This is the fanfic I've written. I wrote it under the name Puzzle Piece on FimFiction but you know me as Ardentstorm.

The Mane Event.Edit

A MLP:FiM Fanfic Attempt.

Title: Innocent

Short Description: Warriors from another world find themselves surrounded by peaceful ponies. When that peace is threatened, they will do what they do best: fight to save it. But will it be saved? Or will it be lost in the fires of war?

Long Description: A mixed band of brave and fierce warriors fight a battle to defend their homes from invaders.  Suddenly, there is a blinding flash and some from their number are thrown across the boundary between worlds.  In an unfamiliar land filled with peace and harmony, they must not only find a way home, but also a way to fit in while they are there.  But the tranquility of this world is about to be torn apart.  Even with the help of the warriors, will Equestria weather the ravages of war? Or will this conflict claim another casualty: the innocence of these kind ponies?

Introduction Chapter:' So it makes 20% more sense.

I know what you’re going to say: A chapter that is supposed to explain the premise of a story hints at poor writing. If the story is any good, no explanation should be necessary, right? The reason I believe that it is beneficial in this case is that some of the concepts contained in this one come from another story that the reader almost certainly won’t be familiar with. The original characters I will be using are from another work of mine and have fully developed backgrounds in their own world.

Full knowledge of these backgrounds isn’t required for this story, and I’ve included a short explanation that will give the reader the important bits. Their personalities and reactions to the situations I’ll be putting them in are much more important to the story than any part of their own backgrounds. For all intents and purposes, they are just soldiers form a war-torn world coming to a peaceful world that is seeing real war for the first time.

This is my first attempt at an MLP fanfic. As such, I can’t hope to come close to the level of depth and sophistication, or the philosophical discourse and life lessons that some have achieved, such as I have seen from ROBcakeran53, who wrote My Little Dashie and Dreaming with Ponies; and shortskirtsandexplosions, who wrote Background Pony (among several others).  I do however intend to explore this world for myself and won’t fail for lack of trying.

The first few chapters are mostly exploring what happens when these two groups meet. I do apologize in advance because it makes for a slow exposition. Character introductions always seem to take forever, but I assure you, it eventually will get more interesting and definitely more serious.

Original Characters: A brief background.

Zacon Crimsontide: Prince of the Dragonites.  The Dragonites are a proud warrior race which was given their dragon-like appearance by the Dragons themselves in return for services to the Dragon Matriarch. Dragonites stand roughly eight feet tall.  They are similar to Dragons in that they are immortal, have claws, tails, and scales, and similar facial structures, but they do not have wings.   Zacon is known for his bloodlust in battle and voracious appetite.  He is personally favored by the Dragon Matriarch and was given a blessed suit of armor and axe for his distinctive service. Zacon and Cor fought each other during the brief war between their people but have forged a deep camaraderie since.  Cor is the only non-Dragonite who is known to be able to restrain Zacon’s aggression.

Cor Hightalon: Prince of the Elves. The Elves are an intensely nature reverent race who are also immortal.  Cor is a master Ranger and can use magic to augment his arrows with powerful effects.  He also boasts being the greatest archer to ever live. He trusts Zacon with his life on the battlefield but is often at odds with him on social conduct. Dragonites are hunters by nature and can be blunt about death.  Zacon epitomizes this trait and shows almost no empathy for other cultures.  Cor spends a good deal of time in Elven cities alternately explaining and apologizing for his friend’s behavior.  Cor’s wife is a druid, as is their daughter.

Jason Faircastle: A high ranking member of the Elven army.  He is one of a small group of elite soldiers known as the Black Guard, named so for the armor that they wear.  He is outwardly cheerful most times but has a few problems with mental strain and war-related trauma.  He is determined to be the best soldier and to do whatever is required of him in service to the Alliance, including, but not limited to, throwing himself in front of enemy attacks repeatedly to protect a friend.  He has been trained to at least a basic level in almost every form of magic known to his people.  He has also developed the ability to use his willpower as a mana pool.  Jason is known as one of the most deadly soldiers in the Alliance. He dislikes killing however and attempts to find peaceful solutions first.  He and Cor have been friends since childhood.

Galu Hightalon: King of the Elves.  He was originally trained as a Ranger but, since becoming king, he has turned to the path of the Paladin.  After doing so, he handed his enchanted bow down to his son Cor. Galu is the favored warrior of the Light and has been granted an Archangel form.  His stern expression hides the compassion and thoughtfulness that he usually expresses in his actions.  Slow to anger, his divine power is terrible to behold.  He is thought to be unkillable:  Once, in battle, he was mortally wounded, only to swoop down onto the field again in his angel form and continue fighting.

[Disclaimer: The following fan-fiction contains original characters that are not associated with MLP in any way beyond this fan-fiction.  Their respective backgrounds will be explained as far as is relevant.  Complete knowledge of their backgrounds is not required for the purposes of this fan-fiction. I claim no ownership of any part of MLP, its characters, locations, or the names thereof; they belong to Hasbro.  I do however claim ownership of abovementioned original characters.  All interactions are based off of my knowledge of the characters of MLP:FiM and their circumstances. It is assumed that these events take place at some point near the beginning of the third season of the show.]

Chapter One: On the Wrong Side of the Bed

The first thought he had was “Ouch”.

The dirt had done little to cushion his landing.  He kept his eyes closed for a moment to let himself recover from the impact.  The pain was dull and throbbing and most of it was concentrated around his right shoulder.  He wasn’t entirely sure what had done it, but he had been sent flying and, judging by the tickling sensation he felt on the back of his neck, was now lying in a field of grass.  He had been in a cave a moment ago.  Odd that he would have landed in dirt and not rock.

 Jason’s eyes flew open.  He could feel grass on the back of his neck.  His armor was gone!  He tried to scramble to his feet but slipped and fell back.  Looking around for the first time, he found he was indeed outside.  He also found that he had four feet.  Dumb shock kept his eyes locked on the hooves that had tripped him up.  He was a dun-coated horse!

His ears twitched at the sound of voices approaching.  The first was so soft that he could barely catch the words.  The other sounded rich and cultured.  Both were female.

“I thought I heard the noise over here.”

“Are you sure? I don’t see any…Good heavens!  There in the ditch!”

Jason stumbled upright as quickly as he could and faced the speakers.  They were both horses.  Ponies actually, he corrected himself.  One had a pale yellow coat with a bright pink mane and tail, and teal eyes.  The other had a snow white coat and luxurious royal purple mane and tail, and blue eyes.  Their somewhat unusual color wasn’t what made him stare however.  The first was a Pegasus and the second was a Unicorn.  It took him only a short moment to clear the shocked expression from his face.

They were just emerging from a thin forest on his left, less than thirty feet away.  He himself was standing steps from a road that curved away ahead of him on his right, stretching around the trees and out of sight.  Glancing behind him, he could see it continue into the distant hilly countryside.  He took a few shaky steps backward and nearly fell again.

The two ponies rushed to him.

“Oh, you poor dear,” the Unicorn said. “You don’t look at all well. Here, let us help you.” She came to his side in an effort to steady him.

The Pegasus peered closely at Jason, noting the cuts and scrapes up and down his right side and coming to rest on his shoulder.  “Oh my, that’s a very bad bruise you have.  Please, let us take you somewhere to get that taken care of.”

Jason tried to back away again and stammered that he was alright but they wouldn’t hear it.

“We simply cannot allow you to go hobbling off in such a condition when it is within our ability to assist you.” The Unicorn began attempting to guide Jason out of the ditch.

“The last thing I want to do is force you to come with us,” the Pegasus said with genuine concern. “But you really should have somepony look at that bruise.”

“No. I’m not really that hurt.” Jason turned to leave.  It was at that moment that the dull pain turned to a sharp stinging. It forced him to come up short with a stifled gasp and a grimace.

“Now see here, you cannot leave in that kind of shape.  Come with us back to town and we’ll take care of your injuries.”

 Looking out ahead of him, Jason saw only wide open hills and woodland.  No signs of habitation.  His shoulder twinged and the cuts smarted in the open air. Town was sounding pretty good all of a sudden.  With a sigh, he turned back to them.

“Very well, since you’re so insistent, I’ll come with you.”

In a very businesslike manner, the Unicorn began steering Jason up the road while the Pegasus followed meekly.

“I am Rarity, by the way.  And this is Fluttershy,” the Unicorn said briskly. A quiet ‘hello’ from the Pegasus accompanied the introductions.  “And what, may I ask, is your name?”

With a glance at the other, he addressed the Unicorn.  “My name is Jason Faircastle.”

“Hmm. I don’t think I know that name. Are you from around Ponyville?”

Jason hesitated a moment.  “No…I’m not from around here at all.  What country is this?”

Rarity glanced at him sharply. “You didn’t hit your head, did you?  Don’t worry.  We’ll take you straight to the hospital.”

“No!  I just don’t know how I got here.  I mean…” He realized that what he was saying was making him look crazy and what he felt like saying would make him look crazier.  He took a deep breath and tried again. “Look, I need to talk to someone who has a good grasp of magic.” Jason figured Unicorns and Pegasi wouldn’t react with alarm on the subject of magic, so he decided to dive straight in.

“Whatever for?” The Unicorn raised an eyebrow.

“I just need some questions answered.  That’s all.”  He saw them exchange a concerned glance and added, “And I’m not that hurt, really.”

“Well, if you insist.” Rarity said, though she remained skeptical.

Fluttershy spoke up slightly.  “If you’re looking for somepony who’s good with magic, I’m sure our friend Twilight could help.”

“Of course she could!  We could take you to her.  If you’re sure you’re alright that is.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” he said, trying to keep hold of his patience.  Despite his altered and admittedly less durable form, he was not seriously hurt.  He wished they’d just drop it.  “And I’d very much like to meet your friend.”

With that, they started off again.  Jason took the opportunity to study the scenery.  The sky was a flawless blue with tufts of pure white cloud hanging lazily about.  It was just after midday and the sun was slowly descending from its zenith.  Its rays beamed down on his coat, making it comfortably warm.  The emerald green hills leading up to purple mountains seemed sculpted by a master hand.  It didn’t have the magic-woven beauty of his own homeland but there was a pristine, hand-nurtured quality to this place that reminded him of it none-the-less.  As he turned his gaze all about to take in his surroundings, his spotted something that he had missed before.

On the flanks of both of his escorts were small pictures.  Rarity had three diamonds while Fluttershy had three pink butterflies.  As discreetly as he could, he looked back at himself.  Sure enough, he found that his own flanks were similarly adorned:  Three curved lines of varying shades of gray that resembled a picture of sound waves.  He also found that his tail and mane were the same untidy black locks he’d had before.  He chuckled to himself at that.

He was just pondering what those marks could mean when Rarity announced, “Here we are! Welcome to Ponyville!”

Jason glanced about.  He didn’t note anything particularly magnificent but he did like what he saw.  Most of the buildings were simple two or three story cottages and had thatched roofs.  Flower boxes adorned nearly every window and small gardens of flowers and vegetables fronted many homes.  The roads were just well trodden earth and didn’t have a defined border.  Several trees could be seen throughout the town and the natural hills of the surrounding countryside persisted within the town as well.  All in all, it seemed to be in perfect harmony with the land.

The three continued through the streets toward the northwestern side of the town.  They passed a building that appeared to be made out of candy.  Laughter trilled through the open door as they came near.  Glancing inside, Jason saw an entirely pink pony and two young fillies, a Unicorn and a Pegasus, rolling across the floor together, playing gleefully.  Rarity and Fluttershy exchanged a look of amusement and continued on.

Many other ponies were in the streets.  Some were Unicorns and a Pegasus or two had taken to the ground to rest their wings, but most were normal ponies.  They went about daily business in a cheerful manner.  The air was filled with the sounds of pleasant conversation and the warm greetings of friends.  Rarity and Fluttershy were the subjects of several such greetings.  Rarity was profuse in her well-wishes, contrasting with Fluttershy’s hesitant and brief returns that were so soft that she could barely be heard.  When the passers-by caught sight of Jason, however, their pronouncements cut off and were replaced by mutters and uncertain glances.

He looked himself over self-consciously.  His left side was clean and clear of detritus but his right side was peppered with dirt and grass and looked like a patchwork of cuts and scrapes.  He wasn’t bleeding but the cuts were very raw.  The bruise wasn’t any better either.  It covered his shoulder down to the elbow and spread partway onto his ribs, causing the whole area to look like a dark stain under his coat.  It stung and throbbed but he continued to ignore it resolutely.  He must appear ridiculous in this state; walking beside a radiant Unicorn and an unassuming and graceful Pegasus while he looked like he had just climbed out of a thorn bush.  Rarity began to notice the unfavorable attention and it was obvious that she was uncomfortable with it.

At last she turned aside.

“I do wish you had let us take you some where to get you sorted out.  You’ll forgive me for saying so, but you’re quite a mess.  I hesitate even now to present you to Twilight in such a condition.  You wouldn’t reconsider…?” She paused hopefully, but Jason shook his head.

“I’d rather get there as soon as possible.  She will just have to excuse my appearance.”

Rarity clearly wanted to push the subject, but, after a moment of strained silence, she sighed in resignation and started off again.

Coming to the end of the street, they found themselves in an open part of town.  In the center was a rather large tree that had been converted into a dwelling.  Windows protruded from odd angles and an observation platform was perched atop the highest branches.

“Well, this is the library.  Twilight is charge of it,” Rarity said as they approached the door.  “She has been ever since she moved to Ponyville.  She is the most dedicated bookworm I’ve ever met.  If it’s in a book, she can probably recite it from memory.  She’s also the one of the most talented Unicorns in town and I would not say such things lightly.”  Rarity flourished her mane in a less than subtle attempt to draw attention to her own horn.

“Many thanks for your help,” Jason said with a short bow to each of them.  “I hope I haven’t been…any…um…trouble.” Jason had reached the door and was now at a loss for how he was to open it.  He stood perplexed for a moment, trying not to look down at his lack of thumbs, before simply knocking.

Muffled voices exchanged words behind the door.  After a short moment, the door opened to reveal a small, scaled creature.  It stood on its hind legs and held the door with the claw on its fore leg.  Its body scales were purple and the spines on its back and scales on its belly were green.  The creature blinked several times at the sight of the disorderly pony before him. Then, looking around him at his escorts, asked, “Can I help you?”

“Yes, I’m here to speak with Twilight.” Jason could tell from its voice that this creature was male.

“Uh, sure,” he said, glancing at Jason. “Rarity, Fluttershy, did you need something too?”

“Oh, no, Spike.  We were only helping Mr. Faircastle here to find his way.  Good luck to you, and I hope the rest of your day is more pleasant.”  Rarity started off back the way they had come. “Now Fluttershy, we were just about to set up our picnic.  Shall we?”

Fluttershy hesitated for a moment, looking as if she would say something, but she only left a quick smile in parting.  She cantered off after Rarity.  Spike watched them go before turning fully to Jason.

“So, what do you want with Twilight?”

“I’d rather share that with just her, actually.” Jason said.

“Oh?” Spike folded his arms. “And why is it so secret?”

“Spike,” a voice scolded with a hint of amusement.  “Stop interrogating them and let them in.”

Spike grumbled something about “strange ponies” but stepped aside to allow Jason to enter.  The room was more or less round, being the hollowed interior of the tree.  It was roomy, almost twenty feet in diameter.  Nearly every wall had been carved into book shelves and almost all of them were full of meticulously arranged books.  Books were stacked in neat piles on the floor near the writing desks that stood at intervals around the walls as well.  Almost every available surface was occupied by books.  A curved staircase on the far side ascended to an upper level.  A door by the stairs stood open, leading to a back room.  In that door stood a purple Unicorn.

Her mane was a much deeper shade than her fairer coat and a pair of highlights ran down one side, to be mirrored in her tail; one pink, the other a plain purple.  Jason noted that she had purple eyes as well.  A six-pointed starburst mark could be seen on her flank. Jason’s first impression was of the night sky just after sunset.

 “You know you don’t need to knock…oh, where’s Rarity?  I thought I heard her?” The Unicorn who must have been Twilight said, casting about for her friend.

“Rarity and Fluttershy were here, but they left,” Spike answered as he picked up a stack of books and started sorting them back onto the shelves. “They said they were just helping this pony find you.”

“I see.”  She looked Jason up and down once.  “And what happened to you, you look like you fell off a cliff, Mr…?”

“Faircastle.  Jason Faircastle.  And I’m fine.”

Twilight shrugged. “If you say so.  My name is Twilight Sparkle.  What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering if I could ask a few questions.  They concern some advanced magic and you came with the highest recommendations.”

“Did I?  Well Jason, I’d be glad to try to help.  What are your questions?”

Jason noticed Spike stalling in the back of the room, obviously trying to listen in.

“Could we discuss this in private,” Jason shifted uncomfortably and nodded in Spike’s direction. “It’s on a somewhat sensitive subject.”

Twilight followed his gaze.

“Spike is my assistant and has my full confidence.  He can be trusted with anything you have to say,” she said solemnly. “Plus, if I need to look something up to answer your questions, he’ll be able to help.”

Jason caught the smug look on the creature’s face and did his best to ignore it.

“Very well.  It’s just that what I’m going to say may sound crazy.  But please, listen to me before thinking I’m insane.”

Twilight raised her eyebrows in apprehension.  “Alright, I’ll try.”

Jason took a breath to steady himself.  He was about to lay all his cards on the table.  It was a risky move at the best of times.  If this went poorly, he would be in serious trouble.  On the other hand, he needed help.  These two were his best option.

“I have been teleported here somehow and don’t know how to get back home,” he said slowly, trying to choose his words carefully.

“Well that doesn’t sound like much of a magical problem.  I’ve got a map over here.” Twilight started toward one of the desks. “You can use it to get your bearings.  Then, I’d be glad to help you plan for the journey back.”

Jason shook his head.  “No.  I need more than a map.  You see, I believe that I have been teleported here from a different world.”

Twilight stopped and stared at him.  “A different world?” she repeated, confused.  “Why would you think that?”

Jason glanced at Spike, who was now starring at him as well, his expression blank.  Jason sighed and braced for their reaction.

“I wasn’t a pony where I come from.”

He could almost hear Twilight’s eyes widen.  Then Spike exploded into laughter.

“That’s a good one!  You had me convinced there for a second that this was serious.  And I thought Rainbow Dash was the prankster in town.” Spike started rolling across the floor as he laughed.

When Jason decided to open his eyes again, Twilight hadn’t moved except for her mouth dropping open slightly.  Jason gave Spike a disapproving look.  Twilight shook her head before responding.

“What?  I didn’t hear that right.  Did you say that you’re not a pony?”

“Yes.  I was not originally a pony, though I seem to be one now.”

“I see how that would be an advanced magical problem.”  Twilight took an unsteady step backward.

Spike sat up from the floor suddenly.

“Wait a minute! You mean you believe him?  But the whole thing is ridiculous!”

“I did say that it would sound that way, didn’t I?” Jason responded wistfully.

Twilight shot Spike a look to silence him. “And I said that I would try to deal with it.  If you are being honest, I’ll do what I can, but I really have no idea about ‘other worlds’.”

“I see.” Jason felt his ears droop in disappointment.  If it had been any other time, he would have found that fascinating. “I don’t suppose you would know where I can find someone who does?”

