The Human Pet

by RushyFiction

First published

You end up in a land of sapient equines. Proceed.

You wake up in a land where magic is real and sapient ponies have built a civilisation. Being from a different universe, you have no understanding of their language or laws, but you're happy to have found yourself in the friendliest town there is. Good luck building a new life as their favourite... monkey thing.

Proofread by DekaSkittalz

Chapter 1

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Ow. Light. Too much light.

You snarl a bit, feeling drowsy, waking up from a deep, long sleep. But this hard branch beneath you definitely doesn't belong in bed and neither do these crumbly leaves. Finally, your eyes adjust enough that you realise you're lying in the middle of the woods.

"What the fuck." you grumble, grabbing onto a nearby tree for support as you stand up. You're wearing your ordinary street clothes - a black jumper, denim pants, nothing special. You search your pockets and find the usual - phone, keys, wallet. The phone is dead, though. "Ah, shit."

Looking around, you note that the woods look beautiful - the trees are decked in gold and crimson, and the fallen leaves are clean and rather surprisingly, all undamaged. It almost feels like someone's dropped you in the middle of a painting. Having little choice, you start walking in a random direction until the woods part to reveal a beautiful farm up ahead. Huge red barnhouse, orchards up ahead, a mudhole for pigs and a lovely multi-storied house with a design based on barrels. Terrific, you can ask them for directions(and maybe to borrow their carpenter). Hearing the telltale clanging of tools, you head over to the barn and push the huge door open to slip in.

The barn is filled with bales of hay and there's a work station in the upper left corner, where a bright red(painted?) workhorse with a brown horse collar affixed around his neck is... hammering nails into a wooden nestbox. With his hooves. Hammering nails. For a few moments, you are completely transfixed by the absurd sight. The horse neighs a little and you decide it's best not to mess with the weird circus horse... yeah, that's gotta be it, circus horse... and just head for the house when the horse looks at your direction and the two of you freeze as you stare each other down.

Oh, fuck it, it's a horse, you don't have to worry. You walk away, only for it to start galloping towards you. Okaaaay, adios. You run towards the house as fast as your legs can carry. On the porch, you spot another horse, though a smaller one. This one's orange, with freckles and a mane that resembles hay... and a stetson on her head. Noticing the red horse chasing you, she grabs a lasso in her mouth out of nowhere, gets off the porch and starts waving it around, obviously aiming at you. What the actual-

Looking around in desperation, you notice a small work shed just a few meters away from the house and dash in, slamming the door shut behind you and blocking it with a heavy metal bolt. Turning around, you notice a terrified small filly with a strawberry red mane huddling in the corner behind a wooden crate, her eyes wide open and following every movement you make. She seemed cute and innocent enough, but after the two terrors outside, you weren't taking any chances. Circus horses could pull all kinds of weird shit.

Fortunately, the shed is well-stocked and you manage to arm yourself with a small hammer and a rusty crowbar. Not the most efficient weapons - you were hoping for a good old Evil Dead-style chainsaw - but they make you feel better anyway. Your actions seem to frighten the little filly even more and she starts wailing. "Whoah, whoah, chill out, I'm not gonna hurt you!" you exclaim, feeling that the horses outside probably would probably like you even less if you frighten their offspring. You hesitate for a moment before setting the crowbar down again and attaching the hammer to your belt before approaching the filly with your arms raised in a defensive posture.

The filly blinks, looking unsurely at you with her wet, adorably big eyes. You move slowly and smile. You had no idea whether horses respond to human facial expressions or not, but hey, never hurts to try. At the very least, she calms down and started making noise. It is the usual horse neighing and whinnying, but you feel as if it was somehow directed at you. For an animal, she is very focused. You hear the other two horses make similar noises outside and when they stop, the little filly replied to them. Talking? Were they actually talking? Animals didn't talk, you knew that. But this bunch-

WHAM!

The door explodes into splinters and you yelp in surprise, turn around and jump up, grabbing the hammer from your belt and holding it above your head, ready to strike. The two adult horses peer in from the doorframe and the smaller orange one starts making a lot of noise. You have no idea what she is trying to communicate - if that is what she is doing - so you keep silent and hold the hammer up. The filly slowly emerges from behind the crate and walks over to you, and you move aside so she could rejoin the adults. This one action seems to calm the horses a bit and the orange one begins to gesticulate with her left hoof, pointing at your hammer and then moving it over to the toolbox. Put the hammer down. Got it. You obey and drop it.

Then, the red horse picks up the filly and trots off towards the house. The orange one waves her hoof at you several times and heads out towards the road leading away from the farm. Follow me. Yes, ma'am. As you start following the orange horse down the road, you notice an apple tattooed on both sides of her flank.
This is one hell of a circus.


After a sweet long stroll through the countryside, which has the effect of greatly relaxing your tension even if you are still stuck in unknown territory with no memory of how you got here and why. All you can remember is heading home after a fairly miserable day at the office and then... nothing. Were you kidnapped? But if so, why were you stranded in the middle of the woods? And what's the deal with the horses?

Oh well. At least the weather is spectacularly good. The sun shines down on you from between the clouds, and a comfortable, gentle wind blows on your face. A small streak flashes across the sky and you look up. A trick of the eyes? No, now another streak flashes across and you can clearly see a cloud dissipate right in front of you in seconds. You stop and stare upwards. The streaks remind you of shooting stars, but it is the middle of the day. And there should be nothing that can just make clouds vanish like that.

An annoyed whinny from Apple Buttocks pulls you out of your confusion and you follow her onwards to the small town ahead. Ah nice, she's taken you back to her owners-

Several audible gasps from the townsfolk match your own. Horses! All horses, of every color of the rainbow and then some! Flying horses, unicorns, horses who deliver mail, horses who sell cakes, horses who ride on other horses! And you don't even know what the pink one's doing exactly, but you're fairly sure it's illegal in at least 99.9% of the world.

Before the situation can turn bad, your orange pal grabs onto you with her forehooves - the ends of which somehow magnetically clamp onto you, sure, why not - and drags you away from them and over to a gigantic treehouse. Inside of the treehouse is a vast library of books, a staircase that leads to the second floor and an emblem of the sun imprinted on the ceiling. What a place! As the orange one runs off to find someone, you take one of the books off the shelf and open it up to find nothing, but identical wavy lines. You check three other books to get the same result. "Tripping. Definitely tripping." You mutter to yourself. You made a mental note to check your fridge the minute you wake up. And then have some more, because this is the good stuff.

A clopping sound alerts you that Apple Buttocks is back with a brilliantly violet-colored unicorn, whose short, stylized mane is streaked with pink. "Whoa." You mouth to yourself. That mare would win beauty contests back home! Her jaw drops as she sees you. Her horn lights up - magic is real, didn't you get the memo? - and your whole body vibrates slightly. Whatever it did, it really seemed to get the purple unicorn excited, because she gets up on her back hooves and claps her hooves together, squeeing. Like, literal squeeing. It's too cute for words! No one's ever been that happy to see you.

Filled with warmer feelings towards her, you extend your arm in greeting. After sharing a glance with Apple Buttocks, the Lavender Lady raises her own hoof and lets you grab hold of it. You shake it slightly and nod towards the mare. "Pleased to meet you."

You now live in a land of sapient ponies. Super.

Chapter 2

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Still holding onto your hand, the lavender mare leads you to a nearby sofa and practically shoves you into it. Then her horn lights up again, sending another jolt of vibrations through your body. You assume they are scanning for something, and whatever it is, it really gets their proverbial knickers in a twist, since for the next minute or so, the two mares make high-pitched whinnying sounds at each other. Also, a bunch of books fly out of the carved shelves and begin floating around, caught in the unicorn's magic as she looks up various pages. You observe the whole thing with awe until suddenly the farm mare grabs ahold of your jumper and shirt with her chompers and starts pulling them over your head.

You pull your clothes back indignantly. "Whoa-whoa, hey, little warning? The hell?" The two horses exchange glances and you very clearly see Lavender Lady shrug before her horn lights up again. Cue another set of vibrations running through you, but nothing happens except the unicorn seems to have a headache. Or a hornache, as that's what she's rubbing with a pained expression. Apple Buttocks rolls her eyes and motions upwards with her hoof. Why do they want me to take my clothes off? You hope it's just because they're curious about your physiology. Seeing as how they could probably impale you with magic if you piss them off, you begrudgingly remove your jumper, and then your shirt once the orange mare starts rolling her hoof in the universal hurry up, we don't have all day gesture.

Once your bare chest becomes visible, you're not sure whether the expression on the mares' faces is pity or wonder, but either way, you don't like the gawping or the fact that three quills are scribbling on floating pieces of parchment at the same time behind Lavender Lady. "Yeah, we're not all blessed with freakin' velvet fur." you grumble and grab the shirt to put it back on, but the unicorn stops you with an extended hoof and motions downwards at your pants with an innocent smile.

Haha, no.

You make a big X with your arms and put your shirt and jumper back on regardless. Fortunately, the horses don't seem too bothered by the concept of personal boundaries and instead, you watch as Lavender Lady takes on a thoughtful expression and floats one of the parchments in front of her face to make additional notes. After that fairly awkward experience, the tests become more mundane - samples of hair and saliva, a few photographs taken from every side of you, analysis of your reflexes et cetera et cetera. All of this leads you to believe that the unicorn is some kind of horse scientist.

Horse scientist... Christ, where the fuck am I? Some kind of Area 51 community?

You walk around the library, trying to spot hidden cameras, but you can't find any. The two mares have fallen quiet and are now merely watching you, apparently wondering what you'll do next. You extend an arm and randomly wave it back and forth, which immediately gets Lavender scribbling again. Seems like the ball's in your court now. You head for the door, only to stop as it starts to glow with purple energy in front of you and locks itself audibly. "Right... can't let the test subject out." You mutter, and start tapping against your pockets absent-mindedly as you think what to do.

It then occurs to you that your phone is still in your pocket and you pull it out, carefully set it on the ground so as to not frighten the two, and slide it over to Lavender, who has a clear look of awe on her face whilst the farm mare merely raises an eyebrow. The unicorn encases the phone in her magic and it levitates for a second before dropping on the floor. Trying again, the unicorn scrunches her face in concentration(looking unspeakably cute, one might add) and the phone levitates an extra few centimeters before loudly clattering on the wood again. Both you and Apple Buttocks watch Lavender with concern as she appears quite taxed by the effort, blinking and shaking her head as if she was dizzy.

She could manipulate everything else like it was nothing... but not my phone? And my clothes... she had me get them off. Was that just her being nice or was that earlier headache from her trying to do it herself?

After another whinnying conversation between the horses, Lavender opens the door for her friend to leave through and motions for you to follow her into the kitchen, leaving the phone on a nearby desk for now.


Now, if there is one thing that you are finicky about, it is good food. Not to snobbish levels, but you certainly prefer to know exactly what you were getting. So the prospect of being cooked dinner by a... purple scientist alien horse... doesn't exactly appeal to you. But it seems as if you don't have to, since Lavender sits down right beside you and makes a loud noise, before resuming her new favourite activity of gawping at you with a parchment and quill on standby.

You tap the table nervously. Butler horse? Any time noooow... oh God, what is that sound?! You get goosebumps all over your skin as the ugliest, squelchiest snarling sounds emanate from the central library room and the pitter-patter of tiny feet gets closer. You stand up and move away from the table as a small, fat, purple reptilian creature with slitted pupils and green spikes enters the room. To your horror, as soon as it sees you, it starts hissing and snarling so you grab a kitchen knife. It looks tiny, but hell, so are vipers and those come loaded with poison.

Trying to defuse the situation, Lavender makes the knife in your hand disappear and waves her hoof up and down, up and down in a relaxing motion. She then neighs at the reptilian thing, which hisses back. Realising that the mare was not frightened of the fat overgrown gecko thing, you slowly sit down again. It looks at you with an uncertain expression and then takes you completely off guard by doing the V sign with its fingers slash claw thingies. In spite of your fear, a grin emerges on your face and you repeat the gesture. On second thought, it does look kind of adorable in a chubby baby sort of way. "Hey... mister Gecko... you gonna be cooking dinner?"

Gecko blinks and looks at Lavender Lady, who shrugs him off. Without missing a beat, he climbs onto a stool to reach the oven, ties a frilly pink apron around his waist and starts handling the pots and pans like a pro.

"Okay then. I dig it."

Chapter 3

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It becomes quite apparent to you why a little reptile is trusted with the cooking, when a bowl of salad is placed in front of you. Well, salad is a strong word: more like a mix of lettuce, celery, cucumber, carrots and literally nothing else. It is perfectly edible, but it hardly quenches your hunger. Fortunately you have other things on your mind, and you don't want to seem ungrateful to your hosts(especially the diamond-chomping alien lizard, I mean what the fuck are those teeth even made of) so you decide to think about food later and instead follow Lavender Lady back into the library as her... slave/butler/underling starts rubbing the dishes clean in the sink.

The two of you sit down on the red velvet couch in front of the fireplace, and the mare levitates a blue book over to you with her magic, eagerly anticipating your reaction. You shrug and open the book, but it's just more wavy lines. Seeing you shake your head, she taps her hoof against her chin in thought and then smiles again before levitating a quill and page over to you, enthusiastically waving her hoof. Write something. Okay.

You grab the quill from mid-air and ponder for a moment whether to write in the clearer printscript or wavy cursive, but eventually decide you might have a better chance of breaking through to the ponies with writing that vaguely resembles their own and jot down "Hello. I am a human." in italics. Lavender levitates the page back to herself, makes an intrigued O-face and then takes the page with her to the other side of the library to analyse under a desk lamp. At least five books jump out of their shelves at the same time to float around her for whenever she needs one. You leave her to her studying and sink into the red couch. The soft scribbling noises from Lavender's notetaking soon carries you to sleep.

"HISSSSSS!"

Or it would have, if the purple lizard hadn't made its presence known right in front of you. "Jesus, Gecko... don't scare me like that!" You mutter, and take deep breaths until your heartbeat calms down. Mr. Gecko taps on your knee to get your attention again and points sharply at the front door, where your first pal Apple Buttocks waves in greeting. Hm, maybe I did sleep. You rub your eyes clear and head over to her whilst she addresses the purple mare, who doesn't respond, completely engrossed in her work. The orange mare rolls her eyes and moves to rub the lizard affectionately on the head. He must be pretty young.

You squat down to - well, not exactly his level, but closer - and say: "Hey, I know you don't understand me, but... thanks, little fella... nice salad. Haven't had celery in a while. And... you're a pretty cool alien monster. In the nicest way. See ya." You stand up.

Mr. Gecko hisses something back to you with a wide-eyed look. You have no idea what he meant, but you decide he said: "Thank you, come again." That'll work.


As you walk out, you see the sun setting, casting brilliant red and gold hues in the sky and over the town. What a lovely place. Would be even more lovely if I had any fucking clue where it was... you think with some cynicism as the tiresome day starts wearing you down. Apple Buttocks leads you away from the town square on the same road you first came into, for which you're glad. You don't hate being the centre of attention, but when literally your every movement is accompanied with whispers and even yelps, it kind of starts to get on the nerves.

However, you're surprised when the mare doesn't head straight back to the farm where you'd met, but instead takes another road over the river, to a more private and very overgrown cottage at the very edge of town with very few neighbours. Makes sense, I suppose. Keeps me out of sight until they can send me home. You have a nasty feeling, however, that going home isn't in the cards for a while, given what a fuss everyone's made over your existence... and vice versa.

The orange mare knocks gently on the upper half of the double wooden door, and you hear a very faint noise from the inside. Your friend nods and opens both doors, motioning at you to step through. Alrighty then. You enter to find yourself in a delightfully rustic, but also extremely well-kept living room, decorated with a variety of bird-houses and wool carpets. There's also a frankly ridiculously large green sofa with matching armchairs around, a gigantic stone oven and a number of domesticated mice and rabbits about. "Holy shit." You mouth, awed by the sheer charm of the place.

All of that is dwarfed, however, by the winged mare who inhabits it. Like the filly at the farm, she's yellow(maybe a little paler), with a majestic pink mane that flows down over the side of her head and neck like a waterfall. She has a demure attitude, but looks at you with a welcoming little smile on her cute snout. You sit down on the floor in front of her, legs crossed, trying to look as unthreatening as possible to such a wonderful creature. "Look at you! You have to be the sweetest, kindest thing I've ever seen." You say, grinning.

Though she doesn't understand your words, the compliment reaches the pegasus and she holds her hoof to her lips, giggling. She also talks to you, but not in the loud whinnying and neighing way that every other horse does, but in a soft cooing that just melts all your pent-up worries away and makes you physically yawn. At that point, Apple Buttocks departs and your new number one best friend ever - even if you don't know her name - leads you to a large fuzzy round mattress on the floor, obviously designed for(and previously used by) some larger creature, but you're too tired and overwhelmed with kindness to even think of arguing. You take off your jumper and trousers and leave them beside the mattress, ready for a well-deserved nap.

However, Sweetheart isn't quite done with you yet and floats over your bed to pull the covers off of you with her teeth before dropping a toothbrush and a tube of paste on your lap. "Really?" You deadpan, but your resolve lasts for approximately three seconds after she engages the puppy eyes. "Okay! Okay! I'll brush my teeth." Fortunately for you, it seemed like the same sort of stuff as back home. Sweetheart stands guard until you're done and as you get back to your gigantic dog bed thing, she points at herself and then the stairs. I'll be up there if you, um, need me for anything. You nod in understanding and she grabs the covers again with her teeth to tuck you in. "You didn't have to do that." You smile. She pets you for a few moments, running her hoof over your head with the utmost care before heading to bed herself. But I wanted to.

Chapter 4

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KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

You slowly open your eyes, disturbed from your sleep. For a moment, you're confused, finding yourself in an oversized pet cot, but as you look around the cottage and see the beautiful birdhouses everywhere, memories of the sweet pink-maned horse return and you smile to yourself briefly. Even in your thoughts, she is cute as a button.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!

Oh, yeah. That. "Alright, I'm coming!" You grumble, and stand up, flexing to get the sleep out of your bones before locating your pants from the floor. "Don't get your knickers in a twist..."

You pull the door open to find a little cross-eyed grey pegasus mare carrying a mailbag. She looks up to you and promptly drops the letter from her mouth in shock. You give her a friendly, unthreatening, non-evil monster from outer space smile. In other words, a terrifying, threatening, evil monster from outer space grin. "You know, you guys really are too adorable for your own good." You say, watching the slightly crazed-looking horse blink hard several times and rub her eyes to see if they were working properly.

As you move to pick up the letter, one of her golden eyes focuses on your fingers and she gasps, making you stop just as you got ahold of the letter. A slightly cold snout pokes against your digits, cautiously testing their flexibility. You respond by booping the curious horse right on the nose and throwing the letter on a small table next to a vase. She sneezes and rubs her hoof over her nose to get rid of the itchy sensation. Loving her childlike fascination with you, you wiggle your fingers in front of her and run them over her head, making her shiver and giggle. The mare pulls a muffin out of her pocket and, removing the wrapper, tosses it playfully at your mouth. To your immense satisfaction, you are able to catch it between your teeth. Taking a huge bite out of the delightful treat, you shout "HELL YEA!" to nobody in particular and thump your chest. It's goofy, but who cares, you fucking owned that muffin. In front of a horse lady, no less.

Still, she's got a job to do, so she waves you goodbye and flies off on a really skewed-looking trajectory. Desperately hoping that she won't crash into anything, you shrug and close the door before finishing off the muffin.


The first thing you notice, as you take in your surroundings, is the kitchen side of the house. It's stocked with the same kind of equipment you'd see at home, right down to the tools. It strikes you as quite peculiar that none of the tools are differently designed to fit horse hooves, but rather depend on magic so they could use them properly. Same goes for the knobs and dials that control the oven and stove.

To your delight, a single plate has been set on the kitchen table, with a delicious-looking slice of red, juicy salmon cooked to perfection. It's cold, of course, but you decide to gobble it up regardless. You're slightly worried that the plate isn't meant for you, but decide to put those thoughts aside as your hunger pains dissipate. Afterwards, you go through the extra effort of cleaning up the dishes. You're not usually very tidy, but you don't want to put your lovely host through any trouble on your part. There was a note left next to the plate, but like all the other 'text' in Horseville, it's just straight lines without any pattern that you can decipher.

As time passes by, boredom settles in. You'd love to spend some more time with Sweetheart, but she's out and about somewhere and you can't indulge in reading. You wander through the cottage and notice the incredible effort that went into making all the pet accessories around - even little stairs for mice to reach the upper floor. It seems that you were handed over to Horseville's equivalent of a cat lady to take care of. On the 2nd floor, you find Sweetheart's bedroom, which is as girly as one could imagine from seeing her - not exactly doused in pink, but still very frilly and hearts-y. You don't linger here for long, but notice several photographs of Sweetheart surrounded by five other mares, including the resident mad scientist Lavender Lady and your fruit-fetishising farmer friend Apple Buttocks. "What's the connection?" You ponder out loud. "Some kind of a club?"

Eventually, even playing with her incredibly well domesticated mice and birds grows wearisome and you decide it's best not to waste the sunlight and go out for a walk, maybe back to the forest where you woke up. After all, you'd been disoriented and confused when you first arrived - maybe you missed some clues? You grab your black jumper from the pet bed and leave it on a hanger attached to the door, hoping that if Sweetheart returns before you, she'll realise you've not vanished for good. As you pull the door open to go outside, however, you find that your feet are being restricted by a particularly angry-looking bunny rabbit, who emphatically points towards the interior of the house. Wait... he's not...

To test the creature's intelligence, you point to yourself and making a walking motion with your two fingers. And he shakes his head. Oh God, that thing can think! Is there anything that can't think?! Is the grass alive... as in alive alive? You shake your head and take another step out side, only for the rabbit to lose his temper and bite into you. "Ow! Goddammit, get off of me! I'm going to the forest, I'll be back later! Jesus!" You grumble and shake your foot to toss the bunny back into the house. He is a persistent foe, however, and grips back onto your foot with a death grip.

"Fine, you wanna come with me?" You snarl and extract him from your foot, trying to hold back a snort as the little thing tries to punch you in the face despite his limited reach. "Look pal, you and I both know you're not gonna stop me from leaving. So either you chill out or I'll leave you behind a closed door." For a moment, you feel as if you can actually see the gears turning in the bunny's head as he looks into the distance, but then he grabs ahold of one of his little ears and waves it around in an imitation of a white flag. "Right."

You close Sweetheart's door behind you and place the bunny on your right shoulder. "I'm glad we had this tal-OWWWWW!" You scream as the bunny bites down on your ear, hard, for just a second. You turn your head angrily and point a finger at the bunny. "You white-flagged me! White flag is sacred!" The bunny merely snorted and looked away in a huff, waving towards the forest with his paw. Get us moving already, if you must.

"Son of a-"

Chapter 5

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You smile as the dirt path you're on leads you past the apple farm. Since you're no longer busy running or worried for your life, you take the time to gaze at the fields properly, admiring the vast expanse of healthy, strong apple trees, line after line of them, with luscious fruit growing on all. "Sweet." You murmur. It's unfortunate that your path takes you away from the gate and into the wilder-looking part of the countryside. Nevertheless, your smile stays on. You feel like a man on a mission. It's an incredibly small step towards getting you home, but it's a step nonetheless and just knowing that makes you feel better.

As you brush past the overgrown foliage, you decide to make some chit-chat and turn your head slightly towards your right shoulder. "So what's your story? I mean, somehow I doubt bunnies are as hard to find as humans are around here. So how come you're living with our beautiful host?"

The bunny makes a heart symbol with his paws. "You're in love with her?" You shrug. "Sounds complicated." Suddenly, you stop and pick the bunny off of your shoulder, looking him straight into the eyes. The bunny looks back awkwardly, slightly creeped out by the attention. "You understood me. I... I said something and you understood me. How does that work?"

You raise an eyebrow as the bunny starts to flippantly wave its paws around. "What does that mean?" The bunny puts one hind paw over the other in imitation of a human in deep thought and rests his elbow on his knee, tapping the other paw against his cheek. His eyes widened, and you could swear an invisible light bulb turned on over his head. The bunny starts to frantically point at his forehead and make rubbing motions. You squint, the lewd motion reminding you now of... "Horn... magic?" The bunny claps.

"Magic, great..." Thinking of Lavender Lady, you remember her trying to soothe her horn after the headache that performing magic on your phone caused. "But I don't have any. In fact, I think I'm pretty much immune to magic." You sigh. The bunny points at himself and then to you. "Me... you? I don't understand." The bunny repeats the motion and then points to his forehead before shaking it. "You... me... horn... no. No magic. That's it, that's key, isn't it?!" The two of you both grin as understanding is achieved. "You aren't magical either, or at the very least, you're closer to me than they are!" You cheer loudly, only to stop when you hear distant shouting.

Frowning, you turn around and spot two little horses galloping towards you from between the trees in the distance. Though it's hard to tell, you think one of them is the farm filly you encountered yesterday. But what could they want with- OOMPH!

You collapse as a big orange furry thing crashes into you, and trip on some metal pipe to boot, landing facefirst in dirt. As you moan and push yourself into a sitting position, you find your arms full of orange fur, namely that of another filly, whose head is protected by a bike helmet, which she then promptly discards, releasing an unruly quiff of light purple. The little rascal starts gently rubbing at your scrapes with her hooves, brushing off the dirt and avoiding your gaze in obvious embarrassment. The bunny(who'd fallen off of your shoulder in the crash) growls and spitefully hits the little horse on the hoof with his hindpaw, though it has no effect. "Hey, play nice!" You bark. "I'm sure it was an accident."

The bunny crosses his paws and huffs. You got the impression that he did this a lot.

By that point, the other two fillies finally made it. You were right: one of them was the little apple farm filly. The other had a delightfully snow white color and a curly two-toned mane, taffy in color. All three of them help to push you to your feet. The white filly also moves to pet the bunny, but he points his tongue at her instead and quickly runs up your leg and back to your right shoulder. Irritated at his behaviour, you flick his nose, making the little bunny yelp. "Chill out, or I'll stuff you in my pocket."

As you turn back to the three fillies, you see them neigh at each other nervously and point at you, clearly having some kind of a discussion. Finally, the apple filly steps forward and points back to the road where you came from, and then frantically waves her hoof in a "follow me!" motion before trotting off. Without warning, the other two bite down on your pants with their teeth and start aggressively dragging you back towards the farm and out of the forest. "Whoa-whoa-whoa, girls, what is this about? Hey!" Even the bunny joins in by pushing the back of your head to get his point across. "Ow! Jesus! This better be good."

Suddenly, a roar interrupts all of you, and the fillies quietly release your trousers as several shadows loom over them. Gulping, you turn around to face a surreal sight: a wolf built out of deadwood, yet still very much alive and not on any strings that you can see. As it snarls at you and the two fillies left beside you, you see its sharp, splintery teeth.

Pockets!

You pat your pockets and pull out your set of keys, dangling them in front of the creature. "Come get your nom-nom..." you mutter and try not to hyperventilate. In a desperate move, you throw the keys at the wolf, who snatches them in his mouth. Though irises are absent from his eyes, you can still make out a shocked expression on his face moments later, and the wolf starts to claw at his throat desperately, making coughing sounds. As it's distracted by its choking, you grab the orange filly's scooter and start pounding away at the wolf until it crumbles into a pile of broken branches.


Fortunately, it didn't take too long for Apple Buttocks and... erm, Mr. Buttocks(the red stallion) to find you, having been alerted by the little farm filly you assumed was their daughter. The other two fillies slipped out from your grasp and ran to them. You smile with fondness as you watch Apple Buttocks nuzzle them both and comfort the two obviously distraught girls and OOMPH!

For the second time today, you hit the ground from a strong punch to the chest, and this one actually kicks your breath out of you. Gasping for air, you see the red stallion loom over you with murder in his eyes. You try desperately to get up, but your body's still recovering from the hoof to the lungs and doesn't obey you. He raises his hoof again and all you can do is cover yourself with your hand. You close your eyes, ready to get the snot beaten of you.

Two sharp whinnies interrupts the stallion however, and you open your eyes to find that both the white and orange fillies have come to your defence, standing in front of the stallion defiantly and wildly gesticulating and making noise. After a few short minutes, the stallion backs off and you breathe a sigh of relief. Scooter and Snowy both nuzzle and pet your hair softly and you give them a bear hug, ignoring the stallion's twitching at the sight. Still, you're not one to push your luck so you put the two fillies down quickly and start heading back to Sweetheart's cottage, deciding that you've had enough adventures for one day.

Scooter and Snowy run ahead of you, however and block your path by grabbing onto your pants again and pulling you towards the farm instead. Not eager for another fight, you comply and let the fillies lead you through the gate and down into the middle of an apple grove, where a rickety treehouse rests on a particularly large tree. Inside, you find exactly what you'd expect to find from any treehouse - a couple of wooden boxes for chairs, a few pictures on the walls, even a chest of drawers filled with all kinds of junk. You are impressed by the lantern hanging from a rope in the middle of the house, however, as well as the pretty pink curtains on the windows. Heck, the windows even had glass put in, presumably the contribution of the older farmers.

You spent the rest of the day there, playing tag, hide and seek and some other games that you didn't really understand due to the lack of communication, but enjoyed nonetheless just because they did. Like Lavender Lady, they seemed curious about your physiology, and after donning identical crimson capes with a blue sigil awkwardly stitched in, they spent at least an hour fussing around with you, albeit more like girls than actual scientist. This fussing included - attempting to apply make-up on you(you responded by showing them your canines), trying to get you to speak horse, trying to paint pictures of you, trying to mimic your bipedal manner of walking and most amusingly of all, getting a piggyback ride much like humans would ride on ponies.

It was during this last game that you garnered some insight into their personalities - the white one you dubbed Snowy seemed fairly delicate, and loved it when you gave her ear scritches or played with her mane. On the contrary, Buttocks Jr played rough and enjoyed arm- er, hoof wrestling and chases. Your personal favourite, however, was Scooter's reaction when you tried to get her to fly. At first, you'd tried miming the movement of wings with your hands, but when that brought no results, you picked up the orange filly and raised her above yourself whilst holding onto her barrel and then started to walk around and wave her about, imitating flight as best as possible. Soon enough, the filly began to squeal in delight and her little wings buzzed like a bumblebee's so you let go, thinking she was ready to fly.

Turns out, however, that apparently she's not ready for that, though you were able to catch her just in time and patted her awkwardly, hoping she'd forgive you for that. The forgiveness apparently came 5 seconds in, as she immediately raised her hooves up and non-verbally demanded to be picked up again. So you did, and took her outside to minimise the chances of her getting hurt. There, the game continued until suddenly, Scooter disappeared from your hands in a blue flash. "Huh?" You mumble and look around. Something pokes the back of your neck. You turn around only to see empty air and the giggling faces of the other two fillies. Poke. You dash around, but still nothing other than apple trees.

Finally, a poke to the very top of your head. Okay now, seriously, what the hell? Rolling your eyes, you look up only to feel something squiggling between your legs, pushing up so that the ground falls away from you. At breakneck speed. You scream like a little girl and give the only thing between you and at least a kilometer of air the deathgrip. And then stare in immense shock as you realise you're holding onto multicoloured hairs on the back of a baby blue pegasus. Flying at what feels like supersonic speed.

The flight ends... mid-air, as the two of you drop down towards the earth like pebbles off a cliff and you're forced to squeeze your legs tight around the sides of the crazy flying horse to prevent being carried away by the wind. Oh God please, I don't wanna die, I don't wanna die, I don't wanna die... I am gonna die.

At the last second, the pegasus remembers to open her wings again, using them as a parachute to land softly. Softly being relative as you still crash into the greenery of a tree and then get to enjoy your body being scraped by the branches from at least 50 places. But hey, you didn't splatter. Finally, you end up falling into a soft, pink bed and stay there for a while, shivering. When you finally dare to open your eyes, you see the blue pegasus gazing at you smugly from the other side of the bed, her head supported on one hoof whilst the other hoof rests on her hip. The kind of pose that just says: Yeah, I'm pretty awesome, I know.

Fortunately, Daredevil's high-and-mighty attitude is quickly flushed down the toilet when Sweetheart walks in the door, blinking at the hole in her roof. You make an O-face as you realise that the blue pegasus dragged you back home and sit up, waiting for the two flying horses to finish chatting. Suddenly, the blue pegasus disappears into a rainbow blur that speeds out of the same hole she made coming in.

"Shit... the Flash has nothing on that."

Your heart sinks when Sweetheart turns towards you, her eyes full of disapproval and sadness. Yeaaah, she heard about what happened to us in the woods and- oh, wait... where's that snippy bunny?!

For a moment, you tense up, but then you feel something weakly tapping against your back inside your shirt and you pull it out of your trousers, letting the frazzled bunny drop out, his eyes glazed and his walk similar to that of a drunkard's. You look back at Sweetheart. "Errr, sorry?"

The yellow pegasus closes her eyes and takes a breath before pointing down the stairs with her hoof. I really hate to do this, but um, I think it would be for the best, if you took, um, a time-out? I mean, if you think so too.

