Saved!!!

by ArchoPony

First published

A human fell through one of Midnight's portals; and now he's in a 7,000 foot free fall while slowing transforming into a horse.

A human fell through one of Midnight's portals during her magical rampage; and now he's in a 7,000 foot free fall while slowing transforming into a horse. A lot to think about on the way down.

Doesn't help that this particular human/now pony is asocial, standoffish, zealous, borderline psychopathic, and in a state of violent mental frenzy. Not the best things to be when coming to a peaceful pastel pony world.

The only thing going for him is he wants to do better.

Will twilight and her friends try to reform such a being so antithetical to friendship? Give him the discord treatment and turn him to stone? Send him back and seal the portal?

Only time will tell. For now though, The amount of time our protagonist has to figure this out is exactly 12.32 seconds.

The series idea came to me when I thought:
" What if the series tackled more mature themes? "


1st person narration is not only limited to that creature's knowledge, but will also take on their state of mind.
When in 3rd person, it is omniscient but will still sometimes take on a state of mind of a creature in the scene.


Want to test my writing with this one. Will try to write more and more challenging subjects as time goes on.
All criticism minus something that can only be seen as a nitpick will be appreciated.


Cover art by Mix-up
https://www.deviantart.com/amalgamzaku

1 - The Fall

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A trip,

A fall

A new day.

“ AAAAHHHHHHAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH ”

Cried PonderBright, as he barreled toward the ground at faster and faster speeds, slowly becoming smaller with bright flashes of light obstructing his vision.
The light was too bright. He blinked away tears of shock as some sort of involuntary reaction forced him to close his eyes.

For a second, he figured this was him finally snapping, and that all that magic business within the last school year was just the start of his insanity. At least, that's what he hoped, to be safely inside a padded cell screaming and foaming from the mouth : but in safety. Not this; anything but this.

But it was all too real. Deep down he knew it, even as his life flashed before his eyes again.
He had confirmed his suspicions with several classmates back when Twilight and 5 others used rainbow lasers against a demon. Their story matched the one he experienced.

He opened his eyes, and PonderBright was greeted by 2 horse like appendages instead of his arms.
In his manic confusion, he gave up. Too many things were happening at once. He was overwhelmed, but mostly tired.

Depression took over.

Maybe this was a good thing.
Maybe he would leave a funny-shaped hole in the ground in the figure of whatever abomination Twilight had turned him into.
He went to cover his eyes, but as he did he felt 4 separate things cover his eyes instead of 2. And he saw feathers.

Wings.
HE HAD WINGS.

He immediately spread every appendage he had, HOPING to control his wings.
He was running out of time.

He tried to rotate his wings like an arm.
He was running out of time.

He looked down to gauge how much time he had left.
He was running out of time.

Upward wind turned sideways. Then downward.
He had done it.

With around 3 primitive-buildings worth of space to spare he had did it.
A immense euphoria washed over him, he didn't want to die after all, but as soon as he had realized this he realized something else; he was still in the air.

He zoned in back to reality while he was starting to fall back downward.
This wasn't good.
He was in the wrong position to glide again, Can a horse survive a 150 foot fall?
Wrong question.
His mind wandered, and he was blinded by a light from just above him.
No time for that, focus on a plan.
He tried to get himself turned back around into the popper direction for falling like a proper cursed winged abomination.
You know, wings facing the desired direction of travel and whatnot.

But it was no use.
This new body would not cooperate, or maybe he was not giving it the popper commands?
Time has run out.
The best he could manage was a very steep circular motion before crashing into a forest nearby the primitive settlement.

He was very lucky to have to, and he knew it, for the countless branches broke most of his fall. The cuts, bruises and blood were worth it, given the alternative.
He impacted the ground hard. His new form was not aerodynamic, and very dense. His plan to sacrifice his two front … “ legs ” had mostly failed, as what he was assuming to be his torso had taken a lot of the damage. This was made immediately clear by the mind-splitting pain that followed the crash.

He came in so steep he left a short indignation into the forest floor, it was a miracle he was still conscious.
He immediately screamed.
He checked his wounds.
That's a lot of blood.
He looked for something to tie his leg off. Stopping the bleeding came first.
He had no fingers in which to tie it off.
His mind was spinning.
He was no stranger to pain; physical, mental or otherwise, but this was on another level. Mostly physical.

Was he going to pass out?
Was he going to die?
More strange lights from directly above him.
Rescue?
He looked up.
No.
Nothing.

He used traction and his other leg to gain the feeling the sweet relief, that is; the of lack blood following out of one part of his body, now focusing on his torso.
No time wasted, he rips a abnormally big leaf from a bush and lays over it.
He reaches with both his hooves around his back, along with his mouth, ready to tie it as tight as he could.
Not much blood was coming out from his … “ bottom torso “ mostly removed hair and bruises.
He was lucky yet again for that too, as PonderBright could not tie a knot in such a awkward position along with such new limitations on how he handles things.

He was, in fact, a horse. He had realized it earlier to save his life, but not internalized it.
Goldish-Yellowish fur? Huh. Some things never change.
The next vine was a tough one to get out. It's as if it was heavier then the rest...
He noticed he was slowing. Getting dizzy.
He tried the best he could.
He had tried.

A voice broke him out of his long trance, coming from a small horse from a fair distance away.
“ A- Are you ok? “ said the young pony.
“ You... Speak? ”
“English?” Replied PonderBright, not in the right mental state to form popper words. The tone he tried to speak come out manic and frenzied instead. Or maybe that was just all the blood in his mouth.

“ Eng- "
" wha- "
" Look I'll get ya'll hel- ”

“ AM I DEAD?! “ Screamed the broken pony, interrupting her.
The little pony recoiled, making a face even the human could recognize as truly terrified.

PonderBright tried and failed to calm the situation.
“ WHERE AM I? “ he bellowed, sounding only slightly less angry and also more authoritative, both of which only by accident.
“ CAN YOU STOP THIS BLEEDING? “ he screeched in a much more pleading manor.
He had inadvertently “ pointed “ to himself using one his legs. Huh. So these things do come with instructions.

The little pony was scared stiff. His best bet was this little (child?) creature and he knew it.

After a short silence a thought passed his mind.
Sunset Shimmer.

“ ARE YOU ONE OF TWILIGHTS GOONS, SENT HERE TO FINISH ME OFF !!! ” He screamed without thinking.
Black lightning streaked across the tree canopy, along with afterimages of purple and green dots.
He recoiled at that last one, much bigger and brighter then all the rest, but as he looked back down the beautiful yellow and red little horse was gone, along with his last hope of not bleeding out.

He instantly realized his mistake.
Or maybe not.
Hooftracks.
He walked past the crash site and some destroyed trees, a few by the crash; fewer still by the black lightning.
He followed them all the way back into the primitive village.

Of course.
He was an idiot.
They had buildings: so they have basic healthcare, DUH!

His walk sped into a stroll, still fighting the dizziness and jitters, otherwise it would be a sprint.
Some other “ people “ apparently took notice and flocked near like a group of by-standards observing a schoolyard fight.
“ O- Oh my “ said one.
“ Do you need help? “ said another.

He paused for a moment in disbelief. He expected that kind of delay and response from the little pony, but not these ones. They had jobs. He SAW them working. He SAW one of them put down a book to walk over to him!
Or maybe that was the blood loos talking. Who knows.
“ YES! “ “ I NEED HELP! “ As he leaned toward the other ponies in urgent expression.
“ GET A M- “ He was interrupted by a … female? (maybe?) ponies scream.
Luckily she was quickly quieted by another female (?) pony sitting across from her.
Another tan pony walked up to him, and... bowed...? before seeing all the blood on the floor.
“ SORRY! “ he stumbled his words for a bit.

“ I WILL GET -” The tan pony then finally said, before getting interrupted by someone in the crowd screaming:
“HE NEEDS HELP!”
Things quickly devolved into a shouting match, without anything getting done.

The seldom few ponies who were level headed enough to still calmly approach PonderBright were assessing the situation.
All this activity was not doing his autism any favors. He might actually be more in a state of panic then when he was falling.

He then felt a sharp pain coming from his back. A pony had touched it to asses the damage without telling him. Perfect.
He turned to face the perpetrator.
“ HANDS OFF “
The confused and scared pony looked at him with a bloody twig in his hoof.
“ DONT TOUCH ME “ snarled our dark-green and gold pony, almost foaming at the mouth with strained expression.

He then felt another, much sharper ( but still manageable) pain from his front left leg.
At this point he was done.

Mentally done, that is.

For when he felt his makeshift tourniquet fall off and blood start to ooze out of his worst wounds again, he did snap. But for real this time.
Only one thing was present in his mind; a response trained up over time by so many moments of his past:
“ Attack. “

Green lightning.
Everywhere.

5 ponies motionless. 1 Missing a few vital parts.
At least 6 being dragged off by others.

The pony he had mistakenly directed the “ Thought “ towards was completely unharmed, now starring in shock directly at him, and PonderBright staring back at him.
The staring contest quickly came to an end as the dark blue pony ran off, almost slipping due to fleeing so quickly.

Our main pony turned a little more to the right to see his actual target of his ire.
What was left recognizable looked like a doctor.
Modern stethoscope. Scrubs. What looked like the charred remains of bandages.

He ran.
Away from civilization, all the wise that he had done it again. There would be no help, no escaping Twilight, and no returning back to the human world.

He and blew it and he had done so twice, IN A ROW.
At least this time he would make sure his death would not result in more.

After running for awhile, he found a cave and decided that would be his final resting place.
He marched firmly into the opening, and taking a long while to finally get lost inside the winding tunnels to ensure his solitude. He chuckled a bit, even after all this he was still somewhat mentally sharp.
Why had he screamed at the little horse that was just trying to help?

Why the only thing he … wanted to think about when faced with (comparatively) minor pain was to attack?
Was this connected to the destructive lightning in any way?

Oh well.
Probably. Who knows?

It won't matter soon anyway.

Soon it will be nobody's problem, including his own.

He awakened to sounds of hoofs against stone.

It sounded like many different hoofs, like an entire herd, but he wasn't accustom to gauging how many bodies there were when there were 4 legs and all 4 legs being shorter altogether.
He had noticed that most of the bleed had stopped, and he found himself muttering : “Guess I really have to do everything myself”.

A familiar regal female voice was overheard from just around 2 or 3 meters. “ Twilight, did you hear that? ”
Celestia. He recognizes that principal's voice.
Another female voice: “Be ready.”
Luna? He wasn't well read in school affairs, even after Twilight had brought back some semblance of unity to the school.

Ah. Right. A grim reminder to how I got here.
Twilight. A hero now turned villain. She must have succeeded in entering “ Equestria “, obviously.
Did she make mind slaves of the two? Maybe. Impossible to know for sure, given the nature of magic and my lack of understanding.

Now her past transformations of ears and wings made sense; she was from here.

The third time she came back was much more stealthy, probably due to tip offs from Sunset or similar about government tracking or something. Crystal Prep. Glasses. New Clothes. Distance from her friends. I was even applauding her ability to make it seem like she was actually just a genius inventor from the human world, ...
until the ' totally mechanical and not magic device ' she was wearing started tearing holes in reality during the sporting event.

I tried to run, half because of the giant plant monsters, half because of the past 2 times. Got blockaded by security and told it was for my “safety” that we were all in one place.
After no-so-politely explaining to the guard that one place is exactly what a brand new eldritch magical horror would want, he nervously said he was just doing his job and to precede to the courtyard.

None of the others seemed to have a single care in the world. Not even reminding Celestia and Luna of the horrors of magic seemed to change that. Nor did Sunset talking to them earlier. The games continued.
And then Twilight willingly released the magic out of the device that was known to malfunction.

A perfect moment to be so uncharacteristically stupid.

I had my boot knife, shirt knife, other shirt knife, and OTHER other shirt knife at the ready to “persuade” any blocking bodies to move aside once the …
“magic happened”
but I was too late.
She transformed,
I ran,
And I sprinted right over a rock, directly into a portal.

But

That's the joke, right?
That's the punchline right?

People that try to do good like you and me just get catapulted to the wayside, or into a locker, or face first into a toilet, or into a giant ball of eldritch energy, or into a surprise floor esekia, or out of your home onto the street.

And it's not our fault.
But it doesn't matter.

What matters is the result.

And if I don't do anything now, The Result will likely be Twilight destroying my world and taking over a better world, or a war between the two worlds, if Twilight is somehow stopped.

...

No.

I'm sorry Twilight, if your still in there, I don't know how to fire rainbow lasers out of my eyes like you once did.
I've ran all the possibilities through in my head, and there's only one conclusion.

If this is a mercy or more akin to justice,
It does not matter.

Because the result is the same.

I, PonderBright, am about to make my inevitable death, worth it. By doing quite possibly the greatest service “Equestria” has ever seen.

Killing Twilight Sparkle.


When in difficult country, do not encamp. In country where high roads intersect, join hands with your allies. Do not linger in dangerously isolated positions. In hemmed-in situations, you must resort to stratagem. In desperate position, you must fight.

- Sun Tzu, Art of war.

2 - It Takes 2 to Cooperate

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He jumped into their general area after making a short climb over some rocks.
He did a little test as he ran up. He made sure he could, in fact, summon lightning by thinking about the results of his mission.
Bright green, chaotic.
But powerful.

All three were here: Twilight, Celestia, and Luna. They noticed the magical outburst, due to their wide stance and glowing horns.
He was going to rush in and fire as close as possible. That should do it.

But why were her eyes not glowing?

No time for that, attack.

But why did none of them look like they had been transformed?

You'll run out of time. Attack.

And why does this feel wrong?

ATTACK.

He fired a short lived burst of green crawlies all over the cavern. He had not gotten closer to his targets, not even a inch. In fact, he had backed away.
Celesta and Luna had used some sort of magic to teleport them backward.

They looked ready to fight, but not Twilight.
Twilight looked hurt. A very compassionate form of hurt.
He stopped. He wasn't capable. Twilight had two horses to back her up, and she was out of range.

Or maybe that wasn't entirely the reason.

He started to lower his head when he felt... stuck. Immobile. He saw a thin pale and dark mist covering him. He felt... It... too. In a way. He was in combat. No mistaking that.
He used those feelings.

He managed to flash such a bolt, that both Celestia and Luna lost their 'grip'. He then fell to the ground, wincing in the process.
Twilight put her hoof in front of Celestia.
“ Stop! “ she said, firmly yet with no hostility.

What?

She wasn't transformed.
She wasn't lost.

She saved the world, and he was going to kill her.

He immediately screamed, but not out of pain from hitting the ground like he was expecting. It came mostly from mental shock, as him screeching “ STOP! “ showed as much.

“ DON'T GET NEAR ME “ He said as tears started to flow.
“ JUST LEAVE ME! “ He screamed, his voice distorted at the end due to what he thought was his magic going out of control.

Twilight knew she had to help. There was a pony in need right in front of her, just like the one she had recently saved. And this one doesn't even need convincing.
Both her heart and mind were certain.
She needed to try.

Twilight put her hoof in front of the two other princesses. “ Don't hurt him! I'll calm him down! “ She stated.
They looked conflicted and unsure. They still used some sort of magic, unknown to PonderBright, of course. But not as invasive as the previous. Must be some sort of defensive maneuver.
He instinctively threw a burst of lightning Twilight's way to stop her progress, but just in her general area, and only in front of her.

It was just to scare her away.

He needed to get away.

Get away to pass away peacefully.

She stopped walking forward while having used a wing to cover her head. She then lowered her wing, gained some sort of … look? In her eyes, and marched forward with a newfound confidence.

“ Let me help. “ She said.

He hung his head head in pain. Pain not of the body, but of the mind.

I felt sleepy.

I trust you.

He woke in a medical bed, chained, of course. Hoof handcuffs? Hoofcuffs? At least he could feel his front right hoof, which had started to get numb towards the end of his first day in Equesteria.
He looked at his general condition. He was looking very bandaged, clean, goldish-yellow, and... green hair? Some familiarity gave him a tiny bit of comfort, even if it is just coloration.
It took awhile before one of the passing nurses realized he was awake.

“Oh. Uh. I'm not really sure to treat an Alicorn.”
Alicorn? That's me?
“I was told to let you know that your going to have a meeting...”
He was very surprised by the lack of the words 'trail, execution' or 'burning'
“With the 3 Ponies you met before they took you here...”

“And... Thats' it!”, “Whew!” the nurse sighed. She put down a note on her cart.
“It's fine.” PonderBright responded. He was surprised to find his voice so raspy.
“More water!” she said, strolling off, more of a statement then an ask.
He realized he had misinterpreted her last statement before putting the note down.
He waited until those three came.

It's all he could do.

The princesses walked up to the seemingly asleep pony, due to how he hung his eyes. He was still sensitive to a lot, light included.
Luna was opposed to Twilight's plan to put him in a regular hospital rather then a prison one, citing how she thought he would react when he woke up and saw them.
“I trust your judgment, Twilight.” he overheard from Celestia.
Huh.

He immediately ended the miscommunication by saying
“ I'm awake.”
Twilight turned towards him with a friendly smile.
She's trying to defuse the tension. She's not very good at it, but it's a glass house. His social skills are worse then the human's world version of Twilight and he knows it.

The others are much more tense.
“I'm ready to talk.” I volunteer.
“Alright.” stated Luna.
“Then we shall begin.”

As they were explaining the situation, all 3 of them noticed PonderBright's expression getting more shameful and sad with each new detail they explained.

3 casualties.
8 with permanent damage.



He had a hard time fighting back the tears. He never enjoyed pointless suffering, quite the opposite in fact. He and FlutterShy used to wave at each other at the animal shelter back in the human world.
Twilight was noticing this, and she thought everyone could use a breather.
“ We can take a brake if you need- ”
“ No. “ he dully responded to Twilight's unfinished question.

He slurried together a few words “ I think that this should be resolved as soon as possible, so no one else is hurt. “
Twilight was taken back. This was not what she was expecting. Going from a manic rampage to wanting to fix it in what must be only a few moments for him.
Though this wasn't unusual at all for Twilight's encounters with villains, she still did consider it a major unexpected victory.

“ I'm- Sorry. “ He stated.

“ That's all I have to say. ”

Luna and Celestia's expression softened a bit, Luna more then Celestia.
Celestia still had that famous poker face.
We still have some questions. ”
“ If you would. “ Luna said authoritatively.

The Male Alicorn and the Female Alicorn stared at each other until it became rather awkward.
“ Do you have them ready? “ He asked.
“ Of course. I was waiting for your confirmation. “ She replied.
“ Ah. “ He muttered.
He was waiting for her to ask, but he never communicated this.
“ Yes. I'm ready. “ He finally got around to saying.

“ Very well then. “ Luna replied.
' Here it comes ' He thought.
“ Did you mean to attack the ponies at Ponyville? “
“ No. You mean the village I followed the young pony too? No. “
Luna paused for a moment to make sense of the horribly worded response.
The three princesses were starting to get the picture of how exactly he fumbled 3 whole 'peaceful' encounters.

“ Did you mean to attack AppleBloom, the 'young pony' you mentioned? “ Her tone was slightly rushed and monotone with this one, as if she knew the answer. Because she did.
“ No. “ The expression in his voice getting ever duller, becoming much like a machine.
“ Did you mean to attack us when you landed nearby us in the cave? “
“ No. Only Twilight. “ He stated in the same monotone as before. He had accidentally moved his gaze to her in that moment. He saw her pupils get small, and she leaned back a little.

He immediately realized his mistake. Celestia had covered Twilight with one of her wings, her head tilted up slightly. Luna had ignited her horn. Her softened expression now hardened again.

“ Maaaybe we should take a break? ” Twilight awkwardly suggested as she popped out from behind Celestia's wing.
“ That was my fault. “ PonderBright apologized.
“ I'm not very good at communicating. “
“I... understand. “ Luna said with a sigh, her posture and words finally loosing their pointed nature.

As they left, PonderBright had finally realized why he had stumbled his words as bad as he did: he had been in hospice for a week and a half. The calendars they use here very closely mimic the human ones, and the one he had atop his wall had 11 days filled in.
Or he hoped. He hoped those were days, not months or years. Was a Equestrian day the same length as a normal day? Probably not. He should stop assuming.

When they came back, Twilight looked nervous about something, but at least the tension in the other two was all but gone. Theirs was replaced with a very sad and somber look, and Ponder was surprised he was picking up on any of this at all.
People usually hid their emotions from him back home, and these WERE horses, not humans. Ponies. Same thing.

“ Explain why you attacked Twilight. “ Luna exclaimed.
“ I thought she was my worlds Twilight, who was corrupted by magic and wanted to destroy my world to get here. “
“ I figured I would remove a threat to Equestria, since I was going to bleed out anyway... ”
Twilight sighed a sighed a relief, but a small one. You don't get used to noticing these things unless you spend a lot of time listening and not talking. PonderBright was for the first time thankful of his past friendships.

Celestia looked at Twilight, and Twilight back to Celestia. Celestia then took a step towards PonderBright and asked:

“ What is your name? “ She said, calmly.
“ PonderBright. “

She smiled. Though Ponder did not know and could not tell, it was only a smile to lift his spirits.

“ PonderBright, we understand that these actions were ultimately not your fault, however- “
“ Yeah. I understand. There still needs to be accountability. “ Ponder replied.
“ However. “ Celestia politely interrupted
“ We can not let such actions pass without first ensuring they will not happen again. “ Celestia stated.
“ Therefor, I, Queen Celestia of Equestria, hereby order the pony PonderBright under the temporary authority of princess Twilight Sparkle, for the purposes of learning the magic of friendship. So he may never repeat these same mistakes again.”

“ Your horn will stay limited for the duration of your visit.” She pointed to the top of his head, which in fact, had a horn. ... Which was covered up by a strange device.
Celestia turned, whispered something to Twilight, and walked away.
Twilight tanked Celestia while walking over to PonderBright.
She released him from his Hoofcuffs with magic, and said with a smile hand a hoof held high:
“ Stay and rest for awhile. We have a crystali- I mean new baby … party to attend to. ”


In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.

- Sun Tzu, Art of War

3 - Kindness Restored

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He couldn't help but think there was a sense of strain or stress to Twilight voice as he remembered it. She was much better at friendship then her human counterpart, and oddly enough hiding her emotions. He wondered if the two were related. Must be, the fakest ones were always the most popular.

He still trusted her though, to spite everything plus the unusual lack of the hammer being brought down.

He wasn't sure what part convinced him: her putting himself in harms way just to save him? Or her dedication to spreading... Friendship? Teamwork? Celestia said friendship, but Celestia is not Twilight Sparkle. He hated when others put words in his mouth, and he would never let that happen for his savior.

These kinds of thoughts whirled around in his head for awhile, so long he realized that their little short trip to the ' Crystal Empire ' was not so short anymore. They had been gone for days.

The hospital food was getting old. He could now move around fine and there was nothing to do. Nothing to do to make amends. He was left alone with his thoughts for an uncomfortably long time.

He wasn't going to assume. Assuming was how he got into this mess. He was going to wait for an explai-
“ Sorry we were late getting back, there was some holdups at the crystal empire, and well... “
Twilight said, barging into the room in a unkempt manner.


“ I'm so sorry about the delay. I didn't want you think you are a prisoner. “ She apologized.
He then used his one and only social skill in attempt to repay some kindness.
“ Twilight, you saved me from self destruction, and then probably execution. You don't owe me anything. I'm fine. “ He stated with confidence.

Twilight smiled in relief, but he couldn't help getting that feeling again. This definitely was no casual friendly conversation. Much more tense, serious. But it could not be helped. He HAD killed some others, after all. A scar he will have to carry for the rest of his life. No matter how short, or how long that may be.

Twilight wanted him to follow her. They talked as they walked.

...

“ So the Crystal Heart needed to be restored to heat the empire “, “ And It's powered by positive emotions? “ Asked PonderBright.
“ Yes, though I'm kind of surprised you figured out the positive emotions part from just that explanation. “ Twilight half-replied-half asked.

