So much time, wasted.
So much of my life spent in a singular pursuit: a pursuit that I believed was both possible, and deserved; a pursuit which alienated me from entire planets, peoples, and planes of existence; a pursuit that consumed every fiber of my being, and transformed me from a great man to a cackling lunatic; a pursuit that finally forced me into solitude... and reflection.
That reflection brought me here: a cavern in a cliffside, surrounded by scrub and broken earth.
And I have that damned mutant to thank for it.
It was his unflagging determination, his relentless drive to undo my work and prevent the growth of my power, that finally led to his success.
Not because of some great moral victory. Not because of some miraculous change of heart. Nothing so noble. No, it was simply due to his stronger will. He outlasted me. And now? I’m tired. I just want out of the game.
He can have his victory. I can’t afford to care any more.
Still, I suppose the thanks are sincere. After all, were it not for his constant opposition to my goals, I might still be trying to fit the world beneath my heel. A plot of land and some solitude might just be the best thing for me.
I’ll go into details later. The light is failing, and I must still prepare the fire.
I suppose now’s just as good a time as any.
After I came to the decision, the implementation was a fairly simple procedure. After all, it is the nature of Chaos to facilitate change, and subvert the laws of Order. I simply had to modify the teleportation schematics to affect that change across a different dimension. Doing so enabled me to travel, not across vast distances, but across realities. Across universes, if you will - universes that are layered over our own, sharing a great many of the same laws.
As I said, it was Chaos that enabled this change. I aligned the transporter field through my last Emerald and, after collecting a few tools, engaged the relays. There was an enormous, noiseless rending... and then I was here.
I do not know where I am, or when. Indeed, I may still be on Earth, but at a time in the far past or far future. The days seem to last about 24 hours - while I packed a timepiece, it did not survive the journey - and the air is comfortably breathable. Gravity is similar as well.
Further thought on that subject is best saved for another time; I can do nothing to affect it at this juncture, and there are more pressing concerns.
Water is one such worry, but one easily met: it snows here, and a few moments with a makeshift pot renders a refreshing drink. The mineral content, however, seems high to my taste; the unmistakable tang of copper is heavy on my tongue. This may have adverse effects in the long-term, and I have begun fashioning a still to eliminate the issue.
Secondly, my nutrition must be seen to; I shall soon run out of my daily meal bars. It would be best to test new foods while I still have a few dependable meals remaining. While the terrain around my new home is fairly barren - loose rock, snow, and stunted scrub abound - I can see a small wood in the distance. The trees are very similar to those from home. If this is a different universe, it may not be one too far removed.
I have not yet seen nor heard any creatures. Whether this is due to my altitude, the season, or the absence of such organisms remains to be seen. There are some marks on the floor of my cavern which resemble hoof-marks, but could simply be scuffs from stones and seasonal run-off.
But I digress. The wood is my goal; I should be off in a few moments to properly investigate.
Until next time,
This world is incredibly similar to Earth, yet with enough disturbing changes to convince me otherwise.
I reached the wood yesterday, and found what could only be described as an apple tree growing wild on its borders. The fruit was withered, but seemingly unspoiled. I picked all I could, and have begun testing the skin, flesh, and seeds methodically to determine edibility.
While I was there, however, I noticed something that was not immediately obvious from my cavern home: the colors.
Everything here seems, at once, both simpler and more bold. Where a tree at home might have a thousand shades of brown in its trunk, these plants show only a few clean pigments.
There are creatures, too: all similarly shaded. A squirrel-like animal was a single shade of nutmeg-brown, save for its features and its oddly expressive eyes. It showed no fear of my presence, only a growing curiosity. A bird of some sort bore flat grey feathers and a dramatic black crest. It, too, regarded me with an inquisitive stare.
One could almost imagine them capable of speech, despite possessing skulls far too small to support the necessary neural development.
The landscape shares this palette. The sky is a cerulean blue, save during sunrise or sunset. The clouds are uniformly white and fluffy, like tiny cumulus, with no evidence so far of the wide variety of cloud types of Earth.
Whatever realm this is, it isn’t the planet I know. It is uncanny, to be sure, but with enough ever-present differences to establish a clear separation.
I suppose I should be thankful for the sustaining air, food, and water. I don’t believe in luck, per se - I know I’ve never experienced a smile from Fate - but I certainly was lucky to land here. Then again, perhaps the Emerald chose this location for these properties.
Hm. More research is necessary. That is, of course, if I ever leave this place.
I must return to work. The still needs more fuel, and I am still clearing out assorted washed-in clutter.
Day 4, Nighttime
Apples they are, indeed. I am supplementing my packaged meal bars for the time being, but will need to find more variety, and soon. Subsisting on apples alone can cause every manner of gastrointestinal distress.
Apples? That’s not why I decided to write. No, I decided to write because of the moon.
It is absolutely stunning. Its craters differ from the ones I recall, but if this is a ‘close parallel’ Earth, then that would make sense. The constellations are almost identical; Orion is up, as are Canis Major and Minor. Judging from their position, it is late winter, and I am in the Northern Hemisphere.
Nights are nearly silent, broken only by the shifting of melting snow, and the occasional whistle of the wind in the high crags.
There is a chill in the air, but there is also the promise of spring. I cannot remember a time when I actually felt excitement about the change of seasons.
Maybe I should have unplugged a long time ago?
But I ramble on, and waste ink. I bid you goodnight.
There is, or was, intelligent life here.
This morning, I stumbled across a moldering bag as I wandered in the woods. It was filled with all manner of fashioned goods: parchment, carved gems, a small wooden bust of an equine, and several shards of glass. I’ve pieced the shards together to find they once comprised a vial.
The stitching of the bag shows impressive skill - the work of an artisan - and its contents hint at talented craftsmen of all stripes. Whoever was carrying these goods, they came from a culture that prized and nurtured artistic expression.
Tomorrow, I shall set off through these woods and see if I can find other evidence of intelligent life. I am, at once, both thrilled at the prospect, and frightened of the possibilities. If it’s out there, would the life-forms be open to outsiders, or xenophobic?
Time, I’m sure, will tell. Until then, there is work to be done. I’ve gathered more apples and some root vegetables, and managed to snare a squirrel for my protein needs. I feel strangely guilty about that - it had a very expressive face - but I’m probably projecting. I’ve been a few days without any social contact, after all.
I will fill my pack with foodstuffs and tinder, and my canteen with fresh snow, and carry the bust and gems with me in case I find a chance to trade.
Hm. I should probably be more cautious. After all, with my record, I am hardly someone who can be counted on to make the right decision under pressure.
It would be a small thing to fabricate a weapon, or even a companion, from the materials I brought. That almost seems like cheating, though. I have already proven that, with the aid of machines, I can be the master of my domain. I feel like I need to prove something to myself, and live by my wits.
I have discovered a path, and one that has recently been traveled, as there seem to be no attempts by the underbrush to reclaim it. I will follow this path out of the foothills and into the lands below, in hopes of discovering the creators of the goods I now carry for trade.
There is a great variety of fish, here. I fashioned a makeshift net from an old shirt and snagged myself about a half-dozen small, brightly colored fish, in all the colors of a rainbow. When I camp, I plan to cure them with smoke for on-the-go fuel.
My spirits are high, and oddly enough, I don’t seem to get tired as easily as I recall, back on Earth. Perhaps there’s something in the environment that keeps me on my feet. Whatever the source, I intend to take full advantage, and avoid camping until I can no longer see the path.
But I make no progress sitting on a stone and writing.
Day 7, Nighttime.
The moon is just as beautiful as it was a few days ago, and does not seem to have altered its course or its shape. It may be synchronized with the solar cycle, although I do not pretend to understand how. Such a synchronization would require the moon to remain nearly motionless, traversing around its host planet only once a year.
A matter for another time, perhaps, and a telescope.
The smoked fish are delicious, by the way, and remind me of trout in flavor. I finished my evening meal with a fresh-picked pear and some roasted carrots. My compliments to the chef.
I should get some rest. While excited, I’m sure that my unusual exertions will eventually come back to haunt me, if I neglect myself.
I couldn’t be more thrilled!
I am writing this from heavy cover on a hillside, watching over a quaint - and strange - village. It seems to be fashioned around a central building, slightly taller than the rest, built in a Tudor style. The other buildings are a mishmash of architectural motifs, from thatched roofs and plaster, to tiles and timber, to brightly-colored tents.
I am not close enough to make out details, yet, but will approach once the sun is no longer directly overhead. Now that I am out of the mountains, its warmth is impressive. Even though the stars tell me it is winter, the streams here run free of ice and there is green on many a hillside.
That may not last. Dark gray clouds are gathering over the town, as if being willed into position. I expect a heavy snowfall to reclaim some of the greenery by the end of tomorrow.
Speaking of tomorrow... perhaps I should plan for contingencies. I think I’ll head back half a mile and set up camp, before I journey closer. I may need a known safe place to stay, if the locals are not friendly.
Work waits for no man.
What I wouldn’t give for some coffee.
I decided on caution, and spent the remainder of yesterday building a makeshift shelter. I am glad I did. The snowfall began around midnight, and did not let up until shortly after dawn. With my shelter and fire keeping most of the chill away, I spent the night in relative comfort. I have just finished my last meal bar, and will hopefully find something to add to my apples later today.
Being under the canopy, the snow is not as heavy here as it could be. The walk back towards the village should be uneventful, and I am eager to begin.
I will spend a few minutes, though, copying these pages and leaving them here under my shelter. If this trip does not end well, and I must leave quickly, I would hate to lose these notes. If the outcome is worse, perhaps another wanderer will find them, and heed whatever lessons they might find.
Day 10, Afternoon
Horses. Brightly-colored, intelligent, talking horses. I’ve not gone mad - of that I’m fairly certain - but I cannot deny what I have discovered.
The village in the valley is populated by tiny horses! Well, not exactly horses. They are perhaps closer to ponies, with similar limb length and size to Shetlands. I do not understand their language, nor do they mine, which is strangely comforting; were we able to communicate immediately, I would have suspected this to be a fever-dream.
While understandably nervous about a large, bipedal creature approaching their town - and organized enough to assemble a group of four to come out to meet me - they are open and generous.
My newfound escort allowed me to approach the village, and there I was able to pantomime enough to communicate my desire for trade in foodstuffs. I exchanged the gems and the sculpture for a large satchel filled with all manner of supplies: flour, sugar, carefully-packed eggs, salt, and so forth. I also received a small bag of brass coins, each marked with a stylized sun and a moon on opposite faces. Barter, and currency: marks of a growing society.
These ponies are remarkable creatures.
Each one is a different color, but closer in variety to a box of crayons rather than the drab browns, blacks, and whites of Earth-bound equines. Most have manes and tails of a hue different than their coats. Like the intelligent life from home, it appears that fashion is considered important - several ponies wear garb which serves little purpose but to accent their colors, and a few have manes styled in a way only possible through artifice.
Most of the larger ponies - I’m assuming they are adults - bear an emblem on their hindquarters. Each emblem is different, from what I’ve seen, and appear to be either dyed into their coats or painted on. More fashion? Perhaps - but I’ve begun to notice a trend. The pony from whom I purchased my baking goods had a cake as her emblem, and two of the ponies who came out to meet me bore positively military motifs - one had crossed swords, and another a shield.
I write this as I sit on a dry haybale near the town’s edge, on what appears to be a parade ground. The tents that I assumed to be shelter have actually been erected for some sort of festival, and busy creatures bustle about preparing for the event. One of the escort ponies stands beside me. She is grey with a light blue mane, and bears an emblem of a sunbeam through a cloud. She occasionally tries to explain my curious gaze, but is more intent on the marks I make.
Hm. A thought.
I have just shown this drawing and enunciated the word ‘apple’ to my companion. I have also shown her a withered example from my pack. She looked at me, quizzically, and then called over to another pony. That pony dashed away, somewhere, intent on a purpose. My companion, however, is happily repeating a noise which I can only guess is their version of the word.
Yes, that’s certainly it, although I cannot begin to wonder how I’d transcribe the sound.
The other pony returns.
He has brought me a book! They bind books here! Well, of course they do - they have houses, and bake... no matter. This appears to be some sort of primer in their language. An encyclopedia or children’s dictionary, I cannot tell just yet. But...
Ah. There is a sketch of an apple, with glyphs below it. I shall attempt to transcribe them here:
I have just shown the letters to my companion. She nodded and made the noise once more. I covered up the spiral glyph, and pointed again. This time, she gave me part of the noise, a sharp click with the tongue. Covering the horseshoe, I pointed to the other. The other half of the noise, a light exhalation over loose lips. I reversed the noise, and she made a sound like laughter, then flipped ahead in the book, showing me a tree - with these symbols, reversed - and repeating my word with a heavier accent on the first syllable.
A phonetic language. Wonderful!
I shall put this book up for now - it seems I am wanted somewhere. The other pony escorts have returned, and the grey one is nudging me.
Day 10, Evening
I am a rational man. I do not say this lightly. I believe in cause and effect, in the slow progression of change, and in immutable physical laws. Even the universe-shifting trip I took here did not violate the laws as I know them: It used focused energy of certain wavelengths to open a harmonic window in space-time and send me through. But... these creatures - these ponies - use magic.
I was introduced, earlier, to the mayor of this town. Her name is Whisper, and she is a pale green pony with a silvery mane. Furthermore, she bears a horn in the center of her forehead. She is apparently a unicorn pony, unlike the ‘earth’ ponies that make up the majority of the villagers, and was elected to office about a year ago.
And I know all this because she willed me to.
She cast a spell - it’s my only explanation - and I can now understand, with a little effort, the pony language. I can also speak it, with what is apparently a heavy accent, if I concentrate. I suspect that as I learn it truly, that accent will dissipate.
I am thrilled at this new chance to learn... but also worried. She considered it a small thing indeed to inflict her strange energies upon my person, knowing nothing about my physical makeup or origins. Is magic use so commonplace? Still, that’s a conversation for another time.
The ponies know how I am here, and what I intend - quiet retirement - and we both seem content to leave it at that.
My companion’s name is Skyshine. Her friends - all adult females - have similar names. The two militant ones are Saber Dance and Bulwark. The last is Holly, but I’ve not seen her since she brought me to the mayor’s office. I’ve not asked whether these monikers are given at birth or selected upon an age of majority, but I will find out later. As for my name? After some thought, I was able to translate it from its original Polish into their tongue. The closest approximation I am able to make is ‘Worker’, which satisfies most of them.
Now that I can communicate, the more timid ponies have introduced themselves. I’ve met the baker again - Miss Tart - and a postal worker, a hairdresser and a lapidary, a farmer and a woodworker. Each has a name, emblem, or both that reflects their choice of employment.
Oh, yes. The emblems are called ‘cutie marks’ and are obtained when a pony is young, after what sounds to be a personal test where one’s talents are revealed. More magic, and more questions.
So, what do we know?
This land is called Equestria. I cannot decipher if it is the name of a nation, a continent or a planet, and the ponies seem unconcerned with the question.
Pony-kind is ruled by two princesses: Celestia and Luna. As their names imply, they are tasked with the journey of the sun and moon of this world. That’s right - the sun and moon apparently orbit the planet, not the other way around. They are, for all appearances, kind and benevolent rulers.
There are three types of ponies. The most common are earth ponies, which is an unfortunate translation. They are tasked with the care and keeping of Equestria itself, and have talents that lend themselves to growing, building, healing, and leading. Of all the pony races, these are the most steadfast, the most resolute, and possessing of the greatest physical fortitude.
The second most common are pegasus ponies. I have yet to meet one, but I am told that the town has its very own weather-pegasus on the payroll - I’ll get to weather in a minute - and I should meet him soon enough. As their name implies, they are capable of flight. They tend to be more energetic, with a higher metabolism and lighter frame than their earth pony counterparts. They are also more fragile. I suspect hollow bones, much like birds.
Pegasi have a secondary ability, and responsibility: they control the weather, in a strangely physical fashion. If a rainstorm is needed somewhere, a few pegasi will clump clouds together and influence them to rain. If a storm is forming on its own and threatens a region, the local weather ponies do what they can to limit its effects.
The third type is the unicorn pony, like the esteemed mayor. The only type of common pony - I say common because there are two notable exceptions - able to channel magic directly, unicorn ponies typically have skills around a certain aspect of their personality, although there are rare exceptions who can perform a wide variety of magic.
Whisper’s magic, by the way, affects understanding and communication. She has told me she couldn’t light a candle with her horn, and I believe her. She also tells me that her abilities are the reason my welcome party did not come armed.
This came as a surprise. While I had considered the chance of fearful creatures, I had not imagined a military response.
Unicorns have a secondary ability as well - telekinesis. Instead of relying on their hooves and mouths to grip, they can manipulate objects as if they had an invisible pair of hands. Most fine-detail work, such as sewing and surgery, is done by unicorns.
This leads me back to the princesses. They exhibit the powers and forms of all three pony races, possessing large, graceful bodies, long horns, and great wings. They are unparalleled in power and, if the stories are to be believed, immortal.
There are other intelligent races here as well, and other creatures. Most, if not all, of the animals who inhabit the realm are capable of higher thought. This makes me a little uneasy about my first snared meal... but I shall think on that later.
I am told that a family of griffins resides on a nearby mountain peak, and a dragon has been seen from time to time in the forests to the south. Once I expressed interest in these creatures, there was no end to the number of ponies willing to tell me a tale of adventure, each one featuring a frightful menace. Cockatrice, manticores, hydra, giant translucent bears... it’s a marvel such a quiet, peace-loving society can survive.
And it is peace-loving, and quiet. The closest concept I can apply to the political environment is a communist monarchy. It’s like a perfected form of socialism, with minimal government involvement, ponies filling the roles needed in their towns and villages, and everyone seemingly eager to excel at their natural talents.
Technologically, there are parallels to late 19th-century Earth without the advent of the motorcar. Balloons and railways are used by the land-bound races to travel great distances, and there are phonographs, pianos, sewing machines, and so forth. There are also some anachronistic pieces - full-color flash photography seems commonplace, and an advertisement I saw today can only describe a dance club, complete with bright lights and a two-turntable DJ booth.
I’ve spoken of my talents to Skyshine, the grey pony who was my constant companion on my first day. I’d like to find out if they could help the community.
I’ve just spent ten minutes staring at my last sentence.
I’ve never had a thought like that in my life. Am I being controlled? Altered? Is it just so pleasant here that I feel compelled to give? I hate being suspicious of so good a feeling, but there it is. I think I’ll talk to Whisper tomorrow, if I can, before I dwell on this any further.