“No, not really.  But I will check every text I have.  If it’s in one of these books, I’ll find it.” Twilight thought for a moment, then continued excitedly to herself. “This would make a great study. If I could unlock the secrets of reaching other worlds…I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of discoveries that would follow!”

She clapped her hooves together. “I’ll get started right away,” she said with uncontained enthusiasm and leapt toward the nearest shelf.

Jason blinked at the suddenness of the Unicorn’s energy.  “I thank you for your willingness to help me.  If there is anything that I can do to hurry the process…”

Spike walked over and interrupted him with a whisper. “It’s best if you just leave her to it.  When she gets this up about a project, others trying to help would only get in the way.  By the way, I’m still not totally convinced that you’re telling the truth.  If you weren’t a pony, what were…?”

“Spike!” Twilight called out. “I need you to grab every volume of Transcendent Movement and Meta-Physical Shifting.”

“Never mind,” he said, and scurried off to fetch the assigned tomes.

Jason looked around for another moment but couldn’t find a way to make himself useful.  He shrugged and turned to leave.  That was when he was re-confronted with another problem; the door.  He turned back and tried to keep his embarrassment out of his voice.

“Twilight?  I have one more question.”

She didn’t look up from the page she was on when she responded. “Uh huh, what is it?”

Jason scuffed a hoof on the floor. “How do you, um, open the door?”

“What do you mean?  It’s not locked.  Just open it.” Twilight put down one book and turned to another.

Jason glanced at the door then at his hooves.  “I don’t know how.”

“Excuse me?  You don’t know how to open a door?” She turned away from the shelves and looked at him at last.

“I haven’t been a pony for more than a day.  I don’t know how to use these things.”  He shook a hoof at her.

She was silent for a moment. “You could use your horn.”

Jason paused long enough to put two and two together.  Then he slowly looked up.  Sure enough, he could see the tip of a horn above his forehead.  He shook his head experimentally and could feel its weight.  He must have been too caught up in everything else going on around him to notice.  Suddenly being a different creature will do that, he thought wryly.

“So how does it work?”

“It’s telekinesis. You just envision the object you want to move moving and will it to happen.  Like this.” A faint purple glow surrounded her horn and the same aura encircled a nearby book.  The book drifted through the air and hovered beside her. “You concentrate on the object and what you want it to do and then focus the magic of your horn to make it happen.” She pointed her horn and the book followed its direction.

Jason watched intently and then tried it himself.  After only a few attempts caused various items to flop around, he had objects dancing in the air around him.  The tan glow of his horn brightened the room as he practiced on anything not nailed to the floor.  He paid special attention to how different kinds of objects reacted to his influence.  In general, heavier things were harder to move, but mostly it was as simple as Twilight had said.

When he was satisfied with his abilities, he put everything back in its proper place and turned to Twilight to find her gaping at him.

“You said that you didn’t know how to use magic,” she breathed. “That was…how did you do all of that?”

Jason shuffled his hooves. “I said I didn’t know how to use this horn.  I actually know a fair bit of magic.  Besides, I’m a quick learner.  Once I understood how it was done, I just needed to get a feel for it.”

“I suppose.” She paused for a moment. “Well, if that’s all the help you need with that, I’ll get back to tackling your first problem.  Check back in a day or so and we’ll see where we stand.  Sound good?”

“Yes.  And thank you again for your assistance.” He bowed to her as he prepared to leave.

He turned to the door and opened it easily with his newfound skill.  As he closed it behind him, he could hear the sound of Spike scuttling about, carrying out Twilight’s instructions.  Jason walked out into the street and looked around.  Other ponies could be seen up and down the street going about their business.  Jason watched them for a moment before realizing he had no idea where to go now.  He knew nothing of the surrounding area and no one who lived there.

Should have looked at that map, he thought to himself with a glance back at the library.  I’ll just have to walk around looking like I know what I’m doing.

He had just taken the first step on his chosen course when he was hit from the left by what felt like a soft cannon ball.  Its momentum carried them both to the ground in a heap.  Trying to get his breath back, Jason saw a small scooter on its side next to him, its wheels still spinning madly.  Something moved on top of him and he heard a small but plucky voice.

“Ow. That was some landing.”

Two more distant voices joined the first.  One was high and squeaked occasionally.  The other had an accent to it that seemed familiar to Jason but he couldn’t place it.


“Are ya alright, Scootaloo?”

Jason was able to get his head around far enough to see that a young Pegasus was sitting up next to him.  Her coat was orange and her mane and tail were magenta.  Her pale pink eyes blinked about while she rubbed her head with one hoof.  She noticed that she was lying on another pony and sprang to her hooves instantly.

“I’m so sorry!  Are you okay?”  She looked around as if worried that the spectacle would draw unwanted attention.

Jason eased himself up.  “I’m fine.  What were you doing anyway?”

“Just some tricks on my scooter.  I didn’t mean to lose control like that,” she said apologetically.

Scootaloo’s companions came up alongside her breathlessly.

One had a pale yellow coat and hot pink mane and tail.  Her eyes were orange and she wore a large pink bow on the back of her head.  The other’s coat was white and had a mane and tail of two shades of light pink.  Her eyes were a faint green and a small horn could be seen beneath her mane.

The Unicorn spoke first.  “You didn’t get hurt did you, Scootaloo…or hurt him?”

“No,” she responded.

The other circled around Jason.  After looking him up and down once, she looked back at Scootaloo.  “You could get a Cutie Mark fer demolition derby.”  Then she addressed Jason, “Did Scootaloo really do all that to ya?”

Jason swept his right side with telekinesis, removing the dirt and grass.  “No.  I found myself in a wrestling match with the ground earlier today.  I ended up on top but lost all the same,” he laughed dryly.

“Well, alright then,” she giggled.  “Say, I’ve never seen a Cutie Mark like that before.  It kind of looks like the lines they put on drawin’s to show that they’re movin’ around.  What does it mean?  How did ya get it?”

The Unicorn and Pegasus joined in with their own chorus. 

“Yes, tell us!”

“What special talent is it for?”

Jason began backing away slowly as they crowded in on him.  “My…um…Cutie Mark?”  He cast about franticly for an escape route.  So much for looking like he knew what he was doing.

“Apple Bloom!  Quit harassin’ everypony ya run into and get back to the farm ‘fore it’s time fer dinner.”

Jason sought the speaker and found that she was an orange-coated pony whose blonde mane and tail were tied back in thick braids.  A wide-brimmed hat was perched behind her ears and a cart loaded with barrels filled to their rims with apples was hitched up behind her.

The Unicorn whispered something to Scootaloo that made the other laugh.  Then the three of them ran off together.  Jason’s rescuer stepped out of the cart harness and approached.

“Sorry if ma sister an’ her friends gave ya any trouble.  They can get a little zealous when they’re doin’ their crusadin’.  I’m Applejack.  You new ‘round Ponyville?”

“It’s that obvious?” Jason grimaced.

“Not quite,” she smiled at his embarrassment.  “It’s only, ah know everypony in town and ah don’t reckon I’ve seen you before. Where’re ya from?”

Jason put a hoof through his mane.  “You know, I’m not sure how to explain where it is.  Far away, I think.”

“You think?” Applejack chuckled and then continued solemnly. “You didn’t run away did ya?”

“Not exactly.  I would go back if I could.” He sighed.  Then he added hastily, “Not that I don’t think this place is fine.”

“It’s all right, ah understand.  I’ve done my share of wanderin’.”  She glanced at the cuts and scuffs that marred his coat.  “And it looks like the roads have treated you to more roughin’ than they ever gave me.  Tell me, ya’ll got a place to stay?”

Jason’s gaze swept the surrounding streets in what he hoped wasn’t a look of complete dejection.  This conversation was forcing him to take in his situation in full.  His world was someplace else and he wasn’t guaranteed a way back.  He was an alien creature in a world that he knew next to nothing about.

“No, I don’t have much of anything here.”

“Now listen here,” she said softly, laying a hoof on Jason’s shoulder. “Yer not alone.  Whatever yer goin’ through, it’s a passin’ thing.  Ah promise it’ll turn right in the end.”  Her smile coaxed a smaller response from his lips.

“Now if yer needin’ a roof over yer head and a place to rest yer hooves, ya’ll are welcome to stay at Sweet Apple Acres.”

“I don’t think I could impose.” Jason wasn’t sure why he was backing away from the offer but he still felt uncomfortable with the situation.

“Nonsense!” she said, swatting the air with a hoof.  “Why, not only would it be my pleasure to extend the best of Ponyville’s hospitality to a visitor but you look like you could use a helping hoof.”

“I just don’t think I could accept charity.”  He wondered at his own deflections of this generosity.  He was taking his self-reliance too seriously, he knew.

Applejack rubbed her chin thoughtfully.  “Well, you look like a fit stallion.  There’s always work needin’ doin’ down on the farm. You could pitch in and call it rent.”

She let the offer hang between them for his consideration.  He had no more excuses and he did need some place to go.

Shoving his reluctance aside, Jason voiced his agreement.  Before he thought against it, however, he had stuck his right forelimb out in an effort to shake on it.  Too late he remembered his lack of hands.  But then Applejack surprised him by taking his hoof in her own without hesitation.  He felt it wrap around his and grip just behind the heel.  After a firm shake, she went to retrieve her cart.  Jason looked his hoof over curiously.  His thoughts were centered on the way she had been able to grasp his hoof almost like a hand would.

“So that’s how they make it work,” he said to himself.  He then followed Applejack as she pulled her cart down the street and into a market square.

They unloaded its contents beside a collection of barrels filled with other assorted goods.  Jason used his horn for the first few but quickly discovered the strain of such heavy lifting.  He transferred the rest manually.  Applejack said nothing about his change of method.  After the cart was empty, Applejack exchanged some form of currency with another mare and wheeled her cart away.

“It’s quite a party they’re plannin’,” she said when she caught Jason looking back.  “A filly got her Cutie Mark the other day.”

Applejack glanced at the sun.  It was settling low on the horizon.  The elongated shadows spilled across their path, reminding Jason of how long it had been since he had eaten.  The sound of his stomach growling wasn’t missed by his companion.

“Ah suppose we best get back home ‘fore dark.  I’d get an ear full if ah were late for dinner after reminding ma sister ‘bout bein’ on time.”

Applejack stopped short suddenly.  She looked at Jason blankly for a moment and then burst out laughing.  When she had calmed herself once more, she answered Jason perplexed expression.

“Ah just realized ah don’t even know yer name.”

Jason blinked once.

“Oh, right.  Sorry about that.  I’m Jason Faircastle.”

“Pleased ta meet ya Jason.  An’ don’t be sorry.  Ah was the one who forgot ta ask.”

She chuckled again and gestured for him to follow.

“I was wondering if I might ask a few questions of my own while we walk,” Jason began as they turned down the road leading out of town.

TheArdentstorm (talk) 08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

“Most ponies don’t realize it but we’ve got more than just apples in these Acres.  We grow corn and hay and we collect eggs and milk too,” Applejack continued as they walked up the lane to her family’s farm. “It’s just our apples are so delicious that ponies forget about the rest.”

“Your name is well earned then?” Jason said genially.

“Ah don’t mean to brag too much,” she chuckled, “but we have the best darned apples in all Equestria.  And it’s not just the apples; we also make lots of other goodies with ‘em.”

“Like pies?”

“Yeah,” she smiled at some inside joke, “that’s one of ‘em.”

Apples hung thick from the trees on either side of the road, glistening in the setting sun.  The wind played gently through the branches, filling the air with the peaceful rustle of leaves and the scent of the fruit.  The entire world seemed to be at rest.  Jason breathed it in and found himself thinking of what it would be like to live in this world.  The ebb and flow of the life around him was speaking to the soul of his heritage in ways that he hadn’t felt since…

“…in fact, my family’s been growin’ and sellin’ apples since we moved to these parts.  It was only after we settled in that Ponyville was founded.”

Jason realized that Applejack had been talking through his reverie.  He tried to regain his grip on the conversation.

“If you’re family’s been around here so long, you must know all of the local vendors. Could you explain the services I might find around town?”

Jason made sure to listen this time as his companion talked through bakeries and furniture merchants. He’d been trying to learn everything he could about this town as they traveled and Applejack seemed perfectly happy to oblige.  Her firsthand knowledge was obvious and Jason counted himself lucky to have run into her.

She mentioned a market square that sported a wide variety of wares from fruits and vegetables to books and cooking utensils.  There was a spa, a scattering of restaurants, a fashion boutique owned by a close friend, and several other trades selling various commodities.  She finished by describing the local postal service and train station.  Through it all, Jason did his best to match up what he was told with what he’d seen in town.

With poetic timing, they found themselves at the edge of the farmstead the same moment Applejack finished speaking.  Situated roughly in the center of the orchards, it was bordered by a white fence just as the path to it had been.  Besides the house itself, there was a row of hen houses, fields of grains, and a large barn.  Shadows were draped across it all as the sun disappeared behind the hills.

As they made their way to the house, a bell rang out.  On the porch stood an aged pony with a green coat.  Whatever color her mane had once been had long since faded to silver.

“Supper time! It ain’t gonna get any warmer!” she shouted out as she rang the triangle that hung at the edge of the steps.

Applejack and Jason trotted into the glow of the lamp light spilling through the front door.

“Hi’ya granny,” (Applejack) greeted.

The old mare was about to respond warmly when she spied Jason.  She mouthed a few words before finding the ones she wanted.

“I see we have a guest.  Well, don’t you two stand out here waitin’ ta freeze yer tails off. Come on inside.”

Applejack unhitched herself from the cart and entered the dwelling without hesitation, followed by her elder.  Jason stopped on the threshold.  The grandmother, as Applejack had called her, was busing dishes to a table from the kitchen, aided by the younger sister Jason had seen in town.  Applejack was adding a place for him in the table arrangements.  As he stepped inside, he heard hoofsteps behind him.

Turning, he found a stallion of exceptionally sturdy build gazing at him curiously.

“Hey there Big Mac,” Applejack greeted. “You don’t mind that we’ve got a guest do ya?”

“Nope,” he said, giving Jason a sideways glance on his way past him.

His coat was a deep red and his mane was copper.  He was almost a foot taller than Jason as well.  He didn’t remove the plowing collar he wore.  When they sat down to eat, Jason noted that most of the food was oats, hay, and the like, with an assortment of apple-based products.  He tried a little of everything and found that he liked the taste of most of it.  He chalked it up to being a pony.

Introductions were made all around.  Applejack’s sister was, of course, Apple Bloom, her grandmother was called Granny Smith and the stallion was her brother, Big Macintosh.  Jason introduced himself but didn’t volunteer any information about his background.  They didn’t ask either, for which he was grateful.  It meant he was spared the trouble of thinking up a lie.

As they ate, Applejack talked about her day and she and Big Mac discussed the challenges of various farm functions.  Her sister, meanwhile, began talking up a whirlwind at her grandmother about what she and her friends did all afternoon.  From what Jason could understand, they were actively trying to acquire their ‘Cutie Marks’ by performing as many activities as possible.  From the grandmother’s reactions, Jason gathered she didn’t entirely approve of this approach.

Inevitably, conversation was directed at Jason.  It started with the youngster.

“So could you tell me about yer Cutie Mark now since ya didn’t have time in town?” She leaned toward him excitedly. “Like what is it fer?”

“Well,” he began, thinking about what he’d learned from Applejack on the subject.  “I suppose it’s for my natural talent with speed.  You mentioned that it looked like animated movement earlier?  I’m known for my agility, so that makes sense.”

“Ya don’t say,” Applejack joined in. “Not too many Unicorns who’d take up the more physical side of things.  Most like to stick with their magic.”

“I prefer to spread my talent over a wide range.  I believe in being prepared for as many situations as possible.  Thus, I’ve learned something about, well, just about everything I can.”

“Ya don’t think you could help me find ma special talent, do ya?” The filly was now practically jumping on top of the table in her enthusiasm. “And ma friends’ too?”

Jason thought for a moment.

“No, I think that a special talent can, and more to the point, should only be found by one’s self.”

She looked more than a little let down by that and dropped the subject.  Dinner was finished and Jason offered to help with the dishes but they declined, saying he was their guest.  When the meal was taken care of, Applejack announced that it was time for bed and showed Jason to a room.  At the door, Jason took her aside.

“I hope you didn’t think it rude that I told next to nothing about myself.  It’s just that my situation…”

Applejack cut him off with the shake of a hoof.

“You don’t need to explain nothin’.  Whatever troubles you’ve got ain’t mine ta be pryin’ into.”

Jason nodded his thanks. “I hope it isn’t a bother, letting me stay here.”

“Don’t you fret none.  If you’d ever seen our family reunions, you’d know a few guests is no trouble at all.  Ya’ll can stay ‘til you’ve sorted things out. G‘night now.”

Jason backed into his room, bowing respectfully, and shut the door.

The room was fair sized.  The bed was plush and had a handmade-looking quilt.  A night stand and a small table with a lamp were the only other furnishings.  The single window looked out over the corn fields.  He walked over and gazed up at the moon.  According to Applejack, at this very moment, it was being moved through the heavens by one of the Alicorn Princesses of this land.  Princess Luna, she had called her.  The sun was raised by Princess Celestia.  They did this every day and night without fail.  Even the weather itself was controlled directly by trained Pegasi.

Jason couldn’t help but feel a sort of bond with creatures who showed that kind of commitment to nature.  He sat for nearly an hour, just watching the moon’s slow progress through the sky.  When he did wander off to sleep, his thoughts consisted of nothing but respect for these ponies.

Chapter Two: Three is a Crowd

The only thing Zacon found odd about the fact that he’d just hit the ground at around sixty miles an hour was that it hurt.  He would have bounded back to his feet right away, but he wasn’t feeling right.  First of all, he felt lighter than normal, as if he’d put down a large load.  Another thing that wasn’t right was the position he was lying in.  His limbs didn’t feel like they were pointed in the right directions.  He knew none of them were broken because they didn’t hurt enough to be broken.  Then there was the pain itself.  He’d hit the ground hard but it hadn’t been harder that he’d shrugged off before.  The side he’d landed on ached and he felt the shock of the impact throughout his entire body.

He decided that lying there wasn’t going to do him any good so he pushed himself upright and blinked his eyes open.  As he did so, he became aware that there was more wrong with his situation than he realized.  The cave was gone.  He was now outside near a thin forest.  His limbs weren’t responding correctly either.

He called out to Cor in confusion.  The response came shortly and from close by.

“I’m here…where ever here is.”

Zacon swiveled to find him.  All he saw was a…Unicorn? Yes, a green-coated Unicorn.  It had a darker green mane with bright highlights.  It was looking around as if dazed.  It put its forelimb to its face to try to steady itself, but stopped and stared as if surprised to see its own hoof.  Then it looked directly at Zacon with strangely familiar grey eyes.

When it opened its mouth, he heard Cor’s voice.

“Zacon?” The Unicorn stood up uncertainly. “Is that you?”

“Why wouldn’t it be?” his base voice rumbled, though he already had a bad feeling that he knew the answer.

He looked down at himself and grimaced.  His own equine coat was steel grey with streaks of white, not unlike the silver scales he’d had before… before whatever had happened.  Getting to his feet himself, Zacon took in his surroundings.  There were woods to the left, hills leading to distant mountains on the right, and a road nearby.