The two were walking to FlutterShy's cottage for a friendship lesson.
Ponder replied further.
“ Whats more strange is you'd trust me with top secret military intelligence. “ He said half jokingly
Twilight stopped and her pupils shrunk a bit.
“ You... You'd consider that of... military importance? “

“ Well, yes. Its a single, fragile point of failure for the whole empire. I'm amazed it it took that long to break with it only being shielded behind a curtain on the ground floor!“
There was a sizable silence as Twilight was in contemplation.
“ You know what? Your right. “
Twilight said in half-confidence as they approached the door. She still had her famous awkward smile on from his last remark, though Ponder thought he had done something wrong.

He ignored that thought as word games like those were nonsense, and only led to stupidity and miscommunication; and The last thing he wanted was more harm being caused.
The door opened after a short knock to a very familiar looking pony.
“ Fluttershy? “ Ponder instinctively said.
“ Oh ? Did twilight tell you? “ Fluttershy asked.
As he was walking per her hand... hoof gesture he noticed a... serpent thing floating near the doorway, giving him a very angry stare.

He instantly widened his stance, and apparently spread his wings by accident, hitting Twilight in the face.
Twilight's instincts kicked in. She had to defuse the situation. (though the situation was in no need of fixing)
Twilight said in a rush “ HI Discord ! “ In a very strained manner.
Twilight looked at Fluttershy as if she was in pain, and Fluttershy looked at Discord.

“ Don't look at me, we talked about this. “, 'It spoke?' Ponder was thinking.
Thank god it was not a wild animal. Who knows what a Fluttershy could tame in a fantasy world.
“ Also “ It continued
It snapped his fingers and he felt lighter.




His head felt lighter.
No horn?
Fluttershy butted in: “ DISCORD! “
“ What? He'll get it back when he leaves, and it's not like he was using it anyway.
PonderBright was amazed.

“ Thank you, whatever you are! “ He said in uncharacteristic joy.
Twilight was unsure on what recent event to be more confused by.
“ Is it permanent? “ He asked, happiness still in his eyes.
“ Oh certainly. If you want it to be. Along with a all expenses paid trip back to the human realm if you so wish. “
He snapped his fingers again, and the inside of her house turned into a modern airport security, with his new clothes now resembling a flight attendant, but not quite spot on.

“ Yes! Thank you! “

“ Um, the horn thing, not the trip back to the human world. “
He looked back happily at twilight, who was obligated to share a small smile.
Discord's fingers were already poised to snap.
Sigh.
“ Also, What?
Discord responded in confusion.

“ That horn caused so many people so much trouble! I'm glad any possibility of it happening again is over. “ PonderBright answered.
“ Well, if it makes you happy, ” Twilight said with contemplation in her voice “ Then that's ok. “
“ I just didn't want to make you feel like you were missing a part of your body. “


“ I'm originally a human, remember? “ Ponder responded.
“ Oh, right. “ Twilight said with minor embarrassment.

“ And it's ponies, not people “ Fluttershy calmly corrected him.
“ Oh, right. “ Ponder said in blank monotone.

“ I think I know why Twilight chose me. Come on, lets go meet some nice little animals. “
Ponder smiled.
She motioned to Twilight as she nodded. Twilight then closed the door and hoofsteps were heard leading away from the house.
The two remaining ponies walked out into the back, Discord following closing behind, guarding Fluttershy.


Fluttershy; surprised and disheartened by what she heard Ponder say in the house, overcompensated by sharing a bit too much about every animal that was in her backyard. Many fuzzy meaningless words like “adorable” and “little” followed.

She realized halfway through the sentence: “ And this little cute bluebird would just love- ” She had looked in Ponder's direction and noticed he was uncomfortable.
“ Oh. I'm sorry. I didn't realize I was making things tense. “
“ No it's fine. “ Ponder replied
“ This is much better then the human world. “

“ Oh? How so? “
“ Animals free to go everywhere, and they can think! “
Ponder had misunderstood her apology, but neither seemed to care. The point was communicated all by itself.
“ This is all very nice. “ Ponder said after a pause. “ I think I needed this. To SEE kindness, or at least be near it. ”
A ferret rubbed up against Ponder's leg
“ And maybe to feel it too “ Flutteryshy replied.

“Ah yes. Very great. Much fun. Are we done here? “ Discord butted in, his angry glance turned more into a sneer at Ponder.
Fluttershy slowly replied “ No, not really. “ without understanding the situation.
PonderBright, however, knew exactly what this was. He had experience in just about every negative emotion, his own included. This was jealousy.
He was not about to attempt to hurt another creature, not mentally and definitely not physically. But he thought he would repay the kindness that Fluttershy had shown him by calming the 'dragon'.

“ Discord, I'm going to be leaving soon anyway, why rush this? “ He said in hopes of issuing a verbal surrender. It didn't work. Shocker.
“ Well color me surprised if I don't trust a murder-pony with my best and dearest friend Fluttershy. “
“ Discord, we all know it was an acci- “

Ponder cut Fluttershy off.

“ My horn is gone. I wanted it gone and thanked you for it! I like the culture-way of life you have here in Equestria, I love it! I would never do anything to harm it! “
“ Maybe not intentionally. “ Discord said smugly.

“ DISCORD! “ Fluttershy said with minor hate in her voice.

“ No it's alright. “ Ponder replied
“ You have just cause to not like me Discord. I don't want to say that I'm trying to deny that. “

Discord let up a bit.
“ Hmph. “ A almost stone-cold reply.

“ Ill try my best not to cause anymore trouble. “ The words pained him. These words he had hoped not to say today, but to postpone indefinitely. A reminder of a seemingly perfect world he had tainted with his human tendencies.

A thought crossed his mind.
“ Wait, Discord, with all that power, maybe you- “
Discord's pointed anger turned to solemness as he turned away from the other two.

PonderBright was confused, not understanding the que, until Fluttershy put her hoof on his shoulder.
He scowled and sat back down on the grass.

“ That's not the point of today. “ Fluttershy said.
“ Were all doing this because we want to help, and to show you we want to help. “
“ And because we all agreed that this wasn't your fault. “
She said that last one with a bit of doubt.

“ Well, I suppose I got a little carried away too. In our conversation. “
“ And I suppose that some of the past … situation is my fault too. “

Discord's voice and posture softened.
Fluttershy was gaining a gleeful open-mouth smile.
“ If I wanted this to have never happened I could have been paying more attention, especially near the cottage - and to you Fluttershy. “
Fluttershy blushed a bit, and her smile turned heartfelt, though Ponder was waaaaaay to autistic to notice this.

“ I could have ended that whole fiasco anytime I wanted, IF I had noticed what was happening to you, PonderBright. “
Discord half-apologized.

“ You don't have eyes in the back of your head. “ PonderBright rebuked, almost argumentatively.
“ Oh but I do! “ Discord turned around to reveal a copy of his eyes that weren't there before.
“ But in all seriousness though, I do have hundreds or thousands of invisible eyes active at any given time. “
With a snap of his fingers, many circular eyes revealed themselves in the area.

Ponder reached out to touch one, but it moved away with almost perfect movements to keep its distance.
“ Cool. “ said Ponder.
“ Really? “ said the other two in confusion.
Fluttershy was used to this stuff, but an involuntary refugee literal alien with such a bad first experience? She was shocked and amazed by that reaction.
Discord was similarly stumped too, he expected to end the tension with a quick scare and a group laugh.




“ And fyi, unless you agreed to be Equestria's entire police force, I don't think you can be paying attention to everything all the time. “ Ponder confidently stated.
Discord smiled.
“ HO HO! Oh you flatter me. “, “ Not even minds as great as mine can process that much information, ill admit. “
“ Well anyway, since were getting introductions out of the way, Discord is the name, Chaos is THE game. “ He said while snapping the dirt roads into soap, and the grass into candy.

“ Wow. “
“ Now I kind of want to know what happened to the area they gave you to do whatever with. “ Ponder replied, assuming yet again. He wanted to shift the conversation, he didn't think he could take talking about his mistakes much longer.
“ Land? What land? I'll have you know I'm only a homeowner in the Chaos Realm. “ He said as eldritch horrors crawled out from a portal behind him, turning out to be paper cutouts just viewed from a bad angle.

“ Didn't they give you some land nobo- nopony would want just to see what you would do with it? Or as a thank you? Or maybe a chaos amusement park? “
Both Flutteryshy and Discord were awestruck, but mostly Discord.
“ I'm happy your getting along. Maybe even made a new friend? “ Fluttershy cheekily said to discord.

Discord, who had been furiously writing this down with a pencil in his mouth, hand, and tucked between one ear looked over to Fluttershy's 'smug face' and disappeared his writing and stationary.
Some of Flutteryshy's animals walked over to be petted. PonderBright and Fluttershy happily accepted them by their side and into their laps as they sat down.
PonderBright's attention was caught by a sudden polite “ AHM. “ form discord.

His 'seating area' was now a radio recording studio, complete with a boom microphone and table. He was dressed the part too, like always.
“ But please, tell us more about this... 'Chaos Themed Amusement Park' “ Discord said with a perfectly straight face with both hands clasped together, perfect posture and all.

They both laughed in response, and PonderBright realized something he hadn't in a long time; he was feeling alright, having FUN even. It was a good feeling. But reality brought him back down. But not back down to his normal 'rock bottom' like he was expecting, more like a neutral feeling; bordering on the bad side. He hoped it would last, but knew better and just focused on the moment.







When Twilight picked Ponder up from Fluttershy's at the end of the day, She and the others had a brief private conversation.
He spent that down time looking at just how weird and beautiful everything was, the distant mountain city, the town, the general landscape. He should have done better with the townsfolk, in all honesty. He didn't know how though, and he was desperate to try to make things as better as he could.
After the fact. It looks like there was no undoing the death.

The thoughts of taking a long walk off of a short dock never surfaced though, which was odd.

The door opened.
“ PonderBright? You can come back in now. “ She said with a genuine smile.
He sat down on a stool next to a table, where they were all seated.

He fumbled the process, as one does when your a human with horse like appendages, but Twilight managed to lend a stabilizing hoof at the right moment.
“ We are happy you were able to relax. “ said Twilight.
“ Yeah. I definitely feel better. “ said Ponder.
“ You seem better too. “ Fluttershy replied.
“ Sometimes, we all need a little kindness. “

“ And, I think I know what to do now, regarding your friendship lessons. “ Twilight remarked
“ That is, if you'll stay in equestria, of course. “

“ Yeah. “ PonderBright stated.
“ I don't feel like giving up anymore. “ He said with unusual amounts of emotion in his words.

Ponder looked over at Twilight to see her eyes half-closed. She looked? Smug? Did she foresee this? No. Too many variables. Something similar? Also no. This wasn't the logical reaction or conclusion and he knew it. No pony-human-anything could have predicted any sort of short term improvement after what he went through, Equestria and earlier.

Ponder was about to say something, but then-
“ Well then it's settled! Thanks guys. “ Twilight said as she got up to leave.
Ponder followed her.
After some goodbyes, And after a distance was between them and the cottage, Twilight spoke up.

“ You know, I had some doubts that you really meant what you said. Intentionally or not. “ Twilight said in a normal tone.
“ But not anymore. Between what I saw when I was there, and some of when I wasn't, I don't need a spell to know that you were telling the truth. “ She said in honesty.

" Your doing better now and I'm confident you won't hurt anypony. " She further said in earnest.

“ When you weren't there? “ Ponder asked.
“ Oh! “ Twilight had gotten ahead of herself.
“ Discord can replicate any moment he's seen, like in a play. “ She replied.
“ Huh. We have similar devices in my world. “ Ponder replied.
“ Oh. “ She said in minor interest.

“ And I guess that explains the weird feeling from when I was being questioned. “ Ponder said.
“ Yes. Zone of Truth, It's a harmless spell. “ Twilight stated. She hoped he had not been too sensitive too it, having an alicorn's sense of magic and all.
“ It's fine. “ He said in usual monotone. Twilight's face getting slightly more worried at that response, but not enough for Ponder to notice.

“ But anyway, I wanted to offer you a stay at my castle. “ Twilight had course corrected the conversation yet again.
Ponder looked surprised. She continued.
“ You clearly are sorry. You didn't mean it, and you want to make up for it. That's all the evidence I need. “
Ponder fought back grinning as much as he could, as he was taught that such a thing was either rude, creepy, or a sign of weakness depending on who was in front of him.

“ Thanks Twilight. I'll accept. “
Kindness.
Kindness indeed.


Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death.

- Sun Tzu, Art of War

4 - Introductions

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“ It's just that, It's sometimes hard to understand you when you talk about certain things - or make certain points without displaying any emotion. “ Twilight said, as she was showing Ponder around the castle.

She had learned from Starlight; and this time there could be no accidental room openings.
Hence, this tour.

It had been almost a day since he joined her and Starlight in the castle, and yet, he barely left his room. He went outside, but only for ~15 minutes at a time and only at sunrise and sunset. She had her concerns, but they were minor. She zoned back in to catch Ponder's response:

“ But I only show emotions for one thing: how I feel about the situation. “ Ponder replied, entirely missing the point.
“ Besides, wouldn't having only possible meaning to such a complex thing make it simpler? “
His point was technically correct, as if he was talking to a perfect machine.
He knocked on a door they were standing near as he finished his sentence.

After around 3 seconds of no response he unlocked an opened the door. Twilight felt relief that he at least knew basic manners and how to use them.
In the moment, she was more worried about how him and Starlight would meet, but those fears would soon be rendered irrelevant as Starlight was already in the library.


“ Oh! “ Starlight was startled. She didn't hear the knock, or just wasn't paying attention.
Twilight was at a standstill. She didn't know what to do. Not exactly the best option for two ponies till in ' friendship kindergarten ' or so she thought.

“ Your the other pony that Twilight mentioned. “ Ponder had responded.



They both stared at each other for an uncomfortably long period of time, Starlight because of her lasting uneasiness and Ponder because autism. The deadlock became apparent to all parties involved.
It was so long, Twilight almost spoke up.

“ So, your new here? Twilight asked about letting you stay here yesterday. “ Starlight felt obligated to say with a forced smile.
“ Yes. “ Ponder responded.
Both were happy that they were speaking to each other, even with such smallest of talks.

“ Well that's the library! “ Twilight said in a rush.
“ I ought to show him the rest of the castle; learning from you! “ She said facing starlight.
She closed the door.

Twilight didn't exactly know why she had rushed the goodbye. She forgot about that introspection as a sense of ease overcame her as she checked another room off her checklist.

Ponder had wondered: Did she rush this? Did she not want us to meet? Nah. Couldn't be. Us two are literally living together, in a medieval court kind of sense.

Twilight, of course, had not even come close to any of these realizations. She had been operating on autopilot. She didn't want to make a mistake. Not now while both of those ponies were in their ' fragile cocoon stage of friendship '.


While they were walking Ponder realized he had not yet confirmed one of his earlier suspicions; and he was not about to let another being speak for his savoir, so he had to ask:

“ Twilight, the thing your trying to teach is friendship, correct? “
Twilight immediately forgot about the earlier nervousness she was feeling to hold back a little laughter.
“ Yes. You didn't get that from our time together? “
“ Well, no. Not for certain. “

“ Celestia said 'magic' of friendship which could mean regular friendship, or the firing of the rainbows thing. “
Twilight giggled. She never had thought about it that way, being in mortal combat every time she had to use them.
She let him continue.
“ And the friendship lesson's original plan according to Fluttershy was to just make me … feel better? Right? “

She was surprised at his frankness. Though, she had already seen both sides of Starlight's personality, maybe this was just the other end of his.

“ Yes. “, “ Friendship definitely comes first.“
“ The real magic of friendship comes first; Learning how good it is to have friends. “
He responded in a very guarded manner:
“ Well, I don't mean to be rude or ungrateful in any way but... “

Twilight was waiting for a response.
“ I tried friendship many times and it was a total disaster. “

Twilight immediately stopped. Ponder took notice and took a guarded stance, to match his earlier tone. Both ponies eyes shrunk, but Ponders were truly tiny.
Twilight had noticed the tension, and tried to soften it, but at this point she was already basically twilight-ing over the previous statement.

“ Uhm, … You tried it multiple times … And every one was a failure? “ She asked, failing to force a smile.
Ponder only stared back, eyes completely open, unblinking.


Twilight had never encountered this response before. She didn't know what to do. The closest thing she'd seen is from one of the older royal guardsmen.
This was also not doing her mental state any favors. She kept thinking about how it would even be possible for anypony to even say that, and moreover react in such a way.

A few seconds passed.

PonderBright's expression instantly softened as if a switch was flipped, now to a more worried look, and he seemed to be a bit more approachable.
Ponder had figured, if he's going to get the full might of a higher authority brought down upon him, it might as well be Twilight.
' This was apparently his form of a social peace offering ' Twilight was thinking.
He answered her question:

“ Yes. They either ended in them drifting away, or some form of betrayal. “ He rushed a response.
“ A bad investment at best, and a -“ His expression turned sour. “ Security risk at worst. “

Twilight was relieved. She didn't show it, however. She still had some twilight-ing to do quietly in her room, and it did show.


“ I'm, so sorry your former friendships turned out that way. “ She said, mostly to comfort him. He wasn't having it. Not because she didn't try or wasn't genuine, but because he was particularly zealous about not making decisions with his emotions.

“ It's fine “ He returned to his usual monotone, the threat of retribution for pointing out a flaw in his superior all but gone.
“ It's mostly a done deal for me, at least when were talking about what I can accomplish. “

Twilight looked confused. Ponder explained further.

“ I've done friendship many times, I already know how it ends for me if I try to do it again without changing anything; statistically speaking. “

Ponder realized something, though the realization was off topic.
“ Oh, sorry. I got ahead of myself. With your level of technology you probably don't know what ' statistically ' is. “

Twilight saw a path to shoehorn a friendship lesson in, and by celestia she took it.

“ Oh I'm well aware of statistics. “ She replied. Ponder looked shocked.
“ Probabilities, Z-scores, tripple-blind studies and standard deviations. “ Twilight was trying hard to make a point, but Ponder was not quite getting it just yet.

“ So maybe you'll be willing to be learn about friendship in the same way you just learned about us and statistics. “, “ There's new perspectives and knowledge just about anywhere, and I think it would be a shame if you just gave up on all of it. “

Ponder still looked shocked, but out of amazement rather then confoundment. Twilight, to spite her much greater experience in friendship, did not notice this.


“ Oh. Uh. Maybe that's a little too much for right now? “ She asked.

“ Oh, no! I'm sorry for assuming! “ Ponder said. He further spurted out words to further curb miscommunication: “ I got that all wrong. And maybe for friendship too, … though given my sample size I'm much more confident in that assertion. “

In rushing to snuff out any incorrect words or assumptions, he had accidentally took a slightly cocky and assertive tone. ' Whoops. Another drop in the ocean, I guess ' Ponder thought. Hopefully she won't be too mad -

“ Well then I guess we'll have to provide you with even more good ones. Friendships, that is. “
She said with confidence.
“ To tip that scale back in the right direction, or the mean of that data back towards where it should be. “
“ Statistically speaking. “



PonderBright had no words. Her logic was sound, snarky remark at the end or not. This was not the world he knew, and he was literally an alien. He was just so used to Earth, that the massive difference in location, culture and other differences hadn't been mentally processed yet.

Or maybe he was intentionally putting that realization off.

Who knew.

He certainly didn't.

“ Oh yeah. Certainty. I didn't mean to say I wanted to call it quits before I even began. “ He corrected himself.
“ I'm down for basically anything. I'm a big enough, … pony to admit that I know nothing about nothing here. Equestria, that is. “

They both shared a genuine smile for the first time, as Twilight finished showing Ponder around.
“ You know, I think I know how to revise your friendship plan. “ Twilight said as they came back to the massive entryway.
“ Oh? Is there a standard procedure or something? “ Ponder tried to make a joke.

“ Ah, no. “ Twilight responded. She had a slight smile to let Ponder know that the attempt was appreciated.
“ But I am fairly certain I know anyway. You remember Applejack? “
“ Sure. We saw each other around, helped each other a few times, in fact. “

They traded a few more meaningless words until Twilight asked:
“ You know honesty is kind of her thing, right? “
“ I guess? Yeah. I think that makes sense. Never heard her lie back in Canterlot. “

Twilight had assumed correctly that their human counterparts had little knowledge about their elements and what they represent.

“ Well, I'll have you talk to her next, If that's alright. “

Ponder agreed with a nod.

“ There's some... not so easy things you need to hear now that you're feeling better, and in a state to hear them. “ She had not been looking forward to saying this.
“ There was lasting damage, and some things that can not be undone. “


' There was no going around that, so might as well go through it ' Ponder thought to himself as she finished her sentence.

“ Yeah. I think so too. “ Ponder said.
Ponder looked around, as if Appplejack was living there as well.


“ Tomorrow. “ Twilight clarified. She was not used to anypony not quite understanding her on a surface level just as much as Ponder did.

But he did connect with her via statistics and past experiences, in a different way. She couldn't help but wonder if that would come up later or needed to be addressed, but for now, she was just happy she herself wasn't about to go into another minor breakdown.

With as many things happening as of late, it wasn't really something she thought she could afford.

After a genuine “ Bye! “ from both parties Twilight went to Starlight and Ponder to his room.
Ponder couldn't help the thoughts that he was always in a mental state to hear whatever horrible truths Applejack or anyone else had to lay down on him. His devotion to logical action and improvement was absolute, or so he thought.

He was good at it.

Very good at it. Better then everyone in his school, the entire state even, if you look at the numbers a bit crooked. Why wasn't he thinking about anything else? He asked himself.

Because there is currently no greater way to make progress, of course.

And so, with him leaving no other valid targets to direct his mind too, his thoughts festered.
Unknown to PonderBright, of course. The thoughts continued:

He was forged through hot fire to be what he is today. He couldn't possibly be susceptible to such simple minded pitfalls, could he?
Not in the traditional sense, no. He had too much life experience proving otherwise.

He drifted off to sleep.

But every dam has it's maximum safe level, no matter how many safety latches, diverting waterways and height.
And even steel has it's breaking point.

PonderBright went to sleep thinking that the whole Fluttershy business was mostly a waste of time.
A well intentioned waste of time, but a waste of time. He was very different. Both physically, and especially mentally.

His subconscious state manifested in a dream.

Or rather, a nightmare.

PonderBright awoke to strained distant screaming. He had been trying to wake up due to said screams for awhile now, but something akin to sleep paralysis must have been keeping him half asleep.

He instantly realized something.

The screams had abruptly stopped.
His survival instincts kicked in.

He immediately jumped from his bed, his eyes still trying to adjust to the dark. No lights, duh. Primitive magic world.

His eyes and ears were not working at 100%, probably due to the abrupt end of sleep and him getting up too fast.
He clumsily used his wings as digits to strike a match and light a candle, the same way twilight had done when getting back from Fluttershy's.

She must have done so to show him. He knows she can make lights from her magic.
Magic.
Something he wished he had right now, if only to make a laser-lightning light show then run away if he happened to run into the perpetrator.

He started to walk towards Twilight's room to alert her. The faded sound of his own footsteps echoing around the halls, surprising even him. He must still be half asleep. No corrected vision, either. The dizziness had luckily faded. At least that's something.

He pressed on to spite not being in a state to do so. he had to see if Twilight was ok. The last thing he wanted is for something bad to happen to anyone here, in the perfect pastel pony world. He was in the middle of wondering if that ' perfect world ' assumption was really correct when he realized something:

NOTHING around here was viewable. Or clearly, at least. Everything was a blur; no matter how close or how far. He looked at a nearby mirror to check himself, and there he was, in crystal clear perfect view.
His mind started to stray.

Have I lost vision? Do I need glasses? He thought to himself. No. Everything sounds … Distorted. Faded.
Something was wrong. Everything was off.

Then, A crystal clear voice seemingly inches away from his ear speaks with perfect clarity and confidence:
“ Well of course it is. You don't belong here. “
He immediately turned.

Nothing.


Not a hint of magic, (which he was very good at detecting by now) , and no visual.
He threw a nearby book on the ground at the empty hall, and it fell to the floor. No invisible enemies either.

He didn't have that big of a grasp of how magic worked, or rather not at all. He figured this was either some sort of physic attack meant to throw him off, or a hallucination.

He figured the perpetrator wanted to slow him down with that threat. He did the opposite. He started to run. Not a sprint, as doing the exact opposite would be falling for basic reverse physiology. Plus he still could not see very well, and may sprint into a trap if he went at full speed.



