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Pizzaportal (Prose rewrite, WIP)

By Gnisha
Created: 18th December 2020 01:44:34 PM
19th October 2021 03:15:51 AM

  1. "Aaaand that's that," I think to myself as I set down the sixpack of beer next to my couch. It's rather shabby, to be honest, but it'll have to do today. Maybe I'll be able to get a new couch in time for my next birthday, but for this year, the train has definitely not only left, but also been derailed as soon as it left the station. All the preparations for the party are done: I've got beer, unholy amounts of pizza, and some flicks to laugh at. /tv/ had claimed that 'the anvil hoarder' was absolute kino, but seriously, an arthouse film from the thirties would probably only serve as background amusement rather than anything close to the main event. Still, it's always good to have some backup entertainment on hand. Just one of these films one wouldn't even hear about if it weren't for some weirdos on the internet.
  2. The only thing that's still missing are the guests. I'd invited pretty much all of my old circle of friends I'd managed to get a hold of in the last few months, and most of them had assured me that they'd just love to get the gang back together again. I look forward to this reunion far more than to the party itself, if I am being completely honest. We had all slowly drifted apart after we finished highschool, despite all the vows of "friends forever" and "let's stay in contact". The realities of employment and college studies had left us with less and less time to spend, not to mention the sheer distance between some of us.
  3. I lean back on the couch and fiddle with my phone. There's still a little time to kill, it seems, so I go through my playlist to decide what music to put on. It's important to set the scene just right for the guests. I stop at American Idiot. I never really liked Green Day, but looking back it feels as if this song was playing through most of our teenage years. One time, my best friend Roger and me were running from a gang of older kids that we were pretty sure wanted to beat us up if not worse, and in the alley we hid in we could hear that song play through an open window. It's not a pleasant memory by any means, but nonetheless a smile creeps onto my face as I think back to it now. It will be good to see roger again. Even if noone else came, if only he were there I know we'd still have a good time.
  4. On my trip down memory lane, I barely register that the next song has already come up, and then the next and then...
  5. I wake up in the dark. What the shit? There's no light outside either. How could it have gotten so dark so quickly? There's no way I've been asleep for that long, otherwise my guest's would've arrived and woken me up.
  6. As I turn on my phone to use as an impromptu flashlight, I see the time: 12:32. Already well past midnight. Well, fuck.
  7. There are also several unread messages. I flick through them while as I turn on the lights and return to the couch. There is one from Roger: "I am really sorry, but I won't be able to make it today. Lena needs me to drive her to a concert and take her back home afterwards, and coming over in the time inbetween would leave me with just about an hour to actually hang out. I will make it up to you, bro. Have fun without me, will you?"
  8. But Roger wanted to bring some of the others with him. He was their driver, and if he couldn't make it...
  9. Sure enough, the other messages mostly consist of people telling me that they won't be coming because Roger couldn't pick them up, wishing me a Happy Birthday without them, and other well-meant, but empty sounding phrases.
  10. Dana's message is the only one sticking out of the pile of excuses, because the believability of her claim to a stomach problem preventing her from coming is greatly enhanced by Photo evidence.
  11. "Shit, Dana" I mumble to yourself, while trying to banish the picture of soiled ceramics from my mind. Then, as I realize what I've just said, I add "Shit indeed."
  12. Dana had always been a bit blunt, but that was a new level of straightforwardness even for her.
  13. My amusement at my unintended witticism gives way to disappointed anger. All the preparations, the organising of weeks, all for naught. I'd looked forward to this for month, and that stupid bitch Lena just goes and ruins it all. I'll admit that I've always been a little jealous of her, especially when the realtionship of the two of them had just started and she became Roger's single focus, but that had faded over time. Now it's back in full force. Who the fuck did this bitch think she is, ruining my fucking birthday-slash-highschool reunion like this? It's not like I hadn't invited her. She had made a big show out of being thankful and everything, but finally told me that she'd have to decline because of other plans. So why the hell does she need Roger all of a sudden, if she knew months in advance that she'd be somewhere else?
  14. Irrational as it is, I can't shake the feeling that she set it up this way for maximum disappointment on my end. Well, if that was truly her plan, she has succeeded with flying colours. And Roger had played along. Real class act, treating your best friend since kindergarten like this. And what am I supposed to do with all the foodstuffs now? Well, all the beer might just console me a little bit, but there's still a good half dozen pizzas that need to get taken care of.
  15. "Fuck!"
  16. I send my phone flying down the couch and into the armrest. Seems like my friends aren't as interested in coming together again as they claimed. After all, it's not like Roger had been the only options. There are such things as trains and cars. Maybe I should call some of them, just chew them out, let off some steam?
  17. ...No. That would be a good way to burn some bridges, and while I couldn't care less at the moment, I know that I'd regret it in a few weeks at the latest. Still, it's pretty damn tempting.
  18. With a sigh, I decide to look for comfort in food. Pizza is comfort food, isn't it? I grab the nearest box and pull it up into my lap.
  19. Maybe I'll just sit here, eat pizza, crack open a cold one or a dozen, and watch the anvil hoarder all alone. Yeah, that'd show these turncoats. I crack open a can and take a swig, then look over the movie again. Seems like a really bleak piece of culture, just the right thing for my darkening mood.
  20. Well, at least there's no way the night can get any worse. I open the pizzabox.
  21. "Oh, just great. Olives."
  22. There's not a whole lot I hate as much as olives. I had made it a point to tell as much the clerk who had taken my order, and that I wouldn't want any olives on my pizza, no thank you, and to hell with the offer of the day.
  23. But as I set the pizza back onto the table, something glints in the light of the ceiling lamp.
  24. "What's that now? Did these idiots drop metal or something into the food?"
  25. There is something sitting there, right in the middle of the pizza. It seems to glint, changing colours with each ray of light that reflects off of it. I try to pick the unknown object up, put find that I cant withdraw my hand.
  26. "What the fuck?"
  27. I pull my arm back with all the force I can muster, but even grabbing it with my free hand and pulling yields no results. At least no results to my advantage. Instead, the speck grows steadily under my fingers and there is a tingling sensation as my arm vanishes into the pizza. I start shouting incoherently as my arm gets dragged into some kind of invisible space that should logically be somewhere under my table, but isn't. One of my neighbours knocks against the wall and shouts to shut the hell up, but I don't feel like complying, because by now the speck has become some kind of portal that causes the pizza alongside its box fold up into itself and disappear, taking my body up to my shoulder with it. I grab onto my couch with the arm I am left with and try to pull myself back, but to no avail.
  28. As I gather the courage to open my eyes I didn't even realize I'd pressed shut and look over my remaining shoulder, I gaze in horror at the ... whatever it is that has opened up in my living room.
  29. The anomaly is directly in front of my face now, the left side of my body having disappeared into it completely. It feels as if I am trapped in a windtunnel that is blowing me towards the dimensional hole. I grab onto your couch harder, my knuckles turning white from the strain, but I am unable to resist the pull for long.
  30. As I lose my grip and am sucked screaming into the vortex, I feel the vague sense of betrayal towards my friends grow to include a very focused sense of betrayal towards the pizza. Then my phone comes flying towards the Vortex, caught in its sucking whirlwind, and hits me right between the eyes.
  31.  
  32. I am dimly aware of my own existence. It feels as if I were floating in a state between being asleep and awake, drifting through an endless, dark expanse. The sensation should probably be enough to send me wide awake in an instant, but all in all it is more relaxing than anything.
  33. Right up to the moment it just stops.
  34. The blackness of unawareness is replaced by the dimmed light provided by the inside of my eyelids, and as I become aware of my body again, I notice all the little inconveniences. My bones ache from the hard floor I seem to be lying on, my head is throbbing, and the feeling of relaxation is replaced by the tired on-edge-ness that one gets after staying up for far too long.
  35. All in all, I feel like shit.
  36. Must've fallen off the couch, I tell myself. Should've seen it coming when I decided to screw watching that stupid arthouse flick and work my way through the party provisions all on my lonesome.
  37. At least it's saturday today, so there are no obligations waiting for me. It's not like I'd be able to do much of anything with that splitting headache. Even something as simple as opening my eyes to the light of day sounds like a bad idea right now.
  38. I groan as I shift my position a little and am immediately struck by the felty feeling on my tongue. Yeah, definitely hungover. And with my luck, I probably hit my head on the couch table on the way down.
  39. As another spike of pain flows through my brain, I vaguely remember that if I really fell off the couch, the table shouldn't even allow me to lie as spread out as I do now.
  40. Great, probably knocked it over and made an even greater mess of things.
  41. I'll have to clean that up later. At the moment, cleaning up the living room sits on my to do list right behind washing out my mouth and getting some real sleep in my bed. But for now, some more rest on the stone floor will have to be enough when it comes to my aspirations.
  42. Hopefully, the beer won't seep to deep into the linoleum until then.
  43. Now wait just minute. If this room has stone floor, and my living room has linoleum...
  44. In an instant I am wide awake as I bolt upright, desperately trying not to topple over again as stars dance across my field of vision. It takes a moment until my vision clears, but what I see then only allows one conclusion:
  45. "This is not my home."
  46. In fact, it looks like no place I've ever seen before. The room I now find myself in is almost as big as my apartment, but perfectly circular. The floor and walls, as far as they are visible, look as if they've been carved from white marble and are decorated with intricate colorful details. All along them there are high bookshelves lined up, overflowing with scrolls and books that can best be described as tomes.
  47. I turn in place as I try to take in as much of the place as possible. In a gap between the shelves beneath a window stands a table. It's pretty low and on it there's what appears to be an old fashioned chemist's set. But it's what's sitting besides the bubbling liquids in their glas containers that really comands my attention.
  48. Right there on this odd table sits my treasonous pizza box.
  49. I freeze in place. Until now, everything since I've opened my eyes was so far removed from my everyday reality that it might as well have been a dream. But now that there's an anchor of sorts that connects me to yesterday, makes this seem like less of a disjointed manic episode, the weight of the situation comes crashing down. Swaying, I stagger over to the table. My hands grip its edge as I sink to my knees to put my weight onto the piece of furniture. Without something to lean on, I would fall over for sure. Very slowly, a twitching hand inches forward and grips the box, pulling it closer. This godforsaken thing started this nightmare, perhaps it can take me back?
  50. Slowly, the lid is opened. I couldn't say what I expected, but it certainly isn't the sheer banality of a half-eaten pizza tonno, the olives neatly laid out in a little heap next to the remaining slices.
  51. If I wasn't on my knees already, they would surely topple now. The universe must be mocking me. I want to scream, shout, throw the cheese-covered obscenetiy through the room until it is nothing but a greasy stain on the oh-so-nice marble floor.
  52. Instead, all that I manage is a choked, raspy noise that sounds something like: "Wh-what?"
  53. "I am sure that this is all a lot to take in." The voice is rather quiet and gentle-sounding, but given the circumstances it is still enough to make me jump. Especially since it is coming from behind me.
