by Cloud Wander
The teamster ponies, Josh, Bill and Blue, after considerable struggle under the hot summer sun, finally attained the top of the big hill just west of Ponyville, not far from where the road fell into the Everfree Forest.
"All right," announced Josh, the lead pony. "I'm calling a halt here, guys. Good work, getting this wagon up to the crest. 10 minute break."
The three Earth Ponies shed their collars. Bill and Blue moved wearily to the shade of the nearest tree, while Josh went back to examine the wagon.
Looking into the wagon, Josh reviewed the cargo manifest.
Bowling ball: check.
Ton of bricks: check.
Everything here but the kitchen sink, thought Josh. Oh, wait, here it is. Kitchen sink: check.
Good thing we're hauling this stuff, he thought. If we aren't careful, a load like this is bound to fall on somepony.
Satisfied that the cargo was secure, Josh moseyed over to where Bill and Blue rested under the trees. Joining his teammates, he drank a little water and nibbled a bit of oatmeal cake.
"That was good work, guys," Josh said again.
"Yah," said Bill.
"Yep," said Blue.
Not much for conversation, sighed Josh.
After awhile, Bill glanced up and said, "Cor! There's a sight!"
In the bright blue sky above the team, a lemon meringue pegasus with a pink frosting mane soared along, a cloud of birds trailing in her wake.
"That's the ticket!" exclaimed Bill. "Just flying along, la-di-da, no hills or rutted roads to deal with!"
"And no big wagons to haul!" agreed Blue. "Wouldn't mind being a pegasus pony, no sir!"
Josh thoughtfully chewed a bit of oatmeal cake as the floating vision of the pegasus filly drifted over the trees and out of sight. He glanced from side to side at his two companions, who gazed wistfully after the filly. He came to a decision. He swallowed, then pushed his tongue firmly into his left cheek.
"You know," he said slowly. "Pegasus ponies aren't really ponies. Not proper ponies, anyway."
"Whaddaya mean, 'not proper ponies?'", asked Blue.
"Well," said Josh, conversationally. "They're not actually ponies. They're actually birds that only pretend to be ponies. As I understand it, they're really a kind of large turkey that assumes pony form."
Bill stared at Josh. "Yer daft! 'Pegasus ponies is birds!' What are you finking?" Bill's Trottingham accent became more pronounced when he became excited.
Blue just snorted.
"It's protective coloration," declared Josh. "Evolutionary adaptation. That's all it is."
"Why would a bird want to pretend to be a pony?" asked Blue.
"Look around," said Josh, waving a hoof in the general direction of the Everfree Forest. "Owls. Eagles. Griffons. The odd manticore. If you're just a turkey, there's not much of a future for you around these parts. But if you're a turkey and you're smart, pony smart, you might think of changing the game. Particularly since you're the game.
"So brush out your feathers to look like a proper coat and mane. Trim the beak a bit. Special shoes to hide the claws. Act like you own the place. Be a pony. The owls and eagles will leave you alone, the griffons will probably steer clear. Even a manticore will think twice. You'll live a little longer. Get a little respect from the ground plodders like you and Bill." He gently shouldered Blue. "Evolution in action, that's all." He took a bite of cake.
"Rot!" said Bill.
"Horseapples!" said Blue.
Josh searched the sky and soon spotted a male pegasus sailing high above. "Here, I'll prove it," he said. Leaning back, he emitted an ear-splitting whistle. The pegasus glanced down. Josh waved for him to come down.
The pegasus swooped down and hovered. A pegasus was smart not to land this close to the Forest, even in the company of other ponies. "Can I assist you, gentlecolts?" he inquired, curiously.
"Well," said Josh, in a neighborly way. "My friends and I were wondering if you could answer a question for us."
"Certainly, if I can," said the pegasus, politely.
Josh pursed his lips, then asked, "Are you really a giant turkey or what?"
The pegasus looked at the three ponies, at first with incomprehension, then astonishment, then anger. "What?! What is that?! A turkey!" he spluttered. "Of all the... I've got better things to do than deal with the likes of you! Good day, sirs!" With a furious flurry of wings, the pegasus went swiftly aloft and out of sight.
