PASTEDOWN_OLD   303    84978   480.38 KB

Thaumaturgy With Anon [1/?]

By HK-FortySeven
Created: 2nd November 2020 02:06:38 PM

  1. @@@@@@@@
  2. @ Thaumaturgy with Anon, Pt. 1
  3. @ Originally posted to Pastebin on Mar 17, 2017
  4. @@@@@@@@
  5.  
  6. >A knock on the door draws your attention away from the book in front of you
  7. >You groan at interruption, and what it means for you
  8. >Prepping the ol' rectum for another linguistic death by a thousand cuts, you answer back,
  9. "Yes, what is it?"
  10. >"Anon, dinner's been out for a good fifteen minutes now!"
  11. >You let out the breath you were holding
  12. >Thank the Lord, it was just Starlight
  13. "Sorry, I'll be out in a minute or two, okay?"
  14. >"Alright, just don't take too long. You know how Twilight gets with your-"
  15. "'Highly antisocial hermit tendencies', I know."
  16. >You both share a chuckle at the imitation
  17. >Well, better reduce the music-facing now than let it pile up again
  18. >The hour-long lecture on the merits of punctuality is not an event you'd care to repeat
  19. >You close the book on ancient language in front of you, and make to sit up
  20. >It's just a matter of stretching the cobwebs out of the ol' musculature, before striding over to the mirror
  21. >Looks like the neckbeard is starting to return
  22. >[spoiler] The disease is spreading [/spoiler]
  23. >A facial exterminatus with the ol' razor is definitely on the agenda for later
  24.  
  25. >Well, you weren't too unpresentable at this rate
  26. >You make for the door and open it
  27. >Standing on the other side is none other than Starlight Glimmer
  28. >Probably the only pony in the castle that's keeping you from going insane
  29. >Except for lil' Spike, but the wee tyke's too young for some of the bants
  30. >"Looks like you were having fun in there."
  31. >Man, that little smirk of hers
  32. "Oh yeah, you know how the mushroom collection gets in there."
  33. >That got a chuckle out of her
  34. >"I don't think Twilight will approve too much of your, what was it, 'alternative food source'?"
  35. >You shrug
  36. "Everypony's a critic."
  37. >This little back and forth continues on as you two walk on towards the dining room
  38. >And jeez, it took forever to adjust to the whole 'everypony' thing
  39. >But it's all good now on the language front
  40. >So well in fact that you needed more of them--
  41.  
  42. >"There you two are! I was just about to come up and get you myself!"
  43. >Aaaaand there's Princess Books™ herself
  44. >How a decorated veteran of the art of book-dwelling NEETdom looks down on you for reading all day is a mystery to you
  45. >Fuckin mares are weird
  46. >And speaking of NEETs
  47. >You are Anon
  48. >And you've been in Equestria for the better part of two years now
  49. >Not much to say about the past life, you don't really miss it all that much
  50. >Going from basement dweller to technicolour pony land explorer was definitely an upgrade
  51. >The ponies were real surprised by the sudden appearance of a human in the middle of town
  52. >You remember that event like it was yesterday
  53. >The screaming was kinda amusing to listen to after the initial shock wore off
  54. >Then Twilight and her pals came along to resolve things
  55. >They couldn't figure out where you came from or how you got here, but you didn't much care about returning anyway
  56. >They let you stay in town on the condition of earning your keep
  57. >And thus the horrible taboo that was physical labour reared its head
  58. >Working AJ's farm at first wasn't too fun, until the discovery of finger scratching
  59. >Turns out they fuckin' love them some petting and ear scratching
  60.  
  61. >And so you found work at the spa in town
  62. >Raking in the dough with the magic fingers
  63. >The townsfolk pretty quickly stopped screaming and running when they got a lil' bit of the scratchies
  64. >Now they're cool with you
  65. >Watching their [spoiler] cute [/spoiler] reactions to your ministrations also did wonders in curing your acute case of cynical asshole
  66. >Funny how they do that to 'ya
  67. >Nowadays you spend your free time on your second, out-of-left-field interest, languages
  68. >More specifically, ancient and dead languages
  69. >Tricky as fuck to learn
  70. >No Rosetta Stone for your bitch ass
  71. >But it's always fun talking shit to others in the poner equivalent of ancient Egyptian
  72. >It's like Bubba Ho-Tep all over again
  73. >Except less dog dick of Anubis
  74. >Momma didn't raise no furfag
  75. >Though some of dem pones do
  76. >Hot dayum
  77. >You'd like to just--
  78.  
  79. >"ANON!"
  80. >Oh shit
  81. >The 'tism took over for too long there
  82. "Uhh, sorry, what?"
  83. >"I said, are you going to eat, or just stand around and daydream?"
  84. >At this point, you take notice of the meal that's laid out before you
  85. >Oh yay, more fuckin vegetables
  86. >To be fair, Spike's one hell of a chef
  87. >He could probably find a way to make earthworms more appetizing than cheetos
  88. >But still, it's been nothing but the vegan lifestyle for you all these years
  89. >The animals being all sapient and shit kinda rules out the meat
  90. >Though you're no longer a disgusting fat fuck because of it, you still wanted that goddamn steak
  91. >They won't even let you eat that sneaky lil' rabbit fuck
  92. >Nopony wants to help a nigga out here
  93. >Anyway, you promptly sit your ass down and dig in
  94. >Vegetable stirfry's on the menu
  95. >Your portion's missing the hay, just as you like it
  96. >Since your stomach can't into grasses, that rules out like half the pony cuisine
  97. >But you manage anyway
  98.  
  99. >You're about halfway through your meal now
  100. >And as usual, it's some bomb ass shit
  101. >You quickly finish after going down on it like momma's tendies
  102. >Your ravenous devouring elects some giggles from both mares in attendance
  103. >You wipe the aftermath of the culinary massacre from your mouth
  104. "Mm, great stuff as always. My compliments to the chef!"
  105. >The dragon in question, with a lil' bowl of gems to the side of his dish, beams with the praise
  106. >"Aw, shucks... Thanks, Anon."
  107. "You ever consider working at a restaurant, lil' guy? You could make a good amount off of this kinda cooking."
  108. >He looks to be considering this before Twilight pipes up
  109. >"Maybe later, Spike. I still need you around the castle, after all!"
  110. >fun_police.dds
  111. >"So, Anon, what have you been reading lately?"
  112. "Oh, I'm almost done with that book on ancient zebra heiroglyphics. Real good read, that one."
  113. >Her expression sours a bit at the old language mentions again
  114. >You don't really get her objection to your preferred field of books
  115. >Luckily, Starlight comes to the rescue
  116.  
  117. >"Well, I didn't know that the language was Zebrican. What's it called?"
  118. "That's the funny thing, it actually doesn't have a name."
  119. >"Wait, really? It doesn't?"
  120. "Yeah, if you can believe it. Apparently that was done on purpose to keep the lesser tribe members from joining their secret language club."
  121. >She rolls her eyes at that little factoid
  122. "Of course, the old explorers learned aaaaall about it, for my reading pleasure."
  123. >"Wonder what they used it for?"
  124. "Song writing, probably. The pictograms actually have their musical speaking style and rhyming as part of the language. Heck, it's laid out kinda like sheet music, actually!"
  125. >"Sheet music language? Geez, and I thought that ancient Apple family script was the weirdest thing you found."
  126. >That gets a laugh out of you
  127. "Oh man, no kidding. I don't know what madmare came up with an alphabet composed entirely of apples."
  128. >You both share a chuckle at that particular story
  129. >Fuckin Apples, man
  130. >They're crazy
  131.  
  132. >The rest of the meal continues on in relative silence
  133. >It isn't until everypony's nearly done that Twilight speaks up again
  134. >"So, yesterday I received a very interesting letter from Celestia's archaeology group."
  135. >That gets your attention, and apparently Starlight's as well
  136. >"Oh yeah? What did they find this time?"
  137. >"They managed to find an ancient zebra city in the Badlands, of all places!"
  138. >"The Badlands? Seriously? How did they manage to get all the way out there?"
  139. >"I don't know! But that's what I'm going to find out!"
  140. >Oh boy, she's getting all fired up over this
  141. >"They asked me to help them explore the ruins! And we're leaving in three days!"
  142. >Holy lawd she gets adorkable when she does that wing flapping thing
  143. >Still, you're no navigator type, but you're pretty sure zebras and Badlands don't go together
  144. >Sounds like a real big Scooby Mystery® to solve
  145. >But hold up a minute
  146. "Wait a sec. That's really cool and all, but what do you mean 'we'?"
  147. >Twilight's look turns to you, and it's a look of 'lol listen up dipshit'
  148. >"Well, I figured I'd use this opportunity as a potential new friendship lesson, of course!"
  149. >ohgodno.tiff
  150.  
  151. @@@@@@@@
  152.  
  153. >Okay, you're not gonna lie
  154. >The whole 'exploring ancient ruins' thing actually sounds awesome
  155. >You might even find some use for your dead language interests out there
  156. >But Twilight's 'friendship lessons' had an inverse proportion of awesome
  157. >They just really grated on your nerves
  158. >It tended to be some real kindergarten-level shit like 'go make friends' and 'stop being hermit-kin' or whatever
  159. >Which okay fair enough [spoiler]stop judging me[/spoiler]
  160. >But her coddling attitude throughout them was the chief cause of annoyance
  161. >And you'd really prefer not dealing with that all throughout the impromptu trip
  162. >You start looking to the others for any help
  163. >Spike's face is all like 'well don't look at me'
  164. >Meanwhile Starlight's is the picture of 'know my pain you faggot'
  165. >[spoiler]It was said you'd destroy the Sith, not join them[/spoiler]
  166. >Well fuck
  167. >Time to start bargaining
  168.  
  169. >Come on you slimy fuck, think of something
  170. "Uhh, well I don't know, Twilight. I mean, it sounds like it'd be cool and all, but aren't the badlands like super far away? It'd be a lot of walking..."
  171. >"Oh, don't be silly. The team's being taken by carriage, us included! I mean, how else do they take all of their equipment with them?"
  172. >fuck
  173. >It was at that point that Starlight and Spike decided it would be a good time to clean everything up and take their leave
  174. >She of course shot you another smug little look as she left
  175. >God damn it I trusted you
  176. >Okay, time for another excuse
  177. "Well, are you really sure it's a good idea to take me along? I mean, what if the whole magic resistance thing puts them off?"
  178. >That one seemed to give her pause
  179. >Yeah, for some reason magic didn't seem to have much effect on you
  180. >You're not sure what it was, but things like unicorn spells and cloud walking just straight-up didn't work
  181. >Finding out about the cloud thing was about as pleasant as it sounded
  182. >The nightmares were real for like a week or two after the fact
  183. >The only ponies who could really get spells to work on you were Twilight and Starlight
  184. >And that was only because they were just stupidly powerful and knuckled past the resistance
  185. >But nothing they cast ever stuck, so it usually ended up being wasted effort
  186.  
  187. >Twilight comes to her conclusion shortly after that thought
  188. >"Yeah, I could see them being a little funny about it, but it should be fine if I tell them you're with me."
  189. >damn it
  190. >You're about to raise another objection when she pipes up again
  191. >"And no, you're not waiting around for your house to finish being built."
  192. "But it only has like a week left!"
  193. >"Two weeks and three days. Plenty of time to take the trip and be back in time to get you settled in."
  194. >holy shit come on give me something here
  195. >It was at this point that she started giving you the sad look
  196. >oh god no stop not that
  197. >my one weakness
  198. >"Come on, Anon. We barely spend any time together nowadays."
  199. >The sad look intensifies
  200. >hnnnngggh
  201. >"I know you don't like the whole 'lesson' part of what I do, but I really don't want to lose touch with you on the whole 'friendship' aspect, either."
  202. >Wait what
  203. "Wait, what?"
  204.  
  205. >"Anon, all I ever see when you get back from work, is you locking yourself up in your study to read those books."
  206. >She shifts a bit in her seat
  207. >"And you've been spending less and less time going out an doing things with all your other friends."
  208. >What are you, my mom or something
  209. >"Don't you think that maybe you should, well, do something a little different?"
  210. >Defensive matrix activated
  211. "What, you think I'm going to turn into a total shut-in, or something?"
  212. >"Anon, please. It's been almost a month since you've gone out and done something with one of your friends. One of us."
  213. >The sad look returns
  214. >Defensive matrix at 50%
  215. >"When I heard about the archaeological expedition, I thought it would be a perfect match for your interest in those ancient languages."
  216. >Defensive matrix at 20%
  217. >"I mean, you could think of it kind of like a vacation, if you want! Getting out of Ponyville for a while, maybe bring back a souvenir or two."
  218. "Souvenir?"
  219. >"Yeah, something from the ruins. We can bring the bottomless box along to bring back a tablet or something, if you want."
  220. >Defensive matrix has stopped working
  221. >Fuck the error report
  222.  
  223. "Alright, fine."
  224. >She perks right up
  225. >"Really? You'll go?"
  226. "Sure. When you put it like that, it sounds like it'd be fun."
  227. >Aaaand there's that big smile
  228. "Two conditions, though."
  229. >Said smile cracked slightly
  230. >Don't think she expected some caveats
  231. "First, I'd like to take my book along for the ride. I need something to keep me sane during the travel."
  232. >"Oh, that's it? Sure, that's okay!"
  233. "Two, and this is the big one, could you please try to tone down the whole teacher act?"
  234. >That one rustled her a bit
  235. >"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"
  236. "That you go way overboard with the lectures and the know-it-all performance?"
  237. >"I-I do not go overboard with any of those!"
  238. "You made me listen to a lecture on punctuality for an entire hour last week."
  239. >She raises her hoof to object
  240. >noyoufuckindont.webp
  241. "While somehow managing to sound like my old art teacher."
  242.  
  243. >That last line shut her objection right down
  244. >Your old art teacher was pretty bad for being all uppish
  245. >Like, accent, attitude, the whole fucking happy meal
  246. >That and her old art teacher turned out to be the same kind of deal
  247. >Synchronicity is real kids
  248. >"Well... okay, maybe I did go a bit overboard on that one."
  249. "Yeah."
  250. >She sighs
  251. >"Okay, I'll tone it down."
  252. >Score
  253. >"But only if you agree to be sociable on the trip!"
  254. >Fuck
  255. >I identify as hermit-kin and I find this offensive
  256. >Oh whatever, fine
  257. >You roll your eyes
  258. "Fine, deal."
  259. >The two of you shake on it
  260. >Well, your week's about to get real interesting
  261. >After saying your farewells, you decide to get a head start on packing some shit
  262. >And in a rare display of future thought, you pack the zebra language book along with it
  263. >Don't want to run out of material on the trip, after all
  264.  
  265. >Three days later
  266. >It's currently crack-of-dawn early and you're waiting outside with Twilight for the research guys
  267. >After about half an hour, the research team pulls up outside of the castle
  268. >And holy o'fuck are they loaded with kit
  269. >There was a convoy of like nine carriages, one of which was the ride for the archaeologists
  270. >And then two were fully packed with their equipment
  271. >The rest were just empty storage carts
  272. >Those poor carriage ponies
  273. >The return trips must be total hell
  274. >They better get paid like Nigerian warlords for this shit
  275. >Twilight's decided to bring along her own carriage for this little outing
  276. >It's a lot fancier than the other carts, that's for sure
  277. >A good bit bigger, too; plenty for storing some of those promised souvenirs
  278. >She has a few royal guards on loan from Celestia to pull it for her
  279. >Not sure if better than regular guard duty or not
  280. >Well, not like you were going to ask them
  281. >Soon after everypony gets acquainted, you load your luggage into Twilight's carriage and hop on in with her
  282. >Not long after, the carriage starts moving with the others
  283. >Something in your gut tells you this is gonna be a wild trip
  284. >Like, Magic School Bus-tier wild ride
  285. >Oh fuck
  286. >Now the theme's stuck in your head
  287. >God damn it
  288.  
  289. @@@@@@@@
  290.  
  291. >Three days have passed since your initial departure from Ponyville
  292. >It's been nothing but a long cart convoy from there to the archaeological site
  293. >And it's also been nothing short of absolutely fucking boring
  294. >You're pretty sure that man was not meant for events as boring as this
  295. >Granted, it was kinda your fault for not bringing much to entertain yourself
  296. >Those science ponies brought all kinds of shit with them
  297. >Even the cart pulling ponies joined in when they needed a breather
  298. >As for you however, you just brought that zebra language book with you
  299. >And there's only so many permutations of explaining that zebra language shit to Twilight you can do before it loses its appeal
  300. >Not that she seemed to mind, that is
  301. >You think you're starting to convince her of how much fun it is to learn this stuff
  302. >Too bad the book doesn't have much on the phonetics
  303. >Maybe you'll track down Zecora for some dank phonics lessons later
  304. >Zecora's a pretty cool gal
  305. >Lives in the Everfree, beats down punk ass monsters with that quarterstaff thing, and doesn't afraid of anything
  306. >She's got all kinds of cool shit at her place, too
  307. >And has a lot of fun with that witchcraft and alchemy shit
  308. >The alchemy potion stuff she makes is pretty neat, actually
  309. >It's the only magic stuff you've found to actually do anything to you
  310. >As you found out with that hangover stopping elixir she mixed up for you
  311. >Came in real handy at that wild party with Pinkie and Dash
  312. >Fucking hell that was a long time ago
  313. >Maybe you should get out more
  314.  
  315. >But anyways
  316. >Your group had crossed over into the Badlands about a day ago
  317. >And it was hotter than xHamster's server room
  318. >Good thing Twilight knew a spell for the A/C in the carriage
  319. >Man, you wish you could do magic
  320. >That'd be the best thing ever
  321. >Just easy-mode [spoiler]literally[/spoiler] everything
  322. >But you're cool with having the monopoly on the magic fingers
  323. >At least for now
  324. >Maybe you could ask Twilight later if there's some way for you to magic shit
  325. >There's gotta be some way for you to make like Harry Potter and just magic missile all your problems away--
  326. >"Anon!"
  327. >Damn it purple, I was enjoying that train of thought
  328. "Yeah, what's up?"
  329. >"I think we're here!"
  330. "Seriously?"
  331. >You look out the side window of the carriage
  332. >And sure enough, you're coming up on a gently sloping crater with some kind of structures poking out
  333. >Hard to make out from here, you're too far away
  334. >But praise Talos, the boredom would finally cease
  335. "Oh, finally! I was starting to wonder if we'd ever get there!"
  336. >"Yeah, you're telling me."
  337. "Remind me again why they didn't take the train for half the trip?"
  338.  
  339. >She shrugs
  340. >"I've got no idea. You're right, it would have been way faster, though."
  341. "I would've thought that science types like these would want to get to this kinda thing as fast as possible."
  342. >"It's definitely weird, I'll have to ask them about that."
  343. >The brief conversation ends at that point, not that you really take too much notice
  344. >You're too busy eyeing the upcoming ruins to really invest too much in chit-chat anyhow
  345. >As they come ever closer, you start noticing some things about the site
  346. >The 'crater' wasn't really a crater at all, but a smoothly formed dig site
  347. >There were already a few ponies in the distance, using magic to shave layer after layer of dirt and sand off the ruin
  348. >And then spreading it out evenly across the area around the site
  349. >Well, that explains the lack of dirt piles
  350. >Seems like an awful lot of work though
  351. >You decide to ask about this as well
  352. "Hey Twilight, any reason they're digging the place out like that?"
  353. >"Digging it out how?"
  354. >Twilight moves to your side of the cart to get a good view of what you're looking at
  355. >"Ohh, I see what you mean. Yeah, that's pretty normal for delicate historical sites like this, taking the ground away in small layers."
  356. "Yeah, but why are they layering it around the place again? Seems like a lot of extra work, when a big pile would do fine."
  357. >"I think it's to keep this place low-key. If there aren't any tall piles to spot, then it should be harder for random ponies and thieves to find it."
  358. >Well, that makes a surprising amount of sense
  359.  
  360. >You keep observing the site for more, only this time Twilight seems to be joining you in this endeavor
  361. >The convoy is inbound for the center of the site, which conveniently has this big and empty central plaza
  362. >Not really sure why they'd set up in the middle of a historic site like this
  363. >But it's not really like you care that much
  364. >Looking back at Twilight though, it looks like she's not too happy with--
  365. >"Why are they setting up in the middle of the site like that? There could be all kinds of artifacts we'd end up destroying by accident, just moving in like that!"
  366. >Wow, that's triggering her more than you thought it would
  367. >...
  368. >On second thought, she is kinda the part-time princess of OCD
  369. >You decide to find something to distract her with
  370. >Looking around the area you're now beginning to enter, it starts getting real interesting
  371. >The buildings here aren't like anything you'd typically associate with zebras
  372. >Well, if Zecora was anything to go off of in that regard
  373. >The place was built with rocks and wood, sure, but it was bizarrely uniform in terms of the buildings
  374. >Like, the buildings all had the same design for what you presume are their intended roles
  375. >And the buildings were clustered in distinct areas depending on said unknown role, at least you think so
  376. >That's like Earth levels of modern zoning and shit right there, just done with much less modern materials
  377. >Nothing like Ponyville or Canterlot, where the buildings were mostly unique and the purpose kind of grows organically
  378.  
  379. >That only begs the question, though
  380. >How did they manage to pull this shit off?
  381. >You decide to get Twilight's input on this little freakshow of a ruin
  382. "Hey, Twilight. Have you noticed anything strange about the buildings around here?"
  383. >That breaks her out from that "they're ruining the artifacts REEEEEEEE" stewing, and she starts paying close attention to the buildings
  384. >You see her reaction change from intrigue, to confusion, to understanding, and then to curiosity in a short period of time
  385. >"Yeah, actually, now that you mention it, they look really... out of place. Especially for zebras."
  386. "I don't know too much about zebra architecture, but I'm guessing they're nothing like this, right?"
  387. >"Right. In fact, this design doesn't look like anything I've seen before. It's too... uniform."
  388. "I've actually seen this kind of design aesthetic before."
  389. >That really piques her interest
  390. >"You have? Where?"
  391. "Back home, on Earth. The materials are nowhere near the same, but the layout and recycled design is a dead ringer."
  392. >"Earth design? Okay, now I'm REALLY curious."
  393. "Preach."
  394. >It's true, this shit went from mildly interesting to horyfuckwhatthepiss in about 12 seconds
  395. >Looks like Mr. Gut was right about this being a wild-ass trip
  396.  
  397. >The group finally arrives in the center of the ruin, and begins to unpack all their science and digging shit
  398. >You two take that cue to disembark from your own carriage
  399. >Twilight is already raring to go something fierce, though
  400. >"Alright Anon, I'm going to try to get some answers from the archaeologists. Why don't you see if you can help them out with their unpacking?"
  401. "Uh, Twilight, you haven't really introduced me to them yet."
  402. >She stops her cute little eager trotting in place to look back at you with a sheepish smile
  403. >"Oh yeah. I, uh, kinda forgot about that."
  404. >You roll your eyes at that little slip of the mind
  405. >"Well, why don't we go together and get you acquainted, then?"
  406. "Sure. I'm pretty pumped to get to exploring myself, actually."
  407. >"Then what are we waiting for? Let's go!"
  408. >There's the excitement back on her end again
  409. >You have to do a little bit of speedwalking to keep up with her excited trotting towards the future campsite
  410. >The reactions from the ponies at the site are about what you'd expect
  411. >Varying degrees of fright are visible in their expressions
  412. >The cart pulling ponies are keeping eyes on you, but they don't seem nearly as spooked by you
  413. >They've probably seen wierder shit in their travels
  414. >They still better be getting paid like oil sheikhs for this shit
  415. >The two of you eventually find the head honcho of this band of archaeologists
  416. >And he's looking super spooked by you already
  417. >You at least hope he's the kind that comes around quickly
  418. >Dealing with more hyper skittish ponies isn't really how you want to spend your time here
  419.  
  420. @@@@@@@@
  421.  
  422. >Twilight is the first to approach the archaeology leader guy
  423. >That draws his attention from you, and he bows super quick
  424. >"Y-your highness! F-forgive me, I didn't n-notice you!"
  425. >You can feel her eyes roll from over here
  426. >His voice already annoys you
  427. >It's a blend of basement-dweller, snob, and momma's boy
  428. >"Oh, it's fine, no need to worry. You can rise now."
  429. >He's still bowing
  430. >Nigga didn't take the hint
  431. >"Uh, hello? You can rise now."
  432. >He reacts with a start and rises up super quick
  433. >He's still spooked af
  434. >And looks to be shaking a bit
  435. >Yeah, this wasn't going to be fun
  436. >Better let Twilight do the talking for now
  437. >"S-sorry, your highness!"
  438. >"It's fine, really. So, what's your name?"
  439. >"Uh, P-Precise Measure, your highness!"
  440. >The name prompts a glance at his magic tramp stamp
  441. >It's a pair of old-timey calipers
  442. >It's an older code, sir, but it checks out
  443. >He also notices you looking at him again
  444. >He's shivering more than an abortion clinic's cleanup crew now
  445. >Twilight reins his attention back with a snap of her hoof
  446. >How the fuck you can snap a hoof like that, you have no idea
  447. >Must be the whole magic thing again
  448.  
  449. >"Pleasure to meet you, Precise. Please, just call me Twilight."
  450. >He gulps
  451. >"V-very well, your highness!"
  452. >You can also feel the unamused eyebrow raise from here
  453. >"O-oh, uh, I mean, Twilight."
  454. >"Riiight. So, tell me a bit about what you do around here!"
  455. >"W-well, your highn-- T-Twilight! I, uh... oversee the..."
  456. >He locks up there for like 10 seconds
  457. >"I-I'm sorry, your maje-- Twilight, but is it really necessary to bring that... pet of yours along for this?"
  458. >Wait
  459. >Dafuq did this nigga just say
  460. >ohhellnaw.xcf
  461. "Hey, who're you calling a pet?"
  462. >"Excuse me? He is NOT a pet!"
  463. >Man, simultaneous response
  464. >That must have rustled her jimmies in sync with yours
  465. >tfw tiny purple horse stands up for you
  466. >That synchronized triggering also seems to have rustled his jimmies to the fucking shadow realm
  467. >Lil' pony looks like he's about to pass out
  468. >Twilight groans quite loudly at this little exchange
  469. >"Urgh. Anon, could you wait outside for a second while I... straighten this out?"
  470.  
  471. >You're not too happy with being told to essentially fuck off for a few minutes
  472. >But you can't say you're not used to it either
  473. >This kinda shit happened all the time your first year in Ponyville
  474. >So, with a wave in her direction, you head into a nearby tent you assume is his
  475. >Not like you give a fuck at this point
  476. >Your only solace from the salt is eavesdropping on the legendary chew-out that Twilight's gonna deliver to this poor kid
  477. >She gets super pissy when folks call her non-pony friends pets or servants, or something to that effect
  478. >Must be from having Spike for most of her life, you'd guess
  479. >First thing you hear is his loud sigh of relief
  480. >Quick, assume the listening position
  481. >"Oh, thank goodness! I don't think my heart could have taken much more of that!"
  482. >"Would you like to tell me what THAT was all about?"
  483. >"W-well, your-- Twilight, I wasn't really expecting you to bring such... unusual company with you, is all!"
  484. >"My response clearly mentionied I'd be bringing a friend along for this excursion."
  485. >"Yes yes, I know, but I really did expect another pony, and not... whatever that bizarre pet thing is!"
  486. >"He's not a thing, and he's certainly not a pet. He is a human, his name is Anonymous, and he's one of my best friends!"
  487. >Fuck, she's getting pissy
  488. >"And I fully expect you to treat him with the same level of dignity and respect as any other pony."
  489.  
  490. >Man, she's really sticking her neck out for you here
  491. >Feels real good
  492. >"B-but your highness, he's not a pony! And I've never even heard of a 'human' before, is that some kind of Minotaur relative?"
  493. >What in all the extant fucks did he say
  494. >After that--
  495. >Wait, his voice changed with that one line
  496. >It's like the basement-dweller part came out strong or something
  497. >Almost like--
  498. >No
  499. >Please don't tell me he's a--
  500. >"Excuse me?! How dare you--"
  501. >"In fact, the appendages on his limbs aren't like anything I've seen before! They're much thinner and more spider-like in terms of flexibility!"
  502. >"What did you just--"
  503. >"And the face! Sharing so much in common with a Diamond Dog! In fact, is he some sort of predator? Flat facial structure is only really seen on predatory species, such as owls!"
  504. >"W-what--"
  505. >"And what was going on with the clothing? Is it incapable of keeping itself warm? Or is it covering up injuries? Ah! That must be it! You had to tame it beforehand, and the clothing covers up the injuries sustained by doing so!"
  506. >"You--"
  507. >"Oh, it all makes sense now! And nopony better than yourself to do it! After all, getting that dragon of yours properly tamed couldn't have been an easy process!"
  508. >"Guh--"
  509. >"Princess Twilight Sparkle, tamer of dragons and strange ape-like predators alike, on top of her previous exploits! Oh, I am truly honoured to be here in front of you, welcoming you to our humble dig site!"
  510.  
  511. >Silence
  512. >Nothing but silence after that massive, unremittant sperg fest
  513. >And yeah, it is exactly what you thought
  514. >This horse was a total autist
  515. >Like, his entire speaking style there was so awkward and triple-dipped in raw autism
  516. >Constantly monotone with awkward pauses in the worst spots
  517. >Honestly, once that became apparent, the slew of shit-talk from that horse became a little easier to handle
  518. >Emphasis on little
  519. >Because that shit still stung like a bitch
  520. >You peek your head out to get a look at the soon-to-be nuclear bomb site
  521. >This Precise guy was sitting there with a small, autistic smile, looking like he actually didn't have a death wish
  522. >What the fuck, he wasn't like this before
  523. >Did you scare his ass into regressing to his primal sperg instincts or something?
  524. >Now, Twilight on the other hand
  525. >She had her jaw right to the floor
  526. >Honestly, you would too
  527. >You never experienced spergfests IRL before
  528. >You thought they were just stories told on imageboards to scare teens into lurking moar
  529. >You were not prepared for a real example
  530.  
  531. >"So, Princess Twilight, it's a real pleasure to have you here! My role here is to oversee the collection and documenting of various artifacts from everypony on the dig team!"
  532. >What the fuck man
  533. >How is this real--
  534. >Oh shit
  535. >Twilight's graduating from shock to anger
  536. >"I've read a lot in the papers and magazines about your impressive sorting abilities! I'm sure that with you working as part of our team, we'll be able to catalogue this place in no time at all!"
  537. >[spoiler]call my name and save me from the dark[/spoiler]
  538. >Dude fucking stop already what the fuck
  539. >Twilight was literally steaming at this point
  540. >She looked like she was about to have kittens
  541. >Kittens made out of fucking buzzsaws
  542. >You take cover immediately
  543. >"Oh, could you maybe get that strange ape of yours to make himself scarce? He's really going to affect productivity here! Goodness, I must have lost hours of productivity from the fright he's given me, alone!"
  544. >This fucking nigga
  545. >You're so raiding his place here before you leave
  546. >If there's anything left of this place, that is
  547. >Twilight's probably going to have three extra buzzsaw kittens from that quip alone
  548.  
  549. >"But hey, he seems to have left us now! Let's not waste any time--"
  550. >"Precise Measure."
  551. >Oh shit, the nice tone of voice
  552. >He's really fucked up now
  553. >"Yes, Princess Twilight? Is there anything you need?"
  554. >"Yes. I'd like to discuss this all further with you. Away from the dig site."
  555. >"Away from the dig site? There's no need for that, there's plenty of available space within the site for any private speaking you could need--"
  556. >"I wasn't asking. That was an order."
  557. >"Ah, that makes sense! Very good, Twilight, lead on!"
  558. >You hear the sounds of them trotting away
  559. >♫ Hello darkness my old friend ♫
  560. >Well, he's going home in a fucking body cast after this
  561. >She'll probably blame those evil changelings for this, since this is kinda where they live and all
  562. >Meanwhile, you're still equal parts shocked and pissed at that little display
  563. >About a minute passes before the pissed portion overcomes the shocked
  564. >You feel the burning need to throw shit and flip tables
  565. >You cease taking cover and grab the book on the desk in front of you, hurling it into the mirror to the right of you
  566. >You stop yourself at the next object, a desk nameplate
  567. >'Precise Measure, Associate Professor'
  568. >Holy shit, this is his tent
  569.  
  570. >Well, this bout of berserker fury suddenly became a lot more cathartic
  571. >You proceed to open some of the still-not-unpacked trunks and boxes lying around
  572. >Gotta find something of value to break or steal
  573. >Again, blame the changelings
  574. >They're just the most perfect scapegoat
  575. >In a few minutes, you manage to break so much stuff
  576. >Nothing worth stealing though so far
  577. >Rifling through his clothes trunk, you find something at the bottom
  578. >It's a small wooden box with gold trim around it
  579. >You open it up and--
  580. >Whoah shit son
  581. >A bunch of random wooden crafts spills right out of it
  582. >This thing is a fucking bottomless box
  583. >And it's the tiniest bottomless box you'd ever seen
  584. >You look over the crafts that fell out and--
  585. >Okay that's a Twilight sculpture with a dick hanging off of it
  586. >You quickly empty the whole box of its nightmare-inducing fetish contents
  587. >Honestly man what the fuck
  588. >It was at this point that you had an idea
  589. >[spoiler]An awful idea[/spoiler]
  590. >If this bitch was gonna ruin your trip, you were gonna ruin his even more
  591. >You stroll out of the tent with his empty lil' box in hand
  592. >You make a beeline for one of the ancient buildings in the distance
  593. >You knew exactly what you were gonna do
  594. >You were gonna collect a ton more 'souvenirs' than you had planned on
  595.  
  596. @@@@@@@@
  597.  
  598. >Man, that building was further away than you thought
  599. >But eventually you make it over there, taking about three minutes
  600. >You're really glad you jacked that Precise dick's bottomless box
  601. >Twilight's one was the size of a footlocker, and about as heavy too
  602. >That and the whole warping-space-around-it thing let it store shit way bigger than the box's opening
  603. >That life-size statue of Princess Luna with a dick that fell out will haunt your nightmares for like a week or two
  604. >The fuck is with that guy and big-dicked futa mares man
  605. >Still, it'll let you jack some mad swag with nopony noticing
  606. >In any case, you start ringing the building, looking for entrances
  607. >Since these buildings are all still weirdly uniform, finding it once means finding them all
  608. >Ah, here it is
  609. >The door's pretty easy to open, it just pushes in with no handle or latch
  610. >But it does blend in really well with the rest, so it was kinda hard to find
  611. >Well, whatever
  612. >letsgetlootin.xpm
  613. >...
  614. >...
  615. >...
  616.  
  617. >Aaaand
  618. >Nothing
  619. >There's fucking nothing in here
  620. >Like, literally nothing
  621. >It's like the place was cleaned out before it got buried out here
  622. >As in, there's no dust-free areas that would give away somepony else looting the place before you
  623. >Well, maybe it was a fluke
  624. >You stroll out of the building, kinda confused and miffed at that
  625. >Tracking down another building, you make your way over there
  626. >Same exact building style, and the door's in the same spot
  627. >...
  628. >...
  629. >...
  630. >Okay what the fuck
  631. >There's nothing here, either
  632. >You start wondering if you missed something here
  633. >You start inspecting the inside of this building a lot more thoroughly
  634. >Since you might have missed a door or something
  635. >...
  636. >And the answer to that is no
  637. >You missed nothing
  638.  
  639. >Slightly frustrated, you exit the building and make another pass around it, seeing if there's anything you missed out here
  640. >...
  641. >Nope, same answer as before
  642. >It's exactly like the other one
  643. >Annoyance levels rising
  644. >What gives, man
  645. >You head over to another building to see if it's the same story
  646. >...
  647. >Again, nothing
  648. >Now this is starting to piss you off
  649. >You decide right then not to explore this type of building again
  650. >Definition of insanity, and what not
  651. >You spy a more industrial-looking building a fair ways off
  652. >Seeing no better option, you start making your way over
  653. >Oh man, this is like a ten minute walk
  654. >Why couldn't they be built closer--
  655. >Your very spartan train of thought was suddenly suplexed at the sudden loud CRACK in the distance
  656. >Whirling about in your shitheel, you look over at the sound's location
  657. >You were greeted with a big purple lightning explosion way off outside the site
  658. >Man, you almost forgot about Twilight taking that creepy sperglord outside for an ass whooping
  659.  
  660. >You're starting to regret not joining her in that endeavor
  661. >It would have been a lot more entertaining than your current bust of a raid
  662. >Man, this blows
  663. >After what feels like forever, you make it to the different building
  664. >Alright, same procedure as before: check for doors
  665. >There were a few more doors this time around, all leading to a big central--
  666. >Oh you're fucking joking
  667. >Nothing
  668. >A vast expanse of fucking nothing inside this big building
  669. >[spoiler]My mother once warned me about the world[/spoiler]
  670. >[spoiler]About how dark it can be[/spoiler]
  671. >[spoiler]The world is dark[/spoiler]
  672. >[spoiler]And nothing will ever be the same[/spoiler]
  673. >[spoiler]We are empty[/spoiler]
  674. >[spoiler]Yet we feel pain[/spoiler]
  675. >[spoiler]What kind of sick god would allow this[/spoiler]
  676. >Well, you're officially angrier than a Twitch camwhore getting permabanned
  677. >You storm out of the building
  678. >The next few minutes consist of you pacing around, kicking up dirt, and hurling expletives at the innocent wall
  679. >No
  680. >Fuck the walls
  681. >There are no innocents in this conflict
  682. >Only impotent rage
  683.  
  684. >After a little bit of this angry song and dance, you eventually tire out enough to need a seat
  685. >Hey, there's a bench here
  686. >If you were a thinking man, you'd have noticed that this is the only bench you've seen outside any of these buildings
  687. >But such thoughts were not of major import
  688. >Just sitting down and calming thine teats
  689. >Man, this bench is like the perfect height for you
  690. >Huh
  691. >Usually pony benches are nowhere near tall enough for you
  692. >This is actually pretty rad
  693. >And it's in the shade, too
  694. >Double rad
  695. >This was nowhere near a totally calming experience, but it was a good step in the right direction
  696. >You lean back against the wall and give off a little relaxed sigh
  697. >You've found a happy place here
  698. >The head clearing can commence now, in peace and--
  699. >WHOALY FUCK
  700. "WHOALY FUCK!"
  701. >The wall behind you suddenly decides it's had enough of your shit and disappears from behind you
  702. >Sending your bitch ass keeling over backwards
  703.  
  704. >The next few moments consist of you tumbling around like a dumbshit
  705. >Complete with yelling random expletives like a coked up tourettes sufferer
  706. >Then all of a sudden, you fall flat on your face and come to a stop
  707. >What the Jeremiah Johnson fuck just happened man
  708. >First this place decides to show you nothing
  709. >And now it's trying to fucking kill you
  710. >Fuck this place and everything it stands for
  711. >You rise to your feet and try to get your bearings
  712. >You're currently in a dark hallway with a bright light at one end
  713. >Looking to that direction, you notice that it's sunlight
  714. >And it's at a bit of a steep slope upwards from here
  715. >Hold up
  716. >That's the bench you were sitting on
  717. >Did you just--
  718. >Holy fuck
  719. >You just found a secret passage
  720. >Without meaning to at all
  721. >Lights suddenly flicker on behind you, prompting you to turn around and look
  722. >Super-flashy silver-plated wall sconces come to life with magical magenta-coloured balls of light
  723. >One after the other, they light up, giving that cool tunnel effect you don't know the technical name of
  724. >You stare blankly at the sight until you realize
  725. >Your looting opportunities just went from 0 to Pirates Of The Carribean in 10 seconds flat
  726.  
  727. >All the piss and vinegar from before forgotten, you start walking forward
  728. >If the silver wall lights were any indicator, this was gonna be a huge haul
  729. >You turn around at the sound of stone grating, and see the door close behind you
  730. >Man, it even closes itself
  731. >That's quality hidden-entrancemanship right there
  732. >Now, normally you'd be pissing yourself in abject terror over entering an ominous and spoopy hallway like this
  733. >But your formerly constant trips through the Everfree to chill with Zecora has debased the fear factor a lot
  734. >The whole magic resistance thing made you totally immune to those cockatrices and poison joke stuff
  735. >Even the timberwolves stayed away from you for some reason
  736. >Well, except for that manticore
  737. >...
  738. >Okay, maybe you weren't totally cleared of the fear of dark and spoopy areas after all
  739. >But you soldier on anyways
  740. >The hope-- nay, the PROMISE of loot through this passageway fills you with determination
  741. >It's not too long before you come to a wooden door at the end of the passage
  742. >Your walk up to it is interrupted when a bunch of magic circles light up on the walls all of a sudden
  743. >That gets you to jump a whole lot, and totally doesn't elect a scream from you
  744.  
  745. >...
  746. >Okay, you were expecting the magic circles to do something after they started arcing pinkish magic across each other
  747. >But nothing's happening to you at all
  748. >You just totally cucked the door's trap card
  749. >Magic resistance is the fucking cat's ass
  750. >Feeling bretty gud about this turn of events, you walk over to the door and try to open it
  751. >Operative word being 'try', since of course it's locked
  752. >...
  753. >And the dumbshit who installed this door put the hinges on this side
  754. >You stroll over to one of the wall lights and pull it off, using it as a makeshift hammer and chisel to pop out the hinges
  755. >And the door just falls over, taking the locks with it
  756. >Yeah, they didn't really think this through too well, did they?
  757. >Well in any case, you head on into the door
  758. >What you see on the other side surprises you
  759. >It's a... laboratory, library, magic room... thing
  760. >It's got some big, flashy looking tomes on display, all in that weird zebra song language
  761. >And what you swear looks like magic wands with badly corroded metal caps in display cases
  762. >As well as an assortment of flashy looking gemstones with symbols carved into them
  763. >Your smile is like that of a fat kid who just discovered DQ ice cream cakes for the first time
  764. "Jackpot!"
  765.  
  766. @@@@@@@@
  767.  
  768. >Well, first things first
  769. >You'd best evaluate the high priority loot targets first
  770. >The books on display are pristine, probably enchanted that way
  771. >But they're also probably trapped
  772. >Not that you really care much about that, since you just ignore magic traps anyway
  773. >But still
  774. >The gemstones were ranked numero dos on the loot list
  775. >Real nice shit there, and who knows what the symbols mean
  776. >[spoiler]THE SYMBOLS ANON THE SYMBOLS WHAT DO THEY MEAN??????[/spoiler]
  777. >The wands however were on the third tier of lootability
  778. >Well, you think they're wands anyway
  779. >They're more like rods of wood with metal caps that are corroded to hell and back
  780. >Not exactly the Harry Potter school of wandcraft, that's for sure
  781. >The rest of the room was just a bunch of books and random lab kit that looked really rough
  782. >The books were more interesting, so you look over the selection they have here
  783. >You were surprised to find a lot of them were in various different languages
  784. >Pulling a few free, you look over them to see what they were about
  785.  
  786. >The words on the books seemed to shimmer when you read them
  787. >Your immediate thought is that it's a translation spell
  788. >Some of Twilight's rare books were 'translated' like this
  789. >It was really just fucking with the reader's brain to translate the book's contents when they read it
  790. >Doesn't really apply to you though, what with the magic resist and all
  791. >As for the words themselves
  792. >This one was in Ancient Equestrian
  793. >All of the ones you pulled free were
  794. >You settle on pulling a few more books out to see what the deal was on the language front
  795. >Most of them were Ancient Equestrian, but some were in that zebra song language
  796. >Most surprisingly though, were a few books in a special section
  797. >These ones were all in a mix of Talonglyph and Plainhoof, with a very odd one in Scarabspeak
  798. >These languages were old ones belonging to the gryphons, minotaurs, and changelings respectively
  799. >The others you could understand, but what the fuck was a changeling book doing here?
  800. >Well, you're not short on space in this box
  801. >Why not just take them all?
  802.  
  803. >First things first, though
  804. >You shift your attention from the shelves to the books on the pedestals
  805. >Settling on the "fuck it, we'll do it live" school of looting, you just stroll up to the damn things
  806. >Sure enough, more magic circles light up to try and stop you
  807. >And just like before, they're rendered toothless by your magic resist
  808. >Eat shit, Daring Do
  809. >...
  810. >Okay HOLD UP
  811. >MISSION CONTROL WE HAVE A CHANGE OF PLANS
  812. >That Daring Do thing reminded you of something before your greasy mitts touched the books
  813. >Those pedestals could be trapped with pressure things or something
  814. >That'll probably send this place to the fucking shadow realm or some shit if they're removed
  815. >You back the fuck up from the pedestals, noting that the circles stop working and fade away as you do
  816. >Alright, let's start small
  817. >You start pulling books down from the shelves until an idea hits you
  818. >You look around a bit, and finally come across some lengths of rope hanging on the walls
  819. >Taking the rope, you use it to bundle up the books in bunches as you pull them down
  820. >Fuck, Twilight's rubbing off on you, man
  821.  
  822. >It's after you bundle a few up like this that it hits you to use the fucking box you brought
  823. >Damn, the loot was just too alluring
  824. >You take out the box, open it up and set it down on the same table as the books
  825. >You settle into a nice little routine of taking books, bundling them, and cramming it into the box
  826. >It takes probably around fifteen minutes to clear the shelves
  827. >And that's including double-wrapping the special books with rope
  828. >Which you just happen to only have enough of for the pedestal books
  829. >[spoiler]I'll get you, my pretties[/spoiler]
  830. >Moving on, you take the box with you, and use your free hand to shovel the gemstones into the box
  831. >There weren't that many of them, so it happened pretty fast
  832. >Alright, now it's time for the fucked up wand things
  833. >They're all cooped up in this display case, that opens with some difficulty
  834. >Those hinges really need some WD-40
  835. >The wands disappear into the box soon afterwards
  836. >Alright, priority loot taken care of
  837. >Giving the area a quick once-over for anything else you may have missed, you turn your focus to the pedestal books again
  838.  
  839. >Alright, should be simple
  840. >Go up, grab the books, wrap them quick with the rope, cram them in the box, then leave
  841. >You're a simple man with simple plans
  842. >Let's do this
  843. >You make for the pedestals again
  844. >The circle things come back to life and try to fuck you again
  845. >With the same results as before
  846. >Fuckin' nerds
  847. >With the grace of a speed addict chasing his bus, you scoop the books off the pedestals as quick as you can
  848. >Not even gonna pay attention to this shit, just move it
  849. >You move over to the desk and work quickly
  850. >Tie the books together, throw them in the--
  851. >The books seem to have a disagreement with the box
  852. >A very violent one
  853. >As in, the books are now arcing with green and blue lightning at the box
  854. >That's totally fucking the box's shit
  855. >You move to stop this madness
  856. >But alas, you are too late
  857.  
  858. >The box ruptures after a few seconds of shock therapy from the fucking master books
  859. >And all your loot spills everywhere
  860. >doyoufeelitmrkrabs.svg
  861. >Your anger is now probably sufficient to tickle Khorne a bit at this point
  862. >You proceed to begin twirling in place while giving off noises that are probably alien in nature
  863. >Which translate roughly to FUCKING DICK SHITTING TWAT NAZIS ON A LUNAR BUGGY IN HELL
  864. >Luckily, you're coherent enough to figure out that breaking shit here would not be beneficial
  865. >You look over at the stack of pedestal-lifted books
  866. >Apparently, these things are racist against boxes of the bottomless variety
  867. >They ought to check their fucking compressible spacetime privilege
  868. >Okay, new plan
  869. >Take only what you need to survive
  870. >Man, bundling the books was a stroke of genius
  871. >And the double tied ones were easily distinguishable
  872. >Time to improvise a bit
  873.  
  874. >You remove your suit jacket, leaving only the dress shirt
  875. >It took a lot of autistic screeching on your part to keep Rarity from decking these out in jewels
  876. >But you managed to get your ensemble as plain as can be from her
  877. >She always lets off some screeching of her own whenever you break them, however
  878. >This was gonna be one of those times
  879. >You lay out the jacket on the table in front of you, then turn around to the large loot pile
  880. >Fishing out one of the wands with the best-looking corroded caps, you set it on the table for later
  881. >You stuff a couple of the cooler-looking gems in your pockets while you're at it
  882. >Too bad they're so fucking big, otherwise you could have fit more
  883. >You grab the double-tied book stacks, which luckily isn't many, and set them on the table
  884. >It takes a bit of organizing, but you manage to get them, and the super-books, to fit neatly in the jacket when it's pulled up around them
  885. >Now for the final part of this little bout of lunacy
  886. >A little bit of tying later, and you now have a suit-and-wand bindle
  887. >Totally doesn't look stable, but better than nothing
  888. >You move to lift it up and--
  889. >Holy shit it's light
  890. >Like, not bottomless-box-full-of-shit light, but way lighter than it has any right to be
  891. >Well, you don't know what's doing this, nor do you care
  892. >You sling this shit over your shoulder and make for the door
  893. >You'll be back for all this loot later
  894.  
  895. >Trekking back to Twilight's carriage from the nondescript factory took far longer than it should have
  896. >But you make it back just fine
  897. >Twilight's nowhere to be seen, though
  898. >And the archaeologist ponies look even more frightened of you than before
  899. >Yeah, whatever
  900. >Like you give a fuck
  901. >You pull free Twilight's footlocker-sized bottomless box, pull out the super-books, and dump the whole bindle into it
  902. >Yeah, not making that mistake again
  903. >As for the ubermensch-books, you stash them inside of your bench seat thing
  904. >Which of course flips up for extra storage inside it
  905. >You question whether or not you should just leave the looting at this, or go back for more
  906. >...
  907. >What kind of bitch question is that, of course you go back for the loot
  908. >You pull yourself up with a groan and trek towards the factory site thing again
  909. >Halfway there, you notice something at the site
  910. >There's another carriage parked outside of it that you don't recognize
  911. >Did those niggas come for your fucking loot
  912. >notonmywatch.bmp
  913.  
  914. @@@@@@@@
  915.  
  916. >THUNK THUNK THUNK
  917. >What the fuck
  918. >Your speedy stroll up to the secret door was interrupted by something impacting the ground in front of you
  919. >Looking down, you see--
  920. >WHOAhkay those are fucking arrows
  921. >A stallion's voice rings out ahead of you
  922. >"Stay right where you are, creature!"
  923. >Yeah okay boss sure
  924. >Just don't fucking shoot me
  925. >A trio of ponies begin trotting up to you, all with crossbows trained on you
  926. >Looks like a couple of pegasi stallions and a unicorn mare
  927. >And they're all decked out in desert camo'd scale mail
  928. >Complete with toolbelts full of things that would probably make Batman cream his spandex suit
  929. >Who the fuck are these ponies
  930. >And why are they jacking your swag
  931. >If they didn't have bows on you, there would be [spoiler]harsh language[/spoiler]
  932. >They continue their approach, the two pegasi circling around your back while the unicorn walks up to your face
  933.  
  934. >One of the stallions pipes up at this
  935. >"Hey LT, what is this thing, anyway?"
  936. >You fuckin cheeky cunt m8
  937. >You had a quip ready to roll with until the 'LT' interrupted
  938. >"Somepony clearly doesn't pay attention to the news. This is that 'human' friend of Princess Twilight's."
  939. >Well thank fuck somepony knows who the fuck you are at least
  940. >"Wait, that 'Anonymous' thing? THIS is it?"
  941. >"Yes, HE is. So don't get excited and shoot him."
  942. >I don't know who you are, armored horse, but I like you so far
  943. >"So, Mr. Anonymous, care to explain what a guy like you is doing here?"
  944. >Uh, bitch, you come here and steal my fuckin loot
  945. >And then you ask ME what the fuck I'm doing here?
  946. "Hold up a second, who even are you ponies anyways? Tomb raiders, or something?"
  947. >The fuccboi from before answers this one
  948. >"Hey, we're asking the questions here, a--"
  949. >"Zip it, corporal. Since he's under the protection of a princess, he at least has a right to know who we are."
  950. >It's fucking tomb raiders, isn't it
  951. >tfw no lara croft pone to steal your loot
  952.  
  953. >"I'll make this brief. We're Celestia's right-hoof ponies, Sol Invictus. It's our job to eliminate threats to Equestria before they become the problems of the Elements of Harmony."
  954. >That's not tomb raiders
  955. >That's not even remotely close to tomb raiders
  956. >Then it hits you
  957. >These guys are basically the fucking pony CIA
  958. >panic.scr
  959. "O-oh, really? How come I've never heard of you guys before?"
  960. >I don't wanna be waterboarded mom
  961. >"We're big on secrecy. But enough about us. What exactly are you doing out here?"
  962. >shitshitshit
  963. "Well, uh, I came here with Twilight for the whole archaeology thing."
  964. >"And?"
  965. >Did you just loot some state secrets or something, man
  966. "But the head researcher guy pissed us off, so I, uh, came out here to blow off some steam?"
  967. >She seems to buy that one
  968. >"Ah, right. I forgot that Dr. Precise can be rather... obtuse."
  969. >score
  970. "You're telling me! You should have seen Twilight's face after he ran his mouth off."
  971.  
  972. >"Even so, that doesn't explain why you're out over here."
  973. >fuck, no score
  974. "I, uh, saw that carriage out here. Figured I'd check it out?"
  975. >You look over at their carriage for emphasis
  976. >It's all armoured and shit, and looks like a horse-drawn prison van
  977. >i don't wanna go to pony jail
  978. >"Hm. That's interesting."
  979. >oh fuck what now
  980. >"Our carriage is specially enchanted for stealth. You shouldn't have been able to see it at all."
  981. >She seems to be thinking about this
  982. >Better point out that you're all--
  983. >"Ah, right, I remember now. You're resistant to magic, aren't you?"
  984. >Oh nevermind, she did it for you
  985. "Right, right. I didn't know it was supposed to be--"
  986. >"Invisible. Well, that explains that."
  987. "So, uh, what are you guys doing out here, anyways?"
  988. >She puts on a srs-fuckin-business expression
  989. >please don't kill me
  990. >"Ancient ruins like these are full of forbidden magical artifacts and books. We make it a policy of scouring for and destroying these, before the teams can get here."
  991.  
  992. >Okay
  993. >These guys are both the pony NSA and CIA apparently
  994. >Wait
  995. >Does that mean that you--
  996. >Your thoughts are interrupted when a plume of flame explodes out of where the secret door was at
  997. >...
  998. >Oh fuck, that confirms it
  999. >You just looted some forbidden magic shit
  1000. >"This dig site contains many such caches that require immediate disposal."
  1001. >Okay, new plan
  1002. >Don't mention that you just jacked some of the very illegal swag
  1003. >"Now, for reasons pertaining to national security, I'm going to require you to make no mention of our activities here, even with the princess."
  1004. >No words, just a little nod
  1005. >"This conversation never took place, we were never here. Speaking of the activities of Sol Invictus is punishable as treason."
  1006. >Treason?
  1007. >Fuck, that's lifetime pony jail
  1008. >"Do we have an understanding?"
  1009. >Yeah, just nod again
  1010.  
  1011. >"I said, do we have an understanding?"
  1012. >Welp, no nodding for you
  1013. "Y-yeah. I get you."
  1014. >"Good, then we have nothing further to discuss. Please return to the expedition camp."
  1015. >Not gonna argue with that
  1016. >You hear the ponies behind you shuffle out of your way
  1017. >You immediately turn around and start walking off
  1018. >horyshit.mng
  1019. >That was fucking heart attack territory right there
  1020. >You keep walking instead of running like you want to
  1021. >Just in case they're still watching you
  1022. >You reach the camp after what feels like forever
  1023. >You're surprised to see Twilight, looking around like she's lost something
  1024. >Her eyes drift over to you, and she stops in her tracks
  1025. >"Anon!"
  1026. >Looks like she was looking for you
  1027. >And now she's running at you
  1028. >"I've been looking everywhere for you! Where have you been?"
  1029. >Aight, keep it cool
  1030. "Just... taking a walk. Clearing my head."
  1031. >"For almost an hour?"
  1032. "Yeah."
  1033.  
  1034. >"Uh, wow. Really? That bad?"
  1035. "Yeah, that bad."
  1036. >"I'm surprised you didn't do anything worse."
  1037. "Well, I may or may not have trashed his tent."
  1038. >Now, normally that remark would net some admonishment from princess books
  1039. >But this time, it gets her to giggle a bit
  1040. >"Well, I'm at least glad you had some fun with that."
  1041. >She motions for you to follow, and you two start walking off to...
  1042. >Actually, where were you going, anyways?
  1043. >Oh, her carriage
  1044. >The carriage with the forbidden loot
  1045. >wakemeupinside.gif
  1046. >Keep playing it cool nigga
  1047. "So, uh, what exactly did you end up doing? I mean, I saw that big explosion, and all..."
  1048. >That one worked, she's rearing up for a vent
  1049. >"Oh my gosh, that stallion is the most insensitive, standoffish, obtuse, tone-deaf, unreasonable, and just... CREEPY pony I've ever met in my life!"
  1050. >It's working
  1051. >"The whole time I drew him away from you, he would just NOT shut up about anything! He went from talking about his school, to talking about you being gone, to insinuating that I somehow train dragons all the time, to just... just-- AGH!"
  1052. >Man, turns out that autism really does speak
  1053.  
  1054. >"I kept making it very clear that I don't want to hear him talking about things like that, and he just kept asking 'why not?'. Why not?! What kind of stupid question is that? And he just looks at me with this stupid smile, like he didn't just ask me the stupidest thing possible!"
  1055. >Okay, we're boarding the carriage now
  1056. >"Oh, but it got worse! After never once taking the hint to just stop talking, he starts talking about my-- my appearance! He made the most inappropriate 'compliments' about me, in the worst possible way, at the worst possible times!"
  1057. >what
  1058. "What? Like, how bad are we talking?"