  54. Darting around, I almost clamber up onto the low table. Perhaps the window could be a way out of here?
  55. The thoughts of escape, as well as my hectic movements, stop as I make out the source of the voice. I am pretty sure that I've never seen a less threatening animal? Person?
  56. In front of a door that must be the way out of here stands an odd creature to say the least. It looks almost like a horse, but some things are off. If I'd had to guess, I'd estimate that its shoulders only reach up to my hips. It's muzzle and facial features look like no kind of horse I've ever seen, almost seeming doglike. In addition to its gray mane, the thing sports a goatee. Oh, and it's blue. And is that a horn on its head?
  57. As I stare, it looks me over as well. The thing's eyes are full of intellect and what I take to be pity.
  58. My breath turns ragged and my pulse quickens as I realize the only thing that makes sense: This isn't real. None of it is. Things like this don't happen. People don't just wake up one morning to find themselves... where ever this is. I must've watched that weird movie after all, and now I am having a nightmare inspired by it. Admittedly a very real feeling, but still a nightmare.
  59. I am laughing with relief as I start pinching myself. Time to wake up. I don't have time for this. I have an apartment to clean. But my pinching does nothing. Seems like I need to go harder. The odd creature looks on wide-eyed as my fingers claw and twist into my arms. Any second now I'll wake up.
  60. A faint blue glow envelops my hands, and pinching myself becomes steadily harder as a mounting pressure starts pressing my fingers off my arms.
  61. "Please stop hurting yourself," the little blue nightmare creature says, and I freeze in shock.
  62. Of course. It has caught on, and now it's trying to stop me from going home. Ignoring it has been a terrible idea. I need to get back into its good graces before it does whatever it is dream demons do. I can't risk anything. I am pretty sure that if you die in a dream, you die in real life.
  63. It takes all my effort to stop staring at the blue glow on my hands, but finally I manage to shot the thing my best nervous smile. Quick, what to tell a thing that for all I know might want to devour my soul?
  64. After an uncomfortably long pause during which my grin starts noticeably twitching, I press out a simple : "Hi, I am Anon."
  65. I had intended for it to come off as suave and charming, really let my boyish charisma play, but even as the words leave my mouth, I don't need to be an outside observer to tell that my nervousness made it sound more akin to a squeak. Well, that much for the talk-it-into-letting-me-wake-up-route. The window is suddenly starting to become rather interesting again.
  66. "Good to meet you, Anon, even if it has to be under these rather unfortunate circumstances."
  67. There is palpable relief in the horse-thing's voice. Probably thinks that I have given up on waking up, even if just for the moment. An involuntary shudder runs down my neck as it takes a few steps forward.
  68. "I am Quick Diner, Professor of Applied Food Sciences at Canterlot University" I do my best to stop from fidgeting, but don't quite manage it.
  69. The creature takes another step towards me. "Now, Anon, I know that this is a very unusual situation for you, but I want you to understand what happened to bring you here."
  70. That sounds almost to good to be true. It's not a way home, but knowing is half battle. Not that I trust this Quick, but I am somewhat proud of only slightly flinching as he steps up to the table besides me. At the very least he hasn't been actively hostile so far. What harm could there be in hearing him out, as long as I stay on my toes?
  71. Idly stroking the bruises forming on my arms, I watch as the blue blow that had stopped me from pinching myself now envelops the box.
  72. "As much as it pains me to admit it, Anon, you being here was an unforeseen accident on my part. What I really was after was this." Quick Diner nods towards the contents of the Box. This has to be a joke. He must be fucking with me. My mouth is dry, but I still swallow nervously. Then, as collected as possible, I ask the million dollar question:
  73. "So let me get this right, Professor. I am here because of a Tuna Speciale?"
  74. The semi-horse's features relax in a way that is instantly recognizable despite its unfamiliar anatomy: relief. His head bobs up and down as he eagerly nods.
  75. "Exactly right, Anon. I am glad that y-"
  76. The professor is promptly cut off by my laughing fit. It's not that I want to mock him or anything, but the situation is just too absurd. Seriously, all I had wanted was a nice evening of catching up with my friends, and instead I end up in a mad alchemist looking laboratory in some alternate universe Neuschwanstein? Guess people were right about the inevitability of drifting apart from your friends if this was supposed to be the more realistic alternative.
  77. I am wheezing and hammering the tabletop with my fist. So I've finally lost it. Alright. Better get used to the idea of coming to in a straightjacket in a nice padded room, Anon, because there's no way this isn't some sort of fevered hallucination of a psyche in the middle of breakdown.
  78. Finally, my laughter winds down. But after blinking the tears away from my eyes, I am somewhat surprised to still find myself doubled over the table of this odd room. My arms are unbound, and no padded walls in sight. Huh, imagine that. By my side, but still keeping a safe distance, Quick Diner clears his throat to draw my attention.
  79. "Are you alright, Anon? I imagine it must be hard to take it all in..."
  80. He trails off, unsure of what to say. His worried glance wanders from me to the disarray on his maltreated table and back to me. And honestly, I start to feel a little bad. From the second I saw him, I had worked of the assumption that he harbored ill intent of some kind towards me, but so far he has only shown me understanding and a flustered sort of embarassment for my situation. Even now that my laughter-driven rampage across his table has probably damaged the now-crumbled-up scrolls on it that for all I know might be invaluable, there's no hint of anger in him.
  81. With a resigned sigh, I lower myself to the floor to meet my "host" at least a bit closer to eye-to-eye. Maybe it's time to return some trust.
  82. "I think I am doing as fine as I can right now, professor, but I think I am going to need a whole lot of explanations before I can believe that this is not just some crazy dream." Another fit of nervous laughter tries to escape my throat, but I manage to swallow it down. "I mean, everything about this whole situation is so far removed from everything I know that it just seems absolutely surreal."
  83. Quick, who has sat himself down on his haunches across from me, nods, more to himself than to me. I can't help it: I have to stare at his goatee. It sways in synch with the movements of his head, and I have to face the fact that it is not some kind of glue-on joke but the real deal. So the little horse things can grow beards. Just another weird thing about this place.
  84. "Anon, I understand how ... troubling this must be for you. Frankly, I can't see anyone going through your situation without major confusion. So if you let me, I would like to explain as much as I can as to what happened, why you are here, and what we are going to do about this unfortuate situation."
  85.  
  86. "You see, as Professor of Applied Food Sciences I am always on the lookout for new delicacies to sample. This is not limited to food from the remote regions of my home country of Equestria, or even this world. When I am not actively pursuing a specific delicacy, I mostly spend my time researching the records you see in this room." Diner makes sweeping gesture along the walls of the room, pointing out the sheer volume of books contained within. "The books you see here include some of the rarest reports our most magically talented unicorns created after travelling between worlds. While I am sadly not powerful enough to cross over myself, I still can bring in objects from other worlds. So when I read of a meal that catches my interest, I usually use my magic to bring over a sample to test wether it could be introduced into Equestria. Usually I take the utmost care in making sure that only the meal in question makes the passage over to our world, but I have to admit that this evening I was distracted by re-reading the description of your world Space Jumper the Explorer provided in his travel report."
  87. Diner sounds genuinely remorseful. I, for my part, try to comprehend what he is telling me. "You have to understand, Anon, that the description of a world completely without magic is an utterly alien concept to me. Magic is an integral part of Equestrian life, and even the other worlds from which I brought food over always had SOME magical presence. I was so focused on the book, that I only noticed that I was bringing over more than intended when it was already too late."
  88. The Professor clears his throat. the more he tells me, the more nervous he outwardly appears, but wether this is because he fears my reaction or because it slowly dawns on him just how badly he fucked up I can't tell. "Now, I know that this is all a lot to take in for you, but I assure you that we will find a way to send you back to your world. I will consult with my colleagues on the faculty and I am certain that we will find a way. You have to understand that taking something from its world is easy, but putting it back is a whole lot harder. See, worlds change their position in the nether, similar to how planets move around. However, while the planets stay on their course, or, in case of the sun and moon are moved in always the same way by our Princess Celestia, the worlds move completely unpredictable. Attempting to send a living being back to the location its world used to be when you got it might have catastrophic consequences."
  89. I have to agree. The idea of floating through the void between dimensions doesn't seem all that appealing right now, even if the alternative is a planet of these things. Not that I am completely convinced that this is real at all.
  90. The same blue glow that previously stopped me from pinching myself now envelops a glass of water and brings it to the professor's lips, who takes a sip. His horn is glowing with the sam blue shine. Hard as it might be to admit it, it seems that all the paranormal talk of magic and dimensions might have some substance to it.
  91. "Not to worry", the Professor mutters, "We have the brightest unicorns in Equestria at Canterlot University. We will find a solution to this."
  92. I hope so. Truthfully, I hope that finding a solution won't even be necessary. That I will go to bed here and wake up tomorrow on the floor in front of my couch, hungover and with a bitch of an headache and quickly fading memories of a bizarre yet vivid dream. But even as I tell myself this, I have to face the fact that none of this feels like a drunk dream anymore. I feel far too awake and aware for that. Besides, even my rare regular dreams had never been this fleshed out. Besides, on the occasions I did dream, by this point my ex had usually made her entrance to apologize for the way our relationship ended, using all her "assets". I sneak the door a look. No, no such luck today. Seems like I'll have to engage with my unexpected host for a while longer.
  93. I better go about this carefully. Upsetting some kind of magic being that can travel through time and space doesn't seem like such a good idea right now.
  94. "So, eh, Professor?" Nervous coughing on my part. Great, we are off to another good start. "I appreciate your explanation, I really do, but I would be lying if I said that I really understood it. It's really a lot to take in, so I hope that you won't hold it against me if I have a few more questions." Now for some of that disarming Anon charme. God, I hope that my forced smile doesn't look too crazed. What if in their culture bared teeth are a threat? Their closest analogues on Earth are prey animals after all.
  95. To my relief, the Professor answers with a smile of his own. And his at least seems genuine. In fact, he seems downright reliefed.
  96. Seems like I didn't commit a cultural faux-pas after all. Chalk one up for Anon.
  97. "I'll be happy to answer any questions you might have, Anon. And I think there's no need for you to call me professor, given the peculiar circumstances of our meeting."
  98. The glowing light once again engulfs the prof- Quick's horn and a bunch of cushions promptly comes floating over to us.
  99. "Please make yourself comfortable, Anon. But I have to ask, would you mind answering a few questions of my own? Despite what you might think, it's not every day that I get to meet a being from another dimension, especially from one as unique as yours."
  100. Over the next few ours, the two us get to know each other over shared stories of our respective worlds. At some point, Quick even levitates over tablet with biscuits and tea from who-knows-where, in which I eagerly partake.
  101. Who would have thought that interdimensional travel works up such an appetite?
  102. Quick tells me about the different races of ponies and the other species on his world but also some less believable things that I mentally firmly put into the category of myth; above all the story of Princess Celestia, who ruled supreme since she, according to legend, banished her evil sister to the moon nearly a thousand years ago. Now she alone was in charge of night and day, he told me, and it took a while to sink in that he meant it in quite the literal sense.