"There you have it," said Josh, gesturing towards the empty sky. "Ask them about their big secret and they get all huffy. Notice he didn't deny it! Proof positive, I say."
Bill and Blue looked at each other, slowly absorbing this sugarcube of wisdom.
"Well, it might make more sense than regular ponies suddenly sprouting wings," offered Bill, tentatively.
"It's plumb loco, that's what it is!" exploded Blue. "Look, what about the legs? A turkey has two! A pegasus has four! And wings! Explain that!"
"A pegasus's forelegs are fake, made of wood," explained Josh, patiently. "They just wear them to blend in. Oh, sure, they can stand around in 'em, maybe hobble around a bit like they're on crutches. But really, they aren't walking. They're flying low. You just watch them the next time you're in town. You'll see that I'm right!"
Blue hopped up and down. "Neigh! Neigh! Neigh! You've got to be wrong, and I can prove it! Look, we were all in the last Running of the Leaves, right? I distinctly remember you and Bill galumphing along at the back."
Josh shrugged. "Okay. We were there. So?"
"So! You ‘member Rainbow Dash, right? She's a pegasus pony! She was there too, running along with the rest of us, running as fast as anypony! Wings tied! No flying! There's no way that those forelegs were made out of wood. There, got you!" Blue stamped, triumphantly.
Josh placed a gentle foreleg over Blue's withers. He gave other pony the quiet, bemused look of a teacher correcting a beloved but errant pupil. "Oh, Blue, of all ponies, you had to choose Rainbow Dash to prove your point. You understand that Rainbow Dash is... not like other ponies, don't you?"
Blue squinted skeptically at Josh. "Whaddaya mean?"
"Rainbow Dash is... different."
"What are you talking about?" Blue persisted.
Josh waggled a foreleg in the air. "She's... you know..."
Blue and Bill looked at each other, perplexed.
"The rainbow mane practically gives it away," said Josh.
"What are you on about?" asked Bill.
Josh sighed, loudly. "All right. I shouldn't be telling you this, but look." He waved the two ponies closer. "Rainbow Dash is..."
"Yeah, yeah?" urged Bill.
Josh stopped. Looked left. Looked right. No eavesdroppers. Good.
"Rainbow Dash is..."
"What?!" cried Blue.
"... A Princess, " whispered Josh.
"NEIGH!" cried Bill and Blue, rearing back in chorus.
Silently, and with great solemnity, Josh crossed his heart, flapped his forelegs and punched himself in the eye.
"Everypony knows this. Nopony talks about it," he said, his voice heavy enough to drop a griffon. "Rainbow Dash is no true pegasus. She's the unacknowledged daughter of our beloved Princess Celestia."
"Neigh! That can't be true," cried Blue. "Princess Celestia has a horn! Long as your foreleg! Where's Rainbow Dash's horn, I ask you? Nowhere, that's where!"
"Rainbow Dash takes after her father a bit," admitted Josh.
"Her Da' being...?" asked Bill.
"Well, I won't name names, but I understand he's a VIP. A very important pegasus."
"Arrgh!" shouted Bill. "Are you sayin' that Princess Celestia, monarch of all Equestria, did it with a giant turkey?!"
Josh spread his forelegs. "Well, that's why nopony talks about it."
Bill and Blue dropped on their haunches, stunned. They had just had a glimpse of a new, stranger world, and they didn't like it one bit, no sir.
Now, as often happens in Equestria, obeying as it does the laws of thematic causality, the object of this discussion suddenly hurtled into the scene. Rainbow Dash, streaking along, spotted the teamsters below and zoomed towards them, braking to a hover at the last second.
"Hay, Josh!" she said.
"Hay, Princess," said Josh, with some affection.
Rainbow Dash giggled and looped delightedly at the compliment. "I'm looking for Fluttershy," she said. "Have you guys seen her around?"
Josh pointed down the road and over the trees. "She was flying that way a few minutes ago."
