Rocky Mountain Dragon

by Iron_Cauldron

First published

Changing species and genders was the easy part. Surviving in a world without people and infrastructure, that's going to be a challenge. Luckily, I've had some help to prepare for the long haul. A VERY, long haul.

Bright Star never imagined there could be another world out there. She was too concerned with magic; learning how to apply ancient magic to modern use was something she truly enjoyed. When she's called to Canterlot Castle by the Princesses, she's stunned to hear of another world, one without magic at all.

Brian's never given much thought to magic. He's only concerned about getting his degree, and fulfilling his dream to travel abroad. To him, magic's something in anime and fantasy, and the card game he has little to no interest in, beyond the great artwork.

Neither know the full scope of the future awaiting them when magic finally comes to Earth, and the adventures, and struggles, it's bringing along with it.

Chapter 1 - Recruitment

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"Good job today, everypony!! See you tomorrow!" Bright Star called out to her colleagues, as she gathered her materials and left the Magic Study Department for the night. "Phew, that, was a long day!" Looking up at the clock on a wall, just inside the building's entrance. "Almost eight-thirty! I'm bushed."

It was a long walk across the campus, from work to her apartment just off campus.

"Hey Star! Want to join me at the donut shop tonight? I'm buying!" Sky Spark, one of her colleagues called out, as he trotted up to her. They had met and formed a fast friendship in Celestia's School for Gifted Unicorns, choosing similar fields when entering Equestria University.

"No thanks, Sky, I'm too tired to go. I'm heading home, where I plan to soak, read a little, and collapse on my bed. I would otherwise, but I'm just too tired. Sorry!" Star replied, apologetically.

Sky waved back, "It's no big deal. We have plenty of time later on to hang out, if you want to. Rain check?"

"It's a deal!" They walked in silence for another few minutes, before parting ways for the night. "See ya, Sky! Good night"

"You too, Star!"

Getting to her apartment, Star opened it up, gathered the mail pushed through the mail slot in her door, then proceeded into her apartment, "Bill, bill, junk, oh, a letter from mom. What's this?" Pulling a letter that appeared to have an official seal from the crown and her name in the recipient section, Star sat and opened it, unfolding the letter and reading the contents.

"Dear Bright Star,
Your academic focus, knowledge, and ability to figure out and apply spells of the past to modern problems, have prompted us to contact you on a matter most important. Recent discoveries of a top secret nature require us to call upon ponies of the highest caliber of study and expertise to assist us in a matter of the utmost importance. Please come to the castle tomorrow morning, no later than 9 AM sharp. Bring all appropriate forms of identification for verification, such as your birth certificate, campus ID, and your Canterlot City Residence cards, as well as this letter. The guards, as well as some Equestrian Military staff will check your identification. From there you will recieve further instructions. Thank you."
Your Royal Princesses, Celestia and Luna.

A letter from the Crown was nothing to be ignored. To prepare, she got everything they required, and set it in a clean bag to take to the castle in the morning.

Afterwards, Star took her bath, as planned, read the letter from her mother, which only talked about how they were doing, and asking her to write home more, despite them being relatively close by. 'I'm going to have to plan a visit soon...' She mulled to herself.
Star left the bathroom after a thorough dry-off, then got ready for bed, asking herself, "What could they be needing to call so many ponies for?"

*-*-*-*-*-*

After presenting her identification, and recieving a full body scan by the palace guards, and physicians, presumably to ensure that no Changelings or other shapeshifters tried to get in, Star was led with a group of ponies to the long throne room of the palace. From her experience and knowledge of spell-work, she could tell that there had been enchantments placed on all the windows of the room. Seating was not assigned, so Star chose a seat near enough to the front that she could get.

"What do you think this meeting's about?" She inquired the pony next to her.

"Dunno, but to call ponies of all sorts to the castle like this, and in this kind of secrecy is something else. But, given the number's we've shown up in, I don't think what's going to be said here will be secret for long" The male pegasus replied to her.

Ponies kept filing in; pegasi, unicorns, and earth ponies of all stripes, and taking what seats they could find, while others talked amongst themselves in what groups they could form, and stood, probably talking about the upcoming meeting.

This kept up until a castle stewardess stepped into the hall, onto the dias, just half way up the stairs to the throne, and called out to the assembled ponies, "Please, everypony, if you would take a seat please, the Princesses will be in shortly to address all of you, but if you would take a seat now, to ensure order. Thank you." She stayed until all the ponies had taken their seats, but did not stop them from talking amongst themselves.

This continued on for a while, until Prince Shining Armor himself stepped out from where the stewardess had left the room, "Attention! Announcing their Royal Highnesses, your Princesses of Equestria, Princess Celestia, Princess Luna, Princess Mi Amore Cadenza, and Princess Twilight Sparkle! All rise!" The assembled ponies, in almost perfect unison stopped talking, and rose to their hooves, performing an almost perfect synchronous bow to the Princesses as they entered the room.

'Whoa, all the Princesses are here. This has to be something really big!' Star thought to herself, amazed at all the princesses gathered.

They sat on their respective thrones, after which, Princess Celestia addressed the crowd, "Please be seated, thank you." After giving everyone a chance to sit, and get themselves comfortable, Princess Celestia continued, "A series of events has transpired, of which we have kept the utmost secret until recently. Princess Luna will now share her discovery with you all. Princess Luna?"

Princess Luna stepped forward, addressing the crowd in a voice all could hear, but not be overwhelmed by, "Shortly after my return from the Moon, and subsequent recovery, I resumed my studies, and found something I had not expected. We had previously thought that life could only exist and change under the influence of magic. However, a discovery I had made shortly after my return, changed mine, and my sister's theories. My sister and I gathered the other Princesses, as well as some of the top minds in biology from around Equestria to solve this mystery.

"After weeks of research, and observation, we decided to attempt contact with the sentient life on this strange new world. They called themselves, in a language we found to be roughly similar to our own, Humans." At this point, Princess Luna used her magic to project an image of some humans seen through the portal to the assembled crowd.

"Our initial contact attempts did not end well, however , we eventually found some who would speak with us through the portal. After a couple of weeks of talking with them and gaining trust on both sides, they asked to send representatives, and scientists to our world to learn about us. One piece of information we shared with them to gain their trust, was my observation about magic in their universe, namely, it's near total absence. We could not go to their world, as in studies here, we found that the loss of the ambient magic, or 'thaumatic starvation,' of any tribe, resulted in severe medical trauma. Needless to say, it is deadly for us to go to their world as it is.

"As such, we acquiesced to them coming here for academic purposes. After they had selected thier candidates for the trip, they crossed the threshold of the portal, into our world. Initially nothing seemed wrong, but things quickly deteriorated. The sudden inundation of magic caused effects that were later discribed by the other humans as acute, and deadly radiation sickness. Their bodies rapidly began to break down, sores appearing over their exposed skin with presumably more concealed under their clothing, severe weakness, blindness, even vomiting. I must apologize for being blunt, but without showing you the rather gruesome images, a detailed explanation is necessary.

"A quick scan of their bodies, revealed that their souls had been violently ripped out and hurled to the center of our galaxy. While we were attending to the bodies however, something entirely unexpected happened. Their bodies rose as if they were, to use the term, 'zombies.' The way they got back up varied, but in the end, we had to incinerate their bodies, to end any suffering they may have been going through. What we were left with, were some of their devices, which the other humans would not take back, as they said were by then too contaminated by magic to be safely returned. These devices have been sitting in a vault, as some of the other ponies, until recently reported an uneasy feeling around them, so we have waited for the devices to adjust to the ambient levels of magic to dismantle and or study them safely.

"When all was said and done, the HPI, or Human Preservation Initiative, called off any further contact with humanity, and told us not to interfere or attempt contact any further. So, we closed the portal with them, but have been continuing our observations of their world since our last contact, learning what we can of this intriguing species. What I have learned of their world, is that it is still in great danger.

"While magic is not as abundent in their world as it is here, I observed that, in their inventiveness and ingenuity, they manage to create small amounts of magic each time one of them created something new, or gave something old, a new use. This magic, and other magic also created by other life, has been building up in the center of their galaxy, and is set to be released in the coming years. I estimate that in two to three years, magic will inundate their world, resulting in similar deaths for those humans left on Earth. Thus, it is imperative we think of something to help the humans in this inevitable change in their world. We are soon to announce our findings to the world at large, and ask the world for help to save another sentient species from extinction. Thank you"

With that, Princess Luna stepped back and sat on her throne once again. The hall, once a cacophany of noise from talking ponies, was so quiet, a walking Breezie could be heard. Ponies throughout the hall were stunned to silence by the magnitude of the revelation of another species, let alone, a whole other universe. Before anyone could rise to ask questions, Princess Celestia came forward, and addressed the crowd.

"We have selected a team to study the objects left behind, and try to either operate, or reverse engineer them. The rest of you will be allowed to go home for the time being. We are preparing an announcement for the rest of Equestria, along with the world. We sincerly wish to help these beings in their coming trials in dealing with magic. We need solutions, so we ask all of you to go home, study everything you can about magic, and the magic of your respective tribes, and hope we can figure out a way help them.

"Before you all go home, we will announce the ponies to be selected for the program to study the devices left by the human expeditionary team. The rest are free to go, but we ask that all of you who are not chosen, keep this meeting a secret. We will announce our discoveries in the coming days, so please be patient."

Princess Celestia then stepped back to her dias, and addressed another attendant who came out with a scroll, Star presumed to be the aforementioned list. She was also so taken aback by the anouncement of the alternate world, and all she'd heard, that she almost missed her name, when they got to it, "...and Bright Star. Please come forward and follow Sharp Spear to the designated meeting room. The Princesses will join you all there shortly. Everypony else is dismissed, and may return home."

The crowd was slow to disperse, but Bright Star made her way to the front of the hall, only having to side-step a few ponies who began to make their way out, and into the hallway outside. She followed Spear and the nearly two dozen other ponies through a door near the front of the royal dias, kneeling to the Princesses before continuing with the group. They walked for a few minutes, before Spear stopped before a door, "Please step inside. The Princesses will be with you shortly."

As the last one into the room, Star saw the four guards brusquely making their way in pairs, coming down the other direction of the hallway. Before the doors were closed behind her, she noticed them taking up positions around the outside of the door. As soon as it closed, she only had one thought ringing in her head.

'Oh boy.'

Chapter 2 - Getting Informed

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Bright Star and the group of ponies chosen by the Princesses had no honest idea what kinds of objects the humans had brought over. Their brief view of the humans indicated that they wore clothing like most Equestrians, but in much greater amounts, and covering more of their bodies than the ponies had ever thought necessary, outside of certain circumstances. Some of the chatter while waiting for the Princesses revolved around aspects of the humans they could remember.

"One of them seemed to be losing the mane on his head. And was it just me, or did anypony else not see any fur on them? A little ugly if you ask me." A haughty sounding unicorn pony asked, with a deep Canterlot accent.

"Their features were a little like some seen in minotaurs: they walked on two legs, appeared to have hooves of some kind, with some type of tied-on covering, if the straps were really there, and not some form of decoration." Added an Earth pony.

More banter in regards to the strangeness of the humans continued to be passed around, while they waited. When Star finally noticed the clock, it read nearly eleven-thirty in the morning. When the clock finally reached the half-way mark, the doors began to creak open on the left-hoof side of the room. Princess Luna walked through first, followed by her sister, both manes waving the ethereal wind, regardless of their walking.

They made a move to bow to the Princesses, but Princess Luna stopped them with a raised hoof, "There will be no bowing in this meeting, so please be seated." She made her way to the end of the table opposite the door the way the small group had entered, and returned to address the assembled ponies, "You are all aware that we called you here to try to figure out what the human devices do, and how they operate, but I believe that an explanation about the humans is first necessary."

Princess Luna first took some time to gather her thoughts, and organize some note cards she had brought with her. Clearing her throat, Princess Luna continued, As my sister said before, there will be an announcement to the world shortly, but all of you will be doing something extra. Until we can figure out the mechanics of the object that have been left here, they will be kept a secret. You do have the option of withdrawing from the group, if you have a more important obligation to attend to."

Only one hoof went up in the group, a lime green Earth Pony mare, "I will not be able to stay and help Your Highness. I have a husband and two young foals, and we are not from this city. I do apologize. As interesting, and as great an opportunity this is, they are my main priority."

Princess Celestia spoke up, "You are more than welcome to step out and head back to your family." She turned to one of the guards at the door who'd come with her and her sister, addressing them, "Would one of you please escort the young mare to the entrance of the castle so she may leave? Thank you." One moved sharply, bowed to the Princesses, and gestured to the mare to follow him.

Before she left however, she stopped, turned, and said to the Princesses, "I would have spoken up earlier, Your Highnesses, but I was raised to be respectful, and..."

She did not get a chance to respond fully, before Luna looked her in the eye, smiled, and said, "We completely understand, and it is quite alright. Your family is more important. Have a safe trip home!" Princess Luna nodded, continuing to smile to the mare, who bowed again, though not as low as she had before. When the doors closed, Princess Celestia again addressed the group.

"Is everypony else fine staying?" When the rest nodded, she continued, "To let you all know, this project will last for only two weeks. Your room and board will be in a castle boarding house, adjacent the troops barracks. You will recieve badges giving you permission to be on castle ground, as well as escorts to and from the castle proper, but that is done for castle guests. Any projects of jobs you may currently be on, if you wish we can contact them for you, and let them know you are working on assignment for the crown. Is this arrangment acceptable?"

Bright Star was among the ponies who's hooves went up, each pony giving the information of their occupations to the attendant of Princess Celestia. "Thank you all for your support. Your employers will be contacted, and if necessary, we will send support to them, in exchange for your absence. Some of you are no doubt from out of town, so your fare home will be compensated, as well as any lost revenue from your jobs. You may have noticed that Princesses Cadence and Twilight are no longer with us. They have been allocated to other jobs in studying the human world, and ways to help then with the arrival of magic. For right now, your main concern is trying to figure out the items they left behind, but first, you must see more of the humans, as some of the items were apparently used by them on a daily basis."

Princess Celestia moved to get up, addressing her sister, "I will leave this to you Princess Luna, I must go attend to my duties."

"Thank you sister." She replied, nodding her gratitude.

Once Celestia had left, Princess Luna continued on, "We have some recordings of the portal on film, and the images of humans through it." At this, a projector was brought in, with Princess Luna moving around the table to make room, while a screen was set up near the door.

The lights dimmed, and the film started with a view through the portal, to what appeared to be a mostly blue planet, presumably covered in a vast ocean, with large land masses, themselves covered in various shades of brown and green. The princess said, "The humans call their planet, 'Earth.'" The next scene switched to a part of the land that showed a large island with an absolutely immense city covering it, replete with buildings made of an enormous amount of glass, steel, and some made of brick.

One of the other Earth ponies spoke up, "Look at the size of those buildings!! I wonder how they made them so huge, and so many!" he spoke in awe.

The film continued, going to street level, which showed many colorful shapes moving around, all without being pulled by anything. Most appeared to shine when the light hit them, as if made of shiny metals, and some even belched plumes of dark smoke. To this, Princess Luna spoke up, "We told the humans we also had buildings like theirs, though not quite so many, nor so tall. They said that many of their own reached more than 100 floors high, and that the largest were nearly two-thousand feet in height. We told them of our own skyscrapers, to which they replied that theirs had been as small once, but only became as big, over the last century. They were simply astonished at the similarities between their 'Manhatten,' and our own Manehatten. We each gathered maps and images of our respective cities, showing them to each other. Needless to say, awe was a common feeling that day.

"When we asked what moved their metal chariots around, the humans we were speaking with chuckled, and corrected us. They told us they were called 'automobiles,' and were powered by naturally occuring, though limited, 'gasoline.' They descibed gasoline as being a derivative of a product they extracted from the ground called oil, saying that it was but one of the byproducts of the refinment of oil, and that it was a very dangerous process to make." Luna continued the film, which moved from the large cities, out to something familiar to the ponies. Suburbs. "The smaller buildings you see here are dwellings for human families, some who have foals, or another common term between us, children. Many things between humans and us are the same; we raise our young, send them to school, have jobs, and so on.

"Theirs is a very complicated world however, as the humans explained, that they do not have what we call cuties marks. A human's occupation can change, though some do find their destinies, and follow their dreams." The movie continued on, showing the ponies the vast number of businesses, the myriad of buildings, and one thing the ponies did not expect, given the kinds of structures they had all seen thus far.

"Is that a castle?" Star asked, pointing to a building that had spires, and adornments that looked like the dragons on the sides of most of Canterlot, and the recently studied Castle of the Two Sisters.

"No, that, the humans explained, is a 'cathedral.' The humans are, for the most part, a very spiritual people, believing in various deities and gods, many of which baffled us. The ones with the 'T' shape on their spires, and signs were almost everywhere in the country we are showing you. There are other places like it, some having statues of a human sitting in a strange pose, while others have a star, and some that have a down-ward cresent moon on them. The humans we talked to said that this was a delicate issue for many, so we did not inquire further."

