Of Two Worlds

by Pacifika

First published

Two worlds collide....

Human and Ponies. Two species that were never meant to cross. When Caden Park awakens in Equestria, he has no idea how he got there. As he sets about figuring out how he arrived, he will be be challenged with living in an alien world, accepting that his life might be more important than he had ever dreamed and force himself to grow beyond the failures of his past. Along the way he will make friends, loved ones and enemies alike. As he barrels towards figuring out the mystery of his arrival, he'll uncover far more than he had expected. His landing there is just the first in a set of events that rearranged not only his destiny but will alter the fate of two entire worlds.

Authors note: This is the story formerly known as Herding Failures. Sorry for the confusion. As the story has evolved, the old title just didn't make as much sense anymore. For new readers, I hope you enjoy my banana pants take on this fandom old fantasy: "What if you woke up Equestria?" My other stories are more serious and grounded, so this is my chance to be a bit silly and enjoy the trope! I hope you enjoy and PLEASE leave feedback. It's the only way I can grow as a writer

Prologue

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“Aurora? Aurora are you awake down there?”

Hoofing hay fry crumbs out of her cream chest fur, Aurora Burst slouched forward in her chair and looked back at the darkened basement stairwell with annoyance.

“It’s six at night. Of course I’m awake!”

Hoofsteps made their way down the stairs. “Really? I’ve caught you sleeping this late before!”

“Whatever.” She turned back to the workbench in front of her with a huff. As her horn illuminated with a light blue aura, she levitated a small screwdriver from the other side of her workbench to her.

The distinctive crunch of hoof meeting metal erupted from the base of the stairs. “What the?! What the hell is all of this?”

She turned and saw her roommate at the other end of the narrow room, knee deep in a box of wiring and other spare parts. “Watch out for the boxes,” she deadpanned.

He scowled and gingerly stepped out of the box. “I probably could have if it wasn’t lit like a damn dungeon in here!” He gestured angrily towards the sole light source in the room, a magnifying lamp bolted to her workbench. Stepping around the pile of boxes, he made his way across the small basement that pulled double duty as her bedroom and workshop.

He waved a hoof at a trash can choked with Hay Burger wrappers and bags. “Fast food again?”

She rolled her eyes. “Anything else Dad?.” She pulled the lamp closer to her muzzle and squinted down at a small mass of wires and metal between her hooves.

The lanky grey pegasus raised one eyebrow. “Yes, please clean your room.” He looked back at the stairwell. “Lest you be crushed to death by some newfound mountain of crap you’ve drug down here.”

“Free spare parts over safety.” She brought the screwdriver down on her target. “Did you actually need something Double? Or did you just come down here to gripe?”

He sighed in. “Actually no. It’s the first. Rents due.”

She floated the tool back to the bench and leaned back in her chair, rubbing a hoof over each eye. “Really? The first already.”

Double leaned against the wall. “Losing track of days?”

She sighed. “Just a lot of really long nights.” She nodded over to a set of shelves next to her workbench. On the top few were rows of toasters, blenders, lamps, cameras and all other sorts of household appliances, each sitting neatly arranged with a billing invoice on top. On the lower few saw a myriad of broken items, each taped with a repair order.

He whistled. “That’s a lot of orders.”

She shrugged. “There’s a lot of ponies in Manehattan. Bits have been great though.”

He gave her a cheeky grin. “At least I know you can make rent.”

She shot him a sideways glare for his humor. “Have I ever been late?”

“It was a joke Aurora.”

The glare faded as a frown tugged at her muzzle. “Sorry.”

“It’s ok.”

He gazed around at the sparse, brick walled basement. It was nothing more than a simple room, barely wide enough for her small cot and a walkway. At one end was the stairs descending from the house above. Stacked around the end of the stairs was the heaping pile of boxes he had stepped in. At the other end, her workbench and the shelf with her orders. The bench was a chaotic heap of screwdrivers, pliers, bits of wire, circuitry, instruments and other parts and tools he was unfamiliar with. Despite the mess, in the bit of time he had spent watching her work she never seemed to hunt for anything. She always seemed to know exactly where the part or tool she needed was.

As he scanned the room, an object under her cot caught his eye.

“Have you made any progress on your personal project?”

Double jerked back as the screwdriver she had been diligently manipulating plummeted to the table and a giant smile spread across her muzzle. She catapulted out of her chair and towards her cot, tail swishing back and forth excitedly “I have!”

He fought back a grin. Awkward to adorkable in one question.

It had taken a while to get used to the stone faced, green maned, blue eyed unicorn who had answered his newspaper ad about a basement rental. He’d fully expected some sort of early college age Pony to show up to his door, worldly possessions in their saddlebags and ready to negotiate the price. Instead he’d opened the door to a fully grown mare, easily in her late twenties and three months rent in hoof.

After signing the renters agreement; he’d watched wide eyed as she silently started dragging boxes of tools, shelving and all other manner of work implements from her moving cart to the basement. An offer to help had been met with a brief head shake and downcast eyes. He wasn’t even sure she had a bed until he saw the cot floating along behind her during one load.

Despite the gruff exterior, she was a good roommate. She always had her rent on time. The coffee shop he owned demanded very early hours and she was always quiet when he slept. Early on, questions and greetings had produced little more than a grunt or curt answer as she went back and forth from the basement to deliver finished repair orders to clients.

In the months to come, he’d slowly managed to coax more out of her. Random kitchen encounters had revealed how she ran her own home pickup and delivery repair shop. A few quick ciders in the kitchen one night and she had briefly mentioned that she was from Canterlot and that her parents were teachers of some sort. That was as far as he’d been able to delve into her past. Most questions about her family prompted little more than a shrug and a quick retreat to the basement.

Nothing opened the unicorn mare up more than asking her about her work. One question about how a radio worked and her eyes shot open like a filly on Hearths Warming morning. He’d learned more about vacuum tubes and circuit theory than he had ever cared to. Most of it flew far above his head. She’d occasionally run off on tangents about electrical theory and particle behavior without realizing his eyes had long since glazed over. Still, he always listened. It was worth it to see her smile for a change.

She rummaged under her cot and emerged with her project. Floating it over to her workbench, she set it in front of them with a beaming grin. It was little more than a metal disk, about the size of a dinner plate with a rounded metal edge that circled what looked like a rounded, shattered pane of glass. Four small legs propped the disc up. Extending from one end was a single cable, which connected to a small metal cube covered in dials and a black screen.

He looked it over and nodded. “So...does it still not work?”

Her grin evaporated as she blew him a raspberry. “I’m making headway smartass.”

“Oh? The last time you were ‘making headway’ we ended up with a part of a screwdriver embedded in my espresso machine.”

“Could have ended up embedded up your flank…” she mumbled, clearly loud enough for him to hear.

“What was that?”

“Nothing! Nothing”. She shot him a wide fake grin before looking back down at the disk. “Seriously though, I can get items where I want them now within a few square feet.”

“That is progress.” He gazed down at the disk. “So you really think you can get this thing to a point where it could teleport something long distance?”

She looked back at a tattered, half incomplete leather bound book sitting on her cot. “If my ancestor’s designs work how he thought they would, yes.”

“How many greats did you say he was?”

“Four greats. Grandfather on my Mom’s side. I think.”

“You think?”

She shrugged.”We didn’t keep the best records.”

He remembered the first time he’d caught her tinkering on the thing. Back then it was little more than the disk frame and a box of parts. As usual, all she’d said was that it was something she was working on for herself. It wasn’t until the same night they’d shared the ciders that she divulged what its purpose. Apparently it was supposed to allow any unicorn to transport an object to anywhere they wanted, given sufficient magical power. Like most non unicorn ponies, he was largely ignorant of the intricacies of magic. It had taken him by surprise to learn that this wasn’t something they all did. It wasn’t until he really thought about it that he realized he had never seen any of his unicorn friends teleport anything. He’d heard stories of the Princesses doing such things, so he had assumed any of them could do it. As it turned out, only a fraction of a percentage of unicorns had this kind of talent.

“Wanna see it?”

He nodded. “Sure. Do I need a magic shield around my flank?”

She rewarded him with a legitimate smile. “No. Watch this!”

Her horn lit up and she levitated a small bundle of wire from her work bench onto the glass face of the disk. Turning, she began manipulating the dials on the box. The screen lit up as walls of text scrolled by as she changed the settings. She had explained to him how it was some sort of information about the area around them and how it stored some sort of data about the transmission but he’d gone cross eyed before she had finished. Eventually as she got the dials where she wanted, the scrolling stopped and a set of numbers blinked on the screen. With that, she turned and a beam of magic shot from her horn to the disc.

Almost immediately, the bundle of wires fizzled out of existence and a moment later, reappeared above her bed with a small snapping sound. As they tumbled to the cot below, the box emitted a small, high pitched tone.

He turned to look at the box. “That’s new.”

She nodded. “I added a wave sensor to the control box. It helps me analyze the transmission wave and do troubleshooting.”

“That’s handy. How does it work?”

She nodded her head at the box. “It’s like a radio antenna. When the item is teleported, it emits an energy wave. The sensor picks up on that, theoretically even at very long distances.” She brought a hoof up to scratch her ear. “I can’t figure out how to attenuate it though. If I test it with something even a little bit larger, the stupid thing screeches it’s head off.”

He walked over to the cot and examined the bundle of wires. The pile looked distinctly smaller than before and there were far more pieces. “It doesn’t quite look the same.”

She walked over and joined him. “No, it’s still not working perfectly.” She looked up at him with a wide, excited grin. “But I’m getting closer.”

He looked back at the bed and down to her. “And you’re sure this is worth it? I know that thing’s been eating up most of your extra bits.” She had mentioned early on that a lot of the components in it were pretty exotic.

She walked back to the workbench and flopped down in her chair. “I do. I really think this could change how we move things across Equestria. No more need for the train or mail ponies. No need to wait for packages!” She was positively beaming at the possibilities.

“If it’s that big a deal, why don’t you take this to a research lab? Or to the Princesses or...something? You could probably get help. Money.”

Her smile evaporated immediately. “No. I want to figure this out on my own.”

He shook his head. “But why?”

“Double...”

“But…”

Her eyes snapped up to his. “Double. Please. Drop it. I need to do this on my own.”

They locked eyes for a moment before he sighed and scratched his head. “Ok. Ok. I’ll drop it.”

He made his way back to the base of the stairs and stepped over the boxes at the base. He looked back to see her hunched over her workbench, exactly as he’d found her. “Just promise me you’ll clear these boxes? I don’t want you to trip.”

“Yup.”

He sighed internally as he hoofed his way up the stairs. Baby steps.


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(Several months later)

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Double shot up in his bed, heart pounding as he was ripped out of sleep.

He winced as his wings shot forward to plug his ears against the piercing screech that had woken him up.”What the hell?”

He rolled out of his bed and made his way down the hall and to the kitchen. As he approached the basement door, the noise got noticeably louder.

SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

He opened the door to the basement and ran down the stairs. He arrived to see Aurora sitting in her bed, staring at the teleporters control box as it floated in front of her in her magic. The grid on the box was visible and text was flying across the screen. He made his way over to the side of her bed. The screech was painful at this distance.

He grimaced and looked down at her. “What the hell is happening?”

She shook her head and yelled, “I don’t know!”

She shook the cube in her magic to no effect. He was considering throwing it against the wall when the wailing suddenly stopped.

He pulled his wings out of his ears. “What in Celestia was that?”

She jumped out of bed and floated the box over to the workbench. “I have no idea. I was sleeping when the damn thing started going off.”

She started fiddling with the dials as paragraphs of information scrolled down the screen. He was internally debating whether to complain about being yanked out of bed in the middle of the night by her pet project or just go back to bed and do it tomorrow when her magic dissipated.

“That’s…”

He snapped back to attention and looked over at her. “Aurora?”

“No way.”

He moved to stand beside her. “Aurora? What’s wrong?”

She looked from the screen to him, open mouthed. “Double..there was a transmission.”

“Ok. Did it go off in the middle of the night?”

She shook her head. “No. Not from here. From somewhere else. The sensor logged a successful transmission.” She shook her head in disbelief. “Double...something else was teleported in Equestria and if these readings are right...whatever it was, it was enormous.”

Chapter 1: Caden

View Online

He winced as something dug deep into the small of his back.

Did I fall asleep on my phone?

He instinctively rolled over, expecting soft relief. Instead there was an unexpected hardness under him and heat on his face.

What the…..?

Opening his eyes to blinding light, he grimaced and brought a hand up.

What the hell?!

As his eyes adjusted, there was nothing but endless grassland peppered with an occasional tree and capped by a blindingly blue, cloudless sky as far as he could see.

“Wha…what?” He shot up and spun his head around in a panic, taking in his surroundings.

As far as he could see, it was the same. He looked up and realized he was sitting under one of the trees. He felt something painful under him and after lifting his thigh, saw one of the roots. He took another deep breath and scanned the area as his heart pounded in his chest.

WHAT THE HELL?!

“Hello? Anyone there?”

His voice faded into the distance.

“Anyone? Hello? This isn’t friggin’ funny!”

He took another breath in a vain effort to calm down.

“Ok, Caden. Stop. Think. What did you do last night?”

Nothing. Nothing stood out to him. The commute home. An empty apartment. Leftover pizza. Netflix on the couch. Facebook on his phone until he fell asleep.

My phone!

He looked around in a panic. Standing up, a scan around him didn’t reveal his phone.. As he looked down at his body, he finally realized what he was wearing.

I’M STILL IN MY PAJAMAS!

He was clad in black gym shorts and a wrinkled white t-shirt. He looked down to see grass between his toes.

Great. Wait, why do I care?

He scrubbed his hands violently over his face, hoping he’d rip himself out of the dream. He opened his eyes to the same scene.

Nope. Still here.

“Ok dude. Think. You went to bed and….woke up here.” He looked around. “WHERE THE HELL AM I?”

He scanned the area again, looking for anything that might give him a clue. Grass. Trees. Azure sky. He could be in almost any temperate part of the country. Of many countries.

His heart continued it’s violent rhythm in his chest as his breathing went shaky. No. Stop. Panicking won’t help. Think! How did I get here?

He took a deep, steadying breath and let his mind race through the last few days. His life had been the very picture of normal. He went to work, came home and sat in an empty apartment, wasted time and then went to bed just to repeat it all day after day.

“Was I kidnapped?” He took a look at himself. He had no bruises and there were no rope marks or torn clothing. He looked perfectly fine. He tried to remember if anything had woken him up last night. Nothing. He had slept like the dead.

Kidnapped? He almost laughed at the absurdity of it.

“Why would anyone kidnap me?” It was insane. He worked as a gym teacher and lived in an apartment furnished with the best Ikea he could assemble. His father was a retired postman and his mother had never worked. His ransom wouldn’t be worth the gas they spent to get him.

He thought of his coworkers and friends. Did they know he was missing by now? Had anyone reported it? What about his parents?

Would they even care?

He shook his head and took another deep breath. That’s not going to help.

“Think. Stop and think.” He forced himself to talk calmly. “You aren’t hurt. You aren’t in pain. You aren’t………” he took a few steps from the tree “….tied down.”

No, you're just standing in the Shire in your underwear.

At least the weather’s nice.

He stared out at the landscape below for a few moments, wondering what he should do next when something caught the corner of his eye.

What?

At the very edge of his vision, something was flying across the horizon away from him.

“What...the hell?”

He rubbed his eyes and looked again. He could barely make out what looked like a large pair of wings attached to a round body. A dark grey body, accented with what looked like a pure white stripe on the top of the head.

He shook his head again. “No friggin way….”

He watched as it quickly moved out of sight.

“That looked like a…” He stopped himself before he said it. “You’re seeing shit Caden.”

“Maybe it was a drone or something. Model plane?” He stared off towards where it had flown out of sight. Maybe there are people that way?

Or maybe you’ll run straight into whoever brought you here.

He looked back at the tree. “No food or water. It’s also possible whoever brought me here will come back to look for me.” He bit his lip and looked back in the direction the object flew.

I’ll starve if I stay here.

He looked down at his bare feet. All those years of track might finally pay off. If I stick to the grass I should probably be ok. It seems to stretch on towards where…..whatever that was flew.

He took one more look around. It was as empty and pristine as when he woke up. He sighed.

Hopefully this doesn’t bite me in the ass. Literally.

He took a deep breath and slapped himself on the cheeks.

“All right, Caden. Let’s go.”


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Some time later, he crested a tall, rolling hill and winced at the growing ache in his feet. Sitting down, he grabbed a foot and did his best to rub the soreness out.

At least it’s been grass so far. Walking on rocks would have sucked.

The terrain had been pretty consistent. He had noticed as he went that the hills were increasing, as was the tree cover. He hadn’t seen any signs of civilization yet. Besides the random bird, rabbit or other small creature, he hadn’t run into any kind of life at all. No food or running water either.

He looked out as he started working on the other foot. From here it looked like the hills kept getting steeper and in the far distance, a dark green line painted the edge of the horizon.

A forest?

Along his gaze, the clouds thickened considerably. At the far edge, above the forest they were significantly darker than above him. He looked to be heading straight for a pretty powerful thunderstorm.

Fantastic.

He watched the storm clouds for a moment and sighed as he realized they were heading towards him.


Even better.

He turned and looked behind him. I guess I could turn around or go the other way.

He winced as his hands found a particularly tender spot. He eased his grip, slowly kneading out the pain.

No. I’ll keep going. Even if I turn around, the storm might follow me.

He looked at the horizon again. I really don’t want to be under trees during a lightning storm.

He thought of the plain behind him. Better than being out in the open though. The storm looked wide enough in the distance that he didn’t think he’d be able to outrun it laterally.

He stopped the massage and stood up. Probably better to shelter in the forest.

He also knew there was a chance he’d run into whoever had brought him here. The more he thought about his situation, the more bizarre it became. How did he get here without being awoken? He didn’t feel like he had been drugged. How was that possible?

Why had they just seemingly dumped or forgotten him in the middle of nowhere? Why go to all this trouble just to forget him? Why him at all? How did they get into his apartment? The whole situation made his brain hurt.

And where is here? I live in Colorado. There’s nowhere like this for hundreds...maybe thousands of miles.

Even a thousand miles away, he was having a hard time placing where in the U.S he might be. To say the landscape was pristine was a gross understatement. He wasn’t sure he’d ever seen nature this perfect in books or movies. Everything was….almost otherworldly. He didn’t know if he had ever smelled air this clean. There were no roads or paths. It was like the whole place had never been touched by humans.

He shook his head. He had spent a fair amount of the trip thus far trying to get a grasp on his situation. The more he thought about it, the more confused he got.

His eyes snapped up to the rapidly growing grey wall.

Let’s just find shelter, that’s priority one.

He started moving again, this time moving at a full jog. As the edge of the forest got closer, he noticed how dense it was. Large, green trees rose into the sky in a dense, almost uniform line at the end of the hillscape. He made his way over hill after hill, wincing occasionally as the ground became more rocky. His feet were really starting to hurt. Years of track or not, he wasn’t used to running through nature in his bare feet.

After a while, he came to the top of the last hill and through the trees, he could see a small clearing. Past that it looked like the tree cover increased significantly.

Looking up, he saw the edge of the storm was right above him. Between the rapid darkening of the clouds and the sun setting, he was losing light quickly.

Shit.

He stopped and gave the clearing a once over. It would probably provide adequate shelter through the storm.

Better a bunch of trees than out in the open. Less lightning chance that way.

He jogged down the hill and towards the trees. By the time he arrived, the wind had picked up significantly. Leaves and dust whirled around him as he looked up through the treeline. He could see towering, dark clouds surging as flashes of light danced across the oncoming wall. Thunder rumbled from somewhere.

Need to find something fast!

Before long he found a spot that seemed suitable enough to keep him out of the rain. A tree on the edge of the clearing was split down the middle and formed a sort of natural nook that he hoped would keep him dry. Kicking as many rocks, fallen leaves and bits out of the hole as he could, he settled down.

By now the thunder had grown significantly louder and the last of the light had vanished as black clouds overtook him. Within a few moments, the wind kicked up even more and he heard the first drops hitting the ground somewhere in the grove.

He felt himself shivering, more out of stress than cold.

Still, a fire would be nice. He sighed, thinking back to a time when his Dad had talked him out of joining the Cub Scouts and into his first year of sports instead.

At least that was finally useful for something, he thought as his mind drifted to his aching feet..

He pushed the memory away and tried to settle in. Leaning back in his nook, he watched as the storm continued to increase in intensity. Before long he could see the sky churning above him as through the lightning strikes onslaught of lightning.. In a matter of seconds, the rain went from a few drops to a torrent.

He crawled as far back into the nook as he could but it wasn’t much help. Aided by the wind, the rain was pelting him. He shivered again and watched as the storm continued to get worse. The rain was loud now, loud enough that he would have had to yell to hear himself talk. Thunder rumbled every few seconds and the sky strobed above.

He thought back to his apartment and his bed. How in the hell did I get here? What is going on? He swallowed as he felt his throat tighten in emotion. No. Not now. Stay calm.

He looked back out at the lightning bursts above him, wondering what he should do next.

It was between two such bursts that he caught his first glimpse of them. In the darkness across the grove, he saw two huge, glowing emerald green spots floating behind the rain. As he watched, bobbed in the dark and slowly blinked in and out of existence a few times, growing slightly larger between each blink. After a moment, two more sets joined on either side.

Oh shit. OH SHIT!

A rapid series of lightning strikes revealed his stalkers as they slunk into the clearing in front of him.

“What the fuck?” He barely got the words out as his mind tried to comprehend what he was looking at.

They were clearly wolves. The shape, the sounds, the movement. But these weren’t like any wolf he had ever seen.

WHAT IN THE FUCK AM I LOOKING AT?!

The wolf’s entire body was a mass of moving sticks and logs. Even the teeth were small, sharply pointed sticks. He couldn’t see what was holding them together; they just seemed to move as one large mass. Within moments, he saw their mouths pull back to reveal all their teeth as they crouched, clearly preparing to lunge.

He shot out from his shelter and immediately looked around to see if there was anything around him he could use as a weapon. A few branches and small rocks littered the area but he didn’t see anything large enough to use as a weapon.

“Doubt I can outrun them.” He took a panicked glance around and then back at his shelter. “The tree. Maybe I can climb it.”

Between the dark and the rain, it was almost impossible to see any distance. Finally he spied one long, thick horizontal branch from the main trunk that was probably seven or eight feet in the air. He looked back over his shoulder to see that the wolves were now in a full run at him. Sprinting forward, he splashed through the mud and jumped up towards the branch with all the adrenaline-fueled strength he could find.

He was able to get enough purchase to barely wrap both arms around it. The limb itself was soaked and as soon as he’d stepped out from his shelter, he’d been drowned in rain. His hands were soaked and he felt his grip slipping. Gritting his teeth, he tried to reassert his grip.

As he pulled up, he almost immediately felt the strength give in his left shoulder as fire racked the left side of his body. He screamed as a memory of him lying on a track, clutching his shoulder and sobbing shot through his mind.

“Come on. Not now dammit! Pull Caden! PULL!”

He was making headway when he felt himself lurch down as excruciating pain erupted from his left leg. He screamed again and looked down. One of the wolves’ jaws was clamped down on his left calf. He heard it snarl and felt it shake its body, trying to loosen him from the branch. He could see blood running down through the jaws. The other two were jumping and trying to grab his other leg. As it shook, he felt something give way as more fire lanced it’s way through his leg and the wolf fell.

Summoning the last of his strength, he pushed through the fire in his shoulder and got his right leg up and around the branch. All three wolves began jumping at the branch, barking and growling at their escaped meal.

Using his good leg and arm, he pushed himself back on the branch until he was leaning against the trunk. Every push became harder than the last, as the pain in both his shoulder and leg was getting progressively worse.

He pulled the leg up closer to him to inspect the wounds. Blood was pouring out of large gashes along either side of his calf where the wolf’s teeth had ripped the flesh away. It felt like the wound was burning.

With the bloodloss, he figured it wouldn’t be long before he went into shock. Leaning forward, he pulled his shirt off and tried to tie it around his upper calf. Even with the makeshift tourniquet, blood was still oozing from the wounds. He could feel the burning sensation making its way up his thigh.

“Shit...shit shit shit...” he whimpered through clenched teeth. “Calm...calm down Caden.” He tried to slow his breathing, to little success.

Below him, the three were still jumping and nipping at the air through a series of growls and snarls. He knew unless they left, there was no way he was going to be able to get out of the tree. He wasn’t even sure at this point if he’d be able to get down with his leg in the condition it was anyway. The firey sensation had passed his thigh and was now working its way into his lower abdomen.

He took a deep breath and screamed. “HELP! ANYONE, PLEASE HELP!” Rain battered him as his voice faded into the weather. It was taking considerable effort to keep the wind from blowing him our of the tree. Panic rose in his chest and he felt his lip quiver. Was he going to die here? He heard his voice warble at the next call. He doubted at this point that anyone would be able to hear him over the noise from the storm but he knew it was all he could do.

Tears mixed with the rain. “PLEASE! ANYONE? HELP!” He called out over and over.

Over the next several minutes, the burning sensation slowly made its way to his chest and he felt himself starting to go lightheaded. The wolves were still down there, circling patiently for their meal.

Some time went by. He wasn’t sure how much. He could feel himself slowly losing consciousness. He kept calling as long as he could but he knew by now he was barely moaning the words out. He was having a hard time staying up in a sitting position. It took all the strength he had left to stay upright and not fall off the branch and down to the wolves.

Through the haze, he thought he heard something loud rumble from the other side of the grove. He heard the wolves suddenly whimper and the growling stopped.

What…?

He saw two blurs come out of the far edge of the grove and make their way towards his tree. One very large and brown and the other small and yellow.

He could barely process that when the yellow blur suddenly shot up into the air towards him. He thought he heard a soft voice say something. Whatever was said, it was indecipherable. He felt something soft touch his cheek and he tried to focus on the yellow blur.

He got what he thought was one last semi clear look at the blur before he passed out. In that last moment, he got one last semi lucid thought out. Huh, a yellow Pegasus. Neat….


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BOOM!

Twilight looked up from her report as a thunderclap echoed throughout her castle. Rain pounded against her massive bedroom windows as lightning lit up the angry, blackened sky.

“Spike?”

A distracted voice came from the floor by the foot of her bed.“Yes, Twilight?”

“When did it start storming?” She stood up from where she had been curled up on her bed and jumped down to the floor.

“About thirty minutes ago.”

She came around the corner of the bed to find the tiny dragon reclined against a pillow, nose buried in a comic book. A stack of them lay next to him.

“Thirty minutes ago? The Cloudsdale Weather Report said it wasn’t supposed to start until 7:00.” She looked over at the clock on the wall and groaned when she saw the hands read 7:30.

“How long have I been reading?”

He lazily flipped a page with a claw. “About two hours.”

“Two hours?! What about dinner?”

Without looking up, he pointed the same claw across the room to a tray sitting on a table. A daisy and daffodil sandwich sat on a plate, next to a pot of tea that she guessed had probably long since gone cold. An empty plate with a few crumbs sat next to those

“I brought dinner around six. You told me to set it over there and said you’d get to it after your page.”

She slapped a hoof to her face. “Sorry Spike.” She picked the sandwich up with her magic and floated it over to her.

He set his comic down and got up as she took a huge bite of the floating dinner. He walked over to the dinner tray. “No worries Twilight. I was able to finish the first eight volumes of the most recent Power Ponies series.” Picking up the teapot, he inhaled deeply and blew a stream of green fire at the pot. Moments later, steam began pouring from the spout.

Taking another bite of her sandwich, Twilight levitated the pot out of his claws and began pouring herself a cup. “Thmeks Spek. Jid dyu get ur chorz dun?”

He turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “Didn’t you always tell me to not talk and chew at the same time?”

She swallowed and stuck her tongue out at him. “Smarty scales. Did you get your chores done?”

He nodded. “After I brought dinner.” He shook his head. “Man, you must have really been absorbed in that report. Missing one thing going on around you is normal but you missed dinner, my chores AND the storm. That’s a lot even for you.”

She wolfed down the last of her sandwich and sipped on her tea. Outside, lightning illuminated the village of Ponyville spreading out from the castle. “I know. I know. I’m sorry.”

He walked over and looked out the window with her. “What are you reading anyway?”

“It’s a report on mining operations in Equestria. Princess Celestia sent it to me earlier.”

He raised an eyebrow “Sounds riveting.”

She nodded. “It really is! Did you know almost all of the gold mining in Equestria comes from the quarry near Las…..”

She was cut off as a deep chime reverberated throughout the castle. She and Spike looked at each other.

“The doorbell? Are you expecting anycreature?”

The tiny drake shook his head. “Nope.”

They exited her bedroom and made their way to the foyer. As they came to the massive room, two more unicorns emerged from another part of the castle.

“Are either of you expecting somecreature?”

Starlight and Sunset shook their heads in unison.

Starlight groaned as the four approached the door. “I swear if Trixie forgot her bits again, I’m gonna strangle her.”

Sunset shot her a catty grin. “I think she told me once she likes it when you do that.”

Starlight grinned back. “Actually thats Sunburst.”

Twilight groaned and rolled her eyes. “GROSS!”

As they made it to the immense front door, the doorbell chimed again.

“Yes, yes. Coming!” Twilight yelled as she wrapped the door in her magic. As the massive crystal door swung open, they jumped back as a dripping mess of yellow and pink dove squeaking and shivering into Twilight.

“Fluttershy?!”

A thunderclap ripped across the sky, causing the trembling pegasus to shriek and press herself further into Twilight. Sunset grabbed the door in her magic and quickly closed it.

Twilight reached a hoof up and wrapped it around her drowned friend. “Fluttershy? What in Equestria are you doing here? Why were you out in this weather?” Fluttershy’s fear of thunder and lightning was well known among her friends.

“Come on, let’s get you inside. Spike, go grab some towels.”

“On it!”

Fluttershy shook her head and squeaked something out from Twilights chest fur.

“Flutters? What did you say?”

“...pital”

“Fluttershy I can’t understan…”

The dripping mare pulled back, took a deep breath and yelled “HOSPITAL!!” before screaming again and burying her head under her front hooves as another round of thunder echoed through the castle.

The three looked at each other and back at Fluttershy. Sunset stepped forward and set a hoof on Fluttershys quaking back. “Hospital? Fluttershy are you ok? Do you need to go to the hospital?”

Pulling her hooves off her muzzle, she stood back up and took a deep breath. “Iwashidingundermybedwaitingforthestormtostopwhenmyanimalsheardsomethingcallingforhelpinthewoods!”

Another look passed between the three as Spike returned with a stack of towels. Using her magic, Twilight wrapped several of them around her friend.

“Ok. One more time please. What happened at the hospital?”

Taking another deep breath and swallowing, Fluttershy pulled a towel tighter around herself and started over. “I was hiding under my bed, waiting for the storm to stop. I had just settled down with some snacks and a nice pot of tea when a few of my animals told me they heard something weird from the woods.” She winced as another thunderclap rocked the castle but managed to keep her composure. “I was going to ignore it but they said it sounded like some creature was in pain. I couldn’t leave it, so I decided to go find out what was going on.”

Twilight hugged her friend with a wing. “That was very brave of you.”

“When I opened the door, they said it smelled like there were Timberwolves, so I decided to take Harry with me.”

Starlight nodded. “A bear would be a good escort.”

“Harry led me to a small valley not too far from my cottage. When we got there, he scared off some Timberwolves.” Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked up at them. “Oh Twilight it was terrible. We found...something there. Up in a tree. It was barely conscious when we got there and it was soaked and shivering too. It had a large wound in it’s leg. I think it had been out in the storm for quite a while.”

Starlight stepped forward. “Fluttershy, what do you mean ‘something’. What was this creature?”

She sniffed. “That’s partly why I’m here. I don’t know what it was.”

Twilight looked up at Sunset and Starlight wide eyed. There weren’t many creatures in Equestria that Fluttershy didn’t have at least a passing knowledge of.

“Can you describe it?”

“That’s just it. I’ve never seen anything like it before. No claws or wings. No hooves. No fur or scales. I think it might be some sort of ape.” She shook her head, taking another deep breath to calm herself. “It’s big. Not as big as Harry or a dragon but much bigger than a Pony. Taller than Celestia. It was wearing clothes. Harry said it kept calling the same thing out over and over.”

Twilight frowned. While Equestria was filled with its share of unique creatures, the idea of some unknown species wandering towards Ponyville in the middle of the night was concerning.

“If it was speaking and wearing clothes, I’m guessing it must be something sentient.”

Fluttershy nodded. “I thought so too. It was running a terrible fever and seemed to be in a lot of pain so we took it to Ponyville Hospital.”

“Timberwolf venom causes a fever. It must have climbed the tree to get away from them. Probably explains the leg.” Sunset said.

“I got it to Ponyville Hospital with Harry’s help about twenty minutes ago. After they took the creature, I sent him home and flew straight here.”

Twilight hugged her friend again. “Thank you Fluttershy. Honestly though, you could have waited at the hospital till the storm was over. If this thing is as injured as you say, it’s likely going to be unconscious for quite some time.”

Fluttershy shook her head. “That’s not the only reason why I flew over so fast.”

“Why then?”

“Well when we got there, one of the unicorn nurses tried to use her magic to lift it onto a gurney.” She looked up at them. “Her magic didn’t seem to work on it.”

The three spoke in unison. “What?”

“Her horn lit up and I saw her magic wrap around the creature like normal. The nurse looked like she was struggling, kind of like you girls do when you're doing a really complicated spell. After a few seconds, it barely twitched and the spell fizzled away. The nurse said she had never seen anything like it before and asked me to fly over here as fast as I could and tell you.”

Twilight shot up and looked down at her assistant. “Spike, please take Fluttershy somewhere and help her get dry.”

He nodded. “Got it Twilight.”

She looked between her students. “We’re teleporting to the hospital.” They nodded, the concern on their faces as clear as it was on hers.

Fluttershy backed up from them. “What do you think it is Twilight?”

She shook her head. “I have no idea Fluttershy.” She grimaced. “I really have no idea.”

With that, the three vanished in a trio of white flashes.

Chapter 2: Bedside Diplomacy

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He wasn’t entirely sure when he became aware of them. They’d come into focus as he was pulled out of a painful, fever racked sleep. At first, he just assumed he was hallucinating. At some point the memory of the one in the tree returned to him. After that he remembered the one he’d seen flying across the sky in the field. As he tried to bridge the line between delusion and reality, he settled on the idea that he must be drugged. There was no way they were real.

There was pain everywhere. It was much worse when he first started coming to. When he would wake up, it felt like fire was pulsing through his body. There were especially heavy concentrations of it in his shoulder and leg. He had vague, disconnected memories of coming to and a white blur giving him something bitter to drink. Almost immediately the pain would fade and he’d feel the tug of sleep and pass back out.

He could remember at one point waking up while they were doing something with his leg. He remembered mumbling something when a soft touch on his arm quieted him.

“Shhhhhh. Please. Just rest. You’re not well yet.”

“Where am I?” His voice sounded like sandpaper.

“Ponyville Hospital. Rest. I know you’re confused. I promise you’re safe. We’ll answer all your questions soon ok?”

“Ok.” He managed to croak the words out before a new wave of drowsiness took him back under.

Finally he woke up and managed to look around with no blurry vision. He was in some sort of hospital room. A bed with rails on the side sat next to a rack laden with swabs, rags, tongue depressors and various other instruments. Looking up, he could see there was some kind of instrument panel on the wall above him. An IV hanging from a hook next to him fed medication into his right arm.

Looking down he saw his leg atop the covers at the end of the bed, wrapped in white bandages.

I guess that’s what they were doing with my leg.

His left arm was tightly bound against his chest, secured in a sling that covered his entire upper left side. It was a sight he was long familiar with.

He returned his gaze to his wrapped leg. “I wonder how much meat that thing took out of me.” Between the rain and the blood he hadn’t really gotten a good look at the wound before.

Awesome. I’ll match now. Fucked shoulder. Gimped leg. Maybe I’ll lose an eye next. He sighed and tried to push that idea out of his head.

Yawning, he stretched what he could. It felt like he’d be lying there for some time. Everything was stiff and tight and his joints popped in protest as he moved. Despite the lingering stiffness and pain, he was actually fairly comfortable. The bed was soft and seemed well kept. As he stretched, he realized he was wearing a green hospital gown.

He ran a hand through his disheveled brown hair.

“How long have I been here?” He ran his hand across his cheeks and the layer of stubble told him he’d been there a few days at least.

As he settled, a click at the door caught his attention. His stomach fluttered at the idea of what might come through and he flashed back to the creatures he thought he had seen before.

That had to be the drugs or something. No way I wasn’t hallucinating. As the door opened, he felt his heart slam in his chest as what breath he had left him,

A small white horse with a pink mane tied up tightly in a bun under a nurses cap walked in pushing a cart laden with instruments and a small covered tray. As she walked forward, he noticed a red medical cross on each rear thigh. Small red hearts adorned the corners of each one and an identical symbol was on her cap.

“What...the...fuck?!”

As his mouth gaped open, he felt his brain scramble to process what he was seeing. One part of his brain was screaming that he should try and jump out of bed as quickly as he could and run away. The other side was telling him he shouldn’t panic as the events of the last few days flashed through his mind. Reminding him that he’d woken up mysteriously in some strange new world and had been attacked by wolves made of lumber.

If they wanted to hurt you, they easily could have already.

The panic must have been visible on his face. As the cart settled next to his bed, giant blue eyes went wide as she reached a hoof out. “Please, please don’t be scared. I promise no one here is going to hurt you.”

He instantly thought to the voice he heard as he had drifted in and out of sleep. “You...you’re the one who spoke to me before.”

She smiled and nodded. “Yeah, that was me.” She raised a hoof to her chest. “I’m Redheart. I’m a nurse here.

He blinked a few times. “Caden. Caden Park.”

The smile spread. “It’s nice to finally meet you, Caden Park.” She looked at his leg. “Would you mind if I got a bit closer? I need to check on a few things.”

He took a few deep breaths and nodded. If they wanted to hurt you, they already could have.

She took a few slow, careful steps towards him before stopping at the edge of the bed. He looked her over. She was clearly a horse but not quite like any he had ever seen. The first thing that stood out was how small she was. She was just slightly larger than a large dog. Smooth white fur coated a rounded body that was finished at either end by a pink mane and tail that looked much closer to human hair than a normal horse’s. He watched as she looked him over with huge, expressive eyes that again looked closer to a human’s than a horse’s.

Not exactly what I expected aliens to look like.

She looked up at him and smiled. “How do you feel?”

He looked himself up and down. “Not bad. I’ve...been better. I ache all over. Shoulder hurts when I move it.”

She nodded. “You had thrown it out pretty badly.”

He reached his right hand up and rested it on his left shoulder. “Seems like it’s back in place though.”

“We have other creatures here similar to you. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out how to reset it.”

Other creatures? Something about the way she said it stuck out to him.

“What about the ache?”

“That’s normal for Timberwolf venom. It’ll fade in time.”

He felt an eye twitch at the name.

“Are you ok if I get a bit closer? I’d like to take your temperature and look at a few other things.”

He nodded. “Sure.”

She stepped over to the cart and pulled what looked like a penlight off of it with her mouth before walking towards the head of the bed.

What on Earth…oh...no hands.

She stood up on her hind legs, and rested her front hooves against the railing of the bed. As she stood up to him, he caught a wave of something pleasant in the air.

Flowers?

She somehow managed to speak around the instrument. “Can you lean forward and look straight at me please.”

Caden did as he was told. She pointed the light into his eyes a few times, exactly the same way a human nurse would. She returned the pen to the cart and came back with a thermometer.

“Pupil reactions seem fine.” She looked up at a chart on the wall next to his bed. “Last temperature reading was 97.8. I’m guessing that’s somewhere near normal?”

Caden nodded. “Around 98 is normal.”

“Good. Fever is a common side effect of Timberwolf venom. You were over 100 when you were brought in. Would you please stick this under your arm?”

He did as asked and slid the instrument under his right armpit. Over the next several minutes, she ran him through the standard battery of tests he would expect from a nurse back home. Breathing, heart rate, blood pressure. Other than confirming what the normal ranges were, he sat there like he would during any hospital exam. By the end, he was more interested in the results than remembering that he was talking to a horse.

She returned the last instrument to the cart. “Are you hungry? You must be. It’s been awhile since you last ate solid food.”

He realized he hadn’t really thought about it. At the very idea of food, his stomach erupted in a sound that would charitably be described as barbaric.

He felt himself almost blush. “Apparently so.”

She grinned and walked over to the cart and lifted one edge of the tray with her mouth before walking it over to him. Placing it on his lap, she pulled the lid off with her mouth before placing it back on the cart..

On the plate sat some sort of salad, a roll and various steamed vegetables.

She pushed the cart away from the bed. “We figured you were probably an omnivore based on your dentition. We don’t eat meat and we don’t see many creatures here who do. We expected you can’t eat grasses either so this was the best we ha...” She trailed off as she looked back to see him wolfing down the food, cheeks chipmunked out to their fullest. He wasn’t even entirely sure what was in the salad or what the veggies were. It took less than a minute for him to nearly lick the plate clean.

Swallowing the last of it, he looked over to see her smiling at him. He grimaced, realizing how he’d just wolfed the meal down in front of her. “Sorry. I guess I was hungrier than I thought.”

She held a hoof up to her mouth, giggling. “It’s ok. You’ve been here for four days and on fluids that whole time. We figured you’d be starving.”

Four days.

“The doctor should be here in a moment to take a look at you. Is that ok?”

He nodded. “That’s fine.”

“We’ve already sent for Princess Twilight as well.”

Huh? “Did you say Princess?”

She nodded. “Twilight Sparkle, the Princess of Friendship. It was one of her friends who found you in the woods. She was a great help when you first arrived. Wouldn’t be able to understand you without her.”

“What the hell is a Princess of Friendship?” He blinked a few times as his brain processed the second part of her statement. “Wait? Why wouldn’t I be able to understand you.”

She tilted her head slightly. “We figured you probably didn’t speak Poneish.”

Poneish? What the hell is she talking about? “What is Pone….” His eyes shot open as he actually listened to the words coming out of his mouth for the first time. It was complete and utter gibberish. He was thinking in English and he was hearing her in English. The words he was speaking came back to his mind in English but if he really stopped and listened to what he was saying, it was some language he’d never heard before. When the words reached his mouth, they just came out as a mess of nonsense. It was happening so fluidly that he hadn’t noticed.

“What the hell?” He felt his heart thump as he scrubbed his face and tried to take a few deep breaths. No, it wasn’t even fluid. It was as if something in his mind was pulling his attention away from him speaking. The panic rose again.

She stepped forward and put her hoof on his arm. “It’s magic. While you were out the Princess weaved a translation spell into your mind.” Her ears drooped. “I’m sorry. I’m an Earth Pony so I don’t really understand more than the basics of it.”

“Magic? Really?

He felt her hoof squeeze his arm. “Are you ok?”

He looked over at her and was struck by the look of pure concern on her face. If he didn’t know any better, it looked like she wanted to cry.

Calm down Caden. Magic would explain..well...all of this.

He took a few more deep breaths. “Yeah. I’m….heh..” He shook his head again, trying to clear it. If he wasn’t seeing all of this with his own eyes, he’d have never believed it. “I’m ok. I’m just really confused. I have no idea where I am. No idea how I even got here. And now you’re talking about magic? We...we don’t have magic where I’m from. Or talking..horses? I’m not even sure what you are.”

“We’re Ponies.”

Obviously. “We don’t have talking Ponies where I’m from. At least not anywhere but in stories. This is all like something out of a fantasy novel.”


She squeezed again. “I’m sorry. This has to be very upsetting but we figured this was easier than waking up and not being able to talk to anypony.”

He nodded. “So it only works if I talk to you?”

She nodded. “I think so. As I said, I’m an Earth Pony so it’s kind of outside my expertise. Try talking to yourself and see what happens.”

He looked down at himself and closed his eyes. He tried to visualize himself as the only one in the room. “I’m talking to myself. I’m talking to myself.”

He opened his eyes and looked back at her. “Well?”

“Just as I thought. Complete nonsense to me.”

That’s...actually really cool.

She grabbed the empty food tray from him and returned it to the cart. “How long had you been wandering around the forest?”

He thought back. “I’m not entirely sure. A few hours. I woke up somewhere else. A grassy field. I had wandered towards the forest when I saw something flying that way and I got caught in the storm. I was looking for shelter from the storm.”

She nodded. “Makes sense. The forest is called Everfree. It’s pretty dangerous. Most creatures don’t go there very often.”

A knock on the door brought their gazes up. An amber coated, brown maned pony in a lab coat stood in the doorway.

“I see our alien visitor is awake!”

Alien? I’m...oh...yeah.

He trotted happily to the front of the bed and pulled a chart off the foot railing. “I’m Doctor Horse. “How are you feeling Mr…”

Caden felt his eye twitch again. “Caden. Caden Park.” Caden stretched out again. “I actually don’t feel horrible. Shoulder and leg still hurt. I feel kind of...achy all over.”

“That’s normal. It will fade in another day or two.”

He reviewed the chart for a moment before looking over at the nurse. “Everything normal in his exam?”

She nodded. “Yes Doctor. He seems to be recovering well.”

He turned back to Caden. “You’re quite lucky Mr. Caden Park. If Fluttershy hadn’t rescued you when she did, you’d likely be in much, much worse shape.”

“Just Caden, please. Fluttershy? Is that the yellow and pink one?” He thought back to his last moments in the tree.

He nodded. “That’s her. Lives in a cottage not far from the edge of the forest. She runs something like an animal...sanctuary out there. Seems some of her animals heard you yelling over the storm.”

I’ll have to thank her.

“Fortunately it turns out our physiologies aren’t really all that different. The antivenom we had in stock for Timberwolves worked perfectly on you.”

He twitched a third time. Timberwolf? Doctor Horse? Fluttershy. WHAT THE HELL IS WITH THE NAMES?