"Hay, great, thanks!" exclaimed Rainbow Dash. She then stopped, looking puzzled. "Um... what's with your friends?"
Josh glanced around. Bill and Blue were kneeling, prostrate in the royal Presence.
Struggling to suppress an eyeroll, Josh looked back up at Rainbow Dash. "Dropped a contact lens," he replied blandly. "My friends are helping me look for it."
"Oh," said Rainbow Dash. "Why aren't you helping them look for it?"
"Dropped a contact lens. Can't see to look for it, can I?"
"Okay, that makes sense," said Rainbow Dash. "Well, good luck with finding it, Josh. Gotta go!" With a flick of her wings, she was a blaze of motion, neatly outracing the question of how a half-blind pony could possibly have sighted Fluttershy flying by.
Bill and Blue, relieved of the stress of Rainbow Dash's regard, sat up.
"Cor! That's brilliant, that is," said Bill. "You on a first-name basis with a Princess an' all!"
Josh shrugged. "I have connections in high places, on account of my discretion."
"But shouldn't you have knelt a bit, what with her being royalty?"
"Discretion," admonished Josh. "I'm not supposed to know she's a Princess, right?"
"Ah, right, right..."
Blue asked, "Okay, but what was all that business about losing a contact lens?"
Josh jabbed a hoof at his teammates. "I was covering for you two. You're not supposed to know she's a Princess, either!"
"You're right, we almost messed up," said Blue. Then: "Whoa, whoa, whoa! Hold on. Just now, you called her 'Princess' to her face! What about that, huh?"
Josh looked at him. "It's not a secret to her, now is it?"
"Ah, no, you're right," said Blue. "Good point." Blue and Bill nodded sagely.
"Well, I think we've rested here long enough," said Josh, hoisting the water bag. "Harness up, you two."
Bill and Blue walked back to the wagon and slipped back into their collars. Josh checked the straps, then shrugged into his own rig.
"You're a deep one, Josh," said Bill with admiration. "How did you come to know so much?"
"No great secret there. My family's motto is: there's one born every minute."
"I mean: you learn something new every day." Josh leaned into the harness. "All right, you plodders. Giddyup!"
MERRIS / Short Story /
JOSHING 2: THE SHADOW OVER PONYVILLE
by CLOUD WANDER
“Arrgh! I’ve had it with this stupid mare’s nest! I give up!”
Blue the teamster pony threw his tangled harness to the ground and did a quick buck dance on it. Then he stomped over to the shady side of the wagon where Bill and Josh were eating their lunches and plopped down, looking disgusted.
Josh, the lead teamster pony, pulled his nose out of his lunch bag. “You want me to take a look at it?” he asked.
Blue gestured at the harness dismissively. Be my guest.
Josh moseyed over to Blue’s harness. Starting out with a simple twist in one strap, Blue had managed somehow to turn the thing into a densely-knotted ball. Josh sighed, picked it up and starting puzzling at it.
Bill, Blue’s other teammate, nosed a carrot over to Blue. Blue munched at it without enthusiasm.
Their wagon was pulled up in a corner of the Ponyville marketplace. Since it was lunch time, the stalls and carts were crowded with townsfolk.
“Hay! Look there,” said Bill, shouldering Blue. “There’s that unicorn pony, wossername? Twilight Spackle?”
“Sprinkle,” corrected Blue.
“Yah, tha’s right. Twilight Sprinkle. And there’s her little dragon friend.”
“Yah. Spark.” Bill nodded. “Good name for a dragon.”
Apparently, Twilight Sprinkle was in the market for a new writing quill. As the earth ponies looked on, the purple unicorn stopped at one stall and levitated a half-dozen quills, arranging them into a fan before her eyes.
“Wish I was a unicorn,” said Blue, suddenly.
“Cor! Wouldn’t tha' be brilliant?” enthused Bill. “If I was a unicorn, I’d be all, like, Pew! Pew! Pew! Throwin’ spells around jus' like that! Watch out! Tha’s Mighty Bill tha’ Wizzard! is wha’ they’d say.”
