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cover_the_guardian_v_2_by_ilyawolfgrel-d

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian

(C)2017

A common human Alex gets transferred to Equestria. Desperate to return home at first, he starts noticing himself changing. Time comes for him to decide for Equestria destiny. Will he conform? Which path will he choose? Are Celestia's fears justified?

Here is the story of a human, despite being an alien in Equestria, not being an outcast, a door mat or a toy for ponies. His misery comes from inside, painfully at first he accommodates. Equestria changes him and time will come to return the debt.

 

1. Arrival

 

 

A fierce lightning bolt ripped thick clouds and speared into the ruined castle tower so heavily that it made debris and dust fly in the damp air. When the mess settled a bit, partially taken down by the rain, which became really strong at that moment, it revealed the electric discharge being so strong that it carved a deep notch in the stone floor of what previously had been the upper room of the tower. At least when it had a roof. Now, as the rain poured inside freely, it made the strange curled figure in the middle of the lightning carved pit feel quite uncomfortable. Because seconds later a young man gasped and cringed in pain from the feeling of a bunch of burning snakes slithering through his entire body.

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“Oh, my…” He wheezed faintly. “What in the name of the creator just happened?”

Slowly and painfully he kneeled. Perhaps it was not the best idea, as nausea struck him mercilessly, so he almost crashed back on the floor. But lying on the stone floor in the pool of rain water, which started gathering in the pit he found himself in, was neither. He realized that he started to freeze in the cold wind, blowing through glassless windows of what he recognized to be some sort of a ruin. That wasn’t nearly nice. His skin burned and reddened, as if he had gone through some fire, but thankfully it wasn’t burnt too much, yet it hardly made the feel better. His clothes now looked like a few shreds of the shirt hanging from the collar and cuffs, some remnants of the jeans wrapping around his legs and annoyingly getting in the way, the rest was completely ruined, burned as well. The charred edges and familiar smell spoke for themselves. At least he had his boxers and boots intact, the former simply missed their chance to burn, being under the rest of the clothes, and the latter were well made of thick leather for man’s sheer luck.

“Great,” He muttered to himself, shivering as another thunder strike rolled in the sky. “At least I don’t need to go barefoot…”

“Go where?” A sudden uneasy thought came to his mind. “And where exactly I should go from?”

Still feeling dizzy, he got on his feet and tried to look around. With the bright lightning flash he got an image of a medium size round room full of stone and wooden debris. It could be anything before, totally unrecognizable now as it was hardly the first thunderstorm hitting the unmaintained building. The roof fell in long ago, showing a few broken beams, which couldn’t stop the wind and rains from doing their destructive job. What could be some furniture, books, anything else now lay in decay. The time-worn chandelier, lying on the floor under the large boulder, appeared to be the most durable thing there.

The only attention-worthy thing in that room was a square opening in the floor near the wall. Surely it looked like an entryway to a bottomless pit in the darkness, but it couldn’t be really that bad. For all, what he knew about castles…

“Castle!” He caught himself screaming that in full voice. “What the flying hell is going on?”

“I can’t remember any castles nearby,” He said to himself, calming down a bit. “Damn, not nearby, not in the whole region, hundreds of miles round neither. What has happened to me?”

“Well,” He grinned painfully. “One step at a time, Alex, one step at a time…”

At least he remembered his name. Seemed not that bad, right? If only it could be worse actually. So… For all, what he knew about castles, they were made of stone and with the priority of safety and stability in mind. So, hardly the owners, builders, whoever stupidly jumped in the pit, there must be stairs under that opening. Hopefully stone ones, which haven’t been destroyed by the time, unlike wooden hatch on the opening – a few planks still hung on the ancient door hinges.

With another lightning Alex indeed saw dark, narrow stone stairs made slippery from the rain. He thought it was time to leave the open room – bombs never hit the same pit twice, but it was a lightning storm and… the day was “strange”. So he decided to err on the side of caution.

He ripped the rags – which were once his shirt and pants – off his hands, neck and legs.

‘Off you go,’ Alex threw them in a pile on the floor. ‘No warmth from you anyway, yet another chance to stumble or catch something and fall all the way nobody-knows-how-far down.’

He stepped on the spiral staircase, sticking to the outer wall and touching it with his left hand. He didn’t smoke and had no lighter or matches… And even if he did, that wouldn’t have helped him as all he had vanished with his jacket. As he remembered the stairs were not wider than the hatch. God only knew if there were beams, landings or even anything in the middle. He caught himself on the feeling that the wind became chilling in the tube of the tower… or was that staircase itself to blame. Alex was afraid of heights.

“I’m not taking any chances,” smirked Alex to himself sticking closer to the wall.

*

The car ate mile by mile of the empty Sunday road. Oncoming traffic was minimal and Alex could focus on his plans and expectations while driving. Surely not every 25-years-old man could think of a better career – benefits of the well planned and qualitative education, personal determination and, let’s be honest pure luck, but what job doesn’t require at least some luck – an IT specialist in a profit-making company capable of having personal transport, simple but comfortable apartment and no Damocles sword of debts hanging over the head.

Well, he really deserved it. Starting from the “ground level”, working with hardware, through endless night shifts, he finally noticed that it naturally started paying back. He could manage everything he came across his daily routines, but sometimes the feeling of completion was slightly tinted with regret. He could have spent more time with parents, with his almost-a-girlfriend. They were neither officially engaged nor limited themselves by any obligations… yet, but Elen was just-the-right-person for Alex. They understood each other wordlessly, they always found time to help each other, they could trust themselves being a stronghold one for another and above all, they both could easily make each other laugh happily or feel safe and serene, when it was necessary. No wonder Alex wanted to give Elen more attention.

But living forced him to prioritize. And it was rare chance to get to the next level of personal freedom and gain. He was offered a job in another company. Same IT field, almost the same duties, but in fact it was a direct promotion from the level he currently had. They have practically been ready to give him a whole subdivision to lead, obviously, that meant bigger income and further career opportunities. In common terms, it meant a private house after a short while and an ability to move in with his special somebody, whom he already asked about and got cheerful consent. Truth to be told, Elen would have been happy to join him in the old place without any special conditions long ago, but he didn’t ask and she didn’t find it acceptable to suggest herself.

Of course, it also meant moving to another city, but wasn’t it better done, while his parents were not too old and he could freely build his life? Besides, it was a neighboring city, not another country or another planet, it was only a few hours ride.

Considering all that Alex took a couple of days off to visit the new place and make the final decision. The new company was ready to give him from a couple of weeks to a month to make all arrangements at his old job and quit with as much dignity as it was possible. So he planned his days off to be Monday and Tuesday, thus having all weekend plus two days for a safe trip and acquaintance.

A few raindrops fell, leaving curvy tracks on the windshield. Alex frowned and raised the side window – the wind became stronger and blew some dust inside. He heard the muffled sound of distant thunder, then a bright flash sparkled in the sky. Soon the whole road ahead was barely visible through the heavy rain. Alex slowed down his car and turned on the lights. Thunderstorms were never a rarity in May, but as long as Alex remembered, there wasn’t any in that day prognosis. They promised warm, even hot, for that time of the year, sunny day without any precipitation. The whole cataclysm started all of the sudden. A few seconds ago it was warm and clear and in a moment the storm began… and the car didn’t even cover a mile during that change.

Flashes of lightning followed now one by one in a matter of a few seconds and Alex slowed down even more, when one of them lit a road sign at the shoulder – sharp turn. It was even darker here; the whole road was covered by the shadow of an enormous tree on the nearby hill. Alex could swear, he had never seen any of that size in his life. It was shimmering with millions of silvery green leaves on swaying in the wind branches. Alex thought it was very strange that no lightning yet struck that giant tree, despite it was standing as the only lightning-conductor in a few miles radius. He also thought, if that tree was guilty of quite a few road accidents every month, as the whole view was simply marvelous and there hardly was a driver, who didn’t lavish it with an extra amazed look.

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Next thing he saw were headlights of the oncoming car, which apparently moved considerably faster than reasonable on such a turn, with that kind of weather. The driver managed to swerve past him. Alex took a glance in the mirror and saw the car started sliding uncontrollably on the road, then it hit a smaller tree behind the road shoulder and stopped. Alex pressed the brakes all the way down, risking repeating that driver’s “trick”. He stopped at the wayside and turned off the engine.

“Merlin’s pants, I hope the poor bastards are alright,” he thought, when he rushed to the crash site. “What did they think about, when they were driving that fast… or were they just looking at that damned tree mammoth only?”

There was a woman behind the wheel in that car, she managed to get out herself. More shocked than hurt. She was still shaking off that dizziness, when Alex took off his jacket and pushed in her hands.

“The inner pocket,” he looked in her eyes to ensure that she understood him. “Take the phone and call the emergency.”

He already saw that there was one more person in the car, who definitely needed more help. A girl on the back seat, clutching something yellow and pink and evidently terrified and shocked. Alex tried to open her door, then the door on the other side to find both were jammed, while the girl’s mother was making a call.

Gasoline trailed up his nose and Alex realized, it was the matter of moments. He climbed into the car through the driver’s door and took out the keys. Still, he could swear, he heard the dreading sound of the sparkles somewhere under the hood. He then turned to the girl and forced himself to smile in the most soothing way possible in that situation.

“Hey, hold on, we’re going to get you and your… pony friend out,” he noticed the toy in her hands. “Just a moment longer.”

He then climbed over the front seat and unlocked the belt. The poor little one clutched to him hardly less than to her pony. She didn’t cry, only whimpered like a deadly scared kitten. Alex found that it was nearly impossible to get the shocked child out of the car the same way he got into. She was near the panic attack already.

“It’s raining, your pony needs some cover,” whispered he in her ear, while pulling girl’s head to his chest and covering her from any damage. He then twisted and hit the rear window with all the strength he could afford. After the second blow the glass gave up and out.

Alex grabbed the girl and pushed her out of the car through the opening.

“Here, take her and get away from the car,” he breathed out.

“Thank you, thank you…” Tears mixed with the rain on the mother’s face, when she got her treasure.

She then backed off the car with the daughter in her hands; suddenly Alex saw, how her eyes widely opened in terror.

“Please, hurry, get out now!” She shrieked on the top of her lungs.

Next thing he heard was a zapping sound and the car got lit from the bottom by inflamed gasoline.

And then the world around him dissolved in an unendurable white flash and the sound of thunder.

*

So the last thing he remembered, when the world around was normal, if being fried and electrocuted in a crashed car could be considered nearly normal (well at least it was real), was bright blinding light. That was the first thing he experienced here. But wasn’t the rest around him real too? Alex stopped. Wondering how silly that idea looked he took a small portion of the skin on his arm and pinched it as hard as possible for the resulting feeling to be enough to tell if he was dreaming.

“DAAAAAAMN IT!” The roar rolled down the tower, causing the rumbling echo in the corridors below.

‘Merlin’s pants, that was convincing!’ Alex cringed.

He was into RPG and fantasy, so it sometimes came afloat with the strong feelings. Unsure if Merlin had indeed something to do about all that Alex noted that the feeling of burning snakes inside him didn’t go away, it simply faded, muffled by more actual problems. Besides, he realized he was freezing cold already and started to shake. Like if that wasn’t enough, his legs started feeling numb, as the whole way down the stairs wasn’t that easy, despite being only a few minutes long. He saw absolutely nothing and was to proceed really slow, trying to feel the wall with his fingers and stairs with his feet. The tower had no windows and, while it could be lit by some torches (somehow Alex felt that there were exactly the torches or candles, never the electric light), when it was in its full glory, now it was pitch black all over.

‘I must be thankful for being claustrophobic not,’ grinned Alex. ‘Otherwise, I would probably be stuck in the upper room forever.’

‘So, what do I have now?’ he tried to summarize his score. ‘I was on the ride to a work appointment, when it started raining cats’n’dogs all of a sudden. I couldn’t see the road well enough, so I slowed down.’

‘And there was that sharp turn. And that tree nearby!’ The memory came so vividly, almost highlighted by a thunderbolt. ‘Yeah, there was the thunderbolt, the flash which made the whole surroundings visible, despite the clouds and rain.’

‘That tree was enormous, I wondered if it was more than a thousand years old. There were quite a few such trees in the whole country, and that was probably the biggest one,’ Alex also thought that he had wondered exactly, if many drivers got into accidents, being distracted by the mere look of that silver-green giant. ‘Then another car appeared. It was moving too fast for those road conditions, no wonder they noticed me too late.’

As he remembered, that car lost control, as its driver tried to avoid the collision on the wet road. It slid by and crashed into one of the smaller trees at the road shoulder. The woman, who drove it, got out by herself, but the rear doors jammed after the impact. And there was a girl, about eight years old, on the back seat of that car.

Alex remembered that he had stopped at the shoulder, and rushed to the damaged car, risking to fall on the slippery ground. He had taken off his jacket and threw it to the woman, who seemed to be a complete wreck. There was a cell phone in the inner pocket. Alex told her to call the emergency and climbed inside her car. Taking the keys out didn’t ease the situation – he could feel the smell of gas quickly forming a pool under the car… and there were those damned sparkling sounds somewhere.

Alex tried to calm himself. Panic was nowhere near useful for solving problems. And he was afraid that he could scare the girl even more. She sat there, curling almost in a small ball; she wasn’t crying or panicking, just quietly whimpering. There was hope in her wide opened eyes…

He tried to open the rear doors only to find they both were jammed, then he told her to duck, and hit the rear window with his foot. It got covered in the web of cracks, but stayed, damn those tinting films. He hit once more and thankfully the whole glass flew out.

Alex shouted to the woman and clicked the kid’s seat belt open. He took the girl and carefully pushed her from the rear window into her mother’s hands. The little one gripped tightly to her plush toy – a pony it was… He remembered it so clearly, perhaps for the rest of his life – the yellow pony with soft long pinkish mane and tail. The woman shouted something, while she was backing from the car with her daughter.

‘Well, at least they are on a safe distance,’ he thought. ‘Time to get out of here before all hell breaks loose…’

‘And then the nightmare started!’ Alex closed his eyes, cringing at the memories.

With another sparkling sound the whole pool of gas under the car turned into the bright oven of doom. But before Alex could think, it was the end and a really ugly one – he started feeling heat almost immediately – he heard the ear-splitting sound of thunder and a bright blinding flash filled his consciousness.

Alex shivered. Was he brought here by lightning? By fire? For common sense’s sake, that was breaking the whole world order, he knew and loved. That was simply impossible. Yet it happened. The whole world around him was real. The feeling when he pinched himself was real. And the damnation, he screamed in pain, caused one damn real echo.

His foot stepped on a very real small mean stone… And Alex lost his real balance rolling down the real stairs.

“FUUUUUCK the castles!” He wasn’t sure, if he shouted all that in his mind or the whole castle was blessed loudly. Most likely mentally, as he was lucky to roll only a few steps. “FUUUUCK the stairs, cars and storms!!!”

“… And fuck the ponies!” assumed Alex, when his head heartily “greeted” the floor. With that reassuring thought he fainted.

*

Darkness fell upon Canterlot, muffling all the activity on the streets. Cicadas, occasional dog barking or hurried hoofsteps of rare citizens on their late way home were the only sounds breaking the serenity of the night. Everypony slept in their comfortable beds, resting from daily routines and even leaves on the trees didn’t dare to break the silence in the complete calm. Nopony noticed the distant and violent storm, which poured tons of water and ripped the dark sky with thunderbolts above the old ruins in the middle of Everfree forest. Even the hardest blast, which could easily compete with the light of full moon rising, was most likely unnoticed by anypony. Anypony but one.

“Ahem…”

Luna turned one ear to the approaching delicate steps of her regal sister, but apparently her attention was otherwise completely occupied by something else, as she stayed, where she was, observing distance through a telescope.

“Luna,” princess Celestia, the Ruler of the Day and Sun, called a bit louder, while she entered the observation balcony on the top of the highest tower of Canterlot castle. She waved her wings in unconscious contraction with a sudden windflaw. “Dear, are you here or several dozens of miles away?”

She then approached her younger sister, princess Luna, the Ruler of the Night and Moon, Master of the Dreams. Something was apparently bothering her that much that she decided to abandon her usual patience and extended her foreleg to touch sister’s shoulder.

“Oh, Tia! Mine apologies,” Luna turned her head from the telescope. “Well, of course, I’ve heard thee. I’ve been examining our… strange issue in the Everfree and slightly captured by mine thoughts about. So what didst thou want?”

“So, you’ve already noticed,” Celestia nodded. “That overly strange and, I’m not afraid to call it that, impossible thunderstorm above the woods.”

“Above the old castle ruins to be exact,” Luna rectified with her eyes, returning to the swirl of clouds in the distance, which meanwhile started to fade.

“And what do you think about all that?..”

“It started moments after I raised the Moon, escalated really fast and now, after half an hour, is fading as suddenly as it started,” Luna touched her chin with the hoof, summarizing. “With clouds so thick and swirling in a compact circle, thunderbolts of that strength and the whole amount of water, which managed to come down in a short time, one might bethink, it needed quite an army of pegasi to stage such a performance.”

“Exactly,” replied Celestia with a tiny smile. “But…”

“But thither were no pegasi assigned to that wide-scale duty the present day at all,” continued Luna. “I have checked the prognosis twice and thither was nothing alike planned for tonight. Besides, what was the point of pouring tons of water in the middle of nowhere practically?”

Her strengthened Old language revealed Luna being a bit excited by the events, as normally she tried her best to accommodate to the modern style of talking. Being properly understood by your subjects was sometimes vital and the Royal Canterlot Voice wasn’t an ultimate tool to reach that goal. There was no point of being loud, while others were trying hard to grasp the mere sense.

“The storm started completely by itself,” Celestia emphasized with concern. “And that’s not something we have been getting here for hundreds of years. Not here, in the middle of Equestria. I admit that Everfree lives by its own laws quite often, but still…”

“Thou art concerned about some imminent danger,” Luna nodded in understanding. “Or rather somepony. As we hardly got something unruly without somepony’s assistance the last few times.”

“Even if they were not ponies,” she smiled mirthlessly.

“But I have sensed nothing. Nothing and nopony, possessing any magic at the least, be it malevolent or contrary to that,” Luna’s ears sadly flattened. “I don’t understand, Tia, what are we dealing with?”

“Neither do I,” confessed her older sister. “As you said, “sensed nothing and nopony”.”

“But we shan’t let it out of our attention. I wonder, if I should send some guards there right now, Luna,” Celestia threw a quick look over the distant ruins, but there was silence and peace over them at that moment, as the storm ended.

“I sincerely suppose that we should just wait for a while,” Luna returned to watching the sleeping domain below. “Guards will hardly find any…pony in the middle of the night, despite mine Moon. If thither is anything to look for, I’m unsure.”

“I trust your judgment of that, dear,” with a heartily smile Celestia nuzzled sister’s shoulder.

“Well, I’m not insisting… but I doubt, we are capable to take any effective steps right now.” Luna leaned back to Celestia. “Have some sleep now, Tia. It’s going to be a long day ahead. And I shall return to mine nightly duty.”

“Have it lightly. Good night, sister.”

Luna waved her hoof in the air, showing that she returned the wish, while her attention returned again to the old ruins deep amidst Everfree.

*

“AAARGHH!!!” Absolute darkness of unconsciousness was changed by the slightly less thick darkness of the old castle. ‘It becomes routinely to fall and get hit. Up to no good you are, man.’

Alex sat on the floor and waited, till the walls stopped spinning around him. As he gained normal sight, he noticed that it became less dark around. There was a hallway up ahead and the moonlight patches on the floor noted the existence of windows for once.

He got up to be greeted by his grumbling stomach. What a nice change: just when he realized the flaming snakes feeling was still with him, he was almost naked, cold and bruised, his stomach decided to remind that it existed and needed attention. The mere fact that the last decent, moreover any, meal Alex had, was past noon didn’t encourage as well. Trying not to think that he should rather be concerned of not being eaten in that godforsaken place, than having something to eat (the castle seemed to be abandoned for a few hundred years and could be anywhere deep in the wild), Alex proceeded to the hallway.

The storm was over during his “blackout” and the full moon looked through the numerous bowed windows of the long corridor with dark regular winged statues standing in the arcs. The night seemed to be young still and Alex noticed that he shivered less here than in the tower. Strangely the storm ended without any sign of it taking place, except water, the air outside was still warm and brought the faint scent of unknown flowers. Alex looked out of the nearest window.

‘Bad, bad idea!’ He managed to notice the green sea of trees, apparently surrounding the castle and shimmering silver in the moonlight and breeze… just before the whole picture doubled or even tripled in his eyesight and his guts tried to make a backflip.

‘I’m too high above the ground,’ he said to himself, accurately backing up from the dreading opening. He then added. ‘Great, I’m in the middle of nowhere and still need to find a suitable way out of that castle.’

He was a bit ashamed to confess, he wouldn’t use the faster exit, even if it was twice lower or there was water below. Back home he was never able to enter a balcony higher than the first floor, here it seemed that he was on the fourth or something alike. And the ceilings were high given that it was the castle.

The sudden memory about home was painful. Alex had no faintest idea, how he was supposed to get home without practically anything: the documents, money, his car. The thought that it would be great at the very least to define, where he was and where his home was, didn’t provide much optimism either. Without the phone, map or any clues about the area it wasn’t going to be a game. Alex released a deep sigh. It seemed, he was to stay inside till morning – he couldn’t notice anything outside, which can be used as a landmark, except the very castle, but it wasn’t enough to proceed. He was still uncomfortable about walking around in the wild in underwear only and hoped that perhaps he could find something for the covers. Finally, it was simply stupid to walk through some unknown forest in the middle of the night.

‘So let’s check the other rooms,’ he said to himself, while stepping further into the hallway. ‘If only that annoying pain inside faded, I’d be completely happy.’

The closer look at one of the statues quickly brought the now-almost-native feeling of unease back. There was something familiar in the statue, something that Alex still couldn’t remember, yet making his skin crawl. No, they were not some gargoyles or any sort of other ugly stone abominations so usual for the ancient castles. What stood in front of him was a sculpture of a… unicorn. There was something strange about it: it wasn’t of the size of a normal horse, but smaller, almost like a big pony. However, it was more slender, than a pony any of us could portray, more graceful. In addition to that, the statue was “wearing” the armour. Quick examination made clear that the armour was more like of a soldier, than a battle animal, besides, there were no saddle, no harness, in other words, nothing normally used to ride a… pony. Alex also noticed that not all the statues were the same, as it seemed to him from the first look. Half of them were unicorns, another half had wings, thus being technically pegasi. He giggled nervously.

‘Yet this feeling that I have seen those somewhere…’

“Well, dude,” Alex slapped the closest statue lightly on the muzzle with a cackle. “It seems, there going to be more ponies in my life from now on.”

According to his “internal clock” Alex was wandering around the castle for about an hour already. He tried to keep the general direction of getting down to the ground floor, thus walking down every staircase, he could find not ruined. Yet he felt that he was covering much more distance horizontally than actually descending, not mentioning that he was to backtrack twice because of corridors blocked by collapsed walls.

Alex completely forgot about his hunger. Now he was concerned about warming himself and getting some safe place to sleep without any risk to freeze completely till morning. He wasn’t sure if it was going to get any colder before the sunrise, considering he had no idea, where exactly the castle was situated. What he saw through the windows clearly showed that it wasn’t some polar region. For which Alex was immensely thankful. But every compartment without windows was noticeably colder; the stone walls didn’t keep warmth like probably they did, when the castle was full of life.

He didn’t know if it was bad or good that he apparently was all alone there. Remembering now the yell he gave, when rolling down that stairwell in the tower, he came to the conclusion, that wasn’t the best thing to do. But the sound startled nobody and nobody came to check of the trespasser. So he guessed that tiptoeing wasn’t absolutely necessary, opening the few remaining doors, despite them screeching mercilessly, was safe as well.

Next doors Alex faced were large, heavy, built of thick noble wood. Amazing ancient carving, highlighted by the moon light, coming through the high window behind his back, covered the door leafs. When he pushed them lightly, he was amazed by how easily and quietly they opened. It seemed that particular room was of great importance to the castle inhabitants, so they treated all the stuff inside with great care. The furniture stood intact in the dark room, most likely being of the finest quality, so it survived whatever disaster happened.

“Gasp!” Alex stumbled in the doorway, as he noticed something deep in the room. A human figure in another passage at the far wall.

At first he was worried a bit, but only for a second or two…

“Hello!” Alex rushed inside the room. “I’m lost and…”

He found himself staring at… Alex, same tired and bruised Alex in his dusty boxers and boots; Alex with quite a stupid look on the face, which already managed to grow some stubble. He extended his hand to touch a giant dimmed mirror about 10 feet tall. Alex gave out a deep sigh of relief and… despair.

“Nasty mirror,” he muttered. “I almost thought that I found some help.”

He took another look across the room, which, as he noticed, was a bedroom of some regal person most likely. Closer examination of the king-size bed revealed it being of no use, as there was nor sheets neither mattress left (they were probably that pile of dust beneath the bed). The wooden frame survived, but not the delicate cloth. Alex thought, he was going to have no sleep tonight, as other furniture in the room, at least the chairs and banquettes, were somehow not comfortable for him to relax properly. He remembered that every unbroken seat, he found previously, was as well… perhaps too low for his comfort. Other furniture like tables, cabinets seemed to be alright though.

Alex proceeded through more and more rooms: spacious halls and small cabinets. Checked more bedrooms and bathrooms with the stone basins built into the floor – all with mostly time worn and broken furniture. He passed an enormous library, thinking that he probably was to wander around that castle till morning looking for the exit. He checked a couple of books (more automatically than hoping to find something helpful) one of which crumbled to dust in his hands. Nothing that could help, some historical stuff that could be interesting, if he wasn’t almost falling asleep on the spot.

Well, if he wasn’t, he might have noticed that, despite understanding, what the books were telling, there was no single word written in plain English in them. But his tired mind noticed the content and completely missed, paid no attention to form – the symbols the books were written in.

Finally, after one more staircase, he found himself on seemingly the first floor of the castle, in the long high hall of some regal value. High windows on both opposite narrow ends of the hall let enough light inside for him to see columns, chandeliers at the walls and ends of ceiling arcs, more sets of horse… pony armour, standing on their eternal duty along the walls, another single staircase at his end of the hall, going down and most likely to the castle front doors at some point. With the idea that going outside was definitely some daytime business, Alex headed to the opposite end of the hall, where he noticed a stepped podium with two… thrones.

After approaching that three steps elevation with two large thrones Alex noticed, they were still in nice condition, not only stone frame, but also the soft seats and backrests. Another sign of those being made for the top-class noble asses, as Alex giggled inwardly. One throne was covered with a large ancient tapestry, also quite well retained. It must have fallen from the wall behind the thrones, as a similar tapestry hung behind the second throne.

Alex rose the steps and took the tapestry by its edge to unfold it. The cloth was of amazing quality and lightness, unbelievable for its age, nowhere heavy and rough on touch, unlike almost every common tapestry. This one was made in black, all sorts of blue and silver colours with white outlining. Presumably night sky with stars and bright moon above and a dark blue slender winged horse figurine below facing… flying down. Another tapestry on the wall was generally in blue, white and gold, depicting the sky, sun disc high above and a white slender winged horse figurine flying up.

Alex closed his eyes. The same feeling of unease flooded him again. Both images were painfully familiar, he knew he had seen them somewhere already. But they were parts of a single image in his memory.

*

That was one of those family days, when Alex and his parents were visiting relatives from another city. The latter lived in suburbs, without plenty means of entertaining people, especially younger ones. This and them having two daughters, 12 and 8 years old, practically meant that, while older members of the family were discussing all, what was usually discussed on family meetings, girls were totally Alex’s business. Besides cousins were under the impression of the 19 years old sibling, that sort of impression, which usually leads to looking up to with eyes wide opened, giggles, unintentional innocent flirting and tons of teasing. All harmless, at least until it starts coming at you as a storm… That day wasn’t going to be an easy one, as Alex told himself earlier in the morning.

The relatives lived in a cottage with a large garden. So hide and seek, play catch, some more random running around, while both girls contrived to almost run him over a few times, made Alex finally unsure if he had two cousins only or maybe four… or even six already.

“Hey, girls,” called he, getting up from the grass. “What about getting inside and having a bit quieter entertainment… before it becomes traumatic?”

“Boo, spoilsport!” Older cousin bumped into him and grabbed in a bear hug. “Right when we started having fun.”

“Two of you are too much for the “old Alex”,” he stuck out his tongue, teasing her.

“You’re not old,” she wrinkled her nose, making her freckles jump. “Just a bit grumpy and into your computer stuff too much. Tell me the point of going to the gym, when you can just have fun outside for free with the same result.”

“Yes, yes,” Eagerly jumped the younger, while Alex thought about a dignified answer to the previous question. “We can view some cartoons. Just got a new show on DVD.”

She took Alex’s and her sister’s hands and rushed into the house, sweeping away all possible objections.

“OK, what will it be?” asked Alex, when they sat in the living room. ‘Girly stuff,’ he shrugged mentally, while younger cousin turned the TV on and set the disc into the player already.

It was the new show called My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. As he suspected typical girly stuff. Yet despite pinkish gamma and girly hyper voices, what he watched was fun. It was the first episode, where a few pony girls were searching for some relics to prevent an evil alter ego of one of the two rulers of the land from returning from her 1000 years banishment. The land was called Equestria. ‘So original’, smirked Alex to himself. It was ruled once by two sisters: one reigned over the day and Sun, another – over the Night and Moon. The younger sister – Luna got jealous of Celestia, the older sister, thinking she was getting more attention and love, naturally being the princess of the day. Luna went completely mental, being spoiled by the shadow and turned into Nightmare Moon, who tried to take over the whole land and establish the eternal night by refusing to get the Moon down and let Celestia rise the Sun.

It was impossible how Alex could still remember all those names and facts from the show.

Celestia then entrapped her younger sister into the Moon, using those relics and started ruling the country on her own, day and night, Sun and Moon, while mourning of her once beloved sister. But after 1000 years certain conditions were met for Nightmare Moon to return and attempt revenge…

With the help of the relics, the pony girls (main characters of the show) managed to cast out Nightmare Moon and return princess Luna as former kind and sane self. But those were details…

There was the old castle of Two Sisters in that show. And there. Was. That. Sign! Of two regal sisters, rulers of the Moon and Sun.

*

Alex dropped the tapestry and covered his face with hands. It wasn’t obvious if he was going to shriek, cry or curl on the stone platform in disbelief and despair.

‘That simply can’t be true!’ cried his mind. ‘Come on, it was just a blasted movie, a cartoon for kids!’

Well, last time he tried to check, if he was sleeping or delusional, was painful and real. From all forms of insanity, this could be the least possible, Alex could imagine for himself, if thinking about insanity was his common practice.

After a few minutes he managed to bring together, what remained of his trembling, tired and frustrated self.

‘I am regally screwed!’ he gritted his teeth heavily. ‘But, damn it, I’ll deal with this tomorrow!’

‘I’m too tired for logical conclusions. No ponies or nightmares or else will take away my sleep. And I’ve finally found some “clothes”,’ Alex let out a sad grin.

He grabbed Luna’s tapestry…

‘Oh, dear Lord, please, let me be mistaken!’

… and made some kind of toga, wrapping it around his tired body and finding it surprisingly nice and warm.

He then climbed with his legs on that throne in front of him and curled, trying to find the possibly comfortable pose. Minutes later overloaded by today’s events Alex passed out.

 

 

---

Author's note: If 't be true you like the story (and have FimFiction account, otherwise, you can't vote), please, take a minute to support the book hither: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian  "Thumbs up" are very welcome, comments either. Mine most sincere gratitude in advance!

Edited by Alexshy
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At last!:yay:

Completely accidentally I found that thread and I'm very glad that you decided to promote more your wonderful book and at last especially in that way. :fluttershy:

Good luck my friend! I know very well that "The Guardian" deserves for much more attention and appreciation. Uff. I'm literally not even sure if I should write my own opinion here about  that beautiful book. :D

I guess that much more interesting, for you and me, will be comments and opinions of readers which for the first time will be reading this story.;)

Edited by Fluttershy Friend
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im going to make the time to read this as soon as possible. i hope tonight. i hope ponies find this page and enjoy your book

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It's on my e-reader and I can get caught up while I'm waiting for my laundry.Really loving the story so far.

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52 minutes ago, Longhaul said:

Really loving the story so far.

Why I'm not surprised?:orly:^_^ I am glad that you like this book.

Which chapter do you read if I may to know?

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34 minutes ago, Fluttershy Friend said:

Why I'm not surprised?:orly:^_^ I am glad that you like this book.

Which chapter do you read if I may to know?

I've read the first, and the most recent ones.  I need to get reading the stuff in between.

Much better than the stuff Iv'e written.

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2 minutes ago, Longhaul said:

Much better than the stuff Iv'e written.

:orly: Dost not be so harsh on thyself! *hugs*

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14 minutes ago, Longhaul said:

I've read the first, and the most recent ones.  I need to get reading the stuff in between.

Much better than the stuff Iv'e written. 

Good heaven! You made for yourself ONE GIANT SPOILER!:D

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Just now, Fluttershy Friend said:

Good heaven! You made for yourself ONE GIANT SPOILER!:D

I'll have forgotten the last part by the time I get halfway through the story, so it will be fine. :)

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(New week, new chapter :orly:)

2.   Neverfree

 

An early ray of sunlight sneaked through the arched window into the hall. It jumped from one floor plate to another and soon reached the stepped platform. Soon it climbed the steps, the throne and finally Alex’s nose. When the ray peeked into his eye, Alex tried to move away, frowning through sleep, and woke up. At first he yawned quite peacefully, perhaps he thought that all the events prior to this morning were a dream… or better say a nightmare. Not the worst one in his life, but definitely a shiver-worthy. Then Alex rubbed his eyes, shooing the rest of sleep, and… his eyes met the hall, the floor plates, the high windows with sunlight coming through, the… pony armour sets in the arcs and his own self, curling on the throne and wrapping himself in an ancient night-coloured tapestry.

“GASP!!!”

He was still in that nightmare… or the daymare… or whatever mare it was.

“Oh, no, Alex, you should really hold back from all those horse jokes,” he said to himself. “Right before more of them become real.”

Yes, regardless of his denial or whole impossibility of the surrounding, Alex couldn’t probably imagine any acceptable explanation of the recent events being a joke, prank, any other less mind-wrecking kind of mishap. There could hardly be such a rich and demented fan of the show or even group of them, who could build the castle of Regal Sisters in the middle of nowhere with such care and attention to the tiniest detail. Build and then make it degrade, like if a few hundred years have passed. And the signs of decay were nothing close to artificial, as Alex could remember from the previous night.

So, if it walked like a duck, swam like a duck and quacked like a duck, then it most likely WAS a duck. The only adequate explanation of the events, he faced, was that Alex had somehow got to…

“How it was called,” Alex wrinkled his forehead, trying to remember. “Equestria. God damn right, Equestria. You are in Equestria, man! Congratulations! TADA!!!”

He then thought, if there were IT specialists needed there, or if the person he was negotiating about his new job looked like a horse… a pony better say.

“C’mon, Alex, stop it already,” he laughed aloud. The latter made him cringe again: the feeling of a tight clew of flaming snakes perhaps faded a bit, but it never went away. Then he heard the plaintive singing of his empty stomach.

Alex stood up from the throne and stretched. Surely his sleeping place wasn’t the most comfortable, but he thought he shouldn’t complain, as he got no real choice anyway. Still, it was better than sleeping on the stone floor.

“Now it’s time to get outside and think, what I have to face and how I can get through all this,” he jogged to the stairway at the other end of the hall. Despite the slight pain inside, he simply needed to make the blood run faster. Besides, Alex secretly hoped for the outside forest not to become his second night standing place. All those expectations called for faster moving.

As he thought last night, this wide staircase led him to the hallway on the ground floor of the castle. And the big doors on the other side of the hallway were the entrance. Or in his lucky case – the exit. Alex almost flew to the doors, his feet hardly touched the floor. Fortunately, one leaf was completely missing, while another hung askew on one hinge. If the doors were intact or even locked, he doubted he could open them with bare hands… in that case jumping out of the window would be the only way out. Despite being on the ground floor, the windows were high enough, which already made any thought of jumping through uneasy for Alex.

He exited the castle and ran down a few more stairs to the ground. Ground, finally, Alex was so happy to see it right under his feet, well, boots… thankfully he still had them, that he could probably fall down to his knees and kiss the dust.

The thick wall of the forest closely surrounded the castle. Alex noticed, there were all sorts of trees at once: pines, oaks, willows, elms  – the mix we couldn’t normally see in one climatic area, not even in one forest next to each other. While he was able to identify the majority of the trees (some were still new to him, and if he was a botanist he could easily say that there had been none of some on Earth), the whole variety of smaller plants, bushes and flowers were completely new to him. Alex wisely decided to stay away from completely unknown flora unless absolutely necessary. He wasn’t allergic back at home, but… he wasn’t at home anymore. God only knew, where he actually was, and if indeed it was Equestria (some part of Alex’s mind still tried to struggle with that idea), there could be… surprises as he remembered.

Indeed, Alex was surprised finding out that he remembered enough details from that long-gone day, when he got acquainted with Equestria and its… realities? So, now they were actually real, and it was definitely good that he could remember at least something.

The first thing he needed was the proper direction. Having the castle strictly behind the back he looked to the sky. The position of morning sun told him he was facing north. As far as he remembered, the nearest town, he knew anything about, was also to the north (and slightly west) from here. So, if he proceeded the way he was facing, he should finally get out of the forest and be able to have a better view of surroundings. Thus he could correct his path to the town later outside of the woods… unless he could find a high ground to rise above this sea of trees and see another landmark. He preferred to think not, what it could mean to find a HIGH ground. With this in mind Alex deepened into the forest.

Apparently, it was late spring here too. Lots of flowers filled the air with various unknown delicate scents. Insects were flying everywhere on their daily business, pollinating the flowers. Alex noticed bees, dragonflies, colourful butterflies of unknown species. The trees around him were full of birds’ “chatter” and singing. If he was less focused on his path, he could probably notice some birds practically following him, while chirping in quite noticeable communicating manner. Yet he noticed that the whole life here was innocent, untouched and unharmed by the human. Birds, getting closer to him than anywhere else he was before, were not only more curious up to denying self-preservation, but obviously not familiar with a human, thus harder to startle. Thankfully he had not yet met any of the bigger beasts, which seemed to be common to this forest, judging by how big and wild it was.

Alex was more concerned about his further route through the forest than any sightseeing. He tried hard to remember, which obstacles the main characters of the show met, so he could be at least partially prepared for what he was going to come across. It seemed that his mind finally became capable to operate the events around Alex as parts of reality rather than some bad joke. So he took as the fact that he was in Equestria and needed to follow the path, pony girls from the movie went, to get to the civilized area.

‘If someone told me that I should seriously remember the details of the show as ones of vital importance,’ he thought. ‘I would have told them, they were totally nuts.’

‘So what they were, the obstacles,’ he wrinkled his forehead. ‘As far as I know, there must be a bridge right after the castle, then some shallow river, then some sort of area with dead and spooky trees, then some rocks’, he sighed and shook his head. ‘Always something pleasant, now climbing those rocks. Or were they river, bridge, rocks, then trees. It could be each way equally possible,” he muttered to himself in a deadpan manner. “Although, I suppose the bridge was right before the castle.”

‘SHIIIIIIIT!!!’ Alex gulped nervously. How could he forget? ‘That bridge is deadly creepy suspension bridge over a narrow, but somewhat deep canyon. And it must be really time worn… unless some…pony is regularly maintaining it.’

Alex felt that cold sweat started running down his neck and back. There was no possible case, which could force him to consciously cross that bridge. Even a mental image of thin wooden planks, swinging on the ropes above the sharp rocks far-far below in the mist, gave his stomach almost palpable punch, making Alex cringe in a qualm.

‘Damn that, but who could imagine that I ever get in such a situation?!’

 He kept walking over fallen trees and bypassing particularly thorny bushes, while trying to keep the general direction, his mind spasmodically searched for a less phobia involving solution. The canyon was about 20 feet wide, not a long bridge to cross… for one who wasn’t scared to live higher than on the second floor. And there was no chance one could get over the canyon without the bridge. Of course, Alex’s mind obligingly offered him an image of a fallen tree “bridge”, which he was so “thankful” for. Like if it could be any worse already.

Soon Alex noticed that the forest was slightly thinner here, forming a narrow, but noticeable, long ago abandoned path. Doubtfully there was any other road to the ruined castle, so it was safe to assume that he wouldn’t get lost at least. Reassured by that thought Alex sped up as much as rugged terrain allowed.

Alex covered a few hundred meters, when he noticed the unnatural silence around. And he could swear that before he stepped into the thinner vegetation, the forest around was full of sounds: birds singing, insects humming. Now though it seemed that even wind muted itself, hiding in anticipation of something. Whatever it was, Alex didn’t like it at all. He stopped and crouched, making himself less visible from the distance and trying to remember fast, what kind of predators could one naturally expect to meet here. The thought of a dragon (and there were dragons as he could remember, big adult dragons with tons of nasty habits, not only small and adorable ones like Spike… or how this little pony companion name was…) sent a shiver down his spine, but he dropped it as hardly possible. If it was a grown-up dragon, he would have been toasted already from above most likely.

What else?.. Wolves? Wolves were common here, though they were not like our usual wolves. Alex couldn’t remember, what exactly was special about them and scolded himself for that. And there was, of course, that beast, ponies met in the movie – the Manticore. Right when Alex was wishing heartily, it wasn’t a Manticore, moreover a hungry and grumpy one, he heard a distant roar. Not a very loud and angry, but definitely one which belonged to a larger animal than something like a wolf. And not distant enough for the situation to be calming.

‘Predators rely on hearing and smelling more than eyesight!’ Alex tried to breathe less and make his heart beat slower, but obviously failed at that.

The roar sounded once again, closer to where he was. It was still not agitated, but yet very determined. And the strength of the sound, reminding a heavy load truck diesel, was self-explanatory. The beast, whatever it was, most likely smelled Alex’s trail and the mere fact, he wasn’t chasing yet, said only about him being unfamiliar with everything human related, including smell. Later Alex thought, he was indeed lucky being not seen by the beast, so the latter was unsure till the very last moment if he should deal with the one who left the trail.

‘Merlin’s pants, damn it entirely and every part in particular, I’m out.’ Alex jumped on his feet and stormed along the path as fast as he could, while still avoiding slipping or smashing himself against some tree.

Manticore, and now Alex was absolutely sure it was him, heard the sound of something getting away, roared triumphantly and rushed after.

Fortunately, they were still in the woods and the vegetation, growing and fallen, didn’t allow the clawed menace gain full speed. Alex thought that in the field he would have had no chances. Surely he was in decent form, but so was Manticore, despite the unhealthy diet. And having four legs, instead of two, was, of course, the unsportsmanlike advantage. The heavy crunch of the large beast wading through the foliage behind his back made Alex pay no attention to the branches lashing him. He tried his best to stay at his feet, hearing that the beast was slowly, but constantly, shortening the distance.

‘Oh, finally, this is it,’ Alex heard some noise ahead. ‘If it is a river then I’m lucky on double. If only I could cross it an hide on the other side. Cats don’t like water, besides it must get the bastard off my trails, if I swim a little down the stream.’

‘Fat chance, but… nope!’ his hope faded, when he ran out of the forest into the open area at the edge of the… canyon.

The gap was indeed narrow enough, with its far edge slightly higher. Rocks an old roots were sticking out of the stone wall. The noise Alex heard, was probably wind, whistling in the canyon, or there was some stream at the bottom… That was of no importance now. Alex managed to grasp all that in one wild glance; he still couldn’t force himself to get close to the edge.

The open space was wide, wide and deadly, as Manticore could reach him here in a few good jumps. Alex spotted the bridge to the left from where he exited the forest and stormed towards it at the supersonic speed. Later he thought that he could probably make a Sonic Rainboom, if he tried a bit better.

‘This is it,’ he almost slid to the full stop before the bridge. His stomach happily reminded of itself and his heart started beating somewhere in his throat. ‘Final stop. Depot. What are you going to do next?’

He threw a wild look back. The bushes at the end of the forest path let away a creature, which mostly reminded a lion with small rudimental wings (which could look even funny… in slightly different circumstances) and a thick scorpion tail, which was now evilly raised and demonstrating the sting. This “lion” was about the size of a young elephant though, very angry and disappointed by the fact he still wasn’t able to catch his prey. When Manticore saw his aim being much smaller and apparently easy to claw, he let out a loud howl and leaped towards Alex.

‘Run, you idiot!!!’ Alex turned to the bridge. ‘Beefsteaks aren’t acrophobic for sure, but you’d rather not become one!’

God only knew how much did it cost, but Alex managed to cover half of the bridge in some miraculous leap of faith, as he later called it. Then the whole world started spinning around him and he grasped the ropes on the sides, as his legs suddenly turned into jelly. He couldn’t make himself to move any further, even if someone poked him with a candent metal stick in the butt.

He closed his eyes and prepared for the worst, when he heard… a loud crash behind and receding angry roar, which soon mixed with the noise from the bottom of the canyon.

“Squee!” The sound, which came out of his mouth, wasn’t near anything a grown man could make, it resembled one of a rubber toy with squeaker. He cleaned his lungs. “Cough, cough!”

Truth to be told that wasn’t because of Manticore, Alex couldn’t give less buck about the beast at that moment. Alex prayed for the only thing – the bridge to stop shaking and not falling apart entirely. Though he wasn’t sure which was the worst: to fall down and become a pancake or be stuck at that bridge unable to move.

Risking to get another panic attack, Alex tried to carefully look back. Manticore was too eager to get his annoyingly fast and not giving up prey that he made one big mistake – leaped in the air too early. He landed on the bridge a couple of feet behind Alex and old wooden planks couldn’t hold his weight. There was a several foot gap with the cracked wooden sticks hanging on the suspension. And there was no way back now, not for Alex at least.

In fact, he wasn’t sure, if there was any way ahead for him either. Perhaps the perspective of meeting the night on that bridge didn’t seem bright enough, or something else… But Alex managed to get control over his quaking legs after a minute. Clenching to the ropes like a paralytic, slowly moving his feet forward, one after another, trying to focus on the aim, but not the bridge doubling itself in his eyes, Alex crossed to the other side.

When he reached the solid ground, Alex collapsed to his knees. A fit of nausea was so strong that he couldn’t avoid vomiting. His stomach was empty for more than 24 hours already and that made the feeling even more tormenting. Flaming snakes inside him, almost forgotten due to the fast pace of later events, awoke and added to the whole suffering.

“You could have become more civilized, after Fluttershy relieved you of the thorn in your damned paw!” Alex gave the finger towards the bridge, when he stopped shivering.

He got on his feet and headed to the forest on that side of the canyon. The terrain was gently rising here and the path was more pronounced.

‘Good. That will help me recover after the long run and… stuff,’ Alex twitched, the image of the canyon was still fresh. ‘At least the road is less overgrown with foliage here.’

‘And there must be a river up ahead,’ he remembered, he had no water to drink for ages either. ‘I can take a breath there.’

The returned sound of birds chirping in the trees was the best music to his ears. That meant, there were no threats nearby. Alex thought that perhaps it would be smarter to get something as a weapon, to pick a branch or stone, but soon he dropped that idea. The additional weight could slow him and he didn’t know exactly, how far he was to go to get to the town. Those ponies spent almost a day to cover the whole distance, but again, they traveled on four legs and were most likely familiar with the path in general. Besides he didn’t feel like ready to wave a thick branch. He could easily startle a single wolf away without, but a branch could hardly help against a pack of them or something like Manticore. Alex tried to avoid thinking about facing a dragon, a grown-up one. Speed and reaction were his best weapons at the moment. And the hope of not coming across any more canyons or cliffs.

After an hour of walking, when Alex became slightly worried if he had taken the wrong way, despite apparently there was only one old path here, he started hearing the sound of running water. The air became slightly cooler and tangibly damper. Alex sped up towards the gap between the trees.

The river was not very wide and supposedly not very deep, there were rocks sticking here and there from the running water. It was flowing down the hill towards the canyon behind and no doubt fell into it somewhere, forming a waterfall. Despite the hill wasn’t very steep, the flow was fast enough and formed visible swirls in deeper places.

“Well, at least the water must be clean enough,” thought Alex. He couldn’t think about anything else now, when he suddenly realized, how thirsty he was.

He made one more pleasant discovery, when he reached the bank. A few bushes of hazel (well, they looked like that) with a plenty of nuts, evidently suitable enough for a starving adventurer.

‘Now you are an adventurer,’ he smirked to himself. ‘Lara bucking Croft.’

He remembered the castle and the bridge. ‘What will you adventures end with?..’

Alex kneeled at the river bank, the water was indeed crystal clear and he scooped a handful and tasted it. He thought, he never tried anything more delicious. Maybe it was thirst or maybe the water was indeed so clear and fine. Anyway, Alex drank enough to flush the sour taste in his mouth and to keep himself going further.

‘Don’t know, when I can find any water, and I don’t have anything to take some with me.’

Alex tried a few nuts to make sure, they were indeed what they looked like, then ate as many, as he thought was possible without making himself uncomfortable with unfamiliar food. He decided to stay for a while and have a rest, but before that he got to the water once again and washed his face nicely then dipped whole head into the stream.

‘I can’t afford any sleep now,’ he smoothed wet hair, pressing the water away.

*

The entire morning passed in various cares in and around her cottage. Fluttershy fed and took daily care of her animals, the number of which would probably make any other pony desperately give up. Anypony, but Fluttershy, the Element of Kindness embodied. Besides, while treating her little and not so friends she always showed inscrutable agility and cheer. Everything flew, rolled and sang in her hooves in those moments.

Nevertheless, there was much work to do and time fled insensibly… till it was noon already. And that was considering her having a habit to wake up with the sun.

Fluttershy just finished with the daily medical care of a few sick pets, realizing that she couldn’t delay refilling her potion and herbs reserve anymore. That meant, she needed to visit Zecora and collect some species herself in the Everfree.

Zecora – a strange zebra, tribal traditions keeper and a strong herbalist and magician (practicing mostly natural, if not saying elemental magic), lived deep enough in the Everfree forest. She was a rare guest in Ponyville and not everypony knew her well yet or trusted much… for their own loss to be frank. She was actually kind and caring and could help and teach a lot that one, who wasn’t deterred by her strange speech (she rhymed) or rituals. Of course, that one should consider a fine long walk through Everfree to her hut to get the benefits of communicating with Zecora. It happened that Twilight was the first, who doubted reasons for zebra alienation in Ponyville and eventually made good friends with her. And Fluttershy could make friends with practically anypony (or anyzebra in that case) she met. Taking care of animals and thus having constant need of natural ingredients helped those two get along well.

So Fluttershy was to hurry, if she hoped to visit her zebra friend, let alone collect anything herself in the woods. Everfree wasn’t anything to take thoughtlessly; the closer to dusk, the less. She quickly packed a few necessary things, including a couple of carrots for her favourite pet-bunny.

“Angel, Angel, dear, are you going,” Fluttershy slightly raised her voice, as the bunny again was lingering somewhere. She was already going to check upstairs, when the white rabbit jumped in front of her and impatiently drummed his hind paw. “Ah, here you are little tod.”

“We need to hurry, Angel,” said Fluttershy with a gentle smile. “So we don’t need to deal with wild and ill-mannered forest inhabitants, when sun sets… I… hope you understand. Ready?”

Instead of any answer Angel hopped on her back and made himself comfortable, showing with all his posture that he agreed with the plan, as long as he didn’t need to walk all the way himself. Somepony knocked at the front door at that moment. Fluttershy blew a thread of pink hair off her face and trotted to answer.

The opened door revealed Twilight, standing on the doormat with an apologetic expression on her face.

“Oh… Hi,” Fluttershy hesitated for a second. “Come on in, Twilight. I-I was going to visit Zecora. I’m out of healing potions and a few rare herbs… if  you don’t mind…” She then noticed concern on Twilight’s face. “But if there is some emergency… I-I’m sure, it can wait. I can go later… So w-what do you need?”

“Hi. What?... Oh, no, no, there is no emergency at all,” Twilight stepped in. “I’m sorry, if I mess with your plans. That’s a matter of a few minutes though.”

“Look, I’m terribly sorry, if I’m asking it back too soon,” she explained. “Remember that book on rare magical plants and their effects I gave you last week. I found out, I need it for my study still. If you could return it just for a couple of days… I then could finish and it would be all yours as long as you need,” finished Twilight, blushing and flattening her ears. Confessing that one of her studies went less than perfectly was always a delicate topic for her.

“Oh, and that’s all,” laughed Fluttershy with relief. “Sure, dear, no worries here. And thank you very much by the way. I’ve found out quite an effective recipe thanks to your book. One of my beavers had his tail constantly scraped and suffered hard to heal cuts, but it’s not a problem anymore with that composition, I managed to find in your book.”

“It means that I’ve done with it and I must say it was an amazing reading. I was going to return it anyway. Here, you can take it,” she pointed her hoof at the small table near the door. “Thank you again.”

“Umm… You’re saving my life, dear,” Twilight levitated the book and put it into her saddle bag. She smiled heartily. “As usual.”

“Being a princess doesn’t mean that I have nothing to learn anymore,” she giggled, wiggling her wings.

“Wait, you weren’t saying that you’re going to Everfree,” Twilight frowned with realization. “Not after the dark. Please tell, you won’t.”

“Well, of course, I won’t… stay there longer than necessary,” replied Fluttershy. “It’s only noon yet. I just get some potions, I’ve run short of, from Zecora and go back home via the different path to collect a few plants on my own… if that’s… okay with you.” She finished with a sheepish smile. “It’s not that I’m  going to do something overly daring…”

“Oh, come on, Flutters,” objected Twilight. “They say timberwolves started coming closer to the edge of the Everfree lately… And what if you come across a… c-cockatrice,” she exhaled under her breath.

“I mean just ensure you have enough time to return before dark,” she added quickly heavily blushing. “Not that I don’t realize, who am I talking with about cockatrices, or think you can’t cope with them.”

Now it was Fluttershy’s turn to flush. Twilight remembered that time, when she was turned to stone by a cockatrice in an overly stupid incident. She owed her life entirely to Fluttershy, who managed to Stare damned cockatrice to shaking knees state, thus making him revert the curse.

“I-I… umm… errr… okay…” muttered Fluttershy in flaming embarrassment. “Just… L-let’s go… if… you don’t mind.”

“Besides, I’m going to take Harry with me,” she closed the door, when they both exited, Angel bunny still sat on Fluttershy’s back. “He may be not the… fastest bear around… but I doubt, we will have any troubles.”

“Well, that certainly changes things,” said Twilight. “Just be careful anyway. Won’t mind, if I send Spike later tonight… just… to know you’re fine?”

“I won’t, dear,” Fluttershy waved her fore leg, when they parted ways and Twilight trotted towards Ponyville. “You are more concerned about my walk in the forest, than I should be.”

 

She then crossed the wooden bridge over a stream and headed to the Everfree.

*

Rare white feathery clouds passed by in the turquoise sky, the sun was almost at the zenith without being overly hot. Laying under the tree on the riverbank Alex almost came to what could be considered peace in his thoughts, despite all the events, all of the uneasy questions… He was that kind of man, who solved the problems in the order they appear, and now the key aim was getting to the town. What he had seen before brought him to the strong conclusion that at least geographically the region was exactly as it was shown in the show, regardless to how crazy it might appear. So at least he knew, where and how he must go to reach the town of Ponyville. Alex remembered that name as well, just like he was now sure the capital of the land was called Canterlot.

Well, it could be better of course – he could never get into such a trouble. It could be better, so he never was to desperately look for a way to get back home… and it wasn’t something, what could be done in the middle of the forest for sure. But at least he was alive, still in one piece and kicking. Considering how he got here, it was unimaginable luck to achieve.

‘Don’t worry, Alex,’ he encouraged himself. ‘Let’s get to some civilization first, and there, I hope, are some means to revert you woeful condition. Perhaps princesses have something, as I can safely assume they have magic.’

‘Yeah,’ he muttered sadly. ‘The only thing I can rely now on is magic. And I’d be completely happy, if I can get rid of that weird feeling inside, I hope, the lightning didn’t cause some internal injuries. Although, I couldn’t probably make it that far, if it did.’

Feeling recharged Alex got up and looked for an easier way to cross the river. The elevated rocks were few, separated and slippery wet. There was no way of getting across without taking a bath. Alex took a look over himself.

‘Not taking off the boots for sure, who knows what the river bottom is like. I need my feet in good shape, there is a long road ahead.’ He then looked on his regal tapestry toga by some mysterious chance he managed yet to tear not. ‘But this will become too heavy, if getting wet. Besides, it will suck out warmth at light speed, when I cross the river and it starts drying.’

He took it off and folded as compactly as he could. He tore off a long branch and cleaned it of smaller twigs and leaves. Holding the stick in the left hand and folded cloth on his head with the right hand Alex stepped into the water, where it seemed most shallow.

 

The water was cold enough, not chilling, yet not very pleasant, which might be explained by the relatively strong current, and the riverbed was rocky. Alex was glad, he didn’t take off the boots, he was trying hard to keep balance. If he entered the water barefoot, he would have fallen over already. Probing the riverbed with his stick Alex slowly advanced.

He was almost on the other side, when the strong current knocked him off feet. He couldn’t predict everything – it was slightly deeper here and the strong current rolled over a big rock. The stick dropped into a pit and Alex lost his balance. He tried to keep the face above the water and was forced to drop the branch to have at least one free hand. Water formed a small swirl here and it rolled Alex, so he was to keep the direction as well. Right at that moment a perfidious underwater rock turned up. The current threw Alex on that rock hard enough for him to let out almost all air from his lungs. Sparkles sprinkled from his eyes because of the sudden hit and the swirl was about to give him a good dive, when the same current threw his beaten body onto the river bank. Or was it something else… for a moment Alex could swear, there was something more solid under him, which pushed him towards the ground.

On his three, still holding the folded cloth almost dry, Alex crawled out of the water. He stopped, only when he made it about dozen feet away. There he sat and regained his breath.

After a few minutes (when he dried a bit) Alex got up and wrapped himself in the tapestry toga again. The sudden memory made him leave the riverside fast enough. There was some kind of water snake or dragon in that river in the show. It wasn’t hostile, according to the show, and evidently, it wasn’t hostile in reality, but…

“Thanks!” Alex said aloud, facing the river. “But I won’t push my luck,” he added under his breath, while heading back to the path.

 *

After a couple of hours of walking, the environment changed completely and the changes were of no good. Apparently, Alex stepped onto some sort of equestrian badland. Trees in that area were darker and uglier, with crooked trunks and angular branches, moss hanging from them as a dirty veil, waving at the slightest wind. Many trees had hollows and with those and branches reminding crooked arms with thin clawed palms could surely scare a random traveler shitless during the nights. If someone was mental enough to wander into that part of the forest when Luna’s Moon was high.

When his thoughts touched Luna’s night, Alex looked over himself examining his improvised toga.

 

‘I hope nobody will object that I’ve borrowed that old forgotten and otherwise unused piece of art,’ He checked, if every part of it was still in place. ‘At least I was good up to that moment in keeping it fine.’

Now Alex tried to step carefully, as there was more deadfall here than in the forest before, and the ground was springy under his boots, giving away proximity of some swamp. Greenish fog covered the ground and raised up in the air, becoming thinner at about the waist high. Dark green bushes grew in thick heaps and made it even harder to see, what was nearby.

The silence around was deafening. Not birds chatter, not small forest critter fuss, nothing broke it. Naturally, Alex thought that no animal in sane mind would like to make its home here, but yet he learned well, what that silence could mean sometimes. One more thing bothered Alex, it was noticeably darker here.

Of course, it could be dark in thick woods with high and wide-branched trees with tons of leaves even during the daytime, and Alex could say, it was about a couple of hours past noon. But those trees didn’t look exactly like those capable to provide excessive shadow. Neither thick, nor healthy and overgrown. Yet there was something like half-light constantly under them. Was it some sort of anomaly or… magic, Alex couldn’t probably tell.

“Now great,” he muttered under his breath. “It’s about time to face another fugly monstrosity of that place! Just when I thought, it was going to be a walk in the park at last.”

As a confirmation of his concerns Alex heard a muffled rustle in the bushes to his right. He stopped immediately and stared there, ready to flee or kick some ass, depending on who or what was going to appear.

That new whoever-that-could-be didn’t hurry to present itself though, as the rustle moved from one bunch of the bushes to another. When Alex decided that he could have startled a porcupine or some possum or a raccoon, if such animals were common for this place, he noticed that he could hear quiet spiteful croaking coming from the same spots with the rustle. That didn’t make much sense, frankly speaking.

Despite Alex decision to wonder any strangeness not, considering the place he had arrived, a peacock’s head popping out of the thick bush caught him by surprise. Alex froze on the spot, thinking of what a domestic bird forgot in that godforsaken swamp, miles from nearest dwelling. He also thought that a peacock was the least animal, he expected to see here, when the bird let out another grumpy croak and decided to climb out of the vegetation in entirety.

The point was, it wasn’t a bird. A peacock’s head, a few inches of feathery body with wings and a couple of otherwise normal bird’s paws were firmly planted on the end of a long slithery snake body. It was unknown, if the beast could fly or run on its paws, at the moment it squeezed out of the foliage and slid toward Alex.

‘What the flying buck is that crap?’ thought Alex while regretting his former decision of carrying no stick with him. ‘I surely lack a pair of thick pants or jeans or something alike, as my legs are exposed from knees to ankles.’

 

Meanwhile, the snake-chimera approached him, yet stayed at a few foot distance. It wasn’t particularly large or threatening, just utterly strange and, despite the whole situation being least amusing, ridiculous. Apparently, the bird part of the monster was fairly heavy for the snake tail, so it could raise it about Alex’s waist level, while still keeping the balance. There were no poisonous fangs in its beak to Alex’s relief. The beast simply stopped, small evil eyes stared at Alex’s face trying to catch his sight. Alex looked right into the pinprick pupils…

A couple of minutes passed that way. Alex sighed heavily and scratched the back of his head.

“Hey, listen,” he loudly addressed the monster, which was evidently waiting for something and now utterly surprised by not getting that. “If you’re going to play gaze, then it’s not the best time, I have better plans for today. The sun isn’t going to stay up forever, you know…”

Alex took a few steps aside, planning to avoid that serpentine hen-head and continue his hike, but it appeared, the latter had other plans. While looking very puzzled now, the monster slid aside nevertheless, blocking Alex’s path again. It looked quite stupid though, as evidently, something wasn’t working right as it expected, yet it didn’t nest in its tiny bird’s brain and the monster was unable to break its own pattern.

“You!..” Alex grinned unkindly and clenched his fists, popping knuckles.

He aimed carefully, made a couple of quick steps forward. And the monster didn’t have time to react, when Alex’s well-placed kick got its beak acquainted with Alex’s heavy boot. The cock-snake let out a muffled croak, when its body flew through the air, while helplessly flapping wings and paws. It then landed right in the middle of the hollow tree and fell through the trunk with unexpected sound of a cue ball falling down the gutter.

That was too much for Alex, even after all those mishaps he had already. The whole situation was so hilarious that he bent in half in a fit of uncontrollable laughter. He simply couldn’t stop himself, remembering the idiotic expression of the monster, if anything could be read on peacock’s “face”, right before the launch.

A few minutes later Alex managed to calm himself just enough to proceed walking. The badland now seemed not so spooky.

The spiteful and now vexed croaking followed Alex for a while, making him giggle like a school girl, but the monster didn’t find guts to make another attempt. Alex marched forward triumphantly and cared now about stumbling not only.

*

Celestia’s sun started setting already, slowly approaching the west edge of the sky. Shadows became longer and the air – colder, it was only spring as Alex assumed, so the day didn’t reach its’ maximum length yet. It wasn’t in his plans to stay in the woods that far from any civilization, when the darkness fell, as he knew, there must be wolves or some other similar sort of carnivore, which scoured in the forest at night. And smaller carnivores always came in packs.

The badland ended about half an hour ago and that fact made Alex extremely happy. Surely the cock-snake incident ended hilariously and brightened Alex’s mood for a while, but the whole gloom of that place slowly started getting under his skin. So, he was glad to see normal forest finally, with flowers, birds still singing (though there were less of them now as some started to prepare for the night already) and squirrels jumping in the tree crowns.

‘I need to hurry up,’ he reminded himself. ‘If I’m not mistaken there are some rocks or hills up ahead. So it definitely is going to take more time to pass than plain ground. At least because I don’t know exactly, what to expect there. I hope nothing has changed, since Twilight’s team (he remembered one more name) passed them last time and there is no avalanche danger there now.’

‘When do you manage to finally overcome your phobia?’ he asked himself almost aloud. ‘You’re now in the place, where acrophobia can be deadly for you. Even not involving manticores.’ He tried to suppress the shiver after fresh memories of the suspension bridge.

Remembering more names and facts from the show… Show? Ha! Here it was history, as real as his own legs carrying him through the forest. Anyway, remembering more brought him to a certain dilemma.

‘If I meet natives… When I meet natives,’ Alex corrected himself as the previous variant sounded bad. ‘Would it be smart to show that I am familiar with parts of their REAL past and present? I mean, if I’m to imagine that some talking pony is found in my backyard and knows me and my family, neighbours, the name of our president, etc, wouldn’t it be utterly strange, if not alarming, for me to communicate with alien creature, who still knows that much about us?’

 

'They will lock me in some stone sack or some mental hospital, if they have any of sort… Hey, I wonder what a mad pony looks like,’ Alex smirked, but he was seriously sure that humans were not common to Equestria. ‘They can suspect that I am some spy, evil monstrosity, an alien, I mean extra…equestrian one… or just a bucking rare animal.’ He facepalmed at the realization of delicacy of the situation, he was going to get into.

‘At least I hope I will have enough time to spend with common natives to prove I’m sentient, before officials have a chance to grab me. For what I know, Celestia seems to be not the softest person and I don’t want a vacation on the Moon,’ Alex checked the sun position, when he reached another open place. ‘Wonder, if we can understand each other. Evidently, I could read the books from the library, but those were obviously ages old. Who knows, if the language evolved too much.’

Again, he didn’t pay much attention to the fact that he was able to read the books, while naturally he shouldn’t have been by any logical approach. But his mind was distracted by a view of the mountain behind the line of trees. The mountain wasn’t too high or steep, but Alex still cringed.

‘There is no other way,’ he regained his posture. ‘If I try to walk around, I’ll lose too much time. Celestia won’t hold the sun just for me longer than usual. Let’s simply hope there are no vertical cliffs.’ He gulped nervously and decided to run.

Alex passed the last few lines of trees in a few seconds and faced a long yet not very steep dirt slide, which rose to a considerable height and turned into a plain rock “shelf” running around the rest of the mountain. At least one could walk, not climb that slide. Alex was fine with that variant and kept running up, trying to not look behind just in case. The ascent took him about ten minutes of fast running as he didn’t travel the straight line, because of bigger rocks protruding from the slide, and sometimes was to use all four limbs to proceed. He soon reached the top and climbed on the shelf, immediately getting closer to the mountain side and away from the edge. While catching his breath, he could observe the whole sea of trees far below, painted in red and gold by setting sun.

‘I’m out of time,’ Alex continued running along the stone shelf. ‘But no flying way I’m going to repeat that trick in the nearest future. I’ve coped because of one reason most likely, if I stopped or failed otherwise, I would have never undertaken a second attempt.’

He proceeded as fast as he could, still being on guard, as he heard wind high up in the rocks and rare stone crackling. Making less noise was the hardest task, as any loud bump could possibly cause a rockfall.

‘Come on, you’re almost there,’ he encouraged himself. ‘There is a descent on the other side of the mountain… Damn! Okay, Alex, calm bucking down. There. Is. A. Descent. And you’re gonna make it. Then a couple of miles more of the same forest, then you’ll be able to see the town across the hills. Perhaps you can even meet someone at the outskirts of Ponyville. Someone, who can help you.’

‘If you want to get home faster, your best chance here is Twilight. She knows magic, and stuff and magic seem to be the force running this world, regardless of how weird it sounds for you.’

 

'But Twilight is a direct thread to Celestia,’ Alex frowned. ‘I won’t be surprised, if she sends her a letter right after you appear in her sight. Which leaves the question open – is it for good or… not that much.’

‘Remember, you’re still a spy or alien or rare animal, undecided,’ he smiled unhappily while running and trying to keep his breath even.

Seemingly he started to find a strange pleasure in his travel around the mountain. Seeing all the woods below as far as he could observe, setting sun… and having a few foot distance between him and the edge of his improvised road.

Soon his marathon came to an end. Alex stopped and threw a look from under his hand at the wide, but not endless stripe of trees, the green hills behind them and a darker spot with sparkles of glare in the light of setting sun – windows, roofs, whatever there was – there lied the town, his final goal.

The descent here wasn’t a complete nightmare – it was formed by an endless number of platforms chaotically protruding from the side of the mountain, so they practically formed a set of wide but not very high steps. The lower they got the more and bigger plants were growing on them. Few lowest rocks have small trees and thick bushes covering them.

‘Get moving,’ Alex ordered himself. ‘Just a few… Okay, okay, many big steps, thankfully connected by only a few foot high drops, slides, whatever your acrophobic ass is going to deal with. You can easily cope.’

‘I hope…’ added he and started carefully getting down. But before that, he took one more look at the town far ahead to remember the direction. ‘When I’m down, I won’t see any landmark, except probably that mountain. Not even it, when I’m deeper in the forest.’

Descending surprisingly wasn’t as awful, as Alex was afraid, it was going to be. He just focused not further than next rock platform or even mountain side in front of his nose – he decided to climb down facing the mountain side, not the ground below, that was ten times easier. At least it allowed him to divert his mind from the actual height.

Tired, shaking from the stress, sweaty, but still going down at good pace he was above the last platform, when he heard a distant scream from the forest below. Alex strained, the scream was girly, high pitched and undoubtedly one of terror.

Alex quickly jumped to the last platform and crouched behind the bushes. He then crawled flat between the trees to the edge of his watching spot and stopped behind the small log. The cover wasn’t good – the log was probably as thick as his own leg and only three-four feet long, but he had no other choice. Right away he heard the rustling below. Carefully he raised his head and waited.

A small yellow pony pegasus darted out of the bushes to the left of Alex’s hiding spot and stopped almost beneath him. She – and Alex was sure that was a she – turned then, facing the direction, she came from, and stood still, slightly shivering. Fast breath carried whining notes of despair, big turquoise beautiful eyes were wide open, pink mane and tail of impossible length and density now drooped in hopelessness. Alex noticed two saddle bags, a small white rabbit clenching to her back and now trying to hide inside her incredible mane and same marks on both her flanks. Three butterflies!

“I be damned!” whispered Alex under his breath. “Fluttershy…” Surely he was ready for something like that, yet when it happened that suddenly and evidently, he was stunned.

‘Why didn’t she fly away?’ he asked himself noticing her wings tightly folded and pressed to her body. ‘Perhaps she feared the rabbit might fall…’

Thankfully the wind was blowing from the forest towards him. The bushes on the edge of the opening parted, letting out three wolves. Very nasty, hungry, determined and… made of wooden debris apparently – branches, smaller twigs, leaves, even a few rocks. Alex’s eyes widened even more. Meanwhile… timberwolves… started slowly cutting the distance between them and their supposed prey. Alex didn’t have time to do anything, when he felt that something changed below.

The yellow pegasus straightened and stared right into timberwolves’ eyes. Whining ceased to exist, like it never was there in the first place. Alex was surprised by soft and melodic, yet strong and confident voice.

“So if you are a few big bad wolves, you afford thinking that you can offend somepony smaller and weaker than you!” scolded she and her next phrase rang like a bell. “HOW DARE YOU CHASE ME AND ANGEL?!!”

Alex didn’t listen further, he was simply shocked by that impossible situation. Fluttershy was about his waist high, her eyes not reaching his chest level. Surely if she stood on her hind legs, she could put her fore legs on his shoulders and look into his face. But timberwolves were giants compared to her, they were at least twice bigger than a grown up human and could look Alex right in the eyes while standing on all fours.

But… whatever she was doing to them was working. Three wolves crouched with the most guilty look on their muzzles, if the timber muzzles could carry such an expression, their ears flat and their broom-like tails between their hind legs. It took them a couple of moments more to lose their determination completely and flee under the trees. It seemed, they had no plans to return at all.

However, Alex noticed one more thing, which avoided the attention of the yellow pegasus. One more timberwolf evidently managed to sneak around the opening and to the right behind the foliage and was now right out of her field of view, getting ready to jump on her back.

‘Even if I shout, she has no time to turn and distract him or do whatever she was doing to the others,’ Alex’s hands found their grip on the log in front of him, as his blood boiled from the anger towards that sneaky beast. ‘I may regret that next moment, but…’

 

"No! You fucking DON’T…” he landed between Fluttershy, who turned 180 degrees in one jump with a loud frightened squeak, and the remaining timberwolf. Alex raised the log like a baseball bat. Even if the wolf was caught by surprise by that sudden change of the scene, it didn’t show much hesitation and attacked. Alex was ready for that lunge and leaned back letting timberwolf’s head past him and simultaneously getting a wider swing.

CRANK!!!

 

He put all his momentum into this one well-aimed hit. Wooden head left the neck and flew far into the bushes, where it met the tree trunk and crumbled in small pieces of wooden junk. Timberwolf’s body rolled over with remaining speed and its left paw found Alex’s side in last vile strike!

CRASH!

Beheaded timberwolf dropped to the ground and crumbled into separate branches and pieces of wood.

THUD!

Alex dropped the log and fell on the ground next to his enemy.

All that time Fluttershy stood on the spot, as if she was hit by the lightning. The rabbit timorously looked out of her mane and patted her neck with a paw. She woke of her shock and approached human figure on the ground.

