Wish Fulfillment

by Boopy Doopy

First published

Rally saw an advertisement for a spellcaster listed, so she decided to have some fun and asked to be turned into a pony in Equestria. She got what she asked for, but not what she wanted.

Raleigh Leanne "Rally" Woods saw an advertisement for a spellcaster listed on her favorite fanfiction website, under the name of one Lord Zulu. Naturally, she decided to have a little fun and mess with him, calling him up and asking to be turned into a pony in Equestria, knowing full well that there was no risk of anything happening to her. Or so she thought until her wish was fulfilled, in the way she asked for but not the way she wanted.


There is a mature version of the story that you can read. Bear in mind, it contains more mature and graphic details and scenes, so reader discretion is advised. You can read it here if you would like.

Cover art by Mayhem Moth. You can find her work here.

(1) The Spellcaster

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BEST URGENT SPELLCASTER ADVERTISED. 100% GUARANTEED RESULTS. POWERFUL SPELLCASTER CALLED LORD ZULU TO HELP YOU GET WHAT YOU NEED IN LIFE. LOVE SPELLS OBSESSION SPELLS LOTTERY SPELLS AND MORE. CONTACT HIM NOW FOR YOUR TESTIMONIES. CONTACT HIM ON WHATSAPP NOW @(+1)200-969-7441. DO NOT WAIT. VISIT LORDZULUSHOUSEOFSPELLS.WEBSITE2.ME

“...what?” I couldn’t help but laugh to myself. This was just about the last thing I’d expected to see on a My Little Pony fanfiction website. An ad for a spellcaster in a forum about Rainbow Dash. The sheer shock of seeing the thing made me lean back laughing in my chair, almost falling out of the thing.

I had to share this with my friends. It was something we had fun doing; browsing the website to see what silly things we could find was something we liked to do in our pastime. We’d found some pretty wild things, but so far, this took the cake.

Look at this, I typed out in our group chat, sending a screenshot of the ad along with a few of the comments from the forum. I love this website so much, I typed. We get such great content as this. Ads for spellcasters.

Where in the world did you find this, Rally?, my friend, Shorey, asked. How do they just allow ads for fake services about spellcasting to be posted? Seeing this makes me sad.

Doesn’t make me sad, I replied. I love it. I think stuff like this is great. Suddenly, an idea came to me, and I typed out, I think I’m gonna call this Lord Zulu guy.

This was the kind of thing every MLP fan dreamed of, and I wanted to play with the idea of it. He said he could do any spell for what you needed in life. Having a spell caster turn you into a pony in Equestria? That was the crux of just about every other fic in the MLP fandom. This was how those things started, a concept that made me laugh harder. I was gonna call up a spellcaster and be turned into a pony. Well, probably not, but it was fun to pretend and joke around with.

I was already on the line when Shorey was telling me that I shouldn’t. You know, this could end up being something that you get charged by the minute for, they told me. You’re gonna call them and then receive a hundred dollar bill in the mail in three weeks, you know that, right?

Well, I’ll pay a ten dollar bill if I'm sent one, but not a hundred, I replied. They’re gonna have to take me to court for that.

As I said it, the line was suddenly going to voicemail without ever being answered. It was what I expected though. A random ad on a random website about spell casting whose phone number was being hosted through WhatsApp wasn’t likely to provide very much, not that I ever expected anything. Still, having this ‘Lord Zulu’ person answer the call would’ve at least been a few minutes of fun.

They didn’t even answer anyway, I finished. I just wanted to be a pony in Equestria. I’m a simple girl with simple dreams.

As I said it, my phone started to ring, and I started to laugh again. The person was calling me back! My fun would last a few more minutes at least.

“Hello?” I asked as I answered the phone. “Am I speaking to Lord Zulu?” I wore a smile the whole time, absolutely ready to have fun trolling whoever this person was.

“Yes, this is Lord Zulu,” the man on the other end answered, having an accent that was clearly Indian or Pilipino or Sri Lankan or some other country in southeast Asia. “You are calling about a love spell sir, yes?” he asked.

“Um, I’m a ma’am,” I said quickly, silently cringing at my voice. “But I was calling about a spell to turn me into a pony in Equestria.”

I went back to smiling during the minute of silence as he tried to process what I was saying. After a second, he asked, “You are calling about what kind of spell?”

“I want a spell that will turn me into a pony in Equestria,” I repeated. “Your website was advertised on a My Little Pony website, so I want a spell that will turn me into a pony in Equestria.”

“Hmmm, I see,” he said, sounding like he was deep in thought. “I do believe this I can do.”

“Well, I don’t think you can, but if you could-” I said before I was abruptly hung up on.

Well, that was rude, I thought to myself as I pulled up the messaging client again. But that’s about what I expected. I guess I had about two minutes of fun trying to troll him.

I explained what happened to the group chat, and a few of my friends laughed along with me about the situation.

He has a website and everything, I typed. I mean, how can you not trust a website hosted by website2.me? I absolutely would.

Well, it’s all fun and games until you get charged, Shorey told me. When you get a bill in the mail, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

If I become a pony in the next twenty four hours, then I will pay whatever bill is sent to me. It would be absolutely worth it to be the cutest mare of all time.

Well, if you suddenly go missing in the next twenty four hours, another friend, Forrester, told me, then I’m going to be the first to follow you. We’ll make it a group thing.

You better, I told him. I can’t just go alone. We need everyone there. You know, for science.

Oh, of course. I would never abandon you. Who’d be there to save you from whatever danger you found? Or whatever drugs you took, more likely? Shorey and I, obviously.

I laughed at the idea of that. Forrester, Shorey, and I, and the rest of our group chat friends ending up in Equestria. If I did go, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a line of people right behind me. I couldn’t imagine anyone would pass up on something like this.

I laughed to myself at that idea before putting it out of my head. I focused my attention on other things, like cleaning my apartment and getting ready for work tomorrow. I almost forgot about it completely until I got a text a couple of hours later from the number I called.

Hello, I’m here to get back to you on the spell you requested, Lord Zulu wrote to me. You said it is not a love spell, correct?

Nope, not a love spell, I wrote back. I just want to be a pony in Equestria. Can you do that for me?

If you have anyone going through relationship problems, you can refer them to me, he typed back.

I chuckled at that message and sent, If you turn me into a pony in Equestria, I will refer my whole friend list to you. I already told everyone to get in my friends group to call you if you did.

I can, he said, but it’s going to cost you money for the materials to cast the spell that will turn you into a pony and put you in Equestria, that’s a three hundred dollar fee.

Before I could respond to him, he sent a list of information I needed to provide to him. It contained things like my first and last name, my county and state, my age, my phone number, and more. It was more than I was willing to give out for a joke to troll someone, that was for sure. And even if I did want to give fake information and continue trolling, I certainly wasn’t about to send three hundred bucks to what everyone in the world knew was a scam.

I don’t have that kind of money, unfortunately, I said. Think you could spot me for ninety nine cents? Also, since you’re a spellcaster, can you just read my mind and put that information in for me?

I got a response back from him a minute later. Do you believe this to be a joke? Dear ma’am, I am serious when I require three hundred dollars. Materials for transportation spells are quite expensive.

Exactly! Which is why I’m offering you ninety nine cents! You can buy a cheeseburger from McDonald’s with that kind of money, or three cookies! Think of it!

I smiled to myself at my message, enjoying the moment. I didn’t do things like this all the time, but when I did, I tried to go all out and have as much fun as I could with it. The sillier it was, the better it was in my opinion.

Or, since you’re a wizard, you can time travel and put it into Bitcoin and become a millionaire! Just think of the possibilities!

It was a longer time before he sent a response, probably close to thirty minutes. When he did, he only asked, Do you believe I’m trying to trick you? Is this a joke on your part?

I laughed at that and sent back, Absolutely not! I would never ever joke about spellcasting! These things are a serious matter, which, as a wizard, you should know. It’s offensive that you would ever even insinuate such a thing of me. I’m insulted! Just for that, I might take my business elsewhere!

I see, he replied, almost impossibly fast, a matter of seconds after I sent my text out. You are trying to play games with me. For this, I will teach you a lesson, one that will only be learned by granting you what you ask for. There’s no need for you to send your information. Your phone number should be sufficient enough to acquire it. The only requirement is that you tell other people of what I’m about to do. Since you and whoever you associate with are unbelieving, you will be used as an example of what I can do. When your friends know that you got your wish fulfilled, the rest will be required to pay for their spells. In less than twenty eight hours, your wish will be granted.

That made me laugh. Not twenty four hours, twenty eight. Fancy. Clearly, this was a spellcaster of a caliber the world had never seen.

Oh, I absolutely will, I responded. I’ll give them your Whatsapp phone number and everything. You’re gonna be so rich! But, you know, it would be better to just settle for my pocket change and go back in time and invest in Bitcoin. Also, you gotta make sure I’m an alicorn. I’m gonna be disappointed and won’t recommend your services if I’m not.

I waited for a response, but none came. I guessed that meant he was done dealing with my joking. With that, I sent the screenshots of our conversation to Shorey, Forrester, and the rest of our group chat. They got just as much of a laugh out of it as I did, and commented their thoughts on the situation.

I’m telling you, I’ll absolutely be the very first person to pay three hundred dollars to go to Equestria, Forrester said. Lucky you, getting to go for free.

And in twenty eight hours, too! I replied. It’s very considerate of him to give me that exact timeframe.

Just make sure to change your Paypal and Discord passwords and stuff, Shorey instructed. You know people can log into those things with just your phone number. I don’t want to see you get hacked and scammed, Rally.

Eh, I’ll do that if I get an email about a login attempt. I just can’t wait until I turn into a pony and get to meet Princess Celestia. It’s gonna be the best. Anyway, what have you guys been up to?

The conversation moved on from there, and any thought I had of Lord Zulu left my mind. I didn’t even give the conversation he and I had a passing thought the rest of the night, or the next day as well, not even noticing that twenty eight hours had passed with nothing happening to me. Around that time though, I did yawn and flop onto my bed, deciding that I could go for the rare nap after a long day of work. I set my alarm for two hours, thinking to myself that after that I’d get back up and proceed with the rest of my day.

The rest of my day did not proceed in quite the way I expected.

(2) Top Of The Mountain

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My first thought as I reached wakefulness again was that I left the window open. I could hear the wind whipping into my house, blasting me with cold air and sounding into my ears, trying to get me to stir. I did my best to curl up more and ignore it, trying hard to stay asleep. My alarm hadn’t gone off, and until it did, I wasn’t going to be waking up.

I really should get up and close that window, I thought, but remained unmoving. Where I was in bed, the sun would eventually move over me and warm me up. I’d close the thing when I got up. Not that I knew how it got open, since it was still February, and there was no way I’d open it myself, but that was a problem for future me to figure out. Present me wanted to stay curled up in her nice, soft bed.

Although the bed didn’t feel as soft as it normally did. It actually felt like the exact opposite, almost like I was sleeping on a rock. I twisted and turned, but no matter what position I put myself in, none of them felt comfortable. As well, it seemed I’d lost my cover, too, and was sleeping under a sheet. A fuzzy sheet, or a curtain or something, because it didn’t do as much to protect me against the cold as my blanket normally did. Enough that I would try and tough it out and stay asleep for a little while longer, but not more than that.

I was eventually startled into wakefulness, however. Not by the cold or the wind or the uncomfortableness of my bed. It was something more, something completely unexpected and unbearably revolting. Something so nauseating that I nearly vomited on the spot. It was the very last thing in the world I’d ever thought I’d have again, so far down the list of things I thought I could be woken up by that it wasn’t even on the list. It should have been an impossibility.

I had morning wood.

A wave of absolute disgust washed over me as I rolled over, only to faceplant into a pile of snow. The cold of it on my face got me fully to my senses and curbed my lower body’s ailment thankfully enough. It didn’t curb any of my repulsion and almost panic by the fact that I had such a thing attached to me again, however. I’d had sex reassignment surgery almost three years ago up to that point. The only time I ever had something like I had now was in my nightmares, which I would’ve thought this was if I didn’t have a face covered in snow to tell me that this wasn’t.

I had to push back my body’s desire to puke as I shook myself off and looked down at myself. Maybe this was a nightmare, because somehow I had become a male again. Or rather, a stallion, because that’s what I was. A stallion with an orangish red coat and a fiery colored mane and tail, much like Sunset Shimmer, although the colors were more muted and darker shaded. The stallion I saw seemed like he was quite the looker, someone who’d be absolutely handsome on anyone but me. I almost couldn’t believe it when his hooves moved at my command, I was in so much shock at what I was.

I took a few deep breaths before I screamed, closing my eyes as though that would protect me from what I was. A second later, I was curled up again, laying in the snow, already crying about my circumstances. Two minutes into my Equestrian adventure and I already wanted to go home, to wake up from whatever nightmare this was. It was probably some sort of world record for how fast I hated what I asked for. I didn’t even stop to think of Lord Zulu and what hand he might have had in this. He was the furthest thing from my mind at that point.

I was only able to cry for about a minute before the snow on my legs and body demanded that I stand up or risk starting to go numb. I shook myself off again and shivered, although whether because of the cold or because I was a stallion, I didn’t know. I did know from just glancing around at my surroundings, being a stallion was a lower priority concern at that particular moment.

It was a cloudy scene in front of me, the snowy landscape stretching out for what had to be miles before it turned into something green off in the distance. I was facing the edge of a cliff overlooking a mountain face below me and a snowy valley leading off of that. The green I saw was quite a ways away, how far, I didn’t know. I was glad it was in my sightline, but it was still absolutely terrifying to be so far away from warmth without any sort of protection, at the top of a mountain, no less.

Behind me was the rock I woke up on and nothing else other than the peak of the mountain farther up. Directly ahead from my rock was a deep, icy gorge that gave no information on where in Equestria I might be. The skies were a bit clearer in that direction, but I had absolutely no intention of heading up the mountain. To the sides of me, my vision presented more mountainous terrain. That left only one obvious direction to go.

I felt the fear welling up inside of me. I could see the green I should be heading towards, but I was still absolutely nerve wracked with worry. There was no way I’d be getting there within the day. That meant I would have to be camped out here in Celestia knew where for at least one night. It’d take that long just to climb down this mountain. A mountain that could host any number of dangerous things, nevermind the cold and the wind. It was a terrifying prospect to face. It almost made me want to ball up again and wait for someone else to come along and help me.

Come on, Raleigh, I told myself silently, shakily taking deep breaths and exhaling upwards to try and keep my face warm. You’re a strong woman. You’ve faced harder than this. Your name’s Rally so you better rally up some courage and start walking. The sooner you leave the sooner you’ll be closer to… something.

I wiped my tear stained eyes off on my shoulder before I started forward carefully. I couldn’t head down immediately, what with the cliff face, and so walked along the edge, looking for an easier way down. I’d only walked for a few minutes though, maybe half an hour at most, before the very worst thing that could possibly complete this whole experience began to happen.

“No, no, no, no, no!” I complained as I saw the side of the sky I was walking towards start to darken as the sun began to set. “No, Celestia, you can’t do this to me! You’ve gotta be fucking kidding!”

She, as it turned out, was not kidding, and neither was her sister, Princess Luna, because within two minutes, the sky was completely dark of everything except for a few stars on the mountain top behind me. It was just the most perfect way to tie everything up in a neat little bow. I was alone on the top of a mountain in the cold at night with no sort of protection or any tools. And I was a man again, just to top it all off, after years of work and thousands of dollars spent trying to not be that.

“Just kill me now, why don’t you?” I got out as more upset tears dribbled out, my body shaking from the cold. Suddenly, I was thinking of that guy, Lord Zulu, and calling out, “What the fuck did you do to me? How the hell is this any of this- god! What the hell is going on?”

I was thinking back to our conversation, remembering how he said he would teach me a lesson for trolling him. It turned out that his idea of a lesson was to make me have to find a way to survive at the top of a mountain at night all alone. Because that was the appropriate reaction. Someone messes with you a little bit, and you basically give them a death sentence, because staying up here meant death. Not to mention a little psychological damage by turning them back into the very last thing they ever wanted to be. Or rather, the most you could possibly get away with giving them in one go. You know, the normal punishment for pulling a joke on someone. I didn’t even decide to consider how this could be possible at all. I was too wound up to care.

I wanted to stand there and cry all night, but a particularly painful bite of wind told my body that I should get out of the cold as quickly as I could. Not that there was anywhere warm for me to go to for miles, but a piece of shelter to insulate me a little bit would be nice, or at least something to protect me from the wind.

My teeth chattered as I walked, keeping my eyes on the cliff next to me, absolutely not wanting to take a wrong step and tumble down to my death. It was cold, extremely cold, and it felt like the temperature was rapidly dropping off now that the sun was down. I had a coat to protect me a little bit, but it felt like it offered me no more insulation than a hoodie. I could feel the tips of my ears and nose and my cheeks rapidly going numb, and I made sure to keep taking deep breaths to keep my lips and face warm as I exhaled.

Probably the only good thing about it being so cold was that it gave me something to focus on as I walked besides the wave of dysphoria that crashed over me in the last hour I’d been here. I could feel my extra appendage dangling off of me, that terrible hormone that I hated, testosterone, coursing through my veins, feeling like it was infecting me, poisoning me like it did before. Just the thought of it was making me feel absolutely terrible, but I did my best to ignore it, focusing on the cliff face and taking deep breaths to keep my face warm. The very first chance I could, I was going to meet with Twilight and get this taken care of. If I ever got back to Earth, I would make sure to find that Lord Zulu person and punch him in the face.

But first was getting off this mountain without dying somehow, and I put my focus on that, trying to ignore my body. I moved slowly, scanning for anything that I could possibly climb down on four legs. It took a long while, so long that the sky began to clear up and the moon began to show, brightening the scene around me. It was a good thing, too, because had it stayed as dark as it was, I might have missed the trail off the cliff face, barely visible in the dark as it was wedged between two large boulders.

Just because it was a trail, however, didn’t mean it was automatically safe. It had to have been over a thirty degree incline that I was descending, incredibly steep, so steep that one false step would definitely send me tumbling. I moved extra slowly, wanting to avoid slipping and breaking my neck, which, given the circumstances that I faced since arriving here, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I did.

By the time I found something that I thought I could use as shelter for a little while against the wind, a piece of rock that looked cut out of the mountain that had three sides protected against the wind, my whole face was numb, especially my ears, which I was concerned might start to become frostbitten, as well as the bottom of my hooves. I didn’t feel sleepy at all, but I was tired, and wanted to stop for now. I didn’t like the idea of walking all night, and this spot seemed as good as any. I didn’t want to continue walking and risk having to come back up here for this piece of shelter.

Stepping into the little piece of shelter provided a little bit of relief from the cold, the wind at least. I huddled myself into a corner, placing my back against the wall as I cradled my face close to my body to try and protect my nose from the cold. I didn’t know how, but by instinct, I tucked my tail against my middle, grunting in frustration and letting out a tiny choke of a sob as it brushed up against something I didn’t want to have.

Oh, God, just let this be a nightmare, I thought to myself as I closed my eyes, trying to ignore my body and rest for a little while. Let me just wake up and have this be a bad dream.

I wondered what Shorey and Forrester and my group chat friends were going to think about me being here. What would they say when they realized that I was offline all night in the wake of whatever the heck that spellcaster did to me? I didn’t know, but I hoped there was something they could do.

(3) Dreams Of Better Things

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Despite the biting cold, I managed to find a little bit of sleep. My dreams, however, didn’t start off great, beginning as nightmares. The one I was faced with tonight was one I’d had numerous times.

I was a little kid standing in front of the bathroom mirror, probably no older than nine or ten, examining my face. Whether it was a boy’s or a girl’s, I didn’t know. As I watched, though, it slowly started to age, changing from androgynous to probably a man’s to definitely a man’s. The face’s hair shortened and it’s beard and mustache grew in, it’s jaw becoming more prominent and it’s Adam’s apple starting to show. It was a slow march I was forced to watch, and quite unstoppable, a movie that killed me to have to see played before me.

Before when I had this dream, I would scream at the mirror and beat my fists against it, begging for it to stop and change into something else. These days, though, I only settled for crying in quiet sadness when I saw it, hoping to see it change into something that was finally myself at the end. Usually it did, but this time, just as it was starting to, it quickly morphed into the orange pony that I was now and continued the show from there.

I was taken aback by the change, watching as the scene moved on to showing an aging old stallion, one with a wrinkled face and a hard look and a large, fiery colored beard. He looked absolutely miserable, like he hated every day of his existence, and was a sight that made me gasp. It was frightening to look at, to think that I would now be forced to march once again to a future I didn’t want.

“Don’t let that happen to me!” I called out fearfully through my tears, as though anyone was listening. “I don’t want to be that! I spent my whole life trying to avoid that! I don’t want it!”

Dreams like this didn’t usually get to me anymore, but right now, I curled up on the floor, desperately hoping that that wouldn’t happen to me. I could not think of one thing I wanted less than that.

The bathroom was fading into the snowy landscape around me, the mirror somehow making its way over to me as I heard footsteps stopping in front of me.

“Look,” a voice commanded, sounding like the guy I talked to on the phone yesterday, Lord Zulu’s. I didn’t listen, closing my eyes and turning away, but somehow I was forced to open them anyway and stare at the mirror.

“You thought you could toy with a powerful spellcaster such as I?” he bellowed, his voice booming as the wind blew my mane wildly. It was snowing now, practically a blizzard around us. It blinded my eyes and forced me to squint as I tried to look up at him. My eyes, however, refused to move away from the mirror, locked in terror on them.

“Am I a child to you?” he asked. “A dog that I am to entertain you with tricks?”

“It was just a joke!” I tried to say, feeling myself starting to age, my voice unbearable for me to listen to. “It didn’t mean anything! I didn’t hurt you! I was just having a little fun! It’s not worth this! I’m sorry!”

“You will be sorry,” he commanded as I cried at the sight of myself in the mirror. “Lord Zulu is not one to fool with. For your sins, you will receive nothing but exactly what you asked for. Enjoy your future as the stallion you were born to be.”

I sobbed with those words. I wasn't born to be this. So much time and money had been put in to avoid having that cursed fate make its way upon me, but it seemed it hadn’t mattered. The best years of my life were being wiped away for a joke. Not even that.

For the first time ever, I was thankful for having a nightmare, because it turned out somepony was listening. All of a sudden, the world was shifting away again, and I was laying curled up in the dark expanse of a room before Princess Luna. I took a deep breath to calm down, but my teeth still chattered, this time because of my crying. I wasn’t surprised when I felt her bending down and wrapping a wing around me, touching the tip of her horn to one that I didn’t know I had.`

“...not, dear stallion, your night… more!” she proclaimed, although it was hard to get what she was trying to say. Her voice was cutting in and out, like bad cell service, and looking at her, her movements were stilted, too, in much the same way, pausing every few seconds. There was a lag that she had in my dreams, one that made me wonder how far away from her I could possibly be. At least I was still able to understand what she was trying to say, though.

“We must… where… Equestria are you?” She was asking where I was I put together, as if I had a clue. “There is quite… large… in speaking to you.”

“I don’t know,” I responded, my voice cracking as I looked up into her questioning gaze with wet eyes. “I’m on top of a mountain somewhere, but I don’t know where. I only got here a few hours ago.” Before she could ask more, I continued, “I don’t know what happened. I asked some guy to cast a spell on me to bring me to Equestria, and now I’m up here in the cold as some awful stallion.”

“Are you not… be a stallion?”

“No,” I answered. “I’m not even supposed to be a pony… well, I mean, I asked to be one, and I asked to be here, but I didn’t think this was a real thing that could happen, and I definitely didn’t mean as a man on the top of a mountain.”

“It is… if you… eyes, you… form yourself. It’s simple.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind. Do you… general idea where…?”

“I couldn’t begin to tell you where I am,” I said, figuring that was what she wanted to know. “I know I’m on top of a mountain, and there are mountains behind where I’m walking in the distance, and a green field or forest or something past a snow patch below me, but other than that… I don’t have a clue.”

“Hmmm, that could… numerous locations. But… must ask. Are… Equestria? I do not… encounter you.”

That one took me a little longer to piece together what she was asking me. “I’m in Equestria,” I told her, “but I’m not from Equestria. Someone cast a spell on me to bring me here. His name was Lord Zulu, and he’s… I don’t know. I want to say some scammer, but obviously he’s not if I’m here. And he put me on this mountain, and I need help getting off of it.” I felt a boatload of fear crash over me again as I nervously continued, “I’m worried about what might happen if I’m stranded up here alone.”

I gave her a pleading look, hoping she could fly over and help me out since she was in my dreams. She had to have had a general idea of where I might be. If not herself, she could certainly get Twilight Sparkle on it, or someone at all. However, my heart dropped when she gave me a frown and a sad look.

“We cannot… subjects of Equestria. We are only permitted… international law, in accordance… nations, even in Equestrian territory… apologize.”

I had no idea what the heck all of that meant, but I assumed it wasn’t good, because a second later, she was fading out of existence, and I was waking up again.

For a second, I forgot where I was, but then the frigid cold reminded me. I had no idea how much time had passed, but I assumed more than a little while, looking at the sky. The moon hadn’t moved, but I almost thought the stars had. I didn’t know for sure, but my grogginess waking up was another indicator.

I stayed huddled up in my corner, not wanting to move at all, unable to help feeling extremely upset by everything. Being a man, being on the top of a mountain, Luna saying she couldn’t do anything because of some law I thought. And the cold. The cold was bad. It felt worse than before, like the temperature was still dropping. My ears felt painfully numb, and so did my nose. My hooves and body didn’t feel too bad, but regarding my face, I was genuinely worried that frostbite was a risk. No more sleep. I wasn’t going to stay out here a second longer than I needed to.

I had to will myself to get up from my corner and leave the little bit of protection I had from the blistering temperature. Stepping out of it and back onto the trail was not fun. A particularly painful bite of wind hit me, one that brought tears to my eyes, and I cursed out loud at Lord Zulu.

He really intended to kill me, I thought to myself as I walked, moving more quickly down the steep trail to keep myself warm. He said he wanted to teach me a lesson, so there was no way he didn’t send me here on purpose. He was really trying to kill me for having the tiniest bit of fun at his expense.

I actually had to wonder if that was him telling me those things in my nightmare. I didn’t think so, but it was a possibility, honestly, one I didn’t want to rule out. It would be interesting to learn if he did, something I would definitely want to tell someone about. Not that I would ever know since I was a stallion stuck on this fucking mountain.

Suddenly, another scary thought popped into my head. What if Shorey and Forrester came here, too? My fear wasn’t actually them coming here, but them coming here and then being stranded on the top of this mountain, too. I would hate it if that happened, but I didn’t think I’d have any way to know unless I stayed up here or met them somewhere else. I didn’t want either of them or anyone else from our group chat to be put into the same situation as me.

Another strong bite of wind reminded me that I should be focusing on myself for right now. I could worry about them later once I was safe, something that I was not yet. My aching ears and nose told me that much.

I’m gonna get to safety, and then… I had no idea. I had no idea what I was going to do at all after that. Hopefully get to Canterlot and talk to Twilight Sparkle about all of this. About being a stallion at the very least. The only thing about that plan was Princess Luna’s reaction to me saying I wasn’t an Equestrian. I hoped that didn’t mean I would have trouble getting things done later, but I kept it in the back of my head as a possibility.

And even if it wasn’t an issue, what? Go back to Earth? Living my life in Equestria sounded like a dream come true… except not as a stallion, and certainly not at the top of a mountain. But if I was a mare in Ponyville, I couldn’t imagine any life better than that. But that would be something I’d have to play by ear, probably. I would have to see how it went, after I got off this dumb mountain and out of this terrible cold.

Focus on getting to safety, Raleigh, I told myself silently as I walked through the snow and the wind. You can figure out what the heck to do after that.

(4) Edge Of The World

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I would say before I knew it, the sun was rising, but it felt exactly as long as it took before the first yellow rays made their way onto the horizon. It was hours of me walking down that hill of a trail before Celestia thankfully raised the glowing yellow orb into the sky. It took longer for it to rise than to set, but within five or ten minutes, it was hanging high in the middle of the sky, warming up my fur and my frostbitten ears.

I was tired, so tired from walking all night. My hooves were starting to hurt and my ears and face were absolutely aching from the cold, but I kept moving anyway. I still wasn’t sleepy, what with my little nap that I had in the middle of the night, not to mention another one directly before I got here. Plus, walking was keeping warm and concentrating on not slipping and falling had me focused on things other than what I didn’t want to think about. I could probably go for a while longer, and then when the air had warmed up more, sleep in the sun and walk again at night.

It was disheartening though to see how slowly I was moving though, how much longer the distance between myself and the green was. Turning around for a moment showed that I was nowhere near where I started off this journey, thankfully enough, but the green I was heading towards seemed just as far away now as it was before. I wasn’t as frightened about how much walking I had ahead of me anymore, but that didn’t make the sight any less depressing. How long was this trip going to take?

“Fuck you,” I said aloud as I walked, mostly to myself, but imaging that the spellcaster could hear me. “Fuck. You,” I said. “All of this for one tiny joke. You’re absolutely horrible.”

More horrible than that though, at least for the moment, was my voice. It sounded less like my own and more like my father’s, extremely deep and bassy, a place my own voice had luckily never gotten to. Thankfully though, there was something I could do about that, and it was called voice training. Even better, I wouldn’t need help doing it this time like I did when I trained originally, since I already knew what I was doing. It was something that could be done while I walked.

“Heat from fire, fire from heat,” I started as I moved, still watching the trail carefully. I almost imagined it was getting steeper as I walked, and sure enough, I came to a spot where it flattened out for a few feet before dropping too steeply for me to be able to make my way down. If I were a human, it’d be no trouble at all, but as a pony, I wasn’t sure I’d be climbing down. Even more than that was the trail taunting me at the bottom of the drop-off, leveling off into something much closer to flat past this fifty foot section of cliff.

I’m gonna try and get down there and break my leg, I thought to myself. I just know it. Break my leg if I’m lucky, break my neck if I’m not.

I pranced in place in my spot, trying to decide how best to go about this before I finally just screamed out in frustration and sat on my haunches. I knew that this spot was basically a dead end with no way to advance, a thought that made me want to pull my mane if I had fists. My options were staying right here and not moving, attempting to make my way down and certainly breaking my back in the process, or heading back up the trail and seeing if I could hopefully find another spot to descend. An idea that would add on who knew how many hours to this adventure. As untenable as the first option was and scary as the second was, there was no way I was going back up after making my way down here.

“God damnit, come on!” I complained as I sank down onto my stomach. I wanted to cry again, but was unable to, whether because of all the tears I had last night or my new hormones, I didn’t know. I was tired and cold and starting to get hungry, and I hated every single thing about this. There was no one here to help me all alone on this mountain, and Luna couldn’t help me because of whatever dumb international law apparently. This wasn’t supposed to be how being a human in Equestria was supposed to go. This wasn’t supposed to be how real life was supposed to go, but apparently it did.

I laid in the snow until my stomach and body started to get numb, then forced myself to stand back up. I guessed that was another good thing about the cold. It kept me from being in one place too long and forced me to get moving, even when things were looking hopeless and frustrating like they were now. Unless I wanted to get frostbitten, I would keep moving.

“Come on, Rally,” I told myself out loud. “Rally up some strength or an idea or something. You’ll have lots of time to cry later when you’re safe.” Or, you know, dead when I broke my neck.

I didn’t start heading down immediately. I began with pacing back and forth by this ledge, trying to think of what I could possibly do to get down there. I was a unicorn– something I forgot about again until I looked up and saw the tip of my horn off of my forehead. That meant in theory I should know how to use magic. A few minutes of trying to do something with it though proved that I was no Lord Zulu. I was inept at spell casting, not that I had any idea what kind of spell I would use on this cliff. What else was there?