“Like that unicorn that was in town a while back. What was her name? Nixie? Twinkie?”
“The Great and Powerful Twinkie,” muttered Josh. “That sounds about right.”
“The Great and Powerful Twinkie!” said Bill, in awe. “Tha’s the life for me, that is!”
“If I was a unicorn,” said Blue, bitterly, “at least I could fix my stupid harness. I’d just look at it cross-eyed and poof! It’d be just like new. Unicorn ponies have it easy.”
“Wouldn’t you like to be a unicorn, too, Josh?” asked Bill, excitedly.
Josh paused, looking thoughtfully at his teammates. Bill was bouncing with enthusiasm. Blue moped. Josh considered the situation for a moment before responding.
“Naw,” said Josh, finally. “I’ve been an earth pony all my life, and it’s worked out pretty well for me so far.” He turned his attention back to the ball of harness.
“Besides which,” he said absently, “unicorn ponies can’t really do magic anyway.”
Bill stopped bouncing. He looked at Josh blankly. “What do you mean, Josh, uni—?”
“No, Bill,” interrupted Blue. “Don’t.”
“I was just askin’—.”
Blue held up one hoof. “Just. Don’t,” he said with a warning expression.
Josh, meanwhile, after turning Blue’s harness this way and that, at last bit into the mass of the harness and tugged delicately. The ball unraveled. Josh shook the harness out a bit, then returned it to Blue.
Blue said nothing. He just scowled at Josh.
Josh, unperturbed, sat down, searched through his lunch bag and drew out an apple. He made a great show of examining the apple minutely, then took a large bite. He chewed contentedly. With the benign smile of one who knows that life is good, he beamed upon his teammates.
Bill whimpered a bit. “Blue—?” He looked at the other pony imploringly.
“Arrgh!” Blue yelled, exasperated. “Okay! Fine! Tell us, Josh: what do you mean, unicorn ponies can’t do magic?”
Josh shrugged. “They can’t, that’s all. They’re really just regular ponies like you and me. No magic.”
Blue turned and searched the marketplace. There was that Twilight Sprinkle and her lizard again, this time examining stationary. Variously-colored sheets of paper pirouetted about her like a flight of butterflies.
Blue glared at Josh and gestured towards the unicorn, both hooves up. Well?
Josh tapped his forehead. “It’s the horn. The horn does the magic, not the pony.”
“What in the name of wild blueberry muffins does that mean?” exclaimed Blue.
“The pony asks the horn to, say, levitate a bit of paper, and if the horn is agreeable, the horn does it. The horn does the magic,” explained Josh, patiently.
“But it’s the pony’s horn!” insisted Blue.
“Ah, I understand,” said Josh. “You think a unicorn pony is born with a horn. That’s a popular misconception. Actually, the horn is planted in the pony’s forehead when he or she is just a baby. It grows out as the pony gets older.”
“Planted,” said Blue sourly. “I suppose this is where you try to convince me that it’s made of wood.”
Josh chuckled. “Made of wood. Oh, Blue, where do you get these ideas? No, seriously, a unicorn’s horn is really a kind of mollusk, like a squid or a cuttlefish, having several tentacles, a bird-like beak and the characteristic spiral shell of the horn.”
“Cuddlefish,” said Bill. “Aw, tha’ sounds cute! I bet I could be friends with a cuddlefish.”
“Bill, it’s a squid!” shouted Blue. “Josh, are you really saying that unicorn ponies all have squids stuck in their heads like some kind of… face barnacle?!”
Josh considered this. “I think it would be more correct to say that a unicorn is a squid-pony hybrid, a crossbreed of a pony’s strength with the intrinsic magic of what Bill describes as a cuddlefish.
“You see, a long time ago— and I mean a long time ago, before Ponyville, before Princess Luna’s Long Sleep, even before there was an Equestria proper— there was this tribe of cuddlefish living in the sea. Now, cuddlefish have magic and are pretty clever about changing color and shape and even becoming invisible, but life wasn’t easy for them, because cuddlefish were the favorite food of just about everything in the sea that wasn’t a cuddlefish. So they spent all of their lives hiding from sharks and sealions and every other large predator.