You slump and walk out of the bedroom, feeling terrible. Still worn out from Daredevil's flight, you collapse onto your pet cot and decide to take a nap. Sweetheart carries her bunny to the kitchen counter and fixes him a fancy salad topped with a cherry. She also fixes you a few toasted cheese sandwiches with tomatoes and carrots for dinner. No juicy salmon this time. After finishing dinner and stopping her from washing any of the dishes, night falls and you head off to brush your teeth whilst Sweetheart slowly blows out all the candles. Once she's done, you feel her poke at your backside. You turn around and kneel in front of the little horse, who takes a bottle of antiseptic and a towel. She then puts her hoof into your hand and gives you a cautious look. This will hurt a bit, but it's okay. Trust me?

You nod and let her clean your scratches up. Personally, although there's many of them, you don't think there's anything worth this kind of treatment(none of them bleed ferociously, after all), but you let Sweetheart do what Sweetheart does. You especially enjoy the loving kisses she puts on the tiniest scrape before putting a plaster on them.

Finally, you're all patched up and you hug your wonderful caretaker. "Sweetheart? I know you can't understand me, but I have to go back to that forest. It's my best chance at finding a way home."

Sweetheart lets out a melancholy whinny, and hides her expression behind her pink mane.

Chapter 6

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"Tsk-tsk-tsk..."

You rub your increasingly irritating stubble in thought as you look in the bathroom mirror. A week has passed since the incident in the forest and you've stayed close to Sweetheart since then to avoid upsetting her again, and also to get a better grip on your environment. Not that you had much choice - you suspect that Lavender Lady ordered her to keep an eye on you, as she's become rather glued to your hip and makes sure that either you follow her whereever she goes(usually the market, the library or just outside to tend to animals) or follow a set path whenever you feel like visiting the town on your own. With her tagging along, of course.

This doesn't bother you that much - after all, you are new and there's still plenty to see even with restraint - but you are starting to ponder over how you're going to deal with living here for the longterm. For starters, you're quickly growing bored of washing your clothes every two days, so learning how to sew clothes will probably be in your immediate future. Not to mention finding or creating a razor blade. And the sooner, the better.

You leave the bathroom and return to your cot in the corner of the room. Behind the cot, you pick up a small burlap sack that formerly housed seeds for Sweetheart's birds and now contains all of your few belongings, namely your wallet and jumper as well as a small coverless notebook with a pencil that Lavender Lady happily donated to you. Removing the pencil from between the metal rings, you start writing:

TO-DO LIST

*Get Scooter a new scooter.

*Return to forest for new clues.

*Breach linguistic barrier.

*Find a job(?)

*Check Lavi to make sure phone is intact

Of all of these tasks, by far the most problematic is your continued inability to talk to the ponies. Lavender had tried a pictographic approach with you, associating images with words, but since all the horse words looked like identical lines to you, no real progress was made. You had pointed this out to your bunny friend, and he affirmed your theory that the magic horse language was based on, well, magic and hence only magical creatures could read it. And vice versa, not only were your clothes and yourself immune to magic, but your words as well, making it impossible for them to learn.

No language, no easy way to get a job. No job, no money. No money, no tools. No tools... nothing. You are just stuck, without a clue as to how seriously the magic folks are taking your dilemma.

Poke poke!

But there is always a bright side, you think as you kneel down in front of Sweetheart, whose tiny little snout is curled upwards in a smile. She steps closer to you and brushes her cheek against yours, rubbing it up and down. Nuzzles. You didn't have those in your world and now you wonder how you'd ever survived without them. Wrapping your arms around the petite mare, you draw her into a deep hug, running your fingers through her short yellow fur. Your horse friend cooes at the sensation. "Yeah, I know. Fingers are swell."

Fortunately for you, it seems that despite their increased intelligence, the horses of Horseylvania or whereever the heck you are still retain some animalistic qualities, expressing fondness through physical contact. Which is lucky - you don't think you'd be able to resist giving the adorable little creatures ear scritches even if you tried.

You pull away from Sweetheart and look into her caring, compassionate, open eyes. She has no idea who or what you were, but you are a friend and that is all she needed to know. Your heart swells as you sense her unbiased affection towards you. "What did I ever do to deserve you, you little cutie?" You say and tickle Sweetheart's nose. She scronches her face and pushes you away playfully before unexpectedly taking flight. The pegasus hovers around you and before you can turn, latches herself onto your back by wrapping her hooves around your chest and starts tickling the back of your neck with her cold nose. "Aaaaaah! Okay, okay, stop!" You laugh and run around the cottage, trying to rid yourself of the giddy sensation in vain until the two of you land on the green sofa. You raise your hands in surrender as she finally releases her hold over you and crosses her front hooves smugly.

"I submit to Queen Sweetheart of Wonderland, long may she reign." You say and kowtow in over-the-top fashion. The little horse presents her hoof and you kiss it with a loud smacking noise. The two of you exchange glances and burst into raucous laughter together, collapsing onto the sofa. Suddenly, you feel a pressure on your head and fumble at your hair, pulling out a white bunny. "Heeey, Mini-Me, how ya doing?" You exclaim. "You wanna smooch the Queen too?" The little bunny turns red as a tomato and starts desperately wiggling to get out of your grip. "Relax, I'm just kidding."

You place the bunny in Sweetheart's lap and leave her to play peekaboo with him while you prepare dinner, thanking the heavens that the horses are vegetarians and not too difficult to prepare food for. As such, your fingers and her instructions have led you to becoming quite adept at preparing a variety of salads and other dishes for the many pets hanging around the cottage, one small way of paying back your stay here.


As darkness sets in, you settle down into your cot and drape the covers over your shoulders. With little in the way of entertainment value and no electricity, you've gotten into the habit of going to bed early. This evening, however, Sweetheart rouses you from your slumber and you notice she's holding a lit lantern with her teeth. She wants you to go somewhere with her.

Yawning, you put your clothes back on and follow the little horse into the cold darkness outside. Sweetheart takes you to the apple farm, but instead of going through the gate or heading right towards the forest, she heads left, towards a number of hills overlooking the whole town. Up there, underneath a pine tree, the two of you find an adult male deer, lying on the ground and unmoving. "Ah, shit." You groan, the instinctive wrongness of the situation rubbing you the wrong way. Fortunately for you, your caretaker's clearly got more experience in medical care than you do, as she immediately checks to see if the deer is breathing and then rests a hoof on his forehead.

The pegasus nods once to herself and then motions you to come closer before pointing at the deer, then at you and then back the way you came. "Y-you want me to carry him?" You say, pointing at the deer and then at your own shoulders. Your words don't reach Sweetheart, but your question does and she nods, picking up the lantern with her teeth again.

"Ohhh-kay, let's see..." you mutter to yourself, awkwardly wrapping the deer's legs around your shoulders and praying that you don't screw around with his insides or something. "Here we go, OHHH that's heavy, agh!" Mental note: get some exercise soon.

With herculean effort, you force yourself up and start trudging after Sweetheart. Though it feels like hours to your bony shoulders, you make it back to the cottage soon enough and lay the deer down onto your pet cot, where Sweetheart immediately starts tending to it with help from her bunny. From what you can gather, the deer had a fever or something of the kind, as she forces him to take some sort of liquid and then makes a cold compress for him. You scowl, upset at your inability to help her in any way. "Fucking useless..." You mumble under your teeth. Even the bunny knows more about medicine than you do... and can understand his owner.

You open the door and step outside to vent your frustrations, drawing in a deep breath of the icy midnight air. It's a gorgeous night - the galaxy shines above your head. However, you were never any good at recognising constellations - it was all a big pile of dots to you. Some of the stars shine so bright that you can't even decide which one of them's the North Star. "Arrrgh, for all I know, I could be in the Pegasus galaxy." You snort at your own lame joke.

A shooting star streaks across the sky, so fast that you're not even sure if it was real or not. But you decide to believe it was. "I wish..."

that I could go home.

"... that I could talk to them."

Chapter 7

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One morning, your blissful date with Morpheus is cut short by a tickling, soft sensation on your neck. Grumbling, and with your eyes still closed, you throw your arm in the general direction of the villanous dream interruptor and end up holding something silky. Your mind now intrigued, you force your one eye to open and you see a yellow and pink blur waving her hoof at your direction, and hear the soft cooing voice trademarked by your best friend. "Ohh no. It's way too early." You say and pull the covers back on yourself.

Not five seconds pass before you feel guilty enough to push the covers off again. You let out a huge yawn and rub your eyes until your vision clears enough for you to be able to look out of the window and realise it's only dawn. "Let me rephrase that: it's way, way, waaaaaay too early. What do you want, Sweetheart?" You know that if this was some emergency like the deer case a couple weeks ago, she would've gotten her bunny to wake you up - probably with a water can, if the maniacal laughter wouldn't tip you off already.

Sweetheart's nervous hopping in place alerts you that she wants to do something with you, but as usual, is too anxious to make you hurry up on your own. So, you head to the bathroom and wake yourself up by splashing some water to your face before dressing up properly in the same-old denim pants and the slightly torn and holey black jumper(the result of living in a rural area full of happy-go-lucky horses who all pull at you with their teeth if they want something).

"Alrighty, what's up?" You ask Sweetheart, tapping your hands against your pockets to show you're waiting for her to make the next move. She gives you that wonderful Mona Lisa smile she always does and leads you out of the door and into town.


As the two of you pass through the town square and try to return everyone's friendly smiles, you find yourself feeling very thankful to Horsetown for taking you in the way they have. Even with warning from Lavender Lady(and you aren't even sure how strong her authority is, given her... Dr. Frankensteinyness), you are surprised that they've accepted you seemingly without issue or prejudice. Clearly you are something that nobody around here had ever seen before, yet nearly everyone you interact with treats you not just with formal politeness, but genuine warmth. It is very different from what you were used to back on Earth, but you love it.

Observing the interactions of the horses on your daily walks(another huge change - back on Earth you'd never bother to go out), you notice that this isn't an isolated phenomenon - every sale at every stand takes at least a minute due to the following ritual - first, a wave of recognition from both customer and saleshorse. Then some chit-chat, some haggling over the prices, finally an exchange of goods and an exuberant farewell. Rinse and repeat with every single horse. It was enough to make a man feel guilty about ever going home! No wonder Sweetheart is so nervous about interacting with others. You feel almost lucky you don't understand them, as it gives you an excuse to wander off whenever you feel like it and not worry over whether or not you are being friendly enough in return.

Finally, the two of you stop in front of what looked like a gigantic pink circus tent with gold frills, but is clearly some kind of fancy store. "Sweet architecture." You comment to yourself. "This better be the greatest store in the galaxy..." Feeling Sweetheart's snout poke at your back, you walk in and find yourself bedazzled by the finery. The place is draped in the most expensive magenta curtains and wallpaper. Mirrors with pure gold frames hang on the walls. Clothes of every color of the rainbow and then some hang everywhere. And in the center of it all, a goddamn supermodel of a unicorn. She has fur as white as the prettiest cloud on a summer day, a majestic violet mane that cascades down her back and curls up on her right side, gorgeous lashes that demand your attention on her lidded eyes and confident smirk that only carry one message: Got you, darling.

Yes. Yes you did. Ohmergahd, I'm in love. So much love.

Both her and Sweetheart giggle at your obvious infatuation with the Goddess(she of course lets out a dainty, well-mannered titter behind her hoof) in front of you and exchange a couple of neighs. Using her magic, she levitates a nearby cardboard box over to you and motions for you to open it. Inside are neatly folded clothes - several wool trousers(black, lime green and maroon), matching cardigans, T-shirts, even underpants. Even a tuxedo! But by far your favourite article of clothing is a large black cape with blood-red lining and a silver chain that could hook it over your chest. In short, a legit Count Dracula getup. Briefly, you wonder how these clothes could've come into being, but then you remember Lavender Lady measuring you from every angle imaginable on your first day here. You grin widely and turn to the Goddess of a seamstress. "Did you make all of this... for me?" You ask, pointing at the clothes and yourself uncertainly. How much did all of this cost?

The unicorn repeats your motions affirmatively. You turn to Sweetheart, your jaw slack and pull out one of their bits from your pocket that you'd found on the street. Holding the bit up, you shake your head, your jaw slacking. The pegasus, catching your drift, pulls your hand down with her hoof. Oh, I didn't have to pay. She, um, she very much wanted to make those clothes for you.

At the very least, the seamstress has the decency to look bashful. So bashful in fact, that you totally forget about your moral outrage and grab all the clothes out of fear that she'd break down sobbing. "Hey, hey, look, I love 'em, see? They're awesome! I especially dig the cape. Please chill." The Goddess immediately perks up and blinks away her unused arsenal of crocodile tears. "Oh..." you mouth as the unicorn neighs a little and an overburdened little reptile comes into the room dragging a room divider. Is that guy just everyone's butler? You find yourself wondering.

The room divider is set up in front of you and the Goddess levitates the tuxedo and cape for you to try on. Well, you can't say you're not curious. You change as quickly as possible and step out from behind the divider to look at yourself from the mirror. The two horses clap behind you, clearly pleased with your appereance. You don't think it's perfect - not the clothes, but your own appereance - it really is time for a haircut and that beard needs to go. But the work this horse has done not only on figuring out the human style of formal clothing, but putting it all together so perfectly, especially for a creature who doesn't regularly wear clothes - is impeccable.

You flex your fingers towards the mirror, holding the side of the cape with your other hand to reveal the velvety red underneath and adopt your best Bela Lugosi accent. "Lizten to theeem... the chiiildren of da night! Whuat music they make!" Turning to the horses, you see they haven't been admiring your terrible acting skills at all, but have their snouts pressed against the window. "What's going on?" You ask and look out of another, only to gulp at the sight outside.

An entire squadron of grey and white armored horses with Roman-style helmets surround the store, all with their spears pointing forwards. None of them move a muscle, simply waiting. Sweetheart trots over to you and motions for you to go outside before nuzzling your chest to assure you of your safety. You release a heavy breath and pull the doors of the clothes store open. If I'm gonna die, at least I'll die looking kick-ass.

One of the horses, a unicorn, places his spear on the withers of a fellow guard and approaches you with a set of golden handcuffs levitating behind him. You feel Sweetheart's barrel rubbing against you and look down to see her giving the guards the evil eye. A large carriage dragged by pegasus guards lands behind the squadron and they make way to allow you and Sweetheart to get to it, their spears constantly on standby to poke out your liver.


Five hours later, you find yourself approaching a fairytale castle overlooking a mountainside city. The trip here was fairly uneventful aside from the awesomeness of being driven around in an airborne carriage. At least you got a better idea of what the world that you were in now was actually like. In a word, it was like a dream. Snow-capped mountains, colorful waterfalls, bright green valleys and hills. Judging from the pegasi that flew about moving clouds around and the regular horses you'd seen managing the grounds back in the town you lived in, they were all very OCD about their environment. Everything here is ordered with magic. The idea makes you a little uneasy.

The guards escort you and Sweetheart into the vast grounds of the castle, no doubt the centre of the kingdom, where your gaze passes over the many waterfalls and neatly trimmed lawns to focus on a bizarre statue. A bipedal creature composed of random animal parts, frozen in shock. An expression of the horses' suppression of chaos? Whatever it is, you like it. It certainly beats all the other bland statues of various historical figures that pepper the rest of the garden.

The castle interior, you suspect, was designed to overwhelm the peasants. Everything is BIG, every hallway, every door, every stained glass window, every staircase is gigantic.

Finally, you are waiting in front of a pair of grey doors. They look like any other set of doors in the castle, but you know this is the one as the guards take up positions on either side and the rest move behind you, forcing you forward with their spears. The guards on the side open the doors for you and close them as soon as you are inside. It is just you and Sweetheart now, standing on an impossibly long stretch of red carpet that leads to the red oval throne that seems kilometres away. Crossing your fingers behind your back, you start walking forwards so fast that Sweetheart has to trot fast on her shorter legs to keep up with you.

On the throne is a white horse - a PROPER horse, not the little ones you've come to know and care for. Unlike anyone else you've seen, she has both a horn and wings, making her a unisus(?)... a pegacorn(?)... a big deal, basically. The horse has a huge mane of cool colors - pink, two shades of light blue and emerald green. But the most spectacular aspect of her mane is the way it drifts around as if a little fan was hidden somewhere beneath it. Oh heck, it's the Horse Queen. Saddlebag the First. You force down a snicker in front of her Majesty Saddlebag, First of her name. And probably last. Shut up, brain.

The horse queen looks at you with a kindly expression, laced with curiosity. You appear as odd to her as she does to you. Sweetheart walks ahead of you and kowtows before the queen. You give a dignified bow. The two exchange gentle neighs. Unable to follow their conversation, you grow bored fairly quickly and start pulling on your handcuffs noisily. This renews the horse queen's attention and she unlocks the cuffs with her magic. You rub your wrist and bow again to show your gratitude. The horses then resume conversation, leaving you to awkwardly hold the golden handcuffs.

You wander away from the horses and instead look around the throne room, noting the historical events depicted on the stained window glass. One of them contains a colorless illustration of the same Frankenstein's Monster creature you'd seen in the garden. Probably some mythological devil then. Straying the horses away from their ordered lives...? Another thing you noticed was the recurring images of the sun and the moon. The two things they can't control? You assume. In one of them, there were also two ponies underneath the images, one of them appearing to be an exact replica of ol' Saddlebag. The other being a blue-maned horse with dark fur, and also both a horn and wings. That the King? You can't make out its gender on the glass.

Looking back on the painting of the bizarro creature, you notice the white and blue horses flying around him(the drawings are stylised, hence you hadn't realised what they were until now), attacking the monster with blasts from their horns. Two forces of order... restraining the disorder of nature.

The clopping of hooves behind you interrupts your thought process and you find yourself face to face with the blue horse you'd just been thinking about. To your surprise, she is not a male, but instead a strikingly beautiful mare - the paintings weren't kidding, she really did seem like the night sky come to life. Her fur and blue reminded you of the night's dark canvas, with twinkling stars dotted around her mane that waved just like the first Queen's. "Wow." You gasp. "You're beautiful, err... your Majesty." Suddenly remembering that you're in front of royalty, you squeeze in a late bow. The night Queen snickers, and places her hoof underneath your jaw to get a better look at your face.

Her crystal blue eyes force your attention and induce a sudden exhaustion into you. The last thing you feel is your legs giving up on you as you collapse onto the floor in front of the mare and into a deep slumber.

"Argh!" You gasp as sharp pain goes through your forehead, immediately cutting through your sleep. You see flashes of the blue mare despite your eyes being shut, and every time you do is accompanied by further pain. "Stop it! It hurts!" You try to shout, but you feel disconnected from your body. Sleep paralysis. You've had it before, when your mind becomes aware a few seconds before your body realises you're awake. Bile starts gathering in your throat as the flashes become unbearable, until finally, your eyes snap open and you find yourself gasping for air on the floor of the throne room. Sweetheart hovers over you, tears running down her face and letting out a loud whinny at the Queens.

Soon enough, a couple of nurse horses arrive and put you on a stretcher, but before you're taken away, you catch a glimpse of the night Queen, who stares at you with an apologetic, remorseful look in her eyes.

"Luna...?" You mumble.

Chapter 8

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You wake up with a pounding headache, so much so that for the first few minutes, you don't even bother opening your eyes, feeling as if even the slightest stimulus will cause nausea. Something is removed from your forehead, leaving it slightly cooler than before. A moment later, a cold, wet compress is placed back. "Thanks." You murmur at whoever's responsible and finally open your eyes, your discomfort slightly lessened. Sweetheart's peering down at you with her huge watery cyan eyes. She stares down at you firmly, in a mixture of concern and dedication. You've seen it before - it's the look she always has whenever she's fussing over one of the hurt animals.

Oh yeah...

As you watch the yellow pegasus move back to her chair and pick up the book she left on the bedstand, you feel an urge to connect with her. It's been a few weeks now since you had a real conversation and after a terrifying incident such as this, you can't help, but ache for reassurance from someone friendly, someone you trust, that things are gonna be okay. "Sweetheart?"

The pink-maned mare glances briefly at you over her book in mild curiosity before returning to her reading.

"I want you to understand me... no, scratch that... I want to understand you. I want to thank you, and I want to help you and I really want... I really want you to know... how much it means to me that you took me in. Alien from another world, just like that... supper at eight, borrow my toothbrush, make yourself at home. I wish I could tell you so many things, things that would..." your thoughts briefly drift to your home world, which now seems miserable and grey and purposeless in comparison to the friendly fantasyland full of surprises that you've come to inhabit. "... eh, maybe not. But it's just... I'm stuck." A feeling of anger envelops you. "I could start over, I could have an all-new life here, but I just don't understand anything!" You growl. Sweetheart, noticing your frustration, puts the book away and flutters onto the bed next to you, trying to calm you down with cooing noises. You know they mean something, but hearing her say more gibberish to you just increases your fury.

What if you'll never know her at all?

You turn your back on the pegasus and curl up into a ball, tossing the compress away. Your head starts hurting again, but you're so upset that you don't care, really. You feel Sweetheart pawing at your back with her hooves. Probably thinks I just have a really nasty headache. You think bitterly. Or maybe I haven't eaten my daily amount of protein! You roll your eyes, only to stop when you see a wooden box sitting on a nearby shelf amongst some disused toy cars and magazines for the patients. The box is scruffy and scratched, locked with a metal latch. But what catches your attention are the black and white rectangles painted onto the box. You push the covers aside and try to move out of the bed to reach for the box, only to feel the pegasus mare's hooves reaching around your chest. Still looking away, you tear the hooves away in one fast motion, causing her to fall off of you and grab the box off of the shelf. Cradling it like treasure, you place it on the bed, unlatch it and open the box.

You gasp and gently pick up a carved white knight from amongst the many pieces in the chessboard, giggling to yourself like a madman. Chess! Chess! Chess of all things is here with you! "Well... you're not a person, but I'll fucking take you." You laugh and turn towards the pegasus. "Sweetheart, do you-?" You drop the knight as you finally look at her.

Sweetheart's eyes gleam of tears, which drop down just as you move closer to her, leaving dark trails underneath the orbs. Her little nose sniffles, her bottom lip quivers and she is shaking all over. But worst of all is that the yellow pegasus absolutely refuses to make eye contact with you, instead focusing on a nearby pillow with such intensity that you're surprised it doesn't spontaneously combust. You're hit with such a powerful wave of guilt that your throat feels constricted. How could you possibly doubt your tiny caretaker's ability to sense what you're going through? She might not speak your language, but friendship is more than words to you, it's a bond of trust. She took you into her own home, made herself vulnerable to you, and looks after you. And though you've not known her for long, she has not done a single thing to make you question that trust.

You wrap your arms around the hurt mare and try to calm her by petting her head and running your fingers through her pink mane. "I'm sorry, I promise I'll never do that again... shhh..."

Her right ear flops repeatedly against your chin and you scratch the base of it, eliciting an involuntary giggle out of the pegasus. "It's okay..." You say. "I hope you forgive me."

The two of you stay like that for a while, and Sweetheart nuzzles you under your chin insistently to drive the point home. The fact that being able to help you means so much to her grips your heart and you tighten your hold on the impossibly kind mare. She'd probably do this for anyone, but that doesn't make it any less special to you, because the way you see it, everyone is special to her.

Finally, sensing that she's as relaxed as you are now, you let go and present the mare with the chessboard. She doesn't seem surprised that you're aware of the game. Or if she does, she doesn't show it. Instead, she shakes her head, pointedly closes the board, latches it and puts it aside on the bedstand before jumping off the bed and grabbing the covers with her teeth, just like the night you got here. Apparently you still needed rest and she was gonna make damn sure you got every second of it.

You surrender and let her place the covers right over your shoulders, rubbing her snout against your cheek one last time before the lights dim. After she's gone, you try to fall back asleep, but you've never been one to just drop into it. You look around drowsily and notice your new trousers on a plastic chair to your right, alongside your fancy tux and Dracula cape. Searching through the pockets, you pull out your notepad and add *Return favors to Goddess, Sweetheart and bunny(extra carrots?).

You skip ahead a couple of pages in case you plan on lengthening your To-Do List and decide to doodle on a whim. You've never really drawn much, but in the absence of a good video game or TV or even, God forbid, radio to pass the time with, you work with what you've got.

Remembering that cool expressionistic statue outside on the castle grounds, you start to compose the misfit form on page...

Chapter 9

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Clop clop clop!

Looking up from your drawing, you see the Princess of the Night making her way towards your bed, elegant as ever. Instinctively, you slip the notepad and pencil underneath your blanket. Not knowing the laws or customs around here, you're not sure you want to be caught doodling their enemies. Tensing up, you simply sit and wait to see what she wants of you.

You notice that the blue alicorn's horn is lit and soon see a large tray float towards you, carrying a plate with a dish cover on it, along with a glass of orange juice. You take a hold of the tray so that Princess Luna could release her hold over it and remove the dish cover.

"What the fuck?"

It's a simple TV dinner, consisting of fried potatoes and onions, a panfried chicken leg and a slice of rolled biscuit filled with whipped cream. It's sloppy - the chicken was previously smoked and the whole thing's dripping in grease - and thus looks absolutely delicious. In other words, it's a carbon copy of the same dish your grandpa made for you for the past twenty years.

Nobody could have replicated it that perfectly without knowing him. And the only one in this universe who knows him is you. Once all those thoughts finish rolling through your mind, you face Princess Luna's faint smirk with a slack jaw. A slight motion above her eyes catches your attention and you notice that her horn is still enveloped in a magical field. She clears her throat and your notepad levitates over to you, the image of the mismatched creature facing towards you. Controlling the pencil, Luna scribbles what is very recognisably a Hitler moustache onto his upper lip, before the page crumples up in front of you and spontaneously combusts. You give her a wry look as the burning paper makes its way into the trash can, leaving bits of ash over the floor. "That bad, huh?"

She snorts, with a look of disgust on her muzzle. The fact that she has an awareness of Hitler does not escape you. Evidently she was able to crack into your head to some extent, just like you were able to peek a look into hers to know the Princess's name... and taste her hatred for the Bizarro thing, which, as impossible as it seemed to you, was not just a thing of legend. Even now, as the two of you stare at one another, you sense her feelings towards you - caution, a slight tinge of awe and fear... fear?

Why would she be afraid of me?

Her cyan eyes captivate you. They are much like Sweetheart's... ironic really, as she's the one other horse- no, one other pony that you've had a connection with, although a very different kind. Sweetheart simply loves all living things that can love back. But with Luna, it's personal. It feels as if she poked a hole into your brain and peeked in, leaving something behind. And taking something along.

Those lovely, ancient eyes... they drop a little, breaking your unofficial staring contest. She winces and turns away, leaving you wondering what was so important about your mouth. Were your teeth too yellow for royalty or something? You thought they were fine last time you checked.

Eventually, Luna forces out a taut smile and bows apologetically before turning around and leaving. You look at the door for a minute, then pick up the notepad and pencil from your side and start sketching again.


An hour later, Sweetheart returns and hoofs you your clothes to signify the end of your stay in the castle guest room. You are relieved - it's not every day you meet royalty, and certainly not every day you get mindfucked. It's been a bit overwhelming and you're eager to return to your town and let the recent events sink in a little. Donning your fabulous cape again, you stroll down the castle corridors with your pretty caretaker pony by your side, feeling pretty good. Though you hate to admit it even to yourself, being twice as tall as everyone around you and the only human around gives you a serious boost of self-confidence, and you soak in the rather flustered looks of the guards as you pass them by.

As you reach the heavy doors of the castle, you are halted by a loud whinny and watch as all the guards prostrate themselves rather adorably in front of their beloved sun goddess. Apparently, princess Tia had come to see the two of you off. This time, however, she did not approach Sweetheart, but you directly. Using her magic, Tia levitates a present to you, wrapped in white paper and bound by a golden ribbon. Seeing her expectant gaze, you tear the paper open to reveal a polished, beautifully carved custom chess set with Tia's solar symbol imprinted on the back. That better not be her ACTUAL set...

Dumbfounded, you look up at the bashful alicorn mare and for a few brief moments, you wonder how best to thank her. Hugging royalty is a big no-no, you got no presents to pull out... so for the moment, you decide to simply imitate the ponies around you and kneel on one leg, holding your head as low as possible. The action leads to a mirthful chuckle from the princess. She trades a few parting words with Sweetheart and leaves, forcing her way through an army of patient secretaries and sycophants. Ah, the life of a leader...

Clutching the precious chess set close to your chest, you follow Sweetheart out the door and into the scenic gardens surrounding the castle. Once again, your eyes glaze over the delightful fountains and hedge figures and flower beds to focus on the Bizarro statue. Remarkable detail. Did Tia and Luna make this one themselves, maybe? Before you can spend any more time pondering over it, you feel Sweetheart tug at your shirt cuffs with her teeth and see her display two tickets tucked away in her wing between two feathers. Could we please hurry up? Um, if that's not too much trouble, of course.

You smile and follow her to the train station.


BOOM!

Good things always start with a boom.

You lie on the pavement, hoping that the whine in your ears will soon dissipate and bring back your hearing while you rub a mass of confetti off of your face. Just as you get it cleared out, though, you find yourself swimming in a sea of pink cotton candy and feel four hooves grip onto you so hard that you're pretty sure you're gonna start hallucinating in a few seconds.

"heeelp..." you choke out. Fortunately, the death hold on your body is released and with Sweetheart's help, you're finally able to get up and see just about every pony you've met so far having come to greet the two of you back home. Heck, even quite a few that you didn't. But none of the crowd were more excited than the pink ball of energy bouncing around you and chattering nonstop in a chipmunk voice. You ruffle her admittedly really nice fluffy mane to satiate the crazed mare a bit, but recoil as you see her irises grow three times bigger in a second whilst her body starts shaking. Suddenly, the mare grips onto you with all four hooves again, although thankfully in a more reserved fashion and you awkwardly pat her on the back. "Well, er... aren't you a cutie pie?"

Cutie Pie babbles on and smushes your face in with her hooves. Though you couldn't understand, it was pretty obvious from the noises that she was talking in a baby voice. Then it hit you. You were apparently adorable beyond belief. So much for the dark and dramatic human. On the other hand, free hugs! Fuck it. You grab onto Cutie Pie as well and start scratching the back of her scalp. An audible sigh of contentment is released and the pony rubs her face on to your cheek. Seeing the other ponies all head off in one direction, you try to follow them, only to have your legs suddenly turn way heavier, as if you were wearing wooden galoshes.

Or, you know, Scooter and Snowy, with Buttocks Jr trying in vain to climb up your back on top of them. Seems like they really missed having you around. I am hugging four ponies at once. And they are hugging me.

You crouch for a moment to let Buttocks Jr get onto your shoulders. And then, summoning all your reserves of strength, you rise. From near your head, you hear a very clear and almost human "yeeeeeeee-haw!" and take that as your cue to start moving towards the town. One step at a time. One... step... at a time.

"I fucking love this town."

Chapter 10

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*Get Scooter a new scooter

Alrighty then. You have not even begun to try and explain to the ponies that you'd like to find some way to earn money, but first things first. You and Sweetheart are out and about early as dark clouds are slowly building in the sky, with pegasi flitting all over the place, each adding their little speck of gloom as if in a really fancy Tetris game.

They already have enough gathered that a very slight drizzle of moisture reaches the town below, pleasantly tickling your face and neck. As for you two, you have gone to the market to pick up groceries and you're determined to buy something - anything - on your own for the very first time. That is why, before Sweetheart heads off to find carrots, tomatoes, seeds and other edibles, you point to yourself and then the apple stand managed proudly by Apple Buttocks and Jr. Sweetheart nods and pokes your knee with her snout with fondness before trotting away.

Seeing you approach from the distance(your height making you more visible than most), the farmer mare grins and waves her hoof. Her little red-maned filly beams as well and runs up to you, jumping onto her hind hooves like a really excited puppy. "Howdy, Apple B's!" You grab onto her left front hoof and tickle the underside of it with your fingers, causing her to giggle uncontrollably and try to pull it back in vain. "Nuh-uh, Red! Your hoof's mine now!" You shout and increase the speed of your fingers whilst also barely brushing them against the soft center of the hoof for maximum tickle power. "Vuduvuduvuduvuduvudu!" You babble until the filly finally shoves you onto the ground and reclaims her limb. With an evil grin she hops onto your tummy, knocking your breath out of you. "Oof!"

Without further ado, she plants her face onto your chest and blows a raspberry. Instinctively, your whole body cringes. "Hey!" You grab onto Junior's sides, but she swats your hands away with surprising strength(probably from farm work) and attacks you again and again until you stuff your hand into your left pocket to pull a handkerchief out for surrender. Only it wasn't there. I'm gonna haunt the shit out of that rabbit when I die. How were you going to signal your defeat now?!

Fortunately for you, the filly's mother catches onto your plight and as she wipes tears of laughter from her eyes, she bites onto the little one's tail and pulls her off. You dust yourself off and scramble back to your feet, giving the yellow mare a smile as she moves back to behind her stand. Junior still has the gall to run through between your legs though, nearly tripping you. She jumps onto a nearby crate, rubbing her left front hoof with her right bashfully and smirking. "Alright, you win today, but... ah'll be back." You say in your best Schwarzenegger before walking up to Apple Buttocks' counter and picking the three bits that Sweetheart lent you out of your pocket.