The Doctor’s gaze returned to the chart. “We got the venom mostly flushed from your system before it was able to do any long term damage.” He set the chart down and walked up to Caden and gave him an inquisitive stare.

“So what are you exactly?” We’ve never seen one of you before.”

Put that in the top things I never expected to hear in my life.

“I’m a human.”

“Human. Interesting. I’ve never heard of your kind.” He stood on his hind legs at the base of the bed and started gently unwrapping the bandage from around Caden’s leg.

How the hell is he grabbing that?” From Caden’s perspective, it looked like the bandaged simply stuck to the bottom of the Doctors hoof. “You know what, I’m talking to a horse through a magic spell. Do I really care?”

He braced as the doctor unwound the bandages, expecting his leg to look like something out of a slaughterhouse. As the last of them fell away, he felt his jaw fall open. “How….?”

Doctor Horse grinned over at him as the last of the bandages fell away. “Not too bad, if I do say so myself.”

He had most definitely been attacked. Besides being swollen, red and angry there was a multitude of stitched lacerations running up and down the greater part of his calf. A smattering of other tissue damage peppered it’s way across the leg. To his shock though, they all seemed to be well on their way to healing. None of them appeared as deep as he remembered.

“How….how?” He beamed as a wave of relief washed over him. Might not be done running after all.

“We deal with a lot of Timberwolf attacks here. We know what to do. A little extra magical help from Princess Twilight helped us in your unique case. Honestly it looked way worse than it really was. The wound was fairly shallow. It just bled heavily. You were actually in way more danger from the venom.” He reached a hoof out and gently touched the wounds. “You’re certainly going to have some scarring but I don’t foresee any permanent nerve damage or muscle loss.” His grin widened as he turned to Caden. “A few weeks and you should be back up and moving pretty well. I’d say a few months to complete recovery.”

Caden was doing everything he could to fight back tears. “Thank you. Thank you so much!”

The Doctor gave him a warm grin. “You’re welcome Caden. They managed to avoid injuring any bone. That would have made this significantly more complicated.”

The grin faded from his face as he fell back to the floor and walked up to Caden. “Speaking of, I was wondering what happened to your shoulder. We noticed it was out of socket so I ordered a scan before we reset it.”

Caden stared down at it as unpleasant memories flooded him. “I uh...injured it a few years back. Shattered it and my collarbone. Did a bunch of nerve damage too.”

“It looks like you have some kind of metal plate in there?”

He nodded. “Yeah. One on my collar bone and another on the shoulder itself. Bunch of screws too. I messed it up pretty badly.” He looked up at the Doctor. “Anything you can do to help?”

He shook his head. “I wish I could. Using magic on old wounds never ends well and I’ve never seen surgical techniques like this anyway. There’s nothing really like this in Equestria. I’m afraid we might do more harm than good.”

At least I got my leg back. He smiled. “Thanks Doc. How long do you think before I can get out of here?”

“Another few days. I just want to make sure everything shores up correctly.

“Ok.” He watched as Redheart pulled a roll of bandage off the cart and began to work on rewrapping his leg. The Doctor made his way back to the door “I have other patients I need to attend to. You seem to be doing great. We had real concerns we wouldn’t be able to help you. We’ve never worked on an alien before.” The Doctor winked at him and walked out the door.

Redheart finished the wrapping and returned to his side. “Are you doing ok? You seem a bit...flustered.”

He chuckled. “I am. It’s just a lot to take in at once. Tree wolves. Talking ponies. I’m apparently on some other world.” He looked down at his hands. “As far as I know, nothing like this has ever happened to another human. This is stuff straight out of a science fiction novel. I keep wondering if I’m just dreaming or hallucinating.”

“You seem to be handing it well.”

He snorted. “ I’m honestly amazed I’m handling this as well as I am.”

“You’re handling it better than I would, that’s for sure.”

He looked down at her. “You guys don’t seem all that surprised to be treating an alien.”

She shrugged. “We have all kinds of creatures come in and out of Equestria. I’m told some are from another dimension like Discord. I’ve even heard rumors there’s a kingdom of some kind on the moon.”

“Alternate dimensions? You think maybe that’s how I got here?”

“That would be fascinating!” Their gaze shot over to see a purple unicorn with a dark blue and red accented mane and tail standing in the doorway. She bounded into the room, wings unfurling, tail swishing violently and violet eyes absolutely gleaming. “Sorry, I was eavesdropping.”

His amazement at seeing a winged unicorn was immediately overrode as by the speed at which she charged across the room. He leaned back, eyes wide as she nearly crashed into his bedside.

“It’s good to see you up! We were really worried about you!” She stomped happily in a small circle “Oh I’m so happy you’re ok!”

Redheart waved her hoof from him to the pony. “Caden Park, Princess Twilight.”

This is the Princess? He nodded. “Princess Twilight.”

She rolled her eyes. “Call me Twilight, please.” Her face blossomed into an enormous grin as she shoved her muzzle much closer to his face, inspecting him.

“Ooooooooooo….an actual alien!!” She brought her forehooves together and started clapping happily. “And it’s right here! In Ponyville!!”

He fought back an urge to retreat further into the bed. This is not a Princess.

He was still trying to process the whirlwind of fur, feathers and glee in front of him. Like most of humanity, he’d never actually met royalty before. Pony aside, whatever he’d ever imagined it would be like, it was not this. Caden could SMELL the excitement coming off of her.

She settled next to Redheart and looked up at him. “I heard the Doctor from the hallway. I really am glad you’re ok! I feel horrible you found your way to the Everfree Forest.“

Like Redheart, she looked genuinely upset. He shrugged. “It all worked out. I probably would have avoided the Forest of Doom if it wasn’t for the storm.”

She nodded and the smile widened. “Ooooooo I have so many questions!”

Redheart turned and cleared her throat. “Princess, he’s been through a lot. Do you think you could keep it brief until later?

The elated horse nodded furiously. “Of course!” She brought a hoof up to her chin to think for a moment. ”Do you think you could tell me everything that happened to you before we found you in the forest?”

“Sure”

He relayed the entire tale to them. How he’d gone to bed the night before arriving as normal. Waking up here, his decision to head towards what he’d hoped had been some kind of civilization. The storm and the grove and the wolf attack. She listened intently, only stopping him to ask an occasional question about his journey.

She let out a deep breath as he finished, a look of wonderment on her face. “You really are from a whole other world.”

He nodded. “Apparently. Redheart said you have creatures here from other dimensions?”

She nodded. “We do but not like this. They’re either mirrors of our world or magical constructs, like Discords home. This is something completely different.”

“So do you think I was brought here by magic or something?”

She frowned. “I heard from the hallway that you said your world has no magic?”

He shook his head. “Nope. None at all. At least that I know of. Or I think any other human has ever known of.”

She stood up. “That’s concerning. I’d like to show you something. Can you promise me you’ll stay calm?”

He chuckled. “I was attacked by wolves made of lumber yesterday and I’m talking to magical alien Ponies. I think you’ll have to do a lot to scare me.”

She nodded. “Fair enough.” Suddenly a red aura enveloped her horn.

“Woah!”

She looked up at her horn. “You really haven’t ever seen anything like this before?”

That is awesome. “Nope.”

“Ok now watch. I’m going to lift that tray.”

She turned and sure enough, after a moment the same aura appeared around his dinner tray. It gently lifted off the cart and floated for a moment before settling gently back down.

Jesus Christ.

Redheart stepped up to the side of the bed. “Caden? Are you ok?”

He realized he was sitting there with his mouth open. “Yeah. Just...wow.”

Twilight looked at him. “As you can see, that was fairly easy right?

How would I know? “I...guess?”

She seemed to understand his confusion. “I mean I didn’t seem to be struggling. Correct?

“Ah. Not that I could see, no.”

She nodded. “Ok. I’d like to do something similar with your right arm. Is that ok?”

He looked down at his unslung arm and held it out. “Sure.”

She turned to Redheart. “Is that ok?”

Redheart nodded. “As long as it’s only the right.”

He looked at his right arm. “What do you want me to do?”

“Just rest it out in front of you.”

He did as she asked and laid his arm down.

Her horn lit up again and he the same aura began to envelope his arm. After a moment it faded out of existence before vaguely reforming. It looked nothing like the aura around the plate.He looked up to see Twilight grimacing as her horn pulsed brightly.

Redheart stepped forward. “Twilight? Are you ok?”

Her horn pulsed brighter as the aura on it grew. The aura reformed and seemed to hold. “Fine. It’s just….” She gave a heavy breath. “I can’t get the spell to hold.”

At first he couldn’t feel anything, it just sat there. After a moment, he felt a very faint tugging on his arm.. After a second the pulling stopped and the spell began to fizzle out again.

She looked up at him as her horn flared even brighter. Sweat was beading on her forehead. The spell reformed, more brightly this time and he felt his arm lift slightly off the bed. “Will you please try to pull your arm down?”

He nodded. “Sure.” He gave his arm a gentle pull in the opposite direction of her and almost immediately, the spell began to fizzle again. It only took a little effort for him to pull his arm back to his lap.

The aura on her horn pulsed brighter once again. He had to squint looking at it. The spell reformed and he felt a stronger pull.

Through clenched teeth she said. “Please...try…...again.”

He pulled back on his arm. It was slightly harder but nothing that required any real strength. The ring fizzled out of existence and the light on her horn faded.

Twilight stood there for a moment, breathing heavily and staring up at him. “Did you do anything to cause that?

He glanced from his arm to her. “Cause what? I just pulled my arm a little.”

“Fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Like what? What did I do?”

“Did Redheart mention the translation spell we cast on you?”

He nodded. “She did.”

“Verba Verum is a fairly advanced spell. For most unicorns, it’s honestly outside of their abilities. That said, I have a fair amount of practice with it. As a Princess, I’ve had to meet with members of many species who don’t speak Poneish. It’s usually a fairly trivial spell for me to cast at this point.”

She seemed a bit proud of herself. “So?”

She pointed a hoof at his chest. “With you, it took me several hours and the help of both of my students. Both of whom are among the most talented unicorns in Equestria..”

He didn’t know whether he should feel special or not.

She frowned. “When I was trying to weave the spell in your subconscious, it was like you kept slipping out of my sight. It was like…” She thought for a moment. “Imagine trying to throw a rock at something in the dark...in a fog...and they kept moving. You’d be there for an instant and then gone the next. I’ve never seen anything like it before.” She frowned. “Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure how long that spell’s gonna last.”

She pointed a hoof at his arm. “When I was trying to move your arm, it felt like I was trying to lift my castle off the ground. How much resistance were you putting in at the end?”

He thought back and pointed at the cart. “Maybe about as much as lifting that plate?”

She gave a shaky laugh. “Lifting the plate….” She sighed.

“What does this have to do with my getting here through magic?”

“Everything. You have no idea how you got here. Does your world have any kind of...dimension traveling technology that might have accidentally brought you here?”

He shook his head. “No. Again, at least not that I know of.”

“That’s a problem then. I strongly suspect it was magic that brought you here. But it seems you’re highly, highly resistant to it. That doesn’t add up for one and for two, I’ve never seen anything like this in any other species on Equus. I’ve seen creatures resistant to certain types of magic but nothing like this. ” She gave him a sweeping glance. “I wonder if your whole species is like this.”

“It’s possible. As I said, there’s no magic in my world. None. Magic is something we have in stories and fiction.”

Redheart stepped forward. “I’m sorry Princess but can you please wrap this up. I need to give him his medication soon and he needs to rest.”

Twilight nodded. “Of course.” She turned to him. “Caden do you have any questions for me?”

He thought for a moment. “I guess the main one is ‘Do you have any idea how to get me home?’”

He watched as her ears flattened against her head. “You’ve been through a lot already so I’m not going to sugarcoat this.” She brought her forehooves up and tapped them together nervously. “I have no idea.”

His stomach sank. “No idea at all?”

She shook her head. “None. I’ve been scouring my library since you got here. I’ve asked every magical creature I could think of. My first suspicion was Discord. He was the first creature I went to after we figured out you aren’t from here. We figured maybe it was some prank of his. He swore on his friendship with a friend of mine that he has no idea what you are or where you came from. As far as he’s aware, none of the other Draconequi do either. Trust me when I say I believe him.”

He sighed and put his head in his hand as his mind flew through the myriad of things that were sitting back home, waiting for him. His apartment and car. His job. His friends. Even his family would know he was gone by now.

He felt a hoof touch his leg. Looking up, he saw that Twilight had reached out. “I am so sorry Caden. I wish I had better news for you. I really do. I’ve checked everything I can think of. There’s zero research in any library or journal on what might have caused this. I’ve asked everyone I know who might have any clue. Princess Celestia and Luna, Starswirl. I’ve torn the Canterlot library apart on dimensional research and there’s nothing. I promise I’m even more confused than you are.” Her hoof squeezed his leg.

She honestly looked like she was about to cry. He took a deep breath.. “It’s ok. Not your fault. So what happens now?”

“I’m going to keep researching this. I promise I’m gonna do everything I can to find you a way home ok?”

He nodded. “I appreciate that.” He looked around the room and then at himself. “What should I be doing in the meantime?”

She tilted her head. “What do you mean?”

“I have no house. No job. No money. I don’t know anything about this world.” He waved around the room. “Hell I don’t even know how I’m gonna pay for this hospital visit.”

“Twilight already took care of your hospital stay.” Redheart nodded at him.

He turned to her. “What?”

Twilight beamed up at him. “Yup. I know you’ve been through a lot. I felt like it was the least I could do to try and welcome you to Equestria.”

“Thank you. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.” He grasped at words for a moment. “I feel bad though. Is there anything I can do to help pay you back?

A grin shot from ear to ear. “Well...there is one thing you could do.”

He nodded. “Anything.”

“Come and stay in my castle while you’re here. I want to learn as much as I can about you and your world and I’ll teach you much as I can about ours in return. Plus having you near will make it easier to figure out how to send you home.”

As upset as he was about being stuck here, he did feel a bit better at the offer. He’d be the first human to explore another world and meet another sentient species. The ponies seemed amazingly friendly. Not everyone got the chance to learn all about another world and live in a castle to boot.

“Sure. That sounds fair to me.”

Almost immediately, she jumped up and started hopping around in circles, wings flared to their max. “Oh thank you! Thank you! I promise I’ll do everything I can to help. Oh this is so exciting! I get to write the first papers on a new world and a new species. I’m gonna have to do a full write up and analysis. Oh Princess Celestia is going to be so prou…”

“PRINCESS TWILIGHT!” Redheart roared.

The prancing ceased immediately. “Sorry. Sorry.” Twilight blushed.

“We all appreciate your excitement but right now I need to finish tending to the patient and put him back to bed.”

Twilight nodded and grinned up at him. “Sounds good. When they’re ready to discharge you, please have them send for me.” Her tail was swishing as excitedly as ever. “I can’t wait! See you soon!”

With that, she disappeared in a flash.

Caden shook his head, blinking. He felt like he’d just been victim to some kind of academic natural disaster. He turned to Redheart. “She’s certainly excitable isn’t she?”

Redheart rolled her eyes. “That’s nothing. Wait till you meet Pinkie Pie. I expect with you staying at the castle, it won’t be long.”

“Worse?”

Redheart nodded. “Much.”

He shuddered at the idea. “Great.”

She chuckled. “You’ll be fine. Most ponies mean well. Especially Twilight and her friends. You’ll be in good hooves.” She walked over to the cart and grabbed a small vial of blue liquid off it.

“I’m sure you’re tired of lying here but we need you to rest a little more. Here, this will help you sleep.”

She handed him the vial and he drained it. A familiar bitter taste made him brace.


“Is this what you’ve been giving me?”

She nodded. “It is. That’ll be the last one. It should start working shortly.”

He handed the vial back to her and watched as she placed it back on the cart.“Thank you so much Redheart.”

She tilted her head as confusion danced across her face. “For what?”

He shrugged. “Everything really. Thanks for taking care of me. Thanks for saving my leg.” He locked eyes with her. “Thanks for being so friendly. Thanks for just...being here when I woke up.”

His chest tightened as the last few days came rushing back. “I was scared to death in that tree. I didn’t know where I was. Sitting in the rain. I wasn’t sure if I was going to bleed to death or get eaten or....” He felt his voice warble as he raked his good hand through his hair. “I’m still not really sure I believe everything that’s going on. I’m seeing it in front of me. I can touch it, taste it, smell it but something in the back of my head keeps screaming that this all has to be a dream, a hallucination. That there’s no way this is real.”

He looked down to one trembling hand. “I was just home. It was like any normal day. I went to bed like every other day. And then I woke up on a hill on some alien world.” He looked back at her through tears. “And now I’m talking to you. A Pony.” He could hear his voice cracking. “A talking Pony. Through magic. It’s all just….” His voice trailed off as he closed his eyes and took a shaky breath, trying to calm down.

He felt something land on the bed next to him and opened his eyes as strong limbs wrapped around him.

“It’s ok.” She whispered gently into his ear.

Instinctively, he reached his good arm up and wrapped it around her.

“It will be ok Caden. I promise.”

The tears streamed their way down his cheeks. “I don’t know what’s going on. What the hell happened to me? How did I get here?”

He felt a hoof rub his back. “I don’t know. But I can promise you Princess Twilight will work her flank off to help get you home.”

“Why? Why are you all being so friendly? You don’t even know me.”

“This is just what Ponies do.” She squeezed. “If anypony can find a way to get you home, it’s her. You’re in good hooves Caden.”

As more tears formed, he tightened his grip on her and buried his face into her shoulder. He tried to keep control but everything poured forth in a torrent of tears.

After a while, he pulled back and wiped the tears off his face. Sitting next to him on the bed, she gave him a gentle smile.

“Feel better?”

He nodded, sniffing. “I do. Thank you.”

She reached forward and put a hoof on his arm. “I’m glad.”

He put his hand over her hoof. “You really think Twilight can help?”

She nodded. “I do.”

“I hope so.” He sighed. “Well…..I guess I’ll just have to make the best of this.”

“You might be surprised. There’s a lot to see and do in Equestria. You might like it here.”

“Maybe.” He sniffed and summoned the best grin he could. I must look like misery. “And hey...it’s not everyday you get to live in a castle.”

She smiled. “That’s true. Honestly I’m kind of jealous. I’ve heard the baths in the castle are a luxury all onto themselves.”

He wiped his eyes with his good arm. “Really? Interesting.” He looked her over for a moment. “Speaking of baths, I uh...I think I cried on your coat.”

She giggled. “It’s just fur. I can wash it.”

He chuckled. “True.” He thought back to the hug. He swore he could smell flowers again. “I don’t mean to be nosy but...are you wearing perfume?.”

He thought he saw the faintest tint of red blossom on her cheeks. “It’s a honeysuckle shampoo.”

“It’s really nice.”

Her tail jerked a bit as she stood up and jumped off the bed.

“Is that draught kicking in?”

He nodded. She wasn’t kidding when she said it would help him sleep. He was starting to feel like he’d taken a bottle full of Benadryl.

She pushed the cart towards the door. “Try to rest Caden. I’ll be back to check on you in a few hours.”

He settled down further into the bed and pulled the covers back over himself. “Thank you Redheart. Again.”

She smiled back. “Not a problem. We’ll talk more later ok?”

“Deal.”

With that the lights went out and the door closed.

The events of the past few days swirled around his head again as he faded but he honestly did feel better. The Ponies seemed to genuinely care. For some reason he felt like he could trust Redheart and Twilight. Having someone to trust, he could feel the weight of the situation lifting a bit. He drifted back to the hug. It was the last thing he thought of before he faded into sleep.

Chapter 3: Helping Hands

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Three weeks later...

Yawning, Caden pushed open his bedroom door and stepped into the dark crystal hallway. The sun wouldn’t be raised for some time and the only light came from small magical crystals that ran the length of the walls. He started down the hallway, stretching and trying to rub the sleep from his eyes.

As he made his way down the corridor, a violent grinding sound grew in intensity as he closed on one of the doors. He had just passed it when he heard a click. Turning around, the door opened and a bright orange unicorn draped in a teal, star patterned cloak stepped out, glasses askew and goatee frazzled. From behind him, an insanely loud snore erupted from the darkness of the room. Under that he could hear somepony mumbling about being great and powerful.

“Good morning Sunburst.”

The unicorn stallion pushed his glasses up his snout.. “Mornin’ Caden. Heading for the kitchen?”

“Yup. You’re up early.”

They began walking down the hallway together. “I’m heading back to the Crystal Empire tonight. I’ve got a lot to do.”

“Ah.”

Sunburst looked up at him. “Sleep well?”

Caden nodded. “Not bad. Better than I had been.”

“Injuries still bothering you?”

“That was a bit of it. Some lingering pain.” He subconsciously rotated his shoulder and yawned again. “It was weird though. Right after I moved in, I wasn’t having problems falling asleep. I just kept waking up and…” he trailed off as he searched for the words.

“And?”

“I don’t know. It’s hard to describe. It’s like something was watching me. Or maybe talking to me. I’d be dreaming and then suddenly be awake. It always felt like something was in the room.” He shrugged. “It seems to have passed. Probably just stress.”

He looked down at Sunburst. “Speaking of sleep. I apologize if I’m being too personal here but Sunburst, dude how on Earth do you sleep with those two? I can hear Starlight snoring all the way down in my room sometimes.” He gestured back to the hallway behind him. “And Trixie talking on top of that.”

Sunburst chuckled. “Well for one thing…” his horn lit up in yellow and a pair of earplugs appeared in front of him. “Enchanted earplugs. Twilight made them for me awhile back. You can’t hear anything with them in.” Another flash and the plugs disappeared. He blushed slightly and brought a hoof up to rub the back of his head nervously. “And you know, when you’re in a herd you deal with these kinds of things.”

Caden nodded. “Sure. I’ve been with women who snored but nothing like that.”

They arrived at the kitchen and Caden made his way to the pantry while Sunburst headed to the stove. “Caden would you grab me the eggs and sunflower petals?” The unicorn began levitating various cooking implements from across the kitchen over to him.

“Sure.” Caden scanned the seemingly never ending shelving of the pantry. He’d nearly fallen over the first time Twilight had showed it to him. There was enough food stocked here for a hundred ponies to live on for over a year. There were giant bags of flour, sugar, salt and every other dry staple you could imagine. Endless loafs of bread, cakes, pies and other pastries he’d never even heard of. Huge wheels of cheese of every kind. Spices from all across Equus. How it all didn’t spoil was probably some trick of Equestrian magic.

He marveled at the cornucopia, just as he always did. And as he marveled, the same thought returned every time. It had a million things he could eat. And it was missing the one thing he wanted.

He sighed. The food in Equestria was good. Actually it was often fantastic. Most of it was shockingly similar to the fare on Earth. Since being here, he’d had some of the best vegetarian food he imagined was possible. The desserts, especially those from Sugar Cube Corner were tooth achingly good. He certainly wasn’t eating badly.

And yet, for all that, he might give up a foot for a steak. Even a piece of fried chicken. One slice of bacon.

In the endless hours of questioning, study and analysis Twilight had subjected him to about all things human, it hadn’t taken long for them to get to the subject of the average human diet. Twilight herself hadn’t seemed bothered by the revelation but Starlight and Trixie had very nearly gagged when eating meat was mentioned. It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that was the usual reaction from most. Out of respect, he’d decided to stick with vegetarian fare and keep his mouth shut. It’s not like he had much of a choice anyway. From what he could tell, the closest city that might even sell meat was Canterlot.

He made his way down the shelves. “Dandelion stems...Saddle Arabian saffron...dehydrated hay flakes…...ah ha...sunflower petals.”

He grabbed them and made his way over to the egg bin. “How many eggs Sunburst?”

“Just two. Unless you’d like some?”

“Nah. Just coffee for me. I’m going jogging after this.”

Caden grabbed two eggs out of the bin and pulled the coffee tin off another shelf. He made his way back into the kitchen where Sunburst was prepping the stove.

“Here.” He held the eggs out, watching as Sunburst levitated them from his grip. He grabbed a teapot off the stove, filled it with water and returned it to boil. “Could you watch that for me?”

“Sure.”

Caden made his way to the middle of the kitchen and sat at the central workstation as Sunburst spoke up. “Speaking of my heading back, you should really come see the Crystal Empire someday.”

He watched as the eggs floated above the pan, cracking in mid air. “I’d love to but…”

“But what?”

Caden shrugged. “I’m really hoping I’m not here that long.”

Spices floated from a nearby shelf to the pan. “Has Twilight made any progress figuring out how you got here?”

“Not really.”

The unicorn turned to him. “No?”

“Apparently she keeps running into dead ends. ” Caden shrugged. “Sunset, Starlight and her have been beating their heads against this since I got here. They have all kinds of research on interdimensional travel. Discords realm. Some place he opened at one of the Galas once. Even something about a mirror world where there were evil versions of everyone.”

Sunburst jerked. “When did that happen?”

“Not sure. She only mentioned it in passing.”

Sunburst frowned and returned to his cooking. “I’m gonna have to ask about that.”

Caden watched steam start to appear from the teapot. “Problem is none of it points to a world like mine at all. It’s even more frustrating for her since our worlds seem to be so similar. She thinks its possible Equus and Earth are maybe mirrors of each other or something. Nothing concrete though. She says right now she’s just going in circles.”

A plate floated across the kitchen and Sunburst served his breakfast up. He made his way over to sit with Caden.

“That’s got to be frustrating for you.” He looked over to the stove. “Your water is boiling.”

Caden stood up and grabbed the coffee press off another shelf. He returned to the island and grabbed the coffee tin. “It is. I’m not mad at Twilight or the others. They’ve been nothing but accommodating since I got here.” He gestured around the room and began spooning coffee into the press. “Visiting another world. Living in a castle. Getting to meet a race of sentient magical alien ponies. In a way it’s been a hell of a vacation.”

He finished spooning coffee and walked over to the stove and took the pot back. Pouring steaming water into the press, he returned the pot to the stove and began working on the press.

Sunburst spoke around a mouthful of egg and petal. “At least it’s been a pleasant visit.”

He poured himself a cup and nodded. “It has and I’m very grateful. But I have an entire life back home. I’ve probably already been fired. Maybe evicted. Car’s probably been towed. I miss my world. I miss our food. I miss my friends.”

“What’s a car?”

“It’s….don’t worry about it. I just have a lot of things I need to get back to and take care of.”

Sunburst attended to his breakfast for a bit before speaking again. “What about family?”

Caden looked up from his mug. “What?”

“Yeah. I’ve been here a week and I haven’t heard you mention your family once.”

He thumbed at the mug. “Not a lot to tell. They all live in another state. I don’t see them much anymore.”

“Do you miss them?”

“Yeah. I guess.” He looked at the stallion. “Why?”

Sunburst stared at him for a moment from over his glasses. After a moment he pushed them back up his muzzle again and returned to his food. “No reason.” Something in his voice was different. “I was just curious. I uh...I haven’t always gotten along the best with my mother. She can be difficult. We’re getting along better now but I didn’t really talk to her for a long while there. I was just wondering if maybe it was something similar for you.”

Caden took a long swig from his cup. “Nah. We just live really far apart.” He stared down the mug. “It’s nothing like that.”

Even I didn’t buy that line.

Sunburst returned to his breakfast. “If you ever need anypony to talk to, I’ll listen.”

He smiled at the stallion. “Thanks.”

The sound of hoofsteps turned their attention towards the door as a yellow and red maned mare walked in.

She sat at the island. “Good morning guys.”

Sunburst spoke around a mouthful of petals. “Morning Sunset.”

Caden waved a hand. “Morning.”

Cyan eyes narrowed at Caden. “Is that coffee?”

He pushed the press across the table. “Yes it is.”

She grabbed it in her magic and brought a mug over. “Bless you, giant alien.”

He chuckled. “You’re welcome, tiny horse.”

She looked over to Sunburst. “You leave today right?”

He nodded. “Yup. Last train out.”

Caden looked at Sunset. “Twilight’s still in Canterlot for a few more days right?”

“Yeah. Two more nights I think.”

Sunburst cleared the last of the eggs from his plate and shot Sunset a mischievous grin. “You sure Caden’s gonna be ok here? Only two villains to keep an eye on him?”

Sunset stuck her tongue out. “REFORMED villains, thank you.” She shuddered and nodded her head at Caden. “I can’t imagine what would have happened to Starlights time travel spell with him around.”

Sunburst grinned. “The magically resistant alien collapses the spell and it just destroys time and space instead?”

She nodded. “Something like that.”

Caden drained the rest of his coffee and walked it over to the sink. “Not sure what you’re talking about but I’m always glad to help out.”

Sunset looked over at him. “Going for your jog?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Supposed to be hot today so I want to get it in as early as I can. ”

She took a sip from the steaming mug clutched between her hooves. “How’s the translation enchantment holding up?”

Caden rubbed his forehead. “Fine. No issues since the other day.”

A favor for Twilight had quickly descended into chaos when she’d sent him to Sugar Cube Corner to pick up an order. While Mr. and Mrs.Cake had been told he would be the one coming, they weren’t prepared for him to walk in and start vomiting a hybrid of English and Poneish at them. Pinkie Pie, for her part, had found the entire ordeal absolutely hilarious.

Sunset set her cup on the table and motioned with a hoof for him to come closer. “Let me check to make sure. With Twilight in Canterlot, I want to make sure it’s as strong as it can be.”

He made his way over to her and stared down. “Do you want me to sit on the floor?”

She glanced around the room, trying to find something for him to sit on before sighing. “If you don’t mind? It’s probably easiest. Unless you want to go to the study?”

He shrugged. “Doesn’t bother me. Just my jogging shorts.”

He sat cross legged on the floor as she jumped off her stool and approached him. He leaned forward as she gently touched the tip of her horn to his forehead. He’d felt slightly self-conscious when he had found out that this was how Twilight had cast the spell the first time. It had taken her assurance that this was probably the only was the spell would have a chance of working on him.

“Just relax. Try to clear your mind.” Red energy sheathed her horn as he closed his eyes. Reinforcing the spell had become something of a semi weekly ritual for them. As was usual, he really felt nothing during the process. Sometimes he thought there might be a tingle or other random sensation inside his head but he couldn’t be sure he wasn’t imagining it. He still barely noticed the spell working at all. In his mind, he was speaking and hearing perfect English.

Several minutes went by before he heard Sunset exhale sharply. He opened his eyes to see her pulling back from him, sweat beading on her forehead.

She stood up. “I swear that’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen.

He rose from the floor. “My magic resistance?”

“Yeah. It gets me everytime. It’s like you’re barely there. Like you’re...a shadow...or something.” She frowned. “I know that doesn’t make any sense.” She wiped the sweat off her forehead with a hoof.

He shrugged. “I’m just glad you guys are able to do this much.” He reached a fist out. “Thanks Sunset.”

She bumped his hand with her hoof. “No problem.”

“I’ll be back later. You going to be here?”

She nodded. “Yeah I have an entire manuscript on the friendship habits of a tribe of pre Celestia-era earth ponies from the San Palomino desert that Twilight wants me to transcribe from Old Poneish to Modern.”

“How long is it?”

She gave him a flat look. “429 pages.”

He saw Sunburst wince out of the corner of his eye. “Ouch, well you enjoy!”

The flat look darkened considerably. “Thanks.”

He looked over to Sunburst. “Be safe on your trip home.”

“I will be. And remember what I said ok?”

Caden threw him a two fingered salute. “Will do.”

He left the kitchen and made for his room, again assailed by an avalanche of snoring from Starlight's bedroom.

Bless you Twilight, for saving that poor stallion.

Arriving back in his room, he knocked out a quick stretching routine and picked his sneakers up off the floor.

As he pulled the overly accented trainer over his foot, he remembered the first time he’d met Rarity. He had arrived in Equestria barefoot and clad in only his sleepwear, all of which was basically destroyed the first day. When he’d told Redheart that he would need clothing before leaving the hospital, he’d been met by a look of sheer confusion. After Twilight had returned the next day, he’d tried to explain human modesty norms to them with little success. He was finally able to get through to them when he pointed out his distinct lack of fur and the real possibilities of sunburn and frostbite.

That had resulted in him getting a visitor the next day from Rarity, Twilight’s fashion designer friend. Wobbling on his injured leg and wearing a towel wrapped around his waist, he’d spent an entire day being measured and explaining the kinds of clothes humans wore, when, why and what they looked like.

She’d promised him an entire wardrobe, from casual and athletic wear, all the way to formal and sleepwear. He’d tried to talk her down, explaining he hoped to only be here a short time and he didn’t have any money. The snow white pony wouldn’t hear a word of it. In fact she seemed almost manic at the chance to design a wardrobe for him.

“Nonsense darling. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. No fashion designer worth her fabric would turn this down. Getting to design a wardrobe for not just an entirely new species but one that comes from a world absolutely laden with clothing? Why it’s a dream come true!”

After bringing him a pair of plain cloth pants and a shirt, he’d limped his way from Ponyville Hospital to Twilight’s castle a few days later. There he found everything she’d promised. An entire closet full of clothes. Probably more clothes than he’d ever owned in his life. Everything from silken sleepwear to a pretty damn good approximation of a full tuxedo with tails.

Unfortunately everything was on the slightly...loud side of normal for him. Bright colors, accent gems and elaborate stitching ruled the day. He decided to keep his mouth shut when Starlight mentioned that a wardrobe of that caliber made by Rarity would cost most ponies a small fortune. He had a strong suspicion Twilight had helped compensate the seamstress for her time.

He made his way to the entrance hall and out the front door into the cool Equestrian morning. The sun still wasn’t quite up and light barely shone on the edge of the horizon. It wouldn’t be too much longer before the thing suddenly jumped up over the horizon and traded positions with the moon. The mechanics of their sun and moon had taken him a fair chunk of an afternoon and no small amount of headache medicine to get his head around.

He stretched his legs again and took a deep breath. Down the road most of Ponyville still slept. He could make out a few ponies moving around the town square, likely the local shopkeepers setting up. He saw a grey coated mailmare fly over.

He set off down the road connecting the village to Twilight's castle before branching down a new side path and settling into a warm up walk. He’d taken several paths around the village so far and tried to pick a new one every few days. Twilight had told him he could pretty much run anywhere around the village, save for the southeast side near the Everfree Forest. He’d ensured her he was more than happy never going back there again.

It wasn’t long before the sun suddenly bounced up from the horizon and settled itself into the morning sky.

“Weirdest god damn thing….”

He sped up to a light jog. His leg injury still prevented a full on run. He’d always enjoyed running, even as a child. It was something that didn’t require thought or worry. He found peace in just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and letting the entire world slip away. He often found that after a run whatever had been bothering him was often lessened. Since the doctor had given him the all clear a week ago, he’d made a habit of trying to get out in both the morning and evening.

It had certainly helped that Equestria was absolutely gorgeous. His initial impressions the first day had been pretty spot on, at least for the area around Ponyville. Everything was a little greener, a little cleaner than he was used to on Earth.

“Maybe it’s the magic.”

As he made his way down the path, a trio of pegasi crossed over the horizon. One waved down to him as they passed across the sky. He waved back and watched as they flew out of sight.

On the whole, the creatures of Equestria had been remarkably friendly towards him. He’d left the castle a few times with Twilight and other than some curious looks, most creatures he came across did little more than smile and wave. Twilight had decided it would be best if they didn’t go into explicit detail about where he came from. So far as he knew, the only ones who knew his real origin were Twilight and her friends, Redheart and Doctor Horse.

He’d been decidedly incredulous if it was possible to keep a secret like that but it had been shockingly easy. Apparently unknown or unique creatures weren’t an uncommon phenomena in this world. The only things that seemed to consistently cause them to stare were his hands. He’d been told that many species on Equus had digits but all of them ended in claws or talons. None of them had seen a finger before. Twilight had spent one entire afternoon doing a detailed analysis of just his hands and feet.

Eventually the road began sloping to the left. From what he could tell, it likely wrapped around the west side of Ponyville. As the road continued on, he noticed the trees on either side started becoming far more uniform than they had prior. Not long after, a well maintained wooden fence started running along the edge of either side of the road.

Someone lives out here?”

A moment later, he heard a crash and something calling out from behind the tree line on the right side of the road.

“DADGUM LADDER. OWWWW!

He slid to a stop as the screaming continued. Whoever it was had a southern drawl thick enough curl paint.

“OF ALL THE ROTTEN DAMN...OW!!!

He approached the fence and yelled. “Hello? Need help?”

“NO!” There was a moment of silence. “DAG NABBIT, YES! TWISTED MAH HOOF!”

He stepped over the fence and started making his way into the tree line. Before long, he found the source of the screaming.

Sitting against the trunk of a tree was an aged, apple green pony clutching one of her rear hooves to her body. A snowy white mane, pulled back into a tight bun and an ample array of wrinkles made her age clear. An overturned ladder and a fairly large saw decorated the ground around her.

As he approached, she looked up at him and raised an eyebrow. “And what in Celestias sunny flank are you supposed to be?”

He kneeled down in front of her. “I’m a human. I’m uh...not from around here. I’m Caden.”

She eyed him up and down for a moment. “Granny Smith. Ah ain’t ever heard of no hooman before.”

He chuckled. “Like I said, I’m from...pretty far away.” He pointed to her hoof. “You ok?”

“Do I look ok?” She tried to push her leg out and grimaced. “Ah horse apples. Don’t think I can make it back to the farmhouse.”

He looked around. “What were you doing?”

She looked above her at the tree. “Prunin’ this here apple tree. Crops due in a few weeks and we gotta get all the dead growth off before then.”

She tried to push her leg out again before wincing and looking up at him.

He looked around. “Anyone around I can go get for you?”

She shook her head. “Grandkids are in town runnin errands. Not sure when they’re gonna be back.”

She looked him up and down again and sighed. “Ah hate to ask this of a stranger but do ya think ya could help me back to farmhouse?”

He nodded. “Sure.” He thought for a moment before realizing she was far too small to shoulder carry.

“Ummm...how exactly would you like me to….?”

She frowned. “Well how do ya think?! You look like yer plenty strong enough. Pick me up for Luna’s sakes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Course I’m sure! Ya don’t get to be my age and not be sure of things!”

He nodded and edged forward, sliding both hands under her before standing up. She was very light, not shocking considering her age.

She squirmed a bit and pointed her good hoof. “House’s that way.” She turned and looked up at him. “And dontcha get any funny ideas about running off with me or something. Ah know ah’m a looker but I promise I’ll buck ya right across Equestria!”

He did his best to suppress a smirk. “Yes ma’am. Wouldn’t think of it.” Despite her threats and general prickly demeanor, she was instantly likeable. It was obvious to anyone that she was fairly embarrassed about the entire situation. She reminded him a fair bit of one of his grandpas. He wasn’t usually pleasant when he needed help either.

“So this is your farm?”

She nodded. “Sure is! Sweet Apple Acres! Been growing the best apples in Equestria since well before you were born!” She looked up at him. “At least ah think so. How old are you anyway? Never know the ages of some of the creatures that come around here.”

Something about the name Sweet Apple Acres sounded familiar but he couldn’t place where. “28 ma’am.”

“28? Rockhoof’s beard yer a baby. Only a few years older than my grandson.”

“How many grandkids do you have?”

“Three.”

As they made their way across the orchards, she regaled him with stories from her past. A funny incident here, some memory there. He had to admit, the place was impressive. Rows and rows of perfectly lined apple trees rose as far as he could see. Everything looked immaculately maintained. The trees were all healthy, the ground verdant and well kept.

As they cleared the trees, she pointed at a cluster of buildings emerging in the distance. “House is attached to the barn. The big red one.”

They made their way past the various trappings of farm life. Chicken coops, a pig pen and an array of other random buildings dotted the land. Making their way into the house, she gestured at a large easy chair.

“Set me down there.”

He deposited her on the chair and took a look around. If someone had asked him to describe “quaint country home”, he’d show them a picture of the room he was standing in. Everything was wooden, apple themed and clearly well used. A stand in the corner had several hats hanging over it. A large stone fireplace sat against one wall while lassos, horseshoes and a myriad of country themed decorations sat on the walls. The house even smelled comfy, like a comforting mix of apple, winter spices and wood. It was a far cry from the lavish crystalline labyrinth of Twilight’s castle. This was a home.

She settled back in the chair and pointed a hoof at another room. “Go’n there and get me some ice from the box. Should be ah towel on the stove.”

He did as he was asked and returned with the makeshift compress. She set it on the injured hoof.

“Blasted leg.” She sighed. “Was already behind as it is. The kids are gonna skin me alive for this.”

“Why?”

She actually looked sheepish for a moment. “They don’t like me up on the ladder.” She huffed. “Ah’m not an invalid. Work needs doin and it’s not gonna wait for them to get back.”

“Do you want me to go get Doctor Horse?”

She waved away his question. “Land’s sakes no. I’ve twisted my hoof enough times in mah life to know it’ll be better soon. No need for that.”

She looked up at him. “You hungry?”

He waved his hands in front of him. “Oh no Mrs. Smith, I’m…”

She cut him off with a wave of her hoof. “Don’t be tryin to pull my mane with that polite bull. I know yer hungry. Yer belly was growling the entire way here.”

At that moment, said belly decided to loudly remind him that all he’d had today was a cup of coffee.

She smirked. “See?” She tilted her head back at the kitchen. “Fresh apple pie in the oven cooling. Finished it this mornin’. Help yourself.”

He dropped his hands in defeat. “All right. You want some?”

She nodded. “Please. There’s milk in the fridge.”

As he made his way into the kitchen, she called out. “And it’s Granny Smith, not Mrs. Smith!”

He chuckled. “Yes ma’am.”
.

He returned to the living room, 2 slices of pie and glasses of milk in tow. He served her and sat down on the couch.

She shot him a cocky smirk. “Now don’t go blamin me if you never have apple pie that good again!”

Something in the back of his mind chewed on the fact that he was sitting in an alien world, talking to a horse and eating an all American staple food.

You can’t make this shit up.

“That might be tough ma’am. Apple pie is kind of a big thing where….well where I’m from. I’ve had some pretty good apple pie.”

The smirk grew. “Not with our apples you aint!”

“We’ll see.” Forking a bite in his mouth, his eyes went wide as the treat settled on his tongue.

The bite was exquisite. A perfect mix between crisp, buttery crust and tangy apple. The filling was somehow both soft and yet still just tough enough to provide some bite. He was able to taste each part in individual perfection and then enjoy them as a combined whole that was so much more.

The look on his face apparently gave away enough. “Told ya!” she quipped.

He shook his head as a grin spread across his face. “Ok ok. You were right.”

She winked at him. “Thanks fer carrying my bones all the way over here.”

“No problem. I’d be kicking myself tonight if I hadn’t stopped.”

“Ya seem like yer a good kid. What brought you all the way to Ponyville?”

He mulled over a bite, trying to choose what to say.

“Kind of an unexpected vacation.” It wasn’t entirely a lie.

“Here all alone?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Just me.”

She frowned. “I don’t know a thing about hoomans but you seem a good one. No mare or stallion back home?”

He nearly choked on the bite of pie he was working on. Coughing, he took a big swig of milk and tried to get some air down his throat. Apparently busybody grandparents transcended time, space and species.

“No.” He coughed, clearing his throat. “No one back home. Not right now anyway.”

“Ya got family back there?”

He nodded. “I do. Parents and two brothers.”

“See them much?”

He shook his head. “I uh...I moved a fair bit away recently. Haven’t seen them since.”

She shifted in the chair, adjusting the ice bag. “That’s a shame. Not sure what I’d do without mah grandkids.”

He forked at the last of the pie on his plate. “I don’t get along very well with my parents. Haven’t for a few years.”

He watched as orange eyes flicked to picture on the wall. He followed her gaze to the portrait. A large stallion wearing a cowboy hat was hugging a petite, curly maned mare. Both were beaming at the camera. He thought he saw something dance across her face but she just turned back to him. “That so? Is that why ya moved?”

He nodded, unsure why he was still talking. “Yeah. Needed some space. When I finally graduated from college, I decided to try and start over elsewhere.”

“Do ya think they miss you?”

He sat for a moment before popping the last piece of pie in his mouth.

I wonder.

He set the plate back down. “I guess. Not sure.”

She seemed to get the hint. They sat for a moment in silence. He was about to get up and excuse himself when he saw her ear twitch out of the corner of his eye.

“Think the kids are back.”

He hadn’t heard anything but that was hardly telling. He’d figure out real quick that the ponies senses of hearing and smell were far, far beyond his. Twilight had mentioned something about them being a prey species for a long time so it made sense.

Sure enough, a moment later he heard muffled conversation through the door and it swung open.

Two ponies walked in. First, a filly with a red mane and an enormous pink bow. Second, one of the largest stallions he had seen since arriving. A red coat, freckles and an orange mane set off a bright green apple cutie mark. Wrapped around his immense neck was an old style horse yoke.

The filly looked up at him. “What’re you?”

He heard a mare speak outside the door. “What’s who Apple Bloom?” The drawl was as deep as her Grandmares. She walked in the door a second later, blonde mane flowing out from under her ever present cowboy hat.

Green eyes went wide as saucers when she saw him. “Caden? What in tarnation are you doin here?”

He felt his brain finally solve a problem it had been chewing on since he’d arrived on the farm. He had heard the name Sweet Apple Acres before. Applejack had mentioned it the first time he’d met her, shortly after moving into Twilight’s castle.

The other three all turned and looked at her. Apple Bloom looked between him and her sister. “Caden? You know this….” She stopped as she scanned Caden up and down. “You know this...whatever he is?”

Applejack stepped forward and bopped her sister on the head. “Don’t be rude. He’s not a ‘whatever’. He’s a human.”

Granny Smith looked him over again. “Wait. This is the alien you told us about? The one staying at Twilight’s?”

Applejack nodded. “This is him.” She stepped forward and gestured at her siblings. “Caden, this is my older brother, Big McIntosh.”

The enormous pony nodded up at him.

“And this is my little sister, Apple Bloom.” She looked down at the filly. “Say hi and apologize to Mr. Caden.”

The tiny pony stepped forward. “Awful sorry about that Mr. Caden. I’ve just never seen a hooman before.”

“No worries. I know I look a little weird.”