The movie continued on, showing scenes of large trains, much longer than the ponies had ever seen, or thought possible. Another that intrigued them, were absolutely giant constructions that seemed to travel a length of road, and took off into the air. They had lines of black spots along their sides, with long, tapered wings and large, bulbous, and very noisy things attached to them. Their 'tails,' were strange too. Two smaller wings jutting out on the sides like fins, and one going up.

"What in the world are those?!" A red pegasus asked incredulously.

"We were told they were called 'airplanes.'" Princess Luna supplied. "They are used to ferry many humans, and sometimes cargo, across vast distances, very fast. These also run on a kind of gasoline. The kind they run on though, was explained to be very dangerous, and more volatile than the other kind of gas. The humans told us that they had once used balloons for transport as we do, but found them very dangerous."

The film then moved back to suburban areas, with humans walking around, to which Princess Luna spoke up, "The humans are apparently a primarily bipedal species. The coverings on the ends their hind legs are called 'shoes,' which protect their soft feet. They do not have hooves like us, so they have to protect their feet. Their feet end in five digits, or 'toes,' each of which has a nail. Moving up, they appear to walk on their heels and toes, as when some of our biologists studied their joints and compared them to ours; they have the same number of joints, just in a different arrangement."

The clothing the humans wore was as colorful and different as each pony was from each other. "The humans, for the most part, lack fur, so they cover much of their bodies with clothing to protect themselves, and as you will no doubt see, to advertise what they like. Not unlike our souvineer shirts" Princess Luna explained with a smile. "Their upper limbs are called 'arms,' and are used to carry things with. The ends of their arms, are called 'hands,' which are very dextrous, and able to perform very fine manipulations, though much more limited than a unicorn's magical abilities. As you can see, many have devices in their hands, while some have one hand near their head. They are talking into, and working on devices which are called 'telephones,' or just 'phones.' They appear to be communication devices that allow them to talk to others at any distance. They also appear to be capable of gaming, and sometimes being a distraction."

Bright Star spoke up, "You weren't kidding Princess. Their world is VERY complicated. So many things to keep track of, it's a wonder they aren't crazy."

Princess Luna giggled, adding "I asked that as well, and got the responce, 'You get used to it.'"

The film ended, and the lights brightened back up, with some staff taking the projector and screen away. After the carts of projection equipment were wheeled away, the princess turned to the assembled ponies with a serious expression and said, "You will be the film's only viewers. It will now head to storage until we have more information to better explain to the rest of Equestria what those objects and buildings on, and from Earth, are."

Other carts, covered in blankets were wheeled in, in their place. "These are some of the devices the humans had brought over. Quite a few have analogues to our own." Princess Luna explained. Removing the cloth, revealed a number of items, some with tiny writing visible near what had to be buttons. Picking one up, Princess Luna continued, "This is a camera of some kind, quite small, and obviously quite advanced."

Picking up another, "As you can see, this is like the devices we saw them carrying. They called them 'smart phones.' These are apprently also capable of sending 'text messages,' which we gathered to be electronically written documents, sent through a means explained to us as 'radio,' which we are currently investigaing. There are other items which we already have here in Equestria, that do not need any study, so these items will be the only ones you will examine.' Setting it down, Princess Luna concluded, "These are but a few of the things you will all be studying. Please try to be careful with them in your studies, as they are the only ones in existence in Equestria. If you are not able to extract anything from them however, we may be forced to open them up, to see how they work. Remember, you have two weeks."

Another pony in the group spoke in a low tone, "No pressure."

Princess Luna countered, "Even if you do not figure out how they truly work, there is no need to rush. You will have access to all the resources you will need. We have had some ponies examine them briefly to see what tools you will require, which have been gathered." Hearing a stomach growl from one of the ponies, she said, "You may have some time for lunch, but please stay together. When you are finished, you will be escorted to a larger room, where these items will be brought to you. Have a good lunch, everypony" wished Princess Luna, smiling at them all.

After she left the room, a guard from the door spoke up, "Please follow me." Bright Star and the others got up, stretched, and followed the guard through the door, and down the hallway.

'Well, this has been a very interesting day, to say the least.' Star thought to herself.

Chapter 3 - Testing the Equipment

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Meals in the Canterlot commissary, while not the best, were still filling. Bright Star enjoyed most of her food, but in this situation she was very eager to return to the laboratory they had been allocated for their studies. The group however, was not allowed to leave the commisary individually, so Star had to remain with them, waiting while they finished their meals.

Some were as fast as she in finishing their meals, and chatted amongst themselves, while Star listened.

"We should split into groups in order to analyze the devices. That way, we're not all trying to crowd the things, and see all at once. I suggest groups of about four. This'll give us a chance to optimize our time, and allow for more studying." A roan unicorn said.

"I actually think that's a terrific idea." Star interjected. "I would suggest as well that we study only a few items a day, and compare notes. We should also switch the items we're studying to another group, in order to compare what we've learned about them at the end of the day."

By now the others had mostly finished, and were listening in on the conversation. In the end, all agreed to the sound plan, as it would give them a few days per set of items. Once their dishes were set on trollies to be taken to the kitchens, they gathered near the exit, and told their guards they were ready to head to their laboratory.

*-*-*-*-*

Bright Star and the others were taken directly to the laboratory, which was on a different path than they had gone to the mess hall. Two guards led from the front, and another two trailed in the rear, causing some castle staff, some tourists, and other ponies in the castle to turn in curiosity to the group. None in the group gave them any return looks however, as they were intently focused on their mission.

Once in their lab, the guards closed the doors behind the last pony in, and took up station outside. Already in the lab, and surrounded by two more guards, was the rolling table with the human artifacts. The ponies set about dividing themselves into groups of four, made easier by the mare leaving earlier in the morning. They could divide evenly, without having to have an extra member in any of the groups, not that any of them would have objected.

Once they had settled the desks in optimal positions, they introduced themselves.

"Bright Star"

"Quick Turn" The other mare, a pegasus stated.

"Steel Spark." An Earth pony stallion said.

"Solar Comet." A Unicorn stallion.

One pony from each group took a small trey to the trolly, and requested one device from it. One of the guards, a Unicorn, levitated their chosen devices to their trays, which they then took back to the table. The other guard, an Earth pony, noted the devices and time they had been handed over to the scientists. Star's group had selected the device called a 'cellphone.'

"It's small." One of their group members stated, to which the others nodded in agreement, looking at the item in the middle of the group. "Makes you wonder how they read anything on here, if Princess Luna's comments about them sending written messages on it were true."

"Their hands were quite small too, especially what they called their 'fingers.'" Quick giggled. She sobered up, "I can see why they would need them this small though. To manipulate anything over a distance does get tiring."

Star levitated the device into the air between them, and studied it intently. "I don't recognize much of anything on the thing, except for what appears to be an apple on the back, with a bite mark in it."

She held it in her telekinetic grasp, showing the back to all her associates. They could also see several protrusions on the sides, and what appeared to be a lighter rectangle on one side that had a small depression below it, with a white/gray box set in it. Two of the side buttons appeared to have indentations that resembled a 'plus' and 'minus' sign. On the back, were two, what they could only describe as windows, that had small circles in them, when one looked very closely.

"Okay, how in the heck do humans use these things?" Snarked Quick. "Nothing on this thing makes any sense. There's almost no markings, and it's entirely black. Not to mention, it's shiny, and looks very slick. How're they supposed to hold onto them?"

"You saw how their fingers could curl around a lot of things. I assume they wrapped their 'hands' around them, and applied force to keep hold of them" Steel supplied. "It appears to be quite robust, as I assume they need a lot of pressure to keep from dropping them, though this one appears to have seen a lot of use." Indicating some worn edging.

Star spoke up, "The buttons are too small for us to use our hooves on, so, I have a pen for us to use." She levitated the divice up a bit to get a good look at the front of it, so she could see what she was doing. "Here goes nothing." She pushed on the small square in the depression first, but got no reaction. Trying the 'plus' and 'minus' also elicited no reaction from the divice. She finally tried the long, rectangular button near the top, but that did nothing but slide and click.

Turning it to see if she damaged it, she noticed the small space was now orange. She quickly clicked the button back into place. "Nothing there worked. Let's try the button on the top." One of the others was quickly writing down notes while she fiddled with the device, and the other two watched for any reactions. She pressed for a moment, but nothing appeared to happen. When she turned the divice over, however, she and the others noticed another, slightly glowing apple had appeared.

The front of the device lit up with the strange human text, that seemed to be some sort of warning, what with the exclamation next to the text. It the disappeared, and a brief moment later, and the whole screen lit up. "Whoa!" She and the other exclaimed. "Are you getting this down, Quick?"

"Oh yeah. C'mon, let's see what happens next" They all waited to see if anything would happen, but for several moments, nothing did. On the screen were several brightly colored squares with text below them. The text was familiar from being prominant on several Earth signs and their automobiles, but still very alien. A couple of the squares had familiar symbols in them, but suddenly the screen dimmed, then went black a moment later. "What happened? Why's it black again?"

"I don't know!" Star exclaimed. "I'm going to push the same button again. Let's see what happens now." She pushed very delicately on the button, and from that brief depression, the screen lit back up. "Okay, it's back on. Let's see, I can tell there's a clock in one of the squares, what appears to be a voice bubble like in comics, a music note thing, and a compass. No, make that two compasses, and two notes. There's two more on the bottom, as well as another compass."

"Hey, there's a cloud and sun on another one!" Quick exclaimed. "Maybe that's their weather management notification, thing..." She trailed off, scratching her head with a very puzzled look.

Up on the top of the screen, Star noticed a few odd looking symbols. One was a series of 'waves' going up in a larger pattern, with nothing next to them, what appeared to be some numbers indicating time, since they looked similar to the analogue numbers that appeared on some clocks. Finally there was a strange rectangular symbol that was partially filled, with what appeared to be a seven percent number next to it.

Again, after a short time of them all staring at the screen it dimmed again, but before it could go black, Star pushed the top button.That action caused the screen to turn black. Pressing it again brought screen back to life. "Well, the button at the top appears to turn the screen on. While it's on, I'm going to see what the other buttons we tried earlier do."

Pressing the 'plus' and 'minus' buttons elicited tones, the plus causing a louder ding that the minus. The center button with the square did nothing that they could see.

Steel piped in, "Touch the pen to the music note square on the bottom. The red one."

Star levitated the pen over the square, and pressed it, and the screen shifted to, what appeared to be more squares, this time much more varied. On several of them, were images of humans in various poses, off coloured humans, and charicatures of people an animals. On the top were what appeared to be icons. One was a visage of a human, followed by yet another note in a box, smaller squares with rectangles ont he right, what looked like a microphone, yet another musical note with lines on its left, and what appeared to be a magnifying glass.

Star tapped on the image of a group a human flanked on both sides by redish, ghost-like apparitions of himself, all holding what looked like a guitar. Picking one of the lines in the selection, elicited sounds like a guitar they had never heard before, and the familiar drums. All activity in the room stopped, as a deep voice began singing, repeating a deep lyric. The whole room stopped as the phone played through the whole song, most of which was intelligable, but some, not so much.

"Well," one of the other ponies said, "that was, interesting. But could you please keep it down, we're trying to work on our own projects. Thank you."

To her own group, Star said, "I kinda liked it. It was gritty, and had a good beat!" she enthusiatically gushed.

The others shook their heads a little, and urged her to do something else. Trying the other buttons again, only elicited the tones of increasing and decreasing volume, along with the screen coming back on again. Pressing the top button yet again turned the device back on, but with the same screen as before. Finally pressing the square in a circle button, she and the others were brought back to the main menu.

"Well, we learned that the musical notes take you to what appears to be a selection of Earth music, so we can add that to what we've discovered." Solar commented. "Try the square with the black thing with the white circle and yellow dot. See what it does."

Pressing it caused the screen to show what appeared to be their desk, through the device. Star turned the device around to see if the could see the other way, which was when Quick looked up, and noticed something, causing her jaw to drop. "Star, I can see you on the device!"

Star turned the device around to see if she really was there, but only saw Quick instead, saying, "Wait, I can see you now. It's a little distorted though, like looking through a badly made piece of glass." Eyeing another camera on the bottom of the screen, Star pushed on it, causing the screen to move a little, settle on Quick, then emit a camera shutter-like noise, startling the others with what sounded like a picture being taken.

"I think it took a picture..." Star said, bewilderingly. She spied a very small image on the device where a copy of the image was taken and shrunk. She tapped on it, and saw that she had taken an image, and could even see it, without having to take it to be developed. She then pushed the square again, taking her back to the screen she saw on turning on the device. "Well, we're back to where we began, does anyone else want to see what else this thing can do?"

Most appeared to be in thought, while she levitated the device around, showing them the squares. Steel suddenly Asked, "What about the one with the black and white stripes on the top? It's got a blue bottom. What does that one do?"

Tapping on it, took Star to a series of tall, rectangular images that looked like the posters placed on the outside of opera houses, only much more colorful, and detailed. Some of the writing she could barely make out, "It looks like these are posters for some kind of entertainment. They look like film, or stage play posters, only much more detailed." Turning the phone to the others, Star continued, "Look at the one on the top left, it's a human in something like red armor with a glowing light in his hand."

Steel pointed to the poster, "Look at the one in the back ground. He's way oversized and green. Is he some kind of minotaur, or ogre? All I can recognize with the poster is what looks like the lower case letter 'e,' and the letter 'A.' Otherwise their writing is just scribbles."

"Who knows. Humans have very strange tastes to begin with." Quick quipped, still taking notes.

Looking over Star's shoulder, Solar noticed the odd rectangle at the top, she had noticed herself earlier. "What's that at the top there, Star?"

"I don't know, but it had the number 'seven percent' earlier, now it's down to five percent." She tried tapping it with the pen, but nothing happened. Touching the square-in-a-circle button again, took them back to the starting screen.

Steel looked, and asked, "What's that square with the four bright corners do?"

"Don't know, but we'll find out." Star replied. She pressed at it with the pen, and it brought up a series of what looked like folders with detailed colored images of other humans. Choosing one of them, Star and the others saw some images with a single human, but others where there was another that looked vastly different.

"Why does that other human have long hair, and look slimmer than the other?" Steel asked.

"Perhaps that's a female human. Given how she's drapped her arm over the other, we can probably guess that the are a mated couple, or good friends. It looks like there are a lot of pictures of these two humans in particular." On impulse, seeing that there were some images that had been cut off, or looked smaller, she tried dragging the pen along the top of one of the images, seemingly pulling the other images up. She continued pulling, making sure that Quick was keeping up with note taking. Eventually she got to some images showing the same two humans from before, with other smaller humans, she and the others assumed were human children.

"I think these are also family photos. I can see a younger looking human, who vaguely resembles the male from the photos from earlier, but there are also images of much younger humans." She turned the device around to show the others, and continued scrolling. "Look, in this one, the human from the first images is holding what looks like a very young human, wrapped in blankets."

"Younger humans are very ugly. It looks all wrinkled, and red, and very tiny. Especially being held by the larger human." Steel said.

"I definatly think they are related. The human holding the infant here is smiling quite widely, while looking at the, well, I guess baby would apply here." Star said.

Going back to the menu, then pushing the button to bring the images up again, Star dragged the other folders up, until she could barely make out something that made her pause. Pushing on the folder brought up images that looked like a portal of some kind. "Guys, I think I found the images of when we made contact with the humans."

Indeed, there were images of the portal, even some that looked like the owner of the device had managed to get an image of Princess Luna, and partial images of the guard surrounding her. Scrolling further, Star came across more humans in suits that looked like those worn by explorers, going to a distant land. Durable, and long lasting. In some of the last images, there were pictures of a group of humans, all smiling, waving, and making an unverted triangle, with two of their fingers.

The last image was of the portal, from very close up, with some ponies, looking expectantly at the human standing so close. The images stopped there, however, and Star could guess what happened next. "Everyone, I think the last image was the last one the human who owned this ever took, before he died." All were quiet for a moment, knowing what had happened to them, thanks to what Princess Luna had told them earlier.

Their exploration of the device continued for another hour, as having learned they could move the squares to see other things, they tried to see what they device contained, and see what more they could learn from it.

All too soon however, the device suddenly displayed an image that looked a little like the rectangle from the top right, blinking with some red on one side. A short time later, the screen turned black again, and no matter what Star did, she could not bring it back on. The group was left holding something that was essentially a thin brick, made of materials they lacked the skill to identify and take apart. There was also the fact that they were told not to take it apart, so Star took the device back to the table, looking sadly at it, before selecting another item for her group to investigate.