  1059. >"Okay, get this! No joke, he goes right from talking about how you're a weird ape, then immediately goes and says 'I really like your flanks, princess!' Just like that, without any kind of-- Fffohmygosh Anon, I was just so angry!"
  1060. >Okay, that one got a cringe out of you
  1061. >You totally believe he would do that, too
  1062. >You still remember the futa Twilight statue from that box of his
  1063. >"And he's just sitting there like what he just said was the most normal thing on Equus, all with that stupid smile on his face!"
  1064. "That's... jeez, that's bad."
  1065. >"Oh, but then! Then, he says that they really are as big as on his magazines! And then starts talking about all the smutty magazines he has that have me in them! I just... HOW?! How does anypony manage to even do that?! Just talking like that, all with that same flat voice and that smile!"
  1066. >we're hitting autism levels that shouldn't even be possible
  1067.  
  1068. >"I couldn't take it anymore, Anon! So I slapped him, right across the face, as hard as I could! And then he starts crying. Then unironically calls me a 'meanie'. And then calling me all kinds of things that I'm not even going to recite here! As if I'm somehow the villain in all of this!"
  1069. "Fffffuck, girl."
  1070. >"I just... kind of lost it after that. The next thing I know, he's running away screaming, and I'm floating in the air, with a fading magical explosion overhead."
  1071. >She's quiet after that line
  1072. >Fuck, ponies have no right looking that sad
  1073. >You decide that now's a good opportunity for a hug
  1074. >She stiffens a bit at first, but settles into it soon after
  1075. >Her next line is quiet and all sad
  1076. >"I just sat there for a while. I don't know how long. But then I thought that he'd be back to give you some trouble. So I went back as well, looking for you."
  1077. >You scratch one of her ears a little
  1078. "Don't worry, never found him after that one time."
  1079. >"Good."
  1080. >The two of you stay like this for a while
  1081. >The whole 'illegal loot' thing doesn't enter your mind until a few minutes later
  1082. >At this point, that's secondary
  1083. >The two of you have stayed here for quite long enough
  1084.  
  1085. "Hey, Twilight?"
  1086. >"Mm?"
  1087. "Fuck these guys, let's just head home."
  1088. >"What? But, what about--"
  1089. "It stopped being worth it when Doctor Cockbreath there showed up."
  1090. >"You say the weirdest things sometimes."
  1091. "I try."
  1092. >The two of you separate at that
  1093. >"I'll need to get my guards to pull the carriage."
  1094. "I'll get us a game or something to play on the way back."
  1095. >"That's... a good idea. Don't take too long, okay?"
  1096. "You couldn't pay me enough to take longer than I need."
  1097. >A shared chuckle later, and you walk over to the camp again, this time to the carriage ponies
  1098. >It didn't take much convincing for them to part with a deck of cards and a board game
  1099. >Seems like they know the pain of Captain Autism there all too well
  1100. >You REALLY hope they're paid like the fucking Trump family for this shit
  1101. >You see the guards and Twilight walking back as well, so you link up with them
  1102. >It's not long until the guards get strapped in, and you and Twilight file into the carriage proper
  1103. >The ride begins seconds later
  1104. >Only this time, you've got something to kill time with
  1105. >...
  1106. >And maybe, something to kill even more time with when you get back home
  1107. >You don't care how illegal those books might be, they've got your interest something fierce
  1108.  
  1109. @@@@@@@@
  1110.  
  1111. >It's been a week since the archaeology extravaganza
  1112. >And not terribly much has been happening around Ponyville in the interim
  1113. >Twilight considered the little outing from before a semi-successful 'lesson'
  1114. >Must be the ear scratch you gave her on the way back
  1115. >There's only so much you can do with a deck of cards and the pony version of the game of life
  1116. >Though sneaking the books and chest out after arriving back was not very fun
  1117. >That box was heavy as shit, and you're afraid to put those super books anywhere near anything magical
  1118. >Yeah, putting those on the Friendship Map™ would probably summon fucking Tzeentch or something
  1119. >You make do with a hollowed tree that you're pretty sure only you know about
  1120. >You take most of the week's time to re-read the shit out of that zebra language book, much to Twilight's chagrin
  1121. >Seriously, why is the princess of books not enthused with your love of a particular book?
  1122. >Well, 'love' is a bit of a subjective term here
  1123. >You would have moved on to the Scarabspeak book long before, but you were hyped as fuck for finally reading those magic books
  1124. >And luckily, you'd have a private place to do it in, too
  1125. >Since today was the grand opening of your newly built house
  1126.  
  1127. >See, there's a reason you were shacked up in Twilight's castle for the longest time
  1128. >Normal pony buildings had the proportions of fucking hobbit holes
  1129. >And braining yourself constantly wasn't your idea of fun
  1130. >So you saved up your dosh and commissioned a human-proportioned house to be built
  1131. >Twilight wanted to pay for it initially, but you shot that down real quick
  1132. >You're a strong, independent human who don't need no mare
  1133. >That, and she's done enough for you, what with keeping you sheltered and what not
  1134. >Let it never be said that you were a total leech
  1135. >Just leech-kin
  1136. >...
  1137. >A knock on your door draws your attention from your book
  1138. >"Anon? You in there?"
  1139. >The voice belongs to Spike
  1140. "Yeah, what's up? Dinner already?"
  1141. >"Actually, Twilight wanted to see you."
  1142. >Huh, that's new
  1143. "All right, I'll be out in a second."
  1144. >You close the book and stretch out, then make for the door
  1145. >Spike was waiting outside the door for you
  1146. >Funny, he usually just goes ahead
  1147. >Your gut tells you that there's shenanigans afoot
  1148.  
  1149. >The two of you walk to the castle's exit
  1150. >Which strikes you as odd, seeing as Twilight is way more of an indoors pony
  1151. >...
  1152. >A suspicion takes root
  1153. >One that is corroborated by years of seeing this same set-up occur over again
  1154. >Spike begins opening the doors ahead of you
  1155. >Now, if your suspicion was correct, there should be--
  1156. >"SURPRISE!!"
  1157. >Clouds of confetti and streamers explode out from the door
  1158. >And on the other side were the usual suspects; all the girls donning little party hats
  1159. >And a big banner above them reading "Happy Housewarming, Anon!"
  1160. >Yep, just as you thought
  1161. >They were throwing a party for this occasion
  1162. >Didn't stop the sudden confetti swarm from getting you to jump a bit
  1163. >It also didn't stop this from looking comfy as all fuck
  1164. >Man, they were looking mighty happy to see you
  1165. >And that shit was hella contagious
  1166. >tfw these lil' ass pones give you the warm n' fuzzies
  1167. >Twilight was the first to walk up to you
  1168. >"Happy housewarming, Anon!"
  1169. "A-aw shucks, thanks you guys. You didn't have to do all this for me, you know."
  1170. >"Oh, don't be silly, Anon! None of us would want to miss this, especially not where our best friends are concerned!"
  1171.  
  1172. >This horse just called her one of your besties
  1173. >Be still my beating heart
  1174. >I SAID BE STILL YOU FUCKIN--
  1175. >HNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGH
  1176. >Twilight takes your loss of words as a good sign
  1177. >"Heheh, all right mister. Let's get going, shall we? Housewarmings are supposed to be held in, you know, the house."
  1178. >No argument here
  1179. "All right, let's roll. I'm really itching to see how it looks!"
  1180. >So your motley group set off in the general direction of your new homestead
  1181. >A bit out of the way, close to the edge of town, only a klick or two away from the Everfree
  1182. >Usually the lots there weren't well-regarded because of the Everfree
  1183. >But you were of the "yolo" persuasion
  1184. >Provided the worst you got was timberwolves and cockatrices
  1185. >Which don't do shit to you at all
  1186. >Except those manticores
  1187. >You can't cheese those things with muh magic resist
  1188. >Literally Hitler, the lot of them
  1189. >But enough about creatures, there's pones to make the chatter with!
  1190.  
  1191. >So that's what you did on the walk there
  1192. >It's been a while since you've chatted with these gals, so might as well play catch-up
  1193. >In hindsight, it probably wasn't wise to start with Rarity
  1194. >She gave you some serious hell for the less-than-optimal condition your clothing was in
  1195. >Seriously, she was worse on you about your wardrobe than Twiggles was about your book hermit tendencies
  1196. >She naturally insisted on crafting a new set for you
  1197. >Which meant more measurements
  1198. >Very intrusive, very naked measurements
  1199. >[spoiler]save me from the nothing i've become[/spoiler]
  1200. >You tried to stop there, but she was ever persistent
  1201. >"So, darling, what precisely is it that you put all of your time into? Because I certainly don't see you at all hours of the day at the spa."
  1202. "What I'm up to? Well, uh, reading."
  1203. >"Reading?"
  1204. "Yeah."
  1205. >"Well, reading what precisely, dear?"
  1206. "Actually, I've been reading a ton on old languages."
  1207. >"Old languages? Well, I've... certainly heard stranger subjects. But, forgive me for saying so, but you don't really seem the--"
  1208. "Type to like that? Yeah, I thought so too. But it's a lot more interesting than you'd think."
  1209.  
  1210. >"Is that so? Oh, do tell, darling."
  1211. "Did you know that the old Saddle Arabian language was actually written backwards from every other language out there?"
  1212. >"It is?"
  1213. "Yeah. And it's pretty much drawn in continuous squiggly lines, and doesn't really have an alphabet as we see it. Too bad it really emphasises the throat when trying to speak it."
  1214. >"Hm, yes, I could see that being somewhat of a drawback..."
  1215. >She seems to be losing some interest in the subject
  1216. >Just as she was about to speak again, Twilight interrupted
  1217. >"Look everypony, we're here!"
  1218. >And standing tall and proud, about twenty meters off, was your new house
  1219. >Holy shit this looks even cooler than you thought it would
  1220. >When you first consulted with the builders, you couldn't decide between a brick or log design
  1221. >Looks like they decided to mash the two together
  1222. >The place was made out of brick, but it also had these big honking logs placed like support columns, embedded in the walls
  1223. >The windows and doors were also accented with some smaller... actually, did they even qualify as logs, or just really thick sticks?
  1224. >Either way, it actually worked out really well
  1225. >And most importantly, they were all the correct fucking height
  1226. >You ain't having none of that hobbit hole proportioning bullshit in your fucking crib, no siree
  1227.  
  1228. >None of you waste any time in filing into the house
  1229. >And you haven't brained yourself upon entry
  1230. >Halle-fucking-lujah
  1231. >Entering the place, you can see the decorating they did for the housewarming
  1232. >But you could also see the furnishment
  1233. >And it was all human sized
  1234. >This was awesome
  1235. >Like, super fucking awesome
  1236. >Of course, Pinkie wasted no time in getting the party underway, if the confetti explosions were anything to go by
  1237. >And throw a little party is exactly what happened
  1238. >You only wish there was actual alcohol involved
  1239. >The ponies DID have alcohol, but it was the weakest shit you'd ever had in your life
  1240. >Must be their inferior herbivore prey animal livers
  1241. >Truly, the meat eaters were the master race
  1242. >IF YOU FUCKING HAD ANY TO EAT
  1243. >Okay, you've got to figure out how to make moonshine or some shit
  1244. >Because you at least wanted to get even a little tipsy in your life here
  1245. >Or fuck, maybe 'ckya blyat rush b' it and brew some fuckin vodka
  1246. >And make all the slav jokes that only you can get
  1247. >...
  1248. >Fucking hell you need those drinks
  1249.  
  1250. >The party itself happened without much incident
  1251. >Everyone had a good time, ate well, and got down with the music Pinkie brought
  1252. >Good shit all around
  1253. >It also helped that you actually managed to talk to the girls in god-knows how long
  1254. >AJ and Dash were going to head out to the bars later tomorrow, and invited you to tag along
  1255. >It didn't grab your attention that much, given the liquor situation
  1256. >Until of course they mentioned that this new place they found served import drinks
  1257. >That meant minotaur and gryphon shit
  1258. >Damn right you're giving that shit a whirl
  1259. >So you're definitely coming along for that
  1260. >Pinkie would have come along as well, were it not for foalsitting duty
  1261. >So instead she settled with unveiling a pack of sweetrolls for your future consumption
  1262. >Hell, you'll take it
  1263. >Anything she makes is basically like oral sex in baked form
  1264. >Fluttershy thought it was a good idea for you to have a pet around here
  1265. >And invited you a couple of days from now to see if you wanted one from her place
  1266. >Yeah, that doesn't sound half bad
  1267. >Rarity of course wanted those measurements yesterday
  1268. >But she settled with three days from now
  1269.  
  1270. >As for Twilight, she of course wanted to help flesh out the bookshelves here
  1271. >With the addendum that they couldn't be all language books
  1272. >What is with this horse and her hate of language books
  1273. >Did a language book kill her fucking pet gerbil or something?
  1274. >Well whatever
  1275. >That would come last, right after Rarity takes those measurements
  1276. >So at least the torture would have a silver lining to it
  1277. >Alas, the day was drawing to a close, and the girls decided to head out as a unit
  1278. >Many farewells and courtesy hugs later, particularly from Twilight and Pinkie, and you were left alone
  1279. >Now, you can start by exploring this place in all its propriety
  1280. >Let's see...
  1281. >This place had a big living room that connected to most of the other rooms
  1282. >The kitchen had no walls between it and the living room, and neither did the short entrance hall
  1283. >The fairly spacious garden was connected via a glass sliding door, and was fenced off very well
  1284. >That left only the study, bedroom, and bathroom, all connected via regular ass doors
  1285. >The bedroom had a queen-sized bed in it
  1286. >Fucking ace
  1287. >And the study was as good as you thought it would be
  1288. >Decked out in bookshelves, and with a spacious desk
  1289.  
  1290. >Now, if the builders implemented your 'special feature', there should be...
  1291. >Ah, here we are, a little lever hidden in the neck of the lantern above the desk
  1292. >Pull that, and...
  1293. >Yeaaaa boiiiii
  1294. >A section of floor flipped up, revealing a trapdoor
  1295. >Opening that revealed a little brick cellar with a tile floor
  1296. >Within that was custom-built wooden things that the ponies didn't know about
  1297. >But you knew them better as wine bottle holders
  1298. >Hey, you were serious about getting that booze flowing
  1299. >And you didn't want those ponies fucking killing themselves on some real liquor, hence the secret passage
  1300. >Man, little did you know that this would be the perfect place to stash your forbidden book collection
  1301. >Totally didn't plan on that, but you were happy you had this either way
  1302. >Now, to bring back the books themselves
  1303. >You leave the cellar and close the doorways behind it
  1304. >AJ left one of her wheelbarrows here by mistake
  1305. >Works for you, since that would make lugging the bottomless box a super simple deal
  1306. >Taking the wheelbarrow, you beeline it to your hidden tree stash, which was a good distance away
  1307.  
  1308. >Good, nobody touched your mad swag
  1309. >You load the chest into the wheelbarrow, and hold the fucking eldritch books in your other hand
  1310. >Thus began your trip back
  1311. >Man, SO much easier with a wheelbarrow at your disposal
  1312. >You'll have to indirectly thank AJ for that later
  1313. >You're back at your crib in no time, and lug the chest and super books into the study
  1314. >You're not tracking dirt from the wheelbarrow in your new place, thank you very much
  1315. >Now came the tricky part of getting that heavy ass chest down the ladder
  1316. >It took a lot of fumblefucking on your part, but you managed to get it down the ladder
  1317. >And off into the corner it goes
  1318. >You'll have to devise another hidden area for this stuff later
  1319. >But for now, this would do
  1320. >Next came the magic books
  1321. >You didn't want to be interrupted during your reading, so you descend into the basement and close the doors behind you
  1322. >You thought ahead on this, and had a second lever in the cellar to close it off up top
  1323. >And just like that, you were alone
  1324. >All alone with these books
  1325. >Jesus tapdancing christ on tour in Mongolia, you were HYPED as all fuck for this shit
  1326.  
  1327. >You didn't even care that there wasn't any chairs down here
  1328. >The floor was more than sufficient for this
  1329. >You unravel the rope binds on the stack and lay them out on the floor
  1330. >Now that you had some time to read the covers, you could figure out what the fuck these were supposed to be
  1331. >...
  1332. >Okay, so...
  1333. >We have `Crimson Incantations: A Complete Guide on Dark Magic`, by Elder Zharrdan
  1334. >Ohhhkay then, not reading that
  1335. >...Yet
  1336. >Next up is `Occult Alchemy`, by Strong Tonic
  1337. >Okay, less overtly evil than the one before, but the 'occult' part isn't a good vibe so far
  1338. >The next book was the most interesting of the bunch
  1339. >The covers were bordered with tiny little glyphs in gold, with a small constellation of actual gems in the middle of the front cover
  1340. >`Lexica Thaumaturgia: Magic For The Masses`
  1341. >There was no author, but there was an empty 'owned by' line at the bottom
  1342. >Just by looking at the cover, this looked easily like it was the book responsible for wrecking that bottomless box from before
  1343. >But 'magic for the masses' didn't strike you as an evil book
  1344. >The other two, sure, you'd grant that
  1345. >But this seemed pretty innocuous compared to those other two
  1346. >Shrugging, you pick it up and crack it open, preparing to read the contents
  1347.  
  1348. @@@@@@@@
  1349.  
  1350. >You weren't entirely sure what you expected to see when you opened this book
  1351. >You were expecting, in no particular order:
  1352. >A wall of boring text
  1353. >A picture book of spells
  1354. >A full-blown magic encyclopedia
  1355. >Cthulhu's diary, complete with tentacles
  1356. >A portal to Hermaeus Mora's hood, complete with tentacles
  1357. >Starswirl's porn collection, complete with tentacles
  1358. >What you instead got was a blank page
  1359. >And by blank, you mean the page was completely black
  1360. >Not in the sense of 'the endless abyss you gaze long into and it gazes back'
  1361. >More like someone had spilled their inkwell on it and finished the job with a brush or something
  1362. >There has to be more to this shit
  1363. >You flip the page
  1364. >The pages are black as well
  1365. >Is this author fucking with you right now?
  1366. >Another page turn
  1367. >Nothing
  1368. >Another
  1369. >Still nothing
  1370. >And another
  1371. >hello darkness my old friend
  1372. >And yet another
  1373. >i've come to talk with you again
  1374.  
  1375. >In a last-ditch effort, you just flip through all the fucking pages
  1376. >That's where things got fairly interesting
  1377. >The pages were flipping infinitely
  1378. >Like, you kept flipping, but it didn't seem to reduce the paper stack at all
  1379. >So the book is clearly magical
  1380. >Is this thing fucking with you?
  1381. >Do you think this is a fucking game, book
  1382. >You stop flipping individually and turn a huge chunk of pages at once
  1383. >The second the pages hit the opposite end, they seem to sink into the end, and grow the still-large stack at the other
  1384. >God fucking damn it
  1385. >This book has portal technology
  1386. >You try flipping the whole page stack
  1387. >Only to be met with the same result
  1388. >You swear you're at this for like five fucking minutes until you close the book again
  1389. >Jesus fucking christ, this is like that map from Harry Potter
  1390. >Only instead of insulting you, it fucking taunts you
  1391. >'yea u faget, fuckin teach u to read me, shitbyrd'
  1392. >Well fuck you too, book
  1393. >Wait
  1394. >Didn't the map thing from HP have a safe word or something?
  1395. >Idea formed and implemented
  1396. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
  1397. >Open the book
  1398.  
  1399. >Nothing
  1400. >Fuck
  1401. >Close the book
  1402. "By the power of Grayskull?"
  1403. >Open
  1404. >Nothing
  1405. >Close
  1406. "I am your father?"
  1407. >Nothing
  1408. "Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?"
  1409. >Nothing
  1410. "Baws pls gibe da pucci"
  1411. >Nothing
  1412. "Would you kindly give me your fucking knowledge?"
  1413. >Nothing, just anger now
  1414. "Can I have something to eat?!"
  1415. >You give me nothing at your own peril, book
  1416. "MY NAME IS CHRISTIAN WESTON CHANDLER AND I WILL CURSE-YA-HAME-HAH YOUR BITCH ASS IF YOU DON'T GIVE ME YOUR SHIT!"
  1417. >The book was not swayed by the threat of autism
  1418. "OH FOR FUCK'S SAKE, LET ME READ YOU ALREADY YOU BITCH!"
  1419. >wowitsfuckingnothing.svg
  1420. "I WILL SHIT FURY AND YOU WILL DROWN IN IT, JUST LIKE IN THOSE JAPANESE ANIMES!"
  1421. >Your call was absorbed by the darkness
  1422.  
  1423. >Just as you were about to hurl another highly autistic expletive-laden serenade towards the book, another idea struck you
  1424. >Japanese animes
  1425. >You might not be strictly of the weeb persuasion
  1426. >But don't those crazy niggas read their books backwards?
  1427. >You swear to fucking Mrs. Claus, if this doesn't work--
  1428. >The page isn't blank
  1429. >What
  1430. >That worked?
  1431. >The page at the back isn't blank
  1432. >Well, it is, but it's not black, just regular parchment
  1433. >You turn another page super fast
  1434. >It seems blank too
  1435. >Fucking shit, not again
  1436. >You turn the pages quickly
  1437. >Nothing at all--
  1438. >Wait
  1439. >Hold up a second
  1440. >Was that little dot always there?
  1441. >You look closer
  1442. >Yeah, there's a fucking dot on the page
  1443. >You turn back a few steps to check
  1444. >Yep, there's definitely a dot
  1445. >You turn all the way to the back
  1446. >And sure enough, there it is
  1447.  
  1448. >But hold up
  1449. >The dot wasn't in the same place as it was where you first found it
  1450. >You check the subsequent pages
  1451. >Yeah, every page turn, the dot moves ever so slightly
  1452. >Why the fuck would it--
  1453. >Wait a minute
  1454. >Pages flipping with minute changes
  1455. >Holy shit
  1456. >This is a fucking animation
  1457. >You were looking at a prehistoric GIF here
  1458. >Maybe
  1459. >All right, now you were paying attention
  1460. >Starting at the 'beginning', you flip the pages at a steady pace
  1461. >The dot, sure enough, starts making a shape the more pages you flip
  1462. >But it doesn't leave a line
  1463. >Fucking typical
  1464. >The dot seems to form some kind of circle shape with shit in the middle
  1465. >But then the book ends
  1466. >Wait, the book ended
  1467. >Holy shit the book ended
  1468. >Fuck, does this trick even still work?
  1469. >Flipping back to the 'first' page confirms the dot in the same place
  1470. >Oh thank the holy God-Emperor
  1471. >Right, you were going to have to trace this shit out
  1472.  
  1473. >You stop upstairs to pick out some paper and a quill
  1474. >You didn't have much paper, and not a lot of ink
  1475. >You'd have to make this count
  1476. >You go over the animation multiple times
  1477. >It doesn't seem to change between re-flips of the book
  1478. >Thank fucking god for that
  1479. >Slowly but surely, you begin to draw out on the paper what the book is trying to draw with that little dot
  1480. >Luckily, it's not terribly detailed
  1481. >Though it does take multiple re-flips to ensure you got it right
  1482. >By what feels like the twentieth fucking time, you think you finally have it
  1483. >Time to review our work, class
  1484. >The thing you've drawn is a circle all right, but it's a weird spell circle looking thing
  1485. >Or wait, is it?
  1486. >More scrutiny is in order, cap'n
  1487. >...
  1488. >This isn't a magic circle at all
  1489. >It's fucking instructions
  1490. >It's crudely drawn, and says to draw a funny looking symbol on the inside of the front cover
  1491. >Considering that opening it the normal way nets you a black page, you're guessing it means drawing it on the 'end' cover
  1492. >Fucking god damn it why is this all so complicated
  1493.  
  1494. >All you wanted was to read some old forbidden tomes about crazy shit
  1495. >Not play fucking 5D hyper-icosidodecahedron strip Yu-Gi-Oh with a fucking book
  1496. >Well, whatever
  1497. >At this point, you didn't care if drawing that symbol would summon Pinhead to skullfuck you with a stick of DDR2
  1498. >You wanted your fucking book contents now, damn it
  1499. >Quick as a whip, you flip from the back to the front, landing on the 'end' cover
  1500. >Blank, like the rest of the pages
  1501. >Alright, time to unleash the Swarm
  1502. >A few strokes later, and the symbol was drawn
  1503. >...
  1504. >Huh, nothing seems to be happening
  1505. >Of fucking course nothing's happening
  1506. >A disgusted sigh escapes you as you close the book
  1507. >Well, this was a fucking bust
  1508. >Looks like your... what is it, 'Lexica Thaumaturgia' wouldn't be read this decade
  1509. >You put it off to the side
  1510. >...
  1511. >And immediately pick it the fuck back up because HOLY SHIT THE FUCKING TITLE CHANGED
  1512. >Well, not really, but it kind of actually did
  1513. >It wasn't in fucking Zebra language, it was in plain English now
  1514. >Only without the 'owned by' line
  1515.  
  1516. >You open the book, normally this time
  1517. >Text
  1518. >Glorious, sexy text
  1519. >It was... a welcome in multiple languages?
  1520. >The text was moving, and it was scrolling through multiple languages
  1521. >What is this, the fucking iPhone book now?
  1522. >And hold on, you normally can't see moving text on books, since the magic doesn't work on you
  1523. >That means either the book is too good for you, or the book is physically changing itself
  1524. >You just bank on the latter being true and flip the page
  1525. >It was a series of checkboxes with all the languages crammed in there
  1526. >Trying to turn the page just gave you the same exact page
  1527. >It wants you to pick a language
  1528. >Oh sweet merciful Lord, this IS the fucking iPhone book
  1529. >You pick up the quill and check off the Engli-- oh sorry, the 'Equestrian Common' language box
  1530. >When nothing happened, a page flip confirmed that the other side had changed
  1531. >Now you had a big wall of text to sift through
  1532. >Oh boy, what fun
  1533. >No seriously, this was actually kind of fun
  1534. >Barring the iPhone comparisons, you were actually interacting with a super ancient, highly illegal book of magic and shit
  1535. >Hype doesn't begin to cover the breadth of your feelings towards this
  1536.  
  1537. >Well, time to start reading
  1538. >"Thaumaturge: A worker of wonders or miracles. An apt description of the things to come, from within the tome you now possess. Read these words carefully, and heed them well."
  1539. >"Throughout the millenia, many beings have borne the blessings of magic, from the simple Breezie to the twisted Draconequui."
  1540. >"Through this connection to the arcane, these beings and creatures command great power over creation, helping to shape the world in their own special way."
  1541. >"It is not without a sense of want, however, that other beings, without this intrinsic connection to the mystic power of creation, cannot help but desire to touch the world around them in the same way."
  1542. >"And thus began the pursuit of the arcane, the beginnings of the art of Thaumaturgy."
  1543. >"Through a labour of ingenuity, brilliance, luck, and a hint of madness, the mundane races discovered how to touch the essence of the world, like their blessed neighbours could."
  1544. >"Yet, all they could do was touch. Isolated as they were, the mundane races could only touch their power, never command it as they do."
  1545. >"It was not until the infant races began to travel and discover one another, that the knowledge cobbled by the mundane races began to form some measure of cohesion."
  1546. >"Theories were exchanged, ideas tested, and finally, their visions were made manifest. At last, the mundane races found ways to control the arcane, however limited it might have been at first."
  1547. >"The practitioners of this art were known to all as the Faber Mystico, the first Thaumaturges. Their art brought about a golden age for all mundane races of the world."
  1548.  
  1549. >"With the power of the arcane at their beck and call, they created devices that brought untold prosperity to their peoples in a short span of time."
  1550. >"And with this prosperity, came an age of great enlightenment for the mundane races. With a new lens through which to view all of creation, they decoded many secrets of the world, furthering their people's progress."
  1551. >"And yet, their rapid progress and newfound grasp on the arcane did not sit well with many of the blessed races. They saw the progress of the mundanes as both a threat to their standing, and an affront to the natural order."
  1552. >"The blessed races attempted conquest numerous times, succeeding only after many of their own were driven to near extinction by the swift wrath of the mundanes, hardened as they were by their existence without magic."
  1553. >"Before their fall, and their subjugation under the blessed ones, the most knowledgeable among them crafted enchanted, sentient grimoires of vast knowledge."
  1554. >"These grimoires were seeded across the far corners of the world, accessible only to mundanes, where they hoped their knowledge would never be lost to the sands of time."
  1555. >"You currently read from the pages of one such tome."
  1556. >"Understand this, anonymous reader. The knowledge contained within this text is the sum total of all discoveries made by the Faber Mystico. As insightful and esoteric, as it is feared and forbidden by the blessed ones."
  1557. >"Should your curiosity not be staved off by the possibility of a fate worse than death for discovering this tome, then turn the page, and pray that your insistence is vindicated."
  1558.  
  1559. @@@@@@@@
  1560.  
  1561. >Holy piss
  1562. >Whatever expectations you had for this book were completely stomped by this outcome
  1563. >An outcome that's got you a touch worried
  1564. >But honestly, who the fuck wouldn't worry with a line like 'fate worse than death for discovery'
  1565. >I mean sure, those 'Sol Invictus' fucks from before were a big red flag
  1566. >And those other two pedestal books probably deserved destruction
  1567. >...
  1568. >Wait what the fuck are you on about?
  1569. >Destroying books?
  1570. >You might not be princess purple, but book destruction will still draw out a REEEEEEEEE from you
  1571. >Even if they're not on the most kosher of subjects
  1572. >'but that makes them even better anon'
  1573. >Fuckin rights it does
  1574. >But you'll read those at your own risk later
  1575. >If you can work up the nerve to read this fucking thing at your own risk, that is
  1576. >If you can't even read the not-outwardly-sketchy book with a small preface warning, how the fuck did you plan on reading the outwardly-sketchy ones?
  1577. >Christ, you need some music for this shit
  1578. >Something classical, to help tide over the nerves
  1579. >You, 'Captain YOLO', are nervous over a fucking book
  1580.  
  1581. >Well you know what, book
  1582. >I ain't gonna take that shit from you
  1583. >You've read some awful shit in your time, from the dark corners of the 'net
  1584. >How can this compare to diaper-shitting furries?
  1585. >Protip: it can't
  1586. >And before you know it, the page is turned
  1587. >Alright, one more bit of text, then... a form?
  1588. >There's a fucking form to fill out
  1589. >Well, okay, that should have been obvious from the language select
  1590. >But whatever, you shan't question the iPhone book yet
  1591. >"To protect the knowledge contained within from the eyes of others, and from an impatient or malevolent reader, this tome will not provide all of its knowledge to you immediately, as a traditional book would"
  1592. >"Instead, this tome will be bound by blood to your very soul, unreadable to all but yourself. Accessing the knowledge within will be a slow and gradual process, as the book will regulate the flow of information to you, as it senses your readiness for it."
  1593. >"To this end, the book will require you to perform your own research, discovering the secrets of the arcane as the Faber Mystico themselves once did, and presenting your findings to the tome itself. Should the book see that you have done well, it shall reveal that knowledge to you."
  1594. >"Understand that this tome acting as a poor substitute for a teacher, is as much as inconvenience to the reader, as it is a protective measure against the ones unworthy to obtain the information stored within these pages."
  1595.  
  1596. >"Binding the book to yourself is not permanent, and can be undone with the sequence of release, discoverable by decoding the book from back to front. But you will lose all of your progress made in the book, should you choose this."
  1597. >"If you still wish to pursue the arcane, fill the opposite page with your details, and place a drop of your blood atop the designated area."
  1598. >...
  1599. >wew lawdy
  1600. >This is way more work than you would have liked
  1601. >But hey, it's not like you have anything better to do
  1602. >I mean, it straight-up told you that you can Ctrl-Z everything in here with that symbol trace job you did before
  1603. >...
  1604. >Yeah, you're going to regret this
  1605. >But you're too hyped to care
  1606. >On the next page, it barely had anything to fill out
  1607. >Name, language to outsiders, and a checkbox for hiding your name from the front
  1608. >And below all of that was a square area with a droplet drawn in the middle
  1609. >Three guesses as to what that's for
  1610. >Picking the quill back up, you fill out your name, set the outsider language to that zebra language, and choose to hide your name
  1611. >Now for the slightly squicky part
  1612. >Self harm and blood are like two things that you hate the most
  1613. >And cutting a fingertip open to bleed on a book is enough to skeeze you out
  1614. >Yeah, yeah, you're the pinnacle of all things masculine, you know
  1615.  
  1616. >You notice a little sharp rock on the floor
  1617. >That would do the trick well enough...
  1618. >Yeah you know what, fuck it all
  1619. >You're gonna ride this high you've got going and just fuckin' do it
  1620. >Otherwise your bitch ass will never do this again
  1621. >Time to act like the 'Captain YOLO' you were always meant to be
  1622. >The rock is picked up and poised to strike
  1623. >Aaaand pretty much stays like that for like ten seconds while your nerve bleeds away
  1624. >JUST
  1625. >You shut your eyes
  1626. >DO IT
  1627. >You start pressing the rock into your skin
  1628. >YOU FAGGOT
  1629. >You quickly swipe it across the tip and OHHGODWHYDIDYOUDOTHIS
  1630. >THISWASANAWFULIDEAWHYDIDYOUCONSIDERTHISOHGODITSTINGSPLEASEMAKEITSTOP
  1631. >IT'SNOTEVENSTERILIZEDMANYOU'REGONNAGETFUCKINGSPACEHERPESFROMTHISOHGODHELPME
  1632. >You didn't even notice you putting the ailing finger in your mouth
  1633. >Did you evenOHGODYEPTHERE'STHATCOPPERYTASTEOHGODSUICIDEISSOTEMPTINGRIGHTNOW
  1634. >You sit there sucking your finger like a baby for a good ten seconds before the haze of bitching out lifts momentarily
  1635. >Your finger's bleeding, that means you can do this shit
  1636. >You pull the finger out and wipe the spit off of it
  1637. >As much as you didn't want to see this, there was definitely a nice gash on it
  1638.  
  1639. >Fucking hell you're going weak just looking at it
  1640. >It was starting to ooze blood as well
  1641. >imfuckingdone.webp
  1642. >NO YOU'RE NOT FUCKING DONE
  1643. >You hover the finger over the square on the book
  1644. >FUCKING MAN UP YOU BITCH
  1645. >You wince as you begin milking the finger for more blood
  1646. >YOU CHOSE THIS, NOW FINISH IT
  1647. >Ohdeargodinheavenit'spoolingupatthefingerbutit'snotdroppingpleasehelpme
  1648. >YOU WILL NEVER LIVE THIS DOWN IF YOU DON'T DO IT
  1649. >It's a slow process to get enough pooled on there
  1650. >The adrenaline rush from the incision has you significantly more focused on this, however
  1651. >Though the skeeze factor is still in full swing, it's not causing a total bitch out
  1652. >Thanks, brain
  1653. >You watch as the drop builds mass
  1654. >And sure enough, it finally, after what feels like forever, drips onto the page
  1655. >Okay finally, now you can HOLY SHIT THE BOOK IS FLOATING
  1656. >AND IT'S STARTING TO ARC ELECTRICITY AND SHIT
  1657. >OH LORD NO, YOU ACTUALLY DID UNLEASH THE SWARM, DIDN'T YOU
  1658. >PLEASE DON'T EAT ME, I'M TOO GAMEY, TAKE THE HORSES INSTEAD
  1659. >NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO CASH IN THAT FAVOUR YOU OWE ME, JESUS
  1660. >RIP ANON, 20XX, KILLED BY THE FUCKING ELDER GOD BOOK
  1661.  
  1662. >And as soon as the book begins it's pyrotechnic shitshow, it suddenly stops, and flops to the ground.
  1663. >...
  1664. >OH THANK GOD IT'S NOT GOING TO EAT ME
  1665. >...
  1666. >DEEP BREATHS THERE, ANON
  1667. >...
  1668. >THE MADNESS IS OVER
  1669. >...
  1670. >You spend a solid three minutes calming your shit down.
  1671. >You had to admit, that little breathing trick of Twilight's became surprisingly effective near the end there.
  1672. >Whew
  1673. >Okay, the book is now closed, with the cover facing up.
  1674. >So it's not going to fucking eat you this time.
  1675. >You certainly hope it doesn't, especially after all this shit it put you through.
  1676. >The cover's unchanged, but upon opening it, the contents have definitely changed
  1677. >The book had some little coloured tabs in it with some undecipherable symbols on them, presumably to denote what they are.
  1678. >And front and center was a table of contents, the only preface being a small sentence saying this book belongs to Anonymous.
  1679. >Hey, at least it gets to the point.
  1680.  
  1681. >The table is divided up into major sections, with a coloured symbol corresponding to the colour of the tabs.
  1682. >There's also an indented list of subsections. Well, except for the part where they outright say that you haven't discovered anything.
  1683. >Indeed, all of the major sections were completely garbled and unintelligible.
  1684. >Looking closely, you notice that the text and symbols are actually changing really slowly.
  1685. >So, that's how it keeps new players out, eh?
  1686. >Actually, wait a second.
  1687. >The first section isn't garbled and changing: 'Basic principles', with the tab icon being a simple stylized brain.
  1688. >WELL
  1689. >As much as you'd like to proceed with this nonsense, that adrenaline high from before is coming down, and you can already feel the crash coming on
  1690. >You close the book and decide to come back to this shit later
  1691. >You take the other books, and bundle them back up, bottom-to-top in order of most sketchy to least sketchy
  1692. >You set that shit down on the chest, collect your other things, and ascend right up the ladder from whence you came...
  1693. >Or, at least you tried, before remembering you have to open the fucking doors first
  1694. >Fucking hell, you didn't even notice the door was closed
  1695. >You swear, if this is indicative of the other shit in that book, you were going to be quitting this sooner rather than later
  1696. >And your finger is still bleeding
  1697. >Fuck everything with a cedar two-by-four
  1698.  
  1699. >...
  1700. >The first thing you hear is the sound of birds chirping
  1701. >The first thing you smell is fabric softened cleanliness
  1702. >The first thing you feel is warm and soft fabrics
  1703. >...
  1704. >Holy god, this bed is the cat's ass
  1705. >If only you could never leave it's confines
  1706. >Fuck, you didn't even notice yourself getting into bed
  1707. >Funny, usually you remember bedtimes with such clarity
  1708. >Especially being a professional slacker
  1709. >And in a new, properly sized bed, no less!
  1710. >Why would you...
  1711. >...
  1712. >Oh
  1713. >OH
  1714. >HOLY MOTHER OF OH, BATMAN
  1715. >Any pretense of slumber was swept swiftly away by the memories of last night
  1716. >The house, the girls, the party, and of course, the magic book
  1717. >The tracing, the warning, the hype, the finger cutting--
  1718. >THE FINGER CUTTING
  1719. >Up comes Mrs. Palms faster than Rainbow Dash and Sonic's mutant lovechild
  1720. >...
  1721. >Well, it looks like you at least had the sense last night to wrap it in toilet paper.
  1722. >But it also soaked up a fair amount of it before the bleeding stopped.
  1723. >Enough that it probably soaked a bit into the sheets, from the looks of it.
  1724.  
  1725. >You wrest yourself free from your comfortable duvet prison, and waste no time in pulling back the sheets.
  1726. >First thing you see is the patch of blood.
  1727. >Thank God it wasn't more than a little patch like that.
  1728. >Okay, this finger had it worse than you thought at first.
  1729. >You head into the bathroom with a much clearer mind than last night, and see about finding some proper dressings for this.
  1730. >Oh thank the Lord, there was some proper medical stuff in the cupboard beneath the sink.
  1731. >You pull free some bandages and a large cotton pad, put them near the sink, and slowly begin peeling the toilet paper 'bandage' away.
  1732. >It went fine up until the wound itself was agitated, at which point a surprising amount of dull pain flared up from it.
  1733. >You grit and bear it, and finally pull it free.
  1734. >Man, this is a mess. Dried blood covered all of your finger, and the freshly peeled wound was looking red, swollen, and was already beginning to seep more blood.
  1735. >You turn the sink on and begin scrubbing the dried stuff away with the cotton pad under the water, taking care to avoid the cut until the very end.
  1736. >Of course, you start wincing and cursing as soon as the cut itself requires attention. But at the very least, it was cleaning up, with the new blood washing away with the flow of water.
  1737. >After cleaning your finger to satisfaction, you dry it off with... the bath towel right behind you, yeah. Helps if you think this through a bit, Anon.
  1738. >And then came the bandaging, which fortunately didn't take very long. It helped that it didn't take much bandaging to cover the wound to satisfaction.
  1739.  
  1740. >All right, everything's good here for now. You dispose of the bloodied items, and put the extra bandages away.
  1741. >ALL RIGHT, DEEP BREATHS
  1742. >Holy fucking Christ was this not how you wanted to start your first day officially living in your house
  1743. >You were already on major edge from this
  1744. >And you don't handle being on edge too well
  1745. >You get way too serious for your liking
  1746. >And you don't sleep well
  1747. >And yet you can't shake the feeling that it was somehow worth it
  1748. >Yeah, even after all of that, you still want to read more of that book
  1749. >But one thing is for sure
  1750. >You are NOT doing it today
  1751. >You had a drinking date with Dash and AJ tonight, plus pet shopping with Fluttershy the day after
  1752. >You know, measurements by Rarity didn't sound quite so bad now
  1753. >And you'd get some library fleshing out by the end of it
  1754. >You know what? Perspective is what you got from all of this
  1755. >Hanging out with your friends was sounding a lot better than bleeding on an eldritch tome of forgotten knowledge
  1756. >...Although it still grabbed your interest like a motherfucker
  1757. >Yeah, fuck cats, I hated them anyways, bring on the curiosity
  1758. >...
  1759. >You'll get to the books after your liasons with the girls. So, three days from now. Plenty of time to calm down and go into this with an open mind.
  1760. >Now, you're sincirely hoping that the import beers would do something to you later tonight. Anything to take your mind off of this clusterfuck.
  1761.  
  1762. @@@@@@@@
  1763.  
  1764. >A few hours later, you find yourself walking into town, flanked by AJ and Rainbow.
  1765. >You actually were planning to meet them at the new tavern, but you ran into each other en route.
  1766. >Besides, waiting in solitude outside of some new drinking place wasn't really a super fun prospect.
  1767. >Especially if it did indeed serve drinks from the other races.
  1768. >While the other races weren't as skittish as ponies, they sure had more ways to kill you if you startled them.
  1769. >You found this out the hard way when these two had to pull some chick called Gilda off of you, before she went and ripped your damn throat out.
  1770. >Even in magic horse land, talons are nasty business.
  1771. >Dash piping up broke you out of your thoughts:
  1772. >"Hey, Anon? What's with the bandage?"
  1773. "What, on my hand? Yeah, cut myself pretty bad yesterday."
  1774. >"'Pretty bad'? Doesn't look that bad to me."
  1775. >"Ah'm sure he just took it way worse than he ought 'ta."
  1776. >"Oh yeah, I forgot how you are around blood!"
  1777. >Gee, rub it in, why don't ya?
  1778. "It actually was pretty bad this time. Soaked through a big wad of toilet paper before it stopped."
  1779. >"Really? Okay, that does sound kinda bad."
  1780. >"How'd you manage that, Anon?"
  1781. >The excuse comes pretty easily:
  1782. "One of the builders didn't get a nail in all the way. Ripped the fingertip right open."
  1783. >Plausible deniability truly is the best deniability.
  1784.  
  1785. >Dash visibly cringes at the thought
  1786. >"Euugh, yeah, that IS bad."
  1787. "I'm still a bit woozy from it."
  1788. >"Well shucks, is that why yer lookin' all out of it?"
  1789. "Yeah, it... wasn't the best thing around."
  1790. >Well, that wasn't a lie. You were still on edge from it.
  1791. >And you were definitely noticing some wooziness.
  1792. >Pretty normal for blood loss, you were guessing.
  1793. "I hope the foreign drinks they have are enough for me. Really need to unwind after all of that."
  1794. >"Well, Ah can't say fer sure how strong it is, seeing how Ah've never tried any before."
  1795. >"Trust me, gryphons can really put away the pony stuff. Their own stuff has to be stronger!"
  1796. >God, you hope so. Sure would vindicate the 'superior predator liver' theory.
  1797. >Another thing to put on the agenda: brew your own shit tomorrow.
  1798. >Yeah, you could pick up everything you needed after your pet selection extravaganza.
  1799. >Dash's voice breaks you out of your thoughts again:
  1800. >"Hey look, there it is!"
  1801. >Following Dash's pointing hoof, you see a straw-thatched, two-storey tavern.
  1802. >One of the first things you notice is how big the door is; your own door was fairly big by pony standards, but this one was a good head or two bigger than yours.
  1803. >Huh, wonder if that's for minotaur patrons? You wouldn't know, you've never really seen one before.
  1804. >At least braining yourself wasn't going to be a problem.
  1805.  
  1806. >The three of you stroll into the building, and the first thing you notice, besides the oversize furniture, is the bartender.
  1807. >Well, you can now cross 'seeing a minotaur' off of your bucket list.
  1808. >The size of the door now makes sense: the light-blue minotaur bartender sure was big enough to warrant it.
  1809. >The moment he notices you and the others enter, he's... surprised by you, sure. But not afraid, more like curious.
  1810. >Well, not being kill-on-sight is always a plus.
  1811. >The three of you take your seats on the stools, though given how tall they were, it was kind of funny seeing AJ hurdle up to it.
  1812. >The bartender spoke in a rather gruff voice, that still managed to be easy to listen to:
  1813. >"Well, what do we have here? Pardon for asking, sir, but I've never seen anyone quite like you before."
  1814. "Yeah, I get that a lot."
  1815. >His reply came in the form of a short laugh. Well, at least your first encounter was going well.
  1816. >You let the girls order something before he comes around to you:
  1817. >"And what will you be having tonight, partner?"
  1818. "Something strong."
  1819. >"How strong are we talking here?"
  1820. "What have you got?"
  1821. >"Well, seeing those canines of yours, I'm guessing strong enough to kill a pony, eh?"
  1822. >Oh sweet heavenly Christ, yes!
  1823. "Now we're talking."
  1824. >Another hearty laugh leaves him. You were liking this guy already.
  1825.  
  1826. >He rustles behind the counter, and eventually pulls free a bottle full of clear amber liquid.
  1827. >"This right here is the good stuff, friend. Genuine New Minos whiskey, guaranteed to put a gryphon under the table in at least two glasses!"
  1828. >Dash's mouth dropped open at the sight of the stuff. Not that you noticed, however: you were too busy looking at it as if it was the Holy Grail.
  1829. "Sir, if that's even half as strong as you're describing, then I'm definitely gonna need a glass of that. Hell, at least two."
  1830. >Ah, you could totally get used to that laugh of his. Dash, meanwhile, looks at you like you're crazy:
  1831. >"Dude, are you serious? I've seen gryphons get hospitalized on this stuff!"
  1832. "That just makes it even better."
  1833. >The barkeep's laugh begins anew, only this time he punctuates it by planting a scotch glass on the table, and filling it halfway with the amber liquid.
  1834. >"Well, why don't we start you off with half a glass, and see where it takes us?"
  1835. "Not gonna complain."
  1836. >You waste no time in scooping up the glass, and starting off by slowly sipping the--
  1837. >HOLY SHIT
  1838. >You swear you could hear angels singing in the background as you inbibe this glorious, boozy elixir
  1839. >You could taste some caramel in this, oh god almighty
  1840. >This had to be at least 30% alcohol by volume
  1841. >It was everything you ever wanted out of life
  1842. >A single manly tear streaks down your face as you finish the half glass off, all but slamming it onto the countertop when you're done
  1843.  
  1844. >The alcohol takes until that moment to hit you
  1845. >If heaven ever existed on this world, this was it
  1846. >Pinkie may have created the food of the gods, but this tall ass fucking bull man just handed you the nectar of the gods
  1847. >Both the girls are looking at you with looks of shock and a little awe, while the barkeep has a knowing look
  1848. >"I take it that you liked it?"
  1849. >Fucking hell, you needed to compose yourself for this
  1850. "Sir, this is without a doubt, the best drink I've had in almost two years."
  1851. >"Hah! I don't know what you are, friend, but anything that can keep half a glass of that down is good in my books. How about another?"
  1852. "Boss, I will worship the ground you walk on if you give me another glass."
  1853. >...
  1854. >...
  1855. >...
  1856. >Normally, you would have noticed the feeling of the sheets first
  1857. >But all you feel instead is a splitting headache
  1858. >The telltale sign of getting totally loaded
  1859. >Wait
  1860. >You got loaded?
  1861. >Oh yeah, you went to that tavern and HOLY SHIT YOU GOT LOADED FUCKING YES--
  1862. >OHGODTHEPAINPLEASEMAKEITSTOPBAWSPLS
  1863. >You know what, whatever
  1864. >You were not about to complain
  1865. >You wanted to get loaded, and you got loaded
  1866. >You were going to take your liver-killing licks like a fucking man
  1867.  
  1868. >Doesn't mean you can't groan out your protest
  1869. >Still worth it
  1870. >It's at that point that you hear the bedroom door open, and an all too familiar southern accent:
  1871. >"Well well, look who finally decided to wake up?"
  1872. >`Fucking shit, keep it down, will you?`
  1873. >Is what you wanted to say. What actually came out was a series of groans
  1874. >Your highly intellectual reply gets a chuckle from the farmpony
  1875. >"Well, Ah've gotta admit, ya had me mighty worried there with how many of those drinks you had. Looks like it didn't kill ya after all."
  1876. >You keep this shit up and I'll channel Akuma on your musclebound ass--
  1877. >"Rainbow Dash! He's up!"
  1878. >JESUS TITTY FUCKING CHRIST ON THE NORTH POLE, NOT SO LOUD YOU FUCKING HORSE
  1879. >"Really? Jeez, I thought he'd never wake up after how much he drank!"
  1880. >"Heh, nope. Still alive, though Ah don't know bout the kickin' part."
  1881. >STILL THY TONGUES YOU FILTHY QUADRUPED FUCKS, I'M TRYING TO HANGOVER HERE
  1882. >"Hey, Anon! I've got some water here for you, if you get your lazy flank outta bed!"
  1883. >Damn it, horse
  1884. >You know just what to offer
  1885. >With an effort akin to Arthur wresting the sword from the stone, you rise from your comfortable grave--
  1886. >AH FUCK MY EYES
  1887. >THE LIGHT, IT BURNS
  1888. >IT BURNSES US, PRECIOUS
  1889. >Fuck, you can't say 'Anon' in that same way he says 'Gollum'
  1890.  
  1891. >Eventually, your eyes adjust to the hazardous radiation known as the sunlight
  1892. >You're greeted by tw-- no, three little ponies. When did Fluttershy get here?
  1893. >AJ and Rainbow's faces are pure bemusement, while Flutters just looks peeved at you
  1894. >Oh lawd, how long have you been out? Did you miss your outing with her?
  1895. >Oh god she's gonna give you an angry speech
  1896. >"Anon, I'm very dissapointed in you! Going out and drinking that much? What were you thinking? You could have died on that kind of stuff! And now you're going to miss out on our pet searching! Was it worth it?"
  1897. >The obvious answer would be "FUCKIN RIGHTS IT WAS WORTH IT"
  1898. >But, miraculously, you decided to play the diplomatic route
  1899. "Sorry about that, Flutters. Guess I got a bit carried away, eh?"
  1900. >Dash cuts Fluttershy off before she can get a line in
  1901. >"A bit carried away? Anon, I've never seen anything drink that much before, and still breathe after! That was awe--"
  1902. >AJ silences her with a tactical hoof jammed in her craw
  1903. >"Sugarcube, ya drank five and a half glasses of some'a the strongest darned spirits ever made. Yer lucky yer not in the hospital."
  1904. >She says it all concerned, but her face is saying '11/10 will remember forever'
  1905. "Only five and a half? Geez, I'm really outta practice, huh?"
  1906. >Heh, you'll never tire of jaw drops from these lil' ass ponies, especially in concert like this
  1907. >"O-only five and a half? What the hay, Anon?! You're telling me you've done worse than this before?"
  1908. "Way worse. My personal best is drinking six glasses of vodka in one night. That one actually did get me a hospital trip."
  1909.  
  1910. >"Six glasses?! Of... uh, what's 'vodka', Anon?"
  1911. "It's even stronger than that stuff there. You can light it on fire, and probably use it as paint thinner. Tastes like burning, too."
  1912. >The silence from those two is both deafening and priceless
  1913. >Seriously, you should frame their looks right now and sell it as high art
  1914. >Except for Flutters over there, who OH GOD IT'S COMING RIGHT FOR US
  1915. >"Anon, why? Why would you do something like that to yourself?!"
  1916. "Let's just say life back home wasn't too stellar, 'kay?"
  1917. >"I-- Oh, Anon, please just... don't do something like that again. Like this again. I don't want to see you like this again. Please?"
  1918. >Damn it, the master of the puppy-dog eyes is unleashing the power of her fully armed and operational windows of adorableness
  1919. >What man can say no to that?
  1920. "Okay, Flutters. I won't do that again, promise."
  1921. >"Good. Now, get some rest, okay? We'll go out for that pet tomorrow."
  1922. >A glass of water [spoiler]FUCKING FINALLY[/spoiler] finds its way into your hand as you remember what tomorrow holds for you
  1923. >Luckily, Dash is here to bring some reassurance
  1924. >"Don't worry about Rarity, she moved it up the day after. You should have seen Twilight, though! She looked ready to have kittens when she heard about you!"
  1925. >You can't help but share her mirth at that happy thought
  1926. >...
  1927. >Many glasses of water, assurances of your health, and chats later, and the ladies were on their way out, leaving you all by your lonesome
  1928. >First things first, no fucking demon book of horrors today, son
  1929. >You're not in the mood for Mr. Book's Wild Ride™
  1930. >This day just consists of you lounging around and regretting your life choices; you hit the hay not too long after
  1931.  
  1932. >...
  1933. >You awaken again to the lovely ass bed of yours
  1934. >And no god-awful hangover, either
  1935. >As you arise and head to the bathroom, however, you notice you're feeling really tired, more than usual
  1936. >And it takes you a few attempts more than it should to get the toothpaste applied correctly
  1937. >And boy oh man, you don't remember the tea set being this fucking heavy
  1938. >Okay, this isn't booze talking, you'd know better than most
  1939. >This was something else
  1940. >You decide, probably like a fucking idiot, to tough it out and go on with your day
  1941. >It doesn't take long for you to reach Fluttershy's cottage, though it sure feels like a goddamn marathon
  1942. >Flutters notices this, and being the caring gal she is, walks you right back home to recover a bit more
  1943. >Despite your protests of being fine, and this not being liquor-related
  1944. >Okay, you clearly weren't fine, but this definitely wasn't liquor related
  1945. >Once you're home and bid her farewell, you decide to check on your bandage
  1946. >Okay good, nothing infected, though it is looking a tiny bit paler than maybe it should: in fact, all of your fingers and even toes are
  1947. >gettingnervous.mng
  1948. >Well, if you're not going to do much today, either, you might as well read more of the damn book
  1949. >And into the pit of knowledge and future brewing you descend
  1950. >You dig out the book, and open it right up, feeling mighty pleased that it hasn't gone 'lol fuck you mang' and reverted back to it's previous bullshit
  1951. >Alright, let's see here...
  1952.  
  1953. >Well, nowhere to go but the basics, 'Basic Principles' it is
  1954. >You're met with a page with the title of "Your Magical Ability"
  1955. >It proceeds to... eerily accurately describe your height, weight, eye color, and other shit about you from here
  1956. >Oh sorry, I didn't realize the iPhone book also had 23andme on here as well
  1957. >You flip through four pages worth of this, chuckling at the mention of high alcohol tolerance, when you reach the last page
  1958. >It was sub-titled "Magical Characteristics"
  1959. >Huh, so it also tells you how magical you are, neat
  1960. >"As an Ironblood, your body is the very antithesis of magic: not only are you incapable of holding magic potential within your body, but outside magic will also have difficulty affecting you, providing you with a natural defense against it."
  1961. >"However, this does not preclude you from crafting devices that contain magic, and then using them to wield it. Indeed, this is the same method that the Faber Mystico originally wielded the arcane, and how many still did."
  1962. >"Your status as an Ironblood does not, in fact, reduce your effectiveness with magical devices; if anything, the natural defense against outside magic will make you a highly effective Thaumaturge, and better able to experiment."
  1963. >"Care must be taken to maintain the iron levels within your bloodstream, however: should you lose blood, or wait too long between infusions, your magical resistance will wane quickly, and may cause you great harm."
  1964. >The next page went on to the next section about magic ingredients
  1965. >But hold the fuck up, 'Ironblood'? Infusions? Antithesis to magic?
  1966. >What the fuck does this bitch book think it's--
  1967. >...
  1968. >Wait.
  1969. >You don't mean...
  1970. >Holy shit.
  1971.  
  1972. @@@@@@@@
  1973.  
  1974. >High school science and health classes flood back to you at this very moment, corroborating what the book has just told you.
  1975. >You had completely forgotten about human blood containing iron.
  1976. >But how in the fuck did iron constitute magical immunity?
  1977. >Isn't most of their stuff around here, from nails to pipes, made of it?
  1978. >...Is it? You kind of just assumed it was, since it was back on Earth.
  1979. >Hm, the next pages were magic ingredients, wasn't it? Maybe it can tell you more.
  1980. >Flipping through the next few pages, you finally land upon 'iron':
  1981. >"Iron has the rare distinction of being one of the only materials known to all races to completely nullify magic, negating common spells with but a fine dust of the uncommon metal."
  1982. >"The metal is notoriously difficult to come across: because of it's anti-magic properties, it is only found near the surface in desolate wastelands, where even the local fauna avoid it."
  1983. >"It requires very specific refinement with high temperatures, destroying the forges made to smelt it from the ore. The metal has a silvery appearance, but will form a dull reddish layer when exposed to water."