He took a step and wobbled slightly.  Cor was having a harder time of adjusting.  He had so far managed to fall on his face twice in his last three steps.  Zacon looked back at his tail mournfully and found something that distracted him momentarily.

“Cor, what do you think this is?”

“Huh?” he said from the dirt. “What’s what?”

“This mark,” Zacon said without looking. “It resembles a brand but it doesn’t look like it was burned on.”

Cor looked at the mark his friend indicated and then searched himself for a similar mark.  He found it in the same location but the mark was different.

“It could be painted on, I suppose.” Zacon continued absently.

“I don’t think that’s what we should be concerning ourselves with.” Cor slowly propped himself upright.  “Right now we should try to figure out where we are and what the way back is.  We can worry about the why’s and how’s later.”

“I don’t think we need to be in such a rush.” Zacon continued to look himself over unconcernedly.  “The others can handle it. They’ll have their chance at the glory while we’re away.”

“Still,” Cor took another stab at walking. “We should make getting back our first priority.”

Cor froze. He cast about desperately for a moment.

“Where’s my bow?!”

Zacon glanced over in minor concern.

“Wouldn’t it be difficult for you to use it now?”

“Oh, sure it would, but I still need to know where it is!  If it’s lost, or worse, damaged…that bow was a gift from my father; it was his bow when he was a Ranger!”

Zacon was about to respond but they both stopped at the sound of something approaching.  They had been so preoccupied that they hadn’t noticed the pony pulling a cart as she trotted up the road.  Now it was too late to hide.  They stood and waited as she came to a stop.

She had an orange coat and a braided, blond mane.  The cart was full of apples.  Zacon could see at a glance that her slight form belied the strength in her lean muscles.  He made note of it but otherwise considered her no threat.  Her words virtually confirmed his conclusion.

“What are ya’ll doin’ in the ditch?  Ya don’t need help, do ya?”

“Um, actually, we might.” Cor said, glancing uncertainly at his friend. “Do you know where the nearest town is?”

“Well, sure.  Ponyville is just a mile from here.” She gestured up the road.  “I’m on my way there now with these here apples.  I’ll take ya there.”

“Yes, thank you.” He glanced at Zacon and added under his breath, “Better than sitting around here.”

Zacon only shrugged and followed.  They had hardly gone a dozen steps when Cor cried out and leapt off the road again.  Zacon and the orange mare looked down at him curiously.

“My bow,” he stated simply. “I found it.”

He fumbled with it for a moment before he managed to balance it on his back.  He stepped out of the ditch and they continued on.

TheArdentstorm (talk) 08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

Applejack’s forehead scrunched up in puzzlement as they walked.  This was certainly an odd pair of ponies.  The Unicorn was having trouble with…just about everything.  He tripped up repeatedly, couldn’t manage to keep his bow balanced on his back and, when it fell, he clumsily used his hooves to pick it up instead of magic.  Neither one seemed knowledgeable about this part of the country, or Equestria for that matter.

Normally she would try not to judge others so closely, but some of the things they’d said had caused her do double takes, especially the Earth Pony.  These two were discussing some kind of fight that they’d been in, but the big stallion was so nonchalant about fighting that she was starting to feel uncomfortable near them.  He was well built, like her brother.  In fact, without him here to compare, she wasn’t sure who was more muscular.

They kept saying things about this other place where some fight was and how they could get back.  The discussion was impossible to follow.  She had almost had enough and was about to insist they explain what in the hay they were up to when she heard something that brought her around abruptly.

“Magic was flying pretty thick.  I’m just saying anything could have hit us while we weren’t looking,” the Unicorn was saying.

“That doesn’t explain how we were transported here and changed like this.” The Earth Pony returned. “The shaman couldn’t possibly have had that kind of power.”

“Well, we were surrounded by all of those crystals.  Maybe they had some strange property that was activated by the energy bolts.”

The Earth Pony considered that silently.

“I’ll bet we were hit with the same type of blast that got Jason,” The Unicorn continued.  “He disappeared right when it went off.  Maybe…”

 “Did you say ‘Jason’?” Applejack broke in.

Her companions exchanged a suspicious glance.

“Yes.  Why?”

“It’s just, ah met somepony a day or so ago with that name.  Jason Faircastle?  Ya wouldn’t happen to be talkin’ ‘bout him, would ya?”

She was almost certain she was right but she didn’t expect the response she got.

The Earth Pony was instantly towering over her. “Where is he? Where did you see him?  Take us to him NOW!”

The Unicorn stepped in between them, allowing Applejack to back off hastily.

“Wait, Zacon.  She said a day ago.  It couldn’t be him.  We’ve only been here for a couple of hours at most.”

“It couldn’t not be him, Cor!” Zacon snorted.

Cor opened his mouth to respond but nothing came out.  Instead, he turned to address the slightly trembling Applejack.

“I’m terribly sorry,” he said.  “We are in a somewhat pressing situation and have very little information to work with.  I apologize for our rudeness.  We hope you will still take us to this town and, if possible, to Jason?”

“S-sure.  ‘Tain’t a problem. Ah understand.” She took a moment to compose herself before leading them on. “Enough anyway,” she added under breath.

TheArdentstorm (talk) 08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

When they reached the edge of town, Applejack gave them directions to where Jason should be and excused herself to attend to some business.  Zacon would have insisted she stay with them until Jason was located but Cor accepted before he could start and thanked her for her help.

“So the library we’re looking for is built from a tree,” Cor mused as they walked.

Zacon muttered something that sounded like “Elves and their damn trees.”

“Is something wrong?” Cor glanced at him.

“Oh, walking on four legs isn’t anything, but my tail? It just feels so…” He shook his head disconsolately. When he saw the incredulity on Cor’s face, he continued. “Don’t you start! It isn’t just the tail; it’s the scales too.  Do you know how much that landing hurt? More than it should have! I hate being so…so…soft!”

Cor laughed out loud.  “This is coming from the noble warrior; the blood thirsty powerhouse; the one who always scoffed at what he saw as weakness in the rest of us ‘soft-skins’?”  When Zacon growled at him, he went on more soberly. “I’m just saying that it isn’t the worst thing that could happen.  I get along just fine without scales.  Tough it out.”

Zacon continued to grumble but Cor tuned it out.  He was more concerned with finding this library and Jason with it.  The town was simple but lively.  Ponies of all colors went about business with what Cor could only call excessive cheer.  Almost every pony he saw was smiling.  Those that weren’t, were laughing.  Talk filled the air and mingled with the sound of their hooves in the well-traveled dirt roads.  In fact, it was noisy enough that Cor had no trouble ignoring Zacon’s continued complaints.

He enjoyed hearing their bright voices engaging in merry conversation all around him.  It was a welcome change from the unending demands of the court or the deafening cacophony of battle.  He took in the surroundings without really seeing them.  Instead he paid attention to the sounds.  Short fragments of the lives around him were his to share for a moment and the mundane nature of it all was soothing.

Too much of his life had been war, he thought, allowing a small frown to show itself. He’d been fighting for most of his life. He struggled to remember what life had been like before the wars. To add to it all, being made Prince halfway through hadn’t helped. He missed so many things from before he was royalty.  Even childish things like running through the streets with his friends.  Now, when he was in the capital, he couldn’t go ten feet without some sort of interruption.  If he was honest with himself, he was glad the wars had allowed him to escape that at least.  But was the price worth it?

His reflections were interrupted by a heavy thud and an all-too-familiar shout of rage.

“In the name of the Matriarch, get off of me!”

Cor stood very still and tried hard not to sigh.  He should have known the moment wouldn’t last.

“Sorry, but I saw that you looked a little down in the daisies!” a slightly shrill voice proclaimed.  “So I thought I’d give you a little extra spring to your step.  I guess I gave you a little too much. Hehe.”

“If you touch me again, I’ll hit you so hard that your sick, little smile will turn upside down permanently.”

There was a slight edge of desperation in Zacon’s voice that told Cor just how much this condition was actually affecting him.  It also told him that the situation was about to spiral out of control.  As vicious of a fighter as he was, Zacon wasn’t blindly violent, but he was under unique stress and sounded fully prepared to carry out his threat.

Turning, he saw a pink mare who was literally bouncing with energy.  As he watched though, she was in the process of reacting to Zacon’s show of anger.  The height of her jumps decreased dramatically and her eager stance shifted to one of submission. Cor could still see the shadow of the offending smile on her face.

“I only meant that I wanted to make you smile.”  The hurt in her voice caused her words to decrease in volume as she went on until they were hardly audible.  Zacon continued to seethe.  The mare gulped and decided to risk another nervous smile.

Cor stepped calmly between them and faced the pony.

“I didn’t see what happened but I’d ask you not to repeat it in the future.  We’re in a hurry and haven’t time for interruptions.  I hope you’ll excuse us.”

He didn’t wait for a response.  He herded Zacon away with him and directed them back to their original course.

“What do you think you’re doing threatening random ponies?” Cor hissed.  “We don’t need to draw attention to ourselves.”

“She ran me over Cor! She practically tackled me!”

“And that’s sufficient reason to want to hurt her?”

Zacon’s silence was a moody one.  Cor glanced back at the mare.  She was bouncing circles around a pair of fillies as if nothing had happened and even appeared to be singing.

“I just hate being a squishy little meat bag,” Zacon said when he finally spoke.

It was obvious that his pride had been hurt more than anything else.  Cor nudged him none-too-gently in the side.  Zacon glared at him but Cor started speaking quickly.

“I get it, okay? This isn’t easy on either of us.  At least you’ve had practice walking on four limbs.  Look, I think I see this library we’re supposed to find.  We’ll just figure this out quick and put it behind us, and I won’t say a word about being,” Cor snorted once in laughter, “‘squishy’.”

Zacon was dubious.  Cor wiped the smile off his face and tried to look as sincere as he felt.  It seemed to do the job.  Zacon looked just about ready to drop the subject when a voice right behind them caused them both to jump.

“He might not mention it again, but I think I’ll try to get some mileage out of this one.”

They spun around to find Jason laughing at them.  Despite the fact that it was an equine face he saw, Cor could tell who it was.  This pony’s mane was a black, spiky mess.  The coat was tan and well groomed but the shadow of several shallow cuts remained.  A saddlebag was slung over his back.  His stance appeared at first to be relaxed enough that he was ready to collapse, but upon further observation, Cor could see that it was his friends practiced looseness that allowed him to spring into motion on a whim.

It was his mane and eyes that did it.  Neither one could have belonged to anyone else.  The disorder of Jason’s hair was practically a trademark.  And the eyes?  Well, the eyes were more subtle.  They were the eyes of one who had seen much; things that normal eyes could never look upon. But they also were the eyes of one who refused to be brought down.  The raw determination dwelling just beneath their surface was unmistakable.  At least it was for Cor.  He’d known Jason his whole life and he knew what those eyes had seen.  Maybe he could see it because he just knew what to look for. 

“I should have known you’d find us first.  But how did you know it was us?”

Jason glanced around conspiratorially.  “Zacon is the only one I know who shouts oaths to the Matriarch.”

Cor nodded in understanding and glanced at Zacon.  Zacon just looked away aloofly.

“So…what’s going on?”

It was a question that could be expected in this situation but not one that was easy to answer.

“As far as I can tell,” Jason began, “We’ve been teleported to another world and have taken on the forms of this world.  Since they’re mostly ponies here, that’s what we’ve become.  As to how it happened, I have no idea.”

“Actually, Zacon and I have been discussing that.”  The three started toward the library as they talked.  “We believe that the crystals in the cavern had some unique property which was activated by the energy bolts that were being fired at us.  They were ricocheting everywhere so it was hard to tell, but it’s the best we could come up with.  We saw you get hit with one of those blasts just before the two of us ended up here.  I can only assume we took one as well.”

“It makes sense,” Jason mused. “I didn’t think anything those shaman had could do this.  If those crystals are involved, it could complicate a return journey.  Still, knowing the likely cause will probably help.  I’ve been working with a Unicorn who lives in town to find a way back.  I was just going back to see if she’d made any progress since our last meeting.”

“Hold on a moment,” Cor said slowly. “A pony told us that she met you yesterday.  How is that possible?  We’ve only been here for a few hours.”

Jason contemplated this for a moment.  “I suppose time has passed differently for us because we were sent here separately.”

“You’re the expert.” Cor said, dismissing further speculation. “It doesn’t make too much difference to me how it happened.  What I want to hear about is the plan for getting back.”

Jason didn’t answer but stared at Cor, or more accurately, what was on Cor’s back.

“Is that your bow?”

Cor looked at it and then back to Jason. “Yes. What about it?”

Jason paused for a moment of astonishment. “How did it get here?” he asked at last.

“What do you mean? It was just sitting on the ground a few feet from where we showed up.”

“Wait for me at the library.  I’ll be there in a minute.” Jason said, backing away excitedly.

Without offering any further explanation, he sprinted off.

Cor raised an eyebrow at Zacon, who grunted neutrally.  The library was built from a tree just as their guide had said. Cor noted that it appeared to be the only building in town that was.  The windows visible at odd angles throughout the canopy hinted at multiple levels.  They came to the door and stopped.  Cor looked at Zacon.  Zacon glanced from the handle to Cor.  Cor cleared his throat uncomfortably.

“I’ll just…um,” he said, putting his forelimbs to the handle and attempting to force it open.  After fumbling with it for a few seconds, he got it to give.  The door swung in and he landed in a heap on the threshold.

A barely contained fit of laughter greeted him as he righted himself.  Zacon stepped in and swept the room with a stern gaze.  Cor made his own appraisal when he’d gotten his legs under him.  It was an adequate size but much larger than one might have thought from the outside.  Despite the unexpected size, he was not impressed. Cor did not spend more time than he had to in towns, and even less in any kind of library, but he expected most were better cared for than this.

Books carpeted the floor; opened to random pages and lying in heaps.  Precarious stacks covered the available desks.  The shelves themselves were almost bare.  Picking his way through the mess, he attempted to find the pony Jason had mentioned working with.  Instead, he found a small reptilian creature.

“Can I help you two?” It spoke with a decidedly male voice, as it came down a stairway that led to an upper level.

From the sound of its voice, Cor guessed that it was what had laughed when he’d ‘entered’.

“That would depend on who and what you are,” Zacon grunted.

“I’m Spike, Twilight Sparkle’s assistant.” He spoke with obvious pride. “And I’m a dragon.”

Zacon stared.  Spike fidgeted as if he’d expected a different response.  Zacon sat down heavily where he was.  He didn’t say a word but continued to fix Spike with an unblinking gaze.

“Okay,” Spike said uncertainly.  He turned to Cor.  “And what about you?”

Cor shrugged off Zacon’s moodiness once more.  “We’re waiting for a friend to meet us here.  I don’t think we’ll need any assistance until he arrives.”

“Well, I’ll have to ask you not to move anything around.” He gestured at the mess that took up most of the room.  “There’s some important research being done.  Twilight wouldn’t like it if it got disturbed.”

Cor figured Zacon wouldn’t get into anything in his current state so Cor worked his way over to a shelf that still had books in it, propping his bow against the wall.  As he scanned the titles, the dragon went back up the stairs.  Finally selecting one, he tipped it off the shelf and used his nose to open it. Its cover read A Brief History of Equestria, v. VII. He had no idea where the other volumes could be but he decided he didn’t care enough to look, so he just lay down and started reading the one he had.

It described several mundane events that he couldn’t make heads or tails of and a few matters of state that reminded him so forcefully of his own royal duties that he just flipped the page.  There was only a handful of notable information he was able to gather: the name of this country’s leader was a ‘Princess Celestia’; its capital was Canterlot; and that the ponies of this world were directly in control of the weather in most of Equestria.

That last piece interested him most.  He was flipping to a portion that addressed it specifically when he was interrupted by a voice from behind him.

“What are you using your hooves like that for?”

Cor looked up at Spike.  He was standing at the base of the stairs just behind him, watching Cor read. Cor glanced at his hoof, which was resting on the page he had been about to turn.

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“What I mean is why don’t you just magic the pages instead of pushing them around like that?” He flapped a claw to illustrate “magic”.

Cor remained motionless.  He had no idea what magic this world had.  Was he doing something wrong? He was just running a few possible excuses through his mind when the door opened.  A purple Unicorn walked in with a basket floating beside her.  Cor blinked several times.  Then he noticed the faint purple aura that surrounded the basket and the corresponding glow of her horn.

The Unicorn started speaking the moment she was in the library.  “Spike, I need you to lay out these new ingredients.  I think they’ll work better than our previous attempts.”

“Good.” Spike leapt down the stairs. “The noise the last one made really hurt my head.”

“I’ve thought it over while I was getting these and I believe it was feedback from the magic used to keep the ingredients in place during the spell.” She set the basket down on a center table that Cor had thought was just a very wide pile of books.  “Now, where did I leave that decanter?”

When she turned to look for it, she spotted Zacon and Cor.  She gave Spike a questioning glance.

“Oh,” said Spike. “And we have some visitors.”

Cor got up and stood beside Zacon, who was watching the entire scene with a detachment that told Cor he wanted no part in any of this.

“I am Cor Hightalon and this is Zacon Crimsontide. We were just waiting to meet our friend.  He said he wouldn’t be too long.  We will try to stay out of your way until he arrives.”  Cor bowed respectfully and nudged Zacon.

Zacon snorted once and dragged his hooves across the room and seated himself by the door.  The Unicorn shook her head to recover from the unexpectedness of the encounter.  She thanked Cor for his thoughtfulness toward her project and turned her attention back to it.

Cor went back to book he’d been reading but hesitated.  If he’d been doing something wrong and the Unicorn noticed, things could get awkward.  He decided his best bet was to put the book back and just wait for Jason.  As he nosed the book toward the bookshelf, he hit his head hard on the lower tier of shelves.

He fell back, eyes watering in pain.  Something was strange about it though.  It felt like he’d nearly ripped his scalp off instead of just bashing himself over the head.  He also couldn’t understand how he’d hit the shelf in the first place.  He was almost a foot away.

“Are you alright?” The Unicorn asked, coming to his side.

“Oh, no, I’m fine.”  He blinked enough to see the concern on her face.  “Just hit my head there.”

He curled up and put his hooves over his head.  Then he had a few questions answered.  First, he had a horn, which is what he’d actually hit.  Second, if he was a Unicorn, he could probably use the same kind of magic that this Unicorn had.  That must have been what Spike was referring to.  He decided he could think about all that later. Right now he was going to concentrate on whether or not he was bleeding.

“You really should be more careful.  Libraries aren’t exactly dangerous, but smacking your head into walls isn’t safe anywhere.” She laughed as she went back to her experiments.

Cor grinned through watering eyes.  Looking down at the book again, he wondered how he was supposed to use magic in this world.  He didn’t have a chance to try anything though, because the door opened again and Jason entered at a run.

“Cor? There you are. I found it. It was just a few yards from where I landed, just like you said your bow was!”

He wove through the book piles and held up a glowing sword.  At least it looked like it was glowing.  A tan aura surrounded it but Cor knew that it had nothing to do with the sword itself.  The sword was black as pitch except where the light caught it and gave it an indigo sheen.  It was crafted in the style of a Wakizashi and had an unusually keen edge. Cor knew it instantly as the blade Black Guard soldiers were equipped with.