  103. Apparently, I am currently a "guest" of the famed Canterlot University, right in the capital of the realm. I guess I might feel a little more honored if my brain wasn't still preoccupied with the processing of the information that no, the sign on his flank was not in fact a tattoo or branding, but rather a magic expression of a pony's special talent. Stuff like that is a lot to take in, even if I have to admit that I can't see someone who seems as sharp as Quick getting a tattoo of a salad bowl just because they feel like it one day.
  104. Guess I'll have to believe him when he tells me that it symbolizes excellence in "all things culinary except cooking itself" as he puts it.
  105. Of course, I have to return the favor, and so I do my best to give Quick a rundown of good old Earth. Countries, people, the technology we use instead of magic. While I tell my tales, Quick is visibly fascinated, often muttering "fantastic" or "incredible" under his breath while making some hasty notices on a scroll. Whenever I pause my report to take a drink to moisten my throat, he looks at me with an almost heartbroken expression. And despite what I try to tell myself, that this is not some kind of cute animal, but an intellectual from another sphere of existence, I can't bring myself to say no to a face like his.
  106. But sooner or later, all things must come to an end. After what feels like hours spent talking, the two of us are simply too strung out to continue. No matter how much I drink, my voice has become hoarse and raspy and the upright position has long been abandoned in favor of lying down on the pile of cushions. Quick doesn't look much better, in fact he seems half asleep. His eyelids flutter in a constant struggle to stay open and at times he has to visibly fight with himself to remain upright.
  107. I am just ready to call it quits as an uncomfortable pressure while turning on my pillowpile reminds me of something. Fingers reach into a pocket and pull out a flat device. I hand it to Quick, who actually seems to have to strain himself a little to pick it up in his levitation spell. He floats it up to his face, turns it first this way, than that.
  108. "Anon, I am afraid that I can't tell what this little thing is supposed to be."
  109. It comes floating back to me, and I grab it out of the air.
  110. "This," I say as I activate the screen, "is one of the smartphones I told you about."
  111. Almost instantly, Quick is wide awake again. The sheergiddy joy on his face is downright infectious.
  112. "Here, let me show you how it works."
  113. As expected, I have no reception, but I still manage to keep Quick excited and entertained by showing and explaining to him some pictures from my world, while mentally praising my foresight that kept my folders full of obscure memes and reaction images hidden by default. Some of these would be rather hard to explain to someone unfamiliar with post-post ironic internet humor. Hell. I wouldn't have shown the stuff to most of my closest friends. No academic, yet alone one from a completely different background, needs to know about those.
  114. Wouldn't want to tear down the positive first impression I've certainly made.
  115.  
  116. By now it's getting dark outside and I have to admit that I am more than just a little tired. I have to bite back a yawn as I ask Quick wether he has a place where I can sleep.
  117. "Oh, of course I have somewhere for you to stay. At least I hope so. Please excuse me, but I was so distracted that I didn't even think about the matter of accomodating you. But I think I know how we'll go about this."
  118. Quick leads me out of his office and as I follow him down a winding staircase, I try my best to mentally map out the builing. The large windows in the black and white checkered marble walls confirm my initial suspicion; Quick's office is situated in a tower of sorts, the rest of the university complex sprawls beneath us. The sheer size and opulence of the building reminds me more of a fairytale palace than a house of higher education.
  119. "We are currently in the science wing," Quick explains as we step through a doorway at the end of the stairs. "This is where some of Equestria's finest minds work on new technologies, apllications of magic, you name it." I nod along to his eager explamations as he goes into the details of some of the work that is supposedly done here. I would be lying if I said that understood most, hell, more than the bare minimum of what he is telling me, but I have to admit that the huge pictures of the faculty's most famous scientists and their discoveries are impressive on their own, even if I am too tired to really process what I am seeing.
  120. We follow the winding hallway past closed doors and display cases, turn corners, descend some more stairs...
  121. I have long given up on mapping out my surroundings. I am far too tired for that. All I really want is a good night's sleep in a decent bed. Oh, and if I woke up back home, that would be great as well.
  122.  
  123. We finally stop in another hallway. This one is paneled with a warm, dark wood and lit with several candles placed in small alcoves. More important-looking ponies stare down at me from paintings. It kind of feels as if they are giving me the stink eye.
  124. Quick unlocks a door, sticks his head through, and then, seemingly satisfied with what he sees, signals me to follow him through.
  125. The room on the other side is a bit on the small side, though that is owed more to my height than any failings on the architect's part. Anyway, it more than makes up for its size, or lack thereof, in coziness: A small fire flickers in the fireplace and casts a nice orange glow over the thick carpet (is that a bearskin? I wouldn't have pegged ponies as a hunting species) and the bed, which by pony standards must be some kind of double king sized monstrosity and still seems more than enough for someone of my proportions.
  126. "I hope you find this room to your liking, Anon?"
  127. "Oh, sure. I mean, it's honestly more than I'd hoped for. Not that I thought that you'd be a lousy host or anything but..."
  128. Quick snickers.
  129. "It's the bed, isn't it? Well, this IS a guestroom after all. And some of our neighbouring species aren't quite as , well, compact as us ponies. I figured that a room that fits a griffon is should serve you just fine."
  130. "So this is something of an ambassador's suite?" Made it, Anon. Top of the world. If only it were my own.
  131. Another smile from my guide.
  132. "If you want to think of it as one, feel free to do so. I'll put in a word with administration tomorrow that I'll need the room for the foreseeable future to house an unexpected guest. That might raise a few eyebrows, but it should allow us to quarter you here for the foreseeable future. If you should need anything, my room is two doors down the hallway. Feel free to knock at any time. "
  133. He takes one last look around and nods to himself. Everything appears to be in order.
  134. "Well, I think that should be all for the time being. Just one last thing, Anon: Please don't go exploring on your own just yet. Some of the things here in the science wing can be very dangerous if handled by someone who is not an expert. And, well if someone were to see you, it would give us quite a lot of explaining to do, and that is something that I would rather prefer to do on my terms at a time of my choosing."
  135. That demand seems reasonable enough, and I tell him as much. Besides, I am thoroughly tired by now; going on an expedition is definitely not in my cards for tonight.
  136. His worries taken care of, my host turns to leave.
  137. "Good night then, Anon. I'll come over with breakfast tomorrow. If you don't find me in my room tonight, try my office. You have given me quite a lot to think about and document."
  138. A key comes floating over to my nightstand where it gently touches down.
  139. "Better close your door and be careful when you leave. This wing is currently understaffed, but there are still some students who come through here on their way to their lectures. So please, do be careful not to be seen."
  140. "Alright, will do. See you tomorrow, Quick. And thanks again."
  141. He closes the door behind him and I lock it like I've been told to. I hang my clothes up on one of the small chairs standing by a lovingly crafted table in the corner. Next on the agenda is the fireplace. It's just a little too warm and bright in here. But as I still make my way over there, the light already dims and the air becomes noticeably cooler.
  142. What the hell?
  143. The fire is still there, it just isn't shining as bright anymore, and it's not giving off any heat either. Real freaky stuff. After some hesitation, I wave my hand back and forth through through the flame. No burns, no nothing.
  144. I can tell already that this whole magic stuff will take some getting used to. But for the moment my tired mind is satisfied with filing the fire phenomenon under "first-class service". Hey, when it comes down to it, it's just a dimmable light and heater in one, right?
  145. Calmed by this conclusion, I all but collapse into bed, where I quickly fall asleep.
  146.  
  147. Heavy knocking on my door makes me jerk wide awake. My first thought is that my friends came over after all.
  148. But once I get a good look at my surroundings this hope is squashed. Even in the darkness of the guest room I can make out the silhouettes of furniture that is decidedly unproportional for human use. So I am still in magic horse land. Guess waking up back home would have been too much to ask.
  149. "I know you are in there. Open up!"
  150. Well, fuck. Whoever is out there, it's not Quick. I almost hold my breath. Quick told me not to be seen, and I intend to do just that. Who's to say that the person out there isn't just barking up the wrong tree? Perhaps he will realize his mistake, laugh it off and continue to where ever he meant to go.
  151. But what if not? judging by the darkness, it's a little early for breakfast, so some kind of rude room service is out of the question. Perhaps the authorities somehow caught wind of Quick's fuck-up? I nervously swallow as I remember the stories Quick told me about the princess. Someone who sends her own sister to the moon will probably not take kindly to undeclared migrants from other worlds.
  152. As the knocking grows more urgent, I debate hiding under the bed. Of course there is no way that would stand the test of even the most cursory search, but it could possibly give me the advantage of surprise and allow me to dart out of the door past the pony ICE.
  153. But then what? All alone in a strange city, chased by the law and not exactly of an unassuming appearance. I doubt that I would last long.
  154. "Hey, Anon, is it? Listen, I really need you to come out here. Quick sent me. I am a friend. He sent me to get you."
  155. Everyone could make claims like this. I know. But I'd like to think that whatever law enforcement officer would be sent to take care of me would sound more demanding. Oh, of course there's an urgency to the voice outside, but it's a kind that is born more from desperation and fear than anger or professional frustration.
  156. I finally take heart and open the door. There is a red-coated unicorn standing in front of me. The small stallion visibly recoils at my sight. His glasses almost slide off his muzzle, but he manages to catch them with a front hoof.
  157. "There you are. Thank Celestia. Come with me, we need you in Quick's office."
  158. And with that he takes off in a full sprint down the hallway. I try my best to keep his pace. My socks slide over the marble floor and by the time I've caught up with my nightly visitor I've almost fallen several times.
  159. "What's going on," I cough out, "What do you need me for in the middle of the night?"
  160. No answer.
  161. The staircase almost becomes a deathtrap with my slippery feet and the lack of handrails, but I somehow manage to reach the office without breaking any bones. My visitor is already inside.
  162. "So can someone tell me what-"
  163. Quick is lying on one of the pillow piles from earlier. He looks sick and weak. His coat is dull and the his eyes seem foggy in the candlelight. The other unicorn is standing beside him and whispers something while he pulls a blanket over the professor.
  164. "There you are, Anon. Do me a favor and come over here, will you?"
  165. I do as Quick tells me. It is shocking how hoarse and weak his voice is. The red stallion steps to the side to make place for me, and I catch sight of a metal bucket that's standing besides the professor's improvised sick bed. And if the smell wafting out of it is any indication, it has seen quite some use tonight.
  166. "Jesus, Quick." I knee down at his side. "What happened to you? Your Friend," sidelong glance to Red, "just got me out of bed without telling me any details. Is everything alright?"
  167. I mentally punch myself the second I ask. Of course it's not, that's plain to see.
  168. Still, Quick manages a thin smile and a light chuckle at my stupidity. He tries to push himself upright, and the smile is immediately replaced with a strained mask of pain. Finally he settles for lying fown on the pile in a way that elevates him a little more than before.
  169. "Sharpy asked me pretty much the same things when I dragged myself to his door. But not to worry, I'll live."
