would stay back as much as possible and let Spike fend for himself unless it became absolutely necessary for me to step in. At least that was the plan.

“Thanks for coming along you guys.” Spike said.

“You’re welcome little guy. Though we could have taken the train for the first leg of the journey.” I replied.

“But we might risk losing sight of the dragons that way.“ he said.

“True, but it would have been faster than walking.”

“It’s a shame you can’t fly.”

“Yeah, kinda. I don’t really mind though, I’m afraid of heights anyway.”

“I’m still surprised you’re scared of anything. Considering you are a big strong and sometimes scary monster.”

“Yes well, before I became said monster,” I said whilst making air quotes with my claws, “I was a person. An ordinary and very vulnerable person. And you know what’s funny?”

“What?”

“When I still was that person, I would have given anything to have superpowers like these. Now that I actually have them, all I can think of at times is how I just want to be my old self again.”

“Well, maybe one day you can. Anything is possible right? Especially with magic.”

“I don’t think there’s any going back from this Spike.” Especially since my body is probably a skeleton by now. But I left that part unspoken. “Still, being like this did come with some good things too. I got to meet all of you after all. You, Twilight, the girls.”

“And, Trixie.” Came her voice from inside me.

“Yes and you, Trixie.” I said with a smile.

“Can you let Trixie out for a while? Not that it is not comfortable in here, but Trixie has some business to take care of.”

“Business?”

“Yes, business.”

“What sort of business?”

“You know, business!”

It took me a moment to comprehend what she was saying. “Oh.. OH! Of course, right away.”

I let her out and she darted off into the woods without so much as a backwards glance.

“What’s she doing?” Spike asked.

“Nevermind that Spike, she’ll be back in a moment, just keep an eye on the dragons up there.”

Trixie returned a couple of minutes later, looking rather relieved. I must admit, that was a bit of oversight on my part. Since I don’t exactly have normal bodily functions anymore I kinda forgot about it. Best to make sure she takes care of business before we join the dragons on the volcano, otherwise things might get messy. I don’t think Trixie would be very comfortable hiding inside me if she’s lying in her own.. ok brain let’s NOT go there, thank you very much.

“You want to walk for a while?”

“That would be good yes. Trixie cannot afford to grow lazy and pudgy, especially once her wagon is done and she can go back on tour.”

“Won’t be too much longer before it’s complete. I doubt you will grow corpulent within a week or two.” I said as I looked her over.

While she was no Applejack or Rainbow Dash, Trixie was anything but pudgy. Applejack had the physique of someone used to hard physical labor. Thick strong muscles, especially on her hind legs, but without being overly bulky. Dash on the other hand was slimmer, more like a track and field athlete. Trixie wasn’t as well defined, but she had strong looking legs, well trained but without losing her girlish physique. I guess that’s what happens when you spend most of your time pulling a wagon from one town to the other.

“If Pinkie keeps feeding Trixie those delicious sweets she just might. How that mare is not rounder than a cider barrel Trixie has no idea. She consumes enough sugar to send the entire royal guard into a candy induced coma.”

It’s true that out of all the girls, Pinkie was the most… well I wouldn’t call her chubby exactly. If anything I would describe her as pleasantly plump. A full figure woman, if she was human that is.

“I guess her being so hyper and active is what helps her burn off some of that excess sugar and keep her in shape. It would explain why she always seems to have such boundless energy.”

We trekked on. Soon the woods were behind us and we entered open grassland. We could make out a few farms in the distance, towards the setting sun. Straight before us were the distant silhouettes of the mountains surrounding the badlands. We walked on until well after dark. I told Trixie to hop back in and take Spike with her. I walked all the way through the night while they slept inside of me. Their quiet snores and my footsteps were the only sounds for miles. Everything was so quiet out here. I must admit it felt slightly unnerving.

Having grown up in a city you get used to their being a constant source of background noises. Trains and other distant traffic. The hum and buzz of electric lights and other electronics. The occasional far away siren. But out here there was nothing. Not even the sound of crickets like I would have expected. Aren’t rural areas supposed to have cricket noises after dark? Or is that just another movie cliché? Maybe Equestria doesn’t have crickets. Maybe they have tiny changelings that make those noises. Ha, can you imagine that. A couple of changelings half the size of a foal sitting in a tree and making cricket noises. I find the image hilarious for some reason.

It was well after sunrise the next day when there was a quiet knock on my insides. The grasslands had given way to arid hills with the occasional prickly bush.

“Morning you two. Sleep well?” I asked as I opened up my chest plates to let my passengers out.

“Like a baby.” Said Spike as he stretched himself out. “Aren’t you tired though?”

“Not really. I don’t sleep remember. Besides, the morning sun is doing wonders for my reserves.”

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting that you don’t need to sleep like us. Twilight would love not needing sleep. She could research without ever having to stop.”

“I bet she would. It does get a little lonely though, having nopony to talk to at night.”

“Where are we?” Asked Trixie.

“Not exactly sure. Somewhere between Appleloosa and Dodge Junction is my best guess. There’s a river a little ways that way where we can refill our water supplies.”

“Some breakfast would be nice too.” she said. “Did you pack anything?”

“You forget who you’re talking to.” I said with a smile and then grew a selection of fruit from my tail. Hanging there like a fancy shopping display. “Pick whatever you like. I can make plenty more.”

“My you’re a pretty useful person to have around on a trip.” She said as she plucked some apples, an orange and some pears from me.

Spike poked at the fruit for a moment, then his face lit up. “Hey, Aeron, could you perhaps find some gems for me instead?”

“I can try, sure.”

I reached out with my earth power to try and find some gems, but the immediate area seemed to be void of precious stones.

“Sorry little buddy, doesn’t seem to be any gems around these parts.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Nope. There’s a vein of silver ore a little ways over there, about thirty foot down, but other than that this area holds nothing of interest.”

“Man the Diamond Dogs would love you.”

“Typical.” I said with mock indignation. “Trixie wants me for my fruit, you, rarity and the dogs want me for my gems. Is there anyone who wants me just for being me?”

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Spike said apologetically.

“Relax Spike, I was just kidding.”

“Oh… sorry. It’s kinda hard to tell with you sometimes, because of the voice.”

“What’s wrong with my voice?”

“Well, unless you sing, there’s this weird echo to it, it makes you sound emotionless at times. And it’s hard to pick out nuances. Unless you’re being extremely snarky.”

“Takes one to know one. You can be pretty snarky yourself.”

Spike shrugged. “What can I say, I call it like I see it.”

I chuckled. “That you do.”

We set off towards the river to slake our thirst. Trixie even jumped in to get the dust out of her coat. When she resurfaced, the sun reflecting off her wet mane made it sparkle and shine like pearl. I admit I quite enjoyed the sight.

“What are you staring at?” She asked me.

“Nothing really.” I said. I guess it was a bit creepy of me to stare at her like that.

I moved into the river and drank as much water as I could hold in me. I even made a few additional pockets to store a little extra for Spike and Trixie, since there was no way to be sure when next we’d have a chance to resupply.

“Were you staring at Trixie?”

“No, just keeping an eye out. I promised to keep you safe after all.”

“I see.” She said as he climbed out of the water and shook herself like a dog to dry off. She didn’t sound convinced.

We set off not long after, following the trail of dragons in the sky. It took us two more days and nights of walking to reach our destination. At some point the arid desert hills gave way to a rather withered looking forest. As unwelcoming as the place looked, the cooler air was a blessing after the scorching heat. Once we passed beyond the woods we came to the mountains themselves. During the day Spike and Trixie walked beside me, and in the night I carried them. Trixie had to recast the illusion on me twice, after it ran out. We were currently hiding among some boulders and bushes at the foot of the volcano.

“Alright Spike, this is it. From here on out you are on your own. Trixie and I will be nearby, but unless you come to us specifically for help we will not interfere, unless your life's in danger. Go and learn what it means to be a dragon little buddy.”

“Thanks guys.” Spike said as he gave us both a brief hug, before he ran up the mountain to the caldera.

“Alright Trixie, time to get in, remember to keep your voice low if you need to talk to me.” I told her after she refreshed the illusion once more.

Trixie looked at the top of the volcano and the many dragons perched around the edge. She was shaking slightly. “Are you sure this is a good idea?”

No, this is probably a terrible idea. “I won’t let anything happen to you. Now come on, before they spot you.”

She climbed in and I closed my chest, leaving just her viewing slit. I then began to ascend the volcano until we reached the top. As we made our way into the crater, spike had already introduced himself to Garble and his group. And things were not going well. While I always thought these guys looked rather ridiculous in the cartoon, they looked a lot more dangerous in the flesh. Not only were they bigger than the show would have you believe, but they were also very ripped. Even the fat one had some clearly defined muscle to him, save for his gut. And that’s without mentioning all the spines, tail spikes and claws. At the back of my mind, the beast growled. Apparently it did not like being in the presence of so many rival predators. Or at least that’s the impression it gave me. I tried to shut out the sensation and focused on the scene below.

“You flying on yer mommy’s back during the migration?” The fat one asked spike. The show never mentioned their names, aside from Garble.

“Not exactly.” Said spike.

“No no, can’t you see little Spike here just hatched. I bet he still sucks his claw at night!” Said the purple dragon who reminded me of some annoying surfer dude.

“No, I haven't sucked my claw in months!” Spike protested.

“Well, if you weren't just hatched, how come we haven't seen you around before?” Garble asked.

“Oh, well, I came here with my friend. y'see, I live in Ponyville and…”

“Ponyville? Did you bring a namby pamby pony with you?!”

“What, no I,”

“Where is this ‘friend’ of yours?”

“Uhm, he’s over there.” Spike pointed in my direction.

Great, so much for staying out of it. The group sauntered over to us, and Garble stared me in the eye.

“So you and Spike both live among namby pamby ponies?”

“Actually I live in the Everfree. Got a problem with that?” I said casually.

“And if I do?” he said as he poked me in the chest with a claw. “What are you gonna do about it huh?”

“Maybe nothing. Or maybe I’ll go down the mountain, find myself the biggest cactus I can carry, then come back up here and shove that cactus right up your ass.” I deadpanned whilst giving him a level stare.

He stared right back at me before he burst into laughter. “HA! Glad to see one of you hasn’t gone soft living near ponies. But remember, I’m in charge here.”

My eyes narrowed. I could feel the beast inside wanting to challenge his claim. It worried me. Why was it being so combative towards dragons. Was it the result of my previous encounter? Whatever the reason I tried to lock down the desire to punch his face in and just snorted a: “Sure.”

“Good. Now where were we.” he said as he turned back to Spike and challenged the little drake to a belching contest.

“Not exactly the epitome of civilised behavior are they.” Trixie snarked from inside me.

“If these guys are civilised, then I’m the bloody queen of England.” I whispered back.

“Who?”

“Nevermind.”

“Hey new guy.” Said the white drake. “We never got your name.”

Snap, I completely forgot to think of one, since I didn’t plan on talking to any of them.

“Well who’s asking.” I countered to try and stall.

“Uh me, duh.”

“And you are?”

“I’m Fizzle. Now who are you?”

“You can call me, Darkwing.”

“So why haven’t you taught Spike to be a proper dragon?”

“Do I look like his mother to you? It’s not my concern. I’m only here because I’m getting payed in gems to keep an eye on him.”

Sure that was a total lie, but considering dragons obsession with gems it sounded like a plausible enough excuse.

“Now lay off the questions. I’m trying to relax here.” I snorted as I settled down on the rocky ground.

“Whatever.” Fizzle grumbled and moved off to join the others, who by now had moved on to tail wrestling.

Without help, Spike was pretty much getting clobbered. The little guy was really too small to be competing in any of these activities. In fact I think he was the only baby dragon here. None of the other adults had any hatchlings with them. I don’t know if that’s because dragons don’t have children very often, or if they simply don’t join the migration while their little ones are still that small. Frankly I don’t understand the point of the migration. And as curious as I was about that, I wasn’t about to ask these guys, or any of the adult wyrms for that matter. Dragons are powerful creatures with their own branch of magic. For all I know they might be able to see right through Trixie’s illusion if I get to close to any of them.

“Oi Darkwing, get your scaly ass over here! It’s time for king of the hoard. Everyone has to play.” Garble roared.

Ugh you gotta be kidding me.

“Are we really participating in this?” Trixie whispered.

“It would be worth it just to sock him in the mouth.”

“Do you really want to sink to their level?”

I paused to think it over. “Maybe just this once.”

“Trixie supposes that would be alright, just this once.” I could hear the smirk in her voice.

“Alright, let’s go toss a dragon off a pile of gems.”

“KING OF THE HOARD!” Garble roared.

At the signal, every dragon charged up the massive pile of gems. I moved closer to Spike to try and assist him, only to receive a flying tackle from a grey dragon named Baff. We nearly toppled over and down the pile, but at the last second I managed to twist around and toss him off me. He landed hard and fell down the pile. I had to throw myself flat against the slope of gems to keep gravity from dragging me down too. I noticed Spike pass me by at a rapid pace as he ascended up to the top, where garble was wrestling with another dragon. The beast inside my mind growled and I scrambled after the little drake as fast as possible. He managed to reach the top first though, and came up right underneath Garble, who lost his balance and went tumbling down the slope of gems.

“King of the Hoard!” Spike yelled in victory.

“A lucky victory.” Garble grumbled. “Lets see how you handle Lava Cannonball.”

“Looks like we missed our chance.” Trixie whispered as the others moved off to the lava pool.

“Meh, at least Spike is making some progress. Now let’s observe from as far away as possible. I don’t wanna get dragged into this particular activity. I’m too flammable for such nonsense.”

“You’re too flammable? What about Trixie! Ponies and lava don’t mix.”

“Very true.”

I settled down on a flat slab of stone at the rim of the caldera and soaked up some rays while we observed the action below. One by one the dragons jumped off a high ledge of rock and into a small pool of lava. They were treating it like it was a hot-spring. As I sat there, observing things in silence, I could feel the beast in the back of my mind, pacing restlessly in it’s cage. The damn thing had been on edge from the moment we got here. It was making it very hard for me to relax.

“Aeron, are you okay? You feel tense all of a sudden.” said Trixie.

“It’s nothing. Besides, how could you possibly tell?”

“Trixie doesn’t know, she just could. Is something wrong?”

“It’s nothing, really.”

“You know you can talk to trixie, to me.. If something bothers you, right?”

“Sorry, it’s just… I told you about the beast when we first met right?”

“Yes, you said it was still with you. That it lies asleep in your mind.”

“Well it's not exactly sleeping anymore. It's been on edge ever since we crawled into this crater. I don’t know if it wants to run or fight or whatever, All I know is it's making it very hard for me to relax.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“Not unless you know a spell to put it back to sleep.”

“Well no, but maybe Trixie can help you relax. Whenever Trixie used to feel anxious when she was little, clean sweep, our live in maid, used to help her relax. Just close your eyes, and take a long, deep breath.”

It felt rather weird, since I don’t exactly breathe the way she does. But I followed her advice. I closed my eyes. That is to say i supressed my magical vision, and took a deep breath. There were many odd scents in the air. Mostly sulfur, and the strange smell of dragons. Who smell like a combination of old leather and iron. But there was another scent here that seemed out of place. The smell of lavender. It took me almost two minutes before I realised where that scent was coming from. It was coming from inside me. It was Trixie.

Now I’ve never gotten close enough to a horse in order to smell it, so I have no idea what one is supposed to smell like. And I haven’t exactly had any need nor desire to walk up to a random pony here and just take a big whiff. I mean could you imagine their reaction? They already think I’m a monster, I don’t need them thinking of me as some deviant weirdo on top of that. I really don’t need that added to my list of problems. Anyway, let’s just say it was a rather big surprise to discover Trixie smelled like Lavender. I never really noticed before now. Her scent sort of blends together with all the other flowery and sugary smells around Ponyville. But here, in this volcanic, sulfur permeated landscape, it stood out like a beacon. I must admit, it was kind of pleasant, as well as relaxing.

“Feeling better?” Her voice broke me from my thoughts.

“Yes, thank you, Trixie.”

“You’re welcome.”

It would appear Spike had finally managed to gain the grudging respect of Garble and his ilk. They had lined up in a sort of impromptu ceremony, and Garble was busy giving Spike a noogie. Before long things turned into a party, with dragons dancing, Or at least that’s what I assumed they were doing. It was either that or several of them were having a seizure. Meanwhile, others were stuffing their face with gems from the big hoard. The celebrations lasted until late in the evening, and only died down when everyone was too full with gems to move. Well, except myself of course, since I can’t eat gems. Luckily none of them seemed to have paid enough attention to notice I had not eaten a single bite.

“Man that was a great party.” Spike said with a burp. His tiny tummy swollen with gems.

“Maybe by Ponyville standards.” garble said. “Stick with us Spike, we’ll show you how to really party. That is, if you still want to learn how to be a true dragon.”

“The way I feel right now, I could hang with you guys forever.”

“And what about Twilight and the others, Spike?” I asked.

“What about them? Spike doesn’t need weak ponies. He’s a dragon, not some frilly unicorn.” Garble snorted dismissively.

Before I could retort we were interrupted by the purple dragon.

“Hey you guys, guess what?”

“I’m a little busy here, Fume.” Garble snarled.

“But Vex found a Phoenix nest.”

Garbles eyes lit up. “Really?”

“Yeah dude, it’s not far.”

“Perfect! Spike, if you really want to prove yourself a true dragon, now is your chance. We’re going on a dragon raid.”

“To do what?” He asked.

“We are going to swipe the eggs from that nest. And you’re going to help us.”

I could tell spike was conflicted by the idea. He briefly looked to me, perhaps hoping for guidance? Or for me to try and dissuade him? As much as I would have liked to deter him from this course of action, it was his choice. I’m not fit to be his, or anyone’s moral compass. And this was something he had to decide for himself. Whether to stand by his principles, or give into peer pressure.

“Aren’t you totally psyched to go on this raid?” asked the fat one.

“I.. uhm..”

“Yeah what Clump said, aren’t you psyched.”

“Uh, yeah, uhm totally.”

“Good, then let’s gather up and fly. I want a big group for this raid.” Garble yelled. “Lets fly.”

“Uhm, sorry guys, no wings. Guess I’ll sit this one out.” Spike said, before Clump swooped him up and took to the skies.

“This doesn’t bode well.” Said Trixie.

“No, it doesn’t.”

It really doesn’t. Instead of three, now there were five dragons on the raid. Fate just keeps stacking the deck. Bitch.

“Do we go after them?”

“Yes, we don’t have a choice.” I said and started to run.


Following them wasn’t hard at first. They were flying at a quite leisure pace. But as soon as they vanished below the tops of the trees it became a different matter. I ran as fast as I could. Dodging and weaving through the trees. I pushed my senses to their limit, trying to locate them with my supernatural sonar, or whatever you want to call it. I picked up squirrels, bunnies, snakes, even a cragadile, but no dragons.

“Aeron you got to slow down, Trixie is getting queasy.”

“I can’t, we have to find them before things get out of hand.”

“How do you know that they will?”

“Call it a gut feeling, alright?”

“If you say so.”

There was a bright flash between the trees. Like someone set off a giant firework. It had to be the phoenixes. I redoubled my efforts and turned in the direction of the light. After several minutes voices reached us from up ahead.

“Throw it on the ground as hard as you can.”

“Yeah, Spike, smash it.”

“Smash it, smash it.” they all chanted.

“No! It’s just a defenceless egg, just like I was. And I’m not about to let you hurt it.”

“What did you say?” Garble asked, voice dangerously low.

“I said, no.” Spike growled with finality.

I could see them now. Just a little further.

“Noone says no to me!” Garble snarled before kicking Spike in the gut.

The little drake doubled over in pain, but somehow still managed to shield the egg. Garble wasn’t satisfied. Stepping forward, he punched spike in the head. Sending the little drake tumbling to the ground. The egg rolled from his grasp, but miraculously survived. It came to a stop in the grass only a foot or two away.

“I’m gonna enjoy teaching you who’s boss around here.” He said as they all came closer. Cracking their knuckles and flexing their claws.

I arrived just as he prepared to strike again. I leapt and landed just in front of Spike, blocking Garble’s way. I let out an angry challenging roar.

“Back the fuck off. Right. Now!”

They halted for a moment as we stared each other down. For a brief moment they seemed inclined to back down, and It looked as if we were getting out of this without coming to blows after all. Fate was having none of that. The illusion around me shimmered, and then dissipated, revealing my true form. Trixie’s spell had reached its limit. Of all the rotten ill timed luck.