Chaper 4 - Telling the Family

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As it turned out, the ponies only needed one week to examine the items left by the human expeditioners. There was not that much to examine, and with the speed the groups worked, they were able to learn a lot. All the groups examined a total of four to five items each, but like the phone, they found that the items could not be used. They detailed the reason in their report to the princesses on the seventh day of their study, nominating the pegasus Quick Turn as the study group's spokespony.

"Thus we have determined, your highnesses, most of the devices are electronic in nature, and thus require a near constant infusion of electricity to function. As we do not have the means to safely get electricty to them without destroying them, we are at an impass as to what to do with them. As to the other items brought, they are items that are simply more advanced versions than we have now, such as spectrometers, binoculars, and various other items, we have yet to explore."

"As these are the only things we have from the humans," Princess Celestia spoke after a few moment's thought, "we shall seal them in a vault under guard, as well as a multilayered preservation spell until we have the ability to better understand their function."

Princess Luna continued, "We very much thank all of you for your hard work and contributions to our understanding. You are all invited to attend, in person, our full announcment of yours, and the discoveries of Princesses Twilight and Cadence, and their teams in a few days."

"Part of the announcment, which I will tell you all about here, as part payment for your help, we are considering asking some of you to stay on board longer for some things we have planned coming up. They are part of mine and Princess Cadence's discoveries. It will be dangerous, but your further contributions will help us immensely. We also plan to invite others to join the operation we have planned, to be elaborated on in the coming days."

At Princess Twilight's comments, many began talking amonst themselves, then began speaking up about their desire to go. Bright Star stayed quiet. She was interested in going, but the lack of information was disconcerting. Being asked to return for something they did not even know much about, made Star a little nervous.

--------

It turned out, it was indeed a monumental announcment. Bright Star went to the announcement solely out of curiosity.

Princess Celestia was the speaker for the occasion, "Please settle down, everypony. What we have to ask of you is in relation to what we are planning to help the humans; a side project being planned out to maximize our aid to them, in the coming advent of magic."

After casting a look to the audience, she continued, "We are planning a spell that will, change, the humans into forms better able to handle magic coming to their world. We began preparations for the spell in secret, and indeed many aspects of what we are doing, are still top secret in nature. Many nations have been contacted, as the nature of the spell is expensive in both energy, and resources, both financial and material.

"The other aspect of our plans, is what will be done once the spell has been cast. We plan to send teams to Earth to assist the newly transformed in both better utilizing their new forms, as well as giving them what they need to adjust to their new abilities. We are still in the planning stages of this operation as well, and more will be announced in the future. I encourage any who wish to try, to study hard in your fields of expertise, as we may call upon you to contribute to the cause in the coming years.

"We tentatively plan to begin training for this operation within the coming year to year and a half. We need to prepare simulated environments so the explorers will be able to recognize obsticles, have an idea of the environment they will be sent to, and be able to recognize known elements in the human world. We will begin accepting applications on a limited basis, and screening out all who do not initially meet the critera for what we are looking for."

The Princess took a breath, and concluded, "I thank all of you for your time, and please bear with us as we prepare for what needs to be done to help.

To say Star was shocked, would be to woefully underestimate what she had expected. She had known about the portals, but the opportunity to be sent to another world, was one she would not pass up. She made sure to gather as much information before heading home, to ensure she had all she needed to make it onto a team to go to Earth.

*-*-*-*-*

"Mom? Dad? Scribe?" Bright Star called out when she opened the door to her parents' home. It was unusual to hear the house not bustling with activity, or the bubbling of her mother's test tubes and beakers in her little study lab.

'Maybe they're out for lunch?' She thought. A thud from the second floor announced that someone was indeed home, along with the grunting, mumbled expletives, then the sound of hooves on wood as the pony got up, and walked to the door. It was already ajar, but the knob lit up as the occupant of the room came out. "You fall asleep writing again, Scribe?" She inquired with a bemused smirk.

"Ha ha. I'll have you know that my thesis is coming up, so I was up preparing a rough draft. I'm sure you know what that was like."

"Somewhat, but I wasn't trying to explain how ancient cultures worked. Just their magic, so my thesis was a bit more involved than yours. Granted, magic is a big part of most cultures, as it's an almost universal component. Actual culture changes, and it's not as documented as magic is."

"Only because magic is more important to ponies, so it's what's generally written first. Add the fact that you're very talented in magic. Anyway, what brings you home? Mom and dad are on their anniversery. They'll be home later tonight." Scribe said, turning for the bathroom.

"Oh." Star realized. She let herself into the kitchen, got a glass of apple juice, and a bowl of spicy baked chips, then went to the front room to eat, while she read a book she brought with her.

She heard her brother come down stairs, into the kitchen himself, then return back upstairs to continue his work.

Her parents did return home in the late evening, and upon seeing her asleep on the couch, each gave her a kiss on the cheek, placed a blanket over her, then went upstairs to sleep themselves.

--------

The clanging of pots and pans, then running water woke Star up the following morning. After getting her bearings on where she was, she gave a large yawn, stretched her front, then hind legs, and got off the couch. Walking into the kitchen, she spied her mother preparing some oatmeal on the stove, her father at the table reading the morning paper, and her brother already munching on some fruit, to take away the initial morning hunger pains.

"Oh, good morning dear!" Her mother called out, trotting over to kiss her daugher's cheek.

Accepting the kiss with a tilt of her head, Star replied with a smile, "Morning to you too! Basic breakfast today?"

"Basic, but nutritious. I'm adding some sliced fruit so anyone can add what they want to their oatmeal. I've also got some brown sugar for those who want it."

Thus, this was the typical breakfast at home, as Star and her brother had had since they could remember. Their parents, while living in the inner city of Canterlot, were fairly basic ponies, in keeping with the traditions of their ancestors. Star's father was a Unicorn, but was born to Earth Pony parents. He got his horn from his paternal grandparents, but it was his mother who instilled a love of the basics into him, which won over his wife, and mother of his kids.

It was this basic streak that Star loved, and would make her announcment, just a little harder than normal. She waited until everyone was finished eating, before speaking.

"So, I guess you've all heard about what the Princesses discovered?" Star started off.

"Oh yes," her mother replied. "Another world with different creatures on it!? Exciting!"

"A world without magic. I wonder what kind of place that would be like. How would they manipulate their weather, or raise their sun and moon, without magic? How would they do anything" Her brother asked.

Her father remained silent, having continued with his paper, so Star continued, "I've seen them. They have four limbs, like us, but they only walk on two. They use their front legs, or would that be their upper legs?, Anyway, they use them to manipulate their environment."

"Kind of like minotaurs?" Her father asked.

"Sort of, but they have one extra appendage, than minotaurs do." Star supplied. "I saw an up close view of their hands, as they called them."

"Interesting. But why bring this up now, sweetie?" Star's mother inquired.

Looking at her hooves, Star nervously spoke, "Because, there's a program that will be coming up in the next year or so, and I want to be part of it. It's going to be groups of ponies, trained, and sent to Earth, the home world of the humans. And I want to be on a team sent there. I came to let you know that."

All were stunned to silence by Star's declaration, and her growing determination as she spoke. Even her father lowered his paper to look at her in suprise.

"The princesses did announce that humans did try to come to our world a while back in the news release, but won't it be dangerous over there though? I've heard tales of ponies trying to live in magic-free environments, and those experiments did not end well. I wasn't aware that ponies were going to be sent to Earth." Her father replied.

"But dad, another announcement from the princesses did say that magic was going to be present in their world though, some time in the near future, or something. I was barely paying attention to the news. Is that true Star?"

"Yes. Magic is going to innundate their world in about a year, to a year and a half. The princesses know when that will be however, so I would wait for further updates from them, as to when that event will occur." Star replied to her brother.

"Well, you are the most magically gifted pony our family has seen in generations, so I'd say you're qualified, but that's not my place to decide. Which ever path your choose, honey, we'll support you. I just hope you know what you're getting into." Her mother cautioned, with a slight bit of worry in her voice. Star knew she could count on her family to trust her decisions.

"Tryouts and tests aren't for some time, so you don't have to worry for me so much. I'm going to spend most of my time working, and studying, as well as doing research on what they have planned. I've submitted my application to the program, but was told while I was in the castle, that there would not be any summons for some time. I just hope I make it in..."

"With your determination, and work ethic Star, you'll get in." Her father praised her. She gave him a strong hug, before returning to her seat.

"So, tell us how work's going, sweetheart."

Chapter 5 - Vacation: Part 1

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The train chugged slowly into Ponyville Station, its passengers who were bound for this stop getting their belongings in order for debarkation. Twilight and Spike were two of these passengers. Spike however, was the only one toting a moderately sized box of luggage. The sum total of the items they had taken to Canterlot were in the case, along with some items from Twilight's family, and some small souveniers for her friends.

Stretching the kinks out of his body and getting some satisfying pops, Spike said, "It's great to finally be off that train. I like traveling as much as the next person, but couldn't we have taken a chariot instead Twilight?"

"I prefer to use them as little as possible Spike, convenient or not. I also just like trains." Twilight responded, stretching her legs as well.

"Even if it's only a week," Spike said before yawning, "I'm going to sleep through as much of this vacation as possible. I've been running messages back and forth for months."

Twilight giggled, "Well, you have been paid overtime for working on some weekends, but you're right. I really want to continue working on the spell though."

"Princess Celestia did kinda force you to go, didn't she?"

"In her own gentle way, yes. It's been a while since we've been home, hasn't it?

Spike rolled his eyes, "We've been in Canterlot for almost two years. Since Princess Luna told you about what she discovered, you've only been back to your castle a small hoof-ful of times. Any friendship emergencies that came up on the map for you, were forwarded straight to you, and even then, the other Princesses had to force you to go. Your friends even had to come to the castle to visit you."

"I did take on a lot, since becoming the Princess of Friendship. But I still really want to go back and continue working."

"You need to see your friends too, Twilight!" Spike said, tapping her on the withers. "But first, it's late, and I want to crawl into my long lost basket!!"

"What about the new one in Canterlot?"

"Not as comfy. Or worn in."

Both continued to the castle in silence, setting their luggage in one of the rooms closest to the main entrance. The gifts would be given out when they saw their friends the following morning. The two then set to their pre-bed time routine, cleaning up after a long trip, hydrating themselves, and finally getting some well deserved shut-eye.

*-*-*-*-*-*

The following morning saw Twilight being roused as a mass settled itself over her, blocking some of the light from the windows.

Blearily looking up, "Wha...."

"GOOD MORNING TWILIGHT!!!!"

"Wah!!!!" Twilight screamed, jolting awake. "Pinkie!! Why'd you have to wake me up like that?"

"You were sleeping in later than you normally do silly, so I decided to be an alarm clock to wake you up, so you can get ready for the day, because the girls and me have a loooot planned for you this week, and not a lot of time to do it in, so we plan to spend as much time with you as possible...." Pinkie was muffled in the middle of her speech by a lavender hoof shoved in her mouth.

"Alright Pinkie, I'm awake. I'll meet you in the kitchen after I get ready..." Twilight grogilly responded with a large yawn.

"Okie dokie lokey!! I know!! I'll make you a yummy breakfast for your return trip from Canterlot, with cupcakes, and...." The rest fading off as Pinkie Pie hopped out of the room and down the hall.

"I hope she doesn't make cup-cakes for breakfast..."

--------

On her trek to the kitchen, Twilight's nose caught whiff of something that had her stopping in the middle of the hall, to breathe deeply, and appreciate the scent. And drool a little, "Apple-cinnamon pancakes..."

Beginning to trot, Twilight rounded a corner, only to see all her friends in the kitchen as well, with Applejack at the stove, cooking up the pancakes. On the table was a large array of breakfast items, including but not limited to, apple treats, some gormet breakfast dishes, a bowl of sliced fruit, some toast, and some mixed whole wheat and oats. Bottles of juice, cider, syrup and other dilectable goodies also crowded the table. There was a small plate of about a dozen cup cakes on the table as well, with a pattern across the top, welcoming Twilight home.

"Mornin' Twi! 'Bout time you moseyed on down here. We all just about started without ya." Applejack said, grinning.

"We most certainly wouldn't have started without her Applejack."

"I was just kiddin' Rarity. Take a seat, Twi, pancakes are almost finished. By the way, where's Starlight?"

"She's still in Canterlot. She's using her vacation to sightsee the city with my family. I've spent a few breaks with them, but Spike and I wanted to come home to Ponyville, to see you guys." Eyeing the spread on the table, "Wow, did you guys put this together?" Twilight asked, surveying the whole assembly.

"You bet! We all got some items from home, along with some things we had to visit the market for, but we got this all ready while you were sleeping in." Rainbow beamed, also drooling over the soon-to-be feast, and one of the primary reasons for her to be up and about so early.

Eyeing the clock, Twilight finally noticed that it was after nine-thirty in the morning. A couple hours later than she normally liked to wake up. "I guess I have been working hard on..." She was muffled by a hoof to the mouth.

"No talk of work now Twi, it's breakfast time. I had something to tide me over before comin' over, but I'm starved." Taking a breath, and looking around at her friends, she bellowed, "SOUP'S ON!!!" And with that, everypony began piling their plates with delictibles. Each taking one plate for a small stack of pancakes, and another for other items.

*-*-*-*-*

An hour later, and after much small talk, the friends were relaxing in one of the main living rooms, in the private area of the castle.

"Ooh boy. I'm stuffed!!" Applejack said, patting a rather full looking barrel. Her friends were in similar states, though Fluttershy and Rarity had been a little more reserved in their meals, they still looked a little fuller than normal.

A small belch escaped Rarity's throat, "Oops, excuse me." She daintily replied, to which the others giggled, but slightly moaned, around their full bellies.

Pinkie, looking almost ready to burst said, "Nothing beats a good meal with great friends!"

All was quiet, until Twilight felt that enough time had passed, when she began, "Alright girls, I can sense that there might be a slight ulterior motive to this breakfast feast."

"There's no 'ulterior motive,' darling. We just want to spoil you in the time you're here. We haven't seen much of you in a couple of years."

Unabashedly, Rainbow said, "I might have had one."

Twilight sighed, "What is it?"

Getting animated, Rainbow said, "I tried to sign-up to be on a team to go to the Human world, but I was almost immediately rejected. I was hoping you could pull some strings, to allow me to go!! It's gotta be an awesome place!. At least, from what I've seen."

While shaking her head, Twilight noticed a couple of the others also looking at her through the corners of their eyes, as they 'relaxed,' and enjoyed the after meal tiredness.

"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do girls. You have to remember our role in Equestria. We may not have the Elements anymore, but we're still seen by many in Equestria, and the world over, as the embodiments of the Elements, which we represent. We're too valuable an asset for this nation, and it's citizens. You are also a Wonderbolt-in-training, and you cannot miss practice, or you will be discharged from the team." She looked to Rainbow, and said, "There may be another way you can help those going to Earth though. Many of the ponies going will need some coaches and trainers with certain expertise. All things you girls can offer.

"Rainbow, your knowledge of your capabilities would be a valuable source of knowledge for the ponies going, as they can then use that to teach the Humans-turned-pegasi. You've managed the weather teams here in Ponyville for years, and thus have a very detailed level of experience dealing with the weather.

"Applejack and Pinkie, your knowledge of a number of the aspects of Earth Pony magic, especially in growing things is extraordinary, Your family Applejack, has imparted to you, centuries of experience dealing with plants, nurturing them, and getting more out of them, than most other farms combined. And Pinkie, you're knowledge of rocks and baking, is also a vast reservoir of knowledge..."

Cutting Twilight off, Pinkie interjected, "It's not a 'reservior' silly, it's all in my head!! And my sisters heads, and my parent's heads, and..."

Silencing Pinkie again, Twilight decided she had made her point, and continued, "What I mean girls, is while you may not be able to go to Earth yourselves, you can be a great source of help for Equestria, and the world, in passing on your knowledge of life as a pony to the Earthlings, through the ambassadors."

Some of the others, especially Rainbow groaned. She looked defeated, and depressed at the finality of her rejection for a chance to explore the very interesting alien world.

"I know many of you expecting a chance to go, but there is simply nothing I can do. I would approve, however, of your applying to assist the teams that will be going, but only when you can afford the time. Though, if you really would like to help, I might be able to pull some strings, and get some extra assistance to your respective homes and businesses, to help you families when you're away." Twilight said. Attempting to placate, and slightly lift her friends spirits.

"Well alright darling, since you put it that way. I suppose I could collaborate with other designers in creating books and magazines to help the humans craft basic designs that could be improved upon in the coming years." Rarity proposed.

"I'm sure the Princesses and publishers would be able to help. One of my side projects will include the things they will need to restart their civilization, and make it more applicable to their new forms. We could probably include books on making outfits as we do here. If the rest of you want to as well, write out what you think makes your trades work best, how you maintain productivity, expand when you are able, and offer any advice to be published. We may have to combine them in to several other books that we're creating to include in the 'care package.' We'll try to find a place for everything in my project. Every little bit helps."