He then ran past something.

In one of the rooms, he could have sworn he saw blood.
Blood and a corpse.
He kept running.

If the perp was in that room, they would likely come out to attack him. He ran to the nearest intersection and hid under a desk.

“ Wow. You really have lost your touch. No walking over your tracks like a bear, no sound diversions, no making of makeshift weapons. “

He immediately jumped, hitting his head on the bottom of the desk.

He then heard laughter. A very mocking laughter. Very familiar. As if some sort of mental block; (or break), was preventing him from recognizing it's owner.
The laughter was not only right next to his ear like the previous two interruptions; it echoed all over the halls for a bit.
Whoever this thing was, it had eyes on him.

It knew ALOT about him.
It was at the tip of his tongue who the perp was. It bugged him. It disturbed him deeply.
He ran. Fast, this time.

It seemed to have eyes on him no matter what he did, so no use in hiding. He took it's advice and got a fire poker as a weapon as he passed the fireplace.
He then immediately came across another corpse. This time in the hallway.

Rarity?
She was hit on the back of the head with something. And then stabbed repeatedly in the stomach.

He didn't know If this was just the shock kicking in, but his vision and hearing was further starting to fail him. More things became blurred. Blurred things became more blurred. His footsteps were now one long, echoing sound, even if he slowed down.

One thing was still crystal clear though:
“ You took too long. So I did. “

He swung his poker around, wings hurting under the strain of it. He just wanted it to go away.
More laughter came as a response to his struggling.

He pressed on. He hoped to curb the casualties. And he desperately wanted to kill whatever was evil enough to do all of this.

He came across a strewn up blue Pegasus in the kitchen. It looked like Rainbowdash. This one was in much worse condition then Rarity. What was recognizable looked horrible. She had been tortured.

“ Justice. “ Said the voice.

“ JUST TAKE ME! “ PonderBright finally shouted back.
TAKE ME AND LEAVE THE REST ALONE! IT'S CLEARLY ME YOU WANT! “

More laughter.

“ The rest? “

His heart sank. He dropped the poker as it would just slow him down. He would body slam whoever or whatever this thing was and let the rest escape. If not, he would bite it's putrid throat out for it's sins.

The hallways were much, much longer then he remembered.



He ran past a few more corpses, 3 to be exact. The rest of Twilight's friend group, probably. He didn't check to look.

His eyes and ears continued to fail him, the more and more he ran. It became so bad that he could only make our the vague outlines of shapes.

He ran and ran, and eventually came to the end of a dead end hallway.
He was not shown any of these during his tour, and wasn't even sure there was any in the castle.

He was confused, but he knew the door at the end was Twilight's.
He hesitated. To spite his emotions, he opened the door.

What came into view was a human. Completely and perfectly visible. Perfectly clean. Turned away, and Twilight's motionless body on the floor next to it. It and her was the only things clear enough to be reconcilable, though Twilight was much more blurred.

Her throat had been slit, but other than that there seemed to be no signs of the usual damage on the others.

“ A mercy. “
It said.

It's voice now not only right next to Ponder's ear, but also coming from the human.

It's head had instantly rotated a bit to have one tiny part of one of it's eyes face him. Ponder was in shock. Did he teleport? Is it's speed immeasurable?

“ This was never going to work. “

“ You know better. “

Ponder's legs were about to give out.

“ But of course, you already knew that -”

A tree branch from a window obscured it in darkness for a moment, and when it was back in view it was turned around to face him. It towered over the shorter stature of the ponies in the room.

It was himself.

“ Right? “

It had it's arms outstretched, reaching away from it's torso and slightly shrugged, in a domineering fashion.

It began to smile.

A bright flash of a dark blue magic shined from a distant somewhere, then everything was gone.
A familiar pony came into view.



“ Luna? “ PonderBright correctly guessed.

Luna had a very concerned look on her face, and was visibly shaken.
“ Ponderbright. “ Luna replied, not really knowing what to say.
Ponder had realized: this was just a dream.

“ OH THANK GOD “ He instinctively blurted out.
Luna seem confused.

“ And what might you mean? “ Luna asked.
“ Don't worry about it dream Luna “ Ponder said with maximum catharsis in his voice.
“ I'll be waking up soon. “

She seemed slightly offended.
“ I am the princess of dreams, Twilight has not told you? “
“ So, your trying to say your the real Luna? “ Ponder had to ask.
“ Yes. I was about to say. “ Luna replied.

“ Well if your the real Luna, and want to convince me, send me a tex- a letter or come to visit; I'm totally done with this dream stuff for right now. “ Ponder had openly admitted, falling on the dream-like floor.

“ Very well. I wish to discuss this with you anyhow. “
“ I will arrive tomorrow morning. “


Ponder did not respond. Hopefully he would get some rest thanks to this Luna-Ex-Machina.


When you engage in actual fighting, if victory is long in coming, then men's weapons will grow dull and their ardor will be damped. If you lay siege to a town, you will exhaust your strength.

- - Sun Tzu, Art of War

5 - Pondering the Moon - Part 1

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PonderBright woke in a parallelized cold sweat, instantly and frantically.

He eventually managed to regain control of his muscles, sprung up, then tripped back down onto the floor due to getting up too fast. He made his way to the eating area Twilight had shown him.
Down the main hallway... 6th opening at the edge?
Probably.


He met up with Starlight as he was walking.
Her eyes widened a bit as she saw him:
“ Rough night, huh? “ She asked.
“ Yes. “ He replied, just wanting the day to be over already.

“ I kind of understand- I mean in my own way! “ She replied with haste, as if trying to avoid some misunderstanding.

“ I sort of can relate. “ She shared, possibly a bit to much as Ponder was looking back at her dazed, tired, and done with the conversation.

“ But maybe you should take a bath beforehand. “ She said as they approached the dining area.

' Oh. ' PonderBright thought.
“ Where- “
“ Back where we came, 2 doors, the one on the left. “ She responded, almost forgivingly.

He was minorly embarrassed. His mind was also taken off the dream, for a moment.

Those thoughts did resurface while in the bath, as the sponge flew from his wings yet again due to his inexperience with his new body.

Why did other Ponder take his time in killing pony Rainbowdash?
He knew the human Rainbowdash, not the pony Rainbowdash.
At least, he thought it was the pony version of Rainbowdash.
Same coloration and hairstyle helps. No missing the rainbow style hair dye.

He assumed he was just good at guessing, while continuing to fumble the brushing process, soap in eyes and all.

He didn't really know a lot of ponies here, he continued to think. He only knew Celestia and Luna, and the few ponies Twilight introduced him too. Probably for the best.
His mind drifted to human Sunset's offer of friendship back during his school days. Still would say no.
' Humans.' he thought with disgust; glad to have an entire reality of separation between them and him.

His thoughts continued.

Was Spike mad at him? No. Couldn't be. Not for anything he directly did to him, as Twilight had mentioned nopony he was living with was effected by the disaster.

== Dining Area ===

The table was set with many different types of food, due to Spike being wise of Ponder's arrival. He wanted to know what he liked best, and made a little of a lot of different dishes.

“ Where's Ponder? “ Spike asked Twilight, genuinely confused as he chomped down on a plain gem, mouth full and all.
“ I don't -”
Twilight was interrupted.
“ He's taking a bath. “

Starlight was still uneasy being here, and she wanted to save PonderBright as much of that uneasiness as she could.
All with suggestions, of course. The last thing she wanted to do was order any pony around.

“ So, what do you think? “ Twilight asked, nervousness still slightly in her voice.
“ About? “ Starlight had to clarify.
“ PonderBright. “

“ Oh. Uh, I think he's getting along just fine- at least with me he is. “ She corrected herself nervously.
Twilight had a curious look on her face. So Starlight continued.

“ I think he's emotionally drained. “ Twilight looked confused. “ But recovering! “ Starlight clarified.
“ Maybe not a morning person? “, “ I don't know. I haven't known him that long, and I don't want to assume.“

Twilight went into deep thinking mode for a moment when she was distracted by something flying out the window.

“ Or maybe he had a nightmare. “
Starlight looked out the window Twilight was looking at.
Luna.
Both were minorly worried as to what this could entail, Twilight slightly more so.

Twilight started to get up to go get the door, when Spike said confidently:

“ I'll get it! “

Twilight sat back down, with only a slightly concerned expression.
She had come to trust Ponder almost as much as Starlight, she just hadn't internalized it yet.

They finished their meal and let Spike explain the situation to Luna.

PonderBright was almost done with drying himself, when he heard a knock on the door.
He assumed what this was and said preemptively:
“ I'm fine, Haven't drowned, I just don't know how to dry waterlogged feathers. “
He heard minor laughter from behind the door. Twilight.

He heard her muted from the other side:
“ Sorry, I don't know how unless your using magic. “
She replied in earnest.
Distant footsteps.

He finally just threw in the towel, literally, and walked out to the mess hall.
He had a short lapse in judgment when he thought he had to put on clothes, jumping a bit and scaring Spike.
He got the cold shoulder, or so he thought. He didn't respond to him, and Spike was usually talkative (to other ponies) in the short time he knew him.

Was that a stare? A ' stink eye ' ?
Ponder wasn't sure.

He joined a empty table and just started eating. No meat?

At least one person/pony/creature was happy right now. Starlight was definitely not, and he knew that from his short time with her.
Twilight was his primary focus anyway. He had to repay her for saving him. Starlight was just another student. A student that hadn't killed anypony. A better student. A student that had been able to help Twilight. A much better student.

These thoughts ruminated until he was stuffed. He had eaten on autopilot again.

Spike had snuck up on him:
“ When your done, Twilight needs you in the entryway. “ he said with little emotion.

He had been told he would be meeting Applejack outside an apple farm. Strange.
And from his observations, Spike usually takes a chipper tone for a greeting. Strange.

He was already mentally thrown off as he was walking to the door.

What really threw him off more was what he saw next.
“ Luna! “ he said, trying to hide his embarrassment from his dream. He was fairly good at it too. Practice makes perfect, after all. Though, not from his time in pony world.

“ I'd like to talk about the dream you had yesterday. “ She was in a very tired state.

PonderBright looked confused. It looks like he had completely fooled all of them, minus Luna.

“ I am the princess of dreams. Surely you remember that part of your dream? “

Ponder had the stupidest, most dumbfound-iest look on his face. He had brushed off and insulted a queen to her face. Well, not to her actual face, but via psychic dream telecommunications.


While this was happening Twilight was thinking: ' How important was this? '
PonderBright did not seem to be taking this that seriously, and princess Luna only slightly more so.
She looked between them both with that famous puzzled look on her face, mouth half open.

Starlight had long since retreated to elsewhere in the castle.
Ponder and Luna stepped outside. Luna seemed barely able to keep her balance due to tiredness, but she managed.

Twilight only got in a few words before they shut the door:
“ Uh ok. Let me know the outcome, Please? “ Twilight had said, as the two walked away from the castle.

“ PonderBright, do you know how to fly? “ Luna started talking.
“ Um, sort of. I can take off and fly in a straight line, but I need a lot of starting and stopping ground. “

“ Very well. I wish to conduct this privately, and the location I had in mind meets all those requirements. “

“ Follow me. I shall catch you if you fall. “

They both got a good running start, and Ponder took to the skies after Luna. Luna circled around and followed closely behind Ponder.

PonderBright's form was very stiff and mechanical, bordering on paralysis, but it worked for the most part. Luna only had to course correct him with magic 3 times the entire flight.

Luna had noticed on how quickly he had taken up flying. It had only been a couple of days since he was let out of the hospital, and now he's already in the air? Interesting.

“ PonderBright, I must commend you on your willingness to learn- “ She realized he was entirely focused on staying in the air.
He was looking down constantly.
Look straight ahead. Level. I will catch you. “ She reassured him, using her ' traditional ' volume.

Ponder nodded and attempted to mimic how Rainbowdash flew when she was relaxing. It didn't work.

A few more catches later, they landed. Luna noticed that Ponder had a very happy look. Almost like a filly on their first birthday look. She hadn't seen that one in awhile.

His initial crash. She had forgotten.
“ I'm sorry PonderBright if the flight brought back bad memories. “

“ They did. “ He autisticly responded, seemingly instantly getting over his happy moment of achievement.
“ But when I landed, and even though I got some help from you, I know I can definitely glide now. No more chance of- Uh. “ He made himself sad again.

Luna changed the subject.
“ No horn aswell? “

PonderBright misinterpreted this as an accusation of trying to escape, seeing as he was partially responsible for taking off that shackle.

OH UH
“ Discord removed it. Completely. “
He spurted out while pointing to where his horn used to be.

“ No possibility of- “, “ HM “ He was at a loss for words. Normally he would had thought up a excuse for someone of so high authority, but this time he was completely in the wrong;
or so he thought.

Luna had to ask about his cheerful tone in his last response.

“ You seem glad. Did Discord do you any other favors? “
“ No. Just this one was more then enough! “ Ponder joyfully responded.

Luna had been worried for nothing. No Tirek part two.
“ PonderBright, I am glad that you are working, seemingly tirelessly, to amend and ensure the success of your time here in Equestria. “

“ But I fear you might reach a breaking point. “

There was a pause.

Another breaking point. “

She said while trailing off.


Ponder looked confused. He had already internalized that situation was solely due to the abruptness of the situation, lack of magical training, and lack of information; not the result of a mental break.

From the outside looking in, however, he was certain the opposite was true.
Luna further elaborated.

“ You are undoubtedly strong. I saw that in your dream. You thought It was a real emergency situation and you went to help others, not leave through the door you had passed. You even offered yourself sacrifice.“

“ You saw all that? “ Ponder had to ask.

“ I saw enough. “ Luna exclaimed.
“ And I'm worried that this all will come to the surface, sooner or later. “

Ponder shrunk over, sad and disappointed.
Luna continued. “ So I wish to discuss it. “

Luna knew something was off. Of all the reactions she had experienced in her long reign as princess of dreams, that was not an expected one.
Had she been gone too long? Was she loosing her touch?
Then again, this was literally an alien she was talking to.
She took a more guarded posture.

“ Is something the matter? “ She said raising one eyebrow.

“ It's... “
“ It's just that... “

Luna patiently awaited his response, no annoyance to be found.

“ Back in the human realm, I always had people telling me that they knew best. Sure, it started out all nice and non-intrusive, but then they started assuring me that they knew I did this because of that, and that their new solution was certain to work this time, … “

Ponder looked up to make sure Luna was not angry. She had successfully put on a poker fake, but she did not needed it. She was not angry.

“ I was always just the massive collection of mysterious failures, to spite all their meddling. “ He said that last part with anger, looking away from Luna in the process.
“ And this is a literal dream were talking about, nothing actually happened. “

He recoiled minorly, as if by habit.

“ But. “
“ I really did screw up this time. “

“ So I have no right to complain. “


Luna was disheartened. Not at what he said though.


“ PonderBright. “ Luna said
“ You are correct in that there will be some ' meddling. ' “
Ponder closed his eyes a bit, with ' here it comes ' written all over his face.
“ But we do not seek to control you down to the last hair. “

Ponder looked unconvinced.
“ You say that this was your... ' screw up '?", " That this was your fault? “ She had to clarify.
She struggled with pronouncing ' screw up '.

“ Yes. “ He said, sorrow creeping back in.
Luna steeled herself.

“ It is not. “ Luna said with certainty; the moon beginning to creep over the horizon.
Ponder was surprised. Very surprised. So surprised his pupils shrunk a bit and he leaned back a few inches.
A first for everything, I guess.

“ You were badly injured, half conscious, and not magically trained. “
“ You were also in a foreign body after crash landing in an alien world. “

“ I do not blame you for the tragedies. “
“ It is part of the reason I voted to equit you. “ She said, looking solemnly towards the moon.

Ponder was surprised there even was a trail. Brief, informal or otherwise.

“ But you did willingly attack Twilight. With much less serve injuries and knowing the damage magic can cause; no less. “
She had looked back towards Ponder. The sunset on the horizon began to shine rays.
He rebuked out of habit: “ But I thought she was the corrupted version of a human, that I was taking out a world ending threat! “


“ PonderBright, from what I saw you attacked immediately. “
“ Yes, and? “
Her gaze hardened. Ponder's fear grew wildly.
“ From what I understand you did not check to see if she was still corrupted. “

“ Yes, I don't know what a corrupted pony looks like. “
He noticed his rebukes started to sound more and more like excuses.
Because they were.

“ And I also remember you stating you know little to nothing about magic. “

This conversation had reminded Luna of the latest Nightmare Night. She had to take a moment to gather herself after that last sentence. Her expression returned to normal princess blankness.

“ Yes? “ He said, awaiting an answer to his answer.

“ So why did you attack Twilight when you had no knowledge as to what she might look like at all; transformed, or otherwise? “

He was plainly shocked. He didn't have an answer.
He looked to the side, to ponder if you will,
her argument.

“ A voice is not enough to go on. “
“ Yes, … I know. “ he responded with worry and confusion.

“ PonderBright, I saw that lightning. It's color is influenced by emotion. And that was pure, violent green. The brightest I have seen. “

Ponder looked surprised as to his accidental record he set in pony world.
“ It is the color of fear. “

He had to much to process. He put off thinking about that for now.

Luna started talking again.
“ To spite your insistence that it was intentional... “
“ I believe you are not to blame for that incident either. “
If
“ you agree to let somepony know if your emotions are starting to overwhelm you. “

Ponder nodded. He then blurted out
“ Yes! “
“ Yes of course! “

He didn't know what else to say. A simple ' I was already ready to do whatever you said! ' or similar would have helped tremendously, but he was not that socially inclined.

Another silence followed.

Luna picked up.
“ About Rainbowdash -”
“ Uh, hang on. I – Think I need some time to process this. “ He nervously smiled back at Luna.


“ You apply these lessons quickly. You are indeed a quick learner. “ Luna complimented him after a short sigh.
“ We shall resume “ Luna yawned “ After I get some sleep. “

She flew away, forgetting to ferry him home. The walk back was long and confusing. At least it was night, and no other pony was out to see him.


Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.

- - Sun Tzu, Art of War

6 - Honesty Restored - Part 1

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Thankfully, no nightmares plagued PonderBright that night. A sweet, dreamless sleep followed by a peaceful awakening.
He was not used to staring up at such an ornate ceiling.

After a quick question session from twilight about what happened and that everything was indeed alright, he headed for the library.

Ponder had little to no clue how this world operated, and thought he needed a better understanding of how things worked around here, now that he has done everything non-research related to make sure



The incident



would not happen again.


Starlight again. What a non-surprise.
There were many libraries in the castle, But this one had many books on magic. He was beginning to wounder if Starlight was a bigger nerd then Twilight.

“ Hi Starlight. “ He said with no emotion, only to signal his entrance after a short knock on the door.
“ Hi Ponder. “ She replied without looking up from her book.

This didn't really feel right for anypony in the room, but both ignored It for their own various separate reasons.
It took him a very, very long time to find a ' baby's first magic book ' and while trying to pick it up with his wings, he realized that the tips of his feathers were much to weak to hold even something as light as a book.

He was initially disheartened; until he saw it float up to where about where his mouth was, with a short reply from Starlight:
“ If your having trouble, maybe I could help? “

' This is most likely certainly some sort of test. ' Ponder thought to himself.

' Random strangers aside from the unusual outlier (Twilight) do no enjoy helping unless there's other people around to see how “kind” they are. '
' sigh better put on a mimicry mask, else I be silently judged. '

His thoughts continued, almost to the point of spiraling out of control, but since he was emotionally sound, the idea to express his worries never crossed his mind.

' OH NO I MIGHT HAVE SAID THAT IN A SLIGHTLY CONDENSENDING TONE ' Starlight was frantically thinking to herself, using those poker face skills from back in her village days to not show it.

' He looks slightly put off, did I do something wrong? I did something wrong. '
Ponder's failed attempt at acting gave way to visible confusion as the book kept hovering there.

“ What am I supposed to do? My wings won't wor- “

“ Your mouth. “ Starlight politely corrected him, pointing a hoof to her mouth.

“ Um, Ok. “ PonderBright said in genuine confusion.
It took him around a second to mentally fabricate the proper muscle movements to open his mouth, aim at the book, and then clamp down.
When he did eventually grab it, he went down the ladder and seemed like he wanted to say something, so he dropped the book.

“ Thanks Starlight. I'm not used to how ponies get things done around here, or, anywhere. “
Starlight wondered if that was supposed to be a joke. It wasn't.
She looked down at the book at noticed it's title:
' First Magic for First Fillies: Basics and Control '

“ Oh. “ Starlight said without thinking.

“ What? Don't … Pegasus-es... Have magic? “ He assumed a accusatory stance from Starlight, and had responded very so slightly defensively.

“ Well, some. But not that type. “ She pointed to the book. “ Pegasi do have magic, but it's passive. “, “ It allows them to fly and manipulate weather. “ She caught herself rambling, but oh well.
Anything to be helpful, useful.
“ And since your a – kind of an Alicorn, you probably have earth pony magic too, which is also passive. Strength and endurance, that kind of stuff. “


' Huh. ' Thought PonderBright. ' What a articulate and well thought out response. '
Ponder went into deep thought for a moment, interrupting the flow the conversation Starlight had accelerated to lightning speed.

“ I think I'll still read it anyway. I think it's good to know the basics of how the - this world works. “ He said as he was walking away.

Starlight wanted to say something, something so bad it almost burned. But she felt is was not her place.
Ponder picked up the book then dropped it, due to lack of practice. He looked sideways at it, lying on the ground.

He suddenly spread his wings a bit, but only raised them.
Starlight was having flashbacks to her village days.

He put the book in between one his wings and his body, making a makeshift basket.
Starlight was considering starting small talk, just to extend the conversation to buy herself more time.

He started to walk away.
“ PonderBright, you shouldn't ignore a part of yourself just because you had a bad experience! “ She almost shouted.

He turned around to ' be a part of the conversation '.
He looked surprised and amused. She really was just trying to help.

“ Wait, no, not like, now, when your not trained, just- “
“ No I get it. “ Ponder responded to her, wanting to cut off the awkward moment.

“ But I wanted this. I don't even have magic back in my own world, so I'm not loosing anything. “
“ Yes but -“ She was sound more and more frustrated and submissive. “ You are missing out on something. “
He looked her last sentence put him into deep thought.

She sighed.
“ Iv'e, … made a lot of mistakes. A lot. I just don't want to let the same fate to happen to any other pony. “

She looked up and saw his expression : blank with minor surprise.
Her fears finally snuck in.

“ Just- Uh- Forget what I said. “ She said while bursting into minor nervous laughter.
Ponder was astounded. Not only was she not here to poke and prod, but she was willing to say something so controversial to the new guy.

He could not help but see some of his past self in her.

He smiled slightly.
“ Starlight. Your good. You didn't say anything wrong. It's just your opinion. “ He wanted to clarify as much as possible, assuming that would calm her fears. And since he was not talking to a perfectly logical robot, it didn't. At least not entirely.

“ But I- Didn't mean for it to come out like that. “ She rebuked.
“ It's fine. I understood you perfectly. “ He said in calm demeanor.

Ponder was staring to get frustrated and Starlight was staring to get flustered.


“ Alright, Bye. “ Ponder said In an attempted pleasant tone, and walked away.

Their first real meeting had not gone so well, but it was irrelevant; Ponder was thinking to himself. He set the book down on his table. HIS table. In HIS room. The thoughts immediately ricocheted around his head as immense catharsis. This was Twilight's, but he trusted her. He knew she would not hold them over his head like meat above a dog.

Starlight was feeling so-so about the encounter. She's glad she was able to say it, but worried about who he might tell, and what trouble that might cause. She really did not want to take any sort of leadership stance in anything, not even a conversation, but she felt she had to say it.

Starlight expected doubt and even remorse to come, but they didn't. She didn't regret her decision. Huh.

The next morning Ponder found himself wanting to talk to Twilight. He had selected the magic book himself, and he didn't know the first thing about magic. Not a good combination.

Instead, he ran into Twilight and a very familiar looking pony. His human world memories resurfaced.

“ Applejack? “ He guessed.
“ Yup. “ She replied, lacking her usual headstrong or chipper tone. Then again, not all pony equivalents are 1 : 1. Maybe it's a world-between worlds difference?