“You’re no dragon. What in the name of lord Torch are you?” Garble growled.

“It doesn’t matter.” I told him, then I folded back my chest plates to let Trixie out, drawing a few surprised gasps from them.

“Trixie, take Spike and go. Get as far from here as you can.”

“But what about…”

“Go, I’ll catch up.” I said with urgency.

Without another word she picked Spike and the egg up, placed them on her back, and made a run for it. It was the tunnel all over again. I turned back to face the dragons.

“Now then, you guys are gonna turn around, head back to the volcano and pretend this never happened.”

“That’s what you think, but I’m not about to let you walk away after this. First I will burn you to a crisp, and then I will smash that puny purple hatchling into a pulp for ever daring to cross me. And once I’m done with that I will make a snack out of that stupid pony.”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “You know, I thought you were just a loud obnoxious teenage prick at first. But now I see you for what you are. A dangerous, self absorbed, malevolent psychopath. I was going to let this whole situation slide, but just for that threat, I’m going to tear off your wings.”

Garble bared his teeth in fury. “Get him!”

******************



Trixie ran as fast as her legs could carry her. She didn’t stop until they reached the edge of the woods. Only then did she dare to pause to catch her breath. She looked behind her to see if there was any signs of pursuit, but none of the dragons had followed them as far as she could tell. A series of terrifying roars of both anger and pain echoed through the trees, and the night sky above the woods was illuminated by bursts of fire.

“Do you, do you think Aeron will be alright?” Spike asked, clutching the phoenix egg carefully to his chest.

“I don’t know, Spike. But I have faith in him.” Trixie said. “He survived fighting over a hundred giant spiders. He stood up to Discord and lived to tell the tale. If anyone can survive an encounter with a group of angry teenage dragons, he can.”

With a thump, something heavy landed behind them. They turned around only to be confronted by Fume.

“Going somewhere?” He growled.

Trixie trembled at the sight of the purple and yellow drake. She was still too winded to run for it. She looked at Spike, sitting on her back with the egg and steeled her resolve. She would keep them safe until Aeron came for them. Carefully she lowered her rump and let spike slide off her back.

“Stay behind Trixie, Spike.” She said as she powered up her horn and turned to face fume, scraping the ground with a hoof in a challenging manner.

“Back off you. Don’t make Trixie use this.” She said as she raised her head high, displaying her glowing horn.

“Think you’re tough little pony? Let’s find out!”

**************



This fight was not going well. They had me surrounded on all sides. Garble, Clump, Fizzle and Baff. I had no idea where Fume went, he just disappeared in the chaos. Clump charged in, his mace like tail crashed into my side, shattering the obsidian shards that made up my scales and cracking the wood underneath with shocking ease. That dragon had a lot of power in his tail. Garble unleashed a stream of fire at me, setting me partially ablaze. The flames didn’t have long to do damage as I turned the extra water I still carried into sap and secreted it all over my body, giving the flames nothing to feed on. Fizzle tried to attack me from behind and sink his teeth into my neck, but I slammed him aside with my own tail, sending him crashing into a group of saplings that shattered like tinder under his bulk.

They had me outnumbered and they were fearsomely strong. It was an all too sobering reminder never to underestimate your opponent. Clump came at me again with his mace tail. I jumped out of his reach only to receive a flying tackle from Baff. Sending me careening into Garble’s waiting claws. Nails that could split diamonds had no trouble piercing through the obsidian scales and he tore great rents into my armored side. Fizzle jumped on my back and closed his jaws around one of my ruby horns, biting it clean in half. I rolled and threw him off me, then got double teamed by Clump and Baff who shoulder checked me. Sending me smashing into one of the trees with such force that it was uprooted and fell over.

I climbed back to my feet. Shards of obsidian fell from me, shattered beyond use. Sap leaked from my wounds like blood. This whole situation was getting out of hand. Stupid dragons and their senseless raid against a nest of innocent birds. I really like birds, so that action alone was enough to make me angry. Then they had the audacity to beat up Spike, my friend, for standing up to them. And as icing on the cake, Garble had the audacity to threaten Trixie. The combative feelings I felt welling up in me were more than just my own however. The beast was baying for blood as well. It saw these dragons, these predators as competition, and it roared with the desire to dominate them and prove itself to be top dog. The one supreme Alpha. The true apex predator.

The beast had been bothering me the entire time we were here. Snarling and growling from deep within my mind. Now it was howling ceaselessly with fury. It proved to be a dangerous distraction. I could not willingly let it out. That would be a disaster. But fighting on two fronts proved to be impossible. As I tried to keep the beast caged, Garble smashed me over the head with a boulder the size of a beer keg, shattering my head. The entire left side of my skull fell away, broken and useless. I turned to face him and howled in combined rage.

“What in Torch’s name does it take to kill you?” He growled.

“More than you bitches have in you.” I snarled defiantly as I hammered my fist into his jaw, sending him crashing to the ground.

My control was slipping. The beast tore at the bars of it’s cage, several of them bending and warping. Fizzle came at me again, hoping to blindside me. My earthen powers kicked in on their own, and razor sharp shards of obsidian shot from my body in his direction. Dragons were strong, but far from invulnerable. His agonised shrieks filled the air.

“EEEAAAGH!!! My eyes!!! I’m blind!” He screamed as he grabbed at his face. Blood leaking from his ruined eyeballs, each riddled with shards of obsidian. I could smell it. Tasty, hot blood.

“You son of a bitch!” Garble yelled as he prepared to breathe fire at me again. But a stream of high pressure acid splashing at his feet made him jump back in surprise. The puddle fizzled and smoked as the grass and other vegetation was dissolved.

I turned to him, my one remaining eye blazing with green light. Several flytraps that had emerged from my back loomed over my shoulders, dripping their caustic fluids as they swayed back and forth threateningly.

“Worry about yourself little dragon.” I growled. I wanted to taste his blood. Rend his flesh, suck out the marrow from his bones. A red mist was seeping into my vision ”I... hunger!” No, stop! That’s not what I want. You stay put! Feed! No! Devour! Stop it! Rend flesh!

Clumps mace tail smashed into my face. I was so distracted that neither I nor my flytraps saw him coming. What was left of my head was now a ruin of pulped wood and sap. All of them breathed fire on me. All except Fizzle who still lay on the ground clutching his face and weeping about his eyes. The heat of their combined breath attacks was overwhelming. My flytraps exploded as their sap boiled into steam. The outer layer of my body was rapidly turned to charcoal. I could feel the heat all the way to my core.

“Die you miserable freak!” Grable shouted between breaths of flame.

Everything was heat and fire, no matter where I turned. It took all of my effort to focus my power outward to try and regenerate whatever the fire consumed. To keep the heat from reaching my core and turning it to ash. It left me no room to focus on maintaining the mental cage. The beast bounced against the damaged bars, sensing an opening. A challenge has been issued, and it will not be denied. Not this time.

Dominate, subjugate.

Stop… just stop.

Devour!

One more charge, one more push….. Freedom.

“….”

Destroy!

***********



They don’t know why, but a sudden pulse of dread shoots down their spine. All of the dragons pause in their attack. Garble steps forward. Inspecting the blackened, burning mass that tried to pass for a dragon. Part of it is glowing red hot, like coals in a fire pit. Most of the gemstones that remained have cracked and shattered in the heat, white ash falls from it in clumps. It no longer shows any signs of life, yet something feels very, very wrong. It is as if the very air had suddenly turned stale. It stinks of death, and for the first time in a long time, Garble feels a shiver of true fear. Suddenly the ground cracks and trembles beneath their feet. Veins of green light spread out through the earth and into the woods around them.

“Hey, what’s going on?” Clump shouts.

“I don’t know.” Baff replies before one of the trees behind him comes to life and clubs him in the face with one of its thick, gnarled branches.

The entire forest around them seems to instantly transforms into a nightmare. With a crackling groan, trees uproot themselves as if they were beasts. Their trunks tearing in half to form legs and arms. They grow spikes and thorns and poisonous leaves. Fallen branches and other detritus, rocks and stone, all come together with the trees. Forming into maws filled with thorny teeth and dripping green sap. Stones grind against each other as they form fists of granite.

Garble tries to take to the air. But the moment he spreads his wings they are pierced by spikes of stone that erupt from the earth. They tear through the leathery hide as if it were wet paper, tearing the delicate membrane to shreds. He lets out a pained cry as he falls back to the ground.

Behind him, Clump is being savagely thrashed by a group of trees that now resemble some kind of giant, nightmarish silverback gorillas made of earth and wood. Their heavy stone fists pummel him ceaselessly. Dragonhide may be thick and resistant to injury, but even a dragon’s toughness has a limit. And Clump has reached his. He curls up and tries to protect himself as best he can as the tree-beasts stomp on him without mercy.

Garble manages to climb back to his feet as the burned lump of vegetation that was their victim falls apart into a pile of embers. Revealing a much smaller, but unscathed form underneath it. The thing slowly stalks towards him on all fours, its bulk growing as it draws in everything it can while it approaches. Sticks, rocks, leaves, everything rises up to join its growing bulk. Behind it he can see Baff, being slowly strangled by a cluster of thorny vines that move as if they were alive. Like the arms of some monstrous giant octopus. They pull and contort the dragon’s body in ways it was never meant to bend. With a snap one of his legs breaks and his screams fill the air.

“Look, we surrender. You can go, we won’t try anything.” Garble yells at the approaching creature.

It’s only reply is a snarl as a giant wolf's head emerges from its torso in a burst of sap. Corrosive saliva dripping from its maw. Its eyes promise only pain and death. Garble tries to run for it, but his way is blocked by a barrier of jagged rocks and thorny vines that shoot out of the ground. He turns back, just as the beast pounces, and they go down in a tumble, fighting tooth and claw.

Garble fights for his life, barely keeping the thing from tearing his face off with its snapping jaws. He gives as good as he gets, tearing deep gashes in the things wooden form with his own claws, but it’s not nearly enough to deter the beast. It just keeps growing. It’s bulk getting heavier and heavier as they tussle around in the dirt, trying to overpower the other.

“Get off of meeee!” Garble yells and heaves with all his strength, throwing the beast into the barrier and impaling it on the jagged rocks.

“Yeah! That’s what you get!” he crows, believing he has won.

His momentary euphoria turns to dread as the beast tears itself free and resumes its attack. Not even hindered by what would be mortal wounds to any other creature. Garble inhales deeply and lets out a jet of white hot flame, but a barrier of stone rises up from the ground to shield the monster. He turns to try and run once again as the beast leaps over the melting earthen bulwark. It lands on his back with all of its weight and they go down hard. The air is blasted from his lungs as he hits the ground, his jaw slamming painfully into the soil. The beast has him pinned underneath its bulk. Pain shoots through his back as the beast’s teeth close around the base of his left wing.

“Wait, stop! I give up, come on, stop! I surrender!”

The beasts only response is to bite down, hard.

“AAAH, STOP! I GIVE UP! NOT THE WINGS! PLEASE, NOT THE WINGS! “

His pleas fall on deaf ears. With a sickening crunch the bone shatters under the pressure. The beast heaves and with a wet tearing sound the wing comes off in a spray of blood. garble ‘s scream of pain can be heard far and wide. With a couple of wet crunches the beast devours the wing and brings its jaws down towards the other.

“Pleeease, don’t!”

Just as the beast is about to bite down, a different scream tears through the woods. The scream of a girl. Its head snaps up and turns in the direction of the sound. A second scream follows. With a mighty leap, the beast jumps off Garble’s back and runs off into the woods like a bat out of hell.

As it disappears from sight, the magic that was animating the trees and the soil vanishes. The trees that were bludgeoning Clump to death collapse into broken piles. He is covered from head to toe in swollen bruises. A number of his ribs are cracked and his scaly skin is split open in several places, weeping blood. Both his eyes have swollen shut and one of his horns is missing.

The vines that were strangling Baff cease their attack and grow slack, allowing the dragon to take his first unhindered breath of life giving air. His throat has been mangled to such a degree that he will never be able to speak normally again. His broken leg hangs uselessly by his side. He will always have a limp.

Fizzle still lies weeping in the dirt. Unharmed except for his eyes. He will never regain his sight.

Garble’s hide is deeply gashed in several places. The scars will be obvious. The stump of his left wing bleeds profusely, but he will live. Live, forever grounded. He just lies there and weeps.


****************

Fume swung a fist at her, but Trixie nimbly leapt aside and the punch failed to connect. She responded with a kinetic beam, aimed at the dragon’s face. It connected solidly but had little effect. The magic of her attack being deflected by the inherent magic in the dragon’s scaly hide. He lunged at her, but she ducked under his arms and rolled to the side. A quick firework spell sent him reeling. Momentarily blinded by the bright flash.

“Ugh, you stupid little…” He growled at her. But she interrupted him by sliding underneath him and delivering a double kick with her hind legs. Right at his groin. He fell forward, clutching his bruised goods. Thick scaly hide or not, that hurt.

“Alright Trixie!” Spike cheered as Fume almost face-planted into the dirt.

Fume growled savagely and lashed out with his tail. Smashing Spike aside. The little guy went down in a hard tumble, and it was only thanks to him hitting the ground first that the phoenix egg was spared.

Instantly Trixie leapt in front of him, horn aglow. “Don’t touch him!”

Fume struck with his claws, aiming at her face. Trixie ducked but the tips of his nails scraped against her horn, carving shallow cuts into it. The claw marks themselves didn’t really hurt, after all, unicorns regularly file down their horns, but the magical backlash sent a bolt of electric agony shooting into her brain. With an echoing scream, Trixie went down. Tears leaking from her furiously blinking eyes. Her vision was swimming. Her head pounding like a drum.

“You little bitch. I will make you pay for that kick.” He growls and delivers a kick of his own, right into her barrel.

She went down hard. Another scream left her lips as pain shot through her ribs. They didn’t feel broken, but that kick was going to leave a mark. Fume stepped closer, raising a foot to deliver another kick. Suddenly spike leapt into his face. Having left the Phoenix egg safely at the roots of a nearby tree. He clawed and bit at Fumes face. His nails digging small cuts into the other dragon’s snout.

“Leave. Her. Alone!” Spike shouted with all his might as he sank his teeth into Fumes snout. Who let out a pained yell and tried to yank Spike off of him.

With him momentarily distracted, Trixie had enough time to cast a basic first aid spell on herself. The agony that was shooting through her ribs dulled to a bruised ache.

“Get offa me!” Fume roared as he finally managed to get a good grip on Spike. Tearing the little drake off his snout and throwing him bodily into a nearby rock formation. Spike impacted the rock with a dull thwack, momentarily dazed.

With the little drake out of commission, Fume once more stalked over to Trixie, who was shakily getting back to her hooves. She lowered her horn threateningly, once more scraping at the ground.

“You really think that impresses me? You must be dumber than you look.”

She charged her horn with magic. Her eyes narrowed.

“Give it up already.” He laughed at her. “You can’t beat me.”

“Trixie doesn’t have to beat you. She only has to stall you.” She said defiantly.

“Still hoping to be saved somehow? Your friend is probably ash by now. And pretty soon, so will you be.”

He took a deep breath, firelight glowing at the back of his throat. Trixie raised a shield. She was not very good at shielding spells. She had no idea how long it would hold. If it held at all. Fume exhaled a stream of blueish fire. Instantly Trixie’s shield began to sputter and fade. She poured more magic into it. SHe had to hold on. The translucent dome stabilised itself. No longer blinking like a turn signal. Fume paused his breath attack, only to lunge forward and strike the barrier with both claws, followed by a lash of his tail. Cracks appeared all over the little energy dome. One more swipe of his claw, and the barrier shattered like a glass balloon.


“Looks like I win puny pony.”

A firework spell slammed into his face. Detonating like a bomb.

“Gaaah! You accursed little bitch!” He screamed as he tried to wipe the soot out of his eyes. “When I get my claws on you I…”

That was far as he got before something massive came thundering out of the woods and slammed into him with the force of a battering ram, sending them both sprawling.

‘Enemy.. Rend and tear flesh. Consume the scaly one.’

The beast’s jaws seized Fume by the leg and slammed shut like a vice. With a crunch his knee shattered and a scream of agony escaped his lips.

‘The scaly one tastes good, like the other. Bring it pain! Yes, yes we must hurt it more.’

The jaws crushed down even harder. The scream of agony grew louder. Any moment now that leg would come off at the knee.

“Aeron, stop! You’re going to kill him.” Trixie yelled.

The beast’s eyes widen, the jaws loosen as it turns to look at Trixie.

Fume scrambles like mad, trying to get away from the monster. His wings spread wide and with a frantic beat he was up in the air. Putting as much distance between him and the monster before he blacked out from the pain.

‘The scaly one flees. It won’t get far. A voice? Who speaks? The blue prey. Eat the blue prey.’

I know this prey. Her scent is familiar. ‘Taste her flesh!’ Yes, so hungry. Smells like lavender. ‘Feed!’ Those eyes, they are familiar. ‘Feed now!’ Those eyes are scared. ‘Eat the prey!’ Not… yet…. I remember…

“Aeron? C-c-can you hear T-Trixie?” she says as she backs away slowly.

I remember this… girl? This mare. ‘Taste her flesh, now!’

“Aeron you’re scaring us.”

The smell of lavender. Trixie? Trixie smells like lavender. ‘Rend flesh!’ NO! Not devour Trixie. Trixie is my friend! ‘EAT THE PREY!!’ NO!

“What’s he doing?”

“Stay back, Spike. Trixie thinks he’s not himself”

‘Another scaly one! Devour it!’ NO!

“Aeron? Are you in there? Come back to Trixie, please.”

No more devouring! We… I.. I am not a monster.

GRRRRR!! EAT THE PREY NOW!!

“Trixie needs you to snap out of it.”

Don’t. You. growl. At. ME!

“Aeron!”

My mind snaps back into focus. The red haze of all consuming hunger and rage lifts like a veil, and I have control of my thoughts again. The beast in my head snarls at me, ready to pounce on my mental self. I lock eyes with it and a thousand spears of willpower pierce its hide, turning it into a bizarre pincushion. I savagely kick it back into its cage. The broken bars mending. I wrap them in chains and slam a dozen additional locks onto it. The moment the cage is locked shut, I feel strangely exhausted.

“Aeron?”

“Trixie?” It’s as if I’ve just woken from a particularly vivid dream. Or rather, a nightmare.

My form shifts subconsciously. Going from wolflike to pony, shedding all the excess bulk until only a small stallions frame remains. Soft but firm fungi material grows to cover it. Taking on a familiar green hue.

“Are you… you?” she asks.

“I… yes… I think so.”

“What happened there?”

“Was it the beast?” Spike asks.

I can’t help but flinch. “....Yes. I’m so sorry if I spooked you two. I...”

Silence reigns as none of us really know what to say. I want to apologize to them more for scaring the living daylights out of them. But I can’t find the words. All I feel is shame. I lost control, again. After a minute or two I can’t take it anymore. But just as I open my mouth to try and speak, Trixie beats me to it.

“Let’s just go home. Trixie could use a long, hot bath. We can sort all of this out later”

“That sounds like a good idea.” Said Spike, carefully holding the phoenix egg as we start to walk. “We gotta get this little guy into a warm place too.”

“Trixie has dibs on the bathroom. Otherwise you use up all the hot water.”

“Oh come on, my last bubblebath was only five hours.”

We start to walk. They both cast wary glances my way on occasion though. I can’t blame them. Now that my mind is my own again I can clearly remember all that happened. I just crippled five…. people…. for life. They may have been complete assholes, Garble in particular, but did they deserve that? They aren’t beyond redemption like the likes of Tirek or Chrysalis. At least I don’t think they are.

Perhaps I should go back and kill them. Killing them would be a mercy... right? Stop! When did I become so callous about killing another sentient being? What the hell is happening to me? Stop thinking about this. Focus on something else. Something positive. I smell lavender.

My eyes are drawn to Trixie, who’s walking a few feet in front of me. I choose to focus on her instead. We walk on for some time. At one point she catches me staring.

“Something wrong, Aeron? Why are you staring at Trixie?”

“No! No nothing’s wrong. It’s just that…”

“Just what?”

“I couldn’t help but notice you… you smell like lavender.” I blurted out, too tired to make up an excuse.

Trixie raises a brow and smells her left armpit. Even though technically ponies don’t technically have those, the motion she makes just reminds me of that. She frowns. “Trixie does not.”

“You do to me.” I said before I realised.

A heavy blush comes over her. “S-stop saying weird things, stupid.” She flicks her tail and walks on stoically. Her cheeks pink. Is she smiling? Nah, I must be seeing things again.