Agreements floated around the room, and they all lapsed in to a quiet state, letting their meals digest a little, so they wouldn't be in any pain, when they went on their first excusion, around noon.

---------

It was around eleven-fourty-five, when Spike came bolting out of the dining room, having been snacking on the fruit, and some of his gem stash. He'd woken up a little later in the morning, so he'd missed the bulk of breakfast, and only came down when the others were beginning the clean-up process. They build him a decent plate while he went to get some gems to both crush and sprinkle over his breakfast, and a couple more to eat whole.

He stopped just short of the group, who could see some sparkles from the side of his mouth, telling them that he had really been enjoying his food.

Catching his breath, he held up a scroll with the seal few had been expecting.

"It's from Dragon Lord Ember!!" Twilight explained. Breaking the seal, Twilight read the letter to her friends,

'To Princess Twilight:
I have decided to stop in to Equestria, one to catch up with you, and two, to learn a little more about the project, and pony society. There are some questions I have for you, that I would like to ask you in person, so if you have some free time, I should be arriving only a couple of days after this letter arrives. I look forward to seeing you, Spike, and meeting your friends. I've made some progress with the dragons, and we should have some normal relations in the coming decades, if not centuries. I will be helping all I can along the way, however long it takes.

Best of luck,
Dragon Lord Ember.

All were silent for a moment, until Rarity piped up, "She's coming? Finally? It's only been a little more that two years, and all you've gotten from her are those letters, right Twilight?"

"You have to understand Rarity, she's in a high position of authority in her realm, so she's probably been busy learning about her new job, getting to know who she has to work with, and letting the other dragons know she's now in charge." Fluttershy quietly said.

"I look forward to meeting her again, but she didn't indicate how long she would be here, so we may have to cancel some of the plans, if she can only be here for a day or two. However Rarity, those letters she's managed to send, have been exteremly informative about dragons, and because of them, we've been able to compile a book for those who will be transformed by the spell." Twilight explained.

"There'll be dragons in the spell!?" Spike asked, excitedly.

"Yes, there will be. But not very many at first. Given how strong many of them are and can become, we don't want them overwhelming the world."

Applejack responded, "Does Dragon Lord Ember know that there won't be very many?"

"Yes she's aware, and she's okay with it. She said that those few who appear first will learn their abilities, but shouldn't be overwhelmed. She did want us to include all that we've learned into a book, or books on dragons, along with all of Equestria's previous documented encounters with them. It's not going to be much more than a book or two for all that we'll have learned."

The other's processed the message for a short time, before Pinkie bounced to the center of the group with a huge smile. "Alright girls, it's time for some activities in town!! First item on the docket, the SPA!!"

"Spike, are you coming with us?" Rarity asked, when she noticed he'd turned back to the door of the castle.

"Nope. I have to catch up on some of my comics, and just relax. You guys have fun. I might join in some time this week, just not today. I need to rest some more. Thanks though!" He replied with a smile.

"Suit yourself, and try to not have too much fun!" She replied with a wink.

With that, the six best friends embarked on a day of fun, catch-up, gossip, and what best friends like them do. Have even more fun.

Chapter 6 - Vacation: Part 2

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The next few days were a whirl-wind of activities the girls treated Twilight to. Day one was a spa day, with the biggest package something Rarity had been saving up for. All six had the entire spa, and the staff, to themselves, and were thus given the full royal treatment. Massages, hot then cold water baths to open the pours, facials while lying in warm mud baths, the works.

At the end of their reserved time, the girls left feeling more rejuvinated than they had ever in a long time. They spent the rest of the day at Rarity's boutique sipping tea, catching up on the last few years, and just relaxing.

The following day had them visiting a few more places. Donut Joe had seen a such a rise of success in his Canterlot shop, thanks in part to all the visiting magicians, and laborers, that he had opened another shop in Ponyville. One because it was one of the closest towns, and two, because it was the home of one of the most important princesses of the land.

The girls spent the morning trying some of the pastries there, before getting some of Cup Cake's new multi-grain bagels, and muffins for a light brunch. Sweets are good for the taste buds, but not for health. Meeting with the town's ponies in both shops while the girls were also mingling gave Twilight some more news about her adopted town.

Looking to the entrance as the door bell jingled, Twilight noticed Lyra Heartstrngs and Minuette walk in laughing. Not having seen them in some time either, she trotted over to greet them.

"Hey girls! Long time no see."

"Twi-, I mean Princess Twilight!! How are you today?" Lyra stammered, and performing a bow.

"Oh Lyra, it's fine. You don't have to bow to me, or call me princess. I ask all my friends to just call me Twilight. I'm fine too by the way, just came home to catch up with the girls. You back home to Ponyville?"

Minuette answered for the two, "See? I told you so, and no, I'm just visiting Lyra here. She's been lonely without her BFOAT Bon Bon."

"'BFOAT?'" Twilight asked with a head tilt.

Her brain finally catching up, Lyra responded, "'Best Friend Of All Time.' I've been missing her a bit, but your visit simply coincided with her trip to Manehatten for the confection convention."

Answering with a large-ish smile, "You two're very close. I remember vising for Cranky and Matilda's wedding, and you two had a small tiff. What happened?"

"I'd rather not talk about it. We resolved it, and our friendship's stronger than ever." Lyra responded a little tersely.

"Well, it's great to see both of you, but how're you both doing?" Twilight asked.

"Well, aside from missing Bon, I'm fine. I've been working, concerts, social venues and the like. Just normal old me."

"Wow, you really miss Bon Bon, don't you?" Minuette observed.

Sighing, "Yeah. We've been the closest, best of friends for most of our lives. We've even talked about potentially, and this is something we're apprehensive about, tying the knot. Neither of us is interested in anypony else, we know so much about each other..."

"Let me guess, you guys had a fight?" Minuette inquired with concern.

"A small one. But I still feel bad."

Twilight smiled and placed a sympathetic hoof on Lyra's wither, "You guys'll do fine. When she gets back, just work out what went wrong, and learn from it."

Smiling back, Lyra said, "We will. Thanks Twilight. Oh, I just remembered, did Moondancer talk to you recently?"

"No, I've been a little too wrapped up in work, so I haven't really talked to many ponies lately. Why?"

"Maybe her letter got mixed up in your mail, but apparently she put in, and was accepted to go through the training to go to Earth." Lyra said.

"No, I didn't read that letter. I need to speak to her next time I'm in Canterlot, and I know what you're going to say," she said, stopping the other two from speaking. "I won't stop her, but I just want to make sure she'll be okay. I still feel bad about missing her party all those years ago, even though we fixed all that."

"I was thinking about signing up too, but Bon Bon was, well, a little apprehensive about the place. She doesn't want to go, and I don't want to leave her to worry about me." Lyra said.

"You don't have to go if you don't want to. We're not going to call drafts, or make anypony do anything they don't want to. We've actually had so many applicants, we've had to set up a limit. Earth is a very popular place, so we've decided to have a number remain here to study the materials the expeditionary teams send and bring back. Those ponies will become and may already be experts in some of the technology that looks like it has an already existing counterpart here to. They'll try to reverse engineer some of the other technology that is brought back."

"Then maybe that's something we can do, together." Lyra said, optimistically. "I can avoid worring her, and we can work together. She just might like that idea. Thanks Twilight!!"

"Not a problem!!"

Seeing her friends come back, Twilight bid her other friends a good day, and rejoined the ponies who meant the world to her. The six best friends spent the rest of the day at Sweet Apple Acres enjoying a picnic assembled by Applejack, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie, who for reasons unknown to the others, included a rock dish, she claimed was 'super popular' among rock farming families. The girls ate what they could, while watching, and marveling, despite the years they'd known her, Pinkie crunching on one of the rocks in her soup.

*-*-*-*-*

It was getting late, and darker, by the time the friends bid farewell for the night, with Twilight walking much of the way back to the village with some of the girls. Applejack walked as far as the entrance to the farm, from which she sould see Applebloom and Big Mac at the door and window respectively, awaiting the return of their sister. Granny was no doubt inside sleeping in her rocking chair.

Passing the Boutique, the friends bid good night to Rarity, doing the same when they passed Sugar Cube Corner to Pinkie, and Fluttershy when they passed the trail leading to her home. They could hear her soft wing-beats as she fluttered home. Rainbow walked and talked with Twilight a little further, only because her cloud home had drifted in its orbit of Ponyville to nearly the same area as Twilight's castle.

She too fluttered off when they could see it, with Rainbow saying something about reading a chapter of one of her copies of Daring Do before bed. As Twilight herself was nearing her home, she heard the sound of leathery wings approaching. Preparing a defense spell in her mind, she turned to the sound; determining friend from foe in the waning light was often difficult.

"Princess Twilight. It's me." The familiar, scatchy voice came from the very owner she'd been expecting since the letter arrived, promting her to release the spell.

"Dragon Lord Ember. We recieved your letter. You're arriving quite late in the day."

"Well, it is quite far from the Dragon Lands to Ponyville. We left the day we sent the letter, and we had to stop for directions a couple of times. Some of the villages though weren't very hospitable. And call me Ember, please."

"Yeah, one of the residents of Ponyville, a zebra named Zecora, went through something not too different. I regret not sending you a letter or medalion indicating you would be my guest."

"As if ponies could really do much to us." A rough voice answered from a short ways behind Ember.

"Garble." Lord Ember drew out, indicating her displeasure with a sharp look. "The ponies have spent millenia coming up with spells that can do all sorts of things. They don't even really have to harm us, just incapacitate. We may be a century or two older than most ponies, but they accomplish more in their lifetimes than most dragons together."

*Hmph* Garble snorted.

"You brought Garble with you, despite what happened when we were last in the dragon lands?" Twilight somewhat nervously asked.

"He's gotten a little better. Many of the dragons have. I was suprised too when most were open to relations with you ponies, when I shared with them that dragons were going to be included in the spell."

"So that's how you got so many volunteers to share with the project!!" Twilight excitedly realized.

"Yup." Ember said, puffing out her chest. "I brought some dragons to learn some of the things you and the other ponies had discovered. A couple of the dragons that came were hoping, however slim it might be, that you could even see about sending a dragon to Earth."

"I'll have to see what the other princesses have to say, but as of right now, and not to seem too tribalist, we were planning on sending only ponies to Earth, and primarily unicorns, since any sent over that are not, have little to no chance of ever coming back. Magic is needed to initiate the spell, both to go there, and return. There's also the fact that training for the trip has already started, but I'll have Spike... Ooops, I forgot I was going to let him have his rest. I'll write up the letter and send it to the princesses before bed tonight."

"The runt is here?" Garble asked.

"Garble, that is enough. Any more like that out of you, and I'll make you do something much more embarrasing than hugging every dragon on our way home."

Garble then deflated a little, and slunk back to be amongst the other dragons Twilight noticed were just coming out of the darkness. Counting almost 10 juvenile dragons, she was impressed.

"I guess there is something to that 'young embrasing new ideas' thing after all. I'm suprised so many came with you." Twilight marveled.

"When we learned that there were going to be dragons in the spell, it became one of the most talked about things among young dragons." A familiar female light-lavender dragon said.

"Prin-, -er Dragon Lord Ember told us everything you'd sent from Equestria, keeping all of us informed about the spell, and everything you've sent about Earth. That place sounds awesome!!" A brown male said.

Now that they were in the light of her castle, Twilight could see that many of the dragons that came with Ember were many of the same dragons that had been competing in the Gauntlet.

"Well, welcome to Ponyville everyone." Twilight said, "Just, please don't eat my castle. I don't think it's edible, any way," Twilight said, scratching a hoof to the side of her head, "but I had a stockpile of gems sent over when I got your letter, so you all can have some snacks later on. If you're amenable to it, you can also try some Equestrian quisine. If that works out, the other Princesses would agree to host a number of dragons to learn and see about taking a few Equestrian ideas and culture to the dragon lands. I know there are some ponies interested in dragon culture, who'd love to learn about you guys too."

"Seriously? There're ponies who like dragons? Like, a lot?" Another dragon asked in suprise.

"Quite so. Ponies love mysteries, and dragons are one of the least known species in Equestria. There are some who'd love to learn what your culture is like, if you have similar likes to poinies, that sort of thing." Twilight said. Continuing, "But it's late, and we can go over the speciefics in the morning. Let's head to my castle, and we can see about getting you guys some rooms to stay in. I'm sure you could use some rest after your long journey."

"Are there comfy pillows?" One other dragon asked.

"Plenty of them!"

As they entered the castle, Twilight got a full look at all the young dragons that had come, and noticed that around half, were dragons present at the Gathering, with others she didn't recognize. She hoped their stay was pleasent, and more importantly, productive. The relations were still tenuous, with Dragon Lord Ember being their only true ally among the dragons.

Before they went into the rooms in a wing Twilight and other guests rarely had reason to use but were still diligently kept up, Ember turned and addressed the dragons, "We're guests here guys, so let's try to reciprocate Twilight's kindness, okay? I know it's very different from Dragon culture, but with the ponies help, we can become better than we were, and eventually have what you all had been asking for at the Gathering, minus the destroying stuff part. I'm going to go talk to Princess Twilight a little more, but you all get some sleep."

Turning on her toes, Ember went back the way she came, and followed Twilight.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Settling onto cushions in the dining room, Twilight poured Ember a cup of herbal tea, something the dragon hadn't had before.

"This stuff's good!" Ember said, after taking a decent swig. "So Twilight, how're things with the humans coming along?"

"Blunt, aren't we?" Twilight said with a smirk, "It's slow going. Since they cut off communications directly, we've had to rely on the viewing portals to observe how the humans live their lives, go about their jobs, and so on. Without direct contact to explain some aspects of their culture, we've had to infer a lot. Their cultures are not to dissimilar to our own, though in many aspects, they're far more advanced."

"How so?"

"Well, they can mass-produce things on a scale that's mind-boggling. Their automobiles for instance are everywhere, and have lead our engineers to trying and recreate them here, with some success. We've already released so many books about them, in the almost two years they've been common knowledge." Giggling, "There're even authors who write about humans who're able to cross over with no problems. The humans have been met with fascination, and appeals to help from many facets of Equestrian society, but..."

Sighing and looking into her half-full tea cup, she continued, "There are many who say we should leave them alone. They claim that the monarchy of Equestria is interferring too much in their affairs. We're almost positive too, that when we do what we're planning, there may be some humans who resent us for what we're going to do. It's just, we feel obligated to help them. I want to help them. I don't want them do die horrible deaths, because we had the capabilities and resources to help, and did nothing."

Both leaders sat in silence for a time, each contemplating the coming year, and what it would mean for theirs and the humans' worlds. What would the humans really think? Would some jump at the change, as a change of pace in their life, others hate it so much they do the unthinkable?

"I for one, support what your trying to do, Princess Twilight." Getting the princess's full attention, she continued before a sound could leave the princess's opening mouth, "Without yours, the other pony's, and Spike's meddling, I may not have become Dragon Lord, and our two nations could very well have gone to war, thus preventing you all from helping another. We dragons have come quite far thanks to you."

"Thanks Ember, that does mean a lot, but it still doesn't ease the burden of uncertainty. I just hope the humans come to realize we're doing what we're doing, because we want them to live and thrive." Twilight finally said, with a small smile. "I think it's time for us to get to bed. I've got one more day in Ponyville, and you're all welcome to explore as well, just don't cause any major trouble. My offer of support only goes so far. It's up to you to see that the dragons you brought remain on their best behaviour if you want to continue getting a better reputation, and better relations with ponykind."

"Will do, Twilight."

Getting up, Twilight saw ember to her corridor to the rooms set aside for the dragons, before bidding her good night, and retreating to her own room, and the soft snoring of her Number One Assistant. "Night Spike." She whispered, settling into her own bed, hoping all the while that the Dragon Lord's visit would be highly productive.

Chapter 7: Tours and Responces

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Walking down the hall with her claws clacking on the crystal of the castle floor, Ember yawned into her palm. She'd had a decent night of sleep, but was not much of a morning dragon. She always awoke after the sun had arisen, but with the castle walls, and smallish windows allowing less light that she was used to in, she had awoken later than normal. The extra sleep made her feel a little more sluggish than normal, which, while not normal, was still somewhat annoying.

Yawning again, she caught whiff of something rather pleasing, and decided to follow the arouma. It led her to the kitchen, where she saw Spike cooking with a green and purple motif apron. Given Twilight's letters and brief description of her friends, Ember assumed it had been made by the one called Rarity. Ember stepped into the kitchen, catching Spike's attention from the corner of his eye.

"Oh, hey Ember! Good morning! I hope you slept well!" Spike said with a smile, jogging over to her.

"Hey Spike. Yeah, about as much as usual. How've you been?"