A sudden tempest of noise and movement erupted from the armchair. “Weird my wrinkled flank! Ya look just fine.” She leveled a glare at Applejack. “Ah didn’t know ah was gabbing gums with the alien all mornin! Ya said he looked like a giant furless monkey. He don’t look like a monkey at all! He’s got plenty of fur. Look at his face!”

He still wasn’t entirely sure how Ponies blushed. He would have thought that the fine layer of fur that covered them would prevent such a thing. Given how other things worked in Equestria, he was pretty much ready to just chalk it up to magic. However it worked, he watched in real time as Applejacks face went the same color as her brothers coat. She slapped a hoof to her face.

Element of Honesty indeed. Seems to run in the family.

“Damnit Granny….” She trailed off, face still crimson.

Caden chuckled. “It’s ok Applejack.”

She looked up at him. “What are you doin here anyway?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Granny Smith suddenly try to push herself back in her chair.

“I was out for my run. Decided to go a different way and ended up out here.” He looked over at the wizened mare.

No sense in lying. They’d find out.

“I heard your grandmare calling for help and decided to stop”

The three kids looked at their grandmare and seemed to finally notice the ice bag on her leg.

Applejack walked over and stared down at the compress suspiciously. “What happened to yer leg Granny?”

The elder Pony screwed up her face. “Nothin. Little accident.”

Applejacks eyes narrowed as Apple Bloom and Big McIntosh stepped forward. The immense stallion finally spoke in a voice deep enough to rattle the walls. “Accident?”

The senior pony avoided their gaze for a moment before sighing and looking at them. “Ah was in the northwest field, tryin to do some prunin. Fell off the ladder. Twisted my hoof.”

Applejack snorted loudly. “OF ALL THE….” She stopped and took a deep breath. “We’ll talk later.” She turned and looked at Caden. “Thanks so much for rescuin her Caden.” The other siblings echoed the thanks.

He smiled. “Not a problem at all.” It was obvious there was going to be a serious discussion after he left. “I think I’ll head out now.” He turned to Granny Smith. “Thanks for the pie.”

She shot him a wink and a smile. “Not ah problem Caden. Thanks for rescuin me.”

As he was heading for the door, she called out again. “Caden…”

He looked back over his shoulder. He saw her gaze dart to the picture again and back to him. “Try to see your parents soon ok? Ah’m sure they’d like it.”

He thought he saw something flicker across her face again but it was gone as soon as it came.

“I’ll…...I’ll try.”

She smiled and turned her attention to her other grandkids.

As he made his way out the front door and off the porch, he heard hoof steps behind him. He turned to a still blushing Applejack.

“Caden….ah’m mighty sorry about that. I just had no idea how to describe you to them and…”

He chuckled. “It’s ok. I promise. I’m not mad. I know I’m not exactly normal around here.”

A small smile grew through the blush. “Thanks so much again. She shot an angry, sideways glare at the house. “Told her enough times to stay off that damned ladder.”

“She’s lucky she only twisted her hoof and not something worse. She was just trying to help though.”

“Ah know. Ah know. Won’t be too hard on her, ah promise.”

He grinned. “Good to hear. I’ll see you later.”

She waved a hoof and turned back to head into the house. “Sure will. Have a good one y’hear?”

As she headed back into the house, he turned. “Oh and Applejack?”

She stopped. “Yeah?”

He couldn’t resist. “Technically I’m an ape. Not a monkey.”

The blush returned full force.

Chapter 4: Exotic Locales

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Sky Tide pushed the last set of cumulus clouds in his section into place and exhaled deeply, wiping sweat off his brow.

“Done. Finally.”

He flapped his wings and zipped onto the top of the fluffy white blob. Sitting down, he glanced across the skyscape around him. He could see the other Weather Bureau Pegasi positioning their clouds into their assigned places.

Gonna be nice today.

He stood up and walked to the edge of the cloud. Looking down, he scanned the bustling amusement park city of Las Pegasus. Swarms of Ponies milled about, some living, some working and most playing. He could hear screams from the various roller coasters and other rides that weaved their way in, out and around the buildings, attractions and monuments of the skyline. Ponies stopped to take pictures and stare in awe at the magically enhanced fountain shows and light displays.Others wandered into casinos with sacks absolutely bulging with bits as others passed them on their way out, snouts to the ground and empty sacks in hoof. Below him, a unicorn magically carrying an open cider tumbled to the ground in a heap as he tried to avoid running into a lightpost. Before anypony could help, he brought the cider to his mouth and broke into uproarious laughter.

He rolled his eyes. Someone got an early start.

He launched from the cloud and banked till he was heading towards the eastern edge of town. As he approached the outskirts, a large, nondescript office building came into view. A steady trail of Pegasi were coming and going from the door, roof and various windows. A large sign hung above the front door: Las Pegasus Weather Bureau

Landing on the ground in front of the building, he made his way inside. Greeting various coworkers, he made his way to the second floor and to the Cloud Management Divisions office. Entering the large, open office he made his way over to his team's work area. Pegasi ran here and there across the room, taking reports and orders from a magical printer that relayed weather requests from Cloudsdale. Charts on the walls displayed weather patterns and various other meteorological data. A large calendar hung prominently on the farthest wall, displaying major events and their related weather needs over the coming weeks.

He trotted over to the corner desk his squad shared and grabbed a clipboard with one wing and a quill with the other.

“Hey Sky, just get back?”

He turned to see his supervisor making her way over to him.

“Yes ma’am. My area is good to go.”

“Awesome. When you’re done filling out your report, I’ve got one more thing for you today.”

“Oh?”

“We’ve got a heavy storm scheduled at the far north end part of town next week. There are a couple of small rock farms out there. The last time we scheduled a heavy rain, one of their creeks flooded a bit and washed away their latest crop. We reshaped the banks and added some sandbags to try and divert some of the flow this time. Could you go out there and make sure everything looks ok?”

He nodded. “Sure thing. Where exactly?”

“Just north of Hoofcrag Mound. Familiar with it?”

“He nodded. Yup, I know the place. I’ll take care of it.”

“Awesome.” She gave him a smile and walked away.

He filled out the rest of his report and returned to the front door. Climbing into the sky, he banked north and flew until the city began to fade below him. Soon enough, nothing but desert and craggy hills stretched below him. Eventually, he spied a small cluster of farms north of a prominent hill. Multitudes of rocks, from tiny to gigantic littered the area. A small creek snaked its way through the farms before branching off and feeding a larger river further south.

He passed over the farms, heading to the source of the creek. Below him Earth Ponies looked up from their labors and waved at him. Waving back, he sped past them.

Before long, the small desert spring that served as the source of the creek came into view. Even from here he could see the trenches and cutaways branching off the river from here to the farms. Stacks and stacks of sandbags lined either side of the creek as far down as he could see. From here it looked like all the work would be sufficient to keep any flooding at bay.

Need to take a closer look.

As he shifted to dive, something shimmered out of the corner of his eye. He turned and looked on in confusion at the object in front of him.

“What in Tartarus?”

He flapped to hold height and examined the object.

It was a sphere of some kind. It wasn’t much larger than a cart or buggy. It was transparent, except for how it was bending the light. The sky behind it looked like he was staring at the bottom of a shallow lake or riverbed with the sun beaming down behind him.

“Freaky.”

He flapped and slowly started approaching it. He’d been in the Weather Bureau for all of his adult life and had never seen anything like this.

Magic?

He looked around to see if some wayward Unicorn was anywhere in sight. He’d seen magic many times in his life and knew it could cause all kinds of weird visual phenomena. A look around confirmed the closest Ponies to him were the farmers further up the creek.

He turned back to the sphere. It wasn’t moving or making any sort of noise. It just floated there like a giant mirage in the sky.

He inched slowly forward, as if he was waiting for some sort of reaction from it. When nothing happened, he sped up and flew around it a few times. It was the same on all sides.

“Weeeeird.”

He settled next to it and stared at it.

“Huh.” Should I report this?

Bizarre and one-off phenomena weren’t exactly unknown in Equestria. He’d heard plenty of stories throughout his life. He’d lived through things like Princess Luna’s return, Tirek’s rampage and more recently something about some Pegasus Filly in Ponyville nearly destroying all magic. This didn’t seem nearly as dramatic as those. It was very possible this was just some harmless, wayward spell waiting to fizzle out.

“I’d hate to get the chief and some poor unicorn out here for nothing.”

I wonder what’s inside it?

He reached a hoof out timidly and rested it against the edge of the bubble. He felt nothing. A bit of the shimmering danced against the end of his hoof. Other than that bit of light, there was no indication at all he was touching the thing.

He pushed his hoof in a bit further. As he pushed, his leg disappeared into the bubble. Now it looked like the end of his leg just disappeared into the air. He didn’t see a blurry hoof on the other side.

“Holy shit!”

He pulled his hoof back and examined it. Nothing was wrong. He was in no pain and there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with his hoof. Gulping, he pushed his hoof in again. All he could feel on the other side was air.

“Maybe it’s some kind of invisibility bubble?”

He realized immediately how silly that would be, since you could SEE the bubble.

I should really report this.

He stared at his foreleg, still sitting in the bubble. On the other side, he felt nothing. The temperature was the same. He thought he felt a bit of a breeze.

I wonder if it’s like one of those one-way mirrors? Only one way to find out.

With a small voice in the back of his head repeating that this was probably a terrible idea. he gulped and closed his eyes before slowly shoving his head through the bubble.

As his head passed where he guessed the edge of the bubble was, he opened his eyes.

“Huh.”

All he saw was a never ending sunny sky in front of him. It was as if the bubble was gone entirely. Everything in front of him and above him looked the same as it had. Enormous, open blue sky stretching out past the horizon. As he scanned the sky, he realized something was off.

Weren’t there more clouds before?

The Weather Bureau had done a pretty thorough job of covering the entire region around Las Pegasus in clouds in prep for upcoming storm days.

He scanned around some more before finally looking down.

What?!

Below him, all he could see was the end of the forelimb he had stuck through the bubble. Below that, none of his body was visible. He turned his head and looked over his shoulder. There was no shimmering. It just looked like half of him hanging in the middle of the air.

At that moment, he turned back and looked past his leg at the ground below him.

“HOLY CELESTIA!”

Below him, what had once been desert and rock farms was replaced with a massive grid of tan, grey, green and black. Grey lines formed an enormous grid that stretched far and away below him. Some of them bent and twisted around each other, forming a massive, interlinked web that connected thicker and thinner strands alike. On them, he could see what looked like large metal objects moving along at great speed.

What am I looking at?

He stared a moment before his brain finally clicked into place.

It’s a city. It’s…..a city….

It was a city. A city larger and more sprawling than any he had ever seen before. He had never heard of a city this large anywhere in Equestria. He had never seen some of these materials or buildings designed like this.

Even from up here he could make out buildings, thousands of them. Many small, some large and a few enormous. Most looked not dissimilar to the houses and cottages of Equestria. Others looked like nothing he had ever seen before. Some looked to be made of brick or wood and others out of weirdly colored lights or glass.

He craned his neck around and looked around more. It was the same everywhere. The sprawl seemed to go on forever underneath him. Miles and miles away, he could see that it eventually waned and faded into desert. Small, barren mountains dotted the distant horizon.

He turned again and his eyes caught a cluster of buildings in the distance. Huge, brilliantly lit buildings all sat together, climbing into the sky. He’d never seen buildings this large. Brightly colored lights and gaudy designs seemed to rule the day. From here he could see symbols adorning the sides of some of the buildings. They almost looked like letters in some alien language.

He scanned the ground again and it hit him.

Wait? What are those?

His eye caught something and he looked, This high up, it was hard to see the ground with too much detail but after a moment, he could see thousands of creatures scurrying around on the ground below him.

They were unlike any creature he had ever seen before. They were all bipedal, a rare trait in Equestria. Even from here he could see that they were large. At least twice the size of all but the largest ponies. Most of them were walking around on sidewalks along what he now realized were roads of some sort. It was hard to make out from here but it looked like they were all wearing clothes of some sort. He thought he saw some of them walking dogs. Others seemed to be playing with smaller members of whatever they were.

Where is this?

At that moment, he heard something. His ear turned instinctively as a whining noise caught his attention. He turned and caught something moving out of the corner of his eye. He looked over and his heart jumped into his throat.

WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?

Just above him in the sky, some sort of massive object was tearing it’s way through the atmosphere towards him. An enormous cylindrical body was attached to two stationary, bent angle wings. Hanging off of each was a huge pod of some sort. At the back a huge tail rose into the sky, marked on the back by some sort of symbol.

As it careened toward him, the whining rose into a scream. It was moving towards him impossibly fast.

SHIT!

He flapped backwards as fast as he could, watching as the world quickly went blurry and normal again.

He looked around in panic, heart pounding in his chest. He was back where he had been at the far northern end of Las Pegasus. He looked up to see the orb still floating in front of him, horizon shimmering behind it.

Sky immediately turned and took off for the Weather Bureau as fast as his wings could carry him. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. He had no idea what he had just seen but he knew that he had to report it to his chief immediately.


Double Shot stared blankly out the window of the Friendship Express as the mountainous, heavily forested landscape of Northern Equestria whipped by them. Night was starting to darken the view.

“You know, this will be the furthest west I’ve ever been.”

He saw Aurora look up from the notes she was scribbling into the massive notebook next to her out of the corner of his eye. She was sitting on the opposite side of their train cabin, the bench around her piled with books and journals.

“Really?”

He nodded. “Yeah. I was born in Manehattan. I spent most of my foalhood either in school or helping my folks in the coffee shop. Not a lot of time to travel when you’re trying to build a business and raise a family.”

She set the quill she was using down and closed her notes. “What’s the furthest away you’ve been?”

He thought for a moment. “We went to Fillydelphia a few times when I was a kid and Whinnyapolis once during high school. That’s about it.”

Aurora stared at him, disbelief on her face. “That’s it? You’ve never even been to Cloudsdale?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

She blinked in surprise. “Even when it’s close to Manehattan?”

“Even then.”

“Huh. Wow.”

He could understand her surprise. Almost all Pegasi visited their ancestral home at least once every few years. With cities inherently mobile nature, most would take the opportunity to visit when it was near.

Double continued. “My parents are actually from Clousdale. Born and raised but my Mom can’t fly very well. Made living in the clouds a bit awkward. Visiting too. Once they got married, they moved to Manehattan and opened our coffee shop. Our families would always come see us at holidays to make it easier for Mom.”

Aurora sat there for a moment as he turned back to the window. “That must have been hard.”

He shrugged and looked over his shoulder at his grey wings. “Not that bad actually. Neither Dad or I are big fliers either. I’m just as happy on the ground”

“That’s not really normal is it?”

He looked over. “Not enjoying flying?

“Yeah I mean...most of the Pegasi I’ve ever known seem to be REALLY into it. Even if they weren’t great fliers, they were really into sports or fans of the….what are they called?”

He tilted his head in confusion. “What are who called?”

She waved her hooves in the air in front of her in what was probably the worst pantomiming of flying Equestria had ever seen.

“The ones who do all the stunts? They’re really famous? Blue uniforms?”

He snickered. “The Wonderbolts.”

She scowled. “Excuse me for not being up to speed on aerobatic teams.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You know they’re way more than just an aerobatic team...right? They perform at like...everything big? Every major festival? Every time there is some kind of major event? I mean...one of the ELEMENTS OF HARMONY is a member?”

She shrugged and gave him a stare that made it clear he should be pleased she even knew they existed at all.

He shook his head and sighed. “Anyway, yes most Pegasi are into flying in one way or the other...but not all. Some of us are perfectly happy on the ground. I’ve read one of the Elements isn’t a big flyer.” He gestured at her horn. “Not every unicorn uses magic for every little thing. Some barely use it at all. Other’s aren’t that good at it.”

An odd look drifted across her face as her gaze drifted down to her notebook.

She looked back up with a weak shrug. “No...no I guess they aren’t.”

He looked back out the window as a rocky, white landscape blurred by them. He shivered slightly as the warm breeze of the train heater rushed over his fur, reminding him of exactly how cold it was outside. They were riding right along the border between the icy wasteland of the Crystal Empire and mainland Equestria. In the distance a massive snow covered mountain range rose into the black sky. Snow was starting to fall against the window.

He turned and looked at her and caught her staring out the windows as well. She looked absolutely spaced out.

“Aurora?”

She blinked and looked down in embarrassment.

“Nothing. Sorry. Just spaced out.”

“I could see that. That’s not like you. You ok?”

She nodded and gestured around her. “Yeah. Just been doing a lot of reading. ”

“You’ve had your muzzle in those books since we left Manehattan.”

“I’m trying to figure something out. That’s all.”

“Have to do with our trip?”

She nodded. “Kind of.”

“Ah.”

She stared back at her book.

She’s actually talking a bit. Good chance.

“What about you?”

She looked up. “What...about me?”

“Is this the furthest west you've ever been?”

“Oh.” She blinked a few times. “No. I’ve actually been to Seaddle a few times.”

He scooted across the bench until he was sitting across from her. “Really?

She shifted a bit in her seat. She looked a bit uncomfortable at his sudden interest.

“Yeah. Mostly as a filly.”

“What for?”

“I….um…”

Crap. It’s her past. She’s gonna clam up. He sighed, expecting the conversation to come to an abrupt end.

“My parents traveled a lot. For their work.”

He nearly grinned at the admission. It was the only other thing he’d heard about her past other than that she grew up in Canterlot.

Keep going!

“Like where?” He asked.

“Oh...ummm….” She looked away for a moment in thought. “Seaddle, Canterlot, Baltimare, Cloudsdale, Las Pegasus, Whinnyapolis, Vanhoover, Zebra Country, Prance, Neighpon…”

Double felt his jaw gape as he processed the globes worth of locations.

She looked away, clearly embarrassed. “I know it’s a lot.”

He shook his head. “A lot? A LOT?! Damn girl! You’ve been across most of Equus!” He leaned back on the bench.

She nodded. “Yeah, I guess.”

It took everything he had to not pry further.“That is awesome!” He marveled for a moment. “Luna’s flank, you’ve been everywhere! I’m so jealous!”

A light blush rose under her cream coat. “Really?”

“Really? Are you kidding me?! To have been all those places by...I forget how old you are. Not gonna ask…”

“I’m twenty three.”

“Oh. Huh.” He stopped for a second. “You’re younger than I thought.”

The blush fizzled immediately as an eyebrow cocked. “Am I now? And why is that?” Snark was dripping from her voice.

Aaaaand back to normal.

“Sorry. Sorry. Not what I meant.”

She kept the eyebrow raised as he squirmed. “And what did you mean? Do I act like an old mare?”

He stopped and thought for a second about how exactly to phrase his thought.

“I suppose I meant that most twenty three year old mares I know don’t show up with a sack of bits for three months rent. Most twenty three year old mares I know don’t run their own appliance repair business out of a basement. And I know no twenty three year old mares ANYPONY know’s can build that…” he waved his hooves around “thing you made.”

“Oh.” The blush returned. “Thanks.”

He was shocked to see the compliment actually put her on the rear hoof so easily.

More.

“Anyway, how long ago were you in Seaddle the last time you were there? Know anywhere to go? Restaurants? Coffee shops?”

She stuck her tongue out. “You know I don’t like coffee.”

He gave her an obviously exaggerated look of disappointment and held a wing out. One feather rose, counting. “One, yes I do but I still maintain that’s a travesty.” Another feather raised. “Two, despite that sin, you might have gone somewhere with others.”

She rolled her eyes. “Why do you want to go to a coffee shop? You own a coffee shop.”

His wings splayed out in excitement. “To research the competition! I have no idea what the west coast brewing scene is like. They might have new techniques I’m missing out on! Bean differences! What temperatures do they use?! I have to keep my edge”

She slapped a hoof to her face. “One, I’m pretty sure bitter bean water is bitter bean water no matter where it is.”

He shook his head in faux disgust.

“Two, even if I had been to any ‘famous coffee shops’, do you think I’d remember it?”

He sighed dramatically “True.Oh well.” His wings snapped back forward, three feathers prominently on display. “Three, what about restaurants?”

She gave him a confused look. “What about them?”

“Do you remember any good ones?”

“Ummmm…” Her face scrunched in thought. “It’s been about ten years since I’ve last been.”

“Ah.”

She thought a moment more. “Oh! I do remember there being a really good sandwich place down by the pier. I might remember it if I saw it.”

He nodded.“Excellent. I’ve read most of the coffee scene is down that way. That works out then!”

She rolled her eyes. “Sure. Please keep in mind that we’re there for a reason. I don’t want to spend too much time sightseeing.”

“Got it.” He stopped for a second. “So...do you want to explain to me again what exactly it is we’re going to Seaddle for?”

She tilted her head in confusion. “I thought I told you before we left.”

“You said something about needing a transitive wave something or another and went back to packing.”

The day before, she had burst into the house in a panic, proclaiming that she needed to go to Seaddle immediately. Apparently the device had gone off again while he was at work. He wasn’t able to get much more than that out of her as he threw a bag together, raced by his shop to coordinate some replacement shifts and followed her to the train station.

“Oh. Sorry. “ Her horn illuminated and a scroll next to her levitated off the bench and in front of her. It unrolled in the air between them, revealing what he quickly realized was a schematic of her invention.

“So. Do you remember how the pad has that crystalline disc on it?” She pointed her hoof at the round part.

“You mean the shattered glass?”

“It’s not broken glass. It’s an element called Serindium. It’s used to help stabilize trans phasic arcane reactions across various stratas.”

He raised an eyebrow and looked up from the scroll. “ Of course it is.”

She sighed and shook her head. “Sorry. Just...it’s a critical part of the device. It doesn’t work without it and it’s used in both the transmitter and the sensor I made. That’s the thing that’s detected the anomalous transmissions.

He nodded. “Alright. So...again...why are we going to Seaddle?”

The scroll wrapped back up and returned to her side. “The supplier I’ve been using in Canterlot hasn’t received a new shipment in months. He didn’t have much to begin with.”

“Is it rare?”

She nodded. “Kind of. It’s pretty hard to obtain. It’s almost entirely mined from volcanic areas. There isn’t much in the way of those in Equestria. It’s not used much outside of some pretty exotic magical research as well, so there isn’t a huge demand.”

“So someone bought what he had left?”

“No. I had bought all he had to make the prototype.”

He reeled back. “You bought ALL of it? Like...as in all of it in Canterlot?”

She scowled. “I told you it was rare.”

“Apparently.”

“The wholesaler he was getting his stock from cancelled his refill orders. He didn’t have any more information other than it just suddenly dried up. All serindium in Equestria comes in through Seaddle and apparently through only one or two wholesalers.”

“So you’re going to Seaddle to see if you can find out why it suddenly dried up?”

She nodded.

“Makes sense...but….”

“But what?”

“Well, two questions really. One, why do you need more?”

She pointed her hood towards the box part of her device.

“I’d like to make the wave sensor larger and I think I can add a locator. If I do that, I can pinpoint where these anomalous transmissions are coming from. The wave it picked up yesterday was the same as the first. Wherever it came from, it was big enough to trip my equipment.”

“So until you upgrade the thing, you can’t figure out where it came from?”

She shook her head. “No. It could be next door or...all the way across Equus. I don’t know.”

“Ah. That makes sense.”

“So what was the other question?”

Confusion wrinkled his face. “Why the rush? Why not just wait till more comes in? You spent some serious bits for these train tickets.” He held his front legs out and raised one hoof higher than the other. “Also, I’ve ran my own business long enough to know what when supply drys up..” he lowered the higher hoof and swapped it with the lower one, ”prices go up…” He lowered his legs. “Why not wait?”

She looked away for a second. “It’s just….”

He held his gaze on her. “Just…?”

She looked at him briefly before shifting her eyes and tapping her hooves together. “It’s just...this is really important to me! If someone is working on something similar, they might be buying all the Serindium. I’ll never finish at that rate. And maybe I can find out who it is and maybe we can collaborate!”

It was obvious from her voice and demeanor that she wasn’t telling him the whole truth.

He sighed internally but decided against pressing the matter.

Don’t push it. She’ll tell you soon enough.

“Ok. Well, I hope we can find what you’re looking for.” He gave her his warmest smile.

She blushed and looked away. “Me too.” She stared off for a moment before cranking her head back up and giving him a confused look. “Wait...you mean you didn’t know WHY I was going to Seaddle?”

He shrugged. “LIke I said, you flew into the apartment rambling about technological something or another. When you said you were leaving for Seaddle and going alone, I figured I’d ask if I could go with you.”

She shook her head. “Why? Why did you want to go with me?”

He hesitated for a moment before reaching a wing out and rubbing two of his primary feathers on her shoulder. “Please don’t be mad but...I just didn’t want you to have to go alone. You seemed kinda panicked. I was worried.”

“Worried? Why?”

He gave her an incredulous stare. “Well….you’re my friend.”

She almost immediately turned a deep shade of crimson and looked away.

Uh oh.

He pulled his wing back and started scooting back across the bench to the other side of the train car. By now, snow was careening against the train car window through a canvas of pitch black winter's night.

“Thank you Double.”

He stopped and turned. She was still looking down, her face the color of sunset.

He gave her a grin. “You’re welcome Aurora.” He started scooting again.

“Auri.”

He stopped. “What?”

“Auri. Call me Auri. It’s what my friends called….call me.”

His grin widened. “Sure...Auri.”

Chapter 5: Culinary Insight Part 1

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Caden leaned back against the edge of the steam pool and closed his eyes. He settled into the water and inhaled deeply, letting the vapor fill his lungs. He exhaled slowly, hoping the heat would calm his nerves.

Six weeks.

It had been six weeks since his unceremonious dumping into an alien fantasy world. Six weeks since he’d taken up quarters in a castle full of pastel archmage equines and their dragon assistant. Six weeks since his entire reality had been thrown to the winds. Six weeks and Twilight and her friends still had no clue how he got here.

He looked down at his own reflection in the water. Brown eyes stared back over a healthy growth of beard. He hadn’t bothered to shave since he’d arrived here. There didn’t seem to be much point.

What the hell are you doing here?

His visage stared back in rippling silence.

You’ve been here too long.

At first, he’d lay awake at nights and listen to the strange sounds of the castle as his leg throbbed. He’d lay in a bed he didn’t know and stare at a ceiling that wasn’t his. He’d wake in the morning and immediately think about where he was. All the memories would flood back as he realized how far from home he still was. For weeks he had hoped he’d wake up and be back in his bed and in his home. That it had all been some bizarre dream or that whatever had brought him here had sent him back.

Then before he even realized it, he was falling asleep shortly after he laid down at night. The pain in his leg had gone and the sounds were no longer strange. The bed had become comfortable suddenly. Some time later, he was eating breakfast when he realized he hadn’t thought about his situation that morning. He had simply woken up and started going about his day. Going over the things he knew Twilight wanted to talk about and planning out what he needed to do. Suddenly this had become normal.

You’ve definitely been here too long.

He sighed and pooled some of the water in his hands. Pulling it up, he ran it through his hair, slicking it back. As his arms dropped, a sharp jolt shot up his right arm.

Son of a…

On top of everything, over the last week he’d started getting a weird tingling sensation in his right arm. At first he figured he’d pinched a nerve and that it would fade in a day or two. So far it was persisting.

Carpal tunnel in your mid twenties. Awesome.

He shook his hand and the sensation faded. At that moment, his bangs let go from his scalp and fell back into his face

He sighed again. I need a haircut too.

He settled deeper in the water and looked around. He did always try to remind himself that it wasn’t all bad. Living in Twilight's castle had certainly come with its share of perks. There was the enormous pantry, lack of meat notwithstanding. He had nearly immediate access to Twilight, who had proven a godsend when it came to teaching him about Equestria. He had a luxurious bedroom, a wardrobe fit for a king and many other bonuses that just came part and parcel when you lived in a castle.

But for all of them, none compared in the slightest to the castle baths.

Nestled in the myriad of lower levels that made up the roots of the tree of her castle, he had never seen anything like it. It was a massive crystalline cavern, separated into various areas. Near the door was a set of showers, used for the actual bathing. Just beyond it, the steam pool he was in. After that, a small cooling pool and rest area. After that was the true wonder of the room. A massive, multi leveled swimming area dominated most of the space. Crystalline grottos lined the walls of the cavern and magically poured waterfalls into the main pool below. Jagged crystal columns stretched from floor to ceiling at points and reflected the natural light off the walls and the pool. Above them, a massive crystal version of Twilight’s Cutie Mark dominated the ceiling, casting the entire room in a dazzling kaleidoscope of purple, blue and red.

When Twilight had first shown it to him, he’d nearly fallen over. It was like a small, private billionaires waterpark. But like so many things, the baths had come with a slight quirk. He snorted as a bloom of vanilla entered his nose.

I smell like ice cream.

He looked over at the showers. They were fairly normal, save for an elaborate series of nozzles that seemed to magically disperse all the soap and shampoo he could ever want. In another strange but convenient alignment between Earth and Equus, the products they used to clean their manes and bodies were as close to shampoo and soap as he needed. Each nozzle was labeled something different and combining them changed what was produced. Unfortunately, he still couldn’t read Poneish all that well. The translation spell only worked on speech. Even more unfortunately, everything combination he had tried produced something that was decidedly feminine in aroma.

It worked out well for the other residents of the castle. The girls always smelled great, at least far as he could tell when they had to get close enough to reinforce the translation spell. Twilight seemed to prefer some sort of lavender scent while Starlight and Sunset seemed to like citrus odors. All in all, it was rather pleasant.

This was less than optimal for him however. He had spent most of the last month and a half wandering around smelling of everything from cinnamon pumpkin to sandalwood all the way to cucumber melon and more fruits than he could remember. He felt like some sort of weird interdimensional spokesman for Bath and Body Works. He hadn’t bothered to ask the girls to show him how to work the system. Some small stubborn part of him assumed he’d work it out eventually.

Oh well. Could be far worse. Not like anyone here knows what Irish Spring smells like anyway. I should probably ask if there’s such a thing as “Stallion Shampoo”.

“Caden?”

A female voice cut through the steam from around the corner to the entrance of the baths.

“Caden? You there?”

“Starlight?”

“Yeah. Hey you have a visitor. I think it’s one of the nurse ponies from the hospital. She’s in the foyer.”

One of the nurses?

“Want me to tell her to come back?”

“No. That’s ok. Tell her I’ll be up in a few minutes.”

“Will do.”

“Thanks!”

He waited till he heard the door to the baths close and made his way to the impromptu dressing area Twilight had made for him. It was little more than a screen in a corner with a small basket for his clothes. Still, it was more than he’d asked for. He dressed and quickly got ready before making his way to the foyer. When he rounded the corner into the cavernous entrance, he was greeted to the site of a snowy white earth pony with a long, braided pink mane slung over one shoulder.

“Redheart?”

She turned, a smile erupting on her face as she cantered her way over to him. He smiled in return. He hadn’t seen her since he’d left the hospital.

“Caden! Glad to see you up and about!”

“Better than the alternative. What are you doing here?”

She stopped in front of him, looking up.

“I was out running some errands. I figured I’d come see how my first alien patient was doing.” She scanned him up and down. “Cripes you’re big. I didn’t get to see much of you out of bed. Are all humans this large?”

Her survey of him suddenly made him very grateful for the last six weeks. With little to do, he’d been filling the time with jogging and exercise. Between that and the vegetarian diet he had bled the little bit of paunch he’d developed in his post college years. He hadn’t looked this good in years. “Not all. I’m 5’10. That’s a bit taller than average for a guy. Some are much, much bigger than I am. Some are much smaller. Girls tend to be smaller in general.” He shrugged. “We’re not so different from you. Ponies seem to come in all sizes. Stallions bigger than mares, etc.”

“True.” She looked down at his leg. He’d worn shorts from the shower and the scar from the Timberwolf attack was on full display. “So how’s your leg?”

“Doing really well.” He leaned down and rubbed a hand along the blemish. “Still looks a little rough. Doc said I’ll probably have that scarring for the rest of my life.” He lifted his leg up and down a few times. “But I feel great! Still some occasional pain but I can pretty much run normally now..”

She moved closer and gave his leg a quick once over before looking up at him with a grin. “I’m so glad! I was really worried there might be some permanent damage but the Doc didn’t seem concerned.”

“I can’t thank you and him enough.”

She waved away his thanks. “Don’t worry about it. All part of the job.” She gave him a wink. “Besides I wasn’t about to let my first interdimensional patient leave with a bad review of the Ponyville Hospital.”

He thought back to the hospital. How she’d been the first voice he had heard after the attack. How she had calmed him down when he came to and how she had held him as he wept.

“I had hoped to see you when I got my bandages taken off so I could thank you but they said you were busy with patients.”

She laughed. “I heard you’d come by. Yeah it’s not exactly a job with a lot of downtime. I’ve been meaning to come and see you too but I’ve been working an off shift, so my free time’s been when most ponies are asleep.”

“Ah, got it. “ He gestured around the hall. “Would you like to come in? I think there’s a living room. Possibly several. I can just hijack the kitchen if you’re hungry.”

She shook her head. “Oh no. I have to be at work in an hour. I just wanted to see how you were doing and…” She stopped and scanned the foyer. “I’ve never been in here before. I kinda wanted to see it. It’s every bit as nice as I imagined it would be.”

He looked over the immense crystalline room. “Yeah it’s pretty impressive.”

She hoofed at the rugs running down the middle of the room. “Impressive? It’s almost obscene. This is a real Saddle Arabian rug.” She tilted her muzzle up at one of a series of huge purple crystals on each wall of the foyer.

“Those look like real amethysts. If they are, you could buy a house with each one.” Her eyes tracked down to a series of small tapestries hanging over alcoves in the walls.

“Those tapestries in those alcoves? Straight from Prance.” She whistled. “Hard to believe this all just sprang from some magical box under a tree. This room alone is worth a fortune.”

He scanned the room again. “Huh. I’ve never given much thought to how much any of this costs.” He turned to her. “You seem to know a lot about this for never having been here.”

She shrugged. “I have a...familiarity with these kinds of things.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Nurses must make a whole lot more in Equestria than they do on Earth.”

She laughed. “I wish. My family owns an exotics goods boutique. I was raised around this kind of stuff.”

“Wow. That’s...really cool.”

“Thanks.”

He watched her peruse the room for a moment longer. “I’m really glad you came by. I’ve been meaning to come by the hospital again.”

She turned from her examination to him. “Oh? What for?”

“Well as I said, to thank you but…” He felt a slight heat bloom under his cheeks. “I was wondering if I could buy you dinner?”

She gave him a confused look. “Dinner? What for?”

He scratched his head sheepishly. “I just...you helped me a lot when I first came to. I’m not sure you realize how much. I was not doing well. It meant a lot to me.”

He didn’t fail to notice the subtle bloom of red that graced her white cheeks.

Great. I embarrassed her.

She hoofed at the ground. “You don’t have to do that. It was just the right thing to do.”

He shrugged. “Maybe. But I’m very thankful and I want to make it up to you.”

She looked up at him for a moment. He felt his heart jump as she contemplated.

Why am I this nervous? Wait….shit!

He held his hands out. “I’m sorry, I didn’t even ask if you had someon….somepony at home. If so, I didn’t mean to…”

She giggled. “No no. Nothing like that. I’m single.”

“Ah. Ok.” He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt relieved.

“You just caught me by surprise.” She thought a moment more. “You know what, sure! I haven’t been out to dinner in quite awhile.”

The nervousness blossomed into warmth as a giant smile cracked his face.

“Awesome! When works for you?”

“I’m actually only covering a partial shift for someone today. Is tonight ok?”

He nodded. “Sure! When? Where?”

She looked away for a moment in thought. “Have you been to Buck Lake Manor?”

“I haven’t even heard of it.”

“It’s a new restaurant on the far side of town. Opened about a year ago. I’ve heard Ponies from all over talk about it. I’ve been meaning to try them but…” She grimaced. “I forgot they’re supposed to be pricey. That’s not fair…”

He waved the comment away. “Don’t worry about money. Twilight gave me an allowance. She said it should be enough to cover just about anything I needed.”

“Are you sure? I don’t want…”

He held a hand up in protest. “Don’t worry about it. I don’t care how much it costs. I owe it to you.” He gestured at the foyer. “I don’t really have any other expenses.”

She smiled again. “Excellent!” Her smile took a mischievous turn. “I think you’ll like their menu. I’m told they have some...exotic options.”

Given that Redheart knew the extent of his circumstances, the fact that she pointed out how exotic they are concerned him slightly.

“Sounds great!”

Her ears shot straight up, tail swishing madly back and forth behind her. “Meet you in the town square? By the fountain with the statue? Do you know where it is?”

He nodded. “I know exactly where it is”

“Five work for you?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Awesome!” She looked back over her shoulder. “I need to get back so I can get ready for work.”

“Let me walk you out.” She turned and he walked with her towards the door. He opened it for her and she stepped out and onto the castle stairs. Stopping at the top, she turned and looked up at him. “Glad you’re doing so well Caden. See you tonight!”

He nodded. “Looking forward to it!”

She cantered down the stairs and waved back to him. He waved and shut the door. He was halfway to the stairs when something caught the corner of his eye. He turned to see Twilight, Sunset and Starlight, heads stacked on each other, staring at him from just around the door to one of the side rooms of the foyer. Each had a grin big enough to split their faces.

“What?”

All three simultaneously cooed at him. “D’awwwwwwwwwwwwww!!”

He rolled his eyes. “It’s not a date. I’m just thanking her.”

Starlight smirked at him. “Uh huh.”

“Don’t you three have...friendship problems to solve or something? Kingdoms to save? Anything?”

Twilight winked at him. “We do. We just happened to overhear you.” The three of them pulled their heads back into the room. He could hoofsteps as they made their way further into the castle. “Have fun on your date!!”

He rolled his eyes again and started making his way up to his room.

It’s not a date!


Sitting on the edge of the pink fountain, he watched as Ponies started closing up shop and retired for the day. Down the road, three mares pulled arrangements of flowers into a stand. Across from him, a silver maned mare locked up the multi storied town hall before giving him a warm nod and heading on.

I need to have Twilight introduce me to the Mayor at some point.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched a pink blur launch from Sugar Cube Corner. Pinkie barreled down the road like some sort of happiness fueled force of nature towards Twilight’s Castle. She waved a hoof towards him as she pronked forward.

“Hi Caden!!”

He waved back. “Hi Pinkie!”

“Have fun on your date!”

He responded out of reflex. “Thanks!” It wasn’t until she was already out of sight before he thought to argue. It was even a moment longer before he bothered to wonder how she even knew about his meeting Redheart in the first place.

“I…nevermind”

“Nevermind what?”

He jerked and whirled around to Redheart standing next to him. She looked around him.

“Who were you talking to?”

He shook his head. “It’s nothing. Pinkie Pie.”

She rolled her eyes. “Ah. Enough said. I told you that first day she’s a hooffull.”

“You weren’t kidding and….wow...you look great!”

She was wearing a simple, purple dress clenched around her trunk with a bowed sash. Her mane was pulled into the same over the shoulder, thick braid as earlier but now in a tighter, more elaborate knot. It was capped at the end by a blue ribbon the same color as her eyes. She had clearly put on makeup. He’d met Rarity enough times that he was both familiar with seeing Ponies in makeup and yet still confused how they managed to make it look normal over fur. Gems of blue sat in gold rings at the base of each ear and a small purple choker capped by a ruby of her cutie mark finished the ensemble.

She blushed, tail swishing behind her. “Thanks. You too!”

“I….huh?” He looked down at himself, resplendent in his jeans and black t-shirt. He nearly facepalmed in front of her at how underdressed he was in comparison.

“I’m sorry. I look like I just rolled out of bed compared to you.”

She giggled. “No you don’t! I think you look fine. You even shaved!”

He reached a hand up to his face. He’d reduced the patchy forest growing there into a halfway respectable goatee. “True. Kind of needed to. My beard isn’t the greatest thing anyway.”

She looked up. “I like what you’re doing with your mane too!”

He ran a hand through his mop of hair. It had turned out gel wasn’t a thing in Equestria, so he’d had to fiddle with something Sunset referred to as “Mane Lock'' for a while before he managed to get his hair into something that looked like a poor man's version of Keanu Reeves from the late 90’s.

He sighed. “We just call it hair. I normally keep it shorter than this.”

“Like how it was when you got here?”

He nodded. “Yeah.”

She thought for a second. “Honestly, I think it looks better like this.”

He ran a hand through it again and gave her a smile. “Thanks!” He looked her over again. “Seriously though, you look great. I feel seriously underdressed now.”

She waved his comment away. “It’s fine. I felt like dressing up. I don’t get to all that often. It feels nice” She pointed a hoof down one of the roads forking off of the main square.

“The restaurant is down there. Ready to go?”

He nodded and they began making their way. As she walked next to him, they made small talk about their day and he felt his gaze keep drifting to her, studying the intricacies of how her dress fit on her frame. A breeze pulled a bloom of honeysuckle off her and towards him. He started inhaling deeply when we realized what he was doing and forced his eyes back to the road.

It’s not a date…..

They shared small talk as they made their way down the road and in a short time they had made it to the outskirts of town and to their destination.

“Here it is. Buck Lake Manor.”

Manor indeed. The restaurant had clearly been some kind of large lakeside house at one point. It sat on the edge of a large, mirror calm lake overlooking the hills and countryside beyond the town. The entire thing had been recently renovated, with stately wooden accents framing the entire house and a large, romantically lit dock jutting out over the waters edge. Ponies and a smattering other species sat in pairs at formally dressed tables as they clinked wine glasses and made small talk.

Caden whistled. “You weren’t kidding about the fancy part.”

She blushed. “Are you sure about this? I really didn’t want to impose…”

He shook his head and pulled a small booklet out his pocket. “I’ve got it. I promise.”

She looked at it, clearly impressed. “Bit vouchers?! Did Twilight give you those?”

He nodded. “Early on she set me up an account at the Ponyville Bank. She figured since it was going to look like I was gonna be here awhile, I might need some spending money. She deposited some for me and taught me how to count in bits and to use these for larger purchases.”

“Has she taught you how to write in Poneish?”

He nodded again. “She has. I can’t do full sentences yet but I know some basic words, reading numbers and doing basic math were pretty easy to learn. It’s really not all that different from what we use. Just different symbols.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Color me impressed.”

He shrugged. “When you don’t have anything to do but study it doesn’t take that long.” He looked back at the restaurant and at the Ponies in white shirts and bow ties carrying plates out to the other guests in similar regalia.

He grimaced. “I am….seriously underdressed for this place.”

She looked him up and down for a moment before a cheeky grin spread across her muzzle. “Are you?”

He nodded. “I am.”

“Says who?”

He shook his head in confusion. “Says who?”

She nodded. “Yeah. Says who? Who says what human fashion is here? For all I know that’s your most formal outfit.”

He raised a finger to make a point before her words crushed his logic. She was absolutely right. No one in this world had any idea what human clothing customs were except for him and Rarity and even she was guessing based on his horrible descriptions. For all they knew, humans wore shorts and t-shirts to weddings and funerals.

He grinned down at her. “I see your point.” He gestured towards the building. “Shall we?”

She nodded and they made their way into the building. Inside it was much the same as out. It reminded him pretty much every other fancy restaurant he had ever been to. Dark wood, romantic lighting and the clinking of wine glasses were everywhere. As they entered, two things hit him immediately. The first was the distinct sound of a cello from the back of the restaurant. He looked up to see a grey, dark maned mare at the back of the dining room performing on an instrument larger than she was. Her hooves maneuvered in tandem, gliding their way up and down the neck and pulling the bow across the strings. He watched for a moment before the almost daily question crossed his mind.

How in the hell is she…...nope...I don’t even want to know

The second wave was much more important to him. Much more enticing. Almost immediately upon entering, he was bombarded by something he hadn’t smelled in weeks. He instinctively sniffed at the air, trying to lock down the odor.

Is that? No. No way.

As they approached the host stand a diminutive Pegasus mare beamed up at them. “Welcome to Buck Lake Manor! How can I help you?”

Redheart stepped forward. “Table for two please.”

The hostess looked down at the stand. “Do you have a reservation?”

He looked down as Redheart’s white face somehow went pale. “Oh no.” The corners of her mouth tugged down. “I hadn’t even thought of that. Of course at a place like this…”

The hostess looked up, looking genuinely upset. “I’m sorry. We’re full for the evening. If you’re willing to wait I can see if something opens up…”

He wasn’t sure which one looked more downtrodden, the hostess or Redheart.

His companion looked up at him. “Caden I’m so sorry, I completely forgot.”

He was about to wave her concerns away when a voice sprung forth from somewhere.

“Jasmine dear, I’ll take this. Block off 36 please.”

The three of them jerked as a pony materialized next to the hostess stand. Seemingly from the ether, a heavy set Earth mare scooped up a pair of menus in her tail and gave them what might have been the warmest smile he’d ever seen. “Table for two correct?”

Ruby eyes stared over half moon spectacles at them. The mare was clearly older than her Pegasus counterpart. A grey mane sat in a tight, neat bun that offset the deep burgundy color of her long dress. The tips of her ears and snout held the remainder of what had once clearly been a deep blue coat now overtaken by a glacier of grey fur.

The Pegasus looked between them and stammered, “Manager! Ma’am I apologize I thought we didn’t have a server for 36.”

“Not a problem. I’ll handle the serving dear.” She winked at them and tilted her head back towards the dining area. “This way please.” The charm of her Virginian drawl was like a Mint Julep for the ears. It was a noticeable difference from the almost Texan quality to Applejack’s voice. He stopped his brain before it went too far down the rabbit hole of wondering where the Pony equivalents of Texas and Virginia were.

Caden and Redheart looked at each other and took their cue to follow the mare. In short turn she guided them to a table in a back corner of the dining room. They sat as she passed out their menus.

“Now then, as my hostess said, welcome to Buck Lake Manor. My name is Ruby. I’m the manager and owner here.”

Caden and Redheart shared a look before he looked back up. “I really appreciate you opening a table for us. You really didn’t have to do that. It was our fault for making last minute plans.”