“So what happened back there with the others?” Spike asks.

“Lets not talk about that shall we? It’s better if you don’t know Spike.”

It’s better if no one knows.

********************

Canterlot Palace. Three days later.

“Borealis, what do you have for me my old friend?” Celestia said to the shadows of her bedroom window.

“How do you always know when I’m there your highness?”

“That would be telling old friend.” she said with a mischievous smile, before her tone grew serious. “Now, what brings you to me this evening?”

“It would appear that your caution was wise your highness. We observed as Aeron accompanied Spike the dragon on his quest to learn what it means to be a true dragon.”

“Yes, Twilight told me about her wards desire to learn about his heritage. In fact I received a letter from him just a few minutes ago, telling me how he learned not to give into peer pressure, and that what you are doesn’t determine who you are. A wise lesson to learn for one so young.”

“Quite so your highness.”

“So what did you discover old friend?”

“You asked me to keep an eye on Aeron, to make sure he was no danger to the populace. I now believe that there is a very clear danger. ”

“You seem shaken.”

“I am shaken your highness. What I witnessed… You know how Twilight Sparkle described the attack on Ponyville…. I feel your student may have rather understated the true horror that is this beast.”

Celestia turned to look at him directly. “Go on.”

“After young Spike got into an altercation with several of the other young dragons over a phoenix egg, Aeron intervened. He tried to talk them down at first, but the dragons decided to attack and a fight broke out. I don’t exactly know what happened, but at some point Aeron unleashed an attack that permanently blinded one of the dragons. From there things escalated.”

“Did he blind the dragon on purpose?”

“I honestly don’t know your highness. It could have been deliberate, or just poor aim.”

“What happened next?”

“He seemed to be struggling after that. The dragons took advantage and burned him to a crisp.”

Celestia let out a gasp.

“He survived, your highness. But what emerged from the ashes was.. unnatural. This, thing, unleashed a wave of magic that turned the forest into a nightmare that makes the Everfree seem tame. Trees became monsters, plants grew wild and the earth itself rose up to attack the dragons. I nearly got caught up in it myself and had to take to the skies to avoid being torn apart. The beast left all of them battered and broken. And what it did to the red one.” A shudder went through him.

“What happened old friend?”

“It bit off one of his wings, and ate it.”

Celestia was appalled.

“It was about to eat the other one as well, but then it stopped and ran off into the woods.”

“It just stopped?”

“That’s what it looked like at first. I followed it after making sure the dragons would survive. Turns out the beast somehow knew that young Spike and miss Lulamoon were in danger.”

“Wait, miss Lulamoon was also there?”

“Did I not mention that? Sorry. Yes she was there, highness. The beast was mangling the dragon that had attacked the two of them, and only when miss Lulamoon called out to him did Aeron seem to come to his senses.”

“So he regained control?”

“Yes your highness. But I shudder to think what would have happened had miss Lulamoon not been present. I doubt any of the dragons would have survived. Permission to speak freely your highness?”

“Always old friend. I value your input.”

“I believe that Aeron is too dangerous to walk free your highness. What if next time he loses control in the middle of Manehattan? What if he won’t snap out of it. This thing took down five adolescent dragons. When I think of the horror it could unleash on our population.. It makes me sick to my stomach.”

Celestia let out a deep sigh. “So it is as I feared.”

“What will you do your highness?”

***************

I let my mind wander, feeling the trees all around me. Sweet apple acres was so calm and peaceful. It helped me to relax. Each tree was like a star in the void to my mind’s eye. Their energy so serene. I could stand here forever and just… fade away into sleep. The gentle sound of hoofsteps pulled me back to reality. Twilight, Trixie and Applejack approached.

“Aeron, are you okay? You’ve been standing there since yesterday.” asked Twilight.

I slowly turned to face them. “I’m fine Twilight. I just had a lot on my mind.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“There’s not much to talk about. I thought I had things under control. Turns out I was wrong.”

“Look, ya made a mistake. It happens ta all of us. What’s important is to learn from it an’ move on.” Said AJ.

“This wasn’t a mistake, Applejack. This problem should have been properly fixed months ago.”

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Twi asked.

“No, there isn’t. But it’s become very clear to me that this is something I can’t leave as is. So I’ve made a decision.”

“What decision?” Trixie asked.

“I’m leaving ponyville.”

“Leave Ponyville? But, where are you gonna go? What are you gonna do?” asked Twilight.

“The only one who has been able to help me with this problem is Zecora. But her knowledge is limited. So I’m going to find the person who taught her. Maybe she can help.”

“You mean…” Trixie said.

“Yes. I’m going to Zebrica.”

Chapter 26: No going back.

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Chapter 26
No going back

The Everfree was as eerie as always. And yet there was a subtle difference to it, to those with the right senses anyway. And my senses are rather unique after all. It was still filled with the ever present sense of darkness, but amidst it all I could feel the power of the tree of harmony. It pulsed through the woods like a gentle, distant heartbeat. It kept the darkness in check. Moreso now that the plunderseeds were no longer draining it. But there was one kind of darkness here the tree could not keep in check. And I was looking at it right now. On the path before me stood a Timberwolf. A pretty big one too. As soon as it saw me it bared its teeth. Stinking breath filling the air.

“Piss off.” I snarled at it. I was not in the mood to deal with this shit. Not today.

It took a threatening step towards me. Making ready to pounce.

“Suit yourself.”

I snapped my fingers, and two slabs of stone shot up from the ground, crushing the timberwolf between them like a roach under a bootheel. Its animating spirit fled into the deep woods.

“And stay gone!” I shouted after it.

You would think these things would have learned by now to stay out of my way, yet they always seem to come back to test me again and again. Either they are too stupid to learn, or they simply can’t stop for other reasons. With another snap of my fingers I returned the slabs of stone to the earth. Taking the timberwolf remains with them. With the path clear I moved on and soon made it to my destination, Zecora’s hut. I lightly tapped on the frame before pushing the door open, shrinking down to fit through.

“Anypony home?” I called out.

There was a surprised yelp and a thump from the other room, followed by muffled voices and a clatter of hooves, then Zecora came rushing into the room.

“Aeron my friend, this is a surprise. Though a little warning would have been nice.” she said, looking a bit flustered.

I blinked at her. “Am I interrupting something?”

“I have no clue of what you speak, there is no..” She was interrupted by a noise from the other room, as if someone dropped a metal bucket.

“Who’s hiding back there?”

“Nopony, its..”

Star Horn then entered the room. His helmet floating in his magical aura as he adjusted his armor. That explained the noise.

“It’s alright sweet stripe, we don’t have to pretend. We’re all grownups here.” He gave me a stern glance as he said that last part, as if daring me to disagree.

Wait, did I just catch them in the act?

“Sorry you two, didn’t mean to interrupt your fun.” I said with an apologetic smile.

Zecora blushed. Star coughed into a hoof. I swear the both of them were acting like teenagers.

“I actually came by to talk to you Zecora. It’s kinda important.”

“Very well, come sit with me. But first I shall prepare some tea.”

I sat down at her little table while she went to her kitchen to fetch the tea.

“So…” I said to Star Horn, “You and Zecora getting to know eachother better huh, you lucky bastard you.”

“Could we maybe NOT speak of that.” He said with a heavy blush and grimace.

Damn but these ponies are so easy to tease. I swear they are all so innocent. Well, maybe not. Not if Rainy Day is any indication.

“So what brought you to my hut? A social call I believe it’s not.” Said Zecora as she emerged from her little kitchen with the tea.

“You’re right, it’s not.”

I took a moment to gather my thoughts.

“I’m going on a journey. A very long journey…… to Zebrica.”

They both looked at me with surprise.

“What brought this on?” Asked Star as he sipped some tea.

“The beast.” I said Grimly. “Zecora, you helped me with this problem before, but it’s getting worse. I need help again, but you said yourself you’re not a fully trained shaman.”

She nodded. “My shaman training is incomplete, so I can not give you what you need.”

“I need to find a shaman to help me control this monster. Before I harm someone I care about. That's why I’m going to Zebrica. I would like you to come with me.”

“I apologize to you, but that is something I can not do.”

“But..”

“Please do not misunderstand. I would gladly lend you a hoof my friend. But the only shaman that I know, lives in the one place I cannot go.”

“Let me guess…. your hometown?”

“Correct.”

“You’re afraid that if you come along, you have to face your family.”

“For this reunion, I’m not ready yet. The very idea fills me with dread. As much as I may hold them dear, I feel that my place should be here.” She said as she gave Star a nuzzle.

I mulled it over silently.

“I understand. Could you at least write me some directions to your old home?”

“I’ll do better and add a map, so finding it becomes a snap.” She said with a smile.

She hoofed me a map, and then wrote a scroll with directions in a simple enough script that I could easily decipher with my limited reading skills.

“I’m sorry I can’t be with you on this trip, have you yet secured a ship?”

“Actually I asked somepony else about that. I sent a letter through Spike the other day. I’m supposed to meet him in town soon.”

“Then I bid you safe journey my friend. May your quest lead to a satisfying end.”

“I hope so.” I said as I stood to leave.

We shared a brief hug before i went on my way. As I walked out the door it turned to them one last time. A stupid grin plastered to my face.

“Oh and guys, next time you should just lock the front door. Unless ofcourse you enjoy getting caught.”

“Get out of here already!” they both shouted, erupting in fresh blushes.

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I walked away. Ahhh ponies.

**************


The cheeky sheep was rather quiet. Though that might have just been the time of day. Most ponies were still at the market, with only the occasional loner coming in for a drink. I had been waiting here for almost an hour, nursing a single beer. I was going to miss this place. In just a few short weeks it had really grown on me. The door creaked open once again. I looked up to see a pony wrapped in a cloak standing there. When he spotted me he immediately came over.

“Thanks for coming.” I said as he sat down across from me in the little booth.

“It’s no problem Aeron. Frankly it’s nice to get away from all the posh and bother for a while.”

“Still, I appreciate it Blue.”

Blueblood shrugged. “Think nothing off it. Now what can I do for you? Your letter was vague but urgent.”

“Yeah.” I trailed off into silence for a minute. “I hate to beg for favors, but I don’t know who else to ask. The girls have refused to help me.”

“That... doesn’t sound like them. From what aunty tells me they are the kindest most helpful ponies around.”

“Poor choice of words. They believe I should ask the princess for help. Twilight was most insistent there. But I can’t ask her for help. Doing so would turn into a disaster. Of course the girls think I’m just being stubborn.”

“Are you? Being stubborn I mean. You haven’t even told me what this is all about”

“Where to begin.” I sighed. “In a nutshell, a few days ago I accompanied Spike on a little trip to meet with a bunch of dragons so he could learn what it means to be one. Things turned sour, and the beast briefly got out. A bunch of dragons got seriously hurt. I’d like to say they had it coming but… what it did to them, that was monstrous.”

“Did… did it kill them?”

“No, but none of them will ever fully recover. In a lot of ways that’s worse.”

“I see.” He said quietly.

“Look, Blue, I regret what happened, but I can’t control this thing. I need help. Help that can’t be found here in Equestria. No disrespect to your aunt but her solution to a problem is to either sic Twilight on it or blast it with the Elements of Harmony and hope for the best. The latter has no effect on me, and the former, she has no real clue how to help me.”

“So what will you do?”

“I can’t stay here blue. I’m a danger to everypony so long as I don’t have a foolproof method of keeping that, thing, in check. So far the only one who had any clue how to help me is Zecora. But even she is out of her depth here. I need to find someone more learned than her.”

“Where are you going to find somepony like that?”

“Zebrica.”

“You’re serious?”

“As a heart attack. And that’s what I need you for Blue. I need your help getting to Zebrica. The girls tried to talk me out of it, but I have to do this. And I need to get there before your aunt gets wind of this whole situation.”

“Why in Equestria does that matter?”

“Because we’ve gone through that whole song and dance before. I can’t ask her for help without everypony eventually finding out exactly what happened. And if that happens there’s bound to be ponies who will call for my immediate incarceration, if not summary execution this time. Claiming they were right all along. That I’m nothing more than a monster. And she would be obligated, by duty and by law, to throw me in Tartarus at the very least.”

“You realise what you’re asking of me? You’re asking me to go behind my aunt’s back. Essentially to help you escape from justice.”

“Is it justice though? You saw that mockery of a jury they tried to sic on me the last time they put me on trial. I doubt Ironclad will be able to get me off the hook a second time.”

“Technically I wasn’t there, but I did hear about it after the fact. Still, what you’re asking me to do… some would consider it an act of treason against the crown.”

“Blue, please. I’m completely at your mercy here. You are the only pony I know who has the connections to get me where I need to go.”

He was silent for the longest time. “Alright. But you owe me for this.”

“Anything, Blue.”

“I will hold you to that Aeron. But for now, just make sure you come back from this alright?.”

“I will try my hardest.”

He nodded. “I will call in a favor with an old friend of mine. He’s a tradeship captain who makes trips to Zebrica and beyond on a regular basis. He owes me a favor or two. He should still be in dock. He can probably get you to Zebrica.”

We both stood and I bumped hooves with him. “I really appreciate this.”

“I just hope you know what you’re doing, Aeron.”

“So do I.”

***********


Later that day I stood outside sweet apple acres once again, enjoying the afternoon sun. Or at least trying to. I was so on edge ever since my return to ponyville, I’ve pretty much been walking on eggshells. I really needed to relax, and the orchard is by far and wide the most peaceful place in all of Ponyville. Well, when the crusaders aren’t around anyway. Then everything becomes tree sap and pine needles, and I’ve got enough of that as it is. Like I said however, right now the place was peaceful, which is the main reason I keep coming back here whenever I feel the need for some tranquility.

I closed my eyes, that is to say, I turned off my magical vision and enjoyed the sensation of the sunlight on my leaves and bark. Slowly the tension seemed to drain out of me as I listened to the birds singing in the distance.

I’ve never really been the type to try meditation. I can never seem to quiet my mind. Frankly I believe that's a skill only a handful of people possess, and even fewer manage to master. But I do enjoy moments of solitude, just so I can unwind and think, and just be myself. Stillness does seem to come easier to me these days. Probably another side effect of being a walking talking willow.

I wonder, am I doing the right thing? Or is this plan just a fool's errand? I have no idea what to expect in Zebrica. Would they fear me, like the ponies? Will I even be able to find help? Will Blueblood even come through for me? Not that I doubt him, but who knows if this friend of his will even take me. Best not think about that too much. I came here to relax after all.

The sudden sound of something touching down drew my attention. I opened my eyes only to be confronted by the sight of Celestia herself.

“Princess? What are you doing here?”

“I am here on a matter most important, concerning the safety of my kingdom and its subjects. I have weighed all my options, and sadly I see but one possible solution. I am sorry Aeron but for the sake of every living thing in equestria, I am left with no other option, but to turn you to stone.”

I tensed up, every instinct screaming danger at me as I slipped into a defensive stance. “Yeah good luck with that. The elements of harmony don’t work on me.”

“There’s more than one way to turn a person to stone Aeron. For what it’s worth, I truly am sorry.” She nodded to someone behind me. “Fluttershy, you may begin.”

Wait? Fluttershy? I turned around only to come face to face with the yellow pegasus, and a pair of cockatrice.

“I’m so sorry about this.” fluttershy said as she nudged the cockatrices forward.

Both mythical beasts gazed at me with baleful glowing red eyes. I tried to look away swiftly, but the damage was done. Already my legs began turning to stone.

“Wait, please, you can’t do this. You can’t do this to me! It’s not right!”

“I’m sorry, but there’s simply no place in this world for you.” said Celestia somberly. “Don’t worry, you won’t be conscious like Discord. Just relax and let it happen.”

The creeping stone moved faster and faster up my body. No matter which way I twisted or turned, there was no escape. In moments the stone had reached my face. My vision began to darken.

“No, please, nooooooooooooo…” Darkness swallowed me.


“AAAAAAAAAAAAAH!!”

I awoke from the black void with a scream. My power lashed out in panic, tearing a wide crevasse into the earth. Several trees toppled over as their roots were ripped from the soil, and part of the fence marking the edge of the orchard was torn asunder. It took me a full minute to realise I was in fact whole, unharmed and certainly not petrified.

“Just… a dream?” I managed to breathe out as my panic subsided and I set about repairing the damage. The fence was a lost cause, but I could at least put the trees back and fix the chasm in the ground.

What a nightmare. Apparently my attempt at meditation had been so relaxing I had slipped into my hybernative sleep state without realising it. And my subconscious and overactive imagination had promptly given me a horrid vision of a possible future. Judging from the position of the sun I must have been out for an hour at least. I swear, after that dream, I’m never sleeping again.

********



Several days passed, and I was starting to become paranoid. I guess my little nightmare shook me up worse than I realised. I was becoming convinced that celestia was out to get me. I was jumpy and ready to lash out at anything and everything. Maybe it was a good thing Zecora refused to come with me. I should just do this alone so noone gets hurt whenever I lose control or have another freakout. Yes, going on this trip solo was definitely the right path. Now if only Blueblood would hurry up so I could get out of here before I lose my goddamn mind, again.

As a means to distract myself and maintain the illusion of normalcy I had poured all of my remaining time into working on Trixie’s wagon. That afternoon we finally finished it.

With a satisfied grunt Big Mac tossed his paintbrush back into the bucket.

“I think that should do it.” I said as I put my own brush down.

“Eeyup.”

The wagon was all done and freshly painted. The woodwork had been painted in blue to match trixie’s own coat. Yellow stars decorated the back end of the wagon. Getting progressively smaller the closer the got to the front until they vanished. The top was covered by a sturdy canvas in the same purple color as her cape and hat. A small chimney pipe that led to her little stove poked through it. The cover on top had been shaped like a little wizards hat and painted in purple as well. Each side had a little window to let in the light, and the front of the cart had a dutch door with a small round window in the top section. It held stained glass that showed a star and a letter T.

“It’s perfect. Trixie loves it.” said the mare in question. Her eyes growing slightly misty.

“Glad you like the results Trixie. That makes all the hard work we put into this thing worth it.”

“Eeyup.” Said Big Mac.

Trixie suddenly jumped the both of us, giving us a hug as she said “Thank you.” over and over. Sounding happier than I’ve ever heard her.

“‘Tweren't nothing.” Said Big Mac, fighting off a blush.

I guess he’s not used to getting hugs from mares. At least from ones he’s not related to.

As we packed up the rest of the tools, Spike entered the barn.

“Hey Aeron, got a letter for you.” He said as he held up a scroll.

“Thanks Spike. You didn’t say anything to Twilight right?”

“Nope, I kept my mouth shut, just like I promised.”

“That’s my main dragon.” I said with a smile.

“Technically I’m your only dragon dude. Now about our agreement...”

“Oh, right.” I said as I pulled a gemstone from inside one of my inner pockets. A large Sapphire. “Here you go.”

“Pleasure doing business.” Spike said as he walked off, licking the gemstone.

“Since when are you in the business of bribing ponies?” Trixie asked.

“It’s not a bribe. Its payment for services rendered.”

“Briiiibe.” She sing songed in a passable imitation of Pinkie Pie. .

“Oh hush.”

“So who’s the letter from?”

I didn’t answer as I opened it. Trying my hardest to decipher the Equestrian script. With a little effort I was able to figure out the message.

Aeron my friend, the ship leaves tonight from Baltimare. Meet me on the bridge outside Ponyville at sunset. Be on time.

Blueblood.

“It’s from Shining Armor.” I lied as I folded the letter back up and put it inside myself. “He’s asking when we can set up our next games night.”

“Why would you ask Spike to keep that quiet from Twilight?”

“Because…. It’s nerdy?”

She gave me a look of disbelief.

“We’re playing Caverns and Critters okay, it’s silly guys stuff.”

“If you say so.” She sounded unconvinced.

“Hey why don’t you take your new wagon for a spin. See how she pulls huh?”

“We should probably let the paint fully dry first. Otherwise it will be full of dirt and leaves and whatnot.”

“Oh yeah… right. Well I’m going for a walk. See you later okay.”

Without waiting for a reply I left the barn.

***************



Luna walked through the palace hallways. She had woken not too long ago. She would have to raise the moon in an hour or so, but until then… well, she wasn’t exactly sure what to do. That was a problem that had been plaguing her a lot in the past few weeks. She wanted to contribute more to the day to day running of Equestria, but aside from her raising the moon and her role as protector of the dreamscape there was little for her to do. Not a lot happened during the night. Even bad dreams were a rarity in this day and age. After centuries of peaceful living, ponies had little that troubled their minds. So true night terrors were few and far between.