It took more than a few minutes of pondering before I looked down at my hooves. Ponies having a magical hoof grip in Equestria was a thing, although it was something that was hardly ever talked about. I wondered if that was the case for me, and gingerly tried to pick up a hoofful of snow with one of my front hooves. No luck. I didn’t give up though, spending more time than I’d like to admit trying to get it to work. I tried the snow, then just random rocks and pebbles that I saw lying around, then eventually my mane, hoping they would be able to latch on to something. Nothing seemed to work for me, however.

I took a deep breath to keep myself from screaming. So I had no magic and no hoof grip. Fine. I would figure this out, because turning around was not an option I wanted to consider.

I looked over the edge for a long moment, trying to consider if there was any way I could head down. There were ledges and stuff built into the side of it, but those would be useless if I couldn’t grip them. I’d be able to go down maybe six or seven feet before falling if I couldn’t grip stuff, turning the fifty foot drop into a forty five foot one. Either way, I’d likely be just as dead.

The more I looked at what I was facing, the more I was certain I wasn’t going to be able to make my way down it. It was a frustrating sight, made even more so as it confirmed the fact that there was really only one course of action for me to take from here.

“Eerrggghh, god! Fuck!” I screamed as I started to angrily stomp my way back up the trail. I hated being so angry, but I couldn’t help feeling my temper flaring up. I knew the reason why, but tried not to think about that because it only made me more angry when I did. Nothing about this felt like myself at all. It felt like someone I left behind years ago.

I only made it a couple hundred yards before I stopped again. I was not going back up this hill, and that was final. Heading backwards was not an option in my book. Having to waste an entire day and night heading back up to find another way down this mountain would be way too demoralizing.

I got back to the edge of the cliff and paced back and forth along my tiny section of trail. I didn’t know how I was gonna get down there, but damn it, I was gonna do it. This was Equestria after all. I’d never seen or heard of one pony dying, other than Applejack’s parents, but I didn’t think that happened climbing down a mountain. Besides, there was an episode where Rainbow Dash broke her wing and was healed in a day, and one where Twilight was slammed against a wall by Tirek without any trouble. That had to mean that ponies were more resistant to injuries than people were.

I was gonna look like such a fool if I broke my neck and died.

I took one more breath before I started making my careful way down the side of the cliff. I moved backwards so I could start by placing my back hooves on the ledge, manipulating my front hooves so that I could have some grip on the ledge with my fetlocks. It was risky business, but it was certainly better than nothing at all. Infinitely better than walking back up this mountain.

My body was shaking in anxiety as I looked down to find the next spot to place my back hooves. I gingerly let my front hoof hang out, now having only one fetlock to support me as I leaned down to get to the next spot. I felt my hoof touch the rock it was supposed to be on, but then screamed as my limb suddenly slipped out from under me.

Nearly. It nearly slipped out from under me, but I was luckily somehow able to gain control of myself and stop that from happening, but only barely. Now, though, I was absolutely shivering in fear, wanting to stop and pull myself back up. My lack of hoof grip, however, told me that that wasn’t an option anymore. I could only continue to descend.

What the hell is wrong with me? I asked myself as I shook. Why did I think this would be a good idea? I’m going to die falling down this ledge.

I stayed where I was for a long minute, taking deep breaths to try and get myself calmed down again. I didn’t want to be shaking while I tried to get down this cliff without breaking my neck. The more stability I had, the better.

Come on, Rally, you can do this, I encouraged myself as I quickly moved my left hoof down to the ledge my right was on. You thought this was a good idea, after all, now get your butt moving. Err, flank moving.

I took another breath, but just before I could move, a particularly strong bite of wind hit me, making me clench my jaw from the cold. I couldn’t do this. I didn’t know what I was thinking, deciding not to just head back up the mountain. I could not do this. If I had moved any earlier, I would’ve lost my balance and fell. It was only a matter of time before I slipped and killed myself.

You’re not gonna die. You promised yourself a long time ago that you wouldn’t die as a man, and being a stallion is the exact same thing as that. Now get moving so you can find Twilight Sparkle and get yourself out of an ugly, masculine body for a second time. You did it once, now you have to do it again, and you can’t do that if you’re stuck whimpering on this ledge.

That gave me the encouragement I needed to continue down. Somehow, even without any gripping ability or magic, I was able to make my careful way down, step by step. It was a slow process, but before long, I was a quarter of the way down, then nearly halfway. I was starting to get more confident in myself, and began to move more quickly so I could stop hanging off the side of this mountain. I wanted to get my hooves back on dirt… err, snow, anyway.

That was a mistake however, because the next thing I knew, I was slipping. This time, though, I wasn’t able to catch myself, my back hooves slipping completely off the ledge they were on. I screamed again and closed my eyes, certain that this would be the end of me.

Instinct, thankfully, was a powerful thing. By pure instinct, I was able to grip onto the side of the cliff and hold myself up. Not that it was a good position to be in; my hooves were dangling out under me, no ledge around me for me to rest them on. I was hanging onto the side of this cliff for dear life.

“Someone help me!” I yelled loudly, desperately hoping someone was around. That was my only hope for not falling. Hanging here and hoping someone would save me. Granted, being nearly halfway down helped. Thirty feet wasn’t fifty feet, but it still wasn’t something I wanted to experience falling down.

“Please, someone!” I begged, closing my eyes and hanging on for dear life. “I need help! Please!”

I heard no answer, but I hoped someone was coming. All I could do was hang on. I didn’t know how I was, and was too panicked to try and think about it. That might have been a good thing though. I’m certain had I put conscious thought to it, my grip would’ve given way right then and there.

Not that it wasn’t then. I could feel it slowly starting to slip, much to my terror. I tried to pull myself up, but didn’t have the strength to. There was nothing below me to land on except hard rock, so I couldn’t let go without dying. All I could do was try my best to hang on as my hooves started to lose their grip.

“Lord Zulu, please!” I got out in a last ditch effort, on the verge of tears. I knew it was unlikely that he’d hear me, but I didn’t want to fall, and was willing to try anything.

“I won’t mess with you again!” I pleaded. “I’ll give you whatever you want! Just don’t let me die like this! Please! I learned my lesson!”

As if he were listening and trying to spite me, my grip slipped further, and I knew it would only be a moment before I was falling. I teared up at the thought that I would die right here, on the edge of a cliff near the top of a mountain as the very last thing I wanted to be. All of this for a dumb joke.

A second later, my grip was lost, and I was falling. I was able to turn over to see the ground crashing toward me, and closed my eyes to brace for impact. It was an impact that never came, however, and after several seconds, I opened my eyes to see that I was suspended in the air. There was a brown glow of magic around me holding me up somehow.

My heart was pounding and my body was shaking, tears running down my face as I gasped for breath. I turned my head to look up and see who it was that saved me, finding a brown pony with a whitened out mane and little mustache, a unicorn. He was dressed in a little bit of armor and had a stitched together threadbare cloak, a stick for a staff and a rusted bucket for a helmet laying on the ground next to him. I recognized him as the stallion who lived on Mount Everhoof, which meant I at least knew where I was, although I couldn’t remember his name. I also didn’t remember him being a unicorn, but I certainly wasn’t going to complain about that.

“I hafta say, that there was a close one,” he started as he gently laid me down on my stomach in the snow. “Good thing I heard yer screamin’ when I did. Another second and ya’d be painted all over the side of this here mountain,” he said as he magicked his bucket back on his head, covering his smallish looking horn. “What were ya doin’ up here anyhoo, what with no gear or winter garments or nothin’?” the stallion asked.

I couldn’t answer him. I was already too busy sobbing.

(5) Rusty Bucket

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It took much longer than I’d like to admit for me to regain my composure. Even when I found the strength to stand up and follow him to his home, I was still way too emotionally out of it, letting the tears drip down as I walked. I was so glad he caught me when he did, something that was probably the luckiest moment of my whole life. I couldn’t have been more grateful.

“Sorry we have ta take ta walkin’ back,” the stallion apologized. “Used up a good portion of my magic teleportin’ here ta catch ya. Not that I mind it. Guardin’ this here mountain is my job, and that means protectin’ anypony that happens ta find themselves in danger up here, too. Speakin’ of which, what’s yer name? Mine’s Rusty Bucket.”

“R-r-raleigh…” I quivered quietly, still shaking from that cliff, not to mention, the cold. “Raleigh Leanne Woods, but a lot of people call me Rally.”

“Well, I hafta say, Rally, that was mighty dangerous of ya,” he told me. “Climbin’ up there with no gear or nothin’– what’s a stallion like yerself doin’ up here all alone anyhow?”

“I’m a lady,” I said quickly, a bit irritatedly, forgetting for a second what I’d been turned into. Rusty Bucket’s look of confusion quickly reminded me of the fact that I was a male once again, and I had to sigh, a few more tears dripping down. This was going to be extremely difficult, having to get used to correcting people all the time again.

“I woke up at the top of the mountain,” I started to explain, looking down at my hooves before I glanced at something I didn’t want to see. That was another thing I’d forgotten about, a thought that hardly crossed my mind up until now. I was naked, and now that I remembered, I was completely embarrassed by that fact. I couldn’t see Rusty Bucket’s unmentionables on account of his cloak, but I had to assume that other than that, he was just as bare as I was.

“Um, do you, um, have any clothes I could wear when we get there?” I asked shyly as we walked. It felt like I was drawing attention to my nudity, something that only made me more self conscious about my body than I already was.

“I’ll hafta see, but ya aren’t really my size,” he told me. “But ya were sayin’ ya woke up at the top of Mount Everhoof?” he asked. “How’d ya go about doin’ that?”

“I don’t know. Some guy named Lord Zulu turned me into a stallion and placed me at the top of the mountain. I mean, I asked him to turn me into a pony and put me in Equestria, but I didn’t ask for all of this. I wanted to be put in, like, Ponyville or Canterlot or something. As a mare.”

“Hmmm. Well I’m not sure whatcha mean by all that, but I’ll go along with it. Where should ya be headin’ off to now?”

I sighed again at that. “I… I don’t know,” I said quietly. “I don’t have any plan or anything. I don’t know where I’m going to stay or what I’m going to eat or where I’m going to go… I didn’t think something like this could actually happen.”

“Well, it’s dangerous out here for ya, so I’ll let ya stay at my place for a while so ya can rest on up. Whadda say, Rally?”

“Yes, please. I’d appreciate it very much.”

We walked the rest of wherever we were headed to in silence. It was still cold and the wind still bit me, but it somehow felt a bit better now than it did before. It helped that the sun was shining directly on me now, as though Celestia were taking pity on me. My ears and face still felt completely frozen, but they were a little better now than they were before.

I tried to only look at the ground ahead of us as we walked, putting everything else out of my mind, but couldn’t help but notice how I looked compared to the stallion in front of me. It wasn’t by much, but I could tell I was taller than Rusty Bucket was, and a lot more stocky looking. It was like I was a slightly smaller version of Big Mac or Shining Armor, a thought that made me flinch and cringe silently to myself. I felt terrible, and knew I looked it, too.

It wasn’t long before we got to Rusty’s residence, a log cabin built right into the side of the mountain. Actually, cabin wasn’t the right word. It was more like a mansion, larger than the house I spent my childhood in. I could see the light of a fireplace glowing through the windows on the side, and smoke came out of a chimney on the roof. It was overlooking a large expanse of snow before the mountain started again, and behind it was the trail I was just on, the part of the mountain I started at just a dot in the distance. It was something I remembered seeing in that one season nine episode of the show, where Cozy Glow, Tirek, and Chrysalis were all teaming up to get Gorgar’s bell.

I let out a relieved breath when we finally got inside. It was nice and warm, something I craved after spending all night and all day in the cold. I didn’t make it five steps before I flopped down onto the floor– a carpeted floor of all things. It felt nice and soft, like a pillow as I took in the warmth I got. I closed my eyes and took a moment to appreciate the fact that the wind didn’t cut me like a knife anymore.

“This here’s my house,” he explained as he stepped in front of me and hung up his cloak and bucket– he was completely bare under the thing– turning around afterward to look down at me. “I don’t know about all this wakin’ up on the mountain business, but yer free ta stay as long as ya need,” he told me. “Been a while since I’ve had company over. I could use some companionship.”

“Do you have anything to drink?” I asked. “And something to eat if I can have it? It’s been probably a full day since I’ve had anything at all.”

“All in the kitchen around the corner,” he explained. “Feel free ta take anythin’ ya like. What’s mine is yers.” He looked me over for a moment before adding, “But if ya can, I’d suggest gettin’ yerself cleaned up first. Yer more than a might dirty, and I don’t want ya trackin’ dirt everywhere ya go.”

He used a hoof to point out the bathroom and I thanked him, making my way over. The second I entered the room though, I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and practically gasped out loud as I was slapped in the face with dysphoria.

Reflected back at me was a stallion. He was a stocky looking thing, definitely larger than most stallions were, with wide shoulders and a prominent jaw. His jaw was more rectangle shaped, like that of every other stallion in Equestria, and there was maybe a tiny bit of what had to be stubble peaking through on his chin. His mane was parted down the middle before heading down his neck, and he had deep purple eyes, violet colored, much like Twilight’s. They were eyes that stared in disbelief at whatever he was looking at, clearly not liking whatever they saw.

It certainly was not a body that could possibly belong to me, but I once again watched in disbelief as this stallion’s hooves moved at my command.

“I can’t do this,” I whispered aloud, starting to shake as I turned away from the sight in front of me. “I can’t go back to looking like this. I can’t do it!” I spent way too long trying to fix myself to have my happiness snatched from me so coldly, and yet it seemed it hadn’t mattered. Maybe I was a serial killer in a past life, because it was feeling like reality had a grudge against me at that moment.

“I can’t do this a second time!” I yelled as I shut my eyes, the voice I heard sounding like nails to my ears. “I could barely get through doing all of this the first time! Living like this again is gonna kill me! I don’t want to have to go through this again!”

I knew I wasn’t very mentally stable right then, but that wasn’t a surprise. I didn’t imagine anyone would be particularly healthy mentally if they had everything they worked for snatched away over what amounted to nothing. I could not imagine a way I could be harmed more psychologically than this.

Before I could get very far into crying, Rusty was knocking on the door and asking me if everything was alright.

“Are ya okay in there?” he called. “I don’t want ya hurtin’ yerself. I can come in if ya need me to.”

“I’m fine,” I lied, my cracking, tear filled voice telling a different story. “I just- do you have a towel so I can cover up this mirror, please? I don’t want to have to look at myself while I’m in here.”

“Sure, they’re in the closet off to the side, behind the toiletries,” he said. “Help yerself to whatever ya want.”

I found one and quickly covered up the terrible sight, not wanting to look at it for a second longer. Then I quickly hopped into the shower and ran the water, which used buttons instead of knobs, turning the heat up as high as I dared. It practically burned my coat, but I stood under it anyway, wanting the heat to make up for my time outside in the cold. I stuck my head directly under the water, letting it run down my mane and back and onto my ears and face, grunting as I tried to get used to the high temperature.

I was glad to be standing on all fours because it meant I didn’t have to look at what was underneath me. Seeing it felt like getting a visit from someone who you absolutely despised, a childhood bully who tormented you for years, and after they finally left, came back and told you they needed a place to stay and forced themselves into your house. And then continued to torment you once again, to the point where you just wanted to break down at the sight of them. That’s what I wanted to do. Break down, since I didn’t have a proper chance to. Every time I started to, the snow and cold and wind stopped me. Now was my chance.

I didn’t take it, instead focusing on the burning water. I didn’t need to break down. I was going to get something done about this again and that was that. I was not going to stay this way for one second longer than I had to, and I was going to be aggressive in making sure I didn’t have to, more aggressive than I was the first time, if that was possible.

I stood under the water, letting it almost burn me until it started to turn cold again when I stepped out. I felt a little better as I shook and dried myself off with that plan in mind, but I needed to form something more specific for the here and now. I need a course of action for my next steps now that I wasn’t in danger.

Getting somewhere was clear enough, but where would I go? The obvious answer was Ponyville. Being there, I would certainly run into Twilight Sparkle, and then she could hopefully fix whatever the hell this monsterish body I was in was. If she was even in Ponyville, that was. I realized that I had no idea what time I entered Equestria. It was past the first episode since Princess Luna showed up in my dreams, but beyond that, I didn’t know. The way things were going, I’d probably walk all the way to Ponyville to hear it didn’t exist yet because it was a thousand years in the past and this guy was some long ago ancestor of the Rusty Bucket from season nine.

“Hey, I have a question,” I called as I stepped out of the bathroom, towel wrapped around me after several careful minutes of manipulating my hooves to accomplish it. “Do you–” I was stopped when I stepped into the main room of Rusty’s house to see him lying on his back, legs splayed out as though there was nothing in between them, casually reading a book. I’m sure it would’ve been perfectly normal for anyone else, but seeing that made me severely uncomfortable with this whole thing.

For a second, I almost forgot he was a pony and that this kind of thing was probably acceptable here. I was a lady, and I knew what kinds of things could happen to me in a situation like this. I was a second away from bolting out of his home back into the snow had I not remembered that this was Equestria.

“Yeah?” he asked as he turned his head to me, raising an eyebrow as I looked away from him. I had to shiver uncomfortably at the sight of him, using all my strength to not gag.

“I– nothing,” I got out, nearly forgetting my question. “Have you ever seen a little pink filly running around up here?” I asked. “A pegasus with blue curls, probably seven years old?”

“Nuh uh, not that I recall,” he answered, putting a hoof to his chin and looking up in thought as if trying to remember. “Pretty sure I’d remember somepony like that. Whydda ask?”

“No reason,” I said quickly, making sure to stare directly at his face when I looked at him. I had the strong urge to tell him to put something on and cover up, but I didn’t. I didn’t know if that would be something rude to say to people here.

“What was, like, the last big villain to try and take over?” I asked. “I just need to know how long it’s been,” I added nervously, feeling like he might have been getting suspicious of me for some reason.

“Don’t know,” he replied. “I might be the guardian of this mountain, but that don’t mean a lot happens. A lot of borin’ patches of time, honestly. I can’t even remember the last time I saw a pony before you. Might’ve been months, honestly, maybe years.”

I sighed at that. Of course he didn’t remember. Because nothing could be simple. He did say though he’d hadn’t seen Cozy Glow, so that at least meant we were before the second half of season nine. Whether before though meant a few episodes before or a time well before season one, I had no idea. I found myself hoping for closer to season nine than season one though. A more experienced Twilight Sparkle would be easier to talk to.

“Would’ve been nice had I woken up in Ponyville,” I muttered. Or Manehattan, since I had to do my best to avoid looking at anything outside of the stallion’s face. Then I yawned and asked, “Do you have a place I can sleep for now? Or actually, water first, please? And some food?”

“Sure. Water’s in the kitchen and there’re a bunch of bedrooms down the hall from here. For food, I’ll fix ya up something ta eat later for supper, or ya can grab somethin’ yerself if ya wanna.”

“Thank you very much, I appreciate your hospitality,” I told him gratefully.

I tried to grab water and apples from the fridge (somehow, Equestria had refrigerators of all things, not that it was filled with anything other than bread, apples, flowers, and hay), but wasn’t able to on account of my now once again useless hoof grip. After a little while of trying, I just settled for drinking water out of the sink and eating the apples directly out of the fridge before heading into one of the bedrooms he told me about. It was about what I expected, although I did notice the poster of Twilight Sparkle hanging up in the bedroom, so I could at least be certain I wasn’t a thousand years in the past. At least that was one good thing.

I yawned again as I flopped onto the bed, the uncomfortableness of what was under me making me grunt in frustration. Maybe this was just a nightmare I was having, I tried to imagine. A nightmare that was the longest and most detailed that I’d ever had in my whole life. It was unlikely, but still a possibility. I did take a nap earlier, but a nap wasn’t the same as fully sleeping, was it? Plus, I could still remember exactly what happened in that dream. There was a small chance that was what this was.

I sighed and closed my eyes at that thought, curling up under the blankets. I was kidding myself. This felt way too real to be anything other than real life. You couldn’t have the kind of pain I had from the cold in a dream, the kind of aching my soul did from being forced into being a stallion outside of real life. There was no way this was anything other than reality. I wished that after these last bunch of hours I had a moment to break away from it all. What amounted to less than a day of my being here so far had felt like months by that point.

I took my moment to stop and break down right then, somehow finding the ability to sleep in between my crying. I wondered if my friends knew I was missing yet.

(6) Shoreline

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Shorey thought something was up the night before.

Rally wasn’t the kind of person to just go offline. Unless she was sleeping, she was going to be listed as online in their group chat. Whether out with friends or shopping or at work, it didn’t matter. She didn’t go offline. And yet, here she was, listed offline several hours before she normally went to bed.

It was probably nothing though. She said she was going to take a nap for a few hours before she changed her status. She probably just went to sleep for way longer than she intended to. It had happened before, a few times actually. She recently had to change her sleep schedule for a few days so she could do training at work for a promotion. Her sleep cycle was probably out of whack because of that. No big deal.

It also probably wasn’t a big deal when she wasn’t online when he woke up the next day, but it did grab his attention. It was less than a day spent offline, but there was no way would she be offline for this long without saying something unless something was wrong. Not that Shorey was concerned yet, but he was curious. More than likely it was nothing more than her being busy and forgetting to set herself as online again.

Hey, Rally, he typed to her in a private message, is everything alright? You haven’t been online in a little while.

Short, sweet, and to the point. She’d get back to him in a few minutes and say she fell asleep or was busy with work or spending time with her family or some other reasonable explanation.

By the time mid afternoon rolled around though, his curiosity did give way into concern. Rally still hadn’t come online, still hadn’t sent a message since she said she was going to take a nap the day before. Even if she was busy with something and couldn’t be online, she would never ignore a PM from him. He knew how she was, and she openly said before how she felt about him. It just wasn’t something that was ever going to happen.

Still, he didn’t want to overreact. Any second now she was going to come online and say that she was feeling sick or was playing some sort of prank on someone or watching sports or on vacation or something. It was going to be nothing.

He decided to try and call her around nine o’clock at night, to no answer. By this point, several other members of their group chat had noticed that she wasn’t around, and were starting to wonder about her as well. Naturally, the first person they all asked about her whereabouts was Shorey.

I don’t know, he told them all. She didn’t answer me when I called. She’s probably just tired because her work schedule changed. I’ll see if I can talk to her tomorrow. She’ll probably be back online before then, though.

She wasn’t back online the next morning, and by the time early afternoon rolled around again, Shorey was getting nervous. He didn’t see any messages typed from her account, no response to his PM to her.

Hey, we’re worried about you, he typed, sending one more her way. Let us know if everything’s okay. With that, he decided that now would be a good time to ask around and see if anyone knew what was up, starting with her brother.

Is your sister Raleigh around? he messaged. I haven’t seen her in a while and wanted to know what was up. Is she out with you guys or something?

I dunno, her brother replied. I can go stop by her apartment and check really quick. Gimme a minute.

He gave her brother a minute, and before he knew it, he was hearing back that he didn’t know where she was.

Her car’s still here. I knocked on the door though and she didn’t answer, so I don’t know. She could be in the middle of a call though cause she works a lot of overtime, but I didn’t hear her talking, either. If I can remember the password to her door, I can let myself inside.

Don’t do that, Shorey instructed. Call the police instead and ask them to complete a welfare check on her, please. Let me know what happens and what they find.

With that, Shorey went to their group chat to see if he could find out anything about what might have happened. He knew he was probably overreacting and that Rally was going to turn up in a minute, apologizing profusely. Still, it had been almost two full days, and in his whole time of knowing her, he’d never seen her offline for so long without sending one message. There was something going on.

He didn’t see anything obvious on a first scan through her messages the last few days before she went offline, and so started to move through more carefully to see if there was anything to be had. Talks about interesting calls she took at her job, complaining about her training, saying she just got back from eating out with her mother, a joke she made with some guy who said he was a spellcaster, a joke about how she would take out a ten thousand dollar loan and move to Iceland, talking about how she was going to vacation in New Mexico in a few months, how she wanted to drive back to Chicago to see her friends next week. There was nothing in here that would indicate she would suddenly disappear.

Can you call Rally’s phone and see if she’ll pick up your number? Shorey asked her brother. She might answer you. Not that she would ever ignore a call from Shorey himself, he just didn’t have the number.

Too late. I remembered her password and I’m inside, he said. She’s not here.

Shorey wished he would’ve called the police, but he didn’t complain. At least there was information to be had. Although it was weird to hear that she was missing with her car still at her apartment. Good news anyway, better than hearing she slipped and cracked her skull.

All of her stuff is still here, her brother continued. Her computer’s still on and lit up and both of her phones are on her bed. Nothing’s missing.

That was curious. It got Shorey to narrow his focus, thinking of his last direct conversation with her. She had said something about a joke with the spellcaster. She even posted screenshots of her conversation, which would make this a much easier process than it otherwise might have been.

Call the police and see what they can find, he told her brother. I’ll check around online and see if anything turns up.

With that, he got to work reading through the screenshots she sent. They detailed her trying to mess with the spellcaster she was talking to and him saying he would cast her spell for free. Her spell which, according to the screenshot, was to be a pony in Equestria. Something both completely impossible and extremely silly.

But where else could she be? There was the tiniest inkling in the back of his mind that maybe, just maybe, that might have been what happened to her.

Reading further, he saw that the spellcaster, Lord Zulu, told her that it would take twenty eight hours for her wish to be granted. It was a good thing to see, and it gave Shorey a timeline to check between her screenshots and her last message saying she would nap. Sure enough, it was within that twenty eight hour timeframe, about twenty seven hours between her screenshots and her last message.

There’s no way she was turned into a pony, Shorey thought, already typing the number of Lord Zulu’s Whatsapp into his phone. If she turned into a pony, then…

He didn’t know what to think, it was such an impossibility. He did know that he wasn’t going to hesitate to follow her into Equestria if it was a possibility. There were certain things he wanted out of life that he was almost certain he’d ever get on Earth, things most people didn’t know about. Rally knew, but what didn’t she know about him?

“Yes, this is Lord Zulu,” the phone finally answered after several rings, his accent obvious. It made Shorey frown, worried that this just might end up being a scam and that he was overreacting

“You are calling about a love spell, yes?” the spellcaster asked.

“I was calling about a spell to turn me into a pony,” he said seriously, shaking his head at himself that he was going along with this. “My friend said she talked to you about becoming one, and now I want to be one, too.”

“Ah, I remember your friend,” Lord Zulu remembered. “She is the one who believed me to be fooling when I claimed to be a powerful spellcaster, and tried to joke with me. So it seems she did as required and told her friends of her arrangement?” He didn’t wait for an answer as he continued, “What is your first and last name so I can begin work for you?”

“John Elliot,” he told him, “but before we go further, I want to go over the details of what’s gonna happen. I don’t want to just be placed in the middle of the Everfree Forest or something.”

“I see. What exactly were you requesting then, Mr. John?”

Shorey went over the details, describing exactly what he wanted to look like and where he wanted to be placed. What color his eyes would be and what his voice would sound like and how he wanted to make sure he was in the same place as Rally was– he didn’t leave one detail unchecked. He wanted to make sure he was getting exactly what he wanted should this genie type figure really be able to cast spells.

“I have your spell written down to be cast,” Lord Zulu told him. “Given the details you request, this could take up to one hundred and seven hours to be cast. As well, the price for you will be sixteen hundred and fifty dollars, as well as three hundred to pay for your friend’s spell.”

That was not what Shorey was preparing to hear. “I don’t have the money to pay two thousand dollars,” he told the man. Or rather, he wasn’t willing to pay that much, not yet. Two thousand dollars was too much to drop on something he wasn’t sure about without investigating other options first.

“The price will not be negotiable,” the spellcaster told him. “Nineteen hundred and fifty dollars will be required to cast this spell.”

“I- you’ll have to give me time to think about this,” he told him. “I’m not ready to commit to something like this.”

“Well, nothing can be done until payment is received. If you have no other questions, then good day, sir.”

Abruptly, the conversation ended, leaving Shorey hanging on the other end. He frowned at the way it went, severely disliking the idea of giving so much money to someone who was probably just a scammer taking advantage of a coincidence. But the idea of being able to go to Equestria was insatiably appealing.

He went back to his computer for a while, reading through the screenshots Rally sent and thinking it over in his head. It seemed possible, just based on the evidence, which, unfortunately, was largely circumstantial. But it didn’t make sense at all. What was more likely: Rally just went missing, or she was transported to Equestria?

A little while later, he was getting a message from her little brother, explaining that the police checked the apartment and didn’t find anything. He also said her wallet was still there, so there was no way she could’ve bought anything beforehand, or at least, it was unlikely.

He grunted as he pulled out his phone again to text Lord Zulu. He hated what he was about to do. He knew he was about to spend two thousand bucks on a scammer, but…

Where exactly do I send payment to?, he asked, mentally chastising himself for what he was about to do. This was such a scam, and he knew it. And yet, here he was, giving into one after he told Rally that this was a scam and that she shouldn’t call this person. He was gonna look like such an idiot when this was over.

Shorey only chastised himself further when he saw the email for the man’s PayPal, which was lordzulu@lordzulushouseofspells.website2.me. This was such a scam, and he was playing right into it, and he knew it. Maybe Rally was in on it. He almost hoped she was, that way he’d at least not be giving money to a random stranger.

He made sure though to put this down as shopping on PayPal, and put in purchase protection for when this inevitably turned out to be a scam. He also disconnected his debit card and bank account information after he put the money into his account, just in case this was a hacker as well. He wanted to be cautious as he did risky things.

I’m going to give you exactly one hundred and seven hours, Shorey told him, already setting an alarm on his phone for that time. If I’m not in Equestria by then, I’m gonna retract my payment.

I assure you, my spell will be cast exactly as you wish it to be. I will not begin though until full payment is received. It would, however, be cheaper for you if you ask for a simpler spell. Less materials and research would be required on my part, and so it could take place sooner, as well. However, that is the price for what you ask for. Whenever I receive payment is when I will begin work.

This was such a bad idea, and Shorey knew it, but he was willing to go through with it. He certainly wasn’t going to be changing anything about what he wanted if this was real. No way did he want to be some random pony in a random part of Equestria. The only way this would be worth it is if he got exactly what he asked for, something he'd never, ever get without some sort of magic spell.

With a grunt and great reluctance, he clicked the button and let the payment go through, starting the timer on his phone for when he should be gone.

(7) Explanation

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I didn’t eat that night. I was too busy sleeping, not waking up until the next afternoon. It was the same thing that woke me up when I first got here, too, something that made me deeply frustrated. I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath so as not to scream.

I opened my eyes to feel my hooves and legs aching from all the walking I did yesterday. I didn’t know how long I walked, but considering it was all night and half the day yesterday, it must have been a considerable distance. My legs felt it the most. I could barely get myself to stand up as I got out of bed.

The only reason I got up was to go to the restroom, which was an ordeal to say the least. Part of it was the obvious, but part of it was just because I had no idea how I should set myself up as a pony, especially a stallion nearly as big as Shining Armor. Needless to say, it was a process, one that took an unbearably long time and gave me nothing but wave after wave of discomfort.

I took a shower again, once again letting the water almost burn my skin, before heading out and looking for Rusty Bucket. He left the position on the couch he was in yesterday, which I was thankful for, but I wanted to talk to him about where Ponyville or Canterlot might be. I didn’t have any good guess for where in Equestria Mount Everhoof might be.

I didn’t see him in the house at all, but a quick look outside showed he was sitting in front of his home, stick for a staff in hoof and cloak and bucket on his body. He sat staring ahead, sighing and looking extremely bored. It didn’t look like a fun job, whatever he did.

“Do you just sit out here all day?” I asked as I stepped out, too, standing in the doorway, not wanting to head too far out into the cold. I leaned on the doorframe to support me. I was still extremely tired, and my legs wobbled as I stood.

“This looks like a super boring job,” I said.