The mare waved the comment away. “Do not give it a second thought! What would it say about my hospitality if I turned away Ponyville’s most exotic visitor and his lovely companion on their first visit?”

Redheart blushed and Caden blinked as he processed what she said. “Exotic visitor? Do you know me?”

Ruby held her hoof up to her mouth and chuckled politely. “Well of course I do dear. Any restaurateur worth her salt keeps tabs on her local community. I was hoping you’d make it in sooner than later. I’ve heard many ponies talking about our newest resident.”

It didn’t shock him that she had heard of him. Twilight had asked him to keep a relatively low profile but given that he was literally a one-off in Equestria it was inevitable word would get around.

She gestured back to the menus. “Now if you don’t mind my presumption, may I make a few recommendations?”

Caden nodded as the mare flipped around the menu. “For the lady, we have many fine Equestrian options. The Green Goddess Salad is my personal favorite and our Gazpacho is superb. In my biased opinion of course”. She gave Redheart a warm smile before turning back to Caden. “For the gentlemen, might I recommend something a little...different?”

Caden nodded and she turned to a small section of the menu near the back. As his eyes settled on the section she pointed at, he had to read it several times. Surely he was misreading the word. It had to be something else.

“Meat? You serve meat?”

Ruby chuckled again. “We do indeed my dear.”

He glanced between her and the menu. “But….Ponies are…”

“Ponies are not the only species on Equus. We get plenty of creatures from outside Equestria who are either omnivorous or carnivorous. We pride ourselves on being able to serve anyone. Even some Ponies eat fish.”

Caden remembered his first impression when he had walked into the restaurant. That was meat I smelled. His mouth started watering at the very opportunity.

He looked up at Ruby. “How did you know I’d like meat?”

She winked at him. “You have a lovely smile dear.”

I....what? Then it hit him. My canines! She IS good.

He scanned the menu, doing his best to translate. Gentle help from Ruby and Redheart completed the words for him. Hydra Steak, Fried Cockatrice, Manticore Stew…

Something clicked in his brain and he looked across the table at Redheart. “I’m sorry….I don’t want to offen…”

She cut him off with a smile before he could even finish. “I’m a nurse Caden. Meat doesn’t bother me. Order what you want. If it makes you happy, I’m glad.”

“Ok.” They scanned the rest of the menu and ordered. Charcuterie to start with Green Goddess Salad and a Merlot for Redheart, Medium Rare Hydra Steak and a Griffonwhiskey Old Fashioned for him.

Ruby repeated their order back and Caden watched as she retreated to the back of the restaurant.

“See something you like?”

Caden’s head jerked around to Redheart giving him what could best be described as a ‘shit eating grin’.

“What?”

The grin widened. “She is attractive for an older mare. Can’t say I blame you.”

His gaze shot from Redheart to where he’d been staring a few times. “What do you…” Then it hit him that he’d essentially watched Ruby saunter away.

He shook his head. “No..NO..I’m sorry. I wasn’t…”

His companion giggled. “I’m teasing Caden.”

He sighed. “I know.” He glanced back one more time. “She just seemed to know more about me than any other Pony I’ve met.”

Redheart shrugged. “You are unique.”

He nodded. “True but….”

“But what?”

“Most creatures don’t give me a second look. I actually asked Twilight about that after a few weeks here. She said this world is full of bizarre, one off creatures. Especially here in Ponyville. It didn’t surprise her at all that they just glanced over me. And….”

“And?

“Only a few here know what I am, let alone what I eat back home. I’ve only told a few…”

She thought a moment. “Maybe you mentioned it in passing to someone?”

He mulled it over and sighed. “I don’t know. Probably? The last six weeks have been kind of a blur.”

She nodded. “I can only imagine. You seem to be doing well.”

He nodded. “I am….I think.”

“You think?”

“Yeah...I mean...I think. Yes? No? It’s hard to explain.”

She leaned forward in her chair and set her chin on her hooves. “Try me”

He leaned back and thought a moment. “I feel like….like I’m living in a dream I’m aware of.”

“What do you mean?”

His face furrowed in frustration. “It’s like….one part of my brain has completely accepted where I am and what happened to me. It’s coping with the fact that I’m sitting at a table with a talking horse…”

“Pony.”

He shook his head. “Sorry. Pony. It’s accepted that I woke up in some world full of magic and strange creatures and a million other things I thought only existed in fantasy until six weeks ago. That side of my brain has a bank account and is learning Poneish and is sort of interested in seeing the Crystal Kingdom.”

She nodded. “And the other side?”

He shrugged. “The other side wonders if I’m stuck in some sort of...hallucination or I’m in a coma or I’m dead or…..”

“I can see that being tough.” She thought for a second. “Want my thoughts?

He nodded. “Sure.”

She was about to respond when Ruby returned with their drinks. “The Bridlestar 987 Merlot for the lady and an Old Fashioned for the gentlemen.” She set them down. “That's the 22 year in the Old Fashioned. My personal favorite. I do hope you enjoy!”

She retreated again as they grabbed their libations. Caden looked across at the table. “Can I propose a toast? Do you do that?”

She chuckled. “We do and of course. To what?”

“To you?”

“To me? Why me?”

“To you for being there when I woke up. I told you it meant a lot. It was one of the nicest things anyo….anycreature has ever done for me.”

He watched as she flushed a deep crimson before waving away the compliment. “I told you, it was nothing…”

“It was way more than nothing. Thank you.”

She stared down for a moment. “Well….you’re welcome. Let’s toast to something else instead…”

“Oh? What?”

She clinked his glass and smiled. “To new friends.”

He smiled as finished the toast. As he pulled his glass away, they caught each other's eyes and he caught himself lingering.

Jesus her eyes are blue…

He realized he was staring and dropped his gaze as he took the first sip of his drink. He nearly moaned as the cocktail washed over him. Oak, orange, sugar and fire danced across his tongue in perfect balance.

“Mmmmmmmmf.”

Redheart swallowed her sip of wine and giggled at him. “Good?”

He nodded enthusiastically. “It’s better than good. It’s..amazing. The only alcohol I’ve had since I got here is the Cider Twilight keeps at the castle and it’s very, VERY sweet.”

Redheart stuck her tongue out. “Ewwwww. I prefer dry cider.”

“RIGHT?! When I asked Twilight if she had any she looked at me like I had a hole in my head.”

They chuckled and took another sip. “So...what were your thoughts on my situation?”

She thought for a moment. “Have you tried asking yourself what to do here?”

"Not entirely sure I understand."

“I said that wrong. Wasn't exactly what I meant.”

She leaned forward. "I guess I meant...what are you DOING here?”

His mind snapped back to the bath. What?

He shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m doing h….”

She held a hoof up to quiet him. “Caden...we all know you don’t know WHY you’re here. We don’t know why you’re here either. Right now you’re living with the best group of Ponies I can imagine to help you figure that out.”

He nodded and she continued. “That said, the fact is you’re here. We aren’t hallucinations or angels of death.”

He grimaced. “Sorry, that’s not what I meant.”

She gave him a warm smile. “I know what you meant. And I can’t blame you for thinking that way. I know I’d do the exact same. But….listen….I’m a pretty practical Pony….I often have to give people bad news or ask them to make hard decisions at work…”

He nodded. “And…”

“And what are you going to do if Twilight NEVER finds a way to get you home?”

His head drooped. “I don’t know. I really don’t.” He felt a familiar stinging at the corners of his eyes.

She reached out and grabbed his hand with a hoof. “Caden...I dearly hope you find a way home...truly I do. And I think you will.”

He nodded as he tried to swallow back a wave of worry.

“But...I think it might be healthy for you to consider what to do with yourself in the meantime.”

He looked back up at her, barely holding on. “What do you mean?”

She shrugged. “Have you considered getting a job?”

He stared at her for a few moments as the emotions faded.

“A job?”

She nodded. “Yes. A job.”

“Why would I….” As soon as he really thought about, it hit him.

She’s right. I might never go home. Whereas the thought had seconds before nearly brought him to tears, now it conjured another feeling. Am I just going to sit in Twilight’s castle the rest of my life? Even if I do get home..it could be years...maybe decades…. He realized all he’d done the last six weeks was sit and let the world circle around him. He was just….existing.

What am I DOING here?

He squeezed her hoof and gave her a smile. “You’re…..absolutely right. I hadn’t even thought of that.”

She squeezed back. “Caden...if there is a Pony in Equestria who can help you get home, it’s Twilight. I promise you that. But….until she does…”

He sighed. “IF she does…”

Her ears dropped slightly and then perked back up. “UNTIL she does….is there any point in sitting around and worrying about it?”

He knew she was absolutely right. Him sitting in the castle and worrying about it didn’t change when or how he’d get home one bit.

“Thanks Redheart.”

They squeezed once more before separating. He leaned back in his chair and sighed. “It’s a good point but…”

She tilted her head. “But what?”

“What would I even do here? I’m a gym teacher and part time coach. It’s not really a species compatible occupation. Most of our sports require hands.” Well...not all.

She thought for a moment. “Well…..why don’t you tell me about yourself? Maybe we can come up with something…”

He sighed again before leaning forward. Talking about his past wasn’t his favorite thing.

“Sure….”








Chapter 6: Culinary Insight Part 2

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Caden took another slug of his drink. “So...where to start?”

“Why not at the beginning? Your childhood?”

He nodded. “Sure. It’s pretty normal. I was born in a small city in Colorado.”

“Colorado? Is that the name of your land?”

He groaned inwardly as he recalled the endless hours at Twilight’s castle explaining the intricacies of Earth geography, human society and other minutae about his reality to her. He didn’t relish going through all that again.

“Colorado is a state…..like a mini nation in a larger group of unified nations called the United States of America. That’s my nationality. I’m American.”

She nodded. “Are all humans Americans? What about other creatures?”

“There are no other creat….well there are but...ok...hold on.” More Old Fashioned was consumed. Hoo boy “Let me backup.”

Over the next few minutes he ran through a crash course of Earth and the life on it. Redheart was extremely surprised to learn humans were the only sapient species. After a run down of things like nations, basic Earth geography and a smattering of other highlights, she seemed to grasp the basic idea.

“So you grew up in this...Colo...rado?” She reached out and grabbed her wine glass.

He nodded. “I did. A small city on the western side of the state.”

She brought the glass to her lips. “Like Ponyville small?”

He shook his head. “Oh no. Way larger. I think it had like fifty thousand people at that time.”

Her eyes widened as she nearly spit wine across the table before a fit of coughing hit her.

He shot up and reached for her. “Are you ok?”

She waved him away? “I’m…*cough*...fine. Wine in...the lungs.”

He sat back down as she caught her breath and looked up at him. “Did you say fifty thousand humans was a SMALL city?”

Ah.Yes.This. He flashed back to the same reaction Twi had.

He nodded. “Yeah, that’s fairly small.”

Her face screwed up in confusion. “How many humans does it take to make a LARGE city?”

He thought back to his geography. “I want to say cities like Tokyo have tens of millions.”

She stared, dumbfounded.

“Redheart….there are almost eight BILLION humans on Earth.”

I sound like a character in a sci-fi movie.

He swore if her eyes got any larger they'd lit up the room. “Twilight and I talked about this early on. So far as we can tell, Earth is much, much, MUCH larger than Equus.” Apparently there were maybe just a few million Ponies in Equestria and the other species didn’t count for a whole lot more. “If her and I’s guess is right, you could fit all of Equestria pretty comfortably in the middle of my home nation.”

That had been among the more interesting conversations he’d had with the Princess. Twilight had immediately launched into an endless stream of questions about what the gravity was like on Earth if it was so large? How did our celestial mechanics work? What was our solar system like? After a few minutes of excited rambling she’d realized his eyes had long since glazed over and she apologized before they resumed their basic geography lesson.

She leaned back in her chair and took another sip of her wine. “Sweet Celestia….”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you.”

She shook her head. “No...I just...I guess I hadn’t REALLY thought about how different your home might be.”

“Well….that’s the thing…..it is very different in some ways but…..almost the same in others.”

She tilted her head. “How so?”

He shrugged. “A lot of ways. We do a lot of the same things you do. We go to school and work. We have houses and apartments and beds and pets. We marry and have children. We live and die. We have festivals and parties and eat cake and…” he held his drink up “we have wine and whiskey. We have a sun and a moon.” He decided not to elaborate on the differences in their solar mechanics.

“Wow.” She sat back and thought for a moment.

“What is it?”

“It’s just….I guess I’m glad so much is familiar but now that I’m thinking about it, isn’t that kind of weird?”

“That Earth and Equus are so similar?” She nodded.

He shrugged. “That’s also something Twi and I have discussed. She isn’t sure why our worlds are so similar either. There could be a million possibilities. Alternate dimensions. Quantum something or another. Multiverses. Maybe I’m a magical being imagining a fake past.” He didn’t particularly relish the last idea.

She smirked and giggled at him.

“What?”

“Nothing. It’s nothing.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Oh really? Nothing?”

“It’s just...you calling Princess Twilight….‘Twi’. It’s funny.”

“How so?”

She shrugged and took a sip of her wine. “You’re literally a creature from another world. You’ve been here less than two months. Meanwhile she’s the physical embodiment of Friendship. She and her friends have saved Equestria like a dozen times. Most ponies would probably be scared to death to call her a pet name.”

Since getting here he’d been regaled with the stories of Twilight and her friends' epic adventures but honestly it was hard for him to think of them that way. For every story about them time traveling or defeating some ancient mythical evil, he’d been witness to at least an equal number of spastic incidents. Whether it was Twilight flying down the hallways in a mad panic because she slept in too late or Starlight and Sunset nearly destroying the castle as they tried to decrypt some sort of ancient magic scroll, he guessed living there had given him something of a different perspective of them.

He chuckled. “I can see that. Honestly she doesn’t seem to mind. It just kind of happened naturally.”

She smiled warmly. “I am glad you’ve made friends with them. I hope it makes all this easier.”

He nodded. “It does.” He took a drink. “Anyway, where was I?”

“Colo-Rado.”

“Right. So as I was saying, I grew up in a small town. I had a pretty normal childhood. My parents met in high school. My Dad worked for the post office.”

“Like Derpy?”

“Ummm….sort of. Less flying.” Way less flying. “More truck driving but yes, basically the same job.”

“What about your Mom?”

“Mom never worked. She stayed home and raised my brothers and I. She was pretty involved in our childhoods.”

Her eyes widened. “You have siblings?”

He nodded. “Two younger brothers. 3 and 5 years younger than me.”

“Huh.”

“Huh what?”

“Kind of funny. I’m also the oldest of three.”

“Really?!”

She nodded. “I have a brother and a sister.”

“Interesting. How much younger are they?”

She thought for a second. “Ten minutes or so for one and about thirty on the other. Or something like that.”

It took him a second to process the times. “Wait...how..oh...you’re a triplet!”

She nodded. “Yup!”

He shook his head. “Wow. Don’t think I’ve ever met a triplet before. Are they common here?”

She shook her head. “No. They’re incredibly rare. I’ve never met another either.”

“Wow. That’s cool. Are you identical or fraternal?”

“Fraternal.”

Man that must have been interesting growing up.”

She rolled her eyes. “That’s….a word for it. Anyway we’re talking about you, remember?”

“True. Anyway…” He stopped as he caught Ruby making her way towards them with a pegasus right behind her carrying their Charcuterie on one wing.

“My apologies for the interruption.” She gestured and the pegasus set the dish down and promptly vanished. She spent some time going over the platter with them. Despite exotic names like “Centaurian Camembert” and “Bugbear Honey", most of it looked and sounded right in line with similar items from Earth.

She gestured across the table. “I do hope you enjoy it.” She scanned across the table. “I see we have some empty glasses. Can I get another round for you?”

He looked down at his glass and sure enough, all that was left was a shrinking ice block and an orange rind in a puddle of bourbon. He looked across the table to see her wine was almost empty as well. They both ordered another round and Ruby disappeared back into the depths of the restaurant.

He drained what was left of the glass and set it back down.

Redheart grinned at him. “You enjoyed that.”

He chuckled and stared down at the glass. “I did. I’m going to enjoy the next one too.”

Her voice took on a stern tone and she shook a white hoof at him. “You know Doctors say no more than an ounce a day.”

He lifted an eyebrow and a cheeky grin spread across her face. “Uh huh. That from the lad...I mean mare who nearly polished off a double of Merlot in the same ti…” He watched as she drained the rest of her glass and grinned over at him.

“I see!” They laughed and he looked back down at his cocktail. “I don’t really drink much anymore. Way more back in my college days. It’s just been....a weird few weeks.”

She waved him away. “Caden, I don’t think anyone would blame you for being a full tilt alcoholic at the moment. You’ve been through a lot and I’ve been known to enjoy my share. Nursing isn’t exactly a relaxing job.” She waved an arm across the table.”Besides...it’s a special occasion. Might as well enjoy!” She leaned over and started assembling herself something from the plate. “This looks good!”

He scanned the selection again. He was hardly an expert but it was easily among the best Charcuterie he’d ever seen. A half dozen cheese sat nestled among crackers, golden raisins, grapes, honeycomb and a myriad of other fruits and accessories he wasn’t sure he could even name.

“Yeah it does! I’m glad you agreed to get this!. A lot of people don’t like exotic cheeses.”

She snorted. “Well those...people.....are wrong.”

He laughed. “I couldn’t agree more.” They spent a few minutes divvying up the platter before she took a drink and asked “So….where were we? Dad delivered mail?”

He nodded. “Yup. Dad worked and Mom stayed home.”

“You said she was pretty involved in your childhood?”

“She was. Especially after school stuff. My brothers and I were really, REALLY into sports.”

“Like hoofball or...whatever you have?”

He’d muddled through a book on Equestrian sports awhile back and had seen the aforementioned sport. He struggled to find a human analog. Quidditch?

“Kind of. It isn’t all ball sports though. Some of our sports are very similar to yours. Track and field. Wrestling. Swimming. I saw that Ponies have a version of what we call tennis. Again it’s more similar than different.My brother’s and I were involved in a lot of different sports. Mom spent a lot of time ferrying us from this or that event. Lot’s of driving.”

Redheart tilted her head. “Driving?”

He sighed. “Humans use machines to travel much faster than we can walk or run. Sort of like big self propelled carriages. Operating one is called ‘driving’.”

“Oh! Neat!”

Not nearly as neat as it sounds after a while. He popped something he remembered Ruby calling ‘Badlands Brie’ in his mouth. Shit that’s good. Seems the Ponies were as good at making cheese as they were at sweets.

“But that was most of my childhood. All the way through school. Sports. One game or tournament after another, season after season. Other than that it was a pretty average childhood where I’m from.”

“Is that why you became a gym teacher? All the sports?”

“Not….exactly.” his face fell as their next round of drinks appeared in front of them.

Redheart’s eyes narrowed in concern. “Caden? You ok?”

He nodded. “Yeah...just…” Sighing, he took a slug of his drink. “I’m sorry. I just really don’t like talking about this part of my past. It’s a lot of drama.” He stared down at his glass as he swirled the liquid around.

“Caden.” He looked up. “We all have our drama. All of us.”

“I know. I know.”

She pushed her plate aside and crossed her front legs on the table in front of her before leaning forward and staring intently at him. “So..what happened?”

He took another drink and sighed. Fuck it. “So my parents weren't EXACTLY normal people growing up. Dad was…does the term ‘Hometown Hero’ make any sense? Is that a term here?”

She thought for a moment. “Like a hero of their hometown? For saving it or something?”

He shook his head. “No. More like a really popular youth. Famous for being really good at sports or something the whole town enjoys? They’re gonna go on to be really popular and put their town on the map?”

“So like if a Pegasi from a very small town made the Wonderbolts or something? It puts the village on the map.”

He snapped and pointed at her. “YES! Exactly like that.”

She nodded. “We don’t have a term for it like that but yes, it does happen.”

“Ok. Cool. So that kind of thing is a really big deal where I’m from. In sports especially. Kids from small towns that go on to play professional sports are usually legitimate hometown heroes.”

“So that’s what your Dad was?”

“Dad was...but Mom was too in a way. Where I’m from was much smaller before I was born. My Dad’s family were local farmers. They’d lived there for eons. My Mom’s family owned a local furniture store that had been there forever. Hardly royalty but a lot of people at least knew who they were.”

“Sort of like how the Apples are here. They literally helped found Ponyville.”

He nodded. “Yup! Like that. Anyway, Dad was the town's high school football star. Quarterback for the varsity team. Tall, handsome, charismatic.”

“Like his son.”

“I…wait...what?” He felt his face flush as she winked a sapphire eye at him.

She giggled. “Sorry. I couldn’t resist. I could tell this is gonna get serious. I figured a little humor here and there might help.”

Fine. Two can play at that game. “So me being handsome was just a joke?”

She gave him a sly smile. “Maybe. Maybe not.”

“Well how do I find out for sure?”

She leaned forward and her voice took on a decidedly sultry note. “I suppose you’ll find out eventually.”

“I suppose I will”

He fought back the urge to blush again. The girls teasing about it being a date rang through his head.

He cleared his throat. “So anyway, yes, Dad was popular. Very. Mom was a cheerleader. They dated all the way through high school. Homecoming King and Queen. Dad got a full athletic scholarship to a big university. Mom decided to follow him so they could be together.”

“Was she going to school?”

He shook his head “No. She worked to support them and took some night classes but nothing ever really came from it. She didn’t have enough time to make anything of it anyway.”

“I’m assuming it didn’t work out then?”

He threw back a mouthful of his drink. The warmth in his belly was starting to drift upward.

“It did not. As happens so often in life.”

She grimaced. “What happened?”

“Injury during a game. It was during Dad’s sophomore year. Dad started the play, went to make the throw and then the tackle happened.”

“Tackle?”

Caden nodded. “Football is a contact sport. A violent contact sport. A big part of it is tackling the other players to stop the play or get the ball. There are rules around how and where you can tackle someone to avoid seriously injuring the other players but that doesnt always work out.”

“I’m guessing it didn’t for your Dad?”

He shook his head. “No. Dad still says the guy aimed for his legs. You can’t really tell watching the tapes. It doesn’t matter really. Results still the same. The other player hit my Dad straight in the knee. On the tape you can see him go down screaming and his knee is bent in ways it was never meant to. By the time it was all over, his left knee was essentially destroyed.”

She grimaced. “Oh no. I’ve seen really bad leg injuries in Ponies. They usually take a long time to recover, if they ever do. It’s probably even worse for you.”

“Why do you say that?”

She waved a hoof in his direction. “Well you only walk on two legs right? I can’t imagine it’s easy for you to walk on all fours. We have some spares by comparison.”

Oh. Duh. “Yeah, good point. It knocked Dad out for the rest of the season. By the time he recovered and they got him back out on the field, it was obvious his football days were over.”

“Did he finish school?”

Caden chuckled. “Oh lord no. They didn’t have anywhere near the money needed. He wasn’t really interested in school anyway. He was there to play football and hopefully go pro. That was always the plan. He and Mom never really thought about what would happen if it didn’t work out.”

“So what happened?”

“Dad dropped out. They moved back home and got married. Mom got pregnant with me not too long after. Dad needed a job and in those days the post office was a pretty decent career bet, especially in a smaller town.”

It was then that Caden saw Ruby start making her way across the restaurant toward them. A unicorn floated a laden tray behind her as they approached. A rich aroma enveloped him and his mouth immediately started watering.

.”I do hope you two are still hungry.”

Caden nodded. “Very.”

“Excellent. Mare’s first.”

Redhearts salad was possibly the most impressive barge of vegetation he had ever seen. A heaping pile of greens sat nestled among tomatoes, spinach, croutons, some sort of cheese, onions and other things he wasn’t even sure he could identify off the top of his head. Next to it, a tureen of the salads creamy dressing namesake.

In front of him slid a simple, sizzling platter. The only extra was a baked potato, dressed simply with butter. In the center sat a massive, seared steak, perfect grill lines hatched across the surface.

He almost swooned. It even LOOKS like beef.

Ruby looked the table over. “Does everything look satisfactory?”

Redheart nodded enthusiastically as he looked over. “It looks fantastic!”

“Would the Sir be so kind as to cut into his steak? I’d like to make sure it’s done as requested.”

“Absolutely!” She really has served others who eat meat. Caden cut into the steak and verified it was a perfect medium rare.

“Fantastic. I’ll leave you to it then. Shall I have another round of drinks sent over?”

Caden looked at his drink. Damn. Went through that quick. He looked up to see Redheart smiling across from, empty wine glass in hoof. “I suppose that’s a yes.”

“Wonderful. I’ll have those sent right over. Enjoy!”

Redheart drizzled dressing over her salad. “This looks amazing.”

“Yes it does.” Caden carved off a bite and promptly deposited it in his mouth. He had to fight off a legitimate urge to moan. The steak was perfect. Juicy, wonderfully cooked and seasoned perfectly. The flavor wasn’t quite the same as beef. It was definitely gamier than beef. Less fatty too. The texture was similar to that of a filet.

He heard a chuckle from across the table and realized he’d closed his eyes. Redheart giggled at him. “You look like you’re enjoying that.”

“You have no idea. Six weeks of nothing but vegetation and sweets has been….” He slammed his mouth shut as he realized he was about to insult their entire diet.

“Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t mean…”

She waved his apology away. “It’s fine Caden. It’s perfectly reasonable to miss eating meat if you normally do.”

He looked at the delicious carnage on his plate. “And you’re sure this doesn’t bother you? The girls at the castle seemed pretty repulsed when I asked about it.”

“Like I said, I’m a nurse. I see all kinds of grotesque shit every day. I’m a big mare. I think I can handle you eating some manticore.” She winked at him. “Honestly I’m just happy to see you enjoying something so much.”

He blinked. “I think that might be the first time I’ve heard you curse.”

“Really?” She thought for a second. “Interesting. It’s not like I don’t. You should hear me after a double at work.”

He chuckled. “I imagine.”

“So are all human’s omnivores?”

“We are biologically but some are vegetarians or vegans by choice. Usually ethical or religious reasons. Some will only eat certain kinds of meat. Others don't eat this or that for specific dietary needs. But the majority of us are omnivores to some degree.”

“Ah. Makes sense.”

“I’ve gathered Ponies don’t eat meat at all?”

She nodded. “As a rule. I’ve heard stories of tribes far away that might but they may just be stories. I’ve never tried it. Honestly I don’t imagine it would agree with us at all.”

“I can see that. When I first got here Applejack tried to offer me some hay treats. She was legitimately surprised when I explained I’d have a really bad day if I tried to eat it. We can’t digest grass at all.”

“Oof. Yeah that would have been bad.” She scooped some of her salad into her mouth, fork magically magnetized to her hoof. I still need to ask how they do that.

“So where were we? Your folks had settled down?”

They tucked into their meals as he continued. “Yeah. Settled down, started a family, bought a house. The whole nine yards.”

“So did you become a gym teacher because your Dad played sports?”

“Well….still not exactly. That’s really only the first half of the story.”

“Oh?” She gave him a sad smile. “I’m guessing this is the half you don’t like talking about?”

He nodded. “You guessed right.” Their next round of drinks landed on the table as he sighed. “So remember how I mentioned my brothers and I were really into sports?”

She nodded. “Like your Dad?”

“After a fashion. It might be more accurate to say we were pushed to be really into sports. Like I said as far back as I can remember, it was just normal for my brothers and I to be enrolled in all the athletics we could. Soccer, little league baseball, football...hell we even went to summer athletic camps. Mom and Dad signed us up for everything under the sun.”

“Did you want to do all that?”

“I’ve thought about that a lot myself. I’m not sure. I don’t think we ever really questioned it as kids. It was just how life was for us. It had been that way for as long as I can remember.”

“Did you enjoy it?”

He nodded. “We did. At least I know I did. It probably helped that we were good. Being honest we were better than good. My brothers and I inherited every bit of my Dad’s natural talent. By the time each of us got to high school, we’d each found our niche. For me it was track. Pole vaulting specifically.”

He looked across the table as her face scrunched in confusion. “I’ll explain what it is in a second. Pole vaulting for me, baseball for my middle brother and football for my youngest brother.”

“How come only one of you went into……” She thought for a second. “Football? Is that what you called it?”

“You mean why didn’t my other brother and I follow in our Dad’s footsteps?”

She nodded.

“Size is a big part of football. Well...really all sports to some degree or another. For many, being bigger is an advantage. In others being smaller or more agile can be. But in footballs case once you hit the college level, being naturally bigger and stronger is pretty much a requirement.”

“So you aren’t as big as your Dad?”

He shook his head. “No. My middle brother and I got more of our Mom in our build. She’s a tiny lady. My Dad is almost six inches taller than I am and when he was younger, probably fifty to sixty pounds larger. Most of that being muscle.”

“I’m guessing that’s a larger than average human?”

He nodded. “Very much so. I’m not a small guy by any means but my Dad was a big man. Only my youngest brother got his size so Jacob and I were more suited to other sports.”

“Jacob is your middle brother?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Jacob and Adam are my younger brothers, in order.”

“Got it. I guess that makes sense that only your youngest brother would stick with the same sport if he was the only one large enough.”

“Exactly. I didn’t mind anyway. Track was perfect for me. I love running.”

“So I’ve heard.”

He tilted his head in confusion. “Huh?”

“Ponies talk. The rumor that the weird monkey creature who was living with Princess Twilight went for an early morning run every day made its way back to the hospital pretty quickly.”

I guess they noticed me more than I thought. He chuckled as he scooped baked potato into his mouth. “Weird monkey creature huh?”

“Their words. Not mine.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Would I be the handsome monkey creature then?”

She giggled. “I suppose you might be.”

“Well that’s good to know. But yes, I love running. By the time I was in high school, I’d pretty much settled wholly on track. And I was good. Really good. Took gold at state in pole vaulting my junior and senior year.”

“And pole vaulting is?”

Oh yeah. He ran through a fast explanation of what the sport was and how it worked.

“That sounds really cool!”

“It’s a lot of fun. For just one second you feel like you’re flying before falling back to the ground.”

“I’m guessing no humans can fly?”

He shook his head.. “Not like the Pegasi, no. We have machines that let us fly.”

Her eyes went wide. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah but can I explain that later?”

She giggled. “Sorry. I’m sure having to explain every other little thing about home is getting old.”

“A little. Honestly it’s more this…” he held up his half full glass of cocktail. By now he was well awash in the friendly warmth of alcohol. “I want to make sure I get through the story before I start mumbling.”

“Good point. I’m feeling it myself.” She took another small sip of her wine and he noticed the flush under her white cheeks for the first time.

That’s fucking adorable.

“Anyway by the time I got to high school it looked like I was going to be on the same trajectory as my Dad. I was one of the best pole vaulters in the state. Pretty damned good sprinter too. I had scouts checking me out as far back as early junior year. Even had a few sit downs with athletic recruiters from some of the bigger universities. Should have been on my way to a full track scholarship.”

“Just like your Dad.”

He nodded. “Just like my Dad. Things were great beyond that. Active group of friends. We were talking about trying to all go to the same school. Even had a girlfriend.”

“HAD a girlfriend?” She sipped her wine.

“Yeah. We broke up eventually.”

“No one now?”

“Nope. Single as can be.”

She took another long sip. “Noted.”

He fought off yet another blush. Uh oh.

She set her wine back down. “So things were great.”

Focus! “Yup. And it was amazing. They were easily the best times of my life.” Memories of those days flashed through his mind as melancholy gripped him. He stared down and swirled his drink around in his glass.

She set her glass down and looked across the table. “Caden? Are you ok? What happened?”

He looked up and sighed. “We were at practice near the end of my senior year. It was just a normal practice. Not even a meet or a championship or anything. Just a day like any other.”

He took another sip. “I went up for a vault. It was completely normal at first. Sprint, stick, pull and up I went. I was most of the way up when I heard the snap.”

“Snap?”

“The pole snapped.”

She gasped. “What?”

“It does happen. They aren’t indestructible. That’s what the cushions on the ground are for. Well that and the landing.”

“Oh..ok.”

”I’d had poles snap before. It’s inevitable after doing it for so many years. Normally I just landed on the pad, shook it off and tried again.”

“What happened?”

He shook his head. “Don’t know. Bad pole maybe? I might have just completely tanked the stick? Moved my body in a weird way? Still aren’t really sure. I don’t remember a whole lot of the jump. Whatever happened, only half of me landed back in the vault box.”

He watched her eyes break from his and glance down to his left shoulder and back again.

“Your shoulder…”

He nodded. “Like I said, I don’t remember a whole lot. Just lying on the ground, screaming and crying. Fire coursing up and down my whole left side. All I really do remember is the pain and people trying to talk to me. Everything’s pretty fuzzy till I got to the hospital and they got me on anesthetic.”

He looked his left arm up and down. “You saw the result of the surgery. Doctor Horse thought it was one plate. It’s actually two. Them and many, many screws and pins. I managed to pretty much destroy it.” He rotated his shoulder around instinctively. “That was the end of my pole vaulting career. It’s hard to do a pull up, even now.” He thought back to the Everfree Forest and his shoulder flaring up as he fled from the Timberwolves.

She covered her mouth with her front hooves. “Oh Caden. I am so sorry.”

He flexed his left leg out. “Left knee was pretty fucked too. Not quite as bad but pretty well guaranteed I had no chance of pivoting to sprinting. From what the coach said I pretty much landed perfectly wrong on my left side. It took a few years before I was really even able to run again.”

She looked like she wanted to cry. “So you….what happened?”

“A lot of crying and raging at the universe. Bouncing between follow up surgeries and physical therapy. Trying to re-evaluate what I was going to do with my life. My chances at a scholarship were gone. My grades weren’t bad but nowhere near good enough to get an academic scholarship. Meanwhile my friends were getting ready to head off to school. In the fall they all left, same with my girl. She and I tried the long distance thing for a while but it didn’t work out.”

Her ears dropped deeply. “I’m sure your Dad was heartbroken.”

He swirled his ice around. “You’d think right?”

Her concern shifted to confusion. “What do you mean?”

I need another drink. He looked around but couldn’t see Ruby or any of the other Ponies that had served them. He didn’t want to be the asshole that asked some random server for a drink.

“Caden?”

He sighed. “THIS is actually the part I really don’t like talking about.”

“If you don’t feel comfortable…”

He waved her concern off. “No. No. I’ve gone this far. I’ve never really told this whole story to any.”

She held a hoof to her chest. “Are you sure? I don’t want to….”

He looked across the table. “It’s ok.”

She stopped mid sentence.

“I’m not uncomfortable. I’m not sure why but I just….I don’t know...maybe it’s the booze. Maybe it’s because you’re the first Pony I really met. I don’t know but I want to tell you the rest of this.”

She briefly turned a deeper shade of red before nodding. “Ok.”

He was about to resume his story when Ruby once again materialized next to them.

“I see we’ve finished our meals!”

Caden’s plate was little more than scraps of fat and the skin of a baked potato while Redheart’s looked like a mulched vegetable garden dotted with dressing leavings. “We did!”

“And did everycreature enjoy their dinner?”

He nodded. “It was fantastic!” Redheart nodded in exuberant agreement.

“Excellent!” Her tail swung around then and deposited a smaller menu on their table as another pony rapidly moved plates and flatware off their table.

“This is our dessert menu. I HIGHLY recommend our Apple Crisp. Made with entirely locally sourced Sweet Apple Acres produce. There’s absolutely no rush of course. Could I possibly get you another round in the meantime?”

Caden looked across the table. I really shouldn’t. He was well past buzzed as it was. I wonder what she wants to do.

“Red?”

Her eyes jolted over to him as her cheeks reddened again. She glanced from his glass to hers and back up to Ruby. She held her glass up. “We’ll have another.”

Ruby beamed down at them as she backed away from the table. “Of course. We’ll have those right over. Once again, please take all the time you need looking over the dessert menu.”

With that she disappeared once again. He glanced across the table. “What was that?”

She tilted her head in confusion. “What was what?”

“That weird glance you gave me.”

He could tell she was suppressing a smile. “Red?”

He stared blank as his brain ran through the last minute of conversation before he remembered what he’d said.

“Oh. I’m sorry. It just came naturally.”

She shook her head. “Not at all. I like it.”

He smiled. “Red then?”

She nodded. “Works for me.”

“So where was I?”

“Your Dad was heartbroken...or not?”

“Ah.” He suddenly remembered why he wanted another drink. “At the time I wasn’t really sure when I’d be well enough again to go off to school. I knew I wanted to try and follow as many of my friends as I could. Even if I couldn’t get a scholarship, I figured between loans, a part time job and help from my folks I’d be ok.”

“Help from your folks?”

He nodded. “Scholarships are rarely all encompassing. We figured when I made it to college I’d need help with food, insurance, cell phone, gas, all those kinds of things.”

“That makes sense.”

I wonder what kind of schools they have here. He knew a few of the girl's younger siblings went to a local elementary school. He’d heard Twilight talking about her time at some sort of gifted unicorn academy. Do they have high school? College? “After I was done with therapy I floated the idea by my parents. I remember I sat down with my Mom to see what she thought. They’d been willing to help out before so I figured nothing would change.”

“I’m guessing...that didn’t go well?”

“Not exactly. In hindsight I should have known something was wrong. Mom seemed really uncomfortable when I brought it up.”

“Why?”

He looked down at his drink, swirling the orange around in it’s amber bath. “A couple of days later they called me to the kitchen. Said they needed to talk to me.”

“About?”

“My life. That was when they told me they weren’t going to be able to offer me any help at school.

Redheart shook her head in confusion.“Are you….wait...what? Why? It’s what you wanted to do! They said they’d help!”

“Dad said they decided they needed to focus their resources elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere? On what?”

Redheart was looking more irritated by the moment. He would have chuckled if the memories weren’t so sad.

“Remember how I told you my brothers and I pretty much spent our childhoods in neverending athletics?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“As I said, we never really questioned it. It was just a normal part of life. I honestly never even bothered questioning it.” He threw back another mouthful of whiskey. “Until that night anyway. That was when I finally realized WHY we had been doing all of it.”

“Why?”

“For them.”

She just stared at him for a moment. “What?”

“For them. We were living their dream for them.” He’d play that night over and over in his head. The stomach dropping confusion when they first broke the news. His questions and rising anger the longer the conversation went on. His rage when his father’s anger finally broke and he heard what the man really wanted him to do.

He slammed back the rest of his cocktail. “He actually told me he thought I should stay home and get a full time job.”

Confusion, anger and sadness rippled in waves across her face. “For the love of Celestia, why?”

“So I could help support my brothers.”

“Support them for what?”

“To help ensure they got their chance.”

Her eyes went as round as saucers as she put it all together. “How...just...how? The SAME thing had just happened to you! Their own son!”

He nodded again.

She looked seconds from crying. “Caden...I am so...so sorry. I….I don’t….” Their next drinks arrived as Red took a deep breath. “I just don’t know what to say. That’s horrible.”

He gave her a half smile. “Thank you Red. Honestly I just feel better finally telling the whole story.” He shrugged. “Honestly the older I’ve become, the less the whole thing surprises me. Parents live vicariously through their children all the time. Some more than others. I just got the worse end of it.”

“And your Mom?

He sighed. “I don’t think my Mom ever really, REALLY thought about what they were doing till all this happened. She was just happy to see her kids succeed and her husband was thrilled. She’s not a very confrontational person. As long as everything was ok I think she just kinda of stuck her head in the sand.”

“So...what happened?”

“Dad and I weren’t on speaking terms after that for a long, long time. Mom was just heartbroken. A few days later I packed up what I could and went to live with a friend.”

“You just left?”

He nodded.

“How did that go?”

He laughed. “How do you think? Terribly. I was 18 with barely a penny to my name.”

She tilted her head in confusion. “I’m guessing it worked out eventually? Didn’t you say you had an apartment and a job? Did you finish college?”

“I did. Had to work two jobs that first year to get my feet under me. I built up some savings, got a car and an apartment eventually. My early twenties were pretty brutal. That’s why I went into physical education. I needed to get school done as fast as possible and it was honestly what I thought I’d get through fastest. If I'd had more time and opportunity, I might have done something else.”

“And your family?”

“I eventually started going home for Christmas...uhhh….Hearths Warming….every year. I see my Mom and brothers. Dad and I might share a word or two in passing.”

She grimaced. “So you're both still mad?”

“Yeah. Well….I don’t know.” He thought for a moment. “You know….I’m not really sure.”

“What do you mean?”

He shrugged. “I am still mad but not like how I used to be. It’s just more hurt now. Hurt that the people I thought wanted nothing but the best for me also had their own agenda.” He shrugged. “I have no idea how Dad feels now. Mom is just sad about the whole thing. She apologized over and over.”

“Do you WANT to make up with them?”

“Kind of? Maybe? Sometimes I do. Sometimes I still never want to see them again.”

“What about your brothers? Do they know?”

“We didn’t talk about it at first. Jacob knows. Adam’s still in high school. They both seem like they’re going to do as my parents hoped. Maybe they won’t have to deal with all this bullshit.”

She sighed. “I hope not. Family can suck.”

He shook his head. “Family can suck?”

She gave him a sad smile. “Human’s aren’t the only creatures with family problems Caden.”

“Oh?”

She shook her head. “Another time.”

His eyes latched onto the menu on the table in front of them. Oh yeah, dessert. Oh shit….He’d been so involved in his story he hadn’t really paid attention to the passing of time.

“Red I am so sorry!”

The sadness fell off her face as she jerked back. “What for?”

He gestured at the table. “We spent most of the meal talking about my family bullshit. This was NOT how I wanted to thank you!”

She giggled and waved his apology away. “It’s fine, Caden. I enjoyed learning more about you.” She winked at him. “Besides, it just means we can talk all about me next time.”

Even through the alcohol, he could feel himself blush. Next time huh? “That sounds great.”

She gestured at the menu. “Care to share a dessert?”

He exhaled deeply. “Not sure I have any room left between the steak and the alcohol.”

She put on an exaggerated pout. “I mean….if you don’t have room..”

He sighed dramatically. “You Ponies really do love your sweets don’t you.” He grabbed the menu and scanned it quickly. “There’s a seasonal berry tart. Can we do that? At least it’s light.”

She giggled. “That's fine. And yes we Ponies do like our sweets.”

The rest of the night was dedicated to small talk and dessert. Redheart nearly swooned as she spooned the dessert into her mouth. He smiled. It is adorable.

They finished and right on queue Ruby appeared with the bill and a warm smile. “It was my legitimate pleasure to serve you tonight.”

Caden smiled. “Dinner was...FANTASTIC! Now I know where I can come when I want a steak.”

Redheart nodded. “This was excellent.”

Ruby beamed at them. “I am so glad to hear it. Sadly I have bad news.” She held the booklet out in front of her. “Who will I be leaving this with?”

Caden raised a hand. “I’ve got it.”

She handed the bill to him and he stared at the slip of gibberish. Oh right. Poneish. He realized a flight of Old Fashioneds probably wasn’t the best idea when he needed to translate a new language.

Redheart watched him for a second. “Caden do you….would you like some help?”

He sighed. “Yeah. A few of the symbols aren’t making any sense.”

They spent a minute or two talking through the bill as she gently guided him through the words and numbers before he finally got the total.

“Three hundred and eighty two bits? Is that right?”

She nodded. “You got it! Well done!” She looked up at him over the paper. “Caden are you sure you’ve got this? I can split it with you or…”

He waved her away. “No no no. This was my thanks, remember? If you want to split it next time, that’s fine but this one’s on me. You’ve been so awesome.”

She beamed at him. “Glad to hear it. I think you’re pretty awesome too.”

They shared a smile as he pulled the bit voucher book out of his pocket. “Besides….” He cut himself off as he realized what he was about to say.

“Besides what?”

“Besides...well...hold on.” They filled out the voucher and Ruby took it back into the bowels of the restaurant. Once she was out of sight he looked at Red. “Besides ..I think Twi might have overdone it a bit in making sure I had money to spend.”

“Overdone it? How much did she give you?”

Caden gave her a cocky grin. “I’m not sure that’s any of your business ma’am.”

She snorted and stuck her tongue out at him. “Uh huh. Says the guy who brought it up in the first place.”

He chuckled. “If I’m reading the balance ledger in this thing right...she deposited something like a hundred thousand bits in my account.”

He was pretty sure he watched her brain misfire in real time. “One hundre thousand?”

He held the voucher book out. “If I’m reading that right?”

She scanned the ledger and sighed. “Yup. You read that right.”

“What’s wrong?”

“Your hunch was correct. She overdid it a bit. Caden that’s more than I make in a YEAR.”

“Oh….well……”

She sighed again and winked at him. “Just means dinner’s on you next time then.”

“Ha! Deal!”

“In all seriousness I am glad she is taking care of you.” Redheart rolled her eyes. “And it’s not like she doesn’t have bits to spare. That castle alone is worth billions.”

“Fair enough.”

He went to put the bit voucher back into his pocket when the same sensation from before fired up and down his arm. He dropped the book and shook the pain out. “Damnit!”

Redheart jumped out of her chair in concern. “Caden are you ok?”

He nodded. “Yes. I’ve just been having these weird...jolts in my right arm. Feels like a shock of electricity and then it goes numb for a bit.”

She looked his arm over. “Any other symptoms? Any triggers?”

“No. Nothing specific. It just seems to happen whenever. No motion or action.”

She looked up and down his arm. “Could be nerve damage. Allergy maybe? Maybe your shoulder?”

He realized he had accidentally sent her into work mode.

He shook his arm again. “I’m ok Red. Probably just a pinched nerve or something.”

She frowned up at him. “Are you sure?”

He nodded. “I am. If it keeps happening I promise I’ll come see you ok?”

He wasn’t sure she was entirely satisfied with the explanation but she let it go. They made small talk for a moment more before Ruby brought a finalized receipt back. “Once again, thank you so much for coming. Looking forward to seeing you again soon!”

They thanked her and made their way out of the restaurant. As soon as they hit the fresh air, the whiskey hit him full force. Holy shit. He hadn’t quite realized how drunk he was until just then. There was a comfortable layer of numb between him and the rest of the world. He got his bearings and they began down the path back to Ponyville. They made more small talk as they approached the fountain near the center of town.