A busy day. I am staying in a barn on a nearby pony’s farm for the next few days. My landlord’s name is Pearmain, and he grows apples and carrots. I’ve pledged him my bits for the roof over my head, and after asking around in town, I’ve found the usual inn prices mean I only have about four days left. Still, I find the expense worth it: while home is where you hang your hat, it’s nice to hang it in such a cozy place from time to time.
I’ve just left the mayor’s office, having managed an early-morning meeting.
Yesterday’s concerns go largely unanswered, but Whisper insists she did nothing with her spell other than enable me to understand Equestrian. She seemed offended, at first, when I asked the question. When I clarified that there were some people back in my own world who would do just that... well, she seemed more concerned for my well-being.
I did not clarify that I was such a person. I’m not sure that’s true any more.
Oh, I still am myself. I pride myself on my intellect, and my hard-earned skill. I still have a temper. Indeed, I nearly blew up at a filly last night who only wanted to make sure I was comfortable, repeatedly, over the course of ten minutes. I still want to be respected and honored for my accomplishments.
But, for all my flaws... well, they’ve changed. For one, the hard edges are gone - while my mood shifts, it does so within a smaller range, with smoother transitions. Secondly... well. It’s like I’ve been turned into a mirror image of myself. When my temper burns down, I get grouchy... but I don’t feel the urge towards violence. When I think of my abilities, I think immediately of how I can best share them. When I think of my accomplishments, I find I want to help others obtain the same.
And, perhaps most terrifying of all... I no longer care why.
It’s as if all the negative aspects of my personality are being worn away by the patient smiles and eager honesty of this new world. If it is brainwashing, I find that the result is so desirable that I would be a fool to resist.
When the meeting was over, I asked Whisper for access to a cart so that I could retrieve my tools and belongings from the mountains. I think I want to stay here, and learn more about these marvelous creatures and their magical - and I mean that literally - culture.
We’ll see what can be arranged later today. In the meantime, I think I’ll take a walk around the village, and stretch my legs.
Day 14, Evening
I was interrupted at lunch by Skyshine, who told me that she would be accompanying me to the mountains. Before I could swallow and thank her, she was joined by the rest of the escort.
I’ll take a moment here to describe them.
Skyshine is an inquisitive, bubbly mare with an easy canter and easier smile. She genuinely enjoys stumbling across the unknown, as it gives her a chance to experience something new. As I’ve mentioned before, her coat is grey and her mane and tail are a light sky blue. Her cutie mark is a sunbeam through clouds.
Saber Dance is a very delicately-built earth pony; Bulwark has teased her more than once with the description ‘flightless pegasus’. She has a temper and a sharp tongue, but tries to keep both in check when around her friends. It’s very possible that this small group comprises the sum of these friends, as she seems to rub everyone else in town the wrong way. She is a pale purple with a deep blue mane and tail, both intricately braided. Her cutie mark is a pair of curved golden swords, crossed.
Bulwark is, in many ways, Saber Dance’s opposite. She is stockier than her peers, with broad shoulders and a strong jaw, and when she sets her hooves she’s immovable. But her true joy is animals, and she will coo and purr at a baby otter for hours if she is able. Her gifts lie in the realms of caretaking and protection. She’s the shortest of the group, and is almost uniformly white, with a faint green tint to her mane and tail. Both are cut short, which reflects her no-nonsense demeanor. Her cutie mark is an ornate shield, grey and green.
Holly is a quiet, unassuming, almost timid young mare; according to Skyshine, she has just earned her cutie mark. She has a great love of the outdoors but cannot abide other people. She’s not afraid of them, she simply finds their presence annoying. Her skill apparently lies with the preparation and production of natural remedies - a hedge doctor, if you will, but one with proven results. Her coat is a light red and her mane is a slightly darker shade, worn very long. Her cutie mark is a clump of three bright holly berries against a deep green leaf.
Me? Well, I’m used to shorter company, but I still feel like a child being escorted by his toys. I’m about twice their height, round, with spindly limbs, an ungainly gait, a shiny head, and an enormous bottle-brush moustache. On second glance, I’m not so round any more. Two weeks of living light seem to have begun to reduce the old waistline.
I’m woolgathering. It is time to pack our bags and prepare. According to Sundown - he’s the pegasus I mentioned earlier - we’re not due for more snow for another three days. Best move now.
It was Holly who noticed it first.
“Sir?” She always calls me sir. “Your, uh, hair?”
“What about it?”
“It’s... there. Not just your moustache.”
Sure enough, I’m regrowing my hair. It’s the same orange as my moustache, and only about a quarter-inch long, but it’s growing. My moustache? It’s fuller, too. Coupled with how I feel, internally, this place must have a rejuvenating effect on me. I have more energy, and feel more eager and motivated to do, instead of be.
We reached my cave today. Traveling is a lot faster when you know where you’re going. It should take us the rest of the afternoon to pack, and then we’ll set off again in the morning. I hope to get some rest; my sleep has been troubled by strange dreams when I can close my eyes, and one of the ponies’ snoring when I cannot.
As to my materiel, I brought more than I remembered. There are a half-dozen boxes and crates full of my tools and basic equipment. Each item in my kit brings about a number of questions from Skyshine as to its design and purpose. If I ever need a helper for my work, I know who I’ll call upon.
I think I’ll collect some wood for tonight’s fire. The girls have been extremely helpful, and the least I can do in repayment is make sure everyone’s comfortable. Besides, they’ve been telling stories throughout the trip. Maybe it’s time I shared a few.
Day 17, Before Dawn
The stories were well-received, last night, and we all spoke of this and that until the wee hours. One by one, my companions drifted off, muzzles buried in their hooves as if praying, save for Bulwark, who slept on her back with her legs splayed inelegantly.
It’s Bulwark, by the way, who snores.
I spent most of the night watching the moon travel its course. From what Skyshine told me, the Princess, Luna, shapes how the moon will appear based on what she thinks is needed, and sometimes on her mood. Certain anniversaries are marked with special appearances: an enormous blue-tinted orb on the Night of Winter’s Moon; a shining but smaller white sphere, almost painful to look at, for her and her sister’s festival; and a black, lightless orb for a more recent event, the defeat of some entity known as Nightmare.
It still unsettles me.
Judging by the position of the moon, sunrise should be about three hours from now. I think I’ll try to steal a few winks before my companions - no, my friends - stir.
I’m just glad I have earplugs in my kit.
Day 17, Evening
I should be terrified.
This place - this Equestria - is changing me, and not just through the rejuvenation I commented on yesterday, or the improvements to mood.
It’s altering me directly.
This morning, as I washed up before the day’s travel, I noticed a tenderness to my forehead, as if some insect had bitten me. There was a spot between my eyes, about an inch in diameter, that sported a swollen, angry-looking knot. I asked Holly about any salves or poultices she might be carrying for bug-bite, but she said there was no noticeable wound. Just the swelling.
It’s larger now, as I write this. Prominent, even, as if I were growing a horn.
A horn like the mayor’s.
None of my companions have ever heard of someone gaining a horn, but then, they admit they’ve never heard of a non-Equestrian visiting.
So, I’m being altered. By what? Natural forces? An outside actor? Some side-effect of the Chaos Emerald’s space-time warp? I can’t say, and I’m hardly in a position to research with any hope of a concrete answer.
My hair is longer, too. It must have grown two inches over the course of the day, and I am beginning to resemble an orange haystack.
At this rate, I’m going to wake up one morning with hooves.
And... I don’t know if that frightens me, or not.
As I said, I should be terrified. What I am, though, is excited. I’m eager to see what happens next on this journey.
Time, as always, will tell.
Day 18, Morning
My horn - and it is, indeed, a horn, with a graceful spiral down its length - continues to grow.
According to Saber Dance, it is longer than that of a foal, but not quite the length of an adult. Her daughter, Tea Blossom, is apparently a unicorn - as is her husband - and anxiously awaits the arrival of her cutie mark. I hadn’t even known she was married - none of the other ponies are, they’ve now said - and it is difficult to imagine her dour, coarse personality caring for a child.
Ah, that reminds me. Cutie marks. I’ll explain it here as Saber Dance did to me.
At some point in a young pony’s life, when she has discovered - and accepted - her innate talent, a change overtakes her body and an emblem appears on her hindquarters. This emblem, called a cutie mark, is a representation of this talent. These talents are the central guiding force in a pony’s life.
Names are said to influence a pony’s talents. Saber Dance was walking, and challenging other ponies to step out of her way, at a very young age. Whether this was her parents picking up on her talent, and naming her accordingly, or her name shaping her talent’s growth, I cannot say.
Talents also run in families, often overlapping or supporting one another. A family who needs someone to help turn a failing farm around might discover that their cousin down the way has just recognized their talent for accounting.
It’s as if serendipity has taken on a form and is actively shaping pony society. Frankly, to an outsider like me who distrusts such things, it’s disturbing. It’s all a little too convenient.
I asked about it after breakfast. What if a pony doesn’t find a talent? What if they never get a cutie mark? The group was shocked by my questions; apparently, the subject is taboo. I was informed that they had never met a pony who did not have a cutie mark as an adult, and the stories of ponies in other cities who lived as ‘blank flanks’ - the common term - were dismissed as old mare’s tales.
Back to the horn: apparently, even foals can channel some rudimentary magic. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to try, but with no unicorn in our party, I worry about any problems that might arise.
We should be back in town late this evening. I may ask around after a good night’s rest.
I cannot take long to write, at the moment. A great many things have happened, and I will share them all - I promise - but I did want to note three important items:
The residents of this town - Pasofino, it’s called - are wonderful, giving creatures.
I am in high spirits.
I have what amounts to a lesson scheduled for the evening with the mayor.
I think it’s safe to say that things have gone much better than I ever hoped.
When the girls and I returned from our trip, I was directed to stop by a house at the edge of town instead of returning to the barn. Upon entering, I found a low lantern and a note on a small table.
The house is mine.
The previous owner, a stallion named Cobalt, had joined the Royal Guard and no longer needed the home, choosing to grant it to the town. I will owe a small amount of bits per month for the next year or so - back taxes, apparently - but in all other respects it’s a glorious gift.
Speaking of glorious gifts, it seems that I have some promise with magic. I’ve not successfully performed any task, yet, but Whisper says she can feel the potential. It may take a few more days, or weeks, but she thinks I will at least be able to use basic telekinesis.
I must admit, though, that the horn looks better on her, even when hidden by my wild orange hair.
On that note: despite my best efforts, short of pulling it back into a ponytail, my ‘mane’ is unruly and wild. I look like I’ve been electrocuted, most mornings, and even with constant brushing it doesn’t improve. Still: hair! I have hair! I’ll put up with the lack of style.
I noticed, yesterday, I’ve stopped craving meat. Indeed, for my entire time with the ponies, I’ve lived a vegetarian lifestyle, but one with such variety that animal protein isn’t missed. Besides, I get enough of that from beans, wheat, and other sources that I no longer need to pursue an omnivorous diet.
My concern, now, is earning my keep. I’ve set up shop in my home, even though it’s a little cramped for me, and built a humble awning out back where I can stretch my legs and test my latest devices.
So far, I’ve had little success at interesting my friends in any of my whirring, buzzing, clicking machines. Even the sketch of my automated farming robot - it harvests and replants in the same pass - has been passed over. The fillies and colts, though, are mesmerized. I think I’ll try some toys - I certainly have the ability.
In the meantime, I’m helping out at the smithy. While not exactly my specialty, I understand alloys and metalworking, and the bits are appreciated. I’m due for work in about an hour. Before then, I think I’ll take another walk around town. Sometimes, it’s nice just to say hello to everyone.
I’ve done it! I am currently holding up a mug of tea - unsteadily, to be sure - while my hands write this line.
Okay, perhaps that wasn’t the best idea. I’ve just had to clean up the tea.
Regardless: magic. Through will (and horn) alone, I was able to influence the world, and apparently violate the laws of physics. I say apparently because I certainly felt a power being used. Perhaps this magic is simply another form of energy, concentrated by the horn, and expended. It would explain the feeling of stress and the draining sensation when I try something too long, but I am no hungrier or sleepier in these states - just unable to use magic again until I recover.
So, if it is energy, it must be supplied by another system.
A thought for another time.
My first few toys were finished yesterday, and have sold well. Having no real knowledge of the worth of things, I’ve had to consult with my friends to establish a base price. Fabricating most of the parts, save the power supply, is a simple thing using scrap metal and other materials. The power supplies are precious indeed, and I cannot yet duplicate them with ease.
To reflect this, I offer my toys at two prices; the lower for a wind-up or steam-powered version, the higher for one that runs on an energy cell or solar panel. I sold all three wind-up models almost immediately, and the two energy-cell versions have a few parties interested, but not yet willing to spend the bits. I may just render all my toys in spring or steam, from now on, and save the cells and panels for special commissions.
Monetary issues aside, the sheer joy in the faces of these fillies and colts is heartwarming. It makes me feel good to use my abilities to make others happy.
That still feels so strange to write. I really am becoming someone different, if the horn weren’t enough proof.
So, in the space of two weeks, I have income, a job that is satisfying, and a strange new ability. What miracles are in store for me in the next two?
I can’t wait to find out.
[This page, although clearly an attempt at an entry, is illegible, as are the next two pages. The fourth page has been torn out completely.]
I AM NARRATING THIS ENTRY TO A SMALL DEVICE THAT TRANSCRIBES MY WORDS, AS I LACK THE DEXTERITY TO WRITE WITH HOOVES, AND HAVE NOT YET MASTERED MY MAGIC FOR FINE WORK.
HOOVES. I AM, FOR ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES, AN EQUESTRIAN. A PONY. MY COAT IS A BEIGE THAT OFFSETS MY WILD ORANGE MANE AND TAIL. I HAVE NO MARK. I AM NOW A UNICORN.
I AM... NOW A UNICORN.
THAT IS PERHAPS THE MOST BIZARRE PHRASE TO EVER LEAVE MY LIPS.
I AM A UNICORN.
I WALK ON FOUR HOOVES, NOW, AND WHILE I CAN MANIPULATE ITEMS WITH MY FORELEGS, IT IS CLEAR THAT MY BODY EXPECTS TO USE MY MOUTH FOR CLOSE WORK, OR MY HORN.
I MAY TRY WRITING WITH MY LIPS, LATER, BUT HOLDING ANY INSTRUMENT IN MY MOUTH FEELS AWKWARD AT BEST.
AS FOR THE TRANSFORMATION, THE FINAL SHAPE OCCURRED OVERNIGHT, AS I SLEPT. I WENT TO BED A MAN, AND WOKE A PONY, MY GARMENTS EITHER DISCARDED OR TORN.
I HAVE ASKED THE LOCAL TAILOR TO FASHION MY RED COAT INTO A POCKETED VEST. I FEEL NAKED. HE SHOULD HAVE IT DONE BY TONIGHT. I CONSIDERED REQUESTING PANTS AS WELL, BUT I REALIZED THAT IF I HAD TO ATTEND TO BIOLOGICAL MATTERS, I MIGHT NOT HAVE THE ABILITY TO REMOVE THEM IN TIME.
SO, HERE I STAND, NARRATING MY THOUGHTS TO A SMALL, CELL-POWERED TRANSCRIPTIONIST AS I PACE MY SUDDENLY-ROOMY HOME.
IS THIS A NATURAL EVENT? A SPELL? SOME STRANGE CURSE? IF I MANAGE TO RETURN TO EARTH, WILL I REMAIN A TALKING, MAGICAL PONY OR WILL I CHANGE BACK?
I HAVE NO ANSWERS.
MY FELLOW TOWNSPONIES HAVE NONE, EITHER. MOST FIND MY NEW SHAPE UNSETTLING, SAVE MY FRIENDS, THE MAYOR, AND THE FOALS WHO LIKE MY TOYS. TO BE HONEST, I’M UNSURE HOW I FEEL ABOUT IT, MYSELF.
Writing with my lips is painful, after a few minutes. I’m sure I’ll master it, eventually, if only as a backup to my horn when and if I am unable to use telekinesis.
I’m writing this entry with my magic. I’ve spent almost every free hour practicing my, er, penmanship. I make the occasional blunder when my concentration wanes, but it’s easy going. And I can use the practice to build up my strength and dexterity.
So, life as a pony. What’s it like?
None too different from bipedalism, once you get past the different way to interface with the world. Most ponies use their mouths to grip, save unicorns, who rely on their telekinesis. I’m practicing both, just to be prudent.
I have vastly more energy on a daily basis than I did upon first arriving. My new body is athletic, and I enjoy a good run now as much as a day spent researching.
My eyesight is still poor, despite all the other changes, although not as bad as it once was. I understand there is a pony that fashions glasses in a nearby town, and have sent a letter requesting an appointment.
The vest fits me well, both physically and personally. Without it, I feel naked. With it, despite the lack of trousers, I feel properly attired.
I do miss the gloves.
Looking back, I suppose I was being groomed for this from the beginning. First, the change in mood, and in outlook. Then the change in diet, and the feeling of closeness to a random group of ponies. The horn, next, and magic. Finally, the shape. It all makes sense, in retrospect. What I wonder about is ‘how’ and, if applicable, ‘who’.
I do not resent the changes. Indeed, I feel better than I have in decades, with clearer focus, and a readier smile - one without malice. I do not mean to, if you’ll excuse the phrase, look a gift horse in the mouth. But I feel a need to know the reasons behind the transformation.
So, I’ve written another letter, to the University of Canterlot. I understand it is the pinnacle of magical research, and hope that it bends a willing ear or catches a curious eye.
In the meantime? I have toys to make, and Pearmain has requested a machine that can help him harvest his apples. There is research to be done!
The apple-harvester is a success, and deceptively simple in design. After watching Pearmain’s normal harvesting methods - something he calls applebucking - I created a sturdy, solid device with a large gripper, and a funnel-shaped split net on top. It grasps a trunk, shakes it with purpose, and collects the falling fruit in its net, before feeding them to a waiting basket beside the machine. Not one bruised fruit.
I mentioned I could create a second machine that would sort, grade, and so forth, if he were interested. He thanked me for the offer, but said he preferred to do that himself. Something about a personal touch. I respect the work ethic, which surprises me. In my past life, I’d have called him a fool and sought to replace him with the machine, regardless of his wishes.
Physical changes? I can accept those. After all, I was once a robot. It is these changes to character that make me marvel at the subtle magic of this place.
No response from the University. Either they think I’m a crackpot, or they’ve ignored or missed the letter. No matter. I have enough to do now without explaining myself to an understudy.
My glasses arrived yesterday, after the optometrist visited in person the day before. A minor expenditure of bits and I can see clearly once more. While he was here, he recalibrated my goggles for my new form as well. I paid him in bits, but I’ve also fabricated a lens-cleaning machine that I will be surprising him with, shortly.