“Eh, most of the time it is, but somepony has ta do it, otherwise who’d help somepony in need when they’re about ta fall down a cliff?” I felt embarrassed by the memory as he continued, “The princess herself says it’s a important job. She pays me a good bit ta guard this here mountain.

That was certainly interesting to hear, and led into my next question. “Do you think you could take me to Canterlot? I don’t really know where I’m going, but that seems like a good first spot to head to. That or Ponyville.”

“Can’t leave my post,” he told me. “That’ll be a trip ya hafta make on yer own. There’s a train in the Crystal Empire that goes directly there. Costs a bit ta get there though, more bits than I’m willin’ ta pay.”

“Where exactly is the Crystal Empire?”

“Just ta the south of here, past the Crystal Forest. Probably a four or five day walk from here if I recall correctly, but I got me teleportation ta help me. Guess it depends on how fast ya move and what ya can do how fast ya get there.”

A four or five day journey. At least. It just kept getting worse, didn’t it? This was gonna be such a bitch of a time getting to where I wanted to go. But the Crystal Empire might be good enough. If I could talk to Cadance of Shining Armor, I could probably get to Twilight directly and tell her my problem. And then from there live the rest of my life happily as a unicorn mare in Equestria.

Yeah, right. With the way things were going, the second my body was fixed, I’d get pneumonia and die.

Either way, it wasn’t like I could go there right now. As much as I just wanted to say screw it and press onward, I was way too tired to do anything tonight. Better to rest up and leave later than set off now and die of exhaustion before I got there.

“I can get ya some stuff for yer trip if ya wanted it. I got tents and a little supplies ya can have. I don’t need it much.”

“I’d really appreciate anything you can offer, thank you,” I answered. Then I sighed and said, “This is going to be so much trouble trying to get through all of this.”

“Well how’d ya get up here in the first place?”

“Some guy named Lord Zulu teleported me up here,” I started. “I’m actually not from Equestria. I’m from another world entirely called ‘Earth’. I asked that guy for a spell to turn into a pony and live in Equestria, but I guess he got mad at me for deciding to joke around a tiny bit because he put me at the top of this mountain and turned me into a stallion.”

“That second bit. Are ya not supposed ta be a stallion?”

“No…” I felt my lip tremble a little bit as I said it and my eyes try to tear up. They weren’t able to however, much too dry after the last day and a half I’d spent crying off and on. I blinked anyway, pushing away what nonexistent tears I had as I continued to explain what happened to me.

“I mean, it’s a whole complicated mess of a story what I am, but no. I’m a woman… err, a mare. I’ve been one for way too long to want to go back to living like this.”

“Go back to?”

“That’s the part that’s the complicated mess. The point is I hate this with my whole being.”

“Mmm. Well, I can see how ya might not like that,” he commented thoughtfully. “Can’t say I’d take ta being a mare very much, but I’m a stallion born and raised. Don’t think I know any stallion that’s not either. But if anypony can help ya, it’s sure ta be Princess Cadance. I heard a bunch of stories about how she and her sister help ponies all the time. Probably would be nothing for her ta fix ya right on up.”

“That’s what I was thinking. But I’m just way too tired to head out now, as much as I want to get going.”

“Well, yer always welcome ta stay here as long as ya want. Like I said, ain’t no trouble ta me. Speakin’ of which, I don’t recall ya havin’ supper last night. Let me go ahead and get started on some.”

We both headed back inside with that, and he got started on it. I once again wanted to say something about him taking off his cloak, but refrained, deciding it was just gonna be something I had to deal with being here. It didn’t make me any less embarrassed and self conscious about myself. Not to mention, draw attention to parts of myself that I hated.

I did my best to ignore that as I looked around his house while he cooked. It was extremely nice, pristine looking to me. It greatly reminded me of the home I lived in until I was around five, with a few couches put up in the living room and a dining room effectively attached to it and a kitchen farther back. It looked like it was all on one level from what I could tell, but it made the place feel bigger somehow. The living room especially looked amazing, with a burning fireplace and a bookshelf overhanging it, lining two of the walls. I’m sure Twilight Sparkle would’ve been proud of the collection.

A book in particular that caught my eye was one that was purple with a horseshoe on the cover. It had five gems and a star in the middle, as well as five colored ribbons of a certain pony’s friends. I knew instantly what book it was, and grabbed it off the shelf to examine it.

I almost expected to not be able to read it, but luckily enough, it was in English. The first couple of pages confirmed that it was indeed Twilight’s Book of Friendship, and confirmed to me that the time I was in was after season six. Between season seven and the middle of season nine, it seemed, which was a great deal of help to me. Talking to Twilight in season seven would be vastly different from talking to her in season two.

I only read a couple of the stories in there, flipping through for a while to see that it only highlighted stuff I already knew about and watched in the show. Eventually, Rusty Bucket came back in and offered me a plate of food, one that I was forced to eat with my mouth because of my lack of magic and hoof grip. It was good anyway, the dinner mainly consisting of mashed potatoes and cheesy bread. I was even able to choke down the small sample of hay, although I couldn’t say it tasted that great.

I was already getting tired again after the meal, even though I’d only been awake for a couple of hours. I figured it might do me well to go to sleep early, but I decided to ask Rusty a couple of questions I had about Equestria first, namely Princess Luna and what she said.

“I was having a nightmare and Princess Luna visited me in my dreams,” I started. “She said something about not being able to help me because I’m not an Equestrian? Do you know what’s up with that?”

“Oh, Princess Luna don’t be visitin’ the dreams of us here in the Crystal Empire,” he told me. “The border between them and Equestria extends about halfway up Mount Everhoof. I heard it’s because Princess Celestia wants to make sure Grogar’s bell stays in Equestrian borders, but as to why, I don’t know. But as of now, you’re officially in the territory of the Crystal Empire.”

“But what does that have to do with she not being able to help me?” I asked. “She saw me in my dreams and I told her I was stranded up there but she didn’t do anything because of some international law.”

The stallion shrugged, saying, “Probably somethin’ that was put into place hundreds of years ago that nopony cares about. She’s a stickler for things like that. All of them are, actually.”

That didn’t sound great to hear. I could only wonder how much trouble it would be to try and get something done hearing that if they didn’t even want to help me when I said I was stranded at the top of a mountain. How much trouble I might get in just for being here in the first place. I hoped he was just exaggerating the truth and that it was only Princess Luna who acted like that.

He put a hoof on my shoulder, a move that made me shudder– I needed to remind myself that ponies didn’t wear clothes and he wasn’t trying to come on to me– as he said, “Don’t ya worry one bit. Princess Cadance is as nice as ever. I met with her a few times, and she was nothin’ but kind ta me. I’m sure she’ll be ta you as well. The ponies of the Crystal Empire can be a bit... eccentric, but the princess herself is sweet as pie.”

That made me feel better, and I gave a tiny smile to him. “Thank you.” Then I yawned and said, “I guess I’ll head to sleep now so I can wake up early to head out tomorrow. Um, can you show me the supplies you were talking about?”

“I don’t have it out yet, but I’ll get it set out for ya while ya rest. But ya don’t have ta leave tomorrow. Ya can stay here as long as ya want. It’s nice havin’ some company with me.”

“I’m not keen on going back out so quickly, but I cannot stand the idea of being in this body for one second longer than I have to,” I replied. “Being a man is just… ugh.” I had to close my eyes and take a deep breath to keep myself composed. I wanted to keep those thoughts out of my head and think of anything other than dysphoria, because boy, did it feel bad being a boy.

“But I’m gonna head off to bed now,” I continued, yawning again. “Wake me up when the morning time comes? I don’t want to waste any time tomorrow trying to get to the Crystal Empire.” I had no interest in anything other than moving all day, and part of the night, too, if I could manage it.

“Sure, I’ll be sure to. Ya better go on now and rest up then,” he told me. “And if ya ever decide ta come back and visit Mount Everhoof again, make sure ta stop by.”

“I’ll be sure to,” I responded as I trudged off. “Goodnight.”

(8) Leaving Again

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I headed out bright and early the next morning, Rusty Bucket not even having to wake me up. I took just a minute to shower again and eat some breakfast before I geared up, the stallion tying the supplies he offered to my back. Then he gave me a quick hug– an extremely uncomfortable affair since I was a lady hugging a naked man– before I set off, giving one last wave goodbye as I left.

Before I got far though, I turned back around, suddenly remembering one last thing.

"Hey," I started, just a dozen or so steps into leaving. "If you see a pink filly with blue curls for hair up here, make sure to stop her and take her to Twilight Sparkle or Princess Celestia if you can. Or even Cadance or Shining Armor if you want. Her name is Cozy Glow and she'll be trying to steal Grogar's Bewitching Bell." There was no way I wanted to deal with she, Tirek, and Chrysalis while I was here, and figured there was something I could do to help my situation a tiny bit.

"Uh, sure thing, but I doubt a little filly will be tryna steal Grogar's bell."

"She's not an ordinary filly, and I'd greatly appreciate it if you please did it."

"No trouble. Wouldn't be no good ta have a little filly up here on the mountain anyway. I can take her ta Princess Cadance if I see her.

"Thank you, I appreciate it, and so will Twilight." With that, I set off.

It was just as cold outside now as it was before, but I at least had a hat and scarf now, so my ears and neck were protected. Walking helped keep my legs warm, but I couldn’t walk as fast as I wanted to. The trail I was on was still steeply inclined, and I didn’t feel like risking falling over with all of the stuff on my back.

It was a mindless task I had, focusing on keeping my hooves in front of me as I walked, but the slow pace made it harder to ignore my body. I could not stand how this thing felt more than anything. The organ hanging below me was particularly painful, but it wasn’t just that. It was my squarish looking head and stocky body and this awful hormone coursing through me. I’d almost would have rathered have gasoline in my veins instead of whatever the hell testosterone was supposed to be used for. My brain wasn’t meant to run on it, and made it known to me in the form of dysphoria.

I grunted and started practicing my voice training again. It took about a year for me to get down the first time, but I thought I could get it down in a few days this time since I already knew what I was doing. I was the kind of person who didn’t care. Even if I didn’t look like a mare yet, I was gonna voice train and wear dresses and paint my nails... err, hooves, and be referred to as a woman regardless. I held the position that anything at all was better than nothing, and I would take any relief I could get, especially after having my happiness ripped away from me so cruelly.

Oh, my happiness. I was there already, fully transitioned and being the woman I was meant to be, only to have it ripped away over nothing. I wanted to roll over and die at the thought that I’d have to do this all over again.

Some of my friends didn’t have the same opinions as me. One of them insisted that they’d rather be a man and hate it than only be “half” of a woman. Part of it was they said they wanted a family naturally, something that wouldn’t be possible if they transitioned, but I felt like most of it was that they didn’t think they’d pass very well. It made me sad to see, and I had cried more than once for them thinking about it. I hated to see them ache as bad as I knew I did, but there was nothing I could do about it since they didn’t want to be pushed. It was such a difference in philosophy, and I was very much in the “you take what you can get when the universe screws you” camp. It was just how it went when you lost a coin flip that 99.99% of people won. I could never live the life they were trying to.

I wondered if they would end up coming to Equestria and being themselves. I wondered if all of my group chat friends would come here. It was certainly possible. I sent screenshots of Lord Zulu’s spellcasting services to the group chat. It was only a matter of that spellcaster not fucking them over like he did me, and those guys actually spending money to do it. We could all be ponies, although I was sure Forrester would ask to be a griffon instead, and a couple of others opt to be changelings.

God, I missed my group chat friends. I just hoped that I’d ever be able to speak to them. It was just as easy for them to think I was missing and never know what happened or hear from me again. It was a thought that made me want to cry to think about.

I tried to put thoughts of missing my friends and dysphoria and everything other than getting down this mountain out of my mind. I felt the wind biting me again, but it wasn’t as bad as it was before, and the sun shined on me and warmed up the air. I could almost say it wasn’t a bad time if my legs weren’t so tired. Even moving slower than I was when I was on the trail a couple of days ago, I felt like I was making good time.

Even still, that nervousness I had at the top of the mountain before was starting to set in again. I didn’t want to do this trip. Even with my supplies, I didn’t want to have to walk for days on end to get to civilization. Anything could happen out here, even if this was Equestria, and I didn’t like the idea of that. I wished I had my group chat friends here, or at least Shorey. Anyone at this point would’ve been nice.

It wasn’t very long until I got to the bottom of the mountain. It was around noon when the trail finally leveled off again and I was walking through a field of snow. Somehow, the snow here was deeper than it was on the mountain, going halfway up to my legs. It was a slog walking through, and I could feel my legs already start to get numb after a few minutes. I wished I had asked about boots, because this felt brutal.

I trudged along though, not stopping to rest until I came to a frozen river that was somehow free of snow. It was wide, one that stretched for what looked like had to be a couple thousand feet, and moved across the entirety of the plain from left to right. I was almost worried that if I stepped on it it would crack underneath me, but then a bite of wind reminded me that this thing was likely frozen solid.

I stepped onto it gingerly, testing the strength of it before deciding that it was safe enough to be on. I casually set my supplies on it, using my teeth to pull out a sleeping bag to lay on. I needed time to warm up a little bit if I could, and opened up the sleeping back to crawl into it. I shivered as my back touched the ice through the bag, but before long, my body heat was enough to warm the thing up to something comfortable. It almost felt like a warm summer day lying in this thing. Well, a summer day in comparison to this weather, which meant it was probably still under sixty degrees. I took it though, gratefully, nowhere near ready to complain about it. I had to wonder if there was some sort of magic in the bag helping me stay warm in it when it was so cold outside. Either way, it was good to have for how long I was gonna be out here.

Four or five days out here. This was going to be brutal, but not as cold as I thought it would be, at least while I was sleeping. And I had supplies– a tent, some water, food– enough to last that long. In a few days, I’d be in the Crystal Empire, and all of this would be… not fixed, but better. Hopefully, anyway. I would not be surprised though if the ice broke beneath me and I was forced to walk back to Rusty Bucket.

I knew I was being too negative, but it was hard to get out of that mindset with everything that happened. There was no way to ignore something so terrible when I had everything I wanted such a short while ago. How long was that? Months? There was no way it could’ve been three days ago. Three full days since I was able to be myself. Part of me just wanted to sink through the ice and drown, I hated this so much.

I didn’t sink though. Instead, my ears eventually got way too cold to keep staying out here, even despite my hat. Even with the sun on my face, it was way too cold to be laying around out here. Not to mention, my back was getting completely frozen laying what was basically ice separated by a blanket. Although the rest of the sleeping bag was warmish, I couldn’t stay here longer than a few minutes.

I moved to sitting on top of the bag, a slightly more comfortable thing to do, as I got out food for lunch. It was only bread and cheese this time, and completely frozen, but it was something. I could barely open the bag though, having to use my teeth, but I thought I was starting to get used to that. I worked on trying to use my hooves some more though, and tried to use my unicorn magic, too. Neither worked, but I wasn’t concerned right now. One of them at least worked on instinct.

I headed back off after struggling with it for a while, having trouble setting my supplies back on my back before I set off. I walked some more, the rest of the day until the sun started to go down. I didn’t get to the green, unable to see it anymore, probably because I wasn’t still at the top of Mount Everhoof. Before the sun went down though, I could see dark clouds gathering, and the wind start to pick up more. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what that meant.

“Why does every single bad thing that can happen have to happen right now?” I asked aloud, my voice shaking. I hated Murphy’s law, and wanted absolutely anything other than to stay out here in the night when it was about to snow. I was terrified by having to deal with this, and started to cry again.

Can’t stand here and cry, I told myself, setting my stuff down where I was. Can’t get too terrified about all this. What do I do though? Umm…

My heart was pounding as the sun sank and the clouds moved in. I needed to get set up, that I knew. I could not stay out in the cold and snow without a good shelter. I might have managed at the top of the mountain, but doing that now would for sure kill me, and I really didn’t want to die.

I started by moving around and kicking the snow away, trying to make a nice little spot where I could lay on the ground directly. It took much longer than I imagined it would, probably half an hour to clear out a space the size of a big van. I was huffing and puffing by the time I was satisfied, but continued to work. The wind was picking up, which only made me more afraid. I wanted to be done with this before whatever blizzard was coming made its way to me.

I started moving onto the tent, getting more and more nervous and afraid as I struggled to set it up. These useless hooves still wouldn’t grip anything, and using my teeth to try and get this built felt like an impossible task. It made my heart race that I would be out here tentless enduring whatever was coming.

“God damnit, come on and work!” I yelled desperately at my hooves, wishing they would listen. “I cannot do this like this! Please!” My hooves, however, did not answer me, as much as I wanted them to.

I went back to using my teeth to try and assemble this thing, but after a couple of more unsuccessful minutes, the snow started to fall. Only a few flakes, but that was enough to tell me to give up and just tough it out without a tent.

“God, this is such fucking bullshit,” I complained bitterly. “Why does this all have to happen? It was barely even a joke!”

A few more tears ran down as I debated what I should do. Right now my options were to stay right here for the night, head back to see Rusty Bucket, or keep on walking through the snow. The second and third options sounded terribly unappealing, which left me with one choice.

“Argh! This can not be happening to me!” I yelled, as though saying that would change something. “What did I do to deserve all of this?” I asked the wind as it whipped around me, little snowflakes landing on my nose. “Why do I deserve Luna not helping me and being stranded on a mountain and not being able to pick things up and being stuck in the snow and being a man again? I didn’t do anything! Why is this happening?”

The only answer I got was the wind biting me again, cutting me and telling me I should huddle up in what little protection I had. I reluctantly did as it requested, pulling the sleeping bag into the little opening of the tent as it lay on the ground. The more layers I had between me and the cold and snow, the better. The bottom of the tent on the ground wouldn’t make my back so cold now at least, helped by the fact that I wasn’t laying on ice.

I huddled up in the sleeping bag, hoping this wouldn’t be as bad as I was expecting. I was still shaking with fear though that I would die alone out here in the snow. I needed someone else here with me. I was not going to make it on my own. Anyone at all would be better than being alone.

I really wish Shorey was here, I thought as I closed my eyes and curled into a ball in my sleeping bag. They would know what to do.

(9) Forests And Beaches

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“Is she really still not online?” Forrester asked Shorey in a group voice chat. “There’s no way that Lord Zulu guy was real. She’s probably punking us.”

“I don’t know,” he responded. “The police haven’t found anything. They said they checked the security cameras by her apartment and didn’t see her exit. They said she came home from work and never left.”

“There’s just no way that’s real, as cool as it would be.”

It had been four days since they’d heard from her, almost three full days since Shorey called Lord Zulu. Sixty three hours, his phone said to him. Forty four hours until he was supposedly going to be pushed into Equestria, according to that spellcaster, and Rally, judging by her absence. It made him both nervous and excited to think about the possibility. He was wishing to be a unicorn in Equestria, one that would be built to give him the life he wanted. It made his chest fill with butterflies to think about.

He wondered what Forrester would think if– when– he followed him if it happened. He knew he wouldn’t care. Why would he? He made jokes that he might be secretly that way he was all the time. No one in their group chat would care about that... well, a few people, maybe, but they wouldn't say so out loud, probably. There wouldn't be any real repercussions within his friend group. It didn’t make him less nervous though. He wanted to vomit thinking about it.

Rally’s gonna have a blast with this if it happens, Shorey thought. Probably take me clothes shopping first thing. That sounds like what she’d do. She said before that she wanted to.

The idea of being that for real almost made it hard to concentrate. More than once he looked at the timer on his phone, watching it count down, as he did now. Forty four hours. Forty four hours, and then all of his dreams would come true. Hopefully. More than likely though, nothing would happen, and he’d be left slightly disappointed, but unsurprised.

“I’m gonna call him up, too,” Forrester decided. “I’ll put him on the line right now and see–”

“Don’t do that,” Shorey cut him off. “I already called him, and I don’t want you sending your money until I go missing. I have a timer set for when he said it was supposed to happen. There’s forty four hours left on it.”

“I can afford three hundred dollars,” Forrester argued. “If this is real, I don’t want to wait on going to Equestria just so you can go first. I want to be there! Don’t hog the glory!”

“It’s three hundred if you just want to be whatever the heck he makes you,” Shorey explained. “It costs two thousand dollars to pick the things you want, and I don’t want you sending out money until we know for a fact that this isn’t a scam.”

“Wait, did you send out two thousand dollars?” someone else, Davey, asked. “I’d expect that from Forrester and Rally, but not you, Shorey.”

“He’s just trying to hog the glory,” Forrester continued, feigning anger, but mostly joking. “Then he’s gonna be the first one to go and brag about it. He’s vitriolic like that.”

“Well, that’s not how the word ‘vitriolic’ is used,” Shorey countered, “and Rally was the first one to go there, so she’s gonna get all the glory, if there is any to hog.”

“Then this is clearly a plot to keep me down because you hate me so much,” Forrester joked. “I know it.”

“Sure, you can think that if you want.”

“But why would you do that?” Davey asked. “You have to understand that this is a scam, right? What did you see that made you think it was a good idea?”

“She’s not in her house, her brother said he hasn’t seen her, and neither has her family, and her last message was twenty six hours after saying Lord Zulu would send her to Equestria in twenty eight hours. It all lines up.”

“You know Forrester’s right, though,” he continued. “She’s probably trying to prank you, or it’s a coincidence or something. Spellcasters aren’t real. You should know better than this, Shorey.”

“Well, sometimes I have a very tiny brain and make dumb decisions,” he responded, “but that doesn’t mean I’m advocating for everyone else to make dumb decisions along with me.”

“Okay, but if you go missing, too, then can I do it?” Forrester asked. “Because I will. There’s no way I’m gonna miss out on my opportunity to be a griffon if I can. I wanna be as cool as Gallus is.”

The opportunity to be a griffon was what Forrester wanted, and was something that made Shorey chuckle. His friend was in it to have fun, unlike Shorey, who was seeking something he'd been missing for an entire lifetime. He didn't know how surprised they would be to see that he wanted the same thing as Rally, but he imagined that they'd either be completely shocked, or not at all.

“Sure, but we need to make a plan about all of this,” Shorey told them. “We can’t just go into this not knowing what we’re doing. For all we know, this guy could be looking to send us to Ghastly Gorge or something. We need to be specific about what we want.”

“I’ll be specific,” Forrester said. “I’m gonna ask to be a griffon in Ponyville. Or no! A griffon in Griffonstone! That’s what I’ll tell him!”

“Why would you pick Griffonstone if you could go anywhere in Equestria?” Davey asked. “I would just go to Ponyville if I could and then meet up with everyone there. That makes the most sense so no one’s lost.”

“I actually like that idea,” Shorey agreed. “If this is all real, which is a big if, then everyone who can should be asking to go to Ponyville so we can all be in the same spot and not in the Mysterious South or Saddle Arabia or something. I’ll meet up with Rally though and tell her that that’s where we’re going in case she’s not there. I asked him to send me there so I can do that.”

“Can I tell everyone else about this?” Forrester asked. “We should be asking to cure cancer if some guy can do all of this. Honestly, it’s kinda messed up that he wouldn’t.”

“Well, if one person going to Equestria is two thousand dollars each, then that’s like twenty trillion dollars for the whole world to go. I bet curing cancer would be like a hundred grand per person.”

“Yeah, I agree, fuck those cancer patients,” Forrester joked. “Why cure cancer when we can be ponies in Equestria?”

“You know I’m not saying that,” Shorey said seriously.

“I’m just kidding, jeez,” Forrester laughed. “It’s not like any of this is real anyway. You got scammed big time.”

“Well, I probably did. I hope I can get my money back at least. I hope even more the police can find Rally. It’s sad without her here.”

The conversation moved elsewhere from there, but Shorey still had it on his mind, as he did since he sent the money over to that spellcaster. There were about ten people in the group chat he and Rally used. He didn’t know how many other people he wanted knowing about this, but certainly no one outside of the fandom. Maybe not outside of their group chat either. Even saying he spent two thousand dollars on this to his friends felt like a lot. He wasn’t normally one to make such risky decisions, but the facts of the situation got to him.

He looked at his phone. Forty three hours. He might as well have told people, except in a kind of vague way. He didn’t want to give out too many details, just in case he ended up looking like the fool he probably was. It would have been great if he could get messages in their group chat to be sent at a certain time, but he’d just have to work with what he could do.

Look guys, he told them, pinging everyone in the chat, I’m at a loss for what might have happened to Rally. Police don’t know where she’s at, and her family doesn’t either. They said all of her stuff is still where it’s supposed to be, and her car’s still in her front yard. The camera footage they reviewed shows her entering her apartment and never leaving since then. I’m starting to think that whoever she talked to, Lord Zulu, was actually able to do something to her, as crazy as it seems.

I’m going to test that theory out. I already talked to him, and he said I should be sent to Equestria forty three hours from now. If I go missing, then we can conclusively prove this guy is legit. In that case, I was thinking we could all head there and meetup in Ponyville somehow. An even number of earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns would be great, if we could, too. The more people we could have there, the better.

Please don’t do anything until we confirm that I’m gone. We can’t be sure this isn’t a scam, and I don’t want people sending money to someone who’s unconfirmed. The amount they’re requesting is at least three hundred dollars, although I was told it would cost sixteen hundred dollars for my spell. The more specific you are, it seems, the more it’s gonna cost.

The chance isn’t great that this is real, but it’s large enough that I’d like to coordinate this out right now if we can. Also, if we can keep this to ourselves for now, that would be great. I don’t want this kind of thing getting out yet.

It wasn’t long before members of their group made their opinions known.

You’re really falling for a scam, you know that, Shorey? someone, Moberly, said. You’re supposed to be the smart one of the group.

I have precautions set up for if it is a scam, he explained. It's why I don't want you guys paying anyone for this yet.

Well, I have to say, you're dumber than Rally is, and he's an idiot. He, at least, didn't pay anyone.

If she's in Equestria, then she's smarter than the rest of us combined.

I have to agree with Moberly on this, Davey commented. Honestly, I would think someone hacked your account if I wasn't just voice chatting with you. Cause that’s what it seems like. You’re not normally this big of an idiot.

That’s why I’m only telling our group chat, Shorey said. I don’t want anyone else to know about this. Also, I said don’t call him or anything unless I go missing. I’m allowed to be an idiot, not you guys. If you send Lord Zulu anything, that’s on you since I told you not to.

Nah, he’s just super based and trying to show us up by going to Equestria first, Forrester said. Rally and Shorey are working against us. We need to spend our money on this scam first! Don’t let them win!

Probably not, Shorey typed, but if Rally’s in Equestria, she’s probably having the time of her life right now.

(10) Keep Moving Forward

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Even being a stallion now, the one thing I could say I still had was my emotions.

I probably cried once in my life before I transitioned, and I didn’t feel like going back to being a stone faced ogre anytime soon. It was nice to cry, especially in a time like right now, when my mental health went further down the drain day by day. I was glad I still had the ability, but worried about what I might do should I lose my emotions. Nothing good, likely.

It didn’t snow nearly as much as I expected. I thought I would wake up with a foot of the stuff covering me, and was thankful that it was only a couple of inches. It somehow got colder though, my body heat barely enough to keep my bag decently warm. I wanted to stay huddled in here all day, but I forced myself out. Out into the cold again it was for me.

It was the early morning when I woke up. The wind was thankfully no longer blowing, but it was still cold. I hoped though that it would warm up with the sun rising. It once again only took a few minutes before it was high in the sky, shining down on me, demanding I wake up as it’s light shone in my eyes.

This is so depressing, doing the same thing day after day, I thought as I laid in my sleeping bag, gathering the will to get up and head out. I wish there was someone here with me…

I had wash over me an intense feeling of needing company. I knew I just left Rusty Bucket yesterday, but being out here was unbearably lonely. Not to mention, it did nothing to help distract myself from the intensity of my dysphoria. I wanted someone to walk with and talk to, anyone, and wished my friends would get here soon. I hoped that they’d be able to figure out what happened to me just from the screenshots of me and Lord Zulu’s conversation.

Please, I asked. Please, just let someone come here. Anyone. Please…

Okay, that was enough of that. I could feel sorry for myself while I walked, not while I was still laying in this bag. I didn’t want to risk curling up and crying myself back to sleep, which was a distinct possibility if I didn’t get up now.

I got out and brushed the snow off my flattened tent before rolling it and my sleeping bag up with my teeth, a task that took longer than most ponies would take. As I worked though, I could feel the air warming up, thankfully, getting in a few minutes up to something that resembled a morning in early spring. It was a nice change of pace to say the least, and made me feel better.

Food and water before I headed out made me feel better, too. Bread and cheese weren’t much, but it was certainly better than nothing, and better than some other things I could’ve been eating. Not being hungry made me feel better anyway, and at this point, I could use every ounce of mental strength I could get.

I somehow found a way to tie all of my stuff to my back, and then set out again. It was just as boring today as it was yesterday, except considerably warmer now, which was an amazing change of pace. It made it that much easier to stay motivated and keep dreams of the end goal in my head.

Even given my current bodily ailments and poor location, I was still a unicorn in Equestria. That part was something to keep in my head. Sure, things were bad now, but so was a house that was a fixer upper. A little reconstruction, maybe some cleaning up of the neighborhood, and all of a sudden, you were in a great home in nice spot, something you could be satisfied with for years to come. Sure, the house I lived in gave me almost physical pain to be in, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be fixed to be the home of my dreams. Maybe it could be something even better. If I could have children of my own in Equestria after I fixed myself… well, I didn’t know if I would say it was worth it, but it’d be as damn close to worth it as this situation would allow.

I wondered if my mental health was going to last that long, because everything about this was just dreadful. It would’ve been nicer to be made into a mare at the top of that mountain. Or better yet, just be born as myself the day my mother had me instead of having to face this.

I grunted at that thought as I continued forward, focusing on where the dot of green I saw on the top of the mountain should’ve been. It disappeared when I got off the mountain, but I assumed that was because I could see farther up there, and expected it to show up at some point down here. That green dot would be the Crystal Forest, which meant I was that much closer to the Crystal Empire and Twilight Sparkle… err, a way to get into contact with her anyway.

I was still worried about Cadance and Shining Armor. I hadn’t seen them yet, but just from the way Luna acted and hearing that they were sticklers for the law, I was nervous about how difficult this would be. Luna basically told me to my face that she wasn’t helping me because I wasn’t an Equestrian citizen. For that matter, I wondered how the rest of my friends would be treated if they all came here, too. I got the feeling it wouldn’t be as easy as just getting here to actually be able to live in Equestria.

But that was a concern for later. For now, all I could do was keep walking into the great wide open and hope my scenery would change soon.

It didn’t change that day, and before I knew it, I was forced to stop again for the night. As warm as it had been that day, probably in the fifties I would say, the temperature quickly dropped back off into the teens that I’d been dealing with. It was going to be another cold night that I had to deal with after a boring day of walking. I still didn’t see that dot of green either, and it felt like I’d made next to no progress. The only thing that confirmed I was indeed getting somewhere was the mountains to my back fading further into the distance. If I didn’t have that little sign, it would’ve been hard to convince myself I was doing the right thing.

“This is fucking bullshit,” I complained to no one as I tried to set up my tent again with my teeth, this time without snow and wind to hurry me along. “Out here all alone with no sign that I’m even doing anything in a body that makes me want to die. Somebody kill me already… or let me kill Lord Zulu. I’m gonna punch him in the throat if I see him, I swear to God.”

Even given everything, my being in the middle of nowhere and my declining mental health, I felt like I was managing better than most people would’ve. I remembered there were days as a teenager where I stayed curled up in bed and did nothing but cry the whole day because I felt so bad. I hadn’t gotten to that yet, so that was something.

Not to mention, I was getting good exercise, something I thought this stallion needed. My legs might have wanted to kill me, but it was a good thing anyway. I didn’t mind being chubby, but I hated the huskiness this body seemed to have. If I could lose weight and stop my shoulders from being so wide, I would feel that much better.