Luna turned a corner and came face to face with her own nightmare. At the end of the hallway stood Nightmare Moon. She stared at Luna with piercing eyes. Luna felt her heart skip a beat and her breath caught in her throat. Nightmare Moon flashed her a wicked fanged smile, then dashed off to the side down the hall.

“Wait, STOP!” Luna shouted and charged after her.

She rounded the corner and nearly collided with one of the guards.

“Whoa, your highness, what’s wrong?” Asked the stallion, an orange pegasus.

“Did you not see her?” Luna all but shouted in his face.

“See who your highness? There’s nopony here but you and me.”

Luna looked down the hallway. There were no side corridors, and the door at the end was closed. There was no way Nightmare Moon would’ve been able to slip by this guard unnoticed.

“Princess, are you alright?”

“We are fine… uhm.. what is thy name guardsman?”

“Flash Sentry your highness.”

“We are fine, Flash Sentry. We just thought we saw somepony familiar.”

“Well I just came through the door, and I didn’t see anypony.”

“We were apparently mistaken.” Luna said as she turned around. “We must be off, the moon needs to be raised soon. Goodnight Flash Sentry.”

“Goodnight your highness.” He said with a salute.

As Luna turned and went back the way she came she missed the smile Flash gave her. A smile that was all fangs.

***************

As twilight and the others sat down for dinner I stepped outside under the excuse of soaking up some last minute sun before nightfall. One of the advantages of being me is that I don’t have to bring anything on a journey. No food, tents or other stuff. I take one last look through the window at the three of them. Sorry guys, but I need to do this before I seriously hurt one of you.

I walked away, picking up the pace to get away quickly before I changed my mind. The bridge is not exactly all that far, and it took me only a few minutes to reach it. There was nopony there. I guess I’m a little early. I Leaned on the side of the bridge, looking down into the water at my own reflection. A mostly featureless mask with glowing green eyes stared back at me. I’ve gotten good at making a lifelike pony face, but a human face… I’ve almost forgotten what a human face is supposed to even look like. More specifically I’m starting to forget what my own face used to look like.

People always say that outside appearances shouldn’t matter. And that what’s on the inside is what truly counts. That’s all well and good, but our appearance and physical form plays a big role in shaping your own identity and sense of self. When I became this, I lost a part of what made me, me. Everytime I see my own reflection it’s like looking at a stranger. The fact that I can be nearly anything doesn’t help either. If I was stuck in a single form it might perhaps be easier to get used to it. But that’s only half my problem. Everytime I think I’ve figured everything about myself out, I learn something new. One step forward, two steps back.

Ugh, Who am I anymore? What the hell is my purpose in this new life? Why the fuck was I reborn like this? All this thinking is giving me a headache. Or whatever passes for one in my current condition. I smacked my head into the railing of the bridge with an annoyed grunt. I hate my existence right now.

A flash and a loud pop like someone uncorking a champagne bottle startled my mind back into the here and now. Blueblood and another pony I did not recognise appeared in a swirl of smoke.

“Hello there Aeron.” Blue greeted me with an extended hoof.

I made a fist and gave it a solid bump. “Evening, Blue, who’s your friend?”

“This is Pinpoint, he’s an expert at long range teleportation. He’s going to take us to Baltimare. The ship is waiting at pier fifteen. Are you ready to go?”

I took one last look over my shoulder at Ponyville. The town looked so serene against the setting sun.

I let out a sigh. “Yeah, I’m ready.”

“Alright then, just stand next to us and keep still. Pinpoint, if you please.”

“Of course, master Blueblood.”

I couldn’t help but crack a smile, this guy sounded just like Alfred. Would that make Blueblood Bruce Wayne? Hah, imagine that.

Pinpoint’s horn began to glow. I could feel the air around me tingle with the magical buildup. A shimmering bubble formed around us, and then we were gone. I’ve never teleported before, but the sensation wasn’t unlike being on a rollercoaster. A rush of speed, and feeling as if you left your stomach several paces behind you. Everything just blurred, and then snapped back into focus. And we were elsewhere.

The countryside sounds and smell of Ponyville vanished instantly, and the scent of brine and the cries of seagulls assaulted my senses. We were standing in the middle of a docking district, amidst wooden warehouses, brickwork drydocks and ponies carrying crates and bales of goods and fish. Not just ponies though. I could see griffons, minotaurs, even a buffalo or two. I guess that’s why nopony gave me more than a casual glance. They were a lot more used to seeing strange creatures here than in most places I suppose.

“This way.” Said Blue as he guided us through the chaos.

In a minute or two we reached the pier. Moored there was an enormous galleon with four masts. Its crew was rushing to get the last of its cargo aboard.

“Ahoy there.” Shouted Blueblood as we approached the gangplank.

One of the sailors, an earth pony in a striped blue shirt turned to us. “What business ya got here?” he asked gruffly.

“I’d like a word with the captain. We have an arrangement.” Said Blue.

“Wait here.” the sailor replied before he vanished up the plank and out of sight.

We didn’t have to wait long. From the deck emerged another earth pony. To say he was rotund would be an understatement. This stallion was like a keg on legs. He also sported an enormous and wild beard. He wore a grey blue captains jacket and matching tricorn hat.

“Captain Seaspray, good to see you again.” Said Blueblood as the two stallions shared a manly hug in greeting.

”Good to see you too lad. It’s been far too long.” He then turned to me. “So you are the strange being who needs passage to Zebrica eh. I’ve seen a lot of strange things in me days, but none like ye. Still, just cause somepony looks odd don’t mean they ain’t good folk. Ever been on a ship lad?”

I shook my head. “Not unless you count a canoe.”

“Nay, that won’t do.” he said with a grin. “Alright then, pin yer ears up an’ listen. There’s a few rules ye need to follow if ya wanna sail on me ship.”

I nodded and gave him my full attention.

“First up, don’t get in the way of me crew. Yer free to roam around on the deck, but stay out of the cargo hold. Secondly, if you have a dispute with somepony you settle it on the shore. No fighting on board the ship. Thirdly, no lanterns or candles on deck after eight in the evening. Follow these three rules and everything will be fine.”

“I can do that.”

“Alright then lad, welcome aboard. We’ll get ye to Zebrica without a fuss.”

“So you’re just gonna leave, without even saying goodbye?” Came a familiar voice from behind us.

We all turned to find a panting Trixie standing there, sporting two bulging saddlebags.

“Trixie? How the fuck did you get here?”

“Emergency teleport gem.” She said, holding up a broken sphere of quartz like material. “Good for one long distance teleport to a location of the user's choice. After our encounter with those dragons, Trixie invested her savings into getting one. Just in case she ever needed to make a quick escape again. And now she’s gone and spent it chasing after you. Trixie was lucky she overheard your location or she might have never made it in time. You owe Trixie a new gem by the way.”

“What do you mean you overheard?”

“Trixie followed you to the bridge. She heard exactly where you were going. Trixie had to run all the way back to the library to get her stuff and the gem, and then run around the docks looking for this pier.”

“You should have stayed in Ponyville, Trixie.”

“Absolutely not! Trixie is not about to let you run off on your own and disappear into the night.”

“I have to do this by myself.”

“Horse apples you do! Trixie is coming with you!”

“No, you’re not.”

“Wanna bet?” She said as she stomped a hoof.

“Why are you so adamant about coming with me.”

“Because even though you say you need to do this by yourself, Trixie believes otherwise. You haven’t been yourself since we got back from the volcano. The others might not have noticed, but Trixie could clearly see you’ve been keeping your distance from everypony. Trixie strongly believes you need a friend, now more than ever. Besides, Trixie… I, like hanging out with you .”

“But I can’t guarantee your safety.”

“So? Trixie is a grown mare. She can take care of herself.”

“But what if I lose control again?”

“Then Trixie will be there to snap you out of it.”

“Trixie I’m serious. You could get hurt. I don’t want to see you hurt, or be the one that hurts you.”

“You won’t”

“You don’t know that.”

“That’s a risk Trixie is willing to take.”

“Well I’m not.”

“It’s not up to you. This is Trixie’s life, Trixie’s choice. Hers, not yours.”

“But..”

“No! Twice now you told Trixie to run while you put yourself in harms way to protect her. I will not run a third time. This time I will stand my ground, to help you. Because I care about you.”

We stared at eachother for what felt like hours. I could see it in her eyes. The conviction that she needed to be here. And the determination to see things through. I let out a tired sigh and nodded. Trixie suddenly jumped forward and hugged me around the waist, since I was currently a lot taller than her.

“Thanks, Trixie. You really are a good friend.” I said as I returned the hug somewhat awkwardly, due to our size difference.

“Heh, yeah… and you’re an idiot.” She said as she finally let go.

“Something wrong?

“Nothing, lets just get on board.”

I turned to face captain Seaspray. “Will that be alright sir?”

“I suppose one more can’t hurt. So long as ye two don’t mind sharing a bunk.”

“S-share a bunk? With h-him?” Trixie stammered.

“We only have so much room.” said Seaspray.

“We’ll make do.” I said.

“I guess this is goodbye then.” Said Blueblood, who raised his hoof for a bump. I promptly bumped it with my fist. “Good luck Aeron, miss Lulamoon. Come back safely.”

We both nodded, then boarded the ship.

As the sun dipped below the horizon and twilight set in, so did the tide. At the captain’s signal the sails were unfurled and the anchor raised. We left port just as the moon rose up to take its place in the sky. I stood on the aft deck, watching the lights of Baltimare as the city slowly vanished beneath the horizon. We made good time thanks to a pegasus assisted breeze. Now there was nothing between us and Zebrica but the open ocean.

There was no turning back now.

Chapter 27: Hijinks on the high seas.

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Chapter 27
Hijinks on the high seas.

Prince Blueblood walked through the corridors of Canterlot Castle. He had just received a summons from his aunt, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out why. He knew that aunty maintained a spy network. As shady as such a thing sounded, it was a necessary evil. To maintain the security of equestria.

He came upon the great double doors of the throne room. The masons, smiths and carpenters had done excellent work on the repairs. One would never guess that Luna had blasted both doors off their hinges with enough force to partially shatter the stonework around them and warp part of the iron door-frame. The guards on either side of the doors gave him a bow of respect before pulling the doors open. He took a deep breath and stepped inside.

Celestia sat on her throne atop the dais. Looking regal and radiant as she always does. She regarded him with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes though. As he stepped forward the doors closed behind him, and a soundproofing spell went up around the room. It was to be a private audience then.

“You called for me, Princess?” He said as he halted at the foot of the dais.

“Indeed I did nephew, welcome.”

“How can I be of service to Equestria, Princess?”

“I find myself with something of a mystery on my hooves.”

“What kind of mystery, Princess?”

“The mystery of how Aeron suddenly disappeared into thin air, when I had my most trusted informer keeping an eye on him.”

“And you were hoping I could shed some light on this event?”

“Frankly yes, considering that you were the one last seen talking to him.”

“Are you spying on me as well?”

“Spying is such an ugly word, I am merely looking out for you, nephew.”

“By having somepony monitor my every move?” He said with mounting outrage.

“Nephew, you are part of the royal family. For your own safety there has always been somepony watching out for you.”

“And what of my privacy? What of my personal life?”

“I assure you, discretion is..”

“Screw discretion, Princess, I don’t want your spies sticking their muzzle into my personal affairs!”

Celestia held up a hoof. “Enough, we can discuss that in detail later, I summoned you here to explain your actions. You helped Aeron evade the crown. Why?”

“All I did, Princess, was help a friend in need. Like a good pony should. You taught me that yourself. As far as I am aware, there are no outstanding bounties, fines or warrants on Aeron’s name. So at the time I saw no reason whatsoever to deny him help.”

Celestia let out a tired sigh. “I never doubted that your heart was in the right place dear nephew. But you must understand, Aeron is a dangerous individual.”

“Only when provoked, your highness. But are any of us so different? Would you not do anything in your power to protect those you care about? Or protect yourself when someone threatens your very life?”

She could not deny it. She would do almost anything to protect her little ponies.

“You are right, nephew. But as ruler and protector of Equestria I must always consider the greater good. I cannot sit idle and let Aeron roam free. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of one individual. My own included. I made that choice once before when I banished Luna to the moon. And now I have to do it again.”

“Princess, please. Aeron is not evil. Look at his actions thus far. When he was arrested he could have run, but he didn’t. He put his trust in our laws. And when they send him to jail he chose to serve his sentence. He could have escaped at any time if he so wished, but he chose not to. When Discord escaped, Aeron could have joined him, or vanished to the far corners of Equis. But he didn’t. He chose to stay and fight. He chose to fight for us. Even at the risk of his own life.”

“Yes, but..”

“And then there was the incident with the Star Spiders. Princess Luna told us all about that night, do you remember?”

An involuntary shudder went through Celestia. Luna’s retelling had been detailed and graphic. She even showed her battle with the spider matriarch in the dreamscape. Celestia had launched a full investigation into the incident afterwards, trying to find the cause of the spiders unusual behavior. But Luna’s Stella Magna spell had obliterated the site so thoroughly that no evidence of outside influence could be recovered. The cause remained a mystery.

“If Aeron hadn't been there, a dozen more lives would have been lost that night. And who knows how many more in the aftermath, before we finally discovered the nest.” Blueblood continued. “He’s trying to do the right thing your highness. And I believe that given the chance he could be a great boon to Equestria. But if we keep treating him like a pariah he might turn his back on us.”

“Nephew,” she said, her tone shifting from that of the royal matriarch to a caring mother as she hugged him close with her wing, their shoulders touching. “I know that in his heart, Aeron is a good stallion. No truly evil being would risk his life to protect a little foal. I trust his intentions are good. But inside him lurks a power, a very dark power, that, by his own admission, he can’t control. It is that power I seek to contain. To do nothing would be folly. So please, Blueblood, tell me where he is.”

Blueblood let out a tired sigh. “It’s already too late aunty. As we speak, Aeron sails across the celestial sea, to Zebrica.”

“Why there?”

“Because he believes they can help him gain control.”

“And what do you believe, nephew?”

“I don’t know, aunty. But he is a friend, and I choose to believe in my friends.”

“You have a good heart, nephew.”

“Its because I had a good teacher to show me the way.” He said as he gently gave her chest a nuzzle.

She gave him one final hug with her wing before breaking contact. “Run along now, nephew. I need time to consider what you said.”

“As you wish, aunty.”

As blueblood left the throne room and the doors closed behind him, Celestia let out a tired sigh.

“Borealis, I have a task for you.”

The stallion emerged from the shadows behind her throne and bowed. “I stand ready, my Princess. What would you have me do?”

“Go to the head office of the A.M.O. and get me Agent Sweetie Drops.



***************


The great trade galleon pushed through the waves like a big ponderous whale. It was a beautiful day. Celestia’s sun was warm and bright, and the skies were clear of any clouds. The sea itself was gentle and calm, despite the stiff breeze that was nice and cool. And I couldn’t give a flying fuck about any of it because I felt sick as a dog. Now before you ask me if I got seasick, and how the hell that’s possible without a stomach, let me tell you this was not seasickness.

I noticed the first signs as we got out to the open sea two days ago. I felt a strange sense of fatigue that I haven't felt since my transformation. At first I chalked it up to nerves or stress or some such, considering my state of mind the past week.. But the further we got from the shore the stronger it became. As for whats causing it, I can certainly speculate. If I had to guess, I’d say my condition is directly related to my distance from solid ground. It wasn’t so bad when we were in the shallows, but here on the open ocean my connection to the earth is seemingly at its weakest. And it made me feel like I had a serious case of the flu. You know the drill, feeling tired, achy joints, hard to focus. Fortunately the sun’s rays helped to stave off the worst of the effect, so I made it a point to stay on deck as much as possible. It would seem I’ve found another weakness of my current form.

Wait, would that mean that if Celestia banished me to the moon I would die? And before you say, duh you idiot, it's the goddamn moon, nothing can survive there, besides a certain princess. I meant, would my link to the world be completely severed because of the enormous distance, resulting in my powers cutting out completely and thus my death? Ugh, what a morbid thought to start the day on.

I turned away from the sea, leaned against the railing and observed the going ons of the crew. They were a diverse lot. True the majority of the crew consisted of ponies of all types, And not just all stallions either. There were plenty of mares among the crew. There were also a couple of Diamond Dogs working for Captain Seaspray, and the ship's Bosun was a salty old Minotaur by the name of Steel Anchor. What is it with Minotaurs and having names related to metals anyway?

I left that question for another time and watched the crew at work. To be honest I had no real clue what they were all doing. I’ve never been on a ship before, and I know bugger all about sailing except from what I’ve seen in pirate movies. And we all know how reliable movies are as a source of information. One thing that some movies got right apparently is that sailors love a good song or two. Because the crew were belting out a tune together as they worked. Or maybe it’s just because they’re ponies. We all know how much ponies like to burst into song. There were even a couple of them playing a fiddle and an accordion.

I wasn’t really feeling up to joining in with the song. That and I didn’t know the lyrics. So I just watched and listened. And then one voice in particular cut through the others. Trixie had joined them.

She came walking up the steps that led down into the crew deck where our bunk was. Her steps were steady as a rock. As if she’d been on a ship all her life. Her mane blew in the breeze as she half walked half danced across the deck, singing her heart out. I couldn’t help but crack a smile. I had been worried that she would be utterly miserable on this trip, since she pretty much dropped everything just to help me out. But she seemed to be in good spirits.

“Morning Trixie.” I greeted her as she danced up besides me. “You’re very chipper today.”

“Morniiiing.” She sing songed. “And why shouldn't I be? It's a lovely day, and we’re on our way to see a whole new country. Trixie has dreamed of traveling abroad since she was a filly. Think of all the things she, I, could learn. When we’re done in Zebrica, Trixie’s magic show will be better than ever. Trixie will become the greatest showmare in history.”

“Well it’s nice to see you so optimistic.”

She leaned on the railing and stared at the waves. “For a long time, Trixie, I mean, I, was running from my problems. Thinking there was nothing I could do to change things, and blaming others for my misfortune. But since I met you, I’ve come to realise what’s most important to me. And I will do everything I can to hang on to those things.”

“Heh, glad I could help. After all, what are friends for if not helping each other out.”

“Right….” her smile vanished as she spoke.

“Something wrong?”

“I….”

I looked her straight in the eyes. “If something's bothering you, you know I’ll help right? After all, you’re my frie...”

“Forget it, idiot.” She said as she pushed off of the railing and walked away. Leaving me confused.

“You me boy might be the densest bugger I ever laid me eyes on.” Said a voice to my left.

I turned to come face to face with Captain Seaspray. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Me eyes might not work as well as they did twenty years ago lad, but even I can see the lady fancies you.”

“Wait what? Stop pulling my leg man, we’re just friends.”

“Do ye have an acorn for a brain boy? She’s smitten with ya I tell ye. Haven't ye noticed how she gets all flustered when ye say something nice to her. How she drops that whole third person speech she's got going when it's just you two. The glances she steals when she thinks ye ain't lookin. Don’t tell me ya haven't noticed none of that.”

“That doesn’t have to mean anything.”

“Lad now you’re just being stubborn and daft.”

“You can't be right. What the heck does she even see in me?”

“Damned if I know laddy. I’ve only known the two of ya for two days. Besides, tis not for this old salt to know the way the fairer sex thinks. But I do know that it's not nice o’ya to keep her hangin’ like that.” He turned to leave. “I suggest ya think long an hard about how ya feel about her lad, but best not take too long, she won't wait forever.”

To say I was left in a state of utter confusion was an understatement. Trixie actually liked me? As in like liked me. What the hell? This has to be some kind of cruel joke right? Seaspray must be taking me for a fool, right? But… what if it’s true? What if Trixie likes me as more than a friend? The question gnawed at me all morning and well into the afternoon. The more I looked back on it, the more obvious it became that Trixie did indeed seem to like me as more than just a friend. The memory of our dance at the gala seemed like an obvious clue in hindsight. How the hell did I miss the signals? But why…. And do I feel the same way?

She’s a pastel colored mini horse. And I’m… I am Groot. What sort of future could we possibly have together? What the heck does she even see in me? I don’t even know how long I will live, exist, whatever. And what if this is all just a little crush on her side?

‘Does it matter?’ A little voice at the back of my mind seemed to say. If you look past the uncertainties, if you ignore outside appearances, then how do you feel about her? She may be a tiny little horse, but in her heart she’s just like any other young woman. Can you look past what she is, and love her for who she is?