"Working my tail off these last few years." Spike said with a huff, waving a hand around. "Ever since Twilight got called up by Princess Luna, I've been running messages and almost anything else ponies needed to study the humans. I've been enjoying my vacation, but I've completely caught up on my reading, and other planned activities, so I'm just waiting for our vacation to be over so we can get back to work. We've got less than a year to go, and we're going to be entering the home stretch soon. Meaning: over time."

"Wow, and here I've been just trying to establish my rule as Dragon Lord. Seems like you've been doing far more."

"Being busy is better than sitting around. That's how they raised me. Besides, Princess Celestia and Twilight effectively raised me from the day I hatched, so I owe them quite a lot." Spike said, with a far off look. "Anyway, breakfast is almost ready, we just need everyone to come. I've pulled a large cart of gems for everyone, and barely managed to give everyone an equal share, without eating any yet myself." Spike said with a little drool escaping the corner of his mouth.

Ember giggled into her hand, and gestured back with her thumb, "I'll go and wake the others while you finish. It smells great, by the way."

"Thanks!"

Passing back into the hall from whence she came, Ember almost ran into Twilight, "Oops. Sorry."

"It's alright." The bleary-eyed alicorn said. "I just need a little coffee to start get myself started."

"I'll have to try some. But let me go and get the others down here for breakfast."

"Okay. See you back here soon."

*-*-*-*-*

Rousing the other dragons for breakfast was easy with the mention of gems and free food, especially since many of them had had little since leaving the dragon lands. Pony hospitality to outsiders, especially those who many viewed as potentially destructive did not help in getting bellies full. Ember had to yet again remind them that they were guests, and needed to be respectful of Twilight's home.

"Jeez, I'm starving."

"You're always starving, boulder breath!"

This argument started something of a pushing match, until Ember shoved the Bloodstone Scepter between the two feuding dragons, "What did I tell you? Twice now? Do you want Twilight to put in a good word for us, or not?"

Her tone, and the look in her eye left little doubt she wouldn't do whatever she could to ensure a peaceful visit. The rest of the journey to the dining room was relatively uneventful, with exception for grumbling and some growling.

Breakfast itself was excellently made, with Spike getting many compliments from the other dragons, as well as Twilight for aquiring, in their words, 'some of the best gemstones they'd ever tasted.'

The meal was followed with some quite loud belches, that were thankfully devoid of fire.

Twilight escourted everyone to the main recreation area, and pulled Ember aside, "I sent the letter off last night about yours and other dragons request to help, but with how busy everything has been, I don't think Princess Celestia is going to respond very soon."

"I understand. If what I understood from Spike was correct, you've all been super busy."

"Preparing for the spell has taken almost everything Equestria has, and we would be a ways further behind without the contributions of yours, and the other nations. We want as much diversity for the humans to change into as possible, and that's only achievable with as much support as the other nations are willing to give." Twilight said.

"I take it some of the other nations weren't as forthcoming as ours?"

"Some less so than others. It especially took a lot to get the Kingdom of Griffonstone on board. Despite the help we've lent, they're still as greedy as ever. The Diamond Dogs were quite easy, and not nearly as costly to get help from. Zebrica was easy, as they sent an envoy which Zecora translated for. Many of them never asked to go to Earth, but some chose to come back to Equestria at about this time to learn how to speak the human languages."

The other dragons were having some fun with a couple of the games that were present in the hall, and laughing quite loudly. One particular outburst caused Twilight and Ember to look over at the commotion, but they quickly concluded that there was nothing broken, and so they went back to talking.

"Yeah. A couple of the humans had books with them, reading material I guess. We had learned some their main language from our initial surveilance of them after Princess Luna first saw them, but the books were an immense help. I've learned to speak their language quite well," Twilight said, smiling, "and find some of their 'films' to be quite interesting."

Ember had a very intrigued look on her face, and asked, "What does the human language sound like?"

"The only one we have enough material on, and the one the books are in, is called English."

"Inglesh?"

"Close, but they pronounce it very differently. The language has become something of a fascination, as ponies across Equestria, and even the lands beyond have taken to it, with gusto., Well what we've released of it, with so little materiel. It's a difficult language though, not only because it's so different from anything in our world, but also because they appear to have almost no rules to their language. We have a committee who study our language, and keep track of new words that become common, and regulate some of the spelling. But their language, especially the written one, is, incoherent, to say the least. We've encountered other languages too, but English is the only one we have any kind of physical medium of. One of the books is apparently about some kind of war in in the stars, but there's no actual war going on in the text. I've read it a couple of times."

Taking on a stern look, Twilight said, "If the princesses vote down dragons going to the human world, then I have something to ask of you."

"That is?" Ember asked.

"We'd like as much information on dragon culture as you can compile. I want to be able to give the ponies a guide, to give the dragons that will appear in the spell, to help them transition to their new forms." Twilight said.

"What kinds of information do you need?"

"Anything, and everything. How your culture works, the rules and taboos, how you procreate," which drew a blush from the young Dragon Lord, "raise your offspring, your strengths. As much information as you've sent us before, we'll need several times as much."

"I'll see what I can do. It won't be easy. As I said before, we're very reclusive, and territorial." Ember explained.

"That's why I was hoping you could convince the other dragons to help you, help the soon to be dragons from Earth. Of any dragon in Equestria, you have the power, and burgeoning respect to ask them to help you." Twilight pleaded.

Ember looked a little apprehensive, but one of the dragons from the group had overheard Twilight's plea, and walked over, "I'll do what I can. I know where my mother and father are, so I'm going to ask them everything you just asked Lord Ember. I'll see about getting help in composing a letter to you, and sending it over when I can." The pink dragon told Twilight.

"Thank you. Anything we can get to help the new dragons on Earth, will be greatly appreciated. Like I told the reporters and other representatives some time ago, we're compiling all the information we can in this limited time, and creating a 'care package' of sorts for the transformed humans."

After a brief pause for all parties to settle from the dramatic atmosphere that had been created, Ember clapped her hands together, and said, "Okay, now that the heavy stuff's out of the way, and to wait for the other princesses to send their reply, what can we do for fun?"

Twilight looked up, smiled, and gestured to the rec room, "The other dragons have taken to the available games, but for you Ember, I wanted to show you around the village. Oh, and any dragon that wants to come as well, is welcome, so long as they don't cause a disturbance."

"Okay, that sounds interesting enough."

"I'm game!" The pink-one chimed in.

Both leaders went to the assembled dragons in the room, and got their attention, with Ember addressing them first, "Alright you guys, here's the rules. Princess Twilight has invited us to take a tour of the village, so long as we aren't too roudy and destructive. As long as you can behave, we can see what the pony world is really like, without all the prejudice."

Twilight then stepped forward, and took over, "Ponyville isn't like the other villages you may have stopped at before. We pride ourselves at being one of the most hospitable villages in Equestria. Zecora's early experience notwithstanding, the ponies here are very welcoming, and, as Ember said, as long as you all are respectful of the ponies and other denizens here, you'll be treated as if you're one of the villagers. Okay?"

"Gotcha." the dragons said.

*-*-*-*-*

"And over here, is our town hall." Twilight said, gesturing with her head, to the multi-stori building.

"What do you do there?" Ember asked, while the some of the other dragons took their eyes off the building to look at Twilight.

"I haven't done much there since I was called to Canterlot, but I used to go there once a week to meet with the mayor and village council. They, however, are ponies, and recently I heard, a griffon, who talk about town issues. They run the town from there, delegating tasks to various ponies who then go about making sure the town is operating efficiently. That town services are being performed, and such."

"Sounds really complicated." A brown dragon observed.

"It can be. The way it's organiz-"

"Hey, what's that over there?" A dragon interrupted, pointing over to a brightly colored pink, brown and white building.

"That's Sugar Cube Corner. They make some of the best pastries." Twilight said. "Do you want to try some?"

The dragons all nodded, and the group started for the Corner. They had almost made it to the door, when three little fillies burst out, all smiles with sprinkles adorning their beaming faces. Faces which, when they spotted Twilight being followed by dragons, dropped to inquisitive expressions.

"Who're they, Twilight?" All three chorused, looking at each dragon in turn.

"This, girls, is Dragon Lord Ember," Gesturing with a hoof to the blue dragon, "and her dragon friends. They're here to see Equestrian culture, and, hopefully petition to allow some dragons to go to Earth."

"Oh, Earth! I'd love to go there! Imagine teaching the humans how to get their cutie marks!!" Scootaloo practically shouted, wings abuzz in sudden excitement.

"I thought I told you girls, humans don't get cutie marks. Magic doesn't exist in their world. Yet."

"We know Twilight." They droned, "We want to teach them when magic does come!!"

"I know what you can do. You can write all about your adventures in getting your cutie marks. I'm sure they'd love hearing about it!" Twilight said, with a beaming smile to the excitable fillies.

"That's a great idea!! CUTIE MARK CRUSADERS CUTIE MARK CHRONICLERS!! YEAH!!" They all chorused, forcing the princess, dragons and a couple nearby ponies, to cover their ears.

Once the girls had run off, fueled by the sugary treats, the group removed their hooves and claws from their heads.

"Are all little ponies that loud and energetic?" A brown dragon asked.

"Not really. Those three are just really excitable." Twilight said, shaking her head with a smile. Looking back at the gathering of dragons, she continued, "Well, shall we go in? It'll be my treat!"

With the drama of the C3 behind them, the group went into the sweetest pastry store in Ponyville.

*-*-*-*-*

Back in the kitchen of the Castle of Friendship, Spike was humming while organizing some things he had planned to pack for the trip back to Canterlot. While he said he worked his tail off, the princesses were quite insistant that he take some time for himself in the early evening everyday, so he didn't wear himself out.

Placing some of his favorite comics in a travel box, he felt a familiar tingling sensation begin in his stomach, and quickly travel up, becoming a loud, green belch, replete with green fire and some sparkly smoke, which condensend into a familiar scroll.

"I thought Twilight sent her scroll by a magic candle?" Spike said, holding the scoll bearing a quadruple seal, for all four princesses. Breaking the seal, he read through the usual royal jargon, before getting to the core of the letter.

"Oh, boy. Depending on how this is worded, we may not get the reaction we hope for..."

*-*-*-*-*

Twilight led the group of dragons back to her castle after a productive day touring the town. The dragons were generally in awe of most of Equestrian society, and how the ponies, when properly introduced to the dragons, -as well as convinced that they weren't going to be destructive-, were very generous to the dragons.

"That pink one had too much energy to handle. How do you put up with her?"

"You learn to accept her as she is, and find some humor in her antics. Pinkie can be a hoof-ful at first, but once you really get to know her, she can be a great friend." Twilight responded.

A few of the dragons had their arms full with gifts and trinkets from the town, while only a few others had refused them. It made the ponies trying to give them a little sad, but they generally understood. Those who accepted the gifts, made a game of comparing them as the older dragons would brag about their hoards, as Ember explained.

Ember looked over to Twilight while the others walked behind them, "I didn't think we'd be as accepted here, but I guess you were right. Ponyville really is the center of friendship."

"I don't know if I'd so much call Ponyville the center, but thanks to my friends, we managed to impart a fair number of lessons that were slowly being either forgotten, or ignored by the others. We're also helping those across Equestria, thanks to my new role, and castle."

"I just wish that many more dragons could share in what you've all achieved..." Ember said, looking away.

"Who says you can't? Change starts only when you want it to. You can also be the change you want to see happen. A little cliché, but sometimes there's nothing else you can really use." Twilight said with a little giggle.

"Like I said, my ascendency and the invitation has sparked a lot of curiosity among dragons about Equestrian society. Perhaps some day, more dragons might join the other groups living among ponies. Beyond Spike."

"Someday. I know I'd look forward to learning more by living closer." Both nodded as they continued walking.

They had all gotten into the foyer, when Spike came padding out to meet them. Bidding his greeting, he continued over to Twilight, and gave her the letter.

"That responce was a little faster than I thought." Reading the letter, Twilight first looked curious, then her expression changed to one of resigned understanding. She took a moment to compose her thoughts, taking a breath, before looking at the assembled dragons, "Well, this is the letter from Princess Celestia, but it isn't the news I think all of you, or any who were interested, were expecting."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, the princesses turned down your offer of going to Earth. They felt that, despite the just over two years we've had good relations and a sharing of knowledge with you, they felt that most dragons would be an unknown quantity to send over, even with all the training you could get.

"Most who are going have been in training for almost two years, at least in the logistical aspects. You'd all have a massive amount of catch-up to do, and it wouldn't be feasable to pull trainers to teach you all what you need to know. Instead, the princesses have an alternative offer for you all. I think it's something of a high honor that they're offering this to you.

"They want to offer for any willing, to be extra body guards for the ponies going to Earth. You'd assist in protecting the teams as they're sent to the places best suited for teleporting to Earth, and perhaps, staying for the duration of what we have planned, to guard the teleporting locations. Afterwards, any who proved themselves, would be offered a chance to train in for another program, they only mentioned was in the works, last I was in Canterlot. This has to be a decision you, or any interested, would be willing to make a long term investment in. In time, and training. You'd be fully paid for your services, and offered a great severence pay, if you wished to return to your homelands."

All were quiet after Twilight summed up the letter. The offer of pay was extremely alluring to a dragon. Especially a young dragon looking to start a hoard, or gloat to other dragons.

Finally, Ember spoke up for them, after looking at each dragon in turn, "This is a fairly large decision, Twilight. Dragons are mostly solitary, only coming together to compete, have offspring, because a Dragon Lord summons them, or during the Migration. An offer like this will require any dragons getting involved to interact with others more often than we're used to. We've gotten a little better since you helped us, but old habits die hard. More so among our kind."

Twilight nodded at Ember's logic, and responded, "I understand. You have some time to make your decision, but any who want to join, and take part in the offer, need to let us know as soon as possible. The window for the offer, and the training ends six months before the spell and magic come to Earth.

"There will be hostiles who don't like what we're doing for the humans, and the Earth, but any extra protection for our field agents, and the others we send, will be extremely appreciated."

"Others?"

"Forget I said that. This is a big decision. Those who want to accept the offer, can come with me to Canterlot tomorrow. The offer's there for any dragon who wants to try it. We're also opening similar positions to the other tribes not selected to go, so excelling in training guarantees a position. The decision, is yours."

Silence fell on the room for a time, before Twilight straigtened herself, and spoke again, "I need to pack for the return trip. You're all welcome to help yourselves to the kitchen, and the rec room. Or you may relax. If you're going back to the Dragon Lands tomorrow, you'll need your rest. We'll get you any supplies you'll need for the trip back. I'll see you all tomorrow. Good night."

Chapter 8 - Teams and Friends

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-Six Months to Event-

Bright Star had never been proficient with modern languages. Equus was alright, because she'd been raised speaking it. Compared with the human language she had spent the last couple of years learning, Equus was simple. Heck, even the ancient languages of Equestria were simple compared to the Earth language known as 'English.'

Given her prodigal status in studying ancient sources of magic, Star could talk your ears off in Ancient Equestrian, and hold a decent conversation in each of the primary original languages of the three tribes of ponies. Prior to the Hearth's Warming Eve spell, which set ponies free from the Windigos, the three tribes had maintained their own dialects of Equestrian, but used a formal intermediary, agreed upon language for intercommunication.

This is where Star excelled. Where she felt most at home. Signing up for the daunting task of helping the humans post-transformation, she'd neglected to take into consideration the challenges of the language she'd have to learn to speak, just to communicate with them. The Equestrians had invited the humans to their world, but had not sent any embassadors themselves, with texts of their language to the humans, or so she thought. She could've been wrong, with how much the Equestrian government had kept. No government reveals all it's secrets about something this monumental.

Who knows, but the higher-ups?

Her primary concern at the moment, was her impending meeting with her soon to be team mates.

All the ponies going to Earth had been instructed, in the final months before their depature, to use English as much as possible. They all knew it was to make them as familiar with the language as they could be, to at least blend in among the transformed humans.

Assigned to tables in a large room the previous day, Star arrived bright and early for the meeting. Scheduled for nine in the morning sharp, Star had shown up around eight-thirty, and found her table. She was reviewing some of the language from her old lessons, when a very deep, masculine voice interrupted her.

"This is table ten, yes?" A grey and black splotched pegasus asked, as he and another giant of a pony walked up.

"Yes, you are right." Star responded.

"You know, sometimes the humans combine their words, right?" He asked in return.

"I'm sorry. I am still trying to, uh, memorize some of the language. I do better with moden and Old Equestrian, than this one. The humans certainly have a, uh, strange language. I'm also a little nervous." Star said sheepishly.

The pegasus, who also had piercing cobalt blue eyes, laughed. "I cannot agree more. I'm Grey Skies. This is my long time friend, Mountain." Said Earth Pony nodded to her. "I think the three of us are team mates, yes?"

Mountain himself, had a green coat with a bright red mane, and amber colored eyes. His voice, when he spoke, was quite deep, deeper than Grey's, "I do hope we can work well together. Perhaps if we talk about what we like to do, to, break the ice?"