Simply ‘doing’ for another is my new hobby. I have the bits I need, I have a warm home, and I have friends - Tea Blossom bought a wind-up butterfly, yesterday, after her mother mentioned my work - what more can I ask for?
I left Earth seeking a quiet sort of peace. I think I’ve found that a noisy peace is vastly preferable.
Until next time.
My calendar is clear, my toys waiting on a few touches, and Skyshine is off enjoying the early spring.
A moment, then, for reflection.
For someone who has worked on his own, alone save for his creations, this new society of acceptance takes some getting used to, despite my desire to fit in.
No, that’s not the right phrase. The weak ‘fit in’. I aim to belong. That’s new: being accepted, part of a whole, and still myself. It will take some getting used to.
My new physical form allows me to do just that. Whatever its source, being a pony among ponies allows me a kinship I never felt among my fellow men.
Is that the lesson in all this? Is there a lesson in all this?
To think someone like me could find peace - happiness - simply by meeting a few friendly faces... it makes me realize how right my first words in this journal were.
All that time, wasted.
But now, tomorrow comes with a promise of another chance. A new life under the old name.
A few last touches on this latest batch of toys, and I think I’ll head down to the lake. Skyshine’s normally down there about now, feeding the ducks.
A short entry today.
Sundown, our weather pegasus, has been gravely wounded in a crash outside town. A freak lightning bolt from a rogue cloud dazed him in flight, and the resulting trip through the trees has apparently caused severe injury. He is still in transit to the clinic, and Holly says the doctor wants me present. For what, I cannot imagine, but I am happy to help in any way I can.
I must be off.
Day 40, Evening
His left wing will never heal on its own, even with unicorn magic and earth-pony poultices. I have been asked if I can fashion something to help restore his flight. The muscles on his back are still strong, as is the limb itself, but the individual bones and tendon structures that supported his feathers are destroyed.
I have placed my other work on hold. Mechanical flight is a fait accompli with turbines, or propellers, or jets, but not with self-powered wings. It will take some study. In the meantime, he needs to heal from his other injuries. He punctured a lung, in the fall, and damaged other organs. He will pull through, though, Holly says. The doctor agrees.
Let’s see... leaf springs, and hollow spans, and-
Well. Let’s not clutter up the journal, hm?
Still no progress. My designs have, so far, been too weak, too bulky, too unwieldy, and now all three. Back to the drawing board.
I have apparently begun to worry Skyshine. I’ve warned her that, at times, I become engrossed with my work to the exclusion of all else. She doesn’t choose to hear, I guess, or prefers to help regardless. She will show up regularly with a hot pot of tea, or an encouraging word, or, like yesterday, a simple smile, accompanied by a sandwich. I fear the lass has taken a liking to me, and does not know what I can be.
But perhaps what I can be is not what I must be...
No time for that. Not now.
I need to see actual pegasi in flight. I’ve asked around and apparently, away from Cloudsdale or the Royal Guard, pegasi aren’t terribly common.
Since I cannot walk on clouds, I’ve mailed the head of the Guard with a request to visit, and examine some pegasi in flight, both free and under burden.
I sent the letter yesterday. I expect an answer, one way or the other, tomorrow. If it’s denied, I’ll see if some ponies from Cloudsdale would be willing to visit.
Oh yes, I become engrossed in my work. May Celestia have mercy on those who keep me from it.
I woke this morning to a knock on my door, and was greeted by three pegasi - two stallions and a mare - from the Royal Guard. They informed me that while organizing a visit to the barracks might require more planning, they could be spared to assist in my efforts.
I immediately set to work - measurements, questions, close studies, and so on, and so forth. I had one pony carry another, while walking, and in flight, to see how they preferred to balance loads. I measured flight speeds, calculated torque, and gathered reams of data for this one task.
I will not be denied.
By the time they left - with my thanks, and more exercise than they probably expected - the three were exhausted. But I have, now, what I need: a comprehensive study of pegasus flight.
It’s time to get back to work.
Day 48... I think.
I woke, moments ago, from a wonderful dream, and I think I know how to complete this design.
I also woke to a still-warm tea service, complete with buttered scones. That Skyshine... she’s irreplaceable.
Anyway. The dream. Bats.
Yes, yes, I know that pegasi are feathered, but I think a bat’s wing structure will be the best fit to approach this, mechanically. I’ll get the basic frame sketched out, and compared to the measurements of Sundown and the guards, we’ll get it sized appropriately.
So much to do. I’m glad my toys have sold well - I haven’t had time to make new ones, and the bits are helping me stay on task.
The wing is promising. I’ve built three versions, each slightly larger than the last to account for any oversights to weight or thrust. When Sundown’s limb folds, the wing should collapse with a snap and lie flat on his side. I cannot make it look like its natural partner - not yet - but for now function is more important than form.
He should be well enough to try them tomorrow, and insists on keeping the wings with him until then. I think I understand. I’ve only had access to magic for a few weeks, but if I were to lose it now I don’t know how I’d handle it. I can only imagine what losing flight must be like.
I’m going to get some sleep, but first, I need to visit someone.
Skyshine is truly a gem. I woke today in her living room, the sun’s rays through the window serving as my alarm clock. I must have passed out during my visit; I cannot even remember if we had a conversation.
She left me a note, and some lovely carrot muffins. The muffins were appreciated, and the note was even more so. It said that she would return when Sundown was ready, but to meet her at the clinic if I woke before then.
So I did, and she met me halfway. We hurried back, together, and I helped fit Sundown into his harness. We tried the smallest wing, first, and set out into the sun. We’d be running our first tests on a level, grassy field outside town. I carried the other two with me, and watched as he flexed and tested the range of the new wing, one eye on the path and one on the construct. I was pleased to see it met the same motions as his natural one, if a fair bit larger in sweep.
He said nothing as we walked. Every time our eyes met, his shined with hope, on the verge of tears. I let him have his peace.
We met up with Swift Winds - his physician - and Holly at the edge of the field. Still silent, Sundown stepped past us, paused, and flared both wings, stretching his limbs. One feathered, one metal and silk, they shimmered in the sunlight.
Folding them once more, he took a tenuous step, and then began to trot, then run, and finally he swept his wings wide... and careened face-first into the dirt. He had lifted, momentarily, but spun into the ground. His left wing was too weak.
Still, I was prepared. Helping him change out the wing, we set him up again, and he tried once more. Again: a trot, and a gallop, and a leap - and he lifted into the air. Flapping furiously, he gained altitude, and slowly turned to face us, and the sun.
He was a half-mile away... and I could hear his laughter as clearly as if he stood beside me. Hooting and hollering, whinnying and neighing with sheer joy, he swept past us again and again, buzzing low and soaring high, spinning like a top, his oddly-paired wings lifting him high above.
I looked away. It wouldn’t do to see me cry. It was then that I noticed it.
My cutie mark.
It’s been almost sixty days since I arrived in Equestria. Over that time, a great deal has changed. Almost everything, in fact - except for this journal. This is the last thing connecting me to who I once was. I think it best, then, that as I close that chapter in my life, I close this journal as well.
I do so with a sketch, and with a story. First, the sketch:
This is my cutie mark.
I am no artist. It’s an egg, hatching a gear. To me? It’s my new life, having been properly nurtured, bursting forth. I can also imagine it reflects my skill at improving others’ lives, through machines.
The egg, shattering, to show its golden gear? Well, that’s more fitting than most will ever know. Eggman is gone. Only Ivo Robotnik remains, and that, dear friends, is a vastly improved version.
The story? Well, one day, a man who was tired of living, and who never felt truly whole, left the world to find himself. Over the course of two months... he did.
And he lived happily ever after.
Now and forever,
Elsewhere in Equestria:
“Are you sure you’re alright? You’ve been quiet, this morning. Even for you.”
“Yes, sister. I know you worry so, but I’m fine. I’ve just been busier than normal, lately. I’m happy to say, though, that I’ll be returning to my normal workload tomorrow.”
“That is a relief. Might I ask what this secret project was?”
“You might, but I won’t tell you. Not yet.”
The elder sister rolled her eyes, and sipped her tea. “Fine. Keep your secrets for now.”
“I will, thank you kindly.” She smiled, and briefly stuck out her tongue. “But, Tia... tell me something?”
“Back in my dark days, when I was... someone else...”
Her sister waited patiently for her to continue.
“If I hadn’t been me - I mean, if I had just been some poor pony, or even a griffin, or a diamond dog, trapped in the Nightmare’s grasp... would you have worked so hard to redeem me? To send the Elements after me, and remove Nightmare’s influence?”
“Of course. All my subjects - indeed, all creatures - deserve a chance at redemption.”
There was a silence, then, as the younger alicorn took it in. She would never be able to tell her sister how much that answer meant, or how its immediate arrival made her feel.
A moment passed - perhaps two - and she recovered.
“I’m glad you agree,” she declared, regal and mysterious. She stood, and nuzzled her elder sister. “I love you, sis. I’m going to go to bed, now. I look forward to your sunset.”
“I... love you too, Luna. Even when you’re confusing. Perhaps especially then. Sweet dreams.”
Her little sister nodded in appreciation, and then left the dining hall, closing the door gently behind her.
Celestia stared out at her rising sun, lost in thought. “I wonder what she meant by all that...”
Pasofino had once been a tiny hamlet, ignored by the rest of Equestria, but now it boomed, crowded with new construction and new faces. Prosperity reigned over the once-quiet village. Despite springtime rains and muddy streets, visitors from far and wide availed themselves of the services and goods of the bustling shops on the way to their destination: a toy shop.
Worker’s Toys had moved several times in the past five years. First run from his home, and then from a tent in the pavilion, it now had its own storefront. It was located at the end of a new thoroughfare, and the large yet homey shop was surrounded by a motley assortment of the village’s more prosperous businesses and restaurants.
The shop was busy at all hours. Ponies traveled great distances to buy what could only be found on its shelves. The town’s fillies and colts crowded the sales floor as they tested the merchandise while familiar and foreign faces lined up at the till. Business was brisk, and Worker’s days were made brighter simply by bringing such joy to his fellow ponies.
That Friday afternoon, however, he closed early. He loaded up a wagon behind the store with all manner of toys, games, and surprises, from wind-up butterflies and frogs to simple ring-puzzles. This would be his first shipment to Canterlot, discounting the occasional visitor who made a special request, and his first step into larger distribution. It promised to bring in a great deal of money, as well as a little recognition. While the money wasn’t needed, Worker admitted the recognition was pleasant indeed.
Skyshine smiled at him from her position beneath one of the wagon’s yokes. He nodded back, then stood next to her, slipping the harness over his shoulders. Together, they began the journey towards the famed city.
“Goodbye, Mr. Worker!” called a young unicorn filly, dangling from a nearby tree. “Have a fun trip!”
He slowed his gait, and nodded back. “We will, Sparks. Take care you don’t fall. If you drop head-first, you might damage the roots.”
“I won’t, Mr—HEY!”
Chuckling to himself, Worker picked up his pace once more, and the wagon rumbled down the path. Skyshine rolled her eyes in amusement.
“You really should be nicer to the foals, dearest.”
He looked affronted a moment before his smile won out. “I was nice! She knows I care for her.”
“Mmm.” She smiled back, and glanced over her shoulder at the giggling filly, who had been joined by a few friends. “I suppose that’s true. Didn’t you leave a surprise for her birthday, tomorrow?”
“I did indeed.” He nodded to himself, keeping his eyes on the horizon. “That little filly’s got the best night-light ever.”
“I thought it was a music box.”
“Does that too,” he noted, satisfied.
“I’m not going to win this conversation, am I?”
“Oh, are we competing?” He was careful not to meet her eye. “You know I would never dare, Skyshine, because you always win.”
She leaned over and nuzzled him as they walked. “Charmer.”
He gave her a sidelong look, and smiled faintly. “I’m inspired by beauty.”
Obviously pleased, with color rising in her ears, she looked towards the road ahead. “Shush, you. We have days left to go.”
He eyes twinkled merrily in the late-afternoon sunlight. “I look forward to it.”
The nights were clear and warm, and the days sunny. If Worker didn’t know better, he’d suspect Sundown had a hoof in that. The two ponies made good time, often walking well past moonrise and starting their mornings before the sun peeked over the horizon. In the darkness, they would sit around a small fire, regaling one another with childhood fantasies of derring-do and romance.
“Skyshine?” Worker checked on the embers of their fire, and pulled their blanket closer. “Are you ready?”
“I’ll be right there,” she replied from the treeline on the other side of the road. “Set things up for us, won’t you?”
As had become habit, Worker checked the goods, took out a bottle of cider, and lay on the thick blanket beside the dying fire. Skyshine joined him there, leaning against him with a sigh of contentment, and the two of them watched the stars.
Worker shared the myths of the constellations, pointing out their places in the Equestrian sky. Orion, Scorpio, Cassiopeia, and the Ursas Major and Minor were all known here, but with different legends attached. Skyshine, in turn, told him the tales of some constellations unique to Equestria, pointing out the Progenitor, the Two Sisters, the arm of the Mist Sea, and many others. Tonight’s story was her favorite.
“It is said that many years ago,” she proclaimed, her voice gaining the tones of a skilled vaudevillian, “the four stars of the Vanguard rested at opposite corners of the sky, drawing nearer to one another as the centuries passed. They served Nightmare, and sought to return it to power over all of Equestria. Their dark plot might have succeeded were it not for the Elements of Harmony, a band of heroes who lived in an enormous enchanted tree surrounded by a dangerous forest.”
He’d heard the story a hundred times before on a hundred different nights, but each retelling was just as magical as the first. He knew it was the company that made it so. Half-listening, he rested his muzzle on her neck, and her words became a quiet lullaby that he felt more than heard. A few moments later, her tuneless song became a muffled sigh, and then a steady susurrus as she fell asleep. He smiled as he snuggled closer, and soon joined her in dreams.
It was shortly after noon on their fourth day when they approached the gates to Canterlot. Its sweeping arches and slender spires gleamed in the warm spring sun, creating a vista unlike any other in Equestria. Skyshine looked over the yoke at her partner, and smiled to herself as he stared in wonder.
She had visited the city often as a filly, when her father had business with the bankers. It was still a beautiful, impressive sight to her. She could only imagine what Worker thought of it.
“It’s...” he began, then paused, gazing at her. “It’s the second most beautiful thing I’ve seen on this journey.”
Her ears turned bright-red and flicked with embarrassment, then she gave him a wry look and pulled the cart forward. He stumbled, struggling a moment to regain his hooves, but his smile never wavered. Together, they entered the city and began the next step of their journey.
Stopping at a nearby hotel, she struggled out of her yoke while Worker levitated a bag of coins from the wagon. “I’ll try the stores in the foreign quarter first, dearest,” he began, “and then the estates, if I have time before sundown. Please get us a room and a place to store the wagon overnight.”
Skyshine smiled, “Of course! Good luck on your pitch. If I get settled in quickly enough, I’ll join you.”
He trudged away with a nod, pulling the laden wagon behind him.
Skyshine strode into the hotel and waited behind a satin cord. To say the hotel was busy would be an understatement. It seemed as if every other traveler chose this location for their stay. Eventually, she made arrangements for a ground-floor room and a berth for their wagon, then winced at the price. It was significantly more than they had budgeted.
She tsked to herself as she counted the paltry change back into her purse. If their sales did not go well, she calculated, they’d have to leave before the week was up. Troubled, Skyshine located their room, entered, and stuffed the coinpurse into the room’s safe. She paused to check her mane in the mirror, then left to rejoin Worker. The walk, she hoped, would help lift her spirits.
As she strolled through Canterlot, her thoughts flew in all directions, eventually converging on her past. If Worker hadn’t always been a pony, he certainly was one now. Ever since his arrival five winters ago, he had made strides in his understanding of pony culture, but that was the lesser of two miracles. The greater was his physical change, seemingly overnight, into the form of the shaggy, disheveled unicorn she sought now.
He wasn’t hard to find. A crowd had formed outside Tinker’s Toys, a large storefront bedecked in all manner of hoofcrafted playthings. They clamored to peer through the windows as Worker made his sales pitch. Skyshine stepped closer to the wagon, keeping one eye on the goods strapped within and the other on her wild-maned companion. He appeared to be finishing up, and by the proprietor’s broad smile and gestures to the crowd outside, she seemed eager to agree.
Worker had a gift for communication. No matter the subject, he could relay what he intended with utmost clarity, so long as the other party was willing to listen. On the many nights they spent under the star-strewn sky, he would regale her with his dreams and ambitions, his thoughts and designs, his plans and his preparations. She drank it all in, and worked hard to keep up, wanting to know more about this strange creature who had become her closest friend.
Not that all his tales were pleasant. He often spoke of a dark past, a troubled time before Equestria became his home, but he would never clarify. She didn’t care. He was here now, and he was a good pony. He spent every waking hour crafting wondrous toys and magnificent machines, serving the town of Pasofino, and when he thought she wouldn’t notice, donating his bits to the town’s coffers.
Over time, the two of them had grown to depend on one another. When he was lost in his work, she would be sure to keep him in good health. When she was buried in yet another task for the mayor, he’d be sure to listen—if he didn’t have a good idea, he would at the very least be attentive and supportive. To the rest of the town, they were inseparable. To one another, they were everything.
As in any small town, ponies talked. And these days, the ponies talked about Skyshine and Worker. Had he proposed? Were they going to settle down? Raise a family? Whenever they asked, Skyshine would smile, and shake her head, and move on with her day. She didn’t know if, where he came from, that was something that occurred, and she was happy with the company she had. Still...
“...shine?” Someone was speaking. “Skyshine.”
Her world snapped back into focus, and she realized she was staring at the palace. Blinking, she found Worker waving a hoof before her eyes. She managed a wan smile. “I’m sorry. I was thinking.”
“I saw that,” he replied worriedly, his brow knotted. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, I’m fine. Really.” She remembered the shrinking purse back at the hotel. “How did the sale go? Are we on track?”
“Marvelously,” he answered, beaming. “She offered to take half our stock straight out, and depending on how they sell, she might be interested in another shipment very soon.”
“Half the stock?” She nickered with joy. “That’s wonderful! At this rate, we won’t have to worry about the budget at all. Uh, just a little concern, though. Doesn’t that change your sales plan?”
“A little, but it also simplifies the work.” He levitated a number of parcels out of the wagon, and carried them inside. She followed close behind, a package on her back. “Listen, I have an idea...”
It was a remarkable plan, ingenious but easy to execute. They could focus their sales through two main outlets in different parts of Canterlot. Each would receive a unique model that the other store would not, providing customers a reason to visit both shops. “I was thinking the butterfly line here,” he explained, “and at our next stop, the turtles.” Those two lines were his biggest sellers.