How do I feel about her? Well….
She’s actually quite funny. She’s charming when she wants to be, and underneath her showmare exterior she’s kinda sweet too. She’s strong willed and unafraid to voice her opinion. Brave, but not foolhardy. And surprisingly gentle when it counts. She’s talented, but she lacks confidence, hiding her uncertainty beneath a layer of pomp and bluster. But with a little encouragement she shines through every time. And she has a cheeky streak that I find endearing. Could I love somepony… somebody, like that?

Could I?

...

Yes, I think I could.

Shifting into my own pony form, I went to look for her. Now would be as good a time as any to lay it all out and see where we actually stood. We have at least another week's worth of travel left on this boat, and I for one don’t want to spend it in awkward silence and tiptoeing around each other.

I looked around the deck first, I was hoping she would still be up here somewhere, but she was nowhere to be found. Reluctantly I went below decks, away from the sun. The moment I went below I could feel my body grow heavy. Like someone dropped a bag of bricks on my shoulders. I looked in the galley first, since a lot of the crew tended to hang out there when off duty. But she wasn’t there either. We weren’t allowed in the hold so that left only one place.

Most of the crew slept in hammocks and bunks. Since the ship had limited space. There were only a few cabins, separate from the rest of the crew deck. Most of these belonged to the ship’s officers. But there was one vacant one that the captain kept for special passengers. It was the one trixie and I shared. It only had the one bunk though, and no space to put up a hammock. I quietly pushed open the door, finding Trixie lying in our bunk, facing away from the door.

Ï stepped inside and closed the door. “Do you have a moment? I was hoping we could talk.”

All I got in reply was a noncommittal ‘hmm’. I slowly walked up, then climbed into the bunk myself, rather than stand there awkwardly. I could feel her tense up as I slid up against her. This was the first time I had actually shared the bunk with her. I spent the last few days awake at night so she could have it to herself. It was a bit awkward since these bunks weren’t very big. I had to sort of spoon up against her for us to both fit.

“What are you..” she began but I quietly shushed her.

“I had a talk with the captain this morning after you left.” I said as I settled down. “He made me realize what a colossal blind idiot I’ve been.”

She didn’t say anything, but I could hear and feel her breath quickening.

“Trixie…. are you…..” I hesitated. What if this was all wrong? What if.. if...

No! Fuck that. Time to pony up….. “Trixie, are you in love with me?”

A silent gasp, her body went rigid. She was holding her breath, I could feel her heart hammering against her ribs.

“Trixie?”

“Yes.” her voice was barely above a whisper. So quiet I almost missed it.

For a while neither one of us said anything. It gave her a chance to catch her breath and calm down. Slowly her heart returned to a normal, if still slightly nervous rhythm.

“Please don’t take this the wrong way but, why?” I asked.

She rolled over onto her back and turned her head to look at me. “What do you mean why? What sort of question is that?”

“Why do you love me? I’m not even a pony.”

“So? Trixie doesn't care.” She took a deep breath, turning her eyes towards the ceiling. “Since that day you met Trixie, me, on the road you’ve always been kind. You encouraged me to be a better pony and went out of your way to help me.”

She stared at the ceiling some more, I kept silent so she could gather her thoughts. Eventually she let out a shaky breath.

“At first it was just a silly crush. Here I was, down on my luck, and in comes this weird yet strangely rugged stallion, who turns out isn't a stallion at all, swooping in to lend a hoof. And then you convinced me to come back to Ponyville, to put things behind me once and for all.”

She craned her neck to look at me.

“I didn’t plan to stick around long, not at first. As soon as my wagon was complete I would say my goodbyes and be gone. But as the weeks passed, and the more time we spent together, the thought of leaving appealed to me less and less. And when I asked myself why, I realised its because I wanted to stick with you.”

She rolled over completely and placed a hoof on my cheek.

“You made me feel welcome, made me feel safe. No matter where Trixie went she, I, always felt the need to hide behind a mask. Behind the Trixie who performs on the stage. But with you, for the first time I felt like I could just be myself. I realised I didn’t have to hide who I am. You’ve seen the best and worst of me already. With you, I feel like I belong. And that’s something I didn’t want to give up. That’s why I decided to stick with you.”

“Trixie..” I wanted to say something, but she kept going, so I let her.

“I realise that sounds a bit selfish. But I really do care about you. I don’t know how to explain it but I feel like you need me. And I need you. I don’t care if you are a pony or not. I care about you. And.. and I hope you feel the same about me.”

She looked me in the eyes. He own eyes shimmering with both hope of acceptance, and fear of rejection. I placed my hoof on hers. Taking a moment to gather my own thoughts and how to best put it all into words.

“To be honest, up till this morning I never even considered the possibility of a relationship. I’m a stranger in a strange land. I look as alien to all of you as you do to me. How could anypony possibly be interested in a relationship with a walking talking pile of twigs? The idea of finding love seemed so ludicrous to me that I was blind to every little hint you dropped over the last months. Until the captain bluntly pointed it out to me.”

I gave her my best smile as I gave her hoof a little squeeze.

“I spent the whole day thinking about it, about us. And I’ve come to realise that I like you for who you are, and that it doesn’t matter what you are so long as your feelings for eachother are genuine. You may be a unicorn, a very beautiful unicorn, a creature I only know from legends and folklore, but that doesn’t matter.. What’s important is what’s in here,” I gently touched her forehead underneath her horn. “And here,” I placed my hoof over her heart.

“In every way that truly counts. The only way that counts, you are everything I could hope for. So yes, Trixie, I guess I feel the same way. And though I can’t promise you things will work out between us, I can promise to give this my best try. Because I think you’re worth it.”

“Will you be my special somepony?”

Her eyes lit up like twin suns. So great was her joy that if there were any changelings around they would have spontaneously combusted. She pulled me upright and enveloped me in a bone crushing hug. After a full five minutes she finally let go.

“Well, now that this whole awkward confession is behind us… would you like to get some fresh air?”

“No.” she said as she wiped her eyes with her fetlock. They had grown a bit misty during our hug. “There is something Trixie needs to do. Something she has been waiting for for a long time now.”

Before I could ask her what that was she leaned forward, and kissed me .It felt strange to kiss with a muzzle for a mouth. But it didn’t matter. Because that first, awkward kiss said everything our words could not.

This had been the right choice.



****************

The front door of the Blessed Fields mansion shut with an audible clack. Flash Sentry took off his guard helmet and shook his head. Those helmets were so incredibly uncomfortable, especially with a mane. They became itchy very fast. Putting the helmet on a coatrack he proceeded into the main dining room.

“I’m back.” He called out.

“Thrax!” Willow vine bellowed. “Where in the blazes have you been? You were supposed to be back an hour ago.”

“I was doing my job.” He snarked, his voice growing more gutteral.

“Your job was to assist me.”

“No, that is only part of my duties. The general gave me specific instructions.”

“What sort of instructions? Why wasn’t I informed?”

“Because he felt you did not need to know at the time.”

“This is my mission. I demand to know what you were up to.” she said, stomping her hoof.

“Or else what? Posing as a noble for so long has clearly gone to your head.”

“I’m warning you Thrax.”

He stared her down with disdain. “Do you imagine, that I’m afraid of you? You are just a scout. While I, am a praetorian. I was bred for battle. I could crush you before you could get a single spell off.”

He stared her down for close to a full minute. Eventually she looked away.

“You were wrong by the way.” He snorted.

“About what?”

“The amulet is not in the castle.”

“What? But it must be. Celestia would not let something that dangerous out of her sight.”

“I was on patrol all night and all morning. I swept every inch of the castle with the haruspex, as you should have done in the first place. It is not here. I doubt it is even in Canterlot.”

“No, no no no, that can’t be right. If that is so I might never find it in time. The general..”

“Will be most displeased with you, yes.”

I, I have to widen the search. I need to hire more agents. Track down leads. I’ll need hush money. Bribes. ”

“Do as you wish, I have my own orders.”

“What orders? What could possibly be more important than this right now?”

“If it will cease your bugging of me, my job is to break the moon princess. Make her doubt her own sanity, render her incapable of acting, so that when the time comes, she won’t get in the way.”

“Your oh so important task is to play mind games?”

“It’s what we do isn’t it?” He said with a snide chuckle “Now excuse me, I need a shower.”

She looked at his retreating form as he left the room and walked up the stairs.

“Damn I love my job.” were his last words before he vanished up the stairs, and all she heard was wicked laughter.



****************


Trixie and I finally got back on deck about an hour before sunset. We’d spent a good deal of the afternoon snuggled up against each other. If you think human couples enjoy just vegging on a couch together, then let me tell you they got nothing on ponies. The way Trixie just leaned into me, all cozy and content, it was just adorable. And something I could definitely get used to. I’m surprised she didn’t start purring like a kitten.

We talked, but only for a short while. All the important things had been said for the moment, and everything else could wait. Above all else she just wanted to be close, and I was more than happy to oblige. Her presence is… soothing. Even if it still feels a bit strange to me. It’s been a long time since I was in a relationship of any kind. As I said before, I’d pretty much given up all hope of ever finding someone. And then along comes this little blue magician, enchanting my heart without me even noticing. Ugh, I’m getting sappy….. Oh gods thats a terrible pun. Stop it brain! I’m warning you.

Eventually I did have to get up, much to her protest. I really needed to soak up a few more rays of sunlight before dark. That’s how we found our way to the aft deck. The low sun in the sky made the sea sparkle as if it was made of liquid gold. The tranquil atmosphere on deck was shattered by a cry from the crow’s nest.

“Captain, sail ho! Looks like she’s shadowing us!”

“Are ye certain lass?!” Seaspray hollered back.

“She keeps just below the horizon, I bet she’s waiting for dark to make her approach!”

“What colors does she sail under?!”

“I couldn’t tell captain, it’s too far to see, I was lucky to spot her at all!”

“Helmscolt! Change course, take us due south.”

“Aye sir!” Yelled the pony at the wheel.

“Keep a weather eye, if she is indeed shadowing us we’ll soon know!” The captain called up to the lookout.

“Problem, Captain?” I asked

“I don’t wanna alarm ye, but this region is rife with piracy. Which is why we have the no lights on deck after eight in the evening rule. We don’t wanna be a visible target. Now it could be nothing, but we need to be cautious.”

“Anything we can do to help?” Trixie asked.

“Nay, just keep yer heads down and don’t get in the way of the crew. If anything changes I will let ye know.”

I turned my eyes to the horizon, but I could see nothing. Even if my enhanced senses weren’t weakened right now I doubt I would have been able to spot the ship. Eventually the sun set. I wanted to stay on deck during the night to keep an eye out, but Trixie had other plans. Dragging me back to our bunk so she’d have somepony to snuggle up against in her sleep.

Its funny, now that I know what to look for I remember all the moments over the last months where she was trying to get my attention. Her acting all shy and flustered. Man was I ever so blind. But now that our feelings were out in the open she wasn’t shy about them at all, making it crystal clear what she wanted from me. Talk about doing a one-eighty in attitude.

And so I found myself back in our bunk. Spooned up to her, listening to the sound of her breath while she slumbered peacefully. I’d made it a point not to stare at ponies during the night while they slept, because it seemed like a creepy thing to do. But watching Trixie, my marefriend sleep, that felt okay. Marefriend… I really am going native aren’t I?

She mumbles something unintelligible in her sleep. Her front legs kicking slightly. Darnit she’s almost like an adorable puppy. I gently nuzzle her neck.

“You’ve given your heart to me. I only hope I prove worthy of it.”

-------

The sound of ponies running across the deck rouses me from my slumber. I don’t even remember when I fell asleep. It’s rare for me to fall into my sleep state without consciously shutting down. It’s still early morning by the looks of it. The sun’s rays are peeping in through the tiny window on the far wall. Next to me, Trixie rises too. Her mane is a bit messy and her coat looks slightly ruffled. She rubs a fetlock across her eyes.

“What time is it?” She asks sleepily.

“No idea, I just woke up myself.”

She let out a loud yawn. “Whats with all the ruckus?”

“I don’t know, but I suggest we go and find out.”

Trixie shakes herself fully awake, and we emerge from our cabin into the chaos of the ship. Ponies and diamond dogs are rushing to and fro. I grab one of the dogs by the arm. His name was Gruff if I remember correctly.

“What’s happening?”

“Pirates, Griffon pirates. They be almost on us. Captain says make ready.”

Well, that sure got the old adrenaline pumping. Or whatever passes for adrenaline in my body these days. I’m instantly alert. Pushing through the throng to reach the stairs to the deck. Trixie is right behind me. We emerge into the chill morning air amidst a swarm of activity. Ponies and dogs are securing lines, tying down supplies, and hoisting canons and deck guns into position. Since are a trade ship we only have a handful of black powder weapons. They are apparently a minotaur invention. Ponies prefer bows, crossbows and ballistae. Which is why those are the most common in Equestria. But these trade ships prefer a more exotic blend of armaments. Speaking of minotaurs, Steel Anchor is bellowing orders as only a minotaur can. His voice easily rising above the noise of activity to direct the crew to where they are most needed.

I make my way to the aft deck railing and look out across the ocean. I can see a ship some distance away. It’s a swift three master. Far less bulky than our ship, with aggressive lines and red sails. Dozens of odd, bird like shapes fly around it.

“Griffons.” Says Captain Seaspray as he comes up next to me. “They approached during the night as we suspected. We’ve been trying ta shake them all morning, but me ship be a ponderous lady. They will catch up soon. They’ve been raiding ships in these waters for months now.”

“And nobody has done anything about it?”

“Equestria has only a hoof-ful of warships lad, they are stretched very thin. The griffons on the other hoof have dozens upon dozens, but they are very lax about actually patrollin’ these waters. They don’t really care if others are troubled by piracy, so long as their own ships be safe.”

I tssk in disgust. “Typical.”

“Aye. Now lad, do ye have any combat experience? I don’t wanna alarm ye or your lassy, but when them beak-heads get here tis gonna be ugly business. If ye don’t know how ta fight I suggest ye go back below.”

I almost wanna laugh at his question. Do I have combat experience? If only he knew.

“We can handle ourselves captain. Just tell us where you want us.”

The captain has us stay on the midship with some of his best men. Our task pretty much boils down to ‘go where the fighting is heaviest and lend support’. I gather what little power I have and transform into my hulking humanoid form. A wave of what I can only describe as nausea blasts through me as the transformation completes and I stagger slightly. My limbs feel heavy. Of all the places to fight, this has to be the worst one for me. No soil, no plants, no nothing to work with but my own body and its brute strength. And even that seems diminished. Another feeling settles into the pit of my non existent stomach. It takes me a moment to realise its fear. I’ve been scared before, but this is different. I fear the outcome of this fight, but not for my own sake.

My gaze drifts to Trixie. For hers.

She gives me a confident smile as she looks up at me, placing a hoof against my leg. I steel my resolve. Anything that tries to get near her is gonna die screaming. That’s a promise.

We wait for what feels like hours. The griffon ship slowly gaining on us.

“They are trying to come alongside so they can cripple us with a broadside and chain-shot.” Says Anchor as he hoists a cutlass big enough to cleave a pony in two.

I can see the Griffons clearly now as they fly between the masts of their ship. Beating their wings to create more wind. Our Pegasi are doing the same, trying to coax a little more speed out of our sails. Suddenly a cannon booms. The cannonball splashes harmlessly into the sea, well away from us. Someone on their crew must have gotten a bit overeager.

One of our own crew, a Diamond Dog, was aiming a blunderbuss at the enemy ship, but before he could fire Steel Anchor bonked him on the head with a meaty fist.

“Hold fast you swab. Don’t go shooting until you can see the white of their eyes lest you waste shot and powder.”

“Sorry boss.” the dog whined as he rubbed his head.

Only about a hundred meters between us now. Close enough to hear them yelling at us. Though it's impossible to make out what they are shouting. The distance grows ever smaller. I crack my knuckles out of habit, even though i have no actual joints to pop. The tension around us grows thick enough to cut with a knife. Closer still. The beast stirs at the back of my mind, sensing the imminent violence. I ignore it for now. Its presence is weak, just like my powers.

“Make ready!” the call rings out.

“FIRE!”

Canons volley and thunder, spitting flame and lead. The shots cross the divide in less than a heartbeat. Wood explodes into splinters as the cannonballs tear through the ship. I turn to shield Trixie from the debris. Chunks of wood slam into my back and bounce off. A Diamond Dog goes down, impaled by a chunk of wood. A second volley thunders through the air. This time they’re shooting chain-shot. Two cannonballs tied together with steel chain. They tear through the sails and rigging, ripping the top off the forwardmost mast.

“STAND TO! REPEL BOARDERS!” Bellows Steel Anchor, raising his blade.

They descend on us, shrieking like the eagles that make up part of their anatomy. Two dozen at least. Dropping out of the sky like razor taloned comets. Beside me, Trixie unleashes her pyrotechnic spell. Sending a blast of fireworks into the air and knocking one of the griffons down and into the drink. Our Pegasi move to engage the rest in aerial combat, but they are at a disadvantage, having no natural weapons. More griffons leap from their ship and touch down on our deck, blades drawn. The ring of steel striking steel fills the air as combat is joined. I too jump into the fray.

“Avast you scurvy bitches!” I shout as I clobber the nearest griffon with one of my oversized fists, knocking him senseless.

Everything's a blur and cacophony as fighting erupts from stem to stern. Cries of battle join cries of pain as ponies and griffons alike fall with their bellies sliced open or run through. The fighting is brutal as neither side gives quarter.

Griffons and pegasi zoom over our heads in a high speed dogfight around the ship. Ducking and weaving through the rigging in an attempt to make the other crash. A few un-besieged crewmen try to take shots at the attackers, but only manage to put more holes into the sails. I knock a griffon overboard with a bone shattering uppercut. The cannons thunder for a third time. A chain-shot slams into the main mast, tearing a giant chunk out of the wood. The wood groans as it starts to splinter and crack.

I unleash my powers, vines shooting from my body and up the mast to reinforce it before the entire thing collapses. Nausea shoots through me and I fall to my knees. Trixie is instantly at my side, eyes wide with worry. She’s saying something, but I can’t hear her. My magical senses are shorting out. It's like I’ve got static in both my eyes and my ears. A griffon climbs over the railing and charges us, but she blasts it back with a bolt of magic. Finally the debilitating feeling passes and I’m able to regain my footing.

“I’m okay.” I tell her as she turns back to me. “Can you take out their cannons?”

“I’ll try.” She shouts and gallops to the railing, horn igniting.

I make sure she’s safe while she takes aim. Picking up a gaff hook, I swing it round and partially impale a griffin, throwing him overboard. I look around, the fight is going poorly. It’s obvious that the griffons are the superior fighters. Steel Anchor is barely holding his own against two assailants. Swinging his cutlass in a cleaving arc. He misses and leaves himself wide open. Two blades slam into his ribs and he lets out a tortured bellow, spitting blood. I can’t leave Trixie's side, instead I throw the gaff hook like a harpoon with all the strength I can muster. The hook slams into one of the griffons heads and tears the left side of his skull clean off. He hits the floor dead, his brain splattering all over the deck.

Trixie unleashes her spell. A fireball streaks across the water, but rather than hit the gun deck her shot is thrown off by the motion of the ocean and slams into the ship’s aft deck. Setting part of the aftcastle ablaze.

The cannons thunder yet again, and the deck below our feet explodes into splinters. We fall. I hit the water with a splash and briefly go under. The salt water stings like rubbing alcohol in a cut. I break the surface and frantically look about.

“Trixie! Trixie where are you?!”

“Here!“ comes her voice to my left. Shes treading water but seems unharmed, much to my relief.

“Swim for the ship!”

Things are looking bleak. That last volley set our ship on fire too. There’s a loud groan as the damaged mast finally collapses. My repairs unable to hold it up any longer. It falls backwards and tears the aft sail down with it. The ship isn’t going anywhere now. A shriek draws my attention. A griffon has snatched Trixie out of the water and is carrying her to their ship. Anger explodes in my chest and I swim for the griffon ship. I manage to reach it and pound my fists into the hull. But the wood is to sturdy to break. I dont have the strength. I lash out with a vine and grab hold of the railing, hoisting myself up the side. Trixie is struggling. Fighting against two griffons who are trying to bind her legs. I roar as I try to climb over the railing to attack. Trixie manages to break free of her attackers, who are spooked by my sudden appearance. She runs towards me, her attackers hot on her heels.

“Look out!” she screams.

There’s an earsplitting boom, and something slams into my body, blasting me back over the side. I black out.