Grey Skies jumped in first, "Aside from work, I enjoy reading, which is suprising, since I did so much for my university classes." Smiling and looking to Star, "I'm a weather manager for the region of Las Pegasus and Appleoosa. I really just make sure that the weather teams use their resources as best they can."

Star spoke up next, just as Mountain was opening his mouth, "I'm Bright Star, and I study magic from Equestria's past, and it's possible uses for today's problems. I'm one of the lead researchers for Canterlot University in decifering ancient magic, and how ponies can apply lost magic to our lives today."

Mountain and Skies nodded with expressions of suprise, "Impressive." Mountain responded, "My only name is Mountain. The letter left with me said that I have that name because of how big I was as a colt."

"You're an orphan?"

Mountain again, nodded, "Both Grey Skies and I are. We grew up in the same ophanage in Filly Delphia. We've been the best of friends our whole lives. I studied botany at the Filly Delphia University, School of Horticulture. For the last few years, I've studied how plants survive, and thrive in big metropolitan areas. Parks, cracks in the pavement, alleys, and so on."

"I live on my own, but my brother is still at home, because his position as assistant history professor doesn't pay much. He can't afford a place yet. Our mother's a doctor at the Canterlot University Hospital, and our father's a partner at a big law firm." Bright explained.

"Your family certainly is well to do." Skies said after a whistle, then smiled, "Mountain and I are satisfied with on our own. Do you have a colt-friend? A filly-friend perhaps?"

"Sort of." Star said, blushing, "There's one stallion who I've been seeing for a couple of years now, but he's currently involved with the upper echelons of what the princesses are doing. My choice to go to Earth kind of upset him a little." Rubbing the back of her neck with a hoof, she continued, "We haven't broken up, but he's scared of my going. I understand where he's coming from, but I've put my all into training, understanding the dangers fully, and dedicated myself to going to help. There's still so much about that planet we don't know. I just hope we can help them."

"Things are going to be very different for them." Skies conceeded, smiling. "But they'll adapt. They managed to thrive without the aid of magic all this time, all life on their world has, but it will be a very different place."

A heavy lull settled over the group for a time, until the doors at one end of the hall swung open, and a well known instructor walked in.

"All right everyone, we're going to start a new phase of instruction now that this set of groups has had a chance to get aquainted. There're other groups in the same position as yourselves, in order to spread the work load of managers like myself." He regarded the room for a moment, to allow the assembled to process what he had said.

"You'll be training with ponies who have watched human interactions, and been trained in their regional greetings. This is serious business, fillies and gentlecolts, as your use of the appropriate greeting will put the humans at ease. You will need to learn to avoid certain situations, get yourself out of others, and placate a scared, and perhaps traumatized, people. And they will be scared and confused."

"You've nearly mastered the language, it's now time to put it to a practical use. We're going to drill this into you, until you're sick of it!" The instructor said with a sadistic smile.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Princess Twilight sat in a tea room in one of the more central areas of the castle. She was sitting by a large window, enjoying a, rather forced break from her work on the spell, as ordered by the Princess Celestia. Her sigh caught Spike's attention as he padded into the room with a trey, holding two tea cups, the pot, and mandatory accessories.

"Don't be too down Twilight. You may be an alicorn, but you still need a break from the stress of your work." Spike pleaded. "You've been working for almost two months straight now."

"I just want to-"

"'Help the humans.' I know. But you still need a break-"

"Spike, we're coming up on six months to the advent of magic in the human world!!" Twilight all but shouted, causing Spike to recoil and take a step back. "There's still a ton of things we need to get done and-"

"You need a break every now and then Twilight. Remember the calm breathing technique Princess Cadence taught you?" A yellow and red maned pony asked upon entering the tea room. "I think you may've said the 'B' word a time too many, Spike," she said, flashing a smirk and wink at the baby dragon, "but it's understandable. I know that pressure all too well."

Taking the cue of her friend and co-apprentice, Twilight calmed herself down. "Sorry Spike. I didn't mean to snap at you like that."

"It's okay. How are you, Sunset? Priness Luna's not pushing you too hard is she?"

"No, she's what I needed when I was feeling down, after letting Princess Celestia down." Sunset said, with a rueful smile. "No matter how many years it's been, Princess Luna has been a great teacher."

"She's certainly done better than most ponies thought she would. I'd say the whole 'Nightmare Moon' thing is out of her system." Twilight said.

"She still can't fully get over the Old Canterlot way of speaking though." Sunset said with a chuckle. "When she gets excited over something, she'll slip right into the 'Royal We.'" Whispering, "I've even pulled a few light pranks to see if I can get her to fall back to that speech pattern."

Both Twilight and Spike laughed aloud at that. "Did you ever try invisible ink? I know a great joke shop from Ponyville, if you're still looking to pull more pranks."

"I'll keep that in mind. But," Sunset said, straightening her posture, "may I join you for some tea? We can go for a light stroll through the garden afterwards, to stretch our legs. I know I need it."

Spike smiled, and went to get a third cup and saucer, before Twilight took the teapot, pouring the others nearly full cups, before filling her own. While Spike and Sunset added their own flavorings, Twilight had hers like she liked her coffee: straight.

*-*-*-*-*-*

The castle gardens were rather peaceful, with whole hosts of animals scurrying about, all without a clue as to the dire situation the ponies were facing. Twilight, with Spike reclining on her back, and Sunset strolled through this peace, before Sunset spoke up.

"Work on the spell's coming along fairly smoothly, but it's not without it's hiccups too. I heard that you have Starlight working on advanced teleportation spells to get our teams to Earth."

"Yeah. She's using her knowledge of teleportation through time, to enhance our teleportation abilities. Her portals are still being studied by our mages. We can't test how they'll cross inter-dimensional space, but we've been able to cross more distance than ever before. Many are even working on ways to observe our own past, going further than she ever thought, without interfering with that timeline, so we can learn things we'd long forgotten."

"I've heard. Princess Luna once told me she's been approached by explorers asking to visit her moon. They want to see what she saw during her time there." Sunset explained.

Twilight was about to add more, when they began to hear ponies loudly chanting. They were rounding the castle to the front, about a hundred meters from the main gate, which had been closed, with added guard to protect those inside. Indeed, more guard had been called up, with recruiting stations opening up, and screening for new soldiers had been intensified.

Coming to view of the reinforced front fence, Twilight, Spike, and Sunset could all see what the commotion was coming from. A decent crowd had gathered outside the gate, most holding signs reading 'DON'T INTERFERE!,' and 'LEAVE THEM ALONE!'.' As Twilight and Sunset continued, they passed out of the cover of bushed and trees on the grounds. Reacting to the sight of them, the croud's jeers and taunts became louder, maintaining the volume until they ran out of breath, before returning to a level of mere annoyance.

"That's a small group of ponies from Canterlot, with some from other towns, who belive we should just let the humans know of their fate, and let them decide if they want our help." Sunset explained, looking rueful. "The vast majority of Equestrians and other nations want to help. Ponies, griffons, zebras, and so on have contributed so much-""

"There's always going to be those who oppose direct, or indirect, interference, Sunset." Twilight tried to console, throwing a foreleg over her withers. "All we can do is go on with the support we do have, and hope that's enough."

They both walked back into the castle, stopping near the mess hall for some light snacks of fruit, and some gems for Spike, before retiring to their respective rooms.

Twilight's route back to her chambers involved a walk past the hall where the spell's primary workings were still being tweaked. As she was passing by however, a brief green flash stole her attention from her path, causing her to bump into a hall pillar.

Deviating from her course to her quarters, she stepped quietly to a room where the flash had apparently come from. Inside, she spotted a familiar unicorn picking herself up from the floor.

"Teal Daisy? Are you okay, I saw a flash."

"I'm okay princess." The mare said. She turned to the princess, shaking her head, probably to clear some of the dizzyness. "A spell I've been working on didn't like what I was doing, and, well, backfired on me. It's okay though!!" She flashed a bright, toothy smile, though she didn't seem singed.

"If you say so. I can help if you like-"

"No, it's alright. I've got this. I just need to watch what I'm doing is all. Thanks for the offer though, I'm flattered!!"

"Okay." Twilight said reluctantly. "Don't work too hard."

"This coming from the princess who I've heard works for several days straight before passing out?" Daisy said, with a raised eyebrow.

"Okay, I got it." Twilight responded, smiling abashedly, before backing out of the room.

What Twilight didn't see when she had gone back and rounded the corner, on her route to her room, would've send the castle into a huge panic.

Daisy's grin was one that anyone else would've been very afraid of, but not what would've sent them in a panic. No, the smile was trumped by the flash of green in her eyes, and the briefest of shimmer in her coat.

Chapter 9 - Spells and Preparations

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- Three Months to The Event -

Star had moved back to her apartment in the last few months, leaving the dorm since the most intense parts of the training were over. From here on, it would be maintaining use of English, continued reading of new reports regarding the human world, meetings with her team, and more waiting for her chance and time to go to Earth. She had not yet heard of any departure itineraries, or where and what she and her team would be doing

They had been told to seek out leaders from the human world, or those who seemed like they might be leadership material to send to Equestria. She knew what she wanted to do, but like any employee, she knew she had to do what the bosses wanted.

Star also had another reason to be back in her apartment. She had recieved a suprise visit from her distant cousin Starry Night. The two hadn't been on the best of terms since just before the Starry's parents moved to Los Pegasus before they were to go to secondary school, but slowly came around to each other in the wake of the discovery of the coming Advent.

Despite the best herbal tea her cousin's salary could afford, Starry still seemed nervous about what they were being asked to do.

"You ready for tomorrow, Starry?"

"Tartarus no!! I'm so nervous, I don't think I'll be able to sleep until after it's done!" She said, giggling nervously.

"Don't worry!" Star laughed. "From what I've heard, each city, and each tribe, will have a different part in the spell, but it's going to take so many of us to do it. Ponies from across Equestria, the Crystal Empire and beyond. I think I read that there will be circles for all the different tribes and species that are participating, so everyone can contribute." Star said, with a grin. "We'll be fine! Tell you what, tell me if there's anything you like about the humans."

Calming somewhat and gathering her thoughts, Starry spoke, "Well, from what I've seen, and I've tried to watch and read everything I can about them, I think they're one of the most industrious species I've ever seen." She looked to the ground in thought for a moment, "There's so much of everything in their world."

"I know!" Star beamed, leaning to Starry, "I just can't wait to meet them! I want to learn to operate their 'cars,' see their flying machines, and just see their world!"

Starry looked to Star with a raised eyebrow, "You're qualified to go?" At Star's eager nod, she frowned slightly, "I applied for, and tried the qualifiers, but I didn't pass. Well, just barely, but I still didn't pass."

"Don't worry, I didn't pass with flying colors, but I've worked my butt off to get where I am." Star tried to consol, putting a hoof to Starry's withers. "I'm going to try and help the new ponies adjust to their new forms, and help guide them to a new era. Even those who aren't going, are helping. There'll be millions of beings all over the world, all willing who'll be out to help cast the spell that will help the humans."

"Yeah. Still makes me sad that I won't be going." Starry said, looking more and more depressed.

"Hey, don't get so down! You'll get to read all about Earth from what we bring back during the time we're there. We've all been instructed to keep journals about what the Earth is really like, the ponies, and what all other beings the humans become, will be like." Star said, with a far off look.

"Ookay, I'm going to do some reading until bed." Turning slightly from Star, she lit her horn, and pulled a rather large book from her travel case.

"Whoa," Star marveled, "that's a big book. What do you do exactly again?"

"I'm a history teacher in the Crystal Empire."

"Sorry. My little brother, if you remember him well, decided to specialize in pre-Equestrian history, and has an assistant professorship at Canterlot U. What area are you specialized in?" Star asked.

Starry turned the book's cover to Star, "'Equestria Since the Sister's War, Part 1, Volume 2.' It's a book on the study of Equestria since the conflict with Nightmare Moon. I teach the crystal ponies Modern Equestrian History, focusing on the early centuries."

"Wow." Star marveled, definately impressed. "I study ancient magic."

"I gathered that, from the books on your bookshelf over in the corner, and the journals and papers stacked on the front table. Before you hastily moved them, which reminded me of bumbling professors or grad students in some of my favorite novels." Starry said giggling quietly into her hoof.

Starry placed her book on the low table in front of the sofa, before climbing off to sit in front of it. Star meanwhile, climbed down too, and made for her room, "I'm going to do some reading too. Good night Starry!!"

"Night."

*-*-*-*-*-*

Waking before the sun rose, was something neither mare seemed to be used to. Star herself always awoke just after Princess Celestia pulled the sun above the horizon, while Starry, after some prompting and pushing, revealed, over a second cup of black coffee, that she tended to wake later than most, but was almost never late, because of her own apartment's close proximity to the school she taught at. Being a night owl though, often meant very late nights the mare had had decades to become acoustomed to.

After cleaning up, the mares went to the designated meeting place for all participants in the spell.

On her way in, in the center of the massive open space, was the giant, and very intricate, rune circle where the unicorns were gathered, encircled a distance away, by other equally intricate rune circles, not quite as large, but still substantial, where other tribes were gathered. Star parted from Starry, and headed over to one of the earth ponies.

"What happened to all the plants?"

Finally noticing the cleared grounds, already growing crowded, was a smattering of earth ponies checking the unpaved land. One stallion, interrupted from his work, looked at Star, "We've moved the plants and trees to make room for those who're going to be here for the spell today. It's also a chance to examine them and their roots to make sure they're doing okay." He said, grinning. "Don't work too hard."

After he walked away, she shrugged, muttered an 'okay,' and headed off to find where she'd be needed. before noticing something hovering in the air above the crowd.

*-*-*-*-*-*

"All right mares and gentlecolts, if I could have your attention please." A unicorn stallion called out, using a voice enhancement spell. "We're close to beginning the spell, so I need your attention." Once most of the gathered tribes turned to look at him, he continued, "As most have probably noticed, there is a rather large crystal floating above us." the stallion said, pointing to the crystal floating only meters above.

"Because Canterlot has one of the largest settlements of beings in Equestria, as well as it's magical capital, we've been given four, made by the Princesses, with the help of the Crystal Empire ponies, in selecting them from an underground cavern. The other set is in a second large park a short distance from here.

"Every town has a second or secondary pair of crystals, the secondaries serving as back ups. These crystals serve to gather and direct our contributions from each city, to the Crystal Empire. I won't lie to any of you, and this comes from the princesses: even this small part of the spell will require all the magic you can give, without hurting yourselves. I hope you all know your limits, and when to stop. There's no shame in pulling away and stopping, to save your life."

The stallion stopped speaking for a few moments, the light of magic on his horn going out while he spoke to a collegue who had come to the platform.

Turning back to them, "We're expecting the signal from the princesses to come shortly, so please, prepare yourselves. You have a few moments to use the restroom, or grab a small bite to eat, courtesy of the local food shops, or if you feel you're okay, just wait for the signal. Each tribe has your own marked rune circle, or circles, so please stay near them as much as possible, to be ready when the signal is sent."

'Wow, that's a lot to take in all at once, and really, not what I was expecting at all.' Star thought to herself. She made her way over to a table that had a dozen spouts where ponies could get cups of water, just down from where a table had a large assortement of fruits, some veggies, and local pastries.

As she was turning, she bumped into a sky blue coated, orange and off-yellow maned unicorn. "I'm sorry, pardon me."

"It's quite alright." The mare said, smiling.

Scanning the crowd once more, she spotted Grey Skies among a gathering of pegasi a dozen meters away, who smiled and waved when he saw her. Smiling and waving back, she made her way back to the other unicorns.

*-*-*-*-*-*

It wasn't for another half hour that Star or anypony else heard anything, before a siren sounded off, startling everyone, followed by the same stallion increasing the volume further of his voice.

"If all participants would please move to your respective rune circles, we're now expecting the signal in the next few mintues. Also, any within range of my voice, please do not look directly at the stones, once the magic begins filling them up. Doing so will be almost equivilant to staring into Her Magesty's sun, and is very bad for your eyes. To all assembled here today, we're expecting the signal to come at any moment, so please, prepare yourselves."

*-*-*-*-*-*

All across Equestria, sirens began going off simultaneously. All tribes of beings all across the world took their places in the rune circles that the Equestrian ponies had been sent months before to prepare, all anticipating the coming signal. The Crystal Empire was a different story altogether. Because all the magic from across the world would be siphoned there, all the crystals in one place, there would be so much magic circulating, that only the princesses and Discord could be in the castle center with the main magic focus.

Word had gotten out, mostly from those transporting it, that what they had heard called the 'Pivotal Geodesic,' was something not actually made of crystal, but of elements from the core of Princess Celestia's sun, and titanium bands woven around and into it from Princess Luna's moon. Princess Cadence's Crystal Empire also supplied special crystals integrated into the giant, multifaceted artifact.