  1984. >"Despite these shortcomings, the metal is surprisingly durable, and is completely harmless to the mundane races, as they possess no magic. It was used commonly in weapons and armour for the military forces of the unified mundanes."
  1985. >"Of greater repute, however, is the experiments conducted by the Faber Mystico to infuse mundanes with the metal in small quantities. While the results were often painful and fatal, the few successes boasted high magical resistances."
  1986. >Well. This was certainly new.
  1987. >So the metal they use around here isn't iron; otherwise they couldn't even come near it without losing their magic!
  1988.  
  1989. >But humans barely have any iron in their blood, at least proportional to the other shit in their bodies.
  1990. >Geez, if that little can do that to magic, it must be really potent stuff.
  1991. >A dizzy spell washes over you for a brief moment as you contemplate this new information.
  1992. >Wait a second. Dizziness, weakness, exhaustion, all happening today.
  1993. >That's from blood loss, right? But you didn't even lose that much! Your body should have easily regained the blood lost over a week, right?
  1994. >...
  1995. >Unless you CAN'T regain any blood!
  1996. >Because iron is used to create new blood cells!
  1997. >And if nothing here has iron in it, that means...
  1998. >Jesus Christ, you're iron-deficient! And all those symptoms are pointing to you having anemia!
  1999. >And the symptoms came on pretty quickly, too!
  2000. >Despite your calming efforts, you're beginning to panic at this revelation.
  2001. >You set the book down, climb out of the cellar, and get outside for some fresh air. Anything to calm you down.
  2002. >Okay, let's think about this. You're deficient in an element that is apparently pure poison to these magical ponies.
  2003. >Which means there's a very good chance that it's also extremely illegal.
  2004. >How in the fuck has this not manifested itself until now?
  2005. >You're no nutrition expert, but surely two fucking years of living here without a regular iron intake would have caused problems before now?
  2006. >You were going to blame it on a lack of meat, but the animals here probably don't have iron in them, either. Meaning it wouldn't have made a difference.
  2007.  
  2008. >Think, Anon, THINK! Where in the fuck are you going to find a digestible source of presumably highly illegal material?
  2009. >You doubt you could ask Twilight or Fluttershy, since you're doubtful they keep anything like that handy. Hell, they may even cart you off somewhere far away from them, if they find out why you're not affected by magic!
  2010. >...
  2011. >Okay, maybe they wouldn't do that. They were good friends with you, after all.
  2012. >But they sure as hell wouldn't be able to help you, and certainly not in a timely fashion. Anemia doesn't fuck around.
  2013. >It's at that point that the perfect potential candidate enters your mind.
  2014. >It's not a pony you need the help of.
  2015. >It's a certain zebra.
  2016. >Zecora.
  2017. >She handles all kinds of tightly controlled shit in the Everfree without any real repercussions. She must be loaded with all kinds of questionable stuff.
  2018. >Christ, it's been a while since you've seen her, but you were on pretty good terms with her, nonetheless. You were one of the only things that could actually pay her semi-regular visits.
  2019. >That and you loved how she talked in rhyme constantly.
  2020. >Yeah, if anyone or anything had what you needed to avoid fucking dying, she would be the one to have it.
  2021. >Alright, no sleeping away the fatigue now. Time is of the fucking essence.
  2022. >You step back into the house and prepare yourself for an impromptu Everfree excursion.
  2023. >Luckily, all that chaotic direction-confusing magic there didn't do much to you, but the place was still plenty confusing without it. And it's been a while since you've been to Zecora's place.
  2024. >Does your jacket even still have--
  2025. >Aha, yes it does! You remembered to write directions down God-only-knows how long ago.
  2026.  
  2027. >You pack a bag full of water bottles. They were all glass, funnily enough. Not far enough along for plastic. You'd have to be careful with this stuff.
  2028. >You also manage to dig out your walking stick, from when you tried your hand at hiking once before. Why the girls took this thing over here from the castle, you have no idea, but you're not gonna complain.
  2029. >For the amount of distance you were going, and your current anemia-fueled exhaustion, you were gonna need all the help you could get with walking.
  2030. >Your first attempt at embarking is met with failure, as you're literally incapable of taking all that water with you.
  2031. >You've got no choice but to unload a good half of it before it's at a comfortable weight. Man, this weakness was really grating.
  2032. >After taking a little breather after packing, you finally set out.
  2033. >The sun's in the middle of the sky. It's the afternoon now. Good, you'll have lots of time.
  2034. >It takes a long time to even get to the main path into the Everfree, since you've had to slow your pace considerably to keep yourself from tiring out too quickly. You make it this far, at least.
  2035. >You sit down on a nearby downed tree for a water break, while contemplating the entrance to the forest.
  2036. >Funny, you've been here a fair many times, and yet it still gives you the creeps looking at it. It really gets the 'spooky' vibe right, even in broad daylight.
  2037. >You pull free your instructions and go over them again, just to make sure you won't forget anything. Soon after that, you're back on your feet, and journeying forth once again.
  2038. >If fucking cavemen could take a little blood loss from their hunts, you sure as hell could take it now.
  2039.  
  2040. >In retrospect, cavemen probably also didn't have to deal with spooky fucking death forests, full of manticores and shit.
  2041. >Whatever. Just keep walking.
  2042. >You're a good three quarters of the way to Zecora's place now.
  2043. >Miraculously, nothing seems to be wanting to fuck with you today.
  2044. >And of course, you just had to fucking jinx it: the growling of a manticore can be heard behind you.
  2045. >Whirling about in your shitheel confirms this, as you're faced with the ugly sonuvabitch, eyeing you like a barbecued steak.
  2046. >Murphy, you're a shit-faced cockmaster of the highest order.
  2047. >Any methods you had of delaying this thing were swept off the table when it just up and charged at you.
  2048. >Alright, fuck slow pacing.
  2049. >RUN FORREST, RUN
  2050. >Your run didn't last too long before you heard the beastie cry out in pain behind you, followed by it's footsteps no longer closing in behind you
  2051. >Against every single survival instinct you were instilled with by your based spear-throwing ancestors, you slow down and turn around to see what caused this.
  2052. >You see a certain zebra friend of yours, whirling a quarterstaff around like she's fucking Neo, and the manticore with a bunch of orange powder shit flung into it's face, presumably blinding it.
  2053. >She then proceeds to go fucking ham on it's bitch ass as soon as it can see a little again, going right for the front legs and face. This has the intended effect of scaring the damn thing off
  2054. >You see Zecora walk up to greet you. At least, you think she does. Was she always this muffled? And... blurry?
  2055. >Oh no, wait... That's you. You didn't take it slow there... Motherfucker.
  2056. >That's the last thing you remember before you pass out on the forest floor.
  2057.  
  2058. >...
  2059. >Your fever dreams of drinking purple-flavoured condenser mics was rudely interrupted
  2060. >Christ, what did you drink last night to dream of that?
  2061. >...
  2062. >Oh wait, no. Too late to blame it on the drinks. Must be the anemia.
  2063. >Wait a minute, you passed out in the forest!
  2064. >That gets you to jump awake and quickly take in your surroundings.
  2065. >You're greeted with the old, familiar sight of Zecora's hut, creepy voodoo masks and all.
  2066. >Oh yeah, she kicked that manticore's ass, didn't she? You didn't know she could kick ass like that. That's pretty hardcore for a tiny not-horse.
  2067. >Speaking of Zecora, there she was, lording over that big pot in the middle of the room, brewing God-knows-what.
  2068. >She's caught sight of you rising from your thankfully not literal grave, and gives you a little smile.
  2069. >"Ah, Anonymous, I am glad you are awake! Try not to move too quickly, lest you develop a headache!"
  2070. >Fuck, you missed the rhymes this gal pulled off. That has to take some dedication, man.
  2071. "H-hey there, Zecora. Hope I'm not, uh, intruding too much?"
  2072. >"Not at all, my dear friend. Though venturing into the Everfree in your current state, is a course I would never recommend."
  2073. >Oh yeah, that
  2074. "Actually, that's why I'm here, Zecora."
  2075. >"Oh?"
  2076. "I've got a bit of a problem on my hands, that needs your particular... expertise to cure."
  2077.  
  2078. >If she wasn't intrigued before, she sure was now.
  2079. >"You came out here for a cure in your state? What problem could you have, where the risks would be so great?"
  2080. "Well, I lost some blood recently, and I'm a bit... anemic. And I've only just figured out why I'm not getting better."
  2081. >She's sat herself down in front of you, listening intently to your explanation.
  2082. "Okay, so... how do I put this? You know how I'm not really from... this world?"
  2083. >"All too well. What are you getting at, please do tell?"
  2084. "Well, I just found out that this world has very little of a certain element that is really common on my home world. One that's pretty important for my blood to come back naturally."
  2085. >"A supplement is what you need? I... suspect it is an element frowned upon, indeed?"
  2086. "You could say that. Turns out that, uh..."
  2087. >Oh come on, don't choke out here.
  2088. "Turns out that I'm apparently... something called an 'Ironblood'."
  2089. >...
  2090. >You know, maybe choking out was a better solution.
  2091. >Zecora just looks totally shocked by that little revelation.
  2092. >Fucking hell, why did you think this was a good--
  2093. >"Anonymous."
  2094. >Oh fuck, serious tone and no rhymes.
  2095. >"Does anypony in town know of this aspect of you?"
  2096. "N-no. I just found out today, and figured they wouldn't take it too well."
  2097. >"Indeed, they would not. Ironbloods are feared across Equestria, Anonymous, and for good reason. But I cannot say I expected you to be one."
  2098.  
  2099. "Well, I didn't become one overnight, if that's what you're getting at."
  2100. >"I know, Anonymous. I believe you when you say you were born naturally as one. However unexpected such a circumstance would be."
  2101. "Well, as scary as it might be to you all, that doesn't really change that I still need a little bit in my system to live."
  2102. >A stressed sigh escapes her. Hey, I'd be stressed, too.
  2103. >"I can indeed concoct a potion to supplement you with iron, Anonymous. But you must promise not to tell a single soul that I can do such a thing."
  2104. "I'm guessing iron is about as illegal as I thought it was?"
  2105. >"Perhaps moreso. Possessing it is comparable to performing necromancy, Anonymous."
  2106. >Holy shit. That means...
  2107. "You could get jailed forever for it."
  2108. >A single, solemn nod. Well, fuck me sideways with a rusty hatchet.
  2109. "Alright, I won't tell a soul about it. Hell, I'll give a damn blood oath for it, if you want me to."
  2110. >"That won't be necessary, Anonymous. Stay in bed, and I shall create what you need."
  2111. >She trots over to one of her masks, and lifts it in a certain way, opening a secret compartment beneath it with a little bag. Three guesses as to what's in the bag.
  2112. >She then proceeds to pull free a smaller pot from underneath one of her chairs. Jeez, she's just loaded with secreted-away stuff, isn't she?
  2113. >The first thing she does is to open the bag, and pour a small amount of a silvery-reddish powder into the pot. Looks like it could be iron. She then seals the bag back up and puts it back into the compartment.
  2114.  
  2115. >The next few minutes consist of Zecora brewing a healthy amount of some pretty gross-looking potion shit. Hey, if it was gonna save your ass, you didn't care if it was fucking pureed rats.
  2116. >She then digs out another item, this time a small lockbox. Opening it reveals a rack full of little vials, which she proceeds to fill with the concoction.
  2117. >She fills them all and puts away almost all of them, save for one. It's pretty clear why she didn't, when she starts walking over to you with it in tow.
  2118. >You take it from her, and after giving you a nod for a go-ahead, you down the thing as fast as you can.
  2119. >It was pretty nasty, and way grittier than it has any right being, but if it was going to fix your anemia problem, you'd soldier through it.
  2120. >Luckily, she brings you a glass of water to chase it down with.
  2121. >"I can see that my potion has not killed you. Proof solid that you are capable of handling this brew."
  2122. >Back to rhyming, now? Guess mixing that up de-stressed her a touch.
  2123. >"I do not know your requirements, so the mixture is quite weak. But do not take too much, or your fate will be quite bleak."
  2124. >Yeah, you at least knew that iron OD was pretty bad. You'll definitely take it slow after this.
  2125. "Thanks, Zecora. Hopefully my next visit doesn't get as heavy as this one, eh?"
  2126. >Your attempt to lighten the mood isn't really successful; she gives a small shake of the head, takes the empty vial back, and then refills it with the last of the mixure, to join the other vials in the lockbox.
  2127. >The box is summarily locked with a key, and moved over near to your bag. Ah, so that's where it went, eh?
  2128. >"Keep the contents of the box hidden at all times. Being caught with this mixture is among the most serious of crimes."
  2129.  
  2130. "Don't worry, I will."
  2131. >It takes a little while before you're able to stand up right again. You don't know if it's just placebo talking, but you're feeling better already.
  2132. >You put the box into your pack, along with the key.
  2133. >Zecora pre-emptively denied you a chance to soldier through the forest alone, and accompanied you on the way back to your house.
  2134. >You thanked her for her time, and hoped that your next visit to her, like you said before, wasn't as heavy as this one.
  2135. >Okay, first things, first.
  2136. >You store the lockbox in the cellar, and hang the key behind the drain pipe in your kitchen sink. Pretty good place to hide it, seeing how it was covered on all sides by the countertop.
  2137. >Well, after all this adventure, you were definitely going to get an early night tonight.
  2138. >You check outside the window for the sun's position.
  2139. >The sun's starting to set. Perfect.
  2140. >You fix yourself something to eat. Nothing too fancy, just a basic vegetable sandwich.
  2141. >They didn't even have tofu here, surprisingly. So no fake meat for you.
  2142. >And seeing how you couldn't do grasses, that ruled out hayburgers, too.
  2143. >Finally, a bedtime routine you were sure you'd remember with clarity. Bathroom trip, stripping down to your skivvies, and crawling into the super-comfy bed.
  2144. >You're still so very glad you invested in this thing.
  2145. >Any niggling anxiety over the shitshow you've gotten yourself involved in is quickly replaced by exhaustion from the day's events.
  2146. >It doesn't take long for sleep to drag you away.
  2147.  
  2148. @@@@@@@@
  2149.  
  2150. >...
  2151. >Okay, just a few more adjustments, and...
  2152. >Just like that, the device's crystal window sputters to life with a light magenta glow
  2153. >Fucking finally
  2154. >This shit took way too fucking long than you'd have liked to get working
  2155. >It's been a month since the whole iron scare you had experienced
  2156. >You were quite happy to see that it had worked a total treat
  2157. >You had recovered to full health with just one of those vials within the week
  2158. >That did mean, however, that you were more or less bedridden for that week
  2159. >Venturing out into the Everfree wasn't the best thing short-term for your body
  2160. >That level of soreness and fatigue was not something you'd want to experience again
  2161. >Somehow though, you had managed to pull yourself up with Herculean effort, to - you guessed it - read more of that fucking book
  2162. >Well, it clued you into that health problem, maybe it could do the same for some others you might have, right?
  2163. >Luckily, you were pretty well good on that front
  2164. >What the book did provide you, however, was some serious insight into the fundaments of all things magic
  2165. >You powered right the fuck through the first sections of the book, which was all just required reading
  2166. >And thank fuck you did, because it was some of the coolest shit ever
  2167. >The properties of all kinds of metals here, the theory behind magic crystals, how magical energy works, and more
  2168. >Turns out that magical energy was called two different things: 'mana' by folks like the ponies and all, and 'vis' by these thaumaturge dudes
  2169.  
  2170. >Since you're of the vidya persuasion, you're going with mana
  2171. >Sorry wizard dudes, but you're not gonna undo years of Diablo with one book
  2172. >Even if it was the coolest next step up from a pop-up book you've ever read
  2173. >Of course, you had corroborated the stuff in this book with some choice literature courtesy of Twilight
  2174. >Best post-Rarity-molestation-by-measuring-tape gift ever
  2175. >Too bad about those pet prospects, though
  2176. >You seemed to like the ones that didn't like you, and the ones that liked you, you didn't like
  2177. >And you weren't gonna keep one of the little buggers here against their will
  2178. >Maybe next time, you'll find something
  2179. >Until then, it's just you by your lonesome down here
  2180. >But hey, it certainly wasn't boring
  2181. >Because you were able to do some of the practical shit in this book
  2182. >Nothing too extraordinary at first, just collect metals and gems, and note shit down about them for the book
  2183. >Oh yeah, and this fucking thing literally eats your papers
  2184. >Spooked you right the fuck out at first, thinking it was going to lay eggs in your fucking appendix or something
  2185. >You know, like those facehugger things, except using the back door
  2186. >And with more papercuts
  2187. >...
  2188. >Christ almighty, you were just all over the place today
  2189. >You really should hit the sack, you did just finish making... whatever the fuck this thing was again
  2190. >Yeah, off you go
  2191. >...
  2192.  
  2193. >Your deep hyperbaric slumber was interrupted by the sound of a door knocking
  2194. >Holy fuck man, can't a guy catch some Z's after attempting some magic shit?
  2195. >And you were having that dream about the goatmen passing kidney stones made of everlasting gobstoppers, too
  2196. >That'll teach you fucks to gank me in the catacombs
  2197. >More knocking
  2198. >Oh for fuck's sake
  2199. >You rise quickly and throw on yesterday's shit really quickly
  2200. >STOP FUCKING KNOCKING
  2201. "Just one second!"
  2202. >Holy o'fuck, the sun hasn't even cracked the horizon yet
  2203. >Who's the bitch nigga who's waking you at like 5 in the fucking morning
  2204. >You open the door after the next series of knocks to--
  2205. >...
  2206. >What.
  2207. >Excuse me?
  2208. >No.
  2209. >No, this isn't real.
  2210. >Yeah, this is some kinda nightmare.
  2211. >You know, those dream inception things.
  2212. >Unfortunately, a pinch confirms this as the waking world.
  2213. >"He-hey there, scary ape man! Remember me?"
  2214. >I wish I didn't remember you.
  2215. >Wait, that's it! Feign ignorance!
  2216. "I'm sorry, but who are you again?"
  2217. >"A-aw, I'm Doctor P-Precise Measure, mister monkey! You r-really scared us all at t-the dig site, r-remember that?"
  2218.  
  2219. >The turbo autist legend from yore has appeared in front of your door.
  2220. >If there is a god out there, he must hate your fucking guts.
  2221. >"A-anyways, freaky chimp guy, I'm h-here for my box!"
  2222. >Your what.
  2223. "Your what?"
  2224. >You could see the sperg dial flip from 'forever alone' to 'Chris-chan' in his eyes at that moment.
  2225. >"My little bottomless box, you stupid ape! The one that had my Naughty Pony Fully Articulate Pleasure Figurines™ in it! Give it back! I know you took my mom's bestest gift in the world from me!"
  2226. >...
  2227. >Welcome. To the Anonymous Fourside Chandler show.
  2228. >If you're feeling suicidal, you've come to the right place.
  2229. >Because I want to fucking kill myself, as well.
  2230. "What."
  2231. >"GIVE IT BACK!"
  2232. >Not even this mighty autistic screech could rouse you from this stupor of pure disbelief and existential horror.
  2233. >Oh Lord, he even pronounced the trademark.
  2234. >What is this fucking horse.
  2235. >"I know you have it! I even got it enchanted to clean the Fully Articulate Pleasure Figurines™ off! My Fully Articulate Pleasure Figurines™ are getting all moldy now because of you!"
  2236. >Are... are you being fucking pranked right now?
  2237. >Is this fucking real life? Did God just miracle this horse's ass in front of your door as fucking penance for your crimes against him?
  2238.  
  2239. >"I'll tell Luna on you! I tell her everything when she comes to my dreams! She'll send the lunar guards after you! But I won't if you just give me my bottomless box back!"
  2240. >How is this even real-- wait, what?
  2241. >Luna sees this guy in her little dream hopping trips?
  2242. >Man, you remember seeing her before on one of those princess meet-up things.
  2243. >You don't know why, but she was really easy to get along with.
  2244. >You must have talked the whole meet-up thing away with her. Real nice gal.
  2245. >And she's been seeing the horrors in this omega sperglord's head?
  2246. >"That's right. The lunar guard! Scared, huh? Well don't worry, evil bonobo monster! I won't tell them to throw you in Tartarus if you give my back the bottomless box for my Fully Articulate Pleasure Figurines™!"
  2247. >What's this feeling in your chest?
  2248. >Anger? No. This is something else. Something more.
  2249. >Oh wait, you know what this is. It's the shit that fuels Sith lords, right?
  2250. >Hate. Fury. Wrath.
  2251. >You know what, autism horse? I'm gonna give you the ol' Satanic bible conflict resolution treatment.
  2252. >"JUST GIVE ME MY BOX BACK, YOU BUCKING FREAK!"
  2253. >I'm gonna tell you to fuck off. Failing that, I'm gonna get medieval on your ass.
  2254. >"I WANT IT I WANT IT I WANT IIIIITT!"
  2255. >Oh sweet merciful Allah, he doesn't brush his teeth. His fucking laser breath is tickling you from here.
  2256. >"If you don't give me my box back, I'll--"
  2257. "You need to stop everything."
  2258.  
  2259. >He looks surprised. You don't know why he didn't see this coming.
  2260. "You come up to my house. You wake me at five in the fucking morning."
  2261. >"It's five thirt--"
  2262. "Shut up."
  2263. >Wow, has nobody told him to shut up like this before? He looks hurt. Good.
  2264. "And then you come up to my place, acting like the goddamn police, accusing me of stealing your shit?"
  2265. >"B-but you did ste--"
  2266. "What part of 'shut up' did you not understand?"
  2267. >Man, maybe Palpatine was right. This shit feels real good right about now.
  2268. "Now, you're going to close that sewer grate you call a mouth, you're going to turn around, and you're going to leave me in peace."
  2269. >"You can't do--"
  2270. "And if you don't, I'm going to do worse things to you than Princess Twilight did. Much worse."
  2271. >Yeah, you need to work really badly on your intimidating talks.
  2272. >But he clearly hasn't taken the hint. In fact, he seems to be segwaying to--
  2273. >"Princess Twilight? Ugh, what a sow! I can't believe I collected all those Fully Articulate Pleasure Figurines™ of her before! She's so stupid and ugly and her flank is too fat and..."
  2274. >You know, it's not often that you feel the urge to beat the shit outta something. Horseland has done pretty well for your temperament.
  2275. >But this was quite an exception.
  2276. >You don't know how Twilight managed to suffer through what sounds like five or ten minutes of this sentient tumor in pony form.
  2277. >But you didn't have that kind of saintly patience.
  2278.  
  2279. "Shut up."
  2280. >"Hey, I'm trying to--"
  2281. "You have ten seconds to leave before I lay you the fuck out."
  2282. >You file through the door and close it behind you, making sure to crack your woefully underused knuckles as you do so.
  2283. >Please, for the love of all that is holy, take the hint-- And he's not taking the fucking hint.
  2284. >"And now you're threatening me! I'm gonna call your handler! You're gonna get in so much trouble that you--"
  2285. >THWACK
  2286. >Your hand was gonna be so sore from that punch to the snout.
  2287. >But fucking hell did it ever feel worth it.
  2288. >The horse of the moment was knocked to the floor, looking totally shocked and starting to tear up.
  2289. >Yeah, that was totally worth it.
  2290. >Wait. He's getting back up.
  2291. >He's got his own look of anger on him.
  2292. >"GAAAAHHHHHHHHGH!!"
  2293. >Yep, that was indeed an autistic war cry as he charged you.
  2294. >This was gonna be a fucking brawl, then.
  2295. >Time to start praising Khorne and making those spear-chucking ancestors proud.
  2296. >...
  2297. >...
  2298. >...
  2299.  
  2300. >Well. That was about as painful and eventful as you had expected.
  2301. >The idiot wore himself out charging at you and flailing about constantly.
  2302. >The few hits he got in hurt, sure. Hooves are real nasty stuff.
  2303. >But you still kept a much cooler head than he did, and waited for him to tire out before knocking him the fuck out.
  2304. >Sadly, this came at the cost of the current limp you were experiencing.
  2305. >Fucking ponies and their thick skulls.
  2306. >And here you are, with this horse flung over your shoulder, taking his sorry ass to Twilight's castle.
  2307. >Luckily, it's not long before you get there. Fuck knocking, open sesame.
  2308. >The loud bang of the doors hitting the wall was sure to attract attention.
  2309. >Good. You wanted this shit over with as soon as possible--
  2310. >"Hey! Stop right there!"
  2311. >Huh, right on cue. There was Twilight, teleporting right in, looking like she got right out of bed. Man, that's some bad bedhead.
  2312. >"H-huh? Anon? What are you doing here?"
  2313. >Letting Captain Autism slump to the ground was all the answer you needed, if her expression was anything to go by.
  2314. "So Twi, remind me again what the jail time for assault is?"
  2315. >...
  2316. >Sweet, sweet sleep
  2317. >You only wish it was the right bed
  2318. >But the castle ones were still all right
  2319. >Oh well, sure beats waking up at o'dark thirty to fistfight with a horse
  2320. >Twilight was a total bae and took that 10th-degree creeper to the fucking dungeon for you
  2321. >Then treated and wrapped up those injuries, and lent you the guest room again
  2322.  
  2323. >She wasn't even going to bother asking him questions right now, just leaving him be down there and heading to bed as well
  2324. >Hey, works fine for you: you got to sleep in until, what... two in the afternoon?
  2325. >More burned daylight than you'd have preferred, but still salvageable
  2326. >A knock on the door, much softer than the knocks from the morning, shake off the rest of the sleepiness
  2327. >"Hey Anon, you up yet?"
  2328. >Ah, Starlight
  2329. "Just gimmie a minute."
  2330. >You take about four times longer than a minute to get up and prep for the day
  2331. >Man, are you glad you forgot some clothes here
  2332. >You're pretty sure you'd be scratching everything if you still had to wear that old shit
  2333. >You'd still be itching anyways, since you've forgone the shower
  2334. >You stroll on over to the door and open it, revealing a slightly worried Starlight
  2335. "Hey Starlight, what's up?"
  2336. >"What's up? Anon, you knocked a pony out and brought him here to throw away in the dungeon! I didn't even know this castle HAD a dungeon!"
  2337. "Yeah, me neither. Kinda glad it does, though."
  2338. >"Who was that pony, Anon? And why did Twilight just throw him in that dungeon without even asking anything?"
  2339. "Remember that archaeology expedition that was totally ruined?"
  2340. >"Yeah, Twilight was really down about it, why?"
  2341. "That waste of carbon and magic is the one who ruined it."
  2342.  
  2343. >Huh, she looks surprised
  2344. >Did Twilight not mention him to her?
  2345. >Because I'd be cursing his name to hell and back in her place
  2346. >"Wait, that one pony ruined your trip?"
  2347. "Yep."
  2348. >"And... how exactly did he manage that?"
  2349. >Wait, she doesn't believe you?
  2350. >"I'm sorry, but I find it hard to believe that one pony could have ruined a trip for Ponyville's only human, and the princess of friendship."
  2351. "Even our combined strength was no match for the power of the 'tism, friend."
  2352. >"The... what?"
  2353. "Okay, tell you what. Go down to the dungeon, wake him up, and ask him about his bottomless box."
  2354. >"Whyyyy would I do that? Can't you just tell me?"
  2355. "One does not explain the power of the 'tism, Starry. One must experience it to understand."
  2356. >"I still think you're avoiding the question. Why wouldn't I just go ask Twilight, instead?"
  2357. "Oh, she'll tell you the same thing."
  2358. >That fucking scrunch they do when annoyed is the most adorable thing ever
  2359. >Seriously though, turn back now Starlight
  2360. >You are meddling with powers far beyond your mortal comprehension
  2361. >She mutters something about asking Twilight, and walks off
  2362. >And you just follow along; God only knows you need some fun right now
  2363. >Soon enough, the two of you come across Twilight in the main library wing
  2364. >Whoo boy, she was happy to see you
  2365.  
  2366. >"Anon! Good afternoon, how are you feeling?"
  2367. "Eh, I'll live."
  2368. >After Twilight's amused eyeroll, Starlight speaks up
  2369. >"Okay Twilight, I need some answers. Anon limps into the castle early in the morning carrying some random stallion he had a fight with. Who is he, and what did he do to deserve that?"
  2370. >Heh, Twi's giving her the same look you did when she asked that
  2371. >Oh, she knows all about the dark power of the 'tism
  2372. >"Starlight, I could write an entire dissertation on the things that stallion did wrong, and still not be through explaining how awful he is."
  2373. >Clearly, she thought you were kidding before
  2374. "Told 'ya so, Starry."
  2375. >"Argh! Fine, I'll go down and ask him myself, then!"
  2376. >"Uh, Starlight? I don't think that's a good idea--"
  2377. >"Oh nonono, I'm going to get to the bottom of this!"
  2378. >Aaaand off she goes
  2379. >Geez, she better know where she's going, or it's gonna be-- oh look, she's come right back
  2380. >"Uh... which way's the dungeon, again?"
  2381. >"Pull the fifth wall sconce to the left of the main hall's door."
  2382. >Well no wonder you never found it before, it's about as hidden as your not-liquor cellar
  2383. >She darts off upon receiving those directions
  2384. >"Actually, Anon, I wanted to ask you about that. How did you even find him?"
  2385. "It's more like he found me. Don't ask me how. He came to my place at fucking o'dark thirty, demanding he give me his bottomless box thing back."
  2386.  
  2387. >"His... bottomless box?"
  2388. "I may or may not have trashed his tent when you lead him away from me."
  2389. >"Ah. Wait, so you did take his box?"
  2390. >LIE LIKE A DOG
  2391. "I was going to, seeing how it was really small, until I saw what was in it."
  2392. >"I get the feeling I don't want to know what was in it. But I'll ask anyways."
  2393. "You know those really creepy interactive sex golem things that are sold from that one skeezy place in Canterlot?"
  2394. >The look on her face is one of pure horror
  2395. >"No."
  2396. "There must have been like four dozen of the fucking things crammed in there."
  2397. >"That's just... holy moly, Anon."
  2398. "To be fair, I was too pissed to really care at the time. Oh, before you ask, I broke the fucker's box and buried the pieces back out there."
  2399. >Yeah, she needs a moment to collect herself
  2400. >"Uh, hey, can we just... forget we ever had this conversation?"
  2401. "Gladly. Got any tea?"
  2402. >"Always."
  2403. >And all you two did for the next hour while waiting for Starlight to return was drink tea and read books
  2404. >You were asking for a lot of magic books lately, and she was more than happy to explain it all to you, even if you did have to rein in her lectures often
  2405. >You were in the middle of a nice convo on how mana currents work when you hear hoofsteps from the direction Starlight vanished to
  2406. >Yeah, she looks about as shaken as anyone who first experienced such pure autism would
  2407. >"Starlight! Welcome ba-- oh."
  2408. "I warned you about the dark power of the 'tism, Starry."
  2409.  
  2410. >She doesn't even answer you two as she trots off to the stairwell
  2411. >"I want no memory of the conversation I just had. I'm going back to bed. With a nice bottle of wine. Or five."
  2412. >Aw, she drinks her problems away, too
  2413. >A mare after your heart, that one
  2414. >Remembering your project from last night, you turn back to Twilight
  2415. "Well, on that happy note, I think I should be heading back home."
  2416. >"Already? Well... okay, I suppose it is pretty late in the day. It was nice seeing you again, Anon. Even if the reason wasn't the best."
  2417. "Likewise. Just keep that... thing far away from us all, and we should be good."
  2418. >A shared chuckle later, followed up by a farewell, and you were on your way
  2419. >Man, she wrapped your ankle good, you're not even limping anymore
  2420. >That makes the trip home that much faster
  2421. >First thing you do is rip off your clothes and leap into the shower
  2422. >Fuck the bandages, you needed some cleanliness after that tussle
  2423. >You emerge a much cleaner and happier Anon, though with the limp back
  2424. >Still totally worth it
  2425. >You make your way back down to the cellar after throwing some new clothes on
  2426. >Ah, cellar sweet cellar
  2427. >It's gotten a lot more expansive in the month that's passed
  2428. >You snuck the parts for a table down here, and hid the books in one of the 'broken' barrels at the back
  2429. >It took a lot of picking around in those gem fields that Rarity dug in, but you also brought back some very specific gems as well
  2430. >Sorry Spike, but science was more important than snack time
  2431. >Since one of the first projects from the book was a magic reader for filthy magicless plebs like yourself
  2432.  
  2433. >Sure helps when you can remember what your project's name is, doesn't it?
  2434. >And there it is, lying on the table
  2435. >A sizeable brass hexagon frame, with shitloads of various gems crammed haphazardly into the frame of it
  2436. >You at least had the foresight to make some handles for it as well, so you wouldn't knock the gems out of alignment
  2437. >And finally, the lightly glowing magenta 'window' in the middle of the frame
  2438. >You didn't even know you could melt crystals using some alcohol and powdered gold brought to a boil, thanks for that tip there, Mr. Book
  2439. >Gave you an excuse to create some fuckin' moonshine while you were at it
  2440. >You weren't stupid enough to drink the shit, but it would work for this, so that's the story
  2441. >You'll brew some proper non-lethal booze later
  2442. >Anyways, you then cast out the liquid crystal in the frame you made, and it came out totally clear, which looked really fucking cool
  2443. >And now, after dicking around with the gems in the frame, it was now hopefully a fully functioning 'manalens'
  2444. >The book called it a 'vismometer', but that sounded pretty gay compared to 'manalens', so fucking fite me
  2445. >Alright, now the book said that you should see little beams of magic connected everywhere
  2446. >Picking it up and peering through it, you see--
  2447. >...
  2448. "Wow."
  2449. >Holy fucking Christ.
  2450. >It works, all right.
  2451. >And that's a lot of fucking magic beams.
  2452. >Beams going to a big cluster of other beams in the distance.
  2453. >A cluster of beams in the shape of a certain castle.
  2454.  
  2455. @@@@@@@@
  2456.  
  2457. >Well holy shitballs, you could probably look at these beams all day.
  2458. >There was just so many of them! And the patterns they formed!
  2459. >You'd say Electric Sheep has nothing on this, but that'd be a lie.
  2460. >It's pretty damn close, though.
  2461. >What was cooler was how the beams were changing constantly, with lines of magic connecting and disconnecting to various places.
  2462. >And all the lines eventually traced back to these singular, exercise-ball shaped things that honestly looked like tiny stars.
  2463. >'Stars' that were in places you've been to often, but never once saw them.
  2464. >And you're pretty sure no pony here has noticed these, either.
  2465. >Huh, maybe noting those down for some book research brownie points would reveal the secrets for you.
  2466. >You had to tilt the manalens at an off-angle, kind of like those shitty old LCDs, to see that the star objects were connected to something else, too.
  2467. >Absolutely massive underground magic lines in a greenish-purple colour, connecting to the 'stars' with huge, thick lines.
  2468. >They almost looked like rivers, but it was hard to make out at this really awkward angle you were holding it on.
  2469. >In fact, considering how fuzzy they looked, you doubted this thing was supposed to see them at all.
  2470. >Welp, more things for the book.
  2471. >So that's exactly what you do; you pull up some paper and start writing this stuff down.
  2472. >The book, you've noticed, doesn't really care too much about your sentences, only about the major takeaways from the 'experiments'.
  2473.  
  2474. >So you have a two-pronged approach: keeping detailed notes for yourself, and then penning a cliffnotes version for the book to eat.
  2475. >You've been keeping them in a binder, but you'd have to get all this literature transferred to a proper secure box.
  2476. >Hell, maybe it'll tell you how to make your own!
  2477. >You finish jotting your notes down, and then move onto the cliffnotes version.
  2478. >That one only takes a minute or two to finish.
  2479. >Alright, off to the book it goes.
  2480. >You turn the page in the Lexica to the manalens page, and then put the cliffnotes onto the 'research submission page'.
  2481. >This part, you'll never get used to: the book does indeed literally eat the paper you give it, slamming shut and 'sucking' it inside, then flipping back open.
  2482. >If the book deems your work satisfactory, it marks it as complete and lets you move onto another subject.
  2483. >If not, it throws the page back out when it flips open.
  2484. >You found this property out the hard way when you were a bit too stingy on the details for a cliffnotes page a few times.
  2485. >Hey, the system needs work.
  2486. >Anyways, you flip back to the table of contents to see what else the book feels like telling you now.
  2487. >You were about to return to the 'Basic Principles' section when you noticed another section right below it had stopped shifting around.
  2488. >'Basic Constructs'
  2489. >Constructs? As in, machines? As in, devices you can actually use?
  2490.  
  2491. >The hype decides to make a triumphant return when you see this section.
  2492. >And more fuckin' power to it.
  2493. >However, you rein in your excitement and check to see any other new discoveries in the basic principles.
  2494. >As you would expect, there are: 'Leylines', 'Visnodes', and 'Vis currents'.
  2495. >Okay, seriously, these guys need to stop with this 'vis' shit.
  2496. >It's like those neckbeards who insist on GNU/Linux instead of lunix.
  2497. >Well, whatever. You're assuming 'leylines' are those huge river things, so you check that out.
  2498. >"The primary means of feeding vis distribution throughout the lands is through tapping into the world's leylines."
  2499. >"A leyline is an ancient 'river' of raw arcane power, that feeds all visnodes throughout the world. Their manner of creation is unknown, even to the gifted races, though it is commonly assumed they were created alongside the world."
  2500. >"The 'river' descriptor is given due to the rapidly flowing, river-like appearance they take when viewed by a vismometer at an extreme off-angle. There are devices that can observe them more directly, but are difficult to craft."
  2501. >"It is often impossible to tap into a leyline directly for magical power: only the most powerful examples of the gifted can manage such a feat without being annihilated by the raw energy such a connection would invite."
  2502. >Huh, all right then.
  2503. >You're guessing by 'most powerful examples of the gifted', it means things like alicorns and shit.
  2504. >Because fucking hell, how else would they move the fucking sun around without doing some janky shit like that?
  2505. >In any case, you kinda like the name 'leyline', so you'll leave it as-is.
  2506.  
  2507. >Moving onto the 'visnodes':
  2508. >"Virtually all of the gifted races will regenerate their internal pools of arcane energy given time. This regeneration process is brokered, without them ever knowing of it, by ancient natural objects called visnodes."
  2509. >"A visnode is a distribution point of arcane energy, taking the raw arcane energy of a leyline, and converting it into a much lesser stream of energy. They appear, under a vismometer, as a small, star-like object."
  2510. >"However, a visnode is more than a simple distributor, possessing a limited form of sentience: it will actively seek out any gifted races and arcane constructs, and will recharge their energy reserves whenever it can."
  2511. >"Visnodes are normally invisible to all, and are virtually unknown to all but the most studious members of a gifted race. They can be of varying sizes, depending on their age and the number of gifted around them."
  2512. >Ohhkay then, so they were kinda like living electricity grids?
  2513. >Kinda cool, not even gonna lie. Though yeah, those connections all eventually going back to those nodes made total sense now.
  2514. >Oh yeah, and you're going with 'nodes' for these things.
  2515. >Well, might as move onto the 'vis currents'.
  2516. >You were expecting some new insights, but it was literally just a recap of mana currents with the same contrarian 'vis' shit all throughout.
  2517. >Well, with one small exception:
  2518. >"In order to create a magical construct of your own, you must craft the device directly within an existing vis current, temporarily leaching the arcane energy to give an initial spark of power to the construct."
  2519. >Well, looks like this was gonna be a thing for the next section of book.
  2520.  
  2521. >Wasting no time in changing book tabs, you're met with the first thing on the list: 'Arcane Conduit'.
  2522. >It sounded way cooler than it actually was: turning to the section revealed it as being the name for wands and staves and stuff.
  2523. >Which still sounded absolutely awesome, but the name 'Arcane Conduit' was definitely overkill for 'magic wand'.
  2524. >Also, were you really going to make a goddamn magic wand?
  2525. >Reading through this section, which was way more technical than you expected, confirmed that yes, you were indeed going to make a goddamn magic wand.
  2526. >The hype train just picked up major steam.
  2527. >Though this requirements list was left intentionally open-ended: it was expecting you to make this shit with your own stuff that was lying around.
  2528. >Except for the hollow middle literally made of powdered gemstones. That was pretty much universal across all of these guidelines.
  2529. >Looks like this would require more gem digging. And some trips to the woods or something, to find an ideal stick for the job.
  2530. >You should probably go with a wand instead of a staff. Staves look cool as shit, but you can't hide them as well.
  2531. >That, and if these instructions were right, you wouldn't be able to jumpstart a staff with an existing mana current, anyway.
  2532. >Presumably, it means pushing a current of your own into it, but it hasn't detailed how you would do that.
  2533. >Guess that's for later.
  2534. >You loved this book and all, but goddamn could it be annoyingly cryptic.
  2535. >A peek up the trapdoor reveals that you somehow managed to spend most of your time down in this cellar; the sun was starting to set.
  2536.  
  2537. >Well, you know what you're doing tomorrow. Planning and gathering the stuff for wands, that's what.
  2538. >Even after putting all your shit away and climbing out of the cellar, you can't keep that childlike grin off your face at this prospect.
  2539. >Holy fuck, you were about to do wizard shit!
  2540. >And you didn't even have to give up on chicks until 30 to do it!
  2541. >[spoiler]Suck it, /r9k/[/spoiler]
  2542. >Even after retreating to bed, you're still kept wired by the excitement for many hours until exhaustion finally sets in.
  2543. >...
  2544. >God, those fuckin birds
  2545. >You wish you had a fucking shotgun sometimes for those lil shits
  2546. >Yeah, you really didn't get much sleep
  2547. >You'd think that wrestling with 'tism pone would have you out like a light
  2548. >But whatever, magic wands
  2549. >FUCKING MAGIC WANDS
  2550. >Oh baby, you're praising those birds now
  2551. >Don't wanna waste all that daylight sleeping in
  2552. >There's wizardry to do, nigga
  2553. >Out of bed and off you go to shit, shower, and sha-- actually no, you don't need a shave just yet
  2554. >Good thing you had shaving equipment, though
  2555. >Looking like Achmed al-Jihad with a green skin deformity wasn't exactly high on your list of priorities
  2556. >Even if the girls didn't get the joke, those beards itch like a motherfucker
  2557.  
  2558. >You were about to start drawing up plans for a fucking magic wand when someone started knocking on the door
  2559. >Tension built up very quickly
  2560. >Oh lawd, that better not be the lord of the 'tism out there
  2561. >You were ready to punch a nigga out if it was true
  2562. >You stride over to the door and open it up
  2563. >The tension leaves at that moment
  2564. >It's just Twilight
  2565. >Thank Talos for that save
  2566. >And she looked really excited about something
  2567. >"Hey Anon, good morning!"
  2568. "Hey there Twi, what brings you to my domain?"
  2569. >You open the door all the way and let her in while you say this
  2570. >"Well Anon, I just got a letter today that I think you'll be very interested in!"
  2571. >An eyebrow raises at the same time a scroll floats over to you
  2572. >Man, you'd love some TK like that
  2573. >Maybe that can be a first for the wands
  2574. >DISTRACTIONS, BEGONE
  2575. >You take the letter and read it
  2576. >It's... an invite to another princess meet-up?
  2577. >Up in Canterlot, no less
  2578. >Well holy shit, another one of these?
  2579. >Fucking nice
  2580. >You were meaning to catch up with that Luna pony from the last one
  2581.  
  2582. >Honestly, you were kinda glad the whole ironblood schtick precluded her from dream-gazing on your bitch ass
  2583. >Someone else rifling through your headspace was honestly pretty horrible sounding, even if she did it for good reasons
  2584. >SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED, and all that wholesome shit
  2585. >"Well?"
  2586. >Ah shit, your own 'tism took hold once again
  2587. "Another meet-up, eh? I'm guessing you're here to invite me along?"
  2588. >"Not just you, but all the other girls as well! It's actually a few days before the Grand Galloping Gala, which fits everypony's schedule pretty well."
  2589. >Someone clearly doesn't need Google Calendar for this shit
  2590. "Well jeez, you know I'd love to come."
  2591. >A shame you had to kill her excitement with another interjection
  2592. "But, am I also staying for that Gala thing, or what?"
  2593. >"Ooh, that. Well, you remember the last Gala we went to, right?"
  2594. >Hard thing to forget
  2595. >Being the subject of the nobility's ire wasn't the most pleasant experience on the planet
  2596. >Though you soldiered on through it anyways
  2597. >"You don't have to stay for it if you don't want, but--"
  2598. "Nah, I can stick around. God only knows you all need to keep sane there somehow."
  2599. >"R-really? I mean, if it's a problem, we can just--"
  2600. "Twilight, really, I'm cool with it."
  2601. >She tries the humble approach numerous more times until she gets the point
  2602. >Friends don't let friends get harassed by nobles, after all
  2603.  
  2604. >And right on cue, she also floats you a Gala ticket
  2605. >Not as good as Willy Wonka's ticket, but a golden ticket nonetheless
  2606. "Nice, so when do we leave?"
  2607. >"We're leaving on the train at sunrise three days from now. Make sure to bring an overnight bag, and some nice clothes for the Gala, okay?"
  2608. "Yes, mom."
  2609. >Her annoyed look gave way to barely contained snickering under your gaze
  2610. >Your funny bones are no match for me, puny mortals
  2611. >You had said your farewells, but right as she opened the door, a question came to mind
  2612. >One of grave importance
  2613. "Wait up a sec, Twi. I just remembered something I wanted to ask."
  2614. >"Oh, sure, what is it?"
  2615. "What are we gonna do with our... 'friend' in the castle?"
  2616. >And the mood soured right away
  2617. >Sorry Twilight, but this is a matter of life and death
  2618. >"Oh, him? We're also taking him with us back to Canterlot. Me and the other princesses are going to give him a piece of our minds."
  2619. "You know, considering that guy's own mind, that doesn't seem like the best of ideas."
  2620. >"I'm sure Celestia can handle it."
  2621. "I sure hope you're right."
  2622. >She's super old and shit, she must know a thing or two about handling super autists like him
  2623. "But anyways, I won't keep 'ya any longer."
  2624. >"Alright Anon, see you later!"
  2625.  
  2626. >And just like that, she's gone
  2627. >As much as you wanted to plan out your wand shit right away, you had priorities here, damn it
  2628. >Meeting with moon hoers ranked slightly above wandcraft
  2629. >Only very slightly, though
  2630. >So into town you go, and right over to Rarity's place
  2631. >[spoiler]Tom, I need a new suit[/spoiler]
  2632. >Surprisingly, she didn't ask for more measurements, and said you could return tomorrow for the new Gala swank-wear
  2633. >Well, that leaves you with more time than you thought
  2634. >Time spent on WAND PLANNING BOIIIII
  2635. >The moment you returned home and hit the basement, things kinda blurred together in an orgy of pure hype and determination
  2636. >There may have also been a few trips up above to get some sticks
  2637. >Too bad they were all shit
  2638. >By the end of that hype frenzy, when the exhaustion set in, you were looking at a diagram of a cool looking spiral wand thing you wanted to make
  2639. >Yeah, maybe not the most original thing in the world
  2640. >But what the fuck ever
  2641. >Cool designs were for staves and shit, everyone knows that
  2642. >Sadly, as much as you'd love to keep working on this, the siren call of dreamland was too strong to ignore
  2643. >And so you ascend back into your humble abode, secure the cellar door, and prep for some mad slumber
  2644. >The combined hype of wands and moon hoers were not enough to stave off dropping into a coma this time around
  2645.  
  2646. @@@@@@@@
  2647.  
  2648. >"Geez, Anon! I thought we'd be late for sure!"
  2649. "Heh, sorry about that. Guess I lost track of time, eh?"
  2650. >Starlight's scrunch-and-eyeroll combo move would have triggered some keks, if you weren't fucking winded right now
  2651. >Because you just fucking marathoned it from your house to the train station, carrying a couple of bags of overnight shit
  2652. >Yeah, reading more of the book while you waited for the best time to leave wasn't the best idea
  2653. >Speaking of which, it's three days after your wand planning spree and FUCK THE TRAIN'S PULLING AWAY GOGOGOGOGOGOGOGO
  2654. >You drop your shit and leap into the held-open train doors like you're fucking Kratos
  2655. >You were about to start cursing your newfound lack of luggage, until the telltale POOF of teleporting was heard in front of you
  2656. >Looking up is met with a more-annoyed Starlight, floating your luggage
  2657. >And looking to the sides are your bemused drinking pals, AJ and Dash
  2658. "Uh... heheh, see that sick jump I made?"
  2659. >Starry's annoyance grows proportionally to Dash's snickering
  2660. >The silence just grows it more and more until eventually it boils over
  2661. >Dash just breaks out laughing, while Starlight just drops your bags and walks off with a huff
  2662. "Hey, give me a break here! So I lost track of time a bit, we still made it though, right?"
  2663. >Sadly, she didn't acknowledge your call, and closed one of the train segment doors behind her
  2664. >Well shit
  2665.  
  2666. >AJ's sensible chuckle is interrupted by her speaking up
  2667. >"Well, ya better get a move on, Anon. Ah don't think Twilight will be too impressed with yer timing here."
  2668. >"Hahah, g-geez, Anon, what'd you do to be so late?"
  2669. >With the power of multitasking, you pick up your shit and make for that same door Starlight stormed through
  2670. "Let's just say I picked my reading material too well, eh?"
  2671. >An amused snort from her was all you heard as you passed through to the next train car
  2672. >A few non-Ponyville natives were in this car, and were super spooked by your presence, as you kinda expected
  2673. >Ah well, them's the breaks
  2674. >Good thing you're not staying in these passenger cars
  2675. >The girls have all got their own car near the front that you get to share
  2676. >Being national heroes sure has it's perks
  2677. >Anyways, where were you?
  2678. >Ah yeah
  2679. >Three days later after the wandcraft planning stage
  2680. >Your days after that were filled with some reading and manalens gazing
  2681. >But mostly rustling things up for the wand you're going to make
  2682. >Getting gems wasn't difficult, even if it required braving Rarity's disdain for getting her clothes dirty while you were at it
  2683. >Sorry bae, but I ain't no nudist like the rest of you
  2684. >Now, tracking down the stick was another matter entirely
  2685. >Turns out that sticks weren't good enough
  2686.  
  2687. >You actually needed to carve out your wand from a good piece of decently magical wood in order for it to work with such a small core of gem dust
  2688. >That meant an Everfree trip to get some magical wood
  2689. >Luckily, it had a few specific trees deep in the forest that would work
  2690. >Noting down manalens stuff on plants made the book give you insight onto some kinds of magical plants and trees to get you started
  2691. >In retrospect, you probably should have guessed that zap apple trees had some pretty good magic infused in the wood
  2692. >Unfortunately for you, the only ones you're sure nobody would notice you taking pieces off of were the wild ones in the Everfree
  2693. >Since you're pretty sure the Apples would draw and quarter you if you touched their zap apple trees
  2694. >You managed in the end anyways, without any fucking manticore encouters
  2695. >Good thing you took off big chunks when you did, because it turns out that you're utterly shit at carving wood
  2696. >Luckily, you managed something crude in the end, and got the center of it drilled out for the gem dust core before the day you had to leave
  2697. >Which would be now
  2698. >You'd have been a lot less horrendously late if you weren't engrossed in the extended properties of those node things
  2699. >But whatever, too late now
  2700. >It takes quite a bit longer than you thought it would to file to the front train car
  2701. >And you're met with most of the gaggle of gals in this decked out car
  2702. >Luggage is stowed, seats are taken, and the waiting game begins
  2703. >...
  2704.  
  2705. >The announcer lets everyone know that Canterlot is coming up soon
  2706. >Fucking finally
  2707. >The card games were good and all, but not really catching your fancy this time
  2708. >You did have to apologize to the two resident magic masters for your lateness, however
  2709. >Starlight didn't accept it as quickly, until ear scratches were involved
  2710. >That's right lil pone, this is why I get paid the big bits
  2711. >You rustle up your luggage when you feel the train slow down, as do the others
  2712. >Looks like your group gets the diplomatic exit line, as there are guards flanking the exit door of the car
  2713. >Who of course immediately tense up and reach for their weapons when they see you
  2714. >Yeah, you were expecting this too, but the spears always make you jump anyway
  2715. >An order to stand down was called out by a certain painfully familiar voice
  2716. >Looks like Twilight's brother was here as well
  2717. >This Shining guy was... alright, you suppose, but his fucking quasi surfer-dude voice could drive a man to drown kittens, you swear to fucking god
  2718. >Whatever, you'll deal with it
  2719. >He did just call off the adorable killing machine brigade, anyway
  2720. >After the gals did their meet-and-greet with him, they all started walking off to the castle-palace-thing with you in tow
  2721. >...Actually, do these guards even kill anything?
  2722. >You're not sure you want to know, honestly
  2723. >You contemplate this and other such questions of life before you realize you're being talked to by surfer-prince pone
  2724. >"I said, what do you think, Anon?"
  2725.  
  2726. "Huh? Whatwhowhenwherewhy?"
  2727. >Twilight piped up at this point
  2728. >"Anon, have you even been listening?"
  2729. "Uh..."
  2730. >"I'll take that as a no, then."
  2731. >awkward.gif
  2732. "So, uh, what were you guys talking about again?"
  2733. >Don't you give me that eyeroll, gurl
  2734. >You were just thinking about why this castle is on the side of a fucking mountain
  2735. >"We were just--"
  2736. >"All right, we're finally here!"
  2737. >You're not sure whether to curse or thank Dash for that outburst
  2738. >But indeed, you were there
  2739. >The subject of their convo looks to be dropped and forgotten about as you all file up some crazy big spiral stairwells to a little dining room
  2740. >And there sits the other princesses, along with the other ponies they brought along with them
  2741. >In fact, there looks to be--
  2742. >"Sunburst!"
  2743. >Yeah, what Starry just said before she took off after him
  2744. >Boy howdy, this little meet-and-greet was way bigger than the last one
  2745. >Even that janky-looking Thorax guy was here
  2746. >Nice enough guy, but seriously weird look there
  2747. >Man, The Magic of Friendship™ had some really fucked up fashion taste
  2748. >And speaking of friendship and friendship accessories, the very purple monarch of it is getting your attention again
  2749.  
  2750. >"So Anon, as I was saying, we were talking about your sudden interest in magic."
  2751. >Damn, thought you could worm outta their convo
  2752. >Wait holy shit they're talking about your interest in magic
  2753. >TAKE US TO DEFCON 3 MR. PRESIDENT
  2754. "Oh yeah?"
  2755. >Damn it prince horse, shouldn't you be with your literal waifu right now?
  2756. >"Yeah, I've gotta say, that's a pretty unusual subject. U-uh, no offense."
  2757. >"None taken."
  2758. >"But seriously, being interested in that level of magic is pretty uncommon even for unicorns. Weren't languages your thing before?"
  2759. >Okay, you can do this
  2760. "Oh they still are, but it just... I dunno, kinda grabbed at me a while back. I mean, where I come from, we don't have anything like magic."
  2761. >"You sure about that, Anon? Because machines that let you talk to somepony else across the world seems pretty magical to me."
  2762. >Well excuuuuse me, princess
  2763. "Hey, as the saying goes, any super advanced technology can look a lot like magic, to the uninitiated."
  2764. >From the back-and-forth about the merits of telephone technology that came after, you'd call that a successful derailment
  2765. >Wait until they heard about the ol' Internet, and all it can do
  2766. >Pretty sure that one would blow their cute lil' poner minds
  2767. >Might want to leave out the part about the vast quantities of pornography the ol' digital hivemind has produced, though
  2768.  
  2769. >Soon the conversation turned to other things that your race has done
  2770. >It's always tricky leaving out the parts about the nukes and world wars
  2771. >You had just finished explaining motor vehicles to them when you needed a new subject to throw their way
  2772. >And fuck, you've attracted a bit of a crowd
  2773. >Half the girls from Ponyville were listening in, along with love horse and that Sunburst guy, who was looking mighty intrigued with this tech talk
  2774. >You'd say you hated the attention, but you were actually digging this
  2775. >You didn't get to explain human inventions often, and certainly not to an audience like this
  2776. >Your gazing upon your little storytime circle eventually lands on Luna, who's off talking to Celestia and Thorax, but all having an ear pointed your way
  2777. >That's when it hits you about what to tell them about next
  2778. >Humans in space, baby
  2779. >More specifically, the moon
  2780. >And that's exactly what you build up to
  2781. >You tell them a little how the U.S. and Russia were 'in competition' with each other to do the coolest stuff to impress the world, totally not cold war at all
  2782. >Then you tell them about how the Russians fired off those cosmonaut guys into space, where they orbited around for a bit to show off before coming back down
  2783. >And then how the Americans did the same thing to keep in competition
  2784. >Just the thought of building and actually shooting space-faring rockets is clearly doing wonders to blow their little minds
  2785. >Fuck, Sunburst there looks about ready to cream himself
  2786. >And the other princesses were now clearly paying attention
  2787. >Time for the crowning piece to this highly redacted epic tale
  2788.  
  2789. "So then, the Americans launched the Apollo 10 space mission, which was a little bit different than the others they'd done in the past."
  2790. "See, they wanted to do one bit better than the Russians, who just sent folks off into space, and maybe have them float around outside the ship."
  2791. "No, they wanted to send a man to the one thing in the sky that's been with all of human-kind since we were still chucking spears at mammoths."
  2792. >You let that one hang for some dramatic suspense before Twilight interjects
  2793. >"Wait a second, are you talking about...?"
  2794. "Yeah, they wanted to put a man up there, on the moon."
  2795. >You've lost count of how many times they gasped collectively like that
  2796. >It was sweet music to your ears
  2797. "But see, they wanted to see if it would work out or not. So they sent Apollo 10 to do everything short of landing on it, to see if it would even work."
  2798. "Sure enough, it did, and they prepped Apollo 11, the most famous mission of the bunch, to actually go out and do it. And only a year later, at that."