  170. "Don't take it so lightly," The red unicorn butts in, "This has all the hallmarks of a bad case of magical poisoning."
  171. The look he gives me is hard to read, but it is definitely not a fond one.
  172. "You'll have to excuse my earlier hastiness," he almost spits, "but I have been the head of the university's first aid station for almost ten years now, and a case of this severity is both extremely rare and extremely dangerous."
  173. His hoof twitches. "Sharp Intellect. Quick calls me Sharpy. I'd shake your ... paw, but I think I'll refrain from that until we have figured out just what role you have played in the situation at hoof. Now, I want you to show me the magic device that you showed to my friend here. Just put it down on the table."
  174. "Magic device?"
  175. "Yes, the apparatus that showed impressions of your home. I have reason to believe that the source of Quick's condition lies with you, and from what he told me, your device is a prime suspect."
  176. "You mean my phone? I mean, sure, I can show it to you, but it is not magic."
  177. The red stallion looks at me like an electrician might look at an apprentice who tries to tell him that stuffing a fork in an electrical outlet will boost eco-effectiveness. The sheer contempt makes my skin crawl.
  178. "Frankly, Anon, I will be the judge of that. Your opinion doesn't change the fact that we had previous problems with dangerous leakage from artifacts, and I am not going to risk the health of all of us on the word of someone nopony here has known for longer than a few hours. Now, your device, please."
  179. I place the phone on the table as instructed. "Quick said that there is no magic at all where I am from," I offer.
  180. "And from his mouth to Celestia's ear, but he is a food expert. He is a little out of his depth here," our self-proclaimed expert mumbles as he pulls the phone closer to himself. "Such a thing as a world completely without magic would be completely unheard of. There is always at least some background activity. Now let me do my work."
  181. With nothing better to do, I return to Quick's side. The professor is retching.
  182. "Here, let me help you." I hold the bucket for him. Something nasty is splashing around in there and the sour smell makes my eyes water. With a watery splashing noise, Quick adds to the mess. When he's done, I carry the stinking bucket a few metres away from us before I return to my position from earlier this evening.
  183. "He is kind of a hardass, isn't he?" I finally ask to put an end to the uncomfortable silence. The slight smile returns to Quick's face.
  184. "He can be. But he is just worried. And he is the only one I could trust in this matter." Silence again.
  185. "You know," I say after some deliberation, "where I come from, a lot of people think that phones can make you sick. Could it really be that we don't know about about some sort of magical properties in the materials that might be unhealthy? And that those get exacerbated here because of the background magic or something like that?"
  186. Quick sighs. "We better let Sharpy figure this one out. He is the health expert here, including possible magical influences. I am just a glorified food critic."
  187. Another painful smile. "But I am pretty good, if I dare say so myself."
  188. His joke is rewarded with another painful-sounding grumble from his stomach. I jump and get the bucket back. The least I can do to repay him, really. Quick has been nothing but good to me since I came here, so the least I can do is assist him where I can. As soon as I put it down, he hangs over it again. I almost pat his back, but stop myself in time. Just because he looks like a cute animal in need doesn't mean that I get to pet him. Besides, he probably prefers having some space right now.
  189.  
  190. Finally, Sharpy comes back over to us. The red stallion looks as if he'd seen a ghost. He carries the phone in his magic and is turning it this way and that as he walks. "It should be impossible," he mumbles more to himself than to us as he gives the phone back. "I've never seen a machine as complex as this one. And to think that it is functioning entirely without magic..."
  191. He sits himself down with us and fixes me with a nervous stare.
  192. "I think I might owe you an apology, Anon. But please understand that this is a first for me. Everything here is basically soaked in magical background rafiation, and before today everything we got from other dimensions was at least slightly magically irradiated as well."
  193. He seems to ponder this for a moment. I wonder what this might mean for Quick's sickness. Just what could knock him out like this over the few hours since we last spoke?
  194. "Anon, hold still for a second, will you?"
  195. "Huh?" I am completely surprised by the sudden burst of activity on Sharpy's part. The red stallion has jumped upright again. His horn is glowing and the same red glow is wandering over my body.
  196. "What are you do-" Before I have even managed to get the whole question out, the glow dissipates. Its originator is almost panting, but I can't tell wether it's from stress or strain.
  197. "Of course, I should have known. If the materials are not magical, the creatures aren't either." He stops his pacing. "Anon, I need you to go to your room. Lock the doors and don't let in anyone but me. Do you understand?"
  198. "But why?" I ask. "Do you think I caused this?"
  199. "Because you might be a major health risk and I want to see you in quarantine!" Sharpy barks. "Of course I believe you did this. I am not assuming intent on your part, but a reaction of magic infused organic material with its non-magical counterpart has never been observed before. So perhaps you understand that I am just a little, teensy tiny bit worried!"
  200. Of course I understand. But I am also angry. If he says that he is not assuming intent, then why does he feel the need to treat me like a criminal? I am about to go off on him when Quick rasps again and immediately interrupts our staring contest.
  201. "I don't think that Anon is to blame," he wheezes. "after all, he was just an unexpected passenger."
  202. Like one, Sharpy and I turn to the desk and the pizza box still seated on it. Red magic surrounds it and the top opens. Sure enough, there is a missing slice.
  203. "Don't tell me you actually ate extradimensional food without running it by my AGAIN," Sharpy fumes. I had thought that he was angry when he shouted at me before, but that episode pales in comparison to the cold seething he displays now.
  204. "I did. What were the odds? It was always safe before. Statistics were on my side." A weak laugh, more rasping in Quick's throat.
  205. "Yeah, well, then I guess this is the exception to the rule? There is always a risk, Quick. I might be Sharpy to you, but the rest of the faculty still knows me as Doctor Intellect, thank you very much. And now shut up, you are doing a lot of things to my blood pressure tonight, and I like precisely none of them."
  206. He turns to face me. The anger is gone, he just looks and sounds very tired now. "Anon, I will take him to the infirmary. I need you to go back to your room until I come by tomorrow. I will bring breakfast, but I need you to stay there. If it helps, try not to think of it as a quarantine."
  207. I nod. There's no way they'll manage to smuggle me into the infirmary, however much I want to stay with Quick. What would the authorities think if a very sick professor and a strange new creatures turned up at the same time? Nothing good, I bet. I am not exactly feeling like giving the banished princess some company.
  208. "Alright. See you tomorrow then."
  209. There is a slight pain as I turn to leave. "I took the liberty to take a few of your hairs, Anon. I will take those with me and analyse them discretely. This should help us get clarity about your situation. I promise I will be back tomorrow."
  210. "Whatever helps." I mean it, but if it comes off in a way that annoys Sharpy, I won't lose any sleep over it. Not after how he treated me. Besides, there are far more substantial things to lose sleep over.
  211. "Don't worry about me, Anon. I will be fine. And once I am back on my hooves, we will find a solution for your dilemma," Quick promises me as I tell him goodbye.
  212. "And I'll try to make this mess up to you," I tell him.
  213. The way back to my room feels as if it takes an eternity.
  214. Sleep is out of the question now. For hours I lie awake tossing and turning. I am worried about Quick, but also about my own situation. What if we get found out? What if his sickness is worse than he thinks? Sharpy seemed worried for two.
  215. I finally fall asleep again as the first morning light is poking through the window.
  216.  
  217. The stress of the night has really strung me out. The sun is high in the sky outside my window by the time I shuffle out of bed. From the looks of it we have early afternoon already, if one assumes that this supposedly magically moved sun follows at least some of the same rules as the one back home.
  218. A rumbling noise in my stomach brings a question to mind: Why hasn’t Sharpy been here already?
  219. God, I hope there haven’t been any complications with Quick’s condition. What if it is as serious as Sharpy seemed to fear?
  220. I really wish that there were a way for me to know what’s keeping him, but it is not like I could just walk down there and ask. And my phone won’t do me any good in the matter either. I unlock it nonetheless. If nothing else, it can at least help me pass some time.
  221. The first thing I notice is that the stupid thing still claims that it’s in the middle of the night. Must have stopped when I was brought here. I guess I won’t get any clarity on the time of day this way.
  222. Second and equally concerning is the discovery that the battery charge is already down to seventy-one percent. I am hit with the sudden realization that recharging won’t be a likely option during the remainder of my stay here.
  223. For a while I simply stare at my background: A picture of my father with his new car. He had bought the old timer in the summer and had lovingly restored it into prime condition. The old man in the picture stands behind the open door of his pride and joy, beaming with happiness.
  224. “Chin up,” his smile seems to say, “I know that you can pull through this.”
  225. I reluctantly turn off the phone. It will be for the best to conserve the remaining charge. Who knows when I might end up needing it. Perhaps I could take some pictures to remember my stay by. Not that anyone would believe me either way.
  226. But what to occupy myself with? I need something to take my mind off my worries. There are some books on a low shelf beneath the fireplace that might be interesting, but worthless to me as a non-Equestrian.
  227. So I decide that with reading not an option, I might as well inspect the bearskin rug that gave me pause last evening. I simply can’t bring myself to visualize ponies hunting and killing creatures so much larger and at least seemingly more dangerous than them.
  228. But then again, they have their magic, and my perspective is in all likelihood skewed by my association of them with the docile herbivores from back home.
  229. The rug is exceptionally soft and warm to the touch. Some more magic perhaps? A lifted corner and a hand placed beneath it bring the answer: It’s just underfloor heating. Not that I’d expected that either.
  230. I am about to lay the corner of the rug back down when a label sewn into the underside catches my attention. The little white slip identifies the rug as a reproduction bearskin manufactured by a company in a place called Manehattan. Nodding to myself, I let the rug slip from my fingers. Of course the ponies wouldn’t hunt bears.
  231. Then it hits me.
  232. I sit there as if thunderstruck. I must’ve hallucinated. No wonder, what with all the stress of the last dozen-odd hours. There is no way that…
  233. Trembling fingers grip the edge of the rug. Very carefully, it gets lifted up once more and peering eyes search the underside. Why am I this nervous? Of course I am a little shaken by the situation, but one’s imagination running wild for a moment can probably be excused by the whole extraordinary situation.
  234. But despite everything I tell myself, the label is still there. Still perfectly readable as well. The logical part of me tries to tell me that I shouldn’t be so surprised, after all I could understand the two ponies perfectly, but the rest of me refuses to listen.
  235.  
  236. It takes a while until I have calmed down enough to give the books a second look. They turn out to be a two-volume edition of “Equestrian Customs & Traditions: The great guide”. This makes sense as well, knowing what Quick told me about the purpose of this room, but it still feels a little too much as if it is catering to me specifically for my liking.
  237. With the first volume in hand, I make myself as comfortable as possible in one of the still slightly too low and small chairs standing by the table near the window. The warm rays of the sun falling through the window make this corner a comfortable reading place, and for some time I manage to push back my worries and do some research on the basics of my unwitting host country.