"Now, pay attention, double-oh... apple, cause we got business to take care of." The fact that nobody can understand the drivel coming out of your mouth may or may not be rotting your brain. "I want one of these." You point to a random box full of apples next to the mare. "I... want... one." You pick up the apple and put it in front of her. The farmer blinks and then pushes the apple forward with her snout, forcing you to catch it before it drops. "No! No, no." You put the apple back on the stand.

"I want to pay for it. This apple... how much?" You start slowly extending one finger after the other. "One, two, three, four, five...?" After you reach ten, you realise that she must not be understanding you, as the price seemed to be getting ridiculously high. "Okay, errr...?" You don't really like showing salespeople how much money you have, but you feel like you can trust the mare and it seemed to be the only option. So you drop the three bits onto the counter. "This apple..." you start extending fingers again. "Uno, dos, tres...?"

To your surprise, the mare visibly frowns and bites her lower lip as if she was mad at something... yet she still takes two of the bits, leaving the remaining bit and the apple for you. "Um... thanks?" You raise an eyebrow. She seems to be in a bad mood now, snorting out loud, so you back off, wave goodbye to the younger pony and bite into the fruit. It's sweet and your teeth sink into it effortlessly. "Wow." You mumble with your mouth full, letting the juices caress your taste buds. "Tha'ss a guud apple."


By the time you and Sweetheart are heading home, the gentle pitter-patter has become a full on shower and the two of you run through the streets, splashing through puddles and cringing at the cold raindrops.

When you reach home, you spit out the water running down your face and carefully remove your drenched cardigan, which now reminds you of a wet mop. "Note to self: order a legit coat." Oh wait, I have no money or job. "Yaaaaaay." You grumble sarcastically and hang the cardigan over the fireplace. Apparently the animals in Sweetheart's home are intelligent enough to get a fire going and you don't have to worry about fussing over matches. Sweetheart sets her saddlebags down into the kitchen and flops to the carpet in front of the fire to dry out. The bunny drags a pillow over from the couch to put under her head, at which she cooes and pulls him in for a hug.

Not wanting to interrupt them, you sit down onto your cot, replace your trousers and rest your back against the comfortably warm bricks of the oven. Before hanging the trousers to dry, you carefully extract your notebook from the pocket. Your worst fears are true: at least half of the book is wet and melted together, ruining your pictures. "Ah, damn it." Sighing, you place the book a few centimeters away from the cot so that it doesn't dampen it and leave it to the hot breath of the flames to suck the moisture out.

With your usual evening activity thrown out of the window, you reach into your burlap sack and pull out princess Tia's chess board. You lie down on the bed and set the board up in front of you on the floor. Now all you needed was somebody to play with. You look over at Sweetheart, but she took in the warmth of the fire so well that she's already gently snoring, and the bunny's asleep between her hooves. Your gaze travels up to the ceiling, where a blue hummingbird chirps quietly. "What about you, Tweety? You wanna play?" You say quietly. "Probably not."

You rest your chin on your arms and decide to rest your eyes a bit until an opponent makes him- or herself available. Uh-huh...

When you open your weary eyes again, you've somehow turned onto your back(wait, I fell asleep? When did I fall asleep? I was just thinking!) and you hear a faint whistling in your right ear. You sit up, turn to your side and realise that Sweetheart's moved over from the fireplace to the unused side of your large cot and draped a thin wool blanket from the couch over the two of you, with the bunny sleeping in the little hollow between her wings. What's she doing here?

Suddenly, the entire room lights up for half a second, followed by the loud rumbling of thunder outside. Even in her sleep, the fragile-looking pegasus adopts a pained expression and her hooves shoot out and grapple onto your arm, forcing you to lay down again at which point her face un-scrunches. "Mmmm..." Sweetheart hums in her sleep. You don't have the heart to wake her up in the middle of the storm, even if it does mean you'll both probably spend a restless night afterwards.

Yawning, you lower your head back onto the pillow and let the rapping of rain against the cottage roof drift you back to sleep.

Chapter 11

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You wake up fully rested and eager to seize the day... in the early evening, and it's finally stopped raining. Everyone around you are still sort of hibernating through the crappy weather, so you decide to do your host a favor by making dinner for everyone. After a refreshing shower, you tiptoe your way to the pantry and dig a plateful of seeds out of a sack to fill in the feeders for the birds, along with some strawberries, grapes, apples and oranges to slice into a large bowl of fruit salad for the bigger animals(mainly rodents, and of course the pony). Preparing all of this takes about ten minutes of your times total. And everyone's still snoring. You roll your eyes and sneak back to your cot, making sure not to step on Sweetheart's wings and hooves, all splayed about. For a creature obsessed with being as inconspicuous as possible, she has somehow covered over half of your bear-sized cot. You sit down against the brick wall of the oven and can't help, but sneak a peek at the cute pegasus as she sleeps, her usually tidy pink mane frizzy and running down her face.

There was something comforting in the idea that even though these creatures clearly matched you in intelligence, they still possessed certain animalistic properties, such as enhanced loyalty to those they've claimed as one of their own and a far more intricate usage of body language. They certainly had a knack for making you feel wanted, even cared for. During that brief moment when Luna had done that... weird Vulcan mind meld thing with you, you'd even sensed it, that herd mentality, the need to stay close and support one another. Even their shepherds, the Princesses, were not alone. It was a far cry from the human pack mentality of judging one's value based on one's abilities and capacity to benefit themselves.

Only now you realised that Luna must've been able to sense your perpective as well. Hoo boy. You must've come across like the ultimate ass. Wait, no... these guys got reptiles as their butlers. What am I saying? They're probably trying to domesticate the shit outta me. "Doing a pretty good job too." You say out loud and poke Sweetheart on the nose, causing her to sniff a couple of times before smacking her mouth. "Wakey-wakey, Sweetheart. Dinner time." No reaction.

Time to bring out the heavy artillery. Without further ado, you place your hands on her sides and start running your fingers over her barrel in rapid fashion. Immediately, Sweetheart lets out an involuntary snicker in her sleep and starts kicking aimlessly with her hind hooves. You can't resist also poking at her usually slicked down chest tuft and puffing it up a little, making the little pony look even more crazed. Finally, her eyes snap open and she sits up straight so fast that you were worried about her spine. A crushed bunny drops out of her wings and staggers away.

Sweetheart blinks and then focuses on you. She squints. You gulp.

...

With a flap of her wings, the pegasus springs towards you before you can even twitch and latches herself onto you, gripping your neck with one hoof and rubbing the top of your head with the other. In short, she's giving you the noogie of your life and judging from the quiet, excited neighs, she's probably also giving an Oscarworthy maniacal speech. You let her have her moment of victory, but then she freezes, and only her ears twitch and turn towards the door.

Then you hear it too. Quiet whinnying sounds and the very gentlest of knocks on the door. Sweetheart quickly releases her hold on you and flies in front of the wall mirror. The bunny, already on the move, grabs a brush from the bathroom and tosses it to you. You quickly run it through Sweetheart's mane and do your best to correct the damage sleep has done to her whilst the pegasus checks her wings and then looks back towards you expectantly. You turn to the bunny, who stands ready with pencil and paper.

"Wings-check-mane-check-chest tuft..." you whisper as the bunny checks everything off the list. "-now check. Okay, she's good."

5 seconds after hearing the knocking, Sweetheart slowly opens the door in perfect condition to reveal a grim-looking Apple Buttocks and a cheerful-looking pink filly you've never seen before. To your surprise, this one actually has one of those strange butt tattoos. You've been wondering about those. Do they get them after a rite of passage or something? In any case, the filly makes an O-face as she looks up to you. She soon snaps out of it though, and whinnies something to Sweetheart, pointing at you. The pegasus bites her lip, considering something. This is followed by sharp neighing from Apple Buttocks, who seems to give you the evil eye, though you've no idea why(note to self: pears are the way to go from now on). Meek as ever in the presence of anyone outside of the ones living in her cottage, Sweetheart takes a step behind you and then pokes at your back with her snout, pushing you forward.

The pink filly snaps onto your hand with her teeth, though not enough to hurt you and start pulling you out of the cottage. As you are dragged away, you look back towards home with an uncertain look, but Apple Buttocks shuts the door behind you with her tree-smashing legs. Yikes. You are almost happy now that you don't understand them as it meant avoiding whatever beef is going on entirely. Playing with a filly instead seems far preferable, yep.

She really is a cute widdle thing though, with her mane of orchid purple dashed with white and that delightful, tiny gem-encrusted tiara perfectly perched on her head. The only thing that gives you pause really is the ferocity in those piercing blue eyes, as if getting you to where you are going is her absolute goal in life at this moment.

It turns out, that place of universal importance is the town's playground, which you'd pointedly avoided until now so as not to frighten any parents or heck, the kids themselves. The little filly, on the other hand, has no compunctions over leading you straight in. You see her wave her hoof at another fancy-looking filly with a pearl necklace, grey fur and a fine, silvery braided mane. Also glasses. You didn't even know ponies could wear those. The filly with the spoon tattoo waves back and trots nearer to bump butts together with the pink filly in some girly secret handshake thing, before pointing at you and winking for some reason.

As if their minds were made up on something, they both turn to look directly at you with identical lidded smirks, knowing full well you have no idea what just transpired.

Danger, danger, Will Robinson...

Chapter 12

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You try to put the ill feeling you have about all this out of your mind. After all, they're just some kids. What are they gonna do, slip a banana peel under you? You resolve to have fun instead. You quickly run through games they might like to play and focus on one: what kid doesn't love horsie? So, you kneel down, rest your hands against the grassy ground and nod towards your back with your head. Childish minds think alike, and Princess Toothpaste Hair claps her hooves together in obvious glee at the idea before grabbing a hold on your shoulders and dragging her form onto you. Damn, I should work out more... ohh oh oh, my poor bonessss. You feel the frog of her right hoof absent-mindedly rubbing your furless neck, clearly curious about your different physiology.

You push up from the ground and move around a bit on your hands and knees until Toothpaste becomes confident enough to release her front hooves(whilst stilll gripping onto your sides with her hind hooves) and wave to the other colts and fillies, all gawping at what must be a pretty wild sight. Time to up the ante. You push your back up and get on your feet, which Toothpaste clearly did not expect judging from her sudden death grip on your neck. You manage to calm her slightly by holding onto her hooves(also because you kinda need to breathe), helping her onto a sitting position on your shoulders before standing up to full height. At this point, the kids are utterly transfixed on the filly on your back, who takes advantage of the situation by hollering something victoriously in pony language, having regained her confidence. Happy for the attention, she nuzzles the back of your neck and pats you on the head.

From behind the fence of the playground, you catch your three favourite fillies trot by. As the trio open the gate and walk in, they notice you near the swings and then freeze, looking up at the pink filly on your head with astonished expression. Scooter's face quickly scrunches up into really cute absolute fury and she whinnies towards Toothpaste, who defiantly rests her hooves and chin on top of your head. Snowy runs up to you and snaps her jaws onto your hand, which was covered in bite marks at this point. Using it, she tried her best to pull you down, clearly eager to be the one on your back. You carefully prise your fingers free and reassuringly run your thumb over the side of her velvety muzzle and cheek. Your rejection only made her pout, however and she also shouted something up to Toothpaste.

An indignant neigh bursts out from near your ear and all three of the fillies' ears droop in unison. You felt bad, but at the same time, kids gotta wait for their turn. After all, nobody owns you! You feel the silver filly drape her hoof around your calf, probably in support of her friend. This action seems to hammer the point home, as all three fillies' eyes water up simultaneously. Shocked, you immediately try to pull Toothpaste off of your back so you could calm them with a hug or something, but the pink filly throws her own little temper tantrum and holds onto you as tight as possible. For crying' out loud, kids, gimme a break! you thought as the trio scamper, obviously upset.


Losing your patience, you growl as wolfishly as possible, scaring Toothpaste just enough to go limp and letting you grab ahold of her hooves and pull them away from your neck before letting her drop onto the ground. Unfortunately, the action(and probably your alienness) is enough to make you taboo to pretty much every other foal around and they all disappear in a grand stampede much to the chagrin of the parents who run after them.

You scratch the back of your head. "Ah, fuck." Sweetheart's just gonna love to hear about this...

Going home seems like the best option, but for some reason, both Toothpaste and her spoony friend insist you go someplace else, the former again latching onto your abused fingers whilst the latter butted against your legs with her head. The sun is still quite a bit away from setting, so you allow the fillies to lead you away from the playground and down a few streets, probably to one of their homes. It's a better idea anyway - a more controlled environment and less of a chance of random ponies freaking out over you. The thought cheers you up a bit and you move faster, eager to maybe play some quiet board games.

The fillies lead you past all the houses though, and towards a giant wall of hedges surrounding what could only be called a mansion... though it still had a thatched roof, you noticed with a little snicker. The pink filly opened the metal main gate non-chalantly and extended her hoof towards the large building, essentially inviting you in. You duck your head and pass through the gate, which Spoony closes behind you. Rich kids. You should've figured from the fancy jewelry. No wonder she asked Sweetheart to let her play with me... the rich love the exotic. And I'm as exotic as it gets around here.

A pair of butler ponies open the doors for the three of you, not blinking an eye at your... well, everything. You wiggle your fingers at them to try and incite a reaction, but not even a twitch. "Damn, you guys are good. Jeeves, eat your heart out. Hah! Ahhh..." you shake your head in amusement at the utterly bizarre circumstances you're in. The fillies run off and you chase after them through the labyrinthine and extremely overdecorated corridors in the mansion. God, this place! Ruby red rugs, various paintings of ponies in heroic positions, a fucking set of pony armor... eventually though, you do find yourself in the pink filly's bedroom, which you recognise by the masses of toys gathering dust everywhere. Chests of them. There's also a vanity mirror, the shelf in front overburdened with all sorts of complex make-up paraphernalia that you don't even begin to know how to use.

The bed(which is a twopony one with bedposts and curtains, of course) is littered with various teddy bears and other plushes. Toothpaste and Spoony happily jump onto it and you awkwardly sit down at the edge. You're not allowed to mope for long though, as the pink filly happily jumps on your lap and pushes you down onto the bed, snuggling onto your chest while Spoony very tenderly strokes your hair. Even with Sweetheart's perpetual kindness, you're not used to that level of care and kind of melt into the bed, scratching the pink filly's back.


You wake up to find yourself confused and alone in the dark, still lying on the bed. Rubbing your face, you get up and open the door, blinking from the bright light coming from the lamps. That shit looks electric... or maybe it's just magic.

Noticing your own reflection on the windows, you wince. Sweetheart's so freaking out right now... damn it! Never be led astray by filly cuteness again, it's just not healthy! Kinda like Coke, oh GOD I'd give give anything for a can of caffeine right about now, I should look into more of their stores, maybe they've got something like that.

A butler pony passes you by as you wander around. You give a curt nod, only for the pony snap onto your goddamn fingers again! and lead you rather roughly down to a fancy dining room. It's got all the fancy - marble floors, crystal chandelier, a long-ass table that'd make Citizen Kane jealous and a quiet family of probably really unsatisfied ponies sipping soup. There were three of them - an adult pony with a slicked mane and a holy-shit-is-that-really-a-dollar-sign-on-a-tie, an immensely tired-looking mare with a diamond ring tattoo and your friend Toothpaste. Her mansion, got it.

The miserable atmosphere is livened up a bit as she notices you approach and jumps off her chair squeeing, much to the displeasure of her parents. The filly shouts an order to the butler pony who brought you in and then nuzzles your knee. Feeling very awkward, you pat her on the head and stand around, waiting for the butler to return with a chair and hopefully some grub.

After about a minute, he does, but not with a chair. Instead, there's a silver platter on his back and on it, ... a...

Your eyes bulge.

A...

mother...

fucking...

dog...

bowl.

...

You don't even know what to say, so you glare down at the pink filly as hard as humanly possible, with your jaw still slack. She either doesn't receive the message, or completely ignores it, smiling blandly back at you and then running along back to her parents as the butler gently sets the generic blue dog bowl down on the floor, bows and leaves, closing the doors behind him.

"Okay, fuck this, I'm out." You grumble and head for the doors. You hear the rich stallion behind you shout something and soft clops behind you as Toothpaste runs after you. In a swift moment, you turn around, leaving her teeth to snap down on no fingers at all. "No!" you say, pointing at her. "Sit!"

The filly blinks, and you roll your eyes. "Worth a try. Anyway..." you mimic the motion of holding a knife and fork and cutting a slice of something. Finally, the filly seems to realise the point, but to your extreme surprise, she shakes her head angrily and points back to the dog bowl. Damn, that is a filet mignon in there. Could just- what the fuck brain, shut up!

Seeing the confrontation, the parents trot into the corridor and dispense some sharp whinnies at Toothpaste, who immediately cowers and hugs onto your leg. "Yeah, that's right. Not your pet. Now let me go, please." You throw your leg about a bit, but the filly holds onto it as if her life depended on it. Jesus. Fortunately, a pair of butler ponies arrive and somehow effortlessly pull the now crying and thrashing filly away. One of them, holding her under one hoof, limps away towards her room. "Thanks, I'll just-whoa!"

The other butler pony knocks his butt into you, taking your breath away and landing you on his back. You're forced to hold on as he downright gallops through the corridors and through a kitchen until finally arriving at a large window, which he kicks open with a hind hoof before arching his back so suddenly that you tumble off the pony's back, through the window and down a floor before crashing into a huge, open trash bin filled with black plastic bags. You lay there for a moment, taking the whole thing in when another stuffed bag lands on your back, effectively pinning you into the bin upside-down.

"Ow..."

Chapter 13

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The cold metal of the trash bin digs into your back. The plastic bags filled with what feels like all the heaviest, pokiest things they could stuff in there pin you against the bin. Oh, and you're upside down with barely enough space to breathe, and blood starts rushing into your head, making you dizzy. It's dark, it's grimy, it stinks to high heaven and you're slap bang in the middle of it.

"Fuck."

You try to wiggle, or push the bags off of you, but because when you fell, like half of the bags in the whole bin slid down onto your back and made it impossible to move them. Not to mention, you have nowhere to wiggle anyway, seeing as you are upside down.

"HEY! HELP!" You can't even tap against the metal. "CAN ANYONE HEAR ME?!"

You sigh. "Oh go along, Anon, go on and play with this cute filly you've never seen before, what could go wrong? Fucking shit... okay, okay, okay, think..." You are still on the grounds of the rich pony family, so the likelihood of anyone noticing or even hearing you was extremely slim. It seemed to be very late now judging from the faint glow of the moonlight, so Sweetheart would be out looking for you. Yeah, that made sense... unless Toothpaste had told her you'd be staying overnight! Oh God, please no... don't think that, gotta keep up the optimism, she'll find me. Though if she knew we were at her place, wouldn't she be here already...?

You make a mental note to be more cautious in the future. The ponies were ridiculously easy to trust because of their disarmingly cute antics, but of course there would be some who would take advantage of you. I should probably also get an emergency kit or something. You know, in case I end up trapped upside down in the trash. Not that a pocket knife could push a truckload of bags off of me... but it sure would make me feel better. Maybe I should just carry a crowbar instead and whack those dumbasses when they try to feed me filet mignon in a dog bowl... God, I'm hungry. Your stomach gurgles.

Time passes incredibly slow, though you are unable to fall asleep because of the uncomfortable position you're in, and the sheer iciness of the bin's metal side against your back. Instead, you become more and more frustrated and delirious. "99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer, take one down, send it through an interdimensional gate, 98 bottles of beer on the waaall..." you shiver and cringe at the chill going through your bones. It was definitely getting colder outside, and your nose was starting to run like a tap, forcing you to sniffle constantly. Damn, I hope I'm not gonna get sick from this.

You felt miserable.


CLUNK!

"Huh... whuh?" You snap out of your feverish half-sleep to find yourself lying on the cool, moist grass next to an overturned bin. The sudden change in sensations overwhelms you a bit, not to mention all the blood that's pooled into your brain has given you a headache worthy of a hangover. "Ohhh, my head..." You lie there for a moment, rubbing the cold dew over your forehead. "That hurts... ah, horse apples!"

Curiosity eventually overwhelms the pain, however, and you struggle up. To your surprise, you see Toothpaste sitting next to you with a bashful look in her eyes, gingerly touching your shoulder with her hoof as if she was afraid you'd run off at the sight of her. "Did you get me outta there?" You asked with a little smile. "Thanks." To dispel her fears, you picked her up and brought her to your chest, which she hugged blissfully. Sure, she was technically the reason you ended up cramped in there for hours, but you can't hold a grudge against a little girl. Especially when she rubs her tiny little nose against your shirt and looks up at you with those happy, shiny blue eyes.

You scratch her head and run your fingers through her luscious purple-white mane, making her giggle a little. Whilst doing so, you notice something is missing. Looking around, you see the diamond tiara glint against the moonlight next to the heap of plastic bags lying on the ground and take it, weaving it through her mane to make it stand perfectly upright on her head again. "There." You say and rub the back of her ear.

Not wanting to keep Sweetheart waiting any longer, you stand up. The little filly realises you're leaving immediately and lets out a quiet little whine, pawing at your feet with both hooves. "I'm sorry, I've really got to go ." You hate leaving her like this, but what else is there to do? You check your pockets, but there's nothing there other than your coin, notebook and pencil-ohhhhh...

It's not much, but you want her to have something, so you pull out the notebook and doodle a stick figure version of yourself with a quadruped figure on your shoulders, front hooves victoriously upright and a tiara on her head. You give the picture to Toothpaste, but to your dismay, it only leads to choking sounds and her eyes watering up. The pony tries waving you goodbye with a shaky hoof and you sigh. There just is no winning sometimes. You give the little filly a final hug, as tight as you can, and stroke her back to make her feel better.

And then you go, leaving the filly to return to the house with her head low, gripping the picture you gave her.


"F-f-f-fucking c-cold..." you grumble at the cold winds blowing about. You don't get it - yesterday was summer weather, now all of a sudden we've skipped to November? At any rate, you moan with relief when you finally spot the lit windows of Sweetheart's distant cottage. You rub your hands together and limp on, your body still aching from the bruises you got from that nasty fall out of the 2nd floor window. Christ, what a day.

Tea, definitely hot tea, but not too hot... fried potatoes... nice, cosy mat... next to the fireplace... fireplace... fireplace... you pictured the flames licking the crackling wood and moved on. Very close now, nearly there... these were already Sweetheart's own grounds. All you had to do was pass by the pond and you were at the front do-

"WHOA!" you shouted as a particularly powerful gust of wind forced you to the left and made you trip on a rock, and roll down straight into the waters. "AAARGH!" you shriek and crawl out until you can get back on your feet on the road, your lower half covered in mud and dripping water. The door to Sweetheart's cottage slams open, revealing the pegasus you've been dying to see.

Seeing you in such a sorry state, she gasps and her wings flutter to life, enabling her to fly to you in a matter of seconds, pick you up and drop you at the front door. Inside, it was exactly as you imagined. Sweetheart, knowing the oncoming weather, had started a fire and the cottage was comfortably warm. Paying no heed to common courtesy, Sweetheart latched onto the back of your drenched trousers and pulled them down. "Whoa!" You say and press a hand against her head. "Hey, hey, I got this." She nods absent-mindedly, and to your surprise, takes flight again, speeding into the kitchen with no time to waste. You find an old nail in the wall next to the oven and above your mat and hang your trousers on it to dry. Some of the water drips on your mat, but you pay it no heed. This close to the fireplace, it'll be gone in no time.

Tired and irritated, you don't bother putting on another pair and instead simply pull the covers over your legs and plant a pillow against the wall to relax on your mat. Sweetheart has other ideas, though. You hear her clanging a spoon against a pot in the kitchen, that being her signal that food is ready. Nobody else responds, so you figure the rest of them have eaten already.

To wear pants, or not wear pants, that is the question. You really wish you had pajama pants right now. The Goddess who works at that clothes shop could probably get you a pair, but you're too prideful to go asking for more clothes. Fuck it, they're all naked, I still have my underpants on. No biggie.

You crawl out from underneath the covers and drag yourself into the kitchen and on a stool, where Sweetheart has prepared a bowl of vegetable and fish soup. Hungry and in need of warmth, you empty the bowl fairly fast and before you can even get up, she's already snatched it off the table and scrubbing it down in the sink. You rest your chin against your hands on the table and drowsily watch her. That mare's just too good, no two ways about it; yes sir.

Soon enough she's by your side and her wing pushes your arm down to her back, so she could support you back to the mat. By this point, you've mostly mentally shut down and just wait for the moment you can go to sleep. You sit back to where you were before, with the pillow propping your back up against the wall and Sweetheart starts rubbing a salve into your bruises. Your eyes lazily drift across the room and you notice your bunny friend hopping towards you. "Mini-Me! Hope you've been having... a better day than me..."

The bunny blinks as he sees your haggard appearance and then runs up to you. You think he's just gonna come and cheer you up, but instead, he jumps up and climbs onto your hanging trousers, dragging himself up until he reaches your pocket and pulls out something golden... your last bit! You frown, too tired to be really concerned, and mostly confused. The bunny hops down and runs off with the coin. "Sweetheart..." you whine. "That bunny's stealing my caaaash."

Sweetheart looks at the bunny and makes an O-face before running off suddenly and coming back with a large drawing pad, which she drops onto your lap. On the pad are three images separated by lines, just like a newspaper comic strip. The images are crude, but look stylised, suggesting some skill. The first picture is of a bipedal creature, clearly you, handing three gold coins over to an orange quadruped with a Stetson hat - Apple Buttocks. Above the two is a green check symbol. The next picture is identical, except the mare you're giving the money to is Sweetheart. Also a green check symbol.

However, the final picture is of you giving money to a stallion pony you've never seen before - green, with a black mane and question mark tattoo, and above him floats a big red X. "Sweetheart, who's this?"

Sweetheart shrugs and rolls her hoof in the air in a vague gesture.

"Me giving money to Applebutt... okay. Me giving money to you, okay. Me giving money to... I don't understand."

The bunny gets your attention by tapping on your knee angrily. You look down on him to see him run around in a circle with his paws up, as if trying to hug everything. "Me giving money to... everyone?"

He stops and points at you emphatically. That's the one! "It's bad if I give money... to anyone other... than Sweetheart or Applebutt?" Suddenly, the logic hit me. Those rich snob ponies, for example... "Of course it is! I don't know anything about this place, the money or the prices. Anyone could take advantage of me." You slap yourself on the forehead for not realising this sooner. "She's not mad at me at all, she was worried. Urgh, I'm an idiot." The bunny nods.

With your wounds nicely cleaned up, Sweetheart kisses you on the cheek and then points to the bathroom. "Oh, come on...!" You drag yourself out of bed again, somehow, to go brush your teeth. And have a nice, hot, indescribably wonderful shower. Hay-flavoured shampoo never smelled so good.

Chapter 14

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During one sunny morning, Bubbles the friendly mailmare hoofs you a letter, with a wax seal showing off a pink six-point star that you immediately recognise as Lavender's tattoo. You raise an eyebrow. Why would she send Sweetheart a letter? She can't be that lazy. Or is this some kind of "official business" thing?

Your pondering is cut short when Bubbles' blonde mane pops out between you and the letter you're holding, followed by her wonky eyes, one of which focuses on you, expectant and delighted. You smirk and lower the letter to your side, using your right hand to scratch the top of Bubbles' scalp as she hums, away in a world of her own. She is very sweet in her own oblivious and innocent way, and the two of you had developed a bit of a deal during her occasional letter deliveries - you shower her with attention and she gives you free chocolate muffins(how they never get smushed up in that tight mailbag, you will never know). Apparently your fingers are so good that she once brought another pony with her - a brown stallion with a green tie and an hourglass tattoo - and practically forced his head under your tickly appendages. Dude gave you a banana instead. It was kind of insulting, but also a good source of potassium.

Munching on your latest muffin, you take the letter upstairs to Sweetheart's and gently tap on the door with your knuckle. You hear a single, very faint nicker through the wood. Silence was "no", so you open the door to see the kind pegasus mare reading a book in bed and absent-mindedly chomping on a slice of toast. The last of several, if the crumbs on her chest fluff are any indication.

She turns to smile at you and waves hello with her hoof. You toss her the purple letter, which she neatly catches between the frogs of her front hooves and leave her to enjoy the rest of her breakfast. By the time you're midway down the stairs, however, you hear a loud clamping sound from above, as if something heavy fell on the floor. Like a pony. You turn around to find Sweetheart flying towards you whilst rapidly brushing the crumbs off of her chest. In a second, she's gripped onto your sides and whinnies loudly at the bunny, who somehow manages to kick the door against the wall with a single hit as the pegasus carries you out. Damn.

Unwilling to just let Sweetheart carry you the whole way, you start struggling in her grip. She releases you and motions for you to jog beside her instead. You notice she's still holding onto the letter as well. Together, the two of you sprint to town and head straight to Lavender Lady's gigantic, sprawling treehouse. You frown in confusion as you observe a large cluster of stormy clouds gathered over the library, raining heavy splatters of water down on it. Leaving aside the ponies' control over weather, the clouds looked extremely out of place in what was otherwise a lovely morning for the rest of the surrounding area. The flashes of thunder visibly frighten Sweetheart, who squeaks at the sounds and hides her face behind her hooves, shaking slightly.

You rub her back soothingly to try and quickly calm her, as evidently there's some sort of hurry, which seems to give her enough self-control to poke you with a hoof, and then point towards the library. "You want me to go in there?"

Sweetheart nods towards the letter now concealed between her wing and side and then pokes you again. The letter was talking about... me?

"Uh... what about you?"

The mare scrunches her eyes shut and shakes her head wildly, pointing at you and then the library again before turning around and running back towards home as fast as possible. "Jeez... well, this oughta be fun." You mutter, laughing nervously. A bolt of lightning crashes into the ground next to you, smearing you in dirt.

"... hoo-oh-oly shit..."


Whimpering, you tip-toe closer to the door, the cold raindrops making you twitch. You pick up a fallen branch and touch the door with it, just to make sure it's not gonna explode or something. Magic lightning, who the fuck knows? It helps to take precautions. Finally, you pull the door open. The library is empty and in a unique state of disarray, with towers of books just sitting on tables and armchairs, abandoned.

Something foul reaches your nostrils and you sniff in the air, trying to recognise the smell. It was oddly familiar... and very out of place in your current environment. Ozone. Heavy ozone.

That's weird, I didn't smell that much outside, and you got lightning up the ass out there.

You watch with a wide-eyed stare as Lavender's reptile butler casually walks up from a flight of stairs in a dark, creepy tunnel leading down into the basement, dressed in a small brown coat and holding a miniature torch to light the way. His green back scales poke out a little from under the coat, probably designed for a pony, giving him a humpbacked appearance.

Noticing you, the reptile hisses something in his strange language and hands the torch to you so he could go and fetch something from the kitchen. You gingerly hold the little torch ahead of you, hoping it doesn't drip something on your hands and carefully move down the stairs, step by step. Soon enough, you begin to hear whirrs and clicks and sparks... the almost forgotten sounds of complex machinery at work.

Your jaw drops as you walk into a large laboratory space, filled to the brim with heavy, glowing equipment. Huge wires and cables cross the room like a spiderweb. In one corner, an aquarium of boiling water holds a whirly, bright orange metal contraption of unknown purpose. In another, two gigantic light bulbs flicker with uncertainty. The centerpiece of the room is a huge white table that holds what may have once been your smartphone, minus screen or any protective casing.

Amidst all of this is Lavender Lady, dressed in a white frock and looking haggard, as if she hadn't slept since... well, since you originally gave her the phone. Her mane is frizzy and so charged that she resembles Einstein, and she has heavy bags under her red, fevered eyes that unwaveringly analyse the dials, the results of which are scribbled into a very long roll of paper that idly floats beside her.

"Lavi?"

Hearing your voice seems to break the pony out of her stupor as the roll of paper immediately drops to the ground and she blinks dizzily before clopping her hooves together excitedly as she recognises you. "This is, uh... hell of a place you got down here." The unicorn forces you to sit on a stool and put the torch onto a metal ring attached to the wall, far away from any sensitive equipment and whinnies loudly. You hear a faint hiss from above and soon the pitter-patter of Mr. Gecko's little legs gives way to the reptile, carrying three sandwiches with large flower petals squeezed between the bread.

At least it's not hay. you think as you bite into the sandwich. It's like eating cabbage leaves. Not really your thing, but better than nothing. As you munch on your breakfast, Mr Gecko takes up Lavi's former position reading out the dials whilst the unicorn starts teleporting all over the place, prodding each and every one of her machines- is that a plasma globe? Show-off... in preparation.