“Then, one day, these cuddlefish discovered a village of fisherponies, what they used to call kelpies because they mainly farmed kelp. Well, the kelpies were having a hard time too, because the kelp harvest wasn’t very good and the kelpies like the cuddlefish had sharks and sea monsters to contend with.
“The cuddlefish saw this and decided to approach the kelpies with a deal: if the kelpies would… bond with the cuddlefish, the kelpies would allow the cuddlefish to live on land, away from the predators, while the cuddlefish would lend the kelpies their magic.
“The kelpies were uncertain about this at first. But the cuddlefish magic was so useful that they agreed join with the cuddlefish as a single tribe. And it worked out pretty well for both folk. The kelpies became very skilled at all types of trade, because they could use magic to manipulate objects with greater precision than ordinary ponies could. And the cuddlefish, away from their natural predators, became so numerous that there are more walking around on land now than ever lived in the sea.”
Bill and Blue sat in stunned silence, slowly digesting this carrot of arcane truth.
“So, wha’ yer sayin’,” said Bill, tentatively, “is tha’ unicorn ponies is just reg’lar ponies. And it’s the horn wha’ makes them special.”
Josh nodded. “Something like that.”
Bill leapt up. “I volunteer!” he declared. “I’ll help the li’l cuddlefish! I could be a good unicorn, you bet!”
“Bill, think about what you’re saying!” Blue shouted. “A squid! With several tentacles! And a bird-like beak! In your head!”
“Don’t care,” said Bill, firmly. “The cuddlefish would be my pal. And I’d be special!”
“Bill,” Josh said, kindly. “You already have pals that think you’re special.”
“Awww….” Bill dug at the ground.
“But, I’ll tell you, of everypony I know, I think you’d make the best unicorn.”
Bill beamed. “So, how do I do it, Josh? How do I get a cuddlefish of my own?”
Josh pondered. “You know, that’s a good question, Bill. You’re an adult and you’d need an adult horn. Horns are normally planted in baby ponies. And once they… take root, the horn can’t really be separated from the pony. Usually, one can’t survive without the other. But I suppose if a unicorn died in an accident, and the horn had really powerful magic, it might be able to… mount another pony.”
“I’m not listening to this!” cried Blue, putting his hooves over his ears. “La la la la la!”
“Might be a bit messy, though,” said Josh, rubbing his chin. “The horn grows in as well as out. The tentacles and beak, you understand.”
“LA LA LA LA LA!”
“Don’t care,” Bill said again. “I think unicorns is great! I’d do anything to be a unicorn!”
“Wow, that’s really flattering to hear,” said Twilight Sparkle.
The purple unicorn and her dragon companion had walked up to the group at the point when Blue starting “singing.”
“Hay, Josh,” Twilight said.
“Afternoon, Miss Sparkle. Afternoon, Spike,” said Josh, genially. “Hay, let me introduce you to my teammates….”
“Oh, I think I remember them from the last Winter Wrap-up. You’re Bill… Plum, is that right?”
“Yah, tha’s right,” said Bill, bouncing happily again.
“I’m so sorry about that avalanche, Bill. It was my first Winter Wrap-up without magic,” said Twilight, a little sheepishly.
“Aw, tha’s okay, Miss Sprinkle. I dug myself out eventually.”
She turned to Blue. “And you’re….” Her eyes rolled up as she tried to recall his name.
Blue noticed this. She’s looking up at her horn. She’s asking it who I am!
“Oh, Blue Grass! That’s right, isn’t it?”
It knows my name!
“Yes,” said Blue, carefully. “It appears you keep tabs on everyone in Ponyville, Miss Sprinkle.”
“Well, if I’m good at anything, I’m good at organization,” said Twilight, proudly.
“You were kind of a disaster at everything else,” said Spike, juggling a pair of shopping bags.
“Yes,” said Blue. “I remember they… put you in control of everything during the Winter Wrap-up. We finished in record time.” By obeying your orders.
“I’m just glad I was able to find a way to help.”