“It makes sense,” Skyshine replied. “I’ll make sure the turtles stay on the wagon, and look for any extra butterflies.” He nodded in reply, and left in search of the owner. She headed back outside, sorted out the remaining parcels, and secured them tightly. By the time she was done, Worker returned with a bulging purse which he stuffed into a chest built into the wagon.
“Her largest competitor is just under an hour’s walk around the palace.” Worker stretched out his neck with a groan, then approached the harnesses. “Shall we get going?”
“Anywhere with you, dear,” she replied with a smile, slipping into the yoke.
The wagon rolled easily down the pavers as the pair walked towards the other shop. “By the way, Skyshine,” Worker began, “what’s the problem with the budget?”
An hour and a half later, the two ponies, exhausted from their labors, walked towards their hotel. Worker pulled the empty wagon, while Skyshine walked alongside and kept watch for any colts and fillies underhoof in the lengthening shadows.
Rounding a corner, Worker heard one last package slide across the wagon’s planks. Skyshine heard it too. “Worker?” she called. “There’s one left! Did we short one of the stores?”
He shook his head, and called over his shoulder, “No, dearest. That’s a package for somepony else. Special delivery. We’ll take care of it tonight, if you’re up to it.”
“That’s fine,” she replied, “but I want to get in a hoof soak and a meal first.”
“Let’s dress up and hit the town. After our good fortune today, I feel like celebrating.”
They reached the hotel soon thereafter. Worker levitated the package out of the back as he walked the wagon around the elaborately landscaped grounds. “I’ll see you inside, Skyshine.”
She nodded and strolled into the hotel, pausing to smell a few blossoms not found in Pasofino. When he could no longer see her, Worker let out a quiet breath he had not known he was holding. He left the wagon in its bay, stretched out his legs and neck, and followed her lead.
He entered the room and set the parcel down by the door. Judging by the sounds, Skyshine was in the shower; she had already laid out a gown for dinner. It was a remarkable garment of shimmering gossamer, elegant yet understated, like its owner. He could hardly wait to see her in it. He pulled out his dinner jacket and cuffs, then opened up a book and waited for her to finish.
The water cut off shortly thereafter, and Skyshine left the bathroom with a towel wrapped around her mane and a robe over her shoulders. Worker stood, closing the book, and strode towards the bath, pausing as he passed to peck her on the cheek. Grinning, he hopped into the shower for a scrub.
The restaurant’s decor was rich and vibrant, and the meal was superb. Worker had spoken with the concierge and was recommended to a number of restaurants, selecting one that overlooked Canterlot Park. A little splurging didn’t hurt, especially since they planned to return home the next day. But first, Worker had a surprise.
Across the dining hall, a string quartet tuned their instruments and scattered couples began to rise from their seats. The floor slowly began to fill, and Skyshine gestured towards it in invitation. “Would you want to?”
“You know I’m not one for dancing, dearest,” Worker replied, “but if you’d like to take a walk in the park, I’d be honored to accompany you.”
She smiled and nodded, and the two of them left the restaurant side by side. Worker glanced at the sky as they walked, calculating in silence the time to sunset and moonrise. He nodded towards a hill, and the pair climbed to its peak to get a better view.
To their surprise, they were not alone. A small crowd had gathered to watch the princesses work. An excited filly pointed at a balcony on the palace and shouted, “There they are!”
Sure enough, Princess Celestia’s coat shimmered in the sunlight, and next to her stood the dark silhouette of her sister, Princess Luna. The elder sister turned to the west and lowered her head, and the sun quickly followed suit. As its light faded, the younger of the pair reared up on her hind legs, and the moon began to rise on the opposite horizon.
Scattered applause could be heard throughout the park as families and couples stood to leave. Skyshine and Worker sat motionless, watching the moon continue its ascent. Soon, they were alone. The locals saw this show every night, but to Worker and Skyshine, it was a unique experience. When the lower arc of the moon cleared the horizon, Worker leaned close, and nuzzled his beloved. “Skyshine?”
He smiled in the darkness, concentrated, and brought out a small velvet box from within his mane. It hovered between them, and he lowered his head as the lid opened. Skyshine gasped.
“Will you make me the happiest stallion in all of Equestria?”
Princess Luna’s chambers were alive with all manner of buzzing, clattering, and chirping toys. Butterflies fluttered near the ceiling, turtles trudged beneath the bed, and a caterpillar was making itself at home as it crawled up the draperies. Luna sat at her desk, happily watching a tiny hedgehog run around in circles. It paused every now and then to scratch at an imaginary itch before continuing on its spiraling path.
A gentle knock sounded at her door, and the lack of a guard’s challenge told her who it was. “It’s open,” she called, looking over her shoulder as the handle turned. Her sister stuck her head in, winced at the cacophony, and then stepped inside.
“Good afternoon, Luna. You’re up early. I was coming to wake you when I heard these most interesting devices.”
“Aren’t they marvelous? They’re all the rage in the city; as soon as they reach the shelves, they’re sold. I was lucky to find these.”
“Lucky, my sister? When you can teleport, fly, and bear the crown?”
“Oh, nonsense, Tia. I always wear a disguise when I’m not on official business.”
Celestia knew about the disguise, as did every resident of Canterlot. Still, she was trying her best to rejoin her subjects, and Celestia couldn’t fault her for a minor oversight.
“Oh! That reminds me, sis. Here, I got this one for you.” With that, Luna levitated a package from behind her bed, spinning it about as it hovered before her elder sister. “Don’t worry, it doesn’t creep or crawl or buzz. I know how you like things just so.”
Celestia examined the expertly wrapped parcel. “Thank you, sister. Did you want me to open it?”
“You can, but you’re probably busy. Open it when you have a moment.” She rose from her desk and walked over to her big sister, nuzzling her neck and burying her face in Celestia’s flowing mane. “Love you, Tia,” she said simply, her clarion voice muffled in her sister’s coat. She pulled away, and added, “I’ll see you downstairs after I’ve eaten.”
With that, Luna left the room, smiled at the guards outside her door, and cantered away, humming a quiet tune.
Celestia took one last look around the room and its bizarre mechanical menagerie before shaking her head in quiet resignation. “I don’t know that I’ll ever understand you, sister, but I do love you so.” She doused the lights, closed the door, and carried her gift before her as strode towards a lesser hall and another meeting.
Celestia, while wiser in years than any of her ponies, never claimed to be the brightest. Still, with a little thought, she was able to unravel most puzzles and solve most of the problems she faced. When she could not, some consultation with her advisors would often set things aright. Despite this trait, or perhaps because of it, she faced the device before her with great consternation.
It was a timepiece—that much was certain—and it seemed to be able to sense the position of the sun in the sky and adjust itself accordingly. It had a heart of gears, wires, spokes, and assemblies that were so layered and mysterious, that it made the clockmaker’s craft seem simple. Indeed, when she had summoned the Royal Timekeeper and suggested he take it apart, he blanched, declining her offer.
Every hour, on the hour, while the sun was in the sky, the device played a short tune that changed according to the time. It was hopeful and earnest in the dawn, methodical throughout the morning, triumphant when the sun reached its peak, urgent as the sun sank, and sleepy as it rested on the horizon. As the day progressed, the device mirrored the position of the sun with a golden orb on a slender wand.
She had wound it fully, three days ago. Thirty rotations. She counted. This morning, the wind-key would only make one rotation. Most other clockworks required a daily refresh, and none would last a week. This device seemed ready to run for two months on a single winding.
It was a remarkable machine by any measure, one whose likeness she had not witnessed in Equestria before. That last part concerned her. Being interested in the gifts of all her ponies gave her a unique insight into the latest advancements in the arts and sciences, but this piece had neither an obvious predecessor nor an equal.
Turning it over, she read the markings once more:
Worker’s Toy Shop, Pasofino
It was time to find out more about this remarkable device and its maker.
The town of Pasofino was buzzing with the news: After five long years, Worker and Skyshine were to be wed within the month. Skyshine was beside herself, transfixed at a point between anxiety and joy, and Worker bore an absent-minded smile wherever he traveled about town.
Saber Dance was named bridesmare, and Bulwark—after some good-natured ribbing—accepted the role of best stallion, despite the difference in gender. Whisper, of course, agreed to officiate.
Wedding preparations were well underway when the letter arrived: a roll of luxurious, smooth paper bound with a velvet ribbon and pressed with the Royal Seal. Worker, with Skyshine at his side, opened it with some trepidation.
To my loyal subject, Worker of Pasofino:
Greetings, and congratulations on your wedding! It is truly wonderful to hear of your upcoming nuptials, and I wish you the utmost happiness in your marriage.
I write to you today, dear Worker, to inquire into the nature of these wonderful toys that have suddenly become so popular around Canterlot. I imagine Pasofino’s ponies enjoy them as well. Each one bears your mark, as well as your inimitable craftsmanship. Indeed, I have never seen such fascinating machines.
Princess Luna is quite taken by your craft. She owns several of your devices and gives them free reign of her room at all hours of the night. I believe a miniature hedgehog is her favorite of the set.
I ask that you present yourself to my court at your earliest convenience. Please, do not consider this a summons. I am eager to meet you and learn more about your tiny miracles, but I am happy to wait while you and Skyshine explore your new lives together as husband and wife.
I look forward to your reply.
Princess Celestia of Equestria
Worker sat in a stunned silence. Dumbfounded, he turned the letter this way and that as it levitated. The seal was a duplicate of the design embossed on every bit, and the ink was exceptional: a deep midnight black with tiny flecks of gold that caught the light as the letter spun.
“I guess it could be authentic,” he mumbled, shocking Skyshine from her reverie.
“What? Of course it is! Nopony would impersonate Celestia, Worker. It’s... unthinkable.”
“I suppose I’m still a little wary of the new, is all. Still, why me? Why do my little devices cause such a stir in a place like Canterlot? What would they think about some of my larger works?”
“I don’t know, dearheart, but this sounds like a wonderful opportunity. If you can impress the princesses, imagine what ideas you could bring about, what changes your devices could br—”
Worker lifted his hoof to interrupt, and then rested it against his forehead. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“Success?” she asked, brow furrowed in confusion.
He lowered his hoof, and sighed. “Changes. I’ll... I’ll explain later.” Carefully rolling up the letter, he set it on the table, then glanced at the clock over the mantle. “For now,” he grinned impishly, “some slip of a filly is late for her fitting.”
“Oh, my!” Skyshine clattered to her hooves, and gave him a peck on the cheek before she trotted out the door. “Goodbye!”
“Goodbye, Skyshine,” he called after her. As the door’s latch reset, he whispered, “I love you.” His smile faded as his plans dissolved into worry. Picking up a pen, he levitated a piece of paper onto the table, and began to fashion a reply.
The day of the wedding had arrived, and the town bustled with final preparations. The old Pasofino Conservatory had been remodeled and reopened just in time for the reception. Its owner, Silver Chimes, claimed she had simply been waiting for a reason.
Worker waited in the field behind the conservatory, pacing back and forth beside the pledge-stone where he and Skyshine would soon swear before the people of Pasofino and formally become husband and wife. Bulwark waited with him, leaning against an oak as she watched him burn off the nervous energy.
“You’ll do fine, Worker,” she reassured him. “All you have to do is remember three lines, and be able to hold up your hoof long enough for Whisper to tie the fasting-cloth about it. Child’s play.”
“You seem awfully confident,” he replied wryly. “How many times have you been married?”
“Hmph.” She stared into the limbs of her shade-tree, and theatrically stuck out her lower lip into an enormous pout. “See if I try to help anymore.”
Worker continued his pacing, beginning to sweat in his black coat. The wind picked up briefly, cooling him, but also carrying with it the sounds of a number of happy ponies.
“That’ll be the undertaker, my friend.” Bulwark lowered her gaze from the treetop and gave him a merciless, savage grin. “Judging by the sun, you’ve got about fifteen minutes of bachelorhood left. Anything you want to do while you still can?”
“You’re not helping, Bulwark.”
“Said I wouldn’t,” she replied simply.
Worker considered a withering response, but decided otherwise when he saw the crowd approaching, seemingly composed of half of the village. Within minutes, the open field was covered in brightly-colored ponies, each wearing their finest attire. He forced himself to stop pacing, but his heart took up the duty by pounding in his ears. Where was Skyshine?
A quiet cough from Bulwark’s resting spot brought Worker’s attention to the fore. There, on the other side of the field, stood a trio of mares. Two wore simple moss-green robes, and the other... She was bedecked in a dazzling white gown: layers of silk and satin that cascaded from her poll and flowed like water down her crest, across her withers and croup, finally breaking like a wave where it reached the ground.
“Skyshine...” His pounding heart nearly stopped as it tripped over itself. Worker was dimly aware that his mouth was open. He closed it and forced himself to swallow. He could hear Bulwark laughing.
He watched as she approached the pledge-stone, shadowed by Whisper and Saber Dance. She shyly met his gaze from behind a lace veil. His ears flicked wildly as they reddened in response. He simply could not take his eyes off of her, and stood stock-still before the gathered crowd.
Worker realized he was beginning to feel light-headed, and the edges of his vision had begun to fade. Somepony nudged his shoulder, and he suddenly recalled the importance of breathing. By the time the dots cleared from his vision, Whisper was nearly done with the ceremony.
“...and so, we bring these two ponies together to begin a life anew. Each will state their pledge, and then join their hooves together as a symbol of the path they now take as one. Skyshine?”
He watched as she placed one hoof on the pledge-stone, then looked into his eyes, and smiled at him before speaking.
“I, Skyshine, pledge to be a faithful wife. I pledge to trust my husband in all he does. I pledge to deserve his trust in me.”
Skyshine and Whisper looked at him expectantly. With equal parts love and terror, he placed his hoof aside hers, and recited his pledge. “I, Worker, pledge to be a faithful husband...”
Celestia peered across the gardens at her sister’s court. Its doors were opened, and a pair of silver-clad unicorn guards maintained watch outside. She sighed, stepped out onto the plaza, and ascended the spiral staircase to the parapets. She preferred to watch her sunsets. While she did not have to see the sun to control it, she found that doing it by ‘feel’ often left her irritable.
She focused, and brought the sun safely to the horizon. I’m sorry, Luna, she thought. I wanted to do this with you, today, but... As if answering, she felt the familiar surge of magic that raised the moon. At least their duties had been met, even if they had not seen one another.
She walked back down the stair, mentally checking off a list. It had been one of those days. The morning session had run long with a diplomatic session between a pair of villages that each claimed to be the furthest East from Canterlot. The absurdity of the claim seemed only to serve as fuel for the heated arguments that followed. Then there was a matter of a missing envoy from the griffin territories, and a sighting of an Ursa Major in the Everfree...
Celestia reached the plaza once more, and shook out her mane. As she stepped through the door, she nodded at a stocky grey pegasus clad in a gold and ivory tabard. “Silvermoon, is our guest still waiting?”
“Yes, Your Highness,” he replied, ascending from a reflexive bow and furling his wings. “Master Worker has been in the side chambers for roughly an hour, now.”
The princess tsked in frustration, paced across the gallery, and mounted the stair that led to her throne. As she settled into it, stretching each wing in turn, a horn sounded from the other side of the gardens, and a high voice called into the gathering darkness.
“Hail the Night! All hail Princess Luna!”
“That would be Herald Dazzle, wouldn’t it?” She smiled kindly at Silvermoon. “How is your sister?”
“As insufferable as ev—” he began, before remembering where he was. “Ah...” His ears burned brightly and he stared, poleaxed, at the tiles before him.
Celestia chuckled quietly, sparing a sympathetic look for the mortified pegasus. “I did ask. Well, I think our guest has waited long enough. Would you be so kind?”
“Yes, of course, Your Highness.” He turned and nodded to the guards at the chamber. Quickly regaining his composure, he stood at attention.
The heavy door opened, and a shaggy orange-maned unicorn in a black jacket turned to peer into the gallery. An uncomfortable silence began to build as he stood, stock-still, staring within.
A nearly imperceptible cough sounded in the side chamber. The pony stepped forward, looking left and right, attempting to get his bearings. Celestia waited upon her throne, watching the silhouetted pony stride as confidently as he could into her court. Despite his high chin and steady steps, he showed some signs of nervous reluctance. That would not do; she wanted him to be at ease. He passed the herald, and slowed, able to now see the princess clearly.
“Announcing Worker,” Silvermoon shouted, startling the newcomer. “Toymaker of Pasofino!”
“Thank you, Herald Silvermoon,” the princess replied with faint exasperation. She turned to study the pony that stood in the center of the gallery, treating him to a warm smile. Behind her peaceful features her mind raged with intense curiosity. The nervous pony tried to set his shoulders, and took a deep breath. He remained silent, and glanced throughout the gallery, shuffling his hooves.
Celestia wanted nothing more than to begin questioning him immediately. She longed to learn about his methods, his techniques, and what other creations he had devised, and was intensely curious about how his talent could affect the lives of Equestrians. Decorum, however, demanded otherwise. He was a subject, and thus deserved the utmost respect.
He also appeared to be frozen in place.
“Worker,” she intoned, “thank you for coming so soon. Please, approach. It would not do for us to shout at one another.”
Woken from his reverie, Worker stepped closer. “Ah... greetings, your Highness. I have come as you have requested.”
“So you have,” she replied, a hint of merriment dancing in her dulcet voice. “Welcome to Canterlot, Worker, and welcome to the Court of the Sun. I do hope my invitation did not upset your wedding plans.”
“Of course not, your Highness.”
He continued to try to meet her gaze, and seemed to be gaining ground. Celestia was pleased. He might not have known precisely why he was there, but he was confident he could manage. Excellent.
“I am happy to serve,” he replied with a smile, although it did not reach his eyes. “I must admit Skyshine wanted me to wait another week.”
The princess mused on his words. Was he reluctant? Perhaps, but it seemed to her that he was stuck between warring priorities. If that was the case, how should—of course. “I’ll see that you have speedy transportation back to Pasofino,” she replied. “After all, it’s not good to keep a new bride waiting.”
“Thank you, Your Highness.” His smile seemed genuine, now, and his tone more relaxed. “That is most generous, and I accept eagerly.”
He seemed relieved. There must have been some friction at home, after—Ah, she was doing it again. Her tendency to analyze others, while useful in diplomacy, did nothing to help her relate to her ponies. Forcing suspicion from her mind, she attempted to move the conversation closer to her goal.
“Now, it is well past the time when I normally hold court, and my personal guard has pulled an extended shift due to some minor emergencies. Would you walk with me, Worker? It would do me some good to stretch my legs and give these fine ponies a well-deserved rest.”
“Certainly, Princess,” he replied quickly, then remembering himself, added, “I would be honored.”