Alex felt heat filling his right side and the nasty trembling in his hands. The fiery snakes inside woke up and jerked, making him let out an unwanted weak moan.

He saw yellow pegasus girl’s face in the reddish veil tinting his eyesight. The pink soft mane covered half of it and left open one lovely turquoise eye, now filled with concern and compassion. Alex reached her mane with his left hand and touched her cheek, feeling the amazing velvet of soft warm coat. To his fading surprise, the feeling was nothing near of a common pony, people are used to – usually more furry and rough; a weak smile touched his lips. Fluttershy’s face then turned into Elen’s in his blurring sight.

A bear muzzle appeared behind. Alex took that with the serenity of the doomed.

“Harry,” exclaimed “Elen” in dismay. “We should take him to my cottage… A-as soon as we can… ummm… please, if that’s OK with you…

The bear muzzle nodded.

   Alex closed his eyes and fell through the darkness…

 

---

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(And hither we go...)

3.    Keep calm and flutter on – Day one

 

Apparently, he wasn’t dead… yet. Alex’s consciousness floated somewhere at the thin border between this world and the land of Eternal Hunt, with him being able to hear scraps of reality from time to time, but not yet see or move. After a while he decided to fight for his chance and started floating through the nowhere towards the voices he heard. Slowly…

 

Bang!

 

The door slammed against the wall, when Fluttershy pushed it and burst in.

 

“Oh goodness, oh goodness!” muttered she, making a wide circle around the room. Curtains on the windows stirred up, caught by her wings’ turbulence. “I have only one bed. I can hardly put him anywhere else… Squee!”

“Come on, Harry,” she landed at the bottom of the stairs and ran up. “Bring him upstairs… umm… please.”

When in her bedroom she swept everything unnecessary from the bed in one swing, a book she read last night and teddy bear went into the armchair in the corner. She dragged the covers to the footrest of her bed. Loud footsteps entered the living room and now headed to the upper floor.

Harry breathed heavily, surely the creature weighed not too much for a bear to carry, but the walk was long. Besides he managed to hold the edges of the wound to avoid bleeding out and was to be careful constantly. Still, there was blood everywhere.

Fluttershy turned to the bedroom door, as Harry got up and was now standing in the doorframe with the “creature” in his fore paws. He pointed with his eyes to the wound and blood drops, forming a trail on the floor.

“Oh, dear,” jumped Fluttershy on the spot. “Just bring him in and on the bed, I’ll clean everything up later. On the right side… please… if it’s OK with you.”

“Wait a minute, we need to take those things off him,” she reconsidered. “Please hold him a little longer.”

After a few minutes of futile attempts they understood that they needed help, as Harry was to hold both the body and the wound and Fluttershy couldn’t get a good grip to remove strange dark-blue clothes.

“Angel, dear!”

White bunny, which ran somewhere, when they entered the cottage, appeared after a few more calls. The reason for his lingering became obvious, when a large heap of bandages hopped in the bedroom. It seemed that he has raided the whole first aid locker downstairs.

“O-oh, dear, you’re so thoughtful,” Fluttershy flew up crossing the room and planted a small kiss on bunny’s nose, making Angel blush. “I’m so sorry, b-but I have one more task for you… if… you don’t mind… Please, go get Twilight here as soon as she can attend!”

“Just be careful out there!” shouted she after him, when he saluted with the fore paw and burst jumped through the door.

Harry sat on the floor, still holding the wounded creature. Fluttershy trotted downstairs to get her saddlebag with the potions, she hoped could help.

The first one foamed, being poured on the terrible wound, cleaning it, pushing out dust and small pieces of wood and flushing them away. The second composition, applied by her caring hooves, was supposed to help stop the bleeding and boost the tissues regeneration. It was also to be applied with the bandage, but for the moment Fluttershy could only make a temporary one. She tried to apply it and fix as tightly, as she could to make the wound edges close.

The creature didn’t react anyhow on her manipulations and Fluttershy trembled. Her touches, despite being careful and wary, should have certainly hurt. But he definitely breathed and the pulse was palpable, when she checked. That made her calm a bit.

There was one more potion at her service, this one was to replenish the blood loss by stimulating the body to produce more and generally strengthen the patient. But it needed to be applied orally and no sane pony would pour something into the throat of unconscious, unless wanting to kill them.

“Oh, dear…” tears started filling Fluttershy’s eyes.

Her sad thoughts were interrupted by a loud snap almost making her dive under the bed. When the bright flash faded out Fluttershy and Harry saw Twilight Sparkle, who transferred herself right into Fluttershy’s bedroom. Angel bunny jumped off her back. Fluttershy took a deep breath with her ears still flat and one of fore legs raised.

“Hi, Flutters,” Twilight waved one hoof in a greeting gesture. “Hi, Harry.”

“What’s up with you guys? Angel jumped around me like mad, until I took him and got here fast. I was afraid something bad happened…” she stumbled as her eyes reached the body Harry held in his paws.

“This… is not…” Twilight’s pupils almost filled the eyes. “F-Fluttershy, don’t tell you’ve found a human! How… ummm…” her wings wiggled unconsciously.

“I-if you say so,” Fluttershy was a bit bemused by that reaction. “I-I don’t get it. I mean, s-surely that’s something rare, b-but… I wanted you here to help… i-if you don’t mind…”

“I, of course, don’t, but it’s not just “rare”,” huffed Twilight. “It’s mythic. I’ve read something about them, but the information was scarce. Lyra should know more, you know. She is mad about those things… creatures, always talking about how marvelous it would be to have hands and so on. That’s while she is a unicorn,” Twilight rolled her eyes. “Can you imagine? She is the one who told me about them initially, now I remember. Then I looked for information myself and couldn’t find much… I wonder… where did she...” Twilight stopped to take a deep breath and think.

“M-m-mythic?” re-asked Fluttershy quietly.

“Yeah, must be it,” she approached. “Two hands with palms and fingers… just like minotaurs have. But the legs must be similar, I mean, no hooves… They have fingers there as well, just different ones, as they walk on those two legs only. Otherwise, they seem to be a lot like us.”

“With one exception though,” Twilight’s tone became very serious. “There are none normally in Equestria. They are from another world, as far as I know. I know your love for the animals and… But how did you manage to get it, Fluttershy?”

Fluttershy’s eyes dilated, she looked like she was going to fall. But she managed to take herself in the hooves after a second.

“He saved me from a timberwolf in the Everfree forest,” she whispered. Then her voice became stronger. “And please, Twilight, don’t call him “it”, he was talking, he is definitely sentient… and… he saved my life.”

Twilight looked skeptical. But she was ready to help her friend, as she knew, Fluttershy wouldn’t call her that late without serious reasons.

“Ok, Flutters, I know you long and well enough not to argue. What do I need to do?”

“Thank you, Twilight,” Fluttershy gave her a little smile. “He is bleeding out. I’ve cleaned the wound and used one of Zecora’s potions to slow the bleeding and make it heal.”

“But he lost too much, he was muttering something we couldn’t get,” she added in despair. “Now he is quiet for a while and I fear that my treatment isn’t enough. I can’t use the Refilling potion, as he is unconscious, I don’t want to drown him. Besides, we need to get his clothes off and we couldn’t cope with that in his condition. We need your magic, Twilight, please…”

“OK, OK,” Twilight remembered how enthusiastic Fluttershy could be when saving some “poor thing”. “Just let’s take it step by step.”

 

They managed to take human’s “toga” off together, while Harry held the body. When they took off the boots, Twilight frowned. These were surely comfortable enough for human feet to take long walks, but they could also let more air in during those walks.

“We should wash him somehow,” Fluttershy nodded noticing Twilight’s pout. “Nopony knows how far and long for he was walking.”

“Then you should take off those as well,” Twilight smirked pointing her hoof to the underwear and Fluttershy blushed heavily. “Come on, do you still need him clean and recovering?” She gave her friend a sly grin.

“Could you… maybe… help?” Fluttershy sighed. “I know you’re a princess now and so on…”

“And besides it’s… OK, OK,” Twilight amended seeing her friend frowned, but her grin became wider. “HE is YOUR new… attainment.”

 

Eventually, Fluttershy coped with her task, she was to use her teeth to help her hooves do it. Yes, that was evidently a “he” and the yellow pegasus’ face turned almost carrot red.

 

"You both didn’t see anything,” she pointed her hoof towards Twilight and Harry, when they put the human on the bed finally. “Especially you, Twi!”

Twilight raised her fore leg in juratory gesture, Harry was whistling, while looking at the ceiling.

“Oh, dear,” Fluttershy remembered what time it already was. “Harry… I can’t express, how thankful I am! Sorry for keeping you busy for that long. You can go… if you need to. I can’t probably ask for more.”

The bear nodded with a smile on his muzzle. He then headed out shrugging, like saying “Have fun, girls!”

“Good night, Harry!” Twilight waved a hoof, Harry grunted something in a farewell manner.

“If we need to wash him,” she turned to Fluttershy. “Why not doing that now, before I take a look on his wound.”

Next fifteen minutes they spent washing the dust from the human – Fluttershy brought a washbowl with warm water and sponge. They tried to do with most possible care as when they attempted to turn the body more blood stained the bondages.

When everything was finally done, Twilight asked Fluttershy to accurately remove the patch. The wound was indeed bad and even worse than she imagined. Despite all potions applied there was still enough work to do.

Twilight’s horn produced the bright lilac glow, she decided to try the most simple healing spell, every unicorn filly should know to make wounds close up. She then touched the edges with her magic. She felt a small push and, to her surprise, no signs of her spell working. The wound stayed the same and as she was further trying to heal it, she started feeling slight dizziness.

This very moment the flaming snakes feeling inside Alex finally settled, unnoticed by him of course.

Twilight interrupted her spell and staggered a little. Her yellow friend slipped to her to catch her up.

“No, no, it’s fine,” said Twilight, when Fluttershy looked at her with anxiety and surprise. “It’s just strange…”

“I felt like my spell was draining and sucking magical force from me, but nothing happened. It didn’t help to close up the wound,” she explained to Fluttershy her condition. “Mind if I try something else?”

“S-sure. But… P-please be careful…”

“Of course, as much as I usually am,” smiled Twilight, readying another supposedly more powerful and effective spell.

Same result. Nothing. This time the feeling of exhaustion was stronger and more noticeable, making Twilight sigh tiredly and back down. She sat on the spot with a very puzzled look on her face.

“It’s the first time I could do literally nothing, Flutters,” she looked at her friend, who now checked the human’s condition more thoroughly – fortunately he didn’t get any worse.

Twilight looked across the room to the table under the window, then levitated a cup from it towards herself.

“No, my magic is fine,” she assumed, while Fluttershy was watching her. “And I didn’t feel any drain while doing this. It must be something about him that makes him… magic resistant.”

“But that’s nonsense,” she added in disbelief. “Nothing is unaffected by magic one way or another in Equestria. Well… I must ask Lyra, if she knows something about humans being magic resistant. As far as I could remember, they aren’t…”

Then she turned to Fluttershy, who was fluttering around the human on her bed, covering him up, making him comfortable, murmuring something melodic… In other words behaving, like it was her Angel bunny with a bad cold. Twilight was even unsure, she noticed how the patch was replaced and tightened with more bandages.

“What?” Fluttershy paused and noticed that her friend was watching her with one brow lifted. “Oh, I-I… I’m sorry, Twilight, what did you say?”

“I say,” Twilight still watched them fixedly. “I want you to tell me exactly how it was. How did you meet that… guy.”

“Ummm…” Fluttershy tried to remember the vital details. “Remember you warned me about the timberwolves. I was so stupid not listening to you enough, sorry.”

Twilight nodded in accommodating spirit.

“It wasn’t even late, but they appeared and chased me and Angel,” Fluttershy continued her story. “I was so scared. Sweet Celestia, at least Angel was on my back at the moment it happened. I ran towards the rocks. Twi, it happened right near the mountain, you know, where the old road to Sister’s Castle is…”

“Wait a moment,” Twilight nodded and headed to the nightstand, where the human’s improvised clothes lied. “I knew I saw something strange about this.”

She then unfolded it and stared at the long wide piece of fabric… of the ancient tapestry. Night coloured with the Moon and… princess Luna stylized image.

“I be damned,” whispered Twilight and covered her mouth with the hoof right away, as if being afraid that Celestia might have heard her swearing. “This is princess Luna regal tapestry from the Old Castle. I need to write a letter to princess Celestia as soon as I get home. Now even more than before…”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Fluttershy,” she turned to her friend, who also came closer and now examined the tapestry over Twilight’s shoulder. “Can you please continue?”

“Right… I-I was chased to the mountain side and when I stopped in the opening, I saw there was no way out except… except c-climbing the rocks. You know, I-I always had problems with that, back then… and during that incident with a d-dragon…” Fluttershy smiled sheepishly with her cheeks starting to blush.

“Except you can fly,” thought Twilight, but she said only. “So?”

“So I turned and… w-well, it always happens automatically.” Fluttershy’s voice got more confident. “I’ve just stared the timbervolves… With the Stare I mean.”

“They left, well, I thought so, but there were more than three of them,” Fluttershy’s eyes dilated when she remembered the danger she was in. “But I realized that later. I suddenly heard that somepony jumped behind me to the ground. He shouted, well actually those were only comprehensible words I heard from him, addressed to the wolf I suppose. He said, “No, you bucking don’t!” When I turned around, he was standing there with… a log or something. Timberwolf attacked, but the human dodged and then hit the wolf on the neck with that log. He sent wolf’s head flying far into the shrubs, it hit the tree and crashed. The wolf rolled over, but… I think it managed to hit the human with its’ paw somehow before dropping dead. Then the human fell down and soon fainted.”

Fluttershy took the breath and looked at Twilight, who sat on the floor with eyes wide open. She then realized that the last few seconds she was jumping around her friend, waving her fore legs like a mad baseball stallion-fan.

“Squee…” Fluttershy lowered to the floor with ears flattened and colour hitting her cheeks. “Sorry.”

“Ahem,” Twilight cleared her throat. “Never mind… And what happened next.”

“Pretty much what you already know,” answered Fluttershy with a tiny smile. “Harry came to assist… but he could never get there in time… So if there wasn’t that human, I would have been already… dead.” She couldn’t help but shiver at the thought. “We took him here and he was bleeding all the way, despite Harry managed somehow to close his wound for a while. Then I send Angel after you…”

“Fluttershy, tell me one thing,” Twilight scratched her head with the hoof. “What makes you so sure that the human wasn’t just eliminating the rival? And had no plans to continue, what wolves started, if not being hit by the last of them? I’m just asking…”

“I. Just. Know!” said Fluttershy quietly, but confidently.

“I see,” said Twilight after looking her fixedly in the eyes for a few seconds. “Well, that still doesn’t change that I should write to Celestia about all that, considering Old Castle involved and the human appearing magic resistant.”

“Just don’t make it look darker than it is,” pleaded Fluttershy.

“You know me, dear,” Twilight tried to hold back a tired yawn, it was after midnight already. “I write only facts and it’s up to princess to decide, what that means and what to do with all that.”

“Oh, OK…”

 

"Now, if you excuse me…” Twilight got up. “Unless you still need my help… If I can be of any, as I can’t manipulate him with magic.”

“Oh, no, I’ll cope with it, thanks!” Fluttershy smiled and returned to the bed to check how her patient was doing.

“Then I’ll go back home. I need to think, write a letter and a reminder to myself to bring you more bandages tomorrow… Do you have enough?”

“Don’t worry, Twi,” Fluttershy was an epitome of serenity and confidence, when she got somepony to take care of. “Angel brought here all we had… and if necessary… I-I will rip one of my sheets. One more thing though...”

“Yes?”

“I’m not sure if you know how…” muttered Fluttershy. “I was unable to give him a refilling potion to compensate the blood loss. Simply was afraid of drowning him. Could you do anything about that?”

“This is a matter of minutes,” Twilight cocked her head proudly. “If you have a rubber tube…”

“Twilight?!”

“What? I’ve read about the whole procedure in a book, I have no reasons to distrust!”

*

This day had all the chances to end fine, but suddenly it all went down the gutter. And the four autopsies in the row were not the reason. Normally four was not even close to the workday record. It was the latest analysis results, which made him hate that day and his job – the rare case, as those who do, rarely become or stay pathologists. But the whole absurdity of the situation made him cringe. Miles hated when something couldn’t be explained logically and scientifically. This time he had to deal with the purely fantastic incident. As the case materials told there was a human, white, male, about 25-30 years old in the car, which remnants analysis results were laying on his table right at that moment. In the car, which got on fire because of gasoline leakage and was simultaneously hit by a lightning discharge. But… there wasn’t.

Miles took off the glasses and rubbed the nose bridge. It could hardly be any worse. There were no trails of the human body (intact, decayed, burned or affected any other way) in the samples of seat and salon covers and the ash, in which the biggest part of former car interior turned. But they must be there. There were two witnesses that the case subject got in the car before the incident and didn’t get out before or after car ignition. But some trails should have remained even in the center of atomic explosion. There was nothing though. The analysis returned only presence of some cloth, which wasn’t the salon cover, probably clothes, but completely nothing organic from the back seat area.

“Fuck it in general and in particular,” Miles send the silent damnation to the burned car, the police who requested the analysis and the laboratory, which left him dealing with the blank result. “At least the report will be quite laconic.”

“No trails of human (generally organic) tissues found in the presented samples” – just the same as the result which the damned lab delivered.”

“I have a gut feeling, this will bring troubles in the longer perspective, despite there is nothing else we could do obviously,” Miles gritted his teeth, filling the forms with a frustrated sigh.

Someone knocked on the door of the cabinet.

“Come in,” called Miles not raising his head from the documents he worked on.

“Evening, Sam,” the newcomer sat on the visitor chair opposite to the workplace. That was the police detective, working on this case, and at the same time a pal of Sam Miles, police pathologist.

“Evening, Mathew,” replied Sam quite grumpily. Though his feeling was dictated purely by the results, not by his guest. “Can’t say though a good one!”

“So?” Mathew was an epitome of briefness.

“Nothing,” the pathologist grimaced in frustration. “No trails of the human body or anything at least resembling it in that car.”

 

“But…” Mathew stumbled. “Well… Sam, I need anything you can comment about that case. Unofficially, of course… not for the report.”

Sam put the glasses back on and examined his friend, like if he was seeing him for the first time. After a short pause, he said.

 

"But I have nothing to comment on, frankly. I can comment, basing on the facts or test results. And the result is clearly saying – no body present. So, if you want, there was nobody on the back seat of that car in the exact moment, when it turned into ash and debris. I can make theories about the rest… but, I’m sorry, I somehow don’t want to.”

 

“Look, there were two witnesses,” Mathew leaned forward and talked passionately. “Moreover those witnesses were my own sister and her daughter. That is why I want to sort this case out, even if unofficially. I want to simply understand, what happened there.”

“Umm…”

“My sister is a sane and prudent woman and would never make up such a story, besides… what for?” continued the detective. “And the girl never told a word of lie in her whole life. I know it sounds strange, but she simply can’t, she is like that.”

 

"And they both saw that guy in their car just before it became an oven… with electric grille,” Mathew shivered at the thought of what they evaded. “He actually saved my niece, taking her out of the car just moments before it ignited. We found his car down the road, his personal belongings, documents. My sister was holding his jacket and cell phone, he gave her to call the emergency, right before he got into her car. We found his parents and his girlfriend.”

“So it was a real person,” Mathew took a breath. “He was there in the car… and now you’re telling that he wasn’t…”

“Exactly, despite how much I dislike coming to that conclusion myself,” shrugged Miles. “Look, I don’t know yet, what to do of that report… and you want me to click my fingers and make that guy… or his corpse, materialize here, don’t you? Well, with all respect… I simply can’t.”

The daylight lamp on the ceiling buzzed unusually loud in the silence that followed.

*

First rays of sun and birds chatter, which sounded from outside through the open window, woke her early in the morning. Fluttershy found herself on the edge of her bed near the human, the place she exactly collapsed at about two hours ago (as the wall clock told her) after changing the bandages once again. It was 7am and promised another busy day ahead, especially with new chores to attend to. She yawned and stretched, then remembered something and flew up to check her patient. Everything seemed normal. When she peeked under the patch, the wound didn’t look that awful as before. His breath was superficial, but even, the pulse – calm and palpable.

“Hmm… Those humans must have fast regeneration,” she said to herself. “Or did Twilight’s spell finally work?”

Still, it would be better to hold the edges tighter somehow without making it excessively painful for the subject. Thinking of how hard it would be to achieve, Fluttershy trotted to the bathroom to wash off the sleep and fatigue. She left the door open and listened to the sounds from the room, while showering and brushing her teeth. Silence. She dried herself and entered the bedroom. Angel bunny jumped on the bed near the human and waved his paw to her, showing that he would stay and watch. He squeaked enthusiastically.

“Thank you, Angel,” smiled Fluttershy. “What would I do without you? Could you watch him till I finish feeding others?”

Angel nodded, letting Fluttershy stick to her regular morning business.

 

“I need to hurry,” she thought. “First breakfast to all, then daily care for those who need, then check his bondages and apply potions.”

“Sweet Celestia,” Fluttershy shivered remembering. “I hope Twilight comes before noon. There is no way I’m trying her trick with the tube alone, but he needs that.”

It was already half past ten, when Fluttershy was about to finish her morning routines. She examined a sick squirrel and decided to try a new Zecora’s composition on, when she saw somepony heading up to her cottage from Ponyville. This newcomer jumped the road in a manner, he or she could compete Pinkie Pie, and appeared to be a minty-green unicorn mare with white-blue mane, when she came closer.

“Oh, no,” Fluttershy rounded up her observation and hurried to the front door. “I’ve totally forgotten that Twilight wanted to send Lyra Heartstrings here to see the human and share her knowledge. Why do I suspect troubles to come?..”

She greeted the minty coloured mare, while Lyra almost jumped around Fluttershy in circles.

“Morning, Flutters!” she greeted cheerfully. “Twilight said you could use my help with your new pet. She said it was a human. Did you really catch one? Squee!” She was behaving like a school filly on her favourite DJ concert.

“Well, most likely he is. But he’s not a pet,” frowned Fluttershy.

“Oh, come on, Flutters!” grinned Lyra widely. “Why so serious?”

“Because he is a human, right… Well, most likely as you didn’t see him yet to confirm,” replied Fluttershy irritably. “And because he saved my life in Everfree and now is severely wounded. I need help to make him recover. That is why I’m… deadly serious.” She took a deep breath heading to her cottage. “Are you coming?”

“You brought him from Everfree?” Lyra blinked several times. “And he did what?”

Fluttershy noticed to her satisfaction that Lyra stopped calling the human “it”.

“Umm… Not me technically, but that doesn’t matter…”

“Now if you please,” she stopped at the door, welcoming Lyra inside.

Lyra shook her head then trotted after Fluttershy, not as jumpily, but still with an enthusiastic look on her face.

 

“It’s me, Angel,” Fluttershy opened the door to her bedroom. “You must know Lyra. She came to see our guest.”

Angel hopped from the bed to the armchair and pushed the teddy bear aside. He wasn’t very friendly with other ponies, except her close friends – Twilight and other few. Fluttershy was very surprised to see him helping with the human that willingly and moreover staying with him to keep an eye. Perhaps Angel felt grateful for not becoming a burger for the wolves.

Fluttershy pushed Lyra in the room, as the latter stood in the doorframe with eyes wide open. Minty unicorn made a few steps in and stopped again.

“So? What do you say… i-if you don’t mind,” asked Fluttershy quietly.

This seemed to break Lyra’s stupor, as she jumped high and yelped.

“YESSSSSS!!! It is a human! One head, no hair on the body… almost… Two legs, two arms. With palms and fingers!!!”

Lyra’s eyes dilated and the whole her look said, she was going either faint or grab the human as some sort of rare treasure. She rushed towards the bed and Fluttershy needed to react quickly to get herself between her patient and Lyra.

“Lyra,” called Fluttershy, holding her with her fore legs. “Calm down! And please be quiet… if you don’t mind.”

“Please, be adequate,” she added quieter, when Lyra seemed to catch her breath and calm a bit. “That is why I needed you here. I know next to nothing about humans, except them being sentient and able to talk.”

Lyra allowed to get her seated, took a deep breath and flooded Fluttershy with information. Next half an hour she talked almost without any pauses. Fluttershy sat next to her, listened and nodded, sometimes re-asking. It seemed like Lyra prepared for a lecture… or simply learned everything she could about humans. Evidently, they were her favourite subject. Fluttershy got to know that.

Humans were from the different world entirely. That was expected by Fluttershy, yet getting it confirmed carried a tint of shock to it.

“So h-he is technically… an alien,” she interrupted Lyra’s talk. “An extra-… equestrian creature.”

“Yeah, they don’t commonly inhabit Everfree, you know!” smirked Lyra. “Where did that one come from exactly?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Fluttershy smiled embarrassedly. “He might come from the Old Castle, at least I came across him, where the road to Sisters’ Castle starts…”

Lyra’s eyes, which travelled across the room, stopped at the folded cloth on the table and widened.

“… and he was dressed in that tapestry wrapped around him as a toga, underwear and boots,” ended Fluttershy, when she saw that Lyra trembled slightly. “What? What’s wrong with you?”

“You don’t say… that’s ancient tapestry of princess Luna,” Lyra recognized the colours. Apparently, she was good at history as well as at human matters. “From the Sisters’ Castle Ruins?”

“Perhaps. Twilight says it is. I-I was too scared… last time I w-was in the Ruins to pay attention to t-tapestry stuff. Does that really matter?”

“And he came dressed in that, wrapped his body in?” continued Lyra. Her eyes moved from the human on the bed to Fluttershy, like if she wasn’t sure who now shocked her more. “I reconsider, I’d be careful with that creature…”

“Oh, stop that Lyra,” Fluttershy laughed heartily, when she got, what Lyra was talking about. “There is no Nightmare Moon anymore. And princess Luna is back. She’s kinda nice…”

“You know the legend though,” whispered Lyra.

 

“…I’ve met her in person and saw that my fears were groundless. Come on, you’ve met princess on last Nightmare Night celebration. She’s okay, strange spoken, but who wouldn’t be, spending a thousand of years on the Moon.”

 

"Exactly,” interrupted Lyra.

“And I’m telling you, that legend is just… a legend. I can personally assure you there are no… “remnants” in the Old Castle!” Fluttershy calmed her down. “Besides Twilight founds that interesting, but nothing more. I trust Twilight when it comes to magic.”

“Oh… Well… Perhaps it’s safe then… Perhaps,” Lyra seemed to relax a bit. Mentioning Twilight – the most promising student of princess Celestia – was the right idea.

“So,” Fluttershy tried to return Lyra’s focus to the main subject. “What did you say about humans?”

 

Humans usually lived in groups, be it families, tribes or other formations – this one could be lost and accidentally transferred to Equestria. How, that was an open question still. Humans were omnivores – that could bring some problems in future, but considering them sentient, Fluttershy hoped that could be settled easily. Humans were good warriors – that was apparently correct.

 

“Yeah, that’s typical for them,” nodded Lyra, when Fluttershy told her what happened at the mountain side. “When they defend beloved, family or their principles, they can take out an enemy way stronger than themselves, with the help of a good weapon even more. But why he did that? He was putting himself in great danger confronting a timberwolf, moreover a timberwolf ready to pounce on its’ prey…”

“That’s one thing among others, which makes me completely sure, he is sentient and carries no malicious intent,” said Fluttershy quietly.

 

"Still doesn’t explain – why? You say he was wounded… Can I have a look?”

 

“I was going to change bandages and apply the regular treatment,” Fluttershy trotted to the table to take necessary potions. “It is time to already, so I suppose it’s OK.”

 

“So here is where…” sighed Lyra when a long wide wound opened to her eyes. “A bad one, but he seems to hold. And you treated it really well.”

“Thanks,” Fluttershy gave her a smile. “I tried my best. That was the least I could do for him.”

“…but you could do better,” continued Lyra, while her eyes examined the human’s upper body. “Humans treat bad wounds with stitches. They hold edges together and allow tissues close up faster.”

 

“You mean sewing their skin?” asked Fluttershy with dilated eyes.

 

“Yes, if you have durable threads and some painkilling potion, I could help with that. You see, they possess no magic, so are to rely on simple things like that and medicine.”

 

When everything was ready, they’ve spent twenty minutes sewing the wound up. Fluttershy held the edges together while Lyra operated a needle and thread with her magic. Potions worked nicely and there wasn’t much blood. The human seemed to not notice being operated.

“Now apply the potions outside only,” explained Lyra when they finished. “Don’t try to get anything inside, thus the wound will close up faster. When it does, somepony needs to remove the stitches.”

 

“I suppose that should hurt… a bit,” she added. “But nothing compared to what he has come across already.”

 

“You said, they don’t possess any magic,” Fluttershy returned to what bothered her while placing the patch back on human’s side.

 

“Absolutely.”

 

“And what about being resistant to magic?”

 

“Fluttershy, there were quite a few cases of human getting to Equestria, all of them resulting in different troubles with them, most ending tragically,” Lyra put on mentor tone. “But none of them were resistant to magic. In fact, I suppose this to be one of the reasons most cases ended tragically. Humans are easily affected by magic, thus easily affected by not only healing potions, which operate the body, but by others like love potions, which operate the mind. They can be marionettes at horn too.”

 

“Hmm… Maybe this one is the first then?” asked Fluttershy. “Because he IS resistant to magic. And Twilight made sure of this with me witnessing.”

“You must be kidding,” Lyra came closer to the bed still eyeing the human. Suddenly she grasped the covers with magic and tried to pull it off.

“What are you doing?” exclaimed Fluttershy. “Stop!”

 

“Ehh… I just wanted to check…” Lyra said innocently, but something in her eyes made Fluttershy frown.

 

“What did you want to check?” she interrogated Lyra. “What did you expect to see? Two legs… as you said…” she stopped. “We, me and Twilight, were to undress him to wash the dust off and…”

 

“And?..” Lyra giggled.

 

“There was no “and”,” Fluttershy cheeks started to glow red, while her sight rushed to the floor. “We just c-cleaned him. You know… h-healing wounds needs simple hygiene.”

 

“I suppose,” Lyra was unbearable at that moment. She added with a sly smile. “By the way, did you know that a human male can last in bed at least 15 times longer than a typical stallion? Scientific fact!”

 

Fluttershy facehoofed.

 

“Theoretically…” Lyra’s face became carrot red under Fluttershy’s wild glare, but she still giggled.

 

Suddenly minty glow enveloped human’s right hand. It got brighter then dimmer then again in a cycle, then a thin thread of the same glow connected it with Lyra’s glowing horn. Lyra staggered.

 

“Lyra, stop!” shouted Fluttershy, running to the unicorn and pushing her with her body. She managed to break the glowing connection and Lyra leaned on Fluttershy, then tried to stop her eyes rolling.

 

Fluttershy gave her supporting shoulder and led Lyra downstairs carefully.

 

“How could you be that stupid,” asked Fluttershy when they got into the kitchen and she was making Lyra some coffee.

 

“Sorry, I didn’t believe you,” Lyra’s apology seemed to be sincere. “I’ve tried to lift his hand with magic to check, if he was resistant indeed.”

“But instead of lifting,” she looked seriously bemused. “Instead of that, I felt magic drain. A strong one, like if something pumped the force from me. Sweet Celestia, even if he is not connected to Nightmare Moon, he can be dangerous.”

 

“So can be a fork, if you stick it into your muzzle,” objected Fluttershy. “I’m very sorry, I haven’t mentioned the effects, but you should have listened, when I said that he was magic resistant.”

 

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” sighed Lyra, she seemed to patch herself up already. “And that makes him useless for me.”

 

Fluttershy raised a brow.

 

“I always dreamed to find out what it is to be a human,” confessed Lyra. “And hoped magic could help me getting closer, if I come across a human. I knew them being mythic creatures. What chances I had. And now – the irony – the only human I could probably meet in my life is magic resistant… unlike all the rest.” Lyra seemed to be completely upset.

 

“You wanted to be a human?” Fluttershy didn’t believe her ears. “What for? And… excuse me… there are polymorph spells and so on… if you… want that so much.”

 

“Polymorph spells are a totally different grade of magic,” elaborated Lyra, while sipping her coffee. “Maybe Twilight could perform that, but I was always quite realistic about my magic skills. Besides, they took much energy and were temporary. I always wanted something more… steady.”

“As for why,” she continued her story. “It’s simple. Humans have hands.”

“But you have magic,” retorted Fluttershy.

 

“Magic is not always that convenient, everypony thinks it is,” sighed Lyra. “For example, you can scratch behind your ears. Nicely or not, but you can. What about your back then? What about writing and not being forced to hold the pencil in your mouth… if you’re not a unicorn? And that’s just a small part. You can do so many things with fingers!” she concluded pointedly.

Fluttershy watched Lyra daydreaming with half-lidded eyes and decided not to argue.

*

“Hey, good day,” Twilight almost bumped in Lyra at the porch of the cottage. “You’re fast on decisions.”

“Good day, princess,” Lyra followed the etiquette, but Twilight frowned. She wasn’t fond of friends and generally Ponyville citizens calling her “princess”, as she didn’t consider her own deserts comparable with other princesses. “Twilight” sounded just right.

“When I hear “human”, I’m faster than light,” confessed Lyra meanwhile with a strange smile. “Especially when one needs to hurry, before all good are taken.”

Twilight raised a brow not sure, if she understood, what Lyra was implying.

 

“I’ve told Fluttershy all that I knew, in brief of course. I’m sure I haven’t missed anything important,” Lyra scratched her nose and sighed. “Pity though this one is useless for me… at least in his current unconscious state.”

“I mean, I can certainly learn more from him,” she elaborated. “When he wakes up… if you both don’t mind.” She added with a smile. “I would like to talk to him, when it is possible. But he is resistant to magic…” Lyra shrugged. Then she wished the girls a good day and headed back to Ponyville.

“I’m not sure, I understood her right…” Twilight turned to Fluttershy with question drawn on her face.

“In which parts exactly?”

“First, what’s about magic resistance being some kind of a problem for her?.. How’s she into his magic resistance at all.”

“I’m afraid that’s m-my fault, Twilight,” Fluttershy’s ears flattened apologetically. “I told her, she shouldn’t use magic on him, but I didn’t tell, what might happen.”

“Did she try?” breathed out Twilight. “She seemed fine to me…”

“Yes, when I was distracted. And it was worse, than with you. She just tried to lift his arm and was backfired heavier. But it seemed to wear out, when I pushed her and broke the connection.”

“We must remember to warn everyone, who comes, about that reaction. It may be dangerous, especially if it is going to amplify with time. I wrote a letter to princess Celestia, but she is busy with diplomatic stuff and I’m not sure, how soon she can attend. She promised to address this as fast, as she could though.” Twilight told very seriously. Then she remembered something. “And what was the phrase about… “all good are taken”.”

“Oh,” Fluttershy blushed. “Lyra tried to get under covers… She said, she wanted to examine him better, but I guess, it was m-more in that curiosity… considering that h-human was obviously a male. I’ve stopped her and s-said, we were to undress him and wash… for pure hygienic reasons… you know. B-but she started giggling and joking about… then said…”

“That a typical human lasts 15 times longer than a typical stallion?”

“Yes… Squee!”

“Scientific fact. But you’re right it’s strange how it is emphasized in every source I could find, same for Lyra it seems,” Twilight blushed as well, but suddenly smiled. “We’re lucky, she didn’t know who and how took off his underwear,” she whispered in Fluttershy’s ear.

“We’re lucky Rarity doesn’t know that,” Fluttershy clung to the ground with her pupils narrowed from imagining the possible outcome.

“I swear I won’t tell anyone,” Twilight dropped smirking. “But I won’t be so sure… knowing Rarity. Just give it time.”

Fluttershy looked like if she was going to hide under something.

“Oh, Flutters, I’m kidding,” Twilight hugged her friend. “I hope…” added she under her breath.

“Come on, I’ve brought more bandages,” Twilight waved her head at her saddle bag. “And our rubber tube business is waiting.”

Fluttershy couldn’t help shuddering.

*

It was about 5pm, when Fluttershy could finally take a breath. When they finished patching up their human patient and Twilight left, Fluttershy was to continue her daily routines with other animals, specifically ill ones. Fortunately Twilight brought some convenience food, so the walk to Ponyville market could be delayed. Fluttershy made herself a cup of tea and was going to change Angel who watched the human upstairs, when someone knocked on the front door.

“That human definitely made your days more events and guests filled,” Fluttershy smiled inwardly, getting up to answer it.

“… and I was coming by and thought about visiting a good ol’ friend,” said a strange creature behind the door. It looked like a mix of a dragon, pony, griffin and even deer, with the long tail, unequal paws, horns and eyes of different colour. “Why not, said I to myself.”

“Discord!” Fluttershy smiled widely, yet she seemed surprised by something. “Come in. I wonder though since when you started knocking. You usually just pop out of nowhere.”

“Since two minutes ago,” smirked Discord, showing single fang. “I’m just an old friend and when I sensed you’re not alone here… finally… I decided to knock. Just in case.”

“Oh, it’s not that…” Fluttershy seemed confused. “Tea?”

“Yup, with pleasure,” dragonequs snapped his long fingers and took an empty teacup out of thin air. “You shouldn’t be so categorical though. I’ve said long ago that friends are good, but you needed someone… you know…” he winked. “The one I sensed here, was different from those I know in Equestria. Well almost. So I thought it finally might be the case.”

“That’s a way premature assumption,” smiled Fluttershy, but her cheeks gave out colour which didn’t come unnoticed by her company. “He is a human. You know about humans? I’ve met him in Everfree… W-well, “met” is a bit strong word…” she paused searching for words and pouring tea into the cup Discord held. “Umm… He saved my life… a-and got wounded. So I’m now taking care of him naturally,” she ended simply.

“A human,” Discord turned to the stairs with interest, moving his cup aside. “So that is why it seemed familiar, I’ve met them a couple of times… long ago. But I’m absolutely positive – this one is different.”

The tea continued to flow from the teapot in the air and… ended entering the cup nevertheless. Fluttershy didn’t bat an eyelash, she got used to those tricks of him. She continued pouring the tea, until the cup was full, and simply said.

“You’re right, he is different.”

“Hmm… Mind if I look?” Discord chuckled meaningfully at the word “he”.

“Why not,” nodded Fluttershy, then stopped him. “But I must warn you, he is magic resistant.”

“Now that’s interesting,” jumped Discord. “So you’re going to say, I will carry experiments on him? So much for a few years of friendship…” He pretended to be pouting.

“Oh, come on,” Fluttershy frowned. “I know you well and I know you won’t do anything awful, but one of your jokes, if played, may backfire. Now, if you let me explain, you’ll find out that he is not only magically resistant, but also drains magic applied directly to him. Yet he ignores magic that isn’t directed at him. And that reaction progresses. Two of my friends experienced that on themselves and it wasn’t exactly pleasant.”

“Now I definitely must have a look,” Discord put his teacup on the table and got up. “One of those friends must be Twilight, right?”

“Yes, but…”

“I simply can’t imagine one of you six finding something unusual… and Twilight avoiding being in the center of it,” he explained getting up the stairs.

“What can I say,” Discord arched his body above the bed examining the human. “It’s definitely a human!” He sent Fluttershy a wild look.

“Oh, come on,” Fluttershy poked him with a hoof. “Stop goofing around for once. Like if it was all you can say…”

“Ouch,” Discord pretended the hit was very sensitive. “I will tell nothing, if you keep beating me!”

“OK, OK,” he returned to seriousness in a second, perhaps even too much seriousness. “I’d say whatever you do, DON’T apply magic to him. Not that you are going to do this in particular, but DON’T EVER apply destructive magic to him.”

“I mean “any magical interaction, which can be interpreted as harmful to him”,” explained Discord seeing Fluttershy uncomprehending expression.

“Interpreted by whom?” asked Fluttershy.

 

"I could say by him, but won’t lie to you – I don’t know,” Discord twisted his moustache. “Yeah, yeah, don’t look at me that way, Flutters. Here is something concerning magic I’m unsure about.”

“He possesses no magic on his own,” continued he, when they headed back into the kitchen. “And is resistant to any magic applied to him, this I can trust your experiments in. But according to my observation, while any neutral or positive influence is ignored and… “drained” as you call it, any negative impact can be reflected. Of course, this is theory as we don’t carry any experiments of that kind…”

 

“… because I don’t want your cottage lay in ruins,” he ended with emphasis.

“Is it that bad?” Fluttershy became worried a little.

“I know chaos magic,” said Discord. “I’ve been on both bad and good sides, you know. As for the moment I don’t see anything evil in him. But at the end of the day, a simple fork may be harmful, if you stick it into your muzzle…”

“I’d say he is not dangerous,” he took his cup and made a sip. “Just do what you’re best at, Fluttershy – see no evil in him, and it won’t appear.”

“I’d like to give you one more advice, if you don’t mind,” after a few minutes of thinking said Discord. “It’s all up to you, of course… But if you do feel like that or come to that eventually… stick up to him. I sense that it may appear worthy,” he winked.

“I’ve never yet really thanked you for giving me a second chance once,” he raised the cup, then pointed his long finger towards the bedroom. “This may be it, I mean – what I said. Oh, and the tea is splendid… as usual!”

They kept silence for a few minutes thinking about what was said.

“One more thing,” Discord said without his usual mocking attitude. “Tell Celestia specifically about the magic impact being unwelcome!”

Then a tall hat appeared on Discord’s head, he took it off and pulled a cuckoo-clock out.

“OK, I’m a busy dragonequs,” exclaimed Discord, making a surprised face. “And need to attend to my tasks. Good-bye, Fluttershy!”

With a loud snap he disappeared with the hat, clock and teacup.

*

“Bring thyself in, Tia!” Luna leaned on the pillows, but she couldn’t get asleep. The latest news, she got tonight from the Crystal Empire, were not very calming, the Dark Mist was noticed far to the North again recollecting itself. It looked like King Sombra was slowly gathering power to attempt one more break-in. “I am not resting.”

The door to Luna’s bedroom opened revealing princess Celestia, who trotted towards her younger sister with a concerned look on her face. She levitated an unrolled scroll.

“Morning, Luna!” Celestia greeted. “How did the night passed?”

“Peacefully, more or less… Hast thou got the report from the Crystal Empire yet? Is t what brings a troubled look on thy visage?” Luna seemed to be in her thoughts still thus slightly distracted. “Or some misfortune regarding today’s morning audience?”

“I did get the report indeed,” Celestia nodded, her neck curving in a swan-like manner. “The news are important, but hardly yet menacing or demanding our immediate attention. We simply must be ready to provide Cadence and Shining all necessary assistance, if they ask. Perhaps send a couple of strong mages to help them dissolve the concentrating Mist, before it grows.”

“And this morning’s appointment is just a nuisance,” continued she, trotting impatiently back and forth, while Luna watched her with growing interest – something bothered her sister more than Crystal Empire news. “Can you imagine, a few nobleponies from Fillydelphia combined their investments and asked for the permission to upbuild a new factory. Obviously, they have no idea, how the factory runs and the mere fact of pollution becoming excessive for existing refineries somehow,” she huffed. “…slipped by their minds. I guess somepony like Flim and Flam brothers is standing behind their puffed confidence and money. Naturally, I planned to run over their hopes for the sake of all Fillydelphia. Well, until they come with a realistic and environment-friendly plan at least.”

“But that’s not what bothering thee at that very moment,” concluded Luna, while Celestia was taking her breath.

“Yes. I got a letter from Twilight yesterday, but wasn’t able to address the problem personally due to certain preplanned appointments,” Celestia seemed to have a rare case of self-disappointment mood. “But each time I reread it my concerns double. So today I can attend to the matter myself.”

“I just want you to know the details, especially because you was interested in that event two nights ago – the strange storm.”

If there were any signs of sleep or distraction, now they vanished completely. Luna listened to her sister with full attention.

“Twilight wrote that Fluttershy came across a human in the Everfree, which saved her from a timberwolf…”

“Human, timberwolf, that is expensive,” said Luna in half-voice. “For what I recall about humans those gents never were durable enough to face a timberwolf, let alone defeat t, despite rare books on the subject say otherwise. Humans prefer fighting in masses.”

Her accent though revealed her concern about the subject, being contrary to what she displayed.

“… and got wounded,” resumed Celestia. “She took him home and is taking care of now.”

“But the main thing,” she said a moment later. “This human is magic resistant. And moreover somehow able to drain magic applied to him, despite being unable to cast anything on his will.”

“While the human, being unable to cast magic, is believable,” Luna even raised a bit from her pillows. “I couldn’t imagine one resistant to magic, let alone draining it!”

“Neither do I,” simply replied Celestia. “That is exactly why I need to see everything with my own eyes… and estimate, if he provides any threat to the stability of Equestria… moreover the Harmony.”

“Nopony knew, how he got here, but Fluttershy supposed, he came from the Old Castle direction, as she picked him at the end of the road there,” added princess of the Sun. “He has suffered some accident according to certain evidence, lost almost all his clothes, except his footwear and underwear… and was dressed in your old Royal Tapestry instead.”

“Oh,” Luna shrugged. “The Old Castle is ruins, I suppose one can easily rip off or pick some fusty cloth thither.” But her voice seemed to soften somehow.

“I want to transfer him here in Canterlot, keep secure and inspect… before making any final decisions. Perhaps they are mistaking some… thing for a human,” she explained. “There is one problem though, this appointment. It’s neither serious, nor important, yet I can’t leave it unnoticed. Luna, could you, please, see them for me?”

“Besides I thought that might entertain you a bit,” Celestia added quickly, before Luna even opened her mouth. “I know that is not a common practice, but… You look bored and those snobbish stubborn stallions need a good kick. You could even give your Royal Canterlot Voice an exercise.”

Luna smirked. She loved “playing Nightmare Moon” during Nightmare Night holidays, but those happened only once a year. Besides she never could imagine harming foals. This time was different, perhaps Celestia was right and she could have fun, making those upper-class jerks weak in their legs, no casualties though.

Besides an excellent idea came to her mind, considering the human was sentient, Luna could try and reach his dreams, when he slept. That could be definitely interesting: to know something new and to tease the guy a little, if he was in good enough shape to come through that. Despite Celestia saying he was magic resistant, Luna decided to try. Dreams were totally different kind of magic, a careful approach might play out fine. She was always a bit of curious troublemaker anyway.

“Fine, sister,” Luna stretched and wiggled her wings. “I suppose I can hold myself awake for a couple hours more.”

“Thanks, Luna. I’ll head to Ponyville immediately then,” Celestia turned around and trotted out of the room.

      “Just telleth me later, how it went,” exclaimed Luna after her.

 

---

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(New week, new chapter :orly:)

4. Keep calm and flutter on - Day two.

 

Second time in the row Fluttershy found herself in her own bed in the morning. With one exception, the night before she simply collapsed due to fatigue. This time she got on the free half of the bed willingly. There was enough space, nothing could happen, she was to look for him anyway. Besides, the bed was way more comfortable than a couch downstairs.

Fluttershy climbed in the bed and lied on the coverlet. She checked human’s pulse, it was even, then touched his hand. His skin was soft and smooth without any coat, quite an unusual feeling for a pony.

“When he recovers, I need to free another room and get a bed,” she noticed that this thought surprised her only a little.

Taking care of somepony, who can stand for himself otherwise, was different from what Fluttershy experienced before helping her animal friends. They mostly couldn’t do themselves, what she did for them. But taking care of someone, who saved her life, gave her unusual satisfaction, feeling of doing right, more confidence and… sympathy.

With these warming thoughts, she fell asleep under his quiet breathing.

Now Celestia’s sun tickled her nose with its rays. Back in her daily business. She scratched Angel behind the ear, he sneaked on the pillow after her and was sleeping now.

Standing under the water streams Fluttershy turned one ear, a quiet moan reached her hearing from the room. She wrapped up in a towel and stormed to the room, leaving wet prints on the floor. She threw back her wet mane and inspected the bedroom. Everything was in its place, but the human seemingly changed his pose a bit. Fluttershy rushed to check the bandages and to her relief the wound was fine, no blood, no progressing swelling. Angel woke up and stared at her in surprise.

“Perhaps Lyra was right and stitches worked better indeed,” thought Fluttershy returning to the bathroom. “And the rest must mean that he is recovering and may wake soon.”

“Good morning, darling!” Rarity stopped by the fence and leaned on it watching Fluttershy feeding her animal crowd. “Do you have a few minutes for me?”

“Hey, hey,” waved Fluttershy blowing a few hair strands off her face. She wiped her hooves and approached the fence from her side. “Of course I do. Just let me check, if I have everyone filled.”

She smiled and pretended that she had no idea about the possible reasons for that visit. But she was sure she guessed right. Fluttershy decided to let Rarity solve the task of explaining her reasons herself.

“Let’s get in the house,” she said instead and led the way.

“Want some coffee?” Fluttershy asked over her shoulder, trotting to the kitchen.

“…What? Oh, no, thanks, dear,” Rarity took a few moments to stop examining her reflection in the mirror next to the door. “Thank you, I’ve already had it. Too much does no good for my face colour. I start blushing spontaneously, when I drink too much coffee at once.” She whispered confidingly.

“So what can I help you with, Rarity,” Fluttershy smiled and offered a seat.

“Fluttershy, dear, I’m so sorry for bothering you that early,” Rarity chose the armchair, straightened the pillow with her magic and sat in the most elegant pose, she could manage. “But Sweetie Belle got a nasty cut on her leg… and I’ve heard from Twilight you’ve got a new recovering salve from Zecora… Could you give me some, ple-e-ease?”

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow, her ears stood up.

“Oh, come on, darling, don’t look at me like that,” Rarity’s tone became plaintive. “I always hide the sharp stuff. But I can’t work with all the scissors being locked in the closets… and she always finds them and tries to help me, or mimic me sometimes. And sometimes she is… half-horned. She’s only a filly, dear.”

“OK, OK,” Fluttershy smiled accommodatingly. “Relax Rarity, I’m not saying you’re a bad sister…”

“You’ve almost got me believing,” Rarity showed a sheepish smile.

“Well, I do have the mentioned salve indeed. And I’ll gladly share,” Fluttershy trotted to the stairs to the upper floor, when she noticed Rarity followed her.

“By the way, Lyra visited me yesterday, we took measurements, as she was going to order a new dress,” Rarity chattered happily. “And she mentioned, you had some new “guest”, she said it was a “human”. I’ve always thought, they were mythic rubbish from the books, she spent too much time with…”

“Aha, now straight to the point,” Fluttershy tensed inwardly.

“Did you really get one? Can I have a look?” continued Rarity.

“Get” is a bit exaggerated term,” answered Fluttershy with a sigh. “I’ve… met a human in the Everfree.” She told her story shortly, while they were heading upstairs, feeling that soon she learns it by rote.

“Now promise me that you’ll play by certain rules I’m going to state,” Fluttershy stopped at the bedroom door and looked seriously into Rarity’s eyes. “This is important. For you especially since you’re a unicorn.”

“Oh, darling, you know, I trust you overly, when it comes to pets,” Rarity rolled her eyes at excessive precautions Fluttershy taking. “We started understanding each other better with Opal after your help and advice. I’ll play nicely.”

“Rarity! He. Is. Not. A pet,” facehoofed Fluttershy. “And please listen. He is a human, he is sentient, he is strong enough to take down a timberwolf, but now isn’t in best shape. Wounded and unconscious. And the main thing: he is magic resistant, moreover he is able to drain your magic, if applied to him… even in that condition,” she took a deep breath. “And this reaction is progressing, Twilight felt slight dizziness, Lyra got almost knocked down… Please, DON’T try your magic on him, OK?”

“OK, OK,” Rarity looked overly interested, her eyes opened wide.

“Let’s enter then.”

“I’ve thought they look like apes. Never saw any pictures, Lyra told me about and Twilight mentioned once, if I remember right,” Rarity looked impressed. “I could never understand, why Lyra wanted to become one or at least have… hands.”

“Now I see,” Rarity stepped closer with Fluttershy following. “While he can, of course, resemble an ape, he is nothing like it at the same time. He is… handsome I suppose… for a human, of course. Just needs to shave badly,” she giggled.

“Do you say, he walks on two legs?”

Fluttershy nodded.

“Must be a tall guy then, and quite toned,” Rarity stared at the body on the bed. “Without any fur… well, except the head. Is he a lot like us internally?”

“Lyra says he is,” Fluttershy checked the bandages and touched his forehead by her lips.

“I’m checking his temperature,” she explained, seeing Rarity watched her with wide opened eyes.

“Oh…” breathed out Rarity. She came closer. “The skin must be smooth and different from ours.”

“Rarity!” exclaimed Fluttershy, seeing how her friend was nuzzling human’s arm, then shoulder, then… “D-don’t poke him in the eye. I mean, w-what are you even doing?..”

“Sorry,” Rarity blushed heavily, understanding that she wasn’t behaving like a lady should do. “I’m… umm…”

“So does he react on all the magic being cast around or only this applied to him directly?” she preferred to change the topic.

“Only applied to him,” confirmed Fluttershy, but she was ready things could go that way. “Don’t even try to.”

“Try what?” Rarity’s sly smile and half-lidded eyes told Fluttershy that she guessed right.

“You know,” said Fluttershy pointedly. “Pull off the cover, that’s what!”

Rarity sighed with disappointment.

“We were to remove old clothes… completely,” explained Fluttershy, feeling that her cheeks started burning unwillingly. “And wash him to prevent the wound becoming contaminated,” she pointed to the long and wide patch on human’s side.

“Fifteen times longer…” muttered Rarity under her breath. But Fluttershy heard and became red as a carrot.

“What, excuse me?” she asked again, the strong feeling of déjà vu visited her.

“I mean, why I’m always out of most interesting events till the last moment,” answered Rarity looking away to hide colour red on her cheeks. “You’re my friend, but you’ve asked Twilight to help. I could help too, with magic if necessary.”

“What exactly with?” Fluttershy felt she started boiling internally. “Sewing his wound shut, giving him medicine through a rubber tube put in the throat, wiping all the blood… you’re afraid of blood, as far as I know. Or stripping him naked and washing him?!”

Rarity froze on spot shocked a bit by her friend’s outburst and even more by the mental image of the rubber tube related procedure. Then her ears flattened and she started examining the floor with great attention.

“I guess all of that…” she said quietly.

“Oh, I-I’m sorry, Rarity,” Fluttershy realized that she sounded a bit harsh. “I-I just couldn’t help noticing that… you moved from thinking he is a pet, an ape, to becoming a little too much fixated… even excited… i-if you don’t mind me… putting it that way.”

“I’m sorry too,” Rarity’s ears raised again and Fluttershy noticed that her eyes returned to the bed. “I mean… if you need any help…”

“Oh, dear,” she jumped on the place, some idea came to her mind. “I could make new clothes for him. He will need them, right? I heard, humans wore clothes all the time, as they had no coat naturally. This, of course, will need measurements, I want to make it perfect,” Rarity cocked her head.

‘Measurements, of course,’ Fluttershy sighed internally. ‘And Lyra is concerned about getting hands, but mentions “fifteen times” thing too often, if you ask me.’

“That sounds reasonable,” she said though.

The familiar sound of clarion and some noise from outside made them both check the window.

“That’s princess Celestia,” breathed out Fluttershy. “Twilight sent her a letter about all that.”

“Are you coming? Although… wait… Stay here, Rarity, but please don’t do anything. Especially anything magical. We couldn’t come in time to catch you, if you pass out. Besides, I’ll give you a good Stare, if you dare to…”

Rarity nodded and this time Fluttershy noticed, she was serious. With relief yellow pegasus rushed downstairs.

“Your royal Highness,” Fluttershy opened the door and stepped back bowing. “Good morning!”

“Good morning, Fluttershy, my dear!” Celestia rewarded her with a warm smile. “How are you? Twilight wrote that you had an awful experience in the Everfree.”

Two guards followed the princess inside and stood by the door. Celestia proceeded to the living room, followed by Fluttershy, and took a seat.

“Thank you princess,” Fluttershy still felt slightly abashed every time in presence of Celestia, even Luna made her tremble less. “I’m fine now. Thankfully I haven’t managed to get really scared. Things happened very quickly, and then I was too busy to care about my feelings… much.”

Celestia batted her long eyelashes, she seemed to make a mental note of that amendment.

“And owing to my “guest” I’m here and alive now,” Fluttershy concluded simply.

“May I offer you some tea, princess? That’s fresh Zecora’s herbal tea, very good for toning up.”

“Oh, no, no, thank you kindly, my dear,” princess replied. “I’m afraid, I have no time for that, sorry.”

“Twilight wrote that you have pacified three timberwolves at once by the Stare,” she continued. “You’re making an amazing progress, Fluttershy, as the Element of Kindness and personally.”

“You’re too kind, your Highness!” Fluttershy blushed. “At the end of the day that wouldn’t make much difference… if not for my guest… the human, I’d still be dead.”

“So, you are positive, it is exactly a human?”

“Umm… Twilight said so… and… I-I trust those who read some information on the s-subject… including Lyra… i-if you are OK with that…”

“Lyra Heartstrings?” a tiny shadow of disappointment ran over Celestia’s face. But this was Ponyville – one could hardly imagine some information to be completely hidden here.

“Humans have evolved from the apes as far as I know,” Celestia preferred to ignore that uneasy fact at the moment. “One must be really brutal to take down a timberwolf like that, with one hit…”

“Oh, no, he doesn’t look like an ape by far, neither behaved like this,” Fluttershy started ardently. “I’m sure he had no malicious intent and was genuine in his actions.”

Celestia’s smile grew wider, when she watched her subject talking about the human.

“Well, I want to see him myself…”

“Of course, princess. He’s upstairs, in my room. We were to get him a better placement than a couch.”

“I hope your own sleep didn’t suffer then,” Celestia continued, watching her fixedly.

“I’m fine, thanks, princess,” muttered Fluttershy sheepishly.

When they stopped at the door, Fluttershy coughed loudly and opened it. She saw Rarity sitting in the armchair with innocent look… but the shape of bed cover told Fluttershy that she just fled from the same place, where Fluttershy spent the last two nights. Celestia apparently didn’t notice anything, yet she was surprised to see Rarity here as well.

“Your Highness, princess Celestia,” Rarity got up and bowed deeply.

“Good morning, Rarity!” even if Celestia wasn’t fond of the fact that more and more ponies appeared to be involved in the incident, she didn’t show.

Meanwhile Fluttershy started explaining quietly but confidently.

“Princess, excuse me, but I need to warn you – all Twilight wrote was true. The human is indeed magic resistant and, moreover, he somehow is capable to absorb magic directed at him. The reaction becomes stronger over time… or maybe, as I’ve just thought, with each attempt. The caster feels magical force drain. Discord… Squee!”

“Discord!!!” exclaimed Celestia, maybe even louder than it was necessary, making both Fluttershy and Rarity crouch a little. “What in Equestria, Discord did here?”

She then realized, how it sounded, and hurried to moderate the impression.

“It’s OK, girls, I guess it was inevitable,” she said accommodatingly.

“Excuse me, p-princess,” Fluttershy was upset. “Was it bad for… anything?”

“No, not bad,” Celestia calmed her with a small smile. “That’s just saying, I needed to address that problem a day before. Totally my fault. So what did Discord do?”

“W-well, he stopped by and got interested,” Fluttershy wasn’t sure if touching that topic was a good idea. “He sensed the human… or maybe that human,” she added after a short delay. “… from outside. He took a look and said that this one was different from those he had seen before. He said he sensed no evil in the human.”

“What else?”

“Umm… he confirmed our suspicions about magical resistance… and said that he wouldn’t try any d-destructive magic on the human… as he wasn’t sure about my cottage… g-going to survive possible reaction.”

“He asked me to tell you specifically, princess, not to try any magic on that human, especially one which might be interpreted as destructive,” added Fluttershy in half-voice. “I suppose, he was going to say that any negative impact would backfire rather than be absorbed.”

“That’s interesting,” Celestia touched her chin with the hoof. “And it renders my plans to take the human to Canterlot useless.”

“I can’t transfer him magically, and he can’t survive the long fly at the moment most likely,” she explained her point.

“I’m sure that’s true,” the tint of relief in Fluttershy’s voice was thick enough to be noticeable.

“I guess I should rely on you and Twilight to look after the human till his recovery,” smiled the princess.

“And anypony else you choose to help you,” she looked at Rarity pointedly, who kept herself surprisingly silent till that moment. “Evidently you six would exchange your information anyway,” chuckled Celestia.

Then she turned to the table, where the folded cloth lied.

“And that must be the tapestry, he came dressed in…”

The unfolded by magic cloth lied on the floor and Celestia started examining it. Fluttershy internally cringed, she became overcautious regarding magic usage even near the human after what happened lately.

Time seemed to touch the ancient masterpiece very insignificantly. Silver and gold needlework dimmed slightly of course due to almost thousand years uncared for, but it still had its’ intended noble look to it.

“Royal Tapestry from the Old Castle!” Rarity jumped on the spot. She just noticed it; obviously, all her attention was conquered by the human earlier.

“I’m sorry, princess,” she elaborated in a calmer voice. “I’ve always dreamed to try to restore some ancient piece of art. Just like this. Could you probably allow me to try? Please!”

Rarity’s eyes shined with such enthusiasm that princess Celestia laughed heartily.

“Of course, dear, you may try. But I should ask my sister anyway, as it is her regal attribute and she will decide finally what to do with it.”

“Besides your favourite work may distract your attention from other… things,” she thought. Princess couldn’t help noticing Rarity’s excessive interest in their “guest”.

“So,” Rarity asked Fluttershy, when they followed princess to her carriage and watched her leaving to Canterlot. “Do you need any help… about the house?” She raised an eyebrow.

“What am I hearing?” laughed Fluttershy. “My dear friend Rarity is voluntarily interested in boring and not glamorous household chores.”

“I thought Sweetie Belle needed your help,” she looked appraisingly on her unicorn mate.

“Oh, of course,” Rarity wasn’t embarrassed a bit. “I’m going home to help my sis, then come back… if you need me here.” Her face was almost pleading.

“Look, Rarity, if I need your help, I will ask you, no doubt,” Fluttershy assured her in the most peacemaking voice. “I promise!”

“Pinky Promise?!” Rarity raised an eyebrow.

“OK, OK,” sighed Fluttershy. “I cross my heart and hope to fly, stick a cupcake in my eye!”

She followed each description with the corresponding gesture.

‘And Pinky Promise that I’ll keep an eye on you, if you’re helping me with the human,’ she added inwardly.

“One more thing, sweetheart,” Fluttershy caught her friend on the tail. “You may surely discuss our guest with the girls, I mean Rainbow, Applejack and Pinky. But that is all, don’t tell others… well, Lyra knows already, but I doubt she will talk about that. She is obsessed with humans and doesn’t want too much competition. Aaaand… tell Pinky twice… scratch that, thrice – it’s not the information for the whole Ponyville.”

“My mouth is shut and I forgot where I dropped the key,” Rarity proudly straightened. “Who do you think you are talking to?”

Fluttershy giggled.

It seemed that Rarity was satisfied with the promise given, as she snorted approvingly and headed home, wishing Fluttershy a good day.

*

BUMP!!! “Squee!”

Twilight transferred herself right into Fluttershy’s living room making the hostess jump on the spot. Fluttershy still couldn’t get used to her friend’s favourite teleporting spells, especially when they were being used unexpectedly.

“Woo,” Twilight breathed with relief putting her saddle bag down. “I’ve decided to go on foot not. Someone could notice and become unnecessarily interested, why I visited you several times a day.”

“I’ve packed more bandages, a couple of apple juice bottles and a few books,” she explained, when Fluttershy looked at her saddle bag with the question in her eyes. “Now I’m ready to stay for as long as you need to do your business in Ponyville.”

“We’ve already organized all the books and I let Spike have free time… I feel sorry for the little guy with all that work I put on him with latest studies,” Twilight sighed with regret.

“Well, I’m now free for the rest of the day, so take your time…” she added in a more joyful voice. “And about that juice… When you get back, we’ll try to make him consume some with the potion. I’m afraid he will starve otherwise. But I couldn’t imagine something else we could drive through the tube…”

*

The doorbell rang when Fluttershy entered Sugarcube Corner – bakery and confectionery run by the Cake family. She was greeted with a wide smile of a young pink coated mare at the counter. The mane and tail of the latter were also pink and puffy as cotton candy.

“Hey, Flutters!” she waved to Fluttershy wildly. “How’s it boiling? When do we throw it?”

“Howdy, Pinkie,” Fluttershy waved back, then perked up her ears. “Throw what?”

She wasn’t sure, she understood what way the talk directed to. But it was Pinkie Pie, who she was talking to. And Pinkie was known for her… expressiveness and volatility. Which thoughts drift Pinkie’s mind at the moment would be probably a mystery even for Starswirl the Bearded himself.

Pinkie waited till the unicorn mare with her foal finished choosing candies, paid and left the shop wishing them a good day, before she could answer.

“Welcome To Ponyville Human” party, of course,” her enthusiasm could probably compete with the sunshine. “I’m not going to miss that chance.”

She jumped over the counter and towered above Fluttershy, who even crouched a little suppressed by her friend’s energy. Pinkie took her by the chin with the hoof and looked directly in the eyes.

“Mind that I’ve never seen a human before, so that’s gonna be twice awesome!”

She jumped around Fluttershy with cheerful yelps, while the latter tried to find an appropriate answer.

“Pinkie,” said Fluttershy in soft calming voice. “Don’t you think the party is a bit premature? He is still lying unconscious…”

“But I don’t say we should have it right away, surely when he recovers, otherwise he could miss his special Welcome To Ponyville Human party!”

Pinkie stopped and frowned upon her friend, as if Fluttershy suddenly said a very stupid thing.

“Nopony comes on their welcoming party unconscious, one can’t probably walk being unconscious, or I’m not Pinkamena Diane Pie anymore!”

“Oh, Pinkie,” Fluttershy could have probably laughed at that… under some different conditions.

“Besides don’t you want to thank one, saving your life?” Pinkie’s flow of ideas was endless.

She made a couple more circles, then suddenly stopped right to face Fluttershy. Her voice became unusually serious and concerned.

“Flutters, I know that he is not quite well now, and I’m not going to make any boom right away. But considering what I’ve heard he came from another world or something alike. You know what that means?”

“First,” Pinkie sat on her dock and raised one fore hoof. “Who said he can return back?”

“And second,” she raised another. “And the main thing – he found himself in the middle of nopony-knows-where, all alone, without his family, his marefriend, his friends. Imagine how he must miss his mother, father, brother, sister, grandma, grandpa, auntie, uncle, few cousins… his cat and his dog Barney…”

“OK, OK, I got it,” protested Fluttershy. “Hey, why Barney?” But she looked on her friend Pinkie Pie with totally different eyes now, like noticing something, she rarely spotted before or never paid much attention to, behind usual Pinkie’s light-minded chatter.

“I don’t know,” Pinkie took a deep breath. “Just a figure of speech.”

“And you don’t look like his mother,” she scratched her nose.

“And Applejack doesn’t look like his sister, and Dash doesn’t look like his… cat,” she pointed at the door.

The bell ring noted about more customers coming and Pinkie hopped back behind the counter, but continued explaining.

“And while I’m not looking like his auntie Pinkie…” she waved to Applejack and Rainbow Dash, who just entered the Sugarcube Corner. “I mean I’m looking like your auntie Pinkie, but not his.”

Rainbow Dash fluttered around Applejack so intensively that her rainbow mane and tail almost made Applejack’s stetson fly away. She was probably bragging about some new trick, she mastered to impress Wonderbolts, or retelling her friend the latest Daring Do book.

“Pinkie! I got your idea…” Fluttershy tried to stop that chatter. “Besides, “auntie Pinkie”, I’m one year older than you!”

“Whatever,” Pinkie wasn’t that interested in little details. “I mean he must feel really lost and miserable, when he wakes. We could at least try to show him the brighter side of things, surely this won’t bring him back home, but perhaps it tells him, he is not THAT alone here. Isn’t it what friends do?”

“OK, maybe you have point,” muttered Fluttershy. “But still this sounds a bit farfetched…”

“Hey, pals,” Rainbow Dash landed between Fluttershy and Pinkie. “How’s tricks? What are you two whispering here about?”

“You know there is new Daring Do book out?” continued she excitedly without any pause. “And it is awesome! Like super awesome! In fact, it is about twenty percents more awesome than the last one,” she said with a happy grin. “Just as I wanted it to be!”

Applejack simply nodded. It seemed that Dash managed to “spoil” the book to her in brief but completely. But she didn’t mind, working on the farm didn’t leave too much time for reading and stuff. This way Applejack at least kept up with the plot. Though she wasn’t nearly that much of a fan as Rainbow.

“We were discussing our possible Welcome To Ponyville Human party,” simply explained Pinkie with a smile. “Kind of VIP party, as the whole thing is a secret to Ponyville folks. Celestia’s order. But our team is game obviously,” she gave them a wink.

“W-wait, Pinkie,” pleaded Fluttershy. “You’re speaking like it’s already d-decided to throw it… when we don’t yet know when… and whether he is OK with that idea… if you don’t mind…”

“Well, it comes to that eventually, it’s better to be prepared,” replied Pinky with a sly smile. “When it comes to parties trust Auntie Pinkie’s experience.”

“What’s in Tartarus a human, if Ah may ask,” Applejack raised a hoof.

“Must be some new pet-friend, Flutters got lately,” laughed Rainbow Dash.

“Tell us is Angel jealous already?” she nudged Fluttershy lightly.

“The human is a human,” frowned Fluttershy, this “pet” stuff seemed not entirely appropriate to her. “He’s definitely not a pet. Though a friend part may be real… he saved my life in Everfree.”

Rainbow raised an eyebrow, she then looked on Applejack, who apparently forgot to close her mouth.

“Isn’t it some sort of mythic creature Lyra is obsessed with?” Applejack woke up in a second. “Excuse me, Ah’m usually not in that kind of business…”

“Apparently it’s not that mythic,” intervened Pinkie. “Fluttershy managed to catch one… OK, I kid, I kid,” she added quickly, seeing Fluttershy stared at her.

“Look, girls,” Fluttershy sighed and made a decision. “I guess this was inevitable anyway, we can simply go and I’ll show you everything… after we buy what we came for.”

“And, pleeeease, keep this in secret as much as possible,” she whispered quickly, while more customers entered the bakery. “I don’t want princess Celestia to become mad with me and Twilight, if someone spills the beans.”

“I can’t go, girls,” there was a bit of disappointment in Pinkie’s voice. “Need to run the business today. But I’ll catch up with you later, Flutters, OK?” she winked. “We could discuss the party stuff then.”

Fluttershy facehoofed internally, but that was Pinkie. When she was focused on a party only… another party could distract her… for a while.

*

Cold rain lashed the rare trees, the grass, the rows of monuments and gathered in a freshly dug grave, mixing with clay in an unpleasant yellowish mud. It looked like if the weather itself here forgot that it was actually spring everywhere else and took the form more suitable for expression of woe and loss. The rain bathed mercilessly the new coffin and four men, who were ready to lower it into the grave. The priest, struggling the wind attacks under his umbrella, looked even more mournfully than the moment demanded. He was about to finish his farewell speech.

Three more people – two women and a man clung to each other under a bigger umbrella. Actually, those were the only ones who came to the funeral. The older pair was the parents and the girl supporting the women – supposedly the fiancée or girlfriend. That didn’t matter now, did it?

She came here because she couldn’t ignore the last chance to say “thank you” to one who saved her daughter. She didn’t approach others though, as she wasn’t sure in the reaction of this guy’s mother, the latter looked completely ruined and out of her mind. If not the girl supporting her, she would probably fall into the grave, as her legs struggled hard to keep her body shaking from sobbing stand straight. But her motherly loss could turn her in the raging lioness at the slightest reason, even an inadequate one.

So the woman stood on a distance trying to remain unnoticed and keeping the flowers under the protection of her umbrella. She decided to bid her farewell, when others leave.

The priest finished and the four men started lowering the coffin, then they took their spades to build a roof over poor man’s last abode.

The older woman was crumpled, she fell on her knees right into the wet mud and tears ran from her eyes.

“Alex!” she cried on top of her lungs.

The younger woman took her from the ground and hugged trying to calm down and recompose. Both with the man they managed to keep her contained till the gravediggers finished putting the flowers over the fresh mound. After a few minutes they three left to the car, waiting on the road down the hill.

She could now approach. The woman put her flowers on top of the others and stood there for a while, trying to keep her tears inside.

“Thank you… Alex!” she said barely audible. “Wherever you are…”

*

“Mom, is that you?..”

She entered her house, closing the door and shaking the water off the umbrella to put it in the stand. She took off her shoes stained with clay and felt, she had no force to wash them right now. She decided to take care of that later, when her daughter entered the hallway, holding her toy pony.

“You were there, on the funeral, weren’t you?”

“Yes, dear, I was to…”

“Come on, mom, I told you that funeral was useless… They don’t bury… angels!” said her daughter with the very determined look on her cute face. “And you know that I’m right… even if you don’t admit it.”

“Well, well, what are you talking about again?” her mother started becoming anxious about her fixation on that “angel” fantasy.

“He was there, when our car crashed. He took me out second before it burned down. And then… he returned to his duties,” the girl explained her point.

“I suppose angels can ride the lightning…” she added after a pause.

Her mother stood there, having no words to say.

“Sorry, mom,” the girl hugged her mother with a little smile. “But I’ve heard accidentally, what uncle Mathew told you that day. He said that no body was found in what remained of the car.”

“He works in the police,” she looked into mother’s eyes. “He must be sure in what he is saying. They buried an empty coffin… because… they don’t bury angels!”

The woman kneeled to her daughter’s eye level and hugged her, tears flowed down her cheeks and she didn’t hold them anymore…

*

“Mooom!..” Human’s loud moan made Twilight jump in her armchair. She dropped the book, she was reading and turned the lamp brighter. Angel bunny ran into the room and hopped on the bed to see what was wrong.