Finally, the mare pops into existence right next to you and squees loudly. Yeah, she squeed. That noise is recognisable in any culture. She trots to a huge square-shaped lever in the wall behind you, places her front hooves on it and waits for a few seconds until hearing the crack of thunder penetrate the noise already made by her extravagant devices. With a swift motion, Lavender Lady rests all of her weight on the lever and forces it down.

whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR…!!!” the machines around you whine as the charge builds up. Many of the wires around the room turn from a dull grey to a vibrant red color and then snap loudly. Sparks shower on the three of you from damn near everywhere. Both of the giant light bulbs in the corner shine brightly and shatter, spewing molten glass about. However, all three of you stare at your phone instead, which starts buzzing against the table.

Responding to a loud whinny from Lavi, the reptile uses a ladder to pull down a huge projection screen the size of a fancy banner whilst she thumps her hooves against a washing machine-sized console screeching in protest from some kind of pressure. This causes a projector above the door to the basement to blink on and display a... charging battery symbol with green liquid inside…

Lavender Lady jumps off of the console, staring up at the image right alongside you in awe, before thrusting her front hooves up in the air victoriously, balancing on her hind hooves. And for the first time, you don't even need a translator to understand what she's saying.

It's alive! IT'S ALIIIIIVE!

Chapter 15

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Apparently, getting your phone to function had been such a driving force for Lavender that with her task accomplished, she promptly faints, forcing you to catch her in your arms. You adjust your hold, pick up the little pony and run upstairs to get her some air. The round library room is now no longer empty: that blue daredevil pegasus with the technicolor mare is lounging on a pile of books, reading casually.

Seeing Lavender in your arms, she rolls her eyes, leaves her page bookmarked and flies out of the nearest window. You want to see where she's gone, but decide that caring for the passed out pony is the more pressing matter. You notice a messy bed on the second floor and quickly sprint up there, your large feet jumping over every other step. There, you gently lower the purple pony on the mattress.

"Okay, uh... think, think, think!" You rub your temples. Medical emergency, medical emergency, what do you need in a medical emergency? Those salt sniffy things? Fuck that, where the hell am I gonna find one of those? Uh... glass of water! That's better! "Glass of water, glass of water..." you mumble, hurrying back downstairs and into the kitchen, where you grab the nearest cup, fill it with cold water and return to the bed. Lavender's not moved.

You bite your lip. Check for breathing...? "Oh, shit!" You lick a finger and hold it over the pony's mouth. Sure enough, a cold wind blowing out of her muzzle hits your finger almost immediately. So she is just unconscious.

This pony needs you. This is it, this is real. THINK! Think, think, think! You slap your forehead and curse your lack of expertise in treating someone. Maybe I should adjust her head or something... NO, you idiot, that's for gunshot injuries. I think. Something to do with bleeding, anyway. Fainting, fainting, what do you with fainting... ? Fuck if I know.

Feeling a tugging on your pants, you look down to see mr. Gecko. He points at Lavender and then gives you a knowing smile and a thumbs up. "She's fine?" You release a pent-up breath. "Ohhh, thank Jesus... fuck!" You sit down next to the bed, grab the glass of water from the nightstand and take a big gulp. "... sorry, Lavi." You leave the half-empty glass next to her.

As you wipe the sweat off of your forehead, mr Gecko smartly opens up a window, and you notice something blue whizz by, similar to a shooting star. Curious, you stand up and peek out of the window. To your amazement, you see that same blue streak disperse the storm clouds above the library like fancy laundry detergent in a commercial.


Feeling slightly responsible, you decide to stay in the library for the rest of the day and help the little reptile clean up the mess left behind in the laboratory. Fortunately, aside from the broken equipment, there really isn't much to do as some sort of magic erased all the natural filth that would build up over time. You also can't help him restock the library due to your continued language barrier so instead, you take advantage of the contents of Lavender's fridge and make a huge plateful of fluffy pancakes for the three of you.

After taking your two on a separate plate and sprinkling an unhealthy amount of white sugar on them, you return to the snoring unicorn's side and pull out your notebook(now somewhat mucky and deteriorated after your little dip into Sweetheart's pond the other day).

*Check Lavi to make sure phone is intact.

You also add a favor to Lavi in addition to the favors you still owe to your host, your frenemy the bunny and that fabulous dressmaker pony.

Skipping a few pages ahead, you start a new drawing and at the same time, roll up your first pancake and munch on it, enjoying the gritty sugar. First, that slightly curled snout... those cute ears... the crooked horn... the deer horn... the sharp tooth... "Come to papa." you mutter under your breath. This is definitely gonna be the one you nail.

It isn't.

You've never had an artist's obsessive eye, but even you can feel a certain... offness about your attempts at depicting the hated bizarro creature. One drawing's too childish, the other too complicated and unappealing, the third's just, well, dull. Thinking back to the beautifully carved statue you saw back at the castle, there was a giddy bounciness to it, if that was possible with a figure comparable to Hitler. You then realise how dumb your train of thought is and derail it there and then. I've got better things to do than draw fucking goat-snakes anyway.

What else to do?

You'd left your chess set at home and you didn't think rummaging through someone else's drawers to find another game would be the most polite thing to do. "How did people survive in olden times? ... Oh yeah, lots of stabbing."

The thought of a violent encounter reminds you of the last one you had, your near-fatal fight with the magically animated wooden wolf, as well as one of the tasks you've listed in your notebook.

*Return to forest for new clues.

Notably unchecked.

"Gotta do it smart this time, Anon-boy. Not gonna waltz into the evil cursed woods like an idiot." You were hoping to find a job and earn some real money to buy the things you needed to make the trip, but after your visit with the princesses provided definitive proof that the supposedly most powerful ponies in the land couldn't properly access your mind, you'd decided otherwise. Heck, even your attempt to buy things independently had been proven idiotic.

The simple fact was that you didn't belong. Maybe I should just quit playing pet, grab all the tools I need and skedaddle.

But what then? You could probably track down the place you landed in the forest (provided you made it there in one piece), but the chances of finding something there were still minimal.

"Stuck." You affirm to yourself. "Stuck like the bloody pig from Lord Of The Flies."

A moan from your violet companion interrupts your miserable thoughts. Lavender Lady lifts her head from her pillow and looks upon you with bleary, unfocused eyes which then snap wide open as she remembers what happened. Without warning, she jolts upwards into a sitting position and you grab onto her shoulders. "Whoa, hey, hey, chill! Chill-chill-chill! It's okay, phone's working, we're good."

Your words may not reach her, but their meaning does and she slowly relaxes back onto the mattress, rubbing her face. You let her recover and jog back downstairs to the kitchen to get her some of the pancakes you made, but when you make it downstairs, you find the plate already glowing in a purple haze and floating in the air, followed by a jar of honey. They fly by you and up to the second floor.

Damn. Either her magic's way more powerful than I thought... or she's got great nostrils.

Feeling a bit useless now, you follow the food up the steps and smirk as the pony gleefully catches the plate between her hooves and slips one pancake off with her teeth. It reminds you that you still haven't finished your own and so you roll up the second pancake and sit down on the back end of her bed to enjoy it. "Mh. I oughta get a gold medal for these. What do you think, Lavi? Gold medal?"

"Mmmmm!" The unicorn hums appreciatively and strokes her velvety belly with her hoof.

"Yeaaaah! Gold fuckin' medal."


Once both of you had finished your delicious breakfast, you rest your back against the wall, right next to the window and fall to silence. It wasn't uncomfortable dead air as it sometimes could be with these ponies, but rather basking in the satisfaction of success. You had your phone and Lavender had an awesome alien gizmo to play around with.

But siesta comes when siesta comes.

So for a while, the two of you just lounge. Eventually, you sneak a peek at Lavender, who's been looking at you this whole time. Caught, she blushes and looks away. The little unicorn's front hooves are folded on her chest, under her chin in a rather demure position. Once again, you are struck by the charm of these delightful little ponies, their... openness and simplicity when compared with the spiderweb of human society. Sure, you knew not all ponies were kind and sweet and honest, but they were still straightforward in their behaviour, lacking the manipulative cunning of a predator race.

Here is this unicorn and she's happy to just sit on this bed with you, an unknown alien, just because you seem nice.

She deserves boops.

You press on Lavender's snout, slowly, making her go cross eyed. The offending hand glows purple and vibrates slightly, but is otherwise unaffected. She grasps your hand in her hooves, still encased in magic and studies it intently, holding it close to her face. As she does this, your eyes drift across her living space and you notice a grubby-looking old cardboard box on the verge of collapsing, crammed away into a corner behind the bed and a flowerpot. It's an old collection of what must be Lavender's childhood toys - wooden cars, colorful plastic mini-ponies, that sort of thing. But what really gets your attention are the word-spelling blocks, those old wooden cubes with letters printed on each side.

Written language may be somehow encrypted to you, but individual symbols...!

You pull your hand out of Lavender's grasp and kneel down right next to her to pull one of the worn blocks out of the box. The unicorn gasps as she realises what you're doing.

Moving to the window, you hold the cube in the light and focus on the symbol. Your theory is proven correct - to an extent. Separated from all other letters, the symbol is indeed more than just a wavy streak. In fact, it's quite complicated, with several interconnected lines and dots. The problem is that somehow, the symbol shifts in front of your very eyes like a lenticular picture, never staying constant long enough for you to get a fix on what it looks like exactly. Every time you focus on one aspect of it, the rest squiggles around. You turn the block to its side, revealing... the same. The same thing on all sides. Or at least that's what you see. Feeling your eyes hurt, you bitterly toss the block back into the box.

So much for the pony alphabet.

And now you're getting another bloody headache! Feeling tired, you lie down on the floor. The unicorn joins you, hopping off of her bed to flop onto her belly next to you. She also lends you her pillow, which you appreciatively accept. Lavender rests her chin on your chest, making note of your facial reactions. You don't feel offended, though. Comforted, more like. And after fixing your phone, you felt the slightly wacky unicorn was welcome to most everything. You close your eyes and let the pain in your head slowly subside.

A rogue hoof boops you.

Chapter 16

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Dressed in your fine silky cape over the tuxedo shirt and black trousers, you relax on a park bench, one leg over the other. Beside you on the right are a splayed-out set of cards that Lavender had given you from her old toy box, which you now use to play a game of poker against your friend, Lord Bunnystorm the Third. It's a bit of a lonely time for you, since the rest of Horsetown is celebrating their equivalent of Valentine's Day. Red paper hearts hang everywhere, soft violin music emanates from every other establishment and all the transparent little ponies look unusually awkward. All are busy-busy-busy trying to look their best for their special someones and Sweetheart is no exception, having ushered you and your rabbity pal out of the cottage to be on your own for the first time so she could clean the house.

As you play, your ears catch a bit of childish guffawing coming from up the road and you see to your delight that your three favourite fillies are strolling down the road, deep in conversation and without a care in the world. You haven't seen them since that awful incident with the snobbish pony family and you're eager to make up for whatever happened to get them upset.

You whistle loudly to get their attention and the three fillies turn simultaneously in your direction. They freeze, staring at you - or rather, around you - with wary eyes, as if making sure you're alone before stepping further. There's a slight tugging on your back as Bunnystorm III runs up your back and onto your shoulder to bite your ear, thirsty for your attention towards the poker game. Without turning around, you flick the self-absorbed little thing on the nose, making him lose balance and tumble down onto the cards... thus ruining the game anyway.

Seeing Sweetheart's pet with you, the trio's fears are dispersed and all three gallop to you, squealing in happiness. Snowy jumps up to your lap, almost resembling the stereotypical villain's white cat for a moment, and rests her back and head on your belly, looking up at you with a sweet, innocent smile. You give the little fluff ball a tight hug, leaving her tiny hoovsies to hang over your comparatively huge arms. Meanwhile, Scooter hops up onto the bench with a boost from her wings and smushes her face into the soft flesh of your neck underneath the short beard you'd grown during your stay, nuzzling you vigorously. As for the little apple filly, she gathers up the deck cards that had spilled everywhere so you wouldn't lose them, stuffs them in your pocket and then lies down onto the bench with your thigh for a pillow. Instinctively, your hand starts brushing through her strawberry red mane, tickling the ears from time to time.

On the other side of the bench, Bunnystorm III glares at the sight and makes exaggerated choking noises.


Both sides wanting to make up for lost time, you let the fillies lead you back towards the center of the town to the flamboyant candy shop, cleverly designed to resemble a gingerbread house. You'd seen it often during your walks around with Sweetheart, but having no money and not wanting to waste hers, you'd ignored the mouthwatering, warm baked goods in the windows and the smells... the smells! Smells like Belgium! Smells like better than Belgium!

This being Valentine's Day, the shop is decked out in red - the curtains are red, heart-shaped ornaments hang everywhere and even some extra round tables have been brought out with candles on each and every one, just to snag a few more customers from the restaurants. You recognise the huge, scary red stallion from the apple farm sitting behind one of the tables, engaged in an intimate conversation with a dark purple mare you've never seen before. To counterpoint the lovely atmosphere of that scene is another table, with two bored-looking mares either without partners or just not enjoying their time. One is a minty green unicorn with a spiky mane, whose golden eyes widen and immediately turn away as she sees you looking at her. The sound of her conversation with the other mare(a yellowish white regular mare with pink and dark blue curls) becomes significantly more energetic and hushed.

Out of politeness, you stop peeking at the customers around you and follow Snowy to one of the tables. Meanwhile, Scooter and Applebee Jr trot up to the counter, where the bubblegum pink, eternally enthusiastic force of nature you'd dubbed Cutie Pie is manning the cash register. You sense that the conversation shifts towards you, mostly because the pink mare immediately looks straight at your table and then does a pirouette. Without missing a beat, she grabs a dozen or so random muffins, pie slices and biscuits, juggles all of them and drops them all pitch-perfectly into a brown paper bag. You jaw-drop. Did that pony swallow a whole circus or something?
You look at Snowy to see if she saw that, but the fussy little filly is busy using her magic to toy with a rubik's cube.

The other two fillies rush back to your table with the bag and two milkshakes on each of their backs. You've never been one for milkshakes, but you politely take yours anyway and sip. It tastes like melted banana ice cream, with just the right amount of sweetness. The bag appears to be solely for you, as Scooter drops it from her mouth directly onto your lap. It's an eclectic variety of treats, showcasing what the shop has to offer. As you look up, you see Cutie Pie beaming at you with a million dollar smile, so eager to see your reaction to the food that she pulls a small telescope out of her mane, which somehow extends all across the shop until about five centimeters away from your mouth.

You blink and immediately plunge your hand into the bag, feel around and come back out with a chocolate chip cookie. You bite into the cookie.

That's no cookie... that's God.

It's recently baked, still warm... and so soft it's almost like eating a brownie. It's a cliche, but the cookie does basically melt in your mouth within moments as you chew it. Cutie Pie stifles her happy giggles behind her hoof and the telescope snaps back into its small size within a second and disappears.

After satisfying a drooling bunny with a blueberry muffin bigger than him, you rest your right elbow on the table and your chin on your palm, and let the fillies' conversation turn into background noise as your mind drifts away. As usual, the subject of your inner dialogue is your future in Ponyland.

Maybe instead of getting a job at somebody else's place, I should sell stuff. Yeah, that could actually bring in legit bucks. Artworks by the alien from another dimension! Could get Sweetheart to manage the financials and all. Shit, if things work close enough to my world, I could be a millionaire. Ain't no Picasso gonna compare with E. T.

You grin, daydreaming of a mansion where you swim in cash Scrooge McDuck style as maid ponies cater to your every whim until something irritates your eyes. You frown and look around. Apparently, you're not the only one. The fillies all look confused, as does Cutie Pie at the counter, rubbing her chin. What was it? What just happened?

The lights flicker again, very slightly, but just barely noticeable enough that the room becomes a few degrees darker for a moment.

What the fuck? I thought these lights were magic. Magic doesn't flicker…

The doors behind Cutie Pie's counter(that presumably lead to the kitchens) burst open and two stallions are thrown out with force, collapsing on the floor between the tables in a heap. The two are near-identical twins with striped shirts and manes, and boater hats on their heads. The only feature distinguishing one from the other is that one has a red moustache on his snout.

Two more ponies walk out of the kitchen - an orange stallion with an extremely long chin and a blue, slightly chubby mare with a very fluffy pinkish red mane. Judging from their attire and tattoos, you'd guess they were the owners, possibly even Cutie Pie's parents. In any case, both are fuming, and the orange one is holding on his hoof what looks like the lovechild of a blender and a toaster, with knives, forks and spoons sticking out in random direction. Also blinking LED lights. The thing is blowing out plumes of smoke, and as the stallion holds it up, one of the forks falls out and clatters to the floor. With a throw that would make a baseball player jealous, he tosses the device at one of the stallions' head, shattering the fragile object into pieces.

Yikes. Glad I'm not them.

Humbled, the two stallions awkwardly pick up the remains of their machine and sit behind the same table as Minty Fresh and Curly, who look so red and mortified that you could fry an egg on their faces. That explains where their dates were... man, Valentine's Day is a diiiiick. Mr. Applebutt snorts loudly, as if to simply make his displeasure towards the genius twins clear. You sip your banana milkshake and try to focus instead on the cute game of armwrestling now going on between Scooter and Applebee Jr. The two clench their jaws like heroes out of an action movie. The hooves snap together, and the two stare each other down with dark grins on their faces, each confident in their victory.

Your gaze drifts down at the stuffed bunny, who has a mischievous look on his face and motions towards the two fillies with his eyes. You wink. Suddenly, the bunny releases a loud burp, catching both Scooter and Applebee off guard and letting you lightly easily squeeze their hooves against the table, still holding onto one another. "Bam! Anon's the winner!" you declare, cross your arms and turn your back on the two in a flamboyant display of ego. A slight chill goes over you as you can just straight-up feel their eyes furiously twitching behind you, plotting revenge. I may have made a critical error. Snowy giggles at the sight, not even looking at her cube anymore, though it manages to complete itself regardless, at which point all sides drain of color, leaving the cube monochrome. It drops into Snowy's saddlebag. You peek over to get a better look at the thing, but something soft and wispy passes over your arm, disrupting your thoughts. To your surprise, you are faced with Minty Fresh's backside sauntering away from your table to the toilets. You roll your eyes and brush off your arm. Sure, lady, never mind the monkey sitting here... just throw that tail wherever you feel like, who cares if I have to start picking hairs off of my clothes... Looking back at her table, you see poor Curly rubbing her hoof into her forehead as the two stallions try their damndest to impress her with cookiecutter magic tricks.

You pick up Bunnystorm off the table and place the overfed rabbit into your breast pocket. "And this, my voluminous pal, is why we don't do Valentine's Day."

FLASH

An impossibly bright lime green light fills the little cafe in a second, blinding everyone. You collapse onto the floor, rubbing your eyes until some semblance of blurry vision returns. "What the fuck was that?" You shout angrily. Shapes dance around in your hurting eyes. You stand up and finally, you can see the interior of the store again. Just about everyone is shocked - the wonder twins are hugging one another, the huge red stallion rushes past you to the three fillies and the three owners of the store stare right out of the windows, shell-shocked.

"What? What is it-?" you turn around and your brain stops functioning for a moment.
It's gone. The entire town outside has disappeared without a trace as if it never existed, and the candy store stands on a grassy hill, all alone. Well, not quite alone. A vast number of gray-green eggs seem to be abandoned all over the place without any sort of order. Some are in piles, some are alone, some are upright, others lie on their side in the dirt. If it wasn't for the fact that the landscape was still the same, you'd have thought the building itself had teleported. But then, that'd be silly, wouldn't it...?


A riot breaks out in the store and before you can say "hey, wait...", half of the customers trample you down rather painfully, all running for the exit. As they dash through the opening however, a transparent green-tinged field of light blocks their way and every single pony bounces back in. Minty Fresh pokes at the unyielding magical wall, bemused. A force field? You rush to the closest window and sure enough, a magical bubble has encased the entire candy store.

Realising that they're sealed in, most of the ponies, to put it bluntly, lose their shit and start screaming and running all around the shop, making a mess of things. Jesus fucking Christ, these ponies... You climb onto the counter and shout "SHUT UP!" so loudly that your voice breaks. Though you couldn't possibly shout louder than the ponies, your alien language at least catches their attention and they all go quiet.

One of the two nitwit twins points at you and yelps something, throwing a glass bottle in your direction with magic. "Whoa-whoa, hey!" you duck behind the counter. "Hey-hey, that shit's got nothing to do with me!" you declare desperately. Fortunately for you, it seems like the owners have a "no murder" policy, as they step in front of you, front hooves flinging up in the air like proper Earth horses. You peek out from underneath the counter, only for your vision to suddenly be obscured by something black and velvety. You pull a black bowler hat off of your head and blink as you see a suave-looking Cutie Pie in full Sherlock Holmes regalia smiling at you - the deer stalker, the pipe, everything. How? What even the-?

Despite her absurd appearance, Cutie Pie holds the trust of the group as they all sit down following her instructions - the apple farmer and his purple companion hover over the fillies, the rest are in pairs. Cutie waves you over to her and pulls a sheet out of her mane with small, but recognisable images of every pony currently sitting in the store in a neat list, with question marks next to each and every one.

"Of course... we're the only ones left. Whatever happened out there... had to come from here. Or because of someone here." you think out loud. And now it was up to you and Cutie to figure out who it was.

Bloop bloop bloop.

"I want a bubble pipe too."

Cutie Pie instead pulls out a magnifying glass from her mane and waves around the store with a hoof. You search the store, and I'll question the ponies!

You give a thumbs up.


As Cutie gets the ponies to reorganise the tables for a proper interrogation, you head off to the kitchens to snoop around. To your surprise, it's a complete contrast to the symmetrical, beautifully set up dining area. Pots and pans are lying about everywhere, flour is spilled all over the workstation, and there's a toothless alligator sitting in the sink.

"Huh." For the sake of kids everywhere, I hope that this is those twins' doing…

You take a deep breath and splash some water onto your face. As the water drips down from your chin, you stare at your reflection. "Okay, Anon, no biggie, the entire fucking town just disappeared. ... You can do this. Things'll work out. Just figure out what's going on, things'll work out. You can do this. You can... do this." You nod to yourself, and start sweeping through the whole room with as much patience as you can muster, but find nothing that jumps out as being "magical"... except maybe the cupcakes. Sweet-ass baking. "Hey, Mini-Me..." you say, picking the little bunny out of your pocket and lowering him to the ground. "You think you can sniff through the place with your magic nose, see if you can find anything?"

The bunny nodded. "Right on. I'll check the living quarters."

Before you go, however, you pick up a long, thin kitchen blade that you slide through your belt, leaving it concealed behind your heavy cape. In the dining room, you come across a bizarre sight: Cutie sitting behind the interrogation table, talking very excitedly... to nobody. After a few moments, she jumps up and sits on the other side of the table to babble on just as happily. At the same time, the farmer stallion is busy in the corner, instructing the three fillies about something, the inventor twins are trying to put their insane blentoaster back together, and Minty Fresh and Curly non-chalantly walk past you and into the kitchen.

Clenching your jaw, you turn around and pull them back by their tails. The two look back at you, then at each other. Minty lets out a high-pitched whinny and her magic starts to glow around your arms, clearly trying to force you to release them. Instead, you pull them back into the dining room and stand in front of the kitchen doors, trying to shoo the two back to their seats. "Back. Off. You - suspects. Me - detective. Comprende?"

The two ponies look at you as if you've grown a new head.

You groan and rub your face. "I hate being me." You feel Minty pawing at your feet and you squat down to her level. To your surprise, she starts petting your head with a patronisingly friendly expression as Curly blatantly tries to sneak back into the kitchen. You try to stand up, but Minty hugs onto you with a death grip and you roll onto the floor.

Cutie Pie squees from somewhere and jumps onto the two of you. "Oh, come on!" you whine. "Is this really the time?"

Your heart sinks as you hear joyful whooping from the three fillies before they join the pony pile. At this point, it's a big mass and of hooves and snouts, and you're able to crawl out from underneath it and dash to the kitchen, where you find Curly looking through shelves of ingredients and writing things down. "GOTCHA!"

The pony shrieks, taken off guard, and drops onto the floor with a guilty expression, quickly ripping the paper up. Pretty pissed off now, you grab her by the nape of her neck and drag her out of the kitchen to the dining room, where the ponies are slowly untangling. Without much gentleness, you toss Curly amongst them and then sharply motion at the other ponies to move closer. "Alright, that's it, everybody to the floor. EVERY-FUCKING-BODY TO THE FUCKING FLOOR!"

After about five minutes of red faced shouting and you baring your canine teeth, you've managed to move all 12 ponies together, all of them now staring up at you as if you were a kindergarten teacher. You grab Cutie Pie's sheet off of the table and roll your eyes, seeing her own picture at number one. You add a little check next to her face and give the sheet back to her.

"All of you..." you motion a circle surrounding them all. "Stay. Here." You point down to the floor. "I..." you point to yourself. "Will have a look around." you motion a smaller circle with your index and middle fingers moving back and forth. "Cutie..." you pat her deerstalker-covered head. "is gonna ask questions." you tap the sheet in her hooves. "See? It ain't rocket science. Just good old fashioned A to B to C. If old-ass Pythagoras could figure it out, so can you."

You draw in a deep breath. "Alrighty then."


Nothing.

You'd searched everywhere - every bookcase, every book, every corner, every drawer, every damn toiletbowl. Frustrated and worried sick about your pony friends, you take a short break to splash some water on your face and clear your head.

Your breath hitches as the reality that you may soon have to fight for your life actually hits you. The ponies that you could trust - namely Lavender, Sweetheart and even Applebutt - were all missing. But you were not. Was that significant?

Does... whoever did this want me? Want to imprison me? I am an alien…

If that is the case, and some monster from outside had simply taken over the world and locked you here, then there's no hope that you can see. Even in your own world, you're not exactly a boxer and against tough hooves, you couldn't possibly hold out for long. But who even cares about hooves? These crazy creatures had magic that could zap you from here to pony Heaven!

What could I possibly do that could hold up against…

Against…

You rush out of the bathroom and back into the shopkeepers' living room, open the nearest window outside and extend your arm as far as you can go. Immediately, the green field becomes active, but to you, it's not a barrier at all, merely a mist that your arm passes through with nothing, but a tingle. It does, however, force back your pony-made shirt sleeve. I can leave! I can go!

Knock-knock-knock!

Your heart sinks as a pony hoof taps against the door to get your attention. The moment you reveal that you can leave the store, the ponies would no doubt be convinced that you are responsible for what's happened here. Guess I'll have to take that as it comes…

You open the door, revealing the room's actual owner, the slightly chubby blue mare whose swirly red mane makes her look like a cupcake. She looks up at you with meekness and points downstairs, vaguely towards the group, before rubbing her stomach in an indication of hunger. It then hits you that the group are actually asking for your permission to eat.

"Uh... yeah, yeah, that's not a bad idea." You nod with a gentle smile to try and defuse the tension and follow the mare back to the ground floor. As you're walking however, you hear the sound of glass breaking and rush past her to see one of the nitwit twins fly through the air and crash into one of the tables, breaking it under him. The aggressor is the apple farmer, whose usual serene, leafgreen eyes are now glowing with a stern fury. His nostrils flare and his hoof raps at the floor as if he's a bull about to tear the pathetic, lanky stallion to pieces.

"Hey!" you shout and the farmer's angry face immediately snaps up to look at you. His sudden switch in attention catches you off guard and you gulp. "P-please... let's just settle down and..." your words are interrupted by the stallion's deep voice neighing loudly, his frown deepening. Scooter, Snowy and Applebee all run to your aid and stand between you and the fearsome red pony, all three whinnying loud, furious protests. Scooter's fragile, tiny wings even flare up in an instinctively protective manner, even if all they cover is your left knee.

The stallion merely raises an eyebrow, and gives you a suspicious glance. It's not until his purple mare friend with the daffodil tattoo joins the little fillies and neighs sternly at him that the farmpony settles down and with a single snort, sends the other twin sitting near him running off to help his brother up. You release a breath and nod thankfully at Daffodil, who matches it and ushers the fillies to their seats.

Cupcake and Other Cake trot out of the kitchen, a tray of food on the stallion's back. It's not much - just a few bowls of salad - but it's decent. At least you don't have to eat sweets exclusively. Your bunny pal jumps off the tray and onto your shoulder, tapping against it with his leg and pointing at the kitchen fiercely. "You found something? What is it?"

As the others take their bowls, you push open the kitchen doors. Bunnystorm directs you towards the oven, where you see a bowl of unfinished brown dough having been left. You scowl and peek through the oven door just to be safe, but there's nothing there. "... we are not making gingerbread." The bunny bites your ear and cannonballs from your shoulder into your breast pocket, pouting.

Fucking useless...


A blissful moment of silence descends over the tired group as they eat. You sit down next to Cutie Pie, who for once isn't leaping around, but is in deep thought, her hoof rubbing her chin and tail flicking here and there randomly. "Hey there. Whatcha got?"

Cutie slides her sheet with all the doodles of everypony's faces towards you, and you notice that circles have been drawn over four of them: the filly Snowy, Minty Fresh and the twins. It hits you a moment later. "Unicorns... the only ones who can do magic." You eye the sulking pair of stallions as they huddle over their food.

She taps at your magnifying glass. "Oh! Yeah, I, uh... how do I say it..." you rip a piece of paper from your notebook and quickly draw the building, the shield holding you in and you, half-way through.

The pink pony's eyes expand as she realises you can leave. Suddenly, she hops up on a table, getting everyone's attention and pulls out an entire smorgasbord of musical instruments. The crowd is so enthralled that nobody notices her wink at you, or you nodding and quietly slipping away to the kitchens, and through there, the back door.

You try to step through the green energy field, but all of your clothes pull you back sharply. Evidently, the ponymade material is vulnerable to their magic as well. Grumbling, you remove your cloak and carefully hide your knife under it, before removing your trousers, your shirt and... "No, Anon, let's not pick the old, comfy underpants today. Let's go with the ones you gotta tear off. Fucking hell..." You leave the clothes in a neat pile next to the door. Your bunny pal's head pops out of a pocket, with a confused look. "Sorry, Mini-Me. Solo quest. You wanna handle that shit for me while I'm gone?" You nod towards the ponies still watching Cutie Pie's madcap dance.

Bunnystorm looks at them, turns back to you and his ear flattens against his head in an approximation of a military salute. "Attaboy. And no gingerbread dough!" You admonish him. The bunny just rolls his eyes at you and runs off.

You stand in front of the door in your birthday suit. Okay, this is stupid. This is dumb! There HAS to be a better way to do this! "Fuck!" You pass through the barrier unmolested and take a deep breath of fresh air. Surprisingly, however, the air is quite foul, likely from all the smelly huge eggs lying about all over the place. Deciding to move out of sight of the windows, you follow the road up to the apple farm to see if that's still standing. Your bare feet awkwardly hobble over the prickly pebbles and the wind goes right through your bones, forcing to hide your hands under your armpits for additional warmth. You start humming Camptown Races to distract yourself from the cold.

Eventually, you make your way to where the gate was judging from the shift in the road, and get a good look around. All pony-made structures are gone - the fences, the gate, the barn et cetera, but the orchard's still there. Like every other place you'd seen, the place was swarming with eggs, some of them even in the trees. It gave you the impression that they'd been dropped here without much care. Well, of course they were, they got teleported here.

You make your way to the orchard and crawl into a bush to get away from the worst of the weather, which, now that the ponies were absent, seemed to be going haywire. Inside the bush with you is one of those eggs, which gives you a great opportunity to make an examination. They are a pickle green color, with dark, etched swirls surrounding the egg. Honestly, if they weren't huge, and a bit slimy, you'd mistake them for easter eggs. "Where there's eggs, there ought be moms. Where's your mommy, kid?" you say out loud to the egg. The egg lies there silently. Out of curiosity, you sniff your slick fingers, and recoil. "Ohhhh, that's some... alien egg. Christ." Fitting with the pickled-look, the egg stinks of something distinctly vinegary.

Without warning, the smell seems to affect your head a little, as you become disoriented and lie on the ground to get your bearings straight. Instead of helping however, your vision starts tumbling all over the place and a sharp pain hits your forehead. You'd yelp out loud if you could, but you are paralysed. A small part of your brain that still works recognises the symptoms and cheers in spite of how horrible you feel.

Luna!

Chapter 17

View Online

Your mind feels like a little puddle of oil floating on an immense, blue-and-black sea. The waves flow in from every direction against nature, forcing you to stick together, keeping your mind from being dissolved in her immortal existence. But though you may not disappear entirely, you are, right now, a part of her.

You are Luna, Princess of the Night and co-ruler of Equestria. You find yourself standing on four pony hooves in a wet, cold cave with only the horns of the unicorns illuminating the place and revealing the decayed webbing and chunks of biological glue strung about, indicating it to be the former home of a large insect race. You see her... your(?) little ponies huddling closely to one another, reverting to their herd mentality when faced with a situation they struggle to adapt to.

Understanding starts to drip into the oil puddle that makes up the tiny human mind swimming in Luna's immortality. Information. Every single thing you learn hurts and takes the puddle one step closer to disintegration, but you know that imbuing that puddle with this knowledge is of the utmost importance, for that puddle is your one chance of escape, the variable that your enemy could never have predicted.

The Changelings are an insectoid branch of the equine race.
They are protected by a nigh impenetrable chitin armor.