“Oh, oh! Miss Sprinkle!” exclaimed Bill. “I volunteer! I want to be a unicorn and help everypony, too!”
Josh interjected, “I was just explaining to Bill that there are certain… difficulties with him becoming a unicorn.”
Twilight rolled her eyes. “Well, yes. For one thing, you don’t have a horn, Bill.”
Bill was hopping from one hoof to another. He was pretty agile for such a big pony. “Yah, yah! Josh was just sayin’ that! But he was also sayin’ that, if there was like a, a accident and there was a lot o’ magic, then, maybe….”
Twilight pondered. “You know, that’s a good question, Bill. I once tried compelling a filly’s cutie mark to express itself early. It didn’t work, but the maybe the problem of turning an earth pony into a unicorn is similar.”
Twilight’s eyes unfocused. “Assuming a thematic causality event intersected with a thaumagenic trigger, could the conservation of trifold symmetry be violated?”
Josh said, blandly, “That’s pretty much what I suggested, yeah.”
"If a resonance cascade ensued," Twilight continued, oblivious, "would it be possible to open a brane between outcome state-A and outcome state-B so that a quantum transition could be effected from one to the other?"
This is her horn speaking, Blue realized. This is no equine intelligence. This is a mind spawned by the bathypelagic darkness of the deepest sea.
(Wow. Bathypelagic. I’m pretty articulate.)
Anyway, that “open a brain” thing don’t sound too good.
Spike covered his mouth with one hand. “zsssst… Ah, Twilight Sparkle, this is Ponyville Control. Your signal is breaking up. I repeat, we cannot read. Twilight Sparkle, come in, please… zsssst.”
“What?” Twilight Sparkle shook herself. “Oh. Sorry, everypony. This cra-a-zy horn of mine has a mind of it’s own sometimes.”
“If you’ve achieved re-entry,” said Spike, “could we go home, please? These bags are getting heavy.”
“Sorry, Spike,” said Twilight. She re-focused on Bill and his teammates. “It was great meeting you guys. If you ever get the chance, I hope you’ll visit me at the library sometime.”
“Wow! Could I? It’d be great, Miss Sprinkle!” Bill was beside himself.
“We could… update you on our activities,” said Blue with a hooded expression.
“It would be our pleasure, Miss Sparkle. You okay with those bags, Spike?” asked Josh.
“I’ve got it, thanks.”
“Bye, everypony,” said Twilight. She walked off, trailing Spike. “You know,” she mused, “given a value of Flanck’s Constant in the range of 6.626 x 10-34….”
“All right, you plodders,” Josh announced. “Finish your lunches. We’ve got work to do.”
Yes, let’s eat, thought Blue, darkly. Time is running out.
Blue ate his hay. But it tasted like straw.
“Away from their natural predators, they became so numerous that there are more walking around on land now than ever lived in the sea.”
That was their plan from the beginning, Blue thought, grimly. Hunted at sea, they plotted to take over the land. Things have learned to walk that ought to swim!
This used to be an earth pony town. Now, look. Unicorns are everywhere. Giving orders, running things.
Princess Celestia, he gasped in sudden realization. The monarch of Equestria is, is one of them!
And what about this new Princess, this Luna, eh? Entombed for a millennia, deathless, dreaming, when the stars came right, she at last emerged to rule the dark between the stars.
Furtively, Blue glanced about the Ponyville marketplace. Everywhere around the town, pastel unicorns pranced happily.
The horror. The horror.
(Thematic causality event in 3… 2… 1….)
Nearby, a strawberry ice cream cone hovered in the air. Sweetie Belle felt proud. The ice cream vendor had been skeptical that the young unicorn could handle it, but so far she had managed to keep the cone aloft. She had even managed to get a lick or two.
Cutie Mark Crusader Magician! she thought. Yay!
Whoa! she thought excitedly. Maybe this is it! Maybe this is how I get my cutie mark! She spun about to examine her flank, hoping to see her cutie mark emerge at last.
The strawberry ice cream cone, unminded, drifted on towards a wagon where three earth ponies were completing their lunches.