Twilight noticed that human’s hand moved slightly, it weakly and randomly scratched the covers then calmed. The human obviously was still unconscious, but he definitely was feeling something or perhaps his blackout started turning into a simple dream. Not a very pleasant one, as his tone was anxious and the human was calling to his mother.

Twilight checked his pulse and touched his forehead – everything was normal, he didn’t feel worse… maybe his pulse became a bit faster. His eyes trembled slightly under closed eyelids. She decided that was a good sign, a sign of him possibly waking up soon enough.

“It’s all right, Angel,” she smiled, when picking up her book.

The sound of the opening front door made Angel rush through the door and downstairs. Twilight put the book on the table and stood in the doorframe listening.

“Hey-y-y, Angel, did you miss me?” she heard Fluttershy’s sweet voice. “Sorry, little guy, I was to buy some food for us. Look I bought you fresh carrots and salad and…”

“Hey, little squirt,” Rainbow’s loud cheerful voice. “Do you get along with the new pe… OK, Flutters, with the new friend?”

Perhaps Angel stuck out his tongue to Rainbow, because she then said.

“Pfft, what did I say?”

“Ah think, it would be smarter to see apples are ripe, before making some juice,” Applejack calmly tried to reason her. “You’re fast judging, Rainbow, too fast, if you ask meh.”

“Girls, come upstairs,” called Twilight. “Fluttershy, I need to tell you something.”

“Oh, Twilight is babysitting today,” Rainbow Dash broke into a wide smile. “To make sure big bad human didn’t eat Angel. Ouch! AJ, what in…”

Applejack said something Twilight couldn’t hear, and Rainbow replied.

“Well, didn’t he take down a timberwolf. Last time we… you dealt with timberwolves, the sheer luck and Spike’s well-aimed throw saved our coats.”

“Come on, girls, stop behaving like school fillies,” Fluttershy nudged them to hurry up the stairs.

“Howdy, Twilight,” both Rainbow and Applejack gave her a hug.

“Yeah, tell us, what did Flutters do to make you sit with an alien creature?” smirked Rainbow, flying up to the ceiling to have a better look at the human in the bed.

“Well, I don’t see how my help may hurt me,” Twilight answered simply. “Besides it is interesting. He is the first human I met and I don’t know that much about them, unlike Lyra.”

“Hmmm, don’t see anything special or awesome enough for that hype,” concluded Rainbow making a wide circle above the bed and examining the human under different angles. “In fact, he looks like a hairless… well almost… ape to me. Surely he is better looking than an average ape, I admit. But that’s about all…”

“Are you sure, he didn’t want to eat you and the wolf was just an obstacle?” she turned to Fluttershy.

“I am,” nodded Fluttershy. “Remember I told you, he said “No you bucking don’t!..” before he send that dreading wolf’s head flying. I’ll stick to what I was saying earlier – he didn’t want to let the wolf hurt me and Angel.”

All three came closer, while Rainbow was still floating above the bed. Applejack didn’t hurry with any judgments, but she looked at the human with wide open eyes.

“OK, even if you’re right and he wasn’t going to eat you himself, thus saving from a wolf,” Rainbow Dash wasn’t going to give up her positions that easily. “You said you met him on the old road to the Sister’s Castle ruins. How do you know he is not some evil abomination or spy… or… Well, there are strange things happening in the Old Castle still!”

“Ah thought, that we agreed that that ol’ story ‘bout the Shadow Pony was nonsense,” Applejack said with a smile. “If you remember, sugar cube, we were scaring ourselves running around the castle and making much ado over nothing… Well, except Twilight, Ah mean,” she nodded towards her alicorn friend.

“Oh, and you, of course, little guy,” she amended seeing Angel looking up at her and drumming his hind paw impatiently.

Applejack was talking about that day when they all managed to come to the Old Castle ruins for their own different reasons. Twilight and Spike looked for some books, well, Twilight did and Spike followed, despite being not quite fond of the idea. Rarity wanted to find some ancient tapestry samples and Fluttershy came with her, but when Angel ran away, she got her reason to search the ruins as well. And they with Rainbow looked for a way to find out, who of them deserved the Most Daring Pony title. And Pinkie simply got bored and followed them, then played the old organ and scared everypony shitless. Besides, there were different secret passages and traps, which made them go on tips of their hooves even more.

Rainbow looked confused, she remembered that she was flying in circles, yelling like a foal just like others during their last visit to the Old Castle. But her confusion didn’t last long, she soon got back to her “Huh, try me” usual look.

“And the one, who played the scary organ was Pinkie,” Applejack continued meanwhile. “So no Shadow Pony there at all.”

“I still think there is too much of Nightmare Moon in those ruins to be that careless,” objected Rainbow Dash.

“Besides, look at him,” she continued her accusatory speech. “He looks like nothing and nopony in Equestria.”

“Well, he is not a pony,” laughed Twilight.

“Oh, Twi, you know I don’t mean that exactly. I mean he can pretty much be a spy, some evil creature right from the Tartarus or whatever else. We don’t know anything about him in certain.”

“Come one, Rainbow, how can you say so,” Fluttershy was disappointed by her friend position. “Twilight knows enough to think humans aren’t a threat and Lyra can be considered an expert. Besides humans are indeed from another world.”

“Then the fewer reasons to trust them,” sometimes Rainbow was really stubborn, if she believed in something. “And you claim he is magic resistant, moreover can… “suck” magic force out of unicorns. Isn’t that a threat on its own. Are you sure he is indeed what you call a human? I mean are all humans magic resistant in your books?”

Rainbow took a deep breath and Applejack said thoughtfully.

“Ah think perhaps Rainbow’s got a point here.”

“Thanks, pal,” when Rainbow was on a roll nothing could stop her, besides she felt that AJ shares her doubts. “You, girls, may wait till he wakes up… and makes trouble… or not, but I’m not going to trust him. Not before I myself convinced, he could be trusted. Until then don’t even expect me to think he is our friend.”

“You’ve said the same about Discord,” said Fluttershy quietly and Twilight nodded confessing she is right. “And it appeared to be wrong at the end of the day.”

“Well, OK, I was mistaking about Discord,” forcedly agreed Rainbow. “But we at least were able to understand his motives. This one is another story, this one is a… blank flank for us.”

“Besides,” she dashed towards the bed and, before anypony could say anything, she pulled human’s cheek aside with the tip of her wing. “Just look at his carnivore teeth, Fluttershy. What do you say about them?”

“I-I say those are omnivore teeth,” protested Fluttershy and in questions of zoology she was the top authority among them six. “And c-considering that he is evidently sentient, I don’t see a p-problem here… if that is OK with you. I mean h-he can surely eat meat… b-but I suppose he can consciously refuse of that… and s-suffer not… perhaps. I-I mean, there are plenty of other things to eat in our possession,” she finished under her voice.

“And what do you think, Applejack,” asked Twilight.

“Ah think that one must eat darn much of fruit ‘n vegetables to fill a big guy like ‘im,” grinned Applejack.

“Ah mean, Ah hope he won’t be as destructive as a flock of fruit-vampire bats,” she added jokingly, but everypony got the idea that she was deadly serious, concerning about her garden safety.

“Whatever rock your boats, pals,” concluded Rainbow Dash landing near her friends. “Sorry, girls, don’t mean to offend anypony, but I’m not going to like him outright just because he exists. He seems suspicious to me and makes my mane stand, when I think of being near to him. Please don’t expect me sitting with him.”

“OK, Rainbow, we got your point,” Twilight said accommodatingly and Fluttershy nodded with a faint shadow of sorrow. “It’s your choice and we respect it.”

“Sorry, girls,” Rainbow’s tone wasn’t overly apologetic though. “I… just… can’t.”

“It’s OK,” Fluttershy waved her hoof. She was expecting that everything couldn’t go all smooth and dandy and just accepted the things with minimum stress for herself.

*

“So, let’s do our usual tube stuff,” Twilight turned to Fluttershy, when the front door closed behind Rainbow and Applejack. “And… do you need me to stay?”

“Oh, no, no, you’ve already done more than I could ask for,” refused Fluttershy kindly. “I can cope myself with the night watch.”

“OK, then,” Twilight went to the kitchen to take apple juice bottles out of her saddle bag.

“By the way, I want to tell you something,” she said, when she returned levitating the bottles and that rubber tube, the look of which each time made Fluttershy cringe a little. “Seeing Rainbow’s reaction to him I didn’t tell earlier. Didn’t want to make the girls worry more.”

“Something happened?”

“Yes and no,” answered Twilight. “Nothing bad happened, if you’re talking about that. He was all the time stable and still. But I think, he may wake up soon. He started exiting his blackout and is perhaps even simply sleeping right now.”

“He moved his hand a little and he moaned before you came,” Twilight explained, while Fluttershy was listening to her with a surprised look on her face. “I think he called to his mother or something along the lines of that.”

“Oh, poor thing,” breathed out Fluttershy. “Are you sure he wasn’t in pain at the moment, Twilight.”

“I’m sure he wasn’t,” Twilight hugged Fluttershy shoulders in a soothing manner. “I suppose he just dreamed of something unpleasant. But he was definitely stable. And even Rainbow’s tricks didn’t bother him. But I’m sure, he is now much closer to reality than two days ago.”

“That’s amazing,” whispered Fluttershy.

“Oh, can I ask you about one thing, Twi?” she remembered something which apparently bothered her for some time. “Can you convince Celestia somehow that she shouldn’t just grab him for her investigations as soon as he wakes up. I mean, can we simply give him a few days to brace himself? I-I feel sorry for what happened with the guy… I-I mean, he’s here because I was so carefree.”

“Don’t blame yourself, Fluttershy,” Twilight was confident in her opinion. “He seemed to make his perceived choice then. And I’d say he must be a really nice guy, I think Rainbow is mistaking about him.”

“I’ll try to reason with Celestia,” she added reassuringly. “That got easier now, here is the good side of becoming a princess,” smirked Twilight.

“Thank you, Twi,” Fluttershy hugged her friend heartily.

*

The Moon was up obedient to her will and the land of Equestria entered the serene sleep, making Luna look for some occupation for herself not to become bored for the rest of the night. She had her fun this morning, providing Celestia with the helping hoof for the appointment and letting her sister address the human incident. Luna smirked widely at the memory of scolded upper-crust stallions, which were brought to reality by her. Their plans to raise another factory without any real refinery projects were purely greed and stupidity driven. She did right by blowing their cardboard castle away, before they could really harm Fillydelphia. But that was in the morning, thus it was history. And now Luna had a whole night ahead to do almost whatever she wanted. But unfortunately, she can’t think about anything, she really wanted now. Except…

Speaking of human incident… Celestia told her, what she saw at Fluttershy cottage and what Fluttershy warned her about. Magic resistance and backfiring even while the human being unconscious. So even Celestia, who was first determined to take the human to the castle, finally left that idea… till things become clearer. That was very interesting on its own.

Luna decided for herself this morning already. She could try reaching the human in his dreams, if he was having any already.

She entered her room, leaving the balcony behind and lied on the bed, making herself comfortable on the pillows. Then she closed her eyes and tried to imagine Ponyville, its’ outskirts, Fluttershy’s cottage and the upper room, as her mind travelled through the thin, but so tangible matter of dreams. Luna could find the human with ease – his aura somehow yet weak, was different from those of her pony subjects.

She tried to reach his dreams and fears and concerns and found to her surprise that she couldn’t interact with them. She was able to watch like a silent and ghostly observer, which was very unusual and different from her usual dream travels. Normally Luna was able to affect, alter and direct her subject dreams. She could communicate with those who deserved or desperately needed her help, advice, reassurance and she could intimidate and rule those who deserved punishment or correction. She was able to reach them even physically through their dreams.

But… apparently, she couldn’t do all that with the human. Perhaps because of him still being unconscious and thus his dreams were really limited and restricted… or perhaps of him resisting even this form of influence.

Luna felt she becomes more and more interested in this human. And she felt strange respect. She promised herself to tread lightly, for now at least… All she could do was watch, so she started watching.

The first thing she saw, was the human driving some strange metallic carriage, which moved with impossible speed for something having no visible power or propulsion source. Luna found herself, as if she was sitting next to him and listened to the strange music, a small device in the carriage produced. The human was seemingly enjoying the ride and the carriage was obedient to his commands, he provided via a wheel he turned and some pedals he pressed with his legs eventually.

Then the weather around changed suddenly and Luna saw the sharp turn of the road and a giant tree on the roadside. She noticed another carriage running at them directly, but before Luna even got scared, it flew past them wobbling and hit something.

Next thing she saw, was the crashed carriage under a smaller tree and the human saying something to another – a female human. That one, as Luna guessed, drove that crashed carriage and now was in total distress. There was another person inside the carriage – a human foal, small girl. “Luna’s” human tried to open the doors of the carriage to take the girl out, but they were stuck.

Like bewitched Luna watched the human got into the carriage through the front door and tried to talk the girl out of her seat. The latter was apparently in shock, clinging to something in her hands. Luna noticed a toy. It was a… pony. A yellow pegasus with pink mane and tail. Luna’s eyes opened wider – Fluttershy, but how?

Meanwhile, the human got on the back seat, grabbed the girl and smashed the back glass with his feet. He called the female human and gave her the girl through that opening. Luna swallowed the lump which suddenly formed in her throat. She watched how the female retreated with the girl, crying to the human to get out of the… “car” for god’s sake.

A sparkle set the car on fire. Luna’s eyes dilated in terror, when she saw how fast the car turned into the inferno with “her” human still inside. And then thunderbolt speared right into the car, blinding everyone in one unbearable flash.

Luna was still shaking, as if she was freezing cold when the scene changed. She was now in the wide field with rare trees here and there under the pouring rain. Though she wasn’t there physically, she could feel the cold water falling from the gloomy sky. Stone plates filled the field in rows. There was an empty space near to her without a plate, but with a deep pit instead. Four humans were slowly lowering a finely made wooden long box into that pit. One strangely clothed human stood in the head of the pit.

There were 3 more humans on the opposite side of the pit: two females – one young and one older and one male. The older female was crumpled, she fell on her knees right into the wet mud and tears ran from her eyes.

“Alex!” she cried on top of her lungs.

The younger female raised her from the ground and hugged, trying to calm down and recompose, while Luna felt another lump inevitably appearing in her throat… She realized what type of ceremony that was… and with whom those humans were making farewells.

The vision ended suddenly. Luna was in Fluttershy’s bedroom looking down on the bed with the human on one side of it.

“Alex…” repeated Luna under her breath.

Next to the human, next to Alex lied Fluttershy. Her fore hoof was resting on Alex’s shoulder, while she was gently nuzzling his neck.

A sympathetic but sad smile appeared on Luna’s face, when she watched Fluttershy moved closer to the human in her sleep. That little girl didn’t waste time. She saw something about that human, something that Luna just managed to notice, and apparently, she was first.

But she, Luna, The Princess of the Moon, wanted this human to herself. She felt that her boredom can be cured. That was worth competition.

“Fine,” Luna told herself with a small but meaningful smile. “I waited for the thousand years to be saved from Nightmare Moon, what I have learned forsooth is waiting. I can wait again, but I shan't wait passively. And time shalt show...”

 

 

---

Author's note: If 't be true you like the story (and have FimFiction account, otherwise, you can't vote), please, take a minute to support the book hither: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian  "Thumbs up" are very welcome, comments either. Mine most sincere gratitude in advance!

Edited by Alexshy
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Huzzah!  New update!!

1146835103_21754__safe_artist-colon-kadjule_princessluna_animated_artifact_cute_dancing_happy_lunabetes_moon_s1luna_solo.gif.630c577a111c63c6877259b307e7dde9.gif

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im so sorry i havent had time yet to read these

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25 minutes ago, Jade Fire said:

im so sorry i havent had time yet to read these

Dost not worry, mine filly, the book shan't run anywhere ;)

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(And hither we go again... Bear with me fixing the extra spaces.)

5. Awakening

 

 

 

“…sorry, girls, don’t mean to offend anypony, but I’m not going to like him outright, just because he exists. He seems suspicious to me and makes my mane stand, when I think of being near to him. Please don’t expect me sitting with him.”

      “OK, Rainbow, we got your point. It’s your choice and we respect it.”

The voices reached Alex’s mind muffled, as if he was floating up from the sea bottom and heard them through the water. A few girls talking, as he could recognize. A few… pony girls! Well, at least that came naturally out of their words. And one called another “Rainbow”. That gave Alex a nudge towards remembering the recent events.

“Sorry, girls,” said Rainbow. “I… just… can’t.”

“It’s OK.”

Then steps got away.

The whole night turned up nightmarish for Alex. He remembered everything which led him to the point where he was step by step. Perhaps some steps exchanged their places in the whole timeline. The old castle he found out himself, the walk through the forest with all the dangers, the brief but brutal fight with timberwolf, when he tried to save the pony pegasus. Why tried? He saved. He definitely remembered that, then total blackout followed. The last he remembered was the accident, where he took a girl out of the crashed car and… got hit by… the lightning?!

Then he saw his parents and Elen on… his own funeral! That wasn’t a memory obviously, it seemed that Alex’s mind just imagined, what the closest people might feel after his strange vanishing. Thankfully, when this dream ended, a strange feeling of tranquility visited him and Alex slept without any more of nightmares till morning.

The breeze from the opened window carried the smells of spring, fresh leaves, flowers, ground after the rain. Alex opened his eyes. In the dim light of early morning he could see the ceiling above him. It was nothing like his apartment ceiling or a hospital ward one. White with dark wooden beams crossing and supporting it. It resembled a countryside house mostly. With almost all memories recollected Alex thought that it should mean that he reached some civilization after his forest travels.

      "Finally.”

Then Alex made mental note of something resting on his shoulder, long hair tickled his bare chest and… he felt light breathing on his neck. Alex cautiously turned his head a little to see. He saw the yellow pony pegasus girl – the one he got into the fight because of – sleeping next to him. Big turquoise eyes were now closed, shadows cast by long eyelashes dropped on her cheeks. The ticklish sense he felt was given by her lush pink mane. Her wings were tightly folded and small accurate hoof was resting on his shoulder. The subtle scent of field flowers and perhaps honey was coming from her and her breath.

Alex was ready to see something like this, thus he managed to jump on the place not, but yet he shivered a little and cringed from dull pain across his ribs under his right arm. It seemed that he got wounded really serious and this… girl, he can’t now think about natives as about some sort of animals, took care of him, and fell asleep. She was keeping touch now to ensure he was all right. Fluttershy – Alex remembered her name…

She was sleeping above the covers, most likely got tired of daily labour with him being an extra. Alex checked himself to find he was completely naked under the covers. He felt how blood rushed in his face. Obviously, she was to do this to treat his wounds, but he still felt confused.

Alex lifted his head a little and looked around the room with his eyes moving only. He couldn’t see his clothes, what remained of them, or any clothes at all. In fact, he couldn’t see anything which can serve as clothes. Even the tapestry, he wrapped himself into in the castle, was now gone.

“Damn!” Alex’s mind quickly looked for a solution.

One door was opened and he could see a corridor behind it. He then spotted another door in the room. That might be a wall closet or a bathroom.

Very slowly and carefully, not to wake Fluttershy up, Alex slid from under the covers and opened that door.

“Thank you, universe!” He faced a small bathroom and accurately closed the door behind himself. “I so needed this.”

He examined his wounded side in the bathroom mirror above the sink and small closet with supposedly bath accessories. The patch was big enough to provide disappointing thoughts, but when he carefully lifted one edge, he saw that the wound had almost closed up completely. Someone made decent stitches across it and despite them looking like an ugly tank track, they did it job nicely. Nevertheless…

“How long am I here for?” thought Alex. “My wound looks like it is recovering for a few weeks.”

     "Surely they must have some sorts of healing magic here, I won’t be surprised considering what I’ve seen before, still it would be amazingly fast,” Alex yet was puzzled. “But I can swear that I don’t feel like it’s been several weeks. My inner clock keeps saying a few days maximum.”

Upon looking at his own face in the mirror Alex noted that it was tired and grey, with the shadows under his eyes, but it hardly was looking like he lied unconscious for a few weeks. That was utterly strange. Yet not the most strange thing in the line of recent events. Alex decided to return to that later.

“Still I’ve managed to grow quite some stubble, not a full beard though, and that says days again, not weeks, but…” Alex rubbed his chin. “I wonder if male ponies shave. Don’t want to go around like that…”

     He smirked sadly. Then remembered one more name from the bucking show – Starswirl the Bearded – there was a powerful wizard or something here long ago. Alex thought that “the Bearded” part wasn’t given for nothing. And as he saw the male ponies without any beards or moustaches that meant they should have something to shave them. One more question to ask later. Alex giggled at the thought that pony girls hardly shaved their legs, besides digging into someone’s bathroom closet would be impolite. So later it was.

The bath was a bit smaller, than he got used to and the shower head hung lower, than it was enough to comfortably stand straight under it. Alex was to kneel down in the bath to use it. He made sure that he had placed the patch back and firmly fixed it, then turned the water on and made the temperature be barely warm.

The first thing he did was drinking right from the shower streams which brought peace to his sore and dry throat. Alex could drink a couple of gallons perhaps, if he didn’t know that won’t be nice for his health.

It was the absolute delight to find a shampoo and finally wash his head twice, removing all the dust. The pegasus girl, Fluttershy, evidently took care of his hygiene, Alex felt he was blushing again, yet he reached the soap. When the main part was done, he sat under the streams and tried to concentrate on what he was going to face. His knowledge of this place was fragmentary and inconsistent. Besides, they themselves could be a threat to him.

“So, sooner or later I must meet the officials,” thoughts flew in Alex’s head like the water on his skin. “Maybe not princess herself, but someone whose duty is to deal with…”

“With what, Alex? Alien contacts, extra… equestrian beings, sudden breakouts? Maybe they have Human Interactions Department of Equestria,” Alex sighed, the joke didn’t look funny to him at all.

“I suppose the authorities will be high enough in this case… and suspicious. What would they think, if I show that I know something, anything about their world?”

“I wonder, if it would be safer not to,” muttered Alex. “On the other hand, how could I lie to that girl for example…”

“Damn,” he gritted his teeth. “This is hard and complicated. I’m seriously not ready for all this… diplomacy. All I need is to get home fast. And I would like to think that my hopes match those of princesses or anyone who runs the whole place – to get rid of the disturbance aka me… preferably by sending me back, not some other way,” he didn’t want to imagine all the possibilities, yet they were real.

“I must think of some strategy,” Alex decided while turning the water down. “Certainly that means I must tell Fluttershy the truth or at least all necessary parts of the truth.”

He dried himself with the largest towel he could find, then wrapped it around his hips. That was the most embarrassing part of the situation, but he could hardly do more than that. Loud rumbling told him that his stomach was awake before him perhaps and now reminded about itself. The water wasn’t enough for sure.

He opened the bathroom door slightly and checked through the gap – Fluttershy was still sleeping with pose unchanged. Alex tiptoed out of the room and went exploring the house.

There were closed doors on this floor, but Alex headed downstairs. Then he suddenly remembered about the bear which must have brought him here.

“I seriously hope he is not a constant resident of the house,” said Alex to himself looking back over his shoulder. “Though he was definitely sentient enough to communicate with Fluttershy and listen to her requests. But somehow I don’t want to check, if his trust includes me.”

The kitchen was his aim at the moment. They were to interact somehow and it would be better, if they start from positive impressions. Besides Alex felt overly grateful for her not leaving him in the forest, despite she had the full moral right to be scared, suspicious, whatever else and thus refused to deal with him. According to what he remembered about the incident, he had hardly shown many differences from the wolf he killed. Fluttershy could think anything about Alex, yet she treated him the kindest way possible. Alex decided that making a breakfast would be at least something to show his gratitude in this situation. That would be a nice gesture anyway.

The furniture in the kitchen was a bit little to his standards as well. But at least he could reach all the shelves and cupboards without any trouble.

      “She can fly up to get anything with ease too, as she is a pegasus,” he smiled inwardly.

Alex managed to find eggs, flour and sugar, the water was in the kitchen tap. He found a frying pan, a bowl and even a whisk. In fact, the kitchen was kept in exemplary order.

“I just need to get used to it,” thought Alex naturally then stumbled upon this thought.

“Hmpf!” he smirked to himself.

“Milk, where is milk?” said Alex loud. “I will need some, if I want to make decent pancakes.”

Lighting the stove gave him a bit of a trouble, but all other accessories were just the same as in the human world. He smiled at the thought that those ponies must have really flexible and mobile joints to operate all the stuff. Apparently, they had no problems with average frying pans, cans or dishes. Perhaps he had more and produced more noise than planned, as when he was looking for milk once again a white bunny ran through the kitchen door and hopped on the table.

Alex turned to him. The bunny looked at him with interest and a bit of surprise, but without any sign of fear or suspect.

“Hey, little guy, umm, Angel… right?” Alex tried to sound calm and friendly, despite the wild fact that technically he was talking to an animal. “Do you know where is milk in that house? Your pony…”

“For all that I know the word “master” is the least suitable,” thought Alex.

“…friend got really tired and is still sleeping. So I decided to take care of the breakfast,” he finished with a smile.

Angel stared at him making some decision, then he squeaked something, jumped to the floor and opened a cooler cupboard under the window. Alex slapped his forehead, he missed its’ doors twice thinking they were part of the wall. He kneeled and took out a big clay jar the bunny pointed at.

“Thanks, pal,” Alex remembered the ponies’ gesture from the show. He stretched out the fist and, to his immense surprise, the bunny bumped it with his own small fluffy fist.

“The best pancake is yours by right,” smirked Alex.

His bachelorhood paid for itself, now when all the ingredients were ready, Alex quickly whipped the dough for the pancakes and had a few fried already, when he heard a loud cry from the upper floor and a series of hurried steps on the stairs. Fluttershy burst into the kitchen and froze in the doorway breathing deeply from emotions.

She saw the human near her stove with a frying pan in one hand and a spatula in another. A few pancakes were already lying on the plate in the middle of the table. Angel bunny sat near and munched on another one. Fluttershy could perhaps laugh out loud, if she wasn’t that surprised, agitated, and… she didn’t know what else…

“Morning!” the human waved her with the spatula, while turning a pancake on the pan. Then he realized he had only a towel on and embarrassed smile crawled onto his face. “Ahem…”

“M-m-morning,” Fluttershy voice was almost faint.

“Well… errr… despite how utterly stupid and hilarious it may sound,” he seemed to hardly find words, just like her. “My name is Alex.”

     "And you are…” the pony girl took a few steps in and leaned on the table like she was looking for support.

“And I’m a human from another world,” guessed Alex the route of her thoughts.

“At least I was one naturally before I was hit by the lightning and carried no one knows how to the old castle in the woods,” he added with a slightly sad smile. “And you?”

“I-I’m F-fluttershy,” she almost whispered after a pause. Obviously, it turned out that it was much harder for her to talk to her guest than to take care of him while he was blacked out.

“I-I’m glad you’re f-finally OK,” she found strength to clear her throat and say louder, then blushed for unknown reason.

“And I’m glad you’re not mad with me taking the liberty to boss in your kitchen and making the breakfast.”

“Oh, this… was j-just unexpected… if you don’t mind me… p-putting it that way…” Fluttershy let herself giving out a little smile.

“I thought that was the least I could do to…” Alex put the last pancake into the pile and extinguished the stove. He then sat at the table and stared in the window.

“Thank you, Fluttershy!” he said simply but heartily after a long pause. “I can’t put it a better way and I don’t know if I need. Thank you for saving my life.”

“Squee!” Fluttershy slid on another chair across the table. She looked even more embarrassed now. “I-if anypony needs to say thanks here… it’s m-me. If not you, I would be dead, there was no chance of Harry getting there in t-time…”

“Harry?” asked Alex. Then he remembered. “Oh, yeah, the bear…”

“Is it a common practice for you here to communicate with animals? I would really like to… W-well, I wanted when I was a kid.”

“You mean, you humans can’t,” Fluttershy looked at him. “Well, most ponies don’t do that or can’t. That’s my special talent – I can understand animals and be good friends with them.”

“Most of them…” she added meaningfully.

“We can’t, people – we call ourselves people when talking about many – can’t understand or talk to animals,” said Alex.

“Though this little guy seems to understand me pretty well,” he added nodding towards the bunny, who sat at the table looking from Alex to Fluttershy and back.

“Oh, where are my manners,” Fluttershy touched her mouth with a hoof. “This is Angel… A-and if you give me a moment… I’ll make us tea… i-if you’re OK with that,” she blushed again.

“Nice to meet you, Angel,” Alex winked.

Alex felt that he started liking this pony girl more with each moment. It seemed he could be outspoken with her, he just needed to be careful and patient, as she was evidently of the gentle and modest kind, just as her name suggested. She must be really worried about his well being that she decided to share the bed with him – a total stranger for her at the moment, despite the one who saved her life.

Alex watched how she fluttered across the kitchen quickly and accurately doing things. The sudden warm thought visited him. He was really lucky that Fluttershy was the first pony… person he met in Equestria. Yet that was something to make his further way harder.

“So how do you get here, in Equestria,” Fluttershy lighted the stove again and put the teapot on. She seemed to get easier around him already. “I mean what happened before you found yourself here.”

Alex found himself easily telling her all his story in brief. He told her a little about his life on the Earth, about studies and work, about parents. She was amazed by some things which were common for him, but he guessed, he was to come across something in her world to amaze him speechless as well.

“Thinking machines!” exclaimed Fluttershy sitting across the table with her cup of tea which she seemed to forget about. She looked him directly into the eyes and he caught himself on returning the gaze with the light heart. “Really thinking like anypony else?”

“Well, they are not thinking by human… or pony standards,” Alex gave a laugh. “It’s hard to explain shortly. We program… teach them to “think”, to solve different tasks. The point is they can perform many simple operations, but very fast, much faster than we do, so they help us solve digital tasks… yes.”

“But they can’t act on a random or abstract pattern,” he continued explaining, when he saw she is still utterly amazed. “Still can’t at least.”

“Oh, sweet Celestia, it’s like magic anyway,” Fluttershy gave out a little girly squeak.

“That isn’t though,” smiled Alex watching her. “We don’t have any magic in our world. Not that I knew about any at least… At least till recently.”

He then told her about his accident leaving out a part with the car crash and mentioning the most important things. Literally how he was hit by a lightning in the car. Fluttershy stopped him and asked to explain what was a “car” telling him that they had balloons and trains, but nothing like cars. Alex thought that technically they were in the beginning of Earth’s 20 century. Not bad for the land of talking ponies. And magic made them even more advanced in general. He told that after a bright flash and pain he found himself on top of the tower, in the old castle in the middle of the forest… and heavy rain was showering the scene.

“So you found yourself in the Sisters’ Castle ruins,” Alex noticed how Fluttershy shivered a little, evidently the castle wasn’t among desired places of interest here. “I can imagine it wasn’t the best arrival, Alex.”

He couldn’t help noticing that he liked, how she called him by his name, for the first time as he could remember. Now they were approaching the hardest part of the talk, yet Alex decided firmly at that point – he was going to be transparent with this girl.

“Before I continue, can I ask you one question, Fluttershy?”

“Mmm…” she muttered in agreeing manner busy with her pancake.

“What do you believe in here… in Equestria?”

“Hmm,” Fluttershy was a bit puzzled by such a twist, but decided to let the human explain for himself. “Strange question… We believe in magic of course, how could we not, in Harmony… I’ll explain later,” she noticed that Alex stumbled upon this term. “In love. Then princesses, Celestia and Luna, they rule the Sun and the Moon respectively…”

Alex was already prepared for that, but still, his heart skipped a bit. That definitely could be his chance and his ticket to home… or to his doom.

“Why do you asking?”

“Well, personally I believe wholeheartedly in one thing,” answered Alex. “Not the one and only actually, but that one for sure. The noosphere.”

“You know, everything you think, write, sing about, everything you create, makes an informational track,” he explained. “And the whole mass of ideas, of information, produced one way or another, forms an informational space, field, ocean… call it whatever you like and can understand better.”

“It seems I can understand what you are talking about,” Fluttershy nodded. “It’s like a library. An enormous library which contains all the knowledge of everypony who lives or lived.”

“Though libraries are Twilight’s turf,” she smiled.

“Right, you may put it that way of course.” Alex returned the smile. “And I now start to believe that this “library” has not only the ideas of humanity, but much much more. In other words, if something simply exists somewhere, the idea or knowledge of that may appear on the other edge of reality.”

“… even in another reality I suppose,” he added after a moment of silence.

“So?”

“Do you have cinema?”

“Of course we have,” Fluttershy became even more puzzled. “Theatre as well. But I don’t quite understand where you…”

Alex sighed. He couldn’t lie right into those turquoise eyes. He would stop respecting himself forever then.

“I knew about Equestria,” he said quietly. “I mean I knew about it even before I got transferred here… unwillingly. Though I swear to gods I never could imagine it to be real.”

The silence in the kitchen seemed palpable. Even Angel looked stunned by the last words hitting the air. Fluttershy sat on her chair both hooves holding her face and staring at Alex with widely opened eyes.

“We have a movie… a cartoon series, telling about Equestria,” Alex closed his face with hands thinking how completely mental he could look and sound for her. “Many things match, including names. I… know that you have a few friends… Twilight Sparkle, you’ve mentioned her already. Then Rarity, Pinkie, Rainbow Dash and Applejack.”

“Squee!” Fluttershy sat still, like it was her, hit by the lightning.

“You may say I could hear the names, while I was unconscious and managed to grasp them somehow. But I know a few things more. My knowledge of your world is limited, but it exists.”

“There are also princesses Celestia and Luna, the rules of your country,” continued Alex with serenity of the doomed. “Luna was banished to the moon by her sister for a thousand years… Merlin’s pants, I can’t imagine I’m speaking of that calmly… when she became Nightmare Moon. But you six returned her normal self by defeating Nightmare Moon with the help of Harmony Elements… I don’t know what those are,” he bowed a little towards Fluttershy. “I know that you are an Element of Kindness embodied though.”

“S-so, you’re saying, that humans… p-people know all about Equestria,” Fluttershy’s eyes dilated in terror. “F-from a movie?!”

“Not all, not everything, and… my life for it, I doubt anyone believes it’s real, no one plans a vacation in Equestria, as far as I know,” said Alex in the most soothing voice he could produce. “I am to believe… I am here.”

“I can’t… I h-have no words,” Fluttershy woke up from the stupor. But Alex noticed that she at least wasn’t mad with him or afraid of him personally. It was the mere idea of your whole reality being more or less someone’s show for entertainment which brought her to that state of shock.

“Believe me I was shocked even more, when I realized where I have gotten to in that Old Castle,” Alex moved closer to her and reached her hoof taking it in his hands. “I almost went mad, when I saw those tapestries in the main hall.”

“But I was to tell you all the truth, especially after what you’ve done for me,” he added barely audibly.

“Ohhhh,” Fluttershy let out a deep sigh, then looked down. To Alex’s surprise she didn’t withdraw her hoof. “Now I can imagine what you have come through.”

“Look,” she gave him a quick gaze then. “You don’t say you can watch everything?..”

“No, of course, no. It’s like a tale about some events which took place once,” Alex tried to find better words. “Like you know about Starswirl the Bearded and some of his deeds, despite never seeing him in person.”

“Oh…”

“Yeah, and there is also Spike, Twilight’s aide,” Alex nailed with a deadpan. “I’m sure none of you mentioned him to me.”

Fluttershy put another hoof on his hands and stroked them a bit. Then she giggled, then she burst out laughing holding both hooves at her mouth.

“What?”

“Oh, Alex, I’m so sorry,” Fluttershy sobbed and tried to hold hiccups. “I just imagined your face when you realized, where you got to… and my face moments ago, when you told me I could be a cartoon character for somepony. I understand how you think the… noosphere is connected with that… but it doesn’t sound less mad or somehow funny, sorry…”

Alex could perhaps get angry with her laughing at his trouble. But she was laughing at them both and their reaction to the circumstances, which brought them together. He looked at Fluttershy and felt his lips spread out in a smile too. A moment later he was almost dying form uncontrollable laughter as well.

Angel bunny jumped from the table and got onto the chair aside looking at them as at complete idiots. And they kept laughing and laughing, looked at each other and continued.

“Merlin’s pants!” moaned Alex wiping tears which started to drop already. “It looks like a tragedy, but when you put it like that…”

“Can you imagine,” he added. “I remembered how you with your friends went to the Old Castle when trying to defeat Nightmare Moon. I mean, remembered step by step on purpose, then chose the direction and repeated your journey backwards to get to Ponyville.”

“So, I’ve reached you in time simply because I’ve seen the bucking show and have a good memory,” he looked into her eyes from a few inches distance.

"I wonder, if someone somewhere already makes a movie or writes a book about my troubles," with a nervous laugh Alex voiced the idea which came to his mind suddenly.

“Yeah, but I can see Celestia not liking all that completely,” Fluttershy became serious, when they both calmed down a bit.

“And that won’t help me solve my problem of getting home,” added Alex feeling fun deflated in him like a popped balloon.

“I’m sure we can think something out,” Fluttershy looked at him with sympathy. “I’ve asked Twilight and she promised to try and talk to Celestia to buy us some time till you fully recover.”

“You don’t need to…”

“I do. And you know it. And I feel that I do,” Fluttershy put a hoof on his mouth making him stop. Then she suddenly drew it back quickly and blushed heavily.

“Umm… I-I mean… I want to help you,” she whispered with a sheepish smile. “I-if you are OK with that… that is what f-friends are for…”

Alex nodded quickly. He suddenly felt he couldn’t force any words out, not before he could swallow the lump in his throat.

“Thanks,” he squeezed finally, then cleared his throat. “Albeit I’m not quite in shape to meet a princess anyway.”

He looked down on his towel and adjusted it. Then looked back on her to be granted with the look of red as a carrot Fluttershy. It was amazing how she blushed through her yellow coat.

“Sorry,” she said in half voice. “We were to take them off to clean and to wash you. The wound could get contaminated…”

“I understand.”

“B-but I have only boots and underwear,” he couldn’t say anything before she blazed out of the kitchen and returned with his scarce clothing.

“Rarity took the royal tapestry you came wrapped in,” Fluttershy’s sight was glued to the floor. “She wanted to try restoring it…”

“… and I have nothing except towels, sheets and… dresses,” she muttered.

“I guess with all I’ve come through, I would hardly look more hilarious in a dress, but I probably pass,” Alex took her face in his hands and removed a few strands falling on her eyes. “Besides you don’t have my size anyway.”

She smiled. Alex thought that one could easily drown in those eyes. Then he remembered Elen’s face and his mood faded. He had no idea, when and if he could get back.

Fluttershy jumped on the spot with a squeak. Fortunately, she seemed to notice the shadow on his face not.

“I’m a fool,” she looked at him guiltily. “Rarity offered help, specifically with the clothes. She runs a boutique in Ponyville.”

“You know about that perhaps,” she smirked and gazed on him playfully. “So she knows everything one possibly can about clothes. She must think something out, I’m sure.”

“But I must warn you,” she moved closer, so, her mouth was right next to his ear. “She became… I can’t put it otherwise… excited when she saw you. So be careful around her, I don’t know what she can perform, but she was in a really flirtatious mood.”

Alex facepalmed inwardly, there was a pony excited about him already. Where did the things go. Fluttershy turned away for him not to see her face, when she remembered the “fifteen times longer” remark.

“OK,” said Alex. “I guess that’s inevitable. I can’t go around like that forever.”

Fluttershy thought that she wouldn’t mind really, then scolded herself for that naughty idea.

“I’ll call her then as soon as possible,” she said instead.

“Thank you, Fluttershy,” he definitely liked as it sounded either. “Can I use your bathroom… again?”

He left his boots at the front door when heading to stairs. No need for them at home.

“At home?!” his mind made an intensive leap. “In the house, Alex. That’s “in the house”, right?”

*

“Sweetie Belle! Sweetie Belle,” Rarity looked up calling her sister loudly. “Sweetie Belle, could you come down.”

“What’s up, sis?” small white unicorn filly with pink and lilac mane and tail poked her head through the door into her sister’s working cabinet. “I had the floor in my room shaking, when you called,” she giggled.

“Hmpf,” Rarity cocked her head in a disapproving manner. “I wasn’t THAT loud, if you’re talking about it…”

“Oh, maybe just a little,” smirked Sweetie Belle.

“Have you done your homework, dear?” Rarity asked insinuatingly.

Her younger sister rolled her eyes like saying. “Oh, come on, not again!..”

“It’s May already, Rarity,” she said instead. “Ms Cheerilee gives us almost nothing before holidays…”

“And obviously I have it prepared already,” she added to avoid further interrogation. “Did you need me for something.”

“On the contrary, darling,” Rarity smiled to some of her thoughts and it was obvious that she was pleased by something.

“Tell Fluttershy I’ll pack what’s necessary and move on,” she said to Angel bunny, who then saluted with his paw and leaped outside worming between Sweetie Belle’s legs before she could step aside from the doorway. The letter in Rarity’s magic grasp must have been the one he delivered.

“I was about to suggest,” Rarity continued explaining to her sister. “That you may go to Applejack’s garden and visit your friends, and have your club meeting or whatever you do usually with Apple Bloom and Scootaloo.”

“I simply doubt you want to sit all alone till late afternoon. I need to see Fluttershy, darling,” Rarity was packing meters, rulers, pencils, sheets of paper in her saddlebag. The letter flew there the last.

“Is everything all right?” Sweetie Belle was genuinely interested.

“Yeah… Well, yeah,” answered Rarity absently looking over her workplace with half-lidded eyes. “Fluttershy just needed a new dress… and she told me that she had some free time… so I decided to go make all necessary measurements, while I have a chance.”

Her sister became alert at once. Belle’s Cutie Mark Crusader senses told her there was something not quite as simple, as her older sister wanted it to look. Like every little filly she adored secrets and mysteries and innocently poking her nose into those. Like Cutie Mark Crusader she felt it was her duty to investigate everything which seemed nearly secret.

She watched how Rarity spun in front of a mirror checking her coat, checking her mane and tail and brushing it, puffing her lips and examining them with great care. Then Rarity glued a pair of fake eyelashes, extending twice her already long natural ones.

'Don’t stab anypony with them, sis,' giggled Sweetie Belle mentally.

“Oh, I just had an idea about our CMC investigations,” she jumped with a sly smile. “You’re right, Rarity, I need to visit my friends.”

If Rarity listened to her younger sister a bit more attentively, the word “investigations” could have warned her about them planning something… again. Or even better say about Sweetie Belle who just started planning something and was going to involve her overly curious friends. But Rarity was still smiling, truth to be told with a very dreamy look, to some of her thoughts and simply followed her sister outside taking her saddle bag and closing the door of Carousel Boutique behind them.

Sweetie Belle watched, how her older sister headed towards Fluttershy’s cottage indeed, then she turned and trotted to the Apple Farm thinking about what she managed to notice.

“Strange that Rarity packed the letter with her,” thought Sweetie Belle while her legs carried her automatically on the well-known route. “She didn’t throw it on her work table as usual. There is already the complete mess of sketches, pencils, spools of threads there… one small note would hardly add more.”

She reached the Garden fence already.

“Besides Fluttershy is not a fashionista type pony, as far as I know. She doesn’t buy dresses once a week to brighten her mood. The yearly Galloping Gala is not coming soon yet and the dress Rarity makes specifically for Fluttershy is in the boutique still. I must say Rarity surpassed herself with it… No more than yesterday evening she fixed and improved something… and prevented me from sleeping with her dancing around the dress almost till midnight.”

“Well, sis, you’re definitely hiding something,” she thought, approaching a nice tree house – Cutie Mark Crusaders’ clubhouse exactly. “You and Fluttershy. Two best friends forever,” she giggled.

“The existing dress hardly needs any measurements at all,” concluded Sweetie Belle, she already heard that her filly friends were talking about something in the tree house. “And you looked happier than Opal filled with sour cream. Something tells me that’s not about the dress…”

She got up on the wooden slope and bumped the door open with her fore hooves.

“Hey, girls!” she trotted inside and hugged Apple Bloom (the yellow freckled filly with red mane and tail) and Scootaloo (the orange one with pink and purple mane and tail). “How’s life? Any daring plans for today?”

“Nothing too fancy,” yawned Scootaloo. “We thought we could try ourselves in diving in the nearby pond. Well, better try this chance as well. Apple Bloom said…”

“Big Mac had a mask, a tube and flippers somewhere,” nodded Apple Bloom. “But I’m afraid they are a bit big for us.”

“Forget about ponds and flippers,” whispered Sweetie Belle in a conspiratorial tone. “We have some secrets to unearth.”

“Didn’t it brought us troubles only the last time we tried?” Apple Bloom was unsure, if that was a good idea, remembering the last time they all three worked for a school newspaper under Chatterbox pen name gathering salt and pepper about Ponyville private life. “I mean the last time was miserable enough.”

“Oh, come one, little Apple,” jumped Scootaloo, who was in for every action except hunger-strike. “It’s not like we’re going to write about that or share it with anypony else. Right, Sweetie Belle?”

“So what’s your plan?” Scootaloo pricked her ears… and Apple Bloom joined in a minute. Curiosity was born before her, apparently.

“Rarity just got a notice from Fluttershy, then packed meters, paper and stuff and fled,” Sweetie Belle told them in brief. “She told me to go for “fresh air” and almost danced away.”

“Umm,” Scootaloo gave her a sly smile. “They say your sister and Fluttershy… are a thing.”

“Ewww,” Sweetie Belle shook her head. “Where did you dig that from, Scoots?”

“Well, some ponies gossip…”

“They say Rainbow and Fluttershy are a thing as well,” retorted Sweetie Belle. “They are just good friends with Rarity. My sister is not into that…”

“Fluttershy is a very popular girl, despite if she wants that or not,” giggled Apple Bloom.

“Don’t tell Rarity,” Sweetie Belle rolled her eyes. “They are best friends, yet she barely came through Fluttershy’s popularity… you know, when she was modeling for Photo Finish.”

Girls laughed, then Apple Bloom added.

“And I think that Fluttershy was on a roll as a model. She is so beautiful and manages to keep the look easily…”

“Back to our business, girls!” Scootaloo jumped impatiently. “So what do you think?”

“Well, I doubt it’s about any dresses for Fluttershy, but all the tools make me puzzled still,” Sweetie Belle put her hoof at the chin. “It must be connected with clothes, but it’s something weirder than Fluttershy suddenly becoming a fashionista like Rarity.”

“Hey, maybe they were going to dress Harry as a clown,” suggested Apple Bloom and the girls burst out laughing.

“That didn’t explain why she spun in front of the mirror for quite a while making “everything look just purrrfect, dear”,” Sweetie Belle imitated her sister very closely and girls snorted again.

“So are we going to find out… or not?” Scootaloo stopped giggling and gazed at her friends.

“Sure thing!”

“Let’s do it!”

“Cutie Mark Crusaders – Private Investigators!!!” yelled the fillies and shared a hoof bump.

      *

Fluttershy went outside to perform her daily duties for the animals and Alex decided to wash the dishes and bring the kitchen to usual order. Or better say he convinced her to leave him that part of work as he wasn’t supposed to get outside not to be spotted by anypony. He could at least help about the house, so Fluttershy would entirely focus on her animal friends.

Obviously, Alex got to the bathroom first and dressed – if putting on boxers only could be called that pretentiously, he left the towel on as well, this gave him at least some confidence that he didn’t look like some stripper on performance. In fact, what Fluttershy told him about Rarity’s hopes made him consider putting even a dress on… a serious chance to look utterly hilarious was the only thing stopping him. Besides he wasn’t entirely sure, if that wouldn’t give an opposite effect, who could know those ponies for sure…

Angel followed Fluttershy and Alex was all alone in the kitchen having an ability to think about the whole situation he got in. He was sure that he wasn’t mistaking in Fluttershy, she sympathized him and would tell princess nothing or nothing unnecessary, unless he did it himself. She didn’t see any danger in his limited knowledge of the equestrian way of life, she even found the whole situation amusing. Alex wasn’t so sure that his condition amuses him, but he couldn’t take offense either – that was nopony’s fault. Alex made a mental note of himself accommodating to local speech and sighed.

“I hope that won’t become my new mother language.”

So what did he have at the moment? He was to recover completely, find out as much as possible about Celestia and her methods of solving problems. And of course, he was to gather all his confidence and eloquence to convince the princess to send him home. That if she could…

What could happen, if she didn’t, was exactly the thought Alex tried to avoid.

Some sound from outside got his attention, Alex heard Fluttershy talking to someone approaching the front door. He wiped the last plate and put it into the dryer, then turned off the water. It was time to grasp himself and face any lusty demon his fate prepared for him.

“Well, Rarity,” Fluttershy was saying something to Rarity when she entered the kitchen and stepped aside letting her friend come in. “Let me introduce you Alex, finally up to the mark… if you’re OK with me… putting it like that.”

“Alex, that’s my friend Rarity,” she then added simply. “She kindly agreed to help with your small clothing problem.”

At first, Alex wondered, why Fluttershy stuck to such diplomatic tone, but then he saw she tried her best not to smile.

Rarity floated in the room with her head raised high, she could make swans jealous and ashamed compared to her grace. She evidently spent her time in front of the mirror with good use.

“Thanks, dear,” murmured Rarity examining Alex through half-lidded eyes with such eyelashes that Alex feared of being impaled by them. “We’ve got acquainted already… well, in some sense we did… unilaterally,” she giggled. “But it’s nice to see you getting well, Alex the human.”

Alex made big eyes towards Fluttershy and she rolled her eyes behind Rarity’s back, like if she was saying. “Remember what I have told you.”

“So, Rarity, what do you need to make your measurements?” Fluttershy stepped from hoof to hoof. “I haven’t finished yet with my little friends out there, so if you excuse me…”

“Don’t worry, dear,” Rarity kept eyeing Alex. “But the kitchen is not quite good for our task. It’s too tight here,” breathed she out.

“Too tight for what?” shuddered Alex inwardly. He imagined the bedroom… and thought that he, on the contrary, wouldn’t object staying right here.

“Fine, you can go upstairs,” agreed Fluttershy before he could say anything.

“I’ll check you later, guys,” she added with emphasis.

Rarity wrinkled her nose funnily, but she could do nothing about that.

“Ok, that’s better,” she headed upstairs first.

 Alex watched Fluttershy trotting outside and followed Rarity with fatalism of the condemned written on his face. At least she promised to check them eventually. He was to admit, last thing he was ready for, was the pony girl physiologically interested in him. Though he also was to admit that the waving of cutie marks in his sight was quite hypnotizing.

“Come on, man,” he shook his head. “She is a pony… girl.”

*

“Hey, here you are, Flutters!” the call from above made Fluttershy jump.

Rainbow Dash landed next to her not bothering much about being graceful.

“How’s tricks?”

“Hi, Rainbow,” Fluttershy continued filling the feeders for her chickens who crowded around chirping impatiently. “It depends on what you are asking about.”

“Alex woke up this morning,” she said dusting off her hooves. “And fortunately he is getting better.”

“Oh,” Rainbow spoke stretching the words. “He is “Alex” already.”

“Oh, come on, Rainbow,” laughed Fluttershy. “It’s not his fault that it’s his name. You’re disliking him even before he could do something wrong.”

“Should I wait for him to do it exactly?” huffed Rainbow, she was very stubborn when determined about anything. “I stick to my words – I don’t trust him.”

“Rarity is making measurements now to help him with clothes.”

“And you let her stay with him one-on-one,” Rainbow made round eyes. “Aren’t you worried about her?”

“I’d rather be worried about him,” muttered Fluttershy. Then exclaimed jokingly. “So you don’t worry about me staying with him one-on-one, but Rarity.”

“You,” Rainbow seemed to be surprised with the question. “You’re the totally different story, Flutters. Everypony knows you can Stare even a dragon.”

“It seems Rarity is going to give him quite a Stare as well,” Fluttershy was noticeably embarrassed by Rainbow’s words.

Rainbow Dash raised an eyebrow.

Fluttershy acted as if she was trying to passionately kiss an invisible partner explaining her point. Rainbow produced a vomiting sound, then laughed.

“Oh,” she remembered something. “Have you seen Scootaloo or her friends lately.”

“No. Why are you asking?” wondered Fluttershy.

“I could swear, I saw three little squirts sneaking around your garden, when I flew by,” explained Rainbow. “That would mean nothing… if I knew them worse.”

“Not that I gave a flying feather for that… human,” Rainbow scratched her head. “But if we screw at hiding him from other ponies that will make Celestia mad about us all and mostly you, pal. I don’t like the idea.” She smiled widely.

“Thanks, Rainbow,” Fluttershy replied heartily. “I’ll keep an eye.”

*

“That’s way better,” Rarity let out a satisfied sigh which made Alex even more worried.

She smacked her saddlebag on the table and opened it with magic. Meters, pencils, sheets of paper started flowing out driven by the blue glow.

“So… how’s the royal tapestry restoration going?” Alex tried to fill the pause.

“Oh, you know already, darling,” Rarity looked at him over her shoulder with a bright smile. “I won’t say it’s an easy task, I must be really careful not to spoil anything. Ultimately it’s an ancient masterpiece of endless value.”

“But I must admit, it kept most of its durability over the ages,” she placed her tools on the table into working order. “And served you well during your journey, Ahlex!”

Alex can’t help gulping at his name voiced like that – it sounded palpably sultry.

“If only I could keep playing on the vanity string long enough,” he thought, remembering Rarity’s weak spot.

“… but I try my best and eventually will prove that I capable of restoring it,” she continued meanwhile. “I asked princess for that honour myself, so simply can’t fail now.” She cocked her head proudly.

“So, dear…” she turned to Alex who stood without any idea what he was to do. “Why don’t you take that thing off.”

“What, sorry?” Alex felt slightly stunned.

“Your towel, silly,” Rarity batted her eyelashes and giggled like a school filly. She thought that she’d rather say “everything”, but decided to take smaller steps. “I need to measure your parameters and supposedly you’ll need pants, so the towel will prevent me from doing it right. Unless you need a skirt instead…”

“Did Fluttershy return you your underwear?” she smirked while coming closer.

Alex felt his cheeks started burning. Buck it! Why should he blush?

Rarity measured him carefully trying to not touch him with magic at all cost. But Alex thought that she was avoiding magic for other reasons as well. And soon he noticed that he was right.

She was going from the bottom and up, measuring his legs, then hips, then waist… while Alex was constantly on his toes. He saw now that Fluttershy was totally serious warning him about Rarity being… excited.

Rarity raised on her hind legs to measure his chest. She preferred to use no magic and was almost to hug him to position the measuring tape. Alex noticed that she stepped closer, as if she was struggling with the meter… and then she snuggled up to him.

Alex was impressed, how soft her coat felt against his skin. She looked up into his eyes and almost purred from pleasure as well. Rarity so looked like a big kitten at that moment that Alex relaxed a bit – later he thought it was an unforgivable mistake – and put his hands on her mane. He stroked it gently and Rarity dropped the measuring tape on the floor, enclosing him in a full-time embrace. He rubbed behind her ears and she literally purred with her chin resting on his chest and her eyes half-lidded.

He scratched her shoulders and reached her back… Perhaps that was what having hands with flexible fingers was about. Alex felt like she literally shook of pleasure next moment, closing her eyes and pressing herself harder into him. Her body started to heat up quite noticeably. Her breath became deeper and heavier.

Alex removed his hands off Rarity’s coat. To his terror he felt that his manly reflexes started reminding of themselves. A few more moments of squeezing him like that and she would certainly notice. Alex didn’t want to think about what could follow…

He took a step back unconsciously, but Rarity clenched to him and followed. She opened her eyes and Alex found himself facing two black holes ready to swallow him. Her pupils dilated that much, it was arousing and scary at the same time. Alex started panicking internally, when Rarity looked towards the bed…

“Ahem,” Alex saw Fluttershy in the doorway. The saviour! At last. Alex was ready to throw himself to her hooves.

“I thought you might need something, guys,” she wasn’t very surprised by what she saw.

“Save me!” Alex semaphored her with his eyes only and thankfully Fluttershy seemed to get it right.

“Is everything OK, Rarity?” she asked. “Rarity!”

“It’s nothing…” raucously answered Rarity, then she managed to focus her eyesight and clear her mind a bit.

“It’s fine,” she corrected herself and let Alex go, then levitated the measuring tape. “I’ve just dropped the meter, darling, while measuring his chest. He is really big.”

Alex felt he was blushing again, he threw a quick look down and thought that Fluttershy appeared just in time… before things started looking really naughty.

“Oh, I’ll stay then… just in c-case… some help is n-needed,” humbly stated Fluttershy. “I’ve finished with my animals anyway.”

Rarity frowned a little.  She quickly finished measuring now avoiding Alex’s eyes for some reason. But Alex decided that it was better to be on full alert, no way she could give up that easily all of a sudden.

“I plan to make some sketches,” she then levitated a pencil and a clip of paper, naughty expression was returning to her face. “If you don’t mind…”

“Can I ask you to strike a pose, darling,” she addressed Alex undressing him with her eyes. “For a start just stand there in relaxing pose, put one foot forward a little, opposite hand on your waist. Thanks. Just what I need!”

They were interrupted by some rustling noise outside. Alex took a few quick steps to hide in the shadows in the corner of the room. Fluttershy flew up to the window.

 

At first, she saw nothing, nothing unusual. Grass and flowers right under the window, a few shrubs and an old tree which spread its’ branches over the roof of her cottage. A few of them were on the same level with the window though. Fluttershy spotted a small curled pony figure which tried to hide behind the leaves, but evidently failed at this task.

“Scootaloo! What are you doing here?” Fluttershy exclaimed in surprise. “I thought ponies don’t climb trees normally.”

“We… I…” Scootaloo tried to look aside. “I was practicing… some of my special tricks… when I tripped over a root… and fell… and my helmet flew off to the tree…”

Fluttershy raised an eyebrow looking at orange filly pointedly.

“And I was to follow and look for it here… I found it!” quickly added Scootaloo. “I’m OK, seriously.”

“And where are two other fidgets?” Fluttershy scanned the view again, when two heads with leaves and small twigs in their manes emerged from the bushes. The look on their faces was a bit guilty.

“Oh, here you are girls… Don’t you think that tricks which make helmets fly are a bit… dangerous?!”

“By the way, Rainbow Dash looked for you… well… at least it seemed so…”

“That was the point,” Scootaloo answered in a loud whisper, trying to get down from the tree. “Rainbow wasn’t supposed to see those tricks before it’s time to.”

She slowly backed to the tree trunk, then stopped, deciding, if the better way of climbing down was her nose or her tail first. It was seemingly a very hard choice, because finally she just jumped off and glided to the grass with the help of her small wings.

“Well, we’d better go find some smoother ground to train. Squee!”

“Good-bye, Fluttershy,” squeaked Apple Bloom and Sweetie Belle, and all three girls whisked under the trees and out of Fluttershy’s garden.

Fluttershy shrugged and turned back to the room.

 

“There were just Cutie Mark Crusaders,” she explained to Alex and Rarity, who froze listening when they all heard the noise. “I wonder if they were indeed just playing there or tried to sneak and sniff something out,” Fluttershy smiled kindly.

Alex relaxed a bit and Rarity returned to her sketches drawing something with sudden inspiration.

“While you are a… secret, avoid getting yourself spotted by them,” Fluttershy explained to Alex. “They always plan for good… but… sometimes things go not quite as planned. Just like when they tried to make ms. Cheerilee and Big Mac be each others’ special somepony on Hearts and Hooves day… with the help of the Love Potion.”

“But they are only little fillies,” she added apologizing them.

Alex gulped loudly… He made big eyes and pointed to Rarity with a silent nod. Fluttershy followed his gaze and put her fore hoof above her mouth cautiously. Fortunately, Rarity was too concentrated on her drawing and didn’t hear a bit about Love Potion. Alex and Fluttershy both took a deep breath of relief.

“Well,” woke up Rarity, she looked rather proud of herself. “I have a couple of ideas.”

“Let’s say I’ll return to you tomorrow… Supposedly I can make some simple clothes for the start and more underwear. Then I’ll try to squeeze some time among other orders to make something fabulous.”

“Until tomorrow, I’m afraid, Ahlex will be forced to stick to his… beach fashion,” Rarity sent Alex another sultry gaze batting her eyelashes.

“And… errmmm…” she lowered the pride in her tone a bit. “Don’t be mad with me, if something works not perfectly right away… It’ll be the first time ever I’m stitching for a human.”

“I can’t thank you enough anyway,” answered Alex sincerely. “You’re literally saving me. No way I was going to face princess looking like that.”

“Hmm… Personally, I wouldn’t mind!” thought Rarity with a sly smile, but she said aloud. “Oh, no worries, darling. You’re always welcome.”

“And you’re always welcome in my Carousel Boutique,” she added with emphasis.

“Only if I can make at least both Fluttershy and Twilight come with me,” thought Alex quickly.

      *

“So, have you seen anything?!” both fillies shook Scootaloo, when they got themselves on an inaudible distance from Fluttershy’s cottage. “What was going there?”

“Well… I haven’t managed to actually see something,” Scootaloo lowered her head in regret. “The curtains were half drawn… and when I tried to sneak closer… Fluttershy looked out and spotted me at once.”

“She was nice and didn’t ask anything… ticklish, but she looked at me very fixedly – you know how she does – I’ve almost fallen down,” Scootaloo shuddered. “I can’t stay calm, when she looks like this.”

“Yeah, she is super cool,” exclaimed Sweetie Belle. “But I always get goose bumps, when she stares at me… even if it’s not yet the Stare.”

“So we got nothing,” concluded Apple Bloom. “For now…”

“Unfortunately… Squee!!!”

“Hey, girls,” Pinkie Pie seemed to pop from under the ground, so all three fillies jumped on the spot. “How’s life? Still looking for your special talent by trying each and everything?”

“Yeah, kinda…” squeaked all three with sheepish smiles.

“Don’t worry, it will reveal itself eventually,” Pinkie smiled cheerfully. “Sometimes it comes when you least expect.”

“Have you seen Fluttershy, girls? Is she at home?”

“She is… and Rarity is also there,” said Sweetie Belle, then decided to play for broke. “Do you guys plan some secret party.”

“I’ve no idea!” Pinkie seemed to be happy no matter what. “But I can bet, if I put my hoof in, there will be some. Look, if there is, I’ll tell you, I promise.”

“Pinkie Promise?” asked Scootaloo with a sly smile.

Pinky pretended to pout.

“But of course.”

“Bye, girls,” and she jumped towards the cottage like a pink fluffy ball.

“Another one,” sighed Apple Bloom. “There is definitely going something interesting… and we are not informed!” she almost yelled, then remembered Pinkie could hear them and went silent with a guilty look.

“Ok, girls,” Sweetie Belle stopped and shook her mane. “I’ll try to dig something out from my sister. Preferably without her even noticing,” she giggled while blushing. “Wish me luck!”

“Cutie Mark Crusaders – Sneaking Ninjas!” yelled three girls and shared a hoof bump.

*

Fluttershy and Alex saw Rarity off to the door, when a pink hurricane blasted it open and burst in. Alex could hardly suppress his impulse to jump on the nearest table with feet, when he found himself enclosed in a bear hug by a pink mare with pink-red, puffy as cotton-candy mane and tail.

“Weehee!” yelped she, squeezing him so strong that he felt his wound a bit. “I’m the last to meet you, human. But here I am.”

“So, what about “Welcome to Equestria Human” party?” she looked at her friends, who still were in some sort of a shocked stupor from her flurry.

“Ahem… Pinky this is Alex. Alex, the mare squeezing you is my friend Pinkie Pie,” smirked Fluttershy.

“Alex. Hmmm… Me likes,” Pinkies smile became even wider. “Welcome to Equestria, Alex! I mean, I’m welcoming you… but as a party title that sounds great either.”

“What?” she asked hearing both her friends huffing without conspiring.

Alex made a mental note that she was still holding him, but before he could fear that it would be “Rarity, take 2” she elaborated.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but if there is somepony here, who needs friends and friends’ attention, it is Alex. Getting somewhere nopony… oh… I mean nohuman knows where without any… human you can trust or rely isn’t the best experience.”

Alex could have gone angry with her for this public preparation of his trouble… again. But she looked up into his eyes and he suddenly realized that her intentions were genuine. And her prolonged hug wasn’t something naughty as well. That was just how she was: always cheerful, impulsive, light-hearted, yet thoughtful and caring in her own way. Soul of the company – Pinkie Pie. He hugged her heartily in return and slightly stroked her mane.

“Hmmm… Now I start to understand Lyra with her fixation on getting hands,” Pinkie raised an eyebrow.

Rarity snorted and sent Pinkie a spear gaze, which Pinkie happily ignored. She said instead of that.

“Actually I came for a minute, Fluttershy. I had a break of running the bakery and thought that a short run forth and back won’t hurt, so I could meet you, guys.”

“Oh, Pinkie, so you’re left without a lunch… because of us,” Fluttershy was visibly sorry. “Umm… Be my g-guest… We have some pancakes left… if you’re OK with that. You too, Rarity.”

“Pancakes!” Jumped Pinkie, while Rarity thanked and refused, explaining that it would be too heavy for her. “Sounds just right.”

She strolled to the kitchen and took one from the pile of remaining pancakes. Then she munched on it and her eyes dilated.

“Fluttershy, you’ve managed to impress me in cooking.”

“Actually, that’s not me…” humbly confessed Fluttershy, nodding towards Alex.

A wide grin flashed on Pinkies face again, she gulped a couple of pancakes more and turned to Alex.

“Isn’t cooking your special talent?”

“People don’t have special talents like ponies do,” said Alex with a small smile. “Of course people learn something specific to master it and work with it mostly, and some have talents for some things. But it’s not like a destiny, one can learn many things, if one really wants.”

“People?”

“That’s how humans call themselves when there are many,” explained Fluttershy. “And Alex’s special talent could have been working with hardware and… how did you call it Alex?.. yeah, software. It’s hard to explain Pinkie… it’s like magic in their world making the… “thinking machines” run.”

“Thinking machines?” re-asked Pinkie. “Why would one need a machine thinking for them?”

“They not actually or only think,” laughed Alex. “But they can operate mechanisms and solve different tasks. Look… Just imagine a machine selling stuff and working with customers instead of you. You could have made twice more candies and pies then, with all the consequences for your income.”

“That could be hoofy,” agreed Pinkie.

*

“Look, can you maybe find something I can do?” asked Alex when they remained one-on-one. “While I can’t go outside, I could do something inside the house. I mean, you are already busy with all the animals and now my problems… I want to help where I can.”

“Well, if you want to… you really don’t need to…” evidently Fluttershy was uncomfortable at the idea of loading him with some work.

“I just don’t want to be a… parasprite,” grinned Alex.

“Oh, don’t remind me,” Fluttershy shuddered, then gentle smile lighted her face. “I’ll trust Pinkie’s expertise. You can make the dinner, if you don’t mind.”

She then showed him where different ingredients were. Alex noted that vegetarian diet was inevitable… Well, he could think about that later, it wasn’t overly pleasant, yet not fatal.

“I suppose as omnivores you have meat from time to time,” said Fluttershy with regret. “But I’m afraid it will be a problem here, Alex.”

“Don’t you worry,” Alex shook his head. “Milk, eggs and mushrooms can provide proteins. Besides you have fish on the market I suppose.”

Fluttershy nodded, then added.

“I suppose you can cooperate with Harry, when it is possible to get out.”

“I doubt he sticks to a vegetarian diet all the time,” she elaborated. “He goes hunting from time to time.”

“Do you have snakes in the forest?” Alex got an idea. “You know, a properly prepared snake could be delicious…”

“Don’t even want to imagine,” Fluttershy shivered. “Ugh! And don’t tell Twilight, she is afraid of snakes deadly… Or maybe she would like that rather, because she is afraid of them, I don’t know.”

“And yes, there are many,” she answered his question. “Too many, if you ask me. Frankly speaking, I treat all the living with respect, but… snakes… I don’t feel confident, they can return that gesture.”

Alex estimated her level of diplomacy with a smile.

“I’ve only seen one on my route from the Old Castle ruins,” he said. “Funny freak with a chicken body and a snake tail. I don’t know, if this was actually a sna…”

“You did what?” Fluttershy’s jaw dropped and her eyes seemed to get the size of dinner plates. “That was a cockatrice!!! How are you standing here then?”

“What’s special about this clown?” Alex genuinely couldn’t understand her shock. “It blocked my road and stared at me… for a while, I tried to walk around it and it kept repeating its… “performance”.”

“Squee!”

“I found it rather stupid,” Alex continued. “Well… I kicked it in the beak and sent flying into a tree hole. That’s all. Fluttershy? Fluttershy!”

“Sweet Celestia!” Fluttershy managed to close her mouth and bring her face to the usual look. “Cockatrice is one of the most dangerous monsters out there, Alex. It can turn you into stone with its stare…”

“Well, that one was broken perhaps,” smirked Alex.

“Or they can’t affect you just like the magic,” Fluttershy was on the contrary very serious. “You’re lucky you are like that, Alex, believe me. Twilight is afraid of snakes and especially cockatrices that much, because she had experience.”

“They say fools are lucky,” Alex didn’t find any reasons to be sad. “Wait… and how she survived then?”

“You look least like fool, simply be careful next time… please. And that incident…” Fluttershy seemed to be embarrassed by her role in it. “I’ll tell you some other day. Well, in brief, I… convinced it to revert the effect. But… it was dangerous… and I’d prefer to avoid repeating that.”

“You’ve stared it like those bucking wolves?!” Alex seemed to cheer rather than ask.

“Yesss,” muttered she in half voice. “And before you send me… into eternal blushing I attend to my daily duties,” she let a tiny smile nevertheless. “And you can save us from starving... if you don’t mind… please.”

“Yes, sir, ma’am, sir!” Alex saluted with a wide grin. Then he frowned slightly, raising his right arm was still a bit painful.

Fluttershy trotted outside with a snort, Alex imagined how he looked and laughed as well taking the dishes out of the closet.

He just finished mixing the salad wondering where those ponies got fresh vegetables in Spring. Not even in the middle of Summer, but supposedly in May already.

“Well, I guess that’s one of the benefits of being capable of doing magic,” he said to himself.

“Cough…”

Alex turned around and found a lilac unicorn pony standing at the kitchen door. A very surprised unicorn pony because she blinked fast and didn’t yet drop any word.

“Hi, Twilight!” he waved the spoon in the air, that calculation was easy: the colour, the horn, the whole stance and face – he could hardly be mistaking. “If you look for Fluttershy, she is outside with her little friends… or not so little, if Harry is there as well,” he added with a friendly smile.

Apparently Twilight was still slightly shocked, as she turned a bit automatically following Alex’s nod direction. Then it was his turn to wonder.

“Wait! Since when you are an… alicorn?!” the proper word floated in his memory just in time and Alex put the salad bowl on the table, not to drop it to the floor.

“I must be seriously missing something here,” he muttered to himself staring on Twilight’s wings. Twilight looked at him with a mix of surprise and unease. Besides she noticed finally his… “beach style” as Rarity called it, and was a bit confused.

“Mmmm…” they heard from the front door. “I can smell it from here. What do we have? I’m starving.”

Fluttershy flit in the kitchen guided by the vegetable smell.

“Oh, hi, Twilight!”

“Alex, Twilight?!” Fluttershy alternated between them puzzledly. “What’s up with you, guys? Maybe you stop playing gaze already…”

“Fluttershy, why is Twilight an alicorn?”

“Fluttershy, how come the first question, he asked, was “Since when you’re an alicorn”?”

Alex and Twilight both exclaimed simultaneously, then fell silent and stared at each other once again.

“Oh,” Fluttershy apparently caught, what was happening. “It’s a long story, Twilight. Alex, yes, Twilight is a princess for about a year already… Sorry… for not telling you, I forgot you know only a small part of the… story.”

“I’m sure we can talk this through,” she giggled, amused by their look. “If you be so kind to set the table, while I get to the bathroom, sorry… But you do tell,” she pointed at Alex.

“I’m sorry, princess,” Alex remembered about etiquette and bowed, trying not to think how exactly he looked like. “It’s nice to meet your Highness.”

“Simply “Twilight”, please,” she replied automatically. “And I’m glad you’re getting well… Alex.”

Alex noted that, apparently, she cared about her friends more than about her royal duties if any and the mere title itself.

“Alex …?” she asked while opening the cupboard with her magic and levitating plates and cutlery out and onto the table.

“For you all… helping me to survive… the reality, it’s simply Alex,” he smiled in return and placed sandwiches and fruits in another bowl to accompany the huge bowl of salad. Alex tried to make enough for them with Fluttershy to compensate for protein absence. It was reasonable even more now when there were three of them.

“Excuse me as well,” Twilight poured fresh juice in three glasses, then mounted a free chair at the table. “I never saw a real human otherwise than a picture in an old book…”

“Just like me – a unicorn, let alone an alicorn till recently,” smirked Alex taking another chair.

“Yeah, I guess. And besides, I wasn’t ready to see you… making dinner,” Twilight made a pause then added. “You’re doing very nicely for someone, who…”

“Was put in another world or dimension or whatever, got cut badly and found himself among talking sentient ponies,” Alex continued her idea. “Yes, for that one I’m perfectly fine.”

“Do you imply, that in your world ponies are not sentient?” Twilight was shocked a bit.

“Not exactly. We have ponies there, but they don’t look and behave and think so… human-like,” Alex put some salad on her plate, then on his own. “And, of course, they are not so…”

“Hey, do you feel more comfortable together now?” Fluttershy flit into the kitchen.

Apparently, she just left the shower, as she was fluffy and pinkish, smelling of flower shampoo. Besides, she wrapped a towel around her head to dry her wet mane. With an open mouth Alex followed her flying in and landing on the free chair between him and Twilight. She reminded him about Elen so much at that moment, his heart ached.