  238. As it turns out, Equestrian norms don’t differ all that much from the ones on Earth, and while that makes for an interesting realization, it also makes the book a rather dull read. The only reason I keep reading is the need to distract myself not only from my anxiety concerning Quick’s condition, but also a somewhat more trivial problem:
  239. I could really use a bathroom right now.
  240. And now, as I nervously pace around my room racking my brain for the location of the nearest one, it strikes me that Quick didn’t tell me where those are.
  241. Did he do that on purpose? We had firmly established that I am not to leave my room if at all possible, but there is no way that he didn’t account for certain needs, rights?
  242. In any case, I am not going to simply relieve myself out of the window or into the fireplace. Not only would it more likely than not make a horrible impression on my hosts, it is also against all my standards of hygiene.
  243. Not to mention that it would go against everything the guidebook tried to teach me the last hour or so.
  244. No, there has to be another way. This floor is full of living quarters, there’s bound to be a bathroom around. It’s not like anyone will notice if I slip out for just minute or two. Sure, there is the possibility that Sharpy picks just the minute I leave to return, but I am willing to risk angering the belligerent doctor if it means that I can get rid off the pressure on my bladder.
  245.  
  246. My ear against the door, I listen for any signs of movement on the hallway outside. Neither the clip-clop of hooves on the floor nor voices are to be heard.
  247. A good start.
  248. As slowly and silently as possible, I open the door. Just a crack at first, then, when my peering eye confirms that I am in no danger of discovery from my left, I slip my head behind the door and peer down the hallway to the right. No one is there either. This is my chance. I slip out into the hallway. The door stays unlocked in case I need to beat a hasty retreat.
  249. Any observer would probably get a good laugh out of me scurrying from door to door, trying to be as quick and silent as possible. The doors I pass are without exception locked. The bronze signs on them bear simply numbers, and I already consider turning back and trying my luck on the other side of the hallway, when I see a door with a sign that’s a fair bit larger than the others up ahead.
  250. A short sprint, and I read the word that offers salvation: Restroom.
  251.  
  252. I don’t even care that I let the door loudly slam shut behind me. By the time it’s closed, I am already locked away in a stall with a toilet that was obviously not designed with human anatomy in mind.
  253. Over my shuffling around in search of a halfway comfortable position, I don’t hear the door open again, and so it is the sound of hooves on the restroom tiles that makes me freeze up.
  254. "What do you mean, Professor Diner is not here today,” I hear a voice complain as the hoovesteps come to a stop pretty much directly in front of my stall, "I had an appointment to talk to him about my homework, and now he just bails?"
  255. As I pull up my feet in case someone decides to look behind themselves, the sink on the opposite wall is turned on. Over the sound of splashing water I hear a second voice trying to calm its companion: "It doesn’t seem like he has a choice. I came by his office earlier in the morning and talked to his secretary. The Professor has some kind of exotic food poisoning and probably won't be in all week."
  256. Another sink is turned on and there is more splashing around. It seems like my unexpected companions are washing their hooves. The first voice laughs a little.
  257. “Food poisoning? Well, I guess that’s an occupational hazard in his line of work.”
  258. The second voice joins in as the sounds of flowing water stop and their dialogue moves away from my stall.
  259. “Seems like it. I am just glad that I could avoid it so far.”
  260. “Hey, do you want to come with me when I go to get a new appointment after class? We could grab something to eat on the way back.”
  261. The door slams shut again and robs me of the opportunity to listen in on more of voice 1 and 2’s private life. On my uncomfortable toilet, I breath a sigh of relief.
  262. Those two came in just a few dozen seconds after me. They must have been on their way here, just behind a bend in the corridor when I slipped out of my room. The thought that I almost got discovered by two students makes the hairs on my neck stand up. At least it sounded like the nature of Quick’s affliction is still under wraps.
  263. And him being only out of a week, was that just talk to calm the students, or are things really not looking as bad as Sharpy had feared?
  264. The rest of the bathroom break and my way back go by without further incidents, even if I feel downright paranoid as I sneak back to my room.
  265.  
  266. Back in the safety of the guest room, I almost turn on the phone again, but manage to stop myself. It is probably not too weird to want to see a few photos from back home, if only to draw comparisons between here and there.
  267. But with the electrical situation being what it is, the phone is a luxury I can’t afford right now.
  268. There are so many differences, yet so many similarities as well.
  269. From what I’ve seen so far, the university resembles a medieval palace more than anything, yet there is plumbing and heating.
  270. Royalty seems to be in charge, yet from what I’ve gathered from Quick and the books there are elected officials as well.
  271. Not to mention that despite all the differences, the ponies are perfectly understandable.
  272. It is all a fascinating (and somewhat disturbing) blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar.
  273. Hopefully Quick will be back on his feet, or rather, hooves, soon. Perhaps we could even sort this situation out in a way that will allow me to have a look around outside the university before I get back home. Then my phone will have its moment to shine. A few pictures will go a long way if I ever let slip to somebody that my fast food sucked me into magical horse land. Perhaps then they would simply see me as an eccentric master of photo manipulation instead of someone who needs to be institutionalized.
  274. Now that’s an interesting thought: What if stuff like this happened far more often than I thought? Thousands of people could have misadventures in other dimensions, planes, whatever every year and no one would believe them. If they didn’t shut their mouths about it, they would without a doubt get laughed off as eccentrics and wackjobs, if not locked away in case they insisted on their “fantasies”. The best they could hope for would probably be an appearance on Joe Rogan’s show.
  275. I shudder. It would probably be best to keep these theoretical pictures as a private keepsake and never lose a word about them to anyone.
  276. Of course there is still the matter of taking them in the first place. It’s probably just wishful thinking anyways.
  277. Someone’s knocking on my door again. This time it is not the hectic hammering of the previous night, but a rather soft rapping.
  278. “Anon, open up. It is us.” I hear Sharpy say on the other side. He, too, sounds far calmer than he had been earlier. And “Us”? That sounds almost too good to be true.
  279. Of course I open the door and am greeted by the sight of both Sharpy and Quick standing in the hallway. The doctor is wearing what seem to be saddlebags, but what really commands my attention is Quick. He is sitting, as if standing while waiting for me to open the door would be too much of a strain for him, and there are dark bags under his eyes. He is wearing a necklace with a big glowing pearl.
  280. I let them in and the three of us sit down, the ponies on the warm rug and I on the edge of the bed.
  281. “So,” I awkwardly start, “are you feeling any better, Quick?”
  282. Tired nodding. “I am alright for the most part. They gave me this transfusion here,” he points at the necklace, “to get my magic reserves up again. Apparently I am very lucky that I ate only one of the slices.”
  283. “You demonstrated once again that you have more luck than sense,” Sharpy interjects. “Let me explain,” he tells me. “We found out that the food Quick ate not only failed to provide any nourishment but, probably owing to its complete lack of magical properties, in fact drained his body of its energy reserves. Rather fast, too. We managed to extract and destroy most of the piece he had eaten, but he will have to wear the transfusion pearl for at least a week to properly recuperate. If he had eaten more … ”
  284. He leaves the alternative unspoken, but I understand nonetheless.
  285. “Holy shit.” I breathe. “Quick, I am sorry-“
  286. “It’s not your fault,” he cuts me off. “It’s not like you made me eat the pizza, after all. Sharpy is right, I have been irresponsible and, frankly, acted like an amateur.”
  287. “And I’ll make sure to remind you of it.” Sharpy briefly cracks a small smile and the professional facade slips for just a moment. But the moment passes as fast as it came and his expression darkens as he turns back towards me.
  288. “And I am afraid I have some bad news. You might have noticed that we didn’t bring breakfast-“
  289. “That’s really not a problem,” I interrupt, relieved that the supposed bad news are as trivial as a missed meal, “I am just happy that Quick is getting better. We can always eat later, right?”
  290. The smile on my face first freezes and then vanishes. Quick is looking at me with a deeply sad expression, while Sharpy is back in serious doctor mode.
  291. “That’s just the problem, Anon.” he says. “I am afraid we can not. I take it you remember those hairs of yours I took for testing?”
  292. All of a sudden, my throat feels very dry.
  293. “Yes,” I croak out. “What about them?”
  294. Sharpy clears his throat.
  295. “I made some rather worrying discoveries, Anon. For one, it seems like the cells of your body have the same harmful magic draining capabilities as your food, also in all likelihood due to your complete lack of inherent magic. Now, as long as they are not ingested, it would take prolonged physical contact to result in damage to Equestrian natives, but shedded hair and flakes of dead skin could potentially still be ingested and lead to long term health problems. Still, problem could rather easily be avoided by keeping you under quarantine for the duration of your stay and thorough cleaning of the room afterwards. What really worries me is something else.”
  296. As I watch dumbstruck by what I’ve just heard, he levitates a container out of his saddlebags. He sets it down in front of me and opens it. Inside, there is what looks like a brittle and grey bushel of fur.
  297. “Anon, I am afraid this is the sample I took yesterday. There is no use in beating around the bush here. It appears that exposure to magic leads to rapid cellular breakdown in your body.”
  298. The bushel gets covered in the by now familiar glow of an unicorn horn, and in front of my eyes it starts crumbling into a pile of dust.
  299. "This was about the dose of magic you would absorb over the course of a week over food and drink alone ," Sharpy explains. "Quick told me that you had only eaten a few biscuits and drunk some tea while you were with him, so while the damage should be very light so far, sooner or later you will have to eat or drink. And that's without taking the background magic into account."
  300. This is what a cancer patient must feel like. Getting a glorified death sentence from a medical professional is decidedly less dramatic than one might think. There is a gaping feeling of emptiness as I stare at the little pile of dust that used to be a part of my body just yesterday. I don’t even notice the tears forming until they drip onto the floor in front of me.
  301. "You will find a way to send me back before that happens, right?" The question almost asks itself. "You have to. I don't want to die."
  302. My voice is choked. Never have I wished for my situation to be some kind of bizarre dream more than now.
  303. "Anon." A hoof touches my knee. I look up. Through my tears, I can make out Quick who has moved to my side. "I am afraid that we won't be able to do that in the time we have to work with."
  304. His soft voice almost sounds as if it is trembling. The professor must be on the verge of tears himself.
  305. "But," Sharpy interjects as my head goes back to hanging in defeat, "what we do have is a temporary solution that would give us the time we need."
  306. "You do?"
  307. A new feeling of hope fills my breast. In the pit of my stomach something else rises: The fear of disappointment.
  308. "Yes. It is, however, an extreme measure. Which is why I needed you to understand the gravity of the situation before breaking it to you." The red pony adjusts his glasses. "You see, once your predicament became clear to us, Quick and I decided to let an old friend in on our secret. Don't worry about her, she is perfectly trustworthy." And if it's the Princess herself. I'd take it as long as she would be able to stop what happened to my hair from happening to the rest of me. Banishment is still better than disintegration. The memory of the bushel shriveling up and turning to dust makes me sick.
  309. "Her name is Witching Hour. She works in the section of the university library that's reserved for the more experimental spells. When we told her about the situation you are facing in the hope that she could hopefully find something in there that could save you, she had an idea almost immediately."