I once again did nothing but struggle as I tried to assemble this tent. I eventually gave up and screamed in frustration as I angrily sat on top of the thing. I really wished Shorey was here with me. They were the smartest person I knew, and could probably figure out how to use their magic and hoof grip to assemble this thing. Hell, they’d probably be able to assemble it with their teeth, I had that much confidence in them. Out of everyone in our group chat, I could probably say I wanted them with me the most.

I sighed to myself as I got back up and futilely tried to get this thing put up, not wanting to sleep on the ground again. For lack of better phrasing, I was in love with them. Or, at least, extremely attracted to them.

I said as much to them before though, more than once, being told afterward that they didn’t reciprocate my feelings. Or, well, more vaguely, that they weren’t looking for online dating. I couldn’t say I exactly knew how they felt about me, beyond them thinking of me as a good friend at least, one of the few things I didn’t know about them. I knew the potential for something was there, I could feel it, but whether it would happen, the answer was probably not. Shorey, unfortunately, looked for things that I could not provide, namely a family.

If they came to Equestria in the form I expected them to be in, I could absolutely give them what they wanted. Not that I would ever enjoy doing such a thing in the body I was in right now. I knew from experience that I’d rather hack up my lunch than have sex as a man. I wasn’t even sure Shorey would like it either, since she was probably the biggest lesbian I knew. What a loveless relationship that would be.

I waited until my ears were numb before I decided that it wasn’t getting put up tonight either. I cursed loudly as I crawled into the thing the same way I did last night, knowing I’d have to do this for several more days until I got to the Crystal Empire, a thought that made me want to scream. Absolutely nothing about this situation made me happy, made even more frustrating that there was nothing I could do about it.

I woke up early again the next day and didn’t waste time gathering my things and heading out. It was just as warm today as it was yesterday, which I continued to appreciate, but I didn’t think it would change how cold the night was. It was just going to be something I was always forced to deal with while I was out here.

I started off again, still working on voice training as I took in the unending flat, snowy landscape. That was something else, too. At least on the mountain, there was some variety to keep me sane while I walked. Out here it was just an eternal snowy nothingness, one that was driving me crazy. It made me antsy to get somewhere and did nothing to help my awful mental state.

My legs and back were hurting more today than they did before, noticeable enough that it was firmly in the back of my mind. Doing nothing but sleeping on the ground and walking all day was not fun, not that I could do anything about it other than keep walking. I was going to be ripped by the time I got to the Crystal Empire. Ripped and have back problems as well.

I shuddered at that thought. I had to push the thought of being a bulked up stallion out of my head. I was not going to be that, not at all. I would help myself to avoid that fate. I was already terrible looking enough as it was.

I tried to work on my magic while I walked and voiced trained. I wished that I had asked Rusty Bucket about it, but I wasn’t going to turn around now to talk to him. I just did my best to try and force it to work, a nearly impossible task since I didn’t know what I was doing. I looked up at the appendage sticking out of my forehead as though it would help, but nothing came. No light or aura, not even a spark. I was magically inept. Who would've guessed?

I must have been doing something though because a headache was starting to set in from all day spent trying to get it to work. Staring at the blinding white snow probably didn’t help much either. It was around sundown when I officially stopped because my head was just pounding too much.

This is useless, I thought angrily to myself. I’m never going to be able to get this. I don’t have magic, or a hoof grip, or any idea where I’m going other than forward…

How was I supposed to do all of this? I wasn’t built for this! I didn’t go hiking or climb mountains or face hardships in real life. Not like this anyway. I was just a regular girl who went to work in an office and came home and talked to her friends and did nothing else. I was not made to do this.

And I’m not even myself anymore, I thought as the dysphoria started to kick in hard. I can’t live like this. I’m going to die out here alone like this.

I started to weep as I flopped directly into the snow, thinking about Lord Zulu’s words in my dream. Enjoy your future as the stallion you were born to be. I curled up in the snow at that thought. There was no way I could possibly have been born to be this. It just felt too awful. How anyone could stand it at all was beyond me. But maybe that spellcaster was right, since all but the last few years of my life was spent being this wretched thing.

I wasn’t born to be a stallion, I cried. I wasn’t meant to be this. I can’t live like this again. I just can’t do it.

I was on the verge of a breakdown, one that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to pull myself out of, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a white hot flash of light.

(11) The Last Second

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Shorey should’ve been working, but he did nothing but pace back and forth the whole day. He was a nervous wreck, not that he should've been. None of that Lord Zulu mess was real. There was going to be a reasonable explanation for why Rally was missing.

He looked at the timer on his phone. Three hours. In three hours, he’d allegedly be going to Equestria. What would that be like? Probably tearful, he imagined. If he got what he wanted, there was no way he wouldn’t cry on the spot, that he knew. Rally might cry for him, too, and then laugh and tell him that he was adorable like she always did. He might even agree with her for once.

Honestly, he almost couldn’t believe that more people hadn’t figured out his secrets yet, especially with how Rally was. She never outright said it– that would be crossing a line– but she did openly say things like how he had an extremely feminine personality or even just straight out calling him a girl in public. Somehow though, it seemed everyone had stayed blissfully oblivious.

“So when are you going to Equestria, Shorey?” Forrester asked in a voice chat, mostly joking. “Shouldn’t it have happened by now?”

“My timer still says three hours,” he explained. “If nothing happens, then we’ll know that I just got scammed hard.”

“Speaking of scams, were you wanting to join my reverse funnel system scheme?” Forrester laughed. “Totally not a pyramid scheme. We just make money selling essential oils.”

“You know what? If I go to Equestria, I will join whatever scheme you want me to be in,” Shorey laughed. “For now, I can’t cause I already spent two thousand dollars on a scam.”

“I still can’t believe you actually believed that,” Davey said. “You’re not that stupid. How could you fall for that?”

“Hey, have the police heard anything about Rally yet?” Forrester asked. “She’s not really in Equestria, is she?”

“Well, the police still haven’t found anything,” Shorey explained. “Her brother said they have no leads at all. Her security camera says she went into her apartment and never left.” He took a breath and continued, “I don’t believe in magic, but honestly, it might actually be a possibility. I guess we’ll know in three hours.”

The conversation trailed off from there, and after a while, Shorey was leaving the voice chat and pacing around his house again. Ninety more minutes. He really should’ve been working instead of doing nothing all day, but he couldn’t help it. The more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t see how anything else could’ve happened to her. He so wanted this spellcaster to be real even though he was unbelieving. It would’ve been so nice to be himself for the first time in a lifetime.

At the sixty minute mark, he sat in front of his computer to schedule out a few emails to his family and a few close friends for a few days in advance. He didn’t explain much, only that he was setting out on a journey and that he loved them and didn’t know when he’d be back again, if he’d be back again. He definitely didn’t tell them about Lord Zulu. He had no intention of telling anyone outside of his friend group, lest they try and contact him and accidentally screw something up. No one outside of he and Rally’s friend group was going to know about that.

Look at me, he thought as he chuckled to himself. Getting all prepared for something that’s probably not going to happen. It made sense to be prepared though. It was always better to be safe than sorry, even in instances where the chance was incredibly low of something happening. Besides, it was just the kind of person he was.

By the time he was done, there was still forty minutes or so left on the clock, and he used it to pace around some more. There’s no way this is going to happen, he told himself, trying to stop his heart from beating out of his chest. There’s no way this is real. There’s going to be a reasonable explanation for this. Even as he said it, he knew he didn’t want there to be a reasonable explanation. He’d take breaking the laws of reality as he knew it to be a mare. He might have been able to tough out dysphoria better than Rally did, but being a male was still absolutely unbearable.

I know for a fact that Rally’s going to laugh, Shorey thought with a little smile. She’s gonna laugh and say something like, ‘I guess I was able to get you to transition after all’. I just know it. I bet most of the group chat will if they follow me.

It was going to be amazing. It was going to be the time of his life… if this was real, which it probably wasn’t. His thinking that this could actually happen was setting himself up for disappointment when it didn’t happen, that he knew. He needed to keep his expectations low.

He checked the timer and sent a little message to his friends when he did. Twenty minutes left, he said. I guess we’re about to see what happens.

Probably nothing, Davey said. You definitely got scammed. Your timer’s gonna go off and then that guy is gonna say you need to pay more money for it to happen.

Probably, but that doesn’t explain what happened to Rally. Either way, I’ll give it up to two hours after my timer goes off to see if something happens. I won’t be picky and wait for the dot.

I’ll pay ten thousand dollars if I have to so I can go to Equestria, Forrester said. If you don’t send any more messages for the rest of the night, I’m calling that guy and asking to be a griffon and following you. You won’t be able to stop me.

Feel free to follow if I go missing, Shorey told him. I will have no qualms about it if I don’t send any more messages.

Shorey didn’t send any more messages, because a second after that, he was engulfed in a white hot band of light. His timer hadn’t even gone off when it happened.

He grimaced and shut his eyes to protect them, waiting a minute for the light show to calm down. When it did, the first thing he noticed was that he was on all fours. There was a pair of chartreuse colored hooves in front of him, and a pair in the back. A sextant for a cutie mark and a lemon yellow mane, he didn’t have to guess he’d have deep gray eyes on his pony. The look was completed exactly how Shorey requested, the most important detail not being forgotten.

The snow and cold around her weren’t even noticed as she shut her eyes and cried. The sense of completeness that overwhelmed her was strong, almost unimaginably so. She waited a lifetime for this moment, a moment she almost believed would never come. And yet here it was, the moment upon her, giving her that blissful satisfaction that she had to wonder how she lived so long without.

It was a long moment before she was able to gather herself, breathing deeply as she tried to blink the tears away. She could see why Rally didn’t wait around to transition. This moment was incredible, better than she could've imagined.

Thinking of Rally, where was she? Shorey was finally taking in the snow and the cold around her, feeling a little bit of wind in her fur, but not much. It was a wide, white, blinding field of snow lit up under a shining full moon. She couldn’t see trees or homes or animals or anything. There was nothing around her. Well, nothing but a stallion in the snow in front of her. Lord Zulu had delivered her body exactly, but must have missed the location, because Rally certainly wouldn’t have asked to be that.

The stallion in front of her had tear filled eyes of his own, looking like he absolutely hated everything about the life he’d been given. He was curled up in the snow, shivering out tears of pain and sorrow, not caring at all about the fact that he was going to get frostbitten in that position. It was a sight to see, one that made Shorey worried. She wondered what could’ve happened to leave him lying in the snow like that.

“Excuse me?” she asked, getting the stallion to turn his head and blink at her. Her voice sounded soft and sweet, like a river of honey, one that made a few more tears drip down.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked, her voice shaky. “Do you know where a pony named Raleigh is? I was supposed to meet her here.”

That made the stallion grimace and audibly choke back a sob as he closed his eyes. Then he smiled, almost laughing as he looked back up at her and gave a little wave of his hoof.

“Hi, Shorey,” Rally sniffed out with a weak smile as her own tears ran down. “I missed you.”

(12) Reunion

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“Rally?” Shorey asked me, trying unsuccessfully to blink away the tears in her brilliant gray eyes. “That’s not you, is it?” she asked.

I grimaced painfully at that question and looked away, only feeling more upset by it. “Unfortunately,” I whispered, taking a breath before turning back around to face her again. “But look at you,” I continued, giving her a smile again. “Here I thought you couldn’t possibly get more adorable, and yet you somehow managed to anyway. Now you have a body to match that unbelievably feminine personality of yours.”

She put a hoof up to her mouth as though it would stop her from crying. “This is amazing,” she said. “I knew I was going to cry, but I didn’t think it’d feel this amazing.”

“It is,” I smiled as she sniffled. “You deserve it. I told you before that you deserve every good thing in life.”

She shut her eyes and took a breath as she started to get completely choked up. I got out of the snow to wrap my hooves around her, still crying, too. It was no longer that frustrated, bitter cry of sadness though. Now it was happiness for someone who finally got the thing they wanted most in life.

Everything they want, I couldn’t help but think as my lip started to tremble. Everything she wants while my happiness was stolen from me. That thought almost got me choked up for myself.

It’s not fair that I have to live like this again, especially when she…

I stopped that thought right in its tracks. Selfish. That’s what that was. My thinking that while Shorey was finally happy with herself for the first time ever was nothing but selfish. I shouldn’t have thought of that in the first few minutes she was here, no matter how unbearably painful it felt to see who I wasn’t anymore. There was absolutely no way I was going to talk about what happened to me, no matter how obvious it may have been to her. She didn’t deserve to hear my problems when all of hers had finally washed away. She didn’t deserve me even thinking like that.

“What happened to you, Rally?” she asked as she pulled away after an extremely long moment of tight hugging. “There’s no way you would’ve asked to be a stallion, is there? You still sound the same.”

Unless, of course, Shorey asked first. Her eyes were filled with concern, and she could probably see in mine just how much I was hurting.

“No, I didn’t ask for this,” I got out, my voice cracking. “I only sound the same because I’ve been voice training the whole time I was walking, not that it matters since I look absolutely terrible. I would never ask for this. I hate living like this with my whole being…” I could practically hear my tears hitting the snow as I spoke. Or maybe they were Shorey’s, because she was still crying, almost certainly over me now.

“But don’t let me ruin your moment of happiness,” I said, forcing myself to smile again and putting a hoof on her shoulder. “You deserve the happiness you have now.”

“It’s amazing,” she whispered again. “Absolutely amazing.”

She reached out to hug me again, much more brief this time, before she asked, “What are you doing out here? Where are we?”

“Apparently we’re in the Crystal Empire,” I explained as we both used our hooves to wipe our eyes. “Rusty Bucket said that the mountain behind us is Mount Everhoof and that the border between Equestria and the Crystal Empire is about halfway up.”

“Who’s Rusty Bucket?”

“He’s the stallion from season nine that Cozy Glow talked to when she was trying to get Grogar’s bell. But yeah. I was at the top of that mountain like six days ago, and I’ve been just walking to the Crystal Empire for the last three.”

“Wait, you’ve been out here for six days?” she asked, shocked.

“Yeah,” I answered. “Tomorrow’s the seventh.” I closed my eyes and took a breath to keep from tearing up again. “It’s been lonely…” I whispered. “I mean, I stayed with Rusty for a couple of days, and he said it’d only be like five days until I got there, but other than seeing him, it’s just been… all of this…”

“What did you ask for from Lord Zulu?” Shorey questioned, raising an eyebrow. “He gave me exactly what I asked for.”

“I only asked to be a pony in Equestria,” I said. “I didn’t ask to be a stallion or out here in the middle of nowhere. But apparently because I wasted a tiny bit of his time, he thought it’d be okay to nearly kill me on that mountain and stab a knife through my heart every time I look at myself.” I took another breath and closed my eyes as I continued painfully, “He… he said in my dreams this was what I was born to be.”

“I- I can’t imagine how much it must hurt,” she told me, now starting to tear up again herself. “I don’t know one person who’d be that cruel to someone.”

“Apparently Lord Zulu,” I said. “But I don’t wanna keep bogging you down with my problems. You don’t deserve to hear them, at least not right now. I’m happy for you.”

There was one more hug between us before I said, “Anyway, welcome to Equestria… err, the Crystal Empire technically. Apparently, there’s a difference since Luna doesn’t visit the dreams of non Equestrians.”

“How did you learn that?”

“Because she came to my dream on the first night when I was having a nightmare,” I said. “I tried to ask her for help off the mountain but she said something about international laws preventing her from doing so. I couldn’t really understand her because her voice was cutting in and out, but Rusty Bucket said the same thing. He said they were all sticklers for laws.”

“That doesn’t sound great… you said you’re going to the Crystal Empire? Because I told everyone else that we should all meet up in Ponyville if we can. They haven’t asked Lord Zulu for anything yet, but they will once they see I’m gone.”

“That’s where I was going, so I could see Twilight and see if she could fix my ugly mess of a body.” Then I yawned and said, “But for now, I was going to stop for the day so I could sleep… err, have a near mental breakdown because of all of this. I guess it’s a good thing you got here when you did.” I looked away embarrassedly for a second as I said it. “Not to mention, my head hurts from trying to get my dumb magic to work all afternoon. But I can keep walking if you want to. The sooner I can stop sleeping in the snow, the better.”

“I mean, I just got here, so I’ll do whatever you want,” Shorey told me. “You have supplies, right?” she asked as she looked at my back. “Do you have a tent and stuff?”

“Yeah, but I need help setting it up. I haven’t been able to get this stupid thing up one time. I’ve just been letting it lay on the ground and stuffing my sleeping bag inside of it to sleep.”

I took the stuff off my back to show her everything I had. Everything was still intact since I hadn’t been using much of it, although the food was starting to dwindle. I hoped it would last with two people until we got to the Crystal Empire.

I explained that Rusty Bucket said the empire should be about two days from here, and she agreed that it would be best if we rested now and started off again in the morning even though she wasn’t tired yet. I told her about how Rusty Bucket said there was a train station to Ponyville in the Crystal Empire, something she agreed would be a good idea to take. She also chipped in the idea of seeing if there was something in the Crystal Empire to teach us how to do magic, like a book or a magic instructor.

“I’d rather learn magic sooner than later,” she told me, grabbing the tent in her teeth as she spoke. She was somehow better at manipulating it to do what she wanted it to do than me. With her help, it was actually coming along and getting set up the way it was supposed to be.

“I didn’t ask to be a unicorn so I could spend time doing things with my mouth,” she continued. “The sooner we can learn how to use it, the better.”

“You’ll probably learn faster than I will,” I replied. “Honestly, I’m surprised he even made me a unicorn. With everything I’ve gone through so far, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was disabled. I haven’t even made a spark yet.”

“It’s only been a few days. There’s no way you can expect to learn how to do it with no instruction.”

“It’s felt like years looking like this,” I sighed bitterly, before forcing myself to take a breath and not get worked up. The less I could think of exactly what was wrong with me, the better.

I went back to focusing on assembling the tent. I could see her smiling out of the corner of my eye as we worked, looking like there was not one thing wrong with the world. It was honestly very cute to see and made me smile, too. But only up until I remembered the reason why.

Stop being jealous, you selfish prick, I told myself, going back to working on the tent. You should be happy for her, not angry.

I turned my attention back to the tent for a few more minutes before turning around to her to ask a question. When I did though, I got an eye full of something that made my face burn bright red.

“Uh, Shorey?”

“Yeah?”

“I understand that you’re a lady now,” I started, “but you might want to lower your tail instead of showing off your mare bits to me.”

The words came out way more aggressive and bitter than I intended. It wasn’t even the reason I was asking; I only wanted her to know that she was effectively presenting herself looking like that. Of course, now that it was in my mind, it was the reason I was asking, a thought that made me feel ashamed of myself. I shouldn't have been acting like this.

Her head was still turned, but even in that position, I could see her cheeks turn scarlet colored as her tail lowered. “Sorry,” she said quickly, quietly, clearly in a voice that said she felt bad for me.

“Ignore me,” I responded just as quickly. “I’m just being bitter as fuck when I shouldn’t be.” I was certain she could hear the obvious hurting in my voice based on the look of pity she gave me. It only made me feel worse.

“Help me put this spike in the ground?” I asked, trying to change the subject. “You’re better at this than me.”

It still took quite a long time of working in the cold, but with the two of us combined, we were eventually able to get the tent set up. I was yawning by that point, ready to drop dead and go to sleep after nothing but walking all day.

“There’s only one sleeping bag,” I said, “so how are we going to do this?” As I asked it, a particularly strong gust of wind blew past us, chilling me to the bone. Shorey didn’t look like she was much better because of it.

“I’m not that tired yet, but it’s probably not a good idea for me to stay up all night,” she answered. “We could take turns sleeping if you wanted to, but it’d probably be best if we just shared the sleeping bag with as cold as it is out here. My face is going numb.”

Shorey’s suggestion made my heart flutter. Yeah, I was in love. Although it would probably be wise to not look so dang happy about it, even if she did already know how I felt about her.

Speaking of looking happy, the mare with me still looked absolutely so. I said many times before that she was going to give me a heart attack with how feminine she acted, but I felt like I might actually have one in real life if she kept this energy up.

“You know, I tell you every day that you’re adorable and that you never stop, and it seems that’s the case now. Actually, it looks like you turned it up to eleven.”

“I'm only being myself,” she said, trying to portray seriousness but failing to do so with the big fat smile she still had on. I just about fell over right there.

“Erghrgfld, I’m gonna drop dead if you don’t stop saying things like that. Don’t kill me with adorableness.”

With that, I quickly got into the tent and the sleeping bag, Shorey explaining that she was going to walk around for a while and try using her magic until she got tired. I gave her a basic rundown of what I was doing that gave me my headache, hoping it would be helpful before she left, still wearing that smile.

It made me happy to see her happy. I just wished I wasn’t so jealous that I couldn’t be as happy as she was.

(13) Greener Pastures

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“It’s way too fucking hot in this sleeping bag,” I said as I woke up, sweating through my coat. “I can’t do this.”

Shorey and I were pressed back to back in the sleeping bag, trying and failing to sleep. It felt like it was eighty five degrees in here with both our bodies heating the bag up. I was almost tempted to just sleep out in the snow.

“Can I open the tent flap?” I asked, not moving from my spot yet. “It’s awful in here.”

“I have a migraine,” she whispered, practically inaudible.

For some reason, I was surprised. I knew I shouldn’t have been. She told me before she got migraines all the time. I expected that things like that wouldn’t be an issue being a pony, but apparently, they were. It made me wonder if I would still have GERD and dysphagia here. I’d been eating food without a problem so far, but it didn’t always come up, so that would be something to look out for.

I still have dysphoria, I thought bitterly, so that’s proof that not everything has changed. Then again, she might have just been trying to use magic for too long. I gave myself a little headache last night doing that. Knowing Shorey, she probably was too intense with trying to get it to work.

“Is there anything I can do?” I asked, still not moving yet.

“Get some cold in here,” she whispered slowly. “And please speak more quietly.”

I did exactly that, a strong gust of wind pushing into the tent as soon as I opened it. It chilled me to the bone, but I loved it, shivering from the relief I had from the sleeping bag. I turned around to see Shorey sighing in relief too, apparently just as hot as I was.

It was still night outside, the stars and the moon shining brightly as they hung in the sky. It was beautiful, so beautiful in fact that I wondered if Luna painted the picture for us herself. I had to take a minute to stop and appreciate it.

Then I remembered that Luna just left me stranded on top of a mountain and frowned in annoyance. Laws be damned, that wasn’t an okay thing to do. I’m sure the rulers of other kingdoms would appreciate one of their subjects coming back from near death and learning that Princess Luna could’ve helped them but didn’t.

I stared at the sky for one more minute before heading back in. I closed the tent flap halfway, then settled back into the sleeping bag to sleep for a little while longer.

I didn’t nod off immediately. I was too distracted by my thoughts. I was mostly thinking about Shorey and I and what potential we had together. I thought it was great, but I still had no idea how she felt about me. Sometimes I got the feeling she wanted something like I did, and she never explicitly told me she didn’t like me or said no to any future potential. Her response to me was, in essence, that she wasn’t ready for anything right now when I last asked. Maybe that meant she was ready now?

Oh, sure, I thought. She’s going to be ready while you’re out here in the wild sheltering from the cold.

I sighed to myself at that. I was such a lovestruck puppy. Even now, out in the open in the middle of nowhere, I was still thinking about this. I’d never felt an ounce of romantic attraction for one person in my life outside of Shorey, to the point where I’d consider myself asexual or aromantic if Shorey didn’t exist. It hurt to think that the one person in the world I ever liked would probably never like me back. And even if she did, I had bigger problems to worry about than her, like me being the ugliest monster of all time.

God, I’m gonna die alone and loveless, trapped in this horrible mess of a body…

“Can you please go to sleep, Rally?” she suddenly asked out of the blue, in that soft, sweet, feminine voice that I didn’t have. “I can’t fall asleep if you’re still awake,” she whispered tiredly, painfully. “All of your sighing is keeping me up. Your breathing isn’t steady enough.”

And jealousy. Anything that could happen was never going to happen if I couldn’t stop being so jealous of her. Not even that. It was contempt, that I knew. Contempt that I knew I shouldn't have had, but did anyway. Contempt that she got exactly what she wanted after doing nothing to transition, while I had my happiness taken away after spending years working to get myself to where I was before.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered back, sighing one last time before I turned over and closed my eyes.

I was waking up again a while later, this time because the sun was shining in my eyes through the flap on the horizon. Shorey was awake, too, blinking her eyes open, but still looked like she was in a great deal of pain. She turned her head away from the sun and used a hoof to cover her eyes.

“I’m gonna need sunglasses,” she whispered. “Do you have any water?”

“Yeah,” I replied, getting a bottle out of the supplies. “Do you still have a migraine? We can stay here for a while if you do.”

“The cold will help,” she said. “I can walk if we go slow.” She crawled out of the sleeping bag unsteadily and took a breath, looking like it took effort to stand up.

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I can let you lean on me if you need it.”

“I’m fine. I probably won’t be much use carrying supplies though. I’m sorry.”

She grunted as she looked at the sun while I worked on getting our stuff disassembled. Even still, she smiled and looked down at herself, whispering, “Wow, I’m still a mare.”

“So you are,” I agreed. “And I am too, except only on the inside unfortunately. But that’s why we should start moving, so I can be one on the outside, too. Are you ready to go?”

“Yeah. But slowly, please.”

We moved slowly, the endless sea of white snow stretching out in front of us. It was broken by nothing until around lunch, when we finally saw that dot of green I saw at the top of the mountain. A few more hours of walking, and we were suddenly coming upon a large, long treeline, one that extended for quite a ways from right to left. The Crystal Forest, according to Rusty Bucket.

“He said this would be here,” I explained as we made our way up to it, the empty field slowly becoming thick with trees and foliage. “It shouldn’t be too much longer until we get to the Crystal Empire now, I think.”

“I hope so,” Shorey said, speaking a little louder now as she started to feel better. “I could go for a bubble bath.”

“A bath would be nice,” I agreed. “Or even a shower. I feel dirty after not having one for… what? Three days? Four? I probably smell bad.”

A bath would be nice, along with a bed to sleep in, too. And maybe some clothes, although I was starting to get used to the fact that I was naked all the time. Or maybe it was just the fact that Shorey and I were both ladies. Being around Rusty Bucket was, at times, intensely uncomfortable, almost as uncomfortable as certain appendages attached to me.

We made our way inside, but were only able to get maybe a mile or two of distance covered before the sun started to go down again. In a minute, the moon was up again and the sky was full of stars.

“Do you want to keep going?” I asked. “We can stop if you’re still feeling bad.”

“I’m fine to keep going,” Shorey told me, going back to wearing that smile she had on yesterday. “I want to make up for some time we missed from walking slower this morning.”

I smiled back at her and led the way, feeling pretty good about it. If I was remembering correctly, this was the fourth day of what Rusty said was a five day journey for him. That meant the Crystal Empire could be coming up at any time now. And then we’d take a train to Canterlot or Ponyville to meet Twilight Sparkle, and then I’d fix myself, and then I’d live the best life I could possibly live. I was smiling ear to ear thinking of it.

There was hardly any snow here interestingly enough, almost all grass. Not to mention, the air was a bit warmer, much closer to an early spring night than the tens and single digits it was out in the field. I bet that this area marked where whatever weather ponies worked in the Crystal Empire did their job, the field and the mountains behind us serving as the border.

“I bet you we can get to the Crystal Empire tonight,” Shorey told me as we walked, likely noticing the same thing. “I’m pretty sure we’re close if that stallion you talked to was right. This forest looks tidier than any forest I’ve seen in real life. Or maybe that’s just because it’s Equestria.”

“I don’t know, but I hope we can get there tonight. You’ve only been here for a day, but this would be the fifth night this week I slept on the ground, and I want to try and… what’s that smell?”

My nose scrunched and my eyes started to water, it smelled bad. It was like I was inside of an old, rotten dumpster, it was horrible. I knew it wasn’t Shorey or I, and looking around, I didn’t see anything that would be causing it.

“It smells awful,” I said. “Like the garbage can behind McDonald’s.”

“I don’t smell anything, but…” Her face was scrunching up a second later, too, and she looked like she wanted to retch in disgust. She covered her nose with a hoof and was about to say something else before her mouth shut and her eyes went wide.

“What is it?” I ask, raising an eyebrow, only for her to put a hoof on my mouth so I could stop talking, too. Then, she mouthed to me a word that made the bad smell make sense.

“T-i-m-b-e-r-w-o-l-v-e-s.”

That made my heart jump. There were timberwolves in this forest because of course there were. Nothing about this could possibly be easy, could it? Lord Zulu seemed to have set me up to die every step of the way, and all for one tiny joke.

A second after she mouthed the word, I could see them. It was a pack of about seven or eight, stalking through the woods, maybe a few hundred yards from us. They were sniffing the air and looking around, clearly searching for prey. I didn’t have to wonder who their prey would be.

They looked like they did in the show, maybe larger, standing fifteen or twenty feet on their hindlegs. They were made of a mixture of sticks and rocks, and had a sickly green glow in their eyes. They seemed smarter than I imagined, too, one of them waving to the others with its paw to follow it. It made me deeply afraid to see, and I could only wonder how the heck we were going to get past this.

I knew one thing was for certain. This was going to be treacherous.

(14) Dangerous Tides

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Shorey gave me a look, silently indicating with her eyes the direction we should travel. I didn’t waste any time following behind her, moving as quickly and quietly as I could. My heart was beating out of my chest because of the danger we were in. This wasn’t the same as when I was on that mountain on the edge of that cliff. If I fell down, there’d be a chance I’d survive. Getting caught by these things meant certain death.

I had to force myself to keep my breathing steady as I followed Shorey. I looked behind us every so often to make sure they weren’t following. Every time I looked, I saw them stalking around in the same general area, not really moving, just trying to catch a sniff of something. They weren’t moving toward us, so I would take it, even if the smell of their breath reached us from here. Every second that they didn’t follow us was another second that my heart rate slowed down from a million beats a minute.

We could still hear them, but eventually we got far enough away that we could slow down our pace, only having to keep quiet and watch our backs. I turned around and walked backwards to watch them, allowing myself to smile a little bit when I saw them still several hundred yards away, visible but drawing no closer. I was glad that things wouldn’t be difficult for once with how much everything else was seemingly trying to bring me down. I wouldn’t be long before we were far enough away that we could breathe a sigh of relief.

Then I stepped on a branch.

It was impossibly fast how quickly all of their heads turned, the wolves not waiting a moment to start running toward us. I screamed and started forward, Shorey, running just a second behind me. Of course I was going to alert them and put my life in danger once again. Murphy’s Law seemed out to prove itself to me.

“I’m gonna die out here!” I couldn’t help but yell as we ran, obviously not the first time I thought it. “If stuff like this keeps happening, I’m gonna die!”

“Just don’t stop running!” Shorey yelled behind me. “I’m sure we can lose them, or they’ll get bored after a while! Just keep going!”

It was easier said than done. My legs were not up to this after doing nothing but walking for the last week. They were sore, and wanted to do nothing but stop and rest for a month.

I didn’t know how long or far we ran, but it felt like a long while. The timberwolves behind us from the sound of it were no worse from wear however. I didn’t dare look behind me to check though. I was already playing it dangerously, having to gallop as a pony. One false step and I’d trip and be timberwolf food.

Not that I wasn’t going to be. I could tell I was slowing down, not steaming ahead at a full gallop anymore. Instead, I was now alternating between that and trotting, getting completely worn out. I tried my best to keep moving though. I could hear the predators howling behind me.

“Come on, Rally,” Shorey yelled, slowing down a bit so she could keep pace with me. “You have to keep going! Don’t fall behind!”

“I’m trying,” I huffed, desperately trying to force myself to keep running. “I’m trying my best. I need to stop and rest.”