“… cute!”

“Who?” Fluttershy sipped her juice, then paid the salad deserved attention.

“Never mind,” Twilight cleared her throat. She was watching Alex all the time with a strange smile.

Alex looked at his plate and pretended that there was nothing more interesting than the salad at that moment.

“So have you told your story already,” Fluttershy looked at Alex. “Come on, Twi is sitting.”

The whole story took him about twenty minutes to tell in brief. Alex mentioned his arrival, the shock he experienced upon realization, his idea about how it was possible for him to know anything about Equestria prior to him being transferred. He ended with the short summary of what he saw in the show.

*

Twilight overcame her shock a bit faster than Fluttershy, perhaps she read something about people specifically or the whole concept of noosphere and its’ effects was closer to her as a magician. But she said exactly as Fluttershy before.

“Princess Celestia may like all that not.”

“You see, Alex,” she elaborated. “We know you personally, you saved Fluttershy, everything speaks for you being generally nice… but Celestia is a ruler of our country, she needs to care for her subjects, to protect them, thus to think deeper and… you are still an… alien.”

“Besides, she has all her experience at her service,” added Twilight. “She may know something books don’t tell about humans. Even if that doesn’t apply to you specifically. So she will be extremely cautious and investigate your case before making any decisions.”

“So you’re saying that there were some cases of human getting here already?” Alex felt hope.

“There were a few according to the books I’ve read. Not recently though…”

“But isn’t it easier for everyone to send me home if possible? To tell the truth, it’s my biggest desire… as I’m indeed an alien here.”

Alex was looking at Twilight, otherwise he might have spotted how Fluttershy stopped munching on her salad and stiffened. Twilight, on the contrary, threw a quick look at her friend.

“I’m afraid, it’s not that simple,” she continued explaining while subtly watching Fluttershy. “No one of those cases returned home, again according to the books. But there were no details. Perhaps it was impossible, perhaps it still is… And princess Celestia may have her own reasons.”

Fluttershy let out a deep sigh.

“You know, this is not directed against you, Alex,” Twilight sent him a sympathetic look. “I’m sure, whatever she does, she does to protect Equestria first.”

“I understand,” Alex felt all the weight of her arguments. “But that doesn’t make it easier.”

“That is why I asked Twilight to try and by us… you some time,” Fluttershy added to the conversation. “So you at least could think it through, before you face the princess and her… investigation.”

“I tried my best,” Twilight nodded. “And you have about a week since you wake, so effectively since today.”

“Which reminded me of my own questions,” said Alex remembering something very important. “So I told you my story, now please tell me yours…”

“How long am I here?” he asked what bothered him the most.

“Didn’t you tell?” Twilight turned to Fluttershy with surprise.

“Well,” Fluttershy was a bit embarrassed. “We didn’t have time actually… Alex just w-woke up this morning, then he made breakfast…”

Twilight raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

“… then we talked and he told me his story,” continued Fluttershy. “Then Rarity came to help him with clothing problem and it took quite a while. Twi, she is really fixated on him… Sorry, Alex, but she behaved like a sexual p-predator… sorry… Squee!”

Twilight’s jaw dropped. When she was goofing about “fifteen times longer”, despite that was a scientific fact, she could never imagine that things would escalate that fast with somepony.

“So… Then…” Fluttershy seemed to lose the thread of her story for a while. “Then Pinkie paid us a visit and talked about “Welcome” party, can you imagine? And when we watched everypony to the door, it was time to feed the animals… so I got to it and Alex prepared the dinner.”

“Oh and there was Apple Bloom with her friends sneaking in the garden, but they haven’t seen anything. I didn’t know, if they suspected something or were simply playing around.”

“It looks like you are having a busy day,” Twilight amusement was drawn across her face. “But you seem to be going together well.”

“He made delicious pancakes. If  Pinkie didn’t grab the last few, you could taste them yourself, Twi…”

Fluttershy tried to hide her confusion in her glass of juice. Alex who watched the whole scene between girls with wide opened eyes repeated his question.

“How long am I…”

“About three days,” Twilight turned to him and Fluttershy nodded. “You’ve been brought here at sunset and now it’s afternoon, so, yes, three days it is.”

“I knew something was strange,” exclaimed Alex. “I couldn’t be here for weeks as I would have grown a beard already instead of that stubble,” he rubbed his cheeks and frowned.

“What’s going on with my wound then?” he asked.

“Well, we treated it with best Zecora’s compositions, both outside and inside,” Twilight explained and Alex decided to ask who “Zecora” was sometime next time. “Lyra made stitches, as she said, humans… people treated open wounds that way. So I guess we did our best and the result is… well, speaking for itself.”

“I’m surely happy with the result,” said Alex. “But look,” he lifted his arm. “It about time to remove stitches already and you say it’s been three days. I don’t know what is written in your books, Twilight, but people don’t have regeneration that fast…”

“And that brings us to the next point directly,” Twilight apparently was ready for that statement. “Alex, you are A – magic resistant and B – you can drain magic from those, who apply it to you exactly. That’s a fact, proved by me and Lyra.”

“And that effect seems to become if not stronger than at least more pronounced with time or each attempt.”

“But I don’t feel anything special, except I started regenerating like a lizard,” muttered Alex. Then he remembered that feeling of flaming snakes inside him upon arrival and noted that he didn’t feel it since waking up here. So… that was… since he was exposed to magic at least twice.

“So what am I going to do about all that,” he asked.

“Unfortunately I don’t know anything more… yet,” Twilight sighed sadly. “I don’t know what it gives finally, I don’t know if it progresses…”

“But I surely know,” she added. “That it will get Celestia’s attention and perhaps won’t settle well with her.”

Alex hid his face in his hands. Fluttershy put her hoof on his shoulder and stroked it gently. Her towel unfolded and fell from her head to the floor, but she ignored it and just blew a few damp strands off her nose.

“P-please… We’ll come up with something…”

After few minutes Alex opened his face, he then put his hand on Flutteshy’s hoof.

“I know… Thanks! I’m… just trying not to… panic.”

Twilight looked from one to another with growing interest.

Alex felt that he was not ready to ask more questions yet. He was tired and crashed, perhaps the body regeneration rate exceeded mental one significantly now.

“Sorry, girls,” he raised from his chair and leaned on the table. “It was a bit much on my plate today. I don’t feel my mind being capable to settle with all this quickly. If you excuse me, I’d like to have some rest.”

“Of course,” Fluttershy offered him support, but Alex calmed her.

“I’m just a bit tired. It’s fine otherwise. I’m sorry for not helping you with the dishes…”

Both Fluttershy and Twilight waved at him, telling him to worry not and have a rest.

“Oh, one more thing,” he turned in the doorway. “Twilight, could you do me a favour and bring a razor next time? This stubble starts getting on my nerves.”

 *

Alex returned to the bedroom and almost collapsed in the armchair near the window. He didn’t bother to undo the bed. It was too much for him for today to deal with and he suddenly felt exhausted. It was his first day up after his blackout, and despite the latter being fairly short, it evidently affected Alex full time. He found himself just sitting there staring at one point, almost without any useful thoughts. Being magic resistant, moreover some sort of magic black hole… fast regenerating…

Angel, who slept on the bed covers and was awaken by Alex’s heavy drop in the armchair, opened his eyes, looked at Alex and stretched his paws. Then he hopped down and headed to the corridor where voices of the girls were coming from. Perhaps the bunny remembered about the dinner and the smell of salad was calling for him.

“Universe, are you bucking kidding me,” Alex thought. “What else do you have for me in the nearest future? If it comes in that pace I’ll be afraid to wake up in the morning soon…”

He blinked…

…Angel, who slept on the bed covers and was awaken by Alex’s heavy drop in the armchair, opened his eyes, looked at Alex and stretched his paws. Then he hopped down and headed to the corridor.

“What the?..”

Alex noticed that no sound came from the corridor this time. With the strange feeling of something changed he raised from the armchair and went to the door.

There was no corridor behind the doorway! Alex saw a wide balcony surrounded by the openwork railing about his waist high. Then he saw distant hills and the forest… far away… and below! Apparently, the balcony was on considerable height. Alex decided to approach the railing not. Internally trembling he looked around – the balcony attached to a white stone wall. Large stained-glass windows lead from the balcony to the room behind Alex’s back. He could hear nothing but the wind and smell nothing but the fresh wind as well. And the proximity of light thin clouds told him that the building he got into was built on some mountain. Most likely another castle… Wasn’t it enough with castles?..

Alex turned around and froze on spot, he now apparently faced not Fluttershy’s bedroom (obviously it couldn’t be attached to a castle balcony anyway), but a totally different and visibly larger room. Noble furniture, high ceiling, long heavy curtains – he saw these things already, though saw them time worn – in the Old Castle ruins. This room was on the contrary tidy, clean and well contained, with everything fresh and brightly coloured.

A winged unicorn pony rested on the pillows of a big bed. The alicorn was noticeably larger than other ponies he saw before, larger than Twilight, despite she was an alicorn now as well. This one could probably look into his eyes easily while standing on all four. Her coat colours varied from light blue to dark and almost black, her mane and tail were flowing sheets of the starry night, her face looked more edgy and mature than those of pony girls he knew, but extremely beautiful with large eyes closed and eyelashes dropping long shadows on her cheeks. She was sleeping, breathing calmly and quietly.

Alex braced himself and took a few cautious steps closer to the sleeping miracle. Now he could see a crescent cutie mark on her flank. Apparently, that was princess Luna, Celestia’s younger sister, the ruler of the Moon and Night. And his miserable troublemaking (mostly for him) self somehow appeared in her bedroom in… how it was called – Alex frowned… the Castle of Canterlot.

“Look, man, this is stupid,” Alex scolded himself. “Stupid and… dangerous. You can wake her… and the castle must be crawling with guards literally. If you are caught… sneaking into this lady’s bedroom, you’re more than screwed. There will be no way home for you then. No other way than on the scaffold. Or, considering I hardly remember of ponies death sentencing anyone, you will be exiled to the extreme buttocks of this world for sneaking into princess’ bedroom like that.”

“Like that – how?” the unwilling thought popped. “Really, how could you get here, when you just blinked sitting in the armchair in Fluttershy’s cottage?”

He wanted only one thing – to get back home. And he meant his yellow pegasus friend’s house under “home” at that moment.

But despite his mind had enough of adventures, his heart craved for more. He found himself approaching the sleeping alicorn and kneeling to her eye level. He just sat there watching her sleep and lavishing attention to her beauty.

Faint lavender scent reached his nostrils, when Alex felt her breath on his face. He then heard footsteps or rather hoofsteps behind the high doors of the bedroom and stiffened. Steps passed the door and dissolved in the distance.

Alex couldn’t hold himself from touching her adorable mane, stroking it lightly in one gentle motion. He removed a strand from her face and placed it behind her ear. Perhaps he scratched her behind the ear unwillingly. The dark blue ear perked up.

Praying for not letting out a sound Alex got up as quickly as he could without falling on the floor. He looked around the room in one long crazy gaze for the exit. The door was no doubt guarded on outside, all the windows and the door to the balcony were of no help either, as he could fly only down from that balcony and become an unpleasant pancake. Hiding here wasn’t an option – nowhere and no point in. He looked at his own reflection in a big mirror. Tired, beaten up, almost naked, unshaven… he stood in the princess’ bedroom and she was about to wake.

He heard a deeper sigh and Luna muttered something in her sleep.

Alex panicked and leaned on the mirror with his hand, touching the cold surface with his heating up forehead. He then felt as he permeated the “elastic veil”… to find himself in the armchair in Fluttershy’s bedroom. His eyes dilated and he jumped on his feet shaking off the remnants of sleep.

“Sleep! I was sleeping,” the relief was almost palpable.

 

Alex stood in the doorway for a moment listening as Fluttershy was washing the dishes downstairs and talking to Angel apparently, as Twilight must have left already. Then he reached the bed and fell flat.

“Merlin’s pants! I could swear it was real… It felt so real. But thankfully it was only a dream, I must have got really tired.”

He turned to his back and put his hand on his face… discovering a faint lavender scent on his fingers.

*

Her last dream wasn’t very pleasant, but it still had something that made it different from all bad dreams of that kind. Luna opened her eyes gaining focus and remembering, what she saw before she woke up.

That was one of her rare, but painfully repeating dreams about her life before Nightmare Moon appearance and long-time banishment. Before she was saved from that Shadow by the Elements of Harmony embodied.

She was only a filly back then. Yet they already were arguing and quarreling with her sister. Luna felt underestimated constantly being in the shadow of her older sister Celestia. Tartarus! She was deadly jealous already. All the love and respect, as she thought, of their pony subjects were given to the princess of the Day and Sun, while Luna’s care about the folk passed unnoticed in the darkness of the night. Boredom, regret and disappointment were killing every good impulse of hers, being especially painful for a young and expecting filly.

That day they were having one of those nasty quarrels with Celestia. The latter was also too young at that moment to understand the whole impact, her dominance made. As usual being the younger sister Luna ended in her room, lonely, lost and crying in helpless sorrow. She curled her small lithe body in the pillows, folded her wings to make herself comfortable, as she was trembling despite the bright fire, burning in the hearth and warming the room. And she cried, cried, and bitter tears formed a cold pool under her face.

Suddenly she noticed that the shadows in the corner of her room became thicker. Later Nightmare Moon would start appearing that way. But this time a dark figure – straight and high – emerged from the darkness. It stood on two legs, had two arms and… wings, but it wasn’t a unicorn or an alicorn for that matter. It was, Luna could swear she had read about those in some old book, a human.

Luna didn’t feel any fear, on the contrary, a strange feeling that her “guest” wasn’t there to hurt her filled the young princess. She couldn’t see his face, but somehow she decided that was a “he”. She couldn’t see any distinctive traits either, just a shadow. Palpable shadow with large soft wings touching the ceiling of her room while their ends reached the floor.

The shadowy man kneeled at her bed and Luna felt, as he was looking on her with sympathy and… understanding. A big hand stroked her mane and wiped her tears. Luna sighed or maybe still whimpered putting her head on her guest knees and slowly calming down from her grief. She fell asleep…

…to wake up in present day as grown up Luna.

The strange feeling didn’t leave her, when she got up and shook off the rest of her sleep. Luna got to the mirror and looked at her own reflection. She wasn’t afraid to find Nightmare Moon in there anymore, since the girls saved her and made the Shadow gone forever. Luna thought that actually more sleep would be helpful, if she wanted to make her night duties effective, when…

“GASP!”

Luna’s jaw dropped as she watched a print of human palm fading on the mirror surface!

The print wasn’t a part of her dream, it was real which meant that anyone, who left it, was just as real. Obviously, Luna knew only one human being in Equestria at that moment. The one whose dreams she visited last night. But how could a human – a creature, who as she knew was incapable of any magic – do practically the same. She was sure that her usual bad dream about quarreling with her sister always ended with her crying then falling asleep eventually. The part with the shadowy figure was totally new to her and could only be brought from outside.

Moreover, the mere fact of someone except her being able to not only enter one’s dream, but also manipulate the reality through that, was… No, not terrifying. To her honour, Luna didn’t feel any terror realizing, what had happened. She felt interested, once for a change something was genuinely worth of her time and thought and might drive the boredom away.

The event wasn’t alarming or harmful to any extent, so Luna decided to keep her discovery for herself for now. As she thought that telling Celestia about it right away would most likely make her reconsider giving… Alex, Luna was sure that the name she heard last night was of this human, time to recover and find some ground under his feet. Giving that out would most likely mean immediate extraction and perhaps even locking up for the time necessary to investigate his issue thoroughly. Luna knew all the benefits of being “locked” by herself and never would make somepony come through that without serious reasons. And she didn’t consider what had happened to be one of those.

“Farewell boredom!” she smiled at her reflection. “May thou rest in the oblivion.”

*

Alex wasn’t sure, what he could do with that. On the one hand, it was a dream, everything spoke about that, including weird transitions and his “travel through the mirror”. Even if this world and magic were going by hand, one thing Alex was sure about himself – he couldn’t walk through mirrors. To tell the truth, he couldn’t regenerate and heal a several inches wound in a couple of days either… till last week.

On the other hand, the lavender scent his fingers kept for a while told him otherwise. He didn’t smell lavender since morning and didn’t touch anything which can leave such aroma. The only place where he felt it, was princess’ Luna room, moreover, the princess herself possessed that scent. All these facts effectively meant that he was there and touched Luna’s mane in reality. Thinking of the summary of those two statements drove Alex mad – strange things kept happening ever since he discovered himself in Equestria. That meant even more strange, than coming to Equestria and making friends with sentient ponies.

He didn’t have a chance to check by himself the abilities Twilight told him he possessed and, frankly speaking, didn’t want to try carrying such experiments. Somehow he believed Twilight and Fluttershy and if they said applying magic to him could be dangerous, that meant it really could. The sudden realization struck him as a hammer, that reaction to magic was already detrimental for his possible returning home. Being resistant provided major trouble as rulers of that land, just as many of their subjects, relied on magic mostly, moreover princess Celestia could easily see a threat in his ability.

No wonder Alex decided to keep this little “sleep-walking” episode for himself for now. As far as he could remember, he didn’t leave any evidence of his visit and nopony saw him. Fortunately, he managed to departure moments before princess Luna woke. Mentioning this to Celestia, directly or via her subjects, before knowing, what she thought about other things regarding him, would be an instant killer. What he could remember for sure, Celestia’s life was full of regret and anguish during the time her sister possessed by the Shadow was banished to the Moon. And now, when Luna was free from her curse, any threat to her even the faintest could make Celestia buck the living hell out of him. That definitely wasn’t a part of his plan.

Thinking of that Alex fell asleep. Again. This time without any dreams thankfully.

*

“Next time please, Angel, if you catch any burdock burrs, tell me sooner,” Fluttershy sat in the armchair brushing her bunny tail and removing the annoying hooks. “It’s very hard to remove when it rolls deeper.”

Angel frowned, as she pulled by his tail inevitably while cleaning it, but carrying elf-locks was less pleasant anyway, so he put up with the execution.

Alex drank his tea and absently scratched a squirrel behind her ear. It seemed some of Fluttershy animal friends got used to his presence, a few even started to try getting some benefits from that. Like that particular squirrel which climbed the table and now sat there enjoying the massage. She even managed to sip from his cup a couple of times, when he put it on the table and wasn’t looking.

For the last couple of hours Fluttershy was telling him shortly, what had happened here since the defeat of Nightmare Moon. She mentioned different adventures her and her friends came through during the few years, dangers and discoveries, even new friends, including reformed Discord. The latter gained Alex’s attention. Alex thought that one living that long and being experienced in different kinds of really weird magic could perhaps help him solving his task. And regardless to Discord’s history in Celestia’s eyes, he was definitely the one to be addressed for help during the upcoming investigation, that considering he saw Alex already and even made up some conclusions regarding him. Not applying destructive magic to Alex at any cost was his idea in particular. For which Alex was thankful by default.

Alex had a feeling that Fluttershy was excessively modest describing her role in a few episodes of their life, for example in the dragon incident or her so-called “modeling career”. She was one of the first ponies to accept princess Luna and find out she wasn’t longer a monstrosity Nightmare Moon was. At first, of course, Fluttershy was deadly frightened to deal with “Dark” Princess, but eventually, she even managed to help Luna gain people’s… pardon, ponies’ trust. Alex wondered, if he could and should tell Fluttershy about his recent sleepwalking occasion, when she told him that princess Luna was capable to visit others’ dreams and affect them.

The story about Fluttershy learning to be more assertive – she told it very briefly and with extremely pink cheeks and ears – made him genuinely laugh, he tried to make this not offensive for his friend though. This “friend” definition didn’t make him stumble mentally. This pony girl became more and more attractive as a person with new facts he found out about her. The more difficult it would be to leave, when the time comes… if that time comes.

He learned new things about her friends, mostly confirming his first impression of them. Twilight being skeptical, and only abstract things she believed were friendship and love, others were under doubt, if not described in books. She totally relied on knowledge, magic and wise support and approval of her mentor – princess Celestia herself. But she believed in friends no matter what and that made her a strong company, if she played on his side.

Rarity being generous and helpful, especially if that involved fashion. She suffered from the misunderstanding between her and her younger sister Sweetie Belle, but hardly could ever confess that she suffered it. Sweetie Belle was too little to be involved in sister’s business, but craved the attention of ever busy Rarity much. When they managed to find some balance, they were amazing and loving sisters nevertheless. Rarity was a determined fashionista with the only thing able to distract her from her aims being the beau monde and its affairs.

“Or a human she wanted to have right there and then,” smirked Alex inwardly.

Applejack was a typical farm girl, with the meaningful exception that she actually run the farm mostly by herself though. Her practical mind and wit helped her to keep up with changing market and make the farm profitable, despite all the adversities. She could always rely on her family supporting hooves, on her sister Apple Bloom, despite her impulsiveness, on her brother Big Mac and his short-spoken strength and on her Granny Smith wisdom and experience. And with the help of her friends she could easily confront even soulless and unprincipled business sharks, like Flim and Flam brothers, for example, with their annoying traveling salesman’s tactics.

A noisy troublemaker (though to be fair very often a trouble solver also), ever resilient, active and chatty tomboy – that one could say about Rainbow Dash. She was kind deep inside, but thought that showing that could buy her an image of a “softie”, thus only her deeds could tell. Rainbow enjoyed a good joke, but sometimes she didn’t notice that her enthusiasm could be hurtful. She treated little Scootaloo like a sister, but that didn’t involve “calf tenderness”, more likely “Hey, little squirt, let’s do something outrageous together!” She was a faithful and loyal friend… to those, she knew, but her suspect towards strangers could make her look bitchy sometimes. She was very close with Fluttershy and that made Alex cringe a bit, as Fluttershy told him what reaction Rainbow showed seeing him the first time.

“Oh, don’t worry, Alex, she will see you mean no evil soon and stop being so paranoid,” Fluttershy told him lightheartedly. But Alex had a strong feeling that it would take more time and effort to gain Rainbow’s trust than he could probably afford, especially considering his plans to return home as soon as it was possible.

The one who managed to surprise him most was Pinkie Pie. He knew that she was ever cheerful, tons more than Rainbow, lighthearted and often lightheaded borderline to overly impulsive, ball of living energy. She even jumped mostly when other ponies trotted or walked. She was obsessed with making parties and friends… sometimes even despite anypony in question wasn’t particularly happy of becoming somepony’s friend at that moment. But she had strong intuition which helped her friends countless times… and sometimes helped her… to avoid saying stuff better not to be said. The most surprising thing about Pinkie Alex found out was that this fluid and, from the first sight shallow, pony girl actually had a big heart and could easily understand friends’ afflictions and sympathize. Unfortunately, she was often too straightforward and open showing or telling that, so might even look tactless. Just like with him, being genuinely thoughtful when guessing the source of his sorrows right away, but hurting him by plainly voicing them.

Alex found out that quite some time passed since the moment of local history he knew something about and the day he got to Equestria in person. That made him wonder, how long would it take to bring him back, if it was even possible, and how much time would pass on Earth, as he was unsure, if the transfer was completely linear. The whole image provided unhappy thoughts. At the very least he would be absent just enough to be considered unaccounted-for… Then he remembered that at least two people saw him in the burning car being hit by a thunderbolt. That could mean that “he” was already buried or something alike. He felt a strong wish to howl desperately.

BUMP!!!

“Squee!” Fluttershy jumped in her armchair holding Angel tight. “Sweet Celestia, Twilight! I will never get used to your teleportation spells.”

“Merlin’s pa…” That was the first time Alex witnessed Twilight’s teleportation, moreover any teleportation. “The buck is that!..”

The squirrel startled by the warp and sudden appearance of a new pony quickly climbed onto Alex’s head and crouched there looking through his hair (which were about to stand as Alex admitted) with scared eyes.

“Oh, sorry, girls…” Alex apologized for his verbal reaction, but he was still sure Twilight could save them several nerve cells, if she teleported behind the door and only then entered.

Twilight watched them both on the edges of their seats, Fluttershy with her Angel bunny in hooves and Alex with a squirrel peeking frightenedly through his hair, and a wide grin formed on her face.

“Are you both sure, nopony ever tell you that you look amazingly alike sometimes?” she asked jokingly.

“Oh, come on, Twilight,” sighed Alex feeling as adrenaline was leaving his blood. “If you appear this way every time, no wonder that everypony looks equally startled.”

He wondered how easily he used that new term – “everypony”, especially considering that he was talking about himself as well.

“Don’t be a bore, Alex,” Twilight seemed to be in a high mood and nothing could break it. “Be happy instead – I managed to get a razor blade. We’re stopping being a porcupine, eh?” she giggled handing him a small parcel.

“First I wanted to ask Applejack, if Big Mac had a spare one,” she continued telling her story. “But then reconsidered – sure thing Big Mac won’t ask any questions, but there is Apple Bloom… and as long as your existence, Alex, is a secret by the order of princess Celestia, we must keep fillies away. So I was to check the store… and the vendor looked at me so strangely… I don’t want to imagine, what he might think. Still, here it is.”

“The girls already tried to sneak and sniff around,” Fluttershy put Angel down and looked at Twilight very seriously. “I’m afraid that constant visits get too much attention and they may think, we are planning something great without telling them. But what we can do about that?”

“Nothing,” nodded Twilight. “That is why I teleport inside the cottage instead of going to you on hooves.”

“Twilight, that’s nearly the best news through the day,” Alex granted her with a wide smile. “I owe you. That stubble started prickling myself already…”

“You’re welcome,” she waved a hoof. Then she turned to Fluttershy.

“More good news, princess Celestia is busy with reports from Crystal Empire… Do you know anything about the Crystal Empire, Alex?,” Twilight looked over her shoulder.

“Yup. Fluttershy mentioned briefly, I know it’s far to the north and ruled by yet another princess Me Amore Cadenza… who is married to your brother, right?”

“Right, though she prefers to be called just Cadence, and she is married to Shining Armour, and the main thing they are having some strange events, so Celestia will be busy for a few days. But she told me that I shouldn’t worry, as Shining and Cadence kept the situation in hooves,” Twilight looked like she was undecided to worry or not, yet it couldn’t spoil her mood either.

“Thus,” she explained her point. “You have a few days for Alex to recover, grasp his thoughts and plan some strategy with which he is going to approach Celestia to convince her he is not a threat, moreover to convince her to send him home if possible.”

The last two words caused a pause longer than it needed to pass unnoticed. Twilight then tried to remedy the awkwardness by asking Fluttershy about totally different things.

“Have you already checked the wound? I thought you two might be planning to remove the… stitches, before they started being more trouble than remedy.”

“Yeah, that was the idea,” Fluttershy glanced at the wall clock. “It’s a bit late already. But we were waiting for you as we need your help.”

*

Twilight used her magic on small scissors to cut the thread strands one by one, so Alex could take them out by catching them with fingertips, almost with nails. Fluttershy couldn’t find a pincette so it took a few attempts eventually to catch the thread and wasn’t entirely pleasant in general. But as it was said there was no use in the stitches already, as the wound closed up.

“And all this after three days,” kept wondering Alex. “Perhaps there won’t remain any considerable scar.”

When they finished with threads, Fluttershy applied more of the healing salve onto his wound. Alex sat on the bed with his right hand raised and put on his head, while Fluttershy settled behind him and gently spread the composition by her hoof rubbing it in with circular motions. Twilight relaxed in the armchair, using magic near Alex demanded much concentration, and watched them with a meaningful smile. A weird thought visited her head, even if there was no chance to return the human home… and Twilight kept all variants in mind being a realist… he had a chance to get into caring hooves of her friend.

“Cadence would love the look of this!” thought Twilight.

When Twilight left, as usual by teleporting herself, it was already half past nine. Alex felt that he was still tired despite having a nap in the afternoon. Perhaps faster regeneration took something in return or more likely he wasn’t ready for any prolonged adventured yet. And he saw that Fluttershy was also close to falling asleep. There was though one open question still.

“Well,” Alex turned to Fluttershy looking for better words. “I really don’t want to be a trouble…”

“You aren’t any,” Fluttershy was surprised by that start. “What are you talking about, Alex?”

“I mean, it’s late and both of us need to have a rest. So… I could take a couch downstairs…” Alex stumbled.

“Oh,” Fluttershy got what he was talking about and blushed. Yet she was rock solid about the rest. “No, no, you shouldn’t do that. You’re too big for the couch and it is too tough, you won’t get any good sleep on it and get up aching…”

“And I won’t let a house owner, let alone such a lovely lady, be banished from her own bed to some cold couch no matter what,” Alex was firm in his politesse. “Do you have at least a mattress or something, I could really settle on the floor…”

“Unfortunately, no and I was too busy to think about asking the girls, if they had something of that kind. You know,” she seemed to be overly surprised by her own bravery at the moment. “We could… leave everything… as it was. I-I was already sharing… the bed with you… for three nights… it’s not that… something… you know… Squee!”

“Won’t you really mind?” Alex wasn’t happy about sleeping on the floor perspective, yet he saw how much did that cost to Fluttershy.

“I-I don’t know… I mean I won’t mind… i-if you are OK with that…” she whispered, then suddenly repeated in a stronger voice. “I won’t mind, if you won’t mind!” She allowed herself a small smile.

Alex thought that sharing a bed with pony girl, at least doing it consciously, would be a weird experience for him, besides he wasn’t into ponies, besides he had a girlfriend… it seemed like ages ago. But refusing it suddenly at that moment would be extremely rude and, as he saw, would really hurt Fluttershy. If she decided to go with it, despite all her modesty and shyness… Besides she wasn’t overexcited Rarity, so… practically what could go wrong?

“I won’t mind, Shy,” Alex said making a serious decision.

“Oh, fine…” Fluttershy became red as a carrot again, no, even orange considering her usual colour. “How did you call me? Nobody calls me “Shy”. It sounds a bit unusual…”

“Sorry,” Alex worried that he could allow himself a bit too much. “I didn’t mean…”

“No, it’s OK,” Fluttershy smiled. “It sounded so… tender…”

Now it was Alex’s turn to blush. He didn’t plan to make a compliment… Or did he?

*

Alex brushed his teeth and shaved… finally!.. using the sink in the kitchen, as the bathroom was occupied by Fluttershy. He rinsed and rinsed giving her time to get to the bed undisturbed.

“I sincerely hope,” he thought, turning the water off. “That Rarity won’t linger with the clothes much and will bring at least something tomorrow. Otherwise, I will have no change and be forced to sleep naked next night.” Somehow he didn’t pay attention that three previous nights went exactly that way.

When he entered the bedroom, the light was out already and Fluttershy curled under covers looking into the window at the rising moon.

Alex lifted the covers a little, just enough to slip under, and tried to find comfort without being of much annoyance.

“Thank you, Shy!” he reached her shoulder and barely noticeably stroked her soft coat with his fingers.

Suddenly she moved closer to him and snuggled up to him like a small spoon to a bigger one. In a moment Alex found himself in the cloud of her hair and the sweet scent of flowers and honey reached his nostrils. He put his left hand under his head and hugged her little body with his right hand. Fluttershy squeaked quietly feeling a strong but gentle embrace and comforted herself a little more.

“Merlin’s pants, she is a pony, Alex, a pony!” told himself Alex feeling her soft coat heating his bare chest.

“Tell me something,” muttered Fluttershy in a sleepy voice. “About your world.”

Alex inhaled the aroma of her hair and smiled to the darkness.

“Have you been at the ocean coast, Shy?”

*

Deep juicy blue sky, of colour which one could see in the summer evenings only, was almost clear and the faint haze made the sun and rare clouds look slightly blurred, like on an aquarelle painting. The cliffs prepared for their night rest being rocked by surf’s lullaby and even omnipresent seagulls hid somewhere and didn’t disturb a casual observer with their piercing shrieks. “Fluffy” sun was setting into the ocean and painted the water green instead of usual blue. Later it would turn gold and even red at the horizon. The air was warm and sweet smell of flowers from the fields above the rocky highland mixed with the salty breeze from the ocean.

It seemed Alex and Elen planned to get to the coast for ages and only that day they could both find time to go. They needed to drive a long way, so despite their early start, it was already way past noon when they arrived.

Alex stopped the car at the edge of the field above the coast and the silence swallowed them. A few seconds they just sat listening to the only sounds remained – quite crackling of the hot engine cooling itself. Alex got around the car and opened the door for his girlfriend. She held out a hand to him putting a large straw hat on, so he could see only her smile from above.

They ran and horsed around the field like two careless foals, played catch and knocked each other into the grass a few times. She was like a cloud of butterflies in her light knee-length dress and Alex couldn’t look away from her. They gathered a large bunch of flowers and she took it to the car.

When she returned Alex tried to catch her in his embrace, but she slid by with a giggle and took his hand. She pulled him to the coast dancing and jumping, but they were to find a more sloping descent as Alex’s height intolerance could spoil the day easily. Surely Alex was ready to hold himself in hands as much as he could knowing where they planned to go and realizing there are high places on the coast usually. But the sudden approach to the cliff edge could make him freeze on spot in panic.

She took off her shoes, when they reached the sandy stripe of the beach at the rocks’ foot, and left them at the end of the trail to free both hands and hug Alex snuggling into him for the moment. But before he could return the hug, she giggled again and took his hand sliding out of his embrace. She teased Alex and pulled further along the shoreline. Alex followed with a smile, her figure in counter light of setting sun looked like a statue of some Greek goddess… in a semitransparent dress and a large straw hat.

When she reached the place, where the view was the best according to her taste, she stopped letting Alex hug her from behind wrapping his hands around her shoulders. She buried her bare feet in the warm sand and leaned on Alex watching the sunset. They both stood there listening, as the ocean muttered with the mouthful of rocks. The sun passed the forested coast on their left which protruded into the sea as the long arch almost reaching the horizon. It was setting and the whole ocean surface got gold and reddish tint.

In the ringing silence faint breeze curled the hemline of her dress around Alex’s legs. She reached his hair with her hand and leaned on him looking up at his face. The hat fell on the sand revealing long pink hair which fluttered around them both. Alex looked into Fluttershy’s wide opened turquoise eyes, feeling like diving into bottomless lakes framed by long eyelashes. The overwhelming feeling of serenity and happiness filled him.

When their lips met, Alex felt some alien look on himself. He preferred to ignore that feeling though, trying to taste each second of their unity. But when she turned to him and snuggled closing her eyes and resting her head on his chest, he managed to take a look over the coast. First he spotted nothing, but when he raised his eyes to the highland edge above the coast, he saw a woman’s figure at some distance from them.

She was too far to see the face or recognize her otherwise, but the setting sun lighted the noble elegant stance, dark blue flowing dress, head raised high and long dark hair. Or were they dark blue as well? Alex realized that she was looking right at them.

 

 

---

Author's note: If 't be true you like the story (and have FimFiction account, otherwise, you can't vote), please, take a minute to support the book hither: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian  "Thumbs up" are very welcome, comments either. Mine most sincere gratitude in advance!

 

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6. In-Security

 

“Well, those are of course not the best clothes I’ve ever made,” Rarity examined Alex with an unusually modest expression on her face. “But at least they are decent… I even dare to assume decent enough to face a princess.”

        “Though, if I were Celestia, I wouldn’t mind the alternate variant either,” she added in half-tone, yet audible enough for him.

        “You’re joking,” Alex pretended, he didn’t hear the last remark. “If this is “decent enough”, then I wonder how excellent looks in your books.”

        He checked himself in the mirror, Rarity held with her magic. Her vision of his clothes was simple and classy, perhaps she didn’t have enough time to let her imagination fly, but that was exactly fine for him. He sported now straight cut pants of the dark-green colour, Alex noticed that black was generally not very popular for clothes in Equestria, and a pristine white relaxed-fit shirt with long sleeves. Surely for a picky eye he might look like a hero of an 80-s blockbuster in those, but considering circumstances given, it was almost a marvel that she could grasp the general concept of human clothing that fast. He couldn’t draw well to give her any examples and obviously had nothing left to show as such.

        The underwear problem was solved by simply copying what he had for now. All newly made boxers fitted perfectly, as Alex made sure by trying them in the bathroom. He carefully closed the door noticing Rarity following him with a rueful look.

        “You’re a true genius, Rarity,” Alex kneeled to her eye level. “All those for less than a day. I have no words… really… I hope you have slept at least.”

        “You’re too kind, darling,” she looked down demonstrating her eyelashes. “Those are simple enough, so I could easily make them, as long as I got the idea of what you needed. A few… how do you call them… boxers, a couple of shirts more, like that one, those pants and one more pair of a tougher fabric, in case you need something to work in. I didn’t have time to make any of those beautiful, sorry…”

        “Look,” Alex smirked. “Excuse me, if I shock your aesthetic principles right now, but I’m really not into those shiny trinkets anyway. In my world men prefer clothes being practical and fitting… mostly, so do I. I will be immensely grateful, if they stay that way, simple and comfortable.”

        “Somehow I suspected you would say so,” Rarity wasn’t offended by his words and looked up to him appraisingly.

        “I, for example, have no idea what to do with this,” Alex handed her a silk band with a shiny sapphire. “I suppose that’s a tie of some sort… but, kill me, if I know how to tie it properly.”

        “Never was a fan of ties, to be frank,” he said in a half voice.

        “Oh, that’s easy, darling,” Rarity laughed heartily. “Let me…”

        She used her magic with extreme care, not to touch Alex with it, to make the tie slither under his shirt collar and form a proper knot. Then adjusted it a little.

        “Not too tight I hope?”

        “It’s perfect, thanks. But I won’t be able to repeat your magic in the morning or each time, when I will need to untie it then put on again,” confessed Alex. “And I doubt Fluttershy can either.”

        With a faint frown Rarity looked into his eyes.

        ‘I will gladly do that for you anytime necessary, when you move with me,’ she couldn’t hold that thought and blushed a little. Then she said instead.

        “Actually I have bigger plans. I suppose, you’ll need something sleeveless as well, and perhaps some fine clothes. And, of course, something warmer, as you don’t have natural coat… in case of cold weather,” Rarity seemed to mount her hobby-horse. “Besides we can try those… shorts that you mentioned. Aaand… the socks shouldn’t be too different from those which fit ponies’ legs.”

        “I don’t know what to do with your shoes though,” she suddenly dropped her enthusiasm. “We have boots here for some special conditions, like boots Applejack uses on her farm, when there is more dirt than solid ground. But those differ from yours I suppose, and you can hardly find something fitting in the general stores.”

        ‘I sincerely hope that I’ll get home, before I really need warm clothes or boots here,’ thought Alex meanwhile, but he didn’t say anything.

        “I doubt I have enough experience to help you here,” Rarity continued to elaborate. “Maybe when you get to Canterlot and meet princess Celestia… then you can try contacting the maker of royal hoofwear. You know, the one who manufactures ceremonial hoofwear for princesses, he is surely more competent and may come up with some solution for you… especially if the princess supports your request.”

        “Oh, I suppose my own boots won’t stop serving me for a while yet,” said Alex.

        “And to tell the truth I have no faintest idea of how I can repay you for all those,” Alex ran his fingers through Rarity’s mane, so she started purring again. “I mean you’ve spent so much time and effort doing this for me… and plan to do more… and I have nothing to give you instead… for now at least. That doesn’t fit well with my principles.”

        “Huh, I’m doing that of pure generosity, don’t you worry, darling,” huffed Rarity, while snuggling her head and neck into his hand.

        “But if you insist, we can think of something later,” she shot him with a spear gaze from half-lidded eyes, so Alex stiffened inwardly getting ready for… just anything.

    Fortunately, the door opened and Fluttershy flitted in.

        “How’s fitting going, pals?” she then noticed Alex’s new look and landed right next to him. “Oh, Alex, you look totally different now, I like that… n-not that I didn’t l-like how you looked before… I mean… if you’re OK with… oh, squee!” she seemed to lose the idea, being totally embarrassed.

        “S-so, do you… people, always go around l-like this?” she tried to defuse the situation, while Rarity chuckled quietly. “Because we… mostly use dresses for special occasions only.”

        “More or less so,” answered Alex simply, putting a stray strand of pink hair off Fluttershy’s face and behind her ear. He then bowed towards Rarity. “Though I must admit I have never dressed with such a class lately.”

        It was so amusing to watch, how her cheeks reddened through the perfectly white coat.

        “And I’m happy you like it,” he added with his lips only, looking into Fluttershy’s eyes. Her ears perked joyfully.

                The question of returning the favours somehow was still inevitable. And Alex was returning to it willy-nilly all the time after dinner. This time they were making it together, totally denying the proverb about two hostesses being unable to share one kitchen. Fluttershy could cook in addition to her other advantages and Alex was to admit that the soup was indeed delicious. He remembered that Elen was a completely non-cooking type of person, she couldn’t grasp the simplest things, despite all his attempts to teach her. They always laughed at that, but she realized, she was a total disaster at the kitchen.

        “Damn,” Alex stumbled upon that thought. “Why this even came to your mind. Are you already comparing?”

        He returned to the uneasy thought about repayment, while washing the dishes. He could keep his “guest” status for a week or two without that becoming plainly impolite. Maybe longer, if the princesses demanded investigation of his arrival to Equestria. But at the end of the day nopony owed him anything and leaving the things, as they were, would be abusing their hospitality. Alex was a realist and, despite he hoped for the best – fast solution of his problem, he also foresaw the less promising variants. From his departure being under long delay to… completely impossible. This one was a fair chance also.

        As he said already, being a parasprite wasn’t in his plans. So what could he do to earn money in this world? Or repay in any other way for all those services and goods others generously offered.

        Alex was good in managing informational systems, programming, even hardware engineering, but those would stay mostly unapplied here, as according to his knowledge, Equestria didn’t reach the stage of wide usage of personal or industrial electronics. The devices, he saw and heard about yet, were simple, nothing more complex than radio, and he still wasn’t sure about the amount of magic rather than technology put into the latter. The hardware part of his knowledge could be adapted though, if he could simplify and widen it. Alex thought that he was lucky being a technical specialist, if he was a politician or economist, surviving here would be a greater challenge while being completely unclaimed.

        Then a bright idea came to his mind. Alex remembered that he didn’t see any electrical appliances since he came to Equestria. Of course, there must be some, for example, the mentioned radio, but they were not widely used. He could assume that the whole process of producing electricity could be a problem here, perhaps involving too many resources or magic to succeed. He noticed that, despite being close to nature, ponies didn’t realize that useful energy could be produced using the simplest environmental effects like wind or water current. And moreover, this could be done harmlessly to nature.

        “Of course, they got used to that style of living,” said Alex to himself. “And it would be hard enough to prove anypony that for example food can be cooked using electricity, or at least the fuel in the oven can be ignited with it instead of matches, when they use fire all the time and cope perfectly. Nopony would see any advantage of an electric doorbell over an actual copper bell, and so on.”

        “But there are things which could obviously benefit from this type of energy source,” he pondered. “Rarity’s sewing machine could be propelled by electricity, not her magic, thus she could concentrate the magic on something else and as the result could produce more complicated, thus outstanding dresses.”

        “And there is of course lighting,” he couldn’t remember anypony mentioning lighting their houses any other way than with oil lamps, candles, torched, other things of that kind. “Ponyville would only benefit from that kind of “industrial breakthrough”.”

        “If only I could make a simplest electric generator, attach it to the windmill preferably… though a water wheel could also fit, where applicable and the current allows. And then make some sort of electric bulb and hope for it to be stable enough. Propelling a sewing machine will be even easier.”

        “But this calls for blacksmith work, woodworks and the hardest part – wiring,” he slowed down his enthusiastic planning a bit. “I will need to ask the princess for help… if she is ready to help anyway. I’m sure some facility will be able to produce wire of necessary diameter… still, I will need to think of insulation myself most likely.”

        “Yet that can be an excellent start for actually being of some help and use here,” Alex felt as wide smile forms on his face.

        “Hey, didn’t you plan to return home as fast as possible?” said a small voice inside. “And now you’re almost planning your future business in Equestria. Not to mention that it is nearly impossible without the good will of the princess and with your current… “top secret” status. You are not supposed to contact with the locals freely… well, the majority of them.”

        “Are you all right, Alex?” Fluttershy stopped brushing her long hair and watched him for a while already. “You’re wiping the same plate for a few minutes already. Is everything OK?”

        “Oh,” Alex put the plate and the towel on the table. “I was just thinking about earning some money or compensating all that you girls have done for me otherwise somehow. Sorry, if I made you worried.”

        “But why would you?..” Fluttershy seemed to genuinely wonder. “I mean we can afford, what we need… and both Twilight and Rarity are my… our friends, they said already, they were doing it disinterestedly.”

        “Yes, your friends are great, Shy,” Alex tried to elaborate. “But that’s more about my feelings. I simply can’t allow myself to accept all this help, again and again, not returning anything instead. I don’t think that it is socially normal in Equestria when a… stallion lives at some mare’s expense. Back home we called such person a gigolo.”

        “Besides I really need to do something, to mean something… I don’t know how long I’ll stay here for, or even if I’m able to return home at all, yet I need to mean something, not be a decoration or a… pet.”

        “Did I actually sound, like I was treating you as a pet?” Fluttershy let out a small sad smile. “I never tried to put it that way. Really… Sorry.”

        “Look, I didn’t say you were treating me as a pet, Shy,” Alex felt regret for his outburst already. “There were just my expectations, you could take into account not. Not because you intended to…” he sighed.

        “Yeah, I must have sounded terrible,” Fluttershy was noticeably upset and her eyes filled with tears. “I-I’m so sorry, Alex… I thought about it being so great now… when I’m with you… rather than your feelings about being locked and in suspense.”

        Alex approached her chair, sat right on the floor and hugged her knees. Fluttershy looked at him surprisingly.

        “Please, Shy, forgive me for sounding that harsh,” he said. “I didn’t mean to offend you. You the very least… You’re a real miracle, Shy, and I mean it. You were the best of what could happen to me, when I got to Equestria, and I’m truly thankful for that. I just wanted to be on equal terms with you all… and… I guess I suck at expressing myself sometimes.”

        “The inevitable result of spending more time with machines, than with… somepony like you,” Alex looked up into her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

        Fluttershy sniffed, wiped her eyes and then hugged Alex nuzzling his head. He felt so emotionally close to that girl. The more it scabbed in his heart at the thought that he was so eager to leave Equestria, if it was possible.

        “I understand,” she cooed. “I never thought about you as a pet, but I really should take your point of view into account. I know that doing nothing will be unbearable for you.”

        “Somehow I knew that since the moment we met,” she whispered barely audible.

        “So what did you come up with?” She asked lightly after a moment of silence. Alex stood up and grabbed another chair.

        “Well… I thought about a couple of things. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I haven’t noticed that electricity is widely used in Ponyville for example…”

        “Yes, we don’t have any means to collect it,” Fluttershy was evidently interested. “In Cloudsdale pegasi collect atmospheric electricity for their weather making purposes somehow and in Canterlot they use magic to produce it. I’m not familiar with the process though…”

        “Collect?” now it was Alex’s turn to wonder. “So they namely gather electricity from the atmosphere, when there is enough, right?”

        “And in Canterlot they need constant magic propulsion to generate any?”

        “Yeah, something like that,” Fluttershy nodded.

        “I was actually going to suggest making it out of nothing,” Alex smirked. “I mean using the power of wind or water current to generate electricity. Nopony would need to look for lightning or constantly apply magic this way.”

        “And this could be easily used to light the houses, or run the sewing machine, or mix and churn… just anything at Pinkie’s bakery,” he continued describing all the benefits. “So I could finally show my gratitude to those, who helped me… and earn some money, in case I’m staying here for an undefined period.”

        “So you could stop paying for me,” he added with a smile. “But I could buy you a present instead!”

        Fluttershy produced a small surprised squeak and looked slightly embarrassed, but Alex didn’t notice and continued less cheerfully.

        “But this all needs lots of hard work, and while it’s neither a problem nor a let down for me, it still calls for princess help… as I won’t be able to find necessary materials without that. Besides I can do nothing, while I need to keep my presence here in secret.”

        “And that applies to everything, I could think of as something to start with,” he added while absently watching Angel entering the room and jumping onto Fluttershy’s knees, the little tod expected some stroking. “Just every simple work. Applejack needs help with her farm, the local blacksmith can probably provide some job as well… but everything needs me to go out and communicate. Except maybe rewriting stuff for Twilight…”

        “But she rarely needs that, besides this would make me run on the walls from boredom soon anyway,” Alex chuckled sadly.

        “I hope everything becomes easier after you meet princess Celestia,” there was more confidence in Fluttershy’s words than in her tone. “Yet, I’m afraid, it won’t be the simplest task to gain her trust. But she needs to think about her subjects first, of course…”

        “Yeah, yeah, I know,” smirked Alex. “And I’m an alien.”

        *

        TINK! Something hit her window lightly. TINK! TINK!

        Apple Bloom put away her toys and cautiously approached the windowsill.

        TINK! A small stone hit the glass again, somepony was trying to gain her attention from below. Apple Bloom opened the window and looked out. She saw Sweetie Belle and Scootaloo standing in the yard and looking up to her.

        “Psst!” Sweetie Belle waved her hoof. “Are you coming, little Apple? I’ve found something,” she added in a loud whisper.

        Scootaloo impatiently jumped on the place. Whatever it was, it seemed that Sweetie Belle was going to share only with both friends at once, and Scootaloo was dying from curiosity.

        “I’m coming,” Apple Bloom closed the window. She trotted downstairs, peeked into the kitchen and told Granny Smith, they would be gathering in their clubtree house.

        “Would you like to take your lunch with you?” Granny Smith called after her.

        “Oh, no, no, thanks, granny,” little filly answered over her shoulder, heading to the door. “I’ll come back later for lunch.”

        When she got outside, she quickly ran to her friends at the other side of the house.

        “What? What did you find?” asked she Sweetie Belle while regaining her breath.

        “Not here! Let’s go to the clubhouse,” Sweetie Belle cocked her head with such a familiar motion, just like her sister. She was obviously proud that her personal investigation didn’t come fruitlessly.

        “Sweetie Belle managed to dig out something really interesting,” Scootaloo almost jumped over her head, when they headed into the depth of the apple garden.

        When the girls reached the tree house and got up the ramp, Sweetie Belle closed the door and drew the curtains, putting the house into mysterious twilight.

        “Well, girls, that’s a bomb!” she whispered loudly with her eyes sparkling. “Rarity hid everything too well and I didn’t have much time to look,” she was visibly embarrassed by the fact she was to dig her older sister belongings, but the temptation to unearth the secret was too high. “But she forgot those two under her pillow. I wonder why…”

        Sweetie Belle opened her saddle bag and pulled a couple of paper sheets out. She smoothed them out on the table and girls bent over them.

        “Well… That’s definitely…” breathed out Apple Bloom. “I mean we can now say for sure Rarity and Fluttershy are not a thing. Rarity is rather into…”

        “… apes!” exclaimed Scootaloo.

        “What?” she shrugged under the grumpy gaze of Sweetie Belle. “That looks like monkey… But a smooth and furless one. Although, the face is nothing like a monkey, to be honest… It’s kinda handsome I must admit.”

        “Look at those muscles,” squeaked Sweetie Belle. “It must be really big compared to the armchair it sits on. Oh, dear, I now understand, why she was stitching those strange large shirts…”

        “I’d rather say it’s “he”,” concluded Scootaloo funnily wrinkling her nose.

        The drawing on the table portrayed a human figure, sitting in the armchair facing the observer. It was completely naked, except a small towel draping the private area, but with such minimalism that it seemed to reveal more than it covered. The careful sculpting of the muscles on the figure and overall attention to anatomy detail revealed the loving hoof, which made the drawing. In reality Alex could reach that effect only flexing on purpose and not while sitting most likely, but some loving eye caught and emphasized each advantageous detail of the figure, while retouching small flaws.

        Three fillies felt, as their necks and cheeks started getting hot.

        Sweetie Belle woke up and put the sketch aside, opening another to their eyes.

        “Look here!”

        This one made them blush instantly. The same creature was drawn here laying on a couch, draped the same minimalistic way, but this time there was a unicorn laying next to him and leaning over almost touching his lips with her own. A few precisely depicted facial features and curly mane definitely said it was Rarity leaning over that creature, touching his shoulder with her hoof. His fingers ran through her mane while another hand rested on her flank.

        “Wow!” Scootaloo could only say with a sly smile. “So they are hiding this there!”

        “Errmmm…” started Apple Bloom.

        “Hey, girls, you’re here. Ah was looking for ya, Apple Bloom. Ah needed help in the barn and granny said that you were having your usual meeting.”

        Three fillies jumped on the spot looking at Applejack, who just entered their tree house. They tried to hide the drawings on the table behind their backs, but Applejack spotted something right from the door.

        “What do you have there?” her senses didn’t fail her and she approached the table.

        Applejack stood there like hit by the thunderbolt. She felt as her cheeks became red.

        “Tarnation!” she muttered, then gritted her teeth. “Twilight told meh, but Rarity couldn’t be more light-headed…”

        “Look, girls,” she grabbed both sheets and rolled them into a tube, then turned to face the silenced fillies. “Ah feel that we all have something to explain each other. But naturally, you should start…”

        “Sorry, sis,” squeaked Apple Bloom with a guilty look on her face. “We meant no harm. We just thought that you, big girls, were hiding something from us and… We thought it was kinda unfair.”

        “When Ah was of yar age,” frowned Applejack. “Adults hiding something from the kids meant one thing only – that the kids were not supposed to see that! Ah seriously can’t understand, how did you…”

        “It’s all my fault, Applejack,” Sweetie Belle stepped forward. “I’ve sneaked upon my sister and took those drawings from her room. I’m really, really sorry…”

        “Where exactly did you find those?” Applejack interrupted her.

        “I took them from under her pillow,” the filly replied sheepishly. “I supposed that I could find something important there, if my sister was passionate about some subject and she was evidently under strong inspiration.”

        “Will you tell Rarity everything?” she hanged her head low. “I know you are to. She will be mad at me,” she sighed heavily and sniffed.

        Applejack looked down on the girls. Surely they bucked up, but she knew, how this could be turned into an advantage. She was thinking hard, how the essential truth could be told without revealing the detrimental details.

        “OK, girls, you all understand that Ah will tell others that you’ve found out, what you were not supposed to. And Ah am to tell Rarity, where it roots. But…” she made an emphasizing pause. “But we can tell that you came across those sketches accidentally. Like if they were on the floor or peeking from under the pillow.”

        “But this is as much as Ah can do for you. Ah will need to make a big deal with myself about that already and convince that half-truth is not a lie,” added Applejack.

        “Ah will cover up yar little tails, girls. For the last time!” she said meaningfully. “But on one condition only – you keep yar mouths shut about all this.”

        “And Ah mean that!” she made the scary eyes. “Nopony, except us six… and now you, should know anything about the human.”

        “About what?”

        “Look, girls, it’s hard to explain shortly, but Ah’ll try,” Applejack rubbed her forehead shifting her stetson back. “Fluttershy met that creature, that human in the Everfree a few days ago. He saved her life actually, but got wounded and she took him with her and treated his wounds.”

        “He is not an animal, he is sentient, can talk and… well, he is generally like us all,” she explained to the girls listening to her with their mouths open. “He is from another world sorta… Ah don’t know exactly how he is able to understand or speak our language, but… take it as given. He wants to get back home, as Twilight told me.”

        “But why the secrecy?” squeaked Scootaloo.

        “Hey, hey, hold yar mules,” smirked Applejack. “Ah didn’t finish yet.”

        “Two main things you three should know and remember,” she continued. “First, this is a mythic… well not so as of now… creature from another world. Get it? Another. World! He is resistant to all kinds of magic, as Twilight says, moreover he absorbs magic applied to him.”

        “He can drain yar energy in a wink, if you try to fiddle yar magic with him,” Applejack turned to Sweetie Belle. “And Ah’m not trying to scare you, that’s just a warning.”

        “And the second thing,” she said in complete silence. “It’s princess Celestia privilege – to decide what to do with him. She wants to investigate his case thoroughly, to find out, if he is a danger to Equestria and if he can be returned to his home world. So naturally, until she states that ponies should know about his existence, nopony should know about him, except those who do already.”

        “You were not supposed to find out,” Applejack added after a pause. “Just imagine how princess could be disappointed with you.”

        Three fillies stood in front of her with their eyes lowered and ears flattened.

        “Of course, Ah will need to inform my friends about you finding out that secret. But Ah won’t tell how exactly you did,” Applejack told them with a reassuring smile. The girls looked up to her with sudden hope shining in their eyes. “Ah will need you girls to help me. Sweetie Belle, tell Rarity we need to meet at Twilight’s at eight. Scootaloo, please, find Dash and tell her the same. And it’ll be great, if after helping me here you can ask Fluttershy to come, Apple Bloom,” she turned to her sister.

        “But,” Applejack made the most strict face she could manage. “If you fail that and tell anypony… or moreover, spring another surprise like that… and Ah make sure Rarity invents a fitting punishment and even give her some advice about it. Ah hope you understood me right, Sweetie Belle.”

        “Yes, Applejack,” squeaked Sweetie Belle guiltily. “Thank you… for covering our debacle… again…”

        “Just don’t make another one,” warned Applejack, then muttered aside under her breath. “And Ah would rather give Rarity a good slap. But who might think…”

        “Oh, one more thing,” she remembered. “Sweetie Belle, return please those exactly where you took them from. No need to pay them more attention though!”

        She handed the papers to Rarity’s younger sister and raised an eyebrow in a hinting manner. Then trotted outside.

        “Ah still need your help, Apple Bloom,” the girls heard her call.

        “I better go,” fussed the younger sister.

        “So that was why Rarity was almost dancing the last two days, everything was flying in her hooves and she seemed to get special inspiration. She fell in love with… extraequestrian creature!” giggled Sweetie Belle.

        “Yeah, your sister seems to completely lose her head,” Scootaloo remembered the drawings and snorted, feeling how colour hit her cheeks again. “Don’t give that out to her though, otherwise I don’t envy you.”

                That evening the Oak Library looked rather crowded. Applejack asked all the girls to come for a serious talk and Twilight, who was generally informed about the subject, was still puzzled about the urgency and details. Rainbow Dash, who came the first, right after Applejack, seemingly had no idea about there being any problem, as she got to the bookshelf with Daring Do series, chose a book and conveniently placed herself right on the floor nearby. She already managed to fall out from reality, as Spike was to ask her thrice, if she would like some tea. She muttered something ambivalent and Spike waved his hand, fairly supposing that she would join others and choose, what she wanted… if she wanted.

        Fluttershy came next and was constantly lamenting that she left Alex busy with all household without help (even if it meant merely cleaning up after dinner). Besides last time she left him with Angel alone at home, Angel dug out an old darts game somewhere and they made quite a few pinholes on the front door surface. Alex swore that he would patch them up, as soon as he was able to get to the town. Fluttershy still worried that those two might invent some other crazy entertainment.

        Then Pinky joined the meeting and Applejack had a hard time, trying to hold her impatient and curious friend from jumping around the room and asking questions, Applejack wasn’t going to answer before everypony, including the “hero of the incident”, came. Then Pinkie turned her attention to Fluttershy asking her something about the human and Applejack could take a breath.

        Rarity came the last and, perhaps, she felt that it smelled of roast, as she was unusually quiet and laconic.

        “OK, girls,” started Twilight when she saw that even Rainbow Dash put away the book unwillingly and listened. “Applejack asked everypony to come, as she has a serious question to discuss. All I know is that it is human related. So, dear, if you please…”

        “Yeah… Thanks, Twi,” Applejack raised her stetson a bit and rubbed her forehead. “It’s a bit complicated, girls… You all know about the human, and that his existence is still a secret for the majority… for different reasons. Not my idea and not Fluttershy’s… But Ah guess princess has a point preferring to keep it that way.”

        Rainbow yawned stealthily.

        “Is it about “Welcome to Equestria, Alex” party?” Pinkie jumped on her place eagerly.

        “Oh, dear, not again…” whispered Fluttershy while her pupils became pinprick.

        Rainbow huffed disapprovingly, but only Twilight seemed to notice. She watched Rainbow Dash reaction with investigator’s interest though.

        “No, Pinkie, not yet. It’s not the best time for,” smirked Applejack. “But if the things keep going this way, we may simply face that “party” just happening sooner or later.”

        “As you know,” she continued looking at the puzzled faces of her friends. “Only us six were supposed to know about the human… at least until princess Celestia makes any other decision.”

        “But a few, or should Ah say, three exact ponies found out our secret.”

        In the sudden silence the tea spoon, Spike dropped in the cup, sounded like a thunder strike.

        “But… How?” he scratched the back of his head with the claw, then turned to Twilight. “You said he was not leaving the house and…”

        “Oh, no…” Fluttershy put a hoof to her mouth. “But I’m sure nopony saw him except you girls and Lyra… At least I-I did my best… to keep everything in secret… Squee!”

        “I was expecting something alike,” muttered Twilight pessimistically. “It’s Ponyville…”

        Rainbow Dash soared with the “I told you there will be problems with that human” look on her face.

        Pinkie murmured something under her nose and seemed to be completely uninterested, but those who knew her well, could tell that she heard everything perfectly, just didn’t find it necessary to react at that moment.

        Rarity wasn’t calm, but she hardly worried more than any other girl, and Applejack concluded that Sweetie Belle managed to return the sketches in time without any problems.

        “Ah mean it’s easy to guess, who exactly,” continued Applejack, when everypony looked at her again expectantly. “We already have met the consequences of their… investigations.”

        Twilight closed her eyes with a deep sigh, as it appeared that her suspicion was coming true.

        “As we all know, Rarity was helping… Alex with his clothing problem,” Applejack turned to Rarity, noticing that the latter blinked and stiffened. Dash huffed once again at the mentioning of the human’s name. “And she made some measurements and… sketches to stitch him something fitting.”

        Rarity’s eyes gazed at the floor at the word “sketches”, Applejack sent Twilight a meaningful look. Spike looked from one to another and the third and back again, not noticing that he was pouring the tea on the table instead of the cup. Then he woke up, noticed his mistake and blushed, wiping the small pool quickly.

        “So today Sweetie Belle came across one of those sketches by pure accident,” Applejack continued while Rarity’s cheeks were almost on fire. “And she found it very interesting, noticing somepony completely different than usually on the stitching sketch,” she emphasized the word “stitching” and noticed, how it made Rarity relax a bit.

        “Naturally she shared her observations with her club mates… And they were guessing what that could be, when I caught them upon that in their club house…”

        “Of course,” Fluttershy slapped her forehead and a guilty look appeared on her face, despite being uncalled for. “They sneaked in the garden when you came for the first time,” she turned to Rarity. “But I’m sure they haven’t seen anything that time. Maybe… just got extremely suspicious about us… behaving s-strange…”

        “Tricky little squirts!” exclaimed Rainbow Dash flying up to the ceiling, her expression was rather approving than condemnatory. Twilight rolled her eyes.

        “Well…” Applejack stumbled trying to avoid the delicate details and keep that unnoticed simultaneously. “Ah simply was to explain them everything in brief and make them swear they keep it shut…”

        “Did they do the Pinkie Promise?”

        “Pinkie!..” Twilight frowned. “That’s a bit more serious, than you treat it.”

        “What? At least they wouldn’t dare to break…”

        “… Ah decided, it would be better, than if they started to ask or poke their noses, where they were not supposed to,” Applejack seemed to ignore Pinkie’s suggestion. “So now they know that we have extraequestrial sentient creature, which is magic resistant and practically dangerous, if you apply magic to him.”

        “They want more information for themselves, but Ah made it clear that we share what possible, only if nopony spills the beans.”

        “Meanwhile we must think, what we can do to avoid further… revelations,” Twilight looked around at everypony. Applejack nodded.

        “And what’s there to think about?” Rainbow Dash seemed to decide everything already and just waited to suggest. “I’m one hundred percent positive that we should just lock him till princess decides what to do with this… human.”

        Fluttershy gasped. Rarity evidently wasn’t sure, if that was a good idea. And Twilight seemed to share their pessimism.

        Pinkie was totally occupied by tea and cakes, but Spike, who was listening all the time very carefully, asked.

        “But isn’t it practically what you are doing to him already? I mean, he is stuck in the house anyway.”

        “Ah guess,” sighed Applejack. “And if we agree with Dash, that will mean no getting out of the house during the day time, when somepony may notice him while passing Fluttershy’s cottage simply, no peeking out of the windows to wave a goodbye as well, and he must stay hidden, if anypony except us comes to visit Fluttershy…”

        “But that’s awful!” Fluttershy’s eyes filled with tears. “Alex is not a monster or a threat of any sort.”

        “Huh?” Rainbow landed next to her and patted Fluttershy’s back. “Flutters, pal, if you can deal with Manticore, that doesn’t mean everypony else can… and last time I heard you exactly saying those words while treating a Manticore like a kitten.”

        “That won’t be necessary for long,” said Applejack, seeing that Fluttershy became completely upset by the seemingly unfair measures. “Celestia is going to address him soon as Ah understand.”

        “I suggest,” Rainbow elaborated her idea meanwhile. “That only Fluttershy and Twilight deal with the human for the time being. Until Celestia finds out what to do with him. I for sure won’t object!” she smirked.

        “I’m still to finish some clothes for him,” Rarity frowned, the idea to stay without her “inspiration source” didn’t rub her feelings well. “So count me in visiting him from time to time anyway.”

        “Why are you so unfair to him, Dash?” asked Fluttershy barely audible.

        “Who says I’m unfair,” huffed Rainbow. “I’m just being careful… He is an alien, if you haven’t yet noticed.”

        “And under “alien” I’ve meant somepony who thinks different, feels different and can spring some surprise anytime. Until proved otherwise, I will stick to my words – I don’t trust him… and I advise you against doing that blindly.”

        “I feel otherwise,” whispered Fluttershy that nopony except Dash heard her.

        “Ha-ha, Flutters,” Rainbow hugged her friend, she surely meant well… but the method was what Fluttershy didn’t like. “You know, sometimes good judgment is all what we need to save us from our “feelings”!”

        “So,” Twilight stood up. “I don’t like this as much as you do Fluttershy, but… let’s round up. Who’s for the lock out?”

        Rainbow raised her hoof immediately, Applejack didn’t hesitate for long as well. Pinkie yawned and said something that made everypony look down in embarrassment.

        “I’ll pass. We seem to forget to invite Alex to our meeting… and now deciding, what to do with him… without him. Yeah, I’ll pass.”

        “I sincerely think that it’s better to keep everything the way it is now,” said Fluttershy quietly. “No need to emphasize any restrictions just to make him feel more uncomfortable than he does. I guess that’s a “No”.”

        “I’m with Fluttershy,” Rarity cocked her head after a minute of thinking. Fluttershy gave out a small smile. “Not because I want to see Alex. Not only because,” she whispered in Fluttershy’s ear.

        “Well, if my vote counts…” Spike coughed a little. “I’ll pass as well. Don’t know him well enough, but for what I know, he seems a nice guy. Locking him out would be unfair…”

        Twilight let out a deep tired sigh. Why it was always her to make the decision? Especially when the decision looked outright unpopular.

        “Sorry, Fluttershy,” she raised her hoof as well. “I believe it would be better, if only we two… OK, three, including Rarity, contact Alex, before princess Celestia takes the case in her hooves. And safer for… everypony.”

            Fluttershy soon left the meeting with the feeling that things could hardly go worse. One thing was to take simple natural precautions, but locking anypony out is a totally another story. Rarity wanted to support her and walk home, but Applejack asked Rarity for a private word, so Fluttershy headed home alone. She didn’t mind though, it was the moment, when she wanted to stay with her thoughts on her own.

        “Look, my friend,” Applejack made sure that other girls were minding their own business or enjoying the baking, before addressing Rarity. “Ah can understand yar interest in… Alex as… extraequestrian creature, though it suits Twilight more. Ah can even understand yar… errmmm… personal interest in him. We’re all ponies at the end of the day and for each their own.”

        Rarity blushed and Applejack almost noticed, how she was guessing which details about her crush were known.

        “But at least make sure that your sister doesn’t come across something, fillies don’t need to see,” Applejack continued in half-tone.

        “What’s wrong with stitching sketches?” hissed Rarity, she tried to keep a good face in a bad game.

        Now it was Applejack’s turn to show embarrassment. She almost broke up, but managed to find the way out.

        “Ah know yar easily enthralled nature, Rarity. Ah am sure there are more of ‘em!” Applejack raised one eyebrow.

        “Yeah, he-he… You got me here, AJ,” Rarity sported a sheepish smile. “I’ll try to keep Sweetie Belle out of all that, sorry.”

        “Not only her, you can easily make Flutters and Twi responsible for a fail, they aren’t guilty of.”

        Rarity nodded with a sigh.

                *

        “Damn it!”

        The sneaky wick didn’t want to get under the roller no matter what, and the lack of simple instruments was a total disaster. But Alex was ready for that, it would be excessively optimistic to think that Fluttershy had screwdrivers, tweezers and so on in her house. He was limited to a thin knife in his repairs.

        The mere idea of doing nothing was killing him. Alex got used to working during the daytime… or entertain himself on weekends. Here though all his duties were very limited and he managed to complete the job fast enough to suffer from boredom. When Fluttershy was at home they could talk, but when she wasn’t time crawled slowly and aimlessly. Alex tried to read, but he caught himself on becoming nervous no matter what. And when he took a book on gardening, he noticed that he was going through one place, again and again, trying to find known terms.

        The thoughts about his possible return relying mostly on the image, he was going to create, and Celestia’s good will, didn’t leave his mind. For all he knew about Celestia, she was a nice… pony generally, but… that was her attitude towards her kin. Besides he knew that she preferred to award only well deserved, in other words, one should at least start solving their problems to be granted some regal help. And Alex had no idea where to start in his case.

        Thus when he came across a broken oil lamp, he grabbed it as a treasure. At least something could distract him from nervous leisure. But this damned wick…

        The knife was obviously too big to reach something that prevented it from scrolling. Alex searched the kitchen lockers one more time and finally found an awl.

        “Aha!” He attacked the mechanism opening for the wick with the newly obtained weapon.

        Some hard slag showered from the slit, that was obviously what prevented the whole thing from working properly. When Alex was blowing it out and looking through the cleaned hole to the light, he heard the front door opened and somepony slowly came through.

        “That’s me, Alex,” something in Fluttershy’s voice made Alex put all the stuff aside.

        He watched, how she entered the kitchen, deep into her thoughts, which weren’t bright, as her head was down and her mane and tail seemed tarnished. Fluttershy placed herself on the chair and leaned on the table, putting her chin on both hooves and looking sadly afar.

        Alex came closer and put his hand on her shoulder.

        “What’s wrong, Shy?” he asked simply, trying to sound most sympathetic. “I thought you were going to meet the girls. Did something happen?”

        Fluttershy sighed and looked up to his eyes. Then she suddenly snuggled into him and Alex was to stand closer. He stroked her mane waiting for the answer.

        “Yes… and no. I-I don’t know how to put it right…” sniffed Fluttershy ruefully. She kept silence for a while.

        Alex reached another chair and grabbed it, dragging it closer. He then sat next to Fluttershy, still hugging her.

        “Come on, girl, tell me. Somepony offended you?”

        Fluttershy nuzzled his shoulder gently.

        “Not me, you…” she tried to find words to explain. “Some fillies, Rarity’s and Applejack’s younger sisters and their friend, found out there is a human in Equestria, that means you.”

        “Fillies,” Alex smiled inwardly. “Kids are always kids, and everywhere.”

        “What could possibly be wrong with that?” he asked. “Unless they start telling everypony… but I doubt there is another Lyra Heartstrings in Ponyville, or a few…”

        “That’s the point. And if you listen to the whole story, before asking…” Fluttershy frowned slightly.

        “OK, OK, I shut up. Do tell.”

        “Rarity’s sister, Sweetie Belle, came across some of Rarity’s sketches. Supposedly stitching sketches for your clothes… B-but I know Rarity, if she is… “inspired”…”

        Alex sighed, understanding what she was talking about.

        “Then she shared her discovery with her friends, Apple Bloom, Applejack’s sister and Scootaloo. They are classmates and run the club – Cutie Mark Crusaders… But… that’s another story…”

        “Well, they didn’t know, my existence was a secret,” Alex apologized for the girls.

        “Yeah… That wouldn’t make explaining it to Celestia easier… Anyway, Applejack “caught” them on discussing the sketches, thankfully between them three only yet. She made them swear, they wouldn’t tell anypony else yet… and promised to share information about you with them, when possible,” Fluttershy facehoofed, understanding how it sounded. “I’m sorry, Alex, if that makes you feel like a showpiece. Really sorry!”

        “Well,” Alex smirked. “That’s not my worst experience here. I’m sure, I can cope with it. But I still fail to see, what I should be offended by.”

        “Alex!..” Fluttershy cocked her head, as he was interrupting her still. Then she turned embarrassed again. “I-I need to apologize for the girls. D-don’t think of them worse… than they really deserve…”

        “It was Celestia’s order to keep your presence in secret and thus we were to conform,” she rushed to explain. “And while today we stopped them in time, nopony could guarantee that nopony else would notice you accidentally. This was where the worst part started,” she sighed sadly and Alex stroked her head again. “Rainbow suggested that nopony except me and Twilight should see you. Moreover, she suggested that you shouldn’t leave the house before the princess decided what to do with you. I know that it is what you’re practically doing now anyway, but… one thing is, when you realize the need, and another – when you’re forced to stick to some rule. Rainbow first would be mad about the latter applied to her.”

        “Well, I can’t say, I’m very much surprised,” Alex gritted his teeth. But Fluttershy looked so miserable, he didn’t want to upset her even more. Besides, it wasn’t her fault. Alex squeezed out a smile. “I’m an alien… and need to be treated with extreme caution. Not every pony is such a daring soul like you, Shy!”

        Fluttershy smiled, her nose became pinkish.

        “We voted, can you imagine,” she looked down to the table with her ears flattening. “I was against that of course… So was Rarity.”