  2799. "And thus, Michael Collins, Buzz Aldrin, and Neil Armstrong were sent flying off into space, though only Aldrin and Armstrong actually landed, with Collins piloting the part of the rocket that would land them back on Earth."
  2800. "Now, the other two parts of the rocket ship were for landing on the moon, and blasting off of the moon. These landed a bit off target, since the equipment in the ship was going a little haywire, but they flew it down safely anyway."
  2801. "And Mr. Armstrong climbed down from the craft, set his left foot on the surface, and spoke the famous line: 'That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind'."
  2802. "Now, they weren't on the moon for too long, since they weren't sure what the moon's environment would really do to them, but they collected some soil samples, left a flag and a plaque, and put down some scientific equipment."
  2803.  
  2804. "They left a while later with their samples and a ton of pictures, met back up with the other part of the rocket in orbit, and they all managed to return, alive and well despite all the odds."
  2805. "Now, this spaceflight was the crowning accomplishment of the whole space race, and since it was broadcasted all across the world to an audience of about four-hundred-and-fifty million people, it meant America had won the space race."
  2806. "Oh sure, we flew to the moon a few more times after that, but nothing could ever top the first trip we took up there."
  2807. >Not a bad redaction there, comrade Anonymous
  2808. >You look upon the crowd you've gathered up at this point
  2809. >The general reaction consensus seems to be one of shock and awe
  2810. >All according to Keikaku
  2811. >[spoiler]Translator's note: Keikaku means plan[/spoiler]
  2812. >...
  2813. >Okay, they've been in awe for a bit longer than you thought was necessary
  2814. >Come on, your retelling wasn't bad, but wasn't good either
  2815. >It can't fucking kill people with the sheer power of it's intensity
  2816. >Oh there we go, they've shaken themselves free of the stupor
  2817. >And here come the flood of questions
  2818. >And oh lawdy loo is it ever a flood of questions
  2819. >They really seemed to like the answer about the footprints you gave, how they'll probably be there forever because there's no wind to clear them away
  2820. >You can't help but notice near the end of it, however, that neither Luna or Celestia have pitched in with questions of their own
  2821. >Shit, did you offend them or something?
  2822. >This was supposed to be endearing, dammit
  2823.  
  2824. >A look over in their direction dispels that notion fairly quickly
  2825. >The two of them seem to be hugging it out back there
  2826. >And Celestia's expression when looking over at you was one of 'ya did good, son'
  2827. >Phew, that's a relief
  2828. >You spend a little more time after that little story just milling around and making some small talk, complete with that Sunburst fellow following you around
  2829. >Oh Jesus Christ, he's got that fanboy glint in his eyes
  2830. >He keeps asking about the technical details of how the lunar landing happened
  2831. >You keep telling him you don't know, since you're not a rocket scientist
  2832. >He wasn't being annoying about it though, so there's that at least
  2833. >Soon enough, however, the get-together came to a close, and everyone filed out of the little hall, off to the private quarters of the castle
  2834. >They didn't have quite enough of those, so you got the ambassador's suite
  2835. >Which was fucking loaded, so you didn't mind one little bit
  2836. >There's even a booze closet with some of that minotaur whiskey
  2837. >Guess who's getting not-wasted tonight lads
  2838. >Well, you would have anyways, if the knock on the door didn't come first
  2839. >You sigh and put away the whiskey
  2840. >Later, my old friend, later
  2841. "Be right there!"
  2842. >You walk over to the door and open it up
  2843. "Yeah, who is... it."
  2844. >...
  2845. >Oh, it's just Celestia and Luna
  2846. >It's Celestia and Luna
  2847. >Jesus, Joseph and Mary, it's Celestia and Luna
  2848.  
  2849. >TAKE US BACK TO DEFCON 3 MR. PRESIDENT
  2850. "O-oh hey there, princess...es! W-what brings you two here?"
  2851. >OH GOD CELESTIA'S TALKING TO YOU
  2852. >STOP PANICKING RIGHT NOW YOU FUCKING IDIOT
  2853. >"Good evening to you, Anonymous. I hope we're not intruding, are we?"
  2854. >`I CAN'T HELP IT, ME, I CAN'T HANDLE THIS FUCKING PRESSURE`
  2855. "Uh, no! Not at all! I just... wasn't expecting to see you two, is all!"
  2856. >`I THINK WE NEED TO UPGRADE TO DEFCON 2, BAWS`
  2857. >"Oh, Anonymous, there's no need to be stressed. We just came to have a small chat. I promise, we're not here to interrogate you."
  2858. >Okay, maybe hold back on the DEFCON upgrade there
  2859. >This fucking god horse sure had a way with words
  2860. "W-well, uh, I mean... D-don't take this the wrong way, princess, but it's not exactly every day you're hosting a couple of world leaders."
  2861. >She's politely giggling at that little remark
  2862. >"I suppose that's true. But please, there's no need for formalities here. Just call me Celestia, Anonymous."
  2863. "A-all right then, prin-- Celestia. You uh, want to come in?"
  2864. >You hold the door open and they file on in
  2865. >Fuck, that drink will come sooner rather than later, eh?
  2866. >...Hey, there's an idea! Offer up some drinks!
  2867. "So, uh, you guys want a drink or something?"
  2868. >"Oh, no thank you Anonymous."
  2869. >Luna didn't seem to have any such reservations, however
  2870. >"Does the cabinet have any gryphon merlot, perchance?"
  2871. "Don't know, let me see about that."
  2872.  
  2873. >Well, Luna sure seems chipper, at least
  2874. >You rifle around in the cabinet a bit until you find it
  2875. >A wine glass of that for her, along with a highball full of whiskey for you
  2876. >You bring the drinks over to the small coffee table that the others have already gotten seated at, and Luna floats the wine glass over to herself
  2877. >"Ah, many thanks, Anonymous."
  2878. >"Minotaur whiskey, Anonymous? That's quite a powerful drink, are you certain you can handle it?"
  2879. >Aw, how sweet of her
  2880. >But your liver knows worse pain than this measly glass
  2881. "Oh, I'm sure. I've had way stronger back home."
  2882. >They're surprised by this? Don't they have stronger stuff here?
  2883. >"You drink stronger than that? Goodness, Anonymous, I didn't know you had such a tolerance for it."
  2884. >Well, or that.
  2885. "What can I say, I've had a lot of practice."
  2886. >Celestia's face shows concern, but she doesn't expand on that further
  2887. >Now Luna, on the other hand, doesn't seem to have any such concern
  2888. >"Oh, you must tell us of the drinks your kind has to offer!"
  2889. "Hey, I'll drink to that."
  2890. >Your glasses clink together, and you proceed to drink and talk about the things you can drink on Earth
  2891. >Funny how that works, eh?
  2892. >Needless to say, shit like vodka and the history behind moonshine both get some visible cringes from both princesses
  2893. >Hey, you'd cringe too, if you had to drink possibly fatal paint thinner
  2894. >Overall, their drink menus are pretty similar, but way less boozy, the wusses
  2895.  
  2896. >Oh yeah, we've officially lost the DEFCON scale with the introduction of some hard liquor
  2897. >Though watching their reactions as you downed the last half of your glass in one go was also pretty funny as well
  2898. >Though that's probably all you're gonna have for tonight
  2899. >Ah well, taxpayer money well spent, you guess
  2900. >"So, Anonymous, I wanted to thank you earlier for what you said before."
  2901. >Ah, Sunny D here must be referring to that moon landing tale
  2902. "Oh, that? Yeah, it was nothing."
  2903. >"Oh, I disagree. Not many could take a story like that, and remove all mentions of war from it on the fly."
  2904. >...
  2905. >wat
  2906. "What?"
  2907. >"Oh, that's not an indictment of you, Anonymous. I know you meant it to be a lighthearted tale, so I cannot fault you for omitting the references."
  2908. >Not sure if DEFCON 4 is needed or not
  2909. "Hold up, how'd you know there was war in the original?"
  2910. >"Countries engaging in friendly competition like that? I think you'll find that even in Equestria, such things rarely occur."
  2911. "I... Huh."
  2912. >Curse you and your logic, sun horse
  2913. "You... do believe the part about the landing though, right?"
  2914. >"Of course, Anonymous. In fact, that was what I wanted to thank you for."
  2915. >You hear Luna's glass clink down on the table
  2916. >Looking over to her, you see her--
  2917. >HNNNNNNNGGGGGGGGGGGH
  2918.  
  2919. >WHAT ARE YOU DOING HEART, CEASE THIS MADNESS IMMEDIATELY
  2920. >`EY FUCK YOU BAWS, I DON'T GET PAID ENOUGH FOR THIS SHIT`
  2921. >Jesus tapdancing Christ, you thought Fluttershy was the grandmaster of the death-by-cuteness stare before
  2922. >But the look Luna was giving you right now was something else entirely
  2923. >It wasn't just hazardously cute, but just so goddamn happy as well
  2924. >"You see, Anonymous, for a few years now, we've been trying to find a way to bring my sister's night into the forefront of public consciousness."
  2925. >Sorry Celestia, heart currently melting, please try again later
  2926. >"Your tale was not just a very thoughtful nod towards Luna, but upon further discussion with the other princesses, a possible solution to this predicament."
  2927. >oh lawd almighty i'm gonna die-- Wait what
  2928. "Wait, what?"
  2929. >"An ideal solution to restore my sister's positive image, and to further the advancement of my little ponies at the same time."
  2930. "Whoa wait a second, so you're gonna take a crack at a space program?"
  2931. >"Of course. If what you say is true about the impact it had on your world's peoples, I am positive it could have a similar impact here, if handled correctly."
  2932. >Did you really just help kickstart a possible poner space program?
  2933. >...
  2934. >HAH
  2935. >HAHAHAHAH
  2936. >FUCK YOU, SPACEX
  2937. >WE'RE BUILDING A MOON BASE BEFORE YOU DO
  2938. >A MOON BASE AT LEAST FIFTY TIMES CUTER THAN YOURS, TOO
  2939.  
  2940. >"Of course, it's only a possibility right now, but it is certainly high on the list of considerations we've come up with."
  2941. >Well aren't you just at a loss for words right now, 'ya big sack o' shit?
  2942. >And your loss of words just octupled in size right now
  2943. >Because the moon horse of the moment decided to fucking bear hug you
  2944. >And she's mumbling stuff, some of it being 'thank you'
  2945. >...
  2946. >anonymous-f-c.com has encountered an illegal operation and will now shut down
  2947. >"Oh dear, I think we've overloaded the poor human, Luna."
  2948. >would you like to send an error report to [god of the moment here]?
  2949. >Were you in a thinking state, you would have noticed the two of them giggling a bit at your current state
  2950. >"Come, Luna, let's give him some peace. I think he'll be more receptive to your question tomorrow."
  2951. >do they even fucking read these error reports
  2952. >Them floating you over to the bed before taking their leave would also have been noticed, were you capable of such observational skills
  2953. >oh fuck your error report, i'll just reboot then
  2954. >This would be the 'mental short-circuit' way of saying you passed the fuck out
  2955. >If you were capable of interpreting your senses, you would have noticed this bed was fucking great for a guest bed
  2956. >If you were capable of interpreting ponies, you would have noticed the huge spring in Luna's step as she left the guest room
  2957. >Will any of this matter later on?
  2958. >Of course it will, but alas, I, the subconscious mind, have run out of time
  2959. >Now I shall lead Anonymous's dreams into the future
  2960.  
  2961. @@@@@@@@
  2962.  
  2963. >...
  2964. >Holy piss this bed is nice
  2965. >But holy piss did you not sleep well
  2966. >Might have had something to do with last night
  2967. >You're just gonna pretend it was that crazy dream instead
  2968. >...
  2969. >Nah, that ain't gonna work
  2970. >Frolicking through flower fields to Pantera's discography was too funny to blame
  2971. >Geez, you should see if there's some way for you to magically recreate some tunes from back home
  2972. >Those musicals the ponies break out into at random are fun and all
  2973. >But you can't join in on any of them because no magic
  2974. >Oh yeah, you've tried starting one before
  2975. >Didn't end very well
  2976. >But if you had something else doing the singing for you...
  2977. >Yeah, that might be crazy enough to work
  2978. >Anon, you're a kook and a scholar
  2979. >Welp, might as well rise up and greet the day
  2980. >So that's what you dOH GOD IT'S FUCKING COLD OUT
  2981. >JESUS FUCK WHY ISN'T THERE A HEATER IN HERE SHITBALLS FUCK
  2982. >FUCKING LEG IT TO THE BATHROOM GO GO GO
  2983. >SHUT THE FUCKING DOOR BEHIND YOU
  2984. >JUST A BATH HERE, WHATEVER, TURN THAT SHIT TO FULL BLAST
  2985. >Wow, freezing to death aside, this is a pretty ballin' bathroom
  2986. >That bath's big enough for a goddamn minotaur
  2987. >So it'd fit you no problem
  2988.  
  2989. >The rest of the stuff you DON'T FUCKING CARE ABOUT BECAUSE FUCKING FREEZING
  2990. >FILL FASTER YOU BATH LOOKIN' PIECE OF SHIT
  2991. >WHATEVER, HALFWAY WILL DO IT
  2992. >AS THE BONGS WOULD SAY, 'INTO THE DRINK WE GO'
  2993. >The feet are always the worst part of bathing
  2994. >One minute they're freezing off, and then the next they're boiling to death
  2995. >Well fuck you feet, this isn't about you
  2996. >Okay, the bath's nice and full now
  2997. >You haven't had a bath in such a long time
  2998. >Showers are pretty much all you had to work with, even back on Holy Terra™
  2999. >This was totally awesome, though
  3000. >Looking around the bath is met with cleaning shit of all stripes
  3001. >You spend what feels like forever soaking in before actually cleaning yourself
  3002. >And now we're presented with a new problem
  3003. >Your bags are in the main room
  3004. >And the towel is on the door here
  3005. >You're gonna need to brave the freezing for a while to get your shit together
  3006. >Mustering up all that willpower, you fucking leg it
  3007. >OH GOD IT'S EVEN WORSE WHEN WET
  3008. >FUCKING GET THE TOWEL OVER TO THE BATH
  3009. >BACK FOR THE CLOTHES
  3010. >NOW FOR THE CLOTHES OH MY FUCK JUST PLEASE END MY SUFFERING
  3011. >JUST THROW THE WHOLE BAG INTO THE BATHROOM
  3012. >BACK TO THE BATH GOGOGOGOGO
  3013. >Returning to the warm bath is the best thing since internet porn
  3014.  
  3015. >Meanwhile, this cold is the worst thing since sliced Hitler
  3016. >Seriously, what in the fuck is up with the temps in here?
  3017. >You get the whole mountainside thing
  3018. >But holy o'fuck, that's almost cold-winter-morning shit right there
  3019. >There's gotta be some kinda heat control in here somewhere
  3020. >Better find it before you shrivel up too much
  3021. >It takes a few leaps out of the bath to random things on the wall, but you finally do find a crystal heating thermostat thing
  3022. >You huddle close to the thing while you towel off
  3023. >Now for a date with the razor blade
  3024. >On come the tighty whities next
  3025. >Before long, you're back to your suited up self
  3026. >You're keeping this heater thing with you, don't care what nobody says gurl
  3027. >First thing you do is check around the room for any way to adjust the heat
  3028. >You find it eventually in the form of more of these crystals
  3029. >So off you go, turning them on all around the place
  3030. >So much better
  3031. >Unfortunately, this game of avoid-the-freezing-cold has only worsened your need for nutrients, if the loud stomach growl was anything to go by
  3032. >And so off you go, into the main hallway--
  3033. >Oh what the fuck man, this place is perfectly climate controlled!
  3034. >Did someone open a window when you weren't looking or something?
  3035. >Whatever, you'll check later
  3036. >Looks like there was a room service pony hanging around for you, directing you to that same hall from yesterday
  3037. >Well, guess that settles the choice of locale for now
  3038.  
  3039. >Turns out it was getting close to the afternoon, since you arrived at the tail end of breakfast when most everyone was already gone, royals definitely included
  3040. >Works for you, you just wanted some quiet today
  3041. >Between storytime and last night's visit, you could use it
  3042. >...
  3043. >It's been a whole day since that morning.
  3044. >Turns out a window was left open, explaining the freezing cold.
  3045. >No such problems this time around, thankfully.
  3046. >Unfortunately, you were now currently bored out of your mind.
  3047. >The others were all busy helping for the Gala, which was tomorrow.
  3048. >Luna in particular seemed to trip on her words a lot with you.
  3049. >Is that in any way related to what she apparently wanted to ask before?
  3050. >Dunno, memory's still kinda hazy in that regard.
  3051. >Well, you're sure she'll tell you if she needs anything.
  3052. >As for you, you're on your way to the library here.
  3053. >Twilight was nice enough to hook you up with a card for the place here.
  3054. >If it had even half the amount of magic books that she said it did, this was going to totally abolish all boredom for your trip here.
  3055. >Too bad you couldn't take a book to the Gala itself.
  3056. >You startle the librarian when you arrive, but she recovers quickly enough and ushers you in upon seeing that flashy new card of yours.
  3057. >Apparently, this thing works for all libraries nation-wide, too.
  3058. >You'd get Twilight a drink for this, but she doesn't touch the stuff.
  3059. >Pff, her loss. Maybe some more ear scratches would do, instead.
  3060. >First destination: the magic section. Which is a bit of a misnomer, considering that's the entire goddamn library.
  3061.  
  3062. >Still, it is sectioned off and everything, so there's that.
  3063. >You mill through the aisles of books, scanning through the names of all the books, trying to find something to read. And failing miserably.
  3064. >Ah yes, the paradox of choice rears it's ugly head once again.
  3065. >At least the Lexica back home paces itself out nicely.
  3066. >You really wish you could have brought that.
  3067. >But bringing highly illegal literature to the fucking capital sounds really complicated compared to just a good ol' fashioned noose.
  3068. >Hey, wait a second. There's an idea!
  3069. >You never really bothered to investigate before, but just why was this shit all illegal anyways?
  3070. >Your search narrows a bit further, bringing you really close to the chained-off and guarded forbidden book section.
  3071. >Yeah, not going there. Ah, but wait a second...
  3072. >'Edicts on Forbidden Magic', and... well hello there, a book with glowing enchanted ancient Equestrian text on the spine, 'War of the Ancients'.
  3073. >The text was clearly meant to be disguised or scrambled somehow.
  3074. >But we all know how well that works on you.
  3075. >You take it along with the Edicts book, and decide to read said Edicts first.
  3076. >Off to the table to crack them open. Let's see here...
  3077. >This Edicts book was... literally just royal edicts on what magic is banned from practice all across Equestria, complete with rationale and the complete transcript of the court at the time it was decreed.
  3078. >Unsurprisingly, necromancy, soul magic and mind-altering magic was banned. Though mind-altering did have a special exception for military uses.
  3079. >At first glance, the 'runic magic' ban didn't make sense, until you read further that it wasn't related to enchanting: literally putting runes on your person that do spells. Turns out they tend to kill you quickly and painfully.
  3080.  
  3081. >Pffff, what kind of desperate loon puts runes on himself for magic?
  3082. >Your musing was cut short at some particular bans, however.
  3083. >Apparently magically-powered prosthetics were also banned for all but the military as well. That one really didn't make sense to you.
  3084. >Their... 'rationale', if it could even be called that, was some fear that it could be used to... harm other ponies?
  3085. >The wording was very much in legalese, which sadly you haven't learned yet. But they seemed to be implying that folks could hide weapons and stuff in their fancy, fully-functional artificial limbs.
  3086. >Well, that was stupid. Next ban.
  3087. >This one was on... others using magic? No wait, that wouldn't make sense. What does it even mean--
  3088. >This one is redacted. Heavily redacted. Like, 95% of the document is fucking missing redacted.
  3089. >You can't shake the feeling that you've read this kind of set-up elsewhere.
  3090. >In any case, you're literally not capable of deciphering what they mean with this particular ban, since they haven't given any relevant details.
  3091. >There were some minor ones after this, but you totally lost interest when the first one was a ban on enchanting jewelry.
  3092. >That leaves only our mystery book. Let's see how ancient this war is.
  3093. >Opening it up, you see-- oh wow, this text is really fucked.
  3094. >Everthing is layered with some kind of obscuring enchantment, and the text itself was clearly written by mouth. The shimmering of the enchantment was seriously impeding the readability of the whole thing.
  3095. >It takes some serious squinting and covering the unread parts with your hand and the other book in order to make out what it was saying.
  3096.  
  3097. >"The contents of this tome are restricted to all but the most trusted of ponies and other magical beings. I am Warmaster Steel Horn, and this is a chronicle on the events of what we have named the 'War of the Ancients'."
  3098. >"While this may seem like a fleeting detail to you, magical beings like us are a critical component of the natural order, helping to spread magic throughout the world, and for the most part, mainaining order and harmony."
  3099. >"Many of our kind have remained neutral on, or did not care about, the beings in the world that were not so gifted. However, we in particular chose long ago to watch over them, to ensure their preservation despite our own conflicts."
  3100. >"After all, it would not be fair to subject them to the battles between our own kind, when they have no means of defence against our powers."
  3101. >"In retrospect, however, I firmly believe this position was more a construction of our own hubris than it ever was a construct of compassion. For we were blind to the want in their hearts when they beheld our... abilities."
  3102. >"Separated as they were, they tried to emulate our power. At the time, we thought of this as mere worship, and thought nothing of it. However, when the ungifted met one another, formed alliances, and tasked their greatest minds to their admittedly impressive sciences, we found that they had succeeded!"
  3103. >"Through their sheer persistence and determination, they had found a way to use tools to manipulate the magic of the world, and bend it to their ends!"
  3104. >"At first, we were of mixed minds when we noted this discovery. Some of us were proud that they could have made this progress on their own, and perhaps could join us later on in their development. Yet others, particularly formerly neutral beings, saw this as an affront to the natural order of things."
  3105. >"Among the most outspoken of these critics was Lord Viraak, then-king of the centaurs. Acting against our consensus, or lack thereof, he gathered his gargoyle allies and attempted a siege upon the ungifted for their 'transgressions' against nature. Their response was... unprecedented."
  3106.  
  3107. >You know, you like to consider yourself a man of decent thought and memory.
  3108. >But apparently, you've totally fucked up on both fronts.
  3109. >Fucking up on the former, for reading in this janky fashion for the last five or ten minutes, straining your eyes a lot in the process.
  3110. >And fucking up on the latter, for just now connecting what you read to, oh I don't know, only the first fucking paragraphs of the Lexica Thaumaturgia?!
  3111. >Once you cursed your stupidity on both fronts, you shut the book and give your eyes a much needed rest after all that.
  3112. >Okay, there was some part of you that thought the Lexica's rather limited retelling was a touch hyperbolic. After all, picturing cute little ponies going genocidal on some other race for using magic didn't really compute.
  3113. >But now that there was a very obviously disguised retelling of this story in the Canterlot library? That just blew away the doubt. And replaced it with... yet more curiosity.
  3114. >All curses to these damn eyes. If only the book didn't look like a bad acid trip, you would have kept reading to get more on this story.
  3115. >The part about that centaur king guy starting this shit more or less confirmed that the ponies didn't start this shit, though.
  3116. >But what role DID they have in all of this?
  3117. >...
  3118. >You know what, no. You're not gonna prescribe malice to them just yet. The author guy, clearly a pony from the mouthwriting, wasn't approaching this all hostile-like. Maybe they didn't do anything in this.
  3119. >And besides, didn't this shit happen a super-long time ago, before anyone here was born? They must have improved on this stuff later down the line, right?
  3120. >God damn it, you came here to unwind, not get wound up again.
  3121.  
  3122. >Alright, you put the books away and took your leave. Checking the clock in the library on the way out confirmed it was almost dinner time.
  3123. >So on your merry way you go. This time, you'll catch everyone in the dining hall.
  3124. >What do you know, you catch some of the girls on their way to the dining hall, themselves. Entering with them nets you a room full of ponies. And of course, the resident... reindeer bug thing? Fuck if you know, man.
  3125. >The dinner goes on without much incident, the ladies chatting on about their last-minute Gala preparations. Sounds like they had a semi-fun time with that.
  3126. >You, meanwhile, were invited to sit between Luna and Sunburst. Luna still seemed skittish around you, while Sunburst was still dying to know more technical details of the rocket stuff from last time.
  3127. >Your answer is the same one of 'you don't know', but you do tell him what little you know about semiconducting elements. You know, silicon, germanium, that kind of thing.
  3128. >It had less of an aweing effect than you thought. He didn't really seem to know what the significance of 'semiconductors' were. When his answer showed he didn't know what was being conducted at all, you pressed a bit further.
  3129. >You seriously were not expecting him to not know about electricity. I mean, you've seen pegasus lightning cloud action, how did they not use it for electricity? Or is everything just powered with magic around here?
  3130. >The conversation kinda tapers off after the fact, since you're left kind of dumbfounded about the electricity thing. How did that even happen, man?
  3131. >When the first group of ladies vacated the hall, you used it as a chance to excuse yourself and make your way to your room.
  3132. >Well, there won't be any cold issues in your room this time around--
  3133.  
  3134. >"Anonymous, wait!"
  3135. >Or you could be interrupted in the middle of opening your door by Luna.
  3136. >Yeah, the shock value of a royal visit wore off after that one night here.
  3137. >You turn around and see her trotting after you. Huh, what's she after?
  3138. "Oh hey Luna, what is it?"
  3139. >Okay seriously, what's with the nerves on this mare?
  3140. >"Well, We... we were curious, if... if you were attending the Gala tomorrow?"
  3141. "Uh, yeah actually. Figured the others needed someone to slog through the uh, 'nobility'."
  3142. >She really perked up at the mention of your stay, though she reeled it in pretty quick afterward. Still not sure what she's after.
  3143. >"A-ah yes, the nobility. They're not the most-- oh stars, I'd forgotten about your first Gala attendance!"
  3144. >Okay, that's quite enough of this.
  3145. "Okay Luna, what's going on with you?"
  3146. >"W-what?"
  3147. "You've been all jumpy and... shy around me since you and Celestia came to meet me that one night. So what's going on? Did I do something to upset you?"
  3148. >And for that matter, what was she wanting to ask you that night, anyways?
  3149. >"No! Goodness no, you've done nothing of the sort! I just..."
  3150. "Just... what?"
  3151. >She takes a few seconds to compose herself before speaking again:
  3152. >"Anonymous, you... are not the only one who has a less than ideal time with the Canterlot nobility. Even through the years following my return, they still wish to keep contact with me to a bare minimum."
  3153. >That... well, you didn't really know what to think of that.
  3154.  
  3155. >"So, in... in light of this, would it trouble you to perhaps, well, a-accompany me to the Gala?"
  3156. >...
  3157. >Oh. That explains a lot.
  3158. >That's what she was trying to ask you.
  3159. >To be her... kind-of-date to the Gala?
  3160. >Oh Jesus, she's looking sadder with each passing second. Don't fuck this up!
  3161. "O-oh, you want me to... Uh, well, I..."
  3162. >Smooth, Anon. Real smooth.
  3163. "I mean, I... wouldn't be opposed to the idea."
  3164. >Great, she doesn't know how to react.
  3165. >"S-so you mean...?"
  3166. "Yeah! I mean, yeah, sure, I'd love to."
  3167. >Huh, looks like your bumblefucking through this exchange actually worked. She's gotten all excited again and FUCKING HELL THE BEAR HUG HAS RETURNED
  3168. >This string of thank-yous is a lot more coherent than the last time, though.
  3169. >After hugging it out for a while, the two of you eventually part ways.
  3170. >All right, back into the room with you, Anon.
  3171. >Let's recap. We found a book that corroborates some stuff from the super-forbidden book at home. And now we're... I guess taking Luna to the Gala?
  3172. >Well fuck me sideways with a fire axe, you just get yourself into all kinds of weird and wacky situations, don't you?
  3173. >After contemplating this stuff a while longer, you lay your nice suit out for tomorrow, perform the bathroom rituals of ancestors past, and head to bed.
  3174. >Yeah, this time without that fucking open window, eh?
  3175. >...
  3176. >You're gonna fuck this up royally. You can already tell.
  3177. >God damn it all.
  3178.  
  3179. @@@@@@@@
  3180.  
  3181. >Say what you will about Rarity's outlook on clothes treatment and boundary issues with measuring, the gal could put together some mean wardrobe pieces.
  3182. >The special Gala-issue suit she prepped for you was looking as sharp as a tack.
  3183. >After getting some details on Earth styles from yours truly, she did a little merging of worlds in that regard.
  3184. >A charcoal black tux, with gray pinstripes running downwards, with tiny gemstone vine patterns embossing the cuffs of the sleeves.
  3185. >A little red bowtie was used instead of the usual red tie, and for whatever genius reason, she threw in a goddamn cape.
  3186. >Only a waist-high cape, sure. But a cape nonetheless!
  3187. >In this get-up, you really feel like you could take on those stuck-up smegma chuggers known to mortals as the nobility.
  3188. >Unfortunately for you, however, it did not make you feel like taking all that on while sorta-kinda-maybe taking Luna along with you.
  3189. >Yeah, you were nervous as all get-out.
  3190. >Like, Phoenix Wright's first case levels of nervous.
  3191. >Knowing that Luna would probably also be as nervous? Well, you weren't sure whether that was making it better or worse.
  3192. >Well, according to the handy timekeeping device off to the side, it was about time to head off to the 'dramatic entrance' hallway the royals were using.
  3193. >Time to face the music, you guess.
  3194. >You leave your room and make your way over. Deep breaths, Anon. Through the nose, out the mouth.
  3195. >Okay, gotta be honest, you don't know what the Jeremiah Johnson fuck this curtained entrance hallway thing was technically called.
  3196. >All you knew was that all the guests of honour were present and accounted for.
  3197.  
  3198. >Twilight was present, looking a bit nervous, but way less than you were feeling, that's for sure.
  3199. >Cadance and Shining were side-by-side, not looking fussed by this at all. They've clearly done this a lot before.
  3200. >Celestia was similarly unbothered by the suspense. Not really surprising.
  3201. >Luna... well, the second she noticed you enter and turned to face you, your previous hypothesis on the nerves being mutual was totally proven right.
  3202. >She visibly relaxed when seeing you, however. For whatever reason, this relaxation was also mutual.
  3203. >Huh. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad?
  3204. >Yeah. Yeah, you know what? You can do this shit.
  3205. >Papa didn't raise himself no pussy bitch, no siree.
  3206. >You feel the smile coming on as you stride over to her. She's returning the smile, as well.
  3207. >The next few minutes go by with none of the previous nervousness. The two of you make some small talk with each other while you wait for the grand reveal.
  3208. >Soon enough, a pony comes in to inform you that you're all stepping out in about two minutes.
  3209. >Both Celestia and Luna give you a quick breakdown on where you're going, and what to do when you're out there.
  3210. >It basically boils down to walking in lockstep, don't stare into the crowd, and take up positions at the line of thrones for the next ten minutes while speeches are read out by the gaggle of royals here.
  3211. >And since you weren't a royal, that meant you just needed to sit there and look pretty. And boy, did you look pretty.
  3212. >Yeah, stage fright is so much easier to deal with when your pals are right behind you.
  3213.  
  3214. >You can hear some announcer from behind the curtain:
  3215. >"Fillies and gentlecolts, it is my pleasure to welcome you all to this esteemed gathering this lovely evening."
  3216. >Instead of listening to the guy drone on, Celestia gave another reminder on what motions to go through again.
  3217. >By the time she was done, you caught the tail end of the announcer's speech:
  3218. >"--welcome to the Grand Galloping Gala, our very own Princesses of Equestria and their companions!"
  3219. >And just like that, Celestia steps out through the curtain and into the crowd, which was met with some actually pretty quiet stomping.
  3220. >In fact, they were pretty quiet out there in general. Well, you guess it was a fancy social outing and not a damn football game, after all.
  3221. >Cadance and Shining were next out, met with a similar response.
  3222. >Man, those three must have done this a lot before.
  3223. >Next up was Twilight, who for some reason didn't have the other girls tagging along with her. Huh, maybe you ought to ask about that.
  3224. >Next up was yours truly and Luna.
  3225. >All right kids, it's magic time.
  3226. >The two of you walk out side-by-side, with your head kept forward as instructed.
  3227. >Yeah, you could hear some light gasps and hushed whispers.
  3228. >That's right, fuckers. This big green monkey man got onto the red carpet before any of you did.
  3229. >And they say nepotism is a bad thing.
  3230. >You saw Luna in the corner of your eye slow down a touch when she was greeted with the crowd's reaction to you. She bounced right back, however, when she noticed you not giving much of a shit about them.
  3231.  
  3232. >It's another minute of this walk until you're met with the lineup of thrones.
  3233. >Somehow they even hammered out a far less ornate, human-shaped one for you.
  3234. >How they did so that fast, you don't know. Or care, really.
  3235. >Time for the next few motions. All of you line up along the thrones and face the crowd at last.
  3236. >It would be another half minute or so before you'd all sit down at once.
  3237. >Might as well take the time to see the crowd you've drawn here.
  3238. >Yeah, this was about what you expected. A sea of rich bourgeois types who certainly looked the part. Almost like a jacked-up stereotype, actually.
  3239. >It was actually kind of funny to think about. Too bad you couldn't laugh right now, lest you drown this whole shindig in an ocean of awkwardness.
  3240. >Ah, there's the sign. In one synchronized motion, you all take your seats.
  3241. >They're gonna give speeches in the order they entered the main hall in, so you can observe the place a bit more.
  3242. >Of course, your eyes roll over to Luna, who's definitely looking and acting the part of the old-timey royal type: focused and on point.
  3243. >Though she does crack a small smile when she sees you looking.
  3244. >These fucking ponies, man.
  3245. >Celestia's speech in the background is something to do with harmony. You're not really paying much attention.
  3246. >Twilight waxes poetic about the whole friendship and harmony thing with you enough in private to know the motions for that one.
  3247. >Turning your eyes back to the crowd, you see about picking out individual ponies in their midst. See if there's anything to laugh about later.
  3248. >Sadly, they were dolled up a bit too conservatively to laugh at their styles.
  3249.  
  3250. >Geez, look at the ones in the front. The expressions were just the picture of--
  3251. >Wait. Hold up a second.
  3252. >What's up with that one's eyes?
  3253. >There was this one pony in the middle of the front row. White coat, dark-ish blonde mane, blue eyes, and an expression that was the fucking epitome of 'spoiled trust fund kiddy'.
  3254. >But there was some kind of weird shimmering thing going on in his eyes.
  3255. >It almost looked like magic text obscuring, but a lot less iridescent.
  3256. >You don't linger on him too long, to avoid staring. But you'll definitely ask about that one later.
  3257. >You barely notice Cadance's speech ends and Twilight's begins.
  3258. >You start scanning across the front row a bit more carefully.
  3259. >You swear, two of the ponies up front had a very faint shimmer to them.
  3260. >They were flanking the freaky-eyed pony, and the shimmer was very faint.
  3261. >But... No, they were definitely shimmering.
  3262. >Your spider-senses are currently ringing all the bells they can reach.
  3263. >You're definitely asking about those three after the speeches.
  3264. >You commit their appearances and cutie marks to memory before appearing to look across the crowd again.
  3265. >Once Twilight's speech on the merits of friendship ends, you and Luna exchange a brief look before she speaks next.
  3266. >You want to pay attention to her speech, you really do.
  3267. >But those ponies are seriously eating at you.
  3268. >You do manage to pay enough attention to catch the parts about the kindness of her subjects and how welcoming her new friends were.
  3269. >Not too sure about these subjects, sister.
  3270.  
  3271. >Her speech ends, and she sits back down.
  3272. >Can't look at her just yet, since you've all got to face forward for the official start to the Gala.
  3273. >Celestia gives the official start-of-the-Gala line, and everyone in the crowd gives a final round of stomps before the red carpet is rolled back up and the ponies go about their business.
  3274. >And those three still stay put.
  3275. >And that funny-eyed pony was staring at you now.
  3276. >"Anonymous, shall we retreat for some refreshments?"
  3277. >Ah yeah, Luna.
  3278. "Hm? Oh sure, we can do that."
  3279. >The two of you sit up and walk off together to the buffet table.
  3280. >You try to get some eyes on that trio. You see them behind you, following at a distance. And that one pony is really staring now.
  3281. >"Anonymous? Are you all right?"
  3282. "Yeah, I'm good, why?"
  3283. >"You seem rather... distant. Ever since you sat down with us at the beginning."
  3284. "I'll tell you at the table, all right?"
  3285. >Way more curt a response than you were expecting, and clearly more than she was, too. She seemed to recognize the wary tone you were using though, and didn't press the issue.
  3286. >You finally arrive at the buffet table. And boy, was it packed with good stuff.
  3287. >Luna floated you a plate and some little bits of food, and some for herself.
  3288. >When she spoke next, it was hushed and hard to make out:
  3289. >"What's going on, Anonymous?"
  3290. >Fuck, this is some 007 shit right here. Heart's starting to race.
  3291.  
  3292. "Okay, don't look now, but there's three ponies following us around right now. One of them's staring at me real creepy-like."
  3293. >She considers this for a moment before responding:
  3294. >"Very well. We shall return to the thrones, so that I can perhaps see what they look like."
  3295. >Boy, she's even sounding like a fucking secret agent right about now.
  3296. >She's taking this a lot more seriously than perhaps she shound.
  3297. >But... no, you know what, the ol' spider-senses are pleased with this.
  3298. >You nod your assent, and make your way back to the thrones with her.
  3299. >Fuck, there they are. They're keeping their distance, but that one pony's eyes never fucking leave you, even facing away from you.
  3300. >Kind of like that one Derpy mare's eyes, but infinitely more creepy.
  3301. >You both take your seats again with your food in tow.
  3302. >"I believe I saw the ponies you mentioned. But I'd like you to describe them to me, just in case."
  3303. >So you do exactly that, even if it isn't in the most elegant fashion. Like before, she considers this for a moment before responding:
  3304. >"I am not sure about the ones flanking him, but the one staring at you is one Prince Blueblood."
  3305. >Blueblood? You think you've heard that name before, somewhere.
  3306. "Can't say I'm too familiar."
  3307. >"That is perhaps for the best. A spoilt, boorish type, only here by the happenstance of distance blood relation to my sister."
  3308. "Huh, no kidding. He sure isn't acting the part right now, though."
  3309. >"Indeed. But all he has done so far is stare. What about him precisely drew your attention to him?"
  3310.  
  3311. "All right, I don't know if it's the whole no magic thing, but his eyes are... shimmering. Like, magic shimmering."
  3312. >"Shimmering?"
  3313. >Shit, gotta find a way to explain this.
  3314. "Yeah. Some of Twilight's stuff is enchanted to be invisible or look different. I can see right through it, but I can see the magic shimmer around it."
  3315. >"I see. And this effect is in his eyes?"
  3316. "Yeah. But the two ponies with him? Their whole bodies are doing the shimmer thing as well. Not nearly as out-there, but I can still notice it."
  3317. >You start eating the hors d'oeuvres to keep appearances up. Really good stuff, you've gotta say. Castle chefs sure know their shit.
  3318. >Man, you remember how nervous Luna was yesterday and today. And how happy she got. But now, she was all business. Pretty quick as mood shifts go.
  3319. >"Let us retreat somewhere else, Anonymous. We shall see if these ponies are indeed hiding something."
  3320. >Well, when she puts it like that, it sounds like she's gonna haul their asses off to the pony gulags or something.
  3321. >She notices your hesitance, though, and quickly course corrects:
  3322. >"Of course, we're not going to imprison them on a whim, Anonymous. Just ask a few questions."
  3323. "A-all right, if you say so. Why don't we finish these off and then go find her, then?"
  3324. >A nod of agreement settles that. The two of you go through the plate fairly quickly.
  3325. >Can't really scarf the shit like a Viking raider or anything, but this definitely counts as a more classy speed-eating.
  3326.  
  3327. >Luna floats the now-empty plates away, and the two of you make for... huh, where were you going with her, anyways?
  3328. >You two are heading up an out-of-the-way spiral staircase, which emerges out into-- FUCK MY LIFE INTO PIECES
  3329. >These fucking horses need to cool it with the spears, holy shit!
  3330. >"Stand down, guards. He is not a threat to you."
  3331. >Well at least you had her vouching for you.
  3332. >Getting a better look at the spear-happy ponies, you--
  3333. >Okay, that doesn't even make any fucking sense.
  3334. >Why do these ponies have bat wings? And fluffy ears? And... are those fangs?
  3335. >What, does Dracula take a vacation to Equestria every winter, or something?
  3336. >You'd probably be more scared of them, if it weren't for both their apparent loyalty to Luna, and the whole sorta-chased-by-magic-eyed-prince thing.
  3337. >"Now, my loyal night guards. There is a possible dangerous situation developing that requires the utmost care and stealth to resolve."
  3338. >Whoa hold the fuck up, 'dangerous situation'?
  3339. >What, is the pony Schutzstaffel about to break in and gas everyone?
  3340. >Her 'speech' to these bat horses consist of shadowing the ponies of the hour, informing Celestia, and to "prepare the soup".
  3341. >Obvious codephrase, but what the fuck is that codephrasing?
  3342. >All right, this shit is getting way the fuck out of hand.
  3343. >After the bat pony things salute and fly off, Luna makes to leave, but stops when she notices you aren't following her.
  3344. >"Anonymous, we need to return to the Gala. The guests will notice our absence."
  3345. "Now just wait a second here, Luna. You just sent what I'm assuming are the pony Secret Service off to, for all I know, drag those ponies off to get the electric chair or whatever! Don't you think this is overreacting a bit?"
  3346.  
  3347. >"Anonymous, you said yourself that you do not possess magic, correct?"
  3348. "Yeah?"
  3349. >"And you were seeing magical field fluctuations in and on those ponies, yes?"
  3350. "Is that what it's called? No, wait, why is that important?"
  3351. >"One of the ways one can defeat obscuring enchantments, Anonymous, is to view the enchantment through a non-magical focus."
  3352. >Okay...?
  3353. >"In addition, using obscuring enchantments and spells at events involving royalty is strictly forbidden. Even to nobility."
  3354. >Oh. Ohh...
  3355. >She picks up on your realization and continues on:
  3356. >"Your being magicless has uncovered a very serious violation of the law, yes."
  3357. "Okay, I can see why they'd be watched and all. But the code words?"
  3358. >"That is more to do with this enchantment you say was in Blueblood's eyes. If that is what I think it is - and I sincerely hope that it is not - then there is very dark magic at work here, Anonymous."
  3359. >Dark magic?
  3360. "How... dark are we talking here?"
  3361. >"It could involve runes and soul binding, Anonymous."
  3362. >Oh, so drowning kittens level of dark magic, then.
  3363. "Yeah, I've heard of those before. All right, if you say it's bad, I'll trust you on it."
  3364. >"I do not mean to worry you with this, Anonymous. But I have the utmost confidence in my guards. No harm will befall anypony under their watch."
  3365. >Well, if those bat-ponies were like the pony Secret Service, you'd better fucking hope so.
  3366.  
  3367. >Man, this is way too heavy for even a boring, noble-riddled event. You need to lighten the mood somehow.
  3368. >As the two of you make your way back, an idea strikes. Not a good idea, but when do you ever have good ideas?
  3369. >You don your best [spoiler]Samuel Rodriguez®[/spoiler] shit-eating grin:
  3370. "So, you sure you're not just being over-protective?"
  3371. >The look when she turned to you was one of confusion. A little eyebrow wiggle was all it took to transmute that into surprise and embarrasment.
  3372. >"W-what? No, that's not-- We-- I-I mean, I did not..."
  3373. >What was once a half-hearted grin quickly became genuine, the longer she sputtered on like this. Which wasn't for too much longer, once it dawned on her that you were kidding around.
  3374. >Ahh, you raise me an eyeroll, do you?
  3375. >"Thou art very amusing, sir Anonymous."
  3376. "I try."
  3377. >You can't hide that little smile from me, moon horse.
  3378. >Well, it's not much, but there's definitely a lighter mood here.
  3379. >The two of you make it back to the Gala before long.
  3380. >Sitting around doing nothing wasn't either of your bag, so you decide to mill around a bit with Luna, see what the others are up to.
  3381. >Turns out that Twilight received no less than thirty-nine letters of marriage proposals from various nobles. All courier delivered, of course.
  3382. >Geez, hungry for all that prestige, and they don't even deliver it themselves.
  3383. >The other girls all had to come in seperately, and were less than enthused about the whole event, save for Rarity.
  3384. >Cadance and the Prince of the Surfers™ were having a grand ole time on the dance floor. A floor you decided not to participate in.
  3385.  
  3386. >You even track down Sunny D herself, which was surprisingly tough to do. Turns out she was off chatting over tea with some other significantly less snobby noble ponies out on the balcony.
  3387. >Her and Luna exchange some words, and you catch the little nod between them as their convo ends.
  3388. >Right, your gaggle of lawbreaking stalkers.
  3389. >You know, you haven't been looking for them since coming back. Wonder if--
  3390. >OHHKAY, nope, they're still following you around.
  3391. >Fuck, that's the creepiest thing you've seen in your whole time in horseland.
  3392. >Luna finds a nice private balcony table for you two, however, and the two of you chat it out a bit.
  3393. >Turns out that the night court she holds has way more serious shit brought up in it than the day court.
  3394. >Her example was comparing nobles pissing about not getting enough tax breaks for the second pony Jacuzzi, versus frontier farmers needing royal guard postings to keep them safe from bandits.
  3395. >You guess it's the whole stayed-up-late-for-this-shit effect going on there.
  3396. >The two of you keep going at it until the official end of the Gala, when she has to leave to send everyone off.
  3397. >Being left alone with your stalker posse wasn't very encouraging, but she pointed out the four armed bat-ponies that had been watching this whole time, Spider-Manning up the side of the walls.
  3398. >Well, that settles the security concerns--
  3399. >GAH HOLY PISS WHAT THE CHRISTMAS FUCKING CHRIST WAS THAT?!
  3400. >A shockwave just passed through the castle, with the sound of an explosion following very closely.
  3401. >Screaming can be heard already. Which totally didn't include you for a moment there. No siree. Never saw me do it, you can't prove anything.
  3402.  
  3403. @@@@@@@@
  3404.  
  3405. >You leap out of your seat and enter the now-chaotic Gala, poised to save as many of these innocent ponies as you can.
  3406. >...
  3407. >Nah, just kidding.
  3408. >You're hiding under the table like a little bitch.
  3409. >The sound of a scuffle can be heard immediately ahead of you.
  3410. >Against all your coward's instincts, you peer up and see what's going on.
  3411. >Those bat-ponies from before are currently beating the living shit out of a pair of--
  3412. >Holy shit, those are Changelings?
  3413. >And where'd the other ponies flanking Prince Stares-A-Lot there?
  3414. >Not even a second later, and the answer hits you.
  3415. >Well golly gee willikers, dumbfuck. They were shimmering because they're fucking shapeshifting bug horses.
  3416. >Speaking of Stares-A-Lot, he was still sitting there, rock-steady despite the fighting literally right next to him, still fucking staring at you.
  3417. >You were expecting him to have some kind of dead, emotionless expression going with it. Or a constant look of 'please end my life'.
  3418. >But he still wore that snobby look all throughout, without a dead look in the eyes to be seen. Magic eyeballs notwithstanding.
  3419. >You're not sure which is more scary.
  3420. >Thankfully, you don't have to see his mug for much longer, since he's taken down soon after and restrained by the same bat-ponies.
  3421. >Man, they hogtied those bugs good there. With chains, no less.
  3422. >That's pretty hardcore, for lil' ass horses.
  3423. >Oh look, one of them's coming over to you.
  3424.  
  3425. >"We need to leave now, mister Anonymous. It isn't safe here."
  3426. >Ain't about to argue with the bat-horse CIA.
  3427. >You get out from under the table, with only minor stumbling involved.
  3428. >"Follow us, we'll get you to the safe zone."
  3429. >Lead the way, lil' buddy.
  3430. >Fuck, you're too frazzled to even form words right now.
  3431. >Looks like they've dealt with that for long enough, since they're not commenting on your lack of speech.
  3432. >Kinda hard to comment when you're busy rushing a VIP outta the building, you guess.
  3433. >Wait, are you even a VIP? Since, you know, you got a fucking throne and all.
  3434. >Yeah, must be.
  3435. >Gotta give these guys credit, they sure work fast. You were out of the building and with the other girls in no time.
  3436. >Even as winded as you were from that run, you still notice the absence of all royals from this little guarded gathering point.
  3437. >You're too tired and still too frazzled to talk, but not enough to not hear Dash arguing with a regular royal guard.
  3438. >"This is a load of horseapples! We should be out there helping to kick their sorry flanks!"
  3439. >"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we have explicit orders not to allow any of you to involve yourselves in this crisis situation."
  3440. >You feel a tap on your side. You turn around to see that same bat-pony guard from before retract his wing just in time. Well, he got your attention.
  3441. >"Name's Sergeant Razor Wind, night guard Watchers. Wish there was more time for an intro, but I need something from you, mister Anonymous."
  3442.  
  3443. >It takes a moment to compose yourself properly until you can respond:
  3444. "U-uh, yeah, s-sure, what do you n-need?"
  3445. >"I've been told you can see through obscuring enchantments and illusions by Princess Luna. Given that you discovered the disguises on those changelings, I'd say that's a handy skill to have right about now."
  3446. >You already have a suspicion about what he wants.
  3447. "Uh, okay t-then. W-what do you need m-me to do?"
  3448. >"Just take a look at everypony here, and tell me which ones you think are disguised or not."
  3449. "Y-you think they'd be blending in here?"
  3450. >"Last time these bugs invaded, they replaced half the guard and most of the nobles. I'm not taking any chances."
  3451. >Well, that's comforting. Gonna need a moment to calm down.
  3452. >A few moments later, you nod your agreement and start putting these bleary eyeballs to work.
  3453. >The girls all check out. The guard all seem--
  3454. >Oh holy hell. Mother of flying fuck.
  3455. >Half the guards are doing the shimmer thing. Including the one arguing with Dash right now. This pony was right about the replacement rate, after all.
  3456. >Once your bladder is under control, you kneel down and get Razor's attention, in the universal sign of 'speak quietly or we fucking die':
  3457. "Half the guards here are bugs, man!"
  3458. >Okay, whisper-shouting isn't as quiet as you gave it credit for, but you don't think the others heard.
  3459. >Sergeant Batty doesn't take the news too well. Hell, neither would you.
  3460. >"Damn it, knew this wouldn't be easy. Alright, we're going to... chat. And you'll point them all out as we have our 'chat'."
  3461.  
  3462. >So the stealthy approach, eh? Pretty normal for the pony NSA, then.
  3463. >So the two of you do just that; talk about menial shit in a semi-forced way, while you point to all the confirmed bug horses.
  3464. >And the other bats 'join in' on the chat as well. Presumably to be filled in on who's a real guard, too.
  3465. >Once you finish the 'chat', one of them is sent off God knows where.
  3466. >"Alright, we've got some ranged support coming. Once you hear the arrows coming, hit the dirt. I'll make sure the Elements are safe."
  3467. >So nice when the plan involves cowering like a bitch.
  3468. >Man, you wish you had a gun or something. But those are super hard to shoot, aren't they? God, you're a fucking wimp.
  3469. >...
  3470. >Some magic would be good right about now.
  3471. >If you had--
  3472. >Your thinking was interrupted by multiple THUNKS and yelling 'guards'.
  3473. >Coward mode, activate!
  3474. >The next few moments are filled with the sound of fighting while you lay down and cover your head like the bitch you are.
  3475. >You're really wishing you had some way to help.
  3476. >But what the hell can you do? Besides spotting changelings and cowering?
  3477. >You should be doing more than this.
  3478. >You're letting them all down, you just know it.
  3479. >"Anon?"
  3480. >God damn it, you're a tall green man and can't do shit against these fucking--
  3481. >"ANON!"
  3482. >God damn, that bat-pony can sure fucking yell.
  3483.  
  3484. >You slowly look up to a roughened-up Razor, accompanied by the girls, tons more night guard, and the rest of the actual royal guards.
  3485. >The bugs were all tied up in rows off to the side, some of them with arrows sticking out of them. Oh, and they bleed green.
  3486. >Oh fuck, they're bleeding.
  3487. >Really not what you wanted to see right now!
  3488. >This is all kinds of fuc--
  3489. >SMACK
  3490. >"Anon! Pull yourself together!"
  3491. >...
  3492. >Did...
  3493. >Did this horse just fucking slap you upside the head?
  3494. >But... huh.
  3495. >Guess it does work like in the movies.
  3496. >Considerably calmer than before, and with a much more pained cheek, you rise back up to your feet.
  3497. "A-all right, I'm together."
  3498. >"Good. We got these things under control, thanks to you. Good job."
  3499. >Okay, it's not much, you know this.
  3500. >But the pony Secret Service thanking you was a better feeling than you'd think.
  3501. >And here comes Dash with some choice praise:
  3502. >"Geez, Anon! I didn't know you could see changelings in disguise! That's awesome!"
  3503. >You'd say flattery gets her nowhere, but that would be a bold-faced lie.
  3504. >"As 'awesome' as that is, I'm afraid we'll be needing you to help us track down the bugs scampering around here. Think you can do that?"
  3505.  
  3506. >Well, if you're guarded by a bunch of fucking killing machine bat-horses...
  3507. >Yeah, that prospect is sounding thirty-six times more appealing right now.
  3508. >It's not much, but it's better than sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.
  3509. "Yeah. Yeah, I think I can do that."
  3510. >"Glad to hear it."
  3511. >"Aww yeah! Time to kick some serious tail!"
  3512. >"Afraid not, filly. That order to keep you away from the fighting was real."
  3513. >"What?! But we're--"
  3514. >"Highly valuable hostage targets, and have no formal combat training."
  3515. >supahotfire.webm
  3516. >"B-but--"
  3517. >"Listen, it's not that I don't appreciate the gesture, but the last thing we need is one of the princess's closest friends being used as blackmail, see?"
  3518. >Their exchange continues for a while. Even AJ joins in on Dash's side. But this guy only takes two minutes or so to get them to stay put.
  3519. >Huh, maybe he's a hostage negotiator? Might explain the hostage example.
  3520. >"A-all right, we'll stay here. But you better not let Anon get hurt, you hear?"
  3521. >"Wouldn't dream of it, ma'am."
  3522. >The ponies left here set up a little defensive position, while you follow in the midst of a sizable crowd of nearly two dozen bat-ponies.
  3523. >You and the guards waste no time running back off into the Gala hall, tracking down any straggler changelings and tying them up with more of those chains.
  3524. >Turns out those chains are enchanted to be anti-magic and hard to break.
  3525. >And you get pretty good at quickly spotting 'lings after the first twenty.
  3526. >There were so many of the damn things!
  3527. >You'd think they'd have a better system for finding them after the invasion.
  3528.  
  3529. >Luckily, the main hall wasn't very full because of the evacuation, and the bunch of you clear the place in what feels like three or four minutes.
  3530. >Christ on a cracker, these fuckers work fast. Glad they're on your side.
  3531. >Their next destination is through that entrance hallway you and the princesses entered through. Wonder what they're after down here?
  3532. >In fact, why wonder? Just ask them!
  3533. "Hey guys, where are we going now?"
  3534. >"To the castle vault. It's the first place the princesses head to during an attack, to fend off any looters."
  3535. "So, what, we're backing them up?"
  3536. >"If we can. Princess Twilight and Cadance won't be there, though."
  3537. "Huh? Why?"
  3538. >"No combat experience."
  3539. >Ah, right. Figures that Christ-knows-how-old princesses would know how to fight off some pretty crazy--
  3540. >"INCOMING!"
  3541. >One of the guards knocks you down just before an arrow hits you.
  3542. >You're too disoriented and blocked by guards to see who they're fighting.
  3543. >Probably changelings with fucking bows. Not even bothering to hide, eh?
  3544. >Although... you don't remember changelings squawking when taken down.
  3545. >After the 'all clear' is given, the guards clear away from you and let you stand back up. What carnage did they get themselves... into...
  3546. >What... in the fuck?
  3547. >"What's going on here? Why are there gryphons working with changelings?"
  3548. >Yeah, what you said!
  3549. >Don't those catbird fucks hate bug ponies?
  3550. >Well... do they?
  3551.  
  3552. >No time for thought, we're moving on.
  3553. >You do catch the downed pile of bugs and birds, however.
  3554. >They're all dressed in some kind of tabard, emblazoned with an... oddly minimalistic symbol, as far as Equestrian symbols go.
  3555. >It was like a super-basic eight-point star made only out of thick, rectangular straight lines, with the top and bottom point having a crescent with a fairly big circle inside of them.
  3556. >Never seen a logo like that, before. But do your pals?
  3557. "Who the heck were those guys?"
  3558. >"No idea. Never seen a group with that symbol before."
  3559. "Don't changelings and gryphons hate each other, though?"
  3560. >"They usually do. Don't know what could've brought them together."
  3561. >You know that sinking feeling in your gut you get, when you know shit is about to go down in the worst possible way?
  3562. >Yeah, it hasn't ever gotten as bad as it is right now.
  3563. >You can hear the clip-clop of galloping ahead. The group tenses up as they move forward, yourself included.
  3564. >When you turn a corner, you can see the ponies belonging to those hoofsteps. And boy, were they a sight for sore eyes.
  3565. >Celestia and Luna, decked out in some pretty sick-looking armour, with a huge weapon you can't see from this angle stowed on their backs.
  3566. >They also had a complement of eight royal guard along with them.
  3567. >Needless to say, they're both surprised to see you here, with Luna the first one to pipe up:
  3568. >"Anonymous! What are you doing here? You should be with the other Elements!"
  3569. "I would be, if your awesome guards here didn't need little ol' me."