They feed on other ponies' love without consent.
They need love as fire needs wood.


They are shapeshifters, and expert liars.
They are most likely to take the appearance of someone with a devoted partner or followers.


You see images flashing through your mind - the ferocious Changelings descending on Canterlot like angry wasps, a white stallion with a mane of various shades of blue, familiar lime green eyes and a dopey grin on his face.

The Queen with the crooked horn, standing over you with a victorious smirk, her seaweed-like mane flowing down her face and covering her right eye. Her hoof, riddled with holes, rises to strike down on you…

"SHIT!"

At the last second, you roll out from under Chrysalis' hoof, which rams into the ground, leaving a noticeable dent in the earth. You gasp as you can suddenly sense the bizarrely hot rain pouring down on the two of you, the grass underneath your feet and the stifling lack of air. You're back in your own human body, and not a moment too soon.

Chrysalis' horn lights up and your throat glows green, but is unharmed. Visibly confounded, she speaks, and her voice sounds completely different to the high-pitched horse-like sounds made by your friends. Instead, clicking and sawing sounds emerge from the Changeling Queen's throat, bringing to mind gross, overgrown crickets and spiders. You back away and desperately look around for anything resembling a weapon, but can see nothing apart from giant trees and feeble bushes. Meanwhile, the Queen lowers her head and charges at you like a fierce bull.

You barely dodge her and grab ahold of her horn, which starts flickering erratically with green energy. Chrysalis flails around on her hind hooves, trying to turn around and gut punch you, but you grip onto her horn, inadvertently pulling you onto the Changeling Queen's back. You force your knees against her sides as tight as possible to not be thrown off as Chrysalis bolts.

"Whoa-hoa! Whoa!"

And there you are, riding your first pony through the countryside.


For about 10 seconds.

Chrysalis throws her head back, knocking you on the nose, and causing you to slip off and fall onto the sharp pebbles on what used to be the town centre. "Aooowww... pretty sure I'm never having kids now..." you groan, holding your tortured balls. Before she can poke some holes in you as well, however, you thrust up your foot and slam it straight into her jaw, which makes her howl in pain and gives you the time to get up and run, dodging the eggs as best you can. As you run past them, you can feel the sweltering heat that they emanate even in what feels like molten lava pouring down incessantly from the clouds.

Must be close to hatching.

Chrysalis spits out a tooth and pursues you. Using her magic, she piles the eggs around to form a barrier preventing you from getting past the town line. You turn around to see her walking towards you slowly and chuckling, clearly eager to take as much pleasure from killing you as possible.
"Okay... alright..." you growl at her. "Fuck, this is gonna hurt."

Giving up any notion of holding back, you lunge at the bugpony, whose thin, malnourished form collapses under the sudden pressure. The two of you roll on the muddy ground, your arms clamped around the wriggling Changeling and your teeth biting into her exposed, soft neck as hard as you can. Chrysalis screeches in pain and bucks you in the stomach with her hind hooves. While you gasp for air on the ground, she gallops off and you're left lying in the middle of the town square, the near-boiling hot rain splattering uncomfortably on you.

Oh, it hurt.

You throw up, cleaning your mouth of a glob of slimy Changeling blood as well as all the treats you enjoyed this morning. Rubbing your mouth clean, you peel off a chunk of dried blood from your upper lip. That mental contact must've done quite a number on me. Shit, I'm not gonna have an aneurysm, am I? "Fucking hell..."

You get to your feet, feeling the ugly bruise swelling up on your chest. "Owwwww... ow, fuck. Fuck-fuck-fuck..."

As you slowly stagger towards the sweets shop through all the eggs, you see that that all the windows are strangely covered up with curtains and there's no sign of life to be seen. How long was I out anyway?

You make your way to the backdoor, only to find it locked up so you start rapping on the door. "Hey! Let me in! HEY!" Becoming increasingly upset, you start pounding. "HEY! OPEN THIS DAMN DOOR! COME ON!"

No response. You plod to the front door, only to find the same result. The door was shut and when you pressed your ear against it, you could hear no sounds coming from within the shop.

You eye a loose brick on the stairs leading up to the main door and after a bit of a struggle, dislodge it. "OPEN THE DAMN DOOR OR I'LL... oh yeah, no English." You shake your head and, praying that the shield only works one-way, toss the brick at the window right of the door. Thankfully, it smashes right through and you're able to snake your arm in-between the broken glass and unlatch the window. When you pull your arm back, however, your victory makes you just careless enough to scrape it against the still-hanging shards, leaving an ugly red gash bleeding out like nobody's business.

"FUUUUU-UUUCK!"

You pull the window open and carefully step in, but no care in the world could account for all the minuscule bits of glass that tear little scratches all over your leg on your first step alone, or the rather larger shard that digs into your right sole. "Shit!" you whine and cry a little involuntarily. Limping heavily into the shop and dripping rainwater, blood and sweat everywhere, you find most of the ponies asleep, no doubt from the absolutely stifling atmosphere.

The fillies were resting on a mattress in front of the counter, and the apple farmer's girlfriend was with them. Behind the counter, Cupcake and Other Cake are snoring too, with the pudgy blue mare's head resting comfortably on the orange stallion's shoulder. Minty Fresh and Curly are still sitting behind tables, their chins on their hooves and their others hooves touching together. It would've been a sweet sight, had it not been for the fact that all eight ponies were glowing green and, judging from the fact that they couldn't hear you smash in, in a magically induced sleep.

But where's the-?

Sharply, your mind is disconnected from your body. Vaguely, you realise that you're collapsing onto the floor and a blurry, giant red shape hangs over you. Are you moving now? It's almost like sleep paralysis. You try to talk, but you're not sure if anything's coming out of your mouth or not. It occurs to you that the scenery has changed. You're moving now... are those stairs? Why does my head hurt?

Even that semblance of vision is lost as you're sent rolling down the stairs, turning your vision into a whirlpool until you finally hit your nose against a painfully hard, but blissfully cool concrete floor and black out completely.

Chapter 18

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Pain and cold are never the best things to wake up to. You are still lying on the dusty floor of the Ponyville candy shop basement and feel like a steamroller has driven over you. The bruises left by Chrysalis throb painfully, and the scratches left from all the broken glass make your arm and legs stiff and difficult to use. Nevertheless, with some perseverance, you're able to push yourself up to a sitting position against the wall, letting loose a hacking cough once you manage to do so. It's only then that you notice you're not alone in the basement. Two light yellow unicorns are there with you, quietly staring at you, clearly scared. You recognise them as the twin troublemakers you met earlier, only this time their stripy shirts have vanished and bizarre stone locks are attached to their horns, which you assume has something to do with diminishing the horns' magic.

"Hey, fellas." You mumble and hold your hands up. "It's okay, I won't hurt ya." You then realise that one of their shirts is wrapped around your right arm, specifically the deep gash where the glass really dug in. The other shirt has been ripped in two and tied tightly around your feet to keep them from bleeding out. "Did you guys do this while I was asleep? Guess I was wrong about ya."

The unicorns merely blink at you and exchange hushed whispers. You leave them to their conversation and try to come up with a plan. Obviously, you and your compatriots have been locked in. I need a battle plan. But nothing about this makes any sense! This isn't what Changelings do! Though Princess Luna had managed to use her strange magic to show you everything she knew about these creatures, their behaviour still didn't add up.

Well, if you don't know what you're doing, go back to the beginning. That's what momma Anon always told ya.

Flash... boom, no more Equestria. And all these eggs... the temperature outside was unbearably humid, so Chrysalis was using the pony-controlled weather to turn the land into one giant incubator... for her new army.

Wait, what was it I saw in Luna's mind...? The memory of it was vague, like a dream, but with some concentration, you were able to pull it back. Ponies... in darkness, in caves. Filled with all sorts of bug shit. One little flash, and everypony was trapped deep down below, yet the land was filled with eggs... she switched it around. The entire world. With a spell. One spell. You rub your skull, trying to make sense of it. Why would Chrysalis care where her eggs are hatched? Unless she couldn't hatch them down there, but those nests have always been the Changelings' home, so... bah, that's not important! How do we reverse this, Anon-old boy?

One spell. It took one spell to do all this, so it has to be one spell to reverse it. Just gotta get a unicorn…

You eye the huddling pair across the room from you with the magic nullifiers clamped on their horns.

Is this why they're down here? No, that doesn't make sense. There were other unicorns upstairs. And why are we all still here anyway? My... anti-magic thingy isn't that powerful. It never affects my surroundings. Chrysalis wanted this place to stick around. But she doesn't need me, she tried to kill me.

Memories of your return to the candy store start coming back to you. Everyone unconscious, bathed in green Changeling energy... but not the twins.

They need love as fire needs wood. Unless those cupcakes really are some serious Walter White magic, they need the ponies, not the shop. So what's so special about these ponies, EXCEPT for the twins?

You squint as the unicorns neigh at one another, angrily waving hooves about over a sack of granulated sugar.

Why take this place...?

Your mind flashes back to when you first entered the shop... you don't even know when. The place was decked out in red hearts, Cutie Pie offering you free candy, the apple farmer and the purple mare staring into each other's eyes lovingly, all celebrating…

FUCK YOU, VALENTINE'S DAY. FUCK YOU. It's love! These two unicorns were shit-heads, they can't supply anyone with love! So okay, this whole place is a battery, all fixed up with lovey-dovey ponies. But it couldn't possibly feed all those Changeling eggs out there. It has to be for something else. Something, something…

scratch

You frown. "Shhhh!" You hiss at the nitwit twins chomping on sugar. "Shut up!" The two look up at you in confusion.

scratch

"Where's that coming from?"

scratch scratch scratch

Using your left arm, you pull yourself towards the stairs leading up to the door. "Okay. Here goes." Leaning on your left hand, you push your body up to the first step. And the second. And the third. You wince every time you're forced to rest your weight on your cut-up legs, and snarl out in pain involuntarily. "Ohhh... you think you get to be in a nice little world full of snuggly ponies, but no, nooo, fucking overgrown fucking cockroaches gotta fuck you up! Oooh, let's use our fancy magic to screw everything up and then dump Anon in the piss snow that's left, that'll be fun! Owww..." you grumble to distract yourself from the pain until you're up at the door.

"Who is it?" You whisper.

The only response is the sound of grinding as a little golden key emerges from the gap between the door and the floor. You can't help, but grin. Grabbing ahold of the door knob, you pull yourself to your feet, forcing down the sensation of glass in your feet with gritted teeth. You unlock the door, revealing Sweetheart's white little bunny, with a smug grin and one ear bent in a military salute.

"Mini-Me!" You whisper gleefully. The bunny runs up your leg and chest to your shoulder, thumping his fist against your cheek playfully. "Good to see you too, buddy. We got a big-ass problem to mop up." You motion for the two unicorns downstairs to follow you up but they emphatically shake their heads, shuddering and moving out of your sight. "Get. Up!" You hiss at them. "Pfft, if you wanna stay down there..." You quietly close the door behind them and turn back to the bunny. "Do you know which pony here is the Changeling?"

The bunny shrugs.

You roll your eyes. "Great. Okay, best guess..."

You did remember the farmer was the one who nearly gave you a concussion and threw you down here to begin with... but your, or rather, Luna's memories of Chrysalis' M.O. suggested that she preferred to take the image of other mares. Someone with a devoted partner or followers.

And mr Applebutt had come here with that fluffy-maned purple mare you'd not seen before. The one who'd hovered around your favourite three fillies since this whole mess started, like a bloody tick.


As quietly as possible, you limp your way away from the door and the stairs leading to the owners' living space on the 2nd floor, to the back end of the store. There's no other movement that you can notice, no chittering bug sounds or the flutter of Chrysalis' membrane wings. You find your clothes still neatly set down next to the door, just where you left them. "Listen..." you tell the bunny. "I can't... bend down. Can you get my knife for me?"

Bunnystorm nods once and runs down your back and into your clothes, emerging with the long, sharp kitchen knife you'd borrowed. Unable to climb up your leg with it, he holds it up as high as he can. You wince and, leaning against the wall, lower yourself down enough to grasp the blade between your fingers and pull the knife out of your friend's paws. "Phew. Okay... okay." You take a breather and rest your head against the wall, suddenly feeling a bit dizzy.

You slowly orient yourself again and limp into the central room of the store, eyeing Daffodil-butt lying on the mattress, using part of the fillies' mattress as a pillow and apparently as comatose as everyone else. As you watch her chest slowly rise and fall in a regular rhythm, doubt starts creeping into your mind. Is it really her? I can't attack her without knowing for sure.

You intentionally buckle your knees(it being the only way you could get to kneel in your current state) and hold your slender kitchen knife at the mare's throat, breathing heavily. "I know it's-it's you." You stutter, waiting for the mare to spring to life and attack you. Who knows what other aces she might hold up her metaphorical sleeve. "I'm going to stop you."

They don't speak English.

"Oh... God." You pull the knife away from the sleeping mare and rub your forehead in pure frustration. "What am I doing?"

The cold steel blade at your throat answers that question. Your whole body tenses up and you tilt your head very gently to the right, breathing in short spurts. To your shock, Cutie Pie's sweet baby blue eyes look back at you, a victorious smirk on her pink muzzle. With her hoof, she reaches up into her frizzy mane and pulls off the Sherlock Holmes deerstalker to reveal a black, crooked horn glowing green.

You scowl and grab ahold of her knife, your anti-magic capability cancelling out her grip on it. “You know what? My feet REALLY FUCKING HURT!!” Cutie/Chrysalis' eyes widen as you thrust the knife forward in her direction, and she barely dodges your attack. Worn down by your injuries, you slide down to the floor and see your bunny friend skitter across the floor towards the Changeling Queen, baring his minuscule teeth. A moment later, the rabbit flies across the room squealing and crashes into a wall.

A series of loud thumping noises from the kitchen interrupt the fight. Cutie/Chrysalis hisses in displeasure and abandons you to rush through the kitchen doors, and you're forced to drag your beaten body after her, still clutching onto the knives. You push the doors open just in time to see the Cake ponies' oven melt away to reveal a strange large stone with lines etched all over, where magical green light shines out. It was something that you'd never seen before either in real life or the memories Luna had hammered into your head, but you guessed that the stone was related to the massive displacement spell cast over Equestria.

Chrysalis, having dropped her disguise, leans against the stone with her front hooves, the magic of her horn throbbing in rhythm with the stone. Her eyes are scrunched shut in concentration, and she pays no attention to you.

Right... this is it... you force yourself up to a sitting position and throw one of your two knives right at Chrysalis. It bounces off of the bugpony's chitin harmlessly with a clang, and she doesn't even react. Damn, I forgot about the armor. You crawl closer towards the Changeling Queen, holding a firm sweaty grip over your other knife. When you're finally sitting right next to the bugpony, you hold up the blade, ready to strike down at one of the soft, fleshy bits between the impenetrable cover.

However, a red hoof slaps your hand, knocking the knife onto the ground and sending a sensation of lightning across your nerves. You let loose a howl and hold onto your hand as the ferocious farmer stallion, still mind-controlled by the Changeling Queen, puts his hooves around you and easily throws your limp form across the room and into the opposite wall. Some fancy crockery tumble off the shelves, a cup shattering on your head. You’re officially down for the count.

The dazed red stallion blinks and rubs his face in a circular motion, having gotten a few drops of your blood in his eyes. Ever-so-subtly, his poisonous green eyes shift to a softer, deeper grass green and the pony tilts his head in confusion as he sees the mess in the room. Focusing on Chrysalis, the stallion's face contorts in righteous fury and he charges at the Changeling Queen, only to be forced to deal with a dozen different kitchen appliances being magically thrown in his direction to allow the cockroach of a pony to focus on the stone.

As the stallion tries fruitlessly to get past her defences, you regain enough of your mental faculties to pull yourself across the room with one hand, leaving a bloody trail behind. Just... have to... get to... stone... You only have one shot at stopping her. It appears that the farmer stallion realises this, as he starts neighing aggressively and, in a remarkable feat of strength, pulls out the kitchen sink to throw at the bugpony queen, distracting her even more.

Reaching the stone, you run your fingers over the blood running down from your head and squeeze your drenched digits into the glowing gaps in the stone.

FLASH

As the green blaze of light fades away, the first thing you see is Chrysalis, staring at the now-dead stone in utter disbelief before slowly turning towards you and giving you a look of utter hatred. You laugh in her face deliriously, ready to be crushed under her vengeful hooves, but the recovered farmer stallion's growl and the loud horse noises in the next room force her to reconsider and instead, the visage of the innocent Cutie Pie replaces her fearsome insect appearance. Before Mr. Applebutt can even lay a hoof on her, the Queen of Cockroaches dashes out of the window and disappears into the confused crowd.

Finally... can take a nap... you think as the room turns blurry and you slowly pass out for the third and last time today.

Chapter 19

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You shiver underneath the covers, a sheen of cold sweat covering your forehead peeking out. Not only have your recent exploits physically incapacitated you for a while, but somewhere along the way, you'd picked up a helluva case of flu. Maybe it was that nap out in the rain. Or the one you took on the stone floor of the candy shop's basement. It occurs to you that you nap in many strange places.

Now, you are the sole resident of a large private ward in the ponies' hospital under an extremely strict quarantine. You couldn't really blame them - after all, you are a weird alien golem thing. But you couldn't help missing the friends you'd made an awful lot, particularly the fillies and Sweetheart. You are able to see them once in a while, with a plastic sheet between you and them, but it isn't enough for you, and you're sure it isn't enough for them either. Your communication is, after all, almost entirely based on hugs. Still, it's enough to at least settle your mind and make you wish your body just hurried the fuck up so you could get out of here. You've never felt so bad about being lazy in bed all day.

From the clopping of hooves and the squeak of wheels behind your back, you surmised that your one and only break from the monotony had arrived: the Nurse. Since you'd woken up here, the young white mare with a soft pink flamingo mane tied in a bun had been the one to look after you. You were too weary and ill to care why or how. Nurse is very kind, a true professional and you can tell she has a passion for helping others. Though your ape form must no doubt be strange and off putting to her, you never catch a wince or a quick eyebrow raise.

The day begins as always, with Nurse pushing in a cart-sized wheelchair. It's too big even for you, let alone the ponies - you assumed it was designed for one of those big horses, like the princesses, though you hadn't seen any since your visit to the capital. However, since you aren't moving much anyway, you saw no reason to complain.

Nurse moves the wheelchair to the right side of the bed, between you and the window that you're facing. Clamped in her teeth is a red ribbon, tied to a small cardboard box with three pink butterflies printed on, that you already know contains presents and food from your group of friends. You're deeply touched every time you see one. It's quite remarkable how deeply the little equines care for someone they consider one of their own. Nurse sets the box on your bedside table and then pulls the damp, hot comforter off of you, exposing you to what you feel to be the biting winds of Antarctica.

With Nurse providing her back as a support for your right hand, and your left hand gripping onto the bed's metal rails, you manage to push yourself onto the elevated wheelchair without having to use your injured legs too much. As you huddle on top of the chair, Nurse expertly pulls you away from the bed and helps you to the bathroom, leaving you there to manage on your own as she replaces the sheets.

"F-f-f-f-fu-u-u-ck..." you stutter, and grab one of the blankets for warmth before washing your teeth. Your reflection was a fright - all sticky hair, dark shadows under the eyes and a permanent blush. Because of your jittering, you actually manage to finish quite fast, eager to hide your hands under your armpits. Nurse appears at the door and cruelly pulls the blanket off of you, followed by your hospital gown as you get ready for a sponge bath.

The concept of having one of the ponies clean you might've seemed more than a little strange in different circumstances, but you had little choice and now, you cannot deny you enjoy the natural warm feelings of safety and care that flood over you as Nurse's tender hooves work their way across your body, rubbing away the byproducts of your sickness. The combined heat from the water and her smooth, velvety body close to you drive away the fever cold just for a few blissful minutes. "T-t-t-thank y-you, Nurse..." you mumble, and close your eyes.


Back under the now-crispy and cool covers, you untie the string around the box and take off the top. Inside, you find an assortment of treats - unfortunately, as delectable as the slice of apple pie seems, you're far too sick to ingest food and so you place that on the box top you left on the bedside table, along with a few muffins, cupcakes and a random fistful of... fried grass? Who the heck fries grass?

You also pull out three photos, looking like they've been made with the pony equivalent of a Polaroid. The first one shows Applebee and Snowy squeezed into your old denim trousers, with Scooter balanced on their front hooves, wearing your T-shirt and trying to casually lean on a tree. They make one hell of a human.

The second photograph is a bit more classical - Sweetheart sitting on her lawn in front of her cottage, with all the various birds and rodents around her in the shape of a heart, all giving genuine smiles at the camera. The love they all had for one another, and you, shone through the image like a lightbulb suddenly turned on, and your shivering slowed down and stopped as you imagined going back there, and being welcomed home by your caretaker.

Home…

Is this it now? Are you accepting your stay here in this quirky little town, where trusting magical ponies run about your feet every day and love the shit out of everyone who falls into their spiderweb of friendship without expectations?

You watch as Nurse trots to your bedside with a cheerful smile and hops up to your wheelchair, where her eyes bulge out as she notices the freshly baked apple pie slice sent to you. You can't help, but snicker slightly as her tiny red tongue slips out of her mouth and hangs there, building up a bead of drool. You release your Nurse from the agony and hand her the pie.

Receiving confirmation from your eyes, Nurse takes a large bite and chews it, her cheeks comically puffing up and her sky-blue eyes rolling out of pleasure.

Yeah, you're staying. Showing these indescribably charming, wholesome ponies the love they deserve may be impossible, but it's a mission worth undertaking regardless. "I'll boop the lot of ya, I swear." you mumble and pinch Nurse's tiny nose. You hear a muffled squeak coming out of her throat behind all the pie, and she goes cross-eyed.

Satisfied, you let Nurse finish her unofficial breakfast and take a nap, knowing that sleep's the best medicine. As your mind starts drifting away, you hear a soft humming, briefly bringing you back. You force one eye slightly open, just a slit, but it's enough to see Nurse lower her hoof on your back, which she starts stroking slowly. Her mouth is open, meaning that she's not just humming, she's singing to you. You pout a bit, wishing you could understand the words. It sounded pretty... your eye closed shut again, enjoying the caress of the soft hoof across your back and the lovely voice of your Nurse.

In your hand, you hold the final photograph of a pink filly with a carefully styled purple-white mane, sitting on an expensive four-poster bed and holding up a messy watercolor painting of a sunlit field, where a brownish biped strolls with one of his limbs holding onto the hoof of a pink quadruped with a tiara-shaped object on her head.

Chapter 20

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Ever had one of those nights, where you suddenly emerged from your sleep as fresh as if you'd just gone jogging?

Well, no matter. Now you do. You find yourself staring at the clock in your dimly lit hospital ward, underneath a heavy comforter. For the moment, it seems as if your fever has passed, leaving you healthy and happy... and aching, and permanently scarred... kinda hungry.

Let's go adventuring!

You throw the covers off and pull your heavily-bandaged feet out of bed. Fortunately, your mobility has been slowly improving and so you're not forced to rely on the cumbersome wheelchair. Instead, you take the pair of long walking sticks left by your Nurse. Crutches would have been preferable, but obviously there are none around that would match your specific height, so compromises had to be made. In any case, you are just about able to hobble around, provided you didn't rest your weight on either foot for too long.

Using your elbow, you push the door open and carefully limp out into the eerily quiet, brightly lit corridor. You feel a mixture of guilt and elation - you had been going crazy sitting in your ward all day, but you do feel bad about disobeying Nurse. Still... surely a quick little stroll around the place wouldn't hurt anything? Maybe just a peek out of the first window you find and then back into bed? Yeah…

Trying to keep the noise from your support canes knocking against the floor as low as possible, you slowly amble towards the next corridor, only to pause when you the telltale squeak of something heavy swinging from metal. Frowning, you pause and listen until narrowing the source down to what looks like a closet door. You grab the knob and try to push it open, only to have your way obstructed by a steel cabinet. You peek in through the sliver and see a pony hanging by its tail from a shelf, flailing around, stuck!

You slam your body weight against the door, forcing it open just enough for you to be able to squeeze in. The ordeal hurts your feet like hell, but your curiosity overrides the pain for now. You're in some kind of a freezer room, filled with canisters of fluid, crates and packaged blood. You sit on one of the cabinets to ease your aching legs and look up at the trapped pony.

By the jawline, you estimate that it's a stallion, with dark grey fur, but much longer than you're used to, giving him a bit of a shaggydog look. His spiky, slightly unkempt mane is reddish brown. Most notably, his crimson red eyes have slitted pupils rather than the orbs you're used to, and his wings are leathery and batlike, far different from the other pegasi you'd seen. They're also wrapped around his body with bandages, preventing him from steadying himself. "Hello there." You say.

Shaggy swivels around and focuses on you. Even upside down, he's able to tell that you're nothing like he's ever seen before, and the pony freezes up. "It's okay." You rest the sticks against the cabinet and hold out your hands. "I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just here to help you down from there."

Since the room isn't exactly designed for your size, you can move under the bat pony and support him all the way up to the shelf corner his tail got tangled up in, enabling him to loosen it up and drop down on his four hooves. He looks up at you with his fiery red eyes wide open in pure amazement. They are probably frightening to his own kind, you figure, but to you, they seem like an awesome add-on to a fluffy ball of evil.

"There, that's better, isn't it? What are you doing, climbing shelves anyway?" You glance up to see the wrapped, stacked bags of transfusion-ready blood. Surely not…

The bat pony opens his mouth and you can see the vocal cords pumping rapidly in his throat, but not a peep reaches your ears. A distant memory from school drifts into your mind. Bats make ultrasonic sounds, which cannot be heard by humans. The same seemed to apply to this creature.

The sound of hooves clopping purposefully on the marble floors outside interrupted the two of you. Shaggy puts his hoof near his lips, motioning for you to be quiet. You nod and the two of you back into the shadows. There, you see the pony walking by stop at the door and shove its face through the space you left ramming through. It's Nurse, with a tense look on her face and a frazzled mane. You feel another pang of guilt. Please don't let her check the ward. Please don't let her check the ward…

She slides in through the crack in the doorway and immediately stops in front of the cabinets, noticing the sticks you forgot there. Shit! Shit! Shit!

You give up and limp out from behind the shelves, feeling awfully embarrassed. Nurse's eyes close to a squint, and you avoid her frustrated gaze. Using her mouth, she picks up your sticks and throws them in your general direction. Once you've caught them, she moves behind your back and basically headbutts you out the door.

Outside, she latches onto your hospital gown with her teeth and pulls you away from the supply room towards your ward, clearly not satisfied until she's got you back in bed. You manage a passing glance back at the supply room door, from where two red orbs disappear as soon as you spot them, with the door shutting behind the bat pony.

Back in the ward, Nurse leads you back to bed, where the two of you notice the bandages around your feet have turned red. Nurse has you rest them on a stool as she gets the kit from a nearby table.
"I'm sorry."

You know she can't understand you, but you want to say it regardless. Nurse looks up at you, her sky blue eyes gentle and concerned. She places a hoof on your chest. You hold onto it. "Hey, I promise I won't do that again."

Nurse uses her teeth to slowly unwrap your feet and gets a needle and thread to repair your stitches before bandaging them back up again and then helping you under the sheets. At this point, you've gone from feeling terrible to feeling like shit for keeping her away from well-deserved rest. But you don't really know how to make it up to her, so all you can do is just lay on the bed like an idiot and watch as Nurse wiggles out of the door with your long walking sticks clamped in her mouth.

As the door shuts behind her, you thud your head against the pillow in frustration and stare at the ceiling with a lump in your throat.

Can't even fucking apologise…

Not for the first time, a wave of anger washes over you as you ponder your inability to communicate effectively with the ponies. I don't really even know them. I can't know them. What's the point in being in the happiest place in the universe if you can't be a part of it? Do they even want me here? They seem to really like me, but maybe they're just scared of me. Except Sweetheart. But hey, what doesn't that mare like? And the fillies... but they're young. I'm just a big, cool thing for them until they find something new. A science project for Lavi…

You toss and turn under the covers, unable to shake off your bitterness. A tear wets the pillow. It's at that point that you simply force your brain to shut up, so you could get some sleep at last.


For the first time in your life, you know that you're dreaming. A sense of wicked glee comes over you as you manipulate your dream-self like a sort of puppet, floating around the ponies' town, all of them looking up at you with cute expressions of wonder.

You wiggle one of your toes, tickling all of them at once. It's hil-ARIOUS! Look at the little fusspots, all laughing. Why, it's almost as if your being there has made them happier! Best not tell the princesses, lest they get jealous.

Let's paint a pretty picture, shall we? Our canvas, the world. Starting with that bland blue sky. How we haven't gone mad with its constant blueness is beyond me. Oh well! Let's make it yellow. Shiny gold, that's more inspiring. And with little pink fluffs of cloud here and there. Yellow and pink, always a darling combination if you asked me.

And that eternally green landscape, I mean really! You'd think the artist was blind. Why don't we add some variety? Purple is far more fashionable, and if we vary the shades in matching squares, the little ponies can play chess whenever, wherever! Pretty and practical, that's me.

You snap your fingers and make it so. With the ponies busy-busy-bzzz like the worker bees they are, you skate your way up and down the hills in a melancholy mood. Though you're very proud of your redesign and cleverness, it doesn't help. You still feel lonely, fooling around in a toy landscape. It's been so so long since you enjoyed the company of an equal mind.


You grumble as someone rubs on your shoulder, pulling you away from that delightfully zany dream. "What?!" You snap, forcing your sleep sand-coated eyes to open. Seeing two curious glowing red eyes with catlike slits staring back at you, you recoil slightly on instinct before remembering the friendly bat pony you encountered earlier. "Oh... hey. How'd you get here?"

Shaggy merely cocks his head to the side and runs around in a circle before focusing on your hand and fingers. Dude's like a bored cat. With no shame, he latches onto your pinky finger and suckles on it slightly, running his rough tongue over your nail and then spitting it out again. His expression drifts to the ceiling, as if considering the taste.

"Uh... Shaggy?" You wave a hand over his eyes, getting his attention. "The fuck you doing here?" Shaggy just blinks. Great, he's about as responsive as a cat too.

With no warning, the bat pony hops onto the bed, right on your stomach("Oof!") and then beside you, so he can give you a hug. "Okay, hugging now... that's... yeah..." It was kinda nice to be the huggee for once though, especially given your foul mood earlier. He also rubbed the top of your head, which was also soothing.

Definitely don't get this treatment from cats... maybe I should call Nurse. But she did want me to stay in bed... I'll stay here til something bad happens. Yeah... damn, this cuddle is nice though... maybe he's just glad I helped him out of that shelf…

The rhythm of his breathing soothes you, until your nose wrinkles at a peculiar smell that you associate with the taste of…

Copper.

Bats.

Blood.

Teeth.

You throw yourself out of bed and onto the floor, crawling as far away from the bat pony as possible. The bat pony jumps out too, but motions for you to slow down with his hoof. He then points at himself, and to you, and then makes shakes his head. Does he mean... he's not gonna hurt me? What if he's lying?!

Realizing that you're not believing him, the bat pony's ears flatten onto his head, and he slumps a little. He looks so sad and dejected that you start feeling regret, but nonetheless, you still can't bring yourself to 100% trust the creature. With a doleful expression, Shaggy opens the door and leaves quietly.

You make your way back to bed, once again fully awake and resigned to the fact that you're just not destined to get good night's sleep tonight.

World-conquering insect ponies one day, snuggling bat ponies the other day... you snort to yourself out loud. "Oh well... what fun is there in making sense?"

Chapter 21

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What if Sweetheart likes not having me around? I'm a burden who can't even talk.

What if... what if these ponies are not what I think they are? How do I know stopping the Changelings was the right thing to do?

Maybe once they learn enough about my world to make passage there, they'll stop indulging me and lock me up somewhere... take me apart to figure out how my anti-magic works…

what if-

Nurse's teeth latch onto your comforter and pull it off of you in one swoop. With a friendly smile, she then moves to the other side of the bed and points her hoof at the calendar, with an X marked on the current day. The day you go ho- the day you go back to that cottage you're staying in for now. Temporarily. You smile back politely, but your insides are all jittery.

The encounter with the Changelings had a bigger effect on you than you'd thought at first - as you'd sat on your bed these past two weeks, your lack of understanding when it comes to this world had come to clear focus and you just... worried. About everything. You can't help it.

What's going to happen to me? Am I just stuck here like this forever? Who can I trust, and why?

With a sigh, you lower your feet to the floor. Though communication with your healers was difficult, it seems that you're improving fast, now having to only rely on one wooden cane to move around as the deep cuts on your legs grew less and less bothersome. You pull the gown over your head and pull out your own clothes from the bedside drawer. They're the same white shirt and black trousers you'd worn the day of the invasion. Since you hadn't had the chance to put them back on after leaving through the bloody cockroach queen's magic shield, you had no idea how they ended up in the hospital with you, but here they are, Dracula cloak and all.