        Alex huffed, but the next phrase caught him by surprise

        “Pinkie said she would pass, as we decided what to do with you without you actually. Spike also passed, saying the whole thing looked wrong to him.”

        “So, it was Rainbow’s idea and she voted for,” Fluttershy said quietly after a moment of silence. “Applejack joined her, but I suppose… she just didn’t want to deal with another incident like with girls. And Twilight…”

        “Don’t apologize, Shy,” Alex stopped her. “I understand Twilight, among you all she is second after you, who takes most pressure and stress. She is a princess, so technically shares the responsibility of Celestia… besides, she is Celestia’s best student. There is no her fault in things turning that way… But why Rainbow hates me?”

        “Alex,” Fluttershy looked up at Alex’s gloomy face. “P-please, don’t say so… She is not… hating you, she is just a bit…”

        “…xenophobic?” Alex smirked grimly.

        “Yeeah… That’s the word…”

        They listened, as a night butterfly bumped against the window.

        “OK,” Alex broke the silence first. “I got it. I’ll be a good human and won’t poke my nose outside… yet. And try my best that nopony else notice or hear me.”

        “Alex!”

        “I’m fine. More or less…” her expression was so gentle and caring that Alex couldn’t hold a smile. “Look what I have found.”

        He turned and moved the lamp parts closer. Now the wick entered its place under roller freely and Alex accurately, not to spill the remaining oil, reassembled the whole lamp. He then rotated the handle, readjusting the wick, waited a couple of minutes, letting the oil come up and lighted the wick.

        “Thank you!” Fluttershy watched the small flame, while Alex put the glass back on the lamp, then raised her eyes on him. “I was going to take it to the workshop.”

        “Are you sure, you’re fine?” she asked once more, still seeing a shadow on his face.

        “Ugh!” Alex shook his head. Then he turned to face her and said. “Let’s just forget about that for now, OK? It was a long day and now it’s late. We both need sleep.”

        Fluttershy leaned to him and rested her head on his chest. Alex nuzzled her hair, inhaling the flowery aroma.

        *

        The bright moon peeked through parting clouds and poured liquid silver onto the forest. The warm breeze touched the trees making their leaves whisper hastily. Alex had no idea how he got here. He looked around, when his eyes accommodated to the twilight, the moonlight can’t come through the crones entirely. Apparently, he was in the Everfree, but he can’t recognize the place even approximately. And the darkness didn’t help it either.

        “Great,” thought Alex. “If I learned something during my staying in Equestria, then it is for sure – Do. Not. Be. Surprised. Ever!”

        “Either this is another utterly strange thing happening, not the first and I suppose not the last, or I’m dreaming again. Last time I found myself in princess’ Luna bedroom, now what?”

        The dream was the easiest explanation, but Alex couldn’t help noticing that all the feelings were too vivid for a sleeping person. Alex listened to the cicadas concert with some night bird soloing in the distance. The grass rustled softly under his feet. The wind, which he felt on his face, brought some tart and exhilarating scent, Alex thought it was somewhat familiar, but he couldn’t recognize it still.

        He decided to go towards the source of that familiar smell. Besides, the ground lowered noticeably in that direction. Alex walked through the forest, stepping over the fallen trees and noticing that he produced way less noise, than he normally did in the same conditions. But when he tried to touch himself, he felt it perfectly. He even pinched himself slightly to find that it hurts as always, but apparently, that didn’t make him wake up. So if it was his dream, it was a very strange yet realistic one.

        The forest thinned meanwhile and the ground inclined more and more in the direction he was heading. Just when Alex wondered, if the realistic dream included realistic wolves or… it was a very unwelcome idea… manticores, the trees parted and he stepped into the wide opening brightly lit by the moon.

        A deep cleft opened right at the edge of the forest and went further and deeper guarded by the trees on both sides. At least there was some path unlike in the forest which seemed all the same here; so Alex went down that slope.

        Soon the cleft became more like a canyon and Alex noticed that he got about sixty feet lower than the rest of the forest. Strangely he didn’t feel any unease about that or about the whole situation. Maybe the faint glow, coming from behind the turn of that cleft, calmed him and attracted at the same time.

        When he reached the dead end, Alex found himself in a large natural chamber. Irregular in shape it was framed with the tree crones far above and lit by the moon. But that wasn’t what made Alex’s heart skip a beat.

        There was a giant tree in the far end of that “chamber”, it was the biggest Alex saw in his life. Or at least one of the two, as Alex immediately remembered the tree near that damned road turn, where he was taken to Equestria from. This one thought was even larger, more than sixty feet high, its crone must be on the same level the crones of common trees above were.

        Alex was absolutely sure, this one wasn’t nearly common. In addition to its size it looked simply… Alex thought that he couldn’t find a better fitting term, even if he tried – magical. The whole crone was rather silvery than green, almost glowing, the enormous trunk and branches were of the same colour, silvery roots covered the ground. The glow seemed slowly pulsating, as if the tree had a heart. Or perhaps it was the heart itself, of the Everfree for example, or…

        He found himself standing there with an involuntary happy smile, looking up to that miracle of nature. The sudden feeling of serenity, of peace and… harmony filled him.

        “Merlin’s pants!” Alex was struck by that lightning-like guess. “It can’t be… the Tree of Harmony! If it is, then it’s the heart of not only Everfree, but rather the whole land… or even the planet.”

        Alex approached the trunk which looked like a silver column twelve feet in diameter. Back at home he was never able to stand near a really high tree and look up to the top as he immediately imagined the whole height of it… and heights and Alex didn’t come together well. Here though he caught himself on looking up to that forest monarch without any phobia clawing his soul. It seemed that the tree would chime, if someone touched it.

        Unable to hold that impulse Alex stretched out his hand and touched the glowing bark. It felt surprisingly warm, not as some usual hard wrinkly bark of a common tree did.

        “Greetings, Guardian!”

        Alex heard the soft melodic voice deep in his head.

        “WHAT?!” Despite the evident oddity of the whole situation, he always treated the bodiless voices in one’s head as something to be worried about. Alex twitched and stepped back, removing his hand from the trunk. He breathed heavily, but heard the light steps behind nevertheless.

        Alex turned around quickly, readying himself to any surprise this strange place might provide. But all he saw was a human figure stepping out of the shadows cast by the cleft wall. When it came closer, Alex saw that it was a woman. Moreover the very familiar woman, or better say the girl as Alex noticed that she looked young and graceful. Exactly the girl Alex already saw in the dream about himself and Elen visiting the ocean coast. The dream where he came to the coast with Elen, but then found himself holding Fluttershy in his hands.

        She approached letting him notice the dark-blue long noble dress, the long hair of seemingly all colours of the night sky, the blue shades on upper eyelids and the whole beautiful face with clearly delineated features. Yet when she smiled, her cheeks rounded almost childishly.

        Alex stepped forward unconsciously, he was amazed to see another human here, especially such a pretty girl. His eyesight blurred a bit and when he regained focus… he saw a night coloured alicorn in front of himself. She had the same blue shades on her eyelids, same starry night mane and tail, same noble beauteous look. Alex saw the sly sparkles in her large dark eyes, when she spread her wings and granted him a smile, making her cheeks round the familiar way.

        “Merlin’s pants! That’s princess Luna, the one exactly who’s bedroom I’ve “broke into” in my strange dream. Or was it…” Alex blinked.

        Alex opened his eyes. When his eyesight accommodated to the darkness, he could discern the ceiling slightly highlighted by the moon, the bed he lied on, the pillows and covers. Fluttershy turned in the bed to face him, then she moved closer and snuggled hugging him with her fore legs.

        “Mmmm… Alex,” she muttered while practically still sleeping. “What’s wrong? Your heart… It’s beating… very fast. Mhm…”

        “It’s OK,” Alex gently kissed her in the top of her head. “I just had a weird dream… one of… Never mind, Shy, sleep.”

        She happily sighed, when he hugged her and held in his arms stroking her mane, and soon he fell asleep under her even breathing.

        *

        Princess Celestia came to Crystal Empire not to pay a courtesy visit or not because princess Cadence and her husband Shining Armour couldn’t rule their domain on their own. The news, they sent her regularly, became more and more strange and alarming each day and finally reached the stage, when Celestia decided to attend personally and check the source of all the troubles on her own. That was why she left Canterlot, leaving Luna deal with local cases, and flew to Crystal Empire with a small squad of pegasi guards.

        The problem, which got her attention, could look like King Sombra revenge attempt from the first sight. If she didn’t know that Sombra was defeated finally and completely last time, not without the help of her bright student Twilight and… despite how wild it could sound, her aide Spike. If also she didn’t know that King Sombra, in his best days, preferred to gather forces and strike in one well-aimed blast, not wandering around outskirts of the Empire in a seemingly aimless manner.

        The Dark Mist surely shouted “Sombra” and was indeed his calling card, but… If it was him, the Dark Mist would be certainly concentrating around Crystal Empire, complicating the travels and transportations, making the residents feel hopelessness and despair, oppressing them, yet gathering and trying to materialize and strike in some single weak spot. King Sombra, peace be upon him, was a bit too straightforward and self-confident, but at least that gave his opponent a chance to get ready.

        Here it looked entirely different: the Dark Mist, and Celestia couldn’t literally find the better name for the phenomenon, wasn’t concentrating in some predictable pattern. Instead of that small sources of it appeared here and there, mostly in the coldest and distant areas of the Empire surroundings, on far north, making an impression that somepony was just trying the turf and simultaneously looking for something, not readying an imminent attack. In other words, it was cautious reconnaissance, not a crusade attempt.

        And that didn’t look like Sombra tactics at all. But who’s then?..

        That is why Celestia sent her guards to keep hooves on the pulse of local frontier defense duties and report any new incident immediately.

            “… and while I devote all my time, making crystal ponies feel our Empire carries solemnity of law and order no matter what, Shining spends his days and nights, watching guards training, analyzing the reports and making the distant scouting most effective,” princess Cadence shook her mane, while levitating a cup of coffee towards her, making the faint scent of roses fill the air. “He practically returned to guard captain duty, like in Canterlot… with the exception that the stress doubled or even tripled. I can’t remember, when he slept normally last time,” she finished with a sad smile.

        “That doesn’t sound right. Completely!” Celestia nodded. “I’ll try to find the way out of your situation in the closest perspective. But I naturally need another incident to base my outlook on.”

        “Your majesty!” the guard which stormed in the room, breaking all the possible etiquette, was breathing heavily and looked extremely anxious. “Your majesty, my deepest apologies! The problem needs your immediate attention!”

        As the protocol demanded, he was to address the ruler of the region, thus princess Cadence, first, but the guard was from Celestia’s personal security, yet addressing the guest first ignoring the host would be direct etiquette breach, so he reported to both princesses at the same time technically. His eyes were moving from one princess to another and back in the cycle.

        “Yes,” Cadence showed that he got her full attention. “What’s the problem, officer?”

        “Your majesty. Princess Cadence, princess Celestia, we have another incident,” the guard took a breath before continuing. “We are having another incident right now. The Mist has materialized this time… and it’s something we didn’t face yet.”

        “The substance formed an… entity and it is already giving our mages troubles,” explained he the urge while Celestia and Cadence listened with full attention. “That’s why we need your immediate assistance, princess,” he bowed to Celestia.

        “Cadence, dear, my apologies,” Celestia raised on her hooves. “I’ll keep you informed, when I check it on my own.”

        “Guard, gather three more and give me the coordinates,” she trotted through the doors with the guard following close. “Five minutes. We’ll teleport there immediately.”

            The warp took them exactly to the place provided by the guard. When the glow faded, they found themselves in the middle of a snowy field. Apparently, winter felt at home here, just like at the whole northern border of the Crystal Empire, where it attempted its regular raids to the south from. The snow was compacted by the frost and its own weight, and therefore easy to walk on. Big rocks in snowy hats – trails of the long gone glacier – protruded through the thick white blanket here and there. The dark band of the forest edge lied to their left and the whole terrain raised forming a big sloping hill.

        Gray low clouds passed by and the sun was barely visible through that gloomy veil, bathing the landscape in the soft dimmed light. Rare snowflakes slowly floated in the cold air. And there was… silence. The only sound they could hear, except their own breath, was the distant wind whistling in the treetops of the nearby forest.

        “Your majesty,” the guard explained noticing Celestia’s silent asking gaze. “We need to go up that hill. Getting right on the scene would be shortsighted due to certain conditions, you will see shortly.”

        “Fine, officer,” Celestia nodded. “Let’s have a look on that… incident.”

        They trotted up the hill bypassing the snowy rocks. The guard continued explaining the situation meanwhile.

        “The Dark Mist materialized as a… creature, we haven’t seen before. We spotted it accidentally and its utter weirdness captured our attention. It’s unknown yet, if it is sentient in usual sense… or just a magical entity controlled by somepony,” the guard took a breath. “A few our mages keeping it distracted and thus locking it in a limited space. When we spotted it, it was moving on a widening spiral, seemingly searching for something, stopping for a while, then proceeding again.”

        “A few mages?” Celestia looked surprised. “Is this… entity that strong and dangerous, that one capable unicorn can’t hold it.”

        “It wouldn’t be a problem, princess,” retorted the guard. “If we dealt with any known enemy. But this one possessed abilities, which made it quite… tough for capturing.”

        “Like which?” Celestia raised a brow.

        “First of all, the creature seemed to be blind, at least we didn’t found any evidence that it could rely on vision. But it “felt” living creatures, moreover, it felt magic and was able to resist it,” explained the guard. “And the way this entity affected ponies made it extremely dangerous to operate with alone.”

        “It simply makes anypony feel despair and panic,” the guard shuddered, perhaps he experienced the effect himself already. “Apparently it is able to drain positive emotions and energy from living creatures, leaving only fear, hatred and so on. When our mages tried to dissolve it with a spell, it quickly chose one of them and rushed towards, making him almost drop in a panic attack. For now, they use all their force to contain it. It seems that if we want to take it down, the attack must be really fast and effective, giving it no time to react and aim the caster.”

        “Hmm… It sounds so nasty, I wonder…” Celestia stumbled, they reached the border of the impact zone.

        She suddenly got the feeling that somepony evil, gloomy and unkind crawled out from under the ground behind their backs and stared on them fixedly. Suppressing the urge to look over her shoulder, Celestia noticed that guards visibly struggled with different symptoms of unease and stress as well while proceeding.

        Celestia started remembering her quarrels with Luna, when they were fillies, all the harsh words they used to say each other because of unequal, as Luna thought, admiration and recognition of their subjects, the image of Luna crying and slamming the door of her bedroom in Celestia’s face…

        “O-o-ok!” Celestia gritted her teeth. “Just wait, I’ll get you!”

        She trotted up faster with the guards forcedly following.

        The other side of the hill was steep, opening the “battle” scene below. At first, it could look, as if there was a small local blizzard surrounding a few sporadically standing stones and low flat shrubs surviving the wind and frost. The wind howled, forming a real tornado below and the snow mercilessly lashed everything in the circle of couple hundred feet radius. Certainly, one couldn’t see or feel anything in the middle of that cold and snowy hell. But higher above the ground the blizzard thinned and from their hill Celestia and guard could see perfectly the dark figure which wandered irregularly, changing direction and stumbling.

        Six unicorns surrounded the blizzard on a considerable distance and obviously, they exactly formed and controlled it with their magic. From time to time one or another gave the creature inside the snowy swirl a magical nudge, making it immediately turn towards the “offender”, aim very precisely and rush to him. Then another mage “kicked” the creature making it stumble and lose track. It was obvious that the creature below wasn’t very intelligent, which brought instant thoughts about somepony’s magical puppet. But what was the purpose of that puppet, nopony could yet tell. One thing certain, it looked nothing like King Sombra’s shenanigans.

        “What, in the name of Starswirl the Bearded, is that?” muttered Celestia, her eyes dilated.

        The dark entity looked most likely a headless centaur without any arms. The whole figure was made seemingly of the dense Dark Mist, with bands of thinner substance flowing around its legs and torso, forming its “tail” and generally curling around the creature, while it tossed about in the snow storm. The torso was wide and could be called muscular, if anypony knew for sure this creature had muscles… or any complex internal structure at all.

        The only distinctive trait was a dark red opening right in the middle of the upper torso. Was it an eye, though the creature seemed to be blind, or perhaps a mouth, nopony could tell. Eventually, when it lost the track of another mage, the creature leaned towards the ground like trying to find something or sniffing the trail with its red orifice.

        “Ughhh!” shivered one of the guards. “What an abomination!”

        “It was doing exactly that, when we noticed it in the field,” he turned to Celestia and she noticed sweat drops on his forehead, despite it was cold and the wind was stronger on the top of the hill.

        When the creature turned facing their side, the disgusting feeling strengthened every time. Celestia felt sorry for the mages on the front line, imagining what they were going through, if she herself desperately wanted to be hugged by somepony and kept away and safe from that ugly spawn down below.

        “Enough!” decided Celestia. “It’s time to stop that… seeker.”

        She jumped in the cold air and opened her white wings, rising higher in the sky right above the raging blizzard. For a moment her pink-turquoise-green mane and tail seemed to cover half of the sky. The guards watched their princess, like enthralled, when she speared to the sun, spreading her wings.

        Celestia’s horn glowed bright and a golden beam of pure blinding solar light aimed at the “seeker”, piercing its black body.

        The muffled howl rolled over the field below. The dark “one-eyed” centaur figure glowed from inside for a one short moment and… exploded, bursting in clouts of Dark Mist, which were immediately devoured and dissolved by the blizzard as the magical force keeping the creature together ceased to exist. The overwhelming feeling of despair and torment vanished at once, like never existed and the world around suddenly seemed so bright and happy, that guards even couldn’t hold uncertain smiles, taking their breath.

        The mages in the field seemed totally exhausted though, as they lowered right on the snow, stopping their spells and letting the blizzard weather out at once. Celestia headed right towards them flying down. The pegasi guards followed her.

        “Inscrutably magnificent. As usual!” exclaimed one of them, when they all landed.

        Celestia let herself a small smile.

        “Thank you. But I’m afraid I’ve overdone,” Celestia was in a self-critical mood. “The spell was too powerful for a simple magical puppet, even such an unusual, this… seeker was.”

        “But I remembered your words about the fast and well-aimed strike,” she added. “And decided to err on the side of caution.”

        “Excuse us, your Majesty!” one of the unicorns they approached was still heavily breathing, yet he bowed low. “We need a couple more minutes to recompose, so we can follow you, princess.”

        “There is no need,” answered Celestia softly. “I’ll transfer us all to the Empire City. Thank you all for your loyalty!”

        The guards and mages saluted.


        The more she thought about all the details of the “seeker incident”, the less she liked the conclusions and the more unwilling similarities became obvious to her. And the latter was alarming as well. She could mistake of course, but the occasions it actually happened were scarce. Celestia watched, how Cadence and Shining Armour listened to her, telling them about what actually Dark Mist activity fruited into, and her decision to investigate the human issue grew rock solid. She told them in brief about latest Fluttershy “discovery”, but it seemed that Cadence and Shining were more surprised by the mere fact there existed a human in Equestria, than consider obvious differences in mythology and actual human capabilities discovered. For them he was still a mythic creature, while Celestia was bothered by his complicated relations with magic. They resembled the “seeker” abilities too much, to be easily treated as a coincidence. Though she was to admit that human’s impact wasn’t nearly as detrimental. Neither it was used as an active attack method ever, as Twilight confirmed.

        Celestia had no reasons to distrust Twilight or her judgment of others, one of qualities Twilight mastered, was her intuition for the personal qualities of those she tried to befriend. But still the security of Equestria was at stake and princess couldn’t ignore any detail, even if it was going to turn out a coincidence. Thus she decided to extract the human and investigate his arrival and nature thoroughly as soon as she was able to return to Canterlot. And the possible means to return him to his mother land… but the Equestrian interests went first.

        “… so I’ll stay for a while more, at least until it is confirmed that the Dark Mist activity ceased and was generally connected to that materialization we dealt today,” Celestia stepped from hoof to hoof. “I suppose it’ll take a couple of days, hardly more. Then I’m returning to Canterlot.”

        “Well, if that hurry is absolutely necessary…” Shining Armour wasn’t still sure that he understood, why the human needed to be addressed that urgently. “But we are always happy to see you here, princess!”

                *

        “So,” Rainbow Dash put a thick branch into the campfire and moved the firewood a little to make it burn evenly. “He naturally thought that it would be a good idea to scare somepony shitless with that trick and waited patiently for his chance.”

        Her move made the burning logs crackle and let out a bunch of hot sparks. Rarity wrinkled her nose and moved back slightly. She sported her comfy dressing gown already and didn’t want it to be ruined by the ashes or unwelcome sparkle. Sweetie Belle snuggled up to her older sister for warmth, the nights were still quite fresh. She yawned, when Rarity hugged her and kissed in the top of the head.

        The fire burned brighter after Rainbow gave it a nudge and the circle of light widened, revealing, in addition to the logs they all sat around it on, the tents, the small glade and the first line of dark sleeping trees, surrounding their camping place. The smell of fresh leaves mixed with the smoke, which raised apeak in the still air, repelling the few mosquitoes. Some night bird whistled sadly and pleadingly in the distance.

        “He made an time-worn looking coat to mimic the Black Thirsty Pony,” Rainbow continued her story. “And next time camping, when night fell, he wandered around the camping ground. He knocked the random tents, put his fore leg inside and wheezed in the most scary voice, he could produce “Waaaater! Please, give me some water!!!” Somepony laughed, but those were rare, the majority were scared, some scolded him when the trick opened up. But generally he noticed that the idea was successful…”

        Applejack huffed disapprovingly, whatever you say, it wasn’t her kind of entertainment – scaring innocent ponies. She looked down on Apple Bloom, who nested on the log and put her head on sister’s lap, and smiled with a wink, like saying “We know, there are no such idiots hiking with us fortunately!”

        “… but then he spotted another small old tent on the edge of the camping ground, closer to the dense forest. The tent was time-worn, dirty and had no light burning in. But that colt was too proud of his joke and wanted to scare the owner as well,” Dash lowered her tone, looking at all the present with a sly expression. “So he came closer and pulled his trick again. Silence. He thought that maybe the tent was empty or its owner was sleeping too tight and wanted to look inside…”

        “When suddenly a black hoof protruded from the tent and grasped the colt’s throat! “WHAT DO YOU NEED MY WATER FOR?!!””

        The fillies squealed more from her sudden exclamation, than from real terror, the last phrase caught them off guard.

        “And nopony saw him ever since. Either he was taken by the Black Pony… or became one…”

        Rarity rolled her eyes and shook her head.

        “Where do you get all this rubbish from?”

        “Oh, come on,” Rainbow stuck out her tongue. “Don’t be a party-pooper, pal. Girls like these stories. Right?!”

        “Yeah!” Scootaloo jumped cheerfully around Dash. “They are awesome. I want more, please, Rainbow.”

        Rainbow chuckled, not long ago Scootaloo was scared of the campfire stories and was too embarrassed to confess that. But since she overcame her fear of Headless Horse during one of their collective hikes, she started enjoying the storytelling talent of her older friend.

        “You enjoyed a bit of careless fun as well perhaps, when you were a filly, Rarity.”

        “Ah somehow suspected, it turns out that way,” huffed Applejack, scratching the back of her head. “The guy was calling it upon his arse, if you ask meh.”

        “Can you tell us something else?” Scootaloo stopped for a moment and looked up to Rainbow Dash with puppy eyes.

        “I have a better idea, girls,” Apple Bloom sat on the log and stretched. “Sis, why don’t you tell us something about the human at last. There is nopony else here, except us, so it’s right about time, you, big girls, spill something as promised.”

        In the silence that followed the bonfire crackled especially loud. The almost full moon raised above the forest and bathed the trees, the glade with tents and resting ponies in silvery light.

        “Well,” sighed Applejack. “Ah guess it is inevitable. What do you want to know? Mind that we don’t know everything, so can tell you what we know for sure only.”

        “At first how did Fluttershy get him?” Apple Bloom raised her ears. Sweetie Belle stopped yawning and seemingly woke up completely, and even Scootaloo stopped horsing around and perked up her ears.

        “Get him” is a bit strong to say,” Applejack smirked. “Fluttershy had a timberwolves-related problem in the Everfree and he saved her.”

        “You don’t say,” Apple Bloom re-asked, making surprised eyes. “There is something in the Everfree Fluttershy can’t deal with.”

        “Apparently there were too many of them, Little Apple,” Applejack patted her sisters head. “Don’t worry, she managed to stare most of them, but the help was just in right time and place.”

        She told fillies the whole story of human arrival as heard from Fluttershy. They listened with their mouths open.

        “But how come he is magic resistant?” asked Sweetie Belle. She turned to Rarity. “Last time I remember you said humans can neither use nor resist magic…”

        “Who can heal a wound half a foot long in three days?” gasped Apple Bloom. “I certainly don’t know a way without magic, like Twilight does.”

        “People”,” automatically corrected Rarity. “They call themselves “people”. Well, that was at least what Twilight and Lyra said – normally they can’t. But apparently, something about this one is different.”

        Rainbow huffed, listening how her friend spoke about the human as something special. She nudged Scootaloo and rolled her eyes, like saying “Just listen to her!”

        “Ah don’t know,” added Applejack. “As Rarity said, he is different. Look, we don’t know many things about him, for example how he got to Equestria actually.”

        “This is what I keep telling them,” muttered Rainbow. “We don’t really know him.”

        “But where did he come from?” Scootaloo sat closer to Rainbow and Dash put her rainbow tail above the girl’s head, so its end hung above her face closing the eyes. Both giggled, while Scootaloo was blowing the tail off her eyes.

        “Long story short, Fluttershy said he came from the Sisters’ Castle ruins,” Applejack added a few sticks to the fire. “Later she confirmed her conclusion… when he told her his story. But Ah don’t know the details yet.”

        “He talks just like everypony else,” jumped Scootaloo. “So she can understand him, doesn’t she?”

        “Ah told ya, he is sentient, he talks, reads… Though Ah have no faintest idea, how comes he knows our language. But apparently, he does…”

        “Alex is like everypony else, just looks different,” Rarity checked her mane and took a random leaf out, she then threw it in the fire.

        Rainbow snorted at her friend mentioning human’s name and admitting his similarities with ponies.

        “What?” Rarity raised an eyebrow. “You don’t like he has a name. But he does, why should I treat him differently from anypony?”

        “Oh,” Rainbow raised her fore legs in a theatrical gesture. “As you wish, Rarity! I’m not trying to offendyour special somehuman.

        “Hmpf!” Rarity cocked her head, while the fillies giggled quietly.

        “Alex lost his clothes and he came the whole way from the ruins wrapped in the royal tapestry,” she then continued.

        “Princess Luna tapestry!” added Rainbow meaningfully, she huffed. “What a perfect couple: the weird princess and the weird and perhaps dangerous alien!”

        “Hey, princess Luna is not that weird as you tell,” laughed Applejack. “Even Fluttershy got along with her eventually… and Flutters is not the most daring pony, you know.”

        “Just because you have personal… experience doesn’t mean that Luna is bad or strange.”

        “Who said she was bad?” Rainbow Dash blushed a bit. Apparently, the talk changed direction Rainbow wanted to avoid. She still pouted on princess Luna for feeding herself Rainbow’s own recipe on the last Nightmare Night celebration.

        That time Rainbow entertained herself, scaring ponies with thunder and lightning from a small cloud, she dragged with her everywhere. It was awfully funny, when others jumped on spot… and she accidentally startled a bunch of kids, exactly when Luna tried to show her better side. But it was totally… not awesome, when Luna played the same trick on Rainbow, literally sending a small lightning in her plot. Fortunately, there was only one extra witness of that – Twilight and she didn’t tell the details to anypony… but something still leaked apparently.

        “Who said she was bad?” repeated Dash. “Bad and weird are different things, if you ask me. But she still gives me the creeps.”

        “She helped me overcome my fears,” Scootaloo suddenly confessed. “I think that princess Luna is nice.”

        Rainbow gazed at the filly, like finding out something totally new about her younger friend, then she shrugged.

        “I’ll show you the Royal Tapestry, girls,” Rarity decided to change the topic. “But obviously only after I bring it to the best condition I can.”

        “Really? You haven’t told me about yourself working on it…” Sweetie Belle started to yawn wildly again.

        “Come on, Rainbow, Applejack, it’s too late, girls need to be sleeping already!” Rarity stated flatly, watching her sister rubbing her eyes. “We can delay all discussions till tomorrow.”

        “Yeah,” Applejack couldn’t hold a yawn as well. “Ah will get up early anyway. Ah can’t do anything about that, so Ah need to be sleeping already as well. Good night, girls. Let’s go, Apple Bloom.”

        “Good night!” Rainbow Dash directed Scootaloo, who was still sleepless, towards their tent. “Race ya to sleep, squirt!”

        Scootaloo hopped inside, she knew that it was for her own benefit – to get asleep first, as Rainbow snored quite audibly.

        When they closed the tent, Rainbow leaned towards Scootaloo.

        “Listen, Scoots,” she said in half-tone. “I want to tell you one thing… and I want it to remain in between us two, OK?”

        Scootaloo nodded. Obviously, she was always ready at least to listen to her idol and role model. How could she miss an advice from a pegasus, she wanted to become alike most of all in her life?

        “It’s up to you, of course, to decide,” Rainbow shrugged. “Just listen to what I say. Others can have their mindless fun, but I know for sure – I don’t trust the human. I can’t convince my friends, if they don’t want to know anything – they are adults and capable to take care of themselves anyway. But you fillies are a different story.”

        She then spread the sleeping bag in complete silence, seemingly thinking of better words to express her idea.

        “Are you sure, Rainbow?” whispered Scootaloo, pulling her wing to show that she was still listening. “He doesn’t seem dangerous and… girls seem to not share your suspicion.”

        “Well, I can’t be sure entirely,” unwillingly confessed Rainbow Dash. “But look what we have. As far as I know, Applejack is not ready to embrace… Alex wholeheartedly. Then Rarity… well, she evidently has a crush on him… despite how mad that sounds.”

        Scootaloo put both hooves at her mouth at that claim, her cheeks become pink, but the sly sparkles in her eyes told clearly that it would be the topic to discuss with the girls.

        “Fluttershy can deal with any wild beast, as long as there is not an army of them, so she obviously doesn’t take my concerns seriously… unfortunately.”

        “Twilight. Huh, that’s the same Twilight we’re talking about, right? As long as she can study something, be it an alien or a crocodile, she feels awesome,” Rainbow smirked. “And Pinkie… is simply too kind and open towards anypony. She thinks nicely about others regardless of their image and ready to make friends with everypony.”

        “And you, girls, put curiosity before common sense, no offense,” Rainbow turned towards Scootaloo. “Which effectively leaves only two of us with an adequate and careful approach.”

        “So, as I said, it’s up to you. But I would be happy, if you be careful yourself around that human… and hold your friends from thoughtless deeds if necessary.”

        “Yeah, this is me talking,” Rainbow granted surprised filly a smile. “Sometimes the risk must be weighed twice… otherwise you won’t be able to admire the result.”

 

---

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7. Royally locked

 

Only three days passed, but Alex was about to run the walls. That newly enforced secrecy was severely getting onto his nerves. He fixed what could be fixed around the house already, except those pinholes in the front door. Without some filler and paint that couldn’t be done properly, and Fluttershy had yet no time to visit the store. Obviously, Alex couldn’t help that, so each time he passed the door, its image made him sorry for that debacle, they made with Angel. Otherwise, Alex grabbed for every job, which could make the time fly faster and his uneasy thoughts release him for a while… or at least be muffled by the task, he was to accomplish.

        He thought about his oncoming appointment with princess Celestia countless times, but the more he thought it through, the more he was convinced that there were too many unknowns in that equation yet. For all he knew, he decided to tell the truth where possible and… improvise according to the circumstances.

        “Not the best plan of all I ever had, eh?” Alex told himself. “But screw it, I don’t have many variants to choose from.”

        Now he was watching how Harry helped Fluttershy fix the fence around her chicken coop. Alex could laugh at the absurdity of the situation… if it wasn’t happening to him. Indeed, a bear was doing something in the middle of the day openly for everypony around and he was to hide himself, like if he was some dangerous monstrosity. For all what he knew, Alex could think that a freely communicating, helping and generally socialized bear was something way weirder, than a human. Alex was ready to bang his head against the wall in despair. Nevertheless, he patiently waited, untill Fluttershy finished her repairs.

        The opened bedroom window let fresh air and all kinds of spring scents inside, yet Alex was to place the armchair, he was sitting in with the book, the way, so nopony could notice him from outside. Fluttershy trotted through the room and planted a quick kiss on his cheek, while heading to the bathroom. She closed the door already, so couldn’t hear the deep sigh Alex produced.

        He sat and listened to the pouring water, catching himself on reading the same sentence again and again, as if being unable to concentrate and grasp the sense. Finally, she came out wrapped in a towel. Alex smiled inwardly, normally ponies did without clothes, so this girly gesture of recognition of his presence was so funny yet unspeakably cute. Then he remembered, what he was going to talk about, and his smile faded.

        “Listen, Shy, we need to talk,” Alex closed and put away the book.

        Fluttershy took a hairbrush and sat on the bed, bringing her mane to order. After a minute of silence, during which she looked at the floor thinking about something, she finally raised her eyes at him.

        “I guess I know… w-what you are going to talk about, Alex,” she almost whispered, apparently this topic was sensitive for her as well. “About recent… annoying secrecy… enforcement, right?”

        “Yeah,” Alex’s eyes went downcast.

        “I know there is no her fault here,” he thought. “And it’s so damn easy to offend her by making it sound, like she is the one locking me out… But it can’t last this way any longer.”

        “Look, Fluttershy,” Alex saw that she apparently noticed that he called her full name instead of becoming usual “Shy”. “There is an open window here, but I still feel, like I’m not able to breathe normally. I’m surely happy that I’m not claustrophobic as well.”

        He noticed, her eyes filled with regret and sympathy, her ears sadly flattened, and mentally scolded himself for being the reason for that.

        “I made all the way from the Old Castle through the forest on foot and nopony managed to notice me, yet now I can’t even walk to the edge of that forest, in the field, breathe, sit on the grass, do nothing useful, yet know that I can do anything,” said Alex with a sigh. “But that’s only half of a problem. Then I see you do something outside and obviously need help and I’m forced to sit here with a book. That makes me feel like shit, Shy…”

        “But…”

        “I know that’s not your idea, and you’re not happy about it either,” Alex leaned forward running both hands through his hair and resting his elbows on the knees. Then he straightened fast. “And I know that is done to prevent certain problems with town folk and… with Celestia. Yet one thing is when you have nowhere to go, but to be unable to go anywhere is a totally different story. When you’re not at home, I have nopony to talk to. But I obviously can’t demand all of your time. I have nothing to do mostly, I can’t work, I can’t entertain myself, because I’m nervously itching in the perspective of the royal audience.”

        “Merlin’s pants, I can’t even fix those damned holes on the door. Look, Shy, I really sorry, we behaved like a couple of asses… But trying to do this will mean loading you with another task of going to the town and getting necessary stuff, because I again can’t do that myself.”

        “But you are already doing much,” Fluttershy was surprised by him not taking into account, what she considered obvious. “My house was never in such an order, you fixed everything that needed fixing…”

        “Yup,” Alex smirked sadly. “That’s the problem – everything. Now to occupy myself I need to… break something first.”

        “… and you freed me practically from all the work about the house.”

        “But I’m using all of that. I’m living on your expense, Shy, don’t deny that. So that doesn’t count, I simply must do something for you,” said Alex. “But the problem is, it seems I can feel the walls surrounding me. And I don’t even know what Celestia has for me in the nearest future.”

        “But what can we do?” Fluttershy rubbed her forehead. “Surely my cottage is not the most popular showplace in Ponyville, but there are accidental ponies around every day. And pegasi can notice you from a greater distance.”

        “I’ve thought about that already,” Alex left his armchair and kneeled on the floor next to Fluttershy. “I could go outside and around the house at least after sunset. As you say, ponies don’t normally leave the town when darkness falls. Please, Shy, I really need this… I have a feeling I won’t get even that in a few days.”

        He hugged her knees and put his chin on them.

        “Oh, Alex…” Fluttershy stared into his eyes felling that she couldn’t deny him that request. She stroked his hair, when he put his head on her knees. “I think it won’t do any harm, if you do that. But, please, please-please, make sure that nopony sees you.”

        *

        Alex barely waited till evening, it was his only chance to get outside, before… Well, he could only imagine what Celestia could do, he was still an alien, and the reasons and details of his arrival to Equestria were known to nopony. The worst thing was that he didn’t know the reasons himself yet.

        Fluttershy got too tired from the daily duties to make him a company. She curled on the bed, dragged the covers onto her and reminded him in a sleepy voice to stay unnoticed.

        Alex almost flew downstairs and slid through the front door trying to make no noise. He didn’t even put on his boots. Blessed was the land of Equestria, where you can stomp only on an accidental stone or a thorn, when going out barefoot, not on some bucking glass, a piece of plastic or a nail.

        He left the lights in the living room not to bump on things on return and was to stand outside for a while, letting his eyes accommodate. The night was taking its rights, but it wasn’t pitch black, yet the moon was only rising above the forest behind the meadow.

        Alex walked a couple of circles around the house, simply trying to have as much as he could of the feeling of grass on his feet. He held himself hard from jumping and goofing around like a foal. Instead of that he sat under the big tree and leaned on its trunk. The bedroom window above was now dark, as Fluttershy fell asleep almost immediately after getting to the bed.

        Alex stroked the grass near him and listened to the nightingale singing in the crown of that tree or maybe the nearest one. With a smile he thought that sometimes it was unimaginably easy to make someone happy. When the moon raised and added some light to the scene, Alex closed his eyes and enjoyed the air filled with the scent of fresh leaves and grass and…

        Lavender…

        At first, Alex didn’t pay that much attention, as the meadow behind the fence could easily have any type of flowers growing, but then a feeling of some presence made him unconsciously strain. Alex slowly opened his eyes to see the full moon above the landscape in front of him. On the edge of his sight he noticed something dark and flowing, something with sparkles.

        He was going to turn and look over his shoulder, when his heart skipped a beat. Alex felt some faint lavender breeze on his neck and soft silky lips quietly approached his ear. Then…

        “Boo!..”

        His body certainly was going to get up in one wild flurry, when this was breathed out into his ear, but… his feet decided otherwise and after slipping on the grass Alex fell flat on his back, instead of standing up ready to face the possible threat. When he hit the ground, the air left his lungs with a whimper, Alex could never produce willingly.

        When the world around stopped spinning and he regained clear vision, Alex found himself lying flat at the hooves of a night-coloured alicorn, looking at her upside down. The beauty blinked, batting her long eyelashes, and the smile made her cheeks funnily round. Obviously, that was the same pony… person he already saw in his dreams, visions, or whatever they were.

        “We thought, thou wast braver, Alex,” she teased with a tiny giggle. Then she leaned lower, almost touching his forehead with her nose and trying to make her big eyes look scary. Her mane, which looked like a long sheet of the starry sky, got into his open mouth and she removed it graciously. “Our apologies!”

        “If this is your usual greeting gesture,” Alex gulped. “Then you shouldn’t be surprised, seeing others in the similar pose as myself, perhaps. Merlin’s pants, my heart almost jumped out of my chest,” he took a breath.

        “Who’s that… Merlin?” she seemed to be genuinely puzzled. “And what his pants are supposed to do with everything? Thou call for those frequently.”

        “Just a figure of speech,” Alex made a notice of her old-fashioned talk, wondering if he would be always able to comprehend what she said. “It is a legend in my world… That there was… supposedly… a powerful mage. Errmmm… like your Starswirl. But I guess it’s just a legend, people don’t have magic… unfortunately.”

        “As for his pants, well, as I said – a figure of speech. They aren’t worse than any other part of him, so…” he stumbled seeing her laughing quietly. Alex gritted his teeth. “Look, you’ve caught me off guard indeed. Do you always sneak on pe… ponies like that?”

        “Thou art not a pony!” duly noticed the night-coloured joker. Then she added with a sly smile. “Besides, we bethink it’s a fair revenge for thy sneaking in our room and making us equally startled, right?”

        “So it was real?” Alex realized that he was still laying on his back looking up at her. Not the best way to talk to the lady. He then turned and raised on his feet, shaking the blades of grass off his clothes.

        “Apparently t was as real as affecting reality through somepony’s dreams can be!” alicorn nodded, wiggling her wings slightly. She was tall, much taller than common ponies and even perhaps a couple of inches taller than him, as Alex noticed now, when he saw her close.

        “I couldn’t remember that I was capable of that, just as well as of magic for example,” retorted Alex.

        “Wast ‘t ere thou became magic resistant, fast regenerating and so on, or henceforth?” she looked him directly in the eyes.

        Alex shrugged silently.

        “We guess it’s possible because we visited thee in thy dreams, thus making thee able to… reply,” she granted him with a clement smile. Then she remembered something and blushed a little. “Oh, whither are our manners? We are princess Luna, the ruler of the Night and Moon, one of the rulers of Equestria.”

        “Your royal Highness!” Alex replied with a bow. He wasn’t sure, if it was yet prudent to reveal his knowledge of equestrian history. So he decided to tread lightly. “So Celestia is your sister…”

        “Simply “Luna”,” the princess frowned slightly. “Thither is no need in those, especially after we… I shared dreams with thee. And, yes, Tia… princess Celestia is mine older sister forsooth.”

        Alex suddenly felt that sitting wouldn’t be a bad idea.

        “Excuse me, your… OK… princess… Luna,” he lowered to the grass and leaned on the tree again. “I just feel a little weak in the legs after… well…”

        “Thou didn’t seem weak in the legs at which hour thou dashed saving that little girl from the burning… how doth thou call… car, correct?” Luna raised one eyebrow.

        “What? How did you…” Alex even rose a bit, then he realized. “Oh, yes… The dreams… That was a silly question.”

        “Methinks I can forgive that,” she cocked her head, but her eyes were smiling. “Now… if thou puttest thyself slightly further…”

        And to Alex’s utter surprise Luna sat on the grass next to him, spread her wings and… The next moment he found himself “grabbed” by her wing and snuggled to her, so he felt her soft silky coat on his cheek, her warm feathery wing covering him and her heartbeat, as he inevitably was to rest his head on her shoulder.

        “Hey, I don’t bite,” she said noticing him being slightly confused by his position. “Mostly…”

        “So,” she gazed down at him. “Back to mine question. Wherefore didst thou risked, while thou even wast not the reason of their calamity?”

        Alex took a moment to think. Lavender filled his being, gifting him with serenity. He answered honestly.

        “I don’t know. I simply was to. I just felt that I could help; she wouldn’t make it on her own.”

        “Thou knowest, thou art impulsive, and act unpredictably weird oft,” Luna chuckled and Alex looked up to her to see her smiling. “But thou don’t bethink of thyself, at which hour others need thee. I guess, I was not mistaken in thee, Alex.”

        She moved him closer with her wings, so he was now sitting between her fore legs, leaning on her instead of the tree trunk. Luna sighed and put her chin on top of his head. In any other circumstances Alex would consider such gesture as overly patronizing to condescending, but something told him that wasn’t her case.

        They sat silently for a few minutes, watching the moon and listening to the whisper of the leaves. The nightingale, first startled by the talk, started singing again. Alex thought that a few minutes more and he would fall asleep in the warm silky feathery cocoon. He raised his hand and gently touched Luna’s mane, finding it almost water-like, elusively flowing through fingers.

        “Mhmmm…” Luna cooed, when he ran his fingers behind her ear and down her cheek. “I can recall ‘tis touch. Although, the first time ‘t made me almost jump, at which hour I woke up.”

        “Thou knowest,” she added after a while. “Thou somehow managed to change one of mine worst nightmares, at which hour thou wast… “sleepwalking”.”

        Alex listened to Luna telling him about her dream, in which she always quarreled with her sister and ended up crying in her room, and felt that his plan of discrete storytelling gave the first crack. He simply knew that, despite that alicorn was Celestia’s sister, he could be sincere with Luna, just as he was with Fluttershy. Thus he finally told her about his knowledge of Equestria world.

        To his surprise, Luna treated his theory about noosphere with even more tranquility than Twilight.

        “That’s not less possible than mine ability to affect the dreams of mine subjects, even their reality,” she nuzzled his ear. “Even thou, despite thy magic resistance, wast open for that.”

        “I doubt ‘tis is harmful to any extent,” she said a moment later. “Actually I’m more interested in thee personally…”

        “Me?!” Alex couldn’t hold a surprised exclamation. “You are able to get into my head, what’s interesting about me?”

        “…and the reasons of thy arrival. As thou hath said, thou wast not connected with magic at any level ere, so something or somepony must hast hath felt that thou art needed hither.”

        “Oh, I don’t know even a half of what I wanted to about thee yet,” Luna added in half-tone.

        “But what should I tell Celestia,” Alex twitched a bit, as it was ticklish, and Luna giggled. “Everypony said and I believed it was so, that Celestia wouldn’t like perhaps that I… know too much.”

        Luna took deep thought.

        “Thou hast nothing to worry about, thou art not some monster. Tia tends to take some things too gravely, concerning about our subjects, but my sister won’t crucify thee for simply being an outlander. Then, of course, she will want to know everything possible about thee and thy new, as thou sayest, capabilities. So ‘t may take time forsooth.”

        “Besides, thy magic resistance makes the task of returning thee home a bit complicated, if not to say next to impossible,” Luna returned her head on top of his. “As ‘tis forsooth what thou dearly wantest.”

        Alex noticed a faint tint of sorrow in her voice.

        “Speaking of which,” Luna remembered something. “I suppose she wanteth to take thee for… questioning tomorrow…”

        “Tomorrow?!” Alex almost jumped on the spot, but he was “packed” by the princess too tightly.

        “Well… Tia arrived late this evening, and I hath heard, she gave some orders regarding thee, so I believe – ay.”

        “So I guess thou needest to catch some sleep and give thy mind some rest ere thou art to answer questions,” Luna released him suddenly and the night air seemed chilling to Alex after her embrace. They both raised and Alex turned to the princess.

        “Don’t wake thy friend,” with a strange smile Luna waved her hoof pointing at the bedroom window above. “If ’t be true I am right, ‘t will be a sad morning for the girl.”

        “Can I ask you?” Alex was seemingly bothered by some question. “Are you in my dream… or this is real?”

        “We both were in each other’s dreams already,” Luna snickered. “And ‘t turned out to be real enough.”

        “But thou can try to find out arrant,” she advised him… or teased again. “Close thy eyes, then wake up!”

        Alex looked fixedly at her still smiling, then cautiously closed his eyes. He suspected some trick from that unpredictable alicorn.

        Next thing he felt, were soft lavender flavoured lips on his cheek… and then the touch vanished. As well as the princess herself.

        “It must be a dream,” stated Alex opening his eyes, yet lavender said otherwise.

        He ran his palm through the hair. Something was there, something which wasn’t him. With a puzzled look on his face Alex took out and examined a large dark-blue feather.

            He extinguished the lights in the living room, waited till the eyes accommodated to darkness and quietly got upstairs. The bedroom was lit by moonlight, so Alex could move freely without any fear to kick something down.

        Alex took off his clothes and slightly lifted the covers on the bed, sliding under them. The warm bed seemed almost blessing after the cool air outside, it was very late already. He was trying to nest himself comfortably, when Fluttershy sighed and turned to him. She then slid closer, reaching him with her fore legs, and wrapped them tightly around Alex, snuggling her entire warm body into him.

        “Mmmm, you smell of lavender, Alex,” she cooed almost through sleep, nuzzling his cheek. “I don’t remember… lavender growing… my house.”

        And before Alex could say or do anything, he felt her tender slightly opened lips over his own. With a light heart and full passion he answered her kiss and Fluttershy let out a quiet moan, when he squeezed her gently but strongly, running his fingers through her marvelous hair.

        “What are you doing, Alex?” he thought, feeling as lavender-field flowers-honey mix enveloped them both, while they shared their unity for several minutes. “If you need to leave forever… That will… And Luna…”

        His thoughts dissolved, as they made their breaths single, emerging for air then diving back to the sweet pleasure of kissing. Those were not mad tongue dances, French kissing or something alike, yet the soft silky touch, Fluttershy put all her feelings and hopes of last days in, made Alex’s head spin. He couldn’t resist the impulse and sincerely returned the treatment, despite the faint painful thought of possible disaster, if he was to leave her someday.

        After a while Fluttershy calmed down, her heart wasn’t now jumping out of her chest, as he could feel, but she tightened her grip nevertheless. Alex held her breathing evenly and snuggling into his chest, and slowly floated to the land of dreams.

        *

        In the morning Fluttershy kissed him lightly, as usual before heading to the bathroom he just left. She didn’t remember the midnight kiss or, perhaps, thought, it was a part of her dreams. Thus she didn’t blush more than usually, when he returned the gesture, kissing her on the nose.

        The knock at the front door sounded like a strike of fate. Leaving her breakfast Fluttershy headed to answer. Alex was able to see only her from his place, but not those behind the door. Yet by the look of Fluttershy’s ears flattening and her telling something barely audibly to somepony outside, he realized, that Luna was right and problems were only starting.

        Then Fluttershy stepped aside and Alex saw Twilight entering the house. He was about to relax, but the next phrase confirmed his worst suspicions.

        “Morning, Alex!” Twilight nodded slightly. Alex noticed that she wasn’t happy about the ongoing situation. “I’m afraid, it’s time to go… Princess Celestia wants to see you and she sent guards and the transport.”

        “I-I know… about the secrecy… and…” Fluttershy said quietly with tears gathering in her eyes. “B-but… I-I thought… can I?..”

        “Sorry, dear,” Twilight turned to her friend. “I asked princess, but she was firm about that – the audience will be confidential. Only I can attend…”

        “B-but am I not the closest witness?” Fluttershy asked a bit louder and a lot more confident, making both Alex and Twilight share a surprised look.

        “I’m sorry, Fluttershy, I’m really sorry,” repeated Twilight. “I’ll try to talk you through later, but now we really need to go.”

        “Transport?” Alex remembered her words meanwhile. “What transport?”

        “Balloon,” simply dropped Twilight over the shoulder, while hugging Fluttershy, who was sobbing on her chest.

        Alex’s eyes dilated with terror.

        “No bucking way you mean, we will be flying… to Canterlot!” Alex wished that he passed the breakfast today. “No. Bucking. Way! I probably mentioned that I’m acrophobic. Nothing to be proud about, but c’est la vie… And that means, I’m bucking afraid of heights, Twilight! Flights hardly excluded.”

        “Alex!” Twilight released Fluttershy and tried to reason. “We have no other way. Magic can’t be cast on you, especially teleportation spells, who knows what this may result in. And the train is not an option.”

        “What, in the name of Equestria?” she turned to the door, attracted by some noise from outside.

        Alex stepped closer and saw two guards, preventing Rarity from coming inside.

        “Hi, Alex! Hi, girls,” she waved her hoof. “Those brutes tried to hold me. Hooves back! I’m not breaking through!”

        “Twilight, darling, could you please tell those… diamond dogs to keep their paws away?” Rarity pleaded, while both guards snorted angrily. “I came to bring Alex more clothes, as I just finished with them. And they were not letting me in.”

        One of the guards grabbed her saddle bag and quickly searched through it. Another muttered:

        “No worries, he will be given all he needs.”

        “Your Highness!” reported the Pegasus, which checked the bag. “Nothing dangerous, only those rags!”

        “RAGS!!!” Rarity seemed to become even taller. Alex thought that she would kick the guard’s ass in a totally non-lady-like manner in a moment, but Twilight quickly approached her and whispered something in her ear.

        Rarity huffed, but calmed down a bit. Alex turned to Fluttershy in such a way he shielded her from others’ eyes with his back. He kneeled then to her eye level and stroked her mane. She looked into his eyes and tears, filling her turquoise lakes, made his heart drop like a rock. Alex leaned to her and kissed her shortly, but exactly the same way as last night.

        “I’ll return. I’ll return, even if Celestia has a way to send me back. I won’t leave like that…” promised he, not giving her time to wonder about his kiss.

        Fluttershy sniffed and Alex spotted two tears falling on the floor. He hugged her, then quickly got up, took Rarity’s saddle bag with clothes and nodded to Twilight, showing he is ready. Almost…

        Rarity raised on her hind legs and squeezed Alex with her fore legs, giving him that funny and cute puppy look again. Alex stroked her mane and kissed on her nose.

        “Thanks for all, Rarity! I still hope, I can repay you somehow…”

        Walking on the grass Alex looked back to see Rarity comforting Fluttershy, who was crying in the doorway of her cottage. The guards headed to lilac and pink striped menace and Alex felt as his confidence, if there was any in the first place, melted with each step closer to the balloon. When he approached and put his hand on the edge of the gondola, his entire self was literally shaking and his pupils narrowed to pinprick size. Alex could hear the noise of blood in his ears, he was almost fainting. As embarrassing as it was, but he could do nothing about that.

        “I just can’t…” he whispered in Twilight’s ear. “Call me a bucking coward, but I’m always dying… a little, when I face height.”

        “Close your eyes, Alex,” Twilight’s voice was sympathetic yet firm. “Now breathe… Do you still have the bag with your clothes?”

        “What? Here it is,” Alex held up the bag, with his eyes still closed, releasing the edge of the gondola.

        With a gentle nudge Twilight quickly pushed him inside, she and both guards followed. She closed the door, while Alex simply curled in the corner, sitting on the floor and holding his knees. He opened his eyes and looked up to Twilight. Perhaps he wanted to perform a flaming gaze of righteous wrath, but in the given circumstances he could only give out a rabbit facing a constrictor look.

        “I’m sorry, Alex,” Twilight leaned to him and patted his shoulder, Alex twitched like from electric shock. “At least you’re in. Don’t stand up and look outside and you’ll be OK.”

        The dreading balloon raised up in the air meanwhile. Alex was unsure, if it was the gondola waving naturally or the whole world around him dancing some mad dance and noticeably darkening, as his fear attack wasn’t going to release him.

        “Look,” Twilight smiled. “Even if anything happens, we three can catch you easily.”

        She couldn’t say though, if Alex understood her properly, or if that made his condition a tiny bit better. All the sounds reached Alex’s hearing muffled, like through the water. He almost turned to stone in his corner. Though when Twilight leaned over the edge to check where they were, he barely held himself from shrieking madly and grabbing her leg to drag her back to the bottom of the gondola.

        “Did you always suffer from that?” Twilight asked and after a whole minute Alex nodded, almost convulsively.

        “We could try to do something with your phobia later, Alex,” she was thinking aloud. “When you are done with that investigation. I could try to help you with some psychology techniques I’ve read about.”

        According to Alex’s expression, he was hardly sharing her enthusiasm, evidently, everything he could think about at that moment, was the plain ground only. Twilight sighed and looked into the sky, when she heard some noise from him. She turned to Alex and finally heard that he whispered, almost breathed out like an old scratched vinyl.

        “I… I sincerely hope this is my first and last flight ever. Cough…”

        *

        Twilight gave Alex a few minutes to recompose, when they landed directly near the Castle entrance and Alex crawled out of the gondola. He realized how pathetic he looked at the moment, but was incapable to overpower himself about that. Both guards snickered quietly behind their backs. Naturally, pegasi couldn’t imagine, how somepony could be afraid of height and flights, when one didn’t need to fly on his own even, being carried by some transport. But they shut up and straightened, when Twilight gazed at them angrily over her shoulder.

        Leaning on her Alex walked a few yards, before his body realized, he wasn’t in the air, and started acting normally again. Fortunately, the appointment was planned on the first floor and Alex felt better after getting up the stairs with Twilight.

        They walked through a long corridor with guards, standing in pairs in each arc, and approached the large double doors leading to the hall. Alex thought that if Celestia wanted to intimidate him, then the flight itself was more than enough, but evidently, that was just a part of the protocol, which she chose to stick to in letter in his case. Wondering what this could speak about, Alex waited behind the doors, while Twilight entered the hall.

        After a few minutes the guards opened the doors for him and Alex stepped into the new room on the red carpet, running from the doors to the other side of the hall with a familiar elevation. The two thrones were occupied by Celestia and Luna, Twilight sat slightly aside to the left of them.

        “You may approach, Alex the human!” Celestia’s voice rolled across the hall and Alex wondered, how it could be that soft and loud at once.

        He had no idea how to greet the princesses, as naturally Alex never met one before officially. He contacted Twilight and Luna on friendly terms only. So he decided to follow the examples, he saw in historical movies, just in case. When Alex approached the elevation, he noticed that Twilight was looking at him slightly nervous, like a teacher could look at her student facing the final exam. Luna was calm and distant, yet he noticed her eyes smiling. She winked barely noticeably and Alex felt that it wasn’t going to be that bad perhaps. He didn’t look at Celestia yet, but decided to lower to one knee and bow, looking down instead.

        “Luna, haven’t you met the human already?” snorted Celestia in half voice. “I see he prefers to stick to old-fashioned style.”

        “No, wherefore should I?” Luna was an epitome of tranquility. “Besides, Tia, I’m not making our subjects fall flat and speaking in Royal Canterlot voice to those folk for quite a while, thou knowest.”

        “Excellent! You may rise, Alex,” Celestia aimed her attention on his humble person.

        Alex got up, noticing that the princess stood on her hooves as well. She went down the elevation and closer to him, making Alex realize how large Celestia was. Undoubtedly she was stunningly beautiful with her slender white coated body, elegant posture, lush flowing pink-turquoise-green mane and tail, big bright eyes with long eyelashes. But she was noticeably bigger than her sister, let alone Twilight or any other ponies he knew. Perhaps bigger than common adult horses back on Earth. Her wings were tightly folded, but Alex imagined that while spread they appeared quite a look. And her horn was a serious weapon on its own, even not mentioning the magic.

        The princess trotted around him, slowly examining from all the sides, like trying to feel, if there was something wrong or dangerous about him. Then she towered over him again. Celestia leaned closer, making her eyes look directly into Alex’s. Her older sister status was obvious, despite her beauty and grace. No subtle wrinkles in the corners of the eyes, no other stupid… “earth” stuff, she was fresh and divine, but her glance, full of experience and wisdom, and the whole expression, told Alex at once that even if she ended being on his side, she wouldn’t become a factor to easily ignore ever.

        ‘I have nothing to hide,’ said Alex to himself and returned the look openly and calmly, despite her eyes seemed to look through his entire soul to the bottom. ‘Well, nothing dangerous for them.’

        “Hmph!” Celestia nodded to some of her thoughts with a tiny smile, which made her face brighten suddenly, and returned to her throne, where she placed herself with comfort. Alex took a breath inwardly, it seemed he made a nice impression at least visually.

        “So, Alex the human,” Celestia glanced at him from above. “I want you to tell us the whole story of your arrival to Equestria. Tell, as you can remember it, but mention every detail you remember, regardless if you find it non important.”

        “If only I knew where to start…” muttered Alex to himself. He decided to tell about his work-related trip first, then going into necessary details of the sudden storm and the car crash. When he reached the thunderstorm part, princess Luna suddenly stopped him and asked.

        “Art thou sure, Alex, that the storm was neither in prognosis, nor had natural predictors? To put it simple, was ‘t arrant random?”

        “To me it was, your highness,” confirmed Alex. “There were no visible symptoms of it to start, right till it started actually.”

        He noticed, how Luna shared a meaningful glance with her sister, and Celestia nodded barely visible. Puzzled, why the storm was so important to them, Alex continued his story. It took about half an hour in entirety, as he shortly mentioned all the aspects: his wandering around the old castle, his “race” with manticore, cockatrice incident and the rest of the trip to the point he was hit by a timberwolf at the attempt to defend Fluttershy.

        When he mentioned manticore Twilight gasped and put the hoof over her mouth, he didn’t tell her about dangerous encounters on his road to Ponyville, as he considered them to be of low importance at that moment. At the mentioning of cockatrice Twilight became very pale and Alex remembered, how Fluttershy told him that her friend had a special fear for them and all the snakes in general. Both other princesses were surprised a bit by that part of the story, but apparently, the mere fact of his magic resistance explained it. Luna was visibly smiling at the whole image of cockatrice defeat, Celestia though became concerned.

        “… and since that point I can hardly remember, what happened to me, till the moment I woke up in the morning in Fluttershy’s cottage… five days ago,” Alex finished with the moment, when he lost his consciousness after being wounded.

        “Fine!” Celestia’s eyes still examined him. “Since then we were fully informed about everything…”

        Alex felt that it was where uneasy part started. And indeed…

        “… but I have a few questions. And I expect you to answer them with maximum sincerity, Alex.”

        “Yes, your highness.”

        “First of all, what was your vocation, work… special talent in your home world?” Celestia watched him very carefully, perhaps waiting for any signs of hesitation or evasion.

        “Work, princess, people don’t have special talents as ponies do. We learn something, but we alwayscan learn something else,” elaborated Alex. “Certainly, some are more capable of come certain things, but in general we are not destined for some exact mastery.”

        “Answering your question, princess, my work was related to technology. The part of it I haven’t seen in your domain developed much. As I’ve already told Twilight… Excuse me… Princess Twilight Sparkle, my work was in building “thinking machines” and groups of them for solving various tasks, which demanded for vast amounts of calculations in very short periods of time.”

        Alex noticed that Luna was all ears, listening maybe even more carefully than Celestia… but for different reasons, as he supposed.

        “So you’re sure that there was absolutely no connection with magic, any form of it, in your everyday life, right?”

        “Absolutely, princess!” Alex allowed himself a tiny smile. “As far as I know, we, I mean people in general, don’t have any magic at all. And I mean entirely, in the whole world around us… otherwise, someone would have spotted, I suppose. So I’m for sure totally… magic free.”

        “So who is that “Merlin” then, you mention that often, his pants included?” Celestia leaned forward.

        “Oh,” Alex could probably laugh, if the situation wasn’t apparently more than serious. “That’s purely a figure of speech. You see, your highness, people have legends and myths… as well as your subjects, I suppose. So Merlin is a legendary wizard, who supposedly lived long ago. That’s all…”

        “Our legends described, what had its place in reality…” Luna was likely thinking aloud, but she actually said that. Celestia nodded and turned to Alex, as if she was asking him an unvoiced, but not less delicate because of that, question.

        “Our though are the different story,” Alex sighed. “I never came across any evidence that something described in them ever took place actually. Unfortunately…”

        “Why so?” Celestia raised her eyebrow.

        “Your Highness, I personally would never object, if our world contained a tiny bit of magic,” elaborated Alex. “Perhaps life would have been less… boring.”

        He noticed, how warm became Luna’s glance at that moment, and felt slightly more confident.

        “You think so?” Celestia seemed to tick some checkbox in her inner plan of Alex’s personality. “Well, “Merlin” part is a pure coincidence then…”

        “Yes, princess… Unlike Starswirl…”

        Alex realized that it was mentioned too roughly. He was going to touch that subject (of him knowing more about Equestria, than one can learn in a few days, sitting in one house) anyway. Moreover, he was to do that. But this phrase seemed to give an effect of a bomb triggered.

        Of course, Celestia didn’t show the whole tension which built up inside her, but Alex saw how her eyes narrowed and fixated on him in a fraction of a second. Luna was simply shocked, sitting with a slightly open mouth, apparently she considered that as another of his impulsive deeds. Alex couldn’t help noticing that she was very pretty anyway. He could almost feel also, how Twilight stiffened in her armchair. That was the point of his story, they both, him and Twilight, were worried about most of all.

        “I need to explain one thing, your highness,” Alex tried to speak in a calm voice, suppressing all the symptoms of stress, he could. “And that was a great shock for me as well, perhaps even more of a shock for me than it is for you…”

        In the next few minutes Alex described the definition of noosphere and his self-elaborated concept of its impact on knowledge, events and even worlds.

        “This is the only possible and adequate reason of events, which happened to me, and my knowledge therefore, I can find,” concluded Alex.

        He was unsure, if Celestia accepted the concept as at least possible, but definitely, if she was suspicious of him, that only added some oil to the fire.

        “And how much dost thou know?” asked Luna, and Alex thought that she was trying to help him get out of the trap, he put himself in.

        “Not very much, your highness,” Alex turned slightly, showing he was addressing the one, who asked him that question.

        ‘Actually, Fluttershy has told me much more interesting things to think about,’ he said to himself, but obviously didn’t voice it.

        “I know about Nightmare moon, about her attempt to return, about the girls… defeating her and returning your Highness,” he bowed to Luna, noticing that her face turned sad at the mentioning of Nightmare Moon. “I know about Elements of Harmony existence, but don’t know, what they are exactly, I know some names, including mentioned Starswirl and Spike, whom I haven’t yet seen personally. So only what I… well… saw in the movie,” shrugged Alex.

        “Oh, and I simply remembered the path girls followed to the Old Castle, this helped me get directly to Ponyville fast enough,” he turned to Celestia.

        “Fine!” said Celestia, more to herself than to anypony else, after a few moments of deep thinking. “We’ll see then…” She raised her eyes on Alex.

        “At which moment did you realize exactly, where you got?”

        “Umm… In the throne room on the ground floor, I guess,” remembered Alex. “I saw pony armour and statues before, but didn’t make a direct connection at that moment. But when I saw your regal symbol, your Highness… yours and princess’ Luna, I thought, I was about to get insane for a short moment. That moment exactly I realized, I was transferred to Equestria.”

        “Speaking of symbols,” Luna entered the discussion again. “Thou came to Ponyville wrapped in mine regal tapestry. What can thou tell us about that?”

        “Your Highness,” Alex became confused. “I was almost naked…”

        Both princesses downcasted, the pink tint was more visible on Celestia’s white coat than on Luna’s cheeks with her night colours.

        “…when I found myself in the castle tower, so I started freezing eventually. Your tapestry was torn from the wall in the throne room and it was the only intact piece of warm and comfortable cloth, I could find throughout the castle. So I wrapped myself in and fell asleep. If I may add, I tried to keep the banner as safe as I could during my trip to Ponyville.”

        With great relief Alex saw Luna smiling. Celestia still had her questions.

        “Did you spend the whole night in the Old Castle, Alex?”

        “Yes, princess. After I solved my freezing problem, I felt sleepy, besides the realization was too striking and deprived me of remaining strength, so I… got onto a throne… and passed out almost immediately till the morning, when sunlight woke me up.”

        “Wh…”

        “Your sister’s throne, your highness, considering the placement of the tapestries,” Alex predicted the next question and Celestia’s eyes dilated in surprise, while Twilight shrunk in her seat from the inconceivable image – a commoner sleeping on the princess’ throne.

        Alex threw a quick glance at Luna to see her eyes warmed and a strange expression appeared on her face. Celestia huffed disapprovingly, but commented nothing. Instead of that, she continued after a second.

        “Have you noticed something unusual about yourself, since you got to Equestria? Were you always that fast regenerating? As far as I know, your wound was serious enough, yet it took you three-four days to recover. Show your wound… please.”

        With a frown and a sigh Alex took off the shirt and turned his right side to the observers, raising his arm. There was a visible scar yet, but considering that only a week passed since there was an open wound, the result was impressive indeed. Alex slid the shirt back, noticing that at least one of the princesses examined him too fixedly.

        “I noticed and I’ve been told,” he forcedly confessed. “No, people never regenerate that fast normally, neither they are magic resistant or… other stuff I was said I was capable of. I never experienced that, when I was at home, I mean faster regeneration, as we don’t have magic. So I can only suppose that has something to do with my transfer itself…”

        “Your Highness, princess Celestia,” Twilight finally said something. She thought that it was time to slightly shift the direction of the conversation and lessen the stress, though she wasn’t sure that she was going to suggest the proper specialist for that.

        “Yes, Twilight?” Celestia looked at her bright student.

        “I thought that we could use an opinion extra about Alex’s magic resistance,” quietly suggested Twilight. “I mean…”

        Celestia rolled her eyes. She knew that it was almost inevitable, yet wanted to believe they could manage without…

        “Discord…” called Twilight.

        With a loud click, dragonequus appeared in the hall. He sported glasses, an apron, a cooking spatula and held a cookbook in one of his different-caliber paws.

        “Twilight,” grumpily started Discord. “How offhandedly of you to drag me here like that. I was just making myself a breakfast. I guess that last pancake goes to Tartarus…” he pouted.

        “Oh, Celly, Luna, you’re here as well,” he added in a second, pretending that he just noticed the princesses and was overly surprised by that. “And our young guest, he-he,” he looked at Alex over the shoulder.

        “Why don’t you ever stop your clownery, Discord?” Celestia was obviously not happy to be called “Celly” as well as to see Discord generally. “Can you be serious just as an exclusion?”

        “I’m always serious, Celly,” Discord ignored her frown completely. “That’s just another degree of “serious” than others accept.”

        Luna quietly snorted. Alex looked at that newcomer with wide open eyes. He didn’t see Discord in person, yet heard about him. Of course, that mix of different species’ traits in one creature could appear shocking, but Alex remembered that he decided to not get surprised somewhere in the Old Castle already.

        “Hmpf…” Celestia wasn’t the one to be easily distracted. “Twilight thinks that you can add something valuable to our understanding of the human’s magic resistance problem.”

        “Problem?” muttered Discord barely audibly. “For whom is it a problem?”

        “Yeah,” he cocked his head, but the sly sparkles danced in his eyes. “I had a chance to see our guest… Alex… right?.. a bit earlier.”

        Alex thought that Discord had a special entertainment of teasing Celestia whenever possible. He wasn’t sure, if this type of “advocate” could make his case easier.

        Meanwhile, the dragonequus continued.

        “Well, I doubt you want to listen to the whole boring chain of my assumptions, Celly. So I limit my testing of your patience to the conclusions only.”

        “So… Alex is indeed magic resistant, thus any magic applied to him directly does nothing to him… Oh, I’m sorry, better say it does nothing planned to him, as I’m sure there is some magical impact anyway, but the caster doesn’t decide,” he got silent, giving others time to catch the idea.

        “Doth thou mean, that something… still decides?” Luna broke the silence.

        “In a way,” nodded Discord. “You see, if you apply a spell, for example, a healing one, on Alex, you won’t get his wounds immediately healing as you want, but instead of that the magic is used somehow to change him, giving him unpredictable abilities.”

        “Are you going to say,” gasped Twilight. “That my healing spell attempt caused his regeneration boost practically?”

        “Perhaps,” Discord scratched the back of his head. “But your spell was hardly the first magic impact he experienced. I doubt he travelled to Equestria on foot. But that all drags us away from the main direction…”

        “In addition to that,” Discord corrected his glasses, folded his fore paws and took the mentor’s tone, completely forgetting that the apron and the spatula brought an extremely comic look to that. “The human is able to drain magic force from the active caster until the connection is broken somehow.”

        “Which instantly makes him dangerous,” Celestia wasn’t going to give up her positions easily.

        “Not more than a fork, unless you stick it into your muzzle,” retorted Discord, looking fixedly at the princess of the Sun.

        “Besides, he is completely unable to cast magic himself, thus corresponding to common human abilities, but…”

        “But?” Celestia raised her eyebrow.

        “This is purely my assumption,” Discord waved his fore paw. “But I think that every purely negative… It is when you want to harm Alex,” he winked. “Every purely negative spell is reflected and turned to the caster, but in the most unpredictable way, so I doubt he is doing it consciously as well.”

        And before anypony could say a word, Discord suggested enthusiastically.

        “If you don’t mind, I could conduct an experiment… to show you, so to speak, clearly.”

        “Discord!” Celestia raised her voice. “No jokes, do you understand?”

        “Oh, drop it, Celly. If anypony is risking here, it’s me,” falsely pouted Discord.

        “So…” he then turned to Alex, scratching his chin.

        Alex was going to say that he was exactly the one, whom they forgot to ask, and that he wasn’t ready for the… experiments, when Discord clicked his long fingers.

        To Alex’s relief nothing happened to him in the next moment, but… a giant frying pan appeared out of the thin air and smacked the place, exactly where Discord… was a fraction of second before. He teleported right in time to avoid the hit and now appeared a few feet aside. Obviously he was ready to some reaction alike, otherwise, he could hardly avoid the “attack”, so quick it was.

        “You see,” Discord produced a happy smile showing his single fang. “All I was going to do, was to give Alex deer horns… temporarily of course. But… as you could see, it was interpreted as an attack and… I was lucky to avoid the repay.”

        “Obviously, the reaction was completely random,” he turned to princesses, who sat like frozen, unsure if what they saw was utterly strange, mental or funny. “Well, unless it was somehow connected to my breakfast plans… but that’s too weird to assume even for me.”

        “I’m not sure, what I just saw,” started Luna…

        “Yet he is unable to cast magic consciously,” interrupted her Discord. He quickly reached the small table with a jar of water and glasses near Twilight, filled one glass and returned to Alex. Then he simply poured the water on Alex, making sure, what he was going to do to be obvious. “You see now? He surely could have shielded with magic, if he was able to,” concluded Discord with a sly smile.

        Alex simply had no words, he gritted his teeth and popped the knuckles… But then he realized that the whole situation was utterly hilarious. Besides, it was a tie, to be frank.

        “Sorry, pal, that was necessary,” said Discord and patted Alex’s back. Then he added barely audibly, so only Alex could hear. “For your own sake. Because I know Celestia…”

        Alex then noticed that Luna looked at him with pure sympathy and he thought that, damn it, he could bear a couple of glasses more if necessary.

        “Let me sum it up,” suddenly Discord’s tone became very serious. “I believe that there is now more in Alex than in a common human somehow. You most likely can’t do anything with him with magic, besides risking a certain reaction, if you try. You can, of course, harm him physically, despite his faster regeneration. But,” he made a meaningful pause. “Even if you destroy him physically, I believe you won’t be able to destroy everything, what… he now “contains”. And I’m not going to predict, how what remains will develop and which consequences it will bring… without its human part,” Discord narrowed his eyes, looking at Celestia specifically.