“Red would you like me to walk you home?”

She chuckled. “I live at the other end of Ponyville from the castle. We can part here.” A few ponies walked or flew here and there far from them but by and large they were alone.

He turned and looked down at her. “I had...an amazing time tonight.”

She smiled up at him. “I did too. I’m sorry about what happened to you Caden. I’m hoping maybe you can think of something to do here. Like you said, maybe you weren’t meant to be a gym teacher.”

“Maybe. I have some thinking to do.”

She nodded and stared up at him. He felt himself flush as red spread across her face. She cleared her throat. “Would you…”

“Would I what?”

She looked away for a moment before staring straight back at him, redder than ever. “Would you like to do this again? Another date?”

A tiny voice in the back of his head wanted him to question his situation. He was on a date with a magical horse in another world. It screamed that everything happening was so far removed from normal that it should horrify him. For whatever reason, be it the alcohol or the moment, that voice evaporated almost immediately.

“I would. I….” He wasn’t even sure how to finish.

Before he could continue she jumped up on her hind legs and rested herself against his chest. They looked each other in the eye for a moment before she stood on the end of her hooves, craned her head up and kissed him gently. He stared wide eyed.

She pulled back and blushed deeper. “Caden I….I just….” Before she could finish he instinctively leaned down and wrapped his arms around her. He lifted her up slightly and kissed her again, far harder than she had him. He heard her gasp before she pressed back into him. He felt her tail come around from behind her and wrap around his waist posessively.

Eventually they parted and stared at each other. He gave her his best drunken, charming smile. “I like you too Red.”

She giggled like a teenager. “I’m sorry.” She took a step back. “I’m acting like a filly.”

He winked at her. “We’re both drunk. It’s ok.”

“Too true.” She just stared at him a moment longer before sighing. “Caden I….I wish I didn’t have to go but I have to work in the morning.”

“It’s ok. I have stuff to do tomorrow too.”

She stood up against him again and they shared another kiss. They separated and she fell back to the ground. He reached down and rested his hand on her cheek. “Be safe on your way home ok?” She nodded.

As she turned to walk away, he asked. “When….when can I see you again?”

She thought for a second. “Lunch soon? I can let you know. Maybe the Hayburger?”

He nodded. “Sure….not sure I can eat anything there though.”

She laughed. “We’ll figure something out. Good night Caden.”

“Good night Red.”

He watched as she walked out nearly out of view. Right before disappearing down a road she turned and waved at him. He returned the gesture before turning and making his way back towards the castle. He smiled and took a deep breath of the warm summer air. He almost felt like skipping. He hadn’t felt like this since he was a teenager. More than anything, for the first time since he’d arrived there he felt like everything was going to be ok. A few moments later he arrived at the castle.

He put his hand on the door and sighed. Knowing Twilight she was probably watching all that from her balcony. He was not relishing the choir of squeeing that he was going to receive upon entering. He half expected the girls to just be waiting by the door.

Instead he was greeted with absolute silence. The castle was dark.

“Huh.” He made his way inside and meandered around the bottom floor. He was near the kitchen when he called out. “Hello?” “Anyone home?”

He heard a crash from further down the hallway before a starry blue mare vaulted her way down the hall and nearly bowled him over as she slid to a stop in front of him.

“Caden!”

He moved back a step as she righted herself. “Trixie? What’s wrong?”

“Follow me!”

She took off and sprinted back down the hallway. He did his best to follow her, trying to avoid falling over himself in his drunken state. Eventually they made their way to the Crystal Map room. Trixie sprinted up to the edge of the table as her horn ignited and a scroll floated off the table.

He caught up to her at the edge of the table. He had to brace himself against Pinkie Pie’s...throne….as he fought to catch his breath. I’m too drunk for this. “Trixie? What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

“Twilight will explain. She and the others left hours ago.” She scanned the scroll. “Ooohhh….I wish I’d studied more. This is NOT the Great and Powerful Trixie’s speciality.”

The unicorn scanned the scroll a few more times and closed her eyes. After a bit her horn lit up and magic shot from it to the scroll. The runes on the parchment lit up like the sun before the scroll arced magical energy all across the table. The energy pulsed across the map for a moment before shooting into the air and coalescing into a floating ring. After a moment a group of ponies came into view.

He stared up at the image. “Twilight?”

Everyone was there. The Mane 6, Sunset, Starlight. Spike was there. Next to them was a pegasus stallion he didn’t recognize. Standing behind them were 3 alicorns he hadn’t seen but in books.

Holy shit. That’s them. The entire group was standing in front of two ascending thrones. That must be Canterlot.

Twilight stepped forward. “Caden!”

“Twilight. What’s going on?”

“One second!” Twilight motioned for the pegasus to walk over. “Caden, this is Sky Tide. He’s a weather operator out of Las Pegasus.”

The Pegasus stepped forward like a mouse. It was clear by the look on his face he wasn’t comfortable standing among his demi-god royalty.

“Hello….Caden..”

“Hi.” He looked at Twilight. “Twi?”

She gently pushed the pegasus forward. “Go ahead. Tell him what you saw.”

He rubbed the back of his neck nervously. “I was out on an assignment just north of the city. It was nothing special until I ran into….something.”

Caden felt his heart surge in his chest as he stepped forward. “Something?”

“I’m not sure what it was. Magic bubble? Portal?”

Twilight put a hoof on his shoulder. “Tell him what you saw on the other side.”

“I saw….a city. And….you.” The pegasus pointed his hoof towards Caden. “Thousands of you. Males. Females. Children. An entire city.”

He had to brace himself against the table to keep from falling over.

Twilight urged him on. “Keep going. What else did you see?”

“The city. It was enormous. Way bigger than anything I’ve ever seen. There were….weird carriages that were moving without anything pulling them.”

Caden took a deep breath. “Cars! Those were cars.”

All the other ponies' ears shot up at Caden’s words. From the back a midnight blue alicorn stepped forward. “So it was your world.”

That must be Luna.

Twilight nodded. “He reported what he saw to his office and eventually they sent him to Canterlot. When they saw his report, they immediately compared it to mine and drew a conclusion.”

Great. I’m famous among the magical nerds of Equestria.

I wonder where he was exactly. “Sky. What else did you see?”

The pegasus spent a few minutes describing what he saw. It was a human city for sure. Cars. Trucks. Highways and neighborhoods. Families walking around.

“Also there was this giant….bird….machine.”

No way. “Bird machine?’

Sky nodded. “It was huge. A giant metal bird. Like a long tube with enormous wings on either side. It had some kind of pods hanging off the wings. I’ve never seen something that big fly that fast.”

“That was an airplane.” Caden took a deep breath, trying to process it all. He was definetly there. That was Earth.

“Did you see anything else? What did the city look like?”

“Ummmm….it was very bright?”

Bright? “What do you mean bright?”

“Bright. Like it was lit up. Just like Las Pegasus. Some of the buildings looked weird too. Most of them were huge and weirdly shaped.” He thought a moment more. “There was a pyramid as I recall.”

A pyramid?

I got a decent look at one of them. It had giant markings on the side.”

Twilight's horn lit up and a piece of parchment and a quill materialized out of nowhere. “Sky can you draw what those symbols looked like?”

The pegasus nodded. “I think so.”

A few seconds later he held the parchment up in front of the portal to Caden. “I think this is what was on the side.”

You have to be kidding me.

Twilight scanned the parchment and looked up. “Caden do these mean anything?”

He nodded. He’d actually been there years before for a track meet. He remembered wandering around the monolithic structures in awe.

“Those are letters Twilight. ‘M G M’. They’re part of my alphabet. That was the MGM Grand. We call the city Las Vegas.”

Twilight stared at him wide eyed. “So that means…”

He nodded. “Our worlds line up.”

What the hell is going on?

Chapter 7: Supply And Demand

View Online

Double inhaled deeply and held the wondrous aroma for a moment before exhaling with a sigh. He opened his eyes and looked down at the steaming mug of coffee between his hooves with a smile.

Perfect.

He looked up to see Aurora snout deep in a milkshake glass piled high with whipped cream, a cookie, sprinkles and all manner of other sugary nonsense he couldn’t identify.

“You are SO missing out.”

Aurora looked up from her desert and stuck her tongue out. “I’m good. Thanks.”

He shook his head, chuckled and inhaled again. With just a smell he could tell whoever was running Seabreeze Coffee knew what they were doing. Vanilla, toffee and milk chocolate hit first, followed shortly by a syrupy, almost maple body. He’d spent a good twenty minutes with the barista, asking about their different beans, roasts and methods. For her part Aurora had buried her face in her book the entire time.

He pulled the cup to his mouth and drank. He smiled in contentment. The same characteristics he’d had on the nose were expressed perfectly in the flavor. All without a drop of sweetener or milk in the glass. It was exactly as the barista had described it. The mark of an excellent coffee pony.

“Aurora how’s…” He looked up and burst out giggling at the mound of whipped cream on the tip of Aurora’s snout. She was focused back on her book, completely unaware.

He swallowed his coffee. “Auri...you’ve uh...you’ve got something there.” He gestured at his face. She looked up and went cross eyed as she stared down her snout before reaching up and wiping the cream away. She blushed and muttered a thanks before returning to her drink.

That was adorable.

He took another sip of his coffee and leaned back in his chair as the warm sea air gently moved around them. Around them other ponies sat and sipped their coffee on the shop's seaside patio. Past the patio railing, a long beach stretched as far as he could see in either direction as it wrapped around the Bay of Seaddle. Ponies and other creatures played in the water or relaxed on the beach. Other seaside shops dotted the beach as Ponies walked away from them with ice cream, snacks and all sorts of other treats. A group of young Pegasi whirled above them in a spirited game of sky tag. Opposite the beach, far behind Aurora a massive mountain range climbed high into the sky. Dark green forest climbed up the side of each spiring rock before fading to white at the snow capped tips.

Beautiful day.

He looked back across the table at Aurora. She had apparently given up trying to manually fish what she wanted out of the drink and was sucking greedily through the provided chocolate covered straw.

“How’s your milkshake?”

She didn’t even bother to look up at him. “It’s not a milkshake.”

“Uh huh. What was that again? A S'more Frappuccino Deluxe? Can you even TASTE any coffee?”

She exaggeratedly shook her head. “Nope! That was the point! Coffee is gross.”

He rolled his eyes and chuckled as she returned to her cup of sugar. He took another sip of his coffee before looking up at a clock on a building down the road from them.

Almost noon.

“Aurora, what time did you say we needed to be at the wholesaler?”

“At two.” She set her drink down and leaned over to her saddlebag on the ground. She came back up with a map and rolled it out over the table. She rested a hoof on a mark on the other side of the city from the bay.

“This is where it is.”

“How long a walk is that?”

She scanned the map over and shrugged. “Twenty? Thirty minutes?”

“That’s a decent walk. Want to get a taxi?”

She shook her head. “Nah.” She flicked her head at her drink. “Wouldn’t hurt to work some of this off anyway.”

Her mention of calories sprung up something he had been meaning to ask her some time. “Auri….can I ask you a personal question?”

She looked up. “Ummm….sure….I guess?”

“How in Equestria are you so skinny?”

She stared at him for a second before looking herself up and down. “Huh?”

He waved his hooves at her. “Skinny. Thin. In shape. Look at you!”

Equestria was full of ponies of all shapes and sizes. Aurora was built pretty much in line with most unicorns he had ever met. Slightly thinner and delicately built than Pegasi and significantly smaller than Earth Ponies. It had only taken a few weeks of him seeing what she ate on an almost nightly basis before he realized something didn’t add up.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. I mean...my parents aren’t big ponies.”

He shook his head. “Fair enough but….ALL YOU EAT IS JUNK FOOD!” He waved a leg back and forth between her frame and the almost empty cup on the table.

“It seems like you eat Hayburger almost every day! I think you drink more Energy Potion than water! I’ve seen the small mountain of candy you keep in your room! How?! Just…..how?”

She looked at her cup again. “Oh. Well….” She looked away for a second before sighing and looking up at him. “You promise you won’t get mad?”

He blinked a few times. “I mean….sure?”

“I actually don’t always remember to eat every day.”

He shook his head in disbelief. “Wait….what?”

She shrugged. “I don’t mean to do it. I’ll just line up a bunch of orders to fix and before I know it it’s the next morning and I just go to bed.”

“Auri……”

She rolled her eyes. “I know Dad. I know.”

He gave her a smile. “You know you don’t have to call me that whenever I’m worried about you.”

She sighed again. “I’m sorry. I know you mean well. It’s just…..”

“Just what?”

She shrugged. “It’s been a long time since I had someone looking after me. Just not something I’m used to.”

Interesting.

“And I know my diet is garbage….it’s just…” She searched over her next words.

“Just what?”

“It’s just….I want to try and get as many repairs in as I can. If I’m not working, I’m wasting bits.”

He nodded. “I understand that. I own a business. Believe me….but…”

“But what?”

He leaned back in his chair and took another sip of his coffee. Been meaning to ask this eventually anyway.

“Why do you need all these bits?”

What do you mean?”

“Aurora, you work more than anypony I have ever met. Literally. I’ve seen ponies pay you when they pick things up from the house. I have a pretty good idea what you make per job. You have a pretty rare skill. Not many Ponies know how to fix magical appliances. Hell I’ve seen you taking sacks of bits out from the basement in deposit bags. Are you just SAVING all that?”

She nodded.

“What in Luna’s name do you need all that money for? Are you trying to buy a mansion or something?”

She shook her head. “No no. Nothing like that.” She glanced from her saddlebag. “It’s my project.”

“Your project?”

She hesitated a moment before nodding. “Yeah my machine. Some of the materials that went into building it are….pricey…to say the least.”

“How pricey?”

“Well……the serindum alone was almost thirty thousand bits.”

It took everything he had to not spew coffee all over her.

“thirty…..thousand….?”

She nodded. “I told you it was a pretty rare element.”

“You weren’t kidding.” He rubbed the bridge of his snout with a hoof. “Ok…serious question. How much did that thing cost in total?”

She thought for a moment. “I was able to salvage some of the inner components from scrap I found but……if I had to guess maybe…..seventy…eighty thousand bits.”

He just stared wide eyed across the table at her.

Annoyance crept across her face. “You asked.”

“I know. I know. I just….wow.” He would never have guessed that gadget was that expensive. Maybe I should get a better lock for the apartment.

“Anyway that’s why I work so much. The project isn’t cheap.”

“Apparently.” Out of the corner of his eye he watched a filly trip and fall against the sidewalk. In short order her mother scooped her up and attended to the scrape on her knee. By the time looked back to Aurora she was already staring down at the same notebook she’d been carrying with her since they left and sipping on her frappuccino.

Window closed. He wasn’t going to push the issue by asking her more questions. In time.

They spent a while longer at the table as she read and he enjoyed the scenery. After a bit he looked up at the clock again.

“Auri it’s almost 12:30. When did you want to leave?”

She looked over her shoulder at the clock before turning around and starting to pack up her things. “Let’s start heading that way. I’d rather be early than late.”

He nodded and cleaned off their table as she stuffed books and papers into her bag. Before long they were making their way northward towards the industrial district of the city. He was able to get some small talk out of her as they went. As they came to an intersection a few minutes after they started she pointed at a towering Mareiott skyscraper across the street from them.

“We stayed there when I was here as a filly.”

He looked up at the towering structure and whistled. “Damn. Nice. What were you here for?”

“My parents were attending a conference.”

“Impressive. That’s way better than our little motel.”

She shrugged. “I guess. A bed’s a bed.”

“You aren’t much for creature comforts are you?”

She looked up at him. “Why do you say that?”

“You sleep on a cot….in a basement…..”

She shrugged. “Just focused on other things.”

Clearly.

He stopped and looked back. “That’s a really nice hotel.” He watched for a moment as Ponies in elaborate coaches pulled up to the front and disembarked in all their finery.

Might as well take the plunge. “What do your parents do anyway?”

Her ear twitched as he gait slowed every so slightly in front of him. For a moment he worried she was going to completely shut the conversation down. She never seemed to react well whenever he brought her family up.

Great.

“They’re professors.”

She picked her pace back up as he jetted forward to walk next to her. “Professors of what?”

“They teach magic at a university.”

“Huh…”

“Huh what?”

He shrugged. “I didn’t realize there was higher education for magic specifically.” Most ponies spent their early years learning their natural abilities from their parents. Unicorns spent time learning things like basic magic while all pegasi spent time learning flight and weather herding. Earth ponies usually spent time with their families learning their specific hyper focused skills. Schools were generally more focused on general academics and life skills rather than anything race focused.

“It makes sense. There are advanced flight academies for gifted flyers.”

She nodded. “It’s not a common thing. You have to be exceptionally gifted. Princess Twilight kind of gifted.”

“Holy shit.” Like most ponies he didn’t really have a great understanding of how magic worked at that level. To him it really stopped at unicorns floating things around. He’d given the autobiographies of the Princesses a read but that was really where his understanding of that world stopped.

“You parents must be seriously skilled with magic then.”

“They’re very skilled, yes.”

“You must be amazing too. Especially to be able to build that thing back at the house.”

He watched as she jerked a bit before responding in a measured tone.“Thank you Double.”

Okay…..time to drop it.

They made a bit of small talk as the commercial and tourist portion of Seaddle gradually faded into the shipping and industrial district. Hotels and shops waned as they were overtaken by warehouses, factories and foundries. The streets turned grimy as the sky turned dark from chimneys spewing the exhaust of production. Burly, grimy creatures clad in overalls and hard hats walked past them, covered in the grime of their trade.

“Well this place is lovely.”

Aurora shrugged. “You don’t find a lot of mineral wholesalers in the upper class shopping malls.”

Double frowned as he watched a group of worker stallions stare Aurora up and down as they walked past them. They chuckled as he moved closer to her side before throwing him a wink and returning to their conversation.

Classy. Aurora was thankfully oblivious to the stares at her flank.

Before long they arrived at a massive wrought iron gate. A metal sign above read “North Seaddle Bay Logistics and Shipping Co.” Through it he could see ships that sat docked as various creatures attended to their loading, unloading and sea worthiness. Pegasi flew around rigging, pulling ropes and attending to sails while unicorns and earth ponies hefted palettes by either magic or muscle across the yards. Other creatures helped as well. There were abyssinians carrying crates on each shoulder as griffons worked in groups to heft objects here and there in their powerful claws. He even saw a centaur pulling fruit from barrels and lying it out in piles.

Hell of an operation.

They stepped up to the gatehouse where an Earth Pony sat reading a newspaper. He didn’t even bother to look at them as they approached the window.

“Appointment?”

Aurora stepped up to the window. “Aurora Burst, here to see the dockmaster at two.”

Without looking away from his paper the pony pulled a lever on the wall of the gatehouse. Ropes and gears went into motion as the gate creaked into motion and slowly pulled aside to allow them entrance to the yards.

“Yard office is straight to the right. Brown brick building. I wouldn’t go anywhere else. You might get hurt.”

With the flurry of commotion around the place, Double didn’t doubt the claim. They hurried their way to the office. Stepping inside they found a small office absolutely stuffed with stacks of papers, folders and boxes full of binders and other documentation. A quick scan of the stacks showed them to be endless piles of shipping invoices. They seemed to be sorted into piles based on whether ships were arriving or departing and location. One area of the room was dedicated to shipment to the rest of Equestria. The rest were broken into zones. Dragonlands. Centaur Kingdom. Neighpon.

They stood around the office for a few minutes before a stallion pegasus entered the office. He was a short, stout brown pony clad only in a stained tool vest weighed down by pencils, rulers, notepads and other measurement equipment. A curly, gray mane stuck out from under a well worn newsboy cap. The air he brought in absolutely reeked of cigarettes. Several half opened packs shared space with all his tools.

“Apologies. Dealin’ with a crate o’ hydra pups what just came in from tha’ Zebra Lands.”

Both wings came forward to fiddle with his vest before he pulled a cigarette out, lit it and took a deep drag as he stood up on his hind legs and sat on the edge of the office desk.

“Names Foggy Bay. So…what can I do for ‘ye?

Aurora stepped forward. “I’m Aurora Burst. I made an appointment to speak to you about a shipment of serindium arriving today.”

“You’re the lass from Manehattan.” He looked from her to Double. “Serindium eh? Sure don’t look like you’re one’a those Terra Corp wankers?”

Aurora and Double looked from each other and back to him. “Noooo. Never heard of them.”

Foggy started hoofing through a pile of documents on his desk and pulled a set of pages out. “Company out o’ Canterlot. Buncha wankers. Been buying up all the crazy shit in here.

Aurora stepped forward. “What do you mean by ‘crazy shit?’”

Foggy pulled a piece of parchment out of the pile. “Here’s one of their invoices. Serindium. Oracite. Ex…exa…zy….”

Aurora reached out and snatched the list from the pegasus. “Exazygotium. It’s a catalyst. It can help accelerate magical effects when you’re dealing with conditions outside the spell’s intended environment.”

Foggy shot a look at Double that made it clear he had no idea what she was talking about either.

“Tetharon. Required for drawing enchantment circles when you’re possibly dealing with large scale ethereal blowback. Forsic. It’s an ultra rare crystal used to store immense amounts of magical energy. The Staff of Sacanas had forsic as it’s…..”

She finally looked up and realized the two were just staring blankly at her.

Foggy ashed his cigarette before pulling the list out of her hooves with a wing. “All o’ this nonsense means something to ya?”

Aurora scanned the document again, wide eyed. “This is like a magical researcher's dream shopping list. Most of these materials are…extraordinarily obscure. I can’t imagine there would be many buyers for this.”

“Weren’t none really except for a few magic shops ‘round Equestria and Princess Celestia’s school.

Double tilted his head. “What school?”

“Ah guess Princess Celestia runs some sort o’ school in Canterlot for very gifted unicorns. Heard it’s also the leading magical research firm in Equestria. Real elite kind o’ place.”

Double looked over at Aurora as a scowl wove across her face. His mind shot to their conversation about her parents earlier. Holy shit…that must be…

Foggy nodded. “Was only a few exotic mining groups that handled this stuff. After Twilight became Princess we started splitting our shipments ‘tween Canterlot and Ponyville. Still it wasn’t much. Got maybe one shipment every few years. Until Terra Co came in. Spent the last few years buying every bit o’ this stuff I could get my hooves on. They’re paying enough that we’re getting a few shipments a quarter now.”

Double looked at Aurora. “No wonder your supplier in Manehattan ran out.”

Aurora shook her head. “What in Tartarus do they need with all these materials?”

“None o’ my business young filly. They pay. We ship. Just how it goes.”

Aurora frowned.

“So why in Luna’s perfect flank did you come all this way to ask me about serindium?”

“I was hoping you might have extra to sell.”

He shook his head. “Like I said, lass. Terra Co has been buying the whole lot.”

Her frown deepened. “Fine. What do I need to do to secure some on your next shipment?”

Foggy raised an eyebrow before butting out his cigarette. “Well that’s gonna be a problem, lass.”

Aurora shook her head. “What do you mean?”

Foggy walked over and fiddled through a stack of papers before pulling one out and handing it over to Aurora. She snatched it up and Double walked over to stand next to her and read. It was another invoice, apparently for the shipment of serindium arriving today.

Twenty five pounds coming in. Fuck me. They must really want this stuff to ship it this often if that’s all their bringing…..oh no.

At the bottom of the invoice was a note.

Shipment paid in total and reserved by Terra Corp.” The note was dated weeks back.

“Terra Corp has paid for everything I’m gonna get for the next year. Other than what’s reserved for the Princesses, I won’t be getting any more. It’s all spoken for. They measure to the ounce.”

He watched as Aurora’s ears collapsed. “Are you serious?”

For his part the pegasus looked genuinely disappointed that he had to deliver the news.

“Ah’m sorry lass.”

Tears pooled in the corners of her eyes. “But we came all this way!” She shook her head. “There’s none left in Manehattan” She sniffed as her voice broke..”…I….I can’t finish my work without it!”

It took Double a moment to believe what he was seeing. He had never seen her this emotional. He’d seen her happy here and there. Annoyed. Frustrated even. But he had never seen her this far in the depths of any emotion, let alone despair. It took everything he had to not wrap her in a hug.

She closed her eyes, fighting tears.“I need that serindium!”

Foggy sighed. “Ah’ am sorry lass. Truly.”

Aurora stared at the ground for a moment, breathing heavily and clearly trying not to start bawling. After a few moments she took a deep breath. “Ok.” Her voice was beyond shaky as she turned to make her way out of the office.

In any other moment he would have let the situation play out. She wasn’t one to accept help without a fight.

Fuck me.

Double frowned as he reached a hoof out. “Aurora. Wait.”

She stopped and looked up at him with glistening eyes. “Huh?”

The pegasus went to light another cigarette. “I need to get back out to the yard, son.”

Double turned towards the dockmaster. “Look….we traveled all the way across Equestria cause she thought she had a chance to get some of this….magical bullshit.”

He watched the dockmaster fight back a smile at Double’s pedestrian understanding of the material.

Double held a hoof up to his chest. “My family's owned a business for over forty years. I know what it’s like to work through scarce materials.”

Foggy took a drag. “What’s yer trade?”

“Coffee. If Coltumbia’s weather burps, our bean shipments are fucked. Dad and I have had to beg and plead and steal sometimes over the years to keep the doors open.”

Double reached over and held the invoice out. “Twenty five pounds this time. What usually comes in?”

Foggy raised an eyebrow. “Why do you ask?”

“If they were happy only getting a shipment of this stuff a year, I doubt they were all that worried about how much there was as long as it was close. Certainly weren’t measuring to the ounce. And the government always pays top bit for anything. Not a good look to short the subjects.”

He gestured around the office. “All those years they were basically your only customer. Princess Twilight orders ten pounds and gets nine and three quarters. Probably a weighing error at the other end.” He shook the invoice in his hoof. “Lots of things get lost in the mix at places like this. Not the fault of the dockmaster.” He pointed his hoof towards Aurora’s saddlebag. “We aren’t children. We have bits. We’re willing to pay. Maybe more than Terra Corp is.”

Double saw Aurora jerk up excitedly as she looked from Double to the elder pegasus.

After a few seconds Foggy took another drag and chuckled. “Heh. Figured you ‘fer a dumb colt. He sighed and nodded his head towards Aurora. “Don’t like sad fillies anyway. Remind’s me o’ my granddaughter.”

Using his wings he pulled a notepad and pencil out of the various pockets and started scribbling something. “Ah don’t have any here. I swear. What I’m getting, they’re measuring. These Terra Corp guys are paying more than I could afford to bother skimming anyway. Way more.” He ripped the page out of the notebook and held it out to Double. “I used to deal with this guy a lot. He’d buy what I could skim here and there. Sometimes hoards rare stuff. Might land him a pay day. No creatures have come looking so it’s possible he still has what he bought.”

Double grabbed the page from him. On it was scribbled an address there in Seaddle. Double held it out to Aurora who put it in her saddlebag.

Double nodded at him. “Thank you.”

“I warn you. His prices are likely tah be insane.”

“We’ll figure it out.”

They turned and started heading towards the door when Foggy called out. “One second lad.”

They turned and looked back at him. “Y’ah seem like decent kids. Not sure if it would happen but…avoid Terra Corp if you can. Ah called ‘em wankers for a reason. There’s something about ‘em that keeps me off ease.”

Concern washed across Auroras face. “What do you mean?”

Foggy shook his head. “Ah’m not sure how to explain it. Just….give me the heebie-jeebies. They show up with a small army of ponies. Measure the shipments like the shit is pure gold. Like it’s almost….divine.”

“What do you mean divine?”

“Just…after they measure what they buy they carry it off like it’s tha’ bones o’ their ancestors. Almost reverent.”

Something about the way Foggy said that last line made the fur on Double’s back stand up.

Foggy turned and started heading towards the dock side door of his office. “It might be nuthin. Just….avoid ‘em if you can. As ah’ said they’ve been snatching up all of this…” he smiled at Double ”magical bullshit they can get their hooves on. You foals be safe.” With that he opened the door and made his way back out to the dock.

Double turned to a wide eyed Aurora. “Ready?”

She nodded and they exited the office. They arrived outside the dock gates and Double turned and pointed a hoof at Aurora’s saddlebag. “Let’s look at your map and see if we can find this address.” Aurora nodded and floated both the notepad page to the ground in front of them.

Double leaned over and took a look at the address before turning to the map. “Ok…let’s see…...”

He scanned the map for a moment before he saw out of the corner of his eye that Aurora hadn’t leaned down to examine the map. She seemed to be staring somewhere between the map and him.

He stood back up and flicked his head downwards. “Could you….give me a hoof?”

She jerked and nodded. “Sorry. Sorry. Yeah.” They leaned back down and after a few moments Aurora held a hoof out and pointed towards an area to the southeast of where they were. “Is that it?”

Double looked at the address. “Looks like this is on the far side of the industrial district. Back towards the main city. About a thirty minute walk.”

She nodded and returned the page and map to her bag. He turned to start walking when he felt something tug at the back of him. Turning to look back, he saw a light blue aura ringed around the base of his tail. He looked up from his flank to see Aurora standing a few feet behind him.

What?

He turned and stepped toward her. “Aurora?”

She let her magic fade and hoofed slightly at the ground as red blossomed across her cheeks.

“Aurora? You ok?”

Her tail flicked wildly behind her. “How….”

“How what?”

“How did you know all that?

“All what?”

“About how he used to have extra? That he sold it? Coffee is really like that?”

“Oh.” Double shrugged. “Every dock on Equus skims off the top. Tale as old as time. As long as the big players get what they want, no one cares what happens to the extra.” He pointed back towards the dock. “I figured between the fact that this crap had so few buyers before and that it came from such exotic areas that no one was paying all that much attention to what went on and off the ship as long as it was close enough to the order. Not like Celestia was going to march an army down here to audit the shipment anyway. That let the dockmaster find buyers who were willing to pay extra for what didn’t make it into the purchaser’s hooves.”

Aurora shook her head in confusion. “But these materials are extremely niche. Even my supplier in Manehattan only got some every few years. He kept it more as a novelty than anything. Why would they hold onto it if only a few groups want it and have a guaranteed supply?”

Double nodded. “Circumstances change. Anything rare might eventually run out. Think about it. If the Princesses need this crap, imagine what they would pay if the supply suddenly dried up. You said it was super rare anyway. It’s like Foggy said. What if you were suddenly sitting on the last pound of it in Equestria? That attracts buyers who will hoard it for later. Somecreature might want it eventually. And now it seems like you do. And so does Terra Corp.”

Aurora shook her head. “But when did you learn…all this?”

“I wasn’t lying earlier and he knew it. You learn quickly in business or die. Dad and I had to sometimes pay two or three times the street price for beans. But as long as we had them, our competition didn’t. It’s different these days. There are a lot more coffee plantations here in Equestria now. Back then it wasn’t like that. If things went south in Coltumbia, we were screwed.”

“I just….” She trailed off as she returned to hoofing the ground again nervously.

“Auri? You ok?”

She suddenly lurched forward and wrapped a foreleg around him. Their height difference meant her head was nestled firmly against his chest. His heart thumped as he felt her mane brushing under his chin.

“Aurora?”

“Just….thank you. You might have saved this trip. I would never have been able to do that. If you hadn’t come I’d have been screwed.”

He fought back the urge to grin. He reached his wings up and wrapped them around her.

“You’re welcome. Happy to help.”

They parted as she returned the map and pad to her saddlebag.

“Like your shampoo by the way.”

She looked up at him. “Huh?”

“Your mane. It smells good. What shampoo do you use?”

She blushed slightly before shrugging. “I……” She stopped and stared ahead blankly for a second.

“Auri?”

Finally she looked up at him. “You know…I don’t really know what shampoo I use. It’s whatever’s the cheapest at the store.”

“Oh. Well it smells good anyway.”

She nodded before pulling her journal back out and floating it in front of her as they walked down the street.

He chuckled internally. Baby steps. Baby steps.

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In time the factories and docks receded as they made their ways back towards Seaddle’s core. Normal shops started peppering the street as they went. Before long they found themselves at an intersection.

Button looked down at the dock pony’s note .“7487 Cinnamon Way.” He looked up at the closest building next to them. “7489.” He craned his neck around to look at the next building down the road. “7485.”

What in Tartarus?

A quick scan around the area told him the addresses at the other three corners of the intersection were properly addressed. There was nothing odd about the intersection in any way. At one end sat another coffee shop, a bookstore at another and some kind of bank at the third. Next to him on his side was…

Wow…another coffee shop.

He put the map and the note away and turned to Auri. She was looking around, clearly as bewildered as he was.

“Do you see this damn place?”

She shook her head. “No. What was it called?”

He looked back at the note. “The Seaddle Emporium of Magical Artifacts and Exotic Arcane Goods.” He looked up from the note to Aurora. “Have you ever heard of this place?”

She shook her head, scowling. “No and I’m familiar with pretty much all of the magical goods stores in Equestria. None of them had anything left. That’s why we ended up here.”

Double looked around again and pointed at the coffee shop next to them. “Want to go in and ask? Maybe they know where this thing is?”

Aurora looked up at the coffee shop’s sign and shot Double a dry look. “We’re only going in to ask, right? No sampling?”

He stuck his tongue out. “No sampling. Besides, mass chain coffee is gross.”

She chuckled. “Whatever you say.” He followed her inside the shop.

A single whiff inside the shop affirmed Double’s opinion immediately. Yup. Burning their beans. Typical.

The green visored unicorn running the register smiled warmly at them as they approached. “Welcome to Sparklebucks! I’m Hazlenut Swirl! What can I get started for you?”

“I’m sorry. We aren’t actually here to order. We’re trying to find this shop.” Double held the note up in one of his wings. ”Would you happen to know where this is?”

The pony scanned the note and shook her head. “I don’t but I just started. Can you wait a second while I grab my manager?”

Double nodded. “Sure.”

They stepped aside as she disappeared into the back of the shop. He was spacing out when Aurora tapped him on the shoulder. “I don’t know Double. You sure milkshakes aren’t real coffee?”

He looked down at her and saw her nod out across the restaurant. While a few were sipping coffee out of mugs it looked like the vast majority had their snouts buried in milkshake glasses full of ice cream, whipped cream, sprinkles and other various sugary nonsense.

He sighed and shook his head. “Heathens.”

She giggled as a heavy set Earth Pony mare walked up to the counter.

“How are you. My name is Violet. I was told you’re looking for an address?”

Double nodded and held the address up again. “We can’t seem to find where this is.”

Annoyance took over her face almost immediately. “Oh. Him.”

Double and Aurora glanced at each other. “Him?”

The pony gestured behind her. “Go to the back of this building. The shop is in the alley between this one and the next one.”

He put the note away. “That’s confusing. Why isn’t it on the road?”

She shrugged. “Not entirely sure. The owner said something once about it being an old apartment or something like that. I guess they never decided to scrub the address entirely.”

They were turning to leave when the coffee pony called out. “Hey! Don’t let him sell you anything. It’s all garbage.”

Aurora turned back. “What do you mean garbage?”

“He’ll set up a stand on the corner sometimes and hock…all kinds of things. Potions that reverse aging. Amulets that will make you look like Princess Twilight. Trinkets. Bullshit. From what I’ve heard it’s all garbage.”

Aurora looked up at Double glumly. “Do you really think this creature might have the serindium?”

Double shrugged. “We came all this way. Might as well try.”

She nodded as Double turned back to the unicorn. “Thanks for your help. Really appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome.”

She nodded as they exited the shop and walked to the back. Sure enough there was a small alley between it and the next building over. At the end Double could see a gigantic door with a wooden sign over it. Random garbage and other junk lined the alley between them and the door.

Aurora huffed. “Well this is encouraging.”

Double reached a wing out and squeezed her shoulder. “At least worth a try.”

She sighed. “True.”

Why in Tartarus is that door so large?

Weaving their way around the detritus in the alley, they stopped at a door. A shabby wooden sign screamed the name of the shop in florid, golden letters.

He looked down at Aurora. “Should we knock?”

“She said it was a shop right? It’s the middle of the damned day. Should be open.”

With that she reached a hoof out and pushed the door open before proceeding inside. He grinned and followed her into the shop. She had clearly gotten completely over her earlier disappointment.

As he stepped past the creaking door, he was immediately overwhelmed by two sensations. The first was that the shop was incredibly dark. He stood in the doorway for a few seconds, blinking as his eyes slowly adjusted. He stepped up next to Aurora and looked around. The shop was much larger than he would have thought. The back wall was easily forty feet from the front door. Through the dark he could see a display case of some kind with an antique type cash register resting on it. Behind that was another shockingly large door that must have led to a back room. He looked up to see the ceiling was easily fifteen feet above them.

The second sensation was the smell. He was nearly bowled over by an almost tangible wave of odor. The entire shop smelled overwhelmingly of what he could best describe as a mixture of his Grandmare’s perfume and incredibly pungent incense. He felt his snout wrinkle up in protest at the olfactory assault.

He looked around the cavernous space. What kind of creature owns this shop? He’d assumed it was a unicorn given the magical wares but you could fit five unicorns stacked on each other through both the back and front door.

He whistled. “Would you look at this place?”

No matter what owned the shop, the place would need to be as big as it was to contain the mountain of wares crammed into the place. Every inch of wall, floor and ceiling was absolutely bursting at the seams with merchandise. He took a quick scan around the room and saw the shelves lined with everything from golden chests, skulls, bubbling flasks and every kind of gemmed trinket he could imagine. He saw peytrals, rings, horseshoes, saddles and crowns glitter in the dark as the sparse candle light that illuminated the shop danced across them.

The floor was no better. Piles of fabric and rugs sat nestled against racks of crystal topped staves, rods and random weapons. A small pathway snaked it’s way through the chaos towards the back door. He took another look up and finally figured out where the overwhelming odor was coming from. No fewer than 5 braziers hung at various points from the ceiling. If he and Aurora had been any taller they’d have likely walked through a cloud of smoke as they entered. Fortunately it seemed content to cling to the ceiling. Hanging among the incense burners were various other baubles, including a cage with some kind of skeleton in it, a dreamcatcher in the shape of Princess Luna’s Cutie Mark and some sort of large crystal suspended by a golden chain.

“This is…uh…..wow.”

He looked down to see Aurora looking over the shop, frowning. “What’s wrong?”

“The coffee pony was right.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is all…garbage. All of it.”

He looked around the shop. “How do you know?”

He almost stepped backwards as a cocky grin spread across her face. In all the time he’d known her he wasn’t sure if he had ever seen her this confident.

Uh-oh.

She held a hoof up and pointed at one of the racks next to them. “See that staff on the right?” He looked over to see a metallic silver staff topped in some sort of purple crystal. He leaned in to read the item tag beneath it.

STAFF OF KETRAX: THIS MIGHTY STAFF WAS USED BY THE HIPPOGRIFF MAGE KETRAX IN THE EQUESTRIAN-HIPPOGRIFFIN WAR OF 437 P.B. IT’S SAID THE STAFF WAS USED TO RAISE ENTIRE FERTILE VALLEYS OF FERTILE CROPS FOR THE HIPPOGRIFF ARMY ON THEIR LONG MARCH TO EQUESTRIA. WHILE THE STAFF MIGHT SEEM SPENT, ITS EFFECTS CAN STILL BE FELT TODAY IN ITS ABILITY TO NURTURE CROPS AND GUARANTEE GOOD HARVEST! ONLY B399.99!

“Ok? I’m assuming it’s a fake?”

She snorted. “Fake? It couldn’t be any faker if it tried.” She gestured excitedly across the staff. “Just look at it! First of all the Equestrian-Hippogriff War started in 435 P.B not 437. Secondly it didn’t raise entire valleys of food. It had minor time altering properties. Ketrax used it in combat to slow down oncoming soldiers. Beyond that he could use it to ward off spoilage of food as they marched, not raise entire valleys of food. Third history largely agrees it was most likely stored in the vault under Canterlot Castle after Celestia accepted their surrender.”

He nodded like she was describing the weather. “Well of course. How did I not notice all that at first?”

She nodded. ‘Right?”

He fought back a smile. She was too invested in the fakes around them to even notice his sarcasm.

“So is everything in here like that?”

“Everything I’ve looked at is.” She gestured up to the bird skeleton in the cage. A sign below it read: PHOENIX SKELETON, SHAVINGS OF THE BONE BREWED IN TEA CAN ASSIST WITH STALLION VIRILITY! B499.99/oz

“Can you figure out what’s wrong with that?”

He stared at the cage for a moment before it came to him. “Wait…I thought Phoenixes burnt up when they died? Even if they’re killed early. They just vaporize into ash. There’s no such thing as a Phoenix skeleton.”

She beamed up at him. “Very good.”

He looked around again. “So you’re sure this is ALL junk?”

She scanned a few more items and nodded. “This is all just….tourist trap, peddler…nonsense.”

Double sighed. “Sucker born every minute.” He scanned the shop again. “Do you think he actually has the serindium? I’m not seeing a ‘rare elements shelf’.”

She shrugged. “Like you said. We came all this way. I’m not the best at reading other ponies but…I don’t feel like the dock pony would have lied to us.”

He nodded. “I don’t either.” He held a hoof up to his mouth. “HELLO!”

From behind the back door they heard something call out nonsensically before the entire shop vibrated in tandem with a loud crash.

A booming voice called out from the back. “My apologies!! Coming! Coming!!” A few seconds later the back door burst open and the owner of the shop burst through.

Oh….grand.

In seconds he had spanned the distance across the shop and stood before them bowing.

That explains the door…and the shop.

Minotaurs were rare in Equestria. Very little was known about their country and even less about them as creatures. They were legendary xenophobes and getting to their lands was an incredibly dangerous journey. Other than being very large, the only other universal trait among the creatures was that they were incredible opportunists. Most were business owners and pursued the accumulation of wealth above all else. Double had heard that for every one of them that ran a legitimate operation there was another that was looking to earn every bit he could get away with. It seemed this one was the latter.

“Welcome my friends to the Seaddle Emporium of Magical Artifacts and Exotic Arcane Goods! I’m your humble purveyor of all things mystical and strange, Fair Deal!”

What in Equestria is that accent? It sounded like some sort of odd mixture between Prench and Double’s cousins who lived in the southern swamps of Equestria.

He was actually slightly smaller than the few other Minotaurs Double had seen in his life. Maybe a head shorter and noticeably less muscled. Still he absolutely towered over the two of them. He was clad in some sort of body length, gold accented red robe cinched at the waist with what looked like a strand of golden silk. Various gems and baubles hung off each of his horns and waved chaotically in the candlelight.

Before they could say anything he clapped his hands and gestured around the shop. “What could I help you find today! What enchanted wares could a young Pony couple like yourselves need? Perhaps a charm to bring good luck or…” He scanned them over and waggled his massive eyebrows. “A draught that can boost virility?”

Out of the corner of his eye he watched Aurora’s flush crimson from snout to tail. He fought off a flush himself and stepped forward. “Can’t say we are. We heard you have might have serindium for sale?”

The fake salesman smile evaporated from the Minotaur’s face instantly.

“Oh.”

He straightened back up and started walking towards the sales counter. The unidentifiable exotic accent had disappeared in an instant. “And what could young ponies like yourselves want with serindium?”

Aurora moved up to join him as they followed him to the back. “What do you mean ‘young ponies’?”

He shrugged. “Foggy had told me it was just the Princesses and older unicorns that ever messed with this stuff.”

He looked them over. “Do you two have bits?”

Before Double could say anything Aurora lurched forward and levitated a sack heavy with bits in front of them. “Is this enough”

It took everything Double had to not groan. Great. Already gave away the store.

Fair Deal looked the bag over, clearly impressed. “Fair enough. Wait here.”

He walked around the counter and returned to the back room.

Double leaned over to her. “You shouldn’t have brought the bits out.”

She turned, clearly confused. “Why? He wanted to know.”

Double gestured a wing around the shop. “He already knew we had bits. I’m guessing no one knows he has the serindium unless the dock pony tells them. And since Foggy mentioned no one had come asking, I’m assuming we’re the first since it dried up. Why would Foggy have told us if we clearly weren’t willing to buy? I don’t think he’d waste this creature’s time.”

He pointed a hoof at the sack. “I don’t know what this stuff goes for normally but now he knows you have at least THAT much and he can probably make a pretty good guess at how many bits that is. Three quarters of that is probably his new minimum.”

Aurora sighed. “Great.” Before Double could say anything, the minotaur emerged from the back with an old chest almost as large as Aurora was. He set it on the ground before stepping behind and lifting the lid.

He heard Aurora gasp and he leaned in to scan the chest’s wares.

That’s….it?

For all of the effort they had put into getting to this moment, he really had expected more out of their elusive bounty. He knew serindium was just another element, albeit magically useful. Still he had expected something at least moderately impressive. Something glistening. Something vibrant.

You have got to be kidding me.

At the bottom of the chest sat a jagged, lumpen pile of dirty green crystals about the size of his hoof. Next to it were a few other various gems and lumps of metal he didn’t recognize. All of them were filthy, oddly-shaped and very unimpressive to the eye.

He turned to ask Aurora if this was what they were actually looking for but the look on her face told him everything he needed to know. If Princess Celestia herself had descended from the ceiling and greeted them he didn’t think she’d look this starstruck.

I’m not sure she’d even notice at the moment.

Fair Deal smirked at her and gestured at the trunk. “Two pounds of pure serindium, a half pound of forsic and a pound of aggtrium.”

Aurora shook her head. “How….how do you have this much?”

Double raised an eyebrow at the minotaur. “Amazing what falls off of crates right?”

Fair Deal nodded. “Took you for just a dumb kid.”

“Heard that a few times today. Why you, though? Rare magical elements don’t exactly seem like your stock in trade.” He waved a wing around the shop.

“Anything rare right? Foggy and I are old drinking buddies. One night he mentioned all this stuff. I took a gamble.”

Called it.

“He got some extra bits in his pocket and you might be sitting on a cheap gold mine.”

The minotaur smirked. “Something like that.” He looked over at Aurora. “I have a chisel in the back. How much were you loo…”

Aurora cut him off. “How much?”