Those involved in its manufacture knew that there was another 'ingredient' in the giant magical device: Discord's own 'morodite.' What the black as pitch metal actually was, was unknown, but it was so dangerous, that once it was put in in the end, it had to be moved only by the princesses themselves, and kept in absolute quarantine from then on. They were warned, that touching it would kill any non-immortal immediately.

The whole empire was evacuated, because of the sheer amount of magic that would be concentrated in one area. Within the castle itself, the princesses were at the center, ringed dozens of meters out were the highest ranked mages across Equestria, all there to steady the crystals upon their arrival to the Empire.

Far above the Crystal Castle, there was a horizontal portal, through which the Earth could be seen. While the other princesses were all looking up at the portal from one side of the castle, and Discord lounged on top of the rotating Geodesic, Princess Celestia made her way over to one of the groups of mages standing just outside a circle, conversing with the other mages around him.

"Is everyone prepared, Sunburst?"

Turning, he bowed to her, along with the others, "As we'll ever be, your highness."

"Good, we'll be sending our signals out as soon as I get back. Prepare yourself. This is the most magic even we've had to deal with at one time." After his bow and her return nod, she turned back to her fellow princesses.

The princesses together, returned to the Geodesic, and took their places around it, while Discord slipped off, before hovering over to his own spot. Nodding to Luna, Celestia looked to her brilliant charge, while her sister closed her eyes, and concentrated on her moon and stars, each causing their respective stellar bodies to flicker, telling the world's unicorns to begin their spells.

*-*-*-*-*-*

All at once, all throughout Equestria, the most melodious songs began. Every tribe and race across Equestria that was willing, all sang in, or touching special rune circles made to gather all the energy they could spare, in the effort to help. Equestria, Griffonhelm, some in the Dragon Lands at the request of Dragon Lord Ember, the Zebra nation, Saddle Arabia, and many other nations in the world.

If one could teleport, or be in every city at once, they would have heard slightly different songs, as the denizens of the world worked to power the spell.

While the vast majority did not study the language mostly used by the everyone in the spell, they sang with an overwhelming sense of serenity, an asking of the universe to help those who needed it. It was a sight no Equestrian citizen, nor tourist would ever forget, nor would this day fade from Equestrian memory for ages to come.

Of those not participating, doctors, nurses, and foals, all their eyes and ears were transifixed to town centers, listening and watching.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Small towns saw it happening first. When a pony or other being doesn't use, or come close to maxing their magic reserves regularly, which doesn't happen often, since the vast majority use only the most basic spells or intrinsic magic countless times in everyday life, they don't have the stamina for complex, or long term spells. Excessive use without training, sees ponies start feeling dizzy, then nauseous, then they pass-out, or try to tumble out and away from the others, before passing out.

Some ponies though, did not heed the warnings that had been drilled into them as foals. Those who tried to keep going, to maintain a sense of dignity, honor, or an over-inflated ego, pushed themselves beyond the warning signs of excessive magic depletion.

Medics still couldn't enter where even the last of the groups were singing, since so much magic would overload even them, so they hoped the participants would manage to hold on.

In all the time they were singing, barely visible above them, shimmering as if a wave of heat, the crystals in all the towns were directing the magic they were given to the Crystal Empire

*-*-*-*-*-*

The mages shifted their tunes as the crystals absorbed the magic from across the world, only changing once the crystals had absorbed enough energy, did they begin moving them closer to the castles, where yet another shift in melodies bound the crystals to the Anchors. Once the binding was done, the crystals were encouraged to move well ahead of the unicorns, pulled as they got closer, to an orbit around the central Geodesic, and absorbing more magic as they moved, yet losing some from the incredibly miniscule imperfections in the pony-sized gems.

The mages held themselves together in the face of so much magic, protected from the heat and thaumic build-up by special spells woven into their clothes by the Princesses. They had been specially trained to maintain their sanity in the face of such overwhelming energy by a constant exposure in specially filtered rooms, where the Stellar Diarchs would channel magic from their charges, helping the mages to better tolerate the overload they would be exposed to.

Another protection the Princesses had encouraged, was that the mages had been told to go no further than where homes were built closest to the castle. The mages were still close enough that there was little loss of magic, as it was being transfered from one medium, to another.

The Princesses and Discord continued their own songs, encouraging the Geodesic to continue consuming the incoming magic. Bit by bit, the spell came together from all over Equestria, to be woven together by the combined work of the Princesses, with Twilight and her intrinsic connection to magic itself, forming the 'needle' that bound the parts together.

As more magic was pressed into the 'stone,' the hotter it grew, spontaneously igniting most all substances within it's growing dome of influence, all but the regalia the Princesses wore was burned away, cloth burned up, while the castle itself and Spike's statue began to melt. Items left in nearby homes, grass and window planters, among other things left behind, began to ignite and burn in the intense thaumic environment. As instructed, the mages kept their tunes going, but backed off, as even their protective garments would suffer degrade in the intense environment.

Once their singing reached it's peak, the immortals opened their eyes, revealing an intense inner glow in the four, and began a new section of the spell.

A vortex of magic began to move around the castle, as the 'lost' and ambiant magic around them was swept up, then forced into a whirlpool towards the Geodesic, further concentrating the magic, and fanning some of the flames.

Almost all at once, the magic surged towards the sphere even faster, as the Princesses and chaos entity, all simultaneously, changed their tune yet again.

In a powerful blast of sound, the Crystal Castle was used as a focusing rod, as the Geodesic used it to send it's utterly massive magical payload through the ground, into the legs, then up through the spire-like castle, into and through the portal. Could the humans have seen it, they would've seen first, a massive burst of light above the poles, then a lattice of spell-weave lace over the planet, just beyond the orbit of the space station, then disappear as it waited and conserved energy for the wave of Thaumic Event to come.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Once the thaumic levels began to drop, did the unicorn mages, pegasi and medical staff stationed around the Empire begin moving again. The pegasi began a rapid effort to move the rain clouds in to douse the blocks around the castle to begin putting out the fires, and cooling the castle off. Massive rain clouds had been gathered and set aside in preparation days in advance, to prevent the spread of the fires that erupted. The city center was enveloped by a massive cloud of steam as the crystal was cooled, and fires doused.

The Princesses and Discord walked to the point the unicorns were gathering, giving off some steam themselves as the moisture hit them, When they made to move away from the immortals, Princess Celestia called to them.

"Don't worry about the residual thaumic energy, it was absorbed by the spell. This is just the heat buildup from channeling and directing the energy. We're safe."

Collective sighs of relief echoed from the group, and they approached, Sunburst asking the obvious question, "Did it work, Your Highnesses?"

All looked to the sky, where the giant image of the Earth was fading away, it's usefulness complete, "We shall see, my ponies. We shall see."

*-*-*-*-*-*

Across Equestria, medics and emergency staff began their treatement of the overtaxed unicorns, hoofing out juice, protien bars, and other suppliments to help the exhausted unicorns recover. Most were too exhausted magically to levitate their needed refreshments, that most used their hooves to hold their food, or had to be helped by hoof.

A medic approached and prone unicorn with sea green fur, and nudged the pony to try to rouse them. "C'mon, lift your head please. I have juice. Delicious apple juice!" The pony refused to budge, prompting the medic to perform a closer examination. She leaned her head closer to the pony to listen for a breath, while using her peripheral vision to see the barrel rise and fall, her ears falling back when none were detected.

"Oh no, oh no!! I need extra help, NOW!!" She desperately tried the most basic form of resuscitation, moving to a more advanced form when a couple of fellow medics arrived.

They tried for several minutes, while nearby unicorns noticed what had happened, and moved to hurl their stomach's contents at the revelation.

Another spoke to the medics still trying to help, "Just, stop. He's dead. He gave too much magic, and killed himself. There's nothing you can do."

With expressions of grief etched on their faces, the medics backed off, and one covered him with their white med jacket.

This would be repeated hundreds of times across Equestria, to all the races, where so many disregarded the lessons of their foalhood, and put out too much magic, exhausting themselves so much, it killed them.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Funerals were held for those who had passed on, but for the rest, there was only preparations. The teams would see in the last two months, their drills almost double as the unicorns were tested relentlessly on the spells to get them from Equestria to Earth and back, ensuring they had memorized in excruciating detail, each and every rune the spells needed to properly function.

The pegasi trained with more weight, not only in case one or both of their companions were hurt, but to get new ponies to safety in any situation.

Earth ponies recieved rigorous final instructions in medical care, while the other two would be given rudimentary first aid training. As their trainers told them, it was best to be prepared for all situations.

Beyond that, there was little else for the ponies to do but wait.

The Great Change

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Time: May 23rd, 4:10 AM, Morrison, Colorado

I don't know what woke me up, or why I was sitting up in bed, but I was, and realized I had to go. Mother nature is a cruel, mean spirit, taking people from their restful sleep with the need to take care of biological urges. Glancing at my alarm clock, I was relieved to realize I could still sleep for another couple of hours before I had to wake up to get ready for work.

Before that though, bathroom break.

Blearily making my way to the restroom, just to the right of my own room, I shuffled my way over to my door, slipped on my house shoes, and opened my door. Squinting my eyes to protect them from the bright light, I proceeded to do what needed to be done, before moving to the sink to clean my hands, and get a drink.

Mom was snoring up a storm in her chair, an unlit cigarette still in her right hand, which I moved gingerly to her ash trey, muted the television, and put a blanket over her, before making my way back to my room.

I slipped my shoes off where carpet met linoleum after closing the door, and made to get back in bed in the dark. I wouldn't make it there before I was blinded by a bright light, brighter than the bathroom light had been, followed by the sound of tearing clothing.

"Ngah!" I said, collapsing to the ground, my head falling into my dirty clothes pile.

Disorientation took over for a time, feeling like the whole world was spinning. I gradually regained my senses, a whole body shudder making its way through me.

I made to move, only to feel very strange. I couldn't actually feel much, and when moving my arms to push myself up, they just slid over the carpet with less resistance than I thought I would feel. The same sensation repeated as I moved my legs, feeling my left calf move under something, eliciting a sound not unlike dry lizard scales rubbing each other. Kinda like the fake rattler snake.

I raised my head to get up, only to bang it into the bottom wood of the side of my bed.

"Dammit!" I whispered.

Finally moving my fingers, it felt like the pinkies on both hands had gone numb, and indeed, I couldn't feel them as I clenched my hands. I got my elbows under me for support, while I tried to restore blood flow to my hands.

Twitching my fingers, I realized I couldn't really feel my pinkies at all. I clenched and unclenched my hands multiple times, but nothing seemed to bring the sensations back. I quickly became aware of other new sensations in my body.

What had brushed against my calf earlier, moved again when I went to sit up, and I could feel it move against my feet. But I didn't just feel it in my feet, I felt it in what had moved too, the sensation coming up through, to my backside. My back was abnormally cold too.

'What the heck...?' I thought to myself. 'That can't be what it feels like..."

Attempting to get up proved another challenge, and I nearly fell over, since my feet didn't want to cooperate. I just couldn't put my heels against the ground. So, just moving on my knees, I turned with my hand on the wall, and the thing on my backside banged against my trashcan loudly, since I'd emptied it the afternoon before, and my dresser, creating more loud noises, hopefully not waking my mother up.

I found the light switch blindly, but it seemed even higher than it should've been.

Flicking the light on, and suffering the requisite momentary blindness, again, I was treated to what I'd hoped was one of my very lucid dreams. Most of the time I have no control over them what-so-ever, but I was dumbfounded when I could finally see.

My shirt and boxers hung loosely about my frame, the former falling to my front. My shirt had become little more than an apron with sleeves, the bottom portion below my arms flowing freely. But in that moment, something else grabbed my attention.

In the limited light that got around my dresser, I saw four clawed fingers on my hands, dark green scales on my arms. Putting my claws to use, I shredded what was left of my clothes, suprisingly quickly, marveling somewhat at the sharpness of my new appendages. Once the rags my clothes had become were removed, I got a good look at myself in the light. I had green scales on all but my chest and belly. They were a slightly darker than sky blue, and quite reminescant of snake belly scales.

"What the heck?" I spoke softly, but in a high pitched voice, eyes widening in suprise.

'Oh, no.' I thought, clutching my thoat.

I moved into more light, and realized what I had felt earlier. It was indeed a tail, about as long as I was tall, tapered to a point on the end. Turning my neck more than I ever could, I saw why my back was colder than it should be.

I had wings. Wings with leather-like membranes, a shade of blue slightly darker than the daytime sky on the inside membrane, and as green as my body on the outside. No wonder they were cold; that much area was a major heat loss surface.

I'd spied my nose when looking at my hands. It smoothly tapered down, to a round point.

I knew what it was like in a dream with the slight fog on your mind, drastic shifts in scenery, and the improbabilities that came along with them, and this wasn't like them.

Sitting back on my heels brought my curiosity about why I couldn't stand to my attention. Leaning to one side, I managed to get a look at my feet, and saw the reason.

'Great, I'm digitigrade.' I took stock of the changes, compared them to what I had seen in a flash of memory from a D&D species book, drawing only one plausible conclusion.

"I'm a dragon!" I said, immediately covering my snout. "Oh crap."

'I'm some kind of anthro-ish dragon... And I sound like a girl...'

I wobbly got to my, well, toes, and moved to my desk, 'Damn, I shrunk,' I thought. I had to reach just about level with my lower chest to get the remotes to turn on the television, and get Dish working. After three AM, the signal is interrupted so they can load a new TV guide into everyone's systems, the screen displaying the Dish logo when the set came on.

Almost gouging some of the buttons out, I managed to get my TV on, the system woken up, and the channel changed to what I hoped would be news, but was some stupid preplanned entertainment garbage. Fumbling some more with the remote, I managed to get the Weather Channel up, but what greeted me was an empty studio.

The weather bar at the bottom was still going, but by now it was near the end of the city capitals weather updates. After a few minutes they cycled around with the same info again, with no change to the main show, still in the studio. The weather bar was right about one thing though, telling me that we were still in the grips of a cold front from the north, driving temperatures down, explaining the cold in the house.

I was at a loss as to what to do next, until I noticed my mother's snoring had stopped. I crept over to the door, and tried to listen to see if she was in the bathroom, or had gone up stairs, but couldn't hear anything.

Gripping the door knob in smooth scales proved a challenge, until I just gripped the handle hard enough, so it wouldn't slip out of my grasp. Toe claws clacking on the linoleum, I slowly looked for the bathroom light, but didn't see it, so I again listened to see if my mother was still in her chair, but still heard nothing.

I pulled the door open even further, and looked to her chair, but saw it was empty. I went to the stairs to see if she'd gone to her computer while I was loopy, but aside from the down stairs', and my light, all the house lights were off.

On her table, the unlit cigarette was still where I'd put it, along with her pack of smokes, and her ice water, which she'd apparently brought down only an hour before, judging by the large chunk of ice floating in the middle of the bottle.

I went further up stairs to see if my father was still asleep, but heard no noise from his room either. His keys were still on the hook by the front door, so he hadn't left, he just wasn't apparently here...

Running my hand over my head, I felt something I hadn't noticed before, which prompted another visit to the bathroom mirror, though I could only use the mirror on the sliding doors of the 'cabinet.'

'Horns and spines, just perfect,' I thought with a scowl. I sighed before heading back into my room, hopping into my chair, and noticing my computer on my desk.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Getting it plugged in and turned on was as simple as always. Inputting my password to get past the lock screen was a small challenge. I'd gotten real close to being a touch typist, but without my pinkies, my small hands felt awkward.

I opened my web browser, brought up Facebook, and tried to see if any of my friends were on, and might've seen something like I did. Unfortunately, there were only two green lights next to two people I knew, and neither had responded to my last messages, days old, but I still tried anyway.

No activity on FB besides ad updates left me at a dead end again, until I remembered a site I'd been to a few times before. It's been a long time since I visited, but it was a way to check if there was still people around.

Earthcam was a stream of constant videos from cameras in many cities across the country, and a handfull of countries, where a person could watch life going on. I found it out of curiosity after watching Life After People, and wondering what the cities would look like without people walking around. It was all as I'd imagined it.

The easiest places were Oklahoma and New York, since they were in time zones ahead of my own. Quick scans of the pages, then reloads to make sure I wasn't seeing things, or that I wasn't accidentally on previously recorded material, told me a firm conclusion: Where I should normally see cars, trucks, and people moving about, I saw no one.

Not a single person, car, or truck, moved about the screen at all in these live videos. There was still sound coming from them, but I didn't hear the tell tale sound of revving motors or people trying to talk over themselves, or the cars on the roads. The adverts were still lit up, like the TV channels, still running through their retinue of pre-loaded material, but no people!

'I can't be the only one...' Much as I hated people and most of society (I was a true-blue introverted misantrope), even I hoped there would be someone besides me left. Family preferrably, but friends were okay too.