You manage to squeeze all the leftover candy into one paper bag to carry with you(nature abhors waste, after all) and exit the ward. Nurse sits on her haunches at the door, her fluffy pink tail flicking absentmindedly. She reminds you of a dutiful guard dog so much that you have to force yourself not to scratch her cheek. These are conscious beings, with agendas. Tone it down, idiot.

Awkwardly, you extend your hand in goodbye. One of her ears twitches in slight confusion as she gives you her hoof, which you slowly shake. "Um, thanks. For everything. Yeah." Oh, what's the point? They don't understand. To avoid further embarrassment, you just nod, turn around and limp away with your bag. This day was not off to a great start.

When you reach a corner, you look back, but Nurse has disappeared. Yeah, yeah, she's got a dozen patients probably. At least I'm out of her hair now.


You find yourself standing in front of the hospital, alone and increasingly uncomfortable. Ponies move about their business all around you, but you can just sense their short, curious looks in your direction. What's that giant monkey doing here, unguarded? I hope he's been fed. An image of that rich filly's butler pony serving you up a chunk of meat in a blue dog bowl flashed into your mind, and you dug your nails into the paper bag, ripping it slightly.

Looking around, you find all the benches occupied by at least one pony, and you don't want to upset them or draw further attention to yourself by sitting next to a patient. Can I sit down on the grass? What'll they think of me then? Uncultured? Abandoned? Feeling bitter and isolated, you do just that.

They sent nobody to meet me? How the heck am I supposed to find my way back to the cottage? For the first time, you question Sweetheart's competence as a... zookeeper, or whatever she does. Who just leaves an animal in unknown territory like that? Fuck! The fuck am I supposed to do now? Go sleep in a trench? In spite of your doubts, you'd come to see Sweetheart as someone you can count on, and the notion that you might've been wrong is so upsetting that you start rubbing your eyes to avoid crying here and now. "Shit..."

Suddenly, you feel a cold nose poking against your hands. You lower them to meet Shaggy the bat pony's concerned gaze. "The fuck do you want again?" you snap, seriously not in the mood for games. "Fucking weirdo..."

Being on equal level with you, Shaggy moves in to try and nuzzle your cheek, but you move out of the way and push yourself up with your cane, out of his reach. The bat pony's face sags in a frown. "I don't know what you're after, but I'm not your teddy bear, dude. So I'd reaaaally love it if you... you..." you pause as you see a familiar pink shape bounce in and out of your vision.

"No fucking way!" You shout and try to hurriedly limp back into the hospital, but the cockroach queen is faster than you and stops in front of you, a remarkably creepy grin on her face. No doubt back for revenge. "Stay away from me!"

You trip, and fall onto your hard candy. "Ow!"

The disguised pink pony's smile drops and she pulls on your shirt with her teeth, dragging you up to a sitting position. "What are you after?!" you whine, not wanting to have to fight for your life again.

The pony makes an O-face, and then slowly reaches for your right hand with her snout. You pull it away quickly. What's she gonna do, bite off my fingers? This seems to surprise her, and for a few moments, she just sits there with a depressed frown, as if unsure what to do now. Finally, she points her hoof at your hand, and then to her head.

Wha...?

You try and follow her by raising your hand, which is what she seems to want as she pushes her head against it, letting your hand pass through the light curls and feel around the warm, round forehead, all whilst looking at you expectantly.

What's so special about her head? I…

Your mind flashes back to that terrible day at the store, and the Changeling Queen, with her black, crooked, hard horn... concealed within a deerstalker cap.

"You don't have a horn." you say flatly, and drop your hand back to the ground, feeling more upset than ever. "It's really you... Cutie Pie." You smile faintly, but feel worse than ever for having upset her. Having gotten through to you, Cutie Pie beams and rears before giving your waist a properly tight hug. "Heh, yeah... it's good to see you too." You ruffle her mane.

Just as quickly, she releases her hold on you and takes your bag of candy for you, holding the straps with her teeth. The two of you follow the road away from the hospital and into the streets of the town, with Cutie Pie somehow managing to stick right ahead of your slow butt despite bouncing like a basketball on a sugar high. You look around nervously as you walked. She may not be the Changeling, but Chrysalis is still out there. And who's to say there weren't more of them? You realise how paranoid your thoughts are getting, but can't help feeling tense. It's like your first day in Equestria all over again. Everywhere you look, you see... alien. Alien people, alien way of life, alien sun, alien grass et cetera, et cetera.

You're out of the safety of the hospital now. No Nurses with the Hippocratic Oath here... if the Hippocratic Oath is a thing in this universe. Point is, it's every human for himself.

Sweat starts beading on your forehead as you and the thankfully oblivious Cutie Pie wander across the town centre and you see the candy store for the first time since the incident. It's in business - somehow, you hadn't expected it to be, but of course it was. I have to... I have to get knives. I have to get gear. I need to go back, to that forest. I need to find the portal home.

As you watch Cutie Pie's pink form bounce up and down, and up and down, your vision tunnels and you start to feel ill.


Your inner turmoil distracts you so much that when you finally arrive at your destination, you're taken a little aback to find yourself standing in front of the gate to the Apple Farm. You lean on the slightly faded white fence to regain your senses, breathing heavily. Somehow, the rustic charm of the place forces away your repellant thoughts, leaving you to admire the grandiose red barnhouse, the high hills in the distance and the fields filled with corn and apple trees.

It's perfect. Too perfect. Too ordered. Your memories are filled with far different images - the cold, the muddy, swampy terrain. Gnarled trees all bunched up together. A small barn with bland, peeling paint and foggy windows. Magic's really done them all a favor.

Meanwhile, Cutie Pie's really losing her patience with your hold-up, judging from the way she's vibrating in place as if charged with so much energy and hype that she simply cannot physically tolerate any more delays. So you walk back to her, at which point she hops over the gate and disappears into the barn with enough speed to make the Road Runner jealous.

"Cutie Pie!" You call after her on instinct. "Where're you going?!"

Not hearing any sort of answer, you push the little pony-sized gate open and hurry after her towards the barn as fast as you can. To the ponies, the barn doors would have been huge, but you manage to push those open with ease as well. At the same time as you enter, a projector over your head switches on, and a picture you'd never thought you'd see again is lit on the opposite wall - it's the image of a classic action film poster that you'd used as the wallpaper on your smartphone. At the same time, a pop song from your playlist starts playing from somewhere. That would have been shocking enough, but the barn also contains a long table covered in white linen and buried under pies and cakes and snacks and barrels of unknown liquid. A long purple banner hangs above the party scene, though as usual you're unable to read the blurry lines.

As you're still shocked by all this, six ponies emerge from behind various hay bales and support beams. Your mind races like a mile a minute as you put things together - two ponies with wings to attach the giant banner between two walls, two unicorns to finish repairing the phone and setting up a large table with cutlery and two earth ponies to cook a wide variety of treats and even a proper... roast... chicken.

"Oh my God..." you whisper, completely overwhelmed with a flurry of emotions - love towards them, a tinge of self-loathing towards yourself for doubting, surprise at how exactly all of this came together and some residual fear. You choke up and start shaking a little, not knowing how to even react to this.

Sweetheart trots out of the line of ponies and you sit down on the ground to be on eye level with her. Her hooves land on either side of you, letting the yellow pegasus pony reach over and rub her tiny, furry nose against yours in fondness. She pulls back with a gasp, however, when she notices the tears streaming down your face. Needing the contact, you pull the pony into a tight hug, burying your face in her flowing blossom pink mane and digging your fingers into her warm fur-covered back. You can feel her hooves wrapping around you as well, the pegasus sensing your need for someone.

"You do care about me! ... I care about you too. So much." You whimper.

Sudden warmth around you alerts you to the fact that the other ponies have surrounded you two in a group cuddle, with pink, orange and purple cheeks snuggling into your neck and two white hooves emerging around your stomach for a sneaky hug. Above this mushy pony-human mess floated the blue one with the crazy technicolor mane, folding her hooves and pouting.

Noticing her wings flapping, you look up and happen to look straight into her purple eyes. Watching you, her grumpy expression melts into a sort of nervous laughter and finally, she lowers down to pat you on the head a bit before beelining it to the snack table, where you and the other ponies soon follow.


Four of you sit on one side of the table, and three on the other. You're at the center, with Sweetheart on your left and Lavi on the right. Opposite to you is Daredevil, Cutie Pie, Applebutt and finally the Goddess; empress of lookin' good, as usual.

Using her horn, Lavi levitates a wooden mug of foaming liquid(beer?) and taps a spoon against it. You hold back a snort. Good manners, wrong place.

She then goes through some kind of speech, but as it is all horse sounds to you, you tune out and instead eagerly eye the chicken. Soon enough, all six ponies cheer and Lavi levitates a mug of the same liquid over to you as well. All of you clack mugs together and you're finally able to taste the ponies' concoction.

It is not beer. Instead, it's an incredibly smooth apple cider. You'd be disappointed, but for an apple cider, it tastes divine. Honestly, it's probably better than beer and you can't say that about many ciders. It goes down the hatch easy.

The ponies all giggle at the dopey expression on your face as you finally lower the mug. Lavi, correctly assuming you'd want to dig straight into the meat, levitates the chicken your way, changing the atmosphere from one of amusement to one of tense anticipation as it is obvious that none of them had ever seen a carnivore eat, with the exception of Sweetheart and, strangely enough, Daredevil(though she might just have a good poker face).

It amuses you to observe their childlike reactions as you tear a chicken leg off - Applebutt winces and turns visibly green in the face, the Goddess levitates a fan over and starts rapidly waving it back and forth and Cutie Pie calmly pulls out some confetti and wraps it around her eyes before blindly grabbing a plate and snacking on it. Lavi sniffs the chicken curiously. A parchment and quill float behind her back, constantly scribbling new notes as she familiarises herself with the meat.

Feeling adventurous, you cut out a chunk, no bone and offer it to her on your fork. The purple unicorn's mouth opens and closes several times, and she bites her lower lip. Finally, she takes a deep breath and snaps it off the fork, chewing it tentatively in her mouth. However, her eyes suddenly widen and she spits it out, gagging and rubbing her hooves over her tongue to desperately rid herself of the taste.

"Damn. Good thing we're not in Kentucky." You quip, smirking.

A loud clopping of approaching hooves interrupts the party. As you turn to look, the barn doors are enveloped in dark blue energy and open to reveal a dark grey-blue horse proudly wearing the emblem of a crescent moon on her chest and flank. Her blue, speckled mane floats in a non-existent wind around her and she carries a deep confidence unmatched by any in the barn around her.

In short, she is the Princess of the Night. As all others bow, you rise to meet her. Judging from her expression, she is pleased to see you and bows in respect. You reciprocate. Not knowing what else to do, you offer her a chance to join at the table, which she accepts, speaking in Equestrian to her subjects before sitting down on the ground at the end of the table, thus matching the height of the ponies on the seats. At a whinny, one other pony enters the farm, dressed in a formal, but comfortable set of armor around his barrel. It's Shaggy from the hospital. With his bandages gone, you can see his intimidating wings more clearly, though they still bounce against him, awkwardly stiff and clearly not fully recovered yet.

You lend Shaggy your own chair, much to his surprise, and scratch the bat pony's big flappy ear a little, resulting in an involuntary nicker from his part, much to the amusement of Princess Luna, who giggles behind a hoof. A red-faced Shaggy sits down next to Lavi and Sweetheart as you rest your rump on the other end of the table from Luna, who promptly fills a mug from one of the barrels and gulps it down without hesitation, daring you with her lidded eyes to do the same. "Oh, you're on, Princess." You growl playfully.


Boink.

Boink.

Boin-

"Stahp." You grumble. It's warm, it's nice, waking up is not high on your list of priorities.

Boink.

You try to wave it away, whatever it is. It's nice and cosy in all this... fur?

"Hmph?"

Against your better judgment, you force your crusty eyes open and see a bright white face looking down on you with knowing smugness. "Oh. Hi Queenie." You say to Princess Tia, ruler of Equestria. "What's up?"

You rub your eyes clean with your one free arm and quickly realise you're in a bit of a quandary. Not only are you not in a bed, but in a pile of prickly hay, you're also practically buried under moon pony. "That's funny. I don't remember going to sleep here."

Wait, why is Luna your blanket?

You look at the scruffy mess of blue and black wrapped around you, and back to Celestia. "Oh. Errr..." you move your mouth, but no words come out. "In my defense... I don't speak your language so I'll go back to sleep til the trial. Mhmh."

Chapter 22

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You smile softly and cover your exposed neck with a blanket as the rays of the morning sun shine down on it. You don't get out of bed. Today of all days, that can wait.

For unbeknownst to your little pony friends, you'd kept track of time since materialising in this land. And although you didn't exactly remember which months had 30 and 31 days, you are fairly sure it is close enough... for your birthday.

From the kitchen, you hear the perfect sizzling sound of frying bacon intermixed with Sweetheart's humming. Ever since the party a while back, meat had made a welcome comeback into your diet, the ponies having somehow tuned themselves better to your needs. Sure, the fish kept you going, but after a while, you had really started to itch for a leg or a steak. And the presence of Applebutt's farm animals hadn't helped.

You stretch under the covers and finally crawl out to put clothes on, your mind demanding stimulation in the absence of the internet. Following the siren call of crisping bacon, you wander into the kitchen and ruffle Sweetheart's pink locks for greeting. "That smells... awesome." you exhale after a deep breath.

Sweetheart peeks up at you with a satisfied smile and nickers something in return. Within a few minutes, the strips of bacon end up in your plate with a salad. Not feeling like crunching through lettuce this morning, you sneak it to the bunny when Sweetheart has her back turned, only for him to throw it onto his plate... where the yellow pegasus would obviously notice the double serving.

Mentally sending poisoned daggers in the bunny's direction, you quickly toss a piece of bacon on his plate, greasing up his meal. Infuriated, the bunny grabs a strawberry and with expert precision, aims and hits your glass of juice hard enough to topple it over onto your precious bacon.

You hiss at the pain you feel in your chest and lunge at the rabbit, who skitters up your neck and starts choking you with your own collar.

"Ahem." Sweetheart clears her throat.

The two of you pause mid-fight, looking at the unamused pegasus with wide-eyed stares before pointing accusingly at each other.

"He started it!"


The two of you glare at one another as you find yourselves sitting on the dirt road outside of Sweetheart's cottage. You get up at the same time, huff and pointedly go in separate directions.

Eager to put the unpleasant encounter out of your mind, you wander down the road to the gate leading into the Apple pony’s farm.

Through it, you spot your three favourite fillies playing a game of tag in the distance. You push the gate open and stroll into the orchard of apple trees, weighing heavy under the delightful red fruit.

Harvest must be close.

Seeing you approach, the trio break up their game of tag and trot over to you. With her stronger farming legs, Applebee is the fastest and gleefully runs through between your feet several times. You sit down instead and soon enough you have all three fillies surrounding you.

Somehow, you end up lying on the ground and watching the clouds, the trio using your elbows and stomach as a pillow. Ever the persnickety one, Snowy inches close to your hand and stares at you upside down, her hoovsies folded on her chest, clearly wanting you to run your fingers over her ears again.

Obliging, you gently pinch the velvety flap and scratch the underside of it, making the white filly kick a little with her small hind hooves out of enjoyment and even mewl as you switch to petting her furry scalp.

This of course caused a fair amount of snickering from the other two fillies as they watched your ministrations. Embarrassed and blushing, Snowy quickly pulls away and whinnies at the two. As the fiery horse sounds from all three get higher and higher in pitch, you roll your eyes and pull out your notepad to doodle as you wait for them to finish.

Now, what was it...? Two wings, one batlike, the other with feathers. That long elongated tail... kinda like Lavi's critter, but a lot slimmer. Claws and paws and...

The sound of rustling alerts you to the end of the ponies' conversation. However, only two fillies are standing behind you, and both stare up. You follow their gaze to discover that Snowy's climbing one of the bigger apple trees, with a sort of furious intensity. A good climber or not, you're no fan of seeing her quite so high up, especially since she's one of the ones without the wings. Ohhh no.

"Hey! Get down from there!" You shout uselessly. Should I climb up there? She'd probably not like that, could make things worse... what do I do?

Snowy grins victoriously from between the branches, and tosses a few apples at her friends before blowing a raspberry. You look around like an idiot, trying to decide the best course of action. Of course, no mature ponies nearby. Applebee and Scooter stare up with worried faces, obviously telling the silly filly up there to come down.

Maybe I can just dash to that house, get a big pony here, and fix it. You hold out your hands. "D-don't go anywhere!"

Just as you take your first few steps through the house, however, the branch breaks with a loud crack and you hear the whistling sound of something heavy falling. SHIT!

You swivel around on the spot and start running straight back, to move under the filly and catch her in your arms. To your dismay, however, you're just not fast enough and she thuds against the ground onto her hind hooves, which twist a little under her. You stop awkwardly.

Snowy bites her lip, trying to save face, but her green eyes well up in a mixture of pain and humiliation. A loud cry soon bursts out, and the poor pony turns beet red. To your surprise, the filly limps away from her friends and instead blindly makes her way towards you. Going with it, you sit down and let her sit on your lap, resting her hoof on your crossed knee as well as bury her snout in your shirt, muffling the bawling pony. As you cuddle her, her friends quietly neigh and run off. You hope they went to find help, and not home.

Eventually, your stroking and petting calms the distraught filly down to hiccuping and slight shivers. In the absence of an authority figure, you finally pick her up by her barrel. To the pony’s credit, she doesn't fight you and instead takes a hold of your neck, rubbing her wet, swollen face into its crook. You carry her to the house and kick the door open with your foot, but the only one you find inside is an ancient, frighteningly thin green mare whose sleep you dare not interrupt. So instead, you put the tired and hurting filly down onto a pink sofa. You move away to look for anything that could help, but as soon as you do, Snowy starts pounding against the sofa with her front hooves to get your attention, with a pleading look on her face.

You sit down next to her and she pulls your neck down into an iron grip, forcing you to lie down on the sofa with her, your face smushed against her fluffy white chest.


By the time you wake up, the lengthy shadows suggest it's the afternoon. Somehow, Snowy has curled up on top of you and having such a satisfied nap that it'd be unethical to budge. Her hurt hoof is bandaged and resting on top of a small pillow on your legs. Next to the sofa, you find a wooden stool with three balloons tied to it: one yellow and two blue. On the stool is a lone pink cupcake, birthday candle and all, and a glass of chocolate milk on the side.

Deciding to leave questions for another day, you pick up the burning candle, think a little and then look at the bundle of cuteness softly snoring on you. "I wish you get better soon." You whisper and ruffle her curly mane before blowing out the candle.

Chapter 23

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With curiosity, you watch as Sweetheart drags your Dracula cape over by her teeth, with a pair of green saddlebags already on her back. You take a hold of the cape and she pointedly pushes it up at you with her head.

"We going somewhere today?" You ask. In response, Sweetheart trots off and returns a minute later with your tux. "Someplace fancy, I take it?"

The yellow pegasus whinnies and rears a little, emphasising speed. Not wanting to delay her, you hurriedly change, clip your cape to your suit and follow your caretaker to town. She takes you to Lavender's tree house, where the other five mares she hangs out with are waiting outside, in front of what looks like a closed four-wheeled carriage. You raise an eyebrow, recalling your last trip on one of those. Oh, it was fun alright. Up until the Nightmare(you had to pat yourself on the back for that pun) drilled into your head.

Still, this one looks more ornate than the practical guard carriage, covered in gold livery and the same emblem of the sun that is on the beautiful chessboard the Sun Princess had gifted you.

As soon as the blue Daredevil notices you, she perks up, tosses her saddlebags in the carriage and flits over to you, latching onto your body with all four hooves to literally carry you inside the big box like a sack of potatoes. Daredevil's hooves are locked tightly around you though, unwilling to surrender what she's claimed, to the annoyance of Sweetheart, who gives the blue pegasus the evil eye as you two squeeze in.

There are eight red cushioned seats inside. One is devoted to all the saddlebags that the ponies are too lazy to put anywhere else. Two are for the blue Daredevil pegasus to lounge on, as Cutie Pie immediately takes up residence on your lap as you sit down and melts onto your chest, only to occasionally groan or hum as you absent-mindedly rub her soft pink belly with your thumbs.

Pulled along by four strong pegasi, the carriage takes to air, but rather than fly to the pony capital like last time, your journey takes you higher and higher, until your big box floats above the clouds.

A general mood of excitement permeates the carriage for reasons beyond you. Sweetheart's face is pressed against the cool glass window. Applebutt and the ravishing as ever Goddess are loudly chattering. Lavender is reading a book, but never turns the page. As for the Daredevil, she looks like she's napping, but you see her leg quietly thump against the hoof rest of the chair in nervous energy.

Amusingly, the only calm pony in the whole carriage is the usually hyperactive Cutie Pie, who is still as a mouse as soon as she gets in touch with your flexible fingers.


Finally, the carriage lands, so gently that you barely even notice apart from a subtle shift in weight. The ponies all scramble out with their bags and you follow after them. The sight that you're greeted with makes your jaw drop.

Clouds. Clouds everywhere. Houses made of clouds, roads made of clouds, friggin lamp posts made of clouds! Air so crisp and chilly that it could scarcely be anywhere, but high up.

And this isn't just any old town - you see proper mansions with pillars and fountains all floating around idly, and streams of liquid rainbow pooling in places. If ever there was a Mount Olympus, you're in it.

In excitement, you try to jump on the cloud, only to be quickly pushed back by Sweetheart and Applebutt, who hold up hooves in a "wait a sec" gesture.

So you stand there on the edge of the carriage and watch as Daredevil trots under you with a cocky smirk and wiggles her hips, the multicoloured tail whipping from flank to flank. "You are kidding me." You deadpan and look over at Sweetheart, who only gives you an encouraging nod. Great. I didn't need that cereal to stay in my stomach anyway.

You slowly sit down and manage to shimmy onto the blue pony's back. She, to her credit, manages the weight without much complaint. Not wanting to get in the way of her flying, you avoid the wings and instead rest your palms on her shoulders.

Unlike the other ponies, even Sweetheart, there's a slightly different texture to Daredevil's fur - it's light and airy, wind-whipped even, so your fingers practically pass through it and onto the skin below.

The pegasus turns her rainbow-maned head around and winks. Instinctively, your legs grip the pony by her barrel as she blasts off into the skies as if shot from a cannon. Unexpectedly, judging from the indignant cries of your friends.

Unlike the last time you flew on her, however, she isn't going for speed and instead circles around the cloud city, giving you a magnificent view of the opulent home of the pegasi. Because Daredevil wasn't just flying all on her lonesome - entire flocks of bird ponies flew in and about the city.

Because of the surreal sight, it takes you a few minutes to realise the rows of flying pegasi are actually moving in an ordered line, and you're in some form of heavy traffic, heading towards an arena resembling the Colosseum. Plastered on its side are large banners showcasing a pony sports team in flamboyant superhero poses, dressed in blue spandex and wearing... old fashioned pilot goggles?

You ponder over that for a moment, until a particularly carefree pegasus with a stringy, gelled black mane and a pale yellow coat flies by the two of you at high speed and cuts in line. As Daredevil loses her shit, you come to the obvious realisation that it's probably to protect them from the wind blinding them at high speeds. And that's the last thought you have before the blue pegasus rears in air to show off her boxing moves, causing you to topple into the vast nothingness below.

Feeling your weight at full force and then some as you fall uncontrollably, you scream loudly, your mind already cementing your death as an impending, impassable fact. Somehow, your flailing body manages to miss all the flying ponies and you wince and close your eyes, preparing to smash onto the magical cloud floor of the city. Instead, all that happens is that it gets a heck of a lot colder and then... your neck gets tugged on so hard that you choke. You open your eyes and see nothing, but the actual freaking ground far below you.

And the only thing keeping it from you is your cape... hanging on something inside the misty cloud that you can't see. You'd apparently fallen through someone's apartment and gotten your cape hooked on something non-magical. Wonderful news, if it wasn't killing you at the same time. You claw at your neck, trying desperately to squeeze space between you and the chain of your cape so you could breath, but it's too tight.

Before you can black out, however, you hear a ripping sound from top and then plummet once again... for a second, before you're caught in a pair of bright yellow hooves and dragged back through the clouds and into an uncomfortable metal tub, where you have a massive coughing fit, trying to regain your breath. The mare turns on the shower, drenching you in ice cold water. Thanks to this tough love treatment, you quickly regain your faculties and rip off the cape that nearly killed you in a fit of rage.

Seeing you're fine, your savior turns off the water and whinnies at you. Your jaw drops upon seeing her - the mare is breathtaking - like Sweetheart, she has yellow fur, but hers is more golden in hue. The truly remarkable thing is her mane, which starts out the same color as her coat at the roots, but gets progressively darker. It is also scruffy and untamed, giving the impression of an untameable streak of fire. That all, coupled with the mare's deep orange eyes, makes her seem like the best parts of flame come to life - fierce and unpredictable, but warm and gentle too.

"Whoa."

Right now, though, you're not exactly in her good books judging from her eye-rolling and increasingly angry voice. She seems to figure out you're unable to understand her, as she bites her lip and trots around the room in thought, finally stopping at a cabinet above the toilet with a smile to pull something metal out. Without warning, the mare gives you a firm push in the abdomen with her hooves, forcing you into a sitting position, takes one of your hands in her hooves and pulls it towards a metal pipe.

Click.

Handcuffed.

You look back at the mare, bemused. "I feel like I missed something... and I'm not sure I want to know what."

Chapter 24

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Having chained your right hand to the pipes, Flamethrower rests her front hooves on the edge of the pipe and gives you a firm look over. Unsure of what to do, you simply sit there until the pegasus motions for you to get up and bellows out a sharp, commanding whinny that instinctually forces you to comply. Flamethrower jumps into the tub and sniffs you over with a suspicious look in her captivating orange eyes. Eventually, she seems satisfied and floats over to you to pat you on the head reassuringly before nodding and flying into the other room.

"What the hell?" You mouth. Probably one of those that thinks I'm an animal.

You look around, trying desperately to find a way out of your new conundrum, but quickly realise there's little to no chance of escape. Not just because of the handcuffs, but because of your continued inability to walk safely on clouds. For now, the metal tub is the only thing keeping you from smashing into the ground underneath the city. So you are stuck as flame pony's guest. Hearing the rustling of clothes, you move as far away from the pipe as possible and peek through the slightly ajar door, where you catch a glimpse of your captor pulling up the zip of a familiar blue spandex outfit with her teeth. The sports team from the advertisement!

She must be a fan or something. Would be nice if she got me some help before cosplaying, though.

Without further ado, the wild-looking pony speeds out of the window, leaving you alone. In desperation, you pull a pen out of your pocket, break the casing and fruitlessly jam it into the keyhole of the cuffs, but end up accidentally cracking the plastic container, spilling ink over yourself. "Bah! Fuck!" you exclaim and toss the ruined thing away, inadvertently causing it to disappear into the cloud. "... okay." You look around the bathroom incredulously. Who the hell decided 'oh yeah, we're gonna live in the fucking clouds where all our shit falls down to the earth when we're not looking?'

After washing the ink off as best you can, you pull at the pipe with your imprisoned hand, clanging the cuff against it. Seeing that the pipe extends into the cloud, you stand up in the tub and extend your arm into the white ceiling, directly above the pipe. At your touch, the cloud briefly flashes an odd pink color and the pipe immediately comes loose with a snap and hiss, your hand having apparently severed the magical connection holding it there. You drop the now leaking pipe onto the tub and pull the cuff off of it, leaving the latter idly hanging on your arm.

"I should be an escape artist." You mutter. Now what? Loose or not, you still had the itty-bitty problem of being stuck high up in the sky on clouds you couldn't walk on. Maybe if I can at least get out of here, I can find help.

Very carefully, you step onto the edge of the tub, praying that it doesn't flip and leap onto the toilet bowl. Once you regain your balance there, you reach over to the hanging towels and grab all of them so you can tie them together along with the rags of your cloak. You tie the makeshift rope to the lever controlling the toilet flush and climb down through the cold, wet cloud to the floor directly under you.

You find yourself hanging above a fairly opulent living room. Well, opulent to you, maybe. Given the Roman trappings you'd seen everywhere when you rode in on Daredevil's back, the giant fireplace, expensive-looking portraits of ponies in heroic positions, gold chandeliers and fluffy cloud armchairs were probably all par for the course. The winged ones are quite literally upper class, you realize.

Unfortunately for you, the only non-cloud substance in your immediate vicinity that you can land on is a glass reading table. Your raggedy cloak rips a little, nixing any ideas you might've had of returning to the bathroom upstairs.

You swear loudly and lower yourself as much as possible before swinging back and forth. "Okay... come on... I can do this." You mumble, feeling cold sweat on your forehead. Forwards. Backwards. Definitely on the next one! NO, wait, not ready yet! Okay, and... jump!

Letting the tied up towels go, you land straight onto the glass table with a loud thunk and stand tall, beaming and correcting your black bow-tie like... a... boss.

Crick. Criiiiiiiiick.

You freeze and, moving your head with the gentlest of motions, focus downward where you see slowly expanding lightning bolts emerge in the glass from under your feet. The table keeps creaking as your body weight sways on it, ready to shatter any second and send you falling through the cloud city to your death.

In a last ditch attempt, you try to jump off the cracking table and onto a shiny green carpet, though you're only able to grasp onto the edge, the rest of you dropping into another cold, unpleasant cloud. This one's a lot thicker than the secondfloor, however, and you end up surrounded by damp, thick mist, unable to see or even breathe very well. A magical force prevents the carpet from falling through the cloud with you, making it seem stiff and unyielding under your fingers. At least it helps you to hold on.

You hang onto the carpet for your life, not strong enough to pull yourself up. "H-help!" You finally sputter, not caring if you're gonna be sold to a zoo at this point. "Somebody... help! Help!"

Almost immediately, you feel a warm pair of hooves wrap tightly around your midsection to your immense relief. You release your grip on the carpet and let the pony pull you out of the cold, thick cloud and onto Flamethrower's carpet. As the hooves pull away, you get a good look at your savior and gape.

"What the heck are you doing here?"

Shaggy the bat pony just cocks his head to the side and looks at you fondly, as if his sudden appearance to save you was not ridiculously convenient at all. You notice a glinting silver medallion around his neck, with the emblem of the curved white moon on a black background, aka Princess Luna's butt symbol.

After a moment passes, he walks closer and sits down next to you to nuzzle your hand a little, with a wide smile on his furry face. Unable to resist the cuteness, you rub his back. "Yeah, I guess it's good to see you too. Well, it actually kinda literally is, since I was about to die and all..."

Remembering that you still need to find your friends, you stand up. "Hey, Shaggy, you mind giving me a lift?" You do mimic the Superman takeoff with your hands, hoping to get your point across... somehow.

The bat pony pointedly lies down onto the carpet like a sleepy dog, licking the sharp canines that jutted out of his mouth.

"Okay, no lift." Sighing, you relax next to him and absent-mindedly scratch behind Shaggy's pointy left ear on instinct. "Guess we'll just hang out here." As the two of you sit and wait, you pull out your worn notepad to doodle, only to realise you'd destroyed your pen. "Aww, man..." you whine. "And I just had to leave the cards home."

You drop the notepad on the floor, catching Shaggy's attention. The pony pulls it over to him with his hoof and opens it up, revealing your alien lettering. As his blood-red eyes widen, you wonder what they look like to him. Also indefinable lines? Or maybe blocks? No way to know. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but this word problem is really annoying." You quip.

Curiously, Shaggy lifts page after page, eventually opening up on your very first attempt at drawing that legendary creature of contradictions. Well, those are some good words. I'm really underappreciated as a poet.

The sight of the thing you'd nicknamed Bizarro seems to catch the bat pony off guard as he drops the pad on the carpet and immediately shuffles behind you, peeking out as if expecting the picture to come to life and start chasing him. "Now, now, don't be like that!" You pat the overly nervous bat pony's mane. "I know I'm not a professional, but there's no need for that sort of behaviour." Is Shaggy actually Luna's guard, or just some special case of hers who keeps following people around?

To prove there is no threat, you pick up your pad and go through the pictures, one by one. Shaggy doesn't appreciate it, however, and jumps off the carpet and onto the cloud floor, eyeing the drawn pictures. You roll your eyes at his childishness. Fortunately, the slam of a door interrupts your silent artistic stand-off and you stuff the pad into your back pocket as three winged ponies speed into the living room. All three of them are dressed in that same blue spandex and pilot goggles you'd glimpsed earlier, with drawn white bolts circling the hooves and a bigger one running down the chest. In the center was the fiery pony you were already familiar with. On the left was a stallion with a very deep blue mane color and a baby blue coat. The last one, a mare, had a slightly darker blue coat than the stallion, and a magnificently bouffant white mane that was whipped backwards much like Flamethrower's, giving you the impression of a polar opposite.