        Silence crawled in the hall, while everypony digested the latest words.

        “I have nothing to add, ladies and gentlecolts,” Discord theatrically spread his fore paws. “With that, if you don’t mind, I’m leaving…”

        “Hey,” exclaimed Celestia. “Before you go, care to take that with you,” she pointed at the giant pan on the floor.

        “Can’t help here, Celly. That’s his frying pan…” Discord pointed at Alex and vanished with a click of his fingers.

        “What a…” Celestia gritted her teeth, while Luna giggled quietly. “So, can you get rid of that… Alex?”

        “I admire your sense of humour, your Highness,” said Alex quite grumpily. “But as it was stated, I can’t do magic… on purpose at least. So I can’t remove it. And I want to be frank with you, I felt nothing at the moment of that… show. So I’m not entirely sure, if that’s not Discord’s frying pan actually.”

        Alex realized that he didn’t make it easier for himself with that confession, but he decided to play fair till the end. The idea that he somehow materialized a… well… whatever to react on somepony’s “attack” seemed completely impossible for him.

        Celestia apparently wasn’t sure as well. She remembered about the “seeker” and told herself that they didn’t approach the question of Alex’s connection to them or its absence in the slightest yet. She was going to ask two last questions which were important to her.

        “Were you alone while transferred to Equestria, Alex? Moreover were you alone when you found yourself in the Old Castle? At least how did you feel?”

        Alex was utterly surprised by that, how he saw it, strange question, but he answered sincerely.

        “Yes, your highness. I was completely alone. I gave the girl to her mother before the car was hit by the lightning, and I found myself all alone in the tower. Neither I saw anyone… or anypony, while looking for the castle exit.”

        “And the last question…”

        Alex felt as his heart shrank in his chest in concern that he could do better than he did already, when Celestia looked him directly into the eyes and asked softly.

        “What did you want most of all, the moment you realized, where you got? What do you want most of all now?”

        “I wanted to get home, that is Earth, my mother world,” Alex thought that it was the easiest question for today, moreover for his entire life maybe. “Nothing changed, I still want the same!”

        Celestia seemed to be satisfied at least with this answer, somehow understanding that it was completely sincere. Yet Alex spotted a faint shadow which ran over Luna’s face with his last words.

        A few minutes of silence passed, Alex stood still, hoping with all his heart, he still had the chance to return. Celestia looked seemingly in the distant space, as she was making some decision.

        “Alex the human,” she said finally and Alex involuntarily twitched, like electrocuted. “Here is what I decided regarding you. I suppose you understand that according to conditions given, I can’t send you to your home world right away.”

        Alex considered that variant, yet having it pronounced he felt like if he was hit by that giant frying pan, which still was laying on the floor.

        “I need to investigate the possible means to send you back,” continued Celestia meanwhile. “IF there are any. Besides I need to investigate your arrival more thoroughly. For the time being you will remain in Canterlot.”

        “Moreover, we need to study your nature and abilities better, to make sure neither your stay in Equestria, nor departure could harm us all,” she nailed the coffin. “So we need to take some analysis and carry a few experiments, not of the random nature Discord did. Don’t worry, Alex, nothing detrimental to your health.”

        A nasty feeling of the ground parting under his feet and throwing him into abyss visited Alex. Not only he was stuck here for an undefined period, but he was going to enter another, tighter, lockout, than his previous one. And in addition to the joy, he was going to become a subject of some bucking experiments.

        “Why don’t you just kick me out of your world back? You, who are able to move a star!” thought Alex angrily. “Not making me a guinea pig for pony science!”

        “Kick me out, of course!” the idea came suddenly and looked so simple and elegant to Alex. “Unpredictability is a key to success, that’s what someone like Discord could say,” Alex smirked maniacally.

        Before anypony could say or do something, he quickly got onto the elevation with the thrones and approached Celestia, who was sitting, apparently caught off guard by his impulsive act.

        Alex then leaned to the princess of the Sun, put both hands on her silky cheeks and… placed a delicate, but firm, very affectionate kiss on her soft lips. He watched how Celestia first squeezed her eyes shut in shock, then her eyes opened wide and the sparkles of wrath lighted inside, as he kept tasting her lips. Obviously, that took only a moment, so she didn’t have time to react.

        Alex released the embarrassed and angry alicorn with pink spots on her cheeks and took a step back.

        “Just not to the moon, please…” he muttered quite audibly. Luna, whose eyes were competing in size with sister’s, gasped or snorted, he couldn’t tell for sure. Alex knew that it was a pure gesture of despair, a lame, perhaps, attempt to go for broke.

        Celestia put her hoof on his chest, it wasn’t a strike, yet the hit was quite palpable, so Alex stepped back a couple of steps, feeling a dull pain in his ribs. She was probably going to incinerate him with her wrath, not thinking about his new abilities at all, but after a moment her muscles relaxed, and the princess gave him an unexpectedly bright smile.

        “Roughly working you are, Alex”, Celestia was obviously having fun of that crude manipulation attempt.

        Alex sighed inwardly, but couldn’t hold his tongue this time. Celestia always played her subjects like chessmen, even including the girls sometimes. Mostly to their benefit finally, but she could definitely think about the feelings more. Alex was sure that even if somepony could reproach him for manipulating, that wasn’t her.

        “Well, as I’m not going to the moon apparently, then I could only hope, I can learn something, watching your royal highness around. I’m not that confident to imagine that you could want such a student for more sophisticated mentoring.”

        The larger strike was shielded down, but it seemed that this wasp sting found its aim. Alex noticed how Celestia’s lips twitched slightly, while she was keeping the face. That was a tiny bit harder though this time, and he saw that, giving out a little fake kind smile.

        The quick glance to the left confirmed his suspicion about the sounds, he was hearing – Luna tried her best not to burst out laughing and subtly put her hoof over her mouth, her shoulders shook quite visibly though.

        The whole thing was apparently enough for Celestia.

        “You know, Alex, you’re extremely lucky, there are no accidental witnesses of your… impudent act,” her eyes were glowing. “And take it as an early gift, I’m not kicking your butt. Otherwise, it stays as I stated. The guards will escort you to your… room.”

        Alex bowed theatrically, backing off the elevation. A quick glance on two other princesses told him that Luna wasn’t sure to laugh at the situation or to scold him for being an unjustifiably risky hay head. Twilight seemed to be still frozen from the shock and Alex winked at her, noticing how she twitched, but at least unfroze.

        *

        Two pegasi guards escorted Alex to his new place, he preferred to refer to it like that, despite he realized that it would be rather a cell, ward or anything else of that kind. To be frank, he wasn’t restrained, tied, etc, and that gave tiny hope that he wasn’t still a prisoner, at least formally. But the circumstances said otherwise. By fact, he was a prisoner, first of all, the prisoner of his alien status here, in the land of sentient ponies.

        They got to the ground floor, exited the castle and crossed the wide space between it and a white inconspicuous building within the castle complex boundaries. It wasn’t obvious, if it was a prison or some scientific facility, but to Alex’s relief it reminded him of the hospital most of all when they entered. But he told himself that it was very shortsighted to relax yet, while the guards handed… or better say hoofed him over to a unicorn stallion in a lab coat. At first, that could look like a gesture of trust, but Alex noticed that the facility was unobtrusively guarded inside, and he was sure that somepony constantly kept their eyes on it outside as well.

        Another guard carefully examined his clothes and bag and concluded that there was nothing, the human could take with him not. Then his new guide brought him to a room with a single bed, chair, table, window and locker. The window was fairly small and blocked by metal bars, so it was technically a cell. Alex sighed, but at least they didn’t deprive him of fresh air and the daylight.

        The small door led to the bathroom. Alex smirked, now he was given a personal comfortable prison cell, what a treat. He remembered the proverb that everything was best known in comparison and inwardly scolded himself of being unsatisfied with at least partial lockout at Fluttershy’s house. Now he was completely, royally locked.

        The “medic”, as Alex called for himself, stallion didn’t name himself, but simply stated that Alex could keep his clothes for the most of time, but when he was to be taken for “tests”, he should change to the lab clothes, he could find in the locker. Alex sadly nodded. The unicorn then left, activating some magical barrier, which blocked the room entrance, still allowing to see what happened inside.

        “Great!” thought Alex, getting a dry shirt from the bag and changing. “That’s bucking great! Now I’m like a butterfly on a pin.”

        He then dried his hair after Discord’s “experiment” with the towel, he could find in the small bathroom and left the wet shirt there. Completely out of ideas, Alex sat on the bed and stared at the opposite wall.

                    “So, what do you think about that, Luna?” asked Celestia, when after a short casual conversation Twilight left.

        “About what exactly, Tia?” Luna seemed to emerge from the deep dive of thinking.

        “About the whole story, from the very start.”

        “Well, if thou wanteth mine insight, I must say first that it seems nearly impossible to me that Alex was connected to the… “seekers” or some other evil, at least deliberate one,” supposed Luna. “Given the circumstances in his home world, he got transferred within.”

        “That’s if we take them as granted,” noted Celestia. “As we have yet nothing, except his own words.”

        Luna bit her tongue, she wasn’t going to tell about the dreams connection between them yet.

        “Perhaps,” she said instead. “But I thought thou hast noticed that he was sincere most likely, as thou can feel that oft.”

        “That’s right,” Celestia admitted unwillingly. “My experience said he wasn’t lying in key aspects, but not all the parts of the image combine yet.”

        “Didst thou think not, that might be, because that gent didn’t know everything about himself yet? I doubt that travelling between realms was his common leisure.”

        “Speaking of which, have you noticed the similarities between the storm he got into and the one we watched the night he arrived?” Celestia preferred to change the subject.

        “I did, Tia. Methinks the lightning was just a… following effect of a magical portal. According to mine knowledge of the matter, that could happen, if thither was no exact aim of the portal at which hour it was created. So thither was no actual warp.”

        “Like if somepony wasn’t sure what or whom they were going to transfer, or if they transfer those at all, until the last moment they targeted Alex,” Celestia caught what her sister was going to say. “And all this with most likely some ancient elemental magic. Considering… Earth has no magic, as he claims at least.”

        “More or less so, Tia,” Luna nodded.

        “Well, that tells us only one thing definitely then,” Celestia raised one hoof to her chin. “That his arrival was least accidental.”

        “Somepony planned his arrival and had a certain goal to reach with the human presence,” she elaborated.

        “Did you notice, how fixated was Discord of us not doing any harm to the human?” Celestia suddenly asked.

        Luna shrugged.

        “Perhaps, thou art overreacting, Tia. Discord might genuinely believe in what he said, that Alex was needed…”

        “Which makes me think, if Discord is exactly the one, who brought him here for some sort of his weird plan,” muttered Celestia. “I know he was reformed, but… Discord is Discord. What he sees as a joke, may appear a disaster for others.”

        “Besides, I couldn’t ignore certain similarities in the human behaviour,” huffed she. “In particular his impudence and impulsiveness.”

        Luna gave out a small smile.

        “I haven’t seen that thou wast very much angry with Alex pulling his trick. Was it that bad?”

        “Oh, come on, sister,” Celestia rolled her eyes. “I mean it wasn’t that bad, but the whole situation… Oh!..”

        She blushed and looked aside, while Luna quietly snickered.

 

---

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8. Important lessons

 

        Twilight preferred to teleport to the path near Fluttershy’s cottage, instead of using the balloon or flying on her own to Ponyville. Lately, becoming an alicorn, teleportation spells became easier for her and she preferred to practice them at every occasion possible. Besides she wasn’t still an experienced flyer, like for example Rainbow Dash. And using a balloon would take too much time to get back, Twilight wasn’t going to waste any.

        She then trotted to the front door and knocked. Normally she would simply transfer herself into Flutters’ living room, but today Twilight thought that a more careful approach was more than necessary.

        The door opened and Twilight saw that it was Rarity, who answered. Twilight trotted inside with a thankful nod and looked for Fluttershy. Evidently, both girls were sitting in the kitchen. Rarity preferred to stay to support her best friend, when Alex and Twilight left to Canterlot. When Twilight returned, they were talking. Well, Rarity was trying to talk Fluttershy out of the depressive mood, the latter entered after the human departure, while Fluttershy was simply sitting at the table, laying her head on her fore hooves.

        Rarity put a kettle on the stove already and, when Twilight arrived, she was exactly going to make Fluttershy a good cup of hot, sweet, strong tea. Which she did exactly, putting the cup in front of her sad friend, who looked seemingly aeons away.

        Twilight trotted past Fluttershy and quietly addressed Rarity.

        “Is she like that since morning?” she asked barely audible and pointed with her eyes only to their friend.

        “Yes, more or less, darling,” nodded Rarity taking the kettle with her magic again. “Tea or coffee, Twi?”

        “I won’t refuse a cup of the strongest tea you can manage, Rarity,” Twilight tiredly lowered herself on the chair next to Fluttershy. Then she leaned to her and stroked her fore leg slightly.

        “I tried to talk her out of that,” whispered Rarity in Twilights ear while pouring her a cup. “But to no avail. She keeps thinking that she could do better and avoid this morning stuff happening,” Rarity rolled her eyes meaningfully.

        “Oh…” Twilight took thought, how to put it better. Then she turned to Fluttershy and stroked her a bit again.

        “Fluttershy, dear, we couldn’t do anything else. You couldn’t do otherwise.”

        “I still doubt…” said Fluttershy quietly, but she at least focused on Twilight. “I keep thinking that all should have been done differently, sorry.”

        “What exactly could be done differently?” Twilight’s voice was soft, yet determined. “We followed Celestia’s orders.”

        “Exactly,” muttered Fluttershy. “Perhaps we shouldn’t inform the princess about Alex in the first place…”

        “I mean, what did we risk then?” added she, while Rarity simply dropped her jaw and even Twilight couldn’t suppress the surprised look, watching her usually timid friend saying that. “He was clearly not dangerous. No way I would believe he could do any harm to anypony. It’s like avoiding apple trees for life, because you shook one once and an apple hit your head. With the exception, in that case, it didn’t do even that.”

        “We-e-e-ell…” Twilight cleared her throat, when she coped with the first shock. “Even if we imagine that I could give you a hoof, and you needed my help with Alex, you can’t deny…”

        Fluttershy nodded. She just noticed the cup of tea in front of her and took a small sip.

        “Thank you, Rarity.”

        “…even if we imagine that,” continued Twilight. “And that thereafter I covered an alien, who got to Equestria nopony knew how and for which reasons, living in your house… It’s a hard task to imagine that, if you ask me. So even IF… What would you do then, Fluttershy?”

        “What do you mean?” Fluttershy glanced at her.

        “Would you leave him here, in your house? You surely wouldn’t be able to lock him due to all the reasons, including your kindness and him being a rightful sentient being. So somepony would notice anyway sooner or later. Naturally freaked out and reported him to the authorities, which finally means Celestia. But did that in panic instead,” Twilight took a breath. “Or even worse, after some accident with the human involving magic. Would he be treated better than now in that case?”

        “Or you would heal his wounds and release him into the wild, Fluttershy,” added Twilight after a moment of silence. “But he was not an animal. Where would he go then? He had nowhere to go here in Equestria… and nopony to trust, except us… and the princesses, even if you think otherwise. I doubt it would be a way out, Fluttershy. I’m sorry, but I need to say that.”

        “Twilight is right, darling,” Rarity approached Fluttershy from the other side and hugged her, quietly telling her that. “Princess Celestia tries to solve his problem at least, while we all have no means of doing that.”

        “Yeah, you’re right, you both are right, girls,” sighed Fluttershy after a minute of thinking. “I’m just convinced that the things are going not… quite like they should. He didn’t deserve all that, if you ask me… I mean it’s not him who sneaked to Equestria on purpose, right?”

        “Besides, I… don’t want him to leave,” she whispered barely audible, but Twilight still heard her.

        “That’s another story, pal,” Twilight leaned to Fluttershy and put a hoof on her shoulder. “Believe me I understand you, both you and Rarity,” she whispered in her ear. “Despite Rarity’s reaction was and still is a bit striking to me.”

        “I still think that his departure was way too rushed and… well, it was harsh, Twi,” noted Rarity, making Twilight wonder, if she heard something still. “I know, you could do nothing… but, darling, it looked like you packed him and dragged away like some criminal.”

        “Yeah, I know,” Twilight downcasted her eyes. “But the audience was set…”

        “Look, girls,” she exclaimed. “I have other, and let me say, more important concerns.”

        She was granted with the attentive glance of two pairs of eyes of her friends. Fluttershy seemingly was ready for anything, supposing that the worst was already done – namely taking “her human” from her. Rarity lowered herself on the free chair, not trying to conceal her worries anymore and readying herself to another portion of bad news, and said.

        “Don’t tell, he is a prisoner now literally.”

        Twilight wrinkled her nose at the thought how randomly, yet correctly Rarity got the actual impact of princess’ orders on Alex’s feelings.

        “Let me tell you, what I saw and heard, and then…” Twilight decided to allow herself to disagree with her mentor in regards of informing her friends. She was sure that at least Fluttershy should know. And apparently… telling Rarity would do no harm either. To her honour Rarity didn’t spill a word to a random pony from her numerous customers, ever since she became involved in their human-related secrets. “… and then tell me, if my concerns are justified.”

        She told the girls about the audience briefly, but mentioning all the necessary details.

        “Huh, Discord in his usual repertoire,” both her friends couldn’t hold a smile, when Twilight mentioned the episode with the frying pan.

        “But at the very least it was graphical enough, darling, wasn’t it?” Rarity still chuckled.

        “And then Discord took a glass of water,” continued Twilight. “And poured it on Alex, saying that if Alex could do magic, he would certainly avoid the… shower.”

        “Ugh, there is still enough of his ill manners in him,” Rarity frowned instantly, while Fluttershy said that it was weird, but simple way to demonstrate his correctness.

        To Rarity’s surprise, Twilight sided with Flutters.

        “It could look like revenge indeed,” she said. “But he did it on purpose, making sure Alex knew what was going to follow. I think, he really wanted to make Celestia took Alex less seriously than she could, thus cutting him some slack.”

        “I could suspect Discord doing that in hope of the opposite reaction,” Twilight added thoughtfully. “But… he looked and sounded sincerely concerned about his words getting through. Finally, he literally warned Celestia against making rushed decisions, let alone actions regarding the human.”

        “I wonder,” she muttered. “If that didn’t make the princess consider exactly opposite though.”

        Twilight knew about Celestia’s attitude towards Discord and her inability to change it in the nearest observable future.

        “Frankly speaking,” Twilight smirked. “We three were… kinda stunned during that… experiment. And I couldn’t watch everypony, but… I noticed that princess Luna was about to smack Discord with that mammoth frying pan, when he poured water on Alex, and something told me, she wouldn’t have missed, if she decided to.”

        She noticed the spear gaze Fluttershy threw at her before “examining” her teacup very fixedly again.

        “Ughhhh! It’s too complicated,” Twilight rubbed her temples. “As usual with Discord.”

        “OK!” she shook her mane. “Let’s not twitch about things, which are out of our power to change anyway. Here we come to my main concern.”

        Twilight made a pause, sipped her tea, like choosing better words, then said.

        “Of course Celestia will look for a possible way to return Alex to his home world, but she is concerned about something about him. She doesn’t tell, but I see her thinking that the puzzle is not complete. She will think about Equestria and us all first.”

        “They will need to make analysis and carry out some experiments,” finally Twilight reached the main point with an embarrassed look on her face. “Medical – to determine his condition and particular qualities and… I’m afraid magical – to determine the reaction and danger level of various magical impacts,” she said, like trying to justify and apologize Celestia’s decision. “That’s inevitable, if she wants to send him back.”

        “I can imagine…” huffed both Fluttershy and Rarity in one voice.

        “Exactly,” Twilight’s ears flattened. “This won’t rub Alex well.”

        “Especially the experiments involving actual unicorns,” she added. “Yet I know that there will be some. And according to what I know about him by simply watching him, listening to you, Fluttershy, and… well… I’m genuinely afraid of him caving in at some point. He is too independent, besides if somepony else suffers… just for the sake of proving something... I truly don’t want this to end with the psychotic human.”

        “Oh, dear!” Rarity put a hoof over her mouth and her pupils became pinprick.

        “What have we done?” Fluttershy hid her face.

        *

        After a short while Twilight told that she had things to attend to and headed home. The girls followed her to the front door.

        “Rarity, won’t you m-mind to stay for a while longer,” asked Fluttershy. “I-if that’s not very harmful… for your work. I-I mean… please. I’m not feeling that I can take it alone…”

        “Well, of course, darling,” Rarity hugged her. “I think my customers can wait a day, when my best friend needs support. Or two days… if necessary.”

        “Do you think, Applejack can take Sweetie Belle for a day, Twilight?” she asked. “I suppose she won’t find us an entertaining company, if I call her to come here, besides Flutters needs a calm evening, which is hardly achievable with my sister.”

        “Don’t worry, Rarity,” Twilight smiled kindly. “I’ll gladly spend an evening with her myself. Besides it would be too much of Cutie Mark Crusaders for Applejack, if we bring the girls together for a whole day.”

        Rarity nodded gratefully and Twilight turned to the door.

        “Oh, Celestia, what is that?” Twilight stumbled, looking at the large dark blue feather on the small table near the door.

        “I have no idea, Twi,” Fluttershy tiredly waved her hoof. “I found that today in our… in the bedroom. That must be Alex bringing it. I put it here not to forget to ask you, if he needed it. Did he?”

        “He didn’t ask…” muttered Twilight still looking on the table with dilated eyes. She knew exactly whom the feather of that size and colour might belong. “Now that’s even more interesting,” she said to herself.

        *

        The cautious knock on the door of Celestia’s study informed her about the lead scientist to come for final instructions.

        “Come on in!” the princess put some papers aside.

        “Your Highness!” the same stallion in a lab coat, who was guiding Alex to his “room”, entered the study and stopped on the carpet at an appropriate distance. “We have everything set up.”

        “Excellent!” Celestia’s eyes shone. “What are your plans exactly?”

        “I suppose we’ll start tomorrow,” the stallion put his hoof to the chin. “It will be reasonable to give him some time to accommodate to the new environment, besides if he manages to sleep well that night, the rest will dissolve the negative impression of finding out, that he will be subjected to the experiments.”

        “Reasonable indeed,” nodded Celestia.

        “Do you want us to add a small dose of sleeping potion to his supper, your highness?” inquired the scientist, then he explained. “We plan purely medical tests tomorrow, that dose will wind out fast, besides we know what to exclude in results. It won’t harm the tests, but may help the subject relax.”

        “That won’t be necessary,” Celestia had her reasons. “We don’t know, if he is able to distinguish anything of such nature. If he is not, this won’t make any vital difference, if he sleeps better. But if he is, that would be definitely detrimental to the whole further work. I don’t want him to trust us even less than he does.”

        “Hmmm… Fairly said, princess,” the scientist agreed.

        “So,” he explained further. “As I said, tomorrow we’ll try to take as many analysis as possible. Purely medical ones. One-two more days, if necessary. We need to know what his body is capable of and how different it is from ours, especially considering what you’ve informed me of. If we want to transfer him or defend from him in case of an unlucky variant, we must know everything.”

        “Then I plan to progress with magic tests gradually. Let’s say, we start with simplest magical artefacts, first passive ones, and see, what reaction it causes. Then active impact and later live interaction of a different kind.”

        Celestia nodded. Then she remembered what bothered her:

        “How did he react to you and the whole situation in general? At least, what did he show?”

        “He is obviously unhappy about his current position, your Highness,” the stallion allowed himself a small understanding smile. “But that was natural. Otherwise, he is fairly calm for a situation like that. As for me personally, I’d say he was indifferent, but I tried to show low interest as well yet.”

        “And I plan to limit his contacts with personnel as much as possible,” he added. “This will leave us certain freedom of action if necessary. Obviously, each experiment will be strictly supervised, but the human doesn’t need to see or know anypony, except me and a couple of nurses yet. This, of course, is not related to another party test subjects, I mean those unicorns, who will interact with the human in the later tests.”

        Celestia raised on her hooves and got to the window, she looked down to the castle grounds for a while, when her collocutor took the liberty to gain her attention again.

        “Your Highness, how would you prefer me to report about the results?” the stallion asked. “Should I report shortly about each day round, or make an extensive report once in a while?”

        “I need the results as soon as possible to use them in my own research,” Celestia closed her eyes, thinking. “Send me a written report about each day. If I am unable to attend any or have any questions, I’ll inform you that I need to talk.”

        “Aye, your Highness! Anything else?”

        “No, I guess, no. You may start preparing for tomorrow tests.”

        But before the stallion bowed and left, Celestia stopped him, raising her hoof.

        “One more thing. I’ve seen his room and… Order, please, to put the simple door from inside, before the magic field. Let’s not tempt the luck,” she said with a tiny smile.

        *

        “Big bro, Ah think that we made the last two furrows too deep,” Applejack stopped and looked back, putting her hoof to her forehead for extra sun shield. “The carrots will have some hard time growing through… if we see ‘em at all in the nearest future. Let’s take it less deep this time.”

        “Eeyup!” Big Mac was an epitome of pithiness as usual. He turned his plough, adjusting it to make next pass even.

        They prepared the carrot field for seeding and were going to continue their hard work, when the ear-splitting whistle echoed in the hot still air, making both Applejack and Big Mac pull up heads. In a second Rainbow Dash, and it was exactly her whistling, landed near them.

        “Hi, pal,” she patted Applejack on her shoulder. “Hi, Big Mac. Almost ready for the next season, eh?”

        “Eeyup!” confirmed Big Mac and waved his hoof.

        “So how do you like the weather today?” Rainbow proudly pouted. “Good enough for ploughing, no rain, no wind. I tried my best to make it awesome.”

        “Thanks, Rainbow,” Applejack nodded with a smile. “Don’t forget to herd some clouds ‘ere, when we’re done seedin’.”

        “No probs, mate… By the way, have you seen Twilight today?” Rainbow impatiently jumped on the spot.

        “No, but mah guess would be one should start lookin’ at the library, if needs ‘er,” smirked Applejack.

        “I was there already,” huffed Rainbow. “And Spike told me, she was going to take the human to Canterlot. A couple of guards arrived this morning and they all headed to Flutters’ cottage. I guess that means one problem less!” she grinned widely.

        “But she hasn’t returned still and Spike has no idea, where she may be. I wanted to ask about the audience, what exactly Celestia decided. Hey, if we’re lucky, he even may be halfway home…” Rainbow rolled her eyes.

        “Have you checked at Flutters’?” Applejack scratched her head, while Big Mac started his furrow, not waiting for the girls to end talking.

        “I’m right from her,” Rainbow’s face performed a strange mix of sceptic, disgusted and worried expressions. “I found Rarity there. It seemed she was going to stay with Flutters for a while, as she told me that she asked Twilight to take Sweetie Belle from school and watch after her till tomorrow. It was quite a look, them both with Fluttershy hugging each other, like they lost something precious! Bleeeh!” she made a barfing sound, then laughed. “Though I’m not surprised. They are best friends, now they are sharing one weird crush… That’s totally not awesome!”

        “Look, Dash,” Applejack said seriously. “Ah start thinkin’ that you overreacting a bit. There were no reasons for that kind of personal crusade, that’s mah point. He may be strange, even dangerous, which is to be proved yet to be frank, but has done nothing bad to you, neither anypony yet…”

        “Oh, well!” Rainbow shrugged. “You’ll all see. Somepony says “human”, I hear “troubles”. Just give it time.”

        “OK, as you haven’t seen Twi… I’ll visit her later at home, in case we are indeed lucky. See yah!” Rainbow winked and flitted up in the air.

        Applejack watched her friend fixedly, she thought that in her personal dislike of the human Rainbow Dash was hardly looking less obsessed than Rarity in her desire.

        *

        “I wonder what experiments exactly they plan,” Alex cringed inwardly, sitting at the table in his room. His put the elbows on the wooden surface and rested his head in his hands, but his mind was full of unrest.

        “That’s not a room, that’s a vault,” he took a look around, then returned to watching the opposite wall with the barred window. “And you are a rare alien species. First of all, they will need to take some simple analysis… just like they would do back on Earth in every hospital, if suspecting you to be contaminated.”

        “Are you ready, Alex, for needles and tubes to be put into you in various ways?” he asked himself.

        Twilight told him, how they with Fluttershy were to feed him and give him potions, while he was totally unconscious, but that was another story. The girls wanted the best for him and did everything possible, that deserved only gratitude and Alex felt, he could hardly ever repay, what they’ve done for him.

        Here though he was going to be “dissected” with pure scientific interest. Of course, partially that was necessary to understand his organism better, not to harm or kill him while trying to send back home…

        “If they are going to send you back,” maliciously hissed his inner voice. Alex shooed this uncalled thought to the deep backside of his consciousness.

        Another reason for those tests was having an ability to affect Alex, if something goes wrong or, Alex didn’t have any illusions regarding princess suspicions about him, if he goes totally unruly. Thus they wanted to be certain that they can stop him, if he appears to be a real threat. Alex sighed deeply, he had a feeling that sudden Discord’s rooting for his safety, could still have opposite effect.

        “…and if I can understand the necessity and process of those… medical tests,” Alex continued his thought. “I still have no idea about their magical experiments. Didn’t Discord tell Celestia those could be dangerous? Wasn’t it demonstrated?”

        “Oh, come on,” he scolded himself immediately. “Even I felt nothing and sincerely suspected some trick, what could be said then about Celestia… with her obvious dislike for Discord.”

        “But there was Twilight’s insight as well. She experienced the effect on herself. Well, the girls didn’t try harmful spells, but the overall result could be predicted, basing on what they got.”

        “Ha-ha, THAT is exactly the reason, why they preparing those experiments, instead of Celestia trying to send you back with her magic right away!” That was at least rational.

        “Still I don’t like, how it sounds,” Alex frowned inwardly. “Do they really plan to make… somepony apply magic to me and then look what it leads to? What about… “negative impact” then? Is there anypony ready to put themselves as a target for a nopony-knows-which-and-how-strong reaction? I always wondered where do people… or ponies find volunteers for this weird shit…”

        His uneasy thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the magic field being disabled. When Alex looked back over his shoulder, a young unicorn mare in the nurse uniform entered his room, carrying a tray with supposedly his meal. Alex thought that he could never understand the reasoning behind those ponies using clothes on some occasions and completely ignoring them on others, which seemingly would have called for clothes more… if it was on Earth.

        Meanwhile, the nurse put the tray on the table and turned to Alex. She was miniature and pretty with her beige coat and chocolate mane and tail, and carried that homelike warm feel with her, making Alex involuntarily think that if she had younger siblings, they were extremely lucky. The red cross cutie mark on her flank unambiguously told that care and empathy were her special talent put to the best use.

        “You dinner, sir,” she said with a warm-hearted smile. “And if you need something else, you can simply call,” she pointed on a small bell, standing on the tray. “Nurse room is a few yards down the corridor, so I or my substitute will be able to address your request right away. Or at least relay it to the higher authorities, ifit appears to be out of our competence.”

        “Thank you kindly, nurse,” Alex nodded. He wanted to stand, but reconsidered and kept sitting not to tower above that cute girl and suppress her. “Nurse ...?”

        The pause supposed some answer, but the unicorn girl just shook her head. Alex noticed that a faint shadow of sadness tainted her smile, when she answered.

        “We’re not supposed to answer some questions. Personal for example. I’m really sorry. I don’t justify everything going here, but this is part of my work.”

        “I see,” Alex nodded with a smile. “So how long do you work helping… ponies and taking care of the patients… if that’s not an overly personal question?”

        “Oh, that’s not a secret, since graduation… And anticipating your most possible next question – there are two of us who you can address, that’s except the… doctor.”

        “It seems, empathy is indeed your special talent,” Alex wanted to understand whom he was to be dealing with the next few… days? Weeks?..

        “Sir, we are supposed to limit personal contacts as possible indeed,” her eyes were full of regret, yet she was firm in her determination. “I’m really sorry!”

        “OK,” Alex gave up… for now. “I have a small request then. I realize that you personally can’t decide in that case, so please relay that to the… “doctor”. I would like to have some books, books on the history of Equestria, if that’s possible.”

        Alex remembered, how Twilight told him that he wasn’t the first human getting to Equestria ever. And despite the obvious differences in his case, he hoped to find some answers to his questions, or at least to find out for sure, what those cases ended with and how the previous travelers returned.

        “I’ll tell him,” the nurse nodded. “Anything else, sir?”

    “No. Thank you,” Alex sighed then looked at her fixedly. “I’ll try to bring you less trouble possible.”

        Alex watched the mare leaving and closing the barrier behind her.

        “Merlin’s pants! If they use somepony like her in their magical experiments, that definitely won’t make it easier. Why can’t I simply get home without hurting any…pony?”

        The barely audible humming of the magical barrier was his only answer.

        *

        “Good evening, prin… OK, OK, Twilight,” Lyra corrected herself, seeing as Twilight frowned at her official tone after opening the door of Golden Oak Library. “May I?..”

        “Well, of course, Lyra, come in,” Twilight moved aside, letting Lyra Heartstrings enter. “I’m actually surprised you haven’t appeared earlier. Take a seat and… don’t mind the mess please”

        “I was busy with personal stuff, Twilight, besides I knew that princess would take the human to Canterlot sooner or later. But now when it actually happened… I heard you’ve been there, so… What’s the deal? Will we see… Alex, if I’m not mistaking, Applejack mentioned that name… so will we see Alex again?” Lyra took a look around the hall and her eyes dilated, when she saw piles of books lying on the floor here and there. “Twilight, did you plan… re-cataloguing? I can come later if necessary, or help you, if you need.”

        “This? Oh, no… That’s not a problem. Re-cataloguing neither,” Twilight smirked. “I’m just sitting with Sweetie Belle. You know Rarity’s younger sister, right?”

        Lyra nodded, yet her brows were still high, when she tried to imagine how one filly could wreck such a havoc to Twilight’s kingdom of order.

        “You know, she still hasn’t got her special talent and mark,” continued Twilight, putting the books back on shelves with magic. “So she is in constant search of her vocation.”

        “Sweetie Belle tried to read a few books at once,” she added after a pause, when she managed to put a large heavy tome on the upper shelf. “Normally she is a lot calmer, at least at home, but I suppose, when she saw so many sources of knowledge and possibilities, she got a bit… overexcited.”

        “Nopony can read a few books simultaneously,” huffed Lyra. “Except you. At least I don’t know any others.”

        “Umm… I managed to lure her into the kitchen,” blushed Twilight. “And it seemed that Spike succeeded, gaining Sweetie Belle’s attention to pizza making process. At least I don’t think they have too much trouble.”

        A loud bang from the direction of the kitchen notified that those two at least were busy. But before Twilight and Lyra rushed to the sound, the door opened and a stack of few pizzas floated from the kitchen, spreading the smell of decently, if not to say finely cooked food. It was followed close by happy as a clam Sweetie Belle, whose joy wasn’t overshadowed by the obvious absence of the cutie mark. Then Spike showed, his eyes were a bit mad at that moment, showing that cooking process in Rarity sister’s execution was intense.

        He glanced at Twilight and nodded towards the kitchen.

        “Stay out of there for now,” he whispered with his lips only, his eyes were slowly returning to their usual size. “I’ll clean the mess later.”

        “Hi, Lyra!” Sweetie Belle placed her pizzas on a couple of tables and turned to Twilight with bright eyes. “I… we’ve done it and done it right! Errmmm… the mark didn’t appear yet, unfortunately,” she bit her lower lip, but didn’t lament for long and said happily. “We should definitely have a munch on them, right? I mean, while Rarity is not watching…”

        Both Twilight and Lyra laughed with Sweetie Belle joining them giggling, while Spike was evidently calculating in mind, how much time would it take him to remove the pizza making consequences.

        “So, how many have you made?” asked Lyra.

        “Should we count those on the ceiling?” Spike woke from his thoughts and Sweetie Belle blushed. “Then six, but you can taste only four obviously.”

            “Come on, Twilight, spill the beans. I guess we all here may know,” asked Lyra again, when they tried the pizza, finding it not only smelling well, but being quite tasty. She was helping Twilight put the books back on proper places, while Spike returned to fix the kitchen and Sweetie Belle, tired and filled, was nodding off in an armchair. “What’s up with Alex?”

        “Celestia practically locked him,” cringed Twilight. “And ordered to take some analysis and magical experiments. On the one hand, she truly wants to return him to his home world, thus deeper understanding of the situation is necessary. On the other,..”

        “But isn’t messing with him magically dangerous?” Lyra exclaimed, dropping a book and catching it almost near the floor. “Unfortunately, as I can’t try some of my own ideas on him. Totally safe,” she added, noticing how Twilight glanced on her disapprovingly. “Still I want to talk to him, well, when it is possible… if it is possible now.”

        “Yeah. This is what Discord said as well,” muttered Twilight and Lyra made big eyes, she wasn’t expecting Discord involved in all that as well. “But I guess, princess Celestia has her own reasons. She wants to find out all the details, before trying to send Alex back… If she is able to do that, because the direct interaction is especially unwelcome.”

        “So, it’s undecided, if he is going home or staying here forever,” the hope in Lyra’s voice was quite audible. “Oh, by the way, I forgot to ask. Why are you sitting with Sweetie Belle, is Rarity having a big batch of clothes ordered again?”

        “Ummm… Lyra, Twilight, did you call me?” They heard a sleepy voice from the armchair. “I… I’ll help… I’m…”

        “No, no, Sweetie Belle,” stopped her Twilight. “Just a few books and I’ll walk you to the bed. It’s too late and you’re almost sleeping already.”

        “Rarity is with Fluttershy in her cottage,” she turned to Lyra, continuing in half voice. “They both are not in the best mood at the moment, but Flutters is totally down… so Rarity stayed to help her recompose.”

        “I see,” said Lyra with a sly smile. “Two best friends worry about their favourite human being taken from them.”

        “Look, Fluttershy thinks we haven’t done it right and she is particularly worried that some experiments can make Alex unhappy,” Twilight evidently found no reasons for joking. “And I tend to agree with her regarding that. And Rarity… Well…”

        Lyra giggled and while looking at her Twilight remembered that “fifteen times longer” remark again and blushed.

        “Tarnation, as Applejack would say,” she thought. “Why does this emerge each time the most unwelcome way?” she looked away.

        They arranged the books in the usual order and Lyra left wishing the girls a good night.

        “Good night, Spike!” she yelled to the kitchen door and heard how he grunted something in return.

        Twilight walked Sweetie Belle to the bed and the girl almost crawled under the blanket. She passed out, before her babysitter could wish her sweet dreams. Twilight watched her for a while with a smile, then headed downstairs. It was indeed too late, but she didn’t want to sleep at all, concerned by a few thoughts.

        “Whew!” there was so much relief in Spike’s voice, when he appeared from the now cleaned kitchen. “Is she sleeping?”

        Twilight nodded.

        “The girl is a hurricane! I wonder how Rarity copes with her sister…” at the word “Rarity” Twilight almost noticed a couple of pink hearts emerging in place of Spike’s pupils.

        She trotted to her desk and took something out of her bag, she didn’t unpack yet. Then Twilight returned to Spike.

        “What would you say about that, Spike?” she demonstrated him a large dark blue feather.

        Her dragon aide scratched the back of his head with a claw.

        “Well…” he muttered thoughtfully. “By the look of it, I would say it belonged to princess Luna most likely. Where did you get it, Twilight?”

        “Fluttershy gave me that in her cottage. She was overly puzzled finding it,” obviously Twilight was puzzled as well. “And most likely Alex brought it, as nopony could leave it there… and only princess Celestia visited Fluttershy lately.”

        “Aaa… Errmmm…” Spike wasn’t an epitome of eloquence at the moment. After a minute he realized, his mouth was still open, and closed it with a clap.

        “Yeah, something like that,” chuckled Twilight. “I know one thing for sure – this is not going to be boring. But I’d like to get my answers anyway…”

        “And this is between us two,” she glanced at Spike meaningfully.

        “You know me,” Spike proudly pouted. “As long as you keep my feelings to Rarity in secret, this is buried deep. I swear by the Dragon Codex.”

        Twilight rolled her eyes. Spike was probably the only one in whole Ponyville, who still thought his crush for Rarity was a mystery.

        *

        This evening Alex got to bed early. He had nothing to do in his small comfy… cell anyway, besides the damned tests were planned for the next day and it was better to face the trouble with “battery charged” than feeling like a zombie. Naturally, Alex made himself to fall asleep, it wasn’t an easy task because of all the thoughts filling his mind. But he had one more aim – he was going to try and reach princess Luna in his sleep. First time consciously, as she explained to him, that was possible. She was his only reliable source of information.

        He realized that it would be too self-confident to expect full picture and conclusions from the sister of one, who put him here exactly. But Luna at least seemed to be on his side… if anypony, except Fluttershy and a couple of girls, was on his side here; and having a peek behind the curtains could give him a hint, what to expect next.

        Alex lied on his back and watched last rays of setting sun dying out in the small barred window. He closed his eyes and tried to free his mind of all irrelevant thoughts, trying to concentrate on one, most important. Building the realistic mental image of princess’ room, as he remembered it since the last time he was “sleepwalking”, took him quite some time and effort, but when the result satisfied him, he wasn’t entirely in his room already, assumingly he was sleeping.

        Cool evening breeze faintly moved the curtains on high windows of Luna’s bedroom and brought the sounds of last daytime birds, going to sleep, through the open balcony door. The princess woke not long ago and already brought herself to order, getting ready for her nightly court. Luna raised the curtains completely, watching the narrowing scarlet stripe of the western edge of the sky, as the Sun went below the horizon, obedient to her sister’s will. The approaching night was Luna’s time and kingdom.

        Luna stepped to the balcony, breathing in the fresh air from the snowy mountains, which guarded the rearward of Canterlot, and letting the wind play with her starry mane and tail. The darkness fell quickly, flooding the land below, making everypony look for the deserved rest after daily solicitudes. The veil of silver stars lit itself in the deep blue sky, roughly mirrored on the ground by distant lights of cities, small towns and settlements. Somewhere to the south, in front of the pitch black ocean of Everfree forest, lied and slept Ponyville, now shielded by the pouring rain – Rainbow Dash followed Applejacks request and gathered clouds, which were now watering the freshly seeded fields.

        Luna spread her wings, like the Night itself covered the stars from the accidental observer, if one happened to be in the room, and lightly soared in the sky. Her horn glowed with bright light-blue aura and the Moon appeared from behind the mountains and raised high, following the order of Princess of the Night. For the short moment the glorious figure of alicorn princess appeared against the background of the waning Moon, just like on some of her regal tapestries, then Luna gracefully lowered back to the balcony.

        “I’m truly amazed, your highness, amazed and speechless,” the voice coming from the shadows of her room made Luna float in the air, then she landed carefully. “The poor movie didn’t nearly give you deserved credit.”

        “Speechless, thou sayest,” Luna finally found the words, entering her bedroom and lighting a few candles with her magic. “Thou art quite eloquent for a speechless… alien,” she chuckled. Then she gasped in realization. “But how?! I’m not sleeping at the moment. Tis what I’m sure about.”

        “But I am,” replied Alex exiting the shadows and bowing to Luna with a wide smile. “I’ve watched you for a while, before you woke… And believe me, your Highness, I’m much more surprised than you are, that I’m still here, while you’re awake.”

        “We already agreed on that, Alex, simply – Luna,” she said automatically. “Yet still, how?”

        “I wanted to see you, Luna,” confessed Alex. “But I supposed, you would be sleeping… Now I see it was one more stupid assumption, considering you are the Princess of the Night.”

        “So I remembered how it was the first time and how you told me about… controlling the reality through dreams,” he continued. “I fell asleep while consciously concentrated on my wish to see you and talk to you… So here I am. The rest, I guess, could be explained by the short distance, which was parting us, otherwise, I couldn’t manage that, when you woke.”

        “I never tried that before,” he added with a puzzled smile. “So I can hardly explain it better.”

        “Thou art learning, Alex the human,” Luna looked at him with a new proud expression. “Methinks tis not thy limit by far.”

        “I’m trying,” Alex corrected her modestly. “But isn’t this all an illusion? I mean that only you can see me and… I can’t do magic anyway. I’m not sure this is real, what’s happening. How can I find out?”

        “At least nopony can suspect me of a breakout attempt,” he chuckled. “If they check my “room”, they’ll still see me in my bed, sleeping like an angel.”

        “Tsk-tsk, with that belief in thyself thou won’t go far, mine lief,” Luna shook her head. “As for the realism… we can easily find out.”

        She approached Alex and he felt that familiar lavender aroma immediately. The wind from the balcony door threw her mane forward, when Luna sat on the floor in front of Alex, and a few strands touched his cheek. Alex inhaled deeply and stepped towards her, feeling his heart beating somewhere under his throat, until the big dark eyes of the incredible alicorn princess appeared inches from his own.

        Luna chuckled, looking into his dilated eyes, and raised her fore leg, hugging his shoulders, making Alex take a couple of steps more.

        “Isn’t t real enough for thee, Alex?” she asked, when he nuzzled her neck, enjoying the softness of her dark blue coat.

        “I know, tis real enough for me,” Luna cooed, when Alex raised his hand and ran his fingers through her luxurious hair, involuntarily scratching behind her ear, making her almost murmur in pleasure. “Oh, I can definitely feel that touch of thine, t woke me up realistically enough the last time thou used t.”

        Alex stepped back in embarrassment, but didn’t break the touch, he just wanted to see her face, when talking to Luna.

        “So this is all real…” he muttered, looking on his own hand, then touched Luna’s hoof on his shoulder and stroked it slightly. “But I can’t even imagine…”

        “Tis all depends on how much thou believest, Alex,” Luna giggled like a filly. “And how much thou makest others believe…”

        “And how much thou makest the reality around thee believe that thou art in power!” she added seriously.

        Alex hugged her with both hands and Luna enveloped him in her wings for a while.

        “But it takes some strength to keep me here,” said he in her ear. “I don’t know how much time I have, until my control ceases and I wake up in my room.”

        “Thou hast questions, Alex, am I correct?” Luna released him, welcoming to take a seat.

        “Yes, Luna,” Alex sat cross-legged right on the floor in front of her. “If only I knew how to begin…”

        “Well, tryest something, for a start,” sly sparkles danced in Luna’s eyes, but Alex saw, she looked overly sympathetic at him.

        “What do you think about the audience results?”

        “Hmm… Tis a very broad question, Alex,” smirked Luna. “Besides it’s much more important, what Tia thinks about the audience in that case.”

        “Tia is very concerned about thy arrival to our domain,” she showed mercy finally. “Thither are too many blank spots in thy story and some parts don’t combine in a readable image. One thing she is sure about and I share that feeling, that thy arrival is least accidental. Thither are certain, unknown for the time being reasons for it. Moreover thither is somepony… or something which is interested in thee, in thy presence in Equestria.”

        “So, you’re saying that I was practically dragged to Equestria by some sentient powers, not by a pure mishap,” exclaimed Alex, then he put his hand over the mouth, worrying that it sounded too loud. He saw a faint shadow of sadness on Luna’s face and muttered confusedly. “I… mean… Sorry…”

        “I for one don’t call tis a mishap,” Luna shook her head. “Otherwise thou art correct more or less. And the existence of some sentient… chess master adds to Tia’s concerns. We are to care for our subjects and their safety naturally, Alex.”

        “I’m sorry, Luna,” repeated Alex. “I didn’t mean to… Well, damn, I wasn’t ready to find myself in a totally different world like that. I’m still not ready… despite now I have… friends.”

        Luna’s face brightened a little, when she continued.

        “And the mere fact of Discord being concerned about thy safety didn’t make the circumstances more relaxed. Tia is not ready to believe Discord, I won’t make a crime against truth, if I say that thither is hardly anypony, who can truly believe Discord, except thy friend Fluttershy.”

        “Merlin’s…” Alex hid his face in his hands. “I really hope she is OK, she definitely wasn’t today when I left.”

        Luna watched him fixedly with a strange mix of empathy and sadness in her eyes.

        “Thither are some benefits though,” she said after a moment. “My sister seemed to be convinced about applying magic or destructive force to thee was not a good idea.”

        “So, why are they going to do exactly that?” Alex looked up to her eyes. “If I’m not mistaking they plan experiments with magic.”

        “Tia believes in an accurate approach,” Luna huffed, batting her lush eyelashes, but then justified her sister’s actions. “Yet she needs to know what to expect, if ’t be true she is going to send thee back home.”

        “So she is going to do that somehow… someday,” Alex tried his best to withhold enthusiasm in his voice.

        “The word of the Rulers of Equestria has its value!” Luna cocked her head, then she added in a calmer voice. “She promised to look for a way, if thither existed any. And tis what she is doing in addition to her usual royal duties. She needs more information though, so I’m afraid thou shalt overcome the experiments. If ’t be true she can send thee back home, she will try t.”

        “Unfortunately,” she said aside barely audible, for Alex not to hear.

        “Was she mad with the trick I pulled on the audience?” Alex approached the most delicate question. “There was a moment, I thought, she was going to incinerate me, despite the warning against…” he added with a tiny smile.

        “To tell the truth, I was afraid of the same… And not because thither was a fair chance to blow half of Equestria, at least if ’t be true we trust Discord on that matter,” Luna rubbed her cheek against his, making Alex instantly blush.

        “But apparently she wasn’t displeased by your act more than by Discord’s frying pan trick, and tis talks for itself,” Luna smirked, then winked. “I’d say more, technically she didn’t dislike it. Thou seest, thou wast mayhap the first… errmmm… stallion for a thousand years, who did ‘t that simply, seeing her for the first time. I can’t be completely sure, but I can assume.”

        “Oh…” Alex couldn’t find proper words, while Luna was evidently having fun.

        “She was abashed by thy kiss, but needed to keep face. She was definitely… impressed,” Luna openly giggled. “Thou can exclude that from thy worries safely, I presume.”

        A sly smile wormed on Alex’s face.

        “Then… Know what, don’t let her forget about that?” he chuckled.

        “Thou can count on me,” nodded Luna with a wide grin.

        She then raised, making Alex get up instantly, and gracefully stretched.

        “Thou seemest to undervalue thyself, Alex,” she said, approaching the balcony again and looking out. “Thou still have the force to stay hither through thy… how doth thou callest… sleepwalking. I guess thou hast more strength than thou estimate.”

        “Maybe the short distance played its role,” supposed Alex. “I wasn’t to travel far away in this case.”

        “Why don’t thou cometh hither?” Luna asked, heading to the balcony. “It’s so beautiful, simply takest a look.”

        Alex instantly twitched.

        “Luna, please,” he squeezed huskily. “I can’t go. I’m acrophobic. I’m bucking afraid of heights,” he became red as a carrot. “My heart is jumping wildly each time I see you raising in the air…”

        “Oh…” Luna soared in the air and was hovering a few feet above the balcony floor. Then she said with a wily smile. “But thou said, this wasn’t real. So what can really befall, at which hour thy body is safely resting in thy room.”

        “Besides, thou hast power to control the reality around thee now,” suddenly she became completely serious. “Remember what I told thee. Thou needest to believe only.”

        “But how?” Alex still hesitated. “How am I supposed to?”

        “Forget that thou can’t do something,” reassured Luna. “And simply do it, because at this moment thou can.”

        “Or think that tis thy dream, if ’t be true thou can believeth easier that way. And anything is possible in thy dreams,” she added with a wink.

        “My dream…” muttered Alex. He suddenly realized that it would be much easier to overcome his fear, when he was actually sleeping in a bed, firmly staying on the solid floor. Why not try then? “Believe, you say…”

        Slowly, step by step, Alex approached the balcony door. And despite his heart was ready to jump out of his chest, he managed to exit to the balcony and take a couple of steps further. There he stopped, deciding that it’s already too good for the first time.

        “Merlin’s pants!” he breathed out, Luna was watching him from above, smiling. “Your Highness, you won’t believe,” Alex completely forgot about his promise under the emotional stress. “And I’m lucky, you have no idea, how much it costs me to do that willingly, otherwise you would probably despise me…”

        “Alex,” Luna raised a bit higher and further, just like teasing him, welcoming to take another step. “I would never loathe anypony, simply because they have a long vista open at their feet.”

        “But I’m not a pony, remember?” Alex tried to tease her in his turn, taking a breath and trying not to turn back to the safety of the room. “And I will hardly do that while awake ever, your Highness.”

        Luna frowned a little, but said nothing about him using the title for the second time.

        “Thou art right, Alex. And thou hast nothing to do with magic, other worlds and similar things ere, but I can see thy heart is open to changes, despite thou may bethink otherwise still.”

        Alex took a look around, the view was undoubtedly splendid with all the stars in the sky, the Moon bathing the land in the silver light, and the rare lights on the ground far below. The balcony itself was lit by a few torches, attached to the outer wall.

        “Control the reality? Luna, you sound like persuading me to learn to ride a bicycle,” he smirked, while trying to think, what he could do in his dream, while unable to do that in reality. Fortunately, the answer lay on the surface.

        But his first attempt couldn’t be called successful. When his feet parted with the solid surface, hovering a few inches above the floor, Alex’s eyes dilated with the mix of terror and realization, he lost his balance at once and helplessly shook his limbs in the air, like a puppy learning to swim. Naturally, he landed that very moment right on his ass on the stone floor.

        “Ouch!” he squinted, but he didn’t feel even a part of the pain, supposed in such a situation. “Well, at least it doesn’t hurt much, contrary to my expectations. But I hardly did anything, Luna. I could simply jump in the air with the better result, to be frank.”

        To her honour, the princess didn’t say a word about the fail, despite her eyes were obviously laughing. Alex couldn’t blame her, as he realized how he looked; he snickered, then laughed at the mental image.

        “Art thou going to stop hither, Alex?” Luna asked, when he stopped giggling. “Ask me, thou shalt try again.”

        “Merlin’s pants! You almost demanding the impossible,” he breathed out. “But… oh, well, I’ll try.”

        ‘I won’t forgive myself, if I fail in front of you, Luna!’ he added inwardly.

        He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate really hard this time. When Alex opened them again and found himself hovering a couple of feet above the floor, he almost fell flat again, but summoned all his willpower in time. A fair portion of respect added to Luna’s expression at that moment.

        “What?!” he breathed out, trying his best not to collapse on the floor from the shock of sudden realization. “It actually works!”

        “Thou art believing now, Alex,” simply explained the princess.

        “Yeah, the only tiny thing that left now is to make me believe that I’m not acrophobic, when I’m awake,” smirked Alex. “Something tells me, it would be a way harder task.”

        He looked for something else to try and held out his hand towards the torch on the wall. Alex commanded (he watched the result like bewitched) a small part of flame to jump into his palm and curl in a ball. He held it between his hands in front of himself.

        “How is this even possible?” he glanced at Luna. “I mean the fire should hurt, shouldn’t it?”

        “Tis easier, at which hour thou knowest how,” approved Luna. “I suppose the fire “knoweth”, who is in power henceforth. Thou art, Alex. And thou can decide, if ’t be true it hurteth or not.”

        Alex weighted this new revelation, making the small fireball pulse in sync with his heartbeat. Then, like if Discord nudged him, a stupid trick idea came to his mind. Later Alex scolded himself for that impulse numerous times. Alex parted the fireball in two and spread his hands with them. He made the fire form a line of lights across his arms from one hand to another. Luna watched him now with a tint of surprise, she was to admit, he grasped the basics really fast. Alex looked up at Luna… and suddenly made the flames cover his whole figure and shoot up in two fiery “wings”. His eyes flashed.

        “Beware! For I am the Night!!!” he roared in the deepest voice he could manage.

        Luna’s eyes dilated and she even retreated a little in the air. Alex spotted a shadow of long-buried terror in her eyes, like some unwelcome memories became too vivid for a short moment. The feeling of remorse for his random act flooded him instantly, despite he meant no harm actually, as he did this as a test for himself and an… innocent (at least it supposed to be) prank. But the actual effect made him reconsider and extinguish the flames at once.

        He dropped to the floor and buried his face in hands.

        “I’m sorry, Luna!” he exclaimed with genuine regret. “Please… I didn’t mean to offend you. Don’t know, why I… That’s just the stupid phrase from a bucking earth movie. Forgive me.”

        Luna landed in a second and looked fixedly at Alex, who still stood covering his face. Then he rubbed his temples, looking at the princess with shame and guilt in his eyes.

        “I’m an idiot,” he finally said lamentably. “I reminded you about… the certain “nightmare”… didn’t I? Please, princess, forgive your stupid human.”

        “A bit,” confessed Luna still flabbergasted. “But on the second thought, I can appreciate a strong joke. Thou almost got me believing, for a whole short moment I saw thee turning to evil. It was like the certain Nightmare forsooth. Don’t do that again though, please.”

        She then chuckled and Alex saw that painful memories vanished from her eyes. She put a hoof on his chest.

        “Thou knowest, Alex, thou art a big… bucking impulsive weirdo,” Luna approached Alex, so he could see his reflection in the deep lakes of her eyes. “But…”

        And he couldn’t say a word, when he felt soft tender lips on his own. Luna grabbed him with her wings, putting in the silky embrace, and after a moment Alex wrapped his hands around her swan-like neck, running his fingers through her mane and making her tremble.

        “Why shall I get less than Tia?!” breathed Luna out, when she emerged for air to continue their mutual enjoyment after a second. She snuggled into him and Alex suddenly realized that she in her turn didn’t have that pleasure for perhaps the same period as her sister. That didn’t affect her skill evidently and the next twenty minutes or so flew like one second. Alex’s head was spinning and his only conscious thought was not to lose the concentration and find himself back in the guarded cell. He kept his eyes open though and noticed that Luna was also enjoying the view, unlike the majority of women in similar situation. This made them both clench each other even tighter.

        Suddenly Luna’s ears perked…

        “Somepony is coming,” she said anxiously. “That must be Tia. I wonder, if ’t be true she heard thy last roar,” Luna looked at Alex a bit reproachfully, making him downcast.

        “Thou needst to flee!” with the audible regret she planted a quick kiss on his cheek and released him. “Good night, Alex.”

        “Good night… my princess!” Alex stepped back and his figure started dissolving in the thin air.

        Luna watched him vanishing from sight, then entered her bedroom and closed the balcony door. She was drawing the curtains exactly the moment, when the doors opened and princess Celestia entered.

        “Are you alright, Luna?” there was a fair dose of concern in Celestia’s voice. “I was going from my study, there was too much work to do and I was late to sleep, then I thought, I heard voices from your room, dear. Two of them to be exact. So I wanted to check, if you were okay.”

        “I’m fine, Tia,” nothing could be read in the calm smile of the Princess of the Night. “The wind made the curtain flap loudly, so I was closing the windows. Mayhap thou took the flapping for the voice…”

        “It could be…” Celestia bowed her head in agreement.

        “Speaking of work…” Luna preferred to change the subject. “Didst thou receive any progress in thy research of human’s problem?”

        “Not yet, Luna,” Celestia half closed her eyes. “If we take his magic resistance for granted, I yet couldn’t find a way to “wrap” him somehow or shield the caster in the way necessary to send him through the warp successfully.”

        “Not to mention that he would drain the warp itself, as it affects him directly,” she added in a tired voice. “I need more information, so the next few days will show, if we can do something to return him to his home world.”

        “I wish I could help thee, Tia,” Luna said heartily. “But thou knowest, I’m not a master of warps…”

        “Oh, that’s okay, Lulu, I’ll cope with it… if it is possible at all,” Celestia yawned, delicately putting her hoof over the mouth. “I need some sleep. Good night, dear. Have your nightly duty lightly.”

        “Good night, Sunny,” Luna followed her to the door.

        “Lulu,” Celestia turned in the doorway. “Send a worker to check the chimney in your room tomorrow. It smells of smoke here slightly.”

        *

        Alex opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling, apparently, he was back in his room. Safe and… locked. But he knew, where he just was, and irrational joy filled his whole self, despite the position he was in. He sat on his bed and smiled in the darkness.

        The dim light came from the corridor, perhaps from the nurse’s room or somewhere alike. The approaching hoofsteps got to the doorway with the magical barrier. Alex rubbed his face and glanced at the guard.

        “Hey, are you alright?” asked the armoured unicorn stallion.

        “Yeah,” Alex waved indefinitely. “I’ve had a weird dream…” he smiled aside, so the guard couldn’t see his wide grin.

        The stallion huffed something and continued patrolling. Alex waited till the steps got silent somewhere far in the corridor and got up. He walked back and forth in his room unable to get asleep again at once. The scent of lavender on his skin and hair made him remember every single second of holding Luna in his hands. The kisses still burned on his lips, making his heart flutter, pumping blood in fast excited thrusts. To his bewilderment Alex couldn’t tell, if he felt something alike, when he met Elen. The still small voice pricked him right in the heart, making sit back on the bed and dive into deep thoughts.

        “What’s going on with you, Alex?”

        Then Fluttershy’s amazing turquoise eyes filled with tears emerged in front of his inner sight, her sincere warm embrace, her obvious affection made him let out a muffled painful moan.

        “What are you doing, Alex?”

        He couldn’t help himself feeling for both those… ponies, that incredible kind and loving girl and… the princess. Speaking of Fluttershy, Alex wanted to protect and keep her safe, her smile was perhaps the best reward, while her tears ripped his heart to shreds. With Luna… with Luna Alex felt irresistible wish to belong to her, to dissolve in those dark eyes, to share each breath. He felt so emotionally close to her, she was the one and only, who seemed to understand him fully… and that was simply amazing, considering their obvious differences.

        Alex grabbed his head, running his fingers through the hair, he felt completely confused by the events of the last two days. Finding a perfect friend (even if overprotective sometimes), almost an ideal… woman, as Alex confessed to himself, he could easily stay with, in case if he was unable to leave Equestria; and at the same time finding a soul mate… and burning desire simultaneously were not going to make his future either easy or bright. Alex already feared the moment, he was to leave this world. His biggest wish became his biggest torment. The future on Earth, if he ever was able to return, wasn’t now clear. The more he spent in Equestria, the less promising his return looked, as he realized that he would become a ghost of Alex everyone knew there previously. And in addition to all the pain returning home now would double the loss.

        Yet he didn’t feel himself belonging to this world… yet. Alex twitched as electrocuted at this amendment, his inner voice made. If he was to count the ponies, who were not indifferent about him, one hand’s fingers would be really enough. Not mentioning Discord, who finally seemed to want him good. Alex suddenly realized that he could hardly name more people on Earth, genuinely concerning about him. So in pure numbers it was perhaps a tie.

        “Why aren’t you like one of your computers, Alex?” he smashed his fist into the bed mattress, making it creak slightly. “You can think fast and outside the box sometimes… but when it comes to a really important matter, concerning your own life, you’re full of shit. Know what, you won’t be able to make this decision till the end, and will follow the circumstances… then regret it for the rest of your life most likely.”

        “Buck it!” Alex shook his head. “Just get to sleep. You’ll have an important day full of tubes and needles tomorrow. It seems this is the only thing you’re really good for.”

        He turned from side to side for quite a while then, completely displeased by himself and the situation he got into, before finally drifted to the sleep – plain and simple one this time, without any reality manipulations. He saw the ocean coast again and himself sitting on the sand, embracing Fluttershy, who sat on his lap, and… holding hands with Luna. If somepony tried to draw this image to him, when Alex was awake, he would have most likely facepalmed or even “facetabled” really hard.

        *

        “See you at the SPA.”

        This note, put between the front door and its frame, greeted Twilight, when she walked Sweetie Belle to school in the morning (miss Cheerilee was a bit surprised, but didn’t ask any questions) and got to Fluttershy’s cottage to check the girls. She recognized Rarity’s accurate elegant writing at once, Fluttershy’s penmareship was more compact, still well readable. Twilight herself couldn’t boast that, as her writing was fast, but more resembling of a medic, i.e. hardly well readable for anypony than herself… and perhaps Celestia, yet the latter preferred Spikes calligraphy to be frank.

        “It seems Rarity took the situation in her hooves entirely and now resolves it by her own methods,” smirked Twilight. “And Fluttershy is too dumbfounded to resist. OK, SPA it is then,” she incinerated the note with a spell.

        The hot tub with bubbles was always the best place for Rarity to think about her problems in the most relaxed manner, thus the decisions became more fleshed out, less rushed and chaotic. And it was indispensable to recover from stress, even if a certain decision wasn’t possible or needed. But her friend was hardly able to move over her uneasy thoughts at that moment. With a sympathetic and sad look Rarity watched Fluttershy doing everything almost automatically, without passion or interest. She was definitely feeling better than yesterday, but not nearly normal yet.

        “She can’t be left alone like that,” thought Rarity, leaning on the tub edge and watching how Fluttershy quietly and monotonously smacks the bubbles in front of her. “Either she shakes that off, or somepony needs to be near for a while.”

        “But I can’t afford another few days of leisure,” she adjusted the towel on her head, holding her mane and keeping it dry. “Besides I can’t ask Twilight to sit with Sweetie Belle each day. If I could take Flutters with me to the boutique, but… she won’t leave her animal friends… Oh, woe is me!” she rolled her eyes in despair.

        Fluttershy in her turn seemingly didn’t notice Rarity’s troubles. She was quieter than always, if that was even possible. Sitting in the tub was simply necessary, as her friend insisted, but she hardly felt any satisfaction from the process this time. She tried to cover her hair with the towel as well, but due to extreme lushness the towel didn’t hold in place and finally she dropped that idea, simply asking Rarity to braid her mane.

        The sound of hoofsteps made them both turn to the door to see Twilight entering the room accompanied by Rainbow Dash and Aloe – one of the SPA owning sisters. There was a faint tint of concern on Twilight’s face, while Rainbow was cheerful as usual.

        “Hi, girls!” Twilight tried the water, taking her bathrobe off. She wasn’t sure, if Rainbow’s insight on the problem was exactly what Fluttershy needed at the moment, but, on the other hand, Rainbow’s snarky remarks addressed to Alex might drag Flutters out of that pool of indifference. Besides Twilight could hardly join the girls without Rainbow Dash now, as the latter obviously wanted her portion of the news and looked for Twilight for that reason exactly. The foam parted under her hooves, when Twilight placed herself in the tub between Rarity and Fluttershy.

        “So, how she is?” she quietly asked Rarity, nodding towards their pegasus friend.

        Rarity raised her eyebrows with “And it is like that since morning” look, welcoming Twilight to see for herself. She already decided to wait, till the situation was resolved; Rarity needed the human, but interfering with princess’ interests wasn’t her game.

        “Do you still think, we could do otherwise?” Twilight put her hoof on Fluttershy’s shoulder lightly.

        Fluttershy shrugged indefinitely, staring at the bubbles in front of her. “See, this is what I told you about,” was written in Rarity’s glance.

        “So, girls, how’s it boiling today?” meanwhile Rainbow Dash dropped herself on the couch, and then addressed Aloe, continuing the interrupted conversation. “… no, no. The tub will make me soft an sleepy, I don’t need that in the morning.”

        “And I like my hooves the way they are, thanks,” she dragged her legs towards her, backing up from the file in Aloe’s hooves. “But a good warming massage would be an awesome treat for the muscles,” she added with a smile.

        “As you can see, it’s hardly even boiling,” sadly smirked Rarity, while Aloe put away the file with a shrug and started to massage Rainbow’s shoulders, when Dash turned on her stomach and spread her wings.

        Rainbow threw a quick glance over her shoulder at Fluttershy and huffed. “No human, no problem!” clearly read in her tone.

        Twilight noticed, how Fluttershy raised her head and blinked, and thought that she wasn’t wrong bringing Rainbow Dash with her. Shock therapy was still therapy, and if it helped Flutters quit her stupor…

        “Well, it’s not very bad yet, girls,” Twilight tried to tread lightly, at least Fluttershy started listening and a tint of interest appeared in her look. “As I said, they’re going to perform some analysis today, something like anypony would come through in the hospital during a regular examination. You know, to find out if he is healthy enough and ready for possible transfer.”

        Fluttershy shivered slightly and Rarity noticed with a chuckle.

        “Well, darling, last time I was to come through analysis in the hospital, it wasn’t a big pleasure, if you ask me.”

        “I’m afraid nothing can be done without them,” sighed Twilight, making a mental notice about Rainbow keeping one ear constantly turned towards them, despite she almost murmured under Aloe hooves, as her shoulders, back and base of her wings got proper treatment. “They need to know how close his organism is to ours and how it can possibly react to the transfer attempt.”

        “… as well as his physical abilities and how they can contain him in case of some… outburst,” she cringed inwardly, but kept that part to herself.

        “Hmmm, and I thought that he is halfway home already,” huffed Rainbow.

        “Thought?” Fluttershy raised her head and the girls heard the sudden strength in her voice. “You wanted to say “hoped”, perhaps.”

        “… or to the Moon,” chuckled Rainbow, who didn’t see Fluttershy’s eyes, which resembled ones of a cockatrice at that moment. “What?” she looked over her shoulder, when the silence became obvious. Even Aloe stumbled and stopped massaging for a second. “The place is now vacant and…”

        ‘I wonder, if Rainbow is unwillingly getting straight to the point,’ thought Twilight. ‘Perhaps Celestia is concerned about this exactly – that suddenly appearing human doesn’t turn… Nightmare Alex?! I can’t help noticing that he came together with princess Luna amazingly fast, if I read the signs properly. Interesting… what does Celestia’s logical chain look like…’

        “I genuinely wonder,” said Fluttershy. “Why do you hate him so much, Dash? I mean you can hardly bring any reasons, except your suspicions, which may have some ground or no ground at all.”

        She then turned to Twilight and said quietly, that even Rarity could hardly hear.

        “I want to see Alex. Can you please do something about that, Twi?”

        “I’m afraid, it’s too early, dear,” Twilight downcasted, while Rarity was all ears. Rainbow got distracted by the massage and paid less attention to the human-related problem, as she knew now that her wish didn’t come true yet. On the one hand, Twilight was happy that Fluttershy evidently dropped her sorrowful mood, but on the other hand, her new active attitude was about to bring new problems, so it was a double-natured feel. “They even limited his contacts with personnel, let alone anypony, who is not involved.”

        “But I am involved!” stated Fluttershy bluntly. Rarity raised an eyebrow, so fast was that mood change.

        “Maybe later, when they get more results and… ensure that there is no harm in visits,” Twilight said in an accommodating spirit. “I promised to talk you through and I’ll try my best to do that.”

        “Unless I’m forced to sneak you through…” she thought, shivering inwardly. Still Twilight wasn’t feeling naughty enough yet for that act. “I sincerely hope Rarity doesn’t have the same plans.”

        The sudden silence in the room was now interrupted only by the foam “whisper” and Rainbow Dash cooing something, as Aloe got to her wings.

        *

        She noticed a new scroll on the table right upon entering her study. Princess Celestia was returning from her mages council and the disappointed look on her face told about lack of conclusive results better than any words. Everypony considered a magical transfer of a magically resistant entity a very dangerous and generally futile venture, being especially cautious without any experimental basis on the human real capabilities regarding magic.

        Frankly speaking she didn’t expect much at the first day, still, there was a faint hope that somepony might have some fresh idea, which could be turned into a feasible method with the help of research and meticulous work. But nothing yet.

        “They say, one head is good, a few are… Cerberus…” chuckled Celestia. “Today it was indeed – much ado, no result.”

        The new scroll unrolling in front of her eyes, enveloped in the golden aura, must be the long-awaited first report of the “Alex research team”. Celestia dwelled in reading, running her eyes along the written lines.

        “Your Highness, Princess Celestia!

        With the following letter let me present you the summary report of the day one of human research procedure. I’m going to be straight to the point and avoid loading you with unnecessary details, thus forwarding right to the results crucial for the goal, you’ve stated: returning the human to his home world or the possibility of him staying in Equestria, if alternative fails.

        The extensive functional analysis along with analysis of human tissues and bodily fluids showed the major similarity between our species. Generally differences are based on walking method; extremities structure – namely the existence of fingers on both arms and legs; ration – the subject is obvious omnivore, but according to his own observation has no issues with accommodating to local ration generally; and the practical absence of fur coating on the 90% of body surface. The latter forces the subject to wear clothes most of the time and makes him subject to temperatures much higher and lower than his normal body temperature, which is 36.6 degrees, thus differs from pony nominal of 38 degrees. N.B.: Should be considered in case of diagnosing and treating all sorts of diseases.

        Speaking of the latter, the human seems to be susceptible to the same diseases as ponies, with the natural exception of species highly specific threats as e.g. Cutie Pox. The subject is non-allergic and non-allergenic in his turn.

        The functional analysis partially showed that the subject is physically stronger than the majority of ponies, with the exception of alicorns, which can be explained by size, mass and overall physical development of the subject. The differences in long-term agility and endurance are still open questions and we hope to get certain results tomorrow, on the day two of medical research.

        Streamline psychological testing didn’t uncover any pathology. The mentality of the human, estimated by test results and communication, seems to be generally comparable to the average of the adult pony subjects of your Highness.

        Naturally, we had no time to analyze the reproductive functions and the ability of cross-breeding, besides it wasn’t our stated priority. But if your orders follow…”

        “Those scientists are incorrigible,” with a sigh Celestia closed her eyes for a second, then continued reading.

        “But if your orders follow, we cover this part of research accordingly. This perhaps could be necessary in case the subject is forced to stay in Equestria.

        Considering all the circumstances given the overall result is as follows: The subject is both physically and psychologically healthy and has no medical contraindications for being transferred in the usual manner. The magical aspects of the same are the subject of further experiments.

        However…”

        “Hmm, now to the most interesting part…” Celestia’s attention sharpened.

        “However, the today’s analysis uncovered a few indirect features.

        First and foremost, the regeneration level of subject’s body is extremely, up to being off the scale, high. To our surprise, it was even detrimental to some of our analysis. For example, we were unable to take blood samples the usual way, the puncture heals itself visibly, before any probe can be taken, so we were to use a syringe instead. Simple cuts of skin and underlying tissues cover at visible speed as well.