  310. "So there is something you can do?" Tears are still flowing from my eyes, but now they are tears of relief. Almost unconsciously, my hand grabs and holds Quick's hoof.
  311. "There is, but it is still a radical measure that might put a lot of strain on you. I could give you a whole lecture filled with technical terms and all that, but I am going to keep it simple. Anon, what Witching Hour suggested was to turn you into one of us for the duration."
  312. "Turn me into one of you." I echo. I must have misunderstood him.
  313. "Indeed. As a pony, you would not only withstand magic, but thrive on it. The cell death would be completely averted. And you could move far more freely, of course."
  314. If the threat of death via magic irradiation was a left hook, this is the right. The notion of not only travelling to another world or dimension, but also becoming one of the natives, all in the span of less than two days, seems so unreal that I am unable to comprehend Sharpy's proposal as little more than a thought exercise. Giving up my body in favor of a new one is an alien concept to me, but at least this way I would get a new one instead of ending up a shriveled pile of dirt. Even thinking about this alternative makes me shiver in terror.
  315. "Witching Hour was positive that we would be able to dampen the magical exposure during the process to such a degree that you would be back on your, well, hooves shortly once your body is able to properly process the energies. But I need you to understand that there remains a risk. And that we won't do anything without your consent."
  316. It is clear from the look he gives me that he expects me to give it right now. Quick notices as well.
  317. "At least give him some time to think it over. It's a big decision."
  318. He might say so, but it is really not. It isn't even a decision at all. My only solace is that it will be a temporary affair.
  319. I grip Quick's hoof tighter.
  320. "Alright." I say. Quick's face is twisted with discomfort and I don't think that I look any better. "I'll take the risk." My voice sounds hollow even to my own ears.
  321. Sharpy nods. He knew that it would come down to this, of course, but still seems relieved. Probably expected more kicking and screaming. I imagine you see those things often in a medical profession.
  322. "Why don't you two stay here while I get her? It won't take long."
  323. "Are you sure-" Quick starts, but his friend is already out of the door. With a sigh, the professor settles down again.
  324. There are a few seconds of silence as I start to process just what I just agreed to. God, I hope everything works out. And if it won't...
  325. Hopefully the concentrated magic will kill me instantly if it comes to that.
  326. But at the same time, now that there's a solution, however imperfect, on the horizon, I want to get it over with. The thought that I am soaking in what amounts to deadly radiation is terrifying.
  327. "Anon, I am so, so sorry." Quick says next to me. "If I hadn't gotten distracted during the summoning, none of this would have happened. This whole mess is my fault."
  328. He is on the verge of tears himself. The big eyes he looks up to me with are watering.
  329. "I am such a stupid mule. To think that I messed up your life just because I wanted to try some exotic food."
  330. He is really getting into it now. Tears flow as he beats himself up. He is ranting about how he is an idiot who never should have been made a professor, how he is going to resign and more. Too much for me to process it all.
  331. "It's alright."
  332. "What?" Quick stops his ranting and stares at me, thunderstruck.
  333. "I said it's alright."
  334. "How can you say that? I brought you here. Without me, none of this would have happened."
  335. "But you didn't know that it would happen."
  336. All that had to be said has been said. Of course, it isn't alright. Not really. But despite Quick's mistake, I don't feel any ill will towards him. It might just be that I am too drained from the emotional rollercoaster that was the last hour, but I really don't want him to drown himself in self hatred.
  337. "Anon, I..."
  338. The rest of the sentence goes unspoken. Again, we sit in silence.
  339. "I'll make it up to you," Quick finally sniffs. "Even if it takes years, I will make it up to you."
  340.  
  341. Finally Sharpy returns. He has an older mare in tow. Her creme-colored coat and peach mane bound in a tight bun glisten with patches of grey. Despite her apparent age, she is by far the most animated pony I've seen so far.
  342. "So where is he? Oh, that must be him. Are you Anon? I am Witching Hour, nice to meet you. Has anyone ever told you that you look a bit like an equatorial ape? Oh, it is SOO nice to finally meet someone as exotic as you, but let's come to the business at hoof, why won't we?"
  343. Without waiting for an answer and still chatting on, she pulls a thick book out of Sharpy's saddlebags and sets it down on the table. So much for the stereotype of librarians loving the quiet.
  344. "Ohh, Mister Anon? Over here please," she calls out, face buried in the book. "How typical of the professor and his, for lack of a better word, subject, to only focus on each other. Not to judge you prematurely of course, I am just SURE you are a fine specimen..."
  345. Quick stays at my side as I step over to the table.
  346. "Of course I am aware that my colleagues already gave you a rundown on what we are planning to do here today, but I am sure that you have some questions."
  347. "Well, yes. I w-"
  348. "Wonderful!" she cuts me off. "You see, I intend to use Starswirls Universal Transformation to turn you into a pony for the rest of your stay. Now, I expect you to wonder how we go about that without the magic killing you? Well, you see, there will be some cell damage, which is why we will use a lower energy variant of the spell. That should keep undesireable side effects to a minimum. We will try to spread the damage over your new body, so as to not destroy any cells beyond repair. You are still following me? Great!"
  349. I am not sure if I am still following. The librarian is talking so fast and flipping through the book seemingly at random that part of me suspects that her talkative optimism is just a facade she uses to hide her own nervousness. Of course I don't get to voice these thoughts, because once again Witching Hour doesn't wait for my answer.
  350. " You need to understand that the cell damage will be regenerated once you are one of us and you body is able to properly handle magic. Now, if we would be using the full-powered variant, the damage would completely destroy parts of your body, and that would make turning you back VERY difficult. But what about the undamaged parts we CAN'T turn with the low powered version? Well, so glad you asked. I will simply isolate them as much as I can from magic and store them in the very same pocket dimension were I keep my rarest books." She actually stops talking to take a breath. "Don't worry, they won't be exposed to any magic in there unless it is opened, and even then the exposure will be negligible. It's to keep the books young, you see."
  351. I don't see. I don't understand either. Young books? I could ask her, of course, but I don't think I'd understand the guaranteed longwinded, fast-spoken explanation. All I am gathering is that they'll be putting parts of me on metaphysical ice, and I don't like it one bit.
  352. But when it comes down to it, I like the idea of turning to dust even less.
  353. And if this librarian and her idea have the full confidence of both Sharpy and Quick, what choice do I have?
  354. The talking has stopped. Three pairs of eyes are staring up at me.
  355. "Do you think you are ready, Anon?" Quick asks me.
  356. Truth be told, I doubt that there is such a thing as being ready for what is coming. My feelings about this haven't changed: Transformation into a pony is still a disturbing prospect.
  357. But if i'd spend every day, every hour, waiting for a better solution, another way, then what would be left of me by the time my hosts had a solution?
  358. "As ready as I'll ever be."
  359.  
  360. I don't really believe that myself, of course. From the looks the ponies exchange, they have their doubts as well. But it's not like there is any other choice. After a last nod to his colleagues, Quick closes his eyes. As an expression of extreme exertion settles on his face, his horn begins to glow.
  361. The faint shine grows brighter as his colleagues join in. Meanwhile I do my best to stand still. It takes supreme effort not to flee the magic circle and just keep running until I collapse. To calm myself, I try not to pay too much attention to what is happening around me. Instead, I stare ahead, my eyes tracing every single detail on the wall.
  362. Until suddenly, I am blinded.
  363. A stream of energy is blasting from each of the three unicorn's horns, intermingling and coiling around one another as they rise to the ceiling. I am dimly aware that I must've fallen onto my back as the three beams unite and come rushing down at me.
  364. The last conscious thought racing through my mind is the desperate hope that I won't feel anything if the magic dissolves me after all.
  365.  
  366. The lizard brain, without a doubt surprised by its own survival, has already kicked in the fight or flight reflex by the time I begin to wake up. Through the slowly fading fog of unconsciousness, I manage to make out shapes looming over me. A threat, the lizard brain deduces, and as if on autopilot my arms start flailing. Something connects and with a yelp one of the figures withdraws. I toss and turn trying to get away from them, but my body feels all wrong. Kicking and biting at my surroundings I try to make my escape, but it is of no use. My body feels as if my joints have been taken apart and put back together all wrong and there is some amorphous mass all over me that's pinning me down. And now the shapes are back, throwing themselves over me and trying to pin me in place. Yet the lizard brain doesn't relent. Maybe if I keep struggling for just a little while longer...
  367. "Anon!"
  368. Someone shouting my name brings me back to reality. The shapes rapidly grow in detail and are revealed as none other than Quick and Sharpy who are doing their best to keep me from throwing my blanket-entangled body from my bed.
  369. "Calm down, Anon. It's just us. You hear? Just Sharpy and me."
  370. My heart is still hammering like crazy but I slowly begin to calm down. A look around confirms that I am in bed in my familiar guest room. Slowly, the two stallions let go of me and give me some room.
  371. "Did everything work out?" I rasp. Then: "Where's Ms Hour?"
  372. My voice sounds odd to my own ears. It's lighter than I remember it and my throat feels as if it is filled with slime. I try to get it out but only manage to drive myself to a coughing fit.
  373. "Here, this'll help."
  374. A glass of water appears floating in front of me, glowing in the shine of Sharpy's levitation. I gratefully reach out for it from under the blanket, only to freeze when I see what appears from beneath the covers.
  375. What used to be my arm has turned into something else entirely. There's no way around it, I am now the (proud?) owner of at least one foreleg. My elbow has turned into a knee that makes it impossible to move the limb as I used to. The thing is covered in orchid fur and nicely capped off with a hoof.
  376. I am thunderstruck. The reality of the situation comes rushing back in as the pace of my breathing quickens. I am on the brink of breaking down again when Quick's hoof gently, but firmly forces back down and to look away from the offending appendage.
  377. "It's alright, Anon. We know that you will have a lot to adjust to, but you should know that we will be there for you every step of the way." There's a moistness to his eyes, but the resolve in his voice is like nothing I've heard from him before.
  378. "Quick is right. We will do what we can." Sharpy puts the glass back down. Then he clears his throat. "Now, since I guess I am currently your personal doctor, I think you should know that you are perfectly healthy. I checked up on you while you were out of it, and can assure you that Witching Hour was right. The cell damage you incurred during the spell has already begun healing."
  379. I thought I had been relieved by Quick's words of support. But their impact pales in comparison to the weight that now falls from my shoulders.
  380. "So no crumbling to dust for me?" I manage croak out.
  381. Guarded smiles appear on the unicorns' muzzles.
  382. "No crumbling to dust. On my honor as a medical practitioner."
  383. "Oh thank God..."
  384. I slump on my back, wincing for a moment as one of my unfamiliar new ears gets folded under my head.
  385. Am I still caught in a situation that I couldn't even have imagined a few days ago? Sure. But I am also no longer at risk of a horrible death and I have by my side friends who have proven themselves competent and trustworthy. I can believe that this whole affair will end well again, and for the moment this is all I need.
  386. Except for something that will help me get rid of that phlegm stuck in my throat, of course.
  387. Clumsily I force myself up into a sitting position that probably makes for a pretty dog-like pose as I turn to Sharpy once more.