Bill was the first to see it. He gawped as the cone floated past him.
“Cu… cu… cuddlefish?” he whispered, wonderingly.
“What?” said Blue, lifting his head.
“Huh?” said Sweetie Belle. Startled, she lost control of the cone.
It dropped, tumbling. It struck Blue on the forehead. And stuck.
Cold. I feel cold, thought Blue.
He looked up, trying to focus on the horn that had appeared, miraculously, above his eyes.
Paralyzed with sudden fright, he felt a strange, alien numbness in his forehead. The cold spread, extending icy tentacles across his scalp.
They know. They know I’m onto them. They want me to be one of them. They want me to join the herd.
Bill was shouting something, but Blue couldn’t make out his words.
Something wet and sticky was trickling down the side of Blue’s face. Terrified to act, but unable to stop, he raised a hoof to his cheek.
Something moist and pink stained his hoof.
IT’S TRYING TO EAT MY BRAIN!
“Get it off me! Get it off me!” Frantically, Blue snatched at the cone and threw it to the ground.
With a fierce roar of triumph, Blue leapt upon the helpless ice cream. The waffle cone crunched satisfyingly under his stamping hooves. Pink goo squirted across the ground.
“CUDDLEFISH! NOOOOO!” yelled Bill. Desperately, he struggled to pull Blue away from the cone.
But, it was too late. The little ice cream cone was quite dead.
The rest of the day passed quietly. Blue was silent and sulky and Bill seemed pensive. Josh thought it best to just let them be.
That evening, they pulled up to the stable, parked the wagon and hung up their harnesses.
“See you tomorrow, guys,” said Blue, quietly, as he slouched off into the gathering dusk.
“See you tomorrow, Blue,” said Josh.
“Yah. Take care,” called Bill.
Watching Blue recede towards town, Bill asked Josh, “He’s goin’ to be okay, right?”
“Oh, sure,” said Josh. “He’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep. He’s just a little embarrassed that he was scared witless by an ice cream cone. He needs to be by himself for awhile. He’ll be just as feisty as ever tomorrow. You’ll see.”
The shadows stretched and deepened. Bill and Josh, as they often did, sat up on a rise overlooking Ponyville. Below, the lights were starting to come on.
After a bit, Bill asked, quietly, “Josh. Do you really think that there’s a chance I could be a unicorn someday?”
Josh sat for awhile and thought about it. Then he pointed east towards the mountains and said, “There. Look up there. What do you see?”
Bill squinted. “Wha’? Canterlot?”
Josh said, “Would you believe me if I told you that up there, in that city, there’s a pony that makes the sun rise every morning?”
“O’ course. Princess Celestia.”
“Okay. Look beyond Canterlot. What do you see? Further east and up.”
“Wha’? You mean th’ Moon?”
“Would you believe me if I told you that right now, right this minute as we’re sitting here, there’s a pony working to raise the Moon?”
“Princess Luna? ‘Course, she is.”
“Bill, let me tell you something: you, me, Blue, Princess Celestia and Princess Luna, Twilight Sparkle, Spike, Sweetie Belle and all the folk down in Ponyville, all the earth ponies and the pegasus ponies and the unicorn ponies, the kelpies and the cuddlefish, we all began with nothing more than this: once upon a time.
“In a world like this, like Equestria, a story is a very powerful thing. Maybe the most powerful thing there is.
“So if you tell a story out loud, and if you believe in it, well, maybe the world will listen and like your story better than the one it has, and the world will believe you, too. And follow you.
“Bill, if you believe you have a chance to be a unicorn, then I’d be a foal to bet against you.”
The two sat together in silence for awhile.
“Still, if I’m honest,” Josh said at last, sighing. “I have to admit that I was not entirely truthful with you earlier.”
“Wha’ do ya mean, Josh?”
“You remember when I said that unicorn ponies are just like regular ponies, and can’t do magic?”
Josh paused. “That wasn’t true. All ponies can do magic.”
Josh shouldered Bill gently. “Of course,” Josh said.
“Friendship is magic.”