Twilight looked worried about something. When didn't she?
“ Well, I'll leave you too it. “
She walked away.

“ Well come on. “ She said with little emotion.
“ Meetin's spot this way. “

He followed her out of the castle, and out of ponyville.
They were now next to a farm.

“ I'll be back with somepony else, stay here. Do not get near that farm, ya hear? “ She said with minor sternness in her voice.


She walked away, towards one of the barns.
An apple orchard. Huh.

He sat down, legs tucked into themselves like he saw Twilight do when she was reading.

He waited.

And waited.

And waited.

He was tired of waiting.

He reared up, and shouted at the top of his lungs,
“ A P P L E J A C K ! ! ! “ with very low tone and maximum volume for maximum sound travel distance. His science teacher would be proud, if he gave a crap.

Nothing.
He was getting mad.

He shouted a few more times, and still, Nothing.
' A lot of seriousness she took this. ' he thought to himself, as he ignored Applejack's order and got up, walking to the farm.

He walked past many trees. A red pony... Kicking them? Oh. All the apples... are aiming themselves into the basket as if by magic. Do I have that power? Starlight said I do. Or something similar.

Is it dangerous?

No. Starlight or Twilight would have said or … done something. I should not be worried. I should not be worried.

He had zoned out a bit too hard, as he started to hear what sounded like 2 mares talking. Arguing.

“ but - “, “ mark - “, and “ NO! “ was all he could make out.
One was from Applejack, and against all odds he recognized the other.

He walked closer to see Applejack arguing with... Applebloom? He did recognized someone. If only from a name drop during his trail. He was surprised he remembered it at all, given how bad at names he was.
“ But if he could just find out- “ Applebloom was rebuking.

“ NO. That pony is dangerous. Now for the same reason I tell ya to not step in front of an apple cart while it's movin', or go playin' near the border of the Everfree forest, STAY AWAY FROM THAT PONY.

Applebloom looked like she wanted to say something, but didn't.

“ Alright. “ she sheepishly replied. She hung her head.
Applejack had noticed him.

She turned around to face him.
“ NOW WHAT IN TARNATION DID I TELL YOU?! “ She yelled, fear almost a given in her reaction. Anger completely a given.

Ponder was conflicted. She wasn't taking this... ' friendship lesson ' seriously and she was spreading sorrow because of him. And too Applebloom, no less. She was the first one that tried to help him.
On the other hand he was basically a prisoner and had a x3 manslaughter record.

His face awkwardly contorted to a half-annoyed, half-worried look.
“ OH – OH NO YOU DON'T! GET BACK TO THE -” Applejack verbally retaliated. She got closer. Leaned forward. That was an attack stance, if he had ever seen one. He grew a scowl.

They were interrupted by the red pony that been following him.

“ Applejack, we got a visitor, is he the one you want to talk with ? “

“ Yes- but-” Applejack's anger turned to frustration.

“ Applebloom, go somewhere else. Go play with your friends or help Granny Smith. She's cleaning the bottlin' cookware. “
Appleboom was scared now. Not of PonderBright, but kind of scared of Applejack.

Even PonderBright had enough social acumen to know what was going on.


She ran off, as requested.

“ Big Mac you can go back to harvesting. I was looking for ya but I don't feel like helpin' Ponder out that much now. “ She said with minor ire.

Big Mac had a slightly knowing look when he look at Ponder, back to Applejack, Ponder and then Applejack again. He then exchanged a look with her for few seconds before dropping all pretense, going back to his usual demeanor, and saying “ Aight. “ while walking back to his harvesting location.

“ Come on. “
“ This way. “
“ Back the way we came. “
She sounded more annoyed then angry now.



They returned to the spot he had left.
They sat.


Combined quotes! These multiple praters will often contain multi part lines from the art of war.

There are three ways in which a ruler can bring misfortune upon his army:--

(1) By commanding the army to advance or to retreat, being ignorant of the fact that it cannot obey. This is called hobbling the army.

- Sun Tzu, Art of war.

7 - Honesty Restored - Part 2

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“ Now I want to apologize for the wait, and for That. “ She started.
The sun was slightly over noon.
It was hot.
Ponder was irritated by the smell of pollen.

“ And I expect an apology from you too. “ She looked at him with determination.
“ For? “ He asked, not wanting to be getting the better of.
“ For traspassin. “ She said slowly and deeply, anger coming back.

“ You were gone for hours. “ He rebuked.
“ Now look here. “ She was getting angry.
“ I was only gone for a hot minute. “
“ Don't you say- “

“ That. “ He pointed at the sun.
“ The sun? “ She questioned, alarmed by his interruption.
“ Yes. Didn't know what you called it. “ He hastily and immediately responded, further stretching his tone for another response:

“ Was there. “

He pointed to where the sun was, much earlier in the day.

“ Oh. “ She had relaxed a bit, but still had tension.
“ That's almost two and half-hours. “

“ My apology still stands, and is further extended for that trans-gression. Sorry. “

” Your turn. “ She said with much less hate and hostility.

Ponder just about had it. This pony had ditched him in the hot sun, not taken any of this seriously when he had killed some ponies, and now she wants to play meaningless word games when she instead could be helping prevent another possible crisis?

“ I'm sorry Applejack, am I supposed to be learning something from this, or getting better somehow, or less likely to accidentally cause damage again? “ He said with notable ire, annoyance oozing out with every syllable.

Applejack cocked an eyebrow.

“ Because the way I see it, your not taking this seriously. You want to get this done and over with because- “ He regretted his verbal retaliation in the middle of a sentence. A first.
“ Because you rightfully don't trust me around your family. “ He said, switching to a remorseful tone.

Applejack closed her eyes a bit to think about what he had said.

She opened them, slightly squinted at the floor to signal her closeness to speaking.

“ Alright. “ She sighed. “ Like to go straight into the deep end, do we? “ She said with hesitation.

“ No. I don't. “
“ I don't want to do this, and I suggested that you be sent straight back to wherever the other hu-mans are as soon as you were better. “
He shrunk down a bit.

“ But- Twilight insisted that you could stay, and against my own better judgment, here you are. “ She said with pure frankness in her voice.

“ And here I am. “ She replied to her own statement.
“ Sittin' here with you. “
“ I want to make things better, and I want to do good by you, whatever that means. “ She said with confidence.
He didn't fully understand that last one.

“ But Applejack, - And I'm no friendship expert, but - “

“ Come on, out with sugar. The sooner you stop being shy the sooner you can get back to Twilight's. “, “ I don't judge and it's pretty clear to me you meant no harm. “
“ Um. No. That's not what- I mean “

She waited patiently for his response.

“ I'm having trouble finding words that don't imply anything negative. “ He eventually said.

“ Well then out with them, because later on in this here conversation things are gunna get about as negative as they can get. “ She said in frankness, attempting to steel PonderBright's resolve.


Ponder was very worried.
She noticed.

“ It's nothin' accusatory, and none of this is just your fault. “ She replied with a sigh.

“ Oh. Well then. “ It took Him awhile to course correct.
“ I'm having trouble seeing how playing meaningless word games makes any sort of progress. “

Applejack looked confused.

He elaborated:
“ When I went to Fluttershy's Discord was helpful enough to remove my horn, When I was talking with Luna, she explained the importance of telling another pony about something serious to me, even if I think it wouldn't be important to them. “

And He continued:

“ And the initial... trail with Celestia and Luna defined solid next steps and safety restrictions. “
He pointed to where his horn used to be.

“ Ah. “ Applejack finally spoke.

“ I think I see what's going on here. “ She had taken a thoughtful tone.
“ And look, I don't know what sort of messed up creatures or culture got you to thinkin' that... “,
“ Or even what a hu-man is.“

“ Human. “ He corrected her via a gap in her speaking.
“ Right. “ She said, minor one time annoyance in her voice


“ But here we do things this way. “
“ We apologize. “

“ And I don't know what worked for you in the past either, but this is what works for us. “
He still was unconvinced. Ego. He averted his gaze from her.

“ Twilight trusted me, no matter on how much I insisted otherwise, She said I was the right pony for the job. “ She said as pointing to the floor; the space in between them.
“ And I don't know what worked for you before, but It obviously did not work here. “ She said sternly.

She was right. And it didn't work for him before, either.

“ The human world was a horrid cesspool of backstabbing and competition, where any good is snuffed out by evolution and the law of averages. “ PonderBright emotionally said with disdain.
Applejack looked shocked. She didn't recoil, though.

Ponder looked down in anger, sadness, and a whole slew of other negative emotions.

He saw a slightly-more-yellowish-then-his hoof peak into his field of view from along the ground. His que to look up.

“ Back on … track... “ She seemed thrown off.
“ Well, uh, we're... Or somepony, is definitely going to want to talk to you about that. What you just said. “
He stared back, completely expressionless, thousand yard stare and all.

She seemed to notice. And understand the subtext, too.
“ Look, It's gonna be much harder to do this if you don't trust me, right? “
Ponder just viewed this as her assuming.

He nodded. Finally something he could rationally agree with.

“ And like I said, Twilight and the others trust me. “ , “ So I'm askin' you to trust me. “
“ Basically, save all questions for the end of the lecture. “ She was getting stern and slightly annoyed. The joke she tried to make did not diffuse the tension.

He sat back up straight, and nodded a feeble nod.
“ Ok? “ Applejack asked.

Her logic was sound. He could not argue. He could not argue.
“ Ok. “ He said with uncertainty.

He took a deep breath and focused on Applejack.
“ Sorry. “ He said; completely out of practice apologizing.

“ Hm. Alright. “ Applejack was thinking about something.

“ A good first attempt. “ She admitted.
“ I can see your tryin', but you got a ways to go. “
This time HE raised an eyebrow.

“ Now- I thought you said you trusted me! That we had an understanding! “ She seemed frustrated. And hurt. But Ponder did not recognize that last one.

He look dumbfounded.

“ I- I did. “ He responded with confusion, looking back and forth as if someone else was watching.

Applejack purposely waited a moment.
Ponder grew restless.

“ Now, you see, that's the first thing we need to talk about. “ She exclaimed.
“ Ponies half the time can't even tell what your sayin', let alone thinkin. “
“ If you'd been better at that, maybe this wouldn't have happened. “ She said with a more somber tone, tipping her hat a bit downward and looking away from him.


He was confused on so many levels.
BUT
First thing was first.

“ But, I did... L I T T E R A L L Y say that I trusted you. In plain... words. Do you call your language English? “

She sighed. A lot to unpack.
“ Yes. You did say that. And then you seemingly threw all that out the window when you looked at me like that! “
She said while pointing to him. Not sternly, not aggressively, just making a point.


“ Wh- What? “ He had never entertained such nonsense before. Such roundabout and illogical arguments had always been dismissed, and the user of said argument permanently demoted to ' dumb animal ' in his mind.

But this time was different.

This time he was actually trying.

This time he was actually listening.

He and Applejack interrupted each other with a single syllable, when Applejack yielded by tipping her hat down to him.

' Much appreciated. ' he thought.
' Giving you a chance wasn't a mistake after all. '
An abnormal amount of joy filled him, though he had no idea why.

He continued on:


“ I did say that. “,
“ I meant it. “


“ Did I- “
He was struggling immensely with what to say next.
“ Did I somehow imply otherwise? “
He was very unsure about his last statement. It showed tremendously.

Applejack looked almost amused. Almost.
“ Yes. “
“ Um. Hope you don't mind me askin'... “
“ It's almost impossible to offend me. “ He said, this time knowing what to say via experience.

' Just get on with it, Applejack. ' he was thinking.
“ Aight. “ she muttered, almost wanting to prove him wrong now.

Ponder did not notice this.

“ But, are you kind of slow? “,

“ Like, A slow learner? “

Ponder had one thousand and one rebukes to that mental trainreck of a conclusion. Patrice makes perfect, after all.
Let's hope a literal horse brain succeeds where the monkey ones have failed.

“ No. “ Ponder said with absolute confidence.
“ Certainly not. “ He continued further.


“ I don't have half the emotions or mental needs you have. “ He said while pointing to her. She looked surprised.
“ I'm much simpler a creature. "

" That's why I didn't understand your need for an apology. “


Applejack was still confused.
“ That, uh, wasn't my question. “ She had to say.

“ Then what is? “ This time he was totally lost.


“ With your facial expression back there. “

She continued:
“ It looked like you was' doubtin' my assertion that you needed to work on your apology. “

“ Yes. “ He responded in his usual monotone, waiting for a response.
Applejack was getting even more confused.

“ Well – THERE YOU GO! “ She said, strain in every word
“ OH! I think I know where the disconnect was. “ He blurted out.

Applejack now genuinely wanting to continue the conversation to hear his answer.
“ I now trust your intentions, not necessarily that everything you say is true. “
He clarified.

“ Oh. “ Applejack said.

“ That was a good explanation. “ She admitted.

“ But all that could have been avoided if yall' just saved your' questions for the end of the lecture as I said! “ She said with concern.

“ I did. “ He said.
“ I didn't ask a question. “ He said with confusion In his voice. Raising yet another eyebrow, ignoring what got them into this mess of a tangent in the first place.

Something clicked in Applejack.
“ You know, “ She said with certainty.
“ We had a similar pony come to visit not too long ago. “
Ponder was invested in this tangent of a tangent. He could do this all day.
“ Maud Pie. “ She said.
“ I'm not very good with names, Please don't expect me to remember that. “ He said with embarrassment.


“ I won't – I won't “
“ Now back on track. “ She did a little wave to him.

“ Long story short she can't take a hint to save her life. Or- anyone else's for that matter. “ She was frank.
“ She has to have everything be very literal. Well, at least the words spoken to her. “ She corrected herself.



YES! YES! YOU GET IT! “ He was overcome with joy and got up from his seat, scaring Applejack a bit.
“ Oh. Sorry. “ He genuinely stated, and sat down.

“ Huh. “ Applejack said in another moment of realization.

“ So, what were you trying to say? About you raisin' an eyebrow at me, who was tellin' you that your apology needs improvin' ? “,
“ Sorry for the mouthful. “ She apologized, looking knowingly at PonderBright.

“ I was letting you know I wasn't following your logic without breaking up your sentence. “
Appplejack looked confused and embarrassed. Such big words.
“ I was trying to say that I wasn't getting it but without interrupting you. “ He said with annoyance.

Applejack ignored his minor rebellion.

“ Hm. “ She said as if she was trying to remember something specific.

“ I understand. “
“ You do? “ Ponder wasn't sure about that. Too many past experiences told him otherwise.

“ Yes. I do. “ She assured him.
“ I want to get work done as good and as fast as just about anyone in ponyville, and just about anyone at the farm. “

She looked over at Big Mac, still harvesting.
Just about anyone. “
He just stared at her.
She continued.

“ But the thing about workin' with others “ She segwayed:
“ Is that you need to try to meet them at their level first and foremost. “
Ponder looked unamused.

“ Now, see what a simple little miscommunication did, right now, and well... “ She trailed off.
Ponder got sad.


(2) By attempting to govern an army in the same way as he administers a kingdom, being ignorant of the conditions which obtain in an army. This causes restlessness in the soldier's minds.

- Sun Tzu, Art of war.

8 - Honesty Restored - Part 3

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“ I know you want to find the best way to get things done. “ She swung her hoof around with the word ' best '
“ And- You know what. “ She had another idea. This whole friendship lesson might be doable after all.
“ Your right. “
Ponder was back to being confused.

“ If I had just assumed correctly - ”,
“ that you were doubtin' my competence, not my intent, the conversation would have been slightly faster. “

“ But that's not what happened, was it? “
Ponder looked defeated.

“ And I'm sorry that I don't... quite have the... uh- mentality for that. “
“ But somethin' tells me that similar stuff happened in the past, even back in your human world. “


Ponder was not happy. He just got schooled by a mind that not only was much dumber then he was, but admitted it. He could have sworn he let out a small sigh of anguish.

And he also could have sworn she fumbled her last point just to rub that in.
To make a point, but still.

“ So, Try. “ She asserted.
He was back, yet again, to confused.

“ I'm going to ask ya to at least try. “
“ Um- Applejack. I don't know how much I - “

“ And your gunna have to ask them to try too. “

Ponder was confused and shocked.
“ And, If you don't mind me askin'... “ She continued.
“ You was thinkin' I was simple minded back there, weren't you? “ She said in half-confidence. With a smile, to let him know he wasn't in trouble.

“ Wha- “ Ponder found himself saying, as he got up to look around the area the area for magic.

“ And I ain't readin' your mind. “ She said with a well earned smirk.
“ Earth Ponies don't have that kind of magic. “ She said, raising a hoof to eye level.

“ Now. “ She got into lecture mode. Ponder was now attentively listening.

“ Don't you find it funny that while I could read you like an open book - “
“ You couldn't read me? Even when you raised that eyebrow, even while I was tryin' to communicate with you. “
“ Well, yeah. “ Ponder frustratingly rebuked.

“ Intelligence is very predictable. Chaos is not. “ He realized he had to further clarify:
“ There are usually only a few, simple ways to do something the ' best way ' “ He was trying hard not to insult her again. She showed appreciation with a smile.


“ While there are nearly infinite ways to mess something up. “ He finished.
She was back to a minor frown. ' So close, yet so far ' She thought to herself.

She started to respond.
“ Even if that was true -“
Ponder raised another eyebrow.

“ See – There you go again. “
“ We talked about this. “ He responded in monotone.

Applejack sighed.

“ - Back on track. “ She said with assertion.
“ Why did you count on me, in all my simple mindedness, to understand exactly what you meant; in a ' serious conversion ' just to save a few seconds here and there? “

Ponder just stared into space. He didn't know what to do.
A short, clown nose honking noise rung about in both of their heads.

“ Hold on. “ She said, noticing his uneasiness.

“ Let me give you an out. “ She offered;

“ You were just wanting to speed things along, not thinking bout' it too much. “ She said.
“ And you were talking to me as if you were talking to another' one of you'. “ She finished, proud of her rebuttal.

“ Are... -” He was trying to say.

“ Are you sure you can't read minds? “ He half- asked.


Applejack laughed.

“ Well, I too thought ya a bit slow. “ She apologized.
“ But turns out “
“ Ya'll were just different. “
“ Different ponies have different strengths. “ She confidently asserted.

Ponder was too used to running mental circles around everyone he met to think otherwise, until now.

He had never even considered that other people were more then just another pair of hands when compared to him.
Fixing a car? Sure, others can do that. He didn't want to get that dirty or spend that amount of time learning about it, especially while being physically disabled.

But now He wasn't so sure about that.

If they weren't going to be hostile to him, and Applejack wasn't, then maybe he should consider their differences instead of just snobbing them.

After all, Intelligence was just another way to figure stuff out, and Applejack seemed to have this ' communication with the normal people ' thing already figured out. To a T.

“ Ready to talk about the more troublin' stuff? “ She asked with sincerity.
“ Yeah. “ He replied, almost chipper.
“ Now that's more like it. “ She said, not able to muster a smile.

Ponder was worried.
She inhaled.



“ Yall are gunna have to apologize to the entirety of ponyville if you want to stay. “

Ponder's heart sank a bit. Not too much, just enough to make him nervous.
“ And the families of those you effected. “ She said in unusual formality.
He was about to say something, when Applejack interrupted him:

“ And not a single pony can say no for you to stay in ponyville. Otherwise, you got to go somewhere else in Equestria, assuming you want to stay here. “
She motioned to the sky.
Ponder was surprised. Even Applejack was approaching her limits. And with her element of honesty, no less.

Ponder turned to sadness, depression.

Applejack took notice.


“ Look, I understand if you don't want to go back to where the other humans are “
“ It's just that -” She started to explain.

“ No I get it. “
“ Even if I'm completely safe, I still cause tension – For some reason “ He said that last part with minor confusion.

“ Yeah. You cause tension. And worry. And whole slew of other negative things just by bein' here. “
“ Your not like Starlight who, well, almost destroyed the world “
He seemed concerned about that last statement.
“ Her mishaps were private. Never happened, actually, with time travel being time travel “
Now he was just confused.

“ My point is that yours was - … public. “
A point he really did not like to be reminded of.

“ And that changes things. “
“ Drastically. “

“ Yal' didn't meant to do it. “ She clarified.
“ Even most of the townsfolk agree. “

“ So your not in trouble, in THAT way. “
Another reminder. He was almost getting bored of them.

“ But after you talk with all of us – Twilight's friends “ She swatted a bug from her snout.
“ Your gunna have to talk with them. “
“ Keep stayin' away from the townsfolk. “ Applejack had noticed his aversion to them from the get-go.
“ And you don't have to use that made-up name you told to that one pony that stopped to talk with you. They don't know your real name. “
Ponder was embarrassed. He was made fun of plenty of times for his ' edginess ' when he didn't even mean too.
Luckily this was Equestria, not the human world.

“ Nothin' shameful about it, good on you for tryin' “
She said.

He had been worried for nothing. No finger pointing and laughing.
In fact.
He had never been made fun of or physically assaulted since he got here.
Huh.

Another thought creeped into his mind.
“ Applejack, if you agree with me on all this, why did you make Applebloom cry? “
Applejack got worked up: “ Wha- Was she? “
She turned her head back to the farm, then back to him.

She got back on track.
“ I don't. I don't agree. I'm first talking about what YOU see as true, so then I can talk about what I think is true. “
She looked saddened. Almost depressed.
' Good. ' thought PonderBright. One more disincentive to not do it next time. Applebloom was now a little more safe from her shenanigans.

“ And that's another thing.- “ She was preparing another big speech.
“ I get it, I won't disobey orders. “ He interjected.

“ Nope. “ She responded.

“ Ya'll could have been dangerously dehydrated out in this summer heat. “ She said as she swung one of her water satchels to him.
He drank it in almost 6 seconds.

“ See? “, She said
“ Don't endanger your own safety, or anyone else's, orders or not. “ She said with confidence.
“ Alright. “ He said, waiting for another segway.

She responded after a long swig from her water case :

“ Your presence is distractin'. “, “ And not just because your socially awkward. “
“ Are... We still talking about Applebloom? “ He had to clarify.

She tilted her head at him.
Hypocrite. Non-verbal communication.

Oh well. He did understand.

And he did hold himself to a much higher standard then everyone else.

The noise of Applejack's putting her bottle away zoned him back in :
“ Because if we are “ He looked at her to confirm she was paying attention. She was, and was also just seeing where he was going with this.
“ Arn't... YOU the one that, did all that, while I just... stood there? “

“ Another good segway. “ She proclaimed.
“ Your just filllllled with holes of the social variety, I just can't find enough to fill. “ She said chipperly.
He was unammused.

“ Sorry. “ She apologized.
“ Didn't mean for it to come out like that. “

They both shared a stare.
Applejack's awkward and Ponder's accusatory.

“ Yes. “ She had to break the silence.

“ I did. “

“ And I am mostly to blame for that outburst with Applebloom. “
' Mostly? ' Ponder thought to himself.
Luckily she wasn't able to 'read' that thought.

“ But you made a choice. A choice to be here “ She pointed to the ground
“ Rather then there. “
She pointed to the sky.

“ And I now agree with you! “ She leaned forward.
“ Those things sound like abominations! “ She said with minor doubt.
“ They were wrong for doin' that too you. “ She said with forgiveness.

“ But all choices have consequences. “
“ And by choosing here rather then there “, “ Things are gunna happen that wouldn't otherwise. “
She was taking a more and more regretful tone.

“ And I probably need to get back to Applebloom soon. She needs an apology too. “
She was looking back towards the farm, impatience in her eyes.

" And- I would apprecaite If we didn't talk about my family no more. " Applejack firmly asserted.
Ponder look down at the ground, then back up at Applejack while formulating a response.
" Ok. " He said with pure frankness.

" Alright. " Applejack confirmed.

“ And I get it. “ He said.
“ You do? “ She was questioning him, turning back around to face him.

“ Yeah. My presence here " He did a sweeping hoof motion at the sky " will be, on average, a net negative until I make some sort of amends. “
He said while closing his eyes.

“ Well I'll be. “ She said with hope.
“ Twilight was right. You are one smart cookie. “ She further clarified.

Ponder grew a smile.
Applejack was embarrassed.