I didn’t dare do that though. The timberwolves were closing in on us impossibly fast now since I slowed down. In a second, they were right behind us, the whole pack of them, running even pace with us, as though they were taunting us.

Up ahead, I could see a river, probably a few hundred yards away. I wasn’t very good at swimming, really only knowing how to keep my head above water, but if we could just get to that, then…

“FUCK!” I yelled, feeling a sudden surge of pain behind me. I could feel my tail in the teeth of one of the wolves, being ripped off my flank rather than stopping me because I was running. I could safely say the pain of it was probably the worst pain I’d ever felt in my whole life, one that instantly brought tears to my eyes and renewed by adrenaline.

Shorey cursed loudly as one of the wolves swiped at her body with a claw, causing her to bleed. I didn’t dare look behind me though to see what the damage was as we galloped forward. I only cared about getting to safety, everything else be damned.

I was moving faster than her now, but slowed down when I came up to the river. I didn’t know what I should do. Obviously I couldn’t stand there and be eaten by timberwolves, but I was not a strong swimmer. I wouldn’t even say I knew how to swim at all. The best I could do was keep my head above water, and that was it. I didn’t even know if timberwolves would be deterred by the water. It was risky business.

I didn’t have a choice in the matter however, because a second later, Shorey was pushing me in.

The next thing I knew, I was struggling to keep my head above water and choking some because of it. It was a bit easier to do with four legs somehow, and the water wasn’t too deep by the bank, but it was still a struggle nonetheless. The current, despite being relatively slow, wasn’t helping, but I did my best.

The water was freezing cold, probably no more than fifty degrees. And given the low temperature outside already, I was certain hypothermia was going to be an issue. Not freezing, but refrigerator temperature wasn’t that much better.

I tried to keep my heart steady as I looked ahead at Shorey to follow her as best I could. I wasn’t quick enough though. She was actually moving forward, faster than I was, and in a minute, was at the other end of the river, climbing up onto the bank. I however, wasn’t able to move nearly as fast, if at all, and struggled to just get off the bank I was on as she flopped onto the grass on her back.

Looking at the bank side I was on showed the timberwolves were not interested in coming into the water after us, which was a relief. They seemed stopped along the edge, walking back and forth as though trying to contemplate how to get to us before sitting on their haunches. That meant just getting to the other end was going to be good enough to be safe. Assuming I could even get there. The river was wide, and it didn’t take a brainiac to know it would get deeper in the middle. The risk of drowning greatly increased the farther from the bank I got.

“Come on, Rally,” Shorey finally called from her spot in the grass. “You can’t stay in that water. Get over here.”

I knew I couldn’t stay in the water. It was way too cold to be in here for longer than a few minutes, which was exactly how long it’d take to cross this wide section of river. I was deeply afraid though that I’d get caught in a faster current near the middle somehow and get swept away and drown. Or bash my head on a rock. Or some other silly thing because it was every other hour that I dealt with something that could potentially kill me.

“You can do it, Rally,” she coaxed me. “Your head is above water already. Just push yourself forward.”

As scared as I was, I carefully started to make my way forward, making sure to keep my breathing steady. Each inch farther away I went from the bank, the more nervous I became, but I continued, getting a quarter, then halfway, then two thirds of the way there. I didn’t dare try to breathe a sigh or relief or stop for a second though. I fully expected to at some point come across something in the middle of this river that would try and drown me.

Just as I thought, about three quarters of the way in, I came across a particularly rough current, one that pushed my head under the water. I started to panic and flail as I choked, struggling to keep my head above water. I was certain that after everything, this would finally be the end of me, but before my head went completely under, Shorey was jumping back in and grabbing my neck in her teeth.

“Stay calm,” she instructed as she wrapped her hooves around me to keep me up. “You need to be calm so you can start swimming again.”

I coughed up water in response, my whole body shaking as Shorey effectively dragged me to the other bank. I climbed up and flopped down into the grass, still coughing as my exhausted body gasped for breath. How had I not died yet? With everything I’d been through in the last week up to this point, I should’ve been dead by now. I wasn’t sure how many other people would’ve been able to contend with all of this.

Not that I was safe yet, my body shivering in painful reminder that I was now contending with being soaked in the cold. Sure, why not bring back hypothermia? The world was trying its hardest to kill me anyway. Timberwolves and cold and cliffs and drowning– I wouldn’t be surprised if food poisoning was the next thing added to the list.

“How are you feeling?” Shorey asked after a long minute of letting me rest.

“Awful,” I said, not getting up or turning my head. I noticed my back was lighter, and didn’t have to look to see that our supplies were lost. Because of course they were. I was starting to change my opinion, now thinking that Lord Zulu was specifically setting all of this up to be as difficult as possible for me. I had to be taught a lesson for the terrible sin of playing a joke on someone. At least with all of this narrowly dodging death I was doing, I didn’t have time to think about being dysphoric.

“I’m kind of at a point where I think the world should just kill me,” I continued, my teeth chattering as I closed my eyes. “I know we need to get out of the cold, but it’s going to be something else after this.”

I couldn’t cry. I was way too exhausted. I did turn finally turn my head to see if the timberwolves were still there, waiting for us. Sure enough, they were, back up and pacing around, clearly trying to figure out how to get to us. One of them was sticking a careful paw in the water as if trying to test it out.

“I guess we have to get going because of them, too,” I said. “Those things still want to kill us, and I bet you it’ll only be like ten minutes before they make their way over.”

“Yeah, we should get out of here,” she agreed. “Need help getting up?”

“Yes, please.” She grabbed my hoof, wrapping her fetlocks around mine to pull me up. It made me realize something that made me laugh.

“What is it?”

“I’ve been trying to grip with my hooves,” I said, “but I realize that I was hanging off that cliff with my fetlocks. That shouldn’t be possible, unless fetlocks are actually supposed to be how you’re supposed to use these things.” To test, I picked up a rock by the bank, and laughed when it latched on instantly. A lot of things would’ve been a hell of a lot easier had I figured this out sooner.

“It’s so fucking helpful to learn this a mintue after I lost our supplies in the river!” I laughed hard. “Thank God I can fucking use these hooves now!”

Shorey only sighed, clearly not seeing the humor in it, and said, “Let’s get going now.”

I didn’t leave immediately though. I wanted to look at my tail, or rather, what was left of it. What was once something long and flowing was now reduced to shreds, practically nothing left of it except for pain, along a few stingy strands of hair and a little tuft just above my dock.

What was that about not thinking of dysphoria? I thought to myself. That’s what I get for even letting that thought enter my head. Any semblance of modesty I had before was ripped away, my genitals fully exposed for everyone to see, a thought that made me shiver and retch. There was no way I was going to be able to hide the masculinity of this body, if there was one before. Not that they’d be staring at that. They’d probably be more curious about the bloodied mess of fur that was where my tail used to be when it was ripped off.

Shorey didn’t look much better than I did. Her face didn’t show it, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was in more pain than I was. There were three claw marks on the left side of her body, from her leg to about her shoulder. They didn’t look too deep from my position, but were still dripping a little bit of blood into the grass. How she wasn’t expressing any pain as she walked forward, I didn’t know, because moving my back legs felt terrible.

“We need to get you to a doctor when we can,” I said, my body shivering. “And myself for that matter. But you especially. That looks bad.”

“It looks worse than it feels,” she told me, not stopping to chat. “Now let’s get out of this cold please?”

That sounded like a good plan to me. Although with my luck, the forest would stretch on for another hundred miles ahead of us. Or better yet, we’d get to the Crystal Empire and drop dead from infected wounds. Wouldn’t that be something? I wouldn’t have been surprised if there was something worse than timberwolves waiting for us beyond the next hill with how this adventure was going.

It might have been the kinder fate for me anyway. I didn’t think I’d be able to stand very much longer having to dodge danger while I tried to ignore this feeling of awfulness settling over me. More than that, if Lord Zulu really was watching us and specifically taking his anger out on me, then I didn’t want Shorey to get caught in the crossfire. She was too nice and kind to have the happiness she found cut short because of me.

(15) Over Every Mountain

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“Ooohhhhh… i-i-it’s f-f-f-fucking cold out here,” I got out, Shorey and I’s fur still dripping wet. “There n-n-n-needs to be something we can do.”

I was a shivering mess as we walked, but certainly not tired. My completely soaked fur and mane saw to that. Granted, it was a bit of a warmer night tonight than I’d experienced up to this point, probably somewhere in the forties range, but I knew being all wet I was still risking death just being out here. Certainly I knew there was going to be no way we’d be able to stop. Just having the body heat we generated as we moved while we walked might have been enough to keep us from starting to get hypothermia. It certainly felt like it.

“J-just keep going,” she instructed, walking directly next to me as if to catch me if I tripped and fell. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she was worried about me giving up and flopping dead right there. It was certainly a possibility with how destroyed my mental state was. How I hadn’t done that already, I didn’t know, except that part of it was her being here with me.

“How far away d-did that stallion you met say th-the Crystal Empire was?”

“Like five days,” I replied. “And I’ve been out here for about th-th-that long. I think today is d-day five.”

“Well then I don’t see why we shouldn’t get there tonight,” she said. “We can treat tonight’s walking as day five…” Then she sighed and said, “My side is absolutely killing me.”

“I really hope we get there soon,” I said, my flank hurting probably as much as her side. “I’m not spending another night out here.”

We walked slowly, tiredly trudging along, looking behind us every so often to make sure those wolves weren’t following behind us. The foliage got thicker the farther into the Crystal Forest we went, and we were able to hear different sounds. The hoot of an owl, the howl of some creature nearby, the flap of a bird's wings. It kept me aware and alert of my surroundings, making sure I watched carefully to be sure nothing was coming after us.

There was something else, too… was that crying? I looked over to Shorey, and sure enough, she was almost full on sobbing as we walked forward, a change from the flat expression she had on a second ago. How she was still able to keep going despite the mess of tears she was in was surprising.

“What’s wrong, Shorey?” I asked with concern, not stopping because she was still moving.

“I don’t know, it just came on all at once,” she said. “It’s the fact that I’m a mare now and you’re not, and that we’re both really in Equestria except we have to deal with surviving the outdoors, and… I don’t know! I’m just happy that I can finally be myself, and upset that you have to go through all that again.”

“Oh, it’s the estrogen!” I couldn’t help but laugh, realizing the answer, doing my best to avoid thinking about myself. “I told you before it was going to make you cry at the drop of a hat if you ever transitioned, and now you can see first hand that it does. Err, hoof.” Friendship was magic? More like estrogen was magic.

“This isn’t the drop of a hat,” she tried to tell me, only making me laugh. “I was thinking about something sad. It’s not random.”

“I didn’t say it was at random,” I giggled, “but it certainly is all of a sudden, you have to admit.” It was absolutely adorable seeing her try to explain away why she was crying. Seeing her face took away the bad from everything else I was dealing with and somehow made things better.

I wasn’t going to admit that I was incredibly jealous right then. I wanted to focus on what she was rather than what I lost. It only felt more painful with every passing hour.

“Look, I already cry kind of easily,” she tried to tell me. “Heck, I cry when I have to say goodbye to my nephew. It’s not like this is something new.”

“That’s probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever heard you say,” I smiled widely. “That is super duper cute. How you always one up yourself on the cuteness factor is completely beyond me.”

“I don’t know how you can say that,” she got out, trying not to smile as she cried. “I’m just being myself.”

“Well yourself is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life,” I replied. “It makes it worth it to be dripping wet in the cold to see you being as adorable as possible.” It wasn’t worth dysphoria, or a torn off tail, or nearly dying multiple times over, but that fact would remain unspoken between us.

“Heh, you’re crazy,” Shorey told me, her eyes still very wet. “Dang, this is going to be weird to get used to.”

“You’re absolutely adorable,” I said again. “I love you, Shorey.”

“I appreciate the sentiment,” she said back, stopping for a moment to wipe her eyes with her hooves. “You’re a great friend, Rally.”

It could’ve been more awkward to hear that coming from her, but we’d already been through this conversation before. I told my friends I loved them, and she didn’t. Sure, it might have meant more being directed to her, and hurt when she didn’t say it back, but that wasn’t her fault. I knew sometimes I pushed it with how I acted, and had to tone it down, but sometimes I couldn’t help myself.

She glanced up at me for a second before looking away and starting forward again. “Celestia, it’s cold out here,” she said, shivering.

“I’m not feeling as cold as I thought I would be,” I responded. Granted, it was still cold, but I was expecting to be chilled to the bone. This was something that sucked more than it was life threatening. Not that being wet in the cold was good for me. I just knew I was going to get sick with all the time I spent out here so far.

“Achoo!” I sneezed loudly, getting snot all over my face. Of course I sneezed, because why wouldn’t I? I scowled, any joy I had from interacting with Shorey completely evaporating.

“That’s it,” I said aloud. “No more bad thoughts. This is getting fucking stupid. If Lord Zulu isn’t watching me, then the universe is, because the second I think I’m gonna get sick, I sneeze.”

“It’s probably just a coincidence,” Shorey told me. “You’ve been out here in the cold for how long? I’d be almost surprised if you weren’t getting sick.”

“I sneezed one second after I thought that. And back there, right when I thought we’d get away from those timberwolves easily, I stepped on a tree branch. Either Lord Zulu’s watching us and reading my mind, or I’m just the unluckiest person of all time. I can’t rule it out since he was able to do all of this.”

“This might not make you feel better, but it’s probably just being unlucky,” Shorey told me. “It’s not like either of us were born lucky, so it’s not like we’re not used to this.”

I closed my eyes and sighed. Don’t think about how she got what she wanted and I didn’t, I told myself. Don’t be bitter. If I had fists to clench, I would be. I had to force myself not to cry, I was so upset.

No! That wasn’t me! I wasn’t the type to just hold back tears. I hadn’t been that way in years. If I wanted to cry, I was going to cry, as long as the moment was appropriate. It didn’t feel particularly inappropriate right now, but I couldn’t muster up any tears regardless. I now wanted to, but nothing came forth.

“Something is going on with me, and I don’t know what,” I whispered, mostly to myself, starting to grind my teeth now. It was a half lie though. I knew exactly what it was, and it was frightening that I could do nothing about it. I was being poisoned, my mental state slowly deteriorating more every hour longer I had to live like this.

“What is it?” Shorey asked, turning to me, the look on her face clearly one of concern. She looked like she was a half step away from crying again if I told her what was up, not that she didn’t already know.

“It’s nothing,” I told her quickly, trying to reassure her. “Let’s just keep going.”

We continued on in the night, watching our backs as we walked. I appreciated the night as we did, trying to distract myself from how much everything sucked to take in how pretty the sky was. It was full of bright stars, and had another full moon hanging overhead, illuminating our trek. That was another thing I was noticing. The phases of the moon weren’t changing, or at least they were changing very slowly. I was pretty sure I saw them change in the show, but couldn’t exactly remember. Either way, it was interesting to see a few differences between this Equestria and the one on TV. I wondered what else would be different.

It wasn’t very fun walking through this forest though. It was still cold, and I found myself shivering and yawning as we walked. It turned out being completely soaked to the bone didn’t make me any less tired. I could feel my fur slowly drying off, my coat starting to get matted and knotted. I felt disgusting in every way possible, hungry, starting to get thirsty, and desperately wished for a shower. I was just plain exhausted.

“I really hope we get to the Crystal Empire soon,” I complained, whispering to myself mostly. “God, this sucks so bad. I just want to drop dead after a week of this.”

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t think you were out here just in the wilderness. I would’ve modified my wish if I knew this was where you were.” Then Shorey smiled and looked at herself, adding, “I don’t mean to gloat though, but I also wasn’t expecting being myself to feel this nice. I wish I would’ve done this before.”

Don’t be snarky, I told myself, allowing a tiny sigh to escape me. I couldn’t be snarky, as much as I wanted to be. I wanted to tell her I told her probably a hundred times she’d be happier if she just dared to try, but she never did. It always hurt me to see her living in a way she hated and knowing I couldn’t change that. And then to see her getting everything she wanted after no effort was bittersweet. Way too bittersweet, to the point where it almost felt entirely bitter.

I couldn’t blame her though. I was being completely unfair. I knew almost all of it was because I was robbed. Besides, our situations weren’t remotely the same. She was in a position where she couldn’t get away with being happy, and simply put, I just wasn’t.

Stop being bitter, I told myself. Stop being bitter over this. An impossible task it was, but I would try. The least I could do was be happy for her though.

It was a task made easier seeing her smile. She told me before she wasn’t adorable, and yet even with a soggy matted coat and unbrushed mane, her personality still shined through, bright and upbeat, catching me like a moth being drawn to a lamp. Even on Earth she was the most feminine person I’d ever met, and probably the only person I’d ever been romantically attracted to. Just being able to hear the happiness in her voice made my heart melt.

God, I was so infatuated. But it was better to be infatuated than it was to be bitter. I was walking a very fine line.

We continued our way on, the cold not really bothering us as much as I thought it would, until several hours later the sun was rising and shining through the trees. I was getting absolutely exhausted by this point. Not that I wasn’t used to it. It seemed over the last few days I was just in a state of perpetual exhaustion. I was going to be absolutely ripped though once we got to the Crystal Empire if how much my legs hurt was any indication. I was sure Shorey felt the same as me, with how she was dragging her hooves now.

“Can we stop and rest for a while?” I asked. “I can’t keep going like this on no food, and I haven’t had anything to drink since I took in a stomach full of water from that river.”

“Sure, but I think we’re almost there,” she told me. “See the way that hill rises in the distance?” She pointed at something far off, something I couldn’t see. All I saw was more trees and grass, and couldn’t see how she could tell this part of the forest from the next part.

“No?”

“Well, if you could see it, the way it rises makes me think there’s a valley ahead. I would actually put money on it, and some on the Crystal Empire being there. That’s where I would build a city. We should be able to see it with how steep the grade looks from here.”

I wasn’t sure I was following what she was saying, but it sounded like it made sense. I wasn’t sure if I remembered the Crystal Empire being in a valley in the TV show, but things here weren’t one to one with the show anyway. Besides, Rusty Bucket said it would be four or five days until we got there, so that meant we should’ve been very close by now.

I decided to follow what she said and press on, seeing the hill we were coming up to on approach. I could see what she meant when she said we’d be able to see the Crystal Empire at the top of it, because it was a high one. Not particularly steep like she said, but enough that I almost wondered if we were going to be coming up on a cliff to end this forest on. That was something I didn’t have an interest in dealing with again.

Please let us see it, I begged the universe, hoping for one good thing to be brought to me on this adventure. Let us see the Crystal Empire in front of us. Please.

It was longer than I thought before we got to the top, but once we did, we could see everything in front of us. There was indeed a valley like Shorey said there’d be, one complete with a winding river and a few trees that seemed like it was in a perpetual state of good weather. Which made sense, seeing as we could see the Crystal Empire sitting just beyond that, probably fifteen or twenty miles off in the distance from us, looking much bigger than I imagined in the show. It seemed like an actual empire, too, one that stretched across where it sat for what had to be miles. It was much more than the tiny city the TV show had.

The only problem was that it was sitting on a plateau. The valley in front of us looked like it was several hundred feet below us, but the plateau the Crystal Empire sat on had to be a couple thousand above the valley. I didn’t know how steep it was, but it looked like sheer rock on the face we saw of this plateau to get up it. Because, of course, nothing could ever possibly be easy, could it. I was certain the universe was just laughing in my face looking at it, teasing me with the fact that we were almost there.

I wanted to bite my tongue and scream at the sight of it.

(16) Soft Landing

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“A plateau?” I yelled. “A fucking plateau? Why? Why not build it in the valley? This is so fucking stupid!” I stomped a hoof in anger as I glared hatefully at the sight before me.

I was sure my voice could be heard all the way down on the valley floor… or maybe it was a canyon. I couldn’t tell, but either word worked. It didn’t matter to me. What did matter was the fact that all of this felt like it was getting completely ridiculous.

“Rally, calm down,” Shorey tried to tell me, putting a gentle hoof on my shoulder. “It’s gonna be okay. We can see it. I bet you we can be there by tonight and be sleeping in nice warm beds if we move fast enough.”

“It’s just annoying that we have to get past one obstacle just to get to the next obstacle!” I complained. “I didn’t ask to go to Equestria to do all of this! And for what? Just to be this stallion? We’re gonna get there and they’re gonna say there’s nothing they can do!”

I wanted to cry, and could feel the sobs building up in my chest, but I didn’t. It had me extremely worried, even more afraid of that than I was of whatever obstacle came next. I was becoming more stoic, that I knew, because crying wasn’t something that should’ve been difficult for me. Just being this stallion was stealing my emotions from me and changing my mind, probably my thinking too, and I was absolutely terrified of it. I didn’t want to go back to being who I was before

“I just want to be myself again,” I said, glancing at Shorey before having to look away. I was unbearably jealous of her. “It feels like I’m gonna be this way forever.”

“I know that feeling,” Shorey replied, her soft, honey like voice hugging my ears before she wrapped her hooves around me. She was already in tears over me, something that only made me feel worse. I didn’t want her to cry because of me.

“We both know that feeling, and we’ve both been there,” she told me. “You’re gonna get through it though. You’re so much stronger than I’ll ever be just being able to push through and get it all done a first time.”

“I’m not strong enough for this. I just want to give up and die after a week of this. I can’t even cry right now because of this fucking hormone. I’m becoming stoic again.”

“You’re going to be able to do it,” she told me, pressing her neck into mine and letting out a tiny sniffle. “I’m sorry you have to do it again, but I wasn’t even able to do it a first time. That’s proof of how much stronger you are.”

“I’m not strong enough to live like this like you were going to though,” I whispered. “I was never going to be able to do what you were going to do. All of this is gonna kill me.”

“You can do it,” she assured me. “I believe in you, and I’ll be there to help you if you need it. We’re gonna find Twilight and she’s gonna fix you.”

I sighed. I didn’t believe her, but I trusted her. She was hardly ever wrong about anything, and I hoped she wasn’t wrong now.

“Thank you,” I said quietly, still hugging her, closing my eyes now. “I love you, Shorey.”

“I love you, too, Rally. You’re a great friend.”

Words that didn’t usually hurt me cut me like a knife right then, and I was finally able to work out a tear or two. Not as much as I wanted, but it was something. As weird as it was, feeling them run down my cheek gave me a little peace of mind that there was something that could be done again. I was hoping I was just too exhausted to cry.

“Can we rest before we keep moving?” I asked. "We’ve been up all night and I need sleep.” I was not feeling up to getting to the top of that plateau exhausted.

“Let’s try and get a little closer before we stop,” Shorey suggested. “I’d rather be near the river than up here in the forest, just in case those timberwolves come back. Plus, we’ll be close to water, and I have to say, I’m thirsty.”

“Okay, I can do that… is your side okay?” It was probably just me being overly concerned about her, but her side looked bad. Bad enough that it was probably a good idea to get her to a hospital before anything else.

“It doesn’t feel too bad. Let me actually check and see how your tail is holding up.” I didn’t know if I could blush, but it felt like I did as she got behind me and bent down to take a look. My ears perked up on their own as she gave a little inhale at whatever she saw. Something bad, clearly.

“It doesn’t look good, Rally,” she said.

“It doesn’t feel good,” I replied, wiggling my flank a little bit once I said it. I meant it in more ways than one.

“There’s a large splotch of fur missing,” she continued. “And what’s left is a bloodied mess. I don’t know long it takes ponies to grow fur, but it looks like it’s gonna take a long time. We need to get to a doctor sooner rather than later.”

“Speak for yourself,” I replied tiredly, glancing at her side again before sighing. “Can we get going now?” I asked. “I’m really tired.”

She agreed, and we left down to the valley after that. I thought we were going to stop at the valley floor, but Shorey had other plans, forcing us to keep going for another couple of hours until we got to the river bank. I briefly considered what the odds were that there was some microbe in this water that would make us sick before deciding I didn’t care. Thinking about that was going to will it into existence, I just knew it. Instead, I lapped up the water as best as I could as I appreciated the dryness in my throat melting away. Once I had my fill, I flopped down into the grass and closed my eyes, my mind demanding sleep.

“I hope we can find something to eat soon, too,” Shorey said, laying down next to me. “I don’t want to suggest eating grass yet since we’re so close, but I don’t like going so long without eating.”

“I’m too tired to think about eating,” I said, opening my eyes again. Then I paused and smiled, saying, “I could eat you, though.”

Too far. That was way too far over the line, and I knew it as soon as I said it. Even more so because of our lack of clothing, here. Just saying that, I was certain she now thought I was looking at things I shouldn’t be just seeing how quickly her face drained of color (so ponies could blush!). Not that I was, nor would I ever. Even if I wanted to, I was already jealous and bitter enough because of her. I didn’t need to add onto that feeling.

“I mean because of how adorable you always are,” I quickly tried to explain. “Like, I could just eat you up. Not that way.”

“I know, I just…” she tried to say, but stopped. She was practically radiating how embarrassed she was, and it made me feel embarrassed, too. Stupid, Rally! Can you not act like this for one day? We just survived nearly dying twice over and you still act like this.

“Sorry,” I said quietly, letting my apology hang right there.

“Well, I do think we should try and eat anyway,” Shorey finally said after a long moment. “It’s best if we try and get something in us before we get to the Crystal Empire. We haven’t eaten anything since before we got to that forest.”

“I’d really rather not eat grass… have ponies eaten grass in the show?” I asked. The answer seemed like a no, but I honestly couldn’t remember. I knew they ate hay and normal type food, but beyond that, I was clueless.

“They eat flowers, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t,” Shorey replied. “Let’s just try it.”

I sighed, watching her bend down to munch on some before I reluctantly followed her lead. I had to say, it didn’t taste great, certainly not a delicacy. It wasn’t as disgusting as I imagined it being, but I did have trouble choking it down, to the point where I almost thought this wasn’t something we should be eating. I certainly wasn’t going to be snacking on it again later.

“When do you think Forrester and Davey and everyone else is gonna get here?” I asked as I tried to eat, somehow getting the stuff down.

“I don’t know about Davey,” she started, “but Forrester said he would be here as soon as he can. I don’t know if he was just joking though. I’m pretty sure Moberly would want to be here, too though. I’m unsure about the rest of the chat.”

The rest of the chat was something, especially Moberly. I couldn’t say I particularly liked them, what with their attitude towards me and who I was. I had my own suspicions for why they acted the way they did, the main one being that they were trans, too, and just afraid to admit it, but I couldn’t be sure since I never asked. It was a vibe I got, like a gaydar, except for spotting other trans people. I don’t think I’d ever been wrong.

If Moberly came to Equestria as a mare, I was going to laugh my head off. And then be more than a little bit frustrated afterward. It was not going to do anything to help me get over what happened to me.

There wasn’t much to say about the rest of the chat. I liked some of them more than others, and would in general consider every single one of them to be smarter than I was. I had the most fun hanging out with Forrester and Shorey though, sometimes Davey, too, even though he could be a bit much at times. I hoped those two at least came here.

“I bet when Forrester gets here, he’ll say something like, ‘I obviously wasn’t trans enough since I’m not a mare,” I chuckled. “Or make a joke about Fallout: New Vegas.”

“Maybe,” she replied, not smiling at all, making me sigh and frown again. “I’m gonna say up front though that I don’t want anyone here to know that I’m trans. Obviously the group chat is gonna know, but as far as the ponies in Equestria are concerned, I’m just a mare.”

Don’t think about being jealous of her. Don’t think about being jealous.

“I won’t tell anyone, Shorey.” I knew she cared about things like that a lot more than I did. As far as I was concerned, I was a lady whether or not I was currently transitioned. She, however, didn’t feel the same about herself from what I understood. It seemed like, in essence, her position was ‘everyone is valid except for me’. It was more nuanced than that, but that’s what it boiled down to.

“Although I’d argue you were always a lady, what with how feminine you act at all times,” I continued. “And just talking to Rusty Bucket before, he made it seem like he didn’t understand that being transgender was a thing. Anyway, this grass tastes disgusting. I think I’m gonna wait until we get some real food.”

“It’s not that bad, but you’re right, real food would be better.”

I chewed and swallowed what I had left in my mouth before I thought of something a little bit funny, asking, “Do you think they have double bacon cheeseburgers in Equestria?”

“Cows are sapient, Rally.”

“I know, I was making a joke, Shorey.”

“Well, let’s not make jokes like that, please?” she said, more telling me than asking me. “I don’t want to ruin being here before relationships have even had a chance to form because of things like that.”

“There’s no one even around us,” I tried to say, but it seemed like she wouldn’t have any of it.

“Let’s just not say things like that. I don’t even want to chance someone being around to hear something like that.”

“Okay, Shorey,” I got out, closing my eyes and letting out a breath. As much as I wanted to say that being here was already ruined for me, I refrained. That would be just asking for an argument, and it felt like I was starting to bug her.

I knew she was right, though. She always was, mostly. She just had a tendency to be more serious than necessary when there wasn’t a reason to. Well, and argumentative if she got in that mood, something I wanted to avoid, but still. It wasn’t like I was any better. I hardly strayed from the same six or seven topics of conversation, and interrupted people too much, and wasn’t as careful a listener as I should’ve been, and pushed the line way too far over and over again, a whole list of other things. Sometimes I was surprised that she even liked spending time with me at all, what with how I pushed certain things and how I felt I acted sometimes.

“Can you believe we’re actually here though?” I asked with a yawn. “We’re ponies in a children’s show. This shouldn’t even be possible.”

“It is remarkable,” she agreed. “But I think you should get to sleep. I know you don’t want to be out here longer than we have to be, and I certainly don’t.”

Ouch. Yup, I was annoying her. I took a breath and curled up, closing my eyes again as Shorey put her back to me. I needed to act better. Tone down my personality. Stop pushing the line. And also get to the Crystal Empire, and take a train to Canterlot or Ponyville, and fix my body, and, and, and… There was a whole lot of stuff I needed to do, a laundry list of things. But I was sure with Shorey here pushing me on, I’d be able to be the mare I wanted to be.

(17) Sandy Shores

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Shorey didn’t know how she felt.

Well, she knew how she felt right then as she closed her eyes. She felt more complete than she’d ever been, a feeling that never left her her whole time in Equestria. But of the future, she didn’t know how she felt or what she would do when Rally eventually asked the inevitable question.

What if we became a couple?

She knew the question was going to come up. She didn’t know if it would be in an hour or a year, but it was going to come, and she didn’t know what she would say. Despite what Rally thought many times, probably just now given the disappointment in her voice, she didn’t annoy her. She certainly wouldn’t have shared her secrets with someone who did like she did with Rally. She could safely say that Rally was a good friend, maybe even one of her best friends.

But could she be that kind of friend? Shorey didn’t know.

She guessed the stallion’s body that Rally inhabited was attractive enough on its own, although she knew both would agree that she’d be much better being a mare. But who knew how long that could take? If it could even be done?

Her current body could give her what she wanted; children. And even if it couldn’t, Rally was nice enough on her own, and already knew most everything there was to know about her. Besides, even if she never had children, she was still a thousand times more complete now than she was a few days ago.

She looked at Rally as she slept, noticing her frown. It would be nice to try something. The reason she never did before was because they were never together in real life. And yet, here they were, in real life, no longer separated by screens. She already knew Rally liked her, and she could say she enjoyed Rally’s company. She could say that out of the entire group chat, Rally was probably the one she’d be the most likely to form a serious relationship with. What other excuse did she have to not at least experiment?

Right now, it was everything else. Walking through this valley and up the large plateau to the Crystal Empire, and then getting to Ponyville from there. Survival came first. She wasn’t going to be bogged down with thinking of stuff like that until they got settled.

The other thing was Rally’s jealousy. Shorey didn’t have to ask to know that Rally was jealous of her. Not that she faulted her. In fact, she was sympathetic. Empathetic even. There were more than a few times on Earth when she could say she was jealous of Rally. It was to be expected. But Shorey didn’t know how well a relationship would go with how intense Rally’s jealousy felt. It was practically a physical feeling, one that made Shorey feel almost guilty, like it was her fault she was jealous.