“What’s going on?” The Unicorn inquired, craning her neck to see what Jason was holding.

“Oh! Nothing!” Cor said hastily. Then he hissed at Jason, “Hide it quick.”

“Relax Cor,” Jason said, brushing back Cor’s attempt to shield the sword from view. “This is Twilight Sparkle.  She is helping me find a solution to our problem.”

“These two are friends of yours then?” She asked, looking from Cor to Zacon.

“So, she…knows?” Cor questioned.

“Yes and yes.” Jason said, swinging his head back and forth to answer them both at once. “I’ve explained everything I…well, almost everything I know about the situation.  Which reminds me; the two of you had something to add.” He nodded at Cor.

“Oh really?” Twilight stepped forward eagerly. “Because I’m kind of running out of workable theories.”

Cor cleared his throat and began. “We noted that the caves we were in before being sent here were abundant in some type of crystal.  We don’t know what kind they are; I’ve never seen them before myself.  The magic energies in the area were ricocheting everywhere and we believe that a blast caused by them colliding with the crystals was the reason we were sent here.”

Twilight thought about this new information for a moment. “If it was a reaction of a spell and some crystal, then I’ve been going about my experiments all wrong. I’ll have to recheck my sources for types of crystals that could conduct magical energies.” She looked back at the books littering the entire room behind her and blinked at them as if noticing them for the first time.  She grinned at her guests in embarrassment.

“Sorry about the mess.”

She called Spike over and together they began the process of sifting through the piles for what they needed.

Cor turned to Jason. “So you still have your sword.”

“Yes, but only one. And my armor is gone too. You have your bow but…?” Jason leaned around him to see it.

“But no quiver.” Cor finished.

“Well, even with arrows, what good would it be in a place like this?”

“That reminds me,” Cor looked at his bow and then down at the book. “How do you use that magic?  Unicorns have magic right?  Or do we not because we’re from another world?”

“We’ve got magic like they do,” Jason nodded.  “We also have our own magic still.  At least I’ve got mine.  The Unicorn magic can be specialized to do just about anything but you’re talking about the telekinesis.  And that’s all it is; normal telekinesis. The only difference is that you concentrate it through your horn.”

Cor nodded in understanding. “But I’ve never been good with telekinesis.”

“Well then, I think you’re in for some crash course lessons because it’s the most common thing Unicorns do.”

“As long as that’s all I have to deal with, I’ll be able to get this thing off my back in no time.”

Zacon stomped over.  “The way you’re carrying on about your weapons, someone would think they’re going to get us home.  It already bothers me to no end that we’re ponies.  But how can it be that your weapons are here but I don’t even have my scales?”

“When we changed form, we lost our physical characteristics.” Jason explained.  “I suspect that our heightened senses are still intact but any trait that depends on…”

“Sure, whatever.” Zacon dismissed him with a wave of his hoof. “I just think it’s unfair.”

“Who said anything about fair?” Cor raised an eye brow at him.

“You know,” Jason chuckled. “If you’re feeling left out of the ‘still got my weapon’ club, you could always try to summon the Axe.”

“I’m not feeling left…” Zacon began indignantly, but stopped to consider the prospect. “Actually, I’m going to try it.”  He turned and started for the door.

Cor and Jason looked at each other.

“We should probably keep an eye on this,” Cor said.

“That’s your department.” Jason picked up a few books with his magic. “I’m going to see if there’s anything I can do here.”

Cor took a deep breath before heading out after Zacon.  The streets were mercifully light on traffic at the moment.  Zacon was standing at the edge of the roadway, preparing to call down the Axe.  Cor watched curiously.  He didn’t have to do anything except make a request for the item.  That was all it had ever taken before.  Would it be the same now?  Would the Matriarch be able to send it to this world?

Cor glanced at the few ponies on the street.  It appeared that they could sense something was about to happen because they were all watching and waiting as well.  Cor almost hoped nothing would happen, except that would mean they would look crazy instead of dangerous.

Zacon raised his head to the sky and called out in a strong, clear voice, “High Queen of the Dragons, grant me your blessing that I might bring glory to your name!”

Silence answered.  Cor looked all around and saw nothing.  Zacon simply stood expectantly where he was.  Cor noticed the other ponies begin gathering to whisper.  He couldn’t hear what was said but it was all suspicious.  Suddenly, a glow appeared in front of Zacon.  He grinned triumphantly back at Cor.  The Axe materialized before him, floating a few inches off the ground, apparently waiting for him to take it up. 

The Axe was a wide double blade at the end of a four foot staff.  A single large emerald set in a heavy golden head adorned the end of the pole.  The pole itself was a deep red wood and was polished to a shine.  The body of the axe was a glowing gold with brilliant silver blades and a platinum spearhead. The head was shaped as a rising dragon.

But that wasn’t all.

The same glow as before appeared around him.  A second later, the Armor of the Dragon Matriarch formed as well.  Only, it was fitted for a pony instead of a Dragonite.  The gold plates streaked with silver bands covered him from the shoulder to his flanks and hung midway down his legs.  A loose fitting plate hung across his chest, allowing freedom of movement.  The helm cupped his ears from behind and let his mane flow from a gap down the back.  The mouth was unobstructed but the top of the muzzle was adorned with a plate that extended to the nose.

The plates that ran over the shoulders were tipped with silver blades meant for charging a target. The hooves were booted, with the lighter pair in the front and a heavier pair in the rear.  Cor boggled at it.  Zacon regarded it with mild curiosity before smiling broadly with confidence once more.  The armor locked firmly in place and settled.  The Axe remained suspended in the air.

Zacon’s grin wavered slightly for a moment. “Cor?” he said, half turning to his friend. “How am I going to carry this?”

That was when Cor realized Zacon wasn’t a Unicorn.

“Um, maybe you should ask Jason about that.”

Zacon stared at the Axe for another moment.  Then he just took it in his mouth and walked back inside. Cor paused to observe the street-goers’ reactions before he followed.  They were muttering still but the tone now seemed to be that of awe. Cor did not look forward to explaining this one.

Back inside, Zacon was holding the Axe before him proudly while Jason expressed his surprise and congratulations on his success.  Zacon spun the shaft in his mouth around expertly and planted it solidly on the floor.  It remained there, motionless as it waited for its master’s touch.

“I guess it wasn’t that (hard) to figure out after all,” Cor said.

“No,” Zacon responded. “Once I had a hold of it, it became clear how to wield it, as if I’d done so my entire life.  It seems the Matriarch truly blesses me in my service, for even in this form, her grace allows me to serve her.  It even feels nearly weightless on my teeth when I hold it.”

“Have you tried your hooves?” Jason suggested.

Zacon looked at his hooves for a moment before rearing up on his hind legs.  After gaining his balance, he reached out and let his forelegs rest on the shaft of the Axe.  He waited another second before gripping it with both hooves and lifting it.  He was able to grip it behind the heels of his hooves and it seemed that the boots of his armor were designed to accommodate this arrangement.

He swung the Axe once and it whistled through the air. He took a step and wobbled. Setting the pole across his back and holding it steady with one foreleg, he dropped back to the ground.

“You’re a natural,” Cor said, with a hint of sarcasm. “Now will you stop your bellyaching about being in this world?”

“Very well.  I’ll deal with it for the time being,” Zacon said. “Just find a way back.”

“Well Jason?” Cor turned to his friend. “How are we doing on that?”

Jason glanced at Twilight.  She was pushing a stack of books away and turning to another.  Spike set another stack down beside her.

“Not much closer than we were a few minutes ago.”

“There isn’t by chance anything we could do to help?” Cor asked.

“Not unless you suddenly became knowledgeable in the workings of sub-physical fluctuations and leyline parallelization.” Jason tilted his head sideways as he read the title of some of Twilight’s notes.

Cor made a face and sat down. “Your what hurts?”

“Exactly. In fact, I think I’m out of my league by a few levels here.” He backed away from the work space as Twilight bustled past him without glancing up from the three different tomes she was poring over.

“Why don’t I take the two of you someplace where I can fill you in on some things.”

“Sure,” Cor shrugged. “Things making sense sounds good for a change. Zacon?”

The warrior glanced over from his improvised practice session on holding objects. “Whatever.  Can we get something to eat while we’re at it?”

“Twilight?” Jason called. “We’re just going to leave you to it then. Alright?”

There was no response from the Unicorn but Spike gave a thumbs-up before diving back into the books behind him. Jason took it as good enough.

“Where are we going?” Cor asked as they shut the door and started down the street.

Jason pointed with a hoof. “To Sugar Cube Corner.”

Chapter Three: Welcome to the Neighborhood

Zacon’s face scrunched up at the sight of the ‘meal’ that had just been set in front of him by Mr. Cake, the co-owner of Sugarcube Corner.  Three plates, sporting a sandwich of daisies and a hay shake each, were laid out on the table.  A small, frosted cake sat on a serving dish in the center, complimentary.

The table they were at was out of the way and near the far corner of the eatery.  Their time waiting for their food had been passed discussing the town’s features.  Zacon had grumbled about how long it was taking for them to be served the entire time, but now that they had, he looked as if he wouldn’t mind if the food had never come.

“This is some sort of sick joke.” He looked from one to the other, but both Cor and Jason remained straight faced.

Jason turned to his food without a word.  He did not hesitate to eat and made no reaction to the unusual diet, so after watching for a moment, Cor joined in.  He chewed slowly at first and gave his plate a curious look. Shrugging, he continued.  Zacon just stared at them both in disbelief.

“How can you even swallow that grass pulp?  Is it because you tree climbers are already practically herbivores?  I’ll have you know that a real warrior requires more hardy sustenance than…this.”  He pushed the plate away.

“What do you propose they serve you?” Jason asked with exasperation. “This is the type of food they eat.”

Zacon looked around the café, giving everything a withering glare.  He came to rest on one pony in particular.

“I wouldn’t mind a bit of meat.” He said, lazily licking his lips.

Cor followed his gaze and practically spit out his food.  It was the pink pony that he’d run into before finding Jason.

“Zacon! You can’t even be serious!” He paused to lower his voice. “You’re not eating a pony.”

“Why not?” he returned casually. “We Dragonites hunt much bigger game back home.  Even your people take prey of larger size.”

“If you hadn’t noticed we aren’t back home and for all intents and purposes, you’re not even a Dragonite right now. You probably can’t eat meat anyway.”

Zacon stiffened. “What do you mean I can’t eat meat?”

Jason put his drink down. “He means that you’re a pony and ponies can’t eat meat. They’re vegetarian for the most part.  The ones in this world seem to be able to handle a more complex diet but none of it involves meat.” 

Zacon grumbled for a moment, glancing from his food to his friends to anywhere else that allowed him to avoid their eyes.  After a few muffled curses that caused Cor to look around in alarm to be sure they weren’t overheard, Zacon took a bite of the sandwich.  He chewed with a look of disgust on his face, but as he did, it turned to a look of disappointment.  He looked down at his plate almost sadly.

“Okay. So it isn’t that bad.” When he saw Cor and Jason exchange a quick smile, he added, “But when we get back to normal, I’m going hunting for some real food.”

“Hey there!”

The pink pony appeared beside Cor, nearly causing him to fall over in surprise. She was on the side of the table farthest from Zacon but it was unclear if this was on purpose or by chance.  Jason noticed that Zacon’s jaw tightened significantly.

“I hope you’re all having a good time and that you’re not busy like you were earlier.  It’s not fun to be in such a hurry that you can’t even stop to talk.  I’d rather spend time with friends than doing something that’s stressful and you both seemed like you were doing something super duper stressful.  So what were you busy with anyway?”

She was talking at a mile a minute and Cor could hardly keep up let alone form a response.  Zacon was in danger of straining a muscle with the intensity of his glare.  Jason cleared his throat.

“Actually, Pinkie, they were on their way to meet me.  These are my friends, Cor and Zacon.” He gestured to them in turn.

Cor made an effort to shake the hoof she held out but was practically yanked out of his seat by her enthusiasm.  Zacon didn’t even move and she made no attempt to approach him.

“Pleased to meet you! New friends are always a joy to see.  They’re like old friends that you’ve never had a chance to look forward to yet. Well, have a sunshine-a-rific day! See you later Jason…Again!”

She cart wheeled away.  Cor righted himself and stared after her.

“What was that?”

Jason smiled. “That was Pinkie Pie. She’s the town’s unofficial joy-maker. It’s her personal goal in life to make everyone she meets smile.  And she’s persistent about it. Everyone in town knows her and is used to it. I met her just this morning myself.  She made the introduction so fast that I didn’t see the surprise she had brought with.  I took a cannon-full of confetti to the face and we’ve been friends ever since.” He laughed.

“She shot you with a cannon?” Cor asked, his eyes widening. “And you’re okay with that?”

“Sure.  She knows how far is too far…most times.  She doesn’t do anything too dangerous.  I’ve asked around and everyone I talk to says the same thing; she loves fun, smiles, and making everyone’s day better.”

They both watched her bounce around a party of ponies at a different table.  Most were laughing along with her and the rest of the patrons were watching the merriment with amused smiles. Cor shrugged his acceptance and went back to his meal.  Jason’s telekinesis lit up his saddlebag and produced a small cluster of golden coins which he laid on the table.

 “Where’d you get that money?” Cor asked between mouthfulls.

“I’ve been lending myself to any task that could use another, um, hoof.  Some of the ponies I helped insisted on paying me, and I needed some money, so I didn’t argue. They’re called Bits by the way.”

“Maybe we should go along next time.  Having some money could be handy.”

Zacon snorted. “What could we possibly want to buy in this world?”

“How about the food we’re eating?” Jason fixed him with a sharp eye.

Zacon only grumbled.

“I know what I’d buy; a sling for my bow.  Balancing it on my back is a pain and I can’t levitate it very long.” It was surrounded by a faint green aura as he lifted it slightly.

Jason glanced at his sword critically. He had to admit, Cor had a point.  Carrying them around with magic was a strain and Jason physically couldn’t put the sword on his back.  They would need to do something about that.  And soon, he thought, noticing a few uneasy glances directed at them by the ponies at nearby tables.  Carrying weapons in the open was drawing to much attention.

“So this world we’re in; is there anything else important we need to know about it? Or have we covered everything?”

“Only that Equestria isn’t the only country in this world, but it is by far the most prominent,” Jason said, turning his attention back to the original topic. “Its influence reaches to the farthest corners of the lands.  The dealings with the surrounding lands and the creatures that dwell in them have been peaceful for the most part though, especially in the last several hundred years.”

“Hmm,” Cor murmured thoughtfully.

“Are we done here?” Zacon broke in. He was still eyeing Pinkie Pie warily.

“Not quite.” Jason held him off with a wave of his hoof. “We still have a few things to discuss.  Like what we’ll be doing while we work on a way back.”

“You mean like jobs?”

“Well, yes. And a place to stay too.”

“We could always just do what you’ve been doing; odd jobs and random work.” Cor suggested.

“Maybe, but I was thinking something a little more consistent.”

“You’d be the one to know what that would be.”

They were silent for a moment. Suddenly, Jason slapped his hoof down on the table.

“I might have it. I already have a place to stay. I might be able to get them to let you two stay there too.”

“Where’s that?” Cor asked.

“Sweet Apple Acres.  It’s a farm outside town.”

Zacon had already finished the food in front of him.  He stood up and glanced around.

“Can we get going?”

Jason got up as well.  “I suppose we could head out there now. Applejack and her family own it. She’s the one I’ve gotten most of my information from so if we’re going to answer any more of your questions about the town or this world, it’d be nice to have her around as a reference.”

They gathered their equipment and started for the door.  Cor stuffed the last of his sandwich in his mouth and looked at the cake still in the center of the table.  After a short pause, he levitated it with him.

TheArdentstorm (talk) 08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

The walk to Sweet Apple Acres was filled with question after question and Jason did all he could to answer them.  Cor was the only one asking but Zacon was at least paying some attention. Most of them were random interesting quirks that Equestira offered.

“And they can just push clouds around? With their hooves?” Cor’s brow ruffled as he pictured it.

“Yes. And they are the only ponies who can stand on clouds without assistance. Some Unicorns can cast spells that will allow them to, but that’s only temporary.”

“How does one learn these spells? Is it different from our magic?”

“Not as far as I can tell.  It’s a magic energy that you will into a form.  I do know, however, that they use a different mana pool that ours.”

“Oh, very interesting.”

“Yes,” Zacon rumbled. “It’s so very interesting. Look, I don’t plan to build a summer home here so I don’t really care about any of this that doesn’t get us back.  Please tell me if there is anything in you newfound knowledge that pertains to that. Otherwise, I think I’ll just tune it out.”

Jason and Cor watched Zacon kick pebbles moodily for a moment before picking up where they were as if he hadn’t said anything.

“And not only that, but it seems that the only real limits are the caster’s ability to concentrate on the spell.”

“Well, I bet you flipped when you found that out.” Cor laughed.  “Does that mean that you can cast just about anything?”

“Not quite.  My mental training makes it easier but I have my limits just like anyone.  Besides, I’m not accustomed to using magic this way.”

Cor was about to bring up another question but they were interrupted by a voice to their right.

“Looks like ya’ll managed ta find each other. How ya doin’ Jason?”

Applejack was leaning against the fence separating the orchards from the lane, watching their approach.

“Hey Applejack. I take it you’ve met my friends?”

“That ah did. Helped ‘em find their way ta town this mornin’.” She glanced at Cor and Zacon but ended up staring. “What in tarnation?! Is that some sort of armor? And are those weapons!?”

Cor looked at his bow guiltily. Zacon shifted his axe but made no other move.  Jason looked at them for a moment and then down at his own sword. Yep, they were drawing way too much attention.

“It would take some explaining.” He tried to smile but it felt more like a grimace.

“I’ll bet it’d make a first rate story over a campfire too.” She continued to eye the weapons warily.

“We’re in a bit of an unusual situation, alright?  I don’t even know most of it yet.  If I tried to explain it, it might raise more questions; questions that I really can’t answer.  If you give me a chance, I’d try to…”

Applejack sighed deeply as she interrupted him.

“Ah don’t need ta hear an explanation, Jason. Ah felt from the start that ah could trust ya and I’m gonna keep trustin’ ya. Ah might want to know what yer all about and it might seem shifty from where ah stand, but if it’s some sort of secret, ah won’t push it.”

Jason was again grateful for her understanding, but this time he shook his head.

“I would actually like to try to explain. You’ve been so accepting that I feel you’ve earned the right to know. Perhaps we could talk it over after sorting out accommodations for my friends?”

“If they’re friends of yours, they’re welcome here. Ya’ll can head inside and find a room fer each. Any one of the vacant ones will do. I’ll see how yer settlin’ in after I finish with today’s apple buckin’.”

“Hold up,” Jason called her back before she could trot off into the trees. “I seem to recall insisting I pay my way. And if I’m not mistaken, harvest was one of the work items that were proposed.  My friends and I are ready to start if you have the time to show us the process.”

Applejack chuckled. “You did insist, didn’t you? Oh, alright. Follow me.”

She turned and started into the trees once more. Jason jumped the fence with a short running start. Cor hesitated for a moment before performing a similar stunt. Zacon jumped the fence easily with a look of boredom.  The three then ran to catch up to Applejack.