Nodding, the princess stood and gracefully stepped down from the sun-emblazoned dais. Gazing past Worker, she called, “Captain Cadence, please dismiss the Court. If you would also notify the Night Watch that I will be touring with a guest, it would be most appreciated. We will likely stay to the parapets and gardens.”
Cadence bowed low, nodded to the herald, then left through the doors by which Worker had entered. Once he was out of sight, her personal guard bowed as well, then followed behind.
Worker turned to walk beside her without comment. As he did so, Herald Silvermoon struck the floor with his right forehoof thrice, and announced, “So closes the Court of the Sun! All hail Princess Celestia!”
Her ponies did like ceremony. Some effort had been required to get them to agree to such a simple dismissal. It was only after convincing them that, in times of need, a swift dismissal ensured the safety of the crown that they relented. Still, it kept them happy and alert, and that was as good a reason as any.
She passed through the great doors and took a left towards the wide expanse of stairs that spiraled gracefully to the upper walks. Worker kept apace, more intent on the placement of his hooves than his words. Soon, the pair arrived at the top of the inner wall of the palace. Either side of the moonlit expanse was flanked by a crenellated wall and dotted with the occasional unicorn clad in silvery armor.
“So, Worker,” she began, stepping out into the night, “tell me: What inspires your work?” She slowed her gait to match his, to let him better focus on his answer.
“Inspiration?” He mused a moment, suddenly looking comfortable. This was familiar terrain. “The concept of a toy reflecting the natural world is nothing new, as you undoubtedly know, and...”
Celestia allowed herself a smile. Her answers would come soon enough.
The moon was nearing its zenith, and Celestia was still no closer to finding what she sought. Her guest was well-versed in every topic she thought she might use to regain control of the conversation, and more than once she found herself gaining an insight into some esoteric, unrelated point simply by listening. Still, they had been speaking for hours, and while the garden was lovely at night, she did have a few minor concerns elsewhere in the palace that she wanted to address before sunrise.
Celestia rested on a long stone bench beside a burbling fountain. Worker, electing to stand, paced back and forth, animatedly gesturing as he did so. He was elaborating on the topic of something he called “fractals” and how they helped his efforts to miniaturize his work. That discussion had spawned from one on a concept called “number theory”, and that one developed out of a chat on how his machines ran so efficiently. The topic seemed familiar, uncannily so... Ah, yes.
“These fractals, Worker,” she interjected. “They’re infinitely complex, correct? A pattern that never ends?”
“Well, yes. Following the mathematics, the patterns disregard scale.”
“What do you believe would happen if you were manipulate the pattern at a given level?”
“Manipulate? In what way? The calculation results in the pattern. There are some systems that can reverse-engineer that, but...”
“I mean, what would happen to the rest of the pattern?” Celestia felt a little guilty for leading Worker on, but she had to know...
“It’s a new question to me, your Highness. I suppose...” Worker’s voice trailed off as he stared at the stars, lost in thought.
Celestia stood from the long stone bench and stepped close to Worker. She joined him in the study of the stars, and then quietly asked a simple question of her subject.
“Worker, who taught you how to use magic?”
“Magic?” He shook out his mane, clearing his head, then looked at the princess, only to be met by a warm smile. Under that knowing gaze, he decided to keep his answers as direct as he could. “I learned from Whisper.”
“Have you known Whisper long?” The princess’ voice was low and urgent, tuned not to carry over the noise of the fountain.
“About five years, now...”
“And you are not a colt, Worker.”
“Well, no, I...” He froze. His jaw worked silently as he struggled to regain his speech, his eyes wild with fear.
Celestia stepped back slightly, and looked into his face. She knotted her brow in genuine concern, and compassion tempered her voice. “I did not wish to trap you, Worker, but I must know.” She looked about for a moment, her horn glimmering under the moonlight. “Good. There are no ears that can hear us. Tell me, Worker: Where is your home? Truly?”
“I...” His eyes were still wide, but the earlier panic had faded to resignation. “Princess,” he sighed, “what gave me away?”
Celestia walked to the nearby fountain. She watched the rippling water for a few seconds before returning her gaze to the pony before her. “At an early age, every unicorn in the realm is offered formal instruction to master the basics of their magic. Every so often, a family refuses. This is rare, and I hear about each instance.”
She glanced back to the fountain, and channeled briefly, bringing out a small sphere of water.
“One of first concepts taught is that of resonance. Resonance states that small changes—”
She tapped the bottom of the sphere with her horn. Ripples traveled across its surface, crashing together when they reached the top, converging with a tiny splash.
“—unfold into large changes, if channeled correctly. It is very similar to these fractals, Worker, and had you been introduced to the concept earlier, I do wonder what works you might have accomplished.”
She glanced at the sphere of water, and it poured itself back into the fountain.
“But that is neither here nor there.” She looked at him once more, and continued, “Tell me: From where do you hail?”
Worker looked up at the stars in a silent plea. He sighed, and met the princess’ gaze. “I come from a world called Mobius—that is, a planet by that name. I came here through a portal, a tear in the fabric of space, when I sought retirement from that world. When I arrived here, I wasn’t a pony. I found myself in a cavern...”
As his story continued, Celestia’s serene mask slowly faded, her face darkening in the moonlight.
Celestia gazed down from her throne, a dark silhouette against the brilliance of the morning sun that shone through the stained glass behind her. Standing at the foot of her dais, a new pony—and a new friend—anxiously awaited her answer.
“I promise you, Worker, that I do not seek to upset your livelihood, nor separate you from those you love. In the future, however, I would like to speak with you at length about the subjects we discussed last night, as well as your homeland.”
“I am grateful, your Highness, and would be honored to do so. Again, I thank you for the chariot for the journey home.”
Celestia smiled and nodded her acknowledgement. “Go on. I’m sure Skyshine misses you.” Worker bowed and left the Court as gracefully has he could. Once he had stepped from her sight, she heard him pick up his pace. In short order, it sounded as if he might be at full gallop.
Celestia stepped down from her dais. Every member of the court stiffened and watched her with wary eyes, ready to serve. Her personal guards wordlessly took up their positions as she stepped towards the great archway at the entrance to her throne room.
“Herald Silvermoon, tell me, when is my next audience scheduled?” She knew the answer, but part of keeping a satisfied staff was allowing them to perform their tasks, no matter how mundane.
“Your schedule is clear until just past noon, Your Highness, when the Minister of Finance has requested your thoughts on a matter involving Hoofington.”
“Very good, Herald. Thank you. If you would follow the standard protocols for contacting me in case of emergencies, I believe I will take a tour.”
Silvermoon bowed low, his muzzle nearly touching the ground. A faint smile hid at the corners of his mouth.
One job done, she thought, and now... “Captain? While I appreciate the honor guard and have only the highest praise for their professionalism, I think my travel today would best be performed alone. If I might?”
“They are, of course, yours to command, Your Highness.”
She nodded, and turned to the armored pegasus to her right. “Sergeant Sturm, you may be dismissed. If you feel so inclined, the schoolhouse just outside the South Gate has been asking for volunteers.”
Sturm smiled, and bowed low. “By your leave, Your Highness.” He left quickly, off to spend the day with his little sister.
Turning to her left, she said, “And you, Sergeant Downburst, may also be dismissed. I seem to recall a fishing tournament being announced for this afternoon. Be sure to ask Lentils about it.”
“I shall indeed, and thank you.” Downburst bowed as well, and went to speak to his wife about their plans for the evening.
Celestia nodded in response, and turned back to their commanding officer. “Captain, my tour shall take me through the palace and its grounds. I do not believe a detail will be needed. If you can return by noon, I would like to offer you a few hours to your own devices.”
“I respectfully decline, Your Highness. I shall be here at your return.”
“Very well. I shall see you this afternoon, Captain.” She stepped through the archway, and into the Twilight Gardens, the immense plaza that separated her throne room from that of her younger sister. This early, the Gardens were almost vacant, but the few ponies that strolled its walks paused at her appearance and bowed in greeting. She returned each instance with a warm smile and a nod. Past the elaborate flowerbeds and fountained walks, the doors to Luna’s chambers were firmly secured at this hour. Its guardponies, both unicorns, regarded the few passers-by with practiced disinterest.
Celestia passed the great spiral stairway beside the court where she had walked with Worker the night before. She briefly considered walking the rest of the way to her destination. Time, however, was of the essence. She made a turn down a narrow passage between buildings, stepping out of the sight of her ponies, and then teleported into the empty, silent plaza before the imposing colonnade of the Royal Archives. She stepped through the portico and into the arcade, approached the open foyer, and smiled at the suddenly alert librarian.
“G-good morning, your Highness!” she stammered, brushing her mane from her face and forcing a awkward smile. “I certainly did not expect today to be so honored!”
Celestia nodded slightly, and quietly soothed the nervous unicorn. “Be at ease, Zephyr. I’ve come to browse the archives, not perform an inspection.” Her smile vanished as she crooked an eyebrow. “That is, unless I need to?”
Dread crept across the librarian’s face. Before she could respond, Celestia grinned.
“I’m only joking. I’m certain you perform your job to the utmost of your ability. Indeed, the reports I receive on the archives are never late and always expertly written. Thank you.”
Zephyr’s fear faded, but shock and pride wrestled across her features. To her credit, she managed to croak, “Thank you, Princess,” before hiding in her ledger.
Celestia shook her head, bearing a faint smile as she walked towards a remote corner of the building. After weaving around bookcases, reading desks, and the occasional surprised researcher, she came to a nondescript, forgotten door. Its knob would not turn, but this was by design.
She focused for a moment, and a quiet clicking sounded from the other side as the door swung open. She entered, and the door swung closed behind her. Darkness briefly reigned, and then a pale light flickered into existence, emanating from globes placed at regular intervals along a narrow, steep staircase. Now that she was alone, her outward serenity faded. She descended carefully, and her expression darkened with every step.
Six passages, then a left turn. Two more, and right. Three passages, and right again. The magic that sustained this place, deep beneath Canterlot, was as fickle as it was ancient. Celestia remembered casting the wards when she set the first courses of stone. After all these years, she could recall how the work taxed her abilities; the enchantments were subtle, meant to misdirect and confuse, and her magical prowess lay in the truth of things. Her sister was the enchantress, after all, and had not been present during the city’s founding.
Which brought up an interesting question.
When the city was founded, her sister had been... elsewhere. Confined. If she had traversed these halls, how did she know the paths to take, and the dangers to avoid?
It should have been a comfort—any possibility of eliminating Luna’s involvement in this was worth exploring—but it was a hollow one. If not Luna, then who? If not her sister, what manner of creature, event, or curse had transformed an outsider into one of her children?
She pushed the thoughts away, pledging to examine them later. In these depths, any distraction could be hazardous.
Before long, Celestia arrived at a small, unexceptional iron door. She lowered her head, beginning to channel a spell, and stopped. She gingerly placed a hoof against its handle, and was alarmed to find the door swung open easily.
“Could the spells have worn off?” she asked herself. Cautiously, she stepped into the room, then paused to study her surroundings. “Or could they have been removed?” By the dim globelight, she could see three bookshelves at the far end of the room, each sagging under the weight of their entrusted burdens. Before them stood a low table, cluttered with spheres, flasks, vials, and a single heavy tome on the verge of disintegrating.
Something about that book tickled Celestia’s memory. She hastened to the table and stood over the tattered remnants of the ancient tome, focusing the barest trace of her magic to turn its pages. In these neglected storerooms, using magic was dangerous; she could not begin to guess how her surroundings might react.
Glancing from one diagram to the next, the princess paused, her breath catching. There, on the page, was a single sparkling strand of Luna’s mane. The spell the page contained...
“No.” Celestia’s voice was the shadow of a whisper, a hopeless plea against the stones. “Luna, what have you done?”
The rite was one of the oldest forms of magic, a spell insidious and irreversible. Its use had annihilated entire battalions of the Equestrian army in battle, long ago. Once it had been deciphered, the spell was banned. Its very name was made taboo, and the books which held it were hidden away in the darkest parts of the Palace of the Sisters. When that place was reclaimed by the Everfree Forest, the collection was brought here.
Celestia had forgotten it.
Her sister had not.
Celestia paced the length of the dining hall, counting out the steps for what might have been the thousandth time. Her sister should have been here by now; she was never late for her breakfast. Silently, the door at the end of the hall crept open. Celestia froze, anxiety knotting her features, until a pair of unicorns in toques stepped inside, each levitating a large tray covered by a silvery dome. When they noticed the hall was already occupied, they froze as well.
A brief waiting game ensued until Celestia forced herself to smile and nod in greeting to her ponies. “Thank you, Lentils, Julep. You may set the table.”
Exchanging a hasty glance with each other, the two ponies hurriedly set out their trays and silverware, then made a beeline for the door. Julep exited first, and then...
“Lentils? A moment?”
The pony paused at the door, then turned and bowed. “Yes, princess? How might I serve you?”
“No need to be so formal. Have you seen my sister? I don’t suppose she’s snuck down to the kitchens for an early snack?”
“No, Your Highness. Or, if she did, I was not there to see.”
“Thank you, my friend.” She glanced at her sister’s empty seat, and then turned to stare out the window towards the horizon.
Lentils turned to leave, then stopped, one forehoof still lifted. “Princess? Are you alright?”
Celestia forced the worry from her face, and stepped towards her cushions, bringing the book that rested nearby into view. Wincing, she looked back at her old friend. “Yes. Thank you. I’ve just got a number of things on my mind.”
She pursed her lips a moment, then offered, “If you’d like, I could arrange some warm milk for bed?”
Celestia’s smile in return was the first genuine one since that morning. “I’ll let you know, my friend. And thank you for asking.”
The mossy green pony grinned, and dipped into a mock curtsy. “I live to serve, princess,” she replied with a wink, and vanished through the open door, closing it behind her. The latch clicked into place, and the room was silent once more.
Groaning, the ancient alicorn gracelessly flopped onto her cushions. She twisted this way and that until she was comfortable, and then sighed at her own foolishness. She should know better, after all these years. There’d be rumors throughout the palace, now, of some problem between her and her sister, or some great and terrible crime. Unfortunately, she mused, this time they’d be true.
Celestia closed her eyes and tried to relax. To say her day had been eventful would be an understatement. She hoped she hadn’t worried Zephyr too much when she did not leave the way she arrived. It couldn’t have been helped; there had been so much to do. The Minister of Finance had been very understanding when he was informed of a reschedule. Then she had to visit the Judiciary, and then her own private library, and then...
“Augh!” she growled, her eyes fluttering open. She stood, shook out her mane, and paced to the window where she watched the sun approach the horizon. “So much for a rest, Celestia. You just can’t stop poking at—”
Celestia started at the word, her head jerking around and her eyes briefly going wide before she noticed the presence of her sister. “Oh, Luna, it’s you. Thank goodness.”
Luna stood at the end of the table, seemingly hovering between seating herself and approaching her elder sibling. “Tia, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing that can’t be solved, Luna.” At least, she hoped that was true. She could not bring herself to meet Luna’s gaze, and she peered back towards the horizon. “It’s almost time. Shall we attend our duty?”
“From the dining hall?”
“I suppose we could head for the usual balconies, but...”
“You’d rather stay. I understand, I think. Alright, go ahead, sis.”
The celestial magic, while far from a simple endeavour, had become rote over the millennia. With a little concentration, Celestia lowered the sun, setting it safely on its course to rise again in the morning. Moments later, she could feel her sister work a similar magic, pulling the moon towards its rightful place in the night sky. Royal duty done, and stomachs empty, the sisters sat to enjoy their meal.
Celestia was well into her second slice of melon when Luna set down her drink, cleared her throat, and asked, “Tia? Do you want to talk about it?”
Her appetite suddenly gone, Celestia lowered her fork to her plate, and frowned at it. An uncomfortable silence gathered, and Luna stood to approach her sister. Celestia spoke first, staring at the meal before her.
“Luna, do you remember, a few years ago, when I worried about your sleep? When you said you were completing a project?”
Luna nodded slowly. “Yes...”
Celestia looked up, meeting Luna’s gaze. Her face was smooth, expressionless, and perhaps a little unsettling. Her stare was intense, and Luna could almost feel its weight. “Do you recall when you asked about redemption? How you wanted to know if I would have acted in the same fashion to rescue you from your corruption, even if you had not been my sister?”
“I do,” she replied, her features troubled. “Why?”
“When were you planning on telling me what you were up to?”
“It... slipped my mind, I guess.” Luna glanced down, and then to her left, studying something only she could see.
Celestia sipped her juice, then asked another question. “Luna, those toys you so admire, and the gift you gave me, do you know where they are from?”
“The shops in Canterlot, Tia,” she replied, clearly flustered by this change in direction. “Where they get them, I could not begin to guess.”
“The little town near the mountains? About a day’s flight?”
“Yes. Near the mountains. Near a cavern. Near a disturbance that you noticed, five years ago.”
Luna looked at her sister inquisitively. “A disturbance?”
Celestia nodded, almost imperceptibly. “The same time as your project.”
The indigo pony blinked. “What do you—” Her eyes went wide, and then she returned her stare to the table. “Oh.”
“Luna, I met your... project, yesterday.”
“He was here? Wait, he made the toys?” She could not hide the excitement in her voice.
“So you do not deny it?” Celestia’s voice was cool, a practiced tone that hid emotion.
“Deny what, Celestia? Why are you interrogating me as if I were a suspect?”
In reply, Celestia channeled, lifting the book from its resting place on the cushions beside her. “Do you recognize this?”
“Damnation, Celestia,” she swore. “Yes, I do. It’s a book. It’s the one I found the spell in.”
“No. Do you recognize it? Do you remember where this book comes from?”
“From the old palace, I presume?”
“Where in the palace?” she coaxed.
“From the—” Luna suddenly stood, and backed away from the table. She eyed the book warily, as if it were a rabid animal. “By the stars...”
“So you do remember.”
“I do, now. Yes. From the Occultus Arcanus—the archives of hidden magic.” Luna swallowed hard, fear clutching her heart.
“And you remember why it was hidden.”
“The Bellum Draconis,” she replied. Her voice hastened, and she begged, “Sister, you must understand. I didn’t recall. I only remembered there being a transformation spell, and—”
“And you decided to transform a stranger to our nation, to our world, into a pony,” Celestia interrupted. “Into a pony with access to magic.”
“I... yes.” Luna stared at her hooves.
“Using a spell that had been banned, upon penalty of exile.”
“Ex—” Luna’s eyes went wide and her jaw worked silently. She tried to take a step back, to physically move away from Celestia’s words, but her legs gave out. She collapsed, dropping heavily to the floor. Her mane flared wildly as she pleaded, tears welling in her eyes. “No, Celestia.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I—I can’t leave again. Tia... Sister, I...”