“ Well, uh, If you have it worded exactly the way you need it. “ Applejack had gotten over it pretty quickly.
“ You adapt pretty fast. “ She was over her earlier embarrassment.
“ Don't thank me, thank the autism. “ He half-joked, as he knew autism was just as much a part of him as anything else.

“ Aw – What now? “ She was just confused. Of course. Primitive pony world would have no notion of mental disabilities.

“ Oh- Don't worry about it. “ He said while smiling and waving a hoof, trying to communicate he had tried to make a joke;
to do the funny.
Applejack smile a minuscule bit. Had one of his social cues...

Actually worked?


He got back on topic.
“ We can always talk later. You have a lot to do. You work on a farm. “ That last sentence was absurdly awkward, but true.

Indeed I do work on a farm. “ She validated his social peace offering.
“ But; I don't you think you need any more. I think you get it. “ She said with a smile and tilting her head towards him.

“ Wow. Thanks- uh. “
“ Bye? “ He half – said half- asked, as she turned to walk away.

“ See ya around. “ ; She sent him off with.
An unusually friendly response for someone who was yelling at their kids to stay away from him not an hour ago.
Was he meant to infer something from this?

He wasn't about to disobey orders when lives weren't in danger and follow her to her farm, no, but what about something she meant by saying it that way?

Was she testing him?
No, she just lectured him about miscommunication.

Was she wanting to get a rise out of him?
No, she could done much worse per the earlier parts of their conversation.

Was he meant to infer something else from that?

Yes.
Yes he thought he was.

He walked away with his head held high, not close to the ground as all the times before.

Applejack had been watching.
She turned back around to go to the farm, while talking to herself:
“ Hm. You do indeed catch on quickly. “

She looked back at him.
“ And you may not be as socially inept as you think. “

Her cutie mark began to glow, and shine outward.

Mission complete.


She smiled a proud, well earned smile as she walked to clear things up with Applebloom.


(3) By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers.

- Sun Tzu, Art of war.

9 - Gaunlet of Espionage - Part 1

View Online

It had been a few days, and he was still thinking about it.

His talk with Applejack had done his mental state no favors, with him dreading the private apologies most of all. Luckily none of this wasn't until he met all of Twilight's friends, and Twilight thought he was ready.

Going undercover as a Pegasus to avoid further tension was a brilliant idea. I wounder if Applejack was the original pony that had it.
He was trying to take her advice and not focus to much on the metaphorical finish line, rather the road under his hoofs, but that's where the analogy started to break down; He wasn't very good at friendship. Not emotionally or mentally.

He appreciated Applejack's honesty, for all that was worth. He didn't outwardly show this, due to a distinct lack of social skills in that area. He just hoped that in his willingness to cooperate she understood... somehow.

Spike ran by, glowing.

Huh. Dragon thing?

He found himself reminded of one of his hangout sessions with Discord, where he had convinced him to open a haunted house instead of trolling some poor old lady by making her plants glow every time she wasn't looking directly at them.

He apologized for Discord, and luckily she was forgiving. Even laughed a bit.
Strange.

At least he still had the amulet Discord had given him. One press and there he would be, ready to solve any danger that presented itself. It was a very calming thought. Why hadn't anyone else thought to do this sooner?

Oh well. They probably did, just not given him one before he himself had asked Discord for a copy. What's Starlight up too?

He had found her In her usual spot, reading and practicing casting.
“ Oh hi. “ He said with quaintness.

“ Hello. “ Starlight got up from her table.

“ Did you need something? “
“ No not really. “ He said.

“ Oh, so you just wanted to say hi? “

That response broke him a bit.

“ O- Um- No. “ He chirped out. Starlight looked concerned.
“ Not the saying hi thing, Coming here just to say hi. “ He stumbled into a bad response.

Starlight cocked an eyebrow.
“ Ok fine. “ He admitted. “ Do you know where Twilight is? “ He asked

' Oh. ' She thought to herself, surprised. She must have misread him; the real reason she didn't ' get it ' couldn't possibly be he just sucks at communicating.
She was too used to be able to read everypony back in her village.
Too bad she hasn't met Maud yet.

“ What for? “ She asked.

“ The magic book I got – It's too hard to understand. “ He admitted as he dropped the book from his wing-basket.
“ Either I'm just dumb or I'm missing some very important context. “
“ No, No! Your not dumb. “ She confidently stated.

They both paused for a bit. That interaction;; especially that last sentence... seem too genuine. As if they felt they shouldn't be enjoying themselves at all due to their past.

“ Um. Your not dumb. “ Starlight finally broke the silence.
Things had returned to a normal state of “meh”


“ Well thanks. I'm not dumb. “ he further implied with minor confidence.
“ But wait- “ He was about to ask

Starlight tilted her head slightly sideways in questioning.
“ Isn't Twilight the magic expert here? So shouldn't I be asking her? “

Starlight was holding back a smirk.
“ I'd say I'm pretty good at magic too. “ She said, still fighting back the same boastful smirk.


“ Come on. “ stated Ponder

“ I know that look. Even as an alien I know that look. “ He wanted an answer.

“ Oh, fine. “ She surrendered.

“ I fought Twilight to a standstill many times. “


“ Like, 8 times. “



Ponder was backing away.
“ IN THE PAST! IN THE PAST! “ She rebuked.

“ Will I ever live that down? “ She questioned out loud, eyes widening at that mistake.
“ Not entirely, I think people will still bring it up, but I think the context around it will change. “ He replied, too autistic to realize that was a rhetorical question not meant for his ears.

“ Really? “ She asked, sarcasm intentionally inserted into the word.
“ Yes. “, “ Or, At least that's how it worked in my world. “ Ponder replied, half an eyebrow raised to her sarcasm. At least to him, it did come out of nowhere.

“ Yeah but you don't count. “ She said waving a hoof and picking up another book with her magic. She prodded her brain for a valid excuse.
“ Like you said your LITTERALLY an alien! “ minor playfulness in her voice.

“ And? “ He asked.
Starlight waited for his counterargument, hoping to be proven wrong.
She didn't get her hopes up.


He noticed she was waiting for him. He responded.

“ The fact that a ' literal ' alien is so closely related to your mentality to spite such massive physical differences “ He stood up on his hind legs, starting to use his front legs as arms to make a point “ Should mean that there's at least some universal way to how we living beings think! “ He ended his last word as a upbeat professor would.

Starlight was astounded. Mouth half open.
She smiled.

“ Well, Thanks. “ She was wiping something from her eyes; her voice getting teary.
“ Uugh. “ Ponder muttered, getting back down on all 4's and leaning back.

“ OH good. “ Starlight was back to her usual self.

“ Now I get to question you about something you didn't mean to say. “ she said with minor sass.
She paused for a moment in hesitation.

“ So, what gives? “ Starlight had minor concern and hurt written all over her.
He immediately had a response ready.
“ It's not you, It's just I get uncomfortable around too many emotions. “

“ So, like Discord? “

“ No! No. Not that. “ He rushed in a response.
“ I'm not disgusted, I'm unconformable around the mushy stuff. “ He clarified.

“ Twilight really has here work cut out for her, huh? “ Starlight said off handily.

“ Yeah. I guess she does. “ Ponder was impressed with her assessment.

He had never thought about that. He only focused on doing whatever Twilight wanted, as a way to make up for her kindness. He was alarmed at himself for almost forgetting such a crucial detail.
' That's why she's very busy and sometimes forgets things ' ; he had closure on that train of thought.

“ Ponder? “ Starlight asked, as he had been staring into space in the middle of the conversation.

“ OH RIGHT. We were talking. “ He replied in monotone.

Starlight giggled.
Ponder frowned.

“ Sorry, Sorry! “ She looked away and up while waving a hoof.
“ So, uh, anything else? “ She had mistakenly displayed social anxiety for wanting to rush the conversation. Hopefully Ponder wouldn't be too offended.


“ Oh. I was going to ask if you could recommend a entry level magic book, but if your busy... “
“ Oh no! “ She replied with regret. “ I'll actually walk you through it, If you'll let me. “ She offered and apologized.

“ Oh. Yeah. Sure! “ He responded with optimism.
She immediately got into it.

“ I definitely can't recommend most starter books from my childhood “, “ But I do have some new favorites from later in life, most are here, some are in the other wings. “
She cast magic as she went along, all the books sorting themselves and flying into place.
She found the ones she was looking for.


“ Wow Starlight, If I didn't know any better “
He was now in a volcanic wasteland, with dragons spread thinly across the flat rocky landscape along with a single nearby rock with 4 eyes.

“ You could have actually been a teacher! “ He said with minor sarcasm.



Oh.

Oh no.



He had been teleported to an unknown location.

His eyes started to dilate. His heart pounded. He looked around. Discord? Here? He was looking at him. Saying something? No time to read emotions.

He turned around constantly, looking for potential threats.



=== Twilight Sparkle ===

Twilight had had enough of Discord's shenanigans. This was a serious situation. She was about to say something, when Ponder started to foam at the mouth and started shouting:
“ STARLIGHT! WERE UNDER ATTACK! “

“ STARLIGHT!!! ”

He then looked to Discord.
“ DISCORD, CAN YOU HANDLE THIS? “
His state of panic becoming more focused by the second.
“ Oh. Um. Sorry? “ Discord apologized. ' For what? ' He was thinking.

He looked around some more.
The rock now had no eyes but now four eye holes.

Spike was there. Still glowing. He wasn't looking his way, though. Weird.
In fact, none of the dragons were.

“ Whats going on!? “ He asked Discord, in a much more controlled manner.
Ehm. I brought you here to give you the credit you deserve! “ He said, arms outstretched towards him with... uncertainty?
' A first for Discord ' Ponder was thinking.
" Annnd I had hoped to use you to make a point. " Visible embarrassment on his face.
He sat in contemplation for a bit.

Twilight was just about to throw off the rock suit and give Discord a piece of her mind when she heard a snap; and the disguise was completely disappeared.
“ It's all good right? No harm no foul? “ Discord half-pleaded half-asserted.


“ OK DISCORD. JUST STOP. “ Twilight shouted.
Rarity was just as shocked.

“ Twilight, and -who? “ asked Ponder.
“ What's going on? “

Twilight cleared her throat.
“ Discord brought you here to show us, literally, that he has plenty of friends. “

“ Not true. “ Discord said in a very unusual shaky manner.
“ I brought you here to credit you for the me-summoning necklace idea. “ He said with repentance; holding up his copy of the necklace.


“ But now something... “ He swirled his right hand around a bit while looking up to the sky.
“ Feels off. I feel terrible. “ He had swiveled back towards them, arms outstretched in apology.

Twilight, in a uncharacteristic outburst, blurted out:
“ Fine. Don't do anything like this again. “ She said, pointing a hoof to Ponder, but not looking in his direction.

“ Um, If I may interrupt. “ Rarity had meekly but regally said.

“ The dragons are running off. “ She pointed over at what used to be the congregation.

Discord snapped again. Spike had been looking around, as if he was missing someone. Or someone(s). As if he could not see them at all. And after a snap from Discord, he could.

“ Oh. There you are... “ Spike trailed off into silence.
“ Discord? Ponder? What are you doing here? “ He asked In annoyed confusion.

Ponder was still shaking. He managed to shrug.
Discord tapped his fingers nervously.
“ I brought in Discord. With how many ways this could go wrong, this is a matter of national security. “
, “ Discord, can you make sure one of more, agreeable ones win? “
“ Certainly. “ Discord had still not quite returned to his normal tone.

“ Now we can just wait it out, no matter who the new dragon lord is- “
Twilight was interrupted.

“ We? “ asked Spike.
We? “ replied Twilight. More of an ask, really.

Spike looked to the side, eyes half closed, then back to Twilight.



“ I'm staying to compete. “



W H A T ? ! ? ! “ Shouted Twilight, the rapid increase in pitch making her voice give out at the end. She had slid into a wider stance, wings outstretched and all.

She realized her mistake. She looked over to ponder. Almost cowering. Not out of fear of her, fear of the situation. Eyes deadest on her.
In fact,
all eyes were looking at her.
To her.
She felt like she needed to be strong. As the last and strongest link the chain, she couldn't break. She was worried and she couldn't show it. But she did anyway.

She gained a concerned and very worried look on her face for about a second or so; staring off into space.
She then returned to standing on all 4 legs, as she had reared up a bit, and then tried one of Starlight's poker face techniques.

“ Spike, Uhm. “ She was trying to be quieter.
“ We have many ways to defend Equestria. “

“ Discord, the other 3 princesses. “
Her expression turned somber.
“ All you would be doing is throwing your life away. “
Spike got tears in his eyes.


“ You don't know that! “ He held back screaming.
" I could win! "
“ And that big dragon may only be the start of it! “ He pointed back to where the leader of dragons used to be, throwing his arms out in expression.

“ We have no idea what the dragons as a whole are capable of! “
“ Spike – I “ Twilight was about to cry.

“ Have Discord make Spike invincible. “ A loud and monotone PonderBright stated.

He had gotten up to face both Twilight and Spike, with a ghastly blank expression. His movements were entirely stiff and robotic.


Twilight was looking at PonderBright, visibly concerned.
“ Are you ok- “

“ And there should be 2 more volunteers. To ensure a convincing win. “ Ponder said, ignoring Twilight completely as he spun around to Discord.

“ Can you turn ponies into dragons and vice versa? “

“ Oh. Yes. Why hadn't I thought of that... “ Discord went into deep thought. He seemed distracted.
“ Twilight, Is this plan agreeable? “ Ponder asked in a hurry.

She looked down to the floor, mind finally catching up to her. She was still very worried.
Mouth half-open, Her eyes darting around the ground for a few moments seemed to get her the answer she needed.

“ Yes. “ She responded; uncertainty clear in her voice.


“ But I don't feel... comfortable with you leading- “
He immediately turned away. Talking to Discord and Rarity. She had taken too long in her response, apparently.

She stared off in their direction for a bit, and spike nudged her.
“ Twilight, are YOU ok? “ Spiked asked.

“ I don't know Spike. “ She said while looking over to him, comforted.
“ I can't help but think I wasn't really made for this job. "
She peered at her reflection in a puddle.
"A princess. “ She said with sorrow.

“ Nonsense. You had to know-all to bring in Discord, remember? Getting help is exactly what leaders do: especially the leader of friendship. “,
“ And yeah, I probably would not have won competing by myself. “
“ You were right. “

“ Thanks, Spike. “ As she wiped her eyes.

“ Yeah don't mention it. “
They had made up already.

They both looked back toward the unofficial meeting with concern, Ponder starting to run out of breath he was talking so fast.

“ I really hope this works out. “ Twilight found herself saying.

Spike looked at Twilight then back to the other group.

“ Yeah. “
“ Me too. “


The general who is skilled in defense hides in the most secret recesses of the earth; he who is skilled in attack flashes forth from the topmost heights of heaven. Thus on the one hand we have ability to protect ourselves; on the other, a victory that is complete.

- Sun Tzu, Art of war.

There can be more then one leader. Sun Tzu recognizes this in " Maneuvering " verse 7.

10 - Gaunlet of Espionage - Part 2

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Their conversation was taking too long. Twilight thought about stepping in. In all logic, she had too. She was the only one here who knew about Equestrian inner workings and international relations.

But what about making sure Spike was ok? Actually invincible?

And also her previous argument with Discord, will he leave or disappear on her approach, leaving them doomed?

And what of her previous blunder, surely she would just make things worse with her excessive worrisome self.

The planning session had finished. They were all snapped somewhere else.
Twilight had ' snapped ' back to reality.


She wanted to at least be a part of the plan, but she was too late.
And she didn't want to call another meeting, as the dragons were already starting to gather again.

She noticed Spike was gone.
Before having time for another thought, Discord suddenly appeared and snapped her away.

She was immediately met by two, massive dragons. With very familiar color schemes.
Discord wasn't seeming like himself. He immediately burst into words:
“ That there -” He pointed to the larger dragon.
“ Is PonderBright. “

“ WHAT? “ Twilight was very confused; but at least she now knew why Ponder had asked about the dragon thing.
“ That's Rarity. “ Discord pointed to the longer, smaller, more regal looking one.

“ Etirawr. “ Corrected PonderBright.

“ My code name is Nova. “ He further explained.
“ The general plan is for me to make a show about how I'm going to win, and then loose to the more critically thinking Etirawr. “

“ Yes. “ Rarity sounded rather tired; swept up in the action a bit too much.
“ Then I shall describe the wonders of soft bedding, free trade, and indoor plumbing as reason to not destroy the ponies. “
She looked to Ponder for approval.

He nodded.
“ And then... I give the staff away after - “ She clear her throat “ ' getting board after a few weeks? ' “
She said with a forced smile.

Ponder shrugged as much as a fully grown dragon could shrug :
“ Sure. Whatever. Doesn't interfere with the plan. “
He replied.


Twilight was impressed.
Their plan was solid. Very solid.

She was somewhat relived, even though she barely knew the first in and out of this plan.
She still couldn't help a bad gut feeling per the inherit deception, but she had asked Discord to do the same, so she couldn't complain.

“ Twilight, can you disguise yourself like earlier and continue to lead from the shadows? “
She almost thought that last response funny. but this was too serious a situation.

“ Um- I'll try. “ She said with fabricated confidence.

Discord's voice rang in her brain.
“ TESTING testing... 1 2 3... “ She heard, almost as if it was one of her own thoughts.
This startled her tremendously, as she jumped back a bit.


“ Maybe we could- slow down a bit “
She considered herself lucky. Ponder had let her finish a sentence that time.
Ponder pointed to the dragon gathering at the ledge of a cliff.

“ They're starting. “

He jumped, and took off.
Rarity, having no experience with wings, struggled greatly.

Discord noticed this and made her levitate; the illusion of her flying.
It was not that convincing.

Twilight was close to saying something, but she wasn't sure what.
She prepared her magic. This was going to be a bumpy ride.



Ponder landed nearby the gathering. Rarity shortly afterward. They were now glowing, courtesy of the lord of chaos.
The current dragon lord turned around to acknowledge the new presence.

“ Oi? Who are you? And why are you still glowing? “
“ We're here for the passing of the dragon lord title. Isn't that why you summoned us? “ Ponder had started acting the part.

Rarity stayed silent.
“ I haven't seen you around these parts... Or anywhere. For that matter. “ The big dragon's eyes squinted a bit.
“ You wouldn't. Were basically from the other side of the planet! “ Ponder confidently stated with vigor.
“ Planet? “ Questioned the big dragon.

“ Yeah, what do you call it? “ Ponder had saved face.
“ Land. “ The big dragon bellowed.


The big dragon looked at them both in contemplation.
“ Well, you lot sure are weird. You use strange words and keep glowing even after I should have put a stop to it. “

There was a slight, very slight, noticeable frown growing on PonderBright.
“ But I guess since your here, The more the merrier! “
“ Plus, you do look like formidable young dragons. Unlike these lot. “

He looked over to the current competitors, doing a waving hand motion above their heads.
He noticed a familiar small green dragon.

“ You. “ He pointed to Spike.
“ I thought I released you. “ He said in an intimidating tone.

“ Yes. “ Said Spike, not intimated or phased in the slightest.

“ But I've decided to stay here and compete. “
“ I am a dragon after all. “

The other competitors were already looking bewildered and confused.

The big dragon chuckled.
“ Fine. If these two “, “ weirdos ”, “ get to compete, then you can too. “

“ All dragons are welcome to compete. “
“ But they do so at their own peril. “ He said with intimidation as his goal.
“ Now, all of you... “

He reared back.
Go on and be the first to find the Blood Stone Scepter!
He breathed fire.

Rarity and Ponder had not started with the others; missing the que.
The big dragon was looking at them, raising an eyebrow.
They both got the picture and flew off.

Things started off as one might expect, with Spike with getting shoved into the rock-filled ocean by one of the larger dragons.

“ Thanks GARBLE
“ I was planning on swimming anyway! “
Twilight heard, as she creeped up from behind some rocks dressed in seaweed.


“ Spike, do you know if your, actually invincible? “ she said with worry in her voice.
“ Yeah. “ He responded with a sigh, starting to swim.

“ I pinched myself earlier, and my fingers just slid off, like, no damage what-so-ever. “ He said with certainty, surely to boost Twilight's moral.

“ Good luck spike. “
Twilight softly said.


Spike smiled.

He was distracted by an armored dragon falling into the water, and sinking.
He, of course, went under to save them.

Twilight had still had her minor concerns, but Discord did good work.
She still wanted to check with him just to make sure.

“ Discord's Dialing, how may I connect your call? “ She heard from Discord, while a mental image of strange machines with many holes and wires flooded her mind.

Many different Discords were running around frantically, like chickens with their heads cut off. Most were talking up a storm in a meeting room in the back of the hallway.

“ Um- Did you remember to make Spike unable to drown? “


All the Discords stopped in place.


They immediately resumed after a short snapping sound.
Twilight lowered her eyes a bit.

“ Discord, is something the matter? You seem off. “ Twilight asked inside her mind.

“ Oh well. I don't know. I've never felt this way before, and to be honest... It's kind of driving me - “
Another Discord walked up to the one she was talking with.

“ We need an entire map drawn up of the maze section, STAT! “ It said with papers falling from it's hands.
“ Oh- Well uh- Got to go. “ He said as the connection was ended.

Spike surfaced.

No comedic remarks about he suddenly gained a bunch of breathing capacity or strength to swim with a dragon 5 times his size. He was solely focused on saving the armored dragon.


They both swam to the island.



Ponder flew with all the grace of a derailed train. Luckily, he was thinking, as it let him fit in. Something was different about flying with these wings, he just couldn't figure out what.

Oh well. With Discord on our side, the outcome was certain.
Equestria was safe.

And he himself was helping the only way he knew how:
Violence and subterfuge.

Not against any other dragon or pony, no, but just in a general sense.

No victims.
No victims allowed.
He thought to himself, as he flew near a cave opening.


He was very careful to not accidentally kill another dragon, but the occasional bump-them-into-a-into-a-pile-of-rocks was ok.
Take your lumps like a man; you big bullies.

Or like a dragon.

Whatever.



Rarity was not taking this well, falling far behind PonderBright without letting him know. She had caught herself saying “ Sorry! “ one too many times, and getting odd looks from the other dragons.

This state of affairs started to spiral when she just didn't know where to go, as racing wasn't her forte.
She had to ask Discord where to go; putting further burden on him.


Ponder was wondering where Rarity was, as she was supposed to follow exactly 27 meters behind him, before “ causing “ (discord) a rock slide at the finish line to bury him.

He flew to what looked like to be the cave entrance, and looked around.
A small blue dragon was pointing at Twilight, with no disguise.
Spike was nearby.

Had he remembered to confirm if Discord had made everyone invincible? Not just the competitors?

No.

He swooped in, calling himself every synonym of ' stupid ' he knew of while flooding Discord's com lines.


After no response, he found himself landing very hard and steep (but sticking it) very nearby the 3.
He overheard from the blue one: “ Dragons, don't do ' friends ' “

A loud thud.

Ponder had a put an arm between Twilight and Ember, almost large enough to block their vision.
Spike turned to look at him.

He turned back to the blue one: “ Well this dragon does. “ He said as he poked his head between Ponder's claws.
“ And we do too. “ Ponder menacingly said, in hopes of scaring off the blue dragon, Rarity landing not far from them.

“ I knew it! “ The blue dragon said.
“ That you were somehow connected; working together! “
Everyone but Spike had a ' we got got ' look on their face.

The blue one smiled.
“ Just wait until the other dragons hear about this! “
“ There's no way they will accept a weak pony loving dragon! “


She attempted to fly off, but was caught in the hand of Ponder.

He slammed her back down into the sand, his slightly agape mouth starting to flare up.
Twilight teleported in front of Ponder, wings outstretched, and shouted, “ NO! “ while releasing a magic blast that pushed him back.

Ponder was taken aback. He lifted a claw up to his open mouth, not knowing he had been creating a flame.
Twilight had a disappointed look as she flew back down to Spike and the others.

The blue dragon was completely ok. He had not meant her any harm after all.
“ What's your name? “ She asked.
“ Ember. “ She said, still shaken from the slam. She was still able to move, which entails that the big golden dragon did not mean her harm. It's something, at least.

“ You, really don't know what your doing here, don't you? “ She said while looking at Ponder; still looking defeated and submissive to the much larger dragon.