They grouped around a tree that sat deep within the vast expanse of the orchard.  All around, the fruit gleamed in the light, highlighting the branches’ green cover with pinpricks of red.  Birds sang out of sight, filling the air with a spattering of intermittent song. Baskets were laid out at the base of every tree in this part of the orchard.

The baskets were the only visible sign that civilization had touched this place. Even the farm’s buildings were obscured by the tree-covered hills. Jason glanced at Cor and saw his shoulders relax visibly. Even Zacon’s eyes softened slightly as they took in the surroundings.

“Well, this is the area that ya’ll can start on. Now, the way ya buck apples is ta give ‘em a good…solid…buck!” She punctuated her words by rearing up on her forelegs and coiling her hind legs for a mighty kick. She delivered it to the trunk and was greeted by a shower of apples that fell into the baskets.

“Ya don’t need ta worry too much about gettin’ ‘em done in a certain time,” she said as she picked up the few that had missed their targets and deposited them in the nearest basket. “We could finish on time even without yer help.  But with ya’ll cuttin’ harvest time down a bit, we can use that time fer a few extra projects that have been neglected some.”

“Could you show me that again?” Jason asked, studying the tree intently.

“Well, sure. T’ain’t nothin’ to it.” She approached another tree and kicked it squarely.

This time, Jason studied the effect closely. From the point of contact, a vibration was sent up the trunk. The branches made a sharp whipping motion as the vibration passed through them. The whipping motion was almost entirely in one direction and caused the apples to be shaken loose in the direction of the waiting baskets.

Jason nodded to himself and backed up to a tree. Taking aim, he struck with one precisely placed hoof. He watched as the vibrations passed through the tree and looked for any variations.  There were none and, just as he’d planned, every apple that fell landed in a basket. He turned to see the others make their first attempts.

Cor planted both hooves on the trunk but his blow was only strong enough to shake half of the apples down from the branches.  Zacon, who had removed his boots, scoffed at him and delivered a kick to his tree that caused splintered bark to fly in all directions.

“Careful now!” Applejack exclaimed. “We don’t want ta damage the trees!”

Zacon looked at her and then back at the crushed bark of his sylvan victim. He muttered an apology that could barely be called halfhearted. Cor kicked his tree a second time and was greeted by the remainder of the apples pelting him mercilessly.

“We’ve got this now, I think.” Jason said.

Applejack smiled and trotted off. Jason turned back to the others. Zacon set his axe in the air, where it once again hovered. As he found another tree, Cor deposited his bow gently in the grass beneath the axe. Jason set his sword alongside them and the three began their work.

TheArdentstorm (talk) 08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

The light of the setting sun turned the whole hillside into the crimson and gold canvas of a master painter. Birds sailed lazily overhead, winging their way to their evening roosts. The rustling of the leaves in the soft breeze mixed with sound of hooves striking bark.

As Applejack watched the three ponies working below, she shook her head in amazement. When she had told them to work this side of the orchard, she hadn’t expected to find them halfway through the entire north grove by the end of one day. She and Big Mac were on their way in for the day but these three were still forging ahead on the harvest. A line of full apple barrels had appeared along the trail leading back to the farmstead and it continued to grow as she watched.

They couldn’t have taken a single break all day with the amount of progress they’d made. In fact, the only word she’d had from them the whole time was Jason asking where they could find more barrels. When she saw them setting another barrel alongside the others, Applejack decided to go down to meet them.

When they saw her coming, they gathered together and waited for her. A sheen of sweat shown on their coats but they did not appear fatigued. Cor’s slightly labored breathing was the only sign of strain among the three of them.

“Well, I’ll be. Ya’ll’ve done a mighty fine job out here,” she said when she was near enough to speak. “I reckon you three could use a rest.”

“Yeah, I suppose we could,” Jason replied, smiling back at the others. Zacon and Cor nodded. “Where should we bring these barrels first, though?”

“We’ll take ‘em up ta the barn. After that, we’ve got supper just about ready.”

After ten trips with the cart, they were able to get the last of the barrels stored away properly. The sun was now below the horizon. Deep pools of shadow draped themselves across the yard as they trotted inside. The smells of baking filled their nostrils the moment they were through the door.

“At least it’s real food this time.” Cor heard Zacon mutter when a pie was carried into the room and set prominently on the table.

Applejack went into the kitchen to help Granny Smith bring the meal out, refusing Jason’s offer to help. Though they were in another room and speaking with hushed voices, Jason had no trouble hearing them.

“Well now, ain’t they the finest bunch o’ strappin’ young stallions,” Granny Smith remarked after peering out at the three around the corner. “I imagined when ya brought the one home ya’ll’d gotten lucky findin’ him. Now, though, you’ve got yer pick o’ fit stallions.”

“Well shoot, Granny. Don’t go ‘round actin’ like I’m shoppin’ fer a new hat.” Applejack said, making shushing sounds. “They’re guests, not merchandise. Besides, it ain’t like I’m looking for somepony ta settle down with just now.”

“Oh fiddlesticks! A young mare like you’s got ta find somepony.”

“Maybe, but I’ll do it on ma own time.”

“Ya might want ta make the time when the pickin’s this good.”

“Will ya just let me do that ma’self?” Applejack came back into the room with a steaming loaf of bread and set it on the table. “Come an’ get it,” she called.

With a glance at Cor, Jason took a seat. From the look he got back, Jason could tell Cor had heard the whole thing too. He tried to ignore the awkwardness of it all as the meal began. The rest of the Apple family gathered and Cor and Zacon were introduced. They didn’t give any details and, just as had been done for Jason, the subject wasn’t pursued.

Conversation was limited because everyone was tired from the day’s work. As a result, Apple Bloom made up for the lack of diversity with quantity. Cor made the mistake of showing interest in the exploits of the group she and her friends had founded. Thus, he was the target of the entire fusillade of stories recounting their attempts to earn their Cutie Marks. Jason simply watched Cor’s face through the whole thing, trying not to laugh when Cor realized what he’d gotten himself into. Zacon seemed to thoroughly enjoy the meal, but afterward refused to admit it.

A compliment to the cooks, another refusal of help with the dishes, and the three companions were making their way to their rooms. They had left their weapons and Zacon’s armor in the orchards to avoid alarming Applejack’s family. Zacon went to sleep upon finding his bed, so Cor and Jason met in Cor’s room to work out what they were about to do.

When they heard Applejack in the hall, Jason called her inside the room. She entered curiously.

“We hoped we’d be able to explain our situation, if you can spare a few moments?” Jason began.

“Oh, is that all? Sure, I’ll hear yer story.”

“To start with, where we come from we aren’t supposed to be ponies,” Cor began.

Applejack’s eyes narrowed. “Then what are ya supposed ta be?”

“We are called Elves. We…” Jason hesitated, wondering how much to tell. “…are closely attuned to nature.”

“Zacon isn’t an Elf though,” Cor added. “His race is called the Dragonites. Our two races are allies.”

“Ah thought as much. Him not bein’ close ta nature ah mean,” Applejack mused. “But I’ve never heard of Elves or Dragonites. Where’d ya come from?”

“Well, you must understand that we don’t know everything about what’s happened yet either.” Jason said. “The way we got here wasn’t of our choosing.  What we are sure of is that we have been sent here from another world.”

“Now, when you say another world…?” she said hesitantly.

“It was some kind of teleportation that brought us here.” Cor replied, shuffling his hooves awkwardly. “We’re still working on it.”

“We’re working with a Unicorn in town in fact.” Jason added. “A Miss Twilight Sparkle?”

“Twilight? Why, she’s one o’ my best friends!” Applejack’s face lit up. “Ta be honest, I was havin’ a time getting’ my head ‘round all this, but if she’s got her hoof in it, I suppose I’ll go along with it too.”

Cor let out a sigh of relief. Jason smiled in appreciation.

“You have our sincere thanks for that,” Cor said, grinning. “You have no idea how worried we were about how you’d respond.”

“You may have been worried,” Jason interjected. “But I had faith in her.”

They continued to smile all around until Jason cleared his throat.

“Did we miss anything?” he asked, turning to Cor.

“How ‘bout them weapons ya’ll had?” Applejack suggested. “Cor’s bow wasn’t so much when ah first saw it but when ya’ll showed up with the rest, ah couldn’t help but feel uneasy ‘bout it.”

“Yes, of course.” Jason sighed before explaining. “We are warriors. We were in the middle of a battle to protect our people when we ended up here.”

“Those are just the weapons that came with us,” Cor said. “The rest of our equipment must still be back in the cave where the battle was. The fighting may be going on even now but I’m sure they can manage without us for a while.”

“That means they may not know what’s become of us either,” Jason continued, nodding. “But it also means there isn’t much pressure to find a quick way home. In my case, staying here for a while is just fine. I’ve only seen a fraction of this world and already I find its beauty breathtaking.”

“I don’t know,” Cor rubbed a hoof under his chin. “I think keeping Zacon content, or at least restrained, is going to get harder the longer we’re here.”

“Hmm, I see your point. In any case, we’ve begun research with Twilight to find a way back and need a place to stay until answers can be found.” Jason bowed slightly to Applejack. “I feel I cannot say enough how much your hospitality and understanding are appreciated.”

“Likewise,” Cor said, with a similar bow.

“Well, shucks,” Applejack said, blushing slightly. “I’m just lendin’ a hoof where it’s needed is all.”

“I hope we’ve explained ourselves adequately,” Jason said. “I just felt it would be wrong to keep such a secret from you after all the help you’ve given. Now, we’ve taken enough of your time and we could all use some rest.”

“O’course,” she replied, nodding as she backed out of the room. “G‘night then.”

“Good night to you.”

When the door closed, Cor turned to Jason. “That seemed to go well. Do you think she really believed us?”

“I would have had trouble believing us,” Jason said. “She did, but in large part due to the fact that we mentioned Twilight I think.”

“You know,” Cor began wryly. “We really need to get a plan of action for meetings like this instead of just winging it. If we’d had the same luck as I did with the Dragonites…”

“Ah, yes.” Jason chuckled grimly. “And you remember my meeting with the Humans?”

Cor laughed. “That went okay by comparison; that is, after you woke up from getting hit by that car.”

“Even so, I don’t think we’ll get any of that sorted out tonight.” Jason said, heading for the door.

“Jason.” Cor said, stopping him. “I was thinking I’d go out into the forests, just in the morning for a while. You didn’t have any plans I need to be part of, did you?”

“No, just checking on Twilight’s progress and seeing if there’s some obscure way to help that I’ve missed thus far. Oh, and smuggling our weapons up here. To be honest though, I’d like to take an afternoon just to walk a wooded trail myself. It’d be nice to meditate somewhere so peaceful.”

“Well, maybe I can point you to a good spot when I get back. ‘Night.”

Jason nodded as he shut the door behind him.

Chapter Four:' Playing it Cool

Cor woke with the sunrise. Gazing out the window, he watched the colors of the world return to full vibrancy as the shadows retreated deeper into the farthest corners of the land. The smells of earth and farm and orchard mixed pungently and Cor breathed them in contentedly. As he came fully awake, he listened to the gentle creak of the house and the whisper of the wind past the open window. It was a truly magnificent morning.

Rolling out of bed, Cor forgot that he was still a pony. The resulting thud sounded as if it would wake the whole country in the stillness. Groaning at his lack of finesse, he made his way downstairs. He heard movement in the kitchen as he reached the ground floor. It registered somewhere in the back of his mind that his normal combat instinct would have switched his stance to stealth or defense. This did not happen and he only found a deeper sense of peace because of it. He found his fellow early-riser was Applejack, busy fixing a morning meal.

“Ya’ll are up early,” she greeted. “Ah expected ya ta stay in fer some extra shuteye after the work ya’ll did yesterday.”

“I just wanted to get a start on the day sooner than later.” Cor shrugged indifferently. “I plan on sampling the local scenery. Do you have any suggestions?”

“I rather like the trails of White Tail Wood,” she said as she leveled a tray of food onto her back. “It’s the prettiest sight ya ever did see in the fall, but it’s mighty nice this time of year too. It’s just west of here.”

She set the tray on the dining table and gestured Cor to join her. Nodding his thanks, Cor sat and they both nibbled at the jam on bread slices and apple crisps. Bird song flitted in the window, announcing the rest of the world joining them in celebrating the splendor of the new day.

“What about the woods to the south-east? I saw them from a hill in the orchards. They looked different somehow.”

Applejack swallowed and responded slowly. “Them trees sure are different. That’s the Everfree Forest. I don’t think ya’d want ta go fer a stroll in there.”

“Why?” Cor asked.

“It’s just, in that forest, things don’t work the way they do in the rest of Equestria. It just ain’t natural.”

She stopped talking as if she didn’t like to dwell on the subject. Cor pondered his choices. He’d planned on taking a relaxing walk and enjoying this wondrous morning but the mystery of the Everfree Forest was pulling at him. Glancing outside, he came to the conclusion that such a perfect morning couldn’t be wasted on the fanciful exploration of some unnatural forest. He’d get to that later. He just had to spend time in some honest, pure woodland.

After finishing his meal, he took care of his plate and made his way toward White Tail Wood. The walk there was pleasant enough by itself as he passed through the gentle hills. He didn’t bring anything with him so travel was unhindered and his step was light. As he crossed the boundary into the Wood, he noticed a distinct elevation in the amount of wildlife.

More birds and squirrels scurried and flew in the branches. Rabbits and mice danced through the underbrush. As Cor went, their number increased and they began to draw close to him curiously. They bounded along beside him and winged through the air overhead. Their chittering and chirping was a music of its own. Bright eyes followed his every movement, and when he smiled, he could swear they smiled back.

The canopy thickened as he continued on. The morning light filtered through in bright, shifting beams. The leaves murmuring and the swaying branches brought the trees to life. Cor stopped at one tree and placed a hoof against the bark. Druids had the ability to commune with nature at the deepest levels. He didn’t have extensive training, but being a Ranger, he was still able to connect to forest life at a basic level.

The tree he touched was so peaceful that it almost seemed asleep. As far as he could tell, nothing had ever caused it distress. Its connection to the surrounding trees was profound and he felt along the pathways to many of its neighbors. Breathing with them as one, Cor closed his eyes. What he would do to spend even just a week here…

The wind shifted slightly and a different music reached him over the forest sounds.

“La ah ah. La ah ah ah.”

The birds around Cor answered with a similar melody. The voice sounded again and this time, Cor could tell where it came from. He wound his way through the trees, following the singing. He came at last upon a second group of animals gathered around a Pegasus. Her mane was long and pink, and her coat was pale yellow. Her voice was soft and gentle, but clear as a bell as it carried among the trees. She floated above the ground and over the heads of her companions, singing out and listening to their answer. He watched from the cover of the tree trunks, taking in the song.

The song came to a high note as they all sang together and slowly faded off, coming to an end. The Pegasus landed and spoke to the animals around her.

“That was really good everyone. We’ve definitely improved on our timing since last time. I just noticed that the finch section was a tiny bit fast in the bridge. We’ll have to remember to work on that next week. See you all then.”

She waved as a good portion of the birds took to the air.  Most of the rabbits and squirrels left as well since the performance that had drawn them all together was over.

“Huh,” Cor said to himself. “A woodland choir practice. Who’d have guessed?”

He stepped out of his concealment and approached.

“Hi. I heard your singing and…”

The Pegasus let out a yelp and sprang into the trees. Peering through the leaves Cor could see her hanging from a branch. Her legs were wrapped tightly around the limb and she was watching him with a look of panic.

“I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to startle you.” He took a step back. “It’s just that I heard you and the animals. I wanted to say that it was a lovely performance.”

She hesitated for a moment before disentangling herself for the branch and settling back to the ground gently. She refused to make eye contact. Instead, she watched a point just to Cor’s right. In a voice so soft that Cor could barely hear her, she said, “You really think so?”

“Well yeah.” Cor said. “It was as if the normal sounds of the forest had been tuned to perfect harmony.”

“Thanks,” she said, blushing.

“So do you put on these concerts often?”

“No. Actually, we don’t perform very often but we practice regularly. I just don’t like to be in the spotlight. That was why I chose this as our place to practice. Nopony comes out here.” She shuffled a hoof and glanced at Cor for a brief second. “Almost nopony.”

“I swear I didn’t mean to intrude. It was such a perfect morning that I decided to take a walk. I’ve always loved the woods and I haven’t had a chance to take my time in one for a long time.”

She looked at him now. Then she looked at the animals that had followed him there. She seemed to relax a bit.

“I’ve always loved the forest too, especially the animals. From the first moment I saw them, I’ve been friends with all the creatures of the woods.”

“If you don’t have any plans,” Cor said, “sharing such a wonderful morning with a friend is better than just enjoying it by yourself. Would you care to join me?”

“Oh, um, I…well, okay.”

They started off together. For a time neither said anything. The path wound through the trees and rolled with the gentle hills. A small contingent of animals padded alongside them. The sun’s rays cast beams of green-tinted light across the path. The slightly damp smell of the early morning was fading under the fragrance of flowers that grew along the trail.

As the sounds of the forest came alive with the morning’s full awakening, Cor broke the silence between them as well.

“My name is Cor,” he said glancing over.

She looked at him and swiftly locked her eyes on her hooves.

“I-I’m Fluttershy.” She let out a breath as if she had just passed a difficult task and was glad to see it behind her.

Cor chuckled to himself. Shy. It was in her name.

A pair of birds landed in front of them and chirped urgently to Fluttershy.

“Oh my,” she gasped. “You poor things. Of course I’ll help.”

“Allow me,” Cor said, stepping off the path toward the fallen nest the birds had indicated. His telekinesis picked up the bundle of twigs and settled it back in the branches.

Fluttershy looked at him curiously. “Can you understand them?”

“Mostly. I don’t understand everything but it’s enough to get the general idea.”

With a flash of green energy from his horn, Cor took a wider stance and concentrated on the branches around the nest. The bark rippled slightly as the wood beneath moved and changed. In a creeping motion, the branches extended and twisted themselves into a form that prevented the nest from falling again. Fluttershy just gaped at him.

“Oh, and I can use my magic to manipulate nature.”

“Now I see why your Cutie Mark is a leaf.” She pointed a hoof at his flank.

Cor hadn’t even thought about that mark since Zacon had noticed it the first day, though he recalled Apple Bloom making a big deal about them. Did it have some significance he was unaware of? He made a mental note to ask Jason about it.

“So,” she continued. “Where did you learn how to do that?”

Cor shifted uncomfortably. “Well, I was trained by my mentors in that kind of magic along with a bunch of other things. I was trained in general forest lore and, because I had some talent with magic, I was taught this as well. Where I come from, we all have strong roots in nature.”

Cor blinked a few times. “Pardon the pun.”

Fluttershy smiled slightly. “I wish I’d been taught like that. Most of what I know I figured out on my own. I used to live in Cloudsdale. The first time I came down to the ground, I just fell in love with the animals. I couldn’t leave. You don’t think you could teach me something do you?”

Cor looked around briefly at the plants and animals. After assuring himself he actually knew them all, he nodded. “I’d be happy to teach you what I can.”

They went on again. Cor would point out a particular plant from time to time and explain the uses it had. He would give a few details about it and answer any questions Fluttershy had. She didn’t ask many but almost every one of them involved proper cultivation and care. Fluttershy also demonstrated her abundant knowledge of the forest and its characteristics. Cor listened and made observations of his own.