She let out a breath, deciding that it wasn’t the kind of thing she should let occupy her mind right now. She should be sleeping, if she could overcome her insomnia. There was plenty of time to consider relationships and jealousy and what to do when they got to the Crystal Empire.

She couldn’t sleep though. She couldn’t find a good position in the grass, and moreso, Rally’s breathing wasn’t steady enough. She was letting out little half mumbles in her sleep that brought Shorey back to full awareness each time she heard it. It kept her tired mind awake, and after several minutes of this, she went to check on her friend.

“Rally?” she asked, carefully touching her leg with a hoof. “Are you okay?”

Her friend opened her eyes, blinking away the confusion before letting out a breath. “Nightmares,” she said simply. “About being a man. And then I wake up and I’m a stallion, as if that’s any better.” She paused for a second before adding, “And I still can’t cry, and it’s making me worried. I don’t want to lose my emotions.” Then she sighed and said, “I’m sorry that I’m being so depressing and annoying and pushing my feelings on you.”

“It’s okay, Rally. I’d be depressed, too. And you’re not being annoying or pushing how you feel on me. I’m glad it’s you I’m with and not someone else.” She sniffled, having to resist the urge to cry. She didn’t think being a mare would make her quite so emotional, more than she already was.

“Thanks, Shorey,” Rally said with a small smile. “I’m glad you’re always there for me.” There was a small pause before she stared, “Hey, um, I know now’s not really the best time, but…”

“Yes?” Shorey raised an eyebrow, knowing exactly where this was going. She was nervous, and still had no idea what she was going to say, but tried not to show it. Honestly, she was surprised Rally hadn’t asked the moment she got here.

“I… nothing,” Rally decided, changing her mind. “Now’s not a good time to bring it up. I’ll ask later.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I’ll ask later, once we get to the Crystal Empire. I don’t wanna bog you down with random nonsense.”

With that, Rally said her goodnights and turned back over, Shorey letting out a tiny, silent breath as she squinted against the sun. She and Rally. Together. It was such a weird concept to think about, one that made her blush. She could imagine what the rest of their friends would say. It was something Rally joked about all the time, but Shorey was certain they’d be more than a little surprised if she said they were together.

Maybe she should just get it over with now. Even though it wasn’t love that Shorey had, Rally was a very close friend, and they had something to build off of. She definitely cared about her, and it would certainly make Rally happier.

No. That thinking was bad. She wasn’t going to ask out someone she had no romantic attraction for, full stop. Not only would that be basically lying about how she felt and giving Rally expectations that weren’t there, it would also be doing a disservice to her. Rally deserved better than what would be effectively a lie about what she was feeling.

So that was it. If– when– Rally asked, she would probably say yes and see how a relationship went. If she never asked, then Shorey would only ask when she felt something back. That was that.

Keeping that thought in mind, she closed her eyes and laid back down in the grass, taking care to lay on the side of her that wasn’t cut. She took a deep breath, sighing happily at the feeling she had. It might have been a lot of work dealing with all of this, walking to the Crystal Empire and seeing Rally hurting so much, but it was worth it because she could be herself. The thought of it made her cry happily as she did her best to fall asleep.

She wasn’t able to sleep for long. Before she knew it, she was feeling a drop of water hitting her forehead, and a clap of thunder in the distance. She opened her eyes to see dark clouds in the sky, and an approaching rainstorm coming in from the Crystal Empire.

“Rally, time to wake up,” Shorey instructed, touching her side. “It’s about to rain.”

Rally opened her disoriented eyes, looking up to see the rain and frowning deeply. “Come on. Can’t we just have one good thing?” she asked no one in particular. “Why does everything need to be as stupid as possible?”

“We’re going to be fine. But let’s not stand out here while it’s about to rain, please. I’d rather get to the Crystal Empire before we get soaked again.”

“It’s not gonna be fine!” Rally complained, stomping a hoof angrily before wincing at the pain it caused in her flank. “This cannot be just a bunch of Murphy’s Law bullshit! I’m fully convinced Lord Zulu is watching us and is trying to make things as difficult as possible.”

“I doubt it. Even if he is, you’re just giving in to what he wants if you stand here and get soaked.”

“I’m getting to a point where I just don’t care,” she said bitterly. “I feel bad enough anyway. I doubt standing in the rain is gonna make me feel any different.”

“Well, it’s going to make me feel different if I have to get soaked to the bone because we’re standing here, so let’s go, Rally.”

Shorey turned around and started forward once she finished, making Rally sigh and follow her, the two of them making their slow way to the face of the plateau. The rain began to pour on them anyway, the wind picking up some as they marched forward. Shorey could feel her mane becoming tangled from it, more tangled than it already was, and could see Rally wearing an absolutely hateful expression. If looks could kill and Lord Zulu saw her, he wouldn’t stand a chance of staying alive.

“It’s gonna be fine, Rally,” Shorey tried to console her, speaking over the weather. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to go through what you are after transitioning, but I believe in you to push through it. We’ll get to Ponyville or Canterlot or wherever we need to go, and before you know it, you’ll be yourself again.”

Her expression didn’t change in intensity, and she was only able to growl instead of speak as she walked. It was a long minute before she muttered, “I didn’t come to Equestria to be turned into a fucking stalltion.” Her voice slipped a little bit as she said it, Shorey hearing for a moment something more akin to what she thought her brother sounded like.

Shorey sighed at that. She hated seeing Rally so sad, but knew there wasn’t much she’d be able to do about it except encourage her to press on. It was hard to watch. She could only imagine what Rally was going through, and hoped something like it never happened to her.

The two walked in the rain, their hooves getting muddy as the skies released a downpour on them. They both sighed as they trudged along, hearing the thunder roll and lightning strike off in the distance, slowly making its way toward them.

“You don’t think we should be looking for shelter, should we?” Rally asked. “With my luck… actually, I’m not even gonna say anything since I’m sure Lord Zulu is listening to my thoughts.”

“We wouldn’t want to be next to any trees in a thunderstorm,” Shorey explained. “Ideally, we’d find someplace flat, or a ditch even, and get low to the ground. But I’m not really interested in doing that.”

“I wish I knew magic right now, so we could just teleport to wherever we needed to go. Once I figure out how to use telekinesis, that’s gonna be the first spell I learn how to do.”

“I’d agree, but I’m wondering how long that would take to learn. Twilight seemed like she was a bit inept at the beginning of the series, but a prodigy by the end. I also wonder how long ponies live.”

“That’d be good to know, but… insert complaint about how I want to die here,” Rally finished halfheartedly. She glanced down at herself before putting her eyes ahead forward to the approaching plateau again. She visibly shivered and grimaced, something that made Shorey sad to see.

“I wish there was something I could say,” she started. “We’re making progress though. Imagine how much better you’ll feel when we get there!”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

There was a long period of silence as the two walked ahead, nothing around them but the sounds of rain and thunder. After a while though, Rally finally spoke up again.

“I- I know this is a bad time,” she started. “I know we’re in the middle of all of this and that I’m the most annoying person possible and you don’t feel that way about me, but…”

Shorey stopped where she was in the rain, knowing exactly what was going to come next. She tried her best to face her, but only looked down at her hooves. She felt nothing but awkward.

“But, um, can we… go out together?” she asked, Rally looking at her hooves as well, blushing deep in embarrassment. “I know I, like, look terrible and it’s probably going to take forever to fix, but, um… yeah. I– never mind. I’m sorry.”

“We can talk about that later, Rally,” Shorey said politely, not giving the yes she thought she would. “Maybe when we’re settled in and not out here in the elements.”

“I’m sorry. I know I’m annoying and push things that you don’t want too much. I’ll stop.”

“It’s fine, Rally. You’re not bothering me. But I can barely keep my hooves under me in this rain and I’d rather get out of this lightning as fast as possible. I’m not going to die now, not after–” she stopped abruptly, feeling another wave of guilt.

“I understand,” Rally sighed disappointedly. “I’m sorry.”

(18) Higher

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The rain was not helping my mood, but it wasn’t like anything ever would. I was just a dumb fangirl who pressed to hard for things she couldn’t have, one who kept on pressing when the person they were interested in clearly didn’t feel the same way. I knew I needed to stop. If it was a man doing it to me, I would call it harassment. What I was doing was largely the same thing.

Shorey woke me up as it started to rain, and basically had to drag me to get me moving. I felt terrible about myself once again, which was no surprise. I felt terrible every single day of my life except for those few years of happiness. I was going to have to deal with loathing waking up again.

The rain had turned into a downpour when I posed the question, one that I could see made her uncomfortable with every word. She looked like she absolutely wanted to say no, but polite as she was, only told me that we’d talk about it later. It was a response I should’ve expected, seeing as I was given that response before, but dumb and clueless as I was, I just kept pushing.

Even worse was the sad look she had when I expressed my obvious disappointment. Because, of course, she was just too nice for this world, even with how I acted. So nice that she avoided saying how nice she felt for my own sake. How she could stand to be around me, I had no idea.

It rained the whole rest of the day as we walked, not stopping until the sun started to set again. The sky cleared out enough for us to see a few rays of Celestia’s sunset before the moon quickly rose and the temperature dropped again. It was cold enough that we could see our breath, something I didn’t like with all the rain we just got. Luckily though, by the time the night came, we were only a couple of miles away from the start of the plateau. The Crystal Empire was right up there, begging us to get to it.

“I can’t wait to sleep in a real bed again,” Shorey said as we walked up to the plateau, a thing that rose steeply, like a continental shelf had broken apart from the land and was slowly moving away. “A nice, soft bed would be amazing after all of this,” Shorey said with a little shiver.

“I bet you that it’s not gonna be as easy as all that,” I replied. “Watch when we get there and they say, ‘Oh, you actually can’t be in the Crystal Empire’ or something. It wouldn’t surprise me.”

“You said Luna told you in your dreams before about not being able to help you. What exactly did she say?” Shorey asked.

“I don’t know because our… I don’t know, connection? Whatever the proper term is, it was bad. I could barely make out what she was saying. She did say something about not being able to help me because nations have laws against her helping other creatures or ponies that aren’t Equestrian. And Rusty Bucket told me that she and everyone else were sticklers for laws. I won’t be surprised when we get there and we’re told we have to go somewhere else.”

“Well, I guess we’ll find out when we get there. I think a first good step would be to see if we can find a member of the Royal Guard if they have one here, or get to Cadance’s castle. I wonder if they have a homeless center though, considering how big the city looked.”

“I hope they have something to eat, because I’m starving for something other than grass. And not more bread and cheese. I want actual food. The only hot thing I ate since I got here was mashed potatoes that Rusty cooked for me.”

“It would be interesting to see if I’m still allergic to certain foods,” she wondered aloud. “I’m not gonna try any though, just in case I am. But I’m curious to see.”

“I’ll take anything,” I said firmly as we made our way up to the rock face. “More than that, though, I’ll take an easy way to get up this thing. This looks like it’s gonna be ridiculous.”

“Do you see a trail up anywhere?” Shorey asked, looking around. “I’d think with the empire so close, they’d have an easy way to get from here to there.”

Nope. No trail, no steps, no walkway– nothing. There were indents in the rockface, ones that made me think they rock climbed up and down this thing, like the rock walls people paid to climb at the zoo or an amusement park, but that couldn’t have been the intended way to get to the Crystal Empire, could it?

Of course, it was. Because everything about Equestria had to be as silly as possible.

Shorey could see what I was thinking, because she said, “Let’s walk around some first and make sure there’s no easier way to do this. I’d rather not risk my life trying to get up fifteen hundred feet of rockface untethered. With hooves no less.”

“Yeah, well, I’m not really at a point that I care about my life,” I said flatly, making my way up and putting my hooves in the first few indents.

“Rally, stop.”

“It’s the truth. I don’t,” I said, turning back around before I could get up the first step. “I’m so fed up with all of this. I just wanna get up there and go to sleep.”

“It’s risky, Rally,” she told me, her tone of voice reminding me of a mother scolding her child. It only made me more fed up with everything.

“I know it’s risky! I’m not stupid! But everything up to this point has been risky already, so why don’t we just get up there now? It’s cold and I’m tired of being out here after over a week of this!”

“I’m not saying your stupid, Rally, but you’re not thinking clearly. Let’s just take an hour to see if there’s any other way up, okay? If we don’t find anything, we’ll climb the rock.”

“We can be up there in an hour! Or less! It’s just wasting time and another hour that I have to spend being in this mangled body!”

“It’s not gonna help anything if you fall down and break your neck when there could be an easier way to do this,” she told me. “I know it hurts, but–”

“No you don’t!” I yelled. “You don’t know because you didn’t transition! I put in the time and money to be who I wanted to be, and then it was taken away! You don’t know what that’s like!

Shorey only sighed and shook her head. I wasn’t being fair, not at all. I shouldn’t have been acting angry to her for something she couldn’t control, but I was anyway. I was bitter, and I couldn’t help but be better.

“I know I’m being jealous as fuck and I shouldn’t be, but God! I hate this! And I want to cry, but I can’t!” I was growling by the time I finished, my teeth clenched tightly, somehow able to feel my hoof grip itching to rip the grass up like it was my hair.

“It’s okay to be jealous, Rally,” she told me. “If I were in your shoes, I’d be just as upset as you. But you’re not thinking clearly. We can’t risk our lives climbing this thing if we don’t know there’s other options yet.”

“It’s gonna take less than an hour to get there though!” I argued. “All these footholds just lead straight up! And I know for a fact there’s not gonna be a trail or something because I haven’t gotten one break out here this entire time! Why should I expect one now?”

“Rally. You need to take a breath and calm down. Please. You’re being irrational. Let’s just check for a little while. There are footholds everywhere. It looks more like a gym rockwall than it does a regular rockface. We can climb up wherever we want to.”

I didn’t like the tone she had. It was one that was slow and deliberate, almost patronizing. But it was one of those things that I always just sucked up and went with because she had a terribly hard time changing her mind once she made it up.

Stop. Breathe. It’s good advice, and she’s ten times smarter than you. You’d hate it if we climbed up the rockface and then found out there was an easy path up. Even though I’m certain there’s not gonna be any other way up.

“Fine,” I gave in. “Whatever. Let’s look for the trail that’s not gonna be there.”

“Please don’t be rude, Rally.”

“I’m not being rude! I’m just frustrated with all of this! We don’t even know which direction to go in to check! It just feels like we’re wasting time when I could at least be sleeping!”

“We’re both gonna walk in opposite directions for 30 minutes or until we see something. If we do, then we can catch up and find the other. If we don’t, we’ll meet up again and get started on this rockface.”

“I’d really just–” I said before closing my eyes and stopping myself. I had to take a breath before I screamed. I was getting way too worked up over this. It wasn’t that big of a deal.

“I really think we should just climb up this,” I started again, my voice softer and quieter now. “I think it would be better if we just got up this thing. I don’t want to stay out here all night looking for something that I don’t think is gonna be there.”

“I understand, but it’s not a good idea, not without at least looking first. An hour of time wasted, if it is time wasted, isn’t a big deal.”

I let out a breath, realizing that it was going to be futile to argue my case to her. “Whatever. What direction should I walk in?”

“You walk that way,” she said, pointing a hoof in the direction I should go. “I’ll head this way. If we don’t see anything, we’ll come back here.” She drew an X in the mud to mark the spot.

She turned and walked the other direction with that, and I sighed and traveled my own way. This was just going to be a big waste of time, and I knew it.

I walked anyway, counting out the time in my head, seeing if I could find something that I knew wouldn’t be there. As I did, I felt more of that dysphoria work over me, able to see my pointed snout in the edges of my vision. I hated being alone like this, where it was the only thing I could focus on. How I was able to make it through the several days before Shorey showed up, I didn’t know.

I counted out eighteen hundred seconds without finding anything, and then a couple hundred seconds more just in case before I headed back to the X. Shorey got there a few seconds later, a look in her eyes that told me she didn’t see anything.

“There was nothing there,” I started before she could ask. “Who would’ve guessed? Not me.”

“It’s better to check than it is to risk our lives,” she countered. “One hour of time spent didn’t break us.”

I rolled my eyes at that, but kept my mouth closed. I needed to shut up before I started acting rude. If I acted that way, she would be rude back, and I’d only get more upset.

“Well, either way, can we start climbing now? I’m sick of being outside.”

“Sure. Let me go up first, and then you get behind me.”

“If it’s okay, I’d rather not have your mare bits in my face,” I replied. Staring at things I didn’t have wasn’t going to do anything to make me less jealous.

“I have a tail, Rally,” she told me with a tone in her voice, one that reminded me that I didn’t have one and was still showing off everything I didn’t want to have. It was a comment that I deserved with how rude I was being. I needed to take a breath and calm down like she said.

“And the point is that if I fall, you can catch me, since you’re bound to be stronger than I am.”

“There’s no way I’m stronger than you,” I shot back. “Weren’t you in boy scouts? You’re gonna be better at this than I am.”

“I was. We went camping, not climbing fifteen hundred feet of gym rockwall. Besides, I’m pretty sure you are gonna be stronger than me because I’m a mare.” I’m sure she knew it was a mistake to say the second she said it, but if she didn’t, the glare I gave her made sure she did.

“I didn’t mean it like that,” she tried to backtrack. “I know you’re a woman, Rally, but you–”

“I don’t care! Just get up there! I’m so fucking sick of feeling like this and don’t want to keep standing out here.”

“Sorry, Rally,” she apologized quietly, giving me a look before putting her hooves on the wall to test out her hoof grip.

I needed to get out of this mood I was in. She was being more patient with me than I deserved. Being angry and upset and dysphoric was no reason to act how I was to her. She didn’t deserve my anger with as nice and sweet as she always was. Just because I was the one who was screwed over.

God, I look horrible. How can she even stand being around me when I look like this? I’m a monster, the exact same monster I was before. I wasn’t born to be a man!

“Rally! Are you coming?” she called, looking down at me, already a couple dozen feet up. I was shaking in place looking at myself, for how long, I didn’t know. Long enough that she had to get me moving. She had that same, sad look in her eyes, like she was sorry for me. I couldn’t blame her though. I felt sorry for myself, too.

“Yeah. Give me a minute to catch up though.”

The rockface we climbed up wasn’t completely vertical. It only took a few minutes of climbing before the grade lessened, turning into something like forty five degrees. Still extremely steep, but not so bad. I decided to avoid commenting that we could’ve started climbing this earlier, but it was almost to a point where we didn’t necessarily have to rock climb up to the Crystal Empire.

“What are we gonna do when we get there?” I asked, doing my best to avoid getting an eyeful of Shorey’s tail. “Do you think they have a homeless shelter in the Crystal Empire? I don’t suppose they offer free public housing. Or maybe we’ll get to stay in the castle with Cadance, like every other human in Equestria fic.”

“I don’t know. Let’s just focus on getting up this thing first before we start getting into all of that.”

“Okie dokie.” There was a long period of silence that built up before I said, “I’m sorry for being so mean. I know I’m just bugging the heck out of you with all of my problems, and I know you don’t deserve me being a jackass like this, and I know you’re being kinder to me right now than I deserve with how I’m acting. I’m sorry.”

“You’re not bothering me, Rally,” she called back. “I know you’re going through a lot, and that you’re–”

She was suddenly interrupted by a hot, white flash of light, one that made us both squint against it. A second later, a dark blue mare appeared before us, one with a navy blue coat and purple mane with orange highlights. Her hooves were set down on the steep incline we were ascending, something she wasn’t prepared for as they slipped out from under her. A moment after that, she was falling down the rockface.

(19) Reintroduction

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I didn’t think I had very good instincts before, but apparently I did. Before the mare could tumble down the rockface to the valley below, I caught the fat of her neck in my mouth. Why I went for that specifically, I didn’t know, but it worked, seeing as she wasn’t falling to her death. Apparently, I was stronger than I thought, too, although it helped that she was smaller than Shorey.

“FUCK!” she screamed, sounding a mixture between angry, in pain, and afraid. “Why did you have to catch me with your teeth! That hurts!”

“Grab the rock with your hooves!” I instructed as I kept hold of her in my mouth. “Use your fetlocks to get a grip on it.”

I kept her neck in my grasp until I was sure she had the rock in hers. As she got a hold of it, I tried to guess who she might be. Certainly not Forrester or Davey, since neither of them were mares. Raven didn’t seem like the type who would want to come here, not without her kids, Beryl was the least active in the chat and might not have known we were out here, and Moberly would almost certainly never ask to be a mare…

“What in the world are you doing out here?” she asked as she held on to the rock. “I didn’t expect to be dropped onto the side of a cliff!”

“What are you doing out here?” Shorey asked, looking down at her. “I thought I told everyone in our chat to meet up in Ponyville!”

“That spellcaster said it was gonna be eight hundred dollars extra to go to Ponyville,” the mare explained as she found her footing. “He said the cheapest option was to just be placed where you two were. I didn’t think that meant being put on the side of a mountain!”

“Plateau,” I corrected, “but who are you anyway? You’re not Beating Heart or Beryl, are you?”

“What? No! I…” The mare stopped before she could say her name, her navy blue cheeks suddenly going bright red. It took me a second to process why she would be doing that, but when I did, I laughed just like I said I would. In a few minutes though, I knew I was going to be extremely irritated.

“Who are you?” I asked, wearing a stupid grin on my face. I was about ninety nine percent sure I knew who it was, and it was just too funny of a fact to me to not laugh about.

“Ugh! I– I’m Moberly…” she got out, her voice trailing off as she said it. She looked absolutely embarrassed as she said it, keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the rockface we were standing on.

“You know,” I started, unable to contain myself, “I thought you were gonna be too embarrassed to ask to be a mare, but here you are.” Who would’ve guessed it? Surely not me. Oh no, they weren’t repressing anything with how transphobic they acted in public.

“Look, I didn’t ask to be this,” she said quickly, her face bright red as she did her best not to smile. “I wanna make that clear. I didn’t ask to be a mare.”

“Oh yeah? What did you ask for then? I find it hard to believe you didn’t ask for anything since you said Lord Zulu told you it would cost more money to go to Ponyville.”

I- I just- I didn’t ask- look!” She sounded absolutely flustered as we finally started to climb again. “I’ll explain what happened after I keep myself from falling off the side of a cliff. What are you two doing out here anyway? And what happened to your tail?”

I laughed at that, but took her up on her offer. I couldn’t wait to hear what explanation she tried to think up. She’d certainly have time to come up with something by the time we got to the top.

Shorey and I explained what happened as we climbed, detailing the last few days of adventure. As we did, I noticed Moberly seemed like she was a natural at this. Shorey, too. In all honesty, I was probably the weakest member of the group climbing up this plateau, both of these ponies having years of outdoor experience between them, maybe even decades. Despite being in Equestria the longest and having what was likely a superior hoof grip, I was the slowest moving of our trio.

Finally, though, we made our way to the top, to the destination I’d been trying to get to for over the last week. The Crystal Empire stretched out before us, as far as the eye could see from left to right. It was gigantic, with a tall castle situated in the center, one that could be seen even from our position. I smiled widely at the sight of it. We were finally getting somewhere. I was that much closer to being able to be myself again.

“So wait,” the new member of our group asked. “Are you saying that you’re Rally? I didn't think you’d ask to be a stallion.”

“Unfortunately, I am,” I sighed, knowing exactly where this was going. “And no, I didn’t ask for this, but I didn’t ask for anything because I didn’t think it was real. Actually, Lord Zulu said he was gonna ‘teach me a lesson’ for trying to joke with him, and so decided to make it so I want to die.”

“But you didn’t ask to be that, did you? Just like I’m sure Shorey didn’t ask to be a girl, did he?”

We both turned to Shorey, who looked like she wanted nothing to do with the discussion we were having. I expected her to just out and say that she did ask to be one, but she didn’t. Instead, what we heard was, “Can we walk and find a place to sleep for the night? I don’t want to spend all night out here.”

Interesting deflection, but I’d come to expect that from her when she didn’t want to talk about something. I didn’t see why though. It wasn’t like it was some big secret what she asked to be.

“You didn’t choose to be a mare, did you?” Moberly asked, a little louder this time, more forceful.

“Yes, she did,” I answered for her as I started walking forward along with her. “She’s trans too.”

Somehow, my words only earned me a glare, one I didn’t expect. I didn’t see what the problem was. It wasn’t like it would stay secret anymore. Moberly was smart enough to put one and one together.

“You’re trans, Shorey?” she asked, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t think I would’ve expected that from you.”

Now it was her turn to sigh. “Yes, I am,” she answered, a bit of an edge in her voice. “But I just thought we had more important things to worry about right now. We’re standing naked and broke in the city of a foreign country. Rally and I are both injured and half-starved. Can we talk about my mental illness another time?”

The way she described being trans as a mental illness made me grimace. I almost physically flinched hearing it. I knew she thought that, but seeing it said in text or hearing it in a joking way felt different from how she said it now. There was so much anger in her voice.

“It’s not like it’s not obvious, Shorey,” I tried to tell her. “It was only gonna take him about three minutes to put it together.”

“It doesn’t matter how obvious it is, Rally. I told you not to tell people that.”

“You told me you didn’t want anyone from Equestria knowing that, not–”

“No, I said I don’t want anyone knowing that. I specifically used the word anyone because I don’t want anyone knowing.”

“And then you followed it up by saying, ‘Obviously the group chat is gonna know’, implying that–”

“It doesn’t matter what I implied,” she interrupted, getting more upset now. “What matters is what I said, and I said don’t tell anyone.”

“You’re getting way too worked up over nothing.”

“It’s not nothing! Just don’t say it! I don’t care whether you think they’ll know or not!”

As nice and kind and amazing as Shorey was, she had a way of arguing that just completely put me off. Every single time. I didn’t know if it was her word choice or tone of voice, but every time we had a conversation that started to escalate, she did nothing but get me more riled up.

This time though, I knew exactly what I was bothered by in her saying not to tell Moberly or our other friends, but I didn’t bother saying it. I was way too tired and exhausted to want to engage in an argument with her right now. That meant I had to be the one to apologize and appease.

“Sorry,” I told her, trying not to sound too put off. “I won’t tell anyone else.”

“Thank you,” she said back, using a tone of voice that just put me off more. I was aching to tell her exactly what the implication was of her being bothered by letting the group chat know she was trans, but held back. Better, it was, to just keep it to myself, especially when I was unsure she was gonna change her mind anyway.

We walked for a little bit in silence, I just following wherever Shorey thought was best to go, before asking, “Did you want me to use he/him pronouns on you then, Moberly?”

“I- no!” she responded, looking like she was gonna drop dead from embarrassment. “I didn’t ask to be a mare, but since I am one now, it doesn’t make sense to call me a stallion, does it?”

“Of course not,” I said, half annoyed by the attitude they still had, but wanting to tease a little bit. “You’re just a cute mare now, aren’t you?”

She smiled for a second hearing that before putting her face down again in contempt. “Yeah, unlike you, who’s the same you’ve always been,” she said.

Yeah, that was a sign that I should just shut up. I’d heard her say things like that before, and was mostly unbothered by it when she did, but right then, it hurt. But, of course, it was what I deserved for poking a tiny little bit at people. Cause fuck me, I guess. It seemed Shorey thought the same thing, with as silent as she stayed at that comment, but I hoped it was just that she didn’t hear.

I was silent as we walked, listening to Moberly ask questions as we entered the city. It was more upscale than I was expecting, but that might have just been the crystal streets and houses making me think that. Either way, it seemed there was a nightlife scene here, with many ponies out and about. Almost every single one of them had the classic, crystalline look they had in the show, but that was expected. They were doing things like eating food and drinking and talking and laughing and just generally having a good time. It looked a lot more like Earth than I expected, except with ponies.

I saw a few of them staring at us, and realized right then just how bad we looked. Maybe not Moberly, but both Shorey and I had our coats matted and manes tangled up. I would bet we didn’t smell that great, either, and Shorey’s cuts were looking kind of nasty. My flank wasn’t really hurting that much, mostly just sore, but a quick look behind me showed it didn’t look that good either.

I didn’t say anything though. I was just way too upset and out of it to care either way. I just wanted to find a bed and go to sleep and stop dealing with everything. I didn’t think I was gonna get the third thing anytime soon though, even being in the Crystal Empire. Some other obstacle was sure to find its way to us and see to that.

“What do you think, Rally?” Shorey suddenly asked out of the blue, catching me off guard.

“Huh?”

“Did you want to just head to the castle now or find someplace to sleep for the night? I’m sure one of the ponies out here knows where a shelter is, if there is one.”

“Oh. I don’t care.”

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Are you okay, Rally?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I lied. “Let’s just go.”

(20) Good Time Living

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The castle of the Crystal Empire didn’t look the same as it did in the show. It was still made of crystal, but looked more like an incredibly large mansion than it did a castle. I didn’t know how big it was exactly, but it had to be at least as big as a high school campus. It semed as tall as a skyscraper, and was topped off with a little tower and a flag, one with a white cross against a baby blue background. It looked intimidating.

We were stopped before we could get anywhere near it, a couple of pegasi guards making us halt in front of the gate that surrounded the thing.

“The castle grounds are closed to visitors at this time of night,” one of them said, holding a spear in hoof with a gold plated helmet on his face. “It’ll be open again at sunrise.”

“We just need to know where a place we can sleep is at,” Shorey said. We needed a lot more than that, though. I needed a lot more than that.

“Is there a homeless shelter anywhere around here we can stay at?” Moberly had a look on her face like she despised the idea of staying there.

“You three look like Equestrian ponies,” the other pegasus said. “The shelter is only available to citizens of the Crystal Empire.”

I rolled my eyes, not the least bit surprised. Of course it wasn’t available to us. Because nothing could ever be easy. It made sense though, what with Luna being reluctant to help me and Rusty Bucket saying that these people were sticklers for the law. I just wished that they weren’t.

“Besides, it looks like you three need a hospital more than anything,” the first one said. “What happened to you?”

Shorey and Moberly both looked at me, but I stayed silent. I was still too upset to speak.

“We were attacked by timberwolves,” Shorey said after a few seconds of waiting for me to offer something. “I don’t know how many of them, but it was a pack.”

“In the Crystal Forest?” She nodded, and the guard asked, “What were you three doing out there?”

“Our friend got lost, and we were looking for her,” Shorey explained, not really a lie. “If we can, we’d like a place to sleep for the night, but a hospital would be great, too.”

“There’s one a dozen or so blocks from here,” one of the guards said, pointing a hoof in the direction we should go. “It’s off of Sunrise Avenue and Crystal Road. You can’t miss it.”

“You should know though that only citizens of the empire get free hospital services.”

“We understand, thank you.”

It wasn’t very long before we stepped up to the hospital, the place looking more modern than I expected. There wasn’t any electricity, but it was more like a normal US hospital than it was what I remembered Ponyville General being. And just like the US, we were gonna have to pay to be here.

“Can we lie and say we’re from the Crystal Empire so we don’t have to pay?” I asked.

“It’s so self evident that we’re not that it’s ridiculous to even consider, Rally.” I didn’t know why that comment in particular set me off, but it did.

“You don’t need to be fucking rude about it. I was just asking a question.”

“It’s hard to not be rude when you’ve been acting like a jerk and being testy.”

“How am I acting like a jerk?”

“By being argumentative and telling people things I asked you not to tell them.”

“How in the world am I being argumentative?” I asked, completely surprised by the accusation.

“Maybe for starters saying that I asked to be a mare when I said I didn’t,” Moberly jumped in. “That seems argumentative to me.”

“I asked a question. Excuse me for being curious. When you smile when I call you a mare, how do you expect me to take that?”

“Yeah, well, just because I smile, doesn’t mean it’s okay to poke at that and tease me.”