Fair Deal shook his head. “How much? For what amount?”

“All of it.”

“All of the serindium?”

“No. All of it. The entire trunk.”

Fair Deal chuckled. “Little mare you can’t possibly affo…”

“HOW MUCH?!”

Double and Fair Deal jerked back as she yelled the question across the shop.

The minotaur collected himself and looked over the contents of the trunk again. Before long he snorted and looked up. “Four hundred thousand bits.”

Double sighed inwardly. There’s no way she has anywhere near that much.

“Will you take something other than bits?”

Double jerked and looked over. “Aurora…what?”

Fair Deal raised an eyebrow. “Such as?”

Before he could say anything she produced a small black sack from her saddle bag.

What in Equestria?

She held the sack up and pulled out a tiny purple gemstone.

Fair Deal leaned down and examined the rock. “Is that?”

She nodded. “Pure musgravite. I’ll trade you six of them for the chest.” She floated five more of them from the sack to her hoof. The bulge in the sack told Double she must have had many more.

Double shook his head. “What is musgravite?”

Fair Deal whistled and looked over. “Rarest gem on Equus son. Dragons will pay a fortune for them. Put’s them in a blissful trance. Basically a drug”

Why in the hell does she have….

Double looked back at her. “Aurora wait! This can’t be worth..”

The glare she shot Double nearly took the breath out of him.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Fair Deal turned back to her. “Are you sure about this?”

Aurora nodded.

He shrugged and pulled the pile of gems out of her hoof. “Fair deal. The chest is yours.”

Double stared in disbelief as Aurora nodded, closed the chest with her magic and gestured to Double as she started dragging it out of the store.

He looked and forth between her and shopkeeper. “Aurora!” She paused halfway out the door. “I’ll be right there.” She nodded and pulled the chest out the front door.

Double turned back as the minotaur stared down at him. “Why did you do that?”

“Did what?”

“She was clearly desperate. Why sell it for the first offer?”

The minotaur shook his head. “I already made a profit. And besides….not going to tempt her wrath.”

“What do you mean ‘tempt her wrath’?”

Fair Deal tilted his head. “You really don’t have a clue do you? I might have made a mistake here. Aren’t you two…together?”

Double shook his head. “No. I’m just her friend.” He sighed. “Her land lord really.”

The horned creature chuckled. “Ah. That explains it.” He put the gems in a small bag and stuffed them into a drawer below the cash register. “Son…has she told you what some of these materials are used for?”

Double shook his head. “No. I just know she’s using it to build…something.”

Fair Deal gave him a sad smile. “You’ve got some street smarts kid. I’ll give you that. Way more than she does anyway. But you’ve still got a lot to learn.” He held up a finger. “One, I might be a scam artist but I’m not a monster. She offered me what I asked. Fair deal.” He held up a second finger. “Two, I wasn’t going to push my luck.”

“What do you mean?”

He snorted. “Do you really think I wasn’t listening when you walked in the shop?” He waved a hand across his wares. “Your friend knew immediately all this was junk. I sell to unicorns all day long who don’t have the slightest clue what any of this stuff is. I make copies out of some old history book I have in the back and embellish what it did. Most ponies don’t have a clue.” He pointed at the door. “Most ponies don’t know their asses from a hole in the ground when it comes to magical relics. She knew on SIGHT. And on top of that she’s asking about serindium?”

“So?”

“I bought those materials on the gamble that someday they might net me a nice payday. Now that’s happened and I’ll be honest, I’m kind of glad to be rid of them.”

Double’s ears perked up. “Why?”

“I asked Foggy once what the Princesses use this stuff for. I guess he’d wondered the same. Asked one of the guards who came to get the shipment. Even he wasn’t entirely sure but he knew a little.”

“And?”

“And apparently it’s some pretty crazy shit. Spells that can reshape terrain on a massive scale. It’s used to power the enchantment that keeps Cloudsdale afloat. He said something about a watch that can replicate Celestia and Luna’s powers. Time travel. And that’s just what this guard had heard. This isn’t your everyday unicorn buddy floating a tea cup over to you. A lot of this sounded pretty dangerous.” Far Deal nodded his head towards the door. “Your marefriend there seems to know a shitload about magic. More than any unicorn I’ve ever met anyway. AND she wants serindium? For all I know she could have vaporized me and taken the goods. On top of that I hear some weird company is buying up all this shit and nocreature knows why? I’ll pass on getting involved in that, thanks.”

The fur on Double’s back stood up. There was no way Aurora was involved in anything like that.

The minotaur sighed. “Let me give you a piece of advice. You’ve clearly got it for her. Pretty bad too.”

Double blushed. “That obvious?”

He nodded.

Double sighed.

“I don’t know how you got roped into this but it’s clear you don’t have a clue what it is she’s messing with here. I’d start asking some tough questions before she goes much further. For both your sakes.”

Double turned and stared at the shop door. Great. Just. Fucking. Great. Aurora…what have you gotten into?

Chapter 8: The Canterlot Incident - Part 1

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“Caden?”

He jerked as a hoof touched his thigh. He looked down at Redheart sitting on the bench next to him. She pointed at Fluttershy standing in the car aisle. “She was trying to get your attention.”

He sighed. “I’m sorry Fluttershy. What did you say?”

She smiled and shook her head. “It’s ok. Do you want anything from the snack car? We still have some time before we get to Canterlot and I’m a little hungry.”

She is the politest thing in all universes. He thought for a moment. “Ummmm…..I’m not even sure what they might have. Anything not hay? Or sweet? If possible.”

Fluttershy turned to Redheart.

“What about you?”

Red looked up from her book. “Cupcake bites for me. Strawberry if they have them.”

The pink maned pegasus nodded and turned to start taking requests from the rest of their party. Across the aisle from them Twilight had an entire set of benches to herself and the small library of books she had brought along with her. Calling them books wasn’t giving them enough credit. These were tomes. Enormous ancient volumes riddled with script he still could barely read and pictures of things he didn’t understand. Most of it looked more like calculus than words. Minutes after getting on the Friendship Express she had planted her face in one of them and hadn’t looked up since.

Behind them sat the rest of Twilight’s friends. Rarity and Pinkie were discussing the feasibility of creating a dress made of edible confetti while Applejack and Rainbow Dash did their best to ignore the whirlwind of confection based creation around them. For her part, Rarity was doing an amazing job of entertaining Pinkie’s latest spastic whim.

He felt Redheart squeeze his thigh. “You ok?”

He nodded. “Yeah. Why?”

She shrugged. “I saw you jerk. Just curious.”

“Ah.” He stared back out the window as the Equestrian countryside whipped by them. Vast mountain ranges towered into an azure sky as an emerald carpet stretched out forever in front of them. In the very distance Canterhorn Mountain slowly grew as they approached. From this distance he barely see Canterlot. The Equestrian Capital was little more than a bulb on the side of the massive stone fang.

“I was lost in the countryside. Realizing that it’s all really out there.”

He felt her shift closer to him. “What do you mean?”

“It just makes me think back to that first day. I woke up just southwest of Everfree in that.” He pointed out the train window. “Since then I haven’t been any farther outside of Ponyville than Sweet Apple Acres. I mean….Twilight has shown me pictures of all these places. I’ve heard stories but…..”

He felt a hoof rest on his thigh. “Now you’re seeing it really is a whole world out there? That this is a real place?”

He nodded. “Something like that. I guess I’m still figuring out this is an entire world. A whole different planet. I got used to the town but there’s so much more out there.”

She rubbed a cheek against his arm. “That must be difficult.”

“It is but…I’ll be ok. I’ve adapted so far.”

“Yes you have. Amazingly so.”

He smiled at her. “Good company has certainly helped.”

They shared the smile before she turned away to pull a magazine out of the saddle bag next to her.

He turned and looked back out the window. Honestly shockingly so. He’d always watched shows or read books where a human ended up in incredibly weird circumstances and adapted in days. It was something he’d always viewed with a degree of skepticism. He’d of thought he would have spent months or years adapting to something like seeing magic. Or aliens landing. Divine interventions. Time travel.

Portals to other worlds.

He started turning back to look at Redheart. She has helped tremend….. Before he could finish his thought, he burst out laughing.



She looked up from her magazine. “What?”

She was curled up on the bench next to him with both sets of legs tucked up against her body. Her pink tail curled around the front of her and nestled up against her belly.

He smiled and shook his head. “Nothing. It’s just…”

She tilted her head. “Just what?”

He giggled again. “Don’t take this the wrong way but…you kind of look like a cat. Sitting like that. I’ve seen the other girls do it sometimes and it always makes me chuckle.”

She flicked her tail back and looked herself over. “Oh. I guess that’s true. Never really thought about it.” She gave him a once over. “I can see why you might notice. I can’t imagine laying like this would be very comfortable for you.”

He shook his head. “Not to just sit there, no.”

She shifted and sat up on her haunches. He didn’t have the heart to tell her it didn’t do much to alleviate the feline similarities. “It must be weird for you being bipedal in a world of mostly quadrupeds.”

He shrugged. “Really not as weird as you might think. Humans are kind of weird even on Earth.”

“How so.”

He pointed at her legs. “Most animals on Earth are quadrupeds or fish or spiders or…well you get the point.” He ran through a quick inventory of every animal on Earth he could think of. “I can’t think of much that always walks on two legs besides us and….birds? And they fly usually. Other animals SOMETIMES stand on two limbs. I think I saw a video of some lizard running on two legs once.”

“It really doesn’t sound all that different from here.”

He glanced around the room at the pastel, magical equine. In some ways.

He nodded. “Most of the animals I’ve seen here are basically identical to what we have on Earth. Dogs. Cats. Elephants. Fish. Birds.”

“Do you have ponies in your world?”

He winced. “Kiiiiind of….”

She raised an eyebrow. “Kind of? What does that mean?”

This had been an incredibly awkward conversation with Twilight. How did you tell someone that in your world the closest equivalent to their species was something that yours had long since domesticated. For her part Twi had found the entire concept fascinating.

“We don’t have ponies like you.” He stopped and sighed.” I mean…we do have ponies. And horses…which are….sort of giant ponies.”

“Can they talk?”

“Ah…no. I think I told you before humans are the only animal on Earth that can talk. Well…..mostly. Let’s exclude parrots.”

“So they’re like giant versions of us?”

“Way larger. Way stronger. Way less magical.”

“I’m guessing the Ponies are the same?”

“Ponies ARE smaller than horses but they’re still bigger than you. At least I think that’s the difference. I don’t actually have much experience with horses in general.” He looked around the car at the various Ponies scattered here and there. “Well….I didn’t anyway.”

She nodded. “That’s interesting. ‘Horse’ is actually a pretty old word for Ponies. It’s a leftover from ancient Poneish. At least that’s what I remember from school.”

“That’s what Twilight told me too. Of course who knows if that’s coming across right. The translation spell might just be finding the best equivalent.”

Her eyes went wide. “Oh that’s riiiight. I forgot you were under some kind of translation enchantment.”

He looked over at Twilight, snout still buried in her tome. “I am. It just seems to sort of auto translate what I say and hear. Unless I’m really paying attention I usually forget I’m even speaking Poneish. Twi said that was by design.”

“That is so cool.” She shifted left until she was pressed completely against high right side.

He smiled and wrapped his arm around her trunk. “Well hello.”

She giggled. “So can you say anything in…..” She looked away, thinking.

“English. I speak English.” He nodded. “If I focus I can. Would you like to hear some?”

She nodded enthusiastically.

“Hmmmmmm. What to say?”

“Can you say ‘My name is Caden.’”

“I can.” He took a breath and focused inwardly. English. English. Say it in English.

MY NAME IS CADEN.”

Her eyes lit up like sapphires as her tail thrashed wildly. “THAT IS SO COOL!

“What did it sound like to you?”

She shook her head. “Absolute gibberish.”

He chuckled. “Anything else you’d like to hear?”

She shrugged. “Anything you can think of!”

He thought for a moment before giving her a half smile. He bent down and spoke gently into her ear. “REDHEART IS BEAUTIFUL.

He watched the fur on her back stand on end as a shiver rippled up and down her. She turned until they were nose to snout. She smiled and kissed the tip of his nose. “And what exactly did that mean?”

He gave her his best flirty smile. “I don’t know. It might lose something in the translation. I can try to tell you later.”

He was nanoseconds from kissing her when a mare's voice called out from behind Redheart. “Ummmmm….”

Both of them jerked and looked over to see Fluttershy standing next to their bench with a pile of snacks clutched under one wing. She was more red than yellow as an embarassed grin fought its way to her face.

“I have our snacks!”

Caden looked back at Redheart who winked at him and turned back to the crimson Pegasus.

“Thank you Fluttershy. What were you able to get?”

She nervously exhaled and started passing around the treats. “They didn’t have strawberry cupcake bites. I hope vanilla’s ok?”

“Perfect. Thank you.”

Redheart took the snack as Fluttershy held a paper bag to Caden. “The only non hay thing they had was this.

Caden took the bag from her and examined the logo of bright red, fried potato strips.

Holy shit. Are these…?

“The snack mare said they were some sort of spicy, fried potato strip. I wasn’t sure since I don’t like spicy things.”

Caden nearly tore the bag in two before He ripped the bag open and grabbed a handful of the bright red strips. As soon as he stuffed them into his mouth he smiled.

Spicy. Crunchy. Salty. Bit of vinegar tang.

He moaned and stuffed another handful into his face. Wonderful

Redheart chuckled. “Enjoying those?”

He nodded. “Remind me to ask Twilight what these are when we get home. These are….incredibly close to Flaming Hot Cheetos. They’re my favorite chip back home.” He turned to Fluttershy who had taken back her place across from them and was opening what looked like a small bag of fruit snacks. “Thanks Fluttershy.”

She smiled. “No problem.”

He worked on his snack as Redheart turned back to her book and Fluttershy attended to Angel. He turned and looked back out the window as Canterhorn continued to grow in the distance. Two months had passed since he and Redhearts date and the subsequent conversation with Twilight through the Cutie Map. She and the girls had spent a few more days in Canterlot getting as much information out of the poor pegasus that had gone through the portal as they could. When nothing additional happened they had returned to Ponyville. He and Twilight had watched a magical recording of Sky’s detailed description of what he had seen over and over again. Every single thing he said made it clear he had been looking out over Las Vegas. The buildings, the humans, the jetliner. There was no doubt in Caden’s mind that it was real and it was Earth.

What was truly frustrating is that it had raised more questions for than answers. It seemed they now knew how he had gotten there. But they still didn’t know where these portals were coming from or when and where they would appear. Just as perplexing was the fact that it seemed Equus and Earth lined up geographically to a point. Sky had been quite a distance outside of Las Pegasus when he’d found the portal and ended up looking just over the edge of Las Vegas. With Caden still living in Colorado that explained why he’d been dumped unceremoniously outside of Ponyville. As far as he could tell the town sat in rough approximation to the middle of his home state. What if one of these things opened to the far east in Equestria? In lands Twilight said hadn’t been particularly well explored. Could the portals go both ways? Were the Chinese going to suddenly get a Bugbear visitor or worse? Was an Australian suddenly going to be dumped somewhere in Abysinnian land? Could a Pony end up in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest?

Life had moved along largely as normal since then. His lessons with Twilight, trying to adapt to living in Equestria and learning to know Redheart. That was before Twilight had knocked on his bedroom door two days ago. Celestia and Luna were requesting their presence Something had been found to the west of Baltimare that clearly wasn’t from Equestria. It was being transported to Canterlot at that very moment. All he’d been told is that it was some kind of ‘giant metal box’. In the two hours he’d been given to pack he had barely been able to make it to Redheart’s to let her know he would need to cancel their date the next night. A whirlwind packing session and royal request from Twilight later and they were on their way.

And so here he was on the Friendship Express bound for Canterlot and a meeting with Princesses’s Celestia and Luna.

Two nigh-on immortal alicorns that can literally control the heavens. The rulers of an entire race of magically infused Ponies. And they want me to come look at a ‘giant metal box’. From my world.

He thought back to Redhearts comment about how well he had adapted. He wasn’t sure what bothered him more. The situation that he was in…or that it didn’t really seem all that weird anymore.

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Holy….shit.” Caden leaned against the glass of the observation booth and stared down at the city below.

“Holy SHIT.”

Twilight ginned up at him smugly. “Impressed?”

He nodded. “Jesus…christ. How?”

She chuckled and waved a hoof outwards. “Magic. I’ve heard so much about your world’s wonders I figured it was a long time to show you one of ours.”

He shook his head and gaped at what was below him. The Canterlot station for the Friendship Express was at the base of Canterhorn Mountain. From there most Ponies took a massive series of elevators that ran upwards through the mountain. A climbing trail existed for the truly insane while some Pegasi were content to make their way up to the capital on their own wingpower. After disembarking the train and handing their luggage off to a royal attendant Twilight had suggested they go all the way up to an observation deck above the city. Caden had barely a chance to make a decision before being swept up in Twilight’s excitement and into the elevator. For his part he was still trying to wrap his head around a royal attendant coming to check his luggage.

He, Twilight and Redheart had rode the car all the way up through the height of the mountain. The others had decided to head straight for the city proper. When they reached their destination the doors of the elevator opened to a glass enclosed balcony nestled against the mountainside. Several other groups of Ponies gathered at the edge of the booth. Twilight had bounded forward and beckoned them towards the glass. Once Canterlot had come into view he’d felt his breath leave him.

“Magic….holy….shit.”

Twilight chuckled. “I was getting a little jealous hearing about your computers and spacecraft and everything else. Figured I’d show what we’re capable of.”

“Jesus Twilight. This is….”

Redheart stepped up and wrapped her tail around his leg. “Beautiful?”

“Uhhh…yeah.” He’d never seen anything like the metropolis stretching out below him.The entire city was essentially a massive disc clinging to the mountain on one side. Innumerable smaller platforms peppered around it and formed ascending and descending pavilions around the city. He was able to pick out at least seven separate individual districts, each one far larger than Ponyville. There were gardens, parks, huge clusters of houses and what he could only guess were business districts.

A massive waterfall cascaded down the side of Canterhorn mountain and fed canals that snaked like blue arteries through the city. Some of those branched off and fed into reservoirs and pools that drained off into the sky below. At the furthest end of the city was Canterlot Castle. It stood alone on a separate platform from the rest of the city, connected by a gargantuan stairway. The castle itself wasn’t substantially different from what he had seen on Earth, save for a series of massive towers at the back of grounds. He could see ancillary buildings, pools and a garden that appeared to connect to a massive hedge maze. The entire city, to include the castle, was done in gentle shades of blue, gold, lavender and white.

He whistled. This was a city. A living, breathing, breathtaking city. If it was on Earth it would be counted among the likes of Paris, Prague and Vienna in terms of sheer beauty.

He shook his head. “Magic is holding that up?”

Twilight came up on his opposite side. “It is. We couldn’t build anything like that without it.”

She nodded out across the city. “It’s magically infused materials specifically. Stasis spells that slow the degradation of the structure of the city. They lighten the pressure on the mountain and regenerate the rock. Using natural elements to enhance and sustain those magical effects. Celestia pioneered the concept a few centuries ago when she built Canterlot. Cloudsdale runs off the same idea. It’s been used for simple things like weapons and artifacts for millennia. She just started looking into how to take it to the next level.”

Caden whistled. “Well….we don’t have anything like this on Earth. Not just….jutting out against gravity like that.

He felt Redheart’s tail tighten on his leg. “Speaking of gravity. Look.” She pointed a hoof out beyond the city. He wasn’t able to see anything except for a few clouds that seemed to have a shadow behind them.

“I don’t see anyth…” At that moment he noticed the shadow was getting darker and larger by the second.

“What the…?”

He heard Twilight giggle and looked down to her, giving him the smuggest smile he had seen on her. “I was hoping it would arrive while we're up here. I actually did my best to time that.” Her wings puffed up proudly. “Looks like I pulled it off.”

He shook his head. “Time what? ‘It’? What are you talking about?”

She pointed a wing out towards the glass. “The Eclipse. Largest airship in Equestria.”

Caden turned back just in time to see something golden puncture the clouds next to the city.

“Oh..my…god.”

Twilight had told him about the airships in Equestria. She had even shown him a picture of them. They reminded him of early human zeppelins. Essentially a small boat slung under a giant balloon.

This was something else entirely.

The prow was the first part to emerge. At first it was little more than a massive wooden spear in the sky. Shortly after a golden alicorn, wings unfurled and front legs reared up aggressively appeared. Before long the rest of it burst forth from the clouds.

Fuck me.

The ship was enormous. Far larger than any sailing vessel he had ever seen. It had to be at least five hundred feet long and wide enough that he could have fit a good sized house on the deck. The hull was at least fifteen decks deep based on the number of cabin windows he could see from here. The top deck looked similar to what he would have expected in a sailing ship from human history. He could see Ponies milling around on the deck pulling rigging and trimming rope to adjust the array of fins, sails and propellers that kept the thing aloft. The deck rose in the rear of the ship and ended in a large cabin of some sort with huge glass windows on the front. He could only assume that was the bridge. The entire ship was made of wood with some sort of golden inlay that accented where joints and sections came together.

It looks more like a god damned battleship.

He heard Redheart giggle. “You looked impressed.”

It took a moment for him to realize he was grinning from ear to ear. He felt like a four year old on Christmas morning.

“Sorry. I just…..WOW. That thing is amazing. I used to see stuff like that on the cartoons I watched growing up. I had a friend in college who was really into steampunk. He’d be going absolutely insane if he could see this.”

He turned back as the ship slowed and settled next to one of the outward discs of the city. He saw Pegasi start dragging ropes between the ship and what he now realized was an airship dock.

“Wow. Fuck me. Wow.”

“I’d hoped you would be impressed. I took a hunch and figured something like this wouldn’t work on your world.” Twilight said.

“Not that I can imagine, no. We have ‘airships’ but they can only hold a small number of people. I think the largest ones back in the day could carry a few dozen people. That’s part of why we invented planes.” He waved his hands excitedly towards the Eclipse. “We don’t have entire sailing ships in the sky.”

He turned back and drank the scene in again. “Wow.”

Twilight nodded towards the skybound leviathan. “A similar ship is actually what’s bringing the item from your world. Smaller though. The Torrent.”

He whirled from the ship and back to her. “Really?!”

She nodded. “It wasn’t far from the area when we got the news. We figured it was the fastest way to get it here.”

He looked back to the Pegasi mooring the ship to the dock.

“When does it get here?”

“A few hours. You and Red have time to go see the city.”

Redheart leaned up against his leg. “You should see it at night. It’s all even prettier when it’s lit up. Especially the city.”

He looked down at her. “Been here before?”

She nodded. “A few times.”

He stepped forward and leaned against the glass of the observation deck. “You aren’t joking though. It really is beautiful.”

Outside of his unceremonious arrival in Equestria and rain soaked jaunt through the Everfree Forest, he had spent his entire time in Equestria in Ponyville. She had told him early on that Ponyville was very much a small town. Twilight and her castle were very much an anomaly caused by a combination of magical happenstance and historic lineage from the Castle of the Two Sisters. At some point it seems he had built this image that Ponyville was as far as Equestria extended. Perhaps out of some kind of coping instinct. Now that he was seeing Canterlot for the first time, it was all hitting harder than before. The same feelings he was having on the train roared back to his mind.

This is an entire world. A world with its own wonders. Its own creatures. Cultures. Countries.

He felt Redheart's tail squeeze his leg again. “Hey.”

He looked down. “What’s up?”

Ears dropped as she shook her head. “You ok? You look….upset.”

He stared back out towards the city and sighed. “Yeah I’m fine. It’s just….this is a lot.

She squeezed again. “A real place right?”

He fought back a blush as he realized how easily she was reading his mind these days. “Exactly.”

Twilight turned and started talking back towards the elevator doors. “If you two want to stay up here and watch some more, feel free. I need to meet with Celestia and Luna before our appointment.”

Caden looked down to Redheart. “What would you like to do?”

“Want to go see the city? I can show you some of the highlights.”

He nodded excitedly. “Sure! Sounds fun.” He turned back to Twilight. “What time am I supposed to be at the castle?”

“By 8. Luna should be done with her moonrise duties by that point.”

“And I just…walk up and knock on the door?”

She shook her head and laughed. “The guards at the front will be waiting for you. I’ve made sure they know what you look like.”

He chuckled. “Well I won’t be hard to spot.” He looked down at the shorts and t-shirt he was wearing. “And you are absolutely sure I didn’t need to wear something more formal than this?” This seems to be a common problem for me.

She shook her head. “This isn’t a formal affair. They just want your help with whatever this thing is.”

He shrugged. “I just never thought I’d be in a palace in my life. Let alone meeting royalty. Now I’ve done it twice. ”

Twilight chuckled and winked at him as she stepped into the elevator. “Funny where life takes you right?” With that the doors closed.

He turned back to Redheart. “Where did you want to go first?”

She thought for a moment. “How about the arts district? They usually have a bunch of shows, displays and street food. That kind of thing.”

“Sounds great! Lead the way!”

She started walking towards the elevator before turning back around and pointing a hoof at him. “I meant to ask you. How’s your arm?”

He stretched his right arm out. “Fine for now. No flare ups today.”

What had begun as an occasional numbness in his right arm would sometimes now result in full on pain. It felt like he was holding a fork in a light socket.He’d get a sharp jolt in his right arm that would quickly work it’s way into his chest. After a few moments the pain would fade into numbness and eventually, fade altogether. Neither the hospital or Twilight had any idea what was going on. When the pain wasn’t there he didn’t have any weakness or loss of function and he was perfectly healthy otherwise.

Redheart frowned. “I’m still really worried about that. I really wish we could get you to one of your own doctors.”

He squatted down to look her in the eye. “I’m sure it’s just something temporary. I feel fine otherwise. Probably just the mother of pinched nerves.”

“Caden I know what a pinched nerve acts like. We aren’t THAT different.”

She stepped forward and rested her forehead against his. “I worry about this. I really do. At work, all I see is all the ways creatures can get hurt. We know almost nothing about you. We got lucky with the Timberwolves. Really lucky! What if something more serious had happened? What if whatever was wrong required your advanced human medicine, like your shoulder. We couldn’t fix that.” She snorted in frustration. “For Celestia’s sake we couldn’t even give you blood if you needed it!”

He pulled back and gave her his cockiest grin. “Well then I guess I’ll just have to never get hurt right?”

She growled and thumped him in the chest with a hoof. “Caden! I’m fucking serious.” She pulled back, closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

He sighed. Stop deflecting. He reached up and cupped her muzzle. “Hey. Red.”

She opened her eyes and sighed. “Sorry. I’m sorry Caden. It’s just…..these past few weeks with you and I…”

He shook his head. “No. I’m sorry. You’re absolutely right. If I got hurt here…seriously hurt I don’t know what you would even be able to do.”

She reached a hoof up and placed it on his hand. “You're…important to me Caden. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

He squeezed her muzzle. “You’re important to me too.” She smiled and nodded as he stood up and nodded towards the elevator. “Shall we get going?”

She nodded and they started walking before she suddenly stopped. He turned to see her frowning at him.

“Red? What’s wrong?”

She shook her head. “It’s nothing. Sorry.”

He could tell by the look on her face that it was most decidedly not ‘nothing’.”

“Red. What’s wrong?”

She sighed and shook her head “I just…..I wish I could show you affection in public.”

He scowled, confused. “What do you mean? You’re affectionate with me all the time.”

She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean.” she said before walking up and leaning against his leg. “I just wish we could…what did you call it? Hold hands?” She reared up slightly and nuzzled his hand with her cheek. “If you were a Pony we could tie our tails together.” She settled back down and wrapped her tail around his leg. “I can do this while you’re standing still but it’d be kind of hard to walk like this.”

“Oh. Yeah.” It was something he’d thought of as well. He’d noticed Pony couples walking around with their tails twisted around each other. Since he and Redheart had started seeing each other it was standing out to him more and more. Their anatomy made P.D.A slightly difficult if they were moving.

She gave him a small smile and nodded her head towards the elevator door. “It’s fine. We can figure it out.” She started walking towards the door.

“Well hold on.”

She stopped and turned back to him. “Hmmmm?”

He stared down at her for a moment, looking her over.

“Caden? You ok?”

Before she could do anything, he bent down and wrapped both of his arms around her trunk.

“Caden?! What are yo…EEP!” She squeaked as he lifted, flipped her over and settled her so her rump was cradled in the crook of his right arm. He brought his left arm over to support the hold. As soon as he steadied his arms she reached up and wrapped her front legs around his neck, squeezing for dear life.

“CADEN!!”

He smiled down at her. “What?”

She looked down at the ground and back up at him. “What in Tartarus are you doing?”

“What’s it look like? Carrying you.”

She gave him a dry look. “I can see that.” She loosened the death grip around his neck a bit and settled further into his arms. “Is this your idea of showing me public affection?”

He lifted her up a bit and kissed her on the cheek. “Looks pretty affectionate to me.”

She rolled her eyes. “Dork.” She stared down at the ground. “Dear Celestia, you’re tall.”

“You’ve said that before. Like I said, I’m just a bit over average height. Some humans are way taller than me.”

She shook her head. “I can’t imagine.” She looked around the observation deck. “The world looks way different from up here.”

He settled her further into his right arm and started rubbing the fur on her chest with his left. She looked down at his hand and smirked.

“What?”

“Do I look like a cat again?

He laughed. “Maybe a bit.” He leaned down and rubbed his nose against her snout. “You’re way cuter.”

She giggled and wiggled around again. “Glad to hear it.”

“So? What do you think? I’d be happy to do this anytime.”

She nuzzled her head against his chest. “Thank you Caden. This was a sweet idea.” She reached a hoof up and rubbed it against his bad shoulder. “This doesn’t hurt does it?”

He shook his head. “Not at all. I can carry things. It’s pulling myself up that causes problems.”

She nodded. “I’m glad.” She ran her hoof from his shoulder, down his chest and then up and down his arm. She smiled as she pawed at the taught muscle in his arm.

He smirked. “Enjoying yourself?”

She nodded. “I am. You humans are stronger than you look.” She brought her hoof back and rested it against his chest. “In all seriousness though babe, it’s not like you can go around carrying me like this. I have got to be getting heavy.”

He chuckled. “If I said ‘a little' would I get smacked?”

She laughed. “I’m not an insecure filly Caden. I’m well aware of how much I weigh.”

He lifted her up and looked her in the eye. “Well I’ll do this anytime you want.”

“Thank you.” She leaned forward and kissed him. He clutched her tighter until they parted and then gently flipped her back over and set her back on the ground before moving towards the elevator.

He pulled the rope that signaled they needed a car. “Do you have any idea what time it is?”

“Around two I think.”

“So we have about six hours.” He pointed back at the observation window. “ You said you’re from here. Want to give me a tour?”

She nodded. “Sure. Art’s district is still ok?”

He nodded. “Sure!”

With that the elevator door closed and they made their way down to the city level.

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The next several hours flew by in a blur of food, sightseeing and him walking around staring wide eyed at things. The observation deck didn’t do justice to the scale of the place and what it had to offer. He’d seen more creatures in the last few hours than he had seen in all his months in Equestria. He had seen a minotaur, a centaur, several griffons, a hippogriff and at least three of four more things he couldn’t even identify. At one point a dragon the size of a large house had flown over and it had taken Redheart literally pushing him with her head to get him out of the middle of the street, mouth gaping open.

Beyond the inhabitants, the city itself was a masterwork of architecture. Every building was uniquely decorated in swirls of purple, gold and white and never did one repeat. He’d passed by massive structures he was told were libraries, government offices and museums. Massive statues, fountains and plazas seemed to decorate every road they came across. The waterfalls coming off the mountain weaved their way through the city, pooling in areas to make beautiful parks.

“This place is insane!” he said as he forced himself to stop from staring at some sort of bipedal feline walking by them.

Redheart giggled. “I take it you’re still impressed.”

“Pfft. I was impressed back on the balcony. This is beyond impressive. This place is something out of a fantasy novel!”

She chuckled. “Funny hearing this from the guy who looked like he wanted to climb up the wall when he first saw me.”

He put on feigned offense. “I was injured. Not in my right mind.”

She rolled her eyes. “Uh-huh.”

He took a drink of some sort of fizzy, fruit beverage Redheart had bought for him. “What is this again?”

“Lemon Berry Fizz from Caramel’s Candy Shack. Why?”

“It’s good.”

The afternoon had done no favors for his physique. Canterlot was as loaded with food as any other large human city. So far he and Redheart had sampled everything from fried mushrooms from a cart on the side of the road to some kind of scone that apparently hailed from the Griffonland’s. A stroll through one plaza had led him to a smell he hadn’t enjoyed since his date with Redheart. With a supportive nod from Redheart he’d found himself at what he figured was the only stand in all of Equestria that sold grilled seafood. Several shrimp skewers later and he was a happy, happy human.

He took another sip of his drink. “So where to now?”

She looked up at the massive castle, now bathed in hues of gold, red and yellow from the setting sun and pointed a leg upwards. “Look.”

He followed her hoof up and gasped when he realized what she was pointing at. On a balcony atop the highest tower stood two ponies. Even from this far away he could easily recognize the white and blue alicorns he’d seen in his conversation with Twilight after their date.

“That’s really them huh?”

Redheart nodded. “At dawn and dusk. Every day.”

He shook his head. “That whole thing still makes my eye twitch a bit.”

“Why?”

“Let’s just say things work a little differently on Earth.”

“Ah.” She stared a moment longer at them and turned back to him. “Would you be interested in seeing the edge of the city? It’s beautiful around this time.”

“Absolutely.”

In a short time they arrived at another observation deck. It was nothing more than the edge of one of the plazas on the lower part of the city’s edge opposite the mountain. Ringed simply by a tall, golden fence, it allowed an unadulterated view of everything below and in front of the bulk of the city.

Even before walking to the edge, Caden was already awestruck by the view. He had never seen the sky look so…big. It was an endless collage of fading orange and red that melted upwards into purple and then black. The first stars were just beginning to dot the night sky.

“Jesus…..”

Redheart beckoned him to the edge of the deck. “Come here!”

He joined her side and gawked at the view. It seemed like the whole of Equestria was below them. Endless fields, forests and rivers stretched out before them. In the distance mountains jutted into the ether.

He noticed something out of the corner of his eye. Amid the rapidly darkening horizon was a single dim, blue light.

“What’s that?”

She looked over to where he was pointing. “That’s Ponyville. It’s the crystal on top of Twilight’s castle.”

He nearly went weak at the knees. It felt like they had been on the Friendship Express for hours. How could he possibly see that far away. As he stared out at the blue light, something he had thought about earlier sprung forth in his mind.

“How are we not freezing up here? We’ve got to be 10000 feet in the air. At LEAST.”

She looked straight up. “There’s a magic barrier protecting the entire city. Want to see?”

“Sure.”

She stood up on her hind legs and reached out past the deck’s fence. A few inches past it, her hoof ran up against what looked like a blue force field. He watched as it crackled and pulsed against her hoof.

“It keeps the temperature stable and the wind out. It’s also why the air isn’t any thinner up here.”

“That is so fucking cool.”

He reached his hand out to touch the field next to hers. As soon as his fingers met the energy, a small shimmer appeared in the field.

“What in the….”

“Caden maybe you shouldn’t touch….”

Before she could finish, a wave of pain shot through him like nothing he had ever felt. It felt like he’d been struck by lightning. He felt his entire arm clench as the pain shot it’s way from his hand, up his arm and across his chest. This was worse than anything he’d experienced before.

He yanked his hand away. “FUCK! Ow!!” He jerked away from the field.

“Caden?! Are you ok?”

He shook his right arm around and clenched his fist repeatedly.

He nodded. “I’m ok. It’s fading.” Within a few moments the pain faded into the same tingling numbness it always did. This time he felt most of his chest go numb for a few moments before feeling slowly returned.

Red rushed to his side. “What happened?”

He shook his arm out a few more times. “Same thing as before. Just worse. Felt like I got hit by lightning. It’s fading now.”

She stood up on her hind legs and ran her front hooves up and down his arm.

“Can you feel that?”

He nodded. “Like I said, it’s fading.”

She fell back down to all fours. “Has it ever happened before when you’re exposed to magic?”

“No. At least not that I remember.” He looked back towards the edge of the city and the invisible field. “You think that might be it?”

She sighed and shook her head. “I don’t know. I do find it odd that it was triggered by the bubble enchantment specifically. It might explain a lot. You’ve said many times that magic doesn’t exist in your world. I’m starting to worry how your body might be reacting to it.”

He rubbed his left hand up and down his arm. “You have a point.

Her ears folded back as she frowned. “Caden, I’d really like to get back to the castle and let Princess Twilight know about this.”

He stared down at his arm for a moment more, clenching and unclenching his fist. “Red…I know you’re worried but do you think we could finish the night out?”

Her frown immediately turned to irritation. “I really don’t think that’s wise. These attacks are getting worse. I’m seriously getting worried.”

He kneeled down in front of her. “I know. I know. And I promise I will let Twi know about this the moment we get back.” He looked straight into her blue eyes. “But please realize. This is the most fun I’ve had since I got here.” He waved a hand towards the city. “Being with you like this. For the first time since I can remember I feel…normal. Like I’m somewhere I actually live.”

“Caden….”

He reached both hands out and cupped her face. “Red. Please. I need this.”

She thought for a moment before sighing and nodding. “Fine. But if that triggers again we are going STRAIGHT to the castle.”

“Thank you Red.” He kissed her before standing back up. “I promise I’ll try to avoid any more magical force fields.”

She turned and smacked his leg with her tail. “Very funny. In any case, where do you want to finish the night out?”

He felt his stomach rumble. “If I told you I’m kind of hungry would you be shocked?”

She chuckled. “Not really. I’ve seen how much you can eat. Besides we’ve been walking around all day. I could eat too.” She started walking towards the observation deck stairs. “Was there something particular you had in mind?”

He shrugged. “Not necessarily. Corner bar is fine with me. I could use a drink anyway.”

“Sounds good to me. Let’s see what we can find.”

Before long they found themselves at a small pub called the ‘Dragons Claw’ on the outskirts of the castle platform. As soon as they walked in, Caden found himself at home. Save for the clientele, it could just as easily have been any old world pub back on Earth. Simple wood and stone fixtures dominated the space. On the walls were endless pictures of famous ponies and regulars that had visited the place over the years. At one end a roaring fire cast a warm, welcoming glow across the entire bar. Creatures laughed over frothing mugs of ale as glasses clinked together in the din of the place.

Redhead took a seat at a corner table as Caden headed towards the bar. A few moments later he returned with two massive, frothing wooden mugs of beer in his hands.

She raised an eyebrow as he sat down and slid her mug over to her. “You know you don’t have to get me drunk to sleep with me right?”

He was grateful he hadn’t taken a drink yet as it would have been all over her. He suppressed a laugh with a cough and shook his head. “Yes. I’m aware. This was the only size they had. I will say I’m appreciative. You Ponies seem to like drinking just as much as we do.”

She tilted her head, examining what he guessed was probably a half gallon of beer in front of her. “Well I guess I’ll only need one. What is this anyway?”

He picked the mug up in his hand and examined it. “Something they call ‘Wendigo’s Winter’. Apparently it’s made in house. Some sort of dark, wheat ale. The bartender recommended it and I haven’t had a beer since I got here.”

He tiled the vessel around in front of him. She isn’t kidding though. I’m twice her weight and I don’t think I could have more than 2 or 3 of these.

She shrugged. “Fair enough. What about food?”

“They said they’d send a Pony over in a bit. I guess they’re short handed.”

“Works for me.” She held the massive tankard up with her front hooves and held it out for a toast. “To Canterlot!”

They touched mugs and Caden took a long, slow drink of the beer.

He almost moaned as the beverage ran over his tongue. The short bitter taste was followed almost immediately by a wonderful medley of malt, molasses and an incredibly strong wheat bread flavor. He smiled, licking his lips as he set the mug back down.

Redheart smiled across the table. “You look like you enjoyed that.”

He nodded. “I did. This is basically a Dunkel.” He took another long sip of the beer.

She smirked and leaned in. “Aaaaand…that is?”

He swallowed. “Sorry. It’s a kind of dark beer on Earth. It tastes pretty much exactly like this. Like dark bread.”

She took a slow sip from hers and washed it around her mouth for a moment before swallowing. “Huh.” She examined the mug. “You were right. It does taste like dark bread.” She took another sip. “Dark bread that gets you drunk anyway.”

“Exactly.” He set his beer down and leaned forward, resting on his elbows and resting his chin on his folded hands. “I’ve had a blast today. I’m really glad I got to spend the day with you.”

It was her turn to blush. “I’m glad. I had a lot of fun too.”

He tilted his head outside. “So is there anything else you would like to do before we head to the castle?”

She shook her head. “Nah. I’m good as long as you are.” As she took her next drink, her eyes suddenly widened and she made the sound someone makes when they remember something but their mouth is full. “Mmmmm.” She set her drink back down. “Speaking of, where are we staying? We left in such a hurry I forgot to ask. I assume Twilight put us up somewhere?”

He felt his stomach twist in knots at the question. Shit. Did I not tell her?

He scratched his head sheepishly. “Well….we’re actually staying at the castle.”

She blinked a few times. “What?”

He winced and leaned backwards subconsciously. “I guess Twilight arranged our lodging for us. We’re staying in some sort of dignitaries suite.”

She stared blankly over her mug at him, mouth hanging slightly open.

He gave her what might have been the most awkward smile of his life. ”Sur…prise?”

Her nostrils flared as she glared across the table at him. “And when were you planning on telling me this?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Honestly it just kind of slipped my mind.”

She raised an eyebrow and gave him the most dry look he could imagine on a pony. “It slipped your mind? We’re staying at Canterlot Castle, home of the Two Sisters. Seat of power for all of Equestria. Just slipped your mind did it?”

He sighed and rubbed his face with his hand. “Red. Seriously, I'm sorry.”

She nodded sarcastically. “Sure. I get it. I suppose it might be easy to forget when you already live in a castle.” She made an exaggerated gesture with her hooves, as if she was taking an inventory of her luggage. “Now I wonder if I packed appropriately. Are we going to any balls? Should I have packed a gown? Can I borrow a tiara from Twilight?”

He groaned. “Red…babe…I really…”

His apology was stopped midway when he looked up and saw the shadow of the smirk on her face. He leaned back and rolled his eyes. “Very funny.”

She giggled and stuck her tongue out at him. “You’re too easy to wind up sometimes.”

He grunted and took a drink. “Ha ha.”

She picked her mug up and went to take a drink before setting it back down as a blush spread across her face.

“Red?”

She set the mug back down and he watched her scoot in her seat until he felt something reach out and start rubbing its way up his leg. He jerked before realizing it was her tail. He smiled and reached down to intertwine his fingers in the velvety hair.

“Well hello.”

She blushed deeper and hoofed at her mug. “You know…this means both times we’ve spent the night together will have been in castles?”

He nodded and felt her squeeze his hand with her tail. “I do.” He pulled his hand out of her tail before leaning forward and gesturing for her to do the same. She leaned in and he put his cheek against hers before whispering in her ear.

“I can only hope this time is as fun as it was last time…” He took another sip as his thoughts trailed off to a night at Twilight’s castle.

Interlewd 1: Out Of The Shallows (CLOP!!)

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Caden sat in the lobby of the Ponyville hospital, staring at the Ponies waiting around him. It seemed surreal to be there again. He thought back to waking up in that room after arriving in Equestria. Really accepting that he was in another world. Seeing a Pony full on for the first time.

That seems like a thousand years ago.

Around him sat Ponies with an array of ailments you would see at any hospital. There was a Pegasus with a clearly fractured wing, bound to her chest in a sling. An Earth Pony stallion holding a cold compress to a massive, darkening bruise on his shoulder. At the far end sat a mother cradling a very young, whimpering colt who kept reaching up and rubbing his ear. Caden’s heart went out to the little pony as his mother rocked him and whispered comforts to him.

Ear infection probably. He could remember seeing his brothers do the same thing when they were little.

“Caden?”

He looked up to see Redheart walking down the hallway to the waiting room. He stood up and walked over to meet her. He hadn’t seen her in her scrubs and nurses cap since that first time.

“Hey Red.”

She smiled and looked around the room. “What are you doing here? They said somecreature was waiting for me. I didn’t realize it was you. Sorry I made you wait so long.”

He looked at the stains on her scrubs. Every color imaginable was plastered across the light green fabric.

“It’s fine. You look like you’ve been busy.”

She snorted. “Every day. So what’s up?”

“Twilight is having a pool party at her castle this Saturday. I was wondering if you’d like to come. As my guest.”

Her face lit up like the sun. “I would love to!”

He beamed right back. “Awesome!”

Within seconds of his response he watched the smile on her face melt as quickly as it had formed. Her mouth formed a thin line as she brooded on something.

Uh oh. “Red? What’s wrong?”

She frowned in thought for a moment. “Ummm…it’s just…”

“Just what?”

“Do I need to….bring…anything? Or….do anything?”

He squinted in confusion. “Do anything? What do you mean?”

She waved a hoof backwards in what he assumed was the general direction of Twilight’s castle. “It’s Princess Twilight. It’s her castle. Most of us don’t really hang out with royalty all that much.”

He immediately thought back to his waking up in the hospital and Twilight having a spastic nerd attack at the idea of being able to live with him and study him. Before he could do anything he found himself almost doubled over in laughter.

She frowned up at him. “What’s so funny? I’m serious!”

He took a deep breath and pushed through the laughter. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”

Her frown didn’t lessen at his apology. “I’m glad you find this funny.”

He took another deep breath and was finally able to dampen the laugh into a chuckle.

“I’m sorry Red. I didn’t mean to laugh at you.”

“Uh-huh.”

He killed the last of the humor and shook his head. “I was just thinking that it’s funny you care so much about what Twilight would think when I literally watched you yell at her. In this very building. I really thought you didn’t care about things like royal protocol after that.”

“Oh.” Her scowl disappeared as she shook her head and gestured around the hospital. “I have a job to do here. That’s different. She was disturbing my patient. I don’t care who it is.” She pointed back towards the castle. “That’s the outside world. It’s Princess Twilight and the Elements of Harmony.” She waved her front hoof around dramatically. “They’re kind of a big deal here.”