Their chatting gradually turned from facts and teaching, to simply enjoying their surroundings. A few other animals greeted them and went on their way. They talked sparingly, choosing to listen and look instead. When they did talk, it was to point out some aspect of the woods around them that one of them felt was particularly interesting.

By noon, they had walked all the way to the forest’s edge. They were left on a tall but gentle rise a few miles from town. They stopped to look down on it and watched the distant movements among the buildings: Ponies going about their day. None of the sounds traveled up to them. There was only the creaking of the branches above and the rustle of the grasses all around.

A sharp gust of wind whipped Cor’s mane. He looked to the sky and found a dark bank of clouds building right over the town. He caught sight of the sun just as it disappeared behind the gathering front.

“That came out of nowhere,” he observed with a frown.

“Oh, my goodness, I forgot all about the rainstorm today! I need to get ready.” Fluttershy jumped up and started flying east. She turned in the air.

“Bye, Cor. It was nice to meet you.” She waved a hoof and spun back to her original course.

Cor raised a hoof in parting and left it there until she was out of sight. He heaved a sigh and started toward town. He should meet with Jason at the library. He’d hate to miss the moment they actually found something new.

TheArdentstorm (talk) 08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

The pitter-patter of rain on the windows was starting to get heavier when the door opened and Cor stepped inside, dripping and windblown. Jason glanced up from the notes he was looking over. Cor shrugged off the majority of the water and walked around to the table in the center of the room.

He examined the various implements and materials scattered across its surface. Stands held a collection of gemstones and crystals, some of which were scorched or shattered. A set of mounted magnifying glasses were positioned over the one that looked to be most recent. Notes and open books lay over the entire collection. The sound of hooves running to and fro on the floor above could be heard.

Cor couldn’t make heads or tails of any of it so he sat down and turned to Jason.

“Can you explain any of this?”

Jason looked at the table and then at him. When he opened his mouth, Cor added, “So that it makes sense to me?”

Jason closed his mouth again and went back to his notes. Cor glanced around. Zacon wasn’t there. He was slightly concerned about that. He was about to ask Jason where he was when hoof steps announced Twilight on the stairs. The Unicorn catapulted herself into the room and hip-checked Cor out of the way. She rifled through several of the pages and threw a book aside.

When she turned to speak with Jason, she saw Cor and looked at him as if just noticing he was there.

“I’m sorry. I was just in such a rush to check this…” She smiled in apology.

“That’s fine,” Cor said, picking himself out of the stack of books he’d fallen into. “Do you have any answers here?”

“Well, if you count knowing some of the crystals that won’t work, then yes.” She looked down on the table’s scattered contents ruefully. “We’re trying to find ones that have the same refractive index and lattice structure as the ones you say were in the cave you came from. Jason was describing the angles that the magic bolts were bouncing around at to the best of his memory and then we…”

She stopped talking when she noticed Cor’s face. He was just staring at her blankly and had obviously been lost somewhere along the line.

“What is it?” she asked with some annoyance.

“I might have gotten half of that. What did you say about an index?”

“Their refractive index?” She tilted her head to one side incredulously.

“Yeah, um, that. What is that?”

“Argh,” she growled, losing what little patience she’d had. “It’s how much a wave of light or energy changes direction when it passes from one medium into another.”

“Oh, right,” Cor said sheepishly.

Twilight turned to Jason, who made sure he looked like he knew what he was doing.

“What we’d do then is focus a beam of light through it to simulate the magic and find the maximum energy it can take before fracturing. If it can’t take as much as the magic that the cave’s crystals did, we know that it can’t be used to send you back.” She hung her head slightly as she continued. “What we haven’t even started on is finding out if the crystals have the right magical properties to make the teleportation effect happen. And we can’t start on that until we have a starting point to experiment on. We haven’t found one that has the capabilities we’re looking for.”

“We get to the part where the light is angled correctly,” Jason added. “But when we try to focus larger amounts of energy through them, they crack, over-heat, or explode.”

“The good news is,” Twilight went on. “We can refract the beams at the right angle through a good deal of samples. Odds are that one of them will be what we’re looking for. We just have to stay at it until we find it.”

“Wait.” Jason interrupted her before she could start in on another of the books she had brought with her. “What was that thing you were checking when you came down here?”

“What? Oh, yes!” She flipped to another page in the book. “This might turn out to be more good news. I was comparing the scorch marks on these samples here to the recorded reactions in other experiments. I think we might be able to prevent the damage and increase the tolerance of the crystals to channeling energy. That would mean that some of the ones we thought were no good could turn out to be what we need.”

Jason levitated a box full of shards from across the room. He peered inside as he spoke. “That means we’ll need to retest these samples. I’ll sort out the ones that can be reused and get replacements for the ones that can’t while you set up for the next tests.”

He sat down off to one side and started picking out crystals and putting them in piles based on their condition. Twilight cleared the table and began setting up an apparatus that looked like it held the crystals in place. Once it was ready, she positioned the first crystal between the lenses. After triple checking the alignment, Twilight’s horn glowed softly and the apparatus hummed with energy.

Cor came closer to get a better look and noticed that the temperature dropped significantly. Twilight placed her horn between a pair of cushioned stands that held her aim steady as she pointed at the first lens and projected a thin beam of purple light into it. The lens focused the light into the crystal which redirected its path slightly. Twilight turned a knob with her hoof and the arm holding the crystal rotated in response.

The redirected beam moved closer to the center of the second lens and from there was projected onto a target at the edge of the table. Twilight continued to adjust the knob until the beam was exactly in the center of the target. The light from her horn faded and she stepped back for a moment before beginning the next step. Jason put his task aside and came over to observe.

“As I thought,” Twilight began. “The reduction of the temperature impacted the amount the beam was refracted. It is just enough that we may find some different matches this time around, but overall, I think it will make very little impact on the results.”

“Will cooling them be enough to allow them to handle the kind of power we need?” Jason asked.

“Only one way to find out,” she said, stepping up to the table again.

Taking aim again, she projected the beam through the crystal once more. This time, the beam gradually gained strength. As it did, the crystal began to glow from the energy it held. As Twilight fed more and more magic through it, it shone with a brilliant light. Cor was forced to shield his eyes as it lit up the entire interior of the tree house.

A high-pitched hum became audible after a moment. It built in proportion to the energy it channeled. Just as the pitch of the humming peaked, a burst of light enveloped everything and faded away. In its place was a crystal pulsing with an inner purple light and emitting a low throbbing sound. Twilight’s horn continued to glow with residual magic for a few seconds after she backed away from the table.

“It seems to be stable,” she said, sounding exhausted. She sat down to catch her breath. “It looks like it worked.”

Cor approached the table curiously. “So we found what we needed on the first try?”

“Not quite,” Twilight responded, getting up. “This is a possible candidate that we can test. We’ll want to find more first. Then, one of them is bound to work.”

“I wonder if anyone noticed anything,” Jason said peering out the window. A flash of lightning lit the sky and a boom of thunder shook the glass. “Or maybe, we couldn’t have timed it better?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much,” Twilight said, walking around the table looking at the crystal from all angles. “The whole town knows that I’m a bit of an experimenter.”

Levitating the crystal out of its mounting, she set it gently in a small box. The box was otherwise empty so Cor assumed it was for the matches they had found thus far.

“What do we do about the energy its holding?” he asked.

“It’ll just fade away with nothing keeping it there. It isn’t enchanted to store the energy after all.”

Of the next few tests, only one had aligned properly. Unfortunately, it crumbled into a fine powder after only a slight amount of energy was channeled through it. Twilight was beginning to tire out from her constant exertion and called it a day. Glancing out the window, she noticed the sun was peeking out from behind the clouds again. Twilight told them she’d collect and prepare the rest of the tests for tomorrow and see them again then.

Jason left Cor at the door, hurrying off to find a bite to eat before it was too late for lunch. Cor was more interested in the weather. He noticed that it was in the process of being cleared. He spotted a team of Pegasi and ran to catch up. As he was pulling up under them, one accidently kicked a cloud at the wrong angle and a short burst of rain fell. Cor tried to stop but the mud beneath his hooves carried him directly under it.

The Pegasus swooped down and stammered an apology.

Cor just grinned and shook it off. “Don’t worry about it. I was trying to get your attention anyway.”

Another Pegasus descended to hover beside the first. Her mane was a rainbow in the most literal sense possible. The brilliant bands of color hung about her in a disheveled tangle as if permanently ruffled by high winds. Her cyan coat blended with the sky behind her. Pink eyes held a mischievous glint. Cor noticed her Mark was a cloud with a rainbow lightning bolt.

“What’s going on here?” she asked.

“I wanted to see how the weather was controlled. I guess I got as firsthand of a demonstration as I could have asked for.”

“No kidding,” the Pegasus said, looking at Cor’s dripping coat. “So you want to know how it’s done, huh?”

“Yes. I suppose it would take a lot of training to direct the weather. Where is that taught?”

“Training? As if! There’s nothing to it. Anypony with wings could do it if they tried.”

The Pegasus did a loop and landed in front of Cor dramatically.

“Take me for example.” She indicated herself with a hoof and threw her head back proudly. “My name’s Rainbow Dash by the way. I’m the captain of the weather team in Ponyville and I was hardly taught anything about it. It just comes naturally.”

Cor gave her an unconvinced look. “You mean you aren’t given any instruction on the workings of the weather or the techniques used to control it?”

“Well, we grow up hearing all about it,” she admitted. Then added quickly “Pegasi do, I mean. And I guess there are academies and camps where they teach some of that stuff. But I never needed them and most ponies just go there to say they did, not because they need to.”

“So,” Cor said slowly. “You Pegasi just wing it?”

Cor blinked once.

“Dang it! That’s the second time today!”

The Rainbow sniggered at the bad pun as she responded. “We know that not every pony can be as awesome as me. Everypony just has to do their best. That’s about it. We’ve got some pretty amazing fliers and we’ve got some that are not quite so amazing. They’re all valuable parts of the team. Besides, when has anypony learned how to control something like weather better in a classroom than they would by being out here with their hooves in it?”

Cor thought about it for a moment. “I have to admit, that’s a sound argument,” he nodded concurringly. “Now, what I really want to know is how you do the actual manipulation. Like, can any…um…pony…just kick a cloud around if they get up next to it?”

“No, I think it’s just us Pegasi that can do that.” She scratched her chin thoughtfully. “Maybe Unicorns have a spell for it but I wouldn’t know.”

“What about the weather itself? You and your team put it together but how do you decide what to make?”

“We coordinate with Cloudsdale’s weather factory to make sure we get the right amount of rain and sun so that everything stays healthy and growing. After that, we make things as pleasant as we please. There’s really nothing to it.”

“So you don’t have any bad storms?”

“Not unless something goes wrong at the factory or if the weather teams mess up real bad. Most times it’s just like this.” She spread her hooves to indicate the whole sky.

Cor looked up and realized the storm clouds were nowhere to be seen. The only clouds he could find were a pair of white wisps high above. A pair of Pegasi winged their way over the roof tops and the ponies of the town were venturing forth from their dwellings once more. The sun was shining down on them all with soft warmth. The colors of the flowers and grasses, so dull in the downpour, now stood out in sharp contrast.

“This is truly a beautiful place,” Cor said to himself softly.

“Hmm, I guess so.”

Cor had momentarily forgotten his companion and swung back around to regain a grip of the conversation.

“I’m sorry. You don’t mind me asking all these questions do you? I’m not keeping you from something important am I?”

“You kidding?” she laughed. “There isn’t much I’d rather be doing than talking to somepony who can appreciate all the work we do to keep everything running smoothly. It’s great to know somepony realizes how important our job is. The other ponies just look up at the sky and see the weather as it is. They never really think about how much work our teams put into making it.”

“I understand. It is always easier to see the system and accept it than it is to get to know how it really works. You’ve done a magnificent job and I hope you know the respect I hold you and your team in.”

“Well, um, thanks. But even as seriously as I take this, this is only a day job type of thing. What I really want to do is join the Wonderbolts!”

Despite her obvious excitement, Cor didn’t have a clue what she was talking about and it showed on his face.

“You can’t be serious. You don’t know who they are?” She was looking at him as if he had declared that up was down. “They’re only the greatest fliers in all of Equestria since ever!”

She pointed at a wall that held a poster that Cor hadn’t noticed before. It depicted stylized pony figures set against a bright background with “Wonderbolts” stretched across the bottom.

“They perform at the most important celebrations and hold the best air shows in the whole country. They only accept the most skilled Pegasi, but that’s why I’m sure to get in.”

“You’re that good?” Cor replied.

“You better believe it! I’m one of the fastest fliers in Equestria. I even won the Best Young Fliers competition.”

“Did I hear someone say ‘fast’?” Jason’s voice sounded from behind them. He trotted across the street to them, Applejack at his side. “I’ve been known to run a good race.”

“Is that a challenge?” the Rainbow asked curiously.

Cor and Applejack spoke at the same time.

“Ya’ll don’t want ta try it sugar,” she directed at Jason.

“You might not want to tempt him,” Cor smiled up at the Pegasus.

They looked at each other and balked.

“Ya really think he can compare ta her?” Applejack said doubtfully. “Take the word of a pony who’s run a lap with her; she makes ya look like yer haulin’ a full cart o’ apples on the track.”

“You don’t understand what Jason can do.” Cor countered. “He might as well be the definition of speed”

“Ya might think that until ya see Rainbow Dash here in action. She can…”

A cough interrupted her. Jason was smiling with amusement and Rainbow Dash was hovering a few feet off the ground with her hooves crossed in front of her.

“I can brag for myself thanks,” she said. She turned to Jason who resumed a serious expression. “So you think you’re good enough to race me? You know I have wings right?”

“I’m sure I could handle it. I have a few tricks of my own.”

She raised an eyebrow at his horn. “You don’t mean your magic do you?  Because that’d be cheating.”

Applejack made a huffing sound.

“I know how we can make it fair,” Jason began.

“I’m not tying my wings up.”

Jason took a second to process that comment before continuing.

“No, I meant holding two separate races. In one, we would both run on the ground, no wings or magic; nothing except leg work. In the other, we can both use whatever we want. If you can do it, it’s fair game. What do you think?”

“I think you’re just going to teleport.”

“I will not,” Jason said indignantly. “That’s not racing. I assure you I will cover every step of the way with my own t…er, four hooves.”

“I suppose that’s fair enough. You’ve got yourself a race. Now, where should it be?” She looked around thoughtfully while gaining altitude. “How about from here to Sweet Apple Acres?” She pointed down the road at the apple trees just in view.

“Naw, that’s not far enough.” Everyone jumped as Pinkie Pie poked her head between Cor and Applejack. “They’re going to be going the goingest you’ve ever seen! They need more space to go in.”

Applejack, having recovered from Pinkie’s sudden appearance more quickly than Cor had, said, “The trails of White Tail Wood are perfect for a race. Aren’t they Rainbow?”

“Yeah,” the Pegasus laughed reflectively.

Jason leaned over to Cor and whispered, “Do you know anything about those trails?”

“Actually, yes. They’re wonderful. It’s perfect for anything you could want to do. As for racing? Well, I’d rather walk but that’s because I’d be enjoying the scenery.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Jason said to the group at large.

“Great!” Rainbow Dash said, flying a loop in excitement. “When do we start?”

Chapter Five:' The Best of the Best of Both Worlds

The early morning was filled with birdsong, as if the winged critters heralded the event to come with their own anthem. The sun peeked over the mountains in the east to light the gently waking town below. Bright beams of sunlight advanced across the fields and hills, warming the coats of the ponies up so early.

A group of mares enjoyed these ambient effects as they made their way up into the low hills leading out of town. Their fellow early risers greeted them as they passed, pausing to wonder where they could be going with such high spirits at this hour. The two Unicorns walked at a gentle pace, talking and laughing together. The Pegasus followed a step behind, not saying much. The Earth Pony bounded in circles around the whole group, drawing on some source of energy that knew no limits.

“So, this race?” Rarity said, bringing the conversation around to the reason for their trek. “Rainbow Dash and this new pony in town are going to actually compete?”

“That’s what I heard,” Twilight replied. “Isn’t that what you said, Pinkie?”

“Yep-sir-e!” Pinkie Pie quit circling and instead bounced alongside them. “And it’s going to be speed-a-rific!”

“I’m not so sure, darling,” Rarity said cautiously. “A Unicorn racing a Pegasus, and a Pegasus like Rainbow Dash no less, doesn’t sound like much of a contest.”

“I wouldn’t be so quick to count him out,” Twilight said mysteriously.

“Oh?” Rarity raised an eyebrow.

“It’s just that, you never know what a pony can do just by looking at them. I’ve got a feeling you’ll be surprised.”

“Do you know something you’re not telling, Twilight?” Rarity inquired suspiciously.

“It’s just a feeling,” Twilight shrugged nonchalantly. “A feeling I have reason to believe is accurate, but still just a feeling.”

Rarity was unconvinced but she let it drop.

“At least we know he’s alright,” Fluttershy’s voice came unexpectedly.

“What’s that, darling?”

“Mr. Faircastle is feeling well enough to run a race so he must have recovered from his injuries,” she explained meekly.

“I suppose so. To think,” Rarity pondered aloud. “He shows up on the side of the road covered in bruises, and three days later, he’s challenging Rainbow Dash to a race.”

“He’s that new to town?” said a voice just over their heads. “He must be from really far away too if he thinks he has a chance against me.”

Rainbow was lazily gliding a few feet above their heads. She landed to walk beside them.

“Now Rainbow,” Rarity chided gently. “You must at least take it seriously. It would be rude to act like he isn’t a real competitor. Although I would agree that his chances are rather slim.”

“Fine, but even if I’m not saying it, we all know. This is going to be a snap!”

As they came to the top of the hill leading into White Tail Woods, a second group of ponies joined them. Jason walked with a confident step and nodded to Rainbow respectfully. Rainbow smiled a friendly challenge in return. Cor and Applejack had been discussing farm matters, but broke off when they neared the others. They fell in beside them, and together, the group continued along the trail.

There was virtually no talking between them and the tension and excitement was palpable as it built up in the group. They reached a wide, cleared space where the path led into the Woods and set up the equipment from Applejack’s saddlebag. Soon a blue ribbon stretched between two stakes and a set of many colored flags on either side marked the finish line. Cor, Rarity, Fluttershy, and Applejack settled down to wait, waving as Jason, Rainbow Dash, and Twilight continued deeper into the woods.

“The two of you will start on my mark,” Twilight explained. “I’ll be the only one at the start because I can teleport to the finish in time to see the end.”

Jason nodded in understanding. Rainbow hardly acknowledged that she was listening. They walked on in silence for many long minutes. The branches at the tops of the trees swayed in a gentle wind and caused the shadows across the path to dance. The early morning chill faded as the sun warmed the air and earth around them. Several small animals gathered to watch them pass before scurrying away.

Rainbow noticed that Jason was paying a lot of attention to the Woods, his head turning every way at once as if determined to miss nothing as he passed by. She could even hear him inhale deeply from time to time, followed by a contented sigh each time. It was a little weird, but then, so were some of her friends, so she dismissed it. Twilight seemed content to let the silence hang between them and Jason was too absorbed in his surroundings to say anything, so Dash decided to look around a bit herself.