  3570.  
  3571. >"Need you? What are you talking about?"
  3572. >You have enough gumption left in you to give a cheeky little demonstration. You point to the two 'guards' to the left of Celestia.
  3573. "Those two are changelings."
  3574. >Quick as a flash, two bat-ponies lunge for those two, tackling them down and breaking their disguises, chaining them up almost as quickly.
  3575. >No, seriously, you should totally start framing the shocked expressions the ponies have. You could sell it as high art.
  3576. >"You can see the changelings?"
  3577. "You know those two from the Gala? Turns out that was what I was seeing."
  3578. >Celestia speaks up, urgency in her voice:
  3579. >"It is good to know you can discern their disguises, but we don't have time to waste. Guards, to me! Anonymous, stay behind us."
  3580. "Yes, ma'am."
  3581. >Running in this new formation off down another turn, Celestia speaks again:
  3582. >"Who or whatever staged this attack made the effort to collapse all the main entranceways to the vault. This is the only entryway left that leads there."
  3583. "They knew where you'd be?"
  3584. >"Yes, which means they've been planning this for a long time. Whoever 'they' are."
  3585. >"Sister, what could have rallied changelings and gryphons to fight side-by-side like that?"
  3586. >"I suspect we're about to find out. Be ready for anything, everypony!"
  3587. >The gut-sinking is getting even worse now.
  3588. >Whatever you're about to run into is going to be extreme bad-news-bears, that's for goddamn sure.
  3589.  
  3590. >Somewhere along the line, Luna cast some kind of step silencing spell on all the ponies, and your shoes. Clever workaround, but what for?
  3591. >Your question was answered when you heard a squawky voice up ahead:
  3592. >"Boss, they'll be here any moment!"
  3593. >Whoever responded spoke in an English accent. Not a heavy one, just a regular received pronunciation one:
  3594. >"Good, then everything is proceeding as I have predicted."
  3595. >"But boss, these are the princesses we're talking about!"
  3596. >Okay, one last corner to round up above here.
  3597. >"Do not worry, my son. Their overestimation of their power will prove to be their undoing."
  3598. >"But--"
  3599. >"No more questions, my child. Take cover and prepare for detonation."
  3600. >The whole group silently grinds to a halt at 'detonation'.
  3601. >A good thing, too: an explosion of some kind could be heard around the corner, with a green flash of light following it.
  3602. >The explosion didn't sound like a regular explosion. It was all... deep and bassy, almost like a 'powering off' kind of sound turned into an explosion.
  3603. >"Now, my children, all of you get to work uncovering the artifacts. Our guests will be arriving shortly, and I do not wish to disappoint them."
  3604. >This bird... pony... whatever male thing, was sounding awfully confident.
  3605. >Why yes, you did just assume his gender.
  3606. >Why yes, you are distracting from the dropped-stomach feeling hitting a new low. Whoever this guy was, he was tripping all kinds of primal flight instincts.
  3607. >It was actually starting to make you a bit sick.
  3608. >You've never gotten this feeling before. And you don't care to have it again.
  3609.  
  3610. >"Anonymous. Stay back here."
  3611. >Celestia's deadly serious tone brooked no argument, and you weren't protesting.
  3612. >"Sergeant, keep him safe while we deal with this upstart."
  3613. >Appreciate it, Luna. Having Razor Wind nearby would help with the nerves.
  3614. >Oh boy, the others ran off around the corner. A gasp from a lot of them prompted you two to run to the corner, and peer around to--
  3615. >...
  3616. >What? No.
  3617. >No. Fucking. Way.
  3618. >How is that...?!
  3619. >Greeting the ponies with a round of slow applause and a knowing smile, is...
  3620. >That's fucking impossible.
  3621. >You thought you were the only one here!
  3622. >But right in front of you, was evidence very much to the contrary.
  3623. >Another human.
  3624. >There was another human in Equestria?!
  3625. >Unlike yourself, he had a burgundy skin colour, and sported the same strange question-mark tattoo on your face that you somehow got since coming here.
  3626. >He also had a well-kept, short black goatee going as well. And his face was well-defined, with a fairly strong jawline. Blue eyes, too. Real 'leader' look.
  3627. >He was also clad in plate armour, with a cuirass emblazoned with a red version of that weird logo from before. And on his left hand was something almost right out of 40k: a big claw-like glove with lots of big, glowing gems embedded in it.
  3628. >And he started speaking again, in a diplomatic yet also condescending tone:
  3629. >"Your majesties. Luna and Celestia. Heirarchs of the sun and moon. A true pleasure to finally meet you, at last! Truth be told, I was starting to worry you'd never come."
  3630.  
  3631. @@@@@@@@
  3632.  
  3633. >Celestia was the first to recover, unsurprisingly:
  3634. >"What is the meaning of this?!"
  3635. >You can say that again, sister.
  3636. >Just... what in all that is fuck?
  3637. >"The meaning, your highness? I would have thought that was self-evident."
  3638. >"Do not test me, human! Who are you? Why have you attacked my little ponies?"
  3639. >"Your 'little' ponies? Well, I supposed I should have expected such condescension from one such as yourself. Ah, but where are my manners?"
  3640. >What the fuck's with this guy?
  3641. >He was speaking like he was the second coming of Christ himself!
  3642. >What pissed you off more was that he was pulling it off!
  3643. >"I am Incognito Matthias, o' heralds of the heavens. And I am here to assist my flock in recovering that which was so ungraciously stolen from them."
  3644. >"I see stealing only from you and your cohorts, mister Matthias."
  3645. >"Wrong. What you see behind me is reclaimation. No, what you have dared to steal from them is much greater than mere artifacts and gold, your majesty."
  3646. >What is this fucking guy going on about?
  3647. >"What do you mean?"
  3648. >"Their memories. Ideas. Culture. History. Their people's inheritence that by all rights is theirs, that you dared to claim dominion over."
  3649. >Okay, you're still shocked, and increasingly confused.
  3650. >"Oh, don't act so surprised, princess. Unless you mean to tell me that your precious Sol Invictus is not destroying vital history? All in the name of a safe and sanitized world for your oh-so-'little' ponies?"
  3651. >Sol Invictus? Those guys from the archaeology site?
  3652. >Yeah, the ones who torched the room of--
  3653. >...
  3654. >Oh.
  3655.  
  3656. >"Ah, did you not think anyone would confront you on such actions?"
  3657. >"I do not need to explain my actions to the likes of you."
  3658. >"Well, I would hope not!"
  3659. >"What?"
  3660. >"Me, one who has only been here a scant few years! What kind of history could you take from an alien such as myself? No, it is the members of my flock who you should explain yourself to, for they are the targets of your actions."
  3661. >"I am not interested in debating you, mister Matthias. We are here to put a stop to you, and the band of criminals you have brought with you."
  3662. >"Ahh, that's a pity. I was looking forward to hearing an autocrat's perspective on historical revisionism."
  3663. >"Still thy tongue, knave! We shall see to it that you never set foot in this land again!"
  3664. >Luna's little addition would have helped with your current state of confusion and terror, if this guy didn't come back without skipping a beat:
  3665. >"My dear princess, what makes you think you're coming out of this victorious?"
  3666. >He takes a step forward.
  3667. >"The both of you are powerful, that much is certain. But all that power is meaningless against one who can ignore it's effects."
  3668. >Another step.
  3669. >Celestia was staying back and seemingly assessing the situation.
  3670. >Luna, on the other hand, decided to open up with a huge bolt of magic.
  3671. >And he's not even flinching at the cast? That's the biggest magic attack you've ever seen, and he's not even going to try and avoi--
  3672. >ZWWWFMPH
  3673. >...
  3674.  
  3675. >Oh, fuck.
  3676. >You knew that he'd know about the ironblood thing, from his 'ignore it's effects' speech.
  3677. >You didn't know that also applied to his armour.
  3678. >His armour wasn't made out of whatever ponies use for armour.
  3679. >It just took a huge bolt of magic and diffused it without so much as a dent.
  3680. >That kind of resistance meant only one thing.
  3681. >"What devilry is this?!"
  3682. >"Iron armour."
  3683. >He really was just about impervious to magic, wasn't he?
  3684. >And he takes another step, his smile never changing.
  3685. >"As you can see, your dependence on magic to solve your problems shall not avail you here."
  3686. >The princesses, with a nod to each other, unslung their weapons with a fling of their magic.
  3687. >Celestia had a massive, ornate warhammer with no shortage of gold.
  3688. >Luna, a similarly massive crescent glaive, made from a bluish metal that you don't recognize.
  3689. >Apparently however, the guy had another weapon besides that fucking clawed glove thing, and drew free a plain-looking falchion in his right hand.
  3690. >You could tell already that it would be made of iron.
  3691. >But that wasn't all. That glove thing? It was starting to glow with an ominous red magic aura.
  3692. >Finally, you noticed his expression change. The smile became more wicked. More predatory. More excited. And he spoke with barely restrained glee:
  3693. >"Oh, I haven't had a good challenge since I first came here. I do hope the tales of your fighting prowess is not mere embellishment!"
  3694.  
  3695. >As one unit, the princesses and the night guard charged against him.
  3696. >A sweep of his glowing gauntlet, however, unleashed a huge, violent wave of red magic, stopping the princesses dead in their tracks, and throwing the night guard against the wall with enough force to crack it.
  3697. >Without another word, Incognito sprang forth, capitalizing on the opening he created with that magic attack.
  3698. >The princesses thankfully recovered quickly enough to dodge the huge claw sweep directed their way.
  3699. >Positioning themselves at opposite ends of him, the two leapt forth again, weapons held high.
  3700. >Incognito dodged the hammer strike with a surprising amount of mobility for such heavy armour, and met the glaive with his sword.
  3701. >The clang was met with a fizzling sound as the magic enveloping the front quarter of the glaive receded away from the iron weapon.
  3702. >The fight continued in this fashion for what felt like forever: the princesses would flank, make their strike, and somehow Incognito would manage to block, parry or dodge the attacks, not getting a chance to get his own attack in.
  3703. >His movements were precise and deliberate, almost like he's been practicing for this, and is just going through some motions.
  3704. >But he was managing that kind of agility while in full plate armour!
  3705. >You don't care how fit a guy can get, no way in hell can someone move like that in full plate. That's some video-game shit right there!
  3706. >And he doesn't even seem to be tiring out, either!
  3707. >The same, however, can't be said for the princesses.
  3708. >Both of them were getting visibly tired after the first few minutes of fighting, with all the armour they had on, and the huge attacks they made.
  3709.  
  3710. >Over the course of the fight, Incognito's expression seems to change, as well.
  3711. >His previously almost-gleeful expression slowly but surely devolved into a bored one. Not even tired, just bored.
  3712. >This guy is fucking bored from this?!
  3713. >At the next attack the princesses make, with both of them in a flying charge side-by-side, he changes his response completely:
  3714. >"Enough of this charade."
  3715. >His glove comes up again with a red glow, and unleashes another wave of magic against them, once again stopping them dead in their tracks.
  3716. >But he doesn't stop with just one swipe. He follows it up in quick succession with another four swipes, magic waves springing from each one.
  3717. >The two are thrown back by the first, and quickly erect a shield for the second. The third wave cracks their shield significantly, and the fourth breaks through completely, sending them back against the wall with a loud crack.
  3718. >The gems in his glove go dim, and another set come to life.
  3719. >"I would have thought that the guardians of Equestria would have taken it upon themselves to stay at their peak, to always be at the ready should something threaten them or their people."
  3720. >He points at them with his index and middle fingers extended.
  3721. >"Instead, I am met with ill-prepared, complacent rulers, not even worth the titles festooned upon them by the sniveling ponies they claim rule over!"
  3722. >His glove begins arcing with red magic energy.
  3723. >"And now, you shall pay the price for such failure."
  3724. >Twin streams of red magic lightning fire forth from his fingers, hitting the princesses dead-on. They begin to scream and convulse immediately upon contact.
  3725. >He maintains this for what seems like an entire half minute. They stop screaming two-thirds of the way through.
  3726.  
  3727. >His attack stops, and his hand comes down. The gems in his gauntlet once again go dim, and another set come to life.
  3728. >It... it was over.
  3729. >...
  3730. >No.
  3731. >No, no, no.
  3732. >That didn't just happen.
  3733. >That couldn't have happened.
  3734. >This fucking guy did not just beat the two most powerful ponies in the world single-handedly.
  3735. >He didn't just Sith lightning those two until they were...
  3736. >No.
  3737. >This can't be real.
  3738. >This is some kind of fucked-up nightmare, right?
  3739. >Look, I know that we haven't had the best of relationships, subconscious.
  3740. >But now would be a VERY good fucking time to react to the pinches and just wake me up already!
  3741. >And yet, the scene never changes.
  3742. >The princesses and their guards are all laid against the far wall, beaten and lightly steaming from the magic assault they all took.
  3743. >The clanking of metal brings your attention squarely back to Incognito.
  3744. >His sword was back in it's sheath, and he was walking over towards the princesses.
  3745. >You need to do something. Anything.
  3746. >You can't just let him do... whatever it is he's going to!
  3747. >Your legs don't react. Your whole body feels like it's frozen in place.
  3748. >All you can do is watch on in abject fear as he kneels next to their bodies.
  3749.  
  3750. >His right glove comes off, and the bare hand finds it's way to Celestia's neck, feeling around for something.
  3751. >He mirrors the action with Luna, and seems satisfied with what he finds.
  3752. >Was he... checking for their pulse?
  3753. >He was making sure they were...
  3754. >You need to leave. You need to get out of here.
  3755. >He turns his head to look upon his handiwork with the rest of the guards.
  3756. >Get up. Come on, get up!
  3757. >He looks down to reattach his normal gauntlet, inadvertently turning towards you while doing so.
  3758. >Come on, move! MOVE!
  3759. >The gauntlet clicks back into place, and he looks up after testing it.
  3760. >His eyes meet yours.
  3761. >...
  3762. >All you see is a look of surprise cross his face before everything goes black.
  3763. >...
  3764. >...
  3765. >...
  3766. >"But boss, they'll come back from this!"
  3767. >...
  3768. >"Not quickly enough, child. And especially not without their artifacts."
  3769. >Light feeds in through your eyes. It takes a moment to adjust.
  3770. >"But these are the princesses! They--"
  3771. >Man, your body feels like it weighs a ton...
  3772. >"Were defeated in less than eight minutes by a well trained ironblood."
  3773. >Man, what happened last night?
  3774.  
  3775. >"But you're our leader, my lord! The chosen one! What about us?"
  3776. >Jeez, you had the scariest fucking dream ever.
  3777. >"What I have done here today, can be accomplished by anyone with enough power at their disposal. Even Chrysalis was able to defeat them, my son."
  3778. >Yeah, you dreamt of some fucking pallete-swap-looking clone of you, kicking the shit out of Celestia and Luna. Pff, fucking crazy, right?
  3779. >"But I--"
  3780. >"Trust in me, my child. They will be no threat to us."
  3781. >You sit up and stretch out a bit. Your back is really sore. Fuck, what did you drink last night?
  3782. >"Ahh, excellent. Run along now, Azusa. We don't want to scare our friend here any more than he is already."
  3783. >Were you sleeping on the goddamn floor? Well, let's see what we've got here...
  3784. >Yep, that's definitely the floor. Okay, we've got an empty hallway, Incognito, and a bunch of gouges in the walls.
  3785. >Man, they should get the renovators down here, this is... pretty...
  3786. >Wait. Back up.
  3787. >Yep. That's definitely Incognito.
  3788. >That's Incognito.
  3789. >...
  3790. >Incognito, as in, the fucker from your dream?
  3791. >Your head darts off to the side, and you catch sight of--
  3792. >A pile of ponies lying around the wall.
  3793. >That wasn't a dream.
  3794. >That was real.
  3795. >Which means that...
  3796.  
  3797. >"I see the auspex I dispatched to the Gala was not deceiving me."
  3798. >He's standing right in front of you.
  3799. >You start to panic immediately.
  3800. >You try shuffling backwards away from him, only for your back to meet the wall.
  3801. >"I must admit, of all the things I expected to see in this blasted city, another human was a very far-flung possibility."
  3802. >You're trapped.
  3803. >He has you cornered.
  3804. >There's no way out.
  3805. >"Ahh, I see. You must have witnessed our fight. Understandable then, that you would be so afraid of me. My apologies."
  3806. >He reaches for something on his belt.
  3807. >It's a flask.
  3808. >"Here, an elixir of my own design. I find it helps to soothe the more fearful amongst my flock."
  3809. >He's handing it to you.
  3810. >You shouldn't take it. You know that.
  3811. >But you do.
  3812. >You don't want to drink it.
  3813. >But you do.
  3814. >It tastes like grass. It's disgusting.
  3815. >But you can't stop yourself.
  3816. >Suddenly, you feel... neutral. Not calm, but not afraid.
  3817. >It's like your fear just... melted away.
  3818. >And with that newfound lack of fear, came control over your actions.
  3819. >The first action is to spit out the 'drink', hacking and coughing as you do.
  3820.  
  3821. >"Much better, no? Don't worry, it's merely an unflinching draught. Simple alchemy. The compulsion you felt to drink it is part of it's design."
  3822. >You spend the better part of ten seconds getting the taste of grass out of your mouth.
  3823. >"Needless to say, a simple fear-driven compulsion is much more effective than force-feeding the potion, would you not agree?"
  3824. >You want to slap this fucking dickhead upside his head for feeding you that.
  3825. >But...
  3826. >Hey, you're not... scared?
  3827. >Well, no, not really. It's weird.
  3828. >You're not feeling afraid or anything, but it's like you know you should be.
  3829. >Like your brain is acknowledging it, but also ignoring it.
  3830. >"Now then, can you understand me?"
  3831. >Your not-fear is whisper-screaming at you to stay still and do nothing.
  3832. >But now you can just... overpower it. And respond.
  3833. "Yeah."
  3834. >His face lights up.
  3835. >"Wonderful! Now then, perhaps an introduction is in order? My name is--"
  3836. "Incognito. I heard."
  3837. >"Ah, yes, you would have heard that. Well, perhaps you would like to share your own name with me?"
  3838. "Name's Anonymous."
  3839. >His eyebrow raises once he hears your name.
  3840. >"Anonymous? How... uncanny."
  3841. >You try to stand back up, but having all the fear go missing did not magically give you back your strength, and you just collapse back down.
  3842.  
  3843. >"Easy there, Anonymous. You were quite weak when I found you."
  3844. >Weak.
  3845. >"Now then, perhaps you'd be so good as to tell me why you were with those guards, and the princesses?"
  3846. >You were noticing something already.
  3847. >Now that the fear was gone, other things were starting to replace it.
  3848. >Namely, anger.
  3849. >A lot of anger.
  3850. "None of your damn business."
  3851. >You know how pissy that came across.
  3852. >Too bad you're not afraid of coming across as pissy.
  3853. >"Now, now. There's no need to be so short with me. I'd prefer not to leave a bad first impression."
  3854. "A little late for that."
  3855. >"Did they take you along as a detection tool? To help root out my infiltrators? I know our eyesight is good enough to root them out, after all."
  3856. >You're not even going to entertain that one.
  3857. >"Ahh, perhaps you don't wish to admit they had cowed you with those guards?"
  3858. >Wait, what?
  3859. >"There's nothing to be ashamed of, Anonymous. Powerful as our species is, even you couldn't take that many guards on by yourself."
  3860. >Does...
  3861. >Does he think you were their prisoner?
  3862. >"Believe me, Anonymous, I know better than most the ugly nature of survival. If submitting to their demands is what it took, you cannot be blamed for that."
  3863. >His tone. He was pretending to be understanding, but he wasn't hiding the condescension as well as he thought.
  3864.  
  3865. >You thought you were angry before?
  3866. >You were fucking furious now.
  3867. >Looks like he noticed it, too.
  3868. >"I'm sorry, I said too much. Perhaps you'd like to talk about something--"
  3869. "Shut up."
  3870. >"Excuse me?"
  3871. "I said, shut up!"
  3872. >He wasn't expecting you to yell like that.
  3873. >"Settle down. I understand your anger towards yourself, but--"
  3874. "I'm angry about my friends being killed, you fucking cocksucker!"
  3875. >Well, things got quiet real fast.
  3876. >He also wasn't expecting your inner sailor to come forth, either.
  3877. >Wait, what's he looking sad for?
  3878. >"Ah. I see. I did not realize you had friends with you here."
  3879. >Why is he sad about that?
  3880. >"Had I known these blasted ponies took them from you, I would have commemorated their memory with the blood of their killers."
  3881. >...
  3882. >Excuse me?
  3883. >This...
  3884. >How did...
  3885. >...
  3886. >The fury from a few moments before came right back, full force.
  3887. >If you had any strength in you, you would have smacked this colossal dickhole upside the head, consequences be damned.
  3888. >Not like you'd be afraid of it.
  3889.  
  3890. "No, dipshit! You're the one who killed them!"
  3891. >Fuck, you wanted to deck this guy so badly.
  3892. >"I killed them? Are you mad? I've never met another human in my time here, besides you!"
  3893. "The ponies, shitheel!"
  3894. >"What about them?"
  3895. >You see the gears click in his head.
  3896. >About fucking time.
  3897. >Fuck, you wish you could just do... SOMETHING to this guy!
  3898. >Maybe beat the--
  3899. >Your already bumpy train of thought was totally derailed by laughter.
  3900. >His laughter.
  3901. >He was laughing.
  3902. >The fuck was he laughing about?
  3903. >"Hahahah! Ponies, being your friends? Hah! I did not take you for a joking type, mister Anonymous!"
  3904. >...
  3905. >"Ah, your humours are still intact after your trials here! How wonderful it is, that these parasites did not take that... from you."
  3906. >His mirth died off through that sentence as he scrutinized you.
  3907. >In an act of what can only be described as pure wrath, you muster enough strength to launch forward from your sitting position, fist clenched and outstretched.
  3908. >He wasn't prepared for this, and tried moving out of your way, but not quickly enough for you.
  3909. >Your fist collides with his temple with a loud smack.
  3910. >You didn't realize how much it actually hurt to punch someone.
  3911.  
  3912. >His head snaps to the side, but he otherwise stays in place.
  3913. >That's the third time he's looked shocked like that.
  3914. >His face soon slides to a neutral expression.
  3915. >"You were being serious."
  3916. >And then slides to an annoyed one.
  3917. >That not-fear from before is going into overdrive now.
  3918. >"I see."
  3919. >Huh, when did he lose the huge gauntlet?
  3920. >You only notice that once he starts taking them off.
  3921. >"It appears I have misjudged you."
  3922. >His left hand reaches out and grasps your shirt, and lifts you to your feet.
  3923. >If you could still be afraid, you'd probably be pissing yourself right now.
  3924. >"You know,"
  3925. >He slams you against the wall-- FUCKING SHIT THAT HURTS
  3926. >"I find it difficult to believe that such a thing would be possible."
  3927. >Hooh boy, he's pissed. Low-key pissed, but pissed all the same.
  3928. >"Ponies are fearful, small-minded creatures. Yet they possess such unfathomable hubris, that they would believe themselves masters of the world. Some even proclaim dominion over the very stars in the sky.
  3929. >"Ponies are amongst the most duplicitous race when it comes to their non-pony allies and neighbours. They speak widely of such things as 'friendship', yet are more than content to leave their 'friends' destitute and impoverished.
  3930. >"So, you're going to have to explain to me just how one of the most vain and xenophobic races on this entire planet, somehow managed to make an exception for a hairless alien like yourself."
  3931. >...
  3932. >Fucking hell, that was the angstiest thing you've heard since coming here.
  3933. >It's like you just read a fourteen-year-old's diary.
  3934.  
  3935. >Funny, a lot of that previous anger was gone from that punch.
  3936. >Made thinking a lot clearer.
  3937. >You know, you were probably going to get the shit kicked out of you either way.
  3938. >Might as well kick him down a peg while you were on the way there.
  3939. "H-hey, do you use your speeches to shave?"
  3940. >"What?"
  3941. "'Cause that was the edgiest thing I've heard all year."
  3942. >If his super-annoyed expression was anything to go by, that did the trick.
  3943. >Oh yeah, he was going to push your shit in.
  3944. >But that was totally worth it.
  3945. >"You're funny."
  3946. >Next thing you know, pain explodes through your chest, along with the wind getting knocked out of you.
  3947. >The fist currently below your sternum might have something to do with that.
  3948. >Another punch to that same area, and you were choking on nothing.
  3949. >He sure punches like a guy who dances around in heavy-ass armour.
  3950. >The next punch is to your stomach.
  3951. >It's kind of surreal, how much this hurts right now.
  3952. >The last punch is in your left side, which sends you to the floor.
  3953. >It's really hard to breathe after all of that.
  3954. >Maybe that wasn't such a good idea, after all...
  3955. >Well, at least this time you're immobile because of getting beaten up.
  3956. >...
  3957. >This angle you're lying down at.
  3958. >You can see all the ponies from here.
  3959. >The guards, Celestia, Luna. Even Razor Wind was in the mix.
  3960.  
  3961. >You just sit there, staring off at their limp forms.
  3962. >All the while, a deep melancholy replaces most of the anger from before.
  3963. >You'd let them down.
  3964. >You weren't able to help them. To keep them safe.
  3965. >And now, they were...
  3966. >...
  3967. >H-heh, that's funny.
  3968. >The wet eyes thing really fucks with how they look, d-doesn't it?
  3969. >B-because it almost looks like they're still m-moving a bit.
  3970. >You'd have spent more time looking on at them, if a pair of iron-plated boots didn't come down in front of you, followed by Incognito kneeling down.
  3971. >"Still conscious, are we? Hm. You didn't strike me as a glutton for punishment. But then, you didn't strike me as a horse lover, either."
  3972. >...
  3973. >"In fact, that might just be why you like them so much. I'm surprised I didn't see it earlier."
  3974. >Ahh, there's the building feeling of pure hate.
  3975. >"You really enjoy them belittling you constantly, don't you?"
  3976. >Look at this fucking guy. Acting like a psychic Freud with a Christ complex.
  3977. >"I know better than most, just how much ponykind enjoys sneering down their nose at the less-gifted races. But a member of a race without any magic?"
  3978. >He just loves to hear himself talk, doesn't he?
  3979. >"Why, I can scarcely imagine the terrible, emasculating experience you must enjoy so very much."
  3980. >Keep talking, you fucking twatstain.
  3981. >"In fact, I can already imagine how that conversation would go!"
  3982.  
  3983. >"You'd be begging the princesses to take you along on their newest adventure, crying to the heavens for something new in your empty life,
  3984. >"And their dismissal would be the same response every time:
  3985. >"They'd never deign to take you along, because of your lack of magic. They would have you believe you're too weak to defend yourself out there.
  3986. >"But that is perfectly fine. After all, you are just a human.
  3987. >"A powerless wretch! Who would expect anything meaningful out of you?
  3988. >"But who knows, once they depart and forget your existence as they play the hero abroad, they might remember you briefly enough to bring you a token souvenir from their travels.
  3989. >"Yes... I can scarcely imagine such a terrible, powerless existence."
  3990. >...
  3991. >Wow.
  3992. >This guy must fart into an air compressor for optimal fart-sniffing delivery.
  3993. >Because that just topped the list for angstiest thing ever heard by you.
  3994. >And all that emphasis of being powerless? Having no magic?
  3995. >You've seen IMAX films that project less than this guy.
  3996. >After the brief disbelief period passes, the stock value on hatred continues to grow at record rates.
  3997. >"I think... I think I shall leave you here, with your precious slave masters. I will let you enjoy the rest of your time here, being belittled by them."
  3998. >He rises back to his feet. A smug smile comes to his face as he does.
  3999. >"You shall bear witness to the ruin I will bring to your masters in the coming months. You shall see their agony as I slowly take everything they hold dear from them.
  4000.  
  4001. >"And when their fall is complete, and they kiss my feet, begging for mercy from the ones they wronged, you shall be there to join them, as well."
  4002. >One last look from him to you, and he began walking away.
  4003. >"I pray it will be as satisfying as I am envisioning it, mister Anonymous."
  4004. >His footsteps echo through the hallway, until they become too quiet to hear anymore.
  4005. >And just like that, you're alone.
  4006. >Alone with the others.
  4007. >You look on at them again. At their limp forms.
  4008. >...
  4009. >You must stare at them for what feels like hours.
  4010. >Hoofsteps can he heard coming down the other end of the hallway.
  4011. >Royal guard, with medics in tow, rush over to help the guards.
  4012. >You can see Twilight enter the fray right behind them.
  4013. >She's saying something. She sounds really upset.
  4014. >You can't make out what she's saying. It sounds like everything's underwater.
  4015. >You see her casting all kinds of spells on them, tears in her eyes.
  4016. >She looks fractically around for anything else. Then she spots you.
  4017. >Your vision starts to blur.
  4018. >Even with the watery hearing, you can still hear her yell your name out.
  4019. >Even with blurry vision, you can see the mass of purple rush over to you.
  4020. >You can hear her asking you things. Feel her hooves on your shoulders.
  4021. >You can feel her crawling underneath you, trying to hoist you onto her back.
  4022. >The last thing you feel is her succeeding, and carrying you over to the guards.
  4023. >Finally, your vision goes dark.
  4024. >...
  4025.  
  4026. @@@@@@@@
  4027.  
  4028. >...
  4029. >You've had a few hangovers in your day.
  4030. >Bouts of excessive drinking back on Earth were more common than you'd like to admit.
  4031. >This pain, however?
  4032. >Totally different beast.
  4033. >It's not your head that hurt this time around.
  4034. >It was everything but your head. You didn't even notice the slight headache until you really focused on it.
  4035. >Moving was basically impossible for you right now.
  4036. >What you could do, was open your eyes.
  4037. >For a really well-lit, white room, you adjusted pretty quickly.
  4038. >Yeah, there's definitely no alcohol behind this Scooby Mystery.
  4039. >Where the fuck are you, even?
  4040. >Trying to crane the neck was met with more pain than you wanted to handle right this second. You make do with your eyes.
  4041. >Let's see...
  4042. >The white, sterile environment, the fairly thin sheets, the backrest of the bed up at an angle?
  4043. >This was looking like a hospital room.
  4044. >So, you're in a hospital.
  4045. >Last time you were in one of these was after you were found by Twilight and the other girls, when you quite literally fell into the world.
  4046. >So what the fuck happened to you, to get you to land here again?
  4047. >Try as you might, your mind's too hazy to sift through the memories.
  4048. >You'd have tried harder, but you heard a door open behind the privacy curtains.
  4049.  
  4050. >And now you can hear voices. One you don't recognize, and the other...
  4051. >Well, speak of the devil and he shall appear, as they say. Or she.
  4052. >"How's his recovery, doctor?"
  4053. >"Well, it was a shocker to find out about the iron content in his blood, princess. Completely ruled out any magical healing options for us."
  4054. >Well, there goes that secret.
  4055. >Still not sure if that's totally illegal or not. Guess we'll find out.
  4056. >"Do the others know? About... that?"
  4057. >"Only princess Cadance has been informed so far. The other princesses are still not conscious. Should be plenty of time to explain the situation."
  4058. >"Thanks, doctor. I just... I always wondered why he was resistant to any magic I tried on him. I didn't think it was because of that."
  4059. >"Nopony could have predicted that, princess. But from what I've gathered, it seems to be a natural part of his biology, and not an artificial infusion."
  4060. >"That's a relief, at least."
  4061. >"Indeed. He certainly hails from a strange land, does he not?"
  4062. >A sensible chuckle follows that line, and just as they turn the corner.
  4063. >Huh, the doctor's a dude. Unicorn, too. Don't see many stallions around town, so that's something different, at least.
  4064. >"Now, I'll need to take a few more--"
  4065. >Oh look, they've noticed you're awake. Twilight's response is a gasp.
  4066. >"ANON!"
  4067. >She makes to fly over and presumably hug the shit outta you, but pulls back at the last moment. Probably the whole 'tons of pain right now' thing.
  4068. >She settles with landing to the right of your bed, instead.
  4069. >Man, she's more happy than usual to see you. She's starting to tear up.
  4070.  
  4071. >Doctor what's-his-face decides to pipe up.
  4072. >"You're awake already? Goodness, you must be made of some stern stuff, mister Anonymous."
  4073. >Trying to talk isn't too successful. Hurts too damn much.
  4074. >"Please, don't try to talk or move, mister Anonymous. You took quite a severe beating back there, and I don't want you hampering your recovery."
  4075. >Wait, beating?
  4076. >When did you get the shit kicked out of you?
  4077. >Curse you and your slowness, brain.
  4078. >Twilight makes herself known by holding your hand. Stings, but you'll deal.
  4079. >"A-anon, I... I'm so, so glad you're all right!"
  4080. >Holy fuck-a-moly, she's crying about this.
  4081. >What in the holy mother of fuck happened?!
  4082. >The doc clears his throat:
  4083. >"I know you can't respond right now, mister Anonymous, but we need to know. Do you remember anything about what happened to you, or the princesses?"
  4084. >Princesses? They're drawn up in this, too?
  4085. >Shit, this sounds really bad.
  4086. >Okay, Anon. Think.
  4087. >You were... going to the Gala, right. You went with Luna. Then there was this creepy fuck following you with a pair of changelin--
  4088. >...
  4089. >That precise moment is when the dam of memories breaks.
  4090. >The attack. Helping catch the changelings. Luna and Celestia heading to the vaults.
  4091. >Incognito.
  4092.  
  4093. >You remember him... No, the doc said they were unconscious, right? So not dead!
  4094. >You remember him drugging the fear out of you, then talking down to you.
  4095. >You remember him beating the snot out of you. Even his edgy monologues.
  4096. >But most of all, you remember just how helpless you were.
  4097. >It's too much for you.
  4098. >A different kind of dam breaks, and you do something you haven't done in years, pain be damned.
  4099. >You start crying.
  4100. >It was so extremely painful to do.
  4101. >F-for y-y- Oh fuck, you can't even meme right now.
  4102. >You barely notice Twilight coming up into the bed with you, covering you with her wings and nuzzling you as gently as she can.
  4103. >This continues for another not-forever, with her trying her best to comfort you throughout the whole thing.
  4104. >It does stop, however.
  4105. >Just about everything hurts now.
  4106. >But you're too drained to care.
  4107. >Not drained enough that you can't hear the doctor again:
  4108. >"I... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cause you more pain. Just... listen, Anonymous. We've got some alchemic healing coming for you, that should get you straightened out quicker. Just hang in a bit longer, okay?"
  4109. >You nod in response, against your better judgment.
  4110. >What was that fucking edgelord talking about, vain and xenophobic? These were the nicest people you've ever met in your life!
  4111. >"Shall I... leave you alone with him, your highness?"
  4112. >It's her turn to nod to him. Without another word, he steps out. The door can be heard closing.
  4113.  
  4114. >The two of you just kind of lie there, not saying a word.
  4115. >Probably because you couldn't say much of anything.
  4116. >Though, there also wasn't much to say.
  4117. >The combination of exhaustion, pain, and Twilight's comforting presence worked wonders in having you drift back to sleep again.
  4118. >...
  4119. >"Anon?"
  4120. >No, go away. Tryin'a sleep 'ere.
  4121. >"Anon, please wake up."
  4122. >You're not the boss of me, disembodied voice.
  4123. >"Anon, come on."
  4124. >Oh, fine.
  4125. >It was tough opening your eyes again, what with the pain being omnipresent.
  4126. >Though once you got them open, you were greeted by Twilight and your mystery doctor, both looking pleased to see you.
  4127. >Twilight was way more composed this time, but still visibly happy to see you.
  4128. >"Good morning, Anon! Feeling better today?"
  4129. >A nod. Well, this is easier already.
  4130. >Oh hey, what's up, doc?
  4131. >"Hello, mister Anonymous. I know we haven't been introduced yet, but I'll be sure to give you a proper introduction once you're able to speak."
  4132. >He heads off your 'wtf man' look with his next line:
  4133. >"Fortunately for you, that will be very soon. We've finished up our alchemical healing potion for you, mister Anonymous!"
  4134. >He presents a small glass flask, filled with...
  4135. >Okay, that's fucking disgusting. It looks like someone puked in a flask.
  4136.  
  4137. >"I know it isn't the most appetizing thing around, but we didn't have time to get the flavouring ingredients right, since I suspect you'll be wanting out of that bed as soon as possible."
  4138. >Hm, good-tasting meds, or no more fucking pain?
  4139. >Well golly gosh, that's such a hard decision.
  4140. >You nod your approval.
  4141. >"Wonderful! I'll just come over and administer it, if you don't mind."
  4142. >So many fucking nods already. But he does come over to your left side, and floats the flask over to your mouth.
  4143. >Well, here goes nothing.
  4144. >Down the hatch it goes--
  4145. >JESUS CHRIST WHAT THE FUCK EVEN IS THIS SHIT MAN
  4146. >It tastes like someone pureed dirt and rotting watermelons together!
  4147. >It was a painful slog, getting it down, but somehow you got it.
  4148. >Within moments, the pain started to recede insanely fast.
  4149. >Unlike the last potion you got, this one actually did recover some strength.
  4150. >Of course, the first motion you make is to sit up and cough profusely.
  4151. >Oh hey, a glass of water.
  4152. >Downing that improved things a lot.
  4153. >And milk, too?!
  4154. >You could kiss this doctor right now.
  4155. >The taste was almost completely gone when that glass emptied out.
  4156. >"Feeling better, mister Anonymous?"
  4157. >You turn to him with a smile on your face.
  4158. "I know you said it wouldn't taste good, but I wasn't expecting 'outhouse water' levels of bad taste, doc."
  4159.  
  4160. >Fuck, talking like a normal person right away!
  4161. >That was some good shit he gave you, taste notwithstanding.
  4162. >"Uh, wow. It worked that quickly?"
  4163. "Yep."
  4164. >"Nothing's wrong? No pain or anything?"
  4165. "Not a thing, doc."
  4166. >Whatever he had to say next was eclipsed by a very familiar pony tackle-hugging you from behind.
  4167. >Your smile grew a whole lot. You punctuate that by reaching around and pulling her in front of you for the optimum pony hugging experience.
  4168. "Sure looks like a full recovery to me. Thanks, doc."
  4169. >He seemed to be in disbelief at the scene unfolding in front of him. To his credit though, he regained his composure pretty fast.
  4170. >"Yes, well, that is good to see. Now, I believe I promised you an introduction?"
  4171. "I may remember something about that."
  4172. >"I'm doctor Valiant Heart, head of the royal medical services here in Canterlot castle. I oversee and work on the royals, nobility, and our guests."
  4173. "Nice to meet you. Think I'll stick to 'doc', if it's all the same to you. Oh, and just call me Anon."
  4174. >"Oh, I don't mind at all, uh, Anon. The informality is quite refreshing."
  4175. >You two shake appendages with that. Twilight decides to give her input from behind her prison of maximum comfort:
  4176. >"Doctor Valiant is really good, Anon. He's been my doctor since I was Celestia's student, and he's been helping everypony here since the attack."
  4177. >"That's actually what I wanted to discuss with you, Anon."
  4178.  
  4179. >Should have figured it would come to that.
  4180. "Hold up. Before you ask... whatever it is you're gonna ask me, I've gotta know. How are the others doing? You know, the ones that were with me?"
  4181. >"They're all still alive, miraculously enough, though most are still unconscious, princesses included. They were exposed to a large amount of negative energies, and need time to flush it out of their systems."
  4182. >You're increasingly thankful for your magic resist. Even if that's probably going to come up later.
  4183. >"Now, since you're the only one in that group who's awake, I need you to explain to me exactly what happened. I need names, and lots of details."
  4184. >He punctuates his sentence by floating over a big notebook and a pencil.
  4185. >You take a deep breath. This wasn't gonna be fun to relive.
  4186. >Luckily, Twilight's there to offer moral support.
  4187. >And so, you tell them what happened.
  4188. >You start with the attack, being led over to the other girls, and Razor Wind getting your help in rooting out changelings.
  4189. >Twilight's reaction was about as good as you'd expect: admonishing you for going into danger headlong like that, even with the night guard protecting you.
  4190. >You tell them about the gryphons and changelings working together, and describe that symbol they wore for him.
  4191. >Then, you tell them about meeting up with the princesses. Followed by meeting Incognito.
  4192. >"WHAT?! Another human?!"
  4193. "Yeah, I didn't believe it at first, either."
  4194. >You go on to describe his get-up, with Twilight balking further at the mention of all that iron being used, and being confused by the glove thing.
  4195.  
  4196. >Telling them about the fight with Incognito was a pretty painful experience, though Twilight's ever-present hugging made it a no-tears affair.
  4197. >Valiant obviously wants to ask further, but he waits for you to finish your story.
  4198. >You finish up by telling him about how he moved on to you, fed you that potion, his exact words and the tone he used, and then how he pushed your shit in, and left you there in the hallway.
  4199. >You're not sure if Twilight's sniffling is more for you or for her, but you hold her close either way.
  4200. >Looks like it's time to answer the doc's questions:
  4201. >"I'll have to pass this on to the intelligence ponies and the EUP command, and I'm sure they'll have their own questions for you. But I'm more interested in the harm that befell the princesses and their guards, Anon."
  4202. "S-sure, doc, what do you need to know?"
  4203. >"Only one thing, thankfully. Are you certain your description of the magic this Incognito used is accurate?"
  4204. "Yeah. Crimson-red and violent looking. Why?"
  4205. >"That's what I was afraid of. The princesses and the guards were all subjected to dark magic, but the user was almost certainly a soul-binder and runesmith."
  4206. >That one really rustled Twilight's jimmies, since she burst out of her embrace to turn to the good doctor when she heard it.
  4207. >"WHAT?! He was binding souls?!"
  4208. >"I'm afraid so. That alone has made the dark magic more malignant than it normally would be. Judging from the description, I'd say it will remain in the systems of the princesses for up to two weeks."
  4209. >Holy shit.
  4210.  
  4211. "Holy shit."
  4212. >"As for the guards, I would estimate up to three months before it can be removed from their systems."
  4213. >"B-but why are they still unconscious? I thought dark magic only kept you asleep at quarter-strength!"
  4214. >"Normally it does, but the user also being a runesmith reduces the power needed to keep them unconscious by a considerable amount. They likely won't wake until two-thirds of it is removed from their systems."
  4215. >"Isn't there some way to speed it up?"
  4216. >"Not without risking permanent damage to their mana circulation, princess. I'm sorry, but they will all need to endure this by themselves."
  4217. >Damn it, you're supposed to be the sad one here. Now Twilight's the one looking distraught and defeated.
  4218. >She recovers a little bit with some more hugging, however.
  4219. >If there's one constant thing in horseland, it's that ponies sure love their hugs. Especially from you, it seems.
  4220. >Although, you had some questions of your own.
  4221. "Hey, guys? I'm not a big expert on this, but why does it matter what evil magic stuff he used before? Isn't magic just magic?"
  4222. >"Normally, yes. But dark magic is very different, in that it is heavily influenced by the caster's spell history. You could say that it has a memory of it's own, and carries the 'baggage' of it's past into everything it does."
  4223. >So it's the--
  4224. >Heh, maybe that'll lighten the mood a bit.
  4225. "So... it's like the insane ex-wife of magic?"
  4226. >Yep, that one did it. They both had to fight back some laughter.
  4227.  
  4228. >"That-- Oh goodness me, that's... a strangely apt way of putting it, Anon. But yes, you are technically correct."
  4229. "There's something else, doc. Incognito, he mentioned some group called Sol Invictus. Who's that?"
  4230. >Twilight doesn't seem familiar with it, but the good doctor sure does. And not in a good way, if his sudden 180 from amused to stoic was any indicator.
  4231. >"I'm afraid I'm not allowed to say anything on the matter."
  4232. >Damn, thought not. Worth a shot, either way--
  4233. >"Doctor, I want to know the answer to that, too. What is Sol Invictus?"
  4234. >"I'm sorry, princess, but I can't even tell you. Only Celestia can answer any inquiries regarding them."
  4235. >"But--"
  4236. "It's fine, Twilight. Just thought I'd ask."
  4237. >If they were the pony illuminati gestapo types you thought they were, they'd probably skin the guy's family alive if he talked. No reason to press it.
  4238. >"I'm sorry I can't be more helpful, but--"
  4239. "It's fine, really. I understand."
  4240. >"Yes, well. Is there anything else you want to ask?"
  4241. >Hmm...
  4242. "Nothing right now, doc."
  4243. >"Good. Now, sorry to leave so abruptly, but I still need to help with the royal guard's casualties."
  4244. "Hey, don't let me keep you. Nice seeing you, doc."
  4245. >"Likewise, Anon. Get well soon."
  4246. >A nod from him to Twilight was all he gave before he trots off. You wait until you hear the door close before you start talking again.
  4247.  
  4248. "Well, that sucks."
  4249. >"Anon, what was all that about?"
  4250. "Just wanted him to stay in the dark about this next part."
  4251. >"Next part? Anon, are you hiding something?"
  4252. "Nothing bad. At least, I hope not."
  4253. >She doesn't look too happy with you. Can't say you blame her. You take another breath and start to explain yourself:
  4254. "Remember when I walked off into those ruins, back at the Badlands?"
  4255. >"Yes, why?"
  4256. >Gonna have to phrase this carefully...
  4257. "I... may have caught sight of those Sol Invictus guys out in the ruins."
  4258. >"What?! Why didn't you say anything?"
  4259. "Oh, they threatened me with treason if I talked."
  4260. >No response but a jaw drop. Takes her a moment to recover.
  4261. >"Treason?! Anon, what do you know?"
  4262. "I'm going from what they told me here, so keep that in mind. Apparently, they're Celestia's right-hoof agents. They 'take care' of threats around the world before they become your problem."
  4263. >"I'm not sure I want to know what 'take care of' means."
  4264. "Neither do I. But when I saw them, they found a secret passage to somewhere or another in the ruins, and they burned everything in it."
  4265. >"What?! They... they burned important history?! Just like that?"
  4266. >Important history.
  4267. >...
  4268. >Was...
  4269. >Was that fucking guy right about that?
  4270. >About stealing their history?
  4271.  
  4272. >"Anon, no."
  4273. >Huh, what?
  4274. >"Anon, I know what you're thinking, and just... no. I don't care what that other human said, nothing he did there was justifiable, you hear me?"
  4275. >Seems she got the same idea.
  4276. "Don't worry, I know. But... it does sound like he's telling at least some of the truth there, doesn't he?"
  4277. >"I... I don't know."
  4278. "So... no treason for me, then?"
  4279. >"Anon, I will break you out of jail myself if they actually try it."
  4280. >See, this kind of fuzzy feeling is exactly what you needed.
  4281. >"But once we help straighten things out here as best we can, I'm going to find out just who they are and what they're up to."
  4282. "Don't forget our new biped friend."
  4283. >"Oh don't worry, I'll find out everything we can about him and his group."
  4284. >A little beat of silence passes, as none of you have anything else to say.
  4285. >"So, uh, can you walk?"
  4286. "I... don't know, actually. Let me try."
  4287. >And try you do. Very successfully. Man, that potion thing worked great.
  4288. "Looks like that's a yes."
  4289. >"Wow, that's amazing! But there's one other thing I want to ask before we head off, though."
  4290. "Sure, what is it?"
  4291. >"Anon... how significant was the metal iron back in your world?"
  4292. >Oh, piss.
  4293. >Should have seen this coming.
  4294. >Just... just be honest with her here, man.
  4295.  
  4296. "It's the ironblood thing, isn't it?"
  4297. >"Huh? You knew?"
  4298. >Okay, maybe not completely honest.
  4299. "Not until a few weeks ago. Read about it, then remembered my high school biology classes. Didn't know how you'd all react, though."
  4300. >"Well, I... Okay, maybe you're right about that. But you didn't answer my question."
  4301. >Well, back to sitting on the bed for you. She follows you on, though.
  4302. "Back on Earth, it's one of the most common metals around. Hell, the core of our planet is iron. Once we figured out how to smelt it early on, we used it for just about everything."
  4303. >"A-an iron-cored planet? W-wow, I didn't think... Okay, I believe you now, when you say there's absolutely no magic on your world."
  4304. >Time to act hurt.
  4305. "Twilight, you didn't believe me?"
  4306. >"Oh, shush. But... what do you mean, used in everything?"
  4307. "Buildings, weapons, tools, cutlery, pots and pans, I really do mean everything. We even alloy it with carbon to make steel, which is one of the toughest metals around."
  4308. >"Steel? That's a real alloy?!"
  4309. "It's real for us, anyway."
  4310. >"E-even in those moon ships you mentioned before?"
  4311. "Yep. It's so common, in fact, that most animals, including us, need small amounts of it to form new blood cells. It's how we've got that really red blood, you see."
  4312. >Turns out that pony blood isn't really red. More like a kind of pinkish colour.
  4313. >Don't ask how you know that.
  4314.  
  4315. >Something seems to click in her head when you mention the blood thing.
  4316. >"You need it to form new blood? Ohmygosh, was that why you were really weak a few days after getting your house? From that nail you got caught on?"
  4317. "Yep. That was the only time I actually bled here, funnily enough."
  4318. >"Wait. So, how did you recover if you were clearly deficient?"
  4319. "I... may have gotten some supplements mixed up for me."
  4320. >She knows who you're talking about immediately.
  4321. >"Ohh. You... you've got that stored away safely, right?"
  4322. "Yeah, don't worry about it."
  4323. >Time for your own question.
  4324. "But hold up, Twilight. Why is it that iron, of all things, totally blocks magic? I mean, iron's a really common metal even on other planets!"
  4325. >"I'm not sure, Anon. I tried doing a paper on it once a few years ago, but there just wasn't much useful information. But it's not just iron."
  4326. "Wait, there's more?"
  4327. >"Nickel and cobalt also block magic, too. No other metals do, though."
  4328. >Huh. Something about that bugs you.
  4329. >"It's like there's this invisible forcefield around the particles that just weakens magic by a lot, and stops it existing if it gets close enough. That's why horn suppressors and wing bindings are made out of iron."
  4330. >They were? Good to know, you guess.
  4331. >"All I can really tell you is that maybe Celestia or Luna can tell us why that is. We just have to, well, wait for them to recover."
  4332. "Which means a lot of waiting."
  4333. >"Yeah..."
  4334. >Well, this got a bit more glum.
  4335. >Not on my watch.
  4336.  
  4337. "Well, you said you wanted to head out somewhere?"
  4338. >"Huh? Oh, yeah! The girls really want to see you again after everything that happened, and doctor Valiant said you could help out around the medical wing if you wanted to."
  4339. >Now that sounded a lot more productive than sulking.
  4340. "That... that all sounds really nice to me. What are we waiting for?"
  4341. >"Follow me, Anon! Oh, they're gonna be so happy to see you okay!"
  4342. >And out you go, into what's essentially a more pretty version of a regular hospital layout, except inside a castle.
  4343. >Meeting the other girls was about as physical and joyful as you expected. Every one of them jumped you, and things graduated to a big group hug.
  4344. >Yeah, you think you've hit your hug limit for the day.
  4345. >Twilight poses the same hospital volunteer question to them as well, which of course they all jump at. Before you know it, you're all back in the hospital, beelining it to Valiant's office. Which he just so happened to be back at.
  4346. >Huh, wasn't he going to help the royal guard when he left?
  4347. >In any case, he accepts the volunteer efforts, but cautions you to take it easy with exerting yourself.
  4348. >You and the ladies all went around to each of the rooms, helping the nurses and awake patients with anything they needed.
  4349. >You even got to scratch a few ears while you were at it.
  4350. >The work was tiring, however, and Twilight had to leave to take over the whole sun-and-moon thing to make it night.
  4351. >You decide to hit the sack, as well. Bidding everyone goodbye, you head back to your actual castle room, and flop onto the bed. You're out moments later.
  4352.  
  4353. @@@@@@@@
  4354.  
  4355. >"My queen, we've spotted Incognito's raiding party!"
  4356. >"Oh, they've fled already? Hm, a pity. Open the doors for them, anyway."
  4357. >There she goes again, writing Lord Matthias off like that.
  4358. >You don't know why she hates him so much.
  4359. >He's helped the new hive so much!
  4360. >He even keeps those nasty gryphons in line, away from everyling here!
  4361. >Why your queen continues being so hostile to Lord Matthias like that, you don't think you'll ever know.
  4362. >It's not like she'd ever listen to you.
  4363. >Hay, it's not like she'll listen to anyling else.
  4364. >Anyling, of course, but her close council of two.
  4365. >The only changelings to have names of their own.
  4366. >Identical twins from a single egg: Hollowfang and Venomfang.
  4367. >Hollowfang is always seeking approval, always doing whatever your queen asks of him. He even grooms her before the actual groomers get to, given the chance!
  4368. >You hated him. His massive inferiority complex, his spiteful attitude, and his grating, nasally voice!
  4369. >Why did your queen ever pick him of all lings?
  4370. >But Venomfang was completely different. So different, that you can't understand how the two are in any way related!
  4371. >Venomfang was quiet, but spoke in a harsh voice when he did speak. He takes it upon himself to advise your queen in everything relating to war.
  4372. >And he loves war. He loves violence in general. Your queen often has to restrain him from attacking anyling who steps out of line.
  4373. >He's the reason everyling is so afraid of questioning your queen.
  4374. >Yourself included.
  4375.  
  4376. >But even if he wasn't there, your queen would still punish you for speaking up, anyways.
  4377. >After all, you're just a lowly drone.
  4378. >She doesn't expect anything from you.
  4379. >Anything but your silent obedience to her every whim.
  4380. >All you can hope for is for her to not make another massive mistake.
  4381. >Like letting that Thorax escape.
  4382. >Oh, how you hate Thorax for what he did.
  4383. >Starting a coup like that!
  4384. >The forms he cursed the other lings with!
  4385. >There had to be some kind of dark magic at play there, you just know it!
  4386. >You don't blame him for leaving your hive like that.
  4387. >But seeking the help of ponies?
  4388. >Everyling spared from that vile curse of his felt the sting of that betrayal.
  4389. >Especially after everything Lord Matthias said about the ponies.
  4390. >How they're awful creatures, who think they control everything.
  4391. >He pointed out how Celestia moves the sun, for goodness sake!
  4392. >Where Lord Matthias comes from, his sun moves itself!
  4393. >And it's like that everywhere in the universe, as well!
  4394. >Anywhere but here.
  4395. >You didn't even consider how much ponies controlled everything until he just... pointed it out like he did.
  4396. >It was eye-opening.
  4397. >And yet, your queen still rolled her eyes at this!
  4398. >What was wrong with her?!
  4399.  
  4400. >Your thoughts were interrupted by the sound of gryphon-drawn carriages pulling into the hive's landing hall, the shifting wall closing behind them.
  4401. >You raced to the front of the gathering swarm of lings.
  4402. >You always watched him return.
  4403. >You don't care what your queen said, he was NOT defeated!
  4404. >Lord Matthias is too smart for that!
  4405. >The princesses didn't stand a chance against him, you just know it!
  4406. >And on the other side of the hall, you see your gryphon 'allies' massing, too.
  4407. >You may not like the gryphons, but they seem as excited for Lord Matthias's return as you are.
  4408. >On that, you could agree.
  4409. >You see the gryphons and changelings disembarking from the carriages.
  4410. >There were much less than there were before.
  4411. >So, they were all...
  4412. >...
  4413. >No. No, it was a bold plan, attacking Canterlot at the height of their power like that. With the Grand Galloping Gala in full swing.
  4414. >They knew the risks.
  4415. >They would be remembered as heroes for what they did.
  4416. >And you're certain Lord Matthias saved all that he could.
  4417. >Off to the side, you see your queen gathering with her advisors and some of her guards at the front of the line of carriages.
  4418. >She looks unimpressed. She always does.
  4419. >A battered changeling, still in his ragged armour, leaps down from the lead carriage to greet your queen.
  4420.  
  4421. >"Well, it looks like at least some of you made it back. Tell me, drone, what happened in Canterlot?"
  4422. >Please, please let him be all right.
  4423. >The changeling responds to your queen:
  4424. >"We lost a hundred and three changelings and thirty-six gryphons, my queen."
  4425. >N-no...
  4426. >You didn't think there would be that many gone.
  4427. >Even the gryphons...
  4428. >"Hmph. A waste of perfectly good drones, as I expected. What else?"
  4429. >"Lord Matthias is--"
  4430. >"Incognito, little drone. You will not refer to him as 'lord' again."
  4431. >You could almost taste the envy in her voice.
  4432. >"Y-yes, my queen. L-- uh, Incognito is unharmed and well, my queen."
  4433. >YES! You knew he'd be okay!
  4434. >"Hah, did not see fit to join the fight, did he?"
  4435. >"Lo-- Incognito wishes to relay that information to you directly, my queen."
  4436. >"Oh, this will be fun, hearing him explain his failure to me."
  4437. >Your queen begins walking to the biggest carriage in the middle of the line. She doesn't notice the grin on the changeling's face as she turns from him.
  4438. >Did... did they succeed? Did Lord Matthias really pull this off?
  4439. >Oh, it was so relieving to hear he was all right!
  4440. >But if he came back victorious, it would be the greatest thing!
  4441. >Your queen arrives, and waits in front of the main exit door of the carriage.
  4442. >You shifted positions to get the best view of this as you could.
  4443. >You love his openings. You wouldn't miss one for the world.
  4444.  
  4445. >Two guards from the carriage, one a gryphon and the other a changeling, land in front of the two doors, and open them together.
  4446. >You held your breath for his opening line. You didn't have to wait long.
  4447. >"And so, with his defences so breached by a simple stone, Goliath fell to the ground! And when the noble David severed the prideful giant's head, the Phillistines who followed him into battle fled in terror!"
  4448. >He stepped out of the carriage.
  4449. >Everyling and everygryphon in the crowds cheered.
  4450. >Yourself very much included.