  388. "Can you give me the water again? I-I'd like to give it another try."
  389. "Of course. Here you go."
  390. The glass returns.
  391. Alright, here we go. I wince as I withdraw first one, then the other changed arm from beneath the blanket. Sure enough, I find that the second one has been just as changed as the first. The sight makes the new fur on the back of my neck stand up, but this time I succeed in fighting back the axiety. "This is just temporary", I tell myself; "I am no longer in danger and there is no need to panic."
  392. Very carefully I push my hooves against the glass from left and right, trying to keep it in place between them without breaking it. I almost drop it when my former elbows don't move the way I want them to as I lead the glass to my muzzle, but in the end I manage to take a sip without incident.
  393. Whatever was stuck in my throat is lodged free and vanishes into my stomach, but not without leaving a bitter taste in my mouth.
  394. Now for the difficult part.
  395. Putting the glass down onto the nightstand.
  396. I try to lean my body in a way that will allow me to reach the nightstand with outstretched forelegs, but it's long before I start swaying at have to pull myself back to keep my balance.
  397. Looking up, I see Sharpy giving me a bemused grin.
  398. "Sharpy, could you give me a hand here? Or hoof, I guess."
  399. My throat might not feel like I've caught a major cold anymore, but my voice still doesn't sound like my own.
  400. I try to ignore it for the time being. For all I know this could be the fault of my new ears anyways.
  401. "Sure can do." The glass leaves my hooves and floats over to the nightstand where it sets itself down. It doesn't even spill a drop.
  402. The grin is still plastered on Sharpy's muzzle.
  403. "I have got to say," he comments, "that was good drinking for a first timer."
  404. "I think I am still the expert on all matters culinary here, Sharpy," Quick butts in, "But I have to concur, that was some fine drinking."
  405. He chuckles.
  406. "And don't you worry, you will get the hang of how you do things with your hoofs or...otherwise."
  407. "Otherwise? What do you mean?"
  408. Quick and Sharpy now both sport wide grins.
  409. When he understands that I am really not getting what he's hinting at, Quick gestures towards his head, while Sharpy turns his eyes as if to see directly above his head.
  410. I don't really appreciate being toyed with like this right now.
  411. "Come on, guys what is it? I mean, I just woke up after a traumatic event and you are standing there, pulling grimaces and..."
  412. Then an idea hits me.
  413. But there is no way...
  414. I say it out loud: "No way."
  415. Very carefully I start lifting my hoof.
  416. "You better not be joking."
  417. The hoof is now on eye level and still rising.
  418. Seeing it up close still sends little shivers down my spine.
  419. The Hoof hits something. I pull it along the length of the object on your forehead.
  420. It is a strange feeling to have something that seems so much like bone grow out of my forehead, but if this is what I think it is...
  421. Only one way to find out.
  422. "Am I an unicorn?"
  423. Saying it out loud feels ridicolous, but only for the short moment until the grinning stallions confirm my suspicion.
  424. "Jackpot," Quick exclaims. Not to be the one to sit this one out, Sharpy adds a "Welcome to the club."
  425. Alright Anon, you've come this far, time to go all in.
  426. "So does this mean I will be able to use magic like you guys?"
  427. This time saying it out loud doesn't feel embarrassing at all.
  428. We are so far removed from anything I would've considered "normal" not too long ago that I suspect the very notion of embarrassment will have to be redefined for me.
  429. Hell, maybe this whole pony thing won't be so bad after all. Once I get the levitation business down, I might not even miss my hands all that much anymore.
  430. At least in this aspect I've gotten lucky.
  431. It falls to Quick to bring me back down to reality: "I don't want to curb your enthusiasm, but perhaps we should start with something easier. Witching Hour said you would probably need to learn to walk again, but yes, once we are done with the basics, Sharpy and I will teach you just what that horn can be used for."
  432. "That's awesome!"
  433. Well, not the part about relearning to walk, but how hard can it be? I already managed to learn walking once, and I was far younger and stupider back then.
  434. "I mean it, really. Thanks for ... being here, you know? If I had woken up and you wouldn't have been here..."
  435. I have a hard time finding words to express the way I am feeling, but they seem to understand what I mean.
  436. Quick gives me a friendly nudge that makes me sway for a moment.
  437. "Hey,I have got to start making the whole ordeal up to you somehow, right? You'll see, we'll-"
  438. Sadly he never gets to tell me what I'll see, because in that moment there is a barrage of knocks at the door.
  439. "Heello-ho?" comes Witching Hour's voice from the other side, almost undampened by the thick wood, "Is everything alright in there? Could somepony let me in, or is that too much to ask?"
  440. "What do you think, Anon? Do you feel up for it?" Sharpy asks, giving the door a glance as if he expects it to burst open any second.
  441. "I think so," I say and give him a nod. My new mane promptly falls into my eyes. I suppress a curse as I try shake it out of my face.
  442. What a nice way to remind me that this'll take a lot of getting used to, any enthusiasm for possible magic abilities notwithstanding.
  443. While I am still fighting with the dark rose colored hair in my eyes I hear the door open, the sound of hooves making their way over to my bedside and above it all Witching Hour's shrill voice talking all the while as she walks over to me.
  444. "So has Anon finally woken up? I heard you guys talking in here, you know. Not that I wouldn't understand that you wanted some time for yourselves after the whole affair. Anon, THERE you are."
  445. Abandoning my efforts to shake the remaining strands of mane out of my face, I look up, only to be met with the somewhat unsettling sight of a smiling Witching Hour looming over me.
  446. "Let me be among the first to congratulate you on your new you, Anon. You are a perfectly healthy unicorn filly."
  447.  
  448. For a moment the room is so silent that you could've heard a pin drop as I stare at Witching Hour without really comprehending what she just said and the stallions nervously step from one hoof onto the next.
  449. Quick and Sharpy look at Witching Hour as if she just set fire to my bed, she herself seemingly unaware of the implications of what she just said.
  450. "What."
  451. Then, as I begin to understand what I've just been told: "WHAT?"
  452. Things slowly begin to add up in my mind: my weird new voice, my seemingly small size compared to the others that I'd chalked up to being a matter of my new perspective...
  453. My frantic mental re-assesment is interrupted by Witching Hour's shouted exclamation:"What do you mean, you didn't tell her yet?"
  454. Her use of the female pronoun makes me wince. Still, she makes a good point.
  455. "Yeah, why didn't you tell me?"
  456. Now that I am aware of the reason for my changed voice, it sounds even more alien to my ears. All the guarded enthusiasm about possibly learning magic in the near future is subsumed by a feeling of-
  457. Disappointment in the ponies I'd just started to regard as friends?
  458. Betrayal?
  459. Confusion?
  460. Probably a mix of all three and some more emotions I can't even identify right now.
  461. Quick for his part doesn't look any less miserable as he turns towards me. His earlier good mood is gone, replaced with a downtrodden expression. If there ever was a face that communicated "I've fucked up and I know it", it's his.
  462. Well, at least he is feeling guilty. It still does little to negate my own hurt feelings.
  463. "Anon, It's just that we didn't want to overwhelm you so soon after waking up. I mean, it must already be traumatic enough, and we didn't know whether you knew, and we just didn't know whether this was the right moment, and-"
  464. He stops his rambling, looks down, then straight into my eyes.
  465. There are tears welling up in his eyes, and I feel a far too familiar wetness forming in the corners of my own as well.
  466. "We made fools out of ourselves, Anon, and I am deeply sorry." he finally finishes.
  467. Behind him, I can see Sharpy open his mouth, but before he manages to say a single word, Witching Hour maneuvers herself between the stallions and me.
  468. "Alright, gentlecolts, I think that's enough. What Anon needs right now are explanations, not excuses, so please leave the two of us alone for a moment before you start digging your graves even deeper. Why don't the two of you wait outside for a while and think about what you did wrong."
  469. Quick gives me one last sad look, but then he nods, turns and walks out.
  470. Sharpy looks as if he wants to protest, but he gets engulfed in magic and pushed out of the door, which closes behind him before he gets the opportunity.
  471. With a little sigh, Witching Hour sits down on the edge of the bed. She gives me an excusing smile, but says nothing.
  472. It seems as if the talkative unicorn is waiting for me to take the first step.
  473. I really don't want to.
  474. Seems like every single time I talked to somebody here and got some reassurance, things took a turn for the worse shortly afterwards. No, I am not falling for it again, fate.
  475. So I turn away from Witching Hour and try my best to ignore her. It's a childish reaction and I am painfully aware that it is far more appropiate for the kid that I appearantly now resemble than the adult on the inside, but fuck it, if I am a kid now, a filly even, I might as well act the part.
  476. No. Fuck that.
  477. But I don't want to talk to some wannabe psychiatrist either.
  478. I am caught in a feedback loop of self hatred.
  479. "Why? Why does this shit happen to me? I just wanted to celebrate my birthday and since then my life has become a travesty. And now literally so! Why am I a filly? Why am I even a kid now? I never asked for this!" it finally bursts out of me.
  480. Until I am hoarse, I continue screaming, inarticulate sounds of rage with some obsceneties sprinkled in.
  481. I don't stop until my throat is raspy and I am almost panting.
  482. "I mean, isn't that fucked up?" I finally finish my rant.
  483. "Are you done?" Witching Hour asks.
  484. She doesn't sound annoyed or patronizing, but rather concerned.
  485. "For now, I guess." I mumble.
  486. I am still angry and disappointed in my friends, but after screaming it all off my chest, I think I'll be able to keep it on the backburner for the time being.
  487. "But I still want some answers."
  488. "And I will try to provide them. Do you remember how I told you that we would need to use a lower-powered version of the spell?"
  489. It takes a moment of awkward silence for me to realize that this isn't one of her usual rhetoric questions and that she is in fact waiting for an answer.
  490. "I think I remember the gist of it. Something about too much magic causing more damage, right?"
  491. "That's a rather simplified explanation, but not wrong. This means we had to try to work around several parts of the spell that would have given us more control over the details of your new form, but would at the same time have spelled doom for you because of their high energy demands. Consequently, we couldn't use our magic to specifically design your body. Therefore, wether you became a stallion or a mare, what colours your mane and coat got and even whether you became an Earth Pony, Pegasus or Unicorn was up in the air, dependant on chance."
  492. "So is this also why I became a child again? Just random chance?"
  493. "Yes and no. While it was a result of the spells reduced power, it was not caused by the random nature of your transformation. As I told you before, we had to put parts of your old body into what amounts to cold storage during the process. Pocket dimension and all that, remember? Due to this, the spell didn't have enough to work with to make you a full-sized Pony. I have to admit that I worked off of the assumption that you'd simply be a little shorter than average, but it seems the spell has its way to give this little problem a rather organic solution."
  494. "So if you knew all this in advance, why didn't you tell me before? A warning would've been nice!" I snap at her.
  495. "And then? Would it have changed things?"
  496. "What? Of course! I mean, who knows what else could've gone wrong. If I had known that it was basically a big throw of the dice, I never would've agreed to this!"