It was a nice day for a race; thanks in no small part to Rainbow telling the weather team that if one drop of rain interrupted her while she was competing, she would hold them all personally responsible. Maybe it was a bit harsh though. She would try to remember to apologize to them later: After she won, of course.

The air smelled heavily of earth and bark and leaf which only served to invigorate her more. Her heart was beginning to pound in anticipation. Giddiness welled up inside her and she felt lighter than normal. The cool rush of adrenaline filled her, bringing the world into sharp focus. She smiled to herself as she thought of the feeling she would have when it was actually time to start. She couldn’t hold it in any longer without doing something so she broke the silence.

“Are you ready to see why they call me “Dash”? Rainbow teased playfully.

“Are you ready to let your legs do the talking?” Jason returned smugly.

Rainbow just grinned. She was starting to like this Unicorn’s attitude.

The sun peeked over the treetops precisely when Twilight signaled that they had arrived, lighting the whole scene with golden rays. She made a line in the path with chalk from her own saddlebag and stood to the side as the competitors took marks facing back the way they had come.

“It’s a straight shot all the way back,” Twilight began. “No forks or crossed paths and a clear trail the whole way. In this race, you must run the entire way. No shortcuts, magic, or flying. Are you both ready?”

“I was born ready!” Rainbow said.

She glanced over at Jason and saw that his eyes were closed. A ripple passed through his entire body as muscles clenched and relaxed. He took a deep breath and slid into a starting stance.

“Ready,” he said softly.

“Okay. On your marks!” Twilight’s horn lit up with a purple glow.

Rainbow dug her hooves into the soft dirt and gravel of the path.

“Get set!” Sparks of energy jumped from the end of Twilight’s horn as the spell built up.

Rainbow took a deep, steadying breath and locked her eyes forward. Her vision narrowed until only the path existed. Nothing else in the world mattered but the way forward and the buzz of magic that counted down the time until all the tension pent up inside her would be released in a burst of pure speed: Pure pleasure.

“GO!” A bang like a firecracker sounded as the spell erupted into the sky.

Like a snapping branch, everything went at once. Rainbow was around the first bend in the path before Twilight’s spell stopped echoing. It wasn’t the same as feeling the wind rippling through her feathers but the connection with the ground, the shock of her hooves against the pathway, produced an equivalent rush. Each time her hooves touched the ground, she was propelled farther; faster!

She was so lost in the thrill that she didn’t hear Jason churning the dirt right alongside her until his nose pushed forward into her peripheral vision. She pushed harder and he matched her pace. They rounded a bend neck and neck and Jason came out of it a nose ahead. Rainbow saw him keeping an eye on her as he controlled his speed. She feigned a slower pace long enough to get Jason to ease up before surging ahead.

He was with her almost instantly and now was smiling in amusement. Trunks flashed by as each fought for an advantage over the other. A curve to the right and Jason was ahead. A curve to the left and Rainbow was in the lead. Every time one pulled ahead, the other closed the gap and refused to let up.

Suddenly Jason put on a burst of speed that left Rainbow lagging badly. She kicked her pace up a couple of notches but almost immediately found herself careening into a sharp turn. Jason had already dropped back to take the turn more easily. A few patches of grass were torn up as Rainbow struggled to stay on the path but she managed to keep her footing.

Rainbow glanced over at Jason and found him grinning at her.

He did that on purpose! She thought. Now I really like his attitude.

She laughed out loud and crowded him toward the edge of the path. His grin widened and, just as he was about to be forced into some low-hanging branches, he jumped forward and rolled right across her back. Now on her left, he took advantage of her surprise and gained a length on her.

She fought to regain her position but he refused to give it up easily. By the time she had come back alongside him again, they were both visibly fatigued. Her breathing was ragged in her ears and her legs were beginning to grow weary. Each step shuddered through her body. Jason panted at her side, no longer wasting energy grinning or looking at her. Rainbow would have laughed again but it would have cost her badly needed energy.

He was starting to reach the point that the body wanted to give up. She was too, but she had a secret weapon: It only made her try harder to push herself. The only part of competition that she enjoyed more than winning was when she broke through that barrier in her mind and body that kept other athletes from going on. She would push herself to the breaking point and then push harder. It was the pinnacle of her competitive drive: to become better. Not just better than others but herself, better than she’d ever been before.

Keeping control of her pace, she stayed with him. Every turn, every step; they took them side by side. Rainbow’s hooves were throbbing from the hammering they had endured at this pace and Jason was obviously fighting his own battles with his body, but neither faltered. Their minds were bent on the path ahead and the competitor at their side. It was at that point that Jason pulled ahead dramatically. Rainbow was momentarily at a loss as to why he would do something like that or how he had the energy to do it.

That was when she realized the finish was just around the next corner. He had kept himself at a steady pace to save energy for a final sprint! She tightened her resolve and drew on her own reserve of strength kept for just this moment. He was ahead by four lengths when she started to close the gap again. She was still back by two lengths when they took the corner. The edge of the forest was in view now and their waiting friends could be seen cheering them on. No sound reached their ears through their determination.

She caught him as they broke from the trees. She was blind in the sudden light of leaving the Wood’s shade but it was a straight line from here and she poured on the last of her heart and soul to reach the finish. She didn’t know exactly how far it was she had gone but the ribbon that broke across her chest told her she’d gotten there first. Skidding to a halt, she forced herself not to fall over.

Her eyes finally adjusted to the light just as her friends’ voices broke through the fog in her mind. They crowded around her excitedly, shouting encouragement and congratulations. The words were lost to her but their intent was all too plain. She stood unsteadily in the center of them as they patted her back and hugged her. Her eyes found Jason lying in the grass, breathing heavily.

His chest rose and fell in massive breaths and his mouth was open wide to allow his lungs all the oxygen they could manage to take in. Cor stood beside him, asking questions that the other couldn’t yet answer. Rainbow walked over to them. She was somewhat dazed still by the sudden change in activity and her blood thundered through her head. Still, she managed to part her friends and approached her opponent.

“You…ran a…good race,” she spoke between panting breaths. “For a Unicorn.”

Jason turned his head toward her and, taking a steadying breath, responded. “You’re quite the runner yourself. For a Pegasus.”

They grinned at each other in exhausted respect. Jason raised a sportsmanlike hoof to her and she took it without hesitation. They shook once and broke away. Rainbow allowed herself to collapse at last, stretching her legs in the grass to relieve the aching.

One thing was for sure, she thought. She’d underestimated him. Maybe it was her opinion of Twilight as an egghead that had done it. In any case, he was a tough opponent and a real threat on the track. She decided that in the second race, she wouldn’t hold anything back.

08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

Cor glanced at where Rainbow Dash had disappeared beneath her friends’ triumphant embrace. It had been close. Closer than Cor had thought it would be. A single pace had separated them at the end. He hadn’t expected Jason to win the first race hands down, but now he was beginning to have doubts that he could even win the second one. 

Jason rolled over and pushed himself up as his breathing returned to normal. Cor gave him another second before trying to speak with him again.

“So, what do you think?”

Jason was silent for a minute.

“She’s got the guts to push herself hard. Really hard. I don’t know if I could have won that race. We were even the whole way. And this was the ground race. Her abilities in the air will be extraordinary to be sure.”

Cor waited for him to continue but he just stared off into space, lost in thought.

“Do you think you can win?” Cor said, bringing Jason back to reality.

“Of course I think I can.” Jason said dismissively. “Am I right? Maybe not. It will be interesting.”

“But you can’t lose this…can you?” Cor pressed.

“I’m going to win this one if there is a way to do it. If she’s so fast that not even I can beat her, she wins it fair and square and she’ll be duly congratulated. Otherwise,” Jason grinned mischievously. “I’ll need you to help me stay standing after I win. I’m putting everything I’ve got into this one.”

08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

Noon had come and gone and the sun was sliding lower in the sky. The finish line had been reset and the racers were rested and ready to begin the second event. Rainbow joked and boasted extravagantly on the way back to the start point. Jason said little, but smiled to himself the whole way.

“You and I came close in the last one, but you’ve got to know this one will be nothing like it. It’ll be over as fast as that!” She illustrated her words with a sudden pounce and a flourish.

“Of that I have no doubt.” Jason replied.

Rainbow puzzled over that. What was his trick? He’d said specifically that he would run the whole way and she trusted him not to cheat. What could he possibly be hiding that made him so confident? She decided she would just have to make sure it didn’t matter.

“You might not have heard of me wherever you come from,” Rainbow rolled on. “But I’m the fastest Pegasus around. One time, when Twilight here first came to…”

“That’s enough Rainbow,” Twilight interrupted. “I’ve had enough of you talking up your win and I didn’t even lose to you.”

Rainbow trailed off into silence. She hadn’t meant to annoy her friend. She was just so energized by her win that she couldn’t contain herself. She had to do something and there wasn’t anything to do but talk until the next race started.

And it was about to start, she though. Her body responded to the anticipation as it had before but now it fed on her recent victory as well. The combination was exhilarating. Despite this, she forced herself to remain quiet. She was struck by a sudden though; maybe this was what Pinkie felt like. She always bounced around like she couldn’t sit still and talked so much it wore on everypony’s nerves. Was she constantly this ecstatic? It was a great feeling but Rainbow didn’t think she’d want to feel like this all the time.

They rounded the final bend and the start line came into view once more. Twilight redrew it to account for the dirt that had been kicked up in their last run. Rainbow stood looking back at the trail, reliving the last time through. Every twist and turn played out in her mind. She kept it fresh so that she would hardly have to think about it this time.

Jason appeared to be preparing himself mentally as well. He stood perfectly still with his eyes closed. His breathing was deep and slow. A wave of tan energy washed over him and dissipated. He smiled and opened his eyes.

They both stepped up to the line at Twilight’s urging. Rainbow sank into a low crouch and unfolded her wings. She beat them once in show before setting them high over her back in readiness. Just as before, she saw Jason’s body shudder and slide into his own starting position.

“Ready?” Twilight asked.

Rainbow gave a barely perceptible nod. Jason made a low humming sound as an affirmative. Their eyes locked forward, their concentration too focused to give more attention to their responses, both waited for the release.

“Alright. On you marks!” She started to charge her spell.

Rainbow felt the cool rush of adrenaline course through her once more.

This time, she thought to herself.

“Get set!” Twilight’s voice cut through the silence of the forest like a knife but only managed to be heard as a whisper in the thunder of the racers’ heads.

This time, I’m going to show this Unicorn real speed.

The exact moment Twilight yelled “Go!” Rainbow Dash literally exploded into motion. The shockwave of the Sonic Rainboom bent the trunks and whipped the branches of the trees to either side of the path, a prism of color lighting up the sky behind her. Her wings snapped smoothly from one position to the next as she took each corner. Her hooves, extended out in front and back of her, whistled in the air currents. The ground stayed within feet of her as she blazed down the path.

It was ecstasy. She was pushing her speed to the limit. The constant change in the landscape in front of her as trees blurred past made it seem as if she were moving faster than she could in the open sky. Each point of reference was there and gone in the same instant. She reveled in it all. Her heart hammered from excitement as much as exertion. Shifting her wings closer to her body for more maneuverability, she prepared to take several quick, sharp corners. A slight air current from behind brushed her but she didn’t pay any attention. Nothing mattered except the rush, the thrill.

As she came out of the curves, she spread her wings back to their full span and rippled the air with each powerful beat. She figured that she wasn’t going to have an excuse to go this fast for a while so she might as well milk the moment for every drop of enjoyment she could. Come to think of it, when did she need an excuse to go faster? The thought only made her feel more wild and unbound and she poured on the speed with renewed vigor.

The low hanging branches she’d tried to steer Jason into came and went without obstructing her. She laughed out loud at the thought. She wondered for the first time where he was; if he hadn’t in fact just given up when he saw her speeding away ahead of him. She didn’t like to think she wasn’t even racing him anymore. She didn’t feel good about the possibility of making him feel bad about losing either, but he’d challenged her so it was all part of the game.

Another corner faded away behind her and she recognized where she was. She was only a turn from the finish. She’d known it would be a fast race but now that it was almost over, she couldn’t help but feel a slight pang of disappointment. She shook it off quickly and took the final stretch at break-neck speed.

When the finish came into view, she smiled. She’d hold her speed right up to the end and stop dramatically just past the line. It was showy, but she kind of like showy. Then her mouth dropped open so far that it looked like it had fallen off her face. Coming to a grinding halt, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

In the midst of the commotion at the finish line, framed by the broken ends of the tape, was Jason. Rainbow’s heart just about stopped as she watched her friends crowded around him in wonder. She walked slowly in to where they were gathered.

“That was the most incredible, indescribable, completely-mindblowingly-outofthisworld-able thing I’ve ever seen EVER!” Pinkie shouted as she threw herself into the air repeatedly.

“I don’t even know if I believe it,” Twilight said with a light laugh. “And I was there when he took off and here when he finished.”

“It really was quite a surprise,” Rarity commented. “We hardly had time to see you as you approached. It was really something.

 “Um, guys?” Rainbow mumbled. None of them seemed to hear her.

“I’d ‘ave never thought it was possible fer somepony ta beat Rainbow but…” Applejack broke off as she noticed Rainbow for the first time. “Oh! Rainbow Dash!”

Everypony turned to her with somewhat guilty expressions. Dash could only stand in shocked silence as she tried to find the words. Jason stepped forward but seemed unsteady. Jason’s eyes had a hard time focusing on her and he stumbled slightly. His smile was shaky but sincere.

“It was a…good race.” He hesitated a bit before finishing. He seemed to be having difficulty concentrating.

“But…but how…I never even saw you!” Rainbow managed in a voice riddled with confusion and hurt.

With a visible effort, Jason pulled his expression together and spoke normally.

“You didn’t? Then my plan worked.”

“You can’t have run the whole way!” Rainbow raised her voice indignantly. “You can’t have run that fast!”

“He did,” Twilight broke in. “I saw him. On the subject of what I saw though, would you care to explain how exactly you did that?” Twilight turned to Jason and everypony followed suit.

Jason nodded seriously. “I have trained for years to master an ability that allows me to warp time around me. While everyone else sees time at normal speed, I see it at a much slower rate. I’m able to react quicker to things around me and do things before those around me can react. I still see myself move at a normal pace so I did honestly run the whole way myself. It took just as long by my perspective, but to all of yours, it was much faster.”

“Now that’s an ability!” Twilight said, engrossed in the concept of such magic. “How much can you slow down time?”

“Almost to a standstill,” Jason responded. He paused to catch his balance, which he had inexplicably lost again. “The only drawback is that the more I attempt to slow time, the more effort it takes. On that subject, I…may have….”

Jason fell flat on his face, unconscious. For a whole second, nopony moved. Then Cor sighed and stepped forward.

“He’s fine.”

Doubtful looks greeted his words.

“No, really. I’ve seen this before.” He looked down at Jason. “Too many times it seems.”

“What happened ta him though?” Applejack asked anxiously.

“Like he said,” Cor explained as he pulled Jason into a more dignified position. “It takes more effort to slow time more. He’s been known to push it so hard that he knocks himself out. He told me he was going to do it before the race started.”

 “So he used magic to make time go slower and then he could run faster?” Rainbow hovered just off the ground with crossed hooves. “That seems like cheating.”

“An’ just what in the hay was he supposed to do against you an’ yer wings?” Applejack returned crossly. “We saw and heard that Sonic Rainboom. It wasn’t as if anything on four legs should have been able to keep up. He managed it somehow and he deserves some credit for it.”

“Are you just taking his side because of our race?”

“No,” Applejack said. “It’s only fair. The rules were put down at the start. Ya’ll should’ve accounted for him havin’ a trick or two.”

Rainbow huffed moodily.

“Now Rainbow Dash,” Rarity admonished. “Try to look at the brighter side of it. You were both marvelous. Each of you had one win. And besides, it was all in good fun, right?”

“Yeah, sure.” Rainbow landed and turned away dejectedly. “I just hate losing.”

“I can’t think of anyone that enjoys it,” Cor pointed out. “It’s good to lose every once in a while anyway. It shows you that there’s still someone out there who can give you a challenge.”

Rainbow looked at him skeptically.

“At least that’s how I look at it,” Cor finished somewhat lamely.

Rainbow sighed. “Yeah, I guess. And it was a good race.”

She looked around at her friends expectantly.

“It certainly was,” Twilight said. “And your Sonic Rainboom was flawless; starting from a standstill no less.”

“And if the Wonderbolts had seen it,” Dash went on. “They’d have insisted that I sign on right away!”

“Right after they got done signin’ Jason up,” Applejack amended.

“But…he’s got no wings…,” Rainbow said, struggling to find the logic.

Rainbow’s friends burst out laughing. After a moment Dash joined in herself. Cor chuckled as he hoisted Jason over his back. The finish line was packed up and the group turned toward home. Cor watched them walking ahead of him, laughing and joking about the day’s excitement. He felt detached from it, as if he hadn’t been part of it at all. He’d only been a spectator after all. This wasn’t even his world.

And yet…

There was something there: A bond of some sort. It had been a while since a group of strangers had begun to feel so familiar. As he and Applejack had walked out here, they had talked openly. It didn’t matter how different they were when they had interests that matched. In fact, as they had waited for the races to begin, they’d all chatted pleasantly. It was a sharp contrast to the way he’d been lately; closed, curt, and on edge. Now these ponies had helped him realize what a relief it was to be relaxed around others. He could almost call them his friends.

Thinking of friends, Cor became aware of how long it had been since he’d seen Zacon. What was it now? A day? Two? Far too long in any case. There was no telling what kind of trouble he could have gotten into. As town came back into view, he half expected to see smoke rising from the rooftops. Of course, no such sight greeted him.

Jason shifted slightly, reminding Cor that he wasn’t done with his current predicament.  He decided that if Zacon had been on his own for this long, he could wait another hour for Jason’s sake.

'Chapter Six': Of an Unusual Nature

The weight of a pony on his back slowed Cor down on his trek back to town. The others had waited up for him at first, but at his urging, they had gone ahead. Carrying Jason was harder than he’d expected. He’d though being a pony would allow him to haul loads with ease but this apparently wasn’t the case. He huffed along resolutely, one hoofstep after another.

As he walked, Cor thought through where he’d begin looking for Zacon. He wasn’t likely to be hanging around Sugercube Corner, not with Pinkie Pie spending so much time there. He may have holed up in the library or back at Sweet Apple Acres. The library would be his first stop. Then there was the possibility that he’d simply left the town all together. If he had, Cor would have a hard job of tracking him down: Hoofmarks all looked the same.

Jason groaned and seemed to be coming to. Cor lowered him to the ground behind a house off of the main street. Jason’s eyes blinked open but he made no attempt to sit up.

“That went about how I expected,” he said tiredly. “Dash didn’t take it too badly did she?”

“I don’t think so. They all seemed to be in good spirits when they left.”

“That’s good. I’d hate to have bad feelings between us. It was an enjoyable experience.”

Cor laughed. “Says the guy that took a nap while I gave him a ride to town on my back! You keep pushing yourself to the brink, and then who has to clean up? Me.” He shook his head in amusement and then took on a more serious tone. “You need to be careful. That’s a dangerous ability you’re messing with.”