**********


Trixie’s legs burned with fatigue as she treaded water, trying to reach the ship. A sudden shriek above her drew her attention. A griffon swooped down at her and grabbed her with his talons. They painfully dug into her hide but luckily didn’t draw blood. She was hoisted from the water and into the air. She tried to cast a spell, but the pain made it hard to concentrate. After a very brief flight she was thrown onto the deck of the pirate ship, coming to a hard stop that knocked the air from her lungs. Several griffons were dousing the fire she started, while others were manhandling prisoners and leading them below decks.

A pair of griffons approached her with ropes. She scrambled to her hooves. Bucking at the closest one. She caught him full in the face, drawing blood. The other one pounced her, knocking her back down. She kicked and bucked like mad. Trying to break free. A rope snapped shut around one of her legs. She managed to throw her assailant off and regain her footing. They were wary as they approach her again. One brandished a small wooden cudgel, the other more rope. The one with the cudgel lunged at her. She evaded the blow by a hair's breadth, but in doing so left herself open to the other one, who deftly tossed the rope around her neck like a lasso. She struggled against the rope, lungs burning with exhaustion.

A roar drews her attention and startled her assailants. Aeron managed to climb on board. His hulking form clawing at the railing, trying to vault it. She gave one desperate tug on the ropes and they slipped free. She dashed towards him, Knowing that she’d be safe. But something caught her eye and her heart filled with dread. One of the pirates was aiming a deck gun at Aeron. She shouted a warning, but it was already too late. The small cannon boomed, and a chain-shot slammed into Aerons chest. One of the cannonballs ripped through his left arm before the chain goes taut and wraps itself around him. The momentum carried him backward and into the ocean. Trixie slammed into the railing.

“Aeron, AERON!” She screamed in mounting panic.

The last thing she saw before her attackers overpowered her was Aerons broken form as the cannonballs dragged him beneath the waves, and into the blackness below.

Chapter 28: Chains of Tyranny.

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Chapter 28
Chains of Tyranny

Trixie’s mind was in a daze as they dragged her into the hold. The image of Aeron sinking beneath the waves replaying in her mind over and over. It would be a sight forever burned into her memory. They threw her in with the rest of the surviving crew. She barely registered it when they locked the iron manacles around her legs. Only when they snapped a painful iron clamping device of some kind around her horn did her mind return to the present. She let out a small, pained yelp as the device dug into the bony protrusion. A number of griffons were yelling orders to the prisoners.

“Sit down! No talking!” Each command emphasized by the crack of a short whip. “Get over there with the others! Move!”

Once the prisoners were secure the hold opened up, and another griffon with rust red feathers descended the stairs. He was big, with a jagged scar running across his face, and a piece of his beak was missing. He stared them down with a gaze that could melt steel, and soon even the most unruly of the prisoners fell completely silent. He then spoke in a voice that sounded like he was gargling a mouthful of gravel.

“My name, is Captain Garrick, I own this here ship. And now I also own, you.” He said with finality.

At his words a nervous murmur went through the prisoners.

“You all had best get comfortable as best you can. You’re gonna be here a while. Until we get to Coral Cove where we can auction you lot off anyway. Now I’m a reasonable sort. You lot behave, and you will be treated relatively well during our journey. You give us any trouble...”

“The only ones in trouble here are you lot.” Interrupted a voice among the prisoners, and Trixie was surprised to learn it was her own.

Everyone turned to look at her. Most of the prisoners taking a step back. One of the griffons drew back his whip to teach her to keep her mouth shut, but Garrick held him back with a wing.

“And what, pray tell, would make you utter such a bold claim miss….?”

“Trixie, Trixie Lulamoon, the Great and Powerful.” She said boldly, slipping into her confident stage persona, she stood tall as she addressed the fearsome griffon.

“Well then, miss great and powerful,” Garrick said mockingly, “Do enlighten us as to why we are the ones in trouble.”

“Because you were all dumb enough to take Trixie away from her new coltfriend. When he returns he’s going to kill every last one of you. Unless of course, you all let us go free. Perhaps he can be convinced to spare you.”

They laughed. They all laughed in her face.

“I suppose you were referring to that creature that tried to climb aboard my ship? First of all, what sort of nasty deviant are you to pick such a creature for a mate? Your family must be ashamed of you. Secondly, I hate to break it to you, but he is sharkbait.”

“He will be back. He has survived worse than you turkeys can throw at him. And when he returns he will rain down Tartarus upon you all.” She said with defiance, his insults making her temper rise.

More laughter was her only reply.

“You have spirit lass.” The captain said before he leaned close and stared her down. ”I enjoy breaking spirited wenches. I also seem to recall you trying to set my ship on fire. Give us any more trouble, and I will have my men strap you over a barrel and whip you until there isn’t a single piece of fur left on your back and hindquarters.”

Trixie gulped, taking a step back. Her confident mask finally slipping.

“Your lives as you knew them are over. You best get used to it quick, or things will get real ugly.” He said before he turned and marched up the stairs.

“Is that all of the surviving crew?” He asked one of the griffons as they exited the hold.

“Yes, Captain, plus everything we could salvage on short notice. Should fetch us a nice sack of lucre.”

“Good, let the dead burn with their ship. We make for Coral Cove.” Was the last she heard before the door to the hold slammed shut with finality.

Trixie slumped to the floor, biting back the tears that threatened to overflow. She would not cry. She had to keep hope. Aeron would come for her. She just knew he would. She had to believe that.


*****

Back among the gleaming spires of Canterlot, a very different sort of ship was making ready to set out. This was the Sky Streak. One of a very select number of airships, the single most advanced pieces of magical technology in Equestria. And out of all of them, she was the fastest. On a bench overlooking the air docks, special agent Sweetie Drops, better known as Bon Bon to those she counted as her friends, sat overlooking the final preparations. Her mind was still trying to come to grips with the task she had been given, by none other than Celestia herself.


“Welcome my little pony.” Celestia had said as Bon Bon entered the throne room.

She swallowed nervously. Despite being a seasoned agent she still got nervous whenever she was brought before the princess directly. “You wished to see me, Princess?”

“Yes agent, I have summoned you here for a very important mission. Something I can entrust to you, and you alone.”

Bon Bon stood up straighter. “I am all ears your highness.”

“I trust you are familiar with Aeron, the creature of the Everfree forest.” Celestia said. It was not a question.

“More than I’d like. He did almost kill my marefriend” Bon Bon nodded.

“As I recall, he was also instrumental in saving her in the end.”

“Yes, that is true too.” Bon Bon said grudgingly.

“I have recently learned that he seems to be struggling with the darker aspect of his powers, and that he may be losing that struggle. If this is so then he may become a threat, not just to Equestria, but the entire world.”

Bon Bon’s expression hardened. “I see. So what is it you want me to do, Princess?”

“As we speak, Aeron is traveling to Zebrica, believing there may be a solution there. Which may turn out to be a fool's errand. I want you to track him down, and convince him to return here, so that he can be properly contained until we can find a real solution.”

“Zebrica is vast your highness. How am I supposed to track him down? I’m good, but I’m only one pony.”

“You won’t be alone my little pony. I have made contact with our foreign embassy, and local agents are standing by to help you get started.”

“I understand your highness.”

“Time is a critical factor on this, so I have ordered the Sky Streak to fly you to Zebrica. If all goes well you should arrive one day before Aeron does.”

“I will make ready to leave right away, Princess.” Bon Bon said as she bowed to leave.

“One more thing agent.” Celestia said, her voice turning a deadly serious tone that sent a shiver down Bon Bon’s back.

“Your highness?”

Celestia approached her, a small gleaming suitcase held in her magical aura. Bon Bon recognised the logo of the Anti Monster Organisation’s research division on the front of the case.

“Should the unthinkable happen, and Aeron loses control to the monster inside him again, and if it proves impossible to reason with him, in order to preserve lives, you are to use these.” Celestia said as she floated the case into Bon Bon’s hooves.

She opened the case, revealing a small but heavy duty, fetlock mounted crossbow. And a trio of gleaming metal crossbow bolts, unlike any she’d ever seen. They had a needle like tip and a small glass covered slit along the side that showed a luminescent yellow fluid inside. The outer casing of the bolts was covered in glowing purple runes.

“What are these, Princess?”

“A final solution.” she said grimly. ”After the attack on Ponyville, Twilight Sparkle obtained a sample of Aerons core. The source of his power. Based on that sample and her research, the A.M.O’s research team developed these. They are designed to completely neutralise Aeron’s magic, and deliver a blend of the most potent, alchemically boosted herbicides known to Equestrian science. In theory, a single one of these should be able to stop him, permanently.”

Bon Bon swallowed as she shut the case. The gravity of the situation sinking in.

“I’m sure I don’t need to point out the amount of trust I place in you by giving you these. As I said, these are to be the last resort in your arsenal.”

“I will not let you down your highness. You have my word.”

She shook herself out of her thoughts and stood up. It was time to get on board. She briefly touched her mane to make sure her magic satchel was still tied down securely. While not exactly uncommon or hard to make, most ponies prefered to make use of saddlebags, enchanted with enlarged storage space. But for carrying around large quantities of items covertly, nothing beat a tiny bag leading to a pocket storage dimension that one could conceal in their mane or tail. Even if they were rather expensive.

She stepped onto the deck and gave a salute to the Sky Streak’s Captain. A grey pegasus with a pale red mane. “Let’s get underway.”

“Aye ma’am, we’ll have you there in no time.” The older mare said and gave a wing signal to the docking crew.

With a grunt, a dock worker pushed a large lever forward. Clamps that had been holding the Sky Streak secure against the dock released, and the ship drifted backwards and away from Canterlot. With a hum of power the engines began to spin up to full speed. Large rotor blades pushing the ship forward at ever faster speeds.

“Steady as she goes, lay in a course, east by south east. We’re heading for Zebrica.”


******************


Time passed torturously slow for the prisoners. The hold was unbearably hot during the day, and cold during the night, forcing them to huddle against each other for warmth. Their meals consisted of cold gruel and stale bread. Barely enough to keep their strength up. The mood was miserable among the survivors, not just because of their bleak looking future, but also because of friends lost. Among the dead was Captain Seaspray. The news of the Captain’s death hit Trixie hard. Though she had only known the old pony for a brief time, she owed him a lot, not just for helping Aeron, but also for getting the two of them together at last. And now she couldn’t even say thank you anymore.

As the days dragged on, her mood fell further and further. With nothing to do but sit quietly, and the constant pain of the horn restraint, she was left with little but her own thoughts. Try as she might, she couldn’t get the iron device to budge. In fact, the harder she tried the harder it bit into her horn, until it became too agonising to continue. The constant headache it gave her made it difficult to sleep, and the days passed in a tired blur. All she could think about during her waking moments was the sight of Aeron sinking beneath the waves.

She kept telling herself that he was alive. That he was definitely coming for her. But after six days in the cramped hold a part of her began to doubt. What if he really was dead and gone? Or what if he was still alive, yet forever trapped at the bottom of the sea? What if they never saw each other again. The world was a big place after all. And finding one pony would prove to be a nigh impossible task.

Even though doubt and worry slowly filled her heart, Trixie never let it show. When they brought the prisoners food, she stood tall and proud. When they made lewd comments about all the things they could do to her, she stood unbowed and unflinching. When they taunted her she bit her tongue and let their words pass over her. Because she knew her mouth would get her in trouble. Now was not the time. She would wait. She would weigh her chances, and when the time was right, she would act.

On the morning of their seventh day into the journey a cry rang out across the ship. “Land ho!” By mid morning the ship passed into a very busy harbor town. Not exactly a place one would expect a pirate vessel to be welcomed. But the port authorities treated it like business as usual. The town’s architecture was an odd mix of various styles. Some buildings were made of wood. Others of cheap imported brickwork, and some of packed clay and sandstone. Even though it was still relatively early, the heat was already on the rise.

One by one the prisoners were led out of the hold and chained together in a long line with iron collars around their necks. Then, as one, they were led off the ship. As they passed by a group of Zebra guards, one stallion in the line tried to run over and get their attention.

“Please, help us.” he shouted. “They attacked our ship.”

As he reached the group of guards however, one pulled out a short cudgel and whacked the stallion hard across the shoulder. The pony went down with a cry of pain.

“Keep your property under control.” the guard said to the griffons that rushed up to the pony and dragged him back in line.

“Don’t worry, this one won’t be any more trouble.” One of the griffons growled.

The entire group was led over to a large, barn like building of clay and sandstone. The majority of its interior was taken up by cells that looked more like stables. A pair of doors on the far side led to a market square with a small auction stage. Another set of smaller doors off to the side led to a small chamber with a forge. Trixie shuddered when she cast a glance through those doors, and saw branding irons hanging from a rack, while others were put into the forge fire in preparation.

One by one each prisoner was given a quick and rough scrub down with a bucket of cold water to make them look somewhat presentable. Their claws were anything but gentle as they groped and scrubbed Trixie. Even under her tail. Fortunately the whole procedure was relatively brief. Then they were led out the door and lined up behind the stage. Trixie shivered slightly as the last of the cold water evaporated under the midmorning sun. Leaving her coat feeling rough without a proper brushing.

A crowd began to gather in the square. A lot of them were Zebra. And to Trixie’s surprise there seemed to be two distinct kinds of Zebra. There were those who looked most like Zecora, with coats in various shades of grey. And a slightly smaller breed of Zebra with coats that had more beige tones to them. Almost all of them had at least one or more golden rings around either their neck or a limb. The second most common creatures in the crowd by far were Wildebeests. Then there was your typical sprinkle of exotic faces like Griffons. A Minotaur or two, who didn’t stand out so much among the Wildebeest with their big horns. There was even a pair of Rhinos in the crowd, who towered over everyone present.

After a few more minutes of waiting, a tall, gangly diamond dog walked up the stage. He wore a ratty top hat and what looked like a saddle arabian vest of faded green color.When he spoke, Trixie was surprised by how articulate he was. Most diamond dogs weren’t particularly well spoken.

“Good morning! Ladies and Gentle-creatures, beings of all ages, step right up and take a gander at what we have here for you this fine, fine morning. Fresh off the boat we have some exotic Equestrian meat for you. Keep your lucre ready because we’re starting this auction, right now!”

As he said so, the first prisoner in line was pulled up on the stage.

“Yes, ladies and gentle-creatures our first specimen is a fine young stallion. Perfect for menial labor or domestic work. He’s one hundred percent intact too.” Said the dog as he yanked up the stallion’s tail. “Though if you worry about your daughters we can always make him a gelding after purchase for only a minimal additional fee.”

Every other stallion in the line blanched at that last declaration. Clamping their hind legs together tightly.

“Let’s start the bidding at fifty lucre. Yes you there sir.” he motioned to a Zebra stallion who raised a hoof.

“I bid fiftyfive!” Said a Wildebeest, holding up a coin purse.

“Fifty five on offer, do I hear sixty lucre? Surely a handsome young stallion is worth that much?” Said the dog.

Another zebra raised a hoof. “Excellent.” Said the dog. “Any being offering sixtyfive?”

No-one raised a hoof. “Sold! To the lovely lady. Would you like him as is or gelded?”

“I shall take him as is.” Said the Zebra mare with a calculative smirk. The poor stallion let out a shuddering breath and thanked Celestia for sparing him at least that horror.

“Excellent, just follow my associate inside and we will have him branded with your mark of ownership.”

The whimpering stallion was dragged inside by two griffons. His new owner following just behind. The auction continued with the next pony in line. The bidding was briefly interrupted by a drawn out scream from inside as the newly sold slave received his mark, but otherwise continued unabated.

Many a pony was sold off to various Zebra and Wildebeest. The Rhino’s turned out to be prospectors, who bought all three of the crew’s surviving diamond dogs to work in their gem mines. Two mares were sold to a rich lords estate to work as maid servants. The crews pegasi were in high demand since their weather manipulating ability made them perfect as farm hands in the arid climate. Finally it was Trixie’s turn on the block.

“Next we have an exotic unicorn mare. Look at that fine blue coat, those shapely flanks. She would make a great bed warmer for any male, or female.” The dog said with a lewd wink at the crowd. ”And she can be all yours right now. Let's start the bidding at a hundred lucre.”

Bidding went up quite quickly. Going up to nearly five-hundred lucre. Apparently her blue coat and mane proved very popular.

“Five-hundred-fifty!” Roared a big burly wildebeest.

“Fivefifty offered by the owner of the local brothel, good to see you again sir, always happy with your patronage. Going once, going twice.”

“One thousand.” Said a voice from the back of the crowd.

Everyone turned to look at the newcomer. He was an unremarkable zebra wearing a traveling cloak to ward off the sun’s glare.

“Who are you to butt in like that.” Demanded the wildebeest.

In reply the cloaked pony walked over and whispered something into his ear.

The wildebeest paled and slunk back, mumbling reparations.

“Well then, are there any other bids?” The dog asked, getting things back on track. “No? Sold to the cloaked stranger. Just follow my associates inside and we will have her branded right away good sir.”

Two griffons stepped up to take hold of her chains, and Trixie felt her heart racing as panic gripped her. She cast a fearful glance at the doors. She could still hear the screams of the last pegasus coming from inside.

“There won’t be any need. My master prefers to do his own branding.”

“As you wish. Should you wish to buy any more we can have her locked in a pen until you are finished.”

“That would be appreciated.”

Trixie was marched inside and locked in one of the rusty iron pens. unfortunately, being inside made the screaming all the more audible. Soon enough another pony was dragged past her cage and into the side room.

“No! No please, please! AAAAAAAAAH!!! No, no no, don’t! AAAAAIIIIIIIIEEEE!!!”

Trixie clamped her hooves over her ears and closed her eyes. Trying to block out the sound. The smell of burned fur and flesh reached her nose and made her retch. When she finally dared to open her eyes again she saw the pony being led away from the room. His face a mess of tears and walking with a limp. The black outline of a strange sigil burned into his flanks, right over his cutie mark. As they passed by her pen, the stench of burned flesh overpowered everything. Her stomach gave a lurch and she ran to the furthest corner of the pen, where she finally lost her meagre breakfast

Not long after, a couple more ponies joined her in the pen. A trio of stallions and two mares. All of them bought by the same mysterious master. At least they were spared the horror of the branding iron, for now. Who knew what other terrors lay in store for them.

Finally the auction ended and those gathered in the square began to disperse, while those who had bought slaves came to collect them. The mysterious cloaked zebra came up to their pen and motioned for the griffon to open the door. As the griffons chained them all together the zebra spoke.

“You all have the privilege of being chosen by our master to work for him. When you are given an order, you will obey swiftly and without hesitation. Try to run, you will be punished. And for you unicorns, casting spells is forbidden, unless you are specifically told to do so. We catch you doing so without orders, we chop off your horn, and you can spend the year or so it takes to regrow doing hard labor. The second time we catch you, we chop it off again, only this time we will cauterize the wound with a hot iron, and your horn will never regrow. The same goes for you pegasi. You fly without permission, we clip your wings. Second time, we amputate them. Nod if you understood.”

All of them nodded swiftly, and the iron devices were finally removed from the unicorns horns. Trixie let out a sigh of relief as the painful device was lifted off. Her horn still throbbed, but it no longer felt like somepony was trying to drive a shard of glass into her skull.

“Good. Now fall in line and follow me. We have a four day walk ahead of us.”

Thus the group began their long trek. They marched straight up to the town gate where a small armed group of zebra waited. The slaves were then made to carry heavy bags filled with water and supplies. Afterwards the real walk began. The armed group taking up flanking positions as they walked. The road ahead was long, and the heat was stifling.

Trixie stoically kept pace. Used to walking long distances while dragging her cart. By comparison the saddlebags weren’t all that heavy. She only wished she still had her hat to keep the sun out of her eyes. But all her possessions had been taken. Likely to be pawned off for a few bits, or lucre in this case.

Not all of the group fared as well. Unused to trekking long distances, coupled with the scorching sun, some grew tired quickly and began to lose pace with the others. When one of the stallions stumbled he was immediately told to get back on his hooves and keep walking. When he did not manage to comply swiftly enough, the whips came out. Raining blows upon him until he managed to hoist himself up and get back in line.

Trixie didn’t know why, but it was as if their handlers were trying to make the trip much harder than it needed to be. As if they were… Trying to break them. Realisation dawned on her. They were trying to break their spirits. She might not be an expert on psychology, but Trixie was smart enough to figure out their intentions. They were trying to make the trip as unpleasant as possible and break their spirits to quell any remaining sparks of rebellion.

not today. Thought Trixie.

She would play along. She would be the Humble and Subservient Trixie, for as long as it took for them to lower their guard.