Twilight responded
“ No. But I do know one thing: “
“ If any of those other dragons win this gauntlet, It will endanger Equestria. My home. “
She pleaded.

Ember looked frusteratedly angry.
“ I thought, If I won this gauntlet, that I would show every dragon that there are better things then just being big and strong! “

She scowled and looked down, and away.
“ That I'm not just some princess who needs daddy's protection. “

Spike seemed to respond to that.
Too bad Ponder had to be stupid again.

He drew closer to Ember, her drawing back a bit. Not too close to set off Twilight, but just close enough for him to whisper, and much as a dragon his size could.

“ Indeed, It could be. “
Ember looked confused. Twilight looked annoyed.

“ You could win this gauntlet, right here, right now. In under a second. Like magic.
The words oozed out of his mouth like poison from a snake, something a dragon of his size should not be capable of.

“ Then what would I represent? “ Ember argued.

“ Cheating? “, “ Pony superiority? “

“ Subterfuge. Diplomacy. Slight of hand. That other things are mightier then claws. “ He pointed to her arms, then to her head. His claw lingered a bit near her head.

“ The cognitive ability to recognize an advantage, and take it.



“ No. “ She refused, turned away, and flew off.
She had stormed off so harshly and suddenly, she had forgotten her helmet.
Twilight looked furious. But not angry kind of furious.

A rock crushed a nearby red dragon, and Spike being spike, went over to help.

The three other dragons seemed to be distracted so Twilight marched over to Ponder.
He tried to speak up.

“ I- “ This time she interrupted him.
“ PONDERBRIGHT, Stop. “ She said sternly with anger in her voice.

He leaned back a bit.

He instinctively looked around for more threats in the area.
“ Look at me. “ She almost yelled.

She was angry. A first time for everything.
“ Listen to me. “

He sat up straight, and looked down at her.
“ You are in no position to lead anything. “ She said with cold anger.
“ I thought you would have learned that by now... “ She said with a much softer voice, seeing his posture.

He felt something. Something on the tip of his tongue that he had not felt in a long, long time. Sure, he was hurt, but it was something else. Unidentified.

He started to act like Discord.
The uncertainty and sheepishness included.

“ I wasn't trying to - “ He paused.

“ Then what should I do? “ He said apologetically.

Twilight looked downward slightly, and after a short time looked back to him with sorrowful authority:
“ Finish the gauntlet. “, “ We can't let all of dragonkind know this race was rigged. “

“ Don't win. “

The words were monotone. Another first for Twilight, as far as Ponder was concerned.

“ You've... “ Twilight seemed to debate voicing her next words. “ Done enough damage already. “


Ponder just stared. Not at her, more akin to the ground before her.
She turned back and put on her seaweed disguise.

Rarity clumsily waddled up to him.

She put a wing on his shoulder, and asked:
“ Are you alright? “


He rotated his head just enough for her to see his purified divine drive and determination, causing her to reel back. The desired effect.

He took off.
He didn't know where he was going, he just wanted to go.


The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality.

- Sun Tzu, Art of war.

11 - Gaunlet of Espionage - Part 3

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Doing nothing didn't work.
Doing everything didn't work.

He was hyperventilating.

Luna's past words of seeking help echoed from the back of his mind, but he completely shut them down.
Ah, yes. Stopping to talk about your feelings in the middle of a death race where doing so would get you found out.
A lot of help these friendship lessons were.

He barreled through other dragons as he went, slamming into them at speeds so fast he knocked some of them out cold.

He got to a housing area- maze like section.
The red dragon from before bumped into him while he was landed.

“ Hey watch where you- “

Garble realized the difference in size.
“ Uh. I'll be going... That way. “ He pointed to the opposite direction of where he was headed.

Ponder recognized him.
The ringleader bully dragon.

' Oh no you don't. '

Twilight had said to finish the race but not win.

Slowing down the other dragons while making it seem like something he would do SOUNDED like something she said, and she did LITTERALLY not say it was forbidden, but at this point flashbacks of his time dealing with
' authority '
in the human world was getting the better of him.

Does he do it? Bad. Wrong. Punishment. Failure.

Does he not do it? Horrid. Incorrect. Corrective actions need to be Implemented.

...



Destroyed Equestria.



Screw it.

' If he's wrong no matter what he does, he might as well do what he wants to do. ' He thought.

He slammed a claw down on the little red dragon.
“ Oh? I think you and me are gunna have a little' chat. ' “ He said while grinning.

“ Oh. Ugh- “ The red one was at a loss for words.

“ The race is still going. Someone like you could actually win if they- “
Ponder cut him off.
“ I have time to spare. I can win whether or not I get in some “

quality time
“ with a lowlife bully like you. “

The red dragon was shaking in his non-existent boots.

“ Lets chat. “ He said in monotone.

=== Ember, Spike and Ponies ===

Ember and Spike's unlikely team grew brittle. She was already wary of him, or more likely so, his companions.
She broke it off when entering the maze, as they had already fallen far behind due to Ponder's shenanigans.
She sneered at Ponder shrugging off the crystal spikes, most shattering on impact with his hide.

Rarity, now a pony again, stumbled due to how off balance her costume was.
She almost fell into a lava pool when Spike pulled her back from the brink.

After a short thanks from Rarity Spike spoke up:
“ Oh it was nothing. “ He said, almost clownishly.

“ Nothing? You just risked- I mean- You lost time saving her. And she's putting herself In danger, just to cheer you on! “ Ember interjected.

She looked back at the many destroyed crystal pokers, questioning the authenticity of any pony-related event.



“ I think. “ She said after a pause.

“ That's just what friends do. Don't you have anyone that looks out for you? “ Spike had asked.
“ Not really. “ She found herself admitting.

“ Which, I mean to say, I don't. “ She said with confidence, thinking back to the scandal from earlier.
“ We were only helping each other get through that tunnel. And now were through. “

“ So “

“ That's it. “
“ Our business is concluded. “

“ There's only one Scepter, after all. “
She said nonchalantly as she flew off.

“ Oh. “
Spike had replied, to an ever deaf ear of Ember, who was too far away to hear him anyway.

After a long walk of the maze, and a conversation with Twilight and Rarity about if Ember was actually his friend, he used his wits and deduction skills to find a cave with a long winding path, with a red crystal growth at the end.



This was it.

Almost as soon as he walked through, Garble showed up from behind.
But this time he was different. Angry. Unhinged. And walking oddly.
Slightly off balance.
He's obviously jostled around at least a bit, and he's not doing a very good job at hiding it.

Scared?

He immediately went to attack Spike. To no avail, invincibility and whatnot, but he did prevent him from reaching the Scepter.

=== PonderBright ===

He had long since released Garble, now basically bullying the other dragons.
Nothing they couldn't handle, of course.

Plus; it was justice. Their culture is to be big and bully, so they should be bullied by someone bigger.
Tit for tat, having your intentions done upon yourself, everything was right in the world.

It was almost becoming cathartic when he realized he wasn't guarding the end of the maze.

Discord had been helpful enough to provide them with a map of it upon request, and he should be placing his big, fat, intimidating dragon butt around around there to shoo the competition away.

He took off, much to the relief of the other dragons.

He was thinking as he was flying:
' With the map, shouldn't someone have won by now? '
He turned his thoughts inward to ask Discord.

The telecommunications room was in disrepair.

All but one Discord was shouting at each other in the meeting room.
The Discord that answered his ' call ' was disheveled. Speaking meekling, without any of that classic Discord enthusiasm.

“ Discord what happened? “ He had to ask.

“ Oh. Hi PonderBright. “ Discord managed to squeak out with a sigh.
“ Discord, are you ok? “

Ponder, at this point, had no filter.
Or, in other words,
no ' guard '. No ' walls '.

“ Oh quite alright. “ He said with another sigh.
Discord looked back to the meeting, which now was now more of an argument then anything else.

Discord got angry as he looked.
“ I'm just a little bit DISTRACTED is all. “

He said with accusation in his voice.
The other Discords didn't like that.

Signaled by them shouting back at him, giving Ponder a full blast of Discord-themed loud.
It hurt his brain's ears; if that's even a word.

“ Ah- “ Ponder flinched.

All the Discords took notice of this.

They all seemed to agree on one thing now.

“ Yup. Alright. Shut it down. “ As the Discord he was talking too took a chainsaw from slightly outside of his view. The other Discords nodded.

PonderBright never would guessed his next feeling: He felt sorry for Discord.



Something happened in PonderBright. Something he knew not. His pupils grew big, and it was almost as if a single sparkle, or a star, shinned bright in it. There were more lines attempting to from to complete the constellation, but those were not for now.

Pink.

He had come to a realization. If he deserved to be forgiven for his mistakes, and he thought he did, thanks to Fluttershy and friends. A ' crime ' forgiven which he didn't intend to happen; neither the cause or any of the consequences. Then... Discord, ever deserving to be in a state of panic right now, might actually not.


Even someone with the worst of intentions could be forgiven, if they know not what they do, to quote a popular religious book from his world.

His notion of ' Justice ' was starting to seem a bit too wobbly, even for him.
“ Discord. I forgive you. It's ok. It's fine. I'm fine. “ He said, not wanting to waste a second more.

“ Oh? “ Discord seemed confused.

“ I'm sorry I didn't say so earlier, but I should have realized you were hurting. “,
“ An important member of our team was floundering, and I was too busy coming up with stupid things like code names to do anything about it. “

Discord, still shocked, tried to save face.
“ Well, I don't know about floundering. “ He rebuked.

His clones seemed to be in sync with him again.
Ponder smiled.

“ But I do feel like giving this whole... communication thing another shot. “ A background Discord said.
Ponder was unsure what type of communication he was referring to.

Discord put down the chainsaw somewhere ' offscreen '.

“ Let's get back to work, shall we? “ The main Discord said to the others.
The others saluted him, and the transmission was cut.

He then flew head first into a wall.

Not paying attention.

Psychic telepathic communications and flying – Don't do it kids.

After a short period of radio silence, Discord was the one to call him this time.
“ Twilight and the others are approaching the end. I- forgot to send them the map. They didn't need it. “

Good. He was heading there now.

“ Rogger. Over and out! “ Discord said while sticking out his tongue.
PonderBright was genuinely happy that Discord was happy.

=== Spike and Ponies ===

Spike was scarred of Garble. Not half-and-half scared, not kinda scared,
Scared.


It's like something in him was broken. He was going for the kill with every swipe.

This was not the bully he knew.

The glances and blows slid off him. He was still invincible, after all.
Garble was almost feral. He was snarling, and just kept going at it. Even as he started running out of breath.

Twilight in her stalagmite costume watched with minor concern while Rarity used Discord's private com lines to cheer Spike on like a spectator to a fun sporting event.


Twilight was glad Ponder had that idea. Making Spike invincible.
He was also the reason she could even summon Discord without all the elements, too.

He should have known better. He should not have gone that far with Ember.

Her attention was drawn by Spike letting out a scream of fear, followed by Garble hurting himself on some gagged rocks in order to peruse Spike.
Seems to be the only thing on his mind now. Whatever got him this way must have been pretty bad.

Oh boy did she recognize this.

And thankful she didn't ' get into it ' while under the pressure of this entire ordeal.
Twilighting? Freaking out? She recognized the thought process, even if no one had a valid word for it yet.
… Though... This isn't exactly like one of her ' moments '.

' Garble is too hyper focused on one goal to notice anything else '
She kept thinking to herself.


Oh.


Maybe...
Maybe Ponder wasn't to blame.
At least, not entirely.


Her focus was drawn back to Spike, who had a little blue dragon helper swooping in to body slam Garble out of the way ; ' saving ' Spike.

“ EMBER! “ Spike shouted
“ I thought it was every dragon for themselves! “ He continued.

“ Why did you help me? “ He responded with glee.
“ Because- “ She was openly conflicted.

“ Your not like them Spike. You refused to cheat, You enjoy helping, and you've never broken one of our deals. Your a real stand-up creature. “

“ Not like the ponies. “

Um- “ Spike wanted to rebuke so many claims she just made, but he felt he was short on time.
“ Go get the scepter. You've more then earned it.“ Spike offered, hand outstretched.
Spike put on a knowing smile.
“ Friend. “

“ Um, not friend. “ She sheepishly replied, almost embarrassed.
“ I am not talking about my feelings. “

“ Just – acquaintance. “



“ And regarding the scepter... “
“ Waaay ahead of you. I just didn't want to see you die. “ She said with care.
Spike still was optimistic.

“ It's a great start. “ He said, stepping aside.
Ember started to walk towards the crystal holding the scepter, when Garble flew in from behind.

“ I AM SICK AND TIRED OF YOU PONY WORSHIPERS “

H E L P I N G E A C H O T H E R !

He screamed some more in mania:

“ DRAGONS “
“ DON'T “
“ HELP “

He snarled as he grappled with Ember.

Spike was thinking about getting the Scepter himself, looking over to it.
He decided against, as that would betray her trust, and focused on proving emotional support.

They were in the air, and he couldn't annoy Garble off of her as he hoped to do.
The cheering and words of encouragement did about as much as one might think they would do in a fight; almost nothing.


Garble seemed like she was getting the upper hand. He readied a sharp foot talon.
He slashed. It connected; causing minor damage to her leg. She winced.

Twilight was ready to throw off her rock costume, right here, right now; consequences be dammed.
She agreed with what Ember said. No casualties.

Ember leaned back to respond to Grable's earlier assertion:

“ These dragons - “

“ D- “

A blur of faded gold with green undertones swept through the area, disturbing the air with such speed and power it even blew Twilight and Rarity over.
Passing so close to Ember, it knocked her out of her flying stance, unintentionally causing a tipple back flip; her barely catching herself before hitting the rock bridge.

Their ears rung for a bit as the sonic boom faded.

' A ½ foot closer and it would have got me. ' Ember thought to herself.
' Killing me. '

Garble was gone.

Every creature else in the room wasn't sure what happened either.
Until Twilight, and soon the others, were found staring at the back corner of the room.

PonderBright.
With Garble, slammed against the now cracked stone wall under his claw.
“ YOU STILL WANT TO PLAY THIS GAME? “ Ponder bellowed.

“ THE GAME OF DEATH, PAIN, AND ENSLAVEMENT?! “ The cave wall carried his deep voice too well, and with his massive dragon vocal cords, making it all too intimidating.

“ THE GAME WITH ONLY ONE WINNER? “
“ WHERE THAT WINNER HAS TO ENDLESSLY FIGHT, JUST TO STAY ON TOP ?! “

Ponder sighed a deep sigh

WELL, YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE.

He looked back at Garble.
Garble was objectively horrified. A look anycreature in the room never expected to see from him.

Ponder clamped down.
It looked like it hurt.

“ AND YOU LOST.

He moved his head down towards where Garble is.
Twilight didn't like the looks of this. She threw off her rock costume, and flew towards them.
Would she make it? She wasn't going to make it.

May you regret your choice for the rest of your life. “ Ponder snarled.
All 12 seconds of it. “ His mouth filled with fire.



You wanted to play that game so bad, didn't you?



Well.

“ GAME OVER. “

Garble haphazardly covered his face.
PonderBright reared back, inhaling.



Well.



What was he waiting for?



Garble looked confused too; his hands now no longer blocking his general face area.

He was staring at Ponder.
Like he had something in his eye.

Ponder thought in that moment: He was about to kill some creature.

No by accident.
Not to save more lives.

Just for Justice.
Or perhaps to make an example.

It would work.
The other dragons would tell stories for generations of a phantom hulking beast who came out of nowhere,
killed one of them because he didn't like their aggressive ways,
and then returned to nowhere as fast as he had come.

It would strike terror into the hearts of every dragon, especially in those who would have followed in Garble's footsteps; but would be too scarred to after hearing that tale.
Even more so after it gets exaggerated with time.

So, why?
Why the hesitation?



Many emotions flooded his head and banged around, causing the once infinitely intimidating dragon to now seem quite unsure of himself. His posture softened.

He loosened his grip.

He let go.

He sneered at Garble as he turned around, scoffed at him, and seemed ready to go back to the entrance of the room.

“ N O ! “ Cried Twilight, arriving with a blast of magic aimed at Ponder.
He was now frozen in place.

Garble slowly flew past, still heavily damaged, but still conscious.
Twilight looked at him to Ponder's side, straining under the magical load she was under.

' Huh? ' She thought to herself.
' He was frozen, so... He couldn't move anything... not even his claw. '
' He let him go ? '

Her magic slowly stopped.
He just flew there, looking down apologetically at Twilight,
No signs of his earlier rage.

Twilight looked to be in disbelief, from Ponder's vantage point of immense difference in height and size.
She slowly turned away from him; sadly. She flew back to the stone bridge.

=== Ember ===

Ember looked to Twilight in shock:
“ I- “
“ Go get the scepter. “
Twilight interrupted.

She pointed a hoof at the big crystal at the end of the bridge.
She looked over to Ponder with a dead, cold stare.
He looked back; likewise.

Almost as if they were talking somehow, Ponder suddenly nodded and took almost a full second to ramp up his fire breath, and took some more time to aim at a very specific point in the wall.

The wall was instantly obliterated.
The new hole was lined with, presumably radioactive, super-heated plasma.
He flew out of the hole.
Twilight too burdened to say anything.

Everyone else too shocked to stop her, even Garble;
Ember walked, slowly, to the scepter.
She picked it up.

She wore a tired look on her face as the power in the rod shot out into the sky; alerting all other dragons of her success.
She looked back to the crowd.

Same looks as hers.
Minus Garble, who was as scared as a newborn dragon witnessing his first Phoenix attack.

She walked away.
An empty victory.



Her father, of course, congratulated her, after his usual anger and outrage at her disobedience.

He even complimented her.
Even admitting to one of her philosophies.

She inadvertently tuned it out.

' How much of that was actually me? '



She met up with the ponies in secret, after a short party from the dragons.
It all felt empty.

“ Well. “
She said.

All of them were there, except for PonderBright being replaced with a dragon-horse-bird... thing.
They all stared at her.

Things had gotten this tense.


She sighed.



“ Thank you for your help. “ She said, very professionally.

“ Without you, I likely would not have won the gauntlet. “
“ And when you next see Ponder, I thank him too, for defending me. “
She looked to her damaged leg.

The chimera snapped.
All better? How? Was it him?

“ Uh- Um- Thanks. Chimera? “ She guessed.
It did not respond. Too serious a situation?
It crossed it's arms and nodded.

“ That. “ Twilight was struggling for words.

“ Wasn't defense. “ She admitted.



“ Well. “ She corrected her slouched posture.

“ At any rate, while you have my thanks, I must ask you all to stay away from the Dragonlands. “ She asserted, knocking the ground slightly with her Scepter.

“ You are all too much trouble. I can't have you here.“ She said with minor regret.
“ I'll make sure no dragon causes Equ- Eqaa- your homeland, or any other land, any trouble. “ She outstretched a claw.

“ Deal? “



“ Deal. “ Replied Twilight, depression visibly and auditorily showing.

Their shake was about as mechanical and by-the-book as one could imagine.

They walked away.

“ w a i t wait “ Ember heard form afar.
A familiar voice.

Garble?



He was running.
Weird. He usually liked to fly.

“ HOLD ON “ He said in a pant.
She raised an eyebrow.

“ I'm not here to fight! “ He said while shaking his open palms at her.

Not the best peace offering.
She subtly gripped her staff.

“ I – Uh- wanted to say... “ He was straining to get the last word out.
“ Sor- y. “

“ There. I said it. Do you forgive me? “
She raise the other eyebrow.
“ No. “ She said

“ Rea- Oh. oh. “ He replied, starting to get sad.
“ Well, thanks anyways for- “ He awkwardly spat out; starting to walk away. He seemed like he was in the middle of remembering something important.

He quickly turned back around quickly to face her.

“ Are the other ones gone? The ponies? “
She was confused.
“ I need to apologize to them too. “ He said with urgency.
He looked sheepishly at Ember.

Ember was impressed.
' Such improvement ' She thought.

Oh.

His experience in the race.
At least one good thing came out of this.



“ Yes. They already left. “
She pointed to a direction not them with her Scepter.

“ Oh good, maybe I can still catch- “
Garble was interrupted.
“ No. By order as dragon lord, I order you to not seek out any species other then dragons. “
' Can't have another incident so close to the first one ' she was thinking.

“ Aww man... “ He seemed genuinely sad.
“ Can you... At least – Let them all know? When you next talk? “ He said with repentance.

“ I'll see what I can do when I open a line of communication. “ Her tough girl facade was failing.
She was starting to feel sorry for him. And proud?
“ Thanks. “ He quickly said, and flew off.

=== Twilight's crew ===

The trip back to the airship that brought them there was long. The stones under their hoofs were heated by the sun all day; hot.

“ Um- “ Discord was trying to ask something.
“ Go on. “ Twilight was still depressed.
“ Regards to PonderBright “,
“ You don't think he'll get into serious trouble for this one, will he? “

Twilight looked at Discord longingly.
“ He let him go! That's got to count for- “
“ I don't know, Discord. “
She said as she looked back ahead, slightly more towards the ground.

There was a pause in the conversation.

Discord looked conflicted.
Him being him, he was obviously mulling something around in his head. As per the many gestures and grunting noises.

He then confidently stated:
“ If you gave me a second chance when I sided with Tirek, ”, “ Then you should keep that pattern going. “ He said half - confidently half – pleadingly.



Twilight looked back up at Discord, now even more somber.
Discord elaborated on his previous statement -
“ Just because he failed you once, doesn't mean he'll do it again! “ He almost said that like he was in an argument.

Twilight looked back down to the path they were walking, hurt.
“ Maybe so... “ ; said with loads of doubt.
“ But I fear It's not up to me and me alone. “ She meekly said, eyes narrowing.



“ And he didn't fail me. “
“ I failed him. “ She said with eyes closed, blinking away sorrow but not tears.

They all were shocked by that last one.
Everyone but Twilight shared stares of confusion, and some of disbelief.



Spike to went to comfort her.
“ Oh come on! “ He was very good at forcing a cheerful tone.
“ It's not your fault! “



He continued to reassure her as they walked to the airship.


12 - The Trial - Part 1

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“ It would not have worked. “ Discord said in semi-sarcastic monotone.
“ I made Garble invincible as soon as I heard him say that. “ He crossed his arms with authority.

“ Alright. “ Celestia exclaimed.
“ I believe I am ready to start. “ She waved a authoritative wave at Discord.
Discord then stopped the replaying. The faded images of the reenactment lingered for a bit before disappearing completely.

Ember picking up the Scepter was the last mirage to vanish.

Celestia looked to Luna, who gave her a look so subtle only a sister with a thousands years of experience could even begin to understand.



“ Well, “ Discord rubbed the back of his head.

Discord nervously managed to get the words out:
“ I guess I'll take my leave- “

Before being interrupted by Celestia:
“ I wish you here for the trial. “ Celestia waved a hoof at him.

“ There are also some things I wish to discuss with you... About how you handled the situation. “
Discord looked surprised.
He replied with a simple : “ Oh. “

Celestia cleared her throat.
“ Is it true that you were the one that brought in PonderBright? “
“ Yes. Everything I've shown you is as accurate as I can remember. “
Discord said with a formal bow.


“ Alright. “ Celestia closed her eyes.
“ I would like to ask: why did you listen to PonderBright over Twilight? “ She said with a hoof outstretched. Luna nodded in agreement.

“ That's certainly not how I remember it. “ Discord reposed.
“ All I remember before Ponder taking charge Is Twilight freezing up like a Breezie in the winter. “, “ She didn't say to do or not do anything. And Ponder had good ideas like always, so I... “

Discord looked somberly towards the ground.
“ Well. “
“ Maybe not ALL good ideas. “

Luna looked awkwardly at Discord.
“ Are... You unaware on how the chain of command works? “ She asked in earnest.
Discord shrugged.

Celestia interjected -
“ Discord, we are aware that we failed to give you proper training and instruction. “
“ You are not to blame. “

“ But, in the future, do seek direction from the highest nearby trained authority; even if a nearby civilian has very good ideas. “ She said with near perfect expression and tone, similar to a teacher.

“ Already taken care of. I'm not making that blunder twice. “ Discord admitted.

Discord turned to leave.
He turned back around, forgetting something.