Speaking of the devil, Flamethrower whinnies loudly and points at you aggressively. The other two try to move towards you, but Shaggy blocks them off, rearing in front of you. As you'd noticed before, his words were all inaudible, but now his red eyes were angry and burning. You had no idea what the argument was even about, but at one point, the bat pony held up his moon medallion with the frog of his hoof, obviously invoking Luna's authority for... something. This quiets things down a bit and before you know it, Shaggy wiggles underneath your legs and stands up tall to take flight with you on his back. Surrounded by the sports pegasi, you fly out of a window, heading towards the marshmallowy Colosseum in the distance. Unlike your traffic jam experience with Daredevil, however, the winged ponies seem to instinctively move out of your way. And why wouldn't they? One's a fierce as fuck bat and the other's a bona fide alien with wiggly fingers.

You take a deep breath as the five of you approach the arena, not knowing what to expect when you got there. One of those days, Anon. One of those days. Again.

Chapter 25

View Online

In a surprising detour, Shaggy turns left from the arena and instead flies you over to a fiercely guarded hole in the clouds. Like the ponies around you and on the posters, the guards also wear goggles and spandex with a similar bolt design, but theirs is leaf green. Color codes. You think. This isn't just a sports team, it's a whole organisation.
Flamethrower and co salute to the guards, who respond and make no effort to prevent the group from passing. Inside the hole, you discover a large mountain with a flat plateau on top. The plateau is very obviously a training area of some sorts, containing flags, hoops and even a strip of asphalt; the first time you've seen any since your arrival. It's surrounded by an isolated little town of cloud buildings cut off from the rest of the city.

Shaggy lands on the plateau and you jump off of him. "Oh, sweet mother earth!" You exclaim and kiss the ground. "I am never ever leaving you again!"

A shadow appears over you and you turn around to see the bright orange face of Flamethrower, raising an eyebrow at your antics. "Sorry." You say sheepishly and stand up again. The pony snorts and pats you on the back.

The other two sports ponies fly off and leave you, her and Shaggy waiting in the middle of the plateau. Flamethrower takes advantage of the training area and performs some mid-air acrobatics. You're not really in the mood to watch, however, so you turn away, lie down on the grass and strategically place your tuxedo suit over your eyes so you can take a pleasant nap under the warm rays of the sun. Great minds think alike, so the bat pony soon joins you, using your stomach as a pillow for his furry head.

Enjoying the small gusts of wind made by all of Flamethrower's flying, you absentmindedly scratch Shaggy's scalp through his fluffy fur and feel yourself dozing off a little. Not enough to really fall asleep per se, but to drift into that between-the-worlds state, where you're just a happy floating little butterfly.

In the distance, you hear loud whinnying. At first, you forget where you are and picture a herd of wild horses in a field. But why am I napping in a field? Your mind ponders for a second, and the confusion is enough to force your eyes open, your body momentarily tensing up as it can't up with a good answer. Next to you, you see Shaggy, who paws at your cheek to wake you up properly and then you finally remember. The bat pony points over to the row of cloud houses next to the training plateau, where your eclectic group of friends have finally arrived. Your heart leaps as you see Sweetheart - the only one who can actually fly onto the plateau - heading towards you, reinstating your sense of security.

Despite her usually gentle demeanour, your caretaker is filled with energy as she gallops to you, circling around you so fast that you actually have to catch her in your arms. "Hey there!" you say with a grin, your palms flattening the adorable pony's ears back as you hold her head. "Missed ya. I guess you missed me too?" Sweetheart coos and wraps her wings around you protectively before nuzzling into your neck. As you cuddle, Lavender Lady's magic enables the rest of the group to teleport to the plateau as well, all of them relieved and amused at the sight.

Cutie Pie bounces over to the two of you for a group hug, kissing the top of your head with a loud smacking sound("MWUAH!") before resting her jaw on it. The Goddess, concerned over her work as ever, picks up the tux suit you left on the grass and sighs audibly with a head shake. When you finally manage to pop your head out of the pony pile, you notice that there's an absentee. The blue pegasus is not around, and it bothers you. You pull out your notepad, only to remember you destroyed your pen. Frustrated, you instead rip off a page and tear at it until you get a paper cut-out of a lightning bolt, which you present to Lavender.

Immediately understanding your question, the purple unicorn bites her lip and looks away with a slightly guilty expression before whispering something into Sweetheart's ear. The yellow pegasus immediately nods, releases you from the hold of her wings and holds up one of her hooves in a "wait here" gesture before flying away from the plateau.

As you wait, you notice a few of the ponies cheering on Flamethrower. So, she is a celebrity after all. Whose apartment I just happened to fall into. Where the one bat pony I know just happened to find me. Something doesn't add up here. Your luck was never this good. The only pony who doesn't go off to get autographs is Lavender, who sits next to you and sticks her snout in one of her saddle bags to pull out your smartphone of all things, though now encased in a metal apparatus with blinking lights of various colors, which in turn is attached to folded metal appendages that the unicorn stuck her hooves into, allowing her to hold up and operate the phone. Eager to show off her invention, she trots ahead of you and takes a photograph of you sitting on the ground, waving at the camera.

Giggling, she shows you the photo and then removes her hooves from the apparatus and gives the device to you before running ahead again. Although the phone is bulkier and very heavy now, you still manage to use the screen fine enough and capture Lavender in a lovely pose against the backdrop of the sports' ponies training area.

The unicorn immediately runs back to you to see her picture over your shoulder. You decide to fool with her a little and add a dog nose-and-ears filter to the image before she climbs up your back and sees it. Looking down, Lavender's eyes bulge and she recoils from the phone, screaming loudly and getting the attention of everyone else.

Oops.

After the hyperventilating pony is calmed down, you show her exactly how you pulled off the trick, making additional pictures of the Goddess with a golden crown, Cutie Pie with Groucho Marx glasses and Applebutt with a cactus on her head. Manipulating the phone with her apparatus, Lavender makes it immediately spit the pictures out and you're left gaping. "You turned my phone into a freakin' Polaroid?"

Eventually, Sweetheart returns to the plateau with Daredevil in tow. But she isn't exactly the same pony you've come to know and... well, avoid out of the same sort of primal fear one has towards extreme rollercoasters. The cocky attitude and confident grin are replaced with a downbeat shyness, hell, even her ears are drooping and despite not being her biggest fan, you feel terrible because you know she didn't drop you intentionally. As you approach her, the mare takes a few steps backwards, and it's only thanks to Sweetheart's coaxing that she's able to stay put and mumble something towards your shoes.

Wanting to show her you don't hold her responsible, you pull Daredevil into a tight hug before she can turn off. The pegasus freezes up as you stroke her soft blue back and then aggressively wiggles out of your grasp. With tears pouring down her face, she speeds off so fast you can see a brief rainbow trail behind her. "Damn it."

The rest of you, Shaggy included, are given VIP seats at a private box in the arena, which is thankfully built out of stone and holds you fine. It's not really clear to you what kind of sport the pegasi are playing, if any at all, as they seem to dash and whirl all over the place incredibly fast, in eloquent formations. It is some kind of display of acrobatics, and a very impressive one at that. You find yourself gasping and exclaiming "wow" over and over again as the pegasi drop from the sky, or use their speed to form clouds into elaborate shapes through air pressure, or join up to make pony pyramids, swirling hexagons, even an amusing version of Labyrinth with one of the ponies rolling around on the others as the marble, forcing the rest to quickly shift their locations to make sure the pony wouldn’t drop off.

It's all incredible, but you can't bring yourself to fully enjoy the show, knowing that Daredevil was not. And you had no doubt in your mind that she wanted to be here more than anybody. Neither can your friends, and so the day ends on a somewhat sour note. With Shaggy as your designated driver tonight, you and the other girls sans Daredevil make it back to your carriage and return home, all of you worn out by the worries and in your case, multiple near-death experiences. You glare towards the distant cloud city from your window. "Never going there again anytime soon, that's for sure."

Bzzt!

You look at the ponies, none of whom seem to have reacted to the strange, yet... familiar buzzing noise coming from within the compartment.

Bzzt!

Lavender's reading a book, Cutie Pie's napping, Applebutt has her muzzle pressed against the opposite window... you tune your ears to catch the source of the strange noise.

Bzzt!

To your surprise, it's emanating from Lavender's bag. You gently pull it out of the pile, getting her attention in the process, and pull out your modified smartphone. "What the hell? Is it low on battery?" You mumble and glance at the screen.

UNKNOWN NUMBER
ACCEPT CALL?

You grip the phone, staring at the screen for several seconds in total disbelief before your mind catches up with you and you slide the green button to the side. With two hands, you hold up the heavy phone to your ear. "... hello?"

Chapter 26

View Online

Business!

The way you see it, success depends on two things: originality and consistent production. As an alien to Equestria, you are the embodiment of the first. And as a dependent leech, you're pretty much the second too. Win-win!

After a few funny charades and illustrations explaining your plan, you manage to convince Sweetheart to help you sell your drawings and buy you painting supplies. You don't really consider yourself talented by any measure of the word - but with a bit of marketing, you don't doubt you'll have all the little ponies from here to Cloud City eating out of your hands. After all, who wouldn't want a drawing made by a bona fide alien hanging on their wall?

The very next day, when Applebutt drags her cart over to the cottage, you and Sweetheart are already waiting, your burlap sack full of finished paintings, empty canvases and the supplies you'll need to make a few on the spot. The farmer has her usual stuff on the cart - several bags of big, ripe, delicious-looking apples ready for customers, and a rickety wooden stand attached to the whole thing by rope, presumably meant for you two. You see Applebee waving at you from atop the bags on the cart, her mane tied up in a neat bow as usual. It induces a genuine smile out of you and you wave back before putting your sack amongst the others on the cart.

As you do that, Applebee mischievously jumps off of the cart and pounces onto your back. "Whoah!" You exclaim, nearly falling over. "Jesus!" Turning your head around, you reach over to scratch her soft yellow neck, making the filly hum at the attention she's receiving. "Heh, love ya too." After adjusting Applebee's position on your back a little, you follow the farmer mare as she pulls the cart away from the cottage and towards the town. Sweetheart follows you, giggling behind her hoof.


"One of these days I'll find something I'm actually good at." You sigh, squirming a little as you look at the paintings you've made thus far and just put up for sale. "And then keep drawing because what I'm good at probably ain't worth a penny."

It's a slow trickle at first - a few curious ponies, possibly tourists, who want something neat to put on their wall. The lack of attention for the first few hours (especially compared to Applebutt, whose applebags are emptying faster than your stomach after spicy wings) sours your mood a little and you're left kicking stones around until a hoof taps on your back. "Hm?"

You turn around to find a small grey mare with a golden lazy eye and a grumpy pout glaring back at you. She's out of uniform and without a mailbag, but you recognise her instantly. "Oh, hey, Bubbles. Listen, I'm really sorry I missed all those morning scritches." You reach out to ruffle her blonde mane, but she takes a step back and humphs loudly, turning pointedly away from you.
"Bubbles!" you whine.

"M-km!" The pony grumbles and flops down onto her rump, crossing her front hooves.

Well, if she's already here... you sit on one of the bags of apples, cross your legs and put your canvas on your knees to draw. As your pencil forms shapes, you start noticing Bubbles stealing glances in your direction, clearly curious about what you were going to come up with. As your gaze matches her eye, the pegasus whistles conspicuously, pretending her other eye is the good one. You smile and shake your head.

Not wishing to keep her waiting for too long since this one's on the house, you don't make the picture too elaborate. A little dash of paint is all it needs and you turn it around, revealing a cartoonish image of a biped and a grey pegasus sitting together on top of a giant dark brown muffin, with more muffins raining around them. "Right, this is your very own Muffin Planet. There's the Spring Of Black Tea, take note of the sugarcube boulder. And that's me... and that's you. And it's definitely chocolate. Now then, may I?" You extend a hand.

Bubbles giggles light-heartedly and closes the distance between the two of you. You gently rake your nails across her velvety grey cheek, retreading the same paths again and again, resulting in a slightly dopey-looking grin as a result of her criss-crossed eyes. It's funny. You muse. They think just like me, yet all of them are so open, almost needy for affection.

She stays your hand with her hooves and takes the initiative, smushing her snout inside your palm and then resting her chin on it, looking up at you with a carefree, trusting gaze. Or maybe I'm the needy one and they can all sense it like dogs back on Earth. Heh.

By mutual unspoken agreement, you pull each other into a tight, reassuring hug. And at that moment, it doesn't really matter that you can't speak or even really know or understand one another on a mental level - you are just two living beings clinging to this wild universe, reminding each other that whatever this madness all is, you're in it together. And you're both just a little less afraid.


One of the ponies who wanders into the town square is the Goddess of fashionistas, in the middle of a shopping spree. Seeing your ignominious little stand, she tuts to herself and trots over to the three of you. After an exchange with Sweetheart, the unicorn drops her two saddlebags to the ground and uses magic to pull out a large roll of paper and some scissors. She also levitates your largest brush and your can of purple paint over to you, pointing at the stand.

You glance towards Sweetheart for a second, and get to work after she gives you the affirming nod. It's makeover time! Painstakingly, you color the entire stand a glorious, attractive, deep royal purple as the mares work on an eye-catching sign. By the time you're all finished, the three of you start getting dirty looks from Applebutt, standing right next to you in front of her trusty, but comparatively unimpressive cart.

Entirely warranted too, as the Goddess, generous as all hell, also goes the extra mile by promoting your products. You watch as the white unicorn mare excitedly converses with the unsuspecting potential customers in the square, her cerulean blue eyes lidded enticingly in a brilliant use of feminine charm, her muzzle permanently crooked in an approachable, benevolent smile and her hooves emphasising every word she says. Oh yes, the Goddess knows how to sell. And what's more, she loves it. From every street attached to the square, curious ponies pop out, following her lead as if she's heading a procession and, with slightly dopey expressions, come to check your merchandise.

The strangest thing of all are the noises they all make as they join her lead. It's all horse sounds to you as per usual, but it sounds oddly... unified. More of a choir than a ruckus. You're also taken slightly aback by the absolute lack of scuffling and cutting in line in what's an increasingly larger crowd. Sure, they're ponies and you don't doubt there's a bit of that herd spirit in them, but your customers seemed extraordinarily well... choreographed.

Oh well. You shrug and whistle to a random tune in your head as you hand out your paintings like a well-oiled factory machine and observe the pile of shiny gold bits behind the counter only grow and grow as every cute mini-horse happily goes along with one, or two, or five paintings on his or her back, only to find themselves right at Applebutt's cart where the little yellow filly, sitting on a pile of cash, gleefully stuffs an apple in each and every passing pony's mouth as her older relative collects the money.

By God, we're gonna be richer than McDuck. You giggle inwardly and catch the Goddess's eye as she orchestrates the mob from the very center. The white unicorn mischievously winks at you and you wink straight back.

The entire operation comes to a screeching halt at a loud, extremely high-pitched whinny. The crowd stalls, making way for a most unusual sight: two fillies approaching your stand, one dragging an expensive-looking carved wooden table behind her. The poor, working spectacled filly looks rich enough - she has blue pearls around her neck and her glasses look expensive and chic - but the image is ruined by her need to wear an old oversized brown saddle, attached to the table she's dragging behind her with all the force she could muster in her underdeveloped muscles.

You aren't concerned with her at all though, no... you're worried about the bright pink filly with a familiar toothpaste-styled mane and tiara next to her. Last you'd seen her, she was sad and lonely. But now her eyes blazed again, fixed on you as if nothing else existed in the world. In her mouth is a red, silky sheet. Once the two stop in front of your stand, the exhausted grey filly collapses on the ground, heaving. Completely ignoring her, Toothpaste rears up in front of the table, motioning for you to help her on the table. Curious now, you get off the ground and move beyond the counter to grab the pink filly's sides and lift her up.

On the table, the filly gives you a thankful look and pets your hand a little before spitting out her silky sheet. She lays down onto the table, draping the sheet over the bottom half of her body and propping herself up with an elbow, her head resting against her hoof. As for the filly's other hoof, it drifts down onto her fluffy chest and side, caressing the contours of her body in a remarkably calculated fashion for her age.

The innuendo was clear to everyone: Draw me like one of your Earth fillies.

You gulp, staring down the wicked filly as she takes obvious enjoyment from blatantly flirting with you in front of the entire town. Terrific. First person to ever have a crush on me is a tiny pony. That's one for the grandkids.

Still, the customer's always right, so you pick up your last empty canvas, place it on the counter and draw a sketch of the coquettish filly, doing your best to ignore the wave of snickering passing over the ponies as they all stick around to spectate. Because of course they do. Feeling a little spiteful, you resolve not to just throw out any old drawing - the pretty filly wants a fancy portrait? Then the pretty filly will just have to lie there and be a good little model as long as you say. That's right.

Four hooves and a long, long, long tail and some wings - no, wait. No wings. But a paw? Surely there was a paw... you feel beads of sweat gathering on your forehead as your frustration with Toothpaste's antics and the tension from your unwanted audience causes your concentration to lapse. Memory and routine take a hold of your hand, and they have a different picture in mind. Draw the filly, not the princesses' statue. You think to yourself. Maybe I can compensate by drawing her as a feline. I already made the paw.

Alright then, it'll be a bit surrealistic, but whatever. Oh, but the tail! You hadn't drawn a proper pony tail at all, but the elongated snake form of the bizarro creature! And you were out of canvas now! Oh, what a cruel and unforeseeable fate! Defeated by the rather magnificent madness of the monarch of mischief- shut up, brain! What the fuck are you on about?! Behind you, you can hear Applebee snickering to herself as she sees what you've made of her enemy.

Feeling feverish, you hurriedly add a few background details to the painting and hand it over to the filly, and push her off as she tries to kiss your cheek in return, the lips only touching your palm.


Lightheaded and weak, you gulp down several tall glasses of iced tea in Cutie Pie's candy shop as Sweetheart rubs your back in obvious concern.

Damn, that was weird. I never go mental like that. How long were we out there selling? Sun probably fried my head like an egg.

Applebutt seems to agree with your thought process, as she plops down on a chair next to you and tosses her stetson on your head, letting her own golden straw mane loose and wiping her forehead. You tap at the large sack of gold on the table and she smirks victoriously and holds up her glass. You, Sweetheart, Applebee and the Goddess oblige, all enjoying the victory in spite of what you're now certain was a simple case of overheating. I've got the money now. With that pile, I should be able to buy what I need to do... what has to be done.

You pull out your worn notebook and re-examine your To-Do List.

*Get Scooter a new scooter.

*Return to forest for new clues.

*Breach linguistic barrier.

*Find a permanent job(?)

*Return favors to Goddess, Lavi, Sweetheart, Nurse and Bunny(extra carrots?).

"I can do this." You smile to yourself, the sack of gold on the table being almost a physical representation of your confidence at that moment. You pull the stetson off your head and stuff it on Applebee on your lap, whose small head practically disappears into it. As you both laugh heartily, Applebutt snags the hat off of her and firmly plants it back on you with a warning look. "Alrighty." You say submissively and tip the hat like a proper cowboy. The farmer finally cracks a grin of her own and mushes your cheek playfully. Your mood improving already, you boop her on the nose as revenge, only to quickly pull back as she snaps at it. "Whoa! Damn, remind me to never piss you off."

You turn away, only to quickly find yourself in Applebutt's chokehold as her hoof of steel noogies you on the head. "Ow-ow-ow-ow-okay, okay STOP!" you whine, flailing around as the table erupts into laughter. She finally stops when Applebee straight up slaps her off. You pout at the orange pony, who sticks her tongue out dismissively, and reward the loyal filly by scratching her slightly pudgy belly, causing her to melt onto your chest, idly poking at your chin with her hoof.


Early next morning, during school hours, you and Sweetheart(still unwilling to let you out of her sight) head to the trio's treehouse on the Apple family's grounds, with you carrying a large, brand new, flashy red scooter. Having wrecked Scooter's previous one defending the fillies from the magical wooden wolf in the forest, you hope this one would work for her and make up for the time she spent without having one.

Climbing up the steps to their quaint little base of operations, you smile as you see the interior for the first time without the distraction of three energetic fillies skittering around your feet. What a place! It’s full of old furniture, posters, toys scattered all over the place, crude drawings and posters of unknown pony celebrities. An oil lamp hangs from the ceiling. The place brims with the imagination and enthusiasm of young minds exploring the world around them.

Sweetheart watches with a pleased look as you rest the scooter against the old writing desk in the middle of the room, and leave a construction kit and a music box on it. You wouldn't dare leave your other two pals without presents.


The bell dings as the two of you enter the Goddess's baroque clothes shop with a bright red notepad wrapped in paper. Without turning around, the white unicorn calls back with a melodic voice. Not hearing Sweetheart's response due to her incredibly quiet voice, she simply turns around and smiles, realising it's you. As she trots over, you hold out your hand to scratch her head, but the fashionista holds it back briefly, and then very slowly sinks it into her mane, enjoying the sensation of your nails on her scalp without disturbing her hairdo.

You hand the pony your gift and watch as she eagerly tears off the paper with her magic.

At first, her face sags a little as she thinks you just gave her a notepad. But out of politeness, she opens it up, only to realise the pad's already been used. Every page is covered in your best attempts to draw the various human fashion styles you can recall, from rappers to monks to hipsters to Conan O'Brien. Overwhelmed, the mare summons a lavish red couch with an appropriately soft pillow to faint onto.


As you arrive in the Ponyville hospital estate, you and Sweetheart are rather amused to find the doctors all sleepily lounging about due to the lack of patients. All of them immediately jump onto their hooves at the sight of you and she's forced to spend a good few minutes settling the nervous ponies down and reassuring them that they're not here for their services.

Well, not their services anyway. You search through the entire hospital - offices, wards, closets, everything, until finally stumbling on her napping on a couch in a disused ward. It's an adorable sight - Nurse's ordinarily tidy mane is a mess around her head, her hooves are splayed all over the place and a bit of drool is dripping out of her mouth.

You were going to let Nurse know how much you appreciated all she did to you... but seeing her there at that moment, lazing happily, dreaming beautiful dreams, you cannot bear to wake her up. So even though you feel your heart pulling you back to her, hugging her and telling her what an amazing pony she is, and how sorry you are for ignoring all the wonderful things she did for you, all you do is stroke her mane a bit. "I'll be back soon, I promise." you whisper. "Just keep on being you." You kiss her on the forehead and leave the pony to her slumber.


One last trip, to Lavender Lady's library. You have thought long and hard about what to give a unicorn who seems to have everything, but fortunately, you think you do have something to fill a gap in her pillars of knowledge...

The door is answered by her strange reptilian servant, who hisses loudly to call the charming purple unicorn to see her new guests. Always happy to see Sweetheart, Lavender engages her in lively conversation and sits the two of you down on a comfortable duvet in front of the fireplace. You wait patiently for your caretaker to explain exactly what you'd come here to do.

It's not hard to pinpoint when it happens - Lavender's eyes widen and she holds a hoof up to her lips. But of course she's not opposed to the idea, having been the one who asked for it to begin with on the day you arrived. You didn't trust the ponies then. But by this point, you're willing to trust them.

So just as several empty scrolls and inked quills appear in mid-air next to the purple pony, you finally pull down your pants. "Alright, this is what my dick looks like." You deadpan. "And God help you if I ever find human porn around here."
Lavender’s quills begin to scribble unanimously.

Scribble scribble scribble.

Lots of scribble.

All the scribble.


Night falls on the beautiful land of Equestria, and Sweetheart's household finally goes to bed after a long and weary day. The birds are fed and napping, so are the rodents and the butterflies and the ants and of course Bunnystorm III, his stomach bulging from all the carrots you'd fed him as a reward for saving your life during Chrysalis' takeover.

Sweetheart, ever vigilant of her animals' needs, walks through the entire cottage one more time, checking on everyone's welfare before nuzzling you goodnight and sniffing you just to make extra sure you washed your teeth. You pat her pink mane and watch as the pony walks up the stairs and disappears into her own room. You lie down onto your cot and wait for a considerable amount of time, distracting yourself with idle thoughts. From the window, you can see Princess Luna's moon slowly drag across the sky. Since your phone is still in Lavender's possession, you have no way of telling how much time has passed when you finally get up again and sneak into the bathroom.

The moonlight shines in through the window and you catch a glimpse of your newly shaved face, making you grin a little. One of the many things you were finally able to buy was an actual razor blade of your own. You take your toothbrush and pilfer Sweetheart's emergency medical kit a little for a few bandages and plasters, just in case.

You return to your cot and pull out two modified saddlebags you bought for yourself, branded with green question marks in place of the usual cutie marks. Inside the bags are your supplies - a lantern, a tent, a sleeping bag, a compass, matches and a knife. Not having bought anything else to avoid drawing suspicion, you're also forced to check Sweetheart's pantry for canned goods, as well as some fruits and veggies. You feel terrible stealing from your own best friend, but you know she'd never let you go back after the disastrous first attempt.

She couldn't understand that this time won't be like last time. Because this time you know where to go. The woman who'd called you had been specific enough.

Holding your breath, you quietly slip out into the night and shut the door behind you before lighting your lantern and heading off into the darkness.


A feeling of misery clung to the carriage as the ponies and their alien friend all rode home after the Wonderbolts' air show. Pinkie Pie of course tried to cheer them all up with promises of free milkshakes when they got home, but with Rainbow Dash having disappeared after nearly dropping Skinny through the clouds, they all felt... incomplete. After all, they were the Elements Of Harmony. They belonged together, as upset as they were with Dash.

Applejack, in her own words, had "half a mind on callin' that cider-sniffin', butter-hooved flyin' crayon box's parents and lettin' 'em know whas' what." so they could at least get the pegasus to make things up with poor Skinny. They weren't even really sure if their beloved giant understood what had happened to him, given that he was perfectly happy to give her one of his warm hugs as soon as he saw her again, but what they could tell was that her inability to be near him had hurt the poor thing, and that was almost worse than dropping him from the clouds. Even Pinkie had fumed a little.

Still, as they all travelled home, physically and emotionally tired from having chased clues on Skinny's whereabouts throughout Cloudsdale all day(not to mention the ground below), everyone eventually tuned out. Pinkie Pie fell asleep, softly snoring in her seat. Applejack stared out of the window as if she could will Dash to reappear. And Twilight was reading one of her history books.

Suddenly, to her surprise, she saw Skinny twitch and look around in confusion as if he'd heard something. The unicorn looked at him for a little while and... he did it again and then reached over to her saddlebag. There was only one thing in there that he'd want, but... why? Unless there was some kind of telepathic connection between him and the Ponyroid?

Skinny picked it up and stared at its screen with a look of utter disbelief, before tapping it and holding it up to his ear.

"Err, Twilight?" Rarity piped up. "What in the name of Celestia is he doing?" They watched as he mouthed something - alien words, certainly, but to whom?

Twilight held a hoof to her chin in thought. "I believe he is talking with someone."

"Buuuut we're th' only ponies 'ere, ain't we?" Applejack asked, confused. "Or does he got a lil' critter in there or somethin'?"

The unicorn shook his head. "I checked that machine thoroughly. Or at least I thought I did. I'm not even sure how he can be doing... anything with it at the moment."

"Why, whatcha mean?"

"Well... I drained its battery recording the Wonderbolts! And so far, it has usually been completely inactive without power."

The ponies could only watch as Skinny finished speaking and hoofed the Ponyroid back to Twilight. True enough, the screen was black, and the machine was dead and quiet.

Chapter 27

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Thump-thump-thump!

"TWILIIIIIIIIIIIIIIGHT!" The high-pitched scream threatened to shatter the windows of the tree library. Scowling and rubbing her sore, sleepy eyes, Twilight Sparkle rose from her disrupted slumber and trotted to the door.

Thump-thump-thump!

Using her magic, the unicorn pulled the door open and simultaneously held Fluttershy's hoof in place to avoid being hit by her nervous knocking. "Fluttershy, it's two in the morning. What's the matter?!"

"Oh... I'm so sorry for waking you up, Twilight, but Skinny's gone missing and I didn't know who else to come to!" Fluttershy said quietly, her voice laden with distress.

Twilight frowned. "Again? You should really consider putting a cowbell on him." She walked back inside, letting the pegasus in. A small dragon hopped down the stairs, still clutching his blanket.

"Twilight? Fluttershy?" Spike mumbled. "What's all the ruckus about?"

"It's nothing to worry about, Spike." The unicorn said reassuringly. "Fluttershy just, errr... forgot to bring back her book before the due date! So you can go back to sleep."

Spike looked at the two suspiciously, but his desire for a good night's sleep soon won over his curiosity. Shaking his head, he turned around and went back upstairs, mumbling to himself. "It's only three bits! How cheap can you get..."

As soon as he was gone, Fluttershy grabbed onto Twilight's shoulders. "Oh, I'm so worried about him! What if his paws get hurt, or he freezes? It can get really cold outside, especially in the Everfree Forest!"

"It's summer." Twilight deadpanned. "And what makes you think he went to the Everfree Forest?"

"Well, we bought camping supplies during the day, and they were all gone when I woke up! I wake up sometimes at night to check over my animals, you see, I can't really help it... anyway, I was just going to tuck Skinny in when I noticed he wasn't in his bed! And none of his things were around either! I don't think there's any other place he'd go to. He really wanted to see the place he landed to when he first got here."

Twilight's ears drooped as she realised Fluttershy was probably right. "Well... then he's... gone to the Everfree Forest!" She exclaimed in a defeated tone.

"Wha-... don't you think we should try and find him?!"

"He has a bodyguard, Fluttershy. Besides, going after him in Cloudsdale was one thing... but if he went out on his own accord, with supplies and a tent, then I don't see why we should drag him back." Twilight explained. She stepped closer to the worried yellow pegasus and laid a comforting hoof on her. "Princess Luna wouldn't have sent Crimson Star here if she didn't have faith in him. So if anyone can keep Skinny safe in those woods, it'll be him."


I'm so gonna get fired for this. A particularly hairy bat pony thought in increasing despair as he glided between the houses and flitted between the streets erratically. A month ago, Crimson Star had accepted the assignment from his Princess with a certain amount of glee - indefinite stay in Ponyville, all expenses paid? And all he had to do was look after that cute, affectionate giant monkey with the scritchy toes? Considering he'd nearly been caught stealing blood from the hospital just a week or so before, Crimson Star had practically hit about three jackpots at once. Or so he thought.

Just about the only drawback of the assignment that he thought of was having to switch sleep schedules to fit with all the daytimers, thus having to endure the sun's scorching, blinding rays way more often than he liked. But hey, it's not like the monkey would wander off during the night or anything, right? Right?

Crimson Star landed on the top of the Carousel Boutique, his furry hoof weaving around the spire for balance. He rubbed his tired, red eyes. It was night! Any self-respecting bat pony(or thestral, as mother kept reminding him) would be in his element. He sighed and scratched his head in bafflement, not catching a single biped wandering around, nor even the distinctive, slightly milky scent that distinguished him from the earthy smell of the ponies. "Okay, Crimmy, I'd say we're in trouble. Mmm. Heh..." He mumbled nervously.

The bat pony released his hold on the spire to fly off, only to trip on the pointy ornaments circling the top of the Carousel Boutique. "Whuh-! Ow! OW!" Bouncing off of the roofs of the second and first floors, he made it to the ground a dizzy, scruffy mess. "Stupid house..." At least nobody saw that...

"Tea?"

Horse-apples. Crimson Star winced and looked up at the owner of the Boutique as she daintily sipped from a floating cup, dressed in a fancy pink bathrobe and gazing down on the bat pony from her balcony with thinly veiled amusement.

Crimson Star burned red with embarrassment. "No, v-very kind of you, miss Rarity. Err... what're you doing up so late-ish? If you don't mind me asking, that is?"
"Oh, not at all." Rarity waved dismissively. "Simply couldn't sleep. What with all the stallions climbing over my roof..." She smirked.
The bat pony shrank a little. "Yeah, I am terribly sorry 'bout that. Was just lookin' around, tryin' to catch... err, nevermind."

The unicorn raised an eyebrow. "No, no, go on. Perhaps I might be able to help you. And I most certainly can keep a secret."

Crimson Star bit his lip. He really didn't want to let the fashionista in on him having lost track of Skinny, but she probably did know a lot more about the area than he did. Perhaps he really did have to take a bite out of the old humility pie today...

"Okay... well, Skinny's taken off and I just..." he sighed. "I can't find him anywhere. I don't even know where to begin looking."

Rarity pursed her lips. "Well, that is dreadful."

"Yes, miss." The bat pony lowered his head, looking so glum that it began to pull on the fashionista's heartstrings. Letting out an unhappy nicker, she shouted: "Oh, for Celestia's sake, will you please refrain from looking so downbeat! It does not suit those menacing red eyes of yours, not one bit!" Using her magic, she unlocked the door to the Boutique, and Crimson Star trotted in uncertainly.


Inside the Boutique, a light flashed on in the kitchen and Rarity levitated a cup of tea in front of the bat pony, and a map of Ponyville on the table. "Now then. Let us be reasonable adults and simply work this out, hmm?"

Crimson Star caught the steaming cup from mid-air with his hooves and blew on it before taking a sip. The sweet chamomile relaxed his nerves. "Thanks, miss. I was really losing it."