  4451. >Ohmygoshohmygosh, he's really okay!
  4452. >He must have won! Please, please say that he won!
  4453. >He looks so proud of himself. He must have!
  4454. >Meanwhile, your queen looks very displeased.
  4455. >"Touching."
  4456. >"Unimpressed as usual, Chrysalis? Have you really grown so dissatisfied with our progress?"
  4457. >"Only if you call failure 'progress'. Care to explain that, by the way?"
  4458. >"Failure?"
  4459. >His smile never leaves his face as he motions to his raiders. They all make their way to the doors of the other chariots.
  4460. >"By what metric, O' queen, do you consider our attack to be a failure?"
  4461. >"Don't insult my intelligence, little Nito. Now, I want to know every little sordid detail about how the princesses managed to beat you back."
  4462. >How... how DARE she speak like that to Lord Matthias?!
  4463. >"If the princesses did indeed halt my raid, O' queen..."
  4464.  
  4465. >Another gesture from Lord Matthias, and the doors to the carriages all opene--
  4466. >...
  4467. >Oh my gosh.
  4468. >He... he did it!
  4469. >He really did it!
  4470. >The carriages were piled full of golden items and bits, with many chests full of what must be powerful magical artifacts!
  4471. >"Then how did I come to acquire their riches and artifacts?"
  4472. >The crowds erupted into cheering once again.
  4473. >He did it! He did it!
  4474. >He beat the princesses and took their relics from them!
  4475. >YesyesyesyesyesYEEEEES!
  4476. >Once you reign yourself in, you see your queen with a look of pure shock and disbelief across her face. Lord Matthias's smile never once changed.
  4477. >"We have a saying from back home, Chrysalis. 'It is better to close one's mouth and be thought a fool, then to open it and remove all doubt'."
  4478. >Your queen's expression morphed into a snarl.
  4479. >"You might wish to remember that, the next time you so openly lodge an imputation of failure upon me and my flock."
  4480. >That was it for your queen. She flew off with her advisors and guards. You could all but taste her rage as she passed overhead.
  4481. >She would be extra unforgiving to the hive for another week.
  4482. >But it was worth it all, to watch Lord Matthias put her in her place like that.
  4483. >Oh, how you wish he was the true leader of the hive.
  4484. >You envy the gryphons in that regard.
  4485.  
  4486. >...
  4487. >It's three hours later.
  4488. >You were among the first to help when Lord Matthias selected volunteers to help the raiders transfer the riches.
  4489. >You had done such a good job, that he even selected you to help carry the chests of magical artifacts to his private laboratory!
  4490. >Nothing was allowed near that, except for his most trusted gryphon guards!
  4491. >You didn't get to see much, only being allowed as far as the entrance hall.
  4492. >But it was exciting nonetheless!
  4493. >You were so very tired after it all, however, and Lord Matthias himself recommended that you take a break back at the sleeping pods.
  4494. >And here you are, emerging from one such pod after three hours.
  4495. >You make your way to the feeding chambers, humming a cheery tune as you go al--
  4496. >W-wait. What was that noise?
  4497. >It sounds like... yelling.
  4498. >Your queen's yelling?
  4499. >...
  4500. >You shouldn't pry, you know that.
  4501. >But you can't help but investigate the sounds.
  4502. >You know where this passage leads to. Your queen's war room.
  4503. >There's no guards in front of the door.
  4504. >You also hear another voice. It's much deeper, and--
  4505. >Lord Matthias?!
  4506. >He was speaking to her?!
  4507. >You had already come this far, you had to know more!
  4508.  
  4509. >Through a small slit in the door, you saw the two arguing with each other.
  4510. >Your queen was accompanied by her advisors, as always.
  4511. >But she wasn't happy in the slightest.
  4512. >"Don't you understand?! That bit of theatre will scar my image for months!"
  4513. >"Perhaps you should have thought of that, before deciding to speak as you did."
  4514. >Lord Mattias sounded more weary than angry. You'd be weary, too.
  4515. >"Oh, don't you lecture me about bad decisions! What made you think flaunting all of that gold from Canterlot was a good idea?"
  4516. >"Showing the people that we accomplished our mission is flaunting now, is it?"
  4517. >"And the death toll? How can you justify the death of over a hundred drones?!"
  4518. >"Sixteen were confirmed dead. The remainder are missing in action."
  4519. >"They might as well be dead! The Equestrians despise our kind!"
  4520. >"All races despise your kind. All but me, and my flock."
  4521. >"The Equestrians have more reason than most to hate us!"
  4522. >"A reason that you gave them, in case you had forgotten about that."
  4523. >You had to stifle a gasp. Even the queen was left speechless.
  4524. >"Get out."
  4525. >"I thought you would never ask."
  4526. >"GET OUT!"
  4527. >You can't move out of the way fast enough, and Lord Matthias sees you as he exits the war room, stopping in the doorway to look at you with surprise.
  4528. >Another gasp you had to stifle.
  4529. >"What are you waiting for? Get out!"
  4530. >Without another word, he throws the doors closed behind him.
  4531. >You just now notice the tired look in his eyes.
  4532. >The sigh he gave off was just as exhausted as the look.
  4533.  
  4534. >You can hear your queen yelling, screaming, and throwing things behind him.
  4535. >You'd heard rumours about Lord Matthias and your queen fighting before.
  4536. >But seeing it happen yourself...
  4537. >Ohmygosh, how does he put up with it?
  4538. >"Your queen didn't close the door very well, did she, child?"
  4539. >OH HORSEAPPLES, HE'S TALKING TO YOU
  4540. >"Relax, child. I'm not angry with you. You changelings are a curious lot, it's only natural you would be drawn to the noise she somehow manages to produce."
  4541. >Pfffffft. Don't laugh, don't laugh!
  4542. >He's smiling as well, too.
  4543. >Get yourself together, darn it!
  4544. >"Come with me, child."
  4545. >...
  4546. >He...
  4547. >He's asking you to follow him?
  4548. >Oh horseapples, he's already passed you!
  4549. >You catch up to him quicker than you probably should.
  4550. >A million thoughts run through your head.
  4551. >What does he want with you? You, a random drone?
  4552. >Does he want to interrogate you? Eat you? Use you for experiments? P-pleasure?
  4553. >"Child."
  4554. >Ohmygosh, you're freaking out right now--
  4555. >SNAP
  4556. >A squeak leaves you as you jump away from the sound he just made.
  4557. >That... snapping he does with his fingers!
  4558. >Something about it just grabs attention!
  4559.  
  4560. >"Are you well, child?"
  4561. "Pleasedon'thurtmeIdidn'tmeantobotheryouI'msorryIwon'tdoitagainjustdon'thurt--"
  4562. >He's chuckling. It's such a nice chuckle.
  4563. >"There's no need to be afraid, little one. I'm not going to hurt you."
  4564. "Ohh thankyouthankyouthankyo--"
  4565. >"Strange, though. Nearly all changelings I work with are male. Or at the very least, sound male. You, however, sound distinctly female."
  4566. >H-he noticed that?!
  4567. >"Though you don't look any different than the others. Unless..."
  4568. >Ohmygosh, w-why is he looking around your hooves and horn?
  4569. >"Ah, I see now. The pattern of holes on your appendages. They all look the same for most others, but not for you."
  4570. "Huh? They do?"
  4571. >But... how did you never notice this before?
  4572. >"Yes... it is a subtle difference, but it's there. How peculiar."
  4573. >W-why is this all so embarrasing?!
  4574. >"Tell me, child. Do you have a name?"
  4575. "N-no, Lord Matthius. Noling has names besides the queen's advisors."
  4576. >"Is that so? How bizarre."
  4577. "O-our queen got rid of all our names when T-Thorax took over the old hive."
  4578. >His previous look of curiosity quickly changed to a look of disappointment.
  4579. >"Did she, now? A paranoid and cruel act, even for her."
  4580. "B-but, my Lord! C-changelings don't have names! We've never needed them!"
  4581. >"Perhaps not in the past, child. But you used to have them before, yes?"
  4582. "Y-yes, my Lord. But--"
  4583. >"If you did not have one before, I would not be as concerned. But you said she took them from you all when you lost your old hive, yes?"
  4584.  
  4585. "Yes! B-but, why does it matter, my Lord?"
  4586. >He sighs and kneels to your level. He looks really serious about this...
  4587. >"Child, do you know why I brought the changelings and gryphons together under my standard, to wage this war against ponykind?"
  4588. "Uh... no, my Lord?"
  4589. >"No? Why not?"
  4590. "T-the queen just told us we were working together, a-and that was that..."
  4591. >Frustration returned to his face.
  4592. "I-I-I'm sorry my Lord! I didn't mean to--"
  4593. >"You did nothing to upset me, child. You should never once apologize for something you did not do."
  4594. >A kinder look replaces the old one on his face.
  4595. >"Though it looks like I have some explaining to do, if you care to listen."
  4596. >O-ohmygosh, Lord Matthius was going to tell you something important?!
  4597. >All you could manage was some nods. You were too busy smiling to speak.
  4598. >"An attentive listener, too? Wonderful. Oh, but just so you know, nothing I am telling you is a secret. Every gryphon under me knows this already."
  4599. >You deflated slightly. So your queen was keeping secrets from all of you...
  4600. >"Do you know long gryphons and ponies have existed on Equus, my child?"
  4601. >Ooh, you know this one!
  4602. "S-since the beginning, my Lord?"
  4603. >"Correct. How about changelings? Minotaurs? Gryphons? Even Parasprites?"
  4604. >Nods are given one after the other at each question.
  4605. >"Now, how much do you know about pony history, since their beginning?"
  4606. "T-their history? Well, there's that Hearthswarming stuff, the princesses ascending, their fights with Discord, and all that other stuff!"
  4607.  
  4608. >"Very good. You know at least the gist of it."
  4609. >You just can't help but smile under the praise!
  4610. >"Now, how much do you know about gryphon history, since their beginning?"
  4611. >Ooh, you... Wait... Uhh...
  4612. >Uh-oh.
  4613. "I... I don't know, my Lord."
  4614. >"Exactly."
  4615. "W-what?"
  4616. >"The gryphon empire has existed proudly for millenia. Their armies are some of the best in the world, with a storied and proud history. One gryphon is the equal of two pegasi, thanks to their body's design."
  4617. "W-wow, really?"
  4618. >"Really. Now, they sound like an important part of the world, do they not?"
  4619. "Well, yeah!"
  4620. >"Then why is it that you hear nothing about their role in the world?"
  4621. >Uhh. Wow. You... never thought about it like that.
  4622. "I don't know."
  4623. >"Well, not knowing is one thing, is it not? But surely you could just pick up a book on their history, and learn all about it, no?"
  4624. "Ohh! Sure you could!"
  4625. >"Wrong again."
  4626. "H-huh? Why is that wrong?"
  4627. >"Because those books don't exist. Not anymore."
  4628. "Not anymore? Why?"
  4629. >"Because the ponies destroyed them."
  4630.  
  4631. >...
  4632. >D-destroyed?
  4633. >The ponies just... destroyed those books?
  4634. "B-but how? And w-why? Why would they do that, Lord Matthias?"
  4635. >"There is a saying back on my home, child."
  4636. >You love his sayings. But you're still reeling from the book destroying thing.
  4637. >"'He who controls the past, controls the future. He who controls the present, controls the past'."
  4638. >...
  4639. >That's a cool saying. But also... sad. And kinda--
  4640. >No. They... they didn't...!
  4641. >"I do not call ponies an arrogant and controlling race for no reason, child. Ponykind has always needed to stay in the spotlight of the world. I do not know why, but they do. So they sought to seize control of the other races."
  4642. "N-no way..."
  4643. >"And the most effective way of controlling them, is to seize their history. So they did. They performed great feats of conquest to seize the present. And once they'd conquered them, they spent almost a century rewriting their past."
  4644. "But... why a century, my Lord?"
  4645. >"Do you notice a difference in a painting if you take one speck of paint away?"
  4646. "Uhh... no, my Lord?"
  4647. >"And if I were to take away a clawful of paint? Would you notice it?"
  4648. "Well, yes! And... I... Ohh."
  4649. >"Yes, you've got it. If you take the paint away very, very slowly, you can change the way it looks without anyone ever noticing it. Especially if the families that remember the original aren't alive to mention the difference."
  4650.  
  4651. >"It is this very principle of slow and gradual change that they used to alter the history of the gryphons. Past, present, and future alike.
  4652. >"And once they doctored their history to their liking, they slowly but surely make them believe that they were never conquered, but always merely existed together with them, in 'harmony'."
  4653. >He all but spits out the phrase 'harmony'.
  4654. >You... you're at a loss for words.
  4655. >His speeches always do that to you.
  4656. >Just not always in a good way.
  4657. >This was not one of those good ways. In fact, this is the worst one so far.
  4658. >You take a moment to sniffle back a few tears.
  4659. "M-m-my Lord... If... If they r-really did all those awful things to them, t-then how do these gryphons even trust what you're saying is real?"
  4660. >His initial response is a smile. D-does it get better?
  4661. >"Because gryphons are stubborn creatures, child. A few of them escaped the ponies long ago, and formed their own secret villages.
  4662. >"After they saw the ponies trying to rewrite the history of their fellow gryphon, they strove to document and preserve everything about their history and culture.
  4663. >"Every gryphon you see here, that is part of my flock? They all come from these different hidden villages, my child. They know the truth."
  4664. >Wooooow.
  4665. >So they weren't like normal gryphons!
  4666. >You might still not like gryphons, sure, but now you can't help but feel like you might not have given these gryphons a fair chance.
  4667.  
  4668. >"Unfortunately, my child, the story gets worse from here."
  4669. >Oh, no! How could it get any worse?!
  4670. >"It wasn't just the gryphons they conquered in this fashion."
  4671. >...
  4672. "No..."
  4673. >"Minotaurs, zebras, diamond dogs, even the breezies. All of them altered in the same manner."
  4674. >He leans in closer.
  4675. >"And I suspect, even changelings."
  4676. >...
  4677. "They... they changed us, too?"
  4678. >"Maybe. Or at least, they tried to, anyways. It seems like your ancestors escaped this fate, however."
  4679. >He pauses for a moment to let it all sink in.
  4680. >"That, my child, is why I take issue with your queen taking your names."
  4681. >You... what are you feeling, right now?
  4682. >It's like a way more intense, lingering kind of anger!
  4683. >"Fundamentally, she performed the same alterations to you and your hivemates, that the ponies performed to every other race. Something that I will not tolerate, no matter the circumstance."
  4684. "How?"
  4685. >"How what?"
  4686. "How do I get my name back, my Lord? How do we get them back?!"
  4687. >It's like you had this new sense of purpose, burning from within!
  4688. >"It sounds like your names were taken with mental magic, child. I do not know if they will ever return."
  4689. >No. No, that can't be true! It just can't be--
  4690.  
  4691. >"But."
  4692. "W-what?"
  4693. >"You can always create new names for yourselves. New memories. New history."
  4694. "New history? B-but, I thought you said that rewriting history was bad!"
  4695. >"It is. But you're not rewriting it. You're creating a new page of it. Only this time, there's no queen, or pony, or anyone else to mould it as they would like it to be. You, and you alone, will be in control of your own history."
  4696. >You're at a total loss again. He just... made everything sound so... so...
  4697. >"Now, what shall it be?"
  4698. "Huh?"
  4699. >"Your new name, my child. All it takes is one tiny name, and it will start you on the path to taking back control of your own destiny."
  4700. >A new name.
  4701. >Of all the things you thought you'd do, this wasn't one of them!
  4702. >And yet... You can't think of anything. No matter what you try. Unless...
  4703. "M-my Lord? Would it be okay if... if you gave me one?"
  4704. >"Me? You would entrust that honour to me, my child?"
  4705. "Yes, my Lord. You... helped me see things in a totally new light. I'd... love it, if you chose one for me. Please?"
  4706. >He looks unsure at first, but eventually, gives you another smile.
  4707. >"Then I'd be honoured to choose one for you. How about... Athalia?"
  4708. >A-Athalia? It... it sounds heavy. Important.
  4709. "I... I like it. I really like it, my Lord. I'll take it."
  4710. >"A pleasure to meet you then, miss Athalia. Now, it's getting late, but would you perchance like to join me and my flock tomorrow, for another tale?"
  4711. >Your name is Athalia. You smile at him, a confident one this time.
  4712. "I'd love to, my Lord."
  4713.  
  4714. @@@@@@@@
  4715.  
  4716. >"Are you sure about this? I mean, I'm sure I could find something for you to do around the castle."
  4717. >You shake your head in the 'no' configuration as a response.
  4718. "Sorry, Twilight. But I really need a breather after everything that went down."
  4719. >"But Anon, I--"
  4720. "You're worried about me, I know. And believe you-me, I really appreciate that you care that much. But you're already sending those guards home with me. Isn't that enough to calm your nerves?"
  4721. >"No! We should be sticking together, in case something bad happens!"
  4722. "Twilight, nothing's going to happen."
  4723. >"B-but--"
  4724. >Hand, meet muzzle.
  4725. "Twilight, relax. Nothing's going to happen. Trust me."
  4726. >You can tell she's really torn up about your departure back to Ponyville.
  4727. >But there's just nothing you can do around here. Nothing useful.
  4728. >On that happy note, there's the train whistle. Better make this quick.
  4729. >That, or she could pre-empt you with another hug.
  4730. >"J-just stay safe, o-okay?"
  4731. "I will, don't worry."
  4732. >The two of you seperate. You take the opportunity to grab your carry-on bag, step in the door, and look back at the scene.
  4733. >Twilight's really sad about this, and you can't blame her.
  4734. >The other girls are waving you off with much less sad faces.
  4735. >Dash decides to yell her parting words to you:
  4736. >"We'll be back before you know it, Anon! Just don't drink without us too much!"
  4737. "Wouldn't dream of it, Dash!"
  4738.  
  4739. >The train starts moving, and you squeeze in a few more waves before the door closes properly.
  4740. >Man, are you lucky to have friends like that, or what?
  4741. >Granted, being given a guarded private car was probably overkill.
  4742. >But good luck talking Twilight out of keeping you absolutely safe.
  4743. >She's been really clingy around you since the whole Incognito shitshow happened five days ago. Again, can't blame her.
  4744. >The princesses and guards caught up in that were improving, but still out.
  4745. >You don't know where that red Aryan Sasuke came from, but he sure seemed to know what he was doing.
  4746. >The fucker looted everything out of the most guarded castle vault.
  4747. >A vault that was full of really strong magical artifacts, a lot of them evil, as well as a huge amount of royal dosh.
  4748. >Granted, they were smart and divvied their gold up between like five other vaults, so it's not like they were broke or anything.
  4749. >But the other vaults didn't have said evil artifacts in them.
  4750. >He's probably off sacrificing goats with them, or whatever edgelords do.
  4751. >You shake your head to clear the thoughts of him out of it.
  4752. >He's been the center of your thoughts ever since you'd recovered.
  4753. >The nightmares were not a nice touch, either.
  4754. >And all those thoughts revolve around your weakness.
  4755. >How you couldn't do anything to stop him.
  4756. >You know that there wasn't anything you could have done.
  4757. >He was a fucking armoured swordfighter, and was obviously /fit/ to match.
  4758. >Even without his fucking power glove of death, he would have torn you a six-pack of new assholes bare-handed.
  4759.  
  4760. >You needed a lot of stiff drinks when you got home, that was for sure.
  4761. >And speaking of drinks, you open the private car at last, to find--
  4762. >Oh fuck, really Twilight?
  4763. >There was like ten guards in this car, four of them night guard.
  4764. >That you weren't surprised by.
  4765. >What did surprise you was that this was a luxury car, complete with a waiter pony ready to give you a fully catered reception, from the looks of it.
  4766. >Sighs were in high demand today, that was for sure.
  4767. >Twilight was really overbearing about seeing to your absolute safety, with a constant vigil of guards and waiters back at the castle.
  4768. >She really wanted you where she could at least feel you were safe.
  4769. >Not having to leave you room was only fun for the first hour.
  4770. >Having guards follow you around and constantly suggest returning to your room was a special kind of annoying and awkward.
  4771. >Anyway, you wave the waiter off for the moment, like you're used to doing by now, and find your fully-enclosed reclining seat.
  4772. >At least this part was totally rad.
  4773. >You pull free a book you borrowed from the castle, one on magic spells this time, and read more of it as you waited for the ride to end.
  4774. >It was a thick ol' book, that's for sure. But it's content was interesting enough to warrant putting up with it.
  4775. >...
  4776. >The announcer pipes up about Ponyville being next.
  4777. >About time. You'll never get used to the two hour ride between here and there.
  4778. >You pack your book away, stretch out a bit, and then take your carry-on.
  4779.  
  4780. >You'd also be lugging your other bags, but apparently Twilight also sent along some other ponies to lug them for you.
  4781. >Whatever, not gonna complain anymore. Not like it'd help.
  4782. >The train stops and disembarks, and you're among the first to leave.
  4783. >You waste no time in beelining it for your house, the luggage ponies and two royal guard following you all the way.
  4784. >Okay, you're fine-ish with them tailing you around town, but not fucking stalking you at your house.
  4785. >You'll sort that out once you're home.
  4786. >Which you just arrive at, and waste no time in throwing the door open.
  4787. >Hoooooh boy, home sweet home!
  4788. >While the ponies drop off the luggage, you check that nothing went bad in the fridge. Luckily, nothing did.
  4789. >Now, fridges are one thing you prefer the magic equivalent of.
  4790. >Shit's 100% off-the-grid. Unless you count magic nodes as a grid.
  4791. >Which you don't.
  4792. >With that all out of the way, you turn back to your entourage.
  4793. >You're surprised to see them already clearing out of the house, to leave you in peace.
  4794. >They leave with you a little wrist-strap with an orange crystal thing in it. Apparently, it's the emergency summoning button for the guards.
  4795. >The guard captain here had it whipped up for you. Along with his sympathies.
  4796. >Whoever that captain is, he deserves two raises.
  4797. >This alarm not-watch might also have a nifty secondary use, now that you're thinking about it. Would make the next step so much easier.
  4798. >You triple-check around your place to make sure nobody's snooping around, and then descend right back down into the basement.
  4799.  
  4800. >Man, it feels like forever since you've been down here.
  4801. >It's a great feeling, being back in the saddle again.
  4802. >You make your way over to the compartment hiding your trusty Lexica.
  4803. >It's funny.
  4804. >Back then, you were perusing this thing out of rabid curiosity.
  4805. >Out it comes, and open it is.
  4806. >Hell, you were curious enough to cut your hand open on it.
  4807. >Basic Constructs, Arcane Conduit.
  4808. >But that's all it really ever was, just curiosity.
  4809. >You still need that gem dust core and the stopper for it.
  4810. >But now?
  4811. >Good thing you prepped the dust ahead of time. And got the stopper carved.
  4812. >Now, you had a way of getting strong.
  4813. >There's the hollow wand and funnel. Time to start pouring.
  4814. >You were going to make very goddamn sure that there wouldn't be a repeat of the Incognito fiasco.
  4815. >All poured in, just got to compress it with a free stick.
  4816. >If anything, that glove of his proved that you could do the same kind of magic shit. Just without the overtly evil magic.
  4817. >Here comes the wood stopper. Really tight fit, as it should be.
  4818. >But one thing was for absolute sure.
  4819. >You look over your creation. Crude, but it would work. The cool spiral one you planned originally can come later.
  4820. >You're never letting your friends get hurt like that again.
  4821. >Now, where's that manalens?
  4822.  
  4823. >Time to validate a theory about the alarm watch thing.
  4824. >Peering into the manalens, you see a node connection, as well as another magic connection way off in town.
  4825. >Must be either the unicorn who made this, or a twin bracelet that receives an alarm. Either way, someone's getting informed when you press the gem button.
  4826. >You're more interested in the node connection.
  4827. >The book said you had to craft this thing in the path of an existing mana connection between a node, and either a pony or a working construct.
  4828. >Since this wand was super basic, you wonder if this alarm watch would work.
  4829. >Your original plan was to skulk around town for the perfect angle to 'craft' it at, then Metal Gear your way back home.
  4830. >But if this construct worked, it would save you the hassle.
  4831. >You stand the manalens up on one end of the table, and then position the watch thing just in front of it.
  4832. >Now, 'crafting' this involved getting the wand's core totally parallel in the path of the node connection for a few minutes.
  4833. >It would slowly absorb the mana from the link, and then come to life. And get it's own link, while it was at it.
  4834. >The book didn't cover this yet, but you're guessing you'll be able to project beams of mana from the wand once you're done.
  4835. >Should negate needing to do this janky shit ever again.
  4836. >Once you've gotten the positioning absolutely perfect, you walk back to the manalens to watch the literal magic happen.
  4837. >There was definitely a slight deformation in the mana current to the alarm, but no noticeable difference immediately.
  4838. >Well, it did say to wait a few minutes, after all.
  4839.  
  4840. >...
  4841. >It's been, what, seven minutes now?
  4842. >The wand still hasn't 'crafted' yet.
  4843. >The only thing keeping you rooted is that the beam deformation is slowly increasing.
  4844. >According to all the mana pathway books, Lexica's segment included, this means something's leaching the mana on the way to it.
  4845. >And if it's slowly getting more deformed, it must mean it's absorbing more.
  4846. >And so you continue waiting with bated breath.
  4847. >Just as you let out a bored sigh, you see the pathway go on the fritz for a moment, getting super deformed.
  4848. >The wand literally jumps into the air for a moment, before clattering back down.
  4849. >That's definitely new. But...
  4850. >Ho Lee Fuc, did you really do it?
  4851. >The wand's core has a nice glow through the manalens. And attached to it is a very small but still visible mana connection to the friendly neighbourhood node.
  4852. >Aww, fuck yeah boi! You did it!
  4853. >You pick your shitty little creation up, manalens in the other hand, and start experimentally waving it about.
  4854. >Nothing really happens, until you point it forward and think about shooting magic out of it.
  4855. >Nothing visible to the naked eye happens, but the manalens reports a mana current streaming out of the front.
  4856. >And as it streams out, the current connecting the wand to the node widens to replenish the mana you just used.
  4857.  
  4858. >Okay, so it seems to respond to your intent to use it.
  4859. >Must be like how unicorns and shit do it.
  4860. >It was pretty obvious though, that shooting basic-ass node mana currents wasn't going to be very useful to you.
  4861. >...
  4862. >You know, in all the excitement, you'd completely forgotten to take notes for the book.
  4863. >Well, fuck. Better do that now.
  4864. >You set the wand and lens down, strap the alarm thing back to your wrist, pull free some paper and the quill, and write out your master-copy notes.
  4865. >It takes a while to get the details down, but you don't want to miss a thing.
  4866. >Then, you draw up the cliffnotes version to feed to the book.
  4867. >The book takes it happily, and gives you the thumbs-up for making progress.
  4868. >Thank God. Now, what else does it have handy?
  4869. >Checking back to the Basic Principles, you see a section on how magic spells fundamentally work.
  4870. >Well, considering all the reading on unicorn spells you did, this shouldn't be too much new material.
  4871. >...
  4872. >Oh.
  4873. >Well, you were wrong.
  4874. >You were dead fucking wrong.
  4875. >This wasn't anything like unicorn spell diagrams.
  4876. >This was something else completely.
  4877. >This section documents how basic magic arrays work, and how they're used to form mana currents into useful spells.
  4878.  
  4879. >The arrays were completely different from unicorn diagrams.
  4880. >Like, English-versus-Chinese different.
  4881. >This was gonna take longer than you expected.
  4882. >You set the section off to the side for a moment, and turn back to Basic Constructs.
  4883. >Well well, you now had 'Conduit Foci' available.
  4884. >Opening that up confirmed that yes, indeed: this was the shit that actually turned the current into useful spells.
  4885. >The book also noted that you could create better wands using the basic one, without any foci, since you didn't need to do any janky positioning shit: just point and channel.
  4886. >Figured as much, but hey.
  4887. >It also really stressed the importance of just how basic this wand was: suggesting you create an improved one as soon as possible.
  4888. >Definitely on the bucket list.
  4889. >The first focus it directed you to create was for telekinesis.
  4890. >So you could TK shit around like unicorns can with it?
  4891. >Sounds like a good start to you.
  4892. >Unfortunately, the requirements for it included a specific kind of gem, etched with certain glyphs that would do super-basic mana-to-spell conversion.
  4893. >The process wasn't fun. Until you got the magic equipment made to do this automatically, you had to use some tiny chisels and more alcohol to shape them by hand. And the tolerances were really tight for handmade stuff.
  4894. >You were going to fuck this up repeatedly, if the wand carving experience was anything to go by.
  4895. >Sigh.
  4896. >Well, might as well draw up a list...
  4897.  
  4898. >...
  4899. >"Dear Anonymous,
  4900. >"I write to you with some very good news: the princesses have woken up!
  4901. >"The doctor's prediction was correct, and they recovered from their dark magic-induced slumber after two weeks and two days.
  4902. >"Now, the dark magic isn't totally gone from their systems, so they're still weak from the ordeal. It should take another week and two days for them to recover back to full strength.
  4903. >"Please find a prepaid first-class ticket to Canterlot attached to this letter. Nopony has been allowed to see them yet, not even us, and I'd really like it if we could see them together, after everything they've been through.
  4904. >"Your best friend,
  4905. >"Princess Twilight Sparkle"
  4906. >Fuck me. Where does the time go?
  4907. >Hard to believe it's been two weeks since that shit went down.
  4908. >But boy, you haven't been wanting for things to do in that interim period.
  4909. >Four different wands and a staff. That's what you've created so far.
  4910. >Your skill at carving has been improving steadily, so the staff you made came out super nice. And is really beefy in terms of mana output, to boot.
  4911. >It's been paying dividends in terms of making your proper magic lab.
  4912. >Oh yeah, and the foci? There were a fuckton of them, but you've managed to crank out five so far.
  4913. >Telekinesis, Excavation, Etching, Flame, and Lightning.
  4914. >Getting the glyphs carved into the first two foci was an exercise in pain and anger that you weren't prepared for.
  4915. >Multiple times, you stabbed yourself in the hand with tiny, moonshine-coated chisels, only to have the glyph fuck up, making you start all over again.
  4916.  
  4917. >It happened, no joke, about fifteen times with the TK focus.
  4918. >It was totally worth being able to TK stuff over to you, though.
  4919. >You could see why the unicorns do it. It's so goddamn useful. In your case, like an extension of your hand.
  4920. >Even the crude one you made was capable of fairly fine motor control, like a slower version of your hand.
  4921. >From the book's telling, the more fingerless races had to really work to get the visualization of that right. Thank God for opposable thumbs, then.
  4922. >Too bad you couldn't use it to create the next focus, the Etching one.
  4923. >That one you wanted immediately after, since you could use it to literally just etch whatever glyph you wanted onto whatever you needed, eliminating this bullshit chisel routine.
  4924. >It was also extremely complex compared to the TK one, with twenty-nine glyphs as opposed to the seven of the TK.
  4925. >Total failure count: forty-seven.
  4926. >Once it was finally finished however, you were able to create the rest of the three foci in your possession on the first try.
  4927. >Absolutely worth it, as far as you're concerned.
  4928. >And now, you were using your Excavator on your staff and a TK in your best current wand to carve out a downward-sloping tunnel to the Everfree.
  4929. >Your requirements for this thaumaturgy shit quickly outgrew what the humble booze cellar could really provide you.
  4930. >So you planned out a lab that was underneath the Everfree, and very close to another node.
  4931. >The wild magic of that place would totally mask your very questionable magic practices from the outside world.
  4932.  
  4933. >Definitely a nice thing, considering you were almost found out twice by your cadre of guards.
  4934. >You're just happy you were using your manalens both of those times, and could see their mana connections running over to your house.
  4935. >Oh yeah, and you'd made two new tiny versions of the manalens: one a pair of spectacles, and another a monocle.
  4936. >Because lugging that big heavy piece of shit around constantly wasn't fun.
  4937. >And because why the fuck not?
  4938. >But let's swing back to the present.
  4939. >The Excavator shot a cool looking green laser that chewed up dirt and rock, making it super easy to move out of the way. Which the TK did very well.
  4940. >You had to stop often to pile it into the basement, however. And bring in some support beams to keep the tunnel from collapsing.
  4941. >At night, you snuck the huge piles of dirt out of the basement, and dumped them into the Everfree.
  4942. >You'd actually made another TK focus to speed that up today. So actually, you had six foci going for you now. God, you totally forgot about that!
  4943. >But who can blame you, when you're this close to the node of interest under the Everfree?
  4944. >Now, according to the new 'Intermediate Principles And Theory' section that opened up last week, nodes always showed up in air, never buried.
  4945. >Which meant this underground one was in some kind of pocket of air.
  4946. >So you just kept up this routine: digging away at the earth and piling it away for disposal.
  4947. >Until that letter dragon-fire'd in front of your face.
  4948. >You didn't even know Spike could change who the letters are sent to.
  4949.  
  4950. >You put the letter away and kept digging, however.
  4951. >If the magic sundial you'd made over a week ago was accurate, and it was, the train to Canterlot wouldn't come back until tomorrow.
  4952. >Works for you, since you were just digging around where the node was at, carving out a kind of inverse donut shape.
  4953. >Once the supports were in, you picked away at the node's rocky dirt pillar.
  4954. >The rock splits open, revealing a geode full of gems!
  4955. >So that's what it was hiding inside of!
  4956. >And these gems were super energized, too. Makes sense, considering their proximity to the node.
  4957. >Definitely saving these for later. Hell, you'd have to see if you could use this node to energize some of your own gems.
  4958. >Energizing them with a wand took an hour or two. Setting-and-forgetting them would be so much better compared to holding a wand in place for hours.
  4959. >You cart the last load of dirt into the designated overflowing dirt pile, stow your magic shit away, and make your way up the trapdoor again.
  4960. >You've worked until night again. Well, you're already dirty, might as well make the dump trip now.
  4961. >Out come both TK foci, and the dirt pile is carefully lifted through the trapdoor and snaked through the house, with no incidents.
  4962. >Good thing your place was so close to the Everfree. It only takes ten minutes for the round trip.
  4963. >You stow your magic shit away for good in the basement, then take a good long shower to purge the filth you've built up.
  4964. >You collapse into bed. Your last thought is how the train leaves at 2 PM, before you nod off.
  4965.  
  4966. >...
  4967. >You rise bright and early. Like you've been doing since you've returned.
  4968. >It still blows you away just how effective a good routine is at unfucking your bad habits, like sleeping in.
  4969. >You wouldn't call drinking hard minotaur alcohol a bad habit, but you haven't even been drinking that much, either.
  4970. >Here you thought it would have been some relaxing shit to knock back after a hard day's work. But you just haven't needed it.
  4971. >No magic today, you think. Just relaxing and packing. Train leaves at 2, right.
  4972. >Since it was fairly early, you take the opportunity to pack your bags, and then just go for a leisurely stroll through town.
  4973. >The ponies greet you, as they are wont to do.
  4974. >You haven't gone into full hermit mode, just to avoid suspicion.
  4975. >But the other girls still haven't come back from Canterlot.
  4976. >They must be absolutely swamped up there. Losing the princesses like that must have been rougher on the city than you thought.
  4977. >After dropping by the lodge your guards stay at to let them know about your travel arrangements, they let you know that they'll be riding with you. They got the same memo, it seems, but they'll be doing it plainclothes.
  4978. >That helps. Even if a few bat-ponies aren't the most common sight in public.
  4979. >After spending enough time in town, you head back and grab your things, then make your way to the train station.
  4980. >The train rolls up a minute later, and you step on.
  4981. >The guards follow along, surprisingly well disguised.
  4982. >Before long, the train starts moving in the direction of Canterlot.
  4983. >You hope things go well up there.
  4984.  
  4985. @@@@@@@@
  4986.  
  4987. >The announcer on the train wakes you up. Canterlot's coming up.
  4988. >The train ride still takes longer than you'd like.
  4989. >You didn't bring anything to read, so you settled with just nodding off.
  4990. >Sure made the ride go faster, in any case.
  4991. >You stretch out in your seat, then check the ponies around you.
  4992. >Yep, guards still present and accounted for.
  4993. >Once the train stops, you sit up and collect your stuff, then make your way to the doors out of here.
  4994. >Which gets redirected by the guards, since once again, you've got a VIP exit pre-arranged for you.
  4995. >Seems like Twilight's still worried about you. She usually doesn't care what exit on the train she or you uses. Oh well.
  4996. >Your guards follow you out with their own stuff, probably their armour and all that guard stuff.
  4997. >First thing you're greeted with is some actual guards, four of them. As one unit, you all set out to the castle.
  4998. >And what do you know, meeting you just past the gate is--
  4999. >"Anon! You're here!"
  5000. >The princess of purple herself. And all the other girls.
  5001. >Twilight's the first one to launch to you in the attack hug style. The others settle with a more traditional group hug.
  5002. >Once the introductory cuddle pile is done with, you all move into the castle proper, sans the personal guards.
  5003. "So none of you girls came back in all that time? Must be pretty nuts here."
  5004. >"Oh my gosh, Anon, you've got no idea! I don't know how Celestia managed everything here for so long without going insane!"
  5005.  
  5006. "Well, I'm sure she'll be thankful you handled everything while she was out of the game, eh?"
  5007. >"Well, I wouldn't say it was just me..."
  5008. "Oh I know, but we all know none of the ponies here would listen to any of you, if one of you didn't have the horn and wing package deal."
  5009. >Collective groans abounded, with Rarity deciding to pitch in:
  5010. >"Darling, I thought the nobility at court would have been a simple matter to manage, but never in my life have I seen such foalish behaviour from the nobility before!"
  5011. "I dunno, sounds about right to me."
  5012. >"Common occurrence on your home world, I take it?"
  5013. "You know it."
  5014. >Relative silence with splotches of small talk sets the tone for the walk over to the medical wing. Once in, you all head to the heavily guarded section.
  5015. "Say, girls, did you figure out how to spot any more--"
  5016. >"Changelings? Yeah, me and the court mages figured out something for that. We've already caught forty in the castle!"
  5017. "Damn, forty? Nice going, Twilight."
  5018. >"Thanks, Anon. Oh, here we are! Just remember to be quiet, all right?"
  5019. >The girls filter in one by one through the single door, but Twilight stops you before you can enter.
  5020. >"Anon, I know you want to ask as much as possible about the things that Incognito mentioned to you. I want you to leave that to me, okay?"
  5021. >Wait, where is this coming from?
  5022. "Why? What's going on, Twilight?"
  5023. >"Please, just trust me on this, okay?"
  5024. >She's really serious about this. What did she find out here?
  5025.  
  5026. >Well, this is the possible pony gestapo we're talking about here. Better play along.
  5027. "Alright, won't say a thing."
  5028. >"Thanks, Anon. I'll explain later, I promise. Now let's go meet them, okay?"
  5029. >No argument there. She files into the room, with you following soon after--
  5030. >Hoooooly shit on a stick, Batman.
  5031. >Look at all the fucking tubes in their legs, man!
  5032. >And the bedsheets had fucking magic glyphs sewn into them!
  5033. >You don't recognize the glyphs. They look a lot different from the thaumic glyphs. You'll have to see about learning pony glyphs later.
  5034. >Of more interest is the ponies attached to said tubes, and lying in said sheets.
  5035. >They looked like a bucket of smashed assholes. And you mean, car crushing machine level of smashed assholes.
  5036. >They were a lot thinner than before, and looked really fucking tired.
  5037. >You're surprised their manes haven't fallen out, considering it looks like they just had magic pony chemotherapy done to them.
  5038. >The girls reactions were about the same as yours, except worse. Twilight was taking this the hardest of the bunch. Poor gal.
  5039. >Some deep throat clearing could be heard. Oh man, you didn't even notice doc Valiant was in here!
  5040. >"Good to see you all again, especially you, Anon. I only wish it were under better conditions than this."
  5041. >Guess you've gotta be the first to speak up here.
  5042. "Likewise, doc. How are they doing?"
  5043. >"They're conscious, but they've only woken up barely two days ago. It'll be a few minutes before they can really speak, and even then, they can only really give short answers."
  5044.  
  5045. "So, keep the question list short and sweet, right?"
  5046. >"Exactly. Now, I've got to leave to get their tonics, so I'll be back in a few minutes. I'll leave you with them until then, all right?"
  5047. >At least the girls could nod their answer out. The good doctor excused himself out the side door, leaving only you, the girls, and the princesses.
  5048. >Twilight went right over to Celestia's side, followed by the other girls. Judging by the sounds, it was a pretty tearful reunion.
  5049. >Not that you'd know, since your destination was a very different princess.
  5050. >As weak as she might look, she still looked very glad to see you.
  5051. >And boy, were you glad to see her, too.
  5052. >Heh, you know, you actually don't really know what to say right now.
  5053. >So you don't. Somehow, it just didn't feel appropriate.
  5054. >You move to the right of her bed instead.
  5055. >A few moments pass before you try to break the silence, but the attempt is stopped when you feel something press against your hand, instead.
  5056. >It's her hoof.
  5057. >...
  5058. >Welp.
  5059. >You really should have seen this one coming, to be honest.
  5060. >W-well, better just back out of this situatiOH SHIT NIGGER WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!
  5061. >STOP HOLDING ROYAL HOOVES THIS MOMent...
  5062. >Huh.
  5063. >That's actually kinda nice.
  5064. >...
  5065. >Actually, belay that order.
  5066. >Keep holding royal hooves.
  5067. >Once your spaghetti is secure within your pockets, you notice the look on her face.
  5068. >Okay, she's a lot happier than before, that's for sure.
  5069. >And that shit's contagious.
  5070.  
  5071. >You know it was only a few minutes the good doctor was gone, but you can't help but feel it was a lot longer when he does return.
  5072. >His first destination is Celestia, followed by Luna.
  5073. >The doc's feeding her some kind of lightly glowing amber liquid.
  5074. >You know what, you don't even wanna know.
  5075. >A sentiment only strengthened by Luna's disgusted face when she forces it down.
  5076. >"I know, Anon. It looks awful, and tastes awful to boot. But they'll feel much better in a moment, believe me. And they'll be good enough to talk a little."
  5077. >Thanks, doc
  5078. >Think I'll pass on the daily dose myself though
  5079. >Once the doctor leaves, you see a certain yellow mare take his place at the other side of the bed.
  5080. >Wait, are the others still...?
  5081. >Oh yeah, they're still around Sunny D there.
  5082. >Though AJ does break off and join you here, as well. And she's talking quietly:
  5083. >"Real sorry we didn't get to you sooner, princess Luna. But trying to keep Twi and Celestia from bawling at each other is harder than 'ya think."
  5084. >You saw that eyeroll, moon hoers. Looks like it was a good-natured one, though.
  5085. >Holy fuck, what did the doctor feed her? She's looking a lot better already!
  5086. >Good enough to apparently take a moment to stretch right out.
  5087. >That's more cracking sounds than you think you've heard in any stretch ever.
  5088. >There was an attempt at a happy sigh from her, as well. Obviously pained, but hey, A for effort.
  5089. >The other girls have since filtered over to Luna's bed. Well, save for Twilight, who is still glued to Celestia.
  5090. >You'll let them have their reunion.
  5091.  
  5092. >The girls start consoling Luna, and she's actually able to reply to them.
  5093. >Her voice is super raspy though, and obviously very pained, so it's limited to a few words of reply.
  5094. >You and Fluttershy had the same idea of getting water for her, to help ease the talking.
  5095. >They talked, they joked, and they gave their get-well-soon's, like you thought.
  5096. >But the whole time, even after you came back from the water trip, Luna's hoof stayed planted firmly in your hand.
  5097. >A fact that hadn't escaped Rarity's attention, if the look she gave you was any indication. You knew that scheming look of hers.
  5098. >Well, if she wasn't fazed by your return look, she sure was by Luna's. Heh.
  5099. >The doctor returned fairly soon to usher everyone out of the room, so the royals could get some peace.
  5100. >You'd have left as well, if Luna's grip on your hand wasn't still there.
  5101. >You still have no idea how they grab shit with those, man.
  5102. >After she pulled the doctor over and whispered something into his ear, he reluctantly nodded, and slid the privacy curtains into place.
  5103. >Uhh, what's the deal with thiOH GOD WHAT THE FUCK
  5104. >These princesses must have been stronger than you thought, since she just straight-up pulled you onto the bed with her.
  5105. >The bear hug makes a triumphant return.
  5106. >You don't really know what you're feeling right now. But you'll say this much: this turn of events is many things, but unpleasant it is not.
  5107. >Mentally proclaiming 'fuck it', you decide to lightly return the hug.
  5108. >You swear, you heard her squee a bit.
  5109. >...
  5110.  
  5111. >Ah, hello again, ambassador suite bed.
  5112. >Didn't think I'd meet you again so soon.
  5113. >Yeah, you're thankful you packed clothes just in case, because you ended up staying three days longer than you'd expected to.
  5114. >For an unexpected stay, however, it's been quite a nice one.
  5115. >With some... probably expected results, honestly.
  5116. >You've been visiting the princesses twice a day: once with the other girls, and the other more on the down-low, for one specific princess.
  5117. >This second visit was about as hug-heavy and cutesy as one would expect.
  5118. >The second day also involved one of your world-famous ear scratches.
  5119. >You swear, you heard her purring when you did that.
  5120. >It's kind of a given at this point that the second visit is a kind of unspoken date with her.
  5121. >Magicless alien monkey man, courting local moon god horse?
  5122. >Pretty sure the nobility's gonna have a collective fit of aneurysms and strokes when they catch wind of it.
  5123. >Too bad this place didn't have video cameras, otherwise you'd bring one for that.
  5124. >Maybe not so much for the other girls, since you're pretty sure Rarity clued them onto your ongoing shenanigans.
  5125. >Hard to mistake the eyebrow wiggling from them.
  5126. >Well, all but Twilight. She seemed a bit more... reserved than the others.
  5127. >Pretty sure you're missing something with that.
  5128. >...
  5129. >Well, not like you're gonna figure it out right now.
  5130. >You've got another visit with the girls to get to.
  5131. >Which you do, and then proceed to move into the medical room as a unit again.
  5132.  
  5133. >The two of them have really improved over the last few days.
  5134. >They're still hooked up to machines and drip bags and stuff, but they're up and moving again now, and capable of speaking properly again.
  5135. >Though their magic is still pretty weak. No celestial body moving for them.
  5136. >After the first visit, you and the others agreed on no questions until they were well enough to give long answers.
  5137. >Looks like today might just be that day.
  5138. >You see the two princesses sitting at a small table that was brought in, playing some kind of board game with each other.
  5139. >They turn to all of you when they hear your entrance. While both of them light up, Luna has to work to restrain her glee when she sees you.
  5140. >These visits usually last ten or so minutes. Today was no different, with one notable exception at the end, courtesy of Twilight:
  5141. >"I'm glad you're both doing so well now. But, me and Anon need to... ask the two of you a few questions. About, well, that day."
  5142. >The girls must have talked this out beforehand, since they all took their leave, leaving the four of you alone. Celestia, once again, is the first to speak up:
  5143. >"The attack on the vault, yes. How much do you know, Twilight?"
  5144. >"Well, Anon was the first to wake up after you were attacked, so he told us everything that happened."
  5145. >Luna decides to interject:
  5146. >"After he woke up? You mean to say that you did not flee?"
  5147. "No, not really. I mean, how could I?"
  5148. >"B-but you woke up! So how did you pass out in the first place?"
  5149. >Ah, shit. You know where this is going.
  5150.  
  5151. >Lucky for you, Twilight saves the day:
  5152. >"Anon stayed behind, yes. I don't think anypony in his position could have ran, seeing what that... other human just did to his friends. Though I think he'd be better at explaining what happened than I would, princess."
  5153. >Okay, wasn't expecting a partial save there, purple.
  5154. >Well whatever, Luna wasn't visibly agitated anymore. You'll live. Hopefully.
  5155. >You tell them about how you passed out, then how he woke you up, talked major shit to you, and then how he beat your ass into the ground.
  5156. >Funny how a few weeks make retelling it a lot easier.
  5157. >Both of the royals are pretty peturbed by your words, however.
  5158. >Luna's question is still about you, however:
  5159. >"But how did Anonymous stand against his magic? There are few things in this world that can resist magic like that, none of which are natural!"
  5160. >"Well, Luna, you're half right."
  5161. >"W-what?"
  5162. >Time for your own interjection:
  5163. "Well, you see, there's a certain metal on my planet that's really common. Common enough to be in the blood of most every animal there."
  5164. >The two of them make the connection immediately. Luna seems surprised, while--
  5165. >Whoa whoa holy fuck there Celestia, what's with the fucking glare?
  5166. >She's looking at you like you're on trial for shooting a puppy!
  5167. >"Do you speak truly, Anonymous?"
  5168. >Phew, good save there, Luna.
  5169. "Y-yeah."
  5170. >"You... you mean to say the metal is iron, yes?"
  5171. >Right, forgot there was more than one antimagic metal.
  5172. "Pretty much."
  5173.  
  5174. >Wonder crosses her features. Celestia's still glaring.
  5175. >"An entire planet of naturally born ironbloods. To think such things could exist..."
  5176. >Oh shit, she's really pressing for details here. She's right up in your face.
  5177. >"You must tell us more! How common is iron on your home?"
  5178. "Uh, well, we use it for basically everything at home. You know, tools, weapons, everything. Hell, our planet's core is made of it."
  5179. >"The very heart of your world is iron?! Then you truly do hail from a world free from magic!"
  5180. >This is exciting her more than you thought it would. A throat clearing from Celestia broke the both of you from the convo. And it wasn't a nice clearing.
  5181. >"Twilight?"
  5182. >"Y-yes, Celestia?"
  5183. >"I need you to assist doctor Valiant in getting the metal filter operational."
  5184. >Wait, metal filter? What's--
  5185. >Oh, holy fuck lady! What's wrong with--
  5186. >"No."
  5187. >You and Celestia are both surprised by Twilight's reply.
  5188. >"Twilight, this is a very dangerous situation."
  5189. >"You're not removing the iron from his blood, Celestia."
  5190. >"And why, exactly, should I not?"
  5191. >"Because you'll kill him if you do!"
  5192. >Well, this shit just got dark, fast. Oh, and Luna's hugging you again.
  5193. >"Reversing an infusion of iron is well within our power to do, Twilight."
  5194. >"Not for Anon, it isn't! He needs it to survive!"
  5195. >"And why, precisely, is that the case?"
  5196. >"His species uses it to help form new blood cells! If you get rid of it, you'll destabilize his blood cells, and he'll die from anemia!"
  5197.  
  5198. >You're still flabbergasted at the turn of events just now.
  5199. >One moment, you're asking questions; and the next, Celestia's trying to rip the antimagic right out of you?
  5200. >Her tone throughout that whole part on your blood was like that of a judge about to dole out a fucking life sentence to a killer!
  5201. >Shit just got fucked, real fast.
  5202. >She's suggesting replacing the metal with something else, when Luna intervenes.
  5203. >"Sister! What is the meaning of this madness?!"
  5204. >A... very loud intervention, at that.
  5205. >"Madness? Luna, he is a danger to--"
  5206. >"Danger? What danger could he possibly pose? He has been in Equestria for over two years, and nothing has happened!"
  5207. >"You know as much as I do about the damage that ironbloods can cause!"
  5208. >"Yes, the ones created through infusion! But if what Twilight and Anonymous say is true, then his case is little more than happenstance of birth!"
  5209. >"But we can just replace the metal with another--"
  5210. >"You are NOT altering Anonymous's flesh and blood, and that is final!"
  5211. >You could tell Celestia wanted to argue this further, but she was pretty clearly 1v2 here. She seems to relent, but you could already tell this would be a recurring problem.
  5212. >What in the fuck, man?
  5213. >You may not have seen her that much before, but she was always a really nice pony. Hell, if half the shit Twilight said was true, then super nice, even!
  5214. >But the second she learns about this, it's like she's a totally different pony!
  5215. >...
  5216. >Seems there's an awkward silence building here.
  5217. >Fuck, need a way to break the new ice here...
  5218.  
  5219. >...
  5220. >Yeah, the chances of that happening are dropping by the minute.
  5221. >The two sisters are currently in a staring contest, one of which is assuming the protective hug stance with you.
  5222. >Twilight is just at a loss for words right now. Hell, after seeing a mood shift from her mentor like that, you'd be at a loss, too.
  5223. >KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
  5224. >Thank God for the interruption. Twilight excuses herself and goes for the door.
  5225. >"Applejack? What are--"
  5226. >"Twilight, did you see Fluttershy again after we left here?"
  5227. >"Huh? No, we haven't. What's going on?"
  5228. >"We can't find her, Twilight! She's gone missing!"
  5229. >I'm sorry, what?
  5230. >"Missing? What do you mean, 'missing'?"
  5231. >"Exactly that! She needed to use the little filly's room, but she took way too long! When we went in to find her, she was gone!"
  5232. >[spoiler]You thought it was God providing the interruption, but it was I, Murphy![/spoiler]
  5233. >"Oh, no! I'll be right there!"
  5234. >She turns back to you and the others.
  5235. >"I'm sorry, but I've got to go help find Fluttershy!"
  5236. "Hold the door, I'm coming with."
  5237. >"No, Anon! You could--"
  5238. "See right through changeling disguises without spells, remember? And a whole bunch of other magic disguises, too!"
  5239. >Antimagic sight aside, you're not letting a friend get hurt or worse. Never again.
  5240. >Suddenly, you feel a nuzzle against your back by a certain moon princess, followed by a whisper:
  5241. >"Go help Twilight. And stay safe, okay?"
  5242. >You look back and give her a small smile as response.
  5243. >Jumping to your feet, you run out in formation with Twilight and AJ.
  5244.  
  5245. >...
  5246. >Lord Matthias was right. Their new detection spell was very easy to thwart!
  5247. >You never expected him to personally teach you pony magic like that, but with his tutelage, you were now the proud equal of a pony battlemage.
  5248. >And that meant access to invisibility magic, as per your request.
  5249. >With the addition of sound muffling spells, you were now sprinting down the hallways of the castle, with your prize laid across your back.
  5250. >None other than the Element of Kindness herself, one Fluttershy.
  5251. >You don't know why he chose her, and not the Element of Magic, but Lord Matthias has never led you astray before.
  5252. >So you will not question his orders.
  5253. >The invisibility magic was wearing down your mana reserves, but you were close to the rendezvous point now, anyway--
  5254. >THE HUMAN!
  5255. >Quick as a flash, you buzz your wings and fly upwards as fast as you can. Once nestled in the rafters, you drop your invisibility and look down at him.
  5256. >Lord Matthias warned you about another human here, one Anonymous.
  5257. >Unlike your Lord, this human has chosen to side with the ponies!
  5258. >Even rejecting and insulting your Lord to his face!
  5259. >If you didn't need to carry this damnable pony back to your Lord, he would be dead right now!
  5260. >But it looks like the Elements of Magic and Honesty accompanied him.
  5261. >Fortunately, they don't appear to have seen you.
  5262. >They must be searching for their precious friend.
  5263. >Too bad they won't find her.
  5264. >Once they've passed, you recast the invisibility and descend back into the hall, breaking into a dead sprint once you touch the ground.
  5265.  
  5266. >Incognit-- Lord Matthias told you about how his people were naturally born as ironbloods. How it was a common material on his home world.
  5267. >He could see through almost any magic disguise because of this.
  5268. >Unfortunately, so could that Anonymous!
  5269. >You'll brood on this later. You're at the rendezvous point, an abandoned guard tower that the gryphons had tunneled under beforehoof--
  5270. >There's a pony in the tower. He's standing atop the crate covering the tunnel.
  5271. >Oh, horseapples. You don't have time for this!
  5272. >You set your prize behind a crate, drop your spells, and assume a disguise as an attractive earth pony mare.
  5273. >Given that this interloper is a stallion, drawing him away should not prove to be too... diffi... cult.
  5274. >...
  5275. >What...
  5276. >What were you looking at right now?
  5277. >This pony was reading some kind of magazine, hugging an inflatable doll of Celestia close, and was p-pleasuring himself?!
  5278. >How did you not notice this before?!
  5279. >"O-oh, h-hey there! A-are you here for my posting?"
  5280. >So many warnings were going off right now. None of them danger, but all of them unpleasant.
  5281. >Badly washed tail, unbrushed teeth, awkward speech patterns, and... was he still pleasuring himself?!
  5282. >What is going on here?!
  5283. >Oh, wait, he was talking to you!
  5284. >Just play along, filly!
  5285. "Y... Yes, yes I am!"
  5286. >The huge smile he gave. It sent a shiver down your spine.
  5287.  
  5288. >"S-so you're here to help me find my one true love? My coltfriend-free mare?"
  5289. >...
  5290. >What.
  5291. "Wha--"
  5292. >"Who must be a unicorn, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five, have a white coat, and have an earth toned mane?"
  5293. >You...
  5294. >What is--
  5295. >"Also, she can't have any prior coltfriends beforehoof, must be a virgin, must enjoy TRPG games, and has to not be jealous around my collection of Naughty Pony Fully Articulate Pleasure Figurines™ and my stockpile of Playcolt® Executive Edition magazines!"
  5296. >...
  5297. >You don't have the proper words to describe this.
  5298. >Hay, you don't have the proper mental concepts to describe this!
  5299. >What on Equus did you just walk into?
  5300. >Is... is this some kind of trap?
  5301. >No. No, the Equestrians weren't smart enough for this.
  5302. >Nopony could act this tone-deaf and awkward if they set out to try.
  5303. >Which means that this pony is completely serious.
  5304. >"But you're not a unicorn. Ugh, another stupid mud pony!"
  5305. >Yeah, no. You're not playing ball anymore.
  5306. >The door is locked, soundproofing is cast, and your disguise drops.
  5307. >That shriek of his was entirely too effeminate for a stallion.
  5308. >It was still worth it, though.