At sunset they made camp. Most of their escort spread out to form a rudimentary perimeter around their campsite, leaving just two zebra to watch over them. Their mysterious cloaked leader was nowhere in sight. They were given cold watery soup while their captors feasted on fresh fruit. Her fellow captives eyed the fruit hungrily as they finished their small bowls of food. The mare next to her whimpered as she watched one of the zebra bite into a plump peach, her stomach rumbling audibly. As she felt her own belly rumble in sympathy, Trixie decided to act. She got to her hooves and slowly walked over to the stallions and their big bowl of fruit.

“Sirs?” she said in her most obeisant voice. “May we please have some fruit?”

“No.” came the curt reply.

“Please sirs, we walked all day, we need some energy if we are to keep up the pace tomorrow.” She kept her stature low and meek.

“What part of no do you not understand, slave.” The other one spit at her. “Get back with the others before I take my whip to you.”

Trixie bowed low. ”Y-yes sirs. As you command.” she stammered before slinking back to her spot with the other slaves.

“Worms” the stallion muttered before he turned his back to them. His comrade following suit.

They both failed to see Trixie’s smirk as she walked away. As she sat back down in her spot she poked the mare next to her.

“Shh, pass this along.” She whispered as she pulled a trio of peaches from her mane.

The mare’s eyes went wide as she looked at the shiny fruit. “How did you…. You didn’t cast a spell did you? If they find out...”

“Trixie doesn’t need magic to get one over on these fools.” she whispered with satisfaction.

No, Trixie didn’t need to use real magic for this. Just good old sleight of hoof. The basics for any stage magician. Silently they divided the peaches into halves and ate them swiftly.

*****


Their journey continued the next morning, their pace just as grueling as the day before. Even Trixie found it hard to keep up, having only had soup and half a peach to eat ment her energy reserves were really low, and the scorching sun was relentless. Around noon they passed a small oasis. When given leave to drink the captives nearly threw themselves into the water in their rush to slake their thirst.

From there their journey continued across the savannah like landscape towards distant mountains. They crossed a small trading town that now served as a slaver's outpost. Forcing the townspeople to work for them and pay tribute lest they be dragged off in chains. They only stopped in town long enough to take on some additional supplies, making the bags they were forced to carry even heavier.

By nightfall the town had vanished beyond the horizon. And when they finally made camp all the slaves collapsed with exhaustion. Even trixie didn’t have the energy left to do more than gulp down the gruel they fed her before an exhausted sleep claimed her.

Halfway through their third day on the dusty road one of the other mares collapsed. The harsh conditions and lack of proper food finally taking its toll. She lay in the dirt, panting with exhaustion and thirst.

“Get up.” one of their captors shouted. “I said on your hooves slave.”

“I.. I can’t. Please… just need, some water and five minutes rest.”

“I told you to get up, so get up.” The stallion roared as he brought his whip down. The mare shrieked as the instrument made contact with her back.

“Move!”

“Aiieee, I can’t!” She cried as she crawled along the ground.

“You will do as you’re told!”

Just as he brought his whip down again, Trixie positioned herself between him and the fallen mare. The whip bit into her side, hard enough to rip away some of her coat hair, leaving an angry bare welt. She yelped in pain but stood her ground.

“Enough! She needs a break, we all do. If you keep this up you’ll kill her.”

“You dare raise your voice against your betters!? We shall have to teach you a lesson.”

The whip struck her again, several others joining in as the other guards ganged up on her. Trixie tried to shield herself, to dodge out of the way. But no matter which way she spun or jumped, one of the whips would find its mark. They struck her everywhere without care, the only place they avoided being her face so they wouldn’t accidentally take out an eye. Their lord and master would be displeased if they presented him with damaged goods. Whip marks however didn’t count to that effect.

The savage beating continued in a gruesome symphony of whip-cracks and Trixie’s yelps of pain. Until finally the fallen mare she had tried to protect threw herself at the hoof of the lead guard.

“Please! Please stop, I’ll walk. Just don’t hit her anymore.” She cried out, clinging to the stallions leg.

He held up a hoof to forestall his men and turned to address the girl at his hooves. “And what’s in it for me?”

The mare looked up uncertainly. “W-what do you want?”

The guard gave her a lewd grin that made her pale, and licked his lips.

“N-no, no not that… please… not that.”

“Keep an eye on the others.” he barked to his men. “I have business with this one.”

He began to drag the whimpering mare off to some bushes for some privacy, but was stopped halfway by the cloaked stallion.

“The master does not allow this. Cease this action at once.”

“The master doesn’t need to know.” He said and began to push past him.

“I speak with the master’s authority, and I gave you a command.”

“I’m not one of your slaves. You can stick your command up your plot.” He said with a sneer and resumed his way, dragging the weeping girl along.

Before he could make it to the bushes with her, a knife erupted from his throat. The cloaked stallion had moved up behind him before he even noticed and shoved it through the back of his neck. He pawed weakly at his throat before he collapsed.

“I’d rather stick my knife in you.” He said dryly before pulling the weapon back out, wiping the blood on the dead stallion’s coat.

The mare scrambled away from the guard’s corpse. Eyes wide and fearful.

“Get the other girl and get her back in line with the others. You have ten minutes before we move out again.” The cloaked zebra told her in that same emotionless voice that brooked no disobedience. She hurried to comply. He then turned to address the remainder of their guard escort.

“Your leader made a very poor choice. He chose to ignore the word of the master. The master expects his slaves to arrive untarnished. Fail this task, and you will be lucky if killing you is all he does.”

As the other guards began to strip the corpse of their former leader of its gear, the mare gently helped Trixie back to her hooves.

“Thank you, for trying to help me.” she whispered to Trixie, who gave her a pained little smile in return.

The last leg of their journey that day was slow going. Trixie limped along with each step, her body so very sore, and covered in welts. The other mare didn't move from her side, supporting her as best she could.

They spent the night on a large farm that belonged to their mysterious master. They slept in the barn and were allowed a proper meal for the first time since they were taken from the ship. It was a simple meal of fruits and hard vegetables. But to their starving bodies it was a king’s feast.

The last day of their journey passed without incidents, since everypony was able to more or less keep pace that day. By noon they came to the edge of a dense jungle. A small but well kept path wound through the trees and bushes, barely wide enough to allow a cart through. They followed this path into the jungle proper until twilight set in. Just as Trixie feared they would be stuck trudging through the treacherous terrain in the dark, the path ahead opened up to reveal a large compound in an artificial clearing.

The trees here had been cut away to make room for around a dozen buildings, the entire site was surrounded by a palisade, forming a rough circle around the complex. Though she couldn’t tell if it was there to keep the slaves in or the jungle predators out. Most likely a bit of both.

They were led through a gate and up the path to the central building. A sort of longhouse made of wood and packed clay. Compared to the other dwellings it was much grander.

“Come,” Said the cloaked stallion, “the master awaits.”

The inside of the hut was much more opulent looking than the outside. The floor and walls had been dressed with planks of rich redwood. Finely sanded and lacquered and then buffed to a shine. The room was filled with all sorts of mismatched items and riches. Expensive paintings hung on the walls next to painted masks that seemed to stare at anyone who entered. A chest full of coin and gems sat in the far corner next to a desk of dark wood. There were statues of gold. Bundles of silks. A cabinet of dusty tomes stood against the left wall, next to a boiling cauldron. A shelf of strange and mystical items hung above it. All in all the inside was like a king's treasury, mixed with a witchdoctor's sanctum. And at the end of the room, in the center, was a large ornate chair.

The figure who sat in the chair was corpulent in the extreme. He was a giant anthropomorphic hippopotamus. He had mottled brown skin and piercing, steel grey eyes under a heavy brow. His thick heavy lips curled in a cruel smile around two protruding tusks, one of which was plated in gold. He was smoking a thick cigar that filled the room with its acrid stink.

He was dressed in a well tailored, bone colored suit that could barely contain his rotund frame, and his face was painted to resemble a death's head. If anything, he looked like an odd mix between a businessman and a voodoo doctor.

Slowly he stood, the chair creaking slightly as he got to his feet. He was tall, taller than most minotaur. Any other so corpulent would have looked comical. But he only radiated fierceness.

“Welcome to your new lives.” He said in a deep baritone. As he spread his arms theatrically. ” I am known far and wide as Wasio Moja, but to you, I am simply, Master. The lands around us and those that live on them belong to me. And now, so do you. And one day soon, all of Zebrica will belong to me. To make that goal a reality I require workers. You will be those workers. If you obey, your lives will be meaningful, even relatively comfortable. If you show true dedication you may even be rewarded. Perhaps even lifted from slaves to followers. For I am generous to those who are loyal to my vision. However, should you choose to disrespect me, or worse, actively resist me, all you will know is pain. For I am as generous with my punishments as I am with my rewards.”

As he spoke, two masked guards dragged in a whimpering stallion.

“Take Zandji here, such a dedicated worker, or so I believed. Turns out Zandji thought he could get away with stealing what belongs to me.”

“G-great one, master, please… it was… it was just a mistake.”

“Yes, it was. But the mistake was mine.” He said as he took a long draw of his cigar. ”I made the mistake of thinking you could be trusted. Made the mistake of believing you had learned your lesson after the first time. Remember what I told you last time Zandji? Those who make a mistake twice….?”

“D-don’t get to m-make a third….wait, NO! NO NO, MASTER PLEASE!”

“Lessons must be taught, and I always, always, keep my word. Take him to the pit.”

“Nooooo!, No please!” he screamed as they dragged him out.

“Come, you will all witness what happens to those who repeatedly break the rules.” Wasio said as he followed after the guards and the screaming stallion.

They were led back outside, to the edge of the compound. Here was a small arena of sorts, with a deep pit at its center roughly thirty foot long and wide, and around twelve deep. The top edges were all lined with sharpened stakes, pointing downwards, to make sure that whatever was in the pit, stayed in the pit. On the far side was a large iron gate.

“Now watch, and do not look away. If you look away you shall be thrown in as well.” Wasio addressed the group. “Put him in.”

“Master no! Mercy!” The stallion screamed as they threw him into the pit. He landed on the muddy ground with a wet thud. The group did not dare look away as the iron gate began to open, and from the darkness beyond something emerged with the clicking of many, many legs.

An enormous centipede emerged from the gate. Its dark, red brown body easily fifteen feet long. Its many skittering legs were a mustard yellow color. It moved, quick as lightning, heading directly for the stallion, who was trying desperately to climb up the side of the pit to no avail. In seconds the centipede was upon him. He barely had time to blink before it latched onto him with its giant front pincers and many legs. And then it began to feast. The horrid screams were audible across the entire compound for a long time, because the giant monster didn’t bother killing its victim. Its voracious appetite drove it to simply eating its meals alive.

Several of the group got to experience their own meagre meal of the day for a second time, in reverse. At least there was no punishment for throwing up.

“Now you know the price of disobedience. Everyone is allowed one mistake, but only one. So tread lightly my new servants.”

The guards led them away from the pit, behind them the crunchy sound of bones being stripped clean were still audible.

“Now it is time for you all to receive my mark. You should feel honoured, for it will one day be a symbol of great power. To the stables.”

The stables were very much like the ones at the slave auction. Consisting of several pens, and a room with a forge for heating branding irons.

When her turn finally came, Trixie tried to be strong, she tried not to scream. She really did. But the simple truth was that she didn't handle pain very well. Sure she had her fair share of bumps and bruises, she even broke her foreleg once when she was little, and that had hurt a lot. But that was nothing compared to this. This was beyond mere pain. As the hot branding iron touched her cutie mark it felt as if not just her poor flank, but her very soul was being burned. The pain was so intense she felt like she would vomit, again. The smell of her own blistering flesh was like a punch in the snout. She felt lightheaded, her vision blurred. And then, merciful unconsciousness took her away from the pain.

She awoke with a sour taste in her mouth, and feeling sore all over. There was a dull throb in her flank. Memories of the pain came flushing back and she started to hyperventilate briefly, fighting to get her heartbeat back under control. She didn't dare look back. She didn’t want to see the scars that now desecrated her cutiemark. She began to whimper, and then sob.

“Shhh.” said a gentle voice beside her. “It’s gonna be okay. I know this is hard right now, but you will be okay.”

“How can Trixie possibly be okay.” She wailed. “Trixie… has been violated.”

A gentle hoof stroked her back while she cried. Normally, Trixie would have been mortified to weep in front of a stranger, but she was emotionally drained and beyond caring at this point. She needed some relief after everything she had endured the past two weeks. Eventually she calmed down, thanks in part to the gentle hoof rubbing her back and withers. She stared at the unfamiliar walls of wood and sandstone.

“What time is it?” she croaked. Her throat felt very raw.

“It’s almost midnight. You’ve been unconscious for a few hours. Here, drink this.” Said the gentle voice as a cup made from one half of a coconut was pushed into view.

Trixie took it with shaky hooves and drank. It was just water, but to her parched tongue and throat it was the best water she ever had.

She finally looked at the owner of the voice as she whispered her thanks. Said owner turned out to be a young zebra mare. She had soft delicate features, light grey stripes with a hint of blue to them, and a long Faux hawk mane of jet black that hung to one side. She had a small but kind smile, and aquamarine colored eyes that showed both sadness and compassion. A single ear hoop hung from her left ear.

“Who are you?”

“A slave…. Like you. They call me Maji. What’s your name?”

“Trixie.”

“Hello Trixie. I know you must have many questions. Feel free to ask them. I will answer if I can.”

“Is there any more water?”

Maji shook her head apologetically. “I’m sorry, but there is only a limited supply of fresh water, so everything is strictly rationed. I gave you some of mine because it would be cruel to make you wait until morning when the daily rations are distributed.”

Trixie nodded in understanding, feeling a twinge of guilt for having taking what meagre supplies Maji had without a second thought. Her guilt must have shown on her face, or Maji was simple very perceptive because when she looked at her she said: “It’s alright. You needed it more than me right now.”

Trixie gave her the best grateful smile she could muster under the circumstances.

“Where are we?”

“These are the servants quarters. Though calling them that might be too generous. It’s little more than a cellblock. But if we behave we are at least afforded some privacy. And some basic comforts like clean bedding.”

Trixie tried to sit up, but the pain shooting through her flank made her hiss and lie back down.

“Best lie still for now. I applied some ointment to help speed up the healing, but you will be sore for some time.”

Trixie gulped. “Is it bad?”

“No worse than any of the others here.” Maji said.

Trixie still didn’t dare look back. She kept her eyes straight in front of her. She would not accept this. She would not simply become a meek subservient mare. She refused to accept that this was her fate. She was Trixie, proud daughter of house Lulamoon.

Her train of thought screeched to a halt. What did that matter anymore? Out here, nopony cared who she was or where she came from. She was just a piece of meat to these pigs. Maybe she should just resign herself to her fate? Maybe that would make things easier for her.

She pushed that feeling down with force. She had to stay strong. She had to believe help was coming. Surely Aeron would come for her. He promised. But it had been nearly two weeks, and she had seen no sign of him. What if he really was dead? What if she was really alone?

She bit her lower lip, hard. The pain helped her to focus. She had been alone before, for a long time. She would survive this, and she would find a way to escape and look for him. The great and determined Trixie would persevere.

She swallowed and looked back at her own flank. Ugly white red scars covered her left cutie mark. The fur around it had blackened edges from where it had been burned away. The largest scar in the center formed a strange symbol she didn’t recognise. Around it was a circle of small runes. She recognised some from a magic textbook she once read. Everything was covered in a thin layer of greasy ointment. As she stared at her defaced cutie mark she swore she would make the master pay.

*************

After letting her recover for the first day at the compound they put her to work. Mostly doing menial labor. Cleaning rooms. Bringing around food, washing dishes. Any old boring job you could think of. After two days, once she was fully recovered from her ordeal, they took her into the jungle. As it turned out there was a quarry not far from the main compound. Most of the slaves were put to work there. Working in small groups to extract stone, and occasionally precious gems or other valuable materials they would unearth.

They would work from just after sunrise, when they were given their daily ration of water and food, till four in the afternoon. After which they were allowed some small measure of personal time, before being locked up in the compound for the night. Maji was by her side most of the time. Showing her the ropes. The work was hard, mind numbing and repetitive, making the days blur together.

The group she was assigned to was a diverse lot.

There was Windy Sails, a former navy pegasus, taken from a ship much like Trixie.

Copper Leaf, a big earth pony with a copper colored coat who used to work as a foreman in construction. He had come all the way to Zebrica to work on some project. One night after work he went out drinking in the wrong neighborhood. Passed out after one too many glasses of firewater, and woke up in chains.

Then there was Kijani, a zebra mare from a nearby farming community, whose parents made the mistake of refusing to pay tribute to Wasio. As penance for their actions they took her.

Last among their group was Gordon, a salty old griffon with only one wing. How he lost the other one was a mystery, since he refused to speak of it. But there was wild speculation among the slaves.

And then there was Maji herself. Who was also rather tight lipped about her past. All she would say was that she originally grew up in Kipaji Kito. The largest city in Zebrica where Queen Marijani resides.

“Pick up the pace newbie. Quit daydreaming” Gordon huffed in that gruff voice of his as he lifted another stone into their assigned cart.

“Trixie was not daydreaming.” She grunted back as she levitated her own stone into the cart.

“You keep looking at the edge of the jungle as if expecting to see something. You’ve been doing that for the last three days, give it a rest.” Kijani said.

“Trixie is waiting for her coltfriend to come and help us get out of here.”

“Hate to break it to you sweetheart,” Copper Leaf grunted as he dropped his stone in the cart “But nopony is coming for us. Me and Gord, we’ve been here for almost two years. Windy has been here a year and a half, and kijani a year. So stop deluding yourself and accept this simple truth. You’re never getting out of here. We’re all going to spent the rest of our lives in this miserable jungle. Hungry, thirsty and lifting rocks.”

“Trixie won’t accept that. Help will come.”

“No, it won’t. The sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.”

“Dude c’mon, you don’t have to be so harsh about it?” Said Windy.

“Hey, the sooner she gets it through her head, the less likely she is to do something stupid and get herself, and possibly us in trouble.”

“Hush, all of you.” Maji said, “give the poor thing some time to adapt. You know how hard it was for yourselves.”

“That’s exactly why I’m being blunt. Best to rip off the bandaid in one go.”

“HEY! Enough talking, get back to work.” Bellowed a guard, brandishing a whip.

Everypony got back to work quietly, but Trixie kept stealing glances at the jungle all the same. Up in the bushes of the treeline, something stirred.

*****

Later that evening, Trixie collapsed onto the pile of rags that served as her bed. Her muscles ached from walking, and she had a slight headache from lifting rocks with her magic all day.

“Is this how my life will be from now? The same thing every day?”

“I did not want to say it earlier, but I fear so.” Said Maji as she sat down on her own rag-pile bed in the cell they shared. ”Unless something changes, it may be all we have left.”.

“Why do we dig up all that stone in the first place?”

“I’m not sure. Rumors say the master plans to build a great fort or castle or something like it to be the seat of his power. A place that can rival the royal palace.”

“How do you stand it? The same thing day after day with no end in sight?” Trixie asked. Her voice quiet.

Maji shrugged her shoulders lightly. “I try to keep hope. That gets me through the day. So should you.”

“Trixie tried, but .. Trixie.. I… I’m at the end of my rope.” She felt so tired and miserable. She just wanted to curl up and cry, and slowly fade into nothing. She stared through the tiny, barred window, at the moon over the jungle. Her shoulders slumped.

Something dropped from the rafters into her bed. She yelped and jumped off her pile of rags. Maji also jumped to her hooves, the hairs on her back standing on end almost like a cat.

“What is it? Is it a spider?” Maji breathed, looking for something heavy to smash whatever it was.

But all they had on hoof was the bucket to relieve themselves in during the night. Something stirred amidst the rags. Slowly crawling out into the thin beam of moonlight coming from the window. Trixie’s eyes went wide and her breath caught in her throat. For the tiny shape was familiar.

“HERB?!”


*****************

A few hundred yards off the coast of Pearl Cove, a small fishing boat bobbed on the waves in the evening sun. A couple of fishing lines hanging off the side, and a small dragnet hung out the back. On deck two young Zebra went about their work. The younger of the pair was digging through a little cooler on the aft deck.

“Hey, Zuly? Where be that bunch of berries?”

“I don't know.” His brother replied casually.

The younger approached his sibling with narrowed eyes. “Open ya mouth.” He said to Zuly, slowly closing the distance between them.

“What for, Zammy?” Zuly asked, all innocence.

“You know why?” Zammy said whilst glaring daggers at him, his suspicions rising with every step closer he gets.