        The examination of the mentioned wound on the subject’s right side showed a barely visible long scar. The prognosis is good and the scar will completely vanish in the nearest perspective, despite the crude enough healing methods. The subject himself mentioned using “stitches”, namely sewing together the edges of the wound. This long gone practice was common, if I remember my student days right, among Earth ponies in the Three Tribes era, lately replaced by advanced magical treatment. But the latter is not possible, considering subject’s supposed features (further testing necessary).

        The overall image provides the regeneration level much higher than one of an adult alicorn. Considering your special inquiry regarding possible confrontation of the subject: physical influence is highly unwelcome, the only reliable method of stopping the subject is termination of the majority of the processes at once, i.e. killing the subject instantly. The regeneration level makes conditions like shock or coma practically inapplicable to the subject.”

        “This is what I was concerned about mostly, when heard Fluttershy’s story,” thought Celestia. “So, if something goes wrong, we’ll have a very durable… problem. Oh, well, let’s not concentrate on the unfortunate part of it yet…”

        “The above leaves the question of subject’s lifespan prognosis open as well. We have no opportunity to measure it even approximately at the moment.”

        “Better and better!” huffed Celestia, unrolling the scroll further.

        “The next indirect result, I want to mention, is of the more optimistic nature though.

        The subject is evidently informed about his possible reaction to negative impact. And despite only magical impact was considered, the subject willingly stayed on the side of caution during the tissue analysis and regeneration tests, involving physical damage of tissues, showing the high level of empathy. Personally, if I’m allowed to add my own insight to the report, I must say much higher level than I could expect from anypony in similar circumstances.

        Thus during regeneration test, which supposed performing a cut on the skin and underlying tissues, the subject demanded the nurse to stay on possible safe distance and give him the scalpel instead, which was allowed after discussing and involving a guard. The test didn’t show any noticeable reaction on the damage in addition to fast recovery, thus indirectly confirming the supposed “backlash” being magical only.

        The mentioned behaviour though may speak about either subject preferring to not harm anypony, or good acting, equally possible. Supposedly further experiments will show the real state of affairs.

        Expect the next report tomorrow in similar time.

        With endless respect and admiration,

    always your loyal servant

    …, MD”

        “Well, we’ll see then,” muttered Celestia, putting the scroll in the drawer. Then she realized, that all the time was standing while reading this, and sat behind her desk.

        “Yet it is very interesting and thought-provoking for the first day of research,” she clopped her fore hooves together. “And confirms my few assumptions… but as he said there is still a possibility of acting, unfortunately.”

        *

        The night after the first day of the tests wasn’t memorable. Alex was completely exhausted after all that medical crap, he was subjected to that day. He probably didn’t ever come through that number of analysis for his entire previous life, so that day was a nightmare both physically and psychologically. Being examined by all imaginable ways is not the most pleasant thing in general, and cutting himself in a series of tests was especially awful. But he went for that consciously, Alex wasn’t sure that he knew all of his abilities, so he wasn’t ready to watch calmly how any physical impact might severely backlash somepony, who performed the test according to their duty, not their will.

        When he saw the same miniature unicorn nurse, which was now assigned to perform various manipulations during regeneration tests, he naturally protested, backing up from her. Alex demanded that he was given the instruments and the nurse kept possible safe distance. He didn’t allow anypony to come close, till they decided to satisfy his request after a short discussion. Actually, Alex didn’t see anypony in charge, but he suspected their invisible supervision, as nopony tried to force the predefined route of the experiment, fortunately, and, after a short hitch, he was allowed to do it his own way in the additional presence of the guard. Finally, it didn’t look, as if they were extremely cautious with his suggestion.

        Alex was truly amazed by the visible effect of physical damage being healed on sight, minor wounds closed almost in a wink. He noticed that already, when they attempted to take blood samples, but didn’t pay much attention at that time. But when a fresh cut heals itself in less than a minute with minimal blood loss…

        That didn’t make the exact process of performing any damage less painful though, so Alex was inwardly happy they didn’t plan any experiments on his skeletal structure regeneration.

        No wonder that at the end of the day he almost crawled on the bed and passed out as soon as his head reached the pillow. Only a dead man could “sleep” deeper than him that night perhaps. Alex had no dreams, normal or “sleepwalking” ones, and had no idea, if anypony visited his room during that night. The only thing his exhausted mind was able to notice automatically, when he barged into his room, was the newly put simple wooden door, which now separated the room from the magical barrier. A small opening was left in the door to observe the room without opening it entirely. Perhaps, the room resembled more of a prison cell now, but Alex couldn’t give less buck at the moment. He never approached the barrier, to be frank, remembering about his specific qualities, neither he was going to bang into the door without any vital urge. He just fell flat as a log on his bed and, perhaps, fell asleep even before his body reached the bed.

        The second day was different and, without any doubt, less exhausting, despite that time his strength, agility, durability, etc of the kind were put to the test. Practically they wanted to determine his physical capabilities and calculate the limits, thus putting him under all sorts of load, including running track durability and speed testing and even measuring his lungs effective volume. Alex got used to that on Earth and hardly found much difference from his usual day at the gym, perhaps the intensity was higher than normal. This wasn’t nearly as bad as the first day though and Alex felt rather energetic, than tired that evening. No need of harming himself and no fear of accidentally harming somepony else were reassuring also.

        So Alex forced himself to go to bed, when the last rays of the sun vanished from the window and silence swallowed the building. But he wasn’t going to lie and waste the time. He had certain plans instead, plans which could be realized only when he technically slept.

        Alex noticed that moderate “sleepwalking” didn’t affect his condition much; last two times he got up in the morning fresh and kicking, despite he was active in a way at night. So he decided to use his otherwise free time to do something valuable. Training something that Luna showed him wasn’t a bad idea. This was at least what he could afford anytime and anywhere.

        This time it was even easier. Such small distance didn’t demand any living “anchor” at all and when the hoofsteps of the guard ceased in the corridor, another Alex materialized in the room in addition to the one laying on the bed sleeping.

        Alex stood for a while, watching himself – that was a truly outstanding and even insane feeling. With a chuckle phantom Alex…

        “Hey, why phantom?” Alex thought. “That’s still me, myself and I. Besides I proved to be real enough at least for Luna,” with that memory his feelings warmed up considerably. “Let’s call it… errmmm… “proxy”,” he giggled.

        So, with a chuckle the proxy Alex pondered, if it was a good idea to boop the source Alex on the nose, then swept away that thought, rightfully supposing that it would wake him up most likely and break the experiment. He opened and closed the bathroom door instead, without touching it obviously. That was much easier than any illusions or reality manipulations (to be sincere Alex wasn’t still one hundred percents sure, which one it was… well, maybe 98 percent at that point) with fire. Then he moved the chair, put it on the table, turning upside down. All the time he listened carefully, if nopony was approaching the door from the corridor, ready to hide in the blind spot and thinking that somepony made him a nice present, putting that door, which limited the view and made the space near it non-visible through the opening.

        He was sitting on the floor cross-legged and making the parts of the chair, which he disassembled, spin in the air on the complex trajectory in front of him, when he heard a surprised sigh and a quiet satisfied chuckle behind his back.

        Alex looked over his shoulder, inhaling full chest of lavender aroma and feeling the wide smile lightening his face. The night-coloured alicorn princess watched his trick with pride and approval of a teacher.

        “Congratulations, Alex!” said Luna when he turned and got up to greet her with a slight bow, making the chair parts reassemble with a click and accurately putting the chair down. “I see thou art putting the new knowledge to good use, mine lief!”

        “Yes, princess… sorry… Luna,” Alex corrected himself. “I thought, why not try, as long as I have the whole night at my service anyway.”

        “Wait a minute…” he wondered. “If I’m “sleepwalking”… does that mean that you actually came here?”

        “As thou properly noticed, thou art sleeping at the moment and… as thou putteth it… “sleepwalking” at the same time, and thou doth not seeing me sleeping, then I am naturally real,” smirked Luna. “But variants are possible still…”

        “I wonder, if you stop teasing me someday, Luna,” Alex wasn’t going to take offense though. “But how could you appear here in the locked room? I mean I heard nothing, even if you teleported…”

        “Hmpf!” huffed Luna, funnily wrinkling her pretty nose. “Teleportation is not at each moment done with a bang, Alex. Actually the more thou master t, the more fluid and simple t gets. Thou must judge by Twilight, I guess, she doth ‘t loudly forsooth, but recall, she is still learning.”

        “I see…” nodded Alex. “Well, if you are actually here… let me…”

        With those words the proxy Alex vanished in the air, while real Alex sat on the bed, rubbing his face with his hands. He saw that obviously his beautiful guest is neither going to disappear, nor leave him at that moment. That caused another smile on Alex’s face, real this time.

        It took a couple of steps from each and Alex felt the silk of Luna’s mane on his face.

        “Greetings, my princess,” he whispered in her fluffy ear, which excitedly perked, when he was nuzzling her soft cheek and his hands were traveling on her shoulders, feeling how Luna’s muscles contracted under the coat, responding to his gentle touch. “Now my day is truly not spent for nothing!”

        Luna sat on the floor, wrapping her fore legs around Alex and pulling him even closer into her warm embrace.

        “Thou wast closed for me ere, yesterday,” her soft voice made Alex’s heart flutter. “So I decided to give thee some time for thyself, as t seemed thou wast too not restful. But I wanted to see thee, so hither I am… Real enough as thou can… feel.”

        And before Alex could reply anything, he felt his lips rather occupied by a more pleasant activity than some talking. He closed his eyes this time, tasting Luna’s lavender breath, and tried his best to enjoy each tiny fraction of their unity, while her hooves were involuntarily and faintly stroking his back in pace with her lips and tongue movement.

        After a few minutes of mutual pleasure Alex felt that Luna stiffened slightly and listened to something carefully, turning one ear towards the door.

        “The guards are patrolling once in an hour,” his eyes were smiling, while he was stroking the deliciously soft coat on her swan-like neck with both hands, as Alex supposed, he got her concern right. “And I can always hear their hoofsteps, when they enter the corridor behind the door.”

        “Oh…” Luna raised one eyebrow, looking into his eyes, and Alex put his nose to hers and nuzzled tenderly and slowly with a fitful sigh. She put one hoof on the left side of his chest and giggled like a filly, feeling his heart’s heavy beat.

        “Speaking of which,” Alex took his breath and pointed to the newly installed door. “I have now a convenient novelty.”

        Luna was to look over her shoulder, turning to the entrance and Alex immediately used that opportunity to kiss her behind her soft ear and on the neck, causing a quiet surprised moan.

        “Somepony finally thought that leaving me an opportunity to contact with magical barrier, accidentally or not, wasn’t the smartest thing,” continued Alex with a chuckle, before Luna’s lips passionately forced him to fall silent again for a while and snuggle tighter to her warm chest, running his fingers through her incredible mane. The light blue shadows on her closed almond-shaped eyes made them incredibly stunning and it took Alex a few moments to remember what he was going to say, when she let him breathe freely again. “B-but… I f-found a good use for that. They can’t see the whole room through that window, Luna. So when a guard passes, you’ll simply need to stand near the wall with the door… and I’ll pretend that I’m sleeping. Well… just in case.”

        “Too much talk, mine leaf,” cooed Luna, squeezing him again. “We don’t have all the night forsooth.”

        “It seems that you are slightly abusing the mere fact that you are a bit bigger than me,” noticed Alex, resting his head on her warm shoulder. “And have an extra pair of extremities ready to grasp me.”

        He stroked the margins of her wings, holding him in a warm lavender-flavoured cocoon, and made Luna instantly shiver and quietly coo something sweet.

        “Are they so sensitive?” he stopped and kissed her under her chin.

        “Considerably more than thou thinkest,” sighed out Luna. “And despite ‘t feels wonderful, thou better dost not continue that hither, if ’t be true thou dost not want me to become a jelly.”

        “Sorry,” Alex hugged her again and ran his fingers over her back instead.

        “No need to be sorry,” smirked Luna and added meaningfully. “Simply don’t touch the wings unless thou art absolutely ready for… continuation. I’m not exactly controlling myself in that case, so…” she blushed a little.

        “I’ll keep that in mind, my princess.”

        “Oh, I forgot one important thing…” speaking about “control” Luna seemed to remember something. “Forsooth thither is some magical guarding device in thy room, t must be… tuned to react breakout attempts. Not that thou wast going to do something that no more brain than stone can do, but I felt, I needed to warn thee. Simply be careful, at which hour thou art… experimenting, please!”

        “Thank you for telling me, I’ll be careful,” Alex reached her muzzle to share their breath again.

        *

        Almost three hours fliew with the speed of the light, considering they heard guard’s steps thrice already and were to take “strategic positions”, letting them pass without troubles. After the second “take” Luna giggled like a school filly, watching how Alex gets up from the bed, where he pretended to be sleeping as a log a few seconds before, as the guard decided to take a look through the opening in the door. She obviously had much fun out of their small night adventure, contrary to her daily routines. Boredom was exactly the thing, Luna complained to Alex about, and her worst enemy, despite she learned to fight it successfully enough through the years. Perhaps being Nightmare Moon and realizing that it didn’t solve the problems the desired way, gave her necessary wisdom to stand rock solid in that fight. Being the Master of her subjects’ dreams provided some vent, but…

        Even having a princess, able to affect their dreams, even the reality through those dreams, ponies in general didn’t treat that seriously enough. They rather duly noted the positive changes in their life after her intervention, than actually recognized her contribution, most often. Perhaps that was normal due to the mere nature of dreams, which were known to dissolve strong impressions and round the sharp edges. Sometimes it was a salvation, but in some other cases it rendered Luna’s help ghostly, as if her subjects found the solution by themselves entirely.

        The latest outstandingly different case was, perhaps, Scootaloo, who genuinely felt grateful for all the help Luna offered and instantly recognized princess’ role in her fear related problem solving. She now tended to stand for princess Luna, if somepony tried to downplay her importance in her subjects’ life.

        “I guess this is where ponies are just the same as people,” sighed Alex. “Believe me, I have come across numerous cases, when people recognized material forms of assistance, but totally forgot about good advice, thinking that they managed to cope with their problems on their own after a while… just because they couldn’t… touch what helped them.”

        Knowing that didn’t make the problem itself more pleasant, as Luna sincerely told him.

        “Promise me,” she asked, when they sat the familiar way – with Alex between her fore legs, enveloped in her wings, her head resting on top of his. “Promise me, that we get outside together at least one night, at which hour Tia allows thee out and afore… thou…” she stumbled and Alex realized, what she was going to say.

        “I promise,” this went out lightly and wholeheartedly. “And I will delay my departure, if necessary to keep that promise.”

        “And if my fate happens to be that I never get home,” added Alex after a moment. “I won’t forget about you as long as I’m… alive enough.”

        He felt a hot drop on his neck and his heart skipped a beat. Alex reached Luna’s cheek carefully and wiped another tear.

        “Luna, please…” he muttered awkwardly, turning and kneeling to her, hugging her and stroking her head. “I… can’t…” Words got stuck somewhere halfway.

        In a minute she shook her head lightly and allowed herself a small smile, looking him into the eyes.

        “It’s… I’m fine… forsooth,” she kissed him gently, then asked. “Cometh back… I… like to hold thee that way very much, while I can…”

        In his turn, Alex told her about his previous life, about work routines being his most common company during days, about him being unable to bring more diversity in his life, despite he wanted to. Of course, the work and that style of life paid for themselves, but sometimes Alex wanted more craziness to spice it up.

        “So, tis whither thy impulsiveness roots in,” whispered Luna in his ear.

        “Perhaps,” Alex rubbed his cheek against the soft coat of her neck. “I can’t allow that in my work, and my work takes… took the majority of my time. So in rare cases, when I’m free, it… takes over.”

        Luna chuckled quietly.

        “Doth not allow t take over entirely, Alex. Simply takest ‘t as an advice of an old mare with certain experience.”

        “Don’t. Ever. Say. That. Again!” Alex said firmly. “You are not old, not in the sense you obviously implied now. And you are… one of the most beautiful miracles I saw in my life.”

        “Buck it! I suck at complimenting a… mare,” he muttered.

        “Thanks!” simply said Luna, but Alex heard that she really meant that. Then she added teasingly. “One of…”And who else has the honour to be in that company?”

        “Oh… Thou can tell not,” she added after a few seconds of awkward silence. “I’m quite happy I am in that list.”

        ‘Forsooth I know who thou could name,’ she thought, gently rubbing her chin against his hair.

            As they talked, Luna found out that Alex was a “late bird”, an “owl”, he felt that work and thought were easier during the night hours and came out better finally. Obviously, he wasn’t able to completely shift his schedule, as it would be difficult to coordinate with others, who preferred daytime as their work hours. But when he had some tasks, which demanded his own attention, deep thinking or could be solved by himself solely, Alex tried to address those after the sunset. He felt that he could concentrate better in the serenity of the night and the result spoke about his decision being correct.

        “I never had any problems sleeping four or five hours a day, thus having at least half of the night for myself,” confessed Alex. “Perhaps, this is why I got some results in this… sleepwalking that easily – night and related things are my turfs. I even tried to train something instead of simply sleeping tonight… before you came, of course.”

        “Oh, why tis modesty, Alex,” Luna shook her head, making Alex hair slightly messy. “Thou dost right and receivest excellent results. I can bet, that chair still suits for sitting, despite thou took t apart ere. Thou art on the right path, except certain jokes.”

        “Luna!” pleaded Alex. “I’m sorry. And I truly mean it. Will you keep reminding me about my fail forever?”

        “For a while, yes,” teased Luna with a sly smile. “Thou hath asked me to remind Tia about the certain thing, so, wherefore can’t I remind thee something? Mayhap thou were not completely wrong, saying “I’m the night”, considering what thou art telling.”

        “Yeah!” huffed Alex. “Know what, I have this preference since early school and you better not know, how I was scolded by my parents every time, when they woke in the middle of the night and found me doing things, I should have done during the day, according to their opinion. Less, when I grew up, still…”

        Luna quietly laughed.

        “At which time I was a filly and stayed awake too late, then fell asleep on spot, Tia used to carry me to the bed on her back. She put me in my bed and covered with the blanket, and I didn’t even wake,” Luna’s eyes seemed to focus on the doings of long gone days, when the shadow of Nightmare Moon wasn’t even possible to appear. Then she noticed that Alex was too quiet.

        “Anything wrong, mine lief?”

        “I miss them,” after a short while whispered Alex. “We lived separately with my parents lately, but it’s one thing and being unable to see them completely, to call, to ask for advice, when you need it is totally different. It’s like we’re dead for each other now, except I know they must be alright… and they don’t have even that,” he let out a sigh of the weight of a boulder.

        “I can relate, Alex. I know what thou feelest,” Luna slightly nuzzled the back of his head. “Especially about mine father… I was so close to him, at which time I was a tiny foal… ere…”

        “Don’t tell, Luna, don’t tell, if that hurts,” Alex leaned on her shoulder and wrapped one hand around her neck. “My curiosity isn’t worth your pain.”

        “It’s not a big secret,” Luna allowed herself a small smile, but her eyes explicitly glistened. “They both with mom were keen mages and they experimented a gross amount, one day something went wrong… or simply differently than planned. Tia just reached adulthood and I was a filly… Methinks Starswirl disappeared anon in some way alike.”

        “We didn’t wend nearly far in magic with Tia thenceforth,” she sighed.

        “And that’s good,” Alex tried to shift her attention. “Equestria needs its princesses, doesn’t it? Definitely, I’m in a better position, I know where my parents are… I didn’t want to unearth that, Luna. Sorry, if I… touched it too deeply.”

        “Wait!” a sudden idea came to his mind. “Isn’t it dangerous then, to attempt to send me home? I mean dangerous to the mage, who tries that.”

        “Oh, no, not at all, with regular conditions at least,” Luna seemed to let her memories go for now. “The danger roots in thy ability to drain magic, Alex, not in the mere spell anypony tries on thee to transfer. Tis all well-known magic, the problem is in… shielding the mage from thy reaction, as I understand Tia’s investigations. I’m not a specialist in warps, Alex, pr mine ignorance.”

        “Well, that’s a relief,” chuckled Alex.

        “Thou… Thou art...” Luna bowed to reach him and Alex, getting her motion right, leaned aback slightly. He didn’t have a chance to find out, what exactly “he was”, as they dissolved in their unity for a while again.

 

 

---

Author's note: If 't be true you like the story (and have FimFiction account, otherwise, you can't vote), please, take a minute to support the book hither: https://www.fimfiction.net/story/370173/the-guardian  "Thumbs up" are very welcome, comments either. Mine most sincere gratitude in advance!

 

A shoutout to the caring friend, good author and simply valorous pony - @Longhaul

Read his stories, please:

they are really good. Alas, he took down The Longhaul Chronicles (hopefully for the maintenance :D)

Edited by Alexshy
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9. Guinea pig

 

The living room was much darker this evening, the sky behind the windows was covered by thick heavy clouds and the streams of water, produced by their stout bellies, went down the glass, dropping fanciful and sometimes extremely weird shadows on the walls and furniture with each flash of lightning. Alex caught himself on the notice that he didn’t hear the thunder: normally the sound was muffled with all windows closed, but this time there were flashes, yet absolutely no sound audible.

        Main lights were out, like if someone didn’t want to interfere with the play of this shadow theatre around the room. The only light sources were the hearth with half burned logs, crackling lazily and sleepily, and an old torchiere, standing behind the armchair and providing a sharply defined circle of light (Alex wondered about soft shadows absence), bright enough to give the mid-aged woman ability to read, sitting in that armchair.

        Alex breathed deeply, inhaling the scent of gummy firewood, fine thick furniture casing and something else resembling the mint drops, and made another step forward, stopping at another armchair and putting his hand on the backrest. The woman put down the book, she read, on her knees and took off the glasses; a kind welcoming smile brightened her face, when she raised her eyes on Alex.

        “Alex, dear!” she pointed to the armchair, he was leaning on. “It took you two weeks to remember that you still have parents.”

        Pause.

        He put both hands on the backrest of the armchair, but still kept standing. Apparently, he was saying something in return, as his mom was following the lines and nodded, but Alex couldn’t hear his voice. He didn’t have much time to wonder.

        “Oh, dear, that was only a joke,” she chuckled, yet rather sadly than amusedly. “I know that you are pretty busy the last few months and have too much on your plate. I’d simply like to see you more often. I guess, I’m officially getting older,” another small smile.

        Another pause. Or his silent reply…

        “That wasn’t a complaint, God forbid!” his mother shook her head. “Neither a distress call. Merely stating the fact – I feel it…” Suddenly her eyes narrowed a bit, as she observed her son more fixedly. “Alex, is something bothering you? You look strained and… nervous. Look, son, sit down finally and tell me what’s the matter.”

        Moment of silence.

        “That’s a serious question,” she closed her eyes, her expression becoming serious instantly. “The biggest problem of choices is that they are inevitable. You can’t stop and turn back, avoid your choice, despite sometimes it seems you can walk around the problem. It will pounce you from every corner. And serious choices are entirely yours, if they emerge in front of you. Nobody can help you decide, as it will be their choice immediately, not yours.”

        Pause. Alex took a look around the room, it became noticeably darker. The torchiere and fireplace didn’t emit less light though.

        “I see where you’re going…” mom leaned to him, putting her hand on Alex’s arm. “But, fortunately, some choices can give you concealed freedom, my boy. Those are not that easy or difficult, as choosing one of the two options. Sometimes you can choose both or a mix of them, sometimes you even invent your own option or rule and force your unyielding choice “comply”.”

        Alex looked into her eyes, as the room around started to fade, drowning in the twilight, which turned into full darkness. He saw nothing at that moment, he felt nothing already: no mom’s hand, no armchair beneath himself. Alex wasn’t even sure at that moment if he was standing, sitting, laying down or floating in complete darkness.

        He blinked.

        The darkness became different, he felt something… someone large, bulky and extremely unkind at a short distance. Alex tried his best to see, what he was going to face, but the only thing he could comprehend was a lump of darkness even more black than surrounding space. Then six dim red lights appeared in three pairs… Or were them the eyes?

        “… I could imagine, there is nothing to ponder about here,” a low voice, no it sounded more like a set of voices, as they mixed and reverberated, continued the conversation out of the blue. “You won’t be able to destroy me ever, human. Whatever you became now.”

        “I admit,” insinuatingly continued his opponent after a pause. “There is a fair chance that I couldn’t destroy you either, in a desired reasonable time span at least. The alternative is least entertaining, don’t you think?”

        Silence. Dead silence.

        “I will take what I need of Equestria anyway,” bluntly stated the set of rolling voices. “Yet I’m ready to negotiate. Think of it. Thousands of years Equestria was under the reign of the princesses… and turned into the still swamp. Sweet, harmonic, friendly… friendly sucking you to the very bottom, if there is any. And boring as nothing.”

        ‘That depends on what you consider to be an entertainment!’ flew in Alex’s head.

        “You’re another story,” continued the “provocateur”. “You are human. Even more than a human now, but still enough human inside,” Alex almost felt, how the mysterious beast nastily smirked. “The humans are born to conquer, to fight and gain, but mostly to conquer, as far as I know your kin. And believe me, I know you well. Take out the princesses! It won’t matter for you, if your swarms have “feelings”,” the voices sounded mockingly at the last word. “They will have aims and will follow you, setting those aims. I will show you, how to open portals to other worlds. Just imagine…”

        ‘Who the bucking hay are you?’ wanted to ask Alex, when he heard another voice. His own voice, but coming outwardly.

        “Tis could be reasonable, if ’t be true I were thee!” the voice, the mocking tone was undoubtedly his own, but…

        ‘What? Why am I talking as princess Luna!’ Alex was totally distracted. “He” meanwhile continued.

        “Let me withhold mine enthusiasm regarding thy suggestion though. Mine level of trust is way afar from that.”

        Alex facepalmed inwardly. He spent much time with Luna, but the assumption that he could absorb her manner of speech that strongly seemed unlikely to him.

        “Look at… thyself!” drolled his opponent. “You take too much of them inside already, while you could really make Equestria different. But, well, it was your choice…”

        Alex twitched and… woke up in his room.

        *

        Celestia tiredly closed her eyes. She almost beat Twilight record in the reading marathon during the few latest days, while she searched the Canterlot Library for a feasible method to magically transfer a magic resistant entity. The lack of realistic methods in this case was appalling, as the only visible result she managed to get daily, were the bloodshot eyes, well, not of their usual pink colour of the iris, but redder. Totally not suitable for the princess.

        No wonder that the sun almost smacked down behind the horizon this evening, making everypony surprised by such sudden dusk and fast falling twilight. This was the reflection of Celestia’s own tired condition and the liberty she couldn’t allow herself, unfortunately – to hit the pillows as fast as she lowered the sun. She needed that letter, as the direction of her further research was supposed to base on what she could read there, thus princess stood at the window and random observer could think that Celestia is enjoying the view of the night, coming over her domain. But her eyes were closed, the princess gave them long deserved rest, while she was thinking, if she missed something in today’s studying.

        The sound of the materialized scroll, which fell on her table, rustling the papers, was like music for her perked ears. Celestia opened her eyes, heading to her desk, and sat there with comfort: she felt really exhausted today. However, the golden aura enveloped the scroll, unrolling it; skipping usual formal greetings Celestia started reading, what was really important for her.

        “…

    The following is the brief report of the second stage of human studying. During this stage we plan to perform various tests of magical impact (and the corresponding reaction of the subject – human) of inanimate magical objects also known as artefacts.

        The whole set of experiments is planned to be carried under constant observation and control of the mages of your royal council. We, in our turn, provide generic medical supervision and supplementary services, collecting data and building theories with the help of respected mages accordingly. The same refers to further experiments, involving living interaction (subject to further reports, when done).

        The named artefacts are presented by simple metallic tokens, typically worn on the neck of the subject, or suitable to be placed on the subject any other preferred by the nature of the experiment way. They are made of simple bronze and crystals, and powered by the named mages with basic spells of different nature, range and target.”

        “Why the hay, pray tell, can’t they write in simple Equestrian?” muttered Celestia. “The mere fact that it is comprehensible doesn’t make it comfortable to read yet.”

        “Naturally, we can divide the artefacts on passive and active, with passive affecting some characteristics of the subject or third party, or environmental parameters, e.g. lighting level. Further on the impact of both passive and active artefacts can be directed on the subject himself or anything/anypony in the certain range. In addition to that, the impact can be positive and negative, regardless of the target of it.

        We could test only the limited number of simple interactions for the first day of the second stage. Due to the named reason, we decided to cover the whole range of types of interaction, to have the most complete possible image. Basing on the results of today’s tests we plan to cover the whole variety of spells, your highness’ council mages find appropriate and necessary for our goal. The results of extensive tests will follow; while here is the brief summary of subject’s interaction with inanimate magical objects.

        According to the conventional plan of tests, we started with passive artefacts.

        Thus the simplest possible environmental interaction was chosen – the first test token was powered with lighting spell. The token was placed on the neck of the subject as a part of a necklace. N.B.: Here and further on the subject shows the high concern and cooperation level, placing, activating (when necessary) and operating the artefacts himself. The staff member leaves the prepared token on the test table, then, when the test room is clear, the subject puts the token on.

        “Hmmm…” Celestia raised one eyebrow. “This level of concern is too high, if you ask me…”

        “Oh, come on,” she reconsidered in a second. “He may be impulsive,” she remembered that kiss and blushed slightly, inwardly scolding herself for that memory, “but not completely mental. He must realize that harming my subjects won’t make his life easier.”

        She continued reading.

        “The first test didn’t bring any unexpected results. Thus when the lights were turned off in the test room, the token started to emit light, according to the applied spell. The decided period of each test is set at twenty minutes, if no interaction takes place, or as long as is enough to register the results without detrimental effects to the subject or/and third party. During the whole test period no extra effects were registered: the light emission stayed at the cast level without any changes, the subject didn’t report any physical or emotional change, the token preserved its initial condition (both physically and magically, as it was confirmed later, when it was examined by the mages). The test was stopped and the subject had a short rest.

        The second test included a passive artefact, affecting the third-party test subject – volunteer. This token was imbued with the spell, increasing the physical strength of the third-party subject on a short range (the room perimeter), the primary subject – the human – was informed about the nature of the spell, the weights were placed in the test room. The primary subject put the artefact on, no changes of the state were registered on both the token and the primary subject. The third-party test subject entered the room. The volunteer immediately reported about the expected impact of the artifact, as test lifting shown that she was able to lift twice than her normal limit. No extra effects were registered, likewise the first test. The test was stopped, when the volunteer tried the number of weights and determined her new limit (under the spell effect), without any changes to the primary subject or the artefact.

        The third test supposed passive impact on the human himself and the token was accordingly powered with the same strength increasing spell, but this time directed on the test subject respectively. The token was made specifically to be activated by pressing the crystal, to avoid unnecessary disturbances and “borderline effects” in the process of putting it on the subject. The limit of lifting of the subject, determined by the medical tests, was approximately eighty percents of his own weight, thus under normal conditions of the spell application, the subject was supposed to lift approximately twice of his own weight. However, when the subject put the token on and properly activated it, no visible changes were registered. The lifting limit remained the same as before the test, but the extra effect was registered instead. The visible bond formed between the token and subjects body. Thus when the subject lifted the token, a thin, bright aura thread could be seen, connecting the token and test subject. The subject reported token temperature increase and, in a matter of minutes, the token disintegrated, corroding (visually the process reminded the corrosion mostly, despite bronze is not supposed to corrode naturally) and crumbling to dust. N.B.: The test subject was visibly shocked by the effect, we suppose that the emotions were not simulated.

        It is necessary to note that those tokens were specifically made as weak enough artefacts, without any extra protection of their own structure, to register the results of the tests in the quickest and most graphical way. Supposedly, any real artifact (possessing protection and higher level of magical power) will resist the effect considerably longer (depending on the power and protection levels, yet it’s vital to notice that more powerful artifacts create more powerful interaction, thus the reflected effect is stronger as well), but still ceases to exist finally, when its magical (and presumably connected physical) potential wears out.

        Celestia closed her eyes for a moment, thinking.

        ‘Bad, this is very, very bad. We, perhaps, could shield the human from the direct impact with some passive artefact, as the experiments allow. But the transfer supposes direct impact on the transferred object. And in that case he starts draining the transferring magic again… or even worse, some unforeseen effect could be formed by the addition of the shielding artefact.’

        ‘Mom, where are you, when I need your experience in magic so much?’ a single tear stained the papers in front of Celestia.

        After a minute the princess took herself in hooves and returned to the report.

        “The next series of tests included the active impact in the same pattern: environment, third party subject, primary subject. As the results appeared to be similar, I took the liberty to compact the description as much as it was possible.

        The first test supposed active interception of the environmental projectiles aimed at the test subject. We used buckball balls as the projectiles, launching them at the test subject at different speeds. The token was powered by a “sentinel” spell, which knocked down the projectiles with shock impulses, and could be activated by the subject himself. During the test all the balls were taken down by the token, no extra effects on the token itself or the test subject were registered.

        The second test in this series used a healing artefact, tuned to affect third-party test subjects. As the latter, a guard was used. After the primary test subject put on the token and activated, the third-party test subject made a cut on his fore leg. N.B.: The facial expression of the primary subject showed his negative attitude towards the method. The cut was healed by the artefact in predefined manner and time. No extra effects were registered on the token and the primary subject.

        The third test included the same healing artefact, tuned to affect the primary test subject. To trigger the effect the subject was supposed to make a small wound on himself. Considering the off-limits level of regeneration your mages made a few changes to the healing spell, namely prevented it from stopping, when the wound was healed. The proof run was performed without the token to determine the time of complete healing of the cut. During the actual run of the test the same nature cut was made and no changes in healing time were registered, allowing to assume that the artefact didn’t affect the self-healing process. The rest reminded the passive counterpart of this experiment, namely – the bond was formed between the token and the subject’s body and the artefact was destroyed within minutes.

        We considered important to perform two extra tests with purely negative impact on both third party and the primary subject. The mentioned “sentinel” spell was used as the basis for these tests. In the first test the token was tuned to bombard approaching third party subject with shock impulses and a guard in shock shielding armour was used as the third-party test subject. No other effects than pre-planned were registered.

        The second test involved the “sentinel” token placed in the test room and tuned to attack any approaching living creature. The test subject – human – was supposed to enter the room and approach the token, causing the reaction. We did two runs: with the shielding armour and without. In the first run the impulses were reflected by the armour and no extra effects were registered. In the second run the human was attacked by the artefact, when he approached at the defined range, but the impulse didn’t cause any shock effect on human. Instead of that it visibly “dissolved” in human’s body and the artefact itself blasted in a flash, resembling electric discharge. No remnants of the token were found later.

        Celestia frowned, it seemed that Discord was right, not acting in his outrageous demonstration, despite how clownish it looked.

        “Considering all of the above and to summarize the results, I can safely state the following. It doesn’t matter what kind of spell is used by the test artefact, passive or active, positive or negative, what actually matters, is the direction of the spell. Anything applied directly to the subject causes a magical bond forming and the draining effect, with the only exception that the negative impact causes the immediate and strong “backlash”. Otherwise the subject is inert to surrounding magic as long as it doesn’t affect himself.

        The disintegration of the magical artefacts can be explained by complete magic drain performed by the subject, which causes deeper structural changes, we have no ability to investigate for now.

        We are going to test all the variety of the spells applied with artefacts, suggested by the council in the matter of the following week. But my personal suspicion is that the results will be nearly the same, regardless to the spell.

        We plan to proceed with the interaction with third-party test subjects instead of inanimate artefacts, when current series of tests is over.

        With endless respect and admiration,

    always your loyal servant

    …, MD

            P.S.: Your Highness, princess Celestia, if I’m allowed, I’d like to take a liberty and advise against purely negative impact testing within living third-party test subjects series of experiments. This is my official position.

        “Agreed,” nodded Celestia without hesitation. “Something tells me that being smacked by a frying pan is not the worst variant an offender could get.”

        “And something also tells me that a prolonged exposure to that “magical drain” effect can make a living mage share the unenviable fate of those artefacts,” she added, locking the scroll in the same drawer with similar others.

        *

        Alex put down the book and listened carefully. He spent the last two hours exactly that way – reading the book on Equestrian history, which was finally decided to be given to him, and paying attention to every sound, which reached his ears from the corridor. The pattern was almost the same as every evening: the guards passed his room approximately once in an hour, the wide confident hoofsteps of the second nurse passed once, and somepony galloped wildly in the middle of the first hour. Alex chuckled, he knew who that most likely was.

        The second nurse, or as Alex, not knowing names, called her for himself – “Ginger”, whose duty was tonight, got late. “As usual”, as another nurse – that kind, petite “brunette” unicorn – mentioned, while bringing him his supper. She was a bit nervous, because that could interfere with her personal plans, but not overly nervous, which told Alex that it was the common practice for “Ginger” to do that. Shortly after he finished his meal, those galloping steps passed his door.

        Contrary to the miniature unicorn, “Ginger” was a fairly tall, leggy earth pony. She was vivid and chatty, even too vivid in Alex’s books and she was indeed ginger. Despite her chatty nature, she bona fide avoided giving out personal information or generally anything about the experiments or personnel, so all her chatting was limited by weather, casual stuff, flowers growing in the Royal Garden or cinema (in those moments Alex got stiff, as he had no idea, if he was able to get to the cinema alone or with… anypony in the nearest future), but that was an avalanche nevertheless. So, each time, when she left waving her sunny tail, Alex felt that serenity was almost palpable in those moments.

        Due to the same reason Alex didn’t ask about things that bothered him, as with “Ginger” his questions would become known by guards, maids, nopony knows whoever else… and finally by Celestia, not by malevolence, but just because of “Ginger’s” curiosity and loquacity. The faster method to bring them to Celestia was, perhaps, going and whispering them himself, right into the princess’ soft ear.

        Alex waited for “Ginger” to come as usual to check him before the sleep and ask, if he needed something. There were certain positive aspects though: Alex knew for sure that after that visit, she would stay in the nurse’s room for the whole night, unless he called specifically, and would be most likely chatting with the guards, when they stopped by during their patrolling. The guards became more relaxed and distracted that way, so his plan could play out nicely; it would be very helpful, if they didn’t listen for every tiny sound in the building.

        He decided to go further with his “personal experiments”. Nothing too outstanding, nothing harmful, but if he was caught, that wouldn’t be beneficial for his general image, especially in the eyes of Celestia. Alex thought that if he was locked physically, nothing still prevented proxy Alex to have at least some freedom and get for a walk. One thing was to see the small square of the night sky through the barred window and totally another – to be able to stand under it in its entire glory. Alex planned to exit his “cell” tonight by “sleepwalking”, get to the roof and stay there as long as he could afford, not being caught by the guards. He chuckled, anticipating his small adventure, which was called to dilute his routine.

        Getting out of the cell was an easy task: Alex could place “himself” everywhere on the fairly short distance, while on the long distances he needed the anchor, the one and only princess Luna – Alex didn’t try to reach somepony else’s dreams and he rightfully assumed that he couldn’t. Speaking of which, there was a certain possibility of Luna visiting him, but he was sure that the princess could find him easily and wouldn’t get him into any trouble.

        Getting to the actual roof of the building offered a bit of an issue though. Of course, Alex could try to appear right there (being unable to actually transfer himself, the only method of “teleporting” he knew, was getting into his real body in a fraction of second, when he voluntarily or forcedly gave out his proxy control), but there were some problems with that. First of all, Alex couldn’t properly visualize his destination and risked to appear somewhere in the building still, moreover right before the eyes of somepony, that definitely wouldn’t be the desired result. And second, let’s be frank, Alex wanted to have a certain element of risk, making his way up, avoiding unwelcome eyes and ears; princess Luna gave him very accurate characteristic.

        Thus after the nurse left, wishing him a good night, Alex waited for a befitting period of time, letting her return to her usual activity: reading or talking to the guard, who already passed his door once again, and finally decided that it was time. He lay on his bed and prepared to his gamble, freeing his mind of irrelevant thoughts and travelling to the Luna’s kingdom.

        After about ten minutes Alex appeared in the dimly lit corridor, behind the door of his room. He couldn’t throw a look through the small opening on the door, as it was blocked (just as the whole doorway) with the magical barrier from that side, contacting with which could bring unforeseen consequences, Alex preferred to avoid. But he knew for sure that anypony, who wanted to check their “guinea pig” for magic, would see him sleeping peacefully… and he doubted that anypony would look at him long enough to suspect that not moving human looked strange. For that moment everything was more than fine, even the supposed magical guarding device, Luna told him about, didn’t react to his trick. Perhaps, it was tuned to address the break out attempts of physical Alex only.

        ‘Surely it could be a bit darker here, that would provide more freedom of movement,’ regretted Alex, getting closer to the wall and listening to the possible sounds from behind the numerous doors.

        He could try and extinguish a few light sources, as the corridor was lit by common candles in the chandeliers. With a sly smile Alex thought that his idea to try making environment-friendly electricity generators for living had good potential. But extinguished candles could startle the ponies, besides, somepony could decide to go and fix the issue, so Alex left them alone.

        One door was slightly opened and threw a bright stripe of light on the floor. The muffled talk from behind witnessed about the nurse being on her duty and, as supposed, distracting the guard from his duty. Alex smirked.

        ‘Thanks, Ginger, that you are making them less edgy and suspicious… Though you could certainly do it not right on my way to the stairs,’ he thought, remembering the approximate building layout.

        Alex was taken for the experiments to the underground levels of the facility, as he could assume, getting a few floors down via the same staircase. If his memory served him well, this was the first floor, the building had a couple of floors more above that one and, supposedly, if there was an exit to the roof, it should be at the end of the staircase.

        Fortunately, he was barefoot and didn’t make much noise: proxy Alex always appeared, looking the same as real Alex. This time it was apropos. Perhaps, he was able to change something in his appearance during sleepwalking, Alex never tried.

        Slowly and carefully he approached that opened door, listening to the talk, flowing from inside the room. Alex thought that it would be nice to have some plan, in case the tone of that talk changed and the guard appeared in the corridor the next moment. He stopped halfway through the corridor and quietly tried the nearest door. It was locked. Remembering how to deal with material objects Alex accurately mentally nudged a few more doors and one of them opened slightly, but with an audible screeching.

        ‘Merlin’s pants!’ breathed Alex inwardly, when the voices became quieter and the talk stumbled. He slid to that opened door in a wink, ready to burst in, if anypony showed in the hallway. The door led to the toilet and Alex scolded himself: if he was to hide, there wasn’t much space in, besides, the light, if turned on, would make the whole idea useless. Unfortunately, he didn’t have invisibility in the list of his abilities and hadn’t asked Luna, if that was even possible for one to perform during sleepwalking. But to his relief, nopony appeared in the corridor and the paused talk was resumed soon, most likely they didn’t hear the screech well enough and left it all to their imagination. Or that particular guard was interested in “Ginger” more, than in his duty; anyway, she distracted him well enough for Alex to proceed.

        When he approached the nurse’s room door though, Alex spotted the top of the shadow, dropped by the guard in the lit doorway.

        ‘He must be standing right behind the opening, leaning on the doorframe, chattering with the mare, yet at the same time listening and watching the corridor through the gap,’ assumed Alex, facepalming inwardly. ‘There is no way I can pass right now, as he will notice the movement most likely. And despite he won’t catch me anyway, he will see enough for me to explain too much later.’

        ‘And I can’t stay here, as, sooner or later, the guard will continue his walk through the building and again see me… or even worse, another one will come from behind,’ Alex took a quick look around. There was literally nothing in the corridor to use for cover and enough light to render almost every attempt futile.

        Nevertheless, there was another door opposite the nurse’s room; the plate said “Storage” and the lock looked rather simple. Alex slid to that door and leaned to it, trying the handle – locked. He then put his palm over the keyhole and concentrated on the lock mechanism.

        It took him a good couple of minutes to imagine the deadbolt and how it backed away from the hole in the door frame. Alex moved his hand away from the door edge and heard the quiet sound of the metal bar sliding back into the lock.

        “By the name of Celestia!” Alex automatically wiped his forehead, like if proxy Alex could sweat… or perhaps he really could. “Just don’t bucking screech that time.”

        He slowly opened the door and entered, stopping in the doorframe and waiting, till his eyes accommodate to the darkness. “Storage” meant lots of stuff and Alex didn’t want to knock something down and startle the whole building. When he saw that he could step aside behind the door, not dropping anything, he closed the door behind himself, not letting it lock again. Alex became all ears. He needed that guard to leave the room and the floor in general, and also a few minutes before the next guard enters the corridor from another side, being able to spot Alex.

        Several minutes seemed an eternity, before the chatter and laugh stopped and Alex heard the sound of the opening door and hoofsteps receding to the left.

        ‘Yay, I’m lucky tonight!’ Alex looked out of his hiding place, smelling of detergent and something else chemical, and found that at least the door to the nurse’s room wasn’t left wide open. He quickly passed the stripe of light, falling from the gap.

        Alex covered the rest of the floor in a few jumps, as he still remembered that somepony could appear in the opposite end of the hallway at any moment. He leaned on the door to the staircase, feeling the cold surface with his ear and listening – silence.

        “Well, I hope, he won’t suddenly decide to go back,” Alex opened the door.

        Good thing – the staircase was empty, bad thing – the staircase was well lit and… empty! No nook or cranny to hide, if somepony suddenly opened the door on any of nearest landings and observed the narrow stairs, instantly spotting him. So, Alex made up his mind, he concentrated and extinguished all the candles in the stairwell from his floor to the top.

        “At least this will give me a few seconds, if anypony opens the door from the lit corridor to the dark stairs, to spot them and flee,” smirked Alex in the pitch black stairwell, slowly starting to recognize the contours of stairs, railings, walls and doors. “And they won’t see me right away, even if the darkness makes them suspicious.”

        If he stopped for a moment and thought better, he would probably realize that he wasn’t naturally supposed to see that well without any light. But instead of wasting time on useless analysis of himself, he spent a second to open the door to the floor corridor slightly.

        “Let’s say it’s the draught, which took the lights out. Besides, I can hear better if somepony approaches the stairs…”Alex walked up, performing the same trick with the doors on the remaining landings, but came across a surprise at the end of his ascent.

        The stairs ended, there was a landing, an obvious door to the last floor – Alex saw the corridor behind it, but no ladder or hatch to the roof, nothing, just solid walls and a ceiling.

        “Buck my life!” Alex gritted his teeth. “I spent the whole evening, waiting for the small opportunity to get under the open sky and it all stumbles upon the stupid hatch absence.”

        “I always thought that if one has a roof, one must have a way to reach it,” he scratched the back of his head. “If I’m not mistaking, the roof here is flat, so… They must at least remove the snow in winter somehow!”

        Then he remembered about pegasi and that didn’t add any optimism. Alex thought that technically he could try the same: namely, fly to the roof. But there was a big difference, to raise a few feet above the solid floor of Luna’s room balcony, or to open a window, if it could be opened, in some room, high above the ground and… actually fly to the roof. There was one hell of a difference for an acrophobic human, who just started to fight his phobia… in the sleepwalking state only yet.

        “Okay, that’s “plan B”,” decided Alex. “If I find guts for the “plan B”. They simply must have some way,” he tried to convince himself, exiting the dark staircase and squinting in the light of the upper floor hallway.

        “Taking out the lights here would be extremely stupid,” thought Alex, trying the doors one by one methodically. “Too obviously suspicious for anypony, who enters the hallway.”

        He crossed the whole floor to the opposite end: locked cabinets, open toilets – two of them, one on each end of the hallway, and the unlocked door to another staircase. Alex checked its landing as well – nothing again. Execrating the architect he returned to the main corridor, Alex left the door to those stairs slightly open as well to hear, if anypony approaches from that end. He started checking the doors once again, more desperately, than really expecting the result, as if there was an exit to the roof, it should naturally be obvious and unlocked. Alex realized that he was thinking, using human logic, but he assumed that fire safety was generic enough to be the same anywhere.

        Right at the moment he almost reached the middle of the hallway, Alex stopped and listened carefully. He was sure that he heard something, most likely from the second stairwell. A coughing sound came from there followed by steps, Alex quietly swore and his gaze rushed frantically around – he had no time to reach any of the opened toilets unheard. Then his eyes stumbled at the inconspicuous narrow door, which he took for a wall closet for the first time and barely nudged.

        This was the only chance and Alex turned the knob and forcefully pulled the door. Fortunately, it gave up and Alex saw another short set of narrow stairs and one more door at the upper end of them, barely visible in the darkness. There wasn’t much time to hesitate, as the hoofsteps were almost behind the door to the hallway. At the very least that was a better hiding place than the unlocked, well lit and fairly small toilet.

        Wasting no more time Alex stormed in and tried to close the narrow door fast, but without any bang. Just in time: the unicorn guard appeared in the far end of the corridor the same second Alex closed the door behind himself. He was slightly puzzled by the stairs door, which was opened to leave a noticeable gap, and inwardly scolded his colleague, who supposedly left it open previously. Meanwhile, Alex flew to the top of the stairs at his tiptoes, almost bumping in the upper door, as his eyes didn’t yet accommodate to the pitch black room. He froze there, leaning on the door leaf and listening, feeling his heart under the throat and adrenaline pumping through his veins. Amazingly the proxy kept all the feelings of the real Alex, at least those, which he subconsciously allowed to reveal themselves.

        The steps approached the narrow door below, Alex stiffened, and passed it, though slower, than the guards usually patrolled: Alex heard them so many times through the last several days, so he could tell the difference. At that moment Alex prayed that this door was unlocked as well, as he had no time to look where the lock was at least approximately, so he would be to find it at first, before even trying to fiddle with. The door looked all smooth for him, even without a visible handle.

        He leaned on it and pushed and with a noticeable resistance the door opened finally – Alex fell out on the roof, almost falling on all four. Raised gaze found the dark-blue sky and the glowing stars, Alex took his breath and closed the door, which was on the highest wall of the small superstructure, lit by the moon. He sat on the roof in the shadow of that exit, leaning his back on the door and relaxing. Alex glanced at the diamonds scattered on the dark velvet of sky and suddenly burst out laughing. For no particular reason, just at the childish feel of well-made shenanigan, he laughed and laughed, feeling how adrenaline left his blood and gave place to unbelievable serenity and some happiness. He was happy to simply sit there under the sky, watch the stars and feel the fresh wind on his face. That was worth returning to his comfortable “cell” after a while and being a guinea pig for yet another day tomorrow. Besides, he finally put his new abilities to the test and some actual usage, not giving up to circumstances, but staying above them, albeit in such an unusual way.

        “And despite my body is still there in the locked room,” he thought, still smiling widely. “That’s me, who feels the wind, the smell of flowers, looks for familiar constellations… That’s a victory, even if small, still a victory!”

        *

        The complete darkness in this stairwell, at least on the upper floors, as he saw the light coming from the lower levels, was a surprise, moreover, an unpleasant and strange one. The guard lit the candles back with his magic and quietly started descending. He disturbed nopony on his way down though, noticing and closing the slightly open doors at two more, previously dark, landings. The last landing without the light was the one on the floor with the human test subject, so the guard started to show anxiety, when he entered the hallway. Everything looked normal though, at least at the first sight.

        The guard quickly, but as quietly as he could on his hooves, approached the lit nurse’s room – it was fine here as well: the nurse sat at the table, reading something and raised her eyes on him with a smile, when he entered. She didn’t look, like if she heard or saw something unruly.

        “Hey, what’s the matter?” she asked amazedly, obviously noticing him being stiff. “You look a fair bit jumpy. Is everything okay?”

        He watched her fixedly for a few seconds, instead of the answer, considering if she was not enthralled, and visibly relaxed, when decided, she was consciously unconcerned.

        “This is what I want to ask you exactly,” he said quietly. “Is everything okay?”

        “In the name of Celestia, just tell what…”

        “Shhh…” hissed the guard, gesturing the ginger nurse to shut up. “Be quiet an tell me: have you checked the human recently?”

        “I did before he went to sleep,” she raised one eyebrow. “But the door was locked and the barrier… I heard nothing since then, he didn’t call… Besides, your partner… passed about twenty minutes ago.”

        The guard smirked, he thought that “passed” was a humble term for sticking here for half an hour and chattering, instead of patrolling the floors, and certain pink spots on nurse’s muzzle told him he made a right guess.

        “Well, let’s go and check,” he concluded. “If everything is indeed calm and quiet, as you claim.”

        The nurse huffed and took the keys, and they both quietly exited to the hallway.

        “I don’t see anything wrong,” whispered the nurse, when they approached the door to the human’s room. “It’s closed and the barrier is on.”

        They came closer and the guard threw a look through the peephole: in the faint light of the moon, coming through the barred window, he saw that the human was on the bed, laying on his back, obviously sleeping and the even breathing raised and lowered his chest rhythmically. Nurse’s muzzle peeked through the opening, appearing right next to guard’s and making him slightly confused by that sudden proximity.

        “See,” she hissed touchily. “He’s sleeping, okay? Was there any need to scare me?”

        The guard huffed, he wasn’t so easily convinced. He produced a short quiet whistle, causing the glare of the nurse, but the human stayed the same, not twitching a zilch, breathing quietly. There was no doubt, he was sleeping and couldn’t exit his room, making strange things happen. To be sure the guard nudged the door slightly and found out that it was locked.

        He shrugged and waved his head towards nurse’s room, heading there first with the nurse following.

        “Okay,” he said, when they returned to the brightly lit room. “Let’s say I believe. And he didn’t leave his bed for the whole evening. And the lights in the left stairwell went out because of the wind, as somepony, some idiotic pony, left all the doors open from this floor and above. Although it’s strange…”

        The mare listened to him with wide open eyes.

        “But do me a favour,” he continued. “Raise your pretty plot and check the human at least once in half an hour, please.”

        *

        Alex caught himself on the strange observation: he could recognize some of the constellations easily, yet some of them were totally unknown to him. He found Orion, both Ursa major and minor, some others, but again the position of them wasn’t entirely familiar to him.

        “On the one hand, the well-known constellations can mean that I’m at least in the same sector of the galaxy, where the Earth is,” pondered Alex, enjoying the night sky view at the same time. “But, on the other hand, there are too many, I have no faintest idea about and can’t recognize. I admit that I’m a crappy astronomer, if any at all, still… That doesn’t entirely compute.”

        “Or I am on the Earth, but in some other parallel dimension and reality,” he twitched upon a wild idea. “That would be quite an irony, universe likes so much!”

        “Hardly though,” he was to confess the brilliant guess to be an absurdity. “Unknown constellations and the maps from the book speak against that. I couldn’t recognize any single continent or territory. The geography is completely different, that couldn’t be Earth in the wildest approach.”

        “That means I’m still in the middle of nopony-knows-where,” sighed Alex, not even noticing that “nopony” didn’t make him cringe inwardly now.

        A lone cloud ran over the moon, which moved across the sky and now glowed slightly to his left, making the lit part of the sky almost turquoise with a bit of pink tint. The amazing eyes of Fluttershy, sad, filled with tears, just like they were on the day of his departure to Canterlot, appeared before Alex’s inner sight. He placed his hand on his chest involuntarily – his heart faintly ached, a cold needle of regret stabbed it.

        What was she doing there, far away, in Ponyville? What was she feeling? Alex could safely assume that he knew her well enough after those few days, they spent together. Shy was an open book, she never concealed her thoughts and feelings. She couldn’t lie, even if it was a lie for salvation – anypony close to her, could tell that there was something bothering her, some second level of the feelings, she was trying hard to suppress, but inevitably giving out by her look, posture and behaviour. So, Alex could tell that she was genuinely upset, if not to say ruined, by his forced leave. He knew that she must still be, thinking again and again about something she could do, but did not to change the situation. She took him to her home, didn’t let him die, not thinking about image or reputation, forgetting about all her fears and weaknesses (even if they were imaginary). That’s where they were close indeed: she always tried her best to do things, which depended on her, the most proper way, becoming desperate, if she failed, especially if the fail rooted not in some force major, but rather in her incapability to handle the situation. Alex thought that it was the reason for half of her insecurities – she wasn’t afraid to do, she feared to fail. Sometimes an emergency was needed to make her act, like an imminent danger to her friends. But when she made a decision, especially in the named urgent cases, she was rock solid. That was what he loved about that girl.

        ‘Loved about that girl… Loved… that girl?!’

        Alex definitely felt special about Fluttershy. He wouldn’t make a crime against truth, supposing that he found actual friends during just a few days in that world, and it was a miracle by itself. But Fluttershy was more than a friend. The question was: how much more than a friend? Like Elen, whom he perhaps didn’t think about the last few days. Or even more… Alex bit his finger, eyeing the turquoise sky around cloud-veiled moon.

        ‘Luna…’

        She was another part of that complex puzzle. Alex knew that he was free in his decisions, yet he would give his life for this incredible princess without the second thought. She found a potential in him, taught him much already, assumingly was completely sincere with him (Alex remembered their last talk, when Luna told him about her parents: that wasn’t artificial in the slightest). She trusted him apparently. Not mentioning the obvious affection, mutual, as he admitted. All that could hardly be done just to confront or surpass her sister. Besides, what Alex saw spoke for the sisters not having any stupid competitions long ago, evidently “growing” above those things; they were heartily concerned about each other instead. So, was the bottom line of all that… him and Luna being more than just friends as well?

        Less than a month in Equestria and things were becoming more and more complicated. But Fluttershy… Alex felt extremely uneasy about how things went with her, for the start they shouldn’t part like that. He couldn’t find a proper name for that feeling yet, assuming that love was perhaps a bit overboard and premature for such a short relationship. But at the end of the day who could know? That wasn’t because he undoubtedly owed his life to her or even because she accepted him so easily. There was something about Fluttershy herself, which made him want to keep her safe, protected.

        ‘Isn’t it exactly love, Alex?’ he squinted at this inner voice suggestion.

        Luna, on the contrary, was totally confident, amazingly treating him like an equal since the first day. Alex had no illusions about actually becoming equal someday, but that was evidently the advantage of the alicorn princess: she could choose one, put at her side and try guiding that one to at least some level of equality. On the other hand, another advantage of being a princess was an ability to abandon the chosen one as easily as to choose, not feeling obliged to explain her choices or reconsideration of them. Although, Alex couldn’t find any visible symptoms of their relationship being something lightweight and shallow.

        While he could tell fortunes about Luna’s motives, one he knew for sure: he wanted to know how Fluttershy was doing, to tell her that he was alright in his turn, nothing awful was happening there… yet. Alex suddenly understood that she was crying not only and mostly, because things went wrong, but most likely because she thought that he might end being transferred home without any chance for them to meet before that or ever again. Despite that he said, he would return for a while no matter what. Tormenting her like that was the last thing Alex wanted to do. And as soon as he couldn’t contact anypony, except a few permitted persons, while being thoroughly examined, he could at least try and relay a message. The most uneasy thing about that: the only person he could trust, doing that, was the one, who could be personally interested in NOT relaying anything to Fluttershy perhaps. Alex could imagine, how it would look like.

        ‘Luna, dear, before you kissed me breathless, please remember to tell Fluttershy somehow that I’m okay and she shouldn’t worry!’

        Alex rolled his eyes, cringing at the mental image of the scene. Yet he would despise himself for not telling Shy anything, while still having a chance to lessen her anxiety.

        ‘This will call for grade A diplomacy not to suck drastically… or at least grade B+,’ smirked Alex, following the shooting star, which crossed the star embroidered sky, and wishing wholeheartedly to finally come to be at home. ‘I’m more than sure that Luna is capable to unearth the double bottom anyway, but it’s better to be not that obvious.’

        The moon moved further on its nightly route, lighting more space behind that roof superstructure, in the shadow of which Alex hid. He was going to move a little, as the light border was about to cross his bare feet, making them shine in the moonlight and revealing his hiding spot right away, if there was an eye, ready to notice. Lingering as long as he could Alex simply enjoyed sitting there, leaning on the still warm wall, stargazing and breathing in the aroma, he couldn’t estimate fully in his personal cell: roses, surprisingly, here in Equestria they had some species which produced strong sweet aroma, so unlikely for roses; acacia as well…

        ‘Merlin’s pants!’ realized Alex. ‘It’s June already… if their acacia isn’t much different from ours… and I’m still sitting on the spot, almost literally.’

        Lavender…

        “Ahem,” Alex raised one eyebrow, not yet turning his head, but already smiling, when he heard a soft, intermittent, surprised sigh. “Howdy, Luna. What an excellent night, isn’t it? Have you decided to join me and enjoy that amazing view of the starry sky? Do you usually sneak onto… anypony like that?”

        “Dost thou always get out, the time thou art not supposed to… and sit like that, simply asking to spot thee?” Luna huffed in return, approaching from behind and sitting next to him.

        “Among all the lunatic, forgive my pun, things thou didst, tis easily holdeth the first prize for that hour,” there was a slight concern in her voice, although, not some disappointment, when she nuzzled his shoulder lightly. “Art thou going for a record, Alex?”

        “By the way, how could thou…” she was genuinely interested and Alex hurried to satisfy her curiosity.

        “Oh, that’s easy,” he turned his face to touch her muzzle and closed his eyes, inhaling deeply. “You may get used to it, but I know it’s you as long as I can feel my lavender fragrant… goddess.”

        A small gasp told him that, despite Luna might find the praising of her pony subjects natural, she was pleased by that spontaneous and cordial compliment, coming from the human.

        “And answering your previous question… No, I haven’t gone mad… yet. Was approaching that though, almost running the walls in my room lately,” continued Alex. “If not the book, the free time would be awful. Now I can read, I do push-ups, squats, everything space of my room allows, including even handstands, but I can’t effectively turn off my thoughts.”

        “Besides,” he added after a while, interrupted by a loud scream of some night bird in the garden, Luna perked her ears as well, before it got silent again. “Besides, I wanted to find out, if my new abilities have more practical usage…”

        “And how effective they are…” nodded Luna, looking at him, her eyes were smiling. “Just like me, learning my first spells when I was a filly. Thou needest to be cautious still…”

        “And that’s you, who telling me that,” chuckled Alex. He turned a bit to look into her eyes and moved closer. “Oh, you remind me of one thing: can one become invisible during that “sleepwalking”?”

        “Somepony just almost got caught once… or twice… or a few times,” articulated Luna with feigned strictness, tilting her head. Alex shrugged.

        “Well,” she had mercy finally. “One can hideth their presence really well, as for complete invisibility, I don’t know. I’ve never tried myself, wasn’t necessary, as I said, concealing thy presence is enough oft. Methinks tis a level of magic, when thou shalt control the process entirely, for invisibility to not become non-existence.”

        Alex spotted a faint shadow, running across Luna’s face.

        “Sitting hither in the open wasn’t the smartest thing,” she said, while Alex ran his fingers on her cheek, behind her soft ear and brushed through Luna’s hair. “Ahhhh! Don’t try to distract me, Alex! The night watch reporteth to me, that’s granted… but still, something can reach Tia’s ears, especially in thy case. Shan’t be helpful at all.”

        “At least that can be fixed with ease now,” Luna’s voice trembled, surprising Alex a bit, when she spread her wings in a welcoming gesture. “Comest closer, mine lief!”

        She “grabbed” him the same familiar way, covering entirely with her wings and making him snuggle into her. A small satisfied sigh left her chest, when Luna rested her head on top of Alex’s again; he snorted.

        “What?” she muttered, squinting and shivering, when he stroked her neck. “I really like to hold thee like that.”

        Alex leaned on her forelegs. Everything was amazing, yet he thought hard, how to proceed with what he planned regarding Fluttershy and her fears. A few minutes passed in complete silence, if not mentioning that night bird, which started crying plaintively again somewhere in the darkness of the castle grounds. Alex listened to Luna’s heartbeat and she rubbed her chin and neck on his head slightly, which, to be honest, made her breath noticeably deeper and her pulse a fair bit faster. Alex struggled with the wish to reach her lips and forget about everything for a while, feeling as his own heart started to accelerate.

        Like in confirmation of her earlier words a dark shadow crossed the roof. Alex threw a short glance at the sky to spot a pegasus… with bat wings. A… bat pony! Alex reminded himself that he came to self-agreement to wonder about nothing. Still, as Luna said, it was obviously one of the Nightwatch on their duty, so, Alex understood that princess’ appearance was right in time. He was perfectly hidden in her feathery grasp and… the princess had full right to enjoy her night walk anywhere; even if she preferred some stargazing on the roof of medical, or whichever else, facility, nopony would object.

        Finally, Alex decided to proceed very carefully, starting as far from the main concern, as it was possible, still keeping the logical flow.

        “Have you heard anything new from your sister, Luna?” each touch on her silky coat was one step towards losing his control and clenching to her, caressing and kissing, thus Alex tried to stroke Luna’s neck gently, in a relaxed way, to calm her heart race, while he tried to cool down in his turn. “Anything that could speak about even tiny progress regarding my problem…”

        “Tia didn’t tell anything fancy ere,” Luna shook her head, ruffling Alex’s hair lightly. “I am not involved in that work of hers directly… but I can see that she returneth from the library or the council sad, concerned and even a bit grumpy. Tis speaketh for itself, doesn’t it, Alex? Methinks thither is hardly any progress yet.”

        “Frankly speaking, I don’t understand the necessity of all those experiments,” Alex sighed. “It’s like we are going in circles without any real reason. I could suspect her playing for time, but I see no reason for that either. For what I know about your sister, the last thing I can imagine is her doing anything irrational or aimless. What then? I mean, it’s clearly known now that I’m resistant to any magic directed at me. Why try each tiny variation, when the result is generally predictable?”

        “I thought, that was understandable,” chuckled Luna. “Tia tryeth to find some way around that limitation of thy newly received trait, paying attention to each possibility. Besides, I’m sure, she believeth that careful approach will be only beneficial for everypony, including thee. Knowing thee, I can safely assume that thou wilt jump into the portal, hoping for the best outcome, while not being sure, ‘t is at least safe.”

        Alex shrugged, then remembering that Luna couldn’t see that move, said.

        “Perhaps. The more time passes, the less sure I am that I could enter the portal, without the second thought.”

        “What dost thou mean, Alex?” the surprise in her voice was genuine. “Dost thou wish to return not already?”

        “I still do. But the time is working against me inevitably,” explained Alex. “I mean the more time passes, the harder it will be for me to return… and for the others to accept that. First, there are two witnesses of my so-called death, I suppose… Everyone should already have visited my funeral back on Earth. I can imagine the effect my supposed return provides.”

        “And the second thing: I can hardly tell or explain what happened with me, avoiding the nuthouse,” he added with a tiny smile. “The later I return… if I return… the more of an alien I will be for everyone there. Perhaps at some point even more than I’m an alien for you all.”

        “Less than thou art thinking, in earnest,” peremptorily stated Luna and Alex felt her warm lips on his neck. Trying his best not to melt Alex gathered all his audacity; it was just a matter of time before Luna could become less interested in talk, preferring more pleasant ways of communication.

        “Know what, don’t ever turn to the modern manner of speech, Luna,” he tried to not lose the thread of their talk, while electric discharges wandered his neck and shoulder from her kisses. “That makes you even sexier… if you can be more. For me at least,” he blushed heavily, feeling the places she kissed became flaming hot. “I know, I’m an egotist.”

        “Not more than me, Alex, not more than me,” chuckled Luna, rubbing her cheek against his. “Can I ask thee likewise?”

        “Of course, my princess!”

        “Dost not ev’r become… “normal”, Alex. Overly rational, prudent and… boring. In other words, dost not become non-thyself, I shall hardly bear that.”

        “Tis thou can rely on me in rigidly,” teased Alex.

        Luna squeezed him tighter, finally finding his lips and effectively shutting him for a good few minutes, while she yearningly caught up to her desired level of interaction.

        “As few real friends as I have,” finally released Alex grasped all the willpower not to turn to her and wrap into the proper embrace, with all the consequences for the coherent talk following. He still needed to reach his goal. “But I doubt they can understand what I may tell in all honesty, let alone any of my new features, if I keep them. Just imagine their shock.”

        “Dost thou think that they would be less shocked than me upon thy “I’m the night!” gimmick?” the quiet laughter rolled through Luna’s swanlike neck, vibrating and making the hair on the back of his head stand. “Or less though.”

        “Oh… You will keep reminding me about that shameful event forever, won’t you? I mean as long as I’m here…”Alex felt how blood rushed in his face.

        “Mhm… Mayhap for a while…” huffed Luna, returning her head on top of his. “Speaking of thy friends possible reaction, isn’t it a good test for thy friendship then?”

        “Should friendship be even tested?” asked Alex instead of answering her question. “Besides, it will be an endurance test for me anyway, as keeping the old friends naturally means for me abandoning new ones. I believe I made quite a few, despite the brevity of my stay here. You, for example, or the girls I met first, when… well… when I regained my consciousness.”

        “I extend mine hope for I’m a tiny bit more than a friend,” Luna pouted jokingly. “But I understand what thou art talking about. Tis a choice I can hardly help thee with. Entirely thy burden, apologies.”

        “I know,” with a sigh Alex carefully probed the turf. “And I don’t want to make it harder for everypony, if I add more moral troubles to the parting.”

        “I’m concerned about Fluttershy’s reaction,” elaborated Alex after a moment of silence, feeling how Luna barely perceptibly strained, listening to him. “She was totally upset by how the things went. I mean, my departure and almost imprisoning… I admit it’s not,” he added. “and I have nowhere to go anyway, but it surely looked like one.”

        “I would like to tell her that I’m generally okay… yet,” Alex noticed that Luna listened to him attentively. Even if that didn’t rub her well, she wasn’t going to deny him help. “Despite that, if the experiments go in the direction, I suspect them to, that can become a painful experience. Errmmm… this better not be told though... I’d like to tell her that she and Twilight couldn’t probably do better, which I’m endlessly thankful for, and remind her that I’m still going to tell her this in person, regardless to the result of those experiments.”

        “I’ll tell Twilight to deliver that to thy addressee,” nodded Luna, thinking for a minute. “And I’ll try to negotiate Twilight’s ability to see thee as well.”

        “By the way, thou forgot about Rarity…”

        “Oh, please…” begged Alex. “Let me deal with her, when I’m able to do that myself. I still think it is a good idea to let her thoughts about me cool down a bit – no need to remind her. I’m not sure, if it works anyway, as her affection was quite stormy. Physical affection, mind that,” Alex shuddered.

        “Art thou against physical affection of a pony?” teasingly interrogated Luna.

        “No… I mean… Oh, you…” Alex felt his cheeks getting hotter. “It’s kinda hard to decide, when one is ready to pounce you on the first sight,” he concluded firmly.

        “I know,” Luna kept having fun. “I saw a few of Rarity’s dreams recently, just of pure interest… Thou wouldn’t believe…”

        “Please, Luna, have mercy, don’t tell,” gasped Alex. “I can imagine… not sure, if I’m happy that I can though.”

        Luna giggled like a school filly, thinking that she wouldn’t mind trying something of Rarity’s ideas in practice. But she decided that it was a bit early to mention that. Even so, a certain red flashed through blue coat on her silky cheeks quite noticeably.

        “Wait,” Alex watched her carefully and the realization made him red as a carrot. “Does that mean that you have seen me… in that… delicate aspect as well?” he facepalmed.

        “A little,” confessed Luna, downcasting, now even her nose was pinkish. She quickly added. “Please dost mind, that was only Rarity’s imagination…”

        But something in her voice told Alex that she didn’t mind finding out. Of pure interest, of course… Yeah!

        After a few minutes of meaningful silence, Alex cleared his throat.

        “Cough! So… It’s still undecided, if I can return to my home world. Is there at least any hope?” he noticed how that made Luna instantly serious.

        “I have nothing to add, unfortunately… Tia tryeth her best, besides she can’t break her own promise without a reason. Believe me, unfortunately, she is very uneasy about thy arrival and presence. She hath some concerns about thou, something more serious than about a stranger appearing out of nowhere, she is not telling yet.”

        “It sounds like if Celestia is deliberately keeping you away from that work. At least I feel that way,” Alex said guardedly. “I’m sorry, if I…”

        “She forsooth is, Alex,” he clearly heard Luna’s sad smile in her reply. After a short pause she elaborated. “Ever since mine return she tryeth to keep me protected from any mishaps, she feareth may befall. Tis like coming back to the times, when our parents were with us or shortly after… when Tia filled for both mom and dad for me,” Luna’s voice warmed. “I was a little filly then and Tia took care of me. The only difference we are not fillies at the moment, but still she tryeth her best… Methinks she feeleth guilty for what she hath done… or hasn’t done, partially causing Nightmare Moon to upraise.”

        “Sometimes I envy you a little,” Alex reached her neck, wrapping his hand around and running his fingers through Luna’s mane, making lavender aroma even stronger. He scratched behind her ear, feeling, how it moved, pressing tighter against his fingers, and how Luna leaned to his hand. “I am a single child of my parents. I have only cousins, I rarely see… saw… Damn it!”

        “What?” murmured Luna, when she stopped literally purring under his touch. “Mine deepest apologies, I became distracted a trifle.”

        “I said, I was a single child, no brothers or sisters,” chuckled Alex. “Unlike you, my princess.”

        “I don’t mind sharing,” Luna’s sly smile, her teeth flashed in the moonlight. “But forsooth thou art receiving enough attention from Tia already.”

        “Oh, I can’t probably express my endless gratitude sincerely enough!” with a laughter Alex turned to face Luna and theatrically bowed with almost palpable irony. “I can imagine… Although, Tia… ahem, princess Celestia can’t ever surpass the amount of teasing you provide; as a big sister or not, you’re beyond competition.”

        “Thou thinkest? A big sister is not the position I am craving though,” Luna’s eyes pulled him like two neutron stars. “And calling her “Tia” is alright, at which hour thou knowest her better. Just dost not call her “Celly”, she won’t smack thee on spot, but doing this isn’t the smartest achievement,” Luna giggled.

        “You certainly won’t tell me why, right?”