  5309. >Wait, why isn't he cowering in fear--
  5310. >"Holy horseapples, they ARE even uglier than those stupid ziggers!"
  5311. >...
  5312. >And here you thought your opinion on ponykind couldn't sink any lower.
  5313. >You pre-empt whatever this filthy degenerate had to say with a buck to the head. He's out cold.
  5314. >...
  5315. >You knew this was an awful idea.
  5316. >But you had enough strength to carry two ponies.
  5317.  
  5318. >Any concerns about time were swept away by how outspoken this pony is. He probably tells everypony and their daughters where he goes to relieve himself.
  5319. >They probably agreed to never enter this tower after he did.
  5320. >It would explain why it was abandoned.
  5321. >You've never used the term 'degenerate' beforehoof. You'd always felt it was too strong. Not this time.
  5322. >Before you move his items to make way for the door, you sift through them for anything useful.
  5323. >With magic, of course. You're not touching any of these items.
  5324. >Pulling free some identification, you see... Precise Measure, a... A scientist? Archaeology? This pony is accredited?!
  5325. >Who in their right mind would accredit this bucking freak?!
  5326. >The ID goes on to state his mental disabilities. Severely autistic. He seems to have scrawled his grades in crayon on the back. Nothing below 94%.
  5327. >He seems to have an official legal immunity to obscenity charges. His parents must be rich, if they were able to pass THAT through the pony courts.
  5328. >In fact, you wonder if half the disgusting things he mentioned having were paid for by said parents.
  5329. >Still, he appeared to have a talent for science.
  5330. >Perhaps after he was broken by your Lord, he could provide useful information.
  5331. >...
  5332. >Yes, that justification will do just fine.
  5333. >You float his body, and place the Element of Kindness back onto your back.
  5334. >The crate is lifted, revealing a trapdoor.
  5335. >An unlit, small, and ominous passageway was behind it.
  5336. >Well, perhaps ominous to ponies.
  5337. >Not to changelings.
  5338.  
  5339. >As you traversed the tunnel, you couldn't help but ponder what would happen to the pony floating behind you.
  5340. >What would Inco-- Lord Matthias do to him?
  5341. >What would he allow you to do to him?
  5342. >Many thoughts of torture were mulled over, before you saw the light at the end.
  5343. >As expected, waiting for you was a gryphon chariot.
  5344. >And Azusa. Lord Matthias's supposed best agent.
  5345. >He was cowardly, not to the extent of Hollowfang, but noticeable enough.
  5346. >But unlike Hollowfang, Azusa was actually useful. He was a very good strategist, and was the one who came up with this plan for Lord Matthias.
  5347. >It's a shame that strategy was all he was good at. Who knows how many gryphons would love to be your Lord's right hand? Directly executing his will?
  5348. >"Ah, Athalia. It seems like you've succeded! But... who is that other pony?"
  5349. >Another trait of his, besides his high, squawky voice. His inflexibility.
  5350. "A scientist that was blocking the escape hatch. Don't ask me to recount what he was doing here."
  5351. >"A scientist? Somepony useful for Lord Matthias, then?"
  5352. "Possibly. He should be... very easy for him to break."
  5353. >His aversion to torture, you also couldn't understand.
  5354. >"Y-yes, yes, very well then. If you're wrong, our master will know first and foremost that it was your decision to bring him, understand?!"
  5355. "Completely. Now, let's leave before the ponies grow wise to the tunnel."
  5356. >So easy to push his buttons, to make him acquiesce.
  5357. >Perhaps that's why Lord Matthias keeps him around.
  5358. >In any case, everyone boards the chariot, and it takes off shortly thereafter.
  5359.  
  5360. @@@@@@@@
  5361.  
  5362. >THWACK
  5363. >And that Tartarian monstrosity in a pony's skin called Precise Measure was knocked unconscious for the second time in this flight.
  5364. >Thank goodness.
  5365. >You still don't know how that pony can just not take a hint!
  5366. >The first time he awakened, he proceeded to drone on to himself, very much out loud, about how badly he viewed gryphons.
  5367. >While you'd admit you've warmed to them over the last two weeks, you knew your fair share of insults for their kind.
  5368. >But this pony. He knew such terrible, scathing lines!
  5369. >Even if one had to sift through incomprehensible tangents about his mother's hoarding problems to find it.
  5370. >One line about cannibalizing their own young was all it took for one of the soldiers to knock him unconscious.
  5371. >Unfortunately, he didn't stay out for very long, and went right back to cursing gryphons, while mentioning something about a tall green ape stealing his mother's gift box full of...
  5372. >No. You refuse to recount what he said was in that box.
  5373. >And thus, he was out a second time. The same guard, too.
  5374. >You'd have to give that guard a commendation. If it was in your power to.
  5375. >...
  5376. >Power...
  5377. >You hadn't thought that much about it before.
  5378. >You'd always been used to having power used on you.
  5379. >Your queen was the absolute authority, and that was that. For the longest time, things were like that.
  5380. >But now, after pressuring Azusa to bring this pony along?
  5381. >You can't say you object to the taste of it. Having power over another.
  5382.  
  5383. >The telltale darkening of the outside signals your arrival at the hive.
  5384. >You take a moment to look over your real target captive.
  5385. >The Element of Kindness is still unconscious, slumped as she is on the bench, lying to your immediate left.
  5386. >A more vengeful part of you wishes she was awake to hear this Precise drone on about his perverse proclivities.
  5387. >Hmm...
  5388. >Perhaps that's a good idea.
  5389. >You should suggest it to Lord Matthias later!
  5390. >The chariot's doors open, more for you than the gryphons themselves.
  5391. >You place Kindness atop your back again, and flutter down to the ground.
  5392. >"Lord Matthias directed us to meet him in the foyer of his laboratory. Ajay, take the... 'scientist' to the jails while we transport our prisoner."
  5393. >So that was the name of that gryphon who knocked him out?
  5394. >Strange way to pronounce his name, though. Haatch-ay?
  5395. >Whatever the case, he's clearly not happy with the turn of events.
  5396. >Hay, you wouldn't be, either.
  5397. >While Ajay takes Precise off, your group heads off to Lord Matthias's lab, with Azusa leading the pack.
  5398. >The guards in front of the lab offer a salute as you all pass through the door.
  5399. >The lobby is just as sterile and strangely eerie as you remember it.
  5400. >...
  5401. >You also don't remember your queen waiting here, either!
  5402. >"Queen Chrysalis? Just what are you doing here?"
  5403. >Bad way to start a conversation, Azusa...
  5404. >"I do not need to explain my presence to you."
  5405. >"Oh, don't you? Well, so long as you keep those bugs of yours in line, we won't have any problems."
  5406.  
  5407. >The Fang twins were still with her, even here.
  5408. >Venomfang offered a hiss in reply to Azusa. Which succeeded in having him back away. You knew your queen was smiling at that reaction.
  5409. >You're wondering if his predictability was going to be a big hindrance in the future. Seems like a bad trait for a strategy head.
  5410. >Interrupting your thoughts is the door opening.
  5411. >There's Incog-- uh, Lord Matthias!
  5412. >"My children, you've returned! What news do you bring?"
  5413. >Azusa would have replied, if your queen hadn't interjected:
  5414. >"Little Nito, you will tell me--"
  5415. >"I don't remember asking you a God-damned thing!"
  5416. >E...
  5417. >Everyone in the room flinched away at the tone that Lord Matthias just used.
  5418. >Especially your queen.
  5419. >That might be more due to the glare he set in her direction, though.
  5420. >"Asuza, report."
  5421. >"Y-y-yes, m-my Lord! O-our raid was s-successful, and we've b-brought back one more prize for your p-perusal, my Lord!"
  5422. >"My request was specifically for one pony, Azusa."
  5423. >You set Kindness down behind you. You needed to own up to this.
  5424. >"M-m-my Lord, I-I'm so--"
  5425. "That was my call, my Lord."
  5426. >Silence reigned. Your Lord's look was not of anger, but curiosity.
  5427. >"Explain yourself, my child."
  5428. "The other pony I brought was blocking my escape route. I determined him to be a scientist, and because of the close proximity, I decided to bring him with us for questioning."
  5429.  
  5430. >"A scientist, you say? Hm. I'll ask you more about that later."
  5431. >You let out a breath you didn't know you were holding.
  5432. >"But first things first, my child. Do you have what I asked for?"
  5433. >This, you were smiling about. You float Kindness atop your back again, and turn to the side to present her to your Lord.
  5434. >You hear your queen gasp, while your Lord just smiles.
  5435. >"Fantastic work, my child. Alive and unharmed, as I desired. And far beneath my expected time, no less!"
  5436. >Your queen had many questions about this, no doubt. But she dared not speak up again so soon.
  5437. >"Now, I must ask you all to leave. Except you, my child. I need you to carry Miss Fluttershy to her temporary home, and time is not on our side."
  5438. >You hear the other gryphons filtering out of the room.
  5439. >Y-your Lord was bringing you back into his lab?!
  5440. >If you didn't need to keep professional in front of him, you'd be jumping for joy right now!
  5441. >Well, that and the presence of your queen.
  5442. >"NOW will you see to--"
  5443. >"No."
  5444. >Ooh, she did not like that. But you certainly did.
  5445. >"Quickly now, child."
  5446. >With a definite spring in your step, you pass through the door he held open, with him closing it and following you though soon after.
  5447. >He takes the lead shortly thereafter, and once you're a fair distance through this hallway, he takes a right turn and speaks again:
  5448. >"Excellent work back there, young Athalia."
  5449. >H-he's praising you?!
  5450. >OhmygoshYES!
  5451.  
  5452. >"You completed the task I set forth in almost an hour less than the deadline I had set. You brought back an additional prisoner, and you were forthcoming on the circumstances surrounding the additional capture."
  5453. >If you weren't carrying a very important pony, you'd be hopping around in joy right now!
  5454. >"Your self-control has improved significantly since our first meeting. We have many things to discuss regarding these developments, after we've secured our guest. Oh, put her down just in there, Athalia."
  5455. >He's pointing to an already-open cell.
  5456. >You were disappointed to see it was actually very well furnished, almost like an apartment, but you don't let your distate show. Yet.
  5457. >You deposit the pony atop the bed, and then leave the room. Finally, Lord Matthias locks the door behind her.
  5458. >"I can tell that her accomodations were not what you expected."
  5459. "M... My Lord, I thought interrogation was done in harsher environments, is all..."
  5460. >"Oh, no, my child. We're not interrogating her."
  5461. "W-what?"
  5462. >"I shall explain later, once we are somewhere more private. Come, this way."
  5463. >And there he goes again, back down the hall. You follow him through another few turns, and you enter a--
  5464. >"I must warn you, Athalia. My experiments here are not for the faint of heart. You may wish to avert your gaze while we travel this particular area."
  5465. "W-what do you mean, 'faint of heart'?"
  5466. >"If you're curious enough, you will soon see."
  5467. >Well darn right you were curious!
  5468.  
  5469. >This corner led to a chamber, full... of...
  5470. >O-oh.
  5471. >Oh my gosh.
  5472. >W-what is...?!
  5473. >The room was full of ponies. Suspended in tanks of greenish liquid.
  5474. >Further up, you saw what looked like specialized operation tables for them!
  5475. >The instruments were varied and universally unpleasant, ending in spikes, cutters, and--
  5476. >NOPE. LOOKING AWAY NOW.
  5477. >Pained groaning could be heard to the side.
  5478. >NOT LOOKING. NOPE. NOT HAPPENING.
  5479. >Mercifully, another door ahead of him led to a regular looking office.
  5480. >Well, presumably sized for a human, anyway. The furniture was really big.
  5481. >He takes a seat at his desk, which was very clean.
  5482. >"Please, have a seat."
  5483. >A high pony chair floats in front of the desk from a source unseen.
  5484. >You don't bother checking, you just sit, as instructed.
  5485. >"Now, I'm certain you have many questions, but first, I'd like for you to explain to me what that additional capture is all about."
  5486. >You suppress a shudder at the thought.
  5487. >The shudder suppression is much less effective as you retell the story to him.
  5488. >His expression changes from disgust, confusion, and then back to disgust.
  5489. >"I see. Rest assured, he shall not receive any such comforts that our other prisoner currently has."
  5490. "I hope he never does."
  5491. >"That will be incumbent on how he cooperates. But impressions so far are less than favourable, I will admit.
  5492. >"Now, you wanted to know more about my plan for Miss Fluttershy, Athalia?"
  5493.  
  5494. "W-well, yes, my Lord! I don't doubt your plans, absolutely not, but why are we apparently treating her like a guest?, when she's our prisoner?"
  5495. >A smile finds it's way back to his features.
  5496. >"I haven't told anyone what my plans were. Anyone but you, of course."
  5497. >Oh... oh gosh. Dissapointment turns to excitement very quickly.
  5498. >"Truthfully, child, I am not the least bit interested in that mare. She has nothing of value to offer me or the cause. Indeed, she will be allowed to return to her friends after I am done with her."
  5499. "W-what?!"
  5500. >"Her survival is still important to the greater scheme of things, my child. But while she herself is not useful to me, a certain companion of hers most certainly is."
  5501. "What... what companion?"
  5502. >"The companion she helped to 'reform', of course."
  5503. "Reform? Who did she--"
  5504. >...
  5505. >No.
  5506. >He can't mean...!
  5507. "D-Discord?!"
  5508. >"Yes, the very same."
  5509. "W-why? Do you know how dangerous he is, my Lord?!"
  5510. >"All too well."
  5511. "Then why do you want him, if you know how dangerous he is?!"
  5512. >"Discord is a loose cannon, Athalia. A rogue element, a wild card. Not unexpected, considering his nature, but his involvement in this conflict will most certainly be driven by the capture of his beloved Fluttershy.
  5513. >"Yet he is still critically important to my plans, my child. Regardless of whether I need to force him or not, he will serve my ends."
  5514. >Recovering from the shock of your Lord, oh, TRYING TO LURE BUCKING DISCORD HERE, you start back up:
  5515.  
  5516. "S-serve your ends? But Discord doesn't serve anyone, my Lord! And certainly not you!"
  5517. >"I never said I needed his approval, Athalia."
  5518. >That glint in his eyes. He has something big planned, and he can't wait to pull it off.
  5519. >You want to trust him, but this is Discord we're talking about!
  5520. "H-how do you plan on forcing him, Lord Matthias?"
  5521. >"I'm not at liberty to discuss that quite yet, child. But suffice it to say, it is far removed from the realm of what he would consider a possibility."
  5522. "You're going to do something the spirit of chaos doesn't expect?"
  5523. >"He can pretend to be chaotic all he likes, but he is as predictable as any other foe of ponykind. Otherwise, he would have dispatched them long ago."
  5524. >You... you need a moment.
  5525. >First he wants to... presumably capture him, and now he calls Discord predictable?!
  5526. >Even for your Lord, that's a huge claim!
  5527. >"Now, then. Let us discuss your personal development, and then we can move on to more magic training."
  5528. >You were a bit... less excited than you normally would be, given what your Lord just revealed to you about his plans.
  5529. >But you never passed up opportunities like this!
  5530. >For a while, you and Incog-- Lord Matthias talked about how much you'd grown as an individual since he took you in. How your self-control, physical strength, and even magic potential have all improved!
  5531. >The praise was almost enough to make you swoon!
  5532. >After that, he led you to his arcane training grounds.
  5533. >The next spells were all offensive. You liked the sound of them.
  5534.  
  5535. >...
  5536. >You don't know what's worse at this stage.
  5537. >Completely losing track of Fluttershy like this...
  5538. >"Where. Is. Fluttershy?!"
  5539. >Or having this Discord fucker literally taking the castle apart in his search for her.
  5540. >Your search when you first set out was pretty bleak looking.
  5541. >The guards combed the whole castle, but not a single trace of her could be found.
  5542. >Abduction was a very likely scenario, if the captains were right.
  5543. >Twilight tearfully theorizing how somepony could break her detection spell was on the list of things talked about when that possibility was offered up.
  5544. >As for you, it left you with a cold, numb feeling.
  5545. >It didn't have a long lifespan, however, when this Discord character showed up.
  5546. >You've only seen this guy four or five times in your stay here.
  5547. >Every time wasn't too pleasant, since he got super pissy when he couldn't do his finger-snapping chaos tricks on you.
  5548. >Considering the end results of what that kind of fuckery brings, that's another point in favour of loving magic resist.
  5549. >What you weren't expecting was for Discord to have such a bad reaction to Fluttershy's likely kidnapping.
  5550. >Those two must've been real tight.
  5551. >You wouldn't know, though.
  5552. >"Don't make me repeat myself!"
  5553. >Oh yeah, he's terrorizing some nobles for info right now.
  5554. >Not exactly kosher for the guards, needless to say.
  5555. >Though you doubt they'd be competent enough to actually go through with that kidnapping.
  5556.  
  5557. >"Discord, wait!"
  5558. >Oh, there's Twilight.
  5559. >She's looking as bad as you feel right about now, but still in good enough shape to be running around. And talking down chaos gods.
  5560. >"Don't bother me, Twilight. I have important things to do!"
  5561. >"Discord, we've questioned the nobles three times already! They don't know where she could have gone!"
  5562. >"Then question the other ponies in the city!"
  5563. >"We just did! Nothing came up!"
  5564. >The exchange was interrupted by a guard messenger.
  5565. >"Forgive the intrusion, your highness, but we have some new information pertaining to the possible location of the Element of Kindness!
  5566. >"Seven hours ago, a chariot of gryphon make was seen flying away from the direction of Canterlot, by a small watch post near Griffonstone.
  5567. >"The flight was unscheduled, and cursory inspection via telescope indicated the possibility of changelings aboard the chariot.
  5568. >"Their flight path took them deep into the mountain ranges of the gryphon territories, though there are no known settlements in that direction."
  5569. >One more salute, a quick 'excuse me', and the messenger was off.
  5570. >So that's where she could have gone?
  5571. >And it sounds like that's where they're hiding, too!
  5572. >"Discord, wait! We don't know what they could be planning!"
  5573. >He's about to snap his fingers. Probably to hunt for Fluttershy.
  5574. >"Then send your precious soldiers off to those mountains! Whatever you choose, I'm going after her!"
  5575. >He ignores her advice and completes the finger-snap, teleporting away.
  5576. >You might not like the guy, but man, do you wish him good luck.
  5577.  
  5578. @@@@@@@@
  5579.  
  5580. >...
  5581. >When Lord Matthias said that time was not on your side, he wasn't kidding!
  5582. >Moments after that offensive magic training, which went really well, he asked you to fetch Kindness from her cell, and bring her to the chariot hangar.
  5583. >You'd asked about it, and he said that Discord reacted quicker than he thought.
  5584. >While you'd have liked more details, he really needed Kindness in the hangar, so he sent you off right away.
  5585. >Maybe you can ask him more, once you deliver her.
  5586. >Luckily, you're good at navigation and directions, so retracing your steps to the cell isn't an issue.
  5587. >Unfortunately, Kindness seems to be awake already.
  5588. >And true to her description, she's absolutely terrified.
  5589. >Great. As if there wasn't enough craziness today.
  5590. >You enter her cell, and she gets noticeably more scared when she notices you.
  5591. >You didn't think she could go much past 'absolutely terrified', but she did.
  5592. >Mercifully, the shock of seeing you causes her to faint.
  5593. >Needing to use stunning spells was something you'd preferred to avoid.
  5594. >...
  5595. >Wait, stunning spells were one of the few things Inc-- Lord Matthias taught you today, in your training!
  5596. >He...
  5597. >Oh boy, he was preparing you for things like this!
  5598. >He must have planned that ahead of time. He's smart enough to think ahead like that, after all.
  5599. >Huh.
  5600. >Maybe...
  5601. >Maybe he really can plan around Discord?
  5602.  
  5603. >Unfortunately, Kindness isn't unconscious, just really out of sorts.
  5604. >You shake your head to clear your thoughts, and float her onto your back again.
  5605. >You also throw in some magic restraints, just in case.
  5606. >That one was from a previous training session, too.
  5607. >You'd say that he couldn't have planned THAT far ahead, but your gut disagrees.
  5608. >"Hey! Athalia?"
  5609. >Who's that?
  5610. >You don't recognize the voice.
  5611. >But it's definitely a gryphon.
  5612. >The source is on your way to the hangar, so you continue on your way.
  5613. >"Uhh, you here? Athalia? Is... is that even her name?"
  5614. >You round one last corner before the lab exit to find--
  5615. >Hey, it's that gryphon from before! A... Ajay, was his name, right?
  5616. >He notices you right away as you round the corner.
  5617. >What does he want?
  5618. >"Uh, hey! You're... Athalia, right?"
  5619. "Who's asking?"
  5620. >"Name's Ajay. The boss sent me to keep you and the package safe."
  5621. "Which boss?"
  5622. >"The one with a functioning spine."
  5623. >Heh. You like this one already.
  5624. "Alright, but we're short on time here. Let's go."
  5625. >"I hear that."
  5626. >You and Ajay all but barrel out of the lab entrance, making a beeline to the hangar.
  5627. >Interesting voice on this Ajay character. Fairly deep but well-spoken, for an obvious front-line muscle type.
  5628. >And he sure had a lot of it. He must do a lot of grunt work.
  5629. >All questions for later. You had a deadline to meet, after all.
  5630.  
  5631. >And there's Lord Matthias, in a chariot with...
  5632. >Hey, there's something on the chariot!
  5633. >Whatever it is, it's the size of a pony, and covered in a thick cloth tarp.
  5634. >Decidedly more rock-shaped than pony-shaped, though.
  5635. >Also with the chariot are some gryphon guards. And a noted lack of changelings.
  5636. >And holy cow, you didn't even notice Lord Matthias's wardrobe change!
  5637. >He's back in that same battle armour he wore when he first went out to attack Canterlot! And with his Catalyst Gauntlet to match!
  5638. >He said it was both a weapon, and a means for him to use magic, since he couldn't use any himself. You know, ironblood and all.
  5639. >When you asked where he found it, he said he'd actually made it himself!
  5640. >He told you it was from instructions from an ancient book on 'forbidden' knowledge the ponies also tried to destroy.
  5641. >The... Codex Vires Cruor, you think it was called.
  5642. >You don't know what the name means, but it sounds cool.
  5643. >"Ah, perfect timing, my children! Come, we have no time to waste!"
  5644. >Oh right, you were about to...
  5645. >Wait, is he expecting you to come with him?
  5646. >Yep, he's expecting you to come with him.
  5647. >Come with him to do... something with Discord?
  5648. >You were still a bit on edge about that whole deal, honestly.
  5649. >But this is the same Lord Matthias who defeated the two princesses, right?
  5650. >The same princesses who beat Discord way back when?
  5651. >Maybe...
  5652. >Maybe he does know what he's doing.
  5653. >Well, of course he knows what he's doing!
  5654. >You shake the thoughts off again, and quickly jump into the chariot before anyone points out your delayed response.
  5655.  
  5656. >Looks like Ajay is joining your group, as well.
  5657. >You set Kindness down on one of the benches just as the chariot lifts off.
  5658. >She seems to be recovering pretty quick after that fainting spell.
  5659. >Your Lord strides over to her, asking you all to give her space.
  5660. >Maybe he will interrogate her, after all!
  5661. >You obey his command in either case.
  5662. >Kindness seems to finish stirring, and is met with the smiling face of Incognit-- darn it, Lord Matthias!
  5663. >You and Ajay seem to have the same idea of listening in on their talk.
  5664. >You also notice some magic coming from his catalyst, at the same time that she finishes stirring. You recognize it as a fear reduction spell.
  5665. >"Ah, it is good to meet an Element of Harmony after so long! And I'm pleased to see you are unharmed, too."
  5666. >She's very obviously scared, but his spell seems to be working. After all, she hasn't passed out yet.
  5667. >"Wh-Who are you?"
  5668. >"I am Incognito Matthias, young pony. Pleased to meet you."
  5669. >Oh yeah, she's heard of him before.
  5670. >"I-Incognito? You're... You're the human who attacked Canterlot?!"
  5671. >"The very same, my dear."
  5672. >"Wh-what are you doing here? Where am I?"
  5673. >"You are currently flying through the mountain ranges of the gryphon lands."
  5674. >It's at that point that she looks around, catching sight of you and the others, as well as the quickly passing mountains out here.
  5675. >Lord Matthias sure knew how to pick secret locations, that's for sure.
  5676. >"As for what I am doing here, my dear, I am here because I need you."
  5677.  
  5678. >"W-w-what do y-you want from m-me?!"
  5679. >"Oh, I don't want anything from you. Indeed, your capture is temporary."
  5680. >She's confused, like you expected. But you listen closely anyways, to hear any differences between this telling of his plan, and the one he gave you.
  5681. >"W-what do you mean?"
  5682. >"I mean that once I have what I need, I shall release you back to your friends, unharmed. On that, you have my word.
  5683. >"In truth, I only need you to attract the attention of a close friend of yours. Do you know who that is?"
  5684. >She mouths 'Discord', to which he smiles wider.
  5685. >"Yes, that friend."
  5686. >"Y-you're crazy. W-why would you even think about making Discord angry?"
  5687. >"Angry, is it? He must really treasure you, then, to storm these mountains in search of you."
  5688. >You didn't think this pony could put on a brave face during all this, but she does. Huh, guess she's got some spine, after all.
  5689. >"You won't win, mister Incognito. You can't beat Discord, not when he has all of us behind him!"
  5690. >"Beat him? Oh, my dear sweet pegasus, I don't want to defeat him!"
  5691. >More confusion from said pegasus.
  5692. >"Indeed, I don't want to weaken him at all. Quite the contrary, in fact. Having him at full strength is all but necessary for my plans."
  5693. >Another epiphany crosses Kindness's face.
  5694. >"You think he'll join you?"
  5695. >"Of course not. Not after I took his precious 'friend' from him, after all."
  5696. >His smile gets a bit darker. It makes you and Kindness both shiver a bit.
  5697. >"But there are other ways to elicit aid from an enemy. Willing or not."
  5698.  
  5699. >Their conversation just kind of ends after that point.
  5700. >Kindness is searching all around her for something, clearly quite agitated.
  5701. >And you?
  5702. >Your confidence in Inco-- Lord Matthias increases with every line he speaks.
  5703. >The way he said that last part, about 'eliciting aid from an enemy'...
  5704. >He has huge plans, for sure.
  5705. >Does...
  5706. >Does it have anything to do with that thing under the tarp?
  5707. >You're so lost in thought that the chariot landing startles you a bit.
  5708. >A team of gryphons carries the object, still covered, over to...
  5709. >Whoa.
  5710. >You'd landed on a really big plateau in the mountains.
  5711. >The ground was covered in snow, some of which was pretty clearly artificially made.
  5712. >The magic coming off it was a dead giveaway.
  5713. >The view from the plateau was absolutely breathtaking.
  5714. >A good half of the mountains were further down in elevation than this plateau, letting you see a very long way.
  5715. >You could even make out the mountain holding Canterlot from here!
  5716. >So many things to see from here!
  5717. >Including...
  5718. >Oh.
  5719. >Oh, no.
  5720. >You could see something snaking around some of the mountains in the distance.
  5721. >Mismatched limbs, very off-putting magic, and looking absolutely livid.
  5722. >That could only be Discord.
  5723. >Needless to say, you were very afraid.
  5724. >He had his chaos powers here, unlike at the old hive in the desert.
  5725. >THUNK
  5726. >Everyone aboard the chariot jumped at the sound of metal hitting the ground.
  5727. >The metal belongs to Lord Matthias's catalyst, where one of the bladed fingers is embedded in the stone.
  5728. >His expression is deadly serious.
  5729.  
  5730. >"My children, what I am about to do is extremely dangerous."
  5731. >His bladed finger starts drawing a line in the rock itself.
  5732. >"It is imperative, if you wish your life to be preserved, that you absolutely do not cross this line."
  5733. >Another thunk is heard, as the gryphons lifting the still-covered object place it down onto the ground, a fair distance from his line.
  5734. >"Do not move from this position until I instruct you otherwise, and keep our guest restrained until I am finished."
  5735. >You somehow find the courage to speak up:
  5736. "B-but my Lord, what if you're in danger?"
  5737. >"I must ask you to remain there, my child, despite any such danger to myself."
  5738. >That didn't sit right with your instincts at all.
  5739. >But you trust him. You have to.
  5740. >You nod your assent, at which point the gryphons doing all that lifting returned to the chariot.
  5741. >He pulls his catalyst's blade from the ground, and walks in the opposite direction of your group, past the strange object, and stops a few feet from the edge of the other end of the plateau.
  5742. >He cups his free hand near his mouth, and--
  5743. >"DISCORD!"
  5744. >W-what?
  5745. >What is he doing?!
  5746. >"O GREAT AND FALLABLE SPIRIT OF CHAOS, CAN YOU HEAR ME?"
  5747. >Oh gosh oh no NO NO YOU'RE ALL GONNA BE TURNED INTO NEWTS!
  5748. >"DO YOU SEEK YOUR PRECIOUS FLUTTERSHY, O SPIRIT?"
  5749. >Even the gryphons are tensing to run away. You're double-tense.
  5750. >"THEN COME FORTH AND CLAIM HER!"
  5751. >He turns around to move near his covered object. His smile is much more wicked than it was a moment ago.
  5752. >"If you can, that is."
  5753.  
  5754. >After he turns away from you, you look out where you saw Discord flying around.
  5755. >He stopped in place on top of one shorter mountain.
  5756. >He definitely heard that.
  5757. >And now, he's flying towards the plateau, with flames and what seems like bubbles trailing from behind him.
  5758. >As confusing as it was terrifying.
  5759. >You and the gryphons alike were all too scared to move at this point.
  5760. >Discord arrives by way of flying above the plateau, the same livid expression from before now much clearer to see.
  5761. >He catches sight of your Lord, and seems to calm slightly, before landing a fair distance in front of him.
  5762. >You only just notice your Lord slowly clapping his hands.
  5763. >"Well, as he lives and breathes, the so-called spirit of chaos himself."
  5764. >Lord Matthias seems cheerful, while Discord is keeping a lot of anger from his voice.
  5765. >"Another human? I came all this way out here for a lousy human?"
  5766. >"I take it you have not heard of my recent accomplishments, then?"
  5767. >"Recent accomplishments? No. I've been--"
  5768. >"Occupied in Saddle Arabia, trying to remedy a serious diplomatic incident with a large and powerful tribe of warriors. Yes, I know."
  5769. >He gets noticeably less angry. Surprised, even!
  5770. >"How did you know that?"
  5771. >"Who do you think instigated that incident, my serpentine friend?"
  5772. >Less anger and more seriousness colours Discord's features.
  5773. >"You mean to tell me that you, a worthless human, killed over a hundred of those ponies by yourself?"
  5774. >"A hundred and fifty one. It was quite a challenge, setting the 'battlefield' to frame the ruling government."
  5775.  
  5776. >No way.
  5777. >Your Lord killed a hundred and fifty Saddle Arabian warriors? By himself?!
  5778. >That's what that one trip before the Canterlot attack was for?!
  5779. >Of all expressions you thought you would see on Discord's face, disgust was not one of them.
  5780. >"I thought that kind of barbarism ended with the pony unification. Why?"
  5781. >"To keep you busy, of course. I would not have wanted you to interfere with my very successful attack on Canterlot, after all."
  5782. >"You... attacked Canterlot?"
  5783. >"You really did just arrive back from that hellhole, didn't you?"
  5784. >A dark chuckle comes from your Lord.
  5785. >"Then I will give you the short version. I invaded the seat of ponykind, took the contents of the forbidden vault, and incapacitated your precious celestial sisters for a very long time. You could even have seen them before coming here!"
  5786. >He gives his catalyst a small flourish, red sparks of magic jumping from it.
  5787. >Discord's expression grows deadly serious, with plenty of anger still there.
  5788. >"Soul binding and runesmithing? Just who are you, little human?"
  5789. >"I am Incognito Matthias, my 'chaotic' friend. Aspiring liberator of all races from the yoke of ponykind."
  5790. >"Liberator? And just what do you think you're 'liberating' them from, besides Tia's tendency to overreach?"
  5791. >"Forgotten about the War of the Ancients so soon?"
  5792. >He freezes at that name.
  5793. >Wait, what war? With ancients? What's that all about? And why does he look... scared by that?
  5794. >Wait, holy mackerel! Discord looks SCARED?!
  5795.  
  5796. >"Oh yes, I know all about that. And it seems like you have done all you can to forget all about that."
  5797. >"T-there's no way. The ponies destroyed all record of it!"
  5798. >"Did they? They failed. Funny, how such a large dragnet of control is bound to have small holes in it. Holes in which outside accounts can take form.
  5799. >"What is also funny is how it relates to my own home. Such massive levels of control, the sheer hubris and schadenfreude of the ones implementing it, and the mass brainwashing to ensure such steady control?
  5800. >"Such things, in my world, are the things of fiction. Very dark fiction."
  5801. >"So what? You don't honestly think you can challenge them, can you?"
  5802. >"Can't I? I seem to have demonstrated my own skill over their own already. Oh, unless you are referring to their precious Fountain.
  5803. >"Cheating death in such a fashion, to perpetuate their rule over their 'lessers'? Despots and tyrants back home would obliterate entire continents for that kind of eternal perseverance."
  5804. >Discord's face and attitude is getting desperate. But what does your Lord know, to make him so terrified?
  5805. >"But you would know all about that, wouldn't you? After all, you helped them achieve their goals in the first place."
  5806. >"I didn't have a choice!"
  5807. >"Yes, you did. You simply chose cowardice.
  5808. >"You could have perished along with the rest of your kind, as a shining symbol of defiance in the face of Equestria's brutal imperial campaign.
  5809. >"It may even have bought you time to allow your fellow gifted to strike them down, once and for all!
  5810. >"But instead, fear got the best of you. And so, you defected."
  5811.  
  5812. >"Defected? You think I defected?!"
  5813. >"Surrendered, capitulated, resigned, yielded, gave up, I care little what dressing you choose to use for it!"
  5814. >"And I suppose you're some kind of expert on this? About destruction and conquest on a scale like that? All because, what, you read a book on the war? What could you possibly know about that war?!"
  5815. >"War?"
  5816. >You could tell he was smiling, even if you couldn't see him.
  5817. >"A hundred years before my time, there were two great wars. The first of which lasted four years, and claimed the lives of eighteen million of my own people."
  5818. >...
  5819. >Discord looks as floored as you feel.
  5820. >That... that can't be right! So many deaths, how could--
  5821. >"Two decades later, the squalor that war created gave birth to the second great war. This war lasted six long years, and the lives of seventy-five million of my people were lost in it."
  5822. >You...
  5823. >Just...
  5824. >Wha--
  5825. >"The irony is that this terrible war ended up creating the means to end wars on that scale, once and for all. For we created weapons of such great and terrible power, they could obliterate an entire city in the span of a minute!"
  5826. >...
  5827. >"Our very culture revolves around the romaticization of war, glorifying those who survived it, and we even play games that imitate it!
  5828. >"And though we no longer have massive, continential wars, we instead fight small proxy wars in a never-ending cycle of bloodshed, vying for dominance!
  5829. >"So yes, O spirit, me and my people are - very - well acquainted with war."
  5830.  
  5831. >Silence.
  5832. >Discord was absolutely silent.
  5833. >The expression he wore, of horror and sorrow.
  5834. >That was exactly how you felt right now.
  5835. >"Humanity is a strange animal. We crave freedom and individuality, yet require group cohesion to survive. We perform great feats of good, and even greater feats of evil. I almost envy your world's peoples, living their lives without such constant internal struggle with their own nature."
  5836. >"I..."
  5837. >"Fortunate for your world, then, that I am of the persuasion that promotes freedom, and not dominance. Leading us to your equine taskmasters. As you--"
  5838. >"Never."
  5839. >"Excuse me?"
  5840. >"I know what you're trying to do. And I want to believe you mean well with it."
  5841. >Discord slips right back into anger.
  5842. >"But if even half of what you said about your kind is true, then your means of 'freeing' every race on this world will end in oceans worth of blood!"
  5843. >He puts himself into an offensive stance.
  5844. >"I will NEVER let you slay another denizen of this world, ever again!"
  5845. >"Ahh, there's that fire. The sweet drive of determination. Just what I hoped to see when I first heard of you.
  5846. >"Absolutely perfect for what you will aid me with."
  5847. >"You dare to claim I will aid you? After all you've said?"
  5848. >"You labour under the misapprehension that I require your consent."
  5849. >His hand grips the tarp, and he pulls it free.
  5850. >...
  5851. >What is THAT?!
  5852. >A giant, red crystal, plastered with magic glyphs, with the crest of Equestria carved into the side facing you!
  5853. >As he revealed it, his foot came down hard onto the floor, creating a great flash of red light.
  5854.  
  5855. >When you could see properly again, you saw a huge, glowing red magical circle encompassing both Discord and Incognito. The border was just before the line that he'd drawn in the ground!
  5856. >Discord was visibly panicked by this development.
  5857. >Suddenly, a huge beam of orange magic rocketed from the giant crystal, hitting Discord in the chest.
  5858. >As the magic field enveloped him, he began to scream.
  5859. >"Oh, if only the 'lessers' they lord over knew they possessed an artifact like this! I could never have created a soul gem of this power on my own, that much is certain!"
  5860. >Soul gem?
  5861. >Discord's skin seemed to deform and boil as he was dragged closer to the massive crystal.
  5862. >"Well, you can at least take solace in one thing, as I bend your admittedly impressive powers to my whim."
  5863. >His catalyst blocked his body from touching the crystal. He moved him around, to properly see the chariot. You barely noticed Kindness being lifted with magic from beside you.
  5864. >"Your precious Fluttershy is alive and well. And I shall honour my word to her and release her back to her friends, unharmed. And with the story of what has transpired here."
  5865. >Discord seemed to reach out to Kindness, and she to him. To call her upset would be the understatement of the century.
  5866. >And then, without warning, Incognito released Discord, where he was absorbed into the crystal with a final scream.
  5867. >Kindness could be heard screaming his name as this happened.
  5868. >The crystal flashed orange, and now had a constant orange glow from deep within.
  5869.  
  5870. >You...
  5871. >You know he always has you at a loss for words.
  5872. >But this was something else entirely!
  5873. >He just...
  5874. >Okay, he has a huge crystal. From the crest on it, the ponies must have made it. Incognito called it a 'soul gem'. And he used it to capture Discord.
  5875. >You thought soul magic was some rumour that old ponies told their foals to scare them!
  5876. >But here you were, faced with a demonstration of the real thing!
  5877. >You didn't know that Inc-- your Lord knew about this magic, let alone used it!
  5878. >The red circle fades away into nothing.
  5879. >You can hear Kindness's crying next to you. She must have been set down when you weren't looking. Who can blame you for not looking?
  5880. >After floating the tarp back over the crystal, Lord Matthias walks back to the chariot. The smile he wore wasn't enough to shake you this time.
  5881. >Another landing can be heard nearby. That does shake you. It's a smaller, one-gryphon chariot. Kindness doesn't resist as she's floated over to the chariot.
  5882. >She's placed inside, and your Lord sends the flier on his way, off into the mountains. Her sobs are heard for a while as she's flown away.
  5883. >"Bring the gem aboard the chariot, and take us home. I believe that's enough excitement for one day."
  5884. >The same gryphons who got the crystal out, began carrying it back in.
  5885. >Your Lord boards the chariot, followed by the lifters.
  5886. >Once it's secure, the chariot takes off once again. Back to the hive.
  5887. >...
  5888. >Your Lord beat the two sisters. And captured Discord.
  5889. >You're not sure whether to be awed or terrified at this point.
  5890.  
  5891. @@@@@@@@
  5892.  
  5893. >...
  5894. >KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
  5895. >God damn it all, go away!
  5896. >Just ignore it, they'll go away eventually.
  5897. >KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
  5898. >You don't have time for this shit!
  5899. >You've got more magic to do!
  5900. >"Anon, Ah know yer in there! Open up!"
  5901. >And right in the middle of breakfast, too?
  5902. >Just keep quiet.
  5903. >"Alright, here's the deal. If ya don't open this door in the next fifteen seconds, Ah'm kickin' it in!"
  5904. >...
  5905. >Oh, now she's threatening to break in?
  5906. >That's real nice.
  5907. >Whatever. She's not gonna do it--
  5908. >CRACK
  5909. "Fuck!"
  5910. >Or she could do exactly that!
  5911. >She was flanked by Rainbow Dash and Twilight.
  5912. >All of this troupe looked concerned about you. Or was it pity?
  5913. >Fuck it, you don't care.
  5914. >"Sorry about that, sugarcube. Ah'll replace it later, Ah promise."
  5915. "Go away."
  5916. >Damn it Dash, now's not the fucking time.
  5917. >"Anon, what the hay's wrong with you?"
  5918. "You broke into my place."
  5919. >"You haven't come out in a whole bucking month!"
  5920. "So what? Just leave me alone."
  5921. >"Well, Ah wish we could, Anon. But we can't just sit still and watch ya turtle on up like this!"
  5922. >And there's Twilight.
  5923. >"Anon, please. We're all worried about you."
  5924. "Go away."
  5925. >"Go out for a drink with these two if you have to. Just please, don't do this to yourself."
  5926. "No."
  5927. >You'd given that up a while ago. Got in the way.
  5928. >She's shaking her head.
  5929. >"Fine. If you won't get out of this house for us, maybe you'll do it for somepony else."
  5930. >Yeah, right.
  5931. >"We're having another princess get-together in town today."
  5932. >...
  5933. >"It's at six tonight. I don't think they'll be happy to see you missing again."
  5934.  
  5935. >That line hangs in the air for a bit before she speaks next.
  5936. >"Come on, girls. Let's leave him to his breakfast for right now."
  5937. >The trio leaves, but not before Twilight magics your broken door off, and puts a whole new one back on.
  5938. >...
  5939. >...
  5940. >...
  5941. >That's thoughtful of them. Didn't you need more firewood, anyways?
  5942. >You've been going through a lot to keep the heater in the lab going.
  5943. >...
  5944. >Princess meet-up, eh?
  5945. >You didn't even know you missed one.
  5946. >Fuck.
  5947. >...
  5948. >Fucking God damn it.
  5949. >Always tempting you with the good stuff.
  5950. >It's been... wait, how long has it been since you've seen Luna?
  5951. >...
  5952. >Didn't she soldier out of the hospital wing, with her guards holding her up, just to see you after the news broke?
  5953. >Yeah, Fluttershy came back. On a gryphon chariot.
  5954. >You remember seeing how upset she was. The poor gal had cried herself dry when you all came across her.
  5955. >They'd tried to capture the gryphon flier pulling the thing, but he killed himself before they could chain him up.
  5956. >She was incoherent and didn't want to tell you all what happened, but she was together enough to agree to a mind reading by one of the castle therapists.
  5957. >You really wish you hadn't agreed to watch.
  5958. >That Incognito fucker was back at it. He beat Discord.
  5959. >No, he did worse. He stole his fucking soul.
  5960. >Didn't even know you could do that in happy-fun-times ponyland.
  5961. >...
  5962. >You remember being so... defeated.
  5963. >Not even a month later, and he took away someone else close to you.
  5964. >Well, maybe not you, but close to one of your friends.
  5965.  
  5966. >Flutters needed two weeks of intense therapy just to function again.
  5967. >Apparently.
  5968. >But... how is she doing now?
  5969. >...
  5970. >Damn it.
  5971. >First you miss out on Flutters, and now Luna, too?
  5972. >Oh. Yeah, the last time you saw her.
  5973. >She tried to console you, but you were well past that point.
  5974. >You sat in your castle room, brooding.
  5975. >When you came back, you went all-in on the magic.
  5976. >No pretense, just full blown hermit mode.
  5977. >...
  5978. >You must look like absolute shit.
  5979. >Well, not finishing this breakfast. Might as well check.
  5980. >God knows Luna wouldn't want to see you looking the part of a hermit.
  5981. >You pull yourself up from the table, and drag your sorry ass to the bathroom.
  5982. >This place is disgusting. You're normally so good about cleaning it.
  5983. >The mirror needs a wipe off to show your--
  5984. >Oh.
  5985. >That's nice.
  5986. >Not showering in three days was really showing. No shave since leaving the castle, so the Imam beard was on full display.
  5987. >Funny. That would normally bother the hell out of you.
  5988. >...
  5989. >Wonder if the shaving stuff is still any good? After you find the scissors.
  5990. >...
  5991. >...
  5992. >...
  5993. >Well, somehow you turned this cleansing of body into a full-blown bathroom purge. It was about as gross as you'd expect.
  5994. >Long story short, the formerly disgusting bathroom and human alike were now looking clean and sharp.
  5995. >You're feeling... a little better.
  5996. >But now you can really see the dark circles under your eyes.
  5997. >...
  5998. >Fuck it. Got nothing to cover those, and you're not about to get some make-up.
  5999. >What time is it?
  6000. >...
  6001. >Twelve already?
  6002. >Fuck me.
  6003.  
  6004. >Well, the whole house is getting gross. Might as well pass the time that way.
  6005. >...
  6006. >Five-thirty. That's a wrap for today.
  6007. >You're not happy about being unable to do magic shit today.
  6008. >But you knew the place needed it.
  6009. >You got everything but the study done. It's a wonder the girls didn't see the dirt trail leading to the now very obvious trapdoor outline.
  6010. >You curtain the window in there and shut the door.
  6011. >They wouldn't find the lab, now that there was a secret door hiding it.
  6012. >But explaining the booze cellar would be a big enough headache.
  6013. >You put on your slightly dusty best suit for this.
  6014. >You set out shortly after, into town.
  6015. >It's kind of assumed that princess get-togethers are held at their seats of power. So Twilight's castle it is.
  6016. >Oh hell, the ponies in town are greeting you. Asking where you've been.
  6017. >Maybe you'll answer them later, when you're not... like you are right now.
  6018. >The castle doors open in response to your knocks, by a certain little dragon.
  6019. >"Oh, hey Anon! How've you been?"
  6020. "Lousy."
  6021. >"Yeah, you sure look like it."
  6022. >...
  6023. >"A-anyways, I'll show you where the girls are!"
  6024. >Well that was cheeky of him.
  6025. >Since when did he...
  6026. >Oh, yeah. Since you first met him. Idiot.
  6027. >Well, your mood's soured a bit more.
  6028. >Didn't Celestia want you dead when she heard about your blood?
  6029. >Well, she might as well have wanted you dead.
  6030. >She didn't even apologize after the fact.
  6031. >You know, maybe this wasn't such a good--
  6032. >"Here we are, Anon! Go on in!"
  6033. >Or you could stay, you guess.
  6034. >Man, this is such bullshit.
  6035. >You don't know why he's not opening the doors.
  6036.  
  6037. >Well, whatever, you'll just open them yourself.
  6038. >The doors push open, revealing a black room.
  6039. >Oh, nice. Where's the light swit--
  6040. >"SURPRISE!!!"
  6041. "WHOALY CHRIST!"
  6042. >GOD DAMN IT YOU'RE BLIND
  6043. >WHAT THE FUCK'S GOING ON
  6044. >Oh no wait you're not blind, just dazzled and surprised.
  6045. >Surprised by...
  6046. >...
  6047. >Whoa.
  6048. >Is this a...
  6049. >A fucking surprise party?
  6050. >Streamers, party hats, food?
  6051. >Yeah, it sure is.
  6052. >The girls, the princesses, Starlight, Sunburst, and some little kid that wait holy shit that kid's a fucking alicorn!
  6053. >One very purple princess approaches you.
  6054. >"Oh Anon, I'm so glad you showed up!"
  6055. >Right, conversation. An elegant communication of a more civilized age.
  6056. "T-Twilight? What's all this about?"
  6057. >"We know that the last few months have... Well, okay, they've sucked. Really badly. But we didn't realize just how badly it's affected you, until recently."
  6058. >Wait a minute. So they--
  6059. >"You can consider this party of yours, as a little something to get you out of the house. And, well, an apology, too. O-okay, more apology."
  6060. >They threw this for you? But...
  6061. "An apology?"
  6062. >"Yeah. We... We're sorry about not keeping more in touch with you. Even though we've all been busy for the last month, that's still no excuse."
  6063. >She's turned from happy to sad over the last few lines.
  6064. >Oh hell, they've all turned various shades of sad.
  6065. >You haven't spoken with them much at all the last month, that's true.
  6066. >But they're... making it up to you?
  6067. >...
  6068. >U-uh, wow.
  6069. >That's actually kinda... really nice of them.
  6070. >Which god did you please to have your friends do this for you?
  6071.  
  6072. >Friends...
  6073. >Wait...
  6074. >Oh, fuck.
  6075. >You were losing touch with your friends.
  6076. >Hold the fucking phone, time to connect the dots.
  6077. >Not gonna waste this gift of truesight from your friends.
  6078. >So.
  6079. >You were hermiting away to learn as much as you could about magic.
  6080. >So you could try to stop that sentient colostomy bag called Incognito. This world's monopoly holder on edginess and hurting said friends.
  6081. >All that evil magic shit he had, he didn't learn that overnight.
  6082. >He had to do it like you did, right? Building labs and fuckin' hermiting away?
  6083. >And the way he talks like he's the second coming of Christ?
  6084. >That motherfucker's got no friends. Nobody with friends talks like that.
  6085. >Hm...
  6086. >Upon reviewing the month's day-to-day routine, you quickly conclude that you were slowly turning into a fucking edgelord yourself.
  6087. >If they didn't catch you now, you'd have been reading that dark magic book, skinning puppies, and blogging about your parents not getting you an iPhone.
  6088. >You used to make all kinds of jokes, go out drinking with pals, even blitzing through libraries with a certain pony!
  6089. >"Anon?"
  6090. >And did you do any of that last month? Nope. Fucking none of it.
  6091. >You were on the straight-and-narrow of becoming a Sith lord in your basement.
  6092. >"Anon? Are you all right?"
  6093. >Fuck, it all makes sense! Darth Horus there was turning your bitch ass into his virtual fucking apprentice! Motherfuck--
  6094. >"ANON!"
  6095. >God damn it, I needed that autism!
  6096. "Huh? Oh, sorry. I was just thinking."
  6097. >"Thinking?"
  6098. >Aha, your turn for hug reception, puny horse!
  6099. "Thinking about a clever way to say 'apology accepted'."
  6100.  
  6101. >So, there may or may not be a big hug pile going on right now, after Twilight all but squeed and returned that initial hug.
  6102. >Kinda like a furpile, except infinitely less gay and nightmare-fueling.
  6103. >...
  6104. >Holy piss, the internal quips are back!
  6105. >`Yea welcum back thar baws, ya fucken faget`
  6106. >I love you too, subconscious. I'll never leave you again.
  6107. >Loud cannon shots are heard. Well, that can only be one pony.
  6108. >"WHOO! Let's get this party started!"
  6109. >You said it, pink gal.
  6110. >...
  6111. >Oh my God, this is awesome!
  6112. >They even brought the bartender minotaur to serve stuff here!
  6113. >Well, once that princess kid was secreted away, of course.
  6114. >Oh yeah, that was that Flurry Heart you've heard about.
  6115. >You'd think you'd have remembered Twilight's overtures about aunthood.
  6116. >Which only showed just how disconnected you ended up getting.
  6117. >Well, none of that anymore, no siree!
  6118. >Once you'd gotten your dream combo of Ponko's Finest® baked goods, and the strongest whiskey that your barkeep had, you gathered around a big round table to talk more about your world.
  6119. >Can't blame them for not covering current events.
  6120. >That would definitely have spoiled the food and nectar of the gods combo you had going on here.
  6121. >You may or may not be slightly loaded, but they keep you from going into full blackout territory. Shit, they've even got water for hangover prevention!
  6122. >You could kiss these horses. Even the dudes.
  6123. >Anyways, you're telling the story of how humanity launched other shit into space, not just at the moon.
  6124. >The ISS was a favourite, and the human plaque on the space probes was received very well, too.
  6125.  
  6126. >But landing remote-controlled rovers on Mars was a super fun one to go over, too. They were all just blown away by the idea of not only visiting another planet, but using robots to do the first run, so no lives are risked.
  6127. >You think that's given the more magically inclined in the audience something to think about.
  6128. >But you don't know. They already had magic robots, otherwise known as golems. And they were a bitch to get working right. You'd know.
  6129. >After a few other tales, like how Earth's plant farming kinda-sorta worked, you all broke off and milled around.
  6130. >One of your first destinations was Fluttershy.
  6131. >She'd recovered really well. Still a nightmare or two, but nothing too serious.
  6132. >This one was in dire need of ear scratches.
  6133. >Unfortunately, you weren't very discreet about it, so of course Pinkie noticed and loudly proclaimed her desire for some. And now, everyone here wants it.
  6134. >Well fine, not like you had anything better to do.
  6135. >...
  6136. >"Anonymous?"
  6137. >Oh hey, it's Luna again. Right before you were gonna get your booze back on.
  6138. "Oh hey Luna, what's up?"
  6139. >"My sister would like to say something to you, if you wish to listen."
  6140. >Uh oh.
  6141. >Though the 'uh-oh' factor ratchets down a few notches when you notice Celestia approaching you with an apologetic look. And tone:
  6142. >"Anon, I'd like to apologize for my behaviour back at the Canterlot hospital. I had proposed doing some terrible things, many of which would very well have caused your death. I am sorry, and I shall not suggest such things again."
  6143. >Uh...
  6144.  
  6145. >Well holy shit.
  6146. >She's apologizing for that!
  6147. >And here you were, worried about that colouring this exchange!
  6148. >Although...
  6149. "Uh, thanks Celestia. Apology accepted, but I've gotta ask. Why'd you have that reaction in the first place?"
  6150. >A grateful expression goes hurt again, so quickly.
  6151. >"I'm sorry, Anon, but when I heard of your blood, it... It reminded me of some very old, very dangerous foes of mine."
  6152. "Like what?"
  6153. >"They're not worth even dredging up the names of. But some of them put iron in their blood artificially to make themselves immune to magic."
  6154. >Well, you knew that already. But play dumb anyways.
  6155. "Really? Sounds dangerous, especially in this world."
  6156. >"It was. It killed most who tried the procedure. I hope you don't mind that it's long since been a forbidden practice."
  6157. >Well, not if it has that Lexica-verified 92% mortality rate, you don't.
  6158. "Nah, it's fine. Thanks for telling me, though."
  6159. >"You're welcome. I'll let you get back to your party. And thank you again."
  6160. >And there she goes.
  6161. >You are kinda curious about those 'foes', though. Maybe Luna knows?
  6162. "Hey Luna, do you know anything about those old, iron-blooded 'foes'?"
  6163. >Hm, she's thinking harder than you'd expect.
  6164. >"I cannot say that I do, Anonymous. I... do not recall facing any iron-blooded foes, in all honesty. Strange."
  6165. >Whoa wait a second.
  6166. >Weren't those two glued to each other way back when?
  6167. >How would she not know about those?
  6168. >"But do not let it trouble you, Anonymous. Whatever their sins are, are not yours to bear."
  6169. "Well, that and the whole 'alien' thing."
  6170.  
  6171. >Sensible chuckles were shared before you got your drinks together.
  6172. >Man, it's nine-thirty? Where does the time go?
  6173. >Into knocking back some whiskey, of course!
  6174. >...
  6175. >You...
  6176. >What's going on right now?
  6177. >"Sunburst, what am I looking at?"
  6178. "I... I have no idea, Starlight."
  6179. >You'd heard about Anon's drinking habits from Princess Cadance, but seeing it for yourself was a whole other experience.
  6180. >He just drank enough alcohol to kill everypony in this room 57.78 times over.
  6181. >Well, with the notable exception of the Princesses.
  6182. >As you're currently bearing witness to.
  6183. >Anon somehow managed to get Princess Twilight to drink a whole bottle of gryphon ale.
  6184. >She started out not liking the idea, but once she tasted a small amount of it, she apparently liked it enough to down the whole bottle.
  6185. >That's when things got a little bit out of hand.
  6186. >And by a little, you mean a lot.
  6187. >Twilight might be able to live through that much alcohol, but that didn't stop her from being a massive lightweight.
  6188. >Stumbling around, giggling at everything, and now--
  6189. >"RIDE LIKE THE WIND, BULLSEYE!"
  6190. >FWOOSH
  6191. >And now they were just...
  6192. >Uh...
  6193. >You don't know what Anon's seen in his life.
  6194. >But some of the things he's said and done here, are... Well...
  6195. >Anon riding on Twilight's back while she drunkenly flies around the room is not what you'd call safe or sane.
  6196. >"DAH DA-DA RAHH RAHH, DAH DA-DA RAHH RAHH!"
  6197. >This was going to be a very long night.
  6198. >...
  6199.  
  6200. >After everypony tried their best to keep those two from falling to their death, the two eventually just fell asleep on one another, on top of the mercifully pre-cleared dinner table.
  6201. >No pre-amble, just... One moment they're stumbling around on top of the table, and the next, they just drop.
  6202. >Anon lying on his back, with Twilight splayed over his stomach, perpendicular to him.
  6203. >Both were looking pretty ragged, though Anon was still smiling.
  6204. >Well...
  6205. >You, uh, don't know what you should be doing here.
  6206. >Looking around for guidance here is met with a few varying looks.
  6207. >Most are varying shades of concern, but Rainbow Dash, Applejack and... Princess Luna, of all ponies, just look amused.
  6208. >"I must confess, I've not had the pleasure of seeing him so inebriated before. It is a very, how do you say, 'fascinating' sight to behold?"
  6209. >Rainbow Dash and Applejack are holding in laughter at this stage. And it looks like Pinkie's about to join them.
  6210. >They didn't last very long.
  6211. >They're all laughing quite loudly, with Luna's more restrained chuckling in the background.
  6212. >"In any case, we should get them moved to their proper beds. Sister, did you bring the vials like I asked?"