“ Twilight IS one of those trained ponies, right? “ He sheepishly asked.
“ Yes. “, “ She is to be considered one. “ Celestia answered.

“ Apologies. I'm kind new to this... Friends and … working together … and cooperation thing. “
Discord said as if he was a hermit just returning to society.

“ It's OK Discord.” Celestia took a regal tone.
“ Your trying. And that's all we can ask. Equestria thanks you for your service. “


Discord tapped his fingers together.
“ Do – consider what I said yesterday about Ponder, yes? “
He quickly teleported away without waiting to be dismissed; or any response to be had.

“ I'll oversee some modified royal guard training. “ Luna exclaimed to Celestia; pointing a hoof to where Discord used to be.
“ Thank you. “ Celestia blinked slowly.
There was a short period of silence.

“ Is there anything else you wish to add before we begin? “ Celestia turned to Luna.
“ No, his dream and our conversation is all I had to offer. “ She responded.


Celestia inhaled slightly.
“ Very well. Then we shall begin. “

She nodded to a guard pony, who knocked on the big metal blast door to the throne room.
After a short while, it opened. And three ponies stepped in with a four guard escort :

Rarity, looking confused.
PonderBright, looking depressed.
And Twilight, looking ever so defeated before the trail even began, was the first to speak.


“ I'm so sorry about this. “ Twilight said looking Celestia's way.
“ I didn't mean for any of this to happen. “


“ No need to apologize again, Twilight. “ Celestia said in response.
“ It's very clear to me that none of this was the intention of any pony. “ She said while moving her gaze to Luna; giving her a chance to speak.

“ My thoughts as well. “ Luna added.

PonderBright seemed to get over his most recent depressive state a bit with the last two assertions.
He was about to speak, when -

“ I would like to clarify before we begin : we are here to discuss the events that happened to you In the Dragon Lands. “
Her voice echoed over them, not giving them a chance to speak.
“ I would like to know from your point of view what happened. “
Celestia waited patiently through the silence she created.
Her face had started to return to blankness; the beginnings of a poker face.

“ Well, If you don't mind, might I share first? “ Rarity had broken the silence, pointing a hoof to herself.
“ Certainly. Whenever your ready; step forward. “ Celestia responded.

Rarity obeyed the command in minor confusion. She had never had to do this before when speaking to Celestia, even with an audience.

“ Well, so there we were, listening to the dragons talk about new leaders- “
“ When they started talking about doing horrid things to Equestria if they were ever made so. “


“ So Twilight froze up, “
“ Like she normally does “
“ And Ponder started taking charge “


PonderBright and Twilight both inadvertently shared looks of confusion.
They both wanted to say something; when they realized Celestia's gaze was not on Rarity...
But them.

Celestia's expression had shifted too. Ever so slightly.

' Is she... bored? ' Twilight was thinking back to her many years with Celestia as her student.
' And why was she looking this way? '

Twilight was just now getting to see her former teacher as something much more.

Something that could only be created with over 1,000 years of refinement.
Twilight continued to stare in awe, almost disbelief.
Why hadn't she noticed any of this sooner?

Was...

Was Celestia just this good at hiding it?



' Wow I am sure glad I'm autistic. ' Ponder was thinking in this moment; watching Twilight ' shake up ' a bit from nervousness per Celestia's stare.

' If I've been able to be defeated by a mere stare I'd would have died long ago. Waaay back at the beginning of my school days. '

He had noticed that some weak willed people back in said school days tended to cave at the slightest hint of push back. He was glad he was not one of them.
Unfortunately his more aggressive take on life did him no favors this time around.
He continued to focus on Rarity, not looking deeper as to why Twilight was acting this way.

Twilight's now stiff posture promoted Celestia to smile a bit and return her gaze to Rarity.
“ And that's when he slammed his arm down, right in front of Ember. “

Celestia's attention instantly switched from secretly observing the other two, to now openly asking Rarity:
“ Rarity, if you must guess, why do you think Ponder did so? “
Ponder froze up. Rarity, who was faced away and slightly ahead compared to Ponder, did not notice.

“ Why, he was defending Twilight no less! “
“ That much was obvious. “


Ponder looked at Twilight.
Twilight grew a conflicted look, and looked away.


Celestia turned to PonderBright.
“ PonderBright, Why didn't you ask Discord to extend the invincibility to Twilight? “

It took him awhile to come up with the words.
“ I tried. He wasn't responding. “
“ He seemed occupied, with something else. “
He depressingly stated.

Hm.
Celestia thought to herself.
So Discord really isn't all knowing.
And quite a unreliable narrator at that.

Luna broke her concentration.
“ Sister, I must attest to Ponder's actions here. It is easy for heightened emotions to take over in a difficult situation such as that. “
She took a small moment before responding.

“ I understand Luna, dooley noted. “
Celestia nodded.


Everypony was getting a clearer understanding of how it went down.
The conversation went on.



“ And thats when... He slashed her leg. “
“ Honestly It was only a matter of time before he found a way to inflict some damage to somepony. “
Twilight was looking downward with those last two sentences; now even more worried then Ponder, who was staring into space.

“ And that's when he arrived. Ponder. “
“ He slammed Garble into the back wall and threatened to kill him. “

“ Twilight went to save him, but... He flew away somehow? “
“ To spite Ponder being held in place? Perhaps he slipped through his claws?“
“ I'm sorry If I'm not being helpful enough darlings. “ She said apologetically, pulling a hoof closer to herself.

“ It's quite alright. “ Celestia reassured her.
“ Just stick to what you know. “ She further stretched her tone.

“ Well, then Twilight stared at him for a bit and he left. “
“ Through a hole in the wall he made? “ Celestia asked.
“ Yes. “ Rarity said.

Rarity took a pause.

“ Wait. “
“ You knew? “, “ This whole time? “

“ Sort of. “ Celestia Gently tilted her head.
“ Discord can't be paying attention to everything all at once now, can he? “

“ Oh. “
“ Well, thank you dear, for wanting to hear my side of the story. “ Rarity said in earnest.


“ Your welcome Rarity. “ Celestia reposed.
“ And I thank you sharing your experience. It did paint Ponder in a much more positive light. “
“ PonderBright, If you could step forward. “

' She didn't ask a volunteer this time. ' He thought to himself.
He was beginning to realize what had gotten into Twilight. This was a thousand + year old queen. Will his high intellect even be enough put him at an advantage here?

Did it put him at an advantage during the Gauntlet?

Did it really ever? Or did It just piss the other person off, while his point zoomed right over their heads?

Uh oh.

Thoughts like these ruminated around in his head at lightning speed as he was walking. His face grew quite contorted quite quickly due the speed of his rumination.

Celestia had been noticing this change.
“ PonderBright, hopefully your testimony will help us reach a decision. “ Celestia exclaimed.

Was her mind not made up?
' Was there really a chance? '
Ponder was thinking.

His posture softened.
“ Alright. “ He said, still with minor sorrow.

“ I'm ready. “
“ Why did you not kill Garble? “ She abruptly asked.


He froze a bit, but not completely.

Celestia's eyes were very much focused on him. Not a harsh gaze. One for focusing; collecting information.
Luna attempted to exchange a short look with her sister, not knowing completely what's going on either, until Ponder spoke.

“ It was for three reasons. “

“ The first was, I'm unsure about what I was doing was the best way. “
Twilight's posture softened a little bit.

Everyone in the room continued to let him speak.
“ You have your entire culture and civilization built on such... Soft … And happy... And fragile things. “ Ponder was looking to the Sisters this sentence.

He quickly looked back towards nowhere, as he wasn't good with eye contact.

“ And I didn't think that kind of diplomacy was what any of you wanted. “
“ Or needed. “
“ You are correct. “ Celestia exclaimed.

Ponder waited a bit; for another response.
Celestia patiently waited. A poker face fit for an (alicorn) god.


He continued:
“ The second being I was doubting the effectiveness of my solution. “
Celestia raised her head a bit, but not with Ponder noticing.

“ Dragons are not humans. “, “ And neither are Ponies. “
“ And while making an example like that would have worked wonders back in my world... “
He solemnly looked back towards the other 2 ponies.

He looked back towards the Sisters with certainly.
“ - There are cultural differences between us, there are very fundamental mental ones as well. “
“ I doubted It would have had the same effect. “
“ I was worried It might even backfire. “


“ The third.... “ He was almost gasping for air.

He was trying to formulate how to say it best.

' He didn't deserve it? ' No. Too unbelievable since she heard his tone via Discord.
' I changed my mind? ' Not that one either. Too wishy-washy for a pony with his conviction and consistency. If only he were Pinkie Pie.

He was at a loss.

His mind wondered to his conversations with other ponies,
mainly AppleJack.

Screw it.

If he was going out burning-at-the-stake style, he might as well go out
Honest.

He looked back up to the sisters.


“ My desire to see him saved outweighed my desire to see Justice done. “
Luna raised her head a bit.
Celestia resisted that urge.

Both the background ponies in the room took on much more dramatic poses.
Celestia's eyes turned to Luna for a bit. To confirm her expression.
She return her gaze to Ponder.

She waited.
“ Could you further explain? “ Celestia had to ask to move the conversation along.

Ponder contemplated for a bit.
“ I wanted to see him suffer. In pain. “
The peanut gallery from behind him became ever more uncomfortable.

“ As much pain as he inflicted on others for fun, I wanted the same done to him. “
“ In my world we call that Justice. “

Celestia interjected: “ And when you mentioned you had warned Garble in an indirect way, is what you were referring too? “
She had given him an out.

He took it.
“ Yes. I had talked to him earlier about it. “
“ Pointing out how horrid it was. “
“ And how he would never succeed. At least, not in a complete sense. “
He had fumbled his words.

“ Garble would never succeed permanently, I mean. “
“ And you wished to see him, ' Saved? ' ?“ She further asked.


“ Yes. “ He looked down to his hoofs.
“ I realized that he might not even know the whole of what he's doing. “
“ Even if I explained exactly that. “ He said with disdain.
“ I realized I was judging him too harshly; by a standard to which I hold myself. “

Rarity had been struck in the heart for awhile now; per Ponder's testimony.

She finally spoke up in the middle of their conversation:
“ Dear... “, “ You can't possibly be keeping track of every little thing you say or do to self improvement all by yourself... “, “ And especially not except yourself to completely change your ways after just one conversation! “

“ That's what friends are for – be a little generous to yourself! “ She said while pointing a hoof to him.
Twilight was pleasantly surprised at this outburst

It seemed to resonate with Luna, too.
Rarity's eye widened and she grew surprised.

“ Oh- ! “
“ I'm dreadfully sorry. “

“ You were talking and I just- “
“ It's quite alright Rarity. “ Celestia responded, finding a cut in Rarity's sentence.
“ But, since you are done with your testimony, I must ask you to take your leave. “


“ Oh. - Alright. “

“ Sorry. Again. “
Rarity said as she walked out.

The doors closed as Celestia gathered herself.
Ponder managed to get in some words first.

“ I know I probably... violated some social taboo of sorts. “
He said with dismay.
“ I saw their reaction, and it wasn't good. “

“ But if I were to do it all again with the same knowledge I had back then, knocking Garble out would be the only thing I would change. “


“ I would like to add. “ Celestia started in.
“ You did disobey my direct order to listen to Twilight when you ran off with Discord and Rarity. “

Ponder looked confused.
“ So, you do not regret anything else about your time in the dragon lands? “ Celesta had shifted in her seat a bit.


“ No. “ He said in confident monotone.
“ I did what I thought might save my friends, and Equestria as a whole. I have no regrets. “
He said, as if a verdict would be handed down instantly.
Twilight looked away, conflicted.



Celestia turned to Luna.
“ The usual? “

“ Indeed. “ Luna answered.
“ And I also don't know why we bothered with the truth-spells. “ She waved her horn. Various magics in the area dispelled themselves.


“ Though. “ She looked to Ponder, then back to Celestia.
“ I would like to talk with PonderBright privately. “
Twilight was looking stiff - like she need to stretch.


“ PonderBright, If you will. “
“ What? “ Ponder let Luna know he wasn't getting it.


“ Come with me. “
She got up, and he followed her into a side room.

13 - The Trial - Part 2

View Online

Celestia waited for the door to shut before returning her gaze to Twilight.
“ Do not worry my student, you are not in trouble. “

Twilight looked to the door that the other 2 alicorns exited.
“ Are you alright? This experience hasn't shaken you too much, has it? “ She said more as a friend then a leader.

Twilight looked to the side, with a puzzled look.
“ Whatever it is, I am ready to listen. “ Celestia reassured her.

“ Ehm. “ Twilight searched for words.
“ Its- “
Celestia was still, ever patient.


“ I worried that there is a part of me that would have let Spike compete, Discord or not. “
She looked solemnly towards the ground.

“ Almost as if past Twilight would say something like: “
“ ' If your staying to compete, then I'm staying to cheer you on! ' “ Twilight put on a small show; making a voice of self mockery and shooting a hoof away from herself, Trixie style.
“ Or... something like that. “ She was back to sad.

' Oh. ' Celestia thought.
This wasn't Ponder related.

“ Twilight, there is nothing wrong with letting your pupils make their own decisions. “ She calmly said.
Twilight seemed to get it, and looked away with a smirk. Celestia continued her lecture:
“ And maybe a deadly obstacle course was not the best start for Spike; “
Twilight was back to self-doubt.

“ And even if you had let him compete - I'm certain you would have intervened if things got too dangerous. “
Twilight perked up.

“ Yeah – Yeah your right! You always know what to say Princess Celestia! “
“ Now, Twilight. You know how I feel about being held to such a standard. “
“ Right, sorry. “ Twilight awkwardly apologized.

“ Now, I should take this opportunity to give some criticism. If you'll accept it. “ Celestia had turned to face the sunset, and back towards Twilight as she said so.
“ Of course! “ Twilight was back to self-doubt again.

“ If Discord's replaying was accurate... “ Celestia paused for a moment to gauge Twilight's reaction.
' Eager to hear ' written all over her.
Good.

“ You did not assert your authority when Ponder was taking charge. “

“ Well, he was right. The dragons were going to meet soon. We were short on time.“ Twilight answered.
Celestia tilted her head, ever so slightly.
“ And M – Maybe that's not the only reason. “ Twilight continued.

That's a emotion Celestia didn't see often from Twilight.
Fear.

Celestia sat down near the window.
The guards gave Celestia a bit of a weird look while Twilight's fear loosened up a bit.

“ Something distracted me. “ Twilight finally said.

There was a pause.

“ I could – hear my own heartbeat. “
“ The world slowed down and every little sound became loud. “
Celestia already knew what this was.

“ Twilight, have you ever heard the saying : Mole in front of a carriage? “
“ Your referring to the Freeze Response? “ Twilight asked.
“ Not being able to do anything in a stressful situation; all the same. “ Celestia responded.


“ I believe that will fade with time. “ Celestia pointed to herself.
“ Along with some practice in much less – high stakes situations. “ She continued.

“ But what scared me the most is I didn't go into my usual ' Problem solving mode' “
Twilight added on.

“ Usually I'm all over the place screwing everything up! “
“ But this time I just – froze. “ She said with contemplation in her voice.
“ This time it was different then in the past. “

“ I hadn't experienced anything like it. “

Celestia knew exactly what this was.
But she also knew just telling her would do less good then pointing her in the right direction.


“ I believe this is a sign that you are moving more towards a more neutral response to these things. “ She said.
“ And, All things considered, I think everything turned out quite alright. “ Celestia, added on, changing the subject.

“ - You do? “ Twilight asked in confusion, raising one wing slightly.
“ Indeed. Considering the alternatives. “
“ You did your best Twilight, and it turned out alright. “
“ We will take the necessary measures to make sure this does not happen again. “

Twilight was still unconvinced. Her nerves always had a knack for getting the better of her.

“ And, you know, PonderBright is responsible for many of those measures. “ Celestia changed the subject again. Twilight looked back at her.


“ It is clear that he does want to help, and to change. “
Twilight looked back down to the ground as Celestia turned to look at her response.

Celestia was surprised at that one. So much so she almost showed it.
“ Do you disagree, Twilight? “ She asked in earnest.

“ No. “

“ He obviously wants to help. “ Twilight said with uneasy certainty.
“ It's just that “
“ He did want to kill Garble. “
“ And – he called it justice.

“ Hm. “ Celestia only half-agreed with Twilight on this one. She showed as much.
“ If you do not wish to continue his friendship lessons, then we could send him back to - “

She was interrupted.
“ No! “ Twilight almost shouted in monotone.
“ I'm not giving up on him. Just... sharing concerns. “ She said with authority which faded into sheepishness.

Well. She wasn't a mind reader. Celestia would just have to wait and offer her support on this subject. Along with one final send off:
“ Very well. “ She sat back on her throne.
“ Then I shall continue to allow you to do so. “

Twilight looked conflicted at that last sentence.
It looks like she didn't have to read minds after all.

Celestia offered one more word of advice:
“ And Twilight, I do not think he is a danger to others. “
“ Garble was a – special case. “
“ I know. “ Twilight slowly responded.


“ We will be borrowing him for a day to further instruct him. It seems he does require a more strict regimen. “ Celestia ended the conversation with a smile.


There was a wait for Luna and Ponder to get back.



They were talking a long time.
Celestia signal for a guard to check on them.



More time passed.



When they returned, Ponder was looking much less depressed. Celestia assumed her sister had told him much of the same.

“ Very well. “ Celestia spoke.
She looked to Luna.
No apparent objections.

Celestia got up and walked slightly closer to Ponder.
“ PonderBright, I understand you are trying to adapt and change. “

“ However. “

He was getting deja-vu.

“ The laws are as such, and I do personally believe there are some mistakes an adult such as yourself should not have made. “

Ponder was dying to say something.
Twilight shook her hoof at him, and then to Celestia.
He understood that social cue.


He interjected:
“ Adult? “
“ Yes. “ Celestia was just about as confused as she's been in 120 years, but didn't show it.

“ Are you not considered one where you are from? “ She was taking shots in the dark at this point.
“ YES! That's it - “, “ I mean- no. “ Ponder responded.
“ In my world I would still be considered a child. “

Twilight's eye got slightly larger.
“ Oh my- YES! “
“ When I was there, I was treated like a filly! “
“ I'm so sorry I didn't realize it sooner! “

She said in manic apology; her eyes fixed on Ponder.
“ Twilight, you already had enough to worry about; it's fine. “ Ponder said looking back at her, responding to her open ended apology.


Celestia closed her eyes for a bit; seeming fine with Ponder's response to Twilight.
“ Well then, Twilight, I fear then that our social experiment has come to an end. “

Celestia was expecting signs of relief from Twilight.
To her dismay, she was correct. Twilight had relief written all over her face and posture.
“ He will certainly be missed by the other humans. We shall- “

“ Wait! “ PonderBright interrupted again.
“ If you send me back now they'll just dissect me for being exposed to an alien world. “
“ Also they'll probably find the portal here, and start invading. “


Everyone in the room, including Celestia, was visibly shocked.

“ Well. “ Celestia was instantly back to calm.
“ Since I'm not the expert on the subject matter, “
She regretted having to bring Twilight into this.

“ Twilight, can you corroborate? Is his assessment accurate? “
“ I- Don't know. “ Twilight responded in genuine confusion.

Discord tore the fabric of reality back a smidge; poking his head out to speak.
“ I can corroborate. “


Every pony in the room had looks of disappointment, minus PonderBright, who was surprised.
“ You send him back, and Twilight's human friends will join him on the dissection table as fast as you can say : ' magic in the human world ' “. He said while doing air quotes.
“ And personally, I'd take banishment over going back there any day. “ Ponder interjected; missing the point entirely.


Celestia cocked an exceedingly un-regal eyebrow.
“ Discord, have you been to the human world? “

He jutted in a response.
“ Not personally. I just sent some eyes and ears there, you see? “
He snapped his fingers and eyes and ears of various sizes appeared around the throne room.

Luna snarled under her breath.

“ I just got curious when Twilight left for another dimension. I hadn't been to one of those in awhile. “ He said while hand-rolling.
“ And you eavesdropped on our trial because... ? “ Celestia suddenly asked Discord with a slight sneer.

“ Well, do you honestly expect me to just sit idly by as my second-dearest friend PonderBright is judged by a standard not of his own... Or even HIS WORLD? “ Discord spat out like a child in a argument.

Celestia smiled.
Discord recoiled a bit.


“ Oh. Well. More like – acquaintance. “

“ Acquaintance? “ asked Ponder, from Discord's arms as he had picked him up in that last sentence.

Discord looked at the 4th wall all dumbfounded-like.

“ Ah. Hm. Well. I just – didn't want to call us friends when we didn't agree that's what we are!!! “ He said in enthusiastic splendor; arms outstretched, dropping PonderBright.
“ A n y w a y “ Discord looked to Celestia's minor smile.

“ My vote is not guilty. For what that counts. “ He crossed his arms.
“ Dooley noted Discord. “ Celestia responded.

“ And while I do appreciate your contributions to Equestria Ponder “ Celestia was in her closing statement.
" Adolescent or not; You should not have been so willing to kill any creature considering how you arrived here ; even if that creature is an enemy combatant. "
“ As ruler of Equestria I fear I can not overlook all of this. “
Most ponies in the room had forgotten this was even a trial.
All ponies expect Ponder.

He looked towards Celestia, who was looking back out the window.
She turned to face him, the light shinning at her back.

“ PonderBright, I find you guilty of use of excessive force. “



' That's it? ' More deja-vu form Ponder.

“ Your sentence is 50,000 bits of service to the state, or 24 moons in prison. “
Luna looked to Celestia, with minor hints of ' appalled ' on her face.


“ That's... what you call your money? Right? Bits? “, “ I don't have any money. “ Ponder was slowly regaining his composure.
“ The fine can be paid with service as well. “ Celestia clarified.
“ Should you select that. “ She made that clear.

“ Yes. “ Ponder confidently stated.
Celestia narrowed her eyes a bit. She was looking directly at Ponder, who was looking right back at her.
She had noticed something, as per her head tilting up a bit and her staring intensely at ponder.
A Light blue reflection shown in her eyes. It was fading in and out, but still there.

Celestia, returning back to the conversation, brought up a paper to read and started to speak again:
“ I'll have you start with joining the ponyville hazard squad for a day. “
Twilight froze up a bit.


“ And if Twilight has any ideas on this or any other matter, you do need to listen to her. “ Celestia strained her posture, looking down at Ponder.
He looked confused.
“ I'll have Luna teach you chain of command along with Discord. “

Luna smirked.

Ponder responded: “ Luna already spelled it out- or more like - made it clear? “
“ I didn't consider it at the time, but what I did was technically insubordination. “ He said with tiredness in his voice.
“ Sorry Twilight. “ He said without looking back at her.
“ It's fine. It did work out in the end, right? “ She said with minor hints of regret.

After the short silence, Discord, who had been uncharacteristically silent for quite awhile, grabbed Ponder from behind and lifted him up into the air.

“ YA-HO!”
“ JUSTICE WINS AGAIN “

He put Ponder back down, now a very stiff and scared pony. Almost resembling FlutterShy when she was spooked. He looked back at Discord with pinhole pupils, in apparent agony. He wasn't hurt. Was he just that upset at that grapple?


“ Hm. You know. “ Discord was coming back down to earth, mentally speaking.
He gritted his teeth a bit, before turning to Celestia.
“ – I got to say. “

“ You really do know what your doing here Celestia. “
She turned her ears up a bit.
“ I honestly thought this place was held together with duck tape and dreams when we first met. “
He stretched out a roll of gray industrial tape from behind his fingers.

“ But as it turns out - “

“ You've more idea what your doing on the throne then anyone I've ever seen. “
He magically spun the tape together, making many layers. It was now capable of holding a 200lb weight on the end; as he demonstrated by swinging a miniature wrecking ball at a cardboard cutout of the old medieval Equestria.

Discord looked back at her, smiling confidently.
“ Yeah. Of all the rulers of the human world no one has come close to what you've made. “ Ponder added, still not completely recovered from Discord's surprise back hug.

“ Country? Culture? “ Ponder was pushing a already delicate situation.
Celestia did not force back a emerging smile.
“ Thank you both. “ She recognized that they were genuine.