Celestia stood, and walked towards her sister. Upon reaching her, she leaned close, and tried to nudge her to her feet. “Luna, I promise, I will do everything in my power to prevent that. But I must also uphold the laws. If this were a matter solely between the two of us, I might be tempted to ignore it after this discussion, but someone else was affected.”
“Tia, I... I only changed his shape. Nothing else. He wanted to belong, and... I understood that, and I...”
“Shh. I want to hear everything, but not right now. Do you have any audiences scheduled for this evening?”
“No, not tonight.” Luna sighed, and continued, “The Ministry seems content to deal with you in the day. I had thought to open the gardens and my court to the public, and have an impromptu party, but...”
“Mm. That would be awkward, now, yes. I’m sorry. Sister, I have so much to do, and so many things I need to review to refresh my memory. I suggest, if you can, to take care of your duties tonight quickly. If the hour is not too late when I’ve completed my work, I’ll seek you out, and we can talk then. Is that okay?”
Luna nodded numbly, her expression blank. “I... yes. Okay. Later. We’ll talk later.”
“Come, little sister. Let’s do this together.”
The two alicorns left the dining hall, side by side.
When Lentils returned later to clean up, she found a note at Celestia’s place.
No milk tonight, my friend, but if you find you have a moment to talk, please stop by at lunch tomorrow. It’s been far too long.
Thick, acrid smoke hung in the air, obscuring the field of battle and burning her eyes and nose. There, in the distance, was the dragon encampment. Celestia peered through her spyglass and studied the shadowy, slumbering shapes. There were at least a dozen, possibly half that again if there were sorcerers mixed with the larger warriors. Still, even two dozen should be easy enough to handle with the force at her disposal, with minimal losses. She returned the glass to her saddlebag, and motioned to her commanders.
Celestia tossed and turned, her sleep troubled.
With her five best tacticians gathered around her, she explained the situation as well as her ideas for a speedy resolution. After some consultation, they came to an agreement, and the ponies returned to their companies to relay orders. Celestia began her examination of the terrain anew, when something sparkled in the distant encampment. She peered into the darkness, and dug out her spyglass once more. She had not set it to her eye before the screams sounded behind her.
The sheets tangled about her legs. She kicked at them in vain, mumbling incoherently.
She turned to look, and the ground detonated at her feet. She found herself prone, covered in smoking earth and rock. Shakily regaining her feet, she surveyed the battlefield, and was met with horror.
Her commanders, as well as ponies throughout the ranks, screamed and convulsed on the ground. As she watched, they swelled as if they were balloons, and began to change. Their limbs shriveled, their skins split, and strange growths pierced their coats. The lucky ones died almost immediately, but a few kept changing, and growing. In seconds, they became hideous, armored, serpentine beasts which immediately fell upon the ponies that attempted to clamber away, devouring them whole.
Lairworms. They had been turned into lairworms—bloodthirsty eating machines that lurked in the dark places, the nymph-like states of some of the rarer dragon breeds. Somehow, the dragon sorcerors had converted her troops into their own. One of the immense beasts turned, sensing her presence, and charged. As it bore down upon her, she could see the confusion and terror in its too-familiar eyes.
Celestia woke with a start, panting, her mane and coat soaked with sweat, her bed linens torn and knotted. She untangled her limbs, then forced herself to stand and walk, wearily moving away from the remnants of slumber and towards wakefulness. She left her rooms, nodding at the guards in passing, and made her way to the kitchens for some tea.
“So much for sleep, tonight,” she said to herself. Celestia knew it had been a dream, but that did not soothe her nerves; she had lived it once before. As she paced the halls towards the kitchens, she examined the tapestries and paintings, trying to push the memories away. Instead, she found herself musing on the solution.
“It is done, Your Highness,” intoned the head scribe. “The study is complete, and the counterspell designed.”
“Excellent work, Springs. Have the source material confined to the Arcanum. As for the counterspell, what do you predict to be its success rate?”
“That depends on your definition of success, princess. The spell works quickly and efficiently, and if it cannot overpower the enchantment, it kills the target. Of course, it only can counteract a transformation in progress. If the transformation is complete, I’m afraid the sword is your only choice.”
“I see.” She pursed her lips in distaste. “It results in death every time?”
“By our calculations, if it cannot reverse the spell, then yes.”
“What if it were to be cast on someone who was not under the influence of the primary spell, or a variant?”
“As with a completed transformation, it would have no effect, Your Highness.”
“Well, that’s a small relief. Thank you again, Springs. Please have five hundred copies ready by the end of the week. I will need a dozen by morning, myself. Make that your top priority.”
“As you request.” He bowed low, and returned to work.
“Your Highness?” inquired a new voice.
Celestia found herself standing at the doors to the kitchens, the guards to either side watching her warily. She did not know how long she had been there, nor which guard had spoken.
An awkward silence overtook them. Celestia was not quick enough to dispel it entirely. “Ah, yes. The kitchens.” She tried to sound reassuring. “I did not mean to worry you, my fine ponies. I was simply exploring an idea.”
The guards nodded in unison, then returned their gazes forward, attempting to resume their professional demeanor.
Celestia pushed the doors open. ‘My fine ponies’? Really, Celestia? She needed that tea desperately.
“I don’t see why you have to go back, Worker,” she fumed, pacing through their living room. “It’s only been a month since you left.”
“Skyshine, I need to do the right thing.” Worker stood before his suitcase, double-checking its contents. Beside the case was a stack of books detailing the intricacies of Equestrian law. “For this, more than anything. According to that letter, it’s my fault this is happening.”
The letter, and its unpleasant contents, sat on their mantle. Skyshine had threatened twice to burn it, as if that would somehow erase the events it described.
“Forget the letter, Worker! Remember your wife! I don’t want you to go. You told me yourself that Celestia has no intention of bringing you into this, by name or by reputation. She wants you to have a chance to live out your life, with me, in peace.”
“If I don’t go, we won’t have that peace.”
“If you do go, you great lummox, I won’t give you any either!” she threatened, stamping a hoof to the floor in anger.
“Skyshine, you mean the world to me. You’re my everything, and you always will be. But there are things you do not know, things in my past that, when I try to bring them up, you push away.”
“Because they’re not important! They aren’t who you are, now! You’re Worker, a pony of Pasofino, and husband to Skyshine, a pony who is very tired of this conversation. You make toys for children, and wonderful devices that benefit all of Equestria!”
“I know all this, Skyshine, and I love every facet of it.”
“Then...” She sighed, the fight in her voice dying away. “Why do you have to go?”
“Because I would be a poor pony indeed if I abandoned the one who made all that possible.”
“I’m going, Skyshine,” he said, gently but firmly. “You’re welcome to come with me, as I’ve said before. I would miss you otherwise. Even a lummox can miss his loved ones.”
Skyshine slumped onto her haunches, defeated. “You win.”
Worker walked to stand before his wife, and gently kissed her. “I won when you said ‘I do’, beloved. Now, let me show Luna my gratitude.”
She nodded, then rubbed her eyes, and stood. “I’ll go pack something,” she declared sullenly. “If the chariot arrives, let them know I’ll be right out.”
“Yes, dear,” he replied.
“Shut up,” she snapped, glowering, as she stomped into their bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Worker closed his case, and stared at the bedroom door. He shook his head, picked up his possessions, and arranged them outside on the stoop in preparation for the chariot’s arrival.
He heard the soft thump of hooves on the path leading to his door, and turned to greet his visitor. To his surprise, there was more than one.
There were, in fact, more than a few, and more filtered down his walk to stand before his home. At the vanguard were Holly, Bulwark, and Saber Dance, along with her daughter Tea Blossom. Behind them stood Whisper, Swift Winds, and Sundown, his upgraded wing nearly indistinguishable from his natural one. A dozen other ponies joined them. Sparks and her family were just now passing the gate, Pearmain lingered outside the fence, and more familiar faces smiled back wherever he looked.
There was a moment’s silence as he stood dumbfounded at the sudden gathering. He blinked once, and then twice, trying to think of a proper response. Saber Dance spoke first.
“We couldn’t help but overhear the argument. The whole town heard it, actually. We’ve decided the only way this will come to any sense of closure is if, uh...” She chuckled at herself. “I should know better than to try to prepare a speech. Worker, we’re going with you.”
“What?” He stared at them in disbelief. “All of you?”
“Most of us. We’ve arranged for transportation to the city, which should arrive tonight or tomorrow. We’ll be in Canterlot in time for the opening statements.”
“But nothing. You’ve given this town more than you know. It’s time we gave something back.”
“I... thank you. Thank you all, very much.”
“Don’t thank us.” Saber Dance replied, nodding towards his front door. “It was Skyshine’s idea.”
“What?” He turned to look and saw Skyshine leaning against the doorjamb, a satisfied smile on her face.
“I said you were a lummox, and I still think so. But I also know the kind of pony you are, and I would never change that. I hope you forgive me for leading you on.”
“I have married a very dangerous mare,” he declared.
“Hey, I tried to warn you,” claimed Bulwark. There was scattered laughter throughout the crowd, which then organized itself to one side of the path. Worker lifted his parcels, and his wife’s, and hugged the score of ponies in turn as he passed. Skyshine walked behind him, chin held high, a satisfied smile affixed to her muzzle.
The courtroom buzzed with quiet conversation as the restless crowd waited for the trial to begin. Most did not know why they were there, save to support a friend. A few in the audience had interest in the law itself, and a scattered hoof-full simply had nothing better to do on a Wednesday.
Somewhere in Canterlot, a clock tower chimed, counting the strokes towards noon. At the far end of the courtroom, a door opened, and an older dun stallion with a black mane strode into the room.
“All rise for the Princesses, Celestia and Luna. All rise for the Seventh Special Session of the Royal Court.”
The buzz vanished, and every pony stood at attention. From his vantage point at the front of the gallery, Worker could see the princesses in a small room beyond the door. They exchanged a quick hug, and then Princess Celestia broke away, entering the courtroom.
The bailiff announced to the gathered crowd, “All hail Celestia, Princess of the Sun, and sole Justice for the special session.”
Not pausing for recognition, Celestia mounted the short stairs that led to an imposing seat above the crowd at the far end of the room.
Behind her, Princess Luna entered, striding towards a table before Celestia’s seat. At her appearance, the bailiff declared, “All hail Luna, Princess of the Night, and defendant for the special session.”
A murmur bubbled throughout the gallery. The princess, on trial? How was Worker involved in this? What was the crime? As the crowd reacted, a few other ponies entered the courtroom, and stationed themselves at the desks arranged before Celestia’s bench. The murmuring grew into a dull roar until, suddenly, the bailiff stomped his hooves against the floor.
“Order in the court! The Royal Court is now in session!”
“Thank you, bailiff,” Celestia said, then turned to the gallery. “My ponies,” she began, her eye pausing on Worker before she continued, “I ask that you remain silent throughout the proceedings. Unless you have cause to speak, any distractions may prove troublesome.” She levitated a small stack of papers before her, aligned them, and then began to read. “The Seventh Special Session of the Equestrian Royal Court concerns itself with the use of banned magics, specifically transformation magics. Solicitor, how does the defendant plead?”
“We plead No Contest, Your Highness.” Luna’s solicitor was a thin tan mare, dressed in a severe black suit, with her green mane wrapped into a bun. “We seek to move the trial into the sentencing phase, and wish to plead our case before the court.”
“So noted. Prosecutor, as the defendant has entered a plea of No Contest, do you wish to pursue sentencing, or will you rely on the wisdom of the Court?”
“Your Highness,” replied an older white stallion in a similar suit, “I am certain that the Court can find an appropriate response without my input.”
“Very well. You and your team may be dismissed, and the Court thanks you for your time. Bailiff, please see the prosecutor out.”
The small group of ponies in identical suits and ties filed out of the courtroom. As the last pony left, the Bailiff closed the door behind them and stood before it at attention.
Celestia rapped her hoof on the floor behind the bar. “The Court moves to the sentencing phase. For the crime of performing banned magics, the sentence is exile. The Court will now hear arguments to modify the severity of this sentence. Any can speak, but first right goes to the defendant.”
There was a moment’s silence, interrupted only by a quiet cough from the gallery, before Luna stood. Despite the confidence in gaze, her steps were shaky. She walked to the witness station, turned, positioned herself behind the rail, and faced the gallery.
“Justice Celestia,” she began, her gentle voice carrying a power that brought it to every ear. “I do not deny that I cast a spell that is banned, nor do I deny that the spell’s target was unaware of my actions. I do, however, ask for special exemption for two reasons.
“The lesser reason I seek exemption is that I was unaware of the ban at the time of casting. Had I been aware of the ban, I would have not cast the spell, as I do not think myself above the law. I do realize, of course, that the law makes little provision for those who are ignorant of its strictures. I undertook my project with an eye solely towards the benefits, and did not desire to usurp, alter, or corrode the strength of law. As the law still stands, I seek the wisdom of the Court to modify my sentence.”
Luna steeled herself, and then continued. “The greater reason is one of need. My sist—Justice Celestia, you once spoke of the right of all creatures to a chance at redemption, regardless of station or circumstance. It was this right that I pursued.
“Some time ago, I sensed a new voice in dreams. An intense voice, full of promise, and pain, and despair. It intrigued me, and so I took special notice of it. It was the voice of a visitor from another world, one who sought to escape the troubles of his past, and build a new life for himself. This is not an uncommon dream, but it was unique in other ways. It showed a strong desire to grow, to learn, to know, and to belong.
“It was that last which caught me most. I know what it means to feel like an outsider, even surrounded by others. I kept an eye on it—on him—and his development. Soon, he discovered a town, and its ponies. Rather than threaten, or flee, he sought to understand. With a friend’s help, he understood far more quickly than he imagined.
“Over time, he began to accept the ponies of this town as his friends and his companions. Soon after, he relied on them, and they on him. It was then that I decided to give him the ability to truly belong.
“In my study of the spell, I found that the faster the resolution, the more harm that could come to the target. I did not wish to see him harmed, and so I started slowly, allowing minor changes to take place before the final conversion. First came his mane, then a horn, and finally his body as he became a pony in all respects.
“In retrospect, it must have been terrifying, but his dreams were regular, and peaceful. Even hopeful, once he learned magic. He felt at peace, and at home.
“If I might note a final point for the Court, my spell was limited to the physical. The rest of the changes that he adopted, in thought and deed, were his own. As all are aware, there is no magic that can force a cutie mark to appear earlier than it should. The fact that this pony has his cutie mark should be sign enough that he desired this transformation, even if he did not know it at the time. While I apologize, now, for the manner in which it happened, I do not believe he would have turned it down if offered.”
With that, Luna stepped from the witness station, and strode towards her seat. In response, the gallery buzzed once more, as many of the ponies began to put together the reason they were here. Celestia permitted it for a few moments before again rapping her hoof on the floor.
“Order, please. The Court will consider this argument in its deliberation. Are there any others who wish to speak on behalf of the defendant?”
“Very well,” Celestia continued. “The Court shall take a short recess to deliberate. Sentencing resumes at forty-five minutes past the hour.” She struck the floor of the bench once more, and then stepped down the stairs, exiting by the door the bailiff guarded.
Worker glanced at the clock, noting the time. Twenty minutes to go. Twenty minutes before he would know his savior’s fate. He was hungry, but he could not bring himself to leave, not while Luna stayed behind. She sat, motionless, staring at the carafe on the table before her, while her solicitor tried to make small talk. After a few minutes, the mare resigned herself to doodling on a pad of yellow paper.
Skyshine excused herself with a peck on Worker’s cheek, and left with their friends to get something in their stomachs. Worker continued to watch the clock, both impatient for resolution and fearful of the decision. His mind wandered, and he found himself wondering if Luna knew what he looked like, or if she could identify him by sight, after hearing his dreams.
He realized he was staring at her mane, watching it flow in an otherworldly breeze. Then he realized she was staring back at him.
He forced his gaze away from her and back to the clock. From the corner of his eye, he noticed her standing, and then approaching. He found his eyes irresistibly drawn back to hers, and then looked away again, swallowing hard. She was just as beautiful as her sister, but in a different fashion, a manner difficult to explain. Her countenance was mysterious, alluring, yet knowing.
She stopped a few feet from him, on the other side of the rail. “Worker, I presume?”
He hastened to bow in response. “Y-your Highness. Yes, I am Worker.”
“Do not feel yourself responsible for this. While I regret what has happened since, I do not regret bringing you closer to your friends and loved ones.”
“Nor do I, princess. I thank you for all you’ve done. It is, after all, why I’m here. I hope to be able to provide some small measure of support with my presence.”
She smiled in reply, and nodded. “We shall see.” She looked over Worker’s shoulder at a small group of approaching ponies. “Your wife is a beautiful mare, by the by. And she loves you very much.”
“That is, perhaps, the only thing I know for sure.”
“You are a charmer, sir. I wish you two the best.” Luna turned away, and walked back to her seat where she waited for the clock to mark out the proper time.
He could only think to bow in reply.
“The princess, hm?” Skyshine teased, faux scandal in her voice. “You’ve met both of them now? Should I be worried?”
“Of course not, my dear. What fool would seek a princess when he already has a queen?”
Across the gallery, Luna giggled quietly, and then poured herself a glass of water.
“You’re horrible, Worker. I love you.”
“And I you.” He gave her a gentle kiss, and then nodded towards the clock. “Almost time.”
Past the guarded door, with a guarded expression, Celestia paced. Her thoughts churned with possibilities, and her stomach with worry. She argued with herself, imagining the worst, and countering its implications best she could.
What do you do, Celestia? What can you do? The law clearly states that the use of that spell, for any reason, results in exile. The fact that the law does not state the duration of the exile does not mean that it is not permanent. Instead, it implies it is. What game are you playing?
Celestia poured herself a glass of water from a waiting carafe, and then placed it on the table, forgetting it instantly.
And what of the populace, when they hear of this? What of Luna’s reputation, when it emerges that she has committed a magical crime? She’s worked very hard, these last few decades, rebuilding her image to that of a competent and sensitive ruler.
“That much is true,” she mused, aloud. “Since her return, Luna’s made incredible strides towards reconnecting with her people. She’s even shed that ridiculous Canterlot Voice. She’s adopted more modern forms of speech and mannerisms, and has worked hard to understand the concerns and wishes of contemporary ponies.”
And beyond Luna’s reputation, Celestia, what of Luna? Don’t you care that the very thought of exile is enough to crush her? How much she’s missed you, these last thousand years? Because you sent her away once before?
“Of course I care,” she hissed in frustration. “I care a great deal about my sister, more than anything else. But I must also keep Equestria in my thoughts. I must be a ruler who can be trusted. A ruler who respects the law which grants her the right to rule.”