  6213. >Celestia, after shaking her head a bit, levitates some small vials of earthy-green liquid. Looks like alchemy.
  6214. >"Wonderful! I shall take one with me, so that Anonymous can recover quickly from his headache in the morning!"
  6215. >"Wait, Luna, are you going to take him to his house?"
  6216. >"Well, of course!"
  6217. >Pinkie darts over to Luna and whispers something into her ear.
  6218. >She then turns to face... You?
  6219.  
  6220. >"Sir Sunburst! You shall accompany me on my journey to Anonymous's homestead!"
  6221. >Wait what
  6222. "W-wait, what? Me?!"
  6223. >"Of course! You held back in the festivities to act as the responsible one. I can think of nothing more responsible than helping to take dearest Anonymous back to his home!"
  6224. >Since when have you been the designated responsible one?!
  6225. >Did Pinkie say that?
  6226. >Just as you think that, the telltale pink mane whiplashing in front of your muzzle accompanies a WHOOSH, as she leans in to your ear and whispers:
  6227. >"It's all for plot progression, Bursty!"
  6228. "W-what?"
  6229. >"I said, it's because you didn't drink anything tonight, silly!"
  6230. >That part was said out loud.
  6231. "B-but--"
  6232. >"And anypony who doesn't drink at a party like this is always the designated responsible pony!"
  6233. "I--"
  6234. >Okay, that glare from Pinkie just cut off any protest.
  6235. >As if a command from a Princess wasn't enough of a protest ender.
  6236. >"Come, Sunburst! This shall only take a few minutes!"
  6237. >Speak of the daemon.
  6238. >You have to catch up to Luna, who seems to have already placed Anon on top of her back.
  6239. >You think you saw Celestia take Twilight away on her back, too.
  6240. >Well, that's her business.
  6241. >Oh boy, it's 10:38 already?!
  6242. >That's already cut into your reading time by 01:22!
  6243. >Oh, why did you agree to come to this party at all?
  6244. >Wait, nevermind. Stupid question.
  6245. >Anon's stories of technological wonder have always been a draw since that one meet-up before the Gala.
  6246. >The news breaking about his iron-blooded nature only made it more wondrous.
  6247.  
  6248. >Of course, that information was kept a secret between the princesses and their close acquaintances. Including you.
  6249. >But still!
  6250. >The idea of a completely magicless race, performing such feats of engineering!
  6251. >You suppose that Anon's line of advanced technology being indistinguishable from magic was more true than you initially gave it credit for.
  6252. >But all kinds of questions abounded from that!
  6253. >What did they use as power?
  6254. >He made mention of things such as 'gas', but nothing beyond that.
  6255. >What gas? Is it on this world? Is it even gas, or just a euphamism?
  6256. >If he wasn't completely unconscious, you'd...
  6257. >Actually, no. You probably wouldn't ask.
  6258. >He'd think you were weird.
  6259. >Everypony else thinks you're weird for being interested in machines like that.
  6260. >It always boils down to 'whatever machines can do, magic does better'.
  6261. >But magic never took--
  6262. >"Ah, this must be the place!"
  6263. >Oh, rats.
  6264. >You let your imagination run too wild again.
  6265. >Huh. Anon has a really nice house.
  6266. >It's way too big for ponies, but just right for a human.
  6267. >Princess Luna just shows herself in, and you follow suit.
  6268. >It looks like this place was cleaned recently.
  6269. >But not very well. There was some evidence of a lot of build-up here and there.
  6270. >If Anon did shut himself away for a month, that would explain some of it.
  6271. >But what was he doing in that time?
  6272. >Surely not reading. You remember Twilight telling you he was a fast reader.
  6273. >Even with all those thick books on magic, he--
  6274. >W-wait.
  6275. >He borrowed a bunch of magic books, right?
  6276.  
  6277. >But he can't do any magic.
  6278. >Is he just interested in it, like you are in machines?
  6279. >But no, you can make machines, but he can't do any magic.
  6280. >So that doesn't make any sense.
  6281. >Hm.
  6282. >A...
  6283. >A hypothesis is forming.
  6284. >It's really far out there, and extremely unlikely.
  6285. >But--
  6286. >"Sir Sunburst?"
  6287. >Oh, no. Not again!
  6288. "A-ah, yes, Princess?"
  6289. >"Are you all right? You have been staring off into the distance since we left the castle."
  6290. "Oh, that? I'm just, uh, thinking."
  6291. >"Ah. About your schedule, no doubt?"
  6292. >Heh, they still buy that excuse.
  6293. "Y-yes, Princess. But, ah, may I suggest something?"
  6294. >"What is it?"
  6295. "Well, you've put Anon into bed, right?"
  6296. >"Ah yes, about that. I was wondering if you could perhaps return here early in the morning, to instruct him to drink that vial my sister has provided."
  6297. >Wait, really?
  6298. >Maybe that could work!
  6299. >It was better than your first plan of trying to stay here!
  6300. "Oh, yes, certainly! Actually, I wanted to come by here early, to see about asking him more about those spacecraft he mentioned!"
  6301. >She seems happy with that rationale.
  6302. >"Do you? I am afraid I must leave with my sister tomorrow, but I would not object to hearing what he has to say about that at a later date!"
  6303. >Yes!
  6304. >"But let us leave him be now. And try not to wake him too early. I believe he will be needing much sleep tonight."
  6305. >Won't need to worry about that, princess.
  6306. >You agree to that, and leave with her back to the castle.
  6307. >Hm, everypony seems to have cleaned the party room.
  6308. >Trekking to the guest rooms reveals that yes, the castle guests are off to bed for the night.
  6309.  
  6310. >Luckily for you, the Crystal Empire guests are staying until late next afternoon. Which should be enough time to...
  6311. >You, uh...
  6312. >You don't think this plan is a good idea.
  6313. >In fact, it's a terrible idea.
  6314. >But thinking about Anon's interest in magic, about how it wouldn't make sense for him to read so much about it...
  6315. >You'd be badly bothered for weeks on end until you proved that little hypothesis wrong!
  6316. >Oh horseapples, it's like that one time at Celestia's school, where you--
  6317. >NO. No, no, no. You won't relive that experience. You promised yourself.
  6318. >Well, might as well pretend to go to bed.
  6319. >You move the clock close to your nightstand as you slip into bed.
  6320. >A quick stay-awake spell ensures you won't fall asleep.
  6321. >Glad you still remember that one from magic school, at least.
  6322. >...
  6323. >03:45.
  6324. >Perfect.
  6325. >You get up out of bed as quietly as you can, and look out a window for an ideal teleport location.
  6326. >You find it, cast the spell, and warp down to the ground.
  6327. >Next, you trot over to Anon's house.
  6328. >It's a 6:37 walk from the castle to his house.
  6329. >You open his door and walk in, both as quietly as you can.
  6330. >Ohh, you're having some serious second thoughts on this.
  6331. >No. No, you're this far in.
  6332. >Don't back out now!
  6333. >You look through his house a little bit, opening some doors and scanning around. Until you come across what you assume is his study.
  6334. >There's a lot of dirt in here. Looks like he didn't clean this room yet.
  6335. >But the dirt seems to go in a line, terminating at--
  6336. >Well. That's an obvious trapdoor if you've ever seen one.
  6337.  
  6338. >Anxiety starts building up in your gut.
  6339. >You slowly pry open the trapdoor with your magic.
  6340. >A steep ladder obviously meant for humans is the first thing you see, besides pitch black.
  6341. >Welp.
  6342. >You light your horn to get some light on this. It's a dirt floor, with what looks like brick walls.
  6343. >You float yourself down the hole, instead of teleporting. You don't know how Starlight does it so easily, it's so intensive doing that!
  6344. >Okay...
  6345. >This was definitely a cellar meant for alcohol storage and production. The kegs and various ingredients gave that away.
  6346. >Except the ingredients were mouldy, and the kegs and other things were coated in dust, with some cobwebs completing the look.
  6347. >Well, he sure wasn't brewing down here, that's for sure.
  6348. >You notice a section of wall behind one of the strange wooden rack things looks off. And indeed, the wall is hollow behind it!
  6349. >Floating it out of the way reveals a passageway, carved out of the wall with some kind of boring spell, you would guess.
  6350. >But blocking your path was a--
  6351. >Holy horseapples.
  6352. >That's a...
  6353. >A golem?!
  6354. >Made out of clay, in the shape of a crude human, and looking directly at you with soulless green crystalline eyes.
  6355. >This had to be some kind of guardian.
  6356. >You replace the rack. You don't want to tempt it.
  6357. >After that, you ascend back out of the cellar with some effort, close every door you opened, and leave the house.
  6358. >Oh boy.
  6359. >You thought that was a far-flung conclusion!
  6360. >But apparently not!
  6361. >Anon did find a Lexica Thaumaturgia!
  6362. >And he's worked up to golems!
  6363.  
  6364. @@@@@@@@
  6365.  
  6366. >Well shit, Anon.
  6367. >You're doing pretty well for yourself now, gotta say.
  6368. >The party was a week ago, and boy what a week it was!
  6369. >The wake-up call to stop becoming Coldsteel the Hedgeheg's mortal avatar was quite welcome.
  6370. >You and the girls started doing a lot more shit together.
  6371. >Your place is no longer a shithole pigsty.
  6372. >And your new-ish magic lab no longer resembles a goth kid's rec room that had a tornado blow through it.
  6373. >You still can't believe the passphrase you gave to that guardian golem you built.
  6374. >Having it ask "What is the colour of night" should have been your first clue that you'd fucked things up somewhere down the line.
  6375. >You changed it to something far more appropriate. And lengthy.
  6376. >Anyway, the lab.
  6377. >The Everfree's magic hiding powers worked just as you thought it would.
  6378. >You were doing a lot of high-intensity magic channeling and work down here.
  6379. >Well, once it was built to some level of safety, of course.
  6380. >Even has an escape ladder, up into a hollow tree.
  6381. >Learning some basic enchanting, the kind where you etch glyphs on your shit, helped make a hidden trapdoor for that.
  6382. >Too bad you only learned that a few days ago. That meant both the trapdoor and the main lab entrance was kinda exposed.
  6383. >Okay, maybe 'hide it with a wine rack' was a bit generous for 'secret passage'.
  6384. >But whatever, nobody would've found your basement anyways.
  6385. >At least now it's properly hidden to magic types. Still shimmers for you, though.
  6386. >Now, while you'd like to keep tinkering away at a new-and-improved etching focus, you've got other plans.
  6387.  
  6388. >That Sunburst character's come back into town all by his lonesome, apparently wanting to cross-reference a bunch of books Twilight has.
  6389. >For what, you don't know.
  6390. >You wouldn't have really cared, either, if he didn't ask for you on his first day here.
  6391. >And by 'ask for you', you mean wants to come over for a visit.
  6392. >He would've come first thing, if you weren't off channeling your inner >FUCKING LEAF and lumberjacking more zap apple wood.
  6393. >Oh, and having a nice catch-up chat with Zecora.
  6394. >You think she suspects you're doing magic shit, but if she does, she's doing a good job of not prying or caring.
  6395. >It's always a pleasure talking with her.
  6396. >But yeah, you've got a visit to prepare for.
  6397. >You replace the quill, put down your newest wand revision, and start walking back home through the tunnel.
  6398. >You don't know what to think of Sunburst.
  6399. >He really likes your stories of home. Like, really-really likes them.
  6400. >When he asked you questions after the lunar landing story, they were all about how the things worked. Very specific things, too.
  6401. >He looked kinda dejected when you told him you didn't know. Weird.
  6402. >And he was super eager when he first asked you, too. Double weird.
  6403. >Maybe he's embarrased to ask?
  6404. >Guess you'll find out soon enough. Maybe.
  6405. >You ascend from the basement into your house.
  6406. >You need one of those floor escalator things they have in airports. Don't know what the fuck they're called. But you need them.
  6407. >It's a long underground walk, after all.
  6408. >You dust yourself off a bit before moving to prep the homestead.
  6409.  
  6410. >Keeping on top of the cleaning around here helped significantly with giving the dining room a quick dust-off.
  6411. >Tea related shit is procured, and some water is on standby for boiling.
  6412. >Pony tea is actually pretty nice. You actually started drinking it more often because of this one fact.
  6413. >The shit from back home pretty much tasted like Treebeard's piss.
  6414. >Your ears pick up the sound of talking. Which was a bit more shouty and one-sided than you would think.
  6415. >Looking out the window overseeing the road to your place revealed pretty much exactly that.
  6416. >Sunburst is being accosted by... some mare you've never seen before.
  6417. >Wait, hold on.
  6418. >Have you seen her before?
  6419. >She...
  6420. >Ohhhh what in the fuck is with this shit?!
  6421. >You know that mare, all right!
  6422. >That's the same one that shooed you away from her Gestapo arsonist crew at the zebra ruins!
  6423. >The fuck is she doing here?
  6424. >She's on the quieter range of shouting, but she's totally cowing Sunburst right now.
  6425. >Who looks about ready to piss himself in abject fear.
  6426. >Guess what's on the shortlist of things that are not on today?
  6427. >You procure a cane from your closet, a pretty swagger carving experiment gone horribly right.
  6428. >Made a pretty shit magic tool, but a little sanding and paint made it a baller pony-shooing stick.
  6429. >Knowing these Sol Invictus types, which you don't, you decide to look out the windows a little bit for any 007 wannabe ponies hiding out.
  6430. >And yeah, there were a few. Makes sense if she's their leader.
  6431. >Hey, it means you'll have a captive audience for your next trick.
  6432.  
  6433. >You throw your door open. The slam it makes against the wall draws the attention of the two ponies of the minute.
  6434. >You've already started twirling around the cane. Once they make eye contact, you start strolling over to them.
  6435. >Sunburst sure looks relieved to see you. What's-her-face, not so much.
  6436. "So that's where all the noise is coming from! Having a fight with your friend there, Sunny?"
  6437. >She speaks before he can:
  6438. >"Mister Anonymous, I presume? Just the one I wanted to see. Follow me, please."
  6439. "Nah, I'm good."
  6440. >Not the response she was expecting, that's for sure.
  6441. >"I was not asking."
  6442. "Good for you."
  6443. >Good, little hoers, let the hate flow through you
  6444. >Sunburst's face is the picture of 'oh shit nigger what are you doing'
  6445. >Your face is the picture of 'i got this' in response
  6446. >"I'm sorry, but you must be unfamiliar with who I am and what I represent."
  6447. "Half right. Don't know who you are, but definitely what you represent."
  6448. >Meeting human #2 toned down the scare factor quite a bit
  6449. >Now you just get an antsy feeling when speaking to her like this
  6450. >Oh look, narrowed eyes
  6451. >She walks over to you, lighting up her horn as she does
  6452. >Once she's a meter away from you, a magic bubble comes over the pair of you
  6453. >Ah, a bubble of silence, just like Twilight's
  6454. >She thinks a 1v1 will cuck you, eh?
  6455. >Think again, horsey
  6456. >All you do is kneel down to look her dead in the eye
  6457. >Same grin plastered onto your face
  6458. >She's trying really hard not to look angry by your refusal to be afraid
  6459. >Scaring humans is harder than scaring ponies, don'tcha know?
  6460.  
  6461. >"Just what do you think you're doing, mister Anonymous?"
  6462. "Sticking it out for a friend of mine, of course."
  6463. >"Even if your 'friend' is suspected of serious crimes?"
  6464. >Serious crimes, eh?
  6465. "Define 'serious crimes'."
  6466. >"That is none of your concern."
  6467. "Oh, isn't it? So, a close confidant of half the princesses has no concern in what his friend - also a royal confidant - is being charged with?"
  6468. >"You do not--"
  6469. "Oh, drop it. You know I'm just gonna ask Luna about it later, anyway."
  6470. >She angrily mutters something to herself about monkeys and consorts, before speaking again:
  6471. >"Fine. He is suspected of possessing an illegal magical artifact."
  6472. >Huh
  6473. >That's new
  6474. "How illegal are we talking here?"
  6475. >"It has the potential of being one of the artifacts responsible for a great war thousands of years ago."
  6476. >That could mean fucking anything
  6477. >But you have a suspicion about this 'artifact' already
  6478. >So you run with that one
  6479. "So what?"
  6480. >"What do you mean, 'so what'?"
  6481. "Sounds like he brought something back from the Empire, and needed it checked out. What's the issue here?"
  6482. >"The issue is that any such artifact is subject to immediate destruction. You know this already."
  6483. >Again with this arsonist shit
  6484. >That puts a dent in your mood
  6485. "And just why do you go around destroying shit like that, anyways?"
  6486. >"I've already told you, we do this for the safety of Equestria! So that the Elements need not concern themselves with it!"
  6487. "And you're sure these 'artifacts' are all dangerous to ponies?"
  6488. >"Of course. If Princess Celestia decrees them dangerous, then they are."
  6489.  
  6490. "So that's it? That's your reason?"
  6491. >She's visibly angry with this whole exchange.
  6492. >"You are suggesting to me, that I question the orders of a princess?"
  6493. "It's not like you can't suggest things to them at the briefings."
  6494. >"There is no input when given orders, human! Though I--"
  6495. >She catches that brief outburst pretty quick.
  6496. >Yeah, not letting it go that easily.
  6497. "Though you what?"
  6498. >You see her finally letting the anger free. Into a tirade.
  6499. >"Though if I could, I would certainly include belligerent aliens on the mandate!"
  6500. >Oh yeah, it's coming in droves.
  6501. >"You and your other ape-like friend have caused nothing but problems with Equestria since you've arrived here!"
  6502. >Wait wha--
  6503. >"Maintaining order has been nothing but a nightmare since! One of them, actively impeding our mission, and the other bent on destroying all we hold dear!"
  6504. >Did she just--
  6505. >"As far as I'm concerned, the two of you are both responsible for this catastrophe enveloping the nation!"
  6506. >You--
  6507. >"You're lucky you're well known by the princesses, otherwise I would have killed you back at the ruins!"
  6508. >...
  6509. >You didn't even notice she was right in your face.
  6510. >That was a lot more...
  6511. >Well, fucking hell.
  6512. >There goes your mood for the whole day.
  6513. >It's a moment before you speak again.
  6514. "So that's what you think, huh?"
  6515. >That pleased look says it all, even if her words don't.
  6516. >Being left at a loss for words isn't a common occurence for you.
  6517. >But it's rarely been nice around these parts.
  6518. >"Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to need you--"
  6519.  
  6520. >Of all the things she expected you to do, laugh was not one of them.
  6521. >But hell, you did.
  6522. >Just... getting that portion out of your system.
  6523. >The absurdity of it all, you see.
  6524. >"Wh-what are you doing? Stop that!"
  6525. >You don't.
  6526. >"You think I'm not serious? Well, how about I--"
  6527. >The loud popping sound came from the barrier bursting.
  6528. >It did a nice job of drowning out the yelp from grabbing her horn.
  6529. >In the same motion, you pull her face right up against yours.
  6530. >There's no mirth here anymore.
  6531. "You're serious, are you? Well then, I'll be serious, too."
  6532. >She's afraid now.
  6533. "You're really gonna compare that shitbag to me, lady? Let's recap here, then.
  6534. "In case you forgot, that other human's the same one who damn near killed your princess. Did you know he also nearly killed me, too?
  6535. "Now, the first thing I do when I recover, and when they're conscious, is to keep them company. We laugh, we cry, and we have a good thing going.
  6536. "When Discord got whacked, they helped me out of my own little depressive spiral. They didn't have to, but damn it, they did.
  6537. "I might not know them for as long as you and the others have, but they're damn good friends of mine, all the same.
  6538. "Causing problems? I'd think that a people who use 'friendship' to fix most of their problems, would have the good sense to see that befriending a lost alien like me would have been the fucking crowning achievement of their ideals."
  6539. >You're not even paying attention to her expression at this point.
  6540. >But you turn up the anger, anyways.
  6541.  
  6542. "Now, riddle me this, Nostradamus. If you're this shining pinnacle of defense, this ever-vigilant guardian of all ponykind, then tell me something.
  6543. "Just what in the ten layers of crusty fuck are you doing stalking the close confidants of the princesses, who are all probably busy finding ways to fight off said other human, when you should be, oh I don't know...
  6544. "Actually helping to FIGHT this other human?! You know, the one 'bent on destroying all we hold dear'?!
  6545. "If you're supposed to be this highly-informed shadowy force of ponykind's defense, then explain THAT colossal fuck-up to me!"
  6546. >Regulating your breathing is tough when you finally decide to see her expression.
  6547. >Very scared, but more than a little ashamed, is what you see.
  6548. >Oh, and her guard posse seems to have come out of hiding.
  6549. >The guards look a little conflicted, themselves.
  6550. >Can't see Sunburst from this angle.
  6551. >You end this little face-to-face by throwing her head to the side, sending her to the ground. She quickly scampers back upright.
  6552. "Now, take your little band of merry men, and clippity-cloppity the fuck off my property. And if I see your weasel face around my place again, I'll let the princesses know exactly what you think of their new bestie. Got it?"
  6553. >The threat of the princesses is enough to get her to nod rapidly.
  6554. >Not good enough.
  6555. "I said, got it?"
  6556. >"Y-yes! I've got it!"
  6557. "Good. Now, get the fuck out."
  6558. >And GTFO they do, at a fairly quick pace.
  6559. >You'd say she's gonna hold a monster grudge, but she already does.
  6560. >Well, fuck her too.
  6561.  
  6562. >"A-Anon?"
  6563. >Oh, there's Sunburst.
  6564. >He's afraid, sure, but that's taken a huge backseat to the awe.
  6565. >"Holy... just... I've never heard anything like that before!"
  6566. >You know buddy, you're not the only one.
  6567. >Didn't even know you had it in you.
  6568. >Well, you're sure you'll curse yourself for it later.
  6569. >Fuck, you need a drink.
  6570. "Let's talk inside."
  6571. >A little short, but it doesn't look like he blames you.
  6572. >Huh, you never got to use the cane o' booping.
  6573. >Well, she didn't deserve it, anyways.
  6574. >The two of you file into your fine establishment, where you shut the door.
  6575. >"Anon, wait a moment. I... I think you should know this first."
  6576. "What?"
  6577. >"I came here to talk about something pretty... well, heavy."
  6578. "I guessed as much."
  6579. >"You probably won't like it."
  6580. "Then we'll talk about it tomorrow."
  6581. >"A-are you sure? I mean, I don't have a time limit on staying here, but the sooner I--"
  6582. >One held up finger silences the horse.
  6583. "That doesn't rule out small talk."
  6584. >Oh yes, confusion is so fun to see on their faces. You're feeling better already.
  6585. >"S-small talk? But there's no time for that!"
  6586. >A tired little smile works it's way onto your face.
  6587. "Didn't you say you had no time limit on your stay here?"
  6588. >You can see his self-cursing through the look in his eyes.
  6589. >Oh yeah, definitely feeling better already.
  6590. >Maybe that drink can come later, then.
  6591. >You boil up that water, and then pull up a chair at the table.
  6592. >He gets the message and does the same.
  6593. "So. I haven't been to the Empire before. How is it?"
  6594.  
  6595. >The hours tick by just talking about random shit.
  6596. >That Crystal Empire's a pretty nutty place.
  6597. >You didn't even know that lil' Flurry came into this world as a giggling engine of pure destruction.
  6598. >You really wish you could have seen that, though.
  6599. >Because that sounded fucking amazing.
  6600. >But of course, talking about menial shit and previous Empire exploits could only last so long.
  6601. >So, naturally, you bring up the subject of things from back home.
  6602. >The speed at which he became excited was something to behold.
  6603. >But he brought it down almost as quickly.
  6604. >And did he look fucking down while doing it, too?
  6605. "Hey, what's up?"
  6606. >"W-what do you mean?"
  6607. "You were looking hyped as shit just a second ago."
  6608. >Oh, and now he just looks dejected.
  6609. >"I... No, it's nothing."
  6610. >What gives?
  6611. "It's pretty clearly not nothing, bud."
  6612. >"It's nothing. You'd think it was stupid, anyways."
  6613. "You know what a stupid problem is?"
  6614. >I have you now, attention!
  6615. "A stupid problem is needing to take a wicked long piss during a game of hoofball, but you're holding it in because you're way too excited.
  6616. "And then when you end up taking a ball to the gut, you fucking piss yourself."
  6617. >If his snorts of repressed laughter are anything to go by, he knows exactly what, and who, you're talking about.
  6618. >Some player in a game you watched a while back in Manehattan did exactly that. It was news for a whole month there.
  6619. >Needless to say, his team lost that day.
  6620. "So unless it involves pissing yourself in some sport in front of everyone, don't you go thinking that shit's not important or stupid. Now fess up."
  6621.  
  6622. >The mood improver there definitely helped loosen his lips.
  6623. >"It's just... I... I-I like machines. Really, really like machines."
  6624. >...
  6625. >Wait, that's it?
  6626. >He just said that like he was confessing to being a fucking vampire!
  6627. "Okay, so...?"
  6628. >"W-what do you mean, 'so'?"
  6629. "'So', as in, 'so what'?"
  6630. >Seriously, what gives?
  6631. >"Do... do you really not know, Anon?"
  6632. "Evidently not, seeing how I'm totally lost now."
  6633. >He takes another drink of that bomb-ass tea of yours before speaking.
  6634. >"P-ponies use magic for everything, right? Even me?
  6635. >"So why would they ever need a machine to do anything?
  6636. >"Well, that's the attitude they all have to it, anyways.
  6637. >"But, well, I don't agree. I always thought machines had the potential to outclass magic, Anon.
  6638. >"Anypony can use them, and be trained to fix and build them! And they don't need magic to run, either!
  6639. >"A lot of ponies forget about trains, how those machines use complex systems to drive them forward, even if they're fueled by magic."
  6640. >Aaaaand he's going into a 'tism storm over there, listing off all the things machines do around here.
  6641. >But you could appreciate the first part of his spiel, anyways. Real passionate about it, too.
  6642. >From the way he puts it, though, it sounds like preferring the mechanical is a bit frowned upon here.
  6643. >On one hand, you can't blame them, having FUCKIN' MAGIC and all.
  6644. >But on the other hand, why put that shit down, then?
  6645. >Complementary forces, and all that wholesome friendship shit.
  6646. >...
  6647. >Maybe it's the poner equivalent of liking animu.
  6648. >Yeah, that makes more sense.
  6649.  
  6650. "So let me get this straight."
  6651. >That stops the 'tism from his end. He's learned to control it too, eh?
  6652. "Getting into machines is a fringe interest around here, and anyone who likes it is a big ol' fuckin' loser nerd? Is that about right?"
  6653. >"B... Basically, yes."
  6654. "Alright, little buddy, you're a total nerd, sure, but not a loser. And I sure as shit don't think less of you for being into that."
  6655. >A hand raise interrupts him.
  6656. "I get why you were so into my little stories of home now, at least. But you need to understand something about where I came from."
  6657. >"That you've got iron in your blood?"
  6658. "Oh for-- How many people know about that, anyways?!"
  6659. >"Just the princesses, the ones close to them, and the Elements. It's being kept secret otherwise."
  6660. "Well, that's a relief. But I don't think you understand how deep that rabbit hole goes."
  6661. >You lean in on your elbows for this one.
  6662. "How would you like to hear about my world, and the short history of our species?"
  6663. >He's back to being excited. With a touch less self-hatred ballasting it this time.
  6664. "Tell me about this planet a bit. What it's roughly made of, and how the sun and moon work."
  6665. >"W-wait, really?"
  6666. "Just humour me."
  6667. >"Well, I think it's got a core of zinc and a little vanadium. All we know about the sun and moon is that they're about the same size as Equus, and are movable only by ponies. Why?"
  6668. "The planet I come from has a core of iron. With a little nickel for good measure."
  6669. >You need to find a way to make a magic camera. You're missing out on serious profit by not framing these jaw drops.
  6670.  
  6671. "If that's not mind-blowing, how about this? Our moon is also made of iron. Our sun is over a hundred times bigger than Earth, it's over a hundred and fifty million klicks away, and we know exactly what it is: a nuclear ball of burning hydrogen."
  6672. >You'll let him recover.
  6673. >"There no way. You're from the Outer Reaches?!"
  6674. "The... what now?"
  6675. >"The name for the stars in the sky that ponies can't control! They're too far away to be seen without a very strong telescope, though!"
  6676. >Huh, you'd forgotten Luna could do that.
  6677. >"Oh gosh, I can't even begin to imagine how far away you must be from your home! But the Outer Reaches are desolate and chaotic! How did you survive that?!"
  6678. >Right, back on track.
  6679. "Oh, they're not chaotic. They just seem that way. Natural laws do some funny shit when you push them to extremes.
  6680. "Now, how did I survive? Because around every natural star, like mine, there's a tiny little region where water can stay liquid, and not boil or freeze. We call it a habitable zone. Guess which planet is right inside that zone?"
  6681. >A small nod from his stupor of wonder.
  6682. "Now, Earth wasn't always a lively place. It used to be totally barren, on fire, with volcanoes and shit tearing the place apart when it first formed. Which was about, oh... four and a half billion years ago.
  6683. "Now, it took about four of those billion for the world to chill out to something resembling normalcy. And that's when, as far as you're concerned, the first bona-fide alien life formed.
  6684.  
  6685.  
  6686. "Now, through a little process called evolution, these first aliens became all kinds of different things: birds, reptiles, mammals, fucking dinosaurs, you name it. All just trying to live their lives. Even with the ice ages and mass extinction events going on."
  6687. >"M-mass extinctions?!"
  6688. "I never said it was nice living on Earth. Survival of the fittest is always in effect there. Meteor strikes and all.
  6689. "Now, as for the stars of the show, good ol' homo sapiens? Well, our particular species is two hundred thousand years old.
  6690. "If that were it, though, we'd be another race of feral ape critters, just trying to exist with all-natural means.
  6691. "But we had one big advantage over all the other animals around. We were smart. Real smart.
  6692. "Our brains were packing some serious mass compared to the other apes, which meant access to much better thinking skills.
  6693. "We figured out tool use a good long time ago, and human civilization's been around for at least ten thousand years, in all kinds of forms."
  6694. >You let him process that a bit.
  6695. "Our development went really fast from there on out. Farming animals and plants, metal tools, boat travel, rapid expansion, and more. We spread like a goddamn plague across the surface of Earth.
  6696. "Now, the only landmasses on Earth that don't have humans in them are the wastelands and some tiny islands.
  6697. "Oh, and we number about seven and a half billion. So I'd say we were the most successful of the bunch."
  6698. >An exxagerated bow comes next.
  6699. "And that's the abridged story of Earth and humanity, friend!"
  6700.  
  6701. >A little processing time later, and he responds:
  6702. >"O-okay, two things. First off, it sounds like Earth is a really violent place. Does that mean humans, well, tend to be as well?"
  6703. >Ah yes, the age old pessimist's trap of 'everything sucks'.
  6704. "Way less than before, but kinda. Earth is a pretty rough place though, so that's what you've gotta do to survive.
  6705. "We've come a long way, but we've had a lot of wars and shit as well.
  6706. "Still, most people are safe from old natural predators, so on the whole, we're pretty peaceful. As long as we're not provoked, of course."
  6707. >"O-of course. But, uh, while this is really really cool, what's all this got to do with machines?"
  6708. "Hah, now there's the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Human beings are the masters of all things mechanical.
  6709. "We've had railroads for around two hundred years. We've had huge flying machines called airplanes for a hundred. You already know about the space stuff.
  6710. "And all of that without a single solitary lick of magic. And that's just the old shit!
  6711. "The only reason we live so comfortably without magic, is because we have machines like that to help us out.
  6712. "So yeah, that 'life without magic' hypothesis of yours? Totally dead on. And yeah, in a lot of ways, it does outclass magic."
  6713. >Oh man, that look.
  6714. >The look of a man who just completed the connect-the-dots of the fucking century.
  6715. >You could get used to that look.
  6716. >"I... I need to write this down. And oh geez, it's getting late out!"
  6717. >Huh, it is. Sun's setting.
  6718.  
  6719. "All right, that's enough excitement for one day. Swing by tomorrow, when you're not getting harrased by the secret police. Then we'll talk about this 'heavy' shit of yours."
  6720. >He loses some excitement on that subject, but still looks chipper.
  6721. >You agree to a time of nine in the morning, and off he goes.
  6722. >Explaining Earth like that was really nice. Totally balanced out the bitchfight from earlier on with the pony Gestapo squad leader.
  6723. >Both were tiring as fuck, though, so to the bed you go.
  6724. >...
  6725. >Another day, eh?
  6726. >Well, might as well get to it.
  6727. >The morning routine passes quick, sans the magic lab.
  6728. >You've got a guest coming soon, after all.
  6729. >KNOCK KNOCK
  6730. >Speak of the devil, and it shall trot on over.
  6731. >Sunburst is at the door, this time with some beefy saddlebags.
  6732. >Christ, what did he bring with him?
  6733. >Is that the heavy shit? That he's a fucking drug dealer?
  6734. >After downing more tea at the table, he starts.
  6735. >"So, uh, I need to tell you about that... 'artifact' I was harassed about. It's from the Empire, but it's way older than it. In fact, there's a lot of copies of this artifact all around the world."
  6736. "Okay?"
  6737. >He's reaching into his bags.
  6738. >"And, well, I found it a while ago. And have been using it often."
  6739. >He pulls free a--
  6740. >...
  6741. >"I... I looked around your basement when Luna took you here, Anon. I saw that golem, and I knew where it came from."
  6742. >You're fucking joking.
  6743. >"W-well, uh... I hope you're not too mad about that..."
  6744. >I'll be mad as soon as I'm done gawking at the Lexica Thaumaturgia you just pulled out.
  6745.  
  6746. @@@@@@@@
  6747.  
  6748. >Okay, gawking period's over.
  6749. >Though being mad takes a backseat to WHAT IN THE FUCK
  6750. >WHAT'S THIS LITTLE NIGGA DOING WITH A LEXICA?
  6751. >AND WHY DOES--
  6752. >No, get it together.
  6753. >Less self-contained theoretical questions, more actual questions.
  6754. >Oh man, he looks really scared about your reaction.
  6755. >Gonna have to be diplomatic about this.
  6756. >You rise out of your seat with as neutral an expression as you can muster.
  6757. "Let's take this to my office."
  6758. >"B-but--"
  6759. "Now."
  6760. >The ear splaying completes the look of fear.
  6761. >You'll allay that soon enough.
  6762. >You hope.
  6763. >He packs the book back away, then puts the bags back on.
  6764. >The two of you file into the study.
  6765. >Then you crack open the trapdoor.
  6766. >Did he just whimper?
  6767. >God damn it.
  6768. "Before you ask, I'm not angry with you."
  6769. >"T-then why are we--"
  6770. "Privacy."
  6771. >That response doesn't do much to satisfy him. But it'll have to do.
  6772. >Though it's the honest-to-Zeus truth.
  6773. >Don't want those Invictus fuckers to drag the two of you away, after all.
  6774. >You're down the hatch first. He floats himself down after a moment or two.
  6775. >That's gotta be tough to do. Wonder how Starlight pulls it off so easy?
  6776. >A couple of dusty-ass chairs are pulled free, along with a barrel to act as a makeshift table.
  6777. >Man, you need to clean this place up.
  6778. >You know, despite how fucked this scenario is, you gut feels good about this.
  6779. >The two of you sit down at last.
  6780. "Let's start with the basics. Where'd you find that thing?"
  6781. >He decides to pull the book out again. Don't really know why, but okay.
  6782. >Guess you'll look it over later on.
  6783.  
  6784. >"I... I found it in a secret lab. It was built into my house, of all places. It didn't take much to figure out that it used to belong to Sombra.
  6785. >"There was all kinds of tools and books on dark magic there. This was the least evil feeling of the bunch, by a huge margin.
  6786. >"And the least used, since I don't think he was able to read it before he was defeated. But he was close to it."
  6787. >That's actually a good question.
  6788. >Only 'mundanes' can read that thing, so what gives?
  6789. >Play it cautious, anyways.
  6790. "How'd you read it when he couldn't?"
  6791. >"Anon, you already know why. Nothing with magic can read this thing. It's specifically made that way."
  6792. >Damn it horse, I'm trying to plausibly deny here!
  6793. >Though wait, he saw the golem, didn't he?
  6794. >Well fuck.
  6795. "Just humour me here."
  6796. >"He created some plans for a device that you wear on your hooves. It isolates the magic from the pony in question.
  6797. >"I needed a few months to rework it to not use captured souls and dark crystals. Then I could read the preface.
  6798. >"Luckily, it responded to the blood offering. Even though, well, that wasn't a very pleasant experience."
  6799. >Yeah, you can say that again.
  6800. >"I thought it had some kind of failsafe for anypony magical reading it.
  6801. >"But I guess it really does peer into the soul, since it somehow deemed me worthy to read it."
  6802. >Hm. Interesting.
  6803. >"But it was always slow going. The book still assumed the user didn't have any magic, so I couldn't progress much without needing to build another isolating device of some kind. I couldn't even use the vismometer for months!"
  6804.  
  6805. >"I... only recently got to golem theory last month. And I can't get past it without another isolation device."
  6806. >That doesn't mean a whole lot to you without a timeframe.
  6807. "So... how long have you had it?"
  6808. >"A-about eleven months."
  6809. >Wait, really?
  6810. >He's had this for almost a year, and only just made it to golems?
  6811. >Fuck, you didn't know it was that slow!
  6812. >But first things first. Let's solve a Scooby Mystery here.
  6813. "Alright. Now tell me, why did you scrounge around my place last week?"
  6814. >And he was picking up so much steam with that explanation. Now he's back to being scared.
  6815. >"I-I, uh, well... I was kinda suspicious about what you were up to in that month you spent locked up here.
  6816. >"You had a bunch of magic books on loan, but that didn't make sense for somehuman who can't use magic.
  6817. >"So I looked around a bit, all on my own. I didn't think you were spending time on a Lexica down here."
  6818. >Huh, he's the only one who noticed that?
  6819. >You figured they weren't saying anything to be nice.
  6820. "One more thing. You know that the princesses don't like anyone even breathing on things like that. Didn't think you had it in you to defy 'em like that."
  6821. >He's thinking this one over pretty carefully.
  6822. >"I suppose that... I just thought a book with such a neutral magical signature couldn't have been so bad.
  6823. >"I don't know, I guess I was just curious. But then, well... that attack on Canterlot happened."
  6824. >That's another thing you can agree on.
  6825. >"Anon, some of the things in this book could revolutionize magic as we know it!
  6826.  
  6827. >"The visnode and leyline theories alone could change..."
  6828. >He just kind of tapers off at that point.
  6829. >Before the pause gets too awkward, he shakes his head and composes himself:
  6830. >"I need your help, Anon. I know that whatever's in this can help to beat Incognito. You know it too, don't you?"
  6831. >...
  6832. >"I just don't think anything we have available right now can help. And nopony will listen to any mechanical solutions.
  6833. >"But you're working on the same thing I am. And, well, you're at least open to the mechanical stuff, so..."
  6834. >Well.
  6835. >That's new.
  6836. >Of all the things he could have asked for, he wants your help?
  6837. >The horse with a mark in magic needs your help with magic.
  6838. >Heh, ain't irony grand?
  6839. "Give me a moment to think here."
  6840. >You assume the Thinker pose just after he nods.
  6841. >So let's think here.
  6842. >Sunburst's not stupid when it comes to magic. Hell, he apparently decoded some ancient spell to save the Empire, if Twilight was right.
  6843. >Though she also added that he wasn't particularly good at using said magic.
  6844. >Although, given this is thaumaturgy we're talking about here, that shouldn't be a major issue.
  6845. >Since, after all, the spell power is derived from the quality of the shit you created.
  6846. >Hm...
  6847. >He's really slow with thaumic shit though. Eleven months, and he only just got to golems. Meanwhile, you're already at glyph enchanting.
  6848. >...
  6849. >There's not much you can do to help him.
  6850. >You'd basically overtake him all the time.
  6851. >So, let's alter the deal a bit.
  6852. >[spoiler]Pray I don't alter it further[/spoiler]
  6853.  
  6854. "I need to know one thing, first."
  6855. >He snaps to attention right away.
  6856. >"W-what is it?"
  6857. "How do I know I can trust you?"
  6858. >Confusion colours his face before understanding settles in.
  6859. >He just hangs his head in response, though.
  6860. >"I suppose you can't, huh?"
  6861. "Alright, well, I've made a decision either way."
  6862. >He lifts his head back up, though it's not a hopeful look.
  6863. "I can't help you."
  6864. >Oh fucking Christ, even the hurt looks on the stallions get you.
  6865. >"I... I'm sorry. I knew this was a bad--"
  6866. "I ain't done yet."
  6867. >He looks about ready to cry.
  6868. "I've got a different deal to offer up to you."
  6869. >Lean in for dramatic effect, put on a smile, and...
  6870. "How about you help me, instead?"
  6871. >You know, it's pretty amusing just how expressive these guys are. Makes rapid mood changes like this way more fun.
  6872. >Granted, that was kind of a dick move, but--
  6873. >"D-damn it, Anon! Th-that was a really mean thing to say!"
  6874. >It totally was.
  6875. >But there goes the sadness from before, just some anger and hope.
  6876. "The technical term is 'dick move'."
  6877. >Yes, huff for me. It makes me stronger.
  6878. "So, what's your answer?"
  6879. >"I-I mean, why change it around like that? And didn't you say you couldn't trust me?"
  6880. "And you said I couldn't. You didn't try to bullshit me, make excuses, or whatever. That, and you're not exactly subtle with your expressions."
  6881. >"H-hey! Are you saying I'm easy to read?"
  6882. "Very. I'm honestly surprised you kept it a secret for so long."
  6883. >See, he's already flustered and mumbling. QED.
  6884.  
  6885. >"B-but that doesn't answer the other question! Why did you change it to me helping you?"
  6886. "You said it yourself. You've made slow progress."
  6887. >You sit up from the 'table', to his confusion.
  6888. "Here, let me show you."
  6889. >Still kinda gambling on this one.
  6890. >But your gut still approves of this.
  6891. >You move some empty wine bottles around in the rack, then smack the rack twice. As expected, it slides off to the side, revealing the passageway you use.
  6892. >Enchanting is so damn useful.
  6893. >Looking back at him shows that he's shocked by this development.
  6894. "Well what are you waiting for, a good-bye kiss? Come on."
  6895. >He scrambles from his seat and runs over to you. You start down the fairly narrow passageway, forcing him to follow right behind you.
  6896. >Now, where is your--
  6897. >"STOP."
  6898. >Ah, there your trusty guard!
  6899. >"WHO APPROACHES THE BRIDGE OF DEATH MUST ANSWER ME THESE QUESTIONS THREE. ERE THE OTHER SIDE YOU SEE."
  6900. >Still need to work on the monotone thing.
  6901. "Ask me the questions, bridgekeeper, I'm not afraid."
  6902. >"W-what the hay is that?!"
  6903. >"WHAT IS YOUR NAME."
  6904. "Comrade R.R. Martin, the Sea Hedgehog."
  6905. >"WHAT IS YOUR QUEST."
  6906. "To get some of dat pucci, baws."
  6907. >"WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE COLOUR."
  6908. >"Seven and a half."
  6909. >The thing just sparks and shimmies to the side into that alcove you carved for it.
  6910. "Yeah, it's a work in progress."
  6911. >You'll work on making the responses actually matter later.
  6912. >You start moving forward again, noting the lack of hoofsteps.
  6913. "Oh, you might want to get a move on, it resets after thirty seconds."
  6914. >There's the hoofsteps.
  6915.  
  6916. >A little while later of silent walking aaaaand...
  6917. >There we are, lab sweet lab!
  6918. >The lighting's pretty good for a bunch of random Luxcryst hanging down.
  6919. >The wooden walls, tile floor, and dropped ceiling were nice touches, too.
  6920. >And hey, there's the pile of materials for the Arcane Infuser!
  6921. >As soon as the upgraded Etching focus is done, of course.
  6922. >Ah, but look at you still sciencing, when there's talking to do.
  6923. >You look back at your guest, and are not disappointed by what you see.
  6924. >He's totally blown away, in awe, and all such synonyms.
  6925. >You let him bask in it a bit before clearing your throat.
  6926. "Not too shabby, eh?"
  6927. >"N-not too shabby?! Anon, this is amazing!"
  6928. "Eh, it's not bad. But that does bring me to your question."
  6929. >You pick up your Lexica from a nearby desk. For whatever reason, he pulls his out as well. Lets you get a good look at the differences.
  6930. >His is patterned a bit differently, and he decided to have his name on the front. Not sure that's the smartest thing to do.
  6931. "I've only had this thing for around three months, bud."
  6932. >The ear flattening tells you all you need to know.
  6933. "In light of that, here's my proposal to you."
  6934. >You sit your ass down on the floor, to look him in the eye.
  6935. "I'm going through this thing fairly fast, but I'm still just one guy. Now, you've got a nice resume for the job here: decent with regular magic, super good with said magic's theory, and a big wannabe gearhead nerd.
  6936. "Just the kinda guy I need to speed the research process along. And if you're lucky, maybe even put those mechanist quirks to good use."
  6937.  
  6938. >You really hope this is a good idea.
  6939. >Logic and cynicism dictate that you're setting yourself up for Jade Empire levels of betrayal here.
  6940. >But your gut's rarely been wrong about these horses, and it's put in a good word for this nerd horse.
  6941. >As for Sunburst, he can't believe what he's hearing.
  6942. >So you pour more disbelief in.
  6943. "Shit, I could tell you a thing or two about how the stuff from back home works, maybe you could work from there?"
  6944. >A shotgun would be so useful. Incognito wouldn't see that coming.
  6945. >Oh man, he's starting to smile.
  6946. >You think that was the 'tism trigger for him.
  6947. "And hell, even if you can't help me with the thaumic shit, I could still use the extra hands and magic advice around here."
  6948. >You stand back up.
  6949. "So, how about it? Care to be the humble part-time assistant of ol' uncle bumblefuck here?"
  6950. >The smile grows bigger and bigger.
  6951. >He's going to jump you, isn't he?
  6952. >"YES!"
  6953. >Yep, he totally just jumped you.
  6954. >Somehow, that's still adorable. Even when stallions do it.
  6955. >You're sure there's something subconsciously gay about that.
  6956. >Looks like you have a new helper, anyhow.
  6957. >...
  6958. >The land-drawn chariot bumps around again.
  6959. >You'd think they would steer around the rocks better.
  6960. >Apparently not.
  6961. >"I don't like this, Athalia. Something about those zebras just freak me right out."
  6962. "It's not the zebras that worry me, it's their abilities."
  6963. >You know that Incognito uses alchemy for himself, but zebra alchemy just seemed so much more... dangerous. Unpredictable.
  6964. >Why doesn't he just take their books on alchemy?
  6965.  
  6966. >Oh, yeah. They don't keep any books.
  6967. >They pass their knowledge down, from teacher to student.
  6968. >About as old-fashioned and tribal as their culture, you guess.
  6969. >How have the zebra tribes not banded together by now?
  6970. >Even without magic, their alchemy can stand up to ponykind well enough!
  6971. >As a few lings found out with an advance scout throwing a potion at them.
  6972. >Melted the chitin wherever that liquid splashed.
  6973. >That wasn't pretty to watch. Or heal.
  6974. >"Look, don't be thinking I hate all zebras, or something. It's these ones the boss is meetin' with that I've got problems with."
  6975. "Yeah, I hear you."
  6976. >Well, Ajay's not wrong.
  6977. >Where did Lord M-- Incognito find these savages, anyways?
  6978. >A tribe that still practices raiding? And whose alchemy is said to be brewed from the blood of their enemies?
  6979. >You still trust him completely, but meeting with the Bloedige Plaag still put you on edge.
  6980. >It's hard enough pronouncing their tribe name!
  6981. >"Hey, heads up. I think we found 'em."
  6982. >You look in the direction his wing is pointing at.
  6983. >Now, you've seen zebrican tents before.
  6984. >Your queen sent you to harvest love from zebras a few times before.
  6985. >Now, zebra tents with bone instead of sticks?
  6986. >Only the rumours of the Arimaspi eating ponies alive tops this.
  6987. >You couldn't see the tribe members yet. But they were definitely there.
  6988. >"Hold, my children."
  6989. >And there's your Lord, back in his armour and wielding his catalyst.
  6990. >It was about the only thing that made you feel safe out here.
  6991. >He looks at them through a small magic lensing spell.
  6992. >And it looks like he's satisfied.
  6993.  
  6994. >"Perfect. All chariots, stay behind here and make sure we are not ambushed from behind. We shall move forward to greet their leader."
  6995. >He clutches a bag on the floor with his free hand.
  6996. >You don't know what's in it, but it smells terrible.
  6997. >He got it out of nowhere halfway through your trip here.
  6998. >In any case, the chariot begins advancing.
  6999. >You can see the tribe members clearly now.
  7000. >The stallions are all wearing armour made out of fused bone.
  7001. >"Sick bastards."
  7002. >"I hope you will keep such commentary to yourself, Ajay. Their leader does understand Common, after all."
  7003. >"Yes, my Lord."
  7004. >The chariot stops a few meters from the village limits. Incognito exits the chariot, with you, Ajay, and two gryphon guards following.
  7005. >The tribe members seem to be snickering to themselves as you walk through. And talking in that guttural language of theirs.
  7006. >"Well, now. What manner of creature are you, stranger?"
  7007. >That voice was rough, and it came from a very grizzled looking zebra stallion.
  7008. >He wore the same bone armour, but with a crown fashioned from an elephant skull to match.
  7009. >"You must be the famous Veldheer."
  7010. >"And who's asking?"
  7011. >"I am Incognito Matthias, mister Veldheer. And I come here to enlist your tribe's aid in my grand cause."
  7012. >"Enlist us?"
  7013. >He speaks to the zebras around him, and they all start laughing.
  7014. >You're all on edge from it, except your Lord. His diplomatic smile remains.
  7015. >"Oh, this is funny! You think yourself worthy of our warriors, monkey?"
  7016. >"Quite so. Your talents in bloodshed are legendary, after all."
  7017.  
  7018. >"Pah! What would a milk drinker like yourself know about bloodshed?"
  7019. >It's at this point that Incognito undoes the bag, pulling free a--
  7020. >HOLY HORSESHIT WHAT THE BUCK IS THAT?!
  7021. >WHY DOES HE HAVE A SEVERED HEAD OF A ZEBRA?!
  7022. >"I believe your daughter fled your tribe, to join the Wyse Kunstenaars? She only got as far as the northerly oasis before she and her 'liberators' fell."
  7023. >He throws the head down at Veldheer's hooves. He looks surprised, and a little impressed.
  7024. >A severed head of his daughter impresses him?!
  7025. >What the buck is wrong with these zebras?!
  7026. >"She asked me to spare her in five different languages, you know. I thought it fitting to make her scream in all five."
  7027. >"Well now, this is different. So you know something about bloodshed, after all. Very well, traveller, you have my attention."
  7028. >"Wonderful. I wage a war with Equestria, o' warlord, and I require your skills in both combat and alchemy to complete my plans for them."
  7029. >"Hah! Equestria, is it? You think of me as stupid, traveller?"
  7030. >"Not at all, but I certainly think of you as smart. Smart enough to recognize a prime opportunity when you see it."
  7031. >"You've overstayed your welcome, traveller! Now, leave here or--"
  7032. >THUNK
  7033. >What?
  7034. >That's one of the swords from the princess's treasure?
  7035. >When did he bring that?
  7036. >Veldheer's face was that of shock.
  7037. >"Where did you get that?"
  7038. >"The vaults of the princesses themselves, my good Veldheer."
  7039. >He kneels to his level, to look in his eyes.
  7040. >"Now, shall we talk business?"
  7041.  
  7042. @@@@@@@@
  7043.  
  7044. >"Anon, that's brilliant! How did humankind ever come up with this design?!"
  7045. "Well, as the old saying goes, 'the only difference between science and screwing around, is writing it down'."
  7046. >Jesus H. Christ, this guy was still this fucking eager, even after just one week!
  7047. >After seeing your progress in the thaumic realm, he all but gave up trying to match your research.
  7048. >But going over his Lexica and writing notes down about it, and then feeding the notes to yours? Turned out to actually work.
  7049. >You could magically link the things, so that discoveries you made would be put down in his book as well.
  7050. >While being indicated as your work, of course. These guys had time to put in anti-cheating measures, at least.
  7051. >It also didn't tell him about how to craft it, until he did the legwork himself.
  7052. >But enough about the University of the Elder God Book®.
  7053. >You'd gone over a whole bunch of mechanical designs, starting with simple gears.
  7054. >You're not very knowledgeable about mechanical shit, not gonna lie. But you didn't need to be.
  7055. >This fucking horse must have another mark in mechanical shit hidden somewhere, because he's recreating your descriptions absurdly fast, and figuring out every wayward property of them as he goes along.
  7056. >But the whole exchange also highlighted exactly how fucking garbage Equestria's mechanics were.
  7057. >They thought gears were only used in watches and clocks, and never scaled the things up.
  7058. >Belt-coupled things were used in trains, of all things.
  7059. >They didn't even know what a worm gear was!
  7060.  
  7061. >It was a bit of a pain, dredging the information from many Wikipedia treks from years gone past, but it seemed to work out in the end.
  7062. >Sunburst's work was ridiculously fast and super self-correcting enough that it didn't matter if you were vague.
  7063. >You just got done explaining how combustion engines worked. You'd swear you just recited some porn to him, from his reaction.
  7064. >"But Anon, what do they use for fuel?"
  7065. "Depends. Most cars use gasoline or diesel, but weirder shit's been used."
  7066. >"What's gasoline and diesel?"
  7067. "The stuff you get from processing oil. You know, the black kind that comes outta the ground?"
  7068. >"Uhh... no? I've never heard of any kind of oil like that before."
  7069. "Wait, seriously?"
  7070. >"Pretty sure."
  7071. >Well, shit. That rules out anything petroleum based. No plastic for you just yet.
  7072. >Not that you'd know how the fuck to make plastic, anyways.
  7073. "Well, shit. Okay, it, uh... The fuel's got to give off a good amount of explosive force once it's compressed down by the cylinder and lit off."
  7074. >"That's all?"
  7075. "Pretty sure."
  7076. >"But what's the difference between gasoline and diesel?"
  7077. "Gas is way more refined and burns cleaner. Diesel can be anything, even--"
  7078. >Whoaly shit, you forgot that part!
  7079. >"Even what?"
  7080. "Back home, they also made biodiesel! They did some weird shit to corn, I think, and whatever they brewed from it burned like diesel!"
  7081. >And there goes the quill, scribbling shit like an author possessed.
  7082. >He'll probably have a fucking essay ready on that in a couple of days.
  7083.  
  7084. >"One other thing, Anon. These engines spin other things, not just vehicles and trains, right?"
  7085. "Yeah. Blenders, fans, everything."
  7086. >"How do you keep everything fueled? And filter out the fumes?"
  7087. "Oh shit, no. We don't drive those with fuel, those suckers are electrical."
  7088. >"E-electrical?"
  7089. >...
  7090. >Holy shit, no.
  7091. >Don't fucking tell me.
  7092. "Please tell me you at least know what electricity is."
  7093. >"I've... never once heard of that before. And I got high marks in all sciences."
  7094. >This grinds your own separate workflow to a screeching halt.
  7095. >Worm gears are one thing, but fucking electricity?
  7096. >No, this abominable heresy to the Machine-God must be corrected immediately.
  7097. >"Wait, you mentioned electricity before, back at one of the princess get-togethers, didn't you?"
  7098. >That just makes the heresy even worse, that you would forget about it.
  7099. "I'm not explaining this without also having a practical demonstration to go along with it."
  7100. >"P-practical demonstration?!"
  7101. "Yeah. You're leaving in a day, right?"
  7102. >"R-right?"
  7103. "When you get back here, I want you to bring some zinc and copper plates, copper wire, vinegar, and a piece of iron."
  7104. >And people say high school is a waste.
  7105. >"R-really? That's a weird list. I'll try, but I'm not sure I can manage the iron."
  7106. "The iron's not really needed, it's just there to illustrate a point about how electricity works."
  7107. >"Right, well, I'll see what I can do!"
  7108. "Good. Now, what else did you want to know about engines?"
  7109.  
  7110. >You really wish you paid more attention to your mechanic extended family. Would've been much nicer to explain engine shit without speculating.
  7111. >But your gun-loving aunt was just so much more fun to hang around with.
  7112. >Also wishing you paid more attention to her. And maybe gone to /k/.
  7113. >Because all you knew about guns was how to shoot them, not the parts that they're made of.
  7114. >You haven't brought up guns with Sunburst yet, though. A little too early for man's most effective killing device.
  7115. >What you did do, was finish fessing up the last of what you knew about engines to him.
  7116. >He'll figure out how it all works eventually, you just know it.
  7117. >The topic had since shifted to your work.
  7118. >You'd finished up your advanced etching focus days ago, which was needed to put some really small and detailed glyphs onto some rock structures and gems.
  7119. >The things that would make up the next piece of the crafting puzzle: the Arcane Infuser.
  7120. >Not gonna lie, the book made it out to be a really scary thing.
  7121. >After all, ripping things apart and forcefully combining them with pure magic sounded super dangerous.
  7122. >The first few things you would be making were pretty simple to merge, though.
  7123. >Then you could work on some safety devices, also made with this guy.
  7124. >You finish glyphing up the most complex part of the whole construct: the core.
  7125. >Now, you were gonna have to TK this spherical core above the platform you built while you 'craft' it again.
  7126. >Shouldn't be too tough, since you had a lot of power in the wand to dump into TK for long periods of time.
  7127.  
  7128. >And what a long time it's taking.
  7129. >You've been pointing your best staff at the core for about six minutes now.
  7130. >This is starting to resemble the first wand craft you made.
  7131. >Given the size and complexity of this beast though, it would probably react a lot m