“Oh, yeah, one little bit of teasing means I’m entirely in the wrong. I completely deserve that fucking comment you sent back to me. Fuck me, I guess. I probably deserve to hate myself, too, since I tried to joke with Lord Zulu, don’t I?”

“No one’s saying you deserve what happened, but it’s still not okay to act like a jerk. I don’t have unlimited patience to hear you argue and snap at me when I tell you what the best thing to do is. Over and over again. You’ve been acting like this since we woke up this afternoon.”

“Then don’t keep saying I’m not bothering you when I ask if I am! You said all night and all afternoon that I’m not bothering you, and yet you still act fucking rude!” A couple of ponies walked past us, staring at us the entire time as they made their way in. We were causing a scene.

“And I don’t want to do this in front of the hospital,” I grumbled as I stomped in, resting my flank in the first chair I could find. It felt like I had my bare butt against it, and was uncomfortable against my torn off tail and ripped fur, but I didn’t care. I only crossed my hooves and stared ahead as Shorey sighed and shook her head, she and Moberly heading inside, too.

I let both her and Moberly talk to the receptionist before the former came back with a clipboard in her maw and sat down next to me. I closed my eyes so I wouldn’t have to look at either of them.

“I’m gonna put my name down as Sandy Shores,” she said after a while of me listening to her write slowly. “Do you have a name you want to go by, Rally?”

“Nope.”

“Rally Up sounds like a pony name,” Moberly offered. “Or Music Rally, since you have a piano as a cutie mark.”

“I’m fine. My name is Rally,” I said. “If you want, you can put down ‘Raleigh Leanne Woods’.”

“Come on, don’t be like that, Rally.”

“Be like what?” I asked, opening my eyes again. My voice cracked and my lip quivered as I said it. I could feel the wetness in my eyes build up, but no tears came. I still couldn’t cry. I was close, but I couldn’t get over the hump. It was frustrating.

“I know I’m bugging you, and I’m sorry, but don’t tell me I’m acting like a jerk when I’m not intentionally trying to annoy you and you tell me over and over that I’m not bothering you. Just say that I’m bugging you and I’ll stop whatever I’m doing.”

I wanted to cry so badly, but after a few seconds of no tears coming, buried my head in my hooves.

I didn’t know if being a stallion was making me anxious about things like this, but I didn’t remember feeling like I was such a bother in a long time. I’d gotten over that stage in my life years ago. Right now though, I felt like I’d done nothing but annoy Shorey the entire time she’d been here and she was just too nice to say so.

I was such a basket case. A melodramatic fool.

I kept my head in my hooves until Shorey tapped my shoulder a while later for the doctor to see us. It was a crystal pony (who’d’ve guessed?) without a horn or wings, one who wore glasses and had a deep brown mane cut in the same style as mine. He had a bright smile on his face until the moment he saw us, switching to a frown in a second.

“Oh. Equestrians. How can I help you?” He rolled his eyes as he said it, sounding like it was the very last thing he wanted to do.

Yup. He was racist. Was I surprised at all? No. I was glad he let us know it up front though. It meant I could be more careful and make sure he didn’t try to stick us with something.

“We were attacked by timberwolves,” Shorey explained, turning to the side to show her cut and pointing at my flank. “We’ve been out there for days and just got to the city now.”

“Huh. Looks bad,” he said, bending closer to take a look, first at Shorey, then at me. I had to take a breath and force myself not to shiver. Even if he was a doctor and I looked like a stallion, I didn’t want men staring at my butt.

“Your tail’s almost completely gone,” he commented. “Can’t say I’m surprised though. With the way you ponies act, I’m surprised I don’t see it more often.”

“Do you have something against Equestrians?” I dared to ask.

“No, of course not,” he replied. “I just find it annoying that you all are the reason why we have to deal with the likes of Discord and the changelings and Tirek.” He went to a drawer to grab something as he muttered, “Unbelievable that an Equestrian Princess is ruling the Crystal Empire after another one caused King Sombra to curse our land for a thousand years. We’re basically a puppet state.”

That was interesting to hear. I could see how ponies might be upset thinking that. It didn’t make it any less annoying to deal with though, or any less racist.

“Anyway,” he continued, getting out a couple of bottles of pills, “your wound’s infected. Both of yours. Take these for a month and come back if you have any problems.”

“You’re not gonna stitch us up or something?” I asked.

“Do you have money for me to stitch you up? No? Then antibiotics are all you get.”

“Come on, can’t you give us a bill we can pay later?” Shorey asked.

“Nope. You’re free to go now.”

I shook my head as we walked out. I was glad we got something, even if it wasn’t much. I wished ponies would help us more though. This was not shaping up to be the Equestria we knew.

“Out that fast?” Moberly asked as she used a hoof to rub her horn. “You both look exactly the same.”

“Turns out those guards weren’t lying when they said we had to pay to get taken care of,” I explained as she got up and joined us. “Seems like we didn’t go to Equestria. What actually happened was the entirety of the United States was transported here.”

Shorey gave me a look that said I should shut up as she added, “We asked him to send us a bill, but he wouldn’t have it. He did give us medicine to take though. Antibiotics.”

“And he was only a little bit racist,” I finished. Shorey gave me another look at that comment, once again silently telling me to be quiet.

“Sorry,” I sighed. “I’ll stop acting like a bitch about all of this.”

“You’re fine, Rally,” she said, sounding a bit exasperated.

“Can you not say that when I’m not fine?” I asked. “Don’t say I’m fine if I’m annoying you, please?”

“You’re not annoying me,” she lied. “Just… let’s not talk about things like that in public?”

“Okay, I won’t,” I assured her. “And please, please just let me know if I’m ever bothering you? I don’t want to make you upset, either of you.”

“I will. Anyway, let’s find somewhere to sleep for the night,” she said. “I don’t know how long you’ve been awake, Moberly, but Rally and I have been up for about two days straight, and I don’t think it’s helped either of our moods.”

“I can stay up all night,” she said. “I actually woke up a few hours ago. But I’ll sleep whenever you two do if it means syncing up our schedules.

“Well then let’s find something.”

(21) It's A Given

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Just like the guards didn’t lie about paying at the hospital, they also didn’t lie about us being able to use the homeless shelter. We asked someone to direct us there, but when we got there, we were turned away on account of not being crystal ponies. I wondered how many other things we’d be denied because we weren’t crystal ponies.

The city was absolutely gigantic, and finding a nice, lonely spot to sleep in outside was an ordeal. We came across a map of the Crystal Empire posted on a visitor sign somewhere, and saw just how far it extended. Five hundred square miles was the city we were in, appropriately titled ‘Crystal City’, and thirty five thousand was the entire country, with other, smaller cities in the surrounding area. It was an area about the size of Maine, all of which was surrounded by mountains, making anything other than train to get out of here completely out of the question. The nearest point to Equestria from Crystal City was the top of Mount Everhoof.

But that was a problem for later. The problem for now was finding a spot to sleep in, which didn’t take as long as I would’ve expected. We found a park nearby, one that was empty of all except for a few birds and a couple of benches. It was heavily wooded, empty, and a good enough spot to rest for now.

“I’m gonna stay up for a little while,” Moberly said as Shorey and I laid down, the benches we were on side by side so that our heads were next to each other. “I’m gonna try and walk around to get myself tired. I’ll be back later.” She left silently with that, leaving Shorey and I alone.

“I’m pretty sure Moberly is trans, but do you know if that’s for a fact?” I asked. “Even with the things they say, I just get that vibe from them.”

“Yeah, she’s trans,” Shorey told me, not opening her eyes. “She’s gonna be too proud to ever admit it though, so don’t expect her to say anything.”

“That’s what I figured… God, it’s gonna be hard not being so bitter and jealous.” That was now two people who did nothing to transition and got exactly what they wanted. It was worse with Moberly because she was openly transphobic. It was a safe guess to say she still would be after that comment she sent my way a few hours ago.

“I’m sorry I’ve been acting annoying all day,” I apologized again. “But please tell me if I’m ever bugging you. Please.”

“You’re fine. We’re both just tired and need sleep.”

That was certainly the truth. Before I knew it, I was waking up in the mid morning sun. Moberly was on the ground beneath my bench and Shorey was opening her eyes at the same time as me. It felt like I was asleep for a good, long time, probably over ten hours. I felt a lot more well rested than yesterday.

“Wow, I actually slept eight hours, I think,” Shorey commented as she stretched and yawned. “I don’t remember the last time I did that.”

“Being awake for forty eight hours probably helped with that,” I said as I got up and stretched. “I think I feel better than I did last night. A nice warm bed would be great though.” A body I wanted to be in would be even better.

“I was thinking we could head back to the castle and see what we could do there. If we can see Princess Cadance–”

“Then I won’t care about a bed because I’ll be teleported to Ponyville and getting myself fixed,” I said.

“That’s a best case scenario, but I don’t think that’s very realistic since she won’t even know who we are. But hopefully something like that happens.”

“Well, I hope that’s what happens, because I’m not staying like this one second longer than I have to,” I said. “Can I wake Moberly up?”

“Let’s let her sleep,” Shorey suggested. “I don’t know how long she was up last night, and we have all day today.”

“I’m already awake,” she said as she crawled out from under the bench and stretched her legs. Her eyes were a little bit red, but neither of us said anything about it. I wished I could’ve told her something, but just from what I’d seen and what Shorey told me, I doubted that she would want to hear it.

“I could go for something to eat, but I’m ready to leave if you guys are.”

There were no objections, and a short time later, we were in front of the castle gates again. This time though, there were no guards to stop us, and we were able to make our way through. There was a long line outside the front door, with more than a few ponies walking around the courtyard area with cameras around their necks. I wondered what day it was.

“Clothes would be nice to have,” Moberly commented as we stood in line, slowly moving forward. “I don’t like standing out here completely naked like this,” she said.

“You at least have a tail to help you,” I said, suddenly feeling insecure about being seen. “But I’m sure there’s a store somewhere that’ll sell us something when we find some money. Dresses for the three of us would be cute,” I teased.

I turned to see Moberly blushing deeply at that, a little smile on her face at the thought of it. It quickly dropped when she saw me watching through, her ears pressing against her skull in embarrassment.

“I think you mean two of us,” she corrected, trying to put contempt into her voice. “One of us isn’t gonna look good wearing a dress.”

“Why wouldn’t Shorey look good wearing a dress?” I asked, feigning confusion. “That’s a pretty rude thing to say about her.” I might have been dysphoric as hell, but it was normally easy to let comments like that roll off of me like water.

“Well either way,” Shorey jumped in, wanting to avoid an argument, “we’re all gonna have to get used to it because everyone here is naked all the time. Now let’s get going. Our turn to go inside is coming up.”

A couple of seconds later, we were stepping inside as a guard greeted us. He was another pegasus, the same face and armor as the two we saw last night. He had a look like he’d rather be doing anything else.

“Business?” he asked, looking between the three of us until his eyes settled on me.

“Ah, we want to talk to Princess Cadance about… um…” I could see out of the corner of my eye Shorey watching carefully to see what I’d say, so I decided to keep my mouth shut. I couldn’t remember if she said she didn’t want them to know that we were from Earth, but I decided not to risk it.

“Well, long story short, we want to get in contact with Twilight Sparkle so I can stop–”

“Twilight Sparkle is an Equestrian princess. You’ll have to go to Canterlot to speak to one of them.”

“I know, but–”

“Was there anything else I could help you with?”

“Can we just talk to Princess Cadance?” Shorey stepped up and asked. “That’s who we want to see.”

“You’ll have to fill out a registration with Type Writer,” he said. “She’s a mare on the second floor who schedules appointments with the Crown. Third stand on the right.”

“Mare, second floor, third stand on the right,” Shorey repeated. “Got it.”

“Great. Next!”

We were being pushed to the side by the ponies behind us, into a large, open hall with an impossibly tall ceiling. There were hundreds of ponies, most of them just smiling and pointing at stuff and taking pictures. A few of them weren’t crystal ponies, but most were, seemingly here just to visit. It reminded me of the White House in a way, except we could actually request a meeting with the president.

We found our way to the second floor and came to another line in front of Type Writer, a yellow mare with a pink mane like Fluttershy, except a serious expression on her face and glasses. She looked like she’d rather be doing anything else.

“Can I help you?” she asked, not looking up at us when we got to the front of the line.

“Uh, we’re supposed to see you to make an appointment to see Princess Cadance?”

“The first slot she has available is December 10th at three fifteen in the afternoon,” she said factually, already turning to the page in the calendar. “Can I get your names, please?”

“Wait, December?” I asked. “Isn’t it February right now?”

“The Crown is booked up for the next ten months,” she said. “Of course, these dates are subject to change depending on Princess Cadance’s schedule. Monster attacks and such affect it greatly.”

“I can’t wait ten months,” I said, taking a deep breath to keep myself calm. “I’m not spending a whole year as a stallion. I cannot live like this for that long.”

I stepped back and let Shorey and Moberly do the talking so I could breathe. There was no way I was going to be able to last a year like this. That just wasn’t going to happen. I didn’t think I was going to be able to take a month of this, it was so painful. A year of having to do this, and I didn’t know what I’d come to. Nothing good, that I knew.

I found a wall to place my back against and sat down and closed my eyes. Breathe. You’re gonna get through this. You just have to breathe and take your time and don’t wallow in dysphoria.

I wasn’t going to get through this, not for a year. A few months, maybe, but I knew a year would be more than I could bear. Nineteen years before I started transitioning was almost more than I could bear before. I could not do another year.

“It’s gonna be okay, Rally,” Shorey suddenly whispered, appearing in front of me. She was wearing big, sad, sympathetic looking eyes that pierced through to my soul. Even Moberly seemed a little bit sad for me, although she was standing awkwardly away from me, clearly uncomfortable by my sadness.

“You’re gonna make it through this,” she told me encouragingly. “I can only imagine how hard it would be to lose this feeling, but…” She closed her eyes for a second and started to cry as she said, “but you’re the strongest mare I know, so I know you’re gonna get through this.”

“I can’t do a year,” I said, my tone completely serious, wishing I could cry as I stared back at her. “I’m telling you that right now. I cannot do that.”

“I know, Rally,” she said tearfully, wiping her eyes with a hoof and regaining her composure. “I wouldn’t be able to do another year of that either, now that I can be myself. But we were originally going to take a train to Canterlot, remember?”

“How long do you think that’s gonna take to get?” I asked, my voice cracking a little bit. “Rusty Bucket said it was expensive, I think. Is it gonna take months?”

“I don’t know, but I do think it’ll be faster. Moberly and I put down a meeting with Princess Cadance just in case though.”

“I can’t wait that long,” I said, closing my eyes again. “I can’t live like this.”

“I know, but try thinking about what it’s gonna be like when you get fixed again. Maybe it’ll be better than before. If you could have kids, that would make it worth it, right?”

“It’d be very close,” I agreed, sniffling. “I think that’d be the only way to make this all okay.”

“Well try focusing on that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Twilight has a magic spell to turn you into a mare in a second.”

“Hey, guys, can we go now?” Moberly suddenly interrupted, earning a look from Shorey and a glare from me. “I’m hungry, and haven’t eaten since I got here.”

“Eat what?” I asked. “We don’t have money for food. Where are we gonna get bits?”

“I don’t know, but standing here wallowing in sorrow certainly isn’t gonna get us anything.”

“You could be a little nicer, you know,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“We’ll look around for something,” Shorey said. “More importantly though, we need someplace to say. I don’t want to keep spending the night outside, and I need a shower.”

“Can’t stay at a homeless shelter either,” I grumbled. “With no money, we’re just gonna keep sleeping outside and being homeless.”

“We’ll find something,” she insisted. “The mare we were talking to said there are places we can go that don’t charge rent up front. And in a city this big, there’s bound to be jobs. We can even stop by the train station and see if we can work there while we check how much tickets to Canterlot cost.”

That was Shorey, always putting her mind to work and getting things on track. I was grateful she was here. I wouldn’t have made it as far as the Crystal Empire without her, and would’ve lost my mind if I was alone with Moberly. Even when I argued with her and got frustrated and felt terribly jealous, I was absolutely in love. At the very least, she was my best friend.

“Okay,” I said, letting out a breath and wiping my still dry eyes as I stood back up. “That sounds like a good plan.” I paused for a second before adding, “And thanks for being there for me, as annoying and mopey and argumentative as I can be. It means a lot.”

“No trouble,” she said kindly. “That’s what I’m here for.” She sent a kind smile my way that made my heart melt and put a smile on my face.

“God, I’m gonna die of a heart attack right here if you don’t stop being so adorable. You just never ever stop being the cutest thing possible, do you?”

“I’m just trying to be kind,” she replied, still smiling, but now blushing deeply. “I don’t see how that could be adorable.”

“And when you say things like that, you get twenty three times more adorable,” I laughed. “It’s absolutely unbelievable.”

“Well, I– I think we should get going now,” she declared, stumbling over her words just a little bit, still not able to put down her smile. “I think it’s safe to say we have a full day ahead of us.”

I said I wouldn’t be able to last a year, but with Shorey here in Equestria, it might actually have been a possibility. I would need her with me to be able to stand a chance of lasting that long if it came to that.

(22) Settling Down

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The train station took about an hour to get to, and had neither food nor jobs for us. The best we could do for food was more grass, something that neither I nor Moberly was terribly fond of. We had to eat though, and with how little I’d had in the last couple of days, I couldn’t choose not to. Moberly, however, decided she was going to be a bit pickier for the time being.

The train station did give us useful information about tickets, but it was nothing good. Apparently, it cost a thousand bits to get to Canterlot, and was a three thousand mile trek. That put Canterlot farther away from us than Boston was from San Francisco. Equestria really was the size of a continent.

It apparently had a weird scale of what goods and services should be priced at, because spending the morning looking at ads for apartments, it seemed like more than a few were offering places at a tenth of the cost or less. It seemed absurdly cheap in comparison to train tickets, but maybe the train in the Crystal Empire was the only one in all of Equestria.

The ponies of Crystal City were at least friendly… or maybe just sympathetic. We clearly looked homeless, at least Shorey and I did, and more than a few times did people stop to give us money, even though we weren’t asking for it. A few helpings of vegetable pie at a restaurant nearby tasted good, better than grass. Eating the green plant was probably what got people to throw money our way.

They weren’t kind enough to give us an apartment though. Despite what Shorey and Moberly were told, all of the landlords we talked to did charge rent upfront. Or rather, they didn’t… but only if you were a citizen of the Crystal Empire. It seemed we were going to have a tough time doing anything here, and the bits we got random sympathetic ponies, minus enough for vegetable pie, were not enough to cover a month’s rent.

I almost suggested we go back to the homeless shelter to see if we could stay there if we gave them our little supply when we finally came across someone who cut us some slack. After an afternoon and evening of talking to landlords, an earth pony named Friendly Flats offered to lease us a room for a month in exchange for the bits we were given, on the condition that we pay the rest of the month’s rent by next week. It wasn’t a big place that he showed off to us, only a studio when we were a group of three, but at that point, all three of us were aching for anything. Me especially.

“I’ll come by tomorrow with some papers for ya all ta sign,” he said with a friendly smile. “Glad I can help ya out a bit though. Y’all have a good night now.”

He gave a wave of his hoof and left at that, leaving us alone in the small space. Actually, tiny. It looked nice enough, but couldn’t have been bigger than a few hundred square feet. It had a living room that connected to a small kitchen, a bedroom, and… nothing else. The biggest room was probably the bathroom, one that contained a separated bathtub and a shower side by side. It was also the only room with a door, it turned out. It was very nice, fancy almost, but clearly not meant for three people.

It at least came with furniture and books and things though. If I had to spend another night on the ground, I didn’t know what I would do.

“As soon as we can, we’re getting a bigger apartment,” Moberly declared. “This place is small.”

“It has a bed, and that’s all I care about,” I said. “Sleeping on the ground for the last week and a half is probably screwing up my back. Better than that, though, it has a shower, and I’m gonna take one.”

As grimey as I felt, the shower was very nice, helped by the fact that the mirror in the bathroom was placed in the closet for my convenience. Unlike at Rusty Bucket’s house, I kept this water nice and cool, like rain, letting it flow through my mane and coat and wash away the dirt. It stung my tail a bit, but I didn’t mind. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing, wanting to pretend the water on my face was tears. It would’ve been nice if I could cry again, but this was the next best thing.

A year. A year as a stallion was something I couldn’t do– at least, I couldn't do it alone. But Shorey was here, and I was sure she’d be there for me. That would help. In the short term, we had a place to stay, something we got easier than it would be to get in the US. We technically had free food, if we were willing to eat grass. We made an appointment with the princess about me. And we were no longer in the middle of nowhere. We were actually here, in Equestria… err, the Crystal Empire. This was where we were supposed to be.

I sighed and made sure not to look down at myself. We had the where, and a couple of us had the how, but not me. That was going to be the focus of all my attention until I got myself fixed.

I didn’t know how long I stayed in there, but no one came to knock and demand I come out. When I did though, Moberly quickly hopped up and dashed into the bathroom for her turn, leaving Shorey and I alone. I took the opportunity to talk to her.

“I don’t know if this is a weird thing to say,” I started, “but you’re my best friend. I couldn’t have said it a week ago, but even as annoying as I can be, I’m glad it was you who showed up with me out there. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

“I’m glad to be here with you, Rally,” she said politely, sitting on her haunches on the ground in front of me. “And I promise, you don’t annoy me. We were both just tired and needed sleep.” She sighed, adding, “I still need it.”

It was the truth. I could see the bags under her eyes, and she gave a silent, wide mouthed yawn. Even with the bags, she looked absolutely amazing. A soft chartreuse coat and yellow hair that complemented her gray eyes. A happy smile that never seemed to go down, even while we were walking and forced to sleep outside on the ground. And an amazing personality to complement those things. She was absolutely stunning.

Unlike me…

“Um, can we go walking for a little while?” I asked. Because of course, I was pushy as fuck and wanted to ask about our relationship and what it could be. I was absolutely terrible, but I couldn’t help myself.

“Can we go another time?. We’ve been walking for ages, and I’d like some rest. I don’t know how you can want to be out there after so long outside.”

That was a no to what I was gonna ask her about. I was sure she was smart enough to see through what I was trying to do, even if she’d never admit it. She was just trying to be polite and avoid directly saying no to me.

God, is this really what’s gonna make me cry? I could feel my eyes getting wet, but no tears came out, annoyingly enough. The best my stoic, stallion body could do was pitiful almost tears, ones that Shorey could easily see.

“Is something wrong?” she asked. “We can go outside if you really want to. I just didn’t think you’d be up for it.”

“No, it’s not that,” I said, wiping my eyes. “It’s nothing. I’m just being silly and thinking dumb things. I’m sorry.” I wanted to change the subject before she gave me platitudes that would stab at my heart. “What exactly does your cutie mark mean?”

We talked for a while until it was her turn to use the restroom. Moberly and I had less to say to each other when we were alone, the two of us kind of sitting there awkwardly most of the time. We had more to say to each other when Shorey got back a while later, the rest of the night being spent talking about whatever came to mind. What it was like to be here and who might also show up and general speculation about random things like how long ponies lived or how many days there were in a year in Equestria. Moberly was quieter when the topic of how we felt about being ponies came up, but outside of that, both she and Shorey smiled a lot. It was a nice time, and served as a good distraction from myself.

The time to sleep came after a while, and both Shorey and Moberly decided that I should get the bed tonight while they took spots on the couch and floor since I was out here the longest. I certainly didn’t argue, and even though not very big, it felt like a pillow of marshmallows and feathers after so long outside.

“I can’t believe I’m in Equestria,” I whispered to myself as I lay down, closing my eyes. It felt so surreal, like a dream. Or maybe a nightmare, since I wasn’t myself and might not be for a long time. It was a painful thought, one I tried to put out of my head.

I just need to make enough money to get a train ticket to Canterlot or Ponyville, I told myself silently. Once I get that, I can be myself again. Even if it takes a year, I’m gonna do it because Shorey’s here, too, helping me.

She was certainly here, but not in the way I wanted. She was a close friend, very close, one who shared all her secrets and concerns and thoughts with me. And yet I still wanted more. I had for months, probably years, but it never happened. But yet, I was still way too pushy. Pushy and annoying and argumentative and dumb and just not good enough. And a stallion. She was a lesbian. She told me before she felt not an ounce of physical attraction to males. Even if I was a woman, I still had a male body. Why would she ever want to be with me?

Stop that. Stop looking at her like an object of your affection. You’re not entitled to her. If she doesn’t like you, then you just need to deal with that.

Shorey was a good friend, and I should’ve been treating her more like one when I wasn’t. She was doing all she could to help me and encourage me on and be the best friend she could possibly be, and I was just completely taking advantage of that with my complaining and whining and just overall neediness and bad attitude. I needed to be better for her, and better was what I would start trying to be, because she was my friend.

(23) Into The Great Wide Open

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The next day was almost entirely spent job hunting.

A lot of places looked like they were hiring, but hardly any seemed to be paying very much. It seemed like the average wage was around fifty bits a week, which would put us as a group at six hundred bits a month on the high end. Even assuming we did nothing but save our money and didn’t spend on anything, it’d still take a good half a year for us to get a ticket to Ponyville. The thought of that was unbearable.

It didn’t help that some jobs requested specific cutie marks or cutie mark types. Probably close to seventy percent of them were looking for either experience or a specific cutie mark, like a vial for a nurse, or 5 years of experience to be a chef at a restaurant in lieu of a chef's hat marking. We didn’t see anything for our three cutie marks, mine a keyboard, Shorey’s a sextant, and Moberly’s an infinity symbol.

“Maybe you can be a math tutor or something?” I suggested to her as the three of us sat in the park and read a newspaper. “And you can be… a historian, Shorey? Have either of you taught anything?”

“I didn’t see anything listed for teachers,” she said.

“And my cutie mark is something I chose,” Shorey added. “It certainly doesn’t mean teaching history, although that sounds like a neat job to have.”

“Well then it sounds like our collective talents would earn us physical labor,” I said. “And honestly, that just sounds way too depressing.”

“We’ll have to make due with something. We can always change jobs to something else. But we need something.”

“I know,” I sighed, looking at the newspaper again. “I don’t think there’s gonna be very many great jobs for mares like us. Maybe there’s something to do with music?”

“Well, a job is a job,” Shorey said. “We can just take whatever pays the most that we can actually do.”

That ended up being trash collector, a job we applied for and were quickly rejected from, on account of being unicorns and not being able to use magic. We were also rejected from janitor, house painter, train attendant, farm hand, radio host (apparently they had those in Equestria) and office receptionist. What a day.

The only good thing was that the interview process in Equestria was fast. You walked into a business or office that was looking to hire, spoke to the pony employing for about ten minutes, answered a few questions, and got yourself a job. Or were rejected. We were able to breeze through seven or eight job opportunities in the span of about four hours.

Finally, we had to settle on something that paid on the lower end, and got hired to be librarian assistants for twenty five bits a week. The librarian, a mare named Paper Page, or just Page, looked ready to turn us away before agreeing to take us on. I didn’t think it was because she was desperate for help though. The library looked completely empty except for the four of us.

She paid us upfront, explaining that it was to incentivize us to work hard and stay dedicated. Then she showed us around, explaining our job, which was exactly what you’d expect a librarian assistant to do. Who would’ve guessed putting up books was in our job description?

“Now some of these books can be quite heavy, as well, there are gonna be boxes that weigh well over fifty pounds containing them,” Page said. “I guess that’s what he’s for though,” she continued, pointing a hoof at me.

I’d been largely able to ignore dysphoria for the last couple of days, but that little statement brought back a tsunami of it. Somehow, up to this point, the issue of pronouns hadn’t come up while we were in Crystal City.

“It’s she/her, please,” I told her politely. I avoided saying that I was a mare specifically, lest ponies get confused. Wouldn’t want that, would we?

“But you’re a stallion,” she commented, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, it’s just what I like, please,” I said politely, trying to smile as I took a deep breath so as not to flinch. This was an almost physically painful conversation to have. At least my ears didn’t want to die having to hear myself speak.

Don’t think about how repulsive your body is. You’re gonna get this horrible mess of a monster that you inhabit fixed. That’s the whole point of working here. Just breathe.

“Huh. I guess you two want to be called stallions then?” she asked of Moberly and Shorey. The question only made me cringe and clench my jaw.

“No, we don’t,” Moberly said quickly. “He’s just being special.”

“Can you not act like that?” I asked, both I and Shorey glaring at her. How she was allowed into our group chat, I didn’t know. I certainly didn’t invite her. I guessed she was more friends with Shorey.

“Moberly,” Shorey started, sounding angry. “You’re in no position to talk about who you think is special and who’s not.” That made her cheeks blush bright red in shame. Or maybe it was just embarrassment for herself.

And now there was the jealousy I had. I couldn’t believe for a second that Moberly didn’t ask to be a mare, but even if she didn’t, that only even made it more unfair. Someone who was openly transphobic and still transphobic after being turned into the gender she wanted to be was nothing but unfair. And I had to sit there and watch her pretend not to be happy about it.

God, this dysphoria is hitting me like a truck all at once.

“Anyway, I’d really appreciate it if you referred to me as a mare,” I said, having to close my eyes and take another breath.

“Well, uh, okay, I guess. I guess if I’m calling you all mares, that should be easy,” she said, seeming confused. “Anyway, I showed you, uh, girls around, so if you could get to work now, that’d be great. I’d like to get some of these books put up before the library closes in a couple of hours.”

“You want us to work right now?”

“I certainly didn’t pay you three to not work,” she said. “It’s just gonna turn into a bigger pile of books and more work for tomorrow if you don’t get it done.”

That was weird to me, and probably Shorey and Moberly, too, but we didn’t argue. She kept her eyes on us as we pushed the cart of books over to the shelf and started to put them up, watching us until she was satisfied we were working.

“She seems way too young to be running a place like this,” Moberly said. “I mean, who in their right mind pays their employees up front?"

“I don’t know, but I’ll take it. And she seems nice enough, even if she’s paying us less than all the other job listings offered us… “Rally?” Shorey suddenly asked, grabbing my attention. “Why are you stopping?”

“I’m getting dysphoric as hell,” I said quickly, staring down at my hooves. “I hate looking like this. I hate feeling like this. I just want to go back to the apartment and lie down and cry.” Not that I could cry.

“That sounds like you just want to be lazy,” Moberly commented. “How you feel is affecting your work performance?”

“Yes, it is, and the comments you make don’t help in the slightest, for what it’s worth.”

“And hearing you talk about it ad naseum can’t possibly be helping you either,” she countered. “I’ve only been here a few days and I’m already sick to death of hearing you talk about it. Maybe you’d feel better if you stopped bringing it up so much and just dealt with it.”

Did I really talk about it that much? I didn’t think so, but now I had to think back and see if I did. I knew I thought about it a lot, but did I really just complain all the time? Even with as much as I was hurting, the thought that I might be made me feel bad and my ears flatten. I didn’t want to be that kind of person. It hurt to hear, but I did specifically ask them to tell me when I was bugging them.

Shorey apparently didn’t think I was whiney, as I looked up to see her glaring angrily down at the shorter mare. She looked angrier than she did when I told Moberly she was trans. She seemed like she was ready to scream at her.

“It’s the truth,” Moberly said before she could say anything. “She’s being whiney, and I’m sick of hearing it. With as long as you’ve been here, I’m surprised you’re not.”

“And I would be whiney too, if I were in her position, maybe even more so. You know you would be too, so stop belittling her.”

“I–” Her face was bright red as she said, “Even if I was dysphoric–”

“I don’t care,” she interrupted. “Just stop treating her so badly.”

She looked ready to argue, but stopped herself, maybe because we were in public and didn’t want to attract attention. Instead, she went back to silently placing books on the shelf, looking a mixture between angry and embarrassed as she rolled her eyes. This was definitely going to be something that was discussed after we were done.