        “Apologies, I’m not the one, who must tell thee. But thou shalt be sure, if ’t be true Tia telleth thee someday, this would mean thou gained the highest level of trust possible.”

        “Not in this life, I guess!” Alex’s glance alternated from Luna’s eyes to her lips. He decided to take the initiative and put both his hands on her silky cheeks, pulling her lightly and pressing his lips against hers, while his tongue attacked for dominance. Luna’s excited squeak came out muffled and she wrapped her fore legs around him. The moonlit roof swirled around them and the time stopped.

        “Wait! Something…” aeons after Alex suddenly twitched. He looked like he was listening to something or trying to feel, while Luna nuzzled his cheek lightly.

        “It seems, somepony tries to wake me up!” with widening eyes he realized, what the source of his sudden anxiety was. “Merlin’s pants, whoever it is, they found the least suitable moment.”

        “Thou needest to go then, mine lief,” Luna smiled and unwrapped him. “Don’t kick that ruffian too much, at which hour thou see them.”

        “It will depend…” Alex didn’t finish, but stole one more passionate kiss from her lips, fading in the thin air.

        *

        “What?” muttered Alex, waking up in his room. “What’s going on?”

        “Is the building on fire?” he focused his eyes on the extremely concerned muzzle of “Ginger”, who shook him mercilessly with wide opened eyes. “Hurricane? Flood?.. Changelings?” he remembered, what Fluttershy told him.

        “Oh, sweet Celestia! You’re okay,” breathed out the pony nurse, calming down a bit. “You can even ironize that…” she visibly pouted. “You haven’t changed your sleeping pose for quite a long while and…”

        ‘Damn!’ thought Alex. ‘You’re not only chatty, but observant as well. Quite a combination…’

        “… and I was unable to wake you for the good ten minutes,” words were ready to flood Alex, as “Ginger” elaborated on her concern with the machinegun speed. “Thank Celestia, you were breathing and otherwise looking fine, so I didn’t need to call medics, but I was going to call for help anyway. Listen, I was trying to wake you up for the good ten minutes and you didn’t give… a buck!” she became embarrassed and fell silent.

        “Look, I’m really getting tired of all those experiments,” Alex sat on his bed and rubbed his face, thinking that it was a major flaw in his disguise – staying physically motionless, while sleepwalking. One can suspect something. “Emotionally, you have no idea how much. Yeah, I sleep tight when I’m bucking tired. Sometimes I drop as a log. I’m fine, really, thanks for consideration though!”

        He got up and headed to the bathroom, filling a glass with water and downing it in one gulp – all under the undiverted glance of the nurse.

        “I’m indeed okay,” repeated Alex, returning to the room. “Look, everything is fine,” he raised his hands and mockingly turned around twice, showing himself from all the sides.

        “Yeah…” slowly said “Ginger”, thinking about something. “And why are you fully clothed?”

        “Sorry?” huffed Alex. “I said I drop as a log sometimes. And… do you say, you are coming here for a… striptease?!” he let out a chuckle, making her instantly blush heavily. On her it looked like she was burning.

        ‘That’s good, will distract her from unnecessary suspicions at once,’ Alex tried his best to keep his inward mischief well concealed.

        “Oh… I-I mean… Squee!..” the nurse lost the thought, becoming even more confused. Then she tried to keep the face. “Well, I’m glad you’re okay… I guess… Good night, then.”

        When she left, shaky and strained, Alex returned to his bed and tried to nest more comfortable this time, feeling the curious glance through the peephole for a while.

        ‘I need to be more careful now, when it’s her shift.’

            *

        ‘Damn that forest, that rain… and that mission as the whole!’ inwardly spat a young unicorn, when he slipped once again on the wet leaves, covering the fallen tree trunk, and was to jump forward not to fall. The stallion wrapped himself tighter in the cloak and looked up from beneath the hood grumpily, squinting as the big drops fell on his muzzle – the rain was strong and even thick foliage couldn’t hold it entirely. ‘It’s raining cats’n’dogs since sunset, it seems – even more as we reached the forest!’ He quietly sniffed, feeling that only a miracle and a warming spell separated him from catching a nasty cold that night.

        ‘Whoever planned that mission must be a complete hay head,’ he scoffed, trying to see at least something in the wet rustling darkness around. ‘What was the point in hunting Celestia knows whom at night… moreover a rainy night in the thick forest, when we can’t even use the lights? Idiots!’

        The situation was indeed far from routinely. They, the whole magical support group, were gathered late in the evening, off schedule, and given orders. The orders were simple and common for a young mage, who entered magical corps and learned exactly that – to find a magical creature and restrain it, or destroy, if other methods fail. But it appeared to bring a bunch of problems almost immediately.

        First of all, they didn’t know shit about what they were going to encounter, nor they were given any additional information. This was the worst aspect, which made him instantly hesitant – normally no mission started without an extensive briefing. That time they knew only that their aim (and enemy) is big, dark, magical and dangerous.

        ‘How fascinating,’ he smirked inwardly. ‘Now we will know that the thing, which kills us is big, dark and… dangerous. Like the latter was any time different.’

        The only specific information was that the scouts managed to trace their enemy, they called it “seeker”…

        ‘What a nonsensual name,’ huffed the mage, trying his best to determine what is in front of him, a branch, his own leg or maybe a snake. ‘To the Tartarus with that darkness, the sun will rise in about half an hour, but I can easily break a couple of legs till then.’

        …so, they traced the seeker to that part of the forest, which protruded from the main mass of the woods far into the fields as a giant green tongue. Traced and effectively locked there, as it wasn’t reported leaving. Then their group was assigned to brush the forest.

        While it could seem relatively small… from pegasi point of view, high above the scene, it was actually quite big to cover it on hooves. Big and dark and wet and nasty, with plenty of hiding spots. They all could stamp in circles with the monster (and he didn’t ever doubt, it was yet another monster), it even being behind or between them from time to time.

        The pungent odour of mycelium on the damp ground trailed up his nostrils, almost making him sneeze a few times.

        ‘Who could suffer, if we surrounded that part of the woods and kept it locked till sunrise at least,’ wondered the unicorn. He wrapped the cloak tighter again and pulled the hood down to avoid more water coming from above, as the wind shook the treetops. ‘We could at least see further than our noses… and perhaps that bucking rain ended. What was the need to hurry, like if it could lay an egg or multiply.’

        “Horse apples!” hissed he quietly, stumbling again on some root and accidentally touching a big shrub, which granted him an ample cold shower. ‘Bless the cloak.’

        They were actually to keep silence and proceed as discretely as it was possible. Nopony should rush forward or go on random trajectory, not to be taken for the enemy and put under “crossfire”.

        He approached a clearing in the forest and stopped on the edge, hiding in the shade of trees and bushes. It was a fair bit lighter on the glade, making it easier to orientate, but it made anypony coming out of the forest to the opening clearly visible as well.

        Scanning the opening as through as the darkness allowed, he pondered, if it was smart to check it now or wait for at least one more member of their group to arrive. But it was quiet around and nothing moved on the glade; a huge fallen tree lay closer to the opposite edge, black crooked roots protruded in the air like tentacles of an old big octopus.

        He exited the forest and quietly crossed the glade, scanning its perimeter for any movement, which might occur under the trees. Nothing. Approaching the fallen trunk the unicorn thought that even such a big tree couldn’t have such a clod of roots. Besides the dirt must have dried already and fallen down – the tree was dry and lay there for quite a while already. He came closer and closer, quietly trying to approach the pitch black clod and check, if nopony was hiding on the other side.

        *CRACK*

        A small branch got under his hoof and sounded like a muffled shot, broken in half under his step.

        ‘Damnation!’ The young stallion froze on spot, listening if anypony moved, noticing him. The next moment the “clod of roots”, well, actually what was hiding under the roots of the fallen tree, moved and started to rise, stretching and turning to the stunned unicorn. It looked like a giant pony body on long strong legs, with a strange lump instead of normal pony neck and head. A red dimly glowing orifice showed itself on the upper part of that lump.

        ‘What a buck?! Big, dark and… I have no doubt, extremely unkind by its look!’ the unicorn barely managed to launch a bright spark into the air – agreed signal to call for reinforcement in case somepony from their group finds the enemy; he was going to use the light spell and prepare to attack the monster. The dark misty figure finally turned around and towered above suddenly feeling himself a dwarf unicorn, the red eye, or whatever it was, “stared” at him, glowing brighter and brighter, as if that abomination finally noticed its foe.

        The unicorn tried to launch a powerful blast at the seeker, but he couldn’t. He wasn’t sure, if it was still him. His whole consciousness seemed to be squeezed and dragged through some kind of tunnel and… He felt nothing, thought nothing… He was nothing, when his alive, but totally indifferent body hit the ground.

        The air above suddenly became filled with flashes, crossing the space from different directions and bombarding the dark seeker’s carcass, but the unicorn didn’t see that. He might look and hear, but he didn’t register anything, while the challenged by mages monster produced a low growl, visibly backing up under dozens of magical projectiles.

        *

        “How much for ten?” Twilight pointed to the fine big carrots on the grocery stall, taking a scroll out of her saddle bag and checking the list.

        “Two bits, princess!” the shopkeeper turned to her quickly, finishing the deal with the previous customer; Twilight thought that he would probably turn to her even from a still acquiring one, and mentally facehoofed about the “princess” part. She already formed a habit to cross Ponyville with wings tightly folded and not flapping them without a reason, but only her close friends were fine, calling her simply “Twilight” or “Twi” without a second thought. Sometimes she thought that life would be easier, if alicorns were a bit more common.

        “Fine. I’ll take those,” Twilight picked those, she found suitable. “And… Oh, hi, Lyra!” she waved to a minty coloured unicorn, which tried to gain her attention.

        “Good afternoon, pr… Twilight,” Lyra corrected herself under Twilight’s insisting glance. Then she leaned closer and added in half voice. “I’d like to know about… well, you know who, if I may ask of course.”

        Twilight nodded and pointed aside with her eyes only, saying they needed a bit more privacy for that talk, while she paid for the carrots, and both girls moved further, whishing the shopkeeper a good day and letting others approach the stall.

        “He is still in Canterlot, if you’re about Alex,” said Twilight quietly, when they distanced from the busy spot. “Nopony is allowed to see him yet, but Luna told me that she would try to make me an exclusion.”

        “Princess Luna!..” Lyra coughed and lowered her tone, when Twilight hushed on her. “So, princess Luna is managing this… problem,” said Lyra in a more restrained voice, looking around, but nopony noticed in the routine market humming.

        “Actually, princess Celestia,” Twilight wry smile could encrypt any type of thoughts, so Lyra didn’t load herself much with that, focusing on the main matter instead. “But princess Luna… helps, where she can.”

        “So, if I can see him, I could find everything out from the first hooves… sorry, hands,” Twilight snorted and checked carrots in her list, putting the scroll back into the bag. “Until then I can’t find out anything fancy. Anything, which may interest you.”

        She chose one carrot from her bunch and cleaned it with magic, removing the thin peel with all the dust, so the carrot became almost sterile. Spending so much time reading books, and moreover, some ancient faded scrolls, Twilight always took care of her eyes and managed to avoid glasses, despite all the strain on her eyesight.

        “Treat yourself…” she handed the carrot to Lyra, but Lyra shook her head, thus Twilight munched on it herself.

        “Thanks, Twilight,” carrots didn’t bother Lyra at all at that moment. “So, he is not going home anytime soon, I mean, out and away from Equestria.”

        “Not in the nearest future, as far as I know,” nodded Twilight. “There are certain difficulties emerging, connected to some of his traits. Transferring him appears to be not an average task, even for princess Celestia.”

        “Naturally!” huffed Lyra, perhaps a bit louder than necessary, she still remembered their first encounter and her own purblindness, which could end with an accident. “Hey, Flutters and Pinkie coming!” she waved to somepony behind Twilight.

        Twilight looked over her shoulder: both named girls made their way through the herd indeed. Well, actually Fluttershy made her way, while Pinkie was simply hopping around her, miraculously managing not to bump into anypony and keeping their conversation with Flutters at the same time.

        The girls noticed Twilight and Lyra and changed their course. When they finally approached, Twilight and Lyra greeted them. Twilight hugged Fluttershy, keeping in mind the recent condition of her friend; catching Pinkie was a deadly trick anyway.

        “Hi, girls,” Fluttershy’s voice was even quieter than always and despite she tried to put on something resembling a smile, the whole image came out fairly painful, making Twilight’s heart ache in empathy.

        “Hi, Twilight! Hi, Lyra!” Pinkie made a few circles around them three, still hopping in her usual manner. Evidently, she was in a bright mood, which could be spoiled perhaps by a notice that the party, Pinkie was going to, was cancelled. Undoubtedly she sincerely tried to cheer up Fluttershy through their entire market run. To no avail, as the girls could see, but Pinkie wasn’t going to give up that easily.

        “That’s great!” Lyra continued their interrupted talk. “So I can still talk to him about things, which interest me.”

        Lyra apologized for being busy and trotted somewhere on her own, wishing the girls a good day.

        “What is great?!” Pinkie stopped circling and hopped on the spot, tilting her head in a curious manner.

        “If you, girls, keep quiet and don’t inform half of Ponyville, I’ll surely tell you,” Twilight looked on them both with a bright smile, then added. “And could you, please, stop for a while, Pinkie. I feel that my head starts hopping with you…”

        “Is that bad?” Pinkie produced a wide smile, but stopped hopping, she just stepped from hoof to hoof, that was better though. “Okay, okay, now do tell.”

        “First of all I’d like to tell you that Alex is fine,” Twilight noticed how Fluttershy transformed as quick as thought: her head cocked, her eyes became alive and certain sparkles returned to the depth of those turquoise lakes, even a small smile found its way on her muzzle.

        ‘Girl, I’d call that “love”,’ inwardly smirked Twilight and continued. “He doesn’t find his whole time in Canterlot a pleasant vacation, but he is… fine…”

        “More good news – I can probably visit him soon, so ask what you need to know and I’ll tell you everything from the first hooves later.”

        “He’s okay, that’s enough for me,” Fluttershy noticeably cheered up. “But… if you can, Twilight, please, ask if they are going to let him free soon.”

        “I will,” Twilight nodded. “But it’s mostly up to Celestia, you know. But that’s not all, girls. One more thing: there are major problems with him and magic combined, thus with transferring him magically. So, he is not going anywhere anytime soon. That means…” Twilight smiled.

        Pinkie, who kept silence unusually, ruffled her mane, raised onto her hind legs and spread her fore legs, inhaling deeply and pumping her cheeks… Fluttershy reacted in a flash, she grabbed Pinkie and promptly put the hoof over her mouth; the resulting sound came out as a muffled trumpet, instead of whatever Pinkie planned to shout.

        “Let’s not start about Welcome to Ponyville Human party again!” articulated Fluttershy in slightly hissing voice. “Well, until it is really time to… if you don’t mind…” she calmed down a bit and blushed under the surprised glance of Twilight.

        “It’s never too early, sometimes it can be too late!” Pinkie pouted slightly, when Fluttershy released her, but she kept jumping on one spot, obviously taking no offence.

        “Twilight,” Fluttershy put her hoof on her friend’s shoulder. “I asked you before and I’m asking you again. I want to see him.”

        “I realize that Celestia can make an exclusion for you,” she said, before Twilight could open her mouth again. “But waiting, till he is out, is too long for me. There must be some way for me to visit him, perhaps you, as a princess, could help me to get through… You know, that doesn’t need to involve princess Celestia…”

        The last phrase evidently abashed Fluttershy, as she lowered her head a bit and her ears flattened, still she looked into Twilight’s eyes rather demandingly than pleadingly. But mostly that phrase caught Twilight off guard, she saw her friend differently, not for the first time already.

        “I’m in,” Pinkie raised her hoof. “I mean, you will need somepony to help anyway. I’ll be your…” she paused. “… ground support.”

        Twilight ruffled her bangs and looked over two girls, pondering about the venture, they were going to attempt, and the possible consequences. Surely nopony sends a princess, even a new and inexperienced one to the unicorn kindergarten, but the wrath of princess Celestia could be considerable, if they screwed on this one. Why the feeling of a swamp, sucking her in, wasn’t leaving her ever since she saw, how Fluttershy’s eyes brightened after mentioning Alex. Still the whole situation interested her much, she was ready to admit that. And the role of princess Luna in that play. Perhaps ponies didn’t ever have a proverb “Curiosity killed the cat”, otherwise Twilight should know it for sure and it could affect her decision. Perhaps.

        “Okay, in an hour in the library,” with a sigh Twilight made up her mind. “Don’t tell others though.”

        “Jackie and Rarity have younger sisters, who will sneak-follow them even to the Tartarus, if a “performance” is granted,” she elaborated further. “And we don’t want the girls involved more than they are already. One is enough, the whole CMC is an armed fuse. And Rainbow… something tells me, Rainbow won’t participate anyway.”

        “Now finish with your stuff and I’ll be waiting for you… and thinking,” added Twilight in half voice.

        *

        Alex measured his room with his steps. He couldn’t make smaller steps, as they made him nervous, and measured in wider steps the room provided completely depressive mood by its smallness. The table and chair were moved to the window, so Alex could have more light when reading and there was more space in front of the bed to exercise… or flee to the sleeping disguise, if necessary.

        Reading didn’t give him much, except killing time though – they made pauses between experiment days, still, the number of spells and artefacts Alex was subjected to was enormous; with the same results each time. Alex couldn’t find enough information about human encounters in Equestria in a simple historical book, even a good and through one, let alone any clues of how they returned to their home world. It seemed that people were a special subject here in Equestria, not broadly covered in common historic study, due to safety reasons most likely. Asking for a specific source was still something Alex inwardly negotiated with himself about: it could attract unnecessary attention to him. Alex decided to play by Celestia’s rules, at least to the point, when she openly admitted of being able or unable to transfer him. Then he would act on his own.

        Two sets of hoofsteps in the corridor dragged him out of his thoughts. First hoofsteps were slower, but it was obvious that both ponies trot together and Alex realized, that effect appeared because of the size difference. Perhaps he knew, who could be behind the door.

        The quiet “whizzle” of the turned off magical barrier was followed by a loud clank of the door lock and Alex prepared to meet his “guest”. Alex chuckled at that thought.

        Watching as the illustrious mane of pink, green and turquoise strands (the latter reminded him of Fluttershy’s eyes in a flash) flowed inside through the opened door, followed by the tall, graceful, white frame, Alex bowed. A bit, not to strain his tired self more than necessary, yet not to appear discourteous in the eyes of princess Celestia.

        “Your Highness! How did I deserve the honour of being visited by the princess of Equestria herself?”

        “Good afternoon, Alex the human!” Celestia couldn’t avoid noticing the faint irony in his words, yet the calm smile curled her lips. “I was going to visit you sooner or later anyway, but I’m too busy with my daily regal duties… with the addition of your delicate problem, mind that, please. I’m not a monster.”

        “Neither am I… your Highness!” bluntly stated Alex. “Yet I’m enclosed here for… about two weeks already and being subjected to numerous experiments, which, if I may judge, bring similar results, all as one.”

        “From all the… subjects involved, you are supposed to be the first interested that your transfer happened without any flaws,” chuckled Celestia, but her smile became a bit artificial, strained. She trotted inside his room and Alex felt, how the free space shrunk. With Luna there was no such effect, despite she was only a bit smaller, than her older sister.

        “The more time passes, your Highness, the less cautious I became,” Alex faked a bright smile. “Perhaps, at some point I will be ready to jump into the portal without any idea of the outcome, just to do something, you know.”

        “Hmm… This is exactly the reason, why I should be cautious, even extra cautious, on my own and apparently on your behalf as well,” Celestia’s smile became sincere again and Alex thought that she was an epitome of “big sister aspect” at that moment; it didn’t make his condition easier though. “I don’t know, what consequences your deed of that kind can bring to the whole Equestria. And if you don’t care about yourself… I am to care about all of my subjects.”

        “Fair point,” nodded Alex, the ironic expression didn’t leave his face though. “But I’m afraid there is more to my condition here. As far as the experiments go, I can predict the next stage perhaps. And I’m taking the liberty, and full responsibility for my words, to say that I’m entirely against the idea of somepony suffering because of the features I possess now, but don’t consciously control. I’ve seen what happened with some… artefacts, when we interacted for too long…” Alex stumbled.

        “This is another reason, why we must investigate your abilities thoroughly,” Celestia raised one brow at his last phrase. “Somepony should guide you through the entire process of transfer, so it’s better we find out about all the possible surprises here and now, when we control the process, than meeting the problems during the transfer, when we have no time or means to deal with them,” speaking that way Celestia trotted slowly around Alex, just like at the beginning of the audience, as if she was examining him for symptoms, known by her only. Alex tried to shake off the unwelcome similarity to a big white shark circling her prey and involuntarily made a small slip.

        “Tis if thou control the process…” muttered he barely audible and bit his tongue immediately, noticing how Celestia’s ears instantly perked – she was right in front of him at that moment. She turned to face him, but didn’t show any signs of anxiety; perhaps, she pretended that she heard nothing, or indeed thought, it was her imagination. Alex scolded himself mentally nevertheless.

        “I have more concerns about your arrival,” said Celestia instead. “And much more serious ones.”

        ‘Here it is, exactly what Luna told me about,’ thought Alex, bringing all his attention at guard and showing her with a nod that he is ready to listen.

        “Actually, we got precursors of some… unkind force concentrating in distant corners of Equestria for quite a while before your strange arrival. Initially, we thought that it was some emanation of King Sombra, despite he was defeated and technically destroyed.. but with magical enemies you can’t have it simple. Do you know, who King Sombra is, Alex the human?”

        “Yes, princess,” Alex tried to predict her route of thoughts, but couldn’t imagine the connection at the moment. “In brief, Fluttershy told me about him and Crystal Empire. And, please, stop reminding me that I’m a human, princess. I know, besides, I am the only human in your realm for quite a while,” he threw a glance at the book on the table, Celestia’s eyes following. “It really alienates me even more, than I myself could do.”

        Celestia nodded.

        “Later we found out that it wasn’t Sombra: too many differences, despite visible similarities. But I told you about precursors. There were a few real encounters later. When the force concentrated and produced something, we never actually dealt with before,” she made a dramatic pause. “There is an actual victim of that encounter already, Alex.”

        “Fortunately he is alive,” continued Celestia, when Alex raised his eyes on her. “But he is… “hollow”, emotionally emptied. He seems to be in the terminal case of amnesia, Alex, only worse. He lives, he has all the simple needs and can suit himself, but he has… no wish to. Medics need to feed him and he swallows, what is put in his mouth, but he won’t take another spoon himself, even if the death from starvation is imminent. He doesn’t recognize anypony, he seems to lose the mere wish to live…”

        “That sounds awful!” Alex dropped his hands. “But I sincerely can’t see how I…”

        Instead of the answer Celestia levitated a few sheets of paper from under her wing to his table.

        “Take a look. This is what appears when the Dark Mist concentrates.”

        Alex turned away from her and approached the table, slightly moving the sheets to keep them all in sight at once. There were three of them. Each one carried the image of a dark creature, formed seemingly of some flowing mist, four-legged, with a body of a horse and a torso resembling a human, with a glowing orifice (as much as pencil or charcoal drafts could convey) in the middle of the upper torso. The only difference between the images was the angle and perhaps scale.

        “This is as much as we have, I saw one myself, and those images were made by the mages, who encountered these ghastly creatures on a fair distance,” Celestia approached him from behind and Alex felt her breath on his neck. “The victim of the close encounter could perhaps see more details, but apparently he is not in the right condition to tell about them. To be honest, he is not in any condition technically. It looks like he is dead, while being alive physically,” her voice trembled barely perceptible. “Have you ever seen something those monsters alike.”

        Alex’s hand, which rested on the table, clenched into a fist. He slipped between the princess and the table and came to the window, looking outside, turning his back to Celestia, long, silently.

        “We call them… started to call “seekers”,” said Celestia quietly. “As their behaviour reminds of seeking something, when they materialize and gain force. Speaking of mages, we need quite a bunch to eliminate one such abomination, and they seem to grow stronger. They feel magic and chase the caster, who aims at them. They cause panic and psychosis in my subjects, Alex. Have you ever seen alike before or after coming to Equestria? Right when you came to Equestria?”

        Alex spun around in a wink.

        “There are creatures in human mythology,” he started muffledly. “Called centauri. They resemble those freaks drawn by your men… ponies. But centauri supposedly, supposedly because they are mythic, look like a complete human torso with the hands and head planted instead of the head and neck on the horse body. I’ve no idea, if they are genuine or some sort of hybrid according to the legends, but they surely aren’t devouring any miserable souls, even if they aren’t extremely polite and hospitable.”

        “And, no, I didn’t see any of those or centauri equiprobably, before or after my arrival, because A: centauri are mythic, non-existent in reality…”

        “Talking ponies are non-existent in your reality as well,” confronted Celestia.

        “… and B: I don’t take a company with… mind sucking monsters!” Alex took a breath, feeling how cold anger inevitably floods him. “Your Highness, I understand what you are suggesting,” he articulated quietly and ice cold. “But my life for it, I never… summoned or controlled anything like those. Even if you don’t believe me, look here,” he pointed to the barred window, then glanced around his room. “You know that I can’t cast magic consciously, I couldn’t even avoid a glass of water from this strange Discord guy.”

        Celestia silently cringed a little.

        “Partially you are right, Alex…” she put her hoof on the papers forcedly, making the table screech. “I can hardly see you as the driving force of that curse… But I’m more than entirely sure that your arrival somehow is connected to those encounters.”

        Alex stepped to the table quickly, leaning over it and putting his hand on Celestia’s hoof. Surprisingly the princess didn’t pull her warm fore leg away at once.

        “Tell me frankly, princess, do you really want to return me or just get rid of me at any cost?”

        “Does it make any real difference at the moment?” Celestia closed her eyes, slowly pulling her hoof from under his palm. “You bring changes with you. For good or bad, I don’t know yet. But I can’t take any risks, as the price is too high.”

        Alex didn’t find what to say on that.

        “Besides I can’t predict your actions yet. I see too much of Discord in you,” the sad voice of Celestia made Alex look up to her to find the eyes showing visible regret. “With one obvious exception: I’m sure you can’t harm the innocent consciously. For now at least…”

        “Well, there is something reassuring about me,” there was only sadness in Alex’s grin, not even irony at this time.

        “You know, Discord wasn’t the walking menace first as well. But as I said, everypony tends to change. He had been strange and unpredictable, but nothing compared to what he was exactly before the girls showed him the difference,” there was something faintly in the princess’ expression, something Alex couldn’t yet recognize. He decided to go all-in.

        “Was it the time, he started calling you Celly… your highness?”

        The change was so sudden and noticeable, that Alex needed to force himself to stay visibly indifferent. Celestia brought her face close to Alex’s, really close, eyes to eyes, her horn slid on his hair.

        “Don’t tempt me, Alex the human,” she said quietly, but meaningfully, through gritted teeth. “For I may reconsider and… take some risks.”

        “Which for example?” Alex brought his face even closer, narrowing his eyes. He could feel her breath on his nose. “I’m short on my chances anyway.”

        Perhaps the alicorn princess was fairly surprised by that reaction, as she visibly relaxed and the feeling of thunderstorm cloud vanished from the small room.

        “The Moon is now vacant, as you properly noticed before,” said Celestia with a snicker.

        “Oh, that’s an argument,” Alex backed up a bit, raising both hands in theatrical “peace” gesture, then launched another arrow. “Considering given conditions, I would end there together with you most likely. That’s not what I’m wholeheartedly ready for yet.”

        He could expect any reaction, but this. To Alex’s utter surprise Celestia laughed heartily.

        “Though you’d need to wait for a little while – and what are few decades for you – before I die…” added Alex, crossing his hands on the chest. “…if I don’t die right away. So it won’t be such a big problem for you.”

        “I’m afraid it’s not that simple now, Alex,” Celestia’s voice became more serious at once. “Your current regeneration level speaks for you hardly dying due to any natural reason in the nearest perspective. I can’t predict your lifespan with what I got.”

        Alex gasped.

        “Don’t you mean that if I’m forced to stay here for whichever reason, I am to stick here for way more than a few decades?”

        “Perhaps more than you can imagine, Alex.”

        He gritted his teeth to keep mouth shut, any words he had at the moment were definitely not for the ears of the princess. Alex walked around the table, took the chair right from under Celestia’s muzzle, turned it and dropped himself on. If he leaned a bit further, he would snuggle right into Celestia’s forehead; she watched him fixedly. But he didn’t notice anything.

        ‘Each moment better and better…’ rolled in his mind.

        Alex raised his head, looked into her eyes and slowly shook his head, downcasting again. He felt a light touch of the hoof on his shoulder and Celestia silently left.

        *

        “So, you are absolutely willing to sneak to the Canterlot castle, find where Alex is kept and see him and, if we’re lucky and uncaught at the point, have a talk with him, right?” Twilight glanced over her shoulder from the bookshelf, which she was searching through.

        Pinkie and Fluttershy sat in soft comfy armchairs in the lower room of Golden Oak Library. As it was decided, they finished their market run as fast as it was possible and came to Twilight’s place, where they could discuss their plan (if they were going to have any) without outsider’s curious eyes and fluffy ears. Pinkie fidgeted in her armchair noticeably – sitting still wasn’t her game, yet she was much calmer than usual, working out something. Twilight watched her fixedly, sincerely wishing for Pinkie’s new idea not being something troublemaking. Fluttershy joined her fore hooves together, perhaps she was pondering about Twilight’s words in the sudden silence.

        “Oh, here it is,” Twilight finally levitated a thick tome and trotted to the book stand, where she placed it and started leafing over. “I’m trying to find something, which may help us sneak there unnoticed, if were are going to go finally. But for now I only stumbled across simple silencing spells and alike.”

        “So, Fluttershy?” she stared at her yellow friend meaningfully. “I think answering that question is important.”

        “It’s not about me being willing to do that,” with a sigh Fluttershy raised her eyes at Twilight, but her voice was firm. “I’m game without the second thought and you know it. It’s about others going to help, or not. Especially you, Twi. Because I understand that your responsibility is higher anyway and if you feel that our little endeavour is not worthy of risking Celestia’s trust, that’s pretty understandable.”

        “I’m in,” said Pinkie, but her thoughts were somewhere else still, she was so quiet since they came, Twilight concerned about possible outcome more and more.

        “Frankly speaking,” Twilight turned over a few more pages. “I’m still hesitating a bit. Not entirely sure that it would be right, if I help you with that escapade. Especially considering that if I refuse to help, nothing would be done and nopony gets reprimanded perhaps.”

        Fluttershy huffed meaningfully, like saying that it was exactly, what she meant.

        “Girls, what are you up to again?” asked Spike, descending the stairs with a stack of heavy books in his paws. “I’ve just heard “Canterlot” and “uncaught”, and…”

        “Twilight, don’t say that you’re going to sneak into the castle again… for whatever reason, just like last time when you wanted to delve into Starswirl section of the Royal Canterlot library!” his eyes narrowed, when he got down and placed the stack on the table. “Here, I found them on your nightstand… Wait! Do you need all those spells for THAT exactly?” Spike facepalmed with a sigh.

        “Yup, Spike, exactly!” confirmed Twilight with a bright smile, she found the reaction of her aide quite amusing. If somepony could complain about their last trick of that kind, then it was not Spike definitely. He could complain only his greed and stomach, which wasn’t able to cope with that amount of ice-cream, Spike ate, hoping that it would be the problem of the “future Spike” and completely ignoring that he was to become that “future Spike” at certain moment nevertheless. “Are you going?”

        “Ummm…” Spike’s glance alternated from one girl to another. The “team” was unusual: in addition to Twilight, who could sign for any adventure out of curiosity, and Pinkie, who could sign for literally anything, if that promised fun… well, at least in Pinkie’s interpretation, there was Fluttershy, who wasn’t a typical adventurer type at all. It didn’t take him much time to combine all the initial data and Spike narrowed his eyes even more in suspicion. “What for?!”

        “Fluttershy wants to sneak into the castle and find Alex,” giggled Pinkie Pie. “I think I didn’t miss anything important.”

        Fluttershy nodded with a determined look.

        “No way I’m joining that,” Spike shook his head fast. “And there are reasons for you all should reconsider as well.”

        “Here,” he bent one finger. “The last time we sneaked in the library, not in the secured compartment. And it appeared that Twilight had full right to be there anyway, maybe not Starswirl section at that time, but still, it wasn’t nearly some crime. Besides, that was done out of pure curiosity and by mistake. Your mistake Twilight, which we laughed about later… and could laugh more perhaps, if my stomach wasn’t aching,” he muttered grumpily, remembering the event.

        “Then,” Spike bent another finger, not giving anypony time to say a word. “Twilight simply wanted to find a spell, she was going to use on herself to relay a message to herself as well. I know that sounds wicked,” he rolled his eyes. “But at least it wasn’t an attempt to communicate with somepony, who was not supposed to be communicated with by Celestia’s order. Twilight must know better, and while she would teleport you two,” he pointed at Pinkie and Flutters. “Before flak starts flying, she would get caught anyway and take the whole responsibility, despite being a princess.”

        “And three,” he bent yet another finger. “While you three are natives, Celestia knows you well and cuts you some slack, besides, you’re Elements of Harmony, the human… Alex, right?.. The human will get to deal with all the consequences, not knowing about your plan even. I don’t want to be a part of it! The fewer of us involved, the less it looks like a full-time riot, the fewer asses of participants are kicked.”

        “That’s quite a speech,” smirked Pinkie. “But we got your point, Spike. Right, girls?”

        “By the way, what are you going to do?” Spike wasn’t going to give up his positions easily. “I mean, when you find him, Fluttershy. Ask him, if he is okay? But Twilight already told you, he was. Hold hooves… pardon me…” he nodded. “Hold hooves and hands through the window? You’ll have time for that, when he returns. As, again, Twilight confirms, he can’t be sent home easily enough. Oh, well…” he waved his paw.

        Fluttershy wasn’t going to think about things that banal and Twilight held herself not to suggest Spike to imagine Rarity on Alex’s place and himself on Fluttershy’s.

        “I think we should make it simple,” Pinkie suggested her plan, when Fluttershy and Twilight nodded. “We take a balloon to Canterlot castle. Yes, Twilight, it’s fast enough and silent and should hardly be sensed by princess Celestia, unlike your teleporting magic.”

        Despite her staggering, Twilight was to admit Pinkie’s rightness and the latter continued explaining.

        “So, we get behind the castle wall and supposedly nopony catches us, then we need to know, where he is kept. Twilight?”

        “Well, I know, where he must have been escorted to,” Twilight scratched her nose, there was more confidence in her tone, than in her gestures. “There is a hospital of a kind, but I know it is used for medical and applied wizardry research. Alex must be there. But we need to find the window of his room on our own and… not get caught by the guards of course.”

        “Fine,” Pinkie vigorously jumped on the spot. “We need something dark and not movement restraining for clothes, especially me and Flutters, as only a blind pony can’t see us even in the darkness.”

        “You must have your suit since the last time, Pinkie,” Twilight closed the book, which she looked through with one eye all that time, and took the next one. “Mine was almost ruined, but… But I’ll try to make something out.”

        “Mine doesn’t cover my tail,” Pinkie frowned a little.

        “Oh, come on, Pinkie,” Twilight chuckled. “Just braid it once in your life. Well, it seems, this is decided. Fluttershy?”

        “Flutters can pull out her spec ops suit, made by Rarity with love and care, when we sent her to you and Zecora, when Trixie locked Ponyville completely,” said Pinkie with a sly smile. She turned to Fluttershy. “Do you still have it?”

        “Somewhere I do,” Fluttershy nodded. “But I’m afraid, it’s not in the best shape at the moment. I could try to fix it though. I could do that myself, but I don’t have a sewing machine.”

        “Don’t let Rarity suspect anything, okay?” Twilight sighed deeply, her ears flattened, as if she wasn’t still sure that what she was going to do is right.

        “So, have you finally decided?” Pinkie tilted her head, Fluttershy looked at Twilight fixedly as well. “We really need you, Twi. We don’t know the castle nearly as well and have no idea, where to look for Alex, and probably will get caught right after landing…”

        “Okay, okay, I’m with you,” Twilight sighed once again. “Why I still have a feeling that it will bring more troubles, than it solves? But I’m with you, as you will screw it on your own, like Pinkie said.”

        “Thank you, Twi,” Fluttershy hugged her.

        “You, girls, are real maniacs,” Spike, who watched them all that time silently, shook his head. “All I can say, I wish you not to fail that… for everypony’s benefit.”

        “Okay!” Pinkie clopped her fore hooves together excitedly. “When we’re going to start? I mean after we solve the clothing problem…”

        “I’d say – three days on,” Twilight looked at them both. “This will give any of us time to reconsider at least.” Looking at Fluttershy she saw that it hardly was about her.

        “By the way,” Pinkie approached Twilight and asked her quietly. “How did you know that Alex is okay and so on? You said, you were only going to be able to visit him.”

        “Princess Luna told me that, just like that she is going to talk me through all that… security,” whispered Twilight, whose expression hardly told, what she was thinking at the moment.

        Pinkie raised one eyebrow.

        *

    ---

    The following scene needs to be read and imagined as a movie split-screen sequence, when two characters, their thoughts and feelings are shown simultaneously.

    ---

        “Hmmf!” Up! And slowly do-o-own…

        “Hmmf!” Up! And slowly do-o-own…

        The “charcoal” image of the seeker-monster approached and receded in his view, while Alex did push-ups; he put the drafts in front of himself, so he could stare at them and think. Moving like a machine he concentrated on the images, coming to a conclusion that the more he thinks of what Celestia said, the less it appeals to him. At approximately 200 Alex kneeled on the floor and grabbed the papers.

        ‘Things are starting to get ugly. Apparently, the princess didn’t believe a word of mine,’ Alex kept examining the draft, inwardly disliking what he saw more and more with every second. ‘She keeps thinking that I may be connected to those bastards or even control them. What a nonsense! She knows I can’t cast…’

        ‘But I can control things while sleepwalking, can’t I?’ Alex cringed, but his inner voice was right. If he could control fire, why shouldn’t one suspect him controlling the “seekers”.

        ‘I can’t deny that my arrival and appearance of those are too close in time to be ignored easily,’ Alex got up and threw the drafts on the table. ‘But if I remember Celestia’s words right, those “seekers” are what the… how did she call it?.. Dark Mist turns into, when it concentrates enough. And the Dark Mist appeared way before my arrival, it just became more active lately.’

        ‘Aha… Lately means when I arrived,’ Alex facepalmed. ‘Surely, for an observer it does me some justice,’ he huffed sarcastically.

    *

    A small green flash materialized as a scroll, which smacked on her table among the papers. Totally not surprised, as this happened quite often the last two weeks, Celestia took it with her magic and unrolled. It was a small report from the human research group, but what she read there made her rub her tired eyes and gained all princess’ attention at once. Omitting the preface this report was very thought-provoking, despite its brevity.

        “… I consider it important to bring to your attention the following observation made by the nurse […]. Her shift was during the yesterday’s night and a few strange things happened alongside this incident. Here is the full list of events, we found strange and attention-worthy at the very least:

        The guards reported slightly opened doors to one staircase on the first, second and third floors. On the third floor the doors were not closed on both ends of the hallway. Normally guards close those doors behind themselves, while patrolling. Nopony takes the responsibility for leaving them open during that night.

        The lights were out on one patrolling round at the staircase, where doors were open on three floors at once: respectively on first, second and third floor’s landings, including intermediate ones. Ground floor lights were burning all the time normally. The above can be explained by the draught due to opened doors, but… the lights were normal in the third-floor hallway, which was open from both ends…”

        A faint shadow of concern ran across Celestia’s muzzle.

    *

    ‘So, if we take the whole chain of events from the start,’ Alex sat at the table and leaned on it, putting his chin on his knuckles. ‘First, the Dark Mist appeared, then I got here, in Equestria, somehow. For me it rather looks that not Dark Mist appears because of me, but vice versa… Mad, weird? Yes! But logically correct.’

        ‘And this… matter serves as some carrier for those things, according to Celestia’s words. It appears somewhere, accumulates, if nopony interferes, and then… Blam! A hideous centaur-like freak appears.’

        ‘A centaur-like freak which can make ponies lose their minds… At least ponies. Moreover unicorns. That means magic-capable, not entirely helpless ponies,’ Alex smashed his fist into the papers on the table. ‘Even more… This victim was part of the… interception squad, they knew the score and were trained to deal with something like that.’

        He froze and sat still for a while, listening to the birds’ singing, coming through the open window. Alex didn’t even notice, how summer came, while he was sitting here. He raised and got to the window, the sun was slowly approaching the horizon.

        ‘I need to see that seeker victim,’ Alex drummed his fingers on the windowsill, watching the sparrows or perhaps some other small birds jumping and fluttering among the shrubs below. ‘What if I show him those drafts,’ he looked at the papers over the shoulder. ‘Maybe that makes him remember something. Interesting, did they try the same?’

        ‘The worst part of it is that they are close to hanging all the responsibility on me,’ smirked Alex. ‘Just because I’m an alien, who appeared in the wrong time and wrong place…’

    *

    The mere fact that “strange things” happened in the building, where the human was kept, exactly at the same night, when the seeker accident took place, could, of course, be a coincidence. Celestia realized that clearly and being the ruler of Equestria for almost an eternity she was higher than becoming all trigger happy because something seemed suspicious. But… she couldn’t ignore that entirely. Considering her other doubts, this didn’t make the whole image better.

        “…The nurse reported that she was advised by the guard to check the human at least each half an hour, after the above mentioned events were registered. The human didn’t leave his room (locked) all the night through. The nurse checked him every quarter of an hour instead and he remained in his bed all the time. She was alerted after the second or third check by human’s stillness: he didn’t change his position during the supposed sleep, despite she saw him breathing. The human lay on his back, straight and still. After two hours of the same behaviour, the nurse decided to check his physical condition and tried to wake the human. By her own words, she “shook him violently” for approximately ten minutes straight without any reaction from him. His breath and pulse were even, no dangerous symptoms were registered, yet she was going to call for help, when the human finally woke up…”

        ‘Hmpf! This sounds very familiar. Very!’ princess Celestia chuckled ironically. ‘I watch the same scene from time to time, when I need to wake Lulu early in the morning. If she had a busy night, I can’t make her open her eyes for quite a while… Yet the pose being unchanged…’

        “The human confirmed his condition being normal and said that he was simply tired because of the experiments, adding that things like that happen with him, when he “falls down as a log” because of the fatigue. The incident seemed to be over, but the nurse decided to mention it in her report according to the instructions: namely to report everything that differs from routinely events…”

        Celestia galloped the rest of the letter, consisting mostly of the usual politesse and frowned. A sudden idea was worth checking. She turned the scroll and quickly wrote a few words on the opposite side. Another flash swallowed the rolled again scroll, sending it back with a query for elaboration.

    *

    ‘Wrong… Was it so wrong indeed?’ Alex leaned on the windowsill, thinking fast. ‘I never believed in coincidences. And a few weeks in Equestria taught me that I was right, believing in them not. Especially in overly fantastic, like that one.’

        ‘There is no such thing as random “randomness”,’ he smirked. ‘The random part comes from us, not knowing every aspect of the problem. There is always a reason, even if we know about it not. Perhaps I was dragged here – and I’m sure I wouldn’t end up in another realm, if hit by a common lightning – because of something unruly was already happening in Equestria. What for? That’s another question to answer, when I’m able to.’

        ‘The main one still remains!’ Alex shook his head. ‘Seekers or other magical crap, I need to get back home!’

        Another sudden idea made him bite his finger, pondering…

    *

    The scroll returned with yet another flash and Celestia grabbed it in the air, quickly running her eyes across the few words, added to her question.

        “The mentioned incident was observed by the nurse between midnight and 2 am.”

        “Boss shot…” Celestia even said that aloud. ‘The seeker victim got hit approximately at half past three. Well, actually that proves nothing in favour of the human, against likewise. There are still many unknowns in that case,’ she sighed.

        Her today’s study didn’t give a result, that was already habitual, yet not less disappointing because of that. Sending the human to his home world by known means still looked impossible. At least if she didn’t consider “getting rid” of him, as he mentioned earlier.

        Celestia smiled sadly. Straight from the shoulder Alex mentioned the main problem she was to solve, weighing the danger he probably yielded.

    *

    That sudden idea seemed promising to Alex.

        ‘According to what I heard about those seekers, they must be entirely magical creatures, independent or not, but they are built, transferred and guided with magic… if I learned to recognize it.’

        ‘I’m immune to magic,’ a devilish grin wormed on Alex’s face, as he walked away from the window and back to the table, studying the drafts again. ‘Besides, it seems the hostile magic backfires quite effectively without harming me.’

        Deep inside he knew that he already decided everything and nopony could make him reconsider.

        ‘I need to have “a good talk” with one of those bastards, when they appear again,’ Alex preferred to ignore the chance to end like that unicorn, mentioned by Celestia. It was already unknown, when and if he could return home. And that “unknown” seemed to approach “never” each day. ‘If my conclusions are right, that would be a perfect chance to prove that I’m not their puppet master, nor carrying any malicious intent, before Celestia becomes convinced of the opposite. Besides, slab-heads will “think” twice next time, assaulting ponies.’

        *

        His feet hit the thick, soft carpet and Alex thought that he was extremely lucky that night. First, he managed to position himself that far finally – from his room in the “hospital” into Luna’s bedroom directly, and he felt somehow that Luna wasn’t sleeping at that moment, at least the bed was empty. That meant, he managed to cover a considerable distance without a so-called “anchor”, on his own. Second, he wasn’t spotted by anypony. Actually there was nopony in the room: the ancient hearth muttered quietly with the fire burning inside, letting out a sparkle or two occasionally with louder crackle, the noble furniture was lit by the multitude of candles in the forged chandeliers, the big empty bed was yet undone, the curtain was slightly fluttering, telling Alex that the balcony door or at least the window was open.

        Alex examined himself in the so familiar large mirror on the floor stand, the one he came “through” at his first visit, chuckling at the memory. He appeared the same as he got to “sleep”, that is why he got to bed clothed, each time he prepared his sleepwalking. Keeping the shoes would be suspicious, so at the moment he could forcedly enjoy the softness of the carpet with his bare feet.

        ‘Where is Luna?’ he approached the curtain and moved it aside a little, taking a peek from the balcony door, which was indeed slightly opened. The uneasy feel didn’t entirely leave him, thus each time he was to deal with heights, even while sleepwalking, he felt his stomach getting tight. But it was already incomparably better than ever before, when any thought about a window higher than on the first floor, made his feelings go bonkers. There was nopony on the balcony and in the observable part of the sky. ‘I hope she hasn’t flown away on her regal business, otherwise my efforts are futile tonight.’

        Alex returned to the room and stopped at the fireplace, thinking where the Princess of the Night could be at that time – late evening, not yet the night. From the balcony he could see the narrow pink stripe at the west edge of the sky, the sun was still setting… being set by Celestia actually. Hoping that Luna’s sister wouldn’t enter the bedroom to wish her a good night Alex mechanically dragged a long protuberance of fire from the hearth, making it stretch and squeeze several times like a harmonic, pulling and pushing it with his hand, then returned it to the fireplace.

        Next moment he heard a quiet splash of water. Alex turned his head, trying to locate the sound, when he noticed a narrow door at the opposite wall. It was decorated as the surrounding walls and hardly noticeable from the first glance. Alex guessed, there should be the bathroom. He approached the door, it was opened a little leaving a gap and making him able to hear, what was going inside.

        “Ahem, Luna, I’m sorry, that’s me, Alex,” he tried to say that loud enough to be heard, yet soft and apologetically not to startle her. “Are you in?”

        “Oh!” another splash of water and a quiet giggle, Alex blushed. “I’m in the tub, Alex, mine lief. At which hour hast thou come? I haven’t heard thee.”

        “I’ve just… arrived. And… well, I can wait or come next time, if it’s not a suitable one,” Alex backed off the door, but was stopped by Luna’s voice.

        “Oh, no, no. Tis okay,” the heartily laughter made his heart flutter. “I got in just a few minutes ere. So thou art to wait for quite a while, that doesn’t feel quite right. And please don’t go.”

        “I’ll breath some fresh air then,” muttered Alex, swallowing a lump in his throat at the thought, he was to spend some time on the balcony. “Just behind the curtain, in case your sister comes… for whichever reason she may.”

        “Actually, I have a better idea,” said Luna cheerfully and Alex thought that he knew, what she was going to suggest. “Why don’t thou comest here. Mindst, I accept no objections.”

        “That’s hardly a suggestion then,” Alex carefully entered the door, closing it behind. “To be completely honest, it’s not a common practice for me to join a lady in the bathroom.”

        He was granted an amazing view of a spacious room with stone floor and walls of light colours, lit with the familiar candles and containing a large basin built in the floor in the middle of it. Well, it was a tub actually, but only a very greedy beholder could call it that way. The basin was filled with water, covered with a huge cap of aromatic foam, but the main decoration was the pretty alicorn head, looking at him above the foam. Despite being wet Luna’s mane miraculously kept its flowing look, making Alex freeze on spot, eyeing what he could.

        “Alex, ho, did somepony glued thee thither?” Luna waved her fore hoof, smiling and making a few bubbles fly. “Comest closer!”

        Alex gulped and made a few steps, he suddenly felt his head being empty and echoing.

        “Huzzah!” Luna made a small splash, actually having fun. “He finally moved! What’s wrong with thee?”

        “Nothing…” creaked Alex. Then he cleared his throat and repeated. “Nothing is wrong, Luna. Wrong is not the right word… But…”

        “Oh,” her smile became even wider. “I suppose, I know. Ye, people, wear clothes all the time…”

        “Well, mostly…” Alex couldn’t prevent his cheeks becoming pinkish again.

        “If ’t be true thou see me without my neck plate and hoofwear,” giggled Luna playfully. “Doth that mean that I am naked according to thy rules? I mean… more naked than usual!” she nailed the coffin with the sly smile.

        “Merlin’s pants!” breathed Alex, finally approaching the tub and placing himself on the floor next to it. He felt flames, which seemingly his neck and all the face were made of at that moment. Apparently, it was that obvious, because Luna was having fun at his embarrassment full time. “Please, don’t make that thought stick within my head, I won’t be of my normal colour ever again then.”

        “Well, that’s not that awful, if ’t be true thou art able to joke about ‘t,” winked Luna, getting closer to the edge and leaning on it, laying her head on her folded fore legs. “But thou shan’t deny, that I am technically right.”

        “That doesn’t make it less… Well… You know…”

        “Know what?” It seemed Luna wasn’t going to let him have it easy. “I’m just reminding thee the obvious things… And thou – being… uneasy about them. How was thy day?”

        With a sigh Alex lay on the stomach and leaned on his elbows, placing his head on the fists.

        “Same as all the previous, I’m sticking with those experimental artefacts for a week already, it becomes kinda annoying. But keeping in mind what can be the next stage, I guess this one is not that bad.”

        “Seeing you is what makes my day brighter, well, actually night,” he kissed her in the nose. “But I didn’t expect to see you…”

        “Ummm…” Luna squinted and stretched, her illustrious tail emerged from the tub, decorated with ample amount of aromatic foam, and waved from side to side. “Every time I was able to cuddle with thee. I won’t mind… No, I would like to right now as well. A nice massage won’t hurt likewise.”

        Alex gasped, making Luna instantly giggle again.

        “Don’t thee be silly, Alex. Just get in.”

        “Errmmm… I have one question, if I get into the tub in my clothes, will I wake up soaking wet in my room, when I end sleepwalking?”

        “I. have. no. tiniest. idea!” articulated Luna, looking him straight into the eyes and raising one eyebrow with an unequivocal expression on her muzzle. “Fair chance – yes. Thou can only find out thyself.”

        Alex let out a heavy sigh, Luna snorted at his embarrassment.

        “Okay, can you still turn around. And… no funny business, okay?”

        “Oh!” Luna raised her fore hooves in comic gesture, then she moved a bit and sat in the tub, stretching her shoulders and slightly wiggling her folded wings, yet looking away as promised. One ear was still turned to Alex, apparently controlling his progress. “Okay. We are not hurrying anywhere!” “reassured” she.

        He managed to get rid of the clothes quickly enough, pondering if removing them by the willpower would be an easier and smarter decision in that case, while Luna listened to the rustle. Finally, Alex got into the tub behind Luna with a small splash, admitting that the hot water feels quite natural, despite him being not entirely real at that moment. He couldn’t still accommodate fully to his ability, thinking that it would need quite some time to accept it entirely.

        The first touch of her silky coat on the shoulders and back caused a gentle “Ahhhh!” from the alicorn beauty and Luna slid closer to Alex, leaning forward and giving him the full field for treatment. Alex massaged her shoulders, gently, but firmly rubbing her skin, stretching strained muscles… and avoiding wings, remembering her warning.

        “Tis amazing!” cooed Luna, waving her mane, when he scratched and stroked her shoulders and between the wings. “Why thou nev’r…”

        “Because each time we were either snuggling,” chuckled Alex, making her almost moan. “Or you wrapped me in your wings, packed me tight and placed your head on top of mine. Not that I object, it actually feels quite nice. Just answering your question…”

        “Thou can’t imagine, how nice ‘t feeleth,” Luna looked at him over her shoulder, moving a bit closer. “But I guess, I shall accept oft as well. If thou dost not mind.”

        “I don’t,” Alex moved his hands a bit lower, to her back and sides, making Luna purr and stretch. “It actually feels great to massage you. But please sit still and don’t move, otherwise my reflexes can take over,” he coughed.

        “Somepony spoke about “funny business”?” teased him Luna, leaning on him completely. “Besides, it seemeth thy reflexes already quite succeeded taking over, Alex,” she kissed him in the flaming cheek, as he felt, what she was talking about.

        “Sorry!” Alex hugged her gently, leaning on the basin edge and placing Luna on his chest. She wrapped one fore leg around his neck, kissing him in the chin, in the ear, nuzzling his cheek. He didn’t feel much extra weight, despite she was a bit bigger; the water and foam concealed that impression.

        “I take ‘t as a compliment!” whispered Luna in his ear, then their lips met and the reality around vanished for a while, while they were sharing their breath.

        When she calmed down a bit, satisfying her first thirst for him, and nested comfortably on his chest and shoulder, Alex felt himself as a boiling kettle. To relax he started stroking her splendid mane slowly, making Luna coo something tender and rub her shoulders and head against him, while he kissed her behind the ear.

        “Thou makest me melt!” Luna wiggled her folded wings, involuntarily tickling Alex and making him hold himself hard not to stroke the margins. “Don’t stop, please!”

        “If you don’t stop wiggling and applying extra pressure,” Alex deliberately kissed her in the edge of her wing, Luna arched and moaned. “My reflexes will go completely wild, up to uncomfortable. You see? And careful with your horn, please.”

        “Thou…” hissed Luna, squinting at him, Alex closed her mouth with another kiss.

        “I’m just showing you, what I feel when you snuggle into me like that,” innocently noticed he, when they parted for air. “By the way, the sun was setting when I came here. Aren’t you supposed to be raising the Moon, my princess?”

        “The Moon is not always up right after the sunset,” huffed Luna, booping him in the nose. “Isn’t ‘t the same in thy world?”

        “I guess it is,” chuckled Alex. “Sorry, I’m not an astronomer. Besides, you are completely in charge of the Moon indeed.”

        “Exactly. And thou art a… “thinking machines” specialist. Tis kinda far from the Moon raising job,” Luna stuck out her tongue at him jokingly. “Tell me more about them someday, agreed?”

        “I will, I will, my curious princess,” Alex leaned his head on hers, feeling her cool horn with his temple.

        “Speaking of jobs,” he remembered after a while, listening to Luna’s quiet relaxed breath. “Recently I thought what I can do for living in Equestria.”

        “And?” Luna’s ears perked in attention.

        “Well, I would hate myself being an… eternal guest. A parasprite, as you could call it,” huffed Alex. “I plan to pay my bills myself, when I’m finally free enough.”

        “I thought about what I could do here,” he continued as Luna didn’t interrupt him, listening with obvious empathy. “And the prognosis wasn’t very bright. Aside from simple hard jobs in the field or on the construction site, I can hardly be useful anywhere, as my profession is undemanded for in Equestria. I’m not a medic, or an artist, or a teacher…”

        “But then I thought about another thing, I dare to hope I’m good at – hardware!” said Alex. “Not that type of hardware, which is native to my original work, something simpler… I pondered about simple commodities, which your subjects might lack in everyday life and it seemed, I finally found, what I can do to earn some bits.”

        “Wend further, mine lief,” Luna looked at him with a smile. “I’m earnestly interested.”

        “I wanted to try starting with electricity,” explained Alex, Luna raised her brows. “You know, Ponyville for example, could only benefit from electrical lighting, it could be used to pump water in the houses easier and on Applejack’s fields in any direction, not using water wheels only. Rarity could use an electric sewing machine, freeing her magic to more outstanding stuff. Generally, every household could use an electric generator.”

        “Aren’t they big and bulky and demanding for quite a few ponies to operate,” Luna was a bit sceptic.

        “Well, those few you have and use in Equestria surely are,” smirked Alex, kissing her in the nose and making Luna blink from his sudden move and giggle. “I want to suggest small and environment-friendly ones. They won’t be bigger than your armchair and will be propelled by wind or water force entirely. You see, Luna, we, I mean people,” his eyes became sad for a second, but he shook that off and continued. “don’t gather lightnings or use magic to create electricity, but we use electricity instead of magic, we don’t have, quite often.”

        “Tis may work…” thoughtfully muttered Luna, then she raised her eyes at him. “But thou can’t make those out of thin air, mine lief. Thou shalt need something to start forsooth.”

        “Actually, yes,” sighed Alex. “While I can easily compensate all the generosity of the girls, helping me out, when I start making and installing these generators, I still need help to start.”

        “Simply think about what thou needest,” Luna sat in the tub and turned to face Alex. “When thy list is ready, I’ll do what I can to give you a hoof.”

        “But…” Alex felt his jaw dropped, as he sat there with a surprised and perhaps slightly stupid expression. He couldn’t imagine the princess to be that forthright and selfless. His heart fluttered, Alex couldn’t find words to express his gratitude. “I’m… I will compensate for everything as soon as I can… Thank you, Luna. You’re a life savior!”

        “Not that it was necessary,” Luna scooped a portion of foam with her hoof, putting a lump on the tip of Alex’s nose and giggling at him, huffing it off. “Methinks thy life is worth saving anyway. I want ‘t. Isn’t ‘t enough reason for a princess?” she cocked her head jokingly, glancing at him.

        “Fine, I am slightly tired of thy technical talk,” Luna narrowed her eyes, while Alex looked for a suitable reply. She stretched out her fore legs towards him in unequivocal gesture, making Alex sit and move closer to cuddle him in a proper embrace. “Thy princess demandeth for a kiss, Alex!”

        *

        “Isn’t Fluttershy supposed to come already?” Twilight threw a concerned glance at the clock on the wall. She just helped Spike with her magic to bring the tea tray from the kitchen and was now sitting in her armchair, nervously fidgeting. For the last half of an hour she checked the time perhaps ten times and each one didn’t make her less edgy. Everything was ready, they have their own suits fixed and prepared, but for some reason Fluttershy needed more time with hers. Twilight couldn’t even read, despite usually reading helped her find mental balance and think clearly.

        “Maybe in the end of the day she reconsidered,” noticed Pinkie, sipping her tea with unstirred expression. For a change she was totally calm this evening, even rock solid, Maud could be proud with her sister today. That unusual calmness made Twilight even more jumpy.

        “Who? Fluttershy? Reconsidered?! Hardly so,” huffed Twilight, looking at the clock hands again. “Celestia! It’s half past seven… ARRRRRGHHHH!”

        “Hey,” she turned to Spike. “Are you okay, mate? That’s not a cookie, you know…”

        “Huh,” Spike, who didn’t say a word for the whole evening and was pondering about something, obviously important for him, stopped dunking a ruby into his tea. “Oh!..” he made a funny face, threw the gem into his mouth and gnawed it out with a loud crackle. “Indeed!.. I was just thinking, would Rarity shelter me, if princess Celestia catches you, Twilight, and puts you into the cell next to the human…”

        “Thank you kindly!” Twilight nodded with sarcasm.

        “Come on, Twi,” Pinkie put away her cup and smirked. “You look like you’re sitting on a hedgehog! Nothing happened yet…”

        “I could be sitting on a porcupine, no big difference,” huffed Twilight. “As Spike properly noticed, if something fails, my ass is served on a silver plate. And the mere fact that I agreed to help you, girls, doesn’t make me like the whole idea more.”

        “Fluttershy said Rarity needed more time with her suit, so they planned to do final fitting today, but it’s a bit late already,” she added. “What are they making there?”

        As usual with somepony mentioning Rarity, Spike perked his ears.

        “I hope Rarity finds out nothing about your crazy plan, and doesn’t join you, girls,” he muttered with concern.

        “I rather hope that Sweetie Belle finds out nothing,” noticed Twilight. “That would be a true disaster.”

        Somepony politely knocked on the front door.

        “That’s me, Fluttershy,” the voice came like out of the barrel. “Did you reconsider to go? There is a “Don’t disturb!” plate on the door…”

        Twilight and Pinkie looked at each other, both raising on their legs. Spike got up as well, something was strange in that voice.

        “That’s for uninvolved, Flutters,” accurately stated Pinkie. “Come in.”

        The door opened and somepony slid into the lit room from the falling twilight outside.

        “WOAH!!! What is that thing?!!”

        Spike grunted, suddenly finding out that he was bending under the weight of a frightened lilac alicorn, who jumped into his hands.

        “Ugh! Twilight,” he muttered through his teeth. “I thought, only snakes caused that reaction.”

        “That’s… Errmmm…” totally stunned Pinkie raised one eyebrow. “Fluttershy?”

        “What? You think, it’s better without the mask, don’t you?” inquired the pony-like thing in pitch black catsuit. Slender, with the wings packed into the same fabric as well as the braided tail, which now resembled a whip. Various belts and cords crossed the suit; plenty of pockets with zippers; a knife in a sheath, strapped on the shoulder its handle downwards; equally black medkit with the small purple cross, placed on the left flank. The head part covered her whole mane and ears, which protruded, covered in black fabric with metal-like netting. Her muzzle was hidden behind some sort of a mask with metal grid at the mouth part and valves; above all that three tubes with lenses finished the ensemble. The only light part was the Equestria blazon on the left shoulder.

        “Actually, I think, it is indeed,” Fluttershy took off the muzzle plate and apologetically smiled, watching her startled friends, her voice became normal. “Sometimes Rarity becomes obsessed, wanting everything to be ideal.”

        “What in Equestria is that?” Twilight blushed and jumped off Spike’s hands.

        “Umm… I asked Rarity to fix my suit and told her that I was going to cosplay Daring Do on the Nightmare Night,” giggled Fluttershy, spinning the mask on her hoof.

        “But Daring Do looks nothing like that,” gasped Twilight.

        “I know,” Fluttershy waved her fore leg. “And you know. But Rarity doesn’t, she’s not a fan of Daring Do, just like anything connected with forests, nature and bugs.”

        “But I guess, I shouldn’t mention the “spec ops” part really,” continued Fluttershy with a sly smile. “Rarity took that as the basis and made a little research on “spec ops” stuff, that is why, I guess, more time was necessary – she wanted to make it… believable…”

        “She seems to succeed,” breathed out Pinkie, tilting her head while examining her friend.

        “She even got a magical night visor with motion detector somewhere,” added Fluttershy, nodding towards the mask. “Sometimes her generosity goes really over boards.”

        “Did you get here on your own?” suddenly asked Pinkie, scratching the back of her head.

        “Yeah… ummm… I sneaked carefully through Ponyville,” blushed Fluttershy, then brightened. “The suit actually works, nopony spotted me.”

        “I see…” muttered Twilight, her eyes were still a bit wider than normal.

        “We don’t hear bells, nor see a whole herd with pitchforks,” noticed Spike, who just regained his voice. “I guess, nopony saw you indeed.”

        “Okay!” said Twilight, checking her saddle bags once more, when they both with Pinkie changed to their own suits, not that impressive though as Fluttershy’s. “I suppose, we’re ready to go.”

        “It would be better, if we teleport right to the balloon pad,” she added, throwing the last glance at their preparations.

        “Umm… Fluttershy,” Twilight squinted on her friend, who placed the muzzle piece back on. “While I appreciate that you can see in complete darkness now, that will be handy indeed, please, do me a favour – stay so I can see you and… don’t sneak on me from behind. Okay?”

        “Squee!” Fluttershy nodded, flattening her ears. It could appear comic, if she looked differently at that moment. Pinkie snorted, impatiently jogging on the spot.

        “Good luck, girls,” Spike sighed and shook his head. “Don’t get your crazy flanks caught!”

        Twilight shuddered before the bright flash took them three on their adventure.

        *

        It was perhaps about 10 pm or even later, when they finally landed right behind the wall in the far corner of the castle garden, as far from the actual castle as it was possible. Twilight brought the balloon lower and tied it as well, when they tied the basket to the large tree trunk. Of course their transport was a bit bright for that task, but unfortunately, they didn’t have any choice. Inwardly Twilight was ready that they would need to flee using her teleporting magic very likely, if they were spotted by the guards or if somepony spotted the balloon and set the guards on alert.

        “At least it won’t be noticed behind those trees right away,” she shrugged, making the final knot on the rope. “Now quiet, please.”

        Pinkie immediately crouched to the ground, mimicking the pose of a cat ready to pounce. Twilight rolled her eyes, she was sure that Pinkamena even tapped her hind legs and waved her tail at that moment.

        “Can you at least be serious at the moment like this?”

        “I’m serious,” stated Pinkie bluntly. “I am deadly serious. Where do we go, Twi?”

        Twilight froze for a while, remembering where the medical facility was relative to this part of the garden.

        “There,” she finally decided, pointing in the right direction. “But I can’t see hay in that darkness. The moon hasn’t been risen still.”

        “Believe me,” huffed Pinkie. “When the moon is up, it will be only worse, as nopony can see us in the darkness at least.”

        “I can,” a dim glow of the lenses, showed that Fluttershy turned on her visor.

        “Right,” Twilight couldn’t help shuddering at that image. “You go first then, Flutters. Down that alley then to the right. Look where you stepping on, any crackle can give away our position. The garden is not heavily guarded, yet it’s better not to risk. Remember, there is also Nightwatch, they report to princess Luna though, but… If you see anypony, Fluttershy, just let us know… and everypony hops into nearest shrubs and plays dead, agreed?”

        “Agreed,” muttered Pinkie. “Maybe we go finally?” she slightly nudged Fluttershy forward, then let Twilight follow her.

        “Don’t be a scaredy-pony, Twi,” she winked. “I’ll be your shadow and cover your tail.”

        Twilight facehoofed. She hurried to follow Fluttershy, almost holding her by her tail as it was impossible to see her in her suit in the night garden. Only when she looked over her shoulder, to wait for them with Pinkie, three faintly glowing spots gave out her presence.

        Carefully, not to startle any night bird, as they heard a few, they reached the turn and trotted right, as Twilight suggested. There was indeed a lighter spot in the end of this part of the alley, the open space and the exit from the garden. If Twilight’s calculations were right, the building, where human was kept, was not very far.

        Twilight looked up at the darker mass of the castle nearby, it seemed lifeless, except the few lit windows. At least nopony suspected anything… yet.

        “Shhh!” Twilight almost bumped into Fluttershy, who suddenly stopped and stared somewhere into the trees on their right, quietly hushing them with Pinkie. They both flattened on the ground.

        “What?” whispered Twilight in a minute, gulping.

        “It’s just a squirrel,” said Fluttershy. “I’ve heard something, but it’s just a squirrel. Come on, girls, don’t lay on the cold ground.”

        Within a few minutes more they reached the garden exit. It was lighter outside, besides the moon showed in the sky, slowly raising and adding light to the scene.

        “Horse apples!” Twilight glanced at the Moon and the castle, which became gray, then white as the moonlight fell on the walls. “We could really benefit from more darkness here and now.”

        “Okay,” she took a look around to orientate. “See that building over there?” she pointed with her fore hoof at the four-storey building not far from the outer wall, but considerably far from where they stood. “There are shrubs and trees everywhere between its backside and castle walls, except a small clearing around the building, but we have no better variant. Let’s hurry though. Fluttershy, run fast under the wall, while it is still in the shadow and stop, when you’re under the trees, we will follow.”

        “But not too fast, not to be heard by others,” she added, when Fluttershy nodded and burst forward.

        “Well,” Twilight turned to the girls, when they took a breath after their blazing run along the castle wall. They were nicely hidden in the thick foliage now, and it was safe to assume, nopony could spot them as long as they didn’t rustle too much. “Here we are. Unfortunately, I have no faintest idea which room exactly is his and where is the window, we need. One of those,” she waved her hoof at the building wall.

        “I pray for it to be here,” she added. “Not on the facade. As there is also the exit, it is better lit and… facing the castle.”

        “A great combination to get busted!” summarized Pinkie with a wry smile.

        “Yeah,” whispered Twilight, when they accurately approached the borderline between shrubs and open space belting the building. “We should sit here quiet, watch and listen for a while. I’ve heard, Alex gets to bed late, perhaps we can spot the proper window.” Her ears flattened, the idea to go round the facility and search almost right “behind Celestia’s eyes” didn’t look alluring to her. “See that stripe of the bare ground beneath the wall?” she pointed to the open space. “The guards patrol there once in a while and we better not be in the clear view, when they come.”

        A few minutes passed. They seemed ages for Twilight, the uneasy feeling of doing wrong started to press her again. Unable to sit completely quiet Pinkie tilted her head from side to side, while watching. Fluttershy’s eyes seemed to be glued to the building in front of them, the direction of visor lenses told about that; she looked like a stone statue, sitting on her tail and scanning the windows.

        “Look!” quietly, but they thought it was too loud anyway, squeaked Pinkie. She pointed up.

        “Shhhh!” both Twilight and Fluttershy hissed, but they spotted a flash in one window as well.

        It took a couple minutes more to move aside under the foliage cover to end right under the necessary window on the first floor. But now they could definitely hear quiet voices coming from inside. Two voices. The girls sat on the ground and listened carefully.

        The man’s voice talked for a while, then they heard a muffled laughter, in which female voice joined the man. Fluttershy stomped from one fore leg to another.

        “That’s Alex’s voice, no doubt,” she whispered with the corner of her mouth.

        The female voice said a few words and another giggle followed, then some rustling.

        “Well, at least we can safely assume, he is fine,” stated Pinkie smirking and raising one ear.

        “And another voice…” muttered Twilight, she was unsure… or maybe didn’t want to say that first. “I can’t clearly say…”

        “I can,” Fluttershy’s voice dropped and she noticeably wilted. She surely could recognize that voice, eventually, she helped its owner train a more pleasant way to talk to the subjects, so she could distinguish it at any time. “That’s princess Luna…”

        Twilight sighed barely audibly, while Pinkie raised a brow. Fluttershy’s tone was self-explanatory enough. Meanwhile the talk from above continued its flow and it sounded least as an interrogation, but clearly as a friendly chatter.

        “Twilight, please,” whispered Fluttershy. “Could you fly up to the window and take a look? Just stay unseen though…” she added.

        With another heavy sigh Twilight nodded.

        “Just a couple of minutes,” she said, exiting the bushes and spreading her wings. “The guards can show at any moment.”

        Twilight soared in the air, trying to flap not so loud, while approaching the named window. Apparently, the two behind the barred opening were too busy with each other, so they suspected nothing.

        “…as I expected,” said Alex’s voice with concern and regret. “The “doctor” came this afternoon and notified me that they planned new stage of experiments for tomorrow – this time with living casters. I…”

        “Dost thou expect those to be that malignant? I doubt Tia would put anypony’s life in danger,” a few hoofsteps and some rustling, followed by her satisfied sigh. Twilight stiffened.

        “Mayhap, but what if things go slightly… just a tiny bit not as she expects?”

        ‘A kiss… Was it a kiss?’ Twilight blinked several times.

        “I’ve seen what happens with artefacts after prolonged exposure to my drain effect,” continued Alex. “The last thing, I want to witness, is a real pony subjected to something alike. I was fidgeting all the day…”

        “Oh, Alex, mine lief,” with more rustling cooed Luna. “If’t be true I knew that, I’d come to thee ere!”

        Twilight floated in the air, wanting to find herself back on the ground, not hearing, what she heard, and not being obliged to tell Fluttershy. There was nothing wrong in the talk itself, well… almost, but she wasn’t sure, how her friend could interpret the situation as the whole. Fidgeting about that, Twilight decided to take a look anyway; she slowly approached the edge of the opening and looked above the windowsill.

        ‘Well, that’s definitely more than a friendly talk,’ she accurately backed down and quietly lowered herself near the girls.

        “So?” Pinkie tilted her head meaningfully, while Fluttershy kept silence. Exactly that silence was what scared Twilight mostly at the moment.

        “So, there is princess Luna in his room indeed,” accurately started Twilight, watching Flutters fixedly. “They are talking with Alex, about different things, nothing specific or related to his problem.”

        “They talk like old friends,” feeling a certain stone over her heart finally said Twilight.

        “We… I can’t show myself at the moment, right?” dropped Fluttershy; her voice wasn’t desperate and Twilight took a breath, but it was surely dull, colourless. “We don’t want to reveal ourselves anyway. Besides, it would be totally impolite to disturb the conversation that way…”

        Twilight inwardly squinted, she heard that tone from Flutters sometimes, usually when somepony was to be stared in a matter of moments.

        Something rustled in the bushes a few yards to their left and the girls crouched involuntarily, perking their ears, forgetting about their talk for a while.

        “Shhh… Have you heard?” a distant voice asked; that could be a guard only. The restrained rustling approached slowly.

        “Come on, girls,” unfroze Fluttershy, quie