“I’m not just messing with it. I know exactly how far I’m pushing and how far is too far.” He looked away uneasily. “And I don’t need to hear it all from you too.”

“Sorry. You know that she only says it because she cares. And so do the rest of us.”

Jason didn’t respond. His expression was that of anger but Cor knew it was directed inward. He also knew better than to press the subject. Instead he resumed his musings about the kind of trouble Zacon might have caused and where he could be at this moment. He didn’t have to worry about Zacon’s whereabouts for long. The grey stallion came charging around the corner, spotted them and galloped to their side.

“There you two are! I’ve had the damnedest time trying to track you down.” He looked back over his shoulder as if expecting to be followed. “This town is crazy! I’ve been caught in the middle of three flash mobs in the last hour alone!” He glared at Cor as if he were personally responsible for this grievous injustice.

“Flash mobs?” Cor raised an eyebrow.

“Yes!” Zacon said with an un-equine growl. “I was looking for you two around the library when every one of the ponies in the street started singing and dancing on top of buildings and through the windows and everywhere. And by the time one of these displays ended, another would start up. I’m just thankful that pink one was nowhere to be seen.”

“She was with us this morning.”

“Small mercies,” Zacon grunted, glancing the way they’d come from. Then he looked closely at Jason for the first time. “What happened to you?”

Jason made an effort to rise but could only manage to prop himself on his haunches. “I pushed myself too far again. You know the drill.”

“I do know the drill, and it involves something interesting!” Zacon’s gaze was baleful. “You two were off doing something worth paying attention to and you did it without me?!”

“It was just a race with a local Pegasus,” Jason said, trying to downplay it.

“Just a race you burned mana for.” Zacon huffed. “At least I won’t have to wander aimlessly now. What’s our plan?”

Jason leaned against the nearby wall and closed his eyes, still recovering from the effects of his spell. Cor thought for a moment.

“I was thinking of exploring the woods.”

Zacon scowled. “Really? A walk in the woods? Talk to some trees? You Elves need to find some real hobbies.”

“Like dismembering and devouring small animals?” Jason spoke softly, his eyes still closed.

“The creatures of my people’s lands are anything but small and you know it. And hunting is more than a hobby; it’s a way of life. ” Zacon frowned at him.

“Well, what do you think communing with nature is, reclusive habits dying hard?” Jason retorted.

“You two need to just cool it. Zacon, you know what our connection to nature means to us, so deal with it. Jason, I’m the Ranger so I’ll do the arguing about the merits of bonding with forest life.” Cor stared them both down until it was clear the argument was over. “Besides, I didn’t mean a cheerful stroll down the path. Applejack told me the Everfree Forest was unnatural somehow. I’d like to look into it.”

Jason opened one eye to look quizzically at Cor and Zacon’s ears shot up.

“Unnatural how?” Jason inquired.

“She didn’t say and it was clear she didn’t what to.”

“Ooh, this is getting better all the time.” Zacon grinned wickedly. “I’ll go get our stuff.”

“What?” Jason balked. “You think we need weapons? What, is a tree going to look at you funny?”

“You know,” Cor interjected. “I’d feel better about having our weapons with us on this one too.”

Jason sighed. “Fine, bring ‘em.”

Zacon ran off without another word.

“I’m not sure if it’s a good thing that he’s this excited,” Cor said with a frown. “It makes me uneasy somehow.”

“I know what you mean, but isn’t this better than the alternative?” Jason offered.

Cor took a breath to respond, but ended up giving a nod in concession.

08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

The woods were ominously dark even though the light was only just beginning to fail. The three warriors stood at its boarder, eyes trying to pierce the gloom. The growth began rather abruptly. The countryside was an open grass field right up to the edge of the overgrown tangle that was the Everfree Forest.

None of this gave the warriors much pause as they started in. They scanned the shadows for danger and their ears twitched at the slightest sound. Weapons were held at the ready and the blades glinted where stray beams of light fought through the canopy. Vines chocked everything and what little path there was offered treacherous footing at best.

Cor lead the group with Jason in the middle and Zacon bringing up the rear. Cor picked his way through the trees with no sense of haste. He watched small animals scatter at their approach. The creaking of branches surrounded them, but the wind did not reach below the tops of the trees it moved. The air was still and chilling. There was a sense of being watched from every dark corner and the sound of larger animals reminded them that the eyes they felt weren’t to be dismissed lightly. Cor found he was holding his breath at several points and made a conscious effort to calm himself.

Two steps farther back, Jason walked cautiously. His sword hovered above him where he could send it flying to either side at a moment’s notice. His eyes picked out the movements of every creature through the foliage, tracking them until they proved to be no threat. He stepped purposefully around the roots and vines that tangled the path, head swiveling to watch every direction at once.

From the back of the group, his axe balance over his back, Zacon watched the Unicorns press ahead. He made no effort to conceal his movement and didn’t even glance behind him as he went. First of all, he didn’t think anything would have the guts to attack such a well armed party, and second; he almost invited an attack. He relished the thought of real action after so much…whatever you’d call the past two days. He didn’t care much about their direction and left thoughts of navigation to Cor. As long as they could finally do something besides sit around, he’d follow anywhere Cor led.

They’d gone a mile in and the light was nearly gone. The shadows of the forest cloaked everything in purples, grays, and deep blues. The path was badly obscured by undergrowth and at times, disappeared completely. Cor didn’t hesitate as he pushed farther into the trees and his companions didn’t question his judgment. The sounds of night descended on them and as they did Cor realized something that had been poking at the back of his mind since they’d come here.

He halted suddenly, causing the others to scramble to identify the disturbance. When nothing presented itself, they looked to Cor for answers.

“What’s the deal?” Jason said casting glances all around.

“This forest is unusual…because there’s nothing unnatural about it,” Cor stated.

“Would you mind running that by me again?” Jason turned to give Cor his full attention.

“Don’t you see?” Cor faced them both in the darkness. “This world’s nature is controlled directly by the ponies. So wouldn’t it be the logical if they thought a place that takes care of itself was unusual?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Jason admitted.

“Aw, you mean this is just a walk in the woods?” Zacon let his axe fall to the ground where it bit a deep gash through the vines at his feet.

“I’m afraid so,” Cor nodded. “It’s a bit over-grown, sure, but it’s still just a normal forest.” He placed a hoof on the bark of the nearest tree. “These trees are active and free of any obstructing influences.”

“That’s just great.” Zacon sat down to one side and glared at the darkness.

“Still,” Jason said. “It does feel more oppressive than a normal forest.”

“It’ll be the fact that the ponies don’t come here. Being totally neglected and even shunned will do that. That being the case, I feel an urge to walk its paths a bit farther.”

Zacon heaved himself up and shouldered his axe again. They started off at a normal pace now, despite the darkness. Weapons were held loose and they no longer watched every movement. They struck up conversation after a ways, more to fill space than anything else.

“I slept in a few hours,” Zacon began in his description of the time they were apart. “And by the time I was up, you had both disappeared. I knew we needed to get the equipment somewhere safer so that’s what I did first. I got them up to the rooms easy enough but that big stallion, Macin-something, asked me to help with a few things. After noon was well behind us, he ran out of tasks. That was when he suggested we have a few friendly contests.”

“They were simple but entertaining in their own right,” Zacon said grinning. “The hoof wrestle was by far the most enjoyable. We seem to be evenly matched, he and I. I wouldn’t have though him up to it just to look at him, but after working beside him, I know his life has given him an impressive build. And he makes good use of it too. We were deadlocked for almost a minute. Of course, the strength of this body is nothing to my own but I still triumphed in the end.”

“Then we fixed the table and I started looking for you two. It was already late so I gave up quickly. By the time I got back, the evening meal was over but I managed to grab a scrap or two.” A hint of scorn crept into Zacon’s voice, directed at his companions. “The next morning, you were missing again and I had no choice but to look everywhere for you. You left no notes, you made me aware of no plans, and you didn’t wait to fill me in on anything.”

Jason and Cor glanced at each other guiltily.

“So I wandered the streets for a few hours before things got weird. You’d think a spectacle of that scale would need to be coordinated somehow but they just seem to know exactly what all the steps are as soon as it began.” Zacon paused, remembering. “And who sings a four minute song about growing flowers anyway?” He looked at Cor especially but the Ranger had no answers for him.

“At that point it became a matter of dodging these ridiculous displays. I still haven’t figured out what sets them off but I’ve become quite good at evading them. You two showed up just as I was about to make a break for the library.”

“I’m sorry Zacon,” Jason apologized. “I guess we were both so caught up in the race that we forgot to keep you in the loop.”

“Well, do better next time and I’ll forget about it,” Zacon dismissed it with a grunt. “Did you two find anything about how to get back?”

“Not exactly,” Jason frowned. “We’re trying to recreate properties of the blast using crystals that we’ve…”

“A straight yes or no will do,” Zacon cut him off.

Jason sighed deeply. “No.”

They were silent for a long time, simply walking together in the now comfortable darkness. Cor picked his way along the path with ease and paused from time to time to examine the life around him. Jason let the sounds flow through him in a soft ebb and flow of living energy. Zacon, for his part, was tolerant of his friends and did nothing to disrupt them.

Cor was just about to suggest they head back when he saw a strange look on Jason’s face.

“What is it?”

Jason’s muzzle scrunched up in puzzlement. “Is that a chicken? Over there in those bushes?”

Cor followed his gaze and, sure enough, a chicken was peering out of a stand of shrubs a short distance from the path.

“Hmm, I didn’t think a chicken would be in a place like this.”

“Well, it isn’t alone,” Zacon rumbled. He indicated another patch of undergrowth with three more chickens shuffling around in it.

“Something isn’t right,” Jason said as he spotted two more back the way they’d come.

“What are you worried about?” Zacon asked. “Being pecked into submission? Are they going to drown us in egg goo?”

Jason gave him a hard look. “This is clearly no accidental encounter and they have us out numbered.” He noticed several more moving amongst the trees behind the grey stallion.

“You really think they’re setting up an ambush?” Zacon muttered doubtfully. “If this is the best this land has to offer, I don’t think I’ll shame myself by becoming involved.”

Before they had time to discuss it further, their attackers were on them.

08:57, November 11, 2013 (UTC)

While all six of them had tried to keep the results of the race quiet, by morning of the following day, the friends found that everypony in Ponyville seemed to know there was a new Unicorn in town that had supposedly beaten Rainbow Dash in a contest of speed. Those who claimed to know the details always said they heard it from somepony who was there, but never seemed to agree with another’s story.

Rainbow was taking it badly and had retreated to her cloud home. Twilight was of the mindset that spreading the truth would help things calm down, so she and Applejack had been going around town setting everypony straight. Fluttershy had understandably declined being involved in the inevitable arguments that followed.

Rarity would have been out there silencing idle gossip right alongside them, but most of a day lost to the race had put her behind on outstanding orders and she couldn’t spare the time. Three finished products stood in a line beside the window of her inspiration room. The sunbeams that danced across them brought out the yellow bands of silk that flowed from the first two, a matching set for a pair of sisters in town. The soft blues underneath subtly provided the slender form of the outfit itself without distracting from the overall effect. The other was a dashing suit for an equally dashing stallion who had ordered it for a dinner in Manehattan. Its red velvet vest with black linings and brass buttons were bold and stern, accented by the gold-trimmed white shirt worn beneath.

Her current project was harder to pin down, both figuratively and literally. It was a complex interweaving of embroidered folds and trailing sashes worked through loops to create the effect of decorative ribbons hung around the wearer. It was a detailed custom order, something she was generally against, but the customer was quite specific about her needs and Rarity would never disregard a patron’s specifications.

The body of the dress was a light pink and the sleeves were silver. The collar was pale lavender and the hanging sashes were a sky blue. Using so many soft colors without something to offset it was outside of Rarity’s normal style but she thought she was at least pulling it off. A string of tiny sapphires adorned the hem, an addition the customer had allowed at Rarity’s suggestion. It gave the piece at least one sharp color to balance the rest without imposing on the eye.

A last set of folds was refusing to hang correctly and one of the sashes kept twisting up. Even with telekinesis, she was having trouble keeping all of the pieces out of the way to make the necessary adjustments. Without taking her eyes off the spot she needed to shorten, she reached over to a side table to pull the cup of pins closer. She misjudged the distance, however and the cup tipped over the table’s edge, pins spilling in every direction.

Rarity flinched in anticipation of the clatter and mess that would follow but it never came. When she opened her eyes to look, she saw the whole mishap suspended in mid air. She looked all around and found her rescuer in the open doorway. Jason’s horn was lit with tan energy that carefully replaced the cup and its contents on the table as he approached.

“Oh, you are simply a lifesaver, Jason,” Rarity beamed. “Would you be a dear and help me with one other thing?”

“Of course.”

“I need to pin this fold here.”

She directed Jason to the problem area and he began pinning it in place.

“Yes, just there. And there. And one last one right here. Perfect!” She took the piece off of the manikin and brought it over to the worktable. “What brings you here today?” she asked as she shortened the marked parts.

“I was wondering if I could have an outfit made for Cor and myself.”

“Oh, and what is the occasion?”

“No occasion, we just wanted something to wear.” Jason said with a hint of self-consciousness. “I see that you’re rather busy though. If another time would work better…”

“Nonsense!” she interrupted. “I’m nearly done with this and I don’t have any other projects lined up. I would be delighted to put something together for you and your friend.”

“I’d also like to request it in a specific material.”

“Of course. I have a wide variety to choose from. You can look through them over there.” She gestured to a cabinet against the far wall.

Jason glanced at it before speaking. “I was actually thinking of a material that we had prepared.”

“What material would that be?”

Jason hesitated further. “Leather,” he said at last.

The sound of the sewing machine stopped suddenly. Rarity turned slowly to look at him.

Leather?” she repeated with no small amount of shock. “Where did you get leather?”

“Cor, Zacon and I were out in the Everfree forest and…”

“What in heaven’s name were you doing there?!” Rarity interrupted.

“We were just having a look around. It wasn’t as bad as we had heard…until we were attacked by a pack of cockatrices. Once the fight was over, we figured it’d be a waste to just leave the bodies there, so we, or at least Cor and Zacon, began the tanning process. Once they were sure the hides would be of usable quality, I came here to see if you’d make something of them. They should be along in a few minutes.”

“Well, I…um…I suppose I could.” She grimaced slightly. “It just seems so…ghastly. To use the hide of another creature; I simply cannot believe some stylists favor the practice. And worse still, that there are ponies who would consider wearing it.” She saw the uncomfortable expression on Jason’s face and felt the need to apologize for being so forthright in her opinion, but she couldn’t find the words.

“I kind of figured you’d feel that way.” Jason sighed, turning to leave. “If it bothers you so much, forget I asked.”

“Wait. I would still be willing to make the outfits for you. It just caught me off guard, is all.” Rarity paused to reflect. “And it would be a waste not to use the hides, right?” She gave an uneasy smile, hoping it would be enough to cover for the uncomfortable moment.

It was in that exact instant that hooves announced Cor and Zacon entering the boutique.

“Is she ready to work our tanned hides?” said Zacon in an unusually cheerful voice the moment they were through the doorway.

Jason flinched visibly and Cor stopped to stare at the big stallion’s impertinence. Rarity’s smile slipped another notch. After an awkward pause, Zacon seemed to realize what he’d said.

“I’ll just wait outside then, shall I?” He dropped his share of the leather beside the door and left with a mischievous smile.

Cor followed Zacon’s exit with a suspicious gaze. Jason cleared his throat and helped Cor move the leather onto one of the worktables. Rarity floated a measuring tape and a notepad over.

“I’ll need measurements from the two of you,” she said as she wrapped the measure around Cor’s midsection.

The pencil flashed across the paper as Rarity moved around them.

“What would you like these outfits to be?” she queried.

“I was thinking a simple vest and a shirt of a finer fabric to put on over the top,” Cor mused.

“Would you prefer any particular material?” Rarity pressed.

“A blend of rayon and cotton, I think,” Cor said after a short pause.

“Rayon and cotton blend,” Rarity repeated, her pencil tracing the words on the notepad. She moved on to Jason. “And you?”

“A vest sounds good but it’ll be a silk shirt for me.” He mulled something over for a moment. “And could you make the whole outfit black?”

Cor stifled a laugh while Rarity fixed him with a questioning gaze.

“You want the whole thing to be black?” she asked. “By your coat is such a light color that it would clash horribly, if you’ll pardon me for saying so.”

“I just prefer black,” Jason said simply. “It’d just feel more…normal.”

“Well, it looks like we won’t be able to give Zacon a hard time about feeling abnormal anymore. I’ll have mine in a dark tan.”

Rarity shrugged and took down the requests. Having all the measurements she needed, she turned to the leather. She shied from it visibly as she first handled it but eventually managed to ignore her discomfort. She levitated each piece into the air in turn, marking them for the necessary cuts.

“Did you say that the shirts go over the top of the vests?”

“Yes we did.”

“That seems an odd way to wear a vest,” she pointed out.

“It’s the way we’ve always worn them,” Cor insisted. “Decoration on the outside, functionality on the inside.”

“What function would that be?” Rarity asked, glancing at him.


She frowned. “What would you need armor for?”

“In case we get jumped by another pack of cockatrices,” Cor snorted.

“I should think staying away from the Everfree Forest would do the same job,” she countered.

Cor nodded in concession to her point. “Still, I’d rather have the option of protection in case we happen to cross their way again.”

“Mmm,” Rarity acknowledged, still not fully agreeing.

Cor looked at the door. “I think I’ll go make sure Zacon isn’t doing something we’ll regret. If you don’t need anything else that is.” He looked at Rarity for approval.

“Not at all, darling.” She smiled as he nodded and turned to leave. “And I should have these completed in a day or so.”

Jason walked over to the window and stared out at nothing in particular. Rarity began cutting the leather into the shapes that would become the vests. The snip and tap of her tools working were the only sound in the room for a long time.

“Is there something else you wanted?” she asked when she noticed he was still there.

“Hmm?” He looked over, shaking his head as he returned to awareness. “Oh, no. I was just thinking about something.”

She waited for him to elaborate but he didn’t. She tried another approach. “I’m glad that your little mishap a few days ago wasn’t serious.”

“My mishap?” Jason tilted his head in confusion.

“When you stumbled into that ditch,” she explained.

“I wouldn’t say it wasn’t serious actually.”

“Well, you were a bit of a mess. But you’ve cleaned up very nicely.” She looked at his mane.  “Mostly.”

“That’s not quite what I meant but…”

“I know a lovely place where you could have your coat and mane redone. I’m a regular with them so I know they’re simply marvelous.”

Jason was trying to find a response when the door was thrown open suddenly, framing a frantic Twilight.

“I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Jason! You need to come right away. You too Rarity. She called for all of us.”

“All of who?” Jason asked cautiously. “And who has called us?”

“Princess Celestia!” Twilight cried, as if they should have somehow already known. “She’s asked all six of the Elements and you three to meet with her in Canterlot as soon as possible! Cor and Zacon are just outside. Come on!”

“Oh, if only you’d asked for these outfits a few days ago,” Rarity moaned. “At least you’d have had something decent to wear.”

Jason raised an eyebrow as she draped herself over a couch, wallowing in dramatized grief. Twilight just hid her face behind her hoof.

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