“Don't know what you mean.” his brother said coyly before sticking his tongue out at his brother, revealing a discolored blue stain on it.

“Ah knew it! You greedy warthog! I was saving those!” Zam yelled as he tried to tackle his brother.

“I know, and they were seriously goooood~!” He said licking his chops before colliding with his peeved brother.

The two tussled for a time one laughing at the other, the other cursing the other one.

“BOYS!” A voice bellowed from the cabin, out came an older Zebra with a pot belly, wearing a fishing hat and lure vest. “Quit that grab flankery before ah clap your sorry hides over the side, you hearing me?.”

“He started it, Uncle!” Zam said, giving his grinning brother a shove off of him.

“I will finish it-” The old fisherman began before all three of them were jolted and thrown off their hooves as the boat suddenly lurched back.

“W-what was that?” Zuly said shakily.

Their uncle was the first to get back on his hooves, replacing his hat on his head. A noise from the back of the ship caught his attention, and he rushed over. His suspicions proved right as he could see the lines straining when he arrived.

“We catch something?” Zam asked, coming to his uncle’s side. His fear monetarily forgotten as his eyes widened in wonder at what must of rocked their little ship.

Uncle Zatari had fished these waters for years with his father. Even though many stayed out of them these days due to the rising slave trade and piracy. Fortunately they seemed to mostly leave the local fishing boats alone. So long as they paid their tithe. Zatari fancied himself a capable seabra. The waters here were shallow and the fishing was decent with no real big dangers. The biggest creature around here being a reef shark. This however was new to him.

The lines held taut as he peered down into the water, but it was too deep to see anything yet. As he reached over to the crank to bring whatever this was to the surface, another jolt found him once again hatless and on his back as his ship was being dragged backwards through the water.

“BY THE CIRCLE! WHAT’S HAPPENING!” Screeched one of the boys as the stern began to dip, the water foaming and churning.

After a moment Zatari sprang up, pulling out a small machete he kept for hacking off fish heads. He began to swing at the net lines, desperately trying to sever them to keep his boat from going under. Swinging away over and over again, he cursed himself, both for buying a sturdy new net as well as for having to destroy it so soon.

With a thwack one line finally snapped and swung loose, disappearing under the waves. But the other still held tight, and whatever it was holding continued to pull them closer to shore. Its suddenly changed direction, heading towards the port less than half a mile to the north. As it did the boat began tilting sideways precariously. His nephews screamed and tried to climb on top of the cabin, while Zatari, already up to his withers in seawater, still moved forward. He held the machete in his mouth as he pulled himself across the submerged stern. That's when he saw it.

It was big, a massive leviathan that seemed to be made up of some bizarre amalgamation of strands of kelp, and great slabs of coral reef, complete with a half sunken ship embedded in it. It didn't swim so much as stride across the seabed on a number of massive legs. Much like a crustacean. It was when the top of its body suddenly twisted nearly a hundred-eighty degrees to reveal a pair of giant, glowing eyes that pierced the murky water, and his very soul, that Zatari lost his grip on his blade. His mouth went slack in horror, and the machete tumbled over the side.

Something shot out from the creatures form, piercing through the water, straight at him. Two pairs of hooves grabbed him, pulling him back in the nick of time as tendrils snaked their way across the boat's stern, biting into the wood like the sharpest of carpentering tools. They moved so blindingly swift he never got a good look at what they actually were. The wood itself was shredded as if it were made of soft cheese. One tendril found purchase on the remaining net line and severed it cleanly. The rope snapped like a whip as it zipped underwater and the little fishing boat lurched once again as it came free. The tendrils then receded back down into the water below.

The three Zebra lay there, stunned. Too terrified to move lest the thing might come back. They could still see its dark form moving through the increasingly shallow waters. A stark dark contrast against the yellow white sands. And it was headed straight for the town of Coral Cove.

Chapter 29: Wrath and Ruin.

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Chapter 29
Wrath and Ruin

The city of Kipaji Kito was the largest City in all of Zebrica. Built around a large central lake that provided it with all the water it ever needed. The waters of the lake sparkled in the sunlight. The city itself was build from a combination of wood and stone, in an elegant mix of spiral patterns. Many buildings were decorated with crushed gemstone common to the area. It gave the buildings a luster that earned the city its nickname of The Shining Jewel.

The Sky Streak was currently gliding through the sky above the lake, towards a large white building with spiral towers on the far side. This was the Equestrian embassy. As the ship moored at one of the towers, Bon Bon leapt off the deck and ran down the stairwell. She was late.

The trip across the sea should have been smooth, but foul weather drifting in from the far north had delayed the Sky Streak by several days. Her weather pegasi unable to clear the foul clouds and strong wind. As she arrived in the main foyer she found herself completely alone.

“You are agent Sweetie Drops?” a soft spoken male voice whispered in her ear.


“WAAARK!” Bon Bon yelped, nearly jumping out of her skin.

A cloaked being she had never seen before stood beside her. This creature looked equine-ish, but not quite. Giraffe-ish, but again, not quite. For one thing its neck, while strangely elongated, wasn’t quite long enough to be one. And its coat was brown for the most part, but its legs were striped like a zebra.

A creation of Discord or the result of a wild night, a few pints, and some questionable choices between friends?

"I am an Okapi, not a hybrid."

"I wasn't..." Bon Bon started while composing herself.

"Yes, you were." He said with a knowing grin. “It’s not the first time somepony thinks such, and won’t be the last”

Bon Bon rolled her eyes, then gave him an appraising look. “I trust you were briefed?”

“Only with the basics. I am agent Kivuli, I was told to be your guide in the field and to assist you. You are hunting some kind of fugitive, potentially dangerous, yes?”

“Something like that. I will tell you what I know, but this must stay strictly between us for the time being.”

“So long as doing so does not go against my standing orders I shall be most discreet.”

“The being we’re after has powerful wild magic. He and his associate jumped on a trade ship that’s heading here. I was supposed to head them off, but my arrival was delayed. We need to go to the nearest port town and find out where they went.”

“Then we have a problem.” Said Kivuli. “No ships from equestria have docked in our ports in over a month.”

“But, that’s impossible, they should be here by now.”

“There, may be an explanation.” He said hesitantly.

“What explanation.”

“They, may have been waylaid by pirates, if they have not made it here by now. It shames me to say there has been some growing trouble with them lately.”

“If that is so… then where could they be?”

“There is a port town in the north of Zebrica, passed the drylands, It gets frequented by the less, desireable. It would be as good a place as any to start the search.”

“Alright, how fast can we get there?”

“How fast can you run agent Drops? I suggest we stock up on water before heading out. They are called the drylands for a reason.”

***

It took Bon Bon and Kivuli a good four days to reach the northern parts of Zebrica. four days of running across the arid landscape with only as much water as they could carry. Not since her survival training in the badlands had Bon Bon run that much on so little water. How any being could live out there was a mystery to her. Vegetation was sparse. Twice they came across a dried up pond. Kivuli explained that during the rainy season the ponds would fill to the point of overflowing, and the nearby land would turn lush and green with young plants. Bon Bon found that hard to believe as she stared at the cracked dry earth all around them, with only the occasional dry twig or decrepit looking bush sticking out of the ground.

She could have brought additional water in her dimensional bag, but the last time she’d done that she’d left a bottle in there for months by mistake and the water had gone bad. Besides, even the bag had limited space, and right now it was full of gadgets and equipment. Some called her over-prepared, maybe even a little crazy. But they had never fought monsters and other dangerous lifeforms.

It was the morning of the fifth day when they spotted wisps of smoke on the horizon.

“Is that a fire?” Bon Bon asked.


“That.. might very well be. The flames have gone out though.”

“How can you tell?”

“The color of the smoke. It is grey. If the fire were still burning it would be black.”

“Isn’t the town in that direction?”

“Yes, I suggest we make haste.”

The terrain this close to the coast was more rocky and hilled. It took another hour, weaving between rocks and climbing across hills, but eventually they reached the port of Pearl Cove. What they found, was not what they expected. As they crossed the last hill they got their first look at the town. Or rather, what was left of it.

***********



The beating of a large, rusted tin bell began Trixie Lulamoon's day. As it had for the last three weeks in Ivory Oasis. Ivory Oasis, a rather innocent name for a place such as this, a misfitting one if ever there was. Three weeks, and yet it seemed so much longer. While time here was interminably slow, falling into a routine wasn't as she removed the meager blanket and rose from her bed. Maji was already up, as always and sat in her morning meditation, uncaring of the world around her. It was almost like she was ‘above it all’ when Trixie saw her like that.

Taking a small cloth rag she pulled out her water skin. It was made from the many shedded hides of the large sand snakes that lived in the area. There was a time Trixie would of found this nauseating, but for nearly a month now, this was her most precious possession. Slaves were never given anything. If they wanted something they had to make it themselves in their spare time. Anything they managed to craft or build was theirs to keep. This was the rule the master had established. If you wanted something you worked for it. It was all part of his vision of a strong future Zebrica.

Trixie carefully tipped the skin. The water it held had to last each day till the following dusk, when it would be replenished. Provided there was enough to go around. Though she was drilled into the belief that not a drop should be wasted, she scrimped and saved for this moment. It was time to feel like her old self again. Using a hoof, and not her magic, she poured the mouthful of water onto the rag. She could feel the cool life giving liquid pool in her frog underneath, and her body ached to lap it up. But no, she would get it another way. With care, she took the cloth and placed it on her forehead. The cool, slippery sensation felt heavenly, as days worth of grime and sweat were wiped away from her coat.

Enjoying the feeling she wiped her eyes and allowed the cloth to stay there. Within the moist darkness she imagined she was back home in Equestria. She had grown up in a lavish estate, and yet now when she thought of home, it was not there, but the Library back in Ponyville. Spike would be in the kitchen making breakfast and coffee as Twilight would descend the stairs. Her once rival would offer her a bleary eyed greeting which she would return as the two of them shambled down the steps, following the scent of grounds and syrup.

When she got to the bottom of the steps, there he would be. Standing on one side of the kitchen like a living statue, lost in his thoughts, or 'speaking' to the library. His warm grey, shaggy mane obscuring his glowing eyes, his stocky build, flexing underneath the coat of fine moss that substituted for fur quite flawlessly. His smile when he saw her. He may not of been a real pony, but sweet Celestia...what a disguise.

She had thought she lost him forever. She had almost given into despair. But then a tiny miracle happened. A miracle named Herb. The little seedling was sitting between the bars of the window. Soaking up the morning sun to keep itself alive. It had been separated from Aeron longer than any other of his little drones. That it was still functioning was a small miracle in and of itself. It gave Trixie hope, and the strength to keep going.

She finally took the rag off her face. It was time to get to work. Today was their group's turn to work in the camp, rather than the quarry. It was a rotation the master had implemented to ensure the slaves didn’t burn out too quickly from the hard work. They made their way to the kitchen building and got to work. They would peel vegetables, cut fruits, cook and serve breakfast and hand out the daily rations of water.

As she worked, Trixie let her mind wander once again to her life before all this. Back to Twilight’s kitchen. It was the strongest, and most recent happy memory she could cling to.

"Remembering home, Trixie?" Maji asked quietly.

Trixie snapped out of her thoughts. "How did you know?"

"You had such a happy far away gaze in your eyes. I imagine it's how I look when I meditate."

"Aren't you going to tell Trixie not to?"

"Of course not. It’s something that gives you strength. You should cherish it for as long as you can."

Trixie nodded. “Is that what you think about when you meditate?”

“Something like that.” Said Maji.

“You two should forget those memories as soon as possible. They will only bring you pain.” Gordon growled as he passed them by, hauling a bag of potatoes.

“Pay him no heed.” Maji said gently as Trixie’s face fell. “Griffons simply deal with hardship like this in a different way. You should hold on to what you love with all your heart. Even if it hurts.”

She went quiet for a moment, then smiled softly.

"A little school house near a small farm town."

Trixie blinked but didn’t interrupt, waiting instead for Maji to elaborate on her own.

Maji closed her eyes and a serene expression fell over her face, almost like a veil.

"It was once a storage shed, but I was able to purchase it on my own. It took months, but with a little help from some of the local families we were able to transform it into something the whole community was proud of. I remember walking across the city, looking for used books. I collected them from libraries and used bookstores, worn and about to be tossed out. I gathered them up in a small box. They were torn, drawn in, but the looks on the children's faces when they opened them for the first time. Many of them didn't know how to read, but it didn’t matter. This was a start, a beginning to a whole new world."

Trixie couldn’t help but smile at the passion in the young mare’s voice. "That's sounds amazing, Maji."

"It was..."

She looked around cautiously, searching for wandering ears. The coast was clear for the moment, so she leaned in to Trixie and whispered in her ear.

"My family is well to do, I could have had anything I asked for, but the school? It was mine. One of the first things that I did all on my own. My mother scolded me, told me that I could bring several schools about, if I would but ask. My parents would gladly fund such an endeavor and they would put me in charge. I suppose, they were right, I could have but..."

"You wanted to do it for yourself... to blaze your own path."

Maji smiled thoughtfully at Trixie. "That, and to step out of my big sister’s shadow. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister, but she is such a strong figure… I…”


“Wanted a chance to shine all on your own. To show everypony you could.” Trixie finished.

Maji nodded, her smile never faltering. “I sense it’s the same for the ‘Great and Powerful’ path you chose." Maji said, doing a little imitation of Trixie.

Trixie blushed. "Its...nothing. Downright selfish compared to what you did. Trixie just wanted to bask in the attention of the crowd. To hear the masses cheer her name."

"Nonsense. When you speak of it I can tell, it's not so much for you but for others."

"It's... that look. That look on their faces when you show them something amazing." Trixie whispered.

"I know exactly what you mean."

“What… what about your parents? Are they….” Trixie began but faltered.

“They are happily retired from the... family business. They have a little estate on the coast in the south where they spend their days. Mom always had a thing about wanting to make her own wine. She never had time to try it before. Now… now she’s got her own little vineyard. I’m… not sure what my dad does with his time these days.”

They lapsed into companionable silence while they resumed their work. Halfway through service, Trixie and Maji were pulled aside by the guards watching over the kitchen. They were being sent up to serve the master’s morning meal. A task reserved for the prettiest mares.

Trixie Briefly toyed with the idea of asking Herb, who was hiding in her mane, to poison the food. But quickly thought better of it. If the poison failed they would surely be punished for the attempt. Most likely even killed. If it succeeded, there would be no one around to keep the guards under control. It was only Wasio’s decree that kept the guards from touching the mares. Unless one consented willingly.

“The mothers of Zebrica’s future must be willing, not forced.” The master had said. That was his word. And here, his word was law.

With two large trays floating in her magic, and Maji carrying another on her back, they made their way to the master's sanctum. The master always ate with his inner circle, going over the day to day and any problems that might require his attention. A long table stood in the center of the hall, with the master sitting at the head. His six generals and advisers sat on either side in groups of three. Quick and quietly, Trixie and Maji began to set the table. Putting down bowls of fruit salad, fresh loaves of pumpkin bread, and two large carafes of water. They then stood of to the side and waited while the men finished eating. Occasionally being called upon to refill their drinks.

Everything was calm and ordinary, until a zebra stallion threw open the doors and hastily made his way to the master's side.

“My lord, forgive the intrusion but I have urgent news.” The stallion panted.

“Take a breather, then report. What could be so urgent that you interrupt my morning meal.” Wasio asked in a tone that said, this had better be extremely important, or there would be dire consequences.

The stallion took several deep breaths. “Word has come down from Pearl Cove my Lord. It’s gone.”

“Gone? What do you mean gone?”

“Exactly that my lord. Some-zebra or some-thing destroyed it. There.. there is no trace of our men.”

“And what of the slaves?”

“Gone as well. We… we found some scattered tracks heading into the drylands, but they were like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I don’t know how to describe them.”

Everyone present was silent for a moment.

“Master… what do we do? Without the port we have lost a major supply line.”

“Then we will simply have to redouble our efforts on our other supply lines, until such time the town can be rebuilt.” Wasio said imperiously.

His advisors nodded.

“Could this have been an attack by the queen?” One of his generals opted.

“Doubtful. The queen is a mare of peace, she would seek to negotiate, not order troops to raze a town to the ground. She does not have the stomach for it.”

“Then what could it possibly have been?”

“That, is what you must find out for me. Send my best scouts to scour the drylands. Check all nearby cities, villages, farms and towns. If there are survivors, we must find them and question them. Bring them to me, alive and unharmed. Fail me in this, and you shall be tossed in the pit as food.”

All those present made quick assurances and promises of success.

“Inform the slaves, there shall be no work today. We need to inventory our supplies. Water will be down to half rations. That goes for the guards and officers too. Everyone must chip in, from the lowest to the top.” Wasio said as he emptied his glass back into the carafe.

"Master?" Came a small voice that caused all present to freeze.

Turning, Wasio scanned the room, his eyes going to the pair of mares. Trixie managed to stifle a
shudder at the warlords gaze, but failed to hide her shock when Maji dared to step forward.

"Forgive this one for her impudence," she said softly, bowing her head reverently, "but if there is to be a holiday from our labors, might your humble servants use this gracious opportunity to better ourselves and ease the burden of our lord's cause?"

"How dare you!" One of the general stepped forward, an ornate wooden cane in hoof. "I should have your ears and tongue removed for your..."

"I would have your skull for speaking for me in my presence." Wasio spoke, not even raising his voice. It was enough for all in the room to back away from the offending Zebra stallion.

Rather then speak the General merely prostrated himself as the massive hippo slowly stood and approached. Everyone cringed as the crop was taken from the underling. Dwarfed in his massive ham of a fist, Wasio appraised it as well as the two pawns before him. Both spoke out of turn, but one was reverent, holding herself humbly yet undaunted. The other was shivering and right now resembled an Ostrich with its head in the sand, rather than a Zebra.

Looking down, at the General, he snapped the cane in his grip causing him to whimper.

“Presume to speak for me again, and I will have you skinned alive and your body rendered into magical reagents”

“Yes my lord. As... as you command. A thousand apologies.”

Bringing his gaze back to the mare, he could tell she was afraid, but still she stood.

"Make your request and make it swiftly. I have precious little time and even less patience to deal with frivolous matters right now.”

Maji prostrated herself further.

“I have but a humble request master. That you allow us to try and dig a well.”

He studied her for a moment before speaking. “It has been tried before, with no success. Why should I allow you to try again?”

“Great one, letting us try will cost you nothing, and if we succeed, you still benefit. You won’t have to spend so much precious space on the supply caravans for water. And your servants will work harder when well hydrated.”

“Don’t think I don’t see what you’re really after here. You want this well so you don’t have to depend on what I so graciously give you. You’re trying to claim a sliver of independance.”

“Master I assure you that’s not..”

“Hush child. I will alow you your little act of defiance. For I am a benevolent ruler, and if this motivates your peers to work harder then it is but a minor thing to grant. However, if you wish to proceed with this endeavor you will do so in your own time, and only use whatever supplies you and your fellow slaves have scraped together. I will not invest even a single nail into this ill conceived venture.”

“Yes master, this one understands, and thanks you for your great kindness.” Maji said, bowing so low she could kiss the ground if she were so inclined.

“Now be gone from here girl. I have other matters to attend to.” He then turned his gaze back to his generals.

“And as for you all. You know what to do. I strongly suggest you get to it.”

********



Bon Bon looked at the devastation before her. Not a single building was left standing. Torn to shreds as if a typhoon had torn through the town. Half of what she assumed was a pirate ship, judging by its black flag, lay smashed upon the ground, over a hundred hoofsteps away from the actual docks. As if it had been sheared in half and then thrown by some great force. A lot of the buildings had been burned down. Those that hadn’t were smashed to timbers. There were also strange mounds of rock and decomposing seaweed spread out all over town. There was no trace of anypony, yet there was a strong metallic tang in the air, the kind that reminded her all too much of blood. Slowly she and Kivuli made their way through the ruins, looking for any signs or clues.

“By the great circle, what could have done this?” Kivuli muttered as he stared at the wrecked ship.

"I have a few guesses." Agent Drops said ruefully.

This had been the sum of all her fears since that day Aeron first came to town. She saw the destruction that he could do when he unleashed the Everfree upon them. What he had nearly done to Lyra. Horse Apples to being reformed! The only good monster was one bound in tartarus, and Aeron was overdue. Putting her own feelings aside she allowed her clinical eye to take over. The vast expanse of destruction. The leveled buildings, the spread of debris. This wasn't a feeding. It didn’t have the same randomness to it. Amid all the destruction there was a discernable pattern.