  497. "And died?"
  498. The question cuts deep. Just remembering the existential dread that had taken hold of me after the revelation of what a prolonged stay here would have done to me is enough to make me shudder. Would something so trivial in comparison really have driven me to make another decision?
  499. "No," I finally admit. "I didn't want to die, and I still don't want to. You are right, I'd still taken you up on it. But if I'd had some more time to think things over, got to appreciate the details and risks-"
  500. "Anon," she softly interrupts me, "how long would you have liked to think things over? One day? Perhaps some more? Anon, even without eating anything for that time, the background magic and your fluid intake alone would have deterioated your body, making the transformation, and even more importantly, your eventual reconstruction, harder for us and far more dangerous for you. You yourself said that you wanted to get it over with as fast as possible. I understand that this is far from an optimal outcome from your perspective, but in the long term we more likely than not did the right thing."
  501. That's true.
  502. Perhaps not the long term part, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.
  503. But I had wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible.
  504. Still...
  505. "Would one additional day really have been so bad?"
  506. I am grasping at straws, but I can't help it. I need somebody, something to share the blame with. Help me justify my rage.
  507. "I want to be completely honest with you, Anon. Sharpy told me that based on his medical knowledge the cell damage would not have been fatal, but it would probably have disqualified a good chunk of your body mass from being used. It might even be possible that there would not have been enough left to give you a functioning new body. So when you said you wanted to get this affair out of the way, we weren't exactly keen on discouraging you and putting you at risk."
  508. That changes things.
  509. Most of the anger dissipates. A little bit remains, but now it has found a new target.
  510. If she is telling the truth, this mare and my friends just saved me from death or potentially something worse, and I'd gone off on them like a badly wired tripmine.
  511. No wonder no one had come to my birthday party.
  512. "I am sorry, Mrs Hour. I must come off like an ungrateful asshole, but the last few days have mostly been bad news after bad news to me. Believe me, I am thankful for your help, it's just not quite how I imagined things would turn out."
  513. Witching Hour smiles a bit. "Apology accepted, Anon. And just call me Hour, everyone does. I admit that we didn't handle the situation perfectly, especially after you woke up. So I would like to apologize to you as well."
  514. Despite myself, I can feel a small smile forming as well. "Apology accepted, Hour."
  515. She holds out a hoof towards me and I press my own against it in imitation of a handshake.
  516. "Good to know that we are on good terms again, Anon. Now, I think there are two stallions outside who had some time to think. Shall I let them back in? Or would you prefer to let them fester in their misery a little longer?"
  517. At the latter suggestion, her smile turns downright impish.
  518. "No, let them in. I think I've had enough just about enough misery for a day. And I guess I owe them an apology as well."
  519. "Alright then. Probably a good decision."
  520. With that she trots back to the door. After giving me a last cheeky wink, she throws it open and sticks her head out into the hallway. I can hear her shout: "To the two stallions sulking in the hallway, the patient will see you now. What are you waiting for? Get to it, hut-hut! A bit faster, if you please."
  521. Thus properly browbeaten, the two of them reenter, looking appropiately dejected. Behind them, Hour slides out of the door and closes it behind herself, opting to let me handle the situation on my own.
  522. "I want to apologize," I blurt out. Quick, who had been shuffling his hooves nervously, stops dead and looks at me with wide eyes.
  523. "YOU want to apologize? But it's our fault th-"
  524. "I shouldn't have reacted the way I did. It was- it was immature. Hour helped me to realize that. I know that you did what you could and I am grateful for that."
  525. "Did she tell you why we wanted to keep you from reconsidering?" Sharpy asks, "You know, I consider myself your doctor and keeping facts from a patient doesn't sit right with me, but preventing further damage was our top priority."
  526. "She did. And I understand where you are coming from. Still, the next time you guys have any big reveals for me, please get them out of the way first before coming to the positives. All these endorphines suddenly dying off in my system can't be good, right?"
  527. Is that a smile worming its way onto the red stallion's face? I think it is.
  528. "I promise. But let's hope there are no such reveals coming for some time. The last few days are enough to last a lifetime."
  529. Quick chuckles a bit. "I promise it too. But let's look at the bright side of things. Your health is no longer in danger, so it should be smooth sailing from here."
  530. "Let's hope so".
  531. The three of us turn towards the voice coming from the door. Witching Hour stands in the frame, levitating a bundle of packages in front of her.
  532. "I am back from the kitchen. And if you are done now, I would suggest we get something into our stomachs. Anon must be starving by now, and the two of you can't have eaten much more."
  533. She sets the packages down on my table, and pulls back the seats.
  534. "You wouldn't believe how the kitchen staff looked at me when I teleported in. But desperate times, desperate measures, right? Right. Don't just stand there watching, help me set the table."
  535. Like well trained dogs, the two stallions get to work. They really must fear the lash of Hour's tongue. Good for them that she is currently preoccupied with me.
  536. "Do you think you can make it over here or do you want breakfast in bed, Anon?" the librarian asks.
  537. "I'll come over," I tell her. I can't wait to get out of this bed. The last thing I want right is to feel like I am confined to it. Still, the sight of the floor beneath me makes me gulp. I don't remember the bed being quite this high. How am I going to go about this?
  538. Very carefully, I let the front of my body slide out from beneath the the covers until my front hooves touche the ground. Then I use them to slowly pull myself forward until the rest of my rump and my hindlegs follow. My unfamiliar body feels weak on its legs, but I manage to avoid flopping to the ground. So far, so good.
  539. But now for the hard part: Figuring out that pesky walking stuff. I stare at my hooves as I stretch out one of my legs in front of me. Seeing the furred limb still feels more than a little weird, but I think I can manage for now.
  540. What I can't manage is somehow organizing the other three legs into something more than a stumble that almost sends me face first into the ground when I try bringing up the rest of my body. Somehow I save myself from gravity's insidious pull and remain standing, albeit swaying heavily and heaving with shock.
  541. "Good first step, Anon," comes an encouraging voice from the table. Great, I've got spectators. My pride would have preferred the others to still be distracted by their work, but I guess I should have known that the visitor from another world taking his first step as a pony would draw their attention.
  542. I just hope that I won't break anything on my way over to the table.
  543. If I'll make it there. For the moment, I remain frozen and staring at my hooves. That first step did little to fill me with optimism,so the next is something to be carefully deliberated.
  544.  
  545. A light tap on my shoulder finally gets me to look up from the imtimidating sight of my hooves beneath me. I am met with the sight of Sharpy's face next to me. He gives me an encouraging smile.
  546. "You have a pretty good general idea of things there, Anon. Why don't you watch me and try to emulate the way I walk?"
  547. He takes some slow, exaggerated steps towards the middle of the room, and I follow suit while he watches me in turn.
  548. "Good, Anon, but try to move your knees more like this..."
  549. For a while, we continue with the lesson. Our route leads us to the door and back, a few times around the table and over to the fireplace before finally heading back to the table for tthe promised breakfast. The route amounts to what might be a few dozen metres, and that's a generous estimate, but it is enough to make my untrained new muscles ache and make me work up an enormous appetite. Despite these hindrances, Sharpy's guidance and the encouragement of the others allow me to reach the table without major difficulties.
  550. "That was pretty good already," Sharpy comments as he sits down, "I will train with you for a bit after eating, and you will be running like a pro in no time, you will see."
  551. "I hope so." I wince as a muscle in my flank contracts as I lower myself into a sitting position. "This was, what, perhaps fifty metres? Feels like I ran a marathon."
  552. The stallion chuckles. "That's just your body getting used to its new muscles. It'll all come back to you in time. If it helps, you can compare the process to building a muscle back up after breaking a limb. As long as we keep up a decent training regimen, there won't be any problems."
  553. He looks like he wants to go into more detail, but a sidelong glance over to Witching Hour, who sits beside me, makes him cut himself short.
  554. "Anyways, we can talk more about what I have planned after breakfast. I am sure you must be pretty hungry."
  555. "My, how thoughtful of you." Hour comments. The sharpness of her remark is only slightly undercut by the smile on her muzzle as she turns towards me.
  556. "Dig in, Anon. We've got to get you back on your hooves, after all."
  557. The by now familiar, but nonetheless still impressive glow of magic envelops the paper-wrapped object that sits on the table in front of me. The paper slowly gets pulled back and reveals ... a sandwich.
  558. It looks delicious, fluffy white bread filled with a great smelling salad and dripping with sauce, but its sheer banality still provides a somewhat disappointing contrast to the preceding spectacle.
  559. But food is food, and I am still hungry. I make an effort to pick the sandwich up between my hooves, feeling a bit envious of the unicorns, no, the other unicorns, around the table who can simply float food and drink around however they please. Finally I get something approaching a proper grip and manage to lift my bounty towards my mouth when I notice that the sandwich might not be so unremarkable after all.
  560. "Are those daffodils?" I ask noone in particular. I lean in closer to take another look and sure enough, they are. There are other plants on there I don't recognize, but the little flowers stand out between all the green.
  561. "That's right. Our kitchen master makes the best daffodil sandwiches in all of Canterlot." Hour explains between two bites.
  562. Still skeptical, I take a small bite. It seems like my new tastebuds don't share my skepticism, because the food is downright delicious. Another, considerably bigger, bite quickly follows the first. I have never been one to go crazy about salad, but there is just something about this sandwich. If this is what eating plants is like for a pony, I won't even miss meat. Far too quickly the meal is gone.
  563.  
  564. After breakfast, Witching Hour excuses herself to take care of her librarian duties while Quick, full and tired from the stress of the past few days, falls asleep next to the fireplace. I'd like to catch some Zs myself, but no such luck: Sharpy insists on starting my training on the spot.
  565. So I do my best to trot, canter and sprint around the room, always under the scrutiny of my watchful trainer and always half convinced that the next step will be the one to send me to the ground head over heels.
  566. I can't deny that in time my confidence grows, but so does the stinging in my legs and the strain on my breath. I don't think that I could have gone on much longer when Sharpy finally seems satisfied and calls it quits for the day.
  567. "Good job so far, Anon. We will pick up tomorrow when my shift in the infirmary is done. You will get the hang of being a Pony soon enough."
  568. Oh man. It's meant as a compliment, of course, but I still hope that that won't be necessary. Forcing myself up on my legs again, I walk Sharpy over to the door to exchange goodbyes.
  569. After he is gone, I find myself alone with a sleeping Quick. Looking at him, slightly snoring nex to the warmth of the fire, I find myself agreeing with his idea of how to spend the late morning.
  570. Trying not to make too much noise (Quick is on sick leave and needs his sleep, after all) I climb back into the bed and note with satisfaction that it's much easier than climbing out was not too long ago.
  571. As I dig myself under the blankets to get comfortable, I can't help but smile with satisfaction over the little progress I've made already. Perhaps "getting the hang" of my new situation isn't the worst thing possible right now.
  572. Beats being stuck in a dissolving body flaking to the ground, that's for sure.

37.2 Trillion Anonfillies

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