"Perfectly understandable. Where did you last see Skinny?" She asked. The bat pony scratched his red mane for a second. "Miss Fluttershy's cottage. I sleep on one of the branches. When the lights went out, I figured he'd gone to bed and, well, did the same, so to speak. But then about an hour ago, miss Fluttershy lit the place up and made quite a fuss. Heard her tell her rabbit that Skinny was AWOL, along with his things. After that, I scanned the surroundings and ran through the whole town, but I couldn't find hair nor hide of him so I climbed up your Boutique for a better look. And, er, lost my balance. And then, well, yeah..." Crimson Star's voice tapered off.

"We had our nighttime get-together under the cover of darkness." Rarity quipped. "But jokes aside, I do wonder why Skinny felt compelled to leave."

Crimson Star blinked, and shook his head free of distractions. "Huh?"

"Well, you said he left during the night. So the simple question is, where would he go and why? What place would he want to get to without anypony knowing?"

The bat pony wracked his head a little. "Someplace with valuables, maybe? I mean, night's usually the best time for thievery and the like."

Rarity rolled her eyes. "Skinny, a thief? Nonsense! Besides, he wouldn't take all his belongings and leave Fluttershy's money behind if he were a mere hooligan, would he?"

"... no, miss." That really made Crimson Star's gears grind. If the monkey had taken all of his things, he was planning on a longer trip. Where had he been? Cloudsdale? Impossible. Canterlot? Too far without a train. Where else...

"Oh no." The bat pony groaned, as realisation hit him.

Rarity hummed in agreement. "Ice cream for the road?"

"Yes, miss."


Crimson Star set himself down at the edge of the Everfree Forest, a few miles away from Sweet Apple Acres. By this point, the sky had slowly begun to light up, bringing forth one of those incredibly early summer mornings. The chill of the dew caressed the bat pony's hooves as they touched the grass. He fiddled absent-mindedly with the medallion he wore as identification of his being a Lunar Guard. He owned a set of armor of course, but that was back in his barracks at Canterlot - the assignment hadn't warranted dragging it along.

"Oh come now, it's just a forest... what would mother say?" Crimson Star chastised himself. "A scared thestral's no thestral at all. You're going in there, so just... go in there!" He reared proudly and clenched his teeth, but still didn't move from the spot. Maybe Skinny did try to go to Canterlot... surely he could at least visit the train station and check up on the first train leaving in an hour and a half...

The bat pony's nerves had already convinced him to turn around when he noticed the grass parting a few feet away. He frowned, until he saw a cute ball of white fluff wiggling towards him. "Angel?" He asked. The bunny had a box cutter tied around his back with a rope like the sword of a knight and was running along with a fierce expression, but stopped at Crimson Star's call. The bat pony cocked his head to the side, curious. "Hello! Are you going on an adventure?"

Angel proudly nodded and pointed towards the forest before rearing up and walking on two paws slightly to imitate bipedal movement. "You're off to find Skinny?" The bunny nodded.

"Tsk-tsk-tsk. Does miss Fluttershy know that?"

The bunny shook his head with a slightly guilty expression, and brandished the box cutter in front of Crimson Star, who melodramatically hid behind his hoof. "Oh dear! No, please! Don't hurt me! I won't ever tell a soul!"

Satisfied, Angel returned the cutter to its original position and Crimson Star, smirking to himself, stepped closer to the bunny. "But I say, such a brave fella like you shouldn't go into battle without a squire, should he? We share a common interest in the monkey, so why not join forces and find him together? You can track, can't you?" Angel nodded rapidly. "Of course you can! You'll find him in no time! And Princess Luna won't skin me alive... I hope. So what do you say? Your wits, my wings... sir?"

He lowered a hoof towards the bunny, who grabbed it with his tiny white paw. "Lead on then."

Chapter 28

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You twitch as you hear the peculiar, yet familiar buzzing sound emanate from somewhere within the pegasus-driven carriage. Again and again it buzzes and you give a passing glance to your pony friends, yet they seem utterly oblivious to the sound. Listening closely, you realise the sound is coming from Lavender Lady's saddlebag and start rummaging through it, which finally attracts everyone's attention. With curious expressions on their faces, they watch as you pull out your heavily modified smartphone, the screen glowing a message at you.

UNKNOWN NUMBER
ACCEPT CALL?

A million questions whirl through your mind, but you force them to the back of your mind and simply press on the green image and hold the phone up to your ear. "... hello?" you whisper, not believing.
"Hi?" An uncertain voice says back to you. You nearly drop the phone out of shock.

"Hello!" You repeat. "Can you hear me?!"

"I... I can! Fucking hell, I'm talking to you!" The voice on the other end gushes. It's a feminine voice, and a young, cheerful one at that. "You've no idea how long I've been waiting to do that! Do I sound good?"

You frown in confusion. "What? Who are you, where are you??"

The voice giggles. "I'm your best friend! Can't tell you where I am though. Not yet. Shh! You'd be mindblown! Say, you do like my voice, do you? Tell me you do!"

"I don't understand." You mumble, utterly dumbfounded.
The voice didn't seem deterred though. "Of course you don't! You've still got that nasty Mother Earth stink all over ya. That's why anything magic - like me - cannot touch you. Unless of course it's magic that's already inside you. Hint. Hint."

You rub your temples at the voice's riddles and try to focus on the important things. "How are you talking to me? There are no satellites in Equestria, no way this phone could work."
"Magic." The voice playfully replied. "I mean, come on, what did you think was the answer? Now be a smart boy, and ask us something you really want to know."

"... Why are you talking to me?"
One could practically hear her smile widen on the other end. "Mmm. Well, to be 100% honest, I'm talking to you because I've always wanted to. But, more importantly because I need your help. I'm a little... stuck, and I need a brave, gallant knight to get me out of my prison. You'll... suffice. Once we clean you up, that is."

You shake your head. "Clean me up?"
The voice on the phone hardened a little. "Ever since you came here, you've been a note of disharmony in this realm. You don't belong here, and until you do, you're no use to anyone. So here's the deal: I'll tell you how you can change yourself to fit in Equestria, to be part of its magic, and then you can get me outta jail. Interested?"

For a few moments, you simply sit there, thinking. You don't like the cut of this creature's jib, whoever she is. Nobody decent would be locked someplace where they have to call upon the actually least qualified person to get them out. But you're also craving for a chance to belong, and to talk and sing alongside the happy ponies in their rustic town. Even without being able to talk with them, you were able to defeat evil when you kicked that bug pony's flank. You could only imagine what you accomplish with them actually on your side.

"Alright. I promise. If you can give me a way to talk to my friends, I will set you free." You say.

The voice on the other side cheers. "Woo-hoo! Team! Okay, now listen very carefully, I will say this only once... do you remember where you first landed, in the forest, the Everfree Forest?"
"Uh... yeah. I think so. I've been meaning to go back there, but I have no supplies yet. I've got no money."

"Well, get on with it, cause that's where you're going! There's something in the forest, I'm not exactly sure what myself, but it's something veeeery powerful, something that could shatter the barrier between you and magic forever. You'll know it when you see it."
You nod slowly and breathe in. "Just... go to the forest. Okay. Okay, I can do this."
"I know you can." the voice says reassuringly. "I'll see you on the other side, Anon." The phone hangs up.


You shiver as the icy wind goes through you, and pull up the collar of your abused tuxedo jacket. In retrospect, it seems like a mistake not to have the Goddess fix you up a couple of regular old coats before this impromptu trek into the forest, but you really wanted to avoid arousing the ponies' suspicions and making them think you were wanting to go somewhere. So now you find yourself marching through the mucky swamp with a cardigan and a tux coat. Not exactly ideal clothes for a long walk.

Because of the closely intertwined tree branches and the moss hanging from them, the sun only reaches down here as occasional golden rays of light, signifying the oncoming dawn. You know that by now, Sweetheart will have definitely awoken. She's always up early to make breakfast for everyone. A pang of guilt and homesickness go through you.

You force those thoughts away, justifying to yourself that leaving just like that was the right thing to do. They'd never have let me risk my life again after that wolf nearly mauled me the last time.
In your mind, you're certain that you're right, but as you trudge through the miserable dank woods, you feel a sense of loneliness incomparable to all the times before. You've been distracted, misled and even downright toppled off someone's back, but this is the first time you feel like you've turned your back on the ponies. Ironic, given that you came here to find a way to talk to them.

Fortunately, it doesn't take you too long to find the little hollow between trees where you woke up, relatively close to the Apples' lands. You're not really sure what you expected to see, but to your dismay, there's nothing out of the ordinary around. Not even a cool black spot on the ground to signify your arrival from another dimension. Well, this is embarrassing. You think. The hell am I supposed to do now?

Looking around, you notice the ground is slightly tilted. Maybe if I got to higher ground, I could see something useful? It's not much, but you refuse to return empty-handed after going through all this trouble. Just as you set forth, however, your right foot trips on something and you unexpectedly find yourself kissing the mossy ground. "Damn it!" You kick whatever it was in a fit, expecting it to be a vine or something, only to find a recognisably hand(or hoof)made strap lying on your leg.

Your curiosity piqued, you throw it away from your leg and pull at the strap. Soon enough, something bigger comes loose out of the muddy spring muck and you take it to one of the slivers of light for a better look. It's a pony's saddlebag, and once you've wiped off the sticky leaves and grit, you see the light blue sheen of it. The bag is clasped with a metal purple star with a white outline around it. You recognise it immediately. This is Lavender Lady's. But what's it doing here?

It's identical to the pair of bags you saw her carry during your trip to Cloud City, the kind she housed your phone in. This one is torn, though... there's only one bag. And from the decay, it's obvious to you that it's been here for months. You open the bag up, only to recoil from the smell and general ickiness of rotten fruit, mixed with soggy parchment and a few dreary feathers that might've been quills at some point. It seems to have been left behind in a hurry.

You empty the filth onto the forest ground and stuff the bag into your own backpack. At the very least you can return it later. Despite the interesting discovery, however, you're still very much at square one, and proceed up the hill for a better vantage point.


Thankfully, the chilling doomladen atmosphere of the forest disperses somewhat as you trudged upwards. The woods become thinner and the sun's warm glaze more prevalent. It ain't winter yet!

You reach the highest point of the hill and stand there, observing the misty, murky forest around you. In the distance, the ruins of a once-elegant castle jut out of the otherwise miserable jungle. A wide grin forms on your face. That has got to be it. And the princess better not be in another castle...

Seeing the Castle in the distance is one thing. Getting to it is quite another. Once more, you're hit by just how much more gruelling adventuring is when you're the one doing it, and not a movie star hunk with a six-pack. The terrain of the Everfree Forest is incredibly treacherous - with swampy mud pits that swallow your entire leg in a second, sharp-edged rocks that leave horrible gashes and camouflaged vines that snake around your feet and trip you up no matter how cautiously you walk.

In addition to that, you also end up sweating like a pig from both the journey as well as the apparent greenhouse effect caused by all the thick, interwoven branches of the trees sealing in the warmth in the valley. It's as if you'd entered a completely different season. As a result, you soon discover that your supply of water is decreasing much faster than anticipated. Despite not having gotten much further, you sit down against the trunk of a tree and rest.
There has to be an easier path up to that castle. I should just- Your thoughts are interrupted as your feet sink into a pool, mercilessly filling your boots with icy, mucky liquid and ruining your second-to-last pair of socks. You giggle at the absurdity of all as you pull them out. "What the fuck am I doing? I should be at home eating ice cream with my pony, not fucking around in a swamp. Oh, bloody hell. Stupid, stupid, stupid..." you mutter.

Having replaced your socks, you pull on the straps of your saddlebags to temporarily ease the pain on your shoulders and keep on climbing downhill. It's a steep drop and you're forced to cling onto roots. As you ease yourself downwards, a strange slithering noise reaches your ears and you pause.
What the fuck was that?

A memory of the wooden wolf you fought here once flashes through your mind and fear grips you. Probably just the wind. Big forest, lots of leaves making noise-

Crack.

Oh shit, something's there.

You breathe out in small, nervous bursts, your ears piqued for any more errant noise. Suddenly, a bird streaks past you, shocking you enough for your sweaty palms to lose their grip. You scream as you drop twenty feet into the lake below. Panicking, and with no air in your lungs, you struggle underwater until you see the light shine above you and instinctively swim towards it, leading you to the surface where you gasp for air.

After getting your bearings straight, you try to make it to the shore, only for it to sink underneath you. Another mudpit! Fortunately, a loose vine extends into the water and you manage to drag yourself out through the soft bank of liquid earth, crawling onto solid ground at last. You breathe heavily, the adrenaline still flowing through your system and stare at your ruined clothes, horrified.
"Fuck this."

In a fit of rage, you throw your sopping wet saddle bags on the ground and then pull everything out to check the damage - of course everything is wet. You put all the non-canned food aside, not desperate enough yet to eat something contaminated by the lake's dirty water. The lantern is cracked. Brilliant. The matches... where are the matches?? Gone, that's where.
"So much for campfire." You mutter as you leave the tent, sleeping bag and all your clothes hanging on a huge gnarled tree standing next to the lake. Fortunately for you, the forest is warm enough to be nude in, but who knows what'll happen when the sun goes down...


Princess Luna made herself comfortable on a large round sofa. It was dawn, and she had finished attending to her duties. Well, almost. Every now and again, the nightmares of a few partygoers who were just now settling down pricked rudely at her consciousness, like crumbs in the tea after she dipped a biscuit in it.

Her intention was to enjoy a private hour or two reading a book, before retiring to her own dreams. Not a good, hearty, layered novel of gripping drama that she might display herself with in front of an ambassador nor a tome of Starswirl's to drape herself in mystery whenever Twilight Sparkle came by.
Luna was actually busy poring over a collection of the Power Ponies, specifically the arc in which Humdrum was split into five(well, it should have been six, fitting with the number of Ponies, but fortunately, Luna had pre-empted that decision by politely reminding the company that 5409 issues ago, six was established as a cursed number to Humdrum and splitting him into that number would likely result in the re-awakening of the Great Drake. Clever Luna!) and became a successful superhero team on his own.

Trashy, serialized feel-good pulp fiction - in other words, entertainment fit for a princess. She'd just gotten to her favourite bit(where the Mane-iac reveals her scheme to mine the Moon itself hollow and drive it around like a rocket) when her chamber doors blew open without announcement, revealing the stressed-looking figure of her sister.

"Manners, Tia." Luna chastised her without looking up. "We might've mistaken thou for an assassin and... zapped."

Celestia ignored the quip, and instead levitated a piece of paper onto Luna's lap. "I've received a letter from Twilight." Her voice hardened. "About Anon."

Luna bookmarked her comic and skimmed the letter thrust in front of her. "Dear Princess Celestia... ladi-dadi-daa... found Skinny missing... Everfree Forest... request further instructions. Well, it appears to be perfectly straightforward, sister. We recommend thou tell Twilight to post a few guards to the edge of the forest to await his return and go back to slumber."

The sun princess rolled her eyes. "She does not sleep during the day."
"Quite right; they haven't released the new Daring Do yet, have they?"

"Argh!" Celestia exclaimed in frustration. "Do you really think I'm here on a whim? Lest you've forgotten, the Everfree Forest is brimming with dangerous creatures that he could not possibly be prepared for. An immunity to magic does not protect one from sharp teeth!"
"But a Lunar Guard does." Luna retorted. "Lest thou hast forgotten Crimson Star."

A huff. "Indeed not. Had I sent my own entourage, the human would never have disappeared like that!"
"Whining isn't very becoming of thee, sister." Luna said, not appreciating the jab at her choice of guard. Their little ponies would've been appalled if they heard their private arguments, but she liked to ground her more popular sister and had no doubt Celestia liked to do much the same for her. "We made the decision together."

Unfortunately, it seemed her sister was only now bringing out the heavy artillery in this particular confrontation. "Look into his mind."

Luna scowled. "No."
"Lulu-..."

"We shall not!" The night princess shouted, and blushed. Her attempt to force Anon to dream so they could communicate had been... frightening, and one of the most strange experiences she'd ever had. Had she not known he was an alien and clearly lucid, she would've thought him to be insane. A simple, ordinary pony dreams of whatever's on their mind. But him... his dreams were mad and wild, filled with glass towers and metal birds, swords of light and... clowns. It was all there, all at once, and none of it made any sense. But when she slipped out, somehow she knew things about him and his place of origin as if she'd been given a Powerpoint presentation on his life.
"We've nearly killed him twice doing so!"

Celestia was not deterred and rammed a hoof onto the floor, making a loud clang as the metal shoe hit the marble. "We must know what is happening in the Forest! I cannot ask Twilight to blindly lead a search party into those woods, but you could find out where they are, and if they are in need of assistance!"

"Sister, if they truly be in need of assistance then it is likely not a good idea to incapacitate one of them. We will simply have to rely on Crimson Star's judgment on this matter, and wait." Luna savored the last words, knowing that Celestia was used to being the one keeping ponies waiting.

As expected, the day princess stewed a little and sat on one of the armchairs next Luna's sofa. Finally, she spoke up again, looking Luna in the eye: "I am still not convinced that sending Crimson Star to Ponyville was the right choice, regardless of whether we can trust him or not."
She matched her sister's gaze. "If thou art referring to his family..."
"I am."
Luna frowned. "It is not like thou to have concerns over someone based on where they come from."

The day princess sighed. "No, it is not. I have learned never to judge someone based on their appearance. And if you are confident in Crimson Star's loyalty, then so am I. But Anon is a wild card in Equestria right now. He, and everything around him, is unpredictable to me. I've only felt this way once before. It's troubling."

Luna knew exactly what she was talking about. As sisters, their minds often travelled along the same route. "Discord had a habit of making clear things seem unclear, that is true. But e'en the most conniving creature such as him cannot plot withal a brain made of stone."
"Discord's brain, stone or otherwise, has never frightened me. It's what happens to my little ponies whenever he appears." Celestia lowered her head mournfully. "Greed, fear and anger are part of the chaos he spreads. Those I fear the most. Especially from the ones most open to their influence... like Crimson Star's family. If Anon truly has some connection with Discord that we do not understand, then I fear Crystal Star would attempt to use it against us."

"And I fear she would not succeed." Without Celestia noticing, Luna had risen from her sofa and was now nuzzling her comfortingly. "As thou hast told me, sister - do not allow dark thoughts to overtake thy mind. Trust us when we say Crimson Star is the right choice to protect Anon. He may not be the most capable or the most convenient pony, but thou could not ask for a more steadfast guard."

Gradually, Celestia's breathing calmed and the usual serene 'throw anything at me Blueblood' expression returned. "Yes, you are so very right. I must return to my duties. And you must sleep. I will inform you if Spike sends anything else of importance my way."

Luna nodded, with a wry grin and said: "Please keep an eye open for mentions of the new Daring Doo book. Thither are many mental preparations to be made for such an occasion."
The day princess raised an eyebrow. "Aren't you one of the readers?"
"Not since I caught miss Doo dreaming about... carrots..." Luna's irises drew into pinpricks and her eyes glazed over. "So many... carrots... hehehe..."

Celestia blinked twice and backed out, magically opening and closing the doors behind her.


Having made a proper examination of your belongings as you set up camp, you're beyond frustrated to realise that in your eagerness to leave town, you accidentally bought a pony-sized tent without either you or Sweetheart noticing. So rather than put it up properly, you simply stretch it open wide and tie the ends to the trees around you to make a cover to protect you from the rain, at least.
On the other end of the spectrum, your sleeping bag's three times too big for you, so you curl up in there as the forest gradually descends into darkness around you. Sleep does not come to you easily, as the alien forest is full of strange sounds; creaks, cracks and hisses. Though you suspect the wind is at play here, you can't help but pull the large hunting knife from your saddlebags and grip it ever tighter as the noises continue to bother you evermore.

Wish I managed to get a fire going, that'd scare of any freak creatures... or maybe that's a bad idea, maybe that would draw them in. If they're not drawing in already. Hey, fresh meat on the menu! you try to quiet your own heavy breathing as paranoia starts to seep in and the memory of the wild wooden wolf that nearly killed you starts flashing before your eyes.
There could be a whole pack of them, and one knife, no matter how big, wasn't gonna do jack on a living pile of wood. Well, unless I get it down its throat...
For a brief moment, you are childishly confused as to why a magic pile of wood would need to breath anyway, when your train of thought is interrupted by a loud stomp.

That shit was real. You think in despair, your body drenched in cold sweat by this point. You slowly zip the sleeping bag open, holding the knife and ready to fight for your life at a moment's notice. Because of the foliage covering everything, the jungle is nearly pitch black, preventing you from seeing much. But you can certainly hear...

Stomp.

Stomp-stomp-stomp-stomp.

Sniff.

What the fuck is it??? What do you want?! Go away, go away, go away!! You think and crawl back into the sleeping bag for safety, deciding you'd much rather hide than fight something alone in the dark. Please, I don't want to die here, please, please...

You freeze as the stomping sound of feet against the crackle of dried up-leaves and grass reaches your tent. It's there. It's real. It's come for you. A surge of adrenaline erases the crippling fear and you feel ready to jump out and... !!

A horse whinny.

Without further ado, you crawl out of the bag in utter disbelief and are faced with two glowing red orbs right next to you. Sheer relief overwhelms you completely and you burst into mad laughter. "Shaggy!!" Tossing the knife aside, you lunge at the furred bat pony and pull him into a tight hug. "Man, I am so, so, so glad to see you!!!" Sensing your distress, Shaggy hugs you right back, his front hooves wrapping around your midsection and patting your backside. Having had no company since sneaking out of Sweetheart's cottage, you hold the pony close to you for a while, needy for reassurance that things are going to be okay.

You feel a little tugging on your collar and turn your head instinctively, which brings you into contact with another soft, furry thing, which slaps you for ramming into it with your head. It's Sweetheart's bunny! It's Bunnystorm the... whichever!! "Hey, man! You're here too?"

The three of you decide in unison to get into your huge sleeping bag and leave all decisions for tomorrow. Shaggy zips up the bag, presumably with his teeth and settles down next to you, the bunny sleeping over both of your heads' in the hood. As Shaggy's cold, wet nose accidentally pokes underneath your jaw, you giggle out loud, your emotions being all over the place right now. You pull the bat pony close again, inadvertently making him the little spoon and finally drift off to sleep to the calming sound of his breathing and the warmth he generates next to you.

Chapter 29

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With a worn-out moan, Crimson Star forced his sleep-crusted eyes open. The heat being nigh unbearable, the bat pony wriggled out of the gigantic, empty sleeping bag. His thick fur was sticking out in various places, and was rather uncomfortable, dry and heavy on him at the moment. Crimson's poor head pounded, and a dizzy spell forced him to sit down and gather his bearings for a bit.

Outside of the incredibly crude tent/shelter thing Skinny had set up, he and Angel Bunny were having a miserable breakfast sitting next to the calm, green lake. The bunny was nibbling on a dry stalk of celery with a stare that could kill whilst Skinny was picking bits of unappetizing processed tuna out of a tin with his fingers, and devouring them even slower. Owing to the thick air and humid atmosphere this deep in the Everfree Forest, the alien was dressed in nothing more than undergarments and a dirty, yellowed shirt. He had a pensive look about him. Crimson felt like cheering him up, but a few priorities came first.

He got to his hooves again and trotted towards the lake. Angel took no notice of passing, and the alien casually ran his minotaur-like fingers over his back. Crimson had noticed that just like that temperamental race, Skinny's kind placed a great deal of importance on the touch of hands rather than muzzles, as was the way with most Equestrian quadrupeds. He appreciated the attention regardless and flashed Skinny as friendly a smile as he could conjure, before dunking his head in the icy waters of the lake.

By the Nightmare's fluffy ears, that feels good! He thought as the coolness wiped away the cobwebs in his head. Without hesitation, he unclipped the signature Lunar Guard medallion from around his neck and dived into the lake for a refreshing morning swim. Crimson could sense Skinny looking at him with trepidation.

He wasn't entirely wrong to do so either, for although the lake was certainly empty(as Crimson's bat-pony senses told him), the Everfree Forest was practically a hub for bizarre magical phenomena as a result of Princess Celestia and Nightmare Moon's legendary duel. There was no such thing as a safe swim here.

Crimson Star wasn't particularly worried about all that, though. Swim first, and ask questions later, that's my motto.

He splashed around in the lake without a care in the world to clean his fur, and lapped up enough water to drive away his headache. Once he was properly refreshed, the bat pony extended his wings and took to flight directly from the water, carrying himself back to the campsite, where he shook his body free of the excess drops right next to his two friends, who looked like they could use some proper refreshment too(though judging from their indignant cries, they didn't agree).

Crimson Star snickered a little, and sat down on the ground to replace his medallion. The bat pony's furry tummy was grumbling for food as well, so he took a deep sniff of the air, filling his nostrils with the vast variety of scents nearby: a massive overdose of thick vegetation and mud, the artificial fabric of the tent, the dead leather of Skinny's saddlebags, the spicier-than-usual musks of the unwashed alien and Angel Bunny... ah! There it was...

Sniffing again to make sure, Crimson trailed the smell to the sleeping bag, and found a few spotty apples and some squashed, ruined tangerines under it. Skinny must've lost these. Oh well. The bat pony licked his lips and picked up one of the apples. His sharp teeth slided into its flesh like a knife through warm butter, and he sealed the wounds with his mouth so he could suck the juice out. Within a few seconds, the fruit was a dry husk and Crimson discarded it to pick up another, repeating the process.

As he was a natural carnivore, they didn't fill him up much, but it was enough to keep him going for a few hours. What was I thinking, rushing in here without food? The only thing to eat would be the bunny, and explaining that to miss Fluttershy would be such a delight, wouldn't it? Crimson rolled his eyes and knocked his hoof against his head repeatedly in annoyance. Stupid Crimson, stupid, stupid, stupid!

The bat pony knew that his only chance of finding out what his alien friend wanted was by being patient, and following along. The risk in of itself was well worth taking, but without food or a clear end goal, the Everfree Forest became that much more dangerous.

As long as I'm still strong, I should take him back to Ponyville and- hey! Crimson stood up on his hooves and looked around worriedly. Where's he gone??? "Skinny? Skinny! Where did you go?"

His query was immediately answered by a strong pair of arms that wrapped around his abdomen so suddenly that the bat pony let loose a very un-stallionlike yelp. "H-hey! Skinny!!"

The alien sat down with the bat pony on his chest and held him tightly, with Crimson's hooves dangling over his arms helplessly. He towered over all ponies on account of his bipedal nature, and had a habit of making Crimson Star feel as if he was a little foal in comparison, especially when pulling stunts like this. Crimson didn't mind one bit though - Skinny was Skinny, and yearned for comfort like any good pony under the sun and the moon. Feeling left out, Angel Bunny abandoned his bitter plants and made a comfortable nest for himself in Crimson Star's mane, much to the latter's delight.

Together, they were content to sit at the shore of the lake for a while and wait... for something.


"You... have no idea how glad I am that you're here. It's funny - I hear a woman's voice for the first time in half a year and off I go running into the jungle without a clue. I don't know who she is, I don't know if she's trustworthy, I don't even know her name. I just know... I'm not alone. At least I think I do." You scratch Shaggy's left ear and also boop the bunny above him on his pink nose. "No, I'm not alone. I've got you, and you've got me." You smile. "But I have to find it. Whatever it takes. The key to unlocking the ability to talk to you, to truly be with you beautiful people... it's in that castle. It must be!"

It is the only thing you've dreamed of since you came here, to tell Sweetheart how much you appreciate her and her friends, to thank Princess Tia and Princess Luna for their graceful acceptance. You yearn to be part of this world, and though you've managed to learn a few things through Luna's strange abilities, you've never truly integrated.

Whoever the woman on the phone was, she has given you hope, hope that you can truly find complete happiness here, just so long as you can get to those ruins. Of course, there is also the matter of keeping your end of the bargain and rescuing the mysterious dame from whatever prison holds her, but as far as you're concerned, you hold all the aces. Once you're able to talk to the ponies, you can figure out who she is and what to do.

Shaggy squirms out of your grip and touches your chest with a hoof, as if trying to get you to hold you still. Both you and the bunny watch with curiosity as his ears twitch from one direction to the other, trying to catch some kind of disturbance. Something in the forest? You listen as well, even trying to hold your breath. It's not that the forest is eerily quiet - it's full of strange bubbling noises, the cries of mysterious birds and distant roars. You had acclimated yourself to all that, so you look towards the bat pony to recognise any potential threat he might pick up on...

THWACK!

... and watch as a slimy, gigantic tentacle bursts out of the jungle and right through your tent. Your heart jumps up to your throat and you, Shaggy and the bunny all scream loudly, and scamper. Unfortunately, you slip on mud in your panic and trip straight into the icy cold lake. Two dips in two days. It would've been rather humorous had you not been under immediate threat of a particularly Japanese demise.

You flail in the murky green depths, desperately trying to reach the surface, only for a pair of strong hooves to grab you underneath your arms and pull you out. With his wings flapping as powerfully as they can, Shaggy drags your heavy hide out of the water and onto the muddy surface, only for a tentacle to wrap itself around him in turn, and pull him off.

"SHAGGY!!" You scream.


As a Lunar Guard dedicated to the Princess of the Night, Crimson Star's training included handling unexpected situations - after all, villainy by its very nature meant playing with no rules, and often no announcement. So when an oversized cephalopod rudely interrupted the campers' morning, the part of sweet Crimson that once would have panicked and turned him useless now simply went to sleep, and the bat pony was able to analyse the situation.

Well, as soon as he had lunch. Without further ado, Crimson bit deeply into the luminous green tentacle wrapped around him, and dug around with his sharp canines to ensure maximum pain as he sucked the nourishing blood out. Rather tangy. Soon enough, either the monster reacted in pain or simply lost feeling, and Crimson dropped out of the tentacle's grasp and onto his rump. Out of nowhere, Angel Bunny dropped down onto his stomach. "Oh, hello!" The bat pony said, bemused. He placed his little friend on his back and stood up on his hooves, looking around.

"Now, where's Skin-?" Crimson began to say, but the bunny shoved himself against the bat pony's neck, saving him from another tentacle whishing overhead. "OH! Thank you, Angel!" He rubbed the back of his neck. "I had better take care of this first."

Crimson bit his lip, observing as the tentacle monster struggled to pull down a tree in some mindless rage. "Alright then." He murmured, and ran his tongue over his fangs. "Angel, I'm going to attack him. When I do, can you be a pal and annoy him a little for me while I do my thing?" Crimson felt the little bunny's soft paw pat against his head affirmingly. "Thanks a bunch. Now hold on!"

The bat pony took to flight, heading directly towards his opponent. Noticing his rapid approach, the strange swamp creature roared loudly and thrust his many tentacles randomly in Crimson's direction, forcing him to dash and duck with lightning-fast reflexes, courtesy of the many, many hours of flight training under miss Spitfire's perfectionist eye.

Weaving his way in-between, the bat pony latched onto the back of the aquatic creature's head and sunk his sharp fangs through its slimy, scraggly skin and into the warm flesh underneath. At the same time, Angel Bunny used his claws to climb up on top of its head and slap repeatedly at its eyes, aggravating and confusing the monster as Crimson drained its blood and weakened it.

As expected, the monster thrashed around in pain, more focused on the pain to it’s eyes than the increasingly numb spot on the back of its head. Angel Bunny, small and cunning as he was, expertly dodged each of its attempts to crush or grab the irritant like a fly always buzzing away right before one could splat it, and gave the monster's eyes hell. He even jumped off for a moment, only to snap off two sticks from a nearby tree so he could cruelly play drums on its eyes.

I should enlist that little fella Crimson thought, before being interrupted by a wandering tentacle that finally discovered him and wrapped around his hind hooves, forcibly tearing him off with a splash of dark blood and preventing him from hooking onto any other part of its body.

In blind fury, the creature's hold on Crimson grew so tight that he screamed, feeling as if his hooves were about to be snapped off. And the pressure only got worse until suddenly stopping. The tentacle turned limp and let Crimson crumple onto the ground with a muffled yelp. As he moaned quietly in response to his aching hooves, the bat pony saw the monster turn idle and slowly drag itself towards the pool. Attached to its side was the fluffy yellow feather of a dart.

Hoofsteps. Above Crimson stood a hooded zebra with compassionate blue eyes shining from the shadows, and a wooden pipe in her mouth which she promptly stuffed into a pocket on her cloak. "I have found many wonders in the Everfree, but I have yet to come across a bat pony." the zebra said with surprise in her tone. "If your hooves hurt, do not fret, while I make sure there's no further threat."

Crimson struggled to get his heavy breathing under control, and gasped: "There was a... a creature, with us... you wouldn't know him. He ran off. Looks like a monkey, with no fur."

The zebra put a hoof to her mouth contemplatively. "Looks like a monkey, with no fur. With a description like that, I can hardly err." Feeling her tail pulled, the zebra turned around and noticed Angel Bunny waving at her and pointing at some vegetables poking out of her stuffed saddlebag with a pleading look. "Angel? What brings you so far from Fluttershy? Oh, never mind, I shall find out why." She released the clasp on her bag and hoofed him a juicy cabbage before turning back to Crimson. "I will attend to your mystery friend. You two should follow that road..." she pointed at a dirt trail from the direction she came in. "... it will lead you to my humble abode."