He rolled his eyes. “So I’ve gathered. He once again thought about all of the spastic antics that happened at the castle and with Twilight and her friends in general.

Hell you act more refined than they do most of the time.

He shook his head. “No Red. You don’t have to bring or…do anything.” He gave a gentle scratch behind one of her ears. “Just be my guest.”

She leaned into his hand before pulling away and giving him an incredulous look. “Are you sure?”

He nodded. “Yes Red. I promise. Twilight is going to take care of everything. Just come and have a good time. It starts at two.”

Her smile returned. “Ok. I’ll trust you.” She suddenly looked away in thought. “Oh. Shit.”

“What?”

“I just realized I don’t have a swimsuit. I’ll need to get one.”

“Oh. Yeah that might…” He was halfway through his sentence when he felt his brain slam into reverse.

“Caden? You ok?”

“Swimsuits? Ponies wear swimsuits?”

She looked at him like he had sprouted a second head. “Of course we do. Why wouldn’t we?”

He stared down at her, fighting back a sputter and forcing himself to accept yet another quirk in this sometimes upside down world.

“Not sure. Guess I never thought about it. Rarity can probably help you there. I can ask her to expedite it if you’d like.”

She blushed. “Are you sure? I know how busy Rarity is. Bespoke clothing takes a while.”

“Absolutely. She owes me one anyway.

“Owes you one? Why?”

He sighed and fought back a blush. “She... needed a model to design a gown. Apparently I was the closest body type around.”

She blinked at him a few times. “A…gown?”

He shook his head. “Don’t ask. Just…don’t ask.”

She chuckled. “Maybe later.” She looked around him towards the waiting room and it’s ailing occupants.. “Caden I need to get back to work.”

He nodded. “I know. I’m done. Are we still meeting for dinner tomorrow?”

She nodded. “Wouldn’t miss it!”

He leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. “Sounds good. Bye Red.”

She giggled. “Bye Caden.”

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Caden puffed out his cheeks and blew a slow, steady series of bubbles into the water of the pool. He was boredly treading water in the shallow end of the massive swimming pool in the bathing cavern under Twilight’s castle. He’d looked forward to the pool party all week and the moment Redheart had arrived at the castle he had been shooed down to the cavern by Rarity and Applejack so the girls could change. Of course she had conveniently pointed him to a pile of boxes stuffed with food, drinks and towels to haul as well. It was kind of cute in a sort of ancient, chivalry based way. It had taken him four trips to get everything down there and set up.

Pony. Mule. Close enough.

He swam till he was at the edge of the pool and pulled himself up until he was resting halfway out the pool. The sounds of moving water echoed around him as he felt his heart pound at the idea of what was going to come through crystal doors behind him.

It had started slowly. Even before his first date with Redheart. In the first week or two after his arrival he’d been too traumatized to notice. He’d had far too much on his mind. As things calmed down and Equestria slowly became more and more normal, he finally caught himself staring at them. At first it was small, instinctual glances at their bodies. The curve of their hips. The way their tails accented their asses. Back then he was still able to pull his eyes back away and banish the thought as he continued to acclimate to his new world.

He’d brushed it off as simple stress. Temporary crossed wiring. That had to explain it.

Before long he was allowing himself longer glances, fully taking them in. He was starting to notice significant differences in their builds, their looks. Twilight was shockingly cute in a nerdy kind of way. He wasn’t sure he had ever seen a human look as cute in glasses as she did. He’d noticed that Sunset was significantly curvier than the other unicorns. Rainbow’s tight, athletic build reminded him of the girls he’d practiced next to in high school and college. Even Applejack with her broad, labor built body held a kind of appeal. He’d found himself blushing whenever Rarity would reapply her lipstick and purse her lips to even it out.

They all had unique, intriguing personalities. From Rarity with her finicky needs and endless generosity to Fluttershy and her quiet, almost maternal warmth, he had come to know each of them as an individual in their own right. They had been incredibly kind to him to boot. His natural human caution had been subverted endlessly as they had opened their world to him.

That had been his next level of justification. Yes he was staring at them but it was their personalities. Of course he’d feel some kind of affection for them. He’d been happy to allow himself to wallow in that logic until after his date with Redheart. Then everything changed.

A few days after he and Red’s date at Buck Lake Manor, Starlight had brought a note left in the castle mailbox to him. It was from Redheart letting him know she had a long lunch break that day and inviting him to join her at the Hayburger. He remembered blushing at the simple, folded white note, adorned with a small signature that included an actual red-inked heart. He’d found himself lying in bed, reading it over and over as if he was in junior high school again.

After no small amount of additional teasing from the girls, he walked into the Hayburger to see her grinning widely at him across the restaurant. It had felt like nothing more than a continuation of their night at the Manor. They spent the lunch talking about her upcoming shift, the hangovers after their last date and the message he had received from Twilight upon his return to the castle that night. Before he knew it they had agreed to meet again on her next day off.

The next date had been a simple dinner picnic on a hill outside of town. They spent the evening talking, watching the sun go down and staring at the stars. He did most of the talking again. She peppered him with questions about Earth and humans in general. As the night had closed, he’d begun to fully realize how much trouble he was in when he had found laying on the ground, face to face with Redheart. It had started with a gentle kiss from her. Before he could really process what he was doing, he had put an arm around her trunk and pulled her to him until they were chest to chest. Seconds later and they were making out like teenagers on prom night. It had been him who ceased their affections that night, stumbling over an apology he couldn’t quite articulate. For her part, Redheart had seemed to find the entire thing more adorable than disappointing. They had met a few more times for lunch since then but nothing that gave them a significant amount of time to be together alone.

He dropped down and rested his chin on the side of the pool.

You owe her an honest response tonight.

He looked over at a small pouch sitting on his towel. It’s not fair to her to keep waffling. Make up your damn mind.

He found himself thinking of her more and more each day. Beyond her significant role in his first days in Equestria, Redheart had become something of a bastion of sanity for him since their date. She was kind, sincere and forward. She seemed genuinely interested in his company. She had comforted him in one of his most vulnerable moments. But most importantly she was…normal.

Twilight and her friends had been beyond gracious with him since he arrived in Equestria. The time, effort, patience and even money they had invested in him was nigh on miraculous. He would be grateful to them for the rest of his life. But they were still Twilight and her friends. Powerful, destined, magical and insane.

If the girls were a small army of destined maniacs saving the world, Redheart was like a coworker worrying about where her next rent check came from. All of their discussions felt shockingly normal. She talked about her troubles at work. Complicated patients. Extremely long shifts and highly stressful conditions. Stories about deaths and tragedies along with births and miracles. It sounded like he was talking to any nurse on Earth. Laying there with her, discussing his life and past he had been able to forget for the first time he wasn’t talking to a Pony. He was just talking to her.

Just then he heard a click behind him. He turned as the doors to the cavern opened.

Fuck.

The logic of why they wore swimsuits still escaped him. He’d thought about asking Twilight but given how pants-on-head strange he’d found the other clothing customs in Equestria, he just decided to skip. Not that the reasoning would have mattered. He’d have forgotten in seconds with the parade of curves trotting into the cavern.

Fuck!

Rarity had clearly made each of their suits. There was nothing generic or off the shelf here. The colors matched the girls coats and manes perfectly. Small intricacies like highlights based off their eye colors drove home the attention to detail. Each was cut precisely to fit every individual frame. It took everything he had to pull his eyes away from Applejack's ass as she turned away from him and said something to Rainbow.

When Twilight looked up and saw him in the pool.

“Hi Caden! Thank you for setting things up!”

“You’re welcome Twilight.”

He swam to the other side of the pool and pulled himself up over the edge. He walked up to Rarity, already standing by the refreshment tables.

He made a deep, exaggerated bow. “And did I set this up to spec m’lady?”

She swatted his leg with her tail and examined the buffet spread out before them.

“I couldn’t have done it any better myself Caden. Thank you.”

He chuckled. “No problem.” Now that he was out of the pool, he was able to take a full inventory of them. They were all here. Even Spike was walking next to Twilight in a pair of shockingly human like swim trunks and ridiculously oversized sunglasses.

Where is…?

At that moment she cornered around the door.

Fuck…………

He swallowed as he felt his stomach shoot through his throat. She smiled up at him as he took in the wonderful, visual whole of her. Her suit was a simple, single piece in a brilliant sky blue that matched her eyes perfectly. Her mane was pulled to the side in the same thick, side hanging single braid she normally wore when she was off work. As she walked over to him he barely even noticed Pinkie Pie run towards the pool and cannonball water all over her friends.

The very shape of her was making him feel things he’d once worried would be long dormant in a world with no human women. From the adorable, thick roundness of her trunk to her shapely, full rear he would have been happy just staring at her for the rest of the day. A part of his brain realized the irony that it had taken her being covered in cloth for him to appreciate how well built she really was. He smirked inwardly when it finally clicked into place that she was built far closer to Applejack and Pinkie Pie than the others.

Workhorse indeed.

As she headed his way, she turned around for a moment to answer a question from one of the girls.

God dayum....

Caden had never tried to emphasize one part or another of a woman when it came to attraction. He had a type of course. His first girlfriend had been fit and thin, almost a human Rainbow Dash in physique. She’d been a fellow athlete and Caden could remember relishing the feeling of tight, trained muscle as she’d wrapped her volleyball player's legs around him. He’d had other partners in the years since they broke up and he truly believed everyone had something to bring to the table. Some were perfectly average in build and brought a specific personality. Some were bustier, others bottom heavy. Some were short, others tall. Burnettes. Blonds. He’d even made out with a redhead once. Still he prided himself on not focusing too much on looks.

He gulped as he completely lost the internal battle to rip his eyes away from Redheart’s absolutely magical ass. He didn’t want her to sit on his face. He wanted to curl up on one of her cheeks and live there. Every single fiber of his being demanded he just somehow get closer to...THAT. Two large, round, perfectly shaped cheeks sat cleaved by her pink tail. Each spanned the back of her, rising in the top to accent the adorable point of her dock and back down to spread into thighs that he finally realized with breathless glee might actually be capable of crushing him to death. His gaze slipped to the roundness of her trunk and he felt a twinge of irritation at himself for allowing that body to slip out of arms the other night.

She finished trotting up to him and smiled. “Well hi there big guy. Fancy meeting you here.”

“Same!” He jumbled a few compliments together in his head.

You look beautiful. No. Too generic.

Amazing swimsuit. No, compliment her looks.

Your ass is like something out of heaven and I want to become one with it. No. Too much.

He shook his head and decided to go with something a little more generic. “You look…great.”

Her cheeks flushed as she looked him up and down. “Thank you. I really appreciate you getting Rarity to rush this.” She looked her suit over. “This is easily the nicest swimsuit I have ever owned. She didn’t even charge me.”

Thank YOU Rares.

“You’re welcome. Like I said. She owed me a big one.”

She giggled. “Seems so.” She gave him a coy smile. “Sure I can’t see you in that dress?”

“Ha ha ha.” He gestured towards the pool. “Want to get in?”

She giggled and nodded. He started following him towards the pool when she stopped and eyed him up and down again.

He stopped in his tracks. “Red?”

He blushed as she gave a long, hungry stare at his chest.

“Red, what is it?”

She stepped close to him and gestured for him to lean down. He did as ordered and she put her mouth next to his ear. “I think you humans have it wrong. I like you better with less clothes.” With that she winked at him and started walking towards the pool. He made a point to trail far enough behind her that he could enjoy the view.

Fuuuuuuuck!

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Several hours later he was leaning against the edge of the pool, savoring a drink and watching the girls frolic around the cavern. The party was great. While he’d been thoroughly outmatched by Twilight and her student’s abilities to magically gatling gun water across the pool during a splashing contest, the yelp Twilight made when he’d picked her up, pinned her wings against her side and launched the both of them into the deep end had made it more than worth it. He had watched a thrilling display of Rarity magically mixing drinks for the entire group all at once. It was like flair bartending on steroids. He wasn’t sure if he had seen Twilight manipulate that many objects at once.

Dress making is hardcore shit I guess.

He took a sip of his whiskey and gleefully stared at Redheart’s butt as she relaxed stomach down on her towel at the other end of the pool when something white and giggling bumped into his side. He turned to see Rarity partially spilling a martini into the pool and grinning smugly at him.

“I figured you’d like that.” The slight slur in her words told him she’d clearly had her share of gin.

“Like what?”

Her smile turned even more smug. “Come now darling. You’ve been staring at her ass since she walked in.”

He felt himself flush as red as Sunset’s mane and contemplated trying to see if it was possible to drown himself without anycreature noticing.

“And not just hers.” She waved her glass about the room. “Seems you enjoy mares in all shapes and sizes.” She looked over the rim of her glass at him as she took a long, slow sip.

She had him dead to rights.

He sighed and contemplated draining his drink. “I didn’t realize I was that obvious.”

She half leaned, half fell against his shoulder before he wrapped an arm around her upper torso and propped her up.

“Easy there Rares.”

She giggled. “Well thank you sir. I have an eye for the things you know.” She looked from her swimsuit to his. “I spend my days looking at creatures' bodies, darling. Before long you start watching if others do the same.” She took a drink. “I must say you’ve actually been quite careful about it. I give you credit.”

She looked across the room to Redheart. “I can’t say I blame you. She IS very shapely. Earth Ponies have a lot to offer.” He watched as her eyes drifted across the room to Applejack sitting on the edge of the pool. She took a long, slow sip of her martini as she eyed the orange apple farmer.

He smiled. “Seems we both like Earth Ponies.”

Her eyes went wide before she turned to him, smirking. “It seems we do.”

She pressed off against his shoulder and steadied herself against the pool wall. “I’ve also noticed you sometimes look…pained when you’re staring at us.” She frowned. “Especially before today. Twilight noticed it too.”

He sighed and shook his head. “I’m not pained. It’s…just…I don’t know how…”

He felt a hoof touch his arm. “It’s ok. I get it. Twilight has told us all about your world. I can understand why this would be weird.”

He looked over at Redheart and back to her. “It is abnormal. At least on my world.”

She shrugged. “Well...you aren’t on your world now, are you?”

He stared at Redheart a moment more. “I guess that’s true.”

She patted him on the shoulder and looked him in the eye. “You can’t help what you fall for Caden. Don’t fight it.” She looked back to Redheart. ”From what I can tell the feeling is more than mutual.” She turned back and gave him a warm smile. “Be glad. Some don’t ever get even that lucky.”

He smirked. “There’s a phrase in my world. It’s a poem I think. ‘The heart wants what it wants.’ I read it in college.”

She held her glass up to him. “You’re damned right it does. I think I’d like you humans.”

“I think you would.” They clinked glasses before she winked at him and made her way back to the other side of the pool.

He looked back to Redheart. You know what you want.

The rest of the party had continued on for awhile before the girls started drifting out. He and Redheart were sitting on their towels as they left. An incredibly inebriated Rarity turned and winked at him as she braced against Applejack. He blushed as the drunk unicorn was carried out of the room. Twilight was the last to leave. She stopped in the doorway and looked back at them.

“I’ll be upstairs in the library if you two need anything, ok?”

He nodded. “Got it.”

“Do you have what I gave you?”

He nodded and pointed at the pouch on his towel. “I do.”

She nodded.

Redheart shot him a sideways glance before waving at Twilight. “Thank you so much for inviting me Princess!”

Twilight shook her head. “I’ve told you before! Just Twilight! And anytime. You two have fun!” With that she closed the door and there was audible lock click as the cavern went silent save for the sound of the innumerable sources of running water.

Redheart stared at the door, confusion on her face. “Did she just lock us in here?”

Caden chuckled and pointed at his towel. “I asked Twilight if we might have some privacy after the party was over. She made me a copy of the key to the door.”

She looked around the cavern and blushed. “So we’re alone if we want to be?”

He nodded. “No one can get in or out of here besides us and Twilight.”

She scooted closer to him. “Heh. That’s sweet. Thank you Caden.”

He looked down at Redheart. “Did you have fun today?”

She nodded. “I did. It was all a little surreal though.”

He leaned back, propping himself up with his hands and looking up at the enormous purple star on the ceiling. “Hanging out with the Princess and her friends?”

“Mmmmhmmm. We’re used to them being around Ponyville but…I never figured I’d be here. Like this.”

He grinned over at her. “It helps to know someone, right?”

She shivered and nodded. “It does!”

He reached out and put a hand on her back. Her suit was still wet. “Are you cold?”

She shivered again. “I’m fine. My suit will dry out soon enough.”

He felt another tremort under his hand. “Do you want to get back in the pool? It’ll be warmer there.”

She shook her head. “No. I think I’m ok. I’ve swam enough today. Muscles are sore.”

He immediately glanced across the cavern at a plume of steam rising from one of the pools.

This could be the perfect chance.

He pointed. “There’s the steam pool. Might help with that.”

She looked up at him coyly. “Trying to get me in the hot tub Mr. Park?”

He was well on his way to blushing again when he remembered this was the second time today she’d teased him.

Fine. Time to commit.

He leaned down and kissed the edge of her ear. “Maybe.” He watched as every bit of fur she had stood on end.

Adorable.

He stood up and reached out a hand down to her. “Coming?”

She bit her lip and smiled. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

She reached out and let him help her up. They walked in silence to the steaming, cloudy pool. Caden dipped a toe in, testing the incredibly hot water before stepping down and wincing as the scalding, bubbling water surrounded him.

“Woo!”

Redheart walked to the side of the pool and dipped her front leg in. “I can’t believe you just jumped in there.”

He stepped back into the deeper part of the pool until he was nearly up to his neck.

“It’s always better if you just jump in. Hot or cold.”

She rolled her eyes. “Uh huh.” She repositioned herself until she was sitting on her butt, rear legs resting in the pool. The steam pool was built almost identically to a hot tub. The middle was much deeper than the outer rings. He stepped forward to the edge until he was standing in front of her.

He closed his eyes and ran his hand across his face and upwards through his hair, trying to get the dripping mop out of his face. When he opened his eyes, she was giving him a hungry, half lidded smile.

“What?”

She reached one of her rear hooves out and rubbed it against his stomach. “I didn’t really get a good look at you in the hospital.” He looked down as she ran the front of her hoof against his thin line of belly hair.

“Do you like what you see?”

She nodded. “I do.” She brought her hoof out and drew a circle around his abs. “I like your skin. You don’t have too much fur.”

He rubbed a hand along his chest and chuckled. “I’m glad you like it.”

She scooted forward until she was on the very edge of the pool and brought a rear leg around, hooking it around his stomach. Seconds later the other followed suit. He felt her pull him forward and obeyed until his mid torso was sandwiched wonderfully between her rear legs. She reached up with her front hooves and placed them on his chest.

“Thank you for giving us some privacy.” He felt her press into his pecs.

“Least I could do.” He smiled as she continued circling her front hooves through his chest hair. He gave a slight shiver as her hoof brushed one of his nipples.

Speaking of shivering.

He gently pulled her hooves off his chest. She looked down at his hands. “Caden?”

“You should get in here. I have something I want to do.

She nodded and slowly stepped into the pool as he turned around and sat down next to her on the shallower outer ledge. He leaned his back against the wall of the pool and spread his legs. With her sitting on her butt, at this depth most of his upper torso was out of the water.

“Come here.” He gestured towards the space between his legs.

She raised an eyebrow suspiciously. “Jumping ahead a bit aren’t we?” She smiled lustfully and leaned forward until her lips were against his ear. “Or am I to practice holding my breath?”

He snorted and shook his head. “Jesus woman.” Woman? Mare? Whatever. “Would you just come here?”

She chuckled evilly and stepped forward until she was sitting between his legs, facing him.

He spun a finger in the air. “Can you turn around?”

She snorted as she fought back a laugh. “You sure you aren’t jumping ahead?”

He groaned in frustration. “Will you PLEASE?”

She cocked her head to the side dramatically in ‘thought’ before shaking her head. “Nope. Can’t.”

He gave her the driest look he could summon. “And why is that?”

“Wouldn’t be able to do this.” She quickly leaned forward and pecked his lips.

He blinked a few times. “Really?”

She giggled and pecked him three more times in rapid succession. “Yup. No helping it. Had to be done.”

He had to physically fight the urge to burst out laughing. He’d never seen this side of her before. Playful. Childlike.

He leaned forward and gave her his best faux serious look. “I’ll make you a deal. If I give you a real kiss, will you turn around?”

She gave him an exaggerated pout. “Are you saying my kisses aren’t real?”

He shook his head sternly. “I’m not sure they measure up to my standards.”

She gave a dramatic harrumph. “And how would I know what your standards are?”

He put a hand against her cheek and pulled her forward. “Allow me to demonstrate.” He felt a distant, muted pang of anxiety.

Now or never, asshole.

He pulled her towards him and their lips met. He closed his eyes and felt her return the kiss, first softly and then with rapidly more pressure. He heard her inhale sharply as he traced his tongue against her lips. They parted for a moment, sharing a lustful smile before she followed his guide and met him in a full, open-mouthed kiss. As her tongue danced playfully across his, he heard himself let out a small moan.

Holy fuck she tastes good.

He sighed and leaned further into the kiss. Why did I hesitate last time? What the fuck was I afraid of?

As their tongues danced, he felt her slowly push further into his mouth. He thought back to their picnic date. In hindsight it made perfect sense. Any creature with a snout was likely to have a longer tongue than one without. Add to that the fact that their heads were slightly larger than his to and he’d lost the battle before even signing up for it. He moaned as he gave in and let her have her way. Her tongue was on an entirely different scale. She explored his mouth with absolute impunity. It didn’t take him long to relax and just bask in the pleasure of her efforts. Before long she opened her eyes and he saw them smiling even before she pulled her way out of his mouth. She ran her tongue slowly around his lips one last time before pulling away and grinning. He took a deep breath and grinned back at her.

She turned around and stared at him with half lidded eyes.“Was that up to your standards?”

He cleared his throat and failed utterly at putting his serious face back on. “I’ll accept it.”

She snorted. “So? What are we doing? Why am I not kissing you like a madmare”

Smartass.

As she settled in front of him, he felt his heart jump as he realized what he’d need to do for his idea to work. He looked down at her blue covered body and tapped her on the shoulder.

“There’s something I need to do first.”

“Hmmmmmmmm?”

He eyed the golden zipper running down her back and took a deep breath. The way she filled out her suit made his heart jump again.

“Can I take your swimsuit off?”

She turned her head and gave him a sideways glance. “Of course you can. Why would you….?”

She stopped as he visibly gulped and blushed downwards.

“Oh. I forgot. Clothes.” She smiled and nodded gently as she reached a hoof up to pull her braid over her shoulder. “Go ahead sweetie.”

He nodded and started pulling the zipper of her swimsuit down. He laughed inwardly at the absurd nervousness he felt. He had seen more naked far more than he had seen her clothed. Why was this so hard? Whatever his logic was, his heart was in no mood to listen. He felt it pound in his chest as he fully opened the zipper and her suit fell open around her.

Breathe Caden.

She stepped out of the suit as he grabbed it and set it on the edge of the pool. She returned to her sitting position between his legs. He took another deep breath and used every last vestige of willpower he had to not let the thought that she was sitting naked between his legs have its way with his anatomy.

Not yet.

He reached out and put both of his hands on her trunk and pulled her slightly backward towards him. She slid backwards until she was nestled just up against his upper thighs.

“Caden?”

He slid his hands up and and gently dug both thumbs into the soft tissue around her shoulder. He felt her go weak in his grip as she sighed.

“What…what are you doing?”

He softly rotated his thumbs, pushing slowly but firmly against a set of knots he found in mere seconds. She moaned softly as he brought the rest of each hand down and squeezed on her withers.

“You said you were sore.” He kissed her gently on the back of her neck as he rubbed deeper. “Figured I could help.”

“Mmmmmmmm.” She pushed herself deeper into his grip. “And what did I do to deserve this?”

He traced a series of kisses along her spine. As ever, her smell was there.

Honeysuckle.

He remembered her jumping on his bed that day in the hospital. Holding him as he wept on her. “You did everything Red”

He saw her ear twitch and she went weaker as he moved up and started rubbing her neck. She shifted back slightly, pressing herself further against him.

“Everything?”

He squeezed again. “Everything. I can’t imagine what my days here would have been without you.”

“Caden…please…you don’t have to…” She silenced as he squeezed deeper and brought his mouth up to her ear.

“Shhhhhh. Just let me do this. I owe you so much Red. I want to do this.”

She let out a small sigh before nodding and smiling. “Ok.”

He wasn’t sure how much time passed as he attended to her. He neither noticed or cared. He relished every moan, every sigh as he made a memory of her body with his touch. He hadn’t realized how badly he’d needed to be alone with her until just now. He savored the feeling of her in his hands. The roundness of her. The soft, velvety fur sitting on top of her ample, supple curves. He leaned forward, pressing his chest against her back and kissing her neck as he ran his hands down her front legs. He nearly giggled when he ran his fingers underneath each front hoof and felt her squeeze around each digit.

So that’s how they do that.

He moved up to her neck, squeezing the tension out as he fondled an ear in his other hand. Before long he had ran his hands down her front, massaging her chest and belly. As he worked, he slowly guided her back towards him. She followed his lead, until her rear was pressed fully between his legs. It was finally too much and he felt an old friend start to make his debut for the evening. With the bulk of her ass pressed against him, there was no way she wasn’t aware of him already.

He was so engrossed in his work that he nearly jumped out of the pool when she pushed one of his hands lower on her toso. He obeyed as she guided him downwards. It was then that he learned his second lesson in human and Pony sexual dyamics. His hands ran across a small, raised mound with a bump on top.

His hand twitched as he realized what he had found. Oh shit. Are those? He considered pulling his hand back before remembering she had guided him there. He cupped one of the mounds and squeezed gently. They weren’t quite the same as human breasts, location and fur aside. The mount was slightly firmer than a human breast and the nipple larger than he would have expected. Still, the effect seemed the same. She moaned as he feathered his fingers over her rapidly hardening nipple.

He put his mouth against her ear. “So Ponies like that too?”

She moaned in affirmation.

“Noted.”

He brought his other hand down until he had both of her nipples between his index finger and thumbs. He squeezed gently and wallowed into the sounds she made as he gradually increased the pressure. She squirmed against him as she tugged and pulled at her teats.

“Glad I found those.”

He was too engrossed in his work to realize she had been slowly pressing herself harder against his crotch. He exhaled loudly as she gave her ass a small shimmy, rubbing against his now almost completely erect sex.

She gave a deep, sultry laugh. “And I’m glad I found that.”

He squeezed his legs together, pressing her further against him. “Me too.”

He gave her nipples one more long, slow tug before letting go. He wrapped both arms around her trunk and pulled her into him.

“Did you enjoy that?”

She nodded and nuzzled her cheek against his shoulder. “I did.” She put a hoof on his hand. “I think I’d like to see what else these can do though.” She shifted in his grip and he lowered his arms until she was sitting in his lap, lower legs wrapped around his waist and upper around his neck.

She leaned forward and kissed him. He felt her grind herself again and he groaned as his penis called out in annoyance at still being locked in his swimsuit. The weight of her in his lap was intoxicating.

He reached down and wrapped both of his hands around her ass. His observations had been accurate. It was perfect, a work of art. Each huge cheek was a glorious mix of supple flesh and muscle. He noted with no small amount of pleasure that her Cutie Marks made a perfect spot to rest his wrists for him to get a handful of her.

Handy.

He heard her inhale sharply as he squeezed and pulled at her ass cheeks.

They parted as he continued massaging her bottom.

“So…like what they can do?” He grinned as felt her push down further into his hands.

“I do.” She leaned forward and ran a series of kisses up his cheek until she reached his ear. He shivered as she gave a gentle lick at the base of his ear. “I want those inside me.” Before he could respond, she pulled back from him slightly, reached down and pressed one hoof against the bulge of his cock.

“And I want…THAT….inside me.” She brought her face back down to his and kissed him gently on the lips. “We should go back to your room.

He smiled and brushed one of his fingers against the thick outer ridge of her marehood. She shuddered against him as he stroked the flesh.

“I couldn’t agree more.”

Interlewd 2: Into The Deep End (CLOP!!)

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With a click, Caden locked the door to his room. He and Red had sprinted through the castle, sharing cheeky, awkward grins as they bolted through the crystal halls to his room. He’d done his best to think about things like dead kittens or naked grandparents to kill the incredibly obvious erection under his swimsuit. All to no avail. Every sight of her made him strain against his shorts again. For her part Redheart had walked with her tail pressed like a vice over the middle of her ass. Fortunately they hadn’t run into anycreature. He could see lights on from under Twilight and Starlight’s rooms as they hustled down the hallway.

Maybe she gave them a hint.

He turned as Redheart jumped onto his bed and sat down. The sight of her sitting there made him flush with need.

She’s here. In my bedroom.

He walked across the room and sat down next to her, chuckling as he settled on the edge of the bed.

She smiled. “What’s so funny?”

He looked down at his bulging groin. “I’m glad we didn’t see anyone. I wasn’t looking forward to running into any of them at full mast.”

She smiled. “Same.” Her eyes glanced down to his crotch. His heart jumped as she smiled lustfully. “I’m glad he’s still excited.”

He snorted. “I’m kind of amazed he’s still ready. He hasn’t acted like this since I was 16.”

She giggled. “Then I guess I’m flattered.”

He leaned over and whispered in her ear. “I think I can introduce you two.”

Pleasure bloomed across him as he felt one of her hooves caress him through his shorts. She smiled and he shuddered as she squeezed his head. “Mmmmmm. I think I can handle the introductions.” She ran her hoof further down him and groped at his nuts.

She beamed up at him. “Nice to meet you.”

He kissed her, intertwining their tongues as he spread his legs further to give her better access to him. He jerked as he felt her squeeze the middle of his shaft. He moaned and wrapped one arm around her trunk gently pulling her further up the bed. She took the hint and they slowly shifted their way upwards in a tangle of groping and kissing. Eventually they settled so he was lying down normally, with her sitting between his spread legs, hoof still massaging his aching cock. He winced as the fabric of his swimsuit rubbed against him as she stroked.

She pulled her hoof back. “Caden? What’s wrong?”

He looked down at his dick straining against the swimsuit material. “This is kinda painful. Can I….?”

She giggled and nodded. “Of course. You could have taken them off at the pool for all I cared.”

That would have made coming back here a lot more exciting.

He started to reach down and grab his shorts when she reached out and put a hoof on his hand.

“Wait.”

He stopped. “Hmmmmm?”

She stepped forward and dropped her snout until it was inches from his crotch. He inhaled sharply as he felt a fresh rush of blood flood to his dick.

She grinned lustfully up at him. “Can I do it?”

The sound he nearly made would have been something alone the lines of “hffsadfFUCKsdfsdYESjfoshffdss”. Through some miracle he was able to suppress that and pulled his hands back and rested them behind his head. “Be my guest ma’am.”

She started moving towards him and he took a deep breath as she opened her mouth and bit down on the band of his shorts. He lifted his ass up as she stepped backwards and pulled slowly backwards. He blushed as his dick grazed the end of her snout as it popped free from its fabric prison. She drug them down and promptly flung the things across the room. She smiled at the sight of him and took her spot between his legs again.

He moaned. “So what do you think?”

She brought her face close to examine him. He shivered as he felt her breath on him as she looked him up and down. “No ring. That’s different.”

“Ring?”

“Stallions have a ring in the middle.” She rubbed her hoof up and down him. He fought back another moan as she squeezed again and smiled. “It isn’t smooth like this.”

He exhaled sharply as her hoof slid upwards towards his head. “Is that a problem?”

She shook her head. “No. Actually I kind of like it.” She settled her gaze on his red, aching tip. “The head is a bit different too. Looks like a mushroom.”

He chuckled. “That’s a common description.”

He watched in slow motion as she licked her lips and placed a gentle kiss on the head. “It’s pretty.”

He felt like some kind of sexual art exhibit.

She moved up a bit further and looked up at him as she planted another long, gentle kiss on the very tip. A playful smile danced in her eyes as he fought an intense urge to reach down and grab her head.

She lowered her head until she was eye level with the very base of his cock. “I have just one more question.”

“Hmmmm?”

He gave a long slow moan as her tongue reached out and pressed against his base. His eyes felt like they were going to roll backwards as she licked up him before pulling it back in at the tip as if he were some sort of fleshy ice cream cone.

“Are all humans this big?”

He shook his head. “Huh?”

She giggled playfully and blushed. “Babe you are….really large.”

It took every ounce of adult self control he had to not jump out of the bed and run around the castle naked in some sort of primal, dominant mating victory lap.

Don’t get ahead of yourself, big guy.

He shook his head. “I’m actually only a bit above average honestly.” He shrugged. “I’m pretty normal for a man my size.”

She giggled excitedly as she drank the sight of him in. “Sweet Celestia. I hope more of you don’t show up. You might ruin it for the stallions.”

He smiled down at her. “Well you might be the only who ever gets to see one.”

She gave an incredibly self satisfied laugh. “Their loss.” Before he could respond, she opened her mouth and in one swift motion took the entirety of him into her mouth. Her snout was all the way down to his balls. He groaned as he fought the urge to come instantly as her warm, wet maw wrapped itself around him.

“Holy…fuck…Red.”

He’d never felt anything like this in his life. The oral real estate needed to fit her tongue allowed her to take all of it in with little issue. His entire dick was entombed in a wondrous world of sucking, penis tonguing pleasure. She slid her mouth downwards on him, once again grinding her snout into his nuts. Their eyes caught as she looked up at him, pride shining in those blue pools. He was enjoying every second of this and she KNEW it.

“You are…..wow…….”

She giggled around his cock as she pulled her head back until just the tip of him was in her mouth. He shivered as the tip of her tongue danced playfully along the head, lapping at the juices flowing from him. After that she recommited, coming down faster and more forcefully. He knew he didn’t have long.

Red……

He reached a hand down and gently wove his fingers through her mane. She moaned and he felt her push her head gently into his hand, encouraging him to guide her. He tightened his grip slight and began helping time her against the gradual thrusting of his hips. She smiled again with her eyes before closing them and returning to her ministrations.

He settled back and let himself get lost in her work. She was incredibly good at this. He’d never felt anything like it. No women had ever been able to take him remotely this well. Biology aside, it was clear she was enjoying herself. Immensely. He smiled at the little sounds she made as she worked on him. Small moans and sighs of satisfaction as his cock glistened as it slid in and out of her. The lustful, affectionate glances she would give him. It wasn’t long before he felt his hips twitch involuntarily, stronger than before.

‘Red…I’m….

She opened her eyes and looked up at him as she continued to bob up and down.

He started pulling his hand away, worrying he was going to overstay his welcome.

“Red…I’m about…”

At that moment he felt her hoof reach up and push his hand back against her head. She opened her eyes and shook her head gently. The message was clear. She wanted this to end the same way he did.

Thank you Red.

He tightened his grip on her mane and started bringing her down faster and harder this time. She gave a satisfied moan as he lifted his hips up and began thrusting in time with her descents. In a matter of seconds he was as much fucking her face as she was blowing him.

“Red….I…..”

She gave an almost malicious chuckle as he felt the warmth spread from his core. It was everywhere now. His cock. His balls. He knew it was here and so did she.

“Red!” He wheezed as every muscle in his lower body stiffened. He pulled his hands off her head as bliss coursed through him. Through one half opened eye, he saw she wasn’t pulling herself off of him. The wave in him doubled when he realized she was going to take everything he had.

He gave a loud moan as the wave peaked and he felt his balls release his load. He took a few deep breaths and shivered as she slowly raked her lips upwards along him. He felt her scrape every drop of cum off his dick before suckling at the tip for a moment. Her mouth left his dick with a small popping noise. He twitched and smiled as he watched her swallow his load, licked her lips.

She gave a satisfied sigh. “Mmmmmmm. Delicious.”

Holy….fuck…..what did I do right to deserve this?

He leaned back against the pillow and laid there panting as his deflating dick twitched violently against his inner thigh. The last of his cum puddled along his inner leg as Redheart crawled forward and grinned down at him.

“You ok?”

He shook his head. Even forming words was hard. “Yes? I think. Wow.”

She giggled. “I think you might need some recovery time after that.”

He groaned as he sat up and took a deep breath. He grabbed a tissue off of his bed stand and cleaned up the liquid mess on his thigh. “No shit. That was….amazing.”

She blushed slightly and smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.” She stepped forward until their faces were centimeters apart. “You deserved it.”

He leaned forward and their lips met. “Thank you.” He reached up and ran his fingers through the fur on the sides of her body. He could have stayed here forever, just like this. Being naked with her. Letting her see all of him.

She closed her eyes and smiled. “That feels really good.”

Mental note. More rubs for the mare.

As he watched his hands glide up and down her sides, his eyes caught the bulges of flesh on either side of her ass and he felt his dick twitch in response.

Jesus man. Already?

“You know…” He pulled her closer to him and began sliding his hands down her body. She sat right in front of him.

“Hmmmm?”

His hands arrived at each rear hip. He slid them further until he had a healthy handful of of her ass. He leaned into her ear.

“You’ve seen all of me. I still haven’t seen you.” He reached a finger over and rubbed against the thick, outer ridge of her marehood. She jerked and squeaked as he teased the fold.

“I don’t really think that’s fair? Do you?”

He felt her pulse as moisture graced the end of his finger. He felt her brace in his hands as she stood up.

“No. I suppose it isn’t.”

He held his breath as she slowly turned around in front of him. Once her ass was in front of his face, she turned back and looked over her shoulder as she raised her tail. It teasingly brushed along his face as she smiled.

“So what do you think?”

He giggled like a schoolboy at the sight in front of him. “It’s….beautiful.”

Like so many things between them, her nethers were both familiar and exotic. Things were certainly in their standard places, mammal wise. It seemed that genital size worked in reverse between their two species. If human male cocks were bigger than stallions, everything on Redheart was exaggerated vs a human woman. Her lips were large, dark, raised ridges that ran upwards along the inner curve of each ass cheek. They went the entire way up in a more pronounced yet similar shape to a human vulva. At the top the lips came together to rest under a perfectly round, raised mound. It was a valley of dark, fleshy sex nestled in between two huge mountains of white fur.

He watched as her lower lips parted, exposing a small nub of pink flesh to him.

“Oh wow…”

She turned and looked over her shoulder. “It’s called…”

She squeaked again as he reached up and ran a finger along the nub as it opened and closed again.

“Winking.”

She gave him a wide eyed, confused look.

“Twilight gave me a…lesson once we seemed like we were getting serious.”

She smirked. “Oh no.”

He looked back at her marehood. “Yeah I got a bunch of lessons. Slides. The whole nine.” He sighed as a question he’d been burying all day finally came forward.

“So…I assume you aren’t in your…?”

She tilted her head. “My what?”

“Season? I think Twilight called it?”

She chuckled and shook her head. “No. Trust me you’d know it if I were.” She looked away in thought for a moment.

“Red?”

“Would it even matter if I was?” She looked him up and down.

He shrugged. “Twilight didn’t think so but…can’t be too careful. Weirder shit has happened. Not sure I’m ready for…..”

She turned crimson as the implication of what he was saying hit her. “True. In any case, no. We’re fine.”

”Good to hear.”

His attention turned back to the meal before him. She exposed herself to him again, pink nub pulsing in and out of her dark flesh. He leaned forward and ran a finger along her inner lip. A small whimper escaped her as she winked again. This time he could see the moisture glistening on the nub. He brought his other hand up and ran both thumbs slowly up and down the inner fold of her lips. As he returned to the bottom, she once again opened for him. This time he pressed one thumb gently against the nub. She gasped as he gently massaged the flesh knob.

“Mmmmmmmm.” She exhaled sharply

He smiled as she slowly stepped backwards, pressing herself further onto his fingers. He didn’t think she even realized she was doing it. The winking was getting larger now, giving him healthy looks at the pink, moist curtains inside. He caressed a thumb against the inner folds.

She against his hands. “Sweet…Celestia.”

“Hmmmm?” He continued to press harder, beginning to push fully past her inner folds and into the canal itself.

“Those…..” She moaned as he gave her clitoris a long, deep rub. “Those things are…mmmmmf….” She inched further back again, tail thrashing wildly over one hip. He smiled as she settled inches from his face. He could SMELL her. It wasn’t dissimilar to a human woman. If he had to settle on a difference, he’d say it was deeper. Earthier.

Intoxicating.

He licked his lips as the first drops of her juices began running down the large, outer lips.

“These things are what?”

She moaned. “Wonderful.”

What she said at the pool ran through his mind. I want those inside me.

Musn’t keep the lady waiting.

He pulled his thumb back and gently slipped his index finger into her. As it slid past her inner folds and into the moist warmth of the canal. She jerked as he slowly pushed his finger up to the hilt and started pulling back. She moaned again as she wiggled against his finger.

”Shit….that feels good.”

He grinned as he rubbed her walls. It felt wonderful to finally touch her like this. To explore her, learn from her and what makes her feel good. He plunged his finger back in again, faster this time. He felt her muscles contract around the digit, seemingly trying to keep him inside her. He gently slid in and out of her again before increasing the pace. He grinned as he watched his glistening finger slide in and out of her.

Let’s see what she can take.

He pulled his finger completely out of her, prompting the start of a small whine.

“Why did you…”

Before she could finish he swapped his index finger with his middle and ring fingers.

”Mmmmfffffff.” She moaned and jerked against him as he plunged the two digits knuckle deep into her.

“That’s why.”

She tightened harder around his fingers. “Fuck..me Caden. Those feel soooo good.”

“Good.” As he slid his fingers in once again, he brought his thumb down and began pressing gently against her clit. He watched her legs buckle slightly as he plunged into her and thumbed the pink nub in alternating fashion. She jerked and moaned as her juices slowly ran their way down his hand.

“Caden……..”

He pressed harder against her clit. “Shhhhhhh. Just enjoy.” He reached up and squeezed one of her ass cheeks. She was so close to his face, all he could really see was a horizon of enormous, shapely white ass in front of him. The sight of the mounds brought forth a need in him that he had been able to suppress to this point.

Time for a much closer look.

He pulled his thumb off her clitoris and leaned forward, licking gently at the fleshy knob. She twitched again and made a sound that was somewhere between a gasp, a moan and a giggle. He responded by running his tongue along her again. The flavor was more subtle than a humans. If he had to describe it, earthy would again be his chosen word. He pulled his fingers out of her and wrapped a hand around each cheek as he smiled lustfully, taking his soon to be meal in.

Yummy. With that he greedily plunged his face into her pussy.

Her breath quickened again and she began making short, panting noises as he greedily at her folds. Using his hands, he spread her open so he had unadulterated access to his prize. She moaned and twitched in his hands as he gave a gentle suck to each of her inner lips. Suddenly he felt something wrap around the back of his head and pull his face tighter to her. He opened one eye and smiled inwardly at the sea of pink gracing the sides of his vision. It seemed she had reached her tail around the back of his head and clutched him closer into her.

Hot.

He alternated slowly between licking her lips, plunging his tongue in and out of her canal and giving long, gentle suckling kisses to her clit. He felt her shiver in his hands.

“Caden..I’m..mmmmmmfff…” She gasped as he delivered another long lick along the entirety of her. He dove his tongue in between her folds before flicking it slightly against her clit.

Let go babe. Enjoy yourself.

A few more slow, measured laps and he felt her start shuddering in his hands. He shifted his arms until he was half hugging, half holding her up as she began buckling in his grip. Her breathing peaked and a long, slow moan escaped her. He felt her marehood quiver against his mouth as she finally peaked. He drank his creamy reward as she pulsed against him. He smiled and leaned back as she finally released her tails grip on his head. He slowly leaned back as she slowly turned around, panting. He reached a hand up and stroked her cheek as she stumbled forward.

“You ok?”

She looked up at him and smiled, drunk from her orgasmic high.

“Yeah..I’m….wow.”

He reached up and wiped sweat off of her brow as she fell sideways across his chest.

He chuckled. “You sure you’re ok?”

She grinned exhaustedly up at him as she laid her head on him and nuzzled her head into his chest.

“I’m…..yeah” She shivered and he smiled as the hair down her back rose and fell with the motion. “I’m great. That was….wow”

He cupped her cheek in his hand. “Glad I could please.”

She crawled further up him until they were nose to snout. She planted a quick, gentle kiss on his lips. “You are…quite good at that sir.”

He chuckled. “Thank you. I was honestly kind of worried.”

“Oh?”

He shrugged. “Honestly I was wondering if my tongue would be….” He trailed off as he looked for the right words.

“Would be what?”

He looked at her snout. “Sufficient….as it were.”

She stared at him for a moment before blue eyes crossed inwardly as she stared down at her own snout. She smiled and shook her head before leaning towards him and kissing him full on. She pulled away, tugging on his bottom lip with her teeth and smiling.

“I like your tongue. Skill over size, dear.”

He glanced downward at his crotch. “You sure seemed impressed with my size a few minutes ago.”

She shrugged. “Different matters.” She repositioned herself until she was lying entirely on top of him, legs wrapped around his torso. He wrapped both arms around her as she settled her head into the crook of his neck. He heard her sigh as she nuzzled against his shoulder.

“Happy?”

He felt her nod. “I am. I really am. I….I’m glad we were finally able to get here.”

He kissed her neck and nuzzled his head against hers. “I am too.”

She pulled her head back and looked him in the eye. “And you’re sure this isn’t…weird?”

“What do you mean weird?

She shrugged. “I’m a Pony…you’re a human.”

He shook his head. “Honestly this might be the most normal feeling thing I’ve done here.”

She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Riiiiight.”

He leaned up and kissed her gently. “Red…I wasn’t kidding. I don’t think I would be…remotely ok right now if it weren’t for you.” He put his hands on her cheeks. “You help make all of this…ok.”

She looked around the room. “I think the Princess has helped you a bit more than I have.”

“She’s helped me, sure.” He craned his head upward and rested his forehead against hers. “But you were THERE Red. You were there the day I woke up.”