“ But I am not special. “
“ I just have good intentions and many years of experience. “

“ And, with time,” She looked towards Ponder “ may you come to realize that Culture and Country are one in the same. “
“ And that folding tape analogy might be more on the ball then you think, Discord. “ She said snidely.

“ I'll look forward to it. “ Discord loudly exclaimed.
FREINDSHIP IS MAGIC! “ He said with ' traditional princess volume ' vigor as he vanished in a poof of party favors

“ Well, that was all a bit too high energy for me. “ Twilight interjected, visibly tired.
“ Then you all are dismissed. “, “ We have settled this matter, as far as the law is concerned. “
Celestia waved at them.

Twilight sunk down, defeated. Almost disappointed.
Celestia was raising a hoof to her as they started to walk away, but stopped.
She slipped up and did not hide her fear, and Luna took notice.

The doors closed.
Luna asked her: “ Do you want to talk about it? “
“ Not until Twilight wants too. “ Celestia confidently reposed.

“ A more important matter does concern me. “ She continued.
“ Which is? “ Luna had to ask.


“ Equestria, at least in it's current form, might indeed be as sturdy as a single strand of tape. “

14 - Trains and Trainwrecks

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“ Ehm. Ehm.“ Twilight nodded clumsily, walking back to the train with Ponder.

“ I - “

“ didn't ask a question or or make a statement. “ He responded.
“ Are you alright? “ He had to ask.

“ I'm fine. “ Twilight turned her head up, almost walking into a wall.
Ponder's gaze fixated on Twilight, ready to catch her if she fell.
Or maybe she was just having a stroke.

The ponies that watched had certainty seen a sight to behold.
The Princess of Friendship, half asleep, seemingly being followed by a guard that refused to intervene.
The rumor mill was sure to run wild.

' Listen to Twilight ' was what PonderBright heard and he intended to follow it.
If she says she's fine, then no intervening will be had.
None at all.
Not even after she had to catch herself going down some stairs.

...


A blurred image of a small red dragon invaded the edge of Ponder's vision for a split second.
He turn to look at the intrusion.


“ Do – Do you need something? “ A sales pony spoke to him.
“ N- No. “ He returned his gaze to Twilight and continued walking.

' Surely she must notice. ' Ponder was thinking.
' And just not care. '
She was gaining back her usual sense of semi-regal composure while boarding the train.

' Does the culture here just permit this degree of... reputation? ' He ended up sitting across from Twilight, adhering to an unknown emotional reaction beckoning him to not get too close.
He really didn't want too to rely on emotions.
But he thought he had too.

They weren't the most accurate anyway, but at this point it's all he had.
He would not let his autistic alien logic plague pony world again.

She was looking at him nervously, between him looking away due to not being good at eye contact.
A voice bellowed through a hollow metal pipe:
“ Last stop for PonyVille! “


She had fallen asleep. While sitting up, no less. He wished he had that power.
Anyway.
It's now or never.

T W I L I G H T ! “
Ponder autistically screeched, Twilight almost instantly shooting up to the ceiling.

“ WHA - “
“ WHAT “
She looked around, eyes darting around in fear; poking her head out from behind her seat.

Ponder reared back a bit, and took on a uncharacteristically pleasant tone:
“ Were here. “
He pointed a hoof to the door.

“ Oh. “
She stared off into space at the door.

“ Thanks. “
She seemed to be calming down quickly.


It was only a matter of time before he screwed something up socially again; if he hadn't already.
His plan was to go straight back to his room, and read a book or something until bedtime.
This would not come to pass.

“ Oh hey Twilight. Ponder. “ Applejack greeted her at the station.
“ Hey AppleJack. “ Twilight responded sleepily.
“ Oh. Whoop. I was hopin' to get your advice on somthin' but I can see you need your rest. “
She tipped her hat to her, and whispered as she was tipping it:

“ Rainbow is here. “

Ponder was interested as to why that was a bad thing.
“ Oh. “ Twilight responded almost as if she was forced to go to another hearing. Slumping, sad, the works.


Applejack walked away.
Twilight looked to ponder.
“ Just – don't... Um. “

Ponder was definitely feeling something when he saw her struggle with her words for him.
He wasn't exactly sure what, and he wasn't going to go digging in the emotion catacombs to go fetch an answer.
It didn't feel good. That much was certain.

“ Imply anything hostile? “ He took a guess.
Twilight looked up in contemplation for a bit before returning her gaze back to Ponder.
“ Yeah. Close enough. “


' Did – did she give up? ' Ponder was thinking to himself.
' Is she going to give up on the other stuff? '
' It almost certainly is. This isn't my first rodeo. '
Ponder, when zoning back in, noticed Twilight was walking quite fast.

He took out a hat from one of Twilight's bags he had been carrying and put in on, tilting the brim down so he would have a harder time being seen.

He took out some sunglasses and a scarf and offered them to Twilight with a
“ hm ? “
with his mouth full.

“ Oh. No. “

Twilight seemed confounded at the gesture.
After 7 seconds or so, She finally got it.

“ Oh! No. “
She said while looking at Ponder with a knowing glance.


He just assumed she understood what he was trying to do and continued walking.

“ Ah! There you are! “ The two heard from above.
If PonderBright's past experience with pony doppelgangers had been correct, and so far that they had,
that voice belongs to RainbowDash.

She flew down to Twilight, who had turned to meet her.
Ponder turned around too; while quickly and discreetly putting on the sunglasses.
' Awfully fast ' Ponder was thinking, as tiny amounts of sand and wind brushed by his face from the incoming pony.

“ Whoops! Sorry stranger. “ Rainbow looked to the disguised Ponder.
She showed off her wings, spreading them skyward.
“ Didn't mean to get you there. “

“ Hey Twilight, who is this shady character anyhow? “
She playfully pointed to PonderBright.

“ Let's catch up later. “ Twilight managed to conjure a friendly tone.
“ I'm really tired – and – I just want to go to bed. “

“ Yeah, Yeah sure thing - “ Rainbow had started to hover, her eyes slowly squinting and moving towards the yellowish-gold pony.

There was a pause.

“ Well,

nice to know you care about me Rainbow. Bye. “ Twilight started to walk off, but Ponder turned around in too much of a hurry.

“ Hey- Hey wait up a minute. “ Rainbow flew a bit closer.
Things were getting tense.
“ I think I know you. “ She said sneering, pointing a hoof to him.

He turned around.
“ I'm not from around here. You do? “

Twilight sighed.

She took a very small moment to gather herself before saying:
“ Rainbowdash, this is PonderBright. “
“ WHAT! “ RainbowDash was astounded. She outstretched her wings a bit too much, loosing a bit of altitude. She easily caught herself.

This is him? “ She immediately turned hostile. Or at least in tone.
“ Why are you sneaking him around like that? “ She further rebuked, half-confused half-angry.
She flew closer.

“ I- “
Twilight cut Ponder off.
“ Rainbow, please. If we all could just get some rest - “
Rainbow cut Twilight off.
“ And let him disappear into the depths of your castle again before I get to ASK HIM some very pointed questions? “, “ No way! “

Ponder felt physical unease.

“ Just leave him here and I'll have em' back by sundown in one piece! “
IF he cooperates. “
She flew ever closer.

Ponder lowered his head slightly. His eyes met hers, determined.
He would not go down without a fight.
“ Ponder. Your wing is in my face. “ a muffled Twilight said, from behind Ponder's outstretched feathery appendage.

“ Oh. Sorry. “ He could not muster anything but a stone cold tone and expression, given the situation.
He only looked Twilight's way for a moment, making sure she was safe, before immediately returning his gaze back to Rainbow.
He had come to realize he had only raised that one wing. Not both. Huh.

Rainbow seemed to notice too.
“ Umgh. “ Rainbow seemed conflicted, per the weird animal sound.

She then landed. VERY close to ponder.

They exchanged a stare.


Rainbow looked down and sighed.
“ Alright. You win. “

Ponder looked around, mostly behind him.
' This was a competition? '

“ Yeah. There's definitely something off about you. “ Rainbow said as she was walking away.
“ But I think I can leave you alone. “
She twitched back to face him.

For now.
She completed her fly-off. And just as soon as she arrived, she had left.

“ Great, now lets get home before I blow up the entirety of PonyVille by saying ' hello ' the wrong way. “
Ponder said under his breath, pulling his hat down even further.
Twilight looked at him, confused.

Ponder looked back.
“ Wait did I say that out loud? “
Worry and fear starting to creep into him again.

He jutted in a few rushed words:
“ I didn't mean to – I'll “

“ It's fine Ponder. “, “ Everyone worries. “ Twilight said that last one very rehearsed, as if by personal experience.

Ponder had a pre-cooked response ready to go:
“ I think I'll be heading to bed, If that's ok with you. “

Twilight nodded.
“ Your not the only one that needs bed right now. “

A minor smile.
A VERY muted response if Ponder has ever seen one.

Was this just how tired she was?
No.

For once in his life, he was dead certain of something socially.
This was not entirely due to lack of energy.
He looked back at her, as he had always been walking a few steps behind.

Still smiling.
Quite a pleasant smile.
No way that was genuine. Could not be real.

Yet still, smiling.


Huh.


He took on a (albeit fake) pleasant smile and sped up slightly to walk with her.
Eyes almost closed on one and a satchel of bags on the other,
They continued all the way to the castle.

15 - Change of Plans

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That morning was not a good one.
He didn't see Starlight, and he had stumbled into Spike who gave him the cold shoulder.

Or at least he thought.
That's what completely changing direction after looking at him means, right?
Him too huh?

...

Was defending an murder-y enemy combatant really that high on their priorities?

No.

Maybe back in the human realm, where everyone had a ' tribe ' and everyone stuck with them to the end; war crimes or not.
But no. No such mob mentality here; or so it seemed.

He had his doubts.
He would have to get over them quickly though, as Twilight was doing some work on the castle on his way to the cafeteria.


She looked frazzled. Has she even slept?
She was placing and installing locks. On a door?

Spike's door?

“ Twilight? “

She jumped a bit.

“ Oh!. Ponder. “


“ Why are you covering that door? “ Ponder asked in utter confusion.
“ This there something that I shouldn't be dealing with inside? “

Twilight only stared at him and started to sweat.

“ Ye- “

Twilight stopped in the middle of the word.
She looked around for anything to excuse herself from the conversation.
No dice.

“ Um. No. “
“ Not par-titc-ulary. “ She had fumbled the syllables in that last word.
When she looked back to Ponder he had one eyebrow raised, and was looking dead straight at her with all the expression of a rock.

“ Well – I meant to say - “
Her eyes darted around the room.
There was no clearer giveaway. He would not be fooled.


“ I'm just beefing up security after that whole ' Dragon ' ordeal! “
She swung a hoof in a greeting motion.

“ Who knows what unknown dangers Equestria might spring next? “
She almost cringed at herself in response.

Ponder looked unconvinced.


“ Oh. Ok. “
And then he walked away.


Did... did that actually do it?
She stared, dumbfounded, in his direction for awhile before returning to her work.


PonderBright averted his gaze from Twilight's reflection in one of the crystal pillars.
He had been walking a bit slower to give her a chance to ' spy ' on him so he could confirm his suspicions.

' She doesn't trust me. '
' I blew it. '
' The nicest person I've ever met hates me. '

Is all that rung about in his head.

It was distracting.
So distracting.

So distracting he couldn't think about anything else.
This is bad.

He needs constant control over his mind;
else he gets hurt by other people, (intentionally or not)
or he hurts other people.

He was getting dizzy.
Old PonerBright would lament future PonderBright for stumbling around into random objects, defeated by a mere opinion of someone else.

But he was not old PonderBright.
“ Are you ok? “

Starlight's voice.
He was able to zone back in.

“ Starlight! “ Ponder almost excitedly said.
“ Oh. Hi Ponder. “ Starlight gave him her ' confused ' response.

“ Oh. Well. I didn't need you for anything. “ Ponder rebuked.
“ You just startled me. “

Starlight slightly raised one eyebrow. She wasn't entirely buying it.
“ Well see you. “ PonderBright walked away.
“ Oh um. Ok. “ Starlight hoof waved him goodbye.

She had been fooled, no doubt about it.
But it's almost as if he didn't want to do it.
Or at least have the conversation last longer.

Maybe Dream Human Ponder was right, in a indirect sort of sense.
He didn't really belong.
It took this long for him to settle in, and Starlight seemingly got the hang of things after week 1.

He got some big news during breakfast, about what he was going to be doing with the next ~6 or so hours of his life.


“ Starlight, we'll be doing magic lessons again. “,
“ I have some stuff to do around the castle. “

Twilight looked ever so slightly towards the open back doorway, Spike standing there.

“ Oh. Alright. “ Starlight replied in confusion.
' It wasn't like Twilight to change a schedule, especially not last minute. '
Her poker face was impenetrable. Twilight was none the wiser.


“ And Ponder -
Ponyville is having it's quarterly Cleanup. “
Apparently whoever had the idea (Twilight, Celestia, or Luna) had scheduled him for it.
He zoned out after that.

Him?
In public in front of hundreds of ponies?


No.
Surely she couldn't be serious?


He caught Twilight in the middle of an explanation:
“ So that's why you need - “

“ Um Twilight. “
She looked at him attentively.
“ I uh. “
“ I don't know if I can handle a full 8 hours in THAT social a situation. “


Twilight went into thinking mode; eyes moving to a upward spot in the room and all.

He was expecting something along the lines of ' NAH! Just go straight into the deep end! ', ' You'll do fine, and if you don't there must be something wrong with you! '

He was even more shocked when he heard:

“ You know, you may be right. “ She said haphazardly.
“ I'll let Green Picker know to keep you on one of the more solitary teams before moving you up. “

After a strange look for Starlight, he was off.
He was a abnormally fast eater, yet another wrench in the gears for his social lessons.

He walked past Spike on his way out. Earlier then the other two, like usual.

“ Thanks, Uh. “
“ I've never had anyone actually try to make something more complicated then salads or pasta. “


Twilight found herself staring intensely at the two's interaction.
Spike was unamused.
“ Uh-Huh. “

Ponder face instantly turned to an expression that can only be explained as : ' Extreme toilet need '
And swept his feet in his desired direction of travel; walking quite fast.


That knocked Twilight out of her gaze, and used some sound amplification magic to glean a utterance from Ponder under his breath :
“ Why do I even try? “

Twilight pulled her wings closed to her body. She was always very expressive with them, even for a winged pony.
“ Oh... “ She quietly with a mix of hurt and depression.

“ Um Spike. “ Twilight beckoned him over with a hoof.
“ Yeah Twilight? “ His tone was much more friendly with her.



“ Um - “ She was drawing a blank. This almost never happens.

She looked like she was straining herself to the other two creatures in the room.
“ Ah- Never mind. “ She said, sandwiched between nervous smiles.

“ Uh. Ok. “ Spike then left the room, his usual politeness intact.

Starlight, not knowing anything about what is going on, slowly looked over to Twilight. “ So – Magic. “ Twilight dawned a slightly coy smile. Starlight was bad at making small talk when not speaking down from a higher position.
It was fine. You don't need to blend in perfectly for basic introductions anyway.

“ Yes. Magic. “

“ Same time same room? “
“ Yup! “ Twilight was trying to put on a happy demeanor. To distract Starlight, sure, but unknown to anypony including Twilight;
most of that was to distract herself.


Twilight noticed she had walked further ahead. Also,
Starlight had struken up a conversation with Spike.
A new friend?
A NEW FREIND!

She activated her ' spying ' magic, too which she didn't like the name, to check on how they were doing.

“ It's not just me, right? “ Starlight's voice. Over some magical noise. Still very audible though,
“ You thought that was weird too? “

“ Well, yeah. “

Spike shrugged in expression.


“ But It's not like Ponder would notice. “ He said slightly dauntingly.
“ Or probably care. “

“ I – Wouldn't say - “
“ Look Starlight, “, Spike had interrupted her. “ I know you two are... - Kind of friends. And It's best friendship practice to assume the best. “
“ But I think we all know that friendship isn't exactly high on that ponies priority list. “

“ Oh. “ Starlight looked to the side.
“ I Guess your right. “ She said with defeat in her tone.


All of them had not been paying attention to where they were walking, Twilight mainly.
She had sopped in the middle of the hallway, causing them both to crash into her.


“ Oh! Whoops. Sorry. Something was- “ Twilight took a pause.
The two then got to see a look they'd never thought they'd see:
Depression.


“ I was distracted by something. “
“ But the moment has passed. “ Twilight was reassuring herself.
“ I hope. “ She looked back to the path forward, and continued.

Starlight looked to Spike, who almost buried his face in a shrug while looking away.
She looked the other direction to match him, but gained a frown in the process.


Twilight was done looking over her shoulder. She had to find an exit.
She sped around a corner then teleported away.

Her voice was full of worry. But not drive or determination.
Her posture was readying her to move, but to flee, not to hunker down to find a solution.
She found her eyes darting around the room frantically, not searching for a target, but searching for a new threat.

Oh... “ She was surprised at herself that a tone and volume this muted didn't belong to Fluttershy.


Her breathing was becoming heavy.

" GIVE- ME- A BREAK! " Ponder panted.
He was not as good as manipulating objects in his mouth as he thought.
" Oh come on! " GreenPicker loudly exclaimed; getting a groaning response from Ponder.
She felt a scowl coming on.
She excused herself, making a mental note of Ponder's general uncooperativeness.

In actuality, this could not be further from the truth.
Ponder WAS an alien, first and formost.
He had not figured out the most effective and efficient way to do things in a entirely new body; in a entirely new way.

His autism or lack of communication skills certainly didn't help that, as he never mentioned that his groan was just a simple disagreement rather then verbal disobedience.

He also was pampered in his old world, in a way. No physical exertion needed: at least not outside of the occasional fist or knife fight.

Fourthly, known to absolutely no one, Alicorns have the lowest metabolic efficiency out of any creature on the planet, or to put it more simply; Alicorns require the most food for their size of any creature in Equestria.


The Fifth reason was made clear later into the day, when he was sent home early for ' not doing the work ' .

He was barely able to open the doors.
He walked slowly, with his head down, panting and sweating, to his room.
150 feet might as well be 3 miles.

After the latest round of self-insults in his head, he was forced to zone back in for his lambasting:
" Ponder? " Twilight.
" What are you doing back so early? ", " The cleanup doesn't end for another 4 hours. " She had understanding in her voice.
' Understanding soon to be gone- ' Ponder quickly thought.
Wait.
No.

' Lets not assume. ' Ponder's oxygen depraved brain managed to churn out.
' This IS Twilight we are talking about here., ' He further idolized.

' She's given me surprise after surprise, and not in the bad, stupid, or evil variety. '
' Lets wait and see. '

" I - Cant - Out of breath - " He panted.
Twilight looked at him with sneered squinted eyes.
" Really? " She had to ask.

Could she not see he was in pain?
Could she not tell he just couldn't do it?

Asking him to repeat what he already implied?
While in this state?
He refused to believe she was that stupid.

He switched his expression from pleading to scowling.
It got her attention.
Good.

" YEs ! " His voice gave out at the end. No big volume when in this state after all.
His legs spread out as he said that, him barely able to catch himself.
His head rotated towards the ground.
Still panting.

They both were about to switch their mentality.
One not of open communication, but slightly defensiveness.

And with defensiveness; must come assumptions.
Assumptions about how the other pony was feeling and thinking, all only for defense; after all. Nothing intentionally harmful to the other pony.


But the other pony doesn't necessarily know that.
In a perfect world, sure. They would.
' That would be the case '
They both were thinking.

Oh how they both fantasized about that perfect world, in that long, long 1.2532 seconds.

They both stared at each other for around a second.

They both decided on the more diplomatic route.

" Twilight. " He managed to get a full word in.
" Please. " His tone strained.
Ponder pulled no punches. Likes usual.
But,
He watched his words,
and he allowed Twilight maximum room for error.
And he managed to use a acceptable tone.


" Alright. " She looked down sternly at him, as she had taken off flying similar to RainbowDash when questioning Ponder.
She purposefully landed. She had to ' watch it '. Moving too quickly could set him off, so she thought.
Only a slight negative recoil from Ponder. Good.

" Let me see. " Her tone was not guarded, but flat and serious. Perfect for putting off judgement to a later time. ' Thank you, Celestia. ' She was thinking.
" Let me check your vitals. " She got closer, and raised a hoof to put on his shoulder.
Her horn ignited; leaving as little room for misunderstandings as possible.

He nodded; lowering his head slightly.

She only needed to direct him to the floor with that hoof, and retracted it quickly.
She just needed him still and not wobbling around for a full magic scan.


There was a short delay in the action from both ponies. It was caused by a simple realization : That was very easy.
Like, very very easy.
As in, not even that much harder when compared to getting all defensive.
And they didn't even have to give up anything in the conversation in order to do it.

This delay was very short. The time frame of thoughts like these operates in milliseconds, after all.
But it was just enough time for the other to notice, and them to both to help each other zone back in.

After another short awkward pause form Twilight, the scan began.
Twilight's ears were flooded with:
" BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM "

Oh my god.
She didn't believe it.
He was going to have a heart attack.

She immediately pressed the Emergency button on Discord's Amulet, which lost it's invisibility as soon as she grabbed it.
Discord appeared in a full cop uniform, albeit one from Ponder's world. He only had to look around a bit before he realized what was going on.

" Hm. "
" Twilight, I get that I'm supposed to listen to you when you press that thing- " Discord pulled his own copy of his necklace out of cloak to show them both.
" But this is - "

" Discord, Please. " Twilight was serious.
" Alright fine. "
" BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM BA-BUM/BA-BUM "
The sleep from Discord's eyes instantly vanished.
" Alright. " He snapped a few fingers, poised to snap some more.
" On it. "

The room was now filled with ' back - up ' hearts, many different sizes and shapes.
Was that one made of metal?

Her attention was back to Ponder, who was looking between the two very fast, starting to breath heavily again.

" No No! " She muttered to herself.
She tried to take a informative tone. Mostly successful.
" This is just a precaution ."

He seemed to calm down a bit.
Now sitting entirely on the floor, the two watched him for a bit.
Except the ' little bit ' they had to watch him for turned into not so much a ' little bit ' anymore.
It had almost been 4 minutes.

Finally, after Twilight and Discord were starting to share looks of ' What's next? ' Ponder's heart rate began to fall.
But very, very, VERY slowly.

The crisis was over, after about 30 minutes of waiting.
" It's a shame that I have to ask, but can I give Ponder a big hug - "
" NO! " Twilight interrupted Discord.
She cleared her throat.
" No. "
" You may not. " She toned that last one as an order.

" Oh. Alright. " The now disappointed Discord did not seem to understand, he also had alien biology, but he seemed to understand Twilight.
With a quick snap and a spiral into himself, he faded and popped from existence, but with no additional sound.

Twilight sighed a sigh of minor disappointment.
He was trying.
And apparently so did Ponder.

A little too hard?
No. If anypony could have predicted this, this would not have happened.
Ponder would not have pushed himself that hard,
GreenPicker would not allowed him to do so,
and none of the organizers would have place him in that position, including herself.

Twilight and Ponder shared a look of understanding before he opened his door and headed inside.


Starlight, left alone in the library for quite some time, was sitting on her usual pillow.
Hoof supporting her bored head, engrossed in yet another magic book.
This one she had read before.
She had read all these before.

" Twilight! " Starlight perked up as Twilight walked past the entrance, looking worn out and tired.
There would be no magic lesson today.

* sigh *
She quickly got up and walked over to Twilight to catch her before she disappeared into her room.
" Long day huh? "

" Ehhh - " Twilight almost sounded fine. Didn't quite look it though.
" Sort of. " She strained her posture.

" It's fine though. Problem -" Twilight yawned " solved! "
Starlight held back a giggle.

" Sorry that your friendship and magic lessons keep getting postponed. " Twilight continued.
Starlight was sure glad for ONE of those.

" I'll make it up to you the day after. I already have arrangements tomorrow. " Twilight closed her eyes as she put a signalling hoof down to the floor.

Twilight walked away.

Starlight gave her a short wave, as she didn't really know what was best to say in response.
She returned to her re-re-reading, head slipping out of her hoof and onto the table.
She grunted a grunt of frustration.

She was even frustrated about being frustrated :
Because she didn't even know what she was originally frustrated for.