*-*-*-*-*-*

The local news channels never came on, since people are needed in the studios to switch over to them. With no one apparently around, the channels just went blank. It was eight-AM by the time I decided to venture outside, though it was cool and damp, with a recent overnight rainstorm, and still-overcast skies.

I stepped out onto the landing in front of my house, and was struck by the sheer silence. I should've heard traffic from the nearby highway, but not a car passed. The mountains reflected most of the noise of C-470, such that there was a constant, if barely noticable level of noise.

It was utterly, and somewhat eerily quiet, except for birds singing, and the occasional dog barking. And it was cold, though not freezing.

I went back into the house to my computer, and did a little more searching for other people, but I didn't know where to really go. Short of taking my mother's car, which was oddly tempting, I couldn't go anywhere.

To stave off boredom while waiting for something to happen, I restarted something I had left off for a while, but figured would help my sanity in the long run, bittorrenting. I started pulling anime I hadn't seen, some I remembered I hadn't finished, and what few movies I liked but didn't have off the net, strangely satisfied I wouldn't have to give anything up for them.

This line of thought started a very strange feeling to gather things from local stores. It was an intense desire to have them, even if I wouldn't do much with most of them. Like something inside suddenly told me that without people around, it was all mine for the taking...

I smacked myself upside the head with a fist to stop that line of thought. The desire was still there, but I managed to calm it down, and make it a noise in my head, which I actively tried to ignore. Wasn't easy.

'Getting hungry.' I thought, when my stomach loudly grumbled. Balogna sandwiches sounded good...

*-*-*-*-*-*

It wasn't easy getting the balogna out without ripping it with my claws, but I did learn fast how to do it! Tongs are great tools!! I had my sandwiches the same way I'd had them as a kid up until middle school; piled on the chilli-cheese chips!!!

While I ate, I started an internal agenda of what I wanted to do during the day, starting off with a brief exploration of my neighborhood to see if anyone was home. I wouldn't be able to use my bike, so walking around would be the new method. Started a new series of torrents before I left, though.

There was a park a few blocks from my home, so I quietly made my way glancing and listening down the streets for signs of anyone else, but seeing not a single soul. The park, surrounded by homes, was also a dead end. I'd seen people walking their dogs or running in the early morning on the way to the bus stop, but no one was about.

The depression at finding no one left me in a slight funk, both my tail and wings drooping, with the former occasionally dragging on the ground.

It was almost noon by the time I'd decided to just, borrow, my mother's car and go into town. I liberated a couple of pillows to give me a little height, but that created another situation. While I could now see somewhat over the dashboard, my feet were further away from the petals.

I couldn't use my tail, since I had barely any control over the damn thing. Planning time!!

I sat back against the seat, but sat right back up, since I was pinching my wings uncomfortably, and frowned. 'How the heck am I going to get to Wally-World?'

I was stuck. The only thing I knew of for adjustments for driving was what I'd seen on television, for little people, where a specialized company used their know-how, to add accelerator 'petals' to the steering column, if that was really what I remembered seeing.

'I guess I'm stuck walking to Wal-Mart.' I frowned. While it wasn't super cold, it still felt colder than it probably was. I went back into the house, got my key ring, well, glorified key ring, since I only had two on it, my bike lock and house keys, a good blanket, and set off, locking the door behind me.

'One mile just became two.'

*-*-*-*-*-*

-Equestria, That Same Moment-

Star and her companions were on a train, bound for the area between the Ghastly Gorge, Appleoosa, and the Everfree forest.

"The area we're going to seems to correspond to a large city by a mountain range. There was little research done on the city, so we're going in a little blind, boys."

"I think we can handle it." Grey said. Mountain just nodded slightly. "Though we do share your concern. Let's go over our instructions again. We'll go over them tomorrow morning, since we have to wait for a full day to pass, for the magic to stabilize on the planet. It should be fairly turbulent because of the spell."

Mountain pulled out a parchment from his pack, and proceeded to read: "'Order for all Equestrian Exploration Teams follows: First order is to orient yourselves with your terrain, and locate, if possible maps of your area.'"

"We know where to look, what shops they usually keep them in, so if we can get to one of them, we'll be able to get around. Sorry to interrupt." Star said sheepishly.

"'Second order: Establish contact with leadership among the Earth-Ponies, or other beings in leadership positions. Said leader ponies are to be assessed then sent back to Equestria for evaluation. Examination to be determined by Equestria royalty.' Yada yada yada, we've all read this before. The most important thing we keep to ourselves, at least until we determine who the leader is, is our origins. We've all been told, in no uncertain terms, to keep the nature of our mission on their world to ourselves, unless we find an appropriate leader amongst the former humans."

"Wow, that's the most I've heard you speak at once Mountain." Star said, smiling. "You should've gone into radio announcing, or something! You've got the voice for it!"

"Plants are better than most ponies." He responded with a blush.

Giggling, "I can agree with you there. Some of the nobles I met while working and living in Canterlot, only wanted spells that would help them either relax longer, or make more money. One rich pony I met, I can't remember his name, was one of the most snobbish ponies I'd ever met. He constantly spoke about how his family'd 'helped,'" she quoted with her hooves, "and those are my quotes by the way, based on the tone he'd used, a Ponyville family get off the ground, and that his family was the reason they were doing so well."

"Bah, money only makes you meaner. The real treasures in life, are the friends you have to enjoy it with." Grey said smiling, punching Mountain in the withers.

"That is rather corney, you know that right?" Star asked.

"It is true though. Mountain's practically a brother to me. Like I said when we met, he and I grew up in an orphanage. We've known each other since we were able to talk."

Star was all smiles, as the train chugged on. The three settled into a comfortable silence as they waited for the train to reach their destination, where the assistants and guards were already waiting for them at the site, preparing for one of the first missions to Earth to commence.

Chapter 11 - Checking Things Out

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The walk to Wal-Mart was mostly uneventful. Without the constant noise of cars, planes, and people, I could hear nature more clearly. Birds, insects buzzing about despite the cooler temperatures, and the breeze through the leaves. There was a row of cottonwood trees along a creek, and the sound their leaves made in the light breeze was enough to ease my tensions, and anxiety somewhat.

My claws scrapped on the concrete and asphalt as I crossed each road, then made my way up the hill. For some odd reason, walking on the grass of people's yards, just felt better on my feet, so I committed 'a grave social taboo,' and crossed their yards, only waking on the concrete when I needed to cross a driveway, or skirt around the odd fitzer bush.

The concrete and roads were mostly dry, but there was dew on the grass, cooling my feet as the water evaporated from my new scales.

"I guess this is why some reptiles avoid getting wet... Damn this is going to take some getting used to." I said in my new voice.

My gate was a little unsteady, since my new feet were so small. A human's footprint is already small enough, but my new feet, heck the new configuration I had to walk with in my legs, left me a little wobbly.

For a good bit of time, I stared down at my feet while I walked, marveling at how, as I stepped, my toes spread somewhat instinctually, adding some stability, though not all that much.

'It's like how the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park walked...' Toes collapse together when the foot comes up, only to spread just before touchdown. I had watched my reflection, sometimes openly, other times through my peripheral vision, when I was human in the storefront glass on my way to lunch, but this, this was something else.

'Kinda cool, in a weird way.' I thought.

I topped the largest hill faster than I thought I would. Distractions and busy work make the time fly by! There was a horse 'ranch' on the downward side of the hill, on the way to my destination, and the smells coming through the air were no less reminescent.

'Mmm, always loved the smell of a horse ranch!' Some may think it's disgusting, but I always appreciated the smell of an area with horses. Something about the smell reminding you of home, of not being in a suburb, but out on the open fields...

"And they know I'm here..." Indeed, the horses had all turned and were staring at me, ears and eyes alert. The wind shifting as it was, alerted them of my approach. One snorted and stomped a hoof, before neighing, apparently nervous. For minutes, we watched each other, me out of curiosity for what they'd do next, and perhaps them from some animal instinct against something new, and unknown. 'I may be a new potential predator to them.' I'd never had, nor wanted to try horse meat though.

I edged closer to the fence of their enclosure, a maybe two acre plot of land, moving in deliberate, very visible steps. I wanted to let them know I wasn't a threat, despite what their instincts might be telling them. Before I reached one of the edge of the fence with a small shack, I noticed a horse peak it's head out of the window, and whinney.

I heard the thunder of hooves before one of the larger ones came into my peripheral, itself whinnying loudly at me, in a head down, ears back posture, on slightly lowered front hooves. Without approaching too close to the fence, it reared up, whinnyed again, this time kicking with it's front hooves in the air, before stomping down, whinnying briefly a third time, and snorting at me.

"Ookay, I'll go." I said slowly, as I backed off, keeping the horses in my sight, as I backed up through a ditch, almost stumbling yet again, and back to the side of the road. My voice though, elicited a strange responce from the horse. It cocked its head in apparent confusion, it's ears flicking in my direction, before resuming their threatened, cocked back position. Once I reached the road, I turned, crossed back to the other side, before getting back to the grass.

Before I got too far, I turned back to the horse ranch, and saw some of the horses milling about the pen that had the extra stables. A couple were eyeing me warily, while one was nosing the horse in the stable, and another was nosing the lock, maybe a sliding latch, as if... 'Are they trying to free the other horse?' I thought, then another thought came to me, 'Could it be from memory... No.'

I shook my head before continuing on to Wal-Mart, having a bit of a fright with the charging animal. 'Damn, but they're big now...'

*-*-*-*-*-*

I thought at least the Supercenters were 24 hour stores, but I found that wrong. I tried both main entrances, to no avail. The garden center doors I knew were closed; getting back late many-a-night after work and school, to catch the ride that dropped my brother off for his night shift, there was always a cart behind the locked door. Sure a sign as any, that that area was closed. Sure enough, neither would budge when I tried to pull them.

I stood, scratching my head, between my new horns, trying to figure a way to get in. 'I would be insanely lucky if someone left a backdoor open, or just a side exit...' So I sauntered around the building, before groaning in exhasperation that I had no luck what-so-ever again. 'I can call my mother just before she starts eating, but I can't freaking catch a break with an open door...'

Last thing I wanted was to break one of the windows in the front to get in, and set off the hellatious alarm. Not even the damn dock doors were cracked. All this way for nothing.

The highway was just to the back of the Wal-Mart, so I decided to check it out. Confirming my suspicions from the lack of noise, there indeed was not a car on the road. Kinda creepy really, as if the people and their cars just were taken up by something. No show or movie, not even one like that Australian 'zombie' movie I'd seen a couple times, was like this. There was nothing but the empty road, not a car was crashed, parked or otherwise abandoned on the thoroughfare.

From my vantage point I could see Denver to my north-east, and it wasn't a smoldering wreck of a city. No fires, apparently collapsed buildings... Just no one. 'Huh...'

*-*-*-*-*-*

"Well, I can raid the gas stations." I made my way over to them, having come full circle to the front of Wal-Mart, back to the side where the street was closest to the main road, and made my way to the nearest gas station.

'Shit, but my luck just turned!' I thought, starting a light, slightly drunken looking jog to the gas station. In one of the bays that I hadn't noticed before, was a style of scooter I'd seen in an anime. 'A real Vespa!' I marveled. Not quite the same from the show, but definately a real Italian vespa. I hadn't seen many people with them here. Scooters yes, vespas no. It even had the Vespa company logo!

Even more of a bonus, the keys were still in the thing. I had no idea why it was here, but I decided to take advantage. Perhaps the owner was just about to get back on when they vanished, or were inside. It was of the basic design, no storage compartments, and a light blue color, with a white seat and footwell.

I was just about to hop on, when I remembered what I'd come this way for. I reluctantly tore my eyes from the machine to head inside the gas station it was parked at. This was at least a twenty-four hour establishment.

"Aaand they don't have much of what I need..." Basic suplies, snacks, drinks, pet food... "Well this small venture was a bit of a bust." I stood in the middle of the entrance, trying to think of something to do, when I had an idea.

I found my way behind the counter, moved and got up onto the stool in front of the register, all touch screen now. Familiarizing myself with it, looking a little like what I used at Sam's Club as a cashier myself, then scurried out to the Vespa. I checked it's gas guage, and sure enough, the previous owner had filled it up.

I leaned back from it, and thought for a moment, before I realized what I'd need. I ran back inside, and checked the supplies section, and found what I was looking for. Minutes later, I had two bunjee cords draped over the seat of the scooter, and a medium sized gas can by the pump.

Darting back in, I got back to the stool and- "WHAT THE FRICK AM I DOING?!?!" I yelled. "I'm about to try and steal gas, before stealing someone's scooter. Yeah, that's not klepto behavior." Pens are one thing, but this...

I squatted down, sitting on my heels with my head in my hands, trying to rationalize my feelings and strange desires. No one was around, I might as well've been the only person left, and I was having issues getting what most wouldn't've had hardly any qualms about taking to survive in this situation? 'Heh, my family taught me well.' I thought sarcastically, smiling. 'I can't even take what I need in this situation without feeling bad.'

I took some breaths, before steeling my resolve, quelling my internal moral compass with rational thoughts toward what I needed to do, and proceeded to set the pump up to fill the can. 'I do pirate anime. This is no different.'

Step one, done.

*-*-*-*-*-*

Riding the vespa was a new experience, my new form notwithstanding. I'd ridden my friend's electric moped, my cousin's dirtbike, and was a passenger on my aunt's motorcycle, but this was a whole other thing.

It was thankfully automatic, making it easy, and without people around, I shirked the rules of the road a little, laughing inside at myself. I skimmed by the horse ranch, garnering their attention again, before going up, and over the hill. It was relatively smooth sailing, so to speak, from there. Automatically taking my usual route home, took me to a spot my friends and I had played at when we were little.

That wasn't what got my attention though. It was the sudden burst of, something, followed by a large truck appearing on my right. Panicing, I twisted hard on the accelerator, squeeling the tires of the moped just as the truck sped past me, bouncing over the curb, and hitting the large cotton wood tree. I turned in time to see it slide a little down the tree, peeling bark off, before toppling over and collapsing into the ditch.

I stopped the vespa and parked it, before hopping off, and awkwardly running to the totaled vehicle. It'd somehow toppled right-side-up, but smoke poured from the damaged engine, and from inside, I heard an odd groaning. And the truck did look a little familiar...

The truck wasn't a monster of a vehicle, so I was able to reach the handle, albeit I had do stretch to do so. Nearly tearing the handle off in my haste, which suprised me, I managed to open the door, only to be treated to another sight out of mythology.

"A griffon?!"

The griffon was bleeding slightly from a head-wound, likely from hitting the steering wheel.

"You okay?" I asked, only to be treated to further groaning. A whoosh from underneath the truck, along with the strangely pleasent tingle of heat, told me the engine had caught fire.

*-*-*-*-*-*

By the time I managed to get the griffon out, the fire'd spread, and smoke from the burning plastics in the engine, was filling the open cab. I hooked my arms under the griffons, and dragged them up the hill, away from the quickly burning wreck, trying not to injure them with my claws.

"Oh, ow," the griffon moaned, reaching its tallons up to its head, "What happened?"

'So he must be like me. And he sounds familiar to boot.' I thought. Crouching down near the griffon, "If I knew what changed us, I'd tell you. My guess is, you wrecked from the shock of the change."

Eyes still closed probably due to the pain, "I just remember a bright flash, then being smaller in my cab, crashing and being knocked out... Wait, 'changed us?' What d'you mean?"

"Well, you're a griffon, if I have my mythology right, though like no griffon I remember seeing. And I'm a dragon. Of sorts."

He chuckled a little, but then groaned from the pain in his head, again reaching to press against it. "I wouldn't mess with your head too much, you were bleeding, and still may be. You wouldn't want to aggrivate it, or cut youself with your claws."

"Okay, I know you're on something. You've gotta be. People don't just change, like, that....." He'd started, only to crack open his eyes, squinting at the light, and finally noticing his claws. "WHAT THE HELL?!?!" He moved to scramble upright, only to fall, barely catch himself, smacking against the ground.

Groaning for a long minute, "What happened? Why are we like this?"

"Like I said, if I knew, I'd tell you." I replied, getting up. "You live around here? I was heading home myself."

"I live a few blocks from here. I was heading home from a short night. I wasn't feeling good, so I left work early, on my boss's recommendation, when this shit happened. You?"

"I was home when this happened, about 4ish. You just appeared here, just now." I replied.

Looking bewildered, "'Just now,' it's the middle of the day!"

He groaned again, and fell back on his back, "Just lay there for a while." I said, "You may've had a concussion."

"Shit, it feels like it. My head's pounding..."

After talking with him, his voice really did strike a chord with me. It was certainly higher, but I still recognized it. "I'd like to ask you something, but if you don't want to answer, that's fine."

"Go ahead."

Hesitating, "Is your name Jared?"