She rubbed her forehead against his. “I’m glad I was able to be there. I was worried for you.”

He leaned back and felt all the emotions of that day come roaring back to the surface. “I was…so scared. I thought I was going to bleed to death. In some….world…..some place I’d never seen.” He pulled back and looked her in the eyes. “I’m grateful to Twilight and Fluttershy. Grateful for a place to live and for rescuing me. Immeasurably grateful. Believe me. “But….” He closed his eyes and sighed.

“Caden?” He felt her hoof on his cheek. He opened his eyes to her staring down at him, worry lining her face.

He reached up and put both hands gently on her cheeks.

“Just….thank you again. Thank you for being here. With me. You have no idea how much it’s meant to me.”

Moisture glistened in her eyes as she touched her snout to his nose. “Caden…”

He used his thumbs to wipe the tears from her eyes. “You are the only NORMAL thing in my life right now. I look forward to every time I get to see you. You already feel like an old friend. When I’m around you, I can forget about all of this for just awhile. I don’t feel like I'm in Equestria. That you’re a Pony and I’m a human. I just feel like I’m with someone I care about. And I want to keep feeling this way. As long as I can.”

He felt her take a deep breath as she blinked back another round of tears. “Caden? What are you saying?”

He felt his heart pound in his chest. Take the plunge.

“I’m saying I’d like to make…this…us…official.” He leaned up and kissed her. “I like you Red. I like you a lot. And I’d like to see where this….where we can go.”

She sniffed and blushed, all the while blinking back tears. “I like you too. A lot. And I would love to see where this goes.”

He pulled her head to him, kissing her deeply and reveling in the warm, tingling rush of her acceptance of his feelings. It felt incredibly good to have cleared the air. He ran his hands through her fur, basking in the knowledge that they had committed themselves to each other.

He pulled back and rubbed his nose against hers. “So….what are we called? Boyfriend and…..girl…?

She giggled. “Coltfriend and marefriend normally. But I’m ok with boyfriend and girlfriend.”

He thought a moment. “Boyfriend and marefriend. Spans both worlds.”

She smiled and kissed him again. “I like it. Caden. My boyfriend.”

They kissed again and he heard her giggle as his hands took their place around her ass. She pulled back from their kiss and wiggled her butt in his hands.

“So I’m seeing you’re an ass man.”

He squeezed the enormous mounds and smirked. “How could I not be with one this epic?”

Her smile turned decidedly smug. “I DO have a great ass.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Trust me, I noticed.”

Her smile turned evil as she slid down him until her marehood was grinding against his dick. She bit her lip as he felt himself swell against her.

“Well….seems someone else likes me too.”

He felt his hips rise instinctually as she ground into him again. A few more seconds and he was at full mast. She slid back down and he felt the moistness of her press into him.

She put her front hooves on his chest and wiggled her bottom against him again. She leaned forward and smiled at him through half lidded eyes. “Ready big guy?”

He nodded and used his hands to help lift her up further until he was positioned perfectly at the opening of her slit.

“Ready.”

She nodded and slowly lowered herself onto him. He could tell almost immediately that she wasn’t kidding about his size. It didn’t take long before his progress slowed. He inhaled deeply as he realized how tight she was.

Score one for man.

He felt her shudder and brace with her legs as he reached half hilt. She winced as she stopped sliding downwards.

“Red? Babe?”

She shook her head and steadied herself. “I’m ok. Just….one second.”

“We can try a different position if…”

She grunted. “No. I want to do this. This is my favorite. And…I want to…take you. I want to take…what’s mine.” The hunger in her eyes made him flush.

He nodded and braced.

She rose up until he was just inside her before taking a deep breath, closing her eyes and slowly starting to lower herself again. He put his hands on her thighs and helped brace her. Slowly over the next few minutes she descended. The effort wasn’t entirely on her. He could tell when pushing further would start hurting. He would slow her, lifting and lowering her again. Finally he was hilted inside her. She settled onto him and took another deep breath before opening her eyes.

He smiled up at her, basking in the wet, contracting walls around his cock. She was beautiful. He wasn’t sure he had seen anything sexier than her white form straddled atop him.

“You ok?”

She smiled and leaned backwards as she wiggled on top of him. He felt himself moving around inside her. “Yeah…this feels….” He jerked as she squeezed around him. She leaned further back and sighed deeply. She looked impossibly satisfied. “This feels GREAT.”

She rose up slightly and dropped back on him. She moaned as she settled. “I feel like I’m more you than me right now.”

He reached up and rubbed his hands along the top of her thighs. “I’m glad I could help.”

“Handy creatures you humans.” she purred.

He brought his hands around to her rear. “We aim to please.”

“Glad to hear it.” Using his hands to help her, she lifted further up and came back down. Then again, higher this time. Within short order she was riding him fully. As they found their rhythm, she put her front hooves on his chest for support and began slamming downward ever faster. As the pressure built in his core, he tightened his grip on her ass and brought her down harder than before. He closed his eyes and grit his teeth as he rear collided with him.

“Ok…there…big guy?”

He opened his eyes to see her grinning down at him, her smile warping into a moan every time she lowered. He forced himself to suppress the blooming feeling in his balls as he reached up and wiped one sweat drenched strand of mane out of her face.

“Just enjoying the view.”

The sight of her bouncing on him was enough to put him over the edge. Her white furred body grinding against him was perfection. He moaned again and inhaled sharply as he pushed the rising pressure in his nethers back down.

She smirked. “You sure?”

“I’m….nnng….fine. But…you know…”

She ground against him again, grinning evilly down at the moan he couldn’t fight against.

“Do I know what?”

He raised an eyebrow and moved his hands up to her mid torso.

“This isn’t my favorite position.”

Her smile widened. “Oh?”

He tapped her on the butt and lifted his thighs up. She took his hint and picked herself up off of him. He sat up and pivoted around, positioning himself behind her. He wrapped his arms around her shoulder and kissed her gently on the neck.

“So what are you thinking?”

He kissed gently up her neck before stopping at her ear. “Can you bend over?”

She giggled and nodded. “Pony style?”

“That’s not…exactly what we call it but you get the idea.”

She shifted until she was lying in front of him, tail pulled aside and ass presented to him like the monument it was. He licked his lips as he ran his hands along the twin hills.

Fucking…perfect.

He positioned himself behind her, inserting his tip into her folds before settling and leaning over her. He brought his mouth to her ear.

“Now I can go even deeper.”

She made a noise between a moan and an ‘eep’ as he thrusted into her. He felt her shudder in his hands.

“Ohhhh….fuck.”

He grinned and began hammering at her, wallowing in the view of her plot slamming against him over and over again. He took in every jiggle, every fold it made as her skin met his. Their moans were joined by the sound of flesh hitting flesh as his balls pounded against her. With him in control, it was far easier for him to maintain a rhythm. He felt himself hitting the end of her tunnel as she grunted against him.

It wasn’t long before his need returned. He needed release and he needed it soon. At the rate they were going he wasn’t going to last long.

“Red….I’m….close. Should I….?”

She shook her head. “Inside me. I want it inside me.”

The mere words put him over the edge. He felt every muscle in his lower body tense as the culmination of their efforts spilled into her. He thrusted feebly a few more times, panting and shaking before pulling out of her and collapsing on the bed beside her. He blinked as he felt his mind reboot. He looked over as she crawled forward to lay next to him. He rolled until they were belly to belly and wrapped his arms around her, kissing her gently. She returned the hug and nestled her head into the crook of his neck. As the warmth of her settled into his arms, he thought back to what they had said earlier.

“Red?”

“Hmm?”

“I’m glad we got here.”

He felt her tighten her limbs around his torso as she pulled her head back and laid it on th

“I am too. I’m glad this…we…are a thing.” She pulled her head back and laid it on the pillow next to him. Crystal blue eyes scanned his face as they stared at each other. He was on his way to saying something about how beautiful she was when his stomach growled like some kind of ancient hell creature.

He blushed as Red looked down at his abdomen and burst out laughing. “Hungry?”

“I am.” He squeezed her tighter and shook his head. “I don’t want to leave here though.” As if understanding his words, his stomach growled again, louder this time.

She looked up and smiled before kissing him on the nose. “Caden…we have all the time in the world for this. Let’s go eat. Besides…”

He felt her untangle herself from him before standing up and jumping off the edge of the bed. He rolled over and propped himself up on one arm.

“Besides what?”

She walked over to his bathroom door and flicked her head in the direction of the door.

“Besides…I need a shower. I’m a mess.”

Ah.

She stopped in the doorway and looked back over her shoulder at him. “Well….coming?”

He grinned. “Yes Ma’am!”

Chapter 9: The Canterlot Incident - Part 2

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They wined and dined in the darkened corner of the Dragon’s Claw, giggling over the memory of their first night together. He took a long drink of his second tankard of beer and looked around. Creatures of all sorts had poured into the tavern as they’d sat and by now the place was positively buzzing with activity. Off duty guards clinked glasses and carried on uproariously in the cozy dim of the establishment. A blue armored, tufted eared guardsmare caught his eye at one table. He leaned over to Redheart and gestured into the corner.

“What kind of Pegasus is that? I’ve never seen wings like that before.”

She shook her head. “That’s not a Pegasus. It’s a Thestral. A bat pony. Look at the wings.”

“Oh…holy shit. I didn’t even realize those existed.”

“They’re incredibly rare. Most are members of Princess Luna’s private guard. I’ve only seen one a few times in my life.”

I still have so much to learn about this place.

Redheart looked up from her vegetable soup as he wiped beer foam off of his mustache. He belched as he stared down at the half drained mug.

He wiped the back of his arm along his face and chuckled. “Excuse me!”

She giggled and nodded at his mug. “Are you having another?”

He shook his head. “Lord no. Two is enough. This is a lot of beer.” He looked over at her half drained first round. “I take it you aren’t having another either.”

She snorted. “I think not. As cute as it would be to have you carry me into the castle, I think we should make a better first impression.”

He tore a chunk off the roasted chicken leg in front of him. The discovery of yet another meat dish had thrilled him. “That’s why I’m not having another. If I did, you might have to carry ME.”

“That’d be a sight.” As she brought her next mouth full of soup up, she stopped and examined the utensil latched in her hoof.

‘Red?”

She shook her head. “Sorry. I was looking at the spoon. It’s metal. It reminded me why we’re here. Twilight said they found some kind of big metal box?”

He nodded and gnawed on the leg. “That’s what she told me. ‘Giant’ was the word she used.”

“Any idea what it might be?”

He took a drink and shook his head. “I’ve been going over that in my head. It could be…well a ton of things. Could be a car. A truck. They’re kind of box shaped. A storage shed. It could be a refrigerator for all I know. ‘Giant’ kind of means different things between our worlds.”

“Did they say how big it was? Why did they bring it here all of a sudden?”

“No. I guess they didn’t really have time.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Why didn’t they have time?”

He shrugged. “ I guess Celestia and Luna ordered if they see ANYTHING…odd to immediately quarantine it and send it to Canterlot. By the time we found out, it was already in the air and it’s hard to get up to date information. We just have to wait till it gets here. Some time tonight I guess.”

“Well I’m excited to see something from your world! Other than…you know…you.”

He smirked. “I am too. I think.”

She tilted her head in confusion. “What do you mean ‘you think’?

“Let’s just say there are things from my world that I’d prefer to stay there.” It could just as easily be a tank for all they’d know. The idea of human military tech in Equestria was not something he especially relished.

She was about to respond when he heard the tavern door slam open. He looked over his shoulder as two golden armored pegasi guards rushed into the tavern. All conversation silenced as they glanced around the room, spotted Caden and Redheart and ran over to their table, breathing heavily. The larger, lead guard nodded to them.

“Caden Park?”

Caden nodded. “That’s me.”

“We’ve been looking all over for you. My apologies for interrupting you and the lady’s dinner but your presence is requested at the castle dock tower immediately.”

Caden and Redheart shot a glance at each other. “The dock tower?

“The Torrent will be arriving imminently and the Princesses asked we escort you there.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be here for hours. What happened?”

The guard looked nervously at each other. “We weren’t briefed on the exact situation sir. Our apologies. We were just sent to get you.”

He looked over at Redheart. “Well. Guess we’re about to find out.” He slammed another mouth full of his beer and stood up. “I need to go pay for our meal.”

The guard shook his head. “We’ll take care of that. Please sir. We need to hurry.”

Jesus. They really are in a hurry.

Caden nodded and they followed the guards out the front door. Standing outside was a group of three more guards, surrounding the largest Pony Caden had ever seen. It was almost the size of a normal Earth horse. Immense brown wings ran along the creature’s side. A distinctive brown and white coat summoned an immediate memory of the famous horses from Earth.

It’s a god damn Clydesdale Pegasus.

Atop the resplendent torso armor Caden noticed an accessory he had never seen before in Equestria. A full saddle, equipped with an elaborate set of straps, buckles and ropes.

He stopped and looked back at the guard who had escorted him out of the tavern.“You have got to be kidding me.”

“It’s the fastest way to the dock platform sir. It’s on the other side of the city and the castle. That’s at least a forty five minute run.” He smiled and patted the winged dinosaur in front of them on the shoulder. “Besides sir. Don’t worry. Storm Surge here is our strongest riding flier. He’s hauled creatures heavier than you. He’ll get you there safe and sound. I promise.”

The monstrous bird horse stepped forward and nodded. “Fear not Caden Park! You shall arrive unharmed. I promise on my life.” He slammed a hoof to his chest and bowed deeply. The behemoth's voice was like a bass soaked in testosterone.

I’ve never even RIDDEN a horse. Let alone a flying one.

He looked at the complicated saddle setup. “I assume you’re essentially strapping me to him?”

The lead guard chuckled. “Something like that sir.”

Caden turned and looked down at Red. “If I don’t make it, please visit my grave often.”

She rolled her eyes. “I think you’ll be fine. Besides….” She nodded at a slightly smaller, equally saddled female pegasus next to Storm Front. “Looks like I’m going with you.”

The mare guard stepped forward. “Gale Force ma’am. I’ll get you there safe and sound.”

Storm Surge stepped forward and lowered himself onto all fours in front of Caden. “Ready when you are sir. Please be sure to secure both…..” He looked down at Caden’s shoes and stopped. “Hooves?”

Caden sighed. “Feet. They’re feet.”

“Feet in the stirrups sir.”

Caden did as he was told and within a minute or two the rest of the guard ponies had him strapped into the harness like he was about to ride a roller coaster.

This is not happening. This is NOT fucking happening.

Storm looked over his shoulder. “Lean forward sir and wrap both lead ropes around your arms. The saddle harness will take care of the rest.”

Despite his internal protests, Caden did as he was told and settled himself as the enormous creature instructed.

With his heart pounding Caden leaned forward and took a deep breath. Storm Surge smiled. “It’s ok sir. I promise. I’ll go slow.”

Caden looked over as several of the other guards helped Red up onto Gale Force and secured her into the saddle contraption. She used her mouth to wrap the lead ropes around her front legs before leaning down. She turned and looked at Caden nervously.

“I’m glad I didn’t finish that beer!”

“No shit!”

He felt Storm crouch as the enormous wings on either side of him.

“Ready sir?”

As I’ll ever be. He nodded and braced. “Ready!”

He felt the iron-like muscles in Storm’s trunk tense as he flapped and almost immediately began lifting off the ground.

“Here we go!”

Caden closed eyes and took a deep breath as they rocketed away from the city.

“Holy fuuuuuuu
—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“.....uuuckkkk this is awesome!!”

Caden whooped in excitement as Storm Surge screamed through the sky. Wind whipped against his face as they barreled towards the dock tower. His heart leaped at every turn, every dive and climb. He was not the one in charge here. All he could do was clamp down, try to avoid closing his eyes and smile as the sky rushed by him in a torrent of speed and air. Below them the gold and purple jewel sat like a beacon against Canterhorn mountain.

Is this what the Pegasi’s life is like? He was suddenly far more jealous of Rainbow Dash than he would have ever thought possible.

“THIS IS AMAZING”

“Glad you’re enjoying it, Sir!” Storm grinned at him over his shoulder as they weaved through the sky towards the docking platform he’d seen earlier. As they approached, the Eclipse came into view. Swarms of Ponies appeared to be unhooking ropes between her and the dock and checking various parts of the ship.

I guess the Torrent isn’t here yet.

“Want to try something fun?” Caden’s gaze snapped back to Storm, grinning widely at him.

He took a deep breath and nodded. “Sure.”

“Hold tightly onto the lead ropes. I’ve got you. I promise.”

He nodded and leaned forward, wrapping the saddle ropes tighter around his arms. He felt the Storm’s front hooves come backwards and grip him around the legs as they slowly started rolling.

Holy…shit.

The sky became the ground as he braced himself against Storm. He couldn’t help but think back to his days of pole vaulting. That one amazing moment, inverted, arcing his body over the goal and hoping none of him graced the top of the vault. In those days he’d felt like he was flying.

That was a joke by comparison.

He made another loud whoop as Storm finished his barrel roll and flared his wings out, slowing their descent as they began to land. He took a deep breath and laughed nervously.

“That was….wow. Just wow. Holy shit man!”

“I’m glad you enjoyed sir!” They slowly descended before landing on the platform. Ponies milled around them, just as he had seen from the sky. It was a bulb of activity jutting out from the end of Canterlot City. Pegasi continued to work on undocking the Eclipse. In between Ponies ran around like maniacs as a stream of crates, barrels and other cargo moved from the docking bay to the ship. Another swarm of Pegasi flitted around the ship, checking engines, sails and other parts. Over a loudspeaker he could hear an operator calling out the status.

Eclipse launch in ten minutes. Repeat all crews. Eclipse launch in ten minutes. Prepare for immediate departure and force field release. Upon Eclipse departure, prepare immediately for Torrent arrival. Critical cargo is arriving on the Torrent. Escort squads to the landing pads for Princess and VIP arrival. Princess Twilight is on her way to the landing platform.”

Fuck….it’s like a Navy base.

They settled and several guards rushed up and started untangling him from the saddle.

Storm looked over his shoulder. “I hope the ride wasn’t too rough sir.

As they finished he jumped off and walked around to face the colossal Pegasi. “That was…amazing man. I’d LOVE to do that again.”

Storm smiled and nodded. “I’d heard you were unique. I’ve never flown a creature like you before. I wouldn’t mind doing it again either.” One of his wings reached back and lifted one of the golden plates of his armor on his thigh. A Cutie Mark of a saddle sat prominently on the brown fur.

“It’s what I was born to do.”

He reached a closed hand up and they bumped hoof to hand. “I’ll keep it in mind. Thanks again Storm.”

Storm nodded as Gale Force landed next to them, Redheart rushing to untangle herself from the saddle. He reached up and started helping her off of Gale Force. He felt her take a deep breath and swallow heavily.

“Red?” Babe? You ok?”

She shot him a sideyed glance and shook her head.

Uh oh.

As soon as she dropped to the ground she turned to Gale Force. “Do you know where the little mare’s room is?” She was turning green before his eyes.

Gale nodded and put a wing on Red’s back. “Yes ma’am. Follow me!”

Red gave him a weak smile before running after Gale towards the hangar.

“CADEN!!”

He turned to see Twilight running towards him through all of the creatures on the platform.

“You made it! I’m glad they found you!”

He nodded. “They did. It was a hell of an escort.”

She stopped at his side and pointed a wing towards a stairwell at the back of the landing bay. It appears to lead to an observation deck above the platform.

“Come with me.”

“Twilight what is goi…..” He stopped as she started pushing him with her head towards the observation deck. “I’ll explain in just a second. Come on! We need to go!”

He sighed and let her take the lead, weaving through the crowds as they ascended the stairs and arrived at a control room. Large glass windows looked out over the landing platform as the ponies in the booth sat in front of magically powered radar screens, talking over headsets to the various crews below them. He could hear the chatter going back and forth between them and the ponies prepping the Eclipse for take off.

“Alpha Six Bravo, ensure the cargo in bay seven is secure.

“Roger Canterhorn One. Cargo is secured. Preparing locking seals for takeoff.”

“Confirm team six, prow anchor ropes are retracted. T minus five minutes till takeoff. Torrent is beginning her approach. Make sure you get the timing right.”

“Roger Canterorn One. Timing is aligned.”

Twilight stepped forward. “Ensure all crews understand the moment the Torrent docks that Caden, Princesses Luna and Celestia and myself will be boarding and heading for the cargo bay. Instruct them to have a crew escort ready on arrival. Please inform Princess Celestia and Luna that Caden has arrived on the platform.”

He suddenly felt incredibly important.

The Ponies nodded and began relaying the instructions. He looked down at Twilight. “Twilight. What’s going on? I thought this thing wasn’t supposed to be here for hours yet.”

She frowned. “There’s been a change of…circumstances. It seems whatever this big metal box is wasn’t the only thing that came through from your world. When the crew on the Torrent realized it, they started heading this way with all speed.”

He shook his head. “ What do you mean ‘something’ else came through? What could possibly cause this much….”

She shot him a sideways glance. The worry in her purple eyes told him everything he needed to know.

Oh no…..

“You can’t mean….”

She looked him up and down. “I guess you’re about to have some company.”

Another human?

“How did this happen? I thought you said it was just the box.”

“It seems she was hiding inside of it. We didn’t realize until they started hearing her call out midway through the flight.”

“She? It’s a girl?”

Twilight shrugged. “We think so. Details are sparse. We didn’t find this out until the Torrent came back into radio contact a few hours ago. Things have been…chaotic around here. Getting the Eclipse ready for launch in a hurry isn’t the easiest thing.”

He felt himself ripped back to that first day. Standing in the fields outside the Everfree Forest. The Timberwolves. The same flood of questions he had asked ripped through him like a flood. Did she see how she got here? Was she ok? How would she react? He remembered all the the terror and pain of that day. He could only hope whoever this poor person was that their experience had been better than his.

She pointed a wing out the observation window. “Look. It’s here.”

He turned and looked as observation lights from the landing dock shot out and illuminated another approaching airship hovering against the night sky. It was significantly smaller than the Eclipse, maybe two hundred feet long at max and half as deep.

“Come on.” She nodded her head towards the landing platform below. “Let’s go wait.”

One of the ponies in the headsets began speaking as they made their way back towards the stairs.

Eclipse launching. Repeat. Eclipse launching. All hands prepare for force shield release.”

A loud klaxon began blaring as he and Twilight stepped back on the landing dock. He saw a shimmer in the sky outside the landing platform and almost immediately a blast of frigid air rushed across them.

Of course. They can’t take off or approach with the city's shield in the way.

“HOW DOES THIS NOT FREEZE THE CITY EVERY TIME!?”

Twilight pointed at the area he’d seen shimmer. “THEY ONLY RELEASE A SMALL PART OF IT. JUST THE AREA AROUND THE DOCK!”

Makes sense.

He rubbed his arms as the Eclipse fired up its engines, causing another rush of air to rocket across the dock. He winced against the barrage of noise, wind and cold. Slowly, like a whale unbeaching itself into an ocean sky, the enormous machine began pulling away from the platform and away from the city. After a few moments he could see the gigantic propellers on its side swivel downwards and it began arcing up and away from the city, gaining speed by the second. If it weren’t for the current circumstances he imagined he’d be squealing like a three year old at the sight.

That is so fucking cool.

Within moments of the Eclipse departing, the Torrent began its descent and docking. As soon as it came within about a hundred feet of the platform, he saw the sky shimmer again and the wind and cold ceased instantly.

“Caden!”

He turned to see Redheart walking towards him. Gale Force stood smiling behind her, waving before jumping into the sky and departing.

He leaned down and hugged Redheart and she approached. “You ok?”

She nodded. “I am now. That beer and flying didn’t mix very well.”

He smiled. “I thought it was pretty fun myself.”

She snorted. “I’ll keep my hooves here on the ground whenever I can, thank you” She turned to look at the Torrent, now being anchored to the dock as its engines wound down to simple station keeping. “So what’s going on? Why the rush?”

He sighed. “Sounds like another human was in the ‘big metal box’.”

She gasped and reached a hoof up to rest it on his thigh. “Oh no. Caden….are….are you ok? Are…they ok?”

He shrugged. “I’m fine. More worried about her.”

Her eyes went wide. “Her? Do they know how she got here? Anything?”

He shook his head. “Not yet.”

A powerful, formal voice boomed out from behind them. “Twilight! Caden Park!”

He jerked as he heard Redheart squeak and hide behind him. Twilight turned. “They’re here.”

He turned. Who in the….oh.

Ponies skittered around the bay, bowing their heads slightly before returning to their duties as Princesses Celestia and Luna strode towards them.

Twilight called out and waved. “Princess Celestia! Princess Luna!”

It felt really odd for him to hear Twilight call someone else ‘Princess’. Elder royalty indeed.

They were exactly like he had seen in his magical video conference weeks before. Taller and larger than Twilight, resplendent in their chest and hoof accessories and reeking of magic and authority.

He fought the urge to bow as the pair approached. Twilight had advised him it wasn’t necessary. All the same he gave the pair a long, eyes downward nod as they approached.

Celestia smiled at them. “Caden Park. It’s nice to finally meet you in person.”

He nodded. “Thank you Princess.”

Luna stepped forward. “Indeed it is our pleasure, Caden Park.”

He shook his head. “I appreciate it Princesses but just…Caden please. Park is my family name.”

Luna nodded. “Understood, Caden.”

Celestia looked downwards and smiled at Redheart, who was still half hiding and half bowing from behind him.

“Hello Redheart.”

His marefriend turned crimson as she smiled awkwardly up at Celestia. Her tail thrashed nervously behind her.

“Hello, your highness..es!”

Caden held back a smirk. He thought back to her at the hospital before Twilight’s party. She really does get nervous around royalty.

The two looked up and nodded towards the Torrent, now almost completely docked.

“I assume Twilight has briefed you on the current situation.” Celestia asked.

He nodded. “She has.”

Luna frowned. “Tis incredibly concerning to us that another of your kind has arrived in our world. I had very much hoped your entry into Equestria would be an anomaly. Between this and the report from the weather Pony a few weeks ago, I fear this doesn’t bode well.

Celestia rolled her eyes. “Luna…”

Luna snorted and stomped her hoof. “Once is a coincidence. Twice is lucky. Thrice is a pattern.”

Twilight’s gaze flicked nervously between her peers before flicking her head towards the ship.

“I think it best we make our way to the ship. The poor thing has got to be scared out of her mind.”

Before they could leave, he turned and looked at the three Princesses. “If you wouldn’t mind, can I go in first? Let me be the first one she meets. I realize she’s already seen Ponies on the ship but…I remember my first day here. It might be much easier if she sees a human as soon as possible. She’s probably scared out of her mind. Could be panicking.

The Princesses looked at each other before nodding. Twilight looked up at him. “Sure Caden. I think that makes sense.”

“Thank you.” He began making his way up the ramp to the ship, preparing to deal with whatever he found inside.

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Of all of the sounds Caden had expected to hear on the other side of the cargo bay door, laughter was not it.

They had descended through the ship, escorted by some of the crew until they’d come to the main entry to the cargo bay. The first mate of the ship, an elder Pegasus named Wind Shear had met them there. He’d bowed deeply as the royal contingent approached before turning to Caden.

“She’s in there.”

Caden nodded. “And she’s a human?”

“Yup. Or at least…one of…whatever it is you are. Looks a bit different though.”

Caden looked at the door. “So what happened? How did you all find her?

He shrugged. “I guess she was inside the big box when we found it. That damnable thing weighs a ton by the way. Took most of the crew and a few of the city guards to half push, half float it in here. We closed it up to haul it here and she must have got locked inside. One of the deck hands heard her banging on the side of the box and we let her out.”

He heard Twilight gasp. ”That’s terrible. Is she ok? She must be scared out of her mind.”

Wind Shear smirked as the sound of uproarious laughter rang out from behind the closed door again.

“I…wouldn’t say that exactly. Two of my crew have been in there for the last few hours.”

Caden blinked a few times as the sound emerged from behind the door again.

“Doing what exactly?”

“Keeping her…entertained. She kept trying to follow us around the ship. It’s dangerous on the top deck and we didn’t feel right just locking her in the cargo bay.”

What the…

Wind Shear pointed a wing towards the door. ”You probably just need to go see for yourself. Maybe you can save my crew from her. She’s very…huggy.”

Huh?

He turned and looked at the rest of his boarding party, who all promptly shrugged and gave him a dumb look as he turned back to the door.

Well…..here we go.

The door opened into the cavernous bay to another squealing wave of laughter.

Three things caught his attention. First was the huge metal shipping container tied down in the middle of the bay. The word ‘MAERSK’ stood out in proud, blue letters along the side of the white steel box.

Holy shit. He breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn’t been something a little more exciting.

I wonder what’s in it.

The next thing he noticed was the two unicorn Ponies sitting on the floor in front of the open door of the shipping container. They smiled in relief as sparks, beams and colors erupted from their horns, making small colorful swirls, stars and designs in the ceiling of the bay. It was like some kind of arcane 4th of July display.

The last thing was the human woman sitting reclined on the floor next to them. She smiled, cheered and clapped one of the unicorns on the back in exuberant approval as the magical display waned. She looked up and jumped to her feet, waving excitedly when Caden walked into the room.

“Hallo!”

Well they were right. It is a girl. A fairly petite girl at that. If he had to guess she couldn’t have been over five one and a hundred pounds soaking wet.

Twilight nudged him in the hip. “She looks a little different than you do.”

He nodded.

Holy shit. She’s Indian.

She looked a fair bit younger than he was. He wouldn’t have guessed any older than twenty. Short, wavy black complemented her brown eyes perfectly. She was cute in an almost pixie-esque sort of way.

She continued waving excitedly. “Hallo! Hallo! Guten Nacht!” She stopped and thought for a second. “Nacht? Abend? Ich weis nicht. Hmmmmmm”

Caden blinked at her a few times. Or….German?

She waved again. “Ah….hallo? Ich bin Hanna. Hanna Khatri. Wie heisen sie? Wo sind wir?”

Out of the corner of his eye he noticed Twilight looking back and forth between them, eyes wide in concern.

I’ll deal with that later.

He shook his head and tried to gather his thoughts. “Uhh….” He did his best to remember the tiny bit of German he had picked up from high school electives. All of it seemed to have completely left his brain.

Fuck it. Maybe she knows some English. Hopefully the spell doesn’t fuck this up.

He cleared his thoughts and put himself in the headspace he needed to override the translation spell.

English. English.

“Hello. My name is Caden. Do you speak any English?”

Her eyebrows went up in shock as she smiled widely. “Oh! An American! Hello!”

He nearly collapsed in relief as she bounded towards him. Out of the corner of his he noticed the two crew Ponies give him a look of immense satisfaction as they silently slipped out the door.

She reached out to shake his hand. “I’m Hanna. Hanna Khatri! I was saying good evening…or afternoon.” She frowned. “I’m not really sure what time it is actually.”

Other than a twinge of a German accent, she seemed to speak perfect English.

Thank Christ.

“Hanna…are you ok?” He looked up at the container. “We heard you got locked in there?”

She turned and nodded. “Sure did! I’m glad these…” She looked behind him at the girls. “...tiny horses were here to help.” She turned and looked behind her to where the two unicorns had been. “Oh….they left.”

He took a deep breath and fought back an eye twitch as she excitedly looked around the bay. Whatever condition he had been expecting her to be in, it was NOT this.

He felt a tugging on his shirt and looked down at Twilight standing next to him. “Is she ok?”

He nodded. “Yeah she seems…..fine. Great even.”

Hanna whirled around, eyes the size of saucers. “Holy shit! You speak their language! That is so cool!

“That’s…a long story. A really long story.”

Twilight frowned. “What was that at the beginning? I could tell she wasn’t speaking your language and then you switched from Poneish to English?”

He’d taught Twilight enough English at this point that it seemed she was able to differentiate how it sounded versus other Earth languages.

He nodded. “She’s German. At least I think she is. That’s the language she was speaking anyway. Seems she speaks English too.” He saw the look of worry on Twilight’s face deepen and he sighed. He remembered the look of concern on her face a second ago. “Oh for fucks sakes. What now?”

She frowned deeply. “Verba Verum works on both speaker and receiver, regardless of language. It’s supposed to be a literal universal translator. That’s how the magic works. It forms a connection between creatures. She wouldn’t be able to understand us but you should have been able to understand her native language. That’s….concerning.”

“Maybe she’s resistant to magic like I am?”

“Maybe. Magic WORKS on you. It just takes a lot to make it…stick. I’d have thought at least some of the spell would have been functional. You should have understood at least something. We’ll have to see.”

He sighed and turned back to Hanna, who was watching what to her was a deep conversation in absolute gibberish. “One thing at a time.”

“Hanna, can you tell me what happened? How did you get here?

Her face scrunched in thought. “Not really. I was inside the container doing inventory when the whole thing started to glow. I heard a crackling sound and a really loud bang and then I turned and looked out the door and I was somewhere else. It looked like a city…kinda. Older. Like something out of olden times. I saw a bunch of those horse thingies.” She pointed at Twilight.

He translated what Hanna had just said. “That must have been Baltimare.”

They nodded and Celestia stepped forward. “Ask her where she was in your world.”

He turned back. “Where were you working? I take it you work on a ship?” He pointed at the container.

She shook her head. “Nope. Dockhand at the Port of Baltimore.” She turned and pointed at her safety vest and helmet sitting just inside the container.

Son of a bitch.

He looked back at the girls. “We call the city Baltimore. But yes. Same as what happened with Sky Tide and Las Pegasus. The two worlds line up fairly close to each other. She was working at the docks.”

He turned back to Hanna. “So you didn’t see what happened? How did the container get here? Anything?

She shook her head. “No. Not at all. Just the glowing and crackling and then….bam”

He sighed and frowned. Great.

He felt Redheart step up and wrap her tail around his leg. His disappointment must have been obvious.

It’s not this girl's fault.

He turned to the Princesses. “She has no idea how she got here. She was working in the container and turned and was just suddenly here.” As he described his story, he watched Celestia and Luna share a concerned, side eyed glance when he got to the point where Hanna had described what had happened around her.

The hell?

Twilight looked up at the steel box. “Is that what this is? A container?”

He nodded. “It’s a shipping container. We use them to transport all kinds of things across our world. By truck…train….giant ships that can carry tens of thousands of them. That’s what she was doing. I guess she works at a port where they load and unload these.” He pointed inside the container at the palettes of shrink wrapped boxes loaded inside.

“Each one of those is a box full of…well could be anything.”

He barely let his mind register that an entire shipping container's worth of goods had just been transported from Earth to Equestria. His mind raced at the possibilities of what was in there.

Later.

He watched Twilight’s mouth fall open. He could tell she was doing the mental calculus at how large a ship would need to be to haul thousands of those containers.

Your airship is still cooler.

“Hanna. What happened after that?”

She shrugged. “I hid in the container at first. I wasn’t sure what to do. Eventually I heard someone lock the door and it felt like the whole thing was being lifted onto something. I hid for a few hours and started getting thirsty. I started calling out and banging on the door. Eventually one of them opened the door. I think I scared the hell out of the poor thing.”

I think it was likely more the other way around.

“I wasn’t sure what to do so I just sat down in the doorway. Eventually they brought me some food and tea and showed me some of their…laser powers! It was awesome!”

He smirked. “You seem like you’re…ok.”

She shrugged. “I was scared at first but these things have been super cool to me. That helped a lot. No sense in freaking out.”

She is…WEIRDLY calm.

He chuckled as Redheart looked up at him. “She doesn’t seem nearly as upset as you were.”

“Hmmmph. Not getting attacked by wooden hell beasts might help.”

“True.”

“I also get the feeling she’s a little more…adaptable than I am.”

Twilight nodded. “She certainly seems more excitable than you are. She kind of reminds me of Pinkie Pie. Just…her aura.”

He shrugged. “Like I told you. Humans come in all kinds. Just like Ponies. We aren’t really that different.” Magic..and flying aside.

Celestia looked her up and down. ”Twilight said she spoke a different language than you. Is she from a different nation?”

He nodded. “I think so. I think she’s Indian but it seems like she’s from Germany.”

They blinked at him a few times.

“Two very different countries on two very different continents. Just…hold on”

He was about to ask the question when he jerked back as Hanna materialized right in front of him, hand waving excitedly at her sides.

“HOW ARE YOU DOING THAT? YOU SPEAK THEIR LANGUAGE PERFECTLY? HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN HERE?”

God help me…

“It’s actually a spell. It lets me speak and understand their language. It’s called Poneish. They’re called Ponies, Hanna.”

He thought she was going to explode into a ball of pure energy and sugar right then and there. “Magic!? I knew it! So those were unicorns!!” She pointed a finger at the Princesses. “ARE THOSE WINGED UNICORNS? THIS IS SO COOL!”

“It is very cool. Hanna…I’m curious. Where are you from?”

She didn’t even pull her eyes off of the Alicorn squad as she answered. “I was born in India but my parents moved to Germany. They divorced when I was 14 and I moved to the U.S with my Dad.”

“And how old are you?”

“19. Why?”

Young. Indian. German. Called it in one.

“Just curious.”

He turned back to the girls. “She is from India. And Germany. She’s also 9 years younger than I am.” He pivoted to Hanna, who was staring down at Twilight like a child looking through a candy store window.

Redheart smirked. “I can see that.”

He looked towards the cargo bay door. “Would it be ok if we went back to the castle? I’d like to get a little more comfortable before we lay out the entire situation for her.”

The Princesses nodded and he turned to Hanna. “Hanna, would you be ok coming with us? We’re…well…” He waved around the cargo bay. “We’re in the cargo bay of an airship right now. That's why you felt the container moving.”

“THIS IS AN AIRSHIP?! THIS IS SO COOL!”

He and the girls winced at the wave of pure energy. Jesus. She really is like Pinkie Pie.

“It is. I know you have no reason to trust me but I can take us somewhere more comfortable.” He thought back to her story. “We can get more cake and tea if you’d like.”

She shrugged. “You’ve given me no reason NOT to trust you. You haven’t hurt me. Same as these Ponies.” Her voice took on an odd, almost blasé tone.

Interesting.

He gestured towards the door. “Well if it’s ok then….”

Hanna nodded. “Let’s go!”

—----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Hanna hummed in delight as she shoved a piece of some kind of strawberry cream cake into her mouth. A piece from her third slice. Caden stated in disbelief as thousands of calories seemed to magically disappear down her petite frame. She squealed and shivered as she swallowed the cake.

”THIS IS SO GOOD!”

They were in some kind of mix of a royal anteroom and library in one of the towers of Canterlot Castle. Books lined the wall amid couches, large, comfortable chairs and even piles of reclining pillows on the floor. A fire roared in an enormous fireplace on one wall under an enormous painting of Luna in some kind of incredibly elaborate dress, lying on a chaise lounge. He’d caught the Moon Princess roll her eyes when they’d walked into the room.

Hanna looked around her. “This is like…a whole castle and everything! “

Between the squeeing at the sight of the Torrent to her wanting to stop and look at every single thing between here and there, it had taken them a considerable amount of time to escort Hanna to their destination. Over the last thirty minutes or so they’d explained her situation as best they could. Caden had gone over a brief, high level overview of his adventures there as well.

“So…this is another world. Equestria?” She put her fork down and took a drink of some sort of fizzy, melon drink the castle kitchen had brought her.

He nodded. “It is. I got here a few months ago.”

“And these are Ponies. Unicorns. Pegasuses…”

“Pegasi.”

She nodded. “Pegasi. Earth Ponies. You’re also from Earth. Colorado. We have no idea how we got here? Magic? Right?”

He nodded.

“And you have no idea how to get us home. You’ve been stuck here for months.”

He nodded again. He prepped to comfort her as she processed that she might be stuck in there for a very long time, if not forever.

She shrugged. “Ok. Fair enough.” She shoveled another enormous piece of cake into her mouth.

His eye twitched again as the Princesses, Red and the entire rest of Twi’s entourage looked between the two of them. The novel summary length way she had just described and dismissed their entire predicament slightly annoyed him.

He rubbed his hands together and leaned forward. “Hanna…being honest…you seem shockingly ok with this. We have…no idea how we got here. Or how to get us home.”

She chewed for a second before swallowing and shrugging again. “Doesn’t sound like there’s much I can do about it right?” She looked down at her plate and moved a piece of cake around with her fork. “I actually panicked when I first saw what was outside the container but really…no sense in it right? Seems like we’re both stuck here for now.”

Her resignation to the whole situation was incredible. Almost dismissive. It’s like she was explaining the weather.

I wonder if all that sugar is covering something. Probe later.

She looked up from her plate and smiled. “Besides! Your friends here seem awesome! These Ponies have been nothing but nice to me! This world seems super cool!” She gestured around the room. “I’m sitting in a castle in another world with hyper magical..unicorn…princess Ponies! This is AWESOME!

Rarity raised an eyebrow. “She certainly seems to be in…good spirits.”

Pinkie bounded forward and waved at Hanna, who promptly waved back. They shared enormous, toothy grins. “I think she seems super nice! I like her energy!”

God...help…us.

Twilight stepped up and looked at Caden. “And she has absolutely no idea how she got here either?”

Rainbow Dash stepped forward. “I wonder if it fell through one of those portal things Sky Tide found.”

He shook his head.“That doesn’t sound like what Sky saw. That was more like a hole between the worlds. This almost sounds more like…they got transported. She said the entire container started glowing and she heard a crackling sound. This doesn’t seem the same at all.”

Celestia suddenly stepped forward and put a hoof on Caden’s arm.

“Princess?”

Celestia looked over at Caden. “You said she described it like it glowed and a crackling sound?”

He nodded. “Yeah basically.” He thought back to the cargo bay, where she and Luna had shared a concerned glance at the initial description of the spell.

The hell?

“Caden, would you please ask her if she could look at me for a few moments.”

“Why?”

“I want to test something.”

“Fair enough.”

He nodded and looked at Hanna. “Could you look over at that Pony? The big white one?”

She nodded and shoveled the last of her cake into her mouth. “Sure! The one with the sun on her butt?”

It took everything he had to keep from laughing. “Ah…yes. That one.”

She nodded and looked over at Celestia. Everycreature looked as Celestia’s horn lit up before disappearing in a flash of yellow, magical energy and reappearing on the other side of the room.

Hanna’s eyes went wide and she started clapping excitedly! “Coooool!”

Celestia walked up to him and Hanna. “Would you ask her if that’s the sound she heard? Is that what the energy she saw looked like?”

He relayed the questions to Hanna. She thought for a moment and then shook her head. “No, not really. This was more of a like…glow. Just pure white light. It wasn’t pulsing like the energy on her horn. The entire container just started glowing. Everything in it too. I might have been glowing for all I know. I wasn’t paying attention. The sound was way different too. This was more like…I think I could hear almost…a sizzling noise and then there was what almost sounded like a thunderclap. It was loud. Really loud now that I’m thinking back on it.”

He relayed the information to Celestia. She frowned and turned to Luna. “It certainly sounds similar.”

Caden felt his heart jump in his chest. What?

Luna nodded. “I wouldn’t know sister. That was during my exile. But…based on what you’ve told me…”

“What? What sounds similar?” Caden stepped forward, glancing between the two astral Princesses.

Celestia sighed. “I think I may finally have an idea of what’s going on. At least a theory.”

His entire body tensed at the idea that after all this time they might finally have some clue, some idea at all. He swallowed as his heart pounded in his chest.

“Well what is it!?”

She frowned and shook her head. “If my theory is correct the implications are…far more concerning than we knew.”

“What is it? What’s your theory?!”

She held a hoof up. “This is going to be far easier to show and explain than just explain. I understand your excitement Caden. Trust me. I do. But can you please wait just a few more minutes. I PROMISE I will explain everything I know then.”

“No! I…what…..”

He took a deep breath while clenching and unclenching his hand. Patient was the last thing he wanted to be at the moment.

He felt Redheart’s tail squeeze his leg. He looked down at as she gave him a small, encouraging smile and a nod.

He took another deep breath and nodded. “Ok. Where are we going?”

“We are going deeper into the mountain.” Celestia turned and the door to the ante room opened at the behest of her magic.

“Guard!”

One of the royal guards who had been outside the door sprung through the doorway. He held a hoof up in salute.

“Your highness?”

“Send to the city guard. Have them bring the Bursts to sub level 4 of the castle at my request.”

He nodded and ran out the door as Twilight rushed forward. “The Bursts? Comet and Nebula Burst?”

Caden looked at her. “Who the hell are the Bursts?”

Sunset Shimmer stepped up between him and Twilight. “Siblings. They’re the Headstallion and Headmare of Celestia’s School for Gifted Unicorns. They teach the older Ponies.”

“So you know them?”

Twilight nodded. “They’re very powerful unicorns. They taught both Sunset and I in our later years at the school. They usually only instruct Ponies at…” she glanced between Starlight and Sunset…”well…very advanced levels.”

Sunset held a hoof up to her chin. “As I recall they are arcane material specialists. Advancing the study of using natural materials to alter and enhance magic.”

Sunset turned to Twilight. “Comet’s daughter was entering the school when I was doing my private tutelage under Princess Celestia. She was a few years behind you.”

Twilight nodded. “Aurora. I met her once. She was shy but I’d heard she was brilliant. Same as her father.”

Celestia sighed. “The Bursts are far more than just teachers and material specialists. They helped with much of the research we did in figuring out how to build this very city.”

Twilight nodded and looked up at Caden. “Remember how I told you the city isn’t held up just by magic alone? This is what we’re talking about.”

“But more so than that, the Burst clan have contributed more to teleportation research than any other group of Ponies in history. More than Starswirl. More than me.” She turned and looked at Twilight and her students. “More than any of us.”

Twilight’s ears shot up! “Wait…WHAT?! I thought most of that development had been done by you and other scholars over the years! The Bursts aren’t mentioned anywhere in the materials on that!”

Luna shook her head. “And with good reason Twilight. Come sister. Enough talking. The weight of the situation won’t be apparent to them without visual evidence. We owe it to Caden and the new human at the least. Perhaps it is long since time this came to light.”

Celestia gave a long, deep sigh. “Perhaps it is. Come. Follow me.”