I took a breath and tried to get myself to move faster, not that it mattered much since there were only a few minutes left before the library closed. Page explained to us that we should be back there at nine in the morning sharp, and would be working Tuesday through Saturday. With that, she let us go, seventy five bits in hoof between us.

It was a silent walk back to the apartment, Moberly and Shorey looking like they were in extremely foul moods. I honestly expected Shorey to take her side on this, since the two had known each other longer than I’d known Shorey, and was honestly a little surprised that she didn’t. The former opened her mouth a few times, looking ready to say something, but stopped each time. I thought she might have been trying to find the right words to apologize with or explain herself. She looked like she felt at least a little bad about what she said, even if it wasn’t very much.

“I’m sorry if I seem whiney,” I said once we got back to our apartment, not heading inside yet. “I’ll stop bringing it up if it’s bothering you guys.”

“Yeah, it’d be appreciated,” Moberly got out, the mare getting a glare from Shorey in response.

“Anyway, just gonna walk around for a while and try to clear my head. I’ll come back later.”

There was more I wanted to add, but neither I nor they said anything else as I left, heading off to where, I didn’t know. I didn’t really care either way. My mental state was completely fucked, and I wanted a chance to take a break from everything if I could. When I got back, I’d have to stay with two people who got exactly what they wanted after not putting in one ounce of work to be who they wanted to be, and not able to talk about how I felt lest I bother them and come off as whiney. It was one of those moments where I hated everything about my existence.

I just want to be myself again…

Somehow I found myself in the center of town, right in front of the castle again, walking up to the Crystal Heart, a dozen other ponies around me talking and smiling. I remembered reading an MLP comic about Sombra where looking into it could show you your destiny. I was curious, but also terrified, worried that it would show an aging old stallion. I didn’t know what I would do if it did.

Come on, please, I asked silently as I closed my eyes, taking a step closer to it. Show me as a mare with Shorey. Or at least as just a mare. Please…

I opened my eyes to stare into it, gasping loudly when I saw a beautiful, orange coated mare reflecting back at me. She was one who was smiling widely, looking like she loved everything about her life. It made me smile and give myself a quick hug as the tears came down in streams for the first time in what felt like a long while.

The future was wide open.

(24) All Your Reasons

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“Are you and Rally going out?” Moberly suddenly asked as she and Shorey stepped inside the apartment. “Because the way you’re acting with her seems weird.” The question caught Shorey off guard and made her blush a bit, but she didn’t let her embarrassment show for more than a second.

“I’m not acting weird,” she replied. “You’re just being mean for no reason. You know you’re hurting her when you act like that, right?”

“I’m not trying to hurt her, but she’s not a mare. He’s not a mare, and calling him one does nothing but–”

“I don’t want to hear it. You know you would hate it if you were called a stallion, except it’s worse for her because she has to be a stallion again. So maybe, you should have a little empathy.”

“I have empathy! I just–”

“Then act like it, because it certainly doesn’t seem like you do to me.”

“When I was a man, I didn’t ask to be called a woman. I just sat there and dealt with it. Rally should be able to deal with it, too.”

“And you being a mare right now. That’s proof that you dealt with it, right?”

“I didn’t ask to be a mare!” she said, blushing profusely. “That was Zulu’s decision, not mine. I didn’t ask for this!”

“What did you ask for then?”

Somehow, her cheeks became even redder, and she looked away. “I… I only asked to be able to feel like myself when I went to Equestria,” she said, practically whispering. Her ears were pressed flat against her head as she said it, and she hung it low in shame.

“But I didn’t specifically ask to be a mare,” she tried to say, “so therefore–”

“So I should call you a man then, right? Because if you keep treating Rally the way you are, that’s what I’m going to start doing. We’re stuck in this city together, living in the same apartment. If we can’t treat each other with respect, this is gonna be hell.”

Moberly grumbled and rolled her eyes at that. “Are you two dating? Because you both act like a couple.”

“Not currently.” She couldn’t believe she actually said that. It made her heart beat out of her chest to think about.

“Not currently means you basically are, except not officially. I guess it makes sense why you’re taking her side.”

“No, I’m talking her side because you’re acting like a jerk. I don’t care if you think she’s a mare or a stallion, but I do care that you treat her with respect.”

There wasn’t much more said after that, Shorey heading into the shower to clean off. She let her answer to the question play in her head. Not currently. They weren’t dating yet, but it was an inevitability, wasn’t it? All she was waiting on was for Rally to ask so she could say yes. She once again wondered if she should just preemptively asked, but once again decided against it. Better to wait for Rally to ask directly.

She could tell Rally wanted to ask yesterday, but stopped herself. That wasn’t her making her do that, was it? She didn’t mean to if it was. She just assumed that Rally was the type to not really care where they were when she asked. Next time the mare asked, she would take her up on her offer to go outside, or whatever it was she wanted to do.

She closed her eyes and let herself enjoy the warm water falling on her like rain for a moment. She was actually in Equestria, feeling like herself for the first time in a lifetime. She had a place to live, a job, a couple of her friends with her– life was looking much brighter than it was less than a week ago. There were a few issues to work out, namely Rally’s being a stallion, but other than that, the future was wide open. It was unbelievable.

She had to give herself a hug as she started to tear up. She was an actual woman, one who could actually have kids, something she never thought would ever be possible. She would never ask for another thing now that she had this.

She took a breath to regain control of her emotions, and stepped out a few minutes later, being greeted by the sight of a sniffling Moberly. The mare had her eyes closed as her own tears dripped down onto the couch she sat on. She didn’t even notice Shorey coming out.

“Everything alright?” she asked carefully, getting Moberly to quickly shake her head and wipe her eyes.

“I’m fine,” she said, clearly lying. “I just got something in my eye.”

“You know you can talk to me about whatever is bothering you,” Shorey pressed. “Although I’m pretty sure I can guess what it is. It’s not hard to figure out.”

She gave a little embarrassed half smile before turning away shamefully. “It’s just… I mean, what do you expect? New body, new hormones that my mind has to get used to. That’s all.”

“Happy about being a mare?” Shorey asked, teasing a little bit. “You don’t have to pretend with me.” She got a tiny, almost imperceptible nod in response, one that made her smile wider. “It’s nice, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” she whispered. “I can’t say so in front of Rally though because I know they’re just gonna rub it in and laugh at me. I don’t know what I’d do if I cried in front of her.”

“Rally is the very last person in the world who would ever laugh at you. If anything, she’d cry for you and tell you how happy she is for you and give you a hug. Or, she would, if you stop acting like a jerk.”

“I’m not gonna call them a mare,” Moberly responded, taking a breath to get control of her emotions. “He’s a stallion.”

“Moberly.”

“I won’t. I’m not gonna self-censor to conform to something I don’t agree with.”

“It’s called just being nice, Moberly,” Shorey told her, frowning again now. “Her mental state is not good right now, and acting how you are isn’t going to help it.”

“Of course, you’re taking her side,” Moberly shook her head and rolled her eyes.

“I’m not taking her side in anything. I’m just asking you to be nice. She already said she’s going to try and complain less since you don’t wanna hear her talk about it. You can even use they/them if you want. I’m sure she won’t care.”

“Even using that, I know I’m self-censoring, and I severely dislike the idea of that. I’m not gonna self-censor for something I disagree with.”

“Well I’m telling you this now: if you act like a jerk to her, I’m going to be angry and act like a jerk to you.”

“Whatever,” Moberly rolled her eyes, wiping them again with her hooves. “I’m gonna take a shower.”

Shorey let out a breath she’d been subconsciously holding in as the mare left. Okay, maybe there were more than a few issues to work out, but still. They were in Equestria, and she was a mare, and that was what mattered most. Just that thought made her smile again.

Rally came in a few minutes later while Moberly was still in the shower, smiling brightly herself. It was nice to see with how rarely she did it, and made her smile even wider.

“Hey Shorey! Guess what I just saw today!” She didn’t wait for an answer as she excitedly said, “You know how in the comic you can look into the Crystal Heart and see your destiny? Well I went there and looked into it and saw myself as a mare!”

“That’s great, Rally,” Shorey said kindly, happily, genuinely feeling glad for her. “I told you we were going to get you all fixed up. I don’t know how long it’ll be, but it’ll happen.”

“Yes it will, and oh my gosh does it make me happy! I knew I wasn’t born to be a stallion… like Lord Zulu told me I was…” She was suddenly in tears, and a second later, Shorey was hugging her tightly, letting her friend put her muzzle into her neck.

“And I’m actually crying again because I’m just so happy,” she said. “I love you Shorey. I’m so glad you’re here with me. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

“I love you too, Rally,” Shorey replied.

(25) Moments

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My second week in Equestria was much better than the first. Moberly, Shorey, and I went to the library every day to work, putting all the books away like Page told us to do. We also helped ponies pick out library books and checked out books for them when Page was away. It was a boring job, but probably the easiest job I’d had in my life. It helped that we were allowed to read while there was nothing to do.

We spend most of our evenings just sitting around and talking to each other. Making plans for the future, reminiscing about the past, thinking about our family and friends, just talking and telling jokes and laughing in general. Moberly was more on the quiet side, but she still participated. There were even board games to check out at the library, and we played one resembling Monopoly, except the Equestrian version. It wasn’t a game either Shorey or Moberly liked very much, but with not much to do, it passed time.

Moberly seemed content to be quiet and lay on her back and stare at the ceiling or go out walking, leaving Shorey and I alone to talk a few times. During those times she told me what I should be doing to save up to go to Canterlot or running by story ideas with me. She smiled whenever she talked, a warm one that always made me smile no matter how how bad I was feeling. It was so nice watching her be herself.

Speaking of feeling bad, my second week in Equestria wasn’t completely terrible like the first one was. I was still extremely self conscious that my lack of a tail didn’t hide my privates, and couldn’t help but let out a sad breath whenever my square muzzle made its way into my vision, but it wasn’t horrendous like it was when I was out alone in the snow with nothing to do but walk. I did get a few comments on both my tail and my voice, but other than that, it was easier to try and ignore with books to put away and ponies to talk to.

It was a short week seeing as our first full day was on Wednesday, but Page still paid us for the full week once we left on Saturday. Just like that, we had a one hundred fifty bits between us, counting the bits we got on Tuesday. One hundred fifty down, and at least twenty eight hundred to go since we were all meeting up in Ponyville. Dozens more weeks of work to get enough money.

Not that we really saved any of our money. Each of us chipped in twenty bits for the rest of the rent for the month, and then ten more so we could eat actual food instead of grass. Shorey spent the rest of hers on a typewriter, something I chipped in for too so she could afford it.

Moberly spent hers on an absolutely ridiculous looking sword, one that looked like it had no practical use. She claimed it was for defense, but I wasn’t sure there’d ever be anything to defend against while we were in the Crystal Empire. We couldn’t stop her from buying it though, even if I thought it was a waste of money.

I, for my part, saved the rest of the bits I had. Even if it was only ten, it was still ten bits closer to being a mare than I was before. I knew it would accumulate, and if I could be smart with what I did, I could get at least myself a train ticket to Ponyville or Canterlot extremely quickly. Not as quick as I would’ve liked, but probably faster than I could talking to Princess Cadance.

In the meantime, I checked out a book on magic for foals and got to reading it on Sunday. Reading it felt like going from living in a log cabin to a mansion. It described in detail what we should be doing, explaining that the easiest way was to imagine your horn as a limb. That advice made the whole thing a lot easier to figure out, so much so that within a couple of hours of practice, I felt like I was proficient in levitation. It took Shorey and Moberly a little more time to grasp how to do it, but eventually, they were able to.

It was also Sunday when I finally got a chance to be alone with Shorey again. We went out walking around the city at night, looking at the stars and listening to ponies talk as we passed by Crystal City’s nightlife scene. It was nice and cool and a great evening to be out, even if my legs were still sore from the week before.

“Your tail is looking a little better,” she started after a while. “How’s it feeling? Is it still sore?”

“Not really. Sitting kind of hurts still, but it feels alright. I wish it would just grow back already though.”

“I’m sure it will, and if it doesn’t, there’s probably some magic spell we can find that’ll fix it.”

“I hope so. Not having a tail is not fun, let me tell you.” I let out a breath, then continued, “But can you believe we’re actually here?” I asked. “We’re actually ponies in Equestria. Like, this shouldn’t be real life, but it is.”

“It’s amazing and unbelievable,” she agreed, smiling widely as she said it. Her eyes started to become a little bit wet, and I smiled back at her. It made me happy to see her happy.

“I never thought I’d ever be able to be myself,” she said as she sniffled. “I honestly thought I was gonna have to die being who I was before.”

“And you would’ve done it, too, never knowing how nice being yourself felt.”

“I would have,” she agreed, taking a breath to regain her composure. “I’m so glad I’m here.”

I’m not gonna think about jealousy. I’m not gonna think about dysphoria. I’m only gonna think about this moment here with Shorey.

“I’m glad you're here, too,” I told her. “You make dealing with all of this so much easier. I’d probably be dead right now without you, killed ten times over.”

“I should be thanking you for being here. I mean, you came here first. If you wouldn’t have, I’d just be in the exact same place I was before.” She sniffled and started to tear up again as she continued, “I hate that I’m basically profiting off your misery.”

“You’re not profiting off my misery,” I said quickly. “Seeing you happy makes me happy. And besides, I’m gonna get myself fixed. We’re gonna go to Ponyville and meet up with everyone there, and then I’ll see Twilight and turn back into a mare, and then…”

“And then what?”

“And then I’ll hug you and kiss you and be super gay about it because I love you so much,” I said quickly, only half joking.

“I guess we’ll have to see when that happens then,” she laughed with me. “I do wonder though if everyone in our group chat will spread out over time across Equestria or if most of us will stay in the same place. Like some sort of village of former humans.”

“Well, I’m certainly not staying in the Crystal Empire,” I said. “It’s nice enough here, but dealing with what’s essentially systemic discrimination is not fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if Moberly stayed here though… man, it’s gonna take a long time to get enough money to go to Ponyville.”

“We can try sending a few letters there and seeing if anyone contacts us back,” Shorey said. “If we did that, it’d be much easier to pool our resources and get everyone in one place. Otherwise, you’re right in that it’ll take a long time.”

“I’m pretty sure I can save forty bits a month if I buy basically nothing ever. Twenty five is probably a better estimate though. That’s still forever away, though…”

“Well if Moberly came here instead of Ponyville, I’m sure other people are gonna come here instead of Ponyville, too. Not all of them, obviously, but enough that we can speed up the process. And we’ll find better jobs that pay more eventually. And even if it came down to it and it looked like it was gonna take longer than you’d be willing to wait and Princess Cadance said she couldn’t do anything, I’d definitely lend you whatever I saved up so you could make the trip there and back yourself.”

I smiled happily at that thought. “You’re way too nice for your own good. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You’re too nice.”

“I just try to be kind,” she said. “But I’ve said that a hundred times. It’s doubly important here though, since this is the land of friendship.”

“Of course it is, and of course you do. You’re absolutely adorable and you never ever stop.” I smiled at her, and she leaned in to rub her next against mine for a moment. I was sure she could tell what was coming next, and figured that this might have been the best moment to ask.

Just don’t push if she says no. If she says no now, stop pestering her about it forever unless she asks… God, I’m being annoying and pushy as fuck asking this for what has to be the fourth time. Why am I like this?

I wasn’t being annoying. If I was being annoying, genuinely annoying, she wouldn’t have an issue telling me. She said before that we needed to be settled before we talk about this, and now we were settled. I just needed to be confident.

“Speaking of friendship, what if we weren’t friends?” I asked lightly, feeling unbearably nervous but trying not to show it.

“What if we weren’t?” she asked back just as casually, the smile still on her face.

“Then I guess that would make us girlfriends, and I’d have to ask if you wanted to go on a date next Sunday.”

“And then I’d probably say yes in that case,” she smiled. “That sounds like it would be nice.”

“So then we’re good for Sunday?” I asked happily, almost giddy.

“I don’t know. You haven’t asked yet.”

I laughed at that and smiled widely. I was absolutely in love. My cheeks went red and my heart fluttered happily at the thought that this was finally happening.

“Can I go out with you?” I asked excitedly, my voice somewhere between yelling and whispering if such a thing was possible.

She wore just as wide a smile and nodded happily, staring right at me with those beautiful, gray eyes. I couldn’t help but prance in place for a second as I quickly wrapped her up in a tight hug. I pressed my muzzle into her neck as my heart beat out of my chest. I was a lovestruck, pushy idiot who did nothing but complain for the first several days I was with Shorey, someone who absolutely didn’t deserve her with how nice and smart and kind she was. And yet she still nodded her head and said yes. I’d been so in love with her for months, years, and she actually said yes to me going out with her. It was only dating, that I knew, and there was no guarantee that this would work out, but I couldn’t help but imagine a whole life with her.

“I love you so much, Shorey,” I whispered as I held onto her. “You’re absolutely wonderful and amazing and adorable and deserve nothing but every good thing.”

“I think I like you a lot, Rally,” she told me, also whispering. “I’m glad you’re here with me.”

You’d think I’d hate the words ‘I think’ but I actually liked them. I knew all I did was push, and I felt a little bad because of it, but hearing those two extra words made it feel like she was speaking more honestly. She wasn’t just saying ‘I love you’ and going through the motions. She actually probably did like me a lot, and it sent a flutter to my chest to think about.

It was such a nice moment, one that I wanted to last forever. Unfortunately, the moment after came.

“Well, well, well, what do we have here?” somepony asked. We turned to see a couple of ponies, guards from what they looked like, standing in front of us, both wearing frowns like we were doing something wrong.

“Two ponies about to engage in public indecency from the looks of it,” the first one said. “What are you two doing out here this time of night?”

“Um, we’re talking?” I offered, tiling my head in confusion. “Just like every other pony in this city? It’s not like there’s a curfew, is there?”

“There’s not,” the second one started, “except on ponies who aren’t from the Crystal Empire. Not to mention, you two being out here all alone like this, it makes us believe you two are trying to engage in prostitution.”

“We’re not doing that,” Shorey said, “and there’s a hundred other ponies nearby a block from here. We’re just out walking.”

“Well it seems suspicious,” the first one started again. “Why don’t you two come with us back to our office to talk this out and see what’s going on?” He raised an eyebrow and gave us a look like he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

My heart was still beating out of my chest, except now in fear. I was not an idiot, and knew what they were trying to do. I’d worried about a situation like this happening whenever I walked around at night, but hadn’t thought about it tonight because Shorey was with me and I just naturally assumed Equestria would be safer than Earth. Apparently it wasn’t though.

Thankfully, Shorey could see through what these two were trying to do, and spoke up.

“We’re not going with you,” she said. “If you want though, we’ll stay right here while you get your manager so we can talk to them.”

“And then what?” the first one asked. “You run off when we get them? We’re not idiots. Come with us.”

“Then one of you can stay here while the other one gets them, but we’re not going with you, not until you get someone.” She stared the first one down, who dropped his look into a scowl.

“Whatever. We don’t have time for this. But know that we’re watching you, and if we see anything suspicious, we’re going to arrest you.” The two of them looked at us for a second longer before turning around and walking off. I breathed a sigh of relief as they left.

“Oh my gosh, you saved our lives,” I got out shakily as I quickly hurried away, Shorey right next to me. “They were definitely looking to, like, kidnap us for ransom or something. Or worse. That was scary.”

“We need to be careful now when we go out. That could’ve been bad.”

“Yeah… did you get their cutie marks? I wanna tell someone about this as soon as we can.”

“I did, and we will. Also, we have to tell Moberly to be careful walking around at night. I guess it might be a good thing she got that sword though, as silly as it is.”

“I’m not sure about using a sword, but defense spells would be good, if there are any to learn. But heck, that has me shaking. That could’ve been a lot worse.” Not to mention, it really killed the mood.

“Actually, speaking of defense spells, we should probably learn some if it really is around season seven. Sombra comes back at the start of season nine, and I’m not sure how bad things get, but I wouldn’t want to go in unprepared.”

“Oh, also speaking of which, I can’t remember if I told you this before, but when I was with Rusty Bucket on that mountain, I told him to tell Princess Cadance about Cozy Glow if he saw her. That’s not a bad thing that I did that, is it?”

“Let’s not mess around with what’s supposed to happen in the show if we can help it, please,” she told me. “We know how it turns out in the end, and saying things like that to ponies makes things more uncertain and introduces new variables.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. Um… oops?”

“It’s fine. Let’s just make sure not to do that in the future.”

“I won’t. I promise.” I let out a breath to calm my still raw nerves as I asked, “Wanna head back now?”

“Sure. That sounds good.” We only took a few steps before I gasped at the top of my lungs, the best idea I’d ever had coming to me all at once. How I didn’t think of it before, I didn’t know, but the comment about Sombra and season nine brought it to mind.

“Discord!” I yelled excitedly. “Discord can fix me in a second! That’s who I should be going to see! This is going to be so easy!”

“That’s actually a good idea,” Shorey smiled with me. “I mean, if we can get in contact with him. I’m not sure how easy it would be to do though. He is a god after all.”

“Oh, I doubt it’ll be easy at all,” I agreed. “But that’s not gonna stop me from trying, because if I can, this would only take a second to do. Or actually, if I can talk to Fluttershy, I’m sure she can get him to do it for me… which still requires getting to either Ponyville or Canterlot. But the point is that there’s no way I’m not gonna be able to fix myself. It’s gonna happen no matter what.”

“I know it will Rally,” she said with a smile. “And you’ll deserve it when it does.”

(26) Showtime

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“I know it’s like nine o’clock at night and we’re going to bed in a few hours, but would you be against me making cookies right now?” I asked as she and I walked back into the apartment. “That was stressful, and I need something to take my mind off of that.”

“Sure, that sounds good. Moberly, do you want to make cookies with us?” Shorey asked the mare, who was reading that book I checked out about magic.

“I guess, but what is it that you need to take your mind off of?”

“We were almost kidnapped.”

“We weren’t almost kidnapped,” Shorey said. “We did run into a couple of ponies who seemed like they were pretending to be royal guards, or looked like they were pretending at least.”

“And they were like, ‘you’re breaking the law and have to come with us’ and were probably trying to kidnap us for ransom or something. And now we know we need to be careful when we go out at night. Especially you, since you go out alone all the time.”

“Well that’s what I bought a sword for, so we can defend ourselves.” She said it as if cutting in half the first pony who stepped to her was a viable option, but I knew she was being completely serious.

“Shorey and I were thinking about learning some defensive spells if there are any out there,” I said. “But I kind of want to stop thinking about how we almost died and start baking. Let’s make some cookies.”

The three of us in and we got started, Shorey humming something I couldn’t place as she got out what we needed. Both she and Moberly were smiling, although the latter seemed like she was trying not to. I, however, stayed back a little bit and watched them, trying to keep my breathing steady as I replayed all of what happened in my head.

Despite what Shorey said, they were definitely trying to kidnap us. I could only imagine what would’ve happened if either she or I was alone. It wouldn’t have ended well, and put thoughts of previous incidents I didn’t like thinking about in my head. I was definitely going to be making sure our doors were locked at night, because the whole incident put me on edge.

“Can we add oatmeal to it?” I asked. “Oatmeal cookies would be the best.”

“Sure, I think we bought some,” Shorey said. “Can you go get it for me? Three cups worth should be good.”

Being on edge already didn’t help me to keep myself from thinking that I was secretly annoying her. I couldn’t help but imagine she only said yes to me because I pushed her into it with my annoyance, even though she was not the kind of person who would ever do such a thing through pressure. Even officially dating now for over an hour, we would only really be that in title.

I imagined we’d mostly act like friends still for weeks, or even months. And yet I was certain she thought I bugged her all the time and would hate me by the end of this and break up with me. And then I’d be alone in Crystal City cause she’d move away, and the next time I ran into guards like that, it might not end so well.

“We should buy cookie cutters,” Moberly said. “Like, of stars and trees and animals and stuff.”

“And hearts and flowers, too, so we can make the girliest cookies possible,” I offered up as a joke, getting a smile from Shorey in response.

“Oh, and also, we should go dress shopping tomorrow,” I said. “I mean, obviously we won’t be able to buy any, but it’d be nice to try on a few or go window shopping.”

Don’t let your thoughts spiral out of control, I told myself silently. If you were being annoying, someone would tell you. Moberly and Shorey especially would. And Shorey’s way smarter than you’ll ever be. If you’re ever in a situation like that again, she’d protect you, just like you’d try to for her.

I couldn’t let my thoughts spiral out of control. They’d had many times before, especially before transitioning, and I didn’t want that to happen now. If they did, I’d spend the night and part of the day tomorrow curled up on the couch crying.

“That sounds like a lot of fun,” Shorey smiled sweetly, one that helped me take a breath and calm down a bit. “I’d definitely be up for doing that.”

“What about you, Moberly?” I asked, already able to see her blushing and shifting around on her hooves before I even got the question out. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to though.”

“I’ll go,” she said quickly. “I mean, I might as well. I’m gonna need some mare’s clothes eventually.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else from you,” I commented as I mixed the dough. “I just wanna see myself in something nice and cute and flowery.”

“It sounds like it’s gonna be very fun,” Shorey smiled. “In the meantime, do either of you know how to use this gas stove?”

Things were quiet after that, the three of us focusing on baking cookies, the smell of which helped take my mind off other things. It was a nice time, and a good way to end the day after that experience. It was made even more so watching Shorey smile as we worked, looking happy and content and perfectly at home. She tried to hide it, but I also occasionally caught Moberly smiling, too.

We got up early the next day and headed out, walking around to see what clothing shops we could find. There was nothing by Rarity that we saw in Crystal City, but there were a few high end shops, and we eventually found one to browse. It was almost completely empty except for the three of us and a mare who I assumed was the owner. The fact of that made me so much less insecure.

“Welcome to Dainty Dresses!” the shop owner greeted us. “Anything I can help you with? Or did you have an order put in already? I’m not very good with faces.”

For a shop named ‘Dainty Dresses’, a lot of these were not dainty at all. A lot of them looked fancy and complicated and like something you’d see in a fashion show. I didn’t draw attention to that fact though.

“We’re just looking for dresses to try on,” I told her. “We don’t have any money, but we wanted to browse to see if we could buy later. Is that okay?”

“Absolutely! Pick out anything you like, or I can help you choose? What were you two ladies looking for?”

“Do you have anything in pink and orange?” Shorey started immediately. “Something light and flowing would be nice to start. A sundress.” She was grinning from ear to ear as she said it.

“Well, if it’s okay, I might suggest something soft blue would work better with your coat,” she said. She hurried over to grab one, one that didn’t look exactly like a sundress, but still pretty. It was soft blue with yellow edges, something that looked like it would match her.

“I think this would look very well on you,” the shopkeeper said with a smile.

“I can start with this.”

“Excellent. And what about you, miss?” She turned to Moberly now, who was looking at her hooves and had her ears pressed against her head.

“Anything is fine,” she said shyly, looking like she was doing all she could not to smile. “I don’t care.”

“Well then I think we’ll find something orange or red for you,” the mare said. “Let me just look around here to see what would work.”

“Can I get one that’s violet or tan colored?” I asked as she looked. “Tan with violet colored flowers would be super nice if you had that.”

“I don’t have that specifically, but tan would go well with your coat, I believe, as long as it’s the right shade,” she said before she turned around to look at me. “But you want to put on a dress? Aren’t you a stallion?”

“If I were, then it wouldn’t make much sense for me to want to wear a dress, would it?” I said, mostly avoiding the awkward question. “But something tan would be very lovely, if I can have it.”

She only stared at me for a long moment, blinking at me like I was some strange creature. It was a simple reaction, but one that helped me to learn something important. Being trans wasn’t something that Equestrian ponies faced, or, at least, it was something that wasn’t known about very much.

“So uh, if you could get me that dress, please?” I asked, grinning awkwardly as she continued to stare. Being stared at like that was starting to make me dysphoric, and this was a moment I didn’t want to have ruined by dysphoria. And ruined it was being. The longer she stared, the worse I felt.

“S-sorry!” she said, finally shaking her head clear of whatever thoughts were in it. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable like that. L-let me see what I can find.”

She quickly hurried off, and I breathed a sigh of relief. “God, that was awful. That made me want to die.”

“You know, if you’re getting dysphoric now, then maybe you shouldn’t wear a dress,” Moberly said. “It’s just going to make you feel worse if you give into that kind of stuff.”

“Yeah, well, I tried not giving into it for about half a decade, and it doesn’t really help,” I said lightly, doing as best I could to not focus on how stocky my body was.

A minute later, she came back with two more dresses, giving each of us one to try on, although I watched her stare at me more with a confused and surprised expression. I did my best to brush it off as she showed us where the changing area was. There were dozens of mirrors, although no actual room, which I guessed made sense. It wasn’t like we were hiding anything anyway.

I focused on looking at Shorey in the mirror as I got myself changed, waiting until I was completely in the thing before putting my eyes on myself. I remembered when I was a teenager, before I transitioned, it was about a fifty-fifty shot whether seeing myself in women’s clothes would make me happy or sad because of dysphoria, and assumed the odds were roughly the same now.

Luckily, it turned out to be reliving, the fabric hiding my lack of a tail and somehow making my body seem slimmer. I wasn’t really a dress gal, opting for skinny jeans most of the time if I had to choose between it and pants, but it felt unbelievably nice right now. The soft fabric rubbed against my fur, and if not for my square face and clearly taller stature, I felt like I would’ve been seen as a mare. It made me feel so much nicer about myself.

I didn’t think Shorey’s smile could get wider, but somehow it did. She turned left and right, examining herself in the mirror, clearly liking what she saw. She looked absolutely beautiful, and seeing her looking so happy made my heart want to melt.

I wondered for a second what it would be like to get everything I wanted in one second instead of having to take years of time and energy and awkward stares and occasional harassment to get to. I quickly put that thought out of my head though. It was a nice moment, and I wasn’t going to ruin it thinking about things like that right now.

“You look very pretty, Shorey,” I said, watching her look down at herself and smile. “Absolutely amazing.” With how happy she looked, I almost expected her to cry, but she somehow was able to keep herself from doing so.

“Thanks,” she told me happily. “You look nice, too. I wouldn’t expect a color like tan to work with your coat, but it looks very well on you.”

“It feels nice,” I continued. “I feel much more like myself. I’m gonna buy this specific dress as soon as I can and wear it everywhere.”

“We’ll definitely have to ask how much these are, because I like this one, too. I think she was right about how it compliments my coat well. Do you like yours, Moberly?”

We both turned to see her quietly looking at herself in the mirror, sniffling and smiling to herself, the tears very obviously running down. We watched her for a long minute as she turned side to side, examining herself until she realized we were watching her. When she did, she went back to scowling, and tried her best to not look so embarrassed.

“Before you say anything, I’m only sniffling because there’s, like, pollen or something all on this dress. I don’t know where it’s from, but it’s making my allergies act up.”

“Ah, of course,” I joked. “There’s just been so much of it lately, hasn’t there?” I said sarcastically. “Especially since it’s winter.” My joke got Shorey to chuckle, too.

“See?” Moberly started, sounding upset. “I told you he was just gonna tease me because that’s all they do.”

“You make it too easy!” I laughed, ignoring the incorrect pronoun she used. “You can say it feels nice to be a mare instead of trying to lie. Being a girl is literally the best thing ever.”

“Yeah, well…” she started in a whisper, mostly talking under her breath. “I’m sorry you can’t feel it too.”

Okay, that one hurt a little bit, which meant it was time to stop pushing. “Well, for what it’s worth, I think you look very nice. The red against your navy colored coat reminds me of halloween colors. It’s pretty.”

Moberly took a breath and let it out as she turned her attention back to her reflection, unable to keep herself from smiling at it again. It was super adorable to see, and I hoped it would do something to help her attitude. I wasn’t entirely sure how it would do something, but I hoped it would.

“It looks good enough,” she agreed, trying to sound unenthused about it. “I’d like to try on a few more though.”