And what of the ponies you protect, Celestia? What will they see by your actions? A wise ruler, upholding the word of law, or an unjust opportunist, exiling her sister for a trifle that the majority can never comprehend? You’ve heard the rumors, of course, of the tyrant in the palace.
Celestia sighed. Her initial attempts at lifting the mood of her ponies were still whispered about to this day. It was true that her first pranks, to modern sensibilities, would seem needlessly cruel, but it wasn’t as if anyone alive knew the details. Still, doubts lingered from one generation to the next about the alleged bizarre cruelties of the Sun Princess.
And what about Worker? Isn’t he tangled up in all this? Isn’t he the central piece? Without his transformation, none of this would have happened, and you and your sister would still be rulers over a peaceful Equestria, side by side.
“He does seem remarkably well-adjusted,” she agreed. “He’s even requested an audience with Luna, whenever she is next available. In fact, he seems to be taking the whole event in stride, looking forward to whatever the future holds with an unbridled optimism.”
So where’s the problem? No victim, no crime, right?
She poked at this idea for a moment, remembering her glass of water. As she sipped, she unraveled the concept.
“No. The law has been broken, and whether or not Worker took offense at the changes forced upon him, the law demands a price. “
Unless, by no victim...
“No! How could you consider that? I’ve promised him that he faces no responsibility for this, and is permitted to live out his days in peace.”
You need to decide, Celestia. You need to choose. Your law? Your reign? Your sister? Your friend?
A gentle rapping sounded at the chamber door. “Your Highness,” called the bailiff, “the recess is about to end.”
“Thank you, bailiff,” she replied, forcing her voice into a neutral tone. “I will be right out.”
Celestia grimaced, then set her jaw, and strode towards the door. Something had to give.
“All rise for the Seventh Special Session of the Royal Court!” barked the bailiff.
The door behind the dour pony opened, and Princess Celestia entered, her expression unreadable. The gallery fell silent as every pony tried to find an answer in her features.
She mounted the stair immediately, sparing no attention for the gallery or the defendant. As soon as she stood behind the bench, the bailiff once again struck the floor with a forehoof. “Order in the court!” he demanded, despite the deathly quiet. “The Royal Court continues its session!”
Celestia cleared her throat, and then looked at her sister, immediately regretting the course of action. She pulled her eyes away, and gazed into the gallery, noting the presence of Worker and his bride, and close to two dozen other ponies.
For what she hoped would be the last time, she rapped the floor with a hoof, and announced, “Deliberations have been completed in this, the Seventh Special Session of the Equestrian Royal Court. The gallery may be seated if desired. I ask that the defendant and counsel remain standing.”
There was a period of quiet shuffling as a few ponies found comfortable positions. Celestia bore the delay with good grace, counting silently to sixty before continuing. She cleared her throat, took a breath, and began.
“In the deliberation of this case, the Court has considered the severity of the crime, the circumstances of its commission, the impact upon the victim, and the intent of the defendant.” She took another breath, and her blank expression melted into one of compassion. “It is with a heavy heart, then, that the Court accepts the plea of No Contest, and has decided upon a sentence.“
Luna’s cautious optimism faded away, leaving in its wake a mask of stark terror. She shook her head, staring at her sister, silently pleading.
Celestia continued. “The Court hereby decrees that Princess Luna—”
“Your Highness, I object!” In the gallery, a familiar pony stood on his hind legs. One forehoof rested upon the gallery rail, and the other lifted into the air, waving wildly. The crowd’s confusion created a dull roar which echoed through the court.
Celestia’s melancholy was buried under a crush of anger and frustration. Can he not see how difficult this is, without interruption? “Order!” she shouted, banging on the floor with ferocious strikes. “Order! Bailiff!” She stared daggers at the orange-maned unicorn. “Seize that pony and bring him before the bench.”
The older stallion strode forward, his expression grim, and opened the gate to the gallery. At the other side waited Worker. “Sir,” he stated, his voice flat. “The Court demands your presence.”
“Of course, bailiff,” Worker replied calmly. “As the Court wishes.”
The black-maned pony stepped aside to let Worker pass, and then shadowed him to a spot between the defendant’s table and the bench. As he passed Luna, she shook his head at him frantically, begging him to back down.
The princess seethed, glaring at the pony before her, every word falling from her lips as if bitten off. “What right do you have to interrupt these proceedings, Worker?”
“I possess the right of the wounded, Justice.”
“Oh, you’re a clever pony,” she chuckled mirthlessly. “You do not expect me to allow you to turn this Court into your own personal soapbox!”
“I expect precisely that, Justice.” His chin was lifted in defiance, and his tone grim, but his eyes showed the depth of his fear. He was terrified, yet he spoke confidently. “It is my right as the wounded party to address the court before final sentencing has been decreed. I have not yet availed myself of that right.”
“You have never once complained about your circumstances, Worker,” she replied, ice replacing fire. Her rage cooled, but her anger was no less intense. “Not once, in all the times we’ve spoken. Do you expect the Court to allow you to demand its attention for something you have not bothered to pursue until now?”
“I demand my rights, Justice,” he declared simply. As Celestia glared, a bead of sweat trickled across his temple. The crowd’s murmurs built once more into a buzzing cacophony.
“I said order!” she roared, striking the floor a final time. “Bailiff! The next pony who speaks without permission shall be ejected bodily from the Court!”
In response, the dun pony returned to the gate, and stared wordlessly into the gallery.
Celestia returned her attention to the pony before her. “Very well, Worker,” she replied, every hint of emotion excised from her voice. “You have your rights. Exercise them. The witness station is yours.”
Worker bowed in respect, and approached the station. His jaw set in grim determination, he entered its confines, rested his forehooves against the rail, and faced the crowd.
"Princess Celestia,” he began with a nod in her direction. “Princess Luna.” He nodded to her as well. “I thank you for the opportunity to address the Court. There has been a grave injustice done, but it is not the one you pursue."
A whisper passed through the crowd, cut off as if by a switch when Celestia fluttered her wings in annoyance. Silence awaited Worker, then, and he tried to speak.
"My name..." He sighed, then, and looked across the gallery, at the faces of his friends, and of the mare that meant the world to him. He caught her eye, and mouthed a silent apology, then closed his eyes.
He drew himself up, then, and seemed to radiate a new charisma, a potency. His eyes again open, he gazed across the gallery, regarding those gathered there as so many faces in a crowd. He took a breath, and began again.
"The name Worker is an affectation, an attempt to translate my given name into something that makes sense in Equestria. My true name is Julian Kintobor, of the house of Ivo. It is also Dr. Ivo Robotnik, and some," he continued, his voice lowering for a moment, "called me the Eggman.
"I am a man—or was—from a realm called Overland, and before that, from a place called Earth. I have been many things: a friend, a foe, a pawn, a king, a servant, and a god. Above all else, I have been a monster.
"I was born into privilege, given every chance to express myself and grow into my own being. Instead of challenging myself, and becoming what I could be, I compared myself to another—my brother, Colin—and envied him.
"It was that envy that begat my desire for control. For power. If I could not be someone, I could at least rule over them. It was a small thing at first. Paranoia. A desire to be seen as first, seen as best, by my peers. Soon, it began to consume me—and I welcomed it.
"My friends showed me great caring and kindness, teaching me all they knew. My appetite for knowledge is enormous, and I was as a starved man at a banquet. I took it all in. And when they had nothing more to share, I arranged their banishment."
He paused, then, and looked out into the gallery once more. There stood his friends, shocked into silence, with expressions somewhere between fear and revulsion. And next to them, tears rolling down her grey muzzle, stood Skyshine. He forced himself to stare at her, to meet her eyes, and tell her precisely what she had never wished to learn.
"Seeing my promise, I was taken in by a mentor. He was a great man, who devised many a wonderful thing, and took joy at his creation. After learning all he had to teach, I used his creations against him, blaming him for a horrific explosion that I myself engineered. Because no lives were lost, he, too, was banished, although execution had been my true goal.
"When war broke out between my people and the Mobians, I saw it only as a path to power. Harming my own kind, forcibly using them as test subjects, or as living targets, I advanced the art of war for my people. I was found out. Tried. Convicted. Cast out. But I only grew hungrier."
He couldn't look at Skyshine anymore, and she had already turned away. He addressed Luna, then, as she sat next to her solicitor. His eyes were wet, yet his voice remained strong.
"I escaped my prison, evading recapture and death, and was rescued by two creatures from a land named Acorn. I swore allegiance, and quickly learned the intricacies of their society. Given a chance, I cast my only obstacle into a realm known as the Zone of Silence, and assumed the title of Warlord. Then I began my plans anew.
"I developed cyborgs—cybernetic organisms, a... merging of machine and flesh—through illegal testing on innocents captured from another land. One by one, they died in my testing, save for the strongest, who became my living weapon. He destroyed my kinsmen and their machines, but eventually proved unstable. I confined him cruelly. To my knowledge, he might still wail in his prison."
Luna, then, looked away as well, uncomfortable with the parallels. Worker turned back to the gallery once more, and steeled himself for the rest of his tale.
"It was then that the Roboticizer was created. Realizing my cyborg army was unreliable at best, I was enamored by the idea of a machine that could completely convert living flesh to a being of cold steel, which would be reliable, dependable, powerful, and completely subservient to my will. I immediately set to work, forcibly converting countless creatures to mindless slaves. The first one I converted was the one who rescued me after my escape.
"The Roboticizer became my greatest tool. Every challenger, every creature suspicious of my work, every ally who showed the slightest moment's weakness became fuel for my beloved machine, and then another servant. I converted entire cities, and those I could not convert, I expelled into the Zone of Silence.
"I conquered the entire world, placing in key positions those who were slavishly devoted to my will, to keep my grip tight on the populace. I was sole sovereign. I was a god.
"Not all could be captured. Not all could be enslaved. One in particular, who led a group named the Freedom Fighters, fought against me and my mission of conquest. Time and time again, his persistence spelled out another of my failures. His devotion to his ideals proved stronger than my will to rule.
"Over the course of our battles, I destroyed great forests, corrupted immense swathes of land, burned jungles, all to cement my reign. The crimes against the planet were just as horrific as my crimes against those who once lived on it. Eventually, I was able to trap my foe and convert him as well. Thinking my victory complete, I set him to work as my right hand. He was rescued by his friends, but not before he turned one of the largest cities, and its cybernetic inhabitants, into radioactive slag.
"It was then that I developed my final plan. I would rule, or I would die, and I crafted the Ultimate Annihilator."
He turned to Celestia, his tears dry now, as the gallery slowly emptied. The ponies, sickened at such atrocities and repelled by their calm recounting, could stomach no more. Skyshine, however, stayed, and soon was one of only a hoof-full of souls that remained. None of his other friends were among that number.
"Before I completed my work, I saw a potential problem in that persistent creature who sought to undo my efforts. Taking the most expedient path, I murdered an innocent solely to frame him. One more death among so many seems like a small thing, I'm sure, but I knew of her prowess, and of her connection to my enemy. I selected her solely because her death would cause him the most pain. In the end, she was a pawn, and one I could sacrifice.
"I targeted the remnants of the opposition, and began my final stroke. It occurred to me that there was a third option, then. While the machine did its work, powering up to dissolve the very city that opposed me, I did my own work to find an escape.
"I was tired. Even if I had won, there would be nothing left to accomplish. I would be god-king over a world of mindless steel. And if I had lost, well, looking back at what was happening at the time, I would not have survived. Neither of those outcomes truly mattered to me. I wanted out. I wanted to be away from the entire thing. I felt I deserved, after all I had done, peace.
"As the Annihilator churned away, powering up and targeting the populace below, I modified one of my machines to cast me away from that place, into the unknown. Gathering a few possessions, I flipped the switch just as the Annihilator fired. I tore open a hole across time and space, cast my materials into it, and as I stepped towards it, was greeted once again by my foe.
"We battled. I felt the Annihilator working... but it worked against me. Knowing the portal was my only escape, I managed to force him away, and dove through the hole in the continuum. He must have tampered with the machine. Its explosion in my wake propelled me faster than I'd hoped, and I watched as the portal collapsed behind me. I was free.
"I wound up here, in a cavern, in the mountains outside Pasofino. I thought myself alone, at first, and sought to create a home for myself. I planned to live out my final years alone, and then die, unchallenged ever again. Master not of a planet, but of myself.
"Then I found a path, and a town, and the remarkable ponies of Pasofino. They welcomed me. They took me in. Claimed me as one of their own. It was their purity, their innocence, their willingness to love a stranger—love me—that changed me.
"Your Highness,” he said, producing a small book from beneath his vest, “I wish to present to the court a journal which I wrote during my conversion. It is in my native tongue, and if your scribes cannot translate it, it would be my honor to provide that service to you. If I may?"
She nodded, slightly, and he channeled a trickle of magic, lifting the slim, worn tome and placing it atop her desk.
"Detailed in that journal are my experiences here, as I began a man, and ended a—a pony. It covers how I feel about my life here, and my fellow ponies, and the world in which you all live, and how that simple, all-encompassing love changed me for the better. But I understand there are other changes that concern this court.
"I admit to being concerned as I began to change. First, my mane... I mean, hair. Then, I developed a horn. And finally, over the course of a night, I was remade a unicorn. I understand this is forbidden magic. Evil magic. Dark, unspeakable work. And looking back, it is similar to what I have done: convert another to a form more suitable to my needs, more to my liking.
"But evil is not simply an act. Evil is an intent. Your sister Luna sensed me enter. She felt my dreams. That is, after all, her domain, and dreams such as mine must have felt strange indeed. She saw the one thing I would not admit to myself: the need to belong. With Luna’s help, Justice, I did more than belong with friends. I belonged to them, and they to me."
He turned again to Luna, who regarded him with an unreadable expression, although her lip trembled.
"Princess Luna, what you did, regardless of the law, or the strictures, or the traditions, was the second greatest gift I have ever been given: a chance to begin anew, a whole lifetime ahead of me, with a world that both cared for me, and accepted me for who I was—not that they knew. The greatest gift was the love of a young mare —who I, too, love deeply...” his voice fell, becoming nearly a whisper, “although I fear I have driven her from me, now."
He spared a glance for Skyshine, but she was gone. He did not blame her. Turning to Celestia, he lifted his voice once more, and concluded his plea.
"Princess Celestia, your people speak of your limitless wisdom, your everlasting grace, your all-encompassing love for your ponies. While I wear the form, I admit I was not born here, although I feel I was reborn here. That rebirth was due to your sister's love, and her trust of dreams.
"I ask you, Celestia, as Justice and as her sister, to forgive her. She acted out of compassion, out of love, and sought only to make me happy, regardless of whether it was right that I had that happiness. And she did: for five glorious years, she did. I have never been happier, across all my days.
"If the Sun must deny its light for any creature, let it be me. I have earned my time in darkness, and felt more joy than I deserve. It is only right that I be sent to it in her stead. Will you, Your Highness, show her that love?"
The courtroom fell silent, and it was empty. All that remained was Worker, the bailiff, the solicitor, and the princesses.
Worker fell back to all fours, hung his head, and walked out of his station. He plodded, the weight of his deeds clearly borne upon his shoulders, and stood before the Justice, who gazed down upon him from her seat above.
"I await your bailiff, Your Highness, and my just exile." With that, he bowed low, forelegs folded, and remained motionless.
“Bailiff,” Celestia whispered, “please recess the Court.”
The sun had set hours ago, and in the heavy rains it was often said that only Diamond Dogs and pegasi would go out. The pony who trudged down a lonely road was neither, yet he continued his journey, setting one hoof before the other. The muddy morass squelched underhoof. It sucked at the weary pony’s legs as he plodded along, oblivious to the dark, or the cold, or the wet. As he walked, he thought, and as he thought, he remembered.
He had once been a man, he recalled, even if the memories were unpleasant. Then, he had become a pony. Those memories were happier, and more valued by far. Now he was nothing, and it had been his own doing. He had done the right thing, of that he was sure. He had done the necessary thing. He had decided to tell the truth. He recalled, dimly, an old saying: The truth hurts now, but a lie hurts forever. He was not sure whether or not he agreed.
His orange mane was soaked through, and it clung to his poll and crest. His yellow coat was stained with mud and worse. He still had his saddlebags, and their contents, but some miles back he had lost his glasses. Despite that, he could make out the road immediately ahead of him well enough, even at this hour of the night. Somewhere above the clouds, the moon shone brightly enough to show him the way home.
It was out there, somewhere, in the distance. He was unsure exactly how far, but knowing that it waited ahead drove his progress. He had not eaten for days, and could not remember if he had slept. It would not do to sleep, now. He had too far to go, and he never knew who might be listening.
The stallion crested a rise and, in the filtered moonlight, he saw it: Pasofino. His home. At least, it had been. He hoped it might still be. Suddenly, he found it difficult to move any closer.
“She’s waiting there, Worker,” he reminded himself, his voice barely reaching his own ears in the torrent. “She told you she didn’t care about your past, and Skyshine has never lied to you.” His attempts to reassure himself weren’t particularly effective, but he found that as long as he spoke, he could ignore the growing dread.
One hoof before the other, as he had done for days, he traveled the final mile to the sleeping village.
Skyshine sat up with a start. In the hazy moments before wakefulness, she reached out with a hoof to wake her husband. She remembered too late that he would not be there. Skyshine glanced at the softly-ticking timepiece on the mantle, and groaned quietly. Three o’clock. She had managed two hours’ sleep, at least, which was an improvement.
She slid her legs from beneath the covers, and stood, wobbling slightly as she stretched first one limb, and then the next. Perhaps some warm milk will help, she thought. I’m pretty sure I can manage to heat a pot without too much thought. Deciding against a robe, she nudged open her bedroom door and stepped into the greatroom. She had taken three strides across the floor when she noticed something wrong.
A trail of muddy hoofprints made a looping path across her floor. They appeared from the foyer, then led to the center of the room, then to the bedroom door, and finally returning to the foyer. She poked at one, gingerly, as if it might bite. The prints were still wet.
Hurriedly, she returned to the bedroom and snatched up one of Worker’s lanterns. It flickered alight as she took its handle between her teeth, and filled the room with an amber glow. She turned back to the greatroom and shined the light within. Something glittered on the table near the center of the room.
Skyshine approached it warily. As she did, the lantern’s light revealed the glittering object to be a silvery disc, about a hoof wide. It bore Luna’s emblem, and that of Equestria. She stepped closer to get a better view, and was startled when she splashed through a shallow puddle. She reared back, scrambled away from the table, and angled the lantern’s light beneath it.
A pair of soaked saddlebags, their flaps down but their straps unsecured, leaned against one of the table’s legs. Each contributed a rivulet of muddy water to the growing puddle. Skyshine recognized the stitching. “Luna be praised,” she gasped aloud. “Worker!”
Before she had finished his name, she found herself at a gallop towards the front door.
Worker made his way around the house, towards the impromptu workshop he had built when he was still a man. It would be dry there, and warm. More importantly, it was far enough from the house that he would not disturb Skyshine.
The rain was beginning to let up as he reached the shop’s door, and when it slid open with a surprisingly loud rattle he was sure he had woken the village. He froze, standing outside the shop, and searched the nearby homes for signs of activity. Worker counted to thirty, then sighed in relief.
He entered the darkened shop, switched on one of the lamps in the corner, and found a clear spot among his boxes. He picked up a small heater from a pile of leftover gadgets, set it to its lowest setting, then curled up next to it. He glanced at the still-open door, and the flickering lamp. I should probably take care of those, he thought to himself. A yawn split his muzzle, tensing every weary muscle across his shoulders and up his neck. I’ll get them in just a minute, he pledged, but as soon as he rested his chin on his hooves, sleep rolled him under.
Skyshine burst through the front door, her heart racing, her mind consumed with worry. Was that Worker? She couldn’t assume anything, at this point. Who else would enter our home at this hour? Seeing nothing on the stoop but more mud, she scanned left, and then right, seeking a sign of any pony braving the rains.
There! Are those hoofprints? She could not be sure, but even a glimmer of hope was enough to drive her forward. Around the house… the shop! No longer searching the ground, she raced towards the back of the house, where Worker had built a shop to accommodate his… previous…
She slowed to a walk, and then stopped, a few paces from the walls of the shop. His previous form. When he was a… a man. When he… Am I ready to talk to him again? Am I ready to see him? After what he said in court, in front of our friends. After what he revealed about himself?
She took a breath. Does it matter? You made a promise, Skyshine: ‘til death do you part. And you know you’re still madly in love with him. Skyshine walked towards the door, and stopped a pace from the entrance. From inside, a light flickered, and she could hear someone’s low, regular breathing. She lifted a hoof, and rested it against the wall of the building. Let him sleep. Then she turned away and walked back to her home.
Within the shop, the sleeping pony stirred once, and then drifted back to sleep.
Dawn came reluctantly, battling against the overcast sky, but arrived too soon for Worker. An errant sunbeam shone into the rapidly warming shop, glinting off the accumulated tools and devices that were strewn about its confines. Grimacing with discomfort, he blinked himself awake.
He forced himself to his hooves, and immediately regretted the decision. Every joint hurt, every muscle ached, and his senses were flooded by a singular throb that seemed to encompass his entire body. A low moan escaped his lips, belying his stoic expression. Despite the pain, he had the presence of mind to switch off the heater, and as he passed it, the lamp on the counter.
With every step he took, dried mud broke free from his coat and fell to the floor. Once he stepped outside of the shop, he took a moment to shake out his dirt-encrusted mane and tail, then turned to shut the door with his teeth—his head ached whenever he thought about magic.
The pony blinked in the cool morning light, then shuffled across the sodden turf and towards his home, wincing with each step. He did not know what might await him within, but she always woke early, and he wanted to be there when she did. He rounded the house, and stepped into the nearly-empty streets to round his fence. Jumping was out of the question.
He must have looked very strange, indeed. Down the street, ponies stopped, one by one, to watch him pass. They leaned close, speaking conspiratorially, keeping one eye on the odd pony that neared the home at the edge of the village. He marveled at their reaction. Normally, any new pony would be eagerly approached, and welcomed. Today, they seemed content to watch him from afar. Something about it seemed odd, but he couldn’t be bothered with trivialities. He wanted breakfast. He wanted a hot shower. Most of all, he wanted to see Skyshine again.
Sighing, he shrugged off the question, and wished he hadn’t. New knots stitched themselves across his shoulders. Worker pushed through the gate, trudged down the path to his door, and stepped inside. It was darker than he expected.
As quietly as he could, with a throbbing head and stiff limbs, he walked towards his bedroom door. He paused when he stepped on something that crumbled underhoof. Glancing down, he saw regular half-moons of dry grey mud. He’d need to clean those up; Skyshine would be furious at him for tracking mud into the house.
Worker placed a hoof against his bedroom door, and slowly opened it. He peered inside, and found the room empty, and the bed made. There was no pony within. He was surprised at first, confused, but then the pieces began to come together. The staring ponies, the darkened home, the empty bedroom: Skyshine was gone.
He rested his head against the doorjamb, and sighed. “I am,” he said to nopony in particular, “a very large fool.”
“I would have said ‘lummox’,” chimed a voice from the darkness, “but ‘fool’ is a good option.”
Skyshine sat on an overstuffed chair in the greatroom, shrouded by darkness. She held a mug of tea—now cold—between her hooves, and stared at the clock on the mantle, willing it to run faster. The rain had stopped, which meant that sunrise was on its way. Sundown tried to make sure that every day was sunny, even if he did cut the technicalities close.
She heard a low rattling from outside, and moments later the noise of the front gate. There were hoofsteps on the stoop, and then the door swung open. She tensed, staring from the shadows at the unfamiliar silhouette. Whoever the pony was, it entered slowly, as if unsure of its steps. It strode towards her bedroom door after pausing to examine one of the muddy hoofprints on the floor. Finally, it opened the door, and stopped.
Skyshine could tell it was a stallion from this distance, but the darkness that concealed her also hid the stallion’s identity. She could see no glasses, and this pony did not have the wild mane that her Worker did, or his vest. If he enters the room, she promised herself, I will run outside and report an intruder.
Skyshine leaned forward, preparing to bolt, when the stallion finally spoke.
“I am a very large fool,” he said, and it took every ounce of Skyshine’s will to not scream with delight. It’s him! He’s come back, alive and well, and… still without explanation, she recalled.
Steeling her nerves, she replied from her seat, “I would have said ‘lummox’, but ‘fool’ is a good option.” She instantly regretted it—she missed him terribly, and did not want to put him on the defensive so soon, but...
“Yes, Worker. It’s me. You remember me, don’t you?”
“Skyshine, I—“ Worker turned towards her voice and took a hesitant step forward.
“Decided to stay for the week?” Her words were cruel, she knew; she mocked, she taunted, and yet she could not stop the torrent, or restrain the tone. “Decided not to write me, or ask the princesses to send a letter on your behalf? Decided that perhaps you were better off?”
“I was afraid—“ he began, tossing his mane.
“Afraid?” she hissed. “What do you know about afraid? I’ve been sleeping alone, in this empty house, for a week! I’ve been dealing with the whispers and the inquisitive stares of the entire town, for seven days! I can’t even help the mayor any more—I draw too much attention!—and you want to tell me you were afraid? Afraid of what, Worker?”
Something glittered in the darkness. She had only a moment’s warning before her chair, with her in it, slid across the floor and came to rest in front of Worker. His horn sparked with energy, and the chair glowed in the same mystical hue.
“Afraid of you, Skyshine!” he shouted in a fury. “Afraid of all my friends, who came to support me at the trial, and who I rewarded with the truth! I was afraid that they had abandoned me, that you had abandoned me, especially after you left the courtroom! Afraid that you didn’t… that…”
She could see his tears welling, illuminated by the glow of his horn, and the paths they cut across his mud-caked cheeks. She saw the weariness in his face, and the condition of his mane and coat, and the hope that flickered as it died, deep within his eyes.
“…that you didn’t love me anymore, Skyshine.” His voice gave out, and he dropped his gaze to the floor as he sobbed, each breath wracking his body. His horn’s glimmer faded, and so did whatever strength he possessed. “That you were better off without me.”
The stallion dropped to his knees and buried his face between her hooves, pressing his filthy head against the chair’s fabric. “Please don’t leave me, Skyshine,” he begged, barely audible through his ragged breathing. “I can’t do this alone. Not without you, my wife. The rest of the world can burn, but I need you.”
She winced at the ferocity of his words, briefly imagining Equestria in flames. Shaking the vision away, she gingerly reached out with a forehoof, placed it on his head, and stroked his stringy mane. The details could come later. He needed her now. “You are a lummox, Worker. You are a fool, and a dunderhead, and a great many other things.” Her husband looked up at her, confused, bewildered by the contrast between her words and her tone. She smiled, and felt the tears well in her eyes. “Especially if you think I could ever stop loving you.” Then, she bent down, and kissed him—first tenderly, and then more deeply—without a care for dirt, or tears, or reasons.
The two lovers rested, limbs intertwined as they lay on their bed, holding one another as close as they could. Worker’s mane and coat were still damp, despite the use of a towel and curry-comb, and Skyshine played with the heavy curls that dangled in front of her face. “We should try braiding,” she suggested.
“You can, dearest,” he replied with a kiss. “I rather like my unruly look.”
“You love it.”
Skyshine buried her muzzle in Worker’s neck, sighing, and then asked, “Worker? Why were you so late in returning?”
Worker thought for a moment, and then kissed her on the cheek, before rolling over onto his side so he could speak more comfortably. “Equestrian law is strange.”
“That’s not an answer.”
“I know. I’m getting to it.” He studied the wall behind Skyshine for a moment, and then answered, “On Mobius, before…” He sighed, and continued. “In my experience, if the victim of a crime is unwilling to press charges, then the crime is, for the most part, ignored. There are, of course, exceptions. Some laws were written to reflect a certain severity, in that the commission of the act was a crime itself, whether or not there was a victim at all. Here, it seems that all formal law is written in such a manner.”
“I don’t understand.” She rolled over onto her stomach, and rested her head on a bunched-up pillow. “Wouldn’t you want all laws to be treated the same way?”
“Ideally, yes. A universal code, if it works, is far simpler. That’s what the princesses had designed: an ideal system of law.”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Whether or not I felt victimized by my changes, the law made no exceptions. The penalty for using physical transformation magic on another without their consent is exile. The way that spell was written, it eliminates the possibility of consent. It can also be fatal, if cast too quickly. Thus, the law treated all applications as forced.”
“So, wait, was Luna exiled?”
“No. And it was because of her history that she was not.” He turned to look into Skyshine’s beautiful eyes. “Do you remember, back when we journeyed to gather my things from the cavern, how you told me about the moon? About the events that were marked by Luna’s changes?”
“Do you remember when you told me about Nightmare Night, and how Luna was rescued from the Nightmare? How the holiday, which used to be a warning about monsters, is now a celebration?”
“Yes, I do, but I don’t see how that matters.”
“Do you remember when you told me about the Elements of Harmony? How they were instrumental in defeating the Nightmare, and rescuing Luna? How they defeated something called ‘Discord’ soon after?”
“Worker,” she said, exasperated, “stop leading me on.”
Worker grinned, and flopped onto his back, raising his hooves in defense. “Fine, fine. I’ll cut to the chase, but you can’t go telling everyone. I don’t think the princesses have shared the full version; in fact, I’m pretty sure they haven’t.”
“Tell me, or I’m going to get up and take a shower.”
“Killjoy,” he chuckled. He closed his eyes, and continued. “Luna was Nightmare Moon. Same pony. She wasn’t rescued so much as freed. Changed.” He opened one eye, watching Skyshine’s expression. “One might say she was ‘transformed’.”
Skyshine blinked, trying to assess the information. “Wait. Wait. The Elements transformed the Nightmare—Nightmare Moon, you say—into Luna?”
“Yes. And I can safely say that whatever else was going through Nightmare Moon’s head at the time, she didn’t want to be transformed. She didn’t consent. And yet, the Elements of Harmony were neither exiled, nor even punished. In fact, I understand they have great stained glass windows displaying their courage in the palace itself.”
“So that speech you gave, where you listed those... horrible things?”
Worker sighed. He knew what she was asking, but he couldn’t give her that peace of mind. He rolled back over to his side, and reached out with a hoof to stroke her cheek. “My love, I told you, before I came to Equestria, I was different. I was… not a good pony. Everything I told the princesses that day was the truth. You cannot lie to either of them, Skyshine. Celestia can see through any falsehood, and I think Luna can feel them being woven. They are, very much, two sides of the same bit.”
“But that made it easier. I proposed that Luna had not cast a spell on an unwilling traveler. I proposed that, instead, she recognized a threat—a villain, as it were—and defeated him, revealing the true pony within.” He smiled despite himself. “Luna was no criminal. She was a hero, who alone could see and vanquish a looming danger!” He finished with a vaudevillian flourish.
“That’s not funny.”
“No,” he agreed, his voice gentle once more. “It’s not.”
“So you’re a looming danger?” Her tone shifted, rising with impatience. “Is that how you see yourself?”
“Not anymore, my love,” he soothed. “The idea was born in a burst of creativity, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that it’s true. I am a different pony. I am your pony, and I will never again be Julian, or Robotnik, or Eggman.”
“So many names. Were they all bad?”
“After a time,” he said simply, “yes.”
“What of Worker?” She watched him with an unreadable gaze, searching.
“Ah, he’s a special case.” He reached out and stroked her cheek, then folded his arms across his chest. “He has someone who loves him, after all, and who he loves just as much.”
Skyshine blushed, and then met his gaze once more. “So you gave everyone—all three of you—a way out. Why did it take so long to return?”
He frowned, his ears flickering. “There was a small celebration, and a formal welcoming to Equestria,” his voice lowered in embarrassment, “and a title, but...” Worker cleared his throat. “I told you the truth this morning. I was afraid. I needed time to think, so I elected to walk, but all I did on the entire journey was worry.”
“And you didn’t ask the princesses to send a letter ahead of you?” She did not sound pleased.
“No,” he admitted, ashamed at his lack of foresight. “I didn’t know what to do, and so I chose to do nothing. I didn’t want to face the possibility of receiving a letter in reply, telling me I was not wanted.”
Skyshine crawled across the bed and swung a leg over Worker’s chest, pinning his shoulders under her forehooves. She leaned in close and kissed him soundly, sighing deeply at the touch of his lips. “You are a lummox, my dear Worker.” She smiled down at him, a fire in her eyes.
“I know,” he replied glibly, smiling back. “But if I can be your lummox, Skyshine, I think it will work out just fine.” He reached up to her , and pulled her close, kissing her again and again as he channeled the lights out.
“Darling,” Skyshine prompted in the cool darkness.
“The town will be wondering.”
“Let them. We’ll answer their questions later,” he replied. A warm breath sounded in his ear, followed by a nibble. “Mrrr,” he rumbled, “make that tomorrow.”
In the darkness, the lovers—once again entangled in one another—giggled happily.
“Tia,” Luna complained, stamping a hoof against the kitchen’s tiles, “you’re taking forever. We were supposed to leave half an hour ago!”
“Look who’s suddenly worried about schedules,” Celestia taunted. “I just wanted to make sure everything was packed.” She levitated a large hamper towards the back door.
“Fine, fine. Lentils has everything squared away, like she always does. Can we go?”
“We can go. I’m sure the countryside is still there, awaiting our glorious picnic.” She opened the door, and the pair strolled out of their kitchens, and out of the palace.
“It really is a wonderful idea to take a day off, Tia,” said the younger pony, feigning self-importance. A fan appeared out of nowhere, snapped open, and floated before the suddenly demure alicorn. It waved lazily, more for appearance than function. “I’m glad I thought of it.”
“Mm.” Celestia paused, tapping her chin with a forehoof. “You thought of it, did you? I was unaware. I could have sworn the arrangements bore my signature. Have you been forging my name again?”
Luna stuck out her tongue in reply. Her fan, as if shocked at such a vulgar display, vanished in a puff of blue smoke.
For a few minutes, they walked together in silence, and stepped through a small sally-gate set into the city walls. On the other side was a simple platform carved into the mountainside.
Celestia set down the hamper. “Still,” she said, grinning impishly, “I agree. It is a wonderful idea. We should make this a regular event. Canterlot can manage itself one day a month, don’t you think?”
Luna peered over the platform’s edge, surveying the rolling, grassy plain below. She turned to her sister, nodded in agreement, and then pointed towards a copse of trees near a winding stream. “There.”
Celestia smiled. “That looks lovely. Shall we?” She stepped to the edge of the platform, levitated the hamper, and stretched her wings wide.
Luna, not waiting for decorum, leapt from the edge, screeching with glee as she dove towards the rocks below.
“Oh, no you don’t!” shouted Celestia, powering after her sibling.
The two sisters soared down the mountainside, exulting in the feel of the wind, banking to and fro over the green fields below. Luna laughed, hooting and hollering with unbridled joy as she looped and climbed. Celestia glided effortlessly beside her, allowing herself an earnest smile in the mid-morning sunlight.
It was the first time they had flown together in over a thousand years.
It was going to be a wonderful day.
Two of the three remaining Freedom Fighters stood about a massive machine which held a single glimmering Emerald in its depths. Their expressions were grim, yet their eyes shone with hope.
A pink-furred hedgehog clad in tattered overalls sat hunched over a series of controls. She pushed her hair from her face, and rubbed at her eyes. I’m getting too old for this, she thought. She looked to her left and nodded to her partner. “Give me a status on the Emerald?”
A hulking red echidna squinted through smoked glass and tried to make sense of the glowing crystal’s pulsations. “I think we’re ready, Amy.” He smiled at her reassuringly. “Let’s try again.”
“Sonic!” Amy shouted. “We’re firing it up. Get to the launch platform!”
“On my way,” a voice called in reply. “Go ahead and start the sequencing!”
“You know I can’t do that while you’re outside the—” A chime sounded, indicating pressure on the launch platform. “—platform. Of course. Starting the sequence now, Sonic!”
“Roger that. And Amy? Knuckles? Thank you.”
“You make it sound like a funeral, hedgehog,” Knuckles replied.
“C’mon!” he chided playfully. “This is me we’re talking about. I’ll come back just fine.”
“I hope so,” Amy called back. “Return to the same spot in two weeks, and we’ll reopen the portal. Don’t forget. The Emerald’s taken a few hits, and I don’t know if we’ll have another chance.”
“Two weeks,” he acknowledged with a nod. “I’ll be there.” He pressed a large red button next to the platform. At his command, the machine powered up with a whine that increased in pitch, and was soon out of the range of hearing. Every hair on the hedgehog’s body stood on end, and the air around him began to darken. There was a rending noise, like thunder being sucked into a bottle. A web of electricity was followed by an explosion somewhere deep in the machine, and it ground to a halt.
Amy raced to the top, while Knuckles peered into the Emerald’s chamber.
“It’s still in one piece, Amy!” he called out.
Amy searched the platform, finding nothing but the metal pressure plate and the red button. “I heard you, Knuckles,” she replied, peering over the railing to the echidna